Friday, October 20, 2017

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Residents’ concerns about illegal immigration, lack of parking are aired at council meeting

Town council members made numerous announcements of upcoming events sponsored by the town and private organizations at the meeting of the Mayor and Council on the evening of February 28. All council members and Mayor Mike Gonnelli were present; however, Town Attorney Keri Ann Eglentowicz was absent. Several residents voiced their opinions on local parking issues and illegal immigration, the latter issue prompted by another resident’s request at the February 14 meeting that the town become a “Sanctuary City.” Community activist and generous town fundraiser Don Evanson, one of the two gentlemen who spoke on immigration, also presented a check from the Rotary Club to the town for its emergency food pantry.

Mayor Gonnelli reported that the Hudson County Youth House that closed in 2015 would be transformed into a police and fire academy by the county. He predicted it could be ready as early as this spring. The mayor also announced that two new playgrounds were being built, one at Mill Creek School, and the other at Snipes Park. First Ward Councilman Rob Costantino read part of a letter from an individual who praised the town’s enforcement of handicapped parking restrictions. Costantino offered that half of the tickets heard at Secaucus Municipal Court were for drivers who illegally parked in handicapped-designated spots throughout town, and especially at the malls. The letter-writer, “Ryan,” said it was a relief that he, who is handicapped, is able to park in Secaucus. The councilman clarified that although the large number of summonses issued  to violators resulted in more funds for the town, it would be better if drivers were considerate and avoided parking in spots earmarked for the handicapped. Mayor Gonnelli agreed, adding that parking enforcement was “cracking down” on the violators.

In May 2015, Donna Testa and other residents of the Irving Place block (between Paterson Plank Road and Centre Avenue) attended a council meeting to complain about the lack of parking on this busy town center street. The mayor and council took the residents’ concerns to heart, and over the ensuing months, formulated, with the Secaucus Police Department’s Traffic Division and then-Assistant Town Attorney Eglentowicz’s input, a plan to free up parking on the block. The well-conceived plan entailed having Plaza business owners/employees park in designated areas, including the municipal lot off of Irving and Centre. Business parking permits were to be purchased by the owners/employees and displayed in the windshields of their vehicles in the lot. Unless the owners/employees were residents and had residential parking permits, they were no longer permitted to park on local streets. The time limit for non-residents ability to park on Plaza-area streets (including Irving) was reduced from four hours to two, and, on Irving, two metered spots on the west side of the street near the Plank Road were deactivated via the placement of blue bags over the meters, a measure that was supposed to be temporary. Parking enforcement officers were ordered to patrol the block more vigilantly, and, as a result of these measures, parking for the past year or so seemed to ease for residents.

Not so, apparently, because Donna Testa appeared at the February 28 council meeting to give an update on the parking situation that she said “was getting worse again.” Testa argued that she and another resident who have handicapped parking placards can almost never find a space on the block, and when they try to park in the town lot, it is invariably full. (In other words, what has happened is that the once-underutilized lot is now always full because of business permit parking.) Testa also said the blue-bagged metered spots are being taken all day by business employees who do not even have residential permits. She said the parking enforcement officers (PEOs) are no longer patrolling the block like they did when the initial complaints were made almost two years ago, and she singled out the customers of the “karate” business on the block for incessant double-parking which is supposed to be illegal and that results in dangerous scenarios for not only other drivers, but for pedestrians. “I know they [PEOs] are doing the best they can,” she offered in a conciliatory gesture, but the resident’s frustration was clearly evident. The Home News building owners also have had to request better parking enforcement on Irving Place due to some inconsiderate customers of this same business double-parking, blocking their private driveway and sitting on the building’s private entry steps.

Testa related an incident when, unable to find parking on her block, she was forced to temporarily double-park in front of her residence in order to unload groceries, and was forced to move before her task was done by a PEO. The Home News had a similar encounter with a PEO when its editor parked (also temporarily) in front of her own driveway due to some construction work at the building, and was ordered to move or get a ticket by a PEO.

Mayor Gonnelli said the town would “step up enforcement” and that Police Captain Carlos Goyenechea, head of the Traffic Division, would be contacted. Despite the good intentions of the mayor and the police to come up with a better plan, the chronic parking problems on Irving Place persist. There are simply not enough parking spaces on this narrow, busy street to accommodate everyone’s parking needs. Parking enforcement officers are therefore forced to straddle a fine line between enforcing the town’s parking rules and placating prosperous local businesses and their customers, as well as trying to accommodate residents, many of whom live in multiple family homes where almost every adult has his/her own car.  Only four houses on the one-way section of Irving have driveways.

The aforementioned Don Evanson offered his opinion that police in Sanctuary Cities are “aiding and abetting” illegal immigrants if they protect them by not reporting them and their criminal activities to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). “Should the police be lenient, forgive and forget?” If they do, he said, “In effect, they are aiding and abetting” the illegal immigrants. Evanson commented, “We like to say we are all immigrants. As a nation of immigrants we should protect immigrants from undue and harsh prosecution. But we are not a nation of illegal immigrants. Law-abiding immigrants invest time to study and pass a citizenship test. They are sworn in as rightful citizens with all the rights of U.S. citizens.” Another gentleman, who did not give his name before he spoke during the citizens’ remarks portion of the meeting, said, “This is America. I love this town; it’s a beautiful town. If someone breaks down my door, they are not welcome,” alluding, apparently, to illegal immigrants. He remarked that we should help the “forgotten people, the immigrants who do it legally.”  The resident said he served in the military for two years and was “proud to give back” to his country. He also offered that the President “should be respected,” because he is the President, and told Mayor Gonnelli that his (Gonnelli’s) “leadership is solid.”

The mayor, wisely maintaining a neutral public stance on this hot-button immigration issue, did not comment on either of the two gentlemen’s pronouncements.

The next town council meeting is Tuesday, March 14, 7 p.m., at Town Hall.

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