On December 14, the following column was published by the on-line news agency New Mexico Sun with the column written by staff reporter T.H. Lawrence:
HEADLINE: GAHLA director: “SOSs” are not the proper solution for the homeless occupants
At least eight organizations have filed appeals against the Dawn Legacy Point Safe Outdoor Spaces homeless tent encampment, asking the Albuquerque City Planning Department to reverse its decision and deny the Safe Outdoor Space application of Dawn Legacy for 1250 Menaul Blvd. NE.
This comes after the Planning Department unilaterally reviewed the application in private a few months ago with no notice to surrounding businesses or neighborhood associations, no public hearing and no public input, critics charge.
Karl Holme, executive director of Greater Albuquerque Hotel & Lodging Association, expressed support of the appeals in a Dec. 5 letter to Jeff Palmer of the Planning Department.
“Our association is in support of the appellants against the 1250 Menaul NE Safe Outdoor Space, Dawn Legacy application process in its current form, and in the rush to get things moving, it seems haphazard, as there are few concrete details presented to the public to appropriately allay their fears and concerns,” Holme said in the letter.
Holme stressed that Albuquerque’s Safe Outdoor Space program has not been properly planned and will fail without a legitimate outline. If Albuquerque expands Safe Outdoor Spaces across several locations, he said, the city must meet the needs and demands of the community, which includes having a well-thought-out template with built-in benchmarks and standards for which all third-party contractors must meet.
It also needs an actual game plan to mitigate issues in the neighboring community, which currently does not exist, Holme said.
“GAHLA is very empathetic and supportive of the city of Albuquerque’s efforts to grapple with the challenges associated with homelessness along with the attendant substance abuse and/or behavioral issues,” Holme told New Mexico Sun. “It’s not only a human tragedy but drives crime, drives away tourism business and is a threat to hotel guests. Having a homeless encampment at the crossroads of Interstate 40 and Interstate 25 creates a negative image from a tourism perspective, as it can become an eyesore.
“Both state and federal dollars were spent a few years back to beautify and raise the appeal of this interchange and to promote Albuquerque to those traversing the area,” he added. “In addition we believe there is a Menaul sector plan to enhance the area of which this SOS encampment does nothing to advance.”
Holme said the appeals are well-founded and are supported by his association.
“GAHLA has initially appealed on behalf of the two neighboring hotels, as we have over 1,000 hotel rooms in the area,” he said. “The Crowne Plaza has lost two conventions due to the homelessness issue.”
Holme said the fact that the proper notification was not followed with neighboring properties/businesses not being notified also is reason for concern by area residents and firms.
“The appellants believe the city is not listening to their concerns,” he said. “There is already a crime issue in the area.”
In recent letter to Councilor Trudy Jones, Bob Reule of the Menaul Business Coalition said there are better options to assist people.
“There are currently more humane and effective solutions to sheltering the homeless than shuttling battered women to comingle with men in outdoor tent camps, in sub-freezing temps, with outdoor wash stations and porta-potties, when the City Housing 1st program provides comfortable, indoor brick and mortar accommodations,” Reuele wrote.
Holme said Reule raised salient points.
“Bob Reule’s email contained research from Lindsay Gilbert, president and head of Menaul school, sharing articles about other cities having tried similar programs and are now reversing course or making huge adjustments due to failures,” he told New Mexico Sun.
“All this giving ample reasons to slow the process down,” he added. “Given that tent camps are not a panacea, what best practices has CABQ undertaken to improve their program? We as a community should learn from the mistakes of other municipalities in this regard.”
The city of Albuquerque has made many investments for the homeless that are seemingly underused. It funded more than $59 million to Family & Community Services in fiscal year 2022 to help care for 1,311 homeless individuals, as identified by the HUD Point in Time Survey, and spent $15 million to purchase the Gibson Medical Center for a shelter.
“We continually hear the mantra that we have to do something,” Reule wrote. “But SOSs are not the proper solution for the homeless occupants, when the city has made the investment to properly house, properly secure, feed, medically treat, council and care for the homeless in an environment that is nurturing and not in conflict with the viability of our fragile business communities and neighborhoods.”
Tent camps have been attempted and repealed in municipalities nationwide and have failed. Other cities that have tried the Safe Outdoor Spaces model, including Seattle, Portland, Oregon, and Denver, have found it to be ineffective, economically destructive and in many cases life-threatening.
Holme said it’s natural to have concerns since Albuquerque is modeling its homeless policies based on efforts other cities made that have not been successful. The lack of hard specifics shared with the public provides little confidence, he said.
“We also have concerns about the security plan and that outside of the defined area will be affected additionally,” Holme said.
He offered a few steps to reduce the worries of locals as this process continues. These include improving the notification process, providing more communication on specifics and, perhaps, hold a group meeting to share information and discuss details. He also suggested presenting a thorough plan on what third parties will be contracted and how they will manage the program.”
ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING COMMISSION VOTES TO ELIMINATE SAFE DOOR SPACES FROM INTEGRATED DEVELOPMENT ORDINANCE
On Thursday, September 15, the City’s Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) voted to eliminate Safe Outdoor Spaces from the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) by recommending to the City Council to vote YES to repeal the land use. The hearing involved a very detailed analysis of the legislation calling for elimination of Safe Outdoor Spaces from the IDO. A detailed analysis was conducted and it identified how Safe Outdoor Spaces violated the IDO provisions and the spirit and intent of the IDO.
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 Spaceis not well planned out. Safe Outdoor Spaces will not be safe despite security plans and will be magnets for crime.
- Safe Outdoor Spacesin 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 Spacesas 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”
- The Keller Administration has adopted a housing first policy when it comes to dealing with the homeless crisis. Safe Outdoor Spaceencampments 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 Spacesare nuisances and are in violation of city ordinances dealing with nuisance abatement on real property, especially property owned by the city.
COUNCIL VOTES TO REMOVE SAFE OUTDOOR SPACE LANGUAGE FROM THE ZONING CODE
On December 5, the City Council voted 5-4 to approved 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.
The third approved Safe Outdoor Space is the Dawn Legacy Point homeless encampment to be located at 1250 Menaul Blvd, NE. 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. Notwithstanding the repeal legislation, the Dawn Legacy Point homeless encampment could still be approved and not be affected by the repeal legislation.
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.”
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
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 Spacesthat 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 Spacesand arrived at the conclusion that Safe Outdoor Spaces are not compatible with the Integrated Development Ordinance.
- Notwithstanding the removal of Safe Outdoor Spacesfrom 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: