Neighborhood advocates say heavy government employee presence evidenced by the sign-in sheets invalidates City Hall’s claim the ABC-Z plan enjoyed widespread public participation
ABC-Z Public Meetings Dominated by Government Employees
BY JOHNNY VIZCAINO
Attendance at meetings held to obtain public input into the city’s Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Zoning master plan was dominated by government employees, a review of sign-in sheets shows.
The plan, a massive rewrite of a patchwork of planning and zoning policies developed over decades, will go before the City Council again on March 20. It was up for a vote at the March 6 City Council meeting but councilors sought a two-week delay in voting to allow time to study 33 proposed amendments.
If passed by the City Council, the ABC-Z Plan, as it’s called, would be presented to the Bernalillo County Commission for a vote. If passed by both bodies, it would govern everything from building heights to open space to the proximity of industry to residential areas.
Mayor Richard Berry has said the ABC-Z Plan “streamlines” the urban planning process. Neighborhood groups say it guts so-called sector plans – documents that outline allowable uses within various parts of the city and give neighborhood associations some say in shaping their neighborhood’s character.
Representatives of predominantly minority areas south of Downtown complain the plan codifies the continued location of polluting industries in their neighborhoods.
Developers at the March 6 City Council meeting called for the plan’s adoption. “It’s time for the silent majority to trump the vocal minority,” Kurt Browning of Titan Development told the City Council.
Developer Paul Silverman, speaking in support of the plan said “tens of thousands of people” weighed in on the plan.
City planning department officials said that as many as 2,794 people attended public meetings at which the ABC-Z plan was presented.
“Of those, 982 are staff or decision-makers from the city, county, or agency stakeholders such as Mid-Region Council of Governments, AMACFA, ABQ Housing Authority, etc., and 210 are neighborhood association representatives,” the planning department said in a prepared statement in response to an ABQ Free Press Weekly query.
“The remaining 1,602 are a combination of residents, business owners, former neighborhood association representatives, developers, etc.,” the department’s statement said.
But an ABQ Free Press Weekly analysis of sign-in sheets the city produced in response to an Inspection of Public Records request found only 2,374 signatures, and those belonged to fewer than 1,231 individuals. Some people attended multiple meetings.
Neighborhood advocates say the heavy government employee presence evidenced by the sign-in sheets invalidates City Hall’s claim that the ABC-Z plan enjoyed widespread public participation before it went to the City Council.
“I don’t think they have a secret agenda,” said Elizabeth Vencill, a family lawyer whose office is in the Hiland Business District. “However, I do think that people look out for their jobs.”
In its statement, the Planning Department defended its outreach: “The ABC-Z Project team has given equal consideration to comments/feedback from all individuals and groups that chose to participate in the process.”
ABQ Free Press Weekly previously reported that, in cases where the race and ethnicity was captured, 79 percent of the participants in public meetings and online polls were white, while only 15 percent were Hispanic.
Neighborhood groups asking for a delay in the ABC-Z Plan’s adoption say they never really got a seat at the table as the plan was being developed. Instead, they argue city officials presented them with a fait accompli – presenting the details of the plan rather than seeking input. The complaint is similar to that expressed by opponents of the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project during a series of raucous public meetings late last year.
“We’re asking our councilors to give us an opportunity to compromise,” said Loretta Lopez, president, Martineztown Workers Group. “Let us sit at the table, finally.”
Johnny Vizcaino is a reporter with ABQ Free Press Weekly.