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A welcome declaration of war on weeds

This example of “natural” Santa Fe landscaping is on a median on West Alameda. ( Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Santa Fe city government recently issued what amounts to an anti-weed manifesto.

The city acknowledged it has never been able to keep street and road medians from become out-of-control weed forests after the annual rainy season comes.

An essay/news release entitled simply “Median Vegetation Management” starts:

“Every year for years, it seems, we go through the same cycle: A public statement, as the spring and summer seasons approach, acknowledging that ‘last year we had a problem,’ and promising to do better this year; work harder, work longer, and work smarter; the development of a management plan to take on the medians in a systematic way; an onslaught of calls and complaints once the summer season is in full bloom; an effort to fund, hire, find, and deploy additional people and equipment; and, at the end of the season, a feeling by the residents and the City alike that, despite our best efforts, once again we have fallen short of our own high standards and expectations.

“This summer is the last time we are going to go through this annual cycle of frustration. That’s why we have taken a hard look and put together a shortlist of actions we can and will take to fix our medians once and for all.”

Mayor Alan Webber’s administration disclosed a 10-point plan to fight weeds, including: changing what’s planted on medians; converting 20 medians to xeriscaping; simply clearing out some medians that “are really only fit for weed growth”; putting concrete stamp, or pavers, on medians “that are impossible to maintain”; revamping and implementing a new compliance system for the Adopt-a-Median program”; and adding 10 “temporary/seasonal employees/part-time to full-time” for weed control.

Also, the city commits to clarifying “lines of responsibility and managerial oversight”; obtaining better equipment, as the city is now “trying to do an industrial-sized job with home-improvement equipment”; continuing a no-poisons policy for weed control; and creation of a public education program on businesses’ and residents’ responsibilities to maintain streetside vegetation and to let “people know that the City has enforcement powers if people don’t take their responsibilities seriously.”

City Hall’s strong pronunciamento, this public commitment to ruin Russian thistle and subdue Siberian elm saplings, is welcome.

Some will say worrying about weeds or the way a city looks is an elitist first-world issue not worthy of time and expense considering problems like poverty, homelessness, health care, crime, climate change and housing. But what a city looks like matters. It’s just better to live in a place that looks better and looks like we care that it looks better, no matter what part of town you live in or income demographic you belong to.

Other Western cities have figured out how to deal with vegetation with apparent super powers for growth in desert environments when even small amounts of moisture fall from the skies. The landscape around Albuquerque’s interstate fly-overs is one example of appealing xeriscaping.

State government needs to join in, too. It seems like just a bit of work, some evidence of actual human intervention and care, on St. Francis Drive – a state highway and Santa Fe’s and main entrance point from the south – could make a vast improvement in the stretch between Interstate 25 and Siringo Road.

It’s extraordinary for a government bureaucracy to promise to fix something “once and for all,” more or less inviting the public to howl and complain even more if goals aren’t met. By roughly this time next year, we’ll know if the Webber’s administration has pulled off something his predecessors never could.


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