On June 27, calling it “the most dangerous place in the state of New Mexico” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller held a press conference standing in front of Coronado Park to discuss his reasons for ordering the parks closure and saying it was imperative even without a fully formed plan for how to do it and what happens next.
Keller said this:
“We’re not going to wait any longer. We have all the evidence we need that says that we have to do something different. … It is not going to be something where every question is answered, and every plan is thought out. … We do not have the luxury of a perfect plan. … At this point, if we don’t close the park now, it will never be a park again. … There was unanimous consensus that at a minimum, temporarily, this park has to close. … This is the first step. We welcome everyone to help us problem-solve, but someone has to step up and make a decision … And that’s what people elected me to do.”
City officials have said that upwards 120 people camp nightly at the park. Homeless occupants will be told of other housing options offered by the city. The city will continue to offer services and housing options to those using Coronado Park, including making limited property storage available to those who are interested or in need of it.
The links to quoted news sources are here:
Keller admitted that the immediate closure of the park will be “messy” and that dispersing park residents could create other problems. Keller also said that no decision has been made about the park’s specific closure date. He also said no long-term plans have been made for the property but said options include reopening it as a park, using it for the neighboring fire station’s expansion or turning it into a “safe outdoor space” which is a managed site with rules, toilets and showers where people who are homeless can legally camp.
It was on Monday, July 25, in a speech before the very Republican leaning New Mexico chapter of the National Association of Industrial Office Parks (NAIOP), that Mayor Tim Keller announced closure of Coronado Park. The announcement took everyone by surprise. The announcement was labeled by more than one local news media outlet as a “bombshell” announcement.
Keller told the group of commercial and real estate developers and said this in a statement:
“[The]situation is absolutely unacceptable, so we’re going to stop it. In August we’re closing Coronado Park. … It doesn’t matter if we know exactly what we’re doing next. It doesn’t matter exactly what the timing is or how we’re going to do it, but we have to do better than what’s happening at Coronado Park. There is a bed for every person [who stays at Coronado] to go. … The status quo will not stand … This remains a complex issue and while we work to determine what’s next for Coronado, we’ll keep stepping up to get folks connected to the right services and resources. …
We’re very concerned about what’s going to happen in the neighborhoods, but at this point now, it’s a question of what is worse — looking the other way at violence, at homicide, at rampant drug use, or trying to deal with the problem a different way. … It has reached the breaking point where even if it’s creating other problems and other brush fires, we’ve got a better chance dealing with that than we do letting this go.”
FAILURE TO CONFER
Mayor Keller was severely criticized for making the decision to close the park without conferring first and getting input from the surrounding neighborhoods, especially the Wells Park neighborhood, local businesses and stakeholders.
Wells Park Neighborhood Association President Doreen McKnight said this:
“It’s hard for us to take a position on this — whether or not we think it’s a good or bad idea — if nobody communicates with us and there’s no plan.”
The Mental Health Response Advisory Committee is in charge of advising the city on issues related to chronic homelessness. Max Kauffman, who co-chairs the committee, said Keller’s announcement came as a surprise. Kaufman said this:
“Now we’re in the position of having to react to it rather than getting ahead of it, helping to make sure that they’re considering all the factors that are relevant to people experiencing homelessness and they’re taking good care in how they’re executing this policy, and whether to execute this policy at all.”
Keller took issue with the criticism that he made the park closure decision without first notifying or consulting with key constituencies justifying his decision by saying the situation at the park had become a major crisis that needs to be dealt with immediately. Keller did say the city would now begin sorting out the closure details and future plans with service providers, park residents, neighbors and other elected officials.
The link to quoted news source material is here:
CESSPOOL OF CRMINAL ACTIVITY
Over the last 10 years, Coronado Park became the “de facto” city sanctioned homeless encampment with the city repeatedly cleaning it up only for the homeless to return the next day. City officials have said it is costing the city $27,154 every two weeks or $54,308 a month to clean up the park only to allow the homeless encampment to return.
Residents and businesses located near the park complain 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 has 70 to 80 tents crammed into the park with homeless wondering the area.
Criminal activity has spiked at Coranado Park over the past three years with an extensive history of 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. APD reports that it was dispatched to the park 651 times in 2021 and 312 times thus far in 2022. There have been 16 stabbings at the park in the past 2 years and in the past 30 days APD has seized from the park 4,500 fentanyl pills, more than 5 pounds of methamphetamine, 24 grams of heroin and 29 grams of cocaine. APD also found $10,000 in cash.
KELLER’S COMPLETE REVERASAL
Mayor Keller’s decision to close Coronado Park was a dramatic 100% reversal from just a few weeks ago when he gave excuses why he could not close Coronado Park. It was an astonishing admission of failure when Mayor Tim Keller said this about Coronado Park:
“[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:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Mayor Tim Keller will never admit it, but it is he who had the biggest hand in creating “the most dangerous place in the state of New Mexico” and creating the cesspool of crime known as Coronado Park. It was nauseating for Keller to deflect blame over what he created when he said:
“This is the first step. We welcome everyone to help us problem-solve, but someone has to step up and make a decision. And that’s what people elected me to do.”
Absolutely no one elected Tim Keller to decide to allow a once beautiful and pristine park dedicated to public use to become a festering blight for over 4 years on the community and creating a cesspool of crime.
Simply put, Coronado Park is 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 became the symbol of Keller’s failure as Mayor to deal with the homeless crisis and now he has to deal with a nuisance property he created.
Now that Mayor Tim Keller is ordering the closure and cleanup of Coronado Park, he should issue a formal apology to the Wells Park Neighborhood and the businesses in the area and forcing them for the last 4 years to an endure a blight, a nuisance and a magnet for crime he created.
It was disingenuous for Keller to say just a few weeks ago “[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. … .“The current situation at Coronado Park does not beat the alternative of having a zero tolerance of allowing illegal encampments and allowing the homeless to squat all over the city and not enforce the law.
Grouping the homeless, as Keller said, in a city park should never have been considered as an option to deal with the homeless crisis given all the resources the city is spending to help the homeless. This so called “grouping” coming from a mayor who for his entire first term made dealing with the homeless crisis a corner stone of his administration. A Mayor whose administration spent $40 million in 2022 and will spend $60 million in 2023 to provide assistance to the homeless. A Mayor who saw to it that the city purchased the 529,000 square-foot Lovelace Hospital facility on Gibson for $15 million to have it converted into a Gateway Shelter and who made the westside shelter a 24-7 facility.
On July 6 Mayor Tim Keller announced that his administration was “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. Closure of Coronado Park is a good first step.
Mayor’s Keller’s announcement took everyone by surprise and was even labeled a “bombshell” announcement by more than on media outlet. It was as if he was in a rush to make the announcement before a Republican business group in order to make headlines. He told no one else about it, including the neighborhood area of Wells Park, other homeless care providers in the city, nor the city’s Mental Health Response Advisory Committee which advises the city on issues related to chronic homelessness.
Keller himself admitted there is no real plan in place on how to deal with the closure of the park which is sloppy at best and incompetence at its worst. Keller has essentially “pivoted” from a crisis he has created known as Coronado Park to another crisis he will have to deal with when it comes to dealing those that are being displaced.
Mayor Tim Keller is to be commended for at least coming to his senses after a full 4 years of failing to exercise his authority to issue executive orders to clean up and remove unlawful encampments and permanently close Coronado Park. Closure of Coronado Park is a good first step in announcing a new approach to the city’s homeless crisis. Now comes the real hard part to come up with a viable plan that will not make things worse for the area and the city and that will deal with the homeless in a compassionate manner.