The council members unanimously voted to introduce an ordinance doubling fines from the $100 to $1,000 range to $250 to $2,000.
Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, who represents the northeast waterfront area, said increasing the fines was good, but she wanted to know if enforcement will increase.
Director of Health and Human Services Leo Pellegrini said he wants more of his staff to be involved in enforcement. He said sanitation workers can’t issue a summons because they don’t have the ability to enforce city codes, but he is working on changing that.
“The only way to prevent it from happening is more boots on the ground,” said Pellegrini.
He said they will also start a campaign to educate people on the change.
That’s when Giattino suggested that enforcement may not be enough, suggesting that the city explore DNA testing.
The council then moved on to other, well, business.
Ordinance seeks info
The council also voted 7-2 to introduce an ordinance aimed at forcing Mayor Ravi Bhalla to report proceeds from his $60,000-per-year “of counsel” side job with a law firm, which he took in February.
While running for office last year, Bhalla said he was leaving the law firm at which he was employed. But after his inauguration in Jannuary, the law firm of Lavery, Selvaggi, Abromitis & Cohen P.C. in Morristown announced he would be “of counsel” at their firm. Several critics wondered how much time this would take from Bhalla’s job as mayor. In Hoboken, mayors are considered full-time and paid a six-figure salary, and the last two mayors never had an additional job. Mayors in nearby towns such as North Bergen and Weehawken are paid $35,000 or less as a part-time position.
Councilman Jim Doyle and Councilwoman Emily Jabbour, who were Bhalla’s running mates, voted against the introduction.
The proposal asks Bhalla to report, each quarter, his income from the job, as well as clients or contracts.
Bhalla has the potential to earn commissions from the job.
The council did not discuss the ordinance, but the city’s Legal Department gave a memo to the council before the meeting stating that the ordinance was “invalid” and “unenforceable” as it “attempts to pass an ethics requirement … which may only be done if the city establishes a local municipal ethics board.”
In a joint statement, Council President Ruben Ramos and Councilman Mike DeFusco, who sponsored the ordinance, they said it’s aimed at making the public aware of any conflicts.
Paying for bags at the market
The council also unanimously introduced an ordinance to stop grocers and retail establishments from using plastic bags on many items, although they can still use them to protect produce, meat products, and newspapers. For most items, they must use paper bags. Customers will have to pay 10 cents per paper bag. Stores must also sell reusable bags to their customers.
Resident Chris Adair said at the meeting that she hopes the city passes the ban.
“I walk around town and see plastic bags in trees, in gutters, and we live on the waterfront so they get in the river,” she said.
Low-income residents would not have to pay for bags, according to the ordinance. Fisher asked how residents would show they were low-income.
“I don’t think the burden should be on someone who faces economic challenges every time they go to a grocery store,” she said.
Councilman Jim Doyle said perhaps the green team, which distributes reusable bags for free, could give them to low-income residents.
Better charge that phone
Also on Wednesday, despite a debate at a previous meeting, the City Council approved a measure in which visitors to the city will pay for parking by using their phones, in certain pilot zones. The zones have not yet been determined.
There will be a 45-day trial program.
Ryan Sharp, the city’s director of the Department of Transportation and Parking, said that if the pilot is successful it could “save the city millions of taxpayer dollars.”
Sharp explained it could reduce maintenance costs and eliminate monthly service fees on the city’s meters.
Several council people discussed the need for adequate education, signage, and marketing to inform residents of the program before the pilot would launch.
Resident Patricia Waiters said that not everyone has a smart phone.
Councilman Michael Russo said the zone would only affect visitors to town. Sharp said there will be a phone number visitors can call to pay so a smart phone won’t be required.
The council voted 8-1 in favor. Council President Ruben Ramos voted against it, saying the city should be more welcoming to visitors who want to see friends and local businesses.
Police to get new communication system
Two contracts totaling about $1.2 million were awarded by the council to provide a new digital communication system for the Police Department.
Police Chief Ken Ferrante said, “We have an archaic radio system…whenever we have hot and humid weather we start losing channels, which is very dangerous.” He said by 2019 they won’t be able to add new parts to their system.
Ferrante said the new system could be fully installed in the next four to five months.
Bollards for pedestrian safety
During the section of the meeting for public comments, residents Chris Adair and Ronald Bautista talked about the importance of having bollards placed near crosswalks. Bollards are short posts placed in streets used to divert traffic or prevent illegal parking.
“People get annoyed when they can’t park their cars there, or they are just stopping for a second because it is inconvenient, but we have to prioritize safety over convenience,” said Adair.
Bautista also said if the city considers adding loading zones on residential blocks, people who need to stop briefly to unload groceries won’t need to do so unsafely in crosswalks.
Residents discuss tenant protections
At Wednesday’s meeting, the council unanimously adopted an ordinance to protect tenants in buildings that are undergoing construction.
It will force landlords to inform tenants of their rights in any building which is under construction or will be demolished.
The ordinance states that before a permit is issued, the landlord must advise the tenant if they may be temporarily displaced and when they will be able to return. They also must provide the city with a return date, advise the tenant if they are eligible for relocation funds and/or assistance, advise them of the right to ask for comparable housing, advise them that they can only be evicted if the landlord can prove one of the good causes under the Anti Eviction Act (such as non-payment of rent), advise them that they can have an attorney, and other protections.
Resident Mike Evers said he felt the ordinance had good intentions, but the way it’s currently constructed, it puts the burden on “the fox to file the paperwork that will affect the chickens.”
“The ordinance basically assumes the developers will do everything you say,” said Evers.
Cheryll Fallick, who is on the Rent Leveling and Stabilization Board, said she is concerned that there was no verification method in the ordinance, but she feels it’s a good first step.
Tenants in New Jersey have a bevy of rights under state and local laws if they have lived in a building for a period of time.
Councilman Doyle suggested the notification from landlord to tenant must be made in writing and delivered by certified mail.
Councilman Michael DeFusco, who sponsored the ordinance, said he did not see a problem with the change. Corporation counsel Brian Aloia said an amendment to the ordinance will be prepared for a vote at the next council meeting.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.