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Metro Beat: Last night’s ABQ City Council rundown

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The first Albuquerque City Council meeting of the spring was a relatively short one, clocking in at under two hours.

With Council President Cynthia Borrego and Klarissa Peña both absent, the council took final action on just one bill: Councilor Isaac Benton’s proposed moratorium on new residential parking permit areas.

“Residential parking permit area” is the city’s term for places where on-street parking is limited to residents with city-issued permits. Neighborhoods can petition the city for the designation as long as 51% of people living on the affected street support the restrictions.

Until now, the RPPAs were mostly concentrated around the University of New Mexico campus and Downtown. But the city Parking Division recently approved converting two North Valley streets near the Rio Grande bosque, sparking criticism. People who live in the area have complained about an influx of outsiders causing traffic congestion and other problems, but critics say the new restrictions on Trellis Drive and Decker Road are reducing public bosque access and setting a bad precedent.

Councilor Isaac Benton — who represents that section of the North Valley — has said he is concerned that the process for essentially privatizing public streets via RPPAs is not well defined in city ordinance. He is proposing a broader set of criteria for the city Parking Division to consider before granting neighborhood RPPA requests. But amending city ordinance can take a while, so on Monday he proposed a resolution to temporarily stop the Parking Division from enforcing the Trellis/Decker restrictions and from creating any new RPPAs.

“This is the kind of thing that if it happens in your district, you’ve got to deal with it whether you want to or not,” Benton said, though he noted RPPAs have not typically caused issues in the past.

His resolution passed on a 7-0 vote.

The moratorium is in place until the city enacts related ordinance updates or for six months, whichever is sooner.

The city’s lobbying team was behind one of the meeting’s longest discussions, providing updates on how the city has benefitted — and will continue benefitting — from federal COVID-19 stimulus and how it would attempt to get additional dollars through the congressional earmarking process.

They also recapped how the New Mexico Legislature’s recent decisions would play out in Albuquerque.

Lobbyist Joe Thompson said this year’s capital outlay bill included over $42 million for the city of Albuquerque, but noted that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham still has a few days to review — and potentially veto — line items in the program.

The council postponed a decision on adding local pastor Richard Johnson to the Civilian Police Oversight Board, as council staff noted that the city had not yet completed the required background check. Johnson has been recommended to fill one of three vacancies on the nine-member board.

In other council action:

■ The ABQ BioPark will get some totem poles, didgeridoos and more as part of a new $555,000 contract the council approved with Monday’s consent agenda.

The city is paying Boomalli Consulting out of the Australian city of Dubbo to create art and artifacts for the zoo’s upcoming Australia exhibit. The work entails murals and a series of artifacts, including six totem poles, six styles of didgeridoo, two traditional headpieces, two boomerang collections, five emu callers and two battle shields.

“Allan McKenzie, Boomalli’s owner, is a proud Gamilaroi/Wiradjuri artist who is well known for his highly detailed and vibrant artwork, his knowledge, respect and capacity to teach and develop cultural connection and appreciation through his suite of workshops,” city officials wrote in documents provided to the city council.

■ Citing COVID-19 and increased usage, the city is spending far more than anticipated on the employee counseling services provided through a Presbyterian Health Plan contract.

As part of the consent agenda, the council approved Mayor Tim Keller’s request to increase the five-year contract to $1.1 million from its original value of $455,143.

“Following the COVID-19 outbreak, City employee use of (Employee Assistance Program) services has nearly doubled, intakes continue to increase and follow-up appointments have seen a steady two-fold increase between March 2020 and January 2020,” the new agreement says.

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