DA: Violence in Bernalillo not “gang war”
The new Bernalillo police chief expected to arrive in the next few weeks will find a department recovering from more than a year of turmoil and headlines saying a gang war is underway.
Eight as yet unidentified current and former law officers applied for the job of top cop, town administrator Lester Swindle said. The applications, minus the names, were given to a committee of town officials and outside experts who will rank their qualifications and forward at least three candidates to mayor Charles Aguilar for interviews, he said.
The names of finalists will be released at that time, and the mayor’s recommendation is scheduled to be presented to the town council at its April 12 meeting, Swindle said. All of the applicants are currently certified by the state as law-enforcement officers, he added.
District attorney Lemuel Martinez said he’s anxious to see a new chief provide strong leadership given public concern over recent gang shootings. Martinez said the apparent increase in gang activity may not be the result of trouble with the police department, but added, “Criminals are intelligent creatures and play upon people’s weaknesses. If they sense a weakness in law enforcement, they would be inclined to exploit it.”
The violence does not yet rise to the level of “gang war,” he said.
Controversy engulfing the police department began in January 2003 when the town council failed to renew the contract of chief William Relyea. His first successor never showed up, and the second recruiting effort handed the job to former Los Angeles housing officer Ramon “Mojo” Montijo in April.
Montijo soon ordered an inventory of department property and evidence which spawned a criminal investigation now in the hands of Second Judicial District attorney Kari Brandenburg in Albuquerque. Aguilar twice suspended Montijo before the council voted to fire the chief in October.
Leading up to the March 2 town council election, a perceived lack of police presence and a noticeable increase in graffiti became campaign issues. And that was before the shooting started.
A February 20 confrontation police say involved two members of rival gangs ended with Ignacio Saenz dead of gunshot wounds allegedly at the hands of Terry Rinaldi. Police released Rinaldi saying he acted in self-defense, but Martinez told the Signpost he’ll let a grand jury consider that question.
That was followed by at least six drive-by shootings believed to be in retaliation which rattled nerves and shattered windows but produced no additional casualties.
In mid-March, school superintendent Dr. Gary Dwyer closed Carroll Elementary School for two days after receiving reports the gang violence might spread to relatives working at the school. Meanwhile multiple police agencies met to coordinate strategy and conduct sweeps of known gang members, which resulted in several arrests.
Intense media coverage portrayed a town at risk although administrator Swindle said a few people fighting does not qualify as a gang war.
“That’s such an unfortunate moniker to place upon a feud between two individuals,” Swindle said. “It’s two little groups with three or four people on each side.”
Dwyer said the reports he received of a possible expansion of the violence came from credible sources. He said many parents expressed concern about the gang situation and he stands by closing the school.
“I would do it again tomorrow,” Dwyer said. “People who think it was an overreaction need to remember Columbine.”
Carroll Elementary now has an officer on campus, and school staff will receive refresher training in gang issues during the summer, he said.
Couples lined the halls of the Sandoval County Courthouse in hopes to marry last February
Restraining order squelches same-sex marriage licenses
Sandoval County clerk Victoria Dunlap’s second attempt to issue same-sex marriage licenses came to a quick end with a court order blocking her action.
Dunlap had announced she would again issue the licenses on March 23, but by 9:30 a.m. that morning, District Judge Kenneth Brown had signed a restraining order requested by the county’s attorney, David Mathews, and Assistant Attorney General Christopher Coppin. Unlike on February 20, when Dunlap issued sixty-two such licenses and drew national headlines, none were distributed this time.
About twenty couples were waiting in line when Dunlap said she was backing off out of fear of being sued.
“No matter where you fall on the issue of same-sex marriage, you don’t jerk people around like that,” county spokesman Gayland Bryant said. “This is the tail wagging the dog.
“The county clerk is not a policy maker.”
In February, Dunlap said she was acting after getting inquiries about licenses and finding state law to be ambiguous. That sparked a response from Attorney General Patricia Madrid saying legislation creating license applications clearly specifies the couple be a man and a woman.
This time Dunlap said if she did not issue the licenses, she would be denying some county residents their civil rights. Attempts to contact Dunlap for further comment after the court order was issued were unsuccessful.
Petitions to the court claimed Dunlap breached an oral contract with county commissioners made in February when she said she would stop issuing same-sex licenses. The documents also allege she created a safety hazard by crowding the courthouse with hopeful couples who made hallways impassable.
Judge Brown agreed with those arguments and the contention any change in law is up to the Legislature. “The court further finds that the legality of such marriages should be determined [on] a state-wide basis and that Sandoval County is not an island unto itself to determine the laws of the State of New Mexico,” Brown wrote.
Dunlap, a Republican elected to a four-year term in 2000, has had a contentious relationship with county officials over hirings and firings, election snafus, and disputes with county staff. Commission chairman Daymon Ely was quoted as calling Dunlap “nuts,” and Bryant, asked if that was commission policy or just one commissioner’s opinion, said it was likely the opinion of all five commissioners.
A Rio Rancho resident, Dunlap recently announced her candidacy for the county commission District 4 seat held by Democrat Jack Thomas, who has filed for reelection. Dunlap competes with Chris Espinosa, also of Rio Rancho, in the June 1 Republican primary election.
Rick Burnley of Placitas looks out onto the Crest of Montezuma, land he helped preserve as open space for the future of Placitas
TPL strives to preserve habitat and open space in Placitas
—Trust for Public Land and Signpost staff
When Placitas resident Rick Burnley saw people staring at a large map on the hood of a Lexus, he was nervous. He correctly suspected that the beautiful valley near his home was slated for development. Concerned that riparian habitat would be lost along with the rural character of his community, Burnley decided to find out if something could be done to protect the land, known locally as the Crest of Montezuma.
Located fifteen miles north of Albuquerque in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains, Placitas has experienced intense development pressure. Throughout the area, new homes are being built at an astonishing rate. Developing the ecologically sensitive area seemed like too much to area residents who have seen coyote, bear, and deer drink from the creek that traverses the property, and watched great horned owls and bald eagles soar overhead.
Fortunately, research led Burnley to Karyn Stockdale of the Trust for Public Land (TPL). Stockdale met with Burnley and other Placitas residents, and then began discussions with the landowners about ways of protecting the land that would meet the needs of all parties. Good news came when Stockdale approached officials from the Bureau of Land Management and discovered they were interested in acquiring and protecting the property.
While BLM was interested, the agency did not have the funds to purchase the property within a time frame the landowners could accept. Some quick negotiating by TPL allowed Santo Domingo Pueblo to acquire 1,077 acres of the Crest property in November 2003. Santo Domingo will hold the property as a “conservation buyer” until the pueblo is able to complete an exchange with BLM, expected to take place in mid-2004.
BLM plans to work with area residents to develop a resource-management plan that will protect wildlife habitat and allow for low-impact recreational use. Through the exchange, Santo Domingo will acquire ancestral lands nearer the pueblo.
The Trust for Public Land conserves land for people to en gardens and other natural places, ensuring livable communities for generations to come.
TPL's legal and real estate specialists work with landowners, government agencies, and community groups to create urban parks, gardens, greenways, and riverways; build livable communities by setting aside open space in the path of growth; conserve land for watershed protection, scenic beauty, and close-to-home recreation; and safeguard the character of communities by preserving historic landmarks and landscapes.
TPL believes that connecting people to land deepens the public's appreciation of nature and the commitment to protect it. Since 1972, TPL has helped protect more than 1.4 million acres in forty-five states—from expansive recreation areas to historic homesteads to vest-pocket city parks.
- In December 2003, the American Institute of Philanthropy’s Charity Rating Guide awarded TPL an A+ for its wise use of donated funds.
- In April 2003, Charity Navigator ranked TPL number one among twenty-five hundred of America’s best-known charities.
- For three years in a row, the Wall Street Journal’s SmartMoney magazine named TPL the nation’s #1 conservation charity for the efficient use of donated funds.
- Eighty-six cents of every dollar you give to TPL goes directly to support its program work. Visit them at www.tpl.org, or call Karyn Stockdale at 505-988-2939, extension 31.
Jim Fish and Vicki Peck of Anasazi Fields Winery walk the land that is under consideration for a partial purchase by the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program.
Anasazi Fields signs agreement with Trust for Public Land
Anasazi Fields Winery
On March 8 Anasazi Fields, Inc., signed an agreement with the Trust for Public Land under which TPL has the option to purchase a conservation easement on the 4.6 acres at 83 Paseo de San Antonio owned by AFI. AFI and TPL are currently preparing an application to the Natural Resource Conservation Service for partial funding of the project by the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program. AFI would donate a portion of the value of the conservation easement and the balance of the funding would be raised locally.
The property was purchased by AFI in 1998 from Jim and Kathy King to save it from immediate development. If AFI had not purchased the property, it is likely that the property and adjacent land would already have as many as ten houses on it. In addition, the water rights would have been severed from the land and used to support the construction of as many as twenty-five to thirty additional houses in the vicinity of the village of Placitas.
Placing a conservation easement on the AFI property is the key to saving as much as twelve acres of agricultural property and prime wildlife habitat in the northeast corner of the village of Placitas. Removing the possibility of severing the water rights from this land would also contribute significantly to the long-term preservation of the acequia system in the village.
The stated mission of Anasazi Fields Winery, founded in 1993, is to preserve the agricultural nature of the small villages of Northern New Mexico by producing a value-added product from the excellent fruit grown here for centuries. Placing a conservation easement on the AFI property is clearly in line with this mission and complements the $30,000 to $50,000 AFI spends each year in the village of Placitas purchasing fruit from its neighbors and hiring local teenagers to pick the fruit on its own properties.
Commuter rail coming to Bernalillo, will benefit entire area
Sandoval County Commission
All aboard! The energetic and enthusiastic vision of Governor Bill Richardson sees the many benefits commuter rail will provide to the state and, especially, communities along the Rio Grande. The concept: by using existing tracks, commuter trains will be running between Belen and Bernalillo from early in the morning until late in the evening.
There would be between six and eight stops, including one in the town of Bernalillo and one, hopefully, in the North Valley near Alameda. The trains would use existing tracks that will be upgraded for commuter rail. Once the first stage is complete, the idea is to expand the system into Santa Fe. Total cost of an efficient commuter rail system would be between $1 million and $3 million a mile.
Why rail? Because our roads and bridges will only get more crowded and more expensive to build, expand and maintain. Reconstructing just one interchange—at Coors and I-40—will cost more than the entire rail system between Belen and Bernalillo. Expanding the current highway system also creates more than just money problems. Political problems crop up as seen by the litany of controversies surrounding the petroglyphs, Montaño Bridge, and Paseo Del Norte.
For rail, meanwhile, many of the rights-of-way already exist. Moreover, rail is a safer, much less polluting, and far more efficient alternative than highways because the tracks go right down the middle of communities along the Rio Grande Corridor. For a list of other reasons, see www.nmrails.org.
The benefits of rail for Sandoval County are significant. Rio Rancho benefits immediately in two ways. First, the City of Vision is essentially a town with one road—NM 528. While that highway can be a nightmare at rush hour, it does provides the advantage of centralized park-and-ride locations where people can congregate for convenient shuttles down the hill to the trains—both south to Alameda and north to US 550. Second, Rio Rancho is becoming a commute-to-work community for Santa Fe, as evidenced by the increasing numbers of workers who already use the park-and-ride at I-25 and US 550. With a train to Santa Fe, people can commute safely and more efficiently.
The train system will also benefit Corrales. As a member a member of the air-quality task force, I believe everyone should be able to agree that as NM 528 handles more traffic, more vehicle emissions roll downwind into Corrales. Rail begins to constructively address the pollution problem that affects the entire county, particularly communities at lower elevations like Corrales.
Northern Sandoval County—Cuba, Jemez Springs, San Ysidro, and numerous pueblos—will also benefit because we are already working to establish a shuttle system to transport passengers. With commuter rail, that system can be integrated into a larger transportation system that will better connect rural communities with the jobs, medical care, and services found in cities. The trains will help Placitas because residents already have direct access to the park-and-ride at US 550-NM 165 and I-25.
Finally, a train station in the heart of Bernalillo will spur additional economic development, such as coffee shops, dry cleaners, grocery stores, and other shops offering amenities for the convenience of commuters.
Commuter rail already exists in Denver and Dallas-Fort Worth. Houston and Phoenix, meanwhile, are developing light-rail systems. However, since we have many of the rights-of-way, New Mexico could have a highly beneficial rail system in place for a fraction of the cost found in surrounding states. Phoenix, for example, is spending $5 billion on its rail system, with most of the costs budgeted to acquire rights-of-ways through expensive, already developed land. By contrast, the entire Belen-to-Bernalillo system is expected to cost about $75 million.
Let's get behind this farsighted and visionary approach to transportation. With the backing of local governments along the corridor, communities can develop and prosper with commuter rail as the backbone of effective transportation plans. Get on board. The train is about to leave the station.
Questions or comments for Commissioner Ely can be mailed to him in care of Sandoval County Administrative Offices, P.O. Box 40, Bernalillo.
State senator Steve Komadina (left) chats with Rio Rancho Mayor Jim Owen (center)
and Corrales Mayor Gary Kanin after a news conference discussing new
state funding for local projects.
Capital funding for Sandoval County
Democrats and Republicans say they reached across party lines to fund $4.5 million in community projects throughout Sandoval County.
Critics of Governor Bill Richardson, however, say he took a mostly partisan approach as he vetoed nearly $1 million of that funding.
While county officials lauded the work of all fourteen House and Senate members representing Sandoval County, only three—Senator Steven Komadina, R-Corrales, and Representatives Jane Powdrell-Culbert, R-Corrales, and Tom Swisstack, D-Rio Rancho—are from districts wholly within the county. At a joint news conference, all three said they put the needs of the county first.
“We just work together,” Powdrell-Culbert said. “No one was taking the lead over someone else.
“Our major concern was bringing home the funding and meeting the needs of our districts.”
To that end, each chipped in some of their capital-improvement money to help projects in the others’ districts. Komadina said one example is that she and Senator Leonard Tsosie, D-Crownpoint, each provided half the money for soccer fields at Northern Meadows Elementary School.
“That kind of dialogue continued through the whole thirty-day session,” Swisstack said. “It was a stressful session, but we did not lose sight of that.”
When the veto ax fell, however, Democrat Richardson cut $14 million statewide and defended the cuts as economic prudence, not political retribution. Many Republicans and some Democrats who opposed the governor’s shift of sales taxes from food and medicine to other goods and services saw just the opposite.
“Look at Democrats who got whacked; they opposed the governor,” Senator Leonard Lee Rawson, R-Las Cruces, the Senate minority whip, told the Signpost. “Clearly it’s not as he would portray it.”
Projects sponsored by Republicans accounted for $12 million of the $14 million vetoed, he added. In Sandoval County, that included $40,000 sponsored by Republican Senators Sue Wilson Beffort and Kent Cravens to set up a business development office in the soon-to-be-renovated El Zócalo complex in Bernalillo and $80,000 Powdrell-Culbert allocated for security at the new county detention center, leaving $110,000 for that work.
The county’s biggest hit, $590,000, would have paid to furnish and equip courtrooms and offices in the new judicial complex now under construction. By law, the county is only required to supply a building for the courts but not the furnishings, Sandoval County spokesman Gayland Bryant said.
Bryant, while declining to get involved in the partisan bickering, said several projects, such as improvements to the Santa Ana soccer complex and launching a landfill recycling program, incurred only partial vetoes but will be able to continue. Funding for twelve projects was not touched, he added.
Also surviving was one of Bernalillo’s top priorities, $400,000 for improvements to the town swimming pool, town administrator Lester Swindle said. The town also requested $460,000 for improvements to the wastewater plant and is hoping to see some money when the governor makes his own capital disbursements, Swindle added.
Additional county projects receiving capital funding are:
- Pipeline, La Madera, and Regina Roads, $400,000, $75,000 and $30,000, respectively.
- Jemez water storage tanks, $50,000.
- Cielo Vista/Rainbow Park, $33,500, and Star Heights Park, $62,500.
- Placitas water system, $125,000; San Luis water, $50,000; Regina water project, $350,000.
- Casa San Ysidro, $24,000 ($6,000 vetoed).
- County fairgrounds, $60,000.
- Sheriff’s defibrillators, $20,000.
Highway, train projects gearing up
The prospect of fresh funding is speeding up the widening of I-25 south of Bernalillo and the start of the controversial Paseo del Volcan project in Rio Rancho.
State borrowing of up to $1.5 billion is advancing numerous projects, including adding a third lane in both directions on I-25 between Albuquerque and Bernalillo and rebuilding the Tramway interchange. Once listed by the Mid-Region Council of Governments for construction after 2016, the $40 million project now is proposed to begin as early as 2006.
The new plan also includes $75 million to equip commuter train service through Albuquerque from Bernalillo and Belen in the next two years.
Four million dollars of new federal money would build the first two lanes of Paseo del Volcan between Unser and Iris in Rio Rancho starting in 2006. Eventually, the road is planned to be a major connector from US 550 west of Bernalillo to I-40 west of Albuquerque.
Residents of Enchanted Hills, who say they were never told the right-of-way cuts through their subdivision, have long opposed the project.
The projects are in an amendment to the 2025 Metropolitan Transportation Plan now working its way through MRCOG. The changes were presented to the Sandoval County Commission March 18 with public comments due March 24.
Final action is scheduled when the Metropolitan Transportation Board meets April 22 in Albuquerque.
The elections may be over, but in at least one contest, the fighting has just begun.
Counts and recounts and the discovery of uncounted ballots in the Rio Rancho District 6 city council race showed Marilyn Salzman with a one-vote lead over Todd Hathorne, then in a tie, and ultimately with another one-vote lead. That was enough for her to be sworn into office, replacing incumbent Lonnie Clayton, who finished third in the contest to represent the city’s northeastern corner.
Hathorne told the Signpost he plans a lawsuit challenging election procedures and the handling of ballots, particularly in one precinct where records show 118 people voted but only 116 ballots counted.
“Everybody who looks at this just wants it to go away,” Hathorne said. “My response to that is when the numbers add up, I’ll shut up.”
Rio Rancho voters returned to office incumbent councilors Michael Williams in District 1 and Howard Ballmer in District 2 and approved a $5.5 million bond issue to build a thirty-two-thousand-square-foot library on Loma Colorado in northern Rio Rancho. The existing, smaller library on Pinetree will remain open.
In other results from the March 2 election:
- Voters in the unincorporated areas of Sandoval County approved two one-quarter percent sales taxes continuing support for volunteer fire departments and creating a new system to provide emergency medical services. The fire tax passed 1,144-57 with the EMS tax passing 1,112-76.
- Bernalillo voters returned Councilor Ronnie Sisneros to office and elected Marian Jaramillo to replace Helen Sandoval, who chose not to seek reelection. Robert Satriana finished thirteen votes behind Jaramillo in the contest among eight candidates for the two positions. Incumbent municipal judge Alonzo Lucero was reelected without opposition.
- In Corrales, voters rejected incumbent councilor Walter Lucero, who finished third among the three candidates for two positions reelecting Councilor Laurie Rivera and voting into office Bob Bell, a member of the village planning and zoning commission.
Newly elected Bernalillo councilor Marian Jaramillo takes the oath of office administered by Magistrate Judge Mary Humphrey. Holding the Bible is John Estrada, grandson of Municipal Judge Alonzo Lucero, who also was sworn into office by Humphrey.
Candidates file for June 1 primary
Two incumbent officeholders seeking different positions were among candidates filing for the June 1 primary election.
Sandoval County clerk Victoria Dunlap and fellow Republican Chris Espinosa both filed in county commission District 4 challenging Democrat commissioner Jack Thomas, who filed for reelection. All three candidates live in Rio Rancho.
Corrales mayor Gary Kanin, a Republican, filed for the commission District 2 position currently held by Chairman Daymon Ely, who is not seeking reelection. Kanin said he would retain his mayoral job if he defeats Democrat Donald Leonard, also of Corrales, in the November general election.
The commission District 5 seat now held by Commissioner Elizabeth Johnson of Cuba apparently will be decided in the Democrat primary, as no Republicans filed for the office. In addition to Johnson, Joshua Madalena of Jemez Pueblo and Watson Castillo of Cuba filed as Democrats.
It was Democrats taking a pass in the state House District 44 contest where the only filer was Republican incumbent Representative Jane Powdrell-Culbert of Corrales. In House District 60, Representative Thomas Swisstack, D-Rio Rancho, will face Republican Glenn Walters, also of Rio Rancho.
In Senate District 9, Representative Steve Komadina, R-Corrales, is being challenged by Rio Rancho Democrat Sean Cuniff. The senate district and both house districts are within Sandoval County.
District Attorney Lemuel Martinez of Grants, whose Thirteenth Judicial District covers Sandoval, Cibola, and Valencia counties, drew no primary opposition and will face Republican Peter Ross in November.
Filing for county clerk are Democrats Sally Padilla, Bernalillo; Lawrence Pino, Zia Pueblo; and Republicans Rosalba Maniaci, Rio Rancho; Dianne Torrance, Placitas; and Lisa Lynne Forester, Rio Rancho.
Seeking the post of county treasurer are Republican incumbent James Truscio, Rio Rancho; and Democrat Lorraine Dominguez, Rio Rancho.
Also filing for election were Senate, House, public education, and public regulation candidates whose multicounty districts include Sandoval County:
- Senate District 10: Republicans incumbent Senator Ramsay L. Gorham and John Ryan. Democrats Victor Paul Raigoza and John Hooker, all of Albuquerque.
- Senate District 19: Republican incumbent Senator Sue Wilson Beffort, Albuquerque. No Democrat filed.
- Senate District 21: Republican incumbent Senator Kent Cravens, Albuquerque. No Democrat filed.
- Senate District 22: Democrats incumbent Senator Leonard Tsosie, Crownpoint; Everett Chavez, Santo Domingo Pueblo. Republicans Ernest Geros, Rio Rancho; Delores Garcia, Jemez Pueblo.
- Senate District 23: Republican incumbent Senator Joseph Carraro, Albuquerque. No Democrat filed.
- Senate District 39: Democrat incumbent Senator Phil Griego, San Jose. Republican Al Lopez, Santa Fe.
- House District 22: Republicans Mario Burgos, Cedar Crest; Charles Mellon, Placitas; Kathy McCoy, Cedar Crest. No Democrat filed.
- House District 23: Republican incumbent Representative Eric Youngberg, Corrales. Democrats Thomas Nordstrand, Albuquerque; Janet Blair, Corrales.
- House District 41: Democrat incumbent Representative Debbie Rodella, San Juan Pueblo. No Republican filed.
- House District 43: Republican incumbent Representative Jeannette Wallace, Los Alamos. No Democrat filed.
- House District 65: Democrat incumbent Representative James Roger Madalena, Jemez Pueblo. No Republican filed.
- Public Education Committee District 1: Democrat Martin Andrew Garrison, Albuquerque. No Republican filed.
- Public Education Committee District 4: No candidates filed.
- Public Regulation Commission District 3: Democrats Arthur Rodarte, Ojo Caliente; Carlos William Fierro, Santa Fe; Bob Perls, Corrales; Ben R. Lujan, Santa Fe; Keith Dotson, Corrales. No Republican filed.