Mr. High Pockets and Local Custom

By: Bill Whaley
18 April, 2011

The Email

Councilman Sanchez:

The Foothills Neighborhood Association Executive Committee is very disappointed in your actions on proposed ordinance 11-07 at the April 13, 2011 Town Council meeting. The notion that this bill is somehow designed to excuse law breakers in Taos’ long established center is patently misleading and does nothing to address the real equity (my bold) issues raised by Town failures to fulfill its mandated service responsibilities to large areas annexed over the past 15 years. Moreover, you offered no constructive alternatives or room for further discussion, which does nothing to rectify the situation and provides none of the solution making leadership we look for in our elected officials.

FYI, the FNA covers over 10% of Taos’ land area and includes approximately 400 registered voters, (my bold) most of whom would receive equitable relief under the bill in question.

For the FNA Executive Committee,
Peter Wengert, President

Analysis

The email above sent to Councilor Sanchez and the press raises some interesting issues about local government, including cultural misunderstandings and poor political analysis. Though hope springs eternal in Mr. Wengert’s breast, he’s a poor learner. Despite years of activism and attendance at Town Council meetings, he has forgotten that 400 votes in the Weimer area do not equal the “three-vote-majority” needed by the Mayor to do council business. And, then, Mr. Wengert doesn’t understand that “all politics is local” i.e. in Taos, call it a family fight—like the brouhaha raised at the school board for the last four years. Quite simply, Mr. Wengert has forgotten the first rule of local politics: “He’s not from here.”

If Mr. Wengert had taken the time to research the issue of repealing the current ordinance regarding water and sewer issues, he would understand that Mr. Sanchez and a majority of the Town Council are trying to understand the issues of equity vis-a-vis custom.  Of course, both Mr. Wengert and Mr. Sanchez, in their quest for equity, can be seen as quixotic figures. Still, Mr. Wengert might have consulted with knowledgeable members of his FNA, a former Mayor or current Councilor, a couple of private business people.

In short, Watson, the game’s afoot. We don’t know if the merits of the case involving Moises Martinez and his development on Paseo del Pueblo Sur at the old M&M Tire site, now the UPS Store, will garner headlines. But something strange or “arbitrary and capricious,” contrary to the Land Use Development Code, has occurred. The case involves water and sewer hook-ups, fees paid and not paid, or, at best, not tracked, and the suspension of an “open space requirement” or $25,850.00 fee. All together, one observer estimates the applicant may have skated on $40,000 plus but who is counting? Certainly not the Town.

Background

Despite middle age and reportedly being a “Grandpa,” Moises Martinez, a onetime waiter, who has made good as an influential player in the local scene, maintains a youthful appearance. Referred to affectionately as “High Pockets Hefner” by his compadres, he is renown for his taste in feminine pulchritude and keeps, reportedly, a Porsche in his garage. According to the record, he made his chops as a ski shop entrepreneur and builder.

Perhaps he was too busy to take the test, or, as a product of Taos High, didn’t have the confidence to face the Construction Industries Board, but for years he has developed strip malls while working under licenses from (other) contractors. We hear, though we haven’t confirmed, that he recently passed the test. If true we congratulate him as an exemplar of continuing education for adults.

Mr. Martinez gained his education in local politics from the hours spent at the Quality Inn. In losing efforts, he backed former Attorney General Patricia Madrid for Governor as well as opponents of Senator Carlos Cisneros. Years ago, he encouraged, according to what he told me, Madrid to ignore a citizen’s grand jury petition, seeking redress from the County Commissioners. Las Brujas organized the petition drive due to a number of land use planning violations and wrongful deaths at the county jail. Eventually a Las Vegas judge ordered Madrid to proceed and a bad gringo was indicted and freed though scapegoated in place of  the guilty parties.

Perhaps “High Pockets’ most stinging defeat came when he and Councilor Rudy “Walmart” Abeyta backed the Super Walmart project. Recently, he published a column in support of KCEC’s “Broadband” initiative. Given his record, we suggest its association with Mr. Martinez’s “bad karma” might undermine CEO Luis Reyes’ $60 million project.

Still, as a developer and builder, Martinez has successfully cultivated relationships at Town Hall, according to the reports, based on town documents, referred to below. None of this is a big deal but goes to poor record keeping and worse critical thinking skills as detailed in the Town’s file on Mr. Martinez.

The Issues

Under two different contractors’ licenses, Mr. Martinez recently built a commercial condominium complex of about four (4) separate units, at 1335 Paseo del Pueblo Sur. Apparently he still retains at least one of the buildings, called “Adventure Ski Rentals.” According to the Town’s File, obtained by Taos Friction, it is difficult to tell if Mr. Martinez paid his building permit fees or water and sewer hook-up fees. No copies of cancelled checks accompany the records.

Indeed, on Feb. 7, 2011, Mr. Martinez was notified that “the connection fees have been paid for 1333 Paseo del Pueblo Sur (UPS/Salon). While the letter states that the transfer of water rights to the Town of Taos has been made, “The physical connection to the Town of Taos water system has not been made,” says the letter. On Friday, April 15, this writer witnessed a private contractor under the direction of the Town’s Public Works Director, digging up what appeared to be a connection for one of the units at the condo development. Some units at the development apparently used water from an existing well, which was outlawed back in 2003. Call it petty pilfering from the potential revenue stream at the Town’s muni water system.

Further, the Town has sent Mr. Martinez contradictory letters regarding the installation of a sign, implying that violations of the building code occurred but well, they are petty and hardly worth pursuing. Make up your mind about the code.

In other words, the correspondence from Town Administrators suggests either equivocation or political pressure was exerted on behalf of Mr. Martinez at every stage, given the pro and con letters.  Rudy “Walmart” Abeyta, Town Councilor, and real estate agent, managed the sale from Martinez to the current owner of the UPS Store, who has been seeking clarification of occupancy permits, water and sewer hook-ups, etc. on behalf of the condominium association and the building she owns. The town’s records of physical addresses do not match the condo docs, implying that either Mr. Martinez or the Town has been negligent in the paperwork. Small thing, surely.

Mr. Abeyta, by the way, as the record shows, is not one who recognizes a “conflict of interest,” when it comes to voting for a project represented by his brother, his client, his buddy Moises, or his Mayor, or Mr. Wengert and the FNA. It’s all sort of ad hoc, “the Taos Way,” when Rudy shows up. He’s a self-proclaimed leader of men but is not chair of the ethics committee.

Building permits, special deals for contractors, and water and sewer issues are, well, boring.

We hasten to add that we have no idea whether Darren Cordova, Gil Vigil, and others have paid their water and sewer hook-up fees for trailer parks and commercial buildings. We have no idea whether they are on the town’s system-per the ordinance. We do know the FNA is suffering from a problem of “equity,” according to Mr. Wengert for which he blames Mr. Sanchez.

In an email response, dated June 12, 2008, from Town Planner Matthew Foster to Martinez’s engineer Lawrence Ortega, the latter was told that the open space “in lieu of fee” for the project would be $25,850. Indeed, staffers Allen Vigil, Manuel Pacheco, Rudy Perea, Amos Torres, Matthew Foster, and Moises Martinez (himself) all signed off on the request for a temporary occupancy permit for building no. 3, subject of the controversy, etc. In other words, they all agreed to the above “in lieu of fee” requirement, according to a letter, signed and dated, Sept. 17, 2008.

Yet, on June 12, 2009, a memo was sent to Matthew Spriggs, Code Administrator by Town Manager Daniel Miera addressing a “stalled building code permit.” According to the memo, Miera writes that the controversy involves the fee mentioned above. Miera is highly critical of the staff’s decision of Sept. 17, 2008, signed off on by Martinez, requiring the applicant (Martinez) to comply with the open space provision. (Though Martinez himself agreed to the deal.)

Miera writes, according to the email obtained by Taos Friction, “I am unsure as to the rationale behind staff enforcing this provision for some development projects but not of others. However, I am sure of the fact that the Town of Taos now strives to instill professional ethics that focus on equitable (sic) treatment.”

(Personally, I find it difficult to follow Miera’s logic here. Martinez and the staff all signed off on the agreement. Now, Miera, apparently at the behest of somebody has exerted his authority over staff, buttressing his arguments with convoluted logic—contradictory propositions—and mentioning a variety of nonsensical references to “private property rights,” proposals—only–of “change in use/zoning,” and “regulatory taking.” The latter has been thoroughly reviewed as acceptable by the U.S. Supreme Court but never mind. Ethics? What ethics?)

After much talk about “a flaw in our Code” and “imposing overreaching conditions on building permits,” Miera writes, “I am suspending the open space requirement on this project (until the condition is formally repealed/resolved), and approving the building permit as requested by the applicant.”

So Mr. Moises, aka High Pockets, has saved himself $25 Gs on the open space fee and who knows how much in building permit or water and sewer fees. Mr. Miera has gutted the code and set the town up for lawsuits by developers, who paid the fees (if any), and contributed to Mr. Wengert’s hurt feelings when it comes to a lack of “equity.”

Equity is an uncommon name for a common term i.e. “fairness” or “impartiality.” According to “custom” in Taos Mr. Martinez has received equitable treatment and so has Mr. Wengert. One is from here, one is not. The rules are applied accordingly. Under the rule of law, there has been a violation of “equity” but the law is not enforced except as Mr. Miera suggests, when it is enforced “for some development projects but not others” (according to custom).

Mr. Sanchez, our favorite Don Quixote, disagrees with “arbitrary and capricious” decisions or political manipulation of the land use code but he’s retiring to work in his garden. Mr. Wengert has four hundred votes and we encourage him to run for office. Mr. Miera, the young wunderkind, has learned how the sport of politics is played in Taos.

Once, when Rudy and Darren didn’t agree with the P&Zers, they joined with Bobby and the Gang and just fired them all during the famous “Thursday night massacre.”

Given Mr. Miera’s problems with the Mayor and his sidekick, Rudy Walmart, we wonder how much Young Daniel has done on his own initiative and how much he has been pressured to do. We hear Mr. Martinez may be party to a lawsuit coming up this summer with respect to shifting mortal responsibility. As my buddy Saki used to say, “You never know who you work for, buddy.”

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