BY ELIZABETH CHURCH
I write to comment on the county’s proposed changes to the nuisance code. I write on behalf of myself and others who reside in this gorgeous setting but who do not benefit from the high salaries and extraordinary benefits paid to LANL workers. I am a writer. On average, writers in this country make $20,000 per year. Others who live here – and contribute to the rich fabric of this town – are teachers and nurses, grocery store workers, day care providers, arborists and carpenters. The proposed code will have a serious, negative impact on seniors and others living on fixed incomes.
Los Alamos is not a homeowners association, and yet the code reads as if it were. Much attention has already been paid to the proposed code’s snobbish approach to home-based car repairs. Other aspects of the code as proposed have not received as much attention, such as the provision that would ban homeowners from keeping an upholstered chair or couch on a covered front porch – the code specifies that that kind of non-waterproof furniture would be prohibited. It does not speak to whether or not the furniture is in good shape or comfortable to someone who simply wants to sit and watch the world go by. Instead, it defines quite specifically what type of furniture an individual may keep on the porch. If this is about ratty, vermin-infested furniture left out to decay, that’s another matter. The code does not distinguish.
And what is a homeowner to do when the exterior paint begins to peel – which it will, in our climate? Paint – and not the best paint – is currently running at $50 a gallon. The cost of paying someone to paint is even more prohibitive. What is someone who does not boast of a $100k salary do when the code enforcers spot an infraction? What does an elderly person on a limited income do? What does a teacher or nurse or social worker or clerk in a store do when already faced with childcare expenses, uncovered medical expenses, the expense of food and utilities? Does the county genuinely wish to force residents to choose between paying medical bills and making certain that no peeling paint is visible? Does the county next intend to dictate what colors someone may paint their home?
The building code enforcement section of local government has come under intense scrutiny in court. Recently, a business I patronized in Albuquerque for years indicated that it will no longer install windows in Los Alamos, due to the intransigence of the building code enforcers. Now, the county wants to embark upon a program of eradicating peeling housepaint? Does the county truly want to generate more litigation, this time featuring a different county department? Do we really want to spend county resources going to court to enforce removal of a chair from someone’s porch or balcony?
A nuisance code serves numerous wonderful purposes: health, safety, and public welfare. These updated provisions are only tangentially related to genuine concerns regarding those matters. They are, instead, pretentious and discouraging to those who want to make this town their home. You can build as many homes as you want in an effort to encourage people to live here rather than in surrounding areas – but no one will want to live in this town if it continues to use “health and safety” as a justification for elitism.
Elizabeth J. Church