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County Council Chair James Hall said he felt ashamed of the behavior exhibited by various community members caught up in the skate park project set for construction in downtown Los Alamos.
After much discussion and a 5-to-2 vote in favor of final design plans for the project, Hall said at Tuesday’s council meeting, “Regarding the skate park, I understand and appreciate people having opposing positions – but in my mind that is no excuse for bad behavior. I have heard of people getting angry, accusatory phone calls with personal attacks and I think that’s a shame - that has no place in Los Alamos.”
Hall described having “deep respect” for people on both sides of the issue and denounced any of them being attacked. “Frankly, I’m appalled that people would accuse other people on either side of this issue of bad motives or bad faith,” Hall said. “We have thoroughly and carefully reviewed the information before us and I’m ashamed for our community that this kind of behavior can come forward over this. I urge it to cease and desist immediately.”
Councilor Jim West described the skate park project as the single most divisive issue he’s experienced in his 42 years living in Los Alamos.
Councilor Nona Bowman agreed, saying Tuesday was an extremely trying day in which people on both sides of the issue spoke to her about the issue in person and by telephone.
One woman, she said, yelled at her for most of an hour, another cried and others called the opposition derogatory names.
In the end, both Bowman and West voted against the final design motion.
The Planning and Zoning Commission Wednesday determined the skate park site plan meets the criteria set forth in the county’s development code.
During that meeting, Commissioner Ann Wadstrom made comments, which were reported in Thursday’s Monitor, to which Council Vice Chair Robert Gibson responded at Tuesday’s council meeting.
“According to the article, a P&Z commissioner asserted that a member of this council has a conflict of interest somehow derived from marriage to a member of the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board (JJAB),” Gibson said, “which was alleged to be ‘the organization pushing for this location.’ The article than identified my wife as a member of the JJAB. For the record, my wife has never been a member of the JJAB. To my knowledge, the JJAB has no role in the skate park project. My association with the skate park project is solely as part of my legislative responsibilities to the community through this council; I have nothing to gain personally. The assertion of conflict of interest has no basis in the facts.”
While council’s vote Tuesday evening was directed specifically at final design approval of the skate park, members of council and the public did speak to the project’s location in front of Mesa Public Library.
One woman from the 505 Oppenheimer area told council she recently returned from being away from town for six months.
“I heard a rumor of a skate park ... I am truthfully in a state of shock,” she said, adding that she didn’t feel the public had enough time to discuss the project. She expressed concern with potential noise, vandalism and harm to surrounding plants and trees.
While she called the design “wonderful” and work that’s gone into it “commendable,” she told councilors the downtown area is like her living room and the library, her study. She told them they were talking about putting a sports arena in the middle of her living room.
“I’m shocked, I’m grieved, I’m saddened,” she said. “I ask council to delay this decision.”
West explained there had been an “exhaustive search” for another location and that the issue had come before council at least four times.
A couple living in 2500 Central also expressed future concerns. The wife asked council, “Now that we know the police are aware of the helmet law that went into effect in July 2007, why do we still see youth under 18-years-old riding skate boards, bicycles, inline skates ... without helmets?”
She posed the question that if police can’t enforce the helmet law, how will they enforce rules at the new skate park?
Hall brought the meeting back to the final design issue but said that was a good question in the future for Police Chief Wayne Torpy.
The woman’s husband expressed project cost concerns and asked for a detailed financial breakdown. The county’s budget process just concluded and Hall said the original cost of $500,000 remains constant.
Council candidate Manuel Baca, a vocal skate park advocate, encouraged council to approve the final design saying, “I commend council, Chief Torpy and staff on a great design for our youth and our community - I think it’s perfect the way it is ... Approve it and let any appeals take (their) course.”
Opponents of Wednesday’s P&Z vote have 15 days from then to appeal.
Councilor Ken Milder placed the situation in perspective. He was on the council several years ago and said he has lived through hotly contested issues such as the weed ordinance, the commodities acquisition and the building of the library itself. Most people get over it, he said. “When this (skate park) is put in, it’ll become an asset just as the library has become an asset, even though it was very divisive at the time.”