The Katyn memorial, Reservoir 3, a police shooting, and an ordinance to bring the Quality of Life Taskforce into The Department of Public Safety took up the lion’s share of time during last Thursday’s city council meeting. The meeting clocked in at a mere five hours, a relief to those at the end of the caller list.
The council approved an ordinance (20-062) creating the Exchange Place Pedestrian Mall and reaffirming protections for the controversial Katyn monument. In 2018, the statue became the subject of an international uproar when Jersey City’s Polish community and Poland’s President Andrzej Duda objected to Mayor Steven Fulop’s plan to move it to another location. Ultimately the mayor backed down and the city council voted unanimously to allow the monument to stand in Exchange Place “in perpetuity.”
Slawomir Platta was one of many callers to commend the council for its decision. “Once a monument is built into the soil of the city, it becomes the history of the city.” Krystyna Piorkowska wasn’t as keen on the new mall. “[The council] is not aware of how much of Exchange Place has been handed over to become a private driveway for the hotel and the Hartz Mountain Building…it will look pretty, but it won’t be really be usable by people.”
Once again, policing was a major theme for many callers, most from the organization Solidarity Jersey City. One member, Elena Thompson, was critical of the police for shooting a suspect at the Salem-Lafayette housing complex. “Despite putting the gun away, despite running away from, not towards police, a JCPD officer fired three shots at this young person….Mayor Fulop reflexively defended the officer who shot this young man” prior to the conducting of an investigation, she said. “Too much blood has already been let at the hands of the JCPD, ” she added.
Jena Lichtenstein, also from Solidarity Jersey City called in to criticize a first reading ordinance (20-074) that would place the Quality of Life Taskforce within the Department of Public Safety. “I’m particularly concerned that tickets and fines won’t be applied equitably. We have only to look at Ferguson, Missouri…Quality of Life for who? What are you doing to make sure that we promise better quality of life for our Black and brown neighbors and not just the white neighbors in Ward E?” Amy Torres added that “a city budget deficit cannot be filled on the backs of the working poor.”
Yvonne Balcer objected to calls to defund the police, complaining that diversion of funds for social workers would duplicate funds already being spent at the county level. “I am personally very grateful to have cops in Jersey City. I don’t want us to become like New York City or Chicago or Portland where they’re defunding cops, and there’s mayhem in the streets.”
June Jones, with the Morris Canal Community Development Corporation and the Community Coalition called to object to a planned 17 story development “that offers only 5% affordable units. …This land is being proposed for parkland.” She complained that Councilman Jermaine Robinson had met for two years with the developer without consulting community groups. “What an ultimate disrespect for the community….It’s not fair that we have a redevelopment plan that we have language in a contractual agreement, and that no one is implementing it.”
Councilman Robinson countered. “The land that is being talked about is not parkland; it is private land. This project will offer affordable housing, it will offer affordable commercial space, and it will offer Jersey City’s first recreational facility that will be deeded back to the city.” Caller Ashley Christmas agreed. “I think it’s a major win for the city.”
Sarah Borroughs, incoming president of the Jersey City Reservoir Preservation Alliance, asked that a resolution before the council to approve a contract to build paths and lighting at Reservoir 3 in the Heights, be postponed. “It is…untrue that we have been meeting weekly and receiving satisfactory details regarding the anticipated work and plans for the reservoir,” she said.
Outgoing Alliance president Cynthia Hadjiyannis called to ask for “a couple of weeks” to allow for a public presentation of the plans. Architect Zeenat Insaf agreed saying, “I don’t think they’re ready to start construction.” Attorney John Frohling added that “the best cities in the country are those that listen to the neighborhood. Give it more study.”
Councilman Boggiano was eager to see the resolution pass and the construction begin. “It’s dangerous conditions up there. …I guaranty to the people of Wards C and D that this park, this reservoir, will be done correctly….we’ll work closely with the Alliance…to make sure that this becomes the jewel of the Heights area.” While commending councilman Boggiano, Councilman Rolando Lavarro was a “no” vote. “I’m reminded of another project in Ward C—the Loew’s Theater—where advocates, stewards of a historic asset like the reservoir also opposed what was being proposed….they would like more time.” Nonetheless, the council went on to adopt the resolution 7–1.