Grim Fairy Tale

The fairy tale rescue of the College of Santa Fe by the state of New Mexico in shining armor has hit that scary plot point where things are grim. Not that the rescue looks unlikely: Highlands University is chomping at the bit to get its mitts on Santa Fe. Cabinet Secretary of Higher Education Reed Dasenbrock is penning eloquent defenses of sheltering CSF from the storm even as budget cuts loom like white squalls. And of course, when Gov. Bill Richardson sets his mind to something (so long as it’s not universal health care or domestic partnership), he has an uncanny knack for making it happen.

Now if we can just get the students at the College of Santa Fe to take the same level of energy with which they’ve attacked Corey Pein’s Dec. 10 cover story [“In the Fray”] to state legislators in defense of their school, it’ll be a done deal.

What’s grim are the cold facts of survival in the real world until that fairy-tale ending. On Friday, Dec. 12, 20 staff members were laid off in preparation for a bare-bones spring semester. As was the case when faculty were laid off last year, some of the best and brightest were cut. One of those is Carol Carpenter, who is quick to support the practicality of the move.

“I support my layoff because CSF’s first priority must be the funding of essential academic and support services for students. A special projects director is a luxury in this time of belt-tightening—and because I’m better paid than most staff, cutting my job has freed up substantial financing for the classroom.”

CSF President Stuart Kirk says while the layoffs are necessary, none of the CSF staff could be characterized as “non-essential.” Despite his unenviable role as hatchet man, his sentiments may be closer to Carpenter’s than many would think. After all, if he does his job well in the coming months, he’ll presumably be out of a job.

Down By Law

Because former City Councilor Karen Heldmeyer’s Neighborhood Conservation District ordinance won’t die but, instead, has entered a cycle of endless tabling, there is a danger that, one of these days, toward the end of a long, tiring meeting, a groggy City Council might just pass it—like letting a stray cat into your house simply because it has lingered nearby for long enough.

It’s not that the ordinance, co-sponsored by Miguel Chavez (the councilor so flexible that he champions local craftsman and the fabric of our neighborhoods but votes to approve a Super Walmart), is poor in its intentions; the general goal is to preserve the quality of life in all the City Different’s distinct barrios. But it does so in the traditional manner of official processes in Santa Fe (no doubt related to the conditions under which the city was founded), which is to create an avenue for a small, vocal, fussy minority to stick it to their neighbors who, meanwhile, have been too busy enjoying that quality of life to notice that there was a problem, much less one that required resolution through legislation.

But let’s not confuse this tool of evil, disguised as a well-intentioned ordinance that won’t pass but won’t die, with the need to support neighborhood empowerment.

Neighborhood empowerment is critical for small, vital communities to be able to stand up to, uh, Super Walmarts, for example, or even the downtown Residence Club at El Corazon de Santa Fe, both projects that got through on Chavez and Heldmeyer’s watch. Neighborhood empowerment is critical for neighborhoods to be able to lobby city, county and state powers and to maintain a strong sense of pride and community. But NIMBYism and kowtowing to whiners is not neighborhood empowerment, though it too frequently is mistaken for such in Santa Fe. This is the problem with the neighborhood conservation overlays as they are currently proposed—it’s really just NIMBY empowerment.

Whatever side of the issue on which one falls, the best place to weigh in and to hear considered opinions is the Santa Fe Neighborhood Law Center conference on Dec. 18 and 19. Dubbed “Law and Policy for Neighborhoods,” the two-day gathering spans topics from conservation overlays and affordable housing to infill and green building. Transit, historic preservation and overhaul of some of Santa Fe’s troublesome and ineffective bureaucratic habits are on the table as well.

I know it sounds boring as hell and I know nobody really wants to spend two days with Karen Heldmeyer, Marilyn Bane and me, but the one thing that can really shift the dynamics here is real people from real neighborhoods coming out to express their real feelings and learning about their real options.

Farm Chatter

The scuttlebutt sweeping the stalls at the Santa Fe Farmers Market is that Director George Gundrey will be stepping down. And you know how we love scuttlebutt—keep those tips coming.