Environmental Considerations in Code Enforcement Updates – Los Alamos Reporter

White rock


Recently, the Los Alamos County Council heard a report from the Environmental Sustainability Council and the Parks and Recreation Council on the elimination of the use of certain herbicides on Los Alamos County properties. The outcome was positive for our community and the public comments were taken into full consideration during the board meeting.

Another topic currently under discussion and much debated is the upcoming updates to Code 18 (commonly known as the Nuisance Code) of the Los Alamos County Charter. The county council, through staff and contractors, sent out a survey asking questions to the community to get public feedback on the code redesign.

The recent investigation and the controversy surrounding it have led many to discuss what a more community and people-centered code would look like. Eliminating the subjective parts of the code, the ones that end up defining what a yard or property “should” look like, is vital for a cohesive community. Many agree that aesthetic codes that focus on increasing property values ​​are not as important as objective codes that enforce safety concerns and do not pit neighbor against neighbor in a battle over what. should look like a yard or a property.

In addition to removing subjective wording from the code, we should consider how an aesthetically-oriented code can have a serious and negative environmental impact on our community in the years to come.

For decades, the standard for American homes has been lawns (or in areas like ours, manicured rocky landscapes). In recent years, science has told us that these standards are less and less healthy for the environment and have their roots in a racist and classist aesthetic. Lawns are a monoculture that eliminates native plants, especially some of those that bees and other pollinators depend on to maintain healthy populations. The most famous weed, the dandelion, is one of the first to appear in the spring and pollinators depend on it for a primary source of food. Lawns and landscapes maintained to be weed-free, including some rocky landscape styles, traditionally use an enormous amount of water, herbicides and pesticides. They destroy and usurp native plants and reduce resources for native pollinators and beneficial soil microbes. They can contribute to additional heat and warming in areas that lack shade, further harming the immediate environment around them. They can eliminate food sources for birds and native wildlife. All of this should be of great concern to our community where water is scarce and where we welcome several species of migratory birds.

Codes that promote aesthetics may unintentionally penalize those who have chosen to “grow food, not lawns ” because plants grown for food can seem messy or neglected to someone unfamiliar with the remoteness of manicured landscapes. Being able to grow food, regardless of the space available, is an important part of alleviating food insecurity and contributing to a diverse ecosystem. In some cases, creating spaces for communities to come together and enjoy the fruits of the labor of several gardeners is an important piece of the “place creation” puzzle that we constantly hear from the county council, their community. staff and its subcontractors. A great example of a local business contributing in this way is Bathtub Row and the beautiful outdoor space they have; if you haven’t seen the sunflowers at their peak this summer or haven’t been able to nibble on one of the fresh peas growing among the hops, you definitely missed the opportunity.

The current county code could discourage such spaces in neighborhoods and commercial areas in favor of less environmentally sustainable lawns and manicured landscapes that are aesthetically pleasing to the few who cling to outdated ideals of what makes a “good” neighborhood. As a country with a diverse population and a focus on leadership in environmental sustainability, we should encourage more people to move away from these outdated ideals and put in place systems that support people throughout the process. diversifying their landscapes, rather than punishing them with a series of code violations and anonymous reporting tools that only demoralize communities.

I encourage all of you to contact the county management and staff and ask them to sit down to rewrite the nuisance code, build on the precedent you recently set and focus more on caring for people, environmental sustainability, original thinking and creating places that are diverse and accessible to all of our neighbors, and encourage the community development service and staff to bring ideas that will allow Los Alamos County to become a true leader in innovative community development.

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