Over last year, nothing divided the Albuquerque City Council and Mayor Tim Keller more than “safe outdoor spaces” with the city council first supporting the land use, then reversing its support only to have Mayor Tim Keller prevail in allowing them by use of his veto pen and the city council lacking the required 6 votes to override him. 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.
“SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES” A KELLER INTIATIATED POLICY
It was Mayor Tim Keller who in his Apri 1 proposed city buget, which was approved by the city council, that initially came up with the “Safe Outdoor Spaces” concept when he included and received city council approval of $950,000 in his 2022-2023 budget for establishment and development of the city sanction tent encampments. 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 absolutely no interest and did not reconsider his support of Safe Outdoor Spaces to deal with the unhoused.
The links to quoted news sources are here:
COUNCIL ENACTS SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES, HAS SECOND THOUGHTS AND KELLER VETOS
It was on June 6, the Albuquerque City Council enacted a bill on a 5-4 vote that amended the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) which is the city’s zoning code laws, that allows “safe outdoor spaces” . It sets a limit of two in each of the city’s 9 council districts. Mayor Tim Keller signed into the law the legislation. The enactment resulted in a severe backlash of public opposition. On December 5, the City Council voted on a 5-4 to remove all references to Safe Outdoor Spaces within Albuquerque’s zoning code thereby outlawing the land use. Mayor Tim Keller vetoed the legislation. It was the councils third attempt to reverse its own decision in June to allow Safe Outdoor Spaces with one vote defunding them. On January 4, the city council attempted to “override” Keller’s veto, but failed to secure the necessary 6 votes.
ARGUMENTS MADE AGAINST SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES
Representatives from neighborhood associations, including the Santa Barbara Martinez town Neighborhood Association, Wells Park Neighborhood Association and business organizations have made the following arguments in opposition to Safe Outdoor Spaces :
- The City Council amendment for Safe Outdoor Space is not well planned out. Safe Outdoor Spaces will not be safe despite security plans and they 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 leasteffective 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 are contrary to 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.
APPROVED SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES
The city Planning Department has approved 3 Safe Outdoor Spaces and they will be allowed to exist and operate. Two are designed for people to sleep in cars rather than tents and are located outside existing homeless shelters. 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 city has partnered with the nonprofit Heading Home to launch the first two.
A third Safe Outdoor Space is 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. It would operate under a 6 month licensing agreement with a possible 6 month renewal. It was first approved by the Planning Department behind closed doors without giving proper and legally required notice to surrounding property owners.
The Dawn Legacy Point safe outdoor space homeless encampment has generated major opposition and there are 6 appellants. Opposing it are the Santa Barbara Martineztown Neighborhood Association, the nonprofit LifeROOTS , the Crowne Plaza hotel, Sunset Memorial Park cemetery, the Greater Albuquerque Hotel & Lodging Association and the company that runs the Ramada Plaza hotel.
Last month, the Planning Department once again granted approval for the safe outdoor space at the Menaul site. At least 7 entities are fighting Dawn Legacy Pointe’s new approval. They argue that the project will harm an area already grappling with problems, that Dawn Legacy Pointe’s plans, including for security, are all insufficient and that the city is not protecting the community.
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 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.
LifeROOTS, one of the appellants, wrote in its appeal that the city “has no plan whatsoever to address and mitigate the impacts on the surrounding property owners and community at large.”
Menaul School and the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Association have argued that the City Planning Department and the Family Community Services Department gave the Dawn Legacy Point applicant preferential treatment by searching for and identifying city own property to be used for the Safe Outdoor Space and with the Family Community Services Department committing funding for the safe outdoor space before it was approved,
Menaul School wrote in its appeal:
“It is clear that the issuing of the permit to Dawn Legacy Pointe has been tainted from the start by the weighing of the (city’s) Department of Family & Community Services’ thumb upon the scales.”
Dawn Legacy Pointe for its part has said its operations plan, including the cite’s security plan, underwent a review as part of its approval process and all such projects must have fences with lockable gates, background checks for operators and residents and 24/7 staffing. Katie Simon, a spokesperson for Dawn Legacy Pointe, said this:
“Data from other cities demonstrate that Safe Outdoor Spaces do not contribute to an increase of crime. … Safe outdoor spaces are a useful resource for people living on the street and to mitigate unsanctioned encampments.”
Links to news source material are here:
MENAUL PROPERTY BEING LOOKED AT FOR GARBAGE TRANSFER STATION
In addition to the Dawn Legacy Pointe plan to establish and operate a “safe outdoor space” at 1250 Menaul Blvd, NE to provide a tent encampment for 50 women who are homeless and who are “sex-trafficking victims”, the city’s Solid Waste Department wants to use 1 of the 2 adjoining city owned parcels of land for a garbage transfer station. The transfer station would allow individual city trash trucks to drop off their loads so larger vehicles could then transport the garbage to the landfill. It has been reported that while the city has looked at other sites for the garbage transfer station, the Menaul property is the only location currently under consideration. Solid Waste spokeswoman Emily Moore said the city has not taken steps necessary as of yet to open a transfer station, such as seeking the requisite zone change or the state permit needed for such a facility.
Both KOAT Channel 7 and KRQE News 13 have reported that city bought the 14-acre property on the Northwest corner of the interchange for $6.8 million with the intention of turning it into a solid waste transfer station. There are concerns about the school, businesses, and hotels just across the street as well as the cemetery next door.
Albuquerque Solid Waste Director Matthew Whelan had this to say:
“It’s a great location because it’s centralized in the city and it’s near both of the freeways. … And, by having a centralized location, not only are you going to save time, you’re going to save truck wear and tear, and you’re going to save emissions because now we’re just going to be putting the refuse there, and they’re going to be sending one truck to the landfill. … Our goal is to make it more appealing looking … [This one] … will look like a normal industrial building, you know, it’ll be, like, brown. It’ll have landscaping. … It’ll be, it won’t be like an open pit where we’re just dumping into.”
The Santa Barbara Martineztown Neighborhood Association and Crown Plaza Hotel, two of the appellants of the Dawn Legacy Point Safe Outdoor Space at 1250 Menaul Blvd, NE, are also strongly opposed to the city’s plans for a garbage transfer station at the same location.
Loretta Naranjo Lopez, president of the Santa Barbara Martineztown Neighborhood Association had this to say about the garbage transfer station:
“They’re hiding this from us and they’re not talking to us at all. … And, we’re outraged. I would be asking all these people here, what do you want to see here before they even consider it? … We’re already dealing with the freeway. We have done a health impact statement study and it says 10 miles out, the impact to our health is bad from the freeway. Anything added to it is just going to be a catastrophe. … Every 30 seconds, a [city garbage]truck coming down Menaul and people having their funeral services at the Sunset Memorial with all that noise [is a concern].
Joani Jones, general manager of the Crown Plaza Hotel, which sits just across Interstate 25 from the property said this:
“We’re the heart of the city. The Midtown area is truly in the heart of the city,” … We don’t need the smell. We don’t need people to see that.”
The nearby Stronghurst Neighborhood Association is also opposed to both the Safe Outdoor Space and the garbage transfer station being located at 1250 Menaul Blvd, NE. Bill Sabatini is a very well know and highly respected business person in Albuquerque and he is the president of Stronghurst Neighborhood Association. He said local business owners and others opposing the city’s plans have been meeting for months.
Sabatini said he would like to see the city establish the safe outdoor space and as well as the transfer station in another part of town. He said his organization and those he represents believes that a safe outdoor space will bring more unhoused to the area. He also said a garbage transfer station will be a waste of prime real estate. Sabatini argued that the site could be a showcase for Albuquerque given its location near several hotels and two interstates.
Bill Sabatini had this to say this about the garbage transfer station:
“It’s a bad idea; it’s a dumb idea. … It’s just totally inappropriate for here. … We know it’s not going to smell, they have figured out ways to do that, but the amount of traffic, truck traffic, from the entire east side of the city to that location is ungodly. … That’s just not a good location. That’s a terrible location to put something of that nature right in the middle of the city – (it’s) a highly visible location! … It’s a perfect place to make a positive statement about Albuquerque. … There could be a lot of things that happen here that could be much more beneficial. One idea, for instance, is this would be a great location for either a history museum or some kind of education center.”
Links to the quoted news sources are here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Only in the really screwed up “Burque World” of Mayor Tim Keller can it be imagined that 2 adjoining lots of prime commercial property own by the city worth upwards of $13 million would be used for a Safe Outdoor Space for a tent encampment for women who are “sex-trafficking victims” and the city would construct and run a “garbage transfer station” next to it. The optics are so very representative of the kind of a Mayor Tim Keller really is and how he operates and thinks.
First, Mayor Keller advocaats for “Safe Outdoor Space” and sneaks $950,000 in his general fund budget which the City Council haplessly agrees to and allocates.
Second, Mayor Keller takes steps asking for 100 amendments to the Integrated Development Ordinance with one amendment allowing 2 Safe Outdoor Spaces in each of the 9 City Council Districts. The amendments pass on the slimmest 5-4 vote. When the City Council realizes the mistake they had made as a result of major public outrage and push back, the City Council seeks to reverse course, votes to defund the financing and votes to remove Safe Outdoor Spaces as a permitted use but votes 5-4 for repeal. Keller vetoes the repeal despite public opposition and outrage claiming he was elected to make the hard decision essentially ignoring the will of the voters and not wanting to admit how very wrong his policy actually is and the damage it will do.
Third, Keller’s own Family and Community Services Department and Planning Department Officials go out of their way to give preferential treatment and financial aid to the applicants for a Safe Outdoor Space for unhoused woman who are “sex-trafficking victims”. Never mind the fact that victims of sex trafficking need stable and permanent housing and services and placing such women in tents to live is very degrading and revictimizes them again.
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.
It’s Keller’s sneaky conduct like this and lack of communication and transparency and ignoring the general public that has resulted in Mayor Tim Keller and his Administration being viewed as very heavy handed and incompetent in dealing with the homeless crisis. In August of last year, the city released the Citizen Perception Survey. The survey found that 70% of citizens surveyed rate the city poorly for its performance in dealing with the homeless crisis. This includes 41% who gave city hall the lowest possible rating. Meanwhile, only 9% gave the city’s homelessness response a favorable review. In other words, 7 times more people rate the city poorly on the issue than offer a positive assessment.
With any luck, Tim Keller will move on mid term of his second term, something he has done as State Senator and State Auditor, because the city cannot afford 3 more years of his failed leadership.