Dear Neighbors, It has been a busy few weeks since my last update and I hope you'll bear with me as I try to bring you up to speed on a few things, share some thoughts and ask for your help on a few fronts:
Vaccines: I was elated to see President Biden's comments that the U.S. government has now ordered a cumulative 600M doses to be available by the end of July to every American. If you are eligible for a vaccine, please get a vaccine. You can visit the state or county sites for information and to schedule appointments. Our township and county employees continue to work tirelessly to reach and vaccinate our seniors and people most at risk. Please reach out to me if you know anyone who needs help.
Testing: In addition to state and county testing options, testing capacity continues to expand right here in Montclair. Rapid and PCR tests are now available at the Montclair YMCA on Park St. M-F from 8am-5pm and for the next two Saturdays from 10am-4pm. Appointments are not necessary. Should you have questions, you can reach out to their partner MedRite at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additionally, a same-day testing location is now located at 300 Bloomfield Avenue. Before you pursue a test, please check with the testing provider and/or your insurance about any possible out of pocket costs.
Reopening: I continue to be disheartened by the stalemate between the Montclair Education Association (MEA) and our School District. As a member of the Council, I do not have any power to affect this situation other than to use my voice as one of your elected representatives. As such, I've called on all parties to come back to the table and to compromise, like Chicago was recently able to do. While I don't believe vaccines must be a pre-curser to re-opening schools, I fully support any teacher or school worker who fears for their safety or the safety of their families. Unions were founded first and foremost to protect worker safety. But it shouldn't be all or nothing. Teachers who are willing to return and parents who are willing to send their kids hybrid, should be able to do so. I've also called on our state government to immediately move K-5 teachers to the front of the line as we know that the students they serve, notably low income students and students of color, are suffering the most. This age group is also the least likely to communicate the disease, per the CDC.
Buildings: With interest rates at record lows and the prospect of stimulus on its way from Washington, there is simply no excuse for us to not take every action possible to update our buildings. I stand ready with my vote and my voice to support efforts to bring our school buildings into the 21st century both in response to changes driven by COVID-19 and out of the longstanding need to invest in this infrastructure. I'm excited about what's possible with supportive federal and state partners.
Mental Health: Adults and children alike are struggling with mental health. We have all been through and are in many ways continuing to live with trauma. Please if you're in need, don't hesitate to reach out for help. Here's a great local resource. I also came across this event focused on the mental health of students, that I thought many of you would be interested in participating in on Monday, Feb. 22nd.
Data: Many of you have reached out to ask me about data on COVID-19. I continue to find this source to be the most comprehensive.
Food Insecurity: Let's not let anyone in Montclair go hungry. Essex County continues to host weekly food distribution events on rotation around the county. Montclair is also home to two amazing organizations. Toni's Kitchen and Human Needs Food Pantry are helping thousands of families weekly. If you're in need, please reach out. If you can donate money or volunteer your time, please visit their sites directly to help.
Small Businesses: If we can help our small businesses survive these next few challenging weeks, then I believe they will survive. But now, in the dead of winter is their most critical time and many are facing closure. Please remember our stores, restaurants and local professional services when deciding where to spend your money. And you can have some fun and possibly be rewarded doing it if you participate in the Shop.Eat.Repeat campaign and contest. As always, tag your posts on social media with #LoveOurMontclair.
Electricity in Montclair: Montclair residents have been receiving letters in the mail announcing the new Sustainable Essex Alliance Renewable Government Energy Aggregation Program. I strongly encourage residents to take the time to review the list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) with answers that the township has developed. Additionally, next Tuesday evening, February 23rd from 7:30pm - 8:30pm will be a virtual information session. The login instructions for that meeting are contained in the FAQ's above. But don't worry, you do not need to take any action. In fact, if you don't take action (like our household) you will automatically be enrolled along with the vast majority of Montclair households, with this new energy supplier, providing double the renewable energy available now at a slightly lower cost overall. Your service provider and billing will remain through PSE&G. Again, please reference the above FAQs for questions.
NJ Transit: NJ Transit is doing a periodic review of the bus routes in Essex County. This is a process that happens every 20-30 years. The routes can be combined, tangled, untangled, and rerouted. A small number are canceled or reduced if the ridership is not there. Most of the lines through Montclair are being studied in the plan. This is a major opportunity for our community to achieve any goals it has for local bus service. I recommend that you visit this site, sign up for updates and look out for ways to participate.
Environment: While the crises continues, we are still doing the work of the town. Just last night, after years of debate, four of my colleagues and I were able to amend the township leaf blower ordinance to significantly curtail their use, beginning in March. Last night we also passed a critical stormwater management plan that is intended to protect our waterways, manage run-off and mitigate flooding. When I look at these actions, the energy plan above and even back to previous actions like supporting the proposed Essex-Hudson Greenway or the Safe Streets plan, I see a bundle of efforts all focused on making Montclair a more sustainable community -- one that I'm more proud of by the day.
Public Safety: Our conversations continue on how to potentially evolve how we respond to people in crisis, whether with adapted approaches to law enforcement, enhanced human services or some combination. I look forward to seeing my colleagues' recommendations on that front and continue to hope that full funding be provided by the state to sustain a body camera program.
In these difficult times, please continue to be there for each other, check on your neighbors and remember all that we have in common. Let's assume positive intent, always, and let's work collectively to emerge from this pandemic stronger than ever. Thank you for taking the time to read this. If you know anyone in town who you think might like to receive these occasional updates from me, please send them to my website www.peteryacobellis.com where they can subscribe. You or anyone can also follow me through my social media profiles below. Thank you, -Peter