Albuquerque City Councilors returned from their summer break to a packed chamber. Citizens spoke their minds on topics such as being forced to work while sick, the future of Albuquerque Rapid Transit and pesky elm trees. Vice President Klarissa Peña chaired the August 1 meeting as President Dan Lewis was excused.
ART? You decide!
Councilor Diane Gibson introduced a nonbinding resolution to place the Albuquerque Rapid Transit question on the November ballot. This will be debated at the next council meeting on August 15. Because this is nonbinding, even if the voters say they do not want ART running for nine miles along historic Route 66/Central Ave, the city administration can still move forward with construction. But if the resolution passes the Council, then the construction must stop until after the election. Just hours before the meeting, a US 10th Circuit Appeals Court judge put a temporary halt to the project until both sides of the issue are presented in the Denver court. The Council bill has a long way—it has to pass through a committee, then come to the Council table, then Mayor Richard Berry has to sign off on it before it goes to Bernalillo County Commissioners to see if there is room for the measure the November ballot.
Public comment overwhelmingly centered around support for the Healthy Workforce ballot initiative to allow all employees to accrue paid sick leave. About 100 people showed up wearing t-shirts in support of the Healthy Workforce Ordinance. There were also other issues on the public’s mind. “I am here because my neighbors to the east have allowed a Chinese Elm to sprout up on their side of the fence line,” one speaker said. She went on to say that the Chinese Elm is blocking her view of the Sandia Mountains. She said Chinese Elm trees should be considered noxious weeds by the city. Also, at this meeting, there were more speakers in support of the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project than speaking against it.
Community Cable Update
Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry said the city has placed its community cable provider, uPublic, on provisional compliance status. Perry gave a long awaited update on the status of uPUBLIC after repeated requests by the public and several Councilors. Perry said a recent report shows there were issues regarding the amount of local programming being aired on the three community channels—26, 27 and 96. Perry basically said that there has been a misunderstanding on the part of uPublic over the last three years as to what local programming really means. Several Councilors did not buy his argument. Councilor Brad Winter summed the situation up, saying, “uPublic is doing good things, but this is not public access. We may not like it, but someone else does.” Perry went on to say that uPublic is looking at bringing in local ProView Networks for more local high school sports shows and reaching out to Quote Unquote to produce local citizen content. Perry said the contract to run the city’s cable channels is up for renewal in June 2017.
Fair for All
City Councilors approved a citizen petition asking voters in the November election whether or not businesses should provide paid sick leave for all their employees. The Albuquerque Healthy Workforce Ordinance would let employees accrue sick leave at a rate of one hour per 30 hours worked. Volunteers collected about 24,000 signatures to place the question on the ballot. State Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino, a supporter of the measure, spoke at a rally on Civic Plaza prior to the meeting. He said healthy workers create a healthy business environment where customers want to return. “Everyone gets sick, including every person sitting in this chamber,” reported Ivy Rizzo, owner of the local family-owned Fano Bakery—a company that already provides paid sick leave for employees. Because the ballot question came from a citizen driven petition, the council is obligated to pass the measure. A couple of supporters spoke out saying that without paid sick leave, they are forced to work when they are sick.
The Council also approved raising the amount of money mayoral candidates receive for public financing. Municipal candidates can choose if they want to raise their own campaign funds or go through the process to qualify for public campaign financing. Currently the amount is based on $1.50 per registered voter. The bill raises that amount to $1.75 and 50 cents to 60 cents per voter for run-off. This comes to about $630,00 for mayoral candidates and about $250,000 for publicly funded Council candidates. It is now up to the Bernalillo County Commission to decide if it has room to place these questions on the ballot.
Lambda Chi No More
The former Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity house at the University of New Mexico is going to be torn down. The price tag for the wrecking ball is $85,000. The owner of the property did not object to the city demolishing the building and placing a lien on the property. The fraternity lost its right to be on campus in 2005 after a 19-year-old said she was raped there. The building is one of five along UNM’s frat row that is in need of demolition.
City Councilors approved designating the area along Second and Fourth Streets, from Granite to roughly Montaño, as a Metropolitan Redevelopment Area. The North Corridor Metropolitan Redevelopment Area boundaries are generally the railroad tracks on the east, Granite on the south, Montaño—or in some places the county line on the north—and one property to the west of Fourth Street. The designation will open up sources of funding to encourage both public and private redevelopment in these areas.
Healthy City Snacks
City employees will have healthier choices waiting for them in the city’s vending machines. Councilors Brad Winter and Pat Davis sponsored the resolution saying they want city employees to have better snack items. Currently the city vending machines must have at least 25 percent healthy options such as nuts and low or no-sugar drinks. The resolution says snacks must be labeled with calorie counts.