Los Alamos County Councilors and County staff gather in Council Chambers Tuesday evening for a strategic planning work session. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos County Council identified seven priorities Tuesday evening during their strategic planning work session with County staff. The priorities will be incorporated into the 2019 Comprehensive Plan after being voted upon in an upcoming regular meeting of Council.
The first part of the work session involved Council members, staff and a handful of members of the public reviewing a crosswalk of high-level County planning documents which had been previously developed with input from across the community, including the 2016 Comprehensive Plan, the 2018 Strategic Leadership Plan, the 2018 Draft Vitality Strategic Plan and the 2019 Department of Public Utilities Strategic Goals.
In explaining the format for the evening, Council Chair Sara Scott said Council wanted to be sure that they were taking full advantage of the thinking and hard work that’s gone into those plans. Charts were placed around the room and attendees were given the opportunity to mark areas impacted by goals under each of the plans such as infrastructure, land resources, amenities community services/education, housing, economic development and environment.
Council members noted that the documents crosswalk should be available in the Public Forum on the County website so that members of the community could also offer their input.
Scott said identification of around five Council priorities would be a tool to help Council so that in the context of all the other things that are going on Council would retain a few “high-level, important but challenging goals”.
“The idea would be that addressing these priorities would provide support to multiple initiatives underway. Identifying them would demonstrate our response to the community on issues we heard about last year. Some of us were campaigning, others of us have been talking to our constituents for many years. Certain issues popped out at a different level to some of the goals we see in the plan. It would be good communication to the community that we have heard their concerns and are addressing them,” she said.
Through lengthy discussion, the following seven priorities were identified but are not listed in any order of importance.
- Increasing the amounts and types of housing options in town.
- Protecting and maintaining our open spaces
- Addressing long-term building vacancies in the community
- Infrastructure – process and balancing with future investment
- Supporting public health improvement
- Addressing appropriate levels of service for customers and employees
- Supporting local businesses
Housing seemed to be important to all Councilors. Councilor David Izraelevitz said he agreed that housing is a key priority and that he is very encouraged with all the progress that’s been made with that goal. He said he didn’t know what more the Council could realistically ask given that the County has two substantial developments underway and suggested looking at the larger issue of the broader spectrum of housing.
Councilor Antonio said he disagreed with Izraelevitz.
“I think affordable and entry level housing still has to be a top priority. We have out of the one affordable development that has been approved, 70 apartments. We have 160 market rate homes going in in White Rock. We have 60 apartments going in in White Rock. We have another 130 market rate rentals going in below the hospital and I think entry level housing, especially entry level purchase housing has to be a top priority,” he said.
Councilor James Robinson, who was at home with the flu and attended by phone, said there is a lot of emphasis on open space and recreational activities for the outdoors noting that the Council only has one person currently budgeted for all of our open space.
“The County has a ton of open space to maintain. We might want to revamp the open space program,” he said.
Infrastructure and appropriate levels of service for citizens and County employees were originally one item on the list of priorities but ended up split into two after some discussion. County Administrator Harry Burgess said the service issues is the one that’s most important to County staff because it answers a lot of questions – especially when faced with opinions where people think the County is not doing enough on certain issues or doing too much. Councilor Randy Ryti said even if it was a secondary goal, public health is an important priority. He suggested leaving it on the list to indicate the Council is paying attention to it and wait to see what funding options the County will have.
Sheehey said one additional area that had been pointed out in previous focus areas was communication – improved transparency in policy setting and implementation and creating a communication process that provides measurable improvement in citizen trust in government
“Certainly these are still issues and I know simply sponsoring this discussion tonight shows your concern about this but that’s a goal or a focus that takes in all of these other ones,” he told Scott. “We’re not to impose a vision on the community. We’re trying to implement what the community tells us is needed. Personally I would like to see us place a lot of emphasis on improving that communication process.”
Sheehey said he likes the list of 15 to 20 focus areas in the Strategic Plan. He said there are a few priorities that could be done in the short-term without forgetting about important issues like communication. Scott suggested that the Council keeping the transparency and communication goal as an overarching mantra and Maggiore suggested adding it into one of the preamble pages.
Izraelevitz said in reviewing last year’s Strategic Plan he wanted to highlight that it included building the local tourism economy. He said a lot of the proposed tourism initiatives are underway except for the Wayfaring plan.
Scott and Sheehey agreed to form a re-draft subcommittee to perform the update to the Strategic Plan using the priorities discussed during the work session and distribute it to Council for their review with a view to voting on it at a regular Council meeting prior to making budget decisions in April.
The County is hoping to make the information provided at Tuesday’s meeting available to the public on the County website’s open forum.