LAS CRUCES, New Mexico -- The 13th State of the City address was delivered Wednesday by Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima before a noon hour audience at City Hall.
He outlined initiatives he would like the city to work on in the months ahead, including creating affordable housing and a county-wide behavorial health district to better provide services.
Miyagishima also said he would also like to see a major commercial and transportation corridor that links downtown Las Cruces to the New Mexico State University campus.
Below is a complete transcript of the mayor's remarks...
Good afternoon everyone. Bienvenidos todos. Thank you for being here. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.
As always, I want to express deep appreciation to my colleagues on the city council, to our city staff, and to all our fellow citizens in attendance or watching at home. I especially want to welcome and thank my wife and first lady, Rosie Miyagishima, for your love and support.
I’m pleased to announce that the state of our city is strong.
We meet today in the wake last November’s city election. I’m honored to have been chosen for another term as mayor. I’m excited by our two new city councilors, Tessa Abeyta-Stuve and Johana Bencomo, and by the re-election of Councilor Kasandra Gandara, who will serve as mayor pro-tem. We’re sorry to lose City Councilors Greg Smith and Jack Eakman, but grateful for their years of dedicated service and skillful guidance. Fortunately we will be able to continue working with Greg in his new capacity as Executive Director of the Doña Ana Arts Council.
Elections are the way, in a democratic society, we choose our leaders. They also give us the opportunity to regularly affirm – or change – the path we have taken. My own sense is that the results of the November election reflect general satisfaction with what we’ve accomplished in the City over the past decade, and for the kind of future we’re still working to create.
Las Crucens are justifiably proud of our new plaza and active downtown, our improved streets and recreation facilities, our steadily improving infrastructure and expanding economy. We share an appreciation for the city’s financial stability, strong reserves and high bond rating, maintained by successive councils through good times and bad. We have grown as a city within our distinctive culture and welcoming lifestyle, so that this remains a great place to live.
It’s only fitting that these achievements were recognized during the course of the election campaign; because they are successes created and shared by all of us, whatever our political orientation. Our strength as a city remains rooted in our people, with all our daily contributions to one another’s lives.
And, while candidates may have differed in approach and philosophy, there continues to be remarkable unanimity in what we want in our city. We all want good schools and safe neighborhoods. We want opportunities to earn a living and facilities for public recreation. We want continued re-investment in each other and our quality of life, creating a platform for mutual support and individual expression, with shared respect and high hopes for us all.
I would like to highlight today some areas that will be particularly important to us as a city in coming months.
A major task will be to hire a new city manager, one of the most important things we do as a mayor and council. For my part, I will be looking for someone hard-working and responsive, and who understands that his or her job – like mine – is 24/7, 365 days a year. I want someone who will maintain our careful financial stewardship, and understands what an advantage it gives us as a city. I want someone who will present clear pros and cons on every issue, and someone who works well with both councilors and staff, treating everyone with respect, high expectations and a smile.
Finally, I want someone who is thrilled beyond measure to be here, and eager to be a part of what we’re doing as a city. He or she needs to understand that we’re serious about having our highest aspirations reflected in policy, whether it’s in support of traditional neighborhoods, or local businesses and area school children, or our strong determination to be transparent and inclusive in city decision-making.
When I was first elected mayor, there was widespread concern about future growth and development, and whether the city would remain a place we still want to live. In recent years we have dedicated ourselves to planning for the future more intentionally, building on the strengths and shared values of our community, and reflecting a consensus for how we want our lives to be.
This long-term commitment has culminated in the development of a new Comprehensive Plan for the City of Las Cruces, designed to shape growth and development over the next twenty years. The plan, called Elevate Las Cruces, represents input gathered from over a year and a half of community meetings, public workshops, online surveys of residents, and planning by consultants and city staff, all aimed at agreement on what we want Las Cruces to look like in the future, and policy changes that need to be enacted to achieve that result.
All of us, I think, are pleased by the results, especially with its emphasis on sustainable growth, quality of life, economic prosperity and preservation of our natural environment.
Of note as we move toward final adoption are discussions about how land within the city limits that is owned by the State Land Office will be treated for planning purposes. We look forward to working closely with the Land Office to make sure development of those parcels occurs cooperatively, and in ways supportive of the overall vision of the people in this community.
In any case, completion of the Plan was a herculean effort, spearheaded and overseen throughout by the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee. Members of the Committee are with us today, and I would like them to stand so we can recognize them:
Committee Chair and former Mayor Pro-tem Sharon Thomas; Angela Roberson and Christina Ainsworth of Doña Ana County; George Vescovo of Vescovo Toyota; NMSU architect Heather Watenpaugh; local developer John Moscato; Todd Stuve from Memorial Medical Center; and Planning and Zoning Commission members James Bennett, Harvey Gordon, Roberta Gran, Luis Guerrero, Mary Ann Hendrickson, La Vonne Muñiz, Russ Smith and Abraham Sanchez.
Thank you all for your hard work on our behalf.
There are, of course, as always, a wide variety of projects underway in the city, including those made possible by the GO Bonds approved a little over a year ago by our voters. Our city staff and councilors will be bringing forward many other important proposals to consider.
I would like to take a moment to highlight a few specific areas for discussion today; initiatives that I believe will pay valuable dividends for our community for years to come.
The first is a more assertive role for the city in the development of affordable housing.
Access to quality housing is key to our residents’ ability to live as fully empowered members of the local community. While we haven’t had the extreme inflation in housing prices that some communities experience, home ownership and affordable rents remain out of reach for many of our residents. This is especially true for millennials; seniors and disabled people on fixed incomes; and young families with children, even when both parents are working.
We can, as a community, do more to meet this need.
I would like the City to make greater use of the investment portfolio of the Telshor Fund, a public benefit account created through the leasing of Memorial Medical Center, to make low-interest loans to local housing providers. These loans could be applied to the 10 percent matching portion of state and federal grants. Besides getting local proposals off the drawing board these investments would also provide a reasonable rate of return and valuable diversification for the Telshor Fund itself.
I also want us to be more proactive in acquiring infill property for new housing. In this way middle and lower-income residents can take advantage of already existing facilities and infrastructure, including public transit, so that more of their income can go to housing, and less to securing transportation from far out of town.
Finally, I would like us to achieve affordability within a wider variety of housing, including development that offers apartments and single-family homes, artists’ lofts, workspace and nearby retail facilities, and opportunities for both rentals and ownership of homes.
We have with us today two true champions in developing safe, well-designed housing options for our community: Rose Garcia of Tierra del Sol and Juan Olvera of the Mesilla Valley Housing Authority. I would like them to please stand so we can thank them for their creativity and accomplishments over many years.
I’m looking forward to working with these nonprofit leaders, and our whole development community, to provide ever-expanding housing opportunities in the City of Las Cruces.
A second area I would like to touch on briefly involves our development of 110 acres of prime real estate across from the Mountain View Regional Medical Center, land that Las Cruces acquired last year from the City of Albuquerque. This is a great project for us: rental of commercial real estate along Lohman will eventually provide hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in non-tax revenue for city activities. Non-commercial space can be developed as well, master-planned in a public process to include improvements like open areas, a nature park and a model residential community.
This is a tremendous opportunity for strategic investment in our future, and we will be engaging you regularly as planning proceeds.
A third area I want to discuss is behavioral health.
We have all become more aware of the behavioral challenges facing many in our community, and the role those challenges play in poor school performance, substance abuse, crime, homelessness, and reduced quality of life. We are realizing that law enforcement officers and classroom teachers have ended up being frontline responders for individuals in crisis, and that the county jail has become our de facto treatment facility, a role it was never intended to play.
All across the country cities and counties are working to address these concerns. The most effective responses work by drawing together the entire community – care providers, non-profits, law enforcement, and governmental entities – to collectively plan and develop comprehensive, multi-faceted service for affected residents.
My understanding of the power of collaborative effort has been deepened by Mayor Pro-tem Gandara’s leadership in our local 100% Community initiative. Focused on the lasting impact that trauma has on our children and their later lives, this fast-growing initiative has brought nonprofits, educators, individuals and governmental agencies together around a single goal: ensuring that our children grow up trauma-free and thriving, poised for bright futures as adults.
Another positive step has been the emergence of Local Collaborative 3, or LC3. Growing out of the Doña Ana Behavioral Health Collaborative and operating within Families and Youth, Inc., LC3 has taken on a role similar to that played by our local Success Partnership for education: the creation of a diverse, cross-sector coalition to coordinate and align, within a jointly developed plan and vision, the work of all the many heroic individuals and organizations that make up the behavioral health system for members of our community.
We are fortunate to have the CEO of FYI, Brian Kavanaugh, with us today, along with LC3 Coordinator Rose Ann Vasquez, Clinical Director, Jolene Martinez, and Collaborative Support Administrator, Gina Gibson. Thanks to all of you for your leadership in this important area.
In support of these initiatives and the larger goal of better coordination of planning and services, I have asked Mayor Pro-tem Gandara to work with our own city council, with Doña Ana County, and with the villages of Anthony, Hatch, Mesilla, and Sunland Park to create a county-wide Behavioral Health District, governed by a joint powers agreement among the various entities. This will allow us to better align governmental services and investments with the overall efforts of the larger behavioral health community, to provide better service and outcomes for us all.
A fourth initiative that I would like to describe is a concept first advanced a few years ago in the El Paseo Corridor Blueprint: the development of a major commercial and transportation corridor along El Paseo and Main Street, linking Downtown with New Mexico State University and the Convention Center.
What we envision is a vibrant corridor connecting residents, NMSU students and visitors with downtown restaurants and brewpubs; shopping; museums and cultural activities; the Plaza and community events. I, like the community members and staff who created the Blueprint, can easily imagine a true Paseo through the heart of the city, a well-landscaped thoroughfare with wide sidewalks for pedestrians, designated bike lanes, and leafy trees and shade structures along the way.
Key to corridor vibrancy, in my view, would also include frequent transit service back and forth between Downtown and the Convention Center, with distinctive vehicles modeled after the trolley-like buses used in Scottsdale and other popular tourist destinations. Frequent, dependable transit would in turn stimulate even more activity along the Corridor, including the development of student, millennial, and senior housing; expanded opportunities for business; and easy access for a growing workforce to staff those enterprises.
At a council work session next Monday we will be discussing the El Paseo Corridor and these exciting possibilities, right here in the Council Chambers at 1 pm. I hope many of you will be able to attend.
The final point I want to highlight today involves positioning the City of Las Cruces for real leadership in our country’s transition to a low carbon future.
I spoke at some length about this in last year’s State of the City speech. Since then concern about a rapidly warming climate has only deepened. In addition to effects already in evidence around the world – rising seas, failing agricultural regions, climate refugees, wildfires, unprecedented storms and widespread flooding – we can expect to be especially challenged here in Southern New Mexico by extreme heat, extended periods of drought, and threats to our river and aquifer from increased pumping and less water arriving from snow melt in the northern part of the state.
I would prefer not to bring this up again, focusing instead on the many positive things we have achieved as a city. But I attend national conferences of mayors, I am briefed with some regularity as to national trends, and I would be failing in my duty if I didn’t call attention to some of the many changes ahead for our city and economy, as we are all forced to move decisively away from carbon-based energy sources in coming years.
One thing we can expect is a steadily accelerating trend toward electrification of everything possible. This is because electricity can be generated by non-carbon sources like wind, geothermal and solar, and stored and distributed for later use by new technologies, many of which are already less expensive than fossil fuels. Traditional fuels will become more expensive through carbon taxes and other disincentives, and non-carbon fuels will take their place. This transition is already happening, on a worldwide scale, and like with the advent of personal computers and cell phones, it will go slowly at first, and then seemingly all at once.
We want our community to ride this wave rather than be swamped beneath it.
At a work session in April our Sustainability Officer and city staff will begin outlining the full range of implications for the City of this energy transition, to include for our fleet of vehicles; our buildings, both existing and proposed; and countless other impacts only now being realized. What we learn will help us set clear priorities for future decision-making and resource allocation.
These are challenges we need to anticipate and address for the future of our community. This will require not just technological advances but a large-scale reorientation of the way we relate to our natural world and to one another. It is also, in my view, a time of tremendous opportunity. Given our abundance of sunlight and other non-carbon fuel sources, our local university’s expertise in renewable technologies and desert agriculture, and our natural resilience as a culture and people, we are, I believe, well-positioned to be national leaders in this transition. If the council agrees with this assessment, we can set to work now creating policies and programs that will best secure our future, decisions that will continue to serve us for decades to come.
When I consider the initiatives I’ve just described to you, and all the many other challenges we’ve taken on over the years, I find myself deeply appreciative of who we are as a community.
At some point we decided we didn’t want to grow haphazardly and in ways that threaten our prosperity and happiness. We started thinking together about what we do want, and the result is our new Comprehensive Plan.
When Ms. Garcia and Mr. Olvera decided people need more housing options, they set to work building houses and apartments. When Councilor Gandara turned her attention to childhood trauma, she brought the rest of us along. When our friends at FYI and the larger behavioral health community realized that we need to coordinate our efforts, they formed the LC3 collaborative, something we as a city can enthusiastically support. As we seek to be leaders in a planet-wide transition to renewable energy, we find ourselves tackling one of the greatest collective challenges our species has ever known.
What we have discovered together, it seems, is an ever-expanding circle of things that matter, a deeper layer of responsibility for ourselves and the world.
Some people are critical of this, but I think they’re mistaken. We need to keep asking our residents how we can we be of service. We need to find out what they need to thrive in our community. We need to know who among us we are still leaving out.
That’s what great cities do.
Great cities also want to know something else – equally important – and that’s whose contributions have been missing from our lives. Whose experiences have we ignored or discounted? Whose talents have we lost track of or overlooked?
We ask because it’s going to take all of us to become that great city. We need all hands on deck for the challenges we face. To succeed we need to look past ourselves to our families and neighbors; to our co-workers and customers; to all the children in our community and eventually to all of their children; to those who still struggle or seek refuge among us; to those who have lived here a day or for all of their lives.
We have with us today our city councilors and I would like them to stand for a moment. We have Mayor Pro-tem Kasandra Gandara, Councilor and former Mayor Pro-tem Gill Sorg, Councilor Yvonne Flores, Councilor Gabe Vasquez, Councilor Tessa Abeyta-Stuve, and Councilor Johana Bencomo.
Please take a moment to consider these people who represent us. There isn’t a city council in the country better than this one. You won’t find councilors anywhere more committed to their community, or more engaged with the people they serve. You won’t find anyone more determined to create good policy, or more interested in what we each have to say.
Please talk to them and to me and city staff. Tell us what you’re thinking. Let us know all the ways you can help us, and guide us toward whatever it is we should be tackling next.
Councilors, thank you for who you are and for your service to us all.
These are exciting times for the City of Las Cruces. There is much we have done, and much still to do.
The state of the city is strong, but it will only remain strong if we keep learning together, reaching out to one another, and building on our strengths and ties as human beings. One city, one people, in community – serving one another and in turn being served.
Thank you for being here today, and for the opportunity to serve as your mayor.