New Jersey Senate leaders toured some of the city neighborhoods hardest hit by drugs and crime on Tuesday afternoon while discussing legislation that would give Paterson the tools needed to transform blighted neighborhoods, address illegal drug use, and usher in economic growth.
“We want to identify ways to help Paterson and other cities improve economic conditions, enhance public safety, curb drug abuse and support redevelopment,” Senate President Steve Sweeney said. “Trenton needs to give the city the tools and the support it needs to continue the progress that has already been made.”
Sweeny, viewed as the likely successor to Governor Chris Christie, joined senators Paul Sarlo, Nellie Pou, and Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres to discuss initiatives that will help Paterson and other urban cities to address ills that hinder economic growth.
“We asked the Senate President to come to Paterson to get a direct view of the challenges the city faces and to further discuss ideas that would help the city move forward,” Sarlo, chairman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, said. “The state and the city need to work together on policies and initiatives that will help make urban communities safer and remove barriers to growth and redevelopment.”
The senators and the mayor toured Rosa Parks Boulevard and 12th Avenue in the 4th Ward, an area hardest hit by crime, drug abuse, and large number of abandoned properties. Some of the ideas that were discussed by the senators included lowering the population threshold to 100,000 so that Paterson can become a first-class city and better regulate its troublesome liquor establishments.
Pou and Torres advocated a land bank program to sell off abandoned properties and use the proceeds for redevelopment. The land bank entity would have the authority to “acquire, maintain, and sell, lease and otherwise dispose of vacant, abandoned and problem properties,” according to senate bill S-2867 co-sponsored by Pou.
“Abandoned properties are a significant problem for Paterson and other urban communities,” Pou said. “They are magnets for illegal drug use and other criminal activities, they are an ongoing blight for communities and they cost cities with lost tax revenue. Land banking would give municipalities the ability to convert foreclosed and abandoned properties to productive use.”
Paterson has more than 1,200 abandoned properties, according to city data.
The land banking legislation is scheduled for action by the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee on June 8.
Torres also discussed the targeted use of automated license plate readers in high-crime zones to identify stolen cars and vehicles used in connection with criminal activities.
“Many of the problem communities are concentrated in small neighborhoods that are magnets for drugs and crime,” Torres said. “By focusing law enforcement resources to make the communities safer we can take the first steps needed to restore opportunities for our residents.”
Sweeney said today’s tour and discussion is an ongoing initiative to find ways to improve New Jersey’s urban communities. “We will work together to improve the quality of life for the residents and to expand economic opportunities,” Sweeney said.