Cruces District 2 council candidates on the issues
Fred Espinosa, Charles Scholz and Gregory Z. Smith, the candidates for the District 2 seat on the Las Cruces City Council, answer NMPolitics.net’s questions on topics ranging from growth and development to ethics reform to quality of life and sustainability
The District 2 seat on the Las Cruces City Council is open because Dolores Connor is giving it up to run for mayor. The three candidates battling to replace Connor provided responses to NMPolitics.net’s questions on topics ranging from growth and development to ethics reform to quality of life and sustainability.
Because each District 2 candidate responded to the questions a little differently – Scholz provided more general responses while Espinosa provided specific responses and Smith provided lengthy, specific responses – I’m sorting and formatting responses differently than I did with the responses from District 1 candidates. I’ve sorted the questions into three categories, but I’ll list all the questions in a particular category up front and then provide a candidate’s full responses in that category together.
Because some of Smith’s responses were longer than those from the other candidates (candidates were told there was no word minimum or limit), where necessary some portions of Smith’s responses will start with a note in parenthesis about which question he’s answering.
Here are the questions and the candidates’ responses:
Growth and development
The questions: Four years ago the primary issue in the Las Cruces election was the city’s growth. What has the city done in the last four years related to growth and development that you agree with, and what have you disagreed with? Do you support the city’s implementation of impact fees? Why or why not? Has the city adequately kept up with the need for police and fire coverage? If not, how could it do better? Do you believe that attracting retirees to Las Cruces is a major economic strategy that should continue, or is there something else the city should focus on as retirees from other areas are having a more difficult time selling houses and moving? What does the city need to do in the next four years about growth and development, and what would you do as a councilor to make it happen?
“In relation to the growth and development of Las Cruces, we have taken some steps to implement progress; however, faced with the needs we see currently from the employment issues, and businesses closing their doors because of the costs involved to stay afloat, much less make a profit, we need to take a hard look at the past mistakes that have hindered business growth, put a magnifying glass on our city departments, trim where needed and get after the business at hand to make Las Cruces a business-friendly city. That is my definition of growth.
“I do not support impact fees for many reasons, mainly because the people ultimately suffer. Builders and business owners should not have to pay more for the development of infrastructure than they currently do. The cost of materials, labor and fees create a loss for each project that ultimately affects jobs.
“We need to address the needs of our city’s police and fire departments. With a growth of over 27,000 people since 2000, why haven’t we placed a higher priority on adding to our police force, gang task force, fire rescue special teams as well as our regional dispatch authority? I will find out.
“I sincerely believe this is a great place for retired people to settle; however, Las Cruces has held firm to a tradition of family values for decades – a tradition of helping people to receive an education, work to support a family, raise children in a safe community, and know that the most precious commodity we have is our people. We have to work together to make wise choices that create a future for generations to come. Education is the key. As your District 2 councilor I will constantly work to maintain honesty, firmness and integrity within city management. We must hold ourselves and the employees of Las Cruces accountable both fiscally and professionally.”
“My vision for the city is Planned Growth. I believe more growth is inevitable. I see it driven by new industries like solar and bio-fuel and by the spaceport. We will also continue to attract new residents, people who come here to work, to learn, or to retire. This potential growth will be because of our climate, the beauty of our landscape and our quality of life. So, we need to plan for our Future growth.
“To keep from creating an urban sprawl, we should encourage development in areas that are already served by infrastructure, transportation and commerce.
“I support the impact fees for public safety. I don’t believe the other impact fees are necessary at this time.”
Gregory Z. Smith
“In the area of how we encourage growth, I have agreed with the downtown revitalization efforts, the visioning for the El Paseo Corridor, and the incentives for infill development. I have also felt that it has been wise to scrutinize more carefully the plans for developments that may unduly stress our infrastructure or run the risk of not being completed as promised. I believe a more thoughtful and measured approach to growth helps ensure greater success for all sectors of our community, including those that are in the business of development. Success comes in the form of what is made possible for those living and working here as well as for those who may contemplate moving themselves, their families, or their companies here.
“I have disagreed with some aspects of the University Avenue Corridor development. I would like to see us use zoning and incentives to encourage a healthy mix of uses along the University Corridor versus turning the avenue from I-25 to I-10 into a single, long strip mall.
“I also disagree with attempts to tag Las Cruces with not being in favor of growth. Growth is an inevitable part of being in a location with so many attractive features, but we can encourage those ways of growing that enhance our community health and attractiveness as opposed to simply growing.
“(On impact fees) I have expressed limited support for the city’s implementation of impact fees previously in my campaign blog, to council members and others who asked my opinion, and at the various candidate forums. That limited support has been based on the understanding that the cost of the infrastructure is going to be borne by the end users… and the larger community… one way or another in the end. We must find a way to pay for the needed infrastructure in a way that is fair to all and doable.
“The distribution of initial expenses; the extent of what gets done, how effectively it gets done, and how expensively it gets done; and the long term expenses of connecting, retrofitting, repairing, and maintaining once the infrastructure is in the public domain are the questions that drive my wish that some key aspects to how the impact fees are structured could have been handled differently:
“ 1. Given that developers and contractors may be able to currently establish the required infrastructure less expensively and on credit, the city having a set fee, and one that is extracted whole and before work starts, can present understandable frustration. I would suggest that the city’s arguments for the fees would have been better served if more time could have been spent showing how it would cost less and be more lasting for the city to do the infrastructure than if the contractors do it themselves. The city’s case could have benefitted even further if it had included a list of qualifiers and a program allowing for payment on an installment plan.
“ 2. Rotarians recognize this question: Is it fair to all concerned? While making a case for those who increase the infrastructure needs being the ones to pay for them, the city unfortunately included scenarios where existing infrastructure in already-established areas could be updated or replaced by the fees. In the fairness arena, this would seem to miss the mark. More attention should have been given to separating out funding streams so that there would be less question of fairness. Rules should, as much as possible, be fair, consistent and transparent.
“ 3. Insufficient time was spent clarifying that not only would implementation of the fees be delayed, but also that the council still has an option to either further delay them or abandon them if the economic situation does not improve.
“In short, I believe I understand why the Las Cruces City Council felt they had to impose the impact fees, but I believe some significant amendments to the structure of the program and its presentation to the public should have occurred.
“(On police and fire coverage) I believe the city has adequately kept up, yes, but more can certainly be done. If we do more to improve those aspects of planning and community pride that can reduce crime and fire hazards (an ounce of prevention), we reduce the need for special equipment and uniformed officers to deal with the consequences of not having done those things (the pound of cure). So, before giving a knee-jerk reaction to crime and fire issues and saying we need more coverage, I would suggest we need to be looking more to the root issues and seeing if we are addressing them adequately. If we determine that we are already providing all of the ‘ounces of prevention’ that we can, then I would encourage us to turn to finding the ‘pounds of cure.’
“Specifically, the new Mesilla Valley Regional Dispatch Authority center does need to get built. Police and fire stations need to keep pace with our growth. However, despite some apparent recent increases in some crimes, we are actually doing pretty well here, and better job opportunities may reduce some crime statistics while better early intervention may reduce some others. There is also something to be said, as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, for how we plan services and amenities in this community and the opportunities we give members of this community to take pride in where we live, who we are, what we do.
“(On retirees) Attracting retirees has been a productive strategy for Las Cruces, but the natural diversity of this place suggests that we should always work to appeal to a broader demographic. Retirees bring a wealth of knowledge and experience that contribute to the lifeblood of our community. Retirees living in Las Cruces with business executives, young families, and farm workers will help us establish a broad based and inclusive community here.
“(On growth during the next four years) In the next four years the city can refine the promotion, planning, and permitting processes to better encourage measured growth that is still profitable for developers and investors. As a city councilor, I can help by doing the following:
“ 1. Researching what other cities have done and what innovative ideas or programs are available
“ 2. Continuing to communicate with constituents and residents to hear their concerns and validate their experiences
“ 3. Insisting that we bring our codes, ordinances, and rules into line with our goals and needs so that we are not constantly spot zoning, issuing waivers and variances, and otherwise undermining the strength of those rules
“ 4. Supporting the customer service initiatives already begun at City Hall and exploring some departmental restructuring to include specialists for downtown revitalization and infill projects, commercial hub projects, mixed use projects, and residential projects
“Growth is inevitable. Accommodating it in ways that respect the residents, their connections to the past, their needs in the present, and their aspirations for the future, is what will make Las Cruces a truly great community.”
The questions: In the last two election cycles we’ve seen political committees get involved in Las Cruces elections and push back against disclosure by laws by, at least initially, not filing finance reports with the city. At a state level and in Albuquerque, there have been efforts to reform campaigns by instituting contribution limits and public financing and increasing transparency by requiring more frequent campaign reporting. Other ethics reforms have included webcasting and limits on gifts elected officials can accept.
Yet in Las Cruces, we’ve seen no structural reform. We don’t require frequent campaign reporting. We have no limits on contributions. Advertising doesn’t have to state who paid for it.
Does Las Cruces need to tackle campaign and ethics reform? Why or why not? Have you done anything to promote reform in the past? What specific reforms would you propose if you’re elected, if any? Do you support tougher reporting requirements and more frequent reporting deadlines? Do you support contribution limits and/or public financing? Are you concerned about recent political action committee involvement in city elections? Why or why not? If you are concerned, what should be done about it?
“I believe candidates and elected officials should be honest and open as to who gives them money. I would accept the state limits as a good starting point. I also support timely reporting of PAC contributions, from in state or from out of state.
“I note that New Mexico is currently being sued over the state requirements about campaign contributions. It appears as though some people don’t want honest, open reporting.”
Gregory Z. Smith
“I emphatically believe we need ethics reform, but we need to make sure that any reforms we put in place actually have the intended result. We do not want to provide loopholes for those who will seek ways around the system, nor do we want to have unintended consequences that encourage corruption or penalize honesty.
“I have limited financial contributions to the Gregory Z. Smith Campaign to only those coming from within District 2. All others are respectfully refused or returned. We have not set an upper limit on contributions and we have accepted them mainly from the residents of District 2, but there have also been a few contributions from businesses in the district. This is a self-imposed restriction, and while it makes absolute sense to me, I am not sure I would want to try to enforce it on other candidates.
“I would caution against overzealous restrictions and instead suggest a three-pronged approach:
“Education – Inform candidates, officials, and the general public about existing laws, community standards, and the benefits of ethical behavior.
“Reporting – Instead of a long slate of restrictions, require that sources of contributions (financial, manpower, media, and advertising) be shared in an accessible, public way so that the voters know when candidates are getting most of their support from one entity or from outside their community. Candidates should also continue to report before and after the election on what their expenditures have been.
“Law – Institute a minimum of legal restrictions so that a simple standard is known and can be enforced, such as a maximum campaign amount allowed from one person or entity, a maximum total cash contributions limit, and possibly a maximum number of ‘in-kind’ hours or resources that can be contributed.
“Two issues are more complicated than they seem at first blush, and I cannot provide answers at this time. I have very mixed feelings about public financing, and I would have to say that I cannot support it yet. PAC involvement is a very real concern, but we seem to be at the mercy of the Supreme Court decisions and national laws on that piece. These two should probably wait, while others need to move forward sooner rather than later.
“In all, I think the community needs to make its standards known by how it votes, and I would always encourage the voters to learn what they can about the candidates so that they are indeed choosing to vote for people to represent them whose integrity, honesty, and ethics are above reproach.”
“Campaign reform is a needed piece of our political process. In my campaign experience, I have had the opportunity to communicate with many business and political professionals. In many situations, I have learned that integrity is vital when managing the hard earned dollars of your constituents. Rules, guidelines and checkpoints are a needed part of accountability. If you do the right thing, you shouldn’t have to fight to hide what you’re doing. I am aware that someone is always watching you, whether it is your four-year-old grandson or a potential candidate. Let’s do the right thing and teach others to do so as well.”
Quality of life and sustainability
The questions: The city has made an intentional effort in the last few years to focus on quality of life and sustainability. What would you do as a councilor to ensure that the city is planning for its future? Please identify specific initiatives or proposals you want to implement in the next four years.
What specific measures would you support to ensure the city has enough water in the future? Do you support the city’s strategy of purchasing surface water rights? Why or why not?
Do you support the new curbside recycling program? Do you support turning driving lanes on city streets into bike paths, as was done on Solano? In these economic times, should the city be spending money on adding parks and bike and walking trails, as it has done during the last four years? Should the city buy the old Las Cruces Country Club to turn it into a park? Do you support the use of red-light cameras? On all of these questions, why or why not?
Gregory Z. Smith
“I have made quality-of-life issues the keystone of my campaign. For that keystone to support all that rests upon it, we need to establish a foundation with rewarding jobs and ensure that we have stable infrastructure. With quality-of-life initiatives, we can become a more vibrant community. Las Cruces will be more attractive and prosperous for those currently calling Las Cruces home as well as be better able to attract new people to the area.
“The Vision 2040 Plan that is being crafted by many people in this community is a good guideline that can be used toward adopting five- and ten-year plans that address immediate needs while Vision 2040 steers us toward a shining future in thirty years. The Plan can only function as a guide because it cannot predict all of the needs, technologies, trends, and opportunities that will present themselves to us. Still, an eye toward what is likely and what is desired will help us prepare to do our best with the resources and inspirations available to us.
“Specifically, I would like for us to use our capabilities under the MRA and with the TIDD to add more power to the efforts to revitalize our downtown. It holds our greatest opportunity to demonstrate that we are a community that cares enough about who we are to attract and keep jobs, commerce, and professional people. I would also like to see us expand our Main Street revitalization efforts to south Main and revitalize historic ‘downtown’ Mesilla Park.
“(On water) Concerns about water availability have been building for years, and they have only become more distressing with the recent drought. Perhaps much of the public is still unaware of the various lawsuits working their ways through the courts regarding water, but the coming decisions may have lasting repercussions for those of us using well water as well as for what may happen with water from the Rio Grande. In the past, all of the water provided by the City of Las Cruces came from wells, and that supply may still be considered plentiful, but it is not endless. Increasingly, the city, in its efforts to providing a secure supply of water, is looking at where it can find that security, including surface water.
“I appreciate the desire to think ahead and prepare, but I have to express concern about upsetting a delicate balance here, especially if there are not sufficient efforts being made to reduce our urban water consumption.
“With that awareness, I would encourage the City to avoid landscaping plans that require large amounts of water to sustain a lush appearance where people are not likely to be able to enjoy the shade or to play on the grass. I would ask for park areas and landscaping to be designed to take as much advantage of rainwater as possible and have rain-sensitive cut-offs on automatic watering systems so that sprinklers and drip systems are not running just after or even during a rain. I would ask that the codes be changed so that parking areas can be paved with pervious surfaces to allow for more water percolation back into the soil and to allow “grey” water to be used for landscape watering purposes. I would also ask that a water task force be set up including farmers, business and industry owners, and community residents to seek collaborative and creative ways to ensure we are all getting the water we need, sharing the water we can share, and promulgating systems that will serve us and future inhabitants of the Mesilla Valley well.
“I understand the impetus behind the City of Las Cruces seeking more sources of water. What has to be kept in mind is that we need to maintain a reasonable balance between the water users: agriculture, industry, homes, and recreation. This implies looking for more opportunities to think as ‘we’ instead of ‘us and them.’”
“(On curbside recycling) I do support Las Cruces finally having curbside recycling. I think more effort could have been put into doing it without a rate increase, and perhaps someday we can actually roll back some of the costs by taking some initiative with our recycling and waste disposal. One way we can do this is by attracting businesses to our community that use recycled materials to create products. This would be a two-fold benefit – one, it would create jobs for the economy of Las Cruces, and two, it would enhance the market for recycled materials.
“(On turning driving lanes into bike paths) The Solano change was not only to provide bike lanes: My understanding is that a primary reason for the change was that it now provides a left turning lane that was not possible before. So, traffic tends to move at a safer speed now on Solano, there are left turn lanes meaning few rear-end collisions and fewer sudden lane changes, AND there are now bike lanes that are used by a number of people commuting to and from NMSU. I have driven and walked Solano to try to observe the impact the change has had on traffic. While I have heard that it can bottleneck a little when the southbound lanes converge into one lane north of District 2, I have never observed that the traffic is significantly impeded, and I have to support the currently safer conditions along with the increased biking capacity.
“(On adding parks and trails) I faced a similar question two years ago when members of the board of directors of the Downtown Las Cruces Partnership were deliberating the wisdom of supporting getting the north end of downtown Main Street opened. It was not an automatic ‘yes’ for me.
“The questions I asked myself then and would ask myself in regard to similar questions about parks and trails are the following:
“ 1. Is this a ‘priming of the pump’ situation where what is done here will help more benefits come in other areas to the people of Las Cruces?
“ 2. Are the resources that are available for this project some that would still be available for other more beneficial projects if this project was not done?
“ 3. What are the long-term benefits of this project being done versus the long-term disadvantages of it not being done?
“In that instance, I eventually was persuaded that the multiplier effect for the whole community was worth the commitment to the street. I am inclined to think similar ‘quality-of-life infrastructure’ efforts would be similarly beneficial, but I will look at them on a case-by-case basis.
“No project, no group, no individual or business gets a free pass with me. Even if our economic situation improves, I want to ask those and similar questions to ensure that we are using our resources effectively to make the quality of life in Las Cruces a source of pride now and in the future.
“(On turning the old country club into a park) I have heard it suggested that the old Country Club could be converted to a park at virtually no cost to the city. I have to ask if that is one of those ‘if it is too good to be true it is!’ situations. Surely, the City of Las Cruces will have to maintain the park, and those costs are considerable. So, I don’t have an immediate yes or no answer to this question. I’d first have to be asking some questions of my own:
“ 1. What statistics do we have supporting the assertion that a park of this size (Apodaca and Country Club combined) is needed in this community?
“ 2. What other benefits will accrue from this large park being owned and operated by the city?
“ 3. Is there any private-sector interest in owning a golf course, are there enough golfers in this community to support five golf courses here, and will the current owner allow the property to be sold as a golf course?
“ 4. Would a string of parks or several small parks, possibly connecting with the new hike/bike trail connecting Triviz to the Rio Grande, be a way to respect the homeowners there while adding parkland and allowing for some multi-use development?
“ 5. What are the impacts on traffic patterns of the various options?
“(On red-light cameras) I support the use of whatever methods are legal, economical, respectful, and effective in reducing the number of times people run red lights in this community. It is not just dangerous; it can be deadly. If red-light cameras help drivers respect our traffic laws and reduce accidents, I am for them. If there is a better, more economical, more enforceable way to do this, I’d like to learn about it.”
“I firmly believe we should take a proactive stand to encourage professional growth in our local business sector, growth that creates opportunities for mentorship programs allowing our citizens to learn a trade, work on their internships and complete their educational process. With grants and funds available to help business pay a portion of the wages earned, this will be a two-fold benefit: create jobs and build stronger business.
“As a veteran of the United States Armed Forces, I feel it is our duty to develop programs that welcome challenge and growth for our veterans. What a great way to say Thank You for serving their country.”
“I am for researching every alternative available to preserve our water resources. One way is to use a third-party research and consulting team without a vested interest in these resources.
“I believe in recycling; however, do not believe that the city should have imposed the mandatory recycling fees it started this year. We as a people should have the right to vote for this fee as well as other special-interest projects that get pushed on the citizens of our city.
“The bike lanes are a good idea in concept; however, the locations were poorly chosen. Why are we hindering the very businesses that provide our goods and services with single-lane traffic, hard-to-enter driveways and limited pathways? This is counterproductive to business growth.
“I don’t think buying the country club is a good idea at this time. With the current financial situation in our Parks and Recreation Department, we need to take a hard look at what our pressing needs are, remove waste and buckle down to do the right thing, to care for the growing needs of our city youth, families and senior citizens.
“I am a supporter of the red-light cameras; however, I stand firm that Las Cruces should manage the use of these cameras, not an outside source that profits from this. If we own the camera equipment we should be able to create jobs to provide the needed maintenance or, at the very least, allow a locally owned contractor to manage this project.”
“The theme of my campaign is For Our Future. One of my primary goals is Planned Development. This means development that takes into account the geographic, economic, and social elements that make up our quality of life.
“I support the recycling program. Burying trash is an outmoded concept.
“I am very much in favor of developing a Premier Park in the former County Club location. There are two problems associated with that concept: How are we going to pay for it? And how can we afford to maintain it?
“If I recall correctly, the mayor presented a proposal several years ago that involved selling off part of the land to commercial development and using the money raised to help pay for the purchase of the property. That seems to me to be one solution to the funding problem.
Maintaining it is something else again. Parks and Recreation already has a difficult time keeping all existing parks in good shape. I think this is because they are underfunded. So we should not take on a new park if we aren’t willing to pay for its upkeep.
“The water situation can be helped by using ‘gray water’ instead of potable water on lawns and golf courses. The city already has a plant on East Mesa that produces treated water. Now we need to plumb the city to take advantage of it.”
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