By Jordan Coll, Daniel Israel, and Gene Ritchings
2022 was the year that COVID-19 began to subside, at a rate outpaced by the desire of many to believe the pandemic was over. Despite a massive Omicron spike that began the year, and a smaller one in June, school districts, municipalities and businesses dispensed with mask mandates and mandatory vaccinations, and testing sites began to close. Applications to open cannabis dispensaries led to endless rounds of hearings. This was the year the Spotted Lanternfly found itself very unwelcome in Hudson County, and when environmental controversies flared over Liberty State Park, a proposed Turnpike Expansion, NY Waterway’s impact on Weehawken, when towns examined the steps they’ve taken towards resiliency in the decade since Hurricane Sandy, and bikeways and EV charging stations became more common.
The LGBTQIA+ community made winning strides this year, as New Jersey City University launched its first new Preferred Name Policy, the first of its kind, in recognizing pronouns for the LGBTQIA+ community. Another win for members of the LGBTQIA+ was the opening of a new facility for the Hudson Pride Center. Hudson residents stepped up to support the people of Ukraine.
In the 9th Congressional District of New Jersey incumbent Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell defeated Q-Anon believing and election-denying Republican Billy Prempeh for the second time in a row. Rep. Albio Sires, County Executive Tom DeGise and State Sen. Nicholas Sacco announced their retirements. Robert Menendez Jr. coasted to victory to become the next congressman from the 8th Congressional District in North Hudson. Rumors persisted that Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop was considering a run for governor.
In most local Board of Education races, voters sided with the incumbents over insurgents, some of whom were identified as tied to the right-leaning, anti-Woke New Jersey Project.
The city began the new year under a pall of smoke from a deadly fire at the Chambord Building that took two lives. The site had already been scheduled for redevelopment and the owners pressed ahead with their plans, clearing the Planning Board and scheduling demolition for the fall. By year’s end the portion of the former manufacturing building to be preserved stood gutted and ready for a rebirth.
Plans for a new high school encountered stiff opposition. The proposed new high school, which would have included academic and athletic facilities and cost $241 million, was put to a referendum on Jan. 25 to decide whether to approve issuing 30-year bonds to fund the project. The board said the school was meant to fit the needs of a growing population, and had hosted public meetings about it since November. But residents disputed the plan, criticizing a lack of transparency about the project and its cost to taxpayers.
On referendum day the “no” votes tallied 4,929 votes compared to the “yes” votes of 2,542. In November, an effort to translate the referendum victory into a chance to remake the school board failed when ‘Leadership That Listens’ candidates Leslie Norwood, Antonio Graña, and Alex de la Torre Jr. defeated the ‘’Kids First team of Pavel Sokolov, Cindy Wiegand, and Donna Magen.
Meanwhile in the classrooms the year began as the Omicron variant of COVID 19 surged to record heights here and across the nation, leading to a brief return to virtual instruction. Less than a month later, however, despite COVID making more people sick across Hudson County than ever before, Hoboken officials decided the city’s high vaccination rate and declining positivity statistics justified ending the city’s indoor mask mandate. Local businesses were allowed the option to require face masks, which were still required in all municipal facilities, but ending the mandate reflected a nationwide trend to regard the pandemic as largely past.
Politics, never simple and never polite in Hoboken, turned in 2022 on several major developments. Congressional redistricting following the 2020 U.S. Census had a moderate impact on Hudson County in general, but a change in local campaign finance laws generated controversy. The City Council adopted an ordinance allowing labor unions to contribute more money to political campaigns. The current rules only allowed political committees to contribute up to $500 to candidates instead of the state maximum of $7,200, but the ordinance granted unions an exemption. But how soon the ordinance could take effect rested on the outcome of a court hearing on a related matter. In August a years’ long legal battle regarding alleged campaign finance violations by Hoboken Councilman Michael DeFusco ended with a judge tossing out the case, handing the councilman a victory but also triggering the ordinance allowing labor unions to donate more to local elections.
The seemingly endless process of repairing water main breaks in Hoboken’s ancient system continued throughout 2022, with nearly 5,000 feet of pipe scheduled to be replaced. The Rebuild by Design project to protect Hoboken from flooding was provided an additional $100 million by Governor Phil Murphy and the State of New Jersey. The historic funding will be utilized for construction costs associated with the Rebuild by Design project, including the above-ground flood mitigation infrastructure at Harborside Park, transforming it into a resiliency park at 15th and Garden Streets that will protect Hoboken from rising sea levels and storm surge from the Hudson River.
A year’s long battle over Union Dry Dock between the city and NY Waterway climaxed late in 2022 with a new eminent domain authorization allowing the city to seize the property, quickly followed by Mayor Ravi Bhalla’s announcement that the two sides had come to an agreement and the facility, which the city wants to add to its waterfront park, was in the hands of the Hoboken.
Another infrastructure controversy that simmered all year was the city’s threat to condemn and seize property at 2501 Adams Street, a printing company owned by Charles Poggi, for development into a municipal complex that would house the city’s Department of Public Works. After months of wrangling and accusations of bad faith and stonewalling the city announced in December it was considering a different property used by Academy Bus for parking its fleet.
But perhaps the most impact on the city’s infrastructure will be behavioral. The city announced that they and Hudson County had begun installing new signage and striping to reduce the speed limit from 25 mph to 20 mph, which they said will help make streets safer for all modes of transportation as part of their Vision Zero plan to eliminate all traffic-related deaths and injuries by 2030.
In February the Hoboken Cannabis Review Board held its first ever applicant hearing for a recreational cannabis business in the city. Story Dispensary of Hoboken’s application to set up shop at the former Hudson Tavern bar at 51 14th Street met with immediate opposition from neighborhood residents, organized in part by an effective social media campaign by Council member Tiffanie Fisher. But after endless hearings, and a dismissed lawsuit, Story’s application was approved 5-4 by the City Council. On the other hand, Blue Violets, a retail cannabis applicant that has received full local approval in Hoboken, is being sued by a resident-formed non-profit called “Hoboken for Responsible Cannabis,” in Hudson County Superior Court. The lawsuit also lists the city’s Planning Board as a defendant.
The city made significant strides towards a safer cleaner place to live. By far the largest measure was to enter into a lawsuit against the major fossil fuel companies for lying about the effect their products had on climate change. Hoboken has taken some steps to make the city more resilient in the 10 years since Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge flooded the streets and brought life to a halt for nearly a week. NY Waterway and NJ TRANSIT have completed a ferry retrofit that cuts its emissions, with five more ferries to be upgraded in the future, and the first vessel to be altered was the “Hoboken.” The city entered into an agreement with Jersey City to create a new protected bikeway, and the council unanimously to approve a contract with EV charging company Volta to install and operate 25 EV charging stations throughout the city at no cost.
The Morris Canal Manor project for a proposed 17-story mixed-use community center faced a legal challenge, with a lawsuit seeking to repeal recent amendments made regarding the Bergen-Lafayette project. But in November Mayor Steven M. Fulop announced the redevelopment of a former industrial site on three acres of land in the city’s Bergen-Lafayette neighborhood can finally move forward to construction after a Superior Court Judge’s ruling to dismiss a “meritless” lawsuit filed by June Jones and the Morris Canal Redevelopment Area Community Development Corporation has cleared that legal obstacle to the project beginning.
Jersey City announced opening applications for their first time home buyer program, which will award grants to assist low to moderate-income residents looking to buy a home in the city.
The council has adopted the creation of a new affordable housing overlay that Jersey City officials say will encourage more affordable housing in the city, but critics charged the community hadn’t been given time to consider what some called another developer giveaway.
The unveiling of the new Bergenview Apartments at 654 Bergen Avenue came after the substantial rehabilitation and preservation of a historic former YMCA building. The apartment community features 111 studio apartments for individuals who have previously experienced homelessness.
The Jersey City Planning Board has approved the Grand Jersey Redevelopment Plan, a project which would make changes to the street grid near Liberty State Park.
The Planning Board also approved two new skyscrapers downtown and the first building in the Bayfront project.
The council unanimously adopted changes to the Water Street Redevelopment Plan on the West Side.
Several important matters affecting education in the city happened in 2022. The New Jersey Supreme Court upheld Jersey City’s payroll tax on Tuesday in a 5-1 ruling, affirming an Appellate Division’s decision that the tax created to help fund the city’s school district is constitutional. Jersey City’s public schools are fully back in the hands of local officials for the first time in over three decades after New Jersey officials approved a complete transition from state to local control. The city’s public schools were under state control since 1989, with the district having become infamous for political patronage and student dropouts the year before. It was the first time the state ever took control of a local school district.
The school board appointed Dr. Norma Fernandez as interim superintendent.
For taxpayers, the biggest education news was unpleasant. A $973 million budget for the Jersey City Public School district has cleared its final hurdle, with district facing another drastic loss of state aid. The budget meant a sharp tax increase of $1600 annually for property owners to fund the schools, with more bad tax news to come when the city finalized it’s budget in the fall.
National issues of race, gender, and intolerance touched down in Jersey City in 2022. In April, a Jersey City teacher suspended for profane and racist speech towards Black students. The Jersey City AAPI Coalition condemned attacks against Chinese residents. Along with New Jersey LGBTQ+ leaders local officials condemned the Club Q shooting. And New Jersey City University announced a new policy which would align with the LGBTQ community on the fundamental view of pronouns reflecting an individual’s gender identity. The city also created a Women’s Advisory Board to “help women improve the status of women in Jersey City and create awareness of women’s issues within the city.”
Early in the year the city created a Cannabis Control Board which soon found its work cut out for it. After the Planning Board approved seven sites for retail cannabis locations, the control board reviewed applications from a series of dispensary proponents, and ultimately approved nine.
COVID in Jersey City and Hoboken soared to record peaks at the start of the year.
Mayor Steven Fulop also touted the investments that the city has made in the 10 years since Hurricane Sandy, including new pumping systems, built new water retention systems, is lowering its carbon footprint, has new flood maps, created new incentives programs to encourage greener buildings and more.
The Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority said it will spend about $1 billion over the next decade on extensive repairs to Jersey City’s drinking water and sewage infrastructure.
In April, the Jersey City Council approved selling $131 million in bonds for a number of city capital projects, mainly focused on public building repairs and renovations for City Hall, public safety buildings and other types of infrastructure.
The Planning Board voted to approve the Exchange Place redesign and ruled that the overall plans are consistent with the city’s Master Plan, after recommending against the redesign proposals for the Exchange Place Plaza two weeks earlier, primarily because members of the board and the public took issue with the potential obstruction of the historic Katyn Memorial as part of the plans.
Gov. Murphy announced the purchase of a defunct rail line for the Essex-Hudson Greenway.
Progress continued to be made on construction of Hudson County’s new Frank J. Guarini Justice Complex in Jersey City.
Hudson County residents came together to denounce the proposed Turnpike Expansion project which not only would derail the city from a path of environmental equity but would increase traffic volume and carbon emissions. The proposed $10 billion project by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and NJ Department of Treasury would affect Newark, Bayonne and Jersey City.
A forum was held in Kearny to raise awareness of dangers of planned NJ Transit gas-burning power plant. Bicyclists can now ride safely alongside vehicular traffic on a new protective roadway, which was announced this week by Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and Hoboken Mayor Ravi S. Bhalla. The new protected roadway runs along Marin Boulevard and Henderson Street, connecting 18th Street in Jersey City to Observer Highway in Hoboken.
The redrawing of ward boundaries in Jersey City occurs every 10 years after the latest U.S. Census, and is intended to make the populations of each ward roughly the same. But the Ward Commission faced a barrage of criticism for a lack of transparency. Some of the most significant changes were done in Downtown Ward E, which had the highest population after the 2020 Census. A few residents who live in the northern part of Ward E were displeased that they would be placed in the Heights-based Ward D, which are essentially two different neighborhoods. Despite the public outcry, the commission answered no questions, and adopted the new ward map. In August, Hudson County Superior Court Judge Joseph Turula dismissed a lawsuit, filed by a coalition of groups and Councilman Frank Gilmore against the creators of the map, with prejudice, meaning another complaint could not be filed.
In March, the council adopted an ordinance amendment that will increase the council members’ own salaries, with council members going from $60,000 to $85,000, and the Council President from $65,000 to $90,000
Sean Caddle, a political consultant and Jersey City native, and Bomani Africa of Philadelphia, both pleaded guilty in federal court, where they were charged with one count of conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire in the murder of Jersey City associate Michael Galdieri.
In October, just weeks before his son’s congressional election bid, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez came under federal investigation led by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. No indication of the investigation’s focus has been revealed.
Liberty State Park, in contrast to its physical peace and tranquility, was the object of heated controversy throughout 2022. After years of protecting its integrity as a public amenity, Hudson County officials swung behind a bill, titled the Liberty State Park Conservation, Recreation, and Community Inclusion Act, that would put up $250 million to permanently create a task force to create short-term actions and a long-term master plan for the park. The bill was criticized by environmental activists for allowing the park be privatized, pointing to language in it that says that revenue has to be generated by the park, and that there are no protections from such privatization in it. Just before Gov. Murphy signed the bill Sen. Brian Stack introduced a measure that would protect the Caven Point section of the park. A new uproar rose in the fall when new FAA rules for helicopters routed the aircraft over the park.
On October 18, with the calendar running out, the Jersey City Council adopted the city’s new $724.8 million budget that will pile on more tax increases in the city after the Board of Education adopted a $973 million budget that came with an average $1,611 tax increase per household. The vote led to sharply higher fourth quarter tax bills packed with increases for the first three quarters… just in time for Christmas.
As the year came to a close it was reported that Council member Amy DeGise faced a pretrial hearing on January 10 on charges of leaving the scene of an accident and failing to report the incident. In July, DeGise was caught on CCTV cameras knocking bicyclist Andrew Black off his bike at MLK Drive and Forrest Street and driving away from the scene. Throughout the year, she refused calls for her resignation at often raucous City Council meetings, while Progressive activists held rallies to capitalize on the troubles of a prominent member of the Hudson County Democratic “machine.”
The Kennedy Dancers, a non-profit company recently hit with a property tax bill by the city they say might drive them out of existence, pursued a lawsuit in the New Jersey Tax Court to contest the assessment. The city’s Tax Assessor, Eduardo Toloza, has been accused by other non-profit organizations in Jersey City such as WFMU for targeting them for taxes despite their status. For the Kennedy Dancers, they’ve been in litigation over their status for nearly two years.
In September the call went out to all runners to sign up for the first ever Jersey City Marathon, to be run in April 2023.
Rent increases keep going up in Jersey City, with skyrocketing figures. Tenants at Portside Towers voiced their frustrations with rent increases of over 30 percent, and while some tenants still remain in the buildings others have left. Jersey City residents felt complaints related to building code violations, illegal rent increases and code violations were not being heard by the city.
This year was a win for Traffic Guards after working seven years under a contract with the city they said contained unfair labor practices, which some traffic guards described as “unlivable conditions brought by the city.”
New Jersey City University is laying off 30 professors and is eliminating 37 percent of academic programs, Board of Trustees Chairman Joseph Scott called the decision to be “a difficult, but necessary next step.”
Amid the Omicron surge, schools temporarily were forced to return to virtual instruction for a few weeks before returning to the classroom after winter break. Throughout the year, COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed. However, the township kept offering vaccinations to residents against COVID-19, as well as the boosters for Omicron, monkeypox and the flu.
The township established a new entity, the Green Environmental Advisory Committee in January after two groups that operate county-wide amped up their environmentalism. The township applied for and won a grant to construct a community garden proposed by residents Jina Morano and Hailey Benson.
North Bergen moved forward with residential, commercial and industrial redevelopment. River Road is one area the township is promoting redevelopment in. Another is on Bergenline Avenue near Braddock Park, and a portion of Tonnelle Avenue north of the Light Rail station. The township created a new commercial zoning district along portions of the west side of River Road between Bulls Ferry Road and the Edgewater border. This district also allows cannabis dispensaries, and is where Green House Apothecary is seeking to open. The township has officially opened its much-anticipated downtown Recreation Center and Library.
NJ Transit is studying redevelopment along the proposed extension of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail into Bergen County. This would help the project come to fruition, which would include a new stop in North Bergen at 91st Street.
Residents packed the municipal chambers to oppose plans to improve 46th Street Field over the proposed addition of a parking lot on what is now green space, and the reconfiguration of the dog run at the park. Township officials held firm on the design, despite alternatives proposed by those residents.
The township has decided to allow only two retail cannabis locations, Daily Muse and Green House Apothecary.
North Bergen partnered with Secaucus to donate supplies to support Ukrainian refugees in Poland. The Housing Authority also joined the efforts, donating key supplies. On top of that, the township passed a proclamation formally supporting Ukraine.
The initial appraisals for the North Bergen property tax revaluation were completed at the beginning of the year. 60 percent of homeowners will see either a property tax reduction or a minimal increase of less than $100 per year. The other 40 percent of homeowners will mostly see increases in the range of a few hundred dollars per year.
Three incumbent Board of Education Trustees, Board President Luis Rabelo, and Trustees Patricia Bartoli, and Sai Rao also easily won re-election unopposed in April.
Thanks to Mayor Sacco and Union City Mayor and State Senator Brian Stack, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority agreed to give North Hudson drivers a discount after a reconfiguration of the New Jersey Turnpike’s Exit 16E/18E interchange led to residents of nearby towns being forced to pay dramatically higher tolls.
COVID cases subsided, the school district ended virtual learning and mask wearing became optional, and Secaucus, which already boasted a high vaccination rate, ceased holding vaccination clinics.
The town council hired an architect for the new Senior Center at 101 Centre Avenue.
Harmony’s medical cannabis dispensary was approved by the state to sell recreational cannabis.
The council passed an ordinance nixing an earlier ban in favor of a regulated recreational cannabis industry.
Secaucus was one of many Hudson County municipalities to aid when Russia invaded Ukraine, partnering with North Bergen to donate household supplies to refugees, and showing support in other ways.
The “For the Children” slate of Kelli Conroy D’Addetta, Alexandre de Hombre, and Christina DeBari, swept the Board of Education election in November, which focused on topics from new sex education standards to the search for a new Superintendent of Schools to take the reins from Acting Superintendent of Schools Dr. Daniela Riser.
Throughout 2022, Secaucus renovated the town’s parks with plans for new ones in the works.
Hudson Regional Hospital made headlines a lot this year, although mostly either related to the COVID-19 pandemic in Bayonne over its fight to be the owner and operator of that facility. A false bomb threat at the facility resulted in the discovery of a weapons cache by a marketing director at HRH. The hospital was fined $63,000 for failure to report the bomb threat to the state within the required time period, and for failing to have a violence prevention plan.
In every district in Secaucus and in the part of Kearny that is also in the 9th, Rep. Pascrell won, totaling a 58-39 margin in the Hudson County portion of the Congressional District.
Union City opened dedicated vaccine centers and continued vaccine distributions for COVID-19 throughout the year, but mask wearing became optional and the school district shifted from virtual temporarily to in-person.
The Federal Transit Administration announced that NJ Transit would receive $44,677,500 in funding to renovate the Union City bus garage between 27th and 29th Streets and Bergenline Avenue and New York Avenue to create a bus terminal, house administrative serves, and charge and deploy electric buses.
Union City exceeds the rest of North Hudson with bike lanes, and Mayor Brian Stack plans to add more lanes to all main streets on an ongoing basis.
The city focused on road improvements this year to the streets and sidewalks on many major thoroughfares.
Union City secured a victory for tenants who are victims of a fire nearly 10 years ago at 409-415 Bergenline Avenue. Rent settlements them to return to their refurbished former apartment or receive a financial settlement.
The art scene in Union City developed to new heights, in venues such as Greenhive Atelier at 102 45th Street, which held its first festival this year alongside other exhibits. The city also sponsored and promoted a number of art events at the William V. Musto Cultural Center at 420 15th Street.)
Mayor Stack continued his tradition of public meetings in different parts of the community with constituents. Stack and his slate of commissioners all ran unopposed in the May municipal election this year.
Stack also made clear he would be running for re-election to the State Senate next year, albeit in the new 33rd Legislative District which encompasses North Hudson now post-state legislative redistricting. He made a deal with Sacco to get his endorsement in exchange for North Bergen picking one of the assembly candidates, previously the prerogative of Secaucus. That led to Stack solidifying a slate with Mayor Rodriguez and North Bergen Commissioner Julio Marenco, leaving Assemblyman Pedro Mejia left out of the mix and incumbent Assemblywoman Jimenez to run with Cirillo for the West New York Board of Commissioners.
A revolt erupted by waterfront residents in Lincoln Harbor against the NY Waterway re-fueling and maintenance facility in Lincoln Harbor in response to leaked plans that showed Waterway’s intention to expand. The township passed a resolution calling for NY Waterway to cease operation. In July, NY Waterway and NJ TRANSIT completed a ferry retrofit that cuts its emissions, with five more ferries to be upgraded in the future. However, that was not enough for residents who are growing increasingly angry at the situation. Turner and the township changed their tune and told residents they would have to learn to live with the facility.
Bike lanes were a big topic of discussion between residents. While advocates pleaded with Turner to get on board with the county plan, he said too many parking spots would be lost.
The township finally opened its long-awaited new police annex at a cost of over $700,000 in the Tower Plaza Mall off Park Avenue.
Hartz Mountain Industries, LLC proposed a fourth residential building at the corner of Harbor Boulevard and Riverview Terrace designed to integrate with the other Estuary buildings.
The council took measures to expand its workforce housing.
Weehawken also accepted Ukrainian refugees in the township and offered other material support as well as visually through flags and similar spiritual gestures in solidarity with the Russian-invaded nation.
Weehawken prohibited its police from consuming recreational cannabis and is one of the few Hudson municipalities which has prohibited sales of recreational or medical cannabis.
Nine years after Hurricane Sandy, Turner said that the township has been working with Hoboken and Jersey City on the Rebuild By Design planned flood wall that would run from 19th Street in Weehawken to Hoboken.
Weehawken Day, the annual town festival for residents only, was cancelled this year due to inclement weather.
The “Continue the Progress” ticket of Marissa Dennis, Ildefonso Acosta, and Trustee Julian Brian Mera won three year terms unopposed in the April Board of Education election.
Mayor Turner was re-elected unopposed in the May municipal election alongside his council slate of Carmela Silvestri-Ehret, Rosemary Lavagnino, Robert Sosa, and David Curtis.
West New York
Meeting the Omicron surge, the town continued vaccination efforts, expanding to include monkeypox vaccine as that virus spread. Omicron forced classes to go virtual temporarily, but kids were soon back in the classrooms and masks became optional.
West New York Public Affairs Commissioner Cosmo Cirillo’s announced he will run for mayor in 2023, facing off against outgoing Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ-08). Sires chose to retire and run for mayor because Mayor Gabriel Rodriguez announced a run for the state Assembly. Former Mayor Dr. Felix Roque also reportedly considering a run.
The town is currently in the process of constructing three parking garages at 51st Street, 54th Street, and 57th Street.
While neighboring Union City is riding the bike lane wave, Rodriguez rejected proposals by cycling activists for a protected bike lane on Boulevard East.
West New York joined the list of Hudson County municipalities opposing the proposed gas-fired power plant in the Ironbound neighborhood of Newark.
The town is permitting recreational cannabis sales and has endorsed Nile of NJ, LLC to do business in the town as a retail dispensary.
Ongoing park improvements are another major initiative being undertaken by the town. The biggest ongoing on is the renovation of Miller Park
On the Board of Education, the incumbent slate of three trustees running on the “Your Children’s Future” slate, including Jonathan Castaneda, Ana Sanchez, and Douglas Velasquez, were re-elected by nearly a 4 to 1 margin.
West New York rallied in gun violence with U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker in June.
The Commissioners took action on numerous measures in 2022, granting 5-20 year tax abatement to spur new development, purchasing property for either the site of the new library or satellite municipal offices as well as affordable housing, bonding millions to support the construction of parking garages.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Jordan Coll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Daniel Israel can be reached at email@example.com. Gene Ritchings can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.