President Ben-Naim, members of the School Board, and Dr. Steinhaus,
Los Alamos residents are expressing concerns about the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Los Alamos School Board and Los Alamos County Council, along with the subsequent development of the school land on North Mesa. We consider the MOA to be premature and imprudent. We are calling on the school board to halt the progress of the MOA with the county council, to develop a clear and concise plan that includes determining how to maximally benefit the students with the North Mesa land parcel, minimize impact on North Mesa and LAMS, and to involve the community in planning.
Housing is the Responsibility of the Los Alamos County Council
Low-income housing and affordable housing for teachers is a real need in our community. There is a solution and it is the county council’s responsibility to seek the solution on county land. If the county council will not or cannot successfully develop low-income housing on the numerous tracts of county land, then how can they reasonably help the school with development on the school’s limited land? The county has options for affordable housing locations such as DP Road, which can better manage infrastructure, traffic increases and population surges. DP Road also provides better access to great views, bus routes, shopping, and work.
The School Board’s Responsibility is to the Students
The School Board has an ethical and legal obligation to maximize the use of its public assets for the educational benefit of the LAPS student body. The goals of creating a revenue stream and providing low-income housing are mutually exclusive; any school land used for low-income housing is contrary to the obligation of the School Board to the public. We are asking the school board to go back to the drawing board and begin with clear goals that provide maximum benefit to LAPS students
School Growth Needs to be Addressed
The public fully anticipates that LAPS will need to expand, and the most efficient means to universally expand student capacity in the district will be to build a new wing for the Los Alamos Middle School (LAMS) and relocate all of the sixth grade to the middle school. The parcel on North Mesa is not only the last developable property owned by the school, but it is also the most reasonable property for expansion. The school board must also consider that high-density housing on North Mesa will result in overpopulation at Barranca Mesa Elementary. With population constraints a concern for Barranca, Aspen and Mountain, complete plans for expansion should be drawn before the School Board considers alternatively developing this land. The responsible path forward begins with a thorough plan for school growth. We are asking the school board to put aside plans for developing the school’s only vacant land until these plans are drawn in completion.
Student & Community Safety
Traffic: The concerns about safe arrival and departure during regular middle school activities and after-school activities have been noted by many in the community. Even a single fatality is one too many, and we cannot lose any more students to traffic accidents. The county has not addressed the current issues via traffic calming and lighted intersections, or even recognized the traffic problem on North Mesa.
Evacuation: The evacuation of LAMS students and the surrounding population from North Mesa during an emergency must also be considered. It is not unfeasible to recognize that a fire or other emergency could sweep through Rendija, for example, giving little time before an evacuation route from the mesas is cut-off. The round-about is already too small to handle a traffic surge from North Mesa and San Ildefonso roads and evacuation already takes too long. Egress and traffic must be addressed by the county before the School Board drafts the MOA.
Cross-Country: The school board has an obligation to maintain the extracurricular activities that support student social, mental, and physical health. The property in question is currently the cross-country course that benefits nearly eighty cross-country students each year. Running on sidewalks, streets, in a housing-development, or through the stables is not an appropriate or safe cross-country option.
Need for Community Involvement
The members of the School Board are elected representatives of their districts, required to make the best decisions for the education of the students, and are accountable to the public. Strong personal opinions about the need for low-income housing in Los Alamos should not be in conflict with their responsibility to the education of LAPS students, and to the constituents. The stakes to the schools, North Mesa, and the community regarding the disposal or development of this land are high. The school board must involve the community in planning any land disposal or development before proceeding on the MOA with the county council.
Need for More Planning
The current ideas on how to generate revenue streams, provide teacher housing, while solving the county’s need for low-income housing through this venture appear vague and not clearly researched or developed. This alone should be a reason to put the MOA on hold. Signing the MOA with the county council before plans can address these needs is premature.
In closing, moving forward with the MOA is irresponsible and untimely. The county council needs to first resolve traffic and egress concerns to ensure the safety of students. Signing the MOA and leaving these issues to the county does not make the School Board free of responsibility. We are asking the Los Alamos School Board to focus on developing a clear and concise plan that includes determining how to maximally benefit the students with the North Mesa land parcel, minimize impact on North Mesa and LAMS, and to involve the community in planning, rather than presently proceeding on the advancement of the MOA with the county council.
on behalf of the authors from the Citizens For Smart LAPS Development,
and Concerned Residents and Neighbors of North Mesa and Los Alamos County