MontClairVoyant: Mayor’s Ambition, Schools’ COVID Condition, 200th Edition

This is your 200th column for Baristanet after 648 columns for a newspaper with the same initials as Montana’s postal abbreviation. Glad you decided to switch?

Running on MT

Yes! There were only so many jokes to be made about Billings, Bozeman, Butte…

Did you ever use roadside assistance from AAA while focusing on Montana’s BBB?

Petula from Missoula

Si. Si. Si.

Anyway, on to other things. News reports say Mayor Spiller told our state’s congressional delegation that he’s interested in being considered for Secretary of Education in the Biden/Harris administration. Reaction?

Washington Street

A rather large job reach for the teacher and New Jersey Education Association veep. Heck, I’d like to be King of Mars, but only Viscount positions are open to Earthlings.

Plus, what’s with the higher-office feelers when Spiller has been mayor for only a few months since his pricey campaign-flyer blitz?

A Man Called Overspending

Yeah, first serve a full term until 2024. Then, 2020’s almost-mayoral-winner Renee Baskerville might perhaps run again while Spiller could become U.S. Secretary of Glossy Mailers.

A number of votes in this year’s Montclair’s election were unfairly not allowed because of minor signature mismatches and mailed-in-time ballots not received in time. So, was it weird that the Township Council introduced a “fair elections” resolution December 1 saying “all legal votes must be counted”?

Tuesday Tidings

Kind of tone-deaf given that there was an outside chance Dr. Baskerville might’ve been mayor if all local votes WERE counted. But the Council has spoken, and awestruck officials throughout the country will change their behavior immediately.

Not! Moving to the COVID resurgence, which now includes a Montclair High case announced December 2, is the age of most of our town’s public schools a big reason for the delay in some in-person learning?

The Vapes of Wrath

Older school buildings are often beautiful but sadly can have more ventilation issues. Heck, Northeast was built way back in 1803 to lure the Lewis and Clark Expedition into exploring Montclair rather than the Northwest.

Why didn’t Lewis and Clark explore Montclair?

Gone to Oregon

They were irked that a new hotel was called The MC rather than The LC. Sacagawea rolled her eyes and said: “Men.”

Does Renaissance date back to the Renaissance period of the 1300s to 1600s?

When Cars Were Young

Yes, that Montclair middle school was sculpted by Michelangelo — a rare solo side project without the other three Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

How old is Buzz Aldrin Middle School?

Rocket Role Hall of Fame

It was built years before H.G. Wells’ 1901 novel “The First Men in the Moon” in the hopes Wells would write a sequel about Montclair native Aldrin called “The Second Man on the Moon.”

Hillside School?

The Audacity of Slope

Built by Moses after he received the Ten Commandments on hilly Mount Sinai. First commandment: “Thou shalt not avoid attending Nishuane first.”

Okay, okay, we get the point — most of Montclair’s public school buildings are old. Are you still hoping some in-person classes will be held during the 2020-21 academic year?

Future Clock

It would be nice for today’s students to once again see the cave art that students from 40,000 years ago drew each Friday on the Buzz, Glenfield, and Renaissance walls before attending Side Cave Door.

Say, does your column have enough ventilation?

Jane Air

Yes — there’s space between the Q&As.

Your goal in life?

Not a Soccer Goal

To become U.S. Secretary of Space Between Q&As.



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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  1. Congratulations Dave on your milestone. It seems like an impressive bit of longevity in an increasingly transient industry. I tip my hat to you.

  2. Dave you wrote: A number of votes in this year’s Montclair’s election were unfairly not allowed because of minor signature mismatches and mailed-in-time ballots not received in time. So, was it weird that the Township Council introduced a “fair elections” resolution December 1 saying “all legal votes must be counted”?

    Yes Dave, another “weird” thing is our Council telling our newly Township hired Clerk to spend a week when she started, reviewing petitions and signatures of those who just want to exercise their legal rights and put the new rent control ordinance up for a referendum — a legal right granted by State law. Instead, the Township had the Clerk hunt for signature and address mistakes on the 1500 plus submitted petitions to reject some — effectively trying to avoid a democratic vote on this issue.

    I support some rent control today. But rather than encourage democracy, some here think it’s ok to suppress a vote on the issue — rather than just win on the merits. To be able to sell a majority of residents, and get their support for this issue. Strangely, some leaders are even incensed that the Judge involved agreed to help democracy during the Covid period — and extend the signature collection times, not make it more difficult for petitioner’s who are against rent control to still exercise their rights.

    Supporters just need to win this one from a majority vote. Otherwise, how are they any different than those is some States who try to limit say — minority voting? Same thing. They too, think its great to have an open election and count every vote, only when they know 100% it will go their way.

  3. Thank you for the comment, Martin.

    I see the comparison you’re making, but there are some differences. For instance, as I think you were saying, a judge gave the Montclair Property Owners Association (MPOA) extra time to “cure” the petition signatures that Montclair rejected, but voters in Montclair’s May election were not given the chance to “cure” their minor ballot issues or given an extension for mailed-on-time ballots to be received seven days after Election Day rather than two days.

    Also, Montclair was sort of consistent in this way: 1) The town rejected some rent-control-petition signatures and 2) No high town official other than Renee Baskerville (to my knowledge) publicly expressed an interest in having all May election votes counted.

    And, yes, having a referendum on rent control seems to be the democratic thing to do, but democracy gets warped to an extent when the very well-funded MPOA throws its ample money around and would continue to do so if a referendum happened in an effort to make sure rent control was defeated. Most tenants don’t have similar funds.

  4. Thanks for your 9:13 am comment, Frank.

    If Montclair’s rent control doesn’t have a sunset provision (I thought there was something in the measure that mentioned the possibility of revisiting it at some point, but I might be remembering wrong) there is always the de facto “sunset provision” of a future Township Council possibly repealing rent control.

    Yes, if many tenants each contributed a little to a fund to save rent control, that could be a tidy sum. But it still wouldn’t match what just one MPOA leader — a wealthy developer with an even wealthier spouse — could pour into an anti-rent-control referendum campaign. As it stands, the MPOA has spent lots of money on legal costs, the referendum effort, ads, and so on while tenants have spent a comparative pittance as their rent control is threatened. Some tenants can’t exactly afford to contribute much.

  5. Yes Dave. A future Council could amend the ordinance. And the regional trends, our planned rezoning and the existing base of 42% renters, guess what?

    The smart (& least discriminatory) play is to extend rent control now to all buildings, including those under 4 rental units. This ordinance is screwing the low income people and handing out a windfall to the 1-3 unit landlords. And where are the 1-3 units disproportionately located and he tenants we are selling out? 3 guesses.

  6. Frank, I would be okay with extending rent control to all Montclair rental units. The measure the Township Council approved in April allows for a certain annual percentage increase in rents, so any landlord could still raise rents a decent amount each year.

  7. Dave.

    I get the various arguments from the Council, the tenants association and the commercial property owners. What doesn’t change is 3 things:

    1. the ordinance is truly poorly executed (which I think all parties would agree to)
    2. the typical lack of honesty paired with the unmitigated gaul in claiming a high ground
    3. that anyone has explained this to even a minimal extent to residential property owners

    The interesting part of this, which former Councilor Baskerville and Mayor Jackson will acknowledge, is that North of Watchung AND the South of Llewellyn will be disproportionately subsidizing this ordinance. And the current Council will be unable to explain why this will be.

    So, maybe the Council can have the Township’s financial consultant (Bob Benecke) make a presentation to them, in Executive Session of course, to educate the Councilors. Just a thought.

  8. The main parcel of the Seymour Street redevelopment’s 6 parcels was originally offered to house homeless and supporting operations. The Council & our U.S. Representatives killed that. The RDA was written with the standard 10% Affordable Housing requirement. Then some big pushback with a proposed 10% affordable housing allocation AND a 10% workforce housing.

    It would have been unprofitable to the developer and the Council didn’t want to pay for it. So, the Council reverted to the standard 10% RDA affordable housing and….wait for it….wait for it…revised the definition of Workforce Housing to be the same as Affordable Housing.

    That is just brilliant! And so Montclair! And everyone went all in! God, I love this town.

  9. Thank you for the follow-up comments, Frank.

    I’ve had issues with the Seymour Street redevelopment from the start — including it being too dense, the town giving some land to the developers in a deal better for the developers than for the town, and the “arts district” branding when much of the complex will not be arts-oriented. Heck, two early possible tenants include a medical group and a rock-climbing gym, both of which I have no problem with in general but they’re not arts-oriented. Something I’ll mention in my next column, which I’ve written a draft of. I wasn’t aware of all the Seymour Street redevelopment issues you mentioned; they add to the problematic nature of the whole thing.

    You’re right that the rent-control measure is not perfect. But despite what the Montclair Property Owners Association has said about wanting a better measure, about property owners allegedly not being consulted enough when the measure was put together, about it being allegedly unfair for the measure to get passed at an online meeting during the pandemic, blah, blah, blah, it’s pretty clear that the MPOA would prefer no rent control at all. As I said before, I have no problem with the measure being improved/fine-tuned.

  10. It’s all good Dave. I was just pointing out the highly principled Council’s conduct unbecoming.

    I wasn’t talking about the commercial property owner. I’m talking about the schmucks who own/live in their houses.

    And I will bet the Seymour developers lease with Summit Medical says they don’t get a COVID-19 pass paying their rent. 40,000 sf is a lot of medical. Lackawanna can’t be happy.

  11. Interesting, Frank. With all the recent and coming downtown development, and the same company involved in much of it, there’ll definitely be situations where one development getting such and such commercial tenant will mean another development not getting that tenant. All accentuated by this tough-for-business COVID time. (Though a medical group will of course get plenty of business these days. 🙁 ) And, yes, developers tend to not give tenants a break on rent levels unless they absolutely have to.

  12. This ordinance will be fine tuned yearly. The next fine-tuning will be parking. It will be stripped out, leased to a concession operation and not covered by the ordinance or the oversight. The 25% rent reduction penalty is a secondary consideration. Previously private parking will be offered to the public at market rates going forward. That will be an eye opener.
    The concession clause will be exploited until there is more government regulation. Yes, rent increases will slow. Property owners will achieve existing if not higher returns. The taxpayer will make up the difference. Ask Bob.

  13. And someone might want to ask the Zoning Board of Adjustment how they feel about the Township putting a price on removing a required accessory use (parking). Because, I suspect this would be illegal to buy one’s way out of zoning. Yup. Brilliant.

    It will certainly put the age-old conflict between zoning and private property rights front & center. Horrible ordinance.

  14. Too many details spread out here Frank Rubacky.

    Yes, the public parking expectation for Seymour Street was based on office use — not medical according to someone directly involved in the negotiations. A few months ago, I suggested the Council do a real updated parking accounting for downtown again given really coming at the decks and who is actually getting what, from whom. How the totals anticipated and announced back when are still holding today. Before any other variances are handed out and before permits at the new decks are fully locked up.

    Received a good idea but no action to then follow response from some. We shall see. Also waiting to see how the “arts and entertainment” space rentals are coming.

  15. Thank you for your latest comments, Frank, and the information in them. The parking machinations (actual or possible, and public or private) make my head spin. 🙂 And, yes, the pandemic has temporarily changed the parking picture. Certainly a need for brief parking for takeout and curbside pickup.

  16. Martin, great idea to do an updated look at parking. A lot has changed since various projects were announced/approved.

    And, yes, it will be interesting to see how many arts spaces are ultimately part of the “arts district.”

  17. Martin,

    I’m sorry I was unclear and cluttered my primary point….which is this ordinance is absolute crap on every level and several of us-including the judge-know this.

    Go around and ask all your contacts & sources the extent of the problems. Then come back and read my comments again.

    Or not. Let it play out. We can review again this time next year. I don’t think we’ll get there, but I’ve been wrong innumerable times.

Comments are closed.