Morning Word

Judge Overturns Santa Fe “Mansion Tax”

City of Santa Fe seeks proposals for former Warehouse 21 space in Railyard

Judge overturns City of Santa Fe “mansion tax”

First Judicial District Judge Bryan Biedscheid yesterday struck down a popular tax set to go into effect next week to benefit affordable housing in the city of Santa Fe. The 3% excise tax, approved by 73% of voters in the Nov. 7, 2023 local election, would have taxed the portion of residential real estate over $1 million to benefit the Santa Fe Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The Santa Fe Association of Realtors and some residents sued the city shortly before last year’s election, claiming potential harm as a result of the tax, and challenging the city’s authority to impose the tax in the first place based on state law. Biedscheid, who said he himself had voted in favor of the tax, concluded it does conflict with state law and, therefore, isn’t lawful. “I am not sitting up here thinking that what I am ruling is that this tax could in no way be legal [or] that is not a good idea,” Biedscheid said, “but by my reading of the code, in order to do this you would need additional authorization by the Legislature that is constitutionally given the authority to authorize and also limit municipal taxation, and I hope the city will do that.” Drew Lamprich, 2024 past president of The Santa Fe Association of Realtors, said in a statement that SFAR “members, affiliated members and plaintiffs are pleased that Judge Biedscheid made the legal determination that the City of Santa Fe does not have the authority to levy a home excise tax on residential property.”

City leaders were not pleased, and have already notified Biedscheid the city is likely to appeal the decision—a determination the City Council and Mayor Alan Webber will make at their meeting May 29. Webber tells SFR the city team is “convinced that the judge got it wrong. There’s no case law, the judge came up with his own interpretation that not only disagrees with our interpretation, as far as I know, it doesn’t even support the argument of the realtors,” he says. “So we are disappointed.” The mayor says he wants to appeal the ruling and notes the tax’s support by voters. “I think we will be able to demonstrate not only that our interpretation is correct, but also that the will of the people is, that this vote should be enacted and put into effect,” he says. Whether the mayor will broach the topic at his State of the City tonight remains to be seen. The event will be held from 5:30 pm to 8 pm at the Santa Fe Teen Center (660 Valentine Way).

Speaking of teens…

The City of Santa Fe yesterday announced it is seeking requests for proposals for the Railyard-area building that once housed Warehouse 21. The teen center, founded in the late 1990s, but with roots in Santa Fe’s creative history stretching back into the ‘80s, left the building in 2019. The city’s RFP “invites coalitions, organizations and site management firms in the creative industries to reimagine, revitalize and reactivate public programming for the 17,000-plus square-foot building in alignment with the city and its goals for a vibrant, inclusive and sustainable community.” Of the drive to repurpose the former teen center, Community Development Director Rich Brown said in a statement, “Community development is driving the growth of Santa Fe’s arts, media and film sectors, rooted in our rich arts heritage and continued with innovative immersive experiences like Meow Wolf. Investing in these cultural treasures not only honors our identity, but also propels our local economy forward. Together, we’re ensuring Santa Fe remains a beacon of creativity and a thriving community for generations to come.” The submission deadline for proposals, which Arts and Culture Department Director Chelsey Johnson says should “demonstrate that respondents are thinking big,” are due by 5 pm Wednesday, June 19. The city will hold a public tour and Q+A Session from 9-11 am Wednesday, May 29 at 1614 Paseo de Peralta, which will be recorded and available on the city’s YouTube page.

DOH expands opioid disorder services

The state health department yesterday announced the expansion of its services to people suffering from opioid-abuse disorder. As of this week, DOH says, more than 30 public health offices will offer medication-assisted treatment at in-person clinics and via telehealth services in collaboration with the Behavioral Health Services Division at the Health Care Authority (a new agency launching in July taking the places of the state’s Human Services Department). The expansion builds upon the Southwest Pathways program in Las Cruces to offer medications such as buprenorphine (mostly known by its brand name Suboxone) to reduce cravings and prevent withdrawal symptoms.

“More than two million people in the US have an opioid use disorder and we know many New Mexicans struggle with this addiction,” Health Secretary Patrick Allen says in a statement. “We are proud that we can now offer MAT services in all four regions of the state.” People can find more information on services here, and use an interactive map to locate nearby resources.

In the line of fire

With fire danger weather in the mix heading into a long weekend, the City of Santa Fe this week debuted an app that provides information about evacuation areas in the event of a wildfire in the area. As per a city news release, the city’s Office of Emergency Management partnered with Geographic Information Systems company SimTable, LLC “to create evacuation zones in the Wildland Urban Interface,” with the app dividing the city’s WUIs “into zones based on factors such as population, traffic patterns, and risk, as well as topography,” allowing “users to input their home address to identify their zone and, if needed, real-time evacuation status updates.” (Not all addresses reside in pre-planned wildfire evacuation zones.) The Santa Fe County Fire Department also is urging homeowners to participate in the county’s Defensible Space Program, which has created a process for homeowners within the WUI areas to obtain a letter that confirms “the extent to which the property complies with the Fire Code requirements and recommendations pertaining to defensible space.” According to the county, the county fire marshal anticipates the program may “encourage defensible space compliance and may help property owners obtain homeowners insurance,” a growing issue given the fire risks in the area. Finally, the state Forestry Division, in collaboration with a slew of other groups and agencies, also this week released a list of “know before you go” tips for those planning to recreate over the long weekend, with advice that includes checking for fire restrictions before setting out, and also keeping an eye on the weather. More advice and resources can be found on the New Mexico wildfire preparedness website.

Listen up

Bears and elk and trout, oh my! New Mexico serves as home to myriad species on its public lands and waterways. What role should the public play in wildlife conservation, and how should the state manage its fishing license and hunting fees? These are just a few of the questions today’s 8 am Let’s Talk New Mexico call-in show on 89.9 FM intends to explore with WildEarth Guardians Program Director Chris Smith (also recently interviewed in SFR); Trout Unlimited NM state lead Daniel Roper; New Mexico Council of Outfitters and Guides Executive Director Kerrie Romero and New Mexico Wildlife Federation Executive Director Jesse Deubel. Email, call in (505-277-5866) or record a voice message on the show page with your thoughts.

Nuclear victims deserve more

New York Times national security columnist WJ Hennigan, also the Times’ lead writer for its At the Brink series about the modern nuclear threat, publishes an opinion essay advocating for New Mexico’s downwinders to receive compensation from the federal government through an expanded and extended Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation joined a news conference last week in Washington, DC, calling upon US House Speaker Mike Johnson to bring the RECA for a vote before it expires on June 7. Hennigan recounts the story of people like Bernice Gutierrez, 78, who was eight years old in July 1945 when J Robert Oppenheimer tested the first atomic bomb at the Trinity site about 35 miles from her home in Carrizozo. “In the years since, 29 members of Ms. Gutierrez’s family have been diagnosed with various types of cancer,” Hennigan writes. “Several have died, including her son Toby Jr., who died of leukemia when he was 56. Her daughter, Jeanne, is currently being treated for thyroid cancer. Ms. Gutierrez had her thyroid removed on the advice of her physician because, the doctor told her, a positive cancer diagnosis was all but certain. ‘We don’t ever ask if we’re going to get it,’ she said, ‘We wonder when.’” Many downwinders also went to DC last week to lobby the House to pass the bill (the US Senate has already done so. Twice). Some, Hennigan notes, sold off personal belongings to pay for their trip. It’s time for Congress to act, he writes: “It should not be an option to leave thousands of Americans without lifesaving health screenings and compensation. Mr. Johnson should let the House vote on extending and expanding RECA—and our lawmakers should vote yes. These Americans have waited for too long.”

Taos, here we come

Outside magazine’s editors are looking forward to their “incredible” summer trips, which include a sojourn to Taos for Managing Editor—and Santa Fe resident—Tasha Zemke. She and her husband plan to escape the heat here and have booked a stay at one of Hotel Luna Mystica’s vintage Airstreams: the 1972-era Castor, where they will share a deck with friends staying in the adjacent Pollux from 1967. “From Luna Mystica, you can walk to the Taos Mesa Brewery’s mothership location, which has a stage and live music many summer nights,” Zemke writes. “Early in the mornings we’ll drive the quick 13 miles to the Black Rock Hot Springs on the Rio Grande; my husband will fly-fish from the wide banks while I soak and enjoy the July traffic through the canyon: dragonflies, swallows, kayakers, hawks, and bright-yellow butterflies.” OK, we’re sold. Speaking of Taos, The Travel includes it on a list of seven less touristy alternatives to Denver, aka places “where you can get comparable scenic views and outdoor recreation” to Denver, “often while saving some cash.” The website Lifeinism also includes Taos in its roundup of five places to escape to for Memorial Day weekend, and writes: “If you’re looking for a magical spot to spend your long weekend, Taos, New Mexico might just be the perfect destination for you. This bohemian artist colony meets deep history in a spectacular natural setting, making it a truly unique place to explore.”

Watch for wind

The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning today, with a forecast of sunny skies, a high temperature near 76 degrees and east wind 5 to 10 mph becoming west 15 to 20 mph later this morning, with gusts as high as 30 mph.

Thanks for reading! The Word is a big fan of NM-based writer Abe Streep’s work, and looks forward to devouring his New Yorker story on “Nova Scotia’s billion-dollar lobster wars.”

Letters to the Editor

Mail letters to PO Box 4910 Santa Fe, NM 87502 or email them to editor[at] Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.

We also welcome you to follow SFR on social media (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and comment there. You can also email specific staff members from our contact page.