Author Archives: Contra Santolina

About Contra Santolina

We are a coalition of organizations, leaders, and community members in Albuquerque committed to defend water our most precious resource. We are raising awareness to advocate against the Santolina Master Plan because it poses a long-term threat to the vitality of our communities, many of whom depend on water for their livelihood and existence.

Santolina about politics, not planning

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.

An Open Letter to Bernalillo County Commissioners on Santolina by David Vogel

Thank you to the New Mexico Mercury for publishing this powerful and insightful letter written by David Vogel.

[Link to letter at New Mexico Mercury:

santolina estrella map

As you can see in the map above, Santolina is not the only development in the horizon for the West Mesa.  Approving the Santolina Master Plan is a green light to the rest of the “string of pearls” as referred to by the developers.

string of pearls

Dear Commissioners,

I am writing to urge you to NOT approve the Santolina Master Plan and hope you will vote against this Proposal. Some of the most compelling reasons for rejecting this expansion include:

1. The geographic expansion that has dominated the County’s growth pattern over the past several decades has contributed substantially to the economic stagnation and quality of life erosion for Bernalillo County citizens. The benefits that have accrued to private developers have been at the expense of essential urban infrastructure development. Approval of the Santolina Master Plan will further dilute our already scarce resources and hinder Bernalillo County’s prospects for the kind of economic & infrastructure development critical to our well-being thereby further eroding our prospects for becoming a thriving metropolitan area in the future.

2. Neglect of the core urban infrastructure that is essential to support the County, the City of Albuquerque and adjacent urban areas will relegate our County to bottom tier status in perpetuity, thereby consciously (or unconsciously) forcing us to struggle at the bottom of all too many “lists” of desirable places to live in the US and the Southwest. Is it our destiny to follow the precedent of Detroit?

3. Most contemporary urban planners have concluded that increasing urban density and reducing urban sprawl and its unsustainable, costly infrastructure are key “criteria for success” for creation of thriving 21st Century metropolitan areas. Shifting our planning strategy now to one that is in line with contemporary urban planning principles holds the prospect that future life in the Bernalillo County metropolitan area will be attractive not only to those who already live here, but perhaps even more important, will become a compelling attraction to the coming generations of citizens who will be choosing where to live.

4. We already know from extensive studies that the younger generations of professionals prefer to live where they and their families can thrive in a healthy, vibrant and sustainable community, where good jobs are plentiful, the cost of living is reasonable and their increasing demand for carefully planned, highly developed urban infrastructure is readily met. This means that Bernalillo County must prioritize investing in its core urban infrastructure, including development of excellent public education, excellent public transit, convenient & beautiful parks, reasonably priced & convenient housing, and all the other essential infrastructure components that thriving communities throughout the US are already striving toward. It is impossible to understand how the Santolina Development will do anything but undermine Bernalillo County’s ability to meet these essential priorities.

5. Our water resources are already being taxed beyond their future limits, a fact that if not taken seriously by our leaders will destine us to being one of several major urban areas in the US (e.g. Orange County, CA, Las Vegas, NV, etc.) that are finally realizing that their very existence is in jeopardy. We can no longer ignore headlines such as, “San Juan Water Dries Up for First Time in 40 Years”.

It is time for us to have serious discussion about our priorities as a County and place the “quality of life” in the existing populated regions of the County as the primary criteria for all subsequent development. I hope you will lead this discussion as you consider the Santolina Master Plan, which contradicts almost every informed contemporary urban development principle.

Thank you for your on-going service to our County and its citizens. Your vote on this critical issue will have a major impact on the future quality of life in our County.

David Vogel, Bernalillo County Citizen

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Dear Friends and Allies,

The Santolina Master Plan hearing date has been changed.  It will now be on Wednesday, March 25th at 1:30 PM, 1 Civic Plaza, Vincent E. Griego Chambers.  Join us in making your voice heard loud and clear to the Bernalillo County Commissioners that this is an unneeded development, especially during time of limited water resources, climate change, and economic challenges.

We will also be holding a Town Hall/Education Forum on the Santolina Master Plan on Thursday, March 19th from 6 – 8 PM at the South Valley Multipurpose Center, 2008 Larrazolo RD SW.  Food Provided.

santolina flyer

Join us for our Santolina Master Plan Teach In, Press Conference, and Rally on March 25th!
12:00 PM Teach In/Learn about the Santolina Master Plan (Lunch provided!)
12:30 PM Press Conference & Rally
We will march to Santolina Master Plan hearing immediately 
after Press Conference.  Hearing begins at 1:30 PM.

Important Update Regarding the Santolina Master Plan

Important update to our allies and supporters: We wanted to let everyone know that we have continued our efforts against the approval of the Santolina Master Plan. As many of you know, Santolina was recommended for approval by 4 of the Bernalillo County Planning Commission board members (Joe Chavez, Toby Atencio, Irene Serna, and Connie Chavez) on December 3rd. The community (Southwest Organizing Project, New Mexico Health Equity Working Group, Pajarito Village Association, South Valley Neighborhood Coalition, South Valley Regional Association of Acequias, and the Center for Social Sustainable Sytems) has organized and has filed appeals against approval of the Santolina Master Plan. The hearing has been set for MARCH 25TH @ 1:30 pm, please join us! You can also show your support by calling the Bernalillo County Commissioners (Debbie O’Malley, Art de la Cruz, Maggie Hart Stebbins, Lonnie Talbert, and Wayne Johnson @ 505-314-0350/505-468-7000) to let them know loud and clear that we do NOT support the Santolina Master Plan. We will NOT support a massive and unneeded development that will negatively impact our communities!

3 Good Reasons Why You Should Object to the Santolina Subdivision

Huge thanks to the New Mexico Mercury for publishing this piece on why the Santolina Master Plan should be DENIED!

Read the entire story at:

Call for La Voz Submissions due this Friday, Nov. 14th!

****We have extended the submission deadline to Friday, November 14th @ 5 PM****
Dear Community and Friends,

We are currently seeking short and informative articles to be considered for publication in our CESOSS publication – La Voz, 2nd Special Edition on the Santolina Master Plan. This is our opportunity to raise more awareness in our communities. This edition of La Voz will center on the question posed by Paul Lusk:

1) should we continue the outward sprawl of Albuquerque into new areas beyond the adopted Development Areas of the Comprehensive Plan, or 2) should we focus our physical and tax-based resources to maintain and enhance the livability, viability and sustainability of the already utility-served and committed areas?

Guidelines to be considered:

* Up to 700 words

* Uses a critical angle in addressing key issues related to the Santolina Master Plan (e.g. issues related to water, farming and agriculture, acequias, Land Grant, inconsistencies in Santolina Master Plan, political analysis, health impacts, transportation, etc.)

* Up to 2 images can be included (send in JPEG or PDF format)

We are especially looking for informative articles that help readers understand why the Santolina Master Plan is problematic at this given time. You can view the La Voz First Special Edition at –

Please send your written pieces no later than FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 14TH.

If you have any questions, contact the editors of La Voz at

Thank you.

Center for Social Sustainable Systems (CESOSS)

Development Entitlement Speculation

Moises Gonzales, Professor of Community and Regional Planning
School of Architecture and Planning, University of New Mexico

The term real estate entitlement is used to define a development right on a property. The entitlement is acquired when a developer or land owner obtains legal approval through a municipal or county government. The process for acquiring real estate entitlements usually involves a lengthy development review process which defines the zoning, land uses, infrastructure, and the intensity of a development. If a developer acquires development rights through a development agreement, that allows for more intense development that the existing zoning, and then the property value usually immediately increases. The authors of the proposed Santolina Master Plan (2014) state, “Approval of this Level A Master Plan is the first step in transforming ranchland zoned A-1 to a new planned community to serve Bernalillo County residents and the surrounding MSA.” The intent of the developers is to acquire development rights for a suburban type of development on 13,700 acres of land which is largely agriculture and acquire development rights to support roughly 38,000 housing units. In the world of real estate development, often times developers generate value solely from acquiring entitlements and then sell off development rights to real estate investors. I refer to this process as land development entitlement speculation.

In the case of the Santolina Master Plan, it is hard to believe that in the next 10 years there will be any demand for new housing in the Albuquerque area given the status of the current economy and real estate market. New Mexico economy is dead last in terms of economic growth in the entire southwestern United States in addition to lagging in job creation since recession of 2008. Therefore, it is hard to believe that developers have any real chance of developing Santolina into a suburban community in the near future. I believe that the Santolina Master Plan process is being driven by hopes of receiving development entitlements to raise the property value for the purpose of selling off sections of the 13,700 acre parcel to investors. Given the current economic conditions facing the Albuquerque Metro Area, I believe it would be bad public policy to approve the Santolina Master Plan for the purpose of land entitlement speculation.

Cities not Farmers, have most of the water stored along Rio Grande

Cities not Farmers, have most of the water stored along Rio Grande

Written by Santiago Maestas, President
South Valley Regional Association of Acequias

After four years of drought cities in the Rio Grande Valley of central New Mexico have 73% of the water stored in New Mexico reservoirs: Heron, El Vado, and Abiquiu. The water stored at Cochiti is not available for agriculture or domestic and commercial purposes other than recreation. According to the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Reclamation most recent Reservoir Storage Status report to the Board of Directors of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District.

As of June 20th all the watershed basins in New Mexico have melted out and native flows in the Rio Grande have slowed to the point that MRGCD water bank irrigators, who sold their water rights to cities and industry, have had the water cut off. The MRGCD has only 12% of the water stored and is now dependent on native flows on the Rio Grande to maintain irrigation for the rest of the season. If monsoon rains don’t deliver as expected irrigation will be curtailed for the remaining farmers except for the pueblos.

The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Authority has most of the stored water 63% due to years of not using its annual water allocation of San Juan Chama diversion water; however, for the past 2 years since they started the Drinking Water Project they also have not been able to use their full allocation due to low river flows and have had to resort to pumping the Rio Grande basin aquifer again to meet customer demands.

Farmers and the Bosque do not have this option. As the Rio Grande dries up both the Rio Grande farmer and the endangered species that inhabit the Bosque are being threatened with extinction while cities continue to grow and consume more water.