May 19, 2016

Santolina looms large in county commission race

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Photo via Flickr by Erik (HASH) Hersman

As Bernalillo County Commission District 2 candidate Adrián Pedroza recently put it, the issue of Santolina became “front and center” when lawyers and developers behind the controversial planned community inserted themselves into the race by creating a political action committee.

Adrian Pedroza

Pedroza campaign

Adrian Pedroza

Pedroza, one of three candidates running to fill the term-limited Art De La Cruz’s seat, is vocally opposed to the development. Of the more than 1,000 people in the district that Pedroza says he’s talked to since beginning his campaign last year, he contends only one of them voiced support for Santolina.

“They can’t imagine how the county would be supporting and thinking about putting public resources towards a new city with 40,000 homes in an area that doesn’t exist,” Pedroza, a development director at the South Valley-based Partnership for Community Action, said. “When people try to get sold on, ‘This is jobs for the district,’ they say, ‘Well, we want jobs in our existing communities, not jobs in a community that doesn’t exist.’”

Robert Chavez, one of Pedroza’s opponents in the upcoming Democratic primary, argues this type of outspokenness by Pedroza might bar him from actually voting on Santolina issues as a commissioner. Commissioners vote on development projects as a quasi-judicial body, which means they’re supposed to act as impartial as possible to any decision before them.

Robert G Chavez

Robert G Chavez

“Pedroza has been very clear he’s against everything that Santolina stands for,” Chavez, a maintenance operations supervisor with Albuquerque Public Schools who retired from the Albuquerque Police Department, said.

That said, Chavez added that he won’t support any of the 80 different public subsidies Santolina developers are seeking from the county.

“I hope I make this as clear as possible: I will not agree to that,” Chavez said. “There are too many things in our own community that need to be dealt with.”

Steven Michael Quezada, a member of the APS Board of Education and actor and comedian, is the only candidate who wouldn’t completely rule out the proposed subsidies.

“I have to worry about, ‘Are we doing it right? Are we doing it fair?’” Quezada said. “I’ve got to look all that from all angles before I make a decision.”

Quezada, for example, questioned whether rejecting the TIDDs meant that the future Santolina becomes another Pajarito Mesa—an undeveloped area in Bernalillo County without running water and electricity.

APS school board member and actor Steven Michael Quezada.

APS school board member and actor Steven Michael Quezada.

Questions about Quezada arose after the Santolina-backed PAC, New Mexicans for New Mexico, paid for billboards in support of his candidacy. The billboards reference his most famous credit—a supporting role as DEA Special Agent Steven Gomez on AMC’s “Breaking Bad.”

Quezada denounced the billboards and pointed to his vote against Santolina on the APS school board.

“I don’t owe nobody nothing,” he said.

He also contended that he’s “not a fan” of Santolina “because what it is is you’re skipping over what I’m trying to fix.”

“You’re skipping the Southwest Mesa and the South Valley to build a whole new community when, hey man, we’re dying down here,” he said. “What about us?”

Quezada said he is in support of development in the Southwest Mesa, where he lives, and he said he suspects that’s why Santolina’s backers support him.

Commissioners, of course, will have to face other issues, such as the current deficit of $19 million. The candidates can be short on specifics when it comes to ideas on fixing the deficit.

Pedroza said he favors looking at existing county programs to “make sure we’re getting results” and “cut the ones that are not working.”

He also said he wants to “look seriously” reducing county spending at the Metropolitan Detention Center and attempt to get Albuquerque to help pay for the jail.

“There’s a lot of money being dumped into MDC,” he said. “We need to look at how we can reduce the jail population.”

Quezada echoed this when he said “we need to reevaluate our judicial system,” calling the jail the “biggest gaping hole” in the county’s budget. He also cited his work as a school board member on APS’s annual budget of more than $1 billion to show he’s up to the task of tackling complex budgets.

Without naming examples, Chavez referred to the county’s “frivolous” spending on contractors, which he said could be solved with more competitive bids.

No candidate supported furloughs or layoffs of county employees as a means to fix the deficit.