Many Assumptions In Proposed MOA Between County And School District

Open letter to Los Alamos School Board Members and Community,

First – we are not opposed to development. We do want it done in a thoughtful and open manner.  We encourage the county and school board to be more open, more solicitous, and more responsive to community views.  Our concerns are that many assumptions have gone into the subject MOA without adequate consideration and consultation of alternatives.  The Housing, Neighborhoods and Growth element goals of the 2016 LA County Comprehensive Plan include planning for modest growth, providing more housing choices and protecting the character of existing residential neighborhoods.

This is a unique piece of property and it’s future use should be determined by a robust community discussion.  It would be good to see this property used for its originally intended purpose – namely education.  Imagine it used for a vocational school or even a community college.  Our community college is surrounded and doesn’t have the ability to grow.  Imagine our high school as it expands to use some of the existing community college and the community college swapping their campus for this property.  I am sure with a robust community discussion many more ideas will surface.

Our concerns:

  1. What is frequently touted as the primary motivation – Long Term Income for the Schools is not even mentioned until page 2 of the MOA and it is then item “d” in “Party Interests”.  So if this is really about using an available parcel for affordable housing let’s be up front.  The study is titled as “North Mesa Options Analysis”. What options have been or are being considered other than several affordable housing options.

2. We hear many agendas in the discussions and see some of them in the MOA.  Some are not even mentioned in the MOA – e.g. providing housing for anticipated new hires and temporary employees at LANL. There is a need to document and agree on all the outcome goals and prioritize – before signing the MOA – otherwise the effort will plow ahead on existing direction.  Please get the goals of the effort right before proceeding!  Also who will offer what resources to help solve the need.  Some goals mentioned are in conflict with each other, e.g.  ongoing income for schools, affordable housing, satisfying 1600 county housing unit needs of all types and price ranges, and having a “sustainable” development  – whatever that means.

3. The MOA assumes the solution is affordable housing when affordable housing is less than half the demand. Who made that decision and when?  It seems to have been made outside the public’s sight.  What input was received from the public and impacted communities before this decision was made? What other options were considered? Is there a way to open the conversation to other solutions?

4. The housing study says 1600 housing units including all types and price ranges are needed.  This includes housing for temporary lab employees without quantifying how much of the demand they make up.  More than half the purchasing needs are above the affordable range including 338 of 554 homes.  Is county attempting to solve the entire affordable housing need on one parcel?  History has shown us mixed housing development is a far better solution rather than herding affordable into concentrated areas. North Mesa already has an outsized share of Los Alamos affordable housing and this risks overcrowding the Mesa in many ways.  We are supportive of affordable housing and have lived in many communities around the US and world and have seen the most successful communities were where communities are blended.

5. According to the MOA, once signed, the Schools have no representation or process to engage or even have a formal voice. The only powers afforded the schools in this MOA is to keep copies, object to and RFP, and terminate the agreement.  In effect the schools have ceded all involvement to the county.

6. Key issues related to this project include:

  • Impacts to North Mesa community by adding 360 units or a thousand new residents (36 units per acre). This represents roughly a 30% increase in residents on the Mesa and needs to be evaluated with the assumption that the remaining 3 privately held parcels and possible development of county land east of North Mesa stable will also be developed (another 800 units or 1500 residents).
  • Traffic – a.) there is only one combined entrance/exit to North and Barranca Mesa through the roundabout where 2 of 4 branches have a single lane entrance.  As this will only be a bedroom community every resident will travel to work, school, shopping and recreation by car.  Imagine an additional 1,000 to 2,000 new cars (assuming 2 round trips per car per day all using the combined North Mesa Barranca Mesa roundabout especially at peak flow.  Evidence shows this roundabout is now occasionally already at capacity. – b.) Neither San Ildefonso or North Mesa roads have turn lanes or traffic control. There are already back-ups when school is session with left turns into the subject area. -c.) And what about a way out emergency egress during a fire situation.  It would be down right dangerous.
  • Utilities:  Water pressure is already an issue on North Mesa.  There are frequent sewer back-up issues. Most homes on North Mesa do not have access to fiber and current internet solutions are less than optimal.
  • Impact to wildlife and informal recreation areas.
  • Take a drive through the new White Rock development – most of those new homes don’t have enough room to even have an outside grill – much less room for wildlife. The density of this new plan is even higher.

7. Someone needs to quantify the cost/benefit of this project. The county has already earmarked $475,000.00 for the study.  So surely someone has done some order of magnitude cost/benefit – please share it.  In the absence of such data: assuming 1/4 acre developed lots have a value of $100,000; 30 acres would produce 120 lots and have a sales value of $12 million as a base value.  A substantial portion of that would be consumed by roads, utilities, bankers, and lawyers.  Of course there would be taxes on the property while now it produces none.  What do the schools stand to gain in real long term monies?  Is it material when compared to their budget.  What other options have been considered to produce the same or more revenue?  

8. Much of the pressure for this housing seems to come from LANL.  How much of the need is for temporary lab workers other than students?  Yet how many of the new lab leaders live in Los Alamos? As is evidenced by the RV lot in Pojoaque – many lab workers are even coming by RV and are effectively itinerant Monday through Thursday workers.  What percentage of the subject project is earmarked for such “non-resident” workforce?  How is the lab engaged in this project and helping solve the problem?   

We do want to be part of the solution.  This MOA was not created in the sunshine and many of the plans being pursued are without the appropriate consultation of the impacted community.

Andy and Barbara Phelps