As I walk door-to-door on my campaign, I am often asked what my priorities for Los Alamos are. Like many other governmental issues, my priorities necessarily revolve around economics.
Los Alamos is and always will be a feeder community for LANL. It is absolutely true that if LANL were to close tomorrow, the town would also close, because structurally, and for the foreseeable future, there is no reason for our town to be here unless it is a bedroom community for the Lab.
The existential question is not whether LANL will be here, but rather what kind of Lab will it be. The latest news about plutonium pit production cements LANL as the national center for excellence in plutonium specifically and material science in general. However, to maintain its preeminence as a research institution, and to be able to develop expertise in new areas as they emerge, it needs to have top-notch early and mid-career scientists and engineers who are recruited to work here. Those of us who have been in research for a while understand that this continual influx of new talent and ideas is crucial (and not only because these young staff cost less!). Moreover, this continual recruitment is driven not only by salary, but more crucially by the intellectual excitement of the available work and the quality of life available to them personally and to their families. The primary implication of this is that Los Alamos has to have an excellent public-school system, but an excellent school system, in turn, requires a lot of young families, especially in New Mexico. In many other states, we could self-fund our schools to the level that would provide such high quality, but in New Mexico we cannot tax ourselves to provide higher teacher salaries or other operational amenities that would give us a competitive advantage over other communities.
The other strategic priority that also derives from the generational changes in our community is the availability of adequate housing. This has been identified as a high priority by me and my fellow councilors ever since I joined in 2011. We are finally making some progress in this area. Aside from the progress of new housing developments in White Rock, by the Medical Center and on DP Road, a crucial positive step was the completion of a new Comprehensive Plan after a hiatus of almost 30 years. This Plan embodies a community consensus on where to develop additional homes, what areas to preserve as open spaces, and crucially, how to intersperse housing more efficiently within our community, intelligently combining residential and commercial activities in our downtown and other appropriate parcels.
Can we attract more young families to Los Alamos? Already more than half of the staff at LANL commutes from outside the county. We certainly could have more young families if we improve the housing stock and provide more moderately-priced choices, provide employment opportunities for spouses, and improve quality of life, such as retail, so that a larger swath of the commuting public turn into residents.
I am very proud of the changes that have happened during my tenure as a Councilor. From preparing the site and attracting the Smith’s Marketplace development, to amenities such as the Teen Center and Ashley Pond Park, to the work that we are continuing to bring more housing to Los Alamos. Much has been done, but much, much more needs to be done as well, and I feel that my experience and knowledge has something to offer in this direction, and that is why I am running for re-election.
Every community goes through a cycle where neighborhoods get older and eventually, we hope, get revitalized by a new generation of young families. We see this in Los Alamos as well, in both the townsite and White Rock, and this revitalization is healthy for all age segments because a healthy community has a well distributed age profile. We could just let the cycle go through its normal process, but this will be painful. Much better is to make strategic efforts at the government and community level to accelerate the revitalization and enhancement of our community.
That is my strategic priority in a nutshell.