“It’s about time someone in a position of power called out the Commissioners like De La Cruz who disrespect us, mislead us, and step over us on behalf of the developers.” Roberto Roibal, SWOP

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Today, the Honorable Judge Nancy Franchini of the New Mexico Second Judicial District Court, ruled that the Bernalillo County Commission did not grant community advocates a fair hearing when it approved the “Zone Map Amendment” (ZMA) for the proposed Santolina mega-development. The decision hinged on a pro-Santolina Op-Ed in the Albuquerque Journal that was penned by former Commissioner Art De La Cruz before a public hearing was held on the proposed development. Commissioner De La Cruz voted in the majority in a 3-2 vote to approve the ZMA and Level A Master Plan on June 16, 2015.

The Judge’s ruling (page 17) states:

Appellants were entitled to a fair and impartial tribunal on approval of the ZMA [zone map amendment] and the concurrent denial of their CPC [County Planning Commission] appeal. The Op-Ed, in the Court’s opinion, raises questions of partiality and prejudgment, or the appearance thereof, sufficient to warrant at the very least the Board’s consideration of the recusal or disqualification of Commissioner De La Cruz. Accordingly, the Court REVERSES the Decision approving the ZMA and the denial of Appellants’ appeal of the CPC’s recommendation of the ZMA to the Board. The Court REMANDS these two matters to the Board for proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

“This decision confirms that the Board of County Commissioners was required, but did not, provide our clients a fair hearing,” says Douglas Meiklejohn, New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC) Executive Director and attorney. “This is a win for due process.”

“The Santolina development proceedings have been an absolute embarrassment to the County and people of Bernalillo,” says Roberto Roibal, Organizer, SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP). “Over and over the developers present weak, incomplete plans, and they expect us to pay for it. It’s about time someone in a position of power called out the Commissioners like De La Cruz who disrespect us, mislead us, and step over us on behalf of the developers.”

Judge Franchini’s decision comes more than 18 months after community advocates, including the SouthWest Organizing Project, Pajarito Village Association and several individuals, asked the Court to overturn the Bernalillo County Commission’s Santolina Level A approvals. They are represented by the non-profit, public-interest law firm, NMELC.

Santolina is a 90,000+ person development proposed for 22 square acres of Bernalillo County on the western edge of Albuquerque. Four hearings were held by the Bernalillo County Commission in 2015, resulting in the adoption of the Level A Master Plan for the development, as well as a change to the zoning map that encompasses the Santolina property. An overwhelming number of residents who testified before the Commission asked the Commission to deny the Level A Master Plan.

New Mexico Environmental Law Center is celebrating 30 years of fighting for environmental justice for the people of New Mexico. The NMELC’s mission is to protect New Mexico’s communities and their air, land and water in the fight for environmental justice.