Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
Early Thursday, Martin Saiz, a local artist, got a frantic call from his 12-year-old daughter saying there was a group of people trying to knock a hole in their backyard fence.
Saiz immediately returned to his home in the 9800 block of Edith NE, but even before he got there, he knew what to expect. He’s been living with it for at least the past seven years.
Saiz’s daughter, who was unnerved by the event, saw eight people who looked to be in their 20s, both male and female, trying to find a back way into Balloon Fiesta Park.
“Every year, I’ve replaced this fence and it has gotten to the point where it’s just being held together by wire,” Saiz said. “I don’t even bother to replace it, because I know this is going to happen again.”
The fence is at the back of a 70-foot-long easement Saiz shares with a neighbor. Cactus plants on both sides of the fence have been trampled and broken, showing just how determined the trespassers are. Beyond the fence, the ground rises to a bike path that runs north and south along a steep, concrete-lined AMAFCA flood control ditch. Beyond that is Balloon Fiesta Park.
“People walk from their cars, cut through the neighborhood and break through fences or jump over them,” Saiz said. “It’s people going to and coming from the fiesta every time there’s a mass ascension, and it’s worse for nighttime balloon glows and fireworks.”
From the vantage point of the high bike path, Saiz pointed out the backyards of at least nine neighbors with damaged fences.
Years ago, in response to neighborhood complaints that fiesta spectators were causing traffic congestion, filling available parking spaces on their streets and blocking driveways, fiesta officials worked with law enforcement to come up with a plan to control access to the north Edith neighborhood just west of the fiesta grounds.
Each household was issued five passes, and law enforcement officers positioned at strategic access points into the neighborhood would turn away anyone who did not have a pass.
Now, people park along the east side of the drainage ditch on Second NW between Alameda Boulevard and Alameda Road, and walk about a half-mile east to Edith, where they cut through yards in their attempt to get to the fiesta grounds.
“The cops watch them park and start walking, sometimes carrying coolers, and there’s nothing they can do to stop them because it’s not against the law to walk,” Saiz said. Seldom do officers actually see someone trespassing in a resident’s yard, he said.
Although he has called police to report the trespassing and fence damage, Saiz said police told him that unless they witness the violation, there is little they can do.
Complicating the situation, he said, is a neighbor who managed to get 130 passes and has been holding boisterous viewing parties from his backyard, where people have been camping out in tents and recreational vehicles.
Saiz said he knows that some of his neighbors sell their passes.
Fiesta spokesman Tom Garrity said neighborhood residents can, and often do, ask for extra passes – sometimes a lot of them.
A resident might have three or four viewing parties at the home, inviting 30 or more guest to each of the parties, requiring each guest to have a pass to enter the restricted neighborhood area. “It’s not unusual,” he said.
However, if people are using the passes as a “moneymaker,” Garrity said, “that’s unfortunate, and we’ll have to take that up with the homeowners next year one on one.”
Further, he said, fiesta officials have been unaware of any disputes in the neighborhood involving the passes.
As for trespassers cutting through yards, he said, “Definitely let us know about it, but the first call should be to law enforcement.”