On Friday, August 26, in a late afternoon and what amounts to a “sneaky announcement” to ensure little media attention, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller announced he vetoed the Albuquerque City Council legislation that placed a moratorium on “Safe Outdoor Spaces.”
Keller argued in his veto message that the city cannot afford to limit its options for addressing homelessness and said he understood how new policies sometimes take time to refine after testing. Keller wrote in part in his veto message:
“We need every tool at our disposal to confront the unhoused crisis and we need to be willing to act courageously. … However, reasonable time, testing and piloting has not been allowed”.
The link to the quoted news source article is here:
“Safe Outdoor Spaces” are defined in the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) as an 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. According to the IDO, there are no prohibitions for charitable organization and churches to place Safe Outdoor Space tent encampments on their properties.
According to the Family, Community Services web site a “Safe Outdoor Space” is a lot, or a portion of a lot, developed to provide designated spaces for occupancy by tents, recreational vehicles, and/or light vehicles. Designated spaces are provided to occupants at no charge. A safe outdoor space offers social services and support facilities.
OVERIDE OF VETO
It was on Monday, August 15, the City Council passed the moratorium on a 6 to 3 vote that bars the City Planning Department from accepting or approving any pending applications for “Safe Outdoor Spaces”. Before passing the moratorium, 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. Under the legislation, a complete moratorium was to be 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.
The vetoed legislation can be overridden by the City Council. The earliest meeting the council can act to override the veto is at its September 7 meeting. The city council needs 6 votes to override the veto. If the 6 councilors who originally passed the moratorium (Bassan, Renee Grout, Trudy Jones, Dan Lewis, Klarissa Peña and Louie Sanchez) remain in support, they will override Keller’s veto.
EIGHT APPEALS FILED ON THE ONE APPLICATION APPROVED
On August 8, before the council’s August 15 moratorium vote, the City Planning Department approved the Dawn Legacy Point application for a Safe Outdoor Space homeless campsite at 1250 Menaul, NE which will be used by woman who have been “victims of sex trafficking”. 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.
Less than a half mile from the vacant land 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. Immediately East of the Freeway is the massive TA Travel Truck Stop on University that can accommodate parking of upwards of 150 semitrucks. Within law enforcement circles, the truck stop is known for prostitution and illicit drug activity. Immediate south of the truck stop on University Blvd is the Crown Plaza Hotel.
The vacant land borders Sunset Memorial Park to the West. It has been reported that workers daily patrol the cemetery grounds, monitoring the activity of homeless people who have taken to lounging in the various meditative shelters provided for grieving families. The homeless are known to use the various fountains throughout the park to wash themselves or use the fountains as a toilet, despite there being an easy-to-find portable toilets located at the northeast end of the park.
As of August 26, eight separate appeals of the Dawn Legacy Point Safe Outdoor Spaces homeless tent encampment have been filed asking the City Planning Department to reverse its decision and deny the Safe Outdoor Space application of Dawn Legacy for 1250 Menaul. Appeals have been filed by the following parties:
- Martineztown Santa Barbara Neighborhood Association
- Menaul Middle School
- Life Roots
- Reuele Sun Corporation, a participant in the Menaul Redevelopment Area
- Crown Plaza Hotel, a participant in the Menaul Redevelopment Area
- T-Mobil Cell Phone Call Center
- Sunset Memorial Cemetery
- Greater Albuquerque Hotel and Lodging Association
OTHER APPLICATIONS PENDING
According to the Planning Department’s website, there are other organizations that have safe outdoor space applications pending with the city. As of Friday. August 26, proposals for 512 Wheeler SE and 715 Candelaria NE were marked as “under review. ”
Three more applications are classified as “awaiting review” by the Planning Department and those locations listed are:
5915 Bluewater NW
2626 Arizona, NE
2401 University SE
Four of the 5 pending locations are church properties, with 715 Candelaria site being private property according to county property records.
The link to the city web site listing the applications is here:
CITY’S HOUSING FIRST POLICY
The Keller Administration has adopted a housing first policy when it comes to dealing with the homeless crisis. The city has made a huge financial commitment to help homeless or near homeless.
This past fiscal year 2021 ending June 10, 2021, the Family and Community Services Department and the Keller Administration have spent upwards of $40 Million to benefit the homeless or near homeless. The 2021 adopted city budget for Family and Community Services Department provides for emergency shelter contracts totaling $5,688,094, affordable housing and community contracts totaling $22,531,752, homeless support services contracts totaling $3,384,212, mental health contracts totaling $4,329,452, and substance abuse contracts for counseling contracts totaling $2,586,302.
The link to the 2021-2022 city approved budget is here:
Mayor Keller’s 2022-2023 approved budget significantly increases the Family and Community Services budget by $24,353,064 to assist the homeless or near homeless by going from $35,145,851 to $59,498,915.
The 2022-2023 proposed budget for the Department of Community Services is $72.4 million and it will have 335 full time employees, or an increase of 22 full time employees.
A breakdown of the amounts to help the homeless and those in need of housing assistance is as follows:
$42,598,361 total for affordable housing and community contracts with a major emphasis on permanent housing for chronically homeless. It is $24,353,064 more than last year.
$6,025,544 total for emergency shelter contracts (Budget page 102.), down $396,354 from last year.
$3,773,860 total for mental health contracts (Budget page105.), down $604,244 from last year.
$4,282,794 total homeless support services, up $658,581 from last year.
$2,818,356 total substance abuse contracts for counseling (Budget page 106.), up by $288,680 from last year.
The link to the 2022-2023 budget it here:
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.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
With his veto and veto message, Mayor Tim Keller is essentially saying “Let the public be damned, I know what I want and what’s best for my city”. Keller no doubt thinks he is acting courageously, but what he is doing is ignoring the wishes of city residents as he tries to unilaterally enact city council policy and infringe on the preview of the city council all the while as he spends upwards of $60 million a year to deal with the homeless. With his veto, Keller ignores that the moratorium, as well as pending repeal legislation, is a direct result of severe public backlash and outcry by city residents and neighborhood associations that refuse to support Safe Outdoor Spaces.
It was Mayor Tim Keller who in his Apri 1 proposed city buget, which was approved by the city council, that initially came up with the “Safe Outdoor Spaces” concept when he included and received city council approval of $950,000 in his 2022-2023 budget for establishment and development of the city sanction tent encampments. For Keller to say now that “reasonable time, testing and piloting has not been allowed” is ludicrous and just false seeing as his Family and Community Services Department has been working behind the scenes and behind closed for over a year to get them up and running.
Albuquerque City Counselor Brook Bassan, who initially supported Safe Outdoor Spaces but the reversed herself because of constituent backlash, said it best when she cited public outcry as a major factor in her own backtracking and said this:
“Working to allow these safe outdoor spaces to happen is saying that we do not pay attention to the majority of Albuquerque residents who are saying they don’t want these and they don’t need them because we need to come up with a different solution, whatever that may look like.”
The millions being spent each year by the city to deal with the homeless with the “housing first” policy should be more than sufficient to deal with housing the homeless, yet Keller demands and want more from the public. Safe Outdoor spaces encampments violates the city’s “housing first” policy by not providing a form of permanent housing and with reliance on temporary housing.
Safe Outdoor Spaces are not the answer to the homeless crisis. “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.
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. The answer is to provide the support services, including food and permanent lodging, and mental health care needed to allow the homeless to turn their lives around, become productive self-sufficient citizens and no longer dependent on relatives or others.
With his veto of the Safe Outdoor Space moratorium, Mayor Keller has lost credibility and public trust because of his stubbornness. What Mayor Tim Keller has done is to try and cram Safe Outdoor Spaces down the throats of the City Council who are the policy makers as well as the community as a whole to promote his own political agenda.
Mayor Tim Keller has mishandled the homeless crisis, including the closing of Coronado Park. Safe Outdoor Spaces and Coronado Park are Mayor Keller’s symbols and legacy of failure as the city deals the most the city’s most vulnerable population, the homeless.
The public needs to make their opinions known and tell the city council to override Mayor Keller’s Veto on September 7.
The email addresses and phone numbers to contact each City Councilor and the Director of Counsel services are as follows:
CITY COUNCIL PHONE: (505) 768-3100