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Bernalillo officials rethink growth strategy

Signpost staff

Mayor Jack Torres was scheduled to present the Curbside Chat program to a Town Council meeting in June, but several councilors objected and voted to postpone the presentation at a work session that was convened later in the month. Coincidentally, perhaps, the council was in the process of discussion and considering action on the master plan for the Santa Rosa development that would for the first time expand town infrastructure and services across I-25.

The Curbside Chat is a nationwide Strong Towns program that asks:

  • Why are our cities and towns so short of resources despite decades of robust growth?
  • Why do we struggle at the local level just to maintain our basic infrastructure?
  • What do we do now that the economy has changed so dramatically?

These are “big ideas” central to Strong Towns’ thinking:

  • The current path cities are pursuing is not financially stable.
  • The future for most cities will not resemble the recent past.
  • The main determinant of future prosperity for cities will be local leaders’ ability to transform their communities.

The Curbside Chat program has been developed specifically for public officials and change-advocates at the local level. Here are some quotes from the presentation:

“From the perspective of a local government, the federal and state governments are unreliable partners over the long term. It is far more likely that they will continue to cut programs that aid cities rather than shift resources to fund local growth initiatives.”

“Swapping long-term obligations for near-term cash works for a while, but as with any Ponzi scheme, it ultimately collapses under its own weight. We have grown in a pattern that is inefficient, making poor use of our resources and investments. The lack of productivity in our development pattern means that we can no longer afford to maintain all of the underutilized roads, streets, sewer systems, water systems, and sidewalks we have built. This is the financial reality we must now confront.”

Bernalillo Planning and Development Director Maria G. C. Rinaldi said that the term “Ponzi scheme” is a little strong for the situation in Bernalillo—it might better apply to the development crisis in Rio Rancho. “We thought it was worthwhile to have an ongoing conversations about these issues and to apply it to lessons we have already learned about public return on private development. We want to balance our need to maintain the infrastructure that is already in place with the demands of new development,” she said.

Rinaldi also said that the Town needs to be prepared to deal with these issues when the economy improves and real estate speculation is renewed. She said the conversation would be continued in the near future.

The decision on the Santa Rosa development has been postponed indefinitely.

Rinaldi said that the Town is currently conducting an affordable housing study that would be for a program that would be based on need as opposed to speculation. The finding will be presented to the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority in September.
 
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