School-zone speed sign confuses drivers
Just when most of us had adjusted to the new thirty-five-mph speed limit through Placitas Village, the state highway department changed the school-zone sign again. As one approaches the village from the east, a new fluorescent yellow sign a hundred yards before the flashing school-zone lights says that the speed limit is twenty mph from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. and 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. when children are present. Are you supposed to get out and look around? Deputy Dean Alexander was enforcing the speed limit in the village on February 20 at 7:10 a.m. when a Signpost reporter sped past at thirty-five mph with a half-dozen irate tailgaters in tow. Alexander said that he was only stopping cars that were exceeding fifteen mph while the school-zone lights were flashing. He agreed that the new sign was confusing, and suggested that residents call the highway department to complain.
The Battle Over Wal-Mart
Reprinted from La Jicarita, a community-advocacy newspaper for northern New Mexico
—Kay Matthews and Mark Schiller
The debate in Taos over whether the town wants a Wal-Mart Superstore (the town already has a regular Wal-Mart) is not only an issue of economics, i.e., the viability of local businesses with sustainable, livable wage jobs versus the competition of a nonunion corporate giant. It is also being used to divide "nuevo-mexicanos or La Gente"—the Hispano community—and the "newcomers," or Anglo community.
In response to a letter to the Taos News written by Joanne Foreman, citing her opposition to the supercenter, a group called Concerned Taoseños for Economic Growth and Free Markets in Taos (CTGFM), published a half page ad with a picture of a conquistador illustrating the message that unless you are part of the 400-year-old ancestry who are "La Gente" you have no business opposing a Super Wal-Mart or expressing your opinion about anything, for that matter (shades of Rebecca Parraz claiming the same thing at a county commission meeting). No name other than Ramón Trujillo, a paid lobbyist, appeared on the ad to reveal exactly who "La Gente" is. Since then, another spokesman has stepped forward, Santiago "Jaime" Chávez, a disbarred attorney who has refused to divulge the name of "his boss," the man or organization paying the bills.
At a recent Hispano Chamber of Commerce meeting longtime Taos attorney and community activist Andres Vargas criticized CTGFM for trying to turn the debate over the supercenter into an ethnic issue: "It is a disgusting, despicable way to ramrod an issue." Other Hispano community members and business people spoke up as well, citing Wal-Mart's low pay scale, lack of benefits, abuse of overtime, and predatory price gouging that intentionally tries to put local stores out of business. They urged the town council to slow down and conduct a wide-ranging study of the potential impacts of a Super Wal-Mart. In a recent editorial the new editor of the Taos News, Camille Flores, also suggested the town council take a hard look at the facts: "Do we really want to follow in the footsteps of Española and Las Vegas, towns rich with history, but whose efforts at revitalization . . . have all but failed because residents were just too willing to trade the hard work of cultural maintenance for convenience and accessibility to material goods."
Too many issues, as Vargas pointed out, are being delineated along ethnic lines. Debates on everything from acequia rights to public art have been colored by this disturbing trend. Those of us—of all ethnicities—who want a living wage, fair benefits, and the right to union representation must defend these rights with a united voice, the real voice of "La Gente."
Placitas village water system still on red alert
Throughout February, the red flag flew from the telephone pole next to Las Placitas Presbyterian Church telling members of Las Acequias de Placitas to restrict water use to indoors. At the end of January, someone notified KOAT Channel 7 news that the springs that feed the system were going dry. Water board chairman Wayne Sandoval told the Albuquerque Journal, "Right now we don't have any water. It's become a drought and people are using more water than what is going in the storage tanks." Sandoval refused to comment to the Signpost.
It seemed that the crisis ended as suddenly as it began, thanks to the conservation measures, and the tanks were apparently full again.
Water-system members who previously monitored flow rates of the spring are no longer allowed access to the springs, and flow data is no longer available to the media.
Water management in Placitas has been in operation for hundreds of years. It seems to be somewhat wrapped up in community politics. System members contacted by the Signpost had a lot to say, but nobody, except for former board chairman Jim Fish, wished to be quoted in the papers. Some complained that they were not well informed or included in the decision-making pro-cess. Apparently, most members are happy to just have water on tap.
Las Acequias relies on mountain snowpack to feed shallow underground pathways to several springs above the village of Placitas. In normal years, the flow rate spikes in the springtime and gradually tapers off through the summer months. No spike is expected this year, and there may be problems. Shortages are effectively dealt with by restricting the use of domestic water for irrigation, even though some users just won’t follow the rules. In an unmetered, gravity-fed system, users at the top of the hill are the ones whose pipes run dry. Even in the drought of 1996, when media coverage made the name "Placitas" synonymous with water shortage, the springs still produced enough water to supply far more than average household use—that is, if the water was equitably distributed and didn’t leak out of the pipes. Maybe the flow rate is even lower now.
Area landowners and developers cringe when they see "Placitas" and "water shortage" printed in the same sentence. Most of the large subdivisions in the Placitas area are served by deep wells that tap into a prolific aquifer that has not yet shown the effects of the drought. Nevertheless, negative publicity in 1996 caused an estimated $10 million loss in property values over the ensuing years.
Jim Fish blames the problems with Las Acequias on the failure to follow through with a plan that he initiated when he was chairman of the water board. Funded by a $250,000 low-interest loan, the plan called for the replacement of the very old piping and metering to prevent overuse. Meters would also would also make it easier to detect leaks and unauthorized piping.
The current board consists of members who rejected that plan, preferring to repair the system themselves while avoiding debt and meters. They replaced a major supply line and have managed to keep water in the pipes through several dry summers by using the red flag. Last April Las Acequias won a contest at the New Mexico Rural Water Conference for "Best Water in New Mexico" in the category of small water systems. Wayne Sandoval told the Journal that he would like to see meters installed if the membership votes in favor of it.
The recent crisis coincided with state senator Kent Cravens' introduction of Senate Capital Outlay Request 643 for "$200,000 to develop and improve a well and water system in Placitas." Senator Cravens stated that he made the request on behalf of the Placitas Water Board. He said that the request will be considered by the finance committee and would entail a fight for limited funding at the end of the session.
Several water system members from the top of the hill reported on February 23 that they had no water for most of the day.
Placitas library in the works
A group of local residents interested in starting up a Placitas library are meeting on Tuesday, March 18, at 7:00 p.m. to discuss feasibility and planning. One topic of discussion will be how to find an excellent location. Many years ago, there was a Placitas library that is remembered as being quite beneficial to the community. The meeting is open to the community and will be held at the Placitas Fire Station. For more information about the meeting, or if you have a suggestion about a suitable building for a new library, please contact Sue Strasia, at 867-0026.
Paseo de Volcan— ‘done deal’ for Enchanted Hills community?
Enchanted Hills Neighborhood Association president Todd Hathorne said that despite the mean, nasty thorn in their side, Enchanted Hills is, well, just that: enchanted.
The neighborhood is fairly new—about ten years old—and Hathorne said that residents are really coming together as a community. "We want to present a positive image for homeowners," he said.
Throughout the year, the association sponsors functions to get the community together and involved. For the last two years, they've hosted luminaria tours rivaling Albuquerque's annual holiday event. Coming up is the Fourth Annual Easter Egg Hunt on April 12. And, of course, there is the park, which was recently finished thanks to the hard work and generosity of companies and people within the neighborhood.
But then there's the story of the thorn, otherwise known as the Paseo del Volcan Corridor that, when constructed, will literally divide Enchanted Hills in half.
A City of Rio Rancho agenda-briefing memorandum describes Paseo Del Volcan as “a 27-mile corridor traversing the west side of the Albuquerque metropolitan area and extending from I-40 west of Albuquerque to NMSR 550 within the city of Rio Rancho.”
Hathorne said Paseo Del Volcan still isn't on any map and that through the years, Enchanted Hills residents were told by city officials that the land on which the builders weren't building was going to be open space. Then they were told it was going to be a park. And then it was going to be a two-lane road. Now it appears it's going to be a major thoroughfare.
All of this is old news to the residents of Enchanted Hills and the City of Rio Rancho. But what about future homeowners in the area?
Recently, prospective homebuyer Nicole Sinclair found her "dream house" when she toured a model home in Enchanted Hills. Sinclair noticed the open space slated for Paseo Del Volcan and asked a homebuilder representative what it was. Sinclair said the representative told her she didn't know. Then Sinclair asked about Paseo Del Volcan, and the representative told her that it was "way out west," when actually it was near the model home. Sinclair didn't know that. "When she said “way out west,” I thought she meant “way out west,” she said.
What may be of little comfort to Enchanted Hills residents, present and future, is that although no one seems to know exactly when the construction of Paseo Del Volcan will get under way, it doesn't look as if it will be tomorrow.
Lonny Clayton, the newly appointed Rio Rancho city councilor representing District 6 had been in office for a week at press time and said he's aware of the plans the city and state have for Paseo Del Volcan. “From what I understand, it's a federal road and it's already a done deal," he said. "They may start in five years or five days. I have no idea."
New Mexico State Highway and Transportation Department spokesman Phil Gallegos said construction isn't in the immediate future. "Acquisition of right-of-ways by Bernalillo and Sandoval counties continues," he said.
Although Hathorne and his association talk about noise pollution, child safety, and the value of their homes—all the issues most neighborhood associations discuss—he said they would have appreciated a visit from someone to talk about intersections involving Paseo Del Volcan.
Last December the Rio Rancho City Council passed a resolution identifying full-access signalized intersection locations along the Paseo Del Volcan Corridor. Hathorne said the commission did so with very little public input. "We're struggling when it comes to communication with the Planning and Zoning Commission," Hathorne said.
Still, the Enchanted Neighborhood Association is doing what they can to make sure the city council knows they are around and interested in their future.
As for Nicole Sinclair, she's not going to let a little thing like a major highway stop her from buying her dream home in Enchanted Hills. "No one place is perfect. Every neighborhood is what you make of it," she declared.
Bernalillo still seeking applicants for
administrator, police chief
In February, the town of Bernalillo continued to screen applicants and interview candidates for the positions of town administrator and police chief. The town council declined to renew the contracts of current town administrator Ron Abousleman and former chief William Relyea, and they started looking for replacements in January.
Mayor Charles Aguilar said that interviews have been conducted for police chief, but the town has not yet found any qualified applicants for administrator. He explained that "No one with administrative or government experience has applied. Ron is still doing the job, and the town's business is still rolling."
Bush signs bill settling Sandia land dispute
On February 19, President Bush signed a bill containing an amendment that settles the dispute over ownership and control of the west face of Sandia Mountain.
Sandia Pueblo has long held that ten thousand acres of the national forest was mistakenly omitted from the original federal boundary survey.
The amendment, like last year’s Senate-passed bill, gives Sandia Pueblo rights to use the land for religious ceremonies and other purposes. The U. S. Forest Service retains administrative jurisdiction over the property to insure continued public access to affected areas. In addition, the amendment insures that affected home owners in the pueblo’s land claim area have clear title to their property; expressly authorizes existing rights-of-way and easements in perpetuity; grants the pueblo the ability to limit new uses of the land, but with exceptions; and allows the Sandia Peak Tram Company to continue operating its tram service up the west side of the mountain.
Sandia Pueblo’s governor, Stuwart Paisano commented, “This is a historic event for the Pueblo of Sandia. It ends years of litigations and negotiations to reach our ultimate goal, and that was to protect and preserve Sandia Mountains. I would like to thank my community, my tribal leaders, my religious leaders, tribal council, and the community as a whole for all the hard work, dedication, and commitment to reaching that goal.”