Dist. 46 Easements: A Complex Issue That, For Many People, Overshadows All Issues

You can write antagonistic blog posts at voters who support a candidate you have issues with OR you can have conversation with those supporters and try to understand. Retake took the latter path and today we share why easements mean so much in Dist. 46.

Thoughts on Dist. 46 & the Easement Issue

I haven’t written much about the easement or water issues in Northern NM because I have learned that it is inappropriate for relatively new residents of NM to try to ‘solve’ or even just venture to ‘explain’ centuries old issues such as this. New Mexico measures your tenancy in generations, not years, and so I am just approaching being a toddler. But to understand the level of passion informing the Dist. 46 primary and to describe the often tragic consequences of the unresolved issue of easements in the Pojoaque Valley, some historical context is important, so here goes. Apologies in advance if I over-simplify or mis-characterize this issue.

Historic Context.  The Court of Private Land Claims was created by Congress in 1905 to address land grant issues. In 1924, the Pueblo Lands Act created the Pueblo Lands Board to create the titles for the land holdings by non-Pueblo landowners within pueblo boundaries. Private land holders needed to provide proof of ownership or demonstrate that they had lived on lands within the Pueblo boundaries for at least 20 years or they were forced to leave. It was known at the time that the Pueblo Lands Act included roads that cut across Pueblo lands, but the Act did not specify how those roadways were to be addressed, and courts did not consider or address the issue because it was not specified in the Act. So while non-Pueblo land owners have title to their homes, they do not have title to the roads that access their property. As a result, landowners are unable to obtain title insurance and therefore can’t sell their land or borrow against it. That is about as deep as this toddler dares venture in describing this thorny issue, but it should be enough for those of you who have not had this on your radar to understand the importance of the issue. Now the impact on Dist. 46 residents.

The Impact of Unresolved Easement Issues.  After Saturday’s Poor People’s Campaign training, a woman we didn’t know who was from Dist. 46 asked Roxanne if I’d be willing to talk with her about my views on the easement and water issues. She was concerned that I didn’t understand how it impacts her community. She gave Roxanne details about the challenges she faces trying to sell her home. I don’t feel right about revealing those details, but can say that I have now had numerous conversations with residents of the District and have an ever-growing understanding of not just the complexity of the issues, but also the tragic impact it can have on property owners in Pojoaque Valley.

For the most part, we are not talking about privileged people trying to sell their second homes. These are working class folks, many of whom have put most or all of their life’s savings into homes thinking that they were building a nest egg for the future, for retirement, for their kids, for security to hedge their bets against future healthcare costs or long-term care. And then they find out that their nest egg is virtually valueless, as they can’t sell without title insurance. If your life or the life of your spouse requires funds from your nest egg, the easement problem is not “an issue,” it can be life and death. I have heard stories of people who could not borrow on their home to pay for life-saving chemotherapy; I have heard stories of people who could not sell their home so they could move to long-term, supported living. I attended a Town Hall facilitated by Congressman Lujan, and 14 of the 100 people in attendance indicated not being able to obtain title insurance and thus not being able to sell or borrow against their home. I suspect the number of residents in this situation is many hundred, perhaps a thousand. That is not okay.

So while I can’t venture a view of how this problem might be solved, I can report on the scope of the problem and the dire need for our government, local, state, national, and tribal to sort this out. While the easement (and the water) problem is extraordinarily complex and nested in colonial, cultural complexities, that is why we have three branches of government. Some problems are just too difficult to sort out without all parts of our government system working together. That decades pass without a resolution is precisely why Americans are cynical about government and elected officials. And when a voter base is very frustrated, public debate and voting become battles of us versus them. That is no way to solve problems or elect our representatives, but it is what happens when government can’t solve our most important problems.

Again, I can’t even begin to venture a solution, but I can express empathy for a community where water and easement issues are life-threatening. I am seeking out people with more knowledge and experience than I have to develop a more in-depth summary of the easements and the equally thorny water issue. I am out of my depth on these issues. But today my point is this: before those of us in Santa Fe who have access to title insurance and have relative water security, it would be good to consider how we would feel if our spouse were facing a life-threatening condition with an effective cure and we could not borrow against our life savings, and instead we had to watch them die. That is what fuels the passion among those who, despite recent charges of harassment, continue to support Carl Trujillo.

There is more to be said on this topic and Dist. 46, but for now I want to leave it here, hopefully with a more compassionate and empathic understanding some Pojoaque residents where easements and water transcend all other issues.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne

Categories: Climate Change, Agriculture, Land Use and Wildlife, Election, Political Reform & National Politics

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16 replies

  1. Paul and Roxanne,

    Thank you for making the effort to understand what is going on up here. I am appreciative and IMO many people to your north will be appreciative.

    The issues you discuss are not confined to the Pojoaque Valley. As issues move toward resolution here, they emerge in other places, and will continue to emerge across the state. It is important that those who are not yet impacted gain some understanding.

    Again, thanks.


  2. It is the US government that has a fiduciary duty to the tribes. Because of the utter uselessness of our federal representation (yes, all of them), the brunt of these “agreements” are being born by a handful of people in these northern communities. We have attempted to engage BRL, Udall and Heinrich. BRL writes letters, which is more than we can say for either of our Senators. It isn’t enough. These residents are instead squeezed by electric fees, the tax burden of road easements and who knows what in the future, while the federal government which OWES this to the tribes sits on its hands. Heinrich and Udall are as useless as tits on a boar. We watch them drive by, going to the Pueblos for photo ops and never stopping to talk to the rest of the voters in our district. They DO NOT CARE. As long as that casino money keeps pouring in and we keep reelecting them, it will continue. The Feds should give the tribes $$ to settle these issues PERMANENTLY, but none of them have the political will to do so.

    The people of HD46 should not have to pay with their very lives to solve these problems. The only solution lies in DC.

    I encourage you and your readers to visit opensecrets and see where the money comes from for BRL, Udall and Heinrich. Casino money is dirty, evil money that assures that these constituents never catch a break. While people complain about corporate money and PACS here, they never dare to mention the tribal money that pours into our candidates. It, too, is corporate money. It is borne from an industry which has also ruined lives in HD46. Yet, you say nothing. When will we talk about money pouring into our politicians’ coffers from the gaming industry?

    Paul, this is larger than easements, and it is larger even than a single state house seat. It is a system by which politicians are bought and sold, and no one really pays attention because, hey, there are only a few thousand people in Pojoaque and another 20,000 or so in Espanola that are directly affected. You sit in your perfectly appointed homes in the city, drive on public streets, get trash service, have public infrastructure, while these people are in a fight for the most basic services.

    I hope that you visit some of the northern communities. Poverty is rampant. Drug abuse is tearing apart entire communities. Their representatives (with a couple of notable exceptions) are simply lining their pockets with casino money and throwing their hands up in the air. Peace out.

  3. I like Paul am not from the area, and really only got involved when my District 2 County Commissioner Miguel Chavez refused to meet with residents and in several votes backed the Pueblos without giving any reasoning. So I went to three meetings of Northern New Mexico Protects with 300-400 People angry about the easements and no public officials on their side but Henry Roybal and Carl Trujillo. All others had taken CASINO money. This should be an area of reform that this group works on.

  4. On a related issue in district 46: the New Mexican reported that the Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club has removed its endorsement of Carl Trujillo because of the four women who have accused him of sexual harassment. I live in district 46, and in yesterday’s mail I received a flyer claiming that carl Trujillo is endose3d by the Sierra Club. It proudly has the Sierra Club logo displayed in the upper left had corner. I plan to send a photo to the Sierra Club.

    Elizabeth Romero

  5. Lets take a considered look at couple of things that have been said.

    1. The New Mexican on May 4th reported that the Sierra Club had revoked its endorsement of Carl Trujillo. Elizabeth Romero reports that “yesterday,” which would be May 7th, she received a Trujillo mailer still claiming that endorsement. I, who also live in the Pojoaque Valley, have received mail from Santa Fe as late as seven days after the post mark — and that was first class mail. Could it possibly be that that flyer was mailed before the endorsement was revoked? Somehow this seems like less of an issue than misspending thousands of dollars of the public’s money — a “mistake” that Andrea Romero does not deny.

    2. In Connecticut, before many of those reading this were born, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe put in a claim to everything — not just the roads — land, buildings, homes, within 800 acres. US Senator Lowell P. Weicker, Jr. of Connecticut, a Republican, stepped up and introduced the legislation that eventually secured $900,000 to settle the Pequot’s claim. The State of Connecticut eventually contributed $200,000. I have no way of determining the motivation of our two Senators — but it is a fact that they have been invisible on the easement issue. And where has the Democratic leadership in our state legislature been? Egolf? Wirth? Where are you?

    In Santa Fe County, the expense of the easement settlement fell totally upon Santa Fe County, which, if memory serves is the second in per capita income in New Mexico. Now, the easement issue moves to Rio Arriba County, which is far less able to bear the burden of settlement. At some point our Democratic leadership must start acting like leaders — or significant areas of this state will start voting like Republicans.

  6. Well written article and great comments here. The issues in our area are very complex, legally, and it takes enormous perseverance to gain a reasonable understanding. Therefore, it is the obligation of the affected people to attempt to convey the full picture although our message sometimes (often?) contains a tone of deep frustration. IMO, the tension in this year’s primary is fueled by a candidate that has shown a lack of moral integrity and has publicly stated that she feels the tribes are UNDER-represented. This hit a nerve with anyone in this district that has experienced the predatory tactics of our neighboring tribal leaders and their lawyers. The problem is compounded by many unethical and, therefore, unresponsive elected officials at ALL levels of government. The tribes are FAR from underrepresented and have over-played their sovereignty card during the last several years. Their ability to influence politicians has been financially rewarding and has constricted our local economy. The road easement issue alone jeopardizes hundreds of millions of dollars worth of private property values as it spreads northward …. Considering the Aamodt settlement, JMEC utility easements, County/State road easements, a two year attempt to circumvent a state gaming compact, and the Hunt Powerline proposal, it should be very apparent that our quality of life is being decimated. Another notable discriminatory maneuver was the closing down of the Pojoaque Pueblo’s Boys and Girls club (to non-native children) without notice just before the school year began last fall. This created a mad scramble for non-native parents to relocate their children for daycare/after-school care. Ironically, many of these northern NM families have a considerable % of Native American blood but are not pueblo “members” and are, therefore, being stripped of their rights and being treated like second-class citizens. We are only left to ask ourselves, “what’s next?”.

    So you see, Mr. Gibson, it has been a daily struggle to keep up with it ALL and to understand ANY of it (in legal terms) as our communities continue to stand up for our rights. You appear to be defending our federal delegation but, believe me, they know what’s going on and continue to ignore us. Therefore, we’re standing strong for the few that DO represent us well and will support them through the mud and grime that is being artificially generated these days. If you’re inclined to support a stable local economy and REPRESENTATION for all, it would be nice if you’d do the same.

  7. GOV. Jake Villareal also condemned the three public schools on Pueblo land and turned one into the Cities of Gold Casino. Non-Native people didn’t say boo about this and a bond issue was passed to build three new schools. Thus doubling the property taxes of residents (Pueblos residents are exempt from these taxes). The requirements of the Aapmodt settlement for a water AND sewer system are estimated to double again with ownership of the facilities to be turned over to the Pueblos. So everyone not in Pojoaque Valley multiple your tax by 4 and see if that is okay with you. San I was proposing a sewer bill of $127 a month back in 2010. $100 more than the City of Santa Fe. This is a raw deal that only Henry Roybal and Carl Trujillo are speaking out against.

  8. I happen to be the person who was at the PCC training and talked with Roxanne. The reason I approached her is that I felt the easement and water issues were being misunderstood on this blog. In particular, a previously made statement that Carl Trujillo had acted to stir up the situation at public meetings he held was, in my opinion as one who attended those meetings, incorrect. I have always been in favor of tribal sovereignty and dignity, but that should not come at the expense of individual property owners who are by no means responsible for what has happened in the past between tribal people and the US government. It is shameful that tribal leaders are willing to make collateral damage of their neighbors who never harmed them. They aren’t hurting the US government, only the little people who also struggle. It is like the poor people in inner cities stealing from one another to pay for a drug habit (which also happens here in Nambe). To claim the road to a person’s home and threaten to deny access is an act of aggression toward that person, which requires no additional “stirring” of conflict.

    When we purchased out home eight years ago, there was no warning that we were located within a pueblo boundary or that this fact might render our investment worthless. Sorry, but we came from southern New Mexico and didn’t know the area. It isn’t as if the realtor said, “By the way, this property into which you intend to invest your life savings is located within a pueblo boundary, which could result in its being worthless one day.” Our only intent was to have a piece of property large enough to grow a big garden and raise some chickens, because we really wanted to be good stewards of a piece of land.

    We use our surface water rights to grow food to feed ourselves, not to water a golf course or lawn. We put solar panels on our roof and installed 2000 gallons of rainwater catchment tanks to water our fruit trees during drought. We grow and can organic fruits and vegetable and grind our home-grown blue corn. We figured paying off the mortgage was the best retirement investment at our age, since we didn’t want to support the evil bankers by putting our money in the stock market. In other words, we are people who put a lot of effort into LIVING our values.

    Then we found ourselves facing unexpected health challenges and needing to sell our home. But last year, the realtor advised us not to even list it because of the title insurance issue. So for two years now, we have been struggling to pay a mortgage that is now unaffordable while living below the poverty level. My spouse’s health is declining so that I now worry whether we will physically be able to move if we are able to sell the house. And in the midst of this crisis, Trujillo and Roybal are the only government representatives who act like they care. And yes, I don’t care about allegations or any “bad votes” or who contributed to whose campaign. If Andrea Romero wants my vote, she needs to get up here and take a stand for regular people like me. So far as I am concerned, right now she is just another person from Santa Fe who won’t give a damn about the little people living in the rural area where I live. Because that is what the rest of the politicians behave like, in my experience. I’m glad she cares about the poor people in Africa, but how does she feel about the poor people from the district she wants to serve?

    • You have very articulately described your dilemma. I may quarrel a bit with you about the pueblos taking advantage of non-pueblo people as I think they have so little of their sovereignty left, I would argue they have every right to enforce that which does remain. I don’t blame them, I blame the state and federal government who have not used the power and resources they have to facilitate achieving a just solution. I know Andrea Romero and I am very, very confident that when elected, she will stand very strong for all residents of Dist. 46 and I think her approach is far more likely to achieve the end you seek and deserve. As an aside I sought to verify that Black Mesa is using surface water on the golf course. They do. I was told that the barrier to their using reclaimed was being addressed, but I am skeptical and will make sure to follow up on it as using surface water is entirely in conflict with native sustainable practices and sends a very bad message to people like you who are trying to preserve our scarce water resources. Thank you very much for writing. Paul

      • How is it okay to punish a few people for the sins of the many? Shall the non-pueblo people of Pojoaque Valley offer ourselves up a a scapegoat for the sins of our forefathers? As the old saying goes, “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” When does it end? In my opinion, my non-pueblo neighbors and I have become collateral damage in a war we didn’t start. I blame both the tribes and the government, both of whom have more resources and legal advice than I am capable of gathering.

        I have a neighbor who routinely burn his trash. I know this is illegal and I could exercise my right to call the fire department or the Air Quality Bureau every time he does so because I am right and he is wrong. He could get a lot of fines he can’t pay because he too is poor. In the process, I make an enemy of my neighbor, which does not serve me or my neighborhood in the long term.

        I call on all governments, tribal and otherwise, to stop inflicting pain and causing conflict between neighbors where none should exist. This is destruction of the social contract by which we all respect one another. This respect is what keeps the peace and makes a good life possible for everyone.

        The tribes indeed have little sovereignty left. But to exercise it to harm neighbors simply because they can is an unwise use of rights. I did not say they are “taking advantage.” Those are your words. I said that by taking actions which harmed their neighbors, they created an unnecessary conflict which will not be healed for generations to come.It is never okay to exercise rights to harm someone else simply because you can. It has historically never ended well.

        I realize that harm has been caused on all sides for generations. But it must end somewhere because we will never have peace anywhere if we all insist on using our “rights” to harm one another. Might never makes right.

    • Thanks for sharing. Sorry to hear about your situation. Were in this together as a community with EXCEPTIONAL state-level representation from Carl Trujillo. By staying active and informed (and voting!), we can fight off the corrupt forces that seem to have inundated our lives….

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