Hoboken rent control board nominations spark controversy

The Hoboken City Council handled rent board nominations and legislation at their Jan. 19 meeting. Photo by Mark Koosau.

The Hoboken City Council has voted on Mayor Ravi Bhalla’s nominations to the Rent Leveling and Stabilization Board, and made parking and loading regulations to Garden Street. They also introduced ordinances for the city’s outdoor dining rules and potential water fee increases.

Rent control board nominations

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Most of the commotion during the Jan 19 meeting was over the rent control board nominations, in particular who wasn’t named. The board assists tenants and landlords in understanding the city’s rent control roles. It consists of seven members and two alternates that are nominated by the mayor and appointed by the city council.

The city reappointed Jesse Rosso, Eric Osborn-Focht and Heath Urban to the board. The council also appointed three new members to the board, Reny Rosado, Rafi Cordova, and Jenny Labendz.

Two people conspicuously not renominated were long-time tenant advocate Cheryl Fallick, and Sheila Brennan, which they and many people who called in took issue with.

A number of people took issue with the absence of tenant advocate Cheryl Fallick from the rent control board nominations. Photo by Mark Koosau.

“The rent board has nine total seats, and the mayor has only submitted six applicants for appointment, disregarding me and Brennan, who are without question the most knowledgeable among all of the applicants,” said Fallick during the meeting. “Perhaps the mayor wants to see our tenant protections eroded, but do you? Your votes will answer that question.”

Brennan took a tougher stance by accusing Bhalla of political retaliation after both she and Fallick ran unsuccessfully on an opposition slate in the City Council elections last year.

“You have yet another opportunity to either support behavior that damages the community, 70 percent of whom are renters with long memories, or to do the right thing and take a stand for doing what’s right over doing what’s selfish, ruthless and cruel,” said Brennan.

The situation echoes a similar debacle after the 2017 election, where Fallick, who had served on the board since 2012, had her renomination held up temporarily after Bhalla was newly elected to the mayor’s office, with similar concerns that it was because she supported Councilwoman Jen Giattino during her mayoral campaign.

“[Fallick] at one point single-handedly saved rent control in Hoboken by winning that important legal case,” said resident Michael Evers. “Why would you not want to have somebody like that on the rent control board, somebody who’s shown the ability to push back and is probably as knowledgeable as anybody else you got on that committee. I find that strange.”

Later during the meeting, a few council members deflected the charge that Fallick and Brennan’s absence from the nominations were retaliation.

Sheila Brennan cited political retaliation as reasons for why she and Fallick were not renominated. Photo by Mark Koosau.

“Calling the person who’s appointing you as vindictive, selfish, ruthless and cruel is not a formula for having that person decide to appoint you,” said Councilman Phil Cohen, who was elected on Bhalla’s slate in 2019. “It’s fine to say the mayor should be the bigger person, and I understand that. But these people are not leaving Hoboken.”

But Brennan scolded Cohen for his remarks later on. “I’d like to remind him that he’s an elected official, and I’m a member of the public,” she said. “So I think you should refrain from that type of arrogance.”

Hoboken spokesperson Marilyn Baer said that the new and incumbent members would bring diversity to the board and “will supply a variety of perspectives to work with the city’s new Division of Housing.”

“The mayor is appreciative and thankful for Cheryl and Sheila’s service, and he hopes that they stay involved and committed to making Hoboken a better and more affordable place to live,” she said.

Garden Street regulations

The council adopted two ordinances to update parking regulations and add a loading zone on Garden Street.

One ordinance updates the parking limits on Garden Street from 14th to 15th Street on the west side. For those without a parking permit, parking is limited from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. from Monday to Saturday at four hours, with a cost of 50 cents for 15 minutes.

Another ordinance adds a loading zone on Garden Street, beginning 39 feet north of the northern curb line of 5th Street and extending 40 feet northerly, with a time limit of 20 minutes.

Potential ordinances to outdoor dining and water fees

The council voted to introduce two ordinances, including one that would create a new city code chapter for outdoor dining, and another to increase the water fees in the city.

The ordinance to create a chapter for outdoor dining would take the place of temporary provisions made due to the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the restaurant industry in the city.

“The city wishes to continue to allow expanded outdoor dining opportunities beyond COVID-19 as they have stimulated recovery and the local economy; and have proven to be a safe, comfortable environment for enjoyment of public space within the city that is very popular with residents and visitors alike,” reads the ordinance.

The water fees in the city would be increased by another ordinance from a flat rate of $47.60 for up to 10 cubic feet of water to $50.93.

Baer said the water fees have to be increased due to bulk water costs implemented by the Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority, from which the city purchases clean drinking water. The new fees would mean an estimated increase of $14.98 for the average quarterly bill for a family of four starting this March.

She also said that the Hoboken Water Utility will be launching a rate study with engineering firm CDM Smith, “seeking to stabilize any future consumer rate increases and account for critical water infrastructure investments and potential emergencies.”

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mark Koosau can be reached at mkoosau@hudsonreporter.com or his Twitter @snivyTsutarja.