BY PHIL GURSKY
Los Alamos has assets virtually everyone who lives in Los Alamos highly values: The natural and cultural beauty that surrounds us on the Pajarito Plateau, with our vast outdoor opportunities and recreational and park facilities; and our local School System. It is of concern to me that Gary Stradling, as the most vocal candidate for County Council pays little notice and, apparently, less concern for the protection and support of these priceless assets. This is to say nothing of the other County utility, solid waste disposal and road infrastructure systems which will be quite inadequate to support up to 25,000 more people. Candidate Gary Stradling has based his entire campaign on the need to bring 12,000 more housing units to Los Alamos to allow all commuters to LANL to live here. He would have us blade over thousands of acres of natural beauty and open space and overburden our infrastructure, school system and tax revenues.
I think it important to note NNSA and LANL has repeatedly determined over the years, as recently as June of this year that multiple discussions and the formal County request for the land parcels fail to meet relevant Federal Regulations or safety standards for transfer to the County for use as housing. (NNSA Los Alamos Area Office Manager Tom Wyka, County Council testimony on June 21, 2022 ). Candidate Stradling emphasizes that his negotiating skill, alone, will reverse these decisions. Nonsense. LANL has opted to regionalize facilities and operations, leasing two Santa Fe Offices housing thousands of employees and granted permanent remote status for thousands more employees to reduce commuters, as well as regional transportation initiatives to further reduce traffic. These factors result in commuting totals vastly lower than Candidate Stradling bases his plans on. Director Mason has stated in public comment in June this year that employment at LANL is about 14,000 going to a level of 15,000 next year. (Public Town Hall meeting June 14, 2022). Yet Candidate Stradling has repeatedly stated the Lab has 16,500 employees going to 21,500 employees in three years. It seems prudent to rely on the public comment and testimony of the officials’ responsible for LANL and NNSA operations.
While it is hard to view a proposal seriously that fails to state and source the actual scope of the issue, what is clear is that Candidate Stradling, whether overstating the commuter numbers, has no answer for the impact of his proposed growth. He says he wants 12,000 LANL commuters to enjoy our lovely outdoor environment, but would besmirch that environment to accomplish it. He has expressed no reservations on building housing in Bayo Canyon (Prohibited by County Ordinance Sections 14.141-144) or Rendija Canyon (Transfer from NNSA to the County will restrict it to recreational uses) despite their significant natural environment and recreational use. He has spoken dismissively, as insufficient, the approximately 5000 potential new housing units referred to in the 2019 County Housing Study, when building them all would require about 3300 lots that would eliminating the stables and rodeo arena, airport, golf course, school properties (despite needing to double the school system), and require building over the remainder of the land on the Eastern portion of North Mesa (even though it is deed restricted to recreational use). What the Study does say is that approx. 1700 new units (within current developable land inventory) will return a supply and demand balance to County housing.
Equally concerning is not addressing the implications for our School System and County infrastructure. The County and Schools are already spending millions of dollars a year on repair and replacement of aging facilities and infrastructure. It appears that County infrastructure and roads are sufficient, with projected repair, replacement and reserves to service a community around 25,000 residents. To do just this will entail many millions of dollars building new and additional school facilities and replacement of many decades old distribution and service systems for electric, water and sewer. Road and intersection redesign and reconstruction will be needed to serve areas with continued growth. But added to that, Candidate Stradling’s plan would necessitate 1) school system expansion equal to our entire current facilities and staff at a cost of a hundred million dollars, or more, 2) purchase of substantial additional water rights and electric production capacity, 3) building an additional sewer plant(s), 4) expansive redesign of and construction of roads in and out of the County and the streets feeding traffic around the County, 5) large increases in solid waste disposal budgets to cover increased waste transportation to remote landfills and 6) significant expansion of all utilities and roads infrastructure to serve new housing and development areas. The will all come at a cost of many hundreds of millions of dollars and these will be our tax dollars. As LANL’s gross receipts tax bill won’t be increased and LANL has chosen regionalization, not build up Los Alamos County, the tax bill will be all on us.
Candidate Stradling hasn’t discussed, seems unconcerned with or is unaware of the costs or technical details of his plan nor has he addressed the degradation to our natural environment his plan requires, when significantly smaller increases in housing will address the housing supply and demand imbalance. As his plan for housing, whatever the likelihood of success, is the entirety of Candidate Stradling’s campaign and these campaign promises would imperil our quality of life, our excellent school system and our finances, I ask that you reject Gary Stradling’s plans and candidacy.