On Thursday, September 15, the City Council nominated, and Mayor appointed Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) voted to Eliminate “Safe Outdoor Spaces” from the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO). The vote was 4 to 3 to delete all references of Safe Outdoor Spaces in the IDO effectively outlawing the conditional land use anywhere in the city. Two of the 9 commissioners were not present for the hearing. It was on June 22 that legislation was introduced by city Councilor Brook Bassan at city council to repeal and to eliminate Safe Outdoor Spaces amendment to the IDO. The repeal legislation was referred to the Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) for review and hearing and to make recommendations to the City Council.
EPC HEARING PRESENTATION AND TESTIMONY
The hearing began with a very detailed analysis of the legislation presented by a representative of City Councilor Brook Basaan who is the sponsor of the legislation calling for elimination of Safe Outdoor Spaces from the IDO. The presentation went through numerous provisions of the IDO and identified how Safe Outdoor Spaces violated the IDO provisions and the spirit and intent of the IDO.
During the course of the September 15 hearing, and after the presentation of Councilor Basan’s city council legislative analysis, the public was allowed to speak, with each speaker given a mere 2 minutes. The overwhelming majority of the testimony given by members of the general public was in opposition to Safe Outdoor Spaces. Representatives from neighborhood associations, including the Santa Barbara Martineztown Neighborhood Association, Wells Park Neighborhood Association and the Greater Albuquerque Business Alliance, a coalition of downtown businesses, testified in opposition to Safe Outdoor Spaces. The main arguments made by those opposed to Safe Outdoor Spaces include the following:
- The City Council amendment for Safe Outdoor Space is not well planned out. Safe Outdoor Spaces will not be safe despite security plans and will be magnets for crime.
- Safe Outdoor Spaces in the form of “tent encampments for the homeless” constitute temporary housing that has been found to be the least effective means with dealing with the homeless. Many city’s that once embraced city sanctioned homeless encampment such as tent encampments are abandoning them in favor of more permanent housing.
- Safe Outdoor Spaces will be detrimental to the neighborhoods and surrounding business and interfere with the peaceful use and enjoyment of property, both private and public property, and will reduce property values and interfere with redevelopment efforts.
- The Safe Outdoor Spaces provisions are not in conformity and contradict the numerous provisions of the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO), including relating to “higher and best use” of property and the intent and goal of the IDO to have reasonable, responsible redevelopment provisions that do not hinder development.
- Annual updates and amendments to the IDO, such as is the case with Safe Outdoor Spaces, are enacted without public support or input. The Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) annual amendment process undertaken by the City Council is seriously flawed and is defective and does not allow for community input for major types of amendments affecting communities, such as Safe Outdoor Spaces. There is no complete review of data coming from the Planning Department to the EPC for IDO Amendments. Substantive amendments to the IDO are not being fully investigated and vetted by the Planning Department for recommendations to EPC as was the case with Safe Outdoor Spaces.
- Safe Outdoor Spaces violates the city’s “Housing First” policy jeopardizing millions of dollars in federal funding by offering temporary housing and tent encampments to the homeless. In the 2021 fiscal year, the city spent $40 million and in the 2022 fiscal year will be spending $60 million to assist the homeless and much of the federal funding will be placed in jeopardy because of Safe Outdoor Spaces.
- Safe Outdoor Spaces are nuisances and are in violation of city ordinances dealing with nuisance abatement on real property, especially property owned by the city. The following city ordinances were cited to the EPC:
The City’s nuisance abatement ordinance defines nuisance as:
“Any parcel of real property, commercial or residential, … on which
… illegal activities occur, or which is used to commit, conduct, promote, facilitate, or aide the commission of … any [felony or misdemeanor, including illicit drugs and prostitution]”
The city’s nuisance abatement ordinance prohibits “public nuisances” as follows:
“It shall be unlawful for any owner, manager, tenant, lessee, occupant, or other person having any legal or equitable interest or right of possession in real property … or other personal property to intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently commit, conduct , promote, facilitate, permit, fail to prevent, or otherwise let happen, any public nuisance in, on or using any property in which they hold any legal or equitable interest or right of possession.”
See City’s Nuisance Abatement Ordinance, Section 11-1-1-10 Public Nuisances Prohibited.
The City of Albuquerque’s Uniform Housing Code also defines “nuisance” as:
“(1) Any nuisance known at common law …
(2) Any attractive nuisance which may prove detrimental to children whether in a building, on the premises of a building, or upon an unoccupied lot. …
(3) Whatever is dangerous to human life or is detrimental to health, as determined by the health officer.
(6) Inadequate or unsanitary sewage or plumbing facilities.
(7) Any violation of the housing standards set forth in this code.”
City of Albuquerque and 14-3-1-4 ROA 1994 of Housing Code, Definitions for public nuisance.
CITY ATTEMPTS TO DISCREDIT PRIVATE CITIZENS
After the public spoke, the planning department representatives proceeded to attempt to discredit the arguments made by the public who testified. It became obvious to those who had testified that the city representative were advocating the Keller Administration policy supporting Safe Outdoor Spaces.
City representatives took issue and challenged Pete Dinelli and his request to be recognized as being a qualified expert in nuisance abatement laws. Dinelli has been a licensed private attorney for 43 years, 28 in government service, who offered his expert legal opinion on the city’s nuisance abatement laws, which he enforced for a full 8 years on behalf of the city as Director of the Safe City Strike Force. The absurd argument was made by an assistant city attorney that the EPC cannot qualify anyone to be an expert who testify before them under oath, yet expert testimony and presentations are given before the EPC on a regular basis and EPC hearings are often “quasi-judicial”. Dinelli gave his expert legal opinion that Safe Outdoor Spaces constitute a public nuisance under the City Nuisance Abetment Ordinance, and he read into the record the above provisions of city ordinances.
City representatives were not at all suttle with their opposition to the proposed legislation to eliminate Safe Outdoor Spaces from the IDO and advocated that the EPC commission recommend a “do not pass” of the legislation to the City Council. City planning officials went so far as to offer “alternative findings” prepared in advance and ask for a delay so the EPC could consider alternatives that ostensible the Keller Administration wanted. The EPC decided to go forward with a vote anyway and voted 4-3, with 2 commissioners being absent.
At the conclusion of the September 15 EPC hearing, the committee adopted upwards of 4 pages of very detail findings in support of their ruling to recommend the elimination of Safe Outdoor Spaces from the Integrated Development Ordinance. Those finding outlined and extensive number of provisions of the IDO that Safe Outdoor Spaces violate. The EPC recommendation will now be referred to the City Council Land Use and Zoning Committee for further hearings and ultimately the legislation will be presented for a vote to the full City Council. It is the City Council that has the ultimate and final authority over land use issues.
MAYOR KELLER VETOS MORITORIUM OF SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES
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”. 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.
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:
COUNCIL FAILS TO OVERRIDE VETO
On September 7, the Albuquerque City Council 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.
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
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
What is clear from the EPC vote is that what is now occurring within the city is a prolonged political battle to prohibit Safe Outdoor Spaces from being allowed throughout the city, a battle that is being lost by the public. This is not just an issue of “not in my back yard” syndrome, but one of hostility against elected officials, especially Mayor Tim Keller, who are mishandling the city’s homeless crisis despite millions and millions being spent each year to help the homeless with little or no progress being made by Keller and with the homeless crisis becoming even worse.
It is an epic political battle being waged between the city’s elected officials and the general public. On one side of the battle are elected the city’s elected officials of Democrat Mayor Tim Keller and Democrats City Councilors Isaac Benton, Pat Davis and Tammy Fiebelcorn and Republican Trudy Jones and City Departments who feel they know best for the city and public. All 5 are hell bent on creating “Safe Outdoor Spaces” and cramming them down the public and their constituents’ throats ignoring city ordinances and the city’s housing first policy and without public input and contrary to public opinion.
On the other side of the issue is the general voting public who by all accounts are extremely hostile and who are opposed to temporary homeless tent encampments known as “Safe Outdoor Spaces.” Notwithstanding the objections of property owners and voters, Keller and the 4 city councilors believe they know best and intend to go forward with Safe Outdoor Spaces.
CITY COUNCILOR JONES LOSES CREDIBILITY WITH CONSTITUENTS
On September 7 when Republican City Councilor Trudy Jones voted not to override Mayor Tim Keller’s veto it was a “flip flop” of epic proportions, and she was downright sneaky in the way she did it by not taking calls from constituents the days leading up to the vote. During city council discussion, the normally vocal Jones on all thing related to the Integrated Development Ordinance sat stoically and then she voted. Only after she voted no to override Keller did she speak to the media and then gave a very lame excuse for her changed vote when she said:
“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
With her reversal of her position on the Safe Outdoor Space moratorium, Republican City Councilor lost a significant amount of her credibility and public trust with her constituents that she had built up over 20 years of service on the council because of her failure to represent her constituent’s best interests and demands. Rumors are swirling that she cut a deal with Keller, but no one knows for certain, and she has not said.
What is truly amazing is that Jones is a former and successful realtor and in all likely knows the detrimental effect Safe Outdoor Spaces will have on real estate values. This is the same Republican city councilor who sponsored legislation to stop the homeless from pan handling and who also lives in a gated community where tent encampments will not be tolerated. The problem is, Trudy Jones will likely have the opportunity to once again go against her own constituent’s demands and refuse to eliminate Safe Outdoor Spaces from the IDO when the new legislation is presented.
A FEW TOOLS NOT NEEDED
Repeatedly, Mayor Tim Keller and his administration have said that Safe Outdoor Spaces are a “tool in the tool box” that is needed in his “all above approach” to deal with the homeless. That is simply false, and tools such as Safe Outdoor Spaces need to be thrown out of the toolbox when it comes to the homeless crisis. The only “real tools” here are our government and elected officials who are promoting an unsustainable policy of Safe Outdoor Spaces. They ostensibly do not know that government sanctioned encampments are being abandoned by major cities and have been found to be a very bad substitute for permanent housing and services which have the most impact on reducing the homeless crisis.
Cities such as Honolulu, Salt Lake City and Seattle, have abandoned their support of government sanctioned encampment such as Safe Outdoor Spaces and have begun implementing ordinances to remove all encampments to move toward a transitional housing or campus model, programs that have been found to bring physical and fiscal safety to communities while reducing crime. Some 65 cities across the United States have implemented ordinances to remove all encampments.
Mayor Tim Keller created a nuisance with city property when he allowed and condoned the use of Coronado Park as a de facto city sanction homeless encampment. Coronado Park had an extensive history of criminal activity including 4 murders, violent crimes and drug trafficking. Keller himself was forced to announce the closure of Coranado Park on June 27 as a result of the extensive criminal activity and the contamination of the grounds of the park that made it a threat to public safety and use. Safe Outdoor Spaces will in essence become “miniature” Coronado Parks.
The millions being spent each year by the city to deal with the homeless with the “housing first” policy and new Gibson Gateway Homeless Shelter and the Westside Homeless Shelter should be more than enough to deal with housing the homeless, yet Mayor Keller and the 4 City Councilors demand and want more from the public in the form of Safe Outdoor Spaces. Then there is that matter that Safe Outdoor Space encampments violating the city’s and Keller’s own “housing first” policy by not providing a form of permanent housing and with reliance on tents as 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 the homeless crisis is to provide the homeless the support services, including food and permanent lodging, and mental health care needed to allow the homeless to turn their lives around and perhaps become productive self-sufficient citizens.
Given the City Council’s vote on the Safe Outdoor Space moratorium, it is more likely than not that the city council will vote down and NOT to support the EPC recommendation to eliminate all references to Safe Outdoor Spaces. The legislation eliminating from the IDO Safe Outdoor Spaces will likely pass on a 5 to 4 vote and Mayor Tim Keller is expected to veto the legislation. The council will need 6 votes to override the mayor’s veto. Unless City Councilor Trudy Jones comes to her senses or has some sort of divine epiphany and changes her mind once again and votes to override Keller’s veto, the override will fail on a 5 to 4 vote and Safe Outdoor Spaces will become law. This is the type of conduct that results in general public distrust of city government.
Voters and residents are urged to contact and voice their opinion and tell all city councilors to vote YES and support the EPC recommendation to eliminate all references to Safe Outdoor Spaces, or SOSs, in the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO). Their phone numbers and email address are:
CITY COUNCIL PHONE: (505) 768-3100
CITY COUNCIL EMAILS