Santa Fe City Council Nixes Richards Ave. Land Purchase; Extension Project Will Continue

City will move forward with Richards Ave. plan

In a special meeting last night, the Santa Fe City Council unanimously voted to call off the purchase of 23 acres of state-owned land in order to extend Richards Avenue between Siringo Road and Rodeo Road. The vote follows the state Game Commission’s decision last Friday to reject the city’s $2.1 million offer for the land. The deal’s collapse sets back long-discussed plans by the city government to connect the northern and southern ends of Richards Avenue, a move backers argue will alleviate traffic on the southwest end of Santa Fe, but which neighbors maintain will steer more drivers down residential streets. Despite the setback, city officials say they will push ahead to complete the Richards Avenue connection. “We will fully move forward with the project,” Public Works Director Regina Wheeler told the council. Doing so may involve the city purchasing parcels of land in order to build the connection between the northern and southern ends of Richards Avenue, Mayor Alan Webber tells SFR. But, he notes, he would have liked the city to be able to use the larger property for affordable housing. “It’s a punted opportunity,” he says.

Crime bill targets retail thieves

House Bill 234 would create a new category for organized retail theft for those who engage directly or participate with others to steal or help steal merchandise worth $2,500 or more over the course of a year, and redefine “racketeering” to include organized retail crime. The bill, previewed last week by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other officials, follows the governor’s recent creation of the Business Advisory Council on for Crime Reduction. Sponsored by state Rep. Marian Matthews, D-Albuquerque, the bill also would allow for the aggregation of multiple retail theft crimes over a period of time in order to target repeat offenders. “Virtually everyone I meet has a story of encountering retail theft and wants it to end,” Matthews said in a statement. “Organized retail crime puts employees and shoppers at retail stores in danger and it’s time New Mexico law treats this conduct seriously.” A news release announcing the bill notes a 2021 Retail Industry Leaders Association report that estimated the economic impact of stolen sales in New Mexico at $819.8 million. “There’s no question that organized retail crime is having a detrimental impact on the bottom line for New Mexico businesses, especially small ones,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “This cowardly crime also means higher prices for New Mexican consumers—it’s time to crack down on organized retail theft.”

HSD cancels Medicaid RFP

Following the news that Human Services Department Secretary Dr. David Scrase and Medicaid Director Nicole Comeaux are both leaving the department, HSD announced yesterday it has canceled the procurement process for the selection of managed care organizations to deliver services to the state’s 800,465 Medicaid Centennial Care members. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office announced last week Scrase will retire on Feb. 24. The week prior, HSD announced the departure of Comeaux, who has led the Medical Assistance Division since January 2019. A news release issued yesterday says the original request for proposals is being terminated “so that the agency’s new leadership,” given Scrase and Comeaux’s planned departures, “can assess the design of the procurement.” That proposal was issued in September 2022 as the state’s contracts with its current managed care organizations—Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Mexico; Presbyterian Health Plan; and Western Sky Community Care—are set to expire at the end of 2023. HSD noted at the time that beginning in 2024, the state’s Medicaid program, known as Centennial Care 2.0, will become Turquoise Care and will begin operation with the newly awarded MCOs. HSD said yesterday “the current contracts in place will continue until a new, expedited request for proposals (RFP) is issued, so there will be no disruption in services being provided.”

Hard lessons in nature

The Christian Science Monitor spends time in Mora County, examining the impact the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon wildfire and subsequent flooding has had on children, and the ways the Mora Independent School District is trying to help them recover. The story opens on a field trip to a ranch that lost half of its 300 acres to the fire, where students receive “seed bombs” they can plant anywhere to help demonstrate resiliency, part of the district’s “expeditionary learning” model to bring student outdoors. The district also hired a second social worker and “doubled down on logistical preparedness,” such as flood-response plans and ongoing food distribution to families. “I want them to recover,” MISD Superintendent Marvin MacAuley, a former wildland firefighter for the US Forest Service, tells The Monitor of the approximate 400 students in the district. “I want them to succeed. I want them to become valuable community members, and cherish their cultures and their traditions, and be able to revive our area.”

COVID-19 by the numbers

Reported Jan. 30New cases: 353 (includes the weekend); 664,708 total cases. Deaths: five; Santa Fe County has had 388 total deaths; 8,948 total fatalities statewide. Statewide hospitalizations: 67. Patients on ventilators: five

ICYMI, yesterday the World Health Organization announced COVID-19 remains a global health emergency, but said the pandemic is “probably at a transition point.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent Jan. 26  “community levels” map shows four county categorized as “yellow”—medium risk—for COVID-19, compared with one last week: De Baca, Curry, Quay and Roosevelt counties. The rest of the state—including Santa Fe County—is green, aka has low risk. Corresponding recommendations for each level can be found here.

Resources: Receive four free at-home COVID-19 tests per household via COVIDTests.gov; Check availability for additional free COVID-19 tests through Project ACT; CDC interactive booster eligibility tool; NM DOH vaccine & booster registration; CDC isolation and exposure interactive tool; COVID-19 treatment info; NMDOH immunocompromised tool kit. People seeking treatment who do not have a medical provider can call NMDOH’s COVID-19 hotline at 1-855-600-3453. DOH encourages residents to download the NM Notify app and to report positive COVID-19 home tests on the app.

You can read all of SFR’s COVID-19 coverage here.

Listen up

On a recent episode of Slate magazine’s What Next podcast, host Mary Harris talks to New Mexico state Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, whose home was among those of Democrats allegedly targeted by failed GOP candidate Solomon Pena. Lopez walks Harris through the experience of having her home riddled with bullets, and the aftermath; a grand jury on Friday indicted Pena on 14 felonies. Lopez describes herself as grateful for Pena’s apprehension, but says she still has questions, including “Why? Why me? Why my family?”

No love lost

Travel Off Path includes Santa Fe in its roundup of the top eight places to visit for a romantic Valentine’s Day. “Imagine a Valentine’s Day spent in the desert,” the story reads, “with the warm sun and light and fluffy snow surrounding the traditional pueblo homes.” The city, Travel Off Path continues, makes “an ideal choice for a romantic getaway for many reasons, from its bustling food and bar scene to shopping and spas,” not to mention the “Winter Arts and Music Festival during Valentine’s weekend, adding more options on how to spend your evenings.” (We’re assuming “Winter Arts and Music Festival” refers to the Art + Sol Winter Arts Festival, an inaugural event taking place Feb. 11-19). As it happens, New Mexico itself doesn’t rank all that well for singles, according to a new WalletHub study, so if you’re coming for Valentine’s Day, bring your own date. New Mexico falls 36th for its overall rank; but places first when it comes to its share of single adults. We rank 26th for dating opportunities; 43rd for dating economics; and, when it comes to “romance and fun,” we’re almost at the bottom at 46th.

Down to earth

Earthships, “bona fide roadside attractions” and “cultural icons among the competitive real estate of Taos” are no longer just the domain of “retired hippies.” According to Dwell magazine, a new generation of homeowners are looking to earthships as they search for solutions to the climate crisis. The structures employ recycled materials as building blocks and incorporate numerous sustainability features, such as rainwater harvesting and solar panels. Dwell talks to friends and business partners Steve Jewett, Izzy Tang and Trent Wolbe, who bought in 2021 an earthship (built in 2009 by Earthship Biotecture founder Michael Reynolds and his team) just outside Taos as “an experiment in entrepreneurship, disconnecting, and shifting narratives about abundance and scarcity via ‘a more meaningful vacation home.’” As the story notes, “like many earthship owners, they visit throughout the year and rent out the space when they aren’t there.” (Generally speaking, nightly rentals for earthships don’t come cheap, but do include Netflix). Wolbe, a graduate of the Earthship Academy, tells Dwell the trio decided to buy (they paid $396,000) rather than build because it was easier: “The agent grew up in an earthship and owns a few rentals,” Wolbe says. “The process was fucking insane. First, there are no real earthship inspectors. The bank inspection took a zillion years, and so did the title work. We had to bend over backwards to give the bank so many different documents and had to explain to them so many times what the deal was with this place. And then getting insurance was another story.” Still, the “carbon/waste footprint” is better for building than buying, he notes. No one thinks earthships offer “a perfect solution,” to the climate crisis, he adds. “But it forces you to slow down, to take your environment into account.”

Chhhhilly

The National Weather Service forecasts a return to cool temperatures today, with a high temperature near 38 degrees, mostly sunny skies and south wind 10 to 15 mph becoming southwest in the afternoon. Chilly, but beats the freezing fog and freezing drizzle in the eastern part of the state.

Thanks for reading! The Word thought “This Beautiful Planet” by Dorothea Lasky—today’s “poem-a-day”—was a fitting way to end this long, long month.


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