On June 20, Albuquerque Republican City Council Brook Bassan, in a stunning reversal of support, announced by email to her constituents her withdrawal and sponsorship of the “Safe Outdoor Spaces” amendment to the Integrated Development Ordinance.
City Council Brook Bassan sent her constituents the following email:
June 20, 2022, at 7:59 PM
Subject: Re: Homeless Solution
Please see the written statement I have drafted below. I plan on a formal press release tomorrow and a potential press conference Wednesday.
I am seeking to repeal the law enabling sanctioned encampments.
I initially supported sanctioned encampments based on the understanding that existing vagrancy, loitering, trespassing and overnight camping laws would be enforced once we created the sanctioned encampments. However, upon hearing Mayor Tim Keller’s recent press conference statements, it has become clear that this enforcement is highly unlikely to occur. That means creating sanctioned encampments won’t work.
Additionally, I have heard your voice in opposition to sanctioned encampments. I have always promised to listen to my constituents and then act on their behalf.
In order to repeal the law, I am introducing two separate pieces of legislation at Wednesday’s City Council meeting. The first is a one-year moratorium on all Safe Outdoor Spaces approvals so that none can be approved in the near future. The second bill is a repeal of all references to Safe Outdoor Spaces from our zoning ordinances.
Since being elected, I have been focused on implementing solutions to reduce crime and homelessness. Safe Outdoor Spaces was an idea to force homeless encampments from our neighborhoods and towards behavioral health services. You have helped me understand that this idea is not a workable solution and needs to be abandoned.
I have always promised that, if I ever made a mistake such as this, I would apologize and work to correct my action. I am sorry for not registering your opposition to this idea sooner. Moving forward, I will work even harder to represent your voice in City government. I will continue to focus on supporting our police department’s ability to enforce existing laws, increasing the availability of behavioral health services, and providing rental assistance to those at risk for experiencing homelessness.
Thank you for reaching out to me. I promise to continue to listen and represent your voice.”
Albuquerque City Councilor
THROWING MAYOR TIM KELLER UNDER THE BUS
When Councilor Bassan says “… upon hearing Mayor Tim Keller’s recent press conference statements, it has become clear that this enforcement is highly unlikely to occur. That means creating sanctioned encampments won’t work” what she is referring to are comments made by Mayor Tim Keller on June 14.
On June 14, it was reported that a 4th murder in 2 years occurred at Coronado Park. In response to the questioning about the shooting and what his Administration was doing about the homeless, Keller said he and the city has plans for addressing homelessness. Those plans include the long-awaited Gateway Center shelter and services center at the old Lovelace hospital. Keller said the Gateway Center project has been delayed due to neighborhood opposition and a “never-ending purgatory of policy”. Mayor Keller also noted that the city plans include “safe outdoor spaces” as part of its plans to deal with the homeless.
Mayor Keller admitted that he and his Administration condoned and supported Coronado Park being used as a “de facto” city sanctioned homeless encampment. Keller said this:
“[The federal courts] will not allow us to just walk in and arrest someone because they’re homeless and the current situation beats the alternative. … It is not lost on me that we created Coronado Park because Wells Park said, ‘We don’t want these folks in our neighborhood,’ and we agree with them. And that’s why they were all grouped to one area. … So you also got to remember the alternative. You can’t have it both ways — you want to close Coronado Park, you are going to open all of Wells Park neighborhood to something none of us want to see.”
Link to quoted news source material:
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. 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 video that she had previously made attempts to overdose on meth.
The city has allowed a once beautiful and pristine park dedicated to public use to become a festering blight on the community. Simply put, it has become an embarrassment with the city violating its own ordinances and nuisance laws by allowing overnight camping and criminal conduct in the park thus creating a public nuisance both under state law and city ordinance. Coronado Park has now become a symbol of Keller’s failure as Mayor to deal with the homeless crisis.
The link to a related blog article entitled “Another Murder At Coronado Park; Park Is Symbol Of Tim Keller’s Failure To Deal With Homeless Crisis; City Council Should Declare Coronado Park A Public Nuisance, Enact Resolution Calling For Permanent Closure And Fencing Off With A Rededication Of Purpose” is here:
“SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES” AMENDMENT
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 vote. Democrat City Counselors Isaac Benton, Tammy Fiebelcorn, Pat Davis and Republicans Trudy Jones and Brook Bassan voted yes to approve the amendments. Democrats Klarissa Pena, Louie Sanchez and Republicans Dan Lewis and Renee Grout voted no.
One of the amendments was for city sanctioned homeless encampments called “Safe Outdoor “Spaces”. The “Safe outdoor spaces” amendment will permit 2 homeless encampments in all 9 city council districts 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 reveals that the encampments could be put at next to the Big-I, the northeast heights, and on the west side not far from homes. 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:
On June 6 when the Safe Outdoor Space Amendment was presented to the City Council, 17 spoke out against it with only 4 supporting it. The council approved the plan with conditions. Those conditions include that no more than 18 camps in the city at one time and no more than two in a specific area of town will be allowed. Registered sex offenders will also not be able to stay in them.
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.
COUNCILOR BASSAN LOSES CREDIBITY SCRAMBLING TO DEFEND SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES
On June 16, a neighborhood association meeting was held in the far North East Heights City Council District 4 represented by first term Republican City Councilor Brook Bassan. The neighborhood association meeting was a regularly scheduled meeting that Bassan agreed to speak to discuss efforts to combat crime. A post on the Nextdoor app prompted a record turnout at the meeting. The Nestdoor App named a potential location for the recently passed “safe outdoor space” as North Domingo Baca Park. The map of potential locations for safe outdoor spaces was shown to city councilors and it included the lot in question near North Domingo Park.
The meeting degenerated into a heated discussion of Bassan’s support of “Safe Outdoor Spaces”. Bassan told those attending the association meeting that there are no plans in the northeast heights for “Safe Outdoor Spaces”.
When Bassan spoke to the angry residents, she said in part:
“Hello everybody I know you’re all angry at me. Let me explain. [This is 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. … The zoning here would technically allow that. … Technically allow that. The City of Albuquerque would be able to choose which properties if we decided to do it.”
“[Safe Outdoor Spaces] was an answer to the community saying ‘We don’t want encampments in front of our businesses, at city parks, in front of our homes, on private property anywhere in the city.’ I am supportive of creating a lot where people, who want to live in a tent, for whatever their reason is, have to go to that designated location instead of just anywhere in Albuquerque – which would, in turn, allow APD to start actually being able to enforce the laws to a fuller extent.”
Notwithstanding Bassans assurances, those attending the neighborhood association meeting made it clear to Bassan they did not want any talk of sanctioned homeless camps in their neighborhoods.
Many of City Council Brook Bassan’s comments were 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 was false when Bassan says “I can guarantee you it was never going to happen near residential properties”. Basaan could not 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.
Brook Bassan could not guarantee that North Domingo Baca Park would 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. The city has already made Coronado park a de facto city sanctioned homeless encampment without city council approval.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Republican City Councilor Brook Bassan is commended for doing the right thing by scrapping her support of Safe Outdoor Spaces. Now it’s up to the rest of the city council as well as Mayor Tim Keller to do the right thing and back off totally on making any attempt at implementing Safe Outdoor Spaces.
There never was anything temporary about “city sanctioned” encampments with “safe outdoor spaces”. Allowing 18 “safe outdoor spaces” would be a major setback for the city and its current policy of seeking permanent shelter and housing as the solution to the homeless crisis.
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.”
Too many elected and government officials, like Mayor Tim Keller and City Counselors Isaac Benton, Tammy Fiebelcorn, Pat Davis and Trudy Jones who voted for Safe Outdoor Spaces and 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 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, civil citations and even arrests are in order.
The city has a moral obligation to help the homeless 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.
Given the millions the city is spending each year, the city needs to continue with the approach of offering programs, building shelter space and making beds available for its homeless population.
COUNCIL CAN ACT TO RECONSIDER
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:
PRTOEST ANNOUNCED BY WOMEN TAKING BACK OUR NEIGHBORHOODS
“Women Taking Back Our Neighborhoods” (WTBON), is a group founded in 2018 in the Albuquerque South East Heights to inform the public and demand greater accountability from elected and other civic leaders for preventing crime on Central Ave., in neighborhoods, and in our public parks.
WTBON has announced a protest to be held on Tuesday June 21. The following press release was issued:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
“Women Taking Back Our Neighborhoods” (WTBON) will be meeting on the corner of Academy and Eubank, Tuesday, June 21, from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm, to protest the City of Albuquerque’s Council vote to institutionalize “Safe Open Spaces” and Motel Conversions in the City’s Zoning Code. The public is invited to stand with us.
As proposed, the city could designate two “Open Space” lots for each district, for a total of 18 lots in the city, and an untold number of motel conversions for unvetted homeless individuals coming to Albuquerque for the social benefits provided by the Family and Community Services Dept. The concept has never been brought to citizens for a vote, and the city does not have a plan of action in place, nor a budget for its implementation, which will be a tremendous amount of money as yet undefined which tax-payers will be responsible for. Considering the failure of the Tiny Homes to attract drug-free, homeless individuals to the campus, a city plan of 18 “Safe Open Spaces” will be another disastrous idea by the City that forces taxpayers to foot the bill and live with the consequences of crime to businesses and neighborhoods, decreasing property values and new residents, and reducing tourism.
WTBON urges all City Councilors to vote NO for Safe Open Spaces and Motel Conversions.