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.
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.
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.
A Bernalillo County Commission special meeting on Monday didn’t result in a vote approving or rejecting the Santolina master plan, but commissioners said that a decision could come by the end of the month. The delay for the final vote came right before the commission began considering four appeals to the project filed by groups opposed to Santolina as well as one appeal filed by John Salazar, an attorney for the Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, the organization behind Santolina. Salazar’s appeal sought to change county recommendations in how Santolina, a planned community which would be built on 22 square miles in Albuquerque’s west side, will get its water. From the Albuquerque Journal:
The Planning Commission recommended that the county set a limit on how much water Santolina could use when fully built out: about 4.7 billion gallons a year. Salazar, however, said water-conservation requirements are more appropriately addressed by the city-county water authority, an independent agency that supplies water in the Albuquerque area.
This week, New Mexico Political Report takes an in-depth look at commercial development plans west of the Rio Grande, which include the controversial Santolina master plan. Toward the end of the story, we mention the potential use of tax dollars to pay for development, specifically through what are called Tax Increment Development Districts (TIDDs) and Property Improvement Districts (PIDs). Santolina, a 13,700-acre planned community that plans to house nearly 93,000 people is seeking both TIDDs and PIDs to pay for its development. It’s an idea that Juan Reynosa, a field organizer for Southwest Organizing Project, is quoted as criticizing in today’s story:
“They want to use taxpayer dollars to develop that land and sell it,” Reynosa said. This morning, the Albuquerque Journal takes a further look into how Santolina is planning to use these tax mechanisms, which reporter Dan McKay describes as “esoteric:”
Here’s how they work:
• Whatever tax revenue the land is generating now is considered the “base” and isn’t part of the tax increment.
These photos were taken during the reporting of the story on Santolina that ran in New Mexico Political Report on Monday. Look for a video talking about the Santolina Master Plan from those in support of the plan and those in opposition of the plan on Tuesday.