It has been a while, and we have a LOT to cover.
And like I typically do in situations like this, I break it into two separate newsleeters. So grab a hot cocoa, a beer or whatever your favorite beverage is, settle in and get reading. Newsletter #2 will be in your mailboxes shortly... Oh, and be sure to take a break at 6:30pm on Sunday to watch the BUFFALO BILLS beat Kansas City!!!!!
In this newsletter, I am covering the following:
- End of an Era – Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro
- New Energy Provider – What You Need To Know
- 14th & 15th Street Intersections
- New City Council Leadership
- Administration Reorganization / City Council Committees
- City Council Education Committee - PILOTs
- Hoboken Art Plan
- Community Lifestyle – Spring Kickball
- Open Swimming at Hoboken High School
END OF AN ERA – ASSEMBLYWOMAN ANNETTE CHAPARRO
Last week we saw an end to Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro’s eight year reign as our representative in the NJ State Assembly. At our City Council meeting on Wednesday, the City Council gave her a proclamation thanking her for everything she has done and her continuing commitment to Hoboken. Annette, born and raised in Hoboken, grew up in the Hoboken Housing Authority, and has been a key voice in Trenton for Hoboken on all issues important to our city, with a particular focus on helping those who most need assistance. She was one of just a few women / Latina's and with her departure, women and minorities have less representation in our state legislature. Please join me in thanking Assemblywoman Chaparro for her hard work, dedication and service to Hoboken. I know her commitment to our community has not waivered and I am excited to see what the future brings for her.
NEW ENERGY PROVIDER – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Many of you have reached out over the confusion about the city’s new energy aggregation program that requires residents to “opt out” if they do not want to participate, instead of "opting in" if they want to participate. This is the 2nd year we have had this program which has a goal of shifting as much of our energy use to a greater amount of green energy. The City Council unanimously approved this last fall. There is an FAQ set up that provides a lot of information and should answer many of your questions. https://njaggregation.us/hoboken/
The two biggest questions I have received:
- Why is this “opt out” and not “opt in”? In short, energy programs that relied on the public to opt-in didn’t result in a meaningful participation and was too administratively burdensome. So in 2003, the NJ Legislature changed the law to “opt out” for these kinds of programs. You can read a summary of this here: https://njaggregation.us/opt_benefits.html. As you will see if you peruse the website, Hoboken is one of 89 municipalities in New Jersey that participate in this kind of program.
- How can I easily opt out? With your PSEG bill handy, you can go online to https://njaggregation.us/residential-opt-out-v2.asp or call 866-688-5197. If you have any specific questions, you can email [email protected] or [email protected].
14TH & 15th STREET INTERSECTIONS
Yes... it has been that long...
- 14TH / HUDSON: Are you ready… drum roll please… the equipment for the new traffic lights will be here in two weeks! (Fingers crossed). It looks like they will hopefully begin installing and electrifying the lights as early as early/mid February and once they are installed, they will then finish the sidewalk and plantings sometime in March.
- 14TH / BLOOMFIELD AND 14TH / GARDEN: The lights have now been fixed to make it safer so that the pedestrian crossing lights will turn white every time the traffic light turns green. Additionally, I am told that the County will soon be installing the sound notifications for these pedestrian crossing lights to provide more guidance and safety for all crossing at these busy intersections.
- 15th / WILLOW AND 15TH / PARK: These traffic lights are supposed to be synchronized so that when the light turns green at Park (traveling west), you can then also get through the light at Willow. The synchronization recently has been off and I raised with the County who said they will resynch it ASAP. Let me know if you see that is not the case in the coming days.
NEW CITY COUNCIL LEADERSHIP
Congratulations to CW Giattino and CM Doyle who each received unanimous votes to be President and Vice President of the City Council. Every year, at the first meeting of the year, we have a ceremonial swearing in of any new council members (every other year) and then we have the reorganization of the City Council leadership. This is actually CW Giattino’s 6th time as CP in the 13 years she has served.
The role of the City Council President is to set the tone for and run the City Council meetings, review and approve the agenda the City Council will be voting on, is the main liaison for the administration, and the person who assigns Councilmembers to City Council committees. Jen has always taken a respectful tone and inclusive approach to her leadership, something that has been lacking more recently, and we are already seeing evidence of this.
Given the recent division across the City Council, how on earth did this come to pass you ask? To begin, the results of the 1st Ward runoff kept the independent council. Remember this chart? (updated for 1st Ward CM Presinzano):
Any candidate for CP and CVP needed a minimum 5 votes. 3rd Ward CM Russo said he would only vote for himself as Council President, but he couldn’t get to 5 votes. CM Doyle reached out/across the aisle to me to see if we could form a coalition leadership – especially in the year where there is a reasonable chance our mayor will leave office and the Council President would step in, at least temporarily, as mayor. I suggested the least controversial person from each “side” – Jen from the “independents” and Jim from “Team Bhalla” - and we were able to get consensus around this pairing. (BTW – Jim was not doing this to be CVP, it was my suggestion).
As a group of eight, we also agreed the annual City Council appointments to various boards:
- CM Doyle to Planning Board
- CM Ramos to Hoboken Business Alliance
- CW Jabbour to Cannabis Review Board
- Me to the Hoboken Hospital board, and
- CM Cohen to the Arts Council (an annual mayoral appointment, but supported by the City Council).
The pleasant, but not necessarily expected, outcome was that we all spoke together during this process and I think we took some of the edges off, realizing we agree on policy more than not, and we built a better rapport going into 2024. This is not to say that we agree on all issues, nor our local politics, but we have narrowed the gap and hopefully we are better positioned to work together and have constructive public debate that our community deserves, especially on important issues.
ADMINISTRATION REORGANIZATION / CITY COUNCIL COMMITTEES
ADMINISTRATION REORGANIZATION -
You may have seen the mayor’s recent headline about the creation of the new “Climate Action and Innovation” department within the City. I have gotten A LOT of emails/texts about this and the concern about our Mayor wasting more tax dollars. For clarity: This new department is actually not anything new. It is just a regrouping of existing workflows and responsibilities and given a catchy new name to better align with the mayor’s run for congress (... running the city like a campaign...).
There are actually 2 new departments created, and one disbanded as part of a bigger reorganization that impacts four departments within the city. It disbands Health & Human Services that has lacked a department head for almost a year and breaks the former Environmental Services into two departments - the aforementioned Climate Action and Innovation and Parks, Recreation and Public Works. This graph below shows the changes in red.
And this summarizes the three biggest reorganizational changes:
- Move Health Services to Public Safety. Still overseen by Director Ferrante, this makes Public Safety more of a Public Health and Safety department and now includes “rat management” and vital records in addition to the more traditional public safety functions like police, fire, and OEM.
- All capital projects put together in one group called “Climate Action and Innovation”. Director Gonzalez will continue to lead these efforts and includes things like infrastructure and resiliency projects like “rebuild by design” and resiliency park designs and construction, all other park and project design and construction (like Multi Service Center), and technology upgrades.
- All operationally focused municipal services together in one group called Parks, Recreation and Public Works. This becomes one of the most important "resident quality of life" departments and includes park maintenance (as opposed to construction), recreation programs, and trash removal and road maintenance. Because of the importance of this role to residents and the broad responsibilities, you would hope the mayor would do a formal search to find the most qualified and experienced person to fill this position and bring best practices to our city. But he did not. He has proposed moving a deputy director from HPU into this new role. The City Council votes on this appointment at its next meeting.
The Community Development and Hoboken Parking Utility departments are unchanged in this reorganization.
CITY COUNCIL COMMITTEES -
These committees generally align with city departments and are limited to four City Council members (five would make a quorum and violate Open Public Meetings Act). Committees meet regularly with the department director and other members of the administration to discuss relevant issues and review City Council agenda items. CP Giattino tried to make sure as many Councilmembers as possible are committee chairs to maximize inclusion. A welcome practice not employed by recent council leadership. The following are the committees / committee members:
- Climate Action and Innovation: Me (Chair), Ramos, Jabbour, Doyle
- Public Safety (& Rats): Presinzano (Chair), Me, Quintero, Giattino
- Community Development North (& Zoning): Cohen (Chair), Me, Russo, Giattino
- Community Development South (& Rent Control / Aff. Housing): Ramos (Chair), Doyle, Quintero, Giattino
- Parking & Transportation: Jabbour (Chair), Presinzano, Cohen, Giattino
- Parks, Rec, & Public Works: Quintero (Chair), Russo, Jabbour, Giattino
- Administration & Finance (Budget): Doyle (Chair), Cohen, Presinzano, Giattino
CP Giattino, like she has done in the past, has broken Community Development out into two committees – one for the Northern part of Hoboken, one for the Southern Part. Development/redevelopment is such a large part of our environment – and is often local to the neighborhood – so this lets more City Council members have direct involvement. In the North, we have the entire North End and Western Edge redevelopment areas. In the South we have LCOR, Hilton, Neuman Leather, CVS, Chambord and more. It’s a lot.
CITY COUNCIL EDUCATION COMMITTEE - PILOTS
PILOT is the five letter word in our town.
Last summer, representatives from Hoboken’s Public Schools – the district and three charter schools – joined to work together along with four City Councilmembers they selected (Ramos, Jabbour, Doyle and me), to try and solve the issue surrounding PILOT payments that the city receives in lieu of taxes from new developments that negatively impact our public schools. The shared goal is to finally find a solution that will allow the City to ensure that the schools receive their fare share as and when the Mayor negotiates any PILOT agreements with developers for any new developments.
At the onset, when this first arose three years ago as many remember, there was division across stakeholders. But because of the complexity of this issue, the public school leaders shared a common goal and decided that working together was in the best interest of all involved. Last June the schools sent a letter to Mayor Bhalla requesting a meeting with the entire group to move the discussion forward. For unknown reasons, Mayor Bhalla has declined to meet with the group, stating he will only meet with the parties separately, not together which has frustrated all who have been involved in this. As I said in my response, working off the same information towards a common goal seems a better starting point, than dividing the group again which feels like we may be going backwards.
At its core, when the city allows new developments to make a PILOT payment to the city instead of paying taxes, public schools miss out on collecting their effective share of what would have been tax revenue from these new developments (it is more complicated, but that is the gist). And because of various state laws, the City can’t just give money to all the public schools and giving it just to the district schools would have the actual result, due to the mechanics of the state funding formula, of taking funding away from the three charter schools. It is a mess and one that all the school leaders and the Councilmembers involved have spent a lot of time on over the past couple of years trying to find a solution and I am hopeful we will be able to move forward together to do so. More to come…
HOBOKEN ART PLAN
At the first City Council meeting of the year, the CC voted 8-1 to approve a new “Art Plan” for Hoboken. This does not make any decisions about any specific art installation, what it does is provide the beginnings of a framework for a more organized approach for public display of art in Hoboken. Most people think about art as being murals on a wall. But public art in cities could range from interesting benches in a park, to statues, to moving and temporary art installations in areas that have high visibility including sometimes on private property and more. Here is the final art plan report that you will see was more of an information gathering exercise, with high level recommendations of way forward: Hoboken Public Art Plan
First you are hearing of it? Yes, there has not been a lot of public discussion nor a lot of transparency. The City’s website has a broad list of stakeholders who were supposedly part of this process, implying a lot more people were involved instead of what the report says were just 23 people including one or two representatives, at most, from each during private meetings and interviews. For example, although the website lists the City Council as being involved, in fact it was only CW Jabbour. There was a survey, but less than 300 people responded. Interestingly, this is supposedly a part of our Hoboken Master Plan, yet no one from the Planning Board was involved. I saw it for the first time when it was presented to the Environmental Services committee (not sure why not Community Development) in December. Initially the administration's plan was to present it at the last meeting in December, and I asked that it be pushed to January so more people could watch the presentation given I think it is an exciting path for Hoboken to take.
Although I am fully supportive of moving forward with this as an important starting point, I would like the process to be more transparent, involve more resident input, involve the Hoboken Planning Board, so that we can get a comprehensive plan that is most representative of the interests of our community members.
Will this require resources with experience in sourcing, curating, funding and employing art? What do those resources look like? We don’t yet know – could be a partnership with another agency, could be a consultant the first year, and/or could eventually be part of someone’s job description in the city. But we will be looking to identify this in 2024. As a reminder, In 2018, Mayor Bhalla signed an executive order that 1% of all bond financings would be set aside for purposes of creating public art in Hoboken. Because of the significant projects the city has undertaken, the city has approximately $2M in this fund currently.
COMMUNITY LIFESTYLE – SPRING FLAG FOOTBALL
Mark your calendars! Sign-ups for Community Lifestyle’s youth spring flag football will be on February 11th! If you are interested in coaching, volunteering or donating to this great organization, you can find out more on their website:
OPEN SWIMMING AT HOBOKEN HIGH SCHOOL
Yes!!! I often get asked about swimming access in our area so am very excited that the Hoboken Board of Education is opening up the pool at Hoboken High School for community swim at no cost on the following Saturdays!
- January – 20 (TODAY!), 27
- February – 3, 10, 24
- March – 2, 9, 16, 23
On each Saturday, the following sessions will be held:
- 1-2pm - Sensory friendly swim (beginning 1/27)
- 2-4pm - Family swim
- 4-5Pm - Adult Lap Swimming (18+):
Residents must bring ID with them and sign in at entry to the school. Capacity will be determined by the number of lifeguards available. Bring your own swim suits, towels and swim shoes. Hoboken High School is located at 800 Clinton St.
I can't mention Assemblywoman's departure from the NJ State legislature without talking about why and how she was replaced.
The protocol in Hudson County is for the Hoboken and Jersey City Mayors to choose who they want to be the NJ Legislative Representatives for our legislative district that is made up 2/3 of Jersey City and 1/3 of Hoboken. Elected officials are chosen? Not elected? What does that mean exactly???
As I have described before, New Jersey has what is known as a "broken ballot". We are the only state that has a ballot that puts all candidates running for all partisan offices in one grid. Offices are lined up on the left, with the highest office at the top (eg President). And the columns across have candidates who are bracketed / running together in one column. In Hudson County, the leaders of the local Democratic and Republic parties choose who will be grouped together in a column and receive the party endorsement. This is what is called "the line". If a candidate is not "on the line", and is in a column without others somewhere to the right of the line, he/she is considered an "orphaned candidate" in "ballot siberia".
This all matters most in the June Primary when multiple candidates may be running. It gives a decided advantage to whomever is on the line because uninformed voters will often just vote for endorsed candidates down the line. Research shows that being on the line gives you a 38% margin advantage and winning probability of 95%. Importantly, because of these advantages, it also discourages people from running. There are lawsuits currently pending with the supreme court challenging this practice as unconstitutional and clealry anti Democratic.
SO back to Assemblywoman Chaparro's departure. In our state legislature that is under represented by women and minorities, Assemblywoman Chaparro stood out as a highly respected leader. But instead of supporting her for another term, Mayor Bhalla 'chose' John Allen (yes, him...) to replace her as our representative using the same machine politics that he is now criticizing in his campaign for Congress.
In Part 2, I will cover: 2 new important state laws that may affect you, pickleball, Rebuild by Design, upcoming zoning meetings, and more. As always, please share this with everyone you know who may be interested and reach out any time on any issue important to you: 201-208-1764 or [email protected]. #GoBills!
Hoboken City Council, 2nd Ward
Engage. Inform. Advocate.
“More Voices are Better”
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