Council OKs safe outdoor space moratorium - Albuquerque Journal

Council OKs safe outdoor space moratorium

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Two months after approving safe outdoor spaces, the Albuquerque City Council has voted to stop them.

The Council on Monday passed a moratorium that bars the city from accepting or approving any pending applications for safe outdoor spaces. It would last until Aug. 1, 2023, unless the Council acts sooner on a separate, but related, bill removing them from the zoning code.

Safe outdoor spaces are managed encampments where people who are homeless can sleep in tents or cars and access basic amenities. They have become a contentious issue in Albuquerque. While the City Council initially approved them in June after months of debate, Councilor Brook Bassan’s subsequent about-face threw the matter back into question.

She sponsored the moratorium bill, which passed on a 6-3 vote Monday.

Bassan said she had doubts after her initial vote, believing both that the city was not ready to implement them and that they would not provide the type of relief she initially hoped. Combined with what she called “overwhelming” public outcry, she said she was compelled to seek their repeal. She proposed the moratorium as a stopgap while another bill – which would remove safe outdoor spaces from the zoning code – works through the Council process.

“Even though many (Albuquerque residents) are in support of safe outdoor spaces, way more are saying they don’t want them,” Bassan said, adding that forging ahead with them “doesn’t feel right.”

Bassan’s bill passed with support from Renee Grout, Trudy Jones, Dan Lewis, Klarissa Peña and Louie Sanchez.

The moratorium will not immediately take effect; the Council must forward it to Mayor Tim Keller, who has 10 days to sign it, veto it or let it proceed without his input. Keller’s administration has shown support for safe outdoor spaces as part of what it calls an “all-of-the-above” approach to homelessness, but he is not saying whether he intends to veto it. Should he veto it, the Council could override him with six votes, but that means the soonest the moratorium could take effect is Sept. 8.

It’s not immediately clear how this will affect applications already in the pipeline.

The Council amended Bassan’s bill before passage to ensure that the moratorium stopped the city from approving even “pending” applications and to add language stopping the city from authorizing any safe outdoor space on city property.

The city has received five applications so far.

The Planning Department approved one last week, though Planning Director Alan Varela said someone appealed that decision Monday.

That application involves a newly formed organization, Dawn Legacy Pointe, that intends to operate a safe outdoor space for up to 50 people in up to 40 tents on a piece of city property on Menaul near Interstate 25.

The Planning Department already has denied two other applications, but two remain “under review,” according to the city’s website. Both propose using their properties for people to sleep in their cars.

One is from the nonprofit Heading Home, which seeks to open a safe outdoor space for up to 12 vehicles and occupants outside its existing shelter at 715 Candelaria NE. The other is from Bethlehem Baptist Church, which has applied to open its parking lot at 512 Wheeler SE for up to 40 vehicles and 50 total occupants.

While Keller is not confirming how he plans to act on the moratorium, his office criticized the council for being wishy-washy.

“We are reviewing the legislation, but have been clear that the City needs access to every tool in order to address rising homelessness with an effective all-of-the-above approach. It is incredibly unhelpful for City Council to pass Safe Outdoor Space legislation and then waffling mere months later while the community is already working to establish them,” spokeswoman Ava Montoya said in a statement.

Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn, who joined Isaac Benton and Pat Davis in opposing the moratorium, said she was tired of the Council’s recent pattern of revisiting votes.

“Now is not the time to roll back something that we literally passed two months ago,” she said.

Also: The Council decided another contentious matter Monday, voting to keep a previously approved $250,000 Planned Parenthood allocation in the city’s budget.

While much of the discussion centered around abortions and whether public money should help pay for them, officials clarified that the city’s contract with the organization would cover only health care services like breast exams, cancer screening and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

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