South Valley Showdown
Residents square off against manufacturers near their homes
For decades, homeowners in the South Valley's Mountain View neighborhood have put up with pollution in their backyards.
The area near Second Street and Rio Bravo has been zoned for manufacturing since the ’70s. That means polluting businesses and residents share air.
Several members of the residential and business communities are meeting regularly to hammer out a sector plan that could limit new industry in the area. Mountain View Neighborhood Association President Patty Grice says she hopes the plan can curtail the negative image of her neighborhood. "Everybody says it's the place where all the junkyards, concrete plants and the petroleum tanks are," she says. "We don't want to be viewed as a dumping ground."
Rich Luna, chairman of the Mountain View Commercial Property Association, says he wants to make sure the sector plan provides a healthy breeding ground for industry.
“Industry is concentrated in the communities of low income and people of color.”
Lauro Silva, principal investigator for South Valley Partners for Environmental Justice
He co-owns Champion Truss, which has been engineering wood and steel products in the South Valley for 20 years. "We have to have a sector plan that's going to promote business and create jobs and tax revenue," he says. "At the same time, if we can enhance the environment, great."
A battle like this wouldn't happen in a mostly white, more affluent neighborhood, says Lauro Silva, principal investigator for South Valley Partners for Environmental Justice. His organization looks into how land-use policies affect the environmental health of South Valley dwellers. Pollution, he adds, tends to find poor neighborhoods. "Industry is concentrated in the communities of low income and people of color. This happens in most of the urban centers around the country. It's not a new phenomenon to Albuquerque."
One of the key points of contention between the two camps is whether there should be a buffer zone between new manufacturing businesses and homes. The original sector plan (see "History of the Sector Plan") called for a distance of 1,000 feet between polluters and homes. Luna insists a buffer zone is unnecessary. "That's gotta go,” he says
“We have to have a sector plan that's going to promote business and create jobs and tax revenue.”
Rich Luna, chairman of the Mountain View Commercial Property Association
As an alternative, he proposes new industry next to homes must be required to build a wall around its property. Certain types of manufacturing facilities should only be allowed to build near residences if they get a conditional-use permit, he says. That would mean businesses like asphalt and concrete-batching plants would need special permission from Bernalillo County to move in. "Those permits would be very difficult to obtain," Luna says.
On Ric Watson’s trip home through his South Valley neighborhood, he passes several auto salvage yards and a wood manufacturing facility. He’s constantly reminded he lives in an industrial part of town. From his windows at home, he can see a sewer treatment plant, and sometimes he catches a whiff of the sewage. "When the north winds are blowing, we definitely smell it," he says. "I hear their equipment running at night."
As a Mountain View Neighborhood Association member, he says he's uncomfortable with the idea of throwing out the buffer zone. "I would be a little flexible on it, but I don't know if I would even cut it in half to 500 feet," Watson says. "That's not much room if you're talking about a plant that's kicking up a lot of dust."
While the two sides argue over the details of the sector plan, there are no legal protections keeping a business from buying land and putting a manufacturing plant on the properties. "That's the scariest thing," Watson says. "Things are kind of wide open right now until we get a sector plan in place." Silva says with the economy in crisis, it's highly unlikely any new development will take place. "The timing is absolutely perfect," Silva says. "This is an opportunity to take our time and do this right."
District 2 County Commissioner Art De La Cruz says he will do everything in his power to prevent a polluting business from rolling in while the proposal is in the works. De La Cruz says he'd like to see a sector plan put together by the end of the summer, but Silva contends a year from now is a more realistic time frame.