Letter To The Editor: Point Of Plan Is To ‘Protect’ Remaining Open Space

Los Alamos

To the Los Alamos County Council:

I was able to listen to most of [February]’s presentation by Craig Martin and company to Council of the proposed Los Alamos County Open Space Management Plan.

I wholeheartedly support the Plan and thank Craig Martin and the team for their tremendous work, research, blood, sweat and tears that obviously have gone into this project! I am sure that the Plan will undergo further revisions and proposals.

Here are the points that sprang out at me from the discussion and questions:

The Plan performs the critical function of addressing open space valuation and protection issues in one document. It is pretty obvious that research was done on other successful open space management plans, including methodology and goals. Whatever overlap/conflict may exist with existing P&Z, charter or other documents, codes and rules, such issues are not so important that they should prevent the adoption of this Plan. 

Subsequent work can address such overlaps/conflict in what, in many cases, are outdated other documents that may have attempted some form of valuation or protection of open space in a piecemeal manner. The County needs to move in the direction of other progressive local government entities that have adopted similar plans.

The agenda of pro-development councilors/others, predictably, is always to develop. All the beaches in California would be completely covered with houses if developers had had their way, witness the locked-up, “private,” beaches of the wealthy enclave of Malibu. State and local entities salvaged what was left by declaring beaches to be public. 

In a recent (first) visit to Maine, my family was dismayed to find that public beaches were far and few between; private rich communities enjoy the beaches there and the visitor
basically can’t even drive in. This tragedy already happened here in Los Alamos. I was lucky enough to be born here, growing up in the 60’s-70’s; we had a horse on Horse Mesa (now called North Mesa), which was then free of houses, and we could ride/run all the way to the end of the little finger mesa through the old rodeo/archery range and sit on the rocky perimeter over the canyon. 

Now only those few big houses there get to enjoy that view. I am grateful that some attempts have been made to prevent the loss of public viewpoints and open space to private development. The latter benefits only the developer and the lucky few who buy the big houses. I really resent the loss of my favorite perch points out there.

It looks like this Plan and even current zoning preserves what little open space is left on that mesa (North and Kwange Mesas). The balance of developed/undeveloped on that mesa has already been struck, if not already past the tipping point of too much development. Most of the perimeter of Barranca Mesa was also lost to private development.

There was at least one question at the meeting as to whether no one will be able to build on a “mountaintop,” or some equivalent, as a result of this Plan. Years ago, the City of Santa Fe did not allow Shirley Maclaine to build a huge house on top of one of the townsite ridges. If Santa Fe did not preserve the smooth beautiful lines of its Pecos mountains between it and Aspen Basin, the view would be one of rectangles and edges of high-priced homes. Santa Fe recognized the aesthetic, cultural and economic value of enacting and enforcing strict historic building codes and preservation of vistas.

I am one of that number who grew up here in town and then left for college, etc. And like many of them, I returned after much city living elsewhere to enjoy the small town life and open space of Los Alamos as home while I work in Santa Fe. I moved back to the airport neighborhood I grew up in over six years ago.  have to look across Pueblo Canyon at all those houses that didn’t use to be there. 

In addition, our neighborhood enjoyed the deer trail below our houses along the canyon rim. That trail is now a part of Craig’s brainchild, the Rim Trail system; from my window, I see constant use of the now paved trail below my house by all ages of folks with their dogs, bikes etc. I miss the exclusive, private nature of the trail I grew up with, but I am glad to share it now with my fellow citizens because they, too, value the trail and the open space it oversees. 

Our public use and valuation of the trail will preserve it for all, not just for the few who might otherwise build houses right up to the edge throughout the County. Portrayals of the proposed Plan as “restrictive” of development miss the point that open space, and the use thereof by both residents and visitors, also has a dollar value in addition to the obvious aesthetic value.

The point of the Plan is to “protect” what open space we have left, and if that means to restrict development, then so be it. As noted above, some piecemeal attempts have been made (thank goodness!), such as the setback requirement. Once open space has been converted to business or residential development, there is almost no getting it back again, and it will not have the same character. 

Efforts should be made to re-develop or rehab outdated, empty business structures that exist all over town as opposed to ruining our open space to build new ones. Development of the area east of the airport into county and private development left empty buildings in the middle of town that are still empty ten years later. Many of the new structures are ALSO
empty, unrented. Our family hiked in that area to the Camp Hamilton Trail and enjoyed the views, now lost except for the ribbon of the Rim/Canyon Trail.

The vacancy rate in Los Alamos does not support the claim that more housing is needed, except for possibly low cost housing. Creative financing and thinking could convert vacant housing into something more affordable. The size of the Lab and the size of the town really has not changed since I was born here. It does not seem likely that the Lab will increase significantly in size and funding. Some retirees stay and some go. Efforts should be made to better support our existing businesses that face the challenge of online purchasing and of other businesses off the Hill. 

It’s very odd to talk of attracting more businesses here when we don’t sufficiently support the ones we’ve got. We had a larger variety of businesses here when I grew up. The County could do much more to support local business, including streamlining permits and license processes and improving communication. The fire prevention portion of the Plan is critical.

I look forward to the progress and refinement of the Open Space Management Plan. Again, kudos to Craig Martin for the vision and for the years of work he has put into it! Thank you!


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