Gary Stradling: Response To Richard Skolnik’s Letter

Republican Candidate for
Los Alamos County Council


Mr. Skolnik wrote ( about my position on liberty ( with a fundamental misunderstanding about the power of choosing liberty instead of compulsion. He wrongly asserts that the choices of liberty-loving residents are “self centered and destructive.” That is not my experience. In society, particularly in Los Alamos County, we are remarkably aware of the needs and concerns of people around us. We try to do good for all. 

From an economic perspective, choosing for oneself based on one’s exquisite awareness of local circumstances is much more efficient than that of some centralized planner or ideologue, operating far from the scene. Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (1776) marveled at the power of the “invisible hand”, manifest in locally-informed self-interest, enriching not only the individual but the whole society. In contrast, the world marvels at the power of centralized planning and coercion to collapse economies and impoverish whole nations. 

Water Rate Policy: 

Is it right that young families, already stretched to the limit by the astronomical cost of housing, have to scrimp more to pay for the water necessary to maintain a family? Though concentrated on a single water meter, their families are using water more efficiently than an older couple or a single person, but are being specially penalized. Such policies affect LANL’s ability to hire young families. 

Punitive rates triggered by usage levels, and projected rate hikes, touted to discourage private municipal water use, fail to address the underlying policy issues driving scarcity. In New Mexico, 78% percent of water is allocated to agriculture and only 8% is used for municipal utilities. In Los Alamos, LANL uses 24% of the water and 50% goes to residential use. Marginal changes in Los Alamos county residential use via punitive rates for families and gardeners is the wrong policy lever to truly make any difference in NM water availability.  

Meanwhile, judicious cultivation of trees and gardens in resident yards and public spaces decreases the heat retention from houses and paved areas, and increases the livability and attractiveness of our community. So punishing tree-hugging gardeners for cooling the community and creating beautiful and fragrant yards might accomplish the reverse of activist intentions. Is not a beautiful environment the objective of us nature-loving environmentalists?

Working together in common agreement empowers our community. But just as importantly, a vibrant community is defined by keeping the doors open to the default choice: that each of us act according to our best judgement. When representative government tries to override this default it must act sparingly and reversibly.

In my opinion, good governance has to go beyond soundbite policy and genuinely grapple with the costs and benefits of the complex policy questions in front of us. And my philosophy as a county councilor will always be to prioritize market solutions and refine government behavior. If needed, I favor persuasion instead of imposing selective penalties on private citizens. I believe we can work together to find great solutions to the problems of Los Alamos. Problems are really opportunities to do good. 

And, for those many who say every day, “I hate commuting, but Los Alamos County is where I work and I cannot find a house there!” I reaffirm that facilitating sufficient broad-spectrum housing in the County, with its accompanying stimulus of our shopping, entertainment, and business environment, is my main focus.