Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Hoboken Council members tear into "No Show" Ravi Bhalla and his failed attempt to ram through Railyard Plan with Stronger Foundations PAC

After Mayor Ravi Bhalla's retreated on his efforts to shovel through the Railyard Redevelopment plan late yesterday, a series of official releases have followed from the City Council.

Official release: Councilman Peter Cunningham

Councilman Cunningham: Bhalla, Russo Attempted to Rush Railyard Development to Appease Union Political Donors 

At the October 2 City Council meeting, the administration had requested a vote to approve amendments to the Hoboken Yards Redevelopment Plan, which include the construction of two 300+ feet buildings and improvements to Warrington Plaza. Seeing that the Mayor had not sought community input on the project and failed to produce traffic and feasibility studies, the City Council voted to table the matter until a citywide public hearing could be held so all residents could be afforded the opportunity to have their voices heard and ask questions about the redevelopment plan. 
At last night’s community meeting, residents expressed a great deal of concern about the magnitude of this project. Instead of coming out to listen to his constituents and presenting his reasoning for the amendments, Mayor Bhalla chose to continue spreading misinformation on Nixle about the project while taking credit for a delayed vote that was in fact already done by Council President Jen Giattino. 
“Mayor Bhalla has purposely continued to misrepresent the size and scale of this project to Hoboken residents for his own political gain,” said Councilman Peter Cunningham. “The administration has failed to follow the proper redevelopment amendment protocols to weigh how this could potentially negatively impact our existing community. With Councilman Michael Russo’s support to rush through this approval process, it has become abundantly clear that the two are only concerned about appeasing their union donors and protecting their own campaign contributions. This is the largest redevelopment project in Hoboken’s history and we cannot afford to let politics influence the decisions that will affect our city for decades to come.” 

Official release: Council President Jen Giattino

Council President Jen Giattino Delays Vote on Hoboken Yard Redevelopment Plan to Address Residents’ Concerns 
At the City Council meeting two weeks ago, a vote was delayed on amendments to the Hoboken Yard Redevelopment Plan until residents had the opportunity to express any concerns about the project in a public forum. Within days, the administration announced a community meeting to discuss the plan just one day before the City Council was being asked to again vote on the largest redevelopment project in Hoboken’s history. 
Council President Jen Giattino immediately recognized that less than 24 hours was not nearly enough time for Council members to consider residents’ feedback and make an informed decision about the future of the project. Last week, Council President Giattino asked for the vote to be postponed and carried over to next month’s meeting. 
“As elected representatives of Hoboken, it is our responsibility to listen to the concerns of residents and always vote on policies that are in the best interest of our city,” said Council President Jen Giattino. “When we ask for community feedback, we need time to digest the responses we receive to properly address the issues that are presented to us. One day, just 24 hours, is simply not enough time. It’s unfortunate Mayor Bhalla did not personally field the concerns of Hoboken residents after having asked us to approve a massive redevelopment plan. I’m happy to see the Mayor support the proactive decision made by myself, with the support of several of my colleagues, to suspend a vote until we further review the project with input from the community.” 

Official release: Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher

Councilwoman Fisher Thanks Residents for Attending Community Meeting on Hoboken Railyard, Questions Mayor’s Absence

Last night, over 100 residents and the entire City Council attended a community meeting to share their feedback about the long discussed Hoboken Yard Redevelopment project. During the meeting, the project’s developer, LCOR, and other stakeholders presented residents with an overview of the plan and how it will affect Hoboken in the future. Conspicuously absent, however, was Mayor Ravi Bhalla. 

Before presentations began, Council President Jen Giattino expressed she would not hold a vote on the project at tonight’s City Council meeting to allow for further review, but immediately after the meeting ended, the administration sent out a Nixle alert taking credit for the postponed vote. 

During the meeting, neighbors raised a number of questions about traffic and parking, the environmental impacts of the building and the extent of future development. Brian Barry, of LCOR, presented their plan and gave important context to it. A representative from Maser Engineering gave some color on the traffic study they conducted, but failed to elaborate on exact findings. 

“I am glad that Council President Jen Giattino’s plan to have the resolution tabled is what will happen. We said from the start that 24 hours would not be enough time to receive resident feedback on this important legislation that will affect existing Hoboken residents, business owners, and municipal services,” said Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher. “I think last night’s meeting was extremely constructive, because so many people with differing opinions came together, and we all came out a little more knowledgeable. I was disappointed Mayor Bhalla did not attend the meeting to hear directly from his constituents, but I am glad we did right by the residents of Hoboken in ensuring no decision will be made tonight. I am open to hosting another public forum before a vote takes place. I can promise to be there, and hope that Mayor Bhalla can make time to attend, as well.”

Official release: Councilman Mike DeFusco

Councilman DeFusco Steps Up to Lead Community Conversation About Hoboken Yard Redevelopment Plan in Mayor’s Absence 
While the administration touted a public discussion about the proposed amendments to the Hoboken Yard Redevelopment Plan, Mayor Ravi Bhalla failed to attend last night’s community meeting to listen to residents voice their concerns and ask questions about the project. In his absence, Councilman Mike DeFusco, who chairs the City’s Council’s Southern Development Subcommittee, fielded questions from close to 100 residents about the plan alongside the developers and other stakeholders in the project. 
“Last night, Mayor Bhalla failed to deliver on his promise to hear the concerns of residents about a redevelopment plan that could forever alter downtown Hoboken and our entire city,” said Councilman Mike DeFusco. “The Mayor’s absence from this critical community meeting, one that was scheduled by his own office, further shows he is continuing to hide behind our emergency alert system to communicate with residents instead of meeting with them face to face. Given the growing concern about additional traffic in our neighborhood, it is important for us to make traffic and feasibility studies available for everyone to review before a second vote is held by the City Council. I remain committed to a responsible redevelopment plan in southern Hoboken and I’m confident that once the appropriate documents and information are made public, we can move a plan forward by years end. 
Councilman DeFusco supports the Council President’s decision to postpone a vote on the project until the feedback received last night can be reviewed. 

Ram-it-Through Ravi Bhalla backs down on his Big Construction Union PAC friends redevelopment in face of community blowback

Ravi Bhalla's attempt to ram through
his construction union's PAC plans
for Hoboken are stalled, for now.
In an oddly timed announcement the night before a City Council meeting set to vote again on Mayor Ravi Bhalla's Special Interest big union construction redevelopment plan, the mayor blinked.

Late last night, Ravi Bhalla put out an email announcing a retreat on the vote for the Railyards Redevelopment Plan he put up previously. As they say in politics, everyone claims to parent a winner but a loser is an orphan.

The Ravi Bhalla retreat came with a canard planted blaming the City Council for an "amendment" that is no amendment; it's an enormous redevelopment plan totaling almost three million square feet full bore.

The blowback from the community comes with activists angered by Ravi Bhalla's previous attempt to ram through the redevelopment with no community announcement, nor any public meeting to discuss his proposed open-ended three million square foot redevelopment featuring a 28-story residential building at the lower end of town for starters.

An endorsement of Bhalla's entire council slate late last month by Stronger Foundations, the operating engineers union PAC was kept secret until discovered by community activists and publicized here and elsewhere, leading into the previous council meeting and further angering the public. It put his entire council slate in jeopardy heading into the November election.

The retreat by the mayor's office is temporary and means the political pressure to strongarm an approval right before the council ward elections are staved off, for now.

 The imminent threat of Dark Money efforts from special interests inside and outside Hoboken aligned with Ravi Bhalla and his ambitions for higher political office is greatly heightened.

The next wave of political assaults on Hoboken can be expected shortly. Stronger Foundations pumped over $70,000 backing Ravi Bhalla for mayor in 2017 officially and its union members stuffed into the Multi-Service Center in a show of force last night to no avail.

They'll be back. They'll all be back. Brace for impact Hoboken.

Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher: 'Hoboken stood up for itself against Ravi Bhalla's big Redevelopment Plan'

Official release:

Dear friends and neighbors – 
A few quick comments first on tonight’s City Council Agenda, then an update from last night’s meeting:
As disclosed last summer, the second benchmark date for the Monarch settlement is tomorrow with a resolution that conditionally designates Shipyard Associates as the developer of the DPW site and allows the city to enter into a cost sharing agreement with them.  Basically this is just a perfunctory step in any redevelopment project that provides that the developer pay for the City’s project related costs.  There is another one of these agreements on the agenda for another project as well at 931 Madison.  I expect this to be passed unanimously on consent.  The only reason it may get pulled for discussion would be for political purposes – to make it more visible that I will again refrain from voting on the resolution.  
Why do I refrain from voting?  I have taken the position for my entire time on the City Council that because I, like over 400 of my neighbors, have a view impact if Monarch is built, the ethically right thing to do is refrain from voting.  I know there is a pathway for me to vote given the impact to me is shared with many others and because Monarch was a platform issue for me – meaning people voted for me specifically because I led the public advocacy.  But I believe strongly that any settlement or activities relating to Monarch will need to have unanimous support of the Council to pass.  And so far this has been the case – it is either a good deal for all stakeholders and everyone gets behind it – like the current settlement, or it isn’t – like the one from two years ago.  And please note that through my continuing advocacy to make sure Hoboken is never the underdog in any development related matters - by bringing better financial and real estate tools to all negotiations - this benefits all real estate related discussions including Monarch.
There are no votes on either of these on tonight’s agenda.  I know many members of the community have asked if legislation on each of these would be put forth prior to the upcoming election, so I wanted to let you know there will not be any votes on these tonight.
We came.  We saw.  We are carrying.  
First and foremost, I am so proud of all my neighbors who came out last night and who emailed me with comments.  We had a full house at the Multi-Service Center including all nine council members.  And I know you are probably tired of me saying this by now, but I really believe that more voices are better.
The meeting itself I felt was very constructive overall.  City Council President Giattino informed the group upfront that the vote on the plan will not be tonight, but rather will be carried to a future meeting.  I think this actually allowed for a better discussion as it took the pressure off.  She had directed the administration on this last week but due to a glitch on the online agenda I didn’t see it until late yesterday.  You may have seen last night that the mayor, who did not attend the meeting, sent out a Nixle alert after the meeting asking the Council to table the vote to give time for more public input.  
Our neighbors raised a number of questions about traffic and parking, the environmental impacts of the building, and future development.  Brian Barry of LCOR (the developer) presented their plan and gave important context to it.  A traffic engineer from Maser engineering gave some color on the traffic study they did (for LCOR) but limited her comments to say that traffic would be worse (shock).  Councilman DeFusco suggested that the Council not vote again until the public can see the traffic study.
LCOR’s presentation.  Brian Barry gave the same presentation he had given to me and other council members.  He stressed the level of activity between all the stakeholders (NJ Transit, Port Authority, NJDEP, Governor Murphy’s Office) to get to this point.  And walked the crowd through all the constraints on the site that led to the proposed amendment which I think many in the crowd appreciated including:
he felt that the future development site was not buildable if the RBD resist structure is built (I still question this).  
  • He told the crowd that the reason for changing the use of the second building from commercial to residential is due to the footprint constraint – they need 30,000 square feet per floor for a commercial tenant, and they only have 16,000 square feet there because of RBD.
  • He also felt the residential use will probably be smaller footprint apartments and more transient type residents given its location between an active railyard and observer highway (he stressed it probably would not attract a lot of families).  
  • He indicated that the buildings that were presented are just massing and not the final design – meaning they do not plan to build just blocks as presented (that actually may mean they get taller, but skinnier/more architecturally interesting).  
  • In terms of timing, he indicated he will need two full years to deliver an actual redevelopment agreement, but getting approval for the plan provides the confidence to spend all the money etc. on the various necessary studies, reports, and technical plans.
So where does that leave us?  In a nutshell, this is about the differences between the developer’s priorities and the City’s.  But that is no different than any development that happens in Hoboken.  The goal is to find as much common ground as possible and enough common ground that it works for all parties.  The challenge here is that for Hoboken, the potential population growth that we face is at the root of all of our quality of life concerns.  And most development – especially residential – feeds this growth.  So tonight we saw the passion from our neighbors concerning traffic congestion, stress on our infrastructure and lack of capacity on all of our transportation lines, and concerns about what adding 500 transient residents to our downtown area might look like.  Now it is up to us – and by us, I mean the public, the developer and your elected representatives - to find the pathway to enough common ground that can work.
A lot more to come…
At the end of last night’s community meeting at around 945 pm, I spoke with representatives of the union that I have referenced before who have been behind attack ads and recently endorsed a number of Hoboken candidates, including my opponent.  That union has 38 Hoboken members, several in the room last night. These are people I have met before and to me it was the same kind of constructive conversation I have always had with them.  I believe I was able to get them to understand the importance of public input in large developments such as the Rail Yards and they expressed their frustrations with the project taking 14 years.   As if on cue, we were interrupted by Vijay Chaudhuri, the City’s Communications Director and the mayor’s former campaign manager who said “the Mayor is on the phone and wants to speak with both of you...”  Five minutes later the City’s Nixle alert went out with the mayor asking the Council to delay its vote.  But even more incredible is his statement actually suggests that the proposed amendment is now somehow the City Council's and not his.  I can only shake my head...
Tonight is the last council meeting before Election Day which means hopefully the end of what is tragically known as “silly season”.  And no one is more relieved than me.  Hopefully beginning November 6th, we can just get back to business and leave the unfortunate election politics that Hoboken is known for behind.   
As always, please forward to anyone you think may be interested in this.  And feel free to email me at or call me at 201/208-1674 to discuss what you have read or anything else that is important to you.  If you haven’t already, visit MY WEBSITE is up and running where you can find the DONATIONlink to help with my re-election campaign and a lot of information including my PLATFORM and all of my PUBLIC STATEMENTS. Thank you to everyone who has told me they are supporting me, to those who have already shown their support, and to all of you who will be voting for me on November 5th.  If you still have any questions that you want me to answer that will help you get to yes, if you are not there already, please just let me know.
Hoboken City Council, 2nd Ward
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