Carol Parker, former president of the Las Placitas Association,
talks with Sandoval County Commission chairman Daymon Ely after commissioners
passed an ordinance protecting the Placitas Open Space.
Sheriff’s Dept. assumes policing of Placitas Open Space
Policing the Placitas Open Space now falls to the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office under an ordinance approved last month.
Previously the county lacked jurisdiction over minor violations in the 560 acres of federal land sold to the city of Albuquerque for recreational uses in the early 1960s. With city ordinances unenforceable outside the city, minor infractions now become misdemeanor violations of Sandoval County law.
“The ordinance says if a trail is posted for pedestrians only, you have to obey that posting,” said Carol Parker, former president of the Las Placitas Association. “And it says specifically that motor vehicle use is prohibited.”
The city fully backs the new ordinance and is anxious to see the land used for recreation, according to Jay Evans of the Albuquerque Open Space Division.
“This is a good step forward,” Evans told county commissioners. “We’ve been waiting thirty-eight years.”
The ordinance is aimed mostly at motor vehicles like dirt bikes and ATVs, campfires, and damage to archaeological sites, Parker said. Exempted are motorized wheelchairs, city vehicles, and maintenance within two pipeline rights-of-way, she added.
Trails will be designated for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding, Parker said.
While the Bureau of Land Management sold the land to the city in the 1960s, the Las Placitas Association didn’t get involved until 1995, when it fought a proposed shooting range on the site. When the city rejected the shooting range, it also suggested the LPA come up with ideas for the land.
Parker also credited county attorney David Mathews for his work on the ordinance and Commissioner Bill Sapien with stepping in when it appeared the BLM might take the land back because the city never developed it for recreation.
“It’s a good cooperative deal among the city of Albuquerque, the Las Placitas Association, and Sandoval County,” Sapien said. “The open space is not very big, but it’s enjoyable. It’s a great place to get away.”
The land also has been placed on the State Cultural Properties list, and the state Legislature has approved a master plan for developing low-impact recreational uses.
Parker said researching legal protection for the open space contributed to her decision to attend the University of New Mexico law school. She graduated last month and is scheduled to take the bar exam in July.
Foul odor plagues some Bernalillo neighborhoods
Bernalillo resident Gary Salsman can’t see the town wastewater plant from his home on Maria Elena Circle.
Like his neighbors, however, he can hear it. And, once again, he can smell it.
“It has an unpleasant, kind of funky odor,” Salsman told the Signpost. “It smells like raw sewage.”
After four years in the mobile-home park adjacent to the plant, Salsman says the intermittent odor is part of life during warm weather. “If you notice it, you’re new here,” he said.
Regardless, complaints led to unflattering news reports by the Albuquerque print and broadcast media. An editorial offered the opinion that foul air is taking Bernalillo’s quality of life “down the drain, so to speak.”
Town officials offered their annual apologies but say change may also be in the air. After years of talk, they say, a recent agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency will compel the town to spend at least $6 million, and perhaps twice that, to upgrade the wastewater plant.
For the moment, that’s money the town does not have.
The odor problem is seasonal and comes from sludge, the solid by-product of wastewater treatment which must be dried before being trucked to a landfill, wastewater superintendent Nick Tobey said. The outdoor pile of sludge mixed with woodchips to speed drying got soaked by April rains, he added.
“Even with the stockpile gone, we’re going to generate odors as long as we’re in a temperature range of, say, eighty to ninety-five degrees,” Tobey said. “Ninety-five and above, the sludge dries fast enough to not generate much odor.”
Planning for plant upgrades includes an odor-free mechanical drying process that reduces sludge volume by half in cold weather by eliminating the need for woodchips, Tobey said. Operating the system would likely require two additional employees, he said.
Reducing odors, however, is not part of the new federal mandate. Of higher priority is the three-year EPA deadline to remove arsenic, chlorine, and other chemicals from effluent discharged into the Rio Grande. Town officials plan to visit the EPA this month to request a one-year extension.
“Even if we already had the money and the engineered plans, we couldn’t meet the deadline,” town administrator Lester Swindle said. Town councilors last month voted to raise water and sewer rates and are exploring loans, grants, taxes, and bond issues to pay for the improvements, he added.
Also to be determined is the cost of updating a wastewater plant built more than 20 years ago. Recently quoted figures range from $6 to $8 million to as much as $10 to $13 million, the higher figures including the new process for handling sludge.
Are you ready to vote?
Polling places for the June 1 primary elections will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Party winners in contested state, county and judicial races will face each other in the November general election. Some offices will be decided in the primary, however, since neither Democrats nor Republicans fielded candidates in every contest.
At the top of the tickets, Republican President George Bush is running unopposed for nomination to a second term, while Democrats caucusing in February backed Senator John Kerry.
In-person early voting was to end May 29 with absentee ballots accepted by mail and in person at the county clerk’s office until 5:00 p.m. June 1. Absentee voters who didn’t receive a ballot or missed the mail deadline can vote in person by signing an affidavit at their polling place.
- May 29: Absentee and early in-person voting ends
- June 1: Primary Election Day
- June 7: Voter registration re-opens.
District 22 House seat will go to a Republican
A Republican will represent Placitas in the state House next year.
The only question is, Which one?
Voters in the June 1 Republican primary can choose among Charles Mellon of Placitas and two East Mountain residents, Kathy McCoy of Sandia Park and Mario Burgos of Cedar Crest. The winner will be unopposed in the November general election.
No Democrat filed for the District 22 seat, which loops from Sandia Heights in northeast Albuquerque through Placitas and around the Sandias to the East Mountains of Bernalillo County and the town of Edgewood in Santa Fe County. Despite distance and diversity, all three candidates pledge to represent the entire twenty-five-thousand-resident district.
“We have some different issues, but one total commonality is that we all want to live in the natural environment,” McCoy told the Signpost. “People may be spread all over the place, but I got the feeling going door-to-door, got the sense they don’t want the city beating at their door.”
McCoy, fifty-five, served on the legislative staff of District 22 state representative Ron Godbey and worked on issues including tougher pipeline regulations. She cofounded the East Mountain Legal Defense Fund and has worked with her rural neighbors to oppose the unification of the Albuquerque and Bernalillo County governments.
“I know where to go to get questions answered,” McCoy said of her two legislative sessions. Godbey, an East Mountain Republican, chose not to seek reelection.
Burgos, thirty-five, president of the nonprofit Junior Achievement of New Mexico, said he finds voters generally satisfied and in agreement about big issues like tax reduction and school choice. He’s only knocking on Republican doors, he said, adding that part of success in Santa Fe is in getting along with Democrats.
“If you’re an angry person going to Santa Fe and can’t get along with people, you’ve got a problem,” Burgos said. “In this state, a smart Republican legislator is going to figure out how to work with the other side.”
While he frequently disagrees with Governor Bill Richardson, Burgos said he the governor helped Junior Achievement promote free enterprise and growing the economy from within, Burgos said.
Mellon, forty-five, previously made two unsuccessful bids for the Sandoval County Commission, one as an Independent, and an earlier House try as a Libertarian. Despite changing party labels, he said he remains an independent thinker consistently supporting lower taxes and smaller government.
Currently identified with the Placitas County movement, Mellon said he would not introduce related legislation without a show of support from constituents. The Sandoval County Commission, citing questions about whether the new county could fund itself, recently rejected Mellon’s request for a nonbinding referendum in Placitas and southeastern Sandoval County.
“I would not do it just because I’m for it and I was elected,” Mellon said. “The Legislature would never approve it unless the public will was demonstrated.”
All three candidates were in general agreement opposing attempts to give the state engineer more control over domestic water wells and supporting school-choice voucher programs. Mellon, however, said he would prefer a direct tax credit for tuition paid to private schools.
Speaking our conscience about the Middle East
Chairman, Sandoval County Commission
I am an American. I am a county commissioner. I am a Jew.
The time has come for all of us to speak our conscience. The President's policies concerning the Middle East are wrong—morally and pragmatically. Those policies are wrong across the board—in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and here at home. And the impact is significant—even for an area as seemingly far removed as Sandoval County.
Let's start with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a Jew and as an American concerned about the rights of all, I am an ardent supporter of Israel. But the policies of Ariel Sharon, which are being enthusiastically supported by President Bush, do not serve the interests of the United States or Israel.
The policies consist of continuing the occupation of Palestinian lands and then building a wall to include those territories. The policies capitulate to the demands of a growing minority of reckless Jewish settlers that their enclaves in occupied territory continue in spite of the dangers posed to Israel and the rest of the world.
Those policies take a sledgehammer to a situation that requires a scalpel. They provide the immediate relief that "we are doing something" but, in reality, they do nothing to address the long-term problem that deprives an entire people of hope.
I am not naive. As is the case in any society, there are Palestinians who murder and commit terrible crimes. But those individuals need to be marginalized, not empowered. By continuing policies that undermine rational voices within the Palestinian community, the current Israeli government is simply playing into the hands of the terrorists. And our President supports these policies.
However, give President Bush marks for consistency. His sledgehammer approach to terrorism is the same as Sharon's. By taking the "feel-good" route and blowing things up, we get the immediate sense that we are "going after the bad guys." But, does it work? No, of course not. After we kill the latest terrorist leader, ten more pop up. How many Hamas leaders does Israel have to kill before they and we figure this out?
These same policies were applied in Iraq: invade Iraq; topple Saddam. We feel good. But by doing so, we played into the hands of the terrorists. They used our invasion to convince others in the Arab community that we invaded Iraq for oil, that we are arrogant, and that those who support us must also be evil. The abuse of prisoners in Iraq is only the latest and best example of the fuel for propaganda that we have unwittingly provided to the "evildoers.”
How about a new approach? We start by recognizing that the current "let's blow them up" policy isn't working. We return to the era, if that's possible now, of the honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. We recognize that by solving that crisis, we will go a long way toward turning down the volume in the Middle East. We involve the United Nations and NATO in Iraq because, now, we cannot possibly solve this problem on our own. And, most important, we turn our resources, sweat, and ingenuity into creating alternative sources of energy so that we are no longer hostages to countries like Saudi Arabia whose government, much more so than Iraq, supported and may continue to support terrorism around the globe.
Am I concerned? You bet. As an American, a Jew, and an elected official, I see the rise in both anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism that threatens the premise of our democracy.
Let's turn this ship around. It’s time for people—yes, even local officials—to become more vocal about our country’s policies in the Middle East and here at home.
Questions or comments for Commissioner Ely may be mailed to him in care of Sandoval County Administrative Offices, P.O. Box 40, Bernalillo 87004.
County clerk seeks commission seat, claims weak leadership
With an election coming up, county clerk Victoria Dunlap says she’s too busy to campaign much for another office.
Instead she’ll let her name recognition from three controversial years in office speak for itself as she seeks the Republican nomination for the Sandoval County Commission District 4 seat. Before challenging incumbent Democrat Jack Thomas in November, however, she must defeat Chris Espinosa in the June 1 Republican primary.
Not that Dunlap expects any help from a Republican Party that has censured her for issuing sixty-six marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples in February. That was before county commissioners and Democrat Attorney General Patricia Madrid stopped her with a temporary court order.
The lawyers, without Dunlap present, argued the action was illegal and that the crowd of gay couples lining the courthouse hallways created a safety hazard.
Dunlap, once a Democrat, says both major parties expect their elected officials to adhere to the party line instead of thinking for themselves. Issuing marriage licenses is a matter of law, not morality or politics, she says.
The basic law on marriage is gender-neutral, she adds, while only the license application form specifies male and female applicants. The temporary order has since been extended, improperly according to Dunlap’s attorney, who says Dunlap is entitled to a fair hearing.
“We are denying rights to people every day,” Dunlap told the Signpost. “I don’t like that at all.”
Equality may not be totally possible, but it’s a worthy goal, she says. Anything less is a step backwards, she adds.
Dunlap’s relationship with the county commission has been contentious with disputes about budgets, office hours, election operations, and ballot counting. It was commission control of her budget that Dunlap says led her to choose running for that five-member board over seeking a second term as county clerk.
“The basically hold you hostage for your budget,” she says. The board lacks strong leadership, she adds.
“People walk around in a hypnotic state sometimes,” Dunlap says. “It takes someone to shake them back to reality.”
Espinosa, a Rio Rancho insurance agent, is a member of the Sandoval County Republican Party central committee. It was that committee than censured Dunlap over the same-sex marriage licenses.
Controversy then shifted to the party itself when county Republican chairman Richard Gibbs was quoted as saying censuring Dunlap was all the party could do short of assassination. Contacted by the Signpost, Gibbs declined to comment on Dunlap or the commission race.
Attempts by the Signpost to contact Espinosa by phone and at a candidate forum she was expected to attend were unsuccessful. Both she and Dunlap filed notice with the secretary of state that they each expect to raise or spend less than $1,000 on their campaigns.