Housing: Thoroughness And Justified Review

Los Alamos

I noticed a letter to the editor from Candidate Stradling saying, in letter to the editor I wrote several daysago, I was misstating his projections; then pivoting to a large amount of deflection about the impact of his housing proposal and its potential cost. An additional response is warranted. 

No one argues a full spectrum community with commercial goods and services” isn’t desirable. That is not the question, it is how to accomplish it and at what balance with other community values and concerns. 

I well am informed and experienced in the status of Los Alamos housing and requirements for development. The assumption my comments are anything but an analysis of Candidate Stradling’s housing proposal are wrong and unwarranted. I made no reference to other candidates or political partisanship.

As native of Los Alamos, a real estate lawyer and developer and active multiple community organizations, including  Chair of the North Mesa Housing  Project Committee and former Chair of Planning and Zoning and one of the primary architects of the current County Comprehensive Code, I feel familiar with and qualified to analyze Candidate Stradling’s campaign platform. As a developer, I am currently involved with multiple projects here, primarily directed at providing entry level housing options, solutions to the need for non-LANL workforce housing and working with the Los Alamos Housing Partnership to create more “affordable” housing inventory in the County.

I had checked Candidate Stradling’s website, but the page on Housing Questions does not load. The campaign might want to fix that before Election Day. Figures I attributed to Candidate Stradling are derived directly from comments made at the Chamber of Commerce Candidates’ Forum on October 20, 2022 and from a letter to the editor on September 15, 2022, found in both the Los Alamos Reporter and the Daily Post. Candidate Stradling has on multiple occasions asserted that LANL has added 6,500 jobs already and will add 5,500 hundred more jobs in the next three years, as well as often stating there are 12,000 people commuting to Los Alamos daily.

As to misstating:

1. LANL Size. Candidate Stradling does not indicate sources for his figures, so I have merely used the information he asserts and arrived at reasonable conclusions. Prior to its current growth the LANL employee census was approx. 10,000. (See demographic section of the County Comprehensive Code). Add 6,500 employees to that figure to arrive at 16,500 employees and add 5,500 more employees, in the next three years, to that figure to arrive at 22,000 (pardon an arithmetical error in my earlier letter, I said it was 21,000). The normal and standard meaning of adding jobs increases the respective work force. LANL Director Mason says the current census is approx. 14,000 with an additional 1,000 hires to stabilize at approx. 15,000. (See his Comments at Public Town Hall June 14, 2022 and see also the LANL website).

Candidate Stradling relies on a figure of 12,000 current commuters, something that is at odds with the public statements and mitigation plans of LANL. (LANL  Director Mason and NNSA Los Alamos Area Manager Wyka)  Candidate Stradling seems to misstate current LANL figures and fails to account for LANL regionalization policies that, along with permanent remote work policies, that will reduce LANL commuters by as many as 6,000.  (Director Mason June 14, 2022 Town Hall and NNSA Los Alamos Office Manager Tom Wyka in testimony in front of the County Council on June 21, 2022).

2. 25,000 population increase. Candidate Stradling does not ever directly address the expected population increase occasioned by his plan.  Over many decades in Los Alamos, the population has been between 2.35 and 2.5 people per household. With new younger residents with larger average households, the 2.5 figure will likely be more accurate and with no expectation of growth patterns deviating from historical norms. 10,000 new housing units equates to an approximate 25,000 population increase over our current approximate 20,000 population.

3. 2019 Housing Study. In his Letter to the editor of September 15, 2022, Candidate Stradling mentions the Housing Study, saying 4500 possible units (the Study figure is actually more than 5,000 units) would not meet his view of demand. I repeat from my letter that this level of development would require eliminating the stables area and arena, golf course, airport, school properties and the reminder of the East portion of North Mesa. The real takeaway from the Housing Study is that the addition of approximately 1700 new housing units (within existing inventory and infrastructure capacity) would meet current demand levels and address housing supply imbalances, while it also recommended steps to address the needs for housing directed to non-LANL workforce and other underserved portions of the community. Respectfully, my concerns for our community are probably more informed than Candidate Stradling’s campaign vision.

 Candidate Stradling, in his response letter, still deflects from addressing the legal feasibility of his plan, the impact of the contemplated scale of development on the natural environment, cultural resources and outdoor recreational opportunities in the County and the financial and quality life impact of his vision. Candidate Stradling continues his strain of “only I can save you”, saying:

“I promise to apply my proven skills to our problem and I think the likelihood of success is high enough to justify me coming out of retirement to accomplish it for you.” 

I suggest until Candidate Stradling demonstrates functional understanding and the transactional import of a) the nature of Federal decision making with respect prior and future decisions on NNSA and LANL transfers and the requirements for acquisition of land within the County from any Federal entity, b) the County’s Open Space Management Plan, County Ordinance Sections 14-141 though 144, the Comprehensive Plan and  County land development standards and c) the practical, legal and financial feasibility components of the due diligence review process, including cost analysis and physical infrastructure feasibility, Candidate Stradling has not demonstrated he has “the proven skills” to explain and defend, let alone, be allowed to negotiate, this campaign vision. Any reasonable review and approval process requires a rigorous cost benefit analysis, something has Candidate Stradling assiduously avoided. Without such rigorous review and analysis, Candidate Stradling’s housing plan is nothing more than a vision of his hope, and hope is not a plan. It is surprising, given Candidate Stradling’s purported skills, that Candidate Stradling would consider a 40-year project, costing as much as half a billion dollars, as just being “an ongoing enterprise”. This is a time a seven member Council provides comforting protection from Candidate Stradling’s attempting to commit the County to his hope and vision likely costing the County more than all other public capital expenditures in the history of Los Alamos combined. It is imprudent to build for the highs of our current situation without considering the risk of the lows of changed circumstances, leaving taxpayers holding the bag. More thoughtful moderated planning and growth will still bring the community towards a “full spectrum community” without the environmental and fiscal risks. Between doing nothing and betting the town, there is most assuredly a better path than Candidate Stradling’s campaign plan.