On Monday night, Mayor Bhalla delivered his third State of the City address to the residents of Hoboken. The virtual address included the Mayor’s priorities to improve the quality of life for Hoboken residents, which include:
Mayor Bhalla also proposed a new, state-of-the-art public safety complex and community center in Hoboken’s North End, to replace the antiquated Police and Fire Department headquarters. Currently, both headquarters cost Hoboken taxpayers over $2 million per year in emergency repairs and upgrades. The new facility is also proposed to include the City’s new public works garage with up to 600 public parking spots, a new community center to bolster the City’s recreation options for children and adults, and an uptown branch of the Hoboken Public Library.
The full recording of Mayor Bhalla’s address can be viewed on Facebook or YouTube utilizing the links below.
Mayor Bhalla’s third State of the City Speech, as prepared for delivery:
Thank you for tuning in tonight. The last time I addressed the residents of Hoboken was my second State of the City address in January of 2020. The world was a very different place. Social distancing, mask-up, and variant were not mainstays in my vocabulary, and I didn’t imagine that we would need to issue a State of Emergency because a deadly virus had arrived. In the two years since then, we’ve faced extraordinary hardships, and sadly, lost over 60 valued members of our community. We mourn their loss and extend our deepest sympathies to their families. But despite the difficulties brought by the Pandemic, we’ve also seen the very best of Hoboken, and thanks to the compassion of our community, we’ve faced our challenges head on, together. I am proud to say that the Pandemic reaffirmed my faith in the residents of Hoboken as resilient, strong, and loving to our neighbors.
Two years later, Hoboken has once again led the way in creating a stronger and safer City. Thanks to our high vaccination rates, our schools are open, our economy is recovering, and our local businesses are once again thriving.
As a result, we are in a much better place, and our goal is no longer to prevent every single new infection. I’m here tonight to tell you that the days of government mandates, that were a reality to protect the safety of the public at the Pandemic’s height, are no longer necessary as this virus becomes an endemic. But we will continue to remain vigilant, utilizing the tools and experience at our disposal to live with COVID intelligently and safely, always guided by science. After a long, long winter, spring is finally coming to Hoboken.
While our highest priority has been to protect the health and safety of our residents, we never lost focus of other critical quality of life priorities. I’m proud to say we soldiered on in advancing our Vision Zero traffic safety campaign, Hoboken’s Climate Action Plan, resiliency parks, and more. We’ve made historic strides in making Hoboken a better place to live, work, and put down roots.
In launching our Vision Zero campaign, our goal was simple, but ambitious: to achieve zero traffic-related deaths and injuries by 2030. As a father of two children, Arza and Shabegh, nothing is more important to me than making sure they can safely walk our sidewalks and cross our streets without being in harm’s way.
I remember all too well the struggle our family faced in previous years, crossing Washington Street in Uptown Hoboken to get to one of our favorite restaurants, the Elysian Café. The crosswalks were faded, there was no pedestrian countdown timer, and the traffic lights changed on a dime, without any notice. We would tread and peek cautiously into the crossfire of two-way car traffic, just to cross our main commercial corridor. No mother or father should have to go through that, and it was clear, when I came into office, more needed to be done.
Now, fortunately, these dangers are starting to become a thing of the past. Today, Washington Street is an award-winning model for what a complete street should be, integrating safety infrastructure for pedestrians and motorists alike. These improvements include curb extensions to reduce crossing distances, high visibility crosswalks, new signalized traffic lights with countdown timers, rain gardens to help mitigate flooding, and more, all thoughtfully engineered to prioritize safety first. Not only is Washington Street now a safer corridor for all users, it’s now a vibrant commercial corridor that is bustling with new businesses and contributing to the economic recovery of our Mile Square.
We’ve used the model of Washington Street to prioritize additional upgrades on streets all across Hoboken. One example is 11th and Willow next to Wallace Elementary School, where we installed pedestrian countdown timers, curb extensions, and upgraded traffic signals to create a safer intersection for our youngest residents to cross.
As a result of these many upgrades, we’ve had a substantial reduction in traffic incidents, and pedestrian fatalities city-wide. In fact, since launching Vision Zero, we’ve had zero traffic-related deaths and seen a 40% reduction in injuries – bucking state and national trends. These successes have not gone unnoticed on a national level, as Hoboken was recently cited by President Biden’s Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg, as a model city for eliminating traffic-related deaths in the United States.
This year, we’re including Vision Zero upgrades to another historic Hoboken roadway - Sinatra Drive. It is one of the most scenic roads in the entire State, with one of our most valuable assets - our waterfront. But, it currently sits as a roadway in disrepair, and too many conflicts between cars, pedestrians, and cyclists. As a result, we’ll be moving forward with new, modern pedestrian crossings, expanding the protected bike lane to connect to Fourth Street and Eleventh Street, and completing the green circuit all the way from Pier A to Eleventh Street.
Like so many Hoboken residents, I’m immensely proud of our waterfront. But, the multi-generational struggle to protect and preserve it for public use has been filled with obstacles, heartbreak, and challenges. Only a short while ago, plans for two, 11 story buildings were underway to be placed at the uptown Monarch site, and just a few decades ago, residential development was proposed to be located at Pier A. And, as we all know, Union Dry Dock was recently proposed to be used as a heavy refueling depot.
Today, I’m proud to report that the ongoing fight to protect Hoboken’s waterfront is now at its conclusion - and we won. We now officially own the uptown Monarch site, and last year we reached a historic agreement with New York Waterway to acquire the Union Dry dock site.
Together, these two agreements will ensure that the dream of an uninterrupted waterfront walkway, with the world’s best view of New York City, will officially become a reality. It is an achievement and gift of a lifetime that will benefit our children, our children’s children, and generations of Hoboken residents to come. I thank each and every person, resident and nonresident, who fought for years to ensure we would see this day.
We look forward to officially owning Union Dry Dock later this year, and initiating an open planning process for a public park at this site, along with open space amenities that can be located along the uptown Monarch site.
As we look to build a stronger Hoboken for future generations, we need to think two steps ahead. And there is no bigger threat to the future of our City, than the threat of climate change and rising sea levels. Climate change is, literally, an existential threat to Hoboken. One recent study ranked Hoboken as the second most likely city in the country to be underwater and uninhabitable at the end of the twenty-first century if we do nothing. It’s why I’m one of few Mayors nationwide who declared a Climate Emergency in the City of Hoboken. Because doing nothing is simply not an option. Leaving the problem to future elected officials is also, not an option. That’s why we’re taking proactive steps yesterday, today, and tomorrow, to tackle climate change, without delay.
To that end, in the next twenty-four months, we will be breaking ground on Cove Park at Fifteenth and Garden Streets, which will expand and upgrade Harborside Park. This more than three-acre park will include above ground flood protections built into the design, which will help protect Hoboken from storm surge from the Hudson River. This resiliency park will become one of the country’s most innovative defenses from rising sea levels and more severe storms, and a model for other coastal cities.
Cove Park is a central component of our Rebuild by Design flood protection project, which is currently underway and under construction in both the Northern and Southern ends of the City.
Breaking ground last year was one of the biggest milestones to date of Rebuild by Design, a once-in-a-generation, $230 million, federally funded resiliency project, and we are currently making critical progress towards its completion in the coming years.
While waterfront projects such as Rebuild by Design are protecting Hoboken from rising sea levels, we are also leading the way on innovative projects that mitigate flooding caused by heavy rain events. Just last week, my administration presented four concept designs for our expanded Southwest Resiliency Park at Harrison Street and Observer Highway, that incorporates above and below ground storm management measures as well as amenities for the public such as a playground, pickleball courts, open lawn space, a water spray area, and more.
Our park space in Hoboken served as a critical outlet for all of us throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and underscored how important public, open space is for our everyday quality of life. In an urban setting where few of us have backyards, and with over 60,000 residents taking up just one square mile, few communities rely on parks and open space as much as Hoboken.
I believe that it's important now, while we have the land and opportunity to do so, to maximize every chance we have to expand these open spaces, before it’s too late.
That’s why, during the discussions to acquire the Monarch waterfront site, my administration negotiated the additional acquisition of land at 800 Monroe for another resiliency park. This 1.5 acres of land, that was originally slated to become a residential development, will instead become open space that will complement the park features at the 7th and Jackson park and plaza. As with all of our park projects, we will be moving forward with a public, open process to solicit community input into the eventual design.
Taken together with the expanded Southwest Resiliency Park, the five acre Northwest Resiliency Park currently under construction, and the new park at Seventh and Jackson, the western end of our City will soon have nearly ten acres of new, public parkland for everyone to enjoy, helping ensure every resident in Hoboken is within a short walk of a large park.
While we’re designing our parks to mitigate the effects of climate change, we’re also taking bold steps to help mitigate our own contributions to climate change. In 2019, I signed an Executive Order implementing Hoboken’s Climate Action Plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and I’m glad to share that we’re making significant progress in creating a more sustainable city.
To provide an alternative transportation option to reduce our dependence on driving and limit greenhouse gas emissions, we introduced Citi Bike to Hoboken last year, integrating Hoboken’s bike share infrastructure seamlessly with our neighbors in New York City and Jersey City. In the nine months since the program launched, more than 250,000 rides originated in Hoboken, and over 1,000 residents are members of the program. I’m proud to say that these numbers demonstrate that it has been a resounding success. As we turn the corner from COVID-19, Citi Bike will help residents more easily get to transportation hubs, patronize our local businesses, and visit friends and family.
Our Climate Action Plan also includes a number of initiatives to make it easier to own and use an electric vehicle in Hoboken. Last year, we installed Hoboken’s first five public electric vehicle charging stations across the City, and this year, we’ll be adding another six charging stations, increasing the number of charging ports to 22 citywide. By the end of the summer, we will officially launch a new Green Pass program that will make it more affordable for residents to charge their electric vehicles in municipal parking garages.
Hoboken has been a leader in another Climate Action Plan initiative: increasing our utilization of renewable energy. In 2019, Hoboken became one of the first cities in the tri-state area to begin purchasing 100% clean, non-polluting, renewable electricity for all municipal facilities. This year, we’re taking that a step further by offering residents the ability to obtain a larger portion of their own energy from renewable sources, such as solar and wind, through the Hoboken Renewable Energy Program.
An additional Climate Action Plan initiative that has been a resounding success has been our composting expansion. Last year, we expanded drop-off composting to 12 locations from five, which contributed to a total of 107 tons of composting, up from 55 tons in 2020 – a ninety five percent increase.
Needless to say, we are making critical headway to achieve the goals of Hoboken’s Climate Action Plan, and together, we’re leaving future generations with a City that is greener, more sustainable, and builds for the future.
As we continue to make major strides in improving our climate, I believe it’s also important to think about our long-term vision for Hoboken as it relates to our aging infrastructure. Throughout COVID-19, our heroic front line responders, including members of the Hoboken Police Department, Hoboken Fire Department, the Office of Emergency Management, Hoboken’s Volunteer Ambulance Corps, sanitation workers, and countless others, worked tirelessly on behalf of our residents in some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable.
And they did so with public safety facilities that have been literally falling apart beneath their very feet. The next time you pass by our Police Headquarters, stop and take a look at it. Even without stepping foot inside, you will see that it’s an antiquated building from the 1960’s, neglected and ignored for decades. Don’t our police officers deserve better? Don't they deserve the tools they need to continue to ensure our safety and wellbeing? Or, are we comfortable with the party line from previous decades - ‘do more with less?’
Along with firefighters, police officers put their lives on the line for us every day, and they deserve better facilities. Let’s be real: our Hoboken Police Department Headquarters is long, long past its useful life, and we’re spending millions of dollars, every year, for emergency repairs on an antiquated facility. Over the next decade, we’re projected to spend tens of millions of dollars in upgrades and emergency repairs - to the Police Headquarters and Fire Headquarters, alone. Our above ground infrastructure, including our public works garage, is crumbling before our very eyes. It’s a gross injustice to our hardworking public safety officers, and an abdication of our duty to Hoboken taxpayers, if elected officials let this continue. Now is the time to act.
So let me be clear – the time for kicking the can down the road, at the very expense of the Hoboken taxpayer, has come to an end. Tonight, I’m proposing a new Public Safety Complex and Municipal Public Works Garage in the North End of our City, that will incorporate a brand new police and fire headquarters and better serve the needs of our residents. This new public safety facility will also add up to 600 public parking spots, creating more reasonably priced off street garage spots to help fill a crucial need.
This new, modern facility won’t just create a better long-term location for our public safety officers and a new, modern municipal garage. I also propose to include a new community center to supplement the aging Multi-Service Center, adding much-needed space for our recreation programs for children and adults, as well as a new uptown branch of the Hoboken Public Library. Our recreation and library capacity is literally bursting at the seams, and with a growing population in North Hoboken, this new facility is the ideal location to provide these popular community amenities. The decision for what the community amenities of this project will ultimately be, is one that will belong to the residents of Hoboken - through a robust, transparent and public process, to seek maximum community input and create a facility that reflects the needs and desires of our residents.
My friends, this is a vital part of my vision for the future of Hoboken, and the future of Hoboken, starts now. We can no longer just plan the next four months, or four years; rather we should be thinking about the next 40 years, and what we’re doing to correct decades of neglect.
This vision for 21st Century upgrades to our critical infrastructure also includes continued improvements to our below-ground infrastructure. Before I became Mayor, I remember, like many of you, being woken up by news helicopters hovering above Hoboken, covering yet another water main break. Hoboken was front and center on the local news all too often, for the wrong reasons, because of our aging infrastructure that was literally at its breaking point.
When I came into office, we sat down with SUEZ, and negotiated a new, historic agreement that allowed Hoboken to proactively install over 13,000 linear feet of new water mains, saving the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in costly emergency repairs.
And the proof is in the pudding - in 2021, we had a 50% reduction in water main breaks as compared to our peak in 2018, helping us all sleep a little bit better at night. This year, we will start phase two of the program, where we will install another 5,000 linear feet of new water mains.
These infrastructure upgrades have all been made possible because of our strong City finances. Despite the major challenges of the pandemic, I’m proud that we’ve once again earned a double A plus credit rating from Standard and Poor’s.
This outstanding rating allows Hoboken to bond at low interest rates, making projects such as the new Public Safety Complex, water main replacements, and the Northwest Resiliency Park, possible. Later this year, we anticipate producing another balanced municipal budget that holds the line on taxes.
As we look to build on our successes in 2022, we’ll be doing so with some new, talented staff who are now giving back to the City in which they’ve been raised. We recently welcomed Nora Martinez DeBenedetto to head the Office of Constituent Services, and already, Nora has assisted over 100 residents, and is working to replace the outdated 311 system with a new, user-friendly reporting system.
This year we also launched a new Division of Housing, led by Vanessa Falco, who served as Hoboken’s first ever African American Councilwoman from 2018 through 2021. Vanessa is currently undertaking an ambitious project to create an expanded inventory of our rent-controlled buildings, to ensure Hoboken can continue to maintain an affordable stock of housing. This new division will also provide residents with resources and information on affordable housing options in the years to come, which includes 33 new affordable housing units scheduled to soon come online.
And, I recently appointed and welcomed Steven Aguiar as Hoboken’s new Acting Police Chief, who took the reins of the Hoboken Police Department following the retirement of former Chief Dan LoBue. I look forward to working with Chief Aguiar, a Hoboken native and 20-year veteran of the department, as we continue to modernize our policing and keep our residents safe.
Tonight, I’ve laid out many of our accomplishments in 2021, and a number of ambitious goals for 2022 and beyond. As we build towards the future, let us also not lose sight of what is happening beyond our Mile Square.
As we see what is happening around the world, with war and atrocities in Ukraine, let us never forget the sanctity of human life. Let us never forget that we, as a community, belong to a much larger, inter-connected world community. Let us never forget that we must not ignore injustice and human suffering, even if it is happening in places far, far away from us. And let us remember that as world citizens, we have an obligation to act and help not just our fellow Hobokenites and Americans, but all of humankind. For in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”. The people of Ukraine should know that we pray for them and stand with them in solidarity against oppression and in support of the right to live free. This is not just an American value, it’s a value we should all hold dear as part of our human family.
Through these years as your Mayor, I have continually been inspired by the countless acts of kindness, residents and children caring about the wellbeing of their neighbors, supporting those in crisis who have lost loved ones, volunteering in their community, and rising to the many challenges we have faced.
I have no doubt that if we continue to hold these time-honored values close to our heart - love of family, love of community, and love of our beloved City of Hoboken - nothing can limit this great city from growing to its full potential.
Fellow residents, stay strong, stand tall and keep your chin up, because our best and brightest days are yet to come.
Thank you, and good night.