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VOTE!

SFR’s picks for the March 6 City Council election

February 29, 2012, 12:00 am
By SFR

 On Feb. 16, Alan Webber, the founder of Fast Company magazine and author of the book Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self, wrote a blog post titled “All Economics Is Local.” In it, he describes a missing piece in Santa Fe’s economy and culture: “young people in their 20s and 30s who can start businesses, grow enterprises, take entrepreneurial risks, look beyond government and tourism and real estate and art and see a much bigger picture.”


That Santa Fe largely lacks such a population partially explains its economic stagnation. Instead of a City Council that produces radical, outside-the-box ideas—the types of ideas that are beginning to turn a crumbling Detroit into an urban-planning mecca, for instance—Santa Fe’s leaders turn repeatedly to the same government and tourism industries. Instead of stopping to think carefully about where we want our city to go, elected officials often seem complacent, quietly biding their time until “the economy gets better.”


What if it doesn’t? What if Santa Fe won’t improve unless we take action? 


This year, both of Santa Fe’s daily newspapers endorsed the same four candidates for City Council: 18-year District 1 incumbent Patti Bushee, Trust for Public Land attorney Peter Ives, former city Fire Chief Chris Rivera and retired Magistrate Court Judge Bill Dimas. Both newspapers claimed it was difficult to choose.


To the chagrin of some readers and the delight of others, young people are well represented on SFR’s editorial staff. Perhaps that’s why we see this year’s elections as more than a decision about who’s qualified and who isn’t. Certainly, Bushee’s experience on the council far surpasses any candidate’s (and even sitting councilors’). While it is tempting to argue for four more years of skillful leadership, we believe that Santa Fe is at a crucial turning point. The moment for brave, transformative change is right now, not four years down the road.


Our endorsements don’t match those of the daily papers, but SFR was founded on the principle of providing an independent voice. Accordingly, we place a high value on those candidates whose vision for the future of Santa Fe is thoughtful, independent and ambitious. 


“I don’t think the answer is to do more of what is already there, or even to do it a little better,” Webber writes. “Better marketing, better messaging, better packaging—that won’t change the game.”


The candidates below may not have the shiniest credentials or the most experience. But we believe that they can and will change the game. 


In the end, of course, it’s up to you. Vote!


- Alexa Schirtzinger



Bond Questions:

1. Shall the City of Santa Fe issue up to $5,000,000 of general obligation bonds to acquire, design, construct, and improve buildings and equipment for police and fire-protection public safety purposes?


While SFR doesn’t doubt the need for public safety infrastructure, this bond issue has two serious flaws. First, the proposed fire station is not currently within city limits, and several candidates we interviewed expressed a desire to push back the city’s annexation schedule. Further, the bond doesn’t take into account staffing, operating and utility costs. Raising property taxes to pay for this construction will only increase future costs to taxpayers.

SFR pick: NO



2. Shall the City of Santa Fe issue up to $14,000,000 of general obligation bonds to acquire land for, and to plan, design, build, equip, renovate, and improve public parks, bike/pedestrian trails, and related infrastructure?


South side residents have long advocated that the Southwest Activity Node, or SWAN, Park, can meet the diverse needs of a rapidly growing population. The $3 million allocated to finishing park improvements not funded through the 2008 parks bond is also essential, as is the $6 million allotment for trail connections that will make significant improvements to Santa Fe’s walkability and general quality of life.

SFR pick: YES



3. Shall the City of Santa Fe issue up to $3,800,000 of general obligation bonds to acquire, install, construct, upgrade, and improve sustainable environment projects, including renewable energy, arroyo drainage, and watershed security projects?


While the $1.8 million project to build solar panels over the Genoveva Chavez Community Center parking area will only offset about one-quarter of the center’s current power demand, the $2 million for watershed improvement through arroyo cleanup and stabilization is a small investment with a big payoff. Maintaining Santa Fe’s arroyos and riparian ecosystem will protect the city’s natural resources and help avoid serious erosion problems down the road. 

SFR pick: YES


District 1

In 2006, Sudanese cell-phone entrepreneur Mohamed “Mo” Ibrahim established the Mo Ibrahim Prize, a $5 million award to any democratically elected African leader who stepped down peacefully after serving his or her term in office within the limits of the country’s constitution.


In March 2011, Ibrahim told The New Yorker that the prize rewards “excellence in leadership” in a region known for authoritarianism, serving as both an incentive and a means for African leaders to have a second life after public service. Though not without its critics, the prize is widely considered a game-changer.


Santa Fe, perhaps, could use such a prize. Without term limits, the mayor and city councilors can serve as long as they like—and District 1 City Councilor Patti Bushee, who has served the council since 1994, is currently seeking another four-year term.


During her 18 years in office, Bushee has used her growing experience and authority to work wonders for the city. She’s been a staunch advocate for affordable housing, improved bicycle access and trail systems, and using liquor sales to help fund drug- and alcohol-treatment programs. For three years, she has won “Best City Councilor” in SFR’s annual “Best of Santa Fe” readers’ poll, and she’s known for being responsive to her constituents.


But responsiveness can also be detrimental. At times, Bushee has listened too closely to the vocal fringes of her constituency, allowing lengthy distractions (over, say, cell phone towers) that hinder the city’s progress. She also treats the need to attract and retain young people as secondary to the needs of Santa Fe’s “graying population,” even though young entrepreneurship will improve the city for everyone.


Bushee has much to be proud of, and Santa Fe owes her a great debt for her service.  


In SFR’s 2008 endorsement, we commended Bushee, who promised her third term would be her last, for having “the strongest and most eloquent command of the challenges facing the city.”


Now, she’s had 18 years to chip away at those challenges. It’s time for new leadership.


That said, we wish she had a stronger challenger. Houston Johansen is a fresh-faced 25-year-old with a yawning dearth of experience—not just in city government, but also in life. Although Johansen grew up here, he has limited work experience and has lived the bulk of his adult life outside of Santa Fe. His campaign reflects this: Most of Johansen’s economic development ideas involve renewable energy, but we need other options, too. Johansen may have trouble standing up to vocal neighborhood activists or more experienced councilors, and he may lack Bushee’s capacity to be an independent voice on the council. He will face a steep and difficult learning curve laden with inevitable missteps.

 

But Johansen is conscious of his weaknesses, and his efforts to turn them around have shown him to be hardworking, dedicated and earnest. More importantly, he is receptive to new ideas and flexible about how to achieve them. In that spirit, we hope that, if elected, he’ll consider some unsolicited advice (see page 23)

 

Regardless of the election’s outcome, we hope both candidates remain active in city issues. But as with the recipients of Ibrahim’s prize, Bushee’s place now is elsewhere - as an invaluable mentor for the younger generation that must, someday, take the reins of governing Santa Fe.

SFR pick: Houston Johansen



District 2

Peter Ives, the Harvard-educated senior counsel for the Trust for Public Land, would make an eminently capable city councilor. Ives is a longtime local leader, and his understanding of city policies and practices is comprehensive. His characterization of the role of the City Council—to provide “visionary leadership for Santa Fe’s sustainable future”—is apt, as is his desire to “preserve and promote what makes Santa Fe beautiful.” 


But Ives seems less inclined to shake Santa Fe up than to reinforce its strengths. For instance, he suggests improving the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s marketing efforts through better use of social media—a good idea, but hardly a recipe for overhaul. His plans for improving Santa Fe’s economy are solid, but two of them involve legislative action. His method for attracting and retaining professional young people consists mostly of supporting MIX Santa Fe—a good program, but only one part of what should be a comprehensive, jobs-plus-population strategy.


Former nNurse and former union leader Elizabeth “Dolly” Luján has a modern vision for Santa Fe: taller buildings, walkable mixed-use neighborhoods and urban living on the booming south side. But her knowledge of other critical matters is incomplete. Her plan for the city and Santa Fe County to buy Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center and turn it into a public hospital, for instance, is intriguing, but Luján has no answer for where the millions of dollars would come from to make it a reality.

 

Former Santa Fe Southern Railway President Bob Sarr has extensive private-sector management experience and has long been active in Railyard planning and development issues, but his forward-looking vision and energy are what make Sarr the most attractive candidate for District 2. Sarr’s proposals are unorthodox. He advocates revitalizing the St. Michael’s Drive corridor, a worthy and long-suffering goal that has received little attention this election cycle. He proposes separate local and express trains for the New Mexico Rail Runner Express—the only possibility for making the train a real economic engine. (“I’m not a fanatic about transit, but I come close,” Sarr says. That’s a refreshing attitude in a city that often ignores the role a good public transportation system can play in fostering commerce and improving quality of life.) Sarr also advocates a more thoughtful master plan for the quickly developing Cerrillos Road and Airport Road corridors. What Santa Fe needs, Sarr says, is “a sea change in the way City Council functions.” We couldn’t agree more, and we believe Sarr has the no-nonsense attitude and independent voice to bring about that change.

SFR pick: Bob Sarr


District 3

Marie Campos, the president of the Native Hispanic Institute, has a history of community organizing and seems dedicated to improving Santa Fe. However, Campos’ knowledge of City Council is lacking, and many of her proposals seem half-baked. She also declined to finish SFR’s pop quiz—which, although admittedly nitpicky and not intended to be a true aptitude test, every other candidate gamely completed. (When asked why she didn’t finish, Campos replied that she’s “really busy”; we worry about the implications of her schedule on the enormous time commitment City Council demands.)


Former Public Service Company of New Mexico employee Gilbert Martinez has more extensive knowledge of the city and, thanks to his years at PNM, is well versed in energy issues, which will surely figure into Santa Fe’s future economy. But many of Martinez’ ideas also seem unformed, and he’s more focused on existing industries, such as government employment and tourism, than emerging ones. Accordingly, he advocates slow growth and keeping the city small. While small-town charm is part of Santa Fe’s appeal, and a certain sector of its economy will always depend on tourism, former city Fire Chief Chris Rivera’s position relies less on outsiders’ “rediscovering” the same Santa Fe, as Martinez suggests.


“We need to diversify,” Rivera tells SFR. “We need to find other ways to keep our economy going in times where you have crisis, where you have something happen that forces tourists to stay at home.” 


Rivera advocates working with Santa Fe’s business incubator, food truck proprietors, convention center and bike shops to develop a diversified economy, in addition to being “aggressive” about recruiting larger companies to not only hold conventions here, but to stay and enjoy the city’s many other attributes.


Rivera also distinguishes himself from other candidates when it comes to transparency; he proposes posting budget information in real time on the city’s website and hopes to implement such a system “as soon as possible.” Rather than advocating a “larger police presence,” as many other candidates do, Rivera stresses the importance of promoting greater involvement and cooperation between residents, neighborhood watch groups and law enforcement.


Finally, Rivera has a vision for the south side that is both practical and forward-looking. He emphasizes the need for a “community-oriented southwest sector,” strategically planned to allow area residents to walk, shop for groceries, work, eat and play on the south side.


Rivera is also the youngest candidate for District 3, and with four young daughters, he has the most direct interest in seeing the city succeed. Finally, he is the only District 3 candidate who accepted public financing—meaning he did the tough groundwork of convincing 150 voters to contribute $5 each on his behalf, and he’s charged with using their money responsibly.

SFR pick: Chris Rivera


District 4

Both candidates for District 4, former Magistrate Judge Bill Dimas and New Mexico Children’s Foundation Executive Director Carol Robertson-Lopez, have served on the City Council before; both have conducted experience-touting campaigns. Dimas, a former police officer who has earned the endorsement of the Santa Fe Police Officers Association, has logged decades in the law-and-order field; his suggestions for improving the city reflect that experience. Dimas, who lost his daughter to a drug overdose, also has personal experience on which to draw. 


“Drug Court is an excellent program, but you’re not going to make anyone give up drugs unless they want to,” Dimas told us; instead, he advocates establishing a narcotics unit within the Santa Fe Police Department and creating mandatory minimum penalties for drug trafficking.


While these are important issues, they are not the only problems. Dimas says he’s “not sure what” the city should do to attract and retain productive young people; his vision for the Santa Fe of the future involves less crime, more jobs and “all streets paved.” 

 

Former state worker Carol Robertson-Lopez, who served two terms on the City Council beginning in 1998, has a more dynamic approach. She advocates tightening the local procurement preference to ensure that city contractors hire local employees and subcontractors and revamping the city website to enable citizens to more easily access the city budget. Most importantly, Robertson-Lopez has a few unconventional
economic development ideas—a big publicity campaign to attract residents from around northern New Mexico to visit Santa Fe via the Rail Runner, law enforcement vocational programs at Santa Fe’s public high schools to increase the pool of potential cadets SFPD can hire locally, courting clean manufacturing jobs, and encouraging public schools and city libraries to share resources. Robertson-Lopez also argues for a diversified local economy that doesn’t rely exclusively on tourism.

 

Dimas, however, has a long history of, as his campaign puts it, “honesty and integrity.” Appointed as chief magistrate judge by the New Mexico Supreme Court, Dimas would be both a grounding influence and a much-needed ethical guide for the council. But we hope he’ll take some of Robertson-Lopez’ ideas and run with them.

SFR pick: Bill Dimas




SFR’s Unofficial Guide for New City Councilors

1. Know your role. 


Don’t meddle with city staff; don’t play favorites. Instead, listen to the concerns of all of your constituents (even the silent ones!) before making a decision.


2. Educate yourself. 


Read past City Council agendas and minutes. Get to know—deeply—our city’s rich history and its current issues.


3. Think outside the box.


Think about the local economy as a complex, diversified whole; from there, you’ll be better equipped to craft sensible policy.


4. Get out!


Go to MIX; go to bars; go to live music events and art openings. Volunteer. Challenge yourself to try all (or most) of our local restaurants. Get to know us and our challenges.


5. Gather advisers.


Our community is full of wisdom. Collect intelligent people from all walks of life; their experience will guide and assist you. 


6. Stay transparent.


Keep blogging, tweeting and updating us on what you’re doing. If you do go into an executive session, make sure it’s for the right reasons. (Better yet, pull a Miguel Chavez and boycott it.)


7. Stand up for yourself—and your constituents.


Don’t let yourself be bullied by more experienced councilors; remember, there’s a whole voting bloc behind you.


8. Make it happen.


Santa Fe is at a turning point, and our economy needs immediate attention. Come up with a plan for revamping the local economy, and then work diligently toward implementing it.

 

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