By GARY STRADLING
Los Alamos County Council
Thank you to many, many county residents for your almost uniform agreement.
When I meet you at your homes, or in the park, at fairs, on parades, you agree that sufficient housing is the most critical issue for the county. You do not want Business as usual! Most of you already understand the concept of basic supply and demand economics. Genuinely affordable housing is impossible without sufficient supply.
What kind of community do we want? Most of you say to me: “A full-spectrum community with commercial shopping and services.” A full spectrum business community is impossible without a full-spectrum population of workers. A community with only LANL workers cannot thrive—as we are seeing.
Subsidized housing is economically contorted and requires ongoing investment. It is not self perpetuating. You all agree that we want a commercially and economically-balanced community. We do not want to be just a bedroom community for LANL, nor do we want a subsidized dorm community for ‘guest workers’.
I have a 40-year vision of a balanced full-spectrum Los Alamos community.
From the panicked comments in the press and social media it appears that my incumbent County Council candidate opponents and their advocates realize that you have woken up. Well, they should get on board. Business as usual will accelerate the slide of our local economy. That is all that they are offering. They propose different ways of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. I offer a change of course. In the 41 years I have been here, we have lost, and continue to lose the kinds of commercial business support that used to make this a full-spectrum community.
Not only are approximately 12,000 workers (mostly LANL) commuting in daily, but most of us have to travel out of town weekly to conduct normal community activities: grocery shopping, dry cleaning, clothes shopping, medical treatment, entertainment, eating out, repairs, etc. A full-spectrum community has these services locally.
A letter (link) published today sounds desperate. It must be a sign of distress for the author to make so many false statements about my campaign arguments (all available at http://stradling4council.org), misstating my projections and estimates, and attributing to me statements I have not made and do not believe.
I will repeat here what I have said:
- Los Alamos County has had stagnant housing growth for the four decades I have been here. The County advertised progress in a brochure this summer, but ‘progress consisted of only 661 new units, in several small housing developments, in the last decades. LANL has been aggressively hiring, claiming 6500 recent new hires and planning another 5500 in the next three years. Those are LANL numbers. While part of that is to replace retirees, the retirees are not leaving the county, so new employees need housing. While some of these will work remotely, we currently have massive numbers commuting into the county everyday. I estimate we need 10,000 more units, but we can adjust our target as time goes on. In any case, existing county land is insufficient. Business as usual was not sufficient before LANL’s hiring surge, and continuing business as usual is to be asleep at the wheel.
- LANL has a serious problem. According to a senior LANL manager, 60 percent of new hires leave within 5 years. Either the flavor of an expensive, commercially-flat bedroom community, or the alternative of a long commute, does not appeal to them. But think of the crushing cost! The extreme cost to the government and LANL to find world class hires, recruit them, bring them here, and then lose them. And think of the impact on these employees and their families, lured here by promising scientific opportunity and high wages, only to have to leave in discouragement. Nobody moves for fun! So many people I talk to are in temporary housing, or have just bought very expensive housing, or are commuting into work.
- The 2019 Los Alamos Housing Market Needs Analysis study said that if every opportunity for infill housing were exploited, only 4500 new residential units would be provided. There are reasons for infill developments, but it will be piecemeal, slow, will also impact our existing town environment and infrastructure, and ultimately cannot meet the need. You have heard the discussion about proposals to fill the county with Auxiliary Dwelling Units and to eliminate parking requirements for new developments. You recognize that will negatively transform our community. Our only reasonable solution is to acquire more land from DOE.
- We live within more than a thousand square miles of wilderness (see figure 1). Access to wilderness recreation areas is not in short supply, and will never be for us. When you hear such scare tactics, you should call a time out for folks to breathe deeply and return to rationality.
- Figure 2 shows that thousands of acres of DOE land could be developed within the county, while still providing enhanced access to open spaces. A thousand acres, shown in Figure 2, is the size of White Rock, and is dwarfed by unused space. Almost every house in our county is only a block or two from a trail or canyon or park. That is not going away. The same access to open spaces can be continued with other developments. The area of Los Alamos County is 70 percent larger than the District of Columbia. They have 45x the population. Why the panic?
- Our county infrastructure is an ongoing enterprise. With infill housing development, our stressed infrastructure will need additional support. With new housing developments must also come additions to utilities, roads, and schools. The breathless derision by the critics is inexplicable. This is serious work and must be accomplished in a measured way. There is no reason for panic.
- Additionally, these Business as usual candidates have a track record of discouraging our remaining businesses that are trying to hang on here. As I canvas the community, I hear again and again Sirphey-like tales of how our current county processes are barriers to commercial development: barriers to expansion or remodeling, endless delays in getting permits for any change, red tape. I hear that contractors turn down jobs in the county because of the added burden of doing business here. I listen and take notes, but if I am elected, I will want some changes.
- Lastly, accomplishing this task of acquiring Government land for development is the reason I am running. I am willing and able to represent you generally in County government, to provide county guidance and oversight, fiscal responsibility, etc. I do not have any other agenda than the one you delegate to me with your vote. Recently Antonio Maggiore, former counselor, said disparagingly to me about land transfer efforts, ‘We have already tried and failed. You cannot accomplish a land transfer. We went to DC once a year for four straight years and had land transfer on our wish list.’ I responded, “You’re just not doing it right! When I had a bureaucratic challenge of this size, I was in DC nearly every week, talking to the key players until I found the right solution.” Policy decisions swing on many factors, which change with time. This is not an algebra problem with a set solution. I promise to apply my proven skills to our problem and I think the likelihood of success is high enough to justify me coming out of retirement to accomplish it for you.
Editor’s note: Letters and columns published in the Los Alamos Daily Post reflect the views of the writer. The Post encourages readers to do their own fact checking.