Skate park referendum issue draws a crowd

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By Jennifer Garcia

Turnout was good and expectations were high at the Tuesday night County Council meeting in White Rock. Young and old, supporters and opponents turned out for a chance to defend their views on the skate park location near Mesa Public Library.

And after it was all over, the council voted 6-1 to not take any further action, leaving the project at the library to proceed.

Dozens of concerned residents from White Rock and Los Alamos packed into council chambers to find out whether the skate park issue would be put on the Nov. 4 ballot.

What was supposed to be a discussion about a referendum quickly turned into an outcry for and against the library location.

The council meeting started out as usual, with council asking for public comment.

Los Alamos resident Morris Pongrantz mentioned a couple of events being held to raise money for the United Way Youth Campaign. Dinner over Diamond will be held on Sept. 7, while hamburger night at the Hill Diner will be held on Oct. 7.

Pongrantz also asked council to consider lowering taxes, claiming Los Alamos County taxes are triple the rate of Santa Fe County taxes.

The council then moved on to approving the minutes from the July 22 and July 29 council meeting

Councilor Nona Bowman moved to approve the minutes, which was seconded by Councilor Frances Berting.

Bowman then mentioned that the minutes needed to be reviewed for grammatical and typographical errors. In response, Councilor Robert Gibson said he thought the approval of the minutes should be postponed, to which Councilor Jim West agreed.

Referring to the appeal that was filed by Colleen and Jack Hanlon over the skate park location, Bowman said, “This is putting them in a bind. It makes the public feel that the legal law is trying to keep them from having the minutes. It doesn’t give them a chance to do anything unless they get an injunction. The July 29 minutes contain information that is pertinent to the Hanlons’ appeal.”

After much discussion about when to address the minutes issue, County Attorney Mary McInerny intervened by saying there would be no issue with the Hanlons’ attorney, Frank T. Herdman, obtaining the minutes, so long as they were approved before Sept. 8.

“If you don’t want to approve them, then postpone it. It’ll have to be moved onto an agenda,” she said.

With that said, Councilor Michael Wheeler entered a substitute motion to approve the July 22 minutes and postpone the approval of the July 29 minutes until the Aug. 26 meeting. West seconded this motion.

Bowman withdrew her motion. It was then decided that both sets of minutes would be approved at the next council meeting. The motion passed unanimously.

Wheeler then moved to approve the consent agenda, which included revising job descriptions for the assistant fire chief and the fire battalion chief, and awarding of Bid No. 2009-05 to Coronado Wrecking in the amount of $249,590 plus applicable gross receipts tax for the demolition of structures located within Tract A-11; and establish an A-11 demolition project budget in the amount of $307,300.

That consent agenda motion was voted on and passed 7-0.

The council then moved on to the issue everyone was waiting for. Los Alamos resident Mike Wismer showed a PowerPoint presentation that outlined his thoughts on where the skate park should go and gave reasons as to why the park should not be located near the library.

“The petition must have stirred things up, judging by the turnout,” he said.

Some of his suggestions included moving the skate park to Urban Park, and having youth use the Atomic Transit system to get around should the skate park not be located downtown.

“You can do nothing and keep on with construction, or you can place the issue on the ballot. The community has been bruised. Planning and Zoning did not address the location issue. We hoped the petition would avoid litigation. The Hanlons felt they weren’t being listened to,” Wismer said.

Some of those who oppose the library site suggested that another site at 20th Street and Trinity be considered. The site in question is on the south side of the Youth Activity Center.

Much controversy has surrounded this site because its been called a Solid Waste Management Unit site.

Bowman said, testing on that site is being done and results should be available within 60 days. Bowman asked that any decision on location be put off until the results come back.

“In 60 days we’ll know if there’s any contamination. If there’s not, be can begin construction by Nov. 1,” she said.

Wheeler responded by saying, “There’s no easy answer. The council has gotten themselves into a bind. We can’t find a reason not to put it where it’s located now. I’m not anxious to go to ballot. The same people who are against it will still be against it, and the same who are for it will still be for it.”

 Councilor Ken Milder voiced his concerns by saying, “All the councilors got lots of e-mail, comments and input on the matter. My observation is that each side said they feel they have the majority of the community on their side, and that’s an easy perception to get. As councilors, we probably have a better assessment of what the community wants. They’re tired of waffling. I initially thought maybe they should let it go to ballot, but then we thought it was a cop-out. I’m not inclined to let it go to ballot.”

After the councilors made their comments, the public was allowed to address the council and voice their opinions.

Approximately 32 members of the public spoke out on the skate park issue. Of those, the sides were divided evenly; 16 were for the library location and 16 were against the library location.

Among those for the library location was White Rock resident Joann Holton.

“I want the kids to have their park as soon as possible,” she said. “I think the kids have been cheated. I have raised six good kids and their biggest complaint growing up was there’s nothing to do if you can’t afford to join organized sports. Kids are the most important part of our community. Delaying it any further would be criminal. The kids deserve to have a park downtown.”

Sporting a T-shirt that read, ”Preserve Tradition: Welcome the Young and Adventurous Downtown,” Logan Hayden addressed council by saying, “I was super excited to (hear a skate park was being built). It’d be nice to have one in Los Alamos.”

Alyssa Gill said the skate park has been in the works since her freshman year in high school. Gill is now going into her freshman year in college.

George Chandler said, “I urge you not to be intimidated by legal tactics. You have nothing to fear from a lawsuit. I can’t figure out why we have this fuss. I think people have created a mental picture of monsters blocking their library. Of thrill-seeking scofflaws. Libraries are essence to democracy and access is for everyone.”

Manuel Baca took his turn to voice his opinion by saying, “I am the proud father of one of those thrill-seeking scofflaws. We should be cutting the ribbon on the skate park in one week. Instead, we’ve argued and complained.”

Comments continued from those who opposed the library location. Pongrantz said, “This is a tragedy for council members. Too bad the skate park location goes against public opinion. Please don’t think I’m against the skate park. I think that the skate park next to the library is inappropriate.”

Ron Wilkins agreed with Pongrantz. “I urge council to not construct the skate park at the library site. Instead, build it at the area south of the community building.”

Jack and Colleen Hanlon were also present at the Tuesday night meeting. The reiterated their opinions by saying, “You have heard our arguments about this whole messy issue many times. So we will not repeat them again except to say wrong location, wrong process.”

Jackie Bebe defended the Hanlons by saying, “I’m devastated by the divisiveness. It’s sad that very good people are being villainized. The demonation is ridiculous. I’m against the library location.”

After hearing public comments for nearly three hours, council members began discussing whether on not to put the issue on the Nov. 4 ballot.

While most agreed that a referendum is a powerful tool in the democratic process, they mostly also agreed that the skate park was not a big enough issue to put to referendum.

“The library site may not be perfect, but if we’re going to do it, its the best site,” Gibson said.

Council Chair Jim Hall said he was not willing to start the process over with a new site, while Milder said the issue is going to stay a mess no matter what happens at the meeting.

With public comments made and councilors eager to put the skate park location issue to rest, Gibson motioned that they acknowledge the petition, thank the petitioners for requesting the issue be put on the ballot, and take no further action.

Berting seconded, and the motion passed 6-1, with Bowman voting against it.

The next order of business was the board/commission appointment of the Environmental Sustainability Board.

Wheeler asked that a motion by roll call be done to fill two vacancies for a two-year term beginning Aug. 1, 2008, and ending July 31, 2010; and a one-year term beginning Aug. 1, 2008 and ending July 31, 2009.

Gibson seconded the motion, which passed 7-0. Grant Stewart and Brooke Davis were chosen to serve the two-year term, while Mark Jones and Mike Steinzig were chosen to serve the one-year term.

The presentation of the recommendation of the design build for the municipal building was postponed because of the skate park issue and the length of time it took to get through public comments. A special meeting to address the municipal building will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the White Rock Municipal building.