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The ongoing debate over safe outdoor spaces in Albuquerque continued Monday without any sign that either side has had a change of heart.
The City Council voted 5-4 to remove all references to safe outdoor spaces within Albuquerque’s zoning code, the same split seen on other previous bills.
Brook Bassan, the bill’s sponsor, was joined by Renee Grout, Dan Lewis, Klarissa Peña and Louie Sanchez.
The opposition came from Isaac Benton, Pat Davis, Tammy Fiebelkorn and Trudy Jones.
But the ultimate decision-maker could be Mayor Tim Keller, who does not participate in council votes, but has previously used his veto authority to rescue safe outdoor spaces after multiple council attempts to kill them. His office did not commit to another veto Monday, saying the mayor needed to review the legislation. But a mayoral spokeswoman reiterated his general position on the matter, saying his administration “has been consistent in our stance that we need every tool to address homelessness.”
Monday’s bill amending the Integrated Development Ordinance marks Bassan’s latest attempt to get rid of safe outdoor spaces after she cast a critical vote in June to make them possible.
Safe outdoor spaces are organized locations where people who are homeless can sleep in cars and tents in a managed setting with showers, toilets and rules. The City Council legalized them during its annual update of the Integrated Development Ordinance. Bassan was in the majority on the narrow 5-4 vote.
But, after being inundated with complaints, she has spent months trying to make safe outdoor spaces illegal.
Her August attempt to stop the city from accepting or approving safe outdoor space applications passed the council, but Keller struck it down and the council lacked the six votes necessary to override him.
A separate effort by Lewis met the same fate. The council passed a Lewis bill in September to defund safe outdoor spaces – shifting $1.25 million the city already allocated for them to other purposes – but Keller successfully vetoed that bill, as well.
The city has so far approved two safe outdoor spaces, both designed for people to sleep in cars rather than tents. The first is already operating outside the city’s Westside Emergency Housing Center, while another is due to open in January outside the Albuquerque Opportunity Center shelter at 715 Candeleria NE.
A high-profile, tent-based outdoor space planned for Menaul near Interstate 25 remains in the application review process, according to the city’s website. While the Planning Department initially approved that location, neighborhood appeals led a hearing officer to send it back to the department after finding the city had not required the operator to first notify all the necessary property owners nearby.
Several public speakers during Monday’s meeting urged the city to preserve safe outdoor spaces, saying they give people who are homeless a better option than the illegal camps that the city routinely sweeps.
“With all the complaints about human waste in parks and along streets, why would this council reverse a zoning change that would set aside land that is not next to a residential area that would provide sanitary facilities and an operator who meets the strict requirements established by you councilors at the last council meeting?” supporter Karen Navarro said. But Bassan, Lewis and Sanchez all noted that their constituents are overwhelmingly against safe outdoor spaces.
Even so, Bassan said her legislation would not completely wipe them out.
“Two have been approved so far and there is potential for three more,” Bassan said of those applications awaiting or already under review. “For those people who say we need to try something, I think it’s important to realize we are going to be trying something.”