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.
Paul & Roxanne