Public Interest Not Served at SunCal Picnic

If campaigning determines development you can't really call it planned. It's a pet peeve of mine - when we blame failed plans more often than not it was a failure to plan entirely. This is because so much of development decision-making is handed to those who represent their own interests.

Take development of Albuquerque's Westside. Please.

New Mexico Independent notes that developer SunCal is supporting Development-friendly state legislators who voted for tax increment financing, or TIDDs during the last legislative session.

SunCal and Atrisco Oil and Gas are hosting an "Election Picnic" tomorrow and the feted include Dan Silva, James Taylor, Linda Lopez, Kiki Saavedra, Ernest Chavez and Bernadette Sanchez.

Gabe Nims noted here earlier this week: SunCal is dropping money all over the state, hiring a dream team of lobbyists, sponsoring high-dollar fundraisers for key legislators and Democratic Party functions.

There is a lot at stake. TIDDs will boost SunCal's profits spectacularly. And planning? If legislators act on behalf of SunCal by approving TIDDs next session, the City and County will have lost what ever weak little twiggy stick they had to direct the timing and financing of this growth. With approval of TIDD bonds, SunCal is given the power to plan, finance and build public infrastructure – a power that should rightly reside with local government.

Let’s put it another way so there is no mistaking the meaning here. These feckless legislators are colluding in a corporate usurpation of the public’s power – and as a result the public interest is shoved aside. Or shoved where the sun don't shine.

All in the face of an economic downturn. Oh, never mind that! It's a picnic!

Marjorie, at M-Pyre, asks a question about SunCal's growth that citizens will no longer have the power to answer. It will have been given away.

Should that much land be developed on Albuquerque's west side? Look at it--where's the water going to come from?
Picnic this.

Views: 33

Comment by Benny the Icepick on May 31, 2008 at 3:42pm
I look out at the lovely west side - what portions of it remain untouched, anyways - and think of the natural beauty that keeps me happy here.

Then I turn my focus to the surface parking lots downtown that have replaced historical buildings, and the vacancy in storefronts and residential lofts.

Why aren't we turning our development dollars internally to create an urban core that is sustainable, vibrant, and unique? How much sense does it make, during a time of environmental susceptibility and increasing transportation costs, to build haphazardly out into the desert?

Don't people see the value in that land as being more than a price tag suggests? That, in the long run, the value of untouched land might be greater to the population of this city than developed land?

Look east to the Sandias. Decades ago, developers wanted to build along the Crest. Aren't we as citizens grateful to be able to look on such a lovely natural wonder from almost anywhere in the city? Why can't the same be said for the west side?
Comment by Cyrus on June 1, 2008 at 5:39pm
well said Benny...
Comment by Benny the Icepick on June 1, 2008 at 10:52pm
Hacker, I have to take issue with that logic. Suggesting that because someone doesn't approve of an arena means that they don't approve of ANY development is disingenuous. We're not talking about a massive, risky project here, but about commercial and residential development - the very building blocks of a community.

Ask anyone if they'd like to have more businesses within walking distance of their home or office, and I'd be surprised if they answered "no." Ask them if they'd like the storefront down the block to remain vacant, or for the surrounding homes to start selling for half the price they're worth. Economic development stimulates and sustains neighborhoods in repercussive ways.

By pushing our tax dollars out to the desert, we end up hurting ourselves in many ways. Firstly, we're ignoring the existing parts of our city that could really use an infusion of new blood and new life, and allowing those businesses to suffer and property values to slip. Secondly, by expanding geographically instead of creating a denser population, we're stressing the city's resources by forcing them to build and maintain more infrastructure - roads, schools, water lines, police districts, and so on.

On the other hand, if we were to turn the TIDD money internally - as it was originally conceived - we could create incentives for developers to create urban renewal, to tap into the existing character of the neighborhoods, to allow more people to move in (and bring their tax revenues) without having to expand our infrastructure or compromise natural beauty. By creating mixed-use development, we can really start to see neighborhoods become COMMUNITIES. Businesses become accessible to the pedestrian, find a greater number of people within shopping range, and flourish. Communities become more walkable, resulting in fewer miles driven and thus less wear and tear on the roadways, less demand for parking, and all of a sudden unsightly surface lots are replaced by even more businesses and homes.

This is the kind of development this town needs: the cyclical domino effect that feeds on itself and greatly improves the city for all those involved. I really fear that SunCal and Mesa Del Sol are going to hurt us in the long run.
Comment by Benny the Icepick on June 2, 2008 at 7:33am
//Much of it has to do with the lack of transportation infrastructure//
Ah, but this is a problem that will be helped with internal development. By creating pockets of density within the city, you facilitate effective public transportation. By building way out into the desert, you create longer bus lines, serving fewer citizens per line or per mile, which results in higher transit costs and/or less frequent service. Furthermore, with the promotion of mixed-use development, people won't NEED to travel across town just to take care of basic needs. More and more of the businesses they would patronize would be closer to their home or business.

//The problem is those types of urban cores take a long time to develop and the infrastructure along with it, example New York City. What would be a shortcut?//
TIDDS were originally intended to be precisely that short cut. By offsetting costs, you allow developers to build and sell under market prices, allowing them to pass the savings along, sell more of their units, and still bring in a profit. Granted, if it worked that way, there would be cries of gentrification, but it would at least be laying the groundwork for organic urbanization to occur.

//Developers such as SunCal are in it for the short term return on capital. Politicians are in it for the short term to the point where they can progress up the ladder within government//
Precisely. Last night I was lying awake thinking, "what's in it for the citizens of Albuquerque, both now and in the future?" I was really struggling to come up with any positives for either of these leviathan developments, but it wasn't difficult at all to see what good could come of economic development within the current city limits.

//There is no incentive currently to homebuyers coming into Albuquerque to move downtown//
Again, this is exactly my point. TIDDs are intended to incentivize this internal growth. Instead they're being pushed out to the fringes, where people are eagerly snapping up these homes.

//The City has allowed the "shopping" cores to migrate outside of the urban core//
I see the urban core as being far more than downtown; these traffic corridors fall within the boundary in my head. By encouraging mixed-use communities, we build little nodes of activity all over the city. These nodes begin to stretch out towards one another, as businesses sprout up along the traffic (and by traffic I mean multi-modal, not just car) that moves from one node to another, and soon enough you find yourself with an interconnected web of healthy, vibrant communities. Once you have this, the bus lines will follow these strands. You see, the routes are not static, but follow the activity where they're most likely to draw service.

Now, I know I'm speaking in idealized, romanticized terms, but I'm not unrealistic. The kind of development I'm talking about will take decades of hard work. Still, it's a sustainable and necessary strategy for the long-term survivability of Albuquerque. Continuing to build out into the desert has no future for us as a city.
Comment by Benny the Icepick on June 3, 2008 at 6:50am
Again, Don, do not conflate "downtown" with "urban core." The two are not the same.

I would say that the recent expansion along the Jefferson Corridor can be considered successful. Not every economic stimulus takes, but if you're going to be dumping tax dollars into anything, at least put them somewhere that has the possibility of long-term benefit.

I'm still waiting for someone to demonstrate the beneficial aspects of SunCal and MdS that can't be achieved with internal redevelopment.
Comment by Laura on June 3, 2008 at 8:47am
I'm sure you've all seen the story in today's New York Times, titled, "In Spain, Water Is a New Battleground."

Some of the sections of the article sound eerily familiar:

There is only one problem with the picture of bounty: this province, Murcia, is running out of water. Swaths of southeast Spain are steadily turning into desert, a process spurred on by global warming and poorly planned development.

Murcia, traditionally a poor farming region, has undergone a resort-building boom in recent years, even as many of its farmers have switched to more thirsty crops, encouraged by water transfer plans, which have become increasingly untenable. The combination has put new pressures on the land and its dwindling supply of water.

And the quote at the end just nails it, in my mind:

But even so, people and politicians tend to regard water as a limitless resource. “Politicians think in four-year blocks, so it’s O.K. as long as it doesn’t run out on their watch,” said Ms. Montón of Greenpeace. “People think about it, but they don’t really think about what happens tomorrow. They don’t worry until they turn on the tap and nothing flows.”
Comment by Phil_0 on June 3, 2008 at 9:00am
@Golf hacker: I've found that the arena's most vehement supporters are usually people from the sprawl areas. They want it because they see it as a feather in Albuquerque's cap, a way to catch up with Phoenix or Denver, a source of urban bragging rights. For most of these folks, the arena - and downtown - are viewed as something to visit on a Saturday, something in the distance you can point to from your West Mesa backyard. There's little or no interest in building downtown as a community or a high-density place where people actually live. This attitude is one of the primary reasons I'm skeptical about an arena plan unless it also brings in lots of additional high-density development.

@Don: I'd say the jury on revitalization is still out. Sure, the condo boom - driven by private investors and developers, incidentally - hasn't panned out, mostly because realtors and developers set unrealistic price points. But downtown ABQ is significantly more vibrant and exciting than it was 10-15 years ago, when the Sunshine Theater bordered vacant lots all the way to the railroad tracks and downtown had virtually no dining or entertainment options beyond a couple college bars. Head down on a weekend or at dinner time on most weeknights and you'll see plenty of people eating, strolling, or just taking in the air. It's a very different - and better - scene than it used to be, and the chunks of the revitalization that public dollars actually had a stake in (the transit center, the Tucanos/movie theater building, etc.) are driving those improvements. Downtown needs more retail, more diverse nightlife, and a less heavy-handed police presence when the bars close. The powers-that-be have only recently turned their full attention towards these issues. Wait and see.
Comment by Coco on June 5, 2008 at 6:18am

I appreciate what you say and frankly, I am tired. I also agree with your point about corporate presence and believe that dreamy new urbanist ideas are not the point. But I'm not sure what all that has to do with SunCal - who've exploited new urbanism extensively in their promotions.

If you are suggesting, as some do, that SunCal can recruit big companies or that their presence wll inspire investment, then I think you are drinking the same koolaid.

This is not about blaming sprawl for the condition of the rest of the city. It is more about implications for public services and the very real potential to be spread too thin in the event of an inevitable downturn and surging gas prices. When that downturn comes, the "fertile ground" you speak of will shift toward the core. If fertile ground remains at all.


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