The bankruptcy of SunCal is no surprise. What was surprising was how many people believed in SunCal in the first place - believed there was a pot of gold at the end of a SW mesa rainbow. Forbes magazine made this analogy in a scathing 2007 story about the greedy dealings behind the Westland board's sale to SunCal.
Sustainable* community development is more like the stone soup fable where everybody gives a little bit to make a delicious stew. Sure, they get tricked into it by a couple of sneaky soldiers but at least everyone eats. Contrast that with the sneaky short dude moving the gold that he has no intention of sharing.
The development paradigm for SunCal's success was as old as the post war housing boom. It depended on the belief that Albuquerque has only one possible way to grow - SunCal's direction. The tax benefits contemplated would have added weak but damaging substance to what was always an illusion - that unrestricted development of all 57,000 acres was inevitable and beneficial to the rest of us. If you can corner the market on sprawl, SunCal tried.
Not everyone shared the vision. It was not in the public planning documents until we stopped paying attention in the 1980's. The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Comprehensive Plan restricted growth in most of the former land grant through a designation as Grazing Reserve. This was amended and redesignated as Planned Community Reserve in the late 1980s. Then the Planned Community Criteria were simply never adopted by the County. They still get the grazing tax benefit, though you don't see cows out there.
Albuquerque's jurisdictional control of the Westland area was further eroded by actions in the Roundhouse during Manny Aragon's final years there - including elimination of Albuquerque's extraterritorial planning and annexations, and creation of the Water Authority.
The table was all set but few wanted to hear the bubble popping. Maybe it was just too good to be true - too much of a good thing. Certainly too much land. More land than water. More land than demand. More land than sense.
Westland was a cash cow for the board members and they, along with many shareholders, got a windfall with the sale. Barbara Page and Sosimo Padilla alone split $18 million. Hopefully that stayed in the local economy. And there was the creation of the Atrisco Heritage Foundation, the Campo Santo (cemetery) and the LLC for Oil and Gas Board(s). The new board was supposed to get a million a year for a hundred years but I doubt that they ever got more than the initial $2 million - nothing to sneeze at but hardly enough to maintain a cemetery. Might as well have promised a hundred dollars a year for a million years.
The future undoubtedly means multiple subdivisions and land sales of the former land grant area. The results depend on many factors and measures. The stone soup fable is about generosity, imagination, multiple contributions and multiple beneficiaries, not rainbows and windfalls. Oh, and it helps to have a basic recipe. A general plan.
*Search me. But I'm sure you know what it means.
Image Child's Play Books.