The Caretaker Housing in City Parks initiative would provide affordable housing for police in city parks; the plan was devised to address the growing number of police who live outside Santa Fe [Cover story, June 25: “Home Away From Home”].
“What we really want to do is get our police officers to move back to Santa Fe,” Deputy Police Chief Benjie Montaño says. “The bottom line is approximately 60 percent of our force lives in Rio Rancho…”
In the case of Adam Gabriel Armijo Park off Cerro Gordo Road, however, neighbors balk at the idea of losing park space to police housing.
Retired Atlanta lawyer Richard Ellenberg, a gray-bearded, long-haired Georgian with a fondness for bolo ties, sits on the board of the Canyon Neighborhood Association. After Ellenberg sent an e-mail to neighbors asking for feedback on the plan, he says, “I got about 15 e-mails in eight hours…we’re about 80 percent opposed to it.”
Ellenberg expressed opposition to the plan at the Public Works/CIP and Land Use Committee meeting on Aug. 5. In addition to Armijo, the committee is considering four other parks for police housing: General Franklin Miles, Ragle, Candelero and the Santa Fe Municipal Recreation Complex. However, City Councilor Miguel Chavez, who sits on the committee, says he’d like all city parks to include such housing.
But in the case of Armijo Park, Ellenberg and neighbors say the 5.68-acre plot of land overlooking the Santa Fe River is too small for even the 1,200-square-foot house prescribed under the program.
Joan Halifax, founder of the Upaya Zen Center and 17-year neighborhood resident, tells SFR via e-mail, she is “concerned and dismayed” by the proposal. Upaya sits adjacent to Armijo Park.
Halifax writes: “Our Zen center acquired riparian as well as Cerro Gordo Mountain land to prevent these valuable assets from being developed. To be frank with you, we did this on our own, without city or private funding. We mortgaged our center to do this. You can imagine how deeply I disagree with the proposed plan if I had put our center in debt to keep open space from being developed.”
Santa Fe Parks/Trails/Watershed Division Director Fabian Chavez says, if built, the houses will be unobtrusive. “We’re not cutting into the grass or the recreation area,” he says. The plan for Armijo, he adds, would put a house on the park’s east side, where there is little recreational activity anyway.
Chavez calls the city-workers-in-parks program a “win-win for everybody,” but acknowledges the city has not yet consulted with residents. His department’s job is to identify which parks would benefit most. Eligibility is based in part on incidents of crime there, he says, and Armijo Park has received complaints.
According to Santa Fe Police Department reports, there were 25 reported incidents in the park between January 2005 and July 2008. Montaño acknowledges “that’s not a lot… at Franklin Miles, we have that many in a month.” Nonetheless, he says, “I think anything we can do to deter crime in any area is good.”
While the city continues mulling over the Caretaker Housing in City Parks program, Ellenberg maintains it is essential to get input from local residents. “You need public hearings on each park and to get feedback from that area as to the tradeoff…between public safety and the loss of public land.”