Downtown resident files ethics complaint against Stop the Stadium

Spending in favor of stadium bond is hundreds of times larger than spending against

By: - October 26, 2021 6:00 am

Anna Lee Desaulniers, a Stop the Stadium organizer and Barelas resident, said during an Oct. 13 press conference that Albuquerque residents have a choice. “What type of city will we be? The kind that sells out our neighbor for entertainment, while many go without their basic needs met? Or will be a city that not loves thy neighbor but is also willing to fight for them. If you want to be the latter you will vote no to the stadium bond on Nov. 2.” (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)

A Downtown resident is accusing a local coalition of violating Albuquerque’s charter by not properly registering its campaign against the city government’s effort to borrow $50 million to help pay for a new soccer stadium.

Joaquin Baca filed a complaint on Oct. 18 with the Albuquerque Board of Ethics alleging that Stop the Stadium failed to register as a Measure Finance Committee (MFC) in order to report its spending on its opposition to the bond measure that’s before voters.

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“I believe they have expended in excess of $250, which would require the filing of an MFC,” Baca wrote in the complaint. The whole point of filing it was to find out who is paying for the group’s activities, he said in an interview Monday.

Stop the Stadium organizers say they’re not breaking any rules, and theirs is a grassroots movement aimed to stop the destruction of Albuquerque’s historic communities, including the Barelas and South Broadway neighborhoods. “Rather than addressing the concerns of the communities, those supporting the stadium are engaged in a smear campaign intended to discredit dozens of volunteers and community members who are fighting to protect their homes,” the group said Monday in a written statement.

An Albuquerque Journal poll released Sunday found that about 55% of voters are against the proposal, with only 37% in support. The paper also reported earlier this month that the language that appears on the ballot inaccurately describes how the city government would pay for the bond.

Albuquerque City Clerk Ethan Watson on Oct. 19 determined Baca’s complaint meets the standards for review by the board. Watson did not rule on the merits of the complaint.

South Broadway and Barelas residents talk stadium proposal

As of Monday, a hearing on the complaint had not been set. Watson wrote that a hearing will be set within a month after the allegations were filed. Baca said he’d like to see that nailed down before the election.

Lisa Padilla, president of the Barelas Neighborhood Association, said Monday she is glad Baca filed the complaint.

“I’m glad that he is doing something to get to the bottom of it, because to me, it’s very uncomfortable, not knowing who these folks are and what the origin of their complaint is,” she said.

Opponents’ alleged spending dwarfed by team

Baca’s complaint is based on a series of estimates he made of Stop the Stadium’s spending on flyers, posters and an event they held earlier this month. Baca’s estimates are expressed in ranges from minimums to maximums for each alleged instance of spending.

All of Baca’s maximum estimates would total $1,110 in spending. That’s a tiny fraction of the total spending in support of the bond by New Mexico United.

Residents say new soccer stadium will raise rents and expand policing in Albuquerque

 

The team, through its MFC, has spent $868,346 on the stadium bond issue as of Monday, according to city campaign finance records. All of the committee’s monetary and in-kind contributions come from owner Peter Trevisani or the team, respectively, the records show.

The team’s spending in support of the stadium has paid for television and other kinds of advertising, polling, outreach to media outlets, a website, T-shirts, stickers, posters, mailers, signs, pamphlets, campaign management and accounting.

The MFC, called “New Mexico United For All,” still had $46,654 cash on hand as of Monday, according to its latest financial report.

“We will not be pushed back or intimidated by this obvious and odious effort to silence the voices of the grassroots,” Stop the Stadium said in its written statement. “This is an act of distraction to change the subject and to put the community on the defensive, and we are staying right on with our core message on the real issue.”

Padilla said how much has been spent doesn’t matter.

I don’t think it’s actually the amount that matters. It’s actually the fact that somebody is spending money to make a ruckus, and it’s not people who are representing Barelas.

– Lisa Padilla, president of Barelas Neighborhood Association

The cost of housing

Stop the Stadium has argued that a stadium will accelerate gentrification and expand policing in the city.

Baca said gentrification is already underway in Barelas and Downtown, and the stadium is giving locals tools to address the issue. He said members of Stop the Stadium are not from Barelas and speculated that once the election is over, the group won’t be around any more.

“I think it’s a real issue, affordable housing, but it’s not being helped by some group just jumping in, who will likely then just leave, as soon as it’s over, right?” he said.

A lawyer hired by the city to help negotiate the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) that can be made before the stadium is built said a deal can help with affordable housing but can’t solve the issue overall. It falls on volunteer neighborhood groups to monitor and enforce those agreements over years, the lawyer said, which can become too burdensome.

A CBA has not been written and city officials do not plan to sign one until after the election.

Head into the voting booth prepared about bonds

The City Council passed a resolution in August that states the city government will enter into a CBA with the team and “representatives and/or residents of the neighborhoods directly impacted” by the stadium, who will then “work to request housing support from governmental entities and/or other nonprofit sources, identify opportunities grants, tax incentives, tax credits, and other means to provide housing affordability in proximity to the development, and engage a not-for-profit housing agency.”

Padilla said the association has been working to try to protect the community against inordinate impacts with the CBA.

“There are provisions for homelessness that are being addressed, so partly in other expenditures that the city’s making, but also as part of our CBA,” she said, “because our CBA has a provision within it about providing affordable housing to people who are already in the area.”

Part of the CBA, Padilla said, includes money that would enable the association to hire someone to enforce and implement any of the measures that get included in the deal.

“I think that what you’re gonna end up having to do is create sort of a community foundation that would work on that kind of thing,” Padilla said. “Year-round, it’s gonna have to be somebody who’s employed to do it, because as volunteers, it’s a lot for us to do.”

City’s expert: Agreements have not protected neighborhoods from gentrification

 

Baca said one of the two proposed locations for the stadium, at 2nd Street and Iron Avenue, “There’s no homes there. There’s like two houses there.”

The complaint names Bex Hampton, a Stop the Stadium organizer who describes themselves as affiliated with the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL). Baca emphasized, “It’s not Stop the Stadium. It’s the Party for Socialism and Liberation.”

“I think it’s a disservice to folks to keep calling them that, when that’s not who they are,” Baca said.

At a press conference on Oct. 13, Stop the Stadium organizers present included people affiliated with PSL and other organizations like the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice and the 1st United Methodist Church Downtown. Some of the organizers who were there, including Susi and Charles Knoblauch, Anna Lee Desaulniers and Vic Gomez, are Barelas residents.

CORRECTION: This story was updated on Wednesday, Oct. 27, at 2:15 p.m. to reflect that Baca lives Downtown and not in nearby Barelas.

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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.

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