Alibi V.19 No.18 • May 6-12, 2010 

Council Watch

Give of Yourself

City councilors urged us to share our hearts, lungs, livers, kidneys and other body parts—and not just when our time on planet Earth is up. Councilor Dan Lewis introduced a proclamation supporting Donate Life, an organ donation organization. This is a family issue for Lewis, who gave a kidney to his brother. Tim Lewis spoke at the meeting along with a handful of other organ recipients. One woman talked about the miracle of her double lung transplant. Another woman said she received a heart and a new life from an 11-year old. There are around 960,000 people who’ve signed up to be organ donors in the state, though the population is about 1.9 million.

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The Too-Many-Motels Blues

Councilors considered an appeal of a zone change that would allow a motel to be built near the airport along Gibson. The lot it would be on has been vacant for at least 50 years, according to the property owner’s representative. Nearby Kirtland Community Association folks oppose the motel, saying it is not something their area needs. In the end, councilors agreed to let the property owner move forward with plans as long as neighborhood input is heard.
There was a fair amount of debate over this issue within the Council. Vincent Baty, a neighborhood representative, said there are already 12 to 15 motels in the area, and some are boarded up, which is creating problems. “Build something to benefit our community, not just another motel,” Baty told the Council. Councilors reminded Baty that something worse could be built on that lot. While listening to the Council bat this issue around, I pulled up Google Maps Street View and took a look at the property. It is a large, dusty, vacant, weed-sprinkled eyesore. I understand the neighborhood would like to see something more community-friendly than another airport motel or cement parking lot. Maybe the association can work with the property owner to build a landscaped park along the neighborhood boundary that would be open to nearby residents and motel guests alike.
Cop Car Boundaries

In an attempt to reduce city costs, Councilor Brad Winter pitched a directive that would require the city to take a hard look at the Albuquerque Police Department's take-home car policy. The city and APD would also be asked to explain the number of officer-involved accidents. The department allows officers to drive home 973 cars out of its 1,056-vehicle fleet, according to the resolution. About 200 officers with take-home cars live outside of Bernalillo County. APD says it has to replace 200 vehicles a year, which costs $8 million to $10 million. According to Winter’s resolution, in an 18-month period there were 349 officer-involved wrecks. It was not clear how many happened while the officer was on duty.
Some councilors supported take-home cars for police, while others said they thought only officers who live in Bernalillo County should be allowed to drive them home.

"Hot seating" a car (rotating it through multiple shifts) is expensive, explained APD Chief Ray Schultz. Maintenance costs hover around $7,000 instead of
$2,000 annually, he said, because there is more wear and tear on a vehicle when it is run continually. APD administration is working on a report outlining the overall price tag on both options, Schultz added, as well as an explanation for the car crashes.

The police officers' union expressed at the March 4 Council meeting that it does not support a change in the take-home car policy. The perk is part of the union contract. Councilors approved Winter's measure, asking the administration to get back to them with some hard numbers.
This is an issue for law enforcement departments everywhere. Take-home cars can be a key negotiating tool when recruiting police officers. Some municipalities around the state establish parameters, like requiring officers to live within 30 miles of work in order to drive home their cars. This seems reasonable, especially if one purpose of the car is to make the neighbors feel safer.

While a report on cost differences will be helpful, money should never be the only measuring stick the Council uses to make a policy change. Police cars parked in neighborhoods probably do make some residents feel safer and may even deter crime, but that is hard to prove. If true, why should Albuquerque pay to make areas outside the city appear safer?
Councilors should evaluate all aspects of this issue carefully before making sweeping changes.