Taos Town Council Finds its Voice: Super Store Cabal Shut Down!

By: Bill Whaley
19 March, 2016

 

According to reports, Councilor Cantu moved to deny rezoning for the “secret” Smith’s Super Store Cabal on Thursday, March 17, 2016. Councilor Evans seconded the motion and Councilor Fernandez voted in favor. Only Councilor Hahn, the one-time anti-corporate anti-big box activist, who has flipped and follows the lead of the Bellis-Barrone secret doings, voted against Judi’s motion.

(You might remember how two years ago Councilor Cantu was “abused” by the Cabal and an ignorant and hysterical mob (mostly Angloists). Yet Judi, “steady as she goes” supports  Taos and Taosenos as she sees it, regardless of who shows up to hearings.)

We who believe in small town democracy and work toward self-determination are grateful to the three council members. In their first public act of consequence, Councilors Nathaniel Evans and Darien Fernandez have proven themselves equal to the task by restoring “transparency” and abnegating the Cabal’s transparent efforts of “ex parte” backdoor dealing. The two councilors suggested Smith’s should apply on their own to the P&Z  Commission and Council (like anybody else).

The public hearing was streamed for five or six hours. The testimony was remarkably factual re: property values, questions about the environmental issues, the potential and unstudied impacts to neighborhoods, traffic conditions, etc. Most importantly, the Town’s executive staff, under the aegis of Mayor Barrone and Councilor Hahn ignored the standard rules and regs of the code. The revelations of the “trust us” approach to this operation confirms much of what we’ve seen or been told about in terms of the Bellis-Barrone amateurish style of government.

(In two years, it may be time for a new mayor and at least one new councilor.)

On Monday, March 14, former Councilor A. Eugene Sanchez and El Prado activist Arsenio Cordova visited with the State Auditor’s office and were told that, despite Barrone and Hahn’s claims, the auditor’s office had no information or communication from the town re: special audits. The auditor does have a copy of the “community corruption” package and the information provided by whistle blower Antonio Martin, whom the Town paid more than $50,000 in hush money re: violations of the procurement code.

The procurement code issues are particularly embarrassing for the Town, due to allegations made against long-time former and current employees and elected officials. The documents in the “community corruption package” sent to the state auditor allege that hundreds of thousands of dollars (millions really) have been wasted on “contracts for cuates” practices and also focuses on the general incompetence. Both Barrone and Hahn have said they are only concerned about current employee behavior.

The Smith’s debacle doesn’t reassure one about the Town’s ability to govern in the planning areas.  Below, Taos Friction posts activist Bob Silver’s remarks. Silver has become the go-to activist: first, he worked to save the hospital from itself. Now he’s trying to save the town from itself.

The second post from notes by Bill Burden, copies of which, as I understand it, were given to the Town Council, lists a number of areas where the town manager, attorney, and planning director went awry. Burden, like others, participated in the battle against Big Steve Rose and the “Singing Plumber’s” “Autumn Acres/Valverde Commons development. The project violated the vega, slammed the acequia culture, ignored the traffic rules and focused attention on the corrupt practices of local government. Valverde Commons “benefitted” from “back-door” commitments as did Cody West, who built Stations West behind La Bell Cleaners, which project killed the Spring Ditch. Both projects waived P&Z ordinances, various rules and regs, etc. thanks to the Town of Taos.

The Silver and Burden remarks below represent only two of some fifty or sixty citizens who came to the defense of democracy and the neighborhood.

From the Desk of Bob Silver
Taos Town Council Citizen Forum
March 17, 2016

Mr. Mayor, members of the Town Council, my name is Bob Silver. I’m a member of the Rio Fernando Neighborhood Association. I live along Los Pandos Road, very close to the property proposed for rezoning. This planned rezoning raises deeply worrisome concerns for our neighborhood’s health and safety. Los Pandos Road is a narrow, winding street with several blind curves and no continuous sidewalk. With a speed limit and a single stop sign, both routinely ignored, it is already extremely difficult and dangerous for pedestrians. We, elderly, take our lives in our hands merely crossing this street. Increased traffic through our neighborhood would expose us to even greater danger or confine us to our homes. To adequately address this one concern among many others requires a thoughtful, methodical process. Full and meaningful participation by the public must be at the heart of it. We have not had that sort of process!

We strongly disagree with what some of you think has been an unrushed process with meaningful community involvement. It’s no surprise that you don’t see the process as rushed. Without making it public, you have been considering it for a year and a half. The community has only belatedly and grudgingly received information about it in just the past few weeks. Having this issue out in the open for mere weeks is not an unhurried process, especially in light of the existence of so many unanswered and troubling questions.

A couple of recent public P & Z Commission meetings have been cited as evidence of openness and meaningful community involvement. But what we witnessed was tightly controlled, limited public comment and a persistently confused process conducted by a panel that appeared to have already made its decision. It seemed some version of “don’t confuse me with the facts, I’ve already got my mind made up.” Like a scene right out of Alice in Wonderland, we had “first the verdict, then the trial!”

You’d have to be operating in a bubble, insulated from your constituents, to think we have received due process and the proposal has been put forward in any measured, inclusive way. Good judgments are not made in a closed environment. That’s what meaningful community participation is all about: protection from destructive insularity. We’ve all heard the saying, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.” Well, we are being asked to buy a pig in a poke with a polluted process wallowing in its own slop.

My plea is principally to you, Counselors Evans and Fernandez. New members of the council, you have the freshest eyes and ears. You are our best hope to not be trapped in a bubble. With the swing votes you likely hold, I urge you to do something very difficult: to act with wisdom and with courage, and oppose the judgment of some of your fellow council members. There is no disrespect in voting against their plan. You have a higher allegiance … to the people. The people are pleading for a cautious, measured process with meaningful public participation. Stand with the people. Defer action on this flawed and contentious rezoning proposal. Demand a careful, thorough, open community process that partners with the people you serve.

Those in authority are sometimes pressed to not just sit there, but to do something. I’m urging just the opposite. Don’t just do something, sit there! Do the wise, prudent, honorable, courageous, right thing. Be suspect of those who prod you to act immediately, insisting that a unique deal will soon evaporate if you do not. In this case, those who’ve secretly worked on this for a year and a half now breathlessly demand it be done immediately. This must be a joke, for it strains credibility, but a joke on us. We implore you to stop this train wreck. Re-set this deeply flawed process!

Mr. Mayor, I have previously been your supporter. Indeed, I recently defended you in print against unfair criticism. You can look it up. But this is flat out wrong! We aren’t asking for much … just due process, a fair deal, open, unhurried consideration that allows for appropriate public participation. Without it, we’re likely to wind up where none of us wish to be—on opposite sides in a lawsuit that may take years to resolve and which I believe you will lose. Why in the world would you want to put our community through all that?

Thank you.

The Burden Draft and Notes.

(Editor’s Notes: Taos Friction posts this sample of Burden’s research and arguments to help activists, councilors, and town staff inform themselves of the appropriate ordinances, rules and regs, etc. when preparing to address P&Z issues. “Flying by the seat of your pants,” as both Town Manager Rick Bellis at the Smith’s rezoning hearing and Coop Manager Luis Reyes at the PRC hearings are learning, can get your grounded. Bellis and Reyes tend to think they are the smartest guys in the room but the collective minds of activists sometimes prevail over “boss politics.”)

ORDINANCE 16.01

EXHIBITS, STATEMENT OF FACTS
AND
TOWN OF TAOS MUNICIPAL CODE PROVISIONS

EXHIBITS
These exhibits are submitted for inclusion in the Record of Hearing of Ordinance 16.01. These submissions are based upon Section 16.12.040.8.D, Town of Taos Municipal Code (TC).

Ex. 1 Agenda Development Review Committee, December 17, 2015

Ex. 2 Agenda Development Review Committee, January 5, 2016

Ex. 3 Agenda Development Review Committee, January 21, 2016

Ex. 4 Agenda Planning and Zoning Commission, January 6, 2016

Ex. 5 Minutes Planning and Zoning Commission, January 6, 2016

Ex. 6 Town of Taos Certified Mail, December 23, 2015

Ex. 7 Agenda Planning and Zoning Commission, February 3, 2016

Ex. 8 Minutes Planning and Zoning Commission, February 3, 2016

Ex. 9 Planning and Zoning Commission Staff Report, (undated)

Ex. 10 Resolution 16-08 Town of Taos Planning and Zoning
Commission, February 3, 2016

Ex. 11 NMSA 3-21-5 Zoning; Conformance to Comprehensive Plan

Ex.12 Zone Change Application Packet Town of Taos, Planning and
Zoning Department, February 1, 2016

STATEMENT OF FACTS

Unless otherwise noted, these attachments, exhibits and statements relating thereto are derived from and based upon three sources: the Municipal Code, Agendas, Minutes of Meetings and attachments to minutes relating to Planning and Zoning found at the Town of Taos website; and from the files of the Planning and Zoning Department of the Town of Taos (P&Z).

1. There are Agendas for three preliminary public hearings before the Development Review Committee (DRC). A hearing before the DRC is the first step when an Application for Rezoning is filed. (Sec. 16.12.040.5.Q TC). The agendas relate to meetings scheduled for December 17, 2015, January 5 and 21, 2016 (Ex. 1, 2 & 3). There are no minutes for any of these meetings on the Town’s website. There is no evidence of published or written notice concerning these meetings in the Planning and Zoning files of the Town, as required by the Town Code (Sec. 16.12.040.5,G, I & J TC).

2. There are an Agenda (Ex. 4) and minutes (Ex. 5) for a public meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission on January 6, 2016.

3. There were mailed and published notices by the Town relating to the public meeting of P&Z on January 6, 2016. The notices were mailed on December 23, 2015, fifteen days prior to that meeting (Ex.6). Sixty-six of the mailed notices were returned by the Post Office as undeliverable. A similar number of mailed notices were returned with regard to the Special Meeting of The Town Council on March 17, 2016. (The burden is on Applicant Town to prove that service of notice has been accomplished.) There is no evidence in the P&Z files of any attempt to discover those addressee’s current addresses and to mail to them at those addresses notices of the meeting of January 6, 2016, as required by Taos Code, Section 16.12.040.5J.

4. There are an Agenda (Ex. 7) and minutes for a public meeting of the Planning & Zoning Commission on February 3, 2016 (Ex.8). Prior to that meeting, P&Z staff presented its Staff Report to the Commission members (Ex. 9).

5. On February 3rd, the P &Z Commission approved Resolution 16.08, recommending the rezoning of 22.03 acres (Ex.10). The Resolution is inconsistent with the recommendation adopted by the Commission (Ex.8, p.3).

6. The recommendation for rezoning is not based upon an “existing Town of Taos Master Plan”, as required by Town Code Section 16.12.060.2A1. (The requirement of this Code section is based upon the mandate of a New Mexico Statute requiring the existence of a Master Plan (“Comprehensive Plan”) as the basis for zoning. See NMSA 3-21-5, Ex.11). Rather, it is based upon (Re)Vision 20/20 which has never been adopted. The Staff Report so states: 3.01.A1 “ . . . The land use element of (Re)Vision 20/20 failed to be adopted and is only conceptual in nature”. (Ex. 9,p.4)

7. Because of the reliance upon an “unadopted Town of Taos Land Use Master Plan” (Ex.9,p.9) as a basis for the proposed zone change, there is no support for the conclusions set forth in Paragraphs 1 and 6 of the Zone Change Recommendation as adopted by Planning and Zoning on February 3, 2016 (Ex.8, p.4).

8. The easterly portion of the area subject to the Resolution is adjacent to three streets with residential dwellings: Los Pandos Street, Montoya Street and Quesnel Street. The Staff Report does not identify nor discuss these residences. Neither does it address whether the recommended rezoning is consistent with the existing land use on those streets (“affected neighborhood”); whether the benefit of the rezoning to the owners and occupiers of those dwellings (“neighborhood”) will outweigh any potential adverse impact to their properties; nor whether the rezoning will create a danger to the health, safety or welfare of the residents of those properties. An analysis of all of these factors is required by Town Code, Section 16.12.060.2A, 3, 4 & 5. Because of these omissions from the Staff Report, there is no evidence to support the conclusions set forth in
Paragraphs 3, 4 and 5 of such Zone Change Recommendation of February 3, 2016, (See Ex. 8, p.4).

8. Attached to the Agenda for the March 3, 2016, meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission is an Application for Zone Change signed by the Manager and the Acting Code Administrator of the Town of Taos. (They certify that the signatures are those of the Owner and Authorized Agent of the property) (Ex.12). The form is outdated. It does not contain the elements for a Zone Change Application currently mandated in Taos Code Sections 16.20.080.5.

Furthermore, it fails to submit a summary of existing uses of adjacent properties. It also fails to address either the benefits or adverse effects upon adjacent neighborhoods of the proposed zone change.

Under penalty of perjury, I declare that the foregoing Exhibits and Municipal Code Provisions are accurate copies of the original documents and that the Statement of Facts are true to the best of my knowledge.

__________________________________

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