While there may have been lots of hot air in our skies, there was not much inside City Hall on Monday, Oct. 4. It was a quick-and-easy Council meeting with a sparse crowd. First, councilors picked over the agenda and postponed a number of items. Then they approved a large package of police department grant applications and the sale of about $135 million in general obligation bonds. They also made some committee appointments. Not much debate was stirred by these issues.
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Green Is Good, Red Is Bad
Councilors dealt with the city’s 22-year-old food sanitation ordinance and replaced it with an amended Food and Drug Administration-approved version. The changes bring the city’s code up to FDA standards. A key change for small businesses is an increase in fees for restaurant and food-production permits. The fees raise city revenue and allow the hiring of three more inspectors, which would bring the total number of city health inspectors to eight. The measure passed.
Councilors Rey Garduño and Ken Sanchez asked the city’s director of Environmental Health if the changes in fees would hurt nonprofits and other groups that provide food for the homeless and needy. Director Mary Lou Leonard said the new ordinance does not treat these types of kitchens differently. All kitchens that feed the public in any manner need to comply with the regulations, she said. This keeps the public safe, she added, homeless included.
The nearly 700-page food code has not been updated since 1988. Leonard said staff has been working on updating it for a good while. No one wants to raise fees, but it is necessary to add staff in order to keep up with inspections. The city’s hundreds of food-serving businesses must undergo a minimum two inspections per year. So look for the green stickers reflecting compliance with local regulations, and relax and enjoy the good food served at our many fine restaurants.
A development plan for the city’s Southeast Heights neighborhoods was up for approval. The proposal changes the name from the Singing Arrow Neighborhood Plan to the East Gateway Sector Development Plan. It also expands the area from about 640 acres to 4,267 acres roughly bordered by I-40 on the north,Wyoming on the west, and the city limits on the south and east. The plan intends to lure more green technology companies to the area, polish the appearance of the streets, amp up Route 66 history and promote recreational areas.
The Council seemed pleased with the goals to create a well-maintained community along east Central toward Kirtland Air Force Base. There was some discussion about the use of speed bumps in residential neighborhoods, but councilors wanted to make sure emergency responders' input was taken into consideration. City planner Russell Brito said public safety is always a big consideration. The area’s councilors, Councilors Don Harris and Garduño, said they liked the plan, which will help transform this stretch of Central into a vibrant destination with accessible parks, retail stores, clean-industry jobs, public transportation options and safe housing.
It is about time this important part of the city gets the chance to revamp itself. This is the first area travelers see when entering the Duke City from the east. The new categories will allow more diverse types of zoning for businesses, which could bring more jobs to the people who live there. Daily traffic from Four Hills, Sandia Labs and Kirtland flows through the neighborhoods, which should give rise to all types of small, green businesses. One hidden gem is the Tijeras Arroyo, a large open space that links the city to even more open space in the Sandia and Manzanita foothills. This should make it a destination point for recreational use by city residents and visitors alike.