By Mike Cook
Las Cruces Bulletin
“I am pleased to report today that the state of our city is strong,” Mayor Ken Miyagishima said Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 24, as he delivered his annual state of the city address at city hall.
“The past year has again brought exceptional progress,” said Miyagishima, who was elected to his third four-year term as mayor last November. He cited the downtown civic plaza and the East Mesa Public Safety Campus that are now under construction as examples, along with the city’s intermodal transit center, renovation of the old city hall on Alameda Boulevard as a regional health clinic and redevelopment of the city’s Amador Proximo neighborhood west of downtown.
In his nearly 27-minute speech, Miyagishima also noted that the city has “continued to expand recreational facilities, ranging from the large open space being developed behind the Las Cruces Dam to the network of bike and walking trails that crisscross our city. Residents continue to enjoy our popular recreation facilities, including the Aquatic Center, our senior centers, and athletic fields,” he said.
Ongoing public investment
The mayor said the city is following the advice of policy experts who spoke at last year’s Domenici Institute at New Mexico State University, stressing “the importance of ongoing public investment, especially in infrastructure and education. These elements, we were told, are the key factors in building a solid future not just for local communities but our nation as a whole. I was happy to hear this because the decision to invest in ourselves is one of the most important commitments we’ve made as a city.”
These investments, Miyagishima said, include economic development projects; the largest street maintenance project in the city’s history; the construction of new fire stations; and energy conservation, which he said the city has achieved by installing LED lighting in 13 city buildings and upgrading thousands of street lights to LED.
Opposing electric rate change
Another important city investment, he said, was joining Doña Ana County and the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office in opposing a rate hike proposed by El Paso Electric.
Miyagishima reserved the harshest words in his speech for the utility company, saying, “In my view, the El Paso Electric business plan, developed during another era, is poorly adapted to the rapidly changing energy economy that we now inhabit. A special problem is the company’s choice to prioritize the construction of expensive new power plants rather than control peak demand through conservation and market incentives. Worse, this strategy threatens to lock consumers into paying for unnecessary generation capacity for decades to come.”
Although a final decision on the rate case has not yet been made by the state Public Regulation Commission, “it’s almost certain that our involvement in the case will result in substantial real dollar savings for the people of our city,” Miyagishima said.
The mayor was also critical of people who are skeptical of city investments. “They will try to convince us that we’re only responsible for ourselves. They will argue that the best way to build an economy is with low wages and rock-bottom taxes. They see many of the challenges we face in our community as insurmountable, and they believe the only way we can advance is to leave many behind. I have to admit that I am completely baffled by this point of view. When I look at our city, I see endless opportunity.”
Miyagishima had special praise for City Manager Robert Garza, city staff and members of the city council, whom he cited for their “vision and commitment.”
The mayor also recognized several local organizations, including the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Work Group of Doña Ana County. He introduced Teen Pregnancy Work Group Chair Dr. Earl Nissen and said the group has led the way to a 66 percent decrease in births among 15- to 17-year-olds in the county since 2005, along with a 39 percent decrease in births among 18- and 19-year-olds.
Miyagishima said the local Early Childhood Education Working Group “represents a county-wide effort to help parents— the child’s first and best teachers— ensure their children’s cognitive and emotional development.”
Community Schools, he said, “bring together dozens of organizations— from the Girls & Boys Clubs to the United Way of Southern New Mexico to NMSU— to help make our local school buildings hubs for activity for their surrounding neighborhoods.”
“Education, of course, is of special importance to me personally,” Miyagishima said. “I grew up in a family without a lot of financial resources, only a few blocks from Conlee Elementary School. My education at home, in the Las Cruces Public Schools, and at NMSU has played an enormous role in providing the many opportunities that I’ve enjoyed as an adult.”
The mayor said his visits to third-grade classrooms every week throughout the school year to promote the Mayor’s Fitness and Nutrition Program “are the highlights of my week.”
“I wish everyone could accompany me to those classrooms and see how serious the students are when they sign that commitment,” Miyagishima said. “I wish you could see how eager they are to engage with learning, to be strong and independent, and to take on the tasks of the world. Because I tell them they are our future generation and we are counting on them and they need to graduate from high school.
“But they can’t do it on their own. We need to hold up our end of the bargain as well. There’s no reason Las Cruces and Doña Ana County can’t be national leaders in making sure all our children are prepared for kindergarten, learn to read, succeed academically, graduate from high school, and both enter and complete a successful college or career program. This is clearly one of the most important things we can do for the future of our community,” he said.
Neighbors who struggle
“I’ll have to say, though, after the eight years I’ve been mayor, and the 22 years I’ve been in public office, and more than three decades in business and all the time we’ve shared as neighbors, I know that it’s not just the children who are important to us all,” he said.
Miyagishima said the city also has an obligation to “a young mother in our community out looking for work,” and “all the other workers in our community who show up every day to staff our businesses and nonprofits, our construction crews, our operating rooms, our mail routes and newspapers and schools. They deserve our investment too, and that includes a wage that allows them to lead successful lives, and participate fully in the economic life of our community.”
He also cited college students and “our neighbors who struggle with their mental or physical health. I think of those who are in chronic pain or have lost their sense of purpose, those in trouble who need a second chance. They too, were once bright-eyed and eager grade schoolers, enjoying a time when their own preciousness was never in doubt. We need to remember our neighbors’ value as they struggle, and know that they are wholly worthy of our investment and concern.”
“We have a culture and lifestyle that make people want to live here— both long-term residents as well as those new to our region,” the mayor said. “In addition to border-related opportunities in finance, logistics and transportation, we will have an opportunity to define ourselves uniquely and even more favorably within the region, as a prosperous center for education, medical care and quality of life. These are tremendous advantages for our community. The only thing we need is a vision large enough to reach our full potential, and a willingness to make the kind of investments that vision requires. That is a challenge we are determined to meet.
“This sense of valuing and caring for one another, whatever our station and circumstances in life, is yet one more advantage that we share as a community,” he said. “It’s the special sauce that drives and enlivens everything we do together, and one of the major reasons this is a special place to live.
“We seek to make sure that every resident— that’s every resident— has as many opportunities as possible to live a good and fulfilling life. That’s our common task and the commitment we make to one another. That’s why the state of our city is strong.
“I know that the work of our council and staff, the directions we set and the decisions we make, are only a small part of the efforts being made every day by the people of our city; by those who devote large parts of their lives to making our community better. What I can promise is that we will continue, individually and as your representatives, to do everything in our power to join you in that effort, and to continue to make this a great place to live. Thank you for joining me here today, and thank you for the opportunity to serve as your mayor. Let’s move forward with confidence on the tasks we have ahead.”