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Zane's World: It’s Only Money—and Madness

April 16, 2008, 12:00 am
In the days leading up to the April 9 City Council meeting, both the local Sierra Club chapter and the Santa Fe Alliance released position papers seriously questioning the need for, and rationale behind, a Neighborhood Conservation District (NCD) ordinance.
It's no wonder that, according to city staff, an NCD vote was tabled until…October. The thinking must be that either the NCD-push will crawl off and die in a lonely hole (although I'm sure it will have lovely muted tones, no more than a single story and a tasteful fence surrounding it) or that the rising resistance to crazy, piecemeal zoning will become distracted and sleepy by October, while the ordinance coasts through like a an autumn breeze.

Councilor Rosemary Romero recommended the Land Use Department consider a "pilot project" using Karen Heldmeyer's house-oops, scratch that-using a single to-be-determined Santa Fe neighborhood to test the process and gauge the logistics. A politically smart cookie, that Romero-I wonder how long until she's mayor?

Romero was, after all, forward-thinking enough to vote in favor, also at the April 9 meeting, of the city purchasing a 14-acre former lumber yard in the vicinity of Siler Road and Agua Fria. It's true, as four wise councilors pointed out, that with prices tumbling, it seems odd to pay more for the property now than what was considered when the city entered negotiations some two years ago (although, as someone who owns property in the general area, I can't personally complain about the valuation of roughly $257,000 an acre). But, given that the city is pinched for space, arguing about a few hundred thousand dollars will only compound the problem.

And the assets of the location far outweigh the detraction of its premium price. It's located adjacent to the city property that houses departments like Parks and Recreation and, despite also bordering the county, is very close to the population center of Santa Fe.

With the decision to purchase (Mayor David Coss broke a tie-vote in favor of doing so), the city must now grapple with the problem of coming up with a $26-million-plus "service center" where residents can go for city services and permits.

The questions should be these: How hideously ugly a building might the city consider? And what is the traffic impact going to be on that already snarled section of Agua Fria? Ideally, the city's mandate to build green, according to architecture 2030 standards, will lead to practical and inoffensive architectural and engineering decisions. The facility also could serve as a notable entry point for visitors entering Santa Fe along the historic El Camino Real de la Tierra Adentro. If done right, it could potentially be an improvement over the gas station that currently performs that service. In terms of traffic, the project would almost certainly demand completion of the proposed Siler Road connection to West Alameda, across the Santa Fe River.

That project, of course, comes with its own set of naysayers, mostly property owners who were too negligent to take a look at publicly available future land use and road-network plans before dropping the dosh on their quasi-rural digs. One trade-off to the disgruntled could be an intensified focus on completing the river trail, enabling fast, foot-powered access to downtown and quiet strolls along the (possibly running) river.

All of these issues are likely to play out in the modern vein, through intensive e-mail campaigns to drum up support or opposition. Of course, it's too soon to tell how much of that e-mailing will be done from any new or existing city facilities; heavy resistance to free Wi-Fi continues.

The city's Information Technologies and Communications Division intends to spend $152,000 to provide reliable, free wireless Internet to the three libraries, the airport, the two city recreational complexes and the new convention center. Wi-Fi opponents are of the predictable variety and convinced radiation is eating their brains. But the deep-seated public fear of invisible beams warping and controlling brains has made city councilors say asinine things like, "I believe this merits deeper consideration."

As one prominent British scientist recently said about thus-far-unfounded claims that Wi-Fi radiation levels (which are far lower than mobile phones) are an invisible killer: "When my daughter uses her laptop, I'm more concerned about the potential injury from her dropping the thing on her foot." In other words, the city government can serve and protect the public best by using the most reliable data available. If someone can actually prove that Wi-Fi is dangerous, well, I'm sure we can all talk it about responsibly at that point by accessing the USB ports in the back of our necks. In the meantime, perhaps we can pass out tin-foil helmets along with recycling containers and, possibly, canvas shopping bags.

City Councilor Chris Clavert's proposed  grocery bag tax is genius. The idea is that an additional 25 cents per bag would be charged to anyone who doesn't bring their own grocery container. So long as revenues from the tax are initially directed toward supplying free canvas bags to residents, the move would be a progressive step toward the city's sustainable aspirations. Free canvas bags would probably never run out, as it would turn into a reliable advertising medium for all kinds of local businesses. Either it makes good sense, or I'm just sitting to close to my Wi-Fi router.


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