SELECT title FROM cont_articles WHERE id='' LIMIT 1 Santa Fe Reporter

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:
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:
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:

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 >>

Get more information about how to spend your fun days when you sign up for the SFR Weekend newsletter, delivered to your inbox each Friday afternoon.

Morning Word: Pay-to-Play Lawsuits Move Forward

Widespread corruption alleged

Morning WordFriday, June 26, 2015 by Peter St. Cyr
It's Friday, June 26, 2015

Years after it was filed, whistleblower Frank Foy’s pay-to-play lawsuits will move ahead.
A New Mexico Supreme Court decision Thursday upholding provisions of the state Fraud Against Taxpayers Act gave new life to 7-year-old lawsuits that claim high-level figures in former Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration were part of a large pay-to-play scheme with investment advisers and Wall Street firms. 
Steve Terrell says the court's decision was unanimous.

Read it at the Santa Fe New Mexican. 

Other than Republican Rep. Steve Pearce, New Mexico’s Congressional delegation welcomed the US Supreme Court’s favorable opinion on federal subsidies in the Affordable Health Care Act.

Michael Coleman has their reactions. 

Attorney General Hector Balderas says he’s personally concerned about the integrity of campaign finance data at the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office after being falsely accused of filing late reports when he was state auditor.

Deborah Baker reports. 

Santa Fe City Councilors have approved an ordinance requiring gender-neutral bathroom signs on public or employee restrooms in commercial facilities, in part to make transgender people feel safe and welcomed.

Elizabeth Miller has the story at SFR. 

Health professionals continue to debate the effectiveness of medical marijuana treating in treating some illnesses. Maybe it’s time for the feds to allow more research.

Read more at the Cannabist. 

A new report shows veterans are waiting even longer than before for health care service, and administration officials blame part of it on a $2.5 billion budget shortfall.

Read the Associated Press story here. 

More money may be needed to boost New Mexico’s struggling middle schools, according to a 40-page report from the Legislative Finance Committee.
Many middle schools fare poorly in state evaluations, the report found, with many earning D’s and F’s. Students have shown only middling gains since 2005. Reading scores on Standards Based Assessments have remained mostly flat. While math scores briefly improved between fiscal years 2005 and 2009, they haven’t changed much since. 
Chris Quintana reports. 

The New Mexico Court of Appeals says a rule denying farm and ranch hands worker compensation benefits is unconstitutional.
The decision of a three-judge panel of the court reverses dismissal of two worker’s comp claims by the New Mexico Worker’s Compensation Administration. The dismissals were based on a 78-year-old provision of the law that prohibited farm and ranch workers from collecting benefits for on-the-job injuries. The Court noted that the exclusion is arbitrary and “without purpose or reason and leads to absurd results.” 
Read more at ABQ Free Press. 

Dan Mayfield reports that the state’s pueblos are trying to diversify their economies and boost the number of Native Americans who launch businesses.

Read it at ABQ Business First. 

Anna Villareal Sanchez will succeed Edward Lujan as the director of the National Hispanic Cultural Center Foundation, beginning next week.

Read about Sanchez' plans here.

They face an uphill battle, but a new group of independent voters is preparing to challenge the state’s closed primary election system.

See it at

If you’re looking for something exciting to do this weekend, start by checking out SFR's event calendar.

Tons of fun stuff to do here. 

Go Where You Wanna Go

Santa Fe City Council approves ordinance that requires labeling single-occupant bathrooms with gender-neutral signage

Local NewsThursday, June 25, 2015 by Elizabeth Miller

Alex McDonough and his brother were both born and raised in Santa Fe, but a recent tour of the city left them feeling less than at home. 

“My brother is transgender, and we spent an evening walking around downtown Santa Fe looking for a safe bathroom for him, and it was unnerving, so I’ve come in support of this,” Alex told Santa Fe City Council on Wednesday night. 

Councilors went on to approve a new ordinance requiring single-occupant public or employee restrooms in commercial facilities to be identified with gender-neutral signage. The 4-2 vote, with Councilors Bill Dimas and Chris Rivera opposing and Councilors Carmichael Dominguez and Ron Trujillo absent, came after  a dozen members and allies of the LGBT community, including representatives from the Santa Fe Community Foundation’s Envision Fund, Equality New Mexico and IMPACT Personal Safety, spoke in favor of the rule as a way the city could increasing a sense of safety and welcome.

“There are many people in our community who, when they see the limits of just men or women and they’re going through transitions or their gender is different from who they were when they were born or what they have on their birth certificate, many times it’s a place you feel locked out of, or you don’t feel like you’re embraced,” Mayor Javier Gonzales said as he made the case to the council for the ordinance, which he sponsored. “Gender-neutral bathrooms for many people in our community provide a safe place.” 

The mayor spoke of the time he spent with the transgender community, learning more about the issue, and the parents of transgender youth with whom he’d spoken. 

“They believe that this little change sends a powerful message to their kids that they’re accepted by their community,” he said.

The ordinance isn’t expected to create a hardship, he added; bathrooms don’t need to be remodeled, just relabeled, and would look similar to what is seen in family restrooms that display both genders on the sign, marking a restroom that gives access to a single toilet and sink. Starbucks bathrooms often use this approach, despite code provisions that may discourage it.

Rivera asked if the city would assist with any expenses faced by businesses.

“I think the costs to replace signage are pretty minimal,” Gonzales said. “I have spent time with business owners, and no one has raised cost as being a barrier to this.”

Retroactive enforcement of existing bathrooms, which Councilor Patti Bushee identified as “an enforcement nightmare,” will be driven by complaints. New construction permits will be checked. 

“I think the city, as other cities have, can work out a process to give businesses time to work out the signage,” Gonzales said.

Philadelphia; Austin, Texas; West Hollywood in Los Angeles; Washington DC; and Boston have approved similar measures.

Amber Royster, executive director of Equality New Mexico, offered to help pay for the new signs.

A transgender individual from Santa Fe who did not provide a name for the record told City Council, “There are quite a few of us, quite a few more than folks might think, and bathrooms are a daily struggle. Finding a bathroom that feels safe or where your gender won’t be called into question is a moment of peace in a day when I might be called a name or might be outed without my volition.…It’s a small step that makes a huge difference for so many folks in our community, and not just the transgender community.”

Family restrooms can also be a more comfortable option for parents or guardians with children of a different gender, people with disabilities or other individuals who rely on personal attendants and anyone simply tired of waiting in line for the bathroom marked with the gender of choice.

“Making going to the restroom easier for one group shouldn’t make things more difficult for another, in this case, specifically women,” said Rivera, who voted against the ordinance. “There are some men I wouldn’t even want to follow into a restroom.…I think it’s going to make things a little bit more difficult for the women in this town.”

“The question of personal safety is often raised with this issue…but it’s our transgender and nonconforming community members that face the biggest risks for their personal safety, their mental health and their general well-being when they go to the bathroom,” said Alena Schaim, executive director of IMPACT Personal Safety, a nonprofit focused on reducing interpersonal violence.

In a 2013 study from the UCLA School of Law, 70 percent of transgender and gender-nonconforming people in Washington DC reported being denied access, verbally harassed or physically assaulted while using public restrooms. 

“You shouldn’t have to be brave just to use a facility, a public facility,” Bushee said. “When you need to use a restroom, you shouldn’t have to think twice.”

Morning Word: PNM's Power Plan Loses AG's Support

Attorney general says utility’s power plan “isn’t good enough.”

Morning WordThursday, June 25, 2015 by Peter St. Cyr
It's Thursday, June 25, 2015

Attorney General Hector Balderas, by law New Mexico’s top consumer advocate, has reversed his position on the Public Service Company of New Mexico’s power replacement plan. Balderas says he now wants the utility and various stakeholders to develop new options for replacing electric power that will be lost when PNM shutters two towers at its coal generating station near Farmington.
"We have an urgent public safety and public health issue on our hands because the system is focused on representing the interests of wealthy corporations and wealthy special interests rather than looking out for all New Mexico families,” said Balderas, a Democrat in his first year as attorney general. 
Read it at the Santa Fe New Mexican. 

As expected, Public Regulation Commissioners have voted to give PNM more time to finalize its coal supply contract and restructure San Juan Generating Station ownership agreements. The utility now has until Aug. 1 to complete its plan.

Read it at the Albuquerque Journal. 

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency has reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with the owners of the Navajo Nation's coal plant to reduce its dirty emissions. The agreement should improve air quality in 15 nearby national parks.
“For far too long, the irresponsible management of Four Corners has denied the Navajo people the basic human right to clean, healthy air in our communities,” said Lori Goodman, board member of Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment. “Now with this settlement, Four Corners will have to take steps to stop poisoning our air and start moving toward a healthier future.” 
Read it at the ABQ Free Press. 

Other EPA regulations could cost New Mexico’s four gasoline refineries billions and cripple the industry, according to Chet Thompson, the new president of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers Association.

Read it at ABQ Business First. 

Hard to believe, but CNBC ranks New Mexico in the middle of the pack for best states to do business in.
New Mexico was ranked particularly high (fifth) for infrastructure; 16th for workforce and 13th for cost of living. We fared poorly on education (40th) and for business friendliness (41st). States were also ranked on the cost of doing business, economic strength, quality of life, technology and innovation and access to capital. 
Read it here. 

It may be easier to do business in New Mexico, but journalist Dan Boyd has a story this morning that says plans to upgrade a state government computer system are facing opposition. State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg contends it would be better to reinstall the entire system rather than upgrade the $30 million computer program.
Due largely to a faulty initial implementation, the SHARE system has created headaches since being installed in 2006, during then-Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration. Problems converting to the new system led to record-keeping inconsistencies, specifically in the state’s efforts to reconcile cash balances – or balance its checkbook. Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration has tried to improve the SHARE system in recent years. The administration moved in 2013 to draw down the state’s cash reserves by more than $100 million to cover potential accounting problems, but some top-ranking legislators have said that step alone might not fully resolve the situation. 
Read it at the ABQ Journal. 

This is strange, but the State of New Mexico is fighting a deputy prison warden’s claim that she is paid $10 an hour less than her male counterparts. Administration lawyers argue the 2013 Fair Pay for Women Act, signed into law by the state’s first woman governor, doesn’t apply to state employees, because the government hasn’t waived its immunity.

Read it at New Mexico Political Report. 

Folks at the University of New Mexico, on the other hand, say pay discrepancies on campus aren’t as large as originally reported.

Sal Crist has the details.

SFR’s new staff reporter Elizabeth Miller is off to a fast start. She’s posted a story about Santa Fe City Councilors rejecting a plan to rezone land along Agua Fría Street for a new apartment complex.
Questions of preserving the rural character and historical feel of neighborhoods along what was once the Camino Real and how to provide space for infill and young professionals in Santa Fe came to a head during the debate that began around 8 pm on Wednesday at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center ballroom and stretched past 1 am Thursday. At its start, 400 chairs in the room were nearly full. When asked to stand up to be sworn in to testify, more than half of the audience got on their feet. 
Read Miller’s story here. 

A staff attorney at the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office is being accused of bullying a nonprofit organization employee. Court papers were filed Monday in district court in Santa Fe.
Attorney General Kenneth Casares Owens tried to control the day-to-day operations of the United South Broadway Corp. and prevented staff from doing outreach on foreclosure prevention while he was assigned to monitor homeowner consumer protection services. In addition, the lawsuit says, Owens invited a female employee for drinks and tried to connect with her via Facebook while other staffers felt intimidated. 
Read the Associated Press story here. 

Are you ready to play in space? After months of planning, Spaceport America has opened its tourism welcome center in Truth or Consequences.

Read it at the Las Cruces Sun-News. 

Movie fans who love big summer blockbusters can’t wait for next year’s Independence Day sequel. It’s being filmed at ABQ Studios, and this week the cast and crew showed off their set to the national and international entertainment press. Mike English found a bunch of the film set's pictures online at

See them all here. 

El Rio Unanimously Denied

City Council votes against the proposed apartment complex on Agua Fría

Local NewsThursday, June 25, 2015 by Elizabeth Miller

Santa Fe City Council unanimously rejected rezoning for the proposed El Rio apartment complex on Agua Fría Street between the road and the Santa Fe River early Thursday morning.

As preface to his vote, Councilor Chris Rivera was succinct, saying "I believe this project is a good project. It's just too large for the neighborhood we're trying to put it into."

Questions of preserving the rural character and historical feel of neighborhoods along what was once the Camino Real and how to provide space for infill and young professionals in Santa Fe came to a head during the debate that began around 8 pm on Wednesday at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center ballroom and stretched past 1 am Thursday. At its start, 400 chairs in the room were nearly full. When asked to stand up to be sworn in to testify, more than half of audience members got on their feet. 

"What's at stake here is our heritage," said Crystal Sena, who traces great-grandparents to living in Agua Fría. "All of these people in the surrounding area are not against development in Santa Fe. They're against development on historic sites...We see where they're coming from because we have young ones too. But not that area." 

Design firm Tierra Concepts has proposed a multifamily complex of 399 units on Agua Fría that requires zoning amendments from 21 to 24 units per acre on 80 percent of the property. They contend it’s sustainable, affordable housing particularly needed by younger members of the community.  

Opponents have argued the apartment complex will damage the rural and historical character of the neighborhood, crowd the streets and increase demands on infrastructure.

Tierra Concepts brought their proposal to the City Council hoping for a reversal on the Planning Commission's February rejection of the project, which has since been amended to decrease the number of units, relocate an entrance, move taller buildings back from the road and preserve most of the trees. In addition to the zoning variance for density, the plan requires a height variance of four feet. The apartments would cover 16.53 acres, including 10 acres that were previously the site of Ecoversity, three miles from the Plaza.

During Wednesday evening’s meeting, city staff from the Land Use Department recommended approval of the plan. Councilor Joseph Maestas, representing the east-side District 2, pointed to the lack of consensus in the report about both density and traffic issues. “With dissent sprinkled throughout the staff report, how did we recommend approval of this development?” 

“We do realize this is a case of evaluating conflicting policies and conflicting interests,” responded Greg Smith, planning division director for Santa Fe. 

During Tierra Concepts’ roughly 55-minute presentation, their team made the case for the project as a way of life that decreases the carbon footprint of housing and transportation for its residents, in addition to pursuing LEED certification for sustainable building, and provides affordable options for young professionals. Proposed rates for apartments range from $750 to $1,250. The application also included a clustered 60-unit affordable housing property for tiered low-income earners who qualify under city rules for housing subsidy.

“We need affordable housing, and apartments really are the best market solution we can do for affordable housing,” Eric Faust said during his presentation to City Council. “We can’t match these type of prices with home sales.”

In response to the questions on why so big, and why so many units, Keith Gorges, builder and designer with Tierra Concepts, told the City Council, “Size is what pays the bills, and density is what makes it affordable."

He added that the property in Agua Fría is the last, best location feasible for this kind of infill project, this close to downtown.

“El Rio is only part of the solution,” Gorges said. “The issue has become so out of hand that it’s not going to be solved by a few casitas here or there or a few 10-unit infill units here or there.” 

The line for those interested to make public comment snaked to the back of the room throughout the evening, and commenters often spoke right over the top of the beeper announcing the end of their allotted time. Representatives from neighborhood associations from all over the city attended the meeting to express concerns over the traffic and parking, the actual affordability of and need for this development, preserving the character of the community and developing with care along the Santa Fe River to preserve the possibility of a greenway there. 

“Myself and my neighbors, most of us have lived in that neighborhood for generations. In favor of new homes, but not apartments,” said Elizabeth Tapia, representing the Alamo Road neighborhood. 

She described her three kids, all college graduates, who wanted the American dream of owning a home, not renting an apartment.

Montaño Neighborhood Association’s Mary-Charlotte Domandi questioned the premises that the development wouldn’t add hundreds of cars to the streets and the additional need of parking them, and that there’s a need for apartments of this size and price. Santa Fe, she said, is not awash in “affluent millennials” ready and able to ditch their cars and transport themselves by bus, like some bigger cities.

“The idea that if you build it, they will come—young people aren’t leaving Santa Fe because of the housing. They’re leaving because of the jobs,” Domandi said. She ran the numbers, too, that two young professionals making $11 an hour would be spending $18,000 a year on a $1,500 a month apartment, leaving just $150 a week to cover any other living expenses.

“Affordable houses—that’s what people in Santa Fe want. Affordable houses, not housing,” said Hilario Romero, vice president of La Cieneguita del Camino Real Neighborhood Association and former state historian. 

“That area has been farmed or ranched for 3,000 years,” Romero added. “Let’s give it another 3,000.”

When the microphone opened to public comment beyond the neighborhood associations, the first speakers started to come forward in support of the project: The renter pushed farther and farther out of town over the years, the schoolteacher who’d like to commute less than 25 minutes to schools and concerned that more development on the Southside will further overcrowd those schools, the geologist who just lost a job candidate because of the high cost of living, the second generation New Mexican unsure if there would be a third for his son. The demographics for those speakers seemed to skew a bit younger.

“While I think the agriculture is very important to the identity of the area, functionally, agriculture can’t happen there as it used to hundreds and hundreds of years ago because it relies on a perennial flow of the river,” said Shannon Murphy. She saw appealing options in the proposed use of gray water, community gardens and edible landscaping. 

“We need to think in creative and innovative ways, and they are,” Murphy said of Tierra Concepts’ plan.

Daniel Werwath, who has worked as an affordable housing planner for 12 years, said it’s unreasonable to expect a large showing of the low-income families who would be served by this housing development: “Do we expect low-income people to get babysitters to come down here to identify as low-income for some hypothetical benefit like this project?”

Southside councilors Ron Trujillo and Carmichael Dominguez were not in attendance. The motion to deny passed with six votes. 

At the conclusion of the meeting, Agua Fría resident Lisa Yniguez declared, "It feels amazing, the victory here. I know it's going to be developed but hopefully it'll be something that works with the community." 

Developer Throws in the Towel

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