As everyone is getting ready to roll out their summer plans, I wanted to quickly share some Hoboken neighborhood updates that might be of interest:
AN UNFORTUNATE TAX INCREASE
Despite having a larger tax base than ever before, the mayor’s budget initially proposed raising taxes nearly 3% and dramatically increasing parking rates, up to 260%, to compensate for his administration’s unprecedented spending over the past year. Working with my colleagues on the City Council, we passed an amended budget that sized back the mayor’s tax hike and cut nearly 700k in excess spending, while simultaneously increasing funding for our short-staffed Fire Department. While no rate hike is acceptable, the 1.7% increase represented a solid middle way compromise that protects taxpayers, renters and businesses while giving the administration all the tools necessary to operate effectively and efficiently.
However, instead of moving forward and accepting a responsible spending plan, Mayor Bhalla went on the defense about why he was looking to raise our taxes. He attacked the Council members who voted for this budget and worse, used taxpayer-funded mechanisms like the City’s emergency alert system “Nixel" and his City Hall staff to spread a false political narrative. Keep in mind, the Mayor increased his own office spending by an alarming 40% over the prior administration likely to compensate for his broken campaign promise of serving as a full-time Mayor, instead choosing to work a second job at a politically connected law firm.
To set the record straight, the adopted budget funds the Mayor’s Office at the same level Mayor Zimmer's was at the end of her term, and it doesn't impact the Office of Constituent Services. I hope that all residents can see through the Mayor’s bizarre rhetoric and attempt to divide our community. We may not always agree politically, but that does not mean we should ever stop having productive conversations to protect residents and make Hoboken even better than it already is.
eSCOOTER SAFETY LAW
In the last few weeks we’ve seen new electric scooters come to town as part of a six-month test program and I was proud to be an early advocate of this transportation technology. I know that feedback has been mixed and in my opinion resulted from a poor roll-out and awareness program.
As you may recall back in April, both the City Council and Hoboken Police Department advanced and supported the Lime eScooter contract. Shortly after that, Mayor Bhalla called to introduce a secondary operator, Ojo, whose scooters more resemble mopeds or vespas, and in my opinion, encourage misuse through tandem riding. I did not support this unfounded expansion as I didn't believe the administration had adequately addressed safety concerns before looking to introduce a second operator. Sure enough, the eScooter rollout made regional news both for having the highest ridership of any of Lime's markets in the world, but also for dangerous user error and misconduct that characterized the launch.
In response to the critical safety issues, I have authored an eScooter safety law which requires a court appearance and a gradually escalating penalty schedule for repeat offenders. The law also prohibits scooters from being operated within public parks unless they are being operated on a bicycle path or roadway through the park and is up for a final vote next Wednesday. I’ve long believed in advocating for new ideas in our local government and pushing Hoboken to think outside of the box, which means trying new things. I’m listening to everyone and working to address concerns and make changes in hopes that we can make eScooters work in Hoboken.
HOBOKEN’S HILTON HOTEL
Late last year after significant back and forth, the City Council approved the mayor’s agreement for the long awaited Hilton Hotel project on River Street, behind the US Post Office. The deal included $4.85 million in community givebacks to local organizations, but last month a court ruled that these payments were not legally permissible, saying they “would create unacceptable possibilities for abuse and fraud and cannot be permitted for reasons of public policy.”
The Court specifically opined that the givebacks must be directly linked to improvements connected to the redevelopment, something I had asserted since the beginning. Since then, I have actively worked to ensure these funds are used for downtown streets, overburdened water mains and dated parking garages, which not only responds to the Court's ruling and protects us against further litigation, but also strengthen the neighborhood most impacted by the hotel. Next Wednesday the Council will vote on a significantly revamped redevelopment agreement which memorializes these community investments and I will continue to stand firm through this process, and in the coming years, to ensure downtown gets a fair shake from any large scale development.
HELPING SMALL BUSINESSES SUCCEED
Small businesses play a vital role in our community and bring character to our neighborhoods. It’s important for us to give these mom and pop shops the resources they need to succeed, which is why I am proud that the City Council finally adopted my Small Business Expansion Plan. This is a proactive policy and will encourage makers, creators, and mom and pop shops the opportunity to open up in Hoboken and stay open.
With that said, I do believe there is more that we can do, which is why I am introducing legislation at the next council meeting to begin activating empty kiosks along the waterfront as popup shops for local businesses. When these kiosks were first installed, Mayor Roberts envisioned they would be used by Hoboken businesses to expand their visibility and help reach a larger customer base. Unfortunately, this has gone mostly undone and I’m excited to begin working with the city to implement a plan that will make our waterfront an ever more desirable place to grab a cup of coffee while supporting small businesses.
Newark Street Multi-Modal Plan: After years of advocacy I am particularly proud to let you know that Hudson County has approved a multi-modal street design for the Newark Street corridor to better protect pedestrians and cyclists while calming traffic passing through our neighborhood. Shovels will be in the ground later this summer.
Hudson Street Dog Park: In last year's budget I earmarked funds to turn underutilized City property on Hudson between 1st and 2nd into a much needed dog run. I’ve always believed in making Hoboken more friendly for our pets, which is why I took steps to repeal the dated rules that prohibited dogs in our city parks. Penalizing irresponsible owners and bringing new dog parks to our city is a win for all of us. I’m excited to see the new dog run move forward and hope you will join Rocco (my dog) and I when it officially opens!
Waterfront walkway: Earlier this spring my young niece tripped and fell on a loose brick along the South Waterfront walkway, causing me to call on the administration to fix the deteriorating conditions. I am happy to report that the mayor has heeded my call and the pathway will be receiving long overdue upgrades through the South Waterfront Corporation, which consists of the City as well as adjacent property owners. The City recently held a workshop discussing planned improvements which include new paving materials, updated plantings and restoration of the bike path and the first phase, which included replacing pavers, will begin this fall.
As the Chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization’s LGBTQ Caucus, I couldn’t have been prouder to have kicked off Pride Month right here in Hoboken celebrating love and understanding at a jam packed Drag Queen Story Hour. In the last four years we've made so much progress embracing LGBTQ rights, and just last fall became the second city in Hudson County to score a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign's Municipal Equality Index (MEI). The MEI examines how inclusive municipal laws, policies, and services are of LGBTQ people who live and work there. Cities are rated based on non-discrimination laws, the municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement and the city leadership's public position on equality.
When I first came into office in 2016 Hoboken's MEI was second lowest in NJ but after working with both Mayors Zimmer and Bhalla, we are now a leader for equality. However, from the recent protests against Harmonica Sunbeam, to the misunderstanding from community members over our Drag Queen Story Hour — it’s clear we need to keep engaging the community to educate and make our City and County more inclusive, for everyone.
I’m excited to be running for re-election this November, but despite all he progress we've made, and ideas that have changed the political conversation, the political machine is already working hard against me in support of an establishment candidate. I need your support and friendship now more than ever to keep bringing new energy and new ideas to Hoboken and hope you will join me at my campaign fundraiser, Tuesday June 25 from 6-8p at McSwiggans Pub.
Together, let's continue to speak truth to power, work to find productive solutions and bring about the meaningful change Hoboken deserves. If you can't attend but would still like to donate, you can do that here -- as a grass roots candidate, each dollar donated goes a long way!
On a legislative level, I’ll be hosting a First Ward community meeting this Tuesday June 18 from 6-9pm at Mulligans Pub where we’ll discuss these and other downtown issues. For my Marineview neighbors, I will be hosting a community meeting on Monday June 24 from 7-8pm at Union Hall.