Christine Chandler. Courtesy/Friends for Christine
Pajarito Conservation Alliance interview of Christine Chandler (D), candidate for New Mexico House of Representatives, District 43:
Note: Some of the questions in this interview have been re-ordered for better clarity.
PCA: What communities are in District 43?
Chandler: It’s all of Los Alamos County, and it includes parts of Sandoval County including the Jemez area, Jemez Springs, down to Ponderosa. It includes Cuba, which is in Sandoval County. It includes Peña Blanca, which is in Sandoval County. It includes parts of Santa Fe County, a very small part, but La Cienega and a little piece of Santa Fe County that’s on the south end of Airport Road towards the airport, and it includes a very small piece of Rio Arriba County, that includes Gallina and Regina, that area there down there.
It’s a diverse district. We have one of the best educated and wealthiest counties in the state, and some of the poorer counties in the state. Then there are some interesting things in terms of each one has its own personality. Jemez Springs is sort of a fun, artsy, alternative medicine kind of a place. I’ve really enjoyed meeting the people there and hearing what their interests are.
La Cienega is an interesting combination of old Hispanic families who have lived there for generations and farmed the land, as well as professionals and artists. Rio Arriba tends to be poorer rural communities. Very interested though in making sure their kids are educated.
Cuba is poor as well, and they need some help in terms of their economic development initiatives. They’ve been involved in logging and extractive industries, and those are falling by the wayside. They need alternatives to try to jump-start their economy.
Each parts of the district have different needs, and the citizens, they all have different kind of personalities. It’s been fun interacting with the people I’ve met there, to learn what their concerns are. Certainly, they have a unifying concern, and that’s ensuring that their kids get a good education. That’s something we all need to be focused on for the next few years.
PCA: What do you believe makes Los Alamos County special?
Chandler: I think a number of things make the county special. One, are the people who are so interesting on many levels, certainly academically. That’s sort of an obvious thing. We have a very high academic achievement population.
Also, people’s interest in the outdoors, interest in the arts and crafts. We have woodworkers, fine artists, many of whom work at the lab and so they do these things as hobbies, but they work at such a high level. It’s incredible.
We have so much community involvement by our residents. People are really engaged here and generally pretty well-informed. That’s great when you are in government, because you have a group of people who really want to see the community succeed, and you have their ideas to draw on to help you make decisions. I think that’s fantastic.
I love the fact that people are so interested in the outdoors. They’re so engaged, and they’re so broad in their array of interest.
PCA: How should we grow while keeping Los Alamos County special?
Chandler: It’s very hard to grow here because of the limitations on our access to land. I certainly think we need to preserve our open spaces, so we should not encroach too much into lands that we’ve already previously identified through community dialogue as to what should be protected.
Our comprehensive plan defines a lot of things that we need to keep special. We need to ensure that we do that with it. The only way I see us growing is to increase density in certain areas.
One could do that by allowing, for example in the downtown area, for businesses to have residential units, and to find ways to encourage them to develop residential units that are above their storefronts. That gives us a lot of advantages and that increases our ability to increase our population. It also adds density to the downtown area, which should help improve businesses and add to the vibrancy of the area. Those are certainly things we could do.
There are some county parcels that are available for development. They’re not large in numbers, and they’re not generally large in acreage, but there are some infill opportunities in the community, both in the downtown area and some of the outer areas, that a subset that the council has been looking at as a possibility to increase some of the housing stock.
Lastly, efforts to get additional lands from the Department of Energy would be one way to also allow us to grow. Definitely, we need more housing in that community.
PCA: How should we balance making Los Alamos County appeal to tourists versus serving the outdoor recreation interests of local citizens?
Chandler: I don’t think the two are exclusive of one another. Truly, they’re not.
Our residents will benefit from the activities that are promoted for tourism. I don’t anticipate that tourism is going to overtake this town.
You have to have multiple elements to an economic development plan. This is, I think, a good one, but it’s not going to be a dominant one. Our residents will have the same opportunity to use the facilities and so on as well.
PCA: What is the appropriate level of public spending on restoration and conservation of county natural areas and open space?
Chandler: I think we need to have some sort of an assessment as to where there are deficiencies, cost that out, and then have a dialogue about what our priorities are. We really haven’t done that.
We talked about that deficiencies exist, we talked about the need to improve on certain areas. I’ve heard it said that some of our trails are degrading, but then I hear others saying they’re not. Really, what we need is an assessment of the facilities and then make a determination as to what our priorities are and then cost those out.
I guess I’d rather talk about the process than the actual dollar amount, because I don’t think we’re there yet.
We could ask, for example, the parks & rec board to work with our parks & rec division to come up with a plan for assessing our facilities. I would include trails and open space in that assessment. Then having done that, make a presentation and have input from the community as well. Have some sort of public process where these things are all presented and people can have input. Then we can rate what we think our priorities are and work based on a prioritization because, obviously, we’re not going to be able to do everything at once.
Frankly, with the uncertainties of the funding at the lab, we need to be thinking realistically as to what new projects we can take on until we have some level of surety as to what our revenue stream is going to be with the new laboratory contractor. I would say that across the board on most of the projects that we’ve been looking at in the last few years.
PCA: You talked about the open space plan a little bit from 2015. There has been little to no progress on implementing the conservation parts of this. Can you comment on that situation? What do you feel you can do in the State House in that regard?
Chandler: Truthfully, in terms of the state issue, I don’t see it as much of a state issue. This is a local government issue in terms of what we have prioritized in terms of our needs of interests for the community. I’m not aware that we have not implemented parts of the open space plan.
I think I’d need to learn more about that, but the process again would be to bring it to the attention of the parks and recreation board and ask for their input as to what we should be prioritizing in terms of the conservation elements.
PCA: It sounds like your perspective is that from the State House you just leave the communities alone and let them decide these types of plans themselves?
Chandler: Yeah. People in Los Alamos are very active on these issues, and they are not neglected. I can appreciate the fact that there may be some frustration in terms of how quickly things move, and that’s a fair criticism probably on every local government issue there is.
Generally, I think we want people on the ground level, our local citizens, making decisions for land use and recreational uses and other priorities for the community. Not someone in the State House telling Los Alamos what they should be doing on that level.
PCA: My guess would be that all these communities [in District 43] have different types of urban greenery within the town sites. In Los Alamos, we’ve got Ashley Pond, there’s trees here, also private yards. From the perspective of the State House, how can communities promote and manage those resources?
Chandler: Providing each community with, certainly educational resources, is a good thing.
We have to recognize that the different parts of the district have different values.
Our community has a very strong conservation element and preservation element. That is not true for every part of the district.
Certainly, parts of the Jemez do, certainly Jemez Springs does. For example, Cuba less so. Cuba is focused on their economic needs right now, and until those needs are addressed, they will not be interested in focusing on that. I’m being honest with you. It’s a bread and butter issue for them. They’re focused on bread and butter issues.
Some of the more, what they view as things that would be great to have, that they don’t have either the money or the opportunities to do so. What we could do is try to work with them, in terms of education, and promote conservation measures with those communities who are less interested.
Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if citizens from this town could work with some of the residents in the poorer communities, to assist them in their conservation efforts. But at this juncture, some of the components of the district are not as committed to that, because they have other needs that are very pressing.
There is an opioid crisis in some of the rural areas. That’s overtaking their thinking, as well.
First and foremost, we need to work with them for the buy-in to these measures, because when I talk to people in the rural communities, they resent being dictated to on their conservation values. They’re very resentful, frankly, of some of us highly-educated people, who try to come in and try to talk to them about what they should be thinking about.
I’ve talked to some of the conservation groups about this, and that we need to come together and not be divisive, and how we work with people on conservation things. I think there is a divide between some of the rural and more urban areas in how we should approach those issues. What I’d like to do, as a legislator, is work with all of the communities, so that we can get buy-in to what we’re going to do, so that there’s not this hostility between us. There’s kind of almost like a them and us thing.
We need to get away from that, because I don’t think it helps the environmental movement to have a large swath of the state, or some part of the state, being resentful of activities that they feel impose on their traditional values, their traditional farming and ranching values.
So we need to all come together on this, so that it’s not a hostile activity amongst us all, that it’s much more of a collaborative effort, to come to consensus about how we should manage our lands across the state.
PCA: How should we manage wildfire danger while maximizing access to local outdoor recreation opportunities?
Chandler: It seems to me, and I’m not sure we control all of this either, because a lot of the lands are Federal, but certainly thinning the forest and prescribed burns and the like, are the kinds of measures that should be going on. It seems to me that on the Federal level, and probably on the state level as well, we have not been putting the funds into doing that.
If we could work with the rural communities, so that they can see some benefits to it, and they’re very interested in doing that as well, perhaps for different reasons, because a lot of their water sources come from the national forests, or the BLM lands. They want to make sure that their watersheds are protected, and their water sources for their acequias, and for their rural water corporations or whatever they call them, community associations, have the ability to access those lands and their water sources are not threatened.
Certainly, we need to be putting more resources into thinning our forests, and working with the government, in terms of some prescribed burns, to ensure that
the forests are healthy.
Maybe allowing local residents to do some of the logging part of the thinning, so that they can participate and benefit from that, would be be a good way to get buy-in from the rural communities. They are very concerned about fire, absolutely concerned about it, because it threatens some of their rural activities.
PCA: Speaking of water, how should we balance the water needs of local citizens with the water needs of wildlife and ecosystems?
Chandler: I do buy into the idea of the water reserve, which was passed I think 10 years or so ago, and has not been adequately funded, so that in appropriate circumstances, the state can buy water rights, and use those rights to ensure that our rivers are are healthy.
We need to be looking more into that. It was a good idea when it happened. Of course, again, recognizing that we have rural residents that want to make sure that their acequias are protected, and I respect the traditional values of the rural communities, but there’s a way to balance that.
That particular law recognizes that the purchases of the water rights are not going to be coming from acequias, so the acequias’ rights are being protected at that point. I would be behind supporting that as an initiative. Right now, there’s some talk of that coming up for this legislature and some future legislatures, just try to start renewing funding.
The one billion-plus dollar current unanticipated revenues, some of those could be used to purchase water rights for the rivers because it’s a fixed cost, meaning it’s a one-time cost in the year or two that you’re purchasing them, whereas some of these other initiatives have long-term costs.
I’m reluctant to use too much of that one billion dollars at this point for things that are going to have reoccurring expenses. Something like using some of that fund to help purchase water rights to ensure the health of our rivers is something that we can be looking at in the next session.
PCA: The next one is a yes or no question, and then I’ll have some follow-ups. Do you believe that climate change is real?
Chandler: Oh yes.
PCA: What is the cause of climate change?
Chandler: Greenhouse gases, some of which are natural and some of which are industrially and human-generated.
PCA: What should the State House do about it?
Chandler: I’m concerned that at the federal level, we’re starting to fall back on clean air measures, methane rules that were just announced to be repealed or are of concern. The state needs to start stepping up to the plate in terms of clean air initiatives and we need to be looking at methane rules now, too, if it appears that the feds are now stepping back off of those.
Promoting solar energy. I’d support re-institution of the tax credit for rooftop solar. That’s a low-hanging fruit in terms of supporting the initiative to begin limiting our greenhouse gases.
Looking for alternative energy sources and promoting alternative energy sources that don’t involve adding greenhouse gases to the environment would be things that the legislature should be doing.
It’s too bad, but it looks like the states are now going to have to step up on some of these efforts that had previously been advanced by the federal government.
PCA: What distinguishes you from your opponent on conservation issues and natural resource management?
Chandler: I’ve been endorsed by the two leading conservation groups, the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club and Conservation Voters of New Mexico. I have heard very little from my opponent on any initiatives that she would support in support of the environment. I look forward to hearing what she has to say to you, but I’ve heard very little from her on any efforts to improve the quality of her environment on any level.
Pajarito Conservation Alliance is a 501(c)4 non-profit community organization focusing on information, advocacy, and volunteer work to protect the ecosystems and outdoor experience of the Pajarito Plateau. We take action now and plan ahead for seven generations. Visit us online at https://pajarito.org.