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Council Approves 5G Ordinance and Avoids Lawsuit


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

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City Hall of Jersey City

City Approves Rent Freeze, Pauses 5G Installation


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.

Saluting Nurses

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.

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Rent Freeze, 5G Upgrades Discussed by City Council


Vacant Ward D Council Spot Also Hot Topic

Jersey City’s City Council met virtually Wednesday night to vote on the proposed rent freeze spurred by Covid-19 and on installing 5G utility poles to greatly increase internet speed. They also considered the process for filling the Ward D council spot made vacant by the untimely death of Councilman Michael Yun, among other matters.

Rent Freeze Clarifications

At the April 15 council meeting, Ward E Councilman James Solomon suggested two modifications to the first reading of a proposed ordinance to freeze rent and ban late payment penalties on all units subject to rent control: That the protections apply to all renters in Jersey City and that they be triggered by any future public health emergency, not just by the present pandemic. These modifications were still being debated at the council’s caucus meeting this past Monday night. Councilman Boggiano argued that buildings with fewer than five units should be exempt from the rent provisions. He also said the ordinance should have a statutory deadline.

At this past Wednesday’s council meeting, a compromised was reached on both matters. Members agreed to exempt from the ordinance properties with fewer than five rental units so long as the landlord lives at the address as well (in consideration of Jersey City residents liable to pay property taxes by May 1); members also agreed to a finite term for the ordinance: August 1 (saying the law could be extended if a continuation of the present state of emergency were declared).

At the May 6 council meeting, the original ordinance will be voted down; the revised ordinance to be voted on.

5G Telecommunications

5G Pole

Photo courtesy of Center for Public Integrity

The ordinance to allow Cross River Fiber LLC to install new 5G utility poles and update existing poles with high-capacity fiber optic cables in “certain public rights of way” came up for a first reading.

5G technology dramatically increases the speed and coverage of wireless networks, but it is saddled with the controversial allegation that it is dangerous to one’s health.

“This has been a concern for residents in Ward A,” Councilwoman Ridley said. “I’m currently working with the law department to put regulations on communications, and I’m looking at ordinances from other towns. Whether you believe 5G is dangerous, regardless of that, I am going to vote no.”

Councilman Boggiano agreed with Councilwoman Ridley whereas Councilman Daniel Rivera said he wouldn’t vote on a second reading without further information from petitioner Cross River Fiber.  The council will ask a representative from the company to supply additional information at the next Council meeting.

“We all have concerns,” Council President Joyce E. Watterman said. “If those needs are not met, this will not pass.”

Cross River Fibers LLC 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.

Business Administrator Brian Platt said he will ask the petitioner to attend the May 6 council meeting. He also said the city supports the 5G utility pole installations and upgrades.

“We’re not investing or partnering,” Platt said. “I believe it’s good to bring new technology to the city when we can.”

Ward D Council Member Search 

At the Monday night caucus meeting, the council withdrew a resolution to appoint a replacement for Ward D Councilman Michael C. Yun, who passed away April 6 from Covid-19 complications. The council has until May 6 to make an appointment or continue with an eight-member council until the general election on Nov 3, 2020.

After the meeting adjourned, Councilman Lavarro said by phone that four Jersey City residents had reached out to the council with interest in the council seat: Cynthia Hadjiyannis, Patrick Ambrossi, Sean Connors, and Jocelyn Patrick. Councilman Lavarro said that these candidates would be interviewed before the May 6 council meeting deadline.

Councilman Boggiano said that Michael Yun would want Sean Connors to be his replacement. Councilman Lavarro demurred, noting that although Connors is a good candidate, there are others interested in the position who are “very capable” of filling Councilman Yun’s shoes, including Cynthia Hadjiyannis, an attorney who ran Councilman Yun’s 2013 campaign.

“I think in fairness we should hear out the other candidates,” Councilman Lavarro said. “I spoke to Michael Yun’s son, Benjamin. He suggested his father would have wanted transparency in the process. I remember Michael advocated for that.”

Keeping Parks Pretty

Van Vorst Park Gazebo

Van Vorst Park Gazebo, photo by David Wilson/Jersey City Times file photo

A resolution authorizing the award of a contract for $39,600 to Gene’s Landscaping Inc. for “fertilizing, seeding and aeration throughout various Jersey City Parks” came under scrutiny. Jersey City resident Jeanne Daly phoned in during the public comments part of the meeting and said she saw the landscaper in her neighborhood with New York State license plates. She  asked the Council to veto the resolution and award the contract to a Jersey City landscaper.

“There’s no reason that Jersey City cannot hire a local company for this job,” Daley said. “This is a non-essential business. There’s nobody in the park, and an investment of over $40,000 (sic) at this point in time is extravagant and a big mistake. We need someone in Hudson County, and we need to hire local.”

Council at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr., noted only two quotes were solicited for the contract and that Gene’s Landscaping had been the lower. He said it might be prudent to take a second look and maybe a formal solicitation.

“At this time, we’re not using the parks,” Councilman Lavarro said. “We don’t want our parks to suffer, but we want to make a good faith effort to find local contractors.”

Councilman Robinson agreed that the city should “take care of our own.” He also said that it might take too long to solicit another bid given that constituents expect their local parks to be maintained at all times.

“I think we have to do a better job to make sure we are looking out for Jersey City up front,” Councilman Robinson said. “We missed an opportunity here, but I don’t want to miss the opportunity to have our parks cared for.”

The council approved the resolution 5-3 with Councilmen James Solomon, Lavarro and Boggiano dissenting.

In attendance at the virtual meeting: Council President Joyce E. Watterman, Council at Large Daniel Rivera, Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley, Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey, Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano, Ward E Councilman James Solomon, Ward F Councilman Jermaine D. Robinson; Council at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr., and City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher.

The next virtual council meeting will be held Wed, May 6, at 6 pm.

To view the virtual council meeting, go to: cityofjerseycity.gov/vcm

 

 

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