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Geoff Elkind Candidate for Ward E City Council

Autonomous agencies

 Jersey City’s autonomous agencies do not appear to function independent of undue influence from City Hall.  I believe that no city official or employee should sit on any board of an autonomous agency because of the serious potential for conflicts of interest. If the board composition and structure can’t be changed to ensure real independence and fair representation from each ward, the agencies should be abolished.

 How should Liberty State Park be developed within the next ten years?

 LSP should not be intensively developed at all. Consistent with the earlier expressed wishes of former Governor Whitman,  LSP should remain as open greenspace. I would only support for low or limited activity uses within Liberty State Park, which preserve and protect the remaining open greenspace, and I further support a ban on the further commercialization of Liberty State Park. Limited activity uses would include also restoring Camp Liberty and fixing or building a new swimming pool for the benefit of JC children and residents – not for out of town tourists.

E-Government

We under utilize the internet within city government today. There are several areas where internet technology could be introduced without great cost:

     Ø       Constituency service though the creation of a centralized customer service       system. Such a system would track constituent requests for city service and the quality of the city’s response – enhancing accountability and performance. You shouldn’t have to wait until City Hall is open during business hours to make a complaint or a request for service.

Ø       Greater access to city information empowers people – All the city’s ordinances, regulations and meeting agendas should be available on-line, for free – and not for a fee.

Ø       Introduce E-Government Services which would provide easier access for routine permit and license applications, etc. and handling payments, etc, to name a few ideas.

 Development

 We need to Manage Growth & Development Responsibly.  We have not been doing this!

Ø       We need real planning with a capital “P” immediately -- not four years from now! Ward E’s future quality of life will be determined, in large part, by the development site plans reviewed during the next four years by the City Planning Department and Planning Board. The current “we’ll take whatever comes along" approach must stop.  Future planning and development needs to be more pedestrian friendly with more street level retail and more open space.

Ø       Change Board Composition. The composition of the Planning Board, Board of Adjustments, and especially, the Historic Commission should be more reflective of the interests Jersey City’s residential communities, rather than real estate commercial interests. These Boards need to exercise greater oversight over the quality of the applications submitted and focus on ensuring compliance with applicable ordinances. This is not happening today.

Ø       Increase Public Access to Information. The public has a role to play in policy making and in the development process. I will increase public access to vital city information so you can act from an informed position and fully participate in the decision making process. Using Internet email and websites, I will seek to make available relevant board agendas, ordinances and other information available for free – and not for a fee.  Today, the City treats public input and participation as a problem to be avoided. I see it as part of the solution and will do everything I can to encourage it.

Ø       We need a citywide Master “Traffic” Plan. A comprehensive Traffic Circulation & Calming Plan will decrease congestion and aid future site plan development. Presently, the traffic impact of individual site plans is reviewed on a case-by-case basis, as if they exist in isolation.  Compliance with a citywide Master Traffic Plan would remove this problem.

Ø       Properly Staff the Planning & Historic Preservation Departments. Staffing in the Planning and Historic Preservation Departments should be increased so they can perform their duties properly. The City’s reduction of staffing during the past eight years has only helped expedite the processing of real estate development applications at the expense of our communities and quality of life.

Ø       Mass transit must be the first and only option over more highways. There should be no Bergen Arches highway. In fact, the City’s insistence on maintaining a right of way for a Bergen Arches highway on 10th Street has stymied a proposed contribution of 3 acres for additional greenspace!

Ø       Carefully balance and weigh the need for additional parking downtown.  The creation of additional parking for commuters must be de-emphasized as it competes with mass transit alternatives. On the other hand, we need to examine carefully whether there is a need for local, off-street, residential and commercial parking facilities.

 

We need to Develop Parks, Greenspace and Recreational Facilities as Necessities – Not Options

 

Ø       Conform All Redevelopment Plans to the Master Plan – Create Greenspace Development Incentives. Specific provisions for greenspace development and incentives must be incorporated, as best as possible, into all of Jersey City’s 58 redevelopment plans, as the Master Plan requires. These plans govern development of 50% of the available land in Jersey City and 75% of these areas are located in Ward E! Nearly all of the waterfront areas of Ward E are within redevelopment plans.  If greenspace requirement provisions are not soon incorporated into these plans, it will be too late to see adequate greenspace beyond what we have today.

Ø       New greenspace and related facilities must be created for everyone. Too many people are competing to use to little space and we are beginning to see the impact of this crunch manifest itself in the debate between dog owners and non-dog owners. Creating dog friendly areas or dog runs in appropriate areas in and around our parks should also be a priority.

Ø       Greenspace maintenance and creation must become a management and budget priority. Better management of available staff and resources can make a big difference in the quality and cleanliness of our parks, but only with pressure from City Council. Additionally, we must more aggressively seek out and explore grant and other alternative funding sources -- e.g., we've left millions of dollars of available state funding on the table for the simple lack of making applications. We need to make a concentrated effort to revive a centralized grants and alternative funding process within City Hall for this and other purposes.

 We Need Effective Enforcement of Quality of Life Ordinances 

Ø       We Need a Commitment to Enforcement. Jersey City just adopted a new comprehensive zoning ordinance. If the zoning ordinance now has new “teeth,” it will have no “bite” without a commitment to enforcement. The same can be said for all our quality of life issues and ordinances and it’s not impossible. Staffing for full enforcement can be self-funding and should be also a net source of additional revenue, if it’s being done properly.  It simply requires the will of City Hall and the City Council to make it a priority.  Most of the problems and issues we complain about stem directly from the lack of a commitment to enforcement – we’ve already got most of the laws we need on the books!

Ø       Create individualized neighborhood quality of life plans. Quality of life plans created with community and city input will help prioritize problems and identify solutions on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis.  With agency sign-off, it will also include specific measurable objectives against which results and effectiveness can be measured.  It’s time to hold the city accountable. 

Affordable Housing 

Ø       Quality affordable housing is a requirement to maintain a diverse downtown community.  It’s time for the city to review our affordable housing needs and to adopt a plan that will provide for the creation and stabilization of quality affordable, moderate and market rate housing. 

Tax rates and Bulk Lien Sales 

Ø       Develop a multi-year Jersey City Business Plan. Jersey City’s financial situation will not improve until the City’s approach to budget development shifts from a “crisis management” to a “business planning” mode. If every business needs a plan, the corporate business of Jersey City needs one, too.  I would advocate the creation of a multi-disciplinary development panel to create a forward-looking business plan on a 3, 5 and 10-year basis. The plan should cover all aspects vital to the success of a 21st Century Jersey City and include participants from the arts, business, education, government and financial institutions, among others.

Ø       Aggressively Pursue Available Grant Funds. We have needlessly left millions of dollars of available state and federal funding on the table for the simple lack of making grant applications. We need to make a concentrated effort to revive a centralized grants and alternative funding office within City Hall for this and other purposes.

Ø       Bulk Lien Sales have never lived up to their promised potential and I would seek to eliminate them.

Ø       Increased Ratables Lower Taxes. We need to take more aggressive steps to lower our taxes by increasing our tax ratable base.  

o        Audit the tax assessments of undeveloped waterfront properties. Artificially low tax assessments encourage the warehousing of property and encourage speculation. Bringing these tax assessments closer in line with market values will either prompt the development or sale of the property. In either case, we will realize higher ratables and bring in additional tax monies.

o        Auction off ‘under water’ tax lien properties – i.e., properties where the accumulated taxes and penalties exceed the fair market value of the property and the cost of foreclosure. Auctioning non-productive lien properties to the highest bidder would immediately place these properties back into productive use and back also onto the tax roles.

o        Bring Brownfield sites back on line through the use of State and Federal Government incentives.  

Abatements

Ø       Abatement policy reform is needed to ensure taxpayer fairness.  We have overused abatements in areas of the city where they are no longer needed as development incentives and we have not wisely used the proceeds they generate to develop much needed city infrastructure – e.g., parks, recreation center, firehouses, schools, etc. Instead, the funds are being squandered to plug operational budget deficits. More importantly, we are not adequately auditing the underlying financial figures from developers to ensure that the city and the taxpayers are receiving the best deal we are entitled to by law.

o        There needs to be a clearly written tax abatement policy governing the rules of the game.

o        Decision-making regarding abatements needs to be conducted more openly than it has been in the recent past.

o        Abatements are needed tools and we should make them work effectively again as incentives to bring development to areas of the city where it is absent today – not the just waterfront.

o        Audit the underlying financials of previously granted abatements to ensure taxpayer fairness. It’s the only way of knowing that we’re receiving what we’re legally entitled to.

o        Use abatements only where there is a clearly defined benefit. Abatements should be used only where there is a clearly defined linkage and benefit to the taxpayers of Jersey City – e.g., job creation, senior citizen or affordable housing, historic preservation, etc.

o        Abatement proceeds must be used also for the construction of capital improvements. Funds derived from the abatement process should be earmarked, in part, for the development of capital improvements – e.g. parks, community recreation centers, firehouses, schools, etc.

Education 

Ø       Jersey City requires quality schools for everyone (Public, Parochial, Private, & Charter)

Ø       Charter Schools deserve a chance to succeed as viable alternatives, as well.

Ø       I will work to create a new educational partnership program with parents, schools and businesses. We need to ensure that our schools teach the skills needed to access the jobs being created along the waterfront.

Ø       I will seek to open our schools for after-hours recreation for children and adults. We are not fully utilizing the recreational resources already available to us and we should. 

Tell us why you're the best candidate to lead Jersey City into the 21st century? 

I am running for City Council because there is a direct connection between the quality of the people you elect and the quality of life you get. We simply can’t afford the “same old” – “same old” approach to city government.  We need to bring “new skills” to City Hall -- not just new faces or old ones repackaged. 

I am an attorney and public policy consultant with a demonstrated commitment to public service. As a US Government Enforcement Attorney, I have successfully prosecuted white-collar crime and financial fraud. As a US Foreign Aid Advisor in Russia and Ukraine, I delivered concrete results in some of the world’s worst managed, most corrupt countries. 

I know how government works and I know how our laws can be enforced efficiently and effectively. I understand budgets and know what it takes to create and manage them properly.  More importantly, I know there’s a better way to get things done and I’ve demonstrated this at home here in Jersey City, as well as abroad. 

I have successfully fought to curb excessive development and to protect our Historic neighborhoods. I am passionate about creating new opportunities for parks, greenspace and recreational areas in downtown Jersey City and have consistently worked for better zoning, better planning, and an improved quality of life in our residential neighborhoods.  

As your Councilman, you can count on me to always listen for what’s missing from our communities and to work to provide solutions in partnership with neighborhoods. 

As your Councilman, I promise you will be able to count on me:  

Ø       To be Accessible and Responsive -- With Regular Office Hours and Internet Technology

Ø       To be Proactive and To Inform You About What’s Happening In City Hall

Ø       To Reach Out On Neighborhood Issues Before It’s Too Late For Your Input

Ø       To Hold The City Accountable For The Quality of the Service It Delivers

Ø       To Work For The Enforcement of All Our Quality of Life Ordinances

Ø       To Listen and Respect The Value of Community Input and Participation

 

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