Chandler: Let’s Push Back…

Los Alamos

When I came to the Lab 49 years ago, a popular aphorism posted on the walls in group offices where reports and documents were put into final form by overworked typists said, “A failure to plan on your part does not constitute a crisis on my part.” Los Alamos County might post such a sign on the Omega Bridge.

The 2016 Comprehensive Plan notes a housing shortage and anticipates population growth driven by the laboratory. The unilateral decision by NNSA to turn a scientific laboratory into a manufacturing plant has accelerated that growth to wholly unanticipated levels.

The County has responded gallantly by:

  • Declaring a “housing crisis,”
  • Fostering the development of well over a thousand new units in a couple of years,
  • Reworking the development code to encourage the redevelopment of the downtowns for high-density multi-family units,
  • Anxiously scouring the landscape for new developable properties,
  • Sacrificing its residential neighborhoods to the national fads of Accessory Dwelling Units, B&B’s, and  short-term rentals, and …

I could go on, but.

Listen, NNSA, a failure to plan your part should not constitute a crisis on the part of Los Alamos. We love our laboratory, we can learn to love manufacturing because we’re seriously committed to the mission, and there can be little doubt that we will do everything in our power to help, but we are at or even beyond the limit of that power.  You’ve got a responsibility here. It’s hard to believe that you didn’t know there Is limited space in Los Alamos. General Groves didn’t do manufacturing here for a very good reason – there’s no room for it and the supply lines were too long. I’ll give the Director credit for making heroic efforts to ameliorate the situation by moving a lot of stuff to Santa Fe and encouraging low-productivity remote work, but his efforts are starting to look like too little too late. NNSA needs to step up.

The boundaries that constrain our capacity to help you out of your failure to plan are with federal land:  National Forest and National Lab, and Native American land. You have the ability to make land available by conversion, trade, purchase, repurposing; and with your failure to count the skilled workforce available. That can be solved by providing resources to train our poverty-stricken neighbors in the north.  Dumping your problems on us and the lab to solve is going to bite you in the end, is in fact biting you now,  and you need to help.

Los Alamos has sacrificed enough. In spite of my NNSA diversion, I write today to urge the Council to amend Ordinance 02-343, which modifies the parking requirements in the downtown overlays in Los Alamos and White Rock. I am in favor of the modification because it puts a lower limit on the parking requirements on multi-family districts like the new development being planned for Mari-Mac and environs that was left out when the new code was adopted, and would in some circumstances have allowed substantially fewer parking spaces. But it’s not enough.

The amendment I would ask for would be to restore the limit in the old development code: 2 spaces per dwelling unit plus 1 guest space per 5 dwelling units, with no reductions for multiple-family units in DTLA and WRTC. There is absolutely no factual basis or parking study that supports the lowered requirements; the old ones make sense to me.

This reduction in parking requirements is supported by at least two fallacies. One is that people who live in downtown Los Alamos aren’t going to need more than one car because they will be incentivized to ride bicycles and walk everywhere and ride the bus to the lab. The second is that you can draw people to work at the lab by providing housing in the form of ADU’s, short-term rentals, high density apartments and B&B’s with reduced or no parking requirements. If you walk around Los Alamos knocking on doors it won’t take you long to see the fallacy in those ideas. Lab scientists and engineers are not that kind of people, and nobody comes to Los alamos to live because they want to live in an apartment or ADU with no toys. Students, short-term contractors, yes, post-docs maybe, but the intellectual and skilled human capital the lab needs don’t get by with one car, and they have a lot of toys and stuff.

And if they do live there, they’re not going to have one car, they’re going to have more. Guess where they will park them – in the nearby residential neighborhoods and commercial areas. Next time you go to Albuquerque go into the neighborhood just south of UNM  and drive down the streets south of Central.  Try to find a place to park on the street in those residential areas. That’s what it will look like here if they allow this project to be built with this parking requirement.

BTW, that Comprehensive Plan also says we should protect the character of existing residential neighborhoods. Let’s push back.

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