Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s State of the City Address— as prepared for delivery, via the City of Hoboken:
Thank you to Stevens for hosting us today and to Provost Dr. Christophe Pierre for the warm welcome. I understand he couldn’t be here tonight, but I also want to thank President Farvardin for his friendship and partnership with me and the City of Hoboken. I truly appreciate that he came to our country as an immigrant from Iran, contributed so much innovation over his career, and has done a fantastic job over the last five years leading Stevens Institute of Technology.
Thank you to Assemblywoman Chaparro for your introduction and for your terrific job advocating for the people of Hoboken and the 33rd District. Thank you to the Garden Street performers, and congratulations to Finn Douglas on your 52 performances in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular as a 9-year old! Thank you to our Police and Fire Department honor guard, to Father Bob, Detective Quinones, and to Jeanne Cummins for your beautiful rendition of our National Anthem.
Thank you to Hoboken Housing Authority Executive Director Mark Recko and North Hudson Sewerage Authority Executive Director Richard Wolff. Thank you to Freeholder Romano, Council members, School Board members, and all of our board and commission members for being here.
I also want to recognize Dr. Christine Johnson, our superintendent of schools, who has done an amazing job improving our public schools. Under her leadership, Hoboken now offers a fantastic curriculum in science, technology, engineering, and math for grades K through 12 as part of a program called Project Lead the Way. I encourage everyone to find out more so you can better understand the important academic changes that are happening right now in our public schools. This year the district also added a great after school program called Passport to Learning which provides 17 different programs to learn in a fun way from engineering to Mandarin to computer science. Children and parents love it and I want to applaud Superintendent Johnson and the School Board for implementing these programs. I also want to congratulate the kids at Hoboken High School, where over 90 percent of seniors have completed the college application process, and academic scholarships offered to our graduates have more than quadrupled in the last two years to over $7 million.
I want to welcome Library Board President Allen Kratz who is here. A big congratulations to the Library on nearing completion of the preservation of the façade and rehabilitation of the basement into new, flood-resilient program rooms. We were glad to both financially support the project and provide space in the Multi Service Center during temporary closings.
Most importantly, thank you to all the members of our community who are here tonight. Hoboken is filled with incredibly dedicated, caring, and resilient people, and I want to recognize the efforts of some of our residents that make Hoboken such a special place.
I was inspired by the story of Stephanie and Matt Cohen who are here with us tonight. They took on a role they never imagined just one year ago when their daughter, Madison, was born with a congenital heart defect called Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome. Stephanie and Matt spent each day by Madison’s side as she endured surgeries and medical procedures, but sadly she passed away after two months. Rather than let tragedy overcome them, they made it their mission to raise awareness and funds for congenital heart defect through Hayden’s Heart Foundation to support the children and adults now battling with CHD the way their daughter Madison did. I invite you to learn more about Stephanie and Matt’s efforts to raise awareness on the Little Hoboken blog, where Stephanie now serves as a contributing writer. Stephanie and Matt’s mission to keep Madison’s memory alive serves as an inspiration to us all, and I ask you to please join me in giving them a big round of applause.
On Saturday, I joined with the Boyd family to commemorate the life of Charles Boyd Sr., known as “TC” the superhero. His dedication and commitment to his community was boundless as he worked every day to engage young people and make sure that they stayed on track in their lives. He was an inspiration for the community, and it was wonderful to join the Boyd family, Housing Authority residents, and elected officials to name a building in Mr. Boyd’s honor and memory. His spirit will live on as a model for our community. Please give a round of applause for Mr. Boyd and the Boyd family.
I also want to recognize the resilient character of our veterans from American Legion Post 107 who are here with us tonight. Not only did they each fight to protect the core values of liberty and justice for our country, but every year they stand together and work hard to make sure that our veterans are recognized during all the national veteran holidays. When their Post headquarters was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, not only did they not give up, they worked with my Administration, the County, and members of our community to develop a plan and funding for a new post and to provide affordable housing for our veterans in need. They are still working toward a fundraising goal, and I ask everyone to consider giving what you can at americanlegionpost107nj.com. Please stand and recognize our veterans, led by Post Commander John Carey, who are here with us, for their service to our country and ongoing commitment to helping veterans in need.
And finally, I want to acknowledge that, sadly, last week we lost Sada Fretz, a beloved member of our community who fought against overdevelopment of our waterfront and advocated for public parks. Many of the things we enjoy about Hoboken today are because of committed citizens like her.
For all these reasons and many more, it is an incredible honor to serve the people of Hoboken as mayor of our beautiful, vibrant city. I also want to thank my husband Stan and my sons, Jacob and Alex, who have all been my bedrock of support throughout my time as an elected official.
Together, as a community, we are making our great City stronger and stronger. Over the last year, we’ve made incredible progress to improve the quality of life for our residents.
The City invested $11 million in a new, second flood pump, and thanks to a partnership with North Hudson Sewerage Authority, we have made real progress in solving our flooding problem from typical rain storms. News crews were here to try and cover the flooding in our City last week, but all they saw was wet pavement. We are no longer the go-to place for footage of flooding! For three consecutive rain events, when neighborhoods in the western side of our City would otherwise have been under water, our two flood pumps kept our streets from flooding.
But our flooding challenges are far from over. We must continue working to protect from another kind of flooding – flooding from storm surge like what occurred during Superstorm Sandy.
Last week, during a storm that was hardly reminiscent of Sandy, the storm surge brought the Hudson River to mere inches from the top of the bulkhead – not very far from bringing the river flowing into our City. This provided a strong reminder that we still have a lot of work to do to protect Hoboken.
The risk for Hoboken is very, very real. We cannot live in fear that our City will be devastated again every time a major storm is predicted, and we all know that we cannot rely on flood insurance to pay the costs suffered by our residents and businesses.
That’s why our Rebuild by Design project is so critically important. This vital infrastructure project, funded by a $230 million federal grant, will give our community the protection and peace of mind that we deserve with beautifully designed new urban amenities.
We have conducted an extensive public process and are extremely close to jumping the final hurdle to ensure that we receive the $230 million funding needed to protect our City and region. I want to thank Commissioner Martin and his Department of Environmental Protection team for their commitment and for partnering with Hoboken, Weehawken, and Jersey City to move this crucial project forward.
But our work is far from done. Although the federal funding has been allocated and appropriated, on March 16th at a legally mandated hearing, we need everyone in Hoboken joining together to send a loud and clear message that Hoboken supports this project. We need to send a message that this project is essential to our safety and welfare and that we will work together as a community to get it done. This project will set an example for our State and Country that we can protect our communities from climate change and rising sea levels by crafting real solutions, rather than putting our heads in the sand and denying that we have a problem.
Please mark your calendars for the March 16th hearing and let me know if you need me to come and speak to your building or neighborhood to learn more about how this project will ensure our City is protected for the long term. After the public hearing, we will be moving toward what we call a Record of Decision by the end of the summer. Once we reach the Record of Decision, we will have access to the full $230 million grant funding.
In addition to flooding, we also have another water problem that we’ve been working to address – the problems with our water mains. Hoboken is directly investing a record $12 million this year to upgrade our water main system. Plans are in place and construction will soon begin to replace all our water mains along Washington Street and priority locations throughout the City. After the water mains are replaced, we will move forward with repaving Washington Street, along with other changes like pedestrian signals, to make our main street both safe and beautiful.
I am working hard to renegotiate our decades-old agreement with Suez Water, which currently includes $350,000 per year for repairs but nothing toward upgrading our water main system. I have made clear in our negotiations that one of the of the non-negotiable terms for me is at least a $1 million annual payment for repairs and upgrades to the City water main system, indexed for inflation. Hoboken would then be able to use these funds to finance approximately $20 million in improvements to our water system.
Another pressing infrastructure issue is the need for more park space on the western side of Hoboken. I am extremely proud that we are adding eight new acres of open space to western Hoboken. I want to give a special thank you to the City Council for working with my Administration to make sure we acquired this much-needed new parkland for our very active community. I also want to thank the residents all across the City who advocated for more park space for their neighborhoods.
I look forward to cutting the ribbon with everyone for the one-acre Southwest Park this summer. And we are committed to acquiring a second acre this year to double the size of the new park.
Tomorrow, we will break ground on a two-acre park and public gymnasium as part of the 7th and Jackson project.
And last month we acquired six acres of land on the BASF site in northwest Hoboken, five acres of which will become Hoboken’s largest park.
All three of these new parks are being built with green infrastructure and underground detention systems to hold back more than 1 ½ million gallons of stormwater to help deal with the increasingly severe storms our region faces, as well as any flash flooding that might exceed the capacity of our new pumps.
There’s been so much excitement about the new Northwest Resiliency Park, that residents may not realize that one acre of the property will become the site of a large municipal parking garage, the first in western Hoboken. This new garage could include green walls, rooftop recreation, urban farming, or other amenities to add even more benefit to our community.
The garage will support the parking needs for residents and for visitors throughout our mile square city, thanks to our very successful and expanding valet parking program. Through this program, we provide a low-cost valet service, making parking cars in our municipal garages convenient even if the garage is located across town.
We also launched the Parkmobile pay-by-app system to make it more convenient to pay for parking. Already, more than 20% of transactions are by mobile app.
And we are adding meters to the visitor side of the street to increase turnover so that everyone can more easily find parking on the street. The revenue from these new meters will be used to help fund the cost of constructing the new parking garage as well as important infrastructure projects like repaving Washington Street and other roads.
In the past two years alone, nearly 120 blocks of road have been repaved in Hoboken, and by the end of this year that total will increase to over 150 blocks.
We are also making strides to make it easier to get around Hoboken without a car, thanks to the tremendous success of Hudson Bike Share and the 20 percent increase in Hop bus ridership. Hudson Bike Share now has more than 12,000 members that have taken over 170,000 trips, making our bike share system one of the few in the world that is financially sustainable without any government funds. We are also proud that our program is accessible to everyone, and there are free annual memberships for 100 Housing Authority residents available through the main office at the Housing Authority. We currently have 29 stations and 250 bikes and I am glad to announce tonight that this year, Hudson Bike Share will be expanding with 50 more bikes and several additional stations to meet the growing demand.
When it comes to our energy infrastructure, l am very glad to announce that we are moving ahead in partnership with PSE&G to have our electrical substations upgraded and elevated. The project includes combining the Marshall Street substation with the Madison Street substation and elevating it above flood levels, providing a significant upgrade to our energy system. We will work collaboratively with the community to design the new substation on Madison Street so that it integrates with the urban fabric of the neighborhood. This design process will start next month, and I look forward to working with everyone to make our city a lot more energy resilient! Thank you to PSE&G for working with us on this important project and for completing the elevation of our third substation.
Our first responders, including the Police Department, all four Fire stations, and the Hoboken Volunteer Ambulance Corps, are now even more prepared for working through major emergencies after we completed the installation of more reliable, permanent natural gas backup generators this year.
Finally, on the energy front, I also want to thank PSE&G for completing the upgrade of old cast iron gas lines throughout Hoboken with more flood resilient pipes. Thank you to all our residents for your patience!
On the fun side, Hoboken has some great new amenities coming to town. Trader Joe’s will soon be opening. There’s also going to be a new climbing gym called Gravity Vault that my teenage sons are very excited about. We’ve added a skating rink and soccer pitches under the Viaduct, and we look forward to getting the Northwest Pop-up Park completed by this summer. Our recreation programs are as popular as ever and continue to grow, and this year we added flag football as yet another recreation option.
While we work on the big infrastructure projects, we’re also addressing everyday quality of life issues, like finding more efficient ways to keep our city clean and safe. This year we purchased our first two sidewalk sweepers to keep our sidewalks clean, a hot asphalt machine so we can make longer-lasting pothole repairs even in the winter, and our first snow melting machine to more quickly get rid of those snow piles after major storms.
Regarding development, I know, having talked to many, many residents, that people are very concerned about Hoboken’s level of development, particularly at the north and south neighborhoods of our City where traffic is most severe.
We simply cannot add to the traffic problems we already have at the entrances to Hoboken by overdeveloping those neighborhoods. That is why I am proposing that the remaining development areas in the Southwest and North End have very limited residential development to reduce the number of cars added to our City. Instead, I think there is an opportunity to add commercial development and jobs that rely on public transportation. As we move forward with the planning process, both these rehabilitation areas in the Southwest and the North End will be carefully evaluated and planned to minimize traffic impacts.
The City is also currently working with Hudson County and Jersey City to get a new traffic circulation plan implemented in Southwest Hoboken to provide a much better flow of vehicles while also ensuring pedestrian safety.
While Hoboken needs to be careful in terms of additional residential development, it is very important that we continue to make sure that we have enough affordable housing. I am proud that my Administration, working with the Council, implemented a 10 percent affordable housing set aside, helping to ensure that Hoboken remains a mixed income community. In fact, Hoboken may be the only city in New Jersey to proactively and voluntarily implement this requirement. As a result, we will create over 100 units of new affordable housing for Hoboken in the near future.
Unfortunately, 52 of these 100 units have been tied up in court, but we have won at every level and will continue fighting to make sure these affordable housing units are provided as soon as possible.
In addition, the City has created an operating manual to make certain that those residents who need affordable housing the most have fair access to it. More information on the application process will be provided soon.
We are also helping the other agencies and organizations in Hoboken that support our low and moderate income population. Since we took the step to become an entitlement community in 2015, we have received $2 million in Community Development Block Grant funding, of which we have allocated $1 million to the Hoboken Housing Authority to renovate their elevators. We also gave $300,000 to the Hoboken Shelter for improvements such as upgraded water and sewer lines, a new kitchen exhaust system, and renovated showers and bathrooms, which will improve the quality of service the shelter provides to over 50 people per night. And, I’m proud that because of increased funding, the City is able to support organizations like TRUE Mentors, the Jubilee Center, and HOPES which provide valuable services to our children.
Finally, I want to give a big thank you to all our first responders in the Police and Fire Departments and Hoboken Volunteer Ambulance Corps who work hard every day to make sure our community is safe. Under Chief Peskens’ leadership, the Fire Department has battled some very tough fires and is now even better trained and ready than before. We’ve made significant investments in new equipment, including three new apparatus, to improve our readiness. I want to thank the Fire Department for their fast response to the recent train accident. Their extraction equipment helped to save several lives on that fateful day.
I also want to express our deepest sympathies to the Rivera family on the loss of their teenage son in the Housing Authority last week due to senseless gun violence. I know our Police Department has worked hard and will continue working hard to protect our community.
Thanks to Police Chief Ferrante and the uniformed police officers and investigators of the Hoboken Police Department, violent crime is down more than 16 percent from last year, including a 35 percent reduction in robberies.
Chief Ferrante is also making sure our community is protected from all threats, including terrorism, with the implementation of Hoboken’s first Emergency Services Unit earlier this month. This team of highly trained officers has specialized equipment to handle any type of situation that may arise.
Unfortunately, as we saw from the recent terrorist threats in New York City and New Jersey, terrorism is something that we must be prepared to handle. While I hope that we never face such a threat in Hoboken, I want to assure our residents that thanks to Chief Ferrante’s implementation of the ESU plan and strong partnership with State and Federal agencies, we are taking a proactive approach to protect Hoboken and are ready if an emergency should occur.
Under the Chief’s leadership, the Hoboken Police Department has also expanded its Investigations Bureau and can start its investigations immediately, at any time of day, 24/7. When Zackary Simmons was fatally struck by a hit-and-run in the middle of the night, the investigations unit started their work immediately in the middle of the night. I want to especially thank Detective John Quinones who led us in the Pledge of Allegiance. He is a 4-year officer and first year detective, and he was one of the detectives who did an outstanding job to solve this hit and run case, holding the driver accountable and giving some comfort to the Simmons family. Thank you so much for your service and commitment to Hoboken.
We are making a lot of progress as a community on many fronts, and I am very proud that Hoboken is growing stronger and stronger while also keeping taxes stable. Thanks to some serious team effort, for the eighth straight budget under my administration, municipal taxes will remain stable as they have been since I took office in 2009. And we are doing it in a fiscally responsible way. Taking this City from junk bond status to a AA+ rating is one of my proudest accomplishments.
But at the end of the day, the most important thing about our City is the great quality of life that it provides our residents. I moved to Hoboken 15 years ago as a stay-at-home mom because it was a great town to raise our sons who were just 3 and 1 ½ years old. It is hard to believe that both will be off to college this fall.
If you would have asked me when we first moved here, can Hoboken get better? I would have answered — how can it get any better? But working together as a community over the last ten years, overcoming challenges like Sandy that I never could have imagined, we have made Hoboken an even greater place to live.
So congratulations Hoboken, let’s be proud of our diversity, let’s be proud of our history of immigration, let’s be proud of our commitment to adapt to climate change, and our investments in infrastructure, and let’s keep working to make Hoboken stronger and stronger and stronger. Thank you very much everyone!