Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Joshua Sotomayor Einstein: Breaking down the Ravi Bhalla bait and switch

Joshua Sotomayor Einstein breaks down the bait and switch Mayor Ravi Bhalla offered in his State of the City speech. At the time of submission, the Bhalla Budget Debacle was thought in the area of $7.5 million and not the potentially worse range surfacing in the last City Council meeting, $14 million.

In his “State of the City” address, Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla continued the age-old tradition of touting initiatives began under the past administrations as personal victories, highlighting policy initiatives that are beyond the power of the municipality, using a Band-Aid approach to major issues, and ignoring the elephant in the room – the $7.5 million dollar budget hole. Masked as an apolitical update on city developments, the thinly veiled partisan speech was a sad, though not unexpected, continuation of Bhalla’s addiction to politics-as-usual. 
The mayor began his talk on infrastructure by hyping the North West Park, a six acre public space with a $100 million plus price tag that could have been free to the tax payer had city hall let an apartment complex be built on half an acre, but for which the city decided to spend the public’s money on. (The cisterns being built under the park have been brought up time and time again as a panacea against another horrific flooding, but the fact remains that as water runs towards the lowest point, in another massive flood situation, the cisterns {which will fill} will not magically elevate most of Hoboken above sea level.)

Bhalla then reiterated his support for a light rail stop north of the viaduct, a plan the Port Authority has had on the books since 2014. On the regular water main breaks, resultant flooding, and the perennial sink holes Hoboken faces from an ancient water delivery system, the mayor celebrated his as-of-yet-unfinished goal of replacing 2.7 miles of water mains, less than 6% of the entire system, by the end of 2020.
Mayor Ravi Bhalla, can you be censured by the public?
After infrastructure, Mayor Bhalla spent a significant amount of his political speech peddling his “Zero Vision” agenda of making life more difficult for residents by killing parking spots, narrowing Hoboken’s already anorexic roadways with barrier based bike lanes, (often driven over) curb bump-outs, and adding the equivalent of thousands of new “micro” vehicles for which traffic rules are rarely if ever enforced. The barrier based bike lanes, which were resoundingly rejected by the public during the open discussions in the run up to the botched Washington Street redevelopment, had their second debut at a community meeting in October of 2019 to a chorus of residents, cyclists included, again rejecting them.
Though Bhalla seemingly actually believes shrinking the streetscape while clogging it with thousands of unpoliced scooter-ists will result in fewer accidents rather than increase roadway chaos; he has conveniently set his goal of zero injuries and fatalities long after he is likely out of office (2030). Peddling the falsehood that there is such a thing as a free lunch, the mayor practically begged for applause when he mentioned that the municipal bus service known as the “Hop” is “free of charge for residents,” as if residents were not already paying for the city bus through taxes.
Next up was the mayors attempted national-level virtue signaling in which he attacked President Trump for not upholding the Paris Accords, a non-treaty never brought by President Obama to the Senate for ratification. Once again, Bhalla put the goal posts for his supposedly sincerely held priority of having the city government go carbon neutral far into the future – 2050. Continuing the topic of faux environmentalism, the mayor pivoted to his ban on the formerly recyclable shopping bags abusing the English language by maintaining his incorrect labeling of them as “single use.” Interestingly, Bhalla failed to bring up the new municipal public dog waste bag stations that have popped up around town which offer free plastic dog waste bags. This, even though many residents once saved their recyclable shopping bags for re-use, disposing of dog waste among them.
Based on the amount of time given the varied topics the mayor spoke on, one could be forgiven for thinking Hoboken was but until recently an urban-hellscape-meets-concrete-prison devoid of any parks or public space rather than the beautiful charming city that it has been for decades. Though opponents of individual property rights have celebrated the seizing of the New York Waterway marina property at the old Union Dry Dock as a fait accompli, Mayor Bhalla acknowledged the theft is not yet a done deal, stating that “I would be remiss if I did not reiterate my administrations unwavering commitment to securing Union Dry Dock to create a water front park.” Of course, tens of thousands of Hoboken residents are satisfied with Hoboken’s already existing parks and public spaces encompassing 90% of the waterfront and do not want the taxpayer to pay $30-60 million dollars in eminent domain compensation, legal fees, and park construction costs. 
The mayors next topic was that of businesses in Hoboken, during which he counterintuitively claimed both that business life in town needed “revitalization” while implying it was doing well. Bhalla ignored the dozens of empty store fronts on Washington Street and across town, as well as the reputation City Hall has of making life needlessly difficult for small business owners but did mention the recently created Special Improvement District (SID). Like cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face, the city budget, which allegedly included beautification and cultural events, such as the SID is supposed to engage in, did not shrink nor were pre-existing municipal funds transferred to the SID. Rather the Hoboken SID, which unlike any other SID across New Jersey covers the entire municipality, charges yet another tax on many commercial and residential properties in order to “support” business. 
The full list of the mayors factually challenged fairy tales is too long to continue. But the highlight was Bhalla’s assertion that he has a “fiscally responsibly approach to spending” as if the long list of items he claimed credit for had not needlessly cost Hoboken resident’s through tax increases, hiking permit fees, a predatory parking authority that is used to pad the municipal budget, and much more. Hoboken deserves better than the politics-as-usual, parks above all else, political patronage, and virtue signaling agenda of a mayor committed to doubling down on the same poor practices which resulted in the Hoboken budget hole of $7.5 million. Fortunately, Bhalla will likely be a one term mayor, unfortunately for Hoboken, it’s going to be a while until the next mayoral election in 2021.