BY GARY STRADLING
Republican Candidate for
Los Alamos County Council
Vision in leadership is essential, because the future holds significant change. We must have leadership that can see into the future and prepare for the events coming at us.
Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) staffing is exploding. For most of my career, LANL staffing was at about 10,000 employees. Housing was tight when I moved here 41 years ago. Our housing supply has remained stagnant. I have known some county leaders, landlords, financially motivated to maintain tight housing and high rents.
Recently LANL has hired 6,500 new employees and plans to hire another 5,500 in the next three years—2000 this year, 2000 next year, and 1500 the year following. This more than doubles the workers at the lab from 2010 levels, and implies additional support staff, construction, and maintenance workers. The magnitude of this change, and its impact on the area, cannot be overstated. Urgent local government action is required.
LANL looks to Los Alamos, Espanola, Santa Fe, and farther, to absorb the influx. I am told that as many as 12,000 workers are now commuting into Los Alamos County every day, from as far away as Taos and Belen.
Distant housing means long hours away from families – our commuters are spending about 450 million hours on the road annually – reducing family time and parenting effectiveness. It also means heavy traffic congestion and increased air pollution in northern New Mexico. I estimate that pollution from 13 million gallons of commuter gasoline are being vented into our pristine skies each year from this commute.
Not only are these workers wasting time and fuel, but their LANL-earned salaries (about $1 billion/year) are not spent in Los Alamos. Taxes, consumer goods, utilities – all are paid elsewhere, while we pay for increased costs of infrastructure and maintenance.
The current Trinity “road diet” issue is an illustration of county leadership not “getting it”, as the lab/town traffic load is dramatically increased by LANL growth. We will need to increase traffic efficiency of vital arteries, not reduce it.
Given LANL’s importance to the nation, the massive increase in LANL staffing levels, the stagnation of county housing, and accompanying infrastructure needs, we need leadership that has vision and values that can drive urgent change. The stagnation of county housing (in the last decades we have only built 661 residences!) and the atrophy of county businesses are crucial issues, neglected by local government for decades, that now must be addressed. Los Alamos should provide housing for all workers in the County, including the non-lab workers we will need. We need a full spectrum, vibrant, economically healthy city.
With demand for housing and labor far exceeding supply, our county is an economically-distorted marketplace for housing, for workers, and for businesses. Expanding supply to normalize these markets requires land to build on.
Development land is the key. Los Alamos and White Rock are surrounded by thousands of acres of developable lands, owned by the DOE, and the US Forest Service. No one is offering that land to us for housing development. Yet, it is there! Right next to us! It has the potential to meet all of our housing needs.
Los Alamos County should have leadership that recognizes and addresses the explosion happening now, right here! Obtaining land for housing tracts requires vision, dedication, and persuasion. My experience (http://stradling4council.org/experience/) in government, international negotiations, and the success of the LANL AngelFire program, which I led, were all about building relationships, developing good policies, having vision, courage, and persistence, and being able to persuade other essential players in government. It is not easy, and is not guaranteed. But it cannot happen without skill, intent, and effort.