By Matthew Meyer,
especially for this site
On July 12th, the Santa Fe Board of County Commissioners voted 3-2 to deny the building permit sought by the UDV for a planned temple in a rural part of the county. Neighbors had fiercely opposed the project, which was the subject of about eight hours of expert testimony in the Commissioners’ last two meetings. Neighbors’ objections initially focused on increased traffic (and possibly hoasca-impaired driving), impacts on the water table, and the possibility of contamination of the water supply by UDV members who ingest hoasca and then use the bathroom, which was to be on a septic system. Neighbors went so far as to hire expert witnesses who argued that harmaline–not DMT–would be excreted, unchanged, and then migrate to neighbors’ wells and harm their children.
The UDV brought in experts on well drilling, water use, and ayahuasca. In my judgment, these experts’ testimony addressed the legitimate concerns of neighbors as embodied in the county’s building code. County staff thought so, too, recommending approval of the project. Despite the existence of other churches in the area, however, neighbors were able to appeal to the notion of “compatibility” with the neighborhood. According to the Albuquerque Journal, Commissioner Robert Anaya said, “When I read the code as the code is written and I see the word ‘community services facility’ and compatibility and take those into consideration, that’s the basis for my vote.” Commissioner Kathleen Holian was a little more blunt: “This is in my district, and I will just simply say I cannot support this development.” Commissioner Liz Stefanics, who voted to allow the project, said “I believe this is not a decision the community wants to have happen, yet I believe the applicant has complied with existing code,” adding that “One has to wonder, if there are already existing churches in the area, what’s so different about this?” Stefanics said.
The elephant in the room, of course, was the use of hoasca. While the neighbors eventually backed off of claims that hoasca use would cause problems in the area, there seemed to be a climate of mistrust and ill will that was never overcome. Opponents seemed determined to pull out all the stops to defeat the project. For example, one young man, who was visibly upset, spoke to the Board about his brother, who committed suicide in 2010 after having been a member of the UDV in Santa Fe. He was convinced that his brother had changed for the worse as a result of participating in the UDV, and said so. All the expert testimony that the UDV was able to marshall seems not to have been enough to turn the tide of neighbors’ sentiment. It has been suggested privately that perhaps the UDV could have done a better job of inviting the community to see inside their practice a bit more, in order to win over hearts and minds.
It is not clear what will happen next. The UDV may opt for a legal challenge on the basis of unfair treatment by the Board, but its leadership has apparently not decided yet what to do.
Read also: Rethoric against hoasca use is not justified, by Matthew Meyer and Bia Labate
See original recordings of the hearings here: http://www.santafecounty.org/video/BCCMeeting071211.html (Part 5 onwards) and here http://www.santafecounty.org/video/BCCMeeting061411.html (Part 4 onwards.)