How responsive is your government?
When residents call for help, does anyone answer?
by E. Assata Wright
Reporter staff writer
Apr 07, 2013 | 5458 views | 1 1 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Last month, new rocks had clearly fallen from the Reservoir No. 3 stone wall.
view slideshow (6 images)

In the event of a fire or other emergency, everyone knows to call 911. And like the Ghostbusters, the Jersey City Fire Department or local cops are on the scene within minutes.

Yet how responsive are city services when lives are not immediately being threatened but help is needed all the same? A look at three recent and random examples shows that the city’s responsiveness can vary.

‘Disgusted’ in the Heights

Since January, resident Paul D. Fitzgerald has been trying to get the trash picked up in his Jersey City Heights neighborhood.

In an e-mail dated Jan. 2 to retiring Ward D City Councilman William Gaughan, Fitzgerald described the hellish daily walk to his son’s day care center.

“This morning has hit a tipping point that needs to be addressed,” Fitzgerald begins. “I walked my son over to his daycare today [in the Heights] and the level of garbage everywhere was deplorable! It was as if we live in a Third World country. I mean bags and bags of garbage strewn in the streets and the sidewalks, plus there is dog feces everywhere! The quality of life is getting worse by the day. I know there is street cleaning twice a week, but if you follow the trucks, they barely clean at all and garbage just gets flung around…Something needs to be done, I implore you, please! I hate walking my children through this every day.”

Gaughan responded on Jan. 10, stating, “I am in contact regularly with [Jersey City Incinerator Authority Director Oren] Dabney with regard to trash problems. It will be brought to his attention.”

Fitzgerald and his wife, Cyndi Fitzgerald, responded later that day, thanking Gaughan for his time.
‘Can we please correct this issue?’ – John Lynch
But they continued the e-mail by further complaining about the filth in their community, noting that “all the way down past 59 Webster Ave. to the corner of Webster and Hutton there is a grand total of one public garbage can. One. Do you think people generally have no concern for the neighborhood and freely leave their dog feces everywhere. Yes. But even if they pick it up, there is nowhere to put garbage. Are you going to carry three pounds of dog crap five blocks? Probably not. There are hundreds of apartments/homes on this road and the incinerator department set us an e-mail that they gave out six warnings. They sent the e-mail like it was impressive. ‘We gave out six warnings…’ Really? Hundreds of dwellings, crap everywhere, garbage blowing up and down the street and the answer? Six warnings.”

At the beginning of March, Fitzgerald contacted Gaughan by e-mail again. In an e-mail dated March 5, he wrote, “I have not seen a hair of improvement in this neighborhood. In fact, it may be worse.”

Fed up by March 7, Fitzgerald contacted the Reporter. A day earlier, on March 6, he had also reached out to Ward C City Councilwoman Nidia Lopez, whose ward includes a portion of the Heights community.

“That is the No. 1 complaint I receive,” Lopez said recently, referring to the city’s dirty streets.

In an interview last year, Dabney said, “All main thorough-streets are swept six times per week, and all secondary streets are swept four times per week, twice on each side. For example Tuesday and Friday we’ll do the north side and Monday and Thursday we’ll do the south side. Street sweeping takes place citywide and is broken down into 11 routes.”

In addition to the street sweeping schedule, Dabney added that the JCIA also responds to residential complaints each day regarding trash, both on city-owned and private property.

“Our Division of Environmental Compliance inspectors are assigned to different areas throughout the city,” said Dabney. “They take pictures and monitor locations such as abandoned properties, common areas, vacant lots, graffiti, and other violators who don’t maintain properties. From that point our Division of Property Maintenance responds by removing litter, debris, vegetation, and graffiti from these locations.”

Those who fail to maintain vacant property can be fined.

Members of the Washington Park Association and the Riverview Neighborhood Association team up several times a year to hold their own community clean-up days to improve the appearance of streets in the Heights. A similar clean-up day that focused on commercial properties was held last summer along West Side Avenue. These efforts were all organized and spearheaded by residents who said they were fed up with the filth in their neighborhoods. At the behest of Ward B resident and activist Esther Wintner, the city did a power wash of West Side Avenue last summer.

Rocky road

More recently another Heights resident, John Lynch, has renewed his plea to get a rock wall repaired along Reservoir No. 3. His complaints to the city date back to July 2012.

Last summer, on July 10, Lynch noticed that a large rock had fallen from the stone wall and alerted the city. At the time he requested that the fallen rock be removed from the sidewalk and that the wall be inspected to see if it was safe.

Two days after raising his concerns, city engineer Chuck Lee asked the city’s Department of Public Works to “move the stone away from the sidewalk area and assess the integrity of the wall. We will discuss our options afterward.”

That same day, Lee was informed that the rock had been removed and Assistant City Engineer Jeffrey Reeves suggested that the wall be inspected the week of July 16.

On March 17, Lee wrote an e-mail to Rosemary McFadden, chief of staff to Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy, DPW Director Rodney Hadley, and John Hanussak, president of the Highland Avenue Neighborhood Association. In that e-mail, Lee stated: “Our DPW crew removed the hazardous condition from the sidewalk last week and also determined that the wall was not in any imminent dangerous condition. Therefore, the Division of Engineering scheduled a structural integrity inspection for sometime during this week.”

Two weeks later an angry Lynch, however, wrote back saying the fallen rocks had not been removed. The rocks were finally removed after this second complaint.

Two weeks ago, Lynch was back at, it after he noticed that more rocks had fallen from the Reservoir No. 3 wall.

“Can we please correct this issue?” he wrote in an e-mail dated March 24. “Obviously, whoever determined the wall is not a dangerous situation…is incorrect. Parents with children, seniors, and residents pass by this wall. If someone trips over a rock on the sidewalk, or a rock falls off the wall and someone gets injured, it is the city’s fault.”

As of April 3, this new round of fallen rocks had not been repaired.

STOP in the name of safety

Despite the experiences of Fitzgerald and Lynch, occasionally action is taken quickly to alleviate a problem.

Acting in her capacity as a private citizen, this reporter was able to get a stop sign replaced that had been removed earlier this year by PSE&G.

As part of some project that was never explained to the community, utility giant PSE&G last year ripped up several blocks of roadway along Pavonia Avenue in the Journal Square community. As a part of this work, the pavement at several street corners was also jackhammered and the stop sign at the corner of Pavonia Avenue and Garrison Avenue was removed. This one-way stop had regulated traffic on Garrison at the approach to Pavonia.

When PSE&G repaved the street corners, the one-way stop sign at Garrison and Pavonia was not replaced. Since there was no stop sign at this intersection on Pavonia, there was nothing at this corner to regulate traffic on either street, creating a serious safety hazard.

On March 25 this reporter contacted Rosemary McFadden, chief of staff to Mayor Healy; Ward C City Councilwoman Nidia Lopez, and Council members At-large Rolando Lavarro Jr., Viola Richardson, and Peter Brennan. McFadden immediately asked Chuck Lee and the city’s Engineering Department to address the problem, and council members Lavarro and Lopez also followed-up quickly.

Within four days, a stop sign was returned to this corner.

E-mail E. Assata Wright at

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April 07, 2013
Despite all the listed efforts by the City, the fact remains that the streets are filthy. We need the City to get the streets clean. That is a job we assign to governmen. We pay for this service. To leave our streets so dirty shows a disrespect for all of us citizens.