Where Candidates Stand On The Nuisance Code

A large tree that fell on Lisa Shin’s property in 2019. Photo by Lisa Shin

Los Alamos

Dear Editor:   

The CDD and its contractor Dekker/Perich/Sabatini (DPS) have completed a final draft of the Chapter 18 nuisance code.   You can read it here:   https://www.lacchp18update.org/post/final-chapter-18-draft-available

Revisions have been made based on discussions and public comment.  I understand the importance of home maintenance and the desire to improve our community’s aesthetics and property values.  However, I am concerned about expanding the role of the government to micromanage our yards and weeds.  I am worried about heavy-handed enforcement and nuisance violators being treated like common criminals.  

We need to know where our candidates for County Council stand on this issue because it has a direct impact on the center point of our daily lives:  our homes.  Predictably, the Chapter 18 drafts will be presented to the County Council for review and adoption on November 29, 2022, after the election.  The public has a right to know how Councilor Ryti and Councilor Hand plan to vote on November 29th, because it could determine how citizens vote on November 8, 2022.   

My specific concerns are:  

  1. Making rules for citizens that do not apply to the County.  Section 18-31:  “The owner or occupant of any property shall trim or remove all trees, plants, shrubs or vegetation, or any parts thereof, which overhang or extrude into any abutting sidewalk, public right-of-way, planting strip, and clear sight triangle per Section 16-4-2(C)(IV) of the Chapter 16 Development Code.”  In June 2019, a wind storm caused a large tree on County property to fall onto my yard and house.  This resulted in considerable damage to the stucco wall, the roof, the patio door, and the outdoor gas grill.   The County refused to accept any responsibility and would not even pay for the cost to remove the tree from my property.  The County employee who came out to assess the damage point blank told us, “You have to fight this in Court.”   If citizens are required to keep private and public areas safe, shouldn’t the County also be required to do so?”  

Public comment given for the CDAB 08/16/2022 presentation makes this point well:   “Lastly, I would like to see a way for the citizens of the county to hold the county accountable for the same nuisances that we will be held criminally liable for. In a 30 minute walk to Overlook park, I documented many instances of ‘nuisance’ behavior by the county. The county obstructed the sidewalks with weeds from mowing, paint was peeling off the soccer goals, concrete was found cracked and spalling, weeds were growing into walkways, the fields are a massive rodent harborage, mice are running loose in the restrooms, and the county mowed the dog park without picking up balls and toys strewing plastic garbage around the park. 

If these expectations are held on individuals, then the individuals should at minimum have the same expectations of the county.”  

  1. Nuisance Code reads like a homeowner’s association agreement, except we do not have the option to decline.  Section 18-52 details “unsafe and prohibited” conditions, however, many homes in Los Alamos are currently in need of these basic repairs.  
  2. Search warrants for nuisance violations are onerous.  I am glad there is a requirement for a search warrant before entering private property, but I have a problem with treating violators like common criminals.  Section 18-74 “The Code Compliant officer or Code Officials shall obtain a search warrant or permission of the occupant thereof, permission of the party responsible therefor in the event the premises are unoccupied, prior to the interiors of private parties, dwellings or living quarters, or the portions of commercial premises used as dwellings, or the non-public portions of commercial premises.”    Search warrants typically require an affidavit before a judge, who may then require the affiant to appear physically and examine the party and witnesses under oath. 
  3. The accused has a right to know who their accusers are so the anonymous reporting of citizen complaints should not be an option.  Section 18-73 details the process for reporting violations and inspections.  However, if the County considers nuisance violations as criminal offenses, then the Sixth Amendment guarantees the rights of criminal defendants, including the right to a public trial without unnecessary delay, the right to a lawyer, the right to an impartial jury, and the right to know who your accusers are and the nature of the charges and evidence against you.   

Of the campaign material I have received so far, Reggie Page has a clear statement:  “Nuisance code: will vote NO.”  Gary Stradling’s mailer states:  “Private property rights:  Local government should not be a bully.  Los Alamos is not an HOA!”   James Wernicke wrote an op-ed on an older draft and said, “If Los Alamos County really wants to make it better to live here, then they should be eliminating nuisance codes and other regulatory barriers that make it extraordinarily difficult, expensive, and slow to build and renovate housing.”   

The citizens of Los Alamos deserve to know where each of our candidates stand on the nuisance code.  It involves the local government using our tax dollars to bully and harass citizens.  It involves being punished for normal wear and tear on our homes.  It involves hefty fines and penalties for non-compliance.  It pits the government against citizens and citizens against each other.  If this is not what you want for Los Alamos, then do not vote for the candidates who are silent or unclear on the issue.  Please avoid “buyer’s remorse” after the election!