On the Trail of the Trailer Ban

Where are all these bans coming from?

trailer
Happy trails to you, until we meet again.

In September 2016, Jackson passed Ordinance 21-16 forbidding the non-residential use of trailers (i.e. “office trailers”) in every area of town except under very limited circumstances. One is still allowed to have trailers on their property for the purpose of living in them though. Was this request in response to a rash of businesses popping up in trailers around Jackson?

In fact, the ordinance was precipitated by a request from Mayor Reina a month earlier. In his “travels” through “several different communities”, said the Mayor, he had noticed that trailers were being used by “congregations of different faith based groups” to “accommodate needs”. An ordinance must be passed to prevent the “possibilities of it happening here”.

Essentially, not in response to trailer problems in Jackson at all, but as a preventative measure against religious use seen in nearby communities. The final ordinance reflects his observations about the ways in which certain “faith based groups” employ trailers and restricts only non-residential use of trailers. But, if trailers are the issue, why not make an ordinance that limits the size, number and placement of any trailers in Jackson regardless of use.

Also, which faith based groups and what nearby communities? It doesn’t say, if only there was a way we could figure it out…

The ban comes up again in a different email from the Mayor, addressing “issues” that Jackson is facing. In the same sentence, he talks about how he and the council are working to “no longer allow the use of trailers”, “not allow non permanent structures to be placed in front yards”, and handle the “issue regarding the use of ERUV wires”.

Are these three items unconnected, or maybe mentioned together as they have a common thread? They must be important to get rid of considering that the township has been “trying to acquire more code enforcement officers”.

The context here seems apparent, at least to us: The flood of ordinances in the past few years coincides with an increase in Orthodox families moving to Jackson, and suddenly “seldom enforced” half-century old ordinances must be aggressively applied and all sorts of new bans introduced against currently permitted items that people think the Orthodox might want to use. This trailer ban targets a specific use that the Mayor thinks is associated with this “faith based group”, not all trailers in Jackson. It’s no wonder that Jackson is being sued.

Click here for all trailer related emails.

And the Secret Write-in Candidate is …

writein

A single prankster commenting on an otherwise unrelated news story sent up the alarm that an unofficial candidate was trying to get themselves on the Jackson School Board. So may we present the winners of the 2017 Jackson School Board Elections Write-in Contest:

Given that there are dozens of different names and even the top write-ins got at most 0.1% of the vote, it doesn’t seem like there was any concerted effort to elect someone by write-in. Maybe don’t get your news from the comments section?

Lawsuit Update: Amended Complaint Accepted

At 4:00 PM today, Agudath Israel’s amendment to their lawsuit against the Township of Jackson was accepted by the court, despite Jackson’s objection. This change adds new allegations of discrimination related to the township’s ban on eruvin to the existing lawsuit. Note that this does not mean the court has ruled on the content of Agudath Israel’s arguments, just that they will be allowed to make an argument.

The judge’s order is below.

Seen Around Town

Readers have sent us a number of flyers distributed around Jackson.

Readers have sent us a number of flyers distributed around Jackson. First, one from the election this past week:

flyer1

Congrats to Tara and Sharon on their win, we share the same concerns as the creator of this flyer about keeping Jackson’s public schools in top shape as well as their pride in dual marching band state champions Jackson Liberty Lion Band and Jackson Jaguar Band. An educated populace is necessary for a functioning democracy and good public schools provide a benefit to the entire town, even those residents that don’t use them, in terms of improving property values, local economies, crime rates, and sense of community in general.

However, we hope you have a more “equitable” plan than stripping the only benefits that private school parents get from their property taxes to the bone. It’s also funny that in the same paragraph Mrs. Dey is derided as being both “incompetent and behind the times” and simultaneously admonished as being the “only Board candidate in recent memory to run a negative campaign”.

Next up, another flyer which bears a strange resemblance to the first:

flyer2

This flyer is much more concerning, shaming a neighbor for listing their home for sale. The idea that only un-“strong” people sell their house is silly: families move all the time for a variety of reasons. Will humiliating them really make people want to stay? Maybe you should paint a big red B on their lawn too while you are at it. It seems like the one actually peddling panic and fear is the creator of the above flyer.

Seen any other flyers? Send us a picture at tips@jacksonleaks.com. And remember, it’s a federal crime to put anything in a mailbox without proper postage.

Jet Bus!

Board of Ed candidates pushing the edges of busing technology.

An audio clip from a public Jackson Board of Education Meet and Greet sent to us by a reader details one prospective school board member’s plan for private school busing: consolidating students headed to 56 different schools on to a single bus!

Listen here:

Question: One of the most important problems you are going to face is busing to private schools. As you know, every year the number of students has increased. How will you handle that since it comes off the top of the school budget?

Elenor Hannum: Alright, so currently we have 84 out-of-district Gen. Ed. schools that Jackson students are attending. 56 are in one town and 28 are spread throughout. We do bus to four schools that are out-of-district schools. I believe that we could probably consolidate two of the schools for busing to make that most cost-effective.

As far as the 56 schools in one town, where students are attending, it’s 56 separate schools. I believe we would have to look at what’s most cost-effective. We’re looking at, I didn’t do the actual numbers, but I know that there’s 484 that are not being bussed and the last count was 367 students are receiving a transportation in-lieu-of, the transportation reimbursement.

I believe that whatever is most cost-effective, down the road we have to look at that, look at those numbers. They would all have to be put on one bus going, basically it’s going to one town, so there would not be separate buses for separate schools. So that’s, you know, we’d have to look at what’s most cost-effective.

We’d hate to be the one planning the route for this bus. How will this single bus pick up every student headed to that one unnameable town (hint: its name starts with L and rhymes with Cakewood) and make 56 distinct stops to deliver them all to school on time?

Thankfully, scientists have been planning for this scenario for a while now. May we present: jet-powered busing! This baby can go almost 400 MPH, easily making up for the time spent loading and unloading students at dozens of stops.

jetbus
Hearing protection not included.

However, the exorbitant cost of jet fuel might just tip the scale in favor of traditional buses, in which case maybe at least a few more bus routes will be needed.

The Hunt for the Great White Code Violation

Jackson Township enters muddy waters in search of long elusive “right-of-way” violations.

chalk-shark-attack-by-david-zinn
A wild code violation stalks its prey.

As the OPRA documents continue to pile in more interesting facts are starting to come to light. Initially, the Jackson Code Enforcement Department determined that eruvin (plural of eruv) were not a violation of any Jackson code and planned on leaving them be. However, then politics came into the picture and Code Enforcement had to change course.

Ordinance 05-64

After many months of eruv complaints, the town determined in April that a “right-of-way” ordinance, passed in 1964 to ensure that streets and sidewalks were passable and free of snow and ice, could be applied to the thin poles in the grass as well. This “seldom enforced” statute would now need to be enforced vigorously. Mayor Mike Reina states that this was the result of a “cry to increase code enforcement from our residents” in the first half of 2017 about “items in the right of way with examples such as hockey and soccer nets, basketball hoops, skateboard ramps, furniture, tires, brush and grass not being cut”. However, almost all complaints found in any emails we have pertain to eruvin (there is a single complaint about business signs).

How does one start enforcing an ordinance after 50 years? Township Attorney Jean Cipriani explains that the ordinance “applies to all obstructions in the right of way and should be uniformly applied throughout the Township”. This is likely taking into consideration the situation in Tenafly Eruv Assn v The Borough of Tenafly, where a posting ordinance was found to be unconstitutionally enforced when applied to an eruv as it was “selectively enforced”. Jean helpfully suggests other items that could be taken down to ensure uniformity, such as “basketball nets (sic)”.

The hunt begins!

Following this advice, the Jackson Code Enforcement department was issued very clear guidelines that the line to repeat was that ”anything” in the public “right-of-way” was to be removed (underlined in the email for emphasis). The township nickednamed the new plan ”PROJECT ROW” and the hunt was on for the elusive “right-of-way” violations!

However, despite all the supposed “right-of-way” complaints, the town did not seem to know where to start. In an email, Code Enforcement Head Ken Pieslak asks his officers to “take a little time” and come up with some ideas for “anything other than a street sign or mailbox placed in the ROW”. Code Enforcement Officer Connie Sidor helpfully suggests some objects they can target including “Real Estate signs, Bulky Trash, Flower boxes”. Notably absent from her survey are the actual items for which violations were ultimately issued: basketball hoops and eruv poles.

But why not just look at the “multitude” of complains that were received? Is it possible that they couldn’t because such complaints were only about one specific type of object ostensibly in the public “right-of-way”, one which they couldn’t be perceived to be targeting? The emails, after all, show almost no complaints for anything else.

At least they were consistent about enforcement, right? Anything found in the public “right-of-way” should be removed, and no exception can be made. Well, maybe not everything:

In this case, the Code Enforcement Officer is told explicitly to leave something be, in direct violation of the advice of Jackson’s attorney. Could it be they are discriminating in enforcement of the ordinance, picking and choosing when to issue violations? Piesklak says they will look at things “on a case for (sic) case basis”, but didn’t the attorney say “all obstructions”?

A bigger boat

What is clear is that the uptick in enforcement is about one thing: banning of eruvin. For the past 50 years, the “right-of-way” ordinance was “seldom enforced”, only being invoked when a citizen complained about something blocking a street or sidewalk. So, when looking for a pretext to take down eruvin, the town was forced to claim that people had suddenly and inexplicably started complaining about everything in the “right-of-way”. This left Code Enforcement scrambling to figure out exactly what their goal was here, how it could be accomplished uniformly, and maybe, in the words of one officer, “in need of a bigger boat”.

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“You’re gonna need a bigger boat” – Chief Martin Brody, Jaws

Documents

Click here to see all code enforcement emails.
Click here for a searchable list of all notices of violation issued in 2017.