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“Non-Essential” Construction Ban Causes Confusion


Building Industry Struggles to Adapt

“Non-essential” construction projects have been banned throughout New Jersey since April 10, when Gov. Murphy’s Executive Order 122 to reduce the spread of the coronavirus went into effect. Still, due to the numerous carve outs in the Order, many building sites in Jersey City remain active. At the same time, other projects that qualify for exceptions to the ban have been halted.  As a result, many developers and construction workers are left scratching their heads — while also doing their best to make active sites impervious to the coronavirus.

Construction, 1st and Coles Sts

Construction, 1st and Coles Sts., photo by the Jersey City Times

“Some of our employers and property owners are doing the best they can to figure it out —  some are going to lawyers,” said Greg LaLevee, business manager of Operating Engineers Union Local 825, whose members typically work on big construction jobs in the state including the new Rt. 7 bridge linking Jersey City and Kearny.

LaLevee mentioned a nearby project involving remediation —  one of the exceptions listed in the governor’s order —  that, he said, got shut down by local authorities. “That kind of baffled us,” he said.

Questions about who’s enforcing the order and on-site social distancing are still awaiting answers, he added. “I don’t think the full story’s been written yet. It’s going to take time to shake itself out.”

Three of the local’s 7,000 members have tested positive for the coronavirus, LaLevee said.

How vast does the shutdown appear?  Councilman James Solomon, whose Downtown ward hosts a lot of building activity, said recently, “[. . .] my reading of it is that most large-scale construction sites must shut down or be in the process of shutting down.” This is likely because the Order does categorize as “non-essential” residential projects with work crews greater than five and residential buildings with no units under sales contracts. But that still leaves numerous categories of construction the decree deems “essential”:

  • affordable housing projects
  • law enforcement facilities
  • buildings providing for first responders
  • federal, state, county or city government projects
  • healthcare sites
  • business data centers
  • owner-occupied apartments with work crews of five or fewer
  • social services facilities (such as including homeless shelters)
  • schools and education offices
  • utilities firms
  • transportation projects
  • building related to essential retail or online retail

Most other types of construction are deemed “non-essential.”  That said, the Order does allow for “any work on a non-essential construction project that is required to physically secure the site of the project, ensure the structural integrity of any buildings on the site, abate any hazards that would exist on the site if the construction were to remain in its current condition, remediate a site, or otherwise ensure that the site and any buildings therein are appropriately protected and safe during the suspension of the project. It also permits “any emergency repairs necessary to ensure the health and safety of residents.”

Construction

Construction photo by Ron Leir

Executive Order 122 also details policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 that active construction sites must follow.

What has the city done in response to the governor’s decree? Mayoral spokesperson Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione said this:

“Following the Governor’s executive order, the city created an informational website for full transparency regarding all construction projects. The website includes a process for residents to file complaints, the feedback of which will be shared with the state. We are committed to protecting our residents the best we can within the parameters that have been set by Trenton.”

Residents are invited to email prosecutor@jcnj.org or call 201-547-4900 to report suspected violations.

The website has downloadable application forms for both types of construction. Once completed, Jersey City Construction Code Official Raymond Meyer reviews the applications for prospective authorization.

As of April 21, a total of 138 applications for essential and non-essential work had submitted to the city; all but 19 had been approved.

Based on a random citywide check this week, among those sites where workers — all wearing face cloths — could be seen going up and down exterior lift elevators, carrying lumber and tools, mixing cement and the like were:

180 Morgan St. off Marin Blvd. (abating hazards, site safety and site security); 99 Hudson St. (residential with contracts); 75 Park Lane South at Washington Blvd. and 14thStreet (residential with contracts); 170 Erie St. off 10thSt. (site safety and structural integrity); 348 Baldwin Ave. (site safety and structural integrity), 184-190 Academy St. between Summit and Baldwin Aves. (abating hazards, site safety and site security); 55 Jordan Ave. off Mercer Street (abating hazards, site safety, site security and structural integrity); and 136 Summit Ave. at Fairmount Avenue (abating hazards, site security and structural integrity).

Many of these sites were residential high rises.

Work is also continuing at the following school-related projects: 275 Washington St. (also listed as 25 Columbus Blvd.); 102-110 Brunswick St.; 130 Essex St. at the intersection of Carbon Place and West Side Avenue; 150 Bay St.; 178 Newark Ave.; 26 University Place Blvd.; 321 Warren St.; and 88 Regent St.

There is also construction going on at two public housing sites — Holland Gardens, 235 16thSt., and Booker T. Washington, 62 Fremont St. — that fall under the affordable housing allowance.

No construction activity was observed at either 662 Summit Ave. (off State Highway 139) or 75 Jordan Ave. (between Vroom and Mercer Streets). The city has listed no reasons for the apparent stoppages. It’s possible the owners or builders concluded they failed to meet the criteria for continuing work and therefore never filed applications.

Assuming the city has allowed for a limited amount of work to secure a building before shutting down the project, neither the governor’s order nor the city has proscribed how long that work can continue.

Construction Summit Ave

Construction Summit Ave., photo by Ron Leir

Jeffrey Wenger, former principal planner for Jersey City and now a private planning consultant, said it typically takes a week or more to wind down and secure a construction site by taking down a crane, installing tiles or strapping down materials on an upper floor, for example.

Indefinite setbacks caused by even the temporarily halting of projects will likely saddle developers with added financial pressures, Wenger said. “If you’re not going to meet your [completion] deadline, it will create strain with investors and lending institutions.  There’s a lot riding on the outcome; stopping a job will be a big deal.”

How big a deal?  Well, former Jersey City Redevelopment Agency director Robert Antonicello, who now runs a commercial real estate brokerage firm, posited: “For a $180 million project, which would be comparable to a Jersey City high-rise now under development,  it would not be unrealistic to expect that for every month the project is down, pending a lifting of the executive order, the owners would be hit with an additional $400,000 to $500,000 in insurance, interest reserves and other carrying costs that they would hope to pick up on the back end.”

How much of that added cost would get “eaten” by the developer or passed on to the building’s occupants remains an unknown at this point, Antonicello added.

Asked to assess how the city is handling enforcement of the executive order, Antonicello replied: “I don’t think the city has been careless with this. And remember, even the governor didn’t want to shut down everything.”

For more on the impact of COVID-19 in Jersey City, see Jersey City Times’ news section.

 

Header: Photo by Ron Leir

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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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council meeting 04.15.20

Jersey City Municipal Council Debates Rent Freeze


With COVID-19 wreaking its fifth straight week of havoc on Jersey City, the city’s municipal council met Wednesday night to consider the first reading of an ordinance to freeze rent and ban late payment penalties on all units subject to rent control. Spurred by the pandemic, the ordinance, if passed, would remain in effect through August 1. Debate on its scope was spirited.

“I agree with the direction the administration is going, but (the ordinance) only talks about this public health emergency and this rent increase freeze,” Ward E Councilman James Solomon said at the caucus meeting. “God forbid it comes back in the winter. Whenever we are in a public health emergency this freeze (should) kick in.”

Councilman Solomon proposed amending the ordinance to apply to all rental units — including apartments in luxury high rises and in neighborhood homes with one to four units — not just units under rent control. To the latter Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano objected, asserting such small-scale landlords would not impose a rent increase during a crisis. Other council members disagreed saying they had already received calls to the contrary.

Councilman Solomon also proposed amending the ordinance so that it would apply to all future formal statewide states of emergency, not just to the present pandemic.

In the end the council voted to introduce Solomon’s two amendments as a first reading for discussion at next week’s April 20 caucus meeting; the ordinance will be up for a vote at the May 6 council meeting.

The Public Speaks

Numerous residents addressed the council during the public comments portion of the meeting.

Jonathan Glick of Jersey City related that his landlord had recently issued him and his wife a rent increase for May 1.

“We are asking for some sort of safeguard that our rents aren’t going to be increased at this time,” Glick said. “People are experiencing extreme hardships. My work is at Christ Hospital. We’re stressed and working as hard as we can. It would be prudent for everyone to prevent landlords from raising rent at this time. That would be appreciated so there can be some peace of mind. I don’t think anybody has experienced anything like this before. We look to our leaders like you to support us.”

Offering another perspective was Ron Simoncini, of the Jersey City Property Owner’s Association. Seeking more clarification for businessmen like himself, he lobbied for the ordinance to clearly stipulate when landlords would be able to resume raising rents, suggesting that if it doesn’t, it would cause difficulties in the future.

“The ordinance does not include language that when the ordinance expires, when (homeowners) will be able to raise rents,” Simoncini said. “They would like some definition. … The solutions we are creating are creating different problems later.”

Maria Ross called to ask the council about the property tax deadline for homeowners. A 30-year Jersey City resident and a board member of the Pro Arts artists’ collective, Ross said that her husband’s New York bar had had to close, leaving only her earnings as a part-time nurse for the couple to get by on.

“We’re wondering how we’re going to come up with taxes that are due in May,” Ross said. “There are several avenues of relief for renters and such, but nothing seems to be coming our way. We are close to retirement age. We’re hoping to be able to stay in our home, but it’s going to be a bleaker livelihood. The taxes are high in our area. We really need some help.”

Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley shared Ross’s concern. In a direct address to the city’s business administrator, Brian Platt, she asked whether the city was planning to postpone the May 1 deadline.

“Unless the state of New Jersey allows Jersey City to make changes, we aren’t authorized to do so at this time,” Platt said.

Coles Street Park

Rendering of Coles Street Development

Rendering of Coles Street Development, courtesy Hoboken Brownstone

The council discussed an ordinance to improve infrastructure and make upgrades to the area surrounding Coles Street, site of the proposed Coles Street Park. The work would be done on Coles Street between 16th and 18th Streets, and on 17th Street between Coles Street and Jersey Avenue. At an estimated cost of $2.9 million to be paid by the developers, Manhattan Building Company and Hoboken Brownstone, the work would address chronic flooding and make improvements to existing water and sewer infrastructure and to roads and sidewalks.

At the caucus meeting, Councilman Solomon questioned the timing of these proposed improvements: “Why is this moving now? Given the public health crisis, why is it urgent?”

Although not urgent, adopting the ordinance would allow the Coles Street project to continue moving forward at no expense to the city, business administrator Platt said. Councilman Solomon asked about budget overruns, and Platt told him the developers would be responsible. The council voted unanimously to adopt the ordinance.

Resolutions on Basketball and Potholes

The city council discussed the second reading of a resolution to ratify a contract for $39,200 to SportPros USA to maintain Jersey City’s public basketball courts, which are closed because of the COVID-19 virus. Council at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr., said the city should cancel the contract to preserve money.

“There will be a time when this is restored,” Councilman Lavarro said. “Our courts will be open. If we’re looking to find dollars, we may need that money this year. Why not just make that reduction now?”

Although it was a mild winter, the council approved a resolution to rent a machine called the “pothole killer” to make repairs on certain hard-hit streets. Using it doesn’t require a large crew, Platt said, and because the roads are less travelled, the timing is right.

“The crew is small — two people — and it’s a better time now when no one is on the roads, its less disruptive,” Platt said. “Journal Square has been hard hit on Summit Avenue and Newkirk Street. We’re working to get those streets resurfaced.”

Tributes to the late Councilman Michael Yun and the late former Councilwoman Viola Richardson

Twice during the meeting the Council paused to honor Councilman Michael Yun and former Councilwoman Viola Richardson (who had also been the first African American policewoman in Jersey City), both of who died of COVID-19 since the council had last convened. A moment of silence was held in their memory. And right before the meeting ended, City Clerk Sean Gallagher, speaking for himself and on behalf of city business administrator Brian Platt, offered:

“If you haven’t noticed myself and our business administrator are wearing our bow ties in memory of our late council member Councilman Yun. We’re saddened and heartbroken for the losses we’ve had with Councilperson Yun and former Councilperson Richardson. I did want to show my appreciation of Councilperson Yun. He always told me you have to be a sharp dressed man sitting in that chair during those council meetings.”

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 E Councilman James Solomon, Ward F Councilman Jermaine D. Robinson; and City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher.

The next virtual caucus meeting will be Wed, April 20 at 4 p.m., and the next council meeting will be Wed, April 22, at 6 p.m.. To view the meetings, go to the council’s page on the city’s website.

 

Header:  Councilman Richard Boggiano, Council President Joyce E. Waterman, Councilman James Solomon and City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher during the city council’s virtual meeting held Wed, April 15.

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COVID-19 and Whistleblower Lawsuit Dominate J.C. City Council Meeting


Members Vote, Discuss and Listen to Public Comments in Virtual Setting

Wednesday’s Jersey City City Council Meeting sputtered onto the internet in a live broadcast in response to the coronavirus pandemic that has swept the globe and infected 222 Jersey City residents as of March 27. Council members, most of whom appeared to be participating from home offices, voted on resolutions and discussed two issues — Covid-19 and the case of the Jersey City Employment and Training Program whistleblower.

City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher conducts virtual council meeting
via TEAMS software.

From his city hall office, City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher ran the meeting via software that gave Jersey City residents the opportunity to watch the proceedings from the comfort of their living rooms.  The typically four-hour meeting ran under an hour with only a few Jersey City residents calling in with public comments.

“This is a special meeting of the Jersey City Municipal Council in an effort to adhere to social distancing protocols and best practices imposed by the city and state authority,” Gallagher told viewers as he started the meeting. “Sorry for any technical difficulties.”

COVID-19

Like many Jersey City residents concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic, Misters Kyle Bruno and Ed Winger voiced their concerns during the public comments section of the meeting. Bruno asked the council if the city had contingency plans for people who can’t pay their rent; quarantining Jersey City from New York City (and vice versa); and what local hospitals would do if and when they reach capacity with quarantined patients.

“Is the council with the mayor’s office in any way thinking about any type of rent decrease?” Bruno asked. “Are they thinking of any quarantine or restriction of access into and out of New York City? When are local hospitals reaching capacity? Do we have any coordinated contingency plan, and how are we coordinating this plan with the state, FEMA, and the Army Corps of Engineers? I’m hoping you guys could shed some light on that.”

Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano also mentioned that the Jersey City Armory and Caven Point Military Base are available if local hospitals become overrun.

When resident Ed Winger called in, he talked of the uncertainty many local residents feel as they deal with unemployment.

“It’s challenging not knowing,” Winger said about what lies ahead. “Is the city going to do anything with the feds to support people who are on unemployment? There are a lot of services in Jersey City, our wonderful great city, but some of the city’s services to the people going through tough times are just not available.”

Councilman Boggiano said he had received calls that day about people fearing eviction.

“Sean, we’re going to have to protect people from being evicted if they can’t afford to pay their rent,” Councilman Boggiano said. “We’re going to have to do something. I’ve gotten a couple of calls on that. I’ve been speaking to people today on that issue. I hope we can come up with a solution on this.”

Gallagher told the council that, according to a recent New Jersey Supreme Court order, no evictions or foreclosures can proceed during the crisis.

Councilman at Large Daniel Rivera added that Governor Phil Murphy had just posted on the state’s website, NJ.gov, a link to services for those who lose their jobs and for employers who can’t keep employing their staff.

“We, as a city, we’re still under construction ourselves with what we’re going to do in terms with the funds that come in from the state,” Councilman Rivera said. “Actually, there are allocations where the business administrator has to be engaged along with all of us and the mayor himself.”

No Indemnification for the Jersey City Employment and Training Program

A resolution to authorize the city of Jersey City to enter into an agreement with the Jersey City Employment and Training Program came up for a vote — but not without objections from Councilman James Solomon.

Controversy has swirled around the program ever since July 2019 when employee and whistleblower Nuria Sierra’s accused the program’s then-executive director, Sudhan Thomas, of embezzlement. After filing her complaint, Sierra was fired from her job. In January 2020 Thomas, who was also head of the Jersey City Board of Education, was formally charged with bilking $45,000 from a government agency.

Councilman Solomon asked whether language could be inserted into the resolution that would protect the agency, which has no insurance, from going bankrupt if Sierra’s lawsuit goes forward. If a judge awards Sierra monetary damages, JCETP might not be able to withstand the fine and be forced to close its doors.

“As a policy question, my understanding is JCETP doesn’t have insurance for these types of claims,” Solomon said. “So, were a successful claim brought against JCETP, who would pay for it, and how would they continue their services?”

Corporate Counsel Peter Baker told Councilman Solomon that the city does not represent the JCETP and would not be indemnifying the agency.

“Why is it the law department recommendation does not indemnify JCEPT?” Councilman Solomon asked. “It’s my understanding we have done so in previous agreements similar to this one.”

Baker said he was not familiar with prior agreements. He added: “Simply put, in the present case, my responsibility and representation goes to the city and its constituent departments. If I felt it were in the city’s interest or it were necessary to indemnify another party, then we proceed with that and proceed with that thoughtfully. In the present case, and in view with the administration and business administrator, it’s our recommendation we not proceed to indemnify them for claims.”

Councilman Solomon pressed his point further, saying that the only lawsuit he’s aware of is by Sierra, and as a policy matter or statement of principal, she should be made whole.

“She clearly saw unacceptable behavior,” Councilman Solomon said. “She spoke out about it initially, quietly, not to the public and was fired, which was wrong. I think we have to take collectively, as a city, responsibility for that happening. My concern is if we proceed without indemnification, there’s no way for us to guarantee she’s made whole. If it doesn’t come out of the JCETP grant, where does it come from? JCETP doesn’t have a lot of resources. If we pass it, we end up doing wrong by her. And as a city there were clearly mistakes made, and we have to take responsibility for them.”

The Council voted 6-1 in favor of adopting the resolution with Councilman Solomon dissenting.

In attendance at the virtual meeting: Council President Joyce E. Watterman, Councilman 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; and City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher. Councilman at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr. and Ward D Councilman Michael Yun did not attend.

 

The next virtual council meeting will be held Wed, April 8, at 6 pm. To view the next virtual council meeting, go to the council’s page on the city’s website and click on the link “virtual council meeting,” which can be found on the left-hand side of the page.

 

Header:  Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley, Councilman at Large Daniel Rivera, Council President Joyce E. Watterman, and Ward E Councilman James Solomon participate in the city council’s first virtual meeting.

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Jersey City Covid-19 Update 3/25


Councilman James Solomon sent out by email the below listing last night and said “this is a living document that we’ll update with new projects – so please share widely! Know of another way JC can help support each other through COVID-19?”

Maintained & Regularly Updated by
COUNCILPERSON JAMES SOLOMON & TEAM

Know of another way JC can help? Tell us at:
jsolomon@jcnj.org

(201) 547-5315

The following list of resources can be found HERE:

DONATE BLOOD

The American Red Cross faces a severe, nationwide blood shortage due to the cancellation of blood drives. Make an appointment to donate safely here or by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS.

DONATE FUNDS

AngelaCARES has distributed over 150 bags of “grab and go” groceries to low-income seniors as they self-isolate, and continues to fundraise to do another round. Donate here.

Community FoodBank of New Jersey is the state’s largest anti-hunger and anti-poverty organization, and partners with volunteers and food banks across New Jersey and Jersey City.

Family Promise of Hudson County: Interfaith family homeless shelter in Hudson County that is re-housing families in individual homes so they can self-isolate safely.

Haven Adolescent Respite Center: Continuing to support youth and families through one-on-one and group online counselling, crisis intervention, tutoring, and connecting families in need to internet access. Donate through their website. If you are a young person, age 12-21, who is stressed out by the Corona Virus or just staying home with your family, email Amy Albert at aalbert@havenrespite.org. If you are a parent or guardian who is stressed out about home schooling, the financial impact of the virus on you and your family, or the impact of staying at home with your adolescent child, email Amy Albert at aalbert@havenrespite.org.

Hudson County Hunger Project is a group of dedicated community members, restaurant owners, students, and a virtual volunteer team in the NJ/NY area, coordinating free boxed meal deliveries to JC’s most vulnerable groups. Partnering with local eateries, drivers, and the Hudson County Health Department, meals are created to order.

St. Lucy’s Homeless Shelter is a 24/7 emergency shelter facility for homeless men and women that connects clients to health, unemployment, job training and job search. addiction treatment, and other resources, as well as conducting outreach services for unsheltered people who are homeless. To help them collect resources to protect staff and clients from the high risk of COVID-19, designate your donation to “St. Lucy’s”.

Temple Beth-El has created an Amazon Wishlist to help stock their food bank.

Welcome Home is a volunteer-run 501(c)(3) that helps refugees and asylees who have resettled in Jersey City. You can donate here to help their ongoing tutoring, job support, food & supply runs, child enrichment, and myriad other forms of support continue during the COVID-19 crisis. They’ve also set up an Amazon Wishlist to provide Chromebooks to families without devices to continue their childrens’ education during this time.

York Street Project’s homeless shelter for women and children is in particularly urgent need of funding to be used for supplies to fight COVID-19.

DONATE SUPPLIES

Hudson CASA provides centralized, focused access to homeless services for individuals and families throughout Hudson County. Email Joanne Smith at volunteer.gsecdc@gmail.com for instructions on how to safely drop off these priority wishlist items for people in Jersey City who are homeless: disinfectant wipes; hand sanitizer; toilet paper; paper towels; hand soap; disinfecting cleaners; bleach; gloves (nitrile or vinyl); pre-packaged snacks; prepared, individually-wrapped sandwiches; individual-sized juices/waters.

Jersey City Medical Center is requesting liquid soap; bleach; Purell (foaming is best, but will also take clear); Personal Protective Gear (Surgical or N95 Masks), and lunch/dinner deliveries for 24/7 staff. To donate, do not drop by in person — please call Sharon Ambis at 551-229-3506 or sharon.ambis@rwjbh.org.

SUPPORT JC SHOPS & WORKERS

Gift Cards and Home Delivery Services are available from many beloved Jersey City small businesses who have been forced to close their doors temporarily – buy a card now to use later, or order food or goods sent to your front door!

Restaurant & Hospitality Worker Fundraisers in Jersey City (external list maintained by Jersey City UpFront) support the tipped staff laid off from many of Jersey City’s restaurants.

DONATE TIME & SKILLS

Bergen Mask Task Force helps volunteers with sewing skills make surgical masks for non-critical use at Holy Name Medical Center, preserving N95 masks for COVID-19 patients. They offer online tutorials on how to sew the masks; a volunteer will do a non-contact pickup from your home to distribute to hospital workers.

Invisible Hands is a group of engaged volunteers from communities at the least risk for severe COVID-19 reactions working to bring groceries and supplies via non-contact delivery to those in high-risk demographics in both NYC and JC neighborhoods. You can sign up or donate remotely via their linked website.


Welcome Home is a volunteer-run 501(c)(3) that helps refugees and asylees who have resettled in Jersey City. They are setting up virtual language-skills and other distance tutoring opportunities; to find out how you can volunteer, email hello@welcomehomerefugees.org.

SUPPORT NATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS

AmeriCares is providing training and personal protective equipment for health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis.

Boys & Girls Clubs of America are providing groceries to families of its participating children as well as digital academic support.

The CDC Foundation is raising emergency response funds to support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s fight against COVID-19.

CERF+ runs a safety net fund for visual artists impacted by COVID-19.

Feeding America supports local food banks across the United States.

The National Domestic Workers Alliance has created a coronavirus care fund for domestic workers whose jobs or health has been impacted by the outbreak.

One Fair Wage is providing cash assistance to restaurant workers, car service drivers, delivery workers, personal service workers, and more who are impacted.The Restaurant Worker’s Community Foundation has built a COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund offering emergency assistance to restaurant industry workers who have lost work due to closures.

 

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Mayor Steven

Arts Trust Fund, New Hotel and Redevelopment on Council Agenda


Mayor Steven M. Fulop Wants Voters to Decide Fate of Arts Trust Fund

The Jersey City Council’s Caucus meeting held Monday night included resolutions to convert a 5-story residential building into a boutique hotel, and a redevelopment plan for 37 homes in downtown Jersey City. An hour into the meeting, held in the Efrain Rosario Memorial Caucus Room in City Hall, Mayor Steven M. Fulop stopped by to discuss the Arts Trust initiative that could bring in an estimated $800,000 a year for non-profit arts groups.

Accompanied by Director of Jersey City’s Division of Cultural Affairs Christine Goodman, Mayor Fulop spoke to the Council about the Arts Trust, an arts and culture trust fund similar to the 2016 Open Space Trust Fund. The Arts Trust Fund would support local artists and arts education and would be funded by taxpayers at a maximum rate of $.02 per $100 of assessed property value. Mayor Fulop and Goodman want Jersey City voters to decide ‘yes’ or ‘no’ by placing a Referendum on November’s voting ballot.

“This is something we’ve worked on with the arts council for the better part of two years now,” Mayor Fulop said, “trying to find a solution to support arts and non-profits in Jersey City with long-term sustainable funding. We met with a group of about 80 organizations last Monday.”

Ward D Councilman Michael Yun questioned why the 80 organizations couldn’t fundraise for themselves. Mayor Fulop said that a lot of the organizations don’t have the infrastructure to write the grants

“They spoke about the challenges around that,” Mayor Fulop said, “and they spoke about how difficult it is to find funding. This is a challenge arts groups face around the state and the country. We think it’s important to try and help them out because (the arts) are really crucial to a city that people want to live in.”

Goodman spoke of a “severe and pervasive funding gap that Jersey City non-profits face and have faced for a very long time on the state level”.

“(Jersey City is) on the very bottom of the funding list for counties across the state,” Goodman said. “We have Essex, a comparable county pulling in $5 million in funding. The entire County of Hudson gets $200,000 to share, so there’s a huge funding gap.”

Councilman Yun asked what the arts groups would give to Jersey City in return for the funding.

“The story is what they already do for us, “ Goodman answered. “We have theaters, dance companies, but we’d like to talk about the story of arts education. This funding stream could really help programming that reaches children and young people and exposes them to art at a greater rate than they are being exposed to now.”

Mayor Fulop said the Council would set the exact tax rate with a goal of bringing in $800,000 per year which is comparable to the tax brought in to support the Open Space Trust Fund. Councilman Yun went on to say that although it was a good initiative, his main concern was the many special taxes Jersey City residents already pay.

“We have so many special taxes now, ” Councilman Yun said. “I think it’s not the right thing to do.

Proposing a new hotel

109 Columbus Drive. Photo by Sally Deering

A proposal to change the residential use of a 24-unit building to hotel use for a proposed boutique hotel was brought before the council by Charles Harrington, lawyer for the developer. Harrington said the change from residential use to hotel use would begin the process for a redevelopment plan for 109 Christopher Columbus Drive in Ward E. If the building were to be converted to hotel use, the people living in the five-story building would face eviction once their leases expired.

“If this is passed, what will happen to them?” Council President Joyce E. Watterman asked.

Harrington said that his client would work with the residents to help them relocate.

“My client is looking at that,” Harrington said. “They have rights.”

Councilman Yun said it would be important to speak with local residents and groups like the Van Vorst Park Association to get their input on the conversion.

“I’ve met with the Van Vorst group in the past,” Harrington told the Council.  “We had a similar proposal, and at that time, 4 or 5 years ago, it was really well -received. It’s a boutique hotel concept similar to here.”

Councilman James Solomon of Ward E proposed to spend the next three days meeting with members of the community for their perspective and report back his findings at Thursday night’s Council meeting.

“Before we move forward, I would like to see a financial analysis,” Councilman Lazarro added.

Redevelopment Plan for Laurel Court and Saddlewood Court

Laurel Court, Jersey City. Photo courtesy redfin.com

The Council moved on to a resolution concerning 37 homes in Laurel Court and Saddlewood Court in downtown Jersey City’s Ward E, and the approval for redevelopment and “condemnation of the property” because the homes, built in the 1970s, are dilapidated and outdated. If approved, the homeowners could sell their homes to the developer for profit.

“(The homeowners) met with me in 2018,” Councilman Solomon said, “and 37 out of the 38 homeowners on that lot said this is what they want. That is my understanding of where we’re at.”

Councilman Lavarro said the 37 homeowners are likely motivated by an inability to afford living in Jersey City, but he disapproved of the resolution because it doesn’t justify the need for condemnation of the property. The homes under consideration would be “prized homes in other parts of the city,” he said.

“If you’re going to declare this as an area in need of redevelopment, you have to be able to justify that,” Councilman Lavarro said. “We can go out and mark every home throughout Jersey City as an area in need of redevelopment and make it a home for the affluent and the wealthy. That’s not the way I want to go about redeveloping Jersey City”

Without justification, it seems unlikely the Council will approve redevelopment.

Council President Joyce E. Watterman presided over the Caucus meeting with Councilman at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr., Councilman at Large Daniel Rivera, Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley, Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey, Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano, Ward D Councilman Michael Yun, Ward E Councilman James Solomon and Ward F Councilman Jermaine D. Robinson in attendance.

The next Jersey City Council Meeting will be held on Thursday, Feb. 13, at 6 pm
Council Chambers
Jersey City Hall
280 Grove St, JC
For more info: jerseycitynj.gov

Header: Mayor Steven M. Fulop and Cultural Affairs Director Christine Goodman Address the City Council at its Caucus Meeting on Monday. Photo by Sally Deering

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Charges of Political Opportunism and Racism Dominate As City Council Approves Board of Education Referendum


Last night, over five raucous hours punctuated by cheers, boos, and admonitions from City Council President Joyce Watterman, residents of Jersey City trudged up to the podium in the Council chambers to vent over the mayor’s proposal to turn the board of education into an appointed body. And vent they did. The proposal brought out teachers, union reps, activists, and parents, united in near-unanimous  opposition to the plan for a referendum that would put the question to voters.

Phil Rivo was notable as the evening’s sole dissenter.

“Right now, every year there is a board of education election. Every year, the teachers’ union is spending upwards of half a million dollars, and developers are spending half a million dollars for a job that pays nothing,” he said. Rivo then cited the five recent Board resignations before adding, “It doesn’t make sense. I would like to see professional people run it.”

If Rivo’s position was the exception, Josephine Paige’s was closer to the rule and highlighted a deep distrust of the mayor and his motives.

“A mayor who wants to change the democratic process is saying his judgment is better than the voters. I don’t want to see the board of education used to advance his political career.”

Lmani Viney standing and pointing at council, School Board president Lorenzo Richardson in foreground. Photo by Jersey City Times

History teacher Lmani Viney likened the mayor’s proposal to the democratic rights that were ceded to Hitler, Stalin, and Napoleon. Maria Scariati, who recalled fundraising for the mayor, ascribed the proposal to the mayor’s “insatiable appetite for primacy.”  McNair High School athletic director Kristen Zadroga-Hart described the referendum as “nothing more than an opportunistic power grab.”  “It feels sneaky” quipped fellow teacher Colleen Kelleher. “This is straight out of George Orwell,” opined Natalie Ioffe, a parent and Soviet émigré.  Referring to past and present African-American school superintendents and board members, Jersey City Education Association President Ronald Greco accused the mayor of having “a problem with black men.”  Tracey Luz ascribed the plan as an effort to promote white supremacy. And so it went for the mayor.

The city council came in for criticism as well.

“What’s the rush?” Chris Gadsen asked. “When were you going to discuss it with the people who actually elected you?”  “Don’t let anyone on this council take your schools away from you,” intoned Daryn Martin. Jeanne Daly demanded to know which council members had “been bought.” Echoing several other speakers, Daly promised to exact revenge on councilmembers. “This is going to be a big problem if you move forward,” he warned. “This is a promise.”

Numerous speakers brought up the case of board of education member Joan Terrell- Paige, whose comments on Facebook following the kosher market attack were deemed by many to have been anti-Semitic and which brought calls for her resignation.

Daryn Martin promised to remember at election time that councilmembers Jermaine Robinson and James Solomon had done exactly that.   “No one is going to get a slab of Joan Terrell Paige. She is not raw beef. Four Hasidic rabbis were indicted for organ trafficking,” said Kabili Tayari. “Ms. Terrell didn’t say anything wrong,” added Kathrine Burno. Steve Goldberg, on the other hand, asked the audience to call out anti-Semitism. “You can hate me, you can hate a Jew, but you can’t hate Jews.”  On a night where speakers were cheered liberally throughout the evening, the room responded with silence.

Also in attendance and apparently on a p.r. offensive was a group of Hasidic men, armed with banners, proclaiming their biblical duty to be good neighbors.

“We condemn buying houses and throwing people out,” said Yoel Loeb. “It isn’t right to call people with concerns anti-Semitic.”

Fellow Hasid, Joel Eidlits explained that they had come to Jersey City because they “couldn’t pay the rent in Brooklyn.”  Eidlits and Loeb both distanced themselves from the Anti-Defamation League, the Chabad Lubovitch movement, and the “evil Jews who created the state of Israel.”

In the end, the council voted 7 to 1 with one abstention to move ahead with the referendum. James Solomon noted that in seven years, not a single board member had been elected without the help of a “super-pac.”

“The issues before the board are huge; the status quo is unacceptable,” Solomon noted.

Council president Watterman explained that she “has to answer to parents.”

Summing up the views of several other councilmembers, she noted that “the vote will give the city a chance to reach a consensus. Let the people say.”

As the sole “no” vote, Councilman Rich Boggiano said he had conferred with the board and was “confident” that it could do the job.

The audience did not take the vote sitting down.

When taunted by an audience member, Councilman Jermaine Robinson offered to settle their differences “outside.” Then when the audience was reminded that the JCEA had promoted the candidacy of twice-indicted board president Sudhan Thomas, a screaming JCEA President Ronald Greco rushed the podium under the watchful eyes of two Jersey City cops. Before being led out of the chambers, Greco accused the council en mass of racism.

The referendum will take place on November 3, 2020. If approved by voters, a new, appointed board of education would be seated on July 1, 2021.

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Information on Gatherings, Fundraisers, and Resources


From the Office of Ward E Councilman James Solomon:

As the city grapples with Tuesday’s events, we want to ensure everyone knows about gatherings, fundraisers, and resources to grieve and giveback together.

Events:

  • Today, 12/12, 7-8pm: The City Council and NJCU organized a candlelight vigil on campus (2039 JFK Blvd).
  • Today, 12/12, 7-9pm: For a less formal gathering, Grace Van Vorst is opening its doors to all for mutual support, processing, and remembrance with food, music, prayer, and togetherness. 7-9 p.m. (39 Erie St.)
  • Tomorrow (Friday), 12/13, 4:30pm: Hudson County Students Demand Action will host a rally / vigil at the City Hall Annex (1 Jackson Square) at 4:30.

Resources:

  1. Go Fund Me for Det. Joseph Seals – https://www.gofundme.com/f/for-det-seals-and-his-family
  2. Go Fund Me for Miguel Douglas Rodriguez – https://www.gofundme.com/f/douglas-rodriguez-victim-of-the-jc-shooting?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet
  3. Go Fund Me for Michael Rumberger: (livery driver murdered on Saturday in Bayonne. The two suspects in the Tuesday shooting are also the suspects in his murder) – https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-me-give-my-dad-the-proper-burial?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=m_pd+share-sheet

Support:

  • If you would like a safe, trained counselor to talk to about what you or your children are feeling today, the toll-free national Disaster Distress Helpline provides 24/7 toll-free crisis counseling in multiple languages and Deaf/hard-of-hearing relay services at 800–985–5990 (for Spanish, press 2) or by texting ‘TalkWithUs’ or ‘Hablanos’ to 66746.
  • Some resources on talking to loved ones and taking care of yourself as we move through this together: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/disaster-distress-helpline/disaster-types/mass-violence

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