At the urging of Councilor Isaac Benton, the council late Monday voted 7-1 to block Albuquerque Public Schools from getting the curb cuts it needs to complete the loop project until a meeting takes place with APS, city planners and neighbors.
Benton also introduced a resolution to form a task force between APS and the city to work together on transportation and traffic issues.
Several neighbors who live next to Jefferson have been protesting the proposed loop since May, speaking at City Council meetings, contacting APS officials and even spray-painting messages on their fences. They contend the new loop road will cause unwanted pollution and decrease their property values, and they say they haven’t been included in the planning process.
APS officials say passenger loading and unloading at the school is dangerous, and a loop road would alleviate that.
Although curb cuts are normally an administrative function, Benton said it’s appropriate for the City Council to get involved in this case, calling it an “unusual situation.”
“In this case it’s, in my opinion, a land-use matter as well as a transportation matter,” he said in an interview. “The adjacent city taxpayers and residents are being affected by APS’ actions.”
School Board President Martin Esquivel, who represents the Jefferson area, called Benton’s move “grandstanding.”
“He has no business to be poking his nose into this,” Esquivel said. “I think that this is a clear-cut safety issue for our children, and we’ve bent over backward to find solutions, and there are a few people who simply do not want the loop road at any cost.”
Adding fuel to the fire is an email that was released to neighbors through a public records request. The email was written by APS capital master plan director Kizito Wijenje and addressed to a consultant and several APS administrators, including Brad Winter. Winter is the chief operations officer for APS and also a city councilor. Winter said he will recuse himself from any council votes on the matter.
In the email, Wijenje asks, “Did we agree to postpone our project so that these characters can keep chasing their tails?” He also wrote that Benton is only interested in the issue because it is an election year. “Diane Dolan and Ike Benton also have a timeline, THE OCTOBER COUNCIL ELECTIONS. After which they could give a hoot whether we conduct car washes on the JMS parking lot in rush hour,” he wrote.
Wijenje said in an interview Monday the email was an expression of his frustration with delays in the process.
Benton said the email was a factor in his decision to push for a halt to the project.
Councilor Trudy Jones was the lone “no” vote on Benton’s bill. Winter recused himself and didn’t vote.