The term “jumping the gun” can be loosely defined as “to start something before it is permissible, appropriate, or advisable.” The phrase alludes to starting to run in a foot race before the starting gun goes off. “Jump the gun” is said to derive from track and field races and was preceded in the USA by the phrase “beat the gun”, or pistol. It is said to be caused by an athlete being too anxious and impatient to start a competition. When it come to the site selection process for the new 24-7 homeless shelter, it sure does look like Mayor Tim Keller has jump the gun on the process and has announced his preferred location.
Since being elected Mayor, Tim Keller has made it known that building a homless shelter is one of his top priorities.
On November 5, voters approved general obligation bonds of $14 million for a city operated 24-7 homeless shelter that will house upwards of 300. The actual cost will be $30 million and the City asked the 2020 New Mexico Legislature for the additional $14 million to complete phase two of the project, but the funding request failed.
City Hall has deemed that a 24-hour, 7 day a week temporarily shelter for the homeless as critical toward reducing the number of homeless in the city. The city owned shelter is projected to assist an estimated 300 homeless residents and connect them to other services intended to help secure permanent housing. The new facility would serve all populations, men, women, and families.
The city facility would have on-site case managers that will guide residents toward addiction treatment, housing vouchers and other available resources. According city officials, the new homeless shelter will replace the existing West Side Emergency Housing Center, the former jail on the far West Side.
The goal is for the new homeless shelter to provide first responders an alternative destination for the people they encounter on so-called “down-and-out” calls. Many “down and outs” today wind up in the emergency room even when they are not seriously injured or ill. According to city officials, in a recent one-year period, only 110 of 6,952 “down and out” people were taken by first responders to the Emergency Room with life-threatening conditions.
CITY ANNOUNCES FINALISTS
On February 27, the City of Albuquerque released a report and analysis announcing the top 3 preferred locations for the new 24/7 homeless shelter known as the “Gateway Center”. The 3 locations are:
1. University of New Mexico land next to the state laboratory, near Interstate 25 and Camino de Salud
2. Coronado Park at 3rd Street and Interstate 40
3. The former Lovelace hospital on Gibson
According to a city news release, 149 potential sites were originally identified through a community feedback process. That process included an “on line” survey” for people to take. Thirty 30 sites were identified. The Keller Administration scored the 30 sites “based on ownership of the location, lot size, zoning, acquisition cost, access to transportation, and proximity to services. ”
During a presentation of the report and analysis to a joint government board meeting of officials from the City, Bernalillo County and Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) government officials and community activists, officials from the Family and Community Services Department emphasized that even though 3 sites have now been identified, all the details have yet to be worked out for any one and the final site selection is far from over. Lisa Huval,the city’s deputy director for Housing and Homelessness emphasized that there is a chance the city creates multiple smaller shelters at different locations and keeps the West Side location open for overflow purposes.
City officials have said ground breaking is targeted for the summer of 2021 with starting operations in the spring of 2022.
MAYOR KELLER PROMOTES UNM SITE
On Friday, February 28, Mayor Tim Keller held a press conference with local church leaders at the vacant strip of University of New Mexico land that the city has now listed as a possible site for its forthcoming homeless shelter. Mayor Keller announced his support for the vacant strip of University of New Mexico for building the 300 person “Gateway Project” for the homeless. Mayor Keller proclaimed the project had a 50-50% chance of being built on the site and ending up there. On March 2, the Albuquerque Journal did a front page, top of the fold story complete with a bold headline “Keller promotes proposed UNM site for shelter.”
During the Friday press conference Mayor Keller boldly proclaimed:
“Out on those hills out there, right on the other side of them, is one of our top three choices. I want to note that this is nowhere near campus. It is on UNM land, but it is very far from campus and so we want to kind of debunk that myth. … It is very different from students and the duck pond. This is not the city’s (land) and if the UNM community is not interested in sharing it then this will be off the table. … We’re working with them. We’re in discussions with them … and we’re essentially in a negotiation phase to see if we can come up with something that works for both of us. It might happen or it might not. Those are both 50% likely.”
STARTING A RACE WITH A RELUCTANT FINALIST
Missing from the February 5 press conference was UNM President Garnett Stokes, the UNM Regent President Douglas M. Brown, nor any regent and no one with any authority from UNM.
The UNM land would be free and development cost would be $12.4 million. The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center laboratory area tied for second place in the city’s on line survey receiving 15% of the vote.
UNM Health Services confirmed a few months ago in a statement released that they were talking with city officials so they can be part of the solution. Following is the statement released:
“The University of New Mexico has been in discussions with the city of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County on the best ways to address the needs of the homeless population in our community. In those discussions, the possibility of utilizing currently vacant land near the office of the medical investigator/state lab has been mentioned. Nothing has been decided and you will see from the survey that other locations are being considered. Our mission at UNM Health Sciences is to treat every New Mexican with the highest level of care possible. Being part of the solution to address the mental health, substance use disorder and housing needs of residents goes to the heart of that mission. It is not enough to just treat those who enter our emergency department, we must invest in comprehensive, compassionate care. Partnering with local governments ensures we continue to deliver more to those in need.”
University of New Mexico leaders have sent mixed messaged on whether UNM land should be considered for the shelter. Dr.Paul Roth, chancellor of the UNM Health Sciences Center and chief executive officer of the UNM Health System, did say previously there are several advantages to using the UNM land for the homeless shelter including proximity to health and behavioral health facilities that are a critical part of the proposed shelter.
UNM’s Campus Safety Council, which consists of the dean of students, student body president, chief of university police and others, voted overwhelmingly in January to recommend to UNM officials and regents not to allow the shelter anywhere at UNM. According to UNM’s Campus Safety Council the facility will create a dangerous situation for students, burden campus police and hurt the university’s enrollment which has been on the decline the past 3 years.
UNM President Garnett Stokes has made it clear that no decision has been made. Stokes has said that she will keeping an open mind about the proposal, and will gather input from the campus community and others before making a recommendation to the Board of Regents.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
It appears that it is likely Mayor Tim Keller got exactly what he wanted from his February 28 press conference with church leaders: a front page, bold banner headline from the Albuquerque Journal as well as TV news coverage of his choice of sites. The problem is that it is highly likely he created a problem by “jumping the gun” and interfering with city negotiations with UNM offficials.
Before Keller’s February 29 press conference, the Keller Administration said that although 3 locations have been identified, the city’s site selection is ongoing and new locations continue to emerge. Included in the process will be a fiscal analysis of each site and determining the financial limitations to complete the project. Each site under serious consideration will require a financial analysis, including land acquisition cost, before the Keller Administration makes any final recommendations to the City Council, yet Keller does a press conference.
No doubt Mayor Tim Keller is anxious to get a start on the new shelter, but holding a press conference with “church leaders” who are not parties to a transaction was a mistake. When you use words such as “if the UNM community is not interested in sharing it [with the community] then this will be off the table” smacks of trying to force a party’s hand to agree to something they may not want to agree to and who has sever reservations about the project. Hold a press conference is something you do not do when you’re in the middle of negotiations to with an entity and when 2 other sites are also under consideration.
Mayor Tim Keller, whether he likes it or not, has a reputation of “jumping the gun” with his ambitions to get started on campaigns for higher office and not finishing work he has started. He resigned in the middle of a 4 year State Senate term to run for New Mexico State Auditor, which he won. Within one year after becoming State Auditor for a 4 year term, he decided to run for Mayor, and once elected Mayor, he resigned as state Auditor. The Republican Governor “She Who Shall Not Be Named” had to appoint a replacement who was Republican Wayne Johnson who had run for Mayor against Keller.On November 5, 2019, during an election night radio coverage interview with political blogger Joe Monahan, Mayor Tim Keller announced he is running for a second term as Mayor in 2021.
Jumping the gun in political races when no one yet is running has been very good for Keller’s political career to give him and advantage, but it sure the hell is no way to conduct negotiations for city projects. Despite Mayor Keller jumping the gun on site selection for the homeless shelter, the City needs to complete the fiscal analysis of each of the 3 sites and determine the financial limitations to complete the project before a final site is selected by the City Council.