I hope that you’re enjoying this unseasonably warm February day. As always, I wanted to quickly reach out to you to update you on items of importance to Hoboken that you might find of interest.
MARIJUANA IN HOBOKEN
With the recreational cannabis law still in flux in Trenton, the City Council tabled an ordinance to permit recreational marijuana in Hoboken until the law, and its impacts on local municipalities, has been made clear. Instead, the City Council re-centered the conversation on medicinal marijuana, and voted in favor of a new law to permit medicinal dispensaries, once licensed by the State. There are many strong arguments to legalize, from ending the often unfair impact drug arrests have on African American and Hispanic residents to the economic development and tax revenue possibilities. But no matter what happens at the state level, we need to make sure we have appropriate safeguards in place here in Hoboken to make sure that any potential marijuana businesses operate safely and in a way that enhances our city, instead of threatening our neighborhoods.
Though I am a proponent of medical dispensaries, I voted “no” on the first law as it was a rushed attempt to simply say we did it without considering unintended consequences. The law as initially passed would almost entirely impact downtown Hoboken without any guarantee that the neighborhood impact would benefit from the added revenues. Further, full control over licensing would be given to the mayor, without any City Council input.
As Chair of the Zoning Committee, I worked with my Council colleagues and the administration to craft a better medicinal-cannabis ordinance. The updated law gives more oversight to the Council on licensing applications, as well as creating a “cannabis improvement district” which aims to provide more resources, like street improvements and additional enforcement, to the neighbors directly impacted by a dispensary. I will be introducing these corresponding amendments at tomorrow’s City Council meeting, with a final reading of the revised law occurring on February 20th
To aid dialogue, I am pleased to host a community meeting this Thursday February 7th at Antique Loft (33 River Street) from 7-8pm.
This open forum will be a community discussion on medicinal marijuana, the updates to the local ordinance, as well as the prospects of recreational dispensaries. I will be joined by a panel of medical experts and doctors based in Northern NJ, industry experts, in addition to former Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace of Colorado. Please join me Thursday for the conversation!
The Monarch is a proposed residential real estate project on the former piers in front of the Hudson Tea Building, roughly between 14th and 15th Streets. As you may be aware, the City has been in a six-year lawsuit with the developer but in January, lost another appeal to stop the development from impacting our waterfront. The recent Appellate Court ruling pointed to a 2017 Court ruling also in favor of the developer, which stated Hoboken’s retroactive flood ordinance, passed after the planning board failed to hear the Monarch development, is not valid.
Indeed, there is no more appropriate description of the circumstances leading to this unfortunate outcome than by the Appellate Court Judge himself, "If there is a lesson to be learned from this case, it is the rule of law is paramount and cannot be sidestepped to avoid deciding unpopular land use applications." In practical terms this means that the City used a million taxpayer dollars fighting a case in court that the judge said should have been resolved by the City, as required by state law.
Specifically, the Hoboken Planning Board should have heard the application during the statutorily mandated period - at which time they could have voted it down - but they chose not to. The belief of the Planning Board, whose members are appointed by the mayor, that litigation rather than established procedure was the best course of action which caused the project to be automatically approved, spurring six years of uphill legal battles. The City Council is working with the administration to potentially relocate the project to other locations in town in hopes of preserving our waterfront. One of the leading sites to relocate the project’s bulk is the City’s public works garage on Observer between Park and Willow, squarely in my home district, the First Ward. I wish this scenario could have been avoided, however at this point due to the failures of two mayoral administrations it appears to be one of our only options.
As First Ward Councilman and much as I did with the Hilton Hotel project, I will push to ensure that any new development at the DPW site comes with community benefits for my neighborhood such as infrastructure and flooding improvements, the development of a downtown arts district, increased enforcement of nuisance ordinances and enhanced police presence. If Downtown Hoboken is going to be used to clean up this problem, we must receive commensurate community benefits to protect our quality of life.
FIXING OUR STREETS
Washington Street - With winter fully upon us, you may have noticed that the Washington Street contractors have stopped major roadwork on account of asphalt. The project is now over $3 million over budget, stemming from mismanagement, however the good news is that once work resumes, it should be completed by Memorial Day. I know this process has been a source of frustration since construction began two years ago and we’ve sadly seen the closure of some long time businesses on account of the delays. However, as the Chairman of the Transportation Committee back in 2016, I was proud to support the long overdue-funding for our city's main street and am even prouder today to see the plan almost completed.
Newark Street - In February 2017, the City conceived for and the Council funded a multi-modal transportation plan for cars, pedestrians and cyclists along Newark Street. Shortly after the approvals, the State awarded Hoboken a $400,000 grant for the project and over the last two years the City has been working with Hudson County and State DOT to fulfill the necessary requirements to fund the project. Bureaucracy surrounding grant allocations is always high, but I have stayed on top of the situation and just yesterday, the City submitted final revisions and Hudson County has offered assistance in securing final approvals. Construction should commence this summer.
Paving will start in the spring - a county financed job, so I thank Hudson County Executive Degise and his team for getting it done.
Paterson Plank Road
In 2016 I was proud to work with my colleague Councilman Ramos in advancing a long-overdue southwest traffic study, which resulted in major new traffic patterns, including returning Jackson Street to two-lanes of traffic, as well as the installation of three new traffic signals. The final recommendation from that study was to turn Patterson Plan Road into a one-way thoroughfare leaving Hoboken, to reduce traffic backup near the light rail. However, due to concerns from Jersey City, this unfortunately never moved forward. At tomorrow’s Council meeting, myself and Councilman Ramos are again advocating for this traffic pattern and have authored a resolution urging Hudson County to stand with Hoboken on this important matter.
Court Street & Castle Point Historic Rehabilitation - Since taking my seat on the Council, I have long-advocated for the historic protection and rehabilitation of Court Street, our City’s oldest cobblestone lane. After necessary upgrades to the sidewalks abutting the street last summer, the Council allocated funding for an engineering study which yielded a plan for not only the potential renovation of Court Street, but also Castle Point Terrace, as well. These are two of the city's most historic streets and currently many of the 19th century stone setts (aka - cobblestones) on Court Street, as well as the iconic yellow bricks along Castle Point, are missing, broken or paved over creating safety hazards and blight. It's long overdue that we protect Hoboken's past, as we move rapidly towards our future and I couldn't be prouder of the collaborative work done between the city's engineering team and City Council to help make these projects feasible. To partly fund construction, I authored two resolutions which were unanimously approved authorizing the city to apply for a $500,000 Hudson County Historic Preservation Grant. Please sign the petition below urging the County to approved our grant requests and preserve our City's history!
CITY-WIDE PARKING RATE INCREASE
I have long said that any rise in parking prices needs to come with an immediate investment from the City to help motorists, cyclists and pedestrians get around town more easily and more safely. Modernizing our crumbling parking structures, using technology to ease the parking crunch and paving our streets are basic city services that should be covered without having to raise rates. After all, the Parking Authority already operates with a $4.1 mm surplus, so any increases in my opinion are simply backdoor taxes, intended to fill budget gaps.
Late last year, the mayor’s asked the Council to raise parking garage prices up to 32% as well as meter pricing up to 260%. Though I am proud to have voted against both of these laws, demanding more for residents before we passed costs along to them, the Council still split 5-4 in favor of the administration’s policies. However, after significant community pushback, the mayor has changed course and joined me in recognizing his push to raise prices was a mistake. In response to feedback, the Council and mayor have agreed to compromise legislation which will delay the increase for existing garage permit holders, by three years. All new garage applicants will unfortunately have to pay the new, higher, rate and the meter increases remain in place.
Finally, in my ongoing push to make parking fairer for residents, at tomorrow’s City Council meeting, we have a final vote on a law I've authored which will allow residents to park overnight from 6pm - 8am for $5. If passed, this would take cars off the street and make it easier for working residents to find parking after a busy workday.
WATER MAINS AND CONTRACT
How could we forget last summer, where there seemed to be a water main break every day? Well, we're close to a solution...
During the summer of 2017, you may recall that the previous mayoral administration hid nearly $10 million in un-budgeted debt to our water provider, Suez Water, who was conveniently a client of Mayor Bhalla’s law firm at the time. The City Council was then asked to vote on a poorly negotiated water contract, clearing out the debt but failing to provide a suitable solution for future water main repair and replacement. With then-Councilman Bhalla recused from the discussions due to potential business conflicts, the Council voted the contract down with the intent of returning to the negotiating table and getting a better long-term deal.
At the time, City Council members were not been privy to negotiations between the administrations and the water provider, but that has since changed. Over the last six months the infrastructure committee, expertly led by my colleague Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, has been working directly with Suez to negotiate a considerably better deal than the one that the Council was asked to vote on in 2017. I am glad that calmer heads prevailed and the mayor’s rush to litigate, a course that would have only benefited attorneys, not residents, failed to take root.
More details regarding the proposed new contract will be coming out over the course of the next few weeks and months, but know that I feel good with where we are. Stay tuned.
As I enter the final year of my current term, I am energized and excited as always to continue representing you, bringing new energy and new ideas to Hoboken. Though politics seemed to lead headlines in 2018, I am particularly proud of the collaborative work the Council has done at working with the mayor despite the fact that we do not see eye to eye politically. As always, I look forward to working with anyone and everyone to develop and approve policy that’s good for Hoboken, but will never shy away from standing up for honest government or innovative ideas that shake the political status quo.
The movement we started together was always about good rational ideas, challenging the status quo and elevating collaboration and communication over politics. In 2017, we almost succeeded at bringing the change Hoboken needed, but just because we fell a few hundred votes short of winning the mayor's office, doesn't mean we stop. What's unfortunate about politics today is that young people have never been more inspired to get involved, but don't know how to and all the while face uphill battles against status quo politicians. We can change that, but I need your help.