Miguel Silva and Natalie Chadborn, the candidates for the District 1 seat on the Las Cruces City Council, answer NMPolitics.net’s questions on topics ranging from growth and development to ethics reform to quality of life and sustainability
Just as NMPolitics.net asked the Las Cruces mayoral candidates a series of questions, it asked questions of candidates for three seats on the city council on topics ranging from growth and development to ethics reform to quality of life and sustainability.
The rules were the same as those for the mayoral candidates: No word minimum or limit, and no attacking opponents. I told council candidates these questions were designed to give people a sense of the kind of councilors they would be, not the kind of councilors they wanted others to believe their opponents would be.
There are two candidates for the District 1 seat on the council: Miguel Silva, the incumbent, and Natalie Chadborn. Here are their responses to a long list of questions. I’ve sorted the questions into three categories.
The election is Nov. 8, but early voting is underway. Reponses from candidates for the District 2 and District 4 seats on the council will run in the coming days.
Growth and development
Four years ago the primary issue in the Las Cruces election was the city’s growth. What has the city done in the last four years related to growth and development that you agree with, and what have you disagreed with?
“Four years ago, the entire process was moving faster than City Staff could manage. To expedite the process, rules may not have been followed in their entirety and certain developers were receiving favoritism throughout the process. Also, there was minimal public transparency. The downturn of the economy allowed staff to catch up with projects and, with the incoming 2007 Council, transparency became a priority. In addition, with the Council’s support, City Staff began to take decisive actions led by then-Assistant City Manager Robert Garza. They also felt comfortable in creating an even playing field by enforcing rules equally amongst all developers.
“The economic downturn did not completely halt the City. The Council initiated new directions for City Staff in enhancing the quality of life for us and those to come. According to City Manager Garza’s September 2011 Weekly Council Report, more than $ 62 million in projects are currently active citywide, with $11.3 million of the total being invested in District One. Active projects currently include the El Paseo Corridor Project, Downtown Main Street, neighborhood parks, trails program, arroyo preservation and storm water control projects. This is only a small list of the 146 active projects.
“Vision 2040 has taken way too long to complete. This four-year delay has postponed starting a new Comprehensive Plan that will bring public input and participation to planning our future growth. The fact that both the City and business community have not come to agreement with on certain items such as dust or lighting ordinances doesn’t satisfy me either. We need to resolve these and other items so that when economy turns, both the City and business community are on the same page and off and running together. Thus, both parties will greatly benefit.
“Also, we have not placed enough emphasis on repairing and rebuilding streets and sidewalks in the older parts of the City and we have not committed ourselves to additional funding required to address these needs.”
“In the time I have lived here, the city council has spent a lot of the people’s money on development, yet we have not seen much growth. While I definitely agree the council should work with the community on this issue, I disagree that the way to be effective is to add fees, taxes, and regulations that stifle growth.
“I have spoken to many people about the explosive growth to the community and its effects. Now, we are seeing no growth, there is a huge chasm between the two. The city of Las Cruces needs to recognize the need for development and growth while preserving historic areas. In order to have a commonsense approach to growth, the council needs to decrease the amount of rules and regulations that are stifling it.”
Do you support the city’s implementation of impact fees? Why or why not?
“No. The cost of the infrastructure of a new development is already included in what developers and homeowners pay. The city should work with developers to come up with a solution that would satisfy the alleged incongruity of roads and other infrastructure needs. We cannot create jobs by punishing businesses.”
“No. Impact fees are one answer to a problem and they can be a very good fit, when done correctly. The city studied Impact Fees and considered alternative plans for four years. The primary concern seemed to be to lower the fees, regardless of their adequacy. The Council has now passed Impact Fees that will, at best, pay for 1/6 of the projects needed, and Council has delayed their implementation until some time in 2013 or later. It will be too little, too late.
“In the long run, I am concerned that passing the Impact Fees, even at this level, signaled to the Business Community that the Council is not adequately considering their needs as they struggle to get our economy growing.”
Has the city adequately kept up with the need for police and fire coverage? If not, how could it do better?
“In light of the economy, I think the City has done remarkably well in keeping up with public safety. But it could surely be better. We desperately need a new 911 call center, and it is on the books now. We are currently bonded for more than $1 million for the design of the Center, and the next step will be to identify funding for the remaining funds needed to complete this multi-million dollar project. We need more police officers, and they are being added as possible. I am pleased we have Chief Williams in charge of our Police Department and feel an assured level of comfort in his leadership.”
“We still need the new 911 call center; however, the 19 additional police officers hired on the police force is a step in the right direction. This applies to the new fire stations as well, but we will need to prioritize the budget to ensure they are funded to keep up with growth.”
Do you believe that attracting retirees to Las Cruces is a major economic strategy that should continue, or is there something else the city should focus on as retirees from other areas are having a more difficult time selling houses and moving?
“While we want to welcome retirees who want to live here, we must not neglect our entrepreneurs and students who are vital to growing an economy. We need a diversified economy, and by decreasing rules and regulations that hold small business owners and entrepreneurs back, we can open the doors to manufacturing and other types of employment that will create a well-balanced economy for the long-term.”
“Retirees have brought great benefits to the city over the past 30-plus years. They come and buy houses, shop, need services, financial and medical support, and they bring money into our economy. I believe we should work to make Las Cruces especially attractive to retirees.
“In addition to the retiree service, we also need to focus on bringing industry of all types to our City and the area in diversifying our job market. We need companies doing business outside our area who can bring hundreds of jobs and really make a difference to our economy.”
What does the city need to do in the next four years about growth and development, and what would you do as a councilor to make it happen?
“Develop a great Comprehensive Plan with massive public participation, which would generate a strategy for our future we all can agree with. The process of revising our Comprehensive Plan will take a minimum of 12 to 18 months, given public participation and the review of each component. This will then lead us into the final component of reviewing and revising our zoning and planning regulations, which will add an additional 12 to 18 months.
“As for the rules, codes and regulations, we need to develop an approach and attitude that is as friendly to businesses as possible. We need to encourage both the growth of the businesses we have already and the location of new businesses. We need to be more aggressive at seeking businesses to relocate here and to make all city processes faster, easier, and more efficient.
“Start an Economic Development Council comprising the business and civic leaders of the city, from all interests, to sit together and work out just what we need to do to develop wisely and well. Listening to local businesspersons is a must since they are the ones who will be at the center of bringing new and building existing businesses.
“Continue to develop new zoning and planning practices, such as mixed-use zoning and more flexible planning, which will allow developers more freedom to make better use of their properties, and to develop more attractive and marketable properties. This plays to the advantage of our whole City.
“Continue to complete the next phase of Main Street on the south end, and then proceed with the development of the whole new Downtown. This would include the planned work for Church and Water Streets, include the Mesquite/Camino Real Corridor, and encourage new development in the area to include residential buildings.”
“As a councilor, I would listen to the taxpayers about what they want to see happen, and help them to achieve their goals. (Refer to question in first paragraph.)”
In the last two election cycles we’ve seen political committees get involved in Las Cruces elections and push back against disclosure by laws by, at least initially, not filing finance reports with the city. At a state level and in Albuquerque, there have been efforts to reform campaigns by instituting contribution limits and public financing and increasing transparency by requiring more frequent campaign reporting. Other ethics reforms have included webcasting and limits on gifts elected officials can accept.
Yet in Las Cruces, we’ve seen no structural reform. We don’t require frequent campaign reporting. We have no limits on contributions. Advertising doesn’t have to state who paid for it.
Does Las Cruces need to tackle campaign and ethics reform? Why or why not? Have you done anything to promote reform in the past? What specific reforms would you propose if you’re elected, if any? Do you support tougher reporting requirements and more frequent reporting deadlines? Do you support contribution limits and/or public financing?
“Yes, weekly contribution reports would be feasible, and contribution limits could match state guidelines. As far as ethics are concerned, definitely all of our meetings should be open to the public and at a time that is convenient for the public, not just the council members. This will encourage transparency and accountability in ethics reform.
“As a businesswoman, I have experienced the downside of so-called reforms that have put a stranglehold on freedom and opportunity. Perhaps it is time to reform the outdated reforms currently still on the books.
“Yes to contribution limits. I believe that people should be able to support the candidate of their choice, but again, to follow state guidelines would be acceptable. No to public financing. I believe that the government does not need to be involved in free elections.”
“Yes. I have called for term limits for councilors, which I think would help ensure that the council remains responsive to the people, and not locked up by vested interests.
“I brought a review and audit of police practices to the City, and we have an outside review of citizen complaints against the police department that is now in force.
“I would like to see a limit placed on spending by candidates in our local elections, but in light of national developments in this area, there seems to be little hope of that happening. I do think we should make our elections as transparent as possible, starting with more frequent reporting of contributions, and explore what more we can do.
“The City does not have strong ethics policies and enforcement in place now, and I would like to see them strengthened. I support the City having an independent auditor, reporting directly to the Council, with responsibility for auditing and reporting on all functions in the City government among both staff and elected officials. This would take a change to the Charter, but I think it would be a significant step forward in this important area.”
Are you concerned about recent political action committee involvement in city elections? Why or why not? If you are concerned, what should be done about it?
“Yes. The lack of transparency in support of candidates and the lack of spending caps are very troubling. But our efforts to control them appear to be trumped by Federal law or court rulings. Somehow there has to be a method how a City can improve the situation.
“Also, I was the only person who brought this to the attention of the entire council at the dais to prompt dialogue. The result is that City Clerk Martinez and City Attorney Mr. Conley are currently reviewing this topic to make suggestions to council.”
“No, because the people have the right to petition their government. As long as they follow the rules, participatory democracy must be preserved.”
Quality of life and sustainability
The city has made an intentional effort in the last few years to focus on quality of life and sustainability. What would you do as a councilor to ensure that the city is planning for its future? Please identify specific initiatives or proposals you want to implement in the next four years.
“Fiscal responsibility is the key, so that the residents are ensured that infrastructure concerns, public safety, and other general services are provided. Freedom of opportunity is the highest quality of life and as councilor I would facilitate freedom and opportunity.”
“I strongly support doing all we can to enhance the quality of life for all of our residents. Improving our current park system, being open to potential park-space opportunities, enhancing our bike-lane program, and investing in the arts are a handful of amenities we can currently address that will have long-term effects upon our children and their children – when we make wise, farsighted decisions now.
“If provided the opportunity, I support the City moving forward in obtaining the Country Club for a park and some mixed-use development. I also support the development of the open space behind the Las Cruces flood dam that parallels I-25 north of Lohman. We have 600 acres of unused land that could easily be converted into low-maintenance walking, running, bicycling and potentially equestrian trails. We could also locate added soccer and recreational fields within this area as well. I would also like to see the incorporation of added dog parks with a potential site being lit for night use. The t-time City Park, which currently sits vacant and has lights, would be a perfect place for such a park.
“Finishing Downtown Main Street has to continue to be a priority. With the recent recognition of the Farmers Market being ranked Number One in the nation, we need to build off of that success story. What a great marketing tool for this City. With the completion of Main Street, longer market hours, added outdoor entertainment happenings – such as an outdoor summer movie series, music events series, and theater – Downtown becomes a vital component adding to the quality of life for all residents.
“As for the Sustainability Officer, I strongly supported the city creating this position; however, the achievements of that office have so far not met my expectations. I encourage my colleagues to modify the Sustainability Plan so that it becomes a real plan, with priorities, cost benefits, expenditures, and timelines for the initiatives identified. The plan should be one we can use as a basis for moving forward on many of these areas. The important elements of the Sustainability Plan should be integrated components within the City Strategic Plan and get in line for implementation.
“I also hope to see the city become a strong advocate for incorporation of sustainable and renewable features wherever they make sense in the community. The City as an organization should set the example for everyone. We should work with and adapt to the needs of the business community and residents to make this an area of real benefit to us all.
“As the current Chair of the South Central Solid Waste Authority (SCSWA), I want to see a program started to recycle glass right here in our community, perhaps to reuse it in road pavement or bedding for sewer pipes. SCSWA Mr. Pat Peck and myself have been exploring many options in how to accomplish this task.”
What specific measures would you support to ensure the city has enough water in the future?
“First, we need to acknowledge that water is a regional concern and a definitive baseline needs to be established for the entire area. This baseline needs to take into account the actual amount of water available to all of the residents of this area – City, County, El Paso and perhaps even bordering Mexico. We can’t talk about water just for the City – we have an entire region in need of water.
“Second, we need to separate our issues as they develop into short-term and long-term. On a short-term basis, the City has positioned itself well so that our issues are minimal; however, our farmers definitely have short-term issues in particular with the decrease in surface water.
“Long-term, as our population grows, we need to continuously be reminded that we live in a desert area and we will surely face water shortages at given points. This will also be true in many areas of our country and the world. Two solutions are to use less and reclaim the water that we do use, to use it again. We must also begin to address the technologies and cultural shifts needed to bring both of these about.
“I support moving forward in both of these areas. Water is the key to everything, and we must understand where we are and move to the future accordingly and together.”
“Aside from oversight and accountability, I haven’t seen any specific measures I would support. Everyone involved needs more information.”
Do you support the city’s strategy of purchasing surface water rights? Why or why not?
“The city has many responsibilities and duties. Taking over private property should not be a high priority. As long as the city cooperates democratically with private citizens and the city’s best interest, municipal ownership of water rights is feasible.”
“Yes I support the City’s strategy in purchasing additional water rights for the purpose of diversifying the City’s water asset portfolio. During the 90s, the then-City Council set a policy to attain a balanced sustainable water supply from both ground and surface water.
Currently, the City has had a solid grasp on attaining water from 2 local aquifers and has supplemented this source with by attaining an additional 1,300 acres of surface water rights since this policy went into effect. Creating a balanced mixed approach is a prudent path in attaining long-term water security for our City.”
Do you support the new curbside recycling program?
“Do we have curbside recycling? I hadn’t noticed…
“As the City’s initial recycling coordinator, to progress from the scattered drop-off bins to a curbside program was very rewarding. The drop-off bins were initially set out to be a temporary program until a curbside program was to be implemented. That was more than 20 years ago. After implementing the program, both neighbors and friends who had never recycled approached me applauding the program.
“The accolades were statewide as well. The New Mexico Recycling Coalition (NMRC) awarded The South Central Solid Waste Authority as having the Number One New Mexico Recycling Program the year curbside recycling was initiated. The same year, NMRC recognized three other local recipients as the best in their fields.
“On another level, an added reward is six new permanent jobs were locally created with the curbside program. And, as the City grows, more jobs will be created and I foresee additional jobs on the horizon as curbside recycling is incorporated into the county.
Nevertheless, there is more work to be done. As noted above, I hope to see us develop the ability to recycle glass along with the other re-usable solid waste that has the potential to be recycled.”
“I support recycling, but not when it is an imposed fee on residents and especially before a thorough cost-feasibility assessment has been made with the full cooperation with the public.”
Do you support turning driving lanes on city streets into bike paths, as was done on Solano?
“Not at the expense of public safety and traffic flow. Any bike paths should be paid for only after 911 services and other public concerns have been paid for.”
“Yes, where these changes are well thought through and there is strong public support for the action. We must take into consideration the effects on both bike riders and drivers – safety, convenience, and cost.”
In these economic times, should the city be spending money on adding parks and bike and walking trails, as it has done during the last four years?
“I believe the City should put the highest priority on adequately funding the operations and maintenance of the recreational facilities we already own. We need to upgrade almost all of our parks, keep our new pools operating longer hours and more days, and enable our residents to get the most out of what we already have.
“In addition, we need to incorporate foresight by taking steps to set aside – by zoning, planning, or other means – those areas that will serve as future parks and trails to meet the needs of a growing City.”
“Only with taxpayer approval and participation, after all necessities have been provided for.”
Should the city buy the old Las Cruces Country Club to turn it into a park?
“The city does not have enough money or resources to turn the property into a worthwhile park. If citizens wish to pay for the city to purchase and develop the property, it would be better to use it as a municipal golf course, open to the public at a reasonable, cost-effective price.”
“Yes, the City should purchase the Las Cruces Country Club (LCCC) if provided the opportunity. However, my position has always been at what price. At one point the LCCC was appraised at more than $ 10 million, which I felt was too hefty of a price tag. Moving forward 18 months, the price had reduced to approximately half that price. Presently, (and as I understand the situation) the two parties at hand may end up in litigation. If given the opportunity, I would hope the City can assist as constructive mediators in resolving the situation where LCCC is preserved as open space.
“If this scenario plays out, I hope the City can turn at least some of the LCCC into a park and recreation area. Another component would be to designate a portion to mixed-use development to assist with the operational and maintenance cost of the park. With this approach, we would not be placing an added financial burden on our current Parks and Recreation Department and develop a financially self-sustaining open space park area.
“We also have the opportunity to develop recreation areas behind the Dam that runs along the east side of I-25. There are existing plans with the Army Corps of Engineers for this development. The City may have to choose between these possibilities. I realize that either one will cost the City now, but the prospects of having at least one or the other of these areas available to our residents in the future are too important to not study carefully.”
Do you support the use of red-light cameras?
“The red-light camera program has had a noticeable positive effect on traffic awareness. I say this within the context that we have a very limited amount of red lights within the City; yet, many residents feel we should have an expanded red-light camera program covering the entire City. Given that the awareness factor in running red lights has heightened, I support the current program. If the Council decided to expand the program, I would analyze the data at hand regarding the effectiveness of the present program prior to making future expansion decisions.”
“No, there is not clear evidence that such cameras make our intersections any safer. Considering privacy and jurisdictional concerns and the fact that the cameras’ revenue goes primarily to out-of state-companies, there is little to justify the cost of installing and maintaining them.”