Council Watch: The Arena, Monopines, Recycling
 Alibi V.17 No.48 • Nov 27-Dec 3, 2008 

Council Watch

Middleman in the Recycling Bin

Rex Barron

Is the city looking to hire private contractors to handle some of its recycling? Councilor Michael Cadigan wants to know. He started the Monday, Nov. 17 meeting by questioning Chief Operating Officer Ed Adams about the administration's plans. Adams said the city’s sorting facility is at maximum capacity, and the option's on the table. Cadigan said it would be better for the city to make money off recycling without going through a middleman. Farming the work to private companies, said Councilor Rey Garduño, sounds like privatization to him. Cadigan said he hoped the Council would be included in such a decision before the city signed what would have to be a big contract.

Similarly, Cadigan wanted to know what was going on with the “hole in the ground” outside the Balloon Museum. Adams said it was really more of a depression and could be turned into an amphitheater but that discussion was preliminary. Councilor Debbie O'Malley said she would like the Council to be kept in the loop before anything is constructed.

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Issue Council's Take Reporter's Take
Arena Fever

A $400 million event center and hotel complex could be on the ballot next year if O'Malley and Councilor Isaac Benton have their way. To fund the project, the gross receipts tax in Albuquerque would increase by one-eighth of a cent—you would pay about 12.5 cents more in tax on a $100 purchase. Plans can be viewed at

The Council allotted $700,000 in July to examine whether an arena Downtown is a good idea economically. Findings were presented to the Council at the meeting.

Bill Whitney, a consultant, pointed out that the feasibility study was completed before big changes in the economy. He also said the general manager of the nearby Hyatt would be thrilled with the competition and said it would increase Hyatt revenues.

Dan Barrett said the arena should get commitments from sports teams—at least one—before the city funds it.
Councilor Ken Sanchez had a question for Whitney: "You were not in any way involved in the assessment for the Rio Rancho arena, is that correct?" Whitney laughed. "No, sir. But I heard about it."

Cadigan asked how the arena would cause a revitalization of Downtown, which was one of the talking points of the consultants. The Downtown movie theater was supposed to awaken the area, he said, and it hasn't. Barrett said since the arena was being proposed near retail and the Convention Center, there was an opportunity for a Downtown boost. "If you build a building in the middle of a cornfield, it's not going to have that effect," Barrett said. "It takes a critical mass to make it a successful project."

Councilor Don Harris said he was concerned because the initial reaction of constituents so far has been skepticism.
Now is not the best time to be talking 30-year commitments to higher taxes, expensive hotel rooms and luring New Mexicans to new sports. We've seen franchises come to Albuquerque only to be forgotten in a few short months. People love Lobo basketball. The Isotopes have a fan base. But Rocky Long just quit as head coach of Lobo football because the team has never seen decent fan support in all his years in Albuquerque. That's ominous.

Efforts to revitalize Downtown so far are not going well, either. Fancy, vacant lofts loom over empty storefronts, hollow victims of a "walkable community" plan gone awry. Do developers assume state dwellers have more spending cash than they do? If we really wanted to benefit the citizens living in this state, an arena would have plenty of discount seats, the hotel would cost little to stay in and there would be great, inexpensive food nearby.

Fake Plastic Trees

An appeal about a cell phone tower called for the Council to clarify what counts as aesthetic concealment. David Campbell, representing T-Mobile West, said cell phone towers are being turned down by the Planning Department, which is requiring near invisibility. “These are not decorations,” he said. “These are infrastructure, like power lines.”

More than 140 people in the Northeast Heights neighborhood near Louisiana and Montgomery destined to be the site of the cell phone tower signed a petition against it. A neighborhood representative showed that there will be nothing to block the tower on the east and south. The city says there's another site available on the lot that would have more screening.
Councilor Garduño said he's concerned companies put in applications for tall mono-poles claiming there's no other option. “They say if we don't accept it, then we won't have service, and I'm tired of being afraid.”

Councilor Sally Mayer urged T-Mobile to come back with a design more friendly to neighbors. “That is not what I would want in my backyard,” she said. The Council unanimously voted to deny the appeal, without addressing the broader complaints about the ordinance's clarity.
Attempts to make cell phone towers blend into the background as strange, droopy trees are humorous. Companies should come up with better disguises, and it's not unreasonable to ask them to do so.

Other—perhaps more expensive—options were available in this case that would blend in better, said city planner Catalina Lehner. Everyone hates having calls dropped, but if there's a way to avoid having our technological necessities become eyesores, it should be option A.

Still, the fight's only over for today. Plenty of Council meeting hours will probably be eaten up by cell phone tower issues in the future since ordinance clarity issues weren’t addressed.