And The Band Played On – Three Metaphors On LAC Housing

Republican Candidate for
Los Alamos County Council

At the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Forum this morning we were asked questions about: (lack of) workforce; (problem of) business recruitment and retention; (difficulty of) incentivizing commercial development. However the facilitator asked us to address them without speaking of housing, which was a major lack of understanding of the core illness. 

Treat the disease instead of the symptoms

The long-term, core illness of Los Alamos County is the lack of sufficient housing. The symptoms are: a distorted population demographic distribution, lacking the bottom end. This results in secondary symptoms: a distorted local business environment, loss of normal businesses, and inability to start and staff small businesses and LANL spin-offs. Los Alamos County is in a long decline, which was addressed by most of the other candidates. You can treat symptoms cosmetically and never get better, or you can recognize the source of the illness and treat it directly, heal it, and bring the county into healthy balance. 

To underscore my point, the contracted vendor was delayed in delivering the breakfast to this group, due to lack of staff. This is the third such incident I have seen in the last week. We are not at the end of our troubles.

I told the group that I was laser-focused on housing because it is the main source our problem- via its impact on our working demographic. 

The graph below shows the demographic disparity between Los Alamos County and the rest of New Mexico. With data taken from the Los Alamos 2019 housing study and the US Census data, we see that 65% of NM population have incomes below $75K (thousand), while only 30% of Los Alamos is in that critical category for community business labor. 

Additional data from the 2019 study shows Los Alamos steadily losing residents from the low end of the economic spectrum and gaining at the highest categories. Given that Los Alamos housing has been stagnant for decades, that means that better-off LANL workers are buying the houses from lower-income residents, and further distorting our community demographic. 

This lack of low-middle income residents is directly responsible for the crumbling of our businesses.

Water flows downhill-

Other candidates touted their knowledge of artificial stimulation of businesses: subsidized housing, subsidized rents, subsidized businesses, special allotment of contracts to local business by the County and LANL, extra employment incentives for business compared to LANL, PR, etc. I compare this to pumping water uphill. 

I pointed out to them that understanding gravity and the flow of water was essential to many things. We want the people we need to work here to naturally flow into Los Alamos and for them to want to work in our businesses, and for entrepreneurs to be stimulated to start new businesses and spin-offs, etc. We do not want have to artificially transport people here, artificially subsidize housing, or artificially stimulate local businesses. I mentioned that we do not want to do as the Saudi’s do, to transport poor people from the Philippines to do their scut work, and house them in dorms. I said that that would be stupid. We want people to come here of their own accord, because it is to their advantage. Economics, like water, flows in directions that favor it. We must understand the economics of our community, and contour things so that it naturally flows to grow our businesses.

The Titanic- The Band Played On: 

A metaphor of obliviousness was the lack of an urgent course change by the captain of the Titanic, when collision with an iceberg was imminent. Instead the band played on. Deck chairs are rearranged. Los Alamos can choose its future. We like music at Ashley Pond, and can keep listening to it, but we must have an urgent course change. 

As this meeting began, former County Councilor Antonio Maggiore told me about past land transfer efforts, ‘We have already tried that. It did not work. Every year for four years, we mentioned land transfers to Congress, to DOE, etc. Nobody responded. You cannot be successful!”

I said to him: “Well, if you failed, you must not be doing it right. We have to be smarter and try harder. Never give up! When I was LANL manager for the AngelFire program, which the US Marines desperately needed during the Iraq War, I went to Washington nearly every week.” We explored every option and engaged every potential source of support- Army, Air Force, Congress, the intelligence agencies. It was tedious and and painful. We believed in our mission. We were not discouraged and we did not give up. In the end, it was a combination of these efforts that resulted in success and finally sending that system to theater. The USMC changed their entire battlefield intelligence concept to benefit from the improvements AngelFire brought. I will not be discouraged, and I will use the extensive experience and skills from working in senior government organizations, and from international negotiations to succeed. 

My vision of Los Alamos 40 years into the future is a vibrant full-spectrum community, still anchored to LANL, but with several more large housing developments providing sufficient housing for those LANL employees and for those needed by the County, and with several shopping areas, with sufficient transportation networks, stable, reliable infrastructure. This Los Alamos 2062 community will still be surrounded by thousands of acres of DOE land. (Did you know that Los Alamos County has essentially the same foot print as the District of Columbia- with has 690,000 people?) It will still sit in the middle of a thousand square miles of wilderness. Los Alamos residents will still enjoy the great outdoors, the trails that punctuate every part of our community, a diversity of shopping and entertainment and restaurants.