The District 2 seat is key to whether the Santolina project continues to get the approvals it needs from the county commission.
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI
Six people closely associated with the controversial 14,000-acre Santolina development on the far West Side have formed a political action committee that is supporting one of the candidates in the three-way race for the Bernalillo County Commission seat from the South Valley.
The six individuals, Santolina’s law firm, and the CEO of Santolina’s engineering firm have contributed $25,000 to the New Mexicans for New Mexico PAC, which has paid for billboards and door hangers for one of the candidates in the race, Steven Michael Quezada.
The District 2 seat is key to whether the Santolina project continues to get the approvals it needs from the county commission. Outgoing commissioner Art De La Cruz led the charge for the project’s approval by the commission last summer, which moved forward by a 3-2 vote. If the seat goes to a Santolina opponent, the project could stall and die.
The project is currently seeking the county’s approval of its Level B master plan, as well as about $2 billion in tax increment development districts, or TIDDS.
One of Quezada’s opponents in the Democratic primary for the District 2 seat, Adrian Pedroza, a Santolina opponent, said the developer is trying to buy the election. “I think the PAC is trying to buy this county commission campaign. We just can’t subsidize sprawl developers,” Pedroza told ABQ Free Press.
Quesada told ABQ Free Press that he doesn’t support Santolina and that he didn’t authorize the PAC to do mailers for him. “That PAC, I don’t even know who that PAC is,” Quezada said.
The PAC’s donors include Santolina’s law firm — the Rodey Law Firm — and four of its attorneys, the CEO of Santolina’s engineering firm and the CEO of the development company that acts as Santolina’s property manager.
The Rodey lawyers are John Salazar, Dick Minzer, Justin Horwitz, and Robert L. Lucero. Salazar was the face of Santolina—its lead attorney—during last summer’s hearings before the county commission on the project’s Level A master plan. The Rodey firm contributed $8,500 to the PAC.
Santolina’s engineering firm is Bohannan Huston. Its CEO, Brian Burnett, put $10,000 into the PAC.
Another donor, Jeff Garrett, is the CEO of the Garrett Development Corp., which is the project manager for Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, the company that owns the 13,851 acres that it hopes will become someday become Santolina, a community with nearly 40,000 homes and 100,000 residents. Garrett gave $5,000 to the PAC.
The three-way commission race includes Pedroza, Quezada and Robert Chavez. Garrett has contributed $1,000 to Chavez’s campaign, while Minzer gave him $300, according to campaign finance reports filed with the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office. Garrett has also contributed $2,500 to Quezada’s campaign. Quezada said his campaign returned Garrett’s contribution.
“Jeff Garrett did not contribute to my campaign,” Quezada said.
ABQ Free Press left phone messages with Garrett and Burnett seeking comment for the story. None immediately returned the phone calls.
NMNM PAC Treasurer Donna Madrid told ABQ Free Press that the PAC is supporting Quezada and Chavez. “I want to see Robert Chavez or Steven Michael Quezada win,” Madrid said. “I’m tired of those with good jobs saying we don’t need jobs in our community. Why Santolina funds? I know Santolina wants leaders who are job friendly, so I asked for them to contribute to help candidates that I want to create jobs.”
The NMNM PAC was formed on April 6, according to the Secretary of State’s office. Pedroza thinks Santolina and its supporters formed it because his campaign has raised $59,200 so far, the most of the three candidates.
“We’ve had over 500 contributions and I think the Santolina interests saw that we were competitive, and they decided to try to buy the election,” Pedroza said.
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