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August 30, 2018

“We disagree with the way the judge chose to rule…but are very pleased that he has affirmed Leonia’s right to regulate our streets, in order to ensure the safety of our residents.”

Leonia, NJ, August 30, 2018 – Leonia Mayor Judah Zeigler today issued the following statement in response to the decision by New Jersey Superior Court Judge Peter Bariso to grant the motion by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal for a judgement declaring invalid the Leonia Ordinance 2018-5, adopted to address the influx of commuter traffic on Leonia’s side streets, directed there by navigational apps used by drivers seeking shortcuts to the George Washington Bridge:

“We disagree with the way Judge Bariso chose to rule on the Attorney General’s motion, and while we don’t agree with all of his conclusions, we are very pleased by the fact that the judge has affirmed the right of the Borough of Leonia to enact legislation governing our streets, in order to protect the public safety of our residents.

In his ruling, Judge Bariso found that Leonia hadn’t sought the approval of the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Transportation after enacting our ordinance.  Since part of the ordinance applies to municipal streets that are adjacent to a state road (Route 93 – Grand Ave.), the judge ruled that Leonia should have sought the approval of the Commissioner once the ordinance was adopted.  The judge decided that, because he “wasn’t going to redline Leonia’s ordinance” in order to only remove the streets adjacent to Grand Avenue, he would simply invalidate the entire ordinance.

Judge Bariso’s ruling makes it clear that Leonia had the right to enact the regulations that were adopted and, if the streets adjacent to Grand Avenue had not been included in the ordinance, there would be no legal issue.  We are very pleased that the Judge has confirmed the position we have taken since the beginning; that a municipality has the absolute right to enact legislation governing streets under its control, as long as such legislation serves a reasonable public purpose.  In this case, our ordinance was put into effect to address the influx of commuter traffic directed onto our narrow side streets by navigational apps, in an effort, which has proven highly successful, to redirect that traffic onto our main roads, where it belongs.  Judge Bariso’s ruling makes it clear that there is no issue with the substance of our ordinance; his issue was procedural and in that case, only for the roads adjacent to Grand Avenue.

We disagree with Judge Bariso on this point, as on May 10, I wrote to the D.O.T. Commissioner and requested her approval of our ordinance.  From that day to this, and in spite of the fact that we have followed up with her staff, we have been met with silence.

The safety of those who live and work in the Borough of Leonia continues to be our primary concern; because Judge Bariso decided to invalidate the entire ordinance rather than simply limiting his decision to those streets adjacent to Grand Avenue, we have no choice but to file a motion for a stay of the Judge’s order, which we will do within the statutorily required response period.  Concurrently, we will appeal the Judge’s ruling.

We have made it clear from the beginning that we want to do everything possible to work with the Department of Transportation; in that spirit, it is my plan next week to present two new ordinances for introduction.  The first of these will continue the resident and Leonia destination only restrictions on the streets for which these restrictions currently exist, with the exception of those streets that are adjacent to State Route 93 (Grand Avenue).  The second ordinance will also continue these restrictions, but will include only those streets that are adjacent to Grand Avenue.

Once these ordinances are adopted, we will once again seek the approval of the D.O.T. Commissioner, but this time, will request this approval specifically for the ordinance which includes the streets adjacent to Grand Avenue.  As the Commissioner’s staff have already confirmed for us that they do not consider redirecting traffic from a residential side street to a state road to be an example of causing a negative impact to such a state road, her approval should theoretically be a formality.

In addition, and also when both ordinances are adopted, the Borough of Leonia will exercise its legal right to enforce the ordinance on the streets that are not adjacent to Grand Avenue, as for these streets, approval from the Commissioner is not required.  As always, our goal is not to be unnecessarily punitive but rather, simply to ensure the continued safety and security of all who live and work in our Borough, and we will continue to take the actions that we consider both legal and necessary to ensure that we are successful in delivering against this priority.”

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