Morning Word

Judge: “Mansion Tax” Lawsuit Can Proceed

Alec Baldwin’s trial set for July

Judge allows realtors’ mansion tax lawsuit to proceed

The Santa Fe Association of Realtors’ lawsuit challenging a 3% real-estate excise tax overwhelmingly approved by voters last year can advance, First Judicial District Judge Bryan Biedscheid ruled yesterday. SFAR and two residents filed the suit last October, just a few weeks prior to the Nov. 7 election in which the proposal to levy the tax on the portion of any home sale exceeding $1 million—with proceeds benefiting the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund—appeared on the ballot. Last year, City Attorney Erin McSherry wrote a memo defending the measure’s legality, and the city subsequently filed a motion to dismiss the case, a request opposed by the suit’s plaintiffs. At yesterday’s hearing, brought at the city’s request, Biedscheid ruled the suit can move forward in its entirety, and asked for additional briefing on the legal points in play: namely whether a home-rule city such as Santa Fe has authority to impose additional taxes, and into which category of tax the excise tax belongs. “We’re disappointed,” McSherry told SFR following Biedscheid’s ruling, “but we will certainly get more discovery for the judge.” The judge’s briefing schedule is intended to result in a hearing before the tax takes effect May 28. In a news release following the ruling, SFAR lauded the decision: “In light of the fact that a purchaser could land in jail if the tax isn’t paid, these legal issues must be resolved,” SFAR past President Drew Lamprich said in a statement. “We are pleased that Judge Biedscheid recognized the importance of a thorough review and timely ruling prior to the ordinance’s implementation.”

NM joins FTC lawsuit over Albersons/Kroger merger

New Mexico is joining the Federal Trade Commission in a lawsuit challenging a proposed merger of Albertsons and Kroger, the FTC and state Attorney General Raúl Torrez announced yesterday. Arizona, California, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon and Wyoming also are joining the FTC’s federal lawsuit, which alleges Kroger Company’s $24.6 billion acquisition of the Albertsons Companies is anticompetitive. According to the FTC, if the merger is completed, Kroger and Albertsons would operate more than 5,000 stores and approximately 4,000 retail pharmacies and would employ nearly 700,000 employees across 48 states. “This supermarket mega merger comes as American consumers have seen the cost of groceries rise steadily over the past few years,” FTC Bureau of Competition Director Henry Liu says in a statement. “Kroger’s acquisition of Albertsons would lead to additional grocery price hikes for everyday goods, further exacerbating the financial strain consumers across the country face today. Essential grocery store workers would also suffer under this deal, facing the threat of their wages dwindling, benefits diminishing, and their working conditions deteriorating.” According to the New Mexico AG’s office, Kroger and Albertsons operate under the Smith’s, Price-Rite, Albertsons and Safeway banners in New Mexico. In a statement, Torrez describes New Mexico’s participation in the suit as a “bipartisan legal action” that “underscores our commitment to safeguarding consumer and labor interests to prevent higher grocery prices for New Mexican families and lower wages for employees.” According to the Washington Post, Colorado and Washington state have already filed lawsuits in state courts to try to stop the merger, which Albertsons and Kroger have said is needed so they can compete with Amazon and Walmart.

Alec Baldwin trial set for July

Rust producer and actor Alec Baldwin will go to trial this summer on charges of involuntary manslaughter in the Oct. 21, 2021 on-set shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, with jury selection scheduled for July 9, First Judicial District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer ordered yesterday. The judge’s scheduling order—which includes a June 24 deadline for any plea agreement—follows a contentious status conference last week during which Baldwin’s attorneys argued for a speedy hearing. Marlowe Sommer’s order also arrived on the third day of the trial for former Rust armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who also faces charges of involuntary manslaughter, as well as a felony charge for evidence tampering. Former Rust crew member Ross Addiego, who has a pending lawsuit against Baldwin and the Rust production company, yesterday supplied the trial’s first eyewitness testimony of the shooting, during which he broke into tears describing “…the concussion, ears ringing, that moment of panic” and said Hutchins was the first person with whom he made eye contact after the shooting that also wounded director Joel Souza. Addiego also testified regarding the performance of Gutierrez-Reed, who was 24 at the time, as armorer on the production, which he said “wasn’t necessarily as serious or professional” as others he’d seen during his 30 years in the industry. In perhaps a foreshadowing of Baldwin’s trial, FBI forensic examiner Bryce Ziegler also testified yesterday, along with two other FBI experts, and said he was responsible for breaking the gun that shot and killed Hutchins during testing of the weapon at an FBI lab two years ago. Baldwin has previously claimed he did not pull the gun’s trigger; with his lawyers raising questions about potential problems with the weapon. Ziegler said when the gun was received at the FBI lab, “everything appeared to be operating correctly.” He also said during his testing in the lab, he was only able to make the gun fire without pulling the trigger while the gun was fully cocked by breaking the weapon.

Oil and gas industry maintains status quo

Several measures geared at regulating New Mexico’s oil and gas industry failed to pass during the most recent legislative session, Jerry Redfern reports for Capital & Main. Three bills that would have limited fresh water use, imposed fines for spills and created buffers around schools were not considered “germane” in the 30-day session, which limits legislation to bills related to budgeting or those deemed relevant to the governor’s “call” or agenda. “The one word that describes the Legislature for me is ‘frustrating,’” Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, says. McQueen co-sponsored two bills that were heard: House Bill 133, which would have amended the 1935 Oil and Gas Act, and was “stripped down to the point that it included only fee and fine increases and codification of the state’s 98% methane capture rule, which targets leaks in the production process,” Redfern writes. HB48, which would have raised royalty payments on oil and gas produced by new wells on state land from 20% to 25% was a “no brainer,” McQueen says. “My Republican colleagues like to talk about free markets. And then they want to sell minerals [oil and gas] at below market value. It’s just…It’s nuts.”

Listen up

High cholesterol, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says afflicts two out of five adults in the US, can lead to two of the top causes of death: heart disease and stroke. That makes a potential vaccine for high cholesterol a “game-changer,” according to a University of New Mexico story about vaccine research by UNM Medical School researchers, led by Regents’ Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology Bryce Chackerian. On the most recent episode of UNM’s It’s (Probably) Not Rocket Science podcast, Chackerian discusses the research, recently published in NPJ Vaccines, with host Carly Bowling.

Ski Santa Fe looks to the future

Travel & Leisure magazine offers tips on planning a trip to Ski Santa Fe, which it describes as “hidden gem”—at least for visitors. One aspect of Ski Santa Fe that sets it apart from other resorts, T&L writes, is its accessibility “whether you’re a once-a-season type of beginner or you’ve literally never stood on a pair of skis before.” The magazine recommends visiting between mid-February and March for the best snow, and suggests staying at either La FondaFour Seasons Rancho Encantado or Ten Thousand Waves, and booking spa treatments at the latter two as well. La Fonda’s lounge receives mention as a spot for apres-ski recreation, as of course does Ski Santa Fe’s Totemoff’s Bar & Grill, which hosts live music on the weekends. Ski Santa Fe has not appeared particularly under the radar this season, judging by the lines up the mountain. Journalist and New Mexico Ski Hall of Fame inductee Daniel Gibson talks to General Manager Ben Abruzzo for a story in Local Freshies about the resort’s growing popularity, and some of the forthcoming plans to accommodate the increasing crowds, including: installation this summer of a $6 million detachable high-speed quad chair; programs incentivizing car-pooling; and issuance in the next year or two of Ski Santa Fe’s next master plan, which won’t expand the ski area’s boundaries, but could include, if approved, replacement of the Tesuque Peak Chair (for those who enjoy history: read a 1996 story about local protests at the time to proposed expansion at Ski Santa Fe). “What triggers the update is when most of the projects under the existing plan have been accomplished, and that’s the case here,” Abruzzo tells Gibson about creation of a new master plan. “The footprint won’t change. In general, it will simply be to improve what we are now doing.”

Imagining war as a Japanese-American artist

Santa Fe-based Japanese curator, writer and cultural mediator Machiko Harada writes for Hyperallergic magazine about her “complicated” experience of living in New Mexico as a Japanese person, where “on this enchanted and beautiful land of the Pueblo, Diné and Apache people are bitter symbolic and physical traces of World War II, such as Los Alamos, the Trinity site, and three Department of Justice internment camps.” Such places’ “narratives,” Harada notes, “are quite different from a Japanese perspective.” Her own experience serves as an entry point to consider how Japanese-American artists’ perspectives on war differ as a result of not experiencing it directly. “How does someone who has not experienced war, or the extreme racism that drove the incarceration campaign, adequately access these painful memories?” she asks. “How have artists attempted to convey the feeling of war to those who haven’t lived through it?” In the case of third-generation Japanese-American artist Roger Shimomura, his “artistic style depicting war is reminiscent of American Pop art, or Japanese Ukiyo-e prints and Yamato-e painting,” Harada writes, with much of the content based on stories from his parents and grandparents. Harada’s essay is the first of three parts in her 2023/24 Emily Hall Tremaine Journalism Fellowship for Curators. In her next post, Harada will continue to examine several Japanese-American artists creating work focused on WWII; her third contribution will be an online exhibition published on Hyperallergic.

Wild is the wind

The National Weather Service has a wind advisory in place today from 8 am to 11 pm, and forecasts west winds 35 to 45 mph with gusts up to 60 mph. Santa Fe also has a 20% chance of precipitation, with a slight chance of snow showers this morning. Otherwise, today will be partly cloudy, with high temperatures in the mid 50s, and a slight chance of rain showers this afternoon, along with areas of blowing dust.

Thanks for reading! The Word finds Hartley Lin’s recent New Yorker cartoon highly relatable (and bets others will as well).

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