Teaneck residents and Food & Water Watch won in court on Monday against the township for their refusal to accept petitions that were signed electronically during the COVID-19 pandemic in support of an ordinance for a 100% renewable Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program.
This ordinance would authorize the town to bulk purchase electricity from clean renewable sources and offer it to residents at discounted rates.
Under the Faulkner Act, Teaneck residents have the right to initiative and referendum, meaning that any group of five residents (the Committee of Petitioners) can introduce an ordinance via a petition with signatures from ten percent of the number of votes from the last state assembly election. That amounts to 791 signatures in Teaneck. Typically these petitions are circulated on paper. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Governor Murphy signed several executive orders allowing signatures to be collected electronically to protect public health.
Residents and clean energy advocates collected signatures electronically until the executive order expired on July 4, and switched entirely to paper petitions after that. Residents and activists delivered approximately 875 to the clerk for review in early July. Following the 20 day review period, the committee of petitioners were notified that all signatures collected electronically were rejected because they were delivered after the executive order expired. Food & Water Watch and Teaneck residents understood that the end of the executive order meant that electronic signature gathering must cease and petitions must be submitted in person. But that did not mean that petitions with electronic signatures must be turned in before the expiration.
“The Climate Emergency is here. Moving Teaneck to 100% Renewable Energy would be an important step to prevent things from getting worse. Teaneck’s attempted rejection of electronic signatures mandated by Governor Murphy to keep people safe during the covid pandemic is shameful,” said Paula Rogovin, Teaneck resident and plaintiff. “We are pleased that the court has ruled in favor of placing the ordinance on the ballot for the people to decide in the November election. We anticipate a massive yes vote from residents. This will be a victory for our Earth and for democracy!”
“As a CCA co-sponsor, the Teaneck Democratic Municipal Committee strongly supports the people’s effort to switch to cost-effective clean energy alternatives. It’s unfortunate that in order to ensure (that) democracy prevails in Teaneck, we had to go to court,” said Alexandra Soriano-Taveras, Chairperson of the Teaneck Democratic Municipal Committee. “CCA is about giving the residents of Teaneck the choice to make an informed decision about the township’s energy sources, environmental responsibility, and the preservation of our future.”
Food & Water Watch has worked with residents to win similar 100% clean energy programs in Edison, New Brunswick, Collingswood, Asbury Park, Piscataway, East Brunswick, South Brunswick, and Red Bank. This year, the organization also supported residents to submit petitions for this program in Woodbridge, Long Branch, and North Brunswick whose councils all adopted the ordinance in August.
“The devastating impacts of Hurricane Ida that we felt across the region just two weeks ago remind us we cannot wait any longer to take bold climate action. “A community choice aggregation program to achieve 100% clean energy sources by 2030 is a critical tool for fighting climate change at the local level,” said Food & Water Watch organizer Sam DiFalco. “We are excited the court ruled in favor of the people and we will be on the ballot so Teaneck residents can vote YES for clean energy this November.”
The plaintiffs were represented by the New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center, which has experience dealing with legal issues associated with Faulkner Act petitions.
“This is not just a win for clean energy activists but a win for democracy,” said Renée Steinhagen, attorney with NJ Appleseed representing the plaintiffs in this case. “Teaneck residents have the right to public participation in government, so despite the township’s attempt to undermine the democratic will of their constituents, we are glad the judge ruled in our favor.”