A political action committee’s support of Steven Michael Quezada for Bernalillo County Commission is leading to questions because of the donors behind it—including from Quezada himself. Last month, the New Mexicans for New Mexico PAC paid for billboards that reference the actor and comedian’s most well-known credential—his supporting role as DEA Agent Steven Gomez in the cable TV drama “Breaking Bad.”
“Elect Breaking Bad’s good guy,” read the billboards, which also feature a picture of smiling Quezada and his name written in a font reminiscent of the opening credits of the popular TV series. The funders behind New Mexicans for New Mexico PAC, which is independent of Quezada’s campaign, are developers and lawyers with ties to Santolina, a controversial planned development of residences that the county commission approved zoning changes for last year. Santolina’s backers say the planned development could be home to as many as 90,000 people over the next 40 to 50 years. But the issue has sparked outrage from critics who call it sprawl development and point to British-based multinational bank Barclays, which owns the land Santolina is set to be built on, as the corporate driver behind it.
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.
Over the weekend, New Mexico Political Report’s senior reporter Joey Peters hit the small screen to discuss several local and regional issues. Peters appeared as a panelist on New Mexico in Focus, a local public affairs program that airs weekly on New Mexico PBS. He joined host Gene Grant, Albuquerque attorney Laura Sanchez-Rivet, Albuquerque Free Press associate editor Dennis Domrzalski and Vox Optima founder Merritt Allen to talk about several burning issues in New Mexico. The program kicked off with a discussion of the controversial Santolina planned community. The Bernalillo County Commission voted to authorize the Santolina master plan last week.
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.
An Albuquerque city councilor plans on making a second attempt at getting city government to weigh in on a controversial planned development currently awaiting approval from the Bernalillo County Commission. Earlier this month, a majority of city councilors, led by Trudy Jones, rejected Councilor Isaac Benton’s introduction of a measure that would have given the city authority to approve the Santolina master plan. Now, Benton said he’ll reintroduce the same bill at tonight’s city council meeting. “Over my objections, a majority of the City Council voted in an unprecedented move to remove the bill from the Letter of Introduction,” Benton wrote in a note to constituents last week. That move, according to both Benton and Albuquerque City Attorney Jessica Hernandez, actually wasn’t legal under city guidelines.
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.
[box type=”info” style=”rounded”]DR. VIRGINIA NECOCHEA is the Executive Director of the Center for Social Sustainable Systems and an organizer with the Contra Santolina Working Group.[/box]
The Albuquerque Journal’s editorial board is at it again. Many of us wonder if it is at all possible for them to write a piece that at minimum veers more towards a neutral stance rather than their usual favoritism towards developers and monied interests. As someone who has sat through almost every single hearing on the Santolina Master Plan, it becomes quite obvious that the Journal’s editorial board has not been present. Their latest piece titled – “Water worries overblown concern for Santolina,” clearly demonstrates their severe lack of what has been defined by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) as ethical journalism. SPJ states, “ethical journalism should be accurate and fair.
In an unusual—though legal—parliamentary move, city councilors rejected the introduction of legislation seeking city input into the Santolina master plan. Councilor Isaac Benton announced late Friday afternoon that he planned to introduce the legislation. The introduction of legislation is generally a part of the agenda that goes by without much notice. But this time, councilor Trudy Jones moved to not allow the legislation to be introduced. After a heated exchange between council president Rey Garduño and councilor Dan Lewis over the composition of the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, the council voted 6-3 to reject Benton’s bill.
Tonight, Albuquerque City Councilor Isaac Benton plans to introduce legislation to give the city a say on approving or rejecting the controversial Santolina master plan. Update: In a rare parliamentary maneuver, the city council rejected the introduction of Benton’s bill, meaning it will not be heard. This story continues as originally written. Benton told New Mexico Political Report that his goal is to simply “ask people to go on the record about whether or not they believe we should coordinate between city and county” on the planned community development that would take up 22 square miles on Albuquerque’s West Side and house up to 90,000 people. “I think the voters and city and county taxpayers in general would like to see the two governments work together on something of this magnitude,” Benton said.
One day after a tense hearing that saw a controversial planned development on Albuquerque’s West Side move closer to approval, an Albuquerque city councilor vowed to try to put the brakes on the project. Albuquerque City Councilor Isaac Benton, a Democrat who represents the central part of the city including downtown, announced that he will introduce legislation to give city government input on the controversial Santolina master plan, which aims to develop 22 square miles of Albuquerque’s West Side into a planned community that will house up to 90,000 people. In a letter to his constituents sent out on Friday afternoon, Benton wrote that Santolina and other proposed developments like it “pose a clear threat to the future viability of Albuquerque and its existing neighborhoods.” “I have already gone on the record as opposing this development, which will ‘cannibalize’ residents from the center city and exacerbate urban sprawl and the transportation problems on the West Side,” Benton wrote. Other controversy over the Santolina master plan stems from concern over whether the region contains enough water to sustain the community. On Thursday, Bernalillo County commissioners rejected three legal appeals that attempted to oppose a recommendation from the county’s planning commission to approve the development.