Although only a few dozen Bayonne residents showed up for the Sept. 17 “Town Hall” meeting in City Hall, they had plenty to say. For the most part, they demanded that the city become more vigilant in prosecuting property maintenance, litter, and other laws involving the quality of life.
Town Hall meetings have been used for a variety of purposes since established under Mayor Joseph Doria in the late 1990s. But this was the first meeting to specifically address quality-of-life issues and for Mayor Terrence Malloy to hear complaints, comments, and suggestions about the cleanliness of the city.
Armed with a proposed ordinance that would increase penalties on neglected or abandoned properties, as well as a newly established task force to deal with illegal apartments throughout the city, Malloy hoped to allay people’s concerns about the city not doing enough to improve the overall image.
But residents were very vocal, claiming that they had heard promises in the past to do something about the dirt, but that the city has failed to follow up on promises, or to take to task property owners who fail to keep their properties maintained.
Resident Nancy DePinto said although she cleans up in her neighborhood, “most of the people live like pigs.”
“They leave trash in front of their houses that is not in trash cans. They do not clean up after their pets, and the side streets smell,” she said, adding to the general consensus of commenting residents that the city should fine people more and perhaps also require community service.
Deborah Nobel said residents were not the only irresponsible parties. Some residents said New Jersey Transit and Conrail – who own property along the Hudson Bergen Light Rail Line and freight rail lines along Route 440 – have failed to clean up along the rail, creating havens for trash and rodents.
Councilman Gary La Pelusa said he has managed to get NJ Transit to clean up property for a section of the rail property, but several residents said the issue goes beyond just maintenance. It includes erosion of property due to runoff, and residents complained that Conrail and NJ Transit have no comprehensive plan for keeping up the property that borders residences along Bayonne’s east side.
Residents complained about the effect of a sound wall along the east side of Route 440 that was constructed to help cut down noise for the residents of the Military Ocean Terminal, who no longer live there since it is no longer a military base. The wall now reflects sound back at the residents on the other side of the highway. While a logical solution would be to construct another sound barrier on the western side of the highway, this is not possible without taking property from residents. One suggestion was to remove the existing wall, but city officials said this is not likely.
Residents said side streets are dirty, and the city lacks enough trash receptacles for people who might be willing to properly dispose of litter.
Mayor Malloy asked if residents wanted the city to institute side street sweeping. Currently, the city only sweeps north to south streets, not east to west, partly because of public sentiment against being forced to move cars and the potential for ticketing. The presumption was that residents on each of these streets would keep their own properties clean, something that in many areas has not worked.
Residents instead said the city should enforce existing regulations that would punish those who litter or fail to maintain their properties.
Even the trash cans are vandalized
Installing of public trash cans has been a problem.
“People steal or vandalism them,” Malloy said. “We installed trash receptacles that were supposed to be immune to theft, but these were stolen, too. People see them as a challenge.”
Police Chief Robert Kubert said the Police Department is actively pursuing those who spread graffiti, but that the punishment is imposed by the courts – especially for young people, whose cases are heard in Juvenile Court in Jersey City. He said the city will clean up graffiti if reported. Residents can call (201) 858-6070.
The city already bans the sale of spray paint to minors, and has held several sting operations to uncover stores that do not comply with local regulations. The police have also made a significant number of arrests, and often parents are shocked to know what their kids are up to.
Councilman Gary La Pelusa said he wants the City Council to raise the minimum fine for owners failing to clean up their properties to $2,000.
Many residents said abandoned lots and partially built construction sites are posing serious problems for maintenance, and said city officials have not been responsive to complaints.
La Pelusa said many of those with the most egregious violations do not even live in Bayonne.
The city is also developing a list of properties suspected of harboring illegal apartments and will begin investigations to stop them.
Business Administrator Peter Cresci said 250 suspected properties are currently on the list, and that residents should call (201) 858-6017 if they suspect a home might have an illegal apartment. The caller can remain anonymous.
Last year, a fire at on West 11th Street resulted in the death of a man living in an allegedly illegal apartment.