This week Jersey City’s governing body got plaudits for taking action on adding green space to a Journal Square area starved for it and for beefing up pedestrian safety in the city’s West Side.
But, once again, City Council members got an earful from tenants at Portside Towers and other locations, call of them to afford more protections—notably the right to legal counsel—to forestall evictions and what they called unfair rent hikes.
At its Feb. 8 meeting, the council signed off on an agreement to acquire the 2-acre property at 595 Newark Ave. containing the Hudson County Administration Building/Courthouse for use as a public park. The county is building a new courthouse just across the street and is retaining the John J. Brennan Courthouse at 583 Newark Ave.
While the city is paying just $1 for the land, it’s on the hook for taking down the county building and financing construction of the park and “…for the conversion of existing underground parking structures into public parking, if applicable.”
Laura Moss, founder of the Courthouse Park Advocacy Group, said the area bordering the Administration Building will soon be dominated by new apartment complexes filled with thousands of new residents along with the new courthouse and huge parking garage, all devoid of green space.
And, Moss added, while there is now a plan to provide a new park in that area, thanks to support from Mayor Steven Fulop, Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano, Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, the Jersey City Parks Coalition and city infrastructure director Barkha Patel, achieving the goal is “still a long slog.”
“We’re not at the finish line yet,” she said, “but this is our first shot (at getting a new park). Let’s not blow it.”
Several other residents added their endorsements for the first legal step toward the park’s development. Olga Villacon-Soler of the Journal Square Community Association congratulated the council on making an effort to “reclaim open space” in a crowded urban sector; Paul DiBrango said that, given the huge residential growth anticipated in the area, the need for a park there “is nothing less than imperative” but urged the council to “preserve some of the charming neighborhood” aspects amidst the concrete towers; and Jeanne Daly said the city should include “robust public commentaries reflecting the history of Jersey City” somewhere in the park’s design.
Mia Scanga, agreeing there was a “desperate need” for a park in the area, asked how much the city has budgeted for the venture. City business administrator John Metro and Patel said the city has bonded a total of about $15 million for the park project or about $9 million for environmental cleanup and demolition of the Administration Building and about $6 million for the park, which, according to Boggiano, was “probably four or five years down the road.”
“This project represents the largest green space added to Ward C in a long time,” Boggiano asserted, and it’s only happening, he added, because “the community and Jersey City were working together. This is how it should be.”
City officials and members of the West Side community cooperated in getting a safety measure passed as the council voted to designate Mallory and Lexington avenues as a multi-way stop control intersection.
Stop signs and striping are to be installed at that intersection.
Jennifer Wong, city traffic engineering director, noted in the ordinance passed by the council that the new signage would help “improve the traffic safety and operational characteristics of the intersection,” whose configuration is complicated by the presence of a traffic island and a bike lane which extend along one side of Mallory.
A traffic study of the intersection “found that a traffic signal is warranted (but) per Federal Highway Administration guidelines, installing a multi-way stop is an acceptable interim solution.”
Ward B Councilmember Mira Prinz-Arey said the city “is looking to put money in the (municipal) budget for a light for next year.”
For now, though, residents said they’re grateful to some help. Lissette Murray, of the Lexington Avenue Neighborhood Association, said the intersection is “very heavily traveled” and is particularly vulnerable because “kids wait for school buses there and (drivers) often don’t stop.” She said she was still hoping for a light there.
Curt Saeui, a neighborhood resident, echoed concern for kids’ well-being. “It’s an extremely busy school bus pickup point,” he said, and given that the intersection is within two blocks of Communipaw Avenue, which feeds into Truck Rt. 1&9, “drivers often run stoplights” to get to the state highway.
“It’s not a matter of if but when an accident will happen,” Saeui stressed. Just a few weeks ago, he said, a child was struck by a car on nearby West Side Avenue and there was a hit-and-run on Pavonia (Avenue). He thanked Prinz-Arey and city planners for their cooperation in getting the 4-way stop.
Another traffic safety concern was voiced by resident Harshita Das during the public portion of the meeting. Das said she and her daughter escaped potentially serious injury the evening of Feb. 7 when a driver sped through the intersection at Columbus Drive and Marin Boulevard. Das recommended installing CCTV cameras “to make it safer for everybody.”
In other business, the council heard complaints from city traffic enforcement officers Yvonne Buddington and Tanya L. Gaulden that the city payroll staff were still issuing short paychecks, despite prior assurances by city managers that the problem with prior pay cycles had been largely corrected.
Gaulden, second vice president with Public Employees Local 245, added that vacation and sick pay were still inaccurate. “We’re the lowest paid (city employees) and we ride in broken-down scooters, but we make money for the city (by issuing parking violation tickets),” Gaulden continued. “I worked Sunday and I didn’t get paid. I’m a widow with mortgage payments due. Do your due diligence.”
Metro acknowledged that “some union grievances” over back pay and other issues were “still pending,” including employees’ claims they are owed more money for working during the covid pandemic. Payroll records were still being adjusted, he said, “but not to the effect that no one’s getting paid.” He urged employees to go to the city’s Human Resources office if they felt they weren’t getting proper pay.