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Protect Hoboken’s residential neighborhoods!

Dear Editor:

Dear Mayor Bhalla: I have lived in Hoboken for nearly 12 years and my wife and I have been so proud of being Hobokenites. We both have led as volunteers for the Hoboken Historical Museum several home and garden tours showing off our city and volunteered in various Galas and fund raising events. I have been a proud supporter yearly of the Hoboken Public Library and other Hoboken institutions. I had not gotten involved in Hoboken politics but supported Dawn Zimmer and you as continuation of what I thought represented a decent administration – one that would listen to what Hobokeners wanted. My attendance to two recent community meetings were, to put it nicely, eye opening!

I attended the nearly 4.5 hour Hoboken Cannabis Review Board meeting in February and was dismayed at the total disregard for the concerns of my neighbors and the incredible statements from council members actually apologizing to the proponent of the Cannibis dispensary for our strongly voicing of our concerns. The Hoboken Cannabis Review Board approved unanimously the application as if our voices meant nothing.

I later understood why: they weren’t supposed to!! According to Councilman Russo, listening to community input/ concerns are not part of what he considers the Hoboken Cannabis Review Board’s mission. This means that the public comment period is moot – a sham – and the “transparency” of having the public involved is just so that we can see how the Hoboken Cannabis Review Board shepherds the application.

This was not only news to me, but it became evident that it was news to some of the other council members at the March 9 Council meeting where Councilman Russo not only quashed any discussion of his nomination to such board but also didn’t recuse himself which, while it may not have been technically required, would have been appropriate. He also defended his participation and approval at the February meeting on a technicality. Why the rush? Why not wait until he was duly appointed? When council members started reconsidering the cannabis decision, Russo said he feared “lawsuits” if the project didn’t move forward. I would like to believe that the Hoboken Planning Review Board meeting is also not just a rubberstamp and that it can act appropriately without fears of being sued by the proponent if the review board denies the application. We don’t “owe” the proponent of this project anything.

I am so disheartened to learn how little the community’s concerns matter. Everyone wants our vote and our donations, but nobody wants to hear our opinions. I want to address the statements that you, Mayor Bhalla, and your members in the Council like Mr Quintero have made as a response to the neighbors’ concerns, including statements such as, “I wouldn’t mind living over a Cannabis dispensary” as totally irrelevant, given that you do not have to. Statements like these give no solace to those who are potentially being forced to. If I someone were to tell you that they personally would not mind an ordinance that prohibits the use of any sort of head covering, would that make a difference to you?

Another statement that perplexed me is the constant repeating that Hoboken wanted dispensaries because we voted overwhelmingly to decriminalize it. That is nonsensical. There are plenty of things that are not criminal but most of us would not want in our neighborhood and plenty more we might want to decriminalize and still not want where we reside. Let’s not forget most towns in NJ, many far less dense than Hoboken, opted for no cannabis business at all, including Union City and Weehawken.

I also would like to address the comment that you and others have made repeatedly that they prefer a dispensary to a bar. This is akin to telling your kids, when they ask about your preferences for how they spent their time, that you prefer them for them to get high rather than to get drunk. As if these were the only choices!

Finally and most importantly wanted to address something that was made very apparent after attending the 5-hour March 9th council meeting, going beyond all the irregularities that were evident like 1.) confusion on which ordinance was being passed and 2.) not reading the ordinance being voted on. What struck me most was that council members referred constantly to what they wanted rarely if ever to what their constituents wanted.

I was struck by what Council President Russo said in support of the Cannabis Dispensaries: “I want to “liven” Hoboken.” I kept thinking, “Isn’t he supposed to actually work for us? Hoboken taxpayers?” Excuse my naïveté. Isn’t the majority of a community supposed to be the arbiters of what we want for Hoboken ? Maybe we want it just like it is right now. The Hoboken community around the proposed 14th St dispensary has overwhelmingly opposed it and in a democracy the voice of the people should not be ignored at the risk of Hoboken government starting to act like a a non-democratic leader who is very much in the news lately.

Roberto Verthelyi

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