A resolution condemning Islamophobia and withering reviews for a city food vendor came together with bonds, cannabis, the Exchange Place redesign and affordable housing to make for a wide range of topics at Wednesday’s city council meeting.
Energy Conservation and Improvements
The City Council unanimously adopted two bond resolutions, totaling $16.7 Million, for energy conservation and improvements to city buildings including Pershing Field, the Hudson County Courthouse, and the Bethune Community Center. This will include air sealing improvements, LED lighting upgrades, pipe insulation, new high efficiency transformers, and HVAC system replacements at various locations.
Prior to the unanimous decision, some residents spoke out against the proposal.
Public speaker Yvonne Balcer commented, “I don’t understand what we are changing. The ordinance does not say exactly … We are adding more and more to debt… I don’t know if we are saving money with all of the bond debt.”
John Metro, business administrator, explained that the savings from the energy conservation and improvement projects “will be directly used to reimburse the bond.”
Per the city’s application, this will bring the city’s net debt to $617 Million, an increase of over $83 million since Dec 31, 2020.
Islamophobia in Jersey City
A proposed resolution condemning and combating Islamophobia was withdrawn and will be revised after criticism that the Muslim community had not been included in its development.
Board of Education President, Mussab Ali was one such critic.. “I’m happy to see we are doing something about Islamophobia, but … there are no tangible steps listed in this resolution and no committee being formed. … There was no consultation done among members of the Muslim community. Neither I nor Councilman Saleh were reached out to,” he said. He asked that the resolution be tabled and amended.
Resident Atif Qadir stated that his mother had been hit by a driver a few hours earlier while walking in Jersey City in traditional dress. “My mom, a J.C. resident. The police are on the lookout for the car. There are real lives that are impacted,” he said.
Councilman Saleh said,“As the only Muslim council member, I think I should be consulted, and we should engage the community.”
Councilman Solomon responded, “I acknowledge that outreach could be significantly improved.”
Journal Square $16 Million Purchase Clarified to be for Affordable Housing
A resolution for the city to purchase properties from Hudson County Community College was modified to include Councilperson-at-Large Lavarro’s changes clarifying that the purchase is for affordable housing.
Initially, business administrator Metro said, “The city feels comfortable leaving this language as it is.”
However, the council pushed back, with Council President Watterman’s noting, “What would be the problem with adding ‘affordable housing’? … We have our concerns. If this is non-binding, what difference would it make if we change the language?”
In the end, Metro acceded to the request.
The changes were approved 8-0 with Councilperson Boggiano’s abstaining.
An ordinance was introduced to regulate the sale and transfer of cannabis, including the establishment of a transfer and user tax. Under the ordinance as it is currently written:
- Retailers will be permitted to sell cannabis items daily, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
- Public consumption of cannabis is prohibited.
- Cannabis establishments are required to mitigate any cannabis-related odor.
- No cannabis items shall be publicly displayed.
- A Jersey City Cannabis Control Board will be established and shall consist of three persons appointed by the Mayor with consent of the Council which shall be responsible for reviewing and approving applications for establishments and distributors.
- Jersey City may authorize cannabis consumption areas operated by medical cannabis dispensaries or retailers. Indoor consumption areas will be permitted to operate daily, 10 a.m.- 2 a.m. the following day. Outdoor areas will be permitted to operate daily, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Exchange Place Plaza Redesign
Resident Jeanne Daly spoke concerning the Exchange Place Alliance’s $9.5 million budget that the council approved at its meeting June 30. The budget includes plans to overhaul the Exchange Place pedestrian plaza.
During the June 30 meeting, Daly criticized a proposed access road that would run through the plaza and complained that the Alliance had not been making documents on the project public as required. On Wednesday night, she again objected to the lack of transparency:
“We all know Ms. Watterman is on the board of the Exchange Place Alliance. Can she not help with this at all? … Now we are having a lawsuit on this matter … no engineering reports, no reports from the DEP, and yet it’s all supposed to be finished by November,” she said.
Red Rabbit Slammed for Quality of Food Provided to the Food Insecure
A representative from Red Rabbit, a contractor, was present to respond to complaints about the quality of the food they had delivered to the Department of Recreation’s summer programs for youth citywide. While the representative said Red Rabbit had been visiting each site every day to get feedback, Councilperson Saleh attested, “I tasted the food today and wouldn’t feed it to a stray cat. If this is what we’re giving to our children, what are we giving to people who are food insecure?”
Angela Davis from the Division of Health and Human Services noted that under a separate contract Red Rabbit supplies meals and farm boxes to about 200 Jersey City families through a Covid-19 relief program and that there have been no complaints about this food.
Council President Watterman said, “It’s important that these children eat. … These kids get breakfast and lunch. That’s all day these kids are without food if these kids are not eating … I encourage the council to do surprise visits … If the food is not good, we will revisit their contract.”