Insights on Building and Destroying a City’s Growth Potential

A few months ago, I attended former Albuquerque Mayor David Rusk’s presentation “Insights on the past, present, and future of city building in Albuquerque.”

Mayor David Rusk served as Albuquerque Mayor from 1977 to 1981.

For the last 35 years, he has been a consultant on urban planning advising 130 Metro areas in the United States and many European cities.

His presentation was very informative and well attended by concerned citizens.

Mayor David Rusk talked about three subjects:

1. The importance of land annexations to a modern City’s development and bond ratings.
2. The critical role that the city’s education system plays in providing an educated Workforce.
3. The role of mixed-income housing and inclusionary zoning.

Here are comments and observations on all three topics.

1. The Importance of Land Annexations to a Modern City’s Development and Bond Ratings

Land annexations and expansion for growth of a City are essential to expand a growing City’s property tax base and gross receipts tax revenues to have sustainable revenue sources to pay and provide essential services as a city grows and develops.

The increase in annexation of land by a city helps a city to secure high ratings for the bonding of debt used for critical infrastructure needs and capital improvements.

From my own perspective, there were two major power grabs that occurred that have stymied Albuquerque’s natural growth and development to the Westside and we allowed our elected officials to go along with them.

Land annexations are one area that the New Mexico legislature made sure that Albuquerque’s future growth to the Westside was stymied for the sake a preserving Bernalillo County.

Years ago, the New Mexico legislature enacted legislation sponsored by powerful State Senator Manny Aragon that prohibits the City annexing any property to be part of the City without the consent of Bernalillo County.

The real goal of the anti-annexation legislation was to preserve the autonomy of the South Valley and the rural lifestyle it represents.

The massive “Santolina” development project on the Westside is now consuming the Bernalillo County Commission with political controversy.

Many argue legitimately that Bernalillo County does not have the financial resources to deal with the massive infrastructure demands of the Santolina project and in all likelihood the project will suck major resources that could go to address South Valley needs.

The “Santolina” developers are already talking about approaching the City of Albuquerque for annexation because the City is the deeper pocket for utilities and infrastructure development.

At the same time as the enactment of the anti-annexation legislation, the New Mexico legislature enacted the Water Utility Authority legislation that essentially stripped the City of Albuquerque of all its water utility assets and turned them over to an authority governed by City and County elected officials called the Water Utility Authority.

City residents are both City and County residents and pay taxes for the benefit of both city and county governments.

Bernalillo County residents pay taxes that benefit the county government.

2. The Critical Role That City’s Education System Plays in Providing an Educated Workforce

This is a common topic of discussion when it comes to economic development and attracting new businesses to Albuquerque.

Whenever a business or industry identifies Albuquerque as a city to relocate to or expand, it must determine if the city has the educated or trained workforce to fill the labor force it needs.

Improving our schools and vocational systems, reducing dropout rates, are critical to diversifying Albuquerque’s economy.

My personal perspective is that city economic development efforts need to be better coordinated with our vocational institutions to identify new industries that can be attracted to Albuquerque and insure Albuquerque has the trained workforce to accommodate any new industry.

Albuquerque needs to pursue with a vengeance real growth industries like healthcare, transportation and manufacturing, and the film industry in order to diversify our economy.

3. The Role of Mixed-Income Housing and Inclusionary Zoning

Mixed-income housing and inclusionary zoning involves allowing or acquiring low income housing to be made available in housing developments.

An example of mixed-income housing and inclusionary zoning is the city zoning laws requiring developers to dedicate a certain percentage or portion of a residential home development to low income housing in exchange for tax incentives or infrastructure fees for streets and utilities.

From my own perspective, political organizations such as the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, Albuquerque Economic Forum, Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce, Greater Albuquerque Association of Realtors, the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks (NAIOP), the New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry do not like and oppose any government intervention and regulations and oppose any city zoning laws that are inclusionary and mandate low income housing.

To be blunt, these business organizations are more interested in profit, and little profit is found in low income housing.

Final Words for Thought

Mayor Rusk talked about taxation and said elected officials and voters should never be afraid to invest in themselves with taxation to make a city viable and self-sustaining.

I for one have always been amused how conservative Republican heads spin like “Beetlejuice” whenever tax increases are ever discussed for essential services.

Republicans are the first to oppose any tax increases even for essential services yet they are the first in line to demand those services.

Two quotes that Mayor Rusk said that stuck out to me were:

“Taxes are the dues we pay to live in a civilized society.”

“Jim Crow by income is replacing Jim Crow by race.”

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Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.