Alibi V.14 No.32 • Aug 11-17, 2005 

Council Watch

Cranky, Cranky

City Councilor Eric Griego asked for a second hearing on his proposal for a moratorium on building permits on the Westside.

Wes Naman

Several councilors apparently spent the July semi-vacation sharpening their axes for the Aug. 1 meeting instead of relaxing. However, the Council unanimously passed Councilor Martin Heinrich's bill approving a $65,000 contract with the Sirolli Institute for community-based enterprise development in the Southeast Heights. Councilor Tina Cummins was excused.

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IssueCouncil's TakeReporter's Take
Valorie Vigil and the Two-Thirds Rule Councilor Miguel Gómez attempted to add a vote of no confidence in Valorie Vigil to the agenda. Gómez said Vigil, director of the Family and Community Services department, had acted inappropriately and was not in step with the department. Gómez said Vigil recently excluded him deliberately from a community center groundbreaking in his district. Gómez said someone from Mayor Martin Chavez' reelection campaign had called him that morning, saying if he proceeded with the vote on Vigil, the administration would use every means to discredit and smear Gómez. Gómez' motion to put the item on the agenda, which needed a two-thirds majority to succeed, failed with only five votes.Now, five out of eight councilors is 62.5 percent, while 6 out of 8 is 75 percent, so one might think that .63 is closer to 67 percent than .75. But a recent bill's creative definition of two-thirds gives a minority faction the advantage if councilors are absent. On the other hand, the absent Cummins would have been another sure administration vote on the matter.
One Pol's Pork Is Another's Priority Chavez' original budget included millions for an attempt to get pandas for the zoo, a scuba tank at the aquarium and funding for the Balloon Fiesta Museum. But councilors moved funds from the flashier items to basic street and transit needs. When the budget went back to Chavez, he line-item vetoed several of the changes, including funding for the North Domingo Baca Multigenerational Center in the district of Council President Brad Winter, also running for mayor, and $750,000 for work in frequent critic Debbie O'Malley's district. In his memorandum to the Council, Chavez wrote, "É I have also vetoed all other directive language added by Council. Not only does this type of language preempt the powers vested in the Executive Branch by the City Charter, in this particular case, it represents a flagrant example of election-year pork barrel spending."Winter and Gómez attempted to override the mayor's line-item vetoes, a move that requires six votes. O'Malley said that cutting the funding originally in Chavez' budget for the Sawmill-Wells Park area sent a message that the city didn't value neighborhood residents' endless hours of work. Councilor Griego tried to get definitive answers from Chief Operating Officer Ed Adams whether the administration supported earmarking funding for several projects, including affordable housing in the Barelas neighborhood. Adams said the mayor's changes would remove various strictures on allocating monies. Winter moved to vote on overriding specific line item vetoes. Cadigan, whose compromise bill lacked enough votes to get on the agenda, voted against the overrides, along with Loy and Mayer.Continuing with Council's Take: Although the following items may receive monies, they have lost specifically earmarked funds: an affordable housing project for Barelas, development money for Sawmill-Wells Park neighborhoods, funding for sidewalk construction based on need, the Great Streets program, noise walls, fire station rehabilitation, Southwest Mesa development and the North Domingo Baca community center. O'Malley characterized the mayor's vetoes as "pretty petty" and "bullying tactics." Griego said, "Does anybody think about pandas when they think about Memphis? Well, Memphis has pandas, but the publicity wasn't that great."
Bow Down Before the Smiley Face Local residents have filed an appeal against the Environmental Planning Commission's approval of a Wal-Mart Superstore on Wyoming and Menaul in Councilor Sally Mayer's District 7. Mayer began discussion by saying she had done nothing wrong, and that people criticizing contributions to her reelection campaign should have come to her first. Mayer said she didn't need to recuse herself from voting on the appeal because she stopped talking to interested parties once the appeal had been filed. Mayer asked City Attorney Bob White if she should recuse herself. White recommended she do so, saying the only problem might be Mayer's contact with parties involved, which courts look at "maybe too closely." Director of Council Services Laura Mason agreed. Cadigan said he was shocked at the legal advice, calling it a "profoundly paranoid" fear that the city might be sued. Mason said, "My answer was not based on the idea that we may be sued but on information in the [appeals] file." The appeals will be heard Sept. 19.Given Wal-Mart's frequent success at exploiting loopholes in local zoning laws, a Superstore will probably land on Wyoming. But multiple problems plague the retailing giant, including plummeting stock, sex- and racial-discrimination lawsuits, awareness of the hidden costs of Wal-Mart's low prices and money diverted to running touchy-feely institutional ads. The new organizations Wake Up Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart Watch are coordinating opposition groups, but probably not soon enough to affect the current issue.
In a Hole? First, Stop Digging. Councilor Eric Griego's proposed one-year moratorium on Westside residential building permits called for using the 12-month halt to address transit, traffic congestion, employment opportunities, water and sewer services, school crowding and retail development. Griego listed cities around the nation that passed similar moratoriums. Griego said nine out of 10 Westside residents he talked to thought growth was overwhelming. One commented, "We were sold a community but what we got was four walls." Griego said the city would never catch up on Westside infrastructure needs without a chance for a breather. O'Malley recounted visiting a nephew who lives near I-40 and Unser and getting trapped in gridlock. "Welcome to my world," Gómez said. O'Malley asked Planning Director Richard Dineen about streets laid out in grids versus newer loop road designs allowing neighborhoods only one way in and out. Dineen said both road concepts had problems. Cadigan said much of Griego's bill asked for the same things as the Planned Growth Strategy. Mayer said, "Aren't [Albuquerque] building permits going down?" Dineen said, "No, they're going up. They usually go down after impact fees, but not here." Griego called for a second hearing on the bill. Councilor Craig Loy asked, if the moratorium passed, what would happen to construction workers tomorrow. Any effect would not be immediate. Hundreds, if not thousands, of units on the Westside have already been permitted, and much land is still available on the Eastside. Griego said he wanted to trigger discussion on the bill and would use the input he'd received for a new version, possibly calling for more targeted moratoriums. But the usual "new version" bills are diluted by intense pressure until they are almost toothless, then challenged by opponents because they don't really do anything new.