Even though life is being disrupted, the duties of government continue. Garbage is picked up. Police officers are handing out tickets or arresting suspects. Firefighters are on hand for emergencies.
And planning, that all-important task that looks to a time when normalcy returns, continues.
That’s why at the city of Santa Fe, officials still are discussing the fate of the 60-plus acre midtown campus and planning for its eventual development. Lost in the noise of other news — a pandemic of COVID-19 and stock market disruptions — is the news that a preferred developer for the project has emerged.
To be sure, this is hardly surprising. The timeline for developing the midtown campus had called for selecting a developer by spring, with the City Council considering an exclusive negotiation agreement to finalize the deal shortly after a recommendation.
All of that is continuing, with the city setting a special hearing April 13 to provide the opportunity to meet the master developer recommended by the evaluation committee. Welcome back, public!
As we have said before, the nature of this process has been problematic. The evaluation committee — many of whose names are not public — didn’t take input as it narrowed the proposals to finalists and then to a recommendation. The process was confidential, with the city using the state procurement code as its legal rationale for the secrecy.
Citizen input occurred at the beginning, when residents said they wanted higher education, the arts, housing and community services. But it has been in short supply since, except for the occasional protest against putting Los Alamos National Laboratory workspace on the site.
Now, with a secret recommendation in place, the council will endorse the choice, or not, and the next phase of the project could take place. At that point, citizens — even in the midst of our nation’s crisis — need to weigh in. If, that is, larger public meetings are allowed by mid-April.
Should the presentation of the developer have to take place virtually, the city might need to suspend the process until gatherings are safe. Online comments are useful, but this full-throated debate needs face-to-face discussions.
On Wednesday, during the regular City Council meeting, there’s an item on the executive session agenda for discussing the “disposition of the Midtown property.” An email from the city Economic Development last week stated that the chosen developer will be meeting with councilors March 25 to answer questions before any exclusivity agreement is reached.
We trust councilors will have plenty of questions — and perhaps share some of what they have learned with the public. Perhaps discussion over the midtown campus will offer a distraction from concerns about the coronavirus.
It offers hope, too, that despite the worries over the economy, eventually life will return to normal — including being ready to move on important projects when the time is right.
However, given the nature of the process — with too little public input along the way — citizen participation is imperative as the project moves from theory to reality. It’s hard to pay attention during a pandemic. But the development of the midtown campus demands scrutiny.