Jersey City Council Virtual Meeting May 20, 2020

Third-party Restaurant Delivery Fees, Katyn Memorial Statue Also Discussed

The Jersey City Council approved a 5G ordinance, thereby avoiding a pending lawsuit by Cross River Fiber LLC.  In a pre-emptive move, Council President Joyce E. Watterman motioned to hold a vote on the 5G ordinance that had been tabled at the council’s May 6 meeting.

In Wednesday’s meeting, members also tabled until June 10 an ordinance to limit fees set by third-party food delivery services and passed a resolution to introduce the 2020-2021 budget for the Exchange Place Alliance Special Improvement District.

5G Poles for AT&T

5G on Mercer
Worker Installs 5G Tower on Mercer Street, photo by Aaron Morrill

The 5G ordinance gives Cross River Fiber LLC(of ZenFi Networks) the right to install 5G telecommunications utility poles and to upgrade existing 5G poles throughout Jersey City for its client AT&T.

Council President Joyce E. Waterman, who motioned for the ordinance to be taken off the tabled agenda, clashed with Councilman at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr., who objected to the rush to vote, and Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano who called the ordinance “a disgrace.”

“We would normally have a conversation before we vote,” Councilman Lavarro said. “You’re trying to rush this vote through. Cities should not be led by carriers.”

The council had tabled the ordinance at its May 6 meeting for further research, a move that prompted Cross River Fiber LLC to file a lawsuit in federal court in opposition, thus pressuring the council to cast their vote. Corporate Counsel Nick Strasser said that if the council “un-tabled” the ordinance, Cross River Fiber would drop the lawsuit.

Sympathetic to the council’s concerns, Strasser cited the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that states that the Federal Communication Commission has final word on safety measures and other standards in 5G telecommunications deployment. The legislation also states the “regulation of the placement, construction, and modification” of wireless facilities by any state or locality “shall not unreasonably discriminate among providers” and “shall not prohibit the provision of personal wireless services.”

“You may be frustrated by that, but that’s how the law stands,” Strasser said.

“All anybody has to do is go on Google and look at scientists that say (5G) can cause danger to people,” Boggiano said. “There are many scientists that disagree totally with the FCC. I think it’s a disgrace that we have to go along with this.”

Displeased with its lack of authority in the matter, and with questions about 5G’s safety to Jersey City residents, the council unanimously agreed to send a resolution to Congressmen Albio Sires and Donald Payne and to Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker for their support to give municipal governments added authority over telecom companies’ practices in their districts.

In the public comments portion of the meeting, Zoe Berg, the Project Director for the non-profit Americans for Responsible Technology, called in. Her office, a national science-based environmental health organization in New York, works with municipalities across the country. It helps protect residents’ interests when dealing with the telecom industry’s deployment of wireless equipment in public rights of way, she said.

“The Cross River lawsuit is a typical intimidation tactic employed by the telecom industry,” Berg said. “I’ve seen it all across the country. It’s a clear sign of bad faith and the worst possible legal outcome is that the city must allow the vendor to proceed as planned. There are effective measures this council can take to protect residents.”

Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh said the concerns he’s hearing about 5G were the same concerns he heard when 3G came out and again when 4G was the new high-speed technology. Other countries have 5G, Saleh said. South Korea has 5G and the fastest internet on the planet.

“We don’t have a leg to stand on here, legally, and I don’t think it’s in our best interest to continue to delay this in the guise of fees or research,” Councilman Saleh said. “This council approved 5G twice. It’s already here. The court isn’t stupid. You guys approved it before and, now you’re having this dialogue.”

Ward E Councilman James Solomon wanted more time for revisions before council members cast their vote.

“Could we spend two more weeks making more revisions?” Councilman Solomon asked. “We potentially could have. A couple more weeks couldn’t have harmed us.

The council approved the 5G ordinance in a 6-3 vote with Councilman Boggiano, Solomon and Lavarro dissenting.

Tabling Take-Out Fee Freeze

The second reading of an ordinance to restrict fees on third-party food delivery services during a declared emergency was tabled in a motion by Councilman Solomon.

“We talked about taking our time to get it right,” Councilman Solomon said. “We have the executive order in place. We can introduce changes at the next meeting.”

The council voted 8-0-1 with Councilman Robinson abstaining to avoid a conflict of interest since he’s the owner of the Light Rail Café in Jersey City.

The Statue Stays

Katyn Memorial
Katyn Memorial

The resolution introducing the 2020-2021 budget of the Exchange Place Alliance Special Improvement District (EPASID) came under scrutiny by Councilman Boggiano, who wanted to pull the resolution “because there are a lot of questions on this,” he said.

“It should be pulled,” Councilman Boggiano said. He shared concern that EPASID might move the Katyn Memorial statue from Exchange Place. “The property is publicly owned by the city. They want to use part of it for the hotel. That part of the city belongs to all the people of Jersey City.”

Council President Watterman, who sits on the EPASID board, invited members of the council to attend one of its meetings.

“When it comes to the Exchange Place Special Improvement District, it’s always a challenge,” Council President Watterman said. “They go through the same process as every other SID. I invite the council to see for yourself. They’re not hiding anything. The statue is not being moved. The people want to make the place nicer. Everybody has a right to use Exchange Place.”

The council passed the resolution with a vote of 7-0-2 with Councilman Boggiano and Council President Waterman abstaining.

The next city council meeting will be held virtually on Wed, June 10 at 6 p.m.

To view the meetings, go to the council’s page on the city’s website.

Header: Screen shot of meeting

Born and raised in Jersey City, Sally Deering spent 13 years as a features writer and columnist for The Jersey Journal. Syndicated by the Newhouse News Service, Sally’s weekly column ran in papers throughout...

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