An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


Mustang adoption

Pat Williams, a wrangler with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, takes bids on wild horses.

Wild horse and burro adoption coming to to town

The Bureau of Land Management will hold a wild horse and burro adoption in Albuquerque May 18-20. The three-day event at the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Posse Arena will feature eighty spectacular animals—adult and yearling horses and burros that once roamed free on public lands in the West protected by federal law. The BLM periodically removes excess animals from the range in order to ensure herd health and to protect fragile desert ecosystems. Several of the horses that will be available at the Albuquerque adoption were gathered from the BLM herd management area near Socorro. According to BLM, the adoption program is essential for protecting these “living legends.”

Preview of animals begins Thursday, May 18, from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Doors will open again Friday, May 19, at 8:00 a.m., with a competitive bid adoption beginning at 10:00 a.m. Following the competitive bid adoption Friday morning, walkup adoptions will continue until 6:00 p.m., then resume Saturday, May 20, from 8:00 a.m. until noon. Those interested in bidding are encouraged to come Thursday afternoon or early Friday to complete their adoption applications in time; applications are approved on the spot. The minimum adoption fee is $125 per animal to qualified adopters.

To qualify to adopt, bidders must be at least eighteen, with no record of animal abuse. In addition, adopters must have suitable facilities and can adopt no more than four animals. All animals must be loaded in covered trailers with sturdy walls and floors—no drop ramp trailers.

Wild mustangs are renowned for their strength, endurance, agility, and intelligence—characteristics bred into them in the wild which make them ideal for work or recreation.
Since 1973, the BLM has placed more than 210,000 horses in approved homes across the country.

For more information, call toll-free 1-866-4-MUSTANGS.
Directions to the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Posse Arena: From I-25 in Albuquerque, take Exit 233 (Alameda Boulevard); go west to 2nd Street, then north (right) approximately three-quarters of a mile to Arena, on east side of road.

Paving San Francisco Road
Photo by Ty Belknap

Placitas residents thank county officials for newly paved Camino de San Francisco. (l.-r.) Commissioner Bill Sapien, John Colang, Debra Bergerson, Chris Miller, Phil Rios, and Gayland Bryant.

Paving Placitas

—TY BELKNAP
San Francisco Hills Road residents Debra Bergerson and John Colang posed with Gayland Bryant, director of public affairs for Sandoval County; Bill Sapien, county commissioner; Chris Miller, assistant director of public works; and Phil Rios, director of public works for Sandoval County, on the newly paved Camino de San Francisco in Placitas. They stood less than a mile from where just six years ago protesters picketed and were arrested for trying to stop the paving.

What has changed? Twenty years ago people sought isolation out Camino de San Francisco, an ancient road connecting the Placitas area to El Camino Real. Neighbors were few and far between. Chances are good that the first neighbor one met was carrying a petition against paving the road. Paving meant development and the end of a unique rural lifestyle. What’s a little dust and a few broken axles compared to the alternative? Not everybody liked it that way, but it was politically incorrect to say so.

Development came anyway, and along with it was an increasing call for a paved road. Residents circulated petitions, lobbied the legislature for funds, and convinced the Sandoval government to back them.

Through the efforts of Bill Sapien, Gayland Bryant, and state representative Kathy McCoy, the legislature came up with $155,000. Sapien said that this time there was no opposition.

The paving project covers 2.4 miles—from the entrance to Diamond Tail Ranch subdivision, past the dried-up hippy swimming hole, past the old stagecoach stop, past the Troll Bridge over the arroyo leading to the ghost town of Tejon—all the way to the end of the public road. It’s a giant step toward making dirt roads a thing of the past in Placitas. The speed limit is still twenty-five miles per hour, so maybe speeding tickets will help with funding.

John Colang, president of the San Francisco Hills Homeowner's Association, said that the road was desperately in need of paving. “It was riddled with potholes and became treacherous when the spring mud washed the roads out,” He added, “Gone are the days of the original Placitas isolationists who wanted to keep civilization away by making this area as inaccessible as possible. We know that development and progress will make its way into Placitas—it's already happened. The most we can hope for is a balance between sensible development, good planning and road design, and a healthy dose of respect for this beautiful land so we can share it with wildlife and preserve it for future generations”.

“Paving makes it easier for emergency vehicles, school buses, and general bicycle and foot traffic to access the area. It also tremendously helps the air quality back here, since the brown dust clouds from traffic passing by on the roads have been minimized. We are not concerned that paving the road will bring more traffic into the area.”


Bernalillo still awaiting appointment of replacement town administrator

—BILL DIVEN
The Bernalillo town government continues to function despite having an administrator who is being paid not to administer, according to Mayor Patricia Chávez.

“The departments are carrying the full brunt of the load and are reporting to me,” Chávez said during a town council work session. It's difficult, but town business is moving forward, she added.

An appointment to replace town administrator Lester Swindle was likely to occur within the next couple of weeks, Chávez said during the April 10 session. An additional work session on the issue followed by a regular council meeting with an agenda item simply labeled “Appointments” was scheduled for April 24, after the Signpost deadline.

Chávez declined one Signpost request for an interview, saying she was too busy at the moment but would follow up later by telephone.

After taking office on March, Chávez quickly reorganized the town leadership, directing department heads to report directly to her and telling Swindle to drop past duties and instead compile a list of town projects currently underway. After a meeting closed to the public despite questions about giving proper notice, councilors rejected Chavez's recommendation of a Bernalillo County employee to replace Swindle.

Councilors also voted to retain police chief Fred Radosevich and followed the mayor's recommendation to split the duties of town clerk-treasurer Ida Fierro. Fierro retained the clerk job, and councilors approved Santiago Chávez as treasurer.

Swindle's current status has been characterized as being paid to count paper clips.

“How do we deal with the current town manager who still holds the job and is getting paid,” Councilor Marian Jaramillo asked Chávez. “That's a large sum of money being paid by the town for not receiving any services.

“What is your plan to deal with that?”

Chávez said she offered Swindle a severance package in exchange for his resignation, but he declined. Chávez also said she had identified several unnamed applicants to replace Swindle through methods discussed during the closed meeting.

Newly elected councilor Santiago Montoya, querying town attorney George Perez, confirmed Swindle holds his position by appointment and is owed nothing by the council if it votes to dispense with his services.

Swindle, with a background in business and fresh from an upper-level position in the administration of Governor Gary Johnson, became the town manager in July 2003. Since then he has handled the firing of the previous police chief, successfully revived a proposed ordinance governing construction along Camino del Pueblo, beefed up code enforcement, created a new revenue stream by taking over state building inspections and led the ongoing charge to fund a $12 million wastewater-plant overhaul under threat of federal fines.

He and other department heads have not been able to discuss town business with the media after Chávez directed all such questions be referred to her.

That leaves the town code-enforcement officer unable to respond to questions about reports that he had been ordered by someone not to enforce the town sign ordinance after oversized political signs sprouted in the town. Signs larger than the allowed twenty square feet also were an issue in the mayor's race when property owners were warned about erecting Chávez signs on four-by-eight-foot boards.

Currently seen in Bernalillo are similar boards identifying the two Rail Runner Express commuter train stations and touting the primary-election hopes of Sandoval County sheriff John Paul Trujillo and Division 3 magistrate candidate Bill Mast, Chávez's husband.


Subdividing Placitas

—BILL DIVEN
Splitting lots in Placitas would be easier for families but tougher and more expensive for developers under proposed changes to the Sandoval County subdivision ordinance.

The county Planning and Zoning Commission approved the changes last month after a two-hour hearing before a standing-room-only crowd of about sixty residents. While many supported new requirements involving water use and drainage, some older residents complained the extra costs would affect land they have been holding to support their retirements.

Final action could come on May 18, when the Sandoval County Commission meets at 6:00 p.m. in Bernalillo.

The proposed amendments target two procedures, family transfers and summary subdivisions, which allow existing lots to be divided with only the administrative approval of the county Development Department. Currently the summary process permits one lot to be divided into as many as five smaller lots.

In February county commissioners imposed a four-month moratorium on new lot splits in Placitas after hearing complaints the procedures were being abused to avoid public hearings and other requirements imposed on formal subdivisions.

The process to divide a lot within a family actually will be easier although slower, according to county development director Mike Springfield, with the property owner filing a sworn affidavit instead of appearing in person before the P&Z commission. There is no extra cost, but the process will be about sixty days longer, he said.

For summary subdivisions, however, subdividers will have to prove a one-hundred-year water water supply and provide an engineered grading and drainage plan to control runoff as required by state law.

“We get complaints (about runoff) all the time from neighbors and have no recourse,” Springfield said. “No recourse except hiring an engineer at county expense and suing.”

A drainage plan could cost as much as $1,000 a lot, while broker-developer Dave Harper said a water study for his current forty-one-lot project costs more than $10,000.

“The hardship factor can affect small developers,” homebuilder Bob Poling said. “Is it going to cost as much to develop two lots as two hundred lots?

“Will this restrict affordable lots in Placitas?”

His last remark drew laughter from the crowd and a later observation from William Patterson that two lots near him have been marketed at $100,000 and $400,000.

“We have to have development review,” said Patterson. Given current land prices, developers can afford water tests and drainage plans, he said.

“Groundwater pumping in Placitas is impairing our springs and surface flows,” added Lynn Montgomery, mayordomo of Acequia La Rosa Castilla. “We've got to start thinking about no more building permits and well permits in Placitas.”

Tony Lucero, president of the San Antonio de las Huertas Land Grant, urged commissions to impose the regulations county-wide as a matter of fairness to Placitas. Springfield later told commissioners that would shut down development in much of the rest of the county, where land values are considerably lower.

Ora Correa, a seventy-five-year resident of Placitas, said some of her neighbors are confused about the proposals and that the county had made no effort to hold meetings there to explain the issues.

“Some are holding on to five acres. Me, I've got a couple of acres, to sell or to give to our children,” she said.

“Please go to the people of the village.

“You're destroying our culture from the bottom up.”

P&Z chairman David Heil, the only commissioner to vote against the proposals, said he wanted more outreach to the community. Springfield said his department faced tight deadlines for the revisions and reminded commissioners he had sought a six-month moratorium but was only granted four.


Railroad Engineer
Photo by Bill Diven

With his left hand on the brake and his right on the throttle, Rail Runner Express engineer Patrick Preusser eases his train away from the Albuquerque station for the 20-minute run to Bernalillo. Preusser, formerly with Amtrak, is among the engineers and conductors now qualified to run the commuter trains expected to start service in July. He is shown in the cab of the lead coach controlling the locomotive that pushes the train to Bernalillo and pulls it back to Albuquerque.

Railroad Train
Photo by Bill Diven

The railroad right-of-way through Bernalillo is now owned by the New Mexico Department of Transportation but still used by Amtrak and the BNSF Railway. Only signs deter pedestrians from crossing the tracks, although Rail Runner Express officials have talked about putting up a fence to keep people out.

Newly hired commuter-rail planner will focus on safety

—BILL DIVEN
A month after New Mexico Rail Runner Express ran its first test train into Bernalillo, everyone involved in the project is gushing enthusiasm for its prospects.

Several times each weekday, a locomotive and two coaches depart Albuquerque reaching a top speed of seventy-nine miles per hour and taking barely twenty minutes to reach Bernalillo, where they reverse direction and race back to the city. By late April, all the equipment had been certified for use, and most of the engineers and conductors had completed their qualifying runs.

Construction of an intermediate station at Los Ranchos/Journal Center and two stations in Bernalillo—one at US 550, the other a block east of town hall—is scheduled to be done late in June, with a Sandia Pueblo station to follow. And expected at any moment was an announcement from Governor Bill Richardson of the official start of public service between Bernalillo and Albuquerque, likely to be early in July.

Trains between Albuquerque and Belen won't run until the fall, after new signals are installed, stations built, and crews qualified on that section of track.

Behind the enthusiasm, however, lurks an ongoing concern about the safety of motorists and pedestrians, particularly around Bernalillo. Across the tracks from the downtown station, only a No Trespassing sign and two large homemade crosses warn of the danger where four deaths occurred around the popular pedestrian crossing between downtown and eastern neighborhoods.

A mile to the south, at North Farm Crossing, on Sandia Pueblo, a memorial remembers two young men killed when an Amtrak train struck their SUV in March 2003. Two adults and a child died in 1996 at the same crossing which is protected only by a stop sign.

Rail Runner officials have discussed fencing the tracks in Bernalillo, according to Robert Gonzales, Rail Runner operations manager at the Mid-Region Council of Governments. MRCOG also has hired Sandoval County native Stephanie Paiz as a commuter-rail planner whose job includes working with Operation Lifesaver, a national railroad safety program that brings speakers to schools and public events.

The local program languished in recent years, with the principal of Carroll Elementary School, whose Bernalillo grounds border the tracks, saying requests for safety lectures went unheeded.
That is about to change, according to Paiz, who said she is immediately contacting about a dozen schools located near the tracks to schedule safety programs before the school year ends. Police officers will be riding the trains this month to educate them on rail issues, and summer youth programs and another forty schools will be contacted later, she added.

Paiz said she saw the problem herself when she rode in the cab of a Rail Runner train returning from a promotional trip to Santa Fe.

“It was shocking how many people disobeyed the safety gates,” she said. “When I saw it firsthand, it was amazing. People were trespassing within feet of the tracks.”

Requests for youth or adult safety programs can be directed to Robert Wilbur, state Operation Lifesaver coordinator, at 890-8044, in Albuquerque, Paiz said.


County Line—If you don’t vote ... then don’t gripe!

—JACK THOMAS, CHAIRMAN, SANDOVAL COUNTY COMMISSION
It's been said time and time again. Voting is the most effective way to make a difference in our communities and nation. It's also the most convenient.

Selecting candidates for office is a right, a privilege, and an obligation of our democratic form of government. It is the one process that determines the quality of our local and national leadership—and the future of our communities and nation—well into the future. To paraphrase a popular cliché, if you don't vote in an election, then don't gripe about the candidates or the results.

The statewide primary election, on June 6, is the next opportunity to make your voice heard at the polls for candidates who will represent our county, state, and nation in the years ahead.

But time is short. If you haven't registered to vote, do so before the May 9 deadline in order to vote in the June primary. The registration process is quick and simple and can begin with a phone call to the county's Bureau of Elections, 867-7577, for more information. Then, once registered, make sure you vote.

This year, Sandoval County residents have a range of convenient options to vote. You can even cast your votes without leaving home.

In just a matter of days, Sandoval County will begin absentee and early voting to make the election process more accessible and, hopefully, attract larger numbers of voters.

Absentee or early voting, both by mail and in person, will begin on May 9 at the County Courthouse in Bernalillo. Starting Saturday, May 20, registered voters also go to the county's three alternate voting locations—the county's Voting Machine Center, 800 South Hill Road in Bernalillo; the Meadowlark Senior Center, 4300 Meadowlark Lane SE, in Rio Rancho; and the Zia Pueblo Community Center, 135 Capital Square Drive.

The County Courthouse voting site will be open Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The alternate locations, meanwhile, will be open Tuesday through Friday from noon to 8:00 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Early and absentee in-person voting will end on Saturday, June 3, and the county's Bureau of Elections will stop accepting applications for mail-in ballots at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, June 2.

To request an absentee or mail-in ballot, call the county's Bureau of Elections, 867-7577, or stop by the office on the second floor of the courthouse to request an application. Once an application is completed and returned to the office, a ballot will be provided so that voters can mark their selections and return it to the county.

The process is so simple that residents wishing to vote by absentee can make their request at the County Courthouse, sign the application and then cast their votes all in a matter of minutes. Or, if you wish, you may return the ballot by mail. In order to be counted, however, mail-in ballots must be received by the county by 7:00 p.m. on Election Day, June 6.

The option favored by many voters, of course, is to participate in the traditional Election Day process and go to neighborhood polling places. If you wish to wait until Election Day, remember that polls will be open on June 6 from 7:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m.
Voting is a freedom guaranteed by our democratic form of government. As citizens, it is our right and responsibility to make certain our voices are heard at the polls.

Candidate profiles and Q&As will be published in local newspapers during the weeks ahead. Take a few minutes to study where the candidates stand on issues and, then, vote—either by early or absentee ballot, starting May 9, or on Election Day, Tuesday, June 6.

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


RR residents invited to a planning-and-design charrette

Rio Rancho residents are invited to take part in a planning-and-design charrette Monday, May 1, through Thursday, May 4, at the Hilton Garden Inn, at 1771 Rio Rancho Boulevard. The goal of the charrette is to create an area plan for the twelve thousand acres of mostly undeveloped land surrounding City Centre, in Rio Rancho.

The charrette is a concentrated planning-and-design workshop where the residents of Rio Rancho will join forces with the city’s Department of Development Services and their planning consultants HDR, Inc., to plan and design the area around Rio Rancho’s City Centre (called the North Central Area). The North Central Area Plan will be a strategic plan for future neighborhoods, appropriate land uses, road connections, pedestrian pathways, streetscapes, and building forms.

Although the plan area is now mostly undeveloped land, in time it will house an arena, municipal offices, a university campus, business centers, parks, homes, and more. The charrette is an opportunity for Rio Rancho residents to directly influence that plan. The planning team will collaborate with residents, city staff, elected officials, business representatives, and civic groups on the plan’s goals and concepts. Outputs of the charrette will include proposed land use maps, strategies for future growth, and illustrations of the future downtown and neighborhoods.

For more information about the charrette, please contact Shannon Eubanks, from the Rio Rancho Department of Development Services, at 891-5005 or seubanks@ci.rio-rancho.nm.us, or Maggie Adams from HDR, Inc., at 830-5462 or margaret.adams@hdrinc.com. A full schedule and up-to-date charrette information will also be posted on the city’s Web site, at http://ci.rio-rancho.nm.us.

 

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