May 11, 2016

Top five reasons Santolina doesn’t make sense

Advocates oppose Santolina outside county commission chambers. Credit: Andy Lyman

Contra Santolina is a coalition of organizations and community members in Albuquerque  which opposes the Santolina development.

It has been well over two years now that the dreadful Santolina nightmare lingers on. This is despite the growing community concern and disapproval and despite two pending and continuing court cases against the persistent Santolina developers, Western Albuquerque Land Holdings (WALH).

Advocates oppose Santolina outside county commission chambers. Credit: Andy Lyman

Advocates oppose Santolina outside county commission chambers. Credit: Andy Lyman

The Santolina development has become symbolic of something much larger than a looming housing development proposed for the West Side, it symbolizes a skewed democratic process where for the people and by the people has been largely absent.  Many of those involved with the flawed County process have continuously raised major points of concern over the 14,000+ acre development that is projected to house more than 95,000 people.

The following represents the top five reasons why the Santolina development and the many others that will follow, still doesn’t make any sense during these trying times of insignificant population growth, a struggling economy, continued drought coupled with rising temperatures, and global climate changes.

1. Abuse of Process and Public Money

To be approved, Santolina must be at no “net expense” to the City and the County.  Last June, misleading the County Commission, Santolina’s lawyer stated that public incentives such as TIDDs (Tax Increment Development Districts) were not on the table.  But just months later, it requested not one, but 40 TIDDS!  Such financing to support infrastructure costs within the development imposes big costs on taxpayers who must foot the bill to provide resources to far-flung developments while reducing funds to meet current needs across the county.  WALH aims to get close to $3 billion in tax breaks from taxpayers.  Apparently “no net expense” went right out the door.

Furthermore, as stated in the Level A Development Agreement between the County and the Santolina developers, “Bernalillo County has approximately $450 million dollars in unfunded capital infrastructure facility needs currently in its 2014-2020 Capital Improvement Plan and the financial impact of Santolina infrastructure development cannot add to this unfunded amount” [emphasis added].

2. Water?

Massive developments such as the Santolina require water.  While the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA) claims that it is capable of serving such growth, the impacts of providing that water have to date been ignored.  The million-dollar question still remains – where will that water needed by Santolina come from?  Unbeknownst to current users who include many small farmers and irrigators, their precious water has been promised to this unneeded development project.  Imagine what the valley and bosque will look like when wells, irrigation, and acequias dry up as a result of Santolina’s daily demands for millions of gallons of water!

3. Health Impacts

Studies have shown that people who live in far-out suburbs walk less, drive and eat more, and exercise less than those who live in urban environments.  These factors in turn contribute to a variety of health problems—including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory disease.  Additional traffic and blowing sand dunes will add to air quality problems that are already being experienced on the West Side and across the Valley.

4. Sprawl Development Contradicts Current Thinking

Surveys and studies suggest that both boomers and younger generations are interested in living in more urban places where they don’t have to spend so much time in the car getting to and from work. They also don’t mind smaller homes, especially if they’re close to public transit or retail or restaurants.  Comments and suggestions offered by County and City residents during the Albuquerque and Bernalillo Comprehensive Plan meetings reveal that residents prefer infill and urban revitalization, not suburban sprawl. This reflects the national paradigm shift away from sprawl development to instead a focus on revitalizing what we already have, accounting for the greater consciousness regarding climate change and our responsibility in preserving resources for future generations.

5. Paseo del Volcan Fiasco

Unneeded, Paseo del Volcan, the highway that would connect all of the sprawl developments that loom on our horizon, made the US Public Interest Research Group’s top 12 list of Highway Boondoggles for 2016.  The public is being requested to devote $96 million to build it as well as donate lands to allow construction, routing badly needed funds for current maintenance away from the county. We must ask the question – who is benefiting from this?

In conclusion, the Santolina development and the many other developments already on the developer’s horizon are simply not needed, not wanted, and pose a significant environmental justice issue in which a few stand to profit at the expense of the rest of Bernalillo County and City of Albuquerque residents.

  1. Board Of Bernalillo County Commissioners Special Zoning Meeting, Wednesday, June 24, 2015. Page 22 -Mr. John Salazar, WALH Attorney: “But what we’re saying is, going in, we’re not asking — we are not asking for TIDDs. I know you like to talk about TIDDs, but I — we’re not asking for any TIDDs.”
  2. See Urban Sprawl, Smart Growth, and Deliberative Democracy,
  3. Why Are Developers Still Building Sprawl? Alana Semuels,  Feb 24, 2015
  4. For a comprehensive look at the impacts of sprawl developments, see Arrested Developments: Combating Zombie Subdivisions and Other Excess Entitlements by Jim Holway with Don Elliott and Anna Trentadue, Policy Focus Report, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy (2014),