County: Committee offers insight to council

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By Jennifer Garcia

Los Alamos County may be one step closer to deciding on a location for a municipal building following action taken by county councilors Tuesday night.

Assistant County Administrator Anthony Mortillaro opened the discussion regarding the municipal building by saying that the focus of the topic was for council to provide a direction to proceed for a municipal building.

Following Mortillaro’s brief introduction, members of the MainStreet Futures Committee addressed council and presented them with a few different options that they had come up with.

The MainStreet Futures Committee is an advisory committee to Los Alamos MainStreet on downtown and initiatives. Members include business owners, county councilors, school board members and members of the community.

According to a handout that was distributed at the meeting, the MSF Committee wants to assist the council with municipal building siting. It believes it’s important to fully vet the potential for leveraging the municipal building project and associated parking to encourage private sector investment in the community.

The downtown is a prime potential location for such investment, according to the MSF Steering Committee. The committee is volunteering to be involved in the vetting process and in advising the county.

The MSF Committee recommended that an abridged citizen steering committee process be formed to help decide on siting for the municipal building. In addition, they further recommended that the steering committee report back to the county council with a recommendation no later than Aug. 25.

“MFSC wants to assist council with this project,” MFSC member Fran Berting said. “Downtown is a prime location for such an investment. We would like to recommend that you go directly to an RFQ for the downtown site.”

CB Fox owner and MFSC member Dave Fox also addressed council Tuesday.

“The more people there are in that section (downtown) the more vibrant it will be,” Fox said. “That will generate development. I urge you to think seriously about the impact of the municipal building location.”

MFSC member and Hill Diner owner Denise Lane said that in her 23 years of living in Los Alamos, she has seen 23 years of missed opportunities.

“I don’t say that critically,” Lane said. “The AEC has shoe-horned us into a situation we can’t change … you’re the big dog in this deal. In order for us to deal with land use issues, you’re going to have to play. We’re coming to you constructively. If you decide to build one big, grand municipal building, you might be sitting in the municipal building looking at a ghost town.”

Though it would seem that the MSFC would like to see council and the steering committee move forward with siting for the municipal building, Councilor Vincent Chiravalle was vehemently against moving forward with the project.

Chiravalle cited a $5 million shortfall in the capital projects fund, uncertainty about funding for Los Alamos National Laboratory and his desire to help Los Alamos residents by lowering property taxes as reasons for opposing the project’s progress.

Chiravalle also suggested that council table the issue until they find out what sort of funding LANL will receive.

Councilor Ralph Phelps was also hesitant about proceeding with a siting plan however, his reasons were different than Chiravalle’s.

“We’ve put a lot of time and effort into committees and we haven’t nailed down ideas or guidelines for this project,” he said. “I would like council to outline a more concrete objective. We need to provide firmer guidelines about what we’d like the municipal building to be.”

Councilor Robert Gibson concurred with Phelps and said that the resources to do the municipal building have changed since money has been put into other projects such as the Airport Basin.

“What’s the goal?” Gibson asked. “We may be rushing off to specific solutions without defining the goal. It seems we still have work to do to figure out how downtown should be. We should deal with that issue before we plop specific buildings down on it.”

Other councilors, however, were concerned about county staff members having to work in portable buildings.

“I’m concerned about the amount of money it would cost to move people and move them again,” Councilor Nona Bowman said. “Stopping everything and going back to point zero will spend a lot of staff time.”

Councilor Sharon Stover also said she had concerns about the cost of staff having to go back and forth.

“I’d like to see us get something going,” Stover said. “Talk about analysis paralysis. We’re here now. I hope we can massage a motion to move forward.”

Council Chair Michael Wheeler said that having county staff in portable buildings is totally unacceptable.

“For us to stop at this point and defer this makes no sense whatsoever,” he said,  suggesting that council accept the option for a steering committee.

Council Vice Chair Mike Wismer pointed out that the use of steering committee for the White Rock revitalization project has been successful. “I think we should use a method that’s been proven,” he said.

However, Chiravalle disagreed once again on the use of a steering committee and restated his concerns about LANL’s funding.  

“Prudence should win out in this circumstance,” he said.

After a break and with the help of County Attorney Mary McInerny, council was able to come to a conclusion. They drafted a motion adopting the steering committee process.

In addition, they appointed three councilors — Gibson, Phelps and Stover — to the council subcommittee and asked that they develop and return within 45 days to council with guidelines for the municipal building siting.

After a vote, the motion passed 6-1, with Chiravalle voting against it.