Bayonne residents of a portion of 21st Street have petitioned the city through the City Council to make some improvements to the street. They also want some issues on the street, from security to garbage, handled better.
Resident Robert De Monaco addressed the council on behalf of 21st Street. He attended alongside his wife Renee and the owner of Sweet Neighbors grocery store at the corner of East 21st Street and Avenue E, Paresh Joshi.
De Monaco first thanked Second Ward City Councilwoman Jacqueline Weimmer, whom he had been in email contact with. He added that he had signed petitions from a number of residents on the block who supported the changes.
“Some of those changes are, we want to see the block beautified,” De Monaco said. “Just like you have on the light rail stops like on 34th Street.”
In addition to the beautification, De Monaco suggested possibly adding some flags to the street. He also asked if it could be kept cleaner.
“Put some flags, maybe coming up the block,” De Monaco said. “Have a better presence of keeping things clean.”
According to De Monaco, some of their changes are already coming to fruition thanks to discussion with Weimmer. But he added that there needs to be more done in the area, which he described as a gateway.
“This is like a gateway block that people come off the light rail and this is what they see,” De Monaco said. “There’s a lot of garbage, some seedy people. We can really used some security coming down that block and back and forth.”
‘Seedy people’ right near the light rail
De Monaco said the security issue exists not only 21st Street but also 22nd Street. He also took issue with garbage receptacles on the street at 51 21st St.
“I’ve lived here since 1995,” De Monaco said. “As far as I know, you’re not allowed to have receptacles in front of your house on the street or anything. It’s blocking the foot traffic that goes back and forth from the light rail. And when we get snow, that space is even smaller.”
According to De Monaco, one receptacle is 6 feet tall by 4 feet wide and the other is 4 feet tall by 4 feet wide. He said he and neighbors have caught people “defecating and urinating” on the side of these receptacles because they can be hidden from the public.
“They could also jump out at somebody who is not on their game walking back and forth to work,” De Monaco said. “I work the night shift at Jersey City Medical Center. Walking in and out of my house, I see unsavory people. It’s a place that you can hide.”
De Monaco said the receptacle problem seems to be an issue at other places nearby. He said there are three receptacles out at 444 Broadway, right up the street.
“This practice has to stop,” De Monaco said. “I’ve never done it in all these years since 1995. I don’t know why people are allowed to do it now. I don’t think anything has changed.”
De Monaco said there is also an ornamental street light that has been out for years that they would like to see fixed. That, the other issues and security are what he underscored needs to be addressed on the block.
“The fancy light the city had installed hasn’t been lit in years,” De Monaco said. “If we can have somebody correct and fix that, that may also help with some of the security issues. And maybe also put blue lights in the street to help illuminate that block a lot more. You shouldn’t be scared coming off the light rail.”
Lighting may bring further security
De Monaco also said that, in addition to the lights, travelers to and from the light rail would benefit from a police presence. He said that the weekend crowds are a “rowdy crowd” that cause “craziness up and down the block.”
He concluded by thanking the council for hearing him out, especially Weimmer. He hopes that they will continue and make the block better at East 21st Street, and handed off the list of petitions to City Clerk Madeline Medina.
Weimmer joked that she was one of those people in the “rowdy crowd” because she uses the light rail on the weekends. She added that after her correspondence with Renee, De Monaco’s wife, she learned that the receptacles are allowed to be there because there is no other space.
“What we found was those receptacles were allowed because there’s no passage to the backyard to allow for them to maintain the garbage receptacles and easily take them to the street,” Weimmer said. Director of Public Works Tom Cotter confirmed that was the case and said it was occurring at places outside of 21st Street.
“We have other locations around town where the only place they have them is along the front of the building,” Cotter said.
Weimmer said she had driven by the location to see the receptacles for herself. She said that people can hide behind them, and asked if there were size restrictions on the receptacles.
At that moment, Council President Gary La Pelusa asked Weimmer to “wrap it up” as De Monaco’s five minutes of public comment time had concluded. Since the new City Council was sworn in back in July, public comment has been limited to five minutes and the council and city officials no longer answers residents questions because it is “not a question-and-answer period.”
In response to Weimmer’s question, Cotter said he wasn’t aware of any size restrictions. He said he would look into it and get back.
De Monaco suggested there should be a uniform standard for the receptacles if there is not one. Weimmer said she was in agreement and would get back to him on that, which La Pelusa echoed that the council would “follow up with” him on it.
This was another instance of residents bringing their grievances to the council publicly in hopes of getting something done, which has succeeded to various extents in the past. A similar thing happened recently for residents of Oak Street who are unhappy with Bayonne Housing Authority plans for a new senior and supportive housing building planned by the city for the site.
Secret meeting on Oak Street senior and supportive housing?
Recently, residents and city officials met to go over the Oak Street project. Discussion of the meeting was prompted by resident Gail Godesky during her public comment.
“We’re more concerned about holding people to five minutes on public comment, or they’ll be removed by a police officer, yet the administration gets to have seven or eight meetings before this meeting,” Godesky said. “You have the behind-closed-doors meeting, you have the developer meeting, you have the planner, the engineer and the Technical Review Committee, you have the pink sheet review, you have the pre-agenda meeting, you have the pre-council, you have the caucus, and then you’re ready to vote. We’re sitting here trying to get some information from you.”
According to Godesky, residents are interested in what is happening in the city. She said that informal meetings like the one about the Oak Street project are not inclusive of all residents.
“We need to know what’s going on,” Godesky said. “What happened at the Oak Street meeting? I’m a senior citizen, I may want to move into the Oak Street project. Don’t I have the right to know about what took place for the remediation of the contaminated soil? Only a handful of people were there.”
Godesky urged the council to “do their jobs” by having more town hall-style meetings so people know what’s going on. She said that while promised by the new council members, she has yet to become aware of any public meetings on things like quality-of-life issues.
At that point in her comment, Godesky had exceeded the five-minute limit. However, as she and other had done in the past, she continued to read the last paragraph of her remarks.
But La Pelusa held his ground this time. He added: “You had eight minutes extra last month … This is our council meeting.”
“It’s your council meeting not our council meeting?” Godesky asked. “I have a right to finish what I say.”
As La Pelusa gestured to a police officer in the council chambers, Godesky left the podium without any response from the council. Later during public comment, the topic of the Oak Street meeting resurfaced.
Other residents say meeting was informal and transparent
Resident Mike Morris disagreed with Godesky regarding the Oak Street meeting. He said it was not an official city meeting.
“It was a very informal meeting,” Morris said. “It was not done in secret in any way. I was informed by a friend of mine and I happened to be in the area so I decided to stop by myself. I thought it went very well. My understanding of it was that there was no specific projection date for the anticipated start or completion of the building.”
According to Morris, the meeting was productive. He said that it was not secretive.
“I felt that it was a very transparent meeting that went very well,” Morris said. “There were some people that were excited. I understood that very clearly.”
Morris said that some people were negatively “excited” about the project, but that he thinks it’s better to be more composed. He said that approaching the council in that manner will “get better answers.”
“There’s no need to be hostile in any way or borderline disrespectful,” Morris.
According to Morris, that being said, he understands their concern over the project due to the previous land contamination. He said that since he was a kid, it was widely known that the land there was contaminated by PSEG, but that the land had since been remediated over a period of years.
“I remember the homes on that tract of land that had to be bought up by PSEG and demolished and then the site had to be remediated over a period of years. That all falls under federal guidelines, too, not just city.”
To Godesky’s point about not knowing what happened at the meeting, Morris said she could try to contact someone in the area.
“They might be willing to talk to her and advise her or inform her as to what was done there,” Morris said. “My understanding of that was that it was not a city-sponsored meeting. It was a very informal meeting. This was a gathering point, no more than that. That’s the way I walked away with an understanding of it.”
While the conversation ended there, Godesky still felt the meeting was held in an official capacity because city officials including Law Director Jay Coffey and City Planner Suzanne Mack were in attendance. Despite that, the plans to construct a six-story, 40-unit building on Oak Street to house 20 senior and 20 supportive units for adults living with special needs is undoubtedly moving forward.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.