Editor's note: This letter, sent to Mayor Mark Sokolich, was submitted to Patch as a Letter to the Editor.
I am writing about the recent storm that occurred this last weekend from February 9 through February 10, 2013.
We received a little more than a foot of snow, and the town did a very good job keeping the roads clean.
Unfortunately, they did not do a good job informing residents about their plans, resulting in broken hearts and financial hardship for a number of people. For many residents, instead of digging out our cars, or taking them out of clean, dry garages, they were collecting them on long lines and paying hundreds of dollars in fines.
In Englewood, NJ, the Mayor there ordered that all residents be called two times, and emailed three times, beginning on Thursday night before the storm, warning residents to bring their vehicles off the streets, and offering them free parking in the town’s dry garage: they received another call after the storm that streets were cleaned.
In contrast, to my knowledge, Fort Lee did not call ANY of the people living on Center Avenue, a major emergency route, either prior or during the storm. As a result, residents who were not able to get into their own driveways and garages and had left their cars on the streets were towed.
I have heard of other people on non-emergency routes getting calls, however. To my knowledge, over 200 cars were towed on Friday night.
One person who this happened to actually rents a garage on the premises of 2151 to 2171 Center Avenue, but could not even drive into the driveway because the landlord, Patco Real Estate, did not clear the driveway until the following day.
Even now—two days later-- the driveway is only partially cleared. I need not remind you that Patco, owned by Paul Schmidt Sr. is the same landlord who sent all of his 69 apartment occupants, including mothers and new-born babies, into the cold for more than 8 days less than a year ago when their ill-maintained boiler blew up and set the building on fire. Only after the town insisted did he put them up in hotels.
Every single person I spoke to standing on line at the police station said they were unaware they would be towed. They also said they listened to TV exhortations that they should not venture outside or drive because it was too dangerous. Then when they came outside they found their cars gone.
I don’t know what system Fort Lee has been using to advise residents about the storm, or whether they advise residents to sign up for such a system. I have never received such a notice. I know that there are signs posted on the roadway about emergency snow routes, and I understand the argument that there are budgetary constraints. But two police vehicles were outside supervising the towing on our street alone. Was that really necessary? Could they not step outside and ask passing residents to move their cars or advise their neighbors? That would have been the kind thing to do.
The action shows little respect for how hard people are now suffering financially. Many of the people caught up in this dragnet –I understand there were 200 cars towed---do not speak English well, including my friend who lives at 2155 Center Avenue. She is a single mother of two who works as a housecleaner, and can hardly afford the expense. She also told me that there is a NJ state law that the towing stations must take credit cards, but Sano’s refused to accept credit card or check payments, and shouted at her and demeaned her when she mentioned the law. She spent much of Friday night and Saturday morning crying in front of our buildings.
When I called the police station and suggested that they set up an informal system at no cost to the town by appointing local people in each building to remind people by knocking on their doors, to move their cars, they said the “reverse-911” was supposed to have done that.
It did not. The only people who benefited were the nasty people at the towing companies, no doubt rubbing their hands in glee at how much they earned in 24 hours.
I do believe the town owes all of these people an apology, a discount on their $205 towing costs, at bare minimum an explanation as to why they did not receive reverse 911 calls, and how this mess can be prevented in the future.