Santa Fe Mayor David Coss Delivers Annual State of the City Address

Mayor David Coss delivers his final annual State of the City address reflecting on eight years of accomplishments, celebrating our city and thanking City of Santa Fe employees.

Date October 23, 2013 at 3:25 PM

Author Staff

Publication SantaFe.com

Categories Community Culture

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The Following is the text of the State of the City Address delivered by Mayor David Coss from the Santa Fe Convention Center and Visitor’s Bureau on October 22, 2013.

Mayor David Coss – State of the City Speech: Celebrating Our City

Tonight is a chance to celebrate our accomplishments as a city and our work to build a great community in Santa Fe.

I am so proud and honored to be Santa Fe’s Mayor. This is a world class city and tonight I want to talk about some of the reasons that we’ve been named one of the ten best places to live in the US and one of the cities with the best mountain biking, the prettiest people, cleanest air, best art, best food, and more. Also, tonight I want to issue a challenge, particularly to all of the candidates running for office, but also to the media who will cover the election and shape the dialogue, and to every member of this community: be accountable for moving Santa Fe forward. Be accountable for doing it in a productive and progressive way.

Santa Fe is: un lugar para todos, a place for all. We have made it that way by fighting for equal rights, by nurturing our natural environment and by pushing for an economy that works for everyone.

The Living Wage; a Living River; and Marriage Equality. These are some of the most memorable accomplishments during my time as Mayor. Add to that, millions invested in better parks, trails and bus service; our Railyard, Airport and other parts of town, also improvements in managing our water and generating energy. Plus, we’ve reduced property crime and stood together to protect human rights.

In looking at all these accomplishments, what I will remember, and what I value above all else, is the incredible workers of the City of Santa Fe. I know that together we can accomplish anything, and tonight, above all, I want to give a wholehearted Muchas Gracias to the workers of Santa Fe.

As we look towards the next Mayor and City Council, I challenge this community to stay true to our most important values, the things that define who we are, who Santa Fe is.

We must continue to stand for workers’ rights. We must protect and expand the Living Wage; it ensures a basic fairness, a basic economic equality and a basic standard of living for everyone. When I was a City Councilor and the Living Wage was first brought forward, I went to talk with a local restaurant owner to understand why he opposed the Living Wage. As I waited in the restaurant for our meeting, a few of the wait staff came up and began to ask questions. “Are you going to pass the Living Wage?” “Will the community support it?” “Can we really do this?” We chatted for a while, then, I saw the three of them suddenly stiffen as the restaurant owner walked in behind me. They dispersed in every direction and as one woman walked away, she turned back to me and said, “Get that Living Wage up as high as you can.” I saw then, in her courageous moment, how important the Living Wage would be for every worker in Santa Fe.

Not only is the Living Wage the right thing to do for a large number of people, but it has been critical to the success of our economy. We have the lowest unemployment of any metro area in the state and we are seeing small businesses create jobs at a greater pace than ever before. This is not an accident. Our economy has restructured through the recession and we are ahead of the game, because of who we are. We are already driven by a creative and innovation economy.

The Living Wage provides a foundation; a basic living standard for our families. We must fight to always maintain that.  We must avoid being a society of haves and have nots. We know from the lessons of history that civilizations become great by having a strong middle class and greater economic equality. Though our Living Wage is one of the highest in the nation, it really is only equivalent to the national minimum wage forty years ago. I challenge the County to enact a living wage. It will help our economy and help working families. Santa Fe must continue to be a place that values the worth of all workers as well as the rights of all people. I ask all of you to demand that we stay true to this community value.

Unions are an important tool in cultivating a strong middle class. They provide career pathways and health care benefits. I take great satisfaction from Santa Fe’s efforts to protect and advance collective bargaining. We must always work to give workers a stronger voice and help balance the power of corporations and management. Workers don’t have enough power or influence individually, they have it when they stand together.

We had a chance to strengthen our economy for working people in a powerful way by implementing Community Workforce Agreements.  I’ve seen hundreds of millions of dollars in wages leave this community when we do our biggest spending on infrastructure projects.  The unions offered to deliver one hundred percent local workers in a partnership on this issue, but instead of trying to make things better for the workers of Santa Fe, we gave in to fear of the unknown and repealed this law without giving it a chance to work.

As I reflect on the state of our city, I see that one of our biggest accomplishments was the protection of the living standards of working families in Santa Fe through upholding unions and collective bargaining. As a capital city, the jobs in State government and local government are critical to our economy and middle class. Christus St. Vincent Hospital is the largest private employer. The unions representing workers in these jobs are a huge sector of our economy and all these workers set the standard for wages and benefits in our town.

I will always remember the efforts of House Speaker Ben Lujan when the nurses union was having tense negotiations with the hospital. Our Mr. Speaker was very ill with cancer, but he assembled City Councilors, County Commissioners and local legislators to deliver a unified message: Santa Fe wants a fair union contract for our hospital workers. He had oxygen tubes and only a few months left, but he still had the strength to fight this important battle and he had the vision to know how much it mattered. He was a leader and a visionary.

We lost Speaker Lujan last year and his support for working people remains unmatched. We are fortunate to have the advocacy of his son, Representative Ben Ray Lujan Jr in Congress and I want to thank Ben Ray for his unflagging advocacy for the people of New Mexico.

This year we made important strides forward on equal rights. We were on the right side of history when we took a stand on marriage equality and gave the issue the push it needed to get moving throughout the state. On March 22nd, we announced the City’s legal analysis that same gender marriage was already legal in New Mexico. This triggered lawsuits, and more legal analysis, and five months later, eight counties have issued same gender marriage licenses and over one thousand couples have been married. The New Mexico Supreme Court will hear the marriage equality issue tomorrow, and I look forward to the news that they have made the right decision and extended marriage equality to all thirty-three counties of New Mexico.

Last weekend, I attended the wedding of my best friend’s little sister whom I have known for more than fifty years. She has been with her ‘new’ wife for more than fifteen years. She deserved equality. We all do. I want to thank everyone who has worked on this issue, including our City legal staff, who drafted the resolution, and those county clerks who have issued licenses to New Mexico couples; also Progress Now New Mexico, Equality New Mexico, the Human Rights Alliance and thousands of individuals. There is much joy and pride in our State as a result of the people willing to finally take a stand. 

The wisdom, strength and resilience of this community has always been to be: un lugar para todos, a place that maintains human and civil rights and has the courage to always do so. When budgets are shrinking and fear is driving many to think small and attack those who are different, we must remember our Santa Fe values. We must take care of each other, and know that standing together and working together is much more powerful than standing apart.

I’m proud that we are also on the right side of history in standing for immigrant rights. In my first year as Mayor, there were frightening raids on homes by immigration police and parents were taken away while children were at school. We worked together, with the public schools, and with Somos un Pueblo Unido to educate about the basic rights we have in this country against illegal search and seizure. We let the members of our community know that a search warrant is required. We worked with Senator Bingaman to hold our government accountable and to get the status of every member of this community who had been taken.

I challenge Representative Pearce to get on the right side of history, support immigration reform and stand for what is right in the House of Representatives. I ask all of you to demand that we stay true to this community value.

It is a basic human right to have a clean environment. We have made Santa Fe a more sustainable and resilient city by increasing the use of biofuels in our vehicles, by aggressively pursuing water conservation and a secure water supply; and by reducing emissions in city operations. Perhaps nothing gives me more pride than bringing our river back to life. We have nurtured our own survival and resilience by prioritizing a living river in Santa Fe.

Almost a decade ago I dreamed of riding my bike with my granddaughter to get ice cream on the Plaza. My dream has come true and that trip is now a fun, safe,and beautiful ride along the river trail. As the river gets healthier the people of Santa Fe are getting healthier too. More and more people are walking the river trail, getting exercise and interacting with their neighbors. Riding my bike to work a couple of weeks ago, I saw that a preschool had organized a bike, tricycle and scooter ride along the river trail. What a joy it was to see the four and five year olds out enjoying the trail and learning to be happy and healthy.

I remember talking to Vince Tapia, one of the original leaders of Youthworks, and a young man who gave a huge amount to many young people in Santa Fe. Youthworks has been a big part of restoring the river and Vince was leading some of those early crews when he talked about crime and drugs and other things that try to be invisible, he pointed out that those things thrived in the river when the river was invisible and the disconnected young people were invisible too. 

It has not been easy to bring life back to something that was so badly neglected. It has taken the work and the partnership of community groups like Youthworks, and advocates like the Santa Fe Watershed Association, the Sierra Club, businesses like the Inn of the Governors, and neighborhoods like Casa Solana and Torreon. 

We have made this a cleaner and more sustainable city by building solar systems totaling twenty five hundred kilowatts. When the next set of planned systems for Buckman, the Water Division and the Genoveva Chavez Center are built, we will be generating close to twenty-five percent of the City of Santa Fe’s electricity from solar power.

By working in a regional partnership with other local governments and combining our voices to advocate for our environment, I am proud to say that we have secured forty four million dollars for nuclear waste cleanup at Los Alamos National Lab. Santa Fe must remain a place that prioritizes sustainability and a clean environment. I ask that all of you demand that we stay true to this community value. 

We must also continue to work together and foster partnerships at all levels. That is how we nurture our environment, advocate for our region and put simply, it is how we get things done. Sadly, we have recently seen the effects of dysfunctional government and the malicious harm it can do to our economy and working families. I have often said, there’s just no cure for dumb, but I have seen that the antidote to dumb can be cooperation for the good of the community. As I look back, I am struck, impressed and totally humbled by the cooperation, the talent and most of all the hard work and tireless dedication of the people at the City of Santa Fe. As elected officials come and go, they remain, stewards of community resources, and the keepers of our basic services, infrastructure and assets.

Over the past six years, the number of full-time employees has dropped more than ten percent, but we have kept services intact. Also, we have protected salaries and benefits. I know that city employees are feeling the reduction in our workforce. We are stretched thin across the organization.  We have had to make do with less through these last years and we have managed budgets cuts on top of budget cuts. I’m proud that we have found ways to cover the gaps and have continued to provide all of our city services.  We have been able to do this because we have incredible people. We have workers who solve problems every day without fanfare or, too often, without even a thank you.

So, tonight, is about giving thanks to the workers. To each and every one of you who has made an effort to push through the road-blocks, the low-morale, and continued to do your job for the citizens of Santa Fe. Thank you for all that you do.

Our resilience and strength exists because we value our community, our public services and our public servants. A couple of winters ago, multiple days and nights of below zero temperatures meant hundreds of water meters all over the city froze and cut off water to residents and businesses. But City workers stepped up and employees from the water division, parks, streets and other areas, worked through the nights in the record setting cold. They endured extreme conditions, for as long as was necessary, in order to dig ditches, thaw out pipes and meters, and get water service restored to everyone.

We’ve put together a snapshot of the diverse services and resource stewardship of the City in this document called, the City by the Numbers. This is not a complete picture, especially of the heart, soul, and compassion that is so much a part of the work of the people of the City of Santa Fe, but we have tried to quantify a few things.

Around eight hundred kids took part in the city’s summer youth program. They were from all walks of life. For some of the children from lower income families, the extra activities like movies and swimming might be unavailable because their families don’t have the extra few dollars. But this is: un lugar para todos and even strangers are treated as family. Our summer workers and community services staff regularly spend their own hard earned wages to buy movie passes, swimsuits and even shoes, to make sure all the children can participate. A few employees have simply made it an annual routine to sponsor the expenses of a few kids in our summer youth program. 

This program would not be possible without the Santa Fe Public Schools. I’m pleased to say that with the new school board and superintendent, the city and the schools have been working together better than ever. We are also so fortunate to have in our community: the New Mexico School for the Arts, the School for the Deaf, and the Indian School governed by the all Indian Pueblo Council. Thank you to everyone who works on this most important calling, to make this a world-class city with world-class schools.

We have also supported and enhanced education of our children through our incredible libraries. Twelve hundred and fifty five children participated in the summer reading program, a new record, and more than fifteen thousand children took part in year round programs. 

We counted more than twelve thousand members in our senior programs and more than a hundred thousand hours of senior volunteer service. We take care of our young and our old in this community; we depend on each other. I ask all of you to demand that we stay true to this community value, and that we maintain services to support these members of our community.

It takes good policy as well as good people. I challenge those who want to serve as elected officials to understand what it takes to be good at this job. Have a vision for improving this community, but also, support and respect the leadership of others. Know that sometimes, even often, that means giving up the credit. It means being humble and doing what hundreds of employees in the City of Santa Fe do every day, which is to do the job for the community and not for the glory. We are still faced with dramatic budget problems. We have managed to maintain services and fairness to employees, but it won’t be easy in the years ahead. I ask this community to demand that we stay true to our workers and to this community value.

Public servants must be accountable to everyone. That is a necessity for open and fair government even though it can make working in government incredibly hard. Last year our City Clerk’s office logged official minutes for more than five hundred public meetings and our Legal Department responded to more than seven hundred public records requests. This is one of the unsung functions of the City, keeping records and maintaining access to those records, but it is critical to our democracy. I also want to thank some other little appreciated areas of the City, our Human Resources and Finance Departments.  The employees in these departments processed benefits for more than thirty three hundred people in our community last year. That work helps to maintain access to health care and living standards for Santa Fe families. 

I am pleased to say that we expect the lowest number of burglaries this year in a decade. Our police have infiltrated and dismantled five major drug trafficking organizations, an unprecedented number. We took six hundred and fifty firearms off the streets through gun buybacks and we’ve given away two hundred trigger locks. I would like to thank New Mexicans for Gun Safety for their collaboration with the city and the Santa Fe Police Department for working on gun safety. 

I have seen the problem of drug addiction and crime raise its ugly head in this community and it has become clear that we cannot arrest our way out of this. Repeat offenders, who are almost all addicted, are responsible for most of the break-ins in our community. For years we have caught them, sent them to jail, let them out, THEN they do it again and repeat the cycle. So, with our Community Services Department, Police Department, The Drug Policy Alliance, District Attorney, Public Defenders Office, Santa Fe County, Sheriffs, treatment providers and more we put together the second pilot project in the country for the LEAD program, which stands for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion. This program will take some of our repeat offenders and divert them into treatment rather than keep them in the cycle of arrest, incarcerate, release, repeat. We will seek out the root cause of the disease, and address that, rather than continuing to treat only the symptoms. 

Tonight, I want to ask everyone in this community to pause for a moment and consider the members of our police force. They deal with the most unpleasant aspects of our community. They face the murders, the abuse, the violence, the neglect, the lies, the hurting of innocents and even the anger of reasonable people. They carry so many burdens for this community and our police need and deserve our appreciation. Too often we turn away because we don’t want to think about what they have to endure. 

I remember when the Peshlakai girls, young Navajo sisters, were killed by a drunk driver on Cerrillos Road. Our police were there, first on the scene to that tragedy. Then, days later, when members of the Navajo Nation came to Santa Fe to conduct a ceremony to honor the dead at the accident site, those same officers were there directing traffic. Few knew they were the same people who faced that horror and then came back to make sure that others could have a safe and dignified time to grieve. 

Our Police need our support, they need better pay, and benefits that include counseling for the worst traumas. We must not willfully ignore these issues. What we can all do, at a minimum, each and every one of us, is to give them our thanks and appreciation. 

We must also thank our Fire Department. They responded to more than fourteen thousand emergency calls last year and maintained an average response time of seven minutes. They did almost three hundred wildfire home hazard assessments in order to keep residents and property safe. We know global warming is making our forests more susceptible to fires and the men and women who train and work to keep forests healthy are a benefit to us and to other communities. Like the police, these people put themselves in harm’s way in order to keep the rest of us safe and happy and able to cultivate a greater community. 

Another part of city government that needs appreciation is our Land Use Department. We counted more than forty four hundred building permits issued last year, eighteen percent more than the year before. On my second day in office, my friend George came in incredibly frustrated because his loans were close to expiration on a construction project and he had been working on permits for six months and couldn’t get an answer. We fixed that and got George his permits. We also carried forward the lesson learned that businesses depend on permits moving forward in a timely way, without compromising the health and safety that our codes are designed to ensure. Now the wall outside the Land Use director’s office is covered with the letters of those who appreciate the hard work of our Land Use staff, one of them put it like this:

The Director of Inspections gave me the feeling that he was working with the taxpayers of Santa Fe. He was genuinely concerned that we meet our deadline for a tenant who now has a beautiful restaurant, in full compliance with all city codes and regulations.

We have worked to make the City of Santa Fe more business friendly and we must continue to do so. But we must also have the vision to see how our economy should evolve and how innovative entrepreneurs who invent great things will create jobs for this community and this country. Entrepreneurs embody the frontier spirit that has made Santa Fe a city that survives.

We have invested in entrepreneurship and launched a business accelerator that is cultivating the seeds of innovative companies. We are growing the ecosystem that celebrates and supports businesses, values their hard work, and assists them to grow stronger. We have partnered with business to develop a local preference for city money to stay in this community and to go to local firms. We have improved our city processes and made our business ombudsman an ally for companies navigating City Hall. 

We counted almost twenty five hundred people who attended the monthly networking events put on by MIX Santa Fe last year, around two hundred and fifty people at each event. This project is geared at growing a community of younger, creative individuals and during the year it received more than one hundred thousand dollars of support from local partners. I want to thank our local businesses for assisting this and so many other community projects. 

Our hospitality industry is exceptional. The men and women who work in hospitality create the extraordinary experiences that helped move Santa Fe up the charts to be the number two favorite city in the US in Conde Nast’s Readers’ Choice Awards. Our wonderful airport supports this industry with more and more passengers traveling through there each year. Now that United Airlines has joined American Airlines in serving Santa Fe, we have direct flights to Denver, Dallas and Los Angeles and from those cities we are connected to the whole world.

Our partnerships in film and media have led the way to revival and reform of the State’s incentives and we have seen these well paid, green jobs come back to our region. I challenge all candidates and workers to commit to partnerships with the film union, the private sector, with other local governments, with the pueblos, and with each other, because this is how we will build an even greater community.

While we pursue the creation of high wage jobs in the innovation age, we must maintain balance by protecting affordability and support for families. In this effort, we have incredible partners like: The Interfaith Alliance and their Resource Opportunity Center, St. Elizabeth’s Shelter, the Coalition to End Homelessness, Santa Fe Civic Housing, Homewise, The Housing Trust, and Habitat for Humanity. Our affordable housing programs made it possible for more than two hundred families with modest incomes to get down payment assistance and buy a home last year. Another twelve hundred families became “buyer ready” completing homebuyer training classes, fixing bad credit, paying off debt and saving for down payments. Also, sixty renter households with limited incomes, twenty-five of whom were previously homeless, now live in the newly remodeled Stagecoach Apartments. 

We must continue to invest in public transportation. We now carry more than one million passengers every year on our Santa Fe Trails bus system which means one million trips to work, the doctor, the store, to visit a friend or loved one. Our buses tie this community together and make it accessible for everyone. They also make this a healthier and greener community. We must continue to invest, and to partner with advocacy organizations like Chainbreaker to meet the transportation and other needs of working families. I ask that we always stay true to affordability and access as community values.

I am proud that we have made community investments to make this a great city with world-class infrastructure and public spaces. In the past five years, with our recent CIP bonds, the 2008 parks bond, and the 2012 general obligation bond, we have invested around one hundred million dollars into our City infrastructure. Almost forty million dollars has gone into our parks, around fifteen million has gone into trails, and we have continued to upgrade our streets, bridges and our watershed including arroyos and the Santa Fe River. 

We invest in the arts and we pulled together to save our arts college. Now, Santa Fe University of Art and Design has more than eight hundred students and continues to grow, attract talent, produce skilled graduates and provide employment for people in this community. The Higher Education Center of the Santa Fe Community College will soon be on that campus and, along with St. John’s College and the Institute of American Indian Arts, these partners will deliver even more opportunities for higher education in Santa Fe.

None of these achievements would be possible without the hard work and stewardship of our City employees. The events that attract visitors, and are so popular with residents, like Fiestas, Folk Art Market, Santa Fe Bandstand, Indian and Spanish Markets, El Grito and more, would not be possible without the support and dedication of city workers. I want to thank our parks, solid waste, transit and other staff who help make these incredible projects and celebrations possible. 

I also want to thank the members of the City Council whom I have served with as Mayor for their service and commitment to this community. 

What I have always valued most about local government is we are close to the community; we are the community. We provide the services and infrastructure to create a strong economy and a fantastic quality of life. My education and training is in wildlife biology. I learned how different species of plants and animals depend on each other and on the natural world to live and thrive. With almost two decades in city government, I now see that communities are exactly the same; that all of these factors work together to create a place that lives and thrives. We are so fortunate in Santa Fe. We have so many assets and true core values. Not platitudes around traditional values, but basic human values like improving poverty, maintaining harmony with nature, and treating others well.

I ask each and every one of you: hold candidates and elected officials accountable to our community values. Demand that the media lift up important issues and ask important questions. Work together to address challenges; don’t race to the bottom and take the easy route to cutting services, benefits and wages. Be progressive in your approach and demand the same from public servants at the State and federal levels. 

I ask the candidates and City Councilors to believe that Santa Fe can be the greatest community. Rise to the level of the professionalism of the best city staff.  Respect staff as the professionals they are, the stewards who live and breathe these projects and programs all day, every day. Treat our workers well, recognize their passion for this community, speak to them with respect, and value the work that they do. 

I ask the candidates and City Councilors to have a vision to make Santa Fe the greatest community. Resist getting lost in the weeds or in a complaint about a neighbor’s ugly fence. Rise above that. Have the courage to do what’s right and to fight for the greater good. Look to the wisdom and examples of those who have gone before, to Vicente Ojinaga, Mary Lou Cook and so many more. Have the wisdom to be kind to each other and to value partnership. Have the grace to work hard and to honor our many good fortunes. Gather the strength and the vision; the humility and the tenacity; to move this community forward. 

Santa Fe will have a new Mayor next year. Tonight I challenge this community to make this election about smart and not; make it about progressive and not; make it about workers’ rights and the living wage; make it about health-care and retirement; make it about sustainability and a healthy environment; make it about equality; and make it about getting things done, in pursuit of a vision for an even greater Santa Fe. 

Thank you for celebrating our city with me tonight and for so much hard work. Thank you for the opportunity to be your Mayor. Please stick around for our reception to honor city workers which is sponsored by AFSCME LOCAL 3999, Progress Now New Mexico and IATSE 480. Above all, thank you Santa Fe.

From a City of Santa Fe press release...

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