Tag Archive: DCA

Hoboken Mayor says Christie held Sandy $$ hostage unless she approved development deal he favored

“Make sure you get my stuff expedited.”

 – Solomon Dwek to Hoboken Mayor Pete Cammarano, 2009

“If you want that Sandy money, you need to get that Rockefeller project moving, because it’s very important to the Governor.”

                                   – LG Gaudagno to Dawn Zimmer, 2013

“”If you move that forward [the Rockefeller project], the money would start flowing to you,” he [DCA Commissioner Richard Constable] tells me.”

                                        – Zimmer journal, May 17, 2013

Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer was on UP with Steve Kornacki last night. And … she pretty much blew the lid off the place. Zimmer, who has been one of Gov. Christie’s strongest mayoral cheerleaders, is now accusing Christie of holding Sandy money hostage because she did not approve a redevelopment project a private developer wanted in the time frame Christie wanted. And for this, she says, her city – devastated by Sandy – was starved of the funds he controlled for recovery. And, she contends, the messengers of that threat were LG Gaudagno and DCA Commissioner Richard Constable.

This is complex, involves a good number of high-level Christie inner-sanctum players – including Port Authority Chair David Samson. But if true, it demonstrates a pattern of misuse of government powers and government resources by Christie and those serving him at the highest levels. It is the very same view of Christie that the political-retribution scenario of Christie’s GWB scandal also appears to illustrate. And at least one statement, if true – which Zimmer says she wrote down in her diary after Guadagno said it – also points toward willingness to lie and cover up what the Christie team was doing:

“At the end of a big tour of ShopRite, she [Guadagno] pulls me aside with no one else around and says that I need to move forward with the Rockefeller project. It is very important to the Governor. The word is that you are against it and you need to move forward or we are not going to be able to help you. “I know it’s not right – these things should not be connected – but they are,” she says – if you tell anyone I said that, I will deny it.

                                          – Zimmer journal, May 17, 2013

Below the fold is the 24-minute set-up, a primer to the players and the development deal Zimmer says Christie pressured her to approve. In the next diary down, Zimmer tells the story herself. (videos)

On Christie Budget Raid, DCA Testimony Raises More Questions than Answers

promoted by Rosi

new Jersey is the fourth most expensive state in the country to rent a home, with an 18% increase in rents over the last five years. And we have more than 100,000 homes in the foreclosure process.

We have the ability and funding in place to start to make a dent in these problems. There is over $200 million in municipal trust fund money from fees on developers, dedicated to entry-level homes. And $75 million from the national foreclosure settlement.

But Chris Christie needs this money – to provide tax cuts for millionaires. Otherwise his budget isn’t balanced.

It’s murky how he plans to do this. Like the controversial energy receipts fund, the affordable housing trust funds are supposed to be administered by municipalities – not sucked in by the state. The Legislature in 2008 passed a law giving towns four years to “commit” the money. But Christie refuses to give a clear answer as to what “commit” means, leaving the League of Municipalities and towns to fear that DCA will unfairly take the funds, never to be seen again.

Yesterday morning’s testimony by DCA Acting Commissioner Richard Constable provided more questions than answers. Constable could not explain where the $200 million would go, saying that a lot of it would go outside of his department. Which is problematic, because that’s where most of the state’s housing programs are. He said the Administration would comply with the law restricting such funds for housing uses – but wouldn’t say how.

Similarly, he had no answers on where the $75 million for foreclosure funds would go, except apparently not to DCA.  

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

promoted by Rosi

Today, DCA Commissioner Lori Grifa announced she is headed back to her law firm job after two years as the frontperson for the Christie Administration’s anti-family, pro-exclusion agenda. While New Jersey’s economy continued to tank, wealthy towns placed excluding the riff-raff above creating jobs and homes, with Grifa and the Administration’s enthusiastic cheerleading. Despite the rather unusual coalition of business leaders, housing advocates, special needs groups, and environmentalists pushing against them, Grifa – and the boss in the front office – refused to budge.

Grifa’s successor, Richard Constable, doesn’t seem to have much background in housing, community development, or municipal governance, most recently having served as Deputy Commissioner in the Department of Labor. Like many other Christie Administration leaders, he worked for Gov. Christie in the U.S. Attorney’s office for many years, which Gov. Christie joked about in his press conference today. He’s personally close to the Governor, according to an article in his graduate school alumni magazine.

We hope that we’re pleasantly surprised by Commissioner-designee Constable as he takes on this new job. But more likely we’ll see more of the same direction – more miserable failures in dealing with exclusionary communities that put blocking new homes near transit and jobs above the economy and more inaction in response to New Jersey’s growing foreclosure crisis.

Because it isn’t DCA that’s the problem. It’s the Governor’s pandering to the wealthy few who are making out like bandits in this economy – and who don’t feel the sting of the jobs they kill when they say no to working families, lower-income seniors, and people with special needs who want to be their neighbors.

They don’t wanna give the money back

It’s a $40 million screw up and now the cities don’t want to give the money back:

Officials were left reeling last week after they learned their cities must return $40million to the state Treasury Department after a state auditor discovered the money had been inadvertently placed in the wrong account for the past three years. The Treasury Department said half of a 1 percentage point sales tax increase, which went into effect in July 2006, should have been deposited in the state’s Property Tax Relief Fund, but the money was instead placed in an Urban Enterprise Zone account.

As a result, cities like Elizabeth and Newark may have to postpone projects, officials said. But in many cases, those funds already have been spent or committed to long-term projects. Elizabeth needs to return more than $3.8 million and Newark is being asked to return $4.7million, according to the Treasury Department.

Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage said a $1.8million project to install 150 security cameras throughout the city will be delayed or halted as a result of having to return UEZ funds.

Vineland in Cumberland County must return the most money — $5.1million — followed by Jersey City at $4.9million, according to the Treasurer’s Office.  

The UEZ program is supposed to encourage business growth and stimulate local economies by offering tax and financial incentives such as charging half the normal sales tax and having the revenue generated help fund local development. Here’s how the error was discovered:

One-half of the increase was supposed to be deposited into the fund, but an auditor found that never happened, said Tom Bell, Treasury Department spokesman. He said voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2006 that committed those funds to the Property Tax Relief Fund.

“The state auditor was doing the usual audit and found that in the UEZ town cases, it was instead going to the UEZ fund when in fact it should have gone to property tax,” Bell said.

Lovely. The DCA said if a city already has spent or committed funding to projects, the DCA and Treasury will work with officials on a repayment plan that will not endanger the projects. But cities are also questioning just how much money they should have to give back:

Bollwage, chairman of the UEZ Mayors Council, said he and others believe the repayment amounts are inflated, in Elizabeth’s case, by as much as $700,000. He said New Brunswick’s figure, at $615,023, has been overcalculated by $189,000.

Rafael Zabala, acting director of the Newark office of the UEZ, said the $4.7million figure is incorrect and he plans to present his own calculations to the Treasury.

This is a mess, both practically in having to give the money back when everyone is already struggling and politically with the headlines you will have. The towns are accusing the state of a money grab trying to help plug budget holes on their backs. Even if that’s not the case, it reflects poorly on how the state ran things that you have this kind of error. The best explanation still looks and sounds bad.

Assembly budget committee to review DCA & DCF budgets

The Assembly Budget Committee will meet today to review the Governor’s proposed FY 2010 budget for the state departments of Children and Families and Community Affairs. Here’s the schedule for you to follow along:

  • DCF Commissioner Kimberly Ricketts is scheduled to testify at 10 a.m.
  • Community Affairs Commissioner Joseph Doria will make his presentation at 2 p.m.
  • The budget proposals were all made before we learned that growing revenue shortfall is worsening and now collections are down nearly $2 billion.

    In the initial budget proposal, the Department of Children and Families received $10 million less than requested at just over $754 million. The Department of Community Affair’s budget was proposed at almost $10 million more than requested allotting just over $65 million. After last week’s budget hearings, Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman offered this weekly message on the importance of preserving pre-K through 12 education, though I know there have also been many questions raised about Higher Education Funding:

    Even that video is out of date now because they talk about the $3.5 billion in cuts that have been made, but who knows what further cuts may lie ahead. All of these proposed departmental budgets may receive a second and third look with the way the numbers are coming back in. Speaker Roberts once again said yesterday that all options are on the table. As always, you can listen live to the hearings from the comfort of your home streaming through your speakers.

    State won’t extend affordable housing deadline

    You’re going to see alot of towns scrambling to meet these deadlines after the head of the N.J. Department of Community Affairs said that the state’s Council on Affordable Housing will not grant an extension to the December 31st deadline for towns to submit their plans to provide affordable housing:

    “We have given serious thought and consideration to your request but have determined that an across-the-board extension of the deadline would not be consistent with COAH’s statutory obligations under the Fair Housing Act,” Doria said in the letter. “As we have stated, COAH is committed to continuing to work cooperatively with municipal officials in the planning process, and that cooperation certainly will continue as we move forward.”

    In a letter to municipal officials, Dressel notified the towns the request has been denied despite the backing of state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) and Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R-Somerset), Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) and Assemblyman Gerald Green (D-Union).

    “The commissioner’s decision means that municipalities will need to file revised third-round plans by December 31 or face ‘builders’ remedy’ lawsuits,” Dressel said. The so-called “builder’s remedy” allows dense, market-value developments in exchange for providing a smaller number of affordable units.

    I don’t know that some of these towns would ever be happy with a deadline to meet for affordable housing. There is opposition to the fact that we have an affordable housing mandate and no matter when the deadline comes, that opposition will be voiced.

    The lack of an extension doesn’t settle the matter by a long shot.  There are legitimate questions that have been raised.  Hank Kalet recently discussed this issue. Just yesterday, Senator Lesniak sent out a release talking about his bill to “fix the faults in the current COAH guidelines.

    “I have proposed a bill (S 2485) which would fix the faults in the current COAH guidelines that are stifling job growth and economic development in New Jersey. The bill would suspend the 2.5% development fee strangling our economic recovery as well as direct the State Housing Commission to recommend sound planning and economic principles sorely lacking in the current COAH mandates and regulations.”

    A quick looks shows 44 bills waiting for their time to be heard in the legislature regarding affordable housing. There will be plenty more discussion and debate going forward, but maybe they should wait until after the guidelines go into effect to fix them.  On top of that, the deadline says municipalities have to submit a plan.  If the guidelines and rules are “fixed” down the road, those plans could be modified accordingly.  No one is saying they have to put shovels in the ground on January 1.

    What Price is a Man? In New Jersey, It’s Less than $6 a square foot

    Seth DembowitzI buried a friend today and throughout the funeral while everyone was mourning, along with my sadness, I kept asking myself whether his death was really necessary?

    Early this past Tuesday morning, a terrible apartment fire in Hoboken displaced 150 residents, severely burned 1 man and claimed the life of a lifelong friend, Seth Dembowitz, a 28 year old man with the world in front of him.   Some information has come out however, that I just can’t get my head around…

    During a Tuesday afternoon press conference at City Hall, Blohm acknowledged that there were no sprinklers in the building, adding that “the fire would not have gotten as far if there were sprinklers.” Blohm added that the building was up to code and the fire was in no way the property owner’s fault.

    The buildings, which according to Barry were completed in 1910, were purchased by Applied in the early 1970s and refurbished in 1974. At the time, the safety regulations imposed on new residential structures in Hoboken were not in place. Applied conformed with and in some places exceeded the safety regulations of 1974, Barry said.

    Each apartment has a battery-operated smoke detector, although they are not hooked up to a centralized alert system.

    In the building’s hallways, smoke detectors are connected to a centralized alarm system, which notifies another agency, which in turn contacts the local Fire Department.

    When the smoke spread to the hallways, the HFD became aware of the situation.

    First, this is not an attack on the building owners at all.  Apparently they had gone above and beyond what was required.   But what sense does it make to have a centralized system in the hallway, but not hook it to the room that has a god damn smoke detector in it.  Who knows if they could have been alerted sooner possibly prevent some of the damage.  And then there is the issue of the Sprinklers.

    I remember years ago when Seth and I were living in the fraternity house after the Seton Hall dorm fires, state law was changed and our fraternity house was required to have sprinklers installed, to which people joked about how it was such a waste of money.  Boy were we wrong…

    Installing a sprinkler system in an existing building costs between $6 and $7.50 per square foot, said Fichera.

    DCA Commissioner Joseph V. Doria, the former Bayonne mayor, is “currently collecting further information regarding cost before making further determination,” said Chris Donnelly, a Department of Community Affairs spokesman.

    Hoboken Acting Fire Chief Richard Blohm endorsed the regulation. “I think it is definitely something that should be pursued,” he said. “The fire would not have gotten as far as it did if it had been sprinkled.”

    The new regulations wouldn’t have covered Seth’s building though and to that I ask why not?  If we charge for trash pick up and we charge for parking, we can’t have a 1 time fee to save the lives and property of the people who drive those cars and make that trash? What sense does this make?   I know some will say that it costs to much to do every room.  To them I ask how much more the building owners will now have to pay because of the much more extensive damage done as a result of the fire not being contained by the sprinklers they supposedly couldn’t afford before the fire?

    Since Commissioner Doria is considering the cost, I will let him know that it is so much more than the $6 dollars per square foot he will be able to pass off on the resident whose life gets saved by the wise decision he has made.  It is just unfathomable to me that that because of the decisions made by this state I love so much, I had to shovel dirt on a best friend of over 15 years because someone couldn’t make it mandatory that you hook up the smoke detector in the room to the hall and require a $6 per square foot sprinkler system to help douse the flames.  I’m guessing that Seth would have gladly paid the $6 dollars per square foot to be able to watch the Giants win the Superbowl tonight, despite the fact that he was a huge Eagles fan.  On Second thought, I’d gladly pay the money myself to have him here watching the game with me.  I knew we had problems, but this is beyond me.

    Corzine names Levin Deputy Directory of NY/NJ Port Authority

    This afternoon, Governor Corzine announced he is appointing former Cherry Hill Mayor and current Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs Susan Bass Levin as the next Deputy Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey replacing Jaime Fox.  From Corzine’s release…

    “For years Susan has proven herself as an exceptional public servant and a tireless advocate for New Jersey,” Governor Jon S. Corzine said. “She is an ideal candidate for this position, and I have no doubt that she will vigorously represent the interests of our state at the Port Authority.”

    PoliticsNJ.com speculated back in March that Levin would be taking the post and they also said at the time that outgoing Senate Majority Leader Bernard Kenny would replace her as DCA Commissioner.  Guess we’ll just have to wait and see if that is the next shoe to drop.

    Appellate Court overturns state’s affordable housing plan

    In what has to be considered a blow to the administration, an appellate court today invalidated the state’s regulations requiring towns to make housing available to low-income residents.  The court found the rules were based on unsupported and outdated facts.  From the Courier…

    The decision means that nearly 300 municipalities’ affordable housing plans must be scrapped. The state will have six months to come up with a constitutional means to plan for affordable housing.

    and some responses to the decision from the Star Ledger…

    “What we have is a total fiasco,” said Peter J. O’Connor, executive director of the Fair Housing Center, among several groups that filed suit against the rules, which were adopted in December 2004.

    Community Affairs Commissioner Susan Bass Levin emphasized that the court upheld some of the state’s affordable housing policies.

    “However, we are deeply concerned that some aspects of the Appellate Courts decision could have the effect of limiting the construction of affordable housing while market rate housing continues to be built,” she said. “It could also lead to increased density and unnecessary sprawl, a result that would be extremely detrimental to the people of New Jersey.”

    Municipal officials decried the decision, which stopped state consideration of affordable housing plans by 262 municipalities.

    “The decision puts on hold and undermines the current efforts of hundreds of municipalities to provide for affordable housing,” said Bill Dressel, New Jersey State League of Municipalities executive director.

    Housing advocates also called on the governor to remove Commissioner Levin from her position.  I wonder what all those towns will do now?