After hours of debate, the Santa Fe City Council unanimously approved a new four-year lease for the Interfaith Community Shelter at Pete’s Place, a homeless shelter where neighbors and business owners have complained of people trespassing, littering, loitering and stealing or dealing drugs.
Those tensions boiled to the surface Wednesday night when council members for close to two hours debated an amendment to cut the term of the shelter’s lease in half — to two years — and require the nonprofit that runs Pete’s Place to host and notify property owners within a half-mile radius of two annual meetings with community members.
The amendment, proposed by Councilor Renee Villarreal, failed in a tie vote. Council members Villarreal, Roman “Tiger” Abeyta, Michael Garcia and Chris Rivera voted in favor of the measure.
Supporters, including Villarreal, argued it was necessary to protect residents at Pete’s Place, neighbors and nearby business owners who have complained.
Villarreal said she and other council members who supported her amendment are “committed to supporting people who are most vulnerable in our community,” but the additional hoops she wanted the nonprofit social welfare organization to jump through were necessary to make “sure the neighbors can also be the eyes and ears for the shelter if there are circumstances and situations happening.”
She added during debate with Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth that she didn’t see the proposed extra stipulations on the shelter as undue.
“Well, for one, I don’t see this as a burden, and I don’t use that word, ‘burden,’ ” Villarreal said.
But opponents of the failed amendment argued that the extra requirements were in fact burdens, and a two-year lease agreement likely would have endangered funding for the nonprofit shelter and hurt its ability to find staff and volunteers working to offer a bed for people in a city that is reeling from homelessness.
“I think this would be destabilizing and potentially threatening for their survival,” Romero-Wirth said. “The issues that are impacting the neighborhood are really larger than Pete’s Place. They’re part of the larger problem of homelessness in our community and in our state.”
Romero-Wirth said that problem was exacerbated by a previous Republican governor, Susana Martinez, who “demolished” funding for behavioral health programs.
Other council members agreed, including Mayor Alan Webber.
Daniel Yohalem, a board member of the nonprofit that runs the shelter, said he was not notified of the failed amendment before the meeting and stressed that the shelter has held numerous meetings with community members who have complained of people congregating near the shelter.
“A lot of those end up being meetings where people vent. And I sit there and I take it, and I come back and try to get things done,” he said, adding that the city has in the past “promised to [take actions] but has not yet” done so.
“It’s another unfunded mandate,” he said.
Santa Fe police Chief Andrew Padilla added during the meeting that the department will increase bike patrols in the area as part of a new initiative, Operation Tranquility.
He said the operation will begin Saturday and continue through Jan. 9 to disperse people who have been banned from the shelter and others who are lingering around nearby businesses. As part of the operation, he said, they could also organize days with the community to pick up trash in the area that neighbors have complained about.
The council also voted Wednesday to approve a liquor license for Jean Cocteau Cinema, to request the city manager appropriate $1.6 million in CARES Act funding to offer economic relief to people struggling to pay rent, and to authorize the city manager to sign a $225,000 contract with the Salvation Army to offer more beds for homeless residents of the city.
Kyra Ochoa, director of the city Community Services Department, said the funding is a good start in helping people avoid eviction because of back pay owed to landlords during the pandemic.
But she said the average amount of rent owed to landlords since the start of the pandemic is $18,000 and added that the funding is nowhere near enough to cover that.