Initial Thoughts on the Santolina Controversy

Now that the Legislature is in the books, attention has turned to a major land development being proposed for the Albuquerque area called “Santolina.”

According to news reports, Santolina would be home to 90,000 people on 14,000 acres of the southwest mesa.

Opposition has sprung up from some who claim to be concerned that we don’t have enough water for those people. There are some who use the lack of water in New Mexico as an excuse to never do any development. But as I’ve written before, New Mexico doesn’t have a water supply problem; it has a water distribution problem. We need to accurately price water and use market forces to allocate it to its highest and best use.

So, water is not the problem. I do question estimates that the community will create 38,000 homes and 75,000 jobs given New Mexico’s economic woes. Perhaps the political situation in Santa Fe will change between now and when this development gets under way, but with New Mexico LOSING population last year, it is hard to see all these jobs and people coming. This isn’t “Field of Dreams” after all. But quite honestly, that isn’t my problem. If someone wants to buy a bunch of land and develop it, who am I to stop them?

The last major thing to consider with Santolina seems to be the one that, at least at this point is not generating a great deal of controversy. That is the $37.1 million of Tax Increment Development Districts (TIDD) infrastructure investments which Santolina is expected to request if their plans are approved. As free market development and transportation expert Randal O’Toole notes, TIF/TIDD is fraught with problems.

So, by all means, approve Santolina. There’s no reason for government to stand in the way of its development, but there’s no reason for existing taxpayers to subsidize it either.