Martin Chávez is running for a third consecutive term as mayor of Albuquerque.
Look for interviews with Chávez’s opponents, Richard Berry and Richard Romero, later this week. The candidates were each asked about the University’s place in the city, water, sustainability, crime, and the immediate changes they would make upon taking office.
Daily Lobo: How do you picture the role of the University in the city of Albuquerque?
Martin Chavez:I come to the University as a native son of Albuquerque and as a graduate of the University. There are a number of areas where we work very closely. One, we’re working very closely on sustainability issues, very intensely in partnership. Two, we’re working on broadband issues so that the city and the University can be wired appropriately with fiber optic. And three, architecturally, we’re working very closely. Historically, UNM tended to put its backside to the rest of the community, and we’re working hard to make sure that it’s open architecturally as it fronts Central, University and Lomas. We’ve just recently formed the community research collaborative between UNM, the city of Albuquerque and Sandia National Laboratories, which we’re loaning executives, initially, so that we can go out in search of grants. The idea is to use the grey matter that is abundant at UNM and at Sandia and apply it to real world problems in a major city, like the city of Albuquerque. That’s the one that I think is going to – ten or fifteen years from now ‑ be a model that others will replicate around the country…
DL: The University has historically turned it’s backside, architecturally, to the rest of the community?
MC: I’ll give you a perfect example. I worked really hard to save Yale Park, unsuccessfully, and the Bookstore went there. Architecturally, the bookstore is not my image of great architecture. The current issue has to do with putting a parking structure on the University’s West side, and the University’s backed off, certainly on the one that’s closer to MLK (Drive). The one that’s close to Lomas, now, I think there’s recognition that it needs to be wrapped. In the old days you’d build a parking structure, but anybody who understands modern urban design knows that you don’t waste that opportunity. You wrap it with something. You wrap it (with) retail at the bottom or residential. In the case of the University, perhaps classroom space, and so that what you see, instead of seeing a parking structure, is you see something that actually is accommodating to the people. The final part of the partnership has to do with transportation. It was at my instigation that Rep. Chasey put the legislation in to provide funding for all UNM students to ride the bus. Now, we want to move it to the next step to a modern rail format, so that we can connect the Railrunner up Central, down University, accommodate CNM, the Sportsplex, out Cesar Chavez and out Yale to the Sunport. When it comes back, it comes straight down Yale to Central. That creates a circular of Yale, University, Central and Cesar Chavez, which will allow UNM students to park at the stadium and just take the rail down to main campus.
DL: That was going to be my next question. So many students rely on public transportation to get to class everyday. What kind of vision do you have for public transportation, especially the Railrunner? And, also, where does the trolley fit into that?
MC: Well, that’s modern rail. Those who are against it call it the trolley system, and I’m the only candidate that supports a modern rail system for the city of Albuquerque….
DL: As university students, much of the global warming crisis will be placed on our shoulders for the next generation. What kind of tangible improvements can we expect to see in the area of sustainability by the end of your term?
MC: One, I would encourage you to spend a little bit of time at the sustainability site for the city of Albuquerque – our ‘Q’ site – so you can see what we’ve done for the city of Albuquerque as a municipality. We’ve reduced the municipal organization’s carbon footprint by about 54 to57 percent, which is substantially beyond what Kyoto called for. I’m on the international board of directors for ICLEI, which is the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, and what we do is work with cities all across the globe to establish baselines for carbon footprints and then the strategies of how they’re going to reduce their energy use – their carbon footprint. The partnership with the University is very, very important – and this is where the research collaborative is going to come in, too – as we look at technological solutions. Some of the answers are pretty easy. They’re what we call “low-hanging fruit,” but some are more sophisticated and have to do with science and engineering. We’ve done a number of things, and almost all of them were with the cooperation with the University. Some of them were well ahead of what UNM is doing. First off, of course, you have to look at the leading source of emissions, which are buildings. It’s how buildings are oriented and how buildings are constructed. We now have the most progressive building code of any city in the country. The first time we passed last year, the federal courts throughout said we were pre-empted by federal law on the heating and air conditioning. We disagreed, but it’s what the federal court said. So we took the elements out that offended the court and repassed and we signed it into law just two weeks ago, but we’ve appealed what the district court did to and then we’ve also asked Congress to overturn that portion of the federal law that the district court relied upon. Because we think each city should be a laboratory… We’re now about half of our fleet of all vehicles are alternative energy, and we’re grandfathering them. We don’t kill a good car, we just wait until it dies out and then we replace it with alternative fuel. What we’re doing with the stimulus monies, and you’re going to see these go up very shortly, is we’re putting solar panels on top of every public parking rooftop. That will enervate the building but will also allow us to have plugs at each stall for hybrid/electric and electric vehicles. Then, we’re getting national recognition for our bicycle trails. We’re using stimulus money to do a bicycle/pedestrian link parallel to the interstate. We’ve got the east and the west side. Bicycles are no longer for recreation. I mean, they are for recreation but they’re also basic transportation, and you start to see bicycle racks going up down the principle corridors within the city of Albuquerque. We put the bicycle racks on the buses for those who want to go down and get on the bus to come back upward. The third area goes to how you acquire energy, and, right now, in this organization, one third of our energy portfolio is alternative, including principally wind and solar. It’s fully one third, and a percentage of nuclear, which is controversial but nobody disagrees that it’s carbon neutral. What you’ll see in that regard within the next few months is huge solar arrays opening up… I just announced a program where we’re going to float $5 million in general obligation bonds. We’ll be the largest city in America to have done this. We’ll be the fifth city, but we’ll be the largest city, where people can actually finance solar panels on their rooftops – residential – using this. It will be tied against the property taxes, but any increase in their property taxes should be offset by the reduction in the cost of energy, and we anticipate that money will probably last about a day and a half. These programs are so popular. You’ve seen the Cash for Clunkers program going on nationally. We’d like to see the same thing done for alternative energy. Our program is the best in the country, because it’s more flexible. If you have a much older house, a panel on the roof may not be the most beneficial use. It may just be weatherization and closing up the envelope, and you get more bang for the buck there. We allow that to occur as well. We’ve done something that no city in America has done and that is – you have general funds to operate government and you have capital funds which are based on property taxes to build things… We take 3 percent of our capital monies, which amounts to about $5 million, and use that for alternative energy initiatives. For examples, we use that to convert all of our streetlights to LED lighting. It’s just like the compact fluorescent. It costs a little bit more upfront, but they last longer and they cost less to operate. That’s the beauty of all these green things is there’s a financial model for all of them. Last year, Albuquerque was recognized by the EPA as the best city in America addressing climate change. The year before, we were recognized by the U.S. Council of Mayors in their inaugural award as the best city in America addressing climate change. It doesn’t mean that we’re necessarily the best in every category. For example, we tapped the methane at the old Los Angeles landfill by the Balloon Park, and we used that to power a generator and put electricity back in the grid. I can show you cities that have bigger operations in that regard. Certainly I can show you cities (with) rail systems. We’re one of only five cities in America that doesn’t have them, but no city has gone from where we were to where we are today and has ramped up more quickly than has the city of Albuquerque. We’re getting national and international recognition and you will begin to see more German companies coming out, and now the Spanish are moving in. These are global leaders in solar technology. Wind is going to have a minor role to play, because, as windy as it seems in the spring, the eastern part of the state is better suited for that. Albuquerque is one of the top five places on the globe for the quality of light that we have for purposes of solar power. It’s not just a sunny day. It’s the altitude as well… This is an interesting process that is going on, because we now have the climate action plan, which we unveiled three weeks ago. It was a product of the climate action task force. Some 60 Albuquerqueans from NIOB, which are the big bad guys, the developers, to the Sierra Club — a very broad spectrum of people — came together to develop this plan having ten town hall meetings around the plan… This will be our program to take us to an 80 percent reduction in our carbon footprint by the year 2050. What’s interesting about this, that I find, is there’s a financial model for all of it. You can actually make or save money. And two, for those few members of the flat earth society that don’t believe that climate change is man-induced or real, everyone agrees that we’re addicted to foreign oil. The solutions substantially overlap, so it should be an issue that unites people from a very diverse spectrum philosophically. I can go off on thirty or forty minutes about that if you like.
DL:How can you guarantee the availability of water for Albuquerque’s citizens?
MC: I just finished a two-year stint as chairman of the Urban Water Council for the U.S. council of mayors. I’ve had the opportunity to lecture both nationally and internationally on water issues. When I first came to office, the engineers came in and said, “Guess what? We don’t have an infinite water supply.” We actually have some posters that we used to in the ‘70s to market the city nationally- “Name a city that sits atop Lake Superior.” And it’s this great picture of downtown Albuquerque with this big lake, a windsurfer. That’s what we thought. That’s what the scientists thought. And I never fault people in the ‘40s and ‘50s for responding rationally to what the known reality is. If gas is cheap, land is cheap, water is infinite— which literally it was assumed to infinite—then you do what we did. We sprawl. What I fault leaders for doing is not responding to what they know to be true at a given time. When I came in, the engineers came and said, “Guess what? We’ve remodeled the aquifer, and we have a twenty-five year lifespan for high quality water.” That’s a death note for the city of Albuquerque. And it wasn’t a growth issue, because if we had just said, “Okay, stop all growth in the City of Albuquerque. Post police at the Sunport and all corners of the city,” we had a 35-year plan. We were premised improperly. We got stuck on the driest part of New Mexico. We did two things: We started the San Juan Chama Project, because in the 1960’s the city had acquired the rights to the Colorado River, and I appreciate their political fortitude. They were lambasted, because it was a boondoggle to spend millions of dollars on surface water when you’re sitting on top of Lake Superior. We had that, and that’s our water that had just been flowing down to Texas…So we build San Juan Chama. And it’s functional today, we’re drinking the water as we speak. It’s an extraordinary operation, because it has an inflatable dam that goes up or down and so when water is plentiful, as it has been this Summer, then that dam goes up. Some of it is diverted and that’s what we drink. That takes the pressure off of the aquifer, so the aquifer is no longer depleting it’s actually be replenished. We build very complex fish passageway structures. This is one of the most environmentally-sensitive engineering feats in the history of the state of New MExico. At the same time, we built a conservation pool up near Abiquiu, and we own Abiquiu. That body of water stays up there in case we hit a drought, so we can use that water so that it keeps the ecosystem at the same level of moisture. And then, of course, we can then use the aquifer solely as an emergency bank. You want to make sure you keep as close to historic levels as possible. Nobody’s knows exactly what that is, because the Rio Grande has been so changed by mankind over the last two or three hundred years that nobody’s exactly sure what it was like before. We’ve cleared out virtually all non-native species from there. That does two things: one, when we had the horrific fires, the Rio Grande was never this huge lush thing that was complete. It was more like a savannah with natural fire breaks, so we’ve restored that. We’ve taken out non-native species. Each acre of non-indigenous species that we take out —salt cedar, russian olive— restores a full acre foot of water to the ecosystem as well. There’s that part that’s been done. The second thing we did was initiate a water conservation program, and we literally reduced water use in the City of Albuquerque by one-third in ten years while we added fully 33% new accounts, so we know that we can still have growth and new jobs while reducing our water use. We have more to go, and we can do a better job. I have real concerns about the Water Authority as an entity and it’s ability to lead the city in water conservation. For all the conservation and San Juan projects, we received the world leadership award in London three years ago. We beat out every major city in the world for that regard. We’re now on par with every major city in the country with about 85 years water supply. I can go about thirty minutes on that, too. … We have to be conservative with it, but we also have to make quality decisions about what we do with water. An acre of alfalfa is nice. I come from farm and ranch stock. We used to grow alfalfa, but the same amount of water required to fill and irrigate an alfalfa field will create you a whole lot more wealth if you use it over at Intel making Microchips.
DL: The UNM area has a high crime rate. What steps will you take as mayor to alleviate crime?
MC: It’s all these darn students (laughs). Any mayor who runs for office has crime as his number one priority. It’s always number one. It doesn’t matter how good your job is, how nice your car is, your house. If you’re not safe, you have no quality of life. Violent crime continues to go down in the City of Albuquerque. We’ve approached it from a number of perspectives. One, I’ve grown the number of police officers to 1,100. I’m going to add another hundred officers in the next 18 months. We started community-oriented policing in my first term. That’s where police actually integrate into the neighborhoods, primarily through neighborhood and civic associations, so that you have eyes and ears everywhere and people working together. With the new hundred officers, we’re going to put power teams in each of the six area commands. We now have six area commands. We’ve cut 911 response time down by more than half, literally. You call 911, it gets there 50% faster than it used to be…Again, violent crime continues to go down, but it doesn’t matter— if you’re a victim it’s 100%. You never let up. The APD today is dramatically different than the APD fifteen years ago. First off, we have police officers in every school— middle school and high school. UNM has it’s own police department, primarily populated by retired or ex- APD officers. That’s helped out with school situation…School resource officers are now paying visits to the school. If they have a problem student who isn’t showing up to school and they see them tracking improperly, they go and they check, “What’s going on, son, what’s going on? Why aren’t you in school?” They talk to the parents, and we now have the COAsT, which are the Crisis Outreach Assistance Teams that have specialization and special training in interacting with the mentally ill. … We just commemorated the fourth year of the slaughter of our two police officers at Ash and Gold by somebody who wasn’t a criminal, but he was seriously deranged and wouldn’t take his meds. I keep pushing for a Kendra’s Law. We’re one of only seven states in the Union that doesn’t have it. That is where, if someone’s mental illness manifests itself in violence towards others, then you can force them to take their meds. We can save lives that way…That’s the hard edge of crime. In addition to the hard edge, we have the three strikes and you’re out rule, because we know that it’s a small percentage of the same people who are committing the same crimes. It really is…Right now, with the three strikes law, if you commit three violent felonies, you get a fixed amount of time that you’re going to have to be behind bars. Well, for example, armed robbery isn’t considered a violent crime in the state of New Mexico. To me, if somebody walks in and sticks a pistol in the face of an 18-year-old working a convenience store or a Keva Juice, that’s a violent crime. That’s a hair-trigger away from a homicide. We lost that fight in the legislature last year, and I’m going to keep going back up until we get it done. Those people need to be behind bars. There’s what I call the soft edge. Even the most hardened police officer will tell you, if you want to prevent crime you start with the kids. That’s why we have child development centers. That’s why we created the after-school programs. … We went to APS a year and a half ago and said, “let’s see your dropout prevention program.” They didn’t have one, so we brought in Bob Wise. He’s the former governor of West Virginia. He’s the current congressman, and he’s now the head of Alliance for Educational Excellence in D.C. We did a two-day symposium. One day was just students who either dropped out or were at risk of dropping out. (We asked) “Why are you dropping out? What’s going on in your life?” We brought in all the administrators, all the parents and the kids, and now we have a working document that we’re working to finalize with APS as, at last, a dropout prevention plan. The other thing, and this will start full force this fall, we’re training all the teachers, all the educational assistants, all of our community center staff, our child development center staff to recognize the clinical signs of depression. Being a teenager or a college student should be somewhat depressing sometimes, but clinical depression. We can identify them, get them tracked for services, because the notion that there’s some kid out there that has all this potential but is suffering from mental illness and feels so separate, to me as a parent, is a heartbreak. As a mayor, it is a tragic waste, because we need them functioning and participating. So, I’ve got great hopes for that program. If you work with kids from young ages, keep them busy through their middle school years and then give them economic opportunity—which is the third part of public safety— then you see dramatic reduction in crime. That’s what all these high-tech jobs are about is so that you guys have something to do, where you have hope in your lives.
DL: The last question I have is specifically for you about your fourth term. What motivated you to seek a fourth term, and has your vision changed throughout your experience as mayor?
MC: Well, I’m born and raised in Albuquerque. I love this city, and I’m not ashamed to say it. My vision has been exactly the same. It’s a city where kids can realize their dreams…We want to have opportunities here where if somebody wants to stay in their hometown they can do that. That’s why the greening of the economy is so important, the film industry is critical. It’s not just what’s going on in front of the camera. That’s a small percentage. It’s what’s going on behind the camera. It’s what’s going on with the high-end digital animation. It’s a hooking up of Sandia and Intel with the world’s biggest or fastest computer with the Hollywood industry. It’s these new technology jobs that are environmentally pristine and create opportunity. The dream hasn’t changed one iota. I’ve gotten smarter about how to realize some things. You know, we’re in the middle of a recession. That’s one thing that does concern me about those who are running is that they’ve not been the mayor in good times and bad times. I have, and I know how to balance a budget properly so you don’t have to reduce services. I’m not afraid to make tough decisions. And people say, “Oh, he’s not so easy to work with.” I’m really easy to work with —just not against —when I’m keeping my campaign promises. This is one of the only cities in America that didn’t lay people off and reduce services. We did it because we’re very tight with the dollar at City Hall, and we’ve done things to expand the private sector so that creates more revenue coming in. When Eclipse (Aviation) was going away, I spent a lot of time— because someone wanted to buy it and sell it off for parts. I wanted to find someone who would buy it and build airplanes. We found a buyer just this last week. So, the vision hasn’t changed. I’m running because my passion for the job and the city is undiminished. I’m just smarter than I was and more experienced.