A LOT! Cannabis, Food Delivery EBikes, PILOTs & RBD Up First...

There is a lot to share, and as I have done in the past, I am going to break these out into parts.

  Mainly because I haven’t finished writing all of it yet.  I wanted to at least get you the time sensitive parts first.  In this newsletter I include three hot topics that were to be discussed at tonight’s council meeting and one save the date for an upcoming meeting.  For one of these, I would appreciate your input. 
  • 2/26 Rebuild By Design Catch-Up Meeting
  • Ordinance to Allow Dispensaries Closer to Children (pulled from agenda)
  • Ordinance to Address Safety Concerns Relating to Reckless Riding of Food Delivery people riding e-bikes (carried to next meeting)
Construction is underway on 15th Street for the Rebuild By Design Project which is creating a lot of stir in the neighborhood.  The purpose of this meeting is to effectively re-introduce the North Zone of the RBD project to Hoboken residents.  All are welcome but I specifically want to encourage my 14th and 15th Street neighbors to join – those most effected by the construction and especially those who are NOT familiar with the project.  So please share with your neighbors. 
  • Date:         Tuesday, February 27th
  • Time:         6PM
  • Location:   Gym at Elysian Charter
  • Program:   Caleb Stratton, Director of Resliency for the City of Hoboken will remind the community about the features of the project, including the amazing park that will be built on the site of the former Harborside Park.  We will review the project construction and installation plan and revisit the final colors (GoldFinch) and materials.  And we will answer questions neighbors have about the project. 
What this WONT BE, is reconsidering the entire project.  This project began in 2015 – before I was first elected.  The initial discussions about the features of the barrier structure were approved in 2018/19 with the final design finally approved in 2020.  We have a handful of neighbors who have been here every step of the way since 2015 and even they have questions now.  So imagine all of the new neighbors who have no idea what the project is and why the park has been torn up in front of them and trees being ripped out...
This meeting is to catch everyone up!  So come with your listening ears on and questions in hand.
There was going to be two competing pieces of legislation on the City Council agenda tonight regarding distances between dispensaries and schools in Hoboken. 
CM Quintero called me a short time ago, minutes before I was going to send my newsletter with a call to action opposing his ordinance…perfect timing! 
We agreed to pull both pieces of legislation from the agenda.  We also agreed to together in the near future to review the landscape and the map to ensure that our laws support a responsible, social equity driven cannabis industry in Hoboken that has necessary enforcement mechanisms to make certain our dispensaries uphold their commitments to being good community partners.
Without going into too much details (for the first time ever…), I believe the feedback the City Council and the Mayor was getting from residents in opposition to changing this law helped.  #MoreVoicesAreAlwaysBetter.
Thank you to CM Quintero for reaching out on this.
NOTE: THERE IS A ONE QUESTION SURVEY AT THE END.  And I have just been told it has been carried until the next City Council meeting, but I am including this now anyway as it is already written and it is an important topic.
A special acknowledgment to our newest Councilmember, Paul Presinzano. Throughout his campaign, much like the rest of us running, he attentively listened to concerns raised by neighbors regarding the reckless behavior of many food delivery personnel on E-Bikes and other unlicensed motorized vehicles. These incidents include riding on sidewalks, through intersections, and going the wrong way down one-way streets, demonstrating a concerning disregard for pedestrians and their safety.
In response, Paul proposed a straightforward yet impactful solution:  Implementing measures that require food delivery riders on non-registered motorized vehicles (e.g., E-bikes & EScooters) to:
  • Wear a fluorescent vest with a visible identification number.
  • Take a brief test on local and state laws applicable to safe street riding, following the review of an information sheet detailing these laws.
  • Pay a nominal $5 fee to receive a license to deliver in Hoboken.
The idea was to make this safety improvement program as accessible as possible to all food delivery personnel while NOT obstructing an important service valued by Hoboken residents and local restaurants. 
Fast forward to two weeks ago, and Paul, with his co-sponsors Councilmen Ramos and Russo, introduced an ordinance that aligns with these proposals, dubbed "Vests and Tests" by Teri West at the Jersey Journal, promoting:
to enhance safety for both Hoboken residents and food delivery personnel.
The response has been overwhelmingly positive in my discussions with neighbors about this ordinance, with 100% of those I have spoken to over the past few months, expressing their support. Personally, I endorse this initiative because I believe that educating E-Bike delivery drivers on our laws, coupled with increased visibility, will foster accountability and safer driving practices. Additionally, it will make it easier to identify those who persist in reckless behavior, facilitating more effective enforcement.
Paul invested significant effort in researching this matter, engaging with local restaurant owners, major delivery companies, administration members, fellow City Council members and delivery riders and he even signed up to be a delivery person to get a better understanding.  Following extensive input, he submitted a revised version for a vote tonight (which will now be carried until next meeting).  This amendment includes, among others:
  • a requirement that drivers sign Hoboken’s Vision Zero Pledge, which was specifically requested by CW Jabbour,
  • a change to the registration process from every year, to every two years, a request by Bike Hoboken, and, as discussed at the last City Council meeting, and
  • clarification that all materials will be provided in English and Spanish and other languages upon request and literacy assistance will be allowed and offered if requested.
While it may seem like a straightforward and beneficial proposal, it raises the question of why Mayor Bhalla and his allies are not supporting it.  The following satirical cartoon was in today's Jersey Journal captures it perfectly.
Unfortunately, the answer appears to be rooted in politics rather than the merits of the ordinance. Regardless of the mayor's call for more time and the establishment of a task force made up primarily of members of his administration, and notably NO members of the public, it seems clear that the lack of support stems from the fact that Paul is the sponsor and not one of the mayor’s allies – a pattern observed repeatedly.  
As you read today about the mayor's sudden emphasis on tying E-bike legislation to installing protected bike lanes, it's important to note that, despite being in office for six years, Mayor Bhalla has not proposed protected bike lanes on any Hoboken streets other than the lengthy stretch of Sinatra Drive (which I actually initiated) that will ultimately take three years to install.
Especially now that we have two more weeks to reflect on this, I would appreciate your response to a ONE QUESTION SURVEY– Which steps would you like the City Council and Mayor Bhalla to take regarding Food Delivery E-Bikes?:
  • Approve the Vests and Tests Ordinance and concurrently explore additional solutions?
  • Follow Mayor Bhalla’s directive and create a Task Force that excludes the public and defer action to an uncertain future?
This may require some caffeine to get through....
The City Council will be voting on 2nd reading for a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (aka PILOT) financial agreement for the proposed redevelopment of the NJ Transit / Path Station area (aka LCOR project).  This is the last step before the developer, LCOR, begins construction of its first building which is an 80% luxury / 20% affordable residential building and upgrade of Warrington Plaza. 
What is a PILOT?
Full property taxes include City, County and School.  Instead of a property owner paying full property taxes, a PILOT is a LOWER payment made directly to the City, with 5% of this payment going to the County.  I’ll describe how this impacts the Schools further down… just bear with me for now.
Typically, PILOT payments start off lower than full property taxes but over time, as the property stabilizes, the PILOT payment will increase to full taxes.  The proposed LCOR payment is structured this way.  PILOT payment amounts are initially at least equal to the amount the project would have contributed as City taxes which I believe to be the case with the LCOR PILOT, although no analysis was provided by the Bhalla administration.   PILOT’s are given to developers as a form of financial incentive to build a project to:
  • Help supplement the cost of building needed infrastructure, services (hospital), affordable housing, or commercial buildings
  • Provide stability of tax type payments in the early years to support their construction financing
  • Reduce operating costs for developments in the early years that are riskier and may need a few years to fully stabilize. 
  • Help offset greater than typical costs of construction
A typical project that would benefit from a PILOT would be something like a new retail center developed on the outskirts of town that requires water and sewer investment.  Or a new affordable housing project where rents are a fraction of market rents, like we approved at 11th and Willow.  I personally do NOT believe PILOTS should be given to luxury residential developments – that is just lining developer’s pockets with oversized profits – unless there is extenuating circumstances.  LCOR does have some extenuating circumstances including higher than typical construction costs and additional affordable housing over and above what is required under our laws.
How do PILOTs work?
First – property owners pay their proportionate share of the Tax Levy set by each the City, County and Schools.  The Tax Levy is just the portion of the budget for each City, County and Schools that is not funded by other sources and is passed on to taxpayers.  All three institutions have certain caps on how much certain expenses and / or the Tax Levy can increase year over year.  However NONE of the institutions have a cap on how much the Tax Rate can increase.  The Tax Rate is simply the Tax Levy divided by the Total Assessed Value of Properties in Hoboken (Tax Base).  So the Tax Rate also depends on changes in the Tax Base
  • Tax Bill is calculated as:  Tax Rate X Tax Base.
  • Tax Rate is calculated as:  Total Tax Levy  Tax Base
When a new property WITHOUT A PILOT opens, the value of the property IS added to the Tax Base in Hoboken. 
When a new property WITH A PILOT opens, the value of the property IS NOT added to the Tax Base in Hoboken.  So existing taxpayers do NOT get the benefit of expanding the Tax Base and reducing the tax rate.
 This is important to know in the discussion of PILOTs.
PILOTs effectively shift a portion of the PILOTed property’s tax burden to the rest of existing taxpayers, and increase our overall Tax Rate, and Tax Bill.  The amount of this is the difference between what they would have paid in taxes vs. what they are paying as a PILOT payment.  So if the property would have paid $300 in total taxes WITHOUT A PILOT ($100 to each City, County and Schools), and instead is paying $200 WITH A PILOT payment, the $100 they aren’t paying is spread across the rest of the taxpayers.  This can easily make sense for a community to pay more in taxes to help fund affordable housing or a large infrastructure investment.
When a PILOT payment is paid to the City (and small amount to the County), it allows the City and County to offset costs in their budgets and reduce the Tax Levy it charges to taxpayers.  The Schools derive none of this benefit.  Additionally, the County and the Schools would see an increase in the Tax Rate they charge because the Tax Base would not be expanded with a PILOTed property,.  See the example here:
So how it impacts the schools? 
  • What a PILOT DOES NOT DO - is take money away from the schools or change what the schools collect in taxes.  Schools will always collect what their Tax Levy is, irrespective of how may taxpayers they collect it from. 
  • What a PILOT DOES DO, is take an expanded Tax Base away, resulting in a the potential for a higher Tax Rate.  And, if any enrollment increases due to the new project cannot be absorbed by state funding, it would potentially require a waiver to the statutory 2% cap on any increases to the Tax Levy. 
In all cases, the School Tax Rate would increase bearing a large portion of the burden of the overall tax abatement given under the PILOT. 
Sharing PILOT Payments with our Schools to better balance the shift in Tax Rate increases between the City and the Schools.  Because of everything above, but most importantly to support our public schools, the ad-hoc City Council subcommittee (Ramos, Jabbour, Doyle and me) and more recently, the administration, have been working with the four public school districts (including all 3 charters) to find a solution that would share some of the PILOT payments with our Schools.  We believe there is a solution, but will come back shortly with more information…. 

Ok... this is now much later that I had hoped.  I have more to share and will do so over the next day or so.  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].  
Tiffanie Fisher
Hoboken City Council, 2nd Ward
Engage. Inform. Advocate.
“More Voices are Better”
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