August 7, 2019

August update from Mayor Bhalla on various City projects

August 7, 2019

Dear Councilmembers,

I hope you are well and enjoying the summer. I write to provide you with updates and bring your attention to several matters on the agenda for tonight’s council meeting.

Crime Down in Hoboken for Second Consecutive Year

I spoke to Hoboken Police Chief Kenneth Ferrante earlier today.  Chief Ferrante advises me that the Hoboken Police Department just received its ‘year-to-date’ crime statistics.  I’m happy to report that Hoboken’s crime rate has dropped 29.4 %, with only 8.6 crimes per 1,000 residents.  This is a 12.8 percent decrease in the crime rate at the same point in 2018.  Hoboken is also down in 12 out of 13 categories, including zero homicides.  I thank and congratulate the dedicated women and men of the Hoboken Police Department for their hard work and service to Hoboken’s residents.  I strongly believe that under Chief Ferrante’s leadership, we have the best police department in the State of New Jersey, and the year-to-date statistics for 2019 show that we are doing even better each year.  

Saving Hoboken’s Waterfront at Monarch and Union Dry Dock

As you know, Hoboken is in the final stages of two important waterfront initiatives that would move us toward completing a contiguous, public waterfront at Union Dry Dock and the Monarch site. My administration is fully committed to preserving both sites for a public park, and I ask for your support to move both waterfront initiatives forward.

I firmly believe that we must move forward with an amicable acquisition, or eminent domain if necessary, to obtain Union Dry Dock for a public park, and if we do not do so now, we may lose the opportunity forever. If approved on first and second reading, my administration will engage in bona fide negotiations with New York Waterway to acquire the property. If we are unable to agree to the terms of an acquisition, we will be able to acquire the property through condemnation. Through an appraiser, the City has determined the land to be valued at $13.1 million.

The Monarch settlement, as mentioned previously, will allow the City and Applied to negotiate the terms of a Redevelopment agreement for the redevelopment of the municipal garage, where Applied would be permitted to build retail and residential housing. While the terms of the redevelopment agreement are negotiated over the next year, the settlement temporarily prevents the two 11 story buildings along Hoboken’s northern waterfront from being built, and allows the City and Applied to sit down and begin this process. This will include a full financial analysis to determine the value of the land at both sites. If a redevelopment agreement is finalized and approved by the City Council at a later date, only then would the City have the ability to obtain ownership of the Monarch site.

One frequent question I receive is whether or not Applied can physically build on top of the Monarch site. To be clear, the City engineers determined that while it would be costly, residential buildings could in fact be structurally built. Our waterfront is too precious to take that risk, and I hope you will agree and vote in favor of the settlement presented tonight.

Plastic Bag and Styrofoam Ban

Earlier this year, Hoboken adopted a ban on single-use plastic bags as a part of our Climate Action Plan. The regulation has been widely successful, and I thank all of the businesses who have enthusiastically complied. As you may know, our single-use plastic bag ordinance, written by Councilman Jim Doyle and the Hoboken Green Team, was based off of other successful legislation in other cities and states. According to our ordinance, plastic bags are permitted if they are classified as “reusable,” and used at least 125 times, can carry at least 22 pounds, and is at least 2.25 mils thick.

However, based on public feedback and our own observations, while intended to be reused multiple times, “reusable” plastic bags in fact have not been frequently reused and may not meet the standards as intended. As a result, it is my hope to strengthen our legislation and implement a full ban on all carry-out plastic bags. My staff has reached out to ShopRite, one of the larger businesses which utilizes reusable plastic bags, and they are happy to comply with the new law, if adopted.

Additionally, the amendment also includes a ban on the use of single-use styrofoam products. The ban, also supported by the Hoboken Green Team, would prohibit businesses from offering consumer products that are produced with styrofoam including foam cups, containers, plates, and more. Styrofoam isn’t biodegradable, can’t be recycled, and is a threat to our environment and health.

Like our initial single-use plastic bag ordinance, all businesses will be given a six-month period to comply with the proposed new regulations. Over the course of the next several months, City staff and the Hoboken Green Team will help provide direct outreach to impacted businesses.

Vision Zero Action Plan

This month, Hoboken will be officially launching our “Vision Zero” campaign to recommend goals and policies to achieve 0 pedestrian injuries or fatalities by 2030. As you might know, cities across the United States have taken similar initiatives to increase pedestrian safety and all modes of transportation. The first step in this plan, as is typical in other Vision Zero programs in other cities, is to develop a Vision Zero Action Plan to develop a roadmap with comprehensive recommendations to achieve our ambitious pedestrian safety goals.

On the agenda is a professional service contract to Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates to work with the City and Vision Zero Task Force (which will be established in the coming weeks) to develop a Vision Zero Action Plan over the next year. Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates has extensive experience in the field, having developed Los Angeles’ Vision Zero Action Plan and worked closely with elected officials and community members during the process. I respectfully ask your support for this award so the City can move forward with Vision Zero and make our streets safer for all users.  

New contract with e-scooters

My transportation team has finalized a new proposed contract with the electric scooter companies that provides for major, six figure investments allocated for enforcement, safety, and transportation infrastructure upgrades, including protected bike lanes. The new contract, which includes a contribution to the City of $0.35 per ride for the Lime and OjO electric scooters, would be in effect for the duration of the pilot period, through November 30 (the amendment is not an extension of the pilot).

Earlier this year, based on the City Council’s vote authorizing the e-scooter companies in May, Hoboken launched a pilot program with the two companies. After over two months, the program has been one of the most widely used e-scooter sharing programs in the entire world with over 275,000 trips and 55,000 users. Over 70% of surveyed riders identified themselves as Hoboken residents.

To address the very valid concerns of residents that rules and regulations of the e-scooters are not being followed, with a particular focus on sidewalk riding, the six figure investments will significantly increase our enforcement capabilities. In particular, the investments will allow the City to invest in additional enforcement officers and tools for enforcement, specifically for the e-scooters. As a father with two children who frequently walk, bike and scoot on our sidewalks, I share these pedestrian safety concerns.

I’m hopeful that if implemented, the amended contract will help facilitate safer use of the e-scooters and provide necessary enforcement tools, especially as we evaluate the program’s long term future. Compared to the current contract, which provided for only a $13,750 upfront payment and no per ride contribution, the new six figure anticipated pedestrian safety contributions from this amended contract is one of the largest contributions per ride not just in the region, state, or nationally, but in the entire world.

Additionally, I’m pleased that Lime has agreed to a “Lime Heroes” program, that gives riders the option to round up each ride to the nearest dollar or two dollars, which will be allocated for the Hoboken Community Center (formerly known as the Hoboken YMCA). I thank Lime for offering to implement this option as a part of the amended contract.

Affordable Housing

As mentioned in previous correspondence, I am in full support of the ordinance proposed by Councilwoman Vanessa Falco to help increase funding for affordable housing in Hoboken. The ordinance would increase the amount of money given by developers to Hoboken’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund for those buildings that are 10 residential units or less, that are not already required to do so. The ordinance also requires a 2.5% non-residential fee allocated for a new affordable housing and affordability assistance program. I believe this is an important, positive step to increasing funding allocated for our affordable housing stock in Hoboken, and am respectfully asking the Council to support this measure.

Thank you very much for your time and attention to these matters. As always, please do not hesitate to reach out to me if you have any further questions or concerns.

Very truly yours,

Ravi S. Bhalla
Hoboken Mayor