The Liberty State Park Protection Act, aimed at keeping public parkland open to the public and away from private developers, unanimously passed out of the New Jersey Senate Environment and Energy Committee yesterday morning.
The Park opened in 1976, astride the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island – a Bicentennial gift of a green urban oasis open to all, both symbolizing and giving life to the best of American values. Since then it has been plagued by the worst of New Jersey politics.
It’s been non-stop commercial development proposals, and political sweetheart leases have been aimed at commercializing parkland. Park founder Morris Pesin, and champions like Audrey Zapp and Morris’ son Sam, the president of the mighty Friends of Liberty State Park, have had to wage campaigns time and again to keep this urban green oasis from becoming one big American Dream Mall.
For decades, thousands of people from around the state have voluntarily shown up at evening meetings and weekend demonstration, time and again to prevent things like a private waterpark, a Formula One race track, a second private marina blocking off the park’s bucolic south side, and most ominously, leasing away the park’s spectacular Caven Point urban natural area to the exclusive Liberty National Golf Course.
At any other NJ state park these private insider development schemes would be dead on arrival. But along with lusty developers, the lure of gaining land along the Hudson River’s Gold Coast also attracts political patronage. Most of these proposed deals stem from a revolving door of consultants, often former campaign and administration staffers, who have access to the top of both Democratic and Republican administrations.
The Liberty State Protection Act is an apple pie antidote – it simply says that park improvements should be small-scale amenities created to benefit the park user, not private backroom interests. It guarantees a long overdue Management Plan for the entire park be created through an open process and, lastly, establishes a public Advisory Committee to review leases and ensure transparency.
The only opposition to the bill came from none other than Liberty National, one of the most expensive and exclusive golf clubs in the country (are you one of the 250 individuals who pay 500k for membership?), represented by Eric Shuffler at River Crossing who, by the way, served as a top aide to Governor McGreevey, as U.S. Senator Bob Torricelli’s Chief of Staff and on Governor Murphy’s 2018 Transition Team. They are making a second attempt at gaining parkland for their golf course.
As the Liberty State Park Protection Act heads to the General Assembly, will it make it there and pass intact, or will there be a diversion of public parkland to the ultra-rich?
We are very grateful to senators Sandra Cunningham, Loretta Weinberg, Theresa Ruiz and Brian Stack who have sponsored this legislation, and Assembly members Raj Mukherji, Angela McKnight and Nick Chiaravalloti who sponsored and championed it in the Assembly.