On June 16, KOB Channel 4 reported on a neighborhood association meeting held in the far North East Heights City Council District 4 represented by first term Republican City Councilor Brook Bassan. In 2017 Republican Brook Bassan was elected to replace retiring 4 term Republican City Councilor Brad Winter. The major borders of District 4 are generally Montano/Montgomery on the South, Tramway on the North, Academy/Ventura/Holbrook on the East and Edith on the West.
The June 16 neighborhood association meeting was a regularly scheduled meeting that Bassan agreed to speak to discuss efforts to combat crime. The meeting degenerated into a heated discussion of Bassan’s support of “Safe Outdoor Spaces” which are city sanctioned homeless encampments that will be allowed in all 9-council district and that she voted to support.
THE KOB 4 REPORT
Following is the transcribed KOB Channel 4 report:
A post on the Nextdoor app prompted a record turnout at a northeast Albuquerque neighborhood association meeting Thursday night. It named a potential location for the recently passed “safe outdoor space” as North Domingo Baca Park.
“This is the biggest turnout I’ve ever seen in a meeting,” said Amie Norman, who lives in the northeast heights. “There are probably 150 people that all have something to say, opinions one way or another. I am definitely not for it. I don’t know what the solution is but this isn’t it.”
Albuquerque City Councilor Brook Bassan had no problem reading the room. She was there with APD’s northeast commander for a scheduled neighborhood association meeting about an uptick in crime in northeast Albuquerque businesses. However, dozens of concerned neighbors had questions for Bassan about the possibility of a homeless camp moving into the nearby lot.
“Hello everybody I know you’re all angry at me,” Bassan started. “Let me explain.”
She says this is a case of miscommunication.
“It’s not going to happen two in every single district, it’s not going to happen overnight and I can guarantee you it was never going to happen near residential properties, at businesses in Albuquerque that are nearby here and certainly not south of North Domingo Baca Park. It was never, ever, ever a proposal,” Bassan iterated.
Councilors showed a map of potential locations based on zoning at a meeting earlier this month, including the lot in question near the park, but nothing is set in stone.
“‘The zoning here would technically allow that,” Bassan said. “Technically allow that. The City of Albuquerque would be able to choose which properties if we decided to do it.”
The meeting at least provided a glimpse into some neighbors’ thoughts and other local leaders’ thoughts, like those of Bernalillo County Commissioner Walt Benson, on the possibility.
“We’re enabling and incentivizing homelessness and crime,” Benson said. “The real winners to these sanctioned encampments are drug dealers and human traffickers. I’m absolutely opposed to it. Setting up a permanent tent where they can just do drugs all day long that’s not the solution.”
The city hopes to start with one camp and go from there. Representatives from the Family and Community Services Department, which is funding these spaces, announced recently that they have two interested church congregations.
The link to the KOB 4 report is here:
SAFE OUTDOOR SPACE WILL ABUT AND AFFECT NEIGHBORHOODS
On June 6, the Albuquerque City Council enacted upwards of 100 amendments updating the Integrated Development Ordinance. The legislation passed on a 5 to 4. One of the amendments was for city sanctioned homeless encampments called “Safe Outdoor “Spaces”.
“Safe outdoor spaces” will permit 2 homeless encampments in all 9 city council disitricts with 40 designated spaces for tents, they will allow upwards of 50 people, require hand washing stations, toilets and showers, require a management plan, 6 foot fencing and social services offered. Although the Integrated Development Ordinance amendment sets a limit of two in each of the city’s 9 council districts, the cap would not apply to those hosted by religious institutions.
A map prepared by the city detailing where “safe outdoor space” zoning would be allowed for encampments revealed numerous areas in each of the 9 City Council districts that are abut to or in walking distance to many residential areas. Upwards of 15% of the city would allow for “safe outdoor” spaces as a “permissive use” or “conditional use”.
Under the law, once such permissive uses are granted, they become vested property rights and cannot be rescinded by the city council. Also, there is no requirement of land ownership, meaning someone could seek a special use for a safe outdoor space and then turn around and lease their undeveloped open space property to who ever can afford to pay.
The map reveals a large concentration of eligible open space area that lies between San Pedro and the railroad tracks, north of Menaul to the city’s northern boundary. The map does not account for religious institutions that may want to use their properties for living lots or safe outdoor spaces.
The link to the map prepared by the City entitled “Map 1 Council Districts Selected IDO Zoning” is here:
After the vote to adopt the amendment to the Integrated Development Ordinance, including the “Safe Outdoor Spaces“ amendment, the council voted to defer to the June 22 meeting the Safe Outdoor Space amendment to the Keller administration to draft procedures for safe outdoor spaces. Mayor Tim Keller’s office has been instructed to look at locations and come up with the details of what resources would be available.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
You know a city councilor is in serious political trouble and has lost credibility with their constituents when they begin a meeting by saying:
“Hello everybody I know you’re all angry at me. … Let me explain.”
It is downright laughable when City Council Brook Bassan says this is a case of “miscommunication”. At one point she also said “social media” is responsible for the miscommunication. The truth is, there was absolutely no communication on her part and the City Council to have any meaningful dialogue with city residents on their feelings about Safe Outdoor Spaces, albeit because they know damn well that property and home owners would strenuously oppose them, as they should.
City Council Brook Bassan at worse lied and at best mislead her constituents when she said:
“It’s not going to happen two in every single district, it’s not going to happen overnight and I can guarantee you it was never going to happen near residential properties, at businesses in Albuquerque that are nearby here and certainly not south of North Domingo Baca Park. It was never, ever, ever a proposal.”
These comments are false or misleading. The Safe Outdoor Spaces amendment specifically allows for 2 in every single city council district for a total of 18. When she says it’s not going to happen overnight, the city’s goal is to have the first “Safe Outdoor Space” up and running within a few months at the end of the Summer. There are also 2 religious organizations that have already said they plan on establishing Safe Outdoor Spaces on their properties.
It is false when Bassan says “I can guarantee you it was never going to happen near residential properties”. Basaan cannot make such a guarantee that the city nor private property owners will be prevented from establishing safe open spaces on property owned nor apply for a special use. The map prepared by the city of where Safe Outdoor spaces will be allowed reveals upwards of 15% of the city will allow for “safe outdoor” spaces as a “permissive use” or “conditional use” on property that abut residential areas.
NORTH DOMINGO BACA PARK CAN BECOME ANOTHER CORONDO PARK
Brook Bassan cannot guarantee that North Domingo Baca Park will not be used by the City as a homeless encampment. Bassan admitted “‘The zoning here would technically allow that [safe outdoor space] ” which means it could very easily become a reality and North Domingo Baca Park could become a city sanction “homeless encampment” with or without her approval or the city council approval. If Basaan thinks otherwise, she is a fool because the city has already made a city park a de facto city sanctioned homeless encampment without city council approval.
Coronado Park, located at third and Interstate 40, is considered by many as the epicenter of Albuquerque’s homeless crisis. Over the last 10 years, Coronado Park has essentially become the “de facto” city sanctioned homeless encampment with the city repeatedly cleaning it up only for the homeless to return the next day. Residents and businesses located near the park have complained to the city repeatedly about the city’s unwritten policy to allow the park to be used as an encampment and its use as a drop off by law enforcement for those who are transported from the westside jail.
At any given time, Coronado Park will have 70 to 80 tents crammed into the park with homeless wondering the area. It comes with and extensive history lawlessness including drug use, violence, murder, rape and mental health issues. In 2020, there were 3 homicides at Coronado Park. On June 14, another murder was reported. In 2019, a disabled woman was raped, and in 2018 there was a murder. Police 911 logs reveal a variety of other issues. In February 2019, police investigated a stabbing after a fight broke out at the park. One month before the stabbing, police responded to a call after a woman said she was suicidal, telling police on lapel camera
A FAILURE TO LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES
What Mayor Tim Keller and the City Council should have learned from Coronado Park, and all the violent crime that has occurred there, is that government sanctioned homeless encampments that “Safe Outdoor Spaces” embody simply do not work. They are magnets for crime and will likely become a public nuisance that injurious to public health, safety and welfare and will interferes with the exercise and enjoyment of public rights, including the right to use public property. The practical effect of the “Safe Outdoor Spaces” amendment will be to create “mini” Coronado Parks in all 9 city council districts.
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty research clearly shows that housing is the most effective approach to end homelessness with a much larger return on investment than offering government sanctioned encampments and “tent cities”.
There is nothing temporary about “city sanctioned” encampments with “safe outdoor spaces”. If the City Council and the Mayor persist in going down the road of allowing 18 “safe outdoor spaces”, it will be a major setback for the city and its current policy of seeking permanent shelter and housing as the solution to the homeless crisis.
Too many elected and government officials, like Brook Bassan, who want to establish government sanction encampments have a hard time dealing with the fact that many homeless adults simply want to live their life as they choose, where they want to camp for as long as they can get away with it, without any government nor family interference and especially no government rules and no regulations.
The city has a moral obligation to help the homeless, especially those who suffer from mental illness and drug addiction. The city is in fact meeting that moral obligation. Albuquerque is making a huge financial commitment to help the homeless. Last year, it spent upwards of $40 million to benefit the homeless in housing and services. The 2023 proposed budget significantly increases funding for the homeless by going from $35,145,851 to $59,498,915. The city contracts with 10 separate homeless service providers throughout the city and it funds the Westside 24-7 homeless shelter.
The city has bought the 572,000-square-foot Lovelace Hospital Complex on Gibson for $15 million that currently has space of 200 beds or more and transforming it into the Gateway Center Homeless shelter. City officials have said that the city is expected to launch multiple services on the property this winter, including a 50-bed women’s shelter, a sobering center and a space designed to deliver “medical respite” care for individuals who would have no place other than a hospital to recover from illnesses and injury.
The massive facility could be remodeled even further to house the homeless and convert offices, treating rooms, operating rooms and treatment rooms into temporary housing accommodations. The onsite auditorium and cafeteria could also be utilized for counseling and feeding programs for service providers.
The city cannot just ignore and not enforce its anti-camping ordinances, vagrancy laws, civil nuisance laws and criminal laws nor pretend they simply do not exist. Squatters who have no interest in any offers of shelter, beds, motel vouchers or alternatives to living on the street really give the city no choice but to make it totally inconvenient for them to “squat” anywhere they want and force them to move on. After repeated attempts to force them to move on and citations arrests are in order.
The homeless crisis will not be solved by the city, but it can and must be managed. Providing a very temporary place to pitch a tent, relieve themselves, bathe and sleep at night with rules they do not want nor will likely follow is not the answer to the homeless crisis. The answer is to provide the support services, including food and lodging, and mental health care needed to allow the homeless to turn their lives around, become productive self-sufficient citizens, no longer dependent on relatives or others.”
Given the millions the city is spending each year, it needs to continue with the approach of offering programs, building shelter space and making beds available for its homeless population.
On June 22, the City Council has the option to reconsider their vote on the Integrated Development Ordinance and vote on the Safe Outdoor Space resolution being prepared by the Family and Community Services Department. Reconsideration of the Integrated Development Ordinance would require at least one city councilor who voted for the IDO to change their vote. This means Republicans Trudy Jones or Brook Bassan, and Democrats Isaac Benton, Pat Davis and Tammy Fiebelkorn would have to move to reconsider and change their vote on the Integrated Development Ordinance and the amendments.
The public needs to make their opinions known and tell Mayor Keller and the City council to reject Safe Outdoor Spaces at the June 22 city council meeting. The email address to contact Mayor Keller and Interim Chief Administrative Officer Lawrence Rael and each City Councilor and the Director of Counsel services are as follows: