Councilors slid through a hefty agenda at the Monday, June 18 meeting, the last before the July recess. In general business, bean counters said city revenue is down a little for the second month in a row. Councilor Rey Garduño commended event planners for the June 16 Centennial Summerfest, saying it was a huge success.
Then the meeting took a tense turn. Garduño called Police Chief Ray Schultz to the podium to ask him if it is standard operating procedure to target tourists, search their cars and call in the feds to seize their money. That's what happened in 2010 when two African-American men were stopped in Albuquerque for not signaling a lane change and had $17,000 taken from them.
Schultz stumbled along answering questions about the pending lawsuit until Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry took over and told Garduño that he did not feel comfortable with the line of questioning, “I don’t think an inquisition in front of this body is the best approach to take,” Perry clipped. In an unusual move, Schultz and other police brass left prior to public comments that are often aimed at the chief and police department.
The next meeting is set for 5 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 6, in the Council Chambers in the basement of City Hall. You can also view it on GOV TV 16 or at cabq.gov/govtv.
Councilors were tasked with taking a stand against the 2010 Citizens United decision. The Supreme Court's opinion eliminated restrictions on corporate and union spending intended to defeat or advocate for a political candidate. Corporations and unions cannot give money directly to campaigns, but they can form super PACs to buy ads. Garduño proposed a resolution calling on Congress to overturn the ruling, a move supported by 79 percent of the country.
The Council listened to dozens of people speak about the unfairness of billions in cash being funneled into elections at national, state and local levels. “Restore power to the individual voice silenced by blank checks,” said one speaker. Councilor Brad Winter asked what the point of the resolution was and then said, “We are acting like what we do here really matters.” President Trudy Jones said a Council statement would mean nothing and then called for the vote. The resolution was defeated by the gang of five Republicans with the standard 5-4 vote split.
The Raging Grannies led the charge by humorously reminding councilors that, “Corporations are not men, they don’t have erections. But the court gave them the right to control our elections.” The condescending, dismissive attitude from right-leaning councilors toward their colleagues and constituents was disturbing. And perhaps a city resolution on national political topics doesn't carry legal force, but when municipalities across the land weigh in, it is noticed, and changes follow.
Pedals and Paddles
Two design firms were up for separate $150,000 contracts to start proposals for a 50-mile bicycle loop and other improvements to the Bosque, such as scenic overlooks, picnic areas and restrooms. These are two of Mayor Richard Berry’s ABQ: The Plan quality-of-life projects. Funding comes from general obligation bonds.
Bicycle enthusiasts said they have concerns about the bike loop plan and want to be part of initial talks. Parks and Recreation Director Barbara Baca reassured councilors that the fragile Bosque would be protected. The contracts were awarded on 8-1 votes. Councilor Ken Sanchez dissented, saying he has concerns about long-term funding.
Both firms should not only consider lots of public input but also talk to each other about how to integrate the two projects. As for the bike loop, there seems to be a problem with fast-moving bicycles and recreational walkers and joggers on the trails. A good design can make room for all types of non-motorized transit.
The Taylor Ranch Neighborhood Association sought to overturn a five-year extension granted to a development company that wants to make a site plan for nearly 70 acres at Coors and Montaño. Silver Leaf Ventures is looking to install a Walmart as well as residential development on the plot. Neighborhood association reps said the Environmental Planning Commission ought to consider the increasingly hectic intersection and traffic issues in the area.
Councilors made inquiries but didn't get into much discussion. Michelle Henrie, a lawyer representing property owners and Walmart, said improvements have already been made on and around the site. A fourth lane of traffic has been added to Coors, she said. Garduño had to sit out, leaving an even number of vote-casters. There was a 4-4 tie on three motions regarding the appeal. City lawyer Bruce Thompson said three ties mean the five-year extension stands.
It’s worth noting that Councilor Dan Lewis, whose Westside district borders the site, voted alongside Democrats to support the neighborhood association. The way this issue is being handled is confusing. It's hard for meeting attendees to tell who voted for what since Jones didn’t require roll-call votes where councilors have to say “yea” or “nay” out loud. Everyone should sit down and review the conditions of this site plan. The planning department has to talk with property owners and residents to see what's changed in that area during the seven years this project has been in motion.
On deck for when the Council returns to work in August: • Councilor Isaac Benton wants to increase the number of Council districts from nine to 13. He introduced a bill to initiate public hearings on the matter. • Councilor Debbie O’Malley introduced a measure to help Albuquerque police crack down on sales of the synthetic marijuana product known as Spice.
• Benton’s Downtown district was eliminated in the latest round of redistricting. This raised concerns about the dilution of minority representation, since minority neighborhoods had been lumped into one district. • O’Malley said the anti-Spice legislation should help protect young adults and children who are being exposed to this dangerous substance.
• The city should increase the number of Council districts to 13, given Albuquerque’s population jumps. More representation is always good.• Albuquerque must work on getting rid of nasty, synthetic, mind-alternating products such as Spice and “bath salts.” These products aren’t well-regulated nationally, so it’s up to individual cities to take them on.