JERSEY CITY, NJ - Liberty National Golf Course owner Paul Fireman withdrew his proposal to purchase 22 acres in the Caven Point section of Liberty State Park, saying opponents of the deal need to deal with the social injustice issues.
Sam Pesin, President of Friends of Liberty State Park, has been a staunch opponent of development’s encroachment on the park – and has successfully defeated other proposals such as the development of a luxury marina in a section of the park used by the general public and other more extensive plans proposed in the past.
He has also been a strong advocate for The Liberty Park Protection Act which would prevent the park from facing similar development schemes in the future. While the act has the support of a number of state legislators, the measure has not had enough support to pass into law.
“Fireman’s Caven Point takeover never had any support in Jersey City and his decision to drop it is welcome,” said Ward E Councilman James Solomon. “Now, New Jersey must pass the Liberty Park Protection Act to stop the endless parade of large scale privatization attempts over the past four decades.”
A number of community activists have raised questions about the lack of social justice, pointing in particular to a 1977 master plan for the park which had mandated swimming pools, basketball courts, ball fields, an aquarium, and amphitheater and playgrounds in the park.
These groups also questioned why representatives from the black and Latino community have been left out of critical decisions about the park’s future.
“For decades, Jersey City’s minority communities have been systematically shut out of the decision-making process on Liberty State Park,” Fireman said in a statement. “No one asked the communities’ opinions or cared about what was truly needed, and decisions were made for them. Meanwhile, 40 years later the Park is still incomplete.”
Fireman said the fight for social justice is the most important fight taking place at Liberty State Park today.
“Those who do not want to empower minority communities are using me in an effort to distract from the real issue of who gets to make decisions,” he said. “If people are serious about listening to minority voices, then we need a new effort that lets those voices be heard. I will not be used as an excuse for inaction any longer. That is why I am halting any efforts to pursue a public private partnership at Caven Point. I am doing this to force the supporters of the Liberty State Park Protection Act to address the social justice problems connected to Liberty State Park without using me as an excuse to keep ignoring minority communities.”
Fireman said that a new effort must be launched on Liberty State Park that will allow Jersey City’s minority communities a seat at the table and ensure no actions are taken until there is community say in the decision-making process.
“When the Park was created 40 years ago community leaders, faith groups, politicians and business leaders were brought together,” he said. “Their recommendations, after a thorough process, became the Liberty State Park Master Plan. This plan remains active today and is still being ignored. Its principles and ideas should serve as the basis of a new effort and a new plan.”
Fireman said Pesin should have been the leader of making that original plan a reality.
“Instead, after 40 years, Sam has done nothing to implement the grand vision for Liberty State Park,” Fireman said. “Pesin has reinforced a do-nothing policy and shut out minority communities from the decision-making process. This exclusion would continue under the Liberty State Park Protection Act.”
Although Fireman claims Pesin and the Friends of Liberty State Park do not support proper decontamination of the interior 235 acres of the Park, which sits next to a minority neighborhood, the environmental community including the New Jersey Sierra Club, Baykeeper and other groups have frequently rallied to Pesin’s defense, saying development of the park threatened the local environment.
Social justice activists in Jersey City, however, have sided with Fireman saying that the cleanup of the toxic site through revenues raised by a sale of land could lead to the fulfillment of promises made in the original master plan.
“This contaminated land should be cleaned and converted into a swimming pool, arts and recreation center, ballfields, basketball courts, picnic areas and natural habitat restoration. There was also supposed to be a transportation system at the Park, which would help minority communities get there,” Fireman said. “I have never advocated for privatization of Liberty State Park. I do believe the reality is our parks need public and private support to be great. It is a model used across the world. But I am halting efforts around Caven Point so there can be a real discussion about empowering minority voices to have their say about the future of Liberty State Park and the 235 acres of the Interior.”
For his part, Pesin said that “all supporters of a free park behind Lady Liberty will be very glad to read about Fireman giving up for now,” adding his belief that Fireman’s statement “continues to push his self-serving false narrative about LSP.”
“His only goal has been to privatize and destroy the LSP Caven Point Natural area to relocate golf holes right by the bay for millionaires. Fireman is in a long line of privatizers who have been overwhelmingly opposed in 44 years of grassroots battles. In this current battle, over 85 groups are in the Coalition to Pass the LSP Protection Act and over 18,000 have signed an online petition without public engagement in the pandemic.”
Renewing his call to Governor Phil Murphy to take a strong stand in support of the legislation Pesin said that “what must happen now is for the LSP Protection Act to become law to once and for all end privatization assaults on LSP.”
“The Governor signing of the essential and landmark Act will once and for all protect our urban, state and national treasure park behind Lady Liberty. Without the Protection Act, Paul Fireman will come roaring back with his disinformation and political contributions with a new governor for his land grab goal of Caven Point.”