It was a nail biter. Albuquerque City Council had its plate full with amendments to the city’s overall zoning ordinance with a controversial initiative to help the city’s homeless crisis being the hot tamale during its nearly seven hour June 6 meeting.
In My Hood/Not In My Hood
Albuquerque citizens came out in force to weigh in on amendments to the city’s Integrated Development Ordinance. The IDO amendments were part of the city’s annual update to the master zoning document. It may sound boring, but it wasn’t.
A couple of cannabis amendments were part of the update. One was a ban on cannabis businesses in the Old Town business area. Another was for parameters for onsite cannabis consumption. And another of the updates dealt with zoning changes to allow the Gateway Center to open and function. The Gateway Center is located at the old Lovelace Hospital campus on Gibson and will serve as a shelter for our unhoused neighbors. There were about 75 changes altogether with about 18 being voted on at this meeting.
The sexiest items on the docket were a handful of amendments concerning Safe Outdoor Spaces. SOSs are managed sites where homeless residents can sleep in tents or automobiles. The contained sites will have restrooms, showers and other services. As Councilor Brook Bassan said repeatedly, these are not homeless encampments, they are temporary housing. The safe spaces are intended to be a tool to help tackle homelessness by getting some transient folks out of the parks, alleys, streets and doorways. (Shout out to Councilor Bassan for her smart, thoughtful, thorough work on this touchy matter.) Much of the amendments were zone changes to allow for such developments. Bassan and the administration put on a presentation showing possible zoning sites. Faith-based safe sites are exempt and can be located in any zone.
Not only did some members of the public say outright Not In My Backyard to the SOSs but so did three lawmakers. Councilors Renee Grout, Dan Lewis and Louie Sanchez had an amendment excluding their districts from having ANY of these homeless-help sites in their areas. This did not go over well with Councilor Pat Davis* who retorted with an amendment to the amendment saying that the first SOS sites would go in those three districts. This caused quite the response from Councilor Lewis who practically blew a fuse saying Councilor Davis was making a joke out of the Council. Neither the amendment to exclude the three districts nor putting the first SOSs in those districts passed. But all was not lost on the NIMBY council districts; an amendment that reduced the number of potential sites down from five to two in each Council district passed.
Not So Easy
A deferral failed on postponing the changes until August. Then it was a 4 to 5 vote to pass the updates to the IDO. The vote was not along party lines, as one might think. Republican Councilor Bassan joined Democrats Davis, Benton and Fiebelkorn in a Yea vote. Democrats Klarissa Peña and Sanchez joined Republican Councilors Lewis, Grout and Jones in the Nay votes. A short time later, Councilor Jones asked for a reconsideration of the vote, basically saying there were other amendments not connected to the safe spaces that she said would be impacted by the delay. Around midnight, another vote was taken and the IDO was passed as amended by all the various amendments.
It bears mentioning some of the words spoken:
From our Quaker friends, “We feel the need to advocate for their humane treatment and dignity. We urge practical compassion.”
“The homeless have come along after us,” said one neighborhood representative.
Another citizen began by saying the Bible tells us there will always be homeless people, then went on to say they were trespassing.
Councilor Grout read an email where one of her constituents said that homeless people were not special and we all make choices that we have to live with. Other speakers mentioned that homeless people could just go get jobs. Not sure if these folks have taken the time to meet many of those who have many levels of challenges such as mental illness, addiction and other issues plaguing the homeless population that make it impossible to hold a job.
Many were frank about saying they wanted to help the homeless but they don’t want this kind of help in their neighborhoods. Councilors Bassan, Fiebelkorn, Davis and Benton repeatedly stressed the misinformation out there about this matter. Councilors Lewis, Grout and Sanchez said only less than a handful of people they talked to want one of these contained sites in their neighborhoods. Even though homeless people are camping in alleys, doorways, parks and other spaces already. Councilor Klarissa Peña has been noticeably quiet and did not vote to approve the IDO.
At the June 20 meeting, Councilors are set to take up setting guidelines and other parameters for these safe spaces. This reporter would not be surprised to see a new set of amendments to the IDO be introduced to try to block, or boost, the SOS initiative.
The next City Council meeting is scheduled for June 22 (Wednesday) at 5 pm. at 5pm. Attend in person or watch it at GOV-TV at cabq.gov or on Comcast Cable Channel 16 or on the city’s YouTube channel.
*City Councilor Pat Davis is a co-owner of The Paper.