One project would connect the city's largest dog park to a huge network of trails that lies on the other side of a busy highway. The other would create a trail that provides a safer way home for hundreds of school kids.
Neither project is a bad choice, but a choice must be made.
Come Wednesday night, Santa Fe's governing body is set to decide how to appropriate the relatively modest sum of $279,153. In so doing, it will write another chapter in the city's growing schism in income, ethnicity and services.
By rights, the money belongs to the project that would link the Ortiz dog park off Camino de Las Crucitas with the La Tierra trail system to the north. It was approved by voters as part of a 2008 bond issue, and the money has been available since 2010. Because building a trail in Tierra Contenta as opposed to the Northwest Quadrant (a name that's attached to a master-planned piece of city-owned land that has yet to take shape with respect to development) would use the bond money for the same broad purpose that voters approved, the city's governing body is allowed to reallocate it.
After kicking around the idea for more than a year and a half, that's what city staff is recommending. The city would spend the money not on the Northwest Quadrant connector, but on the trail segment in the densely populated Tierra Contenta on the Southside.
Leroy Pacheco, a city engineer, says it's not a matter of abandoning one trail or the other—it's that the Tierra Contenta trail is more shovel-ready.
The path would continue the Arroyo de los Chamisos Trail from the heart of Tierra Contenta to South Meadows road, a stone's throw from Sweeney Elementary and down the street from Ortiz Middle School.
Roman Abeyta, the newly elected District 3 city councilor, says it makes a lot of sense. "People should know the amount of children we have who live in the area who go to Sweeney and Ortiz … don't have a way to walk home other than to go onto Airport Road, which is dangerous," he tells SFR.
"[District 3 is] way behind when it comes to other amenities that other parts of city have," Abeyta says.
He hasn't tallied the votes for the proposed budget adjustment. But based on hearings in city committees, a majority of councilors side with him, including both councilors for District 1, where the dog park connector is located.
While the Northwest Quadrant trail has been talked about for years, there's more work to do. The city estimates it would take about $100,000 to construct a dirt trail from the dog park to an existing underpass at Highway 599, the Santa Fe bypass. Another $180,000 was set to be spent on a restroom, shade structures and bringing water to the trailhead.
That may ultimately be what the public wants—"People are not shy about being vocal about their needs," Pacheco chuckles—but the city's existing 599 underpass is a far more robust trail that could perhaps match with a more accessible connector trail.
Pacheco expects the option to be discussed and says the city has already started pursuing a federal grant to help pay for whatever trail is built along the Northwest Quadrant's connector route.
"It's a noble endeavor," he says of the original spending plan, which is still strongly favored by some. "It's important; it's in the master plan."