The Big-I looks like crap
By Greg Payne
February is set to give way to March, bringing with it the end of the latest installment of the state Legislature where all New Mexico's problems were thoughtfully addressed and solved in a spirit of bipartisanship; with neither individual legislators nor Gov. Bill Richardson stopping to worry about who might be getting the better of whom in the press. And if you believe that, you probably believe the state is cutting taxes and spending less money!
The birth dates of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln came and went with hardly any notice (the rumors that Mayor Chavez would serve as the likeness for bronze sculptures of both proved inaccurate) but the global press was abuzz with speculation that the Democrat frontrunner for president, John Kerry, might have dated an intern he wasn't married to—ignoring the fact that Kerry's alleged behavior has become something of a prerequisite for the job.
And finally, hundreds—if not thousands—of gay couples flocked to San Francisco in order to tie the knot after that city's mayor gave the OK to gay marriages. The action caused political sparks throughout the country and added fuel to the gay marriage fire that could well play a prominent role in the upcoming presidential election. Given that the nation's rate of divorce stands around 50 percent (half of all heterosexual marriages will end in divorce) gay marriage opponents made it clear they simply didn't want gay people to be as miserable as many of them are.
Following are a few other random observations on the show that never ends:
It must be something in the water ... Freshman City Councilor Martin Heinrich continues to impress with his performance in just a short amount of time on that body. Heinrich is quickly establishing himself as the lead reformer of the city's stagnating water conservation effort. While his colleague Eric Griego has actually discussed the possibility of restricting shower times for city residents (it's only a matter of time before Griego's suggesting "buddy showers"), Heinrich's approach is to make certain City Hall has its own house in order before the city hammers residential customers anymore than it already is.
For starters, Heinrich has sponsored legislation addressing the city's deplorable rate of unaccounted for water, or UAW. What Mayor Chavez and his marginally incompetent Public Works Director, Ted Asbury, know and have attempted to gloss over for the past couple of years is the fact that Albuquerque loses over 4 billion gallons of water a year—about 12 percent of what it pumps out of the aquifer.
Heinrich's bill (which, unfortunately, has to get an OK from the new city-county Water Authority until the city can wrest back control of its water utility) would put a freeze on most water rate increases until the unaccounted for water rate is reduced. The new councilor seems to understand that—by and large—the City Hall bureaucracy will only truly respond to public policy makers when their cash is cut off and they're being held by the short hairs. Otherwise, they're viewed as a pesky inconvenience.
Additionally, Heinrich proposes opening up neighborhood covenants that prohibit residents from xeriscaping their yards. This one could be a little more controversial but at least Heinrich's brain isn't on auto-pilot like some of his colleagues.
The Big I-sore ... Just a couple of years ago, the reconstruction of the Big I was held up as a positive affirmation to what government can accomplish for the community. One of the largest construction projects in the history of the state, the $270 million revamp of the most traveled area in New Mexico came in on time and on budget and everyone said, "Hooray for us!"
While that part of the equation was good news (compare the Big I remodel with the Bernalillo County jail, for example), anyone who drives 1-40 or 1-25 can tell you the landscape blight that existed for 40 years with the previous interchange is back in full force, once again. Yes, we have pretty salmon pastel and sky blue flyovers that didn't exist before, but everything else looks like crap.
Unfortunately, the city had an incredible opportunity to take a portion of the windfall gross receipts tax that the reconstruction generated (approximately $5 million dollars) and earmark it toward landscaping the Big I. But, being the incorrigible little guy that he was, then-Mayor Jim Baca vetoed the council appropriation and with the help of council allies like Tim Kline and Alan Armijo, the City Council was unable to override Baca's veto of the landscaping bill. Instead, the money went into the spending black hole that became the legacy of the Baca administration
Sharing responsibility for this screw-up, however, was Gov. Gary Johnson. Johnson and Baca wound up in a political standoff (I wasn't the only person who couldn't get along with hizzoner) over how the landscaping portion of the remodel should be financed. Baca demanded the state kick in all the dough for the landscape improvements while Johnson refused—saying the state only does "brick and mortar"— and even vetoed a couple of appropriations from the state Legislature that would have gotten the job done.
Great work, guys! It's a crummy intersection that sells New Mexico and our residents short and we have you to thank for it.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. Payne, a former city councilor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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