A new political action committee of unknown origins inserted itself into a hotly-contested Bernalillo County Commission race with a decidedly nasty mailer the day before the primary election. The mailer, from a PAC called “Committee for the Truth District #2,” aggressively attacks candidates Adrián Pedroza and Steven Michael Quezada while ending with the phrase, “MAY THE LORD GUIDE YOUR VOTE!!!”
Pedroza and Quezada are vying, along with Robert Chavez, in this week’s primary for the Democratic Party nomination for the seat currently held by Art De La Cruz, who is term-limited and cannot run again. It’s unclear who is behind “Committee for the Truth District #2.” The mailer lists John Davis as treasurer. NM Political Report is choosing to not run pictures of the mailer because of at least two demonstrably false claims written on it, which we will not publish here. When NM Political Report called the phone number that the PAC left with the business that printed the mailer, a person on the other line said, “Wrong number,” and quickly hung up.
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.
As Bernalillo County Commission District 2 candidate Adrián Pedroza recently put it, the issue of Santolina became “front and center” when lawyers and developers behind the controversial planned community inserted themselves into the race by creating a political action committee. Pedroza, one of three candidates running to fill the term-limited Art De La Cruz’s seat, is vocally opposed to the development. Of the more than 1,000 people in the district that Pedroza says he’s talked to since beginning his campaign last year, he contends only one of them voiced support for Santolina. “They can’t imagine how the county would be supporting and thinking about putting public resources towards a new city with 40,000 homes in an area that doesn’t exist,” Pedroza, a development director at the South Valley-based Partnership for Community Action, said. “When people try to get sold on, ‘This is jobs for the district,’ they say, ‘Well, we want jobs in our existing communities, not jobs in a community that doesn’t exist.’”
Robert Chavez, one of Pedroza’s opponents in the upcoming Democratic primary, argues this type of outspokenness by Pedroza might bar him from actually voting on Santolina issues as a commissioner.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.