After a summer break, the Albuquerque City Council eased back to the government table at its August 1 meeting and took care of a little bit of business including making it a crime to hang out or camp in the city’s drainage canals.

Not A Place To Rest

Apparently there has never been a law on the books making it illegal to be in any of the city’s ditches or arroyos whether one is walking, riding a bicycle, driving a vehicle or setting up a campsite under a bridge. Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn carried the measure to make it a misdemeanor. She said it had been in the works by the Ditch and Water Safety Task Force for many months. The DWS task force is responsible for the Ditches Are Deadly campaign we all know and love.

Some Councilors at the dais stated their positions, while others patiently waited for the vote which was passed on an 8 – 1 vote. Councilor Klarissa Peña was the lone nay vote and said the bill was a great attempt but might set a precedent for other types of bills that appear to criminalize the homeless. Councilor Brook Bassan said the committee worked very hard to write the bill so as not to arrest people for being homeless. This is a public safety issue. The new law says there will be a written warning and adequate time for the person to get their belongings out of the arroyo before they will be arrested or given a citation. The proposal will carry a $500 fine and a jail sentence of up to 90 days.

Willie West from the Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo and Flood Control Authority gave an informative presentation about the need for this measure. West said that over the last five years there were 26 swift water callouts with 11 people saved by the teams. The rest did not make it out of the arroyos. Overall during the same time frame there were 1,200 people who died while being swept away by flood waters where there was no swift water call out and the people were found dead in the channels. 

West said it used to be children that the Ditches Are Deadly campaign targeted but now the average age of those found in the arroyos is between 21 and 33 years old.

West has said that water in Albuquerque’s north diversion channel can go from zero to four feet of water in about 90 seconds. He has said that hot spots have been identified where people tend to camp and hang out. When the national weather folks send out a storm alert, a group will go out to the hot spots and warn people to get out of the arroyos.

Back in 2018, voters approved up to $400,000 in bond money to install alarms for an Early Warning System along some of the high traffic arroyos to warn people when floodwaters are imminent. But instead, according to 2021 news reports that amount was not enough and it would cost $4 million to implement a comprehensive flash flood warning system. The city spent the money on upgrading flood water pump stations to alleviate the effects of flooding in neighborhoods.

Public Cry For Help

Much of the Zoom public comment was in support of the city doing some sort of rent control. Several folks from the People’s Housing Project spoke out about the spike in rent prices over the last year. For reference, in June a two bedroom apartment averages $1,100. They spoke about going door to door and hearing about elderly and families with young children who are scared they will be homeless. The group says housing is a basic right. Unfortunately, the city council’s hands are tied as currently state law prohibits rent control at the state and local levels.


  • One citizen spoke in support of the city’s safe outdoor spaces idea to help get our homeless neighbors out of the arroyos, ditches, alleys and doorways. Safe outdoor spaces are managed places where our homeless neighbors can camp in tents or cars. It will have bathrooms, showers and other basic necessities. Councilor Bassan got her moratorium bill moved up to be voted on at the Council’s August 15 meeting. Bassan was a staunch supporter of the idea until constituents got in her face and now she is leading the charge to kill the idea with two bills. Currently, safe outdoor spaces are allowed in some areas. An organization that helps sex workers has put in the first application for a safe outdoor space at 1250 Menaul NE, just west of Interstate 25. If approved it will take 50 residents, the maximum number allowed under current law. 
  • Councilors did a good thing when they approved a resolution designating the University metropolitan area. The boundaries are generally along Central corridor between Central and Gold SE between Yale and University extending south along Yale to St. Cyr. This means developers and individual businesses get some breaks when they build or improve their properties.

The next meeting of the City Council is set for a live, in-person meeting at 5pm Aug 15. Watch it at GOV-TV at cabq.gov or on Comcast Cable Channel 16 or on the city’s YouTube channel.