The Jersey City Council passed a resolution urging the state legislature to enact the Liberty State Park Protection Act, which would prohibit any private development in what the measure refers to as “The People’s Park.”
While mostly symbolic, the local legislation reaffirms the city’s stance against the park’s privatization during a controversial time when Liberty National Golf Club owner Paul Fireman, the billionaire Rebook co-founder, to further expand his course by three holes onto a migratory birds haven in the park.
Although the battle appeared to just be getting started, Fireman announced yesterday that he was halting his expansion plan so that “the social justice problems” related to LSP could be addressed, as HCV first reported.
A social media campaign began pushing for amenities mentioned in a 1977 state master plan that never came to fruition – also asking for black and brown communities to have a seat at the table.
The golf club charges a roughly $500,000 initiation fee for invitation-only members.
It was the most recent attempt out of dozens over decades to privatize the land – all of which have consistently been fended off by activist for the park’s open public space.
“Over four decades, if it weren’t for these fights, we would have an F1 formula race track, we would have a marina on the southern edge, we would have Caven Point as part of the Liberty National golf course,” exclaimed Ward E Councilman James Solomon, the sponsor of the resolution in question.
“It’s those fights that have kept the park free and open and that’s why the protection act is so important because … if passed, there’s no longer a need to fight over and over again from the next privatization scheme that will come along.”
If enacted in Trenton, the act would bar any concessions or leases of the 235-acre park interior, as well as the Caven Point peninsula.
The item passed 8-1, with Ward F Councilman Jermaine Robinson voting no – echoing Fireman and his supporters who have said that his constituents haven’t had a proper say in the matter, particularly since the park sits in Ward F.
“I think we all agree that Caven Point should never be touched … but I do have really deep concerns over the bill that is in Trenton right now,” he said, adding that the act does not do enough to create “active recreation” in the park.
He later likened the lack of “active recreation” to the to the gun violence that has plagued the southern ward of the city, which is directly adjacent to the park.
“What we’re voting on right now, it never mentions anything about active recreation … the bill that’s now in Trenton, to me, says nothing about active recreation and to vote on this, it would basically say that I’m okay with just only having passive recreation and I don’t think that’s fair to the kids that’s out out here killing themselves and shooting each other,” Robinson continued.
“If you don’t give these kids something to do they’re going continue that uptick … I think a vote tonight says that we’re voting to say that this language is the correct thing and to not have one person from this side of the community part of that is disgraceful.”
Back another marathon council meeting on June 25th, Robinson insisted for the second meeting in a row that the council pull the LSPPA resolution so that he could solicit community feedback – a plan that appeared to fall apart at the seams in execution.
Additionally, some of his colleagues warned that while Fireman’s plan was put on hold, efforts to privatize the park will continue unless the bill is enacted by state lawmakers.
“Make no doubt about it, his plan is on hold, [but] he’s looking for the next opportunity,” Councilman-at-large Rolando Lavarro said.
“What this is not about is closing off opportunities for communities to have input, this is not about communities not having other things and active recreation spaces,” he added.
“What this is about is the opposition to a privatization attempt … [and] we need to double our efforts on this and make the sure the Liberty State Park Protection Act is passed. Victory is within our grasp.”
This afternoon, New Jersey NAACP President Richard Smith commended Robinson for voting against the measure, emphasizing that minority voices are not being properly heard.
“The NAACP commends Councilman Jermaine Robinson for putting action behind the words of social justice. We have advocated for changes to the ‘Liberty State Park Protection Act’ because the legislation was flawed, and it discriminated against minority advocates and against minority interests,” Smith said in a statement.
“Councilman Robinson’s advocacy has resulted in an acknowledgment by the Jersey City Council that the Protection Act is in fact flawed and must be changed to include minority representation and active recreation. The devil is now in the details and we will not accept feel good representation while others enjoy greater representation.”
Follow Corey McDonald on Twitter @cwmcdonald_