How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Future of Liberty State Park needs transparency

The Times recently reported that a billboard on East State Street, near the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) reads "Governor Christie, Liberty State Park is NOT FOR SALE."   The force behind the billboard is the Friends of Liberty State Park (FOLSP), an organization dedicated to advocating for, protecting, beautifying and promoting this truly special state park.  The billboard is meant to draw attention to the latest attempt to privatize and potentially commercialize portions of the park. 

Liberty State Park (LSP) is nestled along the marshlands on the Jersey City waterfront.  The park has a world-class view of the Lower Manhattan skyline, Upper New York Bay, the Jersey City skyline, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.  It is the most visited park in New Jersey.

According to Sam Pesin, the long-time president of FOLSP and son of "the father" of the park, Morris Pesin, the park is a "sacred green oasis" and a priceless national treasure."   

I am very biased when it comes to LSP.  Morris Pesin who conceived and campaigned for the creation of LSP, is one of my heroes.  The idea was born on a three-hour trip he took with his family to the Statue of Liberty in 1957 when he fought traffic in lower Manhattan to reach a destination that was just six football fields away from the Jersey City shoreline.  To dramatize the proximity of the Statue of Liberty to Jersey City, Morris paddled a canoe with a newspaper reporter in tow to Lady Liberty in just eight minutes. 

I know Morris from Jersey City politics.  He was elected twice to the City Council running against the corrupt J.V. Kenny political machine – campaigning under the slogan "Jersey City needs a WATCHDOG!"  In 1971, he ran for mayor and I was his campaign manager.  Earlier on he realized that only with a united reform movement could bossism in Jersey City be defeated.  In a profile of courage, he dropped out of the race to support another candidate, Dr. Paul Jordan, who went on to beat the Kenny machine.   Morris devoted the remainder of his life to being the driving force behind the development of LSP as an urban open space family park.

Morris passed away on July 12, 1992. I had a heart attack on the same day, at 46, and missed his funeral.  I always felt bad about that.   This column is a tribute to him and a call for vigilance with regard to the latest of many attempts over the years to bring additional private development to LSP, e.g., luxury condos, shopping malls, golf courses, amusement park, race track and a commercial concert venue.    

For years LSP has been viewed by the Christie administration as an under-performing revenue source.   Earlier this year the administration pushed through a controversial bill opposed by park advocates that put LSP's future development under the auspices of the NJ Sports and Exposition Authority and granted them the power to "evaluate, approve, and implement any plan or plans for Liberty State Park."  In addition, the DEP in June of 2014 awarded a $120,000 contract to New Jersey Futures (NJF), a respected Trenton-based nonprofit organization, "to analyze the potential attractiveness of the park to developers, contractors and concessionaires." 

NJF hired a well-regarded New York City consultant group, Biederman Redevelopment Ventures, to undertake the study.  The report, according to Peter Kasabach, Executive director of NJF, was submitted to DEP in February and "includes many options that stay away from Liberty State Park's environmentally sensitive interior ....  Most of what is in the study will be agreed to by most people ... There is no 50-story hotel.  There is no casino."   

Unfortunately, the DEP did not release the report until very recently in spite of repeated attempts by the public, the legislature, the media and environmental groups to get it to do so.  Even NJF chided the administration for its lack of transparency.  Peter Kasabach indicated that "It's unfortunate that this process has dragged on and has been so non-transparent."  Kasabach urged the Christie administration to "finalize the study, get it out into the public eye and have a process .... There are good things in the study and there are bad things, and they need to be discussed .... My concern now is that everything that's good will be painted with the same brush... It's creating controversy where there doesn't need to be."

While the content of the report may or may not create controversy, the secrecy which shrouds its issuance is very controversial and suggests there is a hidden agenda.  Clearly what has occurred is not what NJF expected.  According to an interview with Peter Kasabach, they had hoped that the report would get a "full vetting" and "based on being placed in this situation, they [NJF] would not do something like this again."  

The report, which embraces the premise that parks should pay for themselves, proposes private development in various portions of LSP, needs to be fully vetted by the cleansing light of extensive public hearings!  And in the future NFF needs to take steps to insure that they do not become a party to any attempt, on the part of the DEP, to prevent the public from seeing and commenting on report paid for by the taxpayers of New Jersey.