On September 7, in what can only be considered a major flip flop of epic proportions, Republican City Councilor Trudy Jones voted “NO” to override Democrat Mayor Tim Keller’s veto of a one-year moratorium on the application process for “Safe Outdoor Spaces”. In order to override the veto, 6 YES votes were needed. The 4 who voted NO to override were Republican Trudy Jones who joined Democrats Isaac Benton, Pat Davis and Tammy Fiebelcorn. The 5 who voted YES to override the veto. Were Republicans Brook Bassam, Renee Grout, and Dan Lewis who were joined by Democrats Klarissa Peña and Louie Sanchez.
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. The Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) limits Safe Outdoor Space camps to 40 spots and a total of 50 residents each and makes them a temporary use where operators can run them for two years at a selected sites with the possibility of a single two-year extension.
It was on Monday, August 15, the City Council passed the moratorium on a 6 to 3 vote that barred the City Planning Department from accepting or approving any pending applications for “Safe Outdoor Spaces”. The moratorium, as well as pending repeal legislation, was a direct result of severe public backlash and outcry by city residents and neighborhood associations that refuse to support Safe Outdoor Spaces. The August 15 vote was bipartisan.
Voting YES for the moratorium where Republicans Trudy Jones, Brook Bassan, Renee Grout, 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. On August 26, Mayor Keller vetoed the moratorium. Under the vetoed legislation, a complete moratorium would have been in effect until August 1, 2023, unless the City Council enacts a separate bill removing them totally from the zoning code.
It was City Councilor Brook Bassan who initially sponsored the safe outdoor space legislation that was first enacted and then reversed her support and then sponsored the moratorium on Safe Outdoor Spaces. Bassan moved for the veto override. She said Albuquerque residents simply do not want Safe Outdoor Spaces. She attributed the opposition to the community’s other problems, saying so many people feel unsafe now that “we’re losing our compassion as a city.” Bassan in voting to override Keller’s veto said this:
“I believe Albuquerque is becoming a sanctuary for criminals. and I do not think it can continue. People do not feel safe and they’re pleading with us to help, they’re pleading with us for behavioral health treatment, drug addiction, they’re pleading with us to help with homelessness, I get that. I believe that we’re trying our best I believe that we’re really trying hard, but what we’re not doing is recognizing that even if every tool in the toolbox is what we have, maybe there’s only a right tool for the job. … Instead of adding salt to the wounds and not seeing improvement, and ignoring the public and what they’re asking for, let’s listen to them.”
Sara Fitzgerald, representing the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, urged the council to move forward with the moratorium and said this:
“We don’t believe so-called safe outdoor spaces will remain safe or small for long and we believe the proliferation of homeless camps, however they are constituted, will not make our streets safe and will hurt efforts to attract visitors, residents and employers alike.”
Mayor Keller’s office was quick to react to the vote by issuing the following statement:
“Albuquerque needs more tools, not less, to address the homelessness crisis while keeping our neighborhoods, parks and businesses safe. Council initially created Safe Outdoor Spaces as one tool among the many needed to help people move off of the streets, and this new approach should be allowed to go forward.”
SILENCE FOLLOWED BY PATHETIC EXPLANATION FOR VOTE CHANGE BY TRUDY JONES
During the September 8 city council meeting, discussion about the veto went on for more than an hour. The city council heard from more than 15 people who signed up to comment, and from several councilors who spoke both for and against Safe Outdoor Spaces.
What is interesting to note is that City Councilor Trudy Jones for more than a few days ignored or would not respond to calls and questions from her constituents who wanted to voice their support for the veto and who wanted to know how she intended to vote. During the September 8 City Council debate on the veto, Jones remained stoically silent and then when the time came to vote, she voted NO without any explanation for her reversal.
Councilor Jones in an interview after the vote was asked why she changed her vote and she had this to say:
“It’s the right thing to do. … Sometimes, along the line, you have to stick your neck out and do what’s right, not what is politically expected.”
The links to quoted news sources are here
OTHER APPLICATIONS PENDING
According to the Planning Department’s website, there are 6 others that are either under review or waiting for review. There are proposals for Safe Outdoor spaces for 512 Wheeler SE and 715 Candelaria NE that are marked as “under review.”
Three 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:
EIGHT APPEALS FILED ON THE ONE APPLICATION APPROVED
On August 8, 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 September 7, 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
The appeal has yet to be scheduled by the planning department.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Safe Outdoor Spaces are not the answer to the homeless crisis. “Safe Outdoor Spaces” will be a disaster for the city as a whole. Safe Outdoor Spaces are not the type of “tool” needed to solve a real crisis. In reality, Safe Outdoor Spaces are a “political hatchet job” that will destroy neighborhoods, make the city a magnet for the homeless and destroy the city’s efforts to manage the homeless through housing. Tents are not a permanent solution for the homeless.
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.
Hiding out and failing to even respond to constituent inquiries, phone call and emails by an elected official is the sign of sure political cowardice, which was exhibited by Trudy Jones. With her reversal of her position on the Safe Outdoor Space moratorium, Republican City Councilor has lost virtually all of her credibility and public trust with her constituents because her failure to represent her constituent’s best interests.
City Councilor Trudy Jones is up for reelection next year for a 5th term and it is said she will not be running. This likely explains her sudden “change in conscience” and new found courage to “stick her neck out.”