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Yousef Saleh

Jersey City Council Appoints New Member for Ward D


Voting 6–2, Council Appoints Yousef Saleh to Represent The Heights

On Thursday, the Jersey City Council appointed a new Ward D Councilperson to fill the seat vacated by the death of Councilman Michael Yun. By a vote of 6-2, with Ward E Councilman James Solomon and Council at Large Rolando F. Lavarro, Jr., dissenting, the members appointed Yousef Saleh to finish out Yun’s term. Other contenders were Jocelyn Patrick, Patrick Ambrossi, Cynthia Hadjiyannis, Brian Rans and Rafael Torres.

Before the vote, Councilman Solomon voiced concern about a rush to nominate Yousef Saleh since the deadline to fill Yun’s seat is still a week away on May 6. Along with Councilman Lavarro, he expressed surprise at Mayor Steven Fulop’s endorsement of Saleh, which made Saleh the frontrunner. The two men were also concerned about the seemingly unilateral, undemocratic nature of the decision. Why hurry Saleh’s nomination when earlier in the week  they had held public interviews on Facebook with all six contenders precisely to provide transparency?

As the meeting got underway, there was no discussion or consensus among the Council on who was the best choice. Instead, Council President Waterman made the motion to nominate Saleh, and Council at Large Daniel Rivera seconded the motion, thereby putting it to a vote.

“I believe we should wait until May 6,” said Councilman Solomon, who supported Jocelyn Patrick for the seat.

“My complaint with the process is the way that the mayor handled it. This is a Council position by law. Blasting a press release out with a recommendation, if you’re trying to argue that everyone had a fair shot to make their case, that didn’t convey that. A lot of people who reached out to me from the Heights feel the decision was made behind closed doors.”

Councilman Solomon then went on to endorse Saleh despite the fact he didn’t vote for him.

“I know Yousef, and I think the world of him,” Councilman Solomon said. “I’m excited to work with him. He has an extraordinarily progressive agenda.”

New Jersey City Council Member Yousef Saleh

Courtesy of Yousef Saleh’s Facebook page

When it came time for his vote, Councilman Lavarro said he, too, felt the vote was rushed and did not reflect the feelings of the people in the Heights, especially those who submitted a petition to the Council hours before the meeting. Each Council member received the petition with more than 200 signatures demanding they use a thorough and transparent vetting process.

“Sadly, the Mayor’s unilateral action dishonors Councilman Yun’s family‘s wishes and leaves Heights residents stunned and let down,” the petition stated. “Let’s find the best person among the candidates to fill the Ward D Council seat, not rubber stamp the mayor.”

The Public Calls In

In the public comments section of the meeting, Catherine Hecht, one of the petition’s signers, called in to address the Council. She applauded Councilmen Lavarro and Solomon for holding pubic interviews with the candidates on Facebook.

“That’s the type of transparency we need at this time,” she said. “I really urge you to think about all the people who have contacted you and choose what the people want.”

Several candidates called in with one last appeal for the seat. Candidate Jocelyn Patrick was the only one who said she did not want to run in the general election in the fall; her aim was to fill Councilman Yun’s seat as a temporary measure.

“The reason that I am nominating myself for this position is to allow the voters in November to make the decision,” she said. “I do not plan on running in November.”

Jersey City resident Jeanne Daley called in voicing her concern that the rush to vote on Saleh’s  appointment showed disrespect to Councilman Yun.

“I’m disappointed in this rush,” Daley said. “It’s an insult to Councilman Yun’s memory. Why this nomination from our mayor and Miss Waterman? That’s a way to airlift a convenient chess piece to allow them to control more of the board and what goes on in Jersey City. If you take the Fulop nominee, they will do what the mayor wants, what the administration wants.”

Council President Watterman, who cast the final vote in favor of Saleh told the Council her reason for nominating Saleh: “I am not a procrastinator.”

“This is the probation period,” Watterman said. “If Yousef does not meet the needs of the Heights, then in November, the residents can vote against him. He won’t stay in that seat. They say they got 200 signatures. There are over 40,000–50,000 people in the Heights. In November, the people can come out and vote.”

Addressing dissension among the ranks on how the vote was handled, Watterman added, “I hope as we go forward, we learn to work together. We pick up the phone. That’s working together as a team. I hope going forward we can do that.”

Advocate for the Heights

After the Council announced the appointment and adjourned the meeting, the Jersey City Times reached out to Yousef Saleh, who had watched the proceeding on his computer. As Jersey City’s new Ward D Councilman, Saleh says he hopes to advocate for Heights residents especially now as people struggle to make ends meet during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Rent is due today, mortgages are due today, people are struggling, suffering, sick and dying,” he said. “We are going to help them get back on their feet. I will make sure the people of the Heights are taken care of. I’m going to be a tireless advocate for them.”

In attendance: Jersey City 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, City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher.

The next virtual City Council meeting will be held Wed., May 6 at 6 p.m.

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

 

Header:  Yousef Saleh being sworn in. Photo by Jennifer Brown/City of Jersey City

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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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Mayor Fulop

Mayor Fulop and Councilman Yun Design $250 Million Plan to Fix School Budget Over Next Three Years


Mayor and Councilman Partner on Initiative to Fund Jersey City Schools
Revenue from Abatements, a Tax Levy and Budget Cuts All Part of the Plan

Taking steps to address Jersey City Public School’s $120 million budget gap, Mayor Steven Fulop and Ward D Councilman Michael Yun partnered on the Jersey City School Funding Action Plan they outlined for the next three years. Revenue from tax abatements, a school tax levy, the sale of city-owned property along with the 1% payroll tax already in place, are all part of the $250 million plan.

“Today we are discussing a three-year, $250 million plan to solve the crisis facing the Jersey City schools,” Mayor Fulop began. “It speaks to the seriousness that we view this problem and the commitment we have to making sure that Jersey City kids have the best opportunities possible.”

Mayor Fulop’s school funding plan

Jersey City Public School funding has hit a snag. The district will lose approximately $27 million in state aid this year. That reduction along with the deficit the Board of Education (BOE ) has carried these past five years are all part of the $120 million budget crisis. Mayor Fulop and Councilman Yun’s plan targets a quarter of a billion dollars to be funneled to Jersey City’s schools over the next three years.

Mayor Fulop and Councilman Yun met with stakeholders including parents, teachers and BOE administrators to come up with a strategy to bridge the funding gap. The plan includes new revenues, the 1% payroll tax, and a tax levy increase that comes to about $9 per taxpayer.

“Last year, we implemented the payroll tax and we expect that payroll tax to yield upwards of $80 million dollars this year,” Mayor Fulop said. “The last couple of months the Councilman and I have been meeting with PTA groups and we’ve introduced our budget earlier than ever so that we could make aggressive changes.”

The $250 million plan would restructure the Municipal budget to share the tax abatement shortfall in its entirety for 2020, 2021, and 2022; in total, an estimated $40 million that would go to the schools. The plan would collect $55 million from the city’s payroll tax, $15 million from the sale of the city’s Claremont Avenue property, $2 million from a Board of Education energy audit; $13 million from lead remediation; $5 million from a health benefits audit, $45 million from the Board of Education Operational Efficiency Corrective Action, and $75 million from the Municipal School Tax Levy Adjustment.

“We’ve increased the tax levy by 57% on the municipal side gradually over time and that would equate to a $9 increase per year,” Mayor Fulop said. “We think that’s manageable. We recognize that there are a lot of seniors in Jersey City and a lot of people on a fixed income that are still struggling, so we want to make sure that we’re able to achieve a solution that funds the schools but at the same time takes into account people who are on a fixed income.”

For example, a $25M increase to the 2020-2021 school levy, which can only be set by the schools, will result in a $101 annual increase ($9 a month) to CY 2020 residential taxpayers with an assessment of $440,000, the 2019 average. The BOE’s plans, so far, have been to rely on tax increases to bridge its budget gap, whereas the Mayor’s plan is less reliant on taxpayers.

Ward D Councilman Michael Yun discusses the school budget crisis

“We tried to minimize the tax increase for the people of Jersey City,” Councilman Yun said.

In addition, Mayor Fulop and the City Council approved an audit to review all PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) agreements. The audit is to ensure the city receives the revenue outlined in each PILOT agreement. Any additional dollars discovered in the audit would go to the BOE. Although it’s possible audit savings could go unrealized, the Mayor’s office said its confident the projections are both achievable and reasonable.

On the downside, the 2020 plan calls for a reduction in police recruiting, fire recruiting, overtime, hiring and pay freezes. Mayor Fulop and Councilman Yun’s JCSFAP plan will give the schools $10 million from city budget cuts that include $2,.2 million in voluntary buyouts, $2 million in overtime reduction, $1.2 million from a pay freeze, $1.17 million from police recruitment reduction, $1.13 from fire recruitment reduction, $1 million in security contract reduction, $800,000 from operational efficiencies, and $500,000 from a health benefit waiver phase out.

“We are making sacrifices, and hard choices,” Mayor Fulop said.

In 2020, the City would move $10 million over to share from abatement revenue. By 2022, $40 million would be shared. Mayor Fulop said he’s committed to 100% sharing of abatement revenue. Jersey City has 178 tax abatements.

“That’s above and beyond anybody’s request,” Mayor Fulop said. “We think its proper to move into the direction of 100% sharing.”

Additional money for the deficit will come in when the city acquires the Claremont Avenue property where the Board of Education’s central office is headquartered, Mayor Fulop said. The city will lease it back to the school board for $1. This would be a solution to getting the BOE some additional dollars, rather than the proposal last year to sell it on the private market.

“There’s no secret we’ve been proactive with the schools,” Mayor Fulop said “We’ve done our best to highlight the fact that the city wants to do its part. We’ve outlined how we’re going to get there. It’s a $1/4 billion commitment. We think that’s meaningful.”

Header:  Mayor Steven Fulop and Ward D Councilman Michael Yun hold a press conference in City Hall Tuesday to outline their plan to fix the school budget deficit.  Photo by Sally Deering

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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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