Monday, February 27, 2012

Why forest people should support Option 2 of the golf course improvement/expansion

After several weeks off, the golf course issue is back again — there are a couple of public meetings soon, one on Wednesday for the Parks & Rec Board to consider the proposals, and another for the Capital Improvements Board to consider them (the final step before the County Council).

Anyway, you may recall that my initial position was that we shouldn’t cut down any trees at all to accommodate a golf course project. After being pretty thoroughly involved in the process, and talking with forest people as well as Andy Staples, the golf course architect, and seeing the new options emerge, I’ve changed my mind.

Specifically, I believe that people like myself who care a lot about forests and trails, and who do not care at all about golf, should nevertheless support Option 2. This option gives up a few acres of trees and puts golf on the rim of a canyon which right now is moderately secluded — which I don’t like, but I think supporting this option has more benefits than drawbacks.

Specifically, those benefits are: (a) it would make golfers much happier than Option 1 or leaving the layout unchanged, which means it would be a long-term solution and we won’t be having this same conversation again in 10 years, and (b) it builds political capital that will be valuable in seeking broader open space protections across the county (and conversely, opposing the project destroys political capital that we need). Also, we still get item B even if the plan fails!

You might ask: “Don’t we already have good de facto protection of open space in the county? And isn’t public opposition such that we can be fairly confident of blocking future development proposals?” The answers turn out to be no and no. For example, here are some development proposals from the past 20 years (compiled by Craig Martin, who is awesome; this list is an edited quote from his post in the Los Alamos Trails Facebook group):
  1. A proposed “emergency access road” through the middle of open space on the White Rock Canyon Rim in Overlook Park.
  2. Housing on the Western Perimeter Tract above 48th Street where the Perimeter Trail traverses LA Mountain.
  3. A housing area and commercial uses on transfer lands (from DOE to the County) in Pueblo Canyon below Anderson Overlook.
  4. Housing development in lower Bayo Canyon.
  5. Expansion of housing into Rendija Canyon following transfer from DOE.
  6. A proposal to move the golf course into Rendija Canyon and develop housing at the current golf course.
  7. A proposal to move the stables into Rendija Canyon and develop housing at the stable area.
  8. Housing development on public land across from Pajarito School on Arizona Avenue.
  9. Development of Otowi Mesa, which is now Los Pueblos (the road and housing).
  10. The tip of “airport mesa”, now the Pajarito Cliffs Site.
  11. A proposed pipeline from the Rio Grande to White Rock through White Rock Canyon below the Overlook.
Each of these required a great deal of effort to oppose, with some successes and some failures. The point being: much of the open space we know and love in Los Alamos has zero legal protection and is at genuine risk of development.

Opposing what is a modest expansion, compared to what golfers would choose if they had their druthers, makes us look selfish and inflexible, given that the golf course is also open space (a lesser form of open space, in my opinion, but open space nonetheless). Previous efforts to build comprehensive open space protection have failed for exactly this reason.

Finally, I don’t have concerns about the cost of the project, especially since Option 2 is not much more expensive than Option 1: if one will fail on a cost basis, both will. We can afford it, quality infrastructure costs money, and it’s really decades of deferred maintenance, not a fancy new facility.

For these reasons, I believe we should support Option 2 and take advantage of the momentum this process has generated to create comprehensive protection for open space in Los Alamos County.

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