Keller veto aims to save safe outdoor spaces - Albuquerque Journal

Keller veto aims to save safe outdoor spaces

Mayor Tim Keller

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller is trying to stop the City Council from stopping safe outdoor spaces.

The mayor on Friday vetoed legislation that would place a moratorium on safe outdoor spaces. The City Council passed the bill last week.

Keller – whose administration already has collaborated with at least one potential safe outdoor space operator – argued in his veto message that the city cannot afford to limit its options for addressing homelessness.

“We need every tool at our disposal to confront the unhoused crisis and we need to be willing to act courageously,” he wrote.

Safe outdoor spaces are camp sites where people who are homeless can sleep in tents or vehicles in a managed setting with toilets and showers.

The concept has generated months of community and council debate.

A divided City Council in June narrowly passed a zoning code update that allowed safe outdoor spaces in certain nonresidential and mixed-use zones. But one of the original supporters – Councilor Brook Bassan – quickly changed her mind and introduced legislation aimed at reversing the policy.

That included the moratorium bill barring the city from accepting or approving safe outdoor space applications until next August, unless the council acts before then on a separate bill that would remove safe outdoor spaces from the zoning code entirely.

The moratorium bill passed 6-3.

Bassan said Friday she agrees the city needs many tools for addressing homelessness but that most constituents she’s heard from specifically oppose safe outdoor spaces. She cited public outcry as a major factor in her own backtracking.

“Working to allow these safe outdoor spaces to happen is saying that we do not pay attention to the majority of Albuquerque residents who are saying they don’t want these and they don’t need them because we need to come up with a different solution, whatever that may look like,” she said.

The council needs six votes to override a mayoral veto, so if the same councilors who originally passed the bill – Bassan, Renee Grout, Trudy Jones, Dan Lewis, Klarissa Peña and Louie Sanchez – remain in support, they will quash Keller’s challenge.

The council will act on the veto at its Sept. 7 meeting.

As elected officials continue clashing over the policy, safe outdoor spaces remain legal in Albuquerque, and the Planning Department says it will continue processing applications.

Even before the council’s moratorium vote, the Planning Department approved what could be the city’s first safe outdoor space. The applicant, Dawn Legacy Pointe, wants to accommodate up to 50 people on city owned property on Menaul near Interstate 25.

But the project encountered turbulence with a recent neighborhood association appeal of its approval.

Other organizations still have safe outdoor space applications pending with the city, according to the Planning Department’s website.

As of Friday, proposals for 512 Wheeler SE and 715 Candelaria NE were marked as “under review;” three more – 5915 Bluewater NW, 2626 Arizona NE and 2401 University SE – are “awaiting review.”

All but one of those five pending locations – the 715 Candelaria site – are church properties, according to county property records.

In his veto message, Keller said he understood how new policies sometimes take time to refine after testing.

“However, reasonable time, testing and piloting has not been allowed” thus far, he wrote in trying to stop the moratorium.

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