Alibi V.18 No.38 • Sept 17-23, 2009 

Council Watch

Traffic Chill in Nob Hill

Traffic along Central through Nob Hill will just have to slow down. The City Council approved the installation of two stop lights at the intersections of Wellesley and Morningside. The lights are needed for safe pedestrian crossings, according to Councilor Rey Garduño. At the Wednesday, Sept. 9 meeting, several business owners and residents spoke in support, saying pedestrians have to “haul ass” across Central because there are not enough safe crossing points. A couple of councilors griped about Nob Hill getting the lights without a recent traffic engineering study, saying they want more lights in their districts, too. In the end, there was unanimous approval.

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Issue Council's Take Reporter's Take
Build Free

The Council tackled four bills sponsored by Councilors Ken Sanchez and Trudy Jones that would waive impact fees completely for “green path” developments and reduce fees by 50 percent for traditional construction for a year. Types of construction covered by the bills are public safety, roadways, drainage, parks, open space and recreation facilities. The bills also define green path developments as those that receive a stringent city permit with standards for renewable energy and energy efficiency, such as LEED Gold or Silver, or Build Green New Mexico. Impact fees charged to developers offset the city’s cost of providing infrastructure such as streets, parks and sidewalks. A 45-page fiscal impact report submitted by the city bean counters shows a projected annual loss to city coffers of anywhere from about $1.3 million to $2.9 million.
Before casting their votes, councilors listened to about three hours of public comment from supporters—many wearing “VOTE JOBS” stickers—and from those who opposed the bills. Councilors Sanchez, Jones, Sally Mayer, Brad Winter and Don Harris said waiving all or part of the impact fees would boost the city’s sagging construction economy and put people to work. Several builders said the cost of the impact fees can be the deciding factor in whether to embark on a project. Those opposing the bills said there is already a glut of homes on the market and too much sprawl, and that construction in the city is slumping because banks aren’t lending. Councilors Michael Cadigan, Debbie O’Malley, Isaac Benton and Garduño voted against the waivers and said the city will have to make up for the millions lost and still provide infrastructure. Mayer reminded everyone the move to eliminate the fees is not permanent. On a 5-4 vote, the Council gave the thumbs up to a yearlong reprieve from the fees. Passing the reduction was shortsighted. The issue of a one-industry tax break to stimulate Albuquerque's economy needs more vetting. The city’s lengthy fiscal impact report estimates the city takes in about $2,180,000 in residential impact fees per year—that's 436 permits paying $5,000 each. While one residential construction site could provide work for about 38 people, construction jobs tend to be short-lived, averaging six months, according to the report. 

In the metro area there are 700 homes for sale and 11,611 vacant single-family lots available. But according to the report, only 25 percent of those lots are within the city limits, and many are not usable for one reason or another.

It's true the pyramid impact of construction jobs feeds the overall economy, but so do many other businesses that could use tax relief. It's complicated, and councilors are damned if they support it and damned if they don’t. What about citywide, business-inclusive tax relief or stimulus incentives doled out across the board?
’Round the Mountain

Big trucks are taking a shortcut from I-25 to the Broadway industrial area via Mountain, causing damage to houses and buildings in the historic Santa Barbara / Martineztown area. Before the rebuilding of the Big I, there was no direct access onto Mountain from I-25. An emergency measure would put a 5-ton limit on trucks but exclude city, state and federal government trucks.
There was not a lot of discussion by the Council before it unanimously approved this measure. Several dedicated Santa Barbara / Martineztown residents waited until 11 p.m. to tell the Council about the cracks, shifting foundations and general nuisance the trucks are causing not only to residents’ homes but their peace of mind. The truck traffic also threatens the safety of area kids who have to cross Mountain to get to nearby schools, they said. Mountain is an important part of the city’s history and one of its oldest roads. Early last century, Mountain was one of the main logging access paths from the Sandia Mountains to the sawmills that were west of Martineztown. Many of the homes in the area are more than 100 years old and made of fragile adobe. It’s a no-brainer to make big rig drivers go the extra distance to Lomas, which is built to handle heavy traffic.