A Sustainable Downtown

Updated: Oct 14, 2021

What We've Done

  • Removed the inequitable $200 fee for street tree planting. Tripled the number of street trees planted from 125 in 2016 to 556 in 2020.

  • Passed an ordinance that requires developers to invest in storm water resiliency infrastructure for new development projects.

  • Lead the fight to make Jersey City the first city in the state to call for city and state pension funds to divest billions of dollars from the fossil fuel industry

What We're Going to Do


A Sustainable Downtown


Earlier this month, Tropical Storm Ida brought 9-inches of rain, and extensive flooding to Jersey City. In the space of two days, almost 100 cars were abandoned, residents needed to be rescued from flooded homes and potentially $35 million in damage was done to our city’s infrastructure. As global climate change continues, extreme weather events like Ida will unfortunately become more common, and will be especially damaging for waterfront communities like ours. Now more than ever, we need to implement aggressive sustainability policies to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and to build a resilient city to protect Downtown and Jersey City from future damage.


Since 2017, I have been working with my council colleagues to make our city more sustainable and resilient. In the last 4 years, we have more than tripled the number of street trees planted, from 125 the year prior to my election to 556 in 2020. I fought to remove the onerous and inequitable $200 fee for a new street tree that prevented many residents from planting them in the first place. In 2020, I worked with the City Planning Department to pass a stormwater ordinance that mandates green infrastructure in new developments within flood zones. This means that developers will now have to meet tough standards including adding green roofs, permeable surfaces, and stormwater retention tanks as part of any new project.


While these steps are important, I know that the ultimate solution to climate change is global action to end the use of fossil fuels. I was proud to make Jersey City the first municipality in New Jersey to pass a resolution calling for state and city pension funds to divest completely from fossil fuels.


There is still so much more we can do. In 2021, the City Council passed the Jersey City Climate and Energy Action Plan, which committed our city to a long list of ambitious goals and initiatives to combat and mitigate climate change. Now we need to execute on that plan. Below is how I intend to do that to create a more sustainable and resilient Downtown.


  1. Improved Stormwater Management Infrastructure: The flooding from Tropical Storm Ida was the worst of many recent flooding events in downtown. To reduce flooding, we need to upgrade sewer infrastructure and install new pumps in major flooding hotspots to remove water during a storm. We also must transform our impervious surfaces into new absorbent ones, with permeable pavement, street trees, rain gardens and more.

  2. Develop Barriers to Stop Storm Surge: Unlike Tropic Storm Ida, the flooding damage from Hurricane Sandy was primarily caused by storm surge. Sandy covered nearly 40% of Jersey City’s land area in water. Following Sandy, Jersey City developed a Resiliency Master Plan. Jersey City must adopt its core recommendations, which outline how uniquely vulnerable waterfront areas must be protected. Long-term policies for downtown include the construction of levees, berms, and additional land barriers strategically located to prevent flooding during future storms.

  3. Greenhouse Gas Reduction by 80% by 2050: It isn’t enough to mitigate the effects of climate change, we need to do our part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To meet our city’s goal of cutting emissions by 80% by 2050, Jersey City must put in place stringent energy requirements for new construction, shift large numbers of commuters from cars to green modes of transport, and mandate 100% of municipal energy come from clean, renewable sources.

  4. Lead Pipe Removal: Lead is poison. It lowers IQ and harms health in the children whose bodies it enters. Jersey City, like all older cities, contains tens of thousands of lead service pipes connecting homes to the city’s drinking water system. Jersey City should mirror Newark’s recent initiative, which successfully replaced nearly all the lead service lines in the city.

  5. Waste Reduction: A truly sustainable city is one that produces zero waste. Jersey City can move toward this goal by significantly expanding residential and business composting programs and diverting waste from landfills into recycling plants.

 

Improved Stormwater Management Infrastructure:


A good stormwater management system is built out of two core components, active installations and passive installations. Active installations are things like improved stormwater pumps and sophisticated sewer systems that can respond to sudden surges of stormwater. Passive installations are things like permeable surfaces, tree cover, rain garden bump outs and bioswales that serve as a form of green infrastructure that absorb and divert rainwater. If we are going to build a better stormwater management system that can handle extreme flooding events like Hurricane Ida, then we will need to make aggressive investments in both of these categories.


In many ways, the backbone of a city’s floodwater management system is the capacity of its flood water sewers. As the first and last line of defence in fighting local flooding, we need to be adequately investing in our sewers if we are going to avoid catastrophic flooding events in the future. One important way we can do that is by physically increasing the diameter of our flood water pipes to increase the volume and rate of drainage from the street. This will give our system a much needed capacity increase and will raise the rainfall threshold for when extreme flooding events occur Downtown. These expansion projects should be prioritized at sites of chronic flooding such as at York St, and at the intersection of 1st and Merseles. We should pair this sewer expansion initiative with investments in new stormwater pumps at major flooding hotspots. We have already begun construction of a new pumping station at 6th St, but on its own will just not be enough. We should accelerate plans to build 5 additional pumptions stations at 18th St, 12th St, 13th st, 14th Sts and 2nd St, all of which saw devastating flooding during Ida.


While active installations are critical, new pumps and sewers will still be overtaxed during extreme weather events if they are not paired with a robust system of green infrastructure to augment them.


One important type of green installations we could install tomorrow are permeable surfaces like street trees, rain garden bump outs and bioswales, that would have the added benefit of reducing pollution as well. By adding more permeable surfaces, these gardens serve as sponges that soak up excess stormwater runoff. That keeps the untreated rainwater out of sewers, basements, and rivers. Why is stormwater runoff such a problem? In cities like ours that are mostly pavement, instead of being absorbed by the ground, excess rain water will pick up contaminants like oil, pesticides, dirt, bacteria and other pollutants which then flow untreated into our streams, rivers and the ocean. Like the EPA recommends, “when we take action to soak up the rain, we keep rain closer to where it falls and reduce the runoff from our roofs, driveways, and parking lots. Reducing runoff can help prevent water pollution, reduce flooding, and protect our drinking water”.


Furthermore, street trees and permeable surfaces reduce ambient heat from the surrounding blacktop and pavement and lower the local temperature. With climate change causing more extreme weather events every year, Jersey City must ensure we build green infrastructure to adapt to climate change and start making investments in our futures now. Raingarden bump outs provide a relatively cheap solution to do exactly that. Green infrastructure like these bump outs don’t only just collect excess water, but deliver a long list of other environmental, social, and economic benefits too. Improved drinking water and air quality and habitats for local plants, animals and insects are just the tip of the iceberg. Green infrastructure also saves the city, and the taxpayer, money by reducing frequent flooding and makes our neighborhoods greener and more livable. If we are going to build our city for the 21st century, it starts with sustainable and climate conscious investments like these.

 

Develop Barriers to Stop Storm Surge


When Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012, it covered 40% of Jersey City’s land area with floodwater and absolutely inundated Downtown for days. While Hurricane Ida led to massive flooding too, the key difference between these two events was the level of stormsurge. Stormsurge flooding is different from rainwater flooding (like what we saw during Ida), because it emanates from our oceans, bays and rivers instead of from rainwater and often results in much higher levels of flooding, particularly in coastal areas. Because this flooding is dictated by the tides and not by rainwater, our existing systems of pumps and absorbent materials simply won’t be enough to mitigate future storm surge flooding.


Following Sandy, Jersey City developed a Resiliency Master Plan. Now more than ever, we need to make these recommendations law. Jersey City should adopt the Resiliency Master Plan’s core recommendations, which outline how uniquely vulnerable waterfront areas must be protected. Many of these interventions involve creating a physical barrier between natural bodies of water and vulnerable areas. For example, the plan outlines building a combination of berms and levies at critical floodwater entry points along the length of Jersey Ave, by the border of Hoboken and by Crescent Park. Outside of Downtown (but uphill from it), the plan proposes building an elevated boardwalk by Bayfront and floodwalls further south by Bayonne to limit surges from the Hackensack River. Major physical interventions like this work best at a regional level, as floodwater doesn’t respect state borders. Because of this project’s ambitious scope, it's critical that we work in conjunction with agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers who have outlined an equally ambitious flood mitigation plan for New York City.

 

Greenhouse Gas Reduction by 80% by 2050:


Mitigating the effects of climate change through new flood pumps and seawalls are necessary and important, and without these interventions Downtown and Jersey City will continue to experience damaging floods with greater frequency. That said, investing in mitigation is only half of the solution. We need to pair mitigation efforts with major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions if we are going to create a long-term sustainable Jersey City. We need to address the core driver of climate change and the extreme weather events that come with it, and to do that we need to reduce our emissions.


In 2015, Jersey City committed itself to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by the year 2050. Just like the commitments we made in the Resiliency Master Plan, we need to turn these recommendations into law. How can we do this starting today? By improving building energy efficiency, increasing green transit adoption and reforming municipal energy production.


We can improve building energy production and use by amending Jersey City zoning laws by no later than 2022 to require all new buildings over 25,000 square feet to become Demand Response Ready and Solar Ready. Similarly sized buildings (and all municipal buildings) would also be required to utilize their roofs for solar panels, a green roof, or a cool roof. Outside of zoning rules, we should pursue legislative action that will require all buildings over 25,000 square feet to meet Energy Star certification or meet 20% reduction in carbon emissions by certain trigger events (e.g. time of sale; significant renovations). Finally, these buildings should also be required to provide at least 4 Electric Vehicle (EV) Ready parking spaces.


Improving building power efficiency is important, but leaves many other parts of our economy that produce emissions untouched. Transportation makes up one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in cities like ours, just behind industry and office/residential buildings. To really make an impact on this front, Jersey City should work to shift large numbers of commuters from cars to greener modes of transport such as public transit, cycling and EVs. We should set the goal of shifting at least 5% of all commuting trips from carbon emitting, combustion-engine powered vehicles to green alternatives.


How can we achieve this? We can accomplish this by completing the build out of Jersey City’s Bike Master Plan, which will provide more bike lane capacity, safer routes and more convenient connections for cyclist commuters. Similarly, Jersey City should mandate that the entirety of its municipal fleet, from garbage trucks to passenger cars, should be 100% electrified. Other city-owned assets should be aggressively leveraged to achieve 80% green energy production by 2050. What would this look like? We can require that all municipal facilities be powered by 100% clean energy by the year 2030. To keep ourselves accountable to this goal, we should establish achievable milestones. We should aim to achieve at least 50% renewable energy by 2025, and at least 80% should be renewable by 2030.

 

Lead Pipe Removal


In 2008, it was discovered that there was lead in Jersey City public schools’ drinking water. A decade later, we still don’t have drinkable water in many of our city’s homes or schools. A report conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) estimated that at least 5.5 million Americans received water that contains high levels of lead.


Our drinking water comes from two major sources; the Jersey City Reservoir in Boonton and the Split Rock Reservoir in Rockaway Township. However, our existing infrastructure to deliver water to homes, schools and businesses was built using lead pipes. This lead infrastructure allows the poisonous substance to seep into the drinking water making it dangerous to drink.


The CDC reports that any exposure to lead in drinking water leads to serious health problems. Children who are exposed to lead are at high risk for brain development issues leading to long term impacts on cognitive function as adults. Lead exposure also poses a serious risk to essential bodily systems for adults and children alike, such as cardiovascular diseases, and problems with bone, teeth, blood, liver, and kidney function. We should look to the Flint Michigan Water crisis as a cautionary tale for Jersey City. In Flint, residents were exposed to lead in their water due to the city government’s failure to proactively address the problem, leading to widespread, long term health impacts for its residents. It is the government’s responsibility to work proactively to ensure that all schools and homes in our cities have access to lead-free water.


It is time for Jersey City to step up to the plate, and fund a program to replace all lead pipes in our water systems. In 2019, our neighbors in Newark jump started their program to remove lead pipes by securing funding at the county and state level. We should follow their lead. It is paramount to the long term health of our children that we prioritize lead free water in our schools and homes, and to make it accessible and affordable for homeowners to replace the private lead infrastructure that currently plagues our city. Jersey City should capitalize on upcoming federal infrastructure investment to fund our lead free future by using President Biden’s proposed $2 trillion infrastructure investment plans, to replace every lead pipe in our city.

 

Waste Reduction:


A truly sustainable city is one that produces zero waste. However, the World Bank reported that cities around the world produced over two billion tons of solid waste in 2016 alone. The ever increasing solid waste produced by cities like ours has serious negative environmental effects from soil, water, air and contamination to serious harm caused to marine life.


There are numerous examples of waste reduction strategies that Jersey City should adopt to reduce our solid waste production. In 2006, Vancouver, Canada adopted an ambitious zero-waste plan that employs strategies such as reductions in single-use items, a city wide composting system for organic waste, and prioritizing “circular economy” to achieve a zero-waste city by 2040. In a recent report Vancouver saw 32% reduction in their annual solid waste that was going into landfills.

In Jersey City we can reduce our waste footprint by:

  • Expanding the Jersey City Mobile Composting Pilot Program into a free city-wide initiative to make composting easy and convenient for businesses and residents.

  • Increase the number of composting drop off locations around the city so that every neighborhood has access to one of these bins.

  • Invest in outreach to small businesses and educating the public on NJ’s new plastic ban that goes into effect on May 4, 2022.

  • Improve our city’s recycling program to allow more types of materials to be accepted for recycling.