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TUES: Ex-NMSU basketball player not facing charges in fatal UNM shooting, + More

Former New Mexico State University basketball player Mike Peake will not face charges in connection with the November 2022 fatal shooting on the campus of the University of New Mexico that left 19-year-old Brandon Travis dead. The Aggies put Peake on indefinite suspension shortly after the shooting.
Former New Mexico State University basketball player Mike Peake will not face charges in connection with the November 2022 fatal shooting on the campus of the University of New Mexico that left 19-year-old Brandon Travis dead. The Aggies put Peake on indefinite suspension shortly after the shooting.

Ex-New Mexico State basketball player not facing charges in fatal shooting - Associated Press

Former New Mexico State basketball player Mike Peake will not face charges in a fatal shooting on a rival college's campus last year, according to authorities.

The Bernalillo County District Attorney's Office said in a statement Monday evening that "the decision to not charge Mike Peake was made by the prior administration based on all the facts and evidence presented to them. Nothing has changed, so we're honoring that decision."

Peake was placed on indefinite suspension shortly after the Nov. 19 shooting death of Brandon Travis, a 19-year-old University of New Mexico student.

Peake, 21, told authorities that he was lured to UNM's Albuquerque campus by a female student hours before the Aggies were to play the rival Lobos.

Authorities said Travis and two other men then assaulted Peake with a baseball bat in a dormitory parking lot as part of a revenge plot stemming from a fight last October in Las Cruces.

Video surveillance footage showed an exchange of gunfire between Travis and Peake. Authorities said Travis was shot multiple times and died at the scene while Peake suffered a leg wound and survived.

Peake, a 6-foot-7 junior forward, entered the NCAA transfer portal in December but has yet to join another college team.

In February, New Mexico State indefinitely suspended its men's basketball program in a move that university officials said was unrelated to the fatal shooting.

New Mexico homelessness spikes as housing costs surge - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

A tally of the homeless population in New Mexico shows an abrupt jump in the number of people living without permanent housing or with no shelter at all, according to the legislative agency focused on budgeting and accountability.

A spot-count commissioned by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on a winter night in January identified about 3,850 homeless people, 48% more than a year earlier, a report released Tuesday found.

The count reflected many more unsheltered people — mostly in Albuquerque, where authorities are grappling with encampments on sidewalks and riverside parks.

The change interrupts a gradual, decade-long decline in homelessness in New Mexico, which has the highest poverty rate in the western U.S., according to the nonpartisan research agency.

"Poverty rates are high, labor participation is low. There is high substance abuse rates," Kathleen Gygi, a program evaluator, told a legislative panel at the state Capitol. "These are all things that compound the problems."

About half of available shelter beds were being used when surveyed, but some shelters were full and others were hard for people to reach.

The study highlighted a decline in affordable housing as rent increases vastly outpaced personal income growth. Average rents statewide have risen by about 70% since 2017, versus a 15% increase in incomes.

Legislators and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham are searching for the best ways to spend $84 million in new state funding to reduce homelessness and boost affordable housing.

The Legislature's analysis of homelessness and housing found that people in New Mexico stay in shelters and transitional housing for relatively short periods, about half the national average.

But New Mexico's largest city, Albuquerque, faltered when it came to successfully transitioning people into permanent housing. About 20% of people in the city's shelters or temporary housing successfully make the leap into permanent housing each year, far below the national average and the 40% transition rate for Phoenix.

A dire struggle with homelessness amid soaring real estate prices was on prominent display Monday at an emergency shelter for men near downtown Santa Fe, just across the street from the city's thriving Railyard district of art galleries, restaurants, bars and a boutique movie theater.

Scott Snyder, a 67-year-old with limited use of his hands because of a childhood accident, moved into the facility run by St. Elizabeth Shelters in January after his truck broke down and he could no longer sleep in it. He said cheap rental apartments and spare rooms were plentiful when he moved to Santa Fe in the 1980s.

"The affordable rentals are almost nonexistent, they've all dried up," Snyder said.

St. Elizabeth Executive Director Eduard Archuleta oversees two shelters in Santa Fe along with publicly subsidized apartment complexes that support chronically homeless people, disabled adults and low-income families with a variety of support services. The facilities are consistently filled to capacity, he said.

Archuleta says he has been astonished to see professionals with modest incomes but no place to call home turn up in droves to apply for space at the the organization's 120-unit affordable housing complex that opened in 2021.

"It was a deluge of people and most of them you never would have guessed that they were homeless," he said.

At Tuesday's hearing, housing analysts warned that commitments to subsidized rent at hundreds of units may expire without intervention over the next decade. However, the state's financing authority for affordable housing does support a robust pipeline of multifamily units for low- and moderate-income families.

Isidoro Hernandez, CEO of the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority, said more than 50 multifamily projects with 4,300 units are under development or construction across the state.

Native Americans were overrepresented in New Mexico's homeless population — accounting for 17% of the homeless population and just 11% of the overall population, the study found. That often translates into overcrowded housing.

"We don't see the homeless because we don't allow people to be homeless. We will take them in," said state Rep. Derrick Lente, a tribal member of Sandia Pueblo.

Community solar moves forward; developers chosen to set up renewable energy facilities - By Megan Gleason, Source New Mexico

After weeks of delay, New Mexico’s push to get solar energy to communities like apartment renters and low-income households is progressing again.

InClime, a renewable energy-affiliated company, chose 45 solar facility projects out of over 400 proposals, giving companies the green light to start the process to set up farms they’ll soon operate for New Mexico’s community solar program.

New Mexicans could be able to officially start signing up to be part of the program next month.

The project announcements on Monday came weeks later than state officials anticipated, after multiple companies that applied to set up and run solar facilities filed complaints with the state’s Public Regulation Commission alleging InClime had errors in its program application process.

The PRC put the community solar process on hold while sorting that out.

“The PRC’s staff has put in a great deal of effort to make this program a success,” Commissioner James Ellison said in a news release. “The PRC is proud to play a role in bringing community solar to New Mexico.”

Over half the solar facilities InClime chose will be located in southern New Mexico.

The solar energy that’s eventually generated will go to customers of the three investor-owned utilities in the state — the Public Service Company of New Mexico, the Southwestern Public Service Company and El Paso Electric — who choose to opt in. PNM customers will get a majority of the energy.

Renters, homeowners and businesses that choose to be part of community solar don’t have to purchase and install solar panels themselves, according to the PRC. The legislation that enacted community solar also specifies that participants will get a break on their utility bills for being part of the program, and at least 30% of the solar energy generated has to go to low-income communities.

Developers will start reaching out to eligible New Mexicans in the next few weeks to try to get them to participate in community solar, according to the PRC. The commission said project disclosure forms are scheduled to be released in June, then communities could start signing contracts to be part of the program.

Meanwhile, the companies setting up these solar farms need to get on preexisting energy grids. The PRC said the chosen developers will work with the investor-owned utilities to sort this out in coming weeks as well.

If any of the companies InClime chose can’t meet predetermined commitments or drop out of the community solar program, there’s a waitlist with dozens more companies that can step in instead.

‘Duster’ streaming series halts production as unions support striking writersAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A streaming series being filmed in New Mexico has suspended production after members of two unions refused to cross picket lines set up to support writers who are on strike nationwide.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the show “Duster,” whose executive producers include J.J. Abrams, began filming in April around Albuquerque and several other areas. It’s slated for streaming on Max, formerly known as HBO Max.

Members of the International Alliance of Theatrical State Employees and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters — the main unions for crews and drivers on sets — are supporting the Writers Guild of America, which has been on strike since early this month.

Writers say the rise of streaming has hurt their earning power. It’s the first writers’ strike — and the first Hollywood strike of any kind — in 15 years.

The union is seeking higher minimum pay, more writers per show, and shorter exclusive contracts, among other demands — all conditions it says have been diminished in the content boom driven by streaming.

ABQ icon Don Schrader hospitalized in hit-and-run - Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News

Albuquerque’s long-time icon Don Schrader has walked the streets for decades––telling the Albuquerque Journal it’s been 44 years since he’s driven a car.

Though, as the Journal reports, the city’s most recognizable pseudocelebrity was hit by a car in a hit-and-run that left Schrader badly injured in the hospital.

Since then, he has undergone elbow and knee surgery and may be transferred to Lovelace hospital for rehab.

Schrader was crossing the street near the South Broadway Public Library when he was hit by a fast-moving car.

Schrader has told police he couldn’t see who the driver was or what vehicle they were driving, but says he forgives them.

Zia Pueblo awarded for best tasting water in the country Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News

If you find yourself parched while on Zia Pueblo, you’re in luck — their water tastes great. So great that they’ve taken home top prize at this year’s Annual Great American Water Taste Test.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the pueblo northwest of Albuquerque first beat out the rest of New Mexico as the tastiest water in the Land of Enchantment. They went on to compete against most other states in the national contest at the Rural Water Rally in Washington D.C. this month, taking home the mouthwatering gold metal.

The Pueblo primarily relies on groundwater pumped from the Rio Grande Aquifer, according to a 2019 report from the Bureau of Reclamation. It supplies water to just under 1,000 residents.

Montana acts to protect Native American priority in adopting Native children - By Matthew Brown Associated Press

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte has signed legislation giving Native American families preference in fostering and adopting Native children involved with child protective services, a proactive move to protect such rights as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a case that could undercut them nationally.

Gianforte signed the Montana Indian Child Welfare Act on Monday after it passed the Legislature by a wide margin.

Governors in Wyoming and North Dakota signed similar laws this spring, while a proposal in Utah stalled in the state Legislature.

The measures are modeled after the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, which Congress passed in 1978 in response to the alarming rate at which Native American and Alaskan Native children were taken from their homes by public and private agencies and subjected to physical and emotional abuse.

A pending Supreme Court challenge has put the federal law in jeopardy. During a hearing last year, justices seemed likely to leave in place most of the law that gives preference to Native American families in foster care and adoption proceedings involving Native children. The law also requires child welfare agencies to provide services to help Native families move toward reunification.

The Montana bill was amended by lawmakers to sunset after two years. Its Democratic sponsor, Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, said he initially introduced the measure a decade ago after some state district court judges were not following the federal law in Native children custody cases.

The new law includes "specific language that strengthens the protections of the child," Windy Boy said.

Gianforte was scheduled to be in Texas Tuesday for a Republican Governors Association meeting. His spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment.

Ten other states already had similar laws in place, including New Mexico, whose law took effect this year. They too could be affected depending on how the justices rule. Most federally recognized tribes want the act upheld, fearing that an adverse ruling could dismantle a whole range of federal laws based on their political relationships with the U.S. government.

Opponents include non-Native families who have tried to adopt American Indian children in emotional legal cases.

A handful of white families claim the federal law is based on race and is unconstitutional under the equal protection clause. They claim it puts tribal interests ahead of children. Lower courts have split on the issue.

From 1887-1969, Native children were placed in boarding schools that used abusive practices to assimilate them into white society. Many were adopted by non-Native families, often depriving them of their tribal and cultural heritage.

In Montana, nearly 11% of all children are Indigenous, but they made up 37% of those in foster care in 2021, according to the National Indian Child Welfare Association. About 9% of North Dakota children are Indigenous, a state where they account for 44% of the children in foster care, the association said.

Montana lawmakers added language to the final bill indicating they intend to revisit the issue in future sessions.

"The Legislature does not expect this to be the final word on how we deal with Indian child welfare issues or how we seek to provide for all of Montana's children within the child protection system," they wrote.

New Mexico Supreme Court issues opinion to provide guidance about pretrial detention – Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court issued an opinion Monday providing guidance to district courts in deciding pretrial detention requests from prosecutors and clarifying when the judiciary can deny bail under the state’s no-money bail system.

The justices clarified the analysis that courts should follow in determining whether legal requirements have been met for a person charged with a felony to be held in jail while awaiting trial.

Under state law, a felony defendant may be detained if prosecutors file a written motion and prove to a district court that the charged person is dangerous and that release conditions will reasonably protect the safety of any other person or the community.

In February, the high court reversed a district court’s denial of a motion for pretrial detention of a Bernalillo County man charged with first-degree murder.

But while the state Supreme Court’s decision was being sorted out, the suspect allegedly cut off his ankle monitor while awaiting trial. He was arrested weeks later.

Actor Jeremy Renner wants tax credits for film projects in northern Nevada, but he may have to wait – Gabe Stern, Associated Press

Actor Jeremy Renner's hopes to expand a measure for the film industry to northern Nevada were effectively dashed Monday when the bill's sponsor said it's too late to entertain in the current legislative session.

A bill moving through the Nevada Legislature would provide $190 million annually in tax credits over at least 20 years aimed at bringing film productions to two sites in southern Nevada, including a $1 billion Sony expansion.

Renner, who played the sharp-shooting Hawkeye of the Avengers squad in Marvel’s sprawling movie and television universe, lobbied lawmakers Monday for a third site in northern Nevada that he said could rival film production studios in Atlanta and New Mexico where he shot Avengers and other films.

Democratic Sen. Roberta Lange of Las Vegas, the bill sponsor, and Brandon Birtcher, a developer who spearheaded the project said it was too late in the project to add another site. But Lange said a potential amendment could potentially provide for a study to look at what economic impacts a northern Nevada expansion would bring.

“It took two years to get that bill to where it is today. And so to bring in something else, a whole new idea at this point, it’s probably not going to work,” said Lange. “But I think we need to look at it.”

The bill is the latest attempt at diversifying southern Nevada's economy that relies largely on revenue from gambling and tourism but that was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. The proposed tax incentives are the largest in recent state history, even with the deals that numbered in the hundreds of millions with Tesla and lithium battery recycling company Redwood Materials.

But unlike those deals, which used direct tax abatements, private developers and studios must hit certain goals to receive expansive tax credits. Two sites are proposed, one on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and another in the Summerlin area of Las Vegas.

Developers would have to spend $500 million and $400 million on the sites by 2030, and studios would have to wrap up film production before getting tax credits.

Neither the state Senate nor the Assembly has voted on the bill, and Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo hasn't chimed in on it.

The proposal stems from two years of negotiations but was introduced in the Legislature with three weeks to spare in the biennial session, unbeknownst to many, including Renner. He said he heard about it during a trip to Los Angeles and scrambled to try to get a last-minute amendment to include the Nevada county where he lives and others in the region.

“I have a desire and want to...speak up for people in Elko (County), people up here in Washoe (County), that we also deserve the opportunity to reap the benefits of building studios, jobs, infrastructure for the film industry," Renner told The Associated Press. "And that’s my main impetus to to be here.”

Now, a study to look at the economic impact of a northern Nevada project is more likely to be added to the bill, Lange said. The condensed timeline and added tax breaks make funding a third zone nearly impossible until the 2025 Legislative session.

Renner, who moved to northern Nevada about 10 years ago, said he wants to work on films closer to home and argues that the area's landscape including Reno, Lake Tahoe, and rural swaths of land would draw interest from major studios worldwide.

New Mexico already offers a rebate of between 25% and 35% of in-state spending for video production. Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation in April that also increases payouts to productions based in rural areas of the state.

Renner said the Nevada incentives could rival Georgia's, which has become the nationwide leader in film incentives. Films there receive a 30% break on in-state costs that are not capped, along with other local incentives.

Expanding the film industry to northern Nevada would take more tax credits than currently proposed, Lange said. State analysts predicted a maximum cost of over $3.5 billion over the next 20 years for the tax credits for the southern Nevada sites, a small part of which would fund local workforce training and education.

Opponents of the bill argue massive tax credits would better be spent on schools, health care and mental health services.

If the bill is approved, construction on the two sites could start as soon as 2025, with studios using the space in 2027. Sony has said it would invest $1 billion in the next decade at the Summerlin site, contingent upon incentives from the state.

Renner said he's talked with Disney and other media companies about bringing more films to northern Nevada.

“I don’t know how to put a bill together or try to move the needle forward. And I’m not a policy guy," Renner said. "So I was really excited about (the bill). And then I was frustrated that it wasn’t very inclusive.”

Breakthrough proposal would aid drought-stricken Colorado River as 3 Western states offer cuts – Suman Naishadham and Ken Ritter, Associated Press

Arizona, Nevada and California said Monday they’re willing to cut back on their use of the dwindling Colorado River in exchange for money from the federal government -- and to avoid forced cuts as drought threatens the key water supply for the U.S. West.

The $1.2 billion plan, a potential breakthrough in a year-long stalemate, would conserve an additional 3 million acre-feet of water through 2026, when current guidelines for how the river is shared expire. About half the cuts would come by the end of 2024. That's less than what federal officials said last year would be needed to stave off crisis in the river but still marks a notable step in long and difficult negotiations between the three states.

The 1,450-mile (2,334-kilometer) river provides water to 40 million people in seven U.S. states, parts of Mexico and more than two dozen Native American tribes. It produces hydropower and supplies water to farms that grow most of the nation's winter vegetables.

In exchange for temporarily using less water, cities, irrigation districts and Native American tribes in the three states will be paid. The federal government plans to spend $1.2 billion, said Lauren Wodarski, a spokesperson to U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat.

Though adoption of the plan isn't certain, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton called it an “important step forward.” She said the bureau will pull back its proposal from last month that could have resulted in sidestepping the existing water priority system to force cuts while it analyzes the three-state plan. The bureau's earlier proposal, if adopted, could have led to a messy legal battle.

"At least they’re still talking. But money helps you keep talking,” said Terry Fulp, former regional director of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Basin region.

The three Lower Basin states are entitled to 7.5 million acre-feet of water altogether from the river. An acre-foot of water is roughly enough to serve two to three U.S. households annually.

California gets the most, based on a century-old water rights priority system. Most of that goes to farmers in the Imperial Irrigation District, though some also goes to smaller water districts and cities across Southern California. Arizona and Nevada have already faced cuts in recent years as key reservoir levels dropped based on prior agreements. But California has been spared.

Under the new proposal, California would give up about 1.6 million acre-feet of water through 2026 — a little more than half of the total. That's roughly the same amount the state first offered six months ago.

But the threat of forced federal cuts — made more strongly last month — appears to have prompted action.

“It’s always a concern when states lose control of their own process,” said John Entsminger, general manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

The Imperial Irrigation District would account for more than half of California’s cuts. J.B. Hamby, chairman of the Colorado River Board of California, said the district has already taken measures to improve water efficiency and will need to do more. He said the district is working on a pilot summer idling program where farmers would sign up to turn off their water for 60 days for forage crops. During that time of year, yields are already down and more water is required, he said.

Bill Hasencamp, manager of Colorado River resources for the Metropolitan Water District of California, which supplies water to 19 million people in southern California, said the wet winter means the state simply needs less water. His district is planning on leaving 250,000 acre feet this year in Lake Mead, and won’t withdraw it until after 2026.

The district will also turn over to the federal government a program that pays farmers to fallow land that typically nets them about 130,000 acre feet of water a year, he said. Metropolitan will save roughly $100 million over three years, he said.

Buschatzke stressed that the announcement is not a final deal.

“We agreed to a proposal. This is not an agreement,” Buschatzke said during a conference call with reporters. Buschatzke said the proposal still needs analysis and approval from the federal government, which will determine how much funding will be allocated for entities that give up water.

The plan doesn’t change how much water the Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah or Wyoming will receive. Becky Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said that Upper Basin states didn’t have a chance to analyze the Lower Basin's plan in detail.

“The wet winter has given us a bit of space to negotiate, but we must not squander this gift from Mother Nature,” Mitchell said. She said Colorado and other basin states urged federal officials to return to longer-term discussions about how to preserve water levels at Lakes Mead and Powell beyond 2026.

The Colorado River has been in crisis for years due to a multi-decade drought in the West intensified by climate change, rising demand and overuse. Water levels at key reservoirs dipped to unprecedented lows, though they have rebounded somewhat thanks to heavy precipitation this winter.

In recent years the federal government has cut some water allocations and offered billions of dollars to pay farmers, cities and others to cut back. But key water officials didn't see those efforts as enough to prevent the system from collapsing.

Last summer, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation called for the seven basin states to figure out how to cut their collective use of Colorado River water by about 2 to 4 million acre feet in 2023 alone — roughly 15% to 30% of their annual use — but states blew past that deadline and an agreement remained elusive.

In April, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released a plan that considered two ways to force cuts for Arizona, Nevada and California. One contemplated using a decades-old water priority system that would have benefited California and some Native American tribes with senior water rights. The other would have been a percentage cut across the board.

Michael Cohen, a senior researcher at the Pacific Institute focused on the Colorado River, called the amount of cuts the three states have proposed a “huge, huge lift” and a significant step forward.

“It does buy us a little additional time,” he said. But if more dry years are ahead, “this agreement will not solve that problem.”