ABQ city council approves ordinances on Safe Outdoor Spaces, panhandling

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Albuquerque city councilors approved a few new ordinances Monday night from making city streets safer, to approved encampments for the homeless.

No one will be allowed to use or occupy a median that’s less than four feet wide, and on a roadway where the speed limit is at least 30 mph. Any person who violates this law, no matter what they’re doing on the median, would be given a written warning before a citation or arrest.

This enforcement is similar to the arroyo safety ordinance councilors passed earlier this year. APD and Albuquerque Community Safety will enforce the ordinance. 

Sponsors say it’s part of Albuquerque’s dedication to Vision Zero, a safety project that aims for no pedestrian deaths or serious traffic-related injuries.

“83% of the length roughly of medians that we have on these arterials would still be available for public speech, or for a person to occupy them for the purpose of public speech protected under the constitution,” said Issac Benton, city councilor. 

As of 2019, New Mexico had the highest rate in the country of pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people.

No word on when APD and ACS could start enforcing this ordinance.

Councilors also talked about setting standards for running Safe Outdoor Spaces Monday night. They tried to have the same sort of discussion earlier this summer, a majority of them shot it down, effectively putting a pause on the Safe Outdoor Spaces progress.

But, Monday night’s conversation went differently – councilors passed the standards in a 6-3 vote.

Sponsors say this ordinance will help promote the health and safety of the people who live in and around the Safe Outdoor Spaces. Each applicant would need a permit from the city before they can open their space.

Within the permit application, they would need to outline things like site security, a code of conduct for people who live there, a sanitation plan, a pet policy, and how the site’s policies will mitigate impacts to the area around it.

Councilors also added a section about good neighbor agreements, ensuring the surrounding community would stay in the loop about plans and updates.

“Number one just getting input from the neighbors that are close to there about what are the important elements, and it typically is about security protocols site security, having updates on the site like how many people are you serving, how many people are connected to services,” said Carol Pierce, director of Family and Community Services. 

“You have to set the expectations in keeping people safe and making sure people are housed properly with dignity and respect. That’s the goal– the goal is the safety of the community, the goal is the safety of the individuals who are in and the safety of the people who are operating,” said Louie Sanchez, city councilor. 

There were two other items on Monday night’s agenda that stirred some community interest. Especially, the discussion councilors were set to have about the city’s transit plan.

Councilor Klarissa Pena sponsored this item after her recent personal experience of riding a city bus to get a better feel for the issues in the system. This will set up a long-term security plan, and a plan to help agencies better respond to security issues.

Councilors pushed this item to their Dec. 5 meeting, but there was also a discussion about millions in funding for more housing vouchers for Albuquerque’s homeless. 

Councilors unanimously approved $11.6 million that will go to more than a dozen organizations to help with short and long-term housing.

In a statement Monday, a representative from Mayor Tim Keller’s office said the city had already allocated a record $14 million for its voucher program prior to tonight’s addition.