SJC BLOG

Get To Know Our SJC Green Drinks +ART Sponsors – Wed Dec 5th 2018 @ LITM, 6-9pm

Get To Know Our SJC Green Drinks +ART Sponsors –  Wed Dec 5th 2018 @ LITM, 6-9pm

We wanted to write a short post with some reference links about our sponsors, so you get to know more about the terrific work they are doing to make Jersey City greener and more resilient.  Some of their work is close to the ground with building projects they are working on locally and some of their work expands to statewide initiatives and development projects in other countries.

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Community Solar: Ever heard of it?

In recent months there’s been some exciting conversations surrounding Community Solar in New Jersey.  Meetings at the NJBPU (New Jersey Bureau of Public Utilities) were held starting this past summer and have continued into the fall in order to plan the Community Solar Energy Pilot Program proposal for bringing more clean energy to New Jersey cities and towns.  This will move the state towards meeting goals set by the Clean Energy Act (A3723/S2314) signed by Governor Phil Murphy on May 23, 2018. In order for Jersey City to reach our own clean energy goal, which is 100% renewable energy by 2050, Community Solar will be an important piece to the puzzle.

But wait, what IS Community Solar?

Most people associate solar energy with installing solar panels on their own roofs. For the residents of Jersey City who rent, don’t have the ideal roof, or don’t have the funds to install panels, access to solar energy seems impossible. However, the conversation doesn’t need to end there. Community Solar offers access to the benefits of solar energy, without the financial and logistical burden of installing your own solar panels.

Essentially, a Community Solar project in Jersey City would allow residents to become subscribers of solar energy being harvested at a remote location. These locations would be built by utility companies like PSE&G, or a variety of solar installer companies, and could vary from the roofs of city government buildings, commercial building solar panel arrays, community center roofs, or new developments, among other available sites.  Additionally, Community Solar addresses environmental justice; the intersection of social justice and environmental sustainability. Not only does it allow clean energy access to low and median income residents, who are often disproportionately impacted by either the negative effects of fossil fuel energy extraction or use, but there are also financial incentives to the program for all parties involved. Keep an eye out for our next blog post for a deeper dive into the (somewhat complex) economics of community solar! Feel free to check out Energy Sage’s explanation of community solar as well.

To learn more about the NJBPU’s Community Solar Energy Pilot Program proposal, please visit the BPU’s website about the pilot program. We also encourage you to attend either one of the two public hearings on Thursday, November 8, 2018 to be held at the following location and times:

1:00 pm and 5:30 pm

Florio Forum

Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy

Rutgers University

33 Livingston Ave.

New Brunswick, NJ 08901

http://bloustein.rutgers.edu

More questions? Or have questions you’d like us to pose at the meeting on your behalf? Email us at gioiakennedy@gmail.com and lindseykellstrom@gmail.com

Kind regards,

The SJC Community Solar Team

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My Take – Destruction of the Society Hill Shelterbelt of Trees

I feel compelled to post about this devastating act and the process by which the actions were taken to cut down en masse this majestic Shelterbelt.  While we should all be able to acknowledge the environmental impact of the Shelterbelt being destroyed, which protected the Society Hill homes along the Walkway during Hurricane Sandy and offered a thriving ecological sanctuary to City residents and wildlife, there are both the economics and the political process that need to be distilled a bit, which unfortunately only make this decision more disheartening.

When the Friends of the Walkway (FOTW) formed 10 years ago, founded by Denise Bailey and Vern Carlson, it was but a single act by two civic individuals to start a process of community engagement towards protecting one of Jersey City’s special environmental assets.  Over the years, unlike what is being perpetuated by current public officials, the FRIENDS of the FOTW network grew in number, into a virtual organization that worked together to gain input from the 1425 homeowners at Society Hill.  They garnered more than 1000 signatures during their door-to-door outreach for paper petition signatures + over 250 most recently at their digital petition site, in order to offer alternatives to the DPWA choice (Droyers Pointe & Society Hill umbrella association), which was to level these trees so they would not have to maintain them.  Recently, quotes from the administration and Council have pointed to the FOTW as a body of one individual who has no political weight in the grand scheme of things, and that FOTW petition signatures did not represent the broader residential support for the Shelterbelt to remain intact  – FAKE FACT #1.

SJC’s main goal remains to provide a platform for educational advocacy and we open source the communications platform we have built, making our social media channels, blog and website a toolkit available to community leadership.  Case in point, we have not only supported the efforts of FOTW since our inception in 2011, but were happy to give their voices some leverage thru the use of our platform in order to reach many constituents on behalf of saving these Trees.  I have personally worked with the FOTW since 2011 and have great admiration for the thoughtful leadership of Denise and Vern, who have sacrificed countless hours in trying to provide a forum for intelligent exchange about how best to manage maintenance of the Walkway and the 84 Trees that had lined the Hackensack River at their Society Hill community.  

There are those that suggest that all the trees needed to come down because they were the wrong trees that were planted in the wrong place in the wrong way - FAKE FACT #2.  Take a look around, and notice that all over Jersey City there are wrong tree plantings.  We learn as we go and we have to start where we are.  While we now most recently have Forestry Standards which guide the type, optimal location and best way to plant (e.g., larger tree pits finally!), there was never consideration to flat line level Jersey City’s Tree Canopy and start over.  Work around strategies prevail across the City and offer creative and low-cost alternatives to protecting the existing tree canopy, including those offered by FOTW from its earliest days.

It is unfortunate that while MANY years ago, a JC Shade Tree Commission was written into the municipal code, there is no Mayoral appetite to give expert authority and resources to our urban forestry debacle.  We desperately need, but still do not have in place, a JC Shade Tree Commission devoted to this single purpose.  Why, given there has been lip service paid that Trees are a priority of this administration?  Even with the findings of the Tree Canopy Study in 2015 (we should be at 44% coverage for an urban area our size in this geography, yet with consideration of the dead or dying population of trees, the calculation is that we have an existing tree canopy of 14 %), resistance by the current administration to constitute a dedicated body of citizens that would oversee the protection of our existing trees and grow our tree canopy persists.   

Our deficit tree canopy contributes to Jersey City’s challenges of stormwater management, the urban heat island effect, rising emissions from buildings and traffic, and air pollution issues – did you know that JC has one of the highest rates of childhood asthma in the NJ?  Whether folks wish to admit it or not, Trees are a significant attribute to urban life, be it increased property values, general quality of life or the economic attributes associated with the ecosystem services they perform.

Neither the JC Environmental Commission (JCEC) or the DPW Parks & Forestry Division have the oversight capacity to manage the process to protect our existing tree canopy or to grow it.  Jersey City does not even have a certified tree arborist on staff, with only a brief stint by one which punctuated this hole since DPW Director Rodney Hadley was let go – he was a certified NJ arborist.  And in cases where public access open space is concerned, e.g., the Society Hill Walkway, there is no dedicated oversight to applications for land use ‘improvements’ when it comes to Removal of Trees (JC Tree Ordinance loophole – see Section 321-6 re: definition of ‘improvements’ – is left to interpretation).

During the development of the JC Tree Ordinance, SJC and FOTW appealed to City Planning and the JCEC, (again to the JCEC most recently, who was deemed by City Planning as standing in for the lack of a formalized JC Shade Tree Commission) to provide for land use related review and oversight, e.g., public access walkways, plazas and open spaces, as regards the process of Tree Removal.  Unfortunately, we found that there was no bandwidth in JCEC or the Planning Department to do this and the responsibility for managing questionable Tree Removal fell to the DPW / Parks & Forestry Division thru a Tree Removal Application Process, which we have now seen is quite flawed. 

While the City has all along had the authority to step in and correct the tripping hazards on the Walkway, effected by years of neglect of standard tree root maintenance, they express they did not want to intervene with a private association issue and its residents.  Again, no oversight or enforcement authority for these matters exists as a matter of process in Jersey City. (Ref docs re: JC Tree Ordinance Loophole and Society Hill Residential Deed showing DPWA Bylaws and authority of City of Jersey City to resolve negligent care of the Walkway and the Trees there.)

Another set of rumors being perpetuated by the current administration are that the 1) Society Hill Walkway was damaged during Hurricane Sandy (2012) and has been closed since then – FAKE FACT #3, as the Walkway was closed last October due to insurance liability issues related to tripping hazards that had gone unrepaired; also 2) that most of the Trees were in dire health – FAKE FACT #4, whereas assessments by prior administrators (Rodney Hadley, Bob Cotter, Mark Redfield as recent at 2016) and the JCEC, not to mention the certified arborist report commissioned by the FOTW in 2014, and the recent informal assessments by the NJ Tree Foundation and Bartlett Tree Experts, attesting to the general good health of these trees, but for a few.  London Plane trees are quite resilient (absorb more air pollution than any other tree) and these 30+ year old Trees, while needing some attention, had a good future ahead of them.

We were told by City officials that what was needed was a RECENT certified arborist report.  I was encouraged to connect SJC’s contact at Bartlett Tree Experts to Director Stamato for the purpose of the City getting some credentialed report on the condition of the Trees.  I did so and then the City chose not to commission a report from Bartlett Tree Experts, or apparently any other certified arborist.  Why?

Even most recently, in the process of assurances from the current DPW Director Pat Stamato and Councilwoman Ridley that the Tree Removal Application Process would save the majority of these trees (that ‘only 10-15 of the trees needed to be replaced due to their compromised health), the consensus amongst City officials has consistently been that this Shelterbelt of Trees could absolutely remain intact and the insurance liability issues needed to be addressed with a sane approach. 

The best and most cost-effective conclusion would have been to remove the enormous 1-ft deep concrete slabs that were suffocating the trees and causing the roots to lift the slabs for air and water, by simply replacing the slabs with modular pavers.  An overtime attrition strategy, if getting rid of these ‘wrong trees’ was the goal, would have certainly been better than the severe choice of cutting everything down, healthy and non-healthy trees, all at once.  Obviously, replacing these 30 + year old trees with 3” girth saplings can never recover the lost asset value removal of mature growth trees (this alternative is provided for in the Forestry Standards without penalty, i.e., as long as you are replacing trees there is no fee that is assessed as the  intent is for there to be a fee penalty only IN LIEU of replacing a tree.  This is outlandish as no 3” sapling can ever replace the financial economic value of a 30-year old wide girth tree; this is another loophole that does not serve the public or the goal of increasing the ecosystem benefits of an enlarged urban forestry canopy).

The political process that seemed to come to bear was extraordinary for me to bear witness to.  Not only am I forever surprised by the blatant disregard for doing the right thing, but while I am old enough to not be surprised by bad behavior, the closing of ranks and the lack of transparency and divisive side dealing by officials who had the consummate authority to lead a roundtable of stakeholders toward a mutually satisfactory result, one which would overcome insurance liability concerns and provide for the ecology to remain intact, was disappointing and is a personal Lesson Learned.  SJC will also take this lesson into account when advocating for a more sustainable and resilient Jersey City.  Clearly, the attempt to discredit Denise, Vern and FOTW and their civic activities, is thwarting and it sends a powerful message.  I suppose given SJC’s support of the FOTW efforts, we are now put in the same boat, especially since I will not sit by.  I urge folks to re-read the story accurately chronicled on the FOTW website, their Petition page and on SJC’s website Resources page.  Links below –

·         #TREESPEECH

·         Saving The 84 Mature Shelterbelt of Trees At Society Hill - Oct 2018

o    Map of Society Hill Shelterbelt of Trees

o    Petition

o    FOTW website

o    Part 1 - 84 Mature Trees To Be Cut Down At Society Hill Walkway - Why Did This Happen ?

o    Part 2 - LESSONS LEARNED - Destruction of Shelterbelt

o    Part 3 - Temporary Moratorium By The JC Environmental Commission

o    Part 4 - Reference Docs / JC Tree Ordinance Loophole & Society Hill Association Bylaws Giving City of Jersey City the Authority to Intervene

o    Part 5 - JC Forestry Standards - see p. 18 section II.F for penalties; none are due if you replace a mature tree with a 2.5 inch sapling.

o    Part 6 - Proposed Alternatives by Friends of the Walkway

§  Budget Comparison 

For the record, I was present at early summer meetings with Director Stamato and Councilwoman Ridley, one of which took place in Denise Bailey’s living room and after which we took a stroll on the Walkway to examine the Trees.  Not only was assurance given then that cutting down all the Trees was not necessary to accomplish the task of proper Walkway maintenance, but the same assurance was provided at a meeting hosted by Director Stamato with Parks & Forestry present; also in attendance was City Legal and City Engineering.  While the DPWA association was invited to the meeting to discuss options, they chose not to attend.  To Director Stamato’s credit, he tried at first to bring a roundtable discussion together, but unfortunately it required more perseverance – that didn’t happen and offline meetings ensued between City officials and the DPWA, their attorneys and Falcon Engineering.  Things began to shift and by the time of the July 25th public forum at Society Hill with Mayor Fulop, the Mayor, who had previously supported the idea of ‘no healthy tree shall be removed’, was punting and publicly encouraged the DPWA to meet with residents and ‘let the City know what they wanted to do – the City would comply’.  Where did this change in commitment to not remove healthy trees come from?

It was the case that the DPWA refused to meet with residents and ultimately Councilwoman Ridley communicated that all stakeholders were conferred with and all the Trees would come down and the Walkway would then be opened again.  Neither FOTW or SJC were conferred with regarding the change in sentiment.  Denise Bailey (co-founder of FOTW) received a cursory voice message just before the public announcement about the decision to remove all the Trees.  No further explanation was offered.  Residents were held hostage by the Walkway closure a year ago and in exasperation conceded the Trees – in fact, this was a false choice they were given after their public outrage about the inflated contract by Falcon Engineering to remove the Trees at that July forum.  Residents that ‘were conferred with’ were told that the Walkway could not reopen if the Trees did not come down.  Residents of course chose the Walkway, fatigued by a 10-year battle, in which the City did not engage the residents or in this last leg of things, lead the stakeholders toward a proper resolution.  Again, the JC Tree Ordinance, the Tree Removal Permit Process and the Forestry Standards were meaningless.

Certainly, the Mandate Letters by Directors Cotter, Redfield and Hadley, the Letters of Support, and most recently the Letter from JCEC directing a STOP to cutting down the Trees in order to verify the health of the Trees, showed City support for the right thing to happen.  However, decisions taken to issue Removal Permits for ALL TREES by the DPW Parks & Forestry Division, and the game of ‘hot potato’ amongst City officials leading to ‘no further discussion’ in the matter, is what prevailed.  In the end, perhaps it was insurance challenges (self-inflicted by the association and the City), or simply the opportunity to have residents at Society Hill pay for a large cost contract so the City would not have to begin a process of facilitating alternative solutions (costs time and money), or perhaps it is entirely another set of complications that the City has refused to discuss, that overcame this 10-year effort and fatigued all the residents.  Bottom line, there was quite a bit of negligence to go around and it is an unfortunate outcome that lacked integrity. 

While I apologize for this lengthy blog post and for not reaching out to you all sooner for support (thanks to all the individuals and those community orgs that did lend assistance and added their voices to the FRIENDS), I am left with the need to urge continued dialog about this shameful event.  Since 2011, when our Sustainable JC Collaborative Network launched, with Green Infrastructure as our main focus in JC, our organization has supported a large number of individuals and community orgs who were stepping up and providing hands-on activities to preserve precious social, environmental and economic resources within the City.  SJC’s model of distributed leadership across Jersey City, started with and still perpetuates the idea, that single acts of stewardship and civic action, make a difference – in fact, we contend that it is this difference that makes Jersey City what it is today and will lead, albeit slipping and sliding, Jersey City into its next phase of a more sustainable and resilient place to live and work.  

Please offer your comments to this post, reach out to your Council members, voice and vote for greater sustainability and resiliency measures in Jersey City, and most of all do something of significance for your neighborhood.  While SJC’s focus has been green civics, we understand it must be balanced with social and economic betterment; indeed, this is the core definition of a sustainable community.  So count on us to support your work and your actions in all of these areas as you seek to contribute to your neighborhoods and to the future of Jersey City. 

As a place to start, perhaps the silver lining to this fiasco will be citizens standing together to demand the JC Shade Tree Commission be constituted, and the loopholes in the JC Tree Ordinance and the Forestry Standards be addressed.

Lastly, it is very important for community orgs to find specific and measurable ways to collaborate and join each other’s actions.  This is obviously a challenge given the skeletal structures, funding constraints and individual priorities, but we must find a way.  Jersey City needs more active coalitions that can work together to design the future of our city.  Administrations come and go and what we are left with are ground hog day experiences that do not represent the aspirations of our citizens and what SJC hopes will be the greenest and cleanest city in the state of NJ.  We can do better.

Warm regards,

Deb Italiano

Founder & Chair, Sustainable JC

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Part 2 - LESSONS LEARNED, 84 JC Trees To Be Cut Down At Society Hill Walkway

This post continues from yesterday - refer to 84 Mature Trees To Be Cut Down At Society Hill https://bit.ly/2EprJrd

LESSONS LEARNED:

The City’s decision process was not made transparent to residents.  There are however Lessons Learned about 1) PUBLIC ACCESS right of way properties, 2) Non-transparent Residential Development Boards, 3) Civic Participation, 4) JC Trees Ordinance Loophole, and 5) City Officials which may help others who are dedicated to their communities.

1.  Public Access Right of Ways – after years of abstaining their authority to intervene to do tree maintenance and repairs of the Walkway (as stated in the Society Hill Deed reference to ‘common / public spaces”) the City decided to let a DPWA sponsored Engineering Contractor come in to do this privately and charge the residents of Society Hill a hugely expensive sum of money to remediate the public access walkway.  This is a case study in Buyer Beware – if you reside at a private property that is adjoined to public access right of way (walkway, plaza, etc.), you should be concerned with the following –

a.    Since the City negotiates these Developer deals with the intent to sell these public spaces to the community and prospective buyers as an amenity, beware the down the road property maintenance costs that will hit your building development.  The City structures the deal so that all maintenance costs and responsibilities are assumed by that Residential Building Development.  Remember, PUBLIC ACCESS means more wear and tear and an inability to have protective restrictions in place that are typically available to private property owners.  In addition the public spaces can be even more complex structurally than the Society Hill Waterfront Walkway, which opens up other issues beyond tree care. 

b.    If this is the new normal (passing along costs for development and maintenance of public access right of ways to residents) on top of the property taxes we pay, BEWARE!  Officials do not want to assume these responsibilities and Developers / Building Owner Landlords are passing these costs on to residents.  This structures a convoluted agreement whereby issues that come up like what is happening with the Society Hill Walkway & Shelterbelt of Trees, a game of “hot potato” and deal settlements that negate and undermine protective measures like the Tree Ordinance.

c.    While the Society Hill Deed references the City’s authority and ability to jump in if maintenance of “common space” aka the Society Hill Walkway, is not attended to by the Development, with provision to pass along the cost of repairs, maintenance, etc. to the Development, the City has refused to intercede and repair the walkway or maintain the trees.  Given this was their position at Society Hill, they will unlikely do this elsewhere so don’t depend on the City to save the day!   Check the Deed language for clarification of responsibility and ultimate recourse for “common or public spaces” at respective Developments.

d.    .Even though SH1, SH2, DP are private developments, when there is a public access right of way that occupies a portion of private property like the SH walkway, since the city does not want to maintain these public spaces; the burden and frankly legal oversight falls on the private association.  The city should have oversight authority to these public spaces - there are no written guidelines that provide for associations to be overseen by city authorities, so there are no enforcement options for residents, even when public access spaces are the issue.  Anything could go on with any sort of deal making scheme which is not in the best interest of the residents.

2.    Non-transparent Boards - The DPWA neither shared the RFP to remediate the Walkway, nor the contract with Falcon Engineering that was awarded, with residents.  The DPWA closed the walkway last Oct due to repair issues that have been pending for 10 years.  They held the walkway hostage with the closure and with the clock ticking on insurance cancellation for the walkway (City would also be liable) and escalating tensions from residents not having access to their waterfront.  The DPWA refused to meet with residents to discuss alternative solutions and purported to the City that the only way to repair the walkway properly was for all the trees to be removed.

a.    Development Association Boards are tricky and residents should make sure they elect solid board members.  In the case of Society Hill and Droyers Pointe, the DPWA does not operate transparently, e.g., they have not publicly posted their by-laws.  Nor does the DPWA make RFP and service contracts easily accessible to residents for review and scrutiny for financial or other considerations.  Nor do they respond to inquiries and requests.  And in this case, the DPWA has not worked in the best interest or voice of the residents.

3.    Civic Participation - It would seem that petitions (no matter how many signatures) are irrelevant to City Officials.  Similarly, professional assessments from accredited environmental non-profits, and certified arborists can be decidedly overlooked and not even given the respect of a review.  Also, public meetings (such as the July 25th DPWA & Fulop SH resident meeting) that claimed to be an opportunity for ideas to be shared, voices to be heard, and votes to be taken, are often just window dressing rather than an exchange that really matters… in fact, they often are not.

Clearly the backroom deal that was made between City Officials and         Falcon Engineering, funded by the DPWA (who has been against the    maintenance of the trees and was irresponsible on the repairs of the         walkway for the last 10 years), seems to have more power on what   prevails than civic participation in JC.

4.    The Jersey City Tree Ordinance has a LOOPHOLE and in the case of Public Access properties, there is no clarity as to “ownership”, (i.e., is the Development the ‘owner of the property’ or are they ‘an adjoining property owner’ ?)  As an adjoining property owner, allowance is made for removal if “improvements” are required.  Who oversees “improvement requirements” ?  Given this was the guise under which these 84 trees are being removed, “improvements” can seem to mean anything and that decision can be arbitrary. See Section 321-6 of the ordinance.

a.    The Tree Removal Permit Application - the Friends of the Walkway and Sustainable JC were assured the Removal Permit Application Process would protect the majority of the healthy 84 mature trees - clearly that is not the case and it is negotiable and can be a discretionary decision depending on the deal makers who come to the City, even those who favor cutting down trees.

5.            City Officials in past administrations, while not wanting to take on the direct maintenance of these trees and repairs to the Walkway, were very clear that these 84 mature trees did not need to come down and that the DPWA was being negligent, so past Directors of Planning and the DPW issued a written directive, which unfortunately was never complied with, and enforced by current city officials.  This included putting a Maintenance Plan in place which has never been done.  Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a mechanism to enforce mandates such as these or clear guidance for how residents can be in touch with specific City agencies to resolve issues such as this.  In the case of the current administration, DPW / Parks & Forestry, City Planning, Legal and Engineering all weighed in and consistently attested verbally that the new JC Tree Ordinance Permit Requirement for Tree Removal would manage a positive outcome to not remove all these trees, that inspections showing a few of the trees that were dead or dying would require these trees to be removed, and the rest would remain standing as Removal Permits would be denied.  Nothing was ever put in writing by the City to assure this and Friends of the Walkway received only cursory email correspondence from the City, even after expressing concern that the DPWA would not meet with residents.  Meeting with residents was encouraged by the Mayor at his July 25th Town Hall - he publicly suggested for the DPWA to do so.  The punting from one city department to another, and from Mayor Fulop to Councilwoman Ridley, was extraordinary and divisive - private meetings were structured with the various parties to this, facilitated by the City, and never were all parties at the table together.

I It is unfortunate that the City could not effect the bridgework required to resolve matters in a beneficial way to save at least the majority of these trees – there was certainly a lot of window dressing, using the Tree Ordinance as cover, but the decision to cut down these 84 mature Shelterbelt Trees was agreed to offline between the City, DPWA and Falcon Engineering - JC residents and environmental groups were never included at the table.

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Nov 6th City Hall Meeting - Join A Sustainability Team This Fall !

Join A Sustainability Team This Fall !

Come Meet With Us At City Hall Caucus Room #204 on Tues Eve Nov 6th

Networking starts at 6:30pm for :30 minutes and then our meeting starts at 7pm

Choose your passion and work with others on neighborhood projects for Jersey City.  You can either join an existing team or suggest a new initiative you would like to launch. October & November Meetings cover different topics and if you missed October we will have a recap at the start of our November meeting - see graphic and details link below. These are organizing meetings and we will review what SJC has done so far for each topic area and then break out into small groups to plan for next steps and new projects. 

Teamwork gets the job done !

Full Details About The Event Here

RSVP Here Please

See you then and look forward to meeting with you,

Sustainable JC Green Team

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