News

The State We’re In

Mayor Alan Webber nods to recent shortcomings, calls for ‘improved’ living wage in annual address

News Mayor Alan Webber delivers his State of the City address at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center on March 30, 2023. (Julie Ann Grimm)

Mayor Alan Webber called in his annual State of the City Address on Thursday for changing Santa Fe’s living wage, preventing gentrification around Midtown and launching a regional effort across Northern New Mexico to address drug use and mental illness.

The first in-person State of the City address since 2019, the event came as Webber navigates a series of controversies, including late financial audits and an abandoned effort to rebuild the obelisk on Santa Fe Plaza.

Webber, now serving his second term, sought in his 33-minute speech to put a spotlight on the city’s day-to-day governance and announce three new initiatives.

That includes a proposal to “improve” the citywide living wage, which increased from $12.95 an hour last year to $14.03 an hour this year— just a couple dollars higher than the statewide minimum wage.

The mayor said that when the living wage was first adopted 20 years ago, the ordinance put Santa Fe at the forefront of a movement.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the labor market and the city’s living wage needs to be updated, Webber argued.

The mayor didn’t say exactly how high the city’s living wage should be set, however.

“In the months ahead, as we enter a new fiscal year, we’ll begin another conversation and involve every part of our community as we seek to make our living wage truly a living wage,” Webber told an audience at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center.

Webber said the city will also work with neighbors and community groups in the Hopewell Mann area “in a focused effort to protect them from gentrification and displacement” as the nearby Midtown campus is redeveloped.

“As one of the city’s most vulnerable and lowest income neighborhoods, Hopewell Mann’s proximity to Midtown can either be a threat to or an opportunity for the people of that neighborhood,” Webber said. “Because of our Community Development Plan, there are already some safeguards in place. Now, it’s time to add more in the way of policies, programs, tools and investments to demonstrate that as Midtown moves forward, Hopewell Mann can both feel secure and also reap the benefits.”

The mayor said the efforts in the Hopewell Mann area will guide the city in responding to displacement elsewhere in Santa Fe.

State of the City chairs City organizers closed online reservations for the State of the City event, noting it had reached capacity, but SFR counted at least 75 empty chairs during the Mayor Alan Webber's March 30, 2023 speech.

And Webber announced he will also launch an effort to work more collaboratively with other Northern New Mexico communities on drugs and mental health.

“This is how we took on COVID. We pooled our resources. We joined forces to shelter and fed those in need. We erased old boundaries and drew a circle of inclusion that brought everyone together,” Webber said. “It’s time once again to join hands and join forces to save lives, house the homeless, treat the addicted and minister to the emotionally troubled.”

The mayor acknowledged several shortcomings over the last year, such as the city’s chronically late financial audits that have put Santa Fe’s bond rating at risk and led to the state withholding funds for capital improvements.

And coming out of the contentious push to rebuild the obelisk on Santa Fe Plaza, the mayor acknowledged that the future of the site remains uncertain. Critics of the proposal argued it ignored the findings of the city’s own reconciliation process—known as CHART for culture, history, art, reconciliation and truth—that argued Santa Fe’s government has more work to do in determining the fate of the Soldiers’ Monument after it was toppled by protesters on Indigenous Peoples Day in 2020.

Webber nodded to that finding after initially backing a proposal to rebuild the monument earlier this year.

“We need to continue the community dialog started by the CHART process and come to a peaceful and honorable outcome regarding historical statues and monuments and the future of the Plaza,” Webber said. “I know that’s something we all want and it’s something we will do, together.”

And amid pushback to recent housing developments, the mayor also acknowledged the city’s housing crisis has made Santa Fe unaffordable for many residents.

“We need to manage the growth of Santa Fe in a way that protects our quality of life—and also protects our diversity by expanding the housing choices for young people and working people,” Webber said. “Anyone who works in Santa Fe should be able to live in Santa Fe.”

Though the event was something of a landmark occasion as it marked a return to in-person state of the city addresses, there were plenty of empty seats. Registration for the event was closed days ahead of time and there was no livestream available online. (A video was posted on the city’s YouTube channel overnight.)

Still, some councilors praised the focus on the city’s day-to-day work.

“Not everything we do is sexy and a headline,” District 1 Councilor Signe Lindell told SFR.

District 2 Councilor Michael Garcia said he was pleasantly surprised by the mayor’s interest in addressing gentrification in the part of his district that includes the Hopewall Mann neighborhood.

But he added that some details were missing.

Though the mayor pledged to finish late financial audits, Garcia noted there wasn’t much more talk about improving the management of Santa Fe’s money.

“There should be a blueprint in place to ensure audits aren’t late in the future,” he said.

Full text of the mayor’s State of the City address

The following is a copy of the mayor’s speech as prepared.

My friends, it is really good to be back together. After three hard years of a global pandemic, we are blessed to be here to celebrate our city. It was March, 2020 when COVID suddenly appeared. It cost us lives and livelihoods—but every step of the way, Santa Fe stood together. We became closer, stronger, and more hopeful. Together, we have come through COVID.

So before we celebrate our city in 2023, please join me in recognizing all those who carried us through the last three years: To the first responders who are with us tonight; the doctors, nurses and health care providers; the community volunteers and the hard working people who kept the pharmacies operating, the grocery stores stocked, the construction projects moving, and the city running—your courage and commitment deserve our thanks. If you’re with us here, please stand and be recognized.

Now, according to the City Charter, it’s my responsibility to come before you and report on the State of the City. What the Charter doesn’t say is how to make that report; what form it should take or what subjects it should cover.

Let me begin, then, where every state of the city should begin: with the outstanding people who work for the City of Santa Fe. They are the people who actually produce the state of our city through the work they do, all day, every day.

Start with the team that takes care of the city’s 1,500 miles of paved streets and almost 90 miles of dirt roads. When it snows, they work two 12-hour shifts, from noon to midnight and from midnight to noon, doing their job so the rest of us can safely get to our jobs.

Who are these hard-working folks? Let me introduce you to the 6 supervisors in Streets. There’s Felipe Trujillo, who’s been with the City for 19 years. Apollo Hernandez is our Concrete supervisor. He’s been with the City for 20 years. Marcos Esquibel is the Asphalt Supervisor; he’s been with the City for 9 years. James Gallegos is our Drainage Supervisor and is a 15-year City veteran. David Gonzales is our Grading Supervisor with 23 years of experience with NMDOT and 3 ½ years with the City. And Joe Ledoux, who is our Equipment Manager has 14 years with the City.

Now you know their names and what they do. But what’s equally important is why they’re plowing snow off the streets at midnight in the winter and filling a thousand potholes a week in the spring. When you ask why they do this work, this is what you’ll hear.

“It’s one of those jobs where, you don’t pick it, it picks you.” “We do it so people can be safe.” “We do it because it gives us a sense of accomplishment that every day, at the end of the day, you’ve made a difference.”

Your City government is made up of stories like these; your City government is made up of people just like Felipe, Apollo, Marcos, James, David, Joe, and their teams.

Let me tell you about another great team. Sometimes these folks serve as social workers and mental health professionals. Sometimes they act as research assistants and substitute teachers. Other times they’re masters of many mediums, from books to video, software to psychology.

Of course, I’m talking about the 45 City employees who staff our libraries and the many ways they serve our community. I’m talking about Kate Cornwell, Susan Reynolds, and Lydia O’Reilly, who are our youth librarians. Because of their creative ideas like Pajama Storytime, kids and families flock to our libraries. Thanks to Kristen Ortelli and Adam Reilly our libraries are tech lending hubs—yes, you can check out a laptop and a hotspot from our libraries. I’m talking about Megan Atencio, who, as an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, strives to make our libraries the most inclusive places in Santa Fe.

When you ask why these devoted, community-oriented City employees do what they do, you hear answers like: “A library is the one place you can still go, and there’s no expectation of money.” “You can unlock any door you want when you come to the library.” “I like it because we get to help people blossom, grow and learn.”

With us here tonight is Felipe Trujillo from our Streets team and Lydia O’Reilly, Megan Atencio, Kate Cornwell, and Margaret O’Neill from our Library team. Your teams’ inspiring stories are the stories of our whole City team. Please stand up and be recognized.

Because of people like you, the City of Santa Fe is in the best of hands—your hands. Thank you for all you do for all of us.

There isn’t time to highlight stories like these from every City department—but there are stories just like these throughout every City department. Stories are one way—and often the best way—to talk about the state of our beloved city. More than what gets done, stories touch on the why. The answers are personal. Purposeful. And powerful.

There’s another way to talk about the state of Santa Fe and that’s with data. We frequently hear the management truism, “What gets measured is what gets done.” But infrequently do we observe the reverse saying: “What got done needs to be measured.”

So here’s another way to measure the state of our city—a snapshot of a day in the life of Santa Fe.

A day in the life of the City begins with more than 100 City facilities being cleaned, checked, and repaired for City employees and residents to use—safely and comfortably;

Every day, 60 residents find shelter and support at Consuelo’s Place and 8 more use a personal navigator through the CONNECT network to get the critical services they need;

As many as 323 people call 911 asking for help from Santa Fe police officers;

1,030 travelers either land or take off from the Santa Fe Regional Airport;

8,500 homes have their trash and recyclables collected every day;

On an average day, the City treats 5 million gallons of wastewater, produces 8 million gallons of drinking water, keeps 26 million gallons of water in storage tanks—and, thanks to water conservation policies and practices, overall, we’re using 50% less water per person than 25 years ago;

On any given day 860 seniors get a meal from Santa Fe City Senior Services staff and 77 seniors get rides to go shopping or to take care of important personal matters;

Every day 1,100 Santa Fe residents use one of our recreation facilities to swim, work out, shoot hoops, ice skate, play volleyball, and play soccer, or compete in a league;

A day in the life of the Land Use Department means that 50 plans will be reviewed, and 50 permits will be issued; 145 construction inspections will be completed; 40 business licenses will be issued; and 5 enforcement cases will be created;

When it comes to the Fire Department, an “average day” means 56 calls for service; 14 emergency situations where a team from our Mobile Integrated Health Office goes out to help; 8 calls for the Alternative Response Unit; and at least 2 doses of Naloxone dispensed or administered to save someone’s life from a drug overdose;

Every day, 3 new families get City funding to help pay their rent and deal with other housing costs; 2 other families become homeowners with the City’s assistance; and 5 more families start their journey toward homeownership through City-supported homebuyer training and counseling programs;

On any given day in Santa Fe’s 77 parks, you’ll see 200 Little Leaguers, 100 tennis players, 50 pickleball players, 50 soccer players, and 1 50 bike riders on City trails;

2,000 riders use public transit to get to school, get to work, get to the doctor’s office, go shopping or visit friends and family;

On an average day in Santa Fe, 4,366 out-of-towners are visiting our city; 85 people stop by one of our Visitor Information Centers for help; another 3,505 people are getting started planning their trip to Santa Fe by going to santafe.org—and 15 people are happily on the Margarita Trail!

Every day, 50 requests for help come into the Constituent Services office through the City’s web portal, and another 50 requests come in over the phone.

This is just a snapshot of a day in the life of Santa Fe. Numbers are often just numbers. But these numbers describe the special quality of life we enjoy as our birthright, and the special qualities of our life we continue to invest in.

There’s a third way to measure the city’s current condition, and that’s to assess our progress in accomplishing the major goals we’ve set for ourselves. Over the last 5 years, I have frequently and consistently spoken about the major work that we are undertaking. Work designed to make the City government more professional and better equipped with 21st century technology, training, and techniques to serve the people of Santa Fe.

Work to make long-overdue investments in affordable and workforce housing.

Work to combat climate change and establish Santa Fe as a leader in sustainability.

Here’s the progress we’re making on those goals—progress we all can be proud of.

Community health and safety is our highest priority—and I’m proud of the gains we’ve made. Thanks in part to the 16% pay increase we provided our police, the $750,000 mortgage down payment assistance we’re offering first responders to buy a home in Santa Fe, and the $15,000 incentive we’re providing for lateral transfers into our police department, we’ve brought our vacancy rate down to its lowest level in more than 5 years.

In the all-important area of housing—and especially affordable housing—we approved 3,554 new units, including 185 affordable units, with another 2,572 units in the pipeline, 435 of them affordable. A minimum of 30% of all housing at midtown will be affordable—that’s a minimum of 300 new units, guaranteed. And we provided more than $3 million in direct rental and mortgage assistance for low and medium-income families in Santa Fe.

We opened the first-ever downtown public restroom.

We rebuilt our beloved Bicentennial Pool.

We’re watching our Regional Airport being modernized and expanded, another long-overdue improvement for our city that’s the number one tourist destination in America. This fall we’ll cut the ribbon on a $20 million project delivering new customer amenities—and, I’m confident, mean expanded service from another airline.

In the critically important realm of sustainability, we made significant progress: We reduced City water use by 2 million gallons per year; generated 1.5 megawatts of solar energy on City buildings and facilities; reduced overall energy use by 60% with our LED street-light conversion project; and we’re moving to the next phase of the San Juan Chama Return Flow project, a critical investment in our water future.

By any measure of performance, your City government has been delivering on our promises to you.

Whether measured by the stories we tell about our dedicated team of City employees, by the metrics we use to describe “a day in the life of the City,” or by the major projects we’ve launched and landed, this city is on track and on course—safer, more secure, better housed, more sustainable, better run.

This is a good and a great city and we are doing good and great work for the city.

The credit goes to all those who are doing the work to deliver on our commitments—please recognize the department heads, managers and directors who are producing this record of accomplishment. My friends, they are getting it done.

Of course, there are places where we have fallen short—and we are painfully aware of our failings. We need to get the audits done and back on track. And we will. We need to continue the community dialog started by the CHART process and come to a peaceful and honorable outcome regarding historical statues and monuments and the future of the Plaza. I know that’s something we all want and it’s something we will do, together.

We need to continue to find housing for our homeless residents and safeguard our neighborhoods where encampments have been a problem. We need to improve our investment in parks in all parts of our city and keep them safe and clean for our kids and families to enjoy. We need to manage the growth of Santa Fe in a way that protects our quality of life—and also protects our diversity by expanding the housing choices for young people and working people. Anyone who works in Santa Fe should be able to live in Santa Fe.

We’re committed to that work—it’s the work of building a better future.

And that is the work we do next: We need to address both how we are doing as a community, and also where we are going as a community. We’re doing better than ever—now let’s be clear where we want “better” to take us.

When we assemble the many programs and projects that comprise the work of the City, what is our North Star? As we move forward, as sure as we are of our footing, we need to give our course a name—we need to say out loud the larger purpose that this important work is serving.

I believe the name of that larger purpose is “justice.” I believe it is our calling as a community to turn our work toward the cause of justice for everyone in Santa Fe—a cause made even more important by the dangerous, cynical, ugly challenges to justice we are witnessing in other parts of the country and around the world.

For the past 4 months, I have had the honor and privilege to be part of a group of 8 mayors from around the country who have come together to reflect on the meaning of justice and the means of achieving it in a city. My friends, it is a timely and timeless reminder of the pain inflicted and the stain left by prejudice, bias, and discrimination.

It has also served as a reminder of just how deep and fundamental the cause of justice is for all of us in Santa Fe.

Our commitment to justice springs from our core values as a community. We are a city rooted in family and faith, in fairness and respect for all. We care deeply for our neighbors—blood relatives or not, they are our sisters and brothers, and we truly love our neighbors as ourselves. Many cities and communities around this country measure their worth in dollars and cents: What they care about is creating financial value. In Santa Fe, we care about shared values.

Guided by those shared values, whenever there has been challenge to justice, Santa Fe has answered that challenge.

When the question was asked, how shall we treat our brothers and sisters who fled their homes and came here without papers, Santa Fe gave the just answer.

When the question arose, how shall we treat our sisters and brothers who are out in the cold, with no shelter over their heads on Code Blue nights, Santa Fe gave the just answer.

Santa Fe gave the just answer when we committed the money to build the Teen Center, then built it, furnished and staffed it.

Santa Fe gave the just answer when we put $12 million into our Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

When we launched a $500,000 project offering a $400 per month guaranteed income to young, low-income families who are attending the Community College, that is life-changing justice.

And when we back that guaranteed income project with another $1.5 million from federal funding, we are making life-changing justice our answer to poverty.

When we create a Solarize Santa Fe program and fund the first steps toward a Green Bank that enables lower income residents to solarize their homes, reduce their utility bills and participate in the fight against climate change, we light up our community with justice.

When we commit almost $1 million toward creating more affordable and more accessible childcare, we are delivering justice to Santa Fe women, children, and families.

When a 22-year-old opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle inside a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, and we came together as a community on the Plaza to stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ+ family, friends, and neighbors, we declared there should be justice for everyone regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

When we post signs saying that guns and dangerous weapons will not be permitted in City buildings and on City property where our children are involved with a school-related activity, we are saying loud and clear that our values are our moral compass, and we will use justice as a shield for Santa Fe’s children.

Environmental justice. Social justice. Economic justice. Educational justice. Justice is more than a lens through which to view the way we commit our resources and vote our consciences. It needs to be the way forward.

For that reason, I am making three announcements tonight.

First, we will be working with the neighbors and community groups in the Hopewell Mann area in a focused effort to protect them from gentrification and displacement. This is our commitment to community justice. As one of the city’s most vulnerable and lowest income neighborhoods, Hopewell Mann’s proximity to midtown can either be a threat to or an opportunity for the people of that neighborhood. Because of our Community Development Plan, there are already some safeguards in place. Now, it’s time to add more in the way of policies, programs, tools, and investments to demonstrate that as midtown moves forward, Hopewell Mann can both feel secure and also reap the benefits. The lessons we learn from working with Hopewell Mann will guide us in other parts of the city where displacement threatens neighborhood stability and where equity and inclusion must be our way forward.

The second announcement is my intention to improve our city-wide living wage. When it was first adopted, 20 years ago, the living wage ordinance put Santa Fe at the forefront of a movement for economic justice. But a lot has happened in the years since—and a lot has not happened, as well, including a failed effort to increase the minimum wage state-wide. Last year, the City boosted the minimum wage of all City employees to $15 per hour—no one makes less. But COVID has changed our economy and our labor market, and we need to update the living wage. Twenty years ago, a community-wide dialog, backed by solid economic analysis ushered in the nation’s first living wage. In the months ahead, as we enter a new fiscal year, we’ll begin another conversation and involve every part of our community as we seek to make our living wage truly a living wage.

Third, I want to address three interconnected issues that are troubling every mayor of every city. Those three issues are homelessness and affordable housing; opioid addiction and fentanyl abuse; and mental and behavioral health. Individually they each involve a complicated set of social problems. Together they constitute a new post-COVID crisis.

The fact is, COVID may be waning, but its after-effects are growing. We see them on our streets and medians, in calls to our Alternative Response Unit, in overdose deaths and drug-related crime.

I said this is a crisis that confronts every city. But it is more than a city crisis; it is a regional crisis that stretches across Northern New Mexico.

Fentanyl doesn’t care where its victims live—or die. Santa Fe, Espanola, Las Vegas, or any of the villages, pueblos and communities of Northern New Mexico are fair game as far as this evil drug is concerned. The same is true for homelessness and mental and behavioral health—people who need help aren’t particular about the boundaries that define a city, a county, a village, or a tribe.

The only way to find solutions that will work is to come together as a region. Mental and behavioral health issues can only be addressed with more help for more people in more places. Homelessness can only be solved with a “by name list” strategy that meets the housing and service needs of each individual—as an individual, wherever they may live. The opioid epidemic can only be answered with the combined efforts of law enforcement that takes down the drug producers and dealers, and treatment that rescues the drug users and supports their families.

This crisis knows no borders. Neither should our solutions.

For that reason, I will begin a consultative process that will enable us to convene a regional summit—a collaborative gathering to bring together our brother and sister communities across Northern New Mexico to take on this three-part crisis. This is how we took on COVID. We pooled our resources. We joined forces to shelter and feed those in need. We erased old boundaries and drew a circle of inclusion that brought everyone together.

It’s time once again to join hands and join forces to save lives, house the homeless, treat the addicted, and minister to the emotionally troubled.

“What doth the Lord require of thee?” asks the Prophet Micah in the Old Testament. “Only that you do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.”

More than 2,500 years later, those words continue to ring out across the land in a clarion call for community—a simple path toward a good community.

Nowhere does it sound more clearly than here in Santa Fe—the City of Holy Faith. We have those values, and we practice them as a good community.

At the same time, we see the present-day pitfalls that represent the moral hazards that Micah was warning against. Their forms today are all too recognizable—the ugliness that too frequently manifests on social media, the cynicism that too often infects public dialog, the anger that too easily surges to the surface. It’s easy, too easy, to lose sight of our blessings, our history, our shared values.

So as we leave this celebration of Santa Fe, let us take a moment to offer a few final words of gratitude for our past, thanks for our present, and a promise to our future.

We owe much to those who came before us. We owe much to those who serve us today. And we owe all that we have to those who will come after us, to make the Santa Fe we leave them better, safer, more inclusive, and ultimately more just than the city that was entrusted to us.

Thank you, and may God bless you and may God bless Santa Fe.

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