Group has gathered about 100 signatures toward election

Kevin Wilson

The High Plains Patriots are at least one-fourth of their way to forcing the city’s affordable housing plan onto a special election ballot.

Meanwhile, another grassroots group is organizing to persuade Clovis voters not to sign the petitions, or overturn the plan if it comes to an election.

During the May 5 Clovis City Commission meeting, commissioners voted 6-1 to create an affordable housing plan.

The plan is an amendment to the state’s anti-donation clause, which otherwise says a city cannot “directly or indirectly lend or pledge its credit or make any donation to or in aid of any person, association or public or private corporation.”

Cities, including Clovis, have created a similar amendment for economic development ventures.

The following Monday, the High Plains Patriots filed a petition to force a referendum election on the plan. The filing came less than a week after Clovis voters upheld a .25 percent gross receipts tax hike to take effect Jan. 1.

Any ordinance, according to city charter, can be put to a vote with a petition signed by enough registered Clovis voters to exceed 20 percent of the previous municipal election turnout is submitted within 30 days of passage.

For this petition, that means 456 signatures by June 6.

Kim Runyan, president of the Patriots, said an unofficial count was made at a meeting held Tuesday morning.

“We’ve got six pages turned back in,” Runyan said. “We’ve got 100 names, but people are still collecting names. They’re not bringing them back yet.”

Runyan said that citizens turning in petitions should get them as early as possible to Clovis Concrete, so the group can compare signatures with a voter registration list provided by the city during its petition against the GRT increase.

“Every time our papers go in, (our counter) goes to that Excel spreadsheet,” Runyan said. “If we can’t find it, we don’t count that against the 456 number.”

On the day the Patriots filed a petition, a group called Clovis Citizens for Progress circulated a flyer asking citizens not sign the petition.

Zala Smith is a member of the Clovis Citizens for Progress, and said there are no official offices for the group.

“It’s a very loosely formed thing at this point,” Smith said. “It didn’t even exist until this petition came up. It doesn’t have a leader, per se. It’s just a few of us grassroots citizens who are in support of this plan.”

Smith said there’s a good chance the petition will go forward, meaning a special election would take place at a cost of around $17,000 to Clovis citizens.

“It would be ideal if the petition wasn’t successful,” Smith said. “It’s going to take time, energy and money that doesn’t necessarily have to be spent. We will have to be prepared to educate the community.”

Much of the argument has been about a plan for the Hotel Clovis. Tierra Realty of Taos has a $12.8 million project planned to turn the hotel and an adjacent building into 59 rental units and space for a business to use.

The Patriots point to a commitment letter that allows a $1.4 million loan for the project to be converted into half-grant, half non-recourse loan with deferment options — in essence, a $1.4 million check to a private developer.

Proponents said it would cost more to demolish the building and have nothing than to rebuild the hotel and revitalize the downtown area, and Tierra Realty has $9 million in private dollars invested.

“The reason we believe it’s important is I believe it’s a tool the city needs to attract development in the housing area,” Smith said. “The call has been placed to build houses in a price range that are affordable.

“We are lacking housing in certain price ranges. This plan would allow the city to attract cities in the same way (as) industrial development.”

Regarding Clovis Citizens for Progress, Runyan said, “We feel like most of these people are progressives, which means they’re liberal and they believe in a socialist agenda.”

Runyan said paperwork for the Hotel Clovis has indicated it will be low-income housing for people living in poverty, and not affordable housing as it’s being touted.

Smith doesn’t think there’s anything socialist about the plan, especially considering the dollars that have been spent on private companies in the name of economic development. If it’s forgiving a permit fee or donating an empty lot, she said, the investment will pay off.

“To give something, you’re going to get something,” Smith said. “They’re not going to arbitrarily give something unless they’re doing a development.

“It’s not going to be just handing out something. It’s not socialism like they keep saying. It’s matched by an investment.”

The commission doesn’t have to approve a project, but Runyan said the assumption is the commission will, and the city will pay for the project over and over again.

When the Patriots submitted the petition on the GRT increase, members stopped counting after they had verified 760 signatures, but more than 1,000 signatures were collected. This time, Runyan said the group would be comfortable submitting at least 600.