ART ballot question won’t halt the project

Voters in Bernalillo County get to vote on a question regarding Albuquerque’s controversial rapid transit project—but the results will have little to no effect on the project itself. The ballot question asks voters if they are in favor of putting the controversial Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) project to a vote in future elections. Even if the majority of voters in the county are in favor of voting on ART, the Albuquerque City Council would not be required to add the proposal to any future ballots. The actual question asks voters, “Are you in favor of giving voters residing in the City of Albuquerque municipal limits the chance to vote in support of or opposition to the proposed Albuquerque Rapid Transit project?”

Even if the question receives a resounding ‘yes’ when results come in next week, there is nothing on the ballot that can stop the project from moving forward. The question’s sponsor County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley said she wanted to send a message to Albuquerque Mayor Berry on behalf of business owners who still oppose the project.

City, county disconnect could mean two initiatives don’t make ballot

Because of a disagreement between the Albuquerque City Council and Bernalillo County Commission, it’s not clear which ballot initiative voters will get to vote on—or if either will even be on the ballot. During a Bernalillo County Commission meeting last week, commissioners did not discuss either of two recent ballot initiatives sent to them by the Albuquerque City Council. In fact, neither even appeared on the agenda. One initiative, prompted by a successful petition drive, would require some employers to provide sick leave to employees. The other would increase public campaign finance dollars to Albuquerque mayoral candidates.

Water strategy shift could benefit Santolina

It’s just one sentence – 19 words – but its disappearance from a proposed 100-year plan to manage the Albuquerque Metro area’s water supply has critics saying its omission could dramatically draw down the aquifer in future years. The critics also charge it’s part of a plan by water insiders and consultants to flip Bernalillo County’s water strategy without any real public input and that it will work to the benefit of the proposed Santolina master-planned community on Albuquerque’s far West Side. This piece originally appeared in ABQ Free Press. The change is to the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority’s Water Resources Management Strategy, which was last updated in 2007. The current version of the strategy’s Policy B says, “The Authority shall limit the use of ground water except to meet peak demands or during times of drought.”

But that sentence is missing from the water authority’s proposed revised strategy, which could be approved by the utility’s board of directors later this summer.

Bernco commissioner wants investigation into Santolina PAC donations

A Bernalillo County commissioner wants the county attorney to investigate donations to a political action committee supporting two candidates for county commission. New Mexicans for New Mexico PAC recently drew controversy for its donors’ affiliations with the Santolina planned development, a project on Albuquerque’s westside whose developers are  asking the county to approve 80 subsidies for the next several decades. The PAC sent mailers supporting District 2 candidates Steven Michael Quezada and Robert Chavez and has repeatedly targeted Adrián Pedroza, the candidate most outspokenly critical of Santolina. The PAC also funded billboards for Quezada touting his “Breaking Bad” credits. Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, a supporter of Pedroza, wants an investigation into whether certain donations to the PAC violate county campaign finance rules.

House District 21 appointee already has competition

An Albuquerque teacher officially announced she will run for a House seat she lost out on earlier this year. After applying to fill the District 21 spot last month, Democrat Debbie Sariñana announced on Thursday that she would run for the spot that has seen two vacancies in the past year. Sariñana told NM Political Report she chose to announce her candidacy now because primary elections are next June and candidates cannot raise money during the legislative session that starts next month. Sariñana said she grew up in the district and moved back after finishing her college degree. She said working as a teacher in the area has shown her how many people are struggling with things like jobs and healthcare.

BernCo Commission names Lechuga-Tena to NM House seat

The Bernalillo County Commission voted to appoint Idalia Lechuga-Tena to the House of Representatives to fill a vacant seat in the New Mexico House of Representatives on Tuesday night. Lechuga-Tena, one of three nominees, won by a vote of 3-2. NM Political Report spoke with Lechuga-Tena before the meeting about accusations that she does not live in House District 21 and that she voted when she was not a U.S. citizen in 2003. The vote was swift and there was no discussion from the Commission regarding her qualifications or that she voted in an election before she was a U.S. citizen. Both Republican commissioners, Wayne Johnson and Lonnie Talbert, along with Democrat Art De La Cruz voted in favor of Lechuga-Tena.

Next obstacle for Santolina: Court

While the Bernalillo County Commission recently approved three large measures advancing the Santolina planned development, opponents aren’t giving up. Currently two lawsuits sit before the Second Judicial District Court seeking to reverse the decisions made by the commission on May and June. The most recent suit—filed at the end of June on behalf of three individuals, the SouthWest Organizing Project, the New Mexico Health Equity Working Group and the Pajarito Village Association—challenges the process in which commissioners approved zoning changes for Santolina. Santolina is proposed to be built on 22 square miles of land on Albuquerque’s West Side and house up to 90,000 within the next four to five decades. Specifically, the suit cites two pro-Santolina op-eds written in the Albuquerque Journal by commissioners Art De La Cruz and Wayne Johnson before they took several votes in favor of the development.

Commissioners pass Santolina development agreement

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.

Santolina master plan approved; legal challenges ahead

The Bernalillo County Commission narrowly approved the first steps of a massive planned development early Tuesday evening, prompting promises of legal challenges from opponents. On a 3-2 vote, commissioners approved the Level A master plan for Santolina, a planned community proposed on Albuquerque’s West Side that would cover 22 square miles. The proposed community is projected to house 90,000 people within the next four to five decades. The commission also approved zoning rules for the development plan. Commissioners Wayne Johnson, Art De La Cruz and Lonnie Talbert voted in favor of both measures.

Santolina moves closer to approval as opponents shout ‘Shame!’

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.