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  • By Nicholas Gilmore

City Council candidates outline plans for Santa Fe

“I think we do need a change. As much as I do support some of the work that some of the folks on the City Council are doing,” Castro said, “it’s difficult to say we are going in the right direction.”

Santa Fe New Mexican

Amid contentious recent debates in Santa Fe surrounding issues such as development, housing and cultural dynamics, 11 candidates vying for four City Council seats up for election in November — including two incumbents — describe differing visions for the city’s future.

Some point out their distinct differences from the administration of Mayor Alan Webber, who is in his second term. Some are less critical of the mayor, but few are quick to show they are directly aligned with his policies.

Katherine Rivera, one of four candidates running in District 1 for a seat being vacated by Councilor Renee Villarreal, said she attended Webber’s State of the City address in March. Her reaction?

“Some of us see a different city than he does,” she said.

Rivera noted the city’s two years of long-delayed financial audit reports, frequent water main breaks and ongoing problems with effluent at the aging south-side wastewater treatment plant. She would bring her experience in business operations and project management to the council, she said.

“I’m new to running for public office,” Rivera said. She might not bring all the same insights as a seasoned politician, she added, “but I have a lot of questions.”

Some are harsher critics of the mayor, such as District 2 Councilor Michael Garcia, who hopes to retain his seat in November. He has been a frequent, vocal challenger of Webber’s policies during public meetings and often raises questions about the city’s late audits.

“Unfortunately, any time I bring up those issues, it’s somewhat brushed off by the administration,” he said in an interview. “I will continue to advocate for those and whatever issues our residents and community need.”

Garcia and Villarreal recently proposed a measure that would have nixed a fee developers can pay rather than offer a percentage of housing units at affordable rates at the 64-acre midtown campus on St. Michael’s Drive. They said their goal, ahead of a massive redevelopment at the site, was to ensure developments include a certain number of affordable homes, a priority for the property’s overhaul.

The proposal was opposed by groups, including two nonprofit affordable housing advocates — the Santa Fe Housing Action Coalition and Homewise Inc. — and was hotly debated among councilors. It failed by a vote of 4-5, with Webber voting in opposition.

“I ultimately have yet to hear from one resident in the community — not developers, but constituents — who opposed our fee-in-lieu proposal,” Garcia said. “We heard tremendous feedback after it was voted down, about how disappointed the community was that we did not pass that resolution.”

Garcia faces at least one challenger for his seat: Planning Commissioner Phil Lucero.

Lucero said in a statement Thursday that “like any elected official,” Webber “has shined in some areas and fallen short in others.”

“I’m not going to grade elected leaders — it’s a tough job filled with nuance, and they are sacrificing a lot, like any public official, to take on that public role,” he said.

At least one other candidate for a council seat expressed disappointment in the failure of Garcia’s and Villarreal’s proposal to ban the fee option for developers at midtown.

Restaurant owner Alma Castro, running for Villarreal’s seat in District 1, said she would have voted for the measure.

“I think we do need a change. As much as I do support some of the work that some of the folks on the City Council are doing,” Castro said, “it’s difficult to say we are going in the right direction.”

Castro said the city could do more to improve health outcomes by addressing poverty while accounting for concerns over water availability and infrastructure.

“Working families need a place in this city, and more and more I feel like that space is shrinking,” she said, adding she hopes the makeup of the City Council after the coming election includes representation for working families.

Also running also for the open District 1 seat are attorney Geno Zamora and former city planning commissioner Brian Gutierrez.

Zamora, who served twice as city attorney under former mayor David Coss and Webber, is one of several candidates who was born and raised in Santa Fe.

Recent, contentious land-use cases centered on housing developments in the city represent a “double-edged sword,” Zamora said.

“The good news is we’re trying to build housing for our residents,” he said. “The bad news is that it’s going to force discussions that are difficult to have.”

Zamora argued the city needs more incentives for developers to build housing at lower price points and to examine where and when “increased density is appropriate.”

Asked whether he believes the city is on the right track, Zamora said, “I’ll hold the city accountable in the way I hold myself accountable. We can always work to do better; what I’m really hoping to do is just to be at the table to contribute and make each of our big policy initiatives better for our community.”

Zamora said city staff should be given more resources and be paid sufficiently “so they can be superstars of basic services and more.”

“We’re asking for accountability at the same time we’re tying employees’ hands behind their backs, so let’s give them a fair shake and give them a real chance for success by adequately funding, training and employing city workers,” he said.

Rivera also spoke about conflicts surrounding land use.

“We’re on a balance beam of how do we get housing and do we value open space,” Rivera said. “Those are the natural conflicts we’re going to run into as we move forward and run out of land.”

She is “a fan of the view corridors in Santa Fe,” Rivera said, and losing them would be hard to swallow.

Santa Fe should be a national leader in historic preservation, she said, adding she has noticed gaps in the preservation code. “As much protection as you think we have, I would argue that we really don’t and that we’re losing it.”

She suggested the mayor was in part accountable. “I don’t understand the vision the mayor has,” Rivera said. “It feels like the look and feel of Santa Fe is getting lost in the process.”

District 4 candidates incumbent Jamie Cassutt and challenger Joel Nava could not be reached for comment.

Running in the District 3 race are former police officer Louis Carlos and Earth Care co-founder Miguel Acosta, who each have their differences with the current city administration.

Acosta believes some friction stems from the “problematic” strong mayor setup that gives the mayor a vote and a role in the legislative process, as opposed to the mayor’s duties being confined to the executive branch.

As for housing, Acosta said the problem is felt heavily in his district, where many families are housing together, sometimes with two or three families to a mobile home.

“The City Council and mayor talk about a housing crisis, but the city doesn’t have an actual plan,” Acosta said. “They talk about it as a priority, but there hasn’t been a declaration and implementation of a plan.”

Carlos said he disagrees with Webber on a variety of issues.

“I’m not a yes man,” he said. “I want to bring different perspectives. I just want to emphasize the need for a different approach, having conversations. I’m not saying I’m gonna fight the mayor on everything, but I’m saying we need to sit down and talk.”

City Council candidates

Eleven candidates have entered the races for four Santa Fe City Council seats up for election in November.

While incumbent councilors are facing challengers in two of the four districts, the other two seats will be left vacant by councilors who have announced they are not running for reelection.

Some candidates could not be reached to provide personal and campaign information.

District 1

  • Alma Castro, 35, a restaurant owner using public funding

  • Geno Zamora, 54, an attorney using private funding

  • Katherine Rivera, 61, a former project manager using public funding

  • Brian Gutierrez, former city planning commissioner

District 2

  • Michael Garcia (incumbent), 43, a federal program administrator using public funding

  • Phil Lucero, 44, who works at an environmental nonprofit and is using private funding

District 3

  • Miguel Acosta, 61, a community organizer who is using public funding

  • Louis Carlos, a private investigator who is using public funding

  • Eric Morelli

District 4

  • Jamie Cassutt (incumbent), 37, former public health program coordinator who is using private funding

  • Joel Nava, 36, a security professional


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