On June 6, the City Council enacted legislation that amended the Integrated Development (IDO) to allow for city sanctioned “Safe Outdoor Spaces” encampments for the homeless. The council passed the legislation on a 5 to 4 vote.
SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES EXPLAINED
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 (IDO) 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 abut to or are 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law, once such permissive uses are approved and granted by the city, they become vested property rights and cannot be rescinded by the city council. 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 whoever 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:
REPEAL BEING SOUGHT
On June 22, after tremendous public outcry and objections, two bills were introduced at City Council by Brook Bassan that would eventually repeal safe outdoor spaces. One bill introduced would stop the city from accepting or approving safe outdoor space applications and the other will eliminate Safe Outdoor Spaces from the zoning code altogether.
The Keller Administration was quick to react and condemned the introduction of both bills and Bassan’s reversal. 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.”
The link to quoted news article is here:
During the June 22 meeting, as a result of the introduction of the repeal legislation, the council failed to enact the legislation that was to provide for rules and regulations promulged by the Keller Administration as requested by the City Council for Safe Outdoor Spaces. That failure prompted City Councilor President to warn that applications and approvals of Safe Outdoor Space as a permissive use or conditional use could take effect and there would be no rules nor regulations as was envisioned for Safe Outdoor Spaces. June 22 was the last meeting of the City Council before it went on “summer break” until August 1 with the next city council meeting scheduled for August 15.
The city council’s failure to take action on either the bills stopping the application process or repealing the land use resolution until August 15, results in Safe Outdoor Spaces becoming a permissible land use on July 28 and people can apply for the land use. On July 28, landowners and operators who want to establish Safe Outdoor Spaces can legally submit applications to the city. The applications need not earn full city approval from July 28 until the day the City Council returns from summer break on August 15 and votes in the repeal, but the applications must be considered complete, according to the Planning Department. Approval of Safe Outdoor Spaces “conditional use” or “permissive use” must be made after a hearing where surrounding landowners must be notified and be given an opportunity to be heard and then there is a right to appeal.
Planning Department spokesman Tim Walsh had this to say:
“An application for [the safe outdoor space zoning] locks into the existing zoning laws when it is deemed complete. … Therefore, if an application was completed in the interim between when the [Integrated Development Ordinance] (IDO) goes into effect and when a provision was rescinded, the application can still be processed and approved.”
The link to the quoted news source material is here:
What Walsh said was somewhat misleading in that he failed to disclose that the application is only the first step in a long process. A Zoning Hearing Examiner must review and decides special exceptions to the Integrated Development Ordinance, which includes “conditional uses” and “permissive uses” such as Safe Outdoor Spaces, variances, and expansions of nonconforming uses and structures. Public notice must be given to surrounding property owners and the general public and they must be given the opportunity to be heard. There is also the Environmental Planning Commission that is responsible for reviewing requests to amend the City’s Official Zoning Map, the Integrated Development Ordinance, and the ABC Comprehensive Plan.
Appeals of land use decisions are to the City Council. This includes Appeals in the Integrated Development Ordinance. Safe Outdoor Spaces are part of the Integrated Development Ordinance and if granted, an appeal could be made to the City Council.
Complicating the matter is the fact that the council failed to enact rules and regulations for the encampments delineating a screening process for use by the homeless and providing rules and regulations for use by the homeless including prohibiting illicit drugs.
NEW MEXICO SUN REPORTS APPLICATIONS FILED, FUNDING BEING SOUGHT FOR 6 ENAMPEMENTS
On July 19, the online news agency the New Mexico Sun broke the story that applications for “safe outdoor spaces” have been filed with the city Planning Department and that private funding is being sought for at least 6 encampments. The article was written by New Mexico Sun reporter W.J. Kennedy and the article is entitled “Funding for proposed homeless camps up in the air”. Below is the unedited article followed by the link:
“The backers of a controversial plan to establish tent sites for the city’s widespread and growing homeless problem have yet to secure a funding source to underwrite the “safe outdoor spaces” plan.
“It could be the city or the county,” Brad Day, a commercial real estate owner who spearheaded the plan, told the New Mexico Sun. “It’s up in the air.”
Day put the cost of housing at the homeless sites at $200 per month per person. He cited a New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness estimate that the city has 1,400 homeless, with an estimated 170 encampments. But he believes the real number could be double that.
Safe outdoor spaces will become legal in Albuquerque … on Thursday, July 28. The City Council ultimately added the safe outdoor spaces as a new use in the city’s Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO), which was approved by the council and will take effect July 28. The update to the code will allow safe outdoor spaces in certain nonresidential and mixed-use zones and limit the sites to 40 spots for tents or vehicles and a total of 50 on-site residents.
While the City Council could vote to make them illegal just a few weeks later on Aug. 15, such a quick reversal would not necessarily preclude safe outdoor spaces from already taking shape because the zoning in place at the time of a land use application carries forward regardless of future changes to the zoning code.
City Council Vice President Dan Lewis, who voted against the plan when it was approved by council in early June on a 5-4 vote, put the costs to fund the program much higher.
“A homeless encampment run by San Francisco costs the city $60,000 per year, per tent, twice the median cost of a one-bedroom apartment for each tent,” Lewis, citing a 2021 San Francisco Chronicle article, wrote in a memo.
He also noted what the city is already shelling out each year for the homeless, with many not taking advantage of the benefits provided.
“The 2023 budget funds $60 million dollars to housing and homeless services,” he wrote. “The city runs the Westside shelter with over 100 beds that are unused every night.”
Day and other supporters of safe outdoor spaces have a window of a few weeks to win approval from the city’s Planning Department for what he hopes are four to six sites that will house 200-300 people.
The application window will then close quickly if a measure to kill the plan, sponsored by (Northeast Heights) City Councilor Brook Bassan is approved by council; it’s expected to be taken up in mid-August. Bassan was one of five of nine councilors who approved safe outdoor spaces in June as part of the city’s annual zoning code update. She reversed her position after later facing angry constituents in a town hall meeting.
Bassan told the Albuquerque Journal that “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.”
Day said he’s been talking to nonprofits and churches about operating the sites. He declined to name them for fear of backlash before the applications are submitted.
“If the names got out, who knows what Bassan and others might do to stop them,” he said.
Day insists that the plan, as some fear, will not result in more Coronado Parks, the park north of downtown with an estimated 70 tents and more than 100 homeless, and where a shooting death recently occurred.
The sites will be located in non-residential zoning areas, he says. Most will be north of downtown and in the southeast of the city, where most of the homeless now reside. Each site can hold a maximum of 40 spaces for tents or vehicles, with a maximum of 50 people. Showers, toilets, and some social services will be included.
Day began working on the plan nine months ago – two years after he hired a homeless person to patrol his properties at night, which include buildings at San Mateo/Copper and Lead/Interstate 25.
He and other commercial real estate owners, who likewise hired the same person to patrol their properties, learned more of the plight of the homeless, he said.
Retired for 20 years from the insurance business, Day now refers to himself as a “private citizen and volunteer.”
The link to the New Mexico Sun news article is here:
MAYOR KELLER ANNOUNCES ADMINISTRATION IS “REVISITING” HOMELESS POLICIES
It was Mayor Tim Keller who initially proposed the idea of “Safe Outdoor Spaces” in his 2022-2023 city budget. The 2022-2023 proposed budget released on April 1 provides major funding to deal with the homeless. The budget approved includes the following line item funding:
“$750,000 for proposed “safe outdoor spaces. … If approved by Council, will enable ultra-low barrier encampments to set up in vacant dirt lots across the City. There is an additional $200,000 for developing other sanctioned encampment programs.”
On Saturday, June 25, Mayor Tim Keller gave his “State of The City” address. Keller bought up the city’s homeless crisis. Keller noted that homelessness is “on display in so many areas in our city”. Keller had this to say:
“We have to open new ways, new pathways, to longstanding problems and try new approaches. We’ve got to be agile, we’ve got to learn and we’ve got to keep creating pathways to stability. That is why we are revisiting our approach to homelessness and encampments.”
On July 6, after intense public outcry and objections over “safe outdoor spaces” Mayor Tim Keller again announced that his administration is “revisiting” its policies on how it addresses homeless encampments that are increasing in number throughout the city. Keller wants to initiate major changes by the end of July on how to deal legally with homeless encampments and in particular Coronado Park.
The links to quoted news sources are here:
HOUSING FIRST POLICY
The city has adopted what is called a “housing first” policy to deal with the homeless crisis. The 2022-2023 adopted city contains $4 million in recurring funding and $2 million in one-time funding for supportive housing programs in the City’s Housing First model and $24 million in Emergency Rental Assistance from the federal government
The link to the enacted 2022-2023 proposed budget is here:
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 which is what Safe Outdoor Spaces represents.
The city 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 housing first policy provides for city voucher programs, low-income housing, building shelter space and making beds available for its homeless population.
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 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.
City officials have said Coronado Park is the subject of daily responses from the encampment team because of the number of tent’s set up there. They say the encampment team, along with Parks and Recreation Department and Solid Waste go out every morning, during the week, to give campers notice and clean up the park. They also work on getting them connected to resources and services they may need.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Brad Day’s actions and the applications and not disclosing operators is what you call being a sneak and taking advantage of a loophole and refusing to take no for an answer. Day said he’s been talking to nonprofits and churches about operating the sites, but he declined to give names for fear of backlash before the applications are submitted making the insulting remark “If the names got out, who knows what Bassan and others might do to stop them.” Sooner, rather than later there must be full disclosure, especially seeing that he says funding could come from city or county taxpayers. It’s also more likely than not some of those same nonprofits and churches are already benefiting from the millions spent each year by the city to deal with the homeless.
Brad Day seems to think that getting the approval the planning department for the permissive use and conditional use is a slam dunk with the filing of the applications. It is not. The truth is the application is only the first major step. The public has a right to be heard and there must be public hearing with notices given to adjoining property owners and the public afforded to the opportunity to be heard to either support of oppose Safe Outdoor Spaces. Day also still thinks funding could still come from the City or County.
Day insisting that safe outdoor spaces will not result in more Coronado Parks is playing fast and loose with the facts given that no rules nor regulations were adopted. Simply put, no one knows for sure. What the city 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 is injurious to public health, safety and welfare and will interfere with the exercise and enjoyment of public rights, including the right to use public property. The practical effect of the Safe Outdoor Spaces will be to create “mini” Coronado Parks in all 9 city council districts, especially give the fact that the City Council has failed to enact proposed rules and regulations.
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 and is what safe outdoor spaces represent. 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.
KELLER CAN ISSUE EXECUTIVE ORDER TO PLANNING DEPARTMENT SUSPENDING SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES APPLICATION PROCESS
Mayor Tim Keller has said his Administration is revisiting its homeless policy. It’s more likely that Keller’s announcement to revisit policies was nothing more than a ruse to buy time to let things cool off and let the public forget and to fend off the city council from repealing “safe outdoor spaces”. After all, Mayor Tim Keller asked for and was given $750,000 for safe outdoor spaces and its likely he still supports them a part of his “all the above” approach to the homeless crisis.
If Mayor Tim Keller is truly committed to “revisiting” his policies on the homeless, then he can and should issue and executive order suspending or placing a “moratorium” on the application process for Safe Outdoor Spaces. He has the authority to give such an order to his Director of the Planning and Zoning Department.
The moratorium should be in place until the City Council has that opportunity to vote one way or the other on August 15 to repeal the legislation authorizing Safe Outdoor Spaces and also enact the rules and regulations on managing safe outdoor spaces if there is a failure to repeal. Mayor Keller has only 3 days left to issue such and order or until July 28 when the amendments to Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) become law.
“Safe Outdoor Spaces” will be a disaster for the city as a whole. They will destroy neighborhoods, make the city a magnet for the homeless and destroy the city efforts to manage the homeless through housing. If the City allows the 6 applications for “safe outdoor spaces” to proceed and approves them, 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.
The public needs to make their opinions known and tell Mayor Tim Keller to issue an executive order suspending or placing a moratorium on the application process and tell city councillors to demand that he issue such an order so that they can vote on the repeal.
The email addresses and phone numbers to contact Mayor Keller and Interim Chief Administrative Officer Lawrence Rael and each City Councilor and the Director of Counsel services are as follows:
MAYOR’S OFFICE PHONE: (505) 768-3000
CITY COUNCIL PHONE: (505) 768-3100