• City announces Coronado Park closure and raises possibility of a more formal encampment there
  • Crime figures dropped in June, in close replay of 2019
City announces Coronado Park closure and raises possibility of a more formal encampment there
Coronado Park, circa March 2016 and January 2022. Google Street View
Since the city abandoned a zero-tolerance camping policy in Coronado Park sometime last year (DAN, 1/18/22), it has defended the decision on largely practical grounds.

"Removing encampments from the park would likely cause an increase in encampments in the surrounding neighborhood, including on private property," said Lisa Huval, a top city homelessness official, in response to questions from DAN last winter. 

As of yesterday, however, it's back to zero tolerance - and then some. The controversial park is now slated to close entirely sometime next month, a move that "will likely require a fence," city spokeswoman Ava Montoya said, adding that "we're going to experiment with different methods."

For Wells Park, the Near North Valley, and other surrounding neighborhoods, that begs an obvious question: Will the city's original prediction turn out to be right?

So far, they're not venturing a guess on that. When asked if Mayor Tim Keller's administration still feels that campers moving into neighborhoods is a likely outcome of the closure, Montoya answered only that "we can't continue to look the other way while homicide, drug use, human trafficking, prostitution, and more continue to happen in this concentrated space. The city has enough shelter beds available for every person at Coronado."

The math on shelter beds, at least, does add up: City spokesman Bobby Sisneros told DAN last year that the main city shelter, a former jail near Double Eagle Airport, has a capacity of 400 but routinely only houses 300. The number of tents at Coronado Park, meanwhile, has ranged from 73 to 95 in the monthly survey we began in January.

But persuading people to go to the shelter has proved a task so difficult that the city has actually used it as an argument for building an entirely new facility (DAN, 9/10/19). The long commute away from the familiar, fears about leaving sometimes large quantities of possessions unguarded in town, and the fact that some homeless people had been previously incarcerated at the old jail and might not want to go back have all been cited by city officials as reasons why they avoid the place. Those reasons were backed up by homeless people we spoke to last summer (DAN, 6/30/21), who added to the list fear of disease, theft, and difficulties sleeping near people with mental health issues who mutter to themselves or pace back and forth at all hours.

While the knock-on effects of the closure are a major question mark, so is the future of the park itself. Yesterday's announcement said the city "will continue to consider next steps, which may range from permanent closure, eventual re-opening as a park, or repurposing for piloting a safe outdoor space program for the unsheltered." ("Safe outdoor space" is a city term for formalized homeless encampments with designated spots, formal bathroom facilities, and some official supervisory presence, as with the oft-cited Camp Hope in Las Cruces - DAN, 3/26/20.)

Of those three options, only re-opening Coronado as a park is unlikely to provoke serious neighborhood opposition. For much of 2019 and 2020, the city was contemplating bulldozing the site and installing a large shelter and services center there, but talk of that dissipated when it began the process of purchasing the former Lovelace hospital on Gibson for that same purpose. Before that, however, the Wells Park Neighborhood Association had made clear its opposition to the idea and had gone so far as to retain legal counsel.

The park is not presently zoned for a formal encampment, and the announcement comes at an especially precarious time for anyone looking to start one. City councilors, having just passed a land-use update bill allowing the encampments, are slated to entertain a repeal proposal next month. One group is also looking to start two such sites in the north Downtown area, as we reported last week.

The closure announcement, meanwhile, puts the neighborhood into a kind of limbo, with residents left to wonder where exactly all those campers will go, what will become of the park after that, and where people will now congregate to catch the specially-chartered buses that go to the Westside shelter now that the park is no longer a stop on the route. (The city says "transportation will shift to centralized, multi-site routing for pick-up and drop-off.")

"I guess we'll just have to see," said Doreen McKnight, the association's president. "I think there are so many unanswered questions about what the long-term effects are going to be."

But as a general principle, the association wants the park to remain as a park: "I hope this isn't permanent," McKnight said. "We don't want to lose that space as public space for the neighborhood."

The association learned of the decision yesterday along with everyone else: "It's really disappointing that the administration continues to not include the neighborhood in its decision-making about major issues that affect Wells Park," she added.

Last year's policy shift away from zero-tolerance on camping also came as a surprise to the neighborhood. In May of 2021, the Keller administration sent a report to the City Council highlighting its efforts to keep the park free of campers but had quietly reversed itself by the end of the year.
Crime figures dropped in June, in close replay of 2019
Our overall count of major incidents dropped from May to June, bucking the trend of the last couple of years but pretty well mirroring 2019. Back in the pre-pandemic era, we sometimes heard police officers theorize that peak summer heat kept people indoors and thus lowered crime numbers a bit, but if that's true, something about the first couple of COVID summers scrambled that beyond recognition. Also of note: This is the first time this year that the number has actually exceeded 2019 levels, but it's probably best to wait a couple more months before officially pronouncing that a trend.
More minor disturbing the peace incidents, meanwhile, didn't dip significantly but did plateau out a bit following a steady rise since the start of the year.
There were no new homicides since last month's update.
Aircraft circling remained on the low side in June.
Much of the decrease can be traced back to the Downtown core, where the figures have come down since May.
The phenomenon of higher-than-usual crime stats in the West Central and Rio Grande area is now officially one year old, and it has made it our only measurement zone where the trendlines have gone from downward-looking to flat.  (Note: Though the measurement area covers all of West Old Town and bits of West Park, the action is generally on the main corridors.)
Downtown Albuquerque News covers Downtown, Old Town, and surrounding neighborhoods. We publish weekdays except for federal holidays. If someone forwarded DAN to you, please consider subscribing. To subscribe, contact us, submit a letter to the editor, or learn more about what we do, click here. If you ever run into technical trouble receiving DAN, click here.
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