Wednesday, December 19, 2018

City Council: Weed, sleaze and political ops

Tonight is the last City Council meeting for 2018 and the polar vortex heading our way is going to make for one helluva global warming winter. Bundle up!

As the year ends, the City Council conducts its final meeting for 2018 and will hold final ordinance readings on marijuana. Mayor Ravi Bhalla wanted three weed stores approved and raring to go by year's end making the weed merchants do bong hits with glee and of course write checks out to Mayor Bhalla or a Ravi PAC. (See below for more.)

The Hoboken City Council has a more guarded stance on allowing the gizz to blow in the Mile Square wind. Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher is seeking final approval to install a temporary ban on any marijuana establishment within the city limits. This, at least until some clarity on the rule of law comes from the state capital in Trenton. So far, passage in some form anticipated this year stalled out completely.

The second ward policy wonk appears to have the upper hand and sentimental support of her council colleagues for the ordinance. This has the mayor's office, chock-full of aides more than a bit unhappy. She's in the way doing what she feels is best for Hoboken. Fisher is not getting the message that it's what Ravi Bhalla wants that matters. They seek a rubber-stamp to replace her next year but in the interim, they'll have to settle with calling this opposition racist.

Does that mean we should expect to see Bhalla Chief of Staff John Allen whipping out race-baiting attacks with friend number three showing up to team up with bomb thrower Patty Waiters tonight? How fast can said friendly political operative leave the City Council after reading the scripted attacks and head over to his house to pick up the loot?

The lawyerly John Allen doesn't appear able to muster any claptrap of an answer as to his political operations against council members, future ops and of course the boss' involvement.

They're so gosh darn quiet, not a creature is stirring in the mayor's office, not even a louse.

Talking Ed Note: Councilman Mike DeFusco will see a final vote on an ordinance eliminating one of three mayoral aides. Should anyone leave, no replacement would be permitted.

In his first year as Hoboken mayor, Ravi Bhalla has three mayoral aides being paid over $285,000.

In her first year as Hoboken mayor, Dawn Zimmer had one mayoral aide being paid $35,000.

Do the politics, I mean math.

Councilman Mike DeFusco: "Marijuana in the Mile Square, and more..."

Official release:

As we wrap up the year and hunker down for the holidays, I wanted to quickly update you on what's been going on around Hoboken....

You may have heard that the State of New Jersey has proposed permitting marijuana dispensaries. Legalizing marijuana on a statewide level could mean that thousands of young men, primarily of African American and Hispanic descent, will no longer have their lives permanently altered by a drug arrest. It also means a major opportunity for entrepreneurs to create a new market and for municipalities to reap the benefits of economic development. There are of course several important questions that have to be answered about legalization, and this conversation is ongoing at the state level.

While the concept is intriguing, I feel the proposed recreational marijuana law being considered in Trenton can be made better. The State Legislature and Governor are still in negotiations and will not have a law passed before the end of the year, and many local officials are arguing for more generous tax benefits and protections for municipalities, and I support those goals.  On the medicinal front, the State issued six medicinal dispensary licenses, none of which are within Hoboken.  Despite this, Mayor Bhalla had been rushing a local ordinance that would permit recreational and medical dispensaries within our city, a move that seems to be putting the cart before the horse.
November 19th community meeting discussing marijuana in Hoboken 
I am very receptive to the conversation, however, I feel it’s unadvisable to rush into passing local law until the state law has passed.  Additionally, in its current form, the Mayor’s ordinance places the bulk of potential dispensary locations in my downtown district, the First Ward, without any plans in place to ensure neighborhood quality of life, or provide any indications of how the increased revenue would be spent.  As such, I have worked with the City Council to temporarily table the recreational ordinance pending guidance from Trenton and adjustments to our local legislation.

However, tonight, the City Council will still consider two marijuana-related ordinances….  

The first permits medical marijuana dispensaries in Hoboken and the second temporarily halts the granting of zoning permits to dispensaries until the City Council and Mayor can agree on a more substantive, long-term plan. In regards to medicinal dispensaries, the City’s Planning Board recommended altering the ordinance to make dispensaries “conditional” permitting more board and community involvement.  I fully agree.  In regards to the temporary ban, I am in support so long as conversations are not stymied and we develop an ordinance that adds financial incentives and quality of life assurances for the neighborhood(s) impacted.

Let me be abundantly clear that to gain my support on zoning for future dispensaries, a large portion of revenue generated from sales will need to benefit the immediate neighborhood -- by fixing infrastructure, like sidewalks and streets, improving public amenities and adding more dedicated city services, like maintenance and police. By no means should the revenue generated be used to stuff budget shortfalls, acting as a temporary fix to cover this administration’s overspending, or pet projects that can be funded in other ways.

Marijuana legalization would create an enormous societal change for our state that would have benefits and consequences on Hoboken, whether intended or unintended. As a Council member, it’s my job to make sure that Hoboken and the First Ward are prepared for this new circumstance and ready to take advantage of this industry while protecting our neighborhoods and our quality of life. I will be holding a neighborhood community meeting on this topic in the coming weeks, and will distribute scheduling information shortly via my social media platforms. 

Hoboken has a unique opportunity to have an unimpeded and interconnected waterfront at the former Union Dry Dock site along Sinatra Drive. I stand with the mayor and a unified City Council in saying that we must do everything within our power to protect that space as public park land, for the benefit of generations to come. However, I am troubled by the lack of accountability.  
For over nine years the now-mayor sat on the City Council, many as Council President, but always as the right-hand man to our last mayor. Through that period, the city had the opportunity to purchase the property at market value but passed because leadership at the time hoped to acquire it once Union Dry Dock ceased operations. Unfortunately, what they didn’t foresee was another maritime operation, like New York Waterway, stepping in and buying the property once the former dry dock vacated the site.

Then, just last January, our new mayor pointed to outgoing Governor Christie as the problem, before changing direction and placing responsibility with our state’s new executive, Governor Murphy. This all without seemingly understanding that NYWW is an important transportation provider for the state, and it was a logistical, not political, decision.  In April the Mayor announced an “agreement” with the governor that he said would solve things; however, last week  the Army Corps of Engineers granted approvals to build, dispelling the notion of progress.  So now, the mayor is back to petitioning Governor Murphy to fix this municipal mistake.  

We can’t go back in time, but as we look forward for productive solutions, it’s important to understand how we got here.

One of those proposed solutions is the potential of moving ferry fueling operations to the Lackawanna Terminal, which certainly deserves consideration as it’s the terminus for New Jersey Transit and PATH. Operationally it remains to be seen how a ferry maintenance facility could operate without direct road access or how they safely fuel vessels within the busiest transit hub in the state -- with over 60,000 commuters passing through daily. Similarly, how we brace for significantly increased downtown traffic, including industrial sized vehicles when the roads surrounding the terminal are already packed at rush hour, is something that I am very concerned about.

There are more questions than I have answers for at this time, but do hope that this is not just another position crafted by the mayor's press team to kick the can or reassign blame. I am ready to roll up my sleeves and work with everyone to create a remarkable, one of a kind, waterfront park while simultaneously building a stronger transit hub for the entire city and state.