Community leaders raise red flags
CAROL A. CLARK Monitor County Editor
In December 2005, Los Alamos National Security, LLC, entered a transitional process and assumed management of Los Alamos National Laboratory on June 1, 2006. Since that time, dissatisfaction and mistrust have escalated.
Despite Director Michael Anastasio's upbeat first-anniversary "State of the Lab" presentations, few people have not heard one or more of the following sentiments expressed among employees, business owners and community members in general:
Recent conversations with community leaders add to the growing sense of uncertainty and concern permeating Los Alamos.
Longtime community leader Roger Waterman of TRK Management has lived in town since 1947. He and his brothers have carried on the tradition started by their father Robert Waterman of building and managing properties throughout Los Alamos and White Rock.
TRK owns and manages familiar landmarks including the Hampton Inn, Oppenheimer Place and the property housing the Bradbury Museum, which is leased by LANL.
Leasing a number of properties to the lab has given Waterman a long history of interaction with the town's largest employer.
During an interview Friday, he shared his perceptions of LANS and its effect on the community.
"We have come to the same conclusions as many others," Waterman said. "The last five to six years have been very difficult on both the lab and the community because of obvious things - the fire, security breach headlines, lab shutdown, contract changes, budget issues and the recent contractor terminations.
"None of these things helped TRK's businesses and a couple of them have been very expensive and have resulted in our changing our short term view of the future in significant ways."
Waterman spoke of the loss of a "sense of community" he is feeling.
"Our biggest issues may be the ongoing dissolution of our sense of community and the inability or unwillingness of the lab and NNSA (National Nuclear Security Administration) to engage the entities and people they impact in a pre-emptive dialog," Waterman said. "The community has significant resources as does LANS and NNSA. Their engagement would allow us to use our resources to minimize the damage to our businesses and community and maybe put a little more positive substance to the future."
Denise Lane of the Lane Prestige Group has conducted business in Los Alamos for 21 years. She purchased Hill Diner in 1986 and still operates it today with partner Lori Novak. She also is a Realtor and president of the Los Alamos Board of Realtors.
Lane owns commercial properties. She leases space to small businesses and recently expressed concern regarding the local business climate.
"Properties previously robust and filled up are now struggling with vacancies," Lane said. "To see small businesses struggling to pay their rent is a big red flag. This is something we haven't seen - businesses in their first year maybe, but not businesses that have been established for so many years."
Superintendent Jim Anderson has been in charge of Los Alamos Public Schools for some 14 years. He shared his perceptions and concerns during a recent interview.
"The rumors we hear about what's going on at the laboratory don't match up with what lab management is telling us," Anderson said. "I'd like to believe lab management in terms of their saying they are not going to lay-off employees. And obviously a concern for all of us has to be the recent actions by the House of Representatives and the proposed budget cuts at Los Alamos and other labs."
Anderson pointed out that the proposed cuts still need to go through the Senate.
"I think it's fairly consistent in the last few years that this gets worked out in the conference committee between the House and Senate," Anderson said. "That's where Domenici (Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M.) and Bingaman (Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.) have been able to salvage our budgets most of the time. We'll see once again if Domenici and Bingaman can do damage control."
Anderson recently met with LANL officials to discuss the properties LAPS lease to the lab.
"On a positive note, they have renewed their commitment to lease our facilities out into the future," Anderson said.
Linda Daly serves on the UNM-LA Advisory Board and is executive director of The Family YMCA. The Y serves more than 2,000 facility members and 3,000 program members. Daly said that while people go to the Y to work out, they also socialize, and they are expressing concern and uncertainty about the future.
"We've definitely experienced softness of membership over the last couple of years," Daly said Friday. "We've lost memberships because of people leaving or retiring and also because of the uncertainty of layoffs at the laboratory."
While memberships have fallen, Daly said the Y remains strong in its program areas. People are still coming in to release stress and to recreate, she said.
"But as people are looking at their budgets and tightening up, they have to make cuts such as memberships," Daly said. "And now there's more bad news with the proposed budget cuts - all this has affected our business. The unsettledness is disturbing and it seems to come in waves. I keep waiting for the good news. From the contract change to layoffs to budget cuts - this town has been through a lot and could really use a good break."