On Monday, the Albuquerque City Council passed on a 6 to 3 vote a moratorium that bars the City Planning Department from accepting or approving any pending applications for Safe Outdoor Spaces. Under the legislation, a complete moratorium is in effect until August 1, 2023, unless the City Council enacts a separate bill removing them totally from the zoning code.
The vote was bipartisan. Voting YES for the moratorium where Republicans Brook Bassam Renee Grout, Trudy Jones, and Dan Lewis who were joined by Democrats Klarissa Peña and Louie Sanchez. Voting “NO” on the moratorium were Democrats Isaac Benton, Pat Davis and Tammy Fiebelcorn.
“Safe Outdoor Spaces” are organized, managed homeless encampments with 40 designated spaces for tents that allows for upwards of 50 people, require hand washing stations, toilets and showers, requires a management plan, 6 foot fencing and social services offered.
Before passing the moratorium legislation, the City Council amended the bill to ensure that the moratorium stopped the City Planning Department from approving any “pending” applications and to add language stopping the city from authorizing any “Safe Outdoor Space” on city property.
The prohibition to stop the city from authorizing “Safe Outdoor Spaces” on city own property was likely in reaction to the City Planning Department approving a Safe Outdoor Space Homeless campsite application made by Dawn Legacy Point to be located at 1250 Menaul Blvd, NE.
The tent encampment is to be located on two parcels of city own open space lots at 1250 Menaul, NE. The city sanctioned encampment is intended to provide accommodations for “sex-trafficking victims” and other vulnerable populations.
Still pending is before the city council is another resolution that will totally eliminate and prohibit “Safe Outdoor Spaces” from the Integrated Development Ordinance altogether. That legislation is still pending before a City Council Committee and will likely be voted upon by the full council within a month to 6 weeks.
OTHER APPLICATIONS, ONE APPEAL
According to the Planning Departments web site, the city has received a total of five applications thus far for Safe Outdoor Spaces. The link to the city web site listing the applications is here:
On August 10, the City of Albuquerque approved the “Safe Outdoor Space” application filed by Dawn Legacy Point for a homeless encampment at 1250 Menaul Blvd, NE. However, on Monday, August 15, the Santa Barbara Martinez Town Neighborhood Association filed an appeal.
According to the city’s website, City Planning has denied 2 other applications and 2 others remain “under review”. Both pending applications propose using their properties for people to sleep in their cars.
One is from the nonprofit Heading Home. It is seeking to open a safe outdoor space for up to 12 vehicles and occupants outside its existing shelter at 715 Candelaria NE. The other pending application is from Bethlehem Baptist Church. The church wants to open its parking lot at 512 Wheeler SE for up to 40 vehicles and 50 total occupants.
DIVERSION OF FUNDING SOUGHT
It was Republican City Councilor Dan Lewis who sponsored an amendment to build on the moratorium. The amendment stops any Safe Outdoor Spaces that are still in process of being approved without a final certificate of occupancy from the city.
Lewis also sponsored legislation that will take funds that are already earmarked in the budget for Safe Outdoor Spaces and use them in other ways to help the homeless, including the Gateway Homeless Shelter. Lewis said this about the diversion of funds:
“The voters approved the Gateway Center and we’ve invested a good amount of money in that project, and so this will be money that will go toward the operations of that facility to again provide the services to the unsheltered that are desperately needed right now.”
The 2022-2023 approved city budget provides major funding to deal with the homeless. The enacted budget includes a total of $950,000 for safe outdoor spaces/encampments. 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.”
City voters also approved $500,000 for encampments as part of last fall’s $140 million bond package.
MAYOR KELLER’S OPTIONS
The moratorium does not take effect immediately. The City Council will forward the legislation to Mayor Tim Keller where he has 3 options: he can sign it within ten days, veto it or let the legislation take effect without question. The legislation passed on a 6 to 3 vote, meaning that if Keller veto’s it, the council has the necessary 6 votes to override his veto. If Keller signs the legislation or does nothing within 10 days, it can take effect on or before August 16. If and override of a Keller veto is necessary, the earliest moratorium would take effect would be September 8.
Links to quoted news sources are here:
HISTORY OF A FLIP FLOP
It was on June 6 that the City Council enacted a series of amendments updating the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO). One of the amendments was the “Safe Outdoor Spaces.” The legislation passed on a 5 to 4 vote. Voting YESto allow Safe Outdoor Spaces were Democrats Isaac Benton, Pat Davis and Tammy Feibelcorn and Republicans Brook Basan and Trudy Jones. Voting NO were Republicans Dan Lewis, Renee Grout and Democrats Louis Sanchez and Klarissa Pena. Mayor Tim Keller signed off on the legislation making it law.
Under the enacted amendment, Safe Outdoor Spaces are allowed in some non-residential and mixed-use zones and must be at least 330 feet from zones with low-density residential development. Under the IDO amendment, Safe Outdoor Spaces are allowed for up to two years with a possible two-year extension.
After tremendous public outcry and objections to Safe Ourdoor Spaces, Republican City Councilor Brook Bassan, who had voted “YES”and previously voiced support for safe outdoor spaces, did an about face and changed her mind. On June 22, just a few weeks after helping pass the Safe Outdoor Space amendment, Bassan introduced legislation to repeal the IDO amendment and she introduced two bills. 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.
Bassan issued an apology to her constituents saying after her initial support of Safe Outdoor Spaces she had serious doubts. She went so far as to saying that the city was not ready to implement them and that they would not provide the type of relief she initially hoped. Bassan said this:
“Even though many are in support of safe outdoor spaces, way more are saying they don’t want them. … [Going forward with them] doesn’t feel right.”
SANTA BARBARA MARTINEZ TOWN NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION APPEALS DAWN LEGACY POINTE APPLICATION FOR “SAFE OUTDOOR SPACE”
On July 30, Dawn Legacy Point filed the first application ever for a Safe Outdoor Space homeless encampment. The address of the homeless encampment site is 1250 Menaul Blvd, NE. It is an open space area that borders I-25. The open space land consists of two lots of more than 15 acres of land that are owned by the city of Albuquerque and have a combined assessed value of $4,333,500. Dawn Legacy Point will operat the city sanction encampment and be subsidized by the City. It is projected that the annual cost of operating the encampment the first year will be $150,000 to $180,000.
Kylea Good, the Board Chair of Dawn Legacy Point said the Safe Outdoor Space homeless encampment at 1205 Menaul will be for “sex-trafficking victims” and other vulnerable populations. Good went so far as to say it will likely be occupied by woman first and said:
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we maxxed out. The truth of the matter is it’s not like we’re looking at just one area. There’s a lot of [human] trafficking and exploitation that goes on around that area of Menaul.”
When the words “trafficking and exploitation” are used by Good, she is talking about woman who are victims of crime such as kidnapping or forced prostitution. She is saying that she wants to provide tents in city sanction encampments to woman who have already been victimized believing she is somehow acting compassionate when such woman need actual, compassionate treatment and permanent housing that is safe and secured and not living in a tent city.
Less than a half mile from the vacant land located at 1250 Menaul Blvd, NE and within walking distance from the property is Menaul School, a private boarding school for 6th to 12th graders. Directly across the street from the property is the T-Mobile Call Center and a Quality Inn & Suites. Going West on Menaul and one block from the property is Carrington College and two apartment complexes.
On August 8, the City Planning Department approved the application for a homeless campsite at 1250 Menaul, NE. The City Planning Department unilaterally reviewed the application behind closed doors with no notice to surrounding businesses or neighborhood associations, no public hearing and no public input. The application was “fast tracked” by the Planning Department to approve the application just 8 days before the City Council was scheduled to repeal the Safe Outdoor Spaces zoning use on August 16.
On Monday, August 15, Santa Barbara Martinez Town Neighborhood Association (SBMTNA) filed an appeal requesting the City Planning Department to reverse its decision and deny the Safe Outdoor Space application of Dawn Legacy for 1250 Menaul. Specifically, the neighborhood association want the City and the Planning Department to set aside and rescinded it approval and not allow any Safe Outdoor Space at 1205 Menaul, NE.
The major grounds for the appeal are:
1. The City Planning Department failed to follow City policies, procedures, and regulations required for the approval of the Safe Outdoor Spaces and applications for “special use” or “conditional use” zoning.
2. The city planning department “fast tracked” the Dawn Legacy application to approve the application just 8 days before the City Council could repeal the Safe Outdoor Space amendment on August 16 thereby acting in bad faith and to the determent of other property owners and businesses in the area.
3. The City of Albuquerque Planning Department unilaterally decided to review and grant the Dawn Legacy Point application behind closed doors without any public input, without notice to adjacent and surrounding property owners and without any public hearings.
4. The City of Albuquerque failed to notify the SBMTNA of the Safe Outdoor Space application filed by Dawn Legacy Pointe for 1250 Menaul NE and failed to allow input thereby denying the association due process.
5. The City Planning Department gave preferential treatment to the Dawn Legacy applicants by working with the applicants to identify city property to be used for a Saf Outdoor Space and with the City Family and Community Services Depart agreeing to fund operating costs, with both city deparments not affording other potential applicants the sam opportunity.
6. The city council failed to enact operating procedures for Safe Outdoor Space encampments and failed to provide direction to the City departments charged with approving or disapproving Safe Outdoor Spaces applications and has allowed approvals to be made without any kind of objective, standards-based decision-making process.
7. Dawn Legacy has submitted plagiarized operating procedures of a nonprofit unsanctioned encampment in another city and the City accepted those operating procedures.
8. The security plan offered Dawn Legacy Pointe and approved by the city for the homeless camp is defective and insufficient for the campsite to ensure safety of the tenants.
9. The City of Albuquerque Planning Department and the Solid Waste Department are knowingly allowing the establishment of a public nuisance in the form of a Safe Outdoor Space in the Martinez Town Santa Barbara Neighborhood. The Planning Departments actions are tantamount to the City allowing Coronado Park to become the city’s DeFacto city sanctioned homeless encampment in violation of the city’s own public nuisance law and city ordinances.
10. The City of Albuquerque Planning Department did nothing to provide processes for development decision of 1250 Menaul NE to ensure a balance of the interests of the City, property owners, residents, and developers and ensure opportunities for input by affected parties.
11. The operation and existence of a Safe Outdoor Space encampment at 1250 Menaul NE will have a determental impact on the Martinez Town Santa Barbara neighborhood, and will adversely affect property values and interfer with residence peaceful use and enjoyment of their residential properties.
12. The encampment as proposed for 1205 Menaul, NE will become a magnet for crime and prostitution, or illicit drug trade given that it is in close proximity to a truck stop known for prostitution and illicit drug activity amongst law enforcement. The location is directly across the street from a major call center and a Quality Inn & Suites and within walking distance of Menaul Boarding School and apartments. Occupants of the Safe Outdoor spaces are not confined and are free to go and come as they please and could easily wind up uninvited wherever they want to go, including the truck stop, and disrupt the peaceful use and enjoyment at any one of those locations or engage in illicit activity themselves.
Under the Intergrated Development Ordinance (IDO), appeals must be filed within 15 days from when an application is approved. On August 8 the City Planning Department approved the Dawn Legacy application, there for other property owners in the area have only until August 23, to file an appeal. The IDO also requires that within 30 days after an appeal is filed, a hearing must be held on the appeal. In the case of the Santa Barbara Martinez Town Neighborhood Association, the hearing must be held on or before September 14.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
DAWN LEGACY POINT APPLICATION
There is no getting around it. What Mayor Tim Keller’s Planning Department did in approving the Dawn Legacy application for a homeless encampment does not past the smell test. The approval of the Dawn Legacy Point application for a Safe Outdoor Space is as about as sneaky and underhanded as it gets for Mayor Tim Keller and his planning department to intentionally exclude the general public from participating in a land use planning and zoning process.
With Keller acquiescence, the City Planning Department approved a Safe Outdoor Space on city owned property valued at $4,333,500 to be operated by a third party and subsidized by the City to house women in tents who are victims of “trafficking and exploitation”. It is something that so called progressive Mayor Tim Keller should be absolutely ashamed of with the treatment of victims of “trafficking and exploitation” being encouraged to live in tents as a housing solution and exploited once again by denying them proper housing.
CITY COUNCIL MORITORIUM
Mayor Tim Keller’s office did not comment if he intends to veto the moratorium legislation. Notwithstanding, the Mayor’s spokeswoman Ava Montoya had harsh words for the city council’s moratorium and said this:
“We are reviewing the legislation but have been clear that the City needs access to every tool in order to address rising homelessness with an effective all-of-the-above approach. It is incredibly unhelpful for City Council to pass Safe Outdoor Space legislation and then waffling mere months later while the community is already working to establish them.”
Montoya’s comments are a reflection of just how tone-deaf Mayor Keller and his administration really have become when it comes to the homeless and the demands of the public. The city council moratorium is a city council responding to the demands and needs of their districts after listening to their constituent’s, something Keller is not known for at all.
Mayor Tim Keller has lost a significant amount of credibility and public trust as he attempts to cram a political agenda down people’s throats. What Mayor Tim Keller has done is to cram Safe Outdoor Spaces down the throats of Albuquerque not realizing he is creating an even bigger problem. Mayor Tim Keller has mishandled the homeless crisis, including his closing of Coronado Park with him actually admitting he did so without a viable plan.
Mayor Tim Keller had the biggest hand in creating what he has called “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 ordered closure of the park and 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.
Safe Outdoor Spaces and Coronado Park are Mayor Keller’s symbols and legacy of failure as the city deals its most vulnerable population, the homeless. If Keller had a lick of sense he would not veto the legislation and risk an enevitable override and simply allow the legislation to to effect. Keller needs to abandon his efforts to establish Safe Outdoor Spaces and acknowledge, as the council has, that there is very little public support for such homeless tent encampments.
The homeless crisis will not be solved by the city, but it can and must be managed. Safe Outdoor Spaces represent a very temporary place to pitch a tent, relieve oneself, bathe and sleep at night with rules that will not likely be followed. Safe Outdoor Spaces are not the answer to the homeless crisis. The answer is to provide the support services, including food and permanant lodging, and mental health care needed to allow the homeless, and yes those who are the victims of human trafficking, to turn their lives around, become productive self-sufficient citizens, no longer dependent on relatives or others.
“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’s efforts to manage the homeless through housing. If the City Council allows for “safe outdoor spaces” zoning, 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.