On May 3, 2019, a group of business owners and activists gathered in west Downtown and joined Albuquerque City Councilors Isaac Benton, Pat Davis, Klarissa Peña and Ken Sanchez for a press conference. The press conference falls under the category of “We are from the Government, we feel your pain, even though we are the ones that screwed you in the first place.”
The press conference was for the 4 City Councilors to announce their proposal to invest up to $1.5 million in specific Central corridor for “public safety” initiatives and marketing measures for fiscal year 2020. Included is $500,000 in one-time funding for grants to nonprofit business associations and merchant groups along the central corridor.
Many business owners along the Central Corridor where the ART Bus project was constructed have complained about repeated vandalism in the area, break-ins resulting in the businesses having to spend money on expensive repairs and even security measures. Jean Bernstein, the owner of the Flying Star Café, which opened in Nob Hill 32 years ago, appeared before the City Council a few weeks ago and during public comments said:
“We’ve weathered many economic cycles but never have I seen the district and the corridor in sadder shape than it is now.”
Erin Wade, the owner of Modern General and The Feel Good eateries along Central, place blame on the ART Bus project when she said:
“The traffic patterns have been so drastically altered on Central … there is an entire lane devoted to buses only that don’t run, that don’t exist. It has changed the rhythm of the street such that [criminals] can [now] hide more.”
Many other Nob Hill business owners have expressed mounting frustration, fear and anger struggling to recover from the 18 months of Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) construction.
The business owners in Nob Hill have asked for 12 bike officers and six dedicated motorized police units every night in the Nob Hill business district. This may sound familiar because that is what happened in downtown central, but on a much larger scale. The proposed $1.5 million investment supposedly will help lure customers back to the area because many businesses had to close during the disastrous ART Bus project down central.
Nob Hill business owners had originally requested $4 million a year arguing that would have been the amount that would have been spent without ART.
The Keller administration is in litigation with Build Your Dreams (BYD), the original manufacture of the electric buses that were to be used for ART. The city was forced to order buses from another manufacturer and the Keller administration announced it will be over a year before delivery,
City Councilor Pat Davis for his part said with great bravado during the press conference:
“Our business owners got together and asked the city to come up with a plan to prioritize safety and a way to invite customers back to Central.”
Davis said the city did not track how many businesses closed during ART construction but it has issued about 240 business licenses along the corridor since the work ended last spring. According to Davis, the proposed $1.5 million investment would help lure customers back to the area to patronize them.
City Councilor Isaac Benton proclaimed:
“I think with this plan we’re going to have faces that we know. … The business people and the community folks in the area are going to see an officer they get to know, and that’s the epitome of community policing.”
The $1.1 Billion Dollar budget submitted by the Keller Administration will have to be amended to include the funding for Nob Hill. The City Council intends to do “markup” to the proposed budget and vote on the final version on May 20 and it will be effective July 1, 2019.
DOWNTOWN IS MAYOR KELLER’S PRIORITY
Mayor Tim Keller was nowhere to be found during the councilors press conference which is not at all surprising. It is likely Mayor Keller was not even invited to attend by the 4 city councilors seeing as the Mayor has the propensity not to invite city councilors to his own press conferences.
Instead of attending the press conference, Keller issue a written statement that said the Albuquerque Police Department is focused on community policing measures and saying:
“As we hire 100 new officers per year, we’re making the critical commercial and residential corridor along Central Avenue safer and more vibrant. Route 66 is open for business”.
In September, 2018, Mayor Tim Keller announced a new “Downtown Public Safety District” for Central Downtown that assigns up to 12 police officers specifically to the area and applying other city resources, such as a Family and Community Services Department social worker. The Downtown Public Safety District” created by Keller was in response to a petition drive by Downtown businesses and residents demanding such a substation. The substation for the Downtown Public Safety District is located at the Alvarado Transportation Center at First and Central SW. The substation gives a permanent police presence in Downtown Albuquerque.
The congregation of the homeless in the Central Downtown area have been a chronic problem especially around the Alvarado Transportation Center. Consequently, a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) was assigned to the district to address homelessness and behavioral health needs.
Several other city departments a well as community organizations providing services to the homeless and mentally ill contribute resources to the district. The other city departments that provide services to Central Downtown area include:
1. Albuquerque Fire Rescue (AFR) has increased its presence near Central Avenue during high-volume call times and by driving a loop around the district after each call for service.
2. The Transit and Municipal Development departments contribute security personnel to the district in coordination with APD patrol plans.
3. The Family and Community Services Department is contributing a social worker to coordinate service providers and implement Project ECHO to train mental health workers in the district.
4. The Municipal Development and Solid Waste departments have expanded the use of street cleaning machines throughout Downtown, including alleyways, and add collection routes for Downtown businesses to address overflow of trash from Saturday nights.
5. Solid Waste is using its “Block by Block” program to wash sidewalks and its Clean City Graffiti crew to eradicate graffiti as soon as possible.
7. The Family and Community Services Department is working with Heading Home’s ABQ Street Connect program to help people with significant behavioral health disability and who are experiencing homelessness.
8. The Family and Community Services is also working with HopeWorks and outreach partners including APD’s COAST team, APD’s Crisis Intervention Team and ACT teams to do mental health outreach and are working with the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness to help service providers for homeless people.
$34 MILLION BUDGET WINDFALL
On April 1, 2019 when the Keller Administration submitted its proposed 2019-20120 budget, it announced that the city would have an extra $34.3 million in revenues as a result of an accounting policy shift.
Supposedly, the $34.3 million is a “one-time, lifetime” boost in revenues that the city cannot apply toward recurring costs.
$29 million of the $34.3 million will be applied to numerous “one-time investments” the Keller Administration feels are important.
It’s a very sad commentary when business owners in Nob Hill have to “grovel” and beg for $1.5 million dollars out of a budget of $1.1 Billion dollars before the very city council that has done so much to destroy Route 66 in the Nob Hill area with the disastrous ART Bus project.
Pat Davis, Issac Benton and Ken Sanchez voted repeatedly for and supported ART Bus project and funding. Davis refused to advocate to put ART on the ballot for public approval, telling his constituents at a forum that there was nothing he could do and it was the Mayor Berry’s project. Davis voted to spend federal grant money that had yet to be appropriated by congress. Klarissa Pena’s conduct cannot be faulted in that she did at one point advocate placing the ART Bus project on the ballot for voter approval.
The ART Bus project has been a total disaster resulting the destruction of the character of Route 66 and having a negative impact and resulting in several businesses going out of business. Pat Davis claims the city did not track how many businesses closed during ART construction, which is simply not true given the fact that the city was offering loans to help struggling businesses during ART construction. When the ART Bus project started, a coalition of 250 businesses along central joined forces to stop construction to no avail, and even filed suit in federal court. The city proclaims it has issued about 240 business licenses along the corridor since the work ended last spring, yet all the empty store fronts contradict that claim.
What is very disappointing is that Mayor Tim Keller has created a “Downtown Public Safety District” along with a substation to give a permanent police presence in Downtown Albuquerque, yet ignores the pleas and concerns of the Nob Hill Business District which arguably was making a much bigger comeback than Downtown Central before ART. The Nob Hill Business District needs a permanent Public Safety District just as much as Downtown Central needs one.
Mayor Tim Keller with the stoke of the pen could divert $5 million of the extra $34.3 million in revenues to build a new permanent substation in Nob Hill. He could also order APD to staff it with the additional police officers he is hiring. No one would need to “grovel” before the feet of the very city councilors that supported the ART Bus project that destroyed so many businesses along central.