The rain finally seems to have let up, and it’s a busy time here in Hoboken so I wanted to update you on several important issues being discussed by the City Council.
A NEW WATER DEAL
Last summer, our city was on the verge of making a historic mistake by attempting to jump into a protracted lawsuit with Suez Water, the private water company that services Hoboken. At the time, I cautioned the mayor against jumping into a pointless lawsuit, which would only delay solutions and benefit lawyers, not residents. I thank my Council colleagues for stepping in to keep us out of court and working collaboratively towards a better contract for Hoboken.
At the last City Council meeting, we voted on an updated water contract that was markedly better than the one I voted against in 2017. The new contract contract includes $33 million in water infrastructure upgrades over 15 years as well as an additional $2 million investment in smart technology to monitor water consumption. Although this is a great first step to making much needed investments in our water system, it is not a silver bullet, it will not entirely fix the century-old problem. We can and need to do more by negotiating more responsible agreements with development projects, like the upcoming Hilton Hotel and I look forward to working with everyone to improve infrastructure across Hoboken.
FIGHTING FOR TAXPAYERS
Earlier this month, the City Council passed a budget amendment to size back the mayor’s 3% tax hike which would impact businesses and residents alike. In doing so, we were able to cut nearly $1 million in excess spending from the budget, while simultaneously increasing funding for our short-staffed Fire Department. Despite having a larger tax base than ever before, the mayor’s budget proposed raising taxes to compensate for his administration’s unprecedented spending over the past year. During his first two years in office, Mayor Bhalla has increased his office's spending by an alarming 40% to fund jobs for political supporters, politically convenient contracts and unnecessary lawsuits.
While no tax increase is acceptable, the City Council has worked productively with the Administration; and though the mayor doesn't like hearing that he needs to “do more with less,” this needs to be a belt tightening year. I’ve long said that we need a private sector approach to government in Hoboken and holding the line on taxes starts with evaluating where cuts can be made without impacting critical city services. The City Council is in active discussions with relevant state authorities to maintain Hoboken’s track record of responsible spending.
BRINGING ART BACK TO HOBOKEN
Public murals foster artistic expression and enhance community character, which is why at tonight’s City Council meeting I’m excited to introduce an ordinance that will increase public access to and community participation in the creation of original works of art and set important standards that must be followed to ensure our neighborhood's stay charming and unique.
I am also proud to have sponsored a resolution, unanimously approved by the City Council, urging PSE&G and Verizon to allow local artists to beautify our streets by adding art to their dull and dirty mechanical boxes. Not only does this liven up our neighborhoods, but it shows our support for local artists by giving them a public canvass visible to thousands of people each day.
LETTING DOGS INTO OUR PARKS
Did you know it was illegal to bring your dog into City-operated parks, including our waterfront walkways, unless you’re walking them to or from a dog run? Neither did I until the mayor began enforcing it after years of allowing responsible dog owners to use our parks, causing residents to speak out.
Working together with my colleague, Council President Jen Giattino, we are modernizing this dated law with legislation that makes our City more pet-friendly. Instead of attacking responsible dog owners who are simply trying to allow their furry friends to stretch their legs, we should be targeting those who leave our parks dirty. To that end, if anybody doesn’t clean up after their dog in a public park, the proposed legislation holds those responsible for the maximum penalty -- $2,000.
ADVOCATING FOR MORE BUSES
I know what it’s like commuting into New York City from Hoboken every day and truthfully, it’s not always easy. With the growth on Hoboken's West side, buses that run along Washington Street and Willow Avenue are overcrowded and the lines at bus stops sometimes stretch for more than a block. That’s why I along with Councilman Ruben Ramos, sponsored a resolution, unanimously passed by the Council, urging NJ TRANSIT to conduct a feasibility study to create new bus routes and increase service during the peak travel hours. Our resolution specifically recommends adding new stops on Madison Street and Monroe Street to bring residents to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Additional bus service will not only alleviate crowding on existing routes, but also make the ride to and from work easier and more comfortable for all of us.
On Monday Governor Murphy signed S-731 into law, which approves the use of low-speed eScooters and eBikes on streets, highways and bicycle paths in NJ. I have long been a proponent of adding eScooters to our bikeshare arsenal and last summer had a blast hosting a pop up event with Lime Scooters on Pier 13. Back in April I voted in favor of a 6-month trial run with Lime Scooters because I believe this service, used in over 100-cities worldwide, will reduce dependency on cars and help residents get around town faster.
Though I am excited to bring eScooters to our City, I recently voted against the mayor’s rushed recommendation to add a second eScooter provider to the test program. Residents, The Port Authority and Hoboken Police Department have all expressed concerns regarding enforcement and I don’t believe the administration has adequately addressed these issues before expanding the program. Despite the additional scooter operator being added on, I am hopeful the mayor will roll out the approved programs safely and effectively.
eScooters and other emerging transportation technologies have the potential to revolutionize how we all get around Hoboken and I personally look forward to hopping onto a scooter soon on my morning commute to NYC. I hope you’ll take the opportunity to try out this exciting new mode of transportation and let me know your thoughts.
STANDING UP FOR EQUALITY
In late April, Little City Books held a family-oriented “Drag Queen Story Hour” during which children and parents encountered a pair of representatives of the Pennsylvania-based American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property protesting outside the event. Though free speech is protected, I am incredibly proud of the Hoboken families who took a stand against this intolerance and did not allow this distraction from ruining a great day.
As the Chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization’s LGBTQ Caucus, one of my priorities is to make sure we are teaching younger generations to embrace diversity and acceptance. To that end, please join me and the LGBTQ Caucus on June 1 for brunch and an open and inclusive conversation at Antique Bar & Bakery in Hoboken. We’ll kick off the event at 10:00a with Drag Queen Story Hour for the kids, hosted by the fantastic Harmonica Sunbeam, followed by mimosas at 11:00a 🥂 for the adults. Together, let’s show these protesters they will not set us back on the strides we have made to get closer to full equality!
REPAVING FIRST STREET
I’m thankful to Hudson County and Freeholder Romano for answering our call to repave First Street -- a County road and an important transportation artery for my downtown district. Many residents have been frustrated by the delays with the project, which stem in part from the weather, but also because the City didn’t inform NJ Transit of the proposed street closures, which would have impacted bus operations. Repaving should be completed by week's end if the weather cooperates.
Speaking of County-funded projects, I am particularly excited about the upcoming Newark Avenue "Complete Street" initiative which will include long overdue pedestrian safety improvements as well as new bike lanes, paving and striping. I have long advocated for Newark Street and though delayed two years on account of a change in administrations, I’m excited that this project is slated to break ground soon!