Morning Word

US Senate Approves Compensation for NM Downwinders

Come celebrate the Best of Santa Fe tonight in the Railyard!

US Senate votes to give compensation to NM Downwinders

Christopher Nolan’s film Oppenheimer hasn’t just brought the spotlight on Los Alamos as the birthplace of nuclear weapons, it also has reinvigorated a longstanding fight to compensate generations of New Mexicans sickened by the radiation from the Trinity Test. Yesterday, the US Senate passed an expansion and extension of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act program as part of the National Defense Authorization Act that includes, for the first time, New Mexico downwinders and post-1971 Uranium miners. “Nearly eight decades after the Trinity Test in New Mexico, many New Mexicans are still left out of the original RECA program,” said US Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-NM, who has introduced RECA legislation annually since being elected to the US House in 2008. “This is unacceptable given the number of New Mexicans who have gotten sick and died from radiation exposure. The federal government must do right by these communities, and today’s Senate vote is a step in the right direction toward justice.”The amendment passed on a 61-37 vote. Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium co-founder Tina Cordova watched as it happened. “When I saw that we had 61 votes. I was so emotional,” Cordova tells SFR. “I was so overcome with emotion. I didn’t allow myself to get my hopes up because we’ve done that before and it didn’t go well.” Cordova says she doesn’t think Oppenheimer has been out long enough to have contributed to yesterday’s vote, but does think it provides a moment to cause real change. The bill now requires reconciliation between the US Senate and US House versions. “I’ve been doing this work for 18 years. For 13 years, we’ve had bills introduced and we’ve never had a vote on the House or Senate floor,” Cordova says. “The momentum from [yesterday’s] vote, and the actual press coverage about the movie, we can use that now to persuade the House to do the right thing.”

City signs agreement with potential Midtown developer

The City of Santa Fe announced this week it has entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement with Midtown Santa Fe Productions, Inc., led by PE Real Estate Holdings, to redevelop, expand and operate the existing Garson film production studios as a “competitive, modern studio facility.” The agreement marks the second phase of the city’s request for proposals, issued last December, for three portions of the Midtown campus: the visual and performing arts centers, as well as the film production studio expansion. Midtown Santa Fe Productions’ proposal for the studio (Exhibit A on page 29) includes merging Garson Studios with the adjacent Midtown Santa Fe Production Studio (the former Shellaberger Tennis Center). The proposal also calls for demolishing Onate Hall, but reusing Benildus Hall for office space. As described in a news release, the proposed combined studios would stretch across nearly 20 acres and “immediately become the largest studio in Northern New Mexico” and use a mixed-use “Studio Village” model that would attract a variety of different constituents. “This transformative project is an absolute game changer to bolster Santa Fe’s film industry and contribute to this remarkable city’s cultural and economic growth for generations,” Mayor Alan Webber said in a statement. As for the visual and performing arts RFPs, City Clerk Kristine Bustos-Mihelcic tells SFR via email the evaluation committee met to evaluate both and made recommendations regarding exclusive negotiating agreements for them as well. The city, she writes, is “currently working with the top ranking offerors from [those] RFPs regarding the terms of the ENA for Governing Body consideration,” which city staff anticipates that will happen in the fall or winter.

County adopts affordable housing plan

The Santa Fe Board of County Commissioners earlier this week unanimously approved an updated Affordable Housing Plan, which “identifies the need for 17,216 housing units in the city and county of Santa Fe and sets a goal of 2,319 units in the County over five years,” according to a statement from County Community Development Director Paul Olafson. Public Works Department Director Brian Snyder said due to high infrastructure costs, “one of the most effective ways the county can facilitate the creation of necessary housing units is by continuing its significant investment” in infrastructure projects, such as the NE/SE Connector Roads Project, the Avenida del Sur Road extension, the College Drive extension, and a public sewer line in the Community College District. In addition, the county has a pending Aug. 8 hearing on a draft ordinance to allow greater density for affordable housing. Lastly, the recently adopted affordable housing ordinance expands county programs that help low-income residents make structural repairs, such as roof replacements, to their homes. According to a news release, the county also intends “to target Developer Assistance programming that may allow for developers who provide 30% or more affordable housing within their development.”

State lifts some driver’s license suspensions

The state Motor Vehicle Division this week lifted suspensions on more than 100,000 New Mexico driver’s licenses. The move follows legislation enacted earlier this year that restores privileges to drivers who only had their licenses suspended because they didn’t pay fines or appear in court. According to a news release, the state also cleared suspensions on more than 160,000 out-of-state drivers who received New Mexico citations, and the state MVD is notifying those drivers’ home states. As specified under the law, drivers don’t have to pay a reinstatement fee for suspensions, although drivers who allowed their licenses to expire while they were suspended will need to obtain and pay for new licenses. A January 2023 report from the Fines and Fees Justice Center noted, among other findings, that fines and fees “are driving housing insecurity, food insecurity, and general financial hardship” among those surveyed, with 80% of New Mexico respondents reporting they had forgone basic needs such as food, rent, and car payments to pay off court debt. In addition, 41% of respondents “indicated they had at some point committed a crime to get money to pay court-ordered fines and fees” and nearly half had resorted to taking out “payday” loans. In addition, 48% said they had gone to jail to “pay off” court debts when they could not afford to pay them. The new law lifting suspensions does not apply to commercial driver’s licenses or to drivers who lost their licenses for other reasons under state law (such as DWI or other infractions).

Listen up

Don’t let the sun go down on you tonight without a trip to the Railyard for the annual Santa Fe Salutes concert, this year in tribute to Elton John. The show’s artistic director Andrew Primm will preview tonight’s Lensic 360 show with Honey Harris on The Big Show at 10 am this morning on 98.1 FM (or online). Santa Fe Salutes is but just one of the exciting events going down at the Railyard tonight, where SFR will also be hosting our annual Best of Santa Fe party, kicking off at 5 pm, celebrating all of this year’s winners. An un-named but very chatty SFR rep will join Honey and Andrew to talk about the big party tonight. Tune in for the low-down and see you this evening!

The future of opera

In advance of the Santa Fe Opera’s opening tomorrow night for the season’s fifth and final opera, Claudio Monteverdi’s Orfeo, the New York Times previews the world premiere of orchestration by Nico Muhly. “It’s a piece of music I’ve always loved, and I love Monteverdi,” Muly tells the Times, noting that accepting the Santa Fe commission “seemed like a really easy ‘yes.’” Expect what the story describes as a “contemporary” approach to Monteverdi, with “nary a period instrument in sight, neither a harpsichord nor a sackbut, a theorbo nor a cornett” to be found. Muhly’s modernization does not reflect, the story notes, “a grand revanchist blow against the period-instrument movement” (and the orchestra uses contemporary instruments regardless). Rather, “the artistic opportunities that are starting to open up as the first generation of period-instrument pioneers pass from the scene, the early-music movement confronts an uncertain future and all the old polemics about how works ought to be performed start to seem passé.” Also this weekend, the Santa Fe Opera celebrates the 50th anniversary of its Pueblo Opera Program with a new film, produced by the Pueblo Opera Cultural Council in collaboration with SFO, The Pueblo Opera Program: And What Could Be Next, directed by Beverly R. Singer (Santa Clara Pueblo). Tickets to the film, SFR’s top pick of the week, are free, but reservations are required and, as of press time, almost sold out.

Adventures outside and in

Outside magazine usually spotlights adventures in the great outdoors, not the interior of one’s mind, but a recent story explores Outside Deputy Editor and Travel Director Mary Turner experience with ketamine therapy. Turner, who lives in Santa Fe, writes she had considered trying ketamine therapy for several years following an accident on her way down the mountain after skiing. “A large snowplow came around a corner and collided with me, totaling my car. The plow’s blade was up, and it came through the window behind me, unnervingly close to my head. I was physically shaken and bruised by the impact, and I shudder to think what might have happened if the plow had hit a second sooner.” The psychological impacts of the near-miss lingered in a variety of traumatic ways. The story opens moments after Santa Fe psychiatrist Catherine Boyd has given Turner an injection of her first round of ketamine. Turner details her own observations, combined with reportage on how the drug works from a neuroscience perspective. Silver bullet, no. In Turner’s case, helpful, she writes. And while ketamine is not a hallucinogenic, it did provide Turner with a sense of internal and external awe: “After one treatment, I left Boyd’s office and looked up at the mountains above Santa Fe, which had a fresh layer of snow and appeared exceptionally majestic. Nature’s colors popped more—the vibrant green of a tulip’s spring growth, the pink flowers of a cactus on a hike.”


The National Weather Service forecasts scattered showers and thunderstorms after noon today, with a 40% chance for precipitation. Otherwise, it will be mostly sunny, with a high temperature near 94 degrees. Temps over the weekend will drop into the low 90s, with a 50% chance for precipitation on Saturday and a 30% likelihood on Sunday.

Thanks for reading! The Word looks forward to the breakdancing competition at next year’s Olympics (here’s some back story and rad videos from the Washington Post).

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