The meaning of the term “caught flat-footed” is loosely defined as caught unprepared and taken by surprise. The usage comes from one or another sport in which a player should be on his or her toes, ready to act, but instead is not and loses the competition for failing to be prepared. Mayor Tim Keller was caught “flat footed” when it comes to UNM rejecting his preferred sight of UNM vacant land for the homeless shelter.
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, in order of preference, were listed as follows:
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
On February 28, Mayor Tim Keller held a press conference with local church leaders at the UNM vacant land and announced his support for building the 300 person “Gateway Project” for the homeless on the location.
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.”
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 upwards of $30 million. Mayor Keller asked the 2020 New Mexico Legislature for an additional $14 million to complete phase two of the project, but the 2020 legislature said no to the funding delivering a major blow to Keller’s plans for the shelter and indicating that Mayor Keller’s influence in Santa Fe has diminished for the former State Senator.
NOW THERE ARE TWO
On March 12, it was announced that the University of New Mexico was no longer interested in offering the empty lot they own off the I-25 Frontage Road for consideration as the possible site for Albuquerque’s new Gateway Center.
UNM President Garnett Stokes in a statement announcing the decision had this to say:
“In listening to the University community, it is clear that many people support UNM being a part of tackling the issue of homelessness and serving the various vulnerable populations in our City. Regarding the proposed use of UNM land, there was not a single variable that led to this decision. Ultimately, our concerns about enrollment and future needs of our health system had to be considered in our determination of whether the UNM site was appropriate for the City’s plans.”
UNM Regent President Doug Brown also commented on the decision:
“We want to do everything we can by way of services, but we did not feel the preferred site from the city was appropriate for our campus. … We had an enormous amount of resistance from neighborhoods, the (UNM Comprehensive) Cancer Center, the Children’s Campus and so on.”
Brown said UNM had received an outpouring of opposition urging the university officials not to allow the shelter to be built on campus. The university’s Campus Safety Council, a group that includes the dean of students, student body president and chief of campus police, was among the groups that strongly opposed that the shelter not be built anywhere at UNM.
People who live nearby the UNM site also expressed strong opposition to the site. Members of the Spruce Park Neighborhood Association attended a regents meeting and asked the board not to allow the facility to be built at the proposed UNM location.
Carol Pierce, Family and Community Services Department Director in a news release had this to say:
“With UNM eliminated for the main site, our focus shifts to logistics at Lovelace or Coronado, or a combination of the sites, to meet the needs of the homeless population and our city as a whole.”
Chief Administrative Officer had this to say in an interview:
“We’ve always known we’re going to have to work closely with any neighbors of any facility to make sure that we are addressing their security concerns, their concerns about the appearance of the facility, so that’s going to happen no matter where this thing goes.”
Mayor Tim Keller for his part issued the following statement about UNM’s decision:
“For all our public institutions, there is a moral opportunity to come together and make a difference on a growing problem that affects the entire community. With this option now off the table, we are convening elected officials from the City and [Bernalillo] County, as well as UNM, to work with us on the remaining options, or a possible combination of sites. We are continuing our collaborative efforts and are also dedicated to doing all we can with the funds we have to make a dent in all of our homelessness challenges.”
WHERE DOES THE SHELTER AND CITY GO FROM HERE?
City officials will now look closer to the two remaining sites and may consider using both. Critics of the city’s 300-bed shelter plan have instead proposed building a series of smaller facilities that would serve more targeted populations.
City officials are left with Coronado Park at Third and Interstate and the closed Lovelace Hospital facility on Gibson which is privately owned.
Following are details of the 2 remaining locations with analysis that made the city’s initial cut:
According to a report released by the City on February 27, building the new shelter at Coronado would cost a total of $12.7 million. The city would need to buy abutting land, which may include office space across from the park, to have enough space.
The overwhelming number of those who completed the on line city survey chose the Interstate 40 and 2nd street location as the best area for the shelter with upwards of 31% of the respondents saying the area was the best location. The area is in the same general vicinity as Coronado Park, a city park that has attracted for years many homeless people and those that feed the homeless. The city uses the park as a pickup location for those needing rides to the West Side shelter. No other location site received even half of the number of votes.
For decades, Coronado Park has become an “encampment” or one of the most popular places for the homeless to congregate during the day and sleep at night. Many times, over the years, charitable organizations or “good Samaritans” have set up “food lines” for the homeless at Coronado Park. City and zoning health inspectors have been dispatched repeatedly to the park to try and curb the serving of hot food in the area in order to curtail potential health risk to the homeless and feeding them tainted food. At one time the American Civil Liberties Union even threatened to take action against the city over its efforts to curtail serving hot food to the homeless at Coronado Park.
Marit Tully, the president of the Near North Valley Neighborhood Association said at Thursday’s meeting that Coronado Park has seen major problem over the years due to the park’s existing concentration of people who are homeless. The neighborhood area she was referring to is located north of the freeway. Tully said area residents have for years raised concerns with the city, but the city has made s little improvement. According to Telly, her neighborhood association could not support any shelter site unless the city invests just as much in the chosen neighborhood.
Police over the years have been dispatched over and over to take action against the homeless at Coronado Park. The use of Coronado Park by the general public is scant or significantly curtailed. To succeed at the Coronado Park location and to have the lowest impact to the area would require sufficient safety precautions including security fencing and law enforcement or security surveillance of the area. The advantage is that the City owns the land and the location is far enough from the down town area to reduce impact to downtown and residential areas. The freeway still would act as a buffer to businesses north of it.
Opposition to the Coronado Park as the site for the new shelter is very strong. Wells Park Neighborhood association adamantly opposes to the city developing another major project geared toward homeless people in the area.
Wells Park Neighborhood Association President Doreen McKnight has said residents’ pleas for help from the city addressing the associated issues have gone largely unanswered by the city. The Wells park neighborhood association has voted to oppose placing the shelter anywhere in the city unless there are matching funds deployed to the selected location to help with infrastructure and to mitigate any potential problems.
According to McNight:
“While we absolutely see the need for a new shelter, and we support it and think it needs to be done, we have shouldered the brunt of concentrated homelessness in the area for decades with no real substantial help from the city.”
LOVELACE HOSPITAL COMPLEX ON GIBSON
According to the February 27 city report and analysis, the Lovelace Hospital Complex would be $14 million in acquisition and renovation costs.
Although the former Lovelace hospital on Gibson was not listed in the on line survey, 42 people who took the survey wrote it in as an option. It was not listed on the survey because the city did not have permission from the building’s owners to list it.
It was in 2007 Lovelace Medical Center closed down. It was later purchased by local private investors. The investors who purchased the former Lovelace Hospital on Gibson were Jimmy Daskalos and Nick Kapnison. Nick Kapnison is one of the owners of “Nick and Jimmy’s” Restaurant, Mikinos Creek Restaurant and El Patron Mexican Restaurant..
The Loveless facility is a 529,000-square-foot building and upwards of 50% of it is said to be vacant. According to one news report, an estimated $10 million in upgrades in the Lovelace Hospital Complex, including remodeling for specific tenants, improving common areas and the parking lot and installing a 540-ton cooling unit out back were made. Parts of the building date back to 1950 and what was then known as the Lovelace Clinic, and as a result the need for any asbestos remediation is subject to speculation and has not been reported on by the news media.
COUNTY BEHAVIORAL HEALTH TAX
On Feb. 26, 2015, the Bernalillo County Commission approved a 1/8 % gross receipts tax increase on a 3-2 vote to fund new behavioral and mental health services to improve access to mental and behavioral health care services in the county. The tax generates approximately $20 million annually.
When enacted, the county commission announced the intent for the tax was to invest the funding “in proven ways to better manage the high cost of addiction, homelessness and mental health problems”. According to a county commission announcement, “these issues impact families throughout the community and drive up the cost of public services, especially at the Metropolitan Detention Center.” The gross receipts tax costs shoppers one cent on a $10 purchase of goods and services.
The 1/8th% gross receipts tax was supposed to be used for the purpose of providing more mental and behavioral health services for adults and children in the Albuquerque and Bernalillo County area. The intent is to provide a safety net system for those in need of mental health not otherwise funded in New Mexico.
Since enactment of the tax in 2015, the tax has generated $91.6 million. The county has spent $20 million of the money but has earmarked the bulk of what it amassed for one-time expenditures. Those expenditures include $30 million for a new crisis triage center, $12 million for supportive housing and $4 million for the Bernalillo County CARE campus, formerly known as the Metropolitan Assessment and Treatment Services center, or MATS. The renovations to the CARE campus when complete will create an outpatient behavioral health clinic and living room space for peer-to-peer counseling sessions.
On February 17, 2015, when the Bernalillo County Commission approved the tax, it failed to develop a plan on how all the money would be used, including not identifying services to be provided, location of facilities and qualifiers to obtain the services offered. As a result of having no spending plan or identifying priorities, the tax has been collected but not spent and upwards of $70 million in tax revenue has accumulated and just sits in a county account unused and the amount is growing. According to the latest figures from the Department of Behavioral Health Services, money is encumbered for one-time expenditures including $30 million earmarked for a future crisis triage center and $12 million for supportive housing, but nothing for a homeless shelter such as the “Gateway Project”.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Confidential sources within city hall are saying Keller was genuinely caught off guard, surprised and upset when UNM President Garret Stokes told him in a private conversation that UNM decided to say no to the project. After all, he is the Mayor, he had done a press conference to announce his preferred site and giving unequivocal support for the UNM property for his priority project. In Keller’s mind that should have done the trick to convince UNM to go along.
Keller’s public relations stunt failed him. It was on Friday, February 28, that Mayor Tim Keller held his press conference with local church leaders at the vacant land and announced his support for building the 300 person “Gateway Project” for the homeless. No doubt Mayor Tim Keller is anxious to get a start on his new shelter, but holding a press conference with “church leaders” who are not even parties to a transaction was a major mistake. Confidential UNM sources have said UNM President Garrett Stokes and a few regents were not at all happy with Keller using a press conference to pressure the university to agree to the putting the shelter on UNM property.
Keller holding the press conference with church leaders and using words such as “if the UNM community is not interested in sharing it [with the community] then this will be off the table” smacked of trying shame and force a party’s hand to agree to something they do not want to agree to and who have extreme reservations about the project. Holding a press conference is something you do not do when you’re in the middle of negotiations with an entity and when 2 other sites are also under consideration. Now that UNM has rejected his plan, Keller proclaims “For all our public institutions, there is a moral opportunity to come together and make a difference on a growing problem that affects the entire community” knowing full well the two remaining sights involve city property and a privately owned property and no other government entity.
As noted, the county has accumulated upwards of $70 million dollars from the behavioral health tax that has yet to be used. Keller has never announced any efforts he has made to get the Bernalillo County Commission to assist with the building of the city homeless shelter, yet he had no problem attempting to get funding of $14 million from the 2020 New Mexico legislature and he failed.
You always know when Mayor Tim Keller has been caught “flat footed” whenever he does not get his way, things do not go as planned or he wants to avoid controversy by responding to questions from the press. Under such circumstances, Keller issues a press release instead of holding one of his many press conferences. Such is the case with what happened when UNM rejected his plan to use the UNM vacant land.
In his press release, Mayor Keller announced the city is only now convening a working group that includes UNM, county administrative leaders and elected officials to work out remaining details on a site, design, construction, and operation for the Gateway Center. Such a working group of city, county, UNM and elected officials should have been done long ago. No names were announced.
You would think Mayor Keller, with his penchant for press conferences, would have held yet another a press conference to introduce all members of the working group, but then again, he is probably scrambling to find people to appoint. The working group is likely just another public relations afterthought to save a little face for the Mayor as he seeks a second term.