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Foes of Paseo Extension Dominate Forum

By Andrea Schoellkopf
Journal Staff Writer
    Opponents dominated more than three hours of debate Tuesday in the first of two planned public forums on the proposed extension of Paseo del Norte.
    Being outnumbered three-to-one before the Albuquerque City Council didn't thwart supporters of the controversial road, however.
    "We are going to get a road out there," said state Sen. Joe Carraro, who kicked off the forum with a 10-minute speech.
    "Once again this community is being divided," Carraro said. "We're sick of people telling us where to go. People transcend the politics of it."
    Paseo opponent Eli Lee blamed past city councils for opening up the Northwest quadrant of the city to rampant development.
    "From a planning perspective, the Paseo extension makes little sense," said Lee, whose political consulting group Soltari Inc. actively campaigned last year against road bonds that included the Paseo extension. "Roads do not solve congestion."
    Earlier this year, after the bond election, Carraro had introduced legislation that would have allowed the West Side to secede from Albuquerque.
    "It's going to be done either by the city of Albuquerque or (by some) other venue," he said.
    The City Council is scheduled to vote on the 1,200-foot Paseo extension Monday to fulfill a condition by Gov. Bill Richardson that is tied to $3.3 million in legislative funding.
    Richardson wants the new council vote despite numerous votes of support by previous councils. Six of the nine councilors were in attendance at Tuesday's meeting, Council President Michael Cadigan, Brad Winter, Miguel Gómez, Martin Heinrich, Craig Loy and Debbie O'Malley.
    An estimated 200 people attended this forum at the Albuquerque Convention Center. A second forum is planned for May but has not yet been scheduled.
    "There is a real effort to look at this as an Albuquerque issue," said Heinrich, a Paseo opponent who co-sponsored a resolution that would delay any vote on Paseo until the Mid-Region Council of Governments updates its transportation study and public forums are held.
    This would "give the council one more chance to get this right," he said.
    Opponents repeatedly said the city tried to "hide" Paseo in the last street bond election, and said the issue had been decided then.
    "It seems to me that this has already been decided," said resident Ray Garduño. "We were not tricked. We voted them down because we did not want that Paseo extension."
    Petroglyph supporter Barbra Rossnagle said whatever Paseo road deal that politicians made in the 1980s wasn't revealed to others working to get the petroglyph monument established.
    "That really doesn't obligate all the rest of us who were working for the monument," Rossnagle said. "(The goal was) to protect the petroglyphs from urban encroachment and preserve them for study."
    Native American Leah Weaselboy found it ironic that area residents seemed to be seeking Southwestern influence in their homes, but would be destroying Native American art in the petroglyphs by building a road.
    "Now just to save a few minutes commute, they want to destroy a piece of history and culture that has been here long before they or their ancestors were even in this country," said Weaselboy, who moved here 10 years ago from Montana.
    Paseo backers also lined up in support, some indicating that this is just the latest public debate in 18 years they have been asking for the road.
    "The polarization has ripped our city for far too long," said Ventana Ranch resident Bruce Nyberg. "We need to build a transportation grid on the West Side."
    Supporters said that traffic congestion makes driving dangerous, as well as impossible to access hospitals or other emergency needs during peak commuting times.
    "It is almost impossible for me to get out of my street," said Paradise Hills resident Richard Meyerhein. "I fear for my life."
    Former Bernalillo County Commissioner Ken Sanchez said he had spent two years looking for alternatives to Paseo.
    "The road is no longer going through the national monument," Sanchez said. "I would hope this City Council takes courage and votes in the affirmative."
    A handful of pueblo leaders held a news conference earlier in the day with the Sage Council opposition group to voice their opposition to Paseo.
    "This hurts all of us as Indian people," said Zia Pueblo Gov. Peter Pino. "We're all adults. We can figure out a solution to the problem."
    Benny Atencio, former chairman of the All-Indian Pueblo Council, denied that the pueblos ever had an agreement for Paseo.
    "We are still opposed," Atencio said.
    Sage Council director Laurie Weahkee said the Sage Council is considering a lawsuit against the city to prevent Paseo del Norte from being built, citing the state Historic Preservation Act.