In what was a far cry from the rhetoric swirling in the Santa Fe mayoral race, the four candidates running to represent District 1 remained cordial as they offered different views on a number of topics during Thursday’s candidate forum.
Not once during the roughly 75-minute forum did any of the candidates — businessman Joe Hoback, Planning Commissioner Brian Gutierrez, real estate agent Roger Carson and incumbent Signe Lindell — take a shot across the bow, instead using their response time to outline possible fixes for a range of issues including affordable housing and the toppling of the Soldiers’ Monument.
“It’s really nice to see that we can separate the personal from the politics,” Hoback said at the end of the event, hosted by the League of Women Voters of Santa Fe County and held at The Santa Fe New Mexican’s offices.
Early voting in Santa Fe County began Tuesday at the County Clerk’s Office and will expand Oct. 16. Election Day is Nov. 2.
Asked how the city can balance development and the city’s water conservation responsibilities, Hoback said he favors the city hiring a long-range planner and updating the city’s general plan, which hasn’t been done since 1999.
“Before we can run, we have to be able to walk,” Hoback said.
Carson, president-elect of the Santa Fe Realtors Association, said the city has made great gains in water conservation but “definitely needs to do more.”
He said a good first step is to start looking at water as a recyclable resource, and that he favors exploring a system that can catch and recycle water that lands on rooftops.
Gutierrez, who owns Mr. G’s Pro Tow in District 3, said he would look at expanding the city’s green building code for single-family dwellings to multi-family housing.
Lindell said she was concerned by current zoning that allows one home on 1 acre.
She said it wasn’t practical for the city, and leads to an excess of landscaping, which often requires additional water.
About 30 percent of the city’s water goes to landscaping, which piles up on a parcel with just one home, Lindell said, adding, “Everyone wants a little bit of landscaping, but with 1 acre, you end up with quite a bit.”
On affordable housing, Gutierrez said he would like to see half of the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund be used for downpayment assistance for prospective homebuyers.
Lindell, who is retired, said affordable housing is always the number one issue in Santa Fe and that she lives in a home that she couldn’t afford in her” best year” of employment.
She said increasing wages is a good first step but also highlighted the importance of continued support of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
Hoback agreed that was important but also said he would look into holding a summit to bring in affordable housing leaders to help devise a strategy to tackle the problem.
Carson pivoted from the other three candidates, stating that as of 2010, funding for the trust fund has increased but has not made a dent in the city’s affordable housing index.
“There is a problem when I see money going in to help the problem and I see the problem get worse,” he said.
Carson said city code is formed in a way to support 1950s-era neighborhoods and homes.
“We need to change code and we need to change how we build homes,” Carson said. “What we are building now just isn’t sustainable.”
On the topic of drug use and support for youth, all candidates agreed that more services and funding for programs were needed to help address drug abuse in the city and to keep kids from falling into bad circles.
The group was divided, however, on how to handle the wake of the toppling of the Santa Fe Plaza obelisk and any cultural infighting across the city.
Hoback said he didn’t have an answer that would fix everything, but that he doesn’t favor people destroying public property as a form of protest. He said he supports letting the city’s CHART process play out.
He added that a good first step was to return the controversial Don Diego de Vargas statue, which was removed from Cathedral Park last year, to the cultural group the Caballeros de Vargas.
“I think we can take specific steps to say, ‘Here is the statue back; you can’t put it on city property yet until we finish the CHART process,’ ” Hoback said. “I think that is a good way to begin to heal.”
Carson said that for him, the obelisk represented New Mexicans’ role in defeating slavery in Santa Fe, and that he was saddened to see it fall but understood concerns about it.
Similar to Hoback’s idea on affordable housing, he said he supports forming an annual convention to discuss cultural issues.
“We can move the needle on this discussion,” Carson said.
Gutierrez said he felt the obelisk was the single most divisive issue in Santa Fe in some time.
“It was history; it was 152 years of history in the city,” Gutierrez said. “How do you take history of 152 years and try to erase it?”
Lindell, one of two District 1
councilors at the time of the obelisk’s toppling, said she hoped everyone listening to the forum was committed to seeing CHART through.
She said while she wasn’t sure if CHART was “going to work,” the city has trudged through worse. She said she was optimistic about how those discussions will play out.
“It’s going to take some pushing and some tugging, it will take some compromise, but I believe in us,” she said. “I think we have gone through worse. We just came through a pandemic. A worldwide viral pandemic. We can get through this.”
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Signe Lindell said about 3 percent of the city's water goes to landscaping. She said about 30 percent of the city's water goes to landscaping.