According to popular definitions for “mission creep,” there has been a recent textbook example here in Santa Fe. The Plaza Roundtable, established by city resolution in March 2009, recently delivered its recommendations on how to manage and maintain the Plaza.

Contrasting the group’s report with the scope of its charter makes clear that unwritten biases guided the sense of mission and colored the nature of advice delivered to the City of Santa Fe’s Public Works Committee.

The resolution creating the Plaza Roundtable states that three factors be considered:

• Appropriate use of the Plaza for major commercial events and special events

• Alternate sites for major commercial events and special events

• Restrictions on the use of the Plaza for major commercial events and special events

Nonetheless, the Plaza Roundtable’s report opens with the following statement:

“The Plaza Roundtable was charged with finding ways to manage and maintain the authenticity of Santa Fe’s fragile and irreplaceable plaza. The plaza is more than a physical space, it is the cultural, spiritual, commercial, and historic embodiment of Santa Fe.”

So how should citizens deal with a report that, from the get-go, misrepresents its mission? There is no mention of “authenticity” in the resolution creating the roundtable and detailing its tasks. Certainly there are no grandiose claims of what—beyond physical space—the Plaza exactly constitutes or, as the case may be, embodies.

When “appropriate” becomes “authentic,” that’s mission creep. Especially when “authentic” is then defined by the whims of “nine members and two alternate members, all appointed by the Mayor with the approval of the City Council.”

That being said, the report does, to an extent, address the roundtable’s stated criteria. What concerns me is the appearance that the issues were addressed through the ether of preciousness that pervades notions of historicity in Santa Fe. The takeaway is that only events “significant to Santa Fe’s living cultural heritage—specifically,


, and the

” are appropriate major events.

The net effect, as with so many well-intentioned efforts aimed at historic heritage, is to ensure that “living cultural heritage” is confined in a pretty display box and never allowed to expand or change. At least, not on the Plaza.

The roundtable then suggests that goods for sale during events must meet “a set of unified and juried criteria,” written by the city.

In other words, apparently the rigid criteria for, say, Indian Market are really too lax and need to be augmented by the judgment of city government.

Hats off to the roundtable: One hundred monkeys in a room with a typewriter couldn’t have come up with a better waste of city time and energy than to suggest it become a jurying body for commercial goods. Talk about mission creep.

As for examining alternative sites, the full extent of the roundtable’s commitment seems to have been asking organizations that currently run events on the Plaza if they would like to run them in the Railyard instead. The only organization that appears to like the Railyard is the Human Rights Alliance, which puts on Santa Fe Pride, the roundtable report dutifully reports. Everyone else said “no.”

In a year of presumably regular meetings, that’s what the roundtable has to show for “alternate sites.” Maybe more people would do events at the Railyard if it were cheaper, the report speculates, in lieu of any real action items.

When the roundtable tackles restrictions on the use of the Plaza during special events, its report becomes a whirlwind of lament about bad people, annoying dogs, vendors on the grass and trees injured through soil compaction. The conclusion is that the Plaza is being “loved to death.” And the solution is a slate of prohibitions, lock-downs and restrictions that would make any prison warden proud.

Yes, the Plaza is used by the people because it is for the people. It’s something that every city with a central plaza or zocalo has to deal with. Every effort should be made to make the Public Works Department’s maintenance and planning tasks as simple and unburdensome as possible, but laying increasing restrictions on a public place has one simple end result: It narrows down the scope of people who can and will enjoy and use that public place.

If our solution to the challenges posed by heavy use of the Plaza—which I would call appropriate, intended usage—is going to be heavier rules and regulations, why don’t we just jump to the end result? Let’s just seal it off and charge people to ride a cute little tram through the center of town. It’ll be like Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride, but with “authentic” traditional craftspeople instead of pirates.

Indian Market, Spanish Market and Fiesta will be year-around, and everyone else will have no choice but to use the Railyard.

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