Paving paradise and putting up a parking lot

Re-post from Al Jazerra America | Written by Sharon Adarlo

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The skyscrapers of downtown Newark are surrounded by surface parking lots. Image via Newark Metamorphosis.

During the day, parking lots in downtown Newark are jammed with cars belonging to government and corporate office workers. To some observers, the full lots might seem a useful facet of urban life and a sign of a healthy city economy.

 

But not to everyone. At night and during the weekends, the surface lots are desolate, quiet stretches of black and cracked asphalt.  Repeat this scene in other parts of this city’s downtown and you end up with many residents and urban planners complaining they are a form of urban blight. They sap the vitality of an area on the cusp of major gentrification, critics say.

There is also an economic cost: The dead spaces that cars take up don’t generate nearly enough in taxes for Newark’s coffers, and most of all, they might encourage crime. Some residents don’t feel safe around the empty lots late at night.

“I have been here for more than 20 years, and [crime] has been increasing. The synergy there is that with the crime increasing, so are the surface parking lots,” said Madeline Ruiz, an architect. “I used to feel safe.”

Nor are Newark residents alone. Many cities across the U.S. are also confronted by landscapes filled with similar ugliness, posing problems with stormwater runoff and acting as heat sinks.

Miami and Detroit suffer the same problem, says Streetblogs, a website devoted to transportation issues. This year, Rochester, New York, won the blog’s Golden Crater award, which recognizes the city with the most excessive surface parking. An aerial view of Rochester’s core shows a patchwork of blacktop and islands of buildings.

A study from the University of Connecticut compared three U.S. cities with modest parking lot growth and three with triple-digit percentage increases. It found that lot-dominated cities suffered economically. One example was Hartford, Connecticut, which loses $50 million a year thanks to its lots.

“Surface parking lots are holes in the urban fabric,” said Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at UCLA and an expert on parking issues in cities. “They don’t produce as much for the economy. The parking lot barely employs a few people compared to a restaurant. A parking lot doesn’t draw anybody to downtown.”

The result is a less healthy city, argue Ruiz and her husband, Dave Robinson, also an architect. They say the spaces are the opposite of what should go there: lively shops and apartments. And having fewer eyes on the street creates more crime-ridden areas.

Newark was a nominee for the Golden Crater this year, and it’s not hard to see why. In the vicinity of Newark’s Penn Station, “there are more than 20 acres of underutilized sites primarily being used as surface parking,” according to the city master plan.

In the latest flashpoint of the parking wars in Newark, a proposed lot has residents up in arms because it already has other parking lots on all four sides. It is on Bruen Street in the Ironbound area, a densely packed neighborhood known for its large population of Brazilian immigrants and Portuguese cafes.

The owners of the property and the person contracted to run the future lot need a variance from the city zoning board. A building on the property was damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and was subsequently demolished.

“If you do any other business, it won’t work,” said Makram Demian, who owns the property with his brother Maher Demian. They argue it is logical to put in the 73-space lot because it’s surrounded by other parking. “It’s already decided by the neighborhood.” The zoning board has repeatedly delayed hearing their application, but a decision may be reached next month.

A request to talk to members of the zoning board was denied. Angelo Cifelli Jr., the board’s attorney, said members will not comment on a case that is pending. Repeated requests to the city press office were not met. Nor were queries to the planning and the housing and economic development departments.

When asked about parking lots at an unrelated event earlier this month, Mayor Ras Baraka said, “We are going to build up and not across. We are going to look at stormwater runoff.” During his election campaign earlier this year, he told concerned Ironbound residents that he sympathized with their concerns.

ParkingLotSharonAdarlo
Parking lot owned by J&L Corporation that faces toward Newark’s Prudential Center hockey arena.

Newark’s 2012 master plan calls for redevelopment of surface parking lots. New construction projects should get structured parking underground or aboveground, with stacked garages and ground-floor retail. A Whole Foods is slated for Broad Street in a few years. At Broad and Market Streets, the busiest intersection in the city, a mixed-use retail, residential and hotel development is imminent.

Rather than merely serve suburban commuters, Shoup said, the city can encourage landowners to redevelop wasted spaces by putting a hefty tax on them. “It’s just a nudge. It tells landlords it’s probably time to build,” he said.

Eran Ben-Joseph, the head of MIT’s department of urban studies and planning, said improved aesthetics could help surface parking lots. “They are not going away too soon,” he said. “If we design them the right way, they can be an asset.” He has proposed green parking, lots that use innovative ways of managing stormwater and adding vegetation.

Meanwhile, residents like Robinson are committed to fighting the scourge. “These parking lots are a cancer,” he said. “And they are spreading very quickly.”

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Nurses, health care workers ratify new contracts at Christ Hospital and Bayonne Medical Center

Re-post from NJBiz | Written by Beth Fitzgerald

Nurses and other health care workers at Christ Hospital in Jersey City and Bayonne Medical Center on Wednesday ratified new union contracts that include a 1.5 percent pay raise, increased employer matching contributions for workers’ retirement plans and increased staffing levels at both hospitals.

The new labor contracts represented by the 12,000 member Health Professionals and Allied Employees union cover 400 nurses at Christ Hospital and 850 nurses and health care professionals at Bayonne Medical Center.

HPAE said in a statement that employee health insurance contributions will not increase during the term of the contract, which expires June 30, 2015.

HPAE said improved nurse-to-patient ratios at both hospitals is a key component of the contracts. The agreement provides for more nurses for hospital units, including medical surgical, intensive care, emergency department, oncology and maternal child health.

“Our first priority throughout these negotiations was to set strong standards for patient safety and quality care — and we did that,” said Nicole Mankowski, president, HPAE local at Christ Hospital.

Retirement benefits were also improved, with an increase of the employer matching contribution to 2 percent for Christ Hospital, and an increase of 1 percent for Bayonne Medical Center.

“Improvements in staffing will help recruit staff and improvements of retirement benefits should help retain our valuable experienced staff,” said John Bauer, president, HPAE local at Bayonne Medical Center.

“HPAE members, elected officials and community leaders were instrumental in achieving strong staffing improvements in both of our contracts,” said Ann Twomey, president, HPAE union.  “Our first priority throughout these negotiations was to set strong standards for patient safety and care in both the Bayonne and Jersey City communities.”

“CarePoint Health is very pleased that we have brought our negotiations with HPAE to resolution without any labor disruption affecting hospital patients, workers or the communities we serve,” said Jennifer Dobin, vice president of human resources at CarePoint Health, which owns the two hospitals.

She said CarePoint and the union reached terms in the early hours of July 31, following an extended bargaining session, and the issues resolved in the new contracts cover  compensation, retirement benefits, health insurance contributions and hospital staffing.

“We want to thank the HPAE and all stakeholders that contributed to the dialogue and helped us reach satisfying results for all parties,” Dobin said. “In the end, we are all committed to maintaining our hospitals’ standards of excellence in patient care.”

Christ Hospital, Bayonne Medical Center reach tentative agreements with union

Re-post from NJBiz | Written by Beth Fitzgerald

Tentative collective bargaining agreements have been reached between hospital workers and the owners of Christ Hospital in Jersey City and Bayonne Medical Center, the Health Professionals and Allied Employees union announced Thursday. HPAE said workers at the two hospitals will vote on the tentative contracts next week, and said it would not disclose details until then.

Jeanne Otersen, policy director for HPAE, said, “We made what we believe are significant improvements in (the) staffing level at both hospitals.”

The agreements also enhance retirement security for the workers and “protects many elements of health insurance coverage,” she said.

The agreements would be in place until June 30, 2015. HPAE said it represents more than 1,200 nurses and other health care workers between the two hospitals.

The negotiations had been contentious: After CarePoint raised the possibility of a lockout, the union rallied support from local elected officials.

“The support of our elected officials and community leaders made a major difference to our ability to include strong staffing improvements in both of our contracts,” said Ann Twomey, president of the 12,000 member HPAE.

The two hospitals are owned by the for-profit CarePoint Health, which also owns a third Hudson County Hospital, Hoboken University Medical Center.

Union Criticizes Handling of Hospital’s Finances

Re-post from NJSpotlight | Written by Andrew Kitchenman

Hospital leader defends approach, while health commissioner is asked to appoint temporary manager of facility

A labor union representing workers at Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center is demanding that the state step up its fiscal oversight of the for-profit hospital after it eliminated more than 100 jobs.

The Health Professionals and Allied Employees and the New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center sent a letter to state Health Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd on Friday reiterating their request for appointment of a temporary manager for the Secaucus hospital.

Continue reading Union Criticizes Handling of Hospital’s Finances

NJ Appleseed scores major victory for fair elections and exposes the practice of “vote harvesting”

Re-post from HudsonReporter.com | Written by Dean DeChiaro

When the Mile Square Taxpayers Association, a group of developers and landlords long opposed to Hoboken’s tenant-friendly rent control codes, withdrew a legal challenge to the results of a November referendum last week, they conceded a victory to tenants who want to keep rent control in place. But it had another effect – it shined a light on a dubious election practice that has plagued Hoboken politics for years.

The court proceedings, in which MSTA attempted to argue that the Hudson County Board of Elections should not have invalidated around 300 vote-by-mail ballots, placed a microscope on those types of ballots, which have long been a source of controversy here.

For years, political organizations have influenced elections in advance by sending workers into senior citizen and low-income housing buildings to encourage residents to fill out absentee ballots. Seven years ago, the state made it easier for people to fill out ballots by mail by allowing people to do so without having to give a reason.

Read more: Hudson Reporter – Hoboken’s legacy of vote by mail schemes Rent control referendum results stand and shed light on dubious election pastime

Hoboken Refuses to Recognize Public Petition

Written by Cheryl Fallick

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, Docket No. L-2375-11. Victor A. Afanador argued the cause for appellants/cross-respondents James Farina and City of Hoboken (Lite DePalma Greenberg, LLC, attorneys; Mr. Afanador, of counsel and on the briefs; Marissa L. Quigley, on the briefs).

Charles X. Gormally argued the cause for appellants/cross-respondents Mile Square Taxpayer Association 2009, Inc. and Gina DeNardo (Brach Eichler, L.L.C., attorneys; Mr. Gormally, of counsel and on the briefs; Sean A. Smith, on the briefs).

You can read the full ruling here

Mary Pat GallagherNew Jersey Appleseed is happy to announce the launch of the Law and Public Policy Blog. We welcome former New Jersey Law Journal reporter Mary Pat Gallagher, who will be posting regularly on a variety of issues, with an emphasis on government transparency and accountability, access to affordable health care and housing and other issues pertinent to social and economic justice.

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