After Cutting Ties With LANL Group, City Looks For Other Ways To Work With Lab

Jun 2, 2021

The City of Santa Fe, having withdrawn from the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities over trust issues, seeks more productive ways to confront lab clean-up and other matters. KSFR’s Dennis J. Carroll talks with City Councilor and coalition board member Michael Garcia about the possibilities.

The Santa Fe City Council severed its membership in the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities. It's that group set up about 10 years ago, ostensively, at least, to facilitate communications or common issues between the Los Alamos National Laboratory and nearby and surrounding communities. We're talking today with Councilmember Mike Garcia, the city's representative on the coalition's board. Welcome, councilor.

Michael Garcia: Thank you, Dennis, so much for having me. 

First of all, briefly, why the decision to end the citizen involvement with the coalition? On the surface, at least or seem like such a group would be a good idea. The lab, the tribes, the counties, municipalities, and all working together to maybe solve common issues. The coalition has been around for about 10 years. What went wrong recently?

Michael Garcia:  Well, I believe that the governing body ultimately felt that their interests weren't necessarily being represented by RCLC's process and progress that they were making. So, the city ultimately decided to withdraw from the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities.

And what were some of the issues that you disagreed on? There wasn't any discussed at the council meeting earlier this week.

Michael Garcia: Right. And I think a lot of those discussions were had when the city council was debating, re-entering and re-agreeing to the new joint powers agreement that the regional coalition had adopted. Some of the concerns brought forth by the governing body members were that the interests in regards to environmental cleanup just wasn’t being met. There were concerns still around some of the past activities, inappropriate spending, inappropriate activity, potentially with folks lobbying. I think that those past decisions were still lingering. And unfortunately, there just wasn't confidence in the our RCLC, best representing the city of Santa Fe's interests.

So, what's next? are the communities working with the lab on their own? Or, maybe forming a new group among the communities. Is everybody on their own?

Michael Garcia: Well, right now we're kind of at a new starting phase with the City of Santa Fe exiting. The resolution that was adopted on Wednesday, it directs the city manager to work with Santa Fe County to explore ways to execute LANL's cleanup through the Buckman Direct Diversion Project Board. So that's an existing entity that we might be able to utilize for environmental cleanup. The resolution also directed the city manager to reach out to Santa Fe County and other regional coalition members to begin ways to look how we can potentially create a new coalition. I think right now we're just at that starting point to determine what the path forward looks like. And hopefully, we can come together whether working with former RCLC members, there are still some current RCLC members, maybe even new partners, and bring out outside private interest groups, public interest groups, I think this is an opportunity for us to really work together with the community and determine a path forward that works best for everybody. I think the options are completely open. I mean, there are other groups such as the Northern New Mexico Citizens Advisory Board that plays a critical role in in this field as well. I think this is, as I mentioned, a great opportunity for us to really bring everybody together to the table and determine how we can all work together. Prior it was primarily the, the governmental bodies, whether it be city, government or county governments or tribal governments. I think it's been very, very much noticed, at least by me and my role this past year and a half that we need to bring community groups to the table as well. We all need to work together. This isn't just a government priority. It's a whole community, holistic community priority, we need to work together on this.

The coalition itself kind of seems to be collapsing of its own weight or lack of weight, because numerous communities such as Santa Fe, the city and the county, and I believe Taos and maybe one or two of the pueblos have withdrawn from the coalition. So, it's kind of falling apart anyway, isn't it?

Michael Garcia: Yes, in some senses and the regional coalition did adopt the resolution to begin the process of winding down the organization. I believe that the existing members of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities understand that the organization might have met the needs that it was established in there, there's probably a better future for communities to organize and work together on the matter. 

In the beginning, 10 years ago, was the coalition working better than it is now?

Michael Garcia: That's a great question. I honestly don't know, given I don't have that great historical perspective. I think when the coalition was formed, there was excitement around the surrounding communities that were impacted by LANL, coalescing together and working together towards a common goal. And, you know, unfortunately, when there were some inappropriate activities conducted on behalf of the coalition, it lost a great amount of community trust. When there isn't community trust, it's really hard to continue to work towards a positive goal. I think that, unfortunately, was a circumstance that might have been too hard to overcome.

What were some of the actions that broke the trust?

Michael Garcia: Well, the inappropriate spending that was that was done with predecessors that had operated the organization. The inappropriate lobbying activities for mind, I understand. As I mentioned, I wasn't part of the organization or as representative during that timeframe. I'm only working off of the information that I kind of was able to really digest as a member and as community members still continue to bring their concerns. That continued concern of the coalition just wasn't meeting the needs of the community anymore.