Yesterday marked a historic moment in Albuquerque but not for the good of the people, well I guess that really depends on what side you're on.
For those of you who still haven't heard or who have been detached from the whole thing, the Bernalillo County Planning Commission (CPC) approved the massive and now looming Santolina Master Plan in a vote of 4 to 2. The Santolina Master Plan is a 13,700-acre development with a projected population of 95,000 proposed for the West Side.
The CPC board members who approved the Santolina Master Plan were Chairman Joe Chavez, Toby Atencio, Connie Chavez, and Irene Serna. Javier Martinez and Lenton Malry voted against. When the vote passed so quickly many of us sat there stunned, motionless. The majority of the meeting had been filled with testimonies filled with information pointing out the numerous inconsistencies of the Santolina Master Plan ranging from flawed Job-to-Housing rations, conditions not yet met, tax burdens, the unresolved water issue, and many others. These testimonies came from not only the disgruntled community folks, but from researchers, professors, an economist, ally politicians (the rare few), directors of organizations, retired lawyers, students, youth, farmers, retired city/county workers, etc.
But it wasn't until after the dreadful and painful hearing that I realized that it did not matter what we said or who testified or the ample research we had to clearly demonstrate the inconsistencies with the Santolina Master Plan. None of it mattered because the minds of the CPC had already been made and the votes already predetermined.
This could have been such a defining moment for Albuquerque but it was literally flushed down the toilet by the 4 narrow-minded CPC board members who did not spend a moment of hesitation to utter their "ayes" of approval. It was almost comical watching them. Here the CPC was tasked with making a decision that would have set a precedent in our county and city - to join the rest of the progressive cities across our nation that have made the conscientious decision to move away from outdated and very un-green sprawl-type developments. Climatic and environmental changes are real and cities across the nation are now focusing their efforts on infill and revitalization projects that would be in line with the need for our communities and citizens to become better stewards of the Earth. But all of this information and research did not matter. With their vote the CPC disregarded the experts who testified, the professors who imparted their knowledge, the youth who spoke, and especially the community who pleaded. All of this but to deaf ears.
This decision today is symbolic of a process that works to disenfranchise people. We tried so hard to raise awareness, to do things in a professional manner, to abide by the rules of the game, to not blast out shady campaign contributions, but at the end it did not matter what the community had to say. You see the Santolina Master Plan has been in the works for decades and those with vested interests will not let it go.
We complain of an apathetic and disengaged society and today's process reflected a large reason why our society and especially our youth have become this way. Today we were reminded that even when we demonstrate civic engagement the system still works unjustly, coldly, and cruelly.
But remain assured that the Santolina battle is far from over. We still have not lost hope. The community will be filing an appeal which means that the Santolina Master Plan will be heard at the Bernalillo County Commissioners. Maybe the community stands a better chance of being heard by elected commissioners who have to demonstrate more accountability to their constituents.
I sit here and wonder if the CPC has realized the weight and extent of their horrendous decision. Maybe when the river dries up and dies will they begin to fathom what they did to our water and land.
Editor's note: This piece has been updated to name the CPC board members and their respective votes.