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Some Critical of Plan to Incorporate Villa de Santa Cruz

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santa cruz church al duran incorporation proposal

Al Duran believes the community of Santa Cruz is only characterized as a land grant today because the office of the surveyor general of New Mexico mistakenly recognized it as such, and now, therefore, it should now be considered a municipality. 

Alfonso Duran, an Española Valley resident who has long been involved in Rio Arriba County politics, is hoping that the U.S. and state of New Mexico will recognize Santa Cruz de la Cañada as a township instead of a land grant and, in the process, alter current landholdings.

Don Diego de Vargas, he said, founded Santa Cruz as a villa, not as a land grant, in 1695. Duran believes it is only characterized as a land grant today because the office of the surveyor general of New Mexico mistakenly recognized it as such, and now, therefore, it should now be considered a municipality. He also believes Santa Cruz should be allowed to extend its boundaries, even though such extension would mean pushing into Federal and Pueblo lands.

Not all agree—John Chavez, former board member of the Santa Cruz Land Grant, understands that “villa” does not refer to land, but to a civic arrangement. He hopes to maintain Santa Cruz’s status as a land grant and believes that Duran does not have sufficient community support for his plan.

Duran brought his concerns to the New Mexico legislature last February, and the House passed a memorial, Memorial 38, to consider Duran’s proposal.

The memorial was sponsored by Representatives Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe; Joseph Sanchez, D-Alcalde; and Eliseo Lee Alcon, D-Milan, who is Duran’s cousin. 53 representatives voted for the memorial, and zero voted against it. 

A final version of the memorial, published in April, states that Don Diego de Vargas established a villa, the Villa de Nueva de Santa Cruz de los Españoles Méxicanos del Rey Don Carlos Segundo, which became known as Santa Cruz de la Cañada.

It states that in 1854, the office of the surveyor general of New Mexico mistakenly recognized the villa as a community land grant, instead of as a villa, thus preventing it from being a municipality.

As a result, the memorial states, “Santa Cruz de la Cañada is now an unincorporated community and does not have the land planning authority to manage its growth, land use or establish water, sewer or refuse facilities.”

The memorial contains four resolutions:

• “That Rio Arriba County be encouraged to facilitate the incorporation of Santa Cruz de la Cañada as a municipality in order for it to have adequate governing authority needed to protect the health, safety and welfare of its residents;”

• that the Attorney General’s office review the land claims of Santa Cruz de la Cañada and determine whether the United States government should address these claims;

• that before Nov. 1, 2019, the Attorney General’s Office present its analysis to the legislative committee that studies land grants;

• and that the Rio Arriba Board of County Commissioners and the Attorney General receive copies of the Memorial.

The analysis from the Attorney General’s Office was released Oct. 29.

It disputes the Memorial’s claim that Santa Cruz de la Cañada “does not have the land planning authority to manage its growth, land use or establish water, sewer or refuse facilities,” stating that the Land Grant is a political subdivision of the state and that the heirs of the Land Grant can elect a Board of Trustees, which, according to state law, would have the power to “determine land use, local infrastructure and economic development of the common lands of the land grant-merced [and] determine zoning of the common lands of the land grant-merced.”

The report states, “Most of what HM 38 hopes to accomplish could be carried out by a Board of Trustees elected to administer the land grant.”

The Santa Cruz Land Grant is currently in a state of suspension, according to former Land Grant board member John Chavez, as after 2009, the board stopped meeting and land grant members failed to elect a new board. Chavez is currently working to ensure that members of the land grant can hold elections in April 2020.

Duran is also hoping for the township because of concerns about land availability, not only about governance: he wrote in a summary of his plan that residents of Santa Cruz de la Cañada have no space for a solid waste disposal facility and are contaminating the ground with septic tanks, that they need to drill wells deeper and deeper for water, and that they do not have enough land for economic development.

He is hoping to expand the boundaries of Santa Cruz de la Cañada according to historic land claims. To make the expansion possible, he said, he has been thinking about suggesting an arrangement with Santa Clara Pueblo.

He mentioned a possible consideration of shifting Santa Clara’s eastern boundary back, toward the west, while at the same time trying to work out some way the westernmost part of the Santa Clara canyon could be restored to Santa Clara.

Santa Clara Pueblo Gov. J. Michael Chavarria said Duran had not approached the Pueblo about this idea.

“This is the first time I’m hearing about this,” he said. “No one at the Pueblo or at the office is aware of this activity, so I can’t comment on anything.”

The report from the Attorney General’s Office notes that according to historic land claims, the proposed municipality would “undoubtedly intersect with Pueblo and BLM adjacent lands,” and that “extending into pueblo lands has long been prohibited by the United States government.”

Community response

Heirs of the Santa Cruz Land Grant, like Chavarria, have been surprised by Duran’s idea.

Don Bustos, a former board member of the Santa Cruz Land Grant, said he protested the House Memorial because he believed “it was something that the community wasn’t aware of.”

Chavez, who has been working to organize elections for a new board since September when the Attorney General’s office notified him about House Memorial 38, said he believes that the Memorial is undemocratic.

“Based on all of my research into the creation of this Memorial it appears that a limited number of citizens with political connections managed to get it passed through the New Mexico House of Representatives without any community involvement from the people the Memorial intends to affect,” he said.

He said that state law calls for no less than 60 percent of the property owners in the intended area to sign a petition for the formation of a municipality.

Duran said he did try to meet with members of the community in Santa Fe County—though the “dominant portion” of Santa Cruz de la Cañada is in Rio Arriba County, according to the Memorial—as he planned the proposal of his idea, but the meeting was “poorly attended.”

He said he did not feel the need to meet with members of the Land Grant, because the Land Grant is in abeyance.

“They had the opportunity to keep the land grant going—well they didn’t do that, so I stepped in,” he said. “I’m going to ask the state not to accept them as a land grant.”

Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo, said she had voted for the Memorial “as a favor to Al,” since a memorial has no force of law, but that she had concerns about community involvement.

If the idea were to move any further, she said, community involvement would be necessary.

Chavez echoed this sentiment: “We need to do what the people want, not what we want,” he said.

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