A community quest to find the best use for a multi million-dollar taxpayer investment. The too-rigid enforcement of a law to help ensure there are accessible parking places for those who need them. A law to make local elections simpler.

Wednesday night, the Santa Fe City Council passed three measures that, while unrelated, will all impact how Santa Feans interact with their government.

SFUAD future

Santa Fe is in the midst of an ambitious effort to plot a future course for the now-vacant campus of the Santa Fe University of Art and Design. When the College of Santa Fe closed in 2009, the city bought the campus for almost $30 million. It owes $2.23 million in debt service every year until 2036. Until the art school closed in June, it had been covering the city's mortgage.

Last October, the city announced a plan to gather community input and solicit professional design ideas for the 64-acre property in the heart of the Midtown part of Santa Fe. City staff developed a survey that could be filled out both online and in person. They convened listening sessions and asked five design teams to envision the future of the campus. At the end of it all, they revealed a series of community priorities for the property, which includes 33 buildings and half a million square feet of space inside them.

While more than two dozen meetings were held and 2,000 Santa Feans sounded off, some people from underrepresented communities said the city didn't go far enough in seeking their input. Seeking to fill that communication gap, District 1 City Councilor Renée Villarreal offered an amendment to a resolution on Wednesday's agenda.

Councilors Villarreal, Rivera and Abeyta all said gathering more feedback was a worthwhile venture. | Matt Grubs
Councilors Villarreal, Rivera and Abeyta all said gathering more feedback was a worthwhile venture. | Matt Grubs

The resolution, which the governing body approved unanimously, sends the city from the concept phase into the planning phase. Villarreal's amendment, also approved by the council, tells city staff to continue to ask for opinions on the vision for the campus from lower-income, time-poor communities that are impacted by the plans, but often don't have the wherewithal to comment on them.

Public comment on the resolution and Villarreal's amendment stretched for more than an hour, with much of it spurred on by the Chainbreaker Collective, an economic and environmental justice group.

"When we the people are engaged in a way that is culturally appropriate and relevant to our lives, we get involved with our whole heart and begin building bridges," Chainbreaker member Nohemy Bojorquez-Flores told the governing body. "From this, great ideas emerge."

"We have the opportunity to gather more and more voices. … We have the ability to expand that beyond 2,000 voices," said former State Historian Estèvan Rael-Gàlvez.

"This is good but it's not good enough. I think it's up to all of us to reach out to every corner of the community," said Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce President Simon Brackley. He also pointed out that the city pays thousands of dollars a day for debt on the property. While the city has budgeted for a year's worth of the mortgage, there's undeniably pressure to put a plan in motion and start earning income from the property.

Economic Development Director Matt Brown is trying to balance buy-in and vision. | Matt Grubs
Economic Development Director Matt Brown is trying to balance buy-in and vision. | Matt Grubs

District 4 Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler told her colleagues to respect the work that's been done by staff to get community feedback and urged them not to hold the project hostage as it seeks every last comment.

She also chided some of the people who commented on Wednesday for not being involved earlier.

"Please. Engage. Show up. Do what the city is asking," Vigil Coppler said. "I didn't hear anybody here tonight say that they showed up and were denied."

None of the councilors seemed vehemently opposed to getting more thoughts from the community, rather they expressed concern about slowing a process the city has been trying hard to keep on schedule.

In the end, Villarreal said effective input means "meeting people where they're at." A better process, she told her colleagues, would result in a better product at the campus.

Parking problems

After hearing that the city was putting the screws to some people who forgot to display a parking placard that enabled them to use the blue spaces designated by the Americans with Disablities Act, District 1 City Councilor Signe Lindell proposed a change. Instead of requiring the full $250 fine to be posted before getting a hearing on a ticket, first-time violators can now post just $35 to plead their case.

The city’s making it easier to plead your case if you forget to hang your placard. | Matt Grubs
The city’s making it easier to plead your case if you forget to hang your placard. | Matt Grubs

Lindell's legislation also lets placard holders use the "I forgot" excuse. Currently the law specifically says failing to display a placard or license plate is not a valid reason for a hearing officer to dismiss a ticket.

Fines for parking in an ADA-designated space are traditionally among the highest for traffic violations. The $250 first-time fine can rise to $500 and must be paid within 15 days.

Nadine Samler, who holds an ADA placard, told councilors and the mayor that her fixed income of $1,000 a month allows her roughly $265 in disposable income. She was ticketed for forgetting to hang her placard on her rearview mirror.

"If I give that $250 to the parking authority, I have empty pockets for a month," she said.

The council unanimously approved the change.

A less-confusing election

The governing body also set in motion a change that's designed to make the timing of city elections less confusing. A ballot question will go to city voters during this November's election. If approved, Santa Fe will move municipal elections from March of even years to November of odd ones. Anyone elected after November 2019 will take office on Jan. 1. That effectively shortens the term of current elected officials by two and a half months.

The change would bring the city into line with the Local Election Act, which seeks to consolidate city, school board, soil and water districts and other nonpartisan elections to a single date, the first Tuesday in November of odd-numbered years.

At their last meeting, several city councilors worried the proposed ballot question was getting too technical. District 2 City Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth responded by stripping down her proposal and focusing on one thing: asking voters to eliminate election rules in the city charter to enable the change.

"We're showing the public exactly what it is we'd be getting rid of," she told SFR.

The proposal would change the terms for city councilors, the municipal judge and the mayor. Instead of taking office in March, they'll be sworn in on Jan. 1. That shortens current terms, but gives future elected officials nearly two months to get up to speed after they've won.

Romero-Wirth's new bill only goes into effect if voters approve charter amendment changes this year.

"You know what happened is at the last meeting, I don't think the council really liked the ballot question," she explained. "It had a lot of legal jargon and confusing words. … It just basically needed some work."

Voting on the change—and for all November 2018 contests—begins with absentee-by-mail and absentee-in-person ballots, which are mailed out and cast starting Oct. 9. Early voting begins Oct. 20. Election Day is Nov. 6.