At a recent meeting of the City Council’s Finance Committee, the beleaguered Land Use Department got another kick in the tush.

Lame-duck City Councilor Roman “Tiger” Abeyta, still chairman of the powerful committee, pulled a pro forma request to amend the department’s budget so he could introduce a motion to delete a staff request to fund an assistant director position. Councilor Signe Lindell seconded the motion and a short discussion ensued.

Abeyta’s reasoning had a semblance of logic, and may even have fiscal prudence, but it is the latest in a long string of insults to the department.

Abeyta acknowledged the department had been promised such a position since early in Mayor Alan Webber’s administration. Current staff, under the leadership of acting Director Jason Klauck and his boss, Rich Brown, thought they had the approval in the bag.

Abeyta argued that whomever became the new permanent land use director ought to be able to hire the individual to fill that position. That makes some sense, except that permanent person is not likely to occupy the desk until sometime in March, and the need exists now. In fact, the need has been there for more than four years.

Acting Director Klauck is the fourth person to hold the position in the current administration. Webber inherited Director Lisa Martinez, who was eminently qualified and headed the state’s Construction Industries Division during former Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration.

She didn’t last long and was replaced by Carol Johnson, a Bay Area transplant. She also was eminently qualified but not well-versed in the ways of Santa Fe.

Before she left, Johnson hired Elias Isaacson and Klauck. Isaacson became acting director, and then permanent director, until he bailed out earlier this year for a job in California. That made Klauck the last man standing.

Meanwhile, while the revolving door was smacking backsides, Webber reorganized his staff and downsized Land Use from a stand-alone department into a division managed by Brown’s department. Brown originally was hired to assist in the Economic Development Office under yet another Bay Area import, the short-lived Matt Brown.

Confused yet? So are builders, developers and the general public. But nobody’s confused about the need, especially for long-range planning.

At the Finance Committee meeting, City Councilor Jamie Cassutt strongly disagreed with Abeyta’s intent and cited constituent concerns over growth pressures in her south-side district that seemed to lack long-range planning perspectives.

Cassutt also said her conversations with the departing Isaacson made it clear existing staff members were overwhelmed and stretched beyond capacity to serve effectively.

Councilor Renee Villarreal asked to hear from Klauck. He confirmed the need for the position and noted Isaacson had been doing double duty as a planner and a division manager.

Abeyta said the new permanent hire could make a request to fill the assistant position when budget talks begin in May, meaning no funding until the new fiscal year begins in July, which probably means nobody hired until late summer.

Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth sensibly noted that by not funding the assistant position now, the city could be sending a message to any new recruits to head the division that the city is not serious about addressing the stretched-capacity issue.

That would seem especially true with a city flush with cash, from construction growth and a general increase in gross receipts tax.

In the end, only Cassutt and Romero-Wirth voted against the motion to delete the funding.

Abeyta’s cautious approach to spending city money will be missed when he leaves office in January. But his misguided attempt to thwart the needs in Land Use should not be part of his legacy.

Here’s hoping the City Council and the mayor will do the right thing and put funding for the assistant director position back in the budget. It’s long overdue.

Kim Shanahan has been a Santa Fe green builder since 1986 and a sustainability consultant since 2019. Contact him at

(1) comment

Stefanie Beninato

I believe the correct spelling of the head of land use is KLUCK. We have had assistants in every dept now and it has not made one dept operate more efficiently. Where do you get your stats that would support your POV? What we need are people who are honest and competent--that means getting rid of dead wood who have their eyes closed and their hand out when doing an inspection. If someone is in code violation and they say they will fix it at some undetermined time then the enforcement head finds that there is no longer a violation. The ordinance says for every day the violation exists, it is a separate violation subject to up to $500 in fines. There is nothing in the ordinance that states the violation will be "cured" when the owner makes a promise to fix in the future. I just asked Webber to clean house in that department. Am I holding my breath?

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