At What Cost Are We Building Our Bigger, Better Future?

Letter To The Editor_Pongratz Endorses Chris Chandler For House District 43 Seat (24)


Los Alamos is a town of many buildings that exist in few hands, allowing them to decay and fall out of code. This is a known – a given we all accept about this town that we love and wish the best for. And Los Alamos is a town that adores and thrives upon technology. Look at how well our local businesses adapted to the challenges of COVID-19, embracing technology to allow for minimal contact and safe operations.

I fully understand why the County is enraptured by the promises of the New Mexico Innovation Triangle as it promises what our town values, needs, and wants for the future. 

But at what cost?

In addition to conceding Larry Hawker’s involvement in both Los Alamos & White Rock downtowns, Scott mentioned in successive interviews with local papers that Hawker repeatedly met with the Council’s Land Use Committee and that the Mari-Mac Center development was handled by the Property Disposition Committee. If Hawker was meeting with the Land Use Committee, and not for Mari-Mac, then what for? I fear it’s the White Rock land acquisition bid, an oddly specific development plan that County submitted and concealed from the public for many months.

What is happening to Los Alamos? So much of the land has been sold so quickly to what appears to be one single developer with County backing. Even as I type this, I am struck by the fact that CB Fox and the DMV building have been sold, and no one will say to whom. What’s next? Central Park Square? There are certainly murmurs. All of these sales appear to be handled by a single realtor, so is it so hard to imagine there is a single buyer? If our town is given to single entities — even more buildings in even fewer hands — then what happens to the diversity of Los Alamos? What happens to our small businesses? Are we not changing out one large landowner for another even larger one?

If Hawker’s involvement with White Rock is only as a consultant, then it is understood that he is offering advice and consultation for a community. If his intention is to be a part of the White Rock development, this will pose a dilemma for the County. They should NOT be tailoring a future public property bid to a single developer in a way that would not be competitive to procurement. Hawker’s involvement would run afoul of the intent of Sec 31-2 of the Code of Ordinances; if the County purchases the land in White Rock they must give “fair and equitable treatment of all persons involved in public purchasing by the county, to maximize the purchasing value.” Seeking Hawker’s advice fails to give equitable treatment to all persons and contractors involved in the purchasing. 

How will the future development be fair? 

Is the County planning on having a public bid on the White Rock land? 

Will the County use a fair rating system to rate the proposals of the different groups? 

How will the County ensure there are not any biases for contractors?

I am concerned that Scott states “the County has let the developer know it will be undertaking a Los Alamos and White Rock downtown planning process (a contract for the planning process and code updates was approved May 26 by Council)” in the LA Daily Post. This indicates to me that NO public bidding process has or will happen, that the County has no intention for this sale to be “fair and equitable.”

From Sec. 16-235(a): “The developer shall construct private improvements in accordance with county engineer and utilities manager approved construction drawings and specifications.” The developer is required by law, the Code of Ordinances, to involve the County in the re-development project. Hawker must be involved with the County in development plans. Scott’s statement that she “can’t speak to the specifics regarding the plans for redevelopment” is bogus—the code is written that the County must be involved. It is at the behest of the developer to speak to the County early on about what their plans are. The County must already know what the plans are; Scott is grossly understating the involvement Hawker would have to have with the County to provide the promises of “housing and some commercial space” as stated. 

Kroger was allowed great latitude in developing Trinity Place. Yet what local businesses have benefited from this development? All I see are corporate giants filling glass windows. Retail rents in this town are already comparable per square foot to areas around Santa Fe Plaza—for a town of 12,000 people isolated on a mountain top. 

What protections is the County demanding to not repeat this mistake?

How will the County guarantee that small local businesses remain in our community, not to be ousted by another McDonalds or Starbucks, the only businesses that can afford rent in the new developments?

Is our town destined to become another suburban wasteland?

I fear Scott & the Council have known of these plans for development longer than indicated in her interviews with KRSN and others. This is understandable to the extent of protecting the developer’s need to prevent escalating costs; however, if Scott knew of these plans along with County staff, and was willing to overlook gross punishment of local businesses, then there must have been an intention within our County Council to be unfair to local businesses in favor of future development.

To underscore my statement of gross punishment of local businesses, I reference just a few of instances of County misconduct documented by UnQuarked:

  • A Red Tag 36 hours after they submitted evidence that the county sanctioned illegal work at another business
  • A Red Tag that states an inspection took place when it didn’t
  • A permit altered in CDD custody and no action from the County to investigate
  • Denial of their legally mandated hearing for half a year
  • County lawyers that represent the judge and the effective defendant in the same case
  • Gross misconduct from two judges who have only stepped down as I type this
  • 40+ IPRA violations when this Council and other officials would not answer their questions

Scott describes the Mari-Mac Center has an “eyesore” and “wasted space” (LA Daily Post)—what wasted space is she referring to? Only two of the spaces in the Mari-Mac Village stand vacant. Two. While four times as many are occupied. And a large space was acquired by UnQuarked in April 2019, removing one of the largest “eyesores” she could have been referring to. Yet, as quoted above, the County has only stood in the way of this business opening and further developing a community space.

Prashant Jain took a business that wasn’t working very well, transformed it, and made it successful. He also decided to continuously invest in our community as Sirphey LLC grew. This is a successful business, proven to be successful in our community, that is not being supported by the County. Hawker has only made promises. He has no history in this community and no history in development. On the other hand, Jain is opening his fourth location and continuing to invest into our community. Where is his support from the County? 

As I write this article, Scott and Burgess have recused themselves from the UnQuarked Appeals Board. If they had to recuse themselves just now, when this news broke, what really have they done? UnQuarked had already long-since documented illegal conduct and conflicts, months ago, and they suddenly felt compelled to step down less than 72 hours before the hearing? How far does their misconduct go? How deep does the County’s misconduct on this go?

At what cost are we building our bigger better future?

Jessie Conrad
Los Alamos