Monday night’s Council meeting got pretty heated as three hot topics were brought up: women’s health funding, the housing crisis and free speech rights of Albuquerque residents who do not want safe open spaces in their neighborhoods.
Women’s health funding
Councilor Renee Grout, District 9, proposed an amendment to R-22-46 to reappropriate the $250,000 funds previously approved to Planned Parenthood to instead go to the Homeless Support Services Program with the Barrett House Shelter nonprofit. It was passed on a five-four vote.
Ten residents opposed the motion in public comment while 16 others were for the motion. At least five people asked why both cannot be funded.
Questions from Councilor Dan Lewis were made about the contract with Planned Parenthood and what services the funds would have covered. The administration said it would cover a wide variety of women’s health issues from STD and STI testing to breast exams and cancer screenings that encompass many aspects of women’s health.
Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn, District 7, expressed her disappointment and said she was proud to sponsor the budget amendment and specifically stated she is pro-choice.
“Abortion is health care, period,” Fiebelkorn said.”How dare we say we can only do one thing and only fund women with reproductive care, or we can only help homeless people — that is insane.”
She also proposed an amendment to give funding to both nonprofits and Prosperity House because she believes the proposal and funding to Planned Parenthood were attacked instead of being debated by councilors when originally passed. She proposed giving $100,000 to the Barrett house and keep the $250,000 funding for Planned Parenthood, which passed five-four. Councilor Klarissa Pena, District 3, said the funds to Planned Parenthood ultimately help economically disadvantaged women in the city of Albuquerque.
Lewis said there are some councilors who just don’t support the funding and seconded the motion to table the topic after Grout proposed to do so and was voted down.
The council then voted to re-amend R-22-46 to include funding for Barrett and Prosperity Houses, passing with the final amendment on a 5-4 vote.
Housing crisis and free speech
A proposal from Lewis to establish a moratorium for the safe outdoor spaces moratorium (R-22-56) passed on a 5-4 vote. It prohibits any spaces for at least one year, also impacting pending applications. Lewis said that this type of program in Denver is costing taxpayers $30,000 per year for each tent in their safe open space areas.
Councilor Pat Davis, District 6, said that there are at least 1,000 people in Albuquerque living in their cars and people want to be able to to provide a safe space for that. “And not for all of them, but for the ones who need the help the most.” He also said that people should believe that these spaces will not look like Coronado Park and explained the city can’t just get rid of these spaces when there’s people who need this help. He said the city should stop funding the 300 unused beds at shelters if people are not using them and fund sites people would feel safer and more comfortable, such as in their own tents or vehicles.
“If we close all of these parks where people are already residing and not replacing it with something, everyone’s neighborhoods will be affected by people sleeping everywhere. It’s not going to kill us, and it’s worth trying while we work the other pieces, too,” Davis said. Councilor Trudy Jones, District 8, agreed that these spaces need to happen “because until we try something, we have nothing, and it’s time for us to settle in and try at least one project and see if we can make it work.” Fiebelkorn also agreed the spaces need to happen.
Benton said there are a lot of stories about the bad things that happen in shelters and why people refuse to go to them and said he didn’t agree with the spaces until he went to Denver and saw that these sites were secure, sanitary and working. Pena said one in four homeless are suffering from mental health issues and turn to substance abuse, and until that is truly addressed, crime and homelessness will continue to be an issue but agreed it should happen.
Councilor Louie Sanchez, District 1, said that the majority of residents don’t want the spaces in their areas and that none of the councilors would probably want these spaces near their homes either. “I think it important we listen to our constituents, because they’re the ones who put us in office,” he said. He also cited that even more of increase in crime will happen that has already been an issue throughout the city.
Public comment brought 11 opposing the amendment while a dozen who were for it and also raised questions about what residents were allowed to speak about.
Councilor Louie Sanchez, District 1, asked the council why people could not speak about specific safe open space application locations, citing that people are just concerned about their neighborhoods and that they have a right to free speech in speaking about certain proposed sites in their areas. He said they’re just citizens and that it confuses people about what they can or cannot say. Isaac Benton, District 2, said he appreciated the way Sanchez brought this up because the average citizen doesn’t understand what quasi-judicial means or what people are able to talk about in these circumstances.
Brook Bassan, District 4, explained why she changed her mind about her own sponsored proposal and that she did believe it was a good first step for the city, but that she had such an overwhelming response from people from all over the city against it and that the council ultimately needs to listen its constituents and respect their wishes.
She also asked the planning department about the application and review process for the open spaces applications. The department explained the process takes five to 10 business days and differs for different types of property and zoning applications.
Another vote on the moratorium was held, passing 6-3.
As for the closure of Coronado Park, Tony Watkins stated that during the public comment period he had 322 signatures in an effort to petition the city to hold off on closing the park while also agreeing that there should be city-sanctioned encampments instead.
Another resident spoke in favor of closing the park.
Grout also asked about service provider outcomes for the homeless population and if there are any outbreaks of infectious diseases, especially at Coronado Park.
Administration responded the client outcomes are accumulated and accessed through a coordinated homeless management information system. There have been outbreaks of Hepatitis A and Shigella.
Members of the community housing project spoke about the housing crisis and said they will once again be at the Sept. 19 meeting to protest the council if the issue is not addressed. Attorney Nick Grimmer spoke in favor of rent capping, noting that 175 families were evicted last week in New Mexico and at least 200 will be every week thereafter.
• A traffic safety improvements presentation focused on areas of higher vulnerabilty for pedestrian deaths. San Mateo and Montgomery was recently repaved and resprayed with narrower driving lanes and buffer striping on the outside travel lane, adding more space between traffic and pedestrians.
• Council members Davis, Grout and Pena thanked the Albuquerque Police Department for its quick response to the homicides in the Muslim community and in catching a suspect. They also asked about APD employee losses. Pena also thanked solid waste employees for getting the weeds in her district cleaned up.
• EC-22-123 was voted on and passed unanimously, giving $484,000 to Heading Home for providing supportive housing services to residents who are precariously housed and/or have behavioral health issues so they’re not displaced out of their homes through this program.