Sunday, December 18, 2016

Fitting the County Commission's UDC Meeting into a Busy Day

I rush from the County Commission UDC meeting to take my 86-year-old friend to the doctor. 

My friend was an NMSU professor here for thirty years. In 1965, he briefly made Cruces famous, when he and some other locals made a low-budget feature film, in days when only Hollywood made features. AP ran a national story on him. Now he shuffles into the doctor's office, unknown.

“Beautiful mountains,” he says, pointing at the Organs. (I could do a column on people's first reactions to the Organs.) He first saw them in newspaper articles NMSU professor Newman Reed sent after NMSU offered him a job. (When Reed started here, Solano still had cattle-gates.) 

Thinking cattle-gates reminds me of the UDC, which so many worked so hard to make the best it could be. Others tried to sabotage it, saying it's imperfect (which, like anything human-made, it is) and should be tabled, left to the next commission. “Left to die,” they mean. If they really meant improvements, then amendments could do that. Why would we want new commissioners to spend hundreds of hours, or make Planning & Zoning and scores of citizens repeat endless hours of hearings, to make unspecified small improvements? 

After the doctor, I take my friend to the bank. From the parking lot on Telshor, I let the western mountains on the horizon catch my eye. I'm glad I returned to live under this vast sky. 

A realtor told the Commission he'd heard a lot of talk about democracy, and that the UDC shouldn't be passed. He didn't really explain what was wrong with it, except that it was “restrictive.” Reasonable restrictions, while they may protect citizens, can be inconvenient for realtors.)

So I said more about democracy. The county worked on this thing for years. I feel like people have been inviting me to UDC meetings since I was about seven years old. There were countless public-input meetings throughout the county. The P&Z held lengthy, detailed meetings – some of which my wife attended, hour after hour, watching the sausage get made. Right up to the end, staff and the P&Z were making recommendations responding to public input. The P&Z made recommendations. The elected Commission acted. Commissioner David Garcia, who always seems painfully earnest about trying to do what's right, ensured that key questions concerning affordable housing and grazing rights were aired, heard from numerous citizens, then cast the deciding vote. Yep, democracy.

I stop for supper at the Co-op, a democratic institution which is celebrating its 40th year. I'm thinking about time and change and our varied roles over time in a place we call home. Tuesday the huge Commission Chambers were filled today. Forty years ago, when I was a reporter, the commission (just three commissioners then) met in the old courthouse, in a small room with hardly a dozen chairs. No one contemplated a UDC – or a county nearly so populous! Everything east of Tortugas Mountain was desert where we dirt-biked. Retired City Manager Robert Garza was a mischievous kid. Saturday we watched his son help NMSU beat UNM. 

My wife joins me at the Co-op. She talks and laughs with staff, hugs some of them, listens. Earlier she spoke passionately at the Commission meeting. After the UDC passed, she stood talking at length with people who'd opposed it, listening to their arguments, hoping to facilitate better communication between them and County staff.

We all do the best we can. The Commission did its best. We all owe thanks to the departing commissioners, even if we sometimes disagreed with them.
[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 18 December 206, and on  the newspaper's website, and will appear presently on the KRWG-TV website.]

[I wasn't happy with this column.  Maybe trying to mix things that don't mix so well: a brief account of the County Commission meeting on the Uniform Development Code and a more impressionistic portrait of a day that seemed to feature a couple of things I think about now and then, the varied roles we perform in our community in a given day and the changes in our roles and relationships over long periods of time in a particular place.  The latter fit in with part of what I wanted to say about the UDC, while the former was just something my day seemed to thrust into my thoughts.  (Before dawn I was writing a fictional scene set in 1968, a scene in which one character, listening on radio to the Chicago Convention, concludes that the only way to stop the Viet Nam war would be to start assassinating high public figures; riding to pickleball, I spent 20 minutes counseling a legal client, then spent another ten minutes talking with a second client before I got to play; I enjoyed pickleball; then I listened and even got up a couple of times to speak about the UDC; then I was sort of a caregiver for my friend; then I supped at the Mountain View Co-op, to use up the hour before my KTAL Radio board meeting.)  
Driving my friend around helped make me think about changes over time.  He got here in 1959, I think.  More than a half-century ago.  I arrived 20 years later.  He was a professor, married, with a daughter and soon a son as well.  At 40, he had never camped in the wilderness or ridden a motorcycle, although a few years later those became the focus of his life.  He got divorced.  We rode dirt bikes around outside our small town, and street bikes across the country.  He retired and became a hermit on our land at the southern end of Sierra County, building a modest home himself, for perhaps $5,000, and living out there without electricity or indoor plumbing or paved road for 24 years, until health mandated the move back into town.  Now he no longer drives, or walks very far.  His mind's still sharp, though, and he's still funny.  Friends and former students still enjoy hanging out with him, making a trip with him to the grocery store much more a pleasure than a chore.  Too, he was always an open, generous sort, inspires the same attitude toward him now.
An incident at the Co-op illustrated the change theme too.  An acquaintance joined me briefly.  Thinking about the idea of a column about people's first glimpses of the Organ Mountains, I asked about his.  He recounted a visit here in the early 1990's to his brother.  That reminded me that although I'm not sure I've ever actually met his brother, about 45 years ago we were seeing the same woman (who was actually married to someone else) for a short time.  I thought about how much that all mattered at the time, and about the fact that now I can't recall her name.  
And a community changes over time too.   This one is no longer what it was in many memories; but the populous county we are now, with all sorts of development all over, probably needs a UDC.
At any rate, sometimes a piece of writing can combine a couple of very different elements in a way that sheds a little more light on both.  I don't think I managed that here.  Sorry.]

1 comment:

  1. Nevertheless, as a newcomer to Las Cruces, I enjoyed the column and your commentary. Thanks!
    Sue Redfern-Campbell