At Tuesday's meeting, which drew 70 people, quality-of-life issues were a focus.
Making landlords more accountable
In council business, two amendments to ordinances were adopted. The first amended the classification schedule, explained City Clerk Michael Licameli, "This amendment basically creates definitions for the responsibilities of the different departments, salary ranges, and division of duties." It passed without public comment.
Another amendment was adopted as well. It increases the fines charged to landlords who fail to provide essential services like heat and hot water for tenants in multi-unit dwellings. The previous fine had been $50 day per unit up to a limit of six units. The new fine is $200 per day per unit up to a limit of six units. Pointing out that even 12 hours without one of these necessities in winter time is a hardship, Mayor Brian Stack said, "I refuse as mayor to let this happen." But before the final vote, Wafaa Mikhail , a tenants' rights activist in Union City, questioned the mayor and the commissioners about the upper limit of six units. "What if it's more than that," she asked. "Then what?"
The upper limit is set at a maximum fine of $1,200 per day. Asked Mikhail, "And that fine will stick?'
The mayor assured her that it would. He pointed out the city's proactive responses to these problems, citing the example of a building on 19th Street, which had been owned by an absentee landlord and was placed in receivership.
Another concern that Mikhail mentioned is a practice of some landlords turning off the heat and/or hot water at night. She said that these landlords evade detection because when the inspector arrives during business hours, the service is back on again. Stack noted that during winter months, he tries to keep inspectors on until late at night, and added that there are monitoring devices which can be installed. Said Mikhail, "We need that all over the city."
Landlords in buildings over 100 units will also be affected if an ordinance introduced later in the meeting is adopted. This ordinance will require that all of these large multi-unit dwellings have a management office that is open during business hours. Union City has a number of buildings of this size. Indicating that all but one of these buildings is already in compliance, Stack said, "We feel it is imperative that [the owners of the buildings] have a management office open during business hours to deal with complaints. We're trying to make these property owners more responsible."
Liquor licenses under scrutiny
A case was also settled as part of the consent agenda resolving the matter of the Nugget Lounge on Summit Avenue. Due to past problems, the board had pulled the license of the establishment. According to the terms of the settlement, the owners will be allowed to re-open for the duration of the current license, but at the end of 2003, the owners will sell the license back to the city, who, having compensated the owners, will then retire that license.
Stack said that the goal is to reduce the present number of licenses. He added, "At one point in Union City there were 200 liquor licenses. Now there are 155."
As for other liquor licenses, the Park Theater's license renewal was approved.
Quality of life revisited
Even in awarding a landscaping contract to Rivardo, Schnizer and Capazzi for landscape management of 12 pieces of city property including the parks, quality of life was again a focus. Not just because this maintenance would result in saving more money than if the city hired workers to do the work themselves, but also because, said Stack, "Starting in April or May, you'll really start to see the improvement." He explained that the city presently doesn't have the staff to handle the maintenance of this much landscaped property. By using an outside contractor for a contract in the vicinity of $50,000, the city will be saving money over what it would spend if it had to hire employees, he said.
A road resurfacing project was also amended in response to a citizen's comments at the previous meeting, and the mayor said that the city will be resurfacing those areas which are the worst problems over the next four years using HUD and DOT monies. The city will re-do sidewalks as well when an area is targeted. Anticipating questions on when, Stack joked, "If you keep me in here for 12 years, maybe we'll get to do the whole city."
A contract was also awarded to Rivardo, Schnizer and Capazzi for the installation of closed circuit cameras on Summit Avenue from Fifth to 21st streets to allow police to observe the areas 24 hours a day. The monies for this project will come from Urban Enterprise Zone funds, and after the Summit Project is completed, the city is looking to install additional cameras on Bergenline Avenue and then other areas of the city. Said Stack, "This will make the policemen's job a lot easier in these neighborhoods."
The parking dilemma
Many of the Union City residents who spoke before the Board voiced concerns chiefly relating to parking, or the lack thereof. Union City resident Paula Reilly, began by saying, "I'm impressed by the fact that you move your meetings. This is really nice." But Reilly was not happy about the parking situation as it presently exists. Said Reilly, "As Union City becomes more desirable, we're going to have more of a problem."
But she did have a suggestion for the city officials. Citing the problem of cars parked at the curbside inefficiently, she suggested marking off the spaces. But Stack again explained that because of the legal size requirement, spaces would actually be lost if the city were to mark off the curbside parking. "The thing we are doing is issuing summonses to commercial vehicles that are parked on the street at night," he said. "We issued summonses to over 200 in one night recently."
In addition to the business of the board and the public commentary, the meeting also began with four proclamations. Residents Lucio Fernandez and Megan Smith were recognized for their artistic achievements. Also honored was the organization Save Latin America and residents Carol and Frank Gusevich. Union City also joined in the national effort to recognize October as breast Cancer Awareness Month. Commissioner Michael Leggiero read the proclamation. Leggiero, who is also CEO and President of the North Hudson Community Action Corporation, urged those who might be in need of assistance in seeking mammography - or other health screening tests - to contact the NHCAC.
For those wishing to participate in this active series of traveling meetings, the next Board of Commissioners meeting will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. at Robert Waters School at 2800 Summit Ave. in Union City.