After a month-long break, Albuquerque City Councilors got back to spreading around millions of dollars, tackling the opioid giants and supporting our local passenger train at their Aug. 6 regular meeting.
A moment of silence was dedicated to Jeremy Reynalds who founded Joy Junction in 1986. Reynalds died last month after battling a longtime illness but left a passionate legacy for giving a hand, which he did for thousands of families, men, women and children who found themselves homeless in our area.
Before the summer vacay, Councilors gave Topgolf a $2.6 million economic incentive to build a multi-million-dollar entertainment center at the long vacant former home of the Beach Waterpark at I-25 and Montaño.
In July, Mayor Tim Keller vetoed the City Council package saying sweet city incentive deals are for local companies who are providing higher paying, skilled, full-time jobs. After listening to more than a dozen public comments, the Council overrode Mayor Keller’s veto on a 7 to 2 vote with Republican Councilors Brad Winter and Don Harris sticking up for the Democrat mayor’s veto. The planned $39 million golf entertainment center with 3 levels and 72 hitting bays got some funding from the Bernalillo County Commission as well, to the tune of $1.75 million.
Public comment had voices from both sides—some who said it was a good deal and something the metro area needs, and those who saw it as a wasteful handout to an out-of-state corporation who will provide mainly part-time service industry level jobs. One young man said he and his friends are looking forward to getting jobs there. A representative from one of the construction unions said the area desperately needs the construction jobs. Another called it “a reverse Robin Hood,” robbing from the poor to give to the rich. One eloquent speaker did some math with the company’s own numbers then summed up: “We have heard tonight from rich kids who said it is fun, from rich men who say it is fun, but what I hear is the poor people crying.”
City Council President Ken Sanchez said the Council has worked diligently to create claw backs and contract terms to protect the taxpayer’s money. He said this is a good project and will benefit all of Albuquerque.
Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair said after the vote that mayor’s administration welcomes Topgolf and will move forward to help ensure this is a successful project. “This is a normal democracy process and we are going to use our checks and you are going to use your balances,” Nair said. “From time to time we are going to agree to disagree, and that is healthy.”
Councilors affirmed their support of the city joining the wave of lawsuits being filed against giant opioid manufacturers and distributors by municipalities and states. The resolution says that the City Council supports legal action for the drug abuse crisis being fueled by the false promotion and over-supply of opioid prescriptions drugs. New Mexico has one of the highest opioid death rates per capita with about 500 per year. The state Attorney General’s Office, the Navajo Nation, Mora County, Bernalillo County and others have already approved filing or joining lawsuits against the mega-drug pushers.
Councilors also passed a resolution in support of the continuation of Amtrak train service out of Albuquerque on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief. Due to aging rails and a federally unfunded mandate of positive train control on the tracks, Amtrak is proposing to eliminate the Albuquerque stop and instead bus eastbound Albuquerque train users to Trinidad, Colo., where they would board the Southwest Chief. Our Democratic congressional delegation are working on getting funding to add the safety measures to our train tracks. Passenger trains have been chugging in and out of Albuquerque since the late 1800s; how sad would it be for that to not be happening in a metro area of about a million.
• Councilor Isaac Benton, sporting a new goatee, sponsored a Downtown neighborhood walkability policy and to begin implementing roadway configurations, bicycle facilities and pedestrian improvements all in order to improve walkability and livability Downtown.
• Councilors approved forming a City Council sponsored task force to look at options for summer, before and after school youth programs. Keller’s administration has a group looking at youth programs and ways to improve them as well. There is just under a million city dollars available for these types of programs aimed at keeping kids off the streets.
• Kara Grant was appointed to the Lodgers’ Tax Advisory Board.
Councilors delayed amending the city’s Pawnbroker Ordinance and renewing the contract with Edward Harness as the director of the Civilian Police Oversight Agency.