Earning and keeping public trust is a tricky thing. This message was loud and clear when more than 200 people attended the Wednesday, Feb. 18, Albuquerque City Council meeting. They let the council know they have lost trust in Mayor Richard Berry’s administration for the callous treatment of the homeless at Tent City/Camp Faith and because they feel betrayed by the unexpected construction of a rock path through the Bosque.
During discussion of the city’s homeless, Councilor Ken Sanchez said there were 3,000 families on the Albuquerque Housing Authority’s slow-moving waiting list. “We are in a crisis situation,” Sanchez said. A number of people spoke in favor of setting up a basic service homeless community similar to one recently set up by the city of Las Cruces. “If you give us a piece of dirt, we will handle the rest. As a city we are better than this,” Emma Sandoval, a member of the SouthWest Organizing Project said, garnering applause.
Bernalillo County Commissioner and former Albuquerque City Councilwoman Debbie O’Malley urged council members to support the county in its effort to implement the new mental health tax approved by county voters in the November 2014 election. “No one likes to raise taxes, but there is just not enough money for housing and resources,” O’Malley said.
The Issue: Crushing the Bosque Trails
Councilors Isaac Benton and Ken Sanchez asked the council to order Mayor Berry to stop work on a six-foot-wide, crushed rock path along the east side of the Rio Grande Bosque between Central Avenue and I-40. Camilla Feibelman from the Sierra Club told the council the city administration pulled a fast one when it started bulldozing the path before the public process was completed. City Chief Operating Officer Michael Riordan said the Bosque plan had been up for public comment for two and a half years, public meetings have been held, it has been studied and vetted by environmental experts, and in the end will benefit the Bosque.
Councilor Peña said the city fell short on the public process, but everyone agrees it is in the best interest of the Bosque to have a trail plan.
Councilors approved ordering the Mayor to cease construction until further public process concludes. The vote was 5-3, split along party lines with Democrat Councilors Benton, Sanchez, Rey Garduño, Klarissa Peña and Diane Gibson voting in favor. Councilors Trudy Jones, Brad Winter and Don Harris opposed it with Dan Lewis absent. Councilor Trudy Jones said she has received many emails and calls from people who support the Mayor’s designated trail. Councilor Garduño said the Bosque is an ancient treasure and needs to be treated carefully and allowed to be wild. Councilor Peña said the city fell short on the public process, but everyone agrees it is in the best interest of the Bosque to have a trail plan. The bill goes to Mayor Berry, who has said that he will veto it and proceed with the trail project because it will protect the Bosque in the long run.
This should not be a partisan issue. All of this could have been avoided if the Mayor and his staff would have had some patience and respect for the often-long public input process. Riordan said the work had to be done now or be postponed another year because of spring bird nesting patterns. This is not a good enough reason to disregard promises made, or implied, to those passionately involved in the public process. If the construction had to wait a year, so be it. That stretch of the Bosque is not going anywhere, so patience is an option that would have garnered trust instead of outrage among so many people working on a process to do things well. Both sides agree it is better for the overall Bosque ecosystem to have a designated path to keep people from walking all over willy-nilly, thereby destroying habitat underfoot. The details of how, what and where sound like the key issues that need to be worked out. Democrats will need a Republican, like Councilor Dan Lewis, on their side to overturn the Mayor’s veto.
Other items approved by the Council include:
Amending several minor items in the city’s new Police Oversight Ordinance including the amount of time commission members will spend in training, and adjusting the amount of public comment time allotted to citizens at the oversight commission meetings.
A resolution to adopt the new Neighborhood Traffic Management Program that outlines traffic calming options available to encourage safer neighborhood traffic flows.
New design standards for the old Indian School area development at Indian School and Menaul. The new design standards were given the thumbs up by Near North Valley Neighborhood Association, according to association member Marit Tully.
The appointments of Wesley J. Wilson to the Albuquerque Energy Council, Scot Key to the Greater Albuquerque Bicycling Advisory Committee, and Elise Rogers to the Balloon Fiesta Park Commission.
The next regular meeting of the City Council is set for Monday, March 2, in the Council Chambers in the basement of City Hall. You can also view it on GOV TV Channel 16 or at cabq.gov/govtv.