Mayor Steven Fulop delivered his 10th annual State of the City Address Tuesday night at the newly opened Public Safety building in the Hub, instead of the typical City Hall setting used for major announcements.
Since his election to the city’s highest office in May 2013, Fulop has been anything but traditional, recalling that soon after his election he was told to “avoid controversy” at all costs.
“I’m proud we’ve done the opposite,” he said. “Dream big ideas and push them forward.” That’s why being mayor continues to be “my dream job,” the mayor said, “because we’ve achieved much in a short period of time.”
Fulop then went on to list examples of those accomplishments—all in support of his goal of making Jersey City the “best mid-sized city in the nation.”
First on his list was economics. Under his leadership, he said, “Jersey City has become the economic backbone of the state,” with the city having issued approvals for 17,000 new housing units and, thus far, 15,000 certificates of occupany approved.
And this year, he said, the city will be collecting $1 billion in new tax dollars.
In the past decade, Fulop said, “we’ve had seven (municipal) budgets with no tax increase and this year, we’ve introduced a budget that provides an increase of $7 per month on an average house.”
Fulop said the city has made some inroads on the affordable housing front, having managed to work with the developers of the 8,000-unit Bayfront residential complex on the West Side to increase the allocation of affordable units, from the initially plan of 400 to a total of 2,800.
He also cited the pending Holland Gardens project, the planned transformation of a city Downtown public housing site into a new mixed-income development with “100% guarantees” for the right of the site’s 192 low-income residents to return as tenants in the new facility.
Fulop said his administration is working with the City Council to establish the state’s first “overlay district” concept where residential developers looking to add density beyond what is permitted by city zoning code will be required to allocate 10 percent or 15 percent affordable units as part of the overall project.
“We have 100 overlay (affordable) units currently, either in the queue or approved,” he said.
Tackling public safety, Fulop said his administration has put a dent in crime, reducing homicides by 50 percent and shootings by 30 percent since 2013, thanks, in part, to the hiring of 800 new police officers, 75 percent of them being minorities, “to reflect the city we serve.”
He also mentioned the “de-escalation center”—a grant-supported police training facility where city bluecoats will learn to apply non-violent tactics to help defuse a potentially volatile situation—which, he said, would open by this December.
And, he said, the city is creating new police precincts in the Heights and in Downtown to better serve the public and has built a new Public Safety headquarters to consolidate various police and fire operations, including a police/fire “recruitment center” and a new home for the city’s 911 emergency dispatch unit.
On the fire protection front, Fulop pointed to the recent acquisitions of two new fire rigs—a high-rise unit and a rapid intervention crew unit—as not only valuable additions to the JCFD fleet but also the “first time in 85 years” that new fire companies have been added, raising the total to 28 city-wide.
It’s been safer for pedestrians, the mayor said, with the city having logged “zero deaths” last year on municipal roads. Prior to that, he said, the city has averaged about 10 pedestrian fatalities per year. He said the city has installed 600 speed bumps, improved 400 intersections and created 40 miles of protected bike lanes to keep people walking out of harm’s way.
Job prospects for locals have been improved, Fulop said, under an agreement with the Hudson County Building & Construction Trades Council providing for “direct hires” of residents without having to go first through construction companies. “We’re getting more locals on the job,” he said.
Jersey City is striving to provide more opportunities for learning on all levels, Fulop said, adding, “We’re creating thousands of new (school) seats, without the state’s help.” And he mentioned Liberty Science Academy, which, although it will be part of the county vocational school, Jersey City will contribute $2 million a year to help maintain. That school, Fulop said, will feature “one of the top STEM programs in the state.”
As for New Jersey City University, which is seeking $10 million in additional state aid to stay open, Fulop said: “It’s not an option to have campus life disappear from Jersey City…but not with a blank check.”
On the recreational and cultural scene, Fulop said his administration has created “acres and acres” of new parks city-wide; and there’s one new library under construction in the city’s southern section while another is “in the works.” And, on the arts scene, he said three new black-box theater spaces have been created while Journal Square will be a showcase for a still in process renovated Loew’s landmark theater, the transplanted Pompidou Museum and the historic Apple Tree House as home to the Jersey City Museum.
Social services is getting uplifts with the opening of a new emergency shelter for the homeless, a second vertical farm being developed at the Curries Woods public housing site, expanded services for local veterans and welcoming new immigrants from such locations as Haiti, Latin America and the Ukraine. “We’re the only city in the United States with federal approval of our immigration program,” Fulop said.
Although he won’t be seeking another term as mayor, Fulop said the city remains committed to continue building on his priorities. “There’ll be no slowing down over the next two years (of his mayoral term),” he asserted.
Despite the mayor’s upbeat message, several detractors voiced their skepticism on the city’s Facebook page. Here’s a sample:
“And what about publishing Crime Stats?” Lisa Allen wondered. “Stopped in 2019? I moved to Bergen-Lafayette in 2019. While it is not downtown JC, it is still JC.”
Garry Toriello advanced this comment before the speech: “Will you be discussing the 30% property tax increase. JC failed to submit its Annual Financial Statement by the statutory deadline & was unable to collect $10 million annual tax sale. Residents forced to pay the entire $10 million burden in 4th quarter taxes.”
Along similar lines, Polly Philip commented: “Will the Mayor be addressing his total inability to put together a timely budget? Or have any control of finances whatsoever?”
Ching Lee Ceb and Elva Guy wanted to know more about how the mayor was dealing with “housing (for) low-income vet and non-vet that really needs help and jobs.