Monthly Archives: April 2014

Plaza proposal is not “ready”

Most Santa Fe residents who sounded off at a Monday night hearing about Mayor Javier Gonzales’ proposal to close the downtown Plaza to motorized traffic oppose the idea. The city Public Works Committee ultimately made no recommendation on the resolution, which Gonzales amended to say that vehicles should be banned only between Memorial Day weekend in late May and the Monday after the annual Fiestas de Santa Fe in early September, a peak period for tourism and Plaza activities.

The resolution, which had been endorsed by two other city committees, now heads to the city Finance Committee and the Mayor’s Committee on Disability before consideration by the full City Council. “This resolution is not ready,” said City Councilor Ron Trujillo, who chairs the Public Works Committee.

The other four councilors on the panel — Patti Bushee, Bill Dimas, Carmichael Dominguez and Chris Rivera — unanimously agreed, raising questions about who could benefit from the closure without hurting those who use the Plaza the most. Gonzales, who did not attend the committee meeting, issued a statement that said he would continue to strive to work with the community. “I’d like to thank the councilors and the public for sharing their opinions on the Plaza,” he said. “I am committed to working with the Council to find a compromise and consider ways to make the Plaza more safe and inviting for everyone.”

In announcing his proposal earlier this month, Gonzales had couched it as part of a “People to the Plaza” initiative aimed at making the historic square more inviting. But the idea surprised some residents who complained that the newly elected mayor hadn’t publicly discussed the proposal.
Earlier experiments with blocking streets adjoining the Plaza park have ended with all but the Palace Avenue side of the Plaza being reopened to traffic.

The idea of again barricading other streets has drawn mixed responses. Some downtown merchants have expressed fear that business would shrivel. Some local residents have said blocking traffic makes the Plaza seem more tourist-oriented rather than a place also easily accessed and visited by locals. But others have praised the measure as a way to make it safer and easier for pedestrians to walk through the Plaza. Those sentiments were again on display during Monday’s public hearing at City Hall, where seats in the City Council Chamber were mostly filled.

Gloria Mendoza, a self-proclaimed community activist, said she has twice opposed closing the Plaza to motorized traffic and continues to do so. She said bikers and walkers already have plenty of trails to use around town, and that the Plaza should belong to locals. “We don’t have any business closing the Plaza,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with driving. You know I want you to let us feel that we own part of the city here downtown.”

Clarice Coffey, who gives tours in an open-sided vehicle, said closing the Plaza would “cripple the tram tours.” Coffey said older tourists, above 56, are typical of visitors to the city and that they often have mobility issues. “They wouldn’t be able to get the Plaza otherwise,” she said. However, Vince Kadlubek, an artist who is part of local collective Meow Wolf, said he conducted a straw poll via Facebook and found that 56 of his peers, with ages from 18-40, were in favor of closing the Plaza to motorists. Only three, he said, were against closing the Plaza.

“It’s a lopsided issue when you talk to anyone under the age of 40,” he said. “I am a local, too. They’re locals also. Our generation is seeing a pull to non-vehicle usage. It’s a symbolic step for us to take.” Leigh Murphy, co-owner of Kernels’ Kettle Corn stand on the Plaza, said the mayor’s proposal ought to be given a chance to succeed or fail. She said she believes the measure would hurt her business, but there may be a lot to gain on a community level. Murphy also said she sees a lot of animosity between motorists and pedestrians, and that banning vehicles might calm the area.
“We don’t know what it would be like,” Murphy said.She did say she was sympathetic to tour operators and that some aspects of the plan need to be “fleshed out” better.

Others called for a compromise, such as leaving the Plaza open during the day, and closing it to traffic during summer evenings or special events such as the free Santa Fe Bandstand musical performances. City officials do close the Plaza during special events such as the Spanish Market, the Indian Market and the Pancakes on Plaza event on July 4.

The resolution has been scheduled for consideration by the full City Council at its May 14 meeting, which would allow a traffic ban to take effect May 24, the Saturday before Memorial Day. However, Monday’s committee discussion left some doubt about how the debate will play out. City officials in early 1984 did close two streets next to the Plaza, but they were reopened a few months later. In 1990, the city used flower boxes to block streets during the tourist season, but people complained that the boxes weren’t aesthetically pleasing. So the city tried concrete planters to limit traffic. The barriers were later removed.

And in 2002, a couple of accidents involving pedestrians and vehicles on streets near the Plaza eventually led a city committee to recommend the current year-round closing of Palace Avenue in front of the Palace of the Governors while keeping the other streets available to motorized traffic.
Contact Chris Quintana at 986-3093 or cquintana@sfnewmexican.com.

City hires new CVB director

City Manager Brian Snyder and Jim Luttjohann, executive director of the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau, sat down at 4 p.m. Thursday for a face-to-face meeting in Snyder’s office at City Hall. Within 30 minutes, Luttjohann had submitted a one-sentence letter of resignation “effective immediately,” and in less than three hours, the city had announced that a new executive director was on board.

“I wanted to make a move in what I believe is the right direction for moving the CVB and the city forward,” Snyder said Friday. The personnel change had already been in the works, indicating that Luttjohann, who had held the city job since August 2012, was about to be shown the door.

The new executive director, Randy Randall, who has had a 45-year career in the tourism industry, including 10 years as general manager of the Eldorado Hotel, said he had been having discussions in recent weeks not only with Snyder but Mayor Javier Gonzales, who was elected last month. The discussions centered around how the city, which is heavily reliant on the tourism industry, could raise the bar and whether Randall was interested in “coming on board and implementing some of those things,” Randall said.

“The city manager reached out to me yesterday morning and said, ‘I think that the timing is right. How soon would you be available to come in and take over?’ I said, ‘Probably the first of the week,’ ” said Randall, who will be paid $110,000. People in the local tourism industry said the city made the right move by hiring Randall.

“Santa Fe is a great city. It deserves a breath of fresh air that Randy Randall represents,” said Chris Madden, who served as sales manager for the Convention and Visitors Bureau until her departure earlier this year. “It’s a good thing for Santa Fe,” she said. “With a new administration, the CVB deserves a change, and Randy Randall is a perfect choice to enact that change. He is a strong businessman. He runs a tight and reasonable ship. He knows his numbers. That, to me, has always been a good businessperson, someone who knows where every dollar and cent exists on the ledger on every given time.”

Paul Margetson, manager of Hotel Santa Fe and chairman of a mayor-appointed group that is examining the Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he is “delighted” that the city tapped Randall. “I think he knows the industry inside out,” Margetson said. “He was smart enough to give me the job 26 years ago to run the Eldorado,” he said, jokingly. Simon Brackley, president and CEO of the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, said Randall is “truly a travel professional.”

“I look forward to working with him to continue to grow our tourism industry,” he said. “I think his hotel experience will help give a stronger voice to the hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts, and his experience as tourism commissioner for the state of New Mexico will help us to work with the state Department of Tourism and collaborate on their marketing strategies,” said Brackley, who declined to comment about Luttjohann. Margetson said Luttjohann did a “good job” but that change is inevitable.

“I think he was — What’s the word I’m looking for? — knowledgeable,” Margetson said. “I just wish he’d been a little more knowledgeable about the hotel industry. I don’t think he came from that background and understood the challenges that we have. But I think he’s a good guy, and I liked him. But we have a new mayor, we have a new administration, and it was just time for change, I think. Randy’s got personality, and maybe we needed a bit more personality and perhaps even leadership.” Luttjohann (pronounced LUTE-yo-han) could not be reached for comment. He worked previously as the tourism director in Ventura, Calif., but he said in a 2012 interview that he had visited Santa Fe and the region frequently since childhood. He and his partner have had a second home on East Alameda Street since 2001, he said at the time.

Luttjohann took over the job from interim Director Jim Bradbury, who was appointed to the post in April 2011 after Keith Toler resigned. A City Hall insider said the city has had seven executive directors at the Convention and Visitors Bureau in the last 12 years.

Randall, who retired in 2004, said he is well-suited for the job. “It comes from an understanding of both sales and marketing and operations,” he said. “I’m not one or the other. I’m kind of a combination of all of those. I think it comes from knowing what success is and how to get there.”

Randall said he’s always felt that the concept of privatizing the Santa Fe Community Convention Center, which has been funded with city Lodgers Tax revenue and user fees, should be considered.

“That being said, it’s not on my agenda to accomplish at this point because I think both the city manager and the mayor have made it clear that they don’t think that’s the best approach,” he said. “As director of the center, I’ve got to appreciate their opinion.”

Randall said part of his job is to make sure the city has a marketing effort that is “properly designed and properly implemented.”

“It’s really more than just a convention center. It’s how the CVB can interact with tourism as a whole in the city,” he said. “I think we’ve got to kind of get back to some basic blocking and tackling, if you will.”

Randall said he also wants to evaluate how the bureau is spending its money.

“We have to make sure we have a clear vision of where we want to go and that all of our expenditures are focused on that vision,” he said. “It may mean that we can’t do everything. But we have to do the things that we do do very well.”

Contact Daniel J. Chacón at 986-3089 or dchacon@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danieljchacon.

Plaza to be closed to traffic?

A surprise proposal from Mayor Javier Gonzales to close all the streets around the Santa Fe Plaza to vehicular traffic is already riling up downtown merchants, some of whom fought off similar traffic-blocking schemes instituted by City Hall in the past.

The proposal, which the administration leaked to an Albuquerque TV station Tuesday, was formally introduced by Gonzales during Wednesday’s City Council meeting. “The intention obviously is to bring more people to the Plaza, creating a safer environment by limiting traffic that is directly around the Plaza so that families hopefully can feel that their children, when they’re in that area, can move around the Plaza safely,” Gonzales said about the proposed resolution, his first since taking office as mayor last month.

Three downtown merchants, including tour operator and former City Councilor Frank Montaño, who endorsed Gonzales when he ran for mayor, showed up at the council chambers Wednesday to express reservations about the idea. “If you’re really trying to make the Plaza for Santa Feans, the last thing you want to do is deny Santa Feans the opportunity to cruise it,” Montaño said in an interview before the meeting. “It’s a time-honored tradition.”

Craig Allen, who is in charge of operations for Ortega Family Enterprises, which owns Ortega’s on the Plaza, said closing off all streets around the Plaza to automobiles would be a “great travesty” to businesses. “With the economic times that we’ve had, we all fight for sales,” he said. “When you cut down our traffic flow exposure, it hurts us all.”

John Dressman, who owns the Plaza shop called Dressman’s Gifts, urged caution. “City Council in the late ’60s decided to take parking off the Plaza,” he said. “Within five years of taking that parking off the Plaza, the two pharmacies were gone. The grocery store was gone. The shoe store and the local clothing stores were gone. Personally, with my family, the flower shop was gone, so you ended up with a tourist shop. It forced downtown into a just-for-tourists.” Gonzales’ proposal, which he calls part of a “People to the Plaza” initiative, calls for closing Lincoln Avenue, San Francisco Street and Old Santa Fe Trail adjoining the Plaza park. The section of Palace Avenue in front of the Palace of the Governors has been closed for several years and would remain closed under the mayor’s proposal.

Gonzales had not publicly discussed the proposal until this week. “It was never discussed during the campaign,” Montaño said Wednesday. “This isn’t a burning issue for Santa Feans. There’s a lot more important issues to deal with.” The idea of prohibiting cars and trucks on the streets surrounding the Plaza isn’t new. Arguments in the past have included how such blockages impact traffic circulation in the downtown historic district when drivers are forced to use other streets to get around in the area.
During past experiments, delivery vehicles have been allowed go around barricades to reach businesses fronting on the historic square.

One longtime city official recalled that in about 1990, the city used portable wooden flower boxes to block streets adjoining the Plaza during the busy season between Memorial Day and Labor Day. After aesthetic complaints, the following summer the city tried using sections of concrete culvert as planters to restrict traffic. However, the traffic experiment was later dropped. Newspaper archives show that in 1984, the City Council had voted to close two streets next to the Plaza, only to reopen them three months later following mixed reviews of the decision. “We urge the Council to reflect that the Plaza is a place for our citizens to stroll, to relax and to shop. It is not a museum,” the Old Santa Fe Association, a historic preservation group, said in a statement at the time.

Montaño recalled that in about 2002, a couple of accidents in which pedestrians were struck by vehicles on streets just off the Plaza led to a discussion of not only safety in the downtown area but once again closing off streets. A committee was formed to study the issue. Montaño and Dressman both served on the committee.

“The decision that ultimately came out of the committee to recommend to the council was that we close off Palace Avenue on a full-time basis,” Montaño said, adding that the consensus on the committee was to keep the other streets open. “Old Santa Fe Trail is a very important historic route of travel and, at one point, it was part of one of the first major highways of the U.S.,” he said.
For Montaño, the issue is personal, but not because he owns a tour van operation. “One of my fondest memories as a youth,” he said, “was cruising the Plaza in my 1971 bumble-bee yellow Dodge Charger with slapstick automatic transmission, 383 engine, big nice chrome wheels and rubber tires and air shocks so that the back end of my car was lifted up a little bit.”

The resolution introduced by the new mayor also calls for “additional parking opportunities” and an increased police presence downtown. The mayor said City Manager Brian Snyder already has a new policing plan in place that will go into effect Saturday. “That’s already happening regardless of what happens through this resolution,” he said. A news release said, “Mayor Gonzales has instructed the Santa Fe Police Department to increase its presence in the downtown area. Beginning April 12, 2014, officers will cover downtown areas including the Paseo de Peralta Loop, Railyard and Plaza from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. The goal is to provide a constant presence, ensure continued safety, guide tourists and help address important concerns currently raised by businesses, vendors and the public in these areas as people from all over the world visit our beautiful city.”

The statement said one task for police will be to educate the public on existing laws and enforce an ordinance governing street performers. Gonzales’ resolution, which has yet to be voted on by the City Council, would direct city staff to study the economic impact of the street closures and “modifications to fee structures to make downtown parking more practical for the greatest number of residents and visitors and increase the use of underutilized parking facilities.” The resolution also calls for staff to bring forward additional recommendations to enhance the Plaza experience, increase economic development and “ultimately bring people to the Plaza” within six months of the council adopting the proposed resolution.

“Santa Fe’s historic Plaza has been the commercial, social and political center of Santa Fe since 1610,” Gonzales said in a statement. He called his initiative “an approach for residents and visitors to discover new means to use and enjoy downtown Santa Fe. Many cities have found that reducing vehicle traffic and creating pedestrian-friendly city centers benefits economies by improving the experience for shopping, dining, sightseeing and other activities.”