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Public comment on the Trinity Site lease agreement was overwhelmingly in favor of moving ahead on a lease agreement with North American Development Group. Proponents outnumbered opponents 10 to one.
Although a handful of people advocated for renegotiating in an attempt to achieve higher rents, using the site for something other than retail development or expressed fears of a Smith’s monopoly, it was impossible to turn a deaf ear to the numerous impassioned pleas from mothers who turned out for the joint meeting of the school board and county council.
The majority of the comments voiced at the Wednesday evening meeting came from mothers’, many of whom literally pleaded with officials of both bodies to move forward and save them the ordeal of shopping for necessities in Santa Fe with young children in tow. Two women cried as they addressed the school board and county council who were meeting in a rare joint session to decide the issue.
Others, like Kelly Meyers, attacked the issue with humor.
“If you’re sitting on the fence, and you need a reason, please take my three kids shopping with you next time you go down to Santa Fe. I’m sure you will have your answer in the first three minutes,” Meyers said in her statement.
Resident Paul Cook estimated that using the IRS rate of 55 cents a mile, residents of Los Alamos spend an average of $1,679 a year driving off the hill for goods. Cook also spoke about the cost of maintaining roads, which averages 2.86 cents a mile for every mile traveled.
Several business owners urged the board and council to move forward. All acknowledged a potential risk to their businesses, but felt that the potential benefits were stronger.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard in 32 years that people are desperate for amenities. I’m tired of trying to say why we can’t carry everything in the world,” said Dave Fox, owner of CB Fox Department Store. “In spite of the concern, I’ve got for the survival of our business; I’m still willing to take my chances that it works. Anyone who thinks that developing Trinity Site with features that has nothing to do with people’s desperation for amenities is wrong.”
Recently relocated resident Greg White addressed those with concerns the contract was a bad bargain. “I was purchasing officer for the Air Force for a number of years in Las Vegas, Nev., and I can attest that the federal government cannot get the kind of lease this county council is being offered tonight. It is outstanding.”
The long-term impact of not committing to retail development concerned others. “I’ve heard several comments about whether this deal is the best for our town’s future. I feel frustrated by those comments, because they’re often vague and rarely accompanied by a viable alternative option. This was set in motion years ago and the time for discussing it is over and we need to act,” resident Julia Baker said. “I feel that if we vote tonight to pull out of this deal, our community will cement itself as a town with reputation of being indecisive and unreliable, and that will make it improbable anyone else will want to do business with us in the future. If we did receive another deal, we would have to make up for years of lost revenues to our schools.”
Many spoke of how difficult it is to recruit or retain residents without a healthy retail environment, stressing that this is a huge quality of life issue.
“People talk to us about their motivations for coming to this community, staying in this community and leaving this community. According to census numbers from 2000 to 2010 and projecting to 2014, this community is losing and will lose 23 percent of its residents between the ages of 25 and 45,” said Kendra Henning, owner of Re/Max Los Alamos. “If this community wants to attract and retain the best and the brightest, it has to be attractive to the best and brightest…The young families that we hope to be the future of this community are either not coming or not staying. I feel very strongly that economic development in this town is critical to our retention and our recruitment.”
Shy Stiney asked council to consider the number of 20-25 year olds who think they will just commute up the hill a few years but end up settling in Santa Fe. She ended with an apt analogy for the long process of reaching an agreement and the dangers of not closing the deal.
“When I was a kid in Oregon, we would go out to the beach. And you would stand just below the shoreline with the waves washing over your feet … and all the time you were standing there you were sinking deeper and deeper and deeper. If you waited too long to take a step forward, it got harder and harder as you were waiting for that right moment to do it,” Stiney said. “That’s the situation we find ourselves in now. “It may seem like we’re just waiting for the right moment to take that step forward to answer all the questions we may have about the Trinity Site. But I’m concerned that we’re just sinking deeper and deeper and deeper, and by the time we decide to take that step, we won’t be able to pull our feet out.”