Yesterday was the Council election. Today I got the following e-mail:
"Hall, Berting win. ALL ordinance issues pass. You still think there is hope there? And you have a paper that covers nothing. Very sad."
If we re-build the Muni, there may yet be a spark of hope. If we don't, I don't see there is any hope at all. I should explain that.
Jim Hall, previous and now future County Councilor and others, are of the theory that if the Lab were to close it would be the end of Los Alamos. The thesis goes that we have to compete with Sandia, Hanford, Livermore, and other national labs for the best and the brightest or LANL will become a second-rate lab with second-rate people doing second-rate science. It is believed that if that happens it will be the start of a downward spiral resulting in the closing of the Lab and the end of Los Alamos. The conclusion is that Los Alamos must be radically altered in order to provide the lifestyle that it is believed the best and the brightest want.
If you subscribe to the above, then there is no point in having a distinctive seat of government -- all that's needed is an office building.
But, by that logic, Los Alamos must always be a chameleon -- always re-inventing itself as times change and the expectations (or imagined expectations) of the best and the brightest change. Los Alamos can never be a real town with a history and a continuity of identity, character, and population.
I see no future in that; indeed I see the above thesis as the end of Los Alamos. The fact is that Los Alamos can never compete, head to head, with the host towns of other national labs. Certainly not by trying to be just like they are. People don't actually have to live here in order to work at the Lab. They can live in Santa Fe, the Espanola Valley, or Jemez Springs area and commute. The commute itself just isn't that far - 35 miles at most - and each community has access to the various lifestyles that people want. Santa Fe is becoming a fair size city with shopping and night life. Espanola offers a semi-rural lifestyle with a greater variety of shopping than here and easy access to Santa Fe. Jemez offers the village rural lifestyle with easy access to all the amenities of Rio Rancho and Albuquerque. Given that, it may be fairly asked, "Does Los Alamos need to be at all?" As a matter of security, and the Lab is in the high-security business, it would be in the Lab's best interest if there was a 20 mile non-residential perimeter. Far better for the Lab to clear the town (and possibly White Rock) and simply build better commuter transit. Far better for the Lab employees to not feel like they have a target painted on their backs as well -- reduces the stresses of life when you feel like you are safe.
I subscribe to a somewhat different theory. The best hope for Los Alamos is to become a real town (think of any other town this size anywhere in America). We don't have to provide the lifestyle that is found in other host towns. We can carve out our own niche which essentially ignores the Lab. Rather than Beaufort being our "model" we would be better served to look at Auburn, Ca, or even Bisbee, Az or any town in New England. We can expand and diversify our productive economic foundations, encouraging businesses of industries other than Science to take root here. The measure of success in that endeavor would be when people meet each other for the first time they would ask, "and what kind of work do you do?" instead of "and what division do you work for?"
If you subscribe to the above then beginning to act like a real town: that means preserving that which is "of Los Alamos" as a statement of continuity of true independent identity (most towns don't flatten their original seat of government). That means rebuilding the Muni, based on the original architectural designs of Max Flatow from which the first version was built.
Of course -- it would be really helpful if the Lab got out of the high-security business. Perhaps instead of Los Alamos accomodating the Lab, it is time that the Lab accomodate Los Alamos. Perhaps it is time for Washington to re-think where the high-security work of the nation would best be located. After all, its not like Los Alamos is "the secret city" any longer.
Is there any hope for Los Alamos? Kinda depends on which theory you subscribe to. What we do about the Muni is the test. What we do about the Muni will define the future.