by Lora Lucero / Albuquerque Resident
Published in Albuquerque Journal – March 12, 2015
The four-letter word du jour is “plan.” Everyone is doing it, but few seem to know how this verb and noun really work.The draft Santolina master plan, under consideration by the Bernalillo County Commissioners on March 25-26, is a good case in point. I predict it will be approved, but will never be built.
The 90,000 new residents living in 38,000 new homes with new parks, schools and, most importantly, new jobs miles away from Albuquerque’s urban core may be a twinkle in the developer’s eyes, but the cold, hard facts prove otherwise.
Millennials don’t want suburban sprawl development; the physical science won’t magically make more water resources available; the local governments are already struggling to maintain their existing responsibilities (roads, water & sewer lines, parks, and schools); and new jobs will trickle into the region where workers can get to work on a reliable transit system, not in their cars. That is the future.
Bernalillo County commissioners will approve the Santolina master plan in accord with politics, not based on sound planning principles, because they don’t have the experience or the state laws to support good planning.
New Mexico’s land use and planning statutes have been tweaked in recent years but they’re still fundamentally based on the legislation written in the 1960s which, itself, was based on model enabling laws drafted in the 1920s. When New Mexico planners and elected officials talk about “plans” today, they are imitating the same concepts that existed nearly a century ago. We know the world is a very different place today.
Any parent worrying about their young child’s future college education knows instinctively how to plan. What is our goal? What is the timeline? What are the challenges and impediments to reaching our goal? What resources do we have available to achieve our goal? What must we do now and how do we do it? Answer those questions and we’ve created the roadmap to get from here to there (our child in college). The same should occur for our communities, but rarely does.
Plain and simple, the Santolina developers have a goal. They want to secure legal entitlements to make a profit on their property. An approved Level A master plan is one very important step in achieving their goal because (1) the property values increase overnight and make future sales more lucrative, (2) approval of the Level A master plan sets into motion a range of self-fulfilling actions (think the regional transportation plan), and (3) Santolina will redirect energy and resources away from revitalization efforts occurring in Albuquerque’s urban core.
The timing is critical, too. The City and County have announced they are updating their joint comprehensive plan, with a commitment of more than $1.5 million. The Santolina developer wants to ensure that his master plan is a fait accompli, short circuiting a possible contrary conclusion in the new joint comprehensive plan. The regional transportation planning agency (Mid-Region Council of Governments) has almost wrapped up its new 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan, recommending which transportation improvements should be funded and built to accommodate future growth in our region. The Santolina developer’s goal is to short-circuit the 2040 MTP by locking in the need for new roads and highway improvements on the far west side, contrary to what people have been telling the transportation planners.
When asked, large majorities in every age group say they prefer to live in urban and semi-urban areas rather than suburban and rural areas, and prefer that our transportation dollars be spent on preserving and maintaining the roadways we’ve already built and direct more funding towards alternative modes of transportation, such as transit and bicycle paths, rather than building new roads and highways.
Last, but not least, the joint city-county water utility folks reassure decision-makers that there are water resources available to support Santolina. “Don’t worry, be happy!” This agency was created in 2003 at the request of Bernalillo County officials who weren’t too pleased with the city’s reluctance to extend water lines outside of the city limits. They effectively disconnected water and land use decisions.
This is politics, not planning.
Lora Lucero is a retired city planner and land use attorney.