Since being sworn into office as Mayor on December 1, 2017, Tim Keller has made dealing with the city’s homeless a major priority. The homeless have reached crisis proportions with them becoming far more visible and aggressive by illegally camping in parks, on streets, in alleyways and in city open space, whenever they want and declining city services. Keller has proclaimed an “all the above approach” to deal with the homeless costing millions. This blog article explores exactly what Mayor Tim Keller is doing to deal with the homeless crisis to implement his “all the above approach” policy. It’s a policy that is nothing more than a shotgun approach to the homeless crisis and it is failing.
QUANTIFYING CITY’S HOMELESS NUMBERS
Each year the “Point in Time” survey is conducted to determine how many people experience homelessness on a given night in Albuquerque, and to learn more about their specific needs. The PIT count is done in communities across the country. The New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness (NMCEH) is contracted by the city to do the survey.
In August, the 2022 the Point In Time (PIT) homeless survey reported that the number total homeless in the city was 1,311 with 940 in emergency shelters, 197 unsheltered and 174 in transitional housing. Surprisingly, the survey found that there are 256 fewer homeless in 2022 than in 2021 which was 1,567. In 2019, the PIT found 1,524 homeless.
In even numbered years, only sheltered homeless are surveyed for the PIT survey. In odd numbered years, both sheltered and unsheltered homeless are surveyed. The 2022 PIT report provides the odd number years of shelter and unsheltered homeless in Albuquerque for 8 years from 2009 to 2019 and including 2022. During the last 12 years, PIT yearly surveys have counted between 1,300 to 2,000 homeless a year. Those numbers are: 2011: 1,639, 2013: 1,171, 2015:1,287, 2017: 1,318, 2019: 1,524, 2021: 1,567 and 2022: 1,311.
The PIT survey statistics have never supported the city or charitable provider claims the city has upwards of 5,000 homeless. When the 2022 PIT Survey results were released showing a decline in the number of homeless, the City’s Family and Community Services Department went out of its way to disparage the results by dismissing it as an “undercount” saying “We need to base our services and solutions on the situation today, not yesterday, or six months ago when the count was taken.” The department likely downplays the results to avoid cuts in its budget and to avoid scrutiny of how the millions of funding is being spent.
What cannot be refuted are the PIT survey statistics over the last 5 years are very consistent. The survey statistics do not support the contention that the city’s homeless count is near the 5,000 claimed by the private providers who the city has service contracts.
On June 23, 2022 Mayor Tim Keller announced that the City of Albuquerque was adding $48 million to the FY23 budget to address housing and homelessness issues in Albuquerque. The City also announced it was working on policy changes to create more housing and make housing more accessible. The key appropriations passed by City Council included in the $48 million are:
· $20.7 million for affordable and supportive housing
· $1.5 million for improvements to the Westside Emergency Housing Center
· $4 million to expand the Wellness Hotel Program
· $7 million for a youth shelter
· $6.8 million for medical respite and sobering centers
· $7 million for Gateway Phases I and II, and improvements to the Gibson Gateway Shelter facility
· $555,000 for services including mental health and food insecurity prevention
The link to the quoted source is here:
In fiscal year 2021 (July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021) the Family and Community Services Department and the Keller Administration spent upwards of $40 Million to benefit the homeless or near homeless. The 2021 enacted city budget (July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022 ) for Family and Community Services Department provides for affordable housing and community contracts totaling $22,531,752, emergency shelter contracts totaling $5,688,094, 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 has increased funding to the Family Community Services Department for assistance to the homeless with $35,145,851 million spent in fiscal year 2021 and $59,498,915 million being spent in fiscal 2022 with the city adopting a “housing first” policy.
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 enacted budget for the Department of Community Services is $72.4 million and the department is funded for 335 full time employees, 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 for 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.
CITY SPENDING PER HOMELESS
The amount the city is spending for services per year per homeless person who are receiving some sort of city services can be calculated for 2022-2023 budget year.
The 2022 Point in Time Report reflects that the number of emergency sheltered homeless is 940 with 174 in “transitional housing” for a total of 1,114. Therefore, the city is spending a minimum of $15,171.05 per homeless person, per year through the charitable service providers calculated as follows: $16,900,554 (total of service contracts for 2022-2023) DIVIDED BY 1,114 (940 Emergency Sheltered and 174 Transitional housing) = $15,171.05.
The $15,171.05 per person, per year is for services only by contracted providers and does not include the $4.5 million operation costs for the Westside 24/7 shelter nor the budgeted operating costs for the new Gateway Homeless Shelter when it is fully operational.
Further, the amount does not include the $42,598,361 allocated for affordable housing and permanent housing for the near homeless or chronically homeless with the actual number of those receiving city funding unavailable.
TWO CITY SHELTERS FOR THE HOMELESS
During the past 5 years, Mayor Keller has established two 24/7 homeless shelters, including purchasing the Loveless Gibson Medical Center for $15 million to convert it into a homeless shelter.
The city is funding and operating 2 major shelters for the homeless, one fully operational with 450 beds and one that will be fully operational by Winter that will assist upwards 1,000 homeless and accommodate 330 a night. Ultimately, both shelters are big enough to be remodeled and provide far more sheltered housing.
WESTSIDE EMERGENCY HOUSING CENTER
It was on October 22, 2019 that Mayor Tim Keller announce that the Westside Emergency Housing Center (WEHC) would become a 24/7 homeless shelter. It is a “one-stop-shop” with service providers providing medical services, case management and job placement services. It costs about $4.5 million a year to operate the shelter with about $1 million of that $4.5 million invested in transporting people to and from the facility.
The Westside Emergency Housing Center has upwards of 450 beds to accommodate the homeless on any given night. The shelter offers shelter to men, women, and families experiencing homelessness in Albuquerque. While staying at the WEHC, the homeless have access to a computer lab, showers, medical examination rooms, and receive three meals a day. The WEHC is a 24/7 operation and has a staff of 80 to assist those who stay at the shelter. The shelter does connect men and women to permeant housing and other resources.
GATEWAY HOMELESS SHELTER
Since being sworn in as Mayor on December 1, 2017, Mayor Tim Keller made it known that building a new city operated homeless shelter was his top priority. Keller deemed that a 24-hour, 7 day a week temporarily shelter for the homeless critical towards reducing the number of homeless in the city.
On April 6, 2021, Mayor Tim Keller held a press conference in front of the Gibson Medical Center, formerly the Lovelace Hospital, to officially announce the city had bought the massive 572,000 square-foot building that has a 201-bed capacity, for $15 million. Keller announced that the massive facility would be transformed into a Gateway Center Homeless Shelter. On September 3, 2022 it was reported that the ABQ Gateway Center will likely to open some time this winter. According to the 2022-2023 approved city budget, $1,691,859 has been allocated for various vendors to operate Westside Emergency Shelter Center.
The city is planning to assist an estimated 300 more homeless residents and connect them to other services intended to help secure permanent housing. The new facility is intended to serve all populations of men, women, and families. Further, the city wants to provide a place anyone could go regardless of gender, religious affiliation, sobriety, addictions, psychotic condition or other factors.
The city facility is to have on-site case managers that would guide residents toward counseling, addiction treatment, housing vouchers and other available resources. The goal is for the new homeless shelter to provide first responders an alternative destination for the people they encounter known as the “down-and-out” calls.
The city estimates 1,500 people could go through the drop-off each year. The “dropoff for the down and outs” will initially have 4 beds. It is primarily imagined as a funnel into other services. While that likely will include other on-site services, city officials say it will also help move people to a range of other destinations, including different local shelters, or even the Bernalillo County-run CARE Campus, which offers detoxification and other programs.
Interior demolition and remodeling of the 572,000 square foot building has been going on for a number of months to prepare the facility for a homeless shelter. The beds for 50 women as planned and for the first responder drop-off is to come online this winter. The city plans to launch other elements of the 24/7 shelter by next summer.
According to Keller, the city’s plan is to continue adding capacity, with ultimate plan to have a total of 250 emergency shelter beds, and 40 beds for medical sobering and 40 beds for medical respite beds for a total of 330 bed capacity. Counting the other outside providers who lease space inside the building, city officials believe the property’s impact will be significant.
The link to quoted news source material is here:
“NO ARREST” POLICY
The homeless has reached crisis proportions with the homeless having become far more visible and aggressive by illegal camping in parks, on streets, in alleyways and in city open space areas. When it comes to the “homeless crimes” of illegal camping, criminal trespassing and loitering, Mayor Keller acquiesced with the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) implementing a “no arrest” policy. Orders for immediate removal their camps are not given to the homeless. Instead homeless are given 72 hours to vacate illegal campsite locations essentially giving them permission to continue to violate the law for 72 hours.
APD’s policy is that arrests are the very last resort to deal with the homeless and citations are to be issued. At one time, police arrest discretion of the homeless was taken away from APD officers and APD could not arrest until it was approved by the Family and Community Services Department and after it conducted outreach measures. This policy has since been rescinded. APD is allowed to make arrests only when the circumstances warrant such as a violent felony endangering public safety.
For 5 years, Mayor Keller allowed Coronado Park to become a “de facto” city sanctioned homeless encampment allowing it to become a public nuisance. Criminal activity spiked at the park over four years. The city park had an extensive history lawlessness including drug use, violence, murder, rape and mental health issues. City officials said it was 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.
On July 25, Mayor Tim Keller, calling Coronado Park “the most dangerous place in New Mexico” was forced to close down the park because of violent crimes, including 4 murders, and environmental ground contamination concerns without any plan for dealing with the 75 to 125 homeless that were displaced. City officials said that upwards 120 people camp nightly at the park. It should never be forgotten by anyone that it was Keller who created “the most dangerous place in New Mexico”
SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES
It was on June 6, 2022 the City Council enacted an amendment to the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) to allow for city sanctioned “Safe Outdoor Spaces”. “Safe Outdoor Spaces” are city sanctioned homeless encampments located in open space areas that will allow upwards of 50 homeless people to camp, require hand washing stations, toilets and showers, require a management plan, 6-foot fencing and provide for social services.
Under the adopted 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. The restrictions do not apply to campsites operated by religious institutions. Under the IDO amendments, Safe Outdoor Spaces are allowed for up to two years with a possible two-year extension.
On June 22, after tremendous public outcry and objections, two bills were introduced that would repeal safe outdoor spaces. 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.
On July 30, Dawn Legacy Point filed the very first application for a ‘Safe Outdoor Space’ homeless encampment. The homeless encampment is intended to provide accommodations for upwards of 50 women who are homeless and who are “sex-trafficking victims”. The homeless encampment is to be located on vacant land at 1250 Menaul Blvd, NE which consists of two large parcels of property owned by the city with an assess value of $4,333,550. The Family Community Service Department gave Dawn Legacy preferential treatment to Dawn Legacy and agree to help fund the project. On August 8, the City Planning Department unilaterally and behind closed doors rushed to approve the Dawn Legacy Point application and did not give notice to adjoining and surrounding property owners. Seven appeals were filed and on October 10, a city Land Use Hearing Officer a his decision and REMANDED the Dawn Legacy Point application back to the city Planning Department for further review after finding “substantial and meaningful violations of due process” of law to the appellants
On Friday, August 26, 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”.
Keller’s veto of the one-year moratorium on SOS encampments was upheld by the city council.
The link to the quoted news source article is here:
The repeal legislation was referred to the Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) for review and hearing and to make recommendations to the City Council. On Thursday, September 15, the Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) voted to repeal “Safe Outdoor Spaces” from the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) by deleting all references of Safe Outdoor Spaces effectively outlawing the conditional land use anywhere in the city.
“HOUSING FORWARD ABQ” PLAN
On October 18, Mayor Tim Keller announced his “Housing Forward ABQ” plan. It is a new “multifaceted initiative” where Mayor Keller is hoping to add 5,000 new housing units across the city by 2025 above and beyond what private industry normally creates each year. As it stands now, the city issues private construction permits for 1,200 to 1,500 new housing units each year. According to Keller, the city is in a major housing crisis and studies show the city needs as many as 13,000 to 30,000 new housing units.
To add the 5,000 new housing units across the city by 2025, Keller is proposing that the City of Albuquerque fund and be involved with the construction of new low income housing to deal with the homeless or near homeless. The strategy includes “motel conversions” and a zoning code “rebalance” to enhance density. It includes allowing “casitas” which under the zoning code are formally known as “accessory dwelling” units. Keller wants to allow “different forms of multi-unit housing types” on residential properties. 63% of the city’s housing is single-family detached homes.
According to Keller, the city will also be pushing to convert commercial office space into to residential use. The Keller administration is proposing $5 million to offset developer costs with the aim of transitioning 10 properties and creating 1,000 new housing units. The new plan also includes “motel conversations” which is the city purchasing and turning old and existing motels into housing.
Keller argues in part that his “Housing Forward ABQ” plan will bolster the construction workforce and address current renter concerns. According to a news release, the Keller Administration intends to seek to change the law to protect tenants from “predatory practices such as excessive application fees, clarifying that deposits must be refundable and capping other fees, especially in complexes that accept vouchers.”
During his October 18 news conference announcing his “Housing Forward ABQ” Keller emphasized the importance of amending the city’s Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO). Keller had this to say:
“Right now our zoning code will never allow us to meet the housing demand in the city … If you want a place to advocate, if you want a place to change policy, if you want a place to argue, it’s all about the IDO.”
City Council President Isaac Benton has long advocated for ways to increase the housing stock, previously pushing to legalize casitas. In 2016, the city council rejected his amid neighborhood association opposition. Benton had this to say:
“We’ve had these arguments over the years with some of my most progressive neighborhoods that don’t even want to have a secondary dwelling unit be allowed in their backyard or back on the alley. … You know, we’ve got to change that discussion. We have to open up for our neighbors, of all walks of life, to be able to live and work here.”
“Motel conversions” includes affordable housing where the City’s Family & Community Services Department would acquire and renovate motels to develop low-income affordable housing options. The existing layout of the motels makes it cost-prohibitive to renovate them into living units with full sized kitchens. An Integrated Development Ordinance amendment will provide an exemption for affordable housing projects funded by the city, allowing kitchens to be small, without full-sized ovens and refrigerators. It will require city social services to regularly assist residents. The homeless or the near homeless would be offered the housing.
One area of the city that has been targeted in particular by the Keller Administration for motel conversions is “Hotel Circle” in the North East Heights. Located in the area are a number of motels in the largest shopping area in SE and NE Albuquerque near I-40. The businesses in the area include Target, Office Depot, Best Buy, Home Store, PetCo and the Mattress Store and restaurants such as Sadies, the Owl Café, and Applebee’s and other businesses. The city is already seeking to buy Sure Stay Hotel on Hotel Circle SE and has its eye on purchasing the abandoned and boarded up Ramada Inn for a motel conversion.
WTBON DEMAND CITY AUDIT AND INSPECTIOR GENERAL INVESTIGATION
On October 24, a guest column by Colleen Aycock, a founding member and organizer of “Women Taking Back Our Neighborhoods” entitled “Motel Conversions By City Bad Public Policy To Deal With Homeless” was published on www.PeteDinelli.com. In her guest column, Aycock outlines how the City Department of Family & Community Services is in the process purchasing the Sure Stay Hotel by using Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding of $3,059,662.12 in Community Development Block Grant, $2,443,724.00 from Public Facilities monies and $615,938.12 from Foreclosure Prevention for a total property purchase of $6,119,324.24. She also outlines how the Department of Family and Community Services has submitted a request to the HUD Albuquerque Field Office for the release of CARES and HOME American Rescue Plan funding to be used to purchase Sure Stay Hotel and the renovation project for the permanent housing with supportive services.
On October 24, WTBON contacted Mayor Tim Keller, the City Council, the City Inspector General and the City Internal Audit department demanding that a full investigation audit of the Family and Community Services Department be conducted of the department’s use of federal HUD grant money for the purchase of Sure Stay Motel to be used for public housing. WTBON believes that HUD and Tax Bond Monies are not being used by the Family and Community Services Department for the intended, stated, and granted purposes.
In addition, WTBN submitted a petition to the City Planning Department containing over 250 signatures of residents and businesses in the area of motel circle demanding that the Albuquerque City Council repeal and rescind IDO Amendment Zoning Change that allows motel conversions for permanent no-income or low-income residential housing. The petition was offered in support of the request that the planning department draft amendments to the IDO that will prohibit motel conversions. The petition specifically alleges that the city purchase of the Sure Stay Motel and converting it into no-income or low income housing will significantly and adversely affect the businesses area.
ANALYSIS AND COMMENTARY
Mayor Tim Keller has taken full advantage of loopholes within the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) to cut out general public involvement and input to promote and implement his shotgun “all the above approach” to the city’s homeless crisis. He has done so with the help and assistance of his Family and Community Services Department and the Planning Department who carry out his political agenda over public objections, such was the case with the Safe Outdoor Spaces and the application process for Dawn Legacy Point.
When Keller says “Right now our zoning code will never allow us to meet the housing demand in the city … If you want a place to advocate, if you want a place to change policy, if you want a place to argue, it’s all about the IDO” what he really means and what he wants is to be able to do whatever he wants without public input or interference from anyone.
Keller has also taken full advantage of City Council’s ineptness, disarray and failed leadership to implement his “all the above approach” and his shotgun policies. That may be “good politics” in Keller’s mind, but it sucks for the general public. Keller does not realize that his actions are the very type of politics that creates hostility and mistrust of politicians.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The postscript to this blog article provides details on how the public have been cut out of the review process.
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 city’s actual homeless numbers, yet Keller demands and wants more from the public. He wants Safe Outdoor Spaces and his “Housing Forward Abq” plan despite both being ill advised.
SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES
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. 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
“MOTEL CONVERSIONS” AND KELLER’S “HOUSING FORWARD ABQ”
“Motel conversions” and Keller’s “Housing Forward Abq” plan to add 5,000 new housing units across the city by 2025 above and beyond what private industry normally creates each year makes the false presumption that the city’s need for 13,000 to 30,000 new housing units is somehow related to the homeless crisis. It is not. The housing shortage is related purely to economics and the development community’s inability to keep up with supply and demand and the public’s inability to purchase housing. There is also a shortage of rental properties.
Keller pushing to convert commercial office space into to residential is misplaced and presumes that commercial property owner’s would be amenable to replacing their more lucrative commercial property into residential property which is a complete reversal from what normally happens. It is far more common for residential property owners to seek commercial zoning changes for their properties. The Keller administration is proposing $5 million to offset developer costs with the aim of transitioning 10 properties and creating 1,000 new housing units.
It should not come as any surprise to anyone that Mayor Tim Keller wants and is promoting “motel conversions”. He refused to take any position on IDO when he was running for Mayor the first time in 2017. Besides, Keller is known for his own self-promotion and ONE ABQ slogan. Zoning issues tend to be very boring and difficult to integrate into slogans, unless of course it’s your own program and calling it “Housing Forward Abq”. Perhaps Keller should change his slogan “ONE ABQ” to “ONE ABQ, ONE KELLER DEVELOPMENT”.
Being homeless is not a crime. The city has a moral obligation to help the homeless, mentally ill and drug addicted. The city is meeting its moral obligation to the homeless with the millions being spent each year for services, shelter and housing. The blunt truth is that Mayor Tim Keller, the City Council and the city will never solve homelessness and it’s not at all likely that the city will ever be free of the homeless. All that can and must be done is to manage the homeless crisis but there must be limitations. Adopting an “all the above approach” is just plain foolish on a number of levels.
Spending millions on homeless services, shelters and housing and having no visible impact on homeless squatters who have no interest in city shelters, beds, motel vouchers and who want to live on the streets and camp in city parks, in alleys and trespass as they choose is at worse evidence of incompetent management and at best wasting city resources. Keller and company need to do a better job dealing with the homeless and those who refuse services. Mayor Keller needs to take a more measured approach which must include reliance on law enforcement and perhaps the courts, such as civil mental health commitment hearings, to get those who refuse services and to get them off the streets in order to get them the mental health care and drug rehabilitation they desperately need.
“Safe Outdoor Spaces” and “motel conversions” will be a disaster for the city as a whole. They will destroy neighborhoods and established business areas and make the city a magnet for the homeless. Mayor Tim Keller has mishandled the homeless crisis, including the closing of Coronado Park, supporting Safe Outdoor Spaces and now motel conversions. All 3 will be Mayor Keller’s symbols and legacy of failure as the city deals the city’s most vulnerable population, the homeless. What Mayor Tim Keller is doing is cramming Safe Outdoor Spaces and motel conversions down the throats of the community to promote his own political agenda, something he must be held accountable for should he seek another term or higher office.
THE INTEGRATED DEVELOPMENT ORDINANCE
It was in 2015 that former Mayor Richard Berry during his second term started the rewrite process of the city’s comprehensive zoning code and comprehensive plan to rewrite the city’s entire zoning code. It was initially referred to as the ABC-Z comprehensive plan and later renamed the Integrated Development Ordinance (ID0) once it was pasted. In 2015, there were sixty (60) sector development plans which governed new development in specific neighborhoods. Forty (40) of the development plans had their own “distinct zoning guidelines” that were designed to protect many historical areas of the city.
The stated mission of the re write of the comprehensive plan was to bring “clarity and predictability” to the development regulations and to attract more “private sector investment”. The city’s web site on the plan rewrite claimed the key goals include “improve protection for the city’s established neighborhoods and respond to longstanding water and traffic challenges by promoting more sustainable development”. Economic development and job creation was argued as a benefit to rewriting the Comprehensive Plan.
Under the enacted Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) the number of zones went from 250 to fewer than 20, which by any measure was dramatic. Using the words “promoting more sustainable development” means developers want to get their hands-on older neighborhoods and develop them as they see fit with little or no regulation at the best possible cost to make a profit. The IDO also granted wide range authority to the Planning Department to review and unilaterally approve development applications without public input.
Former Mayor Richard Berry said the adoption of comprehensive plan was a much-needed rewrite of a patchwork of decades-old development guidelines that held the city back from development and improvement. The enactment of the comprehensive plan was a major priority of Berry before he left office on December 1, 2017. The Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and the construction and development community, including the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks (NAIOP), pulled all stops to get the plan adopted before the October 3, 2017 municipal election. IDO was enacted with the support of Democrats and Republicans on the City Council despite opposition from the neighborhood interests and associations.
The rewrite was a rush job. It took a mere 2 years to rewrite the entire zoning code and it emerged as the Integrated Development Ordinance. It was in late 2017, just a few weeks before the municipal election and the election of Mayor Tim Keller, that the City Council rushed to vote for the final adoption of the IDO comprehensive plan. Outgoing City Councilor Republican Dan Lewis who lost the race for Mayor Tim Keller voted on the IDO refusing to allow the new council take up the IDO.
Critics of the Integrated Development Ordinance said it lacked public discussion and representation from a number of minority voices and minority communities. They argued that the IDO should be adopted after the 2017 municipal election. There is no doubt that IDO will have a long-term impact on the cities older neighborhoods and favors developers. The intent from day one of the Integrated Development Ordinance was the “gutting” of long-standing sector development plans by the development community to repeal those sector development plans designed to protect neighborhoods and their character. The critics of the IDO argued that it made “gentrification” city policy giving developers free reign to do what they wanted to do without sufficient oversight.
PUBLIC CUT OUT OF THE PROCESS
The enacted Integrated Development Ordinance has provisions to allow the City Council to adopt major amendments every two years and make major changes to it. The IDO blatantly removes the public from the development review process, and it was the Planning Department’s clear intent to do so when it drafted the IDO.
On July 12, 2019, a guest editorial column was published by the Albuquerque Journal written by Dr. Joe L. Valles, President, Grande Heights Neighborhood Association. The column dealt with the city’s Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO). Portions of the guest column reveal just how bad the public has been shut out of the redevelopment process:
“There’s widespread disappointment and frustration with the Planning Department’s ongoing actions regarding the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO). The IDO promise was “to ensure a high-quality built environment for nearby property owners and neighbors.” Without a vision for Albuquerque, however, unenforced and arbitrary rules in the IDO neither create new design nor ensure a high-quality built environment, and planners aren’t asking for it. …
The Planning Department also has a problem with strict adherence to state statute; if not de-facto violations of the law, then due-process breaches and potential violations of the Open Meetings Act ignore its spirit. The Development Review Board (DRB) was granted gratuitous discretionary power by the IDO to hold hearings and grant variances without the requisite conformity to strict standards. The Land-Use Hearing Officer (LUHO) warned planners about potential problems in courts.
Obviously, the City Council heard, because … [city] councilors unanimously passed R-19-150. This resolution sponsored by Councilor Trudy Jones allows the DRB to further circumvent strict state statute requirements. “To hold public hearings”‘ was changed to “hold meetings” and “variance” was replaced with “waiver.” These changes further diminish the process and discredit policy making. It’s policy change without public engagement favoring one sole stakeholder – the development community. If these are the kinds of “fixes” we’re going to get, then we’re stooping to a new low.
The IDO blatantly removes the public from the development review process, and it was the planners’ clear intent to do so. Telling are 2013-14 inter-office planning memos [which state]:
“Keep neighborhoods under control … Rebalancing Neighborhood Association input into the process … need to either remove from (the) process or give them a charge … growth no matter what … eliminating sector plans …”
The flaw is that against written promises, coupled with planners’ open advocacy on behalf of commercial development interests, they created an unbalanced domination by the one stakeholder. Rather than standing as honest brokers, planners continue in their staff reports and testimony to present the most favorable cases for certain developers or their agents with apparent imbedded undue influence within the city.
Although initially touted as a badly needed document to clean-up conflicting zoning regulations, planning staff … identified over 500 “fixes” needed to amend the IDO. Astute neighborhood people have also identified numerous essential amendments.
It’s what happens to a document that’s constructed “in a fairly strict timeline in order to complete this monumental project during the remainder of the Mayor’s term and we need to get this RFP out by early June in order to accomplish that.”
Thus, in a special meeting, City Council passed the IDO on the eve of the mayoral election. The clear aim was to get Mayor (Richard) Berry to sign it before Mayor Keller took office. Six of 9 councilors, city planners and supporters of the IDO gave in to the development industry, wiped out publicly supported sector plans and left resident landowners hanging.
Property owners wanted to keep their sector plans – their sense of place. IDO form-based zones were created to set the forms of buildings and allow development to proceed more quickly without public hearings, something easier done in an urban environment like Downtown.
The flaw? Without visionary planning you can’t reasonably attempt to create “downtown environments” citywide. After all, a key objective of this effort was “to develop zoning that protects neighborhoods while encouraging the revitalization of commercial areas.” Where are those neighborhood protections?”
You can review the guest editorial article at the below link: