The Albuquerque City Council voted against directing the city administration to develop operating procedures for safe outdoor spaces on a 4-5 vote Wednesday, while Councilor Brook Bassan’s request to vote on a one-year moratorium for safe outdoor spaces won’t be considered until Aug. 1. In the meantime, a conditional use permit to create a safe outdoor space in any one of the nine districts can be applied for as early as Aug. 1, as the Integrated Development Ordinance now stands.
Councilors voting against R-22-36, the bill directing the city administration to develop operating procedures for safe outdoor spaces, presumed that Bassan’s moratorium and striking of safe outdoor spaces from the IDO will pass in August. If Bassan’s legislation is passed, the creation of safe outdoor spaces will not proceed, and unhoused individuals will be left with the same options they now have to find shelter and other services.
Bassan’s bill No. R-22-56, which seeks to place a one-year moratorium on safe outdoor spaces, states that “Safe Outdoor Spaces may have unavoidable adverse impacts on the communities in which they are placed,” and that, “there are other viable, more appropriate solutions to addressing homelessness in Albuquerque such as utilizing overnight shelter beds, increasing access to services, and incentivizing housing development.”
Bassan’s second piece of legislation, O-22-33, seeks to remove the term “safe outdoor space” and any references to the term from the IDO. Bassan, who previously supported safe outdoor spaces, is now against them because of public pushback and because her belief that the Keller administration will not enforce vagrancy laws, with or without safe outdoor spaces in place.
“First, it is clear the administration is unwilling to increase enforcement of trespassing laws even after we enact the new law. Second, the residents of Albuquerque have voiced their opposition to this measure, and I am committed to listening to their concerns and acting on their behalf,” Bassan wrote in a June 22 press release prior to Wednesday’s council meeting.
There was plenty of blame to go around as to why the city cannot provide solutions to the homelessness problem. During a presentation period at the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting, a contingent of city councilors, administration officials and public speakers were quick to point out that many unhoused individuals are reluctant to go to shelters or cannot meet the criteria to gain access to public resources.
Councilors Bassan and Dan Lewis were adamant the Keller administration is to blame for not enforcing city laws, while administration officials, including the deputy chief of police, stated that not only are they citing and arresting individuals, but that current laws prevent them from forcibly moving unhoused individuals from public property or arresting them for minor infractions.
Lewis, who represents District 5 on the northwest side of the city, said city council is already providing everything the administration needs to keep people off the streets and out of homeless encampments on public and private properties. “I think the administration needs some guidance because it’s the administration’s policy to not make these arrests, and not cite, to allow these homeless encampments to exist,” Lewis said. “That is the policy of this administration, and by the way we put $60 million in homeless services in this last budget, $20 million of vouchers, another $25 million in a GRT bond. So, this council is doing its job, giving you the resources and the money that you need. Now it’s up to you and your policies as this administration, you know, to carry out what this city needs to be able to do what’s right for the city.”
In a rebuttal to Lewis, Acting Chief Administrative Officer Lawrence Rael defended the administration’s policies. “Let’s just be really clear,” Rael said. “This policy is not this administration’s policies and to be even more pointed, this has been a policy that’s been in place for several administrations. Administrations that you served under as a councilor as well as this current administration.”
Rael added that instead of making the issue political, the city council and the administration should work together to come up with solutions. “These are policies that we have to work with, and rather than talk about what is not going right or what you believe is wrong, how about we work together to find a solution to this issue?” Rael asked.
Not in my neighborhood
During a June 16 community meeting at the North Domingo Baca Multigenerational Center, Bassan heard several comments from attendees who said they do not want safe outdoor spaces near residential areas, schools or public parks. Bassan explicitly stated a safe outdoor space would not be placed near North Domingo Baca Park, even though she said the area south of the park would technically be allowed for the spaces under current zoning.
Residents at the community meeting, and at Wednesday’s city council meeting, were concerned that a safe outdoor space would be equivalent to what Coronado Park in the downtown area already looks like. The park, which is regularly full of tents and has been the site of multiple crimes, is used as a drop-off and pickup location by the city to move unhoused individuals to the westside shelter. Homeless encampments can also be found around the Tiny Home Village and scattered around other areas in the southeast part of the city. Encampments at Los Altos Park in the northeast have disappeared since fences went up to the edge of the sidewalk while under construction.
In the more affluent far northeast part of the city that Bassan represents, it is difficult to find a large homeless population, much less regular encampments or tent cities. Public comments indicate residents living in the far northeast fear that safe outdoor spaces are an invitation for the homeless to set up camp in their neighborhoods. During Wednesday’s meeting, some people suggested turning Coronado Park into a safe outdoor space to prove that city-authorized encampments can be safe and clean places for the unhoused to set up temporary shelters.
Residents with questions or concerns, or who wish to learn more about safe outdoor spaces, are invited to a June 27 meeting with Bassan at the NDB Multigenerational Center. That meeting is scheduled for 6:30-8 p.m. APD’s Chief of Police Harold Medina was asked to attend, but it is still unclear if he will be present. The Albuquerque City Council will not meet again until Aug. 1, when Bassan’s request for a moratorium of safe outdoor spaces and amendment to the IDO may be considered.