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Dirt alley is battleground for city of Santa Fe and small business

May 6, 2019 GMT

Del and Kathleen Mulder have owned a small business in Santa Fe since 1995. What makes them unusual is they admit to breaking the law every day for the last three years.

The Mulders don’t want to be scofflaws. They say city government has left them no choice.

Their business, Pak Mail off the Plaza, would die if they obeyed an ordinance outlawing parking in the unpaved alley behind the store. The city in 2016 designated the alley as a fire lane, meaning there are to be no obstructions, delivery trucks included.

Pak Mail, 369 Montezuma Ave., is a hub of shipping. The business always had a loading zone in the alley, behind its back doors.

With 550 mailboxes, Pak Mail serves consumers who order products from the internet but don’t want to worry about a thief snatching packages from their porch.

The store provides a range of other services. They include crating, custom packaging and specialty handling of artworks. This is important to tourists who don’t trust airline baggage operations with a valuable sculpture or prized painting.

FedEx and UPS trucks, along with Pak Mail’s own small fleet of vehicles, for decades have used the bumpy alley to move packages to and from the store.

Out of the blue, Del Mulder says, the city put up signs marking the alley as a fire lane. This meant delivery trucks would enter and park at risk of ticketing.

The Mulders and Nathan Soto, who by then had become a part owner in the business, said they tried to reason with city staff in hopes they could receive an exception to the parking ban.

Soto, who has worked at Pak Mail for more than 14 years, said he has never seen a firetruck or emergency vehicle use the alley.

Plus, he said, the city government itself violates the parking prohibition. City trash receptacles line the dusty alley, meaning garbage trucks stop in the fire lane.

The business owners spoke with executives in the city’s parking division and fire department to make their case. They said delivery trucks stop at Pak Mail only for a few minutes at a time, a total of eight times a day.

“These trucks carry high-value items. They are never unattended,” Soto said. “If a truck had to move, it could be done in 30 seconds. No, that’s too much. It would take no more than 15 seconds.”

Discussions fizzled. The city ban on parking continued. Then Del Mulder received a ticket last fall for parking in the fire lane.

Kathleen Mulder decided to hire an attorney, hoping someone with experience in dealing with the city could obtain authorization for their loading zone.

That led nowhere. The Mulders hardened in their defiance of the ordinance.

“Somebody called and asked when I was going to pay the ticket. I said, ‘I ain’t,’ ” Del Mulder said.

Why not?

“Principle,” Kathleen Mulder said. “To me, this is indicative of how Santa Fe treats small businesses.”

I emailed City Manager Erik Litzenberg, formerly Santa Fe’s fire chief. I wanted to interview him about the reasoning for the fire lane and the city declining to allow a long-standing business to accept delivery trucks in the alley.

Litzenberg didn’t immediately respond. I went to City Hall, hoping to find him.

Instead, Mayor Alan Webber walked in. We talked briefly about the dispute. Webber didn’t know many details, but he understood the irony of a business being denied deliveries while city garbage collection continued as usual.

“I think it’s a classic Santa Fe story,” Webber said.

He had heard the matter might be under review by the City Attorney’s Office. A helpful employee told me an assistant city attorney knew of the Pak Mail controversy, but he was busy. It was Friday afternoon by then. City Hall closed for the weekend without a response from the city administration.

Pak Mail’s nine employees are asking customers to sign letters of protest about the city’s stand. Del Mulder says he will hand deliver the letters to the mayor this week.

The Mulders briefly retired once after selling the business. They reacquired it but are telling customers they are tired of being ignored by the city. Moving is out of the question. They say closing is an option.

They have posted a giant sign on the wall of their store. It states that they cannot stay in business without a return to their old arrangement of a legal loading zone.

The untrained eye sees nothing more than dirt, rocks and city trash receptacles in the unpaved alley behind their business.

For the Mulders, it’s their last battleground.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.