The State of the City

Mayor Alan Webber’s annual speech highlights the success of Santa Fe’s COVID response, glosses over controversies in other areas

Thinking back to what was happening a year ago today feels like trying to remember an entire decade—so much has happened and changed in just the last twelve months.

But that's exactly what Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber asked city residents to do Thursday night in his annual State of the City address, livestreamed on the City of Santa Fe Youtube Channel.

The mayor's address favorably portrayed Santa Fe as a city ahead of the curve with its COVID-19 response as well as non-COVID issues such as sustainability, but glossed over challenges and issues that became contentious in the last year.

After thanking community members and the governing body for their work against COVID-19, Webber started the evening with a firm reminder that the pandemic is not yet behind the city.

"Now with COVID-19 spiking again—and alarmingly so—I'm calling on all of us to re-dedicate ourselves to stopping the spread of this terrible virus," said Webber. "We must all have the discipline to wear face masks, use hand sanitizers, and practice social distancing. Each of us has the responsibility to keep all of us safe."

It's a timely admonishment: New Mexico reported 426 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, making it the second highest day of new cases since July 27. Santa Fe had 31 of those cases.

COVID-19 was also the star of Webber's list of accomplishments, in which he emphasized Santa Fe's swift and effective response to the virus in early March as well as the efforts the city has taken since then. These include: the emergency shelter the city set up at the Midtown campus; the moratorium on COVID-related evictions the city instituted more than a week before the New Mexico Supreme Court also issued an eviction pause, and the city's mandatory mask ordinance.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, said the mayor, the city has distributed 100,000 free face masks and 4,000 bottles of hand sanitizer, while also tripling the number of meals being distributed to seniors. The city supported Santa Fe Public Schools by providing free WiFi at libraries and schools and distributing 8,500 educational kits to children.

Webber also highlighted a $17.5 million COVID-relief grant awarded to the city by the Legislature in June's special session, which, he said, is more money than any other community in the state received.

Some other, non-COVID related accomplishments the mayor mentioned include the city's Green Building Code, which saved 17.7 million gallons of water this year—a 25% improvement from last year—and helped Santa Fe become the second city in the country to earn a Gold LEED certification.

Most importantly, city staff filled 2,533 potholes at an average of 26 a day and have "carefully relocated 47 prairie dogs to safe, new homes."

Yet, Webber failed to address controversies.

The city has hired 13 new police officers and major crimes have dropped by 25% since last year, he said. However he didn't talk about what the city has done to address a report that found that the Santa Fe Police Department mishandled its evidence room to the point that it lost key evidence in numerous cases, including several high profile murders.

A plan to reorganize city government into three main departments has also been highly contentious, drawing the greatest criticism from city employees themselves and the labor unions that represent them. Webber only passingly acknowledged this conflict by pledging, at the end of his speech, to listen more closely and offer more transparency to the city workers unions.

The fate of public monuments is another topic Webber did not fully address. 

In June, the mayor intercepted planned protests over an obelisk in the center of the Santa Fe Plaza that, in part, glorifies Union soldiers' subjugation of local Native tribes. He made sweeping public promises to remove the monument. Since then, however, questions about the legal ownership of the monument have reportedly stalled the process and Webber's administration has not responded to inquiries about next steps. The administration also claimed it would surround the obelisk in a public art piece, which has not happened.

Webber addressed the issue vaguely, telling listeners, "Over the last few months I've been on a virtual listening and learning tour across Santa Fe, seeking advice on how we can best come together for community dialog around our statues and our monuments, our histories and our cultures."

“Those conversations will continue as an opportunity for learning and listening,” he continued, “and soon I will bring the City Council a proposal to guide us to a fair and collaborative process where all can participate and all can be heard.”

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