Loose Ends In County Nuisance Code

Los Alamos

Los Alamos County Council:

Last night Los Alamos County Council appointed five people to serve on the newly established Nuisance Code Implementation Task Force (CDAB-lite). I thank Councilor Cull and County Manager Lynne for standing up the CDAB task force so quickly, and I thank the people who have put their names in to serve on the task force.  

By charter, the task force will only consider the implementation of the new code.  I’m using this opportunity to make sure Council doesn’t lose track of their responsibility to clean up the administrative loose threads dangling in Chapter 18 after its hasty approval last fall. 

For example, we still don’t have a cap on the number of violations someone can accumulate for a single issue.  For anyone who might need a quick reminder, Chapter 18 defaults to the general penalty, which is a maximum 90 days in jail or a $500 fine for each offense.  In the current code, each day is a new violation. 

One of the CDAB recommendations that was ignored last fall was to put a cap on the number of violations you can incur for a single instance.

As it stands right now, every day that, for example, your inoperable vehicle is covered by a blue tarp instead of a fitted cover, the maximum penalty increases by 90 days.  

For context, the state of New Mexico has determined that our maximum penalty for vehicular manslaughter is seven years of incarceration.  Without Council action to address Chapter 18, if your fitted car cover is pulled off in the wind while you are out of town (not outside the realm of possibility), it only takes 28 days until you are subject to a maximum penalty that is the same as accidentally killing someone with your car.  For a missing car cover.  And that’s only the first 28 days. There’s no cap.  

Councilors have said that the ordinance needs “teeth” to be enforceable, and that’s fine, but this current setup is not ethical. How many days of incarceration do they need to threaten citizens with for the ordinance to have those “teeth”?  Especially since the consensus seems to be that they want the threat, not the potential for it to actually happen, this question matters.  Three months is apparently not long enough.  Is seven years too long?  Council needs to make a choice and implement it.  

I implored Council in public comment last night and will reiterate here: please, please, please do not legislate hoping people will just know what you meant.  That’s a large part of how we got into trouble with this issue starting back in 2017. 

Again, I am glad we saw such swift action on the CDAB task force, and I always respect people who step up to serve the community.  But the task force was limited to issues with minimal impact.  Their work will not help us move forward on the serious administrative problems (including the stables and other CDAB recommendations, for example).

If you want Council to finish what they started last fall, please email countycouncil@lacnm.us to encourage our elected representatives to make the last steps on Chapter 18 a priority before we head into the busy season for code enforcement.