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Metro Beat: Notes from the ABQ City Council meeting

Albuquerque City Councilors react to a City Hall fire alarm blaring evacuation instructions during their May 3, 2021, meeting. It turned out to be a false alarm.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Albuquerque City Council’s Monday meeting had a little bit of everything — occasional Zoom background sound from dogs and children, plus a City Hall fire alarm blaring evacuation instructions.

“Councilors, hold on just a moment; we may be having an emergency in the building,” Council President Cynthia Borrego — who was working out of City Hall — said at one point to her peers, most of whom were participating from home via Zoom.

The alarm forced the council to break and cut its public broadcast for about 20 minutes, during which time officials realized there was no threat.

“That was a false alarm we had in City Hall; someone set off one of our emergency alarms,” Borrego said as the meeting resumed and the action picked back up.

The alarm did not dampen the momentum as the council went on to pass several bills before the session was through.

None garnered more discussion than Pat Davis’ legislation requiring the Albuquerque Police Department to pursue a “safe harbor” bill for domestic violence and sexual assault victims. You can read about that here.

The council also tackled the city’s “residential permit parking” program by voting unanimously to update an ordinance that has to date given neighborhoods a relatively clear path to blocking outsiders from parking on their streets.

The overhaul, sponsored by Councilor Isaac Benton, comes amid debate over two North Valley streets, Trellis Drive and Decker Road. Residents had complained about people from other parts of the city crowding the streets to access the Rio Grande bosque. They successfully petitioned the city to convert the streets to resident-only parking areas, something that only requires support from only 51% of a street’s immediate residents.

There are nearly 100 residential permit parking streets around the city today, mostly concentrated in the Downtown and University of New Mexico areas. The addition of the North Valley streets marked the farthest north the program had extended, and it sparked quick backlash; opponents said it reduced community access to the bosque and warned it could be easily duplicated in any area near a popular public amenity.

Benton, whose district includes Trellis and Decker, said the city and the residents had heeded city policy when restricting parking in the area. He said he initially thought he should not intervene.

But “the more I looked into it,” he said, “it was clear we really do have a broken process.”

Under his amendments, the city will have to consider the bigger picture before restricting parking on city streets to only those who live on the street. That includes weighing the “relative value of on-street parking for non-area residents to allow access to community amenities or resources” against the significant impacts neighborhoods may be experiencing.

The city would also have to hold a community meeting about any proposed conversions to get input from residents and the general public. Also, any new residential permit parking areas will require council approval under the bill.

A spokesman for the Parking Division said it supports the changes.

The legislation requires the city to reevaluate the Trellis and Decker restrictions under the new criteria.

ACTING NEIGHBORLY: The council also on Monday approved legislation requiring the city to meet with neighborhoods around the planned Gateway Center homeless shelter and services hub before moving too far forward with its development.

Some people who live around the site — the former Lovelace hospital at 5400 Gibson SE — have expressed concerns about the facility’s potential impacts and complained that they have been left out of the planning process.

Under the bill sponsored by Davis, the city must hold two community input sessions within 45 days and complete a “good neighbor” agreement that covers issues like the overnight capacity and security plans.

Until that is completed, the resolution prevents the city from issuing the certificate of occupancy or the conditional use permit required to use the building as a shelter.

The legislation would not stop the city from conducting necessary maintenance or initiating renovations, Davis said.

Carol Pierce, director of the city’s Family and Community Services Department, said there already have been meetings with two of the five area neighborhood associations and efforts to make contact with the rest.

“We think neighborhood conversations and building those relationships are essential,” she said.

Davis, whose district includes the Gateway Center, said the city’s approach at Gibson will set a precedent, as its current vision includes multiple Gateway Centers throughout Albuquerque.

“Yes, it is important for my district in particular, but I might remind us all that it’s important for all of our districts because these Gateway Centers are supposed to be neighborhood-sized, meaning we’re going to have a lot more of them,” he said.

VACANCY VANQUISHED: The council approved another appointment to the Civilian Police Oversight Agency, adding local pastor Richard Johnson.

Johnson is the second appointment in as many City Council meetings, as the council last month heeded a recommendation to add Gionne Ralph.

They fill two of three vacancies on the nine-member panel.

Johnson’s appointment was on the council’s agenda last month but was postponed over councilor questions. Councilor Davis had at the time asked Johnson about reports that his church, Living Water Miracle Center, had violated some of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions early in the pandemic. Johnson attempted to respond but was thwarted by a poor internet connection.

Davis supported Johnson’s appointment in Monday’s vote, saying his questions had been answered since the last meeting, though he did not elaborate.

SEVEN YEARS OF RELIEF: The developers of Highlands East are adding hundreds of new multifamily residential units on Central Avenue near Interstate 25, but they are not adding to their property tax bill — at least not for a while.

The City Council voted to abate the project site’s property taxes for seven years — a break valued at $3.6 million.

Highlands East is a five-story residential project with 228 units and 4,000 square feet of retail space, part of a five-block redevelopment effort that will also include additional multi-family residences and a hotel.

The Highlands East residential component will create eight permanent jobs, according to city documents, and 300 construction-related jobs.

Councilors asked city staff if the agreement with the real estate developers — who include Titan Development and Maestas Development Group — requires hiring locally or working with minority-owned subcontractors. It does not, though councilors encouraged staff to consider such provisions in the future.

HAVE THOUGHTS ABOUT PUBLIC ACCESS TV?: The city’s three-person Cable Franchise and Hearing Board is getting a new name, two more members and additional responsibilities under council-approved changes proposed by Mayor Tim Keller’s administration.

The board already hears resident complaints about Comcast, which has a franchise agreement with the city.

As the renamed Albuquerque Cable, Internet and PEG Advisory Board, it will also be a forum for feedback and complaints about public access TV. (PEG stands for public, education and government access cable television.) That includes input related to “the City’s allocation of air time and other resources related to the use of PEG channels,” according to the updated ordinance. That’s an issue that has in the past sparked passionate public commentary at city council meetings.

“When people are maybe not happy with what they’re seeing on their public access channels or they feel maybe things aren’t being managed well, this is a place they can go and take and provide input. That really hasn’t been clear before. … (City) Council was kind of the place for that for a long time,” Albuquerque Arts and Culture Director Shelle Sanchez told the council. “Now there’s a community board that can really have that conversation and hold that space for our community.”

Jessica Dyer:

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