On June 22, Albuquerque City Councilor Brook Bassan made a “front page” apology to her constituents as she reversed her support the day before on city sanctioned homeless camps known as “Safe Outdoor Spaces.” In doing so, she lost credibility by showing a remarkable ignorance of what her constituents want and what the city is actually doing to combat the homeless crisis. She also showed a serious misunderstanding of the Albuquerque Police Department, the Department of Justice Reforms and the critical role law enforcement must play.
FRONT PAGE COVERAGE
On June 22, the Albuquerque Journal on its front page, above the fold with the headline “Bassan pulls back support for proposed outdoor sites” and sub headline “City councilor calls earlier vote backing safe spaces a mistake”, with a color photo of the councilor, published its report that read in part as follows:
“An Albuquerque city councilor is apologizing to her constituents for supporting safe outdoor spaces and says she is now working to fix her “mistake.”
Councilor Brook Bassan says she will introduce legislation to undo the council’s recent adoption of safe outdoor spaces – organized sites where people who are homeless can legally live in tents and vehicles.
Bassan, who represents the Northeast Heights, was among the “yes” votes earlier this month when the council voted 5-4 to approve safe outdoor spaces as part of Albuquerque’s annual zoning code update. She had voiced support for giving people who are homeless another option, saying both on the council dais and in a Journal op-ed that it was worthwhile to attempt something new because the current situation is untenable.
But on Tuesday she announced she is planning bills to repeal the safe outdoor space language the council incorporated into the Integrated Development Ordinance. Since that is a lengthy process, she will also propose a separate one-year moratorium on any safe outdoor space approvals.
She said her backtracking is due to public outcry combined with her growing concern that the plan was not fully formed and that it would not lead the city – as some had hoped – to step up enforcement of illegal camping and trespassing.
Bassan said her backtracking was due to public outcry combined with her growing concern that the plan was not fully formed and that it would not lead APD to step up enforcement of illegal camping and trespassing.
Bassan met strong community opposition to safe outdoor spaces last week during a neighborhood meeting in her district. She said people who live around North Domingo Baca Park were under the false impression that an encampment was planned near the park. Though the zoning regulations the council had approved would have enabled a safe outdoor space in that area, she said none was planned or even discussed.”
BASSAN STATEMENTS MADE IN EXPLAINING REVERSAL
Bassan in a written statement and in other comments to news media outlets had this to about her reversal and now opposition to Safe Outdoor Spaces:
“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.
I’m not saying safe outdoor spaces are bad and we can’t do it, but – and I wish I would’ve come to this conclusion a lot earlier – it’s definitely something that needs more answers, like what the other councilors have mentioned. Clearly the public is not ready for it as it stands, and it’s my job to listen to them.
I don’t think that it is something that we need to implement at this time. I think it is important to listen to the constituents of Albuquerque and hear what they are saying. …
I was very supportive of sanctioned encampments when I was under the impression that we would have a stronger and more capable ability to enforce the laws that currently exist.
We need more officers, we need the Department of Justice to leave Albuquerque because we are in compliance as a department as in a city, we need to do more for drug addiction and behavioral health treatment and services. We need to increase housing, we need to increase security for everyone in Albuquerque and that’s going to take working together.”
Bassan downplayed “safe outdoor spaces” when she said the City Council has put so many “barriers” in the zoning code that may have been more of an idea than a reality and said this:
“I would be surprised if these ever actually came about in the first place because Albuquerque has a really strong tendency to get in [its] own way. ”
MAYOR TIM KELLER ADMINISTRATION REACTS
Mayor Tim Keller spokeswoman Ava Montoya criticized Bassan’s reversal in a statement by saying this:
“Vacillating by passing legislation and then immediately repealing it doesn’t help anyone. … Council is the land use authority for our city and we need them to put forward solutions. Right now, when Coronado Park is cleared every two weeks, people have nowhere to go except right back to the park, and that won’t change without solutions from Council.”
The link to the full, unedited Albuquerque Journal quoted article is here:
Links to other quoted news sources are here:
“Women Taking Back Our Neighborhoods” (WTBON) is a citizen activist 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 public parks.
On Tuesday, June 21 “Women Taking Back Our Neighborhoods” held a protest on the corner of Academy and Eubank to protest the City of Albuquerque’s Council vote to institutionalize “Safe Open Spaces” and Motel Conversions in the City’s Zoning Code.
WTBON stated in a press release:
“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.”
During the June 21 protest, Colleen Aycock, the leader of ‘“Women Taking Back Our Neighborhoods” said “Safe Outdoor Spaces” will not work and she had this to say:
“There are solutions, but the solutions aren’t in tents. We need residential living situations and those living situations are number one incarceration, if you’re a criminal you need to go to jail. if you have a drug behavioral problem you need to go to a treatment facility.”
The link to quotes news source is here:
SAFEOUTDOOR SPACES EXPLAINED
On June 6, the Albuquerque City Council enacted upwards of 100 amendments updating the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO). The IDO update 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 all of the IDO update amendments. Democrats Klarissa Pena, Louie Sanchez and Republicans Dan Lewis and Renee Grout voted NO. The city sanctioned homeless encampment amendment called “Safe Outdoor “Spaces” was co-sponsored by Republican City councilors Brook Bassan and Trudy Jones and Democrat Isaac Benton.
The “Safe outdoor spaces” amendment passed 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 (IDO), 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.
The City of Albuquerque has adopted the Housing First policy as mandated by the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act (HEARTH Act) in order to secure federal funding. The HEARTH Act provides that in order to receive federal dollars, cities must adopt a “housing first” policy and, crucially, that homeless organizations had to work together in “continuums of care” under a single lead agency, coordinating their programs and sharing data.
On May 16, the Albuquerque City Council voted to approve the 2022-2023 fiscal year city budget which will begin on July 1,2022 . The 2022-2023 approved city budget provides major funding of upwards of $60 Million to deal with the homeless. Included in the adopted budget is funding for Safe Community programs that deal with issues such as substance abuse, homelessness, domestic violence and youth opportunity. Following is a listing of approved funding:
• $24 million in Emergency Rental Assistance from the federal government, which the City will make available in partnership with the State.
• $4 million in recurring funding and $2 million in one-time funding for supportive housing programs in the City’s Housing First model. In addition, as recommended by the Mayor’s Domestic Violence Task Force, the budget includes $100 thousand for emergency housing vouchers for victims of intimate partner violence.
• $4.7 million net to operate the City’s first Gateway Center at the Gibson Medical Facility, including revenue and expenses for facility and program operations.
• $500 thousand to fund Albuquerque Street Connect, a program that focuses on people experiencing homelessness who use the most emergency services and care, to establish ongoing relationships that result in permanent supportive housing.
• $1.3 million for a Medical Respite facility at Gibson Health Hub, which will provide acute and post-acute care for persons experiencing homelessness who are too ill or frail to recover from a physical illness or injury on the streets but are not sick enough to be in a hospital.
• Full funding for the Westside Emergency Housing Center which is operated close to full occupancy for much of the year. On October 23, 2019, it was announced that Albuquerque’s West Side Emergency Housing Center was expanded to provide a coordinated approach to homelessness. The homeless use that facility to get medical care, treatment for addiction and behavioral health, job placement and case management services. The west side shelter now has the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, Presbyterian Hospital and Alburquerque Health Care for the Homeless providing medical services two days a week. It also has case management services being provided by Centro Savila, funded by Bernalillo County. Job placement opportunities are being provided by workforce connections.
• $500 thousand to fund the development of a technology system that enables the City and providers to coordinate on the provision of social services to people experiencing homelessness and behavioral health challenges.
The Fiscal Year 2023 budget includes the following funding for Safe Community programs:
• $1.8 million to develop what will be Albuquerque’s only medical substance abuse facility dedicated to youths likely housed at the Gibson Health Hub.
• Full funding for the Violence Intervention Program that deals with both APD and Family & Community Services departments, including the first phase of School-Based VIP in partnership with APS.
• $730 thousand for a partial year of operation of a Medical Sobering Center at Gibson Health Hub, which will complement the social model sobering facilities available at the County’s CARES campus.
• Full funding for service contracts for mental health, substance abuse, early intervention and prevention programs, domestic violence shelters and services, sexual assault services, health and social service center providers, and services to abused, neglected and abandoned youth.
The link to the enacted 2022-2023 proposed budget is here:
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 Housing First seeking permanent shelter and housing as the solution to the homeless crisis
CITY FUNDING AND EFFORTS IGNORED
Throughout all discussions of the “Safe Outdoor Spaces” debate, not a word was spoken by any City Councilor nor Mayor Keller of the millions being spent each year to deal with the homeless crisis. Much of the funding the city gets to help the homeless comes in the form of federal grants under HEARTH Act. “Safe Outdoor Spaces” violates the city’s “Housing First Policy” in that “Safe Outdoor Spaces” are not permanent housing and will place into jeopardy federal funding. What is troubling is that Mayor Keller and the City Council in all likely have no idea if “Safe Outdoor Spaces” places federal funding in jeopardy.
Last year, the city 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.
When City Councilor Brook Bassan says “… we need to do more for drug addiction and behavioral health treatment and services. We need to increase housing … “ she showed a remarkable ignorance of the fact the for the last 4 years the city has been scrambling to do just what she wants. She ostensibly does not realize she has already voted for such funding, yet she proclaims the city needs to do more.
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE REFORMS
It is downright pathetic that City Councilor Brook Bassan essentially lied about APD’s progress with implementing the Court Approved Settlement reforms. She did so as a means of trying to rehabilitate her reputation with her constituents and the mistake she made with her support of Safe Outdoor Spaces.
Bassan shot off her mouth with falsehoods to justify her reversal of her support of safe outdoor spaces when she said:
“We need more officers, we need the Department of Justice to leave Albuquerque because we are in compliance as a department as in a city … .”
APD is struggling mightily with implementation of 271 mandated reforms to eliminate APD’s “culture of aggression” found by the Department of Justice in 2014. The truth is APD is a longways off from being in compliance with the Department of Justice reforms. APD also has an extensive history of making significant increases in compliance levels only to experience significant decreases in those compliance levels.
On May 11, the Federal Monitor filed his 15th report. It was a dramatic reversal from the past 3 monitor’s reports. At the end of the reporting period, APD’s compliance levels are:
100% Primary Compliance
99% Secondary Compliance
70% Operational Compliance
When APD achieves a 95% compliance rate in the 3 identified compliance levels and maintains compliance for 2 consecutive years, the case can be dismissed.
Operational Compliance is the hardest compliance level to achieve. Operational compliance is attained at the point that the adherence to policies is apparent in the day-to-day operation of the agency e.g., line personnel are routinely held accountable for compliance, not by the monitoring staff, but by their sergeants, and sergeants are routinely held accountable for compliance by their lieutenants and command staff. In other words, the APD “owns” and enforces its policies.
When the Federal Monitor released his 15th report, APD Police Chief Medina was quick to take credit for the latest improvements. Medina also set the goal for the department to be in full compliance with the settlement agreement in 2 years. Medina’s goal to attain full compliance within two years means the case will not be dismissed for at least 4 years with 2 years to achieve compliance and 2 more years of sustaining compliance.
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 and Brook Bassan 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 with the millions it spending each year and huge financial commitment to help the homeless. The city needs to continue with the approach of offering programs, building shelter space and making beds available for its homeless population.
As for the political career of Brook Bassan, she is up for re election to a second term in 2023. Apologies from politicians are usually never enough to fully regain the trust of constituents they once experienced. What remains to be seen is if her front page apology was enough and if she has time to rehabilitate her reputation and get back the trust of her constituents to avoid opposition next year.
On June 22, two bills were introduced at City Council by Brook Bassan that could eventually repeal safe outdoor spaces. The city council also rejected on a 4 to 5 to kill the resolution that would have required city staff to develop operating procedures for safe outdoor spaces. Bassan was joined Renee Grout, Dan Lewis, Klarissa Peña and Louie Sanchez to kill the operating rules bill. Notwithstanding the rejection of the operating rules, the Integrated Development Ordinance amendment updates that allow for Safe Outdoor Spaces will take effect. Safe outdoor spaces may be allowed in Albuquerque as soon as August 1. Bassan in a statement said in a written statement she did not see that as a real possibility, given the number of elements an operator would have to have in place to actually launch one. The City Council will now be on summer break until August.