Statements and Answers to Questions for the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce/Los Alamos Monitor Candidates Forum

October 18, 2012

Opening Statement: "I am Pete Sheehey. I've lived and worked in Los Alamos since 1986, after serving in the Air Force and going back to school to earn a Ph.D. in Physics at UCLA. I have had a satisfying career in X Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory, retiring in the Voluntary Separation Program this April. I'm still a guest scientist, but happy to have more time to devote to my family and community. The people I work with will tell you I am a hard worker and a team player. In working with bi-partisan political groups such as the Los Alamos Committee on Arms Control and International Security (, I learned from my late friend Dave Thomsen how to be an effective advocate: be informed, be persistent, and make balanced arguments. I have been active in community affairs, such as serving on the Los Alamos County Planning and Zoning Commission since 2008. In my work at the Lab and in the community, I have been a consensus builder, and think I have shown the judgment, patience, stamina, and good humor needed to make a good County Councilor for this town.

"When I ask people what they think about their county government, they tell me they are concerned about the aggressive, some say extravagant, spending being done by the county, at a time when the Lab's budget, and the county's, are being cut. At the same time, they want us to go ahead with needed investments in education, infrastructure, and economic development: things that will help make our town more inviting to everyone, from students and single people, to families with children, to retired people (I've been all of these in my time here). I think I can help find a balance between these concerns. I will take the time to look carefully at every detail of how we're spending money. Tax revenues spent wisely on infrastructure, education, and economic development are good investments for Los Alamos, and will pay off for all of us in the long run. But we have to be totally honest with the people about the costs and benefits, if we are to earn their trust to support such investments.

"People are in pretty good agreement when I list priorities: public safety, infrastructure, education, and economic development, followed by improving our recreational amenities. Economic development is a priority for this community, and I look forward to discussing today how we can improve that here. We can afford all of the important things for our community, as long as we prioritize. Thank you."

Question #1: What does the concept of "business friendliness" mean to you? The Chamber has made this issue a part of our candidate forums since 2010. Do you see a clear example of the County becoming more business friendly since then? Are there any "business friendliness" initiatives that you would champion?

""Business friendliness" means the county is supportive of all legitimate business proposals, works to help businesses and developers meet the requirements of our zoning laws, and works to eliminate overly restrictive requirements. It also means the Council needs to be watching carefully and constantly engaging the state or federal government on actions that will have adverse effects on the community. I've been involved on the Planning and Zoning Commission in helping the Community Development Department streamline the permitting process. That is reducing the time it takes for businesses to get jobs done, but there's still room for improvement: the recent delay in allowing the sign at the new Smith's gas station should've been caught by county staff at a much earlier stage in the permitting process. I think the P&Z Commission has a business-friendly attitude, but we have to follow the laws Council passes that are supposed to balance the interests of property owners and the community. In some cases, we've had to turn down business proposals that had merit, because zoning requirements pushed the costs too high in a given location. In some cases, minor remodeling of downtown space to meet the needs of a growing business is not allowed, because zoning requirements mandate an expensive complete upgrade to 2012 building code. That hurts local business and contributes to downtown space not being used; as long as we can find a way to get minor remodeling work done safely, we don't need to require complete code updates.

"Another effort P&Z has been involved in has been a major update of the Comprehensive Plan, which every zoning application has to comply with. The present plan is too long and hard to read, which makes it difficult for the applicants. We've made progress on updating and clarifying some parts of the Comprehensive Plan, but we need to speed up work in this area. P&Z has recently sent to the County Council a recommended revision of the county's sign code, which has been overly restrictive for a long time; simple business signs in commercial areas should not require a P&Z hearing, which in most cases is required under the present sign code."

Question #2: What does the concept of "public-private partnership" mean to you? What do you think are good examples of how such a partnership should work? Why?

"Because the federal and county government are the two biggest landholders in the county, county government is going to be a player in land use, and we need to do this in a smart way that leverages any county contributions by attracting private investment. The county and the schools have land that could be used in public-private cooperative developments for affordable housing. I'm particularly excited about mixed-use "live/work" developments, which could also help small businesses grow here. Revitalizing our downtown areas and re-invigorating local retail should encourage more people who are now commuting into Los Alamos to want to live here; this should invite market rate housing development. I live in the Broadview tract on North Mesa, which is one of the last market-rate "starter home" developments; since then, more expensive houses have been the trend. We should encourage development of starter homes, which will represent less financial risk to both homeowners and developers. The key to affordable starter housing is lower land prices, or at least more efficient use of land so that the land cost per dwelling unit is lower. Many young people and older people want smaller housing, either houses or condos, which can be developed here while preserving access to the open forest space all around us.

"A community broadband system would be a good step into the 21st century for us, but the wrong way to get this is to ask the community to pass a big bond issue to pay for it, and then let a private operator make money once it's built. The right way is what we are already doing: making sure every time our utility department opens up a large trench for other utility work, we lay down some conduit so that we'll build up over time the network we need to offer broadband. When private industry is ready to use that conduit, we can offer to share the cost and we can share the benefits. In general, we should aim at the public contribution being "seed money" to get things started, and avoid as much as possible long-term public subsidies, when private investment should step in."

Question #3: What project opportunities or initiatives do you think hold the greatest promise of helping to implement the goals of the County's Economic Vitality Strategic Plan? Explain why.

"I don't believe that any one project will magically institute economic vitality here, though we have to make sure we get maximum value from all the large capital projects that have already been started. It is very important that the capital project budget should align with the Economic Vitality Strategic Plan, because we just don't have that much other money to spend today on economic vitality. Recreational amenities will attract some tourists to stay and spend more money, and they will help make people more enthusiastic about living up here. But I place a higher priority on re-invigorating downtown Los Alamos and White Rock, so that people will get a good first impression and want to stick around a while, encouraging more local business development. The county has land that it can leverage to help get better housing or commercial space available, but we will have to invest money to make some of this land attractive for development (for instance, infrastructure needed at the A19 parcel in White Rock or along DP Road).

"I think better execution of lots of little things, like getting our zoning and sign codes easier for businesses to work with, supporting and promoting the exciting work going on at UNM-LA, and promoting tourism more actively, are just as important to achieving economic vitality, as any one big project. One suggestion that deserves examination is to develop the old Smith's store, after they move into the Trinity Site, into a UNM-LA Engineering Center. I think getting the Manhattan Project National Historical Park going here, getting the Valles Caldera under National Park Service management, and working together with Bandelier and the Valles Caldera to promote tourism here would also give a needed boost to our local retail businesses."

Question #4: These are particularly difficult times for many businesses in the community. The general economic situation in the world, changing business models with respect to the internet and consumer shopping preferences, and pressures on LANL budgets and projects are all having an effect on local businesses whether they be retailers, professional & technical services companies, hospitality businesses, service providers of all types, or non-profits. What can and should the County government be working on to be supportive of our businesses in this difficult environment?

"The role of the Lab in our national security is not going to disappear, but Lab budgets go up and down, sometimes severely, as we've noticed in the last year. There is a lot of scientific and engineering talent here, and some of them come up with creative new businesses, but they have often taken their growing companies to less expensive locations. If we can make it possible for some of those entrepreneurs to grow their businesses here, Los Alamos will be less dependent on the single budget of the national laboratory. How do we do that? Find a way for beginning startups to get very cheap space, including helping projects like the Hive offer some space and services needed. If we cannot incentivize the private sector to offer cheap space, we could get some old county or Lab transportable buildings and set them up on county land to serve that need. Once a startup company is beginning to grow, we need to continue support of projects like the New Mexico Consortium, when they begin to be able to afford nicer space. And as they grow, we need to make sure we're working to make our town a more attractive community, and keep our schools and UNM-LA as good as they can be, so that their workers will want to continue to live here.

"The Otowi Bookstore may have been a victim of internet competition for bookstores, but they served as a Museum Store and an important tourist attraction that offered science and local books and items that help promote our town. I'm looking into getting the Lab and the county to help keep some kind of store there open, for the benefit of our whole community."

Closing Statement: "I am Pete Sheehey, and I'm asking for your vote to put me on County Council. When I first came here in 1986, I immediately felt that this was a place I'd like to live: the work was good, the country was beautiful, and the people were smart and friendly. That's all still true, but in 2012, we have some problems to address. People are concerned about getting good value for all the money the county spends, and about how we can make our town more inviting to everyone, from students and single people, to families with children, to retired people (I've been all of these in my time here). I think I can offer a balanced approach to help meet these concerns. I am focused on some very fundamental things: communication, prioritization, fiscal responsibility, and sustainability. Communication means listening to people, and telling people honestly and clearly what our issues and choices are. That's where consistent priorities come from. I have the time and energy to look at every detail of how we're spending money, to make sure we get good value, and run all our public services and facilities in an efficient and sustainable way.

"People are in pretty good agreement when I list priorities: public safety, infrastructure, education, and economic development, followed by improving our recreational amenities. We have to set clear priorities, because when the budgets are in a downward cycle, we have to make some hard choices. Economic development is a priority for this community. We can support the businesses and recreational amenities that will make this a more family-friendly community, and we can make it easier for small business to thrive here, especially in downtown Los Alamos and White Rock. The county can use its land and focused infrastructure improvements to make lower-priced housing and commercial space available, and we can work harder at getting tourists up here to enjoy our unique historical, scientific, and outdoor opportunities. A thousand more tourists per month, or a thousand more people living up here instead of leaving the county every day after work, would help revitalize our downtown retail districts. These are goals that can be reached, if we work toward them in a smart and consistent way.

"We can afford all of the important things to make this a better community, as long as we prioritize. I'm Pete Sheehey, and I ask for your vote. Thank you."