2018 election interviews — Chris Chandler (D), state house

 Photo: Friends for Christine.

Photo: Friends for Christine.

This post is part of our 2018 general election interview series.

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.

2018 election interviews — Sara Scott (D), county council

 Photo by Anna G. Scott; courtesy Scott campaign.

Photo by Anna G. Scott; courtesy Scott campaign.

This post is part of our 2018 general election interview series.

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 happens?

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 [dress] 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.

2018 election interviews — Dawn Trujillo Voss (R), county council

Trujillo Voss.jpg

This post is part of our 2018 general election interview series.

PCA: What do you believe makes Los Alamos County special?

Trujillo Voss: I think what makes us special is that we weren’t meant to be a town, but we’re still a town. We’re growing, and the diversity of people here from different backgrounds, different cultures that come together. It’s small, unique.

I just went to an iris exchange over at the Unitarian Church. I think there’s a lot of different little pockets of different little interests.

Another thing that makes us great, that I think we can improve on, is we have a lot of independent little groups doing great things, but if we can come together and work smarter, not harder, and independent, I think that that’s awesome. We have a lot of people who care in our community.

PCA: How should we grow while keeping Los Alamos County special?

Trujillo Voss: The way we should grow, and it’s important to grow, is to really focus on the small businesses. If we bring in large corporations, chain corporations, we’re going to lose our personality and our local flavor and our diversity. Like Española — all the small businesses have been pushed out. You go down there and it’s just big chains. Wienerschnitzel and all of this stuff. I even heard they’re going to put a Target in there.

Do we want to be unique or do we want to be like everyone else? Do we want to be like Durango and Pagosa, those small little businesses that are individual? Crested Butte I think put a moratorium on bringing big businesses in.

It’s not how I want to grow. It’s I think how the community wants to grow, and I hear that the community wants to stay unique.

PCA: How should we balance making Los Alamos County appeal to tourists versus serving the outdoor recreation interests of local citizens?

Trujillo Voss: We’re the gateway to the three national parks: the historical park, the Valles Caldera, and Bandelier. I think that’s an opportunity that a lot of other communities do not have.

We also have the ski hill, and we have a lot of open space. How do we balance all of it? I’ve been trying to study recreation towns like Red River, and Angel Fire, and Durango, and Pagosa. How do they keep that balance?

I don’t know the exact steps, but I think it’s possible and with planning and bringing in the right people. Like I said, we have all these little groups that have interests. They have expertise. They have knowledge. We should tap into that knowledge instead of blindly going forward without getting any expert opinion and lessons learned.

These people have lived other places. What did they see that worked and didn’t work? I don’t know all the answers, but I think there are people in our community who do have experiences to share. We can tap into that and take the best out of that.

PCA: What is the appropriate level of public spending on restoration and conservation of county natural areas and open space? How should this money be spent?

Trujillo Voss: I read an article about Oak Ridge, which is a sister city to Los Alamos. They received a lot of grant money to preserve that and to revamp their town, so to speak. I think that’s important. We have Bandelier, so there should be money coming in from there.

Now our open spaces out on the trails, I think it’s unfortunate when I heard that parks & rec open space only has one person to maintain all of these trails. These trails are being vandalized. The sign posts are being vandalized. Glass is being put down on trails to try to stop people from using the open space.

We need to maybe not — I’m trying to say this nicely — not hire more people into the department to work on things like codes. Maybe help another department that only has one person working on maintaining our open space and picking up the trash. We can use resources to help there and tap into resources that other national parks get.

PCA: Are you familiar with the open space plan that was approved in 2015?

Trujillo Voss: Yes.

PCA: We have observed little to no progress on implementing the conservation parts of this plan. Could you comment on that situation and say what you plan to do?

Trujillo Voss: I find that the county says a lot of things and hasn’t been able to do those things. Maybe their idea is that they’re laying the ground work, the idea and identifying what needs to be done. If we have groups like your organization or other organizations that are trying to identify specifically what needs to be done, then we need to reach across that....

Part of No Labels, their thing is we have groups on each side. How do we move forward instead of staying stagnant and sticking to our guns? How do we reach across and bridge the communication to move forward?

If we had an idea of what your group feels that is important and other groups feel that is important, we can make a list. This needs to be identified. This needs to be addressed. This needs to be protected. We have open space. We have a lot of open space. Let’s go out and work together to move forward. It’s a win-win. The county gets to move forward on their plan. You get to identify what you feel is important and needs to be addressed on a list.

I think that’s the way to move forward. I can’t say what I feel needs to be identified. It’s our community. It’s people who are involved. I’m here to be that voice, that bridge into the county government and to the people.

PCA: In addition to our open space, Los Alamos County also has various urban greenery within the town sites. For example, we have Ashley Pond. We have trees right here [on Fuller Lodge lawn]. There’s trees planted along Central Avenue and also private yards. How should we promote and manage these resources?

Trujillo Voss: It’s kind of difficult. This is where we’ve run into a lot of controversy where you see a lot of money being spent on one particular area of town, but it’s not spread out. How do we balance that?

Everyone loves Ashley Pond. Fuller Lodge is great. But how do we address White Rock? How do we do open green space in White Rock? Why is it all concentrated here? I think that bothers a lot of people and provides energy to not being supportive of the green and open space.

We have so much science here and technology here, people within the laboratory. We talk about sustainability. A lot of people are for and against water collection systems or solar gain, but if we were able to collect the water — and this has been studied in, I looked this up for other communities and cities — if they collect the water they can divert it to where it needs to go. It still goes into the ground. It still supplies the groundwater system, but we have a little bit more control over where it goes. Instead of tapping into our clean water to water green spaces, let’s provide opportunity for not only businesses and open space but residents to collect water and water their yards and not have to pay outrageous water bills to have a nice space.

PCA: Sometimes when the county is doing construction projects, it damages or removes trees. What should the county do when this happens?

Trujillo Voss: I think if we put energy and effort into researching what we can do to maybe move a tree, maybe it might be expensive, but at least let’s look into it and provide the information to everyone out in the community instead of going and cutting down a tree. If it’s outrageously expensive, say $50,000 to transplant a tree and it actually lives, or I recognize, yes, we’re going to cut down this tree, it’s unfortunate, but we’re going to spend $5,000 and buy a bunch of seedlings and go and put them in areas that they’re going to thrive and it’s not going to be in the way.

I think that’s the balance. I don’t want to see a tree taken down, but I see that we also need to move forward and grow. Maybe let’s have control over where we can put our trees, or our grass, or our shrubs, or our bushes, and not disturb bee life, bee habitat, and flowers, and stuff like that.

So let’s move forward, but let’s take care of the environment. How many trees could you get for $5,000? How many seedlings? Or $50,000 to remove a tree and transplant it and it might not thrive.

PCA: How should we manage wildfire danger while maximizing access to local outdoor recreation opportunities?

Trujillo Voss: Again, my big thing is balance. How do you balance this? I did an internship one summer for the Forest Service. I was in this huge seminar in a hotel conference room. They were talking about forest fire prevention and mitigation and what we can and can’t do. My question was, if we have all this dead wood and all this brush collecting in the forest and the pine needles, and it’s natural for Mother Nature to come in and burn everything, then it’s a clean start and then seeds are able to grow and all this.

Why can’t we help Mother Nature, not on windy fire days or anything like that, but to come in and take care of the forest, not just let it take care of itself?

I think it was Australia or New Zealand or something where they allowed sheep to come in and clean up the forest, eat everything that was on the ground. I talked to this with my daughter. She’s an environmental science student down at NMSU. She said, “Yeah, but you don’t want to just leave the sheep there and they eat everything, because then they’re going to destroy everything. You don’t want to let the farmers of the sheep just maximize the money to let their sheep be there because then they’re always going to want to be there. Then you don’t want to have too much government input on this, because then there’s just too much control.”

I think there’s solutions that are workable, but we need to plan for unintended consequences. We don’t want to give farmers too much power, we don’t want to give government too much power, but we’ve got to balance our forests so they don’t burn down because Mother Nature’s going to take care of it for us.

PCA: How should we balance the water needs of local citizens with the water needs of wildlife and ecosystems?

Trujillo Voss: We’re in a drought. We don’t always have water. It’s our natural cycle. I remember it being really dry when I was.... I grew up here, and then I remember that winter where we had four feet of snow and it was amazing. I think naturally we go through this. It might be the natural evolution of things, but now we’re here and we see these animals.

We also don’t want to put water or feeders in our backyards because we not only invite the cute, fuzzy animals, we invite predators. We don’t want to hurt our citizens. We don’t want to have mountain lions in our backyards, and bears, and etc. What do ranchers do? They’re out there and they put out water troughs.

They have the windmills to get the water up and going. If we’re in a drought and we see that our wildlife is suffering, maybe we can come up with a solution to take care of the water needs out away from our community, out far, far away where we’re not going to be inviting danger in but we still keep our animals alive.

PCA: The next one is a yes or no question, and then I will have a couple of follow-ups. Do you believe that climate change is real?

Trujillo Voss: Yes, I believe climate change is real.

PCA: What is the cause of climate change?

Trujillo Voss: It’s our natural evolution of everything. The climate’s always changing. Whether it was 50 years ago, 100 years ago, there’s always change.

I think we, as inhabitants of Earth, can address our practices of how we live to manage ourselves. If everyone has that attitude, then maybe we can prolong our life. I think the Earth is still going to be here, but we’re going to hurt our life, our animals’ life. Life’s going to be the one that suffers.

PCA: How should we respond to climate change at the local level?

Trujillo Voss: I think when you try to force something on someone, they don’t like it. Whether they agree with it or not, if I’m going to tell you, “you’re going to do this,” we as America, because we believe in our freedoms and our choices, we’re going to say no. Even if we agree or not, because somebody’s telling us to do something.

I did this 30-day challenge at work. I created a little card. You can do this for anything, but my challenge.... I was a chair for two worker safety and security teams. One of the goals for the laboratory is sustainability. I created a challenge card for every day. You tried to change a habit, or what you lived, or how you lived. How about a day going out without a straw? How about today you bring in a plate instead of using paper plates? How about tomorrow you bring in a fork and spoon?

Just try awareness. Like, “Oh, there’s this card. I’m doing this challenge. I’m going to do one thing a day to try and change my habits.” Eventually, over time, we change it. We break a habit and we create a lifestyle. I think if we ask and present it as an opportunity rather than a dictation to do something, people respond a little bit better.

PCA: What distinguishes you from the other candidates on conservation issues and natural resource management?

Trujillo Voss: I haven’t quite heard everyone else’s standpoint on that.

I’m just going to make a blanket statement here. I think all of us, we see the natural resources around us and the beauty here. I mean, we’re living in a mountain town. We’re not living in a city. I think that there’s important there and recognizing that all of us have an interest in conserving our community.

I don’t think anyone’s come out and said, “I want to do drill, and fracking, and all of this stuff here.” No one has said that. I think we all have good intentions to conserve with the environment.

2018 election interviews — Brady Burke (R), county council

 Photo by Lorrie Latham; courtesy Burke campaign.

Photo by Lorrie Latham; courtesy Burke campaign.

This post is part of our 2018 general election interview series.

PCA: What do you believe makes Los Alamos County special?

Burke: I’ve lived here for 20 years this time around, and it’s the people that make it special. We have such a mix of people that have worked here for long periods of time and short periods of time.

The sense of community and that small town feel. Everybody knows everybody. I remember, when I used to live here back in the late ’80s, you weren’t afraid to leave your doors open.

You saw somebody having trouble and you always stepped up. You usually knew who you were talking to. Then, when I worked here as a reserve police officer, one of the greatest punishments that we could deal out to teenage offenders was to call their parents.

It’s that small-town feel, and yet the things that go on here — the science and the natural splendor that we have — they’re incredible because you’re not going to get them anywhere else. The people that work at the lab are the ones that teach at the university. Your instructor is somebody who does this for a living. All these things go into making Los Alamos such a tremendous community.

PCA: How should we grow while keeping Los Alamos County special?

Burke: “Grow” is an odd perspective on Los Alamos. We have physical constraints as far as available lands and housing. There’s a lot of talk about doing tourism and promoting it, spending money, and building things to try and bring tourists here, but Los Alamos itself as a tourism destination, in and of itself, I don’t think makes sense.

We should recognize that Los Alamos is, for all intents and purposes, a company town. We have the lab and, beyond that, where we’re surrounded by some national forests and national parks that I think the tourists are coming to see. I think, from that perspective, we are a support entity.

I don’t think it makes sense for us to spend lots of money, lots of taxpayer dollars to try and drive tourism to Los Alamos as a destination. What we should be doing is responding to the demand. The old “Field of Dreams” idea — “If you build it, they will come” — I don’t subscribe to that.

We need to understand from the Visitor’s Center, the Chamber of Commerce, the local businesses, and the hotels and say, “What do you see people doing? What are they asking for? Do we want to provide that? Are there ways that we can spend our money such that it benefits the community even if it doesn’t, in the long run, provide a draw for the tourists?”

If we say we want to create hiking trails, OK, hiking trails are good. We’ve got people that want to do that. With proper planning and the ability to do maintenance on them, I think those are good for the community, and if we have outside people that want to come here and enjoy what we have, I think we should support that. Then we take those tourism dollars and go ahead put those towards supporting that infrastructure.

PCA: How should we balance making Los Alamos County appeal to tourists versus serving the outdoor recreation interests of local citizens?

Burke: I think the interest of the local population should come first, because we’re the ones that pay for it. From the perspective of the voters and the taxpayers, it comes out of our pocket first. I’m bothered by some of the ideas that the county government puts forth as being tourism draws because, one, a lot of it is unsubstantiated.

Say, “Well, you know, let’s spend a million dollars because it’ll bring the tourists,” and we go into these large projects without a whole lot of public approval, community approval, and then we get another bill for it. The balance is, if our county government is proposing things that it thinks will benefit the local community, then they’ll have the local community feedback. The community will say, “Yeah. We think we should spend dollars on this.” If it turns into something that brings the tourists in, then so much the better.

But, to wantonly spend huge amounts of dollars in the hopes of bringing the tourists? Take a look at the Larry Walkup Center. The idea was, we’re going to have this high altitude indoor swimming pool with national draw and the Olympic teams are going to come here and train.

We have a community pool. We have a very large community pool. It is to the benefit of the community in a preponderance. The greatest users of it are going to be the local ones and the local high school and the swimmers. I know we have a lot of swimmers in the community, but we’re the ones that use it. Really, we should have a lot more of the say in the decisions that are made on how we spend the money and the things that we build. So local community first, tourism second.

PCA: What is the appropriate level of public spending on restoration and conservation of county natural areas and open space? How should this money be spent?

Burke: I get out occasionally and hike the trails. I did the one, not all of them. I wear a hat because I don’t want to get my head cooked. I’ve done the trails down from behind the pool out and about towards the bridge that’s out there and back. Those seem to be in good condition.

I walk the rim trail from the co-op back up to Smith’s, and that’s in good repair. What I would probably say, and I know it’s going to sound dismissive, but I think those trails that are more popular and get used a lot, they’re going to experience more wear and tear outside of natural erosion. I think we need to keep them available for the community.

It goes back to the other question. That is, the money that we should be spending should be for the benefit of the community. Now, blazing new trails? If the open spaces folks in the Parks & Rec Department go, “Oh, yeah. If we branch out, if we start cutting trails and it’ll bring us tourists,” I’m going to say no.

I think we should maintain what we have. We should spend the money on keeping up what we have, our infrastructure, essentially. Focus on the pieces that the community uses, and certainly take care of the ones that are getting hit by natural destructive forces on them to keep them available, but keep them in repair.

That’s where I think we should be spending our money. Prioritize our spending on the things that people are using, and not cutting new stuff that we think will draw tourists.

PCA: Are you familiar with the open space plan that was approved in 2015?

Burke: No.

PCA: This was a plan with “Here’s what our open space is. Here’s how we should manage it.” Stuff like that. In that plan, there were a number of conservation measures, but there has been little to no progress on implementing those conservation measures. Do you have any comments on that situation? If so, what do you plan to do in that regard?

Burke: If we have a plan, and the only open space topic that I’ve heard of was the county talking about its commercial district here in downtown. That was to get the cars off of the space, get them off the road, or get rid of the roads between the library, and again, all the way at the other end, down to the old Smith’s. What they wanted to do is make that a walking mall.

That was the only open spaces thing that I had heard of. If the county had proposed a plan and the county council had approved it, I would say, one, “Did we have enough public input to agree with the plan?” because there are a lot of plans that come up that the public has very little involvement in. It’s our powers that be that are making decision for us autonomously.

But if we have a plan, we should look at the plan, and if it’s not being implemented, we need to find out if it still meets our needs. We need to put it back out in front of the voters, if it’s not being addressed, and say, “Should we be doing these things?”

If they say, “Yeah, we should,” then, yeah, we should be putting money at it. If they say, “No, we need to change our priorities,” or, “These are more important things to us now,” then we need to revisit the plan and change it.

One of my biggest concerns in this whole election and actually why I’m running for office is because there’s a huge disconnect between the county government, the county council, and the voters, and the taxpayers.

When they come up with these plans, a lot of them were done in vacuums, where they have survey groups of a hundred people that tell them, “Yeah, these are the things that we should be doing,” and then the county makes gigantic decisions based on those hundred people, and not on what the bulk of the population wants.

I think we need to get it back in front of the voters if it isn’t being addressed and find out. Is this still a priority?

PCA: In addition to the open space, Los Alamos has various urban greenery within the two town sites. Examples would be Ashley Pond, right here [on Fuller Lodge lawn], trees planted along Central Avenue, but also private yards. How should we promote and manage these resources?

Burke: There are some standard answers for it. I look around Fuller Lodge, and the trees are great, and the activities that they have here during the year are fantastic. I love the old trees, the large trees that give us all the shade.

They’re going to take resources. They have to be watered, they’re not going to survive here on their own. They’ve got to be trimmed and taken care of, and the pests kept off of them. There’s going to be a cost for that, but I see the old trees that we have as being tremendous assets.

The new trees, when they widened Central, it was like, “Cut everything down and plant new ones,” I was like, “I don’t think that makes sense. Can you work around it? You’ve got these bump-outs for bicycles, can we have the bump-out where the tree is, and not have to uproot this stuff?”

I enjoy seeing this. I talk to people that live in Santa Fe and they say, “Nothing in Santa Fe grows higher than about four feet.” This is a great asset for us, and a tremendous contributor to the visual appearance of the community.

On private property, one, we have to respect the owners of the property. It’s theirs. We would like them to maintain them. The best that we can do, as far as having folks water them, and maintain them, and clean up, and rake, and whatnot, is communicate the risks that they have to their houses if they don’t take care of these things.

There’s a giant apricot tree in front of my place that you have to duck to get past it. Maybe just me and the other owners of the properties that are there, just haven’t said, “How do we trim this thing, so that it’s really where we want it to be?”

I think we should spend money on maintaining the old trees that we have. Now that we have the new ones, we can’t abandon them, but I think we need to consider these things before we do them, instead of doing them and go, “Oh, how do we look backwards at fixing them?”

Again, private property, we can talk to the owners, make recommendations, and help them get there, but, in the end, it’s theirs.

PCA: You talked a little bit about the Central Avenue project. What should the county do when it damages or removes trees during construction projects?

Burke: Sometimes, it’s convenient to damage something during a construction project, because it gives you the opportunity to say, “Well, it’s beyond repair, we may as well take it out. It was in the plan for us to keep it, but now, obviously, we can’t, so we’re just gonna have to get rid of it.”

I see that in so many of the construction projects that the county does. On people’s private property, they’re out there to fix the pipes or whatnot, and then they’re damaging private property, or they’re damaging landscaping. I think it’s convenient. It’s a lack of consideration and a lack of concern.

I really hold the county government accountable for it. They had this tree-trimming thing going on recently, where they’re supposed to be trimming trees back, and they were cutting them down. That’s not my idea of trimming a tree.

If the people that are operating the equipment don’t know what things they’re supposed to do, then the county should have somebody out there that can direct them. I don’t agree with the convenience of damage as a mechanism for removing something.

We shouldn’t be damaging them to start with. Trim them, work around them, put up safety barriers, whatever it takes, but an ignorant approach to it isn’t acceptable.

PCA: How should we manage wildfire danger while maximizing access to local outdoor recreation opportunities?

Burke: We’ve had our experience in that, so hopefully we’ve learned our lesson about thinning the trees. There are a couple of areas that we have to look at. One of them, as you say, is part of the trail system. If we’re going to have trails, if we’re going to be managing them, we need to make sure that the risks of people using them don’t create an environment where we’re going to start a wildfire.

We’d like to have to make some limitations out there — smoking on the trails, open fires in camping areas, that kind of stuff — that we can put down some rules and then, hopefully, have some teeth behind them. People are going to, oftentimes, do whatever they want.

In order to do that, we have to take an approach that, if something does start, it doesn’t have the chance to mushroom into something really large.

In our community, we have to hold the homeowners accountable to keep fires under control as well. We have to make sure that they’re not allowing fire hazards or brush to build up along their property and flammable liquids next to the house and in storage. If they did start somebody’s house on fire and one of the houses up on the perimeters of the community, that could kick us into a fire as well.

We’ve got a couple of areas that I think we can have some controls over, and I think we should and, like I said, put the controls in place on people where we can in the outdoors and then, as a fallback to that, have a good plan for maintaining the exposure in those areas.

I need to talk to somebody about it that has some more expertise in it. All I can say is, from a common-sense perspective, these are things that would seem to make sense. The people that would implement it would be the forest personnel and, potentially, the county.

PCA: How should we balance the water needs of local citizens with the water needs of wildlife and ecosystems?

Burke: I haven’t seen an imbalance. Nobody has brought it up to me. I know the county has its little battles with drilling wells, pumps failing, the wells drying up and then moving into other ones. If that’s where we’re getting our water from, I don’t see that as being in conflict with wildlife. They’re not going to be able to get to it 3,000 feet below the surface.

If we are using water from the rivers and the streams, from the Rio Grande, if we’re pulling water from that, I guess our biggest concern would be make sure that we don’t.... We can use it. There’s a good supply of water through there, but we’ve got to be careful that we don’t mess it up, because there are other people and the animals that are dependent on that as well. In making sure of our survivability, we don’t want to muck it up for somebody else.

Then, as far as the streams, I know we’ve got the reservoir. I’m not aware that we block any kind of stream access in the forest up here.

I don’t think I’ve got a really great answer for you other than we need to be careful on those shared resources. The ones that are not shared, it’s less of an issue for the wildlife. The ones that we share, we have to be careful.

PCA: The next question is a yes-or-no question. Then I have some follow-ups.

Burke: OK.

PCA: Do you believe that climate change is real?

Burke: That’s a tough one to give a yes or no answer to. I get information from lots of sources. I’ve been getting information since I was a kid about the impact that we have on the environment and holes in the ozone layer.

How it affects our climate, just based on empirical evidence, I’d have to say there.... I would say there’s climate change, yes, that there are impacts that we have and that nature has on the climate. I would say yes, climate....

Read it back again for me, please?

PCA: Do you believe that climate change is real?

Burke: Yes.

PCA: What is the cause of climate change?

Burke: We have a lot of them. We’ve got the rainforests. My girlfriend explained to me the whole thing about palm oil and how they’re trashing the rainforest for palm oil for products. It’s like, “Well, that doesn’t make any sense.”

We’re really tied to our natural environment for survival. For us to be destroying so much of it for commercialization just doesn’t make any sense. I think we have an impact on it. I think nature has an impact on the climate change.

I get back to we’re not being careful in the part that we’re doing. We pollute our rivers. We destroy the wildlife that’s dependent on it. People are afraid to eat the fish. We have algae blooms. In some of those things, we could say, “Yeah, we’re doing it.” In other things we could say, “Maybe we’re doing it.”

We’re letting all the runoff from our crops go into the oceans. Maybe that’s bringing the algae blooms that are killing off some of the wildlife in the oceans. I think there are a lot of things that affect it. I don’t think we’re being as responsible as we could be.

PCA: How should we respond at the local level?

Burke: We live in a bubble up here. There are some things that bother me. There are cause and effects as we go along. One of the things that we have is our county government shows to change, just an example, its recycle. The recycle system now is every couple weeks. Now, what we have is people are putting their recycle in the trash. I remember when my recycle bin, it’s going to go in the trash. The county said, “Well, instead of that, what we’ve done is we’ve given you brush bins for your yard clippings.” Yard clippings and whatnot are probably good for about six months out of the year. Yet, recycle is something that we have all year long.

The county government has changed its focus from being ecologically thoughtful to pushing people on trimming their trees, so we need to make sure that their clippings are gone. We should have both of them, because what’s going to happen, as history will show from our county government, is they’re going to just keep raising the rates.

If people want brush bins, put brush bins and raise the monthly service a dollar a month or whatever and leave the recycle system where it is. In our community, we do have the issue with Los Alamos and the leftover waste from projects that they’ve done. I know people that are at N3B that are working hard to clean up that mess.

Yet, we still face the legacy mentality of people at LANL that said, “This is how we’ve always done it.” Quite frankly, my view has always been continuous improvement. How do we do things better every time? That whole mentality of, “This is how we’ve always done it,” is the exact opposite to making any kind of an improvement.

We’ve got to hold LANL accountable for it. They’re one aspect of the things that we have to clean up here. Our community is an aspect of the ongoing cleanup that we have to do as citizens to make sure that we’re taking care of our environment.

PCA: What distinguishes you from the other candidates on conservation issues and natural resource management?

Burke: I don’t know what their stand is. I can’t really say where I come out differently from them on conservation issues. Where I do stand out from the current county council and from any of the candidates that are running is I am very focused on the county government.

They’re out of touch with the people. They spend the way they want to. They run the business the way they want to. They come to the county council and say, “Here’s what we want to do.” The council says, “Oh, well, OK. Yeah, that’s fine. Go right ahead.” Quite frankly, my position is the county government is going to have to straighten out how it does its job.

When they come to the county council and say, “We want you to approve this thing,” I’m going to want to know, “What does it cost? What’s the impact that it’s going to have? How much is going to cost to keep it? What’s the lifespan going to be? What are our alternatives?” Give them the third degree about the things that they bring up to us and hold them accountable to the community.

If they’re doing things like these construction projects and they’re destructive, it’s like, “You know what? It’s going to come out of your budget,” which means it’s going to come out of one of the other things because you’re not going to get any more money to do these things. We’re going to hit them where it hurts. We’re going to go right after their wallet.

I think I’m going to stand out quite obviously. I think we need to really hold the county accountable because the county government and LANL are the biggest entities in this community that have the most direct impact on the lives of the people that live here. We need to hold both of them accountable. I plan to stand right up. I’m going to try to be right most of the time. I’m definitely going to make sure that people are explaining things to me and explaining things to the voters on what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.

If they’re mucking things up, they’re going to step up and say, “You know what? We screwed up, and we’re going to fix it. Here’s how we’re going to change it to make it better so that we don’t do it again.” That’s what I’m going to be pushing for. I’m not looking for business as usual, sitting on the county council.

2018 election interviews — Randall Ryti (D), county council

 Photo by Randall Ryti; courtesy Ryti campaign.

Photo by Randall Ryti; courtesy Ryti campaign.

This post is part of our 2018 general election interview series.

PCA: What do you believe makes Los Alamos County special?

Ryti: I think what makes the county special is really the natural environment. It’s a pretty unique area where we have quite a diversity. That’s what I like about, even at the Nature Center, they emphasize the vertical mile that we have within the county.

There aren’t a lot of other places where you have that with the vast caldera here. That’s one thing that makes it pretty special from the natural environment. Obviously, there’s other opinions about other aspects, but that’s something that appeals to me.

PCA: How should we grow while keeping Los Alamos County special?

Ryti: The question on growth is an interesting one. We’re severely constrained by the land area that’s developable in Los Alamos County.

I’ve heard people talk over the years about various open space areas, whether it’s the golf course or Rendija Canyon or the airport — which isn’t open space, it’s got another use — and talking about developing those areas. I don’t think I nor the community has support for development in those kind of areas.

What we’re left with is opportunities for redevelopment. If we can assure ourselves that we’re happy with the cleanup levels or we can find compatible land uses, we have land down DP Road.

We have some other areas in the downtown area up in Los Alamos, and in White Rock that are in need of redevelopment. We have some vacant properties. There are some properties on Longview. I support putting land that we’ve already disturbed as the first priority into consideration for redevelopment. In some cases, there may be places where we want to have new development, but we need to carefully consider that.

We need to understand if we have adequate resources all the way around. People would mention things like schools, too. It’s a system. If you add people, you’re going to need resources for them. If they have families, they need schools. People need water. We need to have electric power. We have a green energy goal.

That’s some of the things. I really favor redevelopment.

PCA: How should we balance making Los Alamos County appeal to tourists versus serving the outdoor recreation interests of local citizens?

Ryti: That’s another thing that makes it special. It’s having a small town character. If you really become a tourist destination, like some areas, it really does change the character. There’s a lot more traffic. We don’t know if that would ever happen here.

It becomes places that some people don’t want to go because they’re too busy, or they go during the low season. We don’t want to have the residents feel like they’re a second-tier citizen compared to people that are visiting.

Now we do have three national park units, and so I think we do want to attract people to visit them.

One thought I’ve had is about even things like parking. We have a bus system. If the bus system can help take people different places that they’re going that can alleviate some of the congestion on the roads. I think that there is a way to emphasize these attractions without negatively impacting people.

People that live here will also enjoy going to them. They won’t be going to them probably as frequently as outside visitors, but we need to definitely keep that in mind, in terms of either talking about development or tourism, specifically.

PCA: What’s the appropriate level of public spending on restoration and conservation of county natural areas and open space, and how should that money be spent?

Ryti: I’m in favor of taking a re-look. I know we look at our budget annually. I really am in favor of making sure that the budget reflects what we value as a community. I’m very much in favor of finding out well how much do people want to have restoration and spend appropriate money on that activity.

In some of the surveys, we’ve asked people about open space and how they feel about open space. There’s definitely a lot of interest in it. Like I said, the Rendija Canyon development makes no sense because of our interest in open space here.

I don’t have a specific number, but I would like to use some of the surveys that we do as one tool, plus people coming to meetings; town halls would be useful too. The surveys are nice because they can get a broader snapshot of the population. Not everybody has the time to go to a county council meeting or a board meeting.

My sense is that we probably should be spending more on that activity, and there is a variety of reasons why we would be spending more, but I would like to get public input.

PCA: Are you familiar with the open space plan that was approved in 2015?

Ryti: Yes.

PCA: That had various conservation parts throughout it, but those parts have had little to no progress on implementing them. I wonder if you could comment on that situation, and what do you plan to do?

Ryti: I think it’s similar to the funding issue. That’s the core issue there, I imagine, is that we don’t have an appropriate level of funding for that part of the county budget, and so we need to look at why we’re not spending money on that. Looking at the priorities, what’s the priority for the community?

If we can get funding and attention, and I guess some of these projects may be ongoing. It’s akin to me to just the buildings we have in the county. In addition to the natural areas, we have assets, one way of looking at them, and we need to make sure we’re maintaining them.

Those are existing assets that a lot of people enjoy in the community, and we need to look at them that way and say, how can we make sure these are around, and what kind of things do we need to do to make sure that we’re meeting goals? They have to become pretty specific.

I think that the County Council may have had other priorities recently too, with the gross receipts tax being one and some other things that have come up. But if we can actually work on positive things for the community like that, I think that everyone will be happier with the performance of the council. They’ll be happier that we’re actually getting things done.

PCA: In addition to our open space, Los Alamos also has various urban greenery within the town sites. For example, Ashley Pond, these trees right here [on the Fuller Lodge lawn], trees along Central Avenue, and also private yards. How should we promote and manage these resources?

Ryti: One thing that we have done, PEEC sponsored getting a community wildlife habitat designation. Just as I was driving here, there was a fawn walking across Diamond Drive, so we have to remember we live in wildlife habitat. That’s one way to promote it, is just to say, this is habitat that’s available.

It does provide something nicer to look at and provides habitat for the wildlife. We’re basically at the edge of the mountains here, at the Pajarito Plateau and the Jemez Mountains interface. That’s one reason why we have issues with bears, because we live in the mountains up here.

The habitat’s a little different in White Rock, but it’s similar. There is a lot of edge to the community, just the way we’re located. We have two bedroom community areas, and there is a lot of habitat surrounding us, and even our lab has a lot of buffer area. There is a lot of wildlife habitat and we have to look at it that way.

I think that a lot of people do want to promote wildlife habitat in their own yards, and we could be doing that. We do that to some extent on some of the county lands, but we could do more of that.

PCA: Sometimes, when the county is doing construction projects, they damage or remove trees. What should the county do in that case?

Ryti: When trees are removed — and it’s happened with a number of development projects — there has been cases where people tried to replace them. If you have to have development and trees will come down or be damaged, that you ought to have a program for planting trees and similar kinds of whether or not just trees but shrubs that we should try to have some habitat.

I know there is going be a balance between having protected space for fire danger and trees. Where we can, we could look at planting trees. You could have a program. That’s going to take a long time for the trees to come back.

My mother lived at the Oppenheimer Place Condos. What she didn’t realize, of course, when she lived there was there had been trees taken down to put down the complex. She was very upset when the senior center went in across the street after she had moved in and all the trees were removed. Not all of them but a lot of them were.

I think when we look at it, we can look at there’s a lot of county land where it’s going to be buffer, not be developed. We can look at tree planning efforts in some of those areas to replace what we’re going to be having to remove.

There’s going to be trees that are going to have to be removed for various reasons, so we should just understand that and have that as part of our program.

PCA: How should we manage wildfire danger while maximizing access to local outdoor recreation opportunities?

Ryti: The idea of creating a defensible space is important. One thing that I’m also concerned about with regard to wildfire is just making sure that wherever possible, we have alternate exits.

Also making sure we have as few cul-de-sacs as possible. I live on North Mesa. North Mesa really has no exit. Quemazon is similar. They’ve talked about trying to have some kind of alternate route out there that wouldn’t have to be a road that’s in place all the time.

We need to look at it from that perspective, too. Look at what we can do in just terms of maintaining space. I know after Cerro Grande, there was a lot of money for some thinning. That was a number of years ago. There are certain areas where they didn’t do much thinning. In particular, some of the very steep slopes didn’t get thinned. It’s just difficult to do, expensive.

We just need to look at those areas and say, “Unfortunately, some times of the year, instead of a forest, we have fuel”, and we see what the danger is. We’ve seen it throughout the West this last couple years with some pretty horrendous fires even coming into towns.

Even though it’s happened twice already, we evacuated twice, it doesn’t mean it can’t happen a third time. We need to have a defensible space.

I think that we can still allow people access to the natural environment, but there’s going to be times when we have to close the areas because of high fire danger. I think the public is generally understanding of that issue.

PCA: How should we balance the water needs of local citizens with the water needs of wildlife and ecosystems?

Ryti: Water is becoming more periodic in its presence, right? It’s becoming less. Some of the things that we depended upon in the past, monsoon seasons are getting shorter. The snowfall, snowpack is not as reliable as it was.

Wildlife regionally are actually suffering because of that. There’s some regional changes that are happening. In terms of managing the balance between what we use as citizens and what wildlife have, we need to have conservation of water as a goal.

I had heard an interesting idea about wastewater treatment plants. In particular, if we redesign and replace the White Rock plant, which is in the works, that you could design some of the treatment for wildlife.

That shouldn’t change the price very much. I would like to understand that maybe it doesn’t change it all. Maybe it can be just as cost-effective to have a little bit of areas. You can create habitat and use the habitat to do some of the treatment.

That was an interesting idea, I thought. That creates quite a mecca for wildlife to come in and use that, in particular birds. That’s even true with the large retention basin there behind Smith’s Marketplace. It’s become one of the hot spots for finding birds in the county. That wasn’t the intention of that, but you can look at the design of engineered features. We can do conservation in some design of engineered features to attract and provide water for wildlife.

PCA: The next one is a yes or no question. Then I’ll have some follow-ups. Do you believe that climate change is real?

Ryti: Yes.

PCA: What is the cause of climate change?

Ryti: The cause of climate change is primarily related to anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide.

PCA: How should we respond at the local level?

Ryti: We do have a goal for green energy. I think it’s in 2040 for the utilities department. That’s one thing. As part of that, I know some people have put up rooftop solar installations.

Like with anything else, there’s no free lunch, but that’s a pretty good option right now. It’s a pretty proven technology in terms of having it work. When the sun is not shining, you need to have batteries, and batteries come with their own set of baggage and potential environmental effects. The solar is a good option, and we have a customer during the day: the lab uses a lot of power. That’s actually a pretty good fit.

The only problem is in terms of when you reach a certain capacity. You’re going to have issues with your grid if there are too many people that are on solar. I think that we’re well short of that point now. We can promote solar.

We’re also investing in the small modular nuclear reactor project. We just have see if that one will make sense. We’ve invested in hydroelectric in the dams through our own utility. We have had a history of financing things like that. It’s just with nuclear power there are certain regulatory issues. Currently, the project isn’t well enough subscribed. They generate less waste, but there are still concerns about the waste disposal for those reactors as well.

I think that when you look at it, the solar seems like a pretty good option for Los Alamos County. We get a lot of sun. You can get grants potentially to put solar units on top of school buildings and the school buildings can get some income. That’s the other thing that people are really interested in supporting is the local schools, whether it’s the LA public schools or UNM-LA.

There are some things that we could do that actually would benefit many things and not just doing our part to stem the effects of climate change.

PCA: What distinguishes you from the other candidates on conservation issues and natural resource management?

Ryti: At some level, I don’t want to say anything negative about anybody else, but as far as I know most of the other candidates are fairly aware of the environmental issues. There has been a different level of interest in their professional careers perhaps and what they have been doing.

I’ve worked as an environmental scientist with a consulting company called Neptune and Company, and so it’s been our business to work in environmental issues. I probably know a little bit more about them than some people. There’s other people that are involved in some other aspects like in nuclear power generation, which I’m not an expert in.

I have a work history that’s been involved in environmental issues. It is one of my interests. It connects a lot of things, so I don’t think it’s a single issue to me.

Everything is connected. I don’t think that just looking at the environment is really just the environment. It’s how we fit into it and how we can better manage and have long-term stability.

I don’t know if I have anything else to say on that. Let people draw their own distinction with the other candidates.

2018 election interviews — Helen Milenski (L), county council

 Photo: Greg Belyeu, courtesy Milenski campaign.

Photo: Greg Belyeu, courtesy Milenski campaign.

This post is part of our 2018 general election interview series.

PCA: What do you believe makes Los Alamos County special?

Milenski: We were a manufactured community to begin with. Our history goes back to a specific point more recent than a lot of towns that you might find of the same size or the same feel.

If you go to the Midwest or the East Coast, they have roots that go way back. Ours go back to about the ’40s. You can trickle a little bit back into the boys’ ranch, and then the Native American history here on the plateau. As a founded community, we’re manufactured. That makes everything that comes out of our community, even up to the present time, fairly unique.

PCA: How should we grow while keeping Los Alamos County special?

Milenski: When I videoed myself — right before I went in and I signed up as a candidate — one of the statements that I made is that we are a small town, and we need to value the fact that we are a small town. We need to value what’s unique about us, instead of trying to promote us into a hybrid small town metropolis, we need to really accentuate what is good about us for the community.

PCA: How should we balance making Los Alamos County appeal to tourists versus serving the outdoor recreation interest of local citizens?

Milenski: I think they’re totally tied. The answer is intertwined. What we have already in Los Alamos has great appeal for tourism.

We have one of the greatest trail systems of a small town our size in the state, in my opinion. I hike and I love our trail system. I’m going on our trail system constantly. Not just our trails, but our open spaces are very crucially important to the appeal that we have, but one of the things that we’ve sometimes failed to concentrate on, is that those things are there and they’re a draw, but they’re there because of us and for us. They’re not primarily for tourism. They’re primarily there for the citizenry.

PCA: What is the appropriate level of public spending on restoration and conservation of county natural areas and open space?

Milenski: As a Libertarian, you can probably assume that I do favor a lot more public interest in the spending that would go towards these things. However, my background does lend itself in an opposing direction.

I am the child of two park rangers. I grew up in my childhood in national parks, both Death Valley in California as well as Lehman Caves in Nevada.

I have a high appreciation for the natural space, natural habitat. Quite frankly, I think that we have done a poor, poor disservice in this community by trying to expand a variety of new and exciting engagements for a tourist population rather than updating and maintaining what we already have.

We have an amazing trail system. We have amazing parks and recreational facilities as-is, and that, in my opinion, is where we need to be spending FTEs [full-time equivalent labor]. We’ve expanded several other departments, in my opinion unnecessarily. Our parks and recreation should have had expansion in their FTEs, whereas some of the other areas shouldn’t have.

PCA: Are you familiar with the Open Space Plan that was approved in 2015?

Milenski: Yes, I am. I’m familiar with it in a general sense.

PCA: There were conservation parts in it. There’s been little to no progress on implementing those. I wonder if you could comment on that situation. What do you plan to do?

Milenski: If I could ask, what is the primary function that has been overlooked in your opinion?

PCA: There’s lots of pieces in the Open Space Plan, and conservation scattered throughout. There hasn’t been too much attention to any of the conservation parts.

Milenski: That goes back to my previous answer. We have under FTE’d. We have underutilized our FTEs to maintain what we already have. I think that is crucial to what you’re talking about as far as conservation.

If I am elected, one of my — I guess you would call it pet projects, all councilors seem to have those — one of my primary concerns is the fact that we’ve expanded for new things. We have not conserved and appropriately taken care of what we have.

It’s like a child going to the toy store and wanting new toys. Yet, they’re not taking care of what they have at home. If they’re not taking care of what they already have, they don’t deserve to have the new things until they can keep what they have from breaking. I think that we have been poor children, and we have been poor parents and poor stewards, in that regard. I’m a part of several social media groups, and I read constantly what’s going on.

We have an element here in the community that likes to be very destructive to our resources and our trails. We have, thankfully, dedicated people that are going and fixing those. Kudos to the concerned citizens that are going and doing that, but that is a resource that the county needs to steward as well. We have funding for that. That should be something that we utilize more frequently.

PCA: In addition to the open space, we also have various urban greenery within the townsite. This is Ashley Pond, this space right here [east of Fuller Lodge], trees planted along Central Avenue, and private yards. How should we promote and manage those resources?

Milenski: That is one place where they have put parks & rec FTEs to good use. The FTEs have been, I would say, very well used in these kinds of settings. These are attractions.

In the general space, I know that notices of violation have been issued against the county frequently in a variety of different areas in what would be considered easement areas that the county actually is responsible for. Because the FTEs are not maintaining those areas, they’re maintaining these.

Once again, it comes back to good fiscal stewardship and guidance. The way the county council works is they give guidance to the county manager, and I think that more guidance would definitely be appropriate in making sure that we have the resources to help make sure those areas are kept clean, clear, and useful.

As far as private yards go, that’s a private property issue. People are entitled to enjoy their private property to their fullest. Perhaps, there can be encouraging carrot rather than stick measures. There can be promotions. There can be garden promotions, yard promotions. There is a lot of that.

I know that [former county councilor] James Chrobocinski, whenever he was working, he spoke frequently of his work down in Corpus Christi, in the Keep America Beautiful Initiative and the garden groups down there.

They would even lend out their help for people who didn’t know how to do certain things with their yards. Didn’t know how to plant rose bushes, for example, and how to best do those things. There was a lot of cooperative initiative that could be encouraged through the county.

PCA: The county sometimes does construction projects that involve damaging or removing trees. What do you think the county should do when that happens?

Milenski: Sometimes, it’s inevitable. Sometimes, there is certain piping and plumbing that has to be cut out and structured.

However, I think that far too often we get very egotistical in construction. We want a clear space, a clean palette to work from. The problem becomes, we already have a resource, and we’re not recognizing it as a resource. A perfect example of that is that whole beautiful space down at White Rock, where they’re building those homes.

Some of that natural beauty could have been restored, established, maintained, and worked within their architectural and landscaping designs, rather than razing — and I mean that totally — they razed the entire area, down to a foot below the dirt, and took out the root structures and everything.

It was quite alarming to a lot of citizens, myself included, whenever we drove by. One day, we had this beautiful pinyon natural habitat there, and the next day we had nothing but dirt and trucks. Now, once the homes go in, that’s going to require money to go in.

Trees actually have an economic value, and established trees are worth far more, economically. We’re talking not just a few dollars. We’re talking several hundred dollars for established trees. If they could’ve even kept five to ten percent of the natural pinyon trees, and kept it incorporated into their scope, it would’ve benefited them economically if they had thought that way.

That’s my personal approach. Oftentimes, we don’t think that way, though, in construction.

PCA: How should we manage wildfire danger while maximizing access to local outdoor recreation opportunities?

Milenski: Whenever I was working on my degree at UNM-LA, my first year, I had a major term paper. I did a lot of research on the industrial complex of the firefighting scene, as well as the boundary area of urban development.

They call it the WUI, the Wildlife-Urban Interface. That is where our firefighting initiatives, and also with bears coming into the community, that’s the interface between where you and I want to live, and where nature intersects.

The thing about fire hazard here in Los Alamos is, we are very, very touchy about it. We see clouds just hanging over the mountain, it brings back PTSD moments for everyone, and having to evacuate. To this day, if there’s a fire anywhere within a 50-mile radius, everybody’s heart sinks.

We are especially concerned here with that WUI habitat that intersects, as well as coming into the community. Downtown area is fairly well-structured to be safe in the event of a wildfire approaching town — or we think so — but we’ve seen that fail in places like California. There’s a lot that we can do in support of what’s already being done.

A key component of that is communication. It comes down to communicating with the citizens, as to what is really important and why it’s important. Clearing out garbage, clearing out brush, clearing out dry scrub, these are things that are important.

I don’t necessarily think that they should be criminal charges to have, but I do think that the fire department should be pushing a lot more towards educating the public, about what is considered a fire hazard, especially on our perimeter areas.

PCA: How should we balance the water needs of local citizens with the water needs of wildlife and ecosystems?

Milenski: That touches on a subject that I’ve just recently been doing a lot of research on, which is our piping in Los Alamos. Our plumbing system, piping, a lot of people would be horrified to know the age and the condition of a lot of the pipes that are bringing our freshwater to our tap. A lot of these were put in way, way back in the day.

The freshwater system, we think of as just turning a tap and it’s there, but it doesn’t quite work that easily. We do compete for the water within the community. I’m not an expert in this, but I would definitely want to communicate with the experts.

We have brilliant minds in this community, scientific. A lot of them are geared for environmental conservancy. I would definitely want to be able to reach out to them. As a county councilor, if there was an issue that had that concern, I would want them to come, speak, and present so that I could learn.

That is a key element that, sometimes from the county council’s perspective, they feel that they already know and then they’re not trying to learn. That’s a failure on that part. I think that as a county councilor, you have to be willing to hear and learn from the people in your community, because you don’t always know best. You can always learn what’s best if you’re open to it.

PCA: The next one is a yes or no question. Then I’ll have some follow-ups. Do you believe the climate change is real?

Milenski: Yes.

PCA: What is the cause of climate change?

Milenski: I’ve done a lot of reading on this because of my concern. Yes, I believe climate change is real. Three factors, they unfortunately create a perfect storm. That’s what we’re seeing. Mankind is certainly a contributor. You cannot look at history and read just, circumstances of the Industrial Revolution, and not realize that man has contributed to environmental change.

Here, in Los Alamos, we have this beautiful weather. We’re sitting outside on this beautiful day. It’s the first day of fall. Everything is gorgeous and beautiful, but there are thousands of acres a day being destroyed in Brazil, in the rainforest. Our environmental circumstances, our weather patterns, everything, are determined in great deal by other areas around the globe.

We’re not a bubble unto ourselves. We are part of everything else, so mankind has affected it. There is also natural upswings and downswings that span eons of time. We are coupled with mankind in the very brief history that we’ve been involved in and contributing to any kind of environmental change.

We’re also in a swing that amplifies that. Then you also can consider the fact that we have put the brakes in some cases and pulled back some of the environmental hazards that we have created.

If you look at the air quality in New York City in the late ’70s compared to today, we’ve made a dramatic change for the better because of certain structures of legislation. I would say, beyond just legislation, it’s been education and communication. People, average citizens having a greater understanding of what impacts their environment and their world, and wanting to keep it clean.

Nobody wants to live in a cesspool. Nobody wants to live in a dramatically harsh environment. We all want to live in best circumstances for our families and for ourselves. Whenever that becomes apparent, people will be acting. I just hope it’s not too late.

PCA: How should we respond at the local level?

Milenski: One of the knee-jerk reactions is to ban bags and do short-term measures as such. Unfortunately, recycling is one of those measures that everybody wants to do because we feel good when we do it, but if you actually study the process of recycling, there’s a lot of chemical waste that is produced.

Only certain products are truly recyclable. One of the things that concerns me greatly right now is the fact that we, in Los Alamos, are so concerned about plastics and not glass. Glass is an easy and clean recyclable that is beneficial all the way around. It does not contribute to toxic chemicals being released into the atmosphere, or being plunged into the ground soil and into the groundwater. Plastics can.

I think that shifting some of our feel-good initiatives to what’s actually going to be good initiatives with an intelligent approach, that is going to make a big difference in the long term.

Also, there’s a lot of things that we can do at a county level, like the waste treatment project and the drilling for the wells. Those things, they seem like they’re not ecologically impacting, but they have huge ramifications for the ecology, especially at a local level.

PCA: What distinguishes you from the other candidates on conservation issues and natural resource management?

Milenski: I’m not taking a knee-jerk approach to things. I want to think things through. I want to think things through in a way and a method that we look at the entire picture. We’re not looking at a tiny piece.

I have a feeling that we’ve lost the elevated, the global, the big view. We have a tendency to get caught up in the weeds on issues. I have the ability a lot to step back and say, “OK. How does this fit with everything else?” That’s my gift personally, my past as well. I’m from here. I graduated from high school here. I moved here when I was a teenager. I’ve lived elsewhere and then moved back. I’ve raised family here. I want to see what’s going to be best for this community, not just now but in the long run.

Things like the chromium plume, things like the fire hazards that we’ve faced. These things impact me not as a county councilor. I would put that in italics. Not as a “county councilor” [air quotes], but they impact me as a citizen. They impact me crucially as a person that loves this town.

Everything from the trail system to the conservation issues, that has ramifications for me, for my children, for my grandchildren. That I think makes a distinguishing mark for me.

The fact that I’m willing to challenge the status quo. I’m willing to stand up and say no whenever it’s appropriate, and I’m willing to say yes. It doesn’t matter if I have four or five people standing behind me. I will stand on my own if I feel that it warrants standing up. I think that, above all else, distinguishes me as a good candidate, especially if I’m going to be speaking on anything regarding the environment.

2018 election interviews — Introduction

 Reid Priedhorsky, PCA Secretary, interviewing candidate Sara Scott. Photo by Wendy Caldwell, PCA President

Reid Priedhorsky, PCA Secretary, interviewing candidate Sara Scott. Photo by Wendy Caldwell, PCA President

The Pajarito Conservation Alliance is proud to announce its candidate interview series for the 2018 general election.

We interviewed candidates for County Council and State House District 43 on a variety of topics related to conservation and natural resource issues. We held these conversations outdoors on the east lawn of Fuller Lodge. We will publish the results over the coming days in the order we did the interviews; they were also published in the Los Alamos Daily Post.

We asked each candidate the same eleven questions and audio-recorded the conversation. The transcripts we present are lightly edited. This means, for example, that we removed “um” and “ah”, along with clarification exchanges not useful for voters; if candidates restated something, we picked the more clearly stated version. The result is an informative, conversational expression of the candidate’s personality and views without needing to attend a lengthy in-person event or watch it on video afterward.

CastingWords, a local small business, transcribed the interviews.

Six of the eight county council candidates spoke with us, as did one of the two candidates for District 43. John Bliss (R) did not respond to our requests for an interview. David Izraelevitz (D) declined an interview. He told us that he would do interviews with the media, but not community non-profits. Lisa Shin (R) also declined an interview; she did not respond to an inquiry as to which, if any, organizations she was willing to speak with.

We have not fact checked any of the claims made by candidates.

Los Alamos County Council

State House District 43

2018 election interviews — James Robinson (D), county council

 Photo courtesy Robinson campaign.

Photo courtesy Robinson campaign.

This post is part of our 2018 general election interview series.

PCA: What do you believe makes Los Alamos County special?

Robinson: It’s our mix of nature and science, education, and just a small town feel. Even though we are bigger than what some might call a small town, we still are a very community-centered area, where we have a huge amount of people willing to go out and spend their days helping out others in the community. That gets us to be really special.

PCA: How should we grow while keeping Los Alamos County special?

Robinson: The key to growth is to bring new housing opportunities. That’s a hard challenge right now for this community since we are geographically challenged in that area. For someone like Albuquerque or Rio Rancho, they can just subdivide another area and build houses.

We could utilize what’s here. A couple buildings, like the one behind us [Central Park Square], have a second floor that’s not utilized. Maybe, we could work with the property owner to turn that into apartments. So now we have apartments that overlook Fuller Lodge. That could be something that they’d probably charge a little bit more.

There’s other areas in town where the property owners might be able to rezone it from commercial to residential, like they did on Oppenheimer. They’re going to add on a third story onto their building, and revamp the second and third to be apartments, as opposed to it’s all now just commercial.

That’s one way we could go about it. The other is, as land becomes available, look at housing options that could help bring in more people.

PCA: How do you think we should balance making Los Alamos County appeal to tourists versus serving the outdoor recreation interests of local citizens?

Robinson: The outdoor recreation use of our citizens comes first, because it will be their stories that they will tell the tourists about our wonderful trails, our open space, and our climate.

We need to ensure that they’re having a good time and have primary use of all of our facilities. That way, when someone comes into town visiting our historical museum or Fuller Lodge or Ashley Pond, they get told our trails are the best in the region. Our open space is well-maintained. Our pool is awesome for if you want to do Olympic-style-type swims at one of the highest-located Olympic pools. Or even just our parks. Our parks are amazing. They’re great for kids young and old.

That would be a primary focus is, we got to keep it for the citizens. That way, they can tell the people who visit here what’s so special about them.

PCA: There’s the Open Space Plan approved in 2015. There’s been little to no progress on implementing the conservation parts of it. Can you comment on that situation, and what do you plan to do?

Robinson: I’m very disappointed in that.

One of my good friends helped Craig Martin, who was managing open space at the time, work on that plan. It’s a very well-defined plan, and I think its execution is paramount, especially its conservation efforts. What we’re seeing is to fill budgetary holes in other areas. They keep cutting open space, and parks & rec as a whole, back a little more, back a little more, back a little more.

Now, we have Eric Peterson who is solely responsible for all of our trails and open space. I don’t even know if he has a part-time help anymore, but he’s also in the office writing grants and stuff.

What I would like to do is make sure that the open space, and parks & rec are funded to the point where we could start implementing those ideas. It really is, at this point, that the plan’s there, but we’re not allocating the resources necessary.

As a councilor, I would love to make sure that that area gets fully funded in the resources it needs, because that will be a draw for people to come visit our town, is our trails and our open space and our parks.

To not have resources available to maintain it or even do more than just basic maintenance is not acceptable in my opinion.

PCA: What is the appropriate level of public spending on restoration and conservation of county natural areas and open space?

Robinson: I can’t put an exact figure onto it. I don’t know at what point does something become overfunded to where they have way too much more money to spend than they can ever utilize. Then that opens up areas for frivolous spending, not that I would imagine our county employees would.

Behind infrastructure upgrades to our community, conservation is a key. Our county suffered two massive wildfires. We’re really starting to see the full force of the effects of the drought that’s hitting the Southwest. We got to be better at learning how to conserve our resources here and not allowing them to be used, abused, or just thrown out.

With the yard-trimming roll-cart program, now we’re taking all that yard material that we would just pack up and send down to Rio Rancho to sit in the landfill for the next few hundred years. Now we’re picking it up, taking it to our old sewage treatment plant to be ground up and given back to community in compost. That’ll divert up to 14 percent of our waste stream from going off the hill.

Food conservation is another big thing. The average American wastes about a quarter of the food they buy from the store. Reinforcing to buy only what you need is a hard one, because I like to buy the extra Oreo here and there.

Also, teaching those habits, that maybe you can conserve more food or if the county has the ability to, let’s invest in food diversion tactics as well. That’s down the line. That requires EPA and probably another waste truck.

I’m not quite sure of where to put a number on the funding. I would rely on those who are in that position to educate me on what the appropriate funding would be, and then it becomes my job to find in the budget, as councilor, the ability to make sure that they can achieve their goals. I don’t want to force them to not be able to achieve their goals because I can’t find the money.

I would rely on those experts or in-town experts who’ve been involved with the county for a long time, like Craig Martin, to educate me on what would be the appropriate amount of funding we need to give this to achieve those goals.

PCA: In addition to our open space, Los Alamos County also has various urban greenery within the townsite. We got Ashley Pond, trees planted along Central Avenue, private yards. How should we promote and manage these resources?

Robinson: I’m a firm believer that, especially for Ashley Pond and the more visible areas of our county, we need to make sure that we can keep the grasses green, or if it means that water resources aren’t available, xeriscape where we need to so that way we can conserve water.

There’s some really nice ways of xeriscaping now that are quite artwork more than yard. That’s one part to it.

The other one is, we use a lot of gray water recycling for the watering of our parks and our golf course. Making sure those irrigation systems are up-to-date and repaired would ensure that the water that’s being recycled is being used effectively. I don’t know how many times I drive by, and 9 times out of 10 one of these sprinklers over here at Ashley Pond is watering Central Avenue more than it’s watering the pond area. Going and making sure we’ve maintained that sprinkler system would help keep those areas beautiful.

Now, for private yards, that one gets difficult, because it is someone else’s yard. It is their property. There has to be a way to teach them that we do live in a high desert, so it is hard to maintain an East Coast-type lawn here.

There are water retention methods via rain barrels, or drought-resistant grasses that utilize much less water. One big thing I see coming down the road is a lot of these beautiful trees that have been here for generations are going to start hitting their age. We’re starting to see that with the effect of the drought, beetle kill, and age, a lot of our more sturdy trees are starting to get back. We need to start looking at what we can do with those trees to either replace them or make it more open fields.

Luckily, Central Avenue has young trees planted. I don’t know if they’re drought-resistant trees or not, so we’ll see, but the older trees are going to start becoming an issue, We’re going to have to address them, because we are prone to forest fires.

PCA: Related to that, sometimes the county damages or removes trees during construction projects. What should the county do when that happens?

Robinson: If possible, I’d love for them to plant a new tree in the place of the old one, especially if it was an old juniper that’s been here forever or an old pine. I’d love to see a new tree planted to take its place in an area that’s available for it.

Unfortunately, sometimes you can’t avoid, in a new construction project, bringing down a tree. It’s a hard decision to make for those people, because most people don’t want to just rip down trees just for a building. Sometimes, in order to get the building you need or want, you have to.

I’d love to see another tree be planted in its place, or to make it so that building has as little impact on the environment as possible. Have it have passive solar like our Eco Station, that doesn’t utilize heating and cooling systems as a traditional house does. It has a system installed to where the heat from the solar panels heats concrete, and that keeps it relatively around 65 degrees, year-round.

If we have to sacrifice a tree, I’d love the building to be as environmentally sustainable as it possibly can, to almost honor the stuff we had to destroy to build it.

PCA: How should we manage wildfire danger while maximizing access to local outdoor recreation opportunities?

Robinson: That one’s a hard one. This last summer, almost all forests were closed because of the fire danger. I think that was a wise move on everyone, because at any one point, the Jemez Ranger District up in the mountains has to put out upwards of one to two hundred abandoned campfires a weekend, from the people coming into town.

That was hard when the county closed our open space. That was still a wise move, because some of our most vulnerable areas left from the Cerro Grande and Las Conchas, are particularly close to population areas. I think Chief Troy and Eric Peterson of the county made a wise decision to close open space.

Going forward, what we’re going to need to do, and I think the fire department’s already working on this, is a comprehensive thinning project. Because our areas in town, some of them are overgrown with trees, and that presents a very dangerous fire hazard. In fact, Chief Troy once admitted to me, that if a fire got in certain places in Los Alamos Canyon, his first priority would be to get everyone out near the Oppenheimer area — this is where he was talking — get everyone out, and then just hold the line at Trinity, because it’d be far too dangerous for him and his firefighters to get in there, to fight those fires, because it’s so condensed with housing and with flora, that the BTUs would just be too high.

A comprehensive thinning area, with environmental science backed by LANL, the EPA, local experts, would provide us the ability to reduce the fire danger. The part where, maybe, we don’t have to go about a full closure, if it looks like it’s going to be another dry year.

PCA: How should we balance the water needs of local citizens, with the water needs of wildlife and ecosystems?

Robinson: We’re seeing a lot of wildlife come into town now. I’m guilty of it as well. We love our fountains, our ponds. I love the photos that we get of the bears just lowering themselves into ponds on Barranca Mesa, or the foxes, and all of them utilizing the PEEC pond.

Water’s a hard, hard area for everyone up on this plateau. That’s why I’d truly like to see that water retention-type systems, that you see in areas out in Australia or even out in Arizona, start being utilized to where we don’t have to keep drawing off of local resources, such as the river or the aquifer, when we can get to it in a [cistern].

We can water our plants, our trees, our flowers, using water that flows off our roof that would’ve either just evaporated on our streets, or condensed in a puddle and just evaporated out. This is going to be hard.

I always encourage people, don’t feed wildlife, but give wildlife a place to get a drink of water. A bear won’t look at a body of water or something it will defend territorial-wise. It will look at food like that, but it won’t look at water like that.

So, if you have the ability to throw a pond out there, because that helps the insects. That helps the birds. That helps the bears. That, to me, is a way we could help wildlife with the water that we’re using, since it would be coming off of our house water, anyway.

PCA: Next is a yes or no question, and then I’ll have some follow-ups. Do you believe that climate change is real?

Robinson: Yes.

PCA: What is the cause of climate change?

Robinson: I definitely know that human development and building our economy has contributed to climate change. Our planet itself has cycles of climate change, and the fact that we feel that this area and climate of the last 10,000 years is ideal for this planet, is a little arrogant. The planet has been hotter. It’s been cooler. It’s been everything in between.

That being said, I do think humans have had an impact on how this planet’s ecosystems are functioning. We’ve ripped down forests. We’ve stopped bodies of water for flood control. We’ve put carbon into the air that would not necessarily have been there because it was in the ground, in coal. I do believe that humans on this planet have drastically changed the planet’s climate.

I’m not quite sure what the outcome of that might be. I’m a firm believer that Mother Nature is the ultimate reset button. Sooner or later, we’re going to start seeing either massive shifts in weather, more than we are now, or could be more of volcanic activity might help us cool off.

I do believe climate change is a thing. It’s now up to us to protect the environment we have left, and to adapt to what the new environment might be.

PCA: How should we respond at the local level?

Robinson: At the local level, the best response we can do to climate change is to become as sustainable as possible. I think Los Alamos is on a path to being that way. I still wonder about the lush green grasses in the high desert environment. Los Alamos, at one point, was known for its green fields, when they would raise sheep up here.

We need to start looking back at what Los Alamos was prior to the Manhattan Project and the city, and see what we can do to return our environment back to that.

Thinning projects to bring the Jemez Mountains back to what it was before what it is now, or prior to Cerro Grande, where it was really overgrown. Returning it to, maybe, a hundred ponderosas in an acre, as opposed to fifty, sixty thousand ponderosas in an acre.

Water conservation and reuse, the zero-waste efforts of the Los Alamos Environmental Sustainability Board, which I’m on, are good methods to start changing our culture mind, at how we use the resources and how much we kinda just throw away.

That all starts at a local level and really starts with educating the next generation, because it will be my generation that will be having these effects. It will really be the next generations that will feel the full force of climate change. To me, our mission here in Los Alamos should be to protect what we got and teach those methods to maintain it.

I think Los Alamos is primed for that since we have the science to back it up, we have the ingenuity of the town, and we have the passion to keep our community beautiful.

PCA: What distinguishes you from the other candidates on conservation issues and natural resource management?

Robinson: I’m one of the only candidates, if not the only candidate, that’s had a direct line in the human effect on, at least, wildlife. In my free time, when I’m not working or running for office, I help Dr. Kathleen Ramsay down in Espanola with her wildlife rehab.

What we’re seeing now is just scaring me because it’s not the emaciated bear because his forest was destroyed by a fire. It’s not the cougar that got hit while trying to cross one of our busiest highways. We’re seeing starving birds because there’s no water for rodents or insects.

That, to me, is the precursor. We’re starting to see food chain breaking down. That’s going to have a tremendous effect on everything. My experience with that, with wildlife rehab and getting introduced in that, separates me from other candidates, because I’ve seen what the effects of climate change are on something that you can hold in your hand or watch eat and know it’s the first drink of water it’s probably had in days. That separates me. I’ve also been really a big proponent of the Pajarito Environmental Education Center. We’ve actually partnered with them for the local Bear Festival and Earth Day events.

I’ve been on the Environmental Sustainability Board, where we brought the yard-trimming roll-carts to Los Alamos in an effort to divert more of that material to stay in Los Alamos. It’s been a passion of mine to learn more about the upcoming technologies that can make Los Alamos truly a smart town with photovoltaic and batteries.

There’s a really cool tree in France I’d love to bring to Los Alamos because it’s a giant wind turbine, but its leaves are just little wind turbines. It generates power on less than four-mile-an-hour winds. We have our solar tree; that wind tree would be a great addition to our town.

I think in that respect, I’m bringing a different generation’s thinking of how to approach conservationism, because I am the youngest candidate for the council. Despite that some people might have more years here, I’m the only candidate that was born here. Los Alamos has been my town forever and has been with my family since my mom was born here in ’63.

I have a unique interest in keeping Los Alamos green, and keeping it beautiful, and making it a truly 21st century community, to where we use only what we need and we impact as little as possible.