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Council candidates weigh in on skate park/Municipal Building

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By The Staff

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third of a series of questions asked by the Monitor to the five candidates running for County Council. The candidates responses run each Sunday leading up to early and absentee voting, which begins Oct. 7. The election is Nov. 4.

Mug shots of each...

Ken Milder: Milder is the Council incumbent. He also served on Council in the 1980s. His background includes engineering, security, project management, administration, operations, budgeting, finance, and accounting. Milder chaired the working group for the turn-up of the Strategic Computing Complex (Nicholas C. Metropolis Center for Modeling and Simulation). This assignment required coordination between multiple groups/divisions and the integration of diverse technical competencies. He guided project planning and management, resource tracking, and conflict resolution among stakeholders through effective interpersonal skills and extensive knowledge of Los Alamos National Laboratory policies and procedures.

The Monitor asked all candidates the same question: What is your opinion about the skate park controversy and the Municipal Building site options?

Milder: Many citizens studied information regarding Municipal Building sites and found the issue went beyond just office building placement. At its heart is how the siting of the building will best contribute to our community’s economic development goals and improve quality of life.

The overwhelming public response was to site the Municipal Building at 15th and Trinity Drive. By roughly two to one, comments favored that site. Why? Here’s a summary of comments.

It will leave Ashley Pond for another public use and not squander it for a mere office building. It will redevelop a blighted area that has no other prospects. It will link downtown redevelopment from Trinity Place to Central Avenue and encourage more private redevelopment. It will provide space for retailers and broaden the customer base. It will improve the quality of life in our community. And the comments go on.

After Council’s decision to use 15th and Trinity, one retired 60-year resident said this is the first time in all those years that he feels Los Alamos is making real progress. His feeling of hope for the future of our community has been expressed by many other citizens.

The location of the skate park is the best alternative from the collection of non-perfect choices. E-mail and comments received indicate that the majority of citizens do not want the issue placed on a ballot. They feel a decision has been made. As a community, the feeling is that we must now move on to address our other challenges.

Sharon Stover: Stover is a former County Councilor. She also served as assistant to the county administrator where she provided administrative support to the county administrator, managed and organized Council issues and initiatives, and coordinated with senior management staff. She worked at the Parks and Recreation Department in a variety of assignments including secretary to the department director, recreation superintendent, and acting director. Stover is a founding member and past coordinator of the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board, which develops prevention and intervention programs for youth and their families. Stover is a 2001 graduate of Leadership New Mexico.

Stover: The skate park issue has been a rough and tumble time for our community, but a bright spot was seeing our youth fully engaged in the civic process. There was no easy answer for Council because I do believe the park needs to be located downtown, and each alternative downtown site had drawbacks. The new capital project management process recently approved by Council could have avoided some of the confusion early on with this project. It is my hope that we will move forward as a community and embrace the skate park and those who use it. I anticipate this park providing a safe place for the many who already skate downtown, as well as drawing youth and families downtown to support our businesses, the library, and other resources in the area.

The location of the Municipal Building was an important decision Council made. If the details can be worked out satisfactorily (traffic impacts, civic organizations relocation, evaluation of the financial requirements), I support the Trinity and 15th Street location. This location offers the removal of unsightly buildings, and the private sector investment for commercial development (co-op market, new restaurant, underground parking, and other retail). I favor the option of having the Municipal Building site open and if community interest and funding present itself, the area could become a multi-purpose community center. From a financial standpoint, the cost comparison between the sites was not apples to apples; the Municipal Building site was conceptual and did not include a parking garage.

Michael Wismer: Wismer is a former County Councilor. He has more than 15 years of senior level experience completing multi-dimensional tasks and projects and meeting complex organizational priorities. He is experienced in strategic planning, organizational development, general operations, financial management and workforce development. Wismer has served on the local personnel board and was elected and served as a County Commissioner for a municipality of 19,000. He is skilled in many aspects of federal and municipal government operations, public policy development and legislative and intergovernmental relations. Wismer's military experience includes leadership responsibilities, especially in the areas of personnel management, staffing, logistics and budget development. He serves as an adjunct faculty member for two universities.

Wismer: Most would agree with the notion that building a skate park for the youth of Los Alamos is a good idea and an appropriate use of the CIP process. The project has indeed turned into a major controversy and has become a divisive issue unnecessarily.

The major concern is focused on the location selected not whether to build this recreational park. The credibility of the project was jolted when County staff chose not to act on Council’s direction to build the skate park.

This two-year, unwarranted delay was the catalyst for numerous knee-jerk reactions with respect to the planning and development process. I, and many others, had real concerns about the selected location. Council was presented with some alternatives to the Mesa Public Library site in hopes they would entertain the notion of a compromise location that both sides of the controversy could live with, yet they chose not to seek reconciliation and to go forward with the chosen location so as to avoid further delay originally caused by County staff.

The final decision by Council is to build the skate park at the Mesa Public Library despite much opposition and viable alternatives. The deal is done and those of us who sought to reconcile the hard feelings by offering alternative locations will have to live with the current location and let the healing process move forward.

With regard to the Municipal Building site, Council authorized staff to proceed with the demolition of the existing Municipal Building after multiple structural analyses indicated severe defects in load bearing capacity. Council then asked for a conceptual design for the Municipal Building at the Ashley Pond site. In an effort to develop a master plan for the Municipal Site, Council also authorized staff to solicit a formal proposal for the development of a municipal building in the downtown area with special emphasis on leveraging an associated private sector redevelopment project. Faced with two appealing options, which included either rebuilding a municipal building at the Ashley Pond site or a design/build option for a private developer to construct the new building as part of a downtown redevelopment project co-located on private land at 15th Street and Trinity Drive, the staff developed a Public Input Process Plan designed to provide the public with ample opportunity to provide input on the selection process. As a culmination of that process, Council recently decided to move forward with the design/build option and allow a private developer to construct the new building as part of a larger development project on private land located at 15th and Trinity. I support their decision.

Manuel Baca: Baca has 14 years experience in financial management, budget analysis, cost containment and personnel management. He has 25 years experience in the health care profession under various disciplines. Baca served eight years in the United States Navy providing medical care and support to active duty Navy and Marine personnel and their dependants. He provided administrative support to medical and administrative personnel and supervised enlisted personnel. Baca served as administrative assistant to the director of medical services where he supervised the operation of five medical clinics in the directorate including staffing and policy and procedure management. His management experience also includes working at the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, setting up the SE Heights Center for Family Health and La Sierra Medical Clinic. Baca is a member of the Los Alamos Little Theatre and serves on the JUNTOS Steering Committee.

Baca: First off let me say that I supported the skate park located on the library site for many reasons. I believe that it is in a safer location than the original site and I believe that we need to allow our young people the opportunity to feel like they matter and are a part of our community.

As for many of the fears that it will be a nuisance to the community, I don’t believe that will happen. The main point is that this town has a reputation of catering to its senior population and I have no problem with that they built this town and worked hard to make it what it is.

But if it is to survive we need to divert some of that catering to the younger generations not just the skaters but their families and I feel this is a good first step.

As for the Municipal Building, since we have to start new I believe a new location is also a good way to go. We could use the space that is now available at the Ashley Pond site for some sort of cultural space or just remove all the concrete and plant more grass.

But I believe that it will be a good idea to place it on the 15th and Trinity Drive site as it will breathe new life into an area that needs it and give several organizations an opportunity to have new facilities. Vincent Chiravalle: Chiravalle was elected and serves as president of the homeowners association for the neighborhood in which he lives. He also was elected and serves as treasurer of the Republican Party of Los Alamos. Chiravalle's thesis topic when earning his Ph.D. in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering from Princeton University in 2003 was An Experimental and Numerical Study of a Two-Stage Microwave Electrothermal Thruster.

Among his many accomplishments, Chiravalle has put together an LIF spectroscopy experiment for measuring the temperature and velocity at the exit of a microwave plasma thruster, which involved choosing the optics for focusing the laser beam and collecting the scattered light, setting up a LabView data acquisition system and completely realigning a Ti:Sapphire laser ring cavity. He also has published several papers.

Chiravalle: I appreciate Council’s desire to move forward with the skate park. I would like our youth to have a new skate park on the Hill, but I believe that Council chose the wrong location for it and in my opinion the process they used to make this decision was flawed as well.

A skate park requires sufficient space and putting one in front of the library sandwiched between the trees puts unnecessary constraints on the skate park. There are other more suitable locations in the downtown area, such as the corner of Trinity Drive and 20th Street, where a parking lot currently exists. A much nicer skate park could have been built in this location without comprising green space or forcing skaters to maneuver around trees.

I signed the petition that was presented to Council on Aug. 5 because I feel that all voters should have their voice heard on this divisive issue.

Signing that petition does not make me anti-youth as some would have you believe. In my opinion, the petitioners presented Council with a democratic way to end the divisiveness by allowing the voters to approve or disapprove the library site location on the Nov. 4 ballot. Council rejected this.

Municipal Building Site Options - I would like to see a cooperative market in Los Alamos and I believe that such a business would be successful, but a partnership with the County is not necessary in order to make it happen.

As part of their proposal, the cooperative market developers would like us to pay for an underground parking structure at the Trinity Drive and 15th Street site.

The developers propose an elaborate municipal building at more than 44,000 square feet, which is much larger than what is needed to accommodate our staff, especially since the judicial area has been removed from it.

The old municipal building was 21,000 square feet and this space served the needs of our community quite well for many years, including judicial functions.

I have not heard a valid reason why the developers couldn’t build the cooperative market on their own, and I would like to see them do so because a new commercial building with a restaurant and market would greatly improve the appearance of the Trinity and 15th area and generate more economic activity there. The County will receive GRT revenue from the commercial building regardless of whether it is next to the new municipal building.

A new municipal building at Trinity and 15th would deprive us of land that could be used for commercial development, involving for instance a new small technology company, like IMTech, which brought new high paying jobs into our community. For this reason we should build our new municipal building on land currently owned by the County, and I believe that we could build it with about 21,000 square feet of space at the site of the old building while staying within the current budget of $15 million.