PATERSON, NJ – About 40 people attended Wednesday’s 2nd Ward “Quality of Life” community meeting to voice their complaints on issues that ranged from annoyances like discarded toilets left languishing at curbsides to more dangerous situations like gunfire and robberies.
Maureen Promin, the newly-elected President of the Hillcrest Neighborhood Association, raised one of the many concerns related to public safety, a common theme throughout the evening.
"We had break-ins on Lennox Ave,’’ she said, “and they knew the people were home and they went in anyway." Promin said a police dispatcher indicated that the department could not respond to the scene for at least an hour.
Gun shots and late-night noise near McBride Avenue were concerns offered up by other residents, who attributed them to two neighborhood bars, NuBar and Auggie's. In fact, Paterson’s two most recent shootings happened outside those locations.
The event, hosted by Paterson’s Department of Health and Human Services at School 27, was part of an ongoing series of ward meetings that Director Donna Nelson-Ivy has dubbed as "Paterson's Time Together For Healing." Nelson-Ivy fielded a wide-range of comments and complaints.
Howard Sterling, the pastor at Paterson Avenue United Methodist Church, said the city needed "safe corridors for the kids to get home from school." He said the lack of crossing guards was a problem in the community, adding that "using police instead just isn't working." (In late February, the City Council decided to rehire crossing guards, but that move first must be approved by the state.)
Sterling also raised the issue of traffic back-ups, complaining that Glover, Wayne, and Totowa Avenues "always" experience gridlock during rush hour and when schools let out.
One speaker congratulated the city for its recycling and street sweeping programs, but most of the comments were critical of the current administration.
"We've been here 15 years and this is the worst I've seen our city," said Maggie Maldonado of Glover Avenue.
Nelson-Ivy tried to shift the discussion away from criticism. "I really believe we're on this earth to help each other and if we don't come together and bring Paterson back to what it can be, it's not going to happen," she said.
Maldonado said that confusion over the border between Paterson and Woodland Park has led her to question whether or not she is even a resident of Paterson. She described an unsuccessful attempt to secure changes to the city's parking ordinance to benefit residents of Glover Avenue, who do not have driveways.
When the changes were implemented, she said it was revealed that Woodland Park actually owns the right-of-way, and that their government promptly reversed the changes she had fought for.
"Who does it really belong to?" she asked, adding that she would prefer to pay what she believed to be lower property taxes if her home were considered part of Woodland Park.
And Maldonado wasn't the only one who railed against soaring property taxes.
Promin raised two concerns that she said were brought to her by members of the association who could not be at the meeting. The first was the need for a citywide re-assessment of property values for tax purposes, an idea that several others at the meeting said they supported. (The city is in the process of hiring a company to conduct such a revaluation.)
The second was the controversial proposal to reduce the salaries of the mayor and several department heads, including Nelson-Ivy, to a lower level. That measure failed to pass last summer.
To alleviate the tension, Nelson-Ivy jokingly pretended she could not hear Promin's comments about the salaries twice before adding it to the list. Nelson-Ivy also took the opportunity to defend the overtime payouts for her work during Hurricane Irene, "I am about the people… I went out and worked that flood harder than anybody."
The weak economy was another recurring theme, with many residents citing foreclosed homes that have gone unmaintained as a major quality-of-life issue.
One resident said that trees on a foreclosed property had twice fallen and knocked out power to the rest of his neighborhood.
Sterling added that he thought the city could use more food pantries in light of a "huge increase" in demand. "We're looking at as many as three times the people that we were serving as five years ago."
Another man raised the issue of the difficult job market for ex-offenders: "It's nearly impossible to find a job for somebody with a record."
Among the multitude of other issues raised were litter, drainage, potholes, illegal conversions of rental properties, dogs without leashes, broken security cameras, and the unsanitary state of the ward's parks.
One resident said that Westside Park would be a great asset to the neighborhood, but it was "so contaminated with fecal matter that our children can't play in it," referring to waste from geese.
Concerns regarding children led one woman to call for "some place constructive for the kids to go" after another resident raised the issue of pre-teens smoking marijuana near the Dunkin Donuts on Union Ave. Others complained of seeing children at pizzerias and fast-food restaurants during school hours.
Nelson-Ivy took 10 pages of notes on oversized "Post-it" paper, which she said was equivalent to the number generated at last week's first ward meeting.
The director said potential solutions to the issues raised would be addressed at a citywide "resolve session" on April 25 at Eastside High School, where all elected officials were expected to attend. But she also said that didn't mean the complaints would go unaddressed in the meantime.
"I will be typing these up and sending these to the mayor and Councilman Goow and also to the department heads and my division directors, and asking them to review this information and be prepared to address the issues that can be immediately addressed, so that you can see that we are serious," Nelson-Ivy said.
Here’s the schedule for the other quality of life meetings, all of which will be held from on Wednesday evenings from 6:30 – 8:30 pm:
Ward 3 – March 7 at School 26
Ward 4 – March 14 at Rosa Parks performing arts high school
Ward 5 – March 21 at Eastside High School
Ward 6 – March 28 at School 25