In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the Hoboken City Council’s priority in the coming year will be to come up with a viable crisis management plan, specific to Hoboken’s strengths and vulnerabilities. Council members are looking to learn from the particulars of the storm and assess what needs to be implemented going forward in this flood-prone mile square city.
“At this point we need to rethink everything we do,” said Councilman Michael Russo at a council meeting Tuesday night. The meeting was postponed from the previous week due to the storm.
The meeting was lightly attended and focused mainly on the storm. Topics included debris pick-up, health inspections for businesses, how to deal with abandoned cars, granting residents an extension to pay property taxes, and updates from both the fire and police chief.
Members of the council offered praise to city officials on their handling of the storm.
People cleaning out their basement apartments and first floor units have left piles of drenched and ruined furniture on most sidewalks. Health and Human Services Director Leo Pellegrini said every time the streets get cleaned, they are filled with garbage all over again.
“Monroe Street has literally been cleaned out seven times already,” Pellegrini said.
Pellegrini requested the help of outside sources to help get the streets clean.
Residents and council members spoke at the meeting of nails, shards of broken glass, and other objects that have nearly hurt them or their children.
“Winter is coming; we need to worry about getting the homes together.” – Resident Curtis Crystal
Regular recycling rules are still in effect.
27 businesses still shut
Health officer Frank Sasso reported on ongoing spot inspections of business establishments. Sasso said that 27 businesses are shut down pending re-inspection. The inspectors not only check for residual sewage but also to ensure that all food was thrown away due to the blackout.
“In rare instances, we found five-day-old food that had not been thrown out,” Sasso said.
All 21 daycares in town were inspected. But three are still closed and cannot open until a re-inspection takes place.
Also, Hoboken Catholic Academy remained closed at the end of last week.
The council also discussed how to determine which vehicles have been abandoned. Larger insurance companies are asking drivers to remove their license plates in order to be towed to aggregated lots for inspection. Of the 884 cars that are now under the umbrella of the larger insurance companies, 750 have been removed, according to Public Safety Director Jon Tooke.
City officials have urged drivers not to remove their license plates, because cars cannot legally remain on the streets without plates. However, Councilman Tim Occhipinti said that not removing plates will create havoc.
“I disagree with the city’s position,” he said. “If we don’t set these cars up in a queue to be removed by the insurance carriers, it will create an undue burden.”
The council considered marking cars with red tape when they’re abandoned, but did not agree to do that.
Upset resident speaks out
In the portion of the meeting for the public to comment, resident Curtis Crystal said he was hit very hard by Sandy and suffered a loss to his property. Crystal said that the city is not out of crisis mode and was prioritizing too many non-emergency items at the beginning of the meeting.
“Winter is coming; we need to worry about getting the homes together,” said Crystal. “What is the administration going to do? It’s going to be a fight for FEMA funds. I am very angry and upset. I feel that this meeting is ass-backwards. The public portion should have been first, so issues could be addressed.”
After the meeting, Curtis said, “Why are they discussing signs or traffic lights? We need to worry about the citizens first, then the future.”
Other storm business
Landlord and tenant issues aroused by the storm were also discussed. Officials said that anyone with tenant rights questions can call (201) 795-5615.
The grace period for payment of fourth quarterly taxes was extended to Dec. 3. The resolution was passed 8-0. (Councilwoman Theresa Castellano was absent.)
A resolution was also passed for an emergency appropriation for Sandy-related expenses in the amount of $700,000. This was described as only an initial down payment and is expected to rise. Some members of the council requested better transparency in the future about the allocation of such money.
Creating a storm manual
The council also discussed the creation of a viable plan, document, or response manual in order to guide the city through the next storm. The report will look at lessons learned from Sandy and make adjustments accordingly, like having on-site fuel in the city.
A lot of thank yous were offered at the meeting by council. They commended efforts by the volunteer emergency services, public works employees, local students, and others who volunteered their time.
For more storm coverage, see briefs inside.
Amanda Palasciano may be reached at email@example.com.