In KSFR's last installment of conversations with the candidates for Santa Fe’s mayoral seat, reporter Taylor Velazquez sat down with incumbent Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber to talk about his plans for additional sustainability measures and rebuilding the city’s economy after last year’s COVID shutdowns.
KSFR: Now if you're elected for a second term, what would you say would be your number one priority this time around?
ALAN WEBBER: Unfortunately, my number one priority, we continue to beat a battle COVID because of the threat it represents right now. It changes the way our folks live, it changes our economy, it changes kids going to school, it changes parent's ability to have jobs when their kids are perhaps more at home than before. So, we still have to be focused on COVID.
Assuming we can all get vaccinated, all get tested all continue to wear masks, then we need to move to an agenda of Santa Fe its future, we have to look into our future. And that means managing growth responsibly. We are building housing affordable housing in particular, so people can live here, they also need to manage our water supply, transportation, parks. So, I put $200,000 into the current budget, to a growth management study, so that we will know what our future is, how we balanced the things that make Santa Fe special, the quality of life that is Santa Fe with the need to continue to find more housing options for people to live here in an affordable way.
I think we need to attack the root causes of crime, that’s mental health. We've stood up an Alternative Response Unit bringing together police, fire and social workers to go out and help people who are struggling with behavioral health, mental health, and addiction. We're working with young kids with a plan to give them GED alternatives or jobs, so they don't make bad choices for their lives. And then we really have to look after the economy. Diversifying jobs, supporting the living wage, making sure that people really have good work with good salaries, good wages and good benefits, going into the future.
KSFR: Pivoting to your work fighting climate change. You've done a lot of that work in your term. And are your concerns greater for climate change? And how are you going to deal with greater investment and sustainability and clean water?
ALAN WEBBER: We have made great progress in fighting climate change and making Santa Fe the most sustainable city in America, we issued the first green bond in the state's history. And it's small things and it's big things. It's adding more cars to our fleet that are electric, it is putting solar panels on all city buildings, it's swapping out our antiquated and environmentally bad streetlights for an, a streetlight system that will be the equivalent of taking 10,000 cars off the street in Santa Fe. So, the investments are there, the plan is there, the Santa Fe Green Sustainable Program is moving forward. Community solar is something we fought for and it's become law.
Water is the big one. And the good news is and not everybody knows this. Our Water Department has been working for 25 years to secure, safeguard, and make sure we have an ample water supply. Since 1995, our population has grown by 25% and our water use has declined by 33%. We're actually using less water than we did in 1995. We have four different water sources. So, we have an ample portfolio of water. Conservation, there's still more to be gained by conservation with restaurants, hotels, commercial users, as well as a green building code for our multifamily development. And we're working hard to move a water reuse pipeline, so that we use more than the currently roughly 40% of the water that we're entitled to use every brought. I believe that sooner or later, we will have total water reuse in our future. It's something that other cities already do. Water is life. We know that in northern New Mexico, we need to make sure that every drop of water is treated as a sacred part of our sustainability agenda.
KSFR: And going back to the topic of jobs, living through this past year with COVID has been really rough on a lot of people, with businesses shutting down and people losing their jobs. And you explained that you want Santa Fe to have better paying jobs and different types of jobs. Can you explain what you mean by different jobs and how you're planning to create industries that would better pay people?
ALAN WEBBER: Well, my background is as a business person and an entrepreneur, so I'm very attuned to what it takes to grow and diversify our economy. We know that the digital economy is alive and well in Santa Fe with moviemaking and storytelling, and app development, and that's part of our future for our young people. We know that there are 800 people from Los Alamos National Lab will be working every single day in office space on St. Mike's reviving the knowledge economy. So, looking across the board we're getting see the digital economy that is in other parts of the country, really flourish in Santa Fe with entrepreneurs, people starting businesses, people growing businesses. And that's going to give us another way for young people in our community, to be able to stay here not having to leave in order to have a good job with good wages.
And, frankly, as we look at wages, we need to protect and strengthen the living wage. We are one of the first cities, one of the first communities to embrace the living wage, we need to make sure it keeps pace with the cost of living and with changes in the economy. We are really well positioned to recover from the COVID crisis of last year and do what President Biden is called for which is build back better.
KSFR: And moving towards the Alternative Response Unit that was launched earlier this year, that allows behavioral health workers to respond to those low threat 911 calls. This unit came out of something that was put in your budget proposal. Why was this so important for you to incorporate in Santa Fe? And have you seen this team make a difference in the city?
ALAN WEBBER: Yes, the Alternative Response Unit is another innovation, among many that have come out of my term as mayor. We believe that people who are dealing with behavioral health issues, mental health issues, or homeless problems deserve a response of helping them rather than arresting them or having a punitive agenda. So, we already had the MIHO project as an existing bowing program.
And now we're building on that so that our existing police officers can really do the work we want them to do. We want them trying to help prevent serious crime responding to calls for service that are really urgent. And we want the Alternative Response Unit to go out into the field and work with people who are experiencing what may very well be the worst day of their lives and get them help. We have one unit already up and running. I went on a ride along with them and I saw firsthand their empathy and their compassion and their knowledge of the people in the community who they're interacting with. They already know who these folks are. They just needed the opportunity to go sit down and work with them and counsel them do things like make an appointment for them with a doctor. I think we need to continue to grow that program. It's in my budget to continue to add to that. And we will continue to see social responses to social problems, rather than criminal responses to social problems.