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Guest Opinion: The other side of the skate board park

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By The Staff

In a recent Monitor County Corner column (April, 17), Robert Gibson, vice-chair of the county council (CC) described his view of county government as both “owner” and “regulator” of county projects. Then he claims “as owner, the county decides where we want a project, how much we are willing to pay for it, and where it should be.” The CC sets themselves up as both judge and jury, switching back and forth to their advantage. Our simple understanding is that the CC and county staff (CS) do not “own” county property any more then any other county citizen. And, CC needs to go through the same processes with the Planning and Zoning Commission (PZC), who are the “watch dog” of the Comprehensive Plan, as any other citizen. The CC can not substantially change the Comprehensive Plan without a PZC hearing, or it is not following the proper procedure. Have CC and CS followed the standard procedures in the skate board park (SBP) project? We think not. First, the county took the SBP away from the citizen Parks and Recreation Board and the Parks Department, and asked the police chief to run the project. The chief worked only with the SBP kids and their supporters. This was of minor concern until a routine update on the SBP progress at the June 26, CC meeting, turned into a CC vote that put the SBP location in front of Mesa Public Library (MPL). The CC immediately followed that by a vote to change the Comprehensive Plan and substituted the SBP for the existing conventional park plan. It never presented those changes to the PZC for public hearing, which is a clear violation of the CC’s authority. A skate board park has a substantial negative impact on the property values and the “quality of life” of residents living at 2500 Central, Oppenheimer Place and Bath Tub Row, which together include 100 homes. The vote also impacts the Farmers Market, the Library and the Betty Ehart Senior Center users and the Los Alamos Historic District. The conventional park design we thought was the plan for this area fit the character of the neighborhood; the skate board park does not. The SBP votes got everybody’s attention, and many citizens and boards complained about the SBP location and how it was selected. We presented a petition to the CC signed by 340 citizens against the Library location. The Library Board, the Fuller Lodge Historic District Board and the Los Alamos Retired Citizens Organization Board all voted against the location. But, at all public meetings set up to explain the SBP, location could never be discussed because the improper CC vote had supposedly already set the location. The SBP location is clearly a major issue that was decided by an invalid process that is open to being blocked by an injunction and a legal suit, which could take years to settle.The process should start over from the beginning and follow established procedures hopefully for a different location. The CC claimed that because the SBP is the same as a conventional park, no rezoning was required; therefore, they claimed a SBP was not a change to the Comprehensive Plan. It is really convenient to be both “owner” and “regulator.” This “owner” and “regulator” perception needs to be changed because it is not just a SBP issue. It has become the way the county handles all projects. We claim it is a real stretch to say a skate board park is the same as a conventional park. They are obviously different. Even though the county has tried to mask the difference by calling the SBP an Urban Park Plaza, the latest revised version of the SBP design looks exactly like almost all the other skate board parks we have seen – except it has an open boundary instead of being fenced.A fenced SBP is clearly safer for everybody. Don’t be surprised if before long a fence will be needed around the SBP to control access and ensure safety. The downside issues of a SBP in this location will be unending. As citizens we have been too silent for too long, complaining to each other but not speaking up at the right time in the right place. Although it is late, it may not be too late to stop the county from building the SBP in front of the library. Come to the PZC meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in Council Chambers in the Community Building. The whole meeting is on the SBP. We hope the PZC meeting will be nonpolitical, independent and fair.The New Mexico Supreme Court recognized that councils sometimes don’t follow fair procedures, and recently they ruled against the city of Albuquerque in a case that sounds quite similar to our situation. Perhaps you saw the article in the Albuquerque Journal Business Outlook section. The Supreme Court said, “There is no legitimate justification for the city’s failure to afford the proper procedural protections ee We hold that the city’s decision lacked procedural fairness and did not comport with due process of law.” They go on to say that “downzoning (rezoning part of a property to more restrictive uses) has to be justified because property values are affected.” Doesn’t substituting a SBP design for a conventional park design need to be justified because it affects property values? We believe the CC has failed to provide procedural fairness and did not comport with due process of law. It took 14 years and cost the city of Albuquerque $14 M to settle that case. Something needs to be done to persuade the county to follow proper procedures.