Growth and shifting demographics are pushing the vibrancy of youth and cultural exchange ever further south towards an area at the geographic center of Santa Fe that has the potential to become a new hub of life and activity.
But, so much depends on the city's decisions in the next few years.
And that depends in part on who gets elected to represent City Council in District 4.
It's the only of the city's four districts where more than two people are fighting for an open seat in the November municipal election. This alone makes it the most exciting contest in the upcoming election, but it also stands out because all three candidates grew up in Santa Fe.
This is the first time the race for City Council—historically a spring election—takes place in the fall. A new state law intended to boost voter turnout consolidated all local elections to the same date. But until voters get used to the change, it may actually decrease participation in a district that already has a relatively low turnout. Of a total population of 20,704, according to the 2010 census, 14,456 residents are registered to vote, and only 4,887 voted in the 2017 council election.
District 4 hugs the southern edge of the village of Agua Fria, its northern boundary running along portions of Cerrillos Road and Rufina Street before cutting up Lopez Lane to carve out a chunk of neighborhoods between the end of Agua Fria Street, Jemez and Airport roads. Then, it follows Cerrillos west to 1-25. To the east, the district includes neighborhoods like Bellemah, Pueblos del Sur and Nava Ade.
While this area does not encompass the historical city center, it lies at the heart of a growing and changing Santa Fe.
One anticipated area of change is the Midtown campus. The dormitories and classrooms of the former Santa Fe University of Art and Design lie mostly vacant, in the midst of 64 underdeveloped city-owned acres. Revitalizing the campus is one of the city's top priorities and one of the most hotly contested issues for Santa Fe residents. The fate of the Midtown campus falls to the next City Council to decide.
Also in District 4 is the industrial Rufina area, where new bars, breweries and grungy art studios popping up between warehouses and auto shops signal an emerging youth scene. This area includes Meow Wolf and Second Street Brewery's third and newest location; it's also slated for the Siler Yard, a live/work rental project that will feature 65 affordable, sustainably built units for artists and entrepreneurs. In other corners, the district also holds the city's newest hospital by Presbyterian.
Yet residents of the district also face real fears of displacement, especially in the area that borders the historic village of Agua Fría, including the lowest income census tracts in the district, and neighborhoods along Siringo Road where residents say rents have been steadily rising.
The northwesternmost pocket of the district between the end of Agua Fría and Airport roads has a concentration of young immigrant families. Speaking to SFR mostly in Spanish, people here raised concerns about making streets safer for kids and the dearth of nearby grocery stores or childcare facilities.
On the other side of town past Rodeo Road, the district transitions into quiet residential neighborhoods and planned communities. Beyond that, out towards the highway, are large swaths of open space.
The race is on because Councilor Mike Harris is not seeking re-election to the seat he's held since 2016. Xavier Anderson, Jamie Cassutt-Sanchez and Greg Scargall all qualified for the ballot and each is using public campaign dollars to reach voters rather than fundraising privately.
Whichever councilor voters choose will join JoAnne Vigil Coppler to represent the district on the governing body that includes two elected officials from each of four geographic districts, along with the mayor.
In a diverse and quickly changing district, each candidate has something different to offer.
Greg Scargall: What a mission, what a mustache
It's early on a Saturday morning and SFR has already spent 20 minutes frantically searching for the council candidate on the wrong side of Marc Brandt Arroyo Park. Finally we spy him perched on a step, hidden behind tall grass. We walk down the path and he motions toward a bench that has become an island of black metal in a sea of prickly green weeds.
"I'd offer you a seat," he says jovially, "but as you can see, getting there's a bit of a challenge."
SFR declines the invitation. He sits anyway. On either side of us, overgrown banks slope down towards the cracked concrete path in the center that disappears here and there below caked layers of mud.
Addressing neglected maintenance is one of the top priorities of Scargall's campaign.
But the frustration and passion he expresses as he discusses governance are about much more than weeds. Scargall sees the condition of this park on Rancho Siringo Road as symptomatic of entrenched, systemic problems.
"There are residents who have been here for 50 years, that bleed Santa Fe. This is their home, and yet they look and say, 'We've been forgotten, look at our park!'" he says, pointing to discarded hypodermic needles and empty liquor bottles on the ground beneath a bridge.
Scargall has big ideas about how to address a lot of complicated topics in Santa Fe, but his strategy is about rebuilding community trust by starting with the basics and providing clear reminders to people that they matter.
"My first priority is government accountability in terms of providing a reasonable and realistic expectation in terms of services, meaning maintaining parks and streets; the second is investment in infrastructure; and the third is housing. Housing is of course the biggest issue that's overarching as a crisis here in Santa Fe, but we're never gonna solve the housing issue if we can't even do the little things."
Scargall may not have much experience in city government, but he is intimately familiar with what faces constituents of the district. He ran for the seat in the 2017 election and came in second of three.
His current day job is at the Santa Fe Community College Veterans Resource Center, where he has worked since the program started in 2013. But when he saw how many schools started this year with teacher vacancies, he put in his two weeks notice and accepted a position teaching fourth grade at Cesar Chavez Elementary.
"I'm someone that sees a need and takes action," he says, noting the new job doesn't change his ambition to win the council seat.
Scargall was born and raised in Santa Fe, in a house on Buena Vista Street downtown that his mother later sold when she moved near Siringo Road. After high school, he joined the military and has since earned an associate degree in business administration from Santa Fe Community College, a bachelor's in marketing and a master's in business management, both from New Mexico Highlands University.
"You know, I've seen this from both sides," he says as he carefully picks up a needle with a gloved hand from the park. He ties his own past problems with alcohol to troubled teen years in Santa Fe. He's spent years working in community outreach involving veterans who sometimes struggle with addiction, and supports further city investments in the Mobile Integrated Health Office (MIHO) and Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) programs, which assist frequent users of emergency medical services and drug addicts who commit crimes, respectively.
Scargall also personally understands what it means to face housing insecurity.
After losing his home and business in the 2008 financial crash, he and his wife— Bernadette, also born and raised in Santa Fe—returned from California, broke and "virtually homeless," to seek family support in raising their 2-year-old daughter and their infant son.
In the 10 years since—Maya is 12 and son Prescott is 10 now—Scargall says his family is "still struggling to find our place in this community in terms of purchasing a home." His rent has increased above 35% twice in the last year alone, while his income has remained the same, he says.
Affordable housing and development of the Midtown campus are critical, says Scargall, but the city must hire developers who take the local community, its history, values and culture, into consideration.
He says, "I see it as the second Plaza for average people. I would love to see Midtown campus be a place where you or I, me and my family, would have the ability and desire to go at least once or twice a week or to live there."
Scargall is serious about his commitment to community concerns and his enthusiasm is infectious, says Cheryl Odom, a District 4 constituent with his sign in her yard.
The former costume design teacher at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design met Scargall in 2017 at community meetings regarding the future of the campus theater building, which she hopes to preserve as a community performance space.
"Gregory and I are not at all alike—he's a veteran and a hunter, and I'm a New Age hippy and a vegetarian—but he showed up to all the meetings, he totally supported public involvement, he advocated for affordable housing, and he supported a performing arts center for local theater," she says.
Jamie Cassutt-Sanchez: New mom likes to think about big connections
"One thing I've learned in my work in public health is that when you start to pull one string, you begin to realize that they are all connected," says Jamie Cassutt-Sanchez. "For me it really comes back to health and well-being. I see all policy as health policy, because everything we do impacts health. I think we need to understand these relationships so that we can figure out where we have overlaps and inefficiencies, and where we have gaps that still need to be filled. And then we need to write evidence-based policy solutions."
District 4 City Council candidate Cassutt-Sanchez has a vision for Santa Fe that's all about connecting the dots, whether that means creating a digitized health record system to better manage care, coordinating students with mentorship programs, or putting in more broadband to give young entrepreneurs the kind of high speed internet that is required for most 21st century business ventures.
People who know her say that's just her personal style.
"Jamie is really great at identifying what people need and how to help them," says Celia Bassett, a mother of another toddler in Cassutt-Sanchez' neighborhood who is helping with the campaign. "She really knows how to listen."
Cassutt-Sanchez is part of what Mayor Alan Webber calls the "boomerang generation"—a cohort of young adults who grew up in Santa Fe, left to pursue education and careers elsewhere, and then return as professionals ready to put down roots in their hometown.
She and her husband, Bobby Sanchez, seem to be exactly the type of ambitious and entrepreneurial couple the current governing body is taking pains to attract.
They have only been back for nine months and she's already begun dreaming of how to put her public health background to work to make Santa Fe an even better place to raise her 1-year-old, Oliver. Her husband, a chiropractor, has started his own sports rehab business that opened in February.
The family currently lives in a home owned by Cassutt-Sanchez' parents, where she invites SFR to meet her for coffee. Oliver crawls up to the table, curious about the new guest, before getting scooped up by Cassutt-Sanchez' mother. Cassutt-Sanchez says starting a family was really the impetus for coming home, because she wanted her son to grow up with the unique sense of culture and community that she had here. However, many things trouble her here as well, such as the lack of opportunities, high paying jobs and affordable housing.
She and her husband "are very fortunate," she says, because both have careers in a field where talent is in demand in Santa Fe, and they aren't paying full cost for housing.
She graduated from Santa Fe High in 2003, has a bachelor's degree from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, and a master's in public health from UCLA. She's worked as a behavioral health therapist for children with autism, a wellness coordinator in a low-income school district and the coordinator of a program at a children's hospital that sent pediatricians into homeless shelters in San Diego.
Some of Cassutt-Sanchez' most practical ideas for city government aim to make the city function more smoothly, such as establishing a yearly routine of "code-hygiene" to clarify building codes and eliminate confusing gray areas. But with her advanced degree in public health and experience in the field, it makes sense that the overarching theme of her platform is about Santa Fe's health and well-being. Her primary policy proposal involves creating a Health Alliance Committee for city, county and school board members.
Confronting the steep costs of living and parenting challenges, such as the high price and staffing shortages of nursery schools, have made Cassutt-Sanchez keenly aware of how many of her peers have likely been pushed out of the city altogether.
She emphasizes the need to create affordable housing for working families, which includes both renters and those who want to buy their first home. The city needs to look at all of its land for development, she says.
Later, at the homeless shelter at Pete's Place, she meets with staff about the challenges facing the homeless population and weighs in with a perspective from her time doing public health work at schools and homeless shelters in California.
Cassutt-Sanchez offers her support for more housing voucher programs and a preventative approach to homelessness. But mostly, she listens.
Xavier Anderson: Data drives public safety worker toward answers
Looking around Xavier Anderson's house, filled with artwork and souvenirs from travels that he and his wife Evonne Gantz have taken all over the world, it is clear that this is a man with a love for detail. Even the pen he offers SFR when ours runs out of ink has a story behind it, coming from a trip to Spain.
When describing his policy plans, Anderson is meticulously thorough. He speaks in a measured, even tone, tracing the logic of his ideas from A to Z at a pace that is easy to follow.
For him, it all comes back to data and using the power of information to eliminate inefficiency, manage the budget, and prioritize new projects. His platform is based on two areas where he believes Santa Fe is long overdue for a data-driven revolution: public safety and city infrastructure.
When it comes to police, he says, the city's first priority must be staffing. "With so many vacancies, our officers are running from call to call to call. They do not necessarily have the time to advocate, say, for a mental health patient and bring those additional services … We are burning police officers out, and when police officers and firefighters are exhausted they are more likely to make mistakes."
Then, says Anderson, departments need to start collecting data. He rattles off a long list of categories: time spent pending dispatch, call response times, cross utilization of equipment, miles put on patrol cars, hours worked overtime, distances traveled and so on.
That six-part answer is typical of the way he fields questions. To some, this level of minutia may seem tiresome, but to Anderson, it's the difference between an actually functional system and what we have now, in which no one seems to have a very clear idea of what's going on or how much money is being spent where. At its heart Anderson's focus on data is about equity and ensuring the Southside gets the same standards of service as wealthier, whiter districts.
"My job as a councilor would not necessarily be to find solutions," he says, "I see my role as asking those tough questions of department directors and city leadership so we can start getting some answers and meaningful data that will help constituents hone in on solutions."
Anderson is used to data-based work, and has dealt with government for most of his career. His first job for the city was as a 911 operator at the emergency dispatch center in 1994, and since then he spent eight years teaching at the Law Enforcement Academy, became a criminal investigator for the state fire marshal's office, did emergency management training for Homeland Security, and worked in forestry. In his current job he manages data, budgeting and finances for the Los Alamos Fire Department, and even spent a short period working on the city of Santa Fe's new financial software, Munis.
His attention to detail is no less meticulous as he takes SFR on a district tour, stopping to point out things that catch his eye as needing attention. His encyclopedic knowledge of these neighborhoods is one of the ways Anderson stood out to former District 4 city councilor Bill Dimas when the candidate came knocking on his door.
"This is a very diverse district, and I was impressed by [Anderson] because he really understands the issues of this district," says Dimas. "I think he has the right attitude, the right qualifications, and I think he'd make a fantastic city councilor."
In one neighborhood, he takes a turn through a residential area down a street that ends in a cul-de-sac, where he points out a slim fire hydrant that looks dwarfed in comparison to the standard yellow hydrants and that he says could pose a hazard. At another stop, he points to a strip of road that had belonged to the county before being annexed by the city in 2008, where the bike path stops suddenly only to start up again a few yards later.
Eliminating such inconsistencies are at the heart of his campaign, and Anderson already knows exactly how he plans to get it done.
Anderson, who has two adult children from a previous marriage, has deep roots in Santa Fe. He has Mexican citizenship through his mother, who came to the US as an immigrant farm worker, and he recently applied for Spanish citizenship through his father, who was a member of the Romero family that traces its history back to the Spanish conquest.
His research into his own family history is another example of his dedication to getting to the bottom of an issue. The process of getting his Mexican passport took multiple back-and-forth trips to embassies, across borders, and involved an extensive hunt for correct documents that even led to a catch-22 type situation where he had to prove to the Mexican government that he did not exist in their records in order to have them record his existence.
"This process really helped me relate to a lot of people in our immigrant community in a new way," he says with a chuckle. "Dealing with documentation just isn't that simple."
Election Dates to Remember
Last day to register to vote;
First day of absentee voting;
First day of mail-in ballots
Alternate sites first open for early voting
Last day of absentee voting
Last day of early voting
Also on the ballot:
District 1 Renee Villarreal seeks reelection; unopposed
District 2 Two candidates are vying for a seat to which Peter Ives did not seek re-election
District 3 Chris Rivera seeks reelection; unopposed
Citywide Municipal Judge Virginia Vigil seeks reelection; unopposed
Editor's note: The story has been updated with the correct the date for the election, Nov. 5.