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 V.17 No.44 | October 30 - November 5, 2008 

Council Watch

Build High, Build Wide or Build Less?

Several speakers called for strengthening the Police Oversight Commission during public comment at the Oct. 20 City Council meeting. The Council passed Councilor Don Harris’ bill requesting an extension until June 30, 2009, of interim design guidelines for the East Gateway Sector Plan area. Council President Brad Winter and Councilor Michael Cadigan were excused.

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Issue Council's Take Reporter's Take
Downsize in a Mid-Rise

The Council approved an agreement with the Supportive Housing Coalition for $2.6 million to build Downtown rental housing for persons with low incomes, disabilities or who are at risk of homelessness. The money from the Workforce Housing Trust Fund will be combined with moneys from low-income tax credits from the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority. The city also provided land at Lomas and Second Street for the 39,000-square-foot building.

Office space and support services for the tenants will occupy the first floor, with 72 micro-efficiency units on the upper floors. Doug Chaplin, manager of the Community Development Division of Family and Community Services, said an average single room occupancy unit would be 300 square feet.
Councilor Sally Mayer said, “I want to end homelessness as much as anyone, but I have questions about this.” She said the building would cost $317 per square foot, or $172,000 for each unit, about the cost for the average house in her district.

Chaplin described gray-water recycling, solar and rainwater catchment features the building would have, as well as the costly support services and first-floor office space. Mark Allison of the Supportive Housing Coalition said Mayer was not comparing apples to apples. Councilor Rey Garduño said a more appropriate comparison would be to a hospital, at about $1,000 per square foot. Councilor Trudy Jones asked if there was a demand for the small units. Allison said, “We could build these things all day long and still have a market.”
The Council also unanimously approved $3 million to fulfill an agreement with the Historic District Improvement Company for the 66-unit affordable Silver Gardens development between First and Second Streets at Silver.

Councilors Debbie O’Malley and Don Harris, who don’t always see eye to eye, both praised the social benefits of the projects. Harris said he had been skeptical about affordable housing, but “we really can’t use a criminal justice approach to homelessness.” It remains to be seen how much the innovations planned for the Lomas and Second street building will reduce energy costs and carbon emissions. The cost-benefit ratio should also include an estimate of how many nights the apartments will save potential residents from being dumped in emergency rooms or holding cells at public expense.
Planning Out to the Rio Puerco

Councilor Ken Sanchez’ bill requires the city to participate in a multi-jurisdiction study to analyze and plan roads, watersheds, open space and everything else needed to develop land west of the city to Laguna Pueblo. The city would contribute $300,000, with smaller amounts coming from Bernalillo, Sandoval and Valencia Counties; Rio Rancho; and federal and state sources. The Mid-Region Council of Governments (MRCOG) would lead the study.
Councilor Isaac Benton said the $450,000 initial cost of the study seemed like “a drop in the bucket” for an effort of such scale. Sanchez said MRCOG was “working to identify federal funds.” Garduño said the area of the land studied inside city limits “was miniscule compared to what SunCal owns” and that the publicly funded study was “doing yeoman’s work for a private company.” Sanchez said since the projected population of the area in 2050 is 1.5 million people, the study is just good planning. Worried about the vast scope and unknown cost of the study, councilors opted to defer voting on the bill for 60 days. The bill estimates that the 2050 population would permanently deplete water by 420,000 acre-feet annually. So here’s a suggestion: Forget everything else and do a comprehensive water study first. How much is there? How much would it would cost to bring in and use, including desalinization? And how much can be used for new development without sucking existing residents dry for the next 500 years?
Stop Gassing

The city’s Climate Action Task Force (CATF), a group of about 70 persons appointed by the mayor, is working on an inventory of carbon emissions caused by city operations. Councilors Garduño and Benton sponsored a bill extending the group’s duties beyond completion of the inventory. The bill also stresses the urgency of stabilizing the climate and the need to lessen impacts on low-income communities.
Jerry McFarland, representing the local Sierra Club on the CATF, said carbon emissions were rising faster than previously estimated. He said business groups were well-represented on the CATF but not lower socioeconomic groups. Environmental Health Director John Soladay said CATF recommendations might include extreme greenhouse gas reduction along with modifications of building standards and transportation. The bill passed. So which global warming guru is most accurate? New Mexico architect Edward Mazria’s 2030 Challenge lays out a path to carbon-neutral buildings. Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute pushes for zero-emission cars. Author James Howard Kunstler blames everything on suburban sprawl and predicts suburbs in general and the Southwest in particular will soon become uninhabitable. Score a trifecta for this Council meeting. 
 

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