MontClairVoyant: Voltaire’s Tomb, and When In-School Classes Might Resume

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
In his October 9 superintendent letter, Dr. Jonathan Ponds said in-person classes are “on target” to start early next month. Will those students who choose the in-person/remote hybrid really see the inside of schools in November?

Sincerely,
Lauryn Hillside

Unequivocally yes. But, given that Covid sadly hasn’t disappeared in New Jersey, it might be November of 2525 rather than November of 2020. “In the year 2525, if NJSLAs are still alive, if NJSLAs can survive…”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
You’re seriously creeping me out with that mash-up of a Zager & Evans song and not-needed state tests. What about holding classes outdoors, as some Montclair parents have urged?

Sincerely,
Lawn Is a Feeling

Might have worked if begun when school began September 10, but it’s getting chillier. So that ship has sailed, at least for now — with Ishmael and Queequeg appropriately social-distanced.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Does Moby-Dick the whale wear a mask?

Sincerely,
Massive Marine Mammal

Yes — it purchased a box of 50 at Grove Pharmacy before receiving a scratch-off card with four possibilities: $2 off, $4 off, $10 off, or bite Captain Ahab’s leg off.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
When partial in-person learning resumes, students who live over 2.25 miles away rather than over 2.5 miles away from Montclair High will be eligible for busing. Your reaction to this expansion?

Sincerely,
Hello Yellow

Great that the district finally listened to years of pleas from South End residents, but a quarter-mile is a fairly minor change. Better to allow busing beyond one mile; heck, 5,280 is still more feet than are attached to the ankles of the school’s 2,000-plus students.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Haven’t you ever heard the phrase “perfect is the enemy of the good”?

Sincerely,
Aphorism Prism

I have. A phrase attributed to Voltaire, of whom I’m skeptical because his name shares several letters with the word “variance.” I suspect the French writer was on Montclair’s Planning Board three centuries ago.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Voltaire apparently did what he could as a board member, arguing that Montclair’s so-called “arts district” won’t contain many new arts elements and trying in vain to change the name of Valley & Bloom to Candide & Bloom.

Sincerely,
Phil Osopher

Noted. Plus Voltaire’s tomb in Paris’ Pantheon not only looks better than any of Montclair’s big downtown projects since before The Siena but thankfully lacks an in-crypt Starbucks.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
We’ve come full circle because Starbuck was Captain Ahab’s first mate. Anyway, downtown is destined to become even more crammed as the Planning Board considers a proposed building on the old Hahne’s parking lot on Church Street. Thoughts?

Sincerely,
Stop Making Dense

The architectural renderings show another ugly and overly large structure. Surprising, because I thought it would be overly large and ugly — meaning it’s the complete opposite of what I expected.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Um…”ugly and overly large” and “overly large and ugly” are the same thing.

Sincerely,
The Song Remains the Same

Is that another Voltaire quote? Anyway, October 16-25’s eagerly awaited Montclair Design Week is a good antidote to “ugly,” offering over 30 events of the “o” variety: outdoor and online. But Oprah won’t read O. Henry to Ozzy Osbourne.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
How about a plug for the bigger Montclair Film Festival, too?

Sincerely,
Flick’s Sporting Goods

Nope. MFF already gets tons of publicity, and it unkindly switched to the same October 16-25 time period Montclair Design Week chose first. As punishment, MFF leaders should watch the movie “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians”…without popcorn.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Montclair’s aforementioned downtown is rather radioactive — because of its controversial overdevelopment and gentrification, not because of any radium left there by another Pantheon-entombed great: Marie Curie.

Sincerely,
E. Missions

She won the Nobel Prize twice — three more times than Trump, from what I deduced using the Pearson company’s NJSLA math.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
What does it mean that Marie Curie has the same initials as The MC hotel and the recently approved MC Residences?

Sincerely,
Pierre Curie Was PC

It means today’s column has gone off the rails. See you in 2525, give or take 505 years.

 

 

Dave Astor, author, is the MontClairVoyant. His opinions about politics and local events are strictly his own and do not represent or reflect the views of Baristanet.

 

 

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22 COMMENTS

  1. With global warming finally confirmed here in Montclair, there still may be opportunity for outdoor learning this calendar year. The district should at least run a Fall pilot program /proof of concept for ready-to-go option in early Spring 2021. I understand. October is Free Prevention Safety Month and most families don’t have an evac plan. Why should the MPSD be any more prepared?

    Also, minor irritant, is the Edgemont group out front on Outdoor Learning. They sucked me in, somewhat. I read their misleading petition. Steven Plofker, David Genova, Suzanne Miller, Paul Weinstein and Brandon McEwen, et al, have nothing over those petition parents when it comes to the ol’ bait & switch, the Ends Justifies The Means Value System.

  2. Thank you for the comment, Frank.

    I‘d prefer a petition from Montclair parents over a petition from the anti-rent-control Montclair Property Owners Association any day.

    Though autumns are warmer than they used to be, I still think the Fall 2020 expiration date on outdoor learning is near.

  3. You may think parents shouldn’t be accountable for their duplicity to directly benefit their progeny, but all these commercial property owners all had parents & grandparents, right?

  4. Frank, Montclair public-school parents trying to get outdoor learning for their children and other children — in vain, at least so far — is not a bad thing. But property owners signing on to a pushy/pricey campaign to kill or weaken a rent-control ordinance is unfortunate given that, if successful, it would obviously hurt tenants in the wallet and push some of them out of Montclair. As for whether those property owners had parents and grandparents, well, maybe investigative reporter Bob Woodward could look into that… 😉

  5. Dave,
    Please read the petition. They want children back in the schools, indoors. In the middle of the surge. And they were disingenuous about it. They cloaked it with the the ‘outdoor learning”.
    Love their moral character. Me, me, me me.

    And you give them a pass because the risk of COVID-19 exposure is not as bad the risk of losing rent control?

  6. Dave,

    The Montclair Senior Housing Action Group (MSHAG) says almost 66.7% of Montclair renters are 55 or older. Montclair has a 2019 population of 38,600. 42% are renters per conservative estimates. Montclair’s 55 & Up demographic has ranged from 28% to 24%. We know seniors are leaving because they can’t afford to live here, so in 2020, we below 24%. Right? Which makes all 55 yoa & up Montclairions renters. I didn’t know that. Fun fact. I’m a renter! But, I’m paying property taxes? Maybe MSHAG can please explain why I can be a renter and I am also paying property taxes.

    Side point: The rent control ordinance says as long as you have 1 senior in the unit, rent is capped at 2.5%. Love that clause.

  7. Thanks for your follow-up comments, Frank.

    In the first survey of parents this summer, approximately 70% were in favor of the hybrid model that involves some in-person schooling. So it’s not just an Edgemont thing. Waiting for results of the current survey.

    “And you give them a pass because the risk of COVID-19 exposure is not as bad as the risk of losing rent control?” — not what I said. Both bad, but of course getting very sick or dying from the coronavirus is worse. (I have some personal experience with that as my adult daughter and her husband got COVID this spring and were very sick for weeks before recovering.)

    Re your second comment, renters indirectly pay property taxes via their rent. The taxes paid by owners of rental units figure into how much they charge tenants for rent.

  8. There are maybe two dozen residents and our financial explainer Bob Benecke who understand the property tax, sewer & water utility increase implications arising out of this rent control ordinance and the pandemic.

    Bob will get that the pandemic might impact 2021 & beyond tax rates. Bob will no doubt understand how sewer and water rates are/should be pass-throughs and the Council has approved double digit increases for both. Bob will no doubt wonder, in these times, how a 2.5% cap on rent increases might be problematic. Bob is going to have a problem with the Council that cuts his checks.

    What I am pretty sure of is that this Council is not strong in arithmetic. They, as a group, pretty much suck at it – objectively speaking. I am to sure whether our 8th graders or this Council would score lower. Yes, it’s harsh.

    Bottomline is that the financial impact of this ordinance is a total unknown to 99.99% of taxpayers, residents, and all of the Township Council. The numbers don’t lie.

  9. And to connect the dots, the Jackson Council used the increased utility rate revenues to deliver flat property tax rates. I know, your head is exploding. Have a Sunday bagel and all will be right with the world.

  10. Dave,

    I appreciate how scary your family experience was. Unfortunately, your experience will be a increasingly commonplace. Let’s hope the outcomes are as positive as your family’s.

  11. Thank you, Frank. NYC, where my older daughter lives, was definitely a Covid epicenter in the spring, and things in North Jersey were very scary, too. It’s a shame there has been somewhat of a rise in Covid again in this area — not helped by people being indoors more in the cooler weather, “pandemic fatigue” on the part of some people no longer being as careful, etc. Still, I think there are arguments for the hybrid plan’s partial back-to-school approach, if done as carefully and as well as possible.

    You mentioned “Bob” five times in two paragraphs! Watch for the mailing from the Guinness World Records peeps… 🙂

    Seriously, the rent-control ordinance could indeed have some impact on township finances on top of the pandemic’s impact on township finances. But the ordinance is still worth it to me. Some towns are almost all-affluent and almost all-white, but that’s not the kind of town many Montclair residents want to live in even if such a town is almost trouble-free when it comes to finances.

    As for the 2012-2016 and 2016-2020 Township Council keeping municipal taxes flat or near flat some years, there were some non-silver linings to that. While I don’t know the details of the extent increased utility rates helped accomplish that flattening, the overdevelopment/gentrification that brought in some new tax ratables seems to me not worth the trade-off.

  12. If you’re curious, ask your landlord about their sewer & h2o bills during the pandemic. You’ve likely seen your electric bill. The Township has bills coming due and revenue issues, so I think the next budget – and the increase – will be interesting.

    Now, the Council will have to keep a cap on tax & utility increases – caps no higher than in this ordinance. Oh right, renters don’t pay taxes, water & sewer. So, they will ignore the caps because Councils often do contradictory things. The increases, sans caps, will go to property owners.
    And if they can’t afford to keep up, then they can just downsize themselves.
    That is the Council’s plan.

    Now, that would be fair…if the property owners understood this last April in the middle of the pandemic when the economy was in a tailspin and the cost of recovery would add to the financial burden. I’m sure most of the land class would’ve consented. But, no one asked them. None of their elected representatives actually reached out to explain this to them. There was no hearing of the facts. No discussion – unless you count those Webex Council mtgs.

    Here is the rub for Bluee Montclair. If Trump/Republicans had pulled this stunt for a conservative agenda item, you would be burning up the internet. You’re not.

    The rent control lobby can’t allow this to go for a vote. It will turn into a referendum on Council integrity and government incompetence. Now our Council will negotiate with MPOA.
    And they will pass another ordinance in the middle of a pandemic.

  13. Renters, in addition to indirectly paying property taxes via their rent, also indirectly pay for water bills, etc., via their rent. All those landlord costs figure in the rent level.

    The rent-control ordinance might not have happened if some property owners hadn’t gotten so greedy and gouging over the years. Also, property owners knew the ordinance was being considered and had the opportunity to offer input, before and during the pandemic.

  14. “Also, property owners knew the ordinance was being considered and had the opportunity to offer input, before and during the pandemic.

    Yes, they did. April 7th. See the video. If that was good enough for the taxpayers, then those parents who agree with you really need to get over themselves and their pushback over the drawbacks of remote learning.

    Sat, Mar 7: Council Conference Meeting agenda published without rent control topic for their 3/10 conference meeting. Conference Meetings are not broadcast.

    Mon, Mar 9: Governor declares a State of Emergency to contain COVID. Issues executive orders.

    Tue, Mar. 10: Governor announces 1st NJ COVID death.

    Tue, Mar 10: NY announces lockdown of New Rochelle, the biggest outbreak in the country.

    Tue. evening, Mar 10: Council introduces off agenda rent control topic with two unpublished versions of a rent control ordinance. [There is no public comment allowed on First Reading ordinances.] Council votes to approve a version to be reconciled before its public hearing Apr 7.

    Tue, Apr 7: Public hearing over video. I can only say watch the video from the beginning. A true technology debacle.

    This is not the representative democracy standard I want. We already have it with President Trump. I am not going to have one standard for my national representatives and another for my State & local representatives. That’s just plain hypocritical. It’s obvious. It’s wrong. It’s deceitful.

    So, moving on to the inevitable ‘lesser evil’ argument…

    We can’t blame the moral high ground be reclaimed by the sea of mediocrity on climate change. It is just the bubble environment some chose to make for the rest of us.

  15. “Renters, in addition to indirectly paying property taxes via their rent, also indirectly pay for water bills, etc., via their rent. All those landlord costs figure in the rent level.”

    Thank you for that explanation. Taking that explanation and if the landlords’ property taxes, sewer & water, etc go up more than the cap, the landlord has to eat it. OK, 4.5% is a forgiving cap for landlords – and there is a hardship clause.

    However, 2.5% cap (for having one senior (over 65) in the unit and the other co-tenant(s) can be 45) is tight – especially digging out from this pandemic. Property tax increase will go back to their normal ranges or higher. We can see our water/sewer infrastructure is in pretty bad shape is on the clock. And time is short. (Also, FYI, utility debt is self-liquidating.)

    Say, hypothetically, I have a building with 12 units. 4 are currently senior units. I can’t predict the future, so I am going to raise the rents to the max for everyone, every year, until they move out. I’m going to submit hardships like I do tax assessment appeals. Then I ‘renovate’ after vacancies, reset levels and do it all again – and not rent to anyone over 55. Yes, it is discriminatory, but the Township has already indicated they are good with the ‘the ends justifies the means’ playbook.

    Fun days ahead!…at least for all the attorneys. How do I get appointed to the rent control board? Please don’t say the Council appoints.

  16. Frank, the timeline in your 12:25 pm comment is impressive, but it had to be obvious to many property owners that rent control was being discussed months before March 2020. Heck, one of many proofs of that is this November 2019 story on Baristanet spotlighting the efforts of the Tenants Organization of Montclair:

    https://baristanet.com/2019/11/montclair-rents-too-high-toom-is-working-to-help-renters-stay-by-fighting-for-rent-control/

    (BTW, I watched the whole April 7 Township Council meeting “live” on my computer that evening. Yes, it was glitchy, but many property owners certainly had their say — as they could have also had on various occasions earlier in 2020, in 2019, etc. And while the MPOA might not admit it, I’m sure some property owners DID have their say well before March 2020.)

    Re your second comment, landlords — especially ones who own a smaller number of rental units — don’t always have it easy, especially during tough economic times such as the current pandemic. But they do own property, which gives them more financial options than many renters have.

  17. Dave,

    People we know were dying left and right, day after day back then. Yes, they were generally old geezers in the twilight years…but, they should count for their contributions earlier in life. I understand they don’t, unless you are a Weston.

    Home owners, those who will pay the township bills were a just little distracted.
    But, the callousness & selfishness of this Township never ceases to amaze me.

    PS: Full disclosure, my father died of COVID 4 days before that infamous Council public hearing. If I had some extra time, I would have called into those Council members.

  18. And for kicks and giggles, TOOM should look up the number of deaths between the ordinances first reading, its approval April 7th, and it target effective date. The part I love best about TOOM, NAACP, etc is the lower cap for seniors. The ones that were succumbing at a record rate. A model of sensitive advocacy for generations to come! Downright humane.

  19. And, for the record, while Ahava Felicidad and Toni Martin of the Tenants Organization of Montclair prevailed, they are undeserving of any moral high ground. Personally speaking, they prevailed while they watched the pandemic spread exponentially. Life is cheap. That is the lesson reaffirmed here.

  20. Frank, very, very sorry to hear of your father dying of Covid earlier this year. Terrible. My condolences.

    There was a lot of time before Covid happened for property owners to make their feelings known to the Township Council. And while the Council’s passing of a major bill (rent control) can be criticized on one level for being approved during Covid, on a different level the Council can be praised for trying to bring some relief to tenants during a pandemic that made some tenants even less able to pay large rent increases because of illness, losing their jobs, or both.

  21. Thank you.

    Yes, a lot of time. The ordinance has been a regular on-again, off-again topic ’round 50 years or so.

  22. Perhaps ever since dinosaurs were among prospective Montclair renters. (They preferred apartments with large bedrooms.)