MontClairVoyant: Pining Over a Possible Pine Street Change

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

With an ownership change reportedly in the offing at 11 Pine Street, four important community organizations are said to be in danger of losing their free leases there. Terrible?

Sincerely,

Bad News Rising

Terrible. I hope the new ownership has a heart. Stethoscope manufacturers are depending on it.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Which four organizations have been the beneficiaries of that 11 Pine lease arrangement between our town and the planning-to-sell ownership?

Sincerely,

Upset Quartet

Sister to Sister, Brother to Brother, Succeed2gether, and S.O.F.I.A. (Start Out Fresh Intervention Advocates). Third Cousin Once Removed to Third Cousin Once Removed is based in Verona.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Is what might happen to those crucial groups another example of problematic change in Montclair?

Sincerely,

Sad News Rising

Yes. There’s been a decrease in economic diversity as house prices rise, new rentals are built mostly for the affluent, etc. It’s almost a sickness, which explains why “affluent” contains the word “flu.”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Some developers and some building owners share much of the blame, don’t they?

Sincerely,

Big Wheels Making Big Deals

It seems September 30 is “Obvious Question Day.”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

And some realtors are contacting less-affluent longtime homeowners asking if they want to sell. Intrusive way to drum up business?

Sincerely,

Irksome of All Fears

It is. If homeowners want to sell, or feel forced to sell for economic reasons, they’re perfectly capable of initiating contact with realtors — who can be reached by phone, text, email, or stethoscope.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

You sound pessimistic, don’t you?

Sincerely,

Downbeat Pete

Don’t get me wrong — Montclair still has many wonderful aspects, but the gentrification is disMAYing. And this fall, disSEPTEMBERing and disOCTOBERing and…

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Speaking of wonderful aspects, are you as pleased as I am that there’ll be a gathering in support of reproductive rights this Saturday morning at Montclair’s Municipal Building?

Sincerely,

Abortion Endangered

I am. Those rights are under attack by far-right legislators and far-right Supreme Court justices who are so “pro-life” that most of them oppose government health care for babies, oppose COVID protocols, oppose gun control, favor capital punishment, etc. Persistent, not consistent.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

And anti-women. Getting back to 11 Pine Street, how close is that address to Bay Street Station?

Sincerely,

Proximity for Two

Very. It’s also near that train station’s parking deck, where the Fancy Car to Fancy Car organization is based. Yes, growing-more-affluent Montclair has some pricey vehicles.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Tomorrow is the start of October — Halloween month! What will some residents wear at parties on the 31st?

Sincerely,

Garb Wire

They’ll wear decreasing-economic-diversity costumes that look more affluent as time goes on. In a few years, I hope that costume won’t be called “The Montclair.”

 

 

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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33 COMMENTS

  1. I heartily support these 4 organizations and the important services they provide to our community. They are great organizations and we are fortunate to have them.

    However, this 14,000sf we are trying to keep them in, rent free, is a municipal asset worth conservatively about $300,000 annually based on market rates for office space. I would support the Council in trying to roll them over into this or similar space for the short term. But, I also think we should, long term, have a transparent process, modeled somewhat on how we dispense CDBG funds, where there is a review/renewal process that considers equally deserving organizations. As they are effectively leases, maybe every 3 years.

  2. Thank you for the comment, Frank. I realize there might be other community organizations that deserve a similar arrangement, and it would be nice if they got one. Not everything should be about the almighty dollar. But these four groups are sort of “grandfathered” into the 11 Pine space, and it would be a shame if they had to leave. I have a feeling that if they lose this space, they and other community organizations would have a hard time getting a similar arrangement.

  3. Dave,

    I think you need to read up on the troubled history of this space.

    I am of the opinion, as you know from previous posts over the year, that taxpers/the municipal government may not be supporting social services enough with out tax dollars. That said, good government is part & parcel of good deeds. I pushback on the ‘almighty dollar’ when we are speaking of taxpayer dollars.

    What you might not appreciate is that over the last 4 years, the combined CDBG spending along with my valuation of the office space totals $3.9MM. 42% of this went to these 4 organizations. Again, maybe this is too little or we were late coming with our support. As to the lease terms, I think is appropriate if we are electing our Councils, that each have an opportunity to allocate financial support as they see fit and some segment of their constituents want. But, not to be transparent and subject to regular review is simply bad government.

  4. Thank you, Frank, for the follow-up comment. I didn’t think you made your points in an unpleasant way. ๐Ÿ™‚

    More transparency, sure. But as I tried to at least indirectly convey in my column, the eviction threat for those four organizations sort of symbolizes how Montclair is becoming a town more difficult for community organizations and non-affluent people to afford — and that’s not a good thing.

  5. My apologies. I incorrectly wrote $3.9MM as the total number. The correct figure is $3,482,605.
    The 42% should be 47%.

    (Maybe I should have someone check my work?
    Nah. How many mistakes do I make?)

  6. “Maybe I should have someone check my work?” — it’s hard to make a check mark on a phone screen or computer screen…

  7. Maybe in Arizona, but I think the voting machines in Montclair allow one to make check marks on the screen. Speaking of elections, I listened to parts of the BoSE meeting last night….which, as a result, left me no choice but vote to keep the appointed system.

    It is what I know. I don’t like change. It’s good enough. I get my news from Twitter & Facebook The sky could fall. Money could creep into elections. And now I understand why the push to move muni elections to November. The electorate has only so much bandwidth.

  8. True, Frank, about being able to make check marks on some screens. My joke fell flatter than a flat screen TV. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Re an appointed vs. elected BOE, I lean toward wanting to change to the latter in Montclair. I realize a lot of money could be poured into BOE election campaigns, but I just have not been happy with most of the appointed boards in recent years.

  9. David,

    To your ongoing concern to Montclair’s affordability, I offer the following disturbing facts.

    When the Jackson administration arrived in July of 2012, they started tackling a combined school & muni debt of $225MM. Nine years later the Council’s & BoSE’s efforts whittled the debt down $60MM to about $165MM.

    On Thursday, the MPSD introduced a 9 year forecast of $155MM in new School capital needs through 2030. The Council’s 2021 budget shows a 6 year forecast of their new capital needs totaling $99MM. Extrapolating out our muni needs to match the MPSD’s 2030 ending period results in new capital needs of $148MM. Combined, a total of new schools and muni needs of $303MM over the next 9 years.

    We were pleased with ourselves reducing debt $60 million within 9 years. Let’s say we redouble our efforts – better yet, triple our efforts over the next 9 years and reduce debt by $180MM. The debt balance and the the new debt will total $278MM…versus the crushing $225MM debt we started with in 2012. Let’s also assume Montclair procures $50MM or so of new funding from State & Federal sources. We just get back to exactly where we started, $225MM.

    If I were a Council member now or in the future, it might make personal political sense to move to an elected school board. And also limit leases to community service orgs to 3 or 4 years.

  10. Dave, Nothing is “free.” Perhaps the solution is to have more affluent housing in town to increase the tax base. Those “sick” affluent people are the ones paying for all the “free” stuff. The more the merrier and if I get priced out of town so be it. This is America, the land of the “free.”

  11. Frank, I hear you about the irony of reducing debt and then having it go up again to meet school infrastructure needs. But what can one do? The school buildings need a lot of work — and the school system is a major reason why Montclair is attractive to so many families.

    I do think that approximately $60 million to improve school buildings is more reasonable than the higher figure, and most likely sufficient for the time being.

  12. Thank you for the comment, flipside.

    The non-affluent in Montclair pay taxes, too — whether directly as homeowners or indirectly as renters.

    And some of the affluent everywhere don’t pay their fair share of taxes, whether through legal loopholes and accounting gimmicks or via outright cheating.

    Also, in the latter part of your comment, you imply that we just have to go with the “free market.” Interesting — why were the banks bailed out by the U.S. government (i.e. taxpayers) about a dozen years ago? Doesn’t sound like a “free market” to me. If the “free market” means winners and losers, the rich losers should be allowed to lose, too.

  13. Thank you for the comment, justbob.

    “Pay to play” of course exists in many places. I don’t know how much that’s going on or not going on in Montclair. (Not exactly the same thing, but I do know the current mayor got a LOT of 2020 campaign contributions for a local election, and I do know that rich developers have had out-sized clout in this town for years.)

    Anyway, as you of course know, most community organizations anywhere don’t have the extra money to even attempt “pay to play.” So, yes, many politicians will ignore those organizations’ needs and interests.

  14. The Boards going back a ways have been truly bad. What is interesting is that our Mayors sole control has shown they lack organization building skills. I lack faith in the electorate doing any better. It will be a best of the worst scenario. Iโ€™m convinced we will continue to have a mix of members that will assure mediocrity. So, at least financially, with the boatload of $ involved, I want some oversight beyond the parents who have shallow interests & move out of the district in 8 years. And if housing prices go down as a result of not maxing out our credit card, is that a bad thing? Really?

  15. Dave, Were the banks really bailed out or did the banks bail out the failed policies led by no other than Dodd and Frank? Remember when the government turned Fannie and Freddie into hedge funds? How Wamu, Indy Mac, and Countrywide became huge lending institutions? Who did congress beg to buy all the bad loans written by those three? no other than JP, BofA, Wells, etc. Basically, the big banks bailed out congress and congress gave the big banks sweetheart deals to buy the bad loans and take the blame. Do you really think any banker in their right mind would have wrote those mortgages if the government wasn’t behind it? Yes, I do believe in the free market with some government regulation but not government partnering in the business. The banking crisis and the student loan problem was caused by the federal government interfering with the free market. Why is college so expensive? Because the cost of higher education was no longer set by the free market.

  16. Frank, I agree that an elected Montclair BOE might not be much better than an appointed Montclair BOE. But I still think it’s worth a try. For one thing, there must be some good reason why the vast majority of BOEs in New Jersey are elected.

  17. Dave,

    The good news is I was able to shave $25MM in future school debt from the Township’s $99MM in budgeted capital needs. (Technically, it was a paper cut ๐Ÿ˜‰ )
    I am a uncertain whether this $25MM was previously identified in the many, living capital needs documents, e.g. the $15MM one, or the $37MM one, or the $60MM one, or in the $155MM master. BTW, these living documents have regular reconstructive surgery. Anyway, I think, like the BoE resolution to be on the safe side, so let’s treat is as additional and bump up the master schools capital spend to $180MM. Some new need always comes up.
    I can see a point where the Council importance is relegated to a tail of our new, improved Mountie Bulldog.

  18. justbob, when I see the term “Blue Wave,” I think of water from Toney’s Brook lapping against the shore of Mountie Blue territory (Montclair High). ๐Ÿ™‚ Well, maybe not… ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. flipside, so you feel the government was mostly to blame for the financial crisis of 2008 and banks mostly not to blame?! Interesting. You could work in HR — not Human Resources but History Rewriting. ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. Frank, thanks for the seriocomic response. Again, I’m in favor of the $60 million figure for improving infrastructure at Montclair’s schools — a figure that seems about right and, as a bonus, evokes Babe Ruth’s home run total in 1927. ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. Dave, you never cease to amaze me at how willing you are to espouse your ignorance about finance and how the the economy works. A system which you draw more than you contribute to. You have absolutely no clue about the financial crisis, how it originated, how the problem grew, and how it blew up. You think you do because you read an article written by a 24 year old at the NY Times. You accuse me of rewriting history? What a joke! BTW, our old friend Leon Cooperman who you also know nothing about yet vilified just donated 100 million to the now Cooperman/Barnabas Medical Center.
    Sorry to get a little mean here but your constant attacks on successful people is nauseating, mean spirited, and smacks of jealousy.

  22. Ha, Frank! ๐Ÿ™‚ Now we just have to find out where that 23 (60-37) is hiding. Perhaps somewhere amid the Route 46 construction…

  23. flipside, we’ve gone over this ground before, but…

    Some rich people donate a relatively small portion of their wealth in order to improve their reputation after years of amassing that wealth in exploitative, harmful-to-society ways — Leon Cooperman has been a hedge-funder, among other things.

    And Cooperman was accused of a major crime and settled. He could have kept fighting the charge if it was allegedly false, but he didn’t. A link:

    https://www.ft.com/content/42f8140a-3b32-11e7-ac89-b01cc67cfeec

    I’m happy with my life and not jealous of the rich; I have enough money to live on. And when I make statements criticizing things, I make them under my own name, not a screen name. ๐Ÿ™‚

  24. Dave, I missed your post, โ€For one thing, there must be some good reason why the vast majority of BOEs in New Jersey are elected.

    I think this โ€œeveryone else has itโ€ is the strongest argument for an elected school board. It capably simplifies the question and there canโ€™t be any repercussions to the change. In this oft complicated and unsettled world, this is truly a decision layup. Yes to more democracy.

    My question is the leadership one. We canโ€™t elect the leader. We are keeping the system where the team picks the leader every year. Full disclosure: Iโ€™m not a believer in the leadership of teams. Itโ€™s kind of an oxymoron.

    Hence, I expect the same leadership issues with either board type. I expect the same representation issues both systems have. Neither will assure a better quality education. So, $$$ mgmt rises to greater prominence.

  25. Frank, I realize that doing what the vast majority does is not always the right thing, but it seems worth trying in terms of Montclair switching to an elected BOE.

    And, yes, I guess electing a BOE doesn’t mean voters directly elect the leader(s) of said BOE. But elected BOE members who are not the leader(s) would still have a big say in BOE decisions. And if the BOE leaders aren’t good leaders, vote ’em out next time.

  26. Good points. I know my votes will go to candidates that believe anything worth doing is worth measuring along with the commitment to report out period-over-period progress. Candidates would get extra credit if they promised to not use “living documents” as a device to frustrate financial comparisons and accountability.

  27. FWIW, if we go with an elected board, there is reasonable chance next year the Essex County Superintendent of Education will appoint the Board President & Vice President from the remaining appointed members and 2 new members, to serve until January, 2023.