Taos: The Next Generation is Here

By: Bill Whaley
8 January, 2018

Pascualito Maestas for Taos Town Council

Trust, Truth, and Transparency

On Saturday I met with Pascualito Maestas at Wired to discuss his candidacy for Town Council. As his web site, votemaestas.com notes, he is a graduate of Taos High School and Navy vet, earned degrees from the University of South Florida in Economics and International Studies. Upon returning to Taos, he worked with Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, Taos Alive, The DreamTree Project, and currently teaches econ, calculus, precalculus, and algebra at Taos High. Next year, he will begin working with Not Forgotten Outreach, a program of affordable housing with sustainable energy production, organic agriculture, a public Veterans Memorial Park for military families.

In addition to portraying a new generation of “Millennial Leadership” and involvement for the community, not unlike Nathaniel Evans and Darien Fernandez, Maestas captures the crux of the current political conflict in the three words above: “Trust, Truth, and Transparency.” Mayor Barrone and Councilor Hahn, who began their term in 2014 with a mandate from voters for honest government, have lost the support of their constituency, due to a lack of transparency.

Instead of convening the community and addressing the development issues of Smith’s expansion into the Couse meadow, the construction of the Four-Story hotel, and the revision of the community’s Vision 2020 plan with an open dialogue, the Mayor allowed Manager Rick Bellis to deal with developers behind closed doors. Further, rather than dampening divisiveness, the Town Administration, Bellis, Barrone, Hahn, and P&Z Chair Jim Pollard responded rudely to both newcomer and native activists alike, treating all as if “Father Knows Best.”

More than one activist said the equivalent of “I’m not so much against the hotel as I am against the process of shutting out public feedback.” Sheer public outcry stopped Smith’s, that and and the threat of litigation. Batra, the hotel developer himself, relented in the four-story hotel matter due to protests, saving the Administration from an ignominious decision. The Manager had the votes.

Ironically, the Town administration has accomplished much under the direction of Barrone, Bellis, and Hahn but suffered in reputation because of poor public relations with interested local citizens.

Barrone has paved streets, reduced taxpayer expenses re: the Chile Line, Waste Water Treatment Plant (we’re told), and the community has benefitted from a national turnaround in tourism. Meanwhile the Town has acknowledged the emerging millennial tourism in its promotion of outdoor recreation, music concerts, and renewed focus on the arts in light of the Paseo project. All good things. (Though we don’t know if the Town as Concert promoter has made or lost money, due to a lack of financial reports other than bald assertions.)

But many of Barrone and Hahn’s former supporters and some current council members oppose the Mayor, due to his manager’s ham handed behavior in the community and the apparent berating of Judi behind closed doors by other elected officials in executive session. During my years of covering elected female officials, the ones who speak up suffer a combination of public and private sanction as has Judi Cantu. (The Town fathers used to abuse Councilor Erlinda Gonzales as well.)

Bellis Bumbles

Bellis has made unfortunate remarks about the historic and traditional tourists re: “purple hairs,” the long-term visitors, who have been coming to Taos for decades, who buy second homes with an eye on retirement or whose children and grandchildren are now a growing part of the local population. As former councilor Andrew Gonzales noted, we, in Taos, live off the “trickle-down.” Visitors have been paying admission fees at Taos Pueblo since the 30s.

Further, the Manager has treated brick and mortar merchants on the Plaza, as well as the physical space itself in a rude and abusive manner. To wit: the town closes the Plaza for events in an arbitrary and capricious manner, contrary to ordinance, eliminating tourist and local traffic to Brick and Mortar shops for far longer periods than is necessary prior to special events. By tweaking the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, leaving the West Side open to traffic and moving the overflow into the Juan Largo and Teresina Alleys, the conflict with merchants could be de-escalated.

The unsupervised landscape project on the Plaza has resulted in semi-permanent cyclone fences and cutting the roots of the Taos Pueblo’s Blue Spruce Tree, a gift meant to acknowledge friendship between the Town and the Pueblo. This week I noticed the dirt and grime on the central park, the holes in the brick courtyard highlighted by traffic cones. One can congratulate the Town on watering the flowers but deplore the omnipresent growth of “clutter” whether directional signs, posters, and so forth. What sign ordinance?

The Next Generation: Transparency

Pascualito and I concluded our conversation by discussing the challenges of educating today’s students at the high school and college level regarding writing and math. When young well-educated native Taosenos return to the community, something every politician says he or she wants, I think we need to turn the future into the present, especially when they advocate “transparency.”

Transparency is a challenge not only for the faltering Barrone administration but also for the Kit Carson Electric Cooperative and the Abeyta-Taos Pueblo Water Settlement.

Despite the Intervener’s protest and mandate from the Public Regulation Commission, the Coop has yet to issue profit and loss or balance sheets for its various divisions. Now the Town has joined the debt-ridden Coop in a venture about which we’re none the wiser.

The Abeyta-Taos Pueblo Water Settlement parties are walking a fine line between implementation and open rebellion due to a lack of “transparency” re: costs to parciantes and MDWCAs. Cleaning acequias with shovels does no good if attorneys take away the water or some of the signatories sell or lease water rights and watersheds are destroyed. The obliteration of the Spring Ditch, whose parciantes oppose the Abeyta settlement stands as a symbol of this complex conundrum.

Demographic Changes

Despite the “good intentions” of the “Strong at Heart” initiative, the absence of representation by native Taosenos at meetings suggests that this exercise in “politicized” public relations will have little effect other than distancing native Taosenos from their own community. For the last decade Taosenos have been following their own children and grandchildren down the highway to Albuquerque et al just as the native Taos medical staff, nurses and techs, have been leaving Holy Cross hospital for greener pastures at Espanola’s Presbyterian hospital, a first class small hospital.

Judi’s impassioned if muddled rhetoric about the threat to the native community in the Town rings true. Neo-liberal economics, the privatization of the public commons and culture at the Town, Coop, and, ironically, now the Abeyta settlement, suggests a corporate and institutional vision, produced by a majority culture that governs from the “top down.” (BTW: parciantes in Seco-Salto have “retired” the patrons and the younger members of El Salto de Agua have turned the tables on the ethically-challenged old bosses.)

Many newcomers enjoy the rich local culture and are quite willing to adapt and learn and participate, given the opportunity, even as the younger movers and shakers in the community offer energy and ideas. Compare the vitality of the County Administration and its nuts and bolts inclusionary culture with, for instance, the Coop’s moribund Trustees, who ignore the members and the debt-ridden balance sheet, and can’t change a light bulb without asking Luis.

The Town needs to revitalize the politics of governing by including younger native Taosenos in the culture, those who are educated and energetic. (Hey, check out Shree Yoga if you want to see how the older generation learns from the younger.)

The New Generation

It’s time for a change from back-door doings to the kind of transparent community vision advocated by council candidate Pascualito Maestas and mayoral challenger Darien Fernandez. Activist Danielle Vigil, whose grandpa Shorty used to fix my family’s lawnmowers and weed whackers, played a huge role last year in exposing the back-door doings of the Bellis-Batra email scandals. Josh Concha of Taos Pueblo, a son of friends and a former student, spoke wisely and well in protest of the four-story hotel and then made peace when Batra voluntarily removed the fourth story.

Maye Torres, whose grandfather gave me my start in a bar on the Plaza in 1969, has opened a contemporary art gallery in the same spot this month. My grandchild’s mother, Jen Hart, a graduate of Taos High (and one-time Mesa dweller) owner of the Love Apple, has donated space for my Monday night culture class in the Manzanita Market on the Plaza, a one-time army-surplus store. (This adult continuing education course is based on four major literary works focused on Taos and is completely full.) While I was talking with Maye, R.C. Gorman’s nephew Michael Gorman came in and introduced himself. He’s opening a gallery downstairs in the Gorge building.

I’m reminded of the 70s when new energy in Taos began filling up empty stores and buildings.

Bobby Sahd, the Ranchos native, part entrepreneur and part Don Quixote, who owns La Fonda Hotel, is struggling to make heads or tails of the Plaza Theatre Building, a once and future victim of a millionaire and an architect, who remind me of the misguided hubris I see in Rick Bellis and Luis Reyes. We don’t need systemic social engineering associated with an outsider’s vision of an Arts and Culture District or a moribund mainstream Mainstreet concept.

Rather we need to encourage and patronize the private sector as creative entrepreneurs respond to opportunity on the Plaza, one shop or building at a time. In the words of a famous bartender we should “Improvise, adapt, and adjust.” My acquaintances and ersatz friends at the Town, the Coop, and in Abeyta World need to pass the baton. Oprah had it right at the Golden Globes, “their time is up.”

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