Police officers have made more than two-dozen visits this year to a Lopez Street address where a man was stabbed to death two weeks ago, including two times where people experienced nonfatal drug overdoses.
That data, coupled with anecdotes from concerned neighbors, has city officials scrambling to beef up Santa Fe’s Nuisance Abatement Ordinance that allows them to target problem properties.
Mayor Alan Webber, Land Use Director Carol Johnson, who resigned this week, and other officials delivered the promise to about 40 residents from the affected neighborhood at a community meeting Tuesday evening.
“I don’t know when we adopted our nuisance code but it is sadly out of date,” Webber said at the meeting. “What we’re doing here now is getting new input to help us not just remedy your situation, which is severe, but also use it as a vehicle for the kinds of new tools the city needs to update a code that hamstrings our ability to do what you want us to do and what we want to do.”
Dozens of residents talked about problems stemming from the lot on Lopez Street where Robert Barela, 51, was fatally stabbed to death on Nov 18. Jonathan Kelley, 61, who lived there, has been charged with first degree murder in connection to the killing. SWAT response kept neighbors up late that night, and blood remained on the sidewalk well into the next day.
“The people who live there, whether they knew the victim or not… that was a very traumatic event all the way around,” said one resident.
Residents also told city officials the lot is plagued with loud domestic disturbances that carry on into the night, drug use, overdoses and a decaying house that is broken up into an unknown number of apartments that exceeds what is allowed by Santa Fe zoning laws.
Police data presented at the meeting appear to back up residents’ concerns.
There have been 26 total calls to the police department about the Lopez Street address in 2019 alone, as well as two nonfatal overdoses. Those numbers could be low, however, as they don’t include calls that directed law enforcement to the entire street or the corner.
Officials tried to reassure the residents they are working on solutions.
Constituent Services Director Kristine Mihelcic said the city has coordinated with the Santa Fe Police Department to increase daily patrols of the neighborhood as well as connect the Land Use Department to “see what type of code enforcement violations we can issue” on the property.
Mihelcic said the city sent an amendment to the ordinance to City Council in hopes of getting new legislation introduced “very soon.”
New rules could include a section that allows the city to force landlords to submit a corrective measure plan for a lot marked as a “nuisance.”
Assistant City Attorney Michael Prinz is working with law enforcement to gather information in order to potentially take legal action against the landlord of the Lopez Street property, who lives in another part of the city.
In the meantime, a SFPD representative at the meeting told residents to call the police, file a report and make contact with a police officer each time there is an issue at that address, as well as set up an active neighborhood watch. Residents also asked the police department to park mobile cameras in the neighborhood to deter crime.
“We are updating something that has been overlooked for a long time,” Webber said. “If we don’t have the right tools, the police are hamstrung, the inspectors are hamstrung, the council members are sympathetic but they don’t have what they need to address a problem in real time.”
Residents also worried about the livability of the structure and the quality of life available for the lot’s tenants.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Johnson, the Land Use director who plans for Dec. 13 to be her last day the city, explained that because the city does not have a housing code, building something without a permit on a particular property is the only action that could trigger punishment.
And setting up a housing code would take money to train and hire inspectors as well as set up a new division of the city.
“In order for us to go in and look at the livability of the structure, that’s where a housing code comes into play,” Johnson said. “We would need to do a fiscal analysis to get a better handle to actually implement a code.”
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Katherine is a Florida native in Santa Fe to cover the texture and life of the city's Southside using writing, photography, videography and audio. She's a grant-funded fellow in the Report for America program. Her second year as a corpsmember began June 1, 2020.