The Santolina Master Plan: “Greed not Need”

Editor’s Note: Albuquerque Business First just uploaded a survey on its website asking people “Should the Bernalillo County commission approve the Santolina master plan?” Take a minute to answer “yes” or “no.”

By KAY MATTHEWS

Opposition to the proposed Santolina development on Albuquerque’s Southwest Mesa is gearing up in anticipation of the hearing before the Bernalillo County Commission on March 26th at 1:30 pm in the Vincent E. Griego Chambers at City Hall. The development was recommended for approval by four of the Bernalillo County Planning Commission board members (Joe Chavez, Toby Atencio, Irene Serna, and Connie Chavez) on December 3rd, 2014. A coalition of groups called Contra Santolina is in the process of organizing a Town Hall meeting that will focus on information about the negative impacts of the Santolina Master Plan. La Jicarita will post the date when it is available. Contra Santolina encourages everyone to call the Bernalillo County Commissioners to tell them loud and clear that they should DENY the Santolina Master Plan. Send letters of concern to Catherine VerEecke at cvereecke@bernco.gov addressed to Chair Maggie Hart Stebbins, or leave a message for the commissioners at 505-468-7000.

Virginia Necochea’s October 2014 La Jicarita article “Say No to Zombie Development” laid out the dimensions of this massive proposal: 13,850 acres, 38,000 houses plus commercial and industrial buildings, and an estimated population of 95,000 people, which is more than the 2010 population of Rio Rancho – and the third largest city in New Mexico.

Consensus Planning map
Consensus Planning map

This is just the latest chapter in the long history of behind closed-door deals and controversies within the Atrisco Land Grant, the original owner of what now may become Santolina. In 1967 Senate Bill 151 set up Westland Development Co. to serve as a holding company for the land, a law that allowed land grants to be reorganized as for-profit corporations to benefit the heirs. Throughout the next two decades there were numerous lawsuits and charges against the Westland board of directors. A new, reformed board elected in 1989 promised it would oversee economic development and increase the shareholders stakes, but by 2005, when Westland first proposed selling the company, yearly dividends were only one dollar per share.

In 2005 State Representative Miguel Garcia, whose South Valley district included many heirs to the grant, accused Westland of insider trading in its attempt to sell the grant to a third party based in Delaware. He alleged that Westland knowingly bought out shareholders with the intent to resell their shares at a profit, while not informing the shareholders. Then, in 2006, Westland was sold in a highly contested vote to SunCal, a California based company, for $250 million. In 2009 SunCal was sued by lenders Barclays Bank, Five Mile Capital and iStar Financial, seeking immediate payment on $182 million in loans, and in 2010, Western Albuquerque Land Holdings (WALH), agent of Barclays Bank, bought the company for $148 million. This is the developer now pushing the Santolina Master Plan.

Contra Santolina has updated its fact sheet to address many of the outstanding issues related to this development.

Water

The developers have claimed they can get the water—11,000 to 14,000 acre feet per year (afy) or 9.8 to 12.5 million gallons per day—through the Albuquerque Bernalillo Water Utility Authority. Providing water outside of the water service area will cost an estimated $100 million in new infrastructure; the Water Authority currently has over $380 million in maintenance backlogs. Water rights will have to be purchased and pumped from the already depleted Rio Grande Basin, threatening existing wells in the North and South valleys. Those water rights will more than likely come from Rio Grande Valley agricultural land, or, as we speculated in the January 29 La Jicarita, from the Augustin Plains Ranch, LLC, the corporation that wants to appropriate 54,000 afy of underground water in the Datil area and send it to water markets in the north.

Tax Burden

Residents in the Albuquerque Metro area will see increased taxes to support the infrastructure and maintenance costs incurred by the development. Two projected interstate exchanges will cost $30 million each. An increased tax burden of $1 billion will be needed to pay for schools, roads, and other infrastructure.

Lack of Need

Sufficient capacity for growth exists in the areas within the Comprehensive Plan. Infill, rather than sprawl, can meet those needs. And as the ABQ Free Press (available in hard copy all over Albuquerque) details in an article in last week’s issue, there is already a housing glut in the metro area and little population growth due to stagnant economic recovery from the 2008 recession. Mesa del Sol, south of the airport, has never reached anywhere near projected capacity. Where are these 95,000 people coming from and where are they going to get jobs?

You can donate to this fight against the Santolina proposal based on “greed not need” (as Paul Lusk, a former city and county planner, described it) at: http://www.gofundme.com/denysantolina

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