BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Santa Fe City Council members are finally slated to make a decision Wednesday afternoon on whether or not they will sign an amended Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) for the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities which was adapted by the RCLC board in March 2019.
Work on amending the JPA began at a January 2019 RCLC retreat held in Espanola during which representatives of some of the member communities, the Department of Energy Environmental Management, its cleanup contractor N3B and members of the public participated (including the Los Alamos Reporter). At that time, former Santa Fe City councilor Peter Ives worked with the group and an outside facilitator on the changes to the former JPA which was reviewed by attorneys for two member communities, presented March 1, 2019 to the RCLC board which adopted it unanimously.
The amended JPA was then sent to all RCLC member entities. Santa Fe County signed it in April 2019 followed by Los Alamos County in July 2019. At an RCLC meeting in October 2019, it was noted that the City of Santa Fe was “tentatively scheduled to take up the issue in November 2019. Five member communities signed the amended JPA by the end of December 2019 and the sixth, signed in July 2020. A seventh member, Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo is believed to have signed in September 2020, leaving the Pueblo of Jemez and Santa Fe City Council as the two remaining entities to sign.
The Pueblo of Ohkay Owingeh was reported to have signed it in September 2020. The JPA will then be submitted by the RCLC to the State Department of Finance & Administration for approval.
The RCLC board elected a new chair, Taos Town Councilor Darien Fernandez March 19. Fernandez replaces former chair Santa Fe County Commission Chair Henry Roybal. Roybal noted at the meeting that he had enjoyed serving as chair for the previous three years.
“Together we changed the structure of the RCLC with hiring auditors, accountants and legal counsel with support from the board, to make sure that history doesn’t repeat itself. We’re in good standing with (the Department of Energy) now,” he said prior to nominating vice chair Fernandez as his replacement. .
After being elected by acclamation, Fernandez noted that he has been on the RCLC board for almost five years.
“I’ve been party to a lot of the progress that we’ve made as an organization in being more financially transparent and holding ourselves accountable and it’s been an honor serving under you Chair Roybal as we’ve worked to shore up our financial situation and hopefully get the DOE grant back and I look forward to working to involve the public more in our meeting discussions going forward,” he said.
City of Espanola Mayor Javier Sanchez was elected vice chair and Los Alamos County Councilor David Izraelevitz was reelected treasurer. City of Santa Fe representative Councilor Michael Garcia declined to accept a nomination as secretary, suggesting that the board wait until after the City Council’s Wednesday vote. Two previous Santa Fe mayors, Javier Gonzales and David Coss have served as chair of the RCLC.
At the March 19, the RCLC board finally moved forward with the application for an annual $100,000 grant from DOE Environmental Management. The application had been on hold for several months as board members first believed a new executive director needed to be found before it could be submitted to DOE, and when there were no responses to a request for proposals issued for executive director services, none of the member entities wished to submit the application, including Los Alamos County, the current fiscal agent. Finally, Mayor Sanchez stepped up and indicated the willingness of the City of Espanola to submit the application. At that point, the board’s legal counsel, Nancy Long, agreed the Sanchez could submit the application in his capacity as an RCLC board member. The RCLC has been without an executive director since August 2020 when Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC) did not seek to renew its contract and then executive director Eric Vasquez left the coalition.
Councilor David Izraelevitz has taken an active role in promoting the City of Santa Fe’s signature of the amended JPA including attending and making presentations along with the City’s current RCLC representative Councilor Michael Garcia at Finance Committee and Quality of Life Committee meetings during recent months.
Recent accomplishments of the RCLC cited by Izraelevitz include successful lobbying for retention of funding level for LANL cleanup and legislation so that Triad, LLC would pay state, local and regional gross receipts tax, even as a non-profit limited liability corporation. He also listed representing Northern New Mexico in the Energy Communities Alliance, a national organization of communities adjacent to DOE sites. Izraelevitz noted benefits to the City of participation in the RCLC including that it provides City greater access to DOE leaders and ability to communicate needs and desires regarding LANL operations regarding local procurement and support for local business and environmental remediation. He noted that the RCLC provides a platform to represent interests of LANL employees who live in the City and Santa Fe County such as making sure LANL activities are appropriately taxed at the municipal level as well as addressing the impact of increased LANL employment within the City on traffic, infrastructure, social services, etc.
Although the City has not signed the amended JPA, City Manager Jarel LaPan Hill appears to have approved the payment of some $20,000 in membership dues to the RCLC in October 2020 for FY2020 and FY2021.
Opposition to the City signing the amended JPA has been voiced in recent weeks by members of the public as well as the Los Alamos Study Group and Nuclear Watch New Mexico, some of whom believe the City should not belong to the RCLC. City Attorney Erin McSherry in an email to Council members noted that that a vote against the amended JPA would not remove the City from membership.
“Withdrawal from the current JPA is not the matter that has been included on recent agendas. Rather, the matter is a proposed, restated and amended JPA. If the City does not accept the proposed amendments, that decision would not remove the City from the Coalition. Rather, a negative vote would reject the proposed amendments to the existing JPA and the previously adopted JPA would continue in place,” she said.
McSherry noted that the City became an RCLC member in 2010 by accepting the terms of the existing JPA and that under the terms of the existing JPA, the City may withdraw through a decision by the City that it wishes to withdraw.
“If withdrawal is an interest of any member of the Governing Body, I suggest a resolution, stating that choice, would be an appropriate mechanism to express the City’s decision to withdraw,” her email states.
The Albuquerque-based Los Alamos Study Group, which has members nationwide, has been vocal in its opposition to the RCLC since the Coalition’s inception in 2010. Executive director Greg Mello told the City Council in a March 29 letter that the stated purpose of the RCLC is to act on behalf of all its member governments with regard to all regional planning and development in the LANL region, which concerns him deeply. He noted that LANL and Los Alamos County, who contribute more to the RCLC’s operation than all the other eight communities combined, have a desire as controlling parties to keep local governments supportive of LANL and compliant with its needs. Mello said the RCLC JPA is “diametrically opposed to several resolutions the City has passed in opposition of nuclear weapons and plutonium pit production. He said it is hard to find any measurable achievements of the RCLC since its inception that support the City’s goals.