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Metro Beat: Notes from the ABQ City Council

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Where and when recreational cannabis can be sold in Albuquerque is now a closely watched land-use debate in New Mexico’s largest city, and on Monday the City Council spent 40 minutes debating it — or, rather, 40 minutes debating when to debate it again.

Despite having an opportunity Monday to make a final decision on the proposed cannabis regulations, several councilors quickly asserted a desire to postpone any action. But then they wrestled at length about when the council should resume debate on what Councilor Lan Sena called a “once-in-a-generation” issue.

While Sena and Councilor Don Harris pushed for a longer delay to enable additional public input and explore certain legal questions, others urged the council not to drag it out too long. Councilor Pat Davis stressed the need for local zoning clarity before the state in July starts accepting applications for cannabis licenses, while Councilor Trudy Jones noted that the cannabis regulations are just one component of a much larger process that requires completion — the annual update of the city’s Integrated Development Ordinance.

After an extensive (have I mentioned yet it took a very long time?) discussion, the council ultimately agreed to hold a special meeting on the IDO on June 17, with members noting that unresolved issues from that meeting can flow forward to the city’s regularly scheduled June 21 session.

While the potential IDO decision garnered the most attention during Monday’s meeting — and was central to nearly every comment during the meeting’s hourlong public-comment period — there were several other matters on the Monday agenda.

Details on the proposed IDO amendments (considered the document’s 2020 update), including cannabis-related proposals, are available here.

VETO STANDS: It seems Councilor Isaac Benton’s gasoline tax bill has reached the end of the road.

Mayor Tim Keller last week vetoed the City Council-approved legislation that would have put a 2-cent gas tax on the 2022 ballot, and his decision is going to stand.

The narrow council majority that passed the bill in May was not sufficient to overcome Keller’s action.

The same five councilors who supported the proposal when it passed last month — Brook Bassan, Benton, Pat Davis, Diane Gibson and Trudy Jones — voted to overturn the veto, but six votes are required to succeed. None of the four councilors who had voted against the ballot question last month changed their position.

Read more here.

PICTURE ID AT THE POLLS: An Albuquerque city charter provision requiring photo identification when voting in municipal elections will remain on the books even though it is not currently being enforced.

Keller’s proposal to strike that requirement failed before the City Council, getting only six of the seven votes needed.

Keller recommended repealing the language, noting in a memo to council President Cynthia Borrego that state law does not require photo ID at the polls. It allows voters to verbally confirm their identification.

The city opted into the state’s Local Election Act in 2018, which consolidates city elections — for positions like mayor and councilor — with other local races. The city charter’s photo ID provision was not enforced during the first such election, which took place in 2019, according to Chris Melendrez, acting council services director.

“Repealing the voter identification requirement would clarify for voters that this is no longer a requirement for voting in regular local elections in the City of Albuquerque,” Keller wrote in an April 13 memo urging the update.

Benton and Klarissa Peña co-sponsored the bill at the mayor’s request, and voted for it along with Borrego, Davis, Gibson and Sena.

Jones and Harris opposed the bill, while Bassan was not present for the vote.

“We would have liked to see the outdated language removed to give voters clarity,” Babaak Parcham, a spokesman for Keller said in a statement after the bill’s failure. “Even without a formal removal of the outdated language tonight, residents should know they will not be required to present ID at their polling place.”

PLACARD RECOGNITION: Albuquerque is getting a little more inclusive when it comes to disabled parking placards.

The council has approved amendments to the traffic code that accept as legal any government-issued disabled parking placard or license plate. The ordinance had previously only recognized New Mexico-issued placards.

Councilor Borrego said she and the bill’s co-sponsor, Gibson, had been contacted by people who were ticketed despite having appropriately displayed their passes because the placards were not from New Mexico.

“This just makes it easier for people who are disabled to be able to park in those handicapped spaces and not be cited if they’re (from) out of town or in town, regardless of where they’re from,” she said.

At least one councilor said he had direct knowledge of the issue after his daughter came to Albuquerque following an operation in Denver.

“She got a handicapped placard from Colorado and she came here and parked at the mall and got a ticket,” Councilor Harris said. “… She was able to get it dismissed, but we hate to make people go to that effort.”

PROPERTY DEAL: The Garcia family’s Downtown Albuquerque real estate portfolio is growing again.

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The ground floor of the long-vacant Rosenwald Building in Downtown Albuquerque will soon become an APD Police station. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

The family, through its company Townsite QO21, made a private bid to buy the city’s portion of the Rosenwald Building at 320 Central SW, according to a memo Mayor Tim Keller sent the City Council.

The council on Monday approved the sale of the city’s interest in the building — about 20,430 square feet — as well as its lease-back of a piece for an Albuquerque Police Department substation.

The sale price is $350,000, according to city documents, and the buyer is required to renovate the space APD will use.

Townsite will then lease back to the city 1,126 square feet for $22 per square foot annually for a term of 13 years and nine months, which adds up to $340,615.

Keller issued a statement Monday night celebrating the new lease, saying it provided a new headquarters for the Downtown Public Safety District, which has been using offices at the Alvarado Transportation Center.

Albuquerque Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Rael said it makes more sense to use the Rosenwald — a former department store — as a lessee than as its partial owner, which the city has been for years, in part because of the renovation expenses.

“There’s some serious mechanical and redevelopment costs with that building that it just didn’t pencil out … for the city to bring the whole space up to where it needed to be,” Rael told the Journal. “I think this was the private sector really stepping in really helped make the deal better for the city.”

The Garcia family, which owns several Albuquerque car dealerships and has a stake in the New Mexico United soccer club, has been steadily acquiring Downtown properties, including some from Bernalillo County. The County Commission recently approved selling 501 Tijeras NW to the family.

OVERSIGHT APPOINTMENT: For the third time in less than two months, the council approved a new member for the Civilian Police Oversight Agency.

Retired Albuquerque Police Department employee Patricia French was appointed to fill the lone remaining vacancy on the nine-member panel. French has previously served as APD’s records supervisor and its false alarm reduction supervisor, according to a memo provided to the councilors.

“Being there for 30 years just gives me a little more insight on looking into and giving suggestions as to policy and procedure changes that may help the police department during this (Court Approved Settlement Agreement period) and in the future,” French told the council.

SOLAR DOLLARS: The council approved a new incentive for Affordable Solar Installation, which is developing a new headquarters/warehousing/light manufacturing facility at 3900 Singer NE.

The council — which already approved $7.6 million in industrial revenue bonds to support the project — passed a new deal that includes $625,000 in Local Economic Development Act grants for the company. The city will chip in $125,000 and will serve as fiscal agent for a separate $500,000 coming from the state.

RENTAL REVENUE: The city is slated to make some money from renting what is now a vacant building at the airport.

The council approved a new 10-year agreement with 10 Tanker Air Carrier to lease city Aviation Department property at 3721 Spirit SE. The company will pay the city $101,320 per year to start, with the rent rising annually in the fourth year to a maximum of $130,120 in the final year, records show.

The company will use the building to store aircraft parts and supplies used to support its firefighting operations, according to the lease agreement.

INVESTING IN SAN PEDRO: The city will prioritize upgrading the San Pedro corridor between Central and Haines under legislation passed Monday, specifically to enhance safety and the streetscape and to improve conditions for users of multiple transportation modes.

DIALING UP THE PAST: Rotary phones were the comparison du jour — at least for Councilor Diane Gibson. She twice invoked those ringing relics Monday as the council weighed updating two policies that she said hearkened back to a bygone era.

That includes the aforementioned voter photo ID requirement in the city charter — which will remain in place — and an ordinance that can require a lengthy selection process for procuring architectural and engineering services of over $25,000.

Gibson and Benton successfully proposed amending the ordinance to raise the threshold to $150,000, noting that $25,000 is not a high-dollar job in today’s economy.

“The $25,000 limit was probably put in to effect when we were still using rotary phones — (it’s) way, way obsolete,” Gibson said.


Jessica Dyer: jdyer@abqjournal.com


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