Central Avenue Sidewalk Maintenance Program to End Under Healy Administration. Merchants Frustrated That City Would Rather Use Remaining UEZ Funds for Private Loans Instead of Clean Main Streets.

Contact: David Diaz, CASID District Manager

Sign Petition to Keep Central Avenue Clean

More in the Jersey City Independent; in the Hudson Reporter

Jersey City, NJ – Doing business in Jersey City is going to get dirty. The Central Avenue Special Improvement District Management Corporation’s (CASID) longstanding sidewalk sweeping program will officially come to an end on January 28, 2013. Making matters worse, the organization behind the popular Everything Jersey City Festival may no longer have the necessary manpower to organize the event in 2013.

Despite public warnings from CASID officials (as noted by “CASID says loss of UEZ could mean end of Everything Jersey City”, Hudson Reporter, May 22, 2012) the Healy administration chose to underfund Central Avenue’s main street program this past year. Citing a busy schedule, Mayor Healy’s office repeatedly disregarded requests for meetings over the past several months from CASID to address service cuts with a contingency plan. Given the low priority in the Mayor’s schedule, CASID officials are left to believe that the City has no contingency plan in place for Heights residents and businesses.

“Ending CASID’s sanitation program after twenty years of service to the community is an agonizing, but necessary, decision because the merchants and commercial property owners on Central Avenue no longer have the resources to continue,” wrote CASID President Michal Yun to Mayor Healy last November. “As a reminder, SID programs exist to supplement, not substitute, municipal services.”

In addition to each Central Avenue merchant sweeping their own sidewalks before the start of business each day, 120 hours of labor a week at minimum are required to keep up with the demanding sanitation needs of the busy commercial district. CASID’s operation staff are sanitation professionals trained to manage the unique needs of commercial districts. Easily recognizable by their uniforms branded with CASID’s logo, the staff handles an average of forty six (46) full 30 gallon bags of garbage daily, 322 bags a week and nearly 17,000 thirty-gallon bags a year (approximately 500,000 gallons of trash annually). This figure does not include the tons of litter picked up by the Jersey City Incinerator Authority mechanical street sweeper which cleans both sides of the roadway in the business district six days a week. Even with merchants sweeping their sidewalks each morning there is a great deal of litter and debris on the Avenue due to heavy pedestrian traffic. While Central Avenue’s Mom & Pop businesses are working hard to serve their customers, the CASID’s sanitation program sweeps up new litter; coordinates municipal garbage pick-ups; relays daily garbage complaints and violations from member businesses to the City; keeps an inventory of streetscape fixtures in need of repair; landscapes; removes light graffiti and hand bills; and removes snow at public crosswalks and fire hydrants during winter time. Residents and shoppers may be unaware of the high volume of trash due to efficient sanitation services provided by the CASID in partnership with the JCIA, an autonomous City agency.  

As a consequence of the service cuts, the City will retain primary responsibility for the commercial district’s challenging sanitation needs. Without question, CASID members (commercial property and/ or business owners in the district) will have to increase daytime sidewalk sweeping to fulfill their obligations set by city code (Chapter 296 – Streets and Sidewalks). Like any neighborhood main street community, residents naturally bring visitors to the city’s business districts for the Jersey City experience, not some fancy office building or luxury high-rise apartment. Allowing sanitation standards to deteriorate in these areas is detrimental to surrounding property values and economic development.

“Central Avenue business owners are already in survival mode due to the difficult economic climate,” says Gilbert Mendez, Jersey City resident and owner of Mendez Travel Agency. “They will have to spend less time with customers and more time sweeping sidewalks, not just to keep the district clean, but to also avoid the aggressive code enforcement policy the cash-strapped city has succumbed to recently (i.e. parking tickets, new traffic light cameras, etc). Lower sanitation standards in the City’s neighborhood main streets and downtown areas undermine existing businesses and the City’s ongoing efforts to make Jersey City seem “business friendly”.”

Formed in 1992, the CASID was one of the first Special Improvement Districts in New Jersey and the first of five in Jersey City. Initiated by the efforts of involved business leaders and commercial property owners within the district, the CASID functions as a public/ private partnership between the City of Jersey City and private stakeholders. As an added investment in Jersey City, CASID members pay a self-impose annual SID assessment (median $375 per member) in addition to commercial property taxes that average nearly $15,000 per year (based on 25×100 lot, 3 story building on Central Ave). For nearly two decades the ¾ mile Central Avenue business district in the Heights neighborhood has been kept clean through this balanced partnership between City officials and merchants. The City used Urban Enterprise Zone funds to match the merchant’s SID investment ($93,000). Dollar for dollar, the public/ private investment proved to be a cost effective method to care for the demanding needs of the busy urban main street environment. With nearly $2,000,000 in unrestricted UEZ funds remaining, the Healy administration revealed in City Resolution 12-677 that the funds will be used to issue private loans instead of investing in the City’s commercial districts (i.e. Central Ave, McGinley Square, Journal Square, Monticello, MLK Blvd, and Newark Ave).

After cutting funds to the JCIA, the City administration has now cut funding to another major sanitation program within a year, failing to appreciate the essential sanitation needs of the state’s second largest city. Overall investment in the City’s urban main street/ downtown areas have not been a priority during the City’s budget process. Loans may not be enough to overlook limited sanitation conditions and the City may soon have difficulty attracting new enterprises to its inner business districts. Demanding more from commercial property/ business owners and less from government will prevent Jersey City’s main street areas from ever reestablishing their full potential. Property taxes, not SID assessment, must provide basic municipal services such as police, fire, and sanitation services.  

Funding each SID program at a 1:1 match ($100K cap) is less expensive than the 3% pay increase it awarded employees in December 2011 (13 months ago). The Jersey Journal report (Jersey City gives 3 percent raises to nonunion workers as a measure of appreciation, published 12/9/11) states that 170 non-union employees received a pay raise costing the City $330,000. Business Administrator Jack Kelly noted that the amount is less than 1/10th of 1 percent of the $490 million city budget. The requested City aid for Central Avenue is only $93,000, a minimal investment from the City to match the efforts made by business and commercial property owners in support of the approximately 1,400 jobs along the Avenue.

“Many Jersey City residents and local businesses are going to be disappointed that the Everything Jersey City Festival may not return this year,” says David Diaz, CASID District Manager. “CASID’s sanitation staff does a lot more than just sweep the sidewalks. They are part of the core organizers behind one of NJ’s largest main street festivals which last year drew an estimated 39,000 visitors to the business district for the one day event. Not only will organizers not have minimal manpower necessary for another festival, but the Heights main street may not want to host any event if it is not clean 365 days of the year.”

“The shopping corridors are still the face of City neighborhoods and the importance of their success to residential property value, quality of life, and the future of the City warrant the commitment, investment, and ingenuity of local government,” says Joe Nachbaur, a property and business owner on Central Avenue. “Jersey City cannot afford to make its business districts an afterthought when prioritizing economic development resources.”

UEZ funds or no UEZ funds, Jersey City’s neighborhood commercial areas deserve more from the City. When it comes to prioritizing how taxpayer dollars are invested through the City budget, Jersey City’s inner business districts may not necessarily belong at the top of the priority list but they unquestionably do not belong on the bottom.

The CASID wishes to thank local residents, shoppers, and its membership in advance for their patience in the next few weeks as the district undergoes the change. They are all encouraged to contact the Mayor Healy’s office and City Council representatives to demand the City’s main street neighborhoods become a priority.