Suddenly, normalcy as we knew it ended.
Silent streets. Empty classrooms and offices. Empty athletic fields and gyms. Empty buses, light rail cars, PATH trains. Empty movie theaters, rock n’ roll bars, black boxes. Overburdened intensive care units. Exhausted, anxious front line medical professionals. Long lines of cars at testing centers. Freezer trucks outside hospitals for the overflow of the dead.
Municipal meetings gone viral on Zoom. Children trying to learn via computer. Graduating 8th grade and high school standing apart. “No mask No entry” signs on bodegas, the cashiers behind plexiglass shields. Early morning supermarket hours for seniors. A toilet paper shortage. Discarded masks and latex gloves on sidewalks. Stuck online or on HOLD for days applying for unemployment.
The drugstore, liquor store, grocery store, and the four walls of home as points on a constricted personal universe that felt safer than a world turned into a bio-hazard zone. The loneliness of isolation from family and friends and congregation. The impulse to swerve away from oncoming pedestrians, and joggers without masks. No way to say goodbye to the dying or gather to honor them afterward. Finding out how much your workplace is about the people you miss.
And that was just April.
The Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders, now commissioners, renewed its contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house detainees at the Hudson County Correctional Center in Kearny. Protesters over the decision were arrested, and detainees held hunger strikes, demanding their release. The center had several COVID-19 outbreaks, two corrections officers dying from the virus.
The county saw a total of 1,647 deaths due to COVID-19 last year, and 49,489 positive cases. The county helped dispersed CARES Act funding to municipalities and opened testing centers. The county had opened the area’s first vaccination distribution center in Kearny and began administering the Moderna Vaccine to healthcare workers.
Protesters met to support the Liberty State Park Protection Act, to protect the park from private developers. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection announced plans to rehabilitate the park’s interior.
After protesters opposed the proposed New Jersey Transit’s fracked gas power plant set for Kearney’s waterfront, NJT voted to seek a greener option for resilient power during power disruptions.
Construction officially started on the new Honorable Frank J. Guarini Justice Complex that will replace the Hudson County Administration Building at 595 Newark Ave. As part of the project, the William J. Brennan Courthouse will be renovated, and the first public park in Journal Square will be created.
The Hudson County hospital saga continues, as CarePoint Health dissolves and liquidates its assets, including Hoboken University Medical Center and Christ Hospital. Hudson Regional Hospital is in contract with current real estate owner Avery Eisenreich to purchase the property of Hoboken University Medical Center. Currently, there are no suitors for the Christ Hospital real estate. KPC Global Management has signed a letter of intent to purchase the operations of both hospitals from CarePoint. CarePoint and Hudson Regional Hospital continue to butt heads, and the entrance of a new entity ensures that the saga is far from over.
By the end of 2020, COVID-19 had infected over 1,940 residents and caused at least 35 deaths. Mayor Ravi Bhalla shut down bars and restaurants and imposed a 10 p.m. curfew weeks before Gov, Phil Murphy issued the executive order. Hoboken partnered with Riverside Medical Group to test residents and business employees, with the city emergency response team taking calls from residents. The city’s health department began contact tracing and organized meals for seniors.
City Hall was closed, and employees worked from home. Schools implemented remote learning, returning in the fall with hybrid learning. The city worked with the Hoboken Business Alliance to create parkletes, streateries, open streets, and popup outdoor markets.
Using Cares Act funding the city issued grants to local small businesses.
Nonprofits stepped in with the Hoboken Food Pantry, and the Hoboken Relief Fund raised over $400,000 for small businesses.
During a second wave in the fall, Hoboken expanded testing.
Balancing the budget
Before the pandemic hit, Hoboken faced a budget gap of roughly $7.8 million. Funding in the city’s surplus account also decreased, which brought the budget gap to about $14 million. COVID-19 resulted in increased spending for services and enhanced cleaning of city buildings, bringing the budget gap to roughly $19.8 million.
In May, 26 Hoboken municipal employees were let go and the Office of Constituent Services was eliminated. In September the council adopted a $177.8 million budget after amending the introduced budget to reduce the municipal tax levy. Resident’s tax rate increased by 0.75 percent.
After the deluge
The city continued to fortify itself against climate change and heavy rain. Hoboken’s second resiliency park, at Seventh and Jackson, opened last summer. It can capture more than 450,000 gallons of storm water runoff. The Northwest Resiliency Park will withhold up to two million gallons of rainwater. The Rebuild By Design project includes a park and northern and southern resist barriers. The “meadow” design was adopted for Hoboken Cove Park. The project must be completed by September 2022.
Last fall, Bhalla launched litigation against Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, Chevron, Conoco Philips, and the American Petroleum Institute seeking damages for a decades-long campaign of misinformation related to climate change and its impact on Hoboken. The city also installed 15 blocks of new water mains.
‘Hands up! Don’t Shoot!’
Hoboken joined the nation in calling for an end to police brutality and institutionalized racism. An estimated 10,000 people protested peacefully, Hoboken Police Chief Ken Ferrante pledged to improve police-community relations, and Bhalla created a policing policy task force.
Developing all around
Redevelopment projects include the Hoboken Yards, the Public Works Garage, the Western Edge, and the proposed Monarch. A redevelopment agreement, if approved, would transfer the Monarch property to the city and allow developers to instead redevelop the Public Works Garage at 256 Observer Hwy.
Amendments decreased the development sites from nine to three on Hudson St. and Hudson Pl., Garden St. and Observer Hwy., and Marin Blvd. and Observer Hwy. all commercial properties.
The Fair Share Housing Center filed a lawsuit against Hoboken, which would have allowed 150 units to be exempt from the city’s 10 percent affordable housing set aside in the Western Edge Redevelopment Plan,
The new plan, which includes affordable housing, flood mitigation, public plaza, and $3 million toward a new community center and pool, was adopted, ending the litigation.
By the end of December, 14,390 residents tested positive for COVID-19 and roughly 580 died, including Ward D Councilman Michael Yun and former Councilwoman Viola Richardson. The city became the first in the state to implement restrictions such as closing bars, clubs, and performance centers and limiting restaurants to takeout. In March, the city set up testing sites, and public schools began all remote learning.
Officials projected a $70 million municipal budget shortfall in April.
The city implemented cost-cutting measures, and the council adopted a balanced budget of $658 million with no municipal tax increase.
Mayor Steven Fulop announced arts relief funding in July. The city will be the first in the state to establish an Arts and Culture Trust Fund to benefit artists and arts organizations.
The city launched a public awareness campaign in October regarding mask-wearing.
In December, the city announced plans to plant 502 trees at a toxic Superfund site that will be turned into the Skyway Park along the Hackensack River.
‘I can’t breathe!’
Citizens called for the creation of a Civilian Complaint Review Board to help hold police officers accountable. Protests started weeks after an incident on Bostwick Avenue in May in which police officers used pepper spray and an extendable baton on black citizens while reportedly breaking up a fight.
No charges against the officers were filed.
Fulop highlighted the city’s work to diversify the police force as well as redoing the department’s Use of Force Guidelines, initiating de-escalation training expanding technology so that residents have access to video. Council President Joyce Watterman created a committee that will review police policies, and the city established a Quality of Life Division that can respond to issues without police.
In September, officials broke ground on the Public Safety Headquarters. The building on MLK Dr. and Kearny Ave. is part of the Jackson Square project, which houses a number of city departments.
The new Public Safety HQ is scheduled to be completed in 2022.
At 1 Journal Square, construction will consist of two 64-story towers.
Phase I of the Bayfront development near Route 440 is now underway, consisting of 1,092 residential units; 35 percent are affordable and workforce housing.
Holland Gardens at 235 16th St., will be mixed-income mixed-use high rises which will include a new library branch and commercial space.
SciTech SCity, the 30-acre campus surrounding the Liberty Science Center will include a new county high school, research labs, private studios, open workspaces, and a conference center. The Scholars Village will offer housing for innovators, scientists, entrepreneurs, STEM graduate students, and their families. A Public Commons will include a park and events plaza. SciTech Scity is slated to break ground in 2021.
A new elementary school, more than 800 residential units, and a new park will be coming to Downtown.
The council adopted a controversial inclusionary zoning ordinance in October that critics say does not provide the affordable housing that it promises. The controversy will spill into 2021 as the Fair Share Housing Center Inc. filed a lawsuit to have the ordinance repealed.
The city also announced plans to restore the historic landmark Loews Jersey Theater.
From A to B
In February, the city launched the first municipally-subsidized rideshare program in the state with Via.
The new system, which costs riders $2, aims to increase connectivity to and from transit deserts in the north and southwest to Grove Street downtown and Journal Square.
The city expanded protected bike lanes, and Fulop and Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla announced Lyft/Citi Bike as the bike share provider for both cities. NJ Transit reopened the West Side Avenue Light rail station in May following months of utility work. Gov. Murphy announced a new light rail extension with a new station west of Route 440.
On May 16, Mayor Nicholas Sacco declared a Local State of Emergency in response to COVID-19. On April 8, it was declared a virus hotspot by Gov. Phil Murphy. By late April, Palisades Medical Center was at capacity. The town tested residents of nursing homes. OSHA cited the Harborage nursing home.
The rent freeze was extended into 2021.
North Bergen’s Spanish-language website helped residents stay informed.
NB C.A.R.E.S. was distributing food to residents until winter hit.
LGBTQ+ Pride was missed this year, but North Bergen promoted virtual events with Hudson Pride Center in June.
Funds were bonded for a new library and community center on JFK Blvd.
The township created a time capsule to be opened in 100 years.
Secaucus confirmed its first COVID-19 on March 19, and drive-thru testing was set up at Hudson Regional Hospital (HRH). A temporary field hospital was set up at the Meadowlands Convention Center. It expanded to accommodate virus patients.
In summer, drive-in movies were shown outside the Recreation Center. Outdoor dining was extended to the winter. Cases dramatically increased after the holidays. Moderna vaccines were administered at the municipal Vaccination Point of Distribution on Dec. 30. HRH is in talks to become the second county vaccine distribution center.
Mayor Michael Gonnelli, appalled by George Floyd’s murder, touted the SPD’s restrictive use-of-force policy and attended Black Lives Matter Walk.
Schools are operating under virtual instruction.
The 32BJ SEIU union protested a 15-story residential tower at Xchange.
A Secaucus woman was sentenced to 70 months for slavery after forcing a Sri Lankan woman to marry her and clean her houses.
The township recorded its first COVID-19 on March 19, and Mayor Richard Turner declared a State of Emergency. In May, the town opened a joint COVID-19 testing site with Union City in Weehawken.
In response to the police killing of George Floyd, Weehawken held a rally against police brutality.
While staying virtual for a portion of the school year, schools later transitioned to hybrid instruction.
NY Waterway was accused of dumping sewage in the Hudson River.
The township saw fierce debate about changing the high school’s “Indians” mascot. Stay tuned.
West New York
The town recorded its first case of COVID-19 on March 8. On April 8, it was declared a virus hotspot by Gov. Murphy. The town expanded COVID-19 and antibody testing to the Senior Nutrition Center. It began distributing the Moderna vaccine to healthcare workers and EMTs on Dec. 28.
Schools are operating under virtual instruction.
The town saw a tax increase of less than one percent following the approval of its budget in August.
Mayor Gabriel Rodriguez stood with protesters opposing police brutality but denounced violence.
Advocates marched in support of a citizenship path for immigrants.
The state Attorney General sought to revoke the medical license of former Mayor Dr. Felix Roque after he allegedly wrote unapproved prescriptions.
The town launched the Bergenline Avenue Revitalization Project to revamp the “Miracle Mile.”
Union City began issuing COVID-19 restrictions on March 17.
Schools have been operating under virtual instruction.
For updates on this and other stories check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter.