6th Annual Placitas Studio Tour
May 10 & 11 — See Sandoval Arts section for details!
ETZA approves Anasazi Trails duplex rentals
The Sandoval County Extra-Territorial Zoning Authority met on April 8 to consider a zoning change that would allow duplex rentals on ten lots in the new Anasazi Trails subdivision in Placitas. The ETZA consists of three county commissioners and two Bernalillo town councilors, and has authority over land development within two and a half miles of Bernalillo.
Anasazi Trails, a new 102-lot Placitas subdivision, was previously approved by the Sandoval County Commission without significant public opposition, but some residents of Trails Subdivision voiced concern over the multifamily rentals, which they say are not mentioned in the covenants. Tom Ashe, one of the developers, told the ETZA that some of the units would be priced at around $200,000, while others would be retained for rental property.
The original proposal for the subdivision included duplex units that would target first-time buyers and retirees wanting to downsize their housing and to stay in Placitas. Residents apparently had no problem with that idea but balked at the prospect of the increased occupancy and problems that would result from renters who have no investment in the community.
Margaret Hodge, a resident of Pueblo Senderos, a development in Trails Subdivision consisting of eight town houses built by Ashe in 1985, presented four pages of written testimony to the ETZA stating that there was a lack of information available to the community. The document stated, "If the development is purely rental, and will comply with the applicable laws for rental property, then the issues of density, traffic, water use, and general impact on Anasazi Trails as a whole must be viewed from that prospective. Twenty units, with up to five residents each could mean 100 residents, not thirty to forty as one might expect from seniors/retiree owner/operators. There could be forty to sixty cars, rather than thirty to forty with senior retirees. Septic issues might be a concern."
Others residents expressed their concern about quality of life and property values being affected. They don't like the idea of rental units being concentrated in the middle of two private single-family subdivisions. They said that by owning the rental property, the developers would retain voting control over the subdivision, thus disenfranchising residents and depriving them of a part in decision making relating to their investments.
When the speakers had finished, ETZA chairman Jack Thomas commented that the proposed project met all the requirements of the ETZA ordinance, and the commission members voted unanimously for approval.
Martha Clark, also a resident of Pueblo Senderos, suspects that ETZA's decision had already been reached prior to the testimony. She said, "I doubt if they even read the covenants, subdivision regulations, or our written testimony."
Tom Ashe can't understand why people expect him to give up control over his own developments. He said, "I've been here for thirty years. The developments you see on the road into Placitas are the result of our [Ashe and partner Steve Gudelj’s] vision. In all of my developments, I keep some control over access easements and maintain strict covenants. As the developer, I'm the last person who would do anything to negatively affect property values."
Concerning the water-use issue, Ashe said that Trails taps into one of the most prolific aquifers in the state. He said the amount that would be used by these condos is insignificant compared with other developments in the area, especially Enchanted Hills and the thousands of new houses that are planned west of the Rio Grande—all of which use the same aquifer.
Ashe said that there is going to be more traffic, not only from Anasazi Trails, but from the adjoining sixteen hundred acres of private land that will no doubt be developed. He said that a traffic plan that includes extra lanes for turning has already been approved by the state highway department.
Finally, Ashe explained that the State Environment Department generally imposes a limit of one conventional septic system per three-quarter-acre lot. "The duplexes would require some sort of alternative system, and whatever we build will be predicated by ED regulations," he added.
If the developers are permitted and decide to proceed with the duplexes rentals, there may be more opportunity for public comment in the continuing zoning process.
BLM releases draft environmental statement
on NM Products Pipeline
The Albuquerque office of the Bureau of Land Management released the long-anticipated draft environmental impact statement relating to the New Mexico Products Pipeline, also known as the Shell Pipeline Project, on April 4. The DEIS is posted on the BLM Web site at www.nm.blm.gov. Copies are also available at libraries in affected areas. The DEIS consists of two large volumes containing information about the proposal and the existing pipeline, as well as a summary of potential impacts and alternatives for actions that might be taken by the BLM in the regulatory process.
The controversial project proposes to reactivate a forty-eight-year-old former crude oil pipeline that traverses the state. Shell seeks to reverse the direction of flow and to transport gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. Population has shifted closer to the pipeline over the years, especially in the East Mountains, Bernalillo and Placitas. The sixteen-inch pipeline would initially transport thirty thousand barrels a day; it has the capacity to transport eighty-five thousand barrels per day. The pipeline was originally part of the Aspen Pipeline Project proposed to terminate in Salt Lake City, but Shell modified the proposal to terminate in Farmington, presumably to streamline the regulatory process. The project could be expanded later to supply a large part of the Intermountain West.
Public meetings were held on April 22, 23, and 24 from at Jal, Moriarty, and Bernalillo. The April 22 meeting at the Bernalillo High School Gymnasium was attended by about seventy-five residents who came to express their concerns and ask questions about the DEIS. Upon arrival at the gymnasium, they were disappointed to find that the BLM had chosen a "hearing" format which would include no dialogs, questions, answers, or any spontaneous speaking whatsoever. Those wishing to speak were required to sign up in advance and limit their comments to five minutes. No elected officials or representatives from Shell were present.
L. Duran Nestor, speaking for the Bernalillo School District, was the first to comment, saying that the district is "against any kind of pipeline near any school or public facility. [The proposed pipeline passes five hundred feet from the Placitas Elementary School and through the parking lot of the Placitas Community Center.] The EIS is seriously flawed. Public safety is compromised because it presents the best-case scenario rather than the worst."
Carol Parker, president of the grassroots group Citizens for Safe Pipelines, called the EIS "fatally flawed" and "an insult to the public." She said that the BLM had minimized the impact of pipeline spills, had not considered Shell's poor safety record, and had presented misleading information about the safety of new vs. old pipelines. She said that “if you had done your homework, you would know that although minor leaks are more frequent in the seals of new pipelines, weld failures in old pipeline such as this account for one-third of damages caused by ruptures." She said that the time required to shut down a leaking pipeline was far underestimated and that an accident could cause hundreds of deaths and hundreds of million dollars worth of damage to property.
Roger Likewise, also of CSP, commented that among the photographs included in the EIS, there were none showing the proximity of the pipeline to residential areas. "If a picture tells a thousand words," he said, "it seems to me that you left out several thousand words."
Several members of the Placitas Volunteer Fire Brigade stated that the danger of this proposal could not be overstated and the limited response capability of their small brigade would be further compromised by the fact that the pipeline bisects the community, and that they would not be able to access many parts of the community in the event of a spill or explosion.
Pete Garrity, who said that he does hazmat and antiterrorism training, called the pipeline "a sitting duck" that can't be protected from terrorists. He stated that considering the age of the pipeline, the project is "ludicrous" and that the EIS presents "a fallacious set of circumstances." He said that there were only six firefighting organizations in the world that could deal with a major explosion, and that "the BLM is blowing past [this public process] for a multinational corporation with no regard people's safety—only for money."
Of all the speakers, only one, Bang Wood, who described himself as an oilfield worker from Farmington since the 1950s, said that the pipeline was here before most of the people, and "crude supplies are down and we desperately need fuel in the San Juan Basin."
Tony Lucero, president of the San Antonio de las Huertas Land Grant (settled in 1765), voiced his concern about potential destruction of ancient acequias and cemeteries if a leak occurred anywhere over the one-thousand-foot drop to the bottom of the canyon. "But I'm most concerned about the living," he said. "Why can't they stop the pipeline at the distribution station in Moriarty?"
Lucero then tried to yield the remaining minutes of his allotted time to Carol Parker, but the BLM representative grabbed the microphone and said that he wouldn't allow it due to time constraints. The meeting ended early.
The BLM is still seeking input concerning the adequacy of the draft EIS and the alternatives presented therein. They asked for comments addressing errors in the analysis, new information or misinformation that would have a bearing on the analysis, or a substantive new alternative whose mix of allocations differ from any of the existing alternatives. Comments should refer to the pages and paragraphs of the draft EIS that are addressed.
The BLM will accept written comment submitted for the draft EIS review postmarked on or before May 19. Comments should be addressed to Project Manager Joe Jaramillo, Bureau of Land Management, 435 Montaño Road NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87107.
BLM officials will then address issues, questions, and new information and publish their findings as part of the draft EIS on the Web site at www.nm.blm.gov. The final EIS will then be completed along with a specific alternative recommended by the BLM. This alternative could be to accept the Shell proposal as is, to take no action and not issue a permit, to require replacement of the pipeline in sensitive areas, to require rerouting of the pipeline around sensitive areas, or to grant a permit with added safety requirements that could include a combination of reroutes and replacement. State BLM Director Linda Rundell will then make a final decision, which will be followed by a thirty-day review period.
Meanwhile, concerned citizens and CSP members will hold a public meeting on May 5 at 7:00 p.m. at the Placitas Community Center to discuss what else can be done to protect the community.
Abousleman moves on—
Bernalillo town administrator accepts position in Eunice
Bernalillo Town Administrator Ron Abousleman will start a new job on May 27as town administrator of Eunice, population 2,600, in southeastern New Mexico. He will vacate his position in Bernalillo in mid-May. A new administrator has not yet been hired. The town council refused to renew Abousleman's contract in January, but he continued to take care of the town's business during the search for his replacement.
Abousleman's new position is in a smaller town, but it pays considerably better than his job in Bernalillo which he had held for the better part of twenty-five of the last thirty-six years. He also served as mayor for four years. The town council let him go just over a year before he became eligible for retirement through the state public employee plan.
"I always planned to finish my career here," said Abousleman. "I will to commute to Eunice. It's a long drive, but I've lived in Bernalillo all my life." He has remained stoic and refused to take any parting shots at political enemies who cost him his job. "I've been here a long time and I know how small-town politics work. I always did what I thought was right, but sometimes you rub people the wrong way. Municipalities have a form of government that is close to the people, and sometimes personal politics take too big of a role. Elected officials and all residents need to look deep to see what is good for the town, and not get caught up in personal grievances."
Abousleman said that he is leaving Bernalillo in pretty good shape—with the hiring of a new police chief, the impending completion of the new sewage system, and an expanding tax base. He said that the town is now able to retain employees with improved pay and benefits, while still meeting the demands of the budget.
County employees are protected by a merit system and can be terminated only for a specified cause. The administrator, treasurer, and police chief are appointed "at will" by the mayor and town council. Were it otherwise, Abousleman admits, the appointees would not have to work as closely as is needed with the elected officials, and the result would be turmoil and slow-acting government.
So far, Mayor Aguilar has not found an applicant for administrator who has municipal government experience. The search is complicated by relatively low pay and potentially unstable politics. The first police chief hired last month quit before his first day of work when he became aware of the situation.
Abousleman said that some residents don't seem to appreciate the fact that the town lacks depth in all departments. Employees are forced to take on so much that it sometimes appears that they are slow or unresponsive. He said that in some towns of comparable size, the administrator has as many as four assistants, whereas he has had none. "Whoever they hire as administrator will have his hands full. He'll have to pick up a lot of slack while at the same time learning the organization. That doesn't happen overnight," he said.
Abousleman concluded, "I hope everything goes well for the town. It will still be my home. I own property and a business here. I wish all the best to the mayor and town councilors."
Ramon Montijo, Bernalillo’s new police chief
Montijo hired as Bernalillo Police Chief
Luckily for Ramon Montijo, the first choice for the new Bernalillo police chief never showed up for the job. After Montijo applied for the position last month, he was interviewed, approved by the town council, and on the job all within three working days.
Montijo began work as Bernalillo’s top cop on April 15. The position had been vacant for three months after former police chief William Relyea was let go in January. Montijo, sixty-one years old, is a veteran law enforcement officer who has served in many capacities throughout his thirty-four-year career. He holds a bachelor’s degree in public administration and a master’s degree in management and currently teaches at the University of Phoenix and the New Mexico Police Academy. He has lectured extensively about law enforcement in the Southwest and in international locations. At one point in his career, he served as a bodyguard for the royal family of Saudi Arabia.
Born and raised in southern California, Montijo began his career in 1969 with the Los Angeles Police Department. Later he started his own security firm, before going to work for the Los Angeles Housing Authority, where among other positions he served as a member of a SWAT team. Montijo said the conditions were not pretty while he was working and living in Los Angeles. He was chased while driving on the city’s freeways, had his house shot at, and was burglarized several times. Montijo left the city to work in two smaller rural California communities, Greenfield and Calipatria, with populations roughly the size of Bernalillo.
In 1994, Montijo moved his family to Las Cruces. He and his wife, Anitta, are the parents of three boys and two girls, two of whom live at home. Montijo says he first took note of Bernalillo three months ago when his truck broke down on a commute to Santa Fe. He said the experience ended up costing him about $1,100 at Bernalillo Chevron for a new transmission and clutch. Now he hopes to find a house in Bernalillo.
From his office at the police station on Camino del Pueblo, Montijo said, “I’m really enjoying this.” His enthusiasm was apparent in that in his few days he worked sixteen and seventeen hours a day making the rounds, attending meetings, and getting to know the town. “I have some really good kids [officers] to work with and already we are starting to make some improvements,” he said.
Before accepting the job, Montijo did some research and was impressed to find that Bernalillo was so rich in history and culture. “People here really seem to love their community and have a sense of pride,” he said. “I want my officers to have that same sense of pride.”
A few internal promotions were among the first items of business. Sergeant Mark Aragon was promoted to acting lieutenant. Aragon had supervised the department for three months during the absence of a police chief. In an interview with the Albuquerque Journal in early April, Aragon said that morale had been extremely low without a chief and that the force was reduced to ten officers, down from fifteen in January. Officers had to work twelve-hour shifts. Low salaries have been another problem. But Montijo says the low pay scale can be dealt with through increased internal and external recognition, kudos, and special training.
Also employed by the department are six dispatchers, who Montijo says are the lifeline between the officers and the community. He says that they are overworked, underpaid, and under appreciated, but also deserving of special recognition. He thinks that putting the dispatchers into uniforms would help them feel better about the work that they do.
Montijo would like to bring the force back to a full compliment, then change shifts to four ten-hour days. With shorter shifts, he says, officers stay healthier, and their work does not hamper their personal lifestyles to such a great extent. An immediate challenge is building confidence in his officers and showing that the community cares about them and respects their work.
A long-term goal for Montijo is to have the Bernalillo police department become accredited. He believes that accreditation would place his force a step above others and identify them as the cream of the crop.