Morning Word

Midtown Rezoning Clears Council

Environmental group sues feds over silvery minnow and Rio Grande management


Midtown rezoning clears City Council

The latest plans to redevelop the Midtown Campus in central Santa Fe surged forward late last night when the City Council approved rezoning for the 64-acre parcel from institutional to mixed-use. The master plan approval, which comes four years after the Santa Fe University of Art and Design closed on land the city had bought earlier from the defunct College of Santa Fe, includes establishment of design standards and infrastructure changes to allow for housing and other new uses on the site. The next step for the project is consideration of a more detailed community development plan that lays out policy objectives. After a selected private-sector developer bailed out of the project early last year, a team of city staff and contractors held public meetings to regroup. They aimed to also have the development plan up for vote last night, but a procedural glitch punted the vote to a future meeting. Some councilors cautioned that, despite nearly half a decade of discussions, residents still have work to do as the municipal government eyes specific facets of the large project. “The heavy lifting is now just before us,” District 2 Councilor Michael Garcia said. The city plans to lease some parcels for development and sell others while also re-opening the Fogelson Library as part of the public library system and upgrading the Greer Garson Theater and Visual Arts Complex, among other goals. The master plan envisions up to 1,100 housing units on the site, including apartments and townhouses, with 30% of those units intended to be affordable for low- and middle-income households. Extensive public comment, including support from area real-estate agents, Chainbreaker Collective and the Historic Santa Fe Foundation, begins around the 3:03 mark on the meeting’s YouTube stream.

Dry times for minnow prompt lawsuit

The silvery minnow remains in peril 30 years after its arrival on the Endangered Species List, occupying less than 5% of its historical range today. A new lawsuit from an environmental group argues that recent drying in the Rio Grande coupled with federal tactics attempting to manage flows are sending the fish further up the dry creek. WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit in US District Court yesterday against the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation seeking a shift in management, particularly along the 174-mile stretch in the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District that begins with Cochiti Dam. According to the lawsuit, federal data shows the Fish and Wildlife Service set a goal of having at least five fish per 100 square meters. In October 2022, the density was 0.17 fish per 100 square meters. In 24 years of monitoring, density goals have only been meet in two consecutive years twice. “It comes as little surprise that silvery minnow populations remain in crisis,” Daniel Timmons with WildEarth Guardians told the Associated Press. “It is time to move beyond Band-Aid solutions for the Middle Rio Grande and think holistically about how to save a living river and all the native species that call the river home.”

Reforming TANF

The federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families/New Mexico Works program poses too many hurdles for the families who need help. So explained advocates from NMCan and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, who delineated those challenges and laid out potential reforms to lawmakers yesterday during a Health and Human Services Committee meeting. NMCan Director of Policy and Advocacy Arika E. Sánchez said young families with whom her organization works identified improving TANF as a top priority. Some of the problems with the program, which is administered by the state Human Services Department, include inadequate financial support; punitive rules for program violations; and retention of the bulk of child support TANF families receive, according to a presentation given by New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty Director of the Public Benefits Teague Gonzalez, and outlined here. A video highlighting parents’ experience with the program describes New Mexico’s program as the most punitive in the country. In a statement provided to SFR in response to questions regarding potential legislative remedies, Gonzalez says the proposals to address TANF issues “require legislative action because they each have a budget impact. For example, no longer sanctioning or punishing children for their parents’ alleged program violations means they will continue to receive their cash benefits. Another example, increasing the cash benefit amount, will require legislative approval. As the legislators stated today, it is vital that the proposed changes suggested today are enshrined in state law so that a future administration cannot easily undo changes made by regulation only.”

COVID-19 by the numbers

Reported Nov. 30: New cases: 901; 646,566 total cases. The most recent report on geographic trends shows a close to 27% decrease in reported cases over the prior seven-day period compared to the week of Nov. 21. Deaths: DOH says it will update COVID-19 fatalities on Dec. 5; Santa Fe County has had 367 total deaths; 8,702 total fatalities statewide. Statewide hospitalizations: 239 Patients on ventilators: seven.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent Nov. 24 “community levels” map, which uses a combination of hospital and case rate metrics to calculate COVID-19 risk for the prior seven-day period, shows eight counties categorized as “orange”—high risk—for COVID-19, versus four last week. They are: Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, San Juan, Bernalillo, Sandoval, McKinley, Valencia and Socorro. Santa Fe County, which was “green,” last week—signifying lower risk—is now “yellow,” with medium risk, as are 10 other counties. Corresponding recommendations for each level can be found here.

Resources: CDC interactive booster eligibility tool; NM DOH vaccine & booster registration; CDC isolation and exposure interactive tool; Curative testing sites; COVID-19 treatment info; NMDOH immunocompromised tool kit. People seeking treatment who do not have a medical provider can call NMDOH’s COVID-19 hotline at 1-855-600-3453. DOH encourages residents to download the NM Notify app and to report positive COVID-19 home tests on the app.

You can read all of SFR’s COVID-19 coverage here.

Listen up

The Nov. 19 shooting at the University of New Mexico, which left one UNM student dead, a New Mexico State University basketball player wounded, and led to the arrests of several students charged with conspiracy and aggravated assault, attracted national attention and ongoing fallout. On the most recent episode of the Las Cruces Sun News podcast, The Reporter’s Notebook, host Damien Willis talks with lead sports reporter Jason Groves and News Director Lucas Peerman about the explosive story that kept half the Sun News staff chasing down leads for the better part of Thanksgiving week. The Reporter’s Notebook recently took first place in the New Mexico Press Association annual contest in the multi-media category.

Green futures

US Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-NM, joined Washington Post Live yesterday for a discussion with Deputy Climate and Environment Editor Juliet Eilperin about what investments the federal government is making in climate change solutions. Among other topics, Heinrich and Eilperin discussed the recent decision made at the COP27 climate conference in Egypt for wealthier nations to help pay for the climate-driven damage suffered by poor countries, an initiative Heinrich supports. “I think it’s really important, because it really gets everyone in the tent,” he said, “because it’s going to take a real unified effort to address this globally.” The conversation also included a drill-down into the impacts of the Inflation Reduction Act, such as the electric appliance rebate provision Heinrich secured in the bill. Electrifying home appliances, he said, gives “people the tools to be able to actually take action on climate change in their own lives,” and is an action he’s taken himself. Heinrich tells Eilperin he believes the Inflation Reduction Act may have a larger impact on climate change than was initially realized. Nonetheless: “I think it’s pretty clear that we’re facing a catastrophic future, and the faster we act, the more we mitigate that.”

Native vision

The end of November may have marked the official end of Native American Heritage Month, but barely made a dent in the acclaim New Mexico’s Native American artists are receiving far and wide. Santa Fe-based designer Orlando Dugi (Diné) is among the 11 designers Vogue magazine spotlights from the Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week (through Dec. 2). “Specializing in formal wear, his womenswear and menswear draw inspiration from his childhood memories spent in the desert of northern Arizona,” Vogue writes. “His recent spring men’s collection featured Orlando’s signature craftwork details including insect-derived dying and hand-beadwork.” You can view Dugi stitching his work on Instagram and as part of the Art of Indigenous Fashion exhibition on view at IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (through Jan. 8, 2023).

Meanwhile, in Florida, Nani Chacon (Chinle, Diné) was commissioned by Disney to paint a mural for the Disney Springs Art Walk, which she titled “Giving Land Back.” In her work, Chacon says in a video about the project, “I like to incorporate landscape and Indigenous people of the area.” Chacon, who was born in Gallup, had an exhibition at SITE Santa Fe earlier this year that featured 10 newly commissioned large-scale paintings and a survey of her public murals and personal archive.

Winter skies

The National Weather Service forecasts a high of 52 degrees and sunny skies in Santa Fe today, with increasing high clouds and northeast wind 5 to 15 mph becoming southwest in the afternoon. Looking ahead to the next predicted change, there’s a slight chance of showers Saturday.

Thanks for reading! The Word will be listening to a lot of Fleetwood Mac today. RIP, Christine McVie.

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