Letters to the Editor, April 23
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Social distancing is imperative
Lately, some things have been happening in my neighborhood that are quite disturbing. Although the state of New Jersey has issued a stay-at-home order and outlawed gatherings outside of immediate family, every day I see people gathering who are not immediate family, and they are not social distancing. They are not maintaining six feet of space between them, and they are not wearing masks or even bandanas. Sometimes an entire family will pull up on their bikes and chat for an hour with another family from four feet away. People have their dogs romping together, doing what dogs do -- licking each other and their owners. How is this possibly a good idea?
Whether you are proud of it or ashamed of it, now is not the time for Montclair exceptionalism. There are people in our town who have died or become extremely ill. There are elderly people in our community who should be able to take their daily stroll without encountering an impromptu gathering of careless people and/or their pets. And yes, there are even young people who have become very ill.
I am not sure what the internal dialogue is that allows people to think that devil-may-care behavior is okay right now. Perhaps they are not in a high-risk group or think they are immune. Perhaps their kids are driving them crazy. Perhaps being stuck in the house is driving them crazy. But all of these things are survivable, while the disease we are trying to stop has not been survivable for (as of today) over 31,000 people in this country.
The current generation of parents (which I am part of) has a hard time saying no to our children (and, sometimes, even our pets). It is time to change that. Yes, they miss their friends. Everyone misses something. But this is a defining moment, and we need to rise to the occasion, even if we are not (in our own estimation) at high risk from this disease. We can do this by following the rules and setting an example for our kids.
When I was little, my parents used to drag me to civil rights marches. Afterward, we would sit in the Ebenezer church and sing “We Shall Overcome” and “This Little Light of Mine.” We are white. But my parents thought it was important enough for all of us to go. Did I understand civil rights? No, not as a child. But what I did understand — and never forgot — was that we were part of a larger community, where people have to care about the well-being of others when things are wrong. This is a time for us to remember that, and a time for our children to learn it -- or at least be exposed to the concept.
Sometimes we have to make sacrifices for the greater good. Those of us who are lucky enough to be able to stay at home and still put food on the table should have enough consideration for others to say no to our children and ourselves and practice social distancing so we can slow the spread of this disease until a cure is found.
In response to rent control letter
In response to the question in Linda Cranston’s April 16 letter — “Is it taxpayers’ obligation to maintain diversity by redistributing taxes?” — the short answer, in a community that purports to value diversity, is YES!
But let’s be clear about the philosophical underpinnings of “Save Montclair.” This is a group of well-off, mostly white homeowners desperate to preserve their vision of their own little slice of paradise. The group originally formed as Save UPPER Montclair. They don’t care about renters, low-income residents, affordability, or, to be blunt, diversity. This has come up time and time again as they have taken positions against affordable housing proposals with cherry-picked arguments claiming that affordable housing will cause unaffordable property tax increases and will cause unaffordable increases in our school population.
- The fact that long-term Montclair residents are being driven out by large rent increases? No matter.
- The fact that renters in our community tend to be low- to moderate-income? No matter.
- The fact that many of our renters are people of color? No matter.
Their advocacy of unfettered market dynamics in housing is nearly Trumpian. It comes down to “If you can’t afford to live here, tough luck.” These positions are offensive and unconscionable. It is not the Montclair that we purport to believe in, and I would hope it isn’t the future of this township.
Thank you for rent control
As a long-term renter in Montclair, I’m thankful that the town finally instituted meager rent control that’s equal to its neighbors’. In the 10 years I’ve lived here, my rent has gone up more years than not, usually 4 percent. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but if your taxes went up 4 percent every year you’d understand. It is cumulative. The 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase that wage earners used to depend on, and are lucky if they get, isn’t enough to cover a 4 percent rent increase.
This year my industry was already struggling thanks to the harmful tariffs in the president’s foolish trade war, before his criminal handling of the pandemic destroyed the economy. Our rent was raised before rent control was passed. Thankfully I was able to pay my rent despite being furloughed.
Other states and countries have instituted a rent freeze to match the mortgage freeze, but New Jersey, despite having a leader who acted quickly and forcefully to fight the pandemic, is relying on landlords’ good graces. So I’m glad the municipality stepped in to protect its citizens.
My building is majority senior citizens. They can’t weather high rent increases on a fixed income. Young families who would use our schools move out and buy condos and houses elsewhere because the rents are too high.
I resent the accusation that renters do not pay their way. According to my landlord, he pays the highest property tax bill in the town. I think he’s exaggerating, but how do you think he pays that tax bill? From our rent. It’s a racist dog whistle and a plutocratic talking point that rentals don’t have skin in the game. As for diversity, leaving the Fourth Ward without a supermarket for five years was a class war tactic to drive out renters so more condos could be converted. Raising rents is a barrier to entry. Apparently “Save Montclair” means having people who can’t buy a $400,000 fixer-upper, many of whom staff local stores and restaurants, take the bus in, and leave before sundown.
The closest grocery is Whole Foods, owned by the richest man on the planet, who asked the public to pay for his employees’ sick leave while paying less a percentage in taxes than I do.
Framing rent control as a redistribution of wealth is both facetious and fear-mongering. Many seniors and childless couples rent.
Renters shop local, use fewer town services and schools, and keep Montclair strong and diverse. I’m a 25-year white-collar professional in a two-income household, and we can’t afford to buy a house here thanks to no measurable increase in housing stock — except for paper-thin-walled half-million-dollar condos and mansions on the hill that cut into Eagle Rock.
I appreciate the homeowners and renters who stay and invest in the town, like we have for the past 10 years. We love Montclair, so we keep renting, when we could buy elsewhere. We vote, and we are thankful for this gesture, which still means our rent can be raised $1,500 every single year. If you have your calculator, it’ll actually be $1,560, $1,622, $1,687... Cumulative rates add up.
However, it seems like this isn’t enough for some profiteers, who have filed suit to block this ordinance. They want to wait until the “COVID-19 crisis is over” to give us any relief, which makes zero sense. When will it be over? Who knows. The very idea of hiking rents during an economic crisis is vile gouging of our most vulnerable residents. They say they want to force a town referendum “for democracy,” but why not vote by mail? Too many tenants will be able to vote? They want to force a vote after we are back at work and have to vote in person, which suppresses the votes of we who work for a living and can’t always make it to the voting booth after fighting traffic or our overburdened transit system. How facile and obvious can you get? They’ve shown their true faces with this. I have landlords in my family and I respect those like Mr. Placek who work with their tenants and see us as neighbors and not cash cows. But those who want to take advantage of this crisis to fleece their neighbors deserve no sympathy. Especially those who don’t live in town and whose only interest here is profit.
Council ordinance hurts chances of rent control
The town council’s lack of strategic thinking and consideration of the consequences of its actions has actually hurt Montclair renters seeking passage of a rent control ordinance.
The two candidates vying for mayor in the May 12 election — Dr. Baskerville and Mr. Spiller — as well as the incumbent members of their slates — Ms. Schlager, Mr. Russo, and Mr. Hurlock — rushed through the vote on this ordinance about one month before the election, during the time of an extreme health crisis. The virtual second hearing on the ordinance was a disaster — neither the questions from the public nor the answers from the councilors could be deciphered. Now the Montclair Property Owners Association (MPOA) has sued to delay the implementation of the ordinance on April 27 to allow the referendum process to take place.
What are the consequences? In my view, it is quite likely that the MPOA suit will prevail because of the perceived political nature of the vote, the inadequacy of the hearing, and the flawed ordinance. If MPOA prevails, the next step would be the gathering of signatures to repeal the ordinance, once social distancing measures are lifted and petition signatures may be obtained without exposing petition-gatherers to health dangers. The ordinance opponents need to obtain only about 1,620 signatures; note, Montclarians have twice rejected a rent-control ordinance by referendum in prior years. Assuming the measure is repealed, it could not be proposed again for another three years.
If the council members were thinking strategically and had done their homework, they would have recognized this scenario and reconsidered how they could actually have helped Montclair renters. I believe the council could have facilitated discussions between the landlord and tenant groups to arrive at a meeting of the minds on the drafting of an ordinance or other measures that would have been acceptable to both parties. It is a few bad actors in the landlord community that are hurting tenants. Renters should have rent stability, predictability. The majority of landlords try to provide decent housing at rents that allow them to maintain their properties and make an appropriate return on their investments.
I am an independent candidate for councilor-at-large. I believe in a carefully crafted rent stabilization ordinance that has buy-in from tenants, landlords and the Montclair community. I am very disappointed in this council. An acceptable ordinance might have been written had the town had the appropriate leadership in place with renters’ interests, not self-interest, at heart.
The author is a member of the township planning board and an at-large township council candidate in the May municipal election.
Support your local businesses
In August 2001, only a few weeks before 9-11, I made my first visit to Montclair. The purpose of the trip was to meet a couple who would years later become my in-laws. But I also fell quickly in love with a town teaming with interesting people and things to do and streets full of independent small businesses. For years after that first visit, every time I received a gift from my would-be husband’s family, these gifts came from Montclair’s stores. My future family was insistent on buying local. Earrings from Dot Reeder, home goods from Rabbit Rabbit, the latest book from Watchung Booksellers. Birthdays recently have included paper from Parcel, linens from Howell and gift cards to Pinky, my champion in the Manicure Wars. Christmas Eve is always Rosario’s lasagna and eggplant milanese in our house, though Lauren’s fried chicken from Turtle and the Wolf is challenging its throne. Mesob is for date night and The Corner is for brunch, and don’t make me choose between Java Love and Local because I won’t. Bangz, Eric Salon and Steve DeLuca have all cut my hair, and Jonathan at the Light Closet has blown up every balloon. Mary Ann, Suzanne and Cheryl at MSC Framing have literally put mat board and glass on every piece of art I own. And one time they made a house call.
As we grapple with the various heartbreaking realities we now face due to COVID-19, there is something very devastating, and strangely unspoken, about the potential loss of our independent small business landscape in Montclair. From Bloomfield Avenue to Watchung Plaza and from the South End to Valley Road, the dark, vacant storefronts and makeshift signs are a gut-wrenching reminder that the fabric of our town may look vastly different once we emerge. We know we will get to the other side of coronavirus eventually, but what will our small business districts look like? And how can we as their customers, neighbors, and friends help them now?
The early days of the pandemic brought a rush of gift-card purchasing and takeout orders. Some small business owners, including Kacy at Joyist, reported that this was even a short boon to business. But we know the longer this goes on, the harder it will be to recover. We know that state and federal stimulus money probably won’t be enough. We know now that Joyist is closed.
So, what can we do? Buy local. For businesses that are still open, continue to purchase from them. But more than that, consider how you might be able to help some of the businesses that are special to you when they do open their doors back up. Invest locally, in whatever way you can. Get creative. Consider approaching your favorite small business and asking its owner what the greatest need is right now and long-term. Cash flow and rent are likely top of the list, but there will be other needs for business continuity (or reboot) too. You may learn a lot about how you can help Montclair continue to look like Montclair in the aftermath.
CARLEY GRAHAM GARCIA
Achievement gap skeptic
I have long been a disbeliever in the throwing of money at the achievement gap (intelligence gap) to fix the problem. I also believe that school systems need to focus more on making the best better and bright even brighter.
Our four daughters, and there is about to be a fifth, are or are soon to be graduates of Montclair High School. Each one chose to be students in the CGI program (Civics and Government Institute), a small learning community. Each qualified for honor or high-honor classes. They each excelled in several sports. Today, as they have all along, they believe that every single student who attends Montclair High School gets a fair and equal opportunity to achieve and succeed. I believe the same, especially when the less talented or slower learners have such an incredible amount of educational resources available, so they can also be the best they can be, yet we hear every excuse in the book why they cannot compete equally. So, what the “achievement gap” has become is a racial yardstick to measure the ever-growing intelligence gap between white kids, black and people of color.
I am of the opinion that all Montclair school parents, administrators, Board of Education members or NAACP members have to do is attend an assembly, at any school gathering except football games, to understand where the intelligence gap really begins and ends. It begins and ends at home, with parents taking responsibility for their children by showing up for their school’s public and social events. (And please stop with the two jobs a day excuse, plenty of people work two jobs and manage to participate in their child’s educational career.) One can easily see the disparity between races at back to school nights, holiday sings, musical performances, dance reviews, debate competitions, as I refer to this as the “extra-circular gap.” Just by being a fan of your child’s school and showing up, for goodness sake, can narrow the gap. It does not take money; it takes time and participation. I would stick my neck out by saying that the disparity between races in the intelligence gap is exactly the same as it is in extra-circular gap.
When the COVID distance learning is over, and it becomes time to tally up the grades, statistics, and online attendance, I guarantee that the “intelligence gap” is wider than ever and the disparity between races will be the same as it has always been, with the ever-growing numbers going in the same direction. I cannot wait for the angry moms of “intelligence gap kids” to show up at the BOE meeting, pointing their fingers at others whose fault they really believe is someone else’s other than their own. These people should try showing up at school events instead of the public posturing they do in the name of racial equality when it is anything but that for them.
I swear that if this district turns into a pass/fail grading system before this marking period is over there will be hell raised and lawsuits to be paid! My daughter gets up at 7 a.m. every morning. She checks the schedule she makes for herself once a week, turns on her computer, gets her notebooks, assignment sheets and her sharp pencils in order, then goes to school for the day. We applaud her for her dedication that was learned at home, from her parents, from her sisters before her, who all participated in their own education and supported inclusion instead of exclusion. My daughter will not receive nor will we tolerate a pass or a fail grade when she has outperformed those who do nothing or as little as possible. She is going to college next year and she will get the grade she has worked for, as should every other child at Montclair High School. That, my friends, is EQUALITY and the solution to making the best better while we get honest with ourselves about why this gap continues to be a one-way path.