The Jersey City Council has introduced an ordinance which would expand the city’s Quality of Life Taskforce, creating a Quality-of-Life Division under the Department of Public Safety.
The Quality of Life Taskforce, reformed in 2019, is headed by Municipal Prosecutor Jake Hudnut and is composed of representatives from Health and Human Services; Public Safety; the Mayor’s Office; Public Works; and Housing, Economic Development, and Commerce.
The taskforce has prosecuted absentee landlords, inattentive property owners, local polluters, and negligent businesses.
Since March, it responded to 118 reports of price gouging, 325 reports of businesses violating curfew, more than 1,300 reports of social-distancing concerns in businesses, and 121 general quality-of-life concerns.
A proposed division
According to the introductory ordinance, the current structure of Jersey City enforcement is unique when compared to other New Jersey cities in that it has seven administrative units across four departments responsible for enforcement of local ordinances and state administrative code.
By consolidating code enforcement into a new Division of Quality of Life, the city would “further increase the efficacy of code enforcement and compliance.”
Hudnut would become the head of the new division composed of the Resident Response Center (RRC), the Office of the Municipal Prosecutor, and a new Office of Code Compliance composed of the existing divisions of Commerce, Housing Code, and Sanitation that enforce local codes.
Hudnut said by combining these divisions, the city can respond to resident concerns more efficiently by cross-training some 30 inspectors who will respond to resident complaints 24 hours a day on weekdays, and during the day on weekends.
He said that a lot of quality-of-life enforcement issues do not require a police presence, but police respond to many because they receive the call and are available 24/7, while only sanitation inspectors are on hand 24 hours a day on weekdays.
He said inspectors can be the first to respond to a quality-of-life issue where police may not be needed.
He noted that the new division would approach code compliance issues with a conversation first and a summons last.
During the Sept. 10 Jersey City virtual council meeting, residents and members of Solidarity JC spoke against the measure.
Resident Jena Barchas-Lichtenstein said she understood the consolidation of the Quality of Life Task Force but felt it should be housed outside the Division of Public Safety and was concerned that it could lead to disproportionate ticketing of the city’s black and brown and houseless residents.
“What are you doing to make sure we provide a better quality of life for our black and brown neighbors and not just the white neighbors who call to complain about them?” she asked.
Amy Torres of the Hudson County Progressive Alliance and Solidarity JC said residents deserve a better quality of life but that would come from investments in the community and not through enforcement.
“If you wish to claim that this is anything but a naked attempt to fill budget deficits on the backs of our neighbors who are already the most marginalized rather than those who take advantage of investment loopholes, you’ll find another thing coming to you this November,” she said.
“In my eyes, the appeal of ‘quality of life’ is to make rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods feel safe … Does Fulop want to make people feel safe or actually make people safer?” asked resident Mariam Zein of Solidarity Jersey City. ”I urge you not to give the police department another mechanism to wield its power with zero accountability.”
The council voted to introduce the ordinance with a 7-1-1 vote on Sept. 10 but noted that it should go before the city’s ad hoc committee charged with reviewing police policies and procedures before coming back to the council for a final vote.
Councilman At Large Rolando Lavarro voted against the measure. Council President Joyce Watterman was absent.