A sparse number of folks braved the nearly triple digit heat to attend the June 20 meeting of the Albuquerque City Council. A relatively light agenda eased Councilors into the long summer days of a month long break. They will return to the Council table on August 1.
Tucked into the consent and regular agenda were six measures funding the way for the proposed Albuquerque Rapid Transit. There was no real discussion by the Council and only a couple of general public comments from folks on each side of the project. The rapid transit project is currently being contested in US District Court. It has recently come to light that Mayor Richard Berry and his legal team paid $75,000 to retain an out-of-state law firm to fight the property owners, businesses and residents who are opposing the project.
Former Albuquerque Chief Administrative Officer David Campbell stopped in to let the Council know Albuquerque is still a great place to live and vacation. Campbell and his wife Shelly left Albuquerque, along with his top job with Mayor Richard Berry’s administration, five years ago for a foreign diplomat traveling gig with the State Department. They have recently been in Ecuador and after their vacay will head to Washington, D.C. for their next assignment. “Sometimes you have to go away to realize how great Albuquerque is,” Campbell said.
Public comment was a little disjointed with no one topic dominating the conversation. It was a tough night for Council President Dan Lewis when several commenters leveled harsh words at him over incidents where Lewis had people removed or cut off from meetings. One commenter scolded Lewis for making a snarky comment to a previous speaker. Lewis had quipped that he would protect anyone’s right to say whatever they wanted to say even if the comments were mostly wrong. Other random comments include:
It was a tough night for Council President Dan Lewis when several commenters leveled harsh words at him over incidents where Lewis had people removed or cut off from meetings. One commenter scolded Lewis for making a snarky comment to a previous speaker.
• “I am not going to be talking about little kittens … little doggies … little children.”
• “I am very concerned with roadway fatalities.”
• “Not one person on this Council stood up for our rights.”
• “There is no protection for slaves.”
• “The city’s best and brightest are leaving. It is time for us to get creative on policies.”
No Nasty River
Councilors gave some teeth to the city’s storm water quality ordinance by implementing criminal and or civil charges for violations. All of the city’s storm water drains directly into the Rio Grande through a series of underground pipes and aboveground arroyos. This means some nasty pollutants like automotive and other chemical fluids along with lots of animal and household waste get washed into our river from yards, streets, parking lots, etc. The city has to comply with strict US Environmental Protection Agency standards. Melissa Lozoya, from the city’s municipal development department, said the goal is for nothing other than storm water to go into the city’s many drains and arroyos. Lozoya said there is an outreach program in place to educate the public about the new, tougher rules. “If we catch someone putting something in a storm drain we are going to try to educate them first, not fine them,” she said. According to the feds, Albuquerque could do a little better job keeping stuff like e-coli and automotive fluids out of the river.
Reining in PNM
Councilors spent a chunk of time discussing a matter that ended on a split vote, approving a resolution that has no real bite. The resolution outlines the City Council’s position on the Public Service Company of New Mexico’s pending rate increase request. The big power company has an extensive rate increase application pending at the state’s Public Regulation Commission asking for a number of things including an average customer increase of about 14.3 percent. The resolution says the Council wants some limitations on PNM’s requested revenue. Councilor Isaac Benton tried but failed to get approval of a vague amendment saying that the Council does not oppose decoupling. What is decoupling? Well it is complicated, in a nutshell decoupling means allowing PNM to separate sales from its revenues and removing the disincentive for the utility to sell more energy as a means of increasing revenue and profits. Representatives from several local environmental groups gave comments supporting decoupling. They say decoupling will encourage PNM to invest in more renewable wind and solar energy. Amy Miller, PNM’s director of local government told the Council decoupling is an issue where PNM and environmental groups agree. She said PNM proposed decoupling as part of its rate case. Miller went on to say PNM opposed the resolution on the table in general due to inaccuracies. Jeff Albright, the attorney handling the rate case issue for the city said there were no substantial inaccuracies other than PNM not agreeing with the resolution that in part asks for a lower rate increase and a hard cap on the profits the company can make.
Councilors approved raising the Passenger Facility Charge for each enplaned passenger at the Albuquerque International Sunport. The charge will go from $3.00 to $4.50 for the pleasure of flying out of our unique and historic Sunport. The proposed money, about $20 million, will go toward a number of safety and security improvements along with other upgrades.