Interview with District 3 City Councilor Klarissa Pena

By Nick Vottero

One of the biggest things I’ve noticed about living in the South Valley is how unincorporated it is. There are certain parts that are, and some that are not. How has the history of the South Valley in those aspects made it difficult for some of those districts to receive public funding? I don’t think it makes it difficult to receive public funding. I think that throughout the years it has been an area that has been underserved, I hate to say underrepresented, but the previous representatives did the best they could when communities had been historically redlined by several factors. The South Valley has been incorporated in a checkerboard pattern. There are some areas that are within the City of Albuquerque, and that is a result of some lax rules in terms of getting property incorporated into the City. Previously the only standard for incorporation was contiguity, but now the County requires permission for incorporation. I think the initial plan was to incorporate the area as the City grew, but now that the County requires permission there are some additional factors to consider. The County is trying to increase their base for tax revenue, which is important to County residents. The checkerboard incorporation has made it difficult to get City services to the incorporated areas. I think a lot of people like the rural quality of the South Valley, and that is something we have to consider as we envision what we want to see. We can expand onto the West Mesa, but if people want to grow inward instead of out, we have to look at infilling more rural areas like the South Valley. It sounds great to grow up instead of out, but the infill might affect the rural feeling of the South Valley, something I have a lot of reservations about and something I’ve heard about from my constituents.

Do you feel that the dual representation of the South Valley and the intergovernmental relationship of the City and the County affects the ability of residents to effectively create change or receive public funding/resources? There’s an ongoing discussion, something that has already been voted down twice, of merging the City and County districts in the largest unincorporated areas. It’s challenging when the two governments aren’t working together. When the previous commissioner was in office we started this discussion, but Commissioner Quezada has been incredibly productive in developing a regular plan for collaboration to address the immediate needs for the community. This partnership has been working well for now, but we are looking into more institutionalized solutions.

In the South Valley, community and neighborhood gatherings play a large role in providing a space for the residents to come together, but there aren’t many large commercial hubs where different neighborhoods can come together for large events; there’s just too much sprawl. A correlate might be the Civic Plaza for the Downtown and surrounding communities. Where do you see these spaces beginning to develop effectively, and what do you see as appropriate areas to focus the infill that are sustainable and forward thinking? You know, there are two distinct districts that I see. The Southwest Mesa is already emerging as a commercial hub and a great place to focus on more infill. The South Valley doesn’t have an existing hub for community gatherings, their community is really built around the gathering places unique to each neighborhood. It’s a question to consider, but as to where that space belongs, that is something the residents will have to answer as we continue to allocate resources for the area. I could see Bridge being an effective corridor for that space to be situated, we’ll see.

The prioritization of micro-enterprise job fairs by the City Council to amplify the kinds of initiatives undertaken by the City of Albuquerque with the One Albuquerque Campaign is heartening for districts like the South Valley that often do not have the density of foot traffic to encourage new vendors to bring their art and wares to more public spaces. One thing we’ve noticed is the number of home addresses registered as primary business addresses for residents of the South Valley, and we’ve found that about half of the vendors we’ve met through our work have not yet registered for business licenses with the City or County. What led you to push this idea to the more underserved areas? How will you structure these fairs in communities like this? A lot of the enclaves of local culture maintain significance in the lives of the people from the South Valley. Though there aren’t regular meeting places, you have people from all over the City who are always coming back. The South Valley is unique; you can’t find anything like it. There is also a lot of potential within the communities. There was a lot of investment in downtown, with housing and mass transit because of the trends in other large cities, but as councilmembers, we’re trying to direct the growth and investment of the City based on our knowledge of our communities and constituents. Most millennials are living in the Southwest part of town. When we’re trying to promote entrepreneurs in our community, we can’t overlook the potential of the people in the Southwest part of the City, where most small businesses in Albuquerque begin. There has been a bit of a disconnect with how the permitting process operates and the small businesses who are just getting started. We can’t just rely on them coming to us; we have to go to them where they are. That’s why we’re modeling the small business fair after West Fest. I always say that West Fest is a community meeting disguised as a fiesta. It won’t just be a place where you go to register or get information. We want it to be engaging and we want to work with the business owners to find out what we can do better.

Is there something other neighborhoods can do to better collaborate with the City Council in bringing events like this to their neighborhoods? Ultimately, we want this project to be something that can be replicated. I’m sure we’ll learn a lot in the process. We want to focus on training participants effectively on the first time around. We want our participants to understand that this isn’t just a networking opportunity, but an opportunity to effectively share.

Nick Vottero is the Chair of Two Way Street’s Research and Development Committee. Photo: Nick Vottero
City Councilor Klarissa Pena represents segments of the South Valley that lie within City of Albuquerque limits. Photo: Albuquerque City Council Website

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