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Mind the Mining

SF County Commissioners listen to details of mining ordinance set to lift yearlong moratorium on mining operations

Local NewsTuesday, June 30, 2015 by Thomas Ragan

Santa Fe County Commissioners listened Tuesday afternoon to the details of a proposed ordinance designed to lift a year-long moratorium on sand and gravel mining operations that is set to expire in mid-September.



Staff said the proposal, modeled after the county’s oil ordinance and gas ordinance, also addresses the less contentious but always pesky subjects of landfill and junkyard operations in the county. 


But the need for a new ordinance really grew out of a controversial plan last year that called for the mining of 50 acres of Waldo Canyon, located inside La Bajada mesa and known for its basalt.


It's a majestic, historical piece of rugged terrain that sits 18 miles southwest of Santa Fe that can be seen along the I-25 corridor. The land itself, with its swooping descents and ascents, is what's coveted for protection among environmentalists, historians and neighbors.  


And so when proposals to expand mining edged closer to a reality, there was an outcry, which led to the moratorium that is now the subject of pending litigation between the county and Buena Vista Estates Inc. and Rockology LLC., the owner and the mining company respectively. Both want to mine it for its basalt.



The informational meeting was sparsely attended. There was no protest or public outcry, in stark contrast to a little under a year ago when hundreds of angry residents from surrounding communities showed up in the name of protecting La Bajada mesa and their quality of life.


Penny Ellis-Green, the county’s growth management director, and Graham Billingsley, a consultant with Orion Planning Group, based in Boulder, Colo., outlined the rules and regulations that commissioners could expect to find in the proposed law.

Standards regarding the operations of landfills and junkyards, always a nemesis among neighbors who live in their midst, were also incorporated into the ordinance. But the bulk of the 40-minute presentation centered on gravel and mining operations, and they touched on standard fare subjects: Protecting the watershed and wildlife, preserving the water table, keeping noise, traffic and dust to a minimum while ensuring that no drilling would occur within a quarter-mile of a residence.

Most importantly, they said, there would be oversight, environmental impact reports, yearly monitoring, and the county would be able to intervene and stop operations if the standards in the law were not being adhered to, and all of this applied to sand and gravel mining operations in general.

The history of the mesa has been resurrected now that mining operations are imminent. It’s part of the Camino Real trail, a well worn path that travelers used between the 17th and 19th centuries. It’s a rugged piece of terrain that is somewhat of a major undertaking today in four wheel vehicles, let alone back in the day.

Buena Vista Estates and Rockology LLC, both of Albuquerque, are now waiting for the moratorium to be lifted. Peter Domenici Jr., the lawyer representing the two in district court, said last year that the moratorium wasn't justified, and that it was specifically aimed at preventing the mining of La Bajada on behalf of the county.

County Commissioner Miguel Chavez, before the meeting, said the county was exploring the options of transferring development rights, which serve as a possible solution to the problem.  Perhaps basalt could be mined someplace else, he says.

While he wasn’t opposed to the Waldo Canyon operation, Chavez says it’s important that the county have an ordinance that adequately regulates it.

Ellis-Green says after the meeting that the proposed ordinance had been a long time in coming and was always on the radar of county staff because landfills, junk yards and mining operations are key concerns among many Santa Fe county residents.

A series of community meetings will be held in the coming month to unveil the ordinance and how it will play into the greater scheme of their communities, she says.

Hike Happening

Gross receipts tax rate increase takes effect July 1

Local NewsTuesday, June 30, 2015 by Thomas Ragan

The gross receipts tax rate increases on Wednesday, July 1 in Santa Fe County by one-eighth percent, bringing the rate that’s tacked on to most purchases inside the Santa Fe city limits to 8.3125 percent.  

Lawyers for the cities of Santa Fe and Española contested the legality of the hike at a hearing in First Judicial District Court on June 26, but to no avail.

District Judge Sarah Singleton said she might, in the coming months, hear the merits of the cases, which argue such taxes in the county shouldn’t be applied in cities. But she didn’t repeal the increase. The county expects to raise $3 million from it each year. 

The levy, intended to replace lost revenues from the state, is the county’s first GRT rate increase within its incorporated areas since 2007. Two other tax increments went into effect in 2012, but those were approved by voters to improve fire protection.

As of the July 1 hike, the GRT rate in the unincorporated parts of the county is 7 percent, which includes the state’s share of more than 5 percent.  

The rate in Española is now up to 8.9375 percent, after the city took advantage of a state law allowing local municipalities to impose new GRT increments to make up for not being able to tax grocery food and medical services.

That tax, a common one across the country, was removed during Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration to help those with low incomes. And until a few years ago, the state compensated cities and counties to hold them harmless in the repeal. But those revenues will be phased out over a 15-year period.


Adios, Drought

High precipitation is predicted to continue as officials lift drought designation in much of New Mexico

Local NewsTuesday, June 30, 2015 by Elizabeth Miller

Just days after the official start of summer, the National Weather Service released the drought summary for New Mexico with the heartening headline: “Drought lessening its grip on New Mexico.” 

This calendar year, precipitation has been 161 percent of the normal statewide average and is the ninth wettest on record since the 1800s, according to Brian Guyer, senior meteorologist with National Weather Service office in Albuquerque. Predictions are for above normal precipitation through September, particularly in the northeastern half of the state. 

“In 2013, we saw more than half the state was under exceptional drought conditions, and then we’ve been very slowly working improvements through last year, and then finally this year, we’re seeing above normal precipitation across the majority of the state, so that’s alleviating the drought conditions in the short term,” Guyer says.

The US Drought Monitor estimates that 22 percent of the state is in moderate to severe drought and 4 percent of the state in severe drought, the bulk of which is spread over the western half of the state. The driest areas sit right on the border in McKinley, Cibola, Catron and Grant counties. Drought conditions have eased in the eastern plains and central portion of the state. The western side of Santa Fe County, and much of the state west of it, are still classified as abnormally dry. 

“Especially once we get into the monsoon period, I think they’ll probably be removing severe drought conditions from that last holdout in western New Mexico next week,” Guyer says. “If conditions continue like this, then we probably will put all of New Mexico out of drought in the short term.”

Above-normal snowpack arrived at the start of the year, and January reported 180 percent of normal precipitation, though the bulk of it missed the northern mountains and their ski areas. Snowpack continued near normal in the Sangre de Cristo, San Juan and Jemez mountains through February. March 1 saw about 70 percent of normal snowpack—not necessarily poor, but not great, either.

High temperatures in the first half of April brought an early end to the snowpack, but rain and snow hit southeastern and northern portions of the state. May saw almost daily rains, with precipitation levels sometimes 300 to 400 percent of average. The precipitation was enough to trigger flash flooding in some areas of the eastern plains, where some areas reported 4 to 7 inches of rainfall for the month, clearing drought conditions from that portion of the state. June saw May’s trend continue, with more rain hitting the Four Corners area. The cumulative effect has slowed down wildfire season.

Stream flows in many areas throughout the state are reporting normal or above-normal flows, and there are at present no fire restrictions for federal, state or tribal lands, though the Red Canyon fire has closed some of the forest roads in the Magdalena Ranger District. Increased water in creeks and rivers may improve conditions for some endangered species, like the silvery minnow, Guyer says.

Warming in the Pacific Ocean caused by El Niño takes some of the credit for the positive trend, and as long as El Niño stays in place, it can be expected to continue creating hurricanes over the Pacific that channel through the Southwest as far as the Oklahoma Panhandle, delivering moisture along the way. That could potentially bring another six to nine months of wetter, perhaps even cooler weather to New Mexico, says Mark Svoboda, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center, though the forecast isn’t a promise.

“Maybe that will help to continue to help the surface water situation and eventually even the groundwater situation in New Mexico and surrounding states,” Svoboda says. “Those are the last things to recover from drought, so it might look green on the surface, but an important part of the drought recovery is still that groundwater and reservoir situation. Those two things are the last to typically go into drought, and they’re typically the last to come out. So I think once we get to that point where you really start to see improvement in Elephant Butte and other large reservoir bodies, then you can feel much more optimistic about drought recovery in the next six months.” 

Reservoirs in the state are still low, their statewide average hovering at 29 percent on June 1, according to Guyer. Bringing those reservoirs back up to capacity will take some better snowpack through the winter months. 

“Folks should still keep in mind that just because we’re going through a wetter period right now doesn’t mean it’s not going to get dry again, so conservation is still really important,” Guyer says.

The outlook doesn’t look as good for states to the west; drought is expected to linger, and perhaps even intensify, in Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington, as it habitually does during summer months. In the long run, research published in the journal Science Advances in February predicts increased drought severity for the Southwest in decades to come, perhaps even to more extreme levels than the medieval-era drought said to drive many of the Anasazi to relocate.  

“Our results point to a remarkably drier future that falls far outside the contemporary experience of natural and human systems in Western North America, conditions that may present a substantial challenge to adaptation,” the study’s authors write. “Future droughts will occur in a significantly warmer world with higher temperatures than recent historical events, conditions that are likely to be a major added stress on both natural ecosystems and agriculture…Combined with the likelihood of a much drier future and increased demand, the loss of groundwater and higher temperatures will likely exacerbate the impacts of future droughts, presenting a major adaptation challenge for managing ecological and anthropogenic water needs in the region.”

Morning Word: Behavioral Health Audits Still Under Fire

Only two providers have had administrative hearings

Morning WordTuesday, June 30, 2015 by Peter St. Cyr
It's Tuesday, June 30, 2015

It looks like another mental health care provider owes the state a lot less Medicaid reimbursement money than a controversial audit initially indicated in 2013.
“It is unfortunate to the recipients of behavioral health services that their services were taken away from them by a trusted provider for what turned out to be statistically insignificant questions about claims,” said Patsy Romero , chief operating officer of Easter Seals. “We could have sat down in a one-hour meeting and worked this out.” 
Justin Horwath has the scoop. 

SFR's Elizabeth Miller is reporting that a group who had plans to develop a large affordable housing project on Agua Fría Street in Santa Fe are giving up on the idea after City Councilors unanimously rejected a rezoning measure last week.

Read it online.

New Mexico In Depth's data journalist Sandra Fish has the latest lobbyist spending numbers after catching some lobbyists filing their financial reports late.

Read it online. 

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and the New Mexico secretary of state's war of words over enforcing campaign finance regulations continues.

Read it at New Mexico Political Report. 

Regents at New Mexico Highlands University have hired Sam Minner to be the school's next president. He replaces James Fries, who led the university for the last eight years. Regents hope Minner can help boost enrollment numbers at the school.

Read it at the Santa Fe New Mexican. 

President Barack Obama has been on a roll lately, and yesterday he signed that new fast track trade bill into law. The president has also announced a new rule to expand overtime pay for millions of workers.
Conservatives and business groups have bitterly opposed the idea, warning that it will cost jobs. The National Retail Federation, a trade group, has argued that expanded overtime will “add to employers’ costs, undermine customer service, hinder productivity, generate more litigation opportunities for trial lawyers and ultimately harm job creation.” 
Supporters of the new rule says it protects American workers who are working longer hours for less pay.

Read it at the Santa Fe New Mexican. 

US Interior Secretary Mike Connor hiked through a portion of Chaco Canyon, a World Heritage site, on Monday with US Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico. Udall said he hopes it will lead to careful planning of oil and gas development in the area.

Read it at the ABQ Journal. 

After Laura Paskus and Bryant Furlow published a series of reports on teen suicides among New Mexico native communities, Udall is asking the officials at the Indian Health Services to answer questions about how they plan to improve mental health services. The New Mexico Department of Health estimates more than 200 tribal teens committed suicide between 1999 and 2013.

Read more at the Los Alamos Daily Post. 

It looks like tourists still love visiting New Mexico. Yesterday, Gov. Susana Martinez credited the slick New Mexico True ad campaign for attracting a record 33 million people to the Land of Enchantment, a 40.6 percent increase since 2010.

Russell Contreras has the story. 

Tourists aren't the only ones visiting the state. SFR editor Julie Ann Grimm reports that hungry caterpillars are taking a toll on aspen trees in the Santa Fe National Forest.

Read it here.

Economic Development Secretary John Barela says he's confident that the new tax package lawmakers passed will attract more businesses to New Mexico.
Barela also pointed to the state’s recent improvement in a national business-friendliness index as more proof of increased business [in] New Mexico. The state ranked No. 24 on the 2015 CNBC America's Top States for Business ranking released last week. 
Read more at ABQ Business First. 

Jemez Pueblo's efforts to reclaim the Valles Calderas National Preserve have been revived.
The tribe went before a panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in November in hopes of keeping alive its lawsuit against the federal government. The appeals court issued a ruling Friday, saying a U.S. District Court in Albuquerque should take another look at whether an 1860 land grant extinguished the pueblo’s rights to the land. The tribe will have to prove it had, or still has, aboriginal title. 
The AP has details. 

New Mexico Political Report editor Matthew Reichbach has news on a US Supreme Court ruling on Monday that could lead to big changes in the way the state draws political districts.
One of the interested observers in New Mexico was State Sen. Bill O’Neill. The Albuquerque Democrat has introduced legislation to create an independent redistricting commission in New Mexico in each of the last three legislative sessions. His attempts have failed in the Senate Rules Committee each time. In this year’s legislative session, some senators had concerns about the pending Supreme Court decision.
Both senators Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, and Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said they would have to see what the Supreme Court ruled. 
Meanwhile, the executive director of Common Cause New Mexico is thrilled with the court's decision authorizing independent redistricting commissions.
 "Polling done earlier this year shows that 68% of registered voters in New Mexico agree. Political gerrymandering has resulted in districts that are not competitive and this spells disaster for our democracy – a truly independent commission can remove the partisanship that dominates our current process," Harrison tells SFR. 
Read more about the court's decision at New Mexico Political Report. 

Developer Throws in the Towel

Builder cites lack of interest from City Council among reasons for abandoning apartment proposal

Local NewsMonday, June 29, 2015 by Elizabeth Miller

Tierra Concepts will likely be cutting ties with the 16 acres of land on Agua Fría Street they had hoped to develop as a 399-unit affordable housing apartment complex. Since the proposed El Rio development was unanimously rejected for a rezoning by Santa Fe City Council during a June 24 meeting, the future of the land remains unknown.

The proposal was an assemblage of four lots, one of which the design firm had purchased, one it was under contract to purchase and two it had secured options on. The one lot they’ve purchased, about 2.5 acres, may now be divided into two lots.

“I doubt if we’ll develop it, but at this point I think we’ll probably give up the property in one way, shape or form,” Keith Gorges, builder and designer with Tierra Concepts, tells SFR. “It’s unfortunate because it’ll break up and it’ll be one less location where somebody can do a multifamily project.”

Councilors Ronald Trujillo and Carmichael Dominguez, who were not in attendance at the meeting in which the vote was taken, tell SFR they likely would have joined their fellow councilors in voting against the proposal. The proposal seemed like a lot of density for the area, Dominguez says, adding, "I understand the concepts behind the development ... [but] the concepts don't always work out the way we envision them."

“In looking over everything that I’ve seen of El Rio I did think that it possibly was a little bit too big,” Trujillo says. “I’m hoping that maybe they can reconsider and possibly put something there that has less of an impact on the surrounding neighbors.”

Tierra Concepts spent three years on the project and will lose between $100,000 and $200,000 on the proposal, fees and cost of the land, Gorges says, “And that’s if we can sell the land that we purchased for what we purchased it for and I’m not clear that we can do that.”

Thirteen of the 16 acres are zoned to allow 21 units per acre, and Tierra Concepts had requested rezoning to allow 24 units per acre.

“We’ve run the numbers time and time again and with the affordability units, the water rights and everything, we just can’t make the financial end of it work,” Gorges says. “You have to have more units to be able to spread the cost out over is really what it comes down to. So I think we’ll probably let the entire project go.

“I don’t think anybody really understands how difficult it is to do a project like this in Santa Fe with all the burdens of expense, the development fees, the impact fees, so on and so forth and particularly the costs of the affordable housing program and what impact that’s had on apartments.”

Affordable homes for sale have a much easier road to the tax credits for those projects, he says, and the insistence on integrating affordable housing units—as some of the members of the public testifying at the June 24 meeting called for and city councilors reiterated—disallows access to the tax credit benefit.

“I think the city needs to rethink the affordability component when it comes to rental units because it has all but killed any new rentals being built since that whole ordinance was enacted,” he says.

Would he consider another affordable housing development elsewhere in the future?

“I think I would have if the city council members or the city in general had showed really any interest,” he says. “Nobody has jumped up and said, ‘This is a great idea. We want to try to make this work. Where can we make this work? How can we help you?’ There just has not been any of that reaching out, and there was none at the city council meeting the other night.”

After the motion to deny the Tierra Concept’s general plan amendment had been made during the June 24 meeting, Mayor Javier Gonzales expressed some regret that the proposal had not instead been sent back to the planning commission for review. But that wasn’t the motion, he said, and so he voted no alongside the rest of the council. 

“I think the mayor is doing a fantastic job, but he’s doing it relatively in a vacuum,” Gorges says. “There was not a lot of feeling that other council members or people in the city really wanted to work hard with us.”

He expected someone would step forward wanting to work with a plan that was put on the table — the first of its kind in many years to take a crack at addressing Santa Fe’s short supply of affordable rentals. 

“But nobody has reached out to us. We haven’t had one call from a councilor since the meeting that I’m aware of,” he says.

He cites the loss of the city’s workforce as residents of the city, down to 38 percent from about 51 percent 10 years ago, and the loss of people in age groups between 10 and 54, as alarming trends in need of a remedy to maintain Santa Fe’s economic future and political diversity. He says, “Those of us that have teenage kids, which are my other two partners and myself, are just, I guess, stunned by this seeming lack of real motivation to solve these problems.”


Munching on Trees

Hyde Park Road aspen canopy takes a big hit from caterpillars, which could affect fall gold

Local NewsMonday, June 29, 2015 by Julie Ann Grimm

Hungry, hungry caterpillars are taking a toll on the famed aspen in the Santa Fe National Forest, but forest officials say the trees are likely to rebound.

The US Forest Service plans to begin aerial surveys next week to determine the extent of defoliation that’s caused some alarm among visitors.  

“Although the aspens may appear to be dying, the bare branches can be blamed on hungry western tent caterpillars that are stuffing themselves on one of their favorite foods,” reads a press release issued Monday. 

This species of caterpillar is known for the “tent” it builds on branches and twigs to protect larvae during molting. Larvae then typically stay on the tree, feeding on leaves until they form cocoons for their transformation into moths.  

Western tent caterpillars are hell on local aspen trees.
US Forest Service

Officials say the the affected aspens will probably put out new shoots over the summer that might turn the standard, stunning gold fall color in our mountains to something that’s “a drabber shade of yellow.”  

Last year, the Western tent caterpillars damaged about 8,000 acres of aspen on the Santa Fe National Forest in 2014. The big change is that this year the affected stands are closer to popular recreation areas and are getting more attention from visitors. 

Forest Entomologist Andrew Graves is optimistic about the circumstance. 

“Although the defoliation can at first glance appear quite dramatic and devastating, most of the trees will recover quickly and likely refoliate before late summer visitors arrive to enjoy the forest,” he says.

Morning Word: Tougher Three-Strikes Law Considered

Lawmaker wants habitual offenders locked up for life

Morning WordMonday, June 29, 2015 by Peter St. Cyr
It's Monday, June 29, 2015

After the tragic murder of a Rio Rancho police officer this spring, New Mexico Rep. Paul Pacheo, D-Albuquerque, says he’ll introduce legislation to expand the state’s three-strike laws that put violent offenders in prison for life. Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas says he thinks there are better ways to improve the criminal justice system.

Read it at the ABQ Journal. 

This weekend, just a day after the US Supreme Court ordered marriage equality throughout the country, Santa Feans took to the streets and celebrated gay pride. 

Read it at SFR. 

New Mexico legalized gay marriage two years ago, and Milan Simonich takes a look at the courageous politician who led the way.

Read more at the Santa Fe New Mexican. 

As the Public Regulations Commission considers the Public Service Company of New Mexico’s plan to replace coal power at its San Juan Generation Station, engineering professors at New Mexico State University are participating in a new renewable energy research consortium. They’ll figure out ways to extract biodiesel or bioethanol from a biomass.

Read it at the Las Cruces Sun-News. 

Meanwhile, more solar arrays will be constructed at Santa Fe schools.
The district already has solar arrays at eight schools. These provide about 5 percent of the energy used by the school system and cut energy bills by $115,000 annually, district officials said. But the newest project will be much bigger. 
The plan calls for arrays at four schools, which could cut $750,000 from the district’s annual power costs. 
Read it at the Santa Fe New Mexican. 

Drunk driving has plagued New Mexico for decades, but it looks like the number of DWI convictions is decreasing in the state’s largest judicial district, and not for the right reasons. District Attorney Kari Brandenburg says many of the cases are being dismissed because Albuquerque police officers fail to show up for legal proceedings.

Read it at the ABQ Journal.

The new trend for consumers, chefs and school districts to buy food grown locally could be a boon for New Mexico farmers.

Read more online. 

That’s it for today. Have a great Monday.

Farm to Hospital

New Mexico Court of Appeals affirms that farmhands can't be excluded from workers’ comp when they're hurt on the job

Local NewsSunday, June 28, 2015 by Joseph Sorrentino

With a big decision on marriage equality by the United States Supreme Court on Friday, a  New Mexico high court decision affecting fairness for farm workers here got lost in the shadows.

But the ruling a day earlier from the New Mexico Court of Appeals ended years of legal battles when the panel of judges determined that the practice of excluding field and ranch workers from workers’ compensation protection is unconstitutional.  

Those battles began in 2009 when the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty filed a lawsuit in the Second Judicial District Court on behalf of three injured dairy workers who had been denied workers’ comp benefits, based on the state’s long-standing exclusion. 

Workers’ comp is essentially a no-fault insurance program designed to compensate workers for a portion of their lost wages and medical expenses when they’re injured on the job. It shifts some of the burden of caring for injured workers from taxpayers to private employers.

Workers’ comp is essentially a no-fault insurance program designed to compensate workers for a portion of their lost wages and medical expenses when they’re injured on the job. It shifts some of the burden of caring for injured workers from taxpayers to private employers. - See more at: http://www.sfreporter.com/santafe/article-7357-all-work-no-pay.html#sthash.uEmZuNVE.dpuf
Workers’ comp is essentially a no-fault insurance program designed to compensate workers for a portion of their lost wages and medical expenses when they’re injured on the job. It shifts some of the burden of caring for injured workers from taxpayers to private employers. - See more at: http://www.sfreporter.com/santafe/article-7357-all-work-no-pay.html#sthash.uEmZuNVE.dpuf
Workers’ comp is essentially a no-fault insurance program designed to compensate workers for a portion of their lost wages and medical expenses when they’re injured on the job. It shifts some of the burden of caring for injured workers from taxpayers to private employers. - See more at: http://www.sfreporter.com/santafe/article-7357-all-work-no-pay.html#sthash.uEmZuNVE.dpuf

Although farm work ranks as one of the most dangerous jobs in the US, New Mexicans toiling in our fields or directly with animals had been specifically excluded from workers’ comp benefits for decades. Attorneys from the nonprofit argued that the exclusion violated the clause in the state constitution that says no one can be denied equal protection of the laws.

District Judge Valerie Huling ruled in favor of the workers in 2011, but that only set the stage for a longer fight. The  state Workers’ Compensation Administration appealed the decision and lost. The three workers eventually received workers’ comp benefits but the state maintained that the district court ruling applied only to the three workers in the lawsuit, arguing that other injured farm and ranch workers could still be excluded from workers’ comp benefits.

The case the appeals court ruled on last week also came from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, this time on behalf of two different workers: Noe Rodriguez, a dairy worker who suffered a head injury when he was attacked by a bull, and Maria Angelica Aguirre, who broke her arm when she slipped in a wet chile field. Both had been denied workers’ comp benefits based on the state’s exclusion of such workers.

In its unanimous decision, the court stated, “Our review of the history of workers’ compensation statutes back to 1929 has not revealed an articulable purpose for the exclusion.” The court further noted that the exclusion was “without purpose or reason and leads to absurd results.”

Lawyers with the nonprofit say this decision means that any field or ranch worker injured on the job will be able to apply for workers’ comp.

Gail Evans and Maria Martinez Sanchez, the attorneys who brought the original 2009 case, said the ruling represents a victory.

“Finally, a court has struck down this outdated, discriminatory law which treated our most hardworking and underpaid workers differently from all other workers when they were injured at work,” Evans,  legal director for the law center, said in a press release.

Martinez Sanchez (who now works with the American Civil Liberties Union in Albuquerque) concurred: “This ruling finally tells agricultural employers…that they must care for their workers the same way all other employers in New Mexico are required to do.”

The ruling doesn’t mean that the two workers—or any injured farm and ranch workers—will necessarily receive workers’ comp benefits. “You never know what may happen,” said Tim Davis, a staff attorney at the law center who worked on the Court of Appeals case. “The ruling just means that an injured farmworker…will have the ability, under the law, to file a claim if they’re injured.”

But the expectation is that injured workers will finally receive benefits they deserve.

“Many workers have been disabled due to an injury sustained in the fields, but they still had to work because they were excluded from workers’ comp benefits,” said Carlos Marentes, director of the Sin Fronteras Organizing Project, a farmworker advocacy organization in El Paso, Texas. “We hope now that injured farmworkers will see the benefits of workers’ comp.”

But Marentes added a note of caution: “We were very happy about the ruling, but a ruling is one thing. The next thing is implementation. New Mexico must…provide benefits to injured farmworkers.”

Advocates are under no illusions. “There is still much work to be done,” said Martinez Sanchez. “Farm and ranch workers must be provided with the dignity, respect and justice they deserve for the hard work they do.”

Full Steam Ahead?

Or the latest move to open the Zia Road train station coud be yet another false summit on the tracks

Local NewsMonday, June 29, 2015 by Thomas Ragan

It's all coming around finally. Or is it? 

Armed with the city's blessing, private landowners are expected to finish at least 30 percent of the design that would expedite the opening of the Zia Road Rail Runner stop, which was built seven years ago but has sat empty ever since. 

And transportation officials are supposedly waiting in the wings to review the engineering plans to make sure they meet state standards, Melissa Dosher, a spokeswoman for the New Mexico Department of Transportation, told SFR over the weekend.

It's the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of the million-dollar station that would be part of the New Mexico Rail Runner Express. Right now, the Santa Fe area has three stations, but the fourth has been a long time in coming.

Constructed in 2008 at a time when the train service from Albuquerque to Santa Fe was just starting to roll down the tracks, the station has become an empty shell of neglect at the corner of Zia Road and St. Francis Drive. It's a case study in how slow bureaucracies are capable of moving when public and private interests converge and neighbors in the vicinity don't want it in their back yards,

Yet this latest news, that the state’s Rail and Transit Bureau plans to meet with Zia Station LLC to review the design, would indicate that the development is back on track. And the train station, by the way, is just a fraction of it.  

In all, the grand scheme envisions a 20-acre mixed development that makes way for all sorts of shops and stores and office space that could fit nicely on the train station's periphery.

But first the developer has to address the obvious essentials: build new sidewalks, improve on the existing ones, put up a chain-link fence and a landscape barrier to protect the public from wandering onto the tracks. Most of all, it has to create a general drop-off area, dubbed the "kiss and ride," where husbands can kiss their wives good-bye, or vice versa, before they catch the train.

Such a concept is considered the least invasive. It's also a compromise to appease neighbors who cried foul at the initial idea of building a full-on parking lot for commuters. Instead, now there will only be one parking spot, and it will be ADA accessible.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to the station has been this idea that it will create major traffic jams in the southern part of the city, in one of the more heavily traveled corridors.

To date, tens of thousands of dollars have been spent on studies to determine how the station, when fully operating, would impact traffic. 

But now comes an even greater disincentive: The future of the train service itself could be called into question. According to the Albuquerque Journal a few months ago, the state is spending more money to operate the service than the revenues generated from it. Not uncommon for mass transit, but it makes the program vulnerable in a climate of austerity.

Merritt Brown, who represents the development company, joked, "Show me a form of public transportation that has made money, and I'll be stunned."

In early June, the Santa Fe City Council granted the development company a $300,000 impact fee credit. Under the agreement forged, the developers would pay up to that amount for the necessary public improvements, and the city wouldn't be responsible for any of the costs. 

But as the entire development unfolds, the city plans to credit the company that sum of money as it applies to fees for the impact that the development will have on the surrounding roads and other public property.

The council voted unanimously for it. Mayor Javier Gonzales wasn't present; he was in New York City. And City Councilor Patti Bushee abstained from voting at the June 10 meeting, saying she needed more information. The credit set the stage for the design, and Brown said this first phase of the design could cost developers as little as $150,000, up to the maximum $300,000. 

Only time will tell.

 "We're going to be doing some pretty extensive stuff," he said. "We're talking about a good chunk of public improvements."

Yet the low-maintenance design could still lend itself to another problem: namely, people stopping in the middle of Zia Road or St. Francis Drive to let passengers out as they run to catch the approaching train. And that could cause all sorts of congestion problems.

It was a scenario that the transportation department foresaw and then mentioned in a letter to the city last year in May, calling for "No Stopping/No Parking" signs to prevent such a spectacle. 

In all, it took an entire year for Santa Fe City Manager Brian Snyder to respond to NMDOT, which came on May 19. He said the delay was due to the city waiting for the outcome of traffic studies, which concluded that the intersection, which is prone to backups during peak times, won't have new "prolonged delays."

Snyder wrote, "The conclusion of the study was that there was no consistent pattern of vehicle delays caused by the train stopping...Additionally there were no prolonged periods of traffic delays observed following a train stopping at the station."

The study also noted that the delays are likely to be related to the timing of a train's arrival within the already complicated traffic signal cycle.

Since as far back as 2011, councilors have questioned the validity of the station in the greater scheme of transportation between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Matthew Ortiz noted years ago how the train cars were empty as they traveled by his house.

But if news coming out of the NMDOT is any indicator, then it would appear that this time around, the city and the state and the developers are serious.

This Weekend

Celebrate Pride!

Weekend PicksFriday, June 26, 2015 by SFR

Bella Gigante Drag Show

Do you like fun? And drag shows? And drag queens who actually sing? Then go to this, dammit.

More Info >>

Venus Ladies Dance

As a part of Santa Fe Pride 2015 one of Santa Fe's favorite divas, DJ OONA, plays classic trash disco.

More Info >>


Santa Fe Pride parade

Santa Fe’s humble Pride parade happens this Saturday starting at 1 pm at the Roundhouse and caravans it over to the Plaza with a festival from 2-6 pm.

More Info >>

Rockin' Rooster Pride Party

Blue Rooster presents its first annual Pride party featuring three DJs at two different venues. DJs King George and Dulcet play at The Blue Rooster.

More Info >>


Taos Solar Music Fest

The 15th annual Taos Solar Music Festival brings the hottest international bands to Northern New Mexico. With music all day, food truck vendors, and sustainability-themed activities, this festival is a good time for a good cause.

More Info >>

Todd and the Fox

Insert your favorite "Like a fox" joke here and also ch-check the Norteño folk rock of this killer two-piece.

More Info >>




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