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BREAKING: Commission Advises No Retention of SF Judge

Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission says attorneys rate Sheri Raphaelson poorly

Local NewsFriday, September 19, 2014 by Justin Horwath
The New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission announced a rare “do not retain” recommendation after evaluating the performance of First Judicial District Court Judge Sheri A Raphaelson.

The nonpartisan group’s evaluation, released today, says low scores in surveys of attorneys, court staff, jurors and other participants who interacted with Raphaelson factored into the 15-member commission’s decision to recommend to voters that they should not retain the judge in the upcoming November election.

“Attorneys give her low ratings when it comes to treating all participants equally and for displaying fairness and impartiality toward each side of the case,” the 15-member commission’s evaluation says. “They also rate her lower for not always exercising sound legal reasoning and for not conducting herself in a manner free from arrogance.”

After being elected to the bench, district court judges are also subjected to nonpartisan retention elections where they don’t face opponents. They must receive approval of 57 percent of voters to stay on the bench.

The commission issued two “do not retain” recommendations this year out of 85 judges judges standing for retention across the state.

The commission, established by the state’s Supreme Court and known as JPEC, has issued recommendations to voters on whether they should retain judges and justices for nine elections. At least eight of the commission’s 15 members must agree on a recommendation. The 15 appointees, which include seven lawyers and seven non-lawyers, rely on surveys of the judges to issue recommendations. It doesn’t release vote tallies or confidential midterm surveys of judges.

But it does release final surveys filled out by three different categories of citizens who might interact with a judge: attorneys, including defense and prosecutors; court staff; and resource staff, which can include police officers, probation officers and social workers.

Out of 124 attorneys surveyed, 45 percent either strongly recommended or somewhat recommended Raphaelson should not be retained. Roughly 42 percent of  54 court staffers said the same, while 78 percent of resource staff leaned toward “do not retain.”  

Judge Raphaelson’s scores survey scores improved from her 2011 interim evaluation, the commission says, but her scores among attorneys decreased or stayed the same since that confidential evaluation.

“During this final retention evaluation,” the commission says, “Raphaelson did not take responsibility for her survey scores and the negative comments by survey participants. The Commission feels her attitude and demeanor are reflective of her judicial temperament and are an accurate reflection of the survey results.”

Judges are able to see comments from survey respondents, says Brian Sanderoff, President of Research and Polling Inc., the Albuquerque firm that conducts the surveys. But, he adds, those comments are confidential.

From May 1, 2012 to April 30, 2013, parties excused Raphaelson “at a significantly higher rate than any other judge in the district (537 times),” says the commission, “requesting their cases be reassigned to a different judge.”

She was appointed in 2009 and elected in 2010 to the bench on the First Judicial District Court, which includes Los Alamos, Rio Arriba and Santa Fe counties. The group recommended the retention of four other district judges in the court: T. Glenn Ellington; Raymond Ortiz; Sarah Singleton; and Mary Marlowe Sommer.

The group also recommended voters in the area should retain state Supreme Court Justice Edward Chaves. Cynthia A. Fry, Linda M Vanzi and Jim Wechsler, members of the state’s Appeals Court, also received “retain” recommendations from JPEC.

“It’s not an easy thing to do,” says Karen Cortese, a commissioner since 2008, says of the do-not-retain recommendation, ” but we’ve done it in the past.”

Yet she and Denise Torres, chair of JPEC, says they’ve seen judges be elected after JPEC’s do-not-retain recommendation.  Torres says one judge reacted positively to the “jolt.”

“We continued to work with that judge and we saw significant improvement,” she says.

The group distributes guides to educate voters about the records of judges and justices up for retention. You can view the reports at www.nmjpec.org.

Climate March

People are encouraged to bring their energy to two green events this weekend

Local NewsThursday, September 18, 2014 by Joey Peters

In anticipation of next week's United Nations Climate Summit, New Mexican residents will have plenty of opportunities to join in on local "People's Climate Marches" this weekend.

The first event will be on Saturday in Albuquerque starting at 9 am at the Immaculate Conception Church (619 Copper Ave.). That march will go to the Federal Court Building and end at Robinson Park around 11 am. Santa Fe's climate march starts at noon that same day at the Plaza. It is planned to go past the Roundhouse and end at the Railyard.

Attendees are encouraged to bring signs and banners addressing "concerns and solutions" about climate change.

"By marching together, we amplify the message that it is past time to take significant action to eliminate human impacts on the climate," reads a statement from Positive Energy Solar, which is co-sponsoring both marches.

At least four local students will be marching in the People's Climate March the next day in New York City. Tammy Harkins, an English teacher at Santa Fe High School, is taking the four students—two from Santa Fe High and two from the University of New Mexico—to the march after winning a contest though the Energy Action Coalition that will pay for their airfare to New York City this weekend.

The contest had them each make a video about their thoughts on fighting climate change while Harkins submitted a brief essay on the topic. Members of the group will also have 20 minutes to share their thoughts and concerns with a UN representative. Harkins says they'll also be spending the weekend attending workshops concerning the issue. 

But perhaps the biggest event will be the march, which is said to bring a big turnout.

"They're expecting anywhere from 250,000 to half a million people," Harkins says.

Emails Contradict AG's Con Man Account

Gary King and defense in the Michael Soutar case negotiated terms, records show

Local NewsThursday, September 18, 2014 by Justin Horwath

Internal emails contradict the account given Wednesday by a top official at Gary King's office who told reporters that "the attorney general did not negotiate any kind of agreement with [Michael] Soutar"—a con man prosecuted by King's office but released early from a 34-year prison sentence.


"It's my understanding that you and Raymond [Sanchez] discussed the terms of the motion to reconsider the sentence concerning the securities related convictions," against Soutar, Eleanor Brogan, the con man's public defender, wrote to King on Feb. 21, 2012.


"I've told [Brogan] I'm comfortable that what you and I agreed to will stand," Raymond Sanchez wrote on Soutar's behalf to Gary King in a March 12, 2012 email.


Two days later,  Dave Pederson, a special counsel in the AG's office, 
wrote to his boss: "Gary, Soutar will cop to a plea to all remaining charges tomorrow. I agreed if he does that, no objection to running those concurrent with original sentence.”

The email traffic relating to the the case is coming to light after the gubernatorial campaign of Republican Susana Martinez began hammering away at King's role in Soutar's ultimate release with radio and now TV ads, based on a June cover story published by SFR.


That sentence was supposed to be 34 years, handed down by First Judicial District Court Judge Michael Vigil in 2007 after a jury convicted one of New Mexico's most infamous con men on ten felonies for defrauding victims who invested money in an art market he established in Santa Fe in 2004. By March 2012, Soutar, known as the Casanova Con Man, had been behind bars for nearly eight years, thanks to a joint prosecution between Attorney General King’s Office and the Regulation and Licensing Department’s Securities Division.


King's office—notably not his Democratic gubernatorial campaign—called a press conference in Albuquerque on Wednesday to combat what Pederson characterized as "factual inaccuracies" and an "attack on the professional integrity of the attorney general’s office" by Martinez' ads.


Pederson opened the conference saying the "inferences in the ad are that there was an exercise of some kind of undue influence by Raymond Sanchez on the attorney general—and that this resulted in some sort of back-room bargain that let Michael Soutar out of prison."


Pederson, Sanchez and King served in the Legislature together, he told reporters at the conference, but "that didn't enter into the equation either for Attorney General King and certainly not for me" in the position taken by the attorney general's office during a March 2012 resentencing hearing in that resulted in Soutar's release.


King's office did not oppose Soutar's release in the hearing, despite opposition to Soutar's release by the Securities Division.


Sanchez was never listed as Soutar's attorney in the case, but the Albuquerque lawyer had been lobbying King for nearly a year to pursue "mediation" with King's office as Soutar asked the state's Court of Appeals to overturn 10 felony convictions.


In February 2012, the state Appeals Court upheld all of Soutar's convictions, nullifying the ability of Soutar and King's office to enter into official "mediation." That didn't stop the recidivist felon from asking Judge Vigil to reconsider the harsh 34-year sentence. And emails obtained earlier this year by SFR show that while King noted to a colleague that the Appeals Court ruling meant Soutar lost his "negotiating position," he said he was still concerned about the victims getting their money back in the case.


The two sides continued to communicate about both the terms of the motion the defense was drafting to ask Vigil to reconsider his sentence, which he did, suspending 15 years off the sentence and ordering him to pay roughly $200,000 to various victims in the case.


Not all Soutar’s victims from the scheme got compensated, however, including James O’Hara, a market employee who says Souter didn’t pay him $5,400 in wages, and his brother, who invested $32,500 in the market.


Asked if the court could have forced Soutar to pay back his victims while keeping him behind bars, Pederson responded in the press conference that, “I don’t really know.”


“We will be able to say that justice was served,” Pederson wrote to King the day before Soutar’s March 2012 hearing, “vast sums of State money saved by avoiding future trials, full prompt victim compensation, and closure for all parties.”


Emails show Pederson telling a victims advocate with the attorney general’s office to not respond to James O’Hara’s inquiries about whether he and his brother might get restitution money from the hearing. James and his wife Linda obtained all the emails quoted here in a request made under the Inspection of Public Records Act.


“By the way, [Raymond Sanchez] tried to tell me you ‘gave up’ the escape charge,” Pederson wrote in a March 14, 2012 email to King, referring to Soutar pleading guilty to escaping from prison after his December 2004 indictment. “I told him I convinced you not to just dismiss it versus the other severed counts. He also said you felt the original sentence was too harsh! Always the spin-master.”


Peter St. Cyr contributed to this report 




Meet A Cop

Santa Fe Police will be at Starbucks to talk to community

Local NewsWednesday, September 17, 2014 by Joey Peters

Coffee will be served, but will there be doughnuts? 

Tomorrow at 5 pm, city residents can meet with members of the Santa Fe Police Department as a part of a "Coffee with a Cop" program designed to grow the police force's relations with the community. Residents are free to come ready to discuss "community issues, build relationships and further open lines of communication" with the city's cops, according to the announcement.

The initiative, a national program sponsored by the federal Department of Justice, comes at a time when the state's biggest city police department in Albuquerque has been under intense scrutiny from the public and the Department of Justice for its shootings of civilians over the past few years.  

Santa Fe's police have been more fortunate in their relationship with the community than the cops just south of here, though some officers haven't been immune to making aggressive actions that led to public relations problems. 

SFPD Police Chief Eric Garcia will be present at the community meeting, along with several higher-up city police officers. The city's police force have done well for themselves under Garcia, getting their 10-hour-a-day, four-day workweek reinstated recently. City Council also approved SFPD's request earlier this month to spend $854,000 on new cop cars. 

The coffee meeting, which will be located at Starbucks on 4960 Promenade Blvd. on the south side of the city, is designed to "break down barriers" between the cops and the residents they're sworn to protect. 

“We hope that community members will feel comfortable to ask questions, bring concerns, or simply get to know our officers,” Garcia says in a statement. 

The initiative is planned to be held on a regular basis in different parts of the city. 

Triathlon Losing Steam?

With one day of registration remaining, numbers are low for seventh annual event

Local NewsWednesday, September 17, 2014 by Julie Ann Grimm

Fewer people have registered for this weekend's seventh annual Santa Fe triathlon than did for last year's event, but city officials say they expect a last-minute rush of participants before the Saturday showdown.

The deadline to register is midnight Thursday, says an optimistic Liza Suzanne, manager for the city’s Genoveva Chavez Community Center.

“We have noticed last-minute registrations for all our recreational events in Santa Fe,” she tells SFR, adding later that officials from the USA Triathlon organization told her recently that participation numbers for similar events are down across the country, “but they don’t know why there is a decline in the tri trend.”

A number of local competitive athletic events recently might have also taken a bite out of numbers, she notes. (For example, on Sept. 13 more than 700 people ran the Santa Fe Thunder half-marathon from Fort Marcy to the Buffalo Thunder Casino, and Las Campanas held its triathlon on Labor Day.) 

Last year, 206 adults and 12 relay teams competed in the city event that includes a 5K run, a 12-mile bike ride and a 400-meter swim. This year, just 164 individuals and 10 teams have signed up. The footrace course traverses Rodeo Road and the Arroyo Chamiso Trail. After the run, competitors pedal bicycles down Rodeo Road to Richards Avenue, Rancho Viejo Boulevard and beyond. Finally, they jump into the center’s Olympic-sized pool.

The event is scheduled to begin at 7 am on Sept. 20 at the Chavez Center. A kids triathlon is also scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 21. Register for either event in person at the center or New Mexico Sports Online.

Government Power Disagreements Color Candidate Forum

Candidates for secretary of state, attorney general faced off in a League of Women Voters forum Tuesday

Local NewsWednesday, September 17, 2014 by Justin Horwath

Candidates for the secretary of state and attorney general disagreed on the role of the offices they're seeking in a Tuesday forum hosted by the League of Women Voters, with the two Republican contenders arguing for a more limited government than the visions proposed by their Democratic opponents.

In response to an audience-member question that asked the two attorney general candidates what they would do to ensure the protection of New Mexicans against wage theft by employers, Republican Susan Riedel argued that the office has "constitutionally mandated tasks" that it must accomplish.

"The attorney general’s office just can’t take over everything," a former judge and prosecutor in the Third Judicial District Attorney's Office told the audience at the Santa Fe Community College. "...What I am going to do is prosecute crime."

Hector Balderas, the current state auditor, had responded first that the attorney general can be "more vocal, more visible" in preventing wage theft, pledging that he'd create a labor enforcement protection division that "proactively engages employers" on the issue.

Balderas' solution to the wage theft issue mirrored several of his responses: creating task forces within the office and between the office and various authorities. He also emphasized transparency. The lights had flickered off before he could answer a question about how the candidates would deal with the behavioral health audit. "This is a perfect transition to my point," he quipped when the lights turned back on. "We need more transparency."

Balderas also said he would institute an "executive-level task force"  between the US attorney and attorney general that would tackle Medicaid fraud. Riedel proposed no such group during the forum. She emphasized the role of the state's top law-enforcement officer is to bring justice swiftly, taking a swipe at the sitting Attorney General Gary King for saying his investigation into behavioral health providers in the state might take up to seven years. "I can tell you that the one thing I really want to see happen with this situation that there is a swift decision," she said. "A criminal investigation needs to move quickly." 

The philosophical differences about the role of government cut down party lines for the secretary of state candidates, although to a lesser extent. Democratic candidate Maggie Toulouse Oliver responded that she supports an independent ethics commission that would take on some of the secretary of state's duties, saying there's a danger in too much regulatory authority in the secretary of state's office because "you run the risk of having partisanship come into play." 

Republican incumbent Diana Duran wouldn't say whether she supports that decision—only that she'd follow the law. "As secretary of state, I serve a ministerial role," she said. "Whether or not an ethics commission is created is up to the Legislature." 

But if there's one area where the secretary of state can be more activist in Duran's mind, it's cracking down on voter fraud.

Duran repeatedly emphasized she wants to protect the "integrity" of elections by ensuring everyone's vote counts—and only once. "Voter fraud exists," she said. "I have seen it. I have investigated it."

She said her office played a role in presenting 23 names to the district attorney in Sunland Park—six of whom were convicted of voter fraud. "Too many times we have people [assert] that it must be widespread in order to be a problem." 

Her opponent, the current Bernalillo county clerk, disagreed. "It happens extremely rarely," Toulouse Oliver said, emphasizing that, as secretary of state, she would ensure an "easy and accessible voting experience," so that every eligible voter is able to "participate in the election process."

Painting a picture of widespread voter fraud, Toulouse Oliver argued, creates strict rules that disenfranchise up to 10 percent of the voting population.

In-person early voting for the Nov. 4 election begins Oct. 7, which is also the last day a voter can register to be eligible to cast a ballot in the election.

Get Connected

Bike Issue 2014Wednesday, September 17, 2014 by SFR

You can always tell a great bike shop by the techs who are outside making loops in the parking lot to check their work—popping wheelies, bouncing suspensions and pinching brakes. Almost everyone will sell you a helmet and a pack of protein goo for your next adventure, but here are some of the highlights of Santa Fe’s local pedal peddlers:

Local Bike Shops

THE BROKEN SPOKE
1426 Cerrillos Road
992-3102

Experienced bike mechanics are on the job at the shop that has a small collection of used bikes and upward of 200 new ones hanging from the ceiling. The store recently honored by the National Bicycle Dealers Association sports a selection of panniers, helmets, hydration packs and other accessories. One wall is devoted to maps of the city’s trails, the runs at Angel Fire Bike Park and the topography of the nearby Santa Fe National Forest.

MELLOW VELO
132 E Marcy St.
995-8356

Bike rentals at this downtown location regularly send out entire families of tourists on fat-tired Crushers—we know because they share our building. Three tiers of rental bikes mean you can spend as little as $20 a day to just get there and as much as $100 a day to try a late-model preium cycle. The shop owned by David Bell also caters to pros and commuters with sales and repairs.

SIRIUS CYCLES
2801 Rodeo Road, Ste. B-8
819-7311

The only bike shop on the Southside comes courtesy of Clemente McFarlane, whose service is also courteous in every way, by many accounts. The tiny store named for a star has the essential accessories, and also offers repairs and custom builds along with Chrome brand bags and a wide selection of Orbea, Felt and State Bicycle Co. inventory. Se habla español.

CHOICE CYCLE EXCHANGE
607 Cerrillos Road, Space A
780-5685

Española native Maria Archuleta Gabriele and her husband Peter opened the store in August that buys, sells and trades high-end, pre-owned road bikes. All you’ll find here are frames, parts and complete bikes, plus a setup for photographing bikes for their Internet sales plan. No merch. No repairs.

NEW MEXICO BIKE N SPORT
524 W Cordova Road
820-0809

Loads of accessories and clothes complement oldschool repair and no-pressure high-information sales. This 21-year-old business stocks more gloves, gear and gadgets than almost any other store in town. Plus, four techs here have bike-fitting certification from Specialized. Quick tuneups and tire repairs can happen with the right timing.

ROB AND CHARLIE’S
1632 St. Michael’s Drive
471-9119

Bike selection ranges from affordable and easy to exceptional and complicated, including BMX bikes and choices for kids. Pick up a set of valve covers in the shape of peace signs or eyeballs or a new Camelbak or just its bladder, if that’s what you’re seeking. The repair shop is always whirring. Don’t hesitate to ask for advice about which mountain trails to hit up next.

Advocates

CHAINBREAKER COLLECTIVE
1515 5 th St.
989-3858

Learn how to refurbish a bike with this nonprofit advocacy group’s Bicycle Resource Project or donate your spare parts for the cause of transportation equity.

SANTA FE SENIORS ON BIKES

These SOBs are road-cycling enthusiasts who meet on Thursdays for 30-mile rides grouped according to skill level, but they say you can “extend, or to turn around at any point along the way.” Informal rides also leave weekly on Tuesdays from DeVargas Mall. A detailed schedule is posted at santafesobs.com

SANTA FE ROAD RIDERS

This road-cycling group holds weekly rides on Sundays in the Santa Fe area in three skill-level groups. The shortest, C rides, are in the 25- to 45-mile range with average speeds around 12 mph. groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/sfroadriders/info SANTA FE FAT TIRE SOCIETY The local branch of the International Mountain Bicycling Association provides Twitter trail updates with the hashtag #sftrails. It’s hosting festivities in conjunction with National Take Your Kid Mountain Biking Day on Oct. 4. The group meets monthly on the second Monday at 6 pm at REI. santafefattiresociety.org

Go!

GET CONNECTED

Most of the Santa Fe Trails city buses have bike racks intended to help riders make connections to further destinations. In an effort to encourage this kind of multimodal life, the city offers a free annual or monthly bus pass with the purchase of a bike or purchase of bike gear or by providing volunteer services in return for a bicycle from Broken Spoke, Chainbreaker Collective, Mellow Velo, Rob and Charlie’s or Sirius Cycles. (With the purchase of $240 or more, an annual fee bus pass is provided. With the purchase of $20-$230, a monthly bus pass is provided.) Bring your original receipt to the Transit Administration Building located at 2931 Rufina, Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5 pm, 955-2010

GATHER ROUND

Commuter bikers and wannabes are invited to summit where regional transportation planners will strategize and share information. A keynote lecture is planned from city Councilor Joseph Maestas. 5 pm, Oct. 10 at the 500 Market St. in the Railyard.

NIGHT CRUISE

Illuminate your bike and join the G’Low-N-Slow 5-mile community bike cruise through the streets of downtown. The Oct. 10 festivities start at the Railyard’s water tower where there will be bike decoration supplies, food trucks, a DJ, artists, booths and decoration supplies. The loop ride starts at 9 pm and will return to the Railyard for s’mores, hot chocolate and more. Registration is $20 (kids 12 and under ride for free), and the first 100 participants to sign up will receive a long sleeve, moisture-wicking technical tee. Visit RidgelineRacing.org for more information.

SOUND OFF

The Santa Fe Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization is conducting a survey on addressing the transportation needs of the Santa Fe regional area over the next 25 years. English surveymonkey.com/s/GPK2G6B Spanish surveymonkey.com/s/D3YQSJL

The Lure

Officials target economic gains of outdoor recreation

Bike Issue 2014Wednesday, September 17, 2014 by Julie Ann Grimm

Attracting people to Santa Fe who have a passion for the outdoors could be an economic boost for the region, says David Griscom, Santa Fe County economic development manager.

In 2010, the county identified outdoor recreation and products industries as target areas in its strategic growth plan, a facet shared by both city and state strategies. Griscom says he met with 30 business representatives at an outdoor retail trade show in Salt Lake City last month and is talking up the idea of expansion or relocation in Santa Fe. One push he’s making is that businesses “cluster” with Bicycle Technologies International, a worldwide parts distributor with a newish facility in Rancho Viejo.

“We see this as an emerging industry,” he says, noting that a trade group recently estimated the state’s economic impact from outdoor recreation is something like $6 billion per year. “We don’t know exactly how they get that number, but no matter how you shake it, it’s going to a big number.”

The other reason a company might come here, he says, is the same reason visitors come with bikes, boots, skis and boards in hands.

“We think their employees would like it here. We are really selling the quality of life here,” he says. “You can now ride or hike from the city to the ski area without getting on a paved road. That’s a big deal, and we emphasize that. How many capital cities in the country can you get on a trail basically on the outskirts of the city and access so many miles of trail like that?”

Growth Griscom calls “eco tourism” is also a ring that officials are grasping for. It might be one part reality and one part dream.

“When I’m out on the trails, I stop and talk to people, and I see more and more people from out of state who are coming here to hike and bike,” he says. “Santa Fe has long been known as a cultural center, and that is valid and that has its place, but more and more you are seeing a younger crowd come into Santa Fe with their skis and with their bikes to enjoy what we have.”

Beyond Recreation

Commuter bikers know the revolution won’t be motorized

Bike Issue 2014Wednesday, September 17, 2014 by Justin Horwath

They’ve endured sandpaper scrapes, hairline fractures, dislocated shoulders, bruises and even death. They’ve been honked at, yelled at, threatened by menacing dogs, tailgated by truckers gushing machismo and hit by rocks. But they maintain that kissing the pavement on occasion isn’t so bad once and a while, because after all, what’s better than kissing the wind on your way to work nearly every day?

Meet Santa Fe’s cyclists. In just the last few years, they’ve grown in numbers and political power, bending receptive ears from City Hall officials for better cycling conditions across the region. The advocacy has furnished both symbolic and practical results.

On the symbolic side, Santa Fe is a city whose mayor and longest-serving city councilor issued a public challenge in May to city employees, encouraging them to win the Bike-to-Work Week challenge. And the Santa Fe Police Department now employs a Bicycle Unit comprised of five full-time bicycle officers and a sergeant, along with 17 “auxiliary bicycle officers”—putting a sort of official badge on a mode of transportation that hasn’t taken hold here as much as other cities. Some cyclists point to the the previous administration of Mayor David Coss for jump-starting the movement. “Coss,” says Rob and Charlie’s bike mechanic and salesperson René Van Kuijk, “he was definitely a bike man.”

Practically speaking, cyclists have pushed City Hall to plow taxpayer money into a growing network of trails and dedicated bike lanes that make it safer for both cyclists and motorists to trek across town. Just recently, the city secured $3.8 million in federal pass-through funds to help finance the construction of an underpass in the fourth most hazardous intersection in town, the St. Francis Drive-Cerrillos Road crossing. That’s a plus for cyclists, who gripe about crossing the busy intersection. “The St. Francis and Cerrillos intersection—I’ve never seen anything like that anywhere,” says Veena Vasista, whose riding experience in London, where she lived for 20 years, led her to conclude that Santa Fe’s roads are actually relatively wide.

Indeed, the cycling movement hasn’t taken off here as it has in other cities like Portland, New York and Minneapolis, as Santa Fe still consistently gets snubbed by the national cycling press from its lists of most bike-friendly municipalities.

We’re not on par with other cities using a number of metrics, including size, grid and culture, but SFR asked some amateur and avid cyclists how Santa Fe matches up with them. They’ve had experiences in Amsterdam, London, New York, Chicago and Houston, and the cyclists say the City Different is different in many ways—some bad, some good.

At least we beat Duke City, says Rob and Charlie’s mechanic Leo Quintana, who’s almost been hit riding down Central Avenue in Albuquerque. “It could be worse,” he says of cycling conditions here.

Kuijk, the other mechanic at the shop, moved here 12 years ago, spending 25 years in Amsterdam previously. In his time here, he points to a lot of improvements for cyclists, and that he hasn’t been in an accident, but one aspect that never seems to change is the mentality of certain motorists toward cyclists. “Machismo,” he says, noting that he’s been cut off many times, “you never get rid of. The guy with the biggest truck always wins.”

"I’ve even had a city truck behind me honking"

George Bradley, whose 26-inch Giant Revel 2 was being fixed in the shop, hasn’t been so lucky. He bikes to his job at Walmart off Cerrillos and counts four accidents with motorists in the past 15 months, hit-and-runs, and the worst resulting in a hairline fracture in the forearm. He’s been cycling here for seven years, earning previous experience in Houston, which he calls a safer city for cyclists. “I’ve even had a city truck behind me,” he recalls of one incident biking on the trail behind Sam’s Club, “honking for me to get out of the way.”

It’s not going to stop him from riding, however, and he says conditions here have improved recently.

Joe Abbatacola, as a member of the Bicycle and Trails Advisory Committee, has advocated for some of those improvements in his five years in Santa Fe. Speaking from personal observation—rather than on behalf of that committee—he says cycling in Santa Fe is not as prevalent of a mode of transportation as it is in Chicago.

Abbatacola is about as avid as a cyclist as they come. In Chicago, he rode year-round more than 30 miles on workdays for his commute. In Santa Fe, he hitches a trailer on his bike, so he can load his groceries or other gear and pedal around town. Once while riding on Agua Fría Street, he had a rock thrown at him. He turned over video footage to police from his helmet camera, which caught both the license plate and the offender.

Despite the incident he maintains that the biggest misperception about cycling—and why people choose not to do it—is that it’s dangerous.

Abbatacola and his peers argue that it’ll become safer as there’s more cyclists on the road. That’s what happened in the Windy City, he says from the phone in Chicago, where he spent the summer.

Motorists there, he says, have become more aware of cyclists as they’ve grown in numbers. There’s a bike-sharing program in which commuters can pay a small fee to rent a bike for short distances. And, he says, motorists have become more aware of cyclists with even small warnings on crosswalks that says state law mandates that motorists are required to stop for pedestrians. “That has really helped for safety for both pedestrians and cyclists,” he says.

Still, in Santa Fe, the latter group continues to grow in numbers, and with them, even the number of bike shops. Choice Cycle Exchange just opened shop off Cerrillos weeks ago. Maria Archuleta Gabriele, an Española native, moved back to the area from New York with her husband, for that purpose.

“I’d love to see more things to make it safer not only for cyclists but also pedestrians,” she says.

Just Keep Pedaling

24 hours fast in the saddle makes her anything but a dull girl

Bike Issue 2014Wednesday, September 17, 2014 by Stefanie Kyser

Midnight is the witching hour for most, but not me. On this night, it happened closer to 11:15 pm, as I clocked mile 97.

I ride into camp exhausted, dirty, grumpy, aching. I literally can’t feel my lower back, and I’m hoping the stabbing pain in my neck is a spike, so it can be removed.

“There’s blood on your knee. Did you fall?”

“I don’t remember,” I reply. And I really don’t.

David Bell

A few months ago at the age of 45, I decided on a goal so ridiculous, I told very few people. But the opportunity loomed, right there, just east of the little train town of Gallup, NM, where the mountain bike gods placed the USA Cycling 24-Hour National Championships. I watched the pros ride in 2013, and my first thought was, “That’s a whole other level of crazy.” But I admired them, and I wanted to be in the crazy club because it was so extreme, painful and so beautiful all at the same time. Imagine, it’s 3 in the morning, you have 160 miles behind you, and you’ve just eaten a wondrous meal of rehydrated powdered protein mix, a brown banana, a handful of pecans and some beet juice. Fifteen seconds of panic has just passed as you learn that tree stump off to the right was not a bear. Your heart rate normalizes at 140. Then you reach the Burma Trail, two miles of screaming downhill in the dark with one working light on your handlebars to guide the way. Maybe 25 miles per hour is too fast in the black pitch of night, but you can’t slow down since it’s your only rest and someone might be on your tail. Or maybe it’s a bobcat (that you can’t see because you’ve lost a contact). Ridiculous crazy.

Having given up running due to injuries, I’ve been riding mountain bikes since 2012, and I’m hooked. As the saying goes, “just as addictive as cocaine and twice as expensive.” Besides the satisfaction of struggling up the mountains and the ecstasy of hurtling myself down on nothing more than some aerodynamically forged metal and some bolts, the thrill of experiencing the beauty and solitude of nature keeps me pedaling.

"At the age of 45, I decided on a goal so ridiculous, I told very few people."

I’ve realized that even the worst day on the bike is survivable as long as I can hear a bird or a stream trickle, see a cactus bloom or watch the clouds roll in. It’s the old bait and switch, except there’s no switch. In running, I felt exposed as a female with the super-short shorts and the long, lonely roads. Ever had some jerk roll down his car window and yell, “Want a ride? I’ll give you a ride!” then break out in maniacal laughter? Charming. Then there’s the coach who suggested I needed to lose weight when I failed to qualify for NCAA Nationals in the 10,000 meter run. (I was 5’5” and 112 pounds at the time.) Of course, let’s not forget the med student who pinched my arm and, based on his millisecond assessment of my body fat, told me I would not make it to the Olympics.

OK, so he was right, I didn’t make it, but my left Achilles should take the blame for that one, not my jelly triceps. Athletic achievement is not formulaic. I’ve always maintained that success in highly competitive sports is a crapshoot. Talent and hard work can only get one so far, and it’s the athlete who avoids turning her ankle, or who lives in a competitively rich area, or who doesn’t eat a bad burrito the night before the big meet, who succeeds. Throw in gender bias and childbearing, and the opportunities for women dwindle significantly. After law school, working, marriage, kids and more work, my time was running out, and I truly began to believe that if I didn’t escape the expectations of my gender now, the naysayers and disbelievers would never be avenged. My 20-year-old self needed vindication. So did the young lady running with mace in her hand and the girl trying to ignore the catcalls as she ran intervals on the track. Having two daughters of my own, my awareness of the young tenderness I still harbored inside was palpable.

Kyser poses with her championship medal alongside Bailey Colfax, also from Santa Fe and a member of a junior team that also won at the 24-Hour National Championships.
David Bell

And so I pedal. It’s about as close to flying as one can get on the ground. Sometimes you fly, seeking freedom, and it’s peaceful and magnanimous, simultaneously, like ice. Sometimes you dive, seeking the depths of unknown courage, and it’s terrifying and awakening, together, like fire. And then you see a deer nibbling a flower. It’s as simple as that.

Simple like Santa Fe, and complicated too. Having lived on the East Coast and in the Deep South for the first 30 years of my life, the openness and expansiveness of Santa Fe provides me a stark but healing backdrop to what held me so painfully quiet and gusseted. “Healing” is self-explanatory, “stark” in that it’s my canvas to paint.

Most cities have a particular construct that serves to define the people who live there. Think “Southern Belle,” “New Yorker,” “Midwesterner,” and stereotypes fly up like startled quail. Santa Fe holds no prototypical citizen, and no real caricature comes to mind. I have no two friends that could be confused for one another, and surprisingly, I actually have very little common interests with those I call my “best friends.”

We are connected by the same calling. My Santa Fe tribe seems to have been lured here by a silent siren song, but instead of smashing us on the rocks of convention and expectation, the song gives us the power to expand and grow and give back again, like a river, infusing us with nutrient-rich loam and then carrying our nourished labors outward in rafts of sacredness and gratitude.

I find that symbiotic taking and giving in the climb and the dirt of the trails surrounding our city. Similar to the brown, brazen roots of the piñon, the mountain and desert trails grasp outward from Santa Fe, giving it support and groundedness, providing it the necessary structure to support the city’s unfettered and beautiful psyche. The trails beckon to me: come out, come play, come breathe, come live. Then, I pedal home, tired, clear, fed and fulfilled.

"Kyser poses with her championship medal alongside Bailey Colfax, also from Santa Fe and a member of a junior team that also won at the 24-Hour National Championships"

Yet I’m anything but clear as I reach 11:15 pm on race night, just over the halfway point. I discuss my current reality with David Bell, my pit crew, soigneur, chef, dresser, aid station, photographer, bike tech, sponsor and friend. I am bleeding and coughing up dirt. I’ve lost a contact and have no feeling in my right hand. The pain in my neck and upper back endlessly stabs at my brain, even though I’ve ditched my water pack and helmet light. My bottom is so raw that, well, we just won’t go there.

“Do you want to sleep for three to four hours?”

I look down at my smelly jersey: Mellow Velo. It’s clean compared to the Shroud of Gallup I’ve created in trying to keep my face fresh and dirt-free as the hours and miles roll by. I am definitely not “mellow,” but in my soul-searching struggle to accomplish this goal of becoming the oldest female national cycling champion, I breathe. Bell and Mellow Velo took me on last November and believed in me and my abilities. Bell didn’t balk at my age, nor my crow’s feet. He didn’t even flinch at my cesarean belly or the fact that my race schedule depends on whether I can get child care. I am humbled by his support of a dream, the realization of which earns a medal, a $75 jersey and our names in the record book. But it’s there, forever. I wanted it there, forever.

“No, David, I do not want to sleep. I’m going back out there in five minutes. I really want this.”

“I know you do; I was just hoping I could sleep for three to four hours.”

Kyser rips through the race course. Racers in the contest try to complete as many laps as possible as fast as possible.
David Bell

I would wake him up for some eggs and bacon in about two hours, and at the 24th hour of my race, after 203 miles, depleting every last energy source my body had to offer and getting a lift back to camp from the forest service, I finally put those requited girls to bed, took my drug test and hopped up on the podium as 24-hour solo singlespeed national champion.

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