BY JAMES E. RICKMAN
Candidate for Los Alamos County Council
Los Alamos County has been named the healthiest county in America, based on a study conducted by U.S. News (link: https://www.usnews.com/news/healthiest-communities). It’s not surprising. We have a well-educated, informed community that enjoys a healthy lifestyle in an outstanding environment.
This is great news to read during the midst of a global pandemic. According to the study, our total number of COVID-19 cases is extremely low compared to the rest of the nation. These findings are not necessarily surprising given that Los Alamos is an affluent community with good access to quality healthcare options and a population that practices healthy living in general.
In a CNN Travel story (link: https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/2020-healthiest-community-in-america-wellness/index.html), the chair of the Los Alamos County Council commented on the study this way: “A healthy environment is part of what definitely contributes to being a healthy community. People have the opportunity and the interest in getting out, taking advantage of our mountains, trails, biking, horse-riding (and) golfing.”
There is a big irony here. The Los Alamos County Council has adopted and endorsed the 2019 Housing Market Needs Analysis, which advocates paving over the very amenities that the Council Chair lauded in the CNN article in order to convert those amenities into housing developments.
Los Alamos ranked high in the U.S News study regarding the availability of affordable housing, which is defined by the study as housing available to the community’s low-income population. The study also states that the number of households spending at least 30 percent of income on housing in Los Alamos is about half the national average, and the number of hours required to work to afford housing is about 25 percent lower than the national average. In other words, our housing quality and value relative to income is much higher than average. The study also notes that Los Alamos received a perfect score for water quality and park access.
There’s an old saying that if something isn’t broken, then don’t try to fix it. Our community’s natural amenities are a treasure that lead to the overall health and happiness of the citizens who have chosen to make Los Alamos their home. As a candidate for Los Alamos County Council, I am running on a platform that encourages sustaining all of the things that make Los Alamos great: our clean air and water, amazing open spaces, top notch recreational amenities, small-town feel, and overall safety.
Let’s not hack away at the healthiest aspects of our community to go in search of problems. Instead, let’s work on solutions to some real issues.
On the subject of needed housing, the County received numerous parcels of land transferred from the U.S. Department of Energy (much of it thanks to the dedication of NM Sen. Peter V. Domenici and the hard work my colleagues and I put forth during the 1996-2000 County Council cycle). All of the DOE-transferred land that was intended to be used as housing has been programmed for it. There is still opportunity to use some of these parcels for “workforce” or “missing middle” housing—residences for those whose income is too high to qualify for Section 8 housing, but too low to immediately buy into Los Alamos’ traditional housing market. If elected, I will work diligently to find solutions that address this need.
The U.S. News study also mentions that Los Alamos faces challenges in the “Education” category, falling well below the national average with regard to the availability of childcare. We were lower than the national and peer-group averages with regard to per-pupil expenditures and high school graduation rate—despite blowing other communities away in comparison to residents with advanced degrees. We also fall short of the national average with regard to our business growth rate.
I am fully on board with helping find ways that the County can partner with others to make childcare availability less scarce (this is a nationwide issue right now), and I would like to hear from the business community how the Council can play a role in helping to encourage business growth without attempting to manipulate the “Invisible Hand” of the marketplace and creating unsustainable conditions for businesses.
Our citizens and our community are healthy. I encourage everyone to continue protecting themselves so we can all partake in the excellent quality of life that makes Los Alamos such a wonderful place to live.
Those who would like to discuss anything I’ve said here with me, please visit www.vote4rickman.com for contact information.