Good morning, and happy Thursday! I wanted to take a few minutes to update you on what’s been happening in Hoboken this month.
REVITALIZING AN UNDERUTILIZED POCKET PARK
Over the past four years, I’ve sought innovative ways to activate underutilized space across Hoboken, but particularly in my home district, the First Ward. That’s why I'm excited to report that I've been in touch with the owners of 77 Park Avenue to develop a plan to revitalize their gated pocket park at the Newark and Garden Street intersection.
This pocket park is located in the heart of downtown Hoboken and presents us with a unique opportunity to bring food kiosks, live entertainment and a public gathering space to the neighborhood. Under current zoning, the public is entitled to access the space but with a large fence surrounding the property, many residents don't know the park is open, let alone being used to its fullest potential. Public private partnerships like this will allow us to activate an underutilized green space while simultaneously creating innovative ways for small businesses to expand their operations in Hoboken.
When we invest time and energy in developing placemaking initiatives, we are able to make our community stronger and more livable. I’ve been proud to ignite this conversation within our local government, from successfully securing a redevelopment plan to bring a European-style Market to Hoboken Terminal and passing legislation to open the neglected kiosks on Pier A for local small businesses.
TERMINATING THE CITY’S CONTRACT WITH OJO eSCOOTERS
As many of you know, I was an early advocate of a public eScooter program because I believe this type of technology can take cars off our streets and create new affordable transportation options in Hoboken. I voted in favor of awarding a contract to Lime for a six-month pilot program, a measure which was supported by our Police Department. However, back in May, the Mayor asked the City Council to authorize a second vendor, Ojo, to operate in Hoboken. Seeing no cohesive public safety plan in place at that time and knowing these scooters operate more like vespas, I voted against this contract along with several of my Council colleagues.
Alarmingly, last week a mother and her young child were struck by an Ojo user who chose to violate our scooter laws by riding on the sidewalk. In response, the Mayor announced his decision to revoke Ojo’s contract and I'm glad he did. While the mother and child required emergency medical attention, I was relieved to hear they escaped serious injury. Last night, the City Council took even further action by passing my colleague Tiffanie Fisher's ordinance prohibiting eScooters from our waterfront via geofencing. This change will most certainly protect pedestrians along one of the most heavily traveled walkways in Hoboken.
Prior to this, I was proud to sponsor a resolution over the summer urging the mayor to renegotiate Lime's contract. This resulted in funding for two dedicated enforcement officers as well as planning for safer, multi-modal street designs. Though we have two months remaining in the pilot program, we must continue strengthen our businesses relationship with Lime in favor of residents to ensure public safety concerns are addressed and more investments are made in our transportation infrastructure.
STREET IMPROVEMENT PROJECTS
In the coming weeks, you will begin to see the long awaited revamp of the Newark Street corridor get underway. I’m particularly excited about this plan for its “Complete Street” design, which will better protect bicyclists and pedestrians by bringing new traffic calming measures to our neighborhood. This project was slated to break ground on August 5, but due to delays with the $400,000 in federal grant funding we received, construction needed to be pushed back. I am happy to report there is a pre-construction meeting scheduled for Monday and I'm eager to see shovels in the ground in November.
Earlier this year, we also made necessary repairs to the sidewalks abutting Court Street, making it easier for those with disabilities and families with strollers to pass. I’m also working with the County to secure funding for us to completely rehabilitate and preserve Court Street as Hoboken’s most historic street.
All of this is on top of the repaving project we finished on First Street and the completion of redesigning Washington Street from Observer Highway to 15th Street. I look forward to continue working with our local, county, state and federal departments to bring more pedestrian safety and street repair projects to Hoboken.
KEEPING HOBOKEN AFFORDABLE
At last month’s City Council meeting, I was proud to support Councilwoman Falco’s legislation to fund our Affordable Housing Trust. I am so incredibly proud of her for fighting this fight, after all, when we ran together two years ago, keeping Hoboken affordable was a key tenet of our campaign. It remains essential for the City to protect longtime and middle class residents from being priced out of their homes, and to that end, we must ensure that development projects coming into our neighborhoods continue to embrace economic diversity. This ordinance does just that.
Keeping our City affordable has always been a top priority for me. When I first ran for City Council, I promised to bring a tenant advocate to Hoboken to assist renters who were being mistreated by their landlords. I’m proud to have not only delivered on this, but to have also sponsored a comprehensive tenant protection law, which requires landlords to provide renters with a detailed explanation of their rights should any major construction project be undertaken, avoiding the potential for displacement.
A SHADOWY SUPER PAC EMERGES
With Election Day less than seven weeks away, a powerful politically connected Super PAC is preparing to funnel $150,000 of special interest money into Hoboken in attempt to alter the outcome of the City Council Election. This PAC appears to be controlled by the city’s health insurance vendor, a company responsible for the single largest spending increase in last year’s municipal budget. Independent leaders, like myself, stood up to the vendor’s history of nickel and diming the City, and now they want us out of office so no one is left to hold them accountable.
Instead of denouncing dark money and protecting the integrity of our democratic process, the Mayor is trying to distract voters from the fact my opponent in the upcoming election is a City Hall insider, running for public office while serving as the mayor's own political aide.
This distraction is being exacerbated by the Mayor's attempt to snuff out political competition by limiting the contributions progressive organizations can make to candidates in our municipal election. Recently, the administration had requested an opinion from outside counsel regarding the legality of a City ordinance that potentially violates state and federal election laws. Despite receiving a conclusion that this legislation is unlawful and unconstitutional, Mayor Bhalla nonetheless asked the City Council to approve a resolution instructing our Law Department to strictly enforce the ordinance. Out of an abundance of caution, the City Council voted to table this resolution last night to avoid the risk of costly litigation for blocking freedom of speech.
My colleagues and I are now requesting an outside attorney to review the resolution to ensure it is legally standing and does not open the City to serious liability. Since it's election season in Hoboken, I’m confident the Mayor will attempt to spin this into a political issue, but I’m certain we made the right decision to have this measure further reviewed. Had we not done so, the city’s actions could have potentially resulted in another large legal payout, at the expense of taxpayers, for violating First Amendment rights.
EXCITED AND HONORED TO KEEP SERVING
I’m excited to again be included on Insider NJ’s Top 100 Millennials with a group of incredible young people making a difference in our state. When I first decided to run for elected office, they said it was impossible to beat a 21-year incumbent, but we did. Then two years later when I ran for Mayor, I was told to wait my turn and though we came up a few hundred votes short, we changed the political conversation in Hoboken for the better. I am proud that we have proven that hard work and dedication can affect positive change in our City. Speaking truth to power isn’t always easy, but this journey has never been about me, it’s been about working together to bring good ideas and positive energy to our local government.
With Election Day less than seven weeks away -- Tuesday November 5th, your vote is your voice. Please mark you calendars and help me continue bringing new energy and new ideas to Hoboken!