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Paseo Funds To Be Saved

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque city councilors late Monday narrowly agreed to reserve about $3 million in funding that could go toward the reconstruction of the Paseo del Norte and Interstate 25 interchange.

In a busy night of work, the council also reached agreement with the mayor over how to regulate electronic billboards and LED signs.

As for the Paseo funding, the $3 million was originally set aside in the operating budget to pay for the issuance of about $50 million in bonds to help fund two projects in “ABQ: The Plan” — the Paseo interchange and a complex of sports fields.

But voters refused to approve the bond issue earlier this month. Critics focused on the pairing of the projects into one question and described the sportsplex as wasteful spending.

The rejection left councilors to decide on what to do with the money they’d already set aside.

Mayor Richard Berry backed a plan approved by councilors Monday to hold the money in reserve for the Paseo project, with an eye toward using it as matching funds in case the state Legislature chips in some money, too. The city could use the $3 million to make annual payments on up to $50 million in bonds for Paseo, whereas under the ballot question Paseo would have received only $25 million.

Voting in favor of the idea were Republicans Don Harris, Brad Winter, Dan Lewis, Michael Cook and Trudy Jones. Four Democrats voted “no” — Rey Garduño, Ken Sanchez, Debbie O’Malley and Isaac Benton.

“When folks send their tax dollars to the city, we need to ensure that these dollars get invested back into our community,” Berry said in a written statement. “The Paseo Del Norte and I-25 interchange improvements do just that. This legislation puts in place a tremendous incentive for the state to provide their portion of the funding for this critical piece of infrastructure.”

On the sign debate, the council voted 7-2 in favor of an ordinance that establishes new standards for electronic signs citywide and bans their construction along some corridors, including parts of Coors Boulevard.

Deciding which parts of the city deserved extra protection as “view corridors” was the most-heated part of the debate. Ultimately, the council-approved bill bans construction of new electronic signs along Unser, Alameda, Griegos, Rio Grande and Tramway, in addition to parts of Coors.

Critics say electronic signs are especially distracting for drivers and obscure scenic views of the mountains and valley.

Benton, the bill’s sponsor, said he wanted broader restrictions on where new signs could go, but he noted that the mayor had vetoed an earlier version of the ordinance.

It’s “still a good bill,” Benton said. “I’m glad we’ve got some protections for the West Side.”

Berry said he intends to sign the bill.

“I commend the bipartisan work of the City Council to craft a sign ordinance that balances the needs of our community by including input from our neighborhoods, protecting our priceless views and meeting the needs of small business,” he said in a statement released by his office.

Voting against the bill were Sanchez and Garduño.

Sanchez wanted to ban new electronic signs along the entirety of Coors.

“Once we’ve lost those view corridors, we can’t get them back,” he said.

Lewis, who proposed the language on Coors, said it was a reasonable compromise based on city land-use documents that outline what areas deserve extra protection because they offer a good view. Even signs that are allowed, he said, will face regulation.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal