Rarely has a single week of city politics been so strange and schizophrenic—even in Santa Fe. Not only did the real estate transfer tax get voted down March 10 by a demoralizing margin, but the City Council opted, the next day, to approve both a green-building code and a red-light camera contract with Redflex.
Also, in keeping with what has almost become a tradition, the Council postponed consideration of the Neighborhood Conservation District ordinance. Plus, Santa Fe launched a massive “buy local…sort of” campaign. It’s such a mixed bag of emotional highs and lows that we may soon need to petition the Council to begin medicating us on a daily basis.
The real estate transfer tax defeat broke down predictably: Districts 1 and 2 voted against it while districts 3 and 4 voted in favor. Funny how some people claimed it wasn’t about money.
Acting President of the Santa Fe Association of Realtors (SFAR) Baro Shalizi told The Santa Fe New Mexican, “Now we would like to invite the city to sit down at the table and let’s work on a way that will work.” This I’m anxious to see: After all, SFAR put roughly 50 percent more into killing this initiative for affordable housing assistance than it has ever donated, even “over the years,” to affordable housing organizations, despite Shalizi’s insistence that the association is “very supportive” of affordable housing.
Whether or not the city is invited, I’d like to see SFAR put forward its own suggestions for mechanisms that will fund affordable housing. After all, its criticism has been loud—monetarily loud—but its proactive, constructive suggestions have been…less so. Since SFAR—an organization that claims to support affordable housing—is the reason the tax was defeated, one would think it could now put at least as much time and money into addressing the actual problem as it just did into fighting legislation aimed at solving it.
On the other end of the emotional rope, the City Council unanimously voted to adopt the Santa Fe Residential Green Building Code. When the new code goes into effect on July 1, efficiency standards will be pretty tame for houses under 3,000 square feet (as the code stands now, only houses exceeding 8,000 square feet are required to be carbon neutral). A tandem resolution, however, requires revisiting the code
regularly and ratchetting the requirements to meet the challenge of having all new construction be carbon neutral by 2030. By 2013, construction standards will begin to have a serious impact on our regional energy use. There’s nothing to do but applaud the city and the members of the team who created the code—its passage is quiet, but truly monumental.
Concerns that solar panels will soon blanket the landscape and impede views are overblown. We can argue about solar eyesores when we get rid of all those gigantic power lines.
Sadly, the city was suckered into going forward on a contract with Redflex to provide red-light cameras and mobile speed traps. Despite cogent, intelligent criticisms of the contract from Councilor Matthew Ortiz and a plea for sanity from Councilor Carmichael Dominguez, this foolhardy initiative went forward with a 5-3 vote. Councilors in favor, as well as the Santa Fe Police Department, cited “safety” as the reason for the cameras. If only that were true. Don’t any of these people have access to Google? Aside from the propaganda on its corporate website, there’s no positive information that comes up related to a search on “Redflex.” However, there are strong, objective studies done by multiple organizations and governments that prove there is no measurable safety benefit to be gained. Who is in charge of researching this stuff at the city? What did they do—read the Redflex brochure and decide it was a great idea? This one will go down in history as a wasteful folly.
Neighborhood Conservation Districts will be revisited when Councilor Rosemary Romero comes back with a tweaked version of former Councilor Karen Heldmeyer’s swan song legislation. Let’s hope (futilely) the next version is something other than legalized NIMBYism.
Finally, the city launched its “Buy into Santa Fe” campaign (of which SFR is an advertising media partner) to encourage spending in the region (see Indicators). It’s a good project and it’s at the sharp end of a proactive community response to a global dilemma. The first goal is to track $1 million of spending over a three-month period. Residents are encouraged to record their local purchases on a website.
Two problems: The city’s Economic Development Department says spending at big-box and franchise stores counts, making this the most toothless “buy local” campaign in history. Second, recording one’s purchases online, which was billed as “viral” and “Facebook-y” has to be done by sending an email, rather than by uploading to an online database or via text messages, making it the most non-contagious viral marketing scheme ever. They might as well have us send in the information with stamps affixed.
Instead of buying goods and services locally, I’m going to pitch in on getting the city a decent web programmer.
It’s finally clear that the City Different isn’t unique; it just needs mood-stabilizing medication.