Taos Democracy and Debate
As all concerned know by now, the County Commissioners yesterday, bowing to the popular will, voted to withdraw the LUDC from consideration for a year or so. I arrived late at the mass meeting yesterday and spoke with a commissioner who voted for the motion but said, candidly, “I didn’t really understand what I was voting for.” Members of the audience described Chairman Joe Mike Duran as having grown impatient with the fracas so he cut to the chase and entertained a motion to kill the six-year project and seek adoption of the LUDC, like later, maybe in another year. Commissioner Chavez redeemed himself by voting to support the measure to withdraw the controversial document.
During the earlier part of the decade I was a member of the subdivision task force, which passed new regs, and then a member of the LUDC committee. But after 3 years on the subdivision task force and almost two on the LUDC, I resigned—enough of dull reading. According to a few members of the public in the affected areas, the LUDC morphed into a document less sensitive to local practices—disallowing rural ag practices, etc. on mini-lots, while creating no end of consternation and anxiety about government interference in traditional uses.
The current or old, 90s era LUDC, is a disorganized document with references that sometimes lead to missing paragraphs. It is strong on Major Development and weak on predictability. The county is zoned agricultural-residential so if you propose a commercial entity, you must seek a special use permit, which adds a level of political uncertainty to the best of projects (See La Martina’s and the Outlaw Garage controversies). The cottage industry portion of the LUDC was poorly defined. I’m not sure if commissioners have passed regulations affecting cell phone towers but that was a problem in the past.
Regardless of the controversy surrounding micromanagement of micro parcels or the issue of Spanish translation, the greater lesson concerns the commission’s focus on democracy. The voice of the people was heard. They came, they saw, the conquered. One might compare other entities in the community—town, coop, and schools—unfavorably with the county when it comes to self-determination and the public good—a bottom up process.
The Town is a classic top-down corporate organization. Currently, the Town leaders want to shove an excessively expensive Command Center down the people’s throats, a form of double taxation for town citizens, who are already being billed for the facility by the KCEC. Meanwhile, the Mayor and some councilors are convinced that they must build a bigger cop shop–despite owning a plethora of underused buildings in the historic district on Civic Plaza Drive.
Incidentally, during a visit to the Plaza and downtown Taos yesterday, I noticed a number of fairly new vacancies. Southwest Weaving has moved out of the old J.C. Penney’s Building. Thank goodness Zorro and the beautiful baristas, who occupy World Cup, maintain a sense of community at the entrance to the Plaza. Empty shops on the Plaza…though…that’s a scary reality today. Underneath the Gorge, it’s like a ghost town.
The Coop, a second top-down organization, ostensibly exists to connect members to electricity grids while also catering to the habits of the traveling trustees and the impractical imagination of the CEO—propane, Internet, Broadband, Command Center—for which the assets of the Coop have been encumbered. Meanwhile, the Coop is currently being investigated for an alleged fraud perpetrated by an employee—a notary–which incident has tarnished the trustees, CEO, KCEC attorneys, and the district court. It’s a petty matter, like when a wealthy person gets caught shoplifting a DVD at Wal-Mart. Still, the notary scandal indicates the Coop’s contempt for the law and its members. Yesterday, according to reports, the Coop trustees bravely passed a resolution in opposition to the County’s LUDC. There was more than a little revenge aimed at a certain county commissioner in that empty movida.
The schools, who knows? All we can really say is at least the one board member, who understands math, spoke up recently and encouraged the preservation of the traditional approach. We don’t know if the public schools will come across with an audit of the finances, revision of the curriculum, or even announce the dwindling attendance numbers. We hear but haven’t confirmed that THS has about 600 or so students, a substantial decline from more than 1100 students at the beginning of the 21st Century. Recently, Special Ed parents and students won a victory, we’re told, over the administration and will receive the services to which they are entitled. We don’t know why there is so little news about TMS, various investigations, lawsuits, and imbroglios. Fatigue, perhaps.
Given the economic decline–and despite the Mayor’s call for “harmony”–the taxpayers and activists are effectively expressing their distaste for stringent regulations, higher taxes or electricity rates, and declining services. Parents and kids are voting with their feet to leave TMS.
The town and coop might look to the county as a bellwether. Los politicos ignore la gente at their peril. Yesterday the commissioners saw the Three Fates and blinked. When you see the pitchforks come out, it’s time to rethink the process.