Taos at Risk

By: Bill Whaley
12 April, 2016

If today’s agenda is a guide, the Town of Taos may provide a forum for a renewed conversation about the future of the community at 3 pm. Two items on the agenda could stimulate the discussion, while a third and a fourth, see postscript below, are being ignored.

The Farmer’s Market appears headed back to the Plaza but the devil, personified by Rick Bellis, is in the details. Fresh food and the Farmer’s Market signal a rebirth of ideas, self-sufficiency and a renewed interest in indigenous commerce. But trouble is brewing because the pre-election council, Mayor and Manager, ignored the conflict posed by the Plaza Merchants. While the Bent St. and Dunn House merchants see the Market as a plus because it revives interest by locals in their shops, many of whom are closely related to the “new demographic,” the brick and mortar Plaza Merchants argue that the “closure” of the Plaza to traffic affects their already decreasing retail income.

It’s not the Market per se but the Town’s ignorance of traditional traffic patterns that causes the pain. The Council could avoid creating friction by simply redistributing and restricting the Farmers to the interior of the Plaza Park, the alleys that connect to the Dunn House and set them up also in the Dunn House Parking Lot. In turn there’s space to grow if the Market remains in the Historic Center location.

But there is also dissension, we hear, among the Farmers. Both historic members of the Farmer’s Market and others see the Taos County Complex as an alternative to the tension and tight restrictions imposed by architecture and traffic patterns on the Plaza. For instance, if re-located on Paseo del Pueblo Sur, the Market gets more exposure, easy on and easy off parking, loading and unloading, while the expanse of at the Complex could accommodate individuals, whose age and physical conditions limits ambulatory access. The Farmer’s Market is also missing a huge customer base that ignores the Plaza i.e. the other “locals,” who love their cars more than their sandals.

The resolution taken today by the Council about the Farmer’s Market will say much about the vision of the two new councilors. A moderate and imaginative solution will do much to reduce the tension created by the “Bull in the China Shop” approach to governing by the current triad of Bellis, Barrone, and Hahn.

Hahn on Trial ?

In the second matter, Councilor Hahn has asked for a discussion of the Smith’s/Couse Pasture/Indian Hills so-called “area of blight.” He made much of this problem during his defense of the Smith’s Super Store movida. Only yesterday a prominent local merchant asked me, “What happened to Fritz?” I assured him that all of his supporters were wondering. As Flavio says, “You don’t have to be smart to be stupid.” No, I don’t believe he’s on the take.

Humor aside, I believe the Council today has an opportunity while discussing Hahn’s concerns re: the Couse Pasture, Indian Hills, potential relocation of Smith’s, to address the real economic issues in the community and come up with a “vision” and re-start the Master Plan process.

The Town creates tension and divisiveness by engaging in “ad hoc” or patchwork planning. Regardless of what I (or Bill Baron) think about the Town’s new identity as “concertmasters,” “pig stickers,” and “rabbit hunters,” we can applaud the Town’s attention to integrating the “new demographic” via music, etc.

But the retail trade is in dire condition: see the demise of local shops and empty storefronts. And look at the traditional tourist hostelries that are either closing like the Don Fernando or decaying and renting rooms to transients like the Kachina Lodge. Like other lesser lights up and down the Paseo, the one-time “Best Western” Inn can be characterized as one more motel moving from “hospitality” into “hospice.”

The current cabal has short-changed the community by ignoring the long range and short range planning and marketing vision that should include two-thirds of what constitutes the private sector. I am a big fan of espresso shops and craft beer, the Mesa Brewery music makers and the new Mountain Outfitters/Mud’n Flood type demographic. But we need every visitor whether they come to Taos because of Shree Yoga, Streit Fly Fishing, readings at SOMOS, shows at the Harwood or because they can relax amidst the funky funkiness.

Bellis has referred to the traditional retail, arts and culture sectors with contempt, slurring tourists as “blue hairs” or something like that. Yet these are the visitors who have been coming to Taos for decades, like traditional summer home dwellers in any resort and retreat community. They should be embraced not ridiculed. Plenty of workers in the hospitality sector are unfriendly without the manager’s urging.

By ignoring “local” planning issues and understaffing the department with inspectors, the Town has caused divisiveness in the neighborhoods and weakened the income stream from potential building and remodel projects. If the Don Fernando Neighborhood association is any example, the Mayor and Manager have ignored the people who invest, not a few dollars, but their life’s savings and retirement, and their lives in the community. Sure they are part of the gentrification process. But gentrification has come in waves: 1546, 1846, 1966, and 1996. You might remember the Town election of 2014 when the town government itself got gentrified by electing Barrone and Hahn who appointed Bellis manager.

And Mr. Bellis don’t dismiss the neighbors as rich “white people” because decent and sensitive white people, like the natives, also love their neighborhoods. At the County, the “poor” brown members of the public rebelled against you, Mr. Bellis, your inept vision, embodied in the LUDC that imposed a one-size-fits-all that limited the number of chickens and relatives who could live in the villages and neighborhoods on the family property. At town hall you have avoided hiring locals as department heads.

In effect, poor public relations and general ineptitude at the Town has caused community members, already prone to conspiracy and envidia, to question the integrity of the Mayor, Manager, and Attorney. Mr. Hahn’s detour from supporting the people and homegrown businesses to support for the corporatist mindset is merely “mind-blowing.”

Perhaps the new council, constituted by Judi, Nathaniel, and Darien, who are all from here, could start healing the divisions in the community by engaging in hospitable discussions about a master plan and a marketing program that targets the resources of the entire community. We’d like to see the new councilors recruit the old Fritz Hahn, the “nervous jervis,” who once worried that the “fix was in.” He’s still welcome to come home to Las Pistoleras on Thursday nights. Everyone makes mistakes.

P.S. A so-called “Taos Treasure” was mugged the other night in Kit Carson Park, which ramifications have resulted in threats to his health. No he didn’t go to the cops. Why? The increasing numbers of wayward human beings on the Plaza and at the Park suggests the Town should call Robert Molina out of retirement. Thuggery is on the rise day and night.

P.P.S. Hey, I read a milquetoast piece in our excellent weekly, questioning policies that cost taxpayers money at the County Road Department. But why do the reporters ignore the scandal at the Town’s Public Works Department, where manipulating the procurement code at Town Hall has cost the community not hundreds of thousands of dollars but millions of dollars during the last decade? The AG and the NM State Auditor are looking into it but there’s plenty more where that came from.

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