Taos Helipads and Hotels: fear and rumbling

By: Bill Whaley
13 July, 2017

“No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.” Ed Healy


On July 12 the Taos County Commissioners unanimously approved the Healy “Helipad,”upholding the Taos County Planning and Zoning Commission’s prior unanimous approval and the prior administrative decision and approval of the County’s indefatigable and thorough Director of Planning, Edward Vigil. The Helipad, located on the hill across the road from the Hondo-Seco Fire department, will serve as an emergency landing site for helicopter evacuation of trauma victims. About three weeks ago a medical chopper landed in the field below the proposed site. Proponents estimated the number of helicopter landings at two or three a year. In addition to retaining walls, erected under the supervision of permits from the county, the site includes the construction of a “distribution box” for a lateral acequia that improves irrigation flow for three property owners.

The protests to the Helipad by the mayordomo of the Arroyo Hondo Community Association, Alfred Trujillo, and two or three members, were vastly out-numbered by supporters from the neighborhood. An Anglo newcomer who brandished Alfred’s cudgel and claimed the Healys had not helped the community financially. Not only have the Healys donated thousands? Hundreds of thousands of dollars to the community’s preservation and protection but the financial source of the community association’s funds to fight the Healy Helipad was money originally given to the community by the Healys. Village politics, envidia, and retaliation, will out.

In comparison to the recent Town of Taos brouhaha over the four-story hotel, Taos County’s approach was transparent and thorough. County staff careful scrutinized of Healy’s professional engineering, FAA approvals, emergency medical transportation research, etc. There were no back-door emails or secret meetings, or guesswork by the staff. The commissioners added a number of redundant conditions to the approval, more a show of political fairness than criticism. (Trudy has promised not to use the Helipad for trips to Albuquerque shopping emporiums.)

Chair Jim Fambro conducted the meeting in a dignified and reasonable manner: there was no shouting, few interruptions, though thorough questioning by all the commissioners.

County Culture

Due to a friend’s recent death I had occasion to speak with County Treasurer Susan Trujillo about a tax matter, who was only too happy to provide me with a thorough explanation of property taxes and procedures. Treasurer Trujillo showed me how she continues “tweaking” procedures and has saved county tax payers money in creative ways.

Back in 1999-2000, during the days of County insolvency, I first got to know Susan and she mentioned how the County had improved from a cash balance then of $600,000 to some $6 million today. My friend died intestate (without a will) but a relative whizzed through Probate Judge Paloma Romo’s office and was duly appointed personal representative.

As I trotted around the “Complex,” to other offices or greeted county employees in the hallways, I was duly reminded of the civility and professionalism at County government.
Like Treasurer Trujillo, yesterday Manager Leandro Cordova and I discussed a matter of mutual interest in open and transparent terms during a break in the Helipad hearings. The day before the hearing I ran into Edward Vigil in the hallway and he gave me a brief up-date on the facts re: the Helipad.

I mention all this in wonder, given the distrust and lack of professionalism and transparency at Town Hall. Ironically, the Mayor Barrone and Manager Bellis worked at the County. But Town and County are like two different countries.

Respect for constituents earns respect for elected officials. Certainly I don’t always agree with the commissioners but it’s usually over issues and policy. What I might consider “errors in judgment,” given experience, are generally corrected.

Town Naifs

If recent “My Turns” are a guide, both the Mayor and the Mayor’s wife seem incapable of taking responsibility for the distrust created at Town Hall by the attempts at “back-door” deals with both the Smith’s project and by the manipulation of the Holiday Inn Express project. And where do these county residents live? On Zuni St.? I don’t think so.

The former planning director (Louis Fineberg) was openly hostile and arrogant as well as incompetent. In a couple of years Bellis has achieved a reputation for arrogance and hostility. It took “Slick Gus” Cordova almost 19 years to become so unpopular. Even KCEC CEO Luis Reyes was popular or fooled most of the people during the first three=quarters of his career.

A step toward defusing the tension in the Town of Taos could begin with transparency leavened by a sense of humor, instead of by “scolding” constituents and councilors. Ms. Barrone seems to think Taos was a better place years ago when neighbors helped neighbors. Well it was a better place because there were fewer people and times were simpler but the same intense battles occurred. But she seems unfamiliar with the community.

In case she missed it, the history of Taos can be summed up as “The History of Violence,” given the ebb and flow of Native Americans, according to the anthropologists, events memorialized in continuing Pueblo ceremonies. Then there was the Spanish Conquest, Pueblo Revolt, Mexican Inerregnum, American Occupation, Bent Massacre and Taos Pueblo slaughter by American troops, as well as all kinds of minor rebellions and conflicts too numerous to remember.

The Twentieth Century saw tussles over statehood, the Bursum Bill, Battle for Blue Lake, the Abeyta-Taos Pueblo Water Settlement, hippie invasion and violent response, second homer influx and infinite number of planning and zoning conflicts, spilling over into the 21st Century, due to discussions and arguments over “growth.” Why Dan and Della had tomove the sawmill because they didn’t get along with their neighbor, Commissioner Don Francisco.

“Back then” in the sixties and seventies, the town condemned the land for the airport and elected officials were duly unelected. They permitted the KFC bucket and sneaked the Golden Arches in the back door and hooked up the sewer under the color of night or on a weekend. More recently RISE of Taos Pueblo fought off the Kachina Casino ultimately going to federal court. Taos residents stopped Super Walmart 3 times.

Who can count the innumerable neighborhood battles between neighbors like the Hondo-Helipad caper. Indeed “arson” has been the tool of choice to express disagreement at Taos Pueblo (haystacks and corrals during the electricity conflict), in town (TAA and Plaza theatre), in the county (Tom Worrell’s pad) etc.

Though the expression of love and laughter among friends and family continues, the Taoseno knows you can’t necessarily trust your friends and family. See the amazing fight going on right now among the owners and alleged owners of El Salto de Agua, commons owned by Seco descendants. Documents, authenticated and forged, have created a firestorm among vecinos y la familia. Some of your more prominent members of the community are being taken down and tarnished as la plebe rises up to take back what rightfully belongs to them. What was a whisper has become a shout about the revenue for hunting permits, logging, hiking that has disappeared.


It sets my nerves on edge when folks diminish the local blood sport as “small town politics.” Sure, but the politics are so complex here, due to history (centuries) and an instinct and taste for the movida as a way o flife, a movida often stimulated by envidia and retaliation. The “salt of the earth” is right there, too. But when the salt has lost its flavor, the tongue tastes of ashes.

If you kept your eyes and ears closed maybe Taos was a “better place” years ago (except for the chicanery, theft, rape, incest, molestation, and violence).

At the same meeting the Mayor’s wife attended and wrote about re: the four-story hotel, I saw a Mayor who was not really in control of the meeting. His arbitrary and capricious treatment of speakers earned a loss of respect for his person as did the lack of transparency: see email scandals earn distrust.

The Mayor and the Manager have sewn their seeds in the whirlwind. Now they are reaping the rewards.

By the way, I offer this testimony to assuage the criticism of newcomers and reassure the public that Native Taosenos also expressed their disagreement with the proposed Holiday Inn Express, including a cadre of young people from Taos and Taos Pueblo. Councilor Darien Fernandez is to be congratulated for “cross-examining” Bellis. The campaign for 2018 municipal elections has begun. Taos needs a new mayor, a new manager, a new councilor.

And that’s the way it is.

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