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Sale of building near Capitol raises concerns

SANTA FE – Concerned about the recent sale of a historic building in the shadow of the Capitol, the Capitol Buildings Planning Commission may ask lawmakers for a bit more clout.

House Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants, a member of the commission, proposed Monday that current law be changed to authorize the panel to approve – not just simply review – sales or leases of property on the Capitol campus.

And Cultural Affairs Secretary Veronica Gonzales suggested there be special reviews when state-owned historic property is proposed for sale.

The suggested changes, which the commission could discuss further in October, were prompted by the sale of a building on nearby East De Vargas Street by the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

The EMNRD said its State Parks Division hadn’t used it since 2012 and didn’t intend to, and the agency was concerned about deterioration.

It was sold in late June for $570,000 – $70,000 above its appraised value – to a company called Galisteo Street, whose owners operate an upscale inn in other buildings in the same block and had been leasing the building since 2012. The lease agreement gave Galisteo Street the right to buy it.

Martinez said in an interview that it was “highly valuable property” that was worth more. He also said legislators weren’t given enough information before they voted overwhelmingly to approve the sale.

Galisteo Street’s lease required it to maintain and repair the premises. The department, however, contends that in the event of a bigger problem such as a fallen wall or roof, or a cracked foundation, the lease allowed the tenant to walk away.

“EMNRD stands by its prudent decision to get rid of a building that was not being used to benefit taxpayers,” the agency said in a statement. The money is going into state park programs, including restrooms.

About a month after the Legislature adjourned on Feb. 20, the buyer contracted with state Sen. Phil Griego, D-San Jose – who had voted for the sale – to monitor the sale proceedings for an undisclosed sum. Griego said the buyer is a good friend and he saw no problem with the arrangement.

“I didn’t feel there was an ethical problem when I did the deal. We were already out of the session. I didn’t feel I was doing anything wrong,” Griego said.