Pajarito Conservation Alliance Interviews Sara Scott

Sara Scott. Photo by Anna G. Scott
Pajarito Conservation Alliance interview of Sara Scott (D), candidate for Los Alamos County Council:
PCA: What do you believe makes Los Alamos County special?
Scott: The outdoors is really one of the big things that kept me here after coming here. I think a lot of people that have come and stayed here are drawn to that.
Clearly, the science is for me a great part of who we are. It just pervades, with friendships, and the things that the community has to offer. I don’t know, it’s just very unique. I don’t know of any town that has that.
I think the community as well. There’s not really a place I’ve lived — I’ve lived in some small towns and some bigger cities — that have had just this feeling of community and caring across so many different aspects, whether it’s involvement in government or just kindness to people.
I have this story I tell about this summer. I had some folks from out of town come to visit and some friends of ours. The woman had just had a hip replacement surgery. She’s having trouble getting around, but of course she likes to get out and see things. We were looking at Fuller Lodge and some of the historic sites.
Anyways, it’s really hot.
We were walking around and sat on that retaining wall, back in front of the [west] side of Fuller Lodge, and this woman just appears out of nowhere and offers this cup of cold water to our friend. It was just like, wow. And then about a half hour later, we were in the actual Fuller Lodge Art Center, chatting about are you doing OK, are you having trouble getting around.
The guy that owns the place says, “You know, we have a wheelchair. I can just get that for you and give that to you for as long as you need it.” It’s just one of those moments when you’re just like, “I love my town. I love this place.” Surely those kind of things can happen in other places, but that all three of this together for me is what really just makes it special.
PCA: How should we grow while keeping Los Alamos County special?
Scott: I don’t know that the goal is to grow. I would start by saying that what I hear from people is that they would like to keep our open spaces open and nice.
They want to perhaps grow the trail system a little bit, but taking care of the trail system is really important.
The other thing I hear from a business standpoint is that people would like to have a few more shops, a few more stores. To do that, maybe there will be a little growth required.
For me, that’s not the goal. The goal are these other things — keeping our open spaces good, evolving them perhaps. It’s one of the things I’ve talked about.
I’m getting warmer. It’s getting warmer. I’ve lived here 30 years. We’re not going to ski as much. Let’s just face it. We’re not going to ski from November up till April probably every year. Are there other things that are fun and healthy that we can do?
Biking is one of the examples people have been interested in recently as something we could take a look at expanding a little; things like that. To me, I think of it more as evolving than a lot of growth.
I do think we probably will grow a little bit. We’re having more people coming in, the lab’s hiring. I read the statistic in the comprehensive plan, where about 70 percent of retirees are now choosing to stay here. I’m guilty of that. My husband is not yet retired, but we plan to retire here. So, we’re going to have to figure out a way to absorb that while preserving all those things that I just listed that make this a special place.
My sense is, some growth we can handle but probably not a lot. There’s not that much space. What I’d really like to do to address thinking about that, and to start thinking about it in a more strategic way is doing a housing study or plan or something like that, to take a look at how many people really do seem to want to live here, and what kinds of housing are they looking for, in different categories across single-family homes, affordable housing. I’ve talked to a lot of folks that would just like to have a nice little condo or apartment downtown.
If we look across all that and figure out how much we think we need, then we can really manage with our infrastructure in the land we have, and then start being conscious about how we use the limited space we have to really do the things that are the most important or impactful.
That’s what I’d like to do to manage how we move forward and evolve, in part.
There’s other things we need to do, too. In terms of the people and the housing, I think that’s it.
PCA: How should we balance making Los Alamos County appeal to tourists versus serving the outdoor recreation interests of local citizens?
Scott: Again going back to this theme, I tend to think of it more in terms of evolving for us.
With the national parks, and some of these other updates in the historical museum — I’ve looked at the statistics — the visitor center down in White Rock is bringing in a lot more people, at least for day visitors. Those sort of things that are fun for us to do, and have available as well.
In terms of the recreational aspects, I feel like focusing on things that the population here would like to do, that would be advantageous as we look ahead to what we’d like to have available. Although, the flow trail in its initial vision, there is a lot of talk about that, bringing in tourists.
The goal more, for me, is to evolve our community to things that we would like to do. We’ll bring in a few extra tourists in the process, maybe grow some of the shops and restaurants that people would like to have.
But, in terms of actually going out and growing the tourism in a very serious way more than, say, 10 percent or something increment — I don’t know what right now the goal is or will be — you’re going to have to start talking about some more serious things that you would want to do. I don’t see those happening right now.
Clearly, if that becomes something that people are interested in, I could take a look at how to do that.
PCA: What’s the appropriate level of public spending on restoration and conservation of county natural areas and open space? How should this money be spent?
Scott: I don’t have a number that I would know is appropriate. It does seem to me, from speaking with folks right now, that this may be an area that we are currently underfunded in.
Because of the value that most people I speak with place on this — I certainly place myself on those kinds of spaces — we really should look seriously at funding them appropriately on what that level is. I’ve heard, “Oh, we need one more person. We need…” We should absolutely take a look at increasing what we’re investing in that right now.
You asked a specific number. I don’t think I know the answer to that at this point, but there’s probably people that we could pull together to understand that better.
PCA: Are you familiar with the open space plan that was approved in 2015?
Scott: Yes.
PCA: That had a variety of conservation parts in it, but there has been little to no progress on implementing those parts. Could you comment on that situation, and what do you plan to do?
Scott: I don’t have any specific plans at this point in time other than, again, just generally I have the perception that we need to take a look at what we’re doing in those kinds of areas and see. Again, my sense is that more is needed. Specifically what? I would just have to sit down with some folks and take a look at what that is.
PCA: In addition to our open space that we talked about earlier, Los Alamos County has various urban greenery within the two town sites. That’s Ashley Pond, the [Fuller Lodge] lawn where we’re sitting right now, trees planted along Central Avenue, and also private yards. How should we promote and manage these resources?
Scott: Managing them, to me means taking care of them and encouraging folks to keep trees, keep green areas. I’ve heard some concern as I was down walking and knocking on doors in White Rock about the fact that for the new housing development, all the trees were cut down in there. A lot of beautiful pinyon and juniper, and questions about why that happened or what the planning was that said it was a good idea or if there was any planning, so, certainly, taking a look as we develop areas.
Those kinds of issues being addressed and thought about I think would be important. Making sure, again, in terms of just taking care of other parks around town, too, and not just the ones you mentioned, but there are a lot of people that really appreciate and use the smaller parks, and in some cases would like to see more of those. I don’t know exactly where you put those, but what I’ve heard is, they are very valuable to a lot of the families.
I know on your website you mentioned some of the browning of trees in, I think it was Walnut Canyon Area or back around there. Taking a look at what’s happening and if there’s things we need to address. I really support having these places and taking care of them.
PCA: Sometimes, when the county does construction projects, they damage and/or remove trees during the process. What should the county do when that
Scott: We just talked about that housing development down in White Rock. Prior to some development, you really should take a look at that aspect. You can really lose such important growth. It takes, especially up here, so long to grow and mature that it’s, to me, worth really taking a hard look before you would cut down trees or change that more native vegetation into a different more manicured vegetation, which is done sometimes for parks.
I understand why, so I’m not saying never do those things. It’s just that we should really be careful about it. A lot of folks were very frustrated with what happened on Central with some of those beautiful trees.
If you’ve ever experienced my lack of willingness to trim trees and branches…
People on my back porch will be like, “Sara, can we get rid of a few of these…” “I like it like this.”
I really appreciate the growth and health of trees, bushes, whatever the case. We should just watch that and have that be a part of the planning that is discussed, going forward with these projects.
There may be cases where there’s a reason that was done, and I can’t say I understand. On some of these projects we’ve just talked about, there may have been very good reasons to do that, that I’m not aware of. It certainly was something that seemed to me and a lot of people that should have been addressed.
Maybe it was, but in the future, I would say I very strongly believe in building that into the path forward.
PCA: How should we manage wildfire danger while maximizing access to local outdoor recreation opportunities?
Scott: The trimming or pruning of the forest is a good idea. My understanding is that that’s a helpful way to mitigate at least the damage of fire if one occurs, but you can’t do that everywhere.
There was a lot of frustration this summer about the forest being closed, and things like that, but it seemed to me like it may have paid off, because for such a difficult season, we certainly — at least right around here locally — didn’t seem to have any serious fires started. Those kinds of measures, if they truly do help mitigate the dangers, are prudent, even though sometimes we miss our trails.
Past that, I would have to understand what other measures could be taken. The water pipeline up to the ski hill was done with the understanding that it would provide us with some options should a fire start. We would have more resources available to mitigate that situation in the future, and if there’s other things past that, certainly worth taking a look at.
We’ve lived through two fires here. It’s pretty sad to see what happened. But, at the same time, if closing off access at certain times is what needs to be done, it’s prudent probably.
PCA: How should we balance the water needs of local citizens with the water needs of wildlife in ecosystems?
Scott: Are you asking about things like restricting water use to homes and businesses so that you can provide it in other locations?
PCA: The thinking is that we live in an arid climate, so there’s water demand from people, and there’s also water demand from the flora and fauna that surround us.
So, how do we deal with that in county government?
Scott: The only thing I could say to that, since I don’t know an answer for it, is to just say if that’s an issue that we’re having now, that we’re not providing what’s needed to keep the flora and fauna healthy, we should talk about it and understand the options.
I don’t know what those are right now, but I’d be willing to have the conversation.
Certainly, that to me is part of the county that puts a priority on keeping our open spaces healthy. That’s part of the deal.
PCA: The next one is a yes or no question. Then I have a couple of follow-ups. Do you believe that climate change is real?
Scott: Mm-hmm.
PCA: What is the cause of climate change?
Scott: My understanding is there is a significant man-made contribution to it, and that we need to address what we’re doing to help combat it.
PCA: How should we respond at the local level?
Scott: There are things that we can do in our personal lives in terms of minimizing what we use. Resources we use, whether it’s — this [dress that I am wearing] is maybe a great example — minimizing buying clothes. This is falling apart. Things like that that take a lot of resources.
Whether it’s minimizing transportation, using the bus, doing things like that, wastefulness. I tend to feel like we need to be vigilant in our daily lives.
At the county level, we have some very good environmental objectives. That’s part of my platform, is to continue to push forward on those. The carbon neutral is good.
I met a couple weeks ago with the subcommittee that’s looking at the zero waste. I was impressed by all of the different ideas that they are undertaking in different ways. That’s good, but all of those things are important.
Supporting educational efforts that help our community understand how each person in a community as a whole can respond to our good. It’s now personal, county goals and then education. I think it all fits together.
PCA: What distinguishes you from the other candidates on conservation issues and natural resource management?
Scott: I would say — and this doesn’t apply to every other candidate — a number of the candidates clearly are very invested in making sure the county moves forward in a environmentally responsible way. That’s in common with them.
For me personally, perhaps it is a way of approaching challenges and focusing on identifying important goals and working to understand, as you approach something big like that that you want to do, what are the two, three, five things — I don’t know what the number is — that we really as a community could do and make a difference on, and that we could get people to buy into and work to get consensus across the community on those, and really put some energy in moving those forward in a real way. This is a way I approach not this, but generally hard goals or challenges. That kind of objective and looking for concrete actions and subtasks that can be undertaken, is maybe a little bit different than sometimes other people might approach things.
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