It's not hard to appreciate that, as a governing body, the City Council of Santa Fe has a lot of practical matters and brass tacks to concern itself with. But with a city manager and an entire city staff divided into all the departments required to keep a city operating and oiled, it's a mystery to me why the Council can't find just a little bit of time to dedicate to leadership. Instead, the bulk of councilors appear to bury themselves in nosy specificities of dubious committee work, inordinate hours spent listening to squeaky wheels and "not in my backyard"? crankpots and counting on the fact that the city is generally so divisive that none of us will pause to consider who, exactly, the Council ought to be leading and which direction it should be going in.
One good benchmark for the leadership of local government is found in the economic development plan, which, admittedly, this column harps on often, but for good reason. Unanimously adopted in 2004, the plan lays out a strategy for developing into the future with a relatively holistic sensibility regarding how to increase wages, expand affordable housing, improve education, respect tradition and community, support independent and local businesses and accentuate the exceptional quality of life available here in a well-regarded center for arts and culture. While the emphasis is on economic factors, the plan was created with the current understanding of the economic development industry, which has come to realize that without a vibrant city full of culture and amenities, it's tough to develop much of anything other than a highly extractive industry. Therefore, the plan–constructed with significant input from thousands of Santa Feans–paints a pretty solid road map of where we'd like to be as a community and what our priorities are. Fulfilling those priorities, presumptively, would be foremost among the goals of the city's elected representatives, especially considering the enthusiastic endorsement suggested by that original unanimous vote.
In all fairness, the plan has a few pie-in-the-sky goals that are tall tasks to lay on the feet of the councilors, such as â€œbecome the clean energy capital of the USâ€? and â€œcreate a national design center.â€? It would be helpful, of course, if city government would at least not stand in the way of these developments, but thatâ€™s another discussion. In the meantime, itâ€™s reasonable to assume that a few of the less challenging goals of the planâ€"such as improving and marketing the cityâ€™s â€œquality of lifeâ€? assets and strategizing ways to stop the general attrition of youth in Santa Feâ€"could be pursued.
Quality of life, in terms of economic development, is a hazily quantifiable thing, most easily defined as an amalgam of different factors: natural beauty, traffic, access to outdoors, city parks, bicycle paths, hiking trails, good city services, good emergency response and librariesâ€"all of the small factors that make a person think, â€œIâ€™d like to live here,â€? or, â€œIâ€™d like to raise a family here.â€? Preventing young people from fleeing the city in droves is tied to the perceived level of excitement and opportunity available here. Are there enough activities and significant work/education/recreation options for teenagers and young adults? Are there a range of college and university options available and, beyond that, equivalent careers and a climate where home ownership and a fun, social, successful life appears possible afterward?
Yet, instead of providing positive demonstrations of quality of life and persuading the youth of this communityâ€™s future viability, city councilors sitting on the Public Works Committee voted on July 23 to forward, to the full Council, a recommendation that city parks be closed to visitors from one half-hour after sunset until one half-hour before sunrise. The Santa Fe Police Department and sponsoring Councilors Karen Heldmeyer and Ronald Trujillo claim this will curb crime in the parks, such as the two shooting incidents that have occurred at Franklin Miles Park this year. Setting aside the palpable, fear-based idiocy described by such a â€œsolution,â€? itâ€™s worth weighing the ramifications of such legislation against the economic development plan, which stands, as pointed out earlier, as the most cohesive and comprehensive document to the cityâ€™s desired future.
To entrepreneurs and small-business owners looking to locate in Santa Fe, it sends a message that the community would rather shut down its amenitiesâ€"to hell with stargazers, dog walkers, joggers, basketball players, lovers, family BBQers and kids who just want to hang outâ€"than find a proactive, innovative solution to the drug/gang/violence issues that all communities face. Closing public space to public participation doesnâ€™t say â€œbosom of developing creativity,â€? it says â€œtown full of draconian losers.â€? As far as convincing the youth that Santa Fe is a town with a future for them, well, itâ€™s one more nail in a coffin of boredom that was nearly complete anyway. But the real crime is ignoring the dozens of youth who turned up at the July 23 Public Works meeting to speak against the proposal. Nearly 25 youth went to the podium and, as they say, engaged their civic body, with passionate, eloquent defenses of their after-dark use of public property. But when the proposal went forward, it was just another case of â€œfather knows best,â€? that firmly slammed the door on the notion that we even want the youth to participate in the development of their community, let alone stick around to eventually become productive adults.
The full City Council is currently slated to consider the ordinance creating a darkness-based closure to parks on Wednesday, Aug. 8, in Council chambers. I wonder if, out there among the audience, the Council will be able to see who itâ€™s meant to be leading and just where it is that it is going?