Alibi V.28 No.16 • April 18-24, 2019 

Council Watch

Plastic, Police and People

Council handles local and global issues

City Councilors Davis, Jones and Benton
City Councilors Davis, Jones and Benton
Eric Williams Photography

Albuquerque city political leaders have been busy this April, passing a more effective police oversight ordinance, saying no to some single-use plastics, and pondering the mayor’s proposed $1.1 billion budget.

The Real Plastic Earth

A gutted version of the proposed Clean and Green Ordinance barely passed on a 5 to 3 vote by City Councilors at their April 15 meeting. The highly revised legislation only bans plastic bags at most retail businesses, exempting restaurants and dry cleaners.

In a rather untoward, community-eschewing move, the Council did not hear this item, which happened to be the most popular agenda item, until after 8pm when they returned from their dinner break. They should have taken into consideration the dozens of citizens who came to address the Council at this meeting.

However, the number of young people who showed up to speak out in support of saving our planet was impressive. Many citizens who gathered to have their voices heard could not stay until after the Council chowed down. But once they returned, some of the remarkable young people—who stuck around until late in the evening—laid out some sharp, simple truths.

“I see trash everywhere I walk. I see plastic in the Rio Grande,” one future voter told councilors. “Invest in us and our future,” said another. Two articulate young citizens gave a presentation on the harm that plastics are doing to the world environment. They showed the Council photos of plastics in the stomach of the albatrosses that live on Midway Island. The young activists educated the council in a mic-dropping presentation about the harm of roadrunner-suffocating plastics blowing around our desert home. “You may not regret it now but you will when the plastic takes over the Earth,” they gravely intoned. “All you have to do is pass the Albuquerque Clean and Green ordinance,” the youths that gathered all said.

In a city-released study, the cost of an average Styrofoam ‘to-go container’ is about 8 cents while the cost of an eco-friendly one is about 20 cents. It also says the proposed ban could keep at least 120 million shopping bags out of our landfill and another 20 million out of our Rio Grande. Most of those signed up to speak were in support of the ban.

Just about all the citizens said they support the ban and would gladly pay more for eco-friendly take-out containers, paper straws and bags that don’t get stuck in animals’ stomachs. The city study said it would cost the average family an extra $146 a year to pay 10 cents for every single-use plastic bag it uses.

The ordinance gives folks the option of using a reusable bag or paying the business 10 cents per bag. “You are what you eat, and I choose not to be plastic,” one citizen said emphatically.

The owners of several enchilada and breakfast burrito dynasties said the proposed ordinance would cost them in excess of $250,000 a year, which they would have to pass on to their customers. These leaders in the Burque food scene and the New Mexico Restaurant Association complained so much about not being able to afford environmentally friendly carry-out containers for red chile that—in the final version of the bill—Councilors exempted restaurants from the plastic bag, Styrofoam container and straw ban. Other amendments included exempting dry cleaners from the plastic bag ban.

While supporters said the approved business friendly but environmentally truncated ordinance is a disappointment, it is also a step in the right direction. The limited ban impacting grocery and other retail stores will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

Eyes on the Police

Amendments to the city’s 2014 civilian police oversight ordinance were unanimously approved at the Council’s April Fool’s Day meeting. The ordinance is part of the city’s settlement agreement with the US Department of Justice after the police department was found to have a pattern and practice of excessive force.

The Civilian Police Oversight Agency and the Police Oversight Board will now be known as the Civilian Police Oversight Agency Board. It is an independent agency, not part of city government. One controversial change is that the CPOA will now have to ask for a specific amount of funding each year that it anticipates it will need instead of getting half of one percent of the city’s police department operating budget. Three councilors were not in favor of this and said this puts the agency in jeopardy of being under funded and therefore ineffective.

The big ticket item is the subpoena power the oversight board will now have to gather up witnesses, documents and information while investigating claims of excessive force and other misbehaviors by city police officers. Key groups such as the ACLU and the police watchdog group APD Forward were on board with and worked with the city on the amendments.

Mind on the Money

Mayor Tim Keller released a $1.1 billion fiscal year 2020 budget. This is an 11.3 percent increase over the current year’s $997 million budget. Fiscal years run from July 1 to June 30. Just about half of the Mayor’s proposed budget goes to public safety with generous increases for Family and Community Services, Municipal Development, employee raises and much more.

The Council will tweak the budget and hold public hearings, but needs to approve the budget by the end of May. Stay tuned to see where your tax dollars will be going.

Send your comments about the City Council to carolyn@alibi.com.

May meetings of the Albuquerque City Council
Monday, May 6 and May 20 • 5pm
Vincent E. Griego Chambers
Albuquerque/BernCo Government Center • 1 Civic Plaza
View it on GOV TV 16 or at cabq.gov/govtv