Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

  Up Front

New Cross

The hand chiseled replica that replaced the cross atop the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe.

Bernalillo stonecutters create new cross for Santa Fe cathedral

—L.A. Williams

The old rooftop cross on the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe, had sat precariously atop the cathedral for years. The sandstone cross, installed nearly 123 years ago between the cathedral’s bell towers, was in danger of falling because the iron pin attaching the cross to its base had rusted. The old cross was removed earlier this year and transported to Bernalillo where Kopelov Cut Stone, Inc. began the work of replicating the cross from a new block of sandstone.

Kopelov Cut Stone, Inc. is a family business in Bernalillo, owned by Labe and Kino Kopelov, and is known to offer some of the highest quality cutting and carving in the Western United States. “We value the feeling of history and permanence that hand-carved stone imparts,” say the Kopelovs. Their talent of producing historically accurate stone finishes has garnered them multiple projects throughout California, Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

 “What we do is architectural cutting and carving, we stay focused on our work, and we take the product from start to finish,” said Kino. “When people want to accurately restore historical elements, they want the real thing, the real stone, and there are not a lot of shops doing carving and historical restoration out west.”

 When it came to re-creating the old cross, Labe and Kino studied every part of the stone, which provided information about the technique and tools used by the original carver. The plan was for the new cross to be made of sandstone from the original Lamy quarry, but none of the blocks were large enough, so a quarry in Ohio was selected due to its sandstone having similar qualities. Once the block arrived at their shop, Labe and Kino began the intensive process of bringing the new cross out of the material.

The attention to detail on the new cross is extraordinary. The same finishes (faded and worn by many years on the old cross) are replicated by hand on the replacement. “It’s not the fastest way, but it is the most accurate,” said Kino, speaking of the hand chiseling. There is an inlay in the back of the new cross with a piece of the original building dated 1886 commemorating the church’s dedication, and below it a date of 2009 for the new cross. The finished cross weighs in at approximately four hundred pounds and measures 40-inches tall by 40-inches wide and is 9-inches thick. It was installed in late March between the bell towers atop the cathedral.

To learn more about Kopelov Cut Stone, Inc. or see additional projects, visit

Sandoval County Commission to review Placitas Area Plan

—L.A. Williams

The Sandoval County Planning and Zoning Commission met March 26 to consider changes to the Placitas Area Plan involving the Cashwell property and the 3500 acres of BLM land to the north of the Placitas Area. Representatives for the Cashwell property, including attorney John Meyers, requested that sections removed from the Placitas Area Plan in the last draft that was offered by Knight Seavey be reinstated. Seavey also described what their amended plan will be, when presented at P&Z Commission meeting at the end of April. It will include zoning for retail activity. Mr. Meyers read in a request that the Area Plan be amended to allow for such nonresidential uses on their property, and presumably on similar properties.

County Attorney David Matthews clarified how the Cashwell property would be zoned.  All lots with more than 50 acres are required to be Master Plan (MP) zoned.  There are permissive uses for MP that would not be permitted for residential rural agricultural (RRA) zoning. So the Cashwells could potentially request these nonresidential uses there.

However, as Mike Springfield, director of County Development, pointed out, if any request for subdivision of that property included uses not allowed for in the approved Area Plan, then the Development Department would recommend rejection of the request. The P&Z Commission voted unanimously to reject these requests for amendment to the Area Plan.

Patience O'Dowd then made a presentation regarding the 3500 BLM land to the North of the Placitas Area. She stressed that water and transportation issues shape a community, and stated that inadequate attention has been given to these issues in the present Area Plan draft, and during the course of the planning process. She focused on the possibility of one or more Loop Roads connecting Highway 14 in the east to I-25, which could go through Placitas. She stated that private developers could build these roads, thereby bypassing public process. The only process that could adequately deal with these issues is the present Placitas Area Plan process. The P&Z Commission voted unanimously to reject revising the present Area Plan as regard to its language on roads.

Mr. Springfield proposed an amendment to the present language in the Area Plan regarding the 3500 BLM acres. The present language says that the plan encourages that the BLM be used for open space. His proposed amendment is to encourage the BLM to “maximize open space opportunities” on the roughly 3,500-acre tract to the north of the plan area, and to set aside any part of this tract identified as a wildlife corridor for use by wildlife." The P&Z Commission voted unanimously to adopt this amended language. Mr. Springfield stated that once the Area Plan is approved, the county will request that the state begin a study of wildlife corridors in the area.

 As Placitas nears the end of the imposed building and development moratorium, the Sandoval County P&Z Commission continues to listen to Placitans concerns regarding what many deem as vague or missing language from the Area Plan.

Following many months of extensive community discussions between residents, planning staff and P&Z commissioners, the Commission members unanimously voted to send the Area Plan to the Sandoval County Commission for a vote. If the policy is approved, the Area Plan will return to the P&Z Commission where staff will begin work on writing specific code and ordinances to better define the policy.

Many of the concerns Placitans have reside with the imprecise language of the policy. Regardless of whether it deals with water, zone boundaries, wildlife corridors, acequias, roads, commercial regions, or historical information; residents fear that when left to the county, the desired specifics of code may be misinterpreted or altogether omitted.

In discussion of historical boundaries, homesteads, and land grants, Placitan Tony Lucero presented historical language to the Commission and the Sandoval County Development Department’s long-range planner, Moises Gonzales that he favored over the Area Plan’s text. Speaking to Mr. Gonzales, Lucero said, “The essence of what you’re saying, but with some facts in it.”

Although there has been some fine-tuning too much of the language in the first draft of the Area Plan that was presented in January, many residents would like to see additional language in the policy acknowledging some consensus areas through the process.

If the policy is approved by the Sandoval County Commission, Placitas residents will need to be vigilant in making certain that the code and ordinances prescribed to the policy will reflect the desires of the community.

The next County Commission meeting at which the Area Plan will be discussed is April 23, at 6 PM in the Sandoval County Commission Chambers at the County Courthouse.

Placitas’ historical background as it relates to the Area Plan. Submitted to the P&Z Commission by Tony Lucero:

Historical Background

‘Placitas is located in the unincorporated portion of Sandoval County known as the Placitas Region. The Plan area is bounded on the west by the Town of Bernalillo and to the east by the Crest of Montezuma. It is bounded on the north by the San Felipe Pueblo and on the south by the Sandia Pueblo and Cibola National Forest.

In 1848, as a result of the Mexican American War and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the territory of New Mexico was ceded by Mexico to the United States. After many years communities began to have their land titles recognized by the United States as per the Treaty. By 1904, The Town of Bernalillo Land Grant was patented 3,404 acres of their original claim of 8,000 acres of land, which includes the western part of the study area to about the Homesteads area. The San Antonio de las Huertas Land Grant also received its patent of 4,763 acres of the 35,000 acres claimed.

From 1765 to the mid 1900’s most of the plan area was used for hunting, grazing, wood and herb gathering. The people of the San Antonio de las Huertas Grant maintained the lands irrigated by the acequias in and around the Village of Placitas. The Town of Bernalillo Grant used some of its lands for traditional wood-gathering, hunting and grazing. The land located between the Bernalillo Grant and the western boundary of the San Antonio de las Huertas Grant became US Government Lands that were not included in their patents but were within the historical boundaries of the grants. The lands between the grants were later given as homesteads to private individuals. During the 1900’s some tracts in the San Antonio de las Huertas Land Grant and the Bernalillo Land Grant became private lands owned by both land grant and non land grant people. By the late 1960’s, some of these tracts exchanged hands several times and some of these privately claimed lands were developing into subdivisions. The development in the San Antonio de las Huertas Land Grant is characterized by traditional village design located along an acequia. Suburban development patterns of one dwelling unit on 3/4-acre or larger occurred outside of the village area. Currently in the planning area there are approximately 800 acres of undeveloped land in the San Antonio de las Huertas and an additional 1,000 acres undeveloped within the area known as Ideal Acres.

Much of the land in the planning area west of the San Antonio de las Huertas Grant has been developed; there remain several tracts of land directly northeast of the area known as the S-curve and several tracts adjacent to the Town of Bernalillo. Approximately 1,800 acres remain undeveloped. Other land in this portion of the planning area has been developed as residential subdivisions. The pattern is typical of “suburban development” with one dwelling unit on approximately 3/4-acre lots or larger. Also in this area are about a half dozen commercially zoned parcels.’

Sandoval County mails value notices

Sandoval County will fulfill a mandate for hospital services and has included a voter-imposed hospital tax in notices mailed to property owners.

The County sent about 150,000 notices of value to owners of property throughout Sandoval County to inform them of their property’s taxable value. Included in the notice is a property tax levy of 4.25 mils listed with the notation “UNM Hospital.”

“This is not a tax bill,” said Sandoval County Assessor Rudy Casaus. “Tax bills based on the property’s net taxable value will be mailed by the County Treasurer’s Office in November. Yet, it’s important that property owners review the valuation notice, as it ultimately determines the amount of property taxes they will pay.”

The hospital mil rate reflects the tax mandate that voters approved in the November 2008 General Election for the specific purpose of supporting hospitals in Sandoval County. The 4.5 mil levy translates into a property tax increase of about $142 for a home with an assessed value of $100,000, or a net taxable value of $33,333.

The County has estimated the tax will provide about $13.27 million annually. As approved by voters, the hospital tax levy will be imposed “for not less than four years and not more than eight years.” The voter-authorized initiate specifies the revenues from the tax be used “to pay to contracting hospitals in accordance with health care facilities.”

The first one-half of property taxes will not be due until December 2009 and the second one-half becomes due in spring 2010—or about eighteen months after the tax issue was approved by voters. Even then, funds that the hospital tax will provide will not be available for the County Treasurer’s Office to distribute to hospital service providers until early 2010 for the first one-half payment or until mid 2010 for the second-half payment.

“It’s important to realize the County is only the conduit for collecting the voter-imposed tax and then assuring the tax revenues will be allocated in ways that meet the voter mandate,” Casaus said. “The County Commission must assure the voter mandate is fulfilled.”

County Manager Juan Vigil said Sandoval County is taking steps so that hospital services will be provided to County residents. “Both Presbyterian Hospital and UNM Hospital have acquired land and have plans for hospital facilities in Sandoval County,” Vigil said. “The County has been negotiating with representatives of both hospitals to finalize an agreement that will specify the levels of services they will provide to residents.”

Vigil said it was the County’s intent to have those contracts for hospital services ready for public review and comment and placed before the County Commission by late summer.

“That way, details about how the money will be spent and what services will be provided will be known several months before property owners actually start paying the hospital tax,” Vigil said.

Sandoval County to get clean water, public transit, health care

The omnibus appropriations bill signed into law by President Barack Obama contains almost $3.8 million for Sandoval County and central New Mexico, secured by U.S. Senator Tom Udall, D-NM. The assistance will provide services to New Mexicans with disabilities, help rural New Mexicans get access to health care, and expand public transportation.

“As Sandoval County continues to grow, the community faces unique challenges and opportunities,” said Udall. “The legislation President Obama signed into law will help the area address today’s struggling economy while laying the groundwork for lasting, sustainable prosperity.”

The bill contains $571,000 for a dialysis center in the Village of Cuba. Currently, patients needing dialysis are forced to travel more than seventy-five miles round trip, three days a week, for this lifesaving procedure.

“With a new dialysis center, the people of Cuba will be able to access essential health care without being forced to travel hundreds of miles a week or spend much of their limited incomes on gas.” said Udall.

The legislation signed into law also contains $313,500 for the Rio Rancho Rio Transit program to purchase transit vehicles with wheelchair lifts. The vehicles can be used to transport seniors and disabled adults for medical, employment, educational, and personal care shopping purposes.

“Public transit gives our citizens greater mobility, saves money otherwise spent on gas, and helps reduces our dependence on foreign oil,” said Udall. “This investment will help ensure that Rio Rancho’s public transit system is not effectively off-limits to our most vulnerable citizens, including many of those citizens who need public transit the most.”

The bill also includes almost $3 million for water projects in Bernalillo, Sandoval, and Valencia Counties. The funding will help pay for water system improvements in Rio Rancho.

“In New Mexico, water is too precious to waste,” said Udall. “This funding will help ensure that Rio Rancho’s water system gets this crucial resource to our families as efficiently as possible.”

Finally, the bill contains $122,821 to allow Adelante Development Center, Inc. to expand services to persons with disabilities living in Sandoval County. Adelante helps individuals with disabilities to live independently; to work; and to have income through school-to-work transition programs, supported employment, and businesses that focus on hiring the disabled.

2009 Session wrap-up

—Kathy McCoy, State Representative – House District 22

We’ve just concluded a 60-day session in Santa Fe, and it was unlike any that I remember.

The 2010 budget was the top priority, but before we could start that, we had to structure a solvency package just to get us through 2009.  Facing a $600 million shortfall meant making both strategic and dramatic cuts.  In the end, we basically passed a flat budget, counting on the federal stimulus money to fill in the gaps.  Unfortunately, this is non-recurring money and by all accounts, next year’s revenues will be significantly less.  The state’s revenues are primarily dependant on oil and gas royalties which are currently as low as we’ve seen them for many years and are expected to remain in decline at least for the next few months.

Ethics reform was a major issue this session.  And for the first time since I was elected, we made progress.  We fought for and won a battle to install video and audio of the House and Senate floor sessions.  Until the system is fully operational next year, some of our legislators used their own equipment to webcast their committee meetings and the response was incredibly positive. 

Conference committees will also now be open to the public.  This is where the final wheeling and dealing is done and where, in the past, certain legislators’ pet projects miraculously got funded.  Also, we passed campaign contribution limits, but don’t be fooled about this superficial legislation.  Contributions from non-profits and “527” organizations were not included in the bill, so the big money will continue to flow without donor disclosure.  It’s a huge hole and one that effectively negates the purpose of contribution limits. 

Also on the ethics front, the state now has an independent ethics commission to oversee elected officials throughout the state.  Members of the public can submit complaints to the commission which is made up of appointees selected by the Governor and leaders of both legislative chambers.

In my opinion, one of the best bills of the session would have given the public access to the state’s budget on a searchable database.  Much has been written about transparency in government and this bill would have gone a long way to achieve that.  Unfortunately, it never made it to the House floor for a vote.

Once again, voter photo ID failed, despite a group from Dona Ana County that produced a list of dead people who voted.  This group is taking their case to court so we may hear more about this in the coming months.  Fortunately, a bill to allow same day voter registration during the early voting period died in the Senate.  I would emphasize that this might be feasible if we had the appropriate technology, but we don’t.

A bill which provides for prevailing wage rates for all public projects over $60,000 is on its way to the Governor for his signature.  Republicans strongly opposed this because we don’t know what kind of fiscal impact it will have.  One estimate is that the impact on our roads alone will be $137 million over the next three years.  What effect it will have on schools, prisons and other government institutions is unknown. 

For those of us who supported the bill to allow concealed carry license holders to “carry” in certain restaurants, it was disappointing to watch Speaker Lujan kill the bill in the last minutes of the session.  On the bright side, legislation that will give the State Engineer oversight over deep water aquifers is on its way to the Governor. 

TIDDS legislation for SunCal failed twice after being reconsidered, but the TIDDS for Winrock passed without debate.  The death penalty was repealed, but permitting research on embryonic stem cells failed to pass, as did legislation establishing domestic partnerships.

Finally, any hope we legislators had of bringing capital outlay funding home to our districts was dashed once we got deep into the budget.  Needless to say, it was disappointing for both legislators and those who count on state funds for projects. 

Despite the economic downturn, the session generated some interesting debates and discussions that will undoubtedly resurface when things stabilize again.  By all accounts, we’ll be called back for a special session when new economic forecasts come out.  I’m hopeful we’ll have more optimistic news later in the year. 

Sandoval County Line

—Don E. Leonard, Sandoval County

Commission Chairman

Government at all levels, from the smallest villages to the largest counties and states, is working to invest federal stimulus dollars to provide our nation’s workers with jobs, boost our economy, and improve services.

Legislation signed by President Obama in February provides more than $300 billion in direct stimulus funding for such critically needed programs as health, education, law enforcement, transportation, infrastructure, energy efficiency, and others. Our State’s Congressional delegation tells us the legislation contains more than $1.8 billion in direct funding to New Mexico.

Sandoval County is actively seeking federal support and resources for a short list of needed projects that will provide jobs, spark our economy, and benefit residents. Among our top proposals is the County’s broadband project that already is offering tremendous promises throughout our region.

Much of Sandoval County falls on the wrong side of the nation’s “digital divide,” where communications technology, cell phone service, and high-speed Internet access is limited or unavailable.

The County’s Wireless Broadband Access Project will help close that gap and open access to broadband-delivered services in unserved and underserved areas. It will position our region for economic growth and job creation, and provide all-important and critically needed broadband services for schools, community agencies, healthcare facilities, and law enforcement.

Sandoval County has successfully completed the project’s first phase. We are delivering a licensed wireless backbone at four major sites—the Cuba and Placitas fires stations, the all-important relay site atop Pajarito Peak in the Jemez Mountains, and the County’s Judicial Complex at Idalia and NM 528. The County is licensed for transfer rates of two hundred megabits per second (Mbps) and has the capability to expand to more than three hundred Mbps when needed.

And, the project is testing high-speed connections for schools and government in Cuba, with health facilities and public safety applications planned for the near future.

County Manager Juan Vigil and his staff are submitting an application for federal stimulus funding for the broadband project’s second phase. That next step includes delivering secondary and redundant broadband pathways to rural communities throughout the Jemez Mountains region and the along the Rio Grande Valley, from Bernalillo to Cochiti Lake.

Wide bandwidth, high-speed delivery opens access to distance learning, telemedicine, economic development opportunities, and other important broadband-provided services. Most important, it will help interconnect the public safety radio network used by law enforcement agencies and improve emergency response services throughout our area.

To deliver a variety of needed distance learning educational services to schools, Sandoval County currently is working in partnership with IDEAL-New Mexico and the Southwest Multimedia Education Collaborative, or SMEC. In turn, SMEC is using multimedia educational programs developed by the University of Southern California to bring media educational opportunities to the County’s school districts.

In the area of telemedicine, along with delivery of broadband services to Cuba, UNM’s Center for Telehealth has proposed a feasibility assessment that, if approved, will help improve the quality of healthcare services to residents in northwestern Sandoval County.

Joe Lang, a former County Commissioner and close personal friend, remarked years before his death that access to technology should not be split among “haves and have-nots.” As Joe stressed a decade ago, the opportunities opened by technology must be available to all residents if we hope to keep our economy competitive in the global market and maintain our quality of life.

Questions or comments for Commissioner Leonard can be mailed to him in care of Sandoval County Administrative Offices, PO Box 40, Bernalillo, NM 87004.






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