Jane Shinozuka: I'll be an Independent Voice for Residents
Ridgewood council candidate running on platform of financial conservatism, opposition to hospital expansion.
Jane Shinozuka says her time spent in a wide variety of Ridgewood circles gives her a unique perspective on the expectations of residents and the struggles they face.
Married to a Ridgewood native with three children in the school district, Shinozuka is running for one of three council seats in the May election.
"I have one kid in each level of the school system so it gives me a good view of that end of life in Ridgewood," Shinozuka said in a telephone interview.
The 17-year resident is also an active member of Mt. Carmel Church, serves on her neighborhood association, as well as the Ridgewood Planning Board and has served on the HSA.
"I've collected experience from very many different aspects of living in Ridgewood, so as a general citizen I think that makes me fairly well informed about what's on people's minds," she said.
Shinozuka believes there's something of a wayward notion Ridgewood is an idyllic community void of any issues.
Though she says it's clear Ridgewood is a nice place to raise a family and very much enjoys living in the village, Shinozuka says she can be a voice for those not living among the Jones'.
"There are lots and lots of very regular people in Ridgewood," Shinozuka, who works in recruiting for an energy company after staying home and raising her children, said.
She too has battled for employment in a tough economy and her husband Rei (who sought an appointment to the school board last year) was also briefly unemployed. Her situation, she said, is not necessarily unique, and because of the downturn residents expect their elected officials to be even more fiscally restrained than ever before.
"I think it's important for us to keep a realistic face on this town," she said. "Not everyone can throw money around or support issues that aren't fiscally prudent, even if they seem a lot of fun. There's a whole voice out there that isn't heard."
To that end, she said she's hoping voters elect her to make the tough decisions. She's not a member of CRR, PGC, RPP, RRV or any other acronym representing a special interest, she said.
"I think I can be a very valuable voice in village government, to be conservative in spending, to plan for the future, to not forgo proper financial planning in the short-term," she said. "I'd like to preserve the good things in Ridgewood and not sit by and watch things fall to the wayside because of impulsive or bad judgment."
Having immersed herself in budget discussions in recent weeks, Shinozuka said she's an unaffiliated, independent vote and feels that should be particularly attractive to voters.
"As a town, we need to progress and go forward, but be very careful in how we go about that. You can't just say yes to the new shiny toy every time –you have to take into consideration the way it affects the people who live here and how it will affect their daily life down the road."
Here's what she had to say about some of the big issues in town:
"I would not support a large-scale change to Graydon for many reasons," Shinozuka said, noting it's not clear how many people would even support a change.
But her bigger concern is one that overlaps with more substantive, widespread issues – flooding.
Given Graydon's apex point in the middle of the flood plain, making expensive, large changes might be a fool's errand, she said. "To spend additionally on top of all of it, spending money the town doesn't have for something like that on a pool project seems sort of foolish. No matter what you build there, we'll always be subject to damage by natural causes. I don't know how you can justify upkeep."
The $100,000 annual loss is a "lesser of two evils," she said, concluding that finding new ways to increase badge sales as well as water quality improvements should be top priority.
Though Shinozuka, who lives in the side of Ridgewood east of Route 17, wasn't as affected by the 2011 storm cleanups as others, she said it's clearly aroused passion among residents.
"If that is the case, it needs to be taken as seriously as it deserves," she said. "To me that means finding out exactly what went wrong in their [residents'] eyes, finding out what's going on in the town's end and how you improve that."
She said she doesn't right now have all the facts, and if she gets in the position as an elected official she'd look to enact changes.
"Whether or not I have a personal experience with something that goes wrong, I am a firm believer in giving people a voice to people who feel they're not being heard that way," she said.
Could the cleanup have been done better? Shinozuka said she'd like to find out given the volume of complaints residents have lobbed at Village Hall.
"My first thought is obviously there are problems if people are complaining about it," she said, identifying the cleanup woes that seemed to start with the Streets Department and wonky calendar. The workers in that department are down from well over 20 members at the peak to around seven today.
"Is it just not appropriately staffed? Can you start an argument going forward when you're not starting with enough [Streets] employees in the first place?" she asked, again noting she'd like the tools at her disposal to dig a little deeper and assess if there are enough workers to attend to the work.
Another group of complaints the mother of three often hears is the prohibitive nature of the building department, one she said residents believe to be overrun with red tape.
"Revise the system, make it less onerous for people to come here," she suggested. "Considering we're in a tough economy anyway, people say the rents are high to begin with. You're not really begging for business when that happens."
The candidate said she hoped Ridgewood could find a way to attract a greater variety of retail businesses, not just banks and restaurants.
"I think it's back to the drawing board," she said of parking, adding it's a problem for businesses and residents alike. "Any idea is worth considering."
Shinozuka said she'd be interested in looking into use of a garage, which the council in its most recent budget discussions said may be turned into a private-public partnership.
"Comparatively speaking, for the prpoerty and the services we do have, Ridgewood is not that much worse than other towns around us," Shinozuka exclaimed. "We're not off the charts statistically."
Given the budget dichotomy, those who want greater levels of service and also lowered taxes are unlikely to find solace, she conceded.
But Shinozuka said the distributions toward various items in the budget could perhaps be changed. Those on fixed incomes, and those who have lost their jobs are most vulnerable in the economic downturn.
With a bevy of new housing plans under review, Shinozuka said she'd like to see a focus on seniors.
"We owe it to our seniors to find them better housing options to keep them in town," she said. "Give the seniors a viable option to stay in town."
"I did not and do not support the plans as presented," Shinozuka said resolutely of the failed Renewal expansion plan. "I think it was too big, cast off the residents in the area and I think it didn't give proper recognition to legitimate worries."
The candidate did remark that it's important to recognize the realities and find a solution that can be accepted by all interested parties.
"Clearly there should be some level of compromise," she said. "Valley as a business is obviously not going to stand still forever, they're going to do something. But it has to be something the town and people in town can live with."
Addressing viewpoints from other candidates (and likely taking a jab at Gwenn Hauck), Shinozuka is not bashful about how big a component she believes Valley to be.
"You see candidates say there are other things that need to be dealt with and that's true, but it's a fundamental issue and concern that is in no way on the back burner as much as other people make it sound," she said.
Shinozuka stated that the residents' best interests should trump those of business and as a council member, her duty would be to work for those residents.
"Who are we here to protect and serve?" she asked. "Are we going to facilitate the hospital to grow and create more business and prosper for themselves or is our job to protect our residents? What's the motivation? At what point do you protect the residents?"
Remarking she'd like to see continued enforcement, Shinozuka said she'd like to concentrate equally on the preponderance of jaywalkers.
By reducing jaywalking, she thinks the dangers of pedestrian safety would be at least mitigated. It's an issue very personal to her, as her brother was killed by a car.
"Do you want to play a blame game or do you want to keep people alive?" she said rhetorically. "I think we really need to launch a public awareness [campaign] of pedestrian street smarts."
Shinozuka believes there are a lot of misinformed opinions on the tongues of residents, and she thinks those in Village Hall and at the council should correct chatter that is inaccurate.
Though she did not directly take a position on whether she felt Gabbert's retroactive raise for 2011 was justified, she thinks much appears beyond what the public seems aware of.
"I think there were conditions of the situation that were not brought to light," she said, noting it's her understanding the raises were promised to Gabbert by a previous council, which put the current members in an awkward spot.
Beyond that, she said: "People are angry you give the union raises and then it's 'no' for non-union people? How do you justify that? Really?"
We've already profiled Albert Pucciarelli and Gwenn Hauck, so make sure to click on the links for more on their views. The election for three seats takes place May 8, with the four year term starting on July 1, 2012. Mayor Keith Killion, Councilman Paul Aronsohn and candidate Russ Forenza round out the field.
[Editor's note: A previous version erroneously stated members serve three year terms; they serve four-year terms.]