The Next Steps
Special congratulations to Nancy Wolf, George Valenta, and Sal Raspa, who very importantly won seats on the Democratic Municipal Committee.
At this point, it is common knowledge that we did not achieve our far-reaching goal of regime change in Highland Park. However, the operative word is YET. What this campaign did do is plant seeds of change by raising issues no one had previously discussed, holding the current administration accountable for its actions, and providing a real, viable alternative for Highland Park citizens who think differently than the mayor about local issues but desire to play an active role in local politics and government.
Change, especially smart change, is a process rather than an instantaneous event. This year's primary has set that process in motion here in Highland Park in a way that cannot be denied or undone. I believe wholeheartedly that 2007 will go down in our borough's history not as a heyday for Frank but as a watershed year that began a long term tide against elitism, exclusion, corruption, and the excesses of Frank and her clique, a tide that is yet to peak and that will last far into the 21st century.
To keep our momentum going toward a more inclusive, fiscally responsible, accountable, and open government here in town, those of us who made up the Team for Smart Change will be creating several vehicles to provide opportunities for like-minded citizens to stay involved. Some of these vehicles being considered include the possible establishment of a Democratic Club open to all who seek to participate; use of the http://www.highlandparkdemocrats.com/ web site to disseminate information about local government, mobilize people for action, and present an alternative for local Democrats; encouragement of those who share our views to attend council meetings and ask tough questions; media outreach to make sure our concerns are heard; recruitment and training of candidates to contest for office in every local election; fundraising; and involvement in other Democratic campaigns for candidates who share our values.
This very month, we also have a tremendous victory to celebrate. In a bold, unprecedented move, the State Supreme Court has ruled that "underutilization" or "not being fully productive" may not be used a sole criterion to declare a property blighted and therefore potentially subject to eminent domain.
According to the State Supreme Court ruling, "Because the New Jersey Constitution authorizes government redevelopment of only “blighted” areas, the Legislature did not intend N.J.S.A. 40A:12A-5(e) to apply in circumstances where the sole basis for redevelopment is that the property is “not fully productive.” Rather, subsection 5(e) applies only to areas that, as a whole, are stagnant and unproductive because of issues of title, diversity of ownership, or other similar conditions. Therefore, the Borough of Paulsboro’s redevelopment classification in respect of the Gallenthin property is invalidated."
While the full implications of this decision are yet to be determined, there is no doubt it is a victory for businesses in Highland Park that have been targeted for redevelopment due to their being deemed "underutilized" or "not fully productive." Mayor Frank, the Borough Council, the Planning Board and the Redevelopment Agency have very likely lost their power to force thriving local businesses to move because those in power feel they "don't belong there." The plans for four story buildings on the various sites between First and Second Avenue are likely to end up where they belong, on a shelf gathering dust with previous redevelopment plans such as those of former Mayor Harold Berman.
No one is objecting to property owners deciding to redevelop their own properties or consensually agreeing to sell to a developer or another owner with a vision for new low density buildings that will fit well into Highland Park's business district and attract new ratables into our town. That form of redevelopment is welcome because it is motivated by a desire for positive change rather than fear of the heavy hand of eminent domain.
Mayor Frank may claim that people redeveloping their own properties was her vision all along, but the truth is that her vision went way beyond that. In 2001, a council member specifically stated at a meeting of the council's Economic Development Committee that if property owners did not want to sell for redevelopment, the borough would simply take their properties. We, who organized and alerted the public to the spectre of eminent domain over the past two and a half years, had made it virtually impossible for the administration to use eminent domain against local businesses even before the State Supreme Court decision. We raised this concern so early in the process that the use of eminent domain became tantamount to political suicide by those in power.
The point here is that even though we may not have won the mayoral and council primary, we scored a major victory where it counts, in protecting local business and property owners from having their properties unjustly taken and given over to politically connected developers.
There is no time better than now to get involved in fighting eminent domain abuse statewide. This Friday, June 22, at 7 PM, the New Jersey Coalition to Stop Eminent Domain Abuse will commemorate the second anniversary of the US Supreme Court's Kelo decision in Ocean Grove with a screening of the film "Greetings from Asbury Park." Titled "A Celebration of Cinema and Citizen Action," the film screening and subsequent panel discussion will commemorate Kelo Day, the landmark U.S Supreme Court decision that greatly expanded the use of eminent domain for private development.
“Greetings from Asbury Park” is a feature film that reflects on the one-time postcard paradise of the Jersey Shore, the consolation of memories, and the price of progress. It documents the filmmaker’s aunt’s experience facing the loss of her home as well as the community’s loss of its sense of place. A panel discussion featuring Dana Berliner, litigator for the Institute for Justice, a public-interest law firm and co-counsel on the Kelo vs. New London case, will be held immediately following the film. The Stop Eminent Domain Abuse Coalition of New Jersey (Stop EDA) will recognize key leadership throughout the state. A reception will follow. The Jersey Shore Arts Center is easily accessible by train, bus and private transportation. A limited number of tickets are available. Event organizers are seeking a suggested donation of $20 to cover costs of the event. To reserve seats, call 732-380-1592.
This event is co-sponsored by the following groups and individuals: The Castle Coalition, The Institute for Justice, The Social Action Ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Monmouth County, The Stop Eminent Domain Abuse Coalition of New Jersey (StopEDA.org), Carlin & Ward, P.C., Childhope International, Commerce Bank, The Institute for Public Affairs at Temple University, John C. Conover Agency, Monmouth County Arts Council, Neighbors United, New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance, Shop-Rite Supermarkets, Michelle and Howard Bobrow, Johna and Rich Karpinski, and Lori Ann Vendetti.
After this event, the next meeting of the New Jersey Coalition to Stop Eminent Domain Abuse will take place on Sunday, July 15 at 2 PM in Redeemer Lutheran Church, 3531 State Route 33 at Jumping Brook Rd, Neptune, NJ 07753-3003. The Church is located at 3531 State Route 33, at the corner of Jumping Brook Rd in Neptune, about 1/2 mile east of GSP Exit 100 (Rt 33 east, Ocean Grove) and about 2.5 miles west of the interchange for Rt 18 and Rt 33.
Finally, look to this blog over the next few months for additional information about how you can make your voice heard in Highland Park.