Council Watch: It’s Always About the Green
 Alibi V.18 No.17 • April 23-29, 2009 

Council Watch

It’s Always About the Green

Councilors weeded their way through what at first glance looked like a packed 4/20 agenda. They deferred some items, added others and approved in one swoop a consent agenda full of committee appointments, reports and grant applications. Then the Council got some work done. Sort of.

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Issue Council's Take Reporter's Take
On the Burner

Proposed bond projects like roads, parks and construction go to voters every two years. This year, there’s trouble brewing over the city's $160 million general obligation bond. Whose list of projects will the voters see on the ballot in the October election?

The Council and Mayor Martin Chavez have different lists, and councilors altered Chavez’ proposal drastically. This did not go over well on the 11
th floor. Chavez and top City Attorney Bob White responded by telling the Council it missed the 60-day deadline to deal with the project agenda and that it will be the mayor’s priorities on the ballot. Chavez sent the Council his proposal on Jan. 5, and councilors acted on it April 6.
The Council ignored the mayor’s offer to sit down and work out a compromise. Chavez even agreed to cut out the contentious Tingley Beach wading lagoon.

Councilors approved a measure that allows them to hire a lawyer to resolve the simmering dispute.

Several councilors said though they voted in favor of the bill, they weren’t necessarily in favor of going to court. Councilor Ken Sanchez voted against the bill, and Councilor Debbie O’Malley was absent. The City Council’s Committee of the Whole is set to discuss the percolating matter further at its April 23 meeting.
All this heat is unnecessary, but then again, it is an election year. Cadigan and Councilor Brad Winter seemed eager to shoot down Chavez’ ideas. Plus, it sure makes a mayoral candidate look bad if he is being sued by the City Council.

The mayor’s 11
th-hour compromise offer included many of the Council’s priorities. It spent the full $160 million bond money available. Chavez put some of his priorities back onto the list, including money for “new park development,” which could be a scaled-down Westside soccer field.

Chavez and the Council need to set aside personality conflicts and simply do their jobs. If they cannot agree on a list, they should put all possibilities on the ballot. After all, it is city taxpayers who will pay for and use these projects long after these city officials are out of office.
Persistence Pays

The Southwest Alliance of Neighbors (SWAN) was back with yet another appeal of a Westside mobile home park. Many months ago, the Environmental Planning Commission (EPC)approved a zoning amendment for 40 acres of mobile homes just west of Coors on Ervien. SWAN says it did not receive notice of hearings on the development. At the Dec. 15 Council meeting, councilors decided to send the whole issue back to the EPC for a re-hearing. The commission came to the same conclusion and re-approved the zoning amendment that allows the property to be developed. SWAN still hated the idea, and about a dozen people showed up to speak on Monday. The Council granted the group’s appeal.
City Planning Department staff recommended approving the zoning amendment, but councilors disagreed. The city staff said a 40-acre mobile home park fits in with one of Albuquerque’s goals: to have more affordable housing. Cadigan asked for some proof that mobile homes are considered long-term affordable housing. Other councilors said they would rather see “stick-built” affordable housing instead of mobile homes. Councilor Sanchez, whose district encompasses the mobile home park, said he thought the EPC acted capriciously in its decision to approve this project. Jim Strozier, agent for the mobile home development, said he thought this project was exactly what the community wants. Klarissa Pena and Louie Tafoya, longtime SWAN members, said more mobile homes are not good for the area because there are already too many and most are run-down.

This would be a great opportunity for the developer to tap into the green building movement and offer some cutting-edge housing. Doing so would decrease homeowners’ utility costs. True affordable housing is more than just a reasonable monthly payment. It is a key element in creating more stable neighborhoods.
Streetcar Ire

Councilors were asked to approve a wish list to be sent to the Federal Transit Administration outlining which projects will be funded by more than $11 million from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The feds and city administration have already established the scope of what the stimulus money can be spent on: transit kiosks, fare boxes and related technologies, prefabricated shelters, and maintenance support vehicles for new and improved bus stops.

Councilors threw in a couple of floor amendments, including one by Winter that removes any mention of a modern streetcar from the city’s overall Transportation Improvement Program.
Councilor Sally Mayer suggested the Council add language saying if the public wants a streetcar, it can vote for one. Council President Isaac Benton asked fellow councilors why they would want to limit themselves on any type of transit project. He said unlike Mayer’s district, most of his constituents are in favor of some type of streetcar or light-rail through the city. Councilor Sanchez said this amendment slammed the door on an urban light-rail project receiving federal funding until 2030. Councilor Rey Garduño put the final nail in the coffin when he said in his district—which includes Nob Hill—people really do not want a streetcar. He said they would rather see more bus routes throughout the city. The amendment excluding a light-rail project but allowing it back in if voters say so was approved 6-2. The overall measure on spending the stimulus money on bus line improvements passed unanimously. This is shortsighted of the Council. The decision seemed more like election-year politics and an opportunity to jab at the mayor’s vision of streetcars along Central. The city’s Chief Administrative Officer Ed Adams told councilors it doesn’t cost anything to keep a light-rail option open. A major project would have to be approved by the Council and may have to go to a public vote anyway. Unless one of the councilors has a crystal ball to see into the future of the city’s urban transportation needs, it does not serve the public to limit future federal dollars for any new transit option.