2020: Hudson County, on PAUSE

In a plague year, business as usual in unusual times

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The Jersey City cityscape from the grounds of Liberty State Park. Photo by Victor Rodriguez
  2 / 14 
A North Bergen Housing Authority employee tests an 106-year-old resident for COVID-19 on May 18
  3 / 14 
Demonstrators march at the Black Lives Matter rally in North Hudson. Photo by Art Schwartz
  4 / 14 
The Meadowlands Convention Center temporarily became a field hospital amid the pandemic
  5 / 14 
Children enjoy a drive-in movie in North Bergen. Photo by Art Schwartz
  6 / 14 
A digital rendering of the latest residential complex Hartz Mountain received approval to construct in Lincoln Harbor
  7 / 14 
Mayor Gabriel Rodriguez plays soccer with a child following the reopening of Centennial Field
  8 / 14 
Hudson County Commissioner Fanny Cedeno and Union City Commissioner Wendy Grullon march on Bergenline in calls for legislation to protect immigrants
  9 / 14 
Mayor Brian Stack oversees a municipal healthcare worker receiving a COVID-19 vaccine
  10 / 14 
Hector Oseguera was born in Hoboken, raised in West New York, lives in Union City and works in Weehawken
  11 / 14 
No mans’ land: In the early days of the pandemic, Jersey City streets were empty as residents quarantined and avoided others to curtail the spread of COVID-19. Photo by Marilyn Baer
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No mans’ land: In the early days of the pandemic, Jersey City streets were empty as residents quarantined and avoided others to curtail the spread of COVID-19. Photo by Marilyn Baer.
  13 / 14 
The Brady Bunch: Hoboken City Council meetings were held virtually via Zoom for the majority of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic with residents calling in for public comment or watching the live stream on Facebook and Youtube.
  14 / 14 
10,000 people marched against police brutality on June 5th in Hoboken after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Photo by Marilyn Baer.
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  1 / 14 
The Jersey City cityscape from the grounds of Liberty State Park. Photo by Victor Rodriguez
  2 / 14 
A North Bergen Housing Authority employee tests an 106-year-old resident for COVID-19 on May 18
  3 / 14 
Demonstrators march at the Black Lives Matter rally in North Hudson. Photo by Art Schwartz
  4 / 14 
The Meadowlands Convention Center temporarily became a field hospital amid the pandemic
  5 / 14 
Children enjoy a drive-in movie in North Bergen. Photo by Art Schwartz
  6 / 14 
A digital rendering of the latest residential complex Hartz Mountain received approval to construct in Lincoln Harbor
  7 / 14 
Mayor Gabriel Rodriguez plays soccer with a child following the reopening of Centennial Field
  8 / 14 
Hudson County Commissioner Fanny Cedeno and Union City Commissioner Wendy Grullon march on Bergenline in calls for legislation to protect immigrants
  9 / 14 
Mayor Brian Stack oversees a municipal healthcare worker receiving a COVID-19 vaccine
  10 / 14 
Hector Oseguera was born in Hoboken, raised in West New York, lives in Union City and works in Weehawken
  11 / 14 
No mans’ land: In the early days of the pandemic, Jersey City streets were empty as residents quarantined and avoided others to curtail the spread of COVID-19. Photo by Marilyn Baer
  12 / 14 
No mans’ land: In the early days of the pandemic, Jersey City streets were empty as residents quarantined and avoided others to curtail the spread of COVID-19. Photo by Marilyn Baer.
  13 / 14 
The Brady Bunch: Hoboken City Council meetings were held virtually via Zoom for the majority of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic with residents calling in for public comment or watching the live stream on Facebook and Youtube.
  14 / 14 
10,000 people marched against police brutality on June 5th in Hoboken after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Photo by Marilyn Baer.

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.

No mans’ land: In the early days of the pandemic, Jersey City streets were empty as residents quarantined and avoided others to curtail the spread of COVID-19. Photo by Marilyn Baer.

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.

 Hudson County

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.

Hoboken

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.

The Brady Bunch: Hoboken City Council meetings were held virtually via Zoom for the majority of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic with residents calling in for public comment or watching the live stream on Facebook and YouTube.

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.

10,000 people marched against police brutality on June 5th in Hoboken after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Photo by Marilyn Baer.

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.

Jersey City

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.

The city helped businesses and non-profits remain open by distributing checks to small businesses , providing PPE, and creating streateries.

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.

The Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office released images of the Jersey City Bostwick Avenue incident 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.

Development

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.

North Bergen

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.

In May, the North Bergen Housing Authority distributed masks to its residents and began testing residents in its senior buildings. The township mandated that first responders would be tested.

A North Bergen Housing Authority employee tests an 106-year-old resident for COVID-19 on May 18

Three free testing sites were opened. The NBHA installed temperature scanners in its buildings. The township administered the Moderna vaccine to healthcare workers on Dec. 24.

Braddock Park reopened in early May, as cases decreased substantially. Municipal parks were reopened in July and drive-in movies were a hit.

Outdoor “Eat and Shop Local” events were launched. A free testing site opened in Braddock Park in November. Town hall and the public library were closed to the public.

The rent freeze was extended into 2021.

The school district is operating under virtual instruction. Preschool trailers remain in Braddock Park.

To combat institutional racism, a  peaceful Black Lives Matter rally marched through North Hudson.

Demonstrators march at the Black Lives Matter rally in North Hudson. Photo by Art Schwartz

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.

The North Bergen Police Department swore in a new police chief and rolled out its body camera program.

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

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.

The Meadowlands Convention Center temporarily became a field hospital amid the pandemic.

On April 7, HRH’s staff was stretched to the limit. The hospital expanded COVID-19 testing, administering some 400 tests per day.

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 Portal North Bridge project received final federal funding and other approvals throughout the year.

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.

Mill Ridge Fields renovations moved forward, and the council expressed support for the Essex-Hudson Greenway linear park.

Weehawken

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.

The town recorded zero active cases briefly in October, but cases intensified into winter. On Dec. 26, municipal healthcare workers and EMTs began receiving the Moderna vaccine.

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 Hartz Mountain application to construct two new 14-story towers in Lincoln Harbor was approved.

A digital rendering of the latest residential complex Hartz Mountain received approval to construct in Lincoln Harbor

An ordinance that would have banned wood burning in fire pits sparked an uproar. After heated discussion, the ordinance was tabled.

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.

Park renovations included Miller Stadium and Centennial Field.

Mayor Gabriel Rodriguez plays soccer with a child following the reopening of Centennial Field.

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.

Hudson County Commissioner Fanny Cedeno and Union City Commissioner Wendy Grullon march on Bergenline calling for legislation to protect 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

 Union City began issuing COVID-19 restrictions on March 17.

Mayor Brian Stack and the Board of Commissioners issued a rent freeze. On April 6, North Hudson opened a testing site in Union City. Stack signed an executive order mandating mask wearing in public.

Mayor Brian Stack observes a municipal healthcare worker receiving a COVID-19 vaccine

Local pizzeria Trattoria Napoli gave out free margherita pizza to the community throughout April to give back amid the pandemic. Multiple pizzerias were cited for employees not wearing masks.

In late October, new COVID-19 cases intensified. On Dec. 26, healthcare workers and EMTs began receiving the Moderna vaccine.

Schools have been operating under virtual instruction.

Stack and Police Chief Nichelle Luster marched with protestors, condemning police brutality. Union City’s Hector Oseguera gave Rep. Albio Sires his first real primary challenge.

Hector Oseguera was born in Hoboken, raised in West New York, lives in Union City, and works in Weehawken

For updates on this and other stories check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter.