By KAY MATTHEWS
Things are heating up in anticipation of Wednesday’s Bernalillo County Commission hearing on the Santolina proposed development on Albuquerque’s West Mesa (the former Atrisco Land Grant). The master plan includes development on 13,850 acres with 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.
In yesterday’s Albuquerque Journal Commissioner Art De La Cruz, whose district includes the South Valley, wrote an editorial endorsing the Santolina plan: “Strong planning, standards and accountability efforts should determine what the future of Bernalillo County and the city of Albuquerque should look like. Presently, Santolina fits this model as a master-planned residential and commercial development.”
Members of the Contra Santolina Working Group and others immediately questioned the propriety of a member of the commission, the body charged with rendering a decision to approve or disapprove the development based on public hearings in a supposedly impartial, quasi-judicial hearing, declaring his support for the project. Contra Santolina posted the definition of “quasi-judicial” on Facebook: “The action taken and discretion exercised by public administrative agencies or bodies that are obliged to investigate or ascertain facts and draw conclusions from them as the foundation for official actions.”After the hearing on Wednesday the commission is scheduled to make a decision on Thursday based upon public input.
De La Cruz’s editorial relies on the hackneyed response that anyone opposed to the Santolina development “do[es] not want any growth, period.” This reductionist thinking dismisses the opposition as naïve, unrealistic, and ultimately responsible for “unplanned” growth. What remains unexamined is the very concept of how “growth” differs from the “economic development” that is necessary to sustain Albuquerque’s viability: much needed improvements made to extant infrastructure; infill development to supply housing needs (including affordable housing); small business development; and completion of the already approved Mesa del Sol development, as former Albuquerque mayor Jim Baca pointed out in his online comment regarding De La Cruz’s editorial.
De La Cruz also claims that the Albuquerque Bernalillo Water Utility Authority “has a water resources management strategy in place that takes future growth into account and can accommodate Santolina within the water utility’s existing water rights portfolio.” Opponents are quick to point out that the letter of commitment from the Authority does not meet the requirements of the Bernalillo County Planned Community Criteria to document “physical and legal water availability, quantity and quality.” Furthermore, the Authority, which is served by both San Juan/Chama water (already fully appropriated) and groundwater, will inevitably have to pump the groundwater aquifer as drought and climate change continue to impact the San Juan/Chama supply. The Authority will also have to purchase water rights to compensate for additional groundwater depletions.
Tomorrow, Wednesday, March 25, opponents will gather at the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) office, at 211 10th St. SW at 12:00 pm to rally and march to the Bernalillo County Commission meeting at 1 Civic Plaza which starts at 1:30 pm. Don Bustos, Española farmer and activist with the New Mexico Acequia Association (NMAA), along with other farmers, plan to drive their tractors to Civic Plaza to express concern over what impact Santolina may have on farmers and agricultural land and water.
The NMAA is mobilizing its membership to attend the SWOP rally and Commission hearing. Car pools are being set up at these locations:
Questa Start: 8 am
Taos: 8:30 am
Embudo: 9 am
Alcalde: 9:15 am
Espanola: 9:30 am
Santa Fe: 10:00 am
Albuquerque: 11:30 am
Mora Start: 8:30 am
Las Vegas: 9:00 am
Santa Fe: 10:00 am
Albuquerque 11:30 am
For more information contact the NMAA at 505 995-9644 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.