Cover Stories

SFR’s 2023 Santa Fe Election Endorsements

Recommendations for City Council races, the proposed high-end housing tax, Santa Fe Public School candidates and more

An affordable housing advocate recently posted on social media the five-year history of a new real estate listing in a previously affordable part of town. The home’s sale price had increased, since 2018, by nearly 81% before hitting the market this month at close to half a million dollars. The post prompted others to cite similar occurrences across town and bemoan Santa Fe’s escalating unlivability.

A proposed 3% excise tax on the Nov. 7 ballot nods to the rising cost of Santa Fe real estate—levying the charge on buyers of homes over $1 million to bolster the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. SFR’s endorsements this week include an explanation of and strong recommendation for this proposal.

Similarly, all four endorsements in this year’s Santa Fe City Council races build upon the need for a City Council singularly focused on housing, land use and quality of life for current and future residents, with members whose knowledge bases include existing codes, and whose commitments incorporate policy creation and oversight for the hotter and more unstable world wrought by climate change.

The campaign trail has laid bare existing frustrations with City Hall, such as the blight on the Plaza where the obelisk once stood; the chronically late city audits and potential financial repercussions therein; and the closed-door policies of Mayor Alan Webber’s administration.

Regarding the latter, this paper sued the city to try to wrest police disciplinary records from the Santa Fe Police Department and, on any given day, has myriad pending phone calls to city officials and public records requests filed, often to simply access basic information. All successful candidates in this year’s race have committed to demanding City Hall be more transparent and open—a crucial facet of good government never more important than at times when frustration and anger threaten public discourse and forward momentum.

A recent public event in nonprofit developer Homewise’s Livability lecture series hinted at an alternative timeline in which discussions of even the most incendiary topics (parking in the most recent instance) prompt thoughtful questions and—dare we say—hopeful visions of a more bikeable, walkable city with ample housing for all its residents. The next City Council, regardless of who is elected, will need to work with the existing administration for at least two years to try to further this vision. A two-year learning curve coupled with factionalism stands only to exacerbate the existing inequities fueling much of the city’s discord.

Santa Fe, often touted as “different,” faces at present the same challenges communities across the country are confronting: a national housing crisis; increasing needs for social services; and a derisive politicized narrative that would sooner tear down existing systems than build new ones.

Where Santa Fe can distinguish itself is by moving swiftly in the coming years to find reasonable compromises to long-standing conflicts and put in place equitable public policies for the land-use issues determining the city’s future.

SFR conducted endorsement interviews with all of this year’s candidates; attended public forums and reviewed campaign materials. Find complete coverage at:


District 1 Geno Zamora

City Council District 1 voters will be the only ones this election cycle with the option to rank candidates on the ballot, as the race to replace two-term District 1 incumbent Councilor Renee Villarreal drew four Santa Fe natives with passion and knowledge about different aspects of the district they seek to represent—Café Castro owner Alma Castro, former Planning Commissioner Brian Patrick Gutierrez, retired administrator Katherine Rivera and lawyer Geno Zamora.

This district includes not just the tony northside and the merchant-, hotel- and tourism-heavy downtown area, but also the Cerrillos Road corridor nearly all the way to Siler Road and the west side Agua Fría and West Alameda area. Key issues in the district include: finding a resolution for the site of the former obelisk on the Plaza; addressing rising crime; and; as all over the city, closing the gap between housing supply and demand, especially for working Santa Feans.

While all the candidates in this race demonstrate knowledge of the district and ideas for addressing its most pressing concerns, Geno Zamora’s previous experience at City Hall means he also knows what it takes to execute those ideas. He understands the role and responsibilities of a councilor and has deep familiarity with the city code. He advocates for expansion of the city’s Alternative Response Unit and pledges to strengthen connections with other government agencies for mental and behavioral health services. When it comes to the Plaza obelisk, Zamora says he would work to move the object to the Veterans’ Cemetery—a compromise that would make room for a more universally acceptable object in the city center while honoring military service in a more appropriate location.

Former Mayors Debbie Jaramillo and David Coss, with whom Zamora has worked, both endorsed him, citing his knowledge and experience with the city. Detractors argue Zamora will not challenge the current administration. But Zamora tells SFR as the fifth of five children, he’s a “mediator by nature” and intends to use that skill to work with the entire governing body, including the mayor. “The councilors should have productive working relationships with each other and each councilor should have a productive working relationship with this mayor or any other mayor,” he says. “We’ve got to keep moving forward and we can’t be stuck in the mud.”

For those ranking their ballots, we recommend Alma Castro as a close second. She would bring fresh perspectives—as a restaurant owner, the daughter of an immigrant and a queer woman in her mid-30s— along with fresh ideas, such as performance-based budgeting at the city and raising its minimum wage.

District 2 Phil Lucero

The coming two years will hopefully usher in some relief to the city’s housing crisis and forward momentum with the Midtown campus and the revamping of the city’s land use code. Phil Lucero, with his commitment to addressing climate change and his experience on the Planning Commission, brings the type of focus and knowledge that could make the difference between another two years of stagnation and bickering with the current mayoral administration versus accomplishment.

District 2′s boundaries encompass the city’s east side, including most of the South Capitol neighborhood, the vast majority of St. Michael’s Drive and neighborhoods along the eastern half of Rodeo to the southern edge of the city limits. Lucero sees much of the territory each week by bicycle and says its major issues, such as traffic safety and limited building opportunities, need attention now.

Though the campaign is his first, Lucero isn’t a total City Hall novice: He’s served in the land-use battleground of the Planning Commission since last year and is part of the team shepherding the city’s massive effort to overhaul the Chapter 14 Land Development Code at long last. The Santa Fe native has a master’s degree in environmental education from the University of New Mexico and works at Climate Advocates Voces Unidos on youth engagement projects. He uses the word “urgency” to describe how he feels about what local government must do to move away from a car-centric culture and toward more sustainable practices such as increasing the city’s use of renewable energy.

Santa Fe would greatly benefit from a serious focus on improving roads and pathways to increase safety and connectivity for bicyclists and pedestrians. Lucero’s priorities also include better city bus service, too. SFR has documented how the city cut many of the Santa Fe Trails fixed routes during the pandemic and has not acted to restore schedules.

While incumbent Michael Garcia’s criticisms of Mayor Alan Webber and City Manager John Blair appeal to those frustrated with the city administration—and we have our fair share of frustrations ourselves—those gripes have not translated into any benefit for Garcia’s constituents or the city at large. For example, he pushed for rushed hearings just a few days before the county clerk’s deadline to put questions on the ballot that proposed half-baked measures from the Charter Review Commission to change the powers of the mayor and to codify an ill-defined Office of Equity and Inclusion that didn’t have enough support from other policymakers to move forward.

District 3 Pilar Faulkner

Two first-time candidates seek to replace Chris Rivera—who isn’t seeking a third term—on the Southside District 3. Pilar Faulkner’s service on the Planning Commission and local advocacy work puts her a step ahead of Louis Carlos, a retired police officer. Faulkner understands the city land-use code and has experience in policymaking that will help her be a strong participant on the governing body.

District 3 comprises most of the Southside, including neighborhoods west of Cerrillos Road and Lopez Lane and south of Agua Fría Street, as well as Tierra Contenta, where Faulkner lives. She turned neighborhood lobbying into a career and launched a consulting business that has focused on hometown topics such as the Rodeo de Santa, public banking and distribution of narcan to reduce overdoses. If elected to City Council, Faulkner says her priorities include ensuring the city aggressively pursues appropriations from the Legislature to ensure the Southside’s roads, parks, libraries and senior centers are fully funded.

Faulkner also has SFR’s vote because, unlike Carlos, she supports the proposed high-end home excise tax on the ballot for city voters. Plus, as a member of the Planning Commission since 2017, she’s already worked on the city’s housing crisis and has witnessed hearing after hearing from developers negotiating the provision of affordable housing against market-driven projects. She’s been a strong voice on a board sometimes seen as wielding a rubber stamp. For example, she posed tough questions for the Homewise South Meadows proposal on land the nonprofit bought from Santa Fe County after the county broke its promise to use it for open space. Her firmer grasp on the critical land-use policies and on the job of city councilor showed at an Oct. 5 League of Women Voters’ forum. When the moderator asked candidates for strategies to address housing supply for low and middle-income earners, Faulkner answered with a detailed account of how current city programs work and ways she sees to improve them, including her own advocacy for more incentives for apartment complexes such as—gasp—taller buildings.

Carlos, on the other hand, answered by rambling through a litany of complaints about the permitting process and his personal challenges building a casita on his own land.

He retired from the Santa Fe Police Department in 2015 and then served briefly as Española Police chief. While Carlos touts a plan for an “aggressive approach to criminal activity,” during SFR’s endorsement interview he didn’t want to talk about specific policies because, he said, when he ran unsuccessfully for the Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education in 2013, people stole his ideas and adopted them as their own. Sharing one’s ideas is a baseline for running for office, making his candidacy a nonstarter.

District 4 Jamie Cassutt

As Jamie Cassutt closes in on the end of her first term as a city councilor for District 4, it’s clear she has learned about local governance and both the limits and possibilities of policymaking. She now has the tools to help her district—which includes the Bellamah neighborhood and Midtown Campus, some areas west of Cerrillos Road and the area along Richards Avenue south of Rodeo and north of I-25—and the city overall in its necessary navigation of a relentless housing shortage for workers.

Cassutt, who has a master’s degree in public health, serves on the Finance Committee and the Quality of Life Committee, plus she’s a member of the citizen advisory working group for the city’s newly launched plan to rewrite the Chapter 14 land-use code and sits in on the technical working group so she can continue to refine her knowledge of regulatory complexity.

She introduced the high-end excise tax alongside outgoing Councilor Renee Villarreal and led the charge in explaining the proposal in public hearings. She tells SFR she prioritizes talking to voters about the tax equally with her own candidacy while she’s on the campaign trail.

Residents of the district are grappling with housing challenges that include too few services for unhoused individuals, plus public safety concerns. They’re also looking toward what happens next on the city-owned campus and in other potential developments.

If re-elected, Cassutt intends to next introduce legislation that would incentivize developers to increase sustainability through building upgrades. She also says she will continue to advocate for spending in the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to help more Santa Feans.

Cassutt endorsed Mayor Alan Webber’s re-election campaign last year and sides with him on many major policies issues. But she’s also been willing to strike out on her own. To that end, Cassutt points to an instance in which she bucked the administration’s plans by voting against a contract in a committee vote to prevent the city from using valuable space in Franklin Miles Park for telecom infrastructure.

“I fully support broadband expansion, but I was not going to let this large structure be imposed upon the flagship park in District 4,” she says. “I argued against this proposal in committee, was able to garner the support of my colleagues…The project is now moving forward on city property that does not diminish the valuable open space in District 4.”

Challenger Joel Nava should be commended for this first run at office. His experience as a youth sports coach and a security officer indicate he’d make a productive member of the city’s Public Safety Committee or other advisory groups, but he’s not well-versed enough in the duties of a city councilor or familiar with key city initiatives taking place in the district to move voters away from the incumbent.


High-End Home Excise Tax: Yes

Several families are living together in single apartments; people who grew up in Santa Fe are moving to Rio Rancho even though they’d prefer to stay here; teachers, police officers and restaurant workers can’t even think about buying homes because the prices are so far out of reach.

These stories and more occupied hours of public hearings this summer before the City Council.

Santa Fe’s housing crisis has been well documented and much lamented, but this year advocates for change have reached a critical mass: a measure that would create a permanent funding source for the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund is an important step to address a problem easily quantified.

Median home prices continue to climb, peaking at $594,000 citywide according to the most recent report from realtors. Even on the city’s southwestern edge, the last bastion of affordability, single-family homes sold for a median of $490,000 in the third quarter. The share of renters with income over $75,000 increased from 18% to 30% between 2015 and 2021, which the city Office of Affordable Housing says indicates even high-income renters are having a harder time transitioning into homeownership. Renters who formerly could eke by even if they paid more than a third of their income for housing can no longer find housing that’s within reach, and they’re leaving the city in droves.

A gap analysis comparing the demand for and supply of housing by income level shows a shortage of 1,900 rental units priced affordable to households earning less than $25,000.

Sometimes dubbed the “mansion tax,” the proposed 3% excise tax would affect home sales of more than $1 million in the city limits and only be applied to the portion of a home sale over that threshold. Housing sales data indicates it could raise approximately $4.5 million each year.

Taxes levied at the time of a sale and paid by the buyer would benefit the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund and be used to continue programs that run the gamut from down-payment and rent assistance to conversion of hotels to apartments, plus transitional housing and other services to assist the homeless.

Detractors say they worry the money won’t be used appropriately. City Hall’s troubling lack of transparency should not torpedo this important proposal, which includes oversight measures. For one, trust fund cash can only be used after recommendations from a citizen commission and the governing body. And, as part of the process, applicants to build projects and administer programs must have a financial accounting and developers must have the financial ability and organizational capacity to complete the proposed project.

The argument from Bill Roth, a longtime general contractor currently serving on the board of Interfaith Housing, is also powerful when it comes to the practical effect of the tax on those who are buying high-end homes. Roth spoke in favor of putting the measure on the ballot at a July hearing.

“As a builder, I have watched home prices increase. My clientele is pretty much the same but what they are paying for the house I build has gone up,” said Roth. “I can comfortably say if I have a client that can afford a $1.5-million house, they can afford the extra $15,000. Honestly, that is like an upgrade on their appliance package.”

When Santa Fe voters in 2009 had a choice about whether to impose a similar tax, affordable housing was already in scarce supply in the city. But those who didn’t want to levy a one-time fee on high-end homes to help people on the other end of the spectrum won the day—“no” votes prevailed with 54%. This time around, the lack of affordable housing is the number one issue voters raise during campaign visits, candidates report. Passage of this tax will enable the city to continue current efforts and dream up new ones.

Signature Threshold for Voter Initiative and Referenda

This topic appears as two separate questions on the ballot for city voters, both of which would reduce the number of signatures for voter initiative (proposing new laws) and referenda (getting rid of laws already on the books) from 33 1/3% of voters who cast ballots in the most recent mayoral election, to 15%, as recommended by the Charter Review Commission. With approximately 20,600 voters who took part in the 2021 election, about 3,090 signatures would be required to reach 15%. The National Civic League’s Model City Charter recommends a threshold at 5 to 10%; Albuquerque requires 20% for initiatives and referenda; and Las Cruces has set the number at 15%.

Charter Review Commission Resources

Santa Fe’s city charter, essentially the local constitution, calls for officials to appoint a commission to review the document every 10 years. But members of the most recently appointed group say they didn’t receive enough city resources in the time they were tasked to get the job done. Therefore, the Charter Review Commission’s report included a recommendation to add language to the charter that calls for the group to “have a budget and staff adequate for its functions.” SFR documented the poor public showing for the commission’s meetings and the fact that it lacked a webpage with even basic information a month before its final report was due. Forcing the administration at City Hall to support future commissions will help ensure greater public participation.


Board of Education -- District 2

Like every other school district in the nation, the Board of Education for Santa Fe Public Schools faced gigantic challenges during the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, which presented problems such as all-remote learning that led to losses in proficiency for most students. The pandemic also slowed plans for reform on school closure policies.

Sarah Boses campaigned in 2019 partly on a platform challenging the way the school district decides whether to close schools that are under-enrolled or have high maintenance needs. She commits to continue working on the topic.

During her first term on the board, she has built her base of knowledge about how SFPS operates and what it needs to do in the future. For example, Boses serves on the district’s Community Review Committee, which advises the administration on how to spend capital funds. She also had a role in developing the “reimagining” process, which attempts to reframe the way the district makes decisions about not just when and how to close schools, but other ways to create equity among opportunities for students.

Boses is a nurse by training and says if re-elected her priorities include comprehensive health and wellness for students and staff as well as safety and security. She’s the only one of three members whose seats are up for grabs this go-round who drew opponents. Patricia Vigil-Stockton, vice president and CFO of Stockton Mechanical, tells SFR one of the reasons for her candidacy is that the current school board questioned whether the Fiesta Court should make presentations to students during the school day. Boses voted to allow court visits to continue. It’s the same position Vigil-Stockton advocates, so replacing the incumbent for this reason doesn’t make sense. Vigil-Stockton also says she wants to work on the district’s budget for upper management, but had not done enough homework to know the superintendent’s salary before she met with SFR.

Cerrillos saddlemaker John T. McKenna did not return SFR’s request to meet.

Tax, Levy and Lease Arrangement

The school district’s proposed tax, levy and lease purchase would continue to levy a property tax of $1.50 per each $1,000 of taxable property each year from 2024-2029 for the purpose of acquiring up to $55 million worth of technology equipment including network devices, data storage, and digital communications equipment; plus for training and technical support. Given the continued reliance on and importance of technology in the schools—especially in a era where remote learning support is essential—we support the ongoing use of property taxes for these uses.

Public Schools Improvement Act Tax

Santa Fe Public Schools has imposed a property tax under this state law for a decade, and keeping it in place will allow the district to use tax revenue over the next six years to pay for repairs, maintenance, playgrounds, fields, landscaping and custodial contracts at all the district’s schools. The tax equitably requires property owners to pay based on the value of their home and business properties—$2 per each $1,000 of net taxable value each year, the same rate they’re paying now. SFR agrees with the simple, effective argument in a recent mailer from the district: “The tax keeps money in the classroom by paying for upkeep that would otherwise come from school budgets.”

Santa Fe Community College Board

All voters within Santa Fe Public Schools’ boundaries can choose between two candidates for an open Santa Fe Community College seat, as Member George Gamble declined to seek a second term. SFR recommends Lina Germann for the post because she brings classroom experience (including six years at the college itself) and dedication to education in general and the college in particular through her seven-year term as executive director of the Santa Fe STEM program. The science and math educator has clear ideas on how the school can better unite its STEM programs for improved outcomes for students. She notes how the school needs to restore its once robust food services for students and visitors, part of her overall priority to bring more of the wider community into partnership with SFCC with more events such as lectures for the public on the campus. Lorenzo Dominguez, also seeking the seat, moved to the area a couple of years ago, served in the past on the board of directors for the Turquoise Trail Charter School and has a background in communications, but admits he’s new to SFCC. His biggest idea for the school is inviting senior citizens to serve as docents at a welcome center. Germann, who has been an active part of the education sphere for the 26 years she’s lived here, is the logical choice.

Santa Fe Community College Bond

A vote to allow the Santa Fe Community College to bond for $23 million will allow the school to embark on renovation and maintenance such as stucco repairs for some of its spaces, as well as technology upgrades for classrooms, workshops, laboratories and remote learning identified in its 2021 master plan. The amount of the college’s debt service won’t change from current levels if the bonds are issued, and property owners will see a slight decrease in property tax mill rates from 3.501 this year to 3.470. The school’s last bond issue in 2017 was for $17 million.

Dates and Details

Local Election voter registration, vote by mail and polling places

Early voting

Vote by mail by first requesting a ballot before Oct. 24 at

Vote early in person the Santa Fe County clerk’s office, 100 Catron St. Voting hours are 8 am-5 pm, Monday-Friday and 10 am-6 pm, on only one Saturday, Nov. 4.

Santa Fe County voters may also visit any alternate voting locations beginning Oct. 21, through the Saturday before the election, Nov. 4. Voting hours are 11 am-7 pm, Tuesdays through Fridays and 10 am-6 pm on Saturdays.

  • Christian Life Church, 121 Siringo Road
  • Santa Fe Community College , 6401 Richards Ave.
  • Santa Fe County Fair Building, 3229 Rodeo Road
  • Southside Library, 6599 Jaguar Drive
  • Max Coll Corridor Community Center, 16 Avenida Torreon, Eldorado
  • Pojoaque Satellite Office, 5 W. Gutierrez Ste. 9, Pojoaque Pueblo Plaza
  • Town of Edgewood Administration Building, 171A NM-344, Edgewood
  • Abedon Lopez Community Center, 155 Camino De Quintana, Española

Register to vote

Use same-day registration at the county clerk’s office through Election Day, and at Election Day polling places and expanded early voting sites. Bring a New Mexico driver’s license or New Mexico identification card issued through the Motor Vehicle Division of the Taxation and Revenue Department; any document that contains an address in the county together with a photo identification card; or a current, valid student photo identification card from a post-secondary educational institution in New Mexico accompanied by a current student fee statement that contains the student’s address in the county.

Election day

Polls are open on Tuesday, Nov. 7 from 7 am-7 pm. Voters may choose any location.

Santa Fe - Las Campanas La Tierra Fire Station 6 Arroyo Calabasas Road

Santa Fe - Northeast/Downtown Montezuma Lodge, 431 Paseo De Peralta Atalaya Elementary, 721 Camino Cabra Gonzales Community School 851 W Alameda St. Carlos Gilbert Elementary. 300 Griffin St. St. John’s Methodist Church 1200 Old Pecos Trail

Santa Fe - Southside/West Southside Library, 6599 Jaguar Drive Nina Otero Community School 5901 Herrera Drive El Camino Real Academy 2500 South Meadows Road

Santa Fe - Midtown/ South-Central Santa Fe County Fair Building, 3229 Rodeo Road Salazar Elementary, 1231 Apache Ave. Chaparral Elementary 2451 Avenida Chaparral Christian Life Church, 121 Siringo Road Mandela International Magnet School, 1604 Agua Fria St.

Santa Fe - Rancho Viejo Amy Biehl Community School 310 Avenida Del Sur

Pojoaque/San Ildefonso/ El Rancho Pojoaque Middle School 1797 State Road 502 West San Ildefonso Visitors Center 74 Povi Kaa Drive El Rancho Senior Center 394 County Road 84

Edgewood/Stanley/Galisteo Stanley Cyclone Center 22 W Kinsell Ave. Town of Edgewood Admin Building 171A NM-344 Galisteo Community Center 35 Avenida Vieja

Eldorado/Hondo/Glorieta Max Coll Corridor Community Center 16 Avenida Torreon Hondo Fire Station #2 645 Old Las Vegas Highway Glorieta Fire Station #2 366 Old Denver Hwy.

Española/Chimayo Tony E. Quintana Elementary 18670 US 84/285, Española Benny J. Chavez Community Center 354A Juan Medina Road, Chimayó

La Cienega La Cienega Community Center 136 Camino San Jose

Madrid/Los Cerrillos Madrid Volunteer Fire Station 5 Firehouse Lane, Madrid Turquoise Trail Charter School 13 San Marcos Loop

Nambe/Tesuque Nambe Community Center 180 NM-503 Nambe Pueblo Housing Entity 3 Oyegi Poe Nambe Pueblo Tribal Administration 15A NP 102 West Tesuque Pueblo Intergenerational Center, 39 TP 804 Tesuque Elementary 1555 Bishop’s Lodge Road

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong figures for the estimated number of petition signatures required for voter initiative referendum and has been updated.

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