Warren: Some County Staff Need Attitude Adjustment

Los Alamos

It has come to limited public notice that the County has been working on proposals for a group of five trail projects, most of them geared to the mountain biking community. If you are unaware of these proposals, links to maps of the projects are at the end of this letter.
There are many valid concerns about these proposals, including damage to the environment, harm to wildlife habitat, inappropriate use and modification of a trail listed on both federal and state registers of historic trails and roads, detrimental effects for other trail users, and violations of the County’s Comprehensive Plan of 2016, which received overwhelming public support and designated all of Pueblo Canyon including Acid and Walnut Canyons as Open Space 1 (AKA Wilderness 1), which prohibits the type of construction proposed.
I plan to address these issues in detail in a separate letter, but right now I would like to address two issues that have an effect on how these and other County projects are initiated and planned and what some County staffers attitudes are toward public input.
The main problem with how projects develop is that it is non-transparent for the public, with projects often initiated by special-interest groups or County staffers with pet projects. Planning is undertaken without prior surveying or even notification of the public to determine if the broader public is even interested in using tax-payer dollars to support the projects. In the case of these projects, the initial planning and consultation was led by Cory Styron, Director of Community Services.
By the time the County gets around to opening the projects to public comment, a large investment of staff time and funds for consultants has been made, and County staffers are apparently not interested in public comments that express concerns about the projects or even constructive suggestions such as alternate locations that might serve the same purpose with fewer adverse effects.

This attitude of County staff members toward public input is the second big problem. I have seen evidence over the years of this kind of attitude, but yesterday I was informed of the existence of a video of a County staff meeting that took place Jan. 10 regarding these trail projects. It can be seen on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tg_rKGK-ups or downloaded at https://www.dropbox.com/s/xd7bmozeq5tpvby/Cory%20Styron%20popcorn%20video.mp4.crdownload?dl=0

In the first minute, Cory Styron introduces the meeting, referring to two previous focus groups that discussed the proposals. He doesn’t explicitly say that the people who were “outdated, old fashioned, and kind of foolish” were those who raised concerns about the proposals, but to me that was certainly implicit and that was made more clear by a later remark (17:40 in the video) by another staff member portraying people that raise concerns about the projects as “old-timers that don’t want to see any changes”.
Styron put the icing on this whole thing when he says “we started eating popcorn and watching the show”, as if public comments were merely some kind of entertainment, and had nothing to do with them or their actions on the projects under discussion. It is true that there are a lot of “old-timers” in Los Alamos (myself among them), but that doesn’t mean that our comments are outdated or foolish.
I attended a poorly advertised public virtual meeting on the same topic two days later, and nearly all of the participants raised environmental concerns about the projects. I didn’t hear any public comments that were outdated or foolish, either pro or con.
Environmental concerns are definitely not outdated. Perhaps Styron and his staff should take a look at their own attitudes. They may discover that they are the ones that are outdated or foolish, proposing projects of dubious value to the larger community with little or no consideration for the environment. If we have County staff who: Don’t value public input; don’t understand the larger community’s views or values; don’t respect the natural environment; and don’t honor the County’s Comprehensive Plan; then such staff members should be replaced by people who will.
The County has vaguely promised a public meeting on these proposals in the next week or so. If you want to participate, you will have to keep your eyes peeled, because these meetings are typically poorly advertised with short lead times.
All five maps can be seen at this link: 

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