The Santa Fe Review

A Journal of Commentary and Reportage

copyright 2006 by George Johnson

Dispatches from the Water Wars

updated 12/31/06

The other Las Vegas. photo by George Johnson, copyright 2006

1. Retrofit Arithmetic (and Rainbarrel Economics)
2. The San Juan-Chama Shell Game
3. The Case of the Disappearing Aquifer
4. The Creative Hydrology of Suerte del Sur
5. The City, the County, and a Water Tax Revolt
6. Water Numerology at City Hall
(Our story thus far)
7. The Woman at Otowi Gauge
8. "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."
9. The Las Campanas Connection . . . desalination word games . . . and Aamodt South
(Our story continues)
10. The Engineering Solution
11. The Sorrows of San Acacio
12. The City's Dubious Water Report
13. Where the Water Went
14. Shutting Down the River Again
15. Picking on the Davises
16. The Tom Ford Webcam
17. Galen Buller's Day Off
18. Forgive and Forget
19. Election Postmortem
20. El Molino Gigante
21. Hotel Santa Fe. . . Mansion Watch . . . Water Watch
(Our story continues)
22. The Environmental Impact of Jennifer Jenkins
23. The Short-term Rental Racket . . . Water Watch . . . Mansion Watch . . . Surreal Estate
24. Archbishop Lamy's Parking Lot
25. Mayor Coss's Lost Gamble
26. Tommy Macione Swamp
27. Sweeney Center Blues
28. The Tragedy of the Commoners
29. Councilors, Cops, and Russian Dolls
30. West Side Story
31. Taking Back the River
32. The Case of the Clovis Pigs
33. The San Juan-Chama Shell Game Revisited
34. The Santa Barbara Review and The Return to Santa Fe

December 2, 2006

35. Kepler's Inquisition

Other than dim memories of her days in the Jaramillo regime, the only thing I knew about Asenath Kepler was that she had a very cool name. When Mayor Coss appointed her as city manager, I half wondered if she might be a descendant of Johannes Kepler, the great astronomer who had the crucial insight -- the planets, Earth included, travel around the sun in ellipses -- that led to the modern view of the solar system. Ptolemy's old theory, with everything orbiting the Earth in convoluted curlicues, was replaced by a model of elegant simplicity. Maybe the self-assured Ms. Kepler with her experience in banking and law would be the one to straighten out the kinks at City Hall.

It was encouraging in those first months to see someone in power actually setting an agenda and getting things done. Like a lot of people, I was skeptical that so much of her energy went into pay raises and bonuses for city workers, as though she considered them her constituency rather than the citizenry as a whole. Was this a payback for Mayor Coss's union support in last spring's election, or an attempt to cement her own political base for a future run for office? Or did she simply believe, sensibly enough, that a good way to improve substandard city services is by boosting rank-and-file morale?

Her push to cut through the red tape at the Planning Department, where applications for building permits disappear for months on a Ptolemaic roller-coaster ride, was long overdue. But she went about it so brusquely -- councilors accused her of unilaterally approving land-use decisions -- that she drove away the first planning director anyone can remember who didn't act like an employee of the construction industry.

All this took place against a chorus of complaints that the new universe at Lincoln and Marcy Streets had been reconfigured to revolve around Ms. Kepler. When the Council finally fired her Wednesday night, after she refused a request from the mayor to resign, one could almost imagine her barricading herself in her office and, guarded by members of the police union, flat out refusing to go.

No one has emerged unscathed from this mess. With Santa Fe's reputation for treating city managers like Kelly Agency temps, there is little reason to hope that anyone as intelligent and experienced as Ms. Kepler will apply for the job. Even worse, we don't really know why she was fired. The proceedings were carried out in secret, the mayor and council retreating into their kiva as though this were a tribal meeting at San Ildefonso pueblo instead of City Hall. With everyone including Ms. Kepler refusing to elaborate, one can only wonder whether some kind of deal was struck.

The loophole in the state open meetings act that the city is hiding behind, allowing personnel decisions to be discussed in "executive session," was put there to protect the privacy of low-level employees -- a janitor, say, accused of drinking on the job. It was never intended as a screen for conducting important public business behind closed doors.

George Johnson

December 21, 2006

Davis mansion

December 23, 2006

The Ballad of Jerry Peters

(sung to the tune of "Richard Cory" by Simon and Garfunkel on the occasion of today's good tidings)

They say that Jerry Peters

owns one half of this whole town

With political connections

to spread his wealth around

Born into society,

a banker's only child

He had everything a man could want:

power, grace, and style.

But I worked in his gallery . . .

George Johnson

December 24, 2006

Death Comes for the First Lady


It was sad to read this morning that the former first lady, Dee Johnson -- or Dee Simms as I had known her -- died Thursday night at her place in Taos Ski Valley where she was getting ready for Christmas. I grew up two doors away from Dee on Lafayette Place in Albuquerque. Her father was our family dentist (mine was a doctor at the VA) and I remember going for x-rays and fillings at his office in Nob Hill Center. It's a very different place now, Jill's Bakery and the Piggly Wiggly replaced by the Montanita Food Co-op and Scalo, a northern Italian eatery. Across Central Avenue, the old pueblo-style fire station (I went there on a Cub Scout field trip) was converted long ago into another upscale restaurant, and the discount gas station on the corner of Central and Carlisle is an art gallery.

Though we were in the same grade, Dee and I moved in different circles. By the time we were at Highland High, she hung out with the cheerleaders while I was an aspiring hippie, writer, and rock musician. I don't know if Dee was a Republican yet or what she would have thought of my McCarthy buttons or black armband on Vietnam Moratorium Day. I lost track of her after college (we were both at UNM) but heard from my mother that she was marrying a ski bum named Gary Johnson. The next thing I knew he was governor.

The last time I saw Dee was at a Taste of Santa Fe charity benefit at Sweeney Center. There she was, the first lady of the state of New Mexico, wearing a white apron and carrying trays of food like any other volunteer. Governor Gary, in blue jeans, was there too, weaving through the crowd without the phalanx of armed, black-suited thugs that accompany Bill Richardson everywhere. I was surprised when she recognized me and touched to learn that she had paid a visit to my mother shortly after my father died.

New Mexico's first ladies have a way of outshining their husbands -- Barbara Richardson, Alice King, and the one who died too early, Albuquerque's Dee Simms.

Dee Simms
Homecoming Court, 1970

George Johnson

December 26, 2006

Wi-fi Paranoia

You know it's a slow news day when the most prominent story on page 1 is Hacker Warns of Wi-fi Risks. The issue is Santa Fe restaurants that have the good business sense to provide free wireless Internet access for their customers. Many of them, we are told, are at grave risk of having evil hackers break into their computers and steal customers' financial information.

The primary source of the story is a man "with minimal computer training" who works in the shipping department at Sears and apparently felt moved to contact the New Mexican, which was floundering to fill the news hole on the day after Christmas. The other source is the proprietor of a local Internet security company who has a vested Interest in making people paranoid. (The remedy he offers for the "threat" is that businesses hire him to monitor their systems.)

Let's say an evil hacker is sitting in a local coffee house sipping a cafe latte and trying to use his laptop to steal credit card numbers. First he would have to gain access to the wireless router that is broadcasting the wi-fi signal. Now it is possible that whoever set up the network was careless enough to leave unchanged the default password (something really lame like "password"), but even so our villain would still have to penetrate another layer -- to the machine he was trying to hack. Unless it was suicidally insecure -- without a firewall and welcoming connections through outmoded protocols like telnet -- this would be difficult indeed. And even if the computer had been left wide open, the villain would now be faced with guessing its login and password. And if, more likely than not, the machine with the business records is on a different "subnetwork" from the public wi-fi, he would have yet another barrier to overcome.

In the end, it would be easier to pick the lock on the office door and heist the computer. And then what would you have? Credit card processing systems are designed not to store the customers' numbers anywhere on the local system. Unless the business is using an old fashioned mechanical credit-card cruncher and making carbon-copy impressions to put in a drawer, your number should exist nowhere on the premisis.

The frustrating thing about stories like this, which play on ignorance, is that they are slowly driving free Internet access out of existence. Next time you flip open your laptop at a favorite cafe don't be surprised to find your way blocked by a No Trespassing sign.

George Johnson

December 27, 2006

The Night Before Christmas

Decorating the tree
at Cristo Rey

Around sundown on December 24th, I was walking down Camino Don Miguel toward Acequia Madre hoping that when I rounded the corner I wouldn't see the usual police cruiser parked catty-corner from Union Protectiva with its red and blue revolving lights wiping out the glow of the farolitos. I got my wish. To block off the area to traffic, the city was using one of its friendlier public safety cars and its blinking orange beacons were barely a distraction. Turning right on Camino del Monte Sol and heading toward Canyon Road I encountered a woman in a witch's hat decorated with battery-powered flashing lights. Another postmodern Christmas Eve in Santa Fe.

It was better this time. Just two or three years ago one of the galleries set up a public address system and had a d.j. blasting out happy talk and Christmas carols. But the shoulder to shoulder crowd with its dogs and cellphones seemed as big and noisy as ever. The closest I came to the silent night I'd hoped for was when I walked down the cul-de-sac of San Antonio Street where it almost seemed like what I imagine old Santa Fe to be. Near Acequia Madre Elementary I watched a flying farolito rising like a Christmas star and wondered, as I do every year, why the city can't work with PNM to turn off the streetlights, or why for that matter we have to have streetlights at all.

On my way back I stopped at the bonfire on Acequia Madre and Don Miguel where the commissioner of the ditch and his family were serenading the night with guitars. Now this finally felt neighborly. I spotted Councilor Heldmeyer among the revelers and she told me that earlier that day a man driving an enormous tractor-trailer rig had squeezed onto Canyon Road, breaking some tree branches, and parked on a sidewalk with a load of sculptures to sell to the Christmas Eve strollers. When a tow truck arrived to haul away the vehicle, the interloper became so incensed that he had to be handcuffed.

Returning home along Camino San Acacio, I felt like Charlie Brown wondering about the meaning of Christmas. The closest I suspect I'll ever come to seeing an angel is a flying farolito, but even an agnostic can be moved by Linus's reply:

December 30, 2006

Snow Day

With the view from the Andrew Davis webcam blocked by the accumulation of what the Journal is describing as possibly the largest snowfall ever recorded in Santa Fe, I have reaimed the lens to take in the scene at Cristo Rey. Yesterday afternoon I measured 13 inches when I shoveled off the walkway to my office. By noon today another foot had to be cleared. That's 25 inches total, which has settled to a depth just shy of 19 inches. During a walk around the neighborhood this morning on snowshoes, I took some pictures.

Cristo Rey Church

Camino San Acacio


December 31, 2006

snow twist

December 31, 2006

snow curl

George Johnson

on to Part 36, The Top 10 Stories of 2007 . . .

Coming Soon: The Battle for Talaya Hill

The Tom Ford Webcam

The Andrew and Sydney Davis Webcam

Santa Fe Review Detours of the Wild West

The Santa Fe Review

More links:

See the current flow of the Santa Fe River above McClure Reservoir with the USGS automated gauge.

The Otowi gauge shows the flow of the Rio Grande north of Santa Fe.

Santa Fe water information, a collection of documents and links