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. 

Capital Outlaw Reform

House Bill 307 would put architects, engineers and construction professionals and maybe a planner* together in a committee to recommend** capital outlay priorities for New Mexico. Think New Mexico thinks this is a good idea and I'm sure a lot of architects, engineers and construction professionals do too. Why wouldn't they given their livelihoods are at stake.

It would be like locking lobbyists in a room to duke out the contents of a bill.  It just takes the legislators off the hook for having to decide the more powerful interests.

And forget it if you're not in that room. 


*  or someone who has worked in the area of  "complex financing of commercial or public capital projects" because that's just like planning right?

** Contrary to some coverage, this group would not get to decide. Thank God.

Take Down a Capital Infrastructure Christmas Tree

Step One: Don’t keep decorating it.

So the Governor sees an angle in having a capital plan. She’s put HB307 - the Capital Outlay Reform Act on her call. I posted about SB 33, another reform bill here. The bills differ in major respects but also have similarly worded sections on capital project criteria that seem too detailed for statute.

SB 33 would create a planning council made up of agency representatives with enough funding for one year and one plan. It placed planning responsibility with the legislative branch. HB 307  would keep it in the executive branch and funded. It would abolish the Local Government Division (which has coordinated planning responsibilities since the cabinet level planning department was eliminated in 1983.*) and create a new Capital Planning and Assistance Division to do ongoing work. 
But HB307 would also follow through on Think New Mexico’s problematic recommendation of establishing an expert “non-political” thirteen member council that includes architects, engineers and construction professionals. Finding anyone to serve who wouldn’t have a direct conflict of interest would be challenging. Engineers and building industry professionals are dependent on state capital dollars for their livelihoods. Injecting their contract interests and those of their associates directly into the capital planning process would make it even more political.

Sections of both bills contain similar new material about how councils should set guidelines and both go a step further by bumping  up a project’s leveraging matching funds as a priority consideration. This could anticipate insertion of a couple of huge, controversial regional projects that hold the promise of federal money.**

 In creating new councils both bills would take direct heat off of legislators for listing or not listing projects. It could serve as important cover for inclusion of some big unpopular projects. It buries those decisions behind planning rhetoric and is still top-down.


*I contend that planning has gone through so much abolishing as to have no presence in New Mexico state government anymore. Anything is a plan now. A list of capital projects is a plan.  As an example, wording in HB 307 that directs establishment of a state plan that follows best practices for capital budgeting, not planning.  

**This also stirred the tea leaves. Gila diversion and fat juicy engineering contracts will raise a big ugly head on this five-year “planning” horizon.

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

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.

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.