3rd Annual State of the City remarks by Mayor Dawn Zimmer
As Prepared for Delivery –
Good evening everyone. Thank you for being here. I want to welcome you to my 3rd Annual State of the City address on the Stevens campus. Thank you to Provost Korfiatis for the warm welcome and to President Favardin and Stevens for hosting us again. This year, given the dedicated volunteerism from the Stevens community for Hoboken in our time of need, it is more appropriate than ever to hold my address here at Stevens.As we all know, Hurricane Sandy was by far the biggest event of the last year. Despite the unprecedented flooding of our City, I am so proud that together we kept our residents safe through the most incredible teamwork I have ever seen.I want to start by thanking our first responders including the Police, Fire, OEM, employees from the Parking Utility, as well as our Hoboken Volunteer Ambulance Corps for working tirelessly to protect our community. Thank you to Police Chief Falco, Fire Chief Blohm, Public Safety Director Tooke, Parking Utility manager Anthony Ricciardi, President of the Hoboken Volunteer Ambulance Corps Tom Molta, and your impressive teams for all of your work to protect the City. And thank you to all of my directors as well for becoming Sandy crisis managers.Thank you Governor Christie. His leadership helped pull our state through, and his bipartisanship showed us all the need to put people before politics. I look forward to working with him along with federal and state agencies as we apply for critical funding that will help us mitigate the effect of future storms.I also want to thank Secaucus Mayor Gonnelli for reaching out and helping Hoboken in our time of need. Despite the fact that his own home was flooded, Mayor Gonnelli immediately offered assistance to our City. He provided lighting equipment to ensure that PS&G could work through the night to get our substations back online, and it seemed like limitless supplies to help our citizens in their time of need. Thank you Mayor Gonnelli for being there for Hoboken.And thank you also to Weehawken Mayor Turner. We all remember the fuel shortage shortly after the storm. Mayor Turner provided us with fuel we needed just to keep our emergency vehicles running. His Emergency Management Coordinator Geo Ahmad is here to represent Mayor Turner, and we thank him so much for coming to our aid.Our first responders were supported by an incredible Community Emergency Response Team and over 5,000 volunteers, including our Relief Coordinator Carly Ringer. I want to thank each and every person who volunteered to keep our community safe through Hurricane Sandy. There were quite a few close calls, but thanks to a lot of hard work, stair climbing, knocking on doors, and perseverance, everyone in Hoboken was kept safe through the storm.There are so many people and organizations to thank that it is not possible to name everyone, but I do want to highlight some extraordinary efforts that demonstrate the resilient spirit of our community.First, Lou Casciano, a CERT team leader. Before the storm, Lou took the initiative and worked with the City to successfully apply for a CERT grant that provided equipment that was crucial throughout the storm. During the storm he was there to do anything and everything to keep the community safe, and now he and Tom Molta have been instrumental in organizing our next 8-week CERT team training that is in progress right now. It will ensure that through our next storm, our shelters and our emergency command centers are even more prepared with highly trained and dedicated volunteers. Lou and Tom, please stand so that we can thank you for your service to our City.During the storm, I met seniors very anxious about how they were going to fill their medical prescriptions. We quickly recognized that prescriptions had to be filled if we were going to keep our seniors safe, and the Hoboken Volunteer Ambulance Corps developed a system to respond to this need. We sent out tweets and Facebook posts asking for volunteer doctors and pharmacists able to write and fill prescriptions.Doctor Dana Spivak, physician’s assistant Maureen Thyne, nurse practitioner Craig Sorkin, and pharmacist Sharon See answered that call for help. Thanks to their team effort, a medical emergency response program was quickly launched and a makeshift pharmacy was set up in Council chambers. Volunteers spread out across the city to knock on doors to ask if seniors needed help.They came back with prescription bottles or whatever their needs were, and our team, with the help of the CVS across the street, filled more than 500 prescriptions. Volunteers then delivered those prescriptions back to our seniors. I would like to ask Dr. Spivak, Maureen Thyne, Craig Sorkin and Sharon See to please stand so we can thank you for saving lives.Stevens Institute of Technology provided the core of the unbelievable volunteerism during Hurricane Sandy. I want to thank President Favardin for making it a policy – if you are not studying, then you should be over volunteering for the City of Hoboken.And truly, we owe a debt of gratitude to all of the Stevens students for answering the call to action. The response was almost overwhelming. But several Stevens students stepped up to manage the stunning numbers of volunteers coming to City Hall.In particular, I want to thank Allison Outwater for taking the initiative and for managing the huge volunteer effort. You provided essential leadership to make sure that volunteers were headed to buildings where help was needed the most. You were part of developing, administering and operating the Point of Distribution system (POD) that enabled residents to receive needed supplies more quickly. I want to ask Allison to stand and be recognized. Thank you Allison and your team.With their help, we made it through the immediate emergency. And as the floodwater receded, the mountains of debris rose in its place. Thank you so much to Director Pellegrini and your very hard working sanitation and parks team for getting our City back to its beautiful self in record time. As I walked the streets, I saw the mountains of debris disappear and then reappear again and again. It was heartbreaking to see how much our community had lost. But by quickly cleaning our streets and parks, you and your team not only helped with the recovery process, but you provided our residents with the peace of mind that Hoboken will get through this and a sense of normalcy would return. I want to express my deepest gratitude to you and your team.I also want to thank the Elks Club. I know Jason Maurer from the Elks is here, and I want to ask him to stand and be recognized. Your organization, supported by so many volunteers, provided a gathering place for our community with delicious non-stop meals throughout the storm. It was another example of the tremendous spirit of Hoboken and it helped so many get through a difficult time.Finally, as we enter Lent today on Ash Wednesday, I want to acknowledge and thank Saints Peter and Paul and Saint Matthew churches. They opened their doors to shelter our community during our time of greatest need, and I cannot thank them enough for all they did.There’s no doubt that Sandy had a major impact on our residents and businesses. But we are also fortunate that our waterfront, the Washington Street area, and most of our city is very much back to normal and open for business. And we invite visitors to take advantage of our great shopping, dining and nightlife. But while we no longer see the piles of debris representing the losses so many of us faced, we must remember that there are still many residents, non-profits and businesses struggling to recover. This year will be focused on that recovery process and on building a more resilient future.The question everyone has been asking since the storm is: how do we prevent this from happening again? What can be done to avoid the kind of flooding and devastation we faced? So many residents and business owners have told me, “On top of Hurricane Irene, I just cannot financially survive another massive storm…what are we going to do?”I’ve been asking myself those same questions. And I’ve asked different experts and stakeholders to think about how we can address our flooding problem.Some of the solutions being proposed in other towns simply won’t work here. As an urban community, we cannot raise our buildings up on pilings. We cannot build sand dunes to protect our City. We need a better solution.I believe we must pursue a comprehensive, integrated approach to fully protect all of Hoboken. Rather than each individual building needing to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to protect itself from flooding, there is a more cost-effective, realistic, and universal solution for which I am seeking federal funding. With this plan to protect Hoboken, I will work to have our flood insurance rates lowered in recognition of the reduced risk to our community.The plan under consideration involves using Hoboken’s natural topography and elevation as a barrier to flooding. I want to thank the Rockefeller Group’s engineering team for introducing this simple design concept to me. As we all know, the flooding from the Hudson River occurred at the south and north ends of our City. The higher elevation around Washington Street and Castle Point protected those areas from flooding.Therefore the concept involves building permanent flood walls along the south and north ends of Hoboken, connecting to the cliffs to the west. Roadways at either end of our City would be equipped with a flood break system which rises up as a gate if flooding were to occur. This system is proposed as a best practice by FEMA and has been successfully implemented in numerous locations, including hospitals where building up on pilings simply was not an option.Additional flood pumps proposed by the North Hudson Sewerage Authority could be installed so that if the Hudson River breaches our City again, the water can be pumped out as quickly as possible.Those flood pumps are critical because as everyone in Hoboken knows, we flood not just when there is a super storm, but even when there is a “not so super storm” if the heavy rains come at high tide. Our existing flood pump helped enormously after Hurricane Sandy and it has also substantially reduced both the number and severity of flood events in Southwest Hoboken from normal weather conditions. Additional pumps would reduce our normal flooding even further while also helping to protect us from the increasingly more frequent severe storms.But engineering solutions are only part of the answer. Our integrated approach must include Hoboken becoming as green as possible. By doing everything we can to prevent rainwater from going into our sewer system, we can help to avoid smaller flood events without the use of the pumps.Larger scale approaches include purchasing more land for park space and building large underground detention systems. Parkland created on the western side of Hoboken will help to alleviate the flooding in the most severe areas.We should incentivize green roofs that can retain rainwater and minimize runoff from going into our sewers.I want to thank Assemblyman Ramos for his proposed legislation to require green roofs on new government buildings and to encourage their use in new and existing buildings. It is a great idea that we have been incorporating into our redevelopment planning process. I encourage the state legislature to add incentives for smaller scale projects, and most importantly, for retrofitting existing buildings with green roofs.In addition to encouraging the use of green roofs, we want to develop legislation and establish best practices to promote the use of other green solutions like rain gardens, grey water technology, street trees, porous asphalt and pavers, and rain barrels.That’s why we have applied for a grant to complete an extensive storm water master plan.And we are embarking on a comprehensive planning process led by our Planning board for a Green Element of our Master Plan. I hope you will all participate this spring in the planning process that will lay the foundation for green design for all development projects in Hoboken going forward.As we reflect on Hurricane Sandy, we must ensure that any new development projects contribute to the solution, not add to the flooding problem. As our city considers important projects including the NJ Transit redevelopment, the Southwest and Neumann Leather area, the Hoboken Arts Center, the Post office rehabilitation with a new hotel, and the North End of Hoboken, it is critical that we develop our city in a way that makes us more sustainable and resilient.On a smaller scale, we have begun that planning process. I want to thank the Rutgers Center for Urban Environmental Sustainability for working with us to develop a green City block design for around City Hall. And I want to recognize the Shade Tree Commission for completing the beautiful street tree demonstration project on the 100 block of Washington Street.I also appreciate that some developers have taken a lead focusing on green development. Larry Bijou is one who has set a great example, and I know there are others. He has been incorporating green roofs and other sustainable elements into his buildings for years. We are also proud of the LEED certified green design for the new SJP building that just broke ground next to the W hotel. It will be home to Pearson Publishing and will bring 700 jobs to Hoboken.Hurricane Sandy caused massive damage from flooding, but it also highlighted the vulnerabilities in our power system.
So in addition to planning to protect the City from flooding, we are also preparing the City to be more resilient during power outages. We are working to develop a micro-grid with hybrid power sources including natural gas and diesel, supplemented by green energy like solar or wind. It would provide redundant power to critical infrastructure including our police and fire departments, City Hall, our hospital, supermarket, and our neediest residents. A power grid like this would be a first for New Jersey, and I’m glad to say that we have had very encouraging discussions with PSE&G regarding this idea.Finally, I will continue my advocacy to protect Hobokenites post-Sandy.I testified before the Senate in Washington, D.C. to highlight the unfairness of flood insurance, particularly as it relates to garden level apartments. And I will continue to advocate for policy makers to incorporate an urban approach into their policy-making decisions.I will advocate as hard as I can for the money and resources Hoboken needs to rebuild. But I know the federal government won’t be able to solve all our problems, so I am also working to help fill the gaps with private funds. As a community, I am proud that we’ve fundraised nearly $1 million thanks to the Rebuild Hoboken Relief Fund and all the dedicated volunteers who helped to make the recent gala fundraiser such a success.Rebuilding from Hurricane Sandy will be an ongoing process that will take years.But even while much of Hoboken was still without power, work was continuing on several important projects. The demolition work to rebuild Sinatra Park and our waterfront soccer field resumed within days after Sandy hit. In December, we renovated the playground at Church Square Park. And in January, we broke ground on construction of a new field at 1600 Park.I want to especially thank Director Pellegrini and Director Forbes for keeping these important projects moving even while they faced so many other serious challenges related to the storm.For me, our parks aren’t just an important part of solving our flooding problem – they’re critical to improving our quality of life as more and more people choose to stay and raise a family here. So this year, just as last year, will be another Year of the Parks.Last year we completed the renovation and repairs to the Church Square Park playground area and basketball courts. We completed renovations and repairs at Jackson Street Park, Jefferson Park at the Boys & Girls Club, Legion Park, Madison Street Park, the waterfront skate park, and Mama Johnson Field through a partnership with the Housing Authority.The Waterfront Walkway opened connecting Hoboken and Weehawken. And we are looking forward this summer to Hudson County’s first marathon running along the waterfront, with a half-marathon that we hope will end in Hoboken to help to boost our local economy on Memorial Day weekend.This year we have grant funding to renovate Elysian Park and replace the turf and install batting cages at the Little League field. New restrooms are scheduled for completion at Church Square Park. And this year we will finish rebuilding Sinatra Field and Castle Point Park.Phase I for 1600 Park and Hoboken Cove will include a multi-use field, lighting, bleachers, leaning rails, a dog run, restrooms, and a slide hill and viewing mound.I remain focused on parks acquisition in the western side of the City, and we will continue to work through the legal process to ensure more park space for those neighborhoods.Finally, with the City Council’s support for a bond, we hope to complete Phase 2 of Church Square Park, renovate the equipment at Stevens Park, and complete renovations at Legion Park.Improving quality of life isn’t just about having nice parks – it also means making our streets safer for everyone.This year there are several exciting transportation safety projects underway including the redesign of Observer Highway into Observer Boulevard. It will transform an important gateway to Hoboken from a dangerous speedway into a complete street with a protected cycle track, walking path, and new signals to better manage traffic and provide safe crossings for pedestrians.In addition, we’re going to make important safety improvements to Newark Street between Washington and River Street including corner bump outs and a new community plaza space.Washington Street is our main street, it represents the core of our city, and it is key to our economic and social vitality. But it’s also in need of a major upgrade. This year we hope to complete a redesign process with the community so that we can secure more grants for renovations.In addition, our waterfront is the treasure of our city, and we look forward to conducting a planning process for redesigning central Sinatra Drive so it is as safe and inviting as our northern and southern waterfront.This year, Hoboken was recognized as a bicycle-friendly City by the League of American Bicyclists. We are proud to be the only city in New Jersey designated as both walk-friendly and bike-friendly. We will continue to move forward with adding more bike parking and bike lanes, and with the support of the City Council, investing in pedestrian safety measures at intersections near schools and parks for the safety of our children.I also want to acknowledge some of the other great progress happening all over Hoboken. Our library will soon get an 84-seat auditorium in the lower level to make room for more community-oriented events. And later this year, they will begin preserving the exterior of the library as part of a rehabilitation of the 115-year old historic building.I want to congratulate the YMCA, which completed the renovation of its residential facility, adding 92 units to Hoboken’s low-income housing inventory. I thank Hudson County for their progress on the reconstruction of the 14th Street Viaduct, which will feature recreation space, a dog run and playground underneath when it is complete. And I thank the NJ Tech Meetup for working with us on transforming the Sinatra Park café into a tech community center.Finally, I want to talk about our City’s finances.Superstorm Sandy wasn’t just devastating for our businesses and residents – it also caused more than $10 million in damage to City property. The cost of this storm is enormous, and obviously we are trying to get as much of the damage covered as possible by the federal government. However, even with coverage by FEMA, we will still be responsible for 25 percent of the total cost.Quite simply, without the responsible surplus that we fought so hard to maintain, this storm would have been devastating to the City’s finances. Because of the prudent budget choices we have made over the past few years, our rainy day cash surplus was there for us when the rainy day came on October 29th.So I want to thank the members of the City Council who made sure that our cash surplus was protected. I am confident that everyone, including those who argued for zeroing out the surplus, now understand the importance of maintaining a responsible surplus.Without that surplus, we would be facing a huge tax increase due to the costs of the storm. Instead, unlike many other communities that were devastated by the storm, we will be able to move forward without any increase in our tax levy this year.In order to avoid raising taxes despite the costs of the storm, we will have to use much of our surplus, leaving us with less than we need going forward to be fully prepared for the next “rainy day.”We will retain as much surplus as we can so that we are not left completely without a cushion should the next “rainy day” occur before we have a chance to replenish, but we will not raise taxes in a year in which so many of our residents and businesses have already paid so high a price.Some may advocate once again to use the entire surplus so that we can provide a tax cut. I will not raise your taxes, but I will not leave you with no rainy day fund. That would be irresponsible.This year was the rainy day for which the rainy day funds were intended. The task of rebuilding our surplus will not begin until next year, but it is crucial that we focus on that task as quickly as we can so that we remain not only physically resilient but financially resilient as well.We already know we are a resilient community. Over hundreds of years, even as the Hudson River has challenged us, we have adapted and ultimately thrived because of the river. From our beginnings as a riverfront resort, through our rise as a port town, to the abandonment of our industrial waterfront, and most recently our transformation into a vibrant waterfront destination, our future will forever be linked to the Hudson River. The river once again presents a new set of challenges, and it is up to us, as past generations have done, to seize the opportunity to build a more resilient future that embraces the river.I know that we can rise to the challenge. We all saw how so many who lost everything gave the only thing they had left – their time – to help their neighbors. It is that community spirit which makes us strong. Whether we were born here or chose to make it our home, it is what makes us love Hoboken and want to stay. It is why we will not just survive this challenge, but overcome it, become stronger, and thrive as a city.It is why I am hopeful for our future and why I look forward to working with all of you as we take on these challenges and build on everything that makes our city so great.I want to thank you all for being here with me. I want to thank our City employees who work to provide important services to our community. I want to thank everyone who serves on our boards and volunteers their time to make Hoboken great.And most of all, I want to thank my son Alex for spending his 12th birthday listening to his mom give this speech tonight.Thank you so much.