Common Sense Has Left the Building
Westside needs a vision that the rest of the city can buy into
The Westside secession movement represents many things: disappointment with the failure of the $52 million road bond package to pass last October, frustration with City Hall's inability to effectively address very real Westside traffic problems, exasperation with the lack of the same sort of north-south/east-west road grid west of the Rio Grande that exists east of the river and the belief—whether it's real or imagined—that Albuquerque has the same amount of love for the Westside as Natalie Maines does for Toby Keith.
But more than any one of those gripes, what Westside secession really represents is an almost complete and utter breakdown in political leadership, vision and common sense. From the state legislators introducing bills that would allow secession to take place, to Martin Chavez accusing Manny Aragon of a “hate Albuquerque agenda” in the middle of the legislative session (while it may or may not be true, why say it at a time when the Senate majority leader can introduce even worse legislation?) to Gov. Bill Richardson entertaining the idea of placing these bills on the agenda for the 30-day session, it seems that common sense—like Elvis—has left the building.
There is no rational argument that supports secession of the Westside from Albuquerque—all justifications seem to spring entirely from a visceral and base emotional level. Which may explain why each and every argument for Westside secession is a pretty good argument for any part of town removing itself from Albuquerque.
The Westside doesn't get its fair share of capital spending? Neither does the Northeast Heights. City Hall isn't responsive to the needs of Westside communities and residents? Guess what—it isn't responsive to the needs of the majority of residents in the Southwest, Northeast and Southeast parts of town, either! Fed-up with delays and excuses from the city bureaucracy? Then get rid of the current management at the next election. But leaving the city lock, stock and barrel is the functional equivalent of cutting off your nose to spite your face.
One elected official who apparently understands this and who, to his credit, has not engaged in the corrosive we'll take our marbles and go home political demagoguery is City Council President Michael Cadigan, representative from the Northwest side of town that has quickly become the crucible of Albuquerque's future.
A sponsor of the Planned Growth Strategy, Cadigan was also the principal architect of the failed road bond package, but he quickly rejects the notion that the vote should be used as an excuse for secession. “It doesn't make sense from a political or a pocketbook perspective,” Cadigan says. “Right now, the Westside has $25 million in road needs. We can either put our energy into winning support from the rest of the city to help us address those needs or we can secede and pick up 100 percent of the tab—and that means raising taxes.”
Albuquerque's northwest mesa represents roughly 11 percent of the city's (growing) population and about 15 percent of its property tax base—the funding source for general obligation bonds. However, under the road bond package this area of town would have received over 50 percent of the bond money, a point road bond and Paseo extension foes like Council Vice President Eric Griego used aggressively to claim the Westside was getting “more than its fair share”—an argument that rings a little hypocritical considering the percentage of the city's social services budget going to Griego's district. (But that's where the needs are! No kidding, Sherlock. And where do you think we need roads?)
Could the new “West Albuquerque” build the Paseo del Norte extension, complete Unser Boulevard and underwrite the rest of the Westside infrastructure it needs on its own? Perhaps. But, as Cadigan points out, it would require a “radical” increase in property tax assessments for the greatly reduced number of homeowners footing the overall bill.
For his part, Cadigan is opting to focus on the next opportunity for passing the road bonds and will work with the newly-created “Westside Roads Task Force” to craft a revised bond package for the November general election. Odds would seem to favor its passage this go around given a higher voter turnout and the absence of Chuck Gara and Citizens for Greater Albuquerque energizing the opposition but in Albuquerque, you never know. The task force has at its table advocates and opponents of the Paseo del Norte extension—the key stumbling block in the last vote—and already there is talk of two different bond proposals, one specifically for Paseo and another for the rest of the package.
City residents and the elected officials who are currently putting their efforts into the Westside secession movement would ultimately accomplish more for their cause—and the much larger cause of our city—by taking a similar tack as Cadigan. Leadership, in this case isn't walking away from people who disagreed with you. It's putting forward a vision that makes more of them want to buy in.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. Payne, a former city councilor, can be reached at email@example.com.