BY MAIRE O’NEILL
The Los Alamos County Community Development Advisory Board is expected to be up for discussion again soon despite the adoption in December by Los Alamos County Council an ordinance disbanding it following four years in place. The Los Alamos Reporter has been asked by people in the community to explain what happened at the end of the year to “sunset” the CDAB and why that 5-2 decision by Council may not be final. Probably the best way to show what happened is to write about what was said during the “final moments” of CDAB.
The effort to disband CDAB was spearheaded by outgoing Councilor David Izraelevitz who announced at one of his final Council meetings after 11 years in office that he had requested that an ordinance be drafted to “sunset” the board. There was some surprise at this announcement, because the Council was on the verge of approving the revisions to the Nuisance Ordinance and was due to discuss the overall status of boards and commissions status in the County with a view to making some changes. Others noted that there has been was a perception that Councilor Izraelevitz has been no great fan of CDAB since its inception in 2018
When the ordinance creating the CDAB was originally presented by former Councilors Antonio Maggiore and James Chrobocinski, it was in response to concerns about code enforcement practices in the County. The agenda packet at the time indicated that “the ordinance, if adopted, would establish a seven-person advisory board whose duties would include reviewing all code enforcement notices of violation on a monthly bases and making policy recommendations to Council based on such reviews. Further responsibilities of the board would include working with staff on revisions and clarifications to the code, community outreach and organizing volunteer neighborhood cleanup efforts”.
CDAB’s first annual work plan as presented to Council in October 2018 clearly indicates that the board had a more far-reaching goal than submitting recommendations for the revision of Chapter 18. See
Councilor Izraelevitz said at the December 6 Council meeting that the purpose of CDAB was to collect citizen input and improve operational mechanisms in preparation for changes to the Chapter 18 Nuisance Ordinance. He said the new version of Chapter 18 had been considered by Council the previous week and that the effort had involved not only CDAB but also “extensive community outreach, consultant contracts and much staff time”.
“It has been time-consuming and extensive and I believe it is appropriate to step back now and see how these new changes work and are accepted in our community. Until we have this holistic view, CDAB as an ongoing board has an extremely limited if any role to play. It is more appropriate to sunset it at this juncture and reconsider what form and role it should play at any future time when we are ready to revisit this topic,” Izraelevitz said.
He said his proposal in no way was a lack of regard or gratitude for the hard work performed by current or past members of the board.
“We have recently sunsetted several committees that have had and will have long-term impact on our community considering such topics as environmental sustainability like LARES, equity, inclusivity and animal shelter operations. In fact I recall that I was a member of the Charter Review Committee that proposed changes to our charter about 12 years ago, which was also sunsetted after completing its work,” Izraelevitz said. “I am very proud of the work the charter committee performed, the changes it helped institute, whether individual proposals were accepted or not as I’m sure members of other past committees are as well. I look forward to feedback from the community on this new version of Chapter 18 and I hope CDAB members will look back with justified pride on their participation in this civic endeavor.”
Asked by Council Chair Randall Ryti why CDAB was established as a board and not a task force that would have been clearer about sunsetting Councilor Izraelevitz said he knew it had certainly been part of the conversation.
“At the time, I’m not even sure that we had developed a schedule for revisions to Chapter 18,” Councilor Izraelevitz said.
Councilor Ryti asked if there was some issue with the efforts to retain the board because that was one of the rationales presented for retaining it.
Councilor Izraelevitz responded that there are many rationales.
“One is that we’re expecting volunteers to participate and spend their time. We also have board staff support. There is scheduling of facilities. So if the board after the completion of Chapter 18 does not have the charter it used to, it makes more sense to reconstitute it at some point in the future and I think in retrospect, it should have been a task force coordinated with the writing of Chapter 18,” he said.
Councilor Izraelevitz had previously indicated that the CDAB could be reestablished in “several years”.
Councilor Ryti noted that the charter indicates that other assignments may be assigned to CDAB by Council.
“It seems like if we’re done with Chapter 18 there could be some other duties assigned as opposed to sunsetting it,” Councilor Ryti said. Did you look at that as part of your rationale?”
“Yes we could change the Charter at the pleasure of the Council. We could also at the pleasure of the Council decide this is not the right forum for whatever it is – other issues which we haven’t discussed. Frankly I think it’s also kind of unfair to have a board with a certain charter and then change. I mean I don’t know – do you have something in mind for what its other – it’s done its certain important work,” Councilor Izraelevitz said.
Councilor Ryti asked if there had been any discussion or thinking at the time the CDAB charter was put in place as to what the other assignments it could have. Councilor Izraelevitz responded that he didn’t recall.
Councilor Melanee Hand asked if CDAB members believed they should be sunsetted and if anybody had spoken to them to find out their views.
“The other question for CDAB would be, what would they see as their ongoing mission if the board continues.
DI said he did communicate with the chair of CDAB about the plan to sunset the board “in courtesy to him” but that he didn’t communicate with the full board.
“I didn’t think that that was – that’s the purview of Council to decide – what the work plan and charter of any board should be,” he said.
Asked what the CDAB chair said, Izraelevitz said, “I didn’t ask. I think that’s the purview of Council. Maybe I should have asked for whether it was rewarding, whether they expect other things, but again, I don’t think that we should – all boards, any board has a certain cost involved, in terms of volunteer time, in terms of staff time, in terms of a rewarding experience. We want to make sure that there is interesting work that is rewarding to them.”
“We usually have volunteers that sign up for one board so anyone who is on one board is one less person that may be available for other boards, so I think it’s also our responsibility to make sure that each of these boards is impactful and again that at some point in the future it will be important to see how this Chapter 18 works but we’re not going to have a consultant on contract anymore to make revisions.” Councilor Izraelevitz said. “I think it’s just important to try things at least for a year so we have a cycle of summer and winter and all those things. I think it’s really to everyone’s benefit that we consider at some future time what this board should do. If this is the composition of this board, and I know that next week, we’re going to be looking at all the different boards we have, and maybe some of their responsibilities should be somewhere else or other boards. So I think this is the right step to take at this time for this board given where we are.”
Councilor Hand said she had started reviewing the FY22 work plan for CDAB to see what it said and it seemed that many of the actions that were on that plan had been completed, which she said supported Izraelevitz’s question about whether or not Council had additional tasks for CDAB.
Councilor Sara Scott said CDAB was very focused on gathering feedback, rolling up community comment to identify key issues that would be addressed by an update of the Nuisance Code, putting out information, conducting surveys, and conducting informal surveys at farmers markets during the summer.
“It was very much to me from my perspective information gathering and information dissemination. The other thing they talked about as part of their work plan was how to look at providing resources to folks in the community that may need resources, and my perspective was from the comments at the meetings that they thought this item had also been accomplished. They had looked into what was available and tried to see if there’s anything else they could do on that front, and again my recollection is that they kind of said they had completed that effort. When I was liaison it was very much still in the process of looking at updates and what those would look like and key issues,” Scott said.
Councilor David Reagor said CDAB is addressing community development issues of all kinds, not restricted to just Chapter 18. He gave the example of the issue of the vacant buildings discussion.
“There’s an awful lot of that still to discuss for example there have been a number of issues we’ve had for example the possible development of the Mari-Mac and vacancies all over town. It might not be addressed with an ordinance, but it might be addressed by sending it back to the board for them to look at the issue and for them to come up with public input for how to resolve it. Assign them issues that are hard to present because the Council has so many different issues it takes care of. It’s good to have a board that collects that input. I think they’ve done a great job and I think that there’s no reason to get rid of them,” Councilor Reagor said.
Councilor Derkacs asked Community Development Department Director Paul Andrus what he felt CDAB could address if it was continued.
“I’m not exactly, I don’t and here’s the reason why. Myself and other staff from CDD were not consulted in the creation of this board. I don’t have any answer to that question and if you want to delve deeper or talk a little more about that, generally speaking I don’t have a response to that. I apologize,” Andrus responded.
Councilor Ryti noted that within CDD there are the things covered by the Planning & Zoning Commission and asked what besides the Nuisance Code is under the CDD that would have public concerns. Andrus responded economic development and housing, building permitting and planning under Chapters 16 and 10 of the County Code. Councilor Ryti noted that when CDAB was established it had to do with public comment, input and questions regarding the enforcement of the Nuisance Code.
David Hanson, CDAB Vice Chair, discussed the constraints he felt CDAB faced in working on the Nuisance Code revision
“The task that County Council put before us was a very difficult one – that is to resolve the conflict between the rights of the individual and those of the neighborhood and community. For us this was not a philosophical exercise. And the model under which CDAB must operate as an advisory board, I was told, compromised our effectiveness on this,” Hanson said.
He said functioning as an advisory board required that CDAB follow a discussion-motion model where the members reviewed the Nuisance Code language in the code, carried out discussions with a quorum, voted on motions and then presented them to the CDD and the Council.
“Due to the large number of separate codes within Chapter 18, there was very little time to thoroughly discuss the issues for each one. Furthermore the seven board members tended to favor their personal opinions and interests and not necessarily those of the community at large. In colorful language this was sort of a tyranny of the majority’. Hanson said. “Usually we were not able to come to a consensus. Most motions passed with one or two nay vote.. As such, the CDD and the Council got the majority opinion with no option for a formal minority report detailing what the objections might have been. The motions presented simply reflected the opinions of the majority of the members who happened to be on the board. Had a different set of board members been chosen, the majority of the opinion might have been just the opposite. With these administrative constraints, I don’t see any way to avoid the same limitation going forward.”
Former CDAB board member and chair Aaron Walker said gathering feedback is exactly what this whole group should be doing now that the rewrite is over. He said CDAB’s responsibilities included a lot more than just the Nuisance Code rewrite.
“Looking at how the new code affects the community is exactly what this board should be doing. There’s a lot of unknowns with this new code. (CDAB members) look at the letters that go out and the (notices of violation). Let them look at that data and tell us whether the new code is affecting the community for better or worse,” Walker said. “It was mentioned by councilors that now that we have the new code we should try things. We should try them with CDAB in place then look at a sunset date down the line. Let them look at the results of the new code and come back when there is data. Right now we have no idea how this is going to be taken in the community”
Walker noted that Council had voted 4-3 to accept a petition filed with the County asking Council not to discuss “sunsetting” CDAB for a year.
“You need to hold to that. Otherwise you are clearly showing that petitions are non-binding, worthless, and you don’t care what the citizens of this community bring to you as far as petitions go. You render them worthless, absolutely worthless. Notice how empty Council Chambers is tonight. That doesn’t mean this fight is over with Chapter 18, not at all. There’s a lot of people upset over this. Trust me. I know some of you – at least three or four of you don’t believe me but there are lots,” Walker said. “Finding the signatures to bring this to a referendum and let the people vote on it, I will, and take it out of your hands because this is unacceptable. You may dismiss me as a vocal minority and that’s fine.”
Walker went on to say that CDAB is designed to get feedback from the community and provide it to staff and council on ways and means of improving the County’s property maintenance code enforcement program. He said CDAB should spend the next 15 months focusing on the effects of the new code.
“Then if you want to talk about it, dissolve it in the next six to 12 months when you have that data – that’s fine. Now, this is just a personal vendetta by certain councilors to get rid of CDAB,” he said.
Community member Grant Harding said the majority of Council already voted not to consider “sunsetting” CDAB at this time. The reality is that we have a code that we know will be brought back in the next year presumably January or thereabouts and have at least some revisions and to press forward with that without CDAB’s inclusion in that process, is to violate the very charter and public trust in Council that was created when CDAB was set up as a board in the first place,” he said.
Harding noted that one of the very reasons that CDAB was set up in the first place was that a previous code was at least in some cases being disproportionately applied to those individuals who had the least ability financially to fight or to afford the price.
“There also were the questions about repeat citations, repeat criminal citations and that there were repeat criminal violations and that portion of the code has stayed intact. So one of the very reasons why CDAB was created has not been addressed. To say that their work is done is fallacious at best. There is more work to be done by CDAB. It may be another six months. I would hope that’s all the time we need. Maybe it’s whole year,” Harding said. “As Councilor Izraelevitz pointed out, we probably need an entire seasonal cycle to truly understand who is being impacted and how and whether or not there are unintended consequences of the code as it currently exists or whatever final form is finally put into place and enforced for any length of time.”
Councilor Izraelevitz said he understands that there are citizens that comment that they would like a venue for expressing any of their issues or operations and people they can contact.
“If your trash isn’t picked up, if there’s a dog barking, if there is something related to property – that’s one of the responsibilities of County Council – it isn’t like if there is an issue with this or any other County operations there’s no mechanism for citizens to express their concern. I think it’s just a misunderstanding by some that the only mechanism by which somebody can correct issues is by having a board,” he said.
Councilor Sara Scott said she thought the “sunsetting” action made sense as Council transitions from developing an updated code to implementation.
“We’ve already heard some areas for consideration and I’m sure the future council will take those into consideration. We’ll likely hear others whether it’s in the next six months or a year but I do feel that this action will give the future County Council leeway to determine how to best get feedback and a tuning mechanism for the updated code in this phase which they will certainly want to do and give them a chance to establish how they feel they can best accomplish this, given all of the feedback we have heard tonight. So I do support this,” she said.
Councilor Melanee Hand at first stated that the proposed “sunsetting” was a little premature.
“I know that we have some other potential actions to bring you all the Los Alamos boards and committees very soon and I think this should be part of that exercise so I suggest that if we table this item to remove CDAB as a permanent board of the County until we include it with a much broader review of all the boards and committees to determine what should be sunsetted or discontinued. That might be more fair for treatment of this board and other boards. I do take David Hanson’s comments seriously since he is on the CDAB board and I do take his recommendation very seriously but I’m also looking for fairness with all the boards, that we bring you all of them at once instead of singling one out, we can look at all of them and determine what all the boards’ roles are and whether or not the mission of the board is really defunct,” Councilor Hand said.
Councilor Scott said there has been a very clear development with respect to the area that is under CDAB’s purview – the adoption of the updated Chapter 18 which she said is itself is very different from the considerations that will revolve around other boards and commissions and possible changes, deletions, additions, merging that Council planned to talk about a week later.
“I would just say that we’ve had discussion on this. We’ve had discussion last week. I’m not sure that tabling this for another week is going to necessarily add to what we’re going to consider with respect to this particular item,” Scott said.
Councilor Izraelevitz seemed adamant to have action taken at the meeting. He said the action for the following week’s Council meeting was a discussion item.
“We don’t have any introduced ordinances obviously, so it is really qualitatively different what we’re talking about tonight. We would not be able in the context of the agenda item of next week to consider this board. We have an ordinance to be restructured facing an ordinance that has to be introduced and noticed and so forth. So that’s just another qualitative difference in addition to what Councilor Scott said as to why we’re addressing this issue tonight in this form as opposed to the more general discussions in the future. And I have to say that we have done this all the time. We have sunsetted task forces, we have extended task forces. There’s nothing unique about the action we’re taking tonight. I understand some people may be upset about it. They may want to continue it but we’re not doing anything that is not regularly done in this and many other chambers to institute or de-institute if that is a real word, a board that reports to Council,” Councilor Izraelevitz.
“How does action to remove one board expand our options, as if there’s a finite amount of public input we can get and if we have this board we can’t get other input? Councilor Ryti asked. “I don’t believe that there’s a requirement that boards meet monthly if they don’t have work to do every month. If this board is really out of all of its scope it could be ended when that’s been determined, even by the board’s own recommendation. That seems like a more conservative way to go than taking this action tonight without getting any further input from the CDAB.”
Councilor Derkacs, a former CDAB member said the current board has helped solicit input and helped improve enforcement practices (while she was on the board) and helped to introduce the courtesy letter and that the current board had recommended changes for the update of the Nuisance Code.
“While I served on CDAB, frankly I questioned the long-term function of the board once the code was re-written since that’s what we focused on primarily. We did review the notices (of violation) but the primary focus was definitely on helping to revise the code. So two years ago I felt that the board should be terminated at some point,” Councilor Derkacs said. ”The board has had some issues this year not being able to have a quorum to hold the meetings. As Mr. Hanson pointed out, the board is not an appeals board and he did point out the constraints of the board by not being able to express minority opinions and I guess I would have to agree with that completely. It was part of my frustration when I served on the board.”
She went on to say that CDAB was a very divided board. She said it was “very contentious at times.
“It was uncomfortable and some of the board members were downright rude to County staff and I have taken the time this year to listen in on current board meetings and they are much more collegial and civil and I applaud the members for that,” Councilor Derkacs said. “I do not see a long-term purpose for this board for the different reasons that have been mentioned. I’m not 100 percent convinced that it should be terminated immediately but I also don’t know what the board would do in the immediate future. I think that Council can ask CDD to bring back a self-assessment to us in six months to include what kind of notices were sent out, how they have changed from the old code to the new code. Personally I expect to see significant changes just because the weed section has been removed and most of the violations have been related to weeds in the past.”
Councilor Derkacs said she wanted to point out that former board member Aaron Walker had been very passionate about the removal of the weeds issue from the revised Nuisance Code as well as the Nuisance Code in general.
“He was on the CDAB when I served on there and he quit some time ago and chose not to continue to make recommendations and participate in the final recommendations that were made to Council. I just thought it was worth pointing that out,” she said.
Councilor David Reagor said the CDAB was all about listening to the citizens of Los Alamos County.
“It is a chaotic process of gathering citizen input because you have votes as 3-2 on the CDAB for an issue with two people absent, so you don’t really know what that vote really means and you don’t really know what that really represents with regard to the community. But it’s all about being transparent in the decision-making and you’re collecting these community inputs, which with the people on the board are widely varied and so you have a little cross-section of the community and you use that to gather community input and their ongoing job is monitoring the success of this enforcement process that goes with the new Nuisance Code and collect citizen complaints about it as well as their own observations and then feed that into the future,” Reagor said. “
He said he doesn’t think the CDAB is a fixed thing that will stay in place forever.
“They can also give us other kinds of input as tasked by the County Council. They never had input into the Marriott, which is kind of a weird thing, but there are all kinds of ongoing community development projects that are mostly going through Planning & Zoning but they can have input into that. It’s a nice cross-section of people who are very different from each other and I like to hear what they have to say. I found this whole year listening to their meetings – it is chaotic no question – but smoother than previous years,” Councilor Reagor said.
He added, “But this is about transparency, which was one of the major goals in our strategic planning session. And this is about getting input that’s not coming through staff. Staff is very important; they’re very professional but we need this sort of direct community access. We get the emails and we can read the newspaper but there’s more to it than that and it’s filtered and that’s why we need the CDAB. That’s why I’m voting against abolishing it and I hope a few of you will vote with me.”
Councilor Scott mentioned several ways input could be obtained other than through CDAB.
“They could decide county-wide surveys, which we’ve had multiple surveys which have informed this code update, which have reached thousands of citizens. So there’s a lot of ways to get input. I’m 100 percent sure that they’ll want to continue to get that input and improve the code as time goes on but at this point I am not clear that this board as constructed and constrained by its charter is the best way to do that. I understand that there are many ways to do this in the future and I’m sure that future councils will take this up,” Scott said.
Councilor Hand said she believed alternative community mechanisms need to be developed if CDAB is sunsetted and that she knew this is a possibility because Council had done this before.
“We did that to develop CDAB. We did that for other boards and committees in the past. I believe that we can develop a very fair mission of what it is we want to achieve and ways that we can identify members of that committee that hopefully will support the achievements of that mission. I also support the recommendation of CDAB leadership that we heard tonight about the board’s fate. It’s most important that they get their say in this decision,” she said.
Councilor Ryti said there had been some discussions of the Nuisance Code and some of the other programs he had asked about such as the County’s home improvement program that people are not aware of.
“I believe that is included in the CDAB charter and it would be helpful if the County would make the public aware of that. One of the items mentions positive outreach efforts. I don’t know how else you interpret all the people that showed up – basicallyopposed to Chapter 18 last week, that we’re not getting positive outreach efforts, and I think with we’re not done,” Ryti said. “So I don’t see how we can be thinking about sunsetting CDAB at this point in time. I made a note about the vacancy issue also because it’s coming up on the agenda next week. As Councilor Reagor referred to, one of the commenters last week referred to it as a major issue in their opinion as to why we were looking at the nuisance code several years ago was about vacant properties. I’m not going to support this ordinance and since I don’t know what’s going to happen in the vote, I want to thank everyone who served on CDAB. I appreciate all the input we’ve gotten from them and the rest of the community on this effort.”
The final vote in support of dissolving the CDAB was 5/2 with Councilors Ryti and Reagor against. Councilor Hand who during discussion had said to “sunsetting” CDAB at this point was premature, voted in favor, along with Councilors Izraelevitz, Scott, Hand and Councilor Keith Lepsch.
During the final public comment on the issue, Aaron said he didn’t appreciate being public disparaged from the dais by a County Councilor and not having the opportunity to at least defend himself.
“That is bullying from the dais and I really don’t appreciate it. My reasons for leaving CDAB are my reasons for leaving CDAB. I don’t appreciate a councilor trying to use those reasons – and those reasons that were cited were not exactly correct – they were misrepresented. I really don’t appreciate those being taken out of context and being used to try to basically invalidate the comments that I made,” Walker said. “I’m a member of the public. A member of the Council should not be using the dais as a bully pulpit to bully members of the public or to try and make it seem like their comments are invalid. That is unacceptable, especially as I did not have the opportunity to defend myself at the time.”
Walker said he left CDAB because Council refused to respect boards and commissions.
“I couldn’t correct that, so I stepped down. That doesn’t invalidate my comments or my opinion. That doesn’t make my experience invalid. Do not try and use that against a member of the public, especially one who works tirelessly to try and get a bi-partisan effort to get a code that the people wanted. Don’t do that. Bullying especially from that dais is unacceptable,” Walker said.