High Coss of Living?
Is the mayor crazy? Or maybe just stupid? These questions swirl around the quiet corners of City Hall these days as our local politicians, like their national counterparts, jockey for position wearing costumes created by the Baroque absurdity of the global economic crisis. Did I say crisis? What I meant was clusterfuck.

So why is Santa Fe Mayor David Coss’ sanity and brainpower being challenged? Because he’s talking about spending money.

The mayor’s proposal was slated for discussion at the Nov. 17 city Finance Committee meeting, as was Councilor Matthew Ortiz’ hardball spending resolution—which includes the possibility of retroactively rescinding raises. The committee postponed action on either item until Dec. 1.

Ortiz wants Santa Fe to “tighten its belt”—solid, conventional wisdom in the midst of a financial crunch. Hunker down. The mayor’s proposal seems downright looney by comparison. That’s because it’s an example of something we rarely see in Santa Fe: leadership.

Mayor Coss, rather than supporting a plan to penalize employees and mire the city manager in protracted negotiations with labor unions, has put forward a five-point strategy for proactively engaging the challenging economic climate from a local perspective. At press time, the results of the Finance Committee’s deliberations were unknown (updates will be available at sfreporter.com), but it is certain the two resolutions will be considered at loggerheads.

City Councilor Rebecca Wurzburger was briefly caught in the middle. Already signed on as a sponsor of Ortiz’ proposal, she initially signed on to the mayor’s plan as well. After she realized that she can’t have it both ways, the city was forced to issue an uncomfortable retraction noting that Wurzburger is not, technically, a co-sponsor of the mayor’s resolution. Councilor Rosemary Romero, shaping up to be a “people’s councilor”—at least to the extent that anyone is—has joined the mayor in support of the strategy.

Here’s why the Coss resolution is neither crazy nor stupid, but represents sound leadership: It’s not a lone-wolf maneuver, but it is based on unity with the US Conference of Mayors and its collective lobbying power with state and federal governments. The Conference of Mayors has noted that “metro economies now account for 86 percent of employment, 90 percent of labor income, and 90 percent of gross domestic product.” It is using such figures to pressure Congress into moving forward with $90 billion in “main street” stimulus, which most citizens see as infinitely more practical than bailouts for big, lazy and indulgent industries.

Coss should go a step further and entreat Santa Fe’s international sister cities and UNESCO partners to join in confronting economic meltdown with concerted investment in city infrastructure, generating respective regional jobs and, as Coss says, exercising a “holistic approach that strengthens our economy through enhanced partnerships with local businesses, non-profits and community organizations.”

The leaders of nations may continue to pontificate while cushioning corporate rears, but if the city governments of the world roll up their sleeves and get to work, it will be a case of thinking locally equating to acting globally.

Canned Contemporary
A Nov. 13 panel discussion that asked, “Is there a place for contemporary architecture in Santa Fe?” was an unfortunate bust. A slide show presented by Carlos Vargas—principal architect with Mexican “starchitect” Ricardo Legorreta’s firm— was designed to show off contemporary buildings influenced by Spanish Colonial and pre-Columbian styles but, with few exceptions, demonstrated the failure of contemporary work to rival these older and ancient structures. Perhaps if work by other architecture firms had also been shown, the case would have been stronger but, seeing as selling some Legorreta-designed Zocalo condominiums was a soft undercurrent of the panel, that was not an option on the table. Vargas, no doubt a skilled and intelligent architect, was further hampered by his charming but insufficient English.

All of this conspired to create a platform in which panelists David Rasch, head of historic preservation for the City of Santa Fe, Dale Zinn, an architect and former member of the city’s Historic Styles Committee, and John Pen La Farge, historian and de facto heir to Oliver La Farge’s pushy co-authorship of the historic preservation ordinance, both blatantly and subtly beat up on contemporary architecture.

The always well-spoken and normally affable La Farge practically shuddered with a xenophobic zeal as he lambasted “architecture that doesn’t fit” like a child complaining about his peers trying to put square shapes into round holes. He had additional, arched-eyebrow concerns about the city’s “green agenda” and “inexpensive housing agenda.” Rasch ridiculously defended “fauxdobe” as an appropriate change of materials in the name of affordability.
The panel’s format and Vargas’ valiant but struggling English did not allow for rejoinders to these points.

The only salient remarks in regard to Santa Fe’s future were made by developer Don Wiviott.

Wiviott had little to say about architectural style but a great deal to say about efficient planning and zoning. His comments served as evidence to everyone—possibly to Wiviott as well—that the energy he put into a failed bid for Congress would have been better spent in running for local office.