Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

  Up Front

Coronado Office Building

Local landmark destroyed by fire

Coronado Office Buildling

Coronado Building door


A doorway on the south side of the building shows the interior of the landmark in ashes.

In the early morning of December 20, the Coronado Office Building on Camino del Pueblo caught fire at approximately 4:17 a.m., resulting in a multi-agency fire department response.

The structural fire had Sandoval County Fire, Placitas Fire, and Algodones Fire agencies assisting the Bernalillo department.

Fire Chief John Estrada said, "the interior walls are all gone. The building is a total loss," and will be torn down for safety.

Chief Estrada told the Signpost the state Fire Marshall's office is investigating the fire as arson.

Recently, Bernalillo resident Gustavo Leyba, provided the Signpost with a brief history on the building dating back to the early 1930’s. (See re: Leyba in the Gauntlet) “This building was once a roller skating rink, where my mom and others from Bernalillo spent time skating. It was also a dance hall which started the career of one of New Mexico's renowned singers, Al Hurricane,” wrote Leyba. “Later, the parents of Donna Montoya, co-owner of La Casita restaurant, Margaret and Manuel Lucero, established a bar which featured dancing for many years. After that period of time, it was converted into an office building by the Aboulsemans. They eventually sold it to Dale Patterson, a California native. He had allowed it to sit vacant for the last two-and-a-half years, before I purchased the building and decided to bring it out of the grave and back to life.”

More details on the Coronado Office Building fire are expected in the next few weeks. Log on to for the latest in the on-going investigation.

LPA Volunteers

Volunteers (l. to r.) Reid Bandeen, Mike Scialdone, Peter Callan, and Vicki Peck take a break on a rock weir reinforced with posts.

Las Huertas Watershed Project nears completion

—Signpost staff

Las Huertas Watershed Project (LHWP) is a community-based group operating under Las Placitas Association (LPA) that has been working over the past three years on a project to restore Las Huertas Creek in Placitas. In 2006 LPA was awarded a state grant of about $215,000 to conduct restoration activities in the Las Huertas Creek Watershed. The grant was funded through a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program that facilitates community-based watershed restoration, pursuant to Section 319(h) of the federal Clean Water Act.

The targeted watershed is a spring-fed bosque, about one-half mile in length, that has long provided habitat for humans and other animals. It was home to the original village in the Placitas area, San Jose de las Huertas. Overgrazing practices led in part to a gradual process that caused the creek to run straight and narrow, and to cut deeper. Runoff from rainstorms and snow melt drain through this watershed from the entire northeastern end of Sandia Mountain and on down to the Rio Grande. Residential development in recent years has increased the volume and velocity of the runoff.

Prior to 2006, LPA worked under a Watershed Group Formation grant from the same program to collaboratively plan restoration projects for the Las Huertas watershed with community members and various stakeholder agencies. That effort culminated in the production of a watershed-restoration-action strategy for the Las Huertas Watershed, published in September of 2005.

The goal was to identify projects that address excessive sedimentation and siltation in Las Huertas Creek, made worse by the 2006 summer's high rainfall. Erosion of lands in the watershed resulted in Las Huertas Creek being listed on the federal Clean Water Act Section 303(d) list of impaired waters for sedimentation and siltation.

Projects identified included:

  • Assisting landowners with strategies for controlling residential storm water runoff;
  • Rehabilitating the culvert drainage system in Las Huertas Canyon;
  • Restoring native species of vegetation in selected riparian and upland areas and removing exotic species;
  • Stabilizing eroding upland hill slopes on both public and private land; and
  • Stabilizing channel banks and building channel stabilization structures to enhance soil water retention and groundwater recharge along Las Huertas Creek.

LHWP worked with private landowners—especially those with land bordering Las Huertas Creek—with an interest in erosion and storm water control and riparian or upland restoration on their lands.

The group consulted with riparian restoration guru Bill Zeedyk of Zeedyk Ecological Consulting, LLC, of Sandia Park, N.M. Zeedyk has traveled throughout the west promoting a technique that he has developed called induced meandering. The technique uses rock and wood structures to redirect and slow the flow of damaged streams in order to restore the dependent riparian environment.

Volunteers from LHWP worked with hand tools and were assisted by heavy earth-moving equipment to build structures that have successfully slowed downcutting and erosion of the streambanks. They bulldozed steep eroded area, moved in heavy boulders, and followed up by building wood-and-rock structures by hand. These structures include wicker weirs, one-rock dams, Zuni bowls, and rock-reenforced baffles with buried posts that redirect streamflow, induce meandering, and capture sediment.

LHWP has also removed non-native vegetation such as tamarisk and Russian olive, and they planted cottonwood and willow. They also cut back juniper that was crowding out riparian vegetation along the creek. Finally, they hauled tons of trash from the Tawapa homesteads that were bulldozed twenty years ago.

LHWP chairman and LPA president Reid Bandeen says that the project is now complete save a bit of fine tuning, planting more willows, and stabilizing the banks with grass. They will keep an eye on the watershed and continue to upgrade as needed.

The techniques used in this project can also be applied to private land where drainage has been accelerated by roof, road, and driveway runoff. For more information on these techniques, as well as LPA and the LHWP, and to find out how to get involved, visit, or call Reid Bandeen at 867-5477.

Property tax update

—Ty Belknap, Signpost

Most Sandoval County residents have paid their 2009 property taxes by now—or else they are paying interest on a bill that rose significantly due to 2008 voter-mandated mill levies for hospitals in Rio Rancho and the newly created Eastern Sandoval County Area Flood Control Authority—ESCAFCA taxes affect only Bernalillo, Placitas, and Algodones—combined with the Hospital levy residents pay a fifty percent increase.

Because of the recession, these taxes could not have come at a worse time. Some homeowners will struggle even more to avoid foreclosure while their home values continue to drop—losing even more value because of the tax burden. People are already getting notices from lenders that their escrow accounts are in a negative position, meaning they must pay twice the property tax increase along with their mortgage payments to catch up during 2010.

A 4.25 percent mill levy was imposed countywide to pay for two new hospitals in Rio Rancho. The County Commission voted unanimously to place the initiative on the ballot in August of 2008 at the request of former county manager Debbie Hays. County staff joined the University of New Mexico and Presbyterian Hospitals in encouraging voters to approve the bill in the November 2008 election. The cost of $141.66 per $100,000 assessed property value will pay contracting hospitals in accordance with health care facilities’ contracts. The tax will be assessed for four years, at which time the county commission—not the public—will vote on whether to extend the tax for another four years.

A lot of taxpayers complain that they were not properly advised of the cost. They also question how taxes can be assessed to operated a UNM Hospital that may never be built. Ground has be broken on the Presbyterian Hospital, but the tax is designated for operating costs—not for construction. It won’t be operational for two years, and even then, the hospital will not conveniently serve a large percentage of taxpayers.

At least voters were given an accurate cost on the hospital lev before the election, though it was not at all clear on the ballot. ESCAFCA, on the other hand, publicized a cost of $67 per $100,000 appraised value, but the tax that appeared on property tax bills was $115 per $100,000. There was no mention of costs to taxpayers on the question as it appeared on the ballot

The ESCAFCA board of directors has acknowledged the public outrage over the misrepresentation and is looking for ways to mitigate the public relations fallout. They held an emergency meeting in December and have formed a Task Force for Financial Alternatives to look into ways to mitigate the tax impact over the short term, hoping to improve the chances of ESCAFCA surviving another referendum in four years. Board member Dan Dennison told the Signpost that the cost discrepancy resulted from a misunderstanding with ESCAFCA’s bond council, RBC Capital. He said that it is possible that the tax that appears on the 2010 bill could be reduced by refinancing a $3 million bond and scaling back priorities so taxpayers are only charged enough to pay for the current $3 million bond. A representative from RBC Capital will address public concern and answer questions at the January 12 ESCAFCA meeting which be held at 6 p.m. at the Sandoval County Commission Chambers.

Placitas realtor Lynn Koch has collected over 1400 signatures on a petition that reads in part: “We request that Sandoval County hold a special election with very clear financial examples to ask Sandoval County taxpayers if they truly did want these levies to be voted in. At the very least we are requesting that until the issue is resolved, there be a temporary suspension of payments for these two levies by the Sandoval County taxpayer. In addition, beginning in 2010, we request that Sandoval County mail tax bills to Sandoval County residents no later than October 1, 2010, instead of less than one week before taxes are due.”

County Public Information Officer Gayland Bryant told Koch that there is nothing that the county can do to comply with the petition.

State Representative Kathy McCoy told the Signpost that there is not much that can be done on the state level either. She has gotten a legal opinion that indicates that the wording on the ballot was legally questionable, and she may propose legislation in the upcoming session that would require the costs of bond issues and tax levies to be included in the question that appears on the ballot. “At the very least, the language on the [Sandoval County} ballot is pretty muddy,” McCoy said. “One could argue that people should know what they are voting for. It is very difficult for the average voter.” Such legislation would help protect voters in the future, but do nothing to mitigate the tax burden of the hospitals and ESCAFCA.

Bernalillo town news

—Ty Belknap, Signpost

On December 14 the Bernalillo Town Council voted unanimously to deny Steve and Margie Amiot’s appeal of the recent Planning and Zoning Commission decision to approve the preliminary plat for the Piedra Lisa Subdivision. This was the only controversial item on the agenda, so the crowd at the meeting was as sparse as usual, with mostly those directly involved in the proceedings in attendance.

Mayor Patricia Chavez opened the meeting by thanking all those involved in the Bernalillo Nights of Lights Christmas celebrations. Nobody mentioned anything about the $2500 spent by the Chavez on 250 porcelain Christmas ornaments bearing the town logo and her name. The three and a half inch discs were rush ordered by the mayor just days before announcing that she would run for reelection in March 2010. Councilor Santiago Montoya questioned the expenditure in an article that appeared in the December 19 issue of the Rio Rancho Journal. He said that councilors are not required to approve spending for amounts less than $5,000.

The mayor also recognized fire academy graduates Mike Carroll and Lawrence Gutierrez, members of the Bernalillo Fire Department who had excelled at the Texas-based training center.

During the public hearing portion of the meeting, the Council briefly discussed and unanimously approved two related ordinances that dealt with loan agreements and federal stimulus funding for town water projects. The money will pay for supply upgrades and the replacement of water pipes and valves.

The subdivision appeal process was described as a quasi-judicial process in which only the appellants and the applicants were allowed to speak. Noone was sworn in. The Amiots took turns listing numerous alleged violations of the town’s subdivision regulations and development plan which they have been pointing out to the council for the past two years, ever since the council approved the controversial Transit Oriented Development addendum to plan in 2007. The TOD plan paved the way to increase residential density near the town’s two Rail Runner Stations.

The Amiots formed a grass-roots organization called Take Back Bernalillo to combat the approval of high density developments which they say ignore regulations and set precedents for the future of the town.

Throughout this time, developers from Olive Drab LLC have struggled to gain approval for the Piedra Lisa Subdivision, seeking zoning changes to allow for 34 townhouses on just over two acres off US 550 behind the Taco Bell near the Rail Runner station. The P&Z Commission voted to deny the zone change, and the Town Council initially voted to also deny the  change, then approved it a month later with Ordinance 242. The Amiots appealed the decision in District court in June of 2008 and the court ruled in favor of the town in May of 2009. The P&Z Commission then denied the preliminary plat due to density and drainage issues in July, but then approved it in October. Confused?

The Amiots told the Council that Olive Drab did not meet seven conditions specified in Ordinance 242. They also charged that in the October 6, 2009 P&Z meeting, David Soule, the engineer for Piedra Lisa, lied in claiming that the town’s engineering firm, Molzen Corbin, had reviewed his drainage plan. They said that after going over the drainage plan with two unbiased expert drainage consultants, “we all came to the conclusion that it just won’t hold water.”

Olive Drab attorney David Carpenter complained that his firm had not received a copy of the documents provided by the Amiots to the council and criticized the Amiot’s reference to unnamed drainage experts. He testified that Olive Drab had complied with the conditions of Ordinance 242 and that any violations of building codes or zoning regulations would be addressed in the final plat. Piedra Lisa engineer said he didn’t appreciate being called a liar and that changes had been added to the preliminary plat that complied with drainage regulations.

Councilor Montoya commented that he admired the Amiot’s “passion,” but questioned their motivation, and criticized their failure to reveal the identity of their drainage experts. He then moved to deny the appeal and the council unanimously voted for denial.

The unanimous votes are not necessarily an indicator of unity among the Council. Councilor Eddie Torres is running for the mayor’s seat in March of 2010. Councilor Marian Jaramillo is said to be considering running as well, but must announce by January 5. Bernalillo Public Schools and Eastern Sandoval County Area Flood Control Authority board member Jack Torres has also announced his mayoral candidacy.

Mayor Chavez has put last Spring’s credit card scandal, resignation of the town manager, and the resultant public relations disaster behind her. She delivered this mixed message last July: “In this growing, vibrant community, I remain committed to maximum transparency and accountability. It hurts everyone, financially and otherwise, to be unfairly targeted politically and otherwise by the media and others as we attempt to work through our internal affairs.” Regarding the town-financed Christmas ornaments, she told the Journal, "However many ornaments were ordered, they're not going to win me re-election, and it's unpleasant to hear that kind of rhetoric."

Next month Signpost will submit policy questions regarding development and other issues to the candidates, including those running for two town councilor positions. Residents are urged to submit issues questions to the Signpost by January 7. Responses will be published in the February issue. The Signpost will also sponsor a candidate forum before the election—if the candidates can agree on an appropriate venue.






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