They arrived riding tractors, pushing strollers and carrying signs.
About 150 opponents of the massive Santolina Master Plan marched to City Hall on Wednesday and packed the meeting chambers for a hearing before the Bernalillo County Commission.
Then they sat and listened to hours of testimony, mostly from county staffers and other agencies, about water supplies, land-use regulations and economic assumptions.
What they didn’t get was a firm answer on whether the master plan will be approved and, if so, what conditions the county would impose. Instead, the hearing will continue at 9 a.m. this morning, with a presentation by the development team and public comment.
Santolina is the largest master plan ever considered by Bernalillo County. It would cover roughly 22 square miles on the far West Side, near 118th and Interstate 40.
Fifty years from now, supporters say, it could be home to 90,000 or more people, rivaling the size of Rio Rancho now.
The development team says the plan would ensure smart, well-coordinated growth and make it easier to attract employers to the West Side.
Opponents questioned Santolina’s fringe location and its strain on the water supply, among other criticisms.
“Water is the lifeblood of northern New Mexicans,” farmer Don Bustos said before hopping aboard a tractor and driving through Downtown Albuquerque to the meeting. “Water isn’t just to sell to the people who buy it.”
Water dominated much of Wednesday’s discussion.
The county doesn’t operate a water utility itself, but it considers the “physical and legal availability of water” in land-use decisions of this kind.
Mark Sanchez, the top executive at the local Water Utility Authority, told commissioners his agency could serve the development but isn’t committed to doing so. That decision won’t even be considered unless Santolina has a master plan approved by the county.
Ultimately, the water authority’s governing board – composed of three city councilors, three county commissioners and the mayor – would have to approve a development agreement with Santolina, outlining the conditions required for water service.
County Commissioner Art De La Cruz asked Sanchez directly whether the authority had “adequate water to serve Santolina.”
Sanchez said “yes,” but “there would have to be significant investment in re-use infrastructure” at Santolina to keep water-use levels low.
De La Cruz’s questioning of Sanchez seemed to be aimed at showing there’s enough water to support Santolina. He asked Sanchez questions that revealed the water agency isn’t using the full amount of water it’s legally allowed to and that it has a long-range water plan to serve the Albuquerque area, even as the population climbs.
“The water authority assumes and plans for growth,” De La Cruz said.
Commissioner Debbie O’Malley was more skeptical. Her questioning of Sanchez revealed that Rio Rancho and other communities are pumping enough groundwater to affect the supply beneath Albuquerque’s West Side.
Bernalillo County residents, O’Malley said, have been “asked to conserve and conserve, and then they see something like this. … We’re talking about a very, very large development.”
In an interview, Jim Strozier of Consensus Planning, which is working for the development team, said Sanchez’s answers made clear the water authority is managing supplies wisely and will carefully consider the development before agreeing to service. The authority, in fact, has planned so well that it’s been in a position to provide water to help farmers, he said.
Opponents of Santolina asked that Commissioner Art De La Cruz abstain or be disqualified from hearing the issue Wednesday. They said he couldn’t consider the issue objectively because he wrote an opinion column in the Journal stating his support for the development. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)
At the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting, opponents of Santolina asked that De La Cruz abstain or be disqualified from hearing the issue. They said he couldn’t consider the issue objectively because he wrote an opinion column published in the Journal stating his support for Santolina and outlining the reasons for his position.
County Attorney Randy Autio said the master plan and related decisions are being handled as a legislative matter, not a quasi-judicial proceeding in which commissioners are supposed to act as judges and refrain from talking to people about their position.
De La Cruz didn’t recuse himself, and no commissioner moved to have him forced from the case.
Opponents took aim at De La Cruz in other ways, too. At their rally, some people carried fake $100 bills with his picture on them instead of a president’s image.
The bills said “Don’t play with our tax dollars” and “No to Santolina Master Plan.”
In an interview, De La Cruz said the bills first surfaced last fall at a Day of the Dead parade he helped sponsor.
He said he has approached his job honestly, simply trying to make the best decisions that help his South Valley-based district. That includes supporting planning, development and other efforts to bring jobs to the area, De La Cruz said.
“I was disappointed,” he said of the fake money. “I don’t think I deserve it.”
By: Dan McKay (Albuquerque Journal)
Click here to view source article.