Mayor David Coss’s city hall office looks more like the setting for a flamenco dancer. Sitting within its bright pink and yellow walls, the 53-year old Illinois native who grew up in Santa Fe speaks just above a whisper, as if by contrast with his surroundings, while reflecting on the fun and frustrations of his first term.
SantaFe.com: So what is the story on these walls? They’re louder than you are.
David Coss: The walls were white and needed repainting before we moved in. My wife Carol helped picked the colors and we are so into this look now that we are getting rid of the white walls in our home and going for color.
SF: What’s the best thing about being mayor?
DC: The people---
SF: Whoa. That sounds very political.
DC: But it’s true. It’s all about the endless aspirations of the people of Santa Fe, what they’re doing and trying to do. I like being a part of that, everything from a ceremonial role at the graduation program for the school for the deaf to opening night at the opera or the opening of a new solar energy business.
SF: What’s the worst thing about the job?
DC: The people—
SF: Okay, that doesn’t sound political.
DC: Well, sometimes it’s just the negativity of some people and the clash between the resources available and the problems we experience. Right now we are having a big debate on short term rentals and if you are in a neighborhood where that’s an issue, the sides are extreme and everyone gets polarized.
SF: Given current national economic downturns, isn’t this exactly the wrong time to be coming down hard on short term rentals?
DC: We aren’t going to come down hard. My proposal is to grandfather owners with rental units on their property for up to five years and then devise some new regulations we can all agree on. I see this issue driving the real estate market and I don’t like it. Realtors tell prospective buyers, “Of course the property is high but you can rent it out to get income back.” Then I start getting emails from people saying, “I bought a house in Santa Fe and I’ll move there someday, so you gotta protect my right to rent it out.” No, I don’t gotta. That’s not my job. There may be some overlay zoning where we could allow short term rentals, but it can’t be everywhere.
SF: What has been your most satisfactory accomplishment so far?
DC: Hiring 22 new police officers pleases me a lot. The city carried those vacancies for five or six years and this year we’ll get it down to zero.
SF: How far do your own political ambitions go?
DC: Right now, I see myself running for re-election in 2010. I’m not foreclosing future options and it’s interesting to me to think of working in a Democratic administration in Washington, working on natural resources or labor. But if you take your eye off the ball here in the city, you won’t make progress.
SF: Will the Santa Fe River ever come back?
DC: It could happen as early as next spring. “Back” is a relative term but it is very possible to have a living Santa Fe River. Just a little bit of water flowing through the bottom would mean the cottonwoods, the willows and the grasses would start to reappear all up and down the river’s course. People shouldn’t think it is going to look like the Pecos River but it can be a green belt and be alive.
SF: How important is to you to promote programs for the city’s young people?
DC: Santa Fe’s problem is that it exports its children because they don’t see a future here. With this whole parks curfew thing and the problem with gangs, it makes it look like we are afraid of our children. That issue is going to require a lot of attention. One of the good things we have done is the development of youth conservation corps which did a terrific job on the river project when they cleaned up three arroyos and got tons of trash out of the river.
SF: To use a controversial term of the moment, what about this ‘surge’ in residential burglaries and robberies. What more can the city do to get control over the problem?
DC: We found that a lot of the criminal activity was by people coming in here from out of town, like from Espanola. You wonder, “Why are people coming here to victimize us?”
SF: Well, if I were a thief from Espanola, I would certainly see the advantage of working the Santa Fe streets and breaking into Santa Fe houses. It’s called “following the money.”
DC: Yes, there is a social component to the problem, and that’s where I’m losing my patience. I don’t care if you did have a bad childhood or have a drug problem, if you’re going to rob people in my town, you’re going to jail. And I’m going to keep hiring police officers until I can make that a true statement.
SF: Have you ever been burglarized or robbed?
DC: Three times in the last 15 years.
SF: I guess that’s not one of the things that make Santa Fe the City Different. By the way, does that phrase ever strike you as a little pretentious?
DC: Well, we are different and it’s the name we gave ourselves. I had a college buddy from Las Cruces who kidded me saying, “You people from Santa Fe talk like you’re bleeping Venice and you’re not.” I wish I could have run into him 30 years later when Santa Fe beat out Venice on the list of most popular cities in the world to visit.
SF: He’d probably tell you the same thing. Don’t you think many New Mexicans feel Santa Feans have an ‘attitude’ problem?
DC: Oh, absolutely. You see it every year in the Legislature, when they remind us, “Y’all ain’t that different.” Actually, I think the rest of New Mexico loves Santa Fe; they like how beautiful it is; they are proud of having the oldest capital city in the country. But sometimes they do think we are little full of ourselves.
SF: What is the optimal size for Santa Fe?
DC: Right now it is about 120,000, including the county and if we use the land and the water efficiently, we could handle 200,000.
SF: Okay, here are the four questions for every subject of this column, and you get to be the guinea pig.
SF: What turns you on most about Santa Fe?
DC: I think it is the light and the mountains.
SF: What turns you off most about Santa Fe?
DC: The trashy river.
SF: If the fates decreed you simply couldn’t live here anymore, where would you choose to go?
DC: Maybe St. Louis because I’m a Cardinals fan, or Hidalgo del Parral in Chihuahua because it still looks like Santa Fe did a hundred years ago.
SF: Ah, but if the fates smiled and granted you any one wish for Santa Fe with the mere wave of your hand, what would it be?
DC: I would give our youth in Santa Fe more hopefulness about their future.