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letters, opinions, editorials

Signpost cartoon c. Rudi Klipert

re: Public transportation for Placitas—meeting: June 25

A meeting on May 20 was chaired by Bruce Rizzieri, transit manager for the MRTD (Mid-Region Transit District), outlining the Rio-Metro Regional Transit Plan. This ten-year Transit Plan supports Bernalillo, Valencia, and Sandoval Counties, and will be on the ballot for the November 2008 election, where the level of gross receipts tax designated for the plan will be chosen (from a sixteenth to half a cent). The Transit Plan consists of three service options based on the level of funding that’s approved.

We’re late in the game, but this doesn’t mean we can’t get our communal thoughts together and still speak our needs for Placitas.

Although the meeting was advertised in the Albuquerque Journal on May 10, this notification wasn’t effective in reaching the Placitas population. Only six other people were in attendance. A huge amount of people (not just Placitans) want public transit for Placitas, but weren’t/aren’t even aware that a development plan has been in process and is about to go before the board for ratification.

I was able to schedule a community meeting with Bruce Rizzieri regarding Placitas Public Transportation for June 25 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Placitas Senior/Community Center. Bruce will present the mission of his department; outline the types of transit categories (e.g. “Dial-a-Ride, Neighborhood Circulator Bus,” etc.); and most importantly, an outline of the ten-year Rio-Metro Transit Plan, which includes Placitas. Following Bruce’s presentation, I’ll share a summary of needs, concerns, and ideas that I’ve collected to date from community members. We’ll then move to public discussion, closing with “next steps.”

One key issue that we should address in the June meeting is “what can we do in the interim, while we wait for the actuation of the Transit Plan funds, if approved, in fall of 2009?” Discussions re: a Placitas Rideshare web page and private shuttle service exemplify some of many brainstorming ideas that we need to foster and discuss in greater numbers.

Every person I’ve talked to echoes a personal story about the cost of gas or owning/maintaining a vehicle; impact to the environment; the congestion at the traffic light at Exit 242; a disability that prevents them from driving; lost innocent lives caused by inebriated drivers; the frustration of such unnecessary hassle in connecting to family and friends just around the corner in Bernalillo and beyond.

If you can’t attend, send me your ideas at mandolinsun@comcast.net, and cc: the MRTD’s public input online link at: http://www.mrcog-nm.gov/component/option,com_wrapper/Itemid,224/. It would be great if you’re willing to help organize the meeting or become part of a small core group to keep momentum and represent the community, but at a minimum, please spread the word! Also, in advance of the June 25 meeting, visit the MRTD website at http://www.mrcog-nm.gov/content/view/132/223/. Check out the “Draft Transit Plan.”

—STEFF CHANAT, Placitas, 867-8399


Editorial: State of Bernalillo —Democracy Lost?

—MAX SMELLING

Greetings from West Bernalillo. A few of us have been working since last summer to help define the significance of Bernalillo’s Transit Oriented Development Plan [TOD]. In June, the writers were asked, “What is this plan for?” Their response: “TOD is a concept.” Now those who wish to use TOD to promote high-density growth say that it is a “guideline for development.”

The often-heard phrase that TOD is a guideline is false and must not be used to manipulate judgments of the Council. The excuse—TOD guidelines justify attempts to rezone land for high-density developments—must not be used, by the same token.

We knew that if TOD—a book of dreams [or nightmares]—was accepted into our Comprehensive Land Use Plan [CLUP], the Planning and Zoning Director would use it to ruin Bernalillo with miserable developments that will be here forever.

Even though the Council agreed that TOD was seriously flawed, they voted to attach it to CLUP.

Even though the people rose up en masse in opposition, they were once again ignored. Democracy was ignored.

Then another effort to thwart the will of the people came before the Council. In my last column, I said the Town was about to reverse their proper (for once) denial of the Piedra Lisa townhouse development. The old crystal ball was right on.

After informing those in attendance “the TOD is just a plan, an outline, not an ordinance,” and after instructing the mesmerized crowd that there is “no housing included in the Special Use (S-U) Zone,” Councilor Eddie Torres III flip-flopped on his previous vote to deny. With Mayor Patricia Chávez’s tie-breaking vote, the 2.2 acre, thirty-two-townhouse development was rezoned S-U.

Perhaps Councilor Torres III agreed with the contractor that they could include the Town’s Station Street in the individual lot square footage. See what happens when you set a precedent with Plaza Obscuro, which features the street being owned by each lot owner? I think if I owned the street in front of my house I might put in a toll booth, or more likely a storage shed.

Perhaps P&Z Director Kelly Moe influenced Councilor Torres III with his brilliant dissertation on all the variances the project would need to qualify in the R-2 Zone. There are only a few variances allowable under New Mexico law. The overwhelming amount of variances required to fit Piedra Lisa into R-2 would make its approval “legally problematic,” he said. Therefore, it would be appropriate, said Moe, to use the Special Use zoning instead.

It seems as though Mr. Moe likes to use the S-U Zone to allow the developers free reign to do what they want. For example, see the Flying Star project.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of this illegal rezoning was to eliminate the tract on Camino del Pueblo—already zoned Commercial. According to the Town Attorney, the mixed-use scenario of commercial and residential in one development could argue for the use of S-U zoning. While this is certainly not the intention of our Zoning Ordinance, good or bad, the advice fell on deaf ears.

Councilor Santiago Montoya, referring to the Mayor’s suggestion to drop the Commercial tract, basically motioned, “what she said.” Councilor Torres III seconded the motion and Piedra Lisa became a new stain on the zoning map. The Council just voted to rezone 2.2 acres S-U with no mixed-use features. That, my friends, has got to be illegal.

It should be noted that Councilors Sisneros and Jaramillo once again had the good sense not to vote for an illegal rezoning.

The Subdivision Regulations Ordinance has no place for Piedra Lisa, and the Zoning Ordinance does not feature townhouses—or any residential—in Special Use. So what should they do when a development like this comes before the Council? Easy! Tell the developer to go back to the drawing board and start over! If he can’t come up with something that conforms to Bernalillo law, go find some other town and subvert their ordinances. Thank you.

Join with us at Take Back Bernalillo and fight for better government—867-3362. Or email Max at maxsmelling@q.com.


re: cops say legalize drugs

After nearly four decades of fueling the U.S. policy of a war on drugs with over a trillion tax dollars and 37 million arrests for nonviolent drug offenses, our confined population has quadrupled making building prisons the fastest growing industry in the United States. More than 2.2 million of our citizens are currently incarcerated and every year we arrest an additional 1.9 million more guaranteeing those prisons will be bursting at their seams.

Every year we choose to continue this war will cost U.S. taxpayers another 69 billion dollars. Despite all the lives we have destroyed and all the money so ill spent, today illicit drugs are cheaper, more potent, and far easier to get than they were 35 years ago at the beginning of the war on drugs. Meanwhile, people continue dying in our streets while drug barons and terrorists continue to grow richer than ever before. We would suggest that this scenario must be the very definition of a failed public policy. This madness must cease!

The stated goals of current U.S.drug policy—reducing crime, drug addiction, and juvenile drug use —have not been achieved, even after nearly four decades of a policy of "war on drugs." This policy, fueled by over a trillion of our tax dollars has had little or no effect on the levels of drug addiction among our fellow citizens, but has instead resulted in a tremendous increase in crime and in the numbers of Americans in our prisons and jails. With 4.6 percent of the world's population, America today has 22.5 percent of the world’s prisoners.

But, after all that time, after all the destroyed lives, and after all the wasted resources, prohibited drugs today are cheaper, stronger, and easier to get than they were thirty-five years ago at the beginning of the so-called "war on drugs." With this in mind, we current and former members of law enforcement have created a drug-policy reform movement—LEAP. We believe that to save lives and lower the rates of disease, crime and addiction, as well as to conserve tax dollars, we must end drug prohibition.

LEAP believes that a system of regulation and control of production and distribution will be far more effective and ethical than one of prohibition. We do this in hopes that we in Law Enforcement can regain the public's respect and trust, which have been greatly diminished by our involvement in imposing drug prohibition. Please consider joining us. You don't have to be a cop to join LEAP! Find out more about us by reading some of the articles in our Publications section on our website at www.leap.cc or by watching and listening to some of our multimedia clips. You can also read about the men and women who speak for LEAP, and see what we have on the calendar for the near future.

—FROM LEAP, WWW.LEAP.CC


re: Promenade right and do-si-don’t

Dear Friends Back East:

Since I last wrote, a terrible thing happened. In one of the weakest moments of my earthly existence—including all past lives—I accepted an invitation to a party that involved square dancing. And for social reasons, I could not back out despite the fact I’d prefer an evening of bar fights in Juarez to square dancing. Sadly, I’m also allergic to gingham and most fiddle music.

This is not to say I don’t respect square dancing devotees just as I do sculptors, hikers, and centipede collectors. It’s just that my ability to execute square dance calls is pathologically limited, causing me to pose a risk of serious concussive injury to all fellow dancers. I might as well dance to the sounds of an auctioneer.

So, I showed up at the party wearing a fairly elaborate cervical collar, a woeful look on my face, and making every effort to appear highly perishable. The gathering was on a large patio. The fiddler was tuning up.

“Herb, what on earth happened to you,” the hostess asked me, wearing a look of alarm.

“Oh, I broke my neck. No big deal. All my cervical vertebrae are mangled, and my head is now attached to my body only by my spinal cord, other assorted nerves, various blood vessels, and the odd bit of gristle. But I’ll be fine.” I smiled gamely.

“How on earth did it happen?” she asked wide eyed.

“I slipped on some wet cilantro and fell off Sandia Crest. I was found unconscious near Tramway. Clumsy me. As much as I’d love to do-si-do and promenade left, I’d best take it easy tonight. Sorry to be a party pooper,” I added with fraudulent sadness.

The hostess said she understood and asked if she could do anything for me. I said I’d love a water tumbler of Wild Turkey with no ice, a bowl of Cheese Doodles, and some ear plugs, thank you very much. And pointing to a fellow wearing a bolo tie and fondling a fiddle, I asked her if she would mind grabbing his instrument and breaking it into numberless pieces and doing so with immediacy.

I believe I’m on solid ground in expressing doubt that I’ll ever be invited back to another square dance, or even to something else more consistent with my limited abilities. But I will say this: sitting there alone, sipping free liquid courage, wearing a brand new string tie and phony cervical collar in no way challenged this pasty-faced gringo’s ability to look broken and pitiful. But despite such consolation, the satisfying feelings of victory have thus far eluded me.

—YOUR FRIEND HERB, Placitas, New Mexico


re: commercial rezoning plan near Placitas Fire Station

Since last month, there has been rapid development on the Cashwell proposal for mixed-use development on their property between the Placitas Fire Station and Overlook Drive. After the April 10 meeting with neighbors, the developers immediately submitted an application to the County to change the zoning of their 103 acres from Rural Residential to Master Planned District (MP). MP is a catchall zoning classification which allows for a mixture of uses, including commercial, both low- and high-density residential, and community. MP zoning is intended for areas that are rationally planned to integrate the various uses into a coherent community. The developers requested that the rezoning application be heard and approved at the next Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on May 22.

The application was full of vague promises about wonderful, “sustainable” uses of the property. It was also full of plain misrepresentations. For instance, the application included a report on the April 10 meeting that painted a caricature of those who spoke out against the development plan as “aggressive” and “threatening and abusive.” It also falsely described the meeting as displaying community support for the plan, whereas those who spoke up during the comments session ran the gamut from a polite ‘No, thanks’ to ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ More importantly, the rezoning application misstated repeatedly that there was an evident need for more commercial development in Placitas, and specifically on the Cashwell property. However, the developers admitted at the meeting that they had done no business plan or study to establish that Placitas needed even a single additional business.

Given the short time until the P&Z Commission meeting, we in the neighboring subdivisions had to work fast to study the application, get the word out, and organize opposition in time for that meeting. We circulated a petition and encouraged property owners to write letters to the County. By the May 22 meeting, we had collected close to four hundred signatures and approximately forty-five letters in opposition to the rezoning plan. (The developers had only four letters of support.) The meeting was very well attended, filling the meeting room, and then some. The rezoning plan was the last item on the agenda, and we had to wait until after 9 p.m. before the discussion began. But the wait was well worth it. First, a representative of the County Development Department spoke, and said that while the application met the standards for MP zoning, the department made no recommendation either for or against the application. The reason given was that a master development plan for Placitas was still in the works. After the developers presented and tried to defend their proposal, a number of people from the community spoke out in opposition. First, there were six heads of home owners associations and communities in the immediate area, and then a number of individuals expressed their views. Many topics were covered, including the unsuitability of commercial and/or high-density residential development at that particular location; the underutilization of present commercially zoned property in the Village of Placitas and especially in Homestead Village; and the poor water situation in the area around the Fire Station. But the main point made repeatedly was that any application to alter the character of a major chunk of Placitas was premature, given that the Placitas development planning process has yet to be completed. If the rezoning application were approved before the completion of that process, it would constitute a fait accompli that would hamper the ability of the planners and the community to determine if and where various types of future development should be allowed.

After the County Attorney recommended, in agreement with our arguments, that ruling on the rezoning application be delayed until the development plan is completed, the Commission voted to delay that ruling until its December meeting. The only major disagreement was whether the plan would indeed be completed by then, or would instead take a year or more to be finalized. The Commission made clear that strong community participation in the planning process is essential.

The planner spearheading this development plan is presently studying at Harvard, and should return in June. Shortly after that, the County will seek community participation, and they hope to have the plan completed by November. It is crucial that we Placitas residents be primary, up-front participants in the planning process. Though we represent diverse interests and somewhat different visions for the Placitas landscape of the future, I believe that our agreements trump our disagreements. If we can communicate that shared vision to the County, then we can make sure it determines the final development plan.

—ORIN SAFIER, Ranchos de Placitas, Placitas


On walls and laws that break and bend

—PEPPER TRAIL, WRITERS ON THE RANGE

The poet Robert Frost famously wrote, “Something there is that does not love a wall. That wants it down.”

The Bush administration disagrees. It loves a wall, particularly the border fence we’re erecting from San Diego, Calif., to Brownsville, Texas. But they’d probably have no problem with a rewrite of Frost: “Something there is that does not love a law. That wants it down.”

In early April, three documents were released in Washington that eloquently revealed this administration’s contempt for the law. One came in a Federal Register notice from Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who waived over 30 environmental and land management laws to allow the “expeditious” construction of the fence in areas of major illegal entry in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.

Among the waived laws: The Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Archeological Resources Protection Act, the Farmland Protection Policy Act, the Wild and Scenic River Act, the Eagle Protection Act, the Wilderness Act, the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, the National Park Service Organic Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Just in case that list proves insufficient, Chertoff concluded: “I reserve the authority to make further waivers from time to time…”

To waive a law is to announce an intention to break it, and to assert immunity. It is to take a law down. This is no local or limited matter. The fence would be over 700 miles long when completed, and threatens to eliminate one of the richest biological areas in North America.

Among the natural reserves that will be affected are the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, home to ocelots and 16 other federally-listed threatened or endangered species, the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, home to the last 70 surviving Sonoran pronghorns in the United States.

The U.S.-Mexico border is an arbitrary line drawn through an ecologically seamless landscape. To survive in this unpredictable desert region, animal populations on both sides must be able to cross the border in search of food and water. And the most endangered species, like the pronghorns, ocelots and jaguars, need to interbreed with larger populations on Mexico if they are to survive.

But in a so-far futile attempt to stop illegal immigration, the administration is prepared to ignore America’s environmental laws and destroy the ecology of the borderlands in the process.

Two other documents reveal this destructive arrogance, and both are Justice Department memos dealing with presidential power in 2001 and 2003. One, entitled “Military Interrogation of Alien Unlawful Combatants Held Outside the United States,” justified torture in fighting the war on terror. Among its many sweeping claims: ”Any presidential decision to order interrogation methods that are inconsistent with the Convention on Torture, (an international treaty ratified by the United States), would amount to a suspension or termination of those treaty provisions... Similarly, customary international law lacks domestic legal effect, and in any event can be overridden by the President at his discretion.”

In other words, any presidential decision is allowed, simply because it is a presidential decision.

This document contained a footnote that referred to an earlier opinion by the same author, deputy assistant Attorney General John Yoo. That memo, entitled “Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States,” has never been released. The footnote to it is chilling enough: "Our office recently concluded that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations." You remember the Fourth Amendment, the one that states that “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”

The Justice Department reacted to publicity about its abrogating the Fourth Amendment by saying government policy had changed. Or had it? Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said, "We disagree with the proposition that the Fourth Amendment has no application to domestic military operations. Whether a particular search or seizure is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment requires consideration of the particular context and circumstances of the search." What context and circumstances—a waiver, perhaps?

When a government suspends, waives or redefines its own laws at will—and the people acquiesce—can that nation be called a democracy?

Pepper Trail is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is a biologist and writer in Ashland, Oregon.


Gap between NM’s richest and poorest—sixth-largest in nation

New Mexico ranks sixth among the states—but it’s not for a good measure. A national study shows that income inequality grew significantly between the richest and poorest, and even the richest and middle-income families, from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s. The study, “Pulling Apart,” by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute, will be released April 9.

The richest New Mexicans have average incomes eight times as large as the poorest. Since the late 1990s, the average income of the richest New Mexico families increased from $91,571 to $118,608, while incomes for the poorest families stagnated.

Nationally, the wealthiest Americans saw their incomes rise by about nine percent during this time period, while the lowest wage-earners actually saw their incomes decrease by 2.5 percent. Although the income inequality gap varies by state, no state showed a decrease. The report blames economic trends and government policies for the widening gap.

“Unfortunately, as the economy slows, we can expect that low- and moderate-income families will be hit hard,” said Gerry Bradley, Research Director for New Mexico Voices for Children, a statewide child advocacy organization. “Policies that the state put in place in 2007—raising the minimum wage, creating the state Working Families Tax Credit, and increasing unemployment benefits—were good policies and will help some, but it’s like a garden hose compared to the tidal wave impact of the economy,” he added.

The full report, press release, and state fact sheets are available at http://www.cbpp.org/4-9-08sfp.htm.

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