The Montclair Township Council convened on November 16 in a 75-minute meeting that saw six swearing-ins for newly promoted members of the Fire Department and a proclamation for Yogi Berra, which was accepted by his son.
Joseph Bates was sworn in as a captain, Brian Wilde and Robert Duncan were sworn in as deputy fire chiefs, and David Hill, Kevin Stoute, and William Morrison were sworn in as lieutenants. Chief John Herrmann eagerly welcomed the newly installed firefighters, and Mayor Jackson said that it was “gratifying” and “re-assuring” to see such men assuming their positions and how, in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks, they represent the best of humanity.
Lawrence Berra, Jr. — named for his father Yogi Berra but known as Larry — gratefully accepted a memorial proclamation in honor of his late father from Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon. Berra recalled an emotional moment when he was playing softball in Virginia Beach, and the umpire, realizing who the younger Berra was, hugged him during a timeout and said that, even though he was too young to have seen Yogi play, he idolized him and said that the world would be a better place if everyone were like him. Yogi Berra was also posthumously awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The legislative focus of the meeting concerned two first-reading ordinances on invasive lighting and head shops regulation, both of which passed without a dissenting vote and without the vote of Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller, who was absent. Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville, who offered input on both ordinances, abstained from the invasive-lighting ordinance vote but gave her support to the head shop ordinance.
Dr. Baskerville was not comfortable with the $2000 fine and the threat of jail time referred to in the ordinance, and she suggested that the language could be toned down with the inclusion of provisions for intermediaries to settle disputes of lighting on one property intruding onto another. Township Attorney Ira Karasick explained that that particular clause was derived from the violation clause in the nuisance ordinance, and her explained that the court usually has disputes between neighbors sent to mediation and doubted that the maximum penalties of the law would ever be pursued by a judge. He said he only wanted to make the maximum penalties uniform and also consistent with the existing nuisance ordinance.
Dr. Baskerville persisted in favor of including a clause that would offer neighbors a chance at mediation, and she got support from Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager, who had brought up the issue of invasive lighting but found the penalties too harsh herself. Mayor Robert Jackson added that a phrase suggesting that invasive lighting could be injurious to people’s lives could be mollified to read that it could be injurious to the well-being, health or peace of the adversely affected party, and the ordinance was so amended. Noting that warnings are usually offered at the discretion of code enforcement officers, Karasick said he preferred not to weaken the penalties and said that it came down to the judgment of code enforcement and the municipal judiciary. That was enough for Dr. Baskerville to abstain from the vote on the ordinance, at least for the time being. She gave no indication on how she might vote on it when it comes up for second reading.
Early in the evening, during public comment, physical therapist Caryn Bregman complained to the council about the vaping bar that is open on the ground floor of 408 Bloomfield Avenue, below her practice. She said that vaping was going on inside the establishment, which she said was against the law, and that she has filed a complaint with the Health Department, which has issued a citation. Bregman, who noted complaints from other tenants of the building, has tried to get out of her lease and has had a conversation with the vaping bar owner about the “benefits” of vaping. Karasick promised to look into it and take whatever action is possible.
This dovetailed into a discussion about the head shop ordinance later on; Karasick said that the Planning Board would have to review it because it is an amendment to the zoning ordinance, and so the board is entitled to comment on it. He added that the language is already a section in Montclair’s code prohibiting the sale of certain drug paraphernalia and goods. He explained that he took the language from that section and decide that any a store that does that fits the description of a head shop is. He said that the ordinance would make head shops a prohibitive use in the NC zones – the South End, Watchung Plaza, the Upper Montclair business district, and Montclair Center – based on earlier conversations about the issue. This led Dr. Baskerville to suggest that vaping shops could be included in the ordinance to answer Bregman’s earlier points. Karasick said it couldn’t be included here, because a vaping shop is not the same as a head shop. He did, however, say that he could look into how vaping shops are regulated. Dr. Baskerville, noting the vaping in head shops that goes on in New York, opined that such regulation could be included in this ordinance to cover all the bases.
“The more you cover all bases,” Karasick replied, “the more difficult it is to enforce the law, and the more likely it is that the law would be found to be unconstitutionally vague. So we try to keep it relatively narrow to particular conduct.” He said he could look into the vaping issue and see if there could be away to add it and keep the ordinance from being too vague. Later, after the head-shop ordinance passed 6-0 on first reading, Karasick did a Google search on his portable device and found that vaping is prohibited anywhere in New Jersey that smoking is prohibited, and that he could do further research to see if the ordinance could be amended to accommodate vaping on the premises of vaping shops. Any such amendment, he said, would require a re-posting of the ordinance.