On October 3, the seemingly never-ending saga of Safe Outdoor Spaces continued at city hall when the Albuquerque City Council failed to override Mayor Tim Keller’s veto of the City Council’s attempted diversion of $1.25 million in funding for the operation of Safe Outdoor Spaces (SOS). It was on September 12, that Mayor Tim Keller vetoed the city council measure that reallocated $1.25 million that was originally designated for Safe Outdoor Spaces. The bill, which passed on a 5-4 vote, was sponsored by Republican City Councilor Dan Lewis with the funding reallocated to the city’s Gateway Center Shelter for services supporting homeless veterans.
A “Safe Outdoor Space” is a lot, or a portion of a lot, developed to provide designated spaces for occupancy with tents by the homeless or to park overnight vehicles used by the homeless. The Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) limits Safe Outdoor Space camps to 40 spots for tents and a total of 50 residents and makes them a temporary use.
It was on September 6 the City Council voted on a 5-4 and failed to override a Keller veto of a 1-year moratorium on SOS homeless encampments. At the same meeting, City Councilor Dan Lewis sponsored the legislation to withdraw the city funding to operate them and divert the funding to existing homeless shelters to assist veterans.
Both times the city council failed to override Keller’s veto on a 5-4 because it did not have the necessary 6 votes to override his veto. Democrats Isaac Benton, Pat Davis, Tammy Fiebelsorn and Republican Trudy Jones voted NO and Democrats Klarissa Pena, Louie Sanchez and Republicans Brook Bassan, Dan Lewis, Renee Grout voting YES to override the veto.
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APPEALS OF CITY APPROVED SAFE OUTDOOR SPACE STILL PENDING
It was on August 8, that the City Planning Department approved the Dawn Legacy Point application for a Safe Outdoor Space homeless campsite at 1250 Menaul, NE, at Menaul and Interstate 25. The homeless tent camp will be for 40 woman who have been “victims of sex trafficking”.
The Dawn Legacy Point Safe Outdoor Space was appealed by the following neighborhood association and businesses:
Santa Barbara Martineztown Neighborhood Association
Albuquerque Boca Hotel Limited Partnership dba Crown Plaza Albuquerque
Greater ABQ Hotel & Lodging Association
The Stronghurst Improvement Association
The Reule LLC (Robert D Reule)
On September 28, 2022, an all-day hearing occurred on the appeals before a Land Use Hearing Officer. Each of the appellants cases were presented separately and consecutively with sworn testimony and evidence presented.
The main arguments made in opposition to the Dawn Legacy Point application for a Safe Outdoor Space homeless campsite for victims of sex trafficking were as follows:
- The application was “fast tracked” by the Planning Department to approve the application 8 days before the City Council repealed the Safe Outdoor Spaces zoning use on Aug. 16.
- The city failed to give legally required notice of the application to surrounding property owners and the neighborhood and failed to allow those property owners to give input and voice their opposition on how the neighborhood will be detrimentally affected. The hearing officer indicated in no uncertain terms that the city failed to give notice to adjoining property owners by failing to exclude “rights of way” (i.e, bordering streets and the freeway) to establish that a party had standing to appeal by being within 100 feet of the proposed encampment. The failure to give legal notice will likely result in litigation against the city.
- The Planning Department unilaterally approved the application behind closed doors without notice to neighborhood associations or businesses or public hearing or input.
- The city gave preferential treatment to the applicants, working with them to identify city-owned property to be used and with the city agreeing to fund operating costs and not affording others the same opportunity.
- The security plan offered and approved by the city for the homeless camp is defective and insufficient for the campsite to ensure safety of the homeless and surrounding landowners and businesses.
- The operation of the encampment will have a detrimental impact on the Martineztown-Santa Barbara neighborhood and businesses located in the area.
- The homeless encampment will adversely affect and reduce property values and interfere with residents’ peaceful use and enjoyment of their properties. The neighborhood and businesses located in the area are already dealing with and suffering from the effects of the proliferation of homeless in the area which has contributed to the closure of businesses and lost revenues. Occupants will not be confined during the day and will be free to go and come as they please and will wind up uninvited in the neighborhoods.
- The encampment will be a magnet for crime, prostitution or illicit drug trade. The location of 1250Menaul Blvd, NE for a city sanctioned homeless tent encampment for victims of sex trafficking will result in it becoming a magnet for crime, prostitution or illicit drug trade. It’s located in close proximity to a truck stop known amongst law enforcement for prostitution and illicit drug activity. It’s directly across the street from a major call center, a motel suite and is walking distance of Menaul Boarding School and apartments. Occupants of the ‘Safe Outdoor Space’ will not confined and would be free to go and come as they pleased and could easily wind up uninvited wherever they want to go. This includes the truck stop and disrupting the peaceful use and enjoyment at nearby locations or engaging in illicit activity.
At the conclusion of the September 28 hearing, the hearing officer announced his intent to take the full 15 days to render a decision which then can be appealed to the City Council that has the ultimate authority to make land use decision. Mayor Keller will not have veto power over the decision.
EPC VOTES TO RECOMMEND TOTAL REPEAL OF SAFE OUTDOOR SPACE
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 from the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) after she originally voted to support the land use. The repeal legislation was referred to the Environmental Planning Commision (EPC) for a full hearing and to make finds and recommendations.
On September 15, the EPC voted to recommend a “Do Pass” recommendation to eliminate “Safe Outdoor Spaces” from the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO). The vote and the recommendations were to delete all references of Safe Outdoor Spaces in the IDO effectively outlawing the conditional land use anywhere in the city.
During the September EPC hearing, the main arguments made by those opposed to Safe Outdoor Spaces include the following:
1.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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
At the conclusion of the September 15 EPC hearing, the EPC adopted upwards of 4 pages of very detail findings citing specific provisions of the IDO supporting their ruling to recommend the elimination of Safe Outdoor Spaces from the IDO. Those finding outlined the provisions of the IDO that Safe Outdoor Spaces violate. The specific findings of the EPC supporting the deletion of Safe Outdoor Spaces from the IDO are as follows:
“The request to remove Safe Outdoor Spaces (SOS) from the IDO would generally help to enhance, protect, and preserve distinct communities because it would ensure that SOS are no longer allowed City-wide.”
“The request to remove SOS from the IDO would generally help to protect the identity and cohesiveness of neighborhoods because it would ensure that the use is not allowed to be near neighborhoods.”
“The request to remove SOS would be consistent in enhancing, protect, and preserving the long-tern health and vitality of neighborhoods because it would remove a use that is temporary, in some instances. A temporary use would not respect neighborhood values because the use is allowable in both Areas of Change and Areas of Consistency. Though only allowable in non-residential zone districts, the use would not stabilize neighborhoods or enhance their attractiveness.”
“The request to remove SOS from the IDO would generally continue to create and support healthy, sustainable and distinct communities because SOS would no longer be allowed Citywide, which in turn would protect the characteristics of distinct communities. SOS are allowed in a variety of non-residential or MX uses, as well as residential zones when associated with religious institutions, where higher density housing is allowed. By removing SOS as a use, higher density housing will continue to be encouraged on those sites.”
“SOS are currently allowed in all MX zone districts as conditional temporary uses and in NR-C, NR-BP, NR-LM and NR-GM as temporary uses, as well as residential zone districts when associated with a religious institution. The request to remove SOS form the IDO would ensure that SOS as a locally unwanted land use are eliminated, since they are allowed in a variety of zone districts in both Areas of change and Areas of Consistency City-wide.”
“The request would generally ensure that the character and intensity of development in Areas of Consistency is reinforced by removing SOS from the IDO because the use is currently allowed in areas of consistency with minimal design standards. Furthermore, growth that is desired in areas of change would be generally encouraged in zone districts that SOS are currently allowed on.”
“The request would raise the sufficient land available to accommodate projected employment growth City-side by eliminating Safe Outdoor Spaces. SOS are currently allowed in a variety of non-residential zone districts that could otherwise be developed as businesses.”
The EPC recommendation will be referred to the City Council Land Use and Zoning Committee (LUPZ) 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.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
There is, prolonged political battle being waged between the city’s elected officials and a hostile general public that centers upon “Safe Outdoor Spaces” which are city sanctioned tent encampments for the homeless. On one side of the contentious dispute are Mayor Tim Keller and City Councilors Isaac Benton, Pat Davis, Tammy Fiebelcorn and Trudy Jones and Keller’s City Departments who are determined to have “Safe Outdoor Spaces” (SOS). They are determined to force the land use down the public’s throats without public input and contrary to hostile public opposition.
On the other is the general public who by have very legitimate concerns that the tent encampments will be magnets for crime, such was Coronado Park, and be allowed to fester. This is not an issue of “not in my back yard”, but one of hostility, mistrust and failed communications by elected officials and city departments who are viewed as mishandling the city’s homeless crisis. The general public is extremely hostile to the temporary tent encampments, yet the mayor and city councilors simply ignore them.
Mayor Tim Keller vetoed a 1-year moratorium on SOS an vetoed the council’s diversion of $1.25 million originally designated for homeless encampments. The city council failed to override both vetoes not having 6 votes because of Benton, Davis, Fiebelcorn and Jones. On September 25, the City Environmental Planning Commission voted to Eliminate SOS from the Integrated Development Ordinance effectively outlawing the conditional land use anywhere in the city. The legislation will be forwarded to the City Council where it will likely pass on a 5-4 vote. Mayor Keller is expected to veto the ban. The City Council is expected to fail again to override the veto with a 6-3 vote with Trudy Jones being the swing vote as she was when she change her mind to support SOS.
The City’s nuisance abatement ordinance defines nuisance in terms of real property stating “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.] … It shall be unlawful for any owner, manager, tenant, lessee, occupant … in real property … to intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently … promote, facilitate, permit, fail to prevent, or otherwise let happen, any public nuisance in, on or using the … property . … “
Safe Outdoor Spaces violate the city’s “housing first” policy jeopardizing millions of dollars in federal funding offering tent encampments to the homeless. In the fiscal year 2021 the city spent $40 million and in the 2022 is spending another $60 million to assist the homeless. Given the millions spent, SOS are not needed.
Safe Outdoor Spaces are not the answer to the homeless crisis and will be a disaster for the city as a whole. 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. They will destroy neighborhoods and make the city a magnet for the homeless. They will destroy the city’s efforts to manage the homeless through permanent housing and support services to the homeless.