Hoboken City Council tackles hate symbols, slavery, and affordable housing

A myriad of measures considered at marathon meeting

On July 8, the Hoboken City Council met for a little more than five hours virtually to discuss a number of new measures.
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On July 8, the Hoboken City Council met for a little more than five hours virtually to discuss a number of new measures.

The Hoboken City Council introduced a number of measures during a five-hour virtual council meeting on July 8, including introductory ordinances to amend the Western Edge Redevelopment Plan and one to help businesses along Sinatra Drive.

The council adopted several resolutions. One urges High Tech High School to amend a controversial quote in its 2020 yearbook. Another seeks to change the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution as reflected in the New Jersey Constitution.

High Tech yearbook quote in hot water

The Hoboken City Council approved a resolution asking High Tech High School to replace a controversial yearbook page that included a quote some perceived as a symbol of hate.

The yearbook contained a quote from each graduating senior. One of the senior quotes, in its entirety, was the symbol ’88,’ which the Anti-Defamation League includes in its database of hate symbols, calling it “one of the most common white supremacist symbols.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League, 88 is a white supremacist numerical code for “Heil Hitler.” H is the eighth letter of the alphabet, so 88 equals HH which equals Heil Hitler.

Upon receiving complaints from students and parents, the Hudson County Schools of Technology conducted an investigation and found that the student who submitted the quote was referring to a park in North Bergen, and the student did not have malicious intent.

According to the resolution sponsored by Councilman Phil Cohen and Councilwoman Emily Jabbour, the school did “not acknowledge that the symbol ‘88’ as it appears in the yearbook could be interpreted to be a hate symbol by an objective observer regardless of the intent of the student that submitted it; and…the appearance of hate symbols can connote bigotry and stir harmful negative emotions.”

The council resolution calls on the school to offer refunds to each purchaser of the HTHS yearbook, to produce and send to each purchaser of the yearbook a replacement page substituting the symbol “88” with language such as “88th Street Park” to accurately reflect the intention of the student and to remove the symbol from the yearbook.

It also calls on the school to “promptly communicate this plan to the HCST community to demonstrate that HCST shares the values of inclusion and respect across its citizens and to model such behavior for HCST’s students and school community.”

Abolish slavery

The council adopted a resolution, which seeks to “completely abolish slavery” by calling for changes in language in the Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution in the New Jersey Constitution, which continues to permit slavery and involuntary servitude as punishments for crimes.

The Thirteenth Amendment reads “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

According to the resolution, 25 percent of the world’s 9.2 million incarcerated population, or roughly 2.3 million people, are currently incarcerated in the United States. Private correctional facilities often rely on low-cost labor provided by prison inmates to increase their profitability.

According to the Seventh Circuit Appeals Court, prison employers aren’t required to compensate prison inmates with the minimum wage.The average working inmate’s wages is 93 cents an hour.

The resolution notes that while New Jersey is leading the nation in reducing prison populations, it leads the country in racial disparities. African Americans are put into New Jersey prisons at 12 times the rate of the state’s white residents.

The resolution, sponsored by Councilwomen Emily Jabbour and Vanessa Falco, urges the state to call for a November 2020 ballot referendum to amend the state’s constitution to eliminate this “exception clause” in the Thirteenth Amendment and prohibit the use of slavery or involuntary servitude for individuals convicted of crimes.

The resolution supports New Jersey Assembly Bill ACR 145, sponsored by Assemblywoman Angela McKnight and State Senator Ronald Rice, which also seeks the permanent abolition of slavery and involuntary servitude, including as punishment for a crime.

Affordable housing returns to Western Edge

A lawsuit was filed and several residents and community stakeholders voiced outrage with amendments to the city’s Western Edge Redevelopment Plan. A proposed development excludes some units from the city’s 10 percent affordable housing requirements. The council introduced an ordinance that would put it back on the table.

In April, the council adopted an ordinance with a 7-2 vote amending the redevelopment plan that would allow the city to negotiate with developers for a new recreational facility and community pool in exchange for additional building heights and other allowances.

The amendments establish parameters for maximum bonus development in the Jefferson Street Subarea of the Western Edge Redevelopment Plan, including up to five additional stories, up to 150 units, and a hotel height up to 216 feet.

These additional 150 units would be exempt from the city’s 10 percent affordable housing set-aside requirement, meaning the city would miss out on 15 units of affordable housing in exchange for the community center developer givebacks.

According to the ordinance, if a developer is granted additional bonus height and floor area ratios for the purpose of providing public recreation space or a community pool, the developer will still have to provide 10 percent affordable housing, but this housing could be constructed offsite.

According to Councilman Ruben Ramos, this offsite affordable housing must be constructed before the rest of the development will be given its certificate of occupancy.

Members of the public who spoke at the meeting noted that the council should amend its affordable housing requirements to increase the minimum set-aside requirements because 10 percent was not enough.

Others said that offsite affordable housing could lead to further segregation in the community.

The introduced ordinance will have to be reviewed by the city’s planning board before it comes back to the council for final adoption.

Sinatra Drive closures

The council introduced an ordinance that closes Sinatra Drive between Newark Street and Fourth Street to vehicular traffic between August 1 and October 15.

This would be done to create a popup pedestrian plaza to help businesses along the street and residents socially distance.

“Hoboken’s waterfront is a destination for hundreds of people each day, and it’s critical we do all that we can to create a more pedestrian and businesses friendly atmosphere,” said Councilman Mike DeFusco who sponsored the ordinance with Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher.

“We’ve seen cities throughout the country successfully take a similar approach in closing streets, and now it’s time for Hoboken to follow suit. Innovative and thoughtful legislation like this has put Hoboken at the forefront of helping small businesses throughout the pandemic, and I’m appreciative of Director [Ryan] Sharp for sharing with us his ideas and expertise to push this forward.”

Fisher who chairs the parking and transportation committee on the council said the city is seeing increasing crowds along the waterfront as residents and visitors are eager to get outside this summer.

“Working together, our goal was to re-purpose the southern part of Sinatra Drive to reduce recently increased congestion and noise, but doing so in a way that supports the neighboring restaurants and small businesses all while making it a safe place for people to enjoy our waterfront,” Fisher said. “This simple piece of legislation accomplishes all three.”

For updates on this and other stories check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.