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Safe outdoor spaces are legal in Albuquerque and, on Monday, the City Council also ensured they stayed funded.
Four councilors sided with Mayor Tim Keller to help defeat legislation that would have redirected $1.25 million previously approved for safe outdoor spaces to other causes, including support for homeless veterans.
Keller recently vetoed the Dan Lewis-sponsored proposal, which the council passed on a 5-4 vote. The council needed six votes to override him, but fell one short as Isaac Benton, Pat Davis, Tammy Fiebelkorn and Trudy Jones stood with the mayor.
The veto sparked yet another impassioned debate over safe outdoor spaces – sites where people who are homeless can camp in tents or vehicles in a managed, organized setting with showers and toilets. City voters approved $500,000 for them in last year’s bond package, and the council approved an operating budget this spring that included another $750,000.
The City Council voted in June to make safe outdoor spaces a legal land use but – led by Councilor Brook Bassan, who previously supported them but now opposes them – now has spent the last few months trying to undo them.
Councilor Lewis on Monday took umbrage with Keller’s veto message that called his bill to defund safe outdoor spaces a “sad political attempt to use the unhoused veteran community as a pretext to create another barrier to addressing our unhoused challenges with every tool available.” Lewis said that safe outdoor spaces are wildly unpopular with his constituents and had failed in other communities. Lewis said he hopes they work in Albuquerque but that he’s not optimistic and that Keller – who has backed safe outdoor spaces via two successful vetoes – bears responsibility for whatever happens.
“He’s got to own it,” Lewis said of Keller.
But Councilor Pat Davis said he agreed that the issue had become too political. He said city leaders should not pit homeless veterans against the larger unhoused community, noting that the council already has fully funded requests for veteran-specific programming. He called it unfair to set safe outdoor spaces up for failure by not providing any financial resources.
“It’s even worse to do it in a way that places members of our community at odds with each other over these sort of false choices,” Davis said.
Bassan and Fiebelkorn, meanwhile, offered opposing takes on the council’s obligation to make decisions and stick with them.
Fiebelkorn said the council’s regular backtracking is “just a ridiculous waste of our time,” while Bassan rejected the notion that councilors can’t change their position.
“I refuse to live and die by my vote,” Bassan said.