Albuquerque campaign finance reports released Friday shed some light on negative political ads aimed at New Mexico State Auditor and mayoral candidate Tim Keller. Shortly after early polls showed Keller leading the mayoral race, television and radio ads popped up accusing Keller of siding with sexual predators. According to finance reports from Make Albuquerque Safe, Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, LLC and Veteto Properties, LLC were the only two donors and each donated $30,000. Measure finance committees, or MFCs, are the Albuquerque equivalent of political action committees in state or federal races. WALH is most well known as the company behind the proposed Santolina development, west of Albuquerque.
A former Bernalillo County commission candidate is accusing a political action committee that advertised against him of not disclosing the bulk of its funding in time to meet state guidelines. Adrián Pedroza, a community organizer who in June lost a Democratic primary bid for an open county commission seat, filed a campaign ethics complaint against New Mexico for New Mexicans PAC last week. The complaint, filed with the Secretary of State’s Office, alleges that the PAC violated state law by not properly disclosing nearly $35,000 of its funding until one month after the June 7 primary election. That money, the vast majority of which came from Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, encompassed more than half of the PAC’s $64,500 in donations during the election cycle. “It’s really about maintaining the integrity of the election and voters knowing whose contribution went to what and for what reasons,” Pedroza’s campaign manager Neri Holguin said in an interview.
The developer of the controversial Santolina development in western Bernalillo County poured nearly $36,500 in June in successful efforts to defeat vocal opponent Adrian Pedroza in the District 2 commission race. New Mexicans for New Mexico, a political action committee, raised nearly $64,500 from April through the end of June. More than half of that came in the days leading up to the June 7 primary from Western Albuquerque Land Holdings LLC, the Arizona-based developer of Santolina, according to afinal report filed Thursday. Breaking Bad actor and Albuquerque Public Schools board member Steven Michael Quezadawon the three-way Democratic primary on June 7. New Mexicans for New Mexico bought billboards, hired canvassers, sent mailers and used robocalls to support Quezada and Robert Chavez as well as criticize Adrian Pedroza, who opposes the development.
When the Bernalillo County Commission considered and eventually approved the first stages of a controversial planned community last summer, commissioners took public subsidies for the development off the table. Nine months later, those subsidies are back on the table. Last week, Western Albuquerque Land Holdings (WALH), the company set up by London-based multinational bank Barclays and two other investors behind Santolina, submitted an application with Bernalillo County for 40 public improvement districts (PIDs) for the planned development. Santolina is a planned community that developers say would cover 22 square miles of land on Albuquerque’s West Side and house up to 90,000 people over the next 40 to 50 years. Critics call Santolina sprawl development while proponents argue it is tailored for the area’s projected population growth.
Bernalillo County commissioners approved the next big step for the Santolina planned community on yet another narrow vote Wednesday afternoon. The 3-2 vote came after several heated exchanges between commissioners and accusations that some lawmakers’ actions were stifling debate on the controversial planned development. The vote continued the familiar allegiances over the issue, with commissioners Wayne Johnson, Lonnie Talbert and Art De La Cruz voting in favor of the Santolina Development Agreement and commissioners Maggie Hart Stebbins and Debbie O’Malley voting against. Last week, the commission approved both the Santolina Level A master plan and zoning changes for the property. Santolina is proposed to be built on 22 square miles west of Albuquerque over the next 40 to 50 years.
The Albuquerque city council narrowly rejected a measure that would have called on the city to weigh in on a controversial planned development on the city’s West Side. Councilor Isaac Benton carried the bill Monday night, two weeks after the council rejected his introduction of similar legislation that would have also given the city a say on the Santolina master plan. Benton said the city had a right to influence the master plan based on the city and county adopted Planned Communities Criteria and the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Comprehensive Plan. But councilors rejected the bill on a 4-3 vote, with two members abstaining because their employers own some land where Santolina is planned to be built.
During the debate on the legislation, Benton stressed that he wasn’t asking for anything drastic. “We’re not asking for signoff approval,” he said.
In the capital outlay bill passed in this week’s brief special legislative session, lawmakers included more than $2 million to work on a major road that would play a big role in proposed development of Albuquerque’s West Side. Specifically, lawmakers granted nearly $1.5 million for an “interchange row” between Paseo del Volcan and I-40 and another $600,000 for rights of way purchase for Paseo del Volcan. Currently, Paseo del Volcan covers just seven miles of Rio Rancho. Yet plans for the major roadway expansion, pictured right, show it stretching all the way down to I-40, going past landmarks of several controversial proposed developments, most notably the Santolina planned community. As New Mexico Political Report previously reported, many of the proponents behind the bypass expansion are also behind Santolina and other West Side developments.
Dozens of protesters shouted, “Shame!” as Bernalillo County commissioners voted against three appeals of a planned community on Albuquerque’s Westside. The votes to reject the appeals all came on 3-2 votes as protesters, including those from the Contra Santolina Working Group, chanted to show their displeasure on Thursday night. Commissioners Art De La Cruz, Lonnie Talbert and Wayne Johnson voted to reject the appeals while commissioners Debbie O’Malley and Maggie Hart Stebbins voted for the appeals. The appeals heard at the meeting were filed by the South Valley Coalition of Neighborhood Associations, the South Valley Regional Association of Acequias and the New Mexico Environmental Law Center. Each appeal protested the Bernalillo County Planning Commission’s recommendation to approve the Santolina master plan for a variety of reasons, including a lack of transparency with how Santolina will use water resources, disagreements over Santolina’s job promises, a perceived inconsistency with the Mid-Region Council of Governments’ future transportation plans and more.
A Bernalillo County Commission special meeting on Monday didn’t result in a vote approving or rejecting the Santolina master plan, but commissioners said that a decision could come by the end of the month. The delay for the final vote came right before the commission began considering four appeals to the project filed by groups opposed to Santolina as well as one appeal filed by John Salazar, an attorney for the Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, the organization behind Santolina. Salazar’s appeal sought to change county recommendations in how Santolina, a planned community which would be built on 22 square miles in Albuquerque’s west side, will get its water. From the Albuquerque Journal:
The Planning Commission recommended that the county set a limit on how much water Santolina could use when fully built out: about 4.7 billion gallons a year. Salazar, however, said water-conservation requirements are more appropriately addressed by the city-county water authority, an independent agency that supplies water in the Albuquerque area.
When it comes to divisive central New Mexico land development issues, the planned community of Santolina gets all the attention. But other projects to expand Albuquerque’s West Side are also quietly moving forward. Tucked in the many provisions included in this year’s reauthorization of previous year’s capital outlay projects is an extension of a bypass road west of Albuquerque. Currently, the Paseo del Volcan bypass extends from Unser Boulevard to Highway 550 in Rio Rancho. This year, the state Legislature approved funds to purchase right of way for the unfinished portion of Paseo del Volcan from Unser Boulevard to Interstate 40.