City Purchased Tents Proposed For “Safe Outdoor Spaces”; “Tent City’s” Will Destroy City’s Permanent Housing Efforts ; Scant Evidence Found On How Permanent Homeless Shelters Affect Surrounding Community; Safe Outdoor Spaces Will Make City “Land of Encampments”

The Homeless Coordinating Council (HCC) is a collaborative body made up of members from the City of Albuquerque, the County of Bernalillo, and the Board of Regents of the University of New Mexico. The HCC’s purpose is to deliver a coordinated community-wide framework for expanding and strengthening services and permanent affordable housing for people experiencing homelessness in the Albuquerque metro area.

https://www.cabq.gov/family/partner-resources/meeting-minutes-agendas/homeless-coordinating-council

The City Council is proposing to create two new “land use” zoning areas to allow 2 separate types of city sanctioned homeless encampments in all 9 city council districts for a total of 18 city sanctioned homeless encampments. Both are amendments updating the city’s 2017 Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) that regulates residential and commercial zoning development and land use throughout the city.

The “safe outdoor spaces” amendment to the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) calls for the creation of government sanctioned homeless campsites where the homeless will be able to sleep and tend to personal hygiene. The proposed zone change can be summarized as follows:

1. Not more than 1 sanctioned campsites will be allowed in any one of the city’s 9 city council districts, or 9 total campsites, and the campsites would be limited to 40 tents, cars or recreational vehicles.
2. Each campsite will be required to have a certain number of water-flush or composting toilets, or portable facilities, hand-washing stations and showers based on occupancy.
3. It would require a surrounding wall or screen at least 6 feet high for those using tents.
4. Operators of the campsites, which could include churches and nonprofit organizations, would have to provide the city with a management plan or security agreement proving the site has 24/7 on-site support and security.
5. Operators would offer occupants some form of social services and support facilities.
6. The homeless campsites would be prohibited from being allowed within 330 feet of low-density residential areas. Religious institutions would have more flexibility for locating them.
7. The campsites would be permitted in certain commercial, business park and manufacturing zones and in some mixed-use zones after a public hearing.
According to City Officials, in most instances, the encampments would be set up and managed by churches or nonprofits.

“Living lots” zoning would be open space areas designated where people would be allowed to sleep overnight in tents, cars or RVs. Empty parking lots and other unused space could be used. Living lots would provide appointed spaces for people who may otherwise already be sleeping in parks, on sidewalks and in arroyos.

“COMMUNITIES OF TENTS” OUTLINED FOR “SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES”

On Tuesday, May 10, the City of Albuquerque made a presentation before the Bernalillo County’s Homeless Coordinating Council elaborating on its plans for “Safe Outdoor Spaces”. The presentation was made by Elizabeth Holguin with the City’s Family and Community Services Department.

According to Holguin, the city envisions that “Safe Outdoor Spaces” would be communities of tents for the homeless population, uniform in design and structure, and fenced in for safety.

Holguin told the coordinating council:

“Not anyone can just walk up. … People will be accepted based on outreach worker referral. … Resources like bathrooms, showers, electricity, shade structures, sometimes even internet [will be provided] … Definitely handwashing stations. There’s often connections to food and meals and all of the different outreach services that can be provided. … You cannot bring anything that does not fit into your structure. You get a storage bin, sleeping area, and chair. … there would be policies preventing weapons, and the safe spaces would be supervised by a management team. … Drugs and alcohol would be allowed inside tents, the same way they are allowed in homes but obviously there’s no drug dealing [allowed]”.

City representatives told the coordinating council Safe Outdoor Spaces has seen success in Denver, Colorado. City official also recognized that the tents are not a solution to homelessness, but hope they will help curb the metro’s crime crisis by providing a safer alternative to life on the street.

The initiative is still in its early planning stages, so size and potential locations remain up in the air.

The link to quoted source material is here:

https://www.kob.com/archive/albuquerque-leaders-discuss-plans-for-safe-outdoor-spaces/

“TENT CITY, USA”

The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty is a national legal group dedicated to ending and preventing homelessness. It works to expand access to affordable housing, meet the immediate and long-term needs of those who are homeless or at risk, and strengthen the social safety-net through policy advocacy, public education, impact litigation, and advocacy training and support.

In 2017, The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty released a study entitled “TENT CITY, USA The Growth of America’s Homeless Encampments and How Communities are Responding” with the link here:

Click to access Tent_City_USA_2017.pdf

In 2018, the National Law Center on Homeless and Poverty released a study entitled “Welcome The Rise of Tent Cities in the United States” with the link here:

https://homelesslaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/WelcomeHome_TentCities.pdf

The following was gleaned from the studies prepared the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty:

Tent cities have been reported in the majority of states, 46 of 51 jurisdictions (including the District of Columbia). Of all of these, only 8 encampments had a legalized status. Three more were moving in that direction, meaning that through municipal ordinance or formal agreement, the tent city had been sanctioned by the community and was either allowed to self-govern or was created by service providers working with the city. Ten tent cities had at least a semi-sanctioned status, meaning that although not formally recognized, public officials were aware of the encampments and were not taking active steps to have them evicted.

https://homelesslaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/WelcomeHome_TentCities.pdf

“In the past decade, documented homeless encampments have dramatically increased across the country. Research showed a 1,342 percent increase in the number of unique homeless encampments reported in the media, from 19 reported encampments in 2007 to a high of 274 reported encampments in 2016 [the last full year for data], and with 255 already reported by mid 2017, the trend appears to be continuing upward. Two thirds of this growth comes after the Great Recession of 2007-2012 was declared over, suggesting that many are still feeling the long-term effects.

Unique homeless encampments were reported in every state and the District of Columbia. California had the highest number of reported encampments by far, but states as diverse as Iowa, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Oregon, and Virginia each tallied significant numbers of reported encampments.

Half the reports that recorded the size of the encampments showed a size of 11-50 residents, and 17 percent of encampments had more than 100 residents.

Close to two-thirds of reports which recorded the time in existence of the encampments showed they had been there for more than one year, and more than one-quarter had been there for more than five years.

Three-quarters of reports which recorded the legal status of the encampments showed they were illegal; 4% were reported to be legal, 20% were reported to be semi-legal (tacitly sanctioned.

This increase in encampments reflects the growth in homelessness overall, and provides evidence of the inadequacy (and sometimes inaccessibility) of the U.S. shelter system. The growth of homelessness is largely explained by rising housing costs and stagnant wages.

Municipalities often face pressure to “do something” about the problem of visible homelessness. For many cities, the response has been an increase in laws prohibiting encampments and an increase in enforcement.

[A survey of ] the laws and policies in place in 187 cities across the country … found:

33% of cities prohibit camping city-wide, and 50 percent prohibit camping in particular public places, increases of 69% and 48% from 2006-16, respectively.

50% have either a formal or informal procedure for clearing or allowing encampments. Many more use trespass or disorderly conduct statutes in order to evict residents of encampments.

Only five cities (2.7% ) have some requirement that alternative housing or shelter be offered when a sweep of an encampment is conducted.

Only 20 (11%) had ordinances or formal policies requiring notice prior to clearing encampments. Of those, five can require as little as 24 hours’ notice before encampments are evicted, though five require at least a week, and three provide for two weeks or more. An additional 26 cities provided some notice informally, including two providing more than a month.

Only 20 cities, 11%, require storage be provided for possessions of persons residing in encampments if the encampment is evicted. The length of storage required is typically between 30 and 90 days, but ranged from 14 to 120 days.

Regional analysis found western cities have more formal policies than any other region of the country, and are more likely to provide notice and storage.

Using the criminal justice system and other municipal resources to move people who have nowhere else to go is costly and counter-productive, for both communities and individuals. …

Research shows that housing is the most effective approach to end homelessness with a larger return on investment.

Other cities spend thousands of dollars on fences, bars, rocks, spikes, and other “hostile” or “aggressive” architecture, deliberately making certain areas of their community inaccessible to homeless persons without shelter.

Many communities state they need criminalization ordinances to provide law enforcement with a “tool” to push people to accept services, such as shelter. Conducting outreach backed with resources for real alternatives, however, is the approach that has shown the best, evidence-based results.

The 100,000 Homes Campaign found permanent housing for more than 100,000 of the most “service-resistant” chronically homeless individuals across America by listening to their needs and providing appropriate alternatives that actually meet their needs.

Most cities in the United States have insufficient shelter beds for the number of people experiencing homelessness; in some cities, the shortage is stark.

So when law enforcement tells residents of encampments to go to a shelter, they risk finding the shelter full. Even where shelter beds are open, they are not always appropriate, or even adequate, for all people.

Many shelters are available only to men or only to women; some require children, others do not allow children. Some do not ensure more than one night’s stay, requiring daily long waits in line- sometimes far from other alternatives.

The survey of 187 cities found only 10 of these cities have explicitly permitted some form of legalized camping. Encampments are not an appropriate long term solution to homelessness or the nation’s affordable housing crisis.

In order to be successful, legalized encampments require a tremendous amount of planning, consultation, and collaboration with all stakeholders, most especially the homeless residents of the encampment. In many cases, this time and effort may be better spent developing other interim or permanent housing solutions.”

The link to the news source is here:

https://homelesslaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Tent_City_USA_2017.pdf

CORONADO PARK

Coronado Park is considered by many as the epicenter of Albuquerque’s homeless crisis. Over the last 10 years, Coronado Park has essentially become the “de facto” city sanctioned homeless encampment with the city repeatedly cleaning it up only for the homeless to return the next day.

At any given time, Coronado Park will have 70 to 80 tents crammed into the park with homeless wondering the area. It comes with and extensive history lawlessness including drug use, violence, murder, rape and mental health issues. In 2020, there were 3 homicides at Coronado Park. In 2019, a disabled woman was raped, and in 2018 there was a murder.

Police 911 logs reveal a variety of other issues. In February 2019, police investigated a stabbing after a fight broke out at the park. One month before the stabbing, police responded to a call after a woman said she was suicidal, telling police on lapel camera video that she had previously made attempts to overdose on meth.

The link to the news source is here:

https://www.kob.com/albuquerque-news/police-records-depict-pattern-of-problems-violence-at-coronado-park/5891961/

City officials have said Coronado Park is the subject of daily responses from the encampment team because of the number of tent’s set up there. They say the encampment team, along with Parks and Recreation Department , and Solid Waste go out every morning, during the week, to give campers notice and clean up the park. They also work on getting them connected to resources and services they may need.

https://www.krqe.com/news/politics-government/the-process-behind-removing-homeless-camps-from-public-places/

SCANT EVIDENCE SHOWING IMPACT OF SHELTERS ON SURROUNDING AREA

The UNM Homelessness Research Taskforce is made up of 14 people from departments across the UNM campus. The taskforce was asked by the Homeless Coordinating Council to study the issue of how homeless shelters affect the surrounding community. Over the past year, the taskforce did the research and it had two aims:

1. Review existing data to see how different types of housing services relate to repeat homelessness and

2. What works best for different populations, and to study the risks and benefits of emergency homeless shelters to communities.

Research has been demanded repeatedly by Southeast Albuquerque residents fighting the city’s plans for the Gateway Center homeless shelter and services center on Gibson Boulevard on what will be the effects of the shelter. Some community members have demanded an in-depth neighborhood impact assessment of the Gibson area believing the effects could reach up to 2 miles. According to UNM research team member Janet Page-Reeves, such an extensive and specific project would require more time and resources

On May 10, Page-Reeves provided an executive summary presentation to the Homeless Coordinating Council telling the council the challenges of answering the shelter effect question. She told the council:

“Very little research has been published on the impact of emergency shelters … but from the sparse literature, there is some evidence regarding both associated benefits and risks [but that information was not] “robust”. ”

According to Page-Reeves, existing literature about crime and shelters shows an “increased likelihood of crime” within a fourth- to half-mile radius, though the types of crime change. Vandalism and armed robbery go down, according to the research, but petty crimes like theft go up and “the people that are the victims of the crime tend to be those experiencing homelessness themselves”.

When it comes to property values, Page-Reeves said research reflects some effect within the immediate vicinity, but no evidence it extends beyond 1,000 feet of the shelter. And a shelter may have some positive and some negative impacts on nearby businesses.

UNM Homelessness Research Taskforce member Brady Horn reiterated that there is other research that is much less ambiguous. Horn told the Homeless Coordinating Council

“I just want to make sure we’re clear: providing housing does reduce crime . … [But] it’s unclear exactly what happens right around the shelter.”

Other findings from the UNM research team include:

• Those with lived experience reported that the eligibility qualifications for many support services are too rigid to meet.

• Nearly half (49%) of those who get enrolled in the state’s homelessness information management system as they seek shelter or other services have a disability. The category includes chronic health conditions and substance use disorders. 58% of those who have at least one additional enrollment have a disability.

• About a third of families enrolling in services are fleeing domestic violence.

The link to quoted news source material is here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/2498676/unm-team-published-research-on-homeless-shelter-impacts-is-meager-exce.html

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

Research shows that housing is the most effective approach to end homelessness with a much larger return on investment than offering government sanctioned encampments. Given the millions the city is spending each year, it needs to continue with the approach of offering programs, building shelter space and making beds available for its homeless population.

Albuquerque is making a huge financial commitment to help the homeless. Last year, it spent upwards of $40 million to benefit the homeless. The 2023 proposed budget significantly increases funding for the homeless by going from $35,145,851 to $59,498,915. The city contracts with 10 separate homeless service providers throughout the city and it funds the Westside 24-7 homeless shelter.

The city has bought the 572,000-square-foot Lovelace Hospital Complex on Gibson for $15 million that currently has space of 200 beds or more and transforming it into the Gateway Center Homeless shelter. City officials have said that the city expect to launch multiple services on the property this winter, including a 50-bed women’s shelter, a sobering center and a space designed to deliver “medical respite” care for individuals who would have no place other than a hospital to recover from illnesses and injury.

MANAGING HOMELESS CRISIS MUST INCLUDE ENFORCING EXISTING LAWS

Coronado Park at 4th Street and the Freeway has been the Albuquerque’s “de facto” city sanctioned homeless encampments for the last 10 years with city officials offering services to the homeless who camp there and repeatedly cleaning up the park only to allow the homeless to move back in and camp. At any given time upwards of 70 tents are on the property. Coronado Park clearly shows that sanctioned encampments do not work.

Too many elected and government who want to establish government sanction encampments have a hard time dealing with the fact that many homeless adults simply want to live their life as they choose, where they want to camp for as long as they can get away with it, without any government nor family interference and especially no government rules and no regulations.

The city cannot just ignore and not enforce its anti-camping ordinances, vagrancy laws, civil nuisance laws and criminal laws nor pretend they simply do not exist. Squatters who have no interest in any offers of shelter, beds, motel vouchers or alternatives to living on the street really give the city no choice but to make it totally inconvenient for them to “squat” anywhere they want and force them to move on. After repeated attempts to force them to move on and repeated citations arrests are in order.

The homeless crisis will not be solved by the city, but it can and must be managed. Providing a very temporary place to pitch a tent, relieve themselves, bathe and sleep at night with rules they do not want nor will likely follow is not the answer to the homeless crisis. The answer is to provide the support services, including food and lodging, and mental health care needed to allow the homeless to turn their lives around, become productive self-sufficient citizens, no longer dependent on relatives or others.

“Safe outdoor spaces” and “living lots” will be a disaster for the city as a whole. Both will destroy neighborhoods, make the city a magnet for the homeless and destroy the city efforts to manage the homeless through housing.

The public needs to make their opinions known and tell the city council to reject both zoning allowances. The email address to contact each city councilor and the Director of Counsel services are as follows:

lesanchez@cabq.gov

louiesanchez@allstate.com

ibenton@cabq.gov

kpena@cabq.gov

bbassan@cabq.gov

danlewis@cabq.gov

LEWISABQ@GMAIL.COM

patdavis@cabq.gov

tfiebelkorn@cabq.gov

trudyjones@cabq.gov

rgrout@cabq.gov

lrummler@cabq.gov

ABQ Journal Candidate Profiles In Attorney General Race; KOB-4 Poll: Torrez Leads Colon In AG Race By 6%; “Undecides” Out Poll Both; Negative Ads Work; Race Considered “Toss Up”

On Sunday, May 15, the Albuquerque Journal ran on its front page the anticipated report of the Democratic race for Attorney General. The below the fold front page article was written by long time Journal Investigative Reporter Collen Heild and entitled:

“Attorney General’s Democratic primary pits two heavy hitters”

The link to the full report is here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/2499353/ags-democratic-primary-pits-two-heavy-hitters.html

The Albquerquerqu Journal also ran two separate profile articles on each candidate also written by Collen Heild including its traditional candidate questions and answers.

The stories and links to the candidate profiles and Question and Answers are here:

BRIAN COLÓN

Colón: Getting people to sit down together can solve big issues

https://www.abqjournal.com/2499366/coloacuten-getting-people-to-sit-down-together-can-solve-big-issues.html

Q&A: Democratic attorney general candidate Brian S. Colón

https://www.abqjournal.com/2497358/qa-democratic-attorney-general-candidate-brian-s-colon.html

CAMPAIGN WEBSITE: https://colonfornm.com/

RAUL TORREZ

Torrez: Willingness to ruffle feathers is an asset, not a liability

https://www.abqjournal.com/2499373/torre-zwillingness-to-ruffle-feathers-is-an-asset-not-a-liability-exc.html

Q&A: Democratic attorney general candidate Raúl Torrez

https://www.abqjournal.com/2497355/qa-democratic-attorney-general-candidate-raul-torrez.html

CAMPAIGN WEBSITE: https://www.raultorrez.com/

KOB CHANNEL 4 POLL

On May 12, KOB Channel 4 released a poll it commissioned with Survey USA in the Democratic primary race for Attorney General between New Mexico State Auditor Brian Colón and Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez. The state wide survey was conducted of 583 likely registered Democratic voters and has a plus or minus margin of error of 5.7%. The results of the poll came did not come as a surprise to many political observers given the negative advertising by Raúl Torrez.

The poll results were as follows:

Undecided: 38%
Raúl Torrez: 34%
Brian Colón: 28%

The link to the quoted KOB story is here:

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/many-voters-yet-to-take-sides-for-ag-as-torrez-holds-narrow-lead-over-colon/

On March 5, nearly 1,000 Democrats attended the Democratic Pre-Primary Convention and cast their voted for the office of Attorney General of New Mexico and the vote was as follows:

Brian Colón – 61.46%
Raúl Torrez – 38.54%

https://nmdemocrats.org/news/dpnm-releases-results-of-2022-pre-primary-convention-voting/

OTHER POLL RESULTS

On the issue of no pretrial release for people accused violent crimes and “rebuttable presumption” to hold an accused pending trial, the KOB 4/Survey USA poll showed broad support for the idea with 71% of likely voters surveyed saying it should be more difficult for people charged with violent felonies to be free until their trial. Only 8% of those polled said New Mexico’s system of pretrial release needed no changes.

The poll showed 57% of New Mexicans felt confident their local police department could keep them safe. That general support of law enforcement flipped when it came to use of force by police during arrests. In the poll, 60% of people were either somewhat or very concerned about how police treat the people they arrest. That concern ran across the urban-rural divide that separates many political opinions, including in suburban areas like Rio Rancho and Corrales. Even 43% of self-identified conservatives were worried about use of force during arrests.”

In urban areas, 47% of those surveyed had little or no confidence in their police department’s performance. White survey respondents were more likely than non-whites to say they felt safe, 63-54%.

In a question about whether people felt safe in their daily lives, just 27% said they did not. Party affiliation also had an impact on how safe people felt and the 2020 presidential vote. Supporters of former President Donald Trump felt unsafe at nearly double the rate, 36%, of those who voted for President Joe Biden at 19%.

The link to the quoted KOB 4 story is here:

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/many-voters-yet-to-take-sides-for-ag-as-torrez-holds-narrow-lead-over-colon/

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

There is little doubt that the KOB 4 poll showing Torrez in the lead was a wakeup call for Colón to start to get far more aggressive. The only comfort Colón can take from the poll is that the Torrez lead of 6% points falls within the polls plus or minus margin of error of 5.7% making the race a likely tossup with 38% undecided.

After the March 5 Democratic convention, Colón was thought by many politico observers to be the clear front runner in the race for the Democratic nomination for Attorney General. Colón has also raised more than $1.4 million while Torrez’s has raised a little over $1 million. The race for Attorney General was considered Colón’s race to lose. That is no longer the case and the race now appears to be a toss up.

Voters always complain about the proliferation of negative ads in political campaigns, but the candidates continue with them. The reason why is that they work and often tip the scales for a win.

The likely cause of the KOB poll results that “undecideds” now lead both candidates and that Torrez leads Colón by 6% is that Bernalillo District Attorney Raúl Torrez has outspent Brian Colón in TV advertising thus far and started his political ads way before Colón. Torrez has been relentless at repeatedly hammering and faulting Colón as a “career politician” who lacks “experience in public safety.”

Thus far, Torrez has run a slick advertising campaign running at least 4 sperate commercials featuring him alone and negative ads against Colón. The TV stations first run Torrez campaign ads then run unrelated commercials followed with commercials featuring Senator Martin Heinrich endorsing Torres.

Traditionally, US Senators stay out of party contested races, but not Martin Heinrich who is said to be planning on running for Governor in 4 years. Heinrich likely views Colón as running for Governor in 4 years after serving as Attorney General and it’s better to defeat Colón’ now and to end Colón’s political career than to deal with him in 4 years.

Torrez said of Colon on May 9, in a one-hour debate on KRQE-TV:

“One of the things that defines this race is whether you want a career prosecutor or a career politician. … He has not prosecuted a single case, not even a parking ticket. … You know I saw Mr. Colon at the round house taking selfies with his friends, taking selfies with the Speaker [of the House]. I never heard him speak up, I never heard him step out and support publicly our fight and the governor’s fight for “rebuttable presumption”. That’s the difference between a career prosecutor and somebody who lives and dies with politics.”

Colón thus far has run 3 campaign commercials. The first was an emotional one where Colón describes his personal struggles, being raised in poverty and having to hock his dad’s wedding ring. In the second ad, Colón talks about a “shield and sword” approach to prosecutions and protecting the general public. Although well produced, both of Colón’s ads were considered by political observers as weak and ineffective with the “shield and sword” ad bordering on juvenile.

The third and far more effective TV ad is where Colón goes negative for the first time and goes into great detail about Torrez’s “failed prosecution rates” as Bernalillo County District Attorney. Statistics prepared by the District Court reveal the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office under Raúl Torrez has a 65% combined dismissal, acquittal and mistrial rate with cases charge by grand juries. The ad highlights major homicide cases botched by Torrez, including the murder of UNM baseball player Jackson Weller. Darian Bashir killed Jackson Weller outside a Nob Hill bar in 2019. Two years before the murder, Bashir was arrested for shooting a man outside a downtown bar. But Bashir never went to trial in that case. A District Court Judge found that Bashir never went to trial in the case due to the District Attorney failing to comply with deadlines, not interviewing witnesses on time, and not responding to motions.

It’s a theme that Colon used during the May 9 KRQE debate when Colón said:

“What my opponent has is a failed track record of prosecution. A lifelong career as a prosecutor, yet at the end of the day, the numbers are abysmal. Our community is less safe than it has ever been before. … The best way to get Torrez to the office is to have a T.V. camera present. … At some point you gotta quite pointing fingers, ya gotta take responsibility. … I’ve got a failed prosecutor standing beside me. … At the end of the day, we’re not safe.”

FOLLOW THE MONEY

Brian Colón has raised a total so far of $1.452 million in his race for the nomination against Raul Torrez who has raised $1.066 million. It’s the cash on hand on May 2 that the candidates reported that makes the race still wide open. Colón reported $911,000 in cash on hand to Torrez’s $382,000. The most recent AG Race Campaign Finance Reports can be found here:

BRIAN COLÓN

https://login.cfis.sos.state.nm.us//Files/ReportsOutput//103/9cdc8f33-a7c2-4d02-b820-fed384501751.pdf

RAUL TORREZ

https://login.cfis.sos.state.nm.us//Files/ReportsOutput//103/9be8522e-f6b5-47ea-8503-8cfb1f143895.pdf

The fact that Colón is running second and not running stronger can be directly attributed to the Torrez negative campaign ads that have taken a toll. Colón may have reported $911,000 in cash on hand to Torrez’s $382,000, but it’s likely the money gap will also be closed by Torrez because when you lead in the polls, fundraising becomes a lot easier, especially when you have the backing of a United States Senator interfering in a primary race.

The race between both Colón and Torrez was bound to be hard fought in that both have expressed they are interested in eventually becoming Governor or going on to serve in congress. Both State Auditor Brian Colón and District Attorney Raúl Torrez are well-funded and their personal attacks on each other will likely continue until election day.

Notwithstanding the KOB poll results and the Albuquerque Journal profiles, the race for attorney general is considered a tossup. For that reason, you can expect much stronger, hard-hitting ads from Colón and Torrez.

New Mexico’s National High Unemployment Rate Of 5.3% Offset By 12% Projected Increase In New Job Creation

According to the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions New Mexico’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 5.3 percent in March, down from 5.6 percent in February and down from 7.2 percent in the previous year. The national unemployment rate in March was 3.6 percent, down from 3.8 percent in February and down from 6.0 percent in March 2021.

Following are the statistics provided by New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions in its April 15 News Release:

“Total nonagricultural payroll employment grew by 48,300 jobs, or 6.1 percent, between March 2021 and March 2022. The majority of gains came from the private sector, which was up 43,500 jobs, or 7.0 percent.

The public sector was up 4,800 jobs, or 2.7 percent. Most private sector gains were in the private service-providing industries, which were up 34,600 jobs, or 6.6 percent, while the goods producing industries were up 8,900 jobs, representing an increase of 9.7 percent.

Eight major industry sectors reported over-the-year job increases. Leisure and hospitality experienced the largest employment growth with a gain of 20,100 jobs, or 26.0 percent, compared to the previous year.

Mining and construction employment rose by 6,800 jobs, or 10.4 percent.

The majority of gains were within the construction industry, which grew by 5,400 jobs, or 11.4 percent.
Mining employment was up 1,400 jobs, or 7.8 percent, over the year.

Trade, transportation, and utilities reported an increase of 5,700 jobs, or 4.3 percent.

Within the industry, retail trade was up 3,700 jobs, or 4.2 percent; wholesale trade was up 1,100 jobs, or 5.7 percent; and transportation, warehousing, and utilities was up 900 jobs, or 3.6 percent.

Professional and business services employment grew by 4,300 jobs, or 3.9 percent.

Miscellaneous other services, up 8.2 percent, manufacturing, up 7.7 percent, and education and health services, up 1.5 percent, each added 2,100 jobs.

Within manufacturing, durable goods manufacturing employment was up 1,500 jobs, or 10.1 percent, over the year.

Non-durable goods manufacturing was up 600 jobs, or 4.9 percent.

Within the education and health services industry, educational services was up 1,800 jobs, or 9.0 percent, and health care and social assistance was up 300 jobs, or 0.3 percent.

Financial activities was up 300 jobs, or 0.9 percent.

No major industry sector reported over-the-year losses. Within the public sector, employment in local government was up 4,100 jobs, or 4.4 percent.

Within local government, local government education was up 2,400 jobs, or 4.9 percent, and local government excluding education was up 1,700 jobs, or 3.9 percent.

State government was up 1,000 jobs, or 1.8 percent.

Within state government employment, state government education added 2,100 jobs, representing an increase of 8.8 percent. State government excluding education was down 1,100 jobs, or 3.5 percent.

Federal government reported a loss of 300 jobs, or 1.0 percent, from its employment level in March 2021”

https://www.dws.state.nm.us/Portals/0/DM/LMI/pr-pdf-0322.pdf

New Mexico’s unemployment may be the highest the country, but the figure is considered somewhat misleading by experts. The unemployment rate may be high now, but over the next year it will be impacted by the job creation that is also occurring in the various industries.

University of New Mexico Associate Professor of Finance Dr. Reilly White said that after reviewing the unemployment numbers, it is shocking to some but New Mexico takes longer to recover from dips in the economy compared to other states. White believes the number are actually good and had this to say:

“This is often it sounds surprising for many people, but this is very typical, often here in New Mexico. … What we are in right now is still very much a recovering economy. … We have recovered, we’re recovering jobs, and they’re increasing in sectors that were hit the hardest by the pandemic.”

Dr. White said because of New Mexico’s workforce structure and labor force structure, the state doesn’t fire as many workers as most of the rest of the country as they have a higher number of people who work in government-related occupations and said but bringing people on has been the issue. White said:

We fire slower, but we hire slower. And that means our recovery takes longer than other parts of the country.

The problem is finding people to fill those positions. so many companies still have plenty of help-wanted signs hanging outside of their establishments. Several people have left the workforce, relying on subsidies like increased food benefits and programs to help pay for utilities, but speaking to trend the restaurant association says things are coming back but not at the pace they would like.

“Slowly but slowly, you know, it’s really, it’s not coming back as fast as it should with people still on unemployment. We should have those people employed.”

https://www.krqe.com/news/new-mexico/new-unemployment-numbers-show-nm-ranks-1st-in-the-nation/

https://www.kob.com/albuquerque-news/new-mexicos-unemployment-rate-highest-in-the-nation/6428734/?cat=500

EMPLOYMENT IN NEW MEXICO IS PROJECTED TO INCREASE BY APPROXIMATELY 12%

According to the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions Labor Market Review, for February 2022:

“The number of unemployed New Mexicans in February 2022 decreased by 15,497 from the year before to 53,219. This is a decrease of 35,111 from the pandemic high of 88,330 in May 2020. There are currently more unemployed New Mexicans than before the pandemic, but unemployment levels have recovered faster than during the Great Recession.

For every month from January 2009 until November 2017, the number of unemployed New Mexicans was higher than February 2022. In February, both New Mexico’s labor force and seasonally adjusted employment saw over-the-month increases. The labor force increased by 2,713 since January 2022 and the seasonally adjusted employment increased by 4,929 over the same period. Since February 2021 the labor force grew by 8,616 and 24,113 New Mexicans became employed.”

OIL AND GAS INDUSTRY EMPLOYMENT NUMBERS

“In December 2021, New Mexico was the nation’s second-largest oil-producing state, after Texas. New Mexico produced about 1.4 million barrels per day of crude oil, or about 11.8 percent of all crude oil in the United States. That same month, New Mexico produced about 5.8 percent of the nation’s total natural gas, the nation’s 7th top gas producing state. … The oil and gas extraction industry and the support activities for mining industry employed about 15,000 workers in the second quarter of 2021. Although this constitutes only 1.9 percent of total employment, the concentration of oil and natural gas workers is higher in New Mexico compared to other states.

Using the location quotient (LQ ) to measure occupational specialization, the LQ of workers in oil and gas extraction in New Mexico was 6.0 in 2020. … This means that the share of oil and gas extraction employment in New Mexico was 6 times that of the U.S average. Other states with very large employment shares in oil and gas extraction include Alaska (11.9), Wyoming (11.7), Oklahoma (9.5), North Dakota (7.3), and Texas (6.2).

The concentration of workers in support activities for mining was 9.2 in 2020 in New Mexico, the 4th highest in the country, after North Dakota (15.5), Wyoming (13.6) and Alaska (9.3). Workers in the oil and gas industry typically earned more than the statewide average. In 2020, workers in oil and gas extraction earned an average weekly wage of $2,233, more than twice the statewide average for all industries of $968 (Exhibit 4). Workers in support activities for mining earned an average of $1,361 a week, almost one-and-a-half times that of the statewide average.”

The link to the quoted source materials are here:

New Mexico Labor Market Review, February 2022

https://www.dws.state.nm.us/Portals/0/DM/LMI/LMR_2022_Feb.pdf

ECONOMIC AND WORKFORCE ANALYSIS

In February, the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions issued its Economic and Workforce Analysis. New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions produced industry employment projections for nearly 100 industry subsectors. Growth in educational services, with just one subsector, educational services, leads growth in all other subsectors, primarily due to its size.

Three of the four health care and social assistance subsectors are found within the top six subsectors projected to grow the most and the top 5 projected to grow the fastest with the subsectors meeting both criteria.

Three retail subsectors are projected to experience significant employment increases, with the building material and garden equipment and supplies dealer’s subsector projected to grow the fastest at 35.9%.
The 4 subsectors comprising accommodation and food services and administrative and support and waste management and remediation services , listed as administrative and support services in the corresponding charts, are also listed.

Within accommodation and food services, employment in the food services and drinking places subsector is projected to grow by over 21%. The waste management and remediation services subsector in administrative and support services is projected to grow by 26.8% .

12% PROJECTED INCREASE IN NEW JOB CREATION

According to the economic and workforce analysis, overall employment in New Mexico is projected to increase by approximately 12% between 2012 and 2022, or approximately 101,610 jobs rounded off.

Upwards of 35% of annual openings, or 10,780 job openings, are anticipated to be new openings driven by increased demand. The remaining 65% of annual openings, or 19,760, are projected to be openings from replacement needs, as employers replace workers leaving the occupation including retirements or occupational change.

Employment growth in each of four industries of health care and social assistance, educational services, accommodation and food services and retail trade is projected to comprise over 10% of net growth over the projection period. Following is the breakdown in each of the 4 major industries:

Health care and social assistance: 29,490 more jobs projected , representing 29.0% of net projected growth.

Educational Services: 18,430 more jobs projected, representing 18.1% of net projected growth;
Accommodation and Food services: 16,030 more jobs projected , representing 15.8% of net projected growth

Retail Trade: 10,930 more jobs projected, representing 10.8% of net projected growth.

The link to the quoted source material is here:

https://www.dws.state.nm.us/Portals/0/APPENDIX_II-Economic_and_Workforce_Analysis.pdf

COMMENTARY

Elected and government officials always wring their hands, worry and complain about unemployment, especially in an election year, such as 2022, when their own jobs are at stake and they have to face voters. Although New Mexico’s does indeed have the highest unemployment rate in the country, that number is offset by the State’s job creation. Both go hand in hand, and at this point next year, it’s likely the State’s unemployment rate will be down, at least that’s what the politicians are hoping.

Legislative Finance Committee Program Evaluation Reports Albuquerque Public School System Failing Students; Confirms State National Rankings

On April 27, the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee’s program evaluation team issued its 64 page “Program Evaluation for the Albuquerque Public Schools”. Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) does periodic reviews of the state’s public schools and the report about the district is the first conducted since 2007. A formal presentation of the entire report was made to the 9 member Legislative Finance Committee at the capitol on April 7. You can read the entire report at this link.

https://www.nmlegis.gov/Entity/LFC/Documents/Program_Evaluation_Reports/Program%20Evaluation%20-%20Albuquerque%20Public%20Schools,%20April%202022.pdf

EDITOR’S NOTE: The postscript to this blog article contains edited highlights of the LFC’s program evaluation report.

LFC PRESENTATION

On April 27, lead LFC program evaluator Katie Dry told the 9 member New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee that APS is the state’s largest school district, responsible for educating nearly a quarter of New Mexico students and is given nearly 25% of the state’s public education budget. She told the committee:

“Despite more funding, and fewer students, student outcomes in the district remain low and are getting worse. So what happens in the district in terms of funding and enrollment and student performance has important implications for the rest of the state.”

APS Superintendent Scott Elder said the evaluation “highlighted some realities” for the district. Elder also noted some were not news and that progress has been made on some of the issues like eliminating hundreds of vacant positions and moving staff around.

APS Superintendent Scott Elder told the committee:

“We understood we were going to be reviewed, and that they would find things that we would have to address. … We understand our role in the state to improve the state outcomes, and we look forward to working with you to make improvements in the state because there are some things that you know, and we know that need to be changed.”

Elder acknowledged that per-pupil funding has increased, but said that so has inflation and mandatory salary increases. The district is short around $22 million for salary increases when factoring in raises for federally-funded employees, he said, adding that it would be potentially “fiscally irresponsible” to use funds set to expire in the coming years for recurring expenses.

SOBERING STATICS

Albuquerque Public School enrollment declined 17% over the past decade, driven by lower birth rates and growth at charter schools. Meanwhile per-student funding increased by 49% and achievement gaps between low-income and other students in reading and math widened in Albuquerque more than in the rest of the state. The report also documented rising facility costs and a 21% increase in learning space, even as enrollment dropped.

During the April 27 presentation before the Legislative Finance Committee, lead LFC program evaluator Katie Dry told the 9 member Committee that the Albuquerque Public School (APD) System should cut staff in its K-12 schools and downsizing its footprint because of dwindling enrollment. The committee was further told that APS should spend more for the education of low-income students who have fallen further behind their peers during this school year.

WORKFORCE AND SCHOOL FACILITIES

According to the LFC program evaluation report, under the school funding formula for 2022, APS schools are suppose to have 8,753 full-time employees, but actually have 9,169. The district had 492 more K-12 teachers than the formula called for but 357 fewer special education teachers and educational assistants than recommended.

One spending area that needs to be addressed includes a workforce that over the last 10 years has only gone down by 3%, despite an enrollment drop of 17% during that time frame. Funded but unfilled positions also play a role in apparent deficits.

The LFC report states:

“[Kindergarten classes have seen the] greatest decline of any grade of 2,700 students since 2012. Dwindling enrollment in such lower grades, along with faltering birth rates will mean further enrollment declines in coming years. … APS is faced with a challenge of adjusting its workforce and physical infrastructure to the reality of its declining student population.”

LFC evaluators said the majority of kindergarten through sixth grade, or 60% to 74%, of classes and grade levels were enrolled below capacity, providing “opportunities for consolidation.” Evaluators said as an example, APS could tackle both under-enrolled elementary school and sixth-grade classes and overstaffing by combining classes and cutting teaching positions by around 42.

DOWNSIZING RECOMMENDATION

The Program Evaluation report recommends that APS Albuquerque Public let go 400 of the district’s 12,000 employees, but did not go so far as to specify how many of the district’s increasingly empty schools it should close. The school district has 144 schools and 73,000 students, down from 85,000 six years ago.

Public schools in New Mexico have not recovered from the exodus of students that accelerated during the pandemic. Student enrollment across the state and in Albuquerque is down 4%, more than the average of 2.6% that exsists for 41 U.S. states. Thousands of families in New Mexico amid the pandemic tried homeschooling or charter schools for the first time and didn’t send their kids back to classrooms this year. Despite getting financing federal pandemic relief funds, most school districts across the U.S. now have fewer students and less funding than before the pandemic, forcing educators to consider cutting spending.

The LFC’s Program Evaluation said APS should prioritize filling special education positions and offer bonuses to teachers in high-need positions at schools serving greater numbers of low-income students. According to the report, the district currently has more than 600 job openings listed, many for special education instructors.

Complicating the problem is that many APS teachers are expected to retire this year. Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein said APS is already transferring eachers from emptier schools to fuller ones. She said uncertainty over who will be moved and when is causing “incredible stress” for teachers. Bernstein did give the district credit for transferring teachers now instead of during the fall, when transfers normally happen. Earlier transfers are better for students and staff, Bernstein said.

The LFC report said the district’s low-income students are learning, but their advancement in reading and math is much slower than their more privileged peers. Higher rates of absenteeism for the district’s students and fewer learning days are part of the problem. This year, 36% of Albuquerque’s students missed at least 10 days of school, including excused absences for illness or sports, compared to 30% of students statewide. In response to the absenteeism problem, the New Mexico Legislature allocated $46 million in funding for APS to fund extra learning days. Schools are still deciding if they’ll take the money, and many are expected not to because teachers and parents want long summers.

APS BOARD REJECTS FUNDING

According to the LFC program evaluators, adding classroom time could allow for more staff professional development, along with improving student test scores and college readiness. However, APS declined the funding. On April 6, APS board members rejected a proposal to implement extended learning time and the elementary-geared Transformational Opportunity Pilot Schools model, which would have added extra days and hours, across the district. They cited community disapproval as factors into their decision.

APS Superintendent Scott Elder responded to the rejection of the funding this way:

“For my teaching staff, a lot of it was just ‘we’re tired, we’re burnt out — even (for) 10 days extra. … This is probably the first time in education that I recall teachers saying ‘enough, I won’t take more money, because I can’t do anything more. That’s unusual.”

Ellen Bernstein, president of the Albuquerque Teacher’s Federation, had this to say:

“We don’t have that buy-in, teachers are burnt out, and so if we can’t change the environment, we need to improve it and improve the way that we’re interacting with each other so that we’re recognizing that social-emotional piece within the staff as well.”

CLOSURE OF SCHOOLS

The LFC program evaluation report alluded to the closing of schools but Albuquerque Superintendent Scott Elder did tell to lawmakers that section of the report was “a bit of euphemism for closing schools.” Elder had this to say:

“Closing schools … is complicated, political and often harms the communities that need the most support. … If we shut schools, kids that live close to that school have to be transported to their new school, so we would have significant impacts on transportation.”

In a written response to the committee’s report, Superintendent Scott Elder said increased funding is often tied to salary increases and cannot be used to fund services for at-risk youth. He also pointed out that while overall enrollment is down, low-income and other at-risk students represent a larger share of the student population.

OVERESTIMATING SPENDING

The LFC Program Evaluation report states that APS “consistently overestimates” spending, particularly in general supplies and materials. According to the report, the average in overestimated spending between 2017 and 2021 was around $30 million in overestimated spending for each year. The evaluators said the district claims an “apparent deficit” every year, which partly stems from budgeted revenues being surpassed by spending assumptions that “actually don’t end up materializing.”

That’s allowed by the state Public Education Department as long as school districts can cover the difference with cash on hand but that rule contributes to the reported deficits. The LFC evaluators noted that districts realistically don’t use up all their cash on making up that gap. In fact, it was reported APS has kept its cash balances in excess, consistently surpassing its target of 5% of operational spending since 2014. In 2021 it had $11 million more than its 5% target.

The LFC Program report noted that APS has said since 2019 that it should craft a 5 year plan to manage its finances amid projected drops in enrollment and funding, APS has not done such a plan. Finance management plans are common for other large New Mexico districts even though they are not required by law. District officials have announced that cuts are needed and asked parents and staff to offer ideas to reduce costs in recent months.

OVERSIGHT OF OUTSIDE CONTRACTS

The LFC Program report credited Albuquerque Public Schools for increased oversight of outside contracts ranging from face masks to learning software, potentially cutting down on fraud and waste. It also recognized the district for having low administrative spending of about 4%, on par with districts of its size nationally. In 2021, a former APS employee and former member of the state legislature [Sheryl Williams Stapleton] came under criminal investigation for procurement violations. She resigned both her employment with APS and her position with the New Mexico Legislature and the criminal case is still pending. In response, the district strengthened existing policies and procedures and introduced new ones.

TEACHERS REACT TO REPORT

Ellen Bernstein, president of the Albuquerque Teacher’s Federation believes the report is the LFC coming down on APS to force them into extended learning, something the district has already voted on. She had this to say to say about the LFC’s report and the closure of schools:

“I think if the teachers who are teaching all day had read that report, they would have been really upset because they are already cutting staff in schools. … It is very emotional when a school is closed. It means that some kids can’t walk to school. Kids have to stay on the bus longer. Teachers have to move to a new teaching environment, move all their stuff. Neighborhood schools are important to families. We should not close them. I think what would be refreshing is if the staff of the LFC made a recommendation to fully and permanently fund our public schools and to listen to the educators who are the experts about what would make the biggest difference for our students.”

The links to quoted news source materials are here:

https://www.kob.com/albuquerque-news/report-albuquerque-should-shrink-public-schools-cut-jobs/6457212/?fbclid=IwAR1HtWq8dEPPttVuouxbHqSz3NJuprm03UQaO9Nm8MZOcE7ylQAj4o1bDc8#.YmoER1Zj-Ts.facebook

https://www.koat.com/article/lfc-recommends-aps-cut-jobs-close-schools/39843295

https://www.abqjournal.com/2493681/aps-funding-spending-has-increased-while-enrollment-has-declined.html

KIDS COUNT DATA BOOK

On January 19, 2022, the New Mexico Voices for Children released the 2021 Kids Count Data Book. The annual “Kids Count” data book is prepared by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The Casey foundation is a nonprofit based in Maryland focusing on improving the well-being and future of American children and their families. It assesses how New Mexico children are faring in a number of areas including economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. The “Kids Count Data Book” is a 90 page document with an extensive number of tables, graphs charts and statistics listing and counties in the state.

The links to the Kids Count Data Book is here:

https://www.nmvoices.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/KidsCount-DataBook2021-FINAL.pdf

https://www.nmvoices.org/archives/16481

NEW MEXICO’S EDUCATION RANKINGS AND PERCENTAGES IN A NUTSHELL

As the old saying goes, what happens in Albuquerque directly impacts the rest of the State. Education is no different. Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) is responsible for educating one-quarter of public-school students statewide. APS accounts for a similar percentage of the New Mexico public education budget. Therefore, the state’s education ranking merit review.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The term “child” refers to the age group from birth through 17 years. Poverty is defined as those living at or below the federal poverty level (FPL). The FPL for a family of three was $21,720 in 2020, the year the most recent data were collected.

Following are New Mexico’s rankings in the nation gleaned from the 2021 Kids Count Data Book as it relates to education:

50th in the nation for education.
29th in the number of young children not enrolled in school.
45th with children living with families where the head of the household lacked a high school diploma.
49th in the nation for eighth grade math proficiency.
50th in the nation for fourth grade reading proficiency.

Following are the state’s percentages gleaned from the 2021 Kids Count Data Book:

76% of New Mexico’s fourth graders are not proficient in reading.
79% of New Mexico’s 8th graders are not proficient in math.
25% of New Mexico’s high school students do not graduate on time.
9.3% low birth weights for children born in New Mexico.
14% of New Mexico children live in families where the household head lacks a high school education or 69,000 children.

Following are the narratives on the major findings of the Kids Count Data Book for 2021 when it comes to the education categories:

EDUCATION

Between 2018 and 2019, the number of young children not enrolled in school decreased slightly, bumping our national ranking up from 30th to 29th. However, New Mexico’s rate of young children not enrolled in school has not changed much over the long term and is actually only slightly better than it was in 2009.

While the state is continuing its planned rollout of the NM Pre-K program, insufficient funding for the child care assistance program over the last several years has meant that fewer families have been able to afford child care in a setting that is education oriented. While an influx of federal COVID-19 relief has allowed policymakers to make improvements and increases in some areas, these improvements will need to be sustained and made permanent after one-time federal money is spent to adequately address the pressing needs in this policy area.

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FOURTH GRADE READING PROFIENCY

This Measures the percentage of fourth graders who scored below proficient in reading as measured and defined by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Children need to be able to read proficiently by fourth grade in order to be able to use their reading skills to learn other school subjects. In fact, kids who are not reading at grade level by this critical point are more likely to drop out of school and less likely to go to college. New Mexico ranks 50th in the nation in fourth grade reading proficiency.

The state had been making progress in this indicator, but this marked the first year since 2009 that the rate of students reading below proficiency increased. Reading proficiency is a crucial element of scholastic success, but in New Mexico, 76% of our children are not proficient in reading by the fourth grade. As has been the case in the past, boys, children of color, and children from families earning low incomes have proficiency rates that are below the state average in fourth grade reading.

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EIGHTH GRADE MATH PROFIENCY

This Measures the percentage of eighth graders who scored below proficient in math as measured and defined by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Math proficiency by the eighth grade is necessary for students to do well in high school math courses and attend college. As more and more jobs in today’s increasingly high-tech work environment depend on science, technology, engineering, and math skills, students not proficient in math are at a real disadvantage. New Mexico ranks 49th in eighth grade math proficiency. The 79% of New Mexico eighth graders who are behind in math are likely to struggle in high school and college math courses.

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HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION RATES

One-quarter of New Mexican high schoolers do not graduate on time. This rate is significantly worse than the national average of 14%. For the sixth year in a row, New Mexico is ranked 50th among the states on this indicator. Though New Mexico continues to rank very poorly on this measure, the state has made improvements in this indicator over the long term, going from 35% of students not graduating on time in 2009 to 25% not graduating on time in 2019.

The biggest improvements in this indicator over that time period were seen among Native American and Hispanic students. Graduating on time is important because those who don’t are more likely to drop out altogether and those who don’t dropout are less likely to go on to college. Adults without a high school diploma are more likely to be employed in low-paying jobs, not have benefits like paid leave and health insurance, and have higher unemployment rates than those with higher levels of educational attainment.

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A link to a related blog article is here:

https://www.petedinelli.com/2022/03/07/2021-new-mexico-kids-count-data-book-report-on-economic-well-being-education-health-and-community-of-new-mexicos-children-solutions-offered-funding-enacted/

YAZZIE V. STATE OF NEW MEXICO AND MARTINEZ REVISITED

On Friday, July 20, 2018, Santa Fe District Court Judge Sarah Singleton ruled in the case of Yazzie v. State of New Mexico and Governor Suzanna Martinez that the state of New Mexico was violating the constitutional rights of at-risk students by failing to provide them with a sufficient education. The consolidated lawsuit was filed by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

The Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit, brought on by a coalition of parents, students, lawmakers and others in 2014, charged New Mexico had not done enough to address the needs of Native Americans, English-language learners, disabled and low-income students. The Plaintiffs argued that the New Mexico public schools were inadequately funded. All those student groups typically lag behind Anglo students when it comes to math and reading proficiency. While the court ruling did not apply a price tag to its mandate, it said New Mexico has to begin providing remedies for that problem.

In a 75-page decision, the Court ruling centered on the guaranteed right under the New Mexico Constitution to a sufficient education for all children. The lawsuit alleged a severe lack of state funding, resources and services to help students, particularly children from low-income families, students of color, including Native Americans, English-language learners and students with disabilities. The court rejected arguments by Governor Susana Martinez’s administration that the education system is improving and for that reason it does not need more funding. The Court found that the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) did not do the best it could with the funding it has given by the legislature to the education system.

WHAT THE STATE IS DOING TO TURN THINGS AROUND

The biggest accomplishments of the 2019 Legislative session were the dramatic increases in public education funding, creation of the Early Childhood Department (CYFD), the mandates to Children, Youth and Families and Public Education departments, not to mention raises for educators and increasing CYFD social workers by 125 were clearly the biggest accomplishments of the 2019 Legislative session.
It was almost 2 years ago on July 1, 2020 that the Lujan Grisham administration launched its new Early Childhood Education and Care Department (ECECD).

The new department is charged with preparing children for school, promoting healthy families and developing a labor force to carry out the agency’s work. Creation of the new department was a major priority of Governor Lujan Grisham during the 2019 legislative session where it won approval. The agency formally began operation on July 1, the start of the 2021 fiscal year. About 270 employees from other departments were transferred into the new one. The sponsors of the legislation were Democratic Senator Michael Padilla of Albuquerque and Representative Linda Trujillo of Santa Fe.

New Mexico is 1 of just 4 states with a stand-alone department dedicated to services targeting children through age 5. The initial operating budget for the new department was $419 million for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. The new department is tasked with overseeing the state’s growing investment in prekindergarten, home visiting programs for new parents, childcare and similar services that previously were scattered across several departments. One of the key goals is to better coordinate the state’s network of early childhood services by housing them in one department rather than having them overseen separately by other departments.

2022 LEGISLATIVE FUNDING

During the 2022 New Mexico Legislative session, a trio of bills to fund programs to help Native American students succeed in school were enacted. The house bills provided more than $70 million to tribal entities to help offer culturally relevant lesson plans and access to virtual and after-school programs for those students.

On bill appropriated $20 million from the state’s general fund to the Indian Education Act to provide educational funding for tribes starting July 1, 2024. That money will be used to create culturally relevant learning programs, including Native language programs, for students in the K-12 system. A Legislative Education Study Committee report says if the bill becomes law, each of the state’s 23 tribal entities would receive $547,826 per year.

A second bill appropriated $21.5 million to help tribal education departments develop learning plans and programs for students, extend learning opportunities and support tribal school libraries. That bill also would take effect July 1, 2024. Each tribe and pueblo would get $250,000 a year, with the exception of the Navajo Nation, which would get $500,000, according to the bill’s fiscal report.

The third bill was aimed at higher education. It appropriates $29.6 million to four state colleges and three tribal colleges for 53 initiatives, such as building a Native American teacher pipeline and expanding high school-to-college programs to encourage those students to attend college. The bill’s fiscal impact report says it is assumed the bill would go into effect 90 days after the last day of the Legislature once Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed it into law.

The link to quoted news source material is here:

https://nmpoliticalreport.com/2022/02/01/bills-to-address-yazzie-martinez-court-ruling-advance%ef%bf%bc/?mc_cid=21ff84b79b&mc_eid=d03b0979c3

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

There is no getting around it. The New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee’s “Program Evaluation for the Albuquerque Public Schools” is as depressing as it gets when it comes to the city’s educational system. The problem is that it should come as no surprise when you take into consideration New Mexico’s national ranking when in comes to education as found in the 2021 Kids Count data book.

Four troubling findings in the Legislative Finance Committee Program Evaluation Reports Albuquerque Public School System merit repeating:

1. Albuquerque Public School enrollment has declined by 17% over the past decade, driven by lower birth rates and growth at charter schools

2. Per-student funding increased by 49% yet achievement gaps between low-income and other students in reading and math widened in Albuquerque more than in the rest of the state.

3. The report also documented rising facility costs and a 21% increase in learning space, even as enrollment dropped. The school district has 144 schools and 73,000 students, down from 85,000 six years ago.

4. APS schools are suppose to have 8,753 full-time employees, but actually have 9,169. The district had 492 more K-12 teachers than the formula called for but 357 fewer special education teachers and educational assistants than recommended.

APS and for that matter, the Albuquerque Teacher’s Federation are very consistent in complaining about the need for more funding and resources. Both can condemn the LFC report all they want, but that will not solve anything. APS is once again at a cross roads and must face the harsh reality that more and more funding is no solution for dramatic declines in enrollments nor poor achievement in the math and reading proficiency. For the sixth year in a row, New Mexico is ranked 50th among the states in graduation rates.

APS and the Albuquerque Teacher’s Federation have a long way to go to get their job done in educating our youth. The first step is assessing the real reasons why they are not getting the job done with the resources they have been given.

_________________

POSCRIPT

Highlights of the Program Evaluation Report for APS gleaned and edited from the report are as follows:

Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) is responsible for educating one-quarter of public-school students statewide. APS accounts for a similar percentage of the New Mexico public education budget. The district drives statewide trends in funding, enrollment, and performance.

Over the last decade, demographic changes reduced enrollment by nearly 17 % to 72.5 thousand in fiscal year 2022 [which ends June 20, 2022] while per-pupil funding for APS from the state equalization guarantee (SEG) funding formula grew by 49% to $9,919. The long-term trend in declining enrollment, worsened by the pandemic, will require the district to accelerate its efforts to adjust its workforce and physical infrastructure while also addressing increased building repair needs.

While operational spending has gone up between 2012 and 2021 by $126 million, or 21%, enrollment has dropped by 17% over the last decade. This statistic is cited repeatedly in the report. State funding has also gone up during that time, by $136 million, or 23%.

Despite more funding and fewer students, student outcomes remain low. Only 20% of APS students were proficient in math and 31% in reading in 2019. The over 51 thousand low-income students in APS show larger achievement gaps than low-income students statewide.

High school graduation rates, while improving, continue to lag national averages and college enrollment and readiness are declining. The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated these challenges: more students and teachers left the district, chronic absence rose, and significant unfinished learning needs to be addressed.

New data from mid-year assessments in APS elementary schools showed both lower proficiency and slowed growth in proficiency compared with results from before the Covid-19 pandemic. Low-income students, already starting behind their peers, experienced limited growth in proficiency.

Improving student outcomes will require increased use of effective programs and practices including extending learning time and improved professional development. In fiscal year 2021, there was $57 million in available state funds that could have been used by the district for these purposes, including untapped funding for K-5 Plus and extended learning time programs and excess cash balances.

Unprecedented levels of federal, pandemic-related funding totaling $359 million also present a unique opportunity for APS to respond to the Covid-19 emergency and make meaningful investments in positive change. A separate and pressing challenge to the district lies in the need for stronger oversight practices. The district strengthened procurement procedures in response to a recent criminal investigation against a former legislator and APS employee. Additional opportunities remain, including broadening the focus of the internal audit unit.

KEY FINDINGS

[APS has steadily lost students for a number of consecutive years and currently has 400 more teachers and staff members than it should.]

Reduced enrollment requires increased efficiencies in workforce and facilities. Falling birth rates and increased enrollment in Albuquerque charter schools are driving down enrollment in APS schools.

As enrollment declined 17% from Fiscal Year 2012 through Fiscal Year 2022, the total APS workforce dropped by just 3%. APS has taken some steps to reduce expenditures, but more action is required.

[The dropping enrollment at APS has been driven by falling birth rates, down by 24% between 2010 and 2020. On the other hand, there has been climbing enrollment in state and local charter schools in Albuquerque, up by 6,300 students since 2012.]

The LFC reported found that the majority of kindergarten through sixth grade, or 60% to 74%, of classes and grade levels were enrolled below capacity, providing “opportunities for consolidation.”

[While operational spending has gone up between 2012 and 2021 by $126 million, or 21%, enrollment has dropped by 17% over the last decade.]

[State funding has also gone up during that time, by $136 million, or 23%.]

67% of APS students in APS were counted as “at-risk” in 2022 which resulted in an allocation of $71.6 million in state funds. “At-risk” students include low-income and English learner students.

District students, and low-income students in particular, according to mid-year assessments, have seen slowed growth in proficiency compared with pre-pandemic rates.

Evaluators noted that high-school graduation rates are improving but still lag behind national averages.

Most APS elementary school grades and classes are currently enrolled below statutory maximums, presenting opportunities for consolidation.

The district’s total square footage grew while enrollment shifted across the city, amidst an overall decline.

In the last five years, building repair needs have grown , as measured by the state facility condition index, and schools with more low-income students have older buildings and tend to need more repairs.

APS relies on local funding for capital improvements and has little opportunity to participate in the state public school capital outlay system.

School property has also increased by 21% since 2012 while enrollment has “shifted across the city.”

Schools with more low-income students have typically had a higher need for buildings to be fixed, despite the district prioritizing capital funds for them.

Low and declining student outcomes require increased effective practices. Student outcomes in APS need improvement.

The district has low proficiency rates, large achievement gaps, lower post-pandemic learning growth, lagging high school graduation rates, and falling college enrollment and readiness. APS has opportunities to use available state funding for effective programs that add days to the year and improve outcomes, particularly for at risk students.

But some teacher and parent concerns remain a barrier. To improve teaching practice, the district could provide more evidence-based professional development on analyzing student data to improve outcomes, collaborating with colleagues in a sustained manner, and better serving the district’s large proportion of students with disabilities.

There are multiple resources available for these purposes, including federal pandemic funding, state funding for at-risk students, and excess cash balances within the district. APS recently strengthened oversight but opportunities remain to improve district practices.

In 2021, a former APS employee and former member of the state legislature [Sheryl Williams Stapleton] came under criminal investigation for procurement violations. [She resigned both her employment with APS and her position with the New Mexico Legislature and the criminal case is still pending.] In response, the district strengthened existing policies and procedures and introduced new ones.

Additional opportunities remain, such as broadening the focus of its internal audit unit and providing more business technical assistance for charter schools. The district was required to strengthen other policies relating to children with disabilities in response to a Public Education Department (PED) corrective action plan.

KEY RECOMMENDATIONS

The report made the following key recommendations to improve the Albuquerque Public Schools:

• Adjust the size of the workforce to its student population;
• Implement K-5 Plus and continue to expand Extended Learning Time Programs, using both state and federal pandemic funds;
• Consider a pay differential or other financial incentives for hard to staff positions in high-needs schools;
• Spend more of budgeted funds on high-quality, sustained professional development that instructs teachers on how to use data to guide instruction; and • Diversify the types of funds internally audited by APS each year.

https://www.nmlegis.gov/Entity/LFC/Documents/Program_Evaluation_Reports/Program%20Evaluation%20-%20Albuquerque%20Public%20Schools,%20April%202022.pdf

Democrat Attorney General Candidates Get Personal And Pummeled Each Other In KRQE Debate; Debate Revealed One Angry, Self-Righteous Politician, The Other A Dedicated Public Servant; “At End Of The Day” Colón Won Debate

The contest for the Democratic nomination for New Mexico State Attorney is between first term New Mexico State Auditor Brian Colón and two-term Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez. Colón has served as state auditor since winning a four-year-term in 2018 and is the former head of the state Democratic Party. Torrez is a former federal prosecutor who was elected to a second 4-year term as District Attorney in 2020. Republican lawyer Jeremy Gay will face the winner of the June 7 primary election.

On May 9, a one-hour debate occurred on KRQE-TV. The debate was spirited. Both candidates engaged in highly personal attacks.

Torrez faulted Colón as a “career politician” who lacks “experience in public safety.” Torrez said of Colon:

“One of the things that defines this race is whether you want a career prosecutor or a career politician. … He has not prosecuted a single case, not even a parking ticket. … You know I saw Mr. Colon at the round house taking selfies with his friends, taking selfies with the Speaker [of the House]. I never heard him speak up, I never heard him step out and support publicly our fight and the governor’s fight for “rebuttable presumption”. That’s the difference between a career prosecutor and somebody who lives and dies with politics.”

The “Reputable presumption” legislation was where a defendant who is charged with a violent crime is presumed to be a threat to the public and should be jailed until pending trial without bond or any conditions of release.

Colón for his part call out Torrez for his “failed prosecution rates” and said this about Torrez:

“What my opponent has is a failed track record of prosecution. A lifelong career as a prosecutor, yet at the end of the day, the numbers are abysmal. Our community is less safe than it has ever been before. … The best way to get Torrez to the office is to have a T.V. camera present. … At some point you gotta quite pointing fingers, ya gotta take responsibility. … I’ve got a failed prosecutor standing beside me. … At the end of the day, we’re not safe.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: In 2017, District Attorney Raul Torrez and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller wrote a joint letter to the New Mexico Supreme Court requesting it to intervene and stop the plans of 2nd Judicial District Court to shift away from the use of grand jury system to a preliminary hearing system. Torrez accused the District Court of being the cause of the city’s high crime rates by dismissing cases. The District Court responded by providing an extensive amount of statistics, bar graphs and pie charts to the New Mexico Supreme Court. The statistics prepared by the District Court revealed the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office under Raul Torrez has a 65% combined dismissal, acquittal and mistrial rate with cases charge by grand juries.

HIGHLIGHTS OF DEBATE

Major topics of the debate included the following subjects and the candidate responses:

VIOENT CRIME

Raul Torrez said to bring down violent crime we need to gather stakeholders inside the criminal justice system and breakdown the barriers to communication that exists. He proclaimed that his office had partnered with a local firm to implement advanced data analytics to deal with crime in real time and to exchange the data between law enforcement as crime is unfolding. He advocated for more diversion programs, drug addiction treatment and more mental health programs targeting low level offenders to allow concentration on violent criminals.

Brian Colón said we need to bring people together and said we have District Attorneys all over the state who are not communicating with each other. Colón said there is a need for a “multidisciplinary approach” to violent crime with cooperation amongst stakeholders noting that data collection is not enough. Colón said he believes in a multi-pronged effort to fighting crime. He said his leadership will provide a way to bringing key stakeholders together to consider solutions and he said he has a long track record and a reputation of doing just that. He also noted he has been working to rebuild the behavioral health system decimated by former Governor Susana Martinez.

REBUTTABLE PRESUMPTION

During the 2022 New Mexico legislative session, Torrez, along with Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, unsuccessfully pushed legislation that would change pretrial detention release of alleged violent offenders with a “rebuttable presumption” of being violent to hold those charged with a violent crime until trial. It would have shifted the burden of proof to the defendant to show they are not violent.

Raul Torres charged that the pretrial detention system of release is not working and it needs to be fixed. He said “rebuttable presumption” is the way to fix the pretrial detention and prevent the release of the most violent criminals. He has also said the criminal justice system is a “revolving door”. Torrez chided the legislature for coming up with data that justified a broken pretrial detention release system. Torrez vowed to try again during next year’s 60-day session for changes to pretrial detention and allowing for “rebuttable presumption.”

Brian Colón said “absolutely” he is in favor of some sort of pretrial detention reform. He said he believes in a multi-pronged effort to fighting crime, including pretrial detention reform, but said leadership is important to bringing key stakeholders together to consider solutions, adding, “you can’t hang your hat on one piece [of legislation such as rebuttable presumption].” Colon said Torrez talked about big-name political support during the failed legislative fight for rebuttable presumption, but “if he had that support he should have been very embarrassed when he walked out of the Roundhouse [after the legislative session]”.

THE JACKSON WELLER MUDER BY DARIAN BASHIR

During the KRQE debate, the candidates were asked if the Attorney General’s office should prosecute more cases as a means of reducing crime. The question led to the most heated exchange between the candidates.

Brian Colón said that the Attorney General’s office should prosecute more cases where District Attorney’s “take a walk” and fail to prosecute. Colón took the opportunity to chide Torrez for refusing to meet with the family of violent crime victims which resulted in protests outside the DA’s Office. Colón said prosecutors have an obligation to met with the families of crime victims and explain why a case is not prosecuted. Colón made the commitment he would seek more resources for prosecutors throughout the state. He also said he would never refuse to meet with the family of victims of crime and he has never had anyone protest outside of his office for failure to meet with them and do his job.

Raul Torrez did not answer the question if the Attorney General should prosecute more cases. Instead, Torrez showed outrage and took Colón to task for airing an attack ad that included the murder of University of New Mexico baseball player Jackson Weller. Darian Bashir killed Jackson Weller outside a Nob Hill bar in 2019. Two years before the murder, Bashir was arrested for shooting a man outside a downtown bar. But Bashir never went to trial in that case. A District Court Judge found that Bashir never went to trial in the case due to the District Attorney failing to comply with deadlines, not interviewing witnesses on time, and not responding to motions.

Instead of taking any responsibility for his office’s mishandling of the Bashir case and expressing no regret, Torrez tried to turn the table on Colón and proclaimed that Colón had disqualified himself from holding office for airing the ad and using the image of a murder victim to campaign and raise money even after the victim’s father asked Colón to take the ad down. Colón responded with the fact that it was Torrez’s DA’s office that botched the prosecution of the Darian Bashir case and that the Torrez allowed an unlicensed attorney prosecute cases.

DRUG PROSECUTIONS

Since 2008, New Mexico has had some of the highest drug overdose rates in the United State. From 2008 to 2012, almost every county in New Mexico had a higher drug overdose rate than the entire country. Attorney General Hector Balderas sued pharmaceutical companies to combat the problem.

New Mexico now faces a new drug crisis with the synthetic drug fentynle. In 2020, the New Mexico Department of Public Health recorded 304 fentyle overdose deaths from January to November, a 135% increase over 2019. The candidates were asked who they would go after to stop fentynle distribution.

Saying that it’s a complex problem, Raul Torrez noted that his office takes many such drug cases through the federal law enforcement system because they are able to get better results and longer sentencings. Torrez said there is a need to tackle the problem from both the enforcement side and the consumption side. According to Torrez, more treatment resources are needed, especially for younger offenders.

Brian Colón said the fentynle crisis has been created by the pharmaceutical companies and the black market. Colón wants to continue to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable civilly as what has been done in the past few years by Attorney General Balderas, but Colón said he wants to take it a step further. He said there is a need to hold pharmaceutical companies liable criminally, which would include criminally charging corporate CAO’s with crimes. He said to do so, there must be a corroborative effort with federal and state authorities.

CRIME LEGISLATION

Both candidates were asked what is the most important and specific crime law that the legislature needs to enact.

Brian Colón said it must be a collective approach when it comes to individual crime laws. Colon wants to increase penalties for violent offenders. Colón said he especially wants to increase work, resources and focus on crimes against children. This would include requiring those who are convicted of sex offenses in other states and who move to New Mexico to also register here as well as sex offenders claiming that the registration is an “easy fix”. Colón also wants to make prosecution of internet crimes against children a major priority.

Torrez once again advocated and said the most important and specific crime law that needs to be enacted is “rebuttable presumption” and laws to fix the broken pretrial release system involving violent crime offenders. Torrez noted that there have been 7 families who had relatives killed by violent offenders who his office sought to detain but who were let out and not held pending trial allowing them to commit another violent crime. Torrez said the pretrial reform enacted by voters was never meant to be a get out of jail free card for violent offenders but was intended for low level non violent offenders.

ENFORCEMENT OF LAWS NOW THAT CANNABIS LEGAL

The candidates were asked with the recent legalization of cannabis in New Mexico, how they would help enforce laws, specifically “drugged driving”.

Torrez said there is a need to expand the number of “drug recognition experts” inside law enforcement agencies throughout the state. The challenge is that there does not exist the same testing technology for cannabis as with alcohol.

Colón acknowledged that he supported the legalization cannabis. He agreed with Torrez that the state must expand the number of drug recognition experts for law enforcement. He also said there is a big need to stop vending cannabis without a license.

The links to quoted news source material are here:

https://www.krqe.com/news/politics-government/elections/video-attorney-general-democratic-primary-debate-highlights/

https://www.abqjournal.com/2497382/torre-zcoloacuten-meet-in-state-ag-debate.html

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

The Colón-Torrez debate was a remarkable and substantive contrast of the candidates and styles. Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez came across as an angry and self-righteous politician with a sense of entitlement while New Mexico State Auditor Brian Colon came across as a dedicated public servant.

Raul Torrez’s performance was cringe worthy and condescending when he accused Brian Colón of using the killing of Jackson Weller, calling Weller a “boy” when he was a grown man, and accusing Colón of using the killing to score political points and for campaign fund raising. This coming from the DA who botched the prosecution of the case of Darian Bashir who killed Jackson Weller and who has allowed an unlicensed attorney prosecute cases.

The Torrez attack on Colón that he is a “career politician” rings very hallow in that Raul Torrez himself is a career politician seeing as all the jobs Raul Torrez has ever held in his career have been political appointments and running for office. Torrez has made it a big deal that Colón has “never tried a case” while during his years running for DA and the last 5 years as District Attorney, Torrez himself has not tried a case. What Torrez has done with high profile pending cases in his office is to do press conferences instead of going to court himself.

Brian Colón came across as polished and informed showing he was well prepared. Colón’s attacks on Torrez where likely considered by many a little out of character given his positive, easy going, public relations persona. However, the attacks on Torrez were substantive, accurate and effective. “At the end of the day”, which Colón kept saying, Colón was viewed by observers as the winner of the debate.

Brian Colón has more at stake given that his term is ending at State Auditor while Raul Torrez will have two years left of his term as District Attorney should he lose the Attorney General’s race. Elected Attorney Generals have gone onto higher office including Toney Anaya who was later elected Governor, Jeff Bingaman who was later elected United States Senator and Tom Udall who was later elected United States Senator.

The race between both Colón and Torrez was bound to be hard fought in that both have expressed they are interested in eventually becoming Governor or going on to serve in congress. Both State Auditor Brian Colón and District Attorney Raul Torrez are well-funded and their personal attacks on each other will likely continue until election day.

Whoever wins the Democratic Primary on June 7, 2022 will likely become the next Attorney General.

Brook Bassan Wants “Living Lots” and “Safe Outdoor Spaces” For Homeless; Proclaims “Our Unhoused Neighbors Need Help”; They Are “ILLegal Squatters”; Bassan Ignores City Now Spending $114 Million For Services and Shelter For Homeless; Garbage Collection Rate Hike To Clean Homeless Encampments Obscene With $1.4 Billion Budget

The City Council is proposing to create two new “land use” zoning areas to allow 2 separate types of city sanctioned homeless encampments in all 9 city council districts for a total of 18 city sanctioned homeless encampments. Both are amendments updating the city’s 2017 Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) that regulates residential and commercial zoning development and land use throughout the city.

One is called “living lots” and the other “safe outdoor spaces”. City sanctioned homeless encampments will be permitted in open space areas and “commercial, business park and manufacturing zones and in some mixed-use zones”.

LIVING LOTS

Albuquerque North East Heights Republican City Councilor Brook Bassan, District 4, is proposing new city zoning areas called “living lots” to deal with the city’s very visible homeless population.

Under living lots zoning, open space areas would be designated where people would be allowed to sleep overnight in tents, cars or RVs. Empty parking lots and other unused space could be used. Living lots would provide appointed spaces for people who may otherwise already be sleeping in parks, on sidewalks and in arroyos.

Living lots would have to include restrooms and handwashing stations, even if just portable units. The proposal would allow “living lots” in mixed-use and nonresidential zones. Property ownership would not be required. Charitable organizations or homeless service providers could lease open space property for living lots. The city could identify some of its own property or work with other public agencies, and even private landowners, to find locations.

No management plans, no rules, no regulations, no security and no fencing mandates would be required. Under the proposal, the city would bear responsibility for cleaning and maintaining.

BASSAN’S ADVOCACY FOR LIVING LOTS

In sponsoring the new zoning, Councilor Brook Bassan described “living lots” as “step one” in a services continuum and an easier-to-access option saying there is a need to make immediate headway on the City’s homelessness crisis.

During the May 2, city council meeting, Bassan said this about living lots:

“[This is a] low-cost, low-barrier compromise. … People are currently camping everywhere; people are currently defecating anywhere. People need help throughout our city. … We’re tired of it; we’re frustrated. They’re tired of it, they’re frustrated. … We’re finding that middle ground. If you want to live in a tent, some people just want to, you can live in a tent, but you can’t do it just anywhere.”

According to Bassan, living lots could ultimately require less manpower and resources than the city presently expends breaking up and clearing unsanctioned campsites throughout the city. She argues that living lots will be an inexpensive, temporary and easy action the city can take while completing such larger-scale initiatives as the Gateway Center shelter in Southeast Albuquerque.

Bassan contends that providing low-barrier campsites could make it easier for the city to enforce such laws as trespassing or loitering when people are sleeping at unauthorized sites because the city can offer an alternative.

During the May 2 meeting, mid – heights Democrat City Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn, District 7, defended the morality of providing choices beyond a shelter saying some people living on the streets are still too traumatized to stay inside a shelter and said this:

“The answer for those folks is to find something that works for them that gets them away from parks, away from open space, and away from your alleyways. … That is the humane answer we keep talking about.”

The link to quoted source material is here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/2496433/councilor-proposes-living-lots-to-address-homelessness.html

SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES

The “safe outdoor spaces” amendment to the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) calls for the creation of government sanctioned homeless campsites where the homeless will be able to sleep and tend to personal hygiene. This amendment to the IDO is sponsored by City Councilor Pat Davis. The proposed zone change can be summarized as follows:

1. Not more than 1 sanctioned campsites will be allowed in any one of the city’s 9 city council districts, or 9 total campsites, and the campsites would be limited to 40 tents, cars or recreational vehicles.

EDITOR’S NOTE: It was originally proposed that 5 sanctioned campsites would be allowed in each of the city’s 9 city council districts, or 40 total campsites, but that number has been reduced to one.

2. Each campsite will be required to have a certain number of water-flush or composting toilets, or portable facilities, hand-washing stations and showers based on occupancy.

3. It would require a surrounding wall or screen at least 6 feet high for those using tents.

4. Operators of the campsites, which could include churches and nonprofit organizations, would have to provide the city with a management plan or security agreement proving the site has 24/7 on-site support and security.

5. Operators would offer occupants some form of social services and support facilities.

6. The homeless campsites would be prohibited from being allowed within 330 feet of low-density residential areas. Religious institutions would have more flexibility for locating them.

7. The campsites would be permitted in certain commercial, business park and manufacturing zones and in some mixed-use zones after a public hearing.

According to City Officials, in most instances, the encampments would be set up and managed by churches or nonprofits.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION IN EACH CITY COUNCIL DISTRICT

A map prepared by the city detailing where “living lots” and “safe outdoor space” zoning would be allowed for encampments revealed numerous areas in each of the 9 City Council districts. Upwards of 15% of the city would allow for “safe outdoor spaces as a “permissive use” or “conditional use”.

The map reveals a large concentration of eligible open space area that lies between San Pedro and the railroad tracks, north of Menaul to the city’s northern boundary. The map does not account for religious institutions that may want to use their properties for living lots.

A link to the map prepared by the City entitled “Map 1 Council Districts Selected IDO Zoning” is here:

https://documents.cabq.gov/planning/IDO/2021_IDO_AnnualUpdate/Council/Map1_SafeOutdoorSpaces-A12-Option3.pdf

CORONADO PARK

Coronado Park is considered by many as the heart of Albuquerque’s homeless crisis. Over the last 10 years, Coronado Park has essentially become the “de facto” city sanctioned homeless encampment with the city repeatedly cleaning it up only for the homeless to return the next day.

At any given time, Coronado Park will have 70 to 80 tents crammed into the park with homeless wondering the area. It comes with and extensive history lawlessness including drug use, violence, murder, rape and mental health issues. In 2020, there were 3 homicides at Coronado Park. In 2019, a disabled woman was raped, and in 2018 there was a murder.

Police 911 logs reveal a variety of other issues. In February 2019, police investigated a stabbing after a fight broke out at the park. One month before the stabbing, police responded to a call after a woman said she was suicidal, telling police on lapel camera video that she had previously made attempts to overdose on meth.

https://www.kob.com/albuquerque-news/police-records-depict-pattern-of-problems-violence-at-coronado-park/5891961/

City officials have said Coronado Park is the subject of daily responses from the encampment team because of the number of tent’s set up there. They say the encampment team, along with Parks and Recreation Department , and Solid Waste go out every morning, during the week, to give campers notice and clean up the park. They also work on getting them connected to resources and services they may need.

https://www.krqe.com/news/politics-government/the-process-behind-removing-homeless-camps-from-public-places/

BASSAN’S ABQ JOURNAL GUEST COLUMN

On Sunday, May 8, the Albuquerque Journal publish an editorial guest column written by Republican City Councilor Brook Bassan, where she wrote advocating for “Living Lots” and “Safe Outdoor Spaces”. Bassan wrote in pertinent part as follows:

“Our unhoused neighbors need help. Now. We agree something must be done. Albuquerque, like many other cities, is seeing a record number of people experiencing homelessness. Unsheltered people are everywhere in town. There are encampments in city parks, alleys, sidewalks and underpasses.

If we decamp folks from one spot, they end up at another, which is equally troubling. The cycle continues and repeats, obtaining no productive result for anyone. It’s a terrible situation for unsheltered people, a waste of resources for the city, a continual source of frustration for people living and working here.”

Because there are numerous reasons people are unhoused, we need numerous workable solutions. This is not a “one-size-fits-all” situation. Trauma, financial challenges, mental health illness, addiction, medical issues, unsupportive families and lack of job training are just some reasons for homelessness in our community. Seniors, adults, youth and children are experiencing homelessness. We need multiple, targeted solutions for different experiences.

[“Living lots” , “safe outdoor spaces” and “motel conversions for affordable housing”] … are stop-gap measures to stem the tide of homelessness, not ideal solution that fix everything for everyone. They may or may not work perfectly. If we need to make changes or cancel these, we will. The current situation is not working for anyone, so let’s try something new.”

The link to the entire Bassan guest column is here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/2496433/councilor-proposes-living-lots-to-address-homelessness.html

Bassan’s guest column failed to even attempt to identify the actual numbers of homeless in Albuquerque. She also failed to outline what the city is actually spending a year to help the homeless. Both the homeless numbers and what the city is spending merit review.

ALBUQUERQUE’S HOMELESS NUMBERS

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines sheltered homeless as “residing in an emergency shelter, motel paid through a provider or in a transitional housing program.” HUD defines “unsheltered homeless” as “those sleeping in places not meant for human habitation including streets, parks, alleys, underpasses, abandoned buildings, campgrounds and similar environments.”

Each year the “Point in Time” (PIT) survey is conducted to determine how many people experience homelessness on a given night in Albuquerque, and to learn more about their specific needs. The PIT count is done in communities across the country. The PIT count is the official number of homeless reported by communities to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The most current PIT survey was conducted in 2021. On June 22, 2021, Albuquerque’s 2021 Point-In-Time (PIT) report was released that surveyed both sheltered and unsheltered homeless.

Major highlights of the 2021 PIT report are as follows:

There were 1,567 sheltered and unsheltered homeless people living in Albuquerque, a slight increase over the 2019 count of 1,524 homeless. The 2020 homeless count is 2.8% higher than in 2019 and 18.9% more than in 2017, despite the pandemic limiting the 2021 counting efforts.

The 2021 PIT count found that 73.6% of the homeless population was staying in emergency shelters, transitional housing or using motel vouchers rather than sleeping in alleys, parks and other “unsheltered” locations. The 73.6% in the 2021 count is much a higher than the 2019 and 2017 PIT counts.

Albuquerque’s unsheltered homeless decreased from 567 people in 2019 to 413 in the 2021 count.

42% of Albuquerque’s unsheltered were defined as chronically homeless, meaning they had been continuously homeless for at least a year and had a disabling condition.

21% said they were homeless due to COVID.

37% were experiencing homelessness for the first time.

12% were homeless due to domestic violence.

30.19% of the homeless in Albuquerque self-reported as having a serious mental illness.

25.5% self-reported as substance abusers.

The link to quoted statistics is here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/2402560/homeless-numbers-see-little-change.html

https://www.cabq.gov/family/documents/2019-albuquerque-pit-count-final.pdf

CITY’S FINANCIAL COMMITEMENT TO HELP HOMELESS OR NEAR HOMELESS IN THE MILLIONS

According to the most current PIT annual report, there were 1,567 sheltered and unsheltered homeless people living in Albuquerque. The 2021 PIT count found that 73.6% of the homeless population was staying in emergency shelters, transitional housing or using motel vouchers rather than sleeping in alleys, parks and other “unsheltered” locations.

This past fiscal year 2021 ending June 10, 2021, the Family and Community Services Department and the Keller Administration have spent upwards of $40 Million by to benefit the homeless or near homeless. The 2021 adopted city budget for Family and Community Services Department provides for emergency shelter contracts totaling $5,688,094, affordable housing and community contracts totaling $22,531,752, homeless support services contracts totaling $3,384,212, mental health contracts totaling $4,329,452, and substance abuse contracts for counseling contracts totaling $2,586,302.

The link to the 2021-2022 city approved budget is here:

https://www.cabq.gov/dfa/documents/fy22-approved-budget-numbered-w-hyperlinks-final.pdf

Mayor Keller’s 2022-2023 proposed budget significantly increases the Family and Community Services budget by $24,353,064 to assist the homeless or near homeless by going from $35,145,851 to $59,498,915. The 2022-2023 proposed budget for the Department of Community Services is $72.4 million and it will have 335 full time employees, or an increase of 22 full time employees.

A breakdown of the amounts to help the homeless and those in need of housing assistance is as follows:

$42,598,361 total for affordable housing and community contracts with a major emphasis on permanent housing for chronically homeless. It is $24,353,064 more than last year.

$6,025,544 total for emergency shelter contracts (Budget page 102.), down $396,354 from last year.

$3,773,860 total for mental health contracts (Budget page105.), down $604,244 from last year.

$4,282,794 total homeless support services, up $658,581 from last year.

$2,818,356 total substance abuse contracts for counseling (Budget page 106.), up by $288,680 from last year.

The link to the proposed 244-page 2022-2023 budget it here:

https://www.cabq.gov/dfa/documents/fy23-proposed-final-web-version.pdf

$12 PER YEAR RATE HIKE PROPOSED FOR HOMELESS ENCAMPMENT CLEAN UP

The Albuquerque City Council is considering a proposal to raise residential trash collection rates by $1 per month to cover the rising costs of cleaning up unsanctioned homeless camps throughout the city. The trash collection increase would generate $2.2 million annually for the Solid Waste Management Department. Democrat City Councilors Klarissa Peña and Isaac Benton are sponsoring the rate-increase legislation at Democrat Mayor Tim Keller’s request.

The trash collection rate increase would raise a resident’s monthly cost for a trash bin to $18 from the current rate of $17. The rate increase would take effect on July 1, 2022 and the additional funding would go to the “Clean Cities Program.”

Solid Waste Director Matthew Whelan said the additional funding would cover 17 to 20 more employees to clean up after the city clears encampments in unauthorized locations such as parks. Whelan said the Solid Waste Department currently has two cleanup crews but the new revenue would allow a crew dedicated to each quadrant of the city and a floater crew. Whelan said this:

“Every day they would handle calls in that quadrant, because right now we kind of have two crews for the whole city and they go all over the city based on need. … These would be a more proactive approach on how to deal with the encampments. ”

The link to quoted news source material is here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/2496405/1-trash-hike-would-pay-for-camp-clean-ups.html

OBSCENE RATE HIKE

Given the fact that the homeless in Albuquerque are becoming more and more visible, it is clear that more than two clean-up crews are needed. A crew dedicated to each quadrant of the city and a floater crew is the pro active approach the city needs. What is not needed is a garbage rate hike increase.

What can only be characterized as obscene and financial mismanagement is Democrat Mayor Tim Keller requesting a $12 a year garbage rate hike increase and Democrat City Councilors Klarissa Peña and Isaac Benton going along with it in the middle of the 2023 fiscal year budget process and council hearings.

The City Counsels Committee of the Whole is conducting budget hearing on Mayor Tim Keller’s proposed $1.4 billion city budget that must be enacted on before July 1. The overall budget submitted for review and approval of the Albuquerque City council is for $1.4 Billion. $841.8 million represents the general fund spending and it is an increase of $127 million, or 17.8%, over the current year’s budget of $1.2 Billion. The general fund provides funding for city essential and basic services, including funding for the solid waste department.

With $127 million in new revenue in a $1.4 Billion dollar city budget, it is downright pathetic that Keller asks for a $12 a year garbage rate hike to generate $2.2 million annually for the Solid Waste Management Department so that it can clean up homeless encampments. The City Council needs to say no to the both the zoning changes and the rate hike and find the money within the proposed budget.

The 2022 proposed budget provides major funding to deal with the homeless including funding of $750,000 for proposed “safe outdoor and additional $200,000 for developing other sanctioned encampment programs. This $950,000 in funding should be used instead for homeless encampment clean ups.

Illegal homeless encampments are a law enforcement problem. One budget where the $2.2 million can be found would be within the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) budget. APD is the largest city budget out of 27 departments. The fiscal year 2023 proposed General Fund budget is $255.4 million, which represents an increase of 14.7% or $32.8 million above the fiscal year 2022 level. APD Chief Harold Medina told the city council during his department’s budget hearing that APD is projected to $12,390,000 in unspent sworn police salaries on June 30, 2023 the end of Fiscal Year 2023.

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

When City Councilor Brook Bassan writes “Our unhoused neighbors need help. Now. We agree something must be done” she ostensibly is clueless as to what is now actually being done by the city and the large amount being spent to help the homeless, which is upwards of $114,0000,0000. Use of the term “unhoused neighbors” by Bassan was unfortunate and laughable when they are illegal “unwanted squatters”. When Bassan says “If we need to make changes or cancel these, we will” she has a gross ignorance of how the city’s zoning laws work. The city council can not simply reverse the decision to allow for “living lots” and “safe outdoor spaces” once a “conditional use” or “permissive use” is granted to an applicant and property owner.

Democrat City Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn’s comments defending the morality of providing choices beyond a shelter saying some people living on the streets are still too “traumatized to stay inside a shelter” is misplaced. The comments reflect a level of naivete and ignorance. She assumes many of homeless are “traumatized”, when many are not, and all too many are just “squatters”. The city is in fact meeting its moral obligation to help the homeless with the city spending upwards of $114 Million with housing assistance vouchers, services and shelter for the homeless.

HOUSING THE MOST EFFECTIVE APPROACH

Research shows that housing is the most effective approach to end homelessness with a much larger return on investment than offering government sanctioned encampments. Given the millions the city is spending each year, it needs to continue with the approach of offering programs, building shelter space and making beds available for its homeless population.

Albuquerque is making a huge financial commitment to help the homeless. Last year, it spent upwards of $40 million to benefit the homeless. The 2023 proposed budget significantly increases funding for the homeless by going from $35,145,851 to $59,498,915. The city contracts with 10 separate homeless service providers throughout the city and it funds the Westside 24-7 homeless shelter.

The city has bought the 572,000-square-foot Lovelace Hospital Complex on Gibson for $15 million that currently has space of 200 beds or more and transforming it into the Gateway Center Homeless shelter. City officials have said that the city expect to launch multiple services on the property this winter, including a 50-bed women’s shelter, a sobering center and a space designed to deliver “medical respite” care for individuals who would have no place other than a hospital to recover from illnesses and injury.

MANAGING HOMELESS CRISIS MUST INCLUDE ENFORCING LAWS

Coronado Park at 4th Street and the Freeway has been Albuquerque’s “de facto” city sanctioned homeless encampments for the last 10 years with city officials offering services to the homeless who camp there and repeatedly cleaning up the park only to allow the homeless to move back in and camp. At any given time upwards of 70 tents are on the property. Coronado Park clearly shows that sanctioned encampments do not work. Government sanctioned encampments destroy neighborhoods and businesses and deprive others of peaceful use and enjoyment of their own property.

Too many elected officials like City Counselors Tammy Fiebelkorn and Brook Bassan who want to establish government sanction encampments have a hard time dealing with the facts that many homeless adults simply want to live their life as they choose, where they want to camp for as long as they can get away with it, without any government nor family interference and especially no government rules and no regulations.

The city cannot just ignore and not enforce its anti-camping ordinances, vagrancy laws, civil nuisance laws and criminal laws nor pretend they simply do not exist. Squatters who have no interest in any offers of shelter, beds, motel vouchers or alternatives to living on the street really give the city no choice but to make it totally inconvenient for them to “squat” anywhere they want and force them to move on. After repeated attempts to force them to move on and citations arrests are in order.

The homeless crisis will not be solved by the city, but it can and must be managed. Providing a very temporary place to pitch a tent, relieve themselves, bathe and sleep at night with rules they do not want nor will likely follow is not the answer to the homeless crisis. The answer is to provide the support services, including food and lodging, and mental health care needed to allow the homeless to turn their lives around, become productive self-sufficient citizens, no longer dependent on relatives or others.

“Safe outdoor spaces” and “living lots” will be a disaster for the city as a whole. Both will destroy neighborhoods, make the city a magnet for the homeless and destroy the city efforts to manage the homeless through housing. The public needs to make their opinions known and tell the city council to reject both zoning allowances.

Both proposed zoning changes will be heard by the City Council on May 16.