The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

 
THE GAUNTLET

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letters, opinions, editorials

re: legal boundaries of Placitas?

I just read the June 2008 Signpost concerning the commercial development being proposed in the Placitas/Bernalillo area. I am a newcomer to Placitas (I moved here in 2001), and I moved here for the rural and non-city life, since I am retired. It now seems that maybe I made a mistake, because a developer wants to build an unwanted and unneeded shopping mall near our Placitas fire brigade, which would only increase traffic and waste our precious and limited water supply. This, in addition to the proposals by others that think 165 should become a super highway, would destroy the pleasant drive to view the Sandias on my way home.

When I moved here, I was informed that the city/township of Bernalillo jurisdiction ended at I-25 and that anything east of I-25 was considered Placitas. Now I keep reading about how the Bernalillo Town Council keeps approving zoning changes about properties that are east of I-25. Do you know, or do you know how I can find out, what the boundaries are or what the legal jurisdiction is between Placitas and Bernalillo? Thank you for any information you can provide.

—CAROLYN TUCKER, Placitas

[Ed. note: The unincorporated “Placitas area” has no fixed boundaries. The Town of Bernalillo can annex land that is contingent to its existing city limits. For information, contact your Sandoval County Commissioner Orlando Lucero at 867-7500.]


re: why the zone change?

Greed—there is only one word to sum up why the zoning has to be changed to S-U zoning. One word sums it up—greed, pure and simple. Oh, and if I or anyone in my family wants to live in a townhouse or condominium, we pledge to pick up and move to Albuquerque. We moved to Placitas to see the stars, hear the silence, and avoid the crowds. I think we need a Placitas Land Trust where we as citizens here purchase and set aside land to use it as land and space—not for greed.

—KATHY JOHNSON, Placitas


re: urge Congress to extend the renewable energy tax credit

Solar Supporters! Your help is urgently needed in the final push to extend renewable energy investment tax credits before they expire in less than seven months.

In June, the U.S. Senate is set to discuss HR 6049, the Energy Tax Extenders bill, which provides for the most important attributes for renewable energy tax credits to be extended: solar installations, wind farms, energy efficiency buildings, and other technologies.

Two solar items of note are that:

• The Commercial Solar Investment Tax Credit (Section 48) would be extended to eight years (more than the six years previously suggested).

• Groups are working now to eliminate the $2,000 cap on residential tax credits.

Let your members of Congress—both House and Senate—know that you want support for domestic, renewable energy sources to be a priority!

Key messages:

• Not extending solar credits is an enormous tax increase that will cost American jobs.

• ASES reports that we can create up to forty million green-collar jobs by 2030, but Congress must lead for this to happen.

• The eight-year extension of the Investment Tax Credit is critical for utilities to get the financing necessary to keep pace with rising demand for energy.

• The cap on the residential investment tax credit needs to be removed to provide the incentives needed to properly stimulate the market.

Congress needs to find a way to extend the renewable energy tax credit to move us toward energy security and local green-collar jobs.

Please contact your leaders in Congress and let your voice be heard. Find phone numbers for their district offices; then forward this email to your colleagues, friends, and others who support solar to urge them to do the same.

Thank you sincerely!

—BRAD COLLINS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AMERICAN SOLAR ENERGY SOCIETY


re: the fiftieth cometh

Dear Friends Back East:

I enjoyed your report on your fiftieth high school class reunion in Brooklyn, and share your joy that the number of stabbings was greatly reduced this time and that none of them were mortal. As you know, my own fiftieth reunion is this summer in Kansas and I’m beginning to (uncharacteristically) suffer some apprehension.

I naturally want to be presentable to my former classmates and their spouses, but am uncertain as to proper dress, including the wearing of neckwear. The other day, while driving into Albuquerque, I was pondering this question and muttered aloud, “I guess I’ll need a tie.”

“We’re just going to Walgreen’s,” my wife replied. “They don’t require ties there. At least not in the laxative aisle. Not to worry.”

I calmly explained that I was referring to my upcoming class reunion, adding the facts that all my ties are now fermented from lack of use and have a sour odor. A capable distiller could produce fine schnapps from my ties. I will need to purchase a new one if I decide to include it in my reunion dress code.

My wife suggested that I wear a bolo tie or string tie now that I’m a “…man of the West.”

I hastily pointed out that one doesn’t just wear a bolo or string tie without proper qualifications. Can you imagine the likes of me wearing one of those things? As far as I’m concerned, they are analogous to Boy Scout merit badges in that one must earn the right to wear such garb by virtue of accredited skill in horsemanship, cowmanship, sheepmanship, goatmanship, and the like. For example, I’d not feel comfortable wearing a bolo or string tie unless I’d successfully completed, at a minimum, major academic work in... say… American Ungulate Studies or a pre-approved Bovine curriculum with a possible minor in Udders or Rustling. Such classroom work could be supplanted and/or replaced by significant direct practical experience with horses, cows, sheep, goats, etc. before the wearing of bolo and string ties is socially permitted. I have similar opinions regarding cowboy boots and hats.

So, I’ll doubtlessly purchase a conventional eastern style tie, i.e. one with taupe and mauve regimental stripes.

I’ve also noticed an interesting phenomenon among old friends who haven’t seen one another for many years: they immediately recall their last memorable sightings as a first topic of conversation—for better or worse.

For example, at my forty-fifth reunion, a classmate loudly greeted me with, “Hey Herb! Great to see you. Say, did you ever finish that third pitcher of beer you were struggling with down at the Wagon Wheel back in ’58? Was that Coors or Pabst? You couldn’t even make it to the john… how’d you ever make it home, man?”

I just looked over my high school yearbook, reading all the handwritten inscriptions. In doing so, I was reminded of many, many behaviors I should never have exhibited and which I do not want discussed. My most regrettable actions total fifty-two. (It would have been fifty-three, but that incident involving the copperheads and stool samples was largely an accident and not entirely my fault.) Anyway, I dearly hope none of these items surface at this reunion, as my wife and I want to enjoy the experience sans fisticuffs.

On a different note, it’s rather sad to realize that Be-Bop-A-Lula, Tammy, Long Tall Sally, and a fully-awakened Little Susie now reside so far in my past. But, on the other hand, I can now look forward to Twilight Time and Mr. Sandman. And, in all likelihood, Great Balls of Fire.

Thanks for writing.

—Your Friend, HERB, Placitas, New Mexico


Signpost Cartoon c. Rudi Klimpert


A flood of confusion: FEMA, LOMAs, CRS, and my property

—RICHARD SUTTON
Last week, the nation watched in morbid fascination as the disaster video coverage of the flooding in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin was aired repeatedly, on every major network news program. A substantial shingled dream home, all three stories of it, had gently eased itself into the swirling flood waters almost as if it had decided to go for a swim, then slowly sank. We listened as the family, who had lost everything, recounted how their community had in previous years approached their local government and FEMA (remember Katrina?) about getting flood insurance. Sadly, their elected representatives and FEMA could not come to terms, so flood insurance was unavailable for the entire community that had grown around a river/lake shoreline.

The inequity of their situation was heightened for my family. Just three weeks earlier, we had been notified by our mortgage bank that our home and property, high in the Placitas foothills in semi-arid, high-desert New Mexico, would be required to obtain FEMA flood insurance! We were dumbstruck! Flood insurance in New Mexico? Surely someone must have made a mistake!

After speaking to our mortgage bank’s representative, we learned, as they understood it, that we (or a portion of our property, at least) were in a federally-designated flood hazard zone, as indicated on the FEMA Flood Management Map, and we would have until early July to secure the appropriate flood insurance. The representative also was only able to tell me that “it can be expensive—it may be as much as your current homeowner’s insurance.” She added that we would have to speak with our homeowner’s insurance agency to determine cost. Since this has not been a banner year financially for most of us, the news brought an additional jolt of stress we didn’t need on our plate. I wondered how this had happened, and how we would pay for this huge expense. I was also convinced that there had to be a misreading or misconception at the root of this, so armed with a blazing sense of injustice, the motivation that only fear can provide, and a computer keyboard, I began to research the situation, realizing that there must be many other New Mexicans also facing this test.

The 2006 summer flooding along the Las Huertas Creek bed sprang to mind, with its resulting road damage, and I wondered if that had triggered this sudden panic among mortgage lenders. I also remembered having read that the Rio Grande was known to have flooded the valley, at times so severely that Isleta Pueblo would live up to its name as an isolated island! A series of floods in the 1940s had destroyed all the cottonwood bosques—wiped the banks clean, so to speak, but remembering all the money poured into diversion canals, flood gates, and levees, I reasoned the problem had been probably eliminated, at least for Bernalillo County. Still, maybe floods—aside from local flash flooding in thunderstorms and runoff from heavy snowfalls—actually had happened in sunny New Mexico!

My first official stop was FEMA itself, via toll-free telephone. In my anxious mental state, the agency already loomed as dark and ominous as an approaching hurricane. The Federal Emergency Management Administration is part of the Department of Homeland Security, with all the cumbersome levels you can well imagine, so my approach was tentative. After speaking with two time-constrained FEMA flood insurance people and then two flood-mapping specialists, I began to understand that, yes, there was a Sandoval County Federal Flood Zone Map, and, yes, Placitas had sections that lay in fifty-year and one-hundred-year rated flood hazard zones. Searching through a large-scale map of Sandoval County available on the FEMA Map Center website, I discovered that a tiny corner of our property—at the bottom of an arroyo, of course, was in a “zone” of some kind. The FEMA reps told me that it all boiled down to whether Placitas had a “CRS” rating as to how hard we would be hit for flood insurance. I also asked if anything could be done to remove a property from the hazard zone, if it had been, say, added by mistake. They told me to get a “LOMA” or a “LOMR” and send it to my mortgagor, who may or may not choose to waive the insurance requirement—since the decision as to whether they needed flood insurance on the property was not made by FEMA—it was made by a special paid committee, hired by the lender, and comprised of flood insurance specialists. I asked who these specialists were, and if they could be spoken to, and was told that they vary, but are usually from the insurance industry!

In addition, I remembered we only had forty-five days to secure the insurance, and whether or not we applied for the LOMA/Rs, we had to prove the insurance had been obtained, or the bank would secure its own—at a rate up to three times the cost, which would be deducted from our escrow balance. Talk about having a large-caliber put to our heads!

Now my mind was swimming! LOMAs and LOMRs! Banks being told whether to require insurance by insiders from the insurance industry! It felt like the weight of the mighty had fallen upon us. Later, as I browsed the FEMA Map Service Center website (http://www.msc.fema.gov), I figured out that what I needed was a “Letter of Map Amendment” or a “Letter of Map Removal” for our property. The application forms are easily downloaded as pdf files, with copious instructions that vary depending upon whether the applicant is a single property owner, a developer, or a local government. I could see that making this application was not going to be a fast or an inexpensive process, as I would need an official topographic survey map of my property, and surveys don’t cost pocket change.

My earlier call to our insurance agent finally was returned and I spoke to my agent, who had heard from some other Placitas residents, and was generally supportive. Unfortunately, she had no idea what the insurance would cost, and told me unequivocally that once it was obtained, it could never be cancelled! I told her about the LOMA/R application, and she reminded me that no matter what FEMA might do, how its maps may be drawn or re-drawn, a bank would still make their “independent” decision regarding coverage anyway, despite any FEMA letters.

I tried to gather my resources, and sent a frantic email to the governor’s office in the hopes of securing some help. The next day, I woke up late, having ridden the stress roller coaster all night long. When I got to work, I answered a call from Senator Jeff Bingaman’s office in Albuquerque! The governor’s office, having no jurisdiction in FEMA Flood Insurance matters, had contacted them for me. A very able, helpful staffer tried to answer my questions and suggested I speak to the office’s specialist in FEMA matters, but he mentioned that I should also speak to my local government development department, as they would have the most up-to-date information regarding my community as far as Flood Zone Mapping.

After having spent the better part of two days wading through the bureaucracy, pedantic prose, and myriad jargon of federal websites and voice-messaging systems, a simple call to my local government official had escaped me. A quick call to Bernalillo and a transfer to the Development Department put me in touch with Kelly Romero, who cheerfully answered my concerns. Yes, in fact, after the flooding last year, FEMA and Sandoval County had overseen the redrawing of the FEMA Flood Maps and were engaged in creating the “CRS” for our area. FEMA normally redraws maps every seven years or so, and the local maps needed revision. In addition, there were development plans in the works that would need to be in compliance with the zones they may lie near or in. She didn’t think the local CRS plan would be ready for some months, but gave me reason to be hopeful.

She explained further that the Community Rating System implemented by FEMA encourages the efforts made by participating communities in mitigating the severity of flooding, when and if it happens. Community expenditures, engineering, and programs are weighed in along with area topography, resulting in a credit system of points—the higher the score a community receives, the greater the discounts on flood insurance rates. We discussed how the burden of obtaining flood insurance could be difficult for many folks to bear, and that she would undertake any procedure available to get the best deal for the community. Ms. Romero, having also heard my fears about permanent insurance that couldn’t be canceled, corrected my insurance agent’s perception. A flood policy could indeed be canceled, and in fact, FEMA has a specific procedure in place to ensure a full refund of the unused portion of a policy remaining as long as no claim has been processed during the period.

Finally, she mentioned that there were quite a few homes in the Placitas area for which she had already begun a group application to obtain LOMA/Rs! She would check to see if we qualified, and took our lot information.

My insurance agent’s next call that luckily, our policy was considered low-risk (I could have told them that!) and would cost less than $400 made what had been a very bitter pill a lot easier to swallow.

Through my little self-induced ordeal, I did learn that there are lots of channels available for help. If you can tolerate the delay of email responses, being left on hold, and translating the jargon-riddled speech of many agency personnel, you can actually get what you need. The information is out there. Just take a deep breath, roll up your sleeves and use patience, patience, patience. Another tip: Don’t be afraid to call upon your local and state governmental agencies.

It turned out that I was glad to find out I didn’t have to “Fight City Hall,” and it felt good to still be on my feet at the end of the day. As for my wallet, I’ve had truck repairs easily hurt much worse, and I still have the opportunity to get that LOMA!

The following are some suggested resources for others in a similar situation:

• FEMA Map Center Website (secured, with a map reader to research your property): https://hazards.fema.gov/femaportal/wps/portal

• FEMA Flood and Insurance Information: www.fema.gov/plan/prevent/fhm/hm_help.shtm

• FEMA Flood Insurance Premium Tables: www.floodsmart.gov


Signpost Cartoon c. Heller

State of Bernalillo

—MAX SMELLING
Greetings from West Bernalillo. It’s been quiet around here lately. Too quiet. Something is about to happen; I can just feel it.

The stillness is eerie. It’s like the calm at dawn as the infantry girds for battle.

Silence. They still haven’t torn down that beautiful home behind the Zócalo. Another sixteen (or thirty-two?) townhouses squeezing their way into that subdivision called Campo Escondido. Too bad the trees will have to come down, but they say we’ll all be so much better off after the developers have made their money and moved on.

The echoes of the two dozen concerned citizens protesting Escondido have faded away, their arguments having fallen on three sets of stone-deaf ears.

But now some good news: the Town Hall information window is apparently available for local business advertising. The ground-breaking first ad was a typewritten description of the wonders of the new Flying Star restaurant. I imagine the other window on the left side of the entrance will have to be used too when businesses around town get their ads written up.

Also posted in the window is the agenda for the next P&Z Commission meeting on June 10. For the first time in many years, the proper fifteen-day notice required to inform citizens of a subdivision pre-plat was attempted. But in what more and more seems to be the norm for the P&Z office, this was also bungled.

They just can’t seem to get it right. The Subdivision Regulations call for the subdivider to give notice of a public hearing in a newspaper fifteen days prior to the meeting. Not only was the notice inadequate, the agenda calling for action on the “Preliminary/Final Plat—Campo Escondido” is also in violation. Why can’t they get it through their heads that you can’t do a “pre” and a “final” in the same meeting? See the Subdivision Regulations online at http://www.townofbernalillo.org/pzords/S35C-106110310570.pdf.

Again, this is evidence of the continuing agendas of the P&Z office to “interpret” our ordinances. They claim they can interpret the regulations of Bernalillo any way they want. If the Commission doesn’t like it, they’ll be bypassed, and the issue will be decided by the Town Council. And we’ve seen that movie already.

Our elected officials have gone along their merry way for too long, voting for big city, high-density infill in this rural town that wants to stay rural. Their policy is to enrich developers who subvert our ordinances at the cost of blighting Bernalillo with poorly planned townhouse developments.

Single-family-home subdivisions are not immune to P&Z office ineptitude either. Look at how they have to park on sidewalks in Cottonwood. And now there is a road into the Vineyard, but no way out.

How much longer do we have to put up with this type of development, disregarding the long-term effects on Bernalillo? For as long as we allow developers to pursue their never-ending quest to maximize profits at the town’s expense. Or the easy answer I hear is, “less than two years from now at election time.” But what further damage will be done to our town in the meantime?

Take back Bernalillo. It is time for the people to convince the Council—i.e. Torres III, Montoya, and Mayor Chávez—that the best interests of the town are not to change it into something unrecognizable. Development happens, but why can’t it be done using our regulations and with planning resulting in well-designed neighborhoods?

You can fight City Hall! Support Councilors and Commissioners who care about preserving Bernalillo. And help convince the high-density supporters that we don’t want to lose the rural feel in our town. Attend the Council and Commission meetings and be involved.

The pressure is building. The contest of wills between the Commission and the P&Z officer (with his developers) is worth watching. Some issues to consider:

• Will the Commission enforce regulations or will the town continue to be subjected to its interpretations of our ordinances?

• How do annexations of huge developments benefit Bernalillo?

• How much do they actually cost Bernalillo?

• Aren’t they just another form of sprawl, congesting 550 even more?

One last thought: Would the Town please install a decent PA system in the Council Chambers? Not allowing people in the back to hear is not part of keeping the public informed.

You can comment on this editorial by emailing maxsmelling@q.com or calling 867-3362.

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