Keller highlights gun violence, homelessness in State of the City address - Albuquerque Journal

Keller highlights gun violence, homelessness in State of the City address

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller watches one of several videos shown during his State of the City address, presented Saturday in the boiler shop at the city’s Rail Yards. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Mayor Tim Keller gave an upbeat State of the City address Saturday, predicting that “rejuvenation is trending” and that “the promise of Albuquerque is on its way to being realized.”

Keller devoted much of his address to the issues of homelessness and public safety, with an emphasis on gun violence. The city will aggressively move to remove tent cities, he said.

“This summer we are cracking down on guns,” Keller told several hundred people at the city’s Rail Yards. “You commit a crime, any crime, in Downtown Albuquerque and we will pursue federal gun charges and get you off the street.”

The crackdown will leverage federal laws prohibiting guns in school areas, and in Downtown Albuquerque, he said.

“I know we have a long way to go to make our city as safe as it should be,” Keller said. “Nowhere is that more clear than when it comes to gun violence. The current epidemic of gun violence is devastating our communities.”

The city also has learned from Coronado Park that “we cannot allow large encampments to grow unchecked,” Keller said. “They become hot-spots for illegal activity, hazardous to public health and safety for our community.”

The city closed Coronado Park in August where one of the city’s largest and most visible unsanctioned homeless encampments was located.

“Going forward, we will not allow tent cities in Albuquerque,” Keller said.

The city this summer also plans to enforce “median-safety measures to protect our most dangerous road, both for pedestrians and drivers,” Keller said.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller speaks with people after his speech on Saturday. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

After the event, Albuquerque Police Department Chief Harold Medina confirmed that police plan to crack down on gun violence in the Downtown area in concert with federal prosecutors. APD plans to announce more details in coming weeks, he said.

APD also has identified 13 narrow medians — those less than 4-feet wide — where it will enforce bans on panhandlers, Medina said.

The State of the City address this year featured videos that included one made by Vanessa Sawyer, grandmother of 13-year-old Bennie Hargrove, who was fatally shot by a fellow student at Washington Middle School in August 2021.

Hargrove’s death on school grounds caused shock and grief in the community and prompted gun-storage legislation signed into law earlier this year. Keller referred to the “Bennie Hargrove Law” on Saturday and said more state and federal legislation is needed.

“It’s a step in the right direction, there is no doubt,” Keller said of the legislation. “But it’s just that — it’s just a step. We are facing a deadly wave of gun violence” and children are paying the price, he said.

The annual State of the City address took place at the Rail Yards this year for the second and final time. In the future, the old Santa Fe workshop will be used by Central New Mexico Community College as a media academy.

Keller during his address said a shortage of affordable housing is helping drive homelessness in Albuquerque.

“There just aren’t enough options for everyone to find a safe place they can also afford,” he said. “The story of Albuquerque includes a housing crisis that must be addressed.” Albuquerque has a shortage of 30,000 housing units, he said.

“The only way we can meet this demand is by building faster and smarter by updating outdated, restrictive zoning regulations,” he said. “It’s time to convert rundown hotels into housing.”

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller along with his wife, Elizabeth, son Jack, 7, and Maya, 9, stand for the Pledge of Allegiance before Keller delivers his State of the City address in the Boiler Shop at the Albuquerque Rail Yards on Saturday. Sarita Gonzalez, 18, right, and a student at New Mexico School for the Arts, read a poem at the start of the event. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Keller also highlighted Albuquerque’s Gateway Center, housed in the old Lovelace hospital purchased by the city in 2021 for $15 million. The project, intended as a key element in the city’s homeless-reduction strategy, has run into snags ranging from neighborhood opposition to asbestos contamination.

Gateway is “the largest investment Albuquerque has ever made in health care and homelessness,” Keller said. “We will provide a multitude of services available in a welcoming, culturally inclusive setting.”

Keller also noted that Albuquerque has reached 92% compliance with court-mandated reform efforts. He cited the finding of the 17th Independent Monitor’s report covering Aug. 1, 2022, to Jan. 31, 2023, that showed APD was approaching full compliance with the Court Approved Settlement Agreement, or CASA.

“We are moving into the final stages of this decades-long journey,” he said. “I want you to know, just because we’re in the homestretch we will never take our eyes off the ball when it comes to rebuilding trust in our community.”

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