Letters to the editor — Nov. 7, 2019
Praise for MAU and Senior Bus
I recently fell in my home and broke my left arm. I called the Montclair Ambulance Unit pronto and it took EMS professionals Tim and Evan less than eight minutes to come to my location. While bringing me to Mountainside emergency, Tim put my injured arm in a special temporary splint to keep it from moving. Later in the ER I was put in a cast; located a surgeon the next day with Active Orthopedics who performed a distal radial fracture operation on Oct. 22.
Currently I am clad in a cast and cannot drive my car for an undetermined amount of time.
Being a tenaciously independent person a year or two north of 65, kudos also to our Montclair Township for providing their superb senior bus service: ezride.org/routes/montclair-senior-bus.
I called them at 201-939-4242, ext. 1, was registered as a client and made a trip yesterday to Brookdale ShopRite.
Leo, one of the drivers for Montclair Senior Bus, picked me up at the entrance to my residence at a specific time; conveyed me to Brookdale ShopRite, collected me at an agreed-upon time, carried my bags and helped me to put them in a cart at my residence to bring inside myself (never straining my injured southpaw). Met a few other senior Montclairians on the route home.
One can make reservations with the Montclair Senior Bus to be driven anywhere in our township to local doctors, Mountainside Hospital, my bank in Upper Montclair, A&P, Brookdale ShopRite, a friend’s home. Cost: no charge.
I am so pleased and proud that our Montclair Township joins other classy towns around the U.S. in providing these helpful ambulance and hospital services.
If you are or are not a senior, it’s good for you to know about this.
WILMA A. HURWITZ
The author is a public relations consultant and freelance writer/reporter for Montclair Local.
Let immigrants get drivers’ licenses
Immigrant groups have been lobbying the state legislature for 15 years for the right of undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses. Like everyone else, they need to drive to get to work, bring the kids to school, visit a doctor, in short, to have a life.
Assemblywoman Annette Quijano is the head of the judiciary committee that the bill was referred to; she is also one of the bill’s primary sponsors. The legislation has been sitting on her desk for months. In Mitch McConnell style, she and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin refuse to let the bill out of committee and put it up to a vote. In the senate, Steve Sweeney has shut down the bill in the same manner, refusing to let the sponsors of the legislation, Sens. Vitale and Cryan, promote their own bill.
The law would require immigrants to pass the same test as everyone else, so on that score, it’s a plus for public safety. But what’s really holding it up is money. There are three county jails being used to detain immigrants, in Essex, Bergen and Hudson. Essex alone rakes in $40+ million a year in ICE contracts.
Approximately 50 percent of the immigrants detained by ICE are the result of traffic stops. This is how the counties keep the beds in the jails full and maximize their contracts. Allowing the immigrants to get driver’s licenses would result in a shortfall to county revenue. Quoting Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. from the New York Times on Oct. 14, “Government cannot fund itself entirely on property taxes, so it is important that government find other sources of revenue.” Apparently, profiting from human misery is now an acceptable “source of revenue.”
If you disagree, please call Coughlin at 732-855-7441 and Sweeney at 856-251-9801 and ask them to put the bills up for a vote.
Creation of a ‘civilian task force’
Concerning the creation of a “civilian task force” at the ICE Detention Facility in Newark, all I can say is that it’s about time that this appears to be moving forward.
Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. has been under fire for quite some time for the conditions there. When investigated by the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General, their scathing report issued a long list of dangerous and inhumane conditions at the facility. It’s not unfair to say the place was dysfunctional even by ICE standards.
What did DiVincenzo have to say about it then? He asserts that not only has he fixed what’s wrong at the jail, but these problems were also simply an “anomaly.” He refers to the Essex County Correctional Facility as “one of the most professionally run jails.” In fact, the history of the jail is one of secrecy and obfuscation. And abuses continue to be reported.
What is Mr. DiVincenzo saying now?
"We promised we would appoint a Civilian Task Force, and these are tremendous first steps in that direction," DiVincenzo Jr. said. "We believe the task force will provide us with a different perspective on our correctional facility and provide additional transparency that will help us continue to operate the ECCF at the highest level."
Reading this statement carefully makes one wonder about its author’s true intent. Are we really in search of “a different perspective” about the facility? Is the task at hand to “provide additional transparency”?
This is a Faustian bargain — $50 million to run a Trump-complicit, brutal incarceration scheme. While a truly independent task force made up of credible individuals from a variety of concerned groups that makes its reports public may be a good first step, I for one have serious doubts that this is what will come to pass.
A better solution would be for Essex County to end the ICE contract and be done with the business of detaining immigrants. We’ll all sleep better at night.
Simchat Torah on Church Street
In my 33 years of living in Montclair, I have shopped, dined and protested on Church Street. But never could I have imagined what transpired on Church Street Monday evening, Oct. 21, when four local synagogues gathered to celebrate the joyous holiday of Simchat Torah.
So there we were, hundreds of us, reciting the “Shema” and saying Torah blessings before and after the reading of the Torah. In the middle of the street, in between Anthropologie and the diner, in between one police officer and one police car blocking traffic, we completed the annual Torah reading and immediately began the next cycle. It was easy to accomplish, as we rolled open the Torah in its entirety for all to hold and see.
The fabulous grassroots Klezmer band encouraged everyone to sing and dance, as we embraced the Torahs and each other.
Next time I am on Church Street, as I remember standing with pro-choice and anti-Muslim-ban signs, I will also remember saying Kaddish (the memorial prayer) for my mother as the Jewish community congregated under the stars in strength and joy.
Kudos to the Montclair Police Department and shopkeepers for making this event possible. “Yasher Koach” to our rabbis, cantors and organizers who had the vision to unite us in celebration.
Editor’s note: See Local Listings for a photo of the Simchat Torah celebration provided by the author.
Responsibility to preserve Lackawanna Plaza
It amazes me that the deliberation about the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment as proposed continues.
If ever there was a more cut-and-dry case for Montclair demanding the preservation of a historical structure, this is it. Montclair literally exists as the urban suburb that it is because of Lackawanna Station. It was designed by an award-winning architect. It was re-envisioned in the 1980’s by another brilliant architect. It remains completely intact and in place designated as a national, state and locally registered historical structure.
In addition to its stature as a National Historic Landmark, it is located within a designated Montclair Historic District. The entirety of the site is included in its historic designation report. These are matters of law, fact and public trust, not just opinion. We simply cannot conveniently ignore our responsibility to preserve this structure. For these reasons, BOTH Montclair’s Historical Preservation Commission AND the Planning Board’s own architectural advisor have rejected the developer’s plan currently being discussed.
However, a high-quality grocery store is very much needed in this area of our town and fellow residents have had to endure an incredibly lengthy process as the Developer has presented what seems like an endless stream of variations on the same theme — lots of residential units, huge required parking variances and a massive grocery store worthy of Route 46 that can only be built if we demolish the majority of Lackawanna Station. Why? Because of a lack of vision and the unwillingness to employ great design that could turn what would otherwise be another ho-hum, box-store-style development into a true region-wide destination — NOT because it’s what’s best for our town.
But economics and politics make strange bedfellows and the owner of this property has very shrewdly made it seem that the only way for a grocery store to be built on this parcel is for us to simply ignore the responsibility that we have to preserve what is arguably Montclair’s most important remaining historical structure when in fact the reality is that with thoughtful design, we can easily have both.
Throughout this excruciating process we have collectively allowed ourselves to accept that a grocery store and completely preserving Lackawanna Station must be mutually exclusive. They are not.
Our township has the right to expect that any development taking place on this parcel provides that Lackawanna Station be completely and thoroughly preserved in its entirety AND that a grocery store of a certain size must be a part of the approved development. If the owner of the property does not like these stipulations, they can sell the parcel to someone who will accept them.
And just to be clear, I am NOT in favor of relegating the historic train sheds to merely being glorified ornamental parking lot structures. That is historical desecration, NOT preservation. Build the grocery store within the existing station.
We have seen time and again throughout both our region that high quality adaptive reuse of historical structures can be truly transformative to communities – the High Line and Chelsea Market in Manhattan, and the former Bush Terminal in Brooklyn (now Industry City) just to name a few. In every case, when high quality redevelopment that respects history is undertaken, the benefits to the community far outweigh what would exist were these historic structures razed and replaced with typical run of the mill development.
My personal opinion, and one that I would be fiercely fighting for were it still on the Planning Board? Mandate that any development taking place on this parcel of land both completely preserves Lackawanna Station AND includes a much-needed grocery store.
The author is the former vice chair of the Montclair Planning Board.