Los Alamos Fire Chief Troy Hughes and Combined Dispatch Center Kate Stoddard address the Los Alamos County Council Tuesday evening on the importance of correct addressing for emergency response as Assistant County Attorney Kevin Powers looks on. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Los Alamos County staff, from left, Assistant County Attorney Kevin Powers, Planning Manager Tamara Baer and County Engineer Eric Martinez discuss a new provision under Chapter 34 of the Municipal Code, Streets, Sidewalks and Other Public Places, “Addressing and Road Naming,” Tuesday during the regular County Council meeting. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos County Council has unanimously approved a new section of the County Code establishing and formalizing a process for creating new addresses, new road names, and for changing existing addresses or road names.
The primary purpose of the ordinance is to ensure public safety by facilitating the easy and rapid location of properties by local emergency services. It was brought before the Council earlier this year and sent to the Planning and Zoning Commission for review which held a public hearing on the ordinance and voted to support it.
The ordinance was created as a way to proactively ensure addressing information is managed during the land development and improvement process, also creating an official road-naming process which the County did not have until now. A committee of representatives from the following County departments worked on the ordinance because of its wide-reaching effects in the County:
- Public Works
- Community Development
- Fire and Police (Dispatch) Departments
- Public Utilities (Engineering and Customer Care)
- Information Management (GIS Coordinator)
- County Assessor’s Office
- County Attorney’s Office
There were two prominent issues with the ordinance raised recently – the right to enter issue and the retroactivity issue.
Assistant County Attorney Kevin Powers said authority of the County to enter open private property, “the common areas you would see in people’s front yards” is actually required the County Charter.
“It is all legal that the County enter those pieces of property in certain ways according to law. This is additional notice to the public that we have to do this, that there are some times when we do have to enter your property to examine the health safety and welfare of the community. We believe the changes reflect exactly what is required by the Charter,” he said.
That section states: All laws governing the County, for the purpose of public safety, health and welfare, and pertaining to the inspections and investigations required thereunder, shall in their adopting ordinances and in codes adopted by reference thereby, have an “Authority to Enter” section. Such action shall state the purpose of entry and direct that County inspectors may enter all buildings at any reasonable time for inspections, and shall further state: “This authority to enter shall not include the interiors of private parties, dwellings or living quarters, or the portions of commercial premises used as dwellings, or the nonpublic portions of commercial premises, except upon obtaining a search warrant, or permission of the occupant thereof, or permission of the party responsible therefor in the event the premises are unoccupied. The provisions of this section do not apply in the event of explosion, fire, or like emergency.
Powers said there were some concerns about how people who already have a house number on their home and whether or not it would be retroactive.
“Only when there’s a subdivision of land – when there is a new subdivision or someone is creating a new apartment on their property will it trigger certain things to happen,” he said.
Los Alamos Fire Chief Troy Hughes said for someone who is going to split their property or new development it gives them a roadmap on how to get it done right.
“We’ve had people calling in saying they were having chest pains or a fire or a number of things and when we ask what address they are at and we can’t tell where it is located, we have to tell then to go outside, get another address across the street or down the block to get us close,” he said. “That’s really not acceptable for emergency response to have that happening so we fully support it.”
Kate Stoddard, manager of the Combined Dispatch Center echoed Chief Hughes’ comments.
“It’s imperative to us in today’s day and age when we are receiving the majority of our 911 calls from cell phones and people don’t know where they are,” she said adding that 78 percent of emergency calls are generated from a cell phone.
“I think with this ordinance we will be able to more accurately to identify quickly where somebody is standing when we ask them. They will be able to see the label on the building nearby. Our responses are generated by the address. That tells me which police officers are closest to send, which fire unit is closest for me to send, When you’re in the middle of doing CPR on somebody, that can seem like an eternity when you’re waiting for the response, so any second we can save, any minute that we can save is important.” Stoddard said.
Powers addressed the right of entry provision in great detail in September. See https://losalamosreporter.com/2018/10/18/county-counsel-explains-right-to-entry-provision-in-certain-county-ordinances/