Benavidez v. Bernalillo County Board of County Commissioners, 122320 NMCA, A-1-CA-36979

Docket NºA-1-CA-36979, A-1-CA-37434
Opinion JudgeJ. MILES HANISEE, CHIEF JUDGE
Party NameJAVIER BENAVIDEZ, JAMES SANTIAGO MAESTAS, ROBERTO ROIBAL, THE SOUTHWEST ORGANIZING PROJECT, THE NEW MEXICO HEALTH EQUITY WORKING GROUP, and THE PAJARITO VILLAGE ASSOCIATION, Petitioners-Petitioners, v. BERNALILLO COUNTY BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS; ART DE LA CRUZ; WAYNE JOHNSON; DEBBIE O'MALLEY; MAGGIE HART STEBBINS; and LONNIE TALBERT, ...
AttorneyNew Mexico Environmental Law Center Douglas Meiklejohn Eric Jantz Jaimie Park Jonathan Block Santa Fe, NM for Petitioners (No. A-1-CA-36979) Yntema Law Firm P. A. Hessel E. Yntema III Albuquerque, NM for Petitioners (No. A-1-CA-37434) Robles, Rael & Anaya, P.C. Robert M. White Daniel J. Grunow Jo...
Judge PanelWE CONCUR: MEGAN P. DUFFY, Judge MICHAEL D. BUSTAMANTE, Judge Pro Tempore
Case DateDecember 23, 2020
CourtCourt of Appeals of New Mexico

JAVIER BENAVIDEZ, JAMES SANTIAGO MAESTAS, ROBERTO ROIBAL, THE SOUTHWEST ORGANIZING PROJECT, THE NEW MEXICO HEALTH EQUITY WORKING GROUP, and THE PAJARITO VILLAGE ASSOCIATION, Petitioners-Petitioners,

v.

BERNALILLO COUNTY BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS; ART DE LA CRUZ; WAYNE JOHNSON; DEBBIE O'MALLEY; MAGGIE HART STEBBINS; and LONNIE TALBERT, Bernalillo County Commissioners; CONSENSUS PLANNING; and WESTERN ALBUQUERQUE LAND HOLDINGS, LLC, Respondents-Respondents.

and

MARCIA BEAUREGARD FERNANDEZ and DANIEL RICHARD “RIP” ANDERSON, Plaintiffs-Petitioners,

v.

BERNALILLO COUNTY BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS, Defendant-Respondent,

and

CONSENSUS PLANNING, INC. and WESTERN ALBUQUERQUE LAND HOLDINGS, LLC, Interested Parties-Respondents.

Nos. A-1-CA-36979, A-1-CA-37434

Court of Appeals of New Mexico

December 23, 2020

APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF BERNALILLO COUNTY Nancy J. Franchini, District Judge

New Mexico Environmental Law Center Douglas Meiklejohn Eric Jantz Jaimie Park Jonathan Block Santa Fe, NM for Petitioners (No. A-1-CA-36979)

Yntema Law Firm P. A. Hessel E. Yntema III Albuquerque, NM for Petitioners (No. A-1-CA-37434)

Robles, Rael & Anaya, P.C. Robert M. White Daniel J. Grunow Jordon P. George Albuquerque, NM for Respondents Bernalillo County Board of County Commission and Bernalillo County Commissioners

Rodey, Dickason, Sloan, Akin & Robb, P.A. Edward R. Ricco (No. A-1-CA-36979) John P. Salazar Jocelyn Drennan (No. A-1-CA-37434) Jenica L. Jacobi Albuquerque, NM for Respondents Consensus Planning, Inc. and Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, LLC

OPINION

J. MILES HANISEE, CHIEF JUDGE

{¶1} In this consolidated opinion, [1] we consider the propriety of actions and determinations by the Bernalillo County Board of County Commissioners (the Board)2 and the district court, respectively, related to development of the proposed Santolina planned community (Santolina) on Albuquerque's west side mesa in Bernalillo County. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

BACKGROUND

{¶2} These consolidated appeals arise from the Petitioners' collective opposition to Santolina. We first identify the many parties to this litigation and set forth the general factual and procedural background preceding these appeals, reserving further discussion of facts or litigative events when pertinent to our analysis.

The Parties

{¶3} Petitioners in Benavidez v. Bernalillo County Board of County Commissioners are: Javier Benavidez, James Santiago Maestas Roberto Roibal, the Southwest Organizing Project, the New Mexico Health Equity Working Group, and the Pajarito Village Association (collectively, the Benavidez Petitioners). 3 Petitioners in Fernandez v. Bernalillo County Board of County Commissioners are Marcia Beauregard Fernandez and Daniel Richard "Rip" Anderson, (collectively, the Fernandez Petitioners), who own and reside at their property located east of the proposed location for Santolina. Respondents in both appeals are the Board, Consensus Planning, Inc. (Consensus Planning), 4 and Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, LLC (WALH).5

Initial Proceedings

{¶4} In August 2013 Consensus Planning-acting as an agent for WALH, the owners of approximately 13, 800 acres of land in western Albuquerque-applied to the Bernalillo County Planning Commission (the Planning Commission) for review of the Santolina master plan and the accompanying zone map amendment regarding that proposed development on WALH's land. The master plan "establishe[d] the big picture vision and overall framework for the [Santolina] community" by identifying and determining specific uses for the proposed development, the development's site attributes, and the standards to be upheld through the development process. The zone map amendment proposed rezoning the land from A-l Rural Agricultural to Planned Community Zoning. After multiple hearings, the Planning Commission recommended approval of both the master plan and the zone map amendment to the Board.

The Benavidez Petitioners' Appeal to the Board and the District Court

{¶5} The Benavidez Petitioners first filed an appeal with the Board, challenging the Planning Commission's recommendation that the Board approve the master plan and the zone map amendment. The Board considered and denied that appeal before ultimately approving the master plan and the zone map amendment on June 16, 2015, following a series of public hearings. After the Board approved the master plan and the zone map amendment, the Board considered a draft of the development agreement between Bernalillo County (the County) and WALH, which was negotiated and prepared by a working group comprised of the County staff and WALH for the Board's consideration. The development agreement is a contract between the County and WALH and is intended, among other purposes, to serve as a preliminary agreement describing the parties' responsibilities regarding infrastructure and financing. The Board took public comments on the draft at a public zoning hearing on June 24, 2015. There, the Board reviewed the draft, adopted revisions, and ultimately voted to approve the development agreement.

{¶6} Following the Board's approval of the zone map amendment, the master plan, and the development agreement, the Benavidez Petitioners filed a notice of appeal and alternative petition for a writ of certiorari with the district court, challenging the denial of their previous appeal to the Board and appealing the Board's approval of the zone map amendment, the master plan, and the development agreement.

{¶7} The Benavidez Petitioners further contended that the Board's approval of the zone map amendment and the master plan should be vacated because an op-ed article written by County Commissioner Art De La Cruz expressed impermissible bias, depriving them of their right to an impartial tribunal during the proceedings before the Board related to the proposed development, in violation of their due process rights. Specifically, the Albuquerque Journal published Commissioner De La Cruz's op-ed on March 23, 2015, two days before the Board's first hearing regarding the Santolina master plan and the zone map amendment. The op-ed began: "It is important for the public to know why I and others support thoughtful, well-planned developments in Bernalillo County, such as the proposed Santolina development. It is important that the [C]ounty 'get the facts out' and dispel the distortions and misinformation being spread by opponents[.]" The op-ed continued, "Presently, Santolina fits this model as a master-planned residential and commercial development" and Commissioner De La Cruz "considered] Santolina to be appropriate progress for our [C]ounty." The op-ed concluded with Commissioner De La Cruz opining what would become of WALH's property if the Board did not approve the Santolina development, stating that he supported the development of Santolina because he "prefer[red] to more thoughtfully and proactively determine the destiny of [the] County's unavoidable and foreseeable growth."

{¶8} On March 24, 2015, the Benavidez Petitioners filed a motion seeking Commissioner De La Cruz's recusal, and in the alternative, disqualification from the Board's proceedings. The Benavidez Petitioners' motion was heard at the first of the Board's hearings regarding the master plan and the zone map amendment, on March 25, 2015. There, Commissioner De La Cruz explained his op-ed stating that he "was thoughtful to avoid specificity related to any zoning issues"; he had "opined . . . specifically about [his] philosophy related to master plans in general"; and he believed he could render future decisions on the matter "objectively."

{¶9} The Benavidez Petitioners asserted to the Board that its impending proceedings regarding the master plan and the zone map amendment were quasi-judicial, requiring a non-biased tribunal, and that Commissioner De La Cruz's oped demonstrated his bias to a degree that his continued participation would deprive them of due process. Following discussion at the meeting, no commissioner supported disqualification of Commissioner De La Cruz based on his op-ed, although no vote was held regarding the Benavidez Petitioners' motion. At a May 28, 2015, special zoning meeting, the Benavidez Petitioners renewed their motion regarding Commissioner De La Cruz, at which time, the County attorney reminded the Board that they had declined to vote on the Benavidez Petitioners' motion. After hearing relevant testimony regarding the Benavidez Petitioners' motion seeking disqualification of Commissioner De La Cruz, the Board declined again to vote on the motion and proceeded to deny the Benavidez Petitioners' appeal concerning the Board's approval of the master plan and the zone map amendment.

{¶10} Between March and June 2015, the Board held public hearings regarding the master plan and the accompanying zone map amendment. Ultimately, at a special meeting on June 16, 2015, the Board approved both the master plan and the zone map amendment by a 3-2 vote under Resolution 2015-42, with Commissioner De La Cruz joining the majority. In pertinent part, the decision approving the master plan provides that the "request for approval of the [master plan] has been submitted in conjunction with a request for a zone change for Planned Communities ... Zoning [via the zone map amendment]."

{¶11} The district court affirmed the Board's approval of the master plan, holding that such was a legislative action. The district court also held, however, that the Board's consideration and approval of the zone map amendment was a quasi-judicial action requiring an impartial tribunal. Based on that determination, the district court further concluded that as to the zone map amendment, the Board's failure...

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