At Wednesday’s Jersey City Council meeting, members approved a rent freeze on certain apartments in response to the coronavirus pandemic. It postponed an ordinance to allow installation of 5G telecommunication utility poles, among other actions taken.
Council Approves Rent Freeze
An ordinance came up for a vote authorizing the city of Jersey City to impose a rent freeze on all units subject to rent control and on dwellings with four or fewer housing spaces that are non-owner occupied. The ordinance prohibits landlords from raising rents or assessing penalties for late rent payments as a result of the current emergency. The ordinance will remain in place until Aug. 1, 2020.
Jersey City resident and homeowner Shamoon Ramrup called in in support of landlords who aren’t getting the assistance they need. She said: “I’m hearing about tenants, I’m hearing about a rent freeze. Actually, landlords do not have a forgiveness. We have water, sewer, tax bills. There are landlords in Jersey City who have a mortgage to pay.”
The city council unanimously voted to approve the rent freeze ordinance.
Council Pauses 5G
The second reading of an ordinance authorizing Cross River Fiber LLC to install 72 5G utility poles came to a halt Wednesday even after a discussion with Rob Sokota, Chief Administration Officer for Cross River Fiber LLC. Sokota had joined the virtual meeting to explain the safety of 5G installations.
“The types of equipment we talk about, small cells, are much smaller and much safer than your normal deployment,” Sokota said. “The power is about five watts. That’s probably comparable to Wi-Fi receivers. They are small and low powered. There is no more emission from this pole than there would be from your Wi-Fi router.”
As discussed during the first reading of the ordinance on April 26, Cross River Fibers LLC (recently merged with Zenfi.com) would be doing the work on behalf of its client AT&T. The term of the agreement authorizing its use of the rights of way use would be 20 years. Cross River Fiber LLC would pay the city $750 for every pole it installed.
Cross River Fiber’s locations for the black utility poles concerned council members who said their constituents questioned the poles’ impact on their family’s health and property values. Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley and Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano asked corporate counsel and Cross River Fiber whether Cross River could send to homeowners residing near the proposed installations notices providing the proposed locations of the poles and the findings from health studies.
“I recognize that this is a controversial issue and that a lot of misinformation is out there,” Councilman Boggiano said. “It’s a fair question to ask for the locations of these towers. People are concerned and need viable information on health and property values.”
Members of the public called in about the 5G ordinance including Chris Gadsden of Jersey City, who said he had health concerns associated with 5G.
“I know Cross River explained how safe they are. I just want to hold up a little bit on the installation of these towers,” Gadsen said. “A lot of these newer towers, they’re installing them along the south side of the city inside Ward A and F. Some of these are installed around senior citizen homes. This should be a process. There should be public notices, mailings done that you’re going to vote on installing the towers. Push back, hold up and notify the community.”
Caller Lucille Shah, a nurse and Jersey City resident, agreed with Gadsen and said there is a lack of data showing 5G is safe and that because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the work is not essential.
“We should delay it,” Shah said. “Where we live, the kids’ bedroom is in the apartment next to the street. They could be sleeping just a few feet from a 5G tower. We’re in a dense urban environment. There needs to be more conversation about this. During the pandemic is not the time.”
When the ordinance came up for a vote before the city council, corporate counsel Nick Strasser informed them that the city council has no authority to veto the ordinance based on health factors since the FCC put its stamp of approval on 5G.
“There are things you can regulate, but what you can’t do is vote this down because of health issues of 5G because the FCC has deemed this safe,” Strasser said. “The FCC has reviewed this and deemed the equipment in this ordinance to be safe to the public, and Congress has given the FCC exclusive jurisdiction to determine what is safe and what is not.”
The Council proposed writing a resolution to U.S. Congressmen Albio Sires and Donald Payne Jr., and Senators Brian Stack and Robert Menendez to garner support to repeal the ordinance. Council President Joyce E. Watterman urged local residents watching the virtual meeting to reach out to their government representatives to voice support of a repeal.
Council at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr., motioned to table the ordinance, and Councilman Boggiano seconded the motion. The Council unanimously approved putting the ordinance on hold until the May 20 council meeting to allow Cross River Fiber time to prepare informational materials to be sent to residents and to okay the renderings of proposed poles to be installed in historic neighborhoods.
Face Masks in Public
At the caucus meeting Monday night, Councilman Lavarro introduced a resolution urging Jersey City residents to wear face masks at all times in public places including streets and parks.
“This is a resolution, not an ordinance or law,” Councilman Lavarro said. “It does not provide for penalties or fines. The Centers for Disease Control and other medical experts have urged the wearing of masks and recommended it. Jersey City is the epicenter in New Jersey with the largest number of cases. While we look to reopen, we need to continue to send the message to practice precautionary measures.”
Lavarro invited Dr. Lilliam Rosado-Hollenbach, a health sciences professor at NJCU, to speak about the need for face coverings.
“This is a public health emergency,” Dr. Rosado-Hollenbach said. “Covid has entered our community and is widespread. It does not discriminate. While scientists are working on the vaccine, people have a responsibility to stop the spread of the virus. There is science behind social distancing, science behind handwashing and wearing a face covering.”
When the council invited Jersey City residents to call in, Dwayne Baskerville of Jersey City shared a story about his daughter who, by wearing a face mask, might have saved her own life.
“My condolences to all of you who have lost someone in this pandemic,” Baskerville said. “I personally had my daughter feeding one of her clients who tested positive. He sneezed in her face and by the grace of God she had on a mask. So, I’m calling to support Councilman Lavarro’s resolution urging everyone in Jersey City to cover up in public places.”
The council voted unanimously to adopt the resolution.
May 6 was National Nurse Day, and Council President Watterman invited members of the council to offer personal tributes to nurses on the frontlines of the Covid-19 pandemic. Councilwoman Ridley spoke of her mom working in healthcare and the challenges she faced; Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey, whose aunt who was a nurse during the AIDS epidemic, thanked nurses and also their families, who deal with the stress of having a loved one on the frontlines.
“We understand how hard this is, there are a lot of unknowns,” Councilwoman Prinz-Arey said, reassuringly. “We see the work you do every day. If you need any resources, please reach out to us one hundred percent.”
Along with Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh, Council President Watterman thanked the nurses at Christ Hospital, Jersey City Medical Center and the Metropolitan medical clinic.
“I want to thank you for your dedication and commitment,” Council President Watterman said. “You give hope and healing to so many in need. God bless you and your family. Thank you for your service.”
In attendance: Council President Joyce E. Watterman, Council at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr., Council at Large Daniel Rivera, Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley, Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey, Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano, Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh, Ward E Councilman James Solomon, Ward F Councilman Jermaine D. Robinson; and City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher.
The next virtual city council meeting will be held Wed, May 20 at 6 pm.
To view the meetings, go to the council’s page on the city’s website.
Note: A previous version of this article stated that the rent freeze prohibited only late payment penalties.