Jersey City City Hall
Jersey City City Hall

At yesterday’s caucus, the City Council mulled over the building of a new shooting range and the hiring of outside counsel to defend against a lawsuit over a controversial ward map believed by some to have been a textbook case of “gerrymandering.”

City lawmakers are expected to spend nearly $2 million to convert a storage facility on Linden Avenue just outside the city’s Public Works compound to an indoor shooting range for training purposes. According to Greg Kierce, director of the city’s Office of Emergency Preparedness and Homeland Security, the adaptable two-story, 32,000-square-foot structure could also be used for other departmental purposes such as teaching how to defuse a volatile situation with an active shooter.

The JCPD had to vacate its outdoor range on the city’s west side on Sept. 21, 2019, because the property’s owner, PSE&G, had planned to repurpose the property, said Kierce.

That presented serious issues for our police officers’ semi-annual [firearms] qualifications for 900-plus police officers as mandated by New Jersey Attorney General guidelines,” he noted.

North Bergen operates the only other firearms training site in Hudson County, but because of size limitations, it’s not available to the JCPD, according to Kierce. The only other option within striking distance is a range in North Arlington, but that facility charges a daily fee of $100 and is available only on a limited basis, he said.

The city proposes to pay Range Services, of New Hope, Minn., $1,988,817 to build the facility over 12 to 14 months. It is one of only two such companies in the U.S. that specialize in modular gun ranges (which are ranges that are shipped and assembled in sections), according to Kierce.

The city had considered locating the facility near “Bayfront,” the mixed-use site being redeveloped on Route 440, but nixed the idea because of safety and noise factors, said city Public Safety Director James Shea. “It just wasn’t peaceful.”

Having its own indoor range whose use the city can control is the best strategy, Shea said, given the gap in such facilities for police throughout the Garden State. According to city Business Administrator John Metro, local ownership will confer upon Jersey City another advantage: the ability to rent the facility to other agencies and in so doing pay down the city’s debt on the item. Indeed, said Shea, “We’ve already gotten inquiries from federal and state agencies.”

Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano, a retired city police officer, reminded his colleagues that the city had used an indoor range at Caven Point but shut it down in the 1970s after “a couple of the instructors got cancer.” He asked what precautions would be taken to ensure the new facility would be safe to use.

In response to Boggiano, Shea replied, “It is designed to be environmentally cleaned” to prevent accumulation of toxic lead dust; Kierce added that special types of air filters would be installed.

“All I gotta say is it’s about time,” Boggiano said referring to the plans to build the new range. “And we should open up our own police training facility and teach our officers in Jersey City like we used to.”

Shea said he agreed in principle with Boggiano. “I’d rather have our own where we can concentrate on urban policing,” he said, “but the state wants only county police academies, so it’s a non-starter right now. Hudson County has a police academy [in Secaucus but no range, so we would be supporting the count that they can use while (trainees) are passing through.”

“I don’t care about the county academy,” Boggiano retorted. “I want our cops trained by our own Jersey City police officers.”

No further discussion ensued about that possibility, but Ward E Councilman James Solomon wondered how much it would cost to maintain the facility annually. Kierce told Solomon, “At this stage of the game, it will be minimal,” but he didn’t elaborate.

In other business listed on its Wednesday night meeting agenda, the council is expected to award a professional services agreement to Murphy Orlando, LLC, of Trenton, at $125 an hour (not to exceed $100,000) to represent the Jersey City Ward Commission in a lawsuit challenging the city’s newly drawn ward boundaries.

According to the plaintiffs, which include thirteen Jersey City groups and Ward F Councilman Frank Gilmore, the Commission failed to draw “compact” wards in violation of New Jersey’s law and constitution.

The lawsuit alleges that the new Ward F bears a striking resemblance to a senate district in Massachusetts that spawned the verb “to gerrymander.”

The new map removed a large portion of the Lafayette neighborhood, all of Liberty State Park, and several high profile developments from Ward F and placed them in Ward A, which is represented by Councilwoman Denise Ridley, also a member of Mayor Fulop’s slate.

The lawmakers are also expected to contract with Granicus LLC for $30,000 for one year to monitor residents’ compliance with Jersey City’s regulations concerning rentals of less than 30 days advertised on sites such as Airbnb.

“We issue a violation notice if they don’t stop [advertising the service],” said Dinah Hendon, director of the city’s Division of Housing Preservation. Hendon conceded that the offending company may pull the ad for only a short time and then resume running it, making enforcement tougher.

In the past year, Granicus identified 400 short-term rental locations in Jersey City, 17 of which had been denied certificates of occupancy, Hendon also noted.

To take advantage of favorable interest rates, the council is expected to authorize the rolling over of bonds totaling more than $125 million issued to renovate the Loew’s Theater and to renovate other structures nearby to accommodate the planned new Pompidou museum, among other things.

The City Council is expected to appoint Barkha R. Patel director of the newly formed Department of Infrastructure. Patel has been serving as assistant business administrator for the city.

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...