Driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants

There is a proposal in the New Jersey State Legislature (S3229) that would allow an additional 719,000 New Jersey residents to qualify for a driver’s license. This would benefit not only undocumented immigrants but those earning less than $25,000 a year as well as those reentering society from the criminal justice system. 

Currently, there are hearings and a vote on the bill scheduled for later this month and should it pass, the bill would reach Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk sometime at the beginning of the new year. He is expected to sign the bill once it is passed. 

At this time there are 14 states plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico that issue licenses to undocumented immigrants. 

If you are wondering about the legality of the bill, a federal judge in New York just upheld the law when sued by the Erie County clerk stating that said clerk did not adequately show he’d been harmed by the law, a constitutional requirement.

If you are concerned about public safety you should know that Stanford University researchers found the policy did not increase the rate of total accidents or fatal accidents, and actually helped reduce the likelihood of hit-and-run accidents, thereby improving traffic safety and reducing overall costs for California drivers. This in a state where approximately 800,000 immigrants have obtained licenses since 2015. 

Four years after implementing a policy to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses, Connecticut has seen a reduction in hit-and-run crashes and a steep decline in the number of people found guilty of unlicensed driving.

The bill in New Jersey, once passed, is expected to generate $21 million in revenue from permit, title and driver’s license fees in the first three years and once fully implemented new drivers would generate $90 million annually from registration fees, the gas tax and the sales tax on purchases of such items as auto parts, according to New Jersey Policy Perspective a left leaning think tank.

This bill is not just about affording dignity to New Jersey’s immigrant families, even though it does that, and it’s not just because states much redder than ours have already done this, stated

Raj Mukherji, D-Hudson. Fundamentally this bill is about public safety. As Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex notes, the safest drivers are the ones that are trained, tested and licensed.

Immigrant families are our neighbors and part of the fabric of our communities. They contribute to our economic development and the vibrancy of who we are. 

New Jersey’s passage and implementation of this bill will grant a much-needed measure of dignity to undocumented immigrants and will certainly benefit us all.


Entire town should decide on rent control

Having twice before failed to win a referendum establishing rent controls in Montclair, proponents are now attempting to accomplish their goal through an ordinance, which requires the votes of four persons—a majority of the township council. I believe the council should follow the precedents established by their predecessors and put this latest proposal to a referendum as well. This is not only because I believe this to be a more appropriate way for such an important issue to be decided, but because I believe rent controls in Montclair will, through time, have pernicious effects on the township as a whole. 

While I do not know the provisions of the new ordinance nor how they will be implemented, the application of basic economic principles suggests that a rent control regime that curtails rent increases will have several undesirable consequences. 

First, the market value of existing rental properties will be lower than would otherwise be, which will eventually result in property tax assessments on rental properties being lower than they would otherwise be. Since property taxes pay the vast bulk of township expenses, it seems inevitable that this property tax revenue loss will be made up by other property owners. In effect, then, renters will be subsidized by owners of residential and commercial property in Montclair. Unless the rent control ordinance includes a provision for means-testing rent increases, there is no guarantee that all those being subsidized deserve that subsidy, and many likely will not.

Second, the existence of a property tax regime will make Montclair a less desirable town in which to build new rental housing. Since developers of rental housing are currently required to provide some “affordable” apartments in their new buildings, fewer new apartments overall implies fewer new affordable apartments. In fact, unless they are means-tested, effective rent controls will benefit existing renters in Montclair at the expense of reducing the future availability of new affordable apartments to those who really need them. 

Reduced new construction of rental apartments in Montclair is likely to have its own effect on property taxes. It seems likely that new rental housing is helping and will continue to help slow the increase in property taxes, since the cost to the township of providing township services to residents of that new housing is probably lower than the additional property tax revenue that new housing will provide. Fewer new rental units will remove this property-tax-ameliorating factor.

An effective rent control ordinance is also likely to cause the quality of the existing stock of rental property to deteriorate beyond what would otherwise be the case, since rental property owners would have less incentive to maintain, not to mention improve, their buildings. A large and growing stock of less-well-maintained rental property in Montclair would not be desirable for most residents. 

Finally, based on the experience of New York City, it seems likely that a rent control ordinance will result in regular, well-reported disputes between property owners and renters as permitted rent increases are negotiated. Politics at present are poisonous enough without inviting this new cause of discord. 

One must have sympathy for the long-term renters in Montclair who are forced to relocate to less desirable towns. Fortunately, there are nearby, if less attractive, alternatives to living in Montclair. But being forced to relocate because of the expense of housing in Montclair is not unique to renters—long-time homeowners here have seen very large increases in their property taxes through the years, and some no doubt face severe affordability issues. But no one seems to be worrying about them—in fact, the subsidies to renters that would result from rent controls will exacerbate their difficulties.  

The sad truth is that a town of some 40,000 people is unable to contribute meaningfully to the problem of the affordability of housing in the New York metropolitan area. In essence, rent controls are a special pleading for those already renting here. If they are to be imposed, it ought to be done by a decision of all of the voters who choose to voice their opinions at the ballot box rather than the township council.    



Be careful what you ask for

The Upper Montclair Village Neighborhood Commercial Zone, in round numbers, has 440 parking spaces: 320 metered and ADA spaces along with 120 permit spaces.  

We know the permit waiting lists are years long. We also know past zoning and planning boards stipulated over 30 of these spaces to be allocated as conditions to previous approvals. We know the train station lot’s 68 permit spaces is often at capacity on weekday peak nights between De Novo Restaurant’s patrons and commuter parking. It is the remaining 320-space pool of metered and ADA spaces that visitors and patrons will seek out and use.  

The new Bellevue Theater application needs 180 spaces. The applicant will argue the 140 remaining spaces can service the 18 restaurants, the fast-food operations like Dunkin, Starbucks, Coldstone, etc., and any other businesses open during movie times with any overflow parking utilizing the adjacent free parking on residential streets. This includes spaces on streets like North Mountain, Braemore, Jerome, Oakwood, Inwood, Northview, etc. Conceptually this could work as long as parkers are willing to park & walk up to 600 to 1,000 feet to their destination.

What will be of most concern is the congestion arising from drivers circulating around to find an open space among the four distributed public parking lots and the various on-street spaces. We won’t help them as there is no village way-finding system for parking and the plan relies having the normal parking buffer inventory outside the village on the residential streets. But, my sense is we want a six-screen theater like when we wanted a real big hotel. So, we will just cross our fingers and hope it doesn’t take away our Neighborhood Commercial’s primary selling point - convenience. If it does, there is always DoorDash & Amazon.