An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


Rep. Kathy McCoy

Two weeks into the session, Rep. Kathy McCoy is surrounded by the flotsam of legislation during a hearing of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

Maria Rinaldi
Bernalillo community-development director Maria Rinaldi comments on legislation during a meeting of the Senate Finance Committee.

Legislative session results in $27.9 for county projects

—BILL DIVEN
Sandoval County and the Town of Bernalillo emerged from the recent legislative session expressing general satisfaction with its outcome.

This despite the two governments falling short on big-ticket items like a transit center and a makeover for Bernalillo's main street.

“We did very well,” county spokesman and lobbyist Gayland Bryant said, pointing to funding for a fire station at the I-25 Placitas exit, renovation of El Zócalo in Bernalillo, and upgrades at the county landfill and fueling center. The county will be looking at its options after losing its top priority, $2.9 million for starting up a bus system with a park-and-ride center off NM 528 between Bernalillo and Rio Rancho, Bryant added.

The transit system was to connect the planned commuter railroad stations in Bernalillo.

Overall, the legislature, particularly the fourteen members representing portions of Sandoval County, appropriated $27.9 million for 194 capital projects in Sandoval County and its municipalities and pueblos. No one is writing checks yet, however, since the governor contends the newly passed budget is $200 million out of balance, and he has until March 8 to sign or veto bills.

Even then, some projects won't see any money until after bond sales in 2007.

On statewide issues, counties lost reimbursements for housing state prisoners but won return of most of the state fire fund to counties over the next ten years. Currently, local fire departments only receive about half the fund revenue, with the rest diverted to general state expenses.

Bernalillo's top priority again was its water and wastewater systems, both under federal pressure to meet new standards.
“One-point-six million dollars, if we get it all, will be a very good year for the Town of Bernalillo,” town administrator Lester Swindle said. “Is it sufficient? No.”

The town is still about $8 million short on rebuilding the wastewater plant and $1.5 million for removing naturally occurring arsenic from its groundwater, Swindle added.

Another $2 million for the MainStreet makeover died with numerous other projects when time ran out on the governor's $250 million transportation program. Instead $2.8 million is going to the New Mexico MainStreet Program for all projects statewide.

“I'll be trying to get some of that,” Bernalillo community-development director Maria Rinaldi said. The town also failed to win funds for formal studies needed to set up a magnetic-levitation transit line to Rio Rancho, she added.

A complete list of the twenty-seven hundred projects totaling $762 million can be found at www.legis.state.nm.us.

Among the local projects approved pending the governors signature are the following:

• Placitas Community Library, $500,000, which, with other funding, should be enough to begin construction on county land adjacent to the Placitas Fire Brigade main station, on NM165.
• Jemez Corridor utility study. The first step is establishing a regional water and wastewater utility.
• El Pueblo Health Services, $2 million for an X-ray facility.
• Peña Blanca Senior Center, $50,000 for parking lot paving and drainage improvements.
• Numerous other projects, including work on the Placitas Senior Center, are contained in a separate package funded by bonds to be voted on in the November general election.


Sandoval County declares moratorium on summary plat subdivisions

—TY BELKNAP
The Sandoval County Planning and Zoning department announced in late January that they would ask for a six-month moratorium on summary plat subdivisions when the county commission met on February 2. During the three days prior to the meeting, P&Z received thirteen applications to subdivide land in Placitas into forty-three separate lots—more than the office processed during the entire year of 2005.

Development service director Michael Springfield told the commission, “It is fairly obvious that this is fairly lucrative by the number of applications we have received in the last few days.”

“Fairly lucrative” is an understatement. It appeared to some that Springfield was trying to kill the goose that laid the golden eggs—and they were not happy.

County attorney David Mathews said that none of the last-minute applications would be processed because “You don’t have a vested right to develop property without county approval.” He also said that the call for a moratorium at this time was prompted by a recent incident in which a developer tore up a county road to install a culvert, without county approval.

But this issue has been building for a long time.

The state requires that counties and municipalities have some form of summary plat-subdivision process to make it easier and less expensive for families to subdivide land. Current Sandoval County regulations allow landowners to split parcels into five lots. The county requires a survey showing lots of adequate size (usually three-quarters of an acre), access roads that are forty feet wide, and a simple well test to demonstrate that the water level recovers after twenty-four hours of pumping. Applications are posted at the courthouse for thirty days and approval is granted administratively (without a public process).

Springfield told the commission that people were abusing the process and that “You approve one of these and the next thing you know, you have an entire subdivision that you never expected.”

Abuse of the process would occur if the original subdivision were split again, resulting in twenty-five lots, and again into 125 lots, and so on. This kind of development can be illegal if it is part of what is called a “common promotional plan.”
The Signpost addressed this issue in March 1999 in an article titled “Secret Subdivisions.” The article was prompted by a successful protest of a summary plat subdivision and the impending development of an area called Indian Flats, north of the village of Placitas.

If the relaxed provisions of summary plats allow developers to circumvent the more comprehensive county subdivision regulations, large housing developments—like the one that has come to Indian Flats since “Secret Subdivisions”—can appear without much county attention to water supply, drainage, traffic, environment, or archaeology.

Ten Placitas residents, including some of the last-minute applicants, spoke against the moratorium, complaining that it singled out Placitas, and that it was unfair, arbitrary, and too sudden. Several realtors and builders testified that the moratorium was bad for business and could negatively impact their ability to provide affordable housing in Placitas.

Springfield said that the flood of last-minute applications demonstrated that the six-month moratorium was necessary while the regulations that protect the public from uncontrolled development are reviewed in a public forum.

Commissioner Bency cautioned the other commissioners to avoid possible litigation, saying, “Bad things happen to taxpayers’ pockets [when lawsuits label government action as] arbitrary and capricious.” Commissioner Thomas pointed out that Sandoval County is too big for one zoning ordinance to fit everywhere. Commissioner Sapien said, concerning controlled development, “We have to start somewhere.” He agreed with the one pro-moratorium comment from the public that there was “more going on here than meets the eye.”

The commission voted unanimously in favor of a resolution establishing a moratorium for four months. Then they proceeded to pass a resolution for a six-month moratorium on rural commercial development in Algodones. There was no opposing public comment. The resolution was prompted by a split of a large piece of commercial property in Algodones that could have profound effects.

Springfield told the Signpost that the moratorium will not stop building permits. Neither will it prevent subdivisions, if the landowner is willing to go through the full process, which he said is not really that expensive, considering the large profits that are being realized. He added that it might be somewhat overstated to say that the process had been abused and that he would not characterize development that has taken advantage of the summary plat process as a common promotional plan.

During the moratorium, the county will hold two public hearings in conjunction with P&Z meetings. At the first meeting, to be held on February 28 at 6:00 p.m. at the county commission chambers, several proposals will be introduced. A second meeting will be held at the same time and place on March 28 to seek public input. Concerned citizens with vested interests on all sides of the issue are urged to share their views.

If any changes are recommended, there will be a thirty-day public notice before the county commission votes on changing the ordinance.

Springfield said that his main focus will be to encourage a public review of all new subdivisions and to require that well tests are submitted to the office of the state engineer for analysis. Currently, well-test reports are simply filed with the subdivision application, due the lack of hydrological expertise at P&Z.


Charles Aguilar
Charles Aguilar

Patricia Chavez
Patricia A. Chavez

Helen Sandoval
M. Helen Sandoval

Cecilia "Kiki" Trujillo
Cecilia “Kiki” Trujillo

Bernalillo mayoral hopefuls speak out at forum

—BILL DIVEN
Bernalillo voters can choose among four familiar faces when they select a mayor in the March 7 municipal election.

Incumbent Charles Aguilar, seeking a third four-year term, is challenged by former town councilor M. Helen Sandoval and past mayoral candidates Patricia A. Chavez and Cecilia “Kiki” Trujillo.

Voters also will select two councilors and decide whether to impose a one-eighth-percent sales tax dedicated to buying water rights and open space.

Appearing at a forum sponsored by the Greater Bernalillo Chamber of Commerce, Aguilar said the town during his tenure has made progress on its water and wastewater problems and in planning for new growth. The retired educator said he would like to see those projects through to completion while working to preserve the town's character.

“We have made the best use we can of the money we have,” he said. “Small communities do not have big pockets.”

He and the other candidates endorsed the proposed sales tax and Trujillo questioned whether there weren't higher priorities for spending the money.

The chamber also supports the tax but is not endorsing candidates.

Chavez, who barely lost to Aguilar in the 1994 election, said she would appoint task forces to assure the community helps the government set priorities. Growth and transportation are significant challenges to the town and its economic base, she said.

“Our community is poised for drastic change, with development in the community and the development surrounding us,” Chavez added.

Trujillo, who ran against Aguilar in the 2002 election, referred frequently to congestion on US 550 and the increasing traffic on residential streets as commuters look for shortcut. She also questioned why the town approved a 780-lot development west of the Rio Grande without first working toward a bypass to get traffic to and from I-25.

“It's not a problem, it's a disaster,” she said. “I'm for development, but you can't develop if you can't get people in and out.”

Sandoval, former councilor and planning-and-zoning commissioner, said she would be responsive to citizens offering ideas or seeking information. Bernalillo can't return to its quiet old days but can grow as a good place for families if people get involved, she said.

“We need to go out to the community and encourage them to come in and have a voice,” she said.


Bernalillo C of C hosts Q&A forum for candidates

The Greater Bernalillo Chamber of Commerce will host a question-and-answer forum for the candidates for the position of trustee-councilor for the Town of Bernalillo. The forum will be held on Wednesday, March 1, at the Bernalillo Community Center in Rotary Park, in Bernalillo.

Questions to the candidates from the moderator will be from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m., with questions from the audience from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m. The candidates are Steven James Baca, Robert L. Bryant, Serafin Dominguez (incumbent), Vern H. Kilfoy, Santiago P. Montoya, and Edward (Eddie) W. Torres, III (incumbent).

All residents of the Town of Bernalillo and other interested parties are invited to attend this forum to get to know the candidates in order to make an informed decision by March 7. The Greater Bernalillo Chamber of Commerce urges you to exercise your right to vote as an American citizen.

For further information about the forum, contact the chamber, at 867-1185.

Journeys in Film bill fails
After testifying before the Senate Finance Committee, Journeys in Film program director Ana Rutins (left) and executive director Joanne Ashe (right) pose with bill sponsor Sen. Mary Jane Garcia. The bill, which failed, proposed $400,000 to put the film program in all the state's middle schools.

Many local bills die in short legislative session

—BILL DIVEN
The short session of the legislature proved plenty long for a Placitas organization that uses international movies to interest young people in the world around them.

As with the vast majority of the two thousand bills crowding the thirty-day session, Journeys in Film saw its proposed middle-school program wither in committees and then die at adjournment. Few other bills, however, drew party-line no votes from House Republicans and a critical news release equating the proposal to teachers renting movies at the local video store.

“It was not about our program,” Journey in Films founder and executive director Joanne Ashe said. “[One representative] wouldn't even look at our curriculum guide to see it's not about renting films.”

Another Republican took offense to the curriculum including a movie made in Iran.

“He said they're our enemy,” Ashe said. “It's a movie about two children and a pair of shoes.”

Ashe said her three-year-old nonprofit uses foreign films with young protagonists, like Whale Rider, to stoke students' awareness of other cultures. The curriculum package then carries class lessons into math, geography, media literacy, and other fields, she added.

Ashe's board of advisors includes actors, directors, and academics, with the actor Liam Neeson as national spokesman. Neeson recently met in Santa Fe with Gov. Bill Richardson, who included Journeys in Film in his major legislative package dubbed Year of the Child.

A recent grant will expand the program into health issues with lessons built around Beat the Drum, a South African film about a rural boy orphaned by AIDS trekking to the city in search of a relative. The film has not been released in the United States, but Ashe said she's working on that and on adding Latin American films to the project.

Follow-up surveys show the classes spark interest and curiosity even if the students also express confusion and frustration, according to Ana Rutins, Journey in Films program director.
“That's good,” she said. “The underlying message is, 'I want to know more; I recognize there is more in the world that needs to be understood.'”

Companion bills, sponsored by Representative Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque) and Senator Mary Jane Garcia (D-Doña Ana), would have provided $400,000 to put the Journeys in Film program in all the state's middle schools.

A random selection of other efforts by Placitas-area legislators includes:

Senator Kent Cravens (R- Albuquerque) won unanimous Senate approval for a study of penalties for first-offense underage drinking, to include loss of driving privileges, only to see the proposal die in the House. Senator Leonard Tsosie (D-Crownpoint) used debate on the issue to lament the free flow of liquor licenses into neighborhoods that don't want them and failure of the state to revoke licenses of liquor retailers selling to minors.

Tsosie and Representative James Roger Madalena (D-Jemez Pueblo) introduced companion bills requesting a study on either turning the Jicarilla Apache reservation into a separate county or expanding Sandoval County to include the western part of the reservation now in Rio Arriba County. Both bills died.

Representative Kathy McCoy (R-Cedar Crest) joined with Cravens and Senator Sue Wilson Beffort (R-Albuquerque) to commit $500,000 of their district capital money to the Placitas Community Library. McCoy dedicated about $612,000 of her $2.2 million district allocation to Sandoval County projects and also won approval for requiring state emergency planners to include pets in evacuation plans.

Representative Tom Swisstack (D-Rio Rancho) proposed increasing a tax break for any film company building a fifty-five-thousand-square-foot or larger studio in Rio Rancho. Presumably aimed at Lions Gate Entertainment, which produces the TV series Wildfire in Rio Rancho and Bernalillo, the bill emerged with a larger tax break for all production companies, with an extra 5 percent for anyone building a large studio anywhere.

The Senate approved a memorial sponsored by Senator Steve Komadina (R-Corrales) urging the federal government to do more to protect, promote, and expand New Mexico's wild-horse populations. The memorial, which lacks the force of law, requests DNA studies to confirm lineage to early Spanish horses and a ban on helicopter roundups in rough country and during foaling season.


Judge Eichwald to speak on openness in government

The West Side League of Women Voters will present Judge George P. Eichwald, speaking from his courtroom on “Openness in Government,” on March 15 from noon to 1:30 p.m. The program is designed to broaden public awareness about the issues involved in the threats related to openness in government.

The talk will be given at the new county judicial complex, at NM 528 and Idalia Road. For further information, please contact Maryann Swartz at 994-1666.


 Rep. Kent Cravens

State Sen. Kent Cravens listens to a question during final debate on his proposal to study penalties for first-time underage drinking.

Santa Fe Roundhouse hosts the greatest show in New Mexico

—BILL DIVEN
The circular design of the capitol in Santa Fe brings instant comparison to a railroad roundhouse, a dark and smoky stable of hissing locomotives all steamed up and occasionally spitting fire.
Often called the Merry Roundhouse, it has the feel of state fair with suits when the Legislature lures the people and their business into the arched hallways. Theme-a-day events turn the rotunda into a midway of program promotions, student musicians, and news conferences infused by busloads of school kids, the press corps, and just plain folks.

Mingling, too, is a small army of lobbyists, those volunteers and hired guns mostly dressed in dark business attire testifying and arm-twisting in hopes of spinning the state cylinder their way.
Ostensibly the main purpose of a thirty-day session, which alternates yearly with sixty-day gatherings, is to craft a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. But awash in windfall cash from petroleum produced on state land, legislators proposed bills at a record rate, ultimately topping two thousand, plus $6 billion in requests for the single billion available for capital outlay.

Capital projects are the one-shot expenditures usually called pork—until they pay to pave your road or restore the community irrigation ditch. A week after the session ended, Sandoval County lobbyist Gayland Bryant said he tracked 207 county-specific bills and still was trying to sort out what happened to some of them.

Not all bills involve the budget, since Governor Bill Richardson can and did puff up the short-session agenda: payday-loan rules, state minimum wage, tax cuts and repeals, Spaceport development, power-transmission authority, state treasurer reform, medical marijuana, paper ballots, and, by the way, it's the Year of the Child.

Of that list, only the Spaceport, paper ballots, and, by the governor's accounting, 80 percent of Year of the Child passed. Richardson expressed disappointment early, particularly with the pace of the Senate, which prompted an impassioned defense by Senate Majority Leader Ken Sanchez, followed by loud bipartisan applause.

“Quite frankly I think the Senate returned to its customary role as a thoughtful, deliberative body exploring issues and coming to the reality of what to do,” Senator Kent Cravens, an Albuquerque Republican whose district includes most of Placitas, said a few minutes after the session adjourned.

On the House side, smooth operations fell apart in the closing hour, when frustrated Republicans led by Justine Fox-Young, of Albuquerque, questioned details of one spending bill. By the time Fox-Young yielded, after forty-five minutes, barely four minutes remained until the constitutional deadline for adjournment, at high noon on the thirtieth day.

The session then ran over, as House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, read a six-minute speech thanking all for hard work and cooperation. By Republican thinking, the stall blocked bad bills and exercised what little power they have given Lujan's control over the agenda and committee assignments.

“We'll probably be vilified for this, but the fact is we're bulldozed all the time,” Representative Kathy McCoy, of Cedar Crest, said as she cleared out her office. “All we want is a little balance in the process.”

The rough-and-tumble extended to a reported hallway showdown over Rio Rancho Democrat Rep. Tom Swisstack's proposed tax break for a TV production company if it built a studio in his city. Two smaller producers from Albuquerque and Los Angeles claimed a state tourism department official, wearing his other hat as a union official, threatened them with loss of union support if they didn't back the bill.

Denials followed, but the dustup made the news and editorial columns.

The biggest buzz of the session came from Senator John Grubesic, the Santa Fe Democrat cleaned up after well-publicized and alcohol-fueled brushes with the law last year. Returning for the first time to his old watering hole near the Roundhouse, and sipping a tonic and lime, Grubesic described his new perspective on the mixture of legislators, lobbyists, and attractive women and the parade of seekers lining up to show fealty to Richardson, who was holding court in his usual corner.

Grubesic's political sin was not giving up alcohol but publishing his observations as a bylined commentary in The Santa Fe New Mexican. That day he apologized for calling Richardson “the flabby king” and announced a memorial service for all of his capital-outlay requests.

So mark your calendar for January 16, 2007, when the greatest show in New Mexico starts its sixty-day run. Best of all, admission is free, if you don't count your taxes.


County Line

Get to know the issues and the candidates before the March 7 elections

—JACK THOMAS, CHAIRMAN, SANDOVAL COUNTY COMMISSION CHAIRMAN
It may be a fact of political life that the more someone needs the services that government provides, the less they know about how to access appropriate agencies or voice their thoughts to elected officials.

I had the opportunity recently to talk with county residents attending the opening session of Leadership Sandoval, a training ground for members of government, business, and civic groups who want to play key roles in our area's future.

As I mentioned to them, almost everyone recognizes a photo of President Bush. Few people, however, can readily identify a picture of their city counselor, county commissioner, or other local government official. Yet it's the local elected officials that have the most direct and greatest impact on our everyday lives.

I have found employees at all levels of government are committed to excellence and they have a passion about serving residents that is second to none. The effectiveness of government, however, comes down to one common element: the involvement of its residents.

That's where all county resident plays a vital role. Get deeply involved in your neighborhoods, communities, and our county. Become passionate about the workings of your community and your local government.

One of the easiest ways to make a distinct difference in our communities is also one of the most overlooked.

Vote in each and every election. Your vote counts and you have real choices to make when you enter the voting booth.

Several local elections in our county in the past few years—two races for the Corrales Village Council and one Rio Rancho Council race—were decided by just one vote. A state legislative race in our county a few years ago was decided by just three votes. So, one vote certainly does make a difference.

Most county residents have the opportunity—right now, in fact—to determine their local officials for the coming years. Early and absentee ballots are available now for elections on March 7 to elect mayors and city, town, and village counselors. Those are among the elected officials who directly shape the future of our communities.

Municipal elections are being held in Rio Rancho, Bernalillo, Corrales, San Ysidro, Cuba, and Jemez Springs. Early and absentee voting in those races began in early February and will continue through March 3. On Election Day—March 7—polls will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Contact your local town, village, or city clerk to get information about voting locations. Ask, too, for a list of the candidates and races. Then contact the candidates themselves to hear firsthand their thoughts and ideas on the issues that directly affect you.
The freedom to vote is a privilege assured by our democratic form of government. As citizens, it is not only our privilege but also our responsibility to make certain our voices are heard by means of the election process. Take the time to study the issues and candidates. Then, vote in local elections either by early or absentee ballot before March 3 or on Election Day, Tuesday, March 7.

Questions or comments for Commissioner Thomas may be mailed to him in care of Sandoval County Administrative Offices, P.O. Box 40, Bernalillo, 87004.

 

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