Search Results

Keyword: ‘liberty state park’

Lawsuit Filed To Force Christie DEP To Release Development Plans For Liberty State Park

August 31st, 2015 No comments

Privatization of Planning for Public Parks

NJ Future Conducts Covert Privatization Planning With Christie DEP

Now it’s getting interesting.

[*Full disclosure: I was consulted by and provided assistance to plaintiff’s counsel.]

In the latest development in the controversy over the Christie Administration’s scheme to privatize and commercialize Liberty State Park, on Friday, a Jersey City resident filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) lawsuit to compel DEP to release public records on Park development plans.

Scott Fallon of the Bergen Record first reported that the Christie DEP paid NJ Future, a private planning group, $120,000 to develop plans for privatizing the park.

On July 14, 2015, NJDEP denied an OPRA request for the NJ Future report to DEP made by plaintiff, William P. Bednarz, of Jersey City.

What could the Christie DEP and NJ Future have to hide?

Mr. Bednarz is represented by attorneys Walter M. Luers and H Howard Moskowitz, who wrote: (boldface emphases mine)

As set forth in the June 2, 2014 $120,000 Grant Agreement, also attached, the NJF report was to “detail[] findings and recommendations for Liberty State Park” in pursuit of “NJDEP’s goal to have LSP increase revenue and become financially sustainable,” including, among other matters, “[r]evenue projections for any suggested” development, a “list of potential developers/contractors,” and a discussion of “[p]otential issues and risks of recommendations.” The contract provides that NJDEP “facilitate” meetings between NJF’s consultant and undefined “LSP stakeholders.” Attachment A, at 1, 2.

The report was necessary, according to the grant agreement, in light of NJDEP’s “realiz[ation] that the State lacks the entrepreneurial expertise to design and effect[uate] those changes.” Id. at 1.

In short, the New Jersey Future report is a manual on how to monetize and commercialize Liberty State Park in implementation of Governor Christie’s plan to “save” New Jersey’s state parks, announced in November 2011, entitled “Sustainable Funding Strategy for New Jersey State Parks.”

The report is a government record “subject to public access” under OPRA as a “document that has been received in the course of the State’s official business.”

I got a real kick out of this DEP “realization”:

“realiz[ation] that the State lacks the entrepreneurial expertise to design and effect[uate] those changes.” Id. at 1.

Of course DEP Parks lacks entrepreneurial expertise to privatize – their job is to manage parks in the public interest for the enjoyment of visitors, not to make profits!

Once again, Christie’s privatization policy and DEP Commissioner Bob Martin’s “transformation” initiative to radically change DEP’s mission to “promote economic development” are shown to be absurd.

Based on my own successful litigation experience with OPRA, they have a strong case and are very likely to win.

Public release of the NJ Future Report to DEP is critical, because NJ Future was obviously acting on behalf of the Christie DEP in privately planning for private park development. DEP used NJF to avoid public scrutiny.

Now DEP is compounding that abuse by trying to cover the whole thing up by denying access to public records.

NJ Future should be ashamed of themselves for conducting covert planning for NJ’s most popular State Park.

According to the DEP’s contract with NJ Future, NJF was required to submit a Report that:

lsp11

lsp13

lsp12

So, what were NJ Future’s “recommended activities that can produce revenue”?

What aspects of the Park were “attractive” “to revenue producing developers, contractors and concessionaires”?

What “developers/contractors” did NJ Future identify?

What areas and buildings at LSP did NJ Future recommend developing?

What “revenue projections” did NJ Future generate?

What “stakeholders” did NJ Future interview and consult?

The public demands answers!

Shame on both NJ Future and the Christie DEP for a covert strategy to avoid public involvement in park planning and for their craven revenue driven privatization scheme.

Mr Moskowitz was kind enough to provide the contract documents – sorry I have no links, but they are available upon request.

[Update: 9/3/15 – Scott Fallon broke the NJ Future DEP project, so I would have thought he’s have been a lot stronger in his story on that and the Christie “Sustainable parks” privatization and commercialization scheme – Fallon puts that in the most favorable light possible:

Efforts to generate more money at Liberty State are part of Christie’s Sustainable Parks initiative, unveiled in 2011 to reduce the park system’s reliance on the state budget.

What a wuss.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Liberty State Park Screwed By Sweeney Sellout

June 26th, 2015 No comments

Sweeney Quietly Abandons His Clean “Repair” Bill

Sellout Promotes Commercialization of Liberty State Park

Will Gov. Christie Sign A Bill To Commercialize A National Icon?

Liberty State Park was sold out (again) during back room legislative maneuvers in yesterday’s hectic last minute budget session.

We need to rehash a little recent history in order to make this maneuver understandable.

Recall that last year, the Legislature rammed through a bill to consolidate the Hackensack Meadowlands Commission with the NJ Sports and Exposition Authority.

Despite the fact that Liberty State Park (LSP) is not located in the Meadowlands, that bill included a provision that would give the new Meadowlands Commission jurisdiction over Liberty State Park, including a new role in developing the park.

LSP supporters, who successfully have fought privatization and commercialization projects in the park for decades, cried foul and mounted an effort to urge Governor Christie to veto the bill.

We tried to explain why that effort was useless, given Gov. Christie’s own Parks Privatization policy and his DEP’s secret promotion of commercialization plans, including masking them via a $120,000 park development study conducted by the private planning group NJ Future and a New York City development firm.

After the Gov. signed the bill into law, in an embarrassing sequence, Democratic legislators initially denied knowledge of the LSP amendments, then they said they had no intent to commercialize or develop the Park, and then they promised to fix the problem.

Assembly Speaker Prieto then sponsored a bill he claimed would repair the damage that he claimed was inadvertently caused by the Meadowlands consolidation bill he sponsored.

I explained why Prieto’s bill would not solve the problem, which could only be solved by a “clean” bill that simply deleted LSP from the Meadowlands Consolidation law and eliminated any role for the new Meadowlands Commission at LSP, see:

Senator Sweeney stepped in to save the day.

Sweeney’s bill – the introduced version, that is  – proposed to solve the problem by simply deleting LSP from the Meadowlands Consolidation law and eliminating any role for the new Meadowlands Commission.

Under this bill, the entirety of the provision regarding Liberty State Park would be removed from the law, leaving the commission with no authority or responsibility with respect to the park. 

Sweeney got good press for this, see:

Bill seeks to lift control of Jersey City’s Liberty State Park from sports agency

a bill by Senate President Stephen Sweeney would return all development powers at the park to the Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the state park system. Although Governor Christie would be likely to veto it, Sweeney’s bill could disrupt the administration’s goal of helping to finance private development at the park in Jersey City.

Park advocates welcomed the new legislation.

The Sierra C lub praised Sweeney in a May 21, 2105 press release:

Sweeney Bill Protects Liberty State Park

Senate President Stephen Sweeney is sponsoring bill S2866 that would remove jurisdiction of Liberty State Park from under the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. This bill would delete the section that gave the power to NJSEA and return power to New Jersey DEP Division of Parks and Forestry. The bill would also require any leases or concessions to go through appropriate public review. The Christie Administration’s goal is for private development in the park. The Sierra Club supports this new bill to remove the park from private control. We support bill S2866 because it helps to protect Liberty State Park.

Well, Sweeney may have wanted to protect Liberty State Park back in May, but yesterday, he sold LSP out by amending his bill to reflect the sham Prieto bill.

Despite enormous public opposition and a ton of media coverage, the Legislature has now explicitly sold out Liberty State Park TWICE, and lied about it both times.

There must be a powerful deal in the works to drive these kind of corrupt legislative maneuvers.

The Prieto bill passed both houses and is on the Governor’s desk.

Will Gov. Christie, in the midst of a Presidential campaign, sign a bill that would promote privatization and commercialization of a national icon?

I thank Howard Moskowitz, Esq. for bringing this to my attention. I was focused on yesterday’s Clean Energy/Climate Coalition event.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Prieto’s Straw Man On Liberty State Park Does Not Pass The Straight Face Test

March 18th, 2015 No comments

DEP’s support for a new Meadowlands Commission role is the threat to Liberty State Park

Any bill to repair the damage must exclude Meadowlands Commission from any role at LSP

[Update below]

I just read the Jersey Journal story on Speaker Prieto’s Liberty State Park “repair bill” that we criticized yesterday, see

That’s exactly the misleading headline Prieto wanted, because most people think DEP is out to do the right thing and protect the park from development.

But that assumption is false with respect to the Christie DEP, who is actively promoting parks development.

According to Speaker Prieto, his “repair bill”  (A4196 [1R]) is supposed to fix the alleged inadvertent error in the law that established a new Meadowlands Regional Commission.

Prieto’s Office is quoted thusly:

“Speaker Prieto has consistently said that the DEP should have final say on any plans involving Liberty State Park,” said Philip Swibinski, a spokesman for Prieto. “He has worked with environmental advocacy groups and other stakeholders to ensure that this always remains the case by sponsoring this legislation and he will continue to support it.”

The issue is not and never was whether DEP had “final say”. That is a straw man.

The Bergen Record already exposed this “DEP final say” as a straw man argument.

On January 5, 2015, the Bergen Record reported that multiple sources confirmed that the DEP requested the amendments to involve the Meadowlands Commission, see:

On February 12, 2015, NJTV quoted Prieto, who confirmed that DEP requested the amendments:

“The DEP requested the language giving it the ability to use the Meadowlands Regional Commission as a tool to evaluate and implement plans and the commission can only become involved at the request of the DEP commissioner,” said Prieto in a statement today.

Prieto’s explanation of why DEP asked for the amendments makes absolutely no sense – no sense at all and is a straw man.

Just asking very basic questions shows that Prieto’s straw man doesn’t pass the straight face test – questions like this:

1. Why would DEP want the Meadowlands Commission involved at the Park?

DEP already owns, manages, controls, and regulates Liberty State Park. They have no need for the Meadowlands Commission’s help to continue those park services.

Besides, have you ever seen a bureaucracy that wanted to share and dilute its power, control and legal authority?

2. Why would DEP want or need the Meadowlands Commission to “evaluate and implement plans” at the Park?

DEP already has professional parks planners and mangers on staff, and an ability to retain specialized contract consultants for planning, design, architectural, engineering, etc work they can not do.

DEP has no need for Meadowlands Commission involvement in “evaluating and implementing plans” at the park – unless the work “implement” is a mask for FINANCING DEVELOPMENT OF THE PARK.

3. Why would DEP request changes in law to involve the Meadowlands Commission at Liberty State Park?

4. At a time when its very difficult for both Chairs of Environmental Committees to get DEP to testify or to even provide information regarding legislation, why was DEP so eager to get involved and seek amendments to this Meadowlands bill ?

5. Why would DEP request these amendments in a stealth fashion?

6. What does the Meadowlands Commission have to contribute to  park planning or management?

  • What we know answers those questions

To ask the question is to answer it.

So, let’s look  at Prieto’s straw man in light of what we know.

  • We know that Gov. Christie has an aggressive privatization policy
  • We know that Gov. Christie is desperately seeking revenues to close budget deficits he has created via billions of dollars in corporate tax cuts
  • We know that Gov. Christie is willing to cut dirty deals that sacrifice the environment to get those revenues
  • We know that Gov. Christie will use executive power to divert revenues that are not Constitutionally dedicated
  • We know that Gov. Christie’s “Sustainable Parks Strategy” seeks to maximize revenue generating potential of State parks
  • We know that DEP has development plans for LSP
  • We know that DEP provided a $120,000 grant to NJ Future to study development of the Park
  • We know that neither DEP nor NJ Future will release that development study
  • We know that DEP is broke and can not issue bonds
  • We know that any lease or concession revenue generated at the Park is constitutionally dedicated to the Open Space Fund as a result of the November ballot question, so therefore those revenues could NOT be used for some kind of public private partnership or contract/lease revenue based financing scheme.

The obvious answer is that DEP needs the Meadowlands Commission to finance park development schemes.

That is why any “cleanup” or “repair” legislation must completely remove the Meadowlands Commission from Liberty State Park and restore the status quo.

That is why Prieto’s spin does not pass the straight face test.

And that is why NY/NJ Baykeeper and FLSP compromise with and support of Prieto’s “repair bill” is a really bad move.

[Update: NJ Future, while raising much broader regional planning issues, also opposes the LSP provisions of Prieto’s bill.

NJ Future’s testimony argues that the issue is based on development rights:

  1. It transfers to the Sports and Exposition Authority the development rights to Liberty State Park, putting the state’s largest urban park at risk of unbridled development. The Liberty State Park development issue is not resolved adequately in this bill. While the bill makes it clear that DEP still maintains “ownership” of the park, the Sports and Exposition Authority in effect has the development rights, which means that they can make all decisions about what gets developed in the park. Development rights can be separated from ownership. There is no additional authority, review or approval required by the Sports and Exposition Authority to develop anything and everything within the park. These development rights should remain with DEP. We recommend eliminating this section in its entirety. It is our understanding that the DEP and the Sports and Exposition Authority already have the legal means to create inter-agency agreements to do all the things that DEP says it wants done, which is a much more transparent and reasonable approach.

A much more transparent approach! That’s rich, coming from the group that did a secret development study.

Now, if NJ Future would disclose just what it is that “DEP says it wants done” and post the $120,000 study they managed covertly for DEP

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Liberty State Park “Cleanup” Bill Fails to Correct The Problem

March 17th, 2015 4 comments

New Meadowlands Regional Commission Should Have No Role in LSP

Park Advocates Negotiate a Terrible Compromise

lsp4

Yesterday, following an unusual marathon 2 1/2 hour presentation by the hydrogen fuel cell industry, the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee approved a bill (A4196) designed to honor Assembly Speaker Prieto’s pledge to fix alleged mistakes in the Meadowlands bill rammed through the legislature a week before the new year’s holidays (see:

We previously explained the flaws in Prieto’s bill and why it would not solve the problem and still be used to promote development in LSP.

In a nutshell, we think it is obvious – by their own policy documents and public statements printed in the newspapers  – that the Christie DEP has an agenda to commercialize and privatize Liberty State Park and use the park as a revenue generator. We think that agenda fundamentally conflicts with basic principles of public park planning and management.

Our main technical argument with the new Meadowlands legislation is that because parks lease and concession revenues are now Constitutionally dedicated to the Open Space fund – which restricts their use and can only be allocated in the budget appropriations process –  that DEP is using the new Meadowlands Commission to evade this revenue restriction.

Specifically, development projects in the park would be “a project of the commission” (see page 26), not a DEP State park. This provision could be used legally to dodge the revenue dedication.

Jeff Tittel of Sierra Club argued that the same provision – development as “a project of the commission” – is designed to evade the Ogden/Rooney process for leases/conveyances of state lands, which requires public hearings and State House Commission approval.

So we thought our friends at Friends of Liberty State Park fully understood that too, particularly in light of Sam Pesin’s kick ass letter just 1 month ago, see:

So we were shocked and extremely disappointed to hear Sam and Deb Mans of NY/NJ Baykeeper testify in support – that’s right support – of Prieto’s flawed bill.

They negotiated and agreed to minor cosmetic amendments that do not address the underlying problems with the bill and will continue to promote commercialization and development of LSP without adequate public review.

With no public discussion with all the groups and people involved in the LSP battle, Baykeeper and Pesin negotiated a terrible back room compromise that seems more like it’s about protecting Prieto and Democratic legislators than LSP.

I don’t blame Sam Pesin or FLSP for this, I think Sam was manipulated by Deb Mans of Baykeeeper into accepting a terrible compromise as the “best deal” they could hope to get.

Their deal must be opposed by all supporters of Liberty State Park.

[This is a winnable battle: parks supporters have a strong principled argument and are well organized. Their efforts already won victories in restoring parks funding in the open space implementation bill, generated huge press coverage and editorial support, and forced Speaker Prieto on the defensive.  Which makes the fact that they cut a bad compromise at this point completely bizarre.]

  • Here are some basic and non-negotiable facts

First of all, Liberty State Park is not located in the Meadowlands, so the Meadowlands Commission should have no jurisdiction there. None.

Second, the Meadowlands Commission has no institutional history, capacity or expertise in park planning or management. So, again, the Meadowlands Commission should have no role. None, zero, zilch, nada.

[update – this comment is over the top and not accurate – Meadowlands has experience – see comment below]

Third, the LSP amendment was quietly requested  by the DEP and stealthed into a severely flawed piece of complex legislation and rammed through the legislature before people and legislators could read or remotely understand what the bill would do.

Fourth, AFTER the bill was approved by the Legislature, the Bergen Record disclosed the fact that DEP had secretly – with no public contracting or planning process – laundered $120,000 to the corporate oriented planning group NJ Future to conduct a planning study of development potential in Liberty State Park.

That’s right, a planning study about development in LSP – done by a private development planning group and with no public participation.

Interestingly, even NJ Future opposed Prieto’s bill yesterday.

We believe that Governor Christie’s “Sustainable Parks Strategy”, which seeks to use State Parks to leverage revenue generation – through commercialization, privatization, and increased user fees – is driving the DEP’s LSP development schemes.

Accordingly, the LSP amendments can only be perceived as in bad faith and the means to implement some kind of covert agenda for the park that would never withstand public scrutiny and must be done covertly.

The only acceptable “cleanup” bill must delete all jurisdiction and role of the Meadowlands Commission in Liberty State Park.

The NY/NJBaykeeper & Pesin compromise must be rejected.

We will work to do that via Assembly floor amendments that strip the LSP from the new law and with Senate sponsors. We urge you to join that effort.

In addition to blocking any Meadowlands Commission role at Liberty State Park, real statewide parks system reforms require  passage of new legislation that would that mandate that any significant DEP parks planning and development projects be subject to a public planning process and comply with some standards to preserve the integrity of the public park as public space, ensure full public access, enhance design and aesthetics, and protect the natural resources of the parks.

lsp7

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Getting It Wrong on Liberty State Park (again)

February 11th, 2015 No comments

[Update: 2/16/15 – A few things:

1) Star Ledger has an editorial today: “Liberty State Park’s Precarious Future” – – pretty good, but still fails to note that: a) the Christie DEP is just a big a problem as the new MRC; and b) NJ Future’s stealth privatization study was, at best, totally inappropriate and at worst a money laundering exercise in political cover and betrayal.

2) Prieto’s “cleanup” bill is now on line, see: A4196 – it does nothing to resolve the development threats to the park – see below for reasons why.  ~~~ end update]

Unbelievable.

Defenders of Liberty State Park – along with the press corps – repeatedly have been lied to, manipulated, and deceived by Legislators and DEP.

I have been exposing that and warning about the issues for weeks now and explaining it’s origin in Gov. Christie’s “Sustainable Parks” privatization policy.

So, are they going to let that happen again?

A story today in the Bergen Record sure suggests that may happen.

The story is about a bill introduced by Assembly Speaker Prieto, the sponsor of the bill that created the problem. (A4196 – the bill text is not yet available on line):

The new bill says that “nothing” in it “shall be construed to transfer ownership of any of the property” to the commission. Prieto maintained that the DEP is still in charge of the park.

“We call it a cleanup bill,” said Prieto, D-Secaucus. “The DEP still calls the shots.” He added, “What the DEP was able to do one month ago, two months ago, they will be able to do today and going forward.

I call bullshit on that –

The so called “cleanup” bill does nothing to cleanup the mess and address the underlying problems.

Transfer of ownership is NOT the issue. Whether DEP “calls the shots” is NOT the issue. They are manipulative diversions.

The real issue is that the Christie DEP has unilaterally announced plans to develop the Park and that the new Meadowlands Regional Commission has the power to finance that park development.

When the problem was first exposed, a Prieto staffer denied the problem.

Then, in followup news coverage, Prieto himself denied the problem.

When Senator Sarlo contradicted Prieto and admitted the problem, and editorials blasted the dirty deal, Prieto was forced to walk those denials back.

He then admitted the problem, and said he was going to fix it.

Now his proposed fix may make the problem worse and divert attention from the real problems.

So, after this ugly history, do they finally understand the issue? NO.

Just last week, the Bergen Record broke a story that revealed that for over 6 months prior to their efforts to stealth a provision in the new Meadowlands law, DEP secretly had paid $120,000 for a private consultant to study options to commercialize the park.

DEP has said – multiple times – that their goal is to make LSP a “tourist destination” and a “venue” for events, in order to “generate revenues”.

The DEP press office even went so far as to say that LSP was “just where people go to get on the ferry”.

HELLO!

DEP is just as big a threat to Liberty State Park as the new Meadowlands Regional Commission.

The key issue of concern is the role of the new Meadowlands Commission in financing improvements to Liberty State Park.

DEP would love to develop the park, but DEP doesn’t have bonding authority and they are broke.

The professionals in DEP’s Division of Parks are not controlling decisions about plans for the Park..Decisions are being dictated by Commissioner Martin and the Governor’s Office. They are driven by the Gov.’s own privatization and commercialization plan.

It does no good for park advocates and the press to deny this and pretend that this is not happening.

The open space constitutional amendment dedicated all parks lease and concession revenues to the new Open Space fund.

That legal change put the kibosh on any DEP public private partnership deal to finance stuff like  a restaurant of amphitheater, where concession revenues or ticket sales would finance the “improvements”.

That’s why DEP inserted the MRC role into Prieto/Sarlo Meadowlands bill. They need a funding source and financing entity. 

Whether the Park is controlled by DEP is irrelevant – DEP has announced plans and conducted a study to commercialize the Park as a “tourist destination” to “generate revenue”.

Prieto’s bill does nothing to address any of those issues.

And the concern about the new Meadowlands Environmental Research Institute is a total diversion.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: