Current Affairs

Log March 25


Cried at the blue-green beauty of the weather map and the forecast description:

Tonight will be calm and quiet for much of the state. ...

Wore huge-heel new shiny Doc Marten boots to walk the dog along the ditch road very slowly, like Frankenstein’s monster. The dog and I are both very gray-haired now. Thinking of formal-wear tomorrow.

Watched a video of a guy carefully cleaning groceries he’d brought home, wiping each can and soaking oranges. I didn’t do any of that. 

Stared at everything in the pantry and fridge dubiously. Appetite’s gone. Beer cans are easy to clean.

Casita de Coco

I took down my Airbnb listing this morning. No ceremony. No regrets.

Santa Fe is subjecting hosts to more scrutiny, fees and taxes and it's a matter of time before Albuquerque sees this as a missed source of tax revenue as well. 

The idea is good and I thoroughly enjoyed all of my guests. I got no complaints from neighbors and had a five-star rating. I especially loved sharing Albuquerque with newcomers as all of my guests were.

The problem is threefold: 1) I can't feel comfortable breaking zoning laws I used to administer, even if they're stupid laws. 2) The federal tax thing at this tiny scale is burdensome, nevermind any potential State and local taxes. 3) Homeowner insurance was a question I didn't even ask because I already pay a stupid amount for living in a mobile home.

Zoning here in this unincorporated county says renting a room in your house is a Bed and Breakfast. That's the definition in the ordinance and to do it legally would require a Conditional Use permit involving a fee, site plan, inspection, notice to all my neighbors, and a hearing where I might get told "no." My familiarity with this process and those who administer it offers just the opposite of preferential treatment. No.

Federal tax info is already submitted to the feds by Airbnb. So I'll be paying federal and state tax on the measly amount I earned. My understanding is that if I rent more than two weeks a year it is considered a business and I need to start itemizing for toilet paper and cocoa. I'm really not into dancing around federal tax law or paying an accountant to do it for me. No.   

Homeowner insurance companies already charge mobile home owners more for the privilege of  living in a piece of shit. My modern modular is far from a piece of shit, but that's how they classify it and I pay more to insure 900 square feet than I did for my former 2000 square foot house. I'm completely unmotivated to ask for a quote on a home business. No.

No regrets.



Santolina - Wayne's World

Bernalillo County Commissioner Wayne Johnson writes of his support for Santolina Master Plan in the Albuquerque Journal  dismissing opposition, throwing around rotten red herrings and concluding:

Passion and an intense desire to stop new development in Bernalillo County simply aren’t enough for the commission to deny a property owner his or her property rights. 

Aside from hyperbole, this indicates he misses the public benefit part of planning. Changing or denying Santolina wouldn't constitute infringement on property rights. But approving a plan without apparent public benefit and protections has big consequences for County residents. It also makes the Commissioners look like tools.

Continue reading "Santolina - Wayne's World" »

Bernalillo County Wants to be a City

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.

Carrying Water for Santolina

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.

Water Authority: Santolina Ducks in a Row

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.

Heavy Equipment

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.

Dry and Desperate - New Mexico Drought

Cross posted in El Grito


It’s bad and we’re all lawyered up.

That’s a good tweet-length description of the State Engineer’s information about water given to a joint hearing of Senate Conservation, Judiciary and Finance committees on January 24th. The hearing was sparsely attended but Conservation Chair, Senator Wirth assured the larger audience in the gallery that many Senators were listening in their offices. (Sure they were.) State Engineer, Scott Verhines and the Director of the Interstate Stream Commission, Estevan Lopez, described the offices and function before Conservation Bureau Director, John Longworth presented sobering drought statistics. It was dry, but not nearly as dry as  New Mexico.

Water is the most important issue we talk the least about. Senator Peter Wirth

New Mexico water law is unique and the complexities are great and growing. Scarcity, not surprisingly, is increasing costs and conflict. The Engineer estimated the value of water rights in New Mexico at $15-16 billion dollars.  Later, Senator John Smith quipped that the only thing we have less of in New Mexico than water is money. As for conflict, it’s epic. The attorney noted only some of the multiple lawsuits in federal and state court. Litigation issues are scheduled to will be presented again to the Senate Finance Committee on January 31st at 1:30, Room 322. It’ll be interesting to see just how much all that water lawyering costs.

Drought got the most focus. John Longsworth presented tragic temperature, precipitation and reservoir data. Over 95% of our state is in moderate to extreme drought. Reservoirs are very low with Elephant Butte at 7% capacity. 2012 temperatures were the warmest in 118 years and the last 24 months are the driest in 120 years. Senator Phil Griego later described the crisis in southern New Mexico saying that more than 13,000 acres of farmland on the Pecos River have been abandoned and that people are so desperate some are stealing hay.

Wet years have a way of covering up a multitude of water management sins. Drought exposes them for all to see. John Fleck, ABQ Journal 

Among the consequences of drought to Verhine’s Office are even more litigation and more complicated administrative decisions. He lauded his staff’s intelligence and work ethic saying they carefully consider long term  and unintended consequences of applications. That’s good, because there are deep consequences to the trend of transferring water to the highest bidders. Pressures on the State Engineer for favorable rulings are unlikely to abate, even if the drought does, and there is no end in sight to lawsuits.

Speaking of which, the San Augustin Ranch LLC proposal for a water transfer from Catron County to the Rio Grande was mentioned. A court had upheld the Engineer’s initial denial of the permit but that decision was just appealed.  The case entailed the largest administrative hearing ever conducted by any State Engineer with 900 protests to the transfer. It is not going away.

Solve, not fight

That’s the State Engineer’s mantra, he said. Toward the close of the hearing Senator Wirth suggested that might be a good goal for Legislature.

Comedy Central on The Crazy Bill

Reaction to an outlandish abortion bill in the New Mexico Legislature, House Bill 206 from Comedy Central:

Listen up, Land of Enchantment. First you infect our country with a bunch of New Age-y here's-where-the-aliens-put-the-probe energy crystal people. Then you and Walter White send us meth. Now you're becoming Arizona junior in the nutty-legislation sphere. Are you even trying to make this relationship work?