BY BRANDI ENGEMAN
Tomorrow, Dec. 20, the Community Development Advisory Board will meet and continue discussions on updating the Los Alamos County nuisance code. The county recently sent out a survey to gather community feedback on the code.
There were several pictures used to gather feedback in the survey. Whoever gathered these pictures for comparison did so in a completely useless manner. Some were zoomed in photos of ‘clutter’ with no context in regards to where the photos were taken from, while others were zoomed out photos of manicured lawns, driveways, etc. The photos were not obscured in a way that allowed for the privacy of the homeowners. Several were completely identifiable. The photos were not taken from the same distance or similar positions and therefore did not allow for proper comparisons in those questions/sections.
In the future, in these types of survey photos, the county and its contractors should use photos that are NOT from our close knit, small town in order to prevent this breach of privacy and all photos should be of a similar manner from a similar distance to maintain objectivity.
The county nuisance code, as currently written, has too many subjective areas in it that need to be removed. You can ask two people what a weed is and get ten different answers. The same for what someone considers “well-maintained”. One person’s food forest is, to an other, a nuisance.
Government and policy making bodies, when writing such codes, should consider the human factor behind their decisions. In our town, where income disparity is rampant between those who work at our biggest, wealthiest employer, and those who provide services in our community, the local government and staff should be particularly aware of how their written policies impact ALL citizens, not just those with the potential extra income and time to spend maintaining property to a subjective standard.
Subjective nuisance codes that address property maintenance disproportionately punish those who lack excess income, time, or have issues with health. Similar to other areas in our society where “being poor is expensive”, anyone without the time or money to consistently upkeep a yard or property to subjective standards risks fines which only further burden that property owner or renter.
Codes such as this should focus on safety and standards that are not reliant on the subjective views of county staff or neighbors. They should not be written to protect financial interests, like property values. The current sections on weeds and property maintenance in the code are much too subjective and don’t adequately address the real factors that have led to blight in this town: Old houses and rentals in need of complete renovation that are consistently rented by landlords who then shirk the responsibility of upkeep onto renters and vacant commercial buildings that take years to address.
I encourage each of us to ask the council and CDAB, as they go to the table to update the nuisance code, to consider the HUMAN impact the code has had in recent years and could continue to have if it is not revised. The current code pits neighbor against neighbor instead of promoting community, it unduly burdens those with economic or health difficulties and it is simply too subjective in multiple sections.