ABQ Free Press ceases print publication, goes online-only

The ABQ Free Press is ceasing print operations and will go to an online-only format. Jyllian Roach, now the managing editor of FreeABQ.com, made the announcement in a short video on the website. Editor Dan Vukelich told NM Political Report he’s taking a step back from his daily duties, citing “burnout.” Vukelich said they are still figuring out changes to the editorial staff, but that reporter Dennis Domrzalski would remain at the paper. Roach, a former editor of the Daily Lobo and the CNM Chronicle, was the arts and entertainment editor for the Free Press. The staff has been notified of the changes.

Diesel testing requirement in ABQ to end

The requirement that diesel-powered vehicles in Bernalillo County get bi-annual emissions tests is just about gone. The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Air Quality Control Board voted Wednesday night to kill the three-year-old program because it wasn’t authorized by state law. Now, the city’s Environmental Health Department will send the board’s decision to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for formal approval to end the program. The department’s deputy director, Danny Nevarez, said it shouldn’t take too long—maybe a few weeks—for the EPA to give that approval. In the meantime, owners of diesel-powered vehicles still have to get their vehicles tested until the program is officially junked, Nevarez said.

Albuquerque Rapid Transit

Court (temporarily) blocks ART

The 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Monday temporarily barred the city from taking any action to build Mayor Richard Berry’s Albuquerque Rapid Transit project. The move came in response for an emergency order to stay a decision on Friday by a federal court  judge to deny ART opponents a preliminary injunction halt ART they had requested. The appellate court in Denver enjoined the city from taking any action on ART until its judges have a chance to fully review a request by the plaintiffs to bar the city from proceeding with ART construction pending their appeal of Friday’s decision by U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Gonzales who denied their request for a preliminary injunction. The court ordered the Federal Transit Administration and the city to file their responses to the defendants’ motion by 4 p.m. Tuesday. “The city is specifically directed to include in its response information on the nature and timing of any demolition or construction related to the ART project that is planned between now and the close of business Wednesday,” the appellate court order said.

ART hits another roadblock after judge’s ruling

Mayor Richard Berry’s Albuquerque Rapid Transit project ran into a legal pothole when a state court judge ordered the City Council to – catch this – do its job and give ART opponents a hearing on a procedural, but also substantive, matter regarding the project. In what is a relatively rare legal procedure, Bernalillo County District Judge Victor Lopez issued a Writ of Mandamus to the Council ordering it to obey a city law that requires it to give ART opponents a hearing on the refusal of the city’s Landmarks and Urban Conservation Commission to explain why it has refused to explain its decision – or non-decision – in favor or ART. That body has has twice deferred making a decision on a challenge to ART’s design. Under city law, the Landmarks Commission is required to issue findings of fact, or explain why it has deferred a matter. And if the Commission declines to issue those findings of fact, the Council is required to hold a public hearing on the matter.

Albuquerque Rapid Transit

Poll shows ABQ residents don’t like ART

When it comes to the court of public opinion, Mayor Richard Berry’s $119 million Albuquerque Rapid Transit Project down Central Avenue is in big trouble. Only 28 percent of the city’s registered voters support ART, while 79 percent say it should be put to a public vote, according to a poll by Carroll Strategies, an Albuquerque public relations firm. In addition, only 25 percent believe that ART will boost the city’s economy, and only 23 percent said they would use it after it is built.

This piece originally appeared on the ABQ Free Press website and is reprinted with permission. The poll also made it clear that pretty much everyone knows about ART. Of the 2,020 people surveyed, 87.5 percent said they were aware of the project, which would put dedicated bus lanes in the middle of Central and mostly reduce automobile traffic to one lane in each direction along a 10-mile stretch of the street.

Farmworkers win workers comp protections

In an opinion that left no room for doubt, the New Mexico Supreme Court said Thursday that farm and ranch laborers in the state are entitled to Workers’ Compensation insurance protection and that farm and ranch owners have to cover them. And those workers are entitled to that protection even though the state Legislature has excluded them from the Workers’ Compensation law as a way to protect the agricultural industry, the court said. This piece originally appeared on the ABQ Free Press website and is reprinted with permission. “We conclude that there is nothing to distinguish farm and ranch laborers from other agricultural employees and that purported government interests such as cost savings, administrative convenience, and other justifications related to unique features of agribusiness bear no rational relationship to the Act’s distinction between these groups,” said the opinion written by Justice Edward Chavez. “This is nothing more than arbitrary discrimination and, as such, it is forbidden by our Constitution.

Albuquerque Rapid Transit

ART hits new speed bumps

Mayor Richard Berry’s $119 million Albuquerque Rapid Transit project along Central just got a double-dose of bad news. The U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee has recommended a $19 million cut in funding for project, and the New Mexico Restaurant Association now opposes ART. The Appropriations Committee, in its 2017 budget proposal to the full House, has recommended that the FTA’s Small Starts grant for ART be cut from $69 million to $50 million, according to the committee’s report. In the Senate, the Appropriations Committee has recommended that the FTA’s Small Starts grants – of which ART is just one applicant – total $240.7 million for all 10 projects, about half of the $407.8 million the House wants to spend. The difference in proposed spending will have to be worked out in conference committee negotiations, and those could be months away.

NM’s GDP shrinks, led by mining, oil and gas drops

New Mexico just got some more bad economic news. The state of was of eight states whose gross domestic product (GDP) fell during the fourth quarter of 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis said Tuesday. New Mexico’s GDP fell by 1.1 percent, with the mining and oil and gas sectors showing the biggest drops. The utilities, construction, manufacturing and health care and social assistance sectors also registered declines. This piece originally appeared on the ABQ Free Press website and is reproduced with permission.

ACLU says city wrong about Trump protest location

A top city official’s assertion that police had to to put Donald Trump supporters and anti-Trump protesters just a few feet from each other is wrong, the ACLU says. And the ACLU’s national website says that “police are permitted to keep two antagonistic groups separated” when it comes to public protests. But Mayor Richard Berry’s Chief of Staff, Gilbert Montaño, apparently didn’t know that on Monday when he told an Albuquerque Journal reporter just the opposite. According to the Journal’s story, “Montaño said police determined it would be against the law to force Trump supporters and protesters into separate areas. Previous case law, he said, calls for them to have the ‘ability to be right next to each other.”

But Peter Simonson, executive director of the ACLU of New Mexico, said case law doesn’t restrict police departments as much as Montaño claimed.

ABQ metro second in nation in car thefts

Lock your car if you live in the Albuquerque metro area. Really. The four-county metro region had the second highest rate of vehicle thefts in the nation in 2015, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. The area had 6,657 thefts last year for a rate of 733.71 per 100,000 people, the NICB said. That was second only to Modesto, Calif., which had 4,072 thefts, for a rate of 756.33 per 100,000 people.