Saturday, March 25, 2023

City Council Watch: New Year, Old Problems

Albuquerque City Council (Sort of) Tackles Last Year’s Problems

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Albuquerque City Councilors rescued safe open spaces, approved more emergency winter shelter beds, green lighted much needed affordable housing and tweaked, then deferred, a big decision on zero bus fares. The first meeting of the New Year lasted nearly four and a half hours and brought along some of the baggage of the old year. 

Free Rides

After way too much chatter by the Councilors, they deferred taking a vote on a hot potato item of ending the zero fare city bus service. This is the fourth or fifth time the Council has kicked it down the line. The measure would basically bring back bus fares unless a rider can present a valid ID or a pass issued by the transit department for those that qualify. This lingering issue has divided the Council and the public, with some saying it puts up barriers for many of our low-income or homeless residents who rely on public transportation. Supporters say ending this free program may cut down on the rise in violence on city buses. If the legislation is passed then those without a pass or an ID will fork over $1 per ride or $2 for a day pass. The free bus fare program in effect now is set to go away at the end of June. Stay tuned and ride the bus sometime.

Get Warm

Starting January 10, there will be 50 more beds for our unhoused neighbors to sleep out of the freezing nights. The shelter will be located at the Gibson Health Hub, located at the old Lovelace hospital on Gibson. Outreach teams will work to find unsanctioned encampments and bring people into the shelter for the night. They will be bused out each morning to food sites. Councilors approved a $1.1 million contract with Heading Home to run the warm space through April 3 and three months of work on the Gateway Center. There is lots of neighborhood concern and a few Councilors did not feel comfortable with moving forward but they were out voted and more warm beds will be available.

Stay Safe

Councilors kept safe outdoor spaces moving forward when they stopped a veto override. Safe outdoor spaces are supervised outdoor sites where our homeless residents can sleep in tents or vehicles. Bathrooms and other services are available on site to help folks get what they need to have dignity as human beings. In December, the Council voted for the third time to remove safe outdoor spaces from the city’s zoning code. Mayor Tim Keller happily vetoed it but the Council did not have the super majority votes to override his veto. So for now our unhoused neighbors who are lucky enough to have a tent or a car can go somewhere safe and out of parks, alleys, doorways and all the other places they seek out shelter. There are two safe outdoor spaces adjacent to homeless shelters already ready to take in folks. These spaces are ready for use by residents who have vehicles.

Bring It On Home

With $5.2 million from the Workforce Housing Trust Fund, two new low-income housing developments were approved by Councilors along Route 66. Fifty one-bedroom apartments are planned near Central and Unser. The other is a total of 90 units consisting of a combination of new units and renovated homes on 60th Street, near Central and Coors.

New Boss at the Helm

Councilor Pat Davis* and Councilor Klarissa Peña vied to grab the Council President’s gavel. Davis had more votes so he gets to be boss of the table for the next year. (Peña, as a side fashion note, was rocking some fantabulous hoop earrings.) Councilor Renee Grout will serve as Vice President, Councilor Brook Bassan as chair of the Committee of the Whole. Other committee assignments will be made in the future.

Quickies

  • Councilors approved throwing in $2 million in city Local Economic Development Act funds to Universal Hydrogen Co. The state economic coffers are pitching in $10 million. According to the company website, they do cool things like fuel airplanes with hydrogen.
  • They gave a somber thumbs up to a memorial declaring city support for a permanent COVID-19 memorial located in Bernalillo County on state trust land. This will honor all of our neighbors who have been impacted or lost their lives to the insidious virus.

*Full disclosure: City Councilor Pat Davis is the co-owner of The Paper.

The next meeting of the Albuquerque City Council is set for 5pm Wed., Jan. 18 due to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  For more information, agenda and meeting links go to cabq.gov

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