The Piercing Truth

This is right from the dictionary and seems to describe Albuquerque, Berry and Schultz. Fascism (f ash ,izem) noun An authoritarian right wing system of government and/or social organization. (in general use) extreme right wing, authoritarian, chauvinistic and/or intolerant views or practices. Fascism tends to include a belief in the supremacy of one group over another, national, ethnic, especially social strata or monetarily; a contempt for democracy, an insistence on obedience to a powerful leader, and a strong demagogic approach. Compliments of one of our Eyes

Mar 29, 2007

Indictments... Finally!

Now this is what we're talking about! Finally the long rumored indictments were handed down. Indictments that have been promised for at least six months now. Indictments that accuse political power broker Manny Aragon and three others of money laundering and mail fraud related to the construction of the Bernalillo County Courthouse. (ABQ Journal - Subscription Required)

Seems that former Senate Pro Tem Aragon, former metro court administrator Toby Martinez, P2RS engineering partner Raul Parra, and Sandra Mata Martinez, the afore mentioned Toby Martinez's wife, engaged in a scheme to pocket $4.2 MILLION of public money (at least according to the federal indictment).

Three others, architect Marc Schiff, contractor Manuel Guara, and former Republican Mayor Ken Shultz have already signed plea agreements relating to the scheme. According to KRQE News 13:

"Schultz worked as a lobbyist for one of the contractors on the courthouse construction project.

Schultz, Schiff and Guara admitted to conspiring with the other four defendants to defraud taxpayers of more than $4 million during the design and construction of the courthouse."

The reason that we emphasized Republican Mayor Ken Shultz is because news outlets both nationally and locally have either directly or indirectly implied that Congresswoman Wilson and Senator Dominici put pressure on former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias in order to get Democrats. The fact of the matter is that this state is run largely by Democrats and has been for the last 80 or so years. It should come as no surprise that a prominent Democrat was caught up in the FBI's investigation.

Democrats don't hold the exclusive right to greed and unscrupulous Republicans can and do get caught with their hands in the cookie jar. That's why it is so important to have a strong U.S. Attorney that will face down corruption no matter who's involved.

Former U.S. Attorney Iglesias failed us all badly in this regard by letting this rabidly corrupt dog lie. Our Eyes on the Inside (yes we had eyes even before The Eye) have been telling us that indictments have been in the works since at least August of last year and that the FBI investigation had concluded well before that time.

Now it's all up to the attorneys, the judge and the jury... Finally!

City to Launch Red Light Camera Website

Looks like Mayor Marty and his red light camera crew have had enough Internet interference. The blogosphere has been overwhelmingly critical of Marty's camera cash cows and has apparently generated enough discomfort for the city that they've decided to fight fire with fire.

According to our Eyes on the Inside, the brain trust down at city hall has decided to launch its own website to counter the effect of blogs like ours. The site, set to be launched tomorrow, will undoubtedly tow the Marty party line and tout the virtues of photo enforcement.


Mar 28, 2007

New Urbanist Jihad

We are in the midst of a Jihad. No... this has nothing to do with the Middle East (for a change) and no one is shooting or blowing things up (at least not yet). This is a lifestyle jihad being waged on the majority of us here in Albuquerque by a group known as New Urbanists.

Tuesday, The Albuquerque Tribune ran an article entitled "Can Northeast Heights neighborhood embrace new urbanism?" It's an interesting article in that it's one of the first that we've seen that addresses the conflict between New Urbanism and our primarily suburban lifestyle.

New Urbanism is being promoted by politicians and bureaucrats as the solution to almost all of our ills. The New Urbanist orthodoxy holds that density, mass transit, mixed use (mixing commercial and residential property uses) are the keys to a better, happier, healthier life.

The Tribune uses as its example the almost complete Leslie Plaza and describes it the following way:
"The sidewalks are wide and buffered from traffic by trees. The building, a little taller than two stories and featuring big storefront windows, is close to the sidewalk. The parking lot is relegated to the back and has separate entrance and exit lanes divided by a pedestrian-friendly island."
We've seen Leslie Plaza and it's a very nice looking building. It has the Tribune highlighted design features but, this particular building is not the example of New Urbanist ideals that the reporter makes it out to be.

Leslie Plaza, apart from the tree buffer, large windows, and parking in the back, could be any suburban office building anywhere in the city. In fact, pull the trees and put the parking lot in front of the building, and it would be another suburban office building much like any other you might find in the Northeast Heights. A more fitting example would be the Albuquerque High School lofts or some of the new condos downtown.

The core idea behind New Urbanism is density. Density makes all things possible from mass transit to walkability. New Urbanists even float the idea that somehow crime is reduced when more people are packed into less space and the costs associated with public safety somehow go down. To us, more people in a tighter space means more trouble and more people involved in that trouble.

Right now, in our city there is a movement to re-make Albuquerque into a New Urbanist paradise. The idea being that we need to all live closer to one another (density), close enough to walk (or use a trolley) to get to work, and have access to various forms of entertainment that are also close enough to walk to or catch a bus to. It's called live, work, and play and the proposed Mesa del Sol development is the poster child for that vision. If it's ever completed, Mesa del Sol will be a New Urbanist mini-city.

We don't really have a problem with Mesa del Sol as a concept or as an option. If the city and Forest City Covington want to build their preplanned paradise... let them. That is if the market will pay for it.

The current plan calls for massive tax subsidies provided by the city, county and state governments of up to 75% of all gross receipts and property taxes collected in the area (ABQ Journal - Subscription Required). That means that even the developers are skeptical about the market demand for such a project.
Has anyone else noticed that Mesa del Sol sits directly below the flight pattern for the Sunport? You can hear the sales people now... "after a decade or two you won't even notice those jet engines overhead as you walk to work."
(End Sidebar)
The real clash comes from the desire of New Urbanists to re-make the rest of the city in Mesa del Sol's image (or it's proposed image anyway). The reality is, Albuquerque is primarily a suburban city. We have lots of single family houses situated on .25 acre lots with front and back yards. We have strip malls and grocery stores scattered all over the place (at least on the east side). And we bought our little patches of paradise because we didn't want to live above, below, or right on top of our neighbors. The Westside is no different except that it suffers from a lack of shopping conveniences and a poorly planned traffic system. (Someone should let them know downtown that the Westside thing looks like it's going to go.)

The fact is we made the choice to live in this type of community and not live in more urban cities like Chicago, New York, Seattle, or San Francisco. Our choices should be respected but they are being shoved aside in a frenzy of New Urbanist jihad.

A perfect example is the development planned for the old Rowlands at Tramway and Montgomery. It's surrounded by suburban neighborhoods yet this highly dense development will reach three stories and have a density of 3 to 5 times the density of the surrounding area.

The development as approved by the City Council February 21st, will negatively impact the lives of all of the residents surrounding it. Further, it will sacrifice the choices made by all of people surrounding it on the alter of the New Urbanist god.

It's important that we take a step back and look at Albuquerque as it is. Could we stand some improvements? You bet! But overall, Albuquerque is a great place to live. We have everything from suburbia (NE Heights & Westside), to Urban (EDO and Downtown), to rural (North and South Valley). As a city we should be celebrating that diversity and encourage its continuation.

Mar 27, 2007

A New Fishing Hole

KRQE News 13 is reporting that the Almighty's Red Light Districts are on going to be on the move. Apparently the cameras have been so successful, bagging over $6 MILLION bucks so far, that they've decided to add locations without adding equipment.

As you know, we believe that the driving force behind these candid cameras is and always has been, MONEY. You can read our take here, here, here, and here. There's no doubt that this system is a money maker and that the city takes a large chunk of change to the general fund with every citation issued. Here's the problem... with "success" comes a drop in revenue.

If the program was truly about public safety, then enforcement would remain in these "important" intersections (Remember, they were ostensibly chosen due to their high accident rates.) and the Mayor and Chief Schultz wouldn't be playing Russian roulette with the photo enforcement equipment. The cameras would be a vital tool and therefore worth paying for just like any other form of public safety.
We're wondering if the Mayor has gotten word that the Governor plans to sign either or both of the red light camera bills sitting on his desk. If so, money for new Candid Cameras would instantly dry up and this administrative sleight of hand would allow the city to make at least some money from the existing program.
(End Sidebar)
Chief Schultz and Mayor Marty will tell anyone who will listen that the cameras change driving habits. Perhaps that's true... people are certainly slamming on their brakes rather than risking having their photo taken. But, are wary drivers simply avoiding photo enforced intersections? Route selection is certainly part of one's driving habit and the Eye Mobile has certainly been avoiding Marty's Picture Taker Money Makers. To date, we haven't seen a study that correlates the traffic count before and after installation of photo enforcement cameras, to accidents before and after installation.

If you look at it another way, Mayor Marty and Chief Schultz's favorite fishing hole is all fished out. What do you do when they aren't biting at your favorite spot? Yep... you move on, find a new fishing hole.

Mar 26, 2007

Beware Big Spenders Bearing Tax Cuts

Finally... a little tax relief, in fact very little. The Mayor on Sunday proposed a 1/8 of a percent reduction in the city's take of gross receipts revenue. (ABQ Journal - Subscription Required) The $18 Million tax reduction would add up to a whopping $70 per household per year.

According to the Mayor (the one with the "or" not the "er"), gross receipts income to the city is running at a 7.5% increase over last year as opposed to the projected 5.3%. Mayor Marty's generosity comes from his belief that "we've done a good job and we have extra money."

First of all, the city hasn't necessarily done a good job here. The economy has generated (or is predicted to generate) additional income for the city. That means we have done a good job. It's our money that's flowing into city coffers at an unexpectedly high rate.

Second, the council and the mayor have done a terrible job keeping city spending under control. Since Mayor Marty took office the city has out spent inflation by $125 MILLION, which is roughly 25% above the rate of inflation (ABQ Journal - Subscription Required).

This tax cut is particularly curious in light of earlier forecasts that predicted a $22 MILLION shortfall for next year. Don't get us wrong here... we're all for a tax cut, even a tiny one. It's certainly a baby step in the right direction. However, the council is already trying to find a way to hold on to the dough saying:
'"I think a tax cut right now would be like pulling a rabbit out of a hat," said Sally Mayer. "I'm in favor of cutting taxes as long as we don't cut services, but I just don't see how that can be done."

Ken Sanchez said he'll be anxious to look at the overall budget proposal. Previous forecasts have suggested the city might need to tighten its belt in the next several years, he said."

Just last week Councilor Mayer justified her support of extending the Transportation Infrastructure Tax by claiming that the city would be unable to continue to fund roads, bike trails, and buses without the extension. (Read about it here.) Even the mayor hedged his tax cut announcement with the statement, "I think it is time, for at least a year [emphasis added], for the city to change course financially."

Something is not adding up here. We've got shortfalls, tax extensions, and tax cuts. We've got proposals to build arenas, trolleys, and to rent pandas, all of which will place additional burdens on the city's general fund. From a broader perspective none of this makes any fiscal sense.

However, it does make sense from a political perspective. The mayor has been taking a lot of heat over how much money the city is taking in and how much the city is spending. He's proposing all sorts of new capital programs that will require maintenance and operating money. Now he wants to give us a tax cut "for at least a year."

Politically a "tax cut" is a smart move. Mayor Marty is buying your good will with your own money. He's framing the tax cut as a temporary relief so that when he needs the money back he can raise your taxes and claim that he really hasn't raised your taxes.

Remember the Chavez tenure in the Mayor's Office has not been known for its tax cutting proclivities. It has been known to spend and spend big. Which leads us to believe that this tax cut is more about public relations than about actual tax relief; beware big spenders bearing tax cuts.

Mar 22, 2007

Keeping the Hamsters Running On Time

You've gotta love this city... when your streets need clearing due to record snows it could take a week or more. When they promise to repeal the extension of the transportation tax it could take 4 months. But when the Petco Rodent Races (ABQ Journal - Subscription Required) are canceled due to the idiocy of the HEART ordinance... the city acts with blinding speed (ABQ Journal - Subscription Required).

Seems that if we have an issue of real urgency on the table (or on the track as the case may be) the Mayor can act with astonishing speed. Thus the Petco hamster race is a go... and we can all rest easier knowing that city will be keeping the hamsters running on time.

By the way... we're concerned about Dukes, the Mayor's constant companion during the 2005 election. We haven't seen nor heard from the 1st dog in quite a while.

Mar 20, 2007

Tax Addiction - How it Starts

Addictions come in all shapes and sizes these days. Addictions to alcohol, illegal drugs, sex, money, power, have all become common place. In the world of government, the most tempting addiction is your tax dollars... the crack of government. An addiction so strong that once tried, it's almost impossible to break away from.

Our Eyes tell us that last Thursday night, The Mayer (Councilor Mayer) used the most common excuse known to addicts when justifying her support of the extension of the Transportation Infrastructure Tax... we need it and we can't live without it. Like any addict Councilor Mayer believes that without her fix of 1/4 cent, the city's streets, bikeways, and walkways would cease to exist or fall into utter disrepair.

Unwittingly, she also gave us the reason why we should NEVER, NEVER, NEVER impose a tax on ourselves... It will never go away. Once we let those addicts down at city hall get their first fix, they're hooked.

They become dependent through a process called supplanting. Once the public passes a tax on itself to achieve a specific goal that was originally funded through the city's general fund, the money in the general fund is shifted to pay for other things that are usually more about leaving a legacy (See Marty's MyCentennial Towers) than about the basic and most important functions of government.

Sometimes we have a hazy memory, but we're pretty sure that the City of Albuquerque had roads, bike paths, and walkways before the imposition of the Transportation Infrastructure Tax back in 1999. Now addicts like The Mayer tell us that there's no way we can survive without that tax, an addiction shared by the Almighty One's Chief of Operations, Ed Adams who defended the tax extension in just those terms.

It always starts innocently enough... that first taste of taxation bliss. A tax to fund public safety, or for better parks, or transportation or quality of life; before you know it they're hooked and you're broke.

Taking Another Train

"Streetcar Tax Is Repealed!"
(Exclamation Point Added)

So declares the headline in today's Yellow Pages (Albuquerque Journal - Subscription Required). Finally, the Council has listened to us... or so it seems.

What really happened last night is the council co-opted Councilor Winter's repeal and stuck it into Councilor Benton's "study." Yes, the Transportation Infrastructure Tax is repealed, but it will be back because the "study" proposed by trolley proponent Benton is really a 19th Century Streetcar marketing group co-chaired by none other than the less than neutral councilor himself.

Understand that government generally studies things that it doesn't want to do or things that it's trying to sell you. Such is the case with Councilor Benton's "task force." It's make up is heavily weighted towards supporters of mass transit in general and 19th Century Streetcars in particular.

The "task force" (a.k.a. Marketing Group) includes Council District representatives, Business and Community Development representatives, and Support Organization representatives. Council District representatives will be chosen to support the views of the councilor doing the choosing (At least 6 for and 3 against). The Businesses and Community Development Groups listed are not just directly impacted; they see themselves as beneficiaries of a $300 MILLION trolley. The Support Organizations which includes Rails, Inc. (Gee we wonder if they support a rail system?), all lean heavily and often publicly toward mass transit by rail.

Councilor Winter wisely voted against this "repeal" recognizing it for what it really is... a sham. Proving that politics makes strange bedfellows, joining Councilor Winter in opposition were Councilors Mayer, O'Malley, and Loy.

The simple truth is this... proponents of the 19th Century Streetcar including Almighty Marty himself, have not given up, they've simply taken another train.

Mar 19, 2007

Let's See If It's About Public Safety

Here's a big surprise... The Red Light Camera program's future depends on how the numbers come out after a "crunching." Almighty Marty told KOB-TV that they're "crunching the numbers and seeing what we have, and then we’ll go forward."

You see the legislature finally passed a bill or two that address the red light toll program instituted here in The Eye's home city. One of them caps the civil fines at $100 and requires that 1/3 of that amount go to courthouses and drivers education programs. The cap also has the effect of stealing the cream from the cash cow by putting a fork in the rapid fine acceleration and making the 2 year citation period moot. So after a little number "crunching" of our own, we find that about $65 either goes to the state or to Red Flex and Marty gets about $35. (Read our analysis here.)

Of the $35 the city should be able to pay for its Hearing Office ($15.65) and officer review ($9.60). Marty will end up taking home a cool $9.75 profit per citation. If you figure roughly 80,000 citations a year then the city will actually turn a profit of $780,000. That's a far cry from the $5 MILLION that they're bagging now... but this is about public safety right?

We're not fans of this program... and the bills headed to the Governor's desk (the second bill requires warning lights or rumble strips before intersections) don't address the serious problems that we have with the process. You will still be charged and tried by people who work for the Almighty One (Mayor Marty), but at least some of the profit motive will be removed and we won't be kept on a two year leash designed to keep us feeding city ambitions with our hard earned cash.

We would encourage Governor Richardson to sign both pieces of legislation and let's see if it's about public safety, or as we suspect... it's all about the money.

If you'd like to see the Governor reign-in the Imperial City, you can call him at (505) 827-3000 and let him know you'd like to see him sign both red light camera related bills.

----- More Information -----
You can find more information about the two Red Light Camera Bills passed by the Legislature here.

Mar 17, 2007

Kicking the Sleeping Dog

If you're like us you're sick to death of Iglesias this, Iglesias that. The coverage is non-stop and well... overblown by a political agenda and a 24 hour news cycle. Now, The Eye doesn't generally take a look at this type of thing. We're really focused on what happens here in Albuquerque and EVERYONE has already said just about EVERYTHING that can be said about this waste of ink and airtime.

However, (you knew this was coming) we received an interesting article that appeared in the Albuquerque Journal way back in 1995, back when David Iglesias received his White House Fellowship. Apparently the process involved a series of questions designed to test an applicant’s ability to think on their feet and to determine what kind of person they were.

The most striking answer came when Iglesias was asked the greatest lesson he learned as a child.

"The greatest lesson he learned as a child?

Simple. "Let sleeping dogs lie," he says, recalling a particular childhood experience.

As a curious child growing up in Panama, he explains, he wondered how his dozing dog would react if he blew in its ear. The answer came with a price -- a permanent scar -- but the lesson wasn't lost on the youngster. " (ABQ Journal - Subscription Required)

Let sleeping dogs lie... This state has long been known for its patron system, a form of favoritism that is often indistinguishable from public sector corruption.

The sleeping dog here in New Mexico is public corruption. It sometimes seems innocuous and often looks to be slumbering, but that rabid dog wakes the moment you're not looking and chews up your favorite shoes and your wallet. Disturb that sleeping dog and it will fight back and leave you scarred for life.

As a child, Mr. Iglesias learned his lesson well. Leave that dangerous hound alone even when you have evidence gift wrapped and placed on your desk. Form a task force, give assurances, but never, never disturb its slumber.

Unfortunately, that's the attitude adopted by New Mexicans since the founding of our fair state and has its early roots in our Spanish Colonial Period. That hound or its pups guard our state and local governments and have a voracious appetite when it comes to our tax dollars.

The Eye is all about kicking our local rabid pup. A U.S. Attorney must have the courage to confront all sorts of criminals from mobsters to politicians. And he absolutely must be willing to not only wake that sleeping dog, but to kick it and put it down.

Mar 15, 2007

Don't Miss The Mayer Tonight!

City Councilor Sally Mayer is all ready to clear up the "misinformation" that she claims is out there about the Red Light Camera system and the 19th Century Streetcar. Her Heart of the Heights "meeting" is tonight at the Sheraton Uptown (Menaul & Louisiana) starting at 7pm. Remember this meeting is open to the general public and would be a perfect time to ask her about her support for the Almighty Mayor's two pet projects. (Read more here.)

Mar 14, 2007

Carrying the Almighty's Water

Have you ever noticed that right when Mayor Marty starts to feel the heat about something, the folks over at the Yellow Pages (Albuquerque Journal) come riding to his rescue? For instance, when Councilor O'Malley publicly criticizes the Almighty Mayor for soliciting $80,000 for his MyCentennial Towers (ABQ Journal - Subscription Required) February 19th; by February 22nd The Yellow Pages reports that "Council President Takes Developers Cash." (ABQ Journal - Subscription Required) Three days later the Journal comes to the rescue. Read our take on it here.

They're at it again today... Just over a week after Councilor Winter's Red Light Camera Town Hall, D'Val Westphal of the Journal comes out with an Op/Ed that purports to debunk the "Myths" of the Red Light Camera Program (ABQ Journal - Subscription Required). Her "opinion" piece could have been written by someone in the Chavez administration. (We don't know... Maybe it was.)

In a vain attempt to explain reality to someone who chooses to believe otherwise, we'll take a shot at debunking the debunker.

"Myth" no. 1 - Big Brother is watching you.

Big Brother is watching you! Just who the heck does she think is watching these intersections? Whether or not you believe that public places should be monitored, and whether or not it will lead to bathroom cameras, the people watching you are from the government (and Red Flex). Specifically, from the executive branch here in Albuquerque.

"Myth" no. 2 - There's no due process.
Ms. Westphal points to every part of the process from receiving a citation to your administrative hearing. She makes the argument that the citation is reviewed twice, once by APD, once by Red-Flex before the citation is even sent. Then if a hearing is requested, the citation is reviewed again by APD and then heard by (and this is the tricky part) an "officer of the court." Technically she's correct. The Hearing Officer is an officer of the court. In fact, every attorney is an officer of the court. The difference here is the "Officer of the Court" is an attorney that works for the prosecution! There's a reason that our judicial system includes an independent judiciary and while there's a lot of process involved here it's not due process by any stretch of the imagination.

"Myth" No. 3 - The city's rolling in camera dough.
True... not a "myth" at all. Except for $32 that goes to Red Flex and a "processor" the balance of the citation goes to the city. Many of the "costs" associated with the program simply go to the city itself. Now they are currently using profits to drive expansion, but eventually those capital costs will go away making this a great business deal for the city and for Red Flex.

"Myth" No. 4 - Camera-wary drivers are slamming on their brakes and causing more rear-end accidents.
The jury's not in on this one (especially if you are relying on the "due process" provided by the Red Light Camera program). However it's very easy to find studies that show that rear-end accidents do increase at intersections with photo enforcement. The city's data itself is less than complete and shouldn't be used to definitively assess the program.

"Myth" No. 5 - The cameras target the rich parts of town.
True... We told you about it here. It's called Economic Profiling. The city did not install these cameras in order of the most crashes to the least crashes. They installed them in the areas that have high traffic and are most likely to have the offenders pay the fine.

"Myth" No. 6 - The state doesn't get its fair share of fines because cops aren't writing as many criminal citations.
Another one where the jury is not in yet and 1 year of data isn't nearly enough to determine levels of enforcement. Government usually works with restricted resources. If APD no longer needs to police these intersections, then you can bet the first time money gets tight in the department or staffing gets too low (a real and dangerous problem for APD), the first thing to go will be criminal enforcement of red light violations at intersections where there are cameras. The former costs money the latter makes money.

"Myth" No. 7 - The fines are too high.

It's simple... They are too high! Running a red light is a petty misdemeanor. This civil nuisance system is designed to empty pockets as punishment and fill the coffers down at City Hall. The two year fine period proves that it's all about the money. How many of the 1st time offenders will end up with a second offense within that time frame? How many even a 3rd? The system is designed to keep you buying at the company store by keeping you in debt with at least one violation.

"Myth" No. 8 - The radar isn't calibrated/checked.
The reason that traffic cops have to calibrate their radars before and after each shift is to ensure that the evidence that they obtain will stand up in court. (Here calibration doesn't matter because guilt is assumed... but I digress.) These systems are self-calibrated. How often are they independently verified? The answer we hear is never.

Ms. Westphal... whether it's radar or a set of magnetic loops, both systems are doing a time and distance calculation based on movement. Both systems are computer driven and subject to changes in accuracy over time.
(End Sidebar)

"Myth" No. 9 - Yellow signals have been shortened.
We don't know... and neither does Ms. Westphal. Quoting the Almighty One (Mayor Marty) on whether the timing has been changed is like asking the thief standing there with your stereo whether he took it. The fact is, the Traffic Engineer and APD both work for the same person!

"Myth" No. 10 - Drivers are ticketed if the signal turns red while they're in the intersection or they speed just 1 mph over the limit.
Again, who knows? There's no independent judiciary to determine whether or not a citation was issued incorrectly and no police officer to stand witness to the "infraction."

The problem with carrying the Almighty Marty's water is that the pail often gets T-Boned by the facts. And so it is with this ten point piece of propaganda.

----- UPDATE -----

We've never had any doubt that the Red Light Camera Program was about Marty's Cash Cow. We even heard that Councilor Winter's cell phone lit up during his town hall last week apparently because of an unidentified auto dialer sent to his district. (Read about it here.)

No one's saying who paid for the "campaign," but we're told that these types of auto dialers must be accompanied by a disclaimer that indicates clearly who paid for it. One of the dialers featured Councilor Craig Loy. We suggest a few hundred emails asking him to disclose who paid for the dialer that featured his voice supporting the program.

Craig Loy (

P.S. - Councilor Loy is up for re-election this year. No word yet on whether he'll run but...

Mar 11, 2007

Gems and Junk: Albuquerque's Big Box Ordinance

We all know what a "big box" is... that place with the insufferable traffic, the long hours, and the low prices. They're places like Wal-Mart, Costco, Home Depot, Lowes, and Sam's Club. Most of us (except for the VERY ideological) will spend at least some money at one of these stores. In fact, most of us love their selection and their low prices.

They are our blessing and our bane. We choose to spend money with them making them successful, but we would hate to live next door to one. Out of this conundrum come the many "Big Box" ordinances that are spreading from city to city.

Not to be outdone, Albuquerque has come up with its own extensive Big Box Ordinance courtesy of Councilor O'Malley. Like the Big Boxes themselves, this ordinance is filled to the rafters with all kinds of disparate stuff; some of which is pretty good, some has no value at all, and some is down right dangerous. It has everything from gems to junk.

The original objective of the ordinance was to increase neighborhood involvement, address the concerns of the surrounding area, and provide remedies for those who are directly impacted by the new development (i.e. traffic calming devices). Everyone involved, developers included, benefit from a clean straightforward approach. Neighborhoods know what options they have and what suggestions they can make. Developers understand the range of costs associated with neighborhood demands and can factor those costs into their development plan.

The problem is the City got hold of this ordinance and put a whole bunch of other junk in it, some of which is contradictory. For example, buildings are required to be energy efficient "green" buildings. No problem right? Wrong. The New Urbanists threw in a requirement that dictates 30% glazed windows along the outside. Most big boxes have a couple of entrances, but very few actual exterior windows. The reason is energy efficiency and the costs associated with heating and cooling buildings of that size. Windows make the costs higher because the building is less energy efficient. The two objectives are therefore incompatible.

Another glaring problem is the number of developments the ordinance will affect. The baseline square footage for ordinance activation is 60,000 square feet of "Net Leasable Area." Sounds ok... except that it includes your neighborhood grocery store. One grocery store chain has already indicated that if this "box" makes it through Council and becomes law, they will not be building any new stores. Think about that for a second West Siders... NO NEW GROCERY STORES! (That clanking sound you hear is your property values dropping.)

These are just a couple of the examples of junk in this Big Box Ordinance. This thing is HUGE, cumbersome and will have consequences well beyond the scope of the original need. Some of those consequences will be unintentional; some will be intentional as the New Urbanists down at city hall take an opportunity to throw more junk into this big box.

For those of you who have no idea what a "New Urbanist" is... New Urbanism is a theory that says in essence, we all would be better off in high density developments (See New York City) and that our desire to own our personal patch of paradise (single family detached home) is bad for society and for the planet. Mass transit is one of the corner stones of the New Urbanist orthodoxy, which is why we see such a determined push for a 19th Century Streetcar by its acolytes (Councilors Benton, O'Malley, and Heinrich).
(End Sidebar)

We'll be keeping an Eye on this as it works its way through EPC, and we'll have more on the ordinance as it stands (We really like our readers and couldn't put you all through the blog equivalent of War and Peace). There are bound to be many changes (hopefully fixing some of the more idiotic junk that has been thrown in). If you would like to read the original draft (or are having trouble sleeping) you can download it here.

Mar 9, 2007

Trash, Trolleys, and Ticket Takers: The Mayer to Clear Up "Misinformation"

Councilor Mayer (The Mayer) takes particular pleasure in telling constituents about her "Heart of the Heights" monthly meetings. They're typically a dog and pony show with some city official giving a presentation about their particular area of expertise. The Councilor herself sets the agenda and is rarely exposed to criticism.

Our Eyes just got on an email previewing The Mayer's next show. Her "agenda" contains two things that you've read extensively about here... Red Light Cameras and the Transportation Infrastructure Tax extension. In addition Leonard Garcia, Director of Solid Waste is going to tell the audience how the recent disposal of recyclables in the city's landfill is an aberration and how it will never happen again. (We know of at least one other time where the city found it more convenient to dump your contribution to saving the environment in the landfill, rather than recycling it.) The Mayer's email Missive:

Hello Everyone,

I just wanted to remind everyone about the Heart of the Heights meeting this coming Thursday, March 15 @ 7:00pm. It will be at the Sheraton Uptown as usual.

Leonard Garcia, the Director of Solid Waste, will be our guest speaker. He will be able to answer any questions you might have about recycling. It should be really interesting considering what has been in the news lately. After recycling I want to take some time to talk about the Transportation Tax and the Red Light cameras. There is a lot of misinformation out there on both those subjects.

I hope you will try to come. The next meetings are both on Thursdays - April 19th and

May 17th - mark your calendars.

Sincerely, Sally

If you can make it through the trash talk and the recyclable ramble, she's going to address the "misinformation out there," regarding the Red Light Cameras and the Transportation Infrastructure Tax extension, both of which she supports. You'll remember that The Mayer was responsible for spiking the transportation tax repeal in committee and then for leading the charge to defer it in open council Monday night. It should be entertaining to watch the councilor with the Texas twang try to twist the truth into something that lets her off the hook.

Remember, these meetings are open to the public... if you'd like to ask about all of that "misinformation."

Mar 8, 2007

Red Light Camera: Sen. Jennings Bill Sent to Die in Committee

Our Eyes up in Santa Fe tell us that Senate Bill 780 that requires the City to send $74 of every red light citation to the boys up in Santa Fe, has been sent to the Transportation Committee in the House with the express intent of killing it. Marty vowed to kill the program if it became law, so the Mayor and APD have been putting on a full court press to lobby legislators in an attempt to keep their precious Cash Cow Cameras. Their efforts seem to paying off.


Mar 7, 2007

Red Light Camera Town Hall: Were They Listening?

Last night's Town Hall put on by Councilor Brad Winter drew a large crowd of around 150. (ABQ Journal - Subscription Required). There were a lot of good questions raised, questions of the length of yellow lights, economic profiling, funds distribution (where $4 Million of the $6.3 Million received has gone), due process, and excessive fines. Most of the crowd was less than happy with the program; in fact, down right angry. But even supporters found things to be concerned about and many of them were the same complaints voiced by the program’s critics.

If you distill the evening down to a few points you find that people believe that the program is a cash cow for the city, that the fines are excessive, and that they do not receive a fair and impartial hearing (how can they when there are bills to pay?). We told you about the pressure not to dismiss these citations here. The fact is, as long as the City of Albuquerque sets the fee schedule, is the accuser, and acts as the judge; fair and impartial hearings will be impossible and will take a back seat to revenue concerns.

If there was ever any doubt that this program was all about money, just look to today's Albuquerque Journal (Subscription Required). The Legislature has managed to do something that angry citizens have been unable to do... threaten the existence of the program. Mayor Marty has vowed to pull the plug if the Legislature passes a bill that would send $74 of every citation to the state. Why? Yep… Money.

The Almighty One claims that it cost $5 Million a year to operate the program, a figure that is sure to include every "cost" even those charged by the City. And apparently, if the City weren't allowed to keep all of the loot, that $5 Million a year would be "a program killer." Wait, wasn't this about public safety? According to the Journal this is how the fines collected are broken down:

"Of a standard $100 fine, city officials said, $14 goes to the company that owns the equipment, $15.65 funds the hearing office, $18 processes the fines and $9.60 pays for officers to review the citations."

There are other costs associated with start up and expansion but when you take a look at the core costs of each citation, your immediate reaction is that the City is paying $57.25 per $100 ticket and only keeping $42.75. Hey that seems fair... right? Not really. You see at least $25.25 of the $57.25 actually goes to City departments, upping the City's take to 68 bucks and that's on a citation of $100. Remember those fines of $100, $250, $500, and the two year term for repeat offenses? There ends up being an awful lot of gravy or profit over and above the $68.

Let's review... We've established that the Imperial City (hat tip to Sen. Tim Jennings) makes a LOT of moolah (that's money Councilor Mayer) with the cameras. We've established most of it goes to the City. We've established that there are a large number of people who view the cameras with distrust, suspicion, and down right hatred. We've established that it's impossible to get a fair hearing. We've established that it's not at all about public safety or the Almighty One would be willing to continue the program even at a loss. (After all, the police department doesn't turn a profit.)

Now the real question after last night's Town Hall Meeting is: Councilors, Mayor Marty, were you listening?

----- UPDATE-----

Looks like great minds... well, you get the idea. The local blogs are a buzz over last night's Town Hall Festivities. Take a gander at these great minds!

Mario Burgos -

The Wednesday Morning Quarterback -

Mar 5, 2007

A New Way to Spell Betrayal: Deferred

be·tray (b-tr)tr.v. be·trayed, be·tray·ing, be·trays
6. To lead astray; deceive. See Synonyms at deceive.

It started right at the beginning of the meeting... Public Input bill: Deferred, Councilor Harris' Transportation Study: Deferred, Councilor Benton's Study: Deferred, Councilor Winter's Transportation Study: Deferred. By 6:00 PM there hardly seemed to be anything left of the Council's Agenda and the only Trolley bill left was the promised repeal of the Transportation Infrastructure Tax. Surely that bill would quickly move through the Council with a minimum of debate and be approved.

WRONG! The Council once again showed its true colors by deferring the one bill that the Mayor and the Council all claim to be in favor of... repealing the Transportation Infrastructure Tax extension. This is the type of ham-fisted political maneuvering that causes us to see red.

The truth is that this Council (with the exception of Councilor Winter) wants to keep the money provided by the Transportation Infrastructure Tax in order to fund their plunge back to the 19th century. The easiest way to achieve that goal is to betray their promises by deferring the repeal until their opposition loses interest or determination. Then they'll quietly roll the 19th Century Trolley through a City Council meeting and "all aboard! Next stop... New Taxationville!"


We want to make sure to give credit where credit is due. Councilors Cadigan, Harris, and Winter all voted to repeal the Transportation Infrastructure Tax. (ABQ Journal - Subscription Required) But we stand by the assertion that the Council is trying to find a way to implement the 19th Century Streetcar. By the way... who does The Mayer (Councilor Mayer) think she's fooling? She tables the repeal in committee, votes to bring it out of committee two weeks ago, and then claims we've got plenty of time and votes to defer it. She voted against it, before she voted for it, before she voted against it?!

Circle the Wagons Around the Cash Cow

Our Eyes on the Inside are telling us that Mayor Marty is on the campaign trail. No, not for mayor or for governor, but to make sure he keeps his cash cow. Marty is rallying the troops (a.k.a. the APD 5th Floor) and is sending them out to pack the council chambers tomorrow night. Conducted primarily via email, various levels of APDs management are sending out missives to neighborhood leaders and asking them to support the city's red light districts.

So, what's wrong with that? Well, for one thing it's a direct violation of APD's Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). Police officers of any rank can not be involved in advocating policy while in uniform. They certainly can't be used to mount a campaign to promote policy on behalf of the Chavez administration. The following email was sent to neighborhood leaders by APD Captain Murry Conrad:
Sent: Monday, March 05, 2007 10:26 AM
Subject: Fw: Mandatory Attendance

The red-light cameras are doing enforcement at high crash intersections where we can't have officers 24/7. Crashes are down 8% in Albuquerque. I would like your support to keep the red-light cameras as they are in the current plan.

I received an e-mail from the Deputy Chief asking that we attend the City Council meeting Tuesday, March 6, from 5pm to 7 pm.

I will need each of you in attendance at the Town Hall mtg tomorrow night (Tuesday, March 6) from 1700-1900 hours at the City Council Chambers ref the Red Light cameras. Also, if you can reach out to your neighborhood constituents in favor of the program and solicit their attendance as well. I will be in Santa Fe tomorrow regarding this matter but should be back in time for this as well.

Thank you for your support.
Deputy Chief of Police, Michael Callaway
Take a look at the Subject line... it reads, "Fw: Mandatory Attendance". Obviously, Captain Calloway simply forwarded the email from Deputy Chief Callaway. The DC is making Councilor Winter's Town Hall Meeting mandatory for his senior officers. Further, they are to "reach out to [their] neighborhood constituents in favor of the program and solicit their attendance."

Unless Captain Conrad is working the night shift, he was on duty when this email was written. Further, he used his city email address.
No employee shall participate in the following types of political activity:

(A) Using his or her position or employment with the city to influence support of other officials or employees of the city for or against any candidate or issue or political action committee or other similar organization in any election or pre-election activity; provided, however, that nothing herein shall deny the right of an official or employee of the city to express his or her views on any issue.
Seems pretty clear that Deputy Chief Callaway is using his position to influence support of an issue and thereby hoodwink the general public into believing that every police officer shares that view.

One thing is absolutely certain; Mayor Marty is circling the wagons around his red light cash cow and won't give it up easily.

Talk, Trolleys, and Toilets - Tonight!

We love keeping an Eye on Albuquerque, there's always something to talk about (and make fun of). Tonight's City Council meeting is a potpourri of craziness. Talk, Trolleys, and Toilets... All three are on the City Council's agenda this evening.

Let's talk Talk first... Councilor Don Harris is tired of being up late and wading through endless public comment periods where topics range from legitimate city business to conspiracy theories (ABQ Journal - Subscription Required) . Frankly, we can see the freshman councilor's frustration. However, you can't fix the problem by moving the public comment period to the end of the meeting. All that does is keep legitimate public comment out of the meeting. Now, we don't have any problem with restricting public comment to city operations or governance, as long as the Council abides by the same restriction. That means no more non-binding resolutions dictating the price of tea in China. The Council should restrict ITS activities to ITS areas of influence and authority. Here are some other suggestions:
1. Start on time and be prepared.
2. No more animal parades. We have yet to see an animal adopted directly from a council meeting. (Although the practice has provided moments of humor and political commentary. Like when one of the male dogs lifted a leg on the council lectern... But we digress.)
3. Discontinue the practice of Floor Substitutes. If your bill is not ready to be heard... yank it! Give the other councilors and the people of Albuquerque a chance to review the changes and form an educated opinion (if you dare).
4. Have your amendments ready and stop making them up on the fly. (See above.)
A lot can be done to make these interminable, idiotic meetings more efficient with out limiting the ability of citizens to comment. To that end... STOP CHARGING FOR PARKING!

Trolleys... They're back and bigger than ever with no less than four bills relating to the 19th Century Streetcar. The first and most important, is the repeal of the possibly illegal Transportation Infrastructure Tax extension. We told you about it here and here. The promised repeal (O-07-69) will finally be voted on after Councilor Winter blew it out of committee following its tabling.

There are also three studies on the agenda. Councilor Winter's and Harris' bills are not really up to the task of creating a comprehensive look at transportation in Albuquerque and could easily be subverted by proponents of the trolley, in order to support its inclusion. Councilor Benton's proposed study (O-07-71) is also inadequate but presupposes that a trolley is an inevitable part of the future of transportation in Albuquerque. All of the studies can be considered either inadequate or heavily biased.

SWAT, the Albuquerque group dedicated to protecting taxpayer dollars has sent out the following Action Alert:
"...we would like to invite you to attend Monday's meeting and speak out against this wasteful $300 million trolley project (a project that will run into the billions in the long term) and call for a comprehensive, unbiased transportation study that includes the entire long-term transportation picture including the possiblity of a streetcar and the reality of the automobile."
The last SWAT Action Alert resulted in the Mayor jumping the tracks and calling for the Transportation Infrastructure Tax repeal. We'll be watching to find out how this Action Alert fares.

Toilets... We told you about this one here. It obviously has been circling the bowl for some time as it was originally introduced last year. Some of the more offensive language has been removed like charging third parties (in this case Real Estate agents), if their buyer fails to make the required low flow fixture modifications. This would be like arresting the security guard at the bank for failing to stop a bank robbery. However, you and I will still be in the can... or uh, on the hook for the modifications. Mark our words; it won't be the buyer that pays for these modifications. Particularly in slower markets, the seller will be paying for the new thrones and faucets.

This bill will end up being ignored as frequently as cell phone legislation and we'll all end up with two sets of fixtures. One we use for the certification and one we use so that we don't have to flush four times.

Mar 2, 2007

Red Light Cameras: Show Trial

A show trial is a trial where the outcome is widely known and predetermined. The "trial" itself is just for the benefit of the audience. It's like watching 24... No matter how much trouble Jack gets into you know that he'll make it out alive and save the world in the process. We told you here, about the pressure being put on hearing officers not to dismiss Red Light Camera citations. You see, Marty needs the Money and these red light money makers make a lot of it, over $6 MILLION so far.

Our Eyes on the inside are telling us that in order to fulfill the directive from the Almighty Marty, the city is playing fast and loose with the law itself. The city has an obligation to provide a hearing for everyone who decides to contest the citation. The hearing must be held within 90 days of the Effective Date. Due to the gerrymandering of this ordinance by it's sponsor Craig Loy, the Effective Date is either defined as:
The date a STOP fine is mailed [emphasis added] to the recipient by the contractor as indicated on the face of the STOP Fine.


(H) Fine. The date of a violation is the effective date. [emphasis added] If the registered owner or nominee requested a hearing and did not prevail, the date of the violation is the effective date. The fine for the first violation for running a red light is $100. The fine for a second violation for running a red light within two years from the date of the first violation is $250. The fine for a third or subsequent violation for running a red light within two years from the date of the first violation is $500.
According to the ordinance, the latest deadline for the city to hold a hearing is 90 days from the mailing of the citation. Our Eyes tell us that the city is "interpreting" the ordinance in a number of creative ways in order to give them a little more time to hold the mandated hearing due to their... well, popularity. In a recent hearing, Roberto Albertorio, the replacement hearing officer for Albert Chavez who resigned rather than be terminated for dismissing citations, ruled that the "effective date" is actually the date that the request for hearing was received.

Now... we're not a lawyer (and don't play one on TV), and the ordinance Chapter 7, Section 11 of the Albuquerque Code of Ordinances gives two definitions for the Effective Date but unless our eyes are deceiving us, neither one of the definitions given have anything to do with the date that a request for hearing is received by the city. As an attorney, Mr. Albertorio should know this... unless he is being less than an impartial judge in the matter.

Call it crooked, call it corrupt, or call it what it is... a show trial.

Mar 1, 2007

More Problems with Red Light Cameras

Today's front page article in the Journal(ABQ Journal - Subscription Required) illustrates yet more problems with the Red Light Camera program. We've already determined that the city is placing these red light toll booths in a very business like manner. In other words, they're placing them in the most profitable locations, just like you would any business. (How soon do you think Whole Foods will be opening at Five Points in the South Valley?) Now the city has collections and notification problems.

According to the article, over 35 people owe $4,000 dollars or more in fines and late fees... that's more than $140,000.