Many hot-button issues were discussed at the city council meeting Wednesday evening, including the fate of safe outdoor spaces, rising retail crime, the housing crisis and zoning disputes.
Mayor’s veto on safe outdoor spaces survives
Mayor Tim Keller’s Veto on Safe Outdoor Spaces was addressed as Councilor Brook Bassan, District 4, made a motion to to override the veto, which was seconded by Councilor Renee Grout, District 9.
Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn, District 7, said she was inspired by a general commenter, who explained how she was living from her vehicle. Fiebelkorn said she wanted to let people know her story as well: that she was homeless for a time when she was a teenager. She explained her daily process living with homelessness and how difficult it was to figure out a place to stay while leaving her feeling scared and ashamed every day.
“I would not be a city councilor today if someone hadn’t helped me then, and I really want the city of Albuquerque to help people in our community right now who are experiencing this exact same thing,” she said.
Bassan said we need help in Albuquerque and the city has a moral obligation to help with the housing and homeless issues, but that there was an underlying issue that people are scared to leave their homes with rising crime, which many attribute to the homeless-addict population.
“Everyone in Albuquerque is asking, ‘Where is our safe outdoor space?’” Bassan said. “It is not a crime to be homeless, but we also cannot continue to legitimize criminal behaviors, either. People are sending us emails saying they’re self-policing and begging us for help. People don’t feel safe here; we’re all working hard and we don’t feel safe. Albuquerque is becoming a sanctuary for criminals, and I don’t think that it can continue.” She urged support to override the veto.
Councilor Pat Davis, District 6, said if requirements would have been made clear sooner that the these well-structured spaces are more highly regulated than previous unsanctioned spaces and would cater to the elderly and women who are living out of their vehicles, the proposal may have been viewed differently. By better communicating such regulations, it could have helped address the perceptions and concerns brought on by residential neighborhoods near proposed sites, he said.
A vote of 5-4 upheld Keller’s veto of the moratorium on safe outdoor spaces, allowing for applications to move forward.
“We are pleased that council upheld the mayor’s veto. Albuquerque, as with nearly all major cities and towns across the United States, needs more tools, not less, to address the homelessness crisis while keeping our neighborhoods, parks and businesses safe. Council initially created Safe Outdoor Spaces as one tool among the many needed to help people move off of the streets, and this new approach should be allowed to go forward,” Ava Montoya, public information officer for Keller, said in a statement following the meeting.
Public comment once again addressed the housing crisis
At least 23 people spoke once again asking the city council to make a resolution on capping rent prices.
Davis asked an organizer with the People’s Housing Project what, exactly, the city council can do. He believes their efforts would be better steered toward state legislative laws and getting a sponsored bill through that channel versus the city council, who they say cannot vote against state laws.
The organizer said their 12-point plan could be pursued by the council and that the organization will continue to come to meetings and voice their opinions until something is done.
Councilor Klarissa Pena, District 3, asked to speak with Housing Authority to show what they’ve been up to and have at a minimum a presentation about current housing issues.
The council did unanimously approve the extension of contracts to continue to operate the Wellness 2 Hotel project for families experiencing homelessness.
The People’s Housing Project will be having a protest at Civic Plaza during the next city council meeting on Sept. 19.
The owner of Buffet’s Candies, located at the intersection of Lomas Blvd. and Lousiana Blvd. NE, addressed retail crime, as well as trash, loitering and panhandling at their business and in the surrounding neighborhood.
Councilor Dan Lewis, District 2, noted that the owner had to abruptly leave the meeting because an employee’s catalytic converter had been stolen just prior to speaking about the issues at the meeting. Lewis also asked the administration what the ideal city response is for multiple city departments. The administration said that it is working to improve the response time on 911 and 242-COPS emergency phone calls, as the owner of Buffett’s said she stopped calling after waiting more than 45 minutes for anyone to pick up.
Grout asked the sanitation department to make sure the area around the state fair is going to be cleaned before the fair start on Thursday and parade on Saturday, noting it is the same area the Buffet’s Candies complained about the trash problem.
Councilor Louie Sanchez, District 1, spoke about businesses not being given the proper protocol for thefts, assaults and loitering by police, as it was when he was a police officer, and giving people the peace of mind that they are being heard, taken seriously and that a follow-up with a final outcome happens for local business owners who are dealing with an all-time high of retail theft and assaults.
Zone change dispute
Zoning issues were debated for a property approval and noise ordinance concerns in Paradise Hills to the detriment of the Paradise Hills Golf Course, which is protesting against an assisted living facility being placed next to the course area. The facility would be close in proximity and would share a street owned by the golf course. Protesters had concerns about proposed noise ordinance issues, as the course hosts events that can affect nearby residential buildings being approved for zone changes, from commercial to residential, in the immediate area. The changes, he said, could negatively impact their business.
Sanchez said this could be an issue of concern when events are held there, and with it being a one-lane road going in and out of both locations, he believes there is cause for concern for safety, particularly concerning emergency access for residents. Those concerns, he said, could be exacerbated on nearby land the golf course hopes to expand and develop.
Lewis reiterated there is a lot of activity day and night in the area and asked the golf course owner what the relationship is like with nearby residents. He responded that people appreciate the renovations they’ve managed to do throughout the property and have been given overall positive feedback, saying the revitalized course saved their property values. He made a motion to deny the zone change as he believes the noise ordinance could possibly affect the golf course.
The council voted 6-3 to deny the zoning change for the assisted living facility.
Pena motioned to defer the vote to chose a map for redistricting the city to the next meeting as she said there wasn’t time for people to voice their concerns so late in the evening. Eight maps are being considered by the council, and the redistricting committee presentation explained the differences in each map. Bassan supported a deferral to be able to hear from the people of Albuquerque. The council voted 8-1 to defer the vote to the Sept. 19 meeting.
Route 66 community improvement program
The council also voted on a community improvement program for Route 66 Central Avenue for the centennial anniversary in four years. It will allow the city to clean up the street and spruce up the area. The majority of the councilors spoke about their excitement for the project. An amendment was passed unanimously to allocate $250,000 to fund the project in 2023.