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  • By Nicholas Gilmore

Restaurant owner launches bid for Santa Fe City Council as campaigning begins

Alma Castro, one of the first residents to announce a bid for a four-year seat on the City Council in the Nov. 7 municipal election

Castro is running for a Santa Fe City Council seat in the Nov. 7 municipal election. She plans to run a publicly financed campaign, and one of her top priorities as a councilor would be continuing “sustainable economic development,” expanding public transit and making resources more available to immigrant communities. Jim Weber/The New Mexican

New Mexican

Alma Castro resigned from her position as chairwoman of the Santa Fe Arts Commission in March, citing a proposal at the time to rebuild the toppled Plaza obelisk.

She wrote in a letter to Mayor Alan Webber that “watching the City Council push a controversial resolution through the governing body, with no regard for the will of the advisory bodies or the community at large has been appalling.”

Through her position on the Arts Commission, she wrote, she saw “how disconnected the community is from the governing body and the lack of representation that they feel.”

Castro, one of the first residents to announce a bid for a four-year seat on the City Council in the Nov. 7 municipal election, hopes to change that. The Café Castro restaurant owner, who already has launched a campaign website, is seeking the District 1 seat held by Councilor Renee Villarreal, who did not respond to requests for comment on whether she will run for reelection.

District 2 Councilor Michael Garcia and District 4 Councilor Jamie Cassutt have announced they plan to seek reelection, while District 3 Councilor Chris Rivera said he doesn’t plan to run and doesn’t know of anyone who intends to fill his seat.

Municipal Judge Virginia Vigil did not respond to a request for comment on whether she plans to run for a new four-year term on the bench.

The city announced late last week it will begin distributing forms and information to prospective candidates seeking public campaign financing on May 8, the day candidates can start collecting $5 contributions from constituents to qualify for public funds. The collection period runs through July 24.

Municipal judge candidates must collect 600 $5 donations from registered Santa Fe voters, while council hopefuls are required to collect 150 $5 contributions from registered voters who live in their district.

Castro will run a publicly financed campaign, she said Tuesday.

Alma Castro talks with a customer Tuesday at Cafe Castro. She runs the business her parents started in 1990 but plans to turn it into an employee-owned cooperative. Photo Jim Weber/The New Mexican

One of her top priorities as a councilor would be continuing “sustainable economic development” in the city, including expanding public transit and making resources more available to immigrant communities, she said.

Regarding recent contentious land-use cases that have left some residents disaffected on Old Pecos Trail and South Meadows Road over approved housing developments, Castro said intentional development based on community input is key.

“I know that we cannot stop the growth of our city,” she said. “I think that we need to be very intentional and make sure the community feels heard in terms of what they want in their own spaces.”

Garcia also said he will run a publicly financed campaign this year, just as he did the first time he ran.

He called himself a “firm believer” in public financing, which, he said, “helps to keep special interests from affecting a candidate’s policy agenda.”

Garcia said he will continue working to “provide affordable housing,” citing the recent council resolution to donate the city-owned Las Estrellas property for about 100 affordable units, as well as a controversial proposal that would nix an option at the city-owned midtown property for developers to pay a fee rather than provide a certain number of homes at affordable rates. The measure is aimed at ensuring developers offer affordable housing at the 64-acre former campus, which is set to undergo a massive redevelopment.

One question Garcia said he would like to be able to answer: “How can we, as a government, ensure that we don’t get in this audit situation ever again?”

The city is months behind on two annual financial audits, which officials expect to submit to the State Auditor’s Office by the end of June.

Garcia said he is interested in opening an independent Office of the Inspector General in the city, which he said would quickly address complaints alleging fraud, waste or abuse in city government.

“It could help boost morale,” Garcia said. “There are employees who feel like they have nowhere to turn to.”

While Cassutt ran her first campaign using public financing, she said her campaign this year will be privately financed.

Cassutt, who has a background in public health, said her campaign will focus on the topic as it relates to issues such as homelessness, housing and child care.

“Housing is the number one issue in the city of Santa Fe,” Cassutt said Tuesday.

“But we need neighborhoods, not units.”

Cassutt said the approval of housing developments — even affordable developments — does not necessarily bring about “affordable living,” which she believes can come through updating the city’s general plan and land use codes, processes that are both underway and expected to be complete in coming years.

“Not only do we need homes, but we need to make sure they are livable,” Cassutt said, and “that it’s a high-quality community that leads to a quality life with access to amenities.”

She touted a pilot work-study program she helped bring about via a partnership with Santa Fe Community College to bring in more child care workers using $1 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Cassutt said she would like to do more to make child care more accessible in the city.

She said the focus from her first campaign — “all policy is health policy” — will still apply.


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