Council votes to outlaw arroyo camps - Albuquerque Journal

Council votes to outlaw arroyo camps

City Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Camping or just being inside an arroyo would be a criminal offense in Albuquerque under legislation the City Council passed this week.

The ordinance also makes it illegal to drive cars and off-highway vehicles along publicly owned or maintained arroyos, drainage channels and ditches.

Supporters say they are concerned with public safety, and that the ordinance gives law enforcement previously unavailable authority to remove people from dangerous situations in the channels. In the past five years, at least 12 bodies have been recovered after fast-moving water swept people up in the Albuquerque arroyo system, a flood control official told the City Council during Monday’s meeting. That’s out of 26 swift-water rescue callouts he identified in that span.

“We are very much in favor of this ordinance to allow officers to be able to enforce (it) when the situation is necessary,” Willie West of the Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority told the Council.

The ordinance, which now heads to Mayor Tim Keller’s desk, passed on an 8-1 vote. Only Klarissa Peña voted against it, saying she understood its importance, but worried that it created a precedent that would enable the city to pass similar legislation barring camping in parks.

Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn, who sponsored the bill, said the Albuquerque Ditch and Water Safety Task Force worked on the legislation for months in an attempt to try and reduce arroyo deaths. She addressed criticism that it would criminalize homelessness, saying that was not her intent and noting that one of the four people who drowned in arroyos last year was not homeless.

“This is not necessarily a situation where we’re only concerned about people experiencing homelessness,” she said. “There are people going into arroyos for lots of reasons; none of them are good.”

The legislation requires police to first give violators a written warning before moving to a citation or arrest, though it provides an exception in cases of “immediate danger.” In those cases, officers need only give a verbal warning before taking stronger action.

Violations of the ordinance are punishable by a fine of up to $500 and/or up to 90 days in jail.

Councilor Brook Bassan said she felt comfortable that the ordinance struck the right balance and would protect people without punishing them for being homeless.

“It’s not something where we can just allow people to live there,” Bassan said. “Plus, it puts our officers and any other service providers at risk, too, if they have to go in and remove those individuals from arroyos.”

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