On Saturday, April 1, April Fool’s day”, Mayor Tim Keller and New Mexico State Senate Majority Whip Michael Padilla held a press conference at the vacant land located at 1250 Menaul NE to announce that the city has “swapped” the city owned property for 2 state owned properties. The property at 1250 Menaul NE consists of two prime commercial vacant lots comprising 13.5 acres of land with an estimated value of at $4,333,500. The city swapped the land at 1250 Menaul NE for 2 state-owned properties. One state property is located 401 Commercial NE, just northeast of the Convention Center and the second is at 3401 Pan American NE, along Interstate 25 near Candelaria.
The land swap was touted as a “win-win” transaction by both Mayor Tim Keller and State Senator Michael Padilla. Keller said the state property exchange will allow the city to expand the Rail Trail and provide a larger, more-accessible space for a Solid Waste transfer station. The Menaul site will be used for a public safety headquarters to replace the central New Mexico State Police office in Albuquerque located on Carlisle and provide a location for law enforcement training and operations.
Mayor Tim Keller said this:
“[Land swaps] are fairly routine, and they’re always important. … So this is a keystone piece of land … to make the Rail Trail possible. [It] does mean that we are going to get the access and the land we need to have a sort of anchor point for the Rail Trail. [This is a] win-win. It brings closure to several key land questions for City services and public spaces in the city core. … Because the state is getting this land there will be no safe outdoor space or transfer station on Menaul. … So by default there is closure on the question of whether or not there will be a safe outdoor space at this location.”
In a news release, the city said the property 401 Commercial NE Commercial located NE of the convention center will play “an important role” for the future of the Rail Trail which is described as “a transformational pedestrian-friendly path” connecting the Rail Yards to Downtown, the Sawmill District and Old Town.
It was in January the city Solid Waste Department announced that it was looking at the Menaul property for a future garbage transfer station where city garbage trucks would drop off loads to be taken by larger vehicles to the landfill. The transfer station would have been between the Safe Outdoor Space and the Sunset Memorial Cemetery.
The April 1 city press release states the Pan American site is an ideal location for a solid waste transfer station and it will allow easier access for large city vehicles. The city also stated that homeless providers “may still apply for safe outdoor spaces at other locations in the city.”
State Senator Padilla said the city property swap is for roughly equal valued state land saying the traded properties are “almost even-steven”. Padilla was not able to give an estimated cost of the public safety headquarters. He did say a modernized law enforcement facility will be built on the Menaul property and the site will give law enforcement fast access to the Big I, where they can head any direction in response to unfolding situations.
Padilla said this:
“There are five disparate offices in Central New Mexico related to public safety and the state police, and what this is going to do is it’s going to consolidate all of those services onto this property. There will be greater coordination, planning efficiency. … We have a giant crime problem here in New Mexico and this is going to help in a tremendous way to positively affect that issue. … I think this is going to lend itself to really telling the bad guys, ‘Hey, we’re serious about this. We’re on top of this, we have more efficient operations.”
Padilla noted that since the land swap is a joint resolution, it only had to pass the state Senate and House. It does not need approval from the governor.
The links to quoted news sources are here:
APPLICATION FOR SOS HOMELESS ENCAMPMENT FOR SEX-TRAFFICKING VICTIMS WITHDRAWN
It was last year on July 30, 2022 that Dawn Legacy Point filed the very first application for a “Safe Outdoor Space” homeless tent encampment to be located at 1250 Menaul. The homeless encampment was intended to be a city sanctioned tent encampment for upwards of 50 women who are homeless and who are “sex-trafficking victims”.
On August 8, 2022 the City Planning Department approved the Dawn Legacy Point application behind closed doors without giving notice to surrounding property owners, neighborhood associations and businesses as require by law. The Planning Department held no public hearing on the application and the Family Community Services Department gave Dawn Legacy assistance in identifying city property for the SOS, assisted with its design and with the application and agreed to provide funding.
Appealing the Planning Department decision were the Santa Barbara-Martineztown Neighborhood Association; Crowne Plaza hotel; LifeRoots Inc.; Sunset Memorial Park, Greater Albuquerque Hotel and Lodging Association; Menaul School; and Albuquerque Hotel Project.
On Friday, March 16, City Land Use Hearing Officer Steven M. Chavez granted the appeal of the 7 organizations to stop the City and the charitable organization Dawn Legacy Pointe from constructing a Safe Outdoor Space (SOS) on the two city own lots located at 1250 Menaul Blvd. NE. The hearing officer found the city should not have approved a safe outdoor space for that site in the first place. The hearing officer recommended to the City Council to reverse the approval by the Planning Department and it was likely the City Council would have done that on April 3.
On March 28, Dawn Legacy Pointe announced that it had withdrawn its application for a Safe Outdoor Space at 1250 Menaul Blvd. NE citing the Council would likely affirm the hearing officer. The application withdrawal renders moot any hearing and final decision by the City Council on the SOS.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The Dawn Legacy point applicants and the 7 appellants likely feel that they have been made fools of to an extent by Mayor Tim Keller on April 1 when he announced the land swap. There is very little doubt that this “win-win” land swap has been in the works for some time and likely for last 8 months. Confidential sources confirmed the Governor Lujan Grisham Administration expressed back in August of last year the desire to acquire not only the city owned Menaul property but as well as Coronado Park for state facilities. Yet Mayor Tim Keller said absolutely nothing until April 1, April Fool’s Day, about what was going on behind the scenes, behind closed doors and only after it was a done deal.
Safe Outdoor Spaces have been one of the most divisive issues in the city for the last full year pitting City Councilors against each other and against Mayor Keller and his Administration and the general public. 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. 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 when it became the de facto city sanction tent encampment, another Tim Keller bright idea.
The Planning Department and the Family and Community Services Department went out of their way to give preferential treatment and financial aid to the Dawn Legacy 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 to live in tents is very degrading and revictimizes them again.
It was Mayor Tim Keller who just last year on April 1, 2022 first advocated for “Safe Outdoor Spaces” by sneaking $950,000 in his 2022 general fund budget for them. The City Council haplessly agreed to Safe Outdoor Spaces zoning amendments and then reversed course after public outcry and anger. Three times the City Council attempted to exclude them but they failed with Keller vetoing the city council measures.
Keller and his administration have put the public through the emotional wringer by first encouraging and giving preferential treatment to Dawn Legacy with their application. Once approved, residents, businesses and neighborhood associations had to jump through the legal hoops with two appeal hearings, spend enormous amounts of time, energy and attorney fees and emotional capital to oppose the Manual property for a Safe Outdoor Space. Keller could have saved a lot of people a lot of misery, time and money by simply telling the parties something was in the works and that the Menaul property would likely not be available within a matter of months.
This is not the way government is supposed to work. Keller runs around with a smile on his face and a grin in his voice telling everyone nothing is wrong, he knows what he is doing and being less than candid until he can have a press conference to make an announcement.
The City Council has already approved amendments to the Integrated Development Ordinance that allows 2 Safe Outdoor Spaces for each of the 9 city council districts for a total of 18. Two applications have already been approved, one at the city owned property westside shelter and one at the “Coming Home” unhoused facility on Candelaria.
Now that the Menaul property is no longer available for a Safe Outdoor Space, the City Council needs act immediately and enact legislation that prevents the city from making available for safe outdoor spaces any city owned open space zoned for industrial, commercial or residential use. Otherwise the City Council will continue to run the risk of being made fools of once again by Mayor Tim Keller.