Let’s consider parking in Montclair

On June 20, Montclair Local reported in a story about parking permits being at such a premium in Montclair that people are forging them.

Parking Authority Director Gary Obszarny told township officials in February that residents were unhappy with the waitlist for permitted spots, with those lists numbering up to three times the number of spots the town has to offer, especially at the Bay Street deck.

“If two more parking decks are built, I will fill them up tomorrow,” said Obszarny.
And here is what Montclair Local has has been reporting on redevelopment and parking:
At Lackawanna Plaza: Instead of 853 “required” spots, the developer offered 459.

On Church Street: Take 105 spots and create 67 units. Parking? 67 spots for inhabitants and 20 for the town. Solution for those 85 municipal spots gone missing? Wait a few years for the Seymour Street Deck.

On Orange Road: Instead of 96 “required” spots, offer 62 and “share” in a municipal garage. Which I must note, per Gary Obszarny above, there is nothing to share.
To summarize: Even with all the building going on, Montclair does not have enough parking spaces for people who want them and will pay for them.

The planning board continues to approve new developments which rarely, if ever, meet parking requirements. The parking requirements, even if met, probably would not fill the need, since they are based on the idea that one apartment dwelling equates to one vehicle. Maybe it would be so in a future world where we are not so dependent on cars. Not now.
People want to come to Montclair for dinner and an event. Parking is always an issue for them. Why would they continue to come?

What is going on? Does anyone else consider this a problem? It seems we, as a town, need to take a time-out on the redevelopment and just consider what is happening. Is this the path we want to be on?




Democracy demands participation

I have been reading with interest the growing public awareness of a spoiled food chain of government throughout New Jersey involving both lawmakers and lobbyists, in particular, the power brokerage of our county executive, the local Democratic party and state lobbyists.

I guess like many others I always assumed New Jersey politics were unclean; the problem is now we either must attempt to “unhear” and “unsee” all that we’ve heard and seen, or we need to act.

If there is one thing I have learned from my varied experiences in grassroots organizing, it’s that showing up counts most. Democracy is a participatory sport. If we really want self-government, as the founders envisioned, then we have to be willing to govern.

An admission: I, and surely many other people who know some measure of comfort, came of age hoping that someone else would just do the work. And as it turns out someone else has. Hundreds of people at all levels of government across the state and country, on town councils and school boards who realized that while we dozed, they could and should quietly consolidate power to better themselves and their friends. Cush gigs and fat contracts are effectively victimless crimes when A) they’re not actually crimes (democracy) and B) victims don’t even realize we've been had.

What seems interesting to me about my own post-Trump awakening, is that if I’m getting curious about what’s happening in government I suspect a few other conflicted citizens with histories of lukewarm political involvement might be too. I spent more years of my adult life than I’m willing to admit living just a few miles east of ignorance and probably just a hair north of apathy. It hasn’t served me. The taxes still stink and the schools aren’t all that great for it. It’s time more of us showed up and told the truth of what it looks and smells like from here.

We deserve better; we need to demand better. It might start by showing up to the next freeholders meeting to make a public comment, protesting the deplorable ICE contract at a demonstration, or perhaps even running for office. If we remain on the sidelines, we remain spectators.




You are welcome at the library

The public library is the most American thing. Built for everyone, with no limits for who enters or what information is sought.

That wasn’t always the case. For years, America's libraries were complicit in segregation, denying access to those who were not white. The story of Challenger Astronaut Ronald McNair nearly being denied access to check out library books when he was a child has been shared on the internet recently. There are other examples of segregation in libraries throughout our history, with a recent book highlighting this injustice. This was a sad, deplorable chapter in the history of America and its libraries. One that I hope never happens again. Everyone should always be welcome at the library.

Montclair is diverse, and we strive to provide programs and services for everyone. Our recent Peruvian Day programs saw over 500 attendees who came to learn and celebrate another culture. We’ll continue to develop and provide programs that highlight the rich diversity of our shared humanity. We'll also continue to remove barriers to access, such as eliminating overdue fines.

Our staff is diverse in gender, ethnicity, race, and religion. Some are immigrants or children of immigrants. We celebrate those differences. Their experiences are the American experience, our experience. We hope that as you come to the library you know that you are welcome and wanted.



The writer is director of the Montclair Public Library.


Visiting the U.S.-Mexico border

Five members of Union Congregational Church recently traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border to volunteer with Team Brownsville, a volunteer organization dedicated to feeding migrants on the Mexico side of the International Bridge and welcoming migrants recently released from detention on the American side of the border. We were witnesses to the extraordinary hospitality of some Americans who are giving every inch of free time they have to offering migrants a bienvenidos entirely different from the one our own government is extending.

Each night a group of volunteers cooks a meal and takes it across the Rio Grande in carts in order to set up a feeding station. On the nights we were there, at least 120 migrants waited in line patiently for plates of chicken, rice, vegetables, pasta, or watermelon. This large group is comprised of people from Central America, but also contains people from Cuba, Venezuela, and Cameroon. They are all doing it the “right way.” The U.S. government wants people to sit and wait in Mexico until their number is called before they walk across the bridge and plead for asylum in America. Some of the people we met have been waiting at the plaza in Matamoros, Mexico for more than six months.

Women and children are fed first. Hungry men wait patiently, occasionally standing on tiptoes or peering around the edges of the line to make sure we aren’t going to run out before they get to the food. Some carry injuries, most haven’t showered in an age, some women are pregnant, everyone is tired, and everyone has a story. For all of the folks who might suggest that the migrants wait because they are “on the take” somehow, merely looking for a handout, these folks have very specific stories — one man showed us a scar of where a kidney had been removed by a gang against his will. Another told us that he’d fled because a gang sought to extort his business. He knew if he paid the first month, the “rent” would just go up sooner or later. And if he didn’t pay? Well, they held a gun against his head to let him know the answer. He told us, “I knew that they meant it because they’ve already murdered my brother.”

Reasonable people can disagree about how best to proceed from a policy perspective. But the humanitarian crisis is, not surprisingly, personal when you look people in the eye as you feed them dinner. We can’t go on like this. Policies have to change, metering at the bridge has to end, the dehumanization of people on the move is a corporate sin that damages us all.

What can we do? Yes, for sure, we can vote. But, in the near term, if you can go to the border and see it for yourself, go! There are numerous organizations who will take your help and if you’d like to know which ones, head straight for Brownsville and connect with Team Brownsville or go to McAllen and stop off at the Respite Center run by Catholic Charities. There are shelters, legal aid organizations, and ministries who will take your energy and use it.

If you can’t go, give — give to these organizations full of saints who are working tirelessly on behalf of Americans of good conscience to offer a better bienvenidos.

If you can’t give, then shout. Call your representatives and give them an earful about this crisis. And if you have questions about how to set up a trip, there are five people at Union who have been transformed by this experience who’d love to point the way.



The author is senior minister at Union Congregational Church in Montclair.


Regarding Orange Road development

Of all the disturbing news one can read in the Montclair Local, nothing is more disturbing to me than the article published on July 25, which outlines the extortion recently exercised against our fair township by Tom Trautner, the attorney for applicant HP 37 Orange Road Montclair LLC.

From the article: "...The council, which has jurisdiction over amending redevelopment plans, chose not to correct the language. The meeting agenda for Sept. 25, 2018, listed an ordinance that would have stricken the sentence: ‘The following requirements apply to new multi-family residential buildings with no commercial component.’ The following sentence, ‘the maximum density is 18 units per acre,’ would remain. But the ordinance was pulled from the agenda and never introduced."

I'd first like to know who was responsible for pulling the ordinance change from the agenda? What other business before the council was so pressing at the Sept. 25, 2018, meeting that this was just removed and never addressed again? Is such inattention to detail the new standard in council governance?

Our current township council has proven again and again their dereliction of duty. Whether it was shoddy proofreading, or a lack of understanding of the consequences of their inaction on the language on the part of the council, we are now all left to wonder what is really going on, and deal with the mess caused by their inaction.

For the planning board to be forced into approving, once again, an inappropriate project is just one more example of the ineptitude and unfitness for office of the current mayor and council. I applaud those brave members of the planning board who publicly called out the applicant for their extortion.

I hope that during the next election cycle enough concerned citizens of Montclair who are weary of the continuous overdevelopment, disregard for established parking regulations and disregard for affordable housing requirements will raise up talented, interested, and dedicated public servants capable of unseating this politburo of rubber stamps from the council chambers and send them packing.