BY SARA SCOTT
Los Alamos County Councilor
I hope this note finds you, your family, and friends well and enjoying the mild summer and rain! Today I’ll provide an update regarding COVID-19 response efforts, back-to-school considerations, and other projects and initiatives around the County.
As a community, we are continuing a strong response to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the County Emergency Manager, as of Wed Aug. 4 90% of eligible county residents have received one vaccine and 85% are fully vaccinated. Additionally, the Governor has issued an Executive Order requiring all state employees to be fully vaccinated or regularly tested for COVID-19, effective Monday Aug. 2. Beginning Tuesday Aug. 3 Los Alamos County implemented mandatory mask-wearing for employees and the public entering County facilities. This applies to vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals.
Residents can receive vaccinations at the Medical Associates of Northern New Mexico, Smith’s Pharmacy in both Los Alamos and White Rock, and Los Alamos Medical Care Clinic. In addition, COVID-19 testing is available at the Los Alamos Public Health Commons (located across from the Los Alamos High School, with office hours Monday and Wednesday 9AM-11AM, call 662-4038 for an appointment). Curative testing is available in Espanola at Northern New Mexico College from 8AM-2PM Monday through Friday.
Despite our high vaccination rate locally, however, there’s been a 35% increase in COVID-19 hospital admissions statewide. The Delta variant now represents more than 83% of COVID cases in America – including the majority of cases in New Mexico – and it’s far more transmissible than earlier variants. Nationwide, daily cases have increased by a factor of six in the month of July – from approximately 13,000 to more than 78,000. Let’s keep working hard to protect ourselves, our families, and our community through vaccination and other appropriate measures as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control.
The County’s receipt of $1.88M of funding allocated to local governments as a part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021 will also help mitigate the ongoing impacts of the pandemic. Allowed use of funds is stated to include response to the COVID-19 emergency through aid to households, small businesses, nonprofits, and industries such as tourism and hospitality as well as investments in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.
County staff are working to develop an approach to disbursement of these funds. They will provide a presentation to Council regarding the recommended allocations in August and they will also be reaching out to the community for input. Receipt of the second half of ARPA funds is anticipated in June 2022 and will need to be expended by the end of 2024. Last year the County received more than $1.7M from the federal CARES Act and these funds were used to provide grants to our local businesses and individuals in need. In addition, the State is anticipating receipt of $1.6M in ARPA funding and we expect there will be opportunities for local communities to supplement their own ARPA programs or benefit in other way.
In speaking with Los Alamos Public Schools (LAPS), they are excited to welcome students back to full in-person learning on Aug. 12. Interim LAPS Superintendent Jennifer Guy notes that there are a lot of good things happening in the district and a great year is anticipated for LAPS. There will be a continued everyday focus on staff and student safety. The LAPS will be providing New Mexico PreK services to 180 students this year. In addition, the design phase of construction with both Chamisa and Pinon schools in White Rock will move forward (both schools have been approved for a rebuild) and there will be many opportunities for staff and community to share ideas for what they want education in White Rock to look like. Many congratulations to Dr. Kurt Steinhaus, our former LAPS Superintendent, who has been appointed the state Public Education Secretary-designate by Governor Lujan Grisham. We were lucky to benefit from his service in our community and look forward to his continued impacts on education at the state level.
Regarding projects around the community – I’ve loved seeing the enjoyment of the new Splash Pad in White Rock and the impressive progress on the Leisure Lagoon at the aquatic center. I’ve also heard many positive comments about getting back to our summer concert season at Ashley Pond; it’s great that we’ve been able to gather and relax and enjoy our beautiful community more this summer. The underpass that will connect the Canyon Rim Trail to Pueblo Canyon on the north side of N.M. 502 is scheduled for completion by November 2021. This was planned as a part of the Canyon Rim Trail project; the completion of the underpass will allow for safer hiking and biking connections from the Canyon Rim Trail to all trail networks north of N.M. 502.
In the area of economic development, I’d like to welcome Dan Ungerleider. He’s the county’s new Economic Development Administrator and brings demonstrated success in grass roots efforts to revitalize the downtown of Clarendon Hills (Chicago area) building on his public and private sector experience and ability to successfully obtain grant funds to support these efforts. He’s been around town meeting and listening to our business owners and citizens. He is excited to help make our community an even better place to live by building on groundwork that includes, for example, efforts to bring in additional workforce housing to Los Alamos, expanded opportunities for use of Local Economic Development Act and Metropolitan Redevelopment Area partnerships, and enhancement of public areas to promote walkability/rideability and attractive locations for gatherings and events.
As part of continued efforts to work on our local business environment, Councilor David Reagor (who spearheaded the event), Councilor Denise Derkacs, and myself held an Aug. 3 Town Hall aimed at promoting a dialogue between our local businesses, property owners, and the County. The goal was to identify new options for how we could all work together and help nurture the retail and restaurant options our community wants. I really appreciated the participation and candid dialogue. In speaking with those engaged in downtown development in other communities what I’ve heard over and over is that ongoing engagement of this type is a critical way to identify concrete steps and make progress on achieving community goals for economic development and vibrant downtown areas.
There’s also been significant progress on multiple housing and business projects.
Some that I’ve recently been asked about include:
- property) east of the hospital will include 149 market rate apartments; construction has started this week, with demolition of existing asphalt and other site remnants from the previous use.
- Mirador Subdivision in White Rock: In total, 61 permits have been issued in this neighborhood (of a total of 161 for full build out), with 43 completed and occupied. Additionally, the Planning and Zoning Commission has approved the site plan for an adjacent mixed-use development (57 apartments and 1000 square feet of commercial use space). This project has been slowed down due to the COVID pandemic, but it is anticipated that the developer will be submitting a building permit application in January of 2022
- Marriott Hotel and Conference Center: The site plan was approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission in January 2021. Building plans have been submitted and are currently under review.
- Los Alamos Public Schools Credit Union: This facility is now operational with a grand opening planned for Aug. 14.
- North Mesa Housing Project: Progress has been made in the data gathering efforts for this project and a Request for Proposals (RFP) for consulting services has been prepared for review by the school board. The RFP will be for financial feasibility analysis for potential “missing middle” housing development and options for a recurring income stream to support the schools operationally.
We’ve heard again that Los Alamos County was, as in 2020, recognized the “Healthiest Community in the country” by U.S. News & World Report in collaboration with the Aetna Foundation. The County was selected in 2020 for the same honor by U.S. News and World Report based on rankings in more than 80 health-related metrics. As in 2020, I’m not surprised.
We are so fortunate to live in this amazing place with so many recreational and social service options and community members that are always there for each other and working together to keep making Los Alamos and White Rock even better. For example, the community members on the county’s two new Task Forces – the Los Alamos Resiliency Energy & Sustainability Task Force and the Racial Equity and the Inclusivity Task Force – have generated a variety of ideas to pursue, and they are off and running with research and development of suggested options they want to pursue. They are meeting on a semimonthly basis with a goal of providing recommendations to Council in these topical areas within a year. Citizens interested in contributing to these or other community/county efforts can contact the County Manager’s Office at firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information. Likewise, the Council’s advisory
Boards and Commissions have several vacancies, so if you are new to Los Alamos, be sure to check out their webpage (https://www.losalamosnm.us/government/boardscommissions) as there might be a wonderful volunteer opportunity in your future!
I know as we move into Fall and continue to navigate the pandemic we’ll keep taking care of each other, working to support our kids as they return to school, and supporting our businesses as they continue to respond to an evolving environment. Let’s keep after it Los Alamos.