The Santa Fe City Council has rejected an amended joint powers agreement with the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities over concerns about the organization’s impact and one councilor’s plan to introduce a measure removing the city from the group.
“I don’t think we should just approve an updated JPA because we want to go along to get along,” said City Councilor Renee Villarreal, who noted she intends to propose the city end its affiliation with the coalition. “Some of my colleagues say we should have a seat at the table, but I think we should have it at the right table.”
The council voted 5-3 against the agreement, with Mayor Alan Webber and Councilors Carol Romero-Wirth and Jamie Cassutt-Sanchez voting in favor. City Councilor Michael Garcia, the city’s representative on the coalition, abstained.
Rejecting the agreement does not pull the city out of the organization.
Villarreal has been the loudest critic of the coalition, which was established in 2011 to give communities surrounding Los Alamos National Laboratory more of a voice in its job development and cleanup. She questioned in previous committee meetings how the city stood to benefit.
“Our values have not aligned,” Villarreal said. “I’m trying to understand changing the JPA, what does that change? How does our voice actually get heard since it hasn’t been heard the last 10 years?”
Jemez Pueblo is the only other member that hasn’t yet signed the amended agreement, which removes Los Alamos County as the coalition’s fiscal agent, a role it has held for years.
City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler agreed with Villarreal, noting that in her three years on the council, she has yet to see a report on how the city benefits from the coalition.
The city of Santa Fe, like other members, pays $10,000 a year to the group. The U.S. Department of Energy previously provided $100,000 in grant funds, but the Energy Department’s inspector general in 2019 recommended the federal agency seek reimbursement of up to $300,000 after accusing the coalition of failing to account for spending and prohibited lobbying practices.
Española Mayor Javier Sánchez said the coalition has failed to provide updates to members and should focus more heavily on advocating for cleanup efforts at the lab.
“One of the questions that keeps getting brought up is that this is not helping with cleanup. When we talk candidly about some of the fumbles that we have perhaps made in the past, that’s one that we are here to rectify and fix,” Sánchez said.