City Council 3/21/2007 – Recap
3/29/2007 Video Update:
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Read the original preview of the 3/21 Council meeting below.
It was “Lights! Camera! Action!” at the Hoboken City Council last night. For the first time the City recorded the meeting, which will be replayed on cable. This led to some long-winded performances. Heated debate on Southwest Redevelopment was followed by a lesson in how Hoboken City government doesn’t work for you if you are not “connected.” Here’s a recap of the action…
“Mr. DeMille, I’m Ready For My Closeup!”
The meeting began with an announcement that the City was videotaping the meeting for the first time, and that it would be shown later on Channel 78. The taping is a half-hearted response to people who have been calling on the City to air the meetings live on Cablevision, like so many other municipalities do across the country. The move is also in response to 2nd Ward Candidate Beth Mason, who has been paying a professional to record the meetings for several months.
Southwest Redevelopment Plan Switcheroo
The City Council pulled a “fast one” on the public by switching the order of the agenda to allow for the vote on “Introduction and First Reading” of the Southwest Redevelopment Plan before allowing the public to speak on the issue. The public is not allowed to speak on an “Introduction” vote on an ordinance, but is allowed to speak on the Resolution to refer the Proposed Redevelopment Plan to the Planning Board for review. According to the Council’s own rules the Resolution was on the agenda before the Ordinance, but Chris Campos wanted the Council to vote to move the plan forward before the public could speak.
Campos did not want the residents and taxpayers who signed up to speak against the plan to change the minds of any of the City Council members. Campos made the motion to “suspend the rules” and change the order of the meeting. The Ordinance passed without public comment. The only “No” vote came from Council President Richard DelBoccio. First Ward Councilwoman Terry Castellano did not attend the meeting.
Later the Council “Resumed the Rules” and returned to the resolution to refer the plan to the Planning Board. 8 people spoke out against the plan, none spoke for it. Councilman Chris Campos constantly interrupted the speakers to give speeches for the cameras. Though it was called “Public Comment” Campos took up most of the time arguing with people who were asking questions. One resident said the council was “killing the goose that laid the golden egg,” and “turning Hoboken into Hong Kong on the Hudson” with zones of high-rise buildings. Another called on the Council to do more than a “cursory review” of the market data, and actually perform a comprehensive impact study. Others asked about the assessment study of current properties for proposed parks that was called for several months ago and never completed. They were told “It’s in the works.”
SkyClub resident David Mello called the council’s move “incredibly greedy.” He said the plan doesn’t have the needs of the residents in mind, but brings great benefits to land owners who otherwise would have been only able to put 5 or 6 story buildings on their property, but will now be able to build 12-story high rises. Mello said the developers get the windfall profits, the city gets PILOT payments that raise school and county taxes on those who don’t get tax abatements, adding architects and real estate agents get to benefit, while residents are left out. Mello was repeatedly interrupted by Campos and Councilman Peter Cammarano, who defended the Mayor’s plan for the Southwest.
4th Ward Council Candidate Dawn Zimmer added her voice against the plan, and pointed out many of its flaws. Instead of answering the questions she raised, Campos tried to grill Zimmer on how she got a copy of the plan before it was “made public.” Campos was particularly annoyed that some members of the public had been able to see the plan before the vote because they were then able to ask detailed questions about it. He wanted the plan kept away from the public before the council vote.
The plan now moves on to the Planning Board, which may hold a Public Hearing on the proposal. After the Planning Board votes, it goes back to the City Council for a final vote.
Garden of Eden Fiasco Rolls On
A late addition to the agenda was an Ordinance sponsored by 6th ward Councilman Nino Giacchi to deal with the ongoing battle between the Garden of Eden market and it’s neighbors on Bloomfield Street. Giacchi’s compromise would give GOE a temporary loading zone on Bloomfield to be used from 8am to 1pm for deliveries until such time as GOE installs a special elevator below the sidewalk near the store’s Washington Street entrance. Once that elevator is in, the temporary Loading Zone would be removed on May 14th. Though the council approved the loading zone ordinance on First Reading (a public hearing will be held at the next meeting) Cammarano warned Giacchi and the council that GOE has consistently shown bad faith, and that this approach was too much “carrot” and not enough “stick.” Cammarano suggested the city take a hard look at its fine structure, and consider a graduated scale of fines for repeat offenders like GOE and the now infamous “Doctor Zaklava.”
Doctor Zaklama and His Properties of Doom
Following up on Jarrett Renshaw’s column “The Fine Art of the Runaround – Hoboken Style,” (plus 411 followup) and the many comments about it here (Construction Code Office) and here (Another City Misconduct Suit) there was much talk about Dr. Zaklama and how he was handling his Hoboken properties.
Chris Campos started the conversation by again criticizing the absentee landlord, who owns a number of trash-strewn open lots in the 4th ward. Environmental Services Director Joe Peluso told the council his inspectors have written many summons for trash and lack of snow removal, and even offered Zaklama a deal to have the city take care of the property and use it as a pocket park/dog run until such time as he wanted to sell or develop it. Zaklama was even offered a tax exemption if he agreed to allow the city to use his eyesore properties, but he refused. Campos has suggested the city consider taking the properties by eminent domain.
The Zaklama saga continued during the public comment portion when outraged resident Tracy Kuther got up to outline her incredible story of the runaround she has been getting from the city over the past year. Kuther outlined an incredible story of how Dr. Zaklama has been able to run an illegal 3-family house that is draining wastewater into her brownstone. She outlined failure after failure of the Construction Code Official, Plumbing Inspector, Building Inspector, Health Inspector, City Attorney’s office, and the Mayor in trying to get her issue resolved. She told of how charges against Zaklama were mysteriously dismissed at the behest of Health Inspector Frank Sasso, who bragged that he had the local law changed so he would no longer be responsible for problems at two-family houses.
Apparently the brownstone in question is only supposed to be a two-family, but Zaklama has illegally chopped it up into a three-family rooming house. Sasso told Kuther that he no longer has to cite 2-family homes, and the Building Inspector only has jurisdiction over buildings with at least 3 units. Since it is an illegal 3-family it is not under the Building Inspector’s jurisdiction, but then Sasso tells Kuther it’s not his problem because it is only legal to have 2 units there! Kuther said this “loophole” led her to an incredible runaround that continues to this day.
Council members and the public took it as another sign that Mayor Roberts has no control over his directors and top officials, who consistently do what they want, when they want. Chris Campos even took a shot at Roberts, saying “the bus stops at the Mayor’s office.” Then again, perhaps Campos was just backing up his ally Ruben Ramos, who is now at odds with Roberts for turning his back on State Senator Bernie Kenny. Ramos helped Union City Mayor Brian Stack push Kenny into retirement by agreeing to be a candidate for State Assembly on Stack’s Senate ticket.
Rescinding the 10 Million Dollar Bond
Councilmen Russo and Cammarano sponsored this Ordinance to rescind the approval to borrow $10,000,000.00 for land acquisition, including the former “Mercury Site” that the Feds put up for public bid. Developer/School Board Member/3rd Ward Council Candidate Frank “Pupie” Raia won the property. Cammarano said the Council should still “keep an open mind” about the property, adding the city might even negotiate to buy it from Raia, who outbid the city for the Federal Government-owned property.
New Financial Disclosure Ordinance Passes
As expected, the ordinance “Requiring Public Officials/Municipal Employees to Prepare and File Financial Disclosure Statements as Prescribed by the Local Government Ethics Law” passed unanimously without Public Comment. 25 ”Public Officials/Municipal Employees” will now have to fill out forms outlining any real estate development deals they have going on the side. This is known as “The Al Arezzo Law,” but some predict it may lead to some very interesting disclosures by other officials.
Plenty of hot topics on the agenda for the Hoboken City Council tonight, and it should be a full house as newly minted candidates for City Council show up to try to get their names in the papers. This could make it a long and colorful night. Among the issues on the agenda…
Southwest Redevelopment Plan Up For A Vote
The roundly criticized plan to turn the flood zone known as Southwest Hoboken into a cluster of 12-story high rise buildings will be discussed. The plan is on the agenda twice. First the public will be allowed to speak on a resolution referring the proposed plan to the Planning Board for review and recommendations. There is no public comment allowed on the “Introduction and First Reading” of the Southwest Redevelopment Ordinance, which is also on the agenda.
Mayor Roberts’ plan allows for several high-rise buildings on properties owned by Hoboken insiders, including the Caulfields of Fields Development and Construction Code Official Alfred Arezzo, who is reportedly under criminal investigation.
Speaking of Al Arezzo – New Financial Disclosure Ordinance
A “Second Reading” and Public Hearing will be held for an ordinance “Requiring Public Officials/Municipal Employees to Prepare and File Financial Disclosure Statements as Prescribed By The Local Government Ethics Law.” Fans of public disclosure and open government are wondering aloud why the employees need a local ordinance on the books in order to be directed to follow the state’s Ethics Law, but “Hey, it’s Hoboken!”
Though this law has been written by Councilman Peter Cammarano in response to the investigation of Arezzo, City Hall insiders note Arezzo is only one of many people on the list of 25 ”Public Officials/Municipal Employees” who run real estate development deals in their “Spare Time.” Time will tell if they will now fully fill out the forms as required, if some will stall, try to hide their true interests in properties, or just flat out refuse to fill out the forms (as they have in the past.)
FY2007 Budget – Still Not Adopted
Another City Council Meeting, another set of “Emergency Appropriations” that need to be adopted because the City Council has yet to formally adopt a budget for the Fiscal Year that ends June 30th. The Council may also hold the public hearing on the budget.
Rescinding The 10 Million Dollar Bond
Mayor Roberts is on an unprecedented borrowing spree, but the Council may move to take at least some of the bonding authority back from him tonight. Several months ago the Mayor asked for approval to borrow $10,000,000.00 for land acquisition, including the former “Mercury Site” that the Feds put up for public bid. At the time Councilman Chris Campos warned developers not to bid on the property because the Mayor wanted to put a combined emergency services facility there.
Apparently the developers didn’t listen. Rumor has it several made bids anyway, and Developer/School Board Member/3rd Ward Council Candidate Frank “Pupie” Raia won the property. Incumbent 3rd Ward Council Member Mike Russo previously proposed an assisted living center for seniors on the site, and called on the Council to rescind the bonding authority several weeks ago before Roberts could spend the money on something else. Russo said the City lost the bid, so the bond should be canceled. Campos disagreed with Russo, and fought to keep the bonding issue open. It may be about to close.
Is There A Doctor In The House?
Which obscure musician has the City booked to appear at the Arts and Music Festival this year?
None other than Dr. John, who soared to #9 on the charts in May of 1973 with his one and only hit “Right Place, Wrong Time.” If the Council approves the resolution to pay Dr. John $17,000.00, he will perform at the festival on May 6th.
As always, the Caucus begins at 6pm, with the Regular Meeting at 7pm at City Hall, and the Mayor always reserves the right to throw huge issues on the agenda at the last minute while people aren’t looking.