If you will imagine for a moment that a bureaucracy is an entity with hopes and dreams, it is clear the County wants to wear big boy development pants. This is reflected in actions over the past decade or so that have put Bernalillo County on more or less equal footing with the City of Albuquerque. Significantly, the legislature eliminated the planning and platting jurisdiction of the City about the time the Water Authority was created.
The separate Water Authority truncated water policy from planning by creating a new bureaucratic animal. Patterned on a Southern Nevada regional utility, the Water Authority, unlike municipalities, has no statutory basis for land use planning considerations. Water service is now a technical question of whether an area can be served, not whether it should be.
Eliminating Albuquerque's planning authority over the unincorporated area and creating a purely technical water utility was specifically intended to facilitate unfettered development of the unincorporated area.
The proposed Santolina Master Plan and massive rezoning (hello!) is the County's unincorporated land development responsibility. It is now solely within County jurisdiction. If approved, the County will serve this urban county population growth, as if it is a city.
But, if it isn't obvious already, the City is part of the County. Not separate. The County budget is made up, in large part, of Albuquerque's property tax base. The County may approve anything and the City gets no say. But the City, as the County's tax base purse, will pay for it.
This is true no matter what schemes and structures are used to finance anything initially. If the County approves Santolina, we all own it - Albuquerque residents will pay for the mistake for years.
If Commissioner Art de la Cruz, and the newspaper, and the real estate boosters and speculators want the County to play city, they should support the County's incorporation as a municipality, without the city and its tax base.
It wasn't the surveyors' fault the Colonel couldn't read maps.
Commissioner Simpson takes after his great-grandfather that way. Can't read a map worth a shit. When he looks at lines on paper that aren't words or numbers, he just blanks-out - freaks out. Which is pretty funny for someone in real estate. He's also got no sense of direction. Couldn't find his own house at night if it wasn't for Ace. It's part of why he pays him so much - Ace is a bully who can find north.
Colonel Simpson was only interested in getting the survey done for the title insurance. It had been over twenty years since the court of land claims had ruled in his favor and now his creditors were hounding him for something of value. There had never been more than a "metes and bounds" description of the grant that went something like: at a boulder on a corner of another grant, go east so many leagues to another boulder next to a tree or to a pueblo ruin - that kind of thing. That kind of thing, exactly.
If either the Colonel or his grandson, Alva, had known about the stuff in the shed they would have had it hauled off to the dump. Alva in particular had no use for history. After his mother Consuela died, he had emptied the Perea hacienda and disposed of her collections, including three colonial era wooden trunks and two boxes of retablos from the Las Lomas church. They were rescued from the landfill by a man who had once served as an altar boy at the church and recognized them immediately.
But Alva, at least, figured out what the Colonel hadn't about the grant corner and the villagers' deception.
"The train pulled into Albuquerque in front of the famous old Alvarado Hotel. In contrast with the rain and cold of Kansas City, the air fairly zinged with warm sunshine. Both girls felt an instant lift of their spirits. To this day Millie maintains this was the most beautiful sight of her life.”
The arrival of 14 year old Mildred Clark Cusey in 1926.
He jumped the fence at the regular place and worriedly looked behind him. If cows jump over the moon, why not this fence?
The bull stopped short and snorted. Call me Ferdinand again, I dare you.
Heifer who likes her head scratched and plays with the water hose had noticed him first. More greeter than aggressor, she trotted right up to him and was a little hurt when he shied away. That caught the attention of the other two.
Little bull has strengthened his self esteem by pushing fallen tree trunks and a big telephone pole around the pasture and corral. He enjoys intimidating geese and joggers along the fence line, charging at them with his head down, snorting. His head and neck are growing as thick as those old trees.
He dreams of having a nice set of horns. But everyone who knows him is very thankful he does not.
Coyote circled and dodged. He seemed a little upset. He avoided the corner where the three cows seemed to be herding him. Sure, this is all fun and games until someone gets stomped to death.
The heifers had to stop - winded from laughing so hard. The bull's gratefully short attention span seldom extends beyond the heifers' butts so he stopped too. It was over before anyone got a camera out.
Coyote regained his composure but won't be back until that bull is gone. Now the chickens and guineas are getting a little too noisy and full of themselves.
The market decides. The government shouldn't direct development. This was basically what the Albuquerque Journal editorial board said in favor of approving the pending huge Santolina master plan.
This ignores reality. The market may follow but players arguing for water transfers and new roads determine where land development is profitable. Not the market. The Journal knows this, having successfully manipulated public funding and opinion to benefit their own development interests for years.
Priorities for public works without capital planning, which isn't done effectively in New Mexico, depend on who's asking. The adage about real estate location, location, location, might more accurately refer to location of public roads, water lines and storm drains. Location of these services determine value and profitable land sales. The only "invisible hand" is the one pulling utility strings at any given moment.
Sprawl profiteering is exactly why Rio Rancho wants another road to nowhere paid for by taxpayers. It is not a chicken and egg dilemma. There are no land sales without road easements.* There is no land valuation that wouldn't include the inherent value of various public services available.
The market does not decide. But apparently developers do.
* Except illegal subdivisions like those on Pajarito mesa.
There is a strong disconnection between the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority and the County Commission's decision regarding the proposed "Santolina" development and it will prove costly in the future.
The county planning commission has recommended approval with little or no information about the consequences of that decision on water supply. As surprising as that seems, it is also not at all unlikely the Commission will approve Santolina without that data. Because they can. No state or county law says anyone must prove water availability until subdivision - until the land is further chopped-up for resale. But it'll be too late to say no then.
This is by design and it is contrary to what proponents for Santolina have argued. They stated in testimony before the legislature that water and land use decisions are connected now and everything is working well. For them, maybe. The argument is that having some of the same members on both bodies some of the time magically coordinates decisions. No examples were presented, as I'm certain none exist.
Because, as I've stated before, the statutorily defined responsibilities of the boards are completely separate. The utility, the city, and the county have no coordinating, or even overlapping, planning functions. And planning isn't even required of those entities. To say that planning happens and that it is coordinated is a jaw-dropping gross misstatement.*
The water utility will make a technical decision of how to serve whatever development gets approved by the County. The consequences will rest on all of us. Sort of like:
Give us the water. Sorry about your farms. Maybe you should have thought of that before you said we could have 34,000 houses out here.
* Or a lying liar's lie.
Everything is just ducky with water and water planning in New Mexico. Land developers and business interests especially like the way things are working with the state's largest water utility. SB 609* would change the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority to an elected board.** There was more testimony Monday from the big guns.
The legislature created the ABCWUA in 2003. Present membership is a musical chair arrangement of city councillors, county commissioners and the mayor. Busy elected officials with competing responsibilities and assertive staff mean oversight is lax. Most residents and legislators are unaware of problems. Most information is characterized by the congratulatory back-patting about lower water consumption.
Meanwhile debt has ballooned from $260 million to $920 million since the authority's creation. And that isn't for fixing what's breaking. Expenditures have exceeded revenues for the past six years. Goals and objectives presented to the authority board are moving targets. There have been OSHA and civil rights complaints and multiple EPA discharge violations. Executive decision making has little oversight and the chief executive sits on the only state board that might otherwise rein in the city's voracious water appetite through control of transfers - the Interstate Stream Commission.
Yet one lobbyist used the word "wonderful" over four times to describe how well the water authority is working, especially at coordination between water and land use. The authority's own lobbyist stated that it was created because residents of Bernalillo County's north and south valley were not getting served.
At this point truth took a meander, in other words.
When the water authority was dreamed-up, policy makers were concerned about water and sewer extension, but not to valley areas. Albuquerque's policy of requiring annexation for service hook-up was long-changed and valley service extensions to existing residents, funded by the legislature, had proceeded at a brisk pace for years before that. It was service to undeveloped western Bernalillo County that was contested.
It was also the threat of coordinated land use and water policy that led to creation in the first place. The city's Planned Growth Strategy that began in 1997 provided the impetus. PGS would have used water and sewer fees to manage growth just as it would eventually use impact fees to a much reduced, and now largely defunct, effect.
Unlike cities and counties, the authority's statutorily defined functions don't include land use planning or following land use plans.*** And commissioners and planning hearing attendees are regularly reminded they don't get to decide water service areas or availability.
The water authority doesn't have land use review responsibility and the city and county don't make decisions about water anymore. It is difficult not to conclude that this separation wasn't deliberate, especially given the timing with the city's large-scale planning effort.
Without a trace of irony, the representative for Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, owner of the proposed "Santolina" plan, said changing the water authority board to elected representatives might mean control by "interest groups with an agenda different from the general public."
I think he really means different interest groups.
*Senate Rules Committee passed the bill Monday and it will be heard in Senate Conservation Thursday. It mirrored a House bill I wrote about here, killed by Representative Ezzell's House Ag and water committee earlier in the session.
**My fervent hope is that a new board would also change the name.
***Not that municipalities or counties do, because NM has incredibly weak laws and bad precedents in this regard, which only sharpens my point.
The Albuquerque Journal editorial board says the Santolina Master Plan is "smart planning." But then they also got the date of the hearing wrong.
Plans are often faulted for being too utopian or too detailed. Too dreamy and impractical or too constraining. Leading to nothing at all or limiting future options too much. Santolina is a little of the worst of both. There's no vision but a lot of wishful assumptions. It constrains options for agencies, but not development.
The plan envisions continuation of the existing pattern of suburban housing. This is presented with an air of inevitability - a casual throw-it-to-the-wind feel about the future that assumes of course they'll sell houses and of course there'll be enough revenue to serve them. Economic projections are rosy. It's as if this is all a new and shiny untested story. What could possibly go wrong?
The master plan would limit tax assessments for all the land to grazing value, even after the land is rezoned. Impact fees wouldn't apply anywhere. Critical issues for agencies, like how public land in the area (open space, parks, schools and easements) will be acquired and who will pay for them, are punted - relegated to next steps. There is no phasing, such that an agency might hope to anticipate where growth within the huge area will happen first. There is no tie between employment requirements and slapping up new houses.
And there's that rezoning. Re-zoning says the developer will be entitled to triple the number of houses. Unlike master planning, zoning law sticks. It is well worn and court-tested. The developer must show how several ambiguous and freely-interpreted criteria are met. What is disconcerting is the application of those procedures for blanket rezoning of 13,700* acres. The guy that wanted a wine tasting room in the valley on a couple acres got the same level of scrutiny as will rezoning the former Atrisco land grant. The only difference is the guy didn't get the winery.
The Journal board said whether or not Santolina becomes a reality "should be up to market-driven vagaries and population shifts." That's assured, but it isn't planning and it isn't very smart. A major purpose of planning is to protect the tax base from "market-driven vagaries." The developer isn't in this alone. County approval means the county and county tax-payers are on the hook, along with all the other public agencies whose services are assumed and expected.
The editorial board's statement that it is, "better to have a say now than never," frames the plan as if inaction now means something awful next. It doesn't. Just the opposite. Hasty action, especially rezoning 13,700* acres, assures less say in the future. It assures incremental, uncoordinated approvals from multiple agencies.
There is something worse than no plan. It is magical thinking based on hope and public money.
*Corrected 3/12/15. What's ten thousand acres give or take anyway, huh?
Big machine sounds in all directions, all at once. The huge arroyo drainage channel north of here is being dredged. The bridge over the tracks is being widened. A tree-chopper gnawed-up vegetation along the riverside channel last summer. Chipping machines and chainsaws still work the miles-long brush piles. Graders ply the parallel levee roads. A bulldozer cleared "invasive species" yesterday, making a long wide rip in the narrow bosque.
Hard time to be a plant or animal. Waves of Canadian geese flew up and out of that drainage channel the day they started construction. Pheasant and flickers on edges of the bulldozed swath looked dazed. Me too.
Fresh stakes in the ground seem to identify ill-fated trees within the 15 foot levee set-back. Bemoaning loss of the valley's giant cottonwoods expect to be told, they aren't that old, this forest wasn't here, man created this space. And we have bigger things to worry about. Like flooding. Like preserving the integrity of the levees.
I think, its a good thing we're trying to preserve that somewhere.
This justification - that the habitat is man-made - would seem to say we'll respect most what's untouched - with a long list of qualifications. (Not private. Not non-natives. Not subsurface rights.) But really, haven't some places already paid their dues? Isn't the inventory of "untouched" growing a little short? Never mind, not quiet.
On top of this: Leaf-blower and a garbage truck.
The bar burned because of Alva, but Alva didn't do it. Consuela set him up - her own son. He got convicted: arson for the insurance money. But he was innocent. Of that, anyway.
The bar was supposed to be built on top of an ancient pueblo, but it wasn't. This was a secret hiding in plain sight. The north wall mural the WPA guys painted apparently told the story.
The photo was taken after that gas furnace was put there on the ceiling. The upper right corner of the mural shows where they're going with the bricks. You couldn't see that part unless you stood under that heater with a light.
The night of his father's funeral reception in the bar, Alva took a sudden intense interest in the mural. He had planned on coming back. He was caught running from the fire.
I'm not sure why it was so secret: that a pueblo wasn't where it was supposed to be - or that a bar wasn't. But it was a big enough secret that Consuela burned her own bar down to keep it.
Chocky threw the newspaper down in disgust. This was now a morning ritual.
The county commission, like any set of business leaders (and this is how they saw themselves - as business leaders) wanted good news and good news was what they got. Good news meant upward development trends and "builder confidence." Good news was not negative babbling about infrastructure planning, development phasing or bond debt.
"Managing" growth might discourage it. Growth was like a delicate wild impala or ibex that might get chased into Texas if we try to build a corral or if it sees a lasso.
Construction and real estate are a big slice of New Mexico's economy. Land is severed from any common ownership, history or tradition and "put to highest and best use." The recipe has been repeated and perfected. Land speculation drives a lot of public decision making.
But you can't point these things out. It's rude. In the tight atmosphere of small pond politics, you can't call someone dishonest if you haven't always been truthful yourself. That sure stifles criticism. It is almost worse to call someone a liar than to be one.
Keep it to yourself. That should be the state motto.
The museum docent was rambling. Sadie looked at her phone a couple of times, hoping the woman might get the hint and stick to the script. Only five "dignitaries" had showed up for the tour. They trailed the docent in a tight herd.
A photographer showed up with a mousey looking woman who introduced herself as Cat. She asked a lot of unmousey questions and Sadie had to say, "I'll get back to you on that," about a dozen times.
The very first road up and down the valley was probably a narrow foot trail that passed right by this place.
"What are those?" mousy interrupted, pointing at the straight row of wooden survey markers with neon tape fluttering loudly.
The docent ignored her. She hadn't gotten to that part of the narrative so she sped up, talking faster and a little higher, like she'd just been rewound tighter.
Another guest leaned in and answered quietly. "An easement. I remember reading that."
"Easement." Mouse repeated it slowly, stretching out the 'eeee's. She heard the photographer add, "Easy peasy."
Perea Hacienda was built after the reconquest on the site of an earlier Spanish "estancia." Later it served as a stage stop and hotel. When the railroad arrived, these embellishments were added to the porch.
Sadie stepped around the corner of the hacienda to smoke but three steps later she was in gluey mud and knee high weeds and two of the dignitaries were right behind her. She offered them a cigarette.
The hacienda was located at one of the few natural breaks in the escarpment along which an ancient roadway ascended the mesa. This will be the same alignment of a new road, providing access to jobs and housing for modern New Mexicans as the old alignment provided access to the mesa.
Mousey made a noise that sounded like a one of those grackle birds.
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK.
Five sharp raps on the screen door made Chocky jump and spill coffee on his pink bathrobe. It was military knocking, like how his dad would knock on his bedroom door. It was knocking that made you hide your pot and Mad magazines.
He sort of expected someone official to show up eventually. Things had gotten weird in probate court and his place was now owned by Annie, or whoever ran that old senile widow's trust. He thought he had bought it from old man Perea and hadn't bothered with a title search. Now he was out a $15,000 down payment. The old man died and the family offered to pay him back but he knew they didn't have it.
He kept living there - building the sculpture and fixing up the cabins. It had been six months now. One of these days there would be a knock like that. He took a deep breath and opened the door.
Taxi, the burro, was standing on the porch. Chocky wondered at once how the donkey had knocked like that and what he wanted. Then Rosa stepped into view.