Plan This

With apologies to those still laboring in the field, my career choice - city planning - got hijacked sometime around the mid-eighties and has been going downhill ever since. The rise of organized private property rights movement(s) and the interests of various private financial machinations and entities loosely coalesced to assist in this decline by weakening land use and planning laws and touting free market ideals ill-fitted to real estate.  So pardon my skepticism about planning reforms cooked-up like fast oats.

That there is today no connection between land use planning and capital planning will come as no surprise to most of us involved in either one.  But there is a connection, albeit loose and voluntary, between local government capital planning and the state in New Mexico. And there is still a requirement in statute that the state develop a multi-year capital projects program using those plans and the plans of other agencies. There is also a division of the Department of Finance charged with doing all that.

I point this out only because some proponents of capital outlay reform now seem to be under the impression that all this is new.  It isn't. Most improvements to the process within one bill, HB 307, could be accomplished without legislation. Representative Moe Maestas made this point in a committee hearing. "That can happen today." The provision of staff and oversight of the capital project process could happen today with adequate funding and without new law. There is no appropriation with the bill.

Hey, don’t get me wrong. I love government.  But adding two new boards to a process won’t fix a thing and it won't be transparent or streamlined. There is a phenomenon I’ll call access overload where, as in the case of Albuquerque, the number of public agencies and layers of meetings open to the public have multiplied into an impenetrable maze of calendars and agendas. Sure, they're public meetings but public input gravitates toward the interesting not the mundane.  Irregularities can hide in plain sight when oversight and watchdogs are dispersed. 

HB 307 also carves out exceptions to the capital planning process for transportation and water trust board projects that don't exist now. Some legislators sound intent on holding onto the potential to submit projects independent of the new review and ranking council.  The bill may codify - set in statutory stone - the problems proponents wanted to fix. 

Railroading Paseo del Volcan

The inaptly named Paseo del Volcan project is all set to dole-out $8 million public dollars to big private landowners and that’s just the start. Rest uneasy, the total cost of the project is estimated at $70 million, not including another $8 million needed for more right of way before that starts.

Proponents are not dissuaded and have attempted to put road corridor money on level funding ground with projects that have been on the local road plans for decades. (Here's that rabbit hole: MRCOG MTP) Normalizing the project by comparing it to other interchange projects is also highly popular but misleading.  It was compared to Rio Bravo and I-25 where new jobs are anticipated. "It works!," someone in the hearing trumpeted, for goodness sake.*
Tom Church, Secretary of Department Transportation, told a New Mexico Senate committee about the Volcan project this week. He said there’s $2.5 million in “regular” STP dollars plus an “old federal earmark” of $4 million set to expire that was obligated for Atrisco Vista.  That's the road that used to be called Paseo del Volcan. We are left to assume that Atrisco Vista is now fully built and perfect.

Remember when Marty Chavez was Mayor of Albuquerque and there was much fuss and rush over economic development at the Double Eagle Airport? It is located on this road now called Atrisco Vista. Public funding was critical now for this forward thinking project that would bring orderly development. So we paid for water and sewer and storm drains so that Eclipse Aviation could move out there. Land use policies were tossed out the window.  A certain county commissioner flipped some mattress land. 

I’d love to see the estimated public dollars that went into all that.  And how'd that work out? Might that experience inform this request?

Ho Hum. Different project. Doesn’t matter. The guys that want this don’t own that.


*Land in the vicinity of Rio Bravo has rail access, airport access, freeway access and access to an existing labor force. It has been zoned for manufacturing since the county had a code. 

Astroplanning Capital Outlay

Senate Bill 33 - the Capital Outlay Planning and Monitoring Act introduced by Senator Carlos Cisneros is an attempt to get a handle on well-publicized problems with New Mexico's capital outlay process. It's probably an improvement.

The bill would create a capital outlay planning council to oversee development of the already required State Capital Outlay Plan. This work would become the responsibility of the Legislative Finance Committee instead of the Department of Finance and Administration.

The statewide plan is a big  job. Each agency, every local government and quite a few unqualified entities, submit projects for funding to this or that legislator or agency.  They all are supposed to be qualified, vetted, ranked, prioritized and presented for  approval and funding. Then each project is supposed to get monitored and each entity held accountable through reports and audits. 

Once upon a time this big  job was done by a cabinet level planning department. The agency went away in 1983 and its functions were dispersed to the bureaucratic forest.  Some oversight was given to the local government division of DFA. Every agency became responsible for plans. Plans were not required or required to be coordinated.  The process devolved into project lists with timelines.

The Executive Planning Act (NMSA 9-14-3)  gives the Governor significant responsibilities for administering statewide planning. The Government Restructuring Task Force Report of 2010 has strong wording recommended that the Governor step-up and study re-creating a state planning agency. Authors saw clear potential in exercising planning principles to save costs and improve government.

That didn't happen.

SB 33 goes the opposite direction, removing state level planning responsibility from the executive branch entirely and placing it with the Legislative Finance Committee (by repealing 6-4-1.)

There is nothing long-range or comprehensive about capital planning in New Mexico now and this bill doesn’t change that.

The Media Gallery


Oh! What’s that smell?


Leftover Chinese food didn’t mask body odor in the airless room. It would become so much worse as the session wore on. 

A priest used melodious phrases in the invocation.

selfless devotion… common good… unfailing kindness.

He said "common good" twice like it needed repeating.

Many know nothing of those things. Many know none of them matter or have much of anything to do with a 30 day session of the New Mexico Legislature where "common good" is considered just another special interest. 

Jesus. It stinks in here.



This year a sign was loosely taped to the door and later removed. "NO BLOGGERS ALLOWED."

Territoriality can be a barrier to transparency too.

But you can have the room.



NMLEG 2014

Christmas Tree Capital Planning *

Planning does what it's supposed to do when it’s part of a generally trusted process that goes beyond any one politician's term. That's both why it makes sense and why it doesn’t happen. 

Planning should be required for public funding. But for a variety of reasons planning as a practical government function has become nearly invisible over about the last thirty years. As a consequence, the New Mexico Legislature's apportionment of capital money is a senseless special interest wrestling match. Think New Mexico's recommendations for creation of a capital planning board and comprehensive (capital) plan are great. But they're also complete reinvention of a wheel that should have been rolling all along. How this recommended state level planning work is integrated locally may determine it's acceptance and success.

It's got to be better than no planning at all.

Comprehensive planning should take place within a web of interconnected plans that look at different things on an ongoing basis. Plans identify issues, explore alternatives, recommend policies and set priorities at varying levels of detail - the Comp Plan for a city or region being the broadest.

I didn’t make this stuff up. (Pauses to glance angrily at trolls.) But democratic city planning ideals are relatively recent. Regional planning as it was applied in this country sort of came of age in the thirties in New York State. It was fought then by Catskill developers who saw it as the potential constraint to profiteering it was. Most cities we consider “planned” cities were designed by architects or urban designers and built by an emperor, king or single rich guy.

New Mexico's uniquely invisible and toothless planning was shaped by a long rich history of exploiting people for land. That meshed nicely with national trends favoring a go, go, go housing market. The near mythical pursuit of "highest and best use" has kneecapped all but the flawed dull duo: subdivision and zoning ordinances.** At this point in our limited civil civic discourse we don't really even know what planning is supposed to do. The planning profession largely serves to either administer those development ordinances for public entities or wiggle around them for the private ones. 

Connected reasons promote not planning or anti-planning views. One is a simple lack of data. Limited truths and half-truths are easily exploited without information. Development of land has huge attendant public costs that are seldom accurately assessed. The overarching assumption is that growth pays for itself regardless of location and characteristics. Logic says the land itself is the correct determinant of public cost share,  not who owns it and the depth of their pocket.

Planning has also been a little unpopular with the civic boosters for the usual inclusion of a "no-growth" scenario in the alternatives framework some plans use. Talking no growth what-ifs just doesn't sit well with the mainstream. So never imagine that's been thought through with any public bond financing either.

"Growth management" planning efforts in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County in the 1980s and 1990s were a threat to the real estate golden goose egg and everyone who sucked on it.  Work to quantify infrastructure needs and set priorities in plans was routinely constrained or ignored by important allies of developers in government. Sympathetic elected officials insisted that existing methods of apportioning costs were fair before the Planned Growth Strategy, including determination of those costs, even began.

Lastly and importantly, planning is constrained by the wild card of capital infrastructure project funding from the New Mexico State Legislature. Legislators are unburdened by any required connection to local plans and policies. Planning without a capital component is meaningless, enabling detractors to sideline the planning process completely.




*What I would have said at the panel thingy only I would have gotten sweaty. So read this like you're me, sweaty. 

**Even so, NM didn't even have state subdivision law until the 1980s. Governor King, not coincidentally a huge landowner, vetoed the legislation a couple of times.

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" »

Santolina and the Water Authority #NMLEG HB331- SB609

Ash Wednesday 2015 (This part's not fiction but I wish it was.)

Great testimony in favor of the ABCWUA elected board bill on Monday at the NMLEG (HB331.) And very telling opposition - like a hornet nest was poked. There were some stinging words. (I highly recommend attending legislative committee hearings for the entertainment value alone.)

Continue reading "Santolina and the Water Authority #NMLEG HB331- SB609" »

Worthy Hero, Comrade Bronson Cutting


He was wealthy because his father was, like his father before him. Shipping and railroads mostly. Living off of the interest and overseeing big philanthropic endeavors. The best schools, sister too. Tutored in multiple languages for months abroad. Maybe babied beyond babyhood. You can see it in his cheeks.
Tuberculosis. Family resources were wielded to find help for Bronson and his brother. Different spas and resorts in Switzerland and Italy intended to cure. Favored brother died in 1908.

Then they tried New Mexico. In 1910 Justine and her brother moved here to thrive.

Seems they had compassion - some measure of enlightenment. Or maybe just guilt. Or maybe just both.

They inhabited New Mexico deeply - learning, appreciating and working to improve upon its governance as few others were able or willing. Cutting inscription


Boat Ramps and Prairie Chickens

LesserPrairie-Chicken-Vyn_090420_0194The New Mexico legislature's interim Water and Natural Resources Committee met in Santa Fe recently. The key presentations of dire drought news and water administration "hot spots" were by the State Engineer and the Interstate Stream Commission Chair.

State Engineer Scott Verhines presented an interesting list of legislative "You Wants" that presumably sum-up the direction of water policy for the State.  At the top of his list: "You want to aggressively protect our water from other states."

As during the regular session, staff presented a huge pile of sobering information at the meeting that no one had time to digest. Questions were not substantive, no actual work plan was established beyond meeting dates and the Committee Chairman Senator Phil Griego diverted a great deal of the committee's time to listening to lamentations about the Lesser Prairie Chicken and dry boat ramps on Conchas Lake - both of which seemed out of context and far less important than basic water policy. One might almost suspect that committee attention was purposefully diverted to avoid the giant, tough, ugly questions. 

Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino wrote about the meeting and suggested some of those hard questions.

 Is it wise to rely on unproven technology to bail us out? Does desalinization of brackish water from deep aquifers offer anything more than a temporary fix? Can we build a pipeline from the Mississippi Valley to move millions of acre feet uphill—and does that make economic, environmental or social sense? Would systems for water recycling and reuse change the situation enough to justify the capital investments required? Is cloud seeding anything more than a pipe dream?

Great questions. But don't expect to hear anything about them at the next interim Water and Natural Resources Committee meeting.



More Old Adobe Walls

Pueblo ruins and public works don't go together.
Potsherds Piedras Marcadas

A Tiwa* Pueblo, one of at least a dozen that existed when Coronado arrived in 1540, sat where Alameda Elementary School is today. The County trenched sewer lines throughout the valley without letting archaeology get in the way. This included cutting through the school site and the site of the old church further west. Crews only slowed down for history when they turned up churchyard bones.

In other valley locations the County has plopped big deep drainage ponds within yards of known pueblo ruins and other archaeological sites. They broke no laws, sadly. Without use of federal funding clearance surveys aren't required. There are no restrictions on private land at all. A developer may have to note a site with a subdivision action but the only time it slows anything down is when human bones are found. Some requirements are triggered then but that's mostly about respect for the dead. It's not the same thing as respect for history.

Oh well. An engineer I worked for once said, "What does an old adobe wall have to tell me?" I actually tried to answer but it was rhetorical and he waved me away.

According to church history and resident Barbara Santillanes Tapia, there were 7000 Tiguex Indians and a Spanish Mission at Alameda in 1620. Six years later the Indian population had dropped to 2000 and by the time of the Pueblo Revolt in 1680 there were only 300 Indians at Alameda. Along with Sandia Pueblo residents, they actively participated in the 1680 revolt and an earlier uprising in 1650. 

Lively place once, this valley.


*Tiwa is the same as Tiguex. I'm not consistent in usage. Sue me.