On June 6, the Albuquerque City Council enacted a bill that contained well over 100 amendments updating the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) which is the city’s zoning code laws. The legislation passed on a 5 to 4 vote. Democrat City Counselors Isaac Benton, Tammy Fiebelcorn, Pat Davis and Republicans Trudy Jones and Brook Bassan voted YES to approve the amendments. Democrats Klarissa Pena, Louie Sanchez and Republicans Dan Lewis and Renee Grout voted NO. One of the amendments was for city sanctioned homeless encampments known as Safe Outdoor Spaces.
A “Safe outdoor space” is a lot, or a portion of a lot, developed to permit homeless encampments with 40 designated spaces for tents, allow upwards of 50 people, require hand washing stations, toilets and showers, require a management plan, fencing and social services offered. The Integrated Development Ordinance amendment sets a limit of two in each of the city’s 9 council districts. The cap would not apply to those hosted by religious institutions.
On June 20, Albuquerque Republican City Council Brook Bassan, in a stunning reversal of support, announced by email to her constituents her withdrawal and sponsorship of the “Safe Outdoor Spaces” amendment. The reversal came after Bassan was severely criticized by her constituents for supporting Safe Outdoor Spaces.
Bassan has spent the last 6 months trying to repeal Safe Outdoor Spaces. Basaan went so far as to introduce two separate resolutions. One sought to place a one year “moratorium” on Safe Outdoor Spaces. The second would eliminate Safe Outdoor Spaces from the IDO thereby repealing the land use. The moratorium past the City Council on a 5-4 vote but Mayor Keller vetoed it and the Council failed to override the veto with the required 6 votes to override.
Republican City Councilor Trudy Jones voted for the original resolution to allow Safe Outdoor Spaces. Due to the severe backlash from voters, she then voted YES for the one-year Moratorium of Safe Outdoor Spaces to allow the city time to reexamine the impacts of the Safe Outdoor Spaces in more detail. Without notice of her intentions and ignoring her constituents opposition, Councilor Jones then flipped her vote to allow Mayor Keller’s veto to stand on the one-year Moratorium which allowed all applications to move forward.
The repeal legislation was referred to the Environmental Planning Commission for review and to make recommendations to the City Council. On Thursday, September 15, the Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) voted to eliminate Safe Outdoor Spaces from the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO).
COUNCIL VOTES TO REMOVE SAFE OUTDOOR SPACE LANGUAGE FROM THE ZONING CODE
On December 5, the City Council voted 5-4 to approve Bassan’s legislation to remove all references to Safe Outdoor Spaces within Albuquerque’s zoning code thereby outlawing the land use. Voting YES were Republicans Brook Bassan, Renee Grout, Dan Lewis, and Democrats Klarissa Peña and Louie Sanchez. Voting NO were Democrats Isaac Benton, Pat Davis, Tammy Fiebelkorn and Republican Trudy Jones.
During the December 5 city council meeting, several public speakers urged the City Council to keep Safe Outdoor Spaces arguing they give people who are homeless a better option than illegal camping. City Councilors Bassan, Lewis and Sanchez in response all noted that their constituents are overwhelmingly against Safe Outdoor Spaces. City Councilor Bassan said her legislation will not completely outlaw Safe Outdoor Spaces and she said this:
“Two have been approved so far and there is potential for three more. … For those people who say we need to try something, I think it’s important to realize we are going to be trying something.”
The city Planning Department has approved 3 Safe Outdoor Spaces and they will be allowed to exist and operate or be grandfathered in having been allowed initially. Two are designed for people to sleep in cars rather than tents. The first is operating outside the city’s Westside Emergency Housing Center. The second a is due to open in January outside the Albuquerque Opportunity Center shelter at 715 Candeleria NE.
A third approved Safe Outdoor Space is Dawn Legacy Point homeless encampment to be located at 1250 Menaul Blvd, NE is being appealed. It is intended to provide accommodations for upwards of 50 women who are homeless and who are “sex-trafficking victims” and other vulnerable populations. The Legacy Point encampment is within walking distance of Menaul School, across the street from the T-Mobile Call Center and a Quality Inn & Suites, it borders Sunset Memorial Park and one block Carrington College and two apartment complexes and immediately East of the Freeway is the massive TA Travel Truck which is known in law enforcement circles for prostitution and illicit drug activity. Immediate south of the truck stop on University Blvd is the Crown Plaza Hotel. Six appeals have been filed and a hearing officer to sent the approval back to the Planning Department and finding that the city had not required the operator to first notify all the necessary property owners nearby.
The repeal legislation now goes to Mayor Tim Keller who can sign it or veto it. Should Keller veto the repeal, it will require 6 votes to override it. Keller has already voiced strong support for Safe Outdoor Spaces when he vetoed the one year moratorium and the council failed to override it. After the vote to repeal, Mayor Keller did not commit to another veto but a spokesperson said the mayor would “review the legislation”. The Mayoral Spokeswoman also reiterated Keller’s general position on Safe Outdoor Spaces saying his administration “has been consistent in our stance that we need every tool to address homelessness.”
“SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES” A KELLER INTIATIATED POLICY
It was Mayor Tim Keller who initially proposed the idea of Safe Outdoor Spaces in his 2022-2023 city budget. The 2022-2023 proposed budget released on April 1 provides major funding to deal with the homeless. The budget approved includes the following line-item funding:
“$750,000 for proposed “safe outdoor spaces”. … If approved by Council, will enable ultra-low barrier encampments to set up in vacant dirt lots across the City. There is an additional $200,000 for developing other sanctioned encampment programs.”
On Saturday, June 25, Mayor Tim Keller gave his “State of The City” address. Keller bought up the city’s homeless crisis. Keller noted that homelessness is “on display in so many areas in our city”. Keller had this to say:
“We have to open new ways, new pathways, to longstanding problems and try new approaches. We’ve got to be agile, we’ve got to learn, and we’ve got to keep creating pathways to stability. That is why we are revisiting our approach to homelessness and encampments.”
On July 6, after intense public outcry and objections over the homeless, Mayor Tim Keller again announced that his administration was “revisiting” its policies on how it addresses homeless encampments that are increasing in number throughout the city. Keller expressed the intent to initiate major changes on how to deal legally with homeless encampments. However, Keller showed no interest and did not reconsider his promotion of Safe Outdoor Spaces to deal with the homeless.
The links to quoted news sources are here:
ARGUMENTS MADE BEFORE ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING COMMISSION TO REPEAL SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES
On Thursday, September 15, the City’s Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) voted to eliminate Safe Outdoor Spaces from the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO).The hearing involved a very detailed analysis of the legislation calling for elimination of Safe Outdoor Spaces from the IDO. The analysis went through numerous provisions of the IDO. It 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 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 Martinez town 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 arguments made by those opposed to Safe Outdoor Spaces are 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 as adopted City Wide will be catastrophic to business districts. A good example given is the Menaul Metropolitan Redevelopment Area (MRA) Plan, an area where the Dawn Legacy homeless encampment will be if allowed. The Menaul Blvd corridor within the MRA boundaries is identified as blighted, with shuttered buildings, business that have closed, with no ability to attract new capital investment. A study and survey involving the Menaul MRA identified the homeless impact to businesses as a top problem by 93% and crime at 97%. The homeless issues identified by the Menaul MRA study are not unique. There are 20 other MRAs identified within the City that are also subject to the same “systemic homeless” crises.
- The Keller Administration has adopted a housing first policy when it comes to dealing with the homeless crisis. Safe Outdoor Space encampments violates the city’s “housing first” policy by not providing a form of permanent housing. 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.
Editor’s Note: The City of Albuquerque has one of the strongest nuisance abatement ordinances in the country. It is differentiated from all others by defining a nuisance in term of real property. It defines public 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.”
The link to review the entire ordinance is here:
FINDINGS OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING COMMISSION
On September 15, 2022, the Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) voted to forward a recommendation of APPROVAL to the City Council for the removal of all references to Safe Outdoor Spaces in the Integrated Development Ordinance. Quoting the ruling, the EPC made the following specific findings:
1 . “The request is generally consistent with the following, applicable articles of the City Charter:
Article I, Incorporation and Powers: Enacting a bill to revise and supersede the text of the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) … .
Article IX, Environmental Protection: Removing references to Safe Outdoor Spaces (SOS) in the IDO generally expresses the Council’s desire to ensure the proper use and development of land and maintain an aesthetic and humane urban environment City-wide.
Article XVII, Planning – Section 1: Amending the IDO is an instance of the Council exercising its role as the City’s ultimate planning and zoning authority. The IDO will help implement the Comprehensive Plan and ensure that development in the City is consistent with the intent of any other plans and ordinances that the Council adopts.”
2. “The request is generally consistent with the following, applicable Comprehensive Plan Goals and Policies from Chapter 4: [dealing with] Community Identity:
Character: Enhance, protect, and preserve distinct communities.
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. However, SOS are only allowed permissively in non-residential zones.
Identity and Design: Protect the identity and cohesiveness of neighborhoods by ensuring the appropriate scale and location of development, mix of uses, and character of building design.
3. 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. There are no use-specific standards or design standards for SOS that would ensure the appropriate scale and location of the use.
Neighborhoods: Enhance, protect, and preserve neighborhoods and traditional communities as key to our long-term health and vitality [by]
… Respecting existing neighborhood values and social, cultural, recreational resources.
… Support improvements that protect stable, thriving residential neighborhoods and enhance their attractiveness.
4. The request to remove [Safe Outdoor Spaces] 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.”
5 . “The request is generally consistent with the following, applicable Comprehensive Plan Goals and Policies from Chapter 5 [dealing with] Land Use:
Land Uses: Create healthy, sustainable, and distinct communities with a mix of uses that are conveniently accessible from surrounding neighborhoods.
… Encourage development and redevelopment that brings goods, services, and amenities within walking and biking distance of neighborhoods and promotes good access for all residents.
… Maintain the characteristics of distinct communities through zoning and design standards that are consistent with long-established residential development patterns.
… Encourage higher density housing as an appropriate use in the [listed] situations.
6. The request to remove [Safe Outdoor Spaces] from the Integrated Development Ordinance 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.
7. Locally Unwanted Land Uses: Ensure that land uses that are objectionable to immediate neighbors but may be useful to society are located carefully and equitably to ensure that social assets are distributed evenly and social responsibilities are borne fairly across the Albuquerque area.
[Safe Outdoor Spaces] 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.
8. City Development Areas: Encourage and direct growth to Areas of Change where it is expected and desired and ensure that development in and near Areas of Consistency reinforces the character and intensity of the surrounding area.
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.”
9. “The request is generally consistent with the following, applicable Comprehensive Plan Goal and policy pair from Chapter 8 [dealing with] Economic Development:
Placemaking: Create places where business and talent will stay and thrive.
Available Land: Maintain sufficient land that is appropriately zoned to accommodate projected employment growth in targeted areas.
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.”
10.“The request is generally consistent with the following, applicable Comprehensive Plan Goal from Chapter 9: Housing.
Goal – Homelessness: Make homelessness rare, short-term, and non-recurring.
The request would reduce options to serve people experiencing temporary homelessness by eliminating Safe Outdoor Spaces, places where this population can camp safely, though other options such as shelters and religious institutions, would remain available and would not be affected.”
11.“ The applicant’s policy analysis shows that the request is generally consistent with applicable Goals and policies in the Comprehensive Plan … .
… Therefore, the request is generally consistent with the spirit and intent of the Comprehensive Plan.”
The link to the unedited EPC ruling is here:
MAYOR TIM KELLER’S 33% APPRROVAL RATING
On November 3, the Albuquerque Journal released its poll on the job performance of Mayor Tim Keller. The Journal poll asked the singular question “Do you approve or disapprove of the way Tim Keller is handling his job as Mayor?”
The results of the poll were dramatic:
MIXED FEELINGS: 21%
WOULD NOT SAY: 5%
Brian Sanderoff, the President of Research & Polling who did the poll, was interviewed by the Journal and was asked to give his opinion as to the reasons why Mayor Tim Keller has had such a sharp decline in his popularity. Sanderoff said voter concern about crime and homelessness are likely the biggest factors in the latest poll result.
In June, the city released its government-funded satisfaction poll. 70% of those surveyed felt the City is doing a poor job of addressing homelessness, 9% of residents gave City Government positive marks for addressing the homelessness issue and 20% gave the city mixed or neutral rating. The percentage of residents who give the City positive scores for addressing homelessness had risen from 13% in 2019 to 29% in 2020 but it has now fallen by 20% and is 9% currently. The link to the full survey is here:
Since the citizen satisfaction survey Keller doubled down on his efforts to address the homeless crisis. 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.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Mayor Tim Keller has made highly ill-advised and damaging decisions intended to address the city’s homeless crisis and where they camp. Those decisions include allowing Coronado Park for 5 years to be the city’ de facto city sanction homeless encampment before he was forced to close it down because of crime, illicit drugs and ground contamination. Another discredited and ill-advised decision is his insistence and advocacy of Safe Outdoor Spaces.
There are at least 5 major points that Mayor Keller needs to take into serious consideration before he decides to veto the legislation getting rid of Safe Out Door Spaces. Those considerations are:
- The City council majority of 5, that has been nonpartisan, has now voted at least 3 times to reject Safe Outdoor Spaces, and Keller has vetoed those votes to force allowing them and to force city funding for them.
- There has been strong public outrage and opposition to Safe Outdoor Spaces that goes beyond “not in my backyard” and includes legitimate concerns and proof that they will destroy neighbor hoods and businesses.
- The Environmental Planning Commission conducted a thorough evaluation of Safe Outdoor Spaces and arrived at the conclusion that Safe Outdoor Spaces are not compatible with the Integrated Development Ordinance.
- Notwithstanding the removal of Safe Outdoor Spaces from the Zoning Code, there are at least 2 that will remain in existence, with a third that may be allowed and 3 others that have been applied for and that may be allowed.
Mayor Tim Keller’s “all the above approach” to deal with the homeless crisis, which includes Safe Outdoor Spaces, and his administration’s failure to deal with the homeless crisis has had a major impact on his popularity resulting in a 33% approval rating and a 40% disapproval rating. One thing is for certain is that Keller has alienated at a minimum the neighborhood activists in Brook Bassan’s City Council District 4 that has a population of 60,380 and one of the highest voter turn outs in municipal races.
Simply put, the public has lost faith in Mayor Keller’s “all the above approach” to dealing with the homeless and his policies, especially with Safe Outdoor Spaces. His decline in popularity in the polls is affecting his ability to lead on the issue of the homeless crisis. Mayor Tim Keller needs to listen to the City Council majority, the Environmental Planning Commission, the business community and the public and sign the legislation to eliminate Safe Outdoor Spaces.
Mayor Tim Keller listening is not at all likely given his “my way or the highway” on Safe Outdoor Spaces and his “I know what’s best for my city” and to hell with anyone who believes differently. Keller also knows if he vetoes the repeal legislation he can count on the likes of Republican Trudy Jones not to override his veto and she will be for a second time the swing vote and the override vote will fail.
On November 14 it was reported that Trudy Jones will not be seeking another term on the City Council and it’s likely she feels liberated not to respect the will of her constituents. Trudy Jones expressed her sense of liberation from her constituents in an interview after a vote not to override Keller’s veto when she said this:
“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 link to the quoted news sources is here
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 when a 6-4 vote is needed and Safe Outdoor Spaces will become law and 2 in each of the 9 City Council Districts will be allowed. This is the type of conduct that results in general public distrust of city government.
Safe Outdoor Space city sanctioned homeless encampments are not just an issue of “not in my back yard,” but one of legitimate anger and mistrust by the public against city elected officials and department employees who have mishandled the city’s homeless crisis and who are determined to allow them despite strong public opposition. Safe Outdoor Space tent encampments will destroy neighborhoods and make the city a magnet for the homeless. The general public has legitimate concerns that Safe Outdoor Space homeless tent encampments will become crime-infested nuisances, such was the case with Coronado Park. The homeless crisis will not be solved by the city but must be managed with permanent housing assistance and service programs, not nuisance tent encampments.
Voters and residents are urged to contact Mayor Tim Keller and voice their opinion and tell Mayor Keller to sign the repeal legislation that will remove Safe Outdoor Spaces from the Integrated Development Ordinance. His phone number, email address and FAX are as follows:
Office of the Mayor
PO Box 1293
Albuquerque NM 87103
1 Civic Plaza, 11th Floor
Albuquerque NM 87102