Bernalillo Chamber awards Signpost
On November 1, 2002, at the Hyatt Tamaya Regency Resort and Spa, the Bernalillo Chamber of Commerce awarded the Sandoval Signpost with the “Community Focus Award 2002” during its annual awards ceremony and banquet. Turn to page 12 to read about the awards they gave to local businesses and individuals that night.
Placitas Open Space in limbo
Carol Parker of Las Placitas Association and Matt Schmader of the Albuquerque Open Space Division of the Parks and Recreation Department answer questions and lead discussion about the future of the Placitas Open Space at the LPA annual meeting.Las Placitas Association invited the public to attend their November 17 annual meeting seeking support for the status quo of the Placitas Open Space.
About ninety people crowded the meeting hall of the Las Placitas Presbyterian Church to hear about the fate of POS. The Albuquerque Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management had recently notified the city of Albuquerque Open Space Division that they were out of compliance with the Recreation and Public Purposes Act patents that allowed the city to acquire the parcel in 1966. Control of the POS could quite possibly revert to the BLM.
Current BLM regulations allow gravel mining and the use of motorized recreational vehicles—two activities that degrade the land and detract from other recreational uses and preservation.
LPA was formed in 1996 when a group of citizens got together to express their concern over the proposed shooting range on the POS. Albuquerque OSD invited the LPA to work with them to make the best use of the 560 acres for recreational use in the spirit of the R and PP patent. The LPA "adopted" the POS and went far beyond the requirements spelled out in the patent. They improved fencing, erected signs, conducted plant and animal surveys, led guided tours, worked with other volunteer groups on a riparian area restoration project, and successfully applied to the state to have the POS designated as a historical district because of the many archeological sites throughout the area.
LPA members were caught completely by surprise when the BLM deemed the POS out of compliance due to the lack of picnic tables, ramada, and grills required by the patent. The extensive public process involved in the creation of a master plan indicated that the recreational use of the POS did not require these minor details. The action of the BLM also seemed to have been prompted by the LaFarge gravel mining operations complaint that four years had gone by and the AOS Division had not spent the $30,000 a year required from LaFarge by a proposed agreement between these parties. The moneys were to be spent on projects benefitting the POS, so LaFarge backed out of the agreement and the BLM followed suit.
Matt Schmader of the AOS Division spoke to the crowd of his agency's vison of a system of regional parks to define the edges of the urban environment. He said that the AOS was caught by surprise when the BLM suddenly declared them out of compliance. He said, "Historically, we had been allowed to modify the use of open space in the spirit of public recreational use." Schmader said that his agency would "draw a line in the sand" to preserve the original vision and hoped that Mayor Chavez would add his support to the effort.
Steve Anderson, assistant field manager of the Albuquerque district of the BLM, was expected to be on hand to present his side of the story. No stranger to a hostile crowd, he backed out at the last minute because of an e-mail circulated by an LPA member that "stacked the deck against whatever the BLM might have to say."
LPA member and former BLM employee Bill Dunmire said he did not believe that recent developments came from upper levels of the Department of Interior. Rather, he suspected that they were the work of certain "rogue elephants" in the district office. Questions and comments brought out several conspiracy theories involving expanded gravel mining, residential development, and even the dreaded loop road.
LPA president Judith Hendry and board member Kate Nelson had met with Anderson prior to the meeting. They said that Anderson suggested that the dark cloud might have a silver lining when the POS reverts to BLM control. He said that his office would welcome the same community involvement, not only for the 560 acres but for the entire 3200 acres of BLM land in and around Placitas. He said that the BLM plan could be modified with respect to gravel mining and off-road vehicles. Hendry said that she preferred "a bird in the hand" offered by the status quo of the POS since there was no real assurance that the land would be protected by the BLM.
Steve Anderson told the Signpost that it was the intention of his office that the POS revert back to BLM control. He said that all the good work done by the LPA would not go to waste because it could be incorporated into BLM management plans. He explained, "The city has done very little for the POS. I don't see why they are so interested in property that is thirty miles away in another county. Why should their taxpayers have to deal with the expense and management problems that involve dealing with other agencies, pipelines, and gravel mines. It's always easier for one agency to manage land. The retention of public lands is one of the main provisions of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act passed in 1976. The city has a history of selling and trading land."
Anderson said that his office works very well with Sandoval County and suggested that the county commission could further ensure continued public use of the land by passing a resolution calling for its retention under BLM control.
Commissioner Bill Sapien said, “BLM's move to pull the patent appears to be ill-conceived and shortsighted. It could destroy all the emotion and work that have gone into bringing the POS to the level that it is now. I will ask my fellow commissioners to consider a resolution to retain public lands around Placitas for recreational use. In the meantime, I offer my office in an effort to bring all parties to the table to find common ground and resolve this issue in a win-win conclusion."
Speaking for KGA Development, Tom Ashe said, "KGA has no designs on the BLM land other than to protect it and try to keep it as undeveloped as possible. The community needs to work out a deal with the BLM for involvement in the management of the land; otherwise, it could be lost. The west access to the POS provided by KGA prohibits use for any kind of residential development, gravel mining, or shooting."
For more information, contact the BLM at 761-8700, the Las Placitas Association at P.O. Box 888, Placitas, NM97043, or www.lasplacitas.org/openspace. You can express your concern to your congressional delegation.
Santa Ana Star Casino working to bounce back
Dennis Stoberl of Rio Rancho plays the new slot machines at Santa Ana Star Casino, said by management to be “some of the loosest slots in the valley.”
After a layoff of nearly 240 employees, Santa Ana Star Casino has unveiled a new strategy to increase revenue. The casino has stripped down its workforce to what it calls “right size” and is now promoting itself as a “hometown casino.”
According to recent newspaper and television reports, the casino expanded too fast, hired too many people, and then was forced to cut back the number of employees. Casino-wide layoffs were announced in October, affecting employees in food and beverage, table games, and the marketing department. Generous severance packages were provided to laid-off employees who had been with the casino at least 150 days. In a story broadcast on KOAT TV, Conroy Chino reported that gaming revenue was not keeping up with the number of people hired. For the first quarter of this year, Chino said the casino reported net slot machine revenues of $11.3 million. For the second quarter, revenues dropped to $9.6 million.
Less than a year ago the casino unveiled a $60 million expansion that included a bowling alley, video arcade, event center, and three new restaurants. Many big-name concerts were booked into the casino, including No Doubt, Ray Charles, Los Lobos, Johnny Mathis, and George Thorogood. Concerts were selling well until recently when some ticket prices skyrocketed and concert promotion decreased.
To see Bob Dylan on October 25, fans paid from $75 to $100 each. The concert drew only sixteen hundred to the twenty-five-hundred-seat venue. A few days later, the Moody Blues also drew a smaller-than-expected crowd. Several concerts through the end of the year were cancelled, and national acts in the months to come have been scaled back significantly. Meanwhile, the planned seven-story hotel next to the casino is unfinished and may not be completed until 2004.
Phil Gonzales, director of marketing, said some employees are now being hired back. According to the Albuquerque Journal, about six hundred people are now working at the casino. By promoting itself as a hometown casino, Santa Ana hopes to get back to the business of gambling and will focus less on the peripheral activities. Gonzales said the casino is turning up the payoff on many of its slot machines, and the gaming tables have become more liberal on payoffs. He said that a room that housed the original casino before the expansion now has some of “the loosest slot machines in the valley.”
In describing the hometown casino approach, Gonzales said it is similar to Las Vegas, where locals gamble in the old downtown district rather than on the Strip because of better odds. Santa Ana hopes to draw more customers from Placitas, Bernalillo, and Rio Rancho by increasing customer winnings. “We want people to say, ‘This is my casino,’” he said.
Other plans are to book local bands for dances in the concert hall. Gonzales said this would begin in January “We’ll open the Event Center and charge $5 for a dance party.” Improvements are also being made at the two currently operating restaurants: the Feast Buffet and the Cheenah Steakhouse.
A new advertising campaign entitled “Where Winners Shine” will feature locals who have won at the casino. Also, employees are now featured in advertisements that promote how the casino is working to more be responsive and friendly to customers. Gonzales says he will get the word out through direct mail, e-mail, and telemarketing.
Concerts at Santa Ana Star Casino in December will be Joe Cocker with Tony Joe White on December 5 at 8:00 p.m., the Brian Setzer Orchestra Christmas Extravaganza on December 16 at 8:00 p.m., and a New Year’s Eve show with Johnny Mathis on December 31 at 9:30 p.m. Tickets may be purchased by calling the Santa Ana Star Box Office at 867-0000.
November election resulted in close race for several state representatives
The race for district representative to the New Mexico legislature resulted in narrow margins in three of the seven districts in Sandoval County last month. District 22, representing Placitas and La Madera; District 23, representing Corrales; and District 60, in Rio Rancho, had candidates who won with less than fourteen votes.
In District 22 Ron Godbey received 987 votes, to edge out Margaret Palumbo by twelve votes. Palumbo received 975 votes.
District 23 showed Jim Southard gained thirteen votes over Eric Youngberg, at 1,223 to 1,210 votes.
District 60 had the closest race, where Tom Swisstack received 3,371 votes to Marsha Carter Atkins's 3,364 votes, in a very small seven vote majority. According to the Sandoval County Board of Elections Atkins has filed to contest the election.
County clerk Victoria Dunlap, who oversees the board of elections, said it has not yet been decided by the county commissioners whether the petition will be accepted. The commissioners, whose duties include acting as the canvassing board for general elections in Sandoval County, last convened on November 14. According to Dunlap no other petitions for contesting the results of any race had been filed at the time this paper went to press. The deadline for filing was November 22.
The official results for all races in Sandoval County were delayed several days when District 9 accidentally locked their results in the voting box with the keys inside. It took a court order to get the box open before the board of elections could access the information and add it to the rest of the county's results.
Additionally, Dunlap said, the county received more than double the number of absentee ballots this year than in the last general election. Over seven thousand absentee ballots were received, all of which had to be hand-fed into a machine to be counted. Dunlap explained that this process involves a lot of manpower and is very taxing on the staff, thus contributing to the delay. Her small staff has had a difficult time keeping up with all the work. "Human error due to fatigue is not unusual," she stated. "If the expansion in the county continues, we won't be able to keep up." She attributes the increase in absentee voting to the rapidly expanding population of Sandoval County.
Dunlap says that to her knowledge there has been no increase in staff or budget in her department for almost ten years. She suggested that the county commission will have to take action in this area to avoid hiring private contractors to handle general elections in the future.
Other Election News in
The following state representatives were also elected:
- District 41—Debbie Rodella, 511 votes or 100% of ballots cast
- District 43—Jeanette Wallace, 910 votes or 100% of ballots cast
- District 44—Jane Powdrell-Culbert, 5,080 votes or 64.34% of ballots cast
- District 65—James Madalena, 3,921 votes or 100% of ballots cast
- District 1—Bill Sapien, 3,247 votes or 61.48% of ballots cast
- District 3—David Bency, 3,114 votes or 59.63% of ballots cast
- County assessor: Rudy Casaus, 12,964 votes or 51.72% of ballots cast
- County sheriff: John Paul Trujillo, 14,063 votes or 55.61% of ballots cast
- Director, Southern Sandoval County Flood Control Authority: Donald Rudy, 9,062 votes or 61.24% of ballots cast
- Probate Judge: Mary Kwapich, 12,236 votes or 50.07% of the ballots cast
- Supreme Court Judges: all retained
- Justices of the Court of Appeals: all retained
- District Judges: all retained
Voters in the county approved Amendments 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, and 9 and turned down Amendments 2, 4, and 7. They approved Bond Questions A, B, C, and E and turned down Bond Question D. Both the library bonds and the county detention bonds were approved.
Fifty-three percent of the 49,239 registered voters cast ballots in the November 5 election.
For information on the election statewide, visit www.sos.state.nm.us or call 800-477-3632.