Thursday, October 18, 2007

A different take

South Trenton resident and Community Activist Juan Martinez sounded off in a recent Trentonian article about the tightening of the laws requiring New Jersey residents to legally register their vehicles within 60 days of moving here.

According to Mr. Martinez, enforcement of the auto registration laws is some sort of veiled, anti-Latino movement supported by certain racist/elitist factions within the community.

Thursday night's City Council meeting was well attended by a group speaking out against this law, (a state law by the way, not a city law) that they claim is unfairly aimed at Latino immigrants.

Before we choose sides and start pointing fingers, let's look at this situation realistically.

The effect of this "new" law is to close some technical loopholes in the prior law. It was already mandated that individuals who establish their principle residence in New Jersey must register their vehicles in this state within a given time frame. There was also somewhat vague language that granted what amounted to an unlimited grace period for people not residing here full-time.

Apparently, the old law was for all intents and purposes unenforceable. And since New Jersey has if not the single highest, one of the highest, automobile insurance rates in the country, many people took advantage of the legal loophole to register their car elsewhere to skirt the rules and save money.

So we got a new law.

The purpose of the old law was to guarantee that automobiles based and principally operated in New Jersey...the most densely populated state of the union, were properly registered, insured and inspected in an effort to increase the safety for all the residents of New Jersey.

Now we have a new law. I don't see that its purpose is any different plus it cleans up some messy language of the prior law.

Another fact: Trenton is a city that grew and was laid out well before the post-world war two advent of the automobile. Houses sit close together on narrow streets that don't provide anywhere near enough parking for the increasing number of cars in each household. It's a problem.

So when a resident comes home late and can't find a parking place convenient to his or her front stoop, he or she gets upset. And when the cars parked nearest his or her front door is registered out of state, he or she gets more upset.

(Convenient in this case would be a generalization referencing those one or two parking spots that are closest to one's own front door. The definition varies...especially for those who live on streets where there is no on-street parking allowed!)

Folks...we live in a city. Parking is at a premium. If you want convenient, plentiful, semi-private parking just footsteps from your front door, maybe an urban neighborhood is not for you.

(We, the people, created this mess. We moved our homes, schools, jobs, stores and amusements ever further into what used to be the state's farmland only to increase our dependency on automobiles to go to work or play. But that's a topic for another time.)

Compounding this issue is the decades of Regional Contribution Agreements (RCA's) that have allowed the suburbs to buy their way out of providing affordable housing within their borders. Jobs move out of the cities but the housing affordable to our lowest wage earners is concentrated more and more in these same cities. So how do these folks get to work?

Cars. Lots of cars.

So, aside from election year "stunting" by incumbents looking to prove they deserve yet another term in the State Legislature, some of the impetus for this tightening of the automobile registration law may have come from those who feel that there are too many vehicles belonging to transients and recent arrivals clogging up our streets.

But this "remedy" is not to be applied exclusively to immigrants. We can probably all count among our acquaintances people who drive out-of-state registered vehicles while their principal domicile is here in the Garden State.

Now let's not make any mistakes here. Anyone who thinks cracking down on the "illegally" registered cars with Pennsy tags is going to free up unlimited amounts of parking for fully compliant residents is delusional.

The majority of those vehicles will ultimately be registered "legally" in New Jersey and the parking shortage will remain.

What we may gain is an increase in compliance with all auto registration laws...including proper insurance and inspection of the vehicles that ply our roads.

Mr. Martinez and his friends fear that the new laws will ultimately rob working people of their mode of transportation to get to and from work.

He may be right in some cases. But instead of railing against the enforcement of the original intent of the auto registration laws, he might do better arguing for an end to the economic segregation caused by the RCA's that concentrate affordable housing in the old urban centers while the jobs flee to the suburbs. Then some of these cars might not be needed in the first place.

It is a tough issue. There are many who feel that these hard-working immigrants should be given what amounts to special treatment when it comes to following the laws of the land they have come to live and work in. What so many seem to fail to grasp is that by ignoring or waiving the “rules” we cheapen our quality of life and standard of living.

If this is truly a land of opportunity where hard working people, whether their immigration status is legal or not, can provide a better life for themselves, why would we want to diminish it by selecting what laws are acceptable to follow and which aren’t? Aren’t the laws of the land the rules we follow to keep the machinery of our society in working order?

Unfortunately there no doubt are some who do see this “new” law (which, again, is no different than the intent of the old law) as an opportunity to force people of a different ethnic or cultural background out of the area.

For many more, it is just a way to bring parity and fairness back to the table.

“Why do I have to register my car here, get it inspected, and pay high insurance premiums when my neighbor doesn’t?”

Critics of the “new” law speak of fairness but they are asking for favoritism and to be exempted from the law. Is that fair?

Generations of people from all over the world have come to this country and the vast majority of them have taken the time and made the effort to play by the established rules. Why is it now “unfair” to ask others to do the same?

With freedom and opportunity comes a responsibility to follow the rules. And as long as the rules are applied equally to all then there really is no reason to complain.

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