Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Mayor Zimmer focuses on flooding, infrastructure and Hoboken's future



Remarks of Mayor Dawn Zimmer – As Prepared for Delivery
State of the City Address
DeBaun Auditorium, Stevens Institute of Technology
Hoboken, New Jersey
February 10, 2015



As Prepared for Delivery—

Good evening everyone. Thank you so much for coming out tonight. Thank you to President Farvardin for the introduction and to Stevens for once again hosting tonight’s event. Stevens is fortunate to have your strong leadership to continue to build upon a great institution. And I am thankful for the great relationship we have built over the years and for all of the ways we collaborate to improve the university and the city.

The state of the City of Hoboken is strong and growing stronger every day. The signs are everywhere. Pearson Education is bringing their headquarters and 900 jobs to Hoboken. Jet, an e-commerce startup that’s looking to take on Amazon, is also opening their headquarters along our waterfront this spring. A new independent bookstore will be opening up in May. We have the most active tech meetup in New Jersey. Mission 50’s co-working space is scheduled to triple in size with a new facility near our PATH. 

Just in time for the 100 year anniversary of Frank Sinatra, the Sinatra Café will reopen soon with a new Italian restaurant called Blue Eyes. Hoboken was voted the best downtown in North Jersey.  We've got a new park under the Viaduct with the coolest lighting thanks to the County, and Hoboken has added batting cages for all our growing young athletes. The United Nations just recognized Hoboken as a role model for flood risk management – only the second role model city in the country after San Francisco.

All of these things are happening because Hoboken is an amazing place to live, work, learn, play, and visit.

So tonight, I want to talk about my vision for Hoboken and how we can build upon our already tremendous community. My focus this year and in the years ahead will be on three main areas: resiliency, infrastructure, and quality of life.

When it comes to resiliency, I must confess that I am obsessed with addressing the flooding. It may be because my house flooded or because my husband didn’t move our car. But as I reflect on it, the memory of the mountains of debris on our sidewalks is seared into my mind, and I just don’t want to see our City go through that ever again.

That’s why I am very proud that this year, with the help of many members of our community, we won the Rebuild by Design competition and $230 million to protect Hoboken and our neighbors in Weehawken and Jersey City from flooding. It is a historic opportunity to protect our city. For those who aren’t yet familiar with it, the Rebuild by Design plan has four components: Resist, to protect our shoreline from future storm surges, Delay and Store to manage storm water and prevent it from overwhelming our sewer system, and Discharge, to drain and pump the water back into the river in cases of emergency.

The funding for this competition will likely cover the Resist component of the plan, which uses the Dutch-inspired “park as defense” approach to protect our city from catastrophic flooding while making sure we protect our waterfront and access to our waterfront. It’s thanks to the hard work of many committed activists in our community that our waterfront is the treasure of our city, and this plan is designed to make sure it stays that way.

Tonight I want to especially highlight one of those activists who has done more than almost anyone to fight for our waterfront. For more than 40 years, she has fought for historic preservation, open space, sustainability, sound regional planning, and yes, the beautiful waterfront we enjoy today.

She is the founder and coordinator of the Hoboken Quality of Life coalition and is president of the Hudson River Waterfront Conservancy. Unfortunately she couldn’t be here tonight, but please join me in thanking Helen Manogue for everything she has done for Hoboken.

Helen has also agreed to be a co-chair of the Rebuild by Design citizen’s advisory committee that will play a key part in providing community input into this important project, so I thank her for taking on this critical role.

One of the exciting projects that I hope we can complete soon to build upon our amazing waterfront is a boathouse at Hoboken Cove. Through a public planning process, we’ve completed the conceptual plan, and it is my goal to get this boathouse built as the first phase of a “park as defense” plan along our border with Weehawken. This project demonstrates how we can combine flood protection with a community amenity with a boat house built into a flood berm.  

A new boathouse has been a vision of the Hoboken Cove Boathouse organization for many years. Carter Craft was a co-founder of the organization and has served on the board since 2006. He also founded the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, and I’m glad that along with Helen, he has agreed to co-chair the Rebuild by Design citizens’ advisory committee.

Thank you Carter.


In the meantime, the City is moving forward on a variety of fronts to implement the Delay, Store, and Discharge elements of our flood plan which would help to deal with the kind of flash flooding events that Hoboken faces on a regular basis.

Many of these projects are designed not just to address flooding, but to provide other benefits to our community like open space.

I first got involved in politics as a resident of Southwest Hoboken advocating for a local park. So I am especially proud that later this year, we will finally be breaking ground on the first phase of Hoboken’s long-awaited Southwest Park. 

It will convert an asphalt lot into a much-needed urban oasis for the neighborhood. And just as importantly, it is being designed with rain gardens, permeable pavers and underground detention chambers to hold up to 250,000 gallons of storm water as part of the Delay and Store elements of our flood resiliency master plan.

We’re also in negotiations as part of the redevelopment process to create a nearly 2 acre park and plaza space at 7th Street and Jackson Street and behind the Monroe Center. This park is also being designed with green infrastructure to keep over 350,000 gallons of storm water runoff out of our sewer system.

In northwest Hoboken, we are in negotiations to acquire a 6 acre property owned by BASF to build a multi-purpose resiliency project. It would include a large 6 acre surface park and an underground detention chamber for at least 5 million gallons of water - potentially enough to solve almost all flash flooding in northwest Hoboken and protect our critical sanitation services with North Hudson Sewerage Authority. 

This is a complicated but very exciting project that is attracting a lot of interest from across the country. I want to especially thank North Hudson Sewerage Authority for being a great partner as we move forward. As part of this project, we are working closely with them to explore the creation of an “Eco District” that would separate out the sewer system in northern Hoboken and direct the storm water to this new detention chamber.

And I thank the members of my Administration for managing these initiatives and all nine members of the City Council for their support and leadership on these important projects. I also want to welcome our new Finance Director Linda Landolfi and Vijay Chaudhuri as my new Chief of Staff. And I thank Dan Bryan, Solomon Steplight, and Chief Falco and Chief Garcia for their service to our City.

Beyond these larger park projects, we’re implementing the delay and store strategies into almost all aspects of what we do. For example, redevelopment projects require green roofs. And this spring as part of our resurfacing projects, you’ll start to see rain gardens that capture storm water and double as curb extensions to make our streets safer.

The delay and store components of the master plan effectively function as a parallel green sewer system to handle the stormwater runoff and prevent our combined sewer system from being overwhelmed and backing up sewage into our streets. The more of these projects we build over time, the more capacity we will have to avoid flooding. 

So I’m glad to say that in partnership with North Hudson Sewerage Authority, construction on Hoboken’s second flood pump will begin soon. This will enable us to protect from flooding by discharging excess water in emergency situations.  

Each of us can be part of Hoboken's resiliency. This spring, City Hall will become a model for how city blocks can be more sustainable. Through rain gardens, permeable sidewalks, and several large cisterns, City Hall will be redesigned to be able to capture and retain all of the stormwater from a 6 hour long 100-year storm instead of sending that water into our sewer system. 

One of the main reasons for our flooding is that over 80% of Hoboken’s surface is impervious, and all the rainwater that hits those surfaces eventually goes into our sewer system. As more and more residents add green roofs on their homes, plant street trees, install rain barrels in their back yards, and use permeable materials for their sidewalks, we are moving towards removing millions of gallons of water out of our sewer system and dramatically reducing the flooding situation. 

So in addition to the larger projects that the City is undertaking, residents are realizing that they play a role in helping Hoboken to be more resilient. In fact, I want to thank the Shade Tree Commission members for helping with this effort by recently persuading over 50 Hoboken residents to plant new trees in front of their homes and agreeing to care for the trees. We'll be planting even more trees in the spring.

Resiliency is about more than just addressing flooding or building physical infrastructure. It’s also about building social resilience, and there’s someone here tonight who I want to recognize for the role he has played in making our community more resilient. He’s done that by building a 100-person volunteer team of trained first responders. 

You’ve probably seen our Community Emergency Response Team members dressed in green helping with crowds or hosting a table at a community event, but they’re also staffing warming centers and shelters, and during major events, our emergency operations center. Our CERT team has been recognized by FEMA and its coordinator Lou Casciano has been honored by the White House. Please join me in thanking Lou Casciano and the entire CERT team for their tremendous work.

Thank you, Lou.

Speaking of social resiliency, I also want to congratulate our American Legion veterans on moving back into their post with the help of Rotary Club volunteers. We are also very excited to be working with the American Legion to apply for grant funding to make their post even more resilient for the long term. This important project will also add affordable housing options for veterans and our community.

As I mentioned, there’s more to resiliency besides flooding. For example, many of us experienced during Sandy what happens when our power grid goes down.

So I want to turn the focus now to infrastructure, and what we’re doing to fix and improve our city’s old infrastructure.

After Sandy, I advocated strongly and testified before the Board of Public Utilities in support of investments to protect our power grid by elevating our electrical substations. Today, as you may have seen, PSE&G is working north of 16th Street to expand one of their electrical substations and raise it up so that it is protected from flooding. PSE&G is also planning to combine their other two substations in Hoboken into one and elevate that combined substation. 

And it’s been impossible to miss all of the roads being dug up around town as PSE&G is upgrading all of the old low pressure cast iron gas mains in Hoboken with plastic pipe at a higher pressure that prevents water from entering mains. Thanks very much to Joel Mestre, our road opening and closure guru, for coordinating everyone on all of this critical work in our City.

And thank you to our residents for your patience. I know infrastructure is not quite as exciting as a new park, but it is just as critical to our future. So I look forward to planning some kind of gas line ribbon cutting party. I’ll leave that to Juan and Vijay to figure that out.

From the City’s end, we partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy and Sandia National Labs to design a microgrid that would power important facilities like City Hall, police headquarters, supermarkets, pharmacies, and gas stations, even during power outages. It’s a project too expensive to take on ourselves, but we’re exploring funding it through a combination of grants and public-private financing. More immediately, we will also be installing large backup generators at City Hall, police headquarters, all fire houses, and the Hoboken Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

This will also be a big year for investing in our roads. This spring, working with the County, we’ll be repaving Observer Highway and converting it from a dangerous high speed thruway into a safer street with shorter crossing distances and a two-way protected bike lane from Marin Boulevard to Hoboken Terminal. 

At the same time, we’ll make dramatic traffic calming and pedestrian safety improvements to two blocks of Newark Street which have enormous pedestrian volumes every day. The block of Newark to the east of Washington Street will be converted from asphalt to cobblestone and a new plaza will be created at the corner with Washington Street with trees, tables, and chairs. Curb extensions throughout the project will reduce crossing distances for pedestrians. Both of these projects are being funded through major grants the City has been able to secure.

In addition, we know how bad many of our streets are, so we’ll be repaving more than 50 blocks of roadway this year and making pedestrian safety improvements to 11 targeted intersections. I thank the City Council for approving the bonding to fund these much-needed improvements, but we need a more consistent funding stream in order to be able to keep our roads properly maintained. The reality is that in the past, the State provided over a million dollars per year in aid for repaving our roads. Now that amount has dropped to under $400,000 per year - barely enough to pave a few blocks each year. And with the State’s Transportation Trust Fund nearing insolvency and federal dollars dwindling, we need to find another solution.

That funding will come from new meters that will be installed city-wide this year. As you may know, we will be installing parking meters on all visitor sides of the street, similar to the pilot program we’ve run in northern Hoboken for the past two years. Anyone with a parking permit will still be able to park for free, but those without a permit will have to pay at the meter. In addition to encouraging turnover and freeing up parking for residents, I have committed that the revenue generated from this program will be invested in transportation infrastructure like repaving our streets, including Washington Street, and building new garages.

On Washington Street, we are also looking to install underground fiber optic cabling that would provide for future innovation and create potential new revenue streams for the City.

Again, the unfortunate reality is that the State and Federal government are no longer providing the resources we need to maintain our roads, so this is how we can make sure that we have a steady source of revenue to reinvest into improving our infrastructure.

Now I want to talk some more about parking, because it’s one of the biggest quality of life issues we have. We have a severe parking situation in Hoboken. Nobody drives to Manhattan and expects to easily find a parking space, and we have twice as many cars per square mile as Manhattan does. So there are no easy solutions. But I do want to highlight some of what we are doing regarding parking to make things a little easier.

For example, the new meters we will be installing will let visitors pay with their phone. If you’re out at dinner and need another half hour of time or if you decide you want to go shopping or catch a movie afterwards, you’ll be able to add time directly from your phone without having to run back to your car.

And the parking signage – as part of the new meter rollout, we will be redesigning the parking signage city-wide to make it easier to understand.

A common request I hear is that we should build more parking garages. We are looking to build new parking in other areas of the city, but we want everyone to know that through a series of audits, better management, and creating new parking options, we’ve eliminated the waiting lists in most of our municipal garages. I want to repeat that because not everyone may be aware. We have vacancy in our garages, and they cost less than most private garages. And for residents who commute with their cars to work every day and can be out of the garage from 10am to 4pm most weekdays, we offer a new “Monthly Limited” option that gets you 30% off the regular monthly rate.

That’s just one of the new parking products that we offer that people might not be aware of. For residents, if you’re going on vacation and you don’t want to worry about tickets or asking someone to move your car, you can leave your car in a garage at a vacation rate of $5 per day for up to 14 days per year. For business owners and their employees, you can park in our garages for just $5 for a 12 hour period. It’s much less than feeding the meter and it opens up parking for your customers on the street. And for your customers, we launched a very successful pilot valet program that we are making permanent and expanding to other areas. We’ve heard great feedback from businesses and customers about that program.

As much as parking is an issue, Hoboken is at its heart a walking city connected to our region through public transportation. That’s why we all fought so hard to stop the Port Authority from cutting back PATH service, and I thank everyone who raised their voices and helped to make certain we removed that cloud of doubt -- the PATH will continue overnight service.

It’s why I’m excited about the opportunity to renovate Hoboken Terminal through the redevelopment process for NJ Transit’s property. It’s why we bought a new fleet of more reliable shuttle buses for our Hop system, and why this spring we will be launching one of the country’s first next-generation bike share systems in every neighborhood in Hoboken.

Since all of us are pedestrians, we’re continuing to try new ways to make our streets safer. All of our road resurfacing projects are designed according to our complete streets policy, with enhanced pedestrian safety measures at corners. At a few locations, we are piloting new approaches like flashing LED stop signs. We’re looking at accident data and targeting resources where it’s needed the most. We know there’s still more to do, but we are proud that 2014 had the lowest number of pedestrian accidents in at least 8 years.

Pedestrian safety also means making sure drivers obey the rules, including stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks. One of the many great changes our new Police Chief Ferrante has made is tripling the size of the Traffic Bureau and doubling its hours of operations to make sure our traffic laws get the attention they deserve. He also established an 18 officer bike patrol unit that will provide regular patrols of our parks and waterfront as well as educate the public on bike rules and enforce those rules. And maybe most importantly, he’s dramatically expanded police presence on nights and weekends when almost all of our activity happens. I think he’s done a great job so far.

Thank you, Chief Ferrante!

And thank you to all of the police officers and firefighters who help keep our community safe. As just one example, thanks to the very quick response by our fire department, no lives were lost in the New Year’s Day fire at 918 Willow Avenue. Unfortunately, those residents are now displaced and need our help. Our community has come together in the past to help fire victims, and for those who would like to help again, there will be a fundraiser on February 26th at 7:00pm at the Elks Club.

Without help from the community, we too often lose families that are part of the fabric of Hoboken. That’s one of the reasons why we recently completed an audit of affordable housing in our city – to understand exactly how much we have and how it is being used. It found that we have more than 3,500 units of affordable housing – the most per capita of similarly sized cities in the state. Going forward, my focus is to make sure that the affordable housing that we have and the new affordable housing that we are building goes to those who truly need it the most so that we can help to maintain the diversity of our community. As part of the process, we will be creating a one-stop affordable housing website so that everyone knows how to access affordable housing opportunities.

We are also conducting an evaluation of the potential for urban scale manufacturing so we can create different kinds of jobs that will benefit our community and expand the diversity of our economy.

In addition to preserving the families who live here, protecting and enhancing the arts is part of how we make our city a better place to live. I am proud of the role my Administration played in helping to preserve the artists at the Monroe Center, and today it has many new tenants, including new ground floor retail, and is bringing a new energy to western Hoboken. The Neumann Leathers building is another critically important part of our arts community and our history as a center for industry and the arts. 

I am glad to announce that we will soon introduce a rehabilitation plan that preserves and restores the historic industrial building and protects the artists and other creative tenants at Neumann Leathers. Mile Square Theatre is raising funds to open a new theatre space in the vibrant new neighborhood just north of the Viaduct, and I would urge everyone who values the arts in our community to consider supporting this great project. We’re also envisioning the possibility of a new performing arts center near the PATH as part of the redevelopment project along Observer Highway.

Part of what makes Hoboken a very special place is all of the events organized by the City from Movies Under the Stars, to the Arts and Music Festivals, to special events like the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, and so many others. Geri Fallo is the woman that makes all of this happen. Thank you Geri for all the great work you do to make Hoboken such a fun place to live and visit.

Finally, I want to say a few words about our City’s schools. Providing all of our children with a high quality education is one of government’s most important roles, and I am completely committed to supporting all of our City’s public schools. As some of you know, both of my sons attended the Elysian Charter School and my younger son Alex will be attending Hoboken High School in the fall. So I know firsthand how important both our traditional school district and our charter schools are to our City’s families. And as mayor, I will do everything I can to help make all of our schools as successful as they can be.

Our City is the envy of the region and we're just getting better every day! Crime is down, our credit rating is up, exciting businesses are moving in, schools are improving, new parks are being built, we’re investing in our infrastructure, and we are on the cusp of solving a century-old flooding problem. There is a lot to be hopeful for, I am excited for what our future holds. Thank you again for coming out tonight, and I look forward to continuing to work every day to make our city a place we can all be proud of. Thank you.


photo copyright MSV 2015