Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Seen on a Walkabout

In the news - Connolly Properties headquarters is right next door to my humble abode.

A few blocks north on Park Avenue, what is Paramount putting in? Oh noes, as they say on LOLcat - another dollar store.

Somebody cleaned up the weeds and trash in this narrow yard behind a fence in the 300 block of Park Avenue.

But this spot at Park & North needs a cleanup.

The location of the city's first new commercial development in a decade shows no action since it was announced late last year. Yawn.

Under the Tepper's building, the city-owned portion is being worked on. Police dispatch and CCTV are supposed to go there.

Belgian blocks on Watchung Avenue? Bob Ferraro doesn't like it.

And outside City Hall, Plaintalker runs into Robert K. Graham Sr., aka "Mr. Plainfield." A chat ensues.
It's always interesting to take a walk around the center of the city.
--Bernice Paglia

Graffiti Sums It Up

Somebody scratched these words in the new sidewalk outside Pingry Arms, where tenant complaints include people running around on the roof at 2 and 3 a.m.

The elevator has been broken since February, a situation that brought tenant anger to the boiling point and unleashed a revolt against Connolly Properties, which is in charge of 27 apartment buildings in Plainfield where other property code violations are now being uncovered. Sewage pumped into the street at another building has led to a state Department of Environmental Protection investigation. Tenants applauded Courier News reporter Mark Spivey Monday for his ongoing series on the issues at Connolly Properties. Read more this week.

--Bernice Paglia

Officials: Help is Here for Tenants

City and state officials assured Connolly Properties tenants Monday that they will work with them to overcome problems ranging from broken elevators to bedbugs.

At a meeting called by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, tenants packed City Hall Library to learn how to file their many complaints against the city’s biggest landlord. Inspections Director Oscar Turk detailed the process and aides to the mayor and Assemblyman Jerry Green passed out complaint forms for follow-up. But when tenants moved from code violations to a call for rent control, officials made no promises and said that battle had to be taken up with the governing body.

In answer to resident Mariam Shastri’s question, “How did you allow this man to get a monopoly here?” Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson cited “free enterprise” and said the city can’t stop people from buying property.

The fact that the company now owns 27 of the city’s multi-family apartment buildings means that renters have limited options other than to pay a $75 non-refundable fee to apply for one of Connolly’s units. Those who succeed in getting a lease also face a $30 parking fee, a $250 deposit and $25 monthly fee for pets and other charges in addition to rent.

“How are we protected, because we have nowhere else to go,” one tenant blurted.

The company made a major acquisition in 2003 when it picked up all of former landlord Fred Tedesco’s holdings and has since added almost all apartment complexes to its portfolio in Plainfield, in addition to holdings in East Orange, Trenton, Camden and Allentown, Pa.

Robinson-Briggs urged tenants to form a tenants’ association in addition to submitting individual complaints and offered the use of City Hall for meetings.

“Let’s give this structure that the mayor’s trying to put together a chance,” Green said.

Connolly is already facing court appearances and fines for failing to fix an elevator at Pingry Arms. The elevator broke in February. But tenants said other buildings have the same problem. In addition, tenants cited broken doors that allow drug sellers and users to enter buildings, vagrants sleeping in hallways, faulty smoke alarms, scalding water in showers and other dangers to their health and safety.

Green said as chairman of the Assembly’s Housing and Local Government Committee he deals with landlords across the state.

“I can’t believe what I’m hearing,” he said Monday. “It’s unbelievable that we let this get out of hand.”

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, June 29, 2009

Do Renters Know Their Rights?

Tenants in New Jersey have many rights, but not all know how to assert them when landlords try to dodge their responsibilities. The state Department of Community Affairs publishes a booklet called "Truth in Renting," which is a guide to the rights and responsibilites of both tenants and landlords. According to the Connolly Properties web site, each tenant is given a copy of the booklet at the time of signing a lease.

Not too long ago, Maria Pellum arranged to have a workshop at the YMCA on tenant rights. Despite the fact that hundreds of renters live within steps of the YMCA, only two people showed up, both of whom could practically recite the state and municipal laws on tenant-landlord relations. Click here for the blog post on the meeting.

Now that the state of rental property in Plainfield is in the news, one wonders why it took so long. It may be that some of the problems have been so frustrating that tenants just gave up. For example, one remedy to failure of a landlord to fix things is called "repair and deduct." That might work for smaller things like a broken window, but the average tenant can't afford to call in a roofer to repair a chronic leak or a mason to repair crumbling front steps.

A landlord is supposed to furnish a stove and refrigerator, but not all do so. A renter may be desperate or unknowing enough to just go ahead and get their own or worse yet, acquire appliances from a "rent-to-own" place.

When a building is sold, the tenant's existing lease remains in place until it runs out. Any security deposits held in special accounts by the previous owner must be put in new accounts and disclosed to the tenant, because under the law it is the tenant's money, not the landlord's. Failure to do so means the tenant can cite the statute and apply the amount to rent payments.

There is an assumption that a renter who takes a complaint to the city will get help, but it is always best to know both the law and to understand the complicated complaint process, which involves a preliminary inspection to verify the complaint, notice to the owner with time allowed to fix the problem, re-inspection after a time and follow-up with fines and penalties if the problem is not fixed. Complaints can be made anonymously by calling (908) 753-3386.

State inspections are supposed to occur every five years, but furnaces are supposed to have annual inspections. Landlords of multi-family buildings are supposed to register with the state and post a registration document that discloses the owner's identity and gives emergency numbers. Each tenant is supposed to get a copy of the registration document as well.

The Truth in Renting booklet is online here. Copies may be ordered at $2, in English or Spanish.

The hard part is sticking up for one's rights, especially if a landlord resorts to bullying. It may require letters or phone calls, which take time and perseverance. Some issues may require taking a landlord to court.

There is no "lemon landlord" bill and unfortunately renters find it easier to move and take their chances elsewhere than to confront a bad landlord. But sometimes it must be done, for the sake of justice, if nothing else. Handing over hundreds of dollars each month and suffering lack of heat, vermin, leaks, mold or other hazards is just not fair. It demoralizes the householder who has done his or her part by paying the rent and then has to see the family. including children or elders, deprived of vital shelter needs.

Tonight's meeting at City Hall will show us whether Connolly tenants are serious about demanding their rights. The owner perceives the issue as being a handful of malcontents or perhaps just media sensation. But a good outcome for tenants of the largest multi-family owner could put all other landlords on notice that Plainfield will not tolerate disregard of renters' rights.

Renters make up half the households in Plainfield and nearly all the projects approved recently by land use boards are for rental units - reason enough to set things straight now with landlords.

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Bit of History

With all the current furor over inspections, perhaps a look back at November 2006 might be in order. That's when a group of Realtors successfully warded off an attempt to increase inspection fees and a City Council review of Inspections Division operations was promised. Click here to read the story.

--Bernice Paglia

Commentary on New Fiscal Year

Random image: Rainy June produced lots of mushrooms.

Soon the new fiscal year will begin and officials will start work on the budget for the year from July 1 to June 30, 2010. The SFY 2009 budget process for the year that ends next week was marred by miscommunications, delays and a $1.7 million error that wasn’t caught by any of the officials who signed off on the official document sent to the state Division of Local Government Services. A Citizens Budget Advisory Committee was highly critical of the administration and the City Council in a public presentation of its findings and recommendations.

Well, there’s always the next time. Council President Rashid Burney is calling for citizens to work on the new budget, which may be introduced as early as August, though an early start is no guarantee of timely passage. The SFY 2009 budget did not see final passage until April and residents were only spared a major tax hike through acceptance of a $2.7 million pension deferral plan.

The normal budget process has been to receive budget requests from department and division heads, which may be modified by the administration before budget introduction. Once the budget is introduced, it becomes the City Council’s budget to refine and amend before a public hearing and final passage.

But the process got a little blurry and amendments were formulated at a meeting where by chance no members of the public were present. Due to complexities with the state budget and other factors, the hand-off to the council was not as clear-cut as it may have been in the past.

In early 2009, with no fulltime finance director, the city brought in two expert advisers to help with the process behind the scenes. The city will enter the new fiscal year lacking a fulltime finance director and a permanent chief financial officer, which may trigger the need for extra help again.

The city only proposed one layoff, for savings of $10,000, in SFY 2009, but may have to join the ranks of municipalities that instituted furloughs, shorter work weeks and sometimes mass layoffs in the face of a general economic crisis.

The realities of the SFY 2010 budget process will be evident soon enough, and now that four of seven City Council members have blogs, residents should be able to follow the issues easily. Perhaps the most important unresolved item from SFY 2009 is establishment of an IT department and Burney has proposed another citizens’ committee to help guide that process.

Whether a resident commits to serving many hours on a special committee or just decides to pay close attention to the SFY budget process, input will be needed as the city makes its way through another challenging year. There may not be another one-shot means of reducing the tax impact and residents may need to declare what services and programs they can live without in the immediate future. Think about it.
--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Things in Disarray

Random image: Purple Coneflowers.

At home, my phone and modem are still not working properly, despite the efforts of a repairman on Wednesday. Across the city, things are definitely not right on several fronts. The Connolly situation has exploded from random mutterings of tenants to a fullblown, front-page scandal. Business owners are suffering from tripled rents downtown, one such longtime owner telling me last week he is working out of his home after being driven out of the central business district by an intolerable rent increase.

Add to the list the delays in road and street repairs, the seeming ineptitude in many facets of City Hall operations, a fitful City Council schedule and what appears to be a chronic lapse in making appointments to boards and commissions.

Maybe Verizon will ultimately find a way to fix my crackly phone line and unreliable modem, but as for the rest, it will take a lot of citizen outcry to get elected officials to pay attention and take action. The mayor's primary win must not be taken as an endorsement of current conditions in the city, some of which are no better than they were in 2006.

It's a sad situation. People are feeling compromised by forces beyond their control and even though some remedies exist, they are not being applied.

Any comments?

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Budget, More Up for July Votes

The City Council will have to hold a special meeting July 1 to adopt a temporary budget for the start of the 2010 fiscal year, “or the city shuts down,” City Administrator Marc Dashield said at tonight’s special meeting.

A resolution for temporary appropriations was on the June 9 agenda, but Councilman Adrian Mapp, also the chief financial officer for another Union County municipality, reminded the Plainfield administration that such action could only be taken within the first 30 days of the new fiscal year, which starts July 1.

Dashield, formerly a CFO in Franklin Township, has been acting finance director in Plainfield since the departure of the last of several finance directors since the administration of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs took over in 2006. It is Dashield’s second stint as acting finance director and although there is a 90-day limit on acting cabinet positions, Dashield has been wearing both administrative hats since December.

The meeting will be held at 8 p.m. July 1 in City Hall Library, but the approval needs five of the seven council votes. Due to various personal reasons, council action is likely to involve some members voting by conference call.

In other action Thursday, the council decided to shelve resolutions on a pump station agreement involving the city, the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority and the Plainfield Area Regional Sewerage Authority as well as one for an agency to take over management of the Dudley House substance abuse program. Those issues will be brought back for discussion at the July 13 agenda session, 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library.

Another issue that was deferred involved a Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILOT agreement , for a senior housing complex on Park Avenue. Mapp raised numerous questions, including why the city did not seek full taxes after a previous PILOT agreement ran out in 2002. His questions led to requests for a full review of all city PILOT agreements, including their duration and expiration.

Speakers in the public comment portion expressed concern about press reports of contaminated water being pumped out of a Connolly Properties building onto the street and asked for an investigation. Dashield said the pumping was done by the management company.

“It is illegal,” he said, noting citations were issued for violations of health and storm water regulations and that the state Department of Environmental Protection is involved.

“It is definitely not acceptable,” Dashield said.

A meeting is expected to take place 6:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall to hear concerns of Connolly Properties tenants.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dudley House Answer Near?

No agenda was available today, but a brief item in the legal notice for tomorrow night's special City Council meeting appears to signal possible closure to the Dudley House situation.

"Resolution authorizing a contract for substance abuse counseling services" could mean an agency has been found to take over the formerly city-run residential program. The facility lost its license last year because it was not handicapped-accessible, as required under state regulations. Since then, it has been renovated and brought up to ADA standards. But council members said they would prefer to have it operated by a private agency rather than by the city.

Almost all costs associated with the program came out of state and county funding for clients in the 15-bed residence, but the required renovations increased the city's tab last year. As of last May, all clients had left the program and no new ones could be accepted until the improvements were complete. Meanwhile, other management possibilities were being explored.

The plight of Dudley House brought out many former clients and advocates in 2007 to plead for its continuance. Click here for Plaintalker's story.

The special meeting tomorrow (June 25, 2009) is 8 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Plaintalker Marks Four Years

In June 2005, Barbara Todd Kerr launched Plaintalker.

We had talked several times about how to spread city news in a better way than what I did to alert citizens to a major redevelopment proposal. I was actually handing out copies of a hand-crafted news article on the Downtown Station South proposal in hopes of getting citizens to speak out at a public hearing. The proposal involved many blocks between the main train station and East Seventh Street and would have radically changed a wide swath of the city's heart.

Several people did attend the hearing and raised questions that might otherwise not have been heard.

But Barbara said there was a better way - a blog.

In 2005, not many people knew what a blog was. I wasn't too sure myself. But soon we had a format and a means to publish, at no cost and no pay, a news vehicle. I learned it was what was called a hyperlocal blog, meaning just about Plainfield.

Early on, I submitted content and relied on Barbara to provide images and graphics. As Barbara's other interests took precedence, it came about that I learned to post stories and images on my own. Eventually, she turned the operation over to me and so it goes today.

The blog could use an overhaul soon or maybe a whole new direction, but it has been a thrill and an honor over these past four years to help you, dear readers, understand issues of city government and redevelopment and for a while, the intense changes in the school district.

Plaintalker has scooped many a story before the print media, partly due to this writer's proximity to City Hall and willingness to attend municipal meetings, something the dailies dropped for a while.

While the future of both the print media and hyperlocal blogs is dependent on a number of factors, Plaintalker hopes to chug on for several more months. Since its inception, many more bloggers have come forward to lend their facts and opinions on life in Plainfield. An interested citizen now has a whole roster of blogs to read, ranging from those of elected officials to observers, naysayers and newsgatherers focused on Plainfield. I think it is a very good thing to see all these views.

Thanks for all your kind words and interest since June 2005 and kudos to Barbara for making it happen.

--Bernice Paglia

Meeting Notice, FYI

Random image: Black-Eyed Susan.

For the sake of those interested, below is the meeting notice for Thursday's special City Council meeting, as published online by the New Jersey Press Association. More later on these topics.













--Bernice Paglia

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sewer Deal Up Thursday

The city is being asked to permit construction of a regional sewerage pump station on city-owned land for a nominal fee, but a June 15 council discussion revealed that an alternate site may be acquired at market rate.

The matter was deferred to a special meeting to be held Thursday.

Councilman Adrian Mapp said June 15 he was not satisfied with the proposed deal with the city, saying it needed more discussion.

“Plainfield needs to do all it can to get the best arrangement for Plainfield out of this,” Mapp said. “It is not wise to move forward at this time.”

As Plaintalker understands the situation, two authorities, Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority and Plainfield Area Regional Sewerage Authority, had each planned separately to improve the pump station, but then decided to collaborate in order to use economic stimulus funding. Councilman William Reid, a former PMUA commissioner and now the council liaison to PMUA, said on June 15 the need for a new, gravity-feed pump station was identified in 2000. An initial plan to use a portion of a city-owned baseball field drew objections.

Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said PMUA is now “under direction from the state” to build a new station replacing a century-old one. Since the entities agreed to work together on the project, they proposed paying $1 to acquire a portion of the Rock Avenue transfer station or alternatively to buy a privately owned parcel.

Williamson said the transfer station is valued at $15 million.

“The whole issue could go away if PMUA is successful in purchasing the (private) property,” Williamson said.

The private property in question was not identified.

The regional sewer system serves several communities besides Plainfield. Sewer flow from western Union County municipalities and some in Middlesex and Somerset counties goes through the local and regional system on the way to treatment by the Middlesex County Utilities Authority.

The question of compensation echoes one that accompanied the conversion of the former Plainfield Joint Meeting into PARSA many years ago. The city, as primary owner of the sewer system, received less than $9 million in the deal and several officials said they felt the city should have received more.

Thursday’s meeting is 8 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

Going Buggy

Exploring the back yard with the macro lens is a good distraction while awaiting a solution to my on-again, off-again internet connection. Here is a young praying mantis, about half an inch long in real life, devouring a teeny winged bug.

This insect bears a frightening resemblance to the Asian Long-Horned Beetle, except that its body is green, not black and white. However, in a magnified view, one can see that its feet are blue on top, which is characteristic of the dreaded invader. Any entomologists out there with an opinion?
--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Playing Catch-Up

Both the city's governing body and the Board of Education have just a few leftover items that will require special meetings next week to tie up loose ends. The city's fiscal year and the school board's year both end June 30.

The school board will meet Tuesday (June 23) to deal with personnel and contractual matters. Click here to view the agenda. The meeting will be held at the administration building, 1200 Myrtle Ave.

The City Council will meet Thursday (June 25) at 8 p.m. in City Hall Library to vote on budget transfers and other matters.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Pay Hike Slated for Firefighters

A salary ordinance that passed on first reading June 15 will give firefighters a 3.5 percent raise retroactive to Jan. 1, 2008.

As reported by Plaintalker in April 2007, the prior FMBA contract ended Dec. 31, 2007:
"Also up for a vote will be a settlement with the Firemen’s Mutual Benevolent Association for a contract through the end of this year. The FMBA received increases of 3.25 percent in 2003, 3.85 percent in 2004, 3.95 percent in 2005 and will now receive 4 percent for 2006 and 4.425 percent this year. The contract expires Dec. 31."

The proposed amended ordinance does not state a term for the new contract. It will be up for second reading and final passage at the July 20 meeting. The new maximum salary will be $77,548. In another provision, the previous minimum of $40,183 will increase to $50,006, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2008.

The ordinance was not discussed at the June 9 agenda session and only appeared June 15 among 79 resolutions and three ordinances up for a vote that evening.

--Bernice Paglia

Underliners, Desist!

Ever get a really good book out of the library only to find a previous reader has underlined stuff and left check marks throughout?

It kinda takes away from the reading experience.

The trail of what was important to the other person interfered with my reading of "West with the Night," by Beryl Markham, to the point where I scouted out an old gum eraser to get rid of the offending marks. Ooops, then I had to get rid of the eraser crumbs.

Anyway, this book is great reading on a bygone era and Markham's life is remarkable for a woman in the early 2oth century. Check it out! But please don't put checks or underlines in it!

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, June 19, 2009

Here There Be Goblins??

When my neighbor and I both lost dial tones recently, she told me she directed a technician to nearby equipment and her line was fixed. Mine came back on by itself, though now is full of crackles.

Today I went to look at the equipment and found it is unsecured, with the gate open, latches unsecured and locks stuck in the fence instead of the latches. A nearby business owner said it had once been secured, but then went unsecured for many years.

My concern is that people in search of wiring that can be sold for scrap are now messing with this equipment, but I have no means of proving that this is the case.

Still, how can valuable telecom stuff be left unlocked and unsecured?

Maybe people think it is a Porta-Potty and are urinating on the wires. I have more pictures and they are not reassuring as to the security and safety of this equipment.

The only good part is that I found an interesting wild flower or weed on the premises, namely Goat's Beard, which looks like a dandelion on steroids. As always, I can be distracted from anything by a wild flower.

Taking my chances on posting right now.

--Bernice Paglia

TV Issues Abound

Random image: Yellow hollyhocks.

I attended Thursday's Cable Television Advisory Board meeting but couldn't post due to the misbehaving computer. Today the modem didn't work all morning, giving me time to think about the issues raised. They include the need to recruit more residents to serve on the board, scheduling, policies to put in place on use of equipment, Comcast changes and many more. Looking at old blog posts when the internet link came back, I saw that in 2006 Comcast officials advised the board to begin the three-year ascertainment process toward franchise renewal, but later the officials said there was an automatic five-year renewal. I wondered how that deal came about in 1999 and whether, with all the changes in administration, the city still has a copy of the contract on file. I would love to see the exact language of the terms.

Anyway, the subject became larger in my mind that a quick summary of a meeting. I will try to work on it in Word so I can pop it in when the internet window opens for a while.

P.S. The darn thing went off three times while I tried to finish this, so I am stopping right here.


Blog May Be MIA

I called Verizon to ask what became of the promised callback yesterday and was told the problem couldn't be solved internally, so a repairman will be dispatched on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the internet connection is very spotty. So if you don't see a blog post, that's why.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Carillon Concert Sunday

If you are free at noon on Sunday, consider enjoying one of Plainfield's most interesting resources, the Pittis Carillon at Grace Episcopal Church. It is one of only four carillons in New Jersey and on Sunday, carilloneur Wesley Arai will perform on it.

Click here for details on the event and here for more information on the carillon.

Living right across the street for the past 17 years, I have enjoyed the beautiful sounds of the carillon and more recently the diverse repertoire of church carilloneur Jeff Spelman, which includes not only traditional hymns but also music of significance to the Plainfield community, such as "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing."

Park in Municipal Lot 7 and bring a chair. The bells are best heard from Cleveland Avenue, off East Seventh Street.

--Bernice Paglia

Rainy Day Pics

My Coral Bells are weighed down by the heavy rains. No sun promised for several more days.

Still waiting for a callback from Verizon about my phone and modem, which seem to go bad in heavy rains. Meanwhile, checking for spyware.

Way to Go, Bridget!

Congratulations to Bridget Rivers. The CN got the outcome yesterday afternoon that Bridget won the Fourth Ward by seven votes.



My new modem is going on and off randomly! Wish me luck with Verizon!


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Best Wishes to Dr. Lommerin

A school principal dedicated to giving his all for Plainfield students expects to do the same in a new role as superintendent of a small district in Ocean County.

Christopher Lommerin is headed to a shore town whose population numbers about the same as Plainfield's pupil count. But he sees no difference between education in an urban setting or anywhere else. His job has been and will continue to be to "remove barriers so teachers can teach and students can learn," he said in an interview Wednesday.

Lommerin, who holds a doctorate in education, served as principal at Stillman Elementary School for seven years, Jefferson Elementary for two years, Maxson Middle School for one year and was most recently entrusted with launching a new K-8 initiative at Cook Elementary School.

"It's been a good ride for 11 years," he said.

As superintendent of the Ocean Township district, he will lead two K-6 schools with about 550 students. Lommerin called the new setting "very quaint."

News of his new opportunity was posted on the Plainfield district web site and reactions on an online forum combined good wishes with regrets for losing him as an administrator.

When Lommerin says, "I put in 100 percent every day," some will recall how he once even dressed as the Stillman mascot, an owl, to pump up school spirit. Others may remember his selection as one of only 20 administrators worldwide in a 2007-08 Fulbright exchange program.

From a Plaintalker post in 2007:

In a special moment Tuesday, the board and public applauded Maxson School Principal Christopher Lommerin and educator Liena Halkova of the Czech Republic for their roles in an exchange plan.The pair is among only 20 administrators worldwide selected by the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board and the United States Department of State for the Fulbright Administrator Exchange Award. Halkova will observe Lommerin’s administration for six weeks beginning Nov. 1. Lommerin will do the same in the Czech Republic starting in February 2008.

Lommerin, 42, expects to relocate to the shore, with a "15-minute commute" in mind so he can spend more time with his wife and 3-year-old twin daughters.

--Bernice Paglia

Recount Results Thursday

Wednesday Bulletin

A recount of the Fourth Ward City Council race is scheduled to take place this afternoon, with results to be certified tomorrow. The Division of Elections in the County Clerk's office confirmed that the recount will take place at the Board of Elections warehouse, where each vote, whether by machine or by absentee or provisional ballot, will be recounted.

Official results released after the June 2 Democratic primary election showed only a six-vote difference between candidates Bridget Rivers and Vera Greaves. Rivers, currently president of the Plainfield Board of Education, received 245 votes, while Greaves, the running mate of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, received 239 votes.

The recount results will be certified Thursday by the Board of Elections.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"Luxury Condos"

The former Mirons Furniture warehouse on East Second Street was billed some time ago as the venue for "luxury condos."

As anyone who goes downtown knows, it never happened.

Today there were workers at the building and a Dumpster full of bricks could be seen inside. Given that the roof and many windows have been open to the elements for years, one wonders how viable the property is for redevelopment.

Now the property is on a list of projects proposed by developer Frank Cretella and is currently called "East Second Luxury Condos" with a planned occupancy of 12 residential units. Along with other variously-named Cretella projects, a total of 148 units are in the works. Plaintalker is tracking the projects' progress through the land use boards and will report results as they happen.

--Bernice Paglia

Financing Sought for 100-Unit Proposal

Among items on a very crowded agenda Monday, a company called West Second Street Urban Renewal LLC received City Council approval to apply for financing to build a five-story structure with 100 residential units and a commercial portion.

The project, known as West Second Street Commons, needs city approval to apply for New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency funding to meet "an existing housing need," according to the resolution.

The developer is the same one who was named in 2006 for the North Avenue Commercial Historic District. City Administrator Marc Dashield called the proposed project a "keystone to providing the density necessary to develop the rest of North Avenue." It is in the so-called North Avenue extension, on the block anchored by PNC Bank.

Questions from the council revealed that the project has not been reviewed by the Planning Board, but that it will be if financing is secured.

According to tax records, the property belongs to Koss Electronics. It is occupied by Appliance Arama. (Clarification: The stated address, 127 West Second Street, is just one of five parcels involved, on Block 245, lot 6. Lots 3,4,5,6 and 10 are all included on the resolution.)

Developer Frank Cretella has received various approvals in recent months for projects on Park Avenue, East Second Street and West Front Street. Each has its own unique name, such as "Next Step to Collins Avenue LLC," "Certified Green Property One LLC," and "Arts Loft I LLC."

The matter was not on the June 9 agenda and was not discussed in public at that meeting. The resolution Monday states that the governing body "hereby determines that there is a need for this housing project in the city of Plainfield."

Previous proposals by the developer have included four apartments at 212-216 Park Avenue, 12 apartments at 226-232 Park Avenue and 20 apartments at 158 East Second Street, each with a commercial component. Although past city policy has been not to increase rental housing, all these plans are for rentals.

Plaintalker will be tracking the progress of all these projects in the North Avenue Historic District and in the North Avenue extension. Front Street Offices LLC is another Cretella proposal that includes the Appliance Arama warehouse on Front Street and two city-owned lots which have not yet been acquired by the developer.

Although Monday's meeting was the last scheduled regular meeting of FY 2009, the City Council will hold a special meeting on June 25 to deal with several matters. The meeting will take place at 8 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Avenue.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, June 15, 2009

Blogging Woes Continue

I have promised myself breaks when the blog post tally reached 1600 and 1700. Now it has reached 1800 and I am asking myself why I shouldn’t finally take a break.

The other factor is that the new modem has not proved any more reliable than the past one that recently began failing at random intervals. Same scenario and equally annoying. So far I have not called Verizon, because there are too many possible reasons for this problem, ranging from Verizon not wanting to upgrade old systems to squirrels chewing the wires. Bad AOL vibes and global warming have not been excluded.

Maybe Verizon will say I should just get FiOS, as when an AT&T guy told me in 2006 I should just get Verizon when my land line failed.

Move the consumer along to newer systems, that’s the game.

I can remember when there was just “the phone bill,” not $90 for cell phones and $90 more for DSL and land lines. Someone on WNYC today spoke about how food costs have gone way down, while communication costs have gone way up.

Having found three really good books today at the Plainfield Public Library, my temptation is to drop back to reading books.

But no, dear readers, I will probably keep on keeping on with reports of municipal and redevelopment issues, along with the occasional garden report and update on Mousie.

The local blogosphere has been getting a bit thin lately. I hope new bloggers will come forward to fill in the gaps and open new portals of thinking. We need a lot of voices and information on the issues that are affecting our city. I look forward to these voices. (Wait, won’t hearing voices get me sent to some remote hospital in Central Jersey? Never mind.)

--Bernice Paglia

Get Fresh Produce on Mondays

On an errand to City Hall, I was glad to see the farm stand open for the season. It will be open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through June, then on both Mondays and Thursdays through Thanksgiving, Ernie of Stillwell Farms told me.

I took home a red pepper and some green beans along with my documents from City Hall and soon had a nice dish of rice and vegetables for lunch. Stop by next Monday and check out the offerings.

Different Times, Different Signs

Constructive, Conservative - a bank motto from the past on this building at 111 East Front Street.
Nowadays, a place to cry in your beer over your money troubles.

Last Council Meeting of FY 2009 Tonight

Tonight’s City Council meeting is the last one for FY 2009, a year marred by extremely late budget passage due to disarray at the state level caused in part by a general economic crisis.

While many governmental and private systems turned to furloughs, layoffs and givebacks, Plainfield proposed just one layoff for savings of only $10,000. A large tax increase was warded off only by the dubious measure of deferring pension payments, which must be paid back with interest over 15 years starting in 2012.

The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Tonight’s agenda contains resolutions for July Fourth fireworks, something other municipalities are foregoing during the current fiscal crunch. The city is planning to save money by holding the display on the Thursday before the holiday in order to save overtime costs and will not hold a concert this year. The traditional parade will take place on Saturday, July 4.

Besides the 69 resolutions and one ordinance discussed on June 9, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson announced that night that he was requesting addition of several more items to the agenda. Details were not available last week.

The agenda includes liquor license renewals for 22 establishments, while several others are in doubt. Those that do not meet renewal requirements by Monday will have to get day-to-day “ad interim” licenses in order to do business while their problems are worked out.

Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig said on June 9 he has developed a better way to give the City Council reports on the various bars, clubs and restaurants. The council acts as the local Alcoholic Beverage Control board and can act to suspend or deny the license of any establishment that breaks rules on underage consumption, has illicit activity on the premises or otherwise fails to meet ABC requirements. Previously, printouts of police calls at such locations included everything from motor vehicle accidents to alarms going off, so council members were not able to pinpoint ABC infractions. Hellwig said he has fine-tuned the process so that reports are now more intelligible. In addition, he said, patterns are emerging on establishments that have chronic problems.

Council members, especially Councilman William Reid, have expressed concern about the number of liquor establishments in Plainfield, which exceed current state guidelines but were grandfathered in when new rules on ratios per population were passed. If the council can prove an establishment is in violation of ABC rules, it can shut the place down by denying its license.

The complete agenda for tonight’s meeting is posted on the city web site. Click here to view it. The meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

Young Mantids on the Prowl

The crop of praying mantises that hatched a few weeks ago has spread out across several garden plots in our yard. With any luck, they will devour lots of harmful insects and keep our gardens healthy.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Recount Deadline Looms

Despite Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Green's remarks at the party reorganization last Monday, County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi has posted official primary results that declare Bridget Rivers the Fourth Ward City Council winner.

Rivers was named president of the Plainfield Board of Education for the second year in April.

Green talked about eight provisional ballots that might be in doubt, but a city resident called the Division of Elections later and was told there had only been five provisional ballots. This writer also showed Green the official results that showed Rivers winning by six votes over Vera Greaves, the running mate of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs. Green had said he had lawyers looking into the validity of the provisional ballots.

The deadline to request a recount is Wednesday.

Of 2,324 registered Democrats in the Fourth Ward, 496, or 21 percent, came out to vote in the June 2 primary.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, June 12, 2009

"Is, is," "Yeah, no," and "-ing."

Over the past several years, conversation in English has produced some totally illogical constructions that make me wonder how a person trying to learn the language will ever succeed.

For a while now, speakers have said, “The reason is, is …” or similar phraseology. How the extra “is” crept in, I will never know, but it can be heard even on public radio from the lips of highly compensated officials.

I did once encounter a person who expanded the meme to “The reason being, is because …” and that was a teacher, no less. But then again, she referred to her expensive watch as a “Rolodex.”

When I was a reporter in the great open pen that was the newsroom, I marveled at one reporter who when on the phone constantly used the “Yeah, no” locution while taking crime interviews. So was it “yes” or “no”? As the old song goes, “It’s got to be this or that.”

And then we have these new “ing” words, mostly about pandemics and such, which are described as “worrying” or “concerning.”

Didn’t it used to be “worrisome” and “of concern”? Maybe this came from the rash of films with gerunds, starting way back with “Raising Arizona.”

If anyone out there has insight into these changes, please comment.

--Bernice Paglia

Fed Money Project Questioned

A plan to use economic recovery money to repair a short street leading to a closed bridge drew criticism at the June 9 City Council meeting.

Councilman Cory Storch, who heard the proposal June 4 as liaison to the Planning Board, said the rationale presented at that meeting was “weak.” The project in question is for Geraud Avenue, where a bridge to North Plainfield has been out for several years. Click here for the Planning Board story.

To be considered for economic recovery funding, projects had to be “shovel-ready” and have a quick turnaround time for completion. But at the Planning Board, Storch questioned whether Geraud Avenue was “shovel-worthy.”

“We wanted the money,“ Storch said, but added, “It seems like there might be a better place.”

City Administrator Marc Dashield said the funding hinged on having projects that could be done quickly and completed within in 120 days.

But Councilman Adrian Mapp also questioned the choice and said, “I really do think we need to pick another place.”

Councilman Elliott Simmons, who represents the Fourth Ward where the site is located, objected, saying residents there deserve the improvements.

Councilwoman Linda Carter raised the question of what was being done about sinkholes near the damaged bridge and said Somerset County must be made aware of the project.

The issue of the upkeep or repair of numerous bridges between the city in Union County and the borough of North Plainfield in Somerset County has long been mulled with no agreement among the parties.

Approval of the economic recovery projects will be up for a vote at Monday’s regular council meeting, 8 p.m. in Municipal Court.

--Bernice Paglia

Crossing Guards Raise Expected

At Monday's meeting, the City Council is expected to vote on a pay increase for crossing guards.

The guards came out in force to a September council meeting. Here is an excerpt from Plaintalker's post on the meeting:

As the City Council prepares for budget deliberations for FY 2009, school crossing guards came out in force Monday to ask for higher pay and other demands.The crossing guards currently make $10 t0 $13 per hour, but need to make $15 per hour in order to qualify for unemployment when school is out, a spokesman said.In addition, jackets assigned to guards are designed for men and do not fit full-figured female guards, representative Melvin Cody said.The city currently has 43 designated spots requiring school crossing guards, but only 34 guards, Cody said. Sworn officers must then cover the crossings at a much higher pay rate.

Guards may get up to $16 per hour under the proposed resolution. They have not received a raise for 15 years. One veteran guard asked whether longevity pay would be considered and City Administrator Marc Dashield said it might be.

Monday's meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

Still Problems

Well, the new modem is malfunctioning, so stay tuned. Will blog as possible. Sorry for the disruption.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Garden Color on a Gray Day

These Sundrops create their own sunshine! They are the progeny of some plants from the yard of former Plainfielder Mahendra Budhan, who had a lovely garden in addition to being a fervent promoter of the local cricket club that meets in Cedar Brook Park.

Magenta Lychnis catches the eye and is all the more striking for the contrast of its gray-green foliage. We have lots and lots of this plant in a back border.

These lilies are a bit Halloween-y and they always remind me that I never got around to ordering the mixed pastel Asiatic lilies that I admire every time the Fall bulb catalogues come around.
No matter what else is going on, a garden is always a pleasant distraction. I do believe those theories that say a garden is good for one's physical and emotional health. Hope you enjoy these sights as much as I do!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

TOD "Visioning" Advocated

Councilman Cory Storch pitched Tuesday for a “year-long visioning process” on transit-oriented development and is hoping Monday’s regular City Council meeting will produce endorsement of the plan and its $65,000 projected cost.

Although the current economic situation has slowed development and redevelopment, Storch said in the agenda-fixing session that Plainfield must be prepared for future opportunities related to a tunnel project that he said could produce a “one-seat ride” to Manhattan by 2017.

Claiming that real estate values are likely to go up along the Raritan Valley rail line, Storch said, “It’s very important for Plainfield to be prepared – we have to be at the front of the line.”

To that end, Storch advocates a partnership with Rutgers University and New Jersey Institute of Technology for the visioning process, starting with talks this summer and getting citizen input through the fall and winter, to produce a report by spring.

In April, Storch discussed issues around such a study on his blog.

As liaison to the Planning Board, Storch said the city’s master plan is very close to approval and “calls very much for the study that is being proposed.”

Generally, transit-oriented development supports higher density around train stations and other transportation hubs.

City Council President Rashid Burney said the plan should include education on “why density is good for Plainfield.” Having a consensus also helps with financing for developers, Burney said.

Councilman William Reid questioned whether Storch had the consensus of the administration on the plan and its cost.

City Administrator Marc Dashield said consensus has not yet been achieved, but added, “Plainfield is poised to come out of this. We’ve got plans – things are moving.”

By way of contrast, the administration called for transit-oriented development at the mayor’s 100-day report in 2006. Besides two existing train stations, city officials said they wanted to restore two defunct stations in the West End.

At the meeting , Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs showcased a developer with plans for condos on South Avenue, but the proposal failed and it came out in the wash that the developer’s partner had been sentenced in 1997 to 48 months in jail on 17 counts of mail, wire, insurance and bank fraud.

Another developer proposing massive development at Richmond and East Third Street in 2006 turned out to be on the state debarment list, meaning he was barred from public contracts until April 2007 due to infractions. He later dropped the project, but then proposed a multi-story apartment project on South Avenue that was rejected by land use officials.

The caveat here is to make sure that transit-oriented development, if supported, is really viable

--Bernice Paglia

Fourth Will Be in Halves

The city will hold the annual fireworks display on correctionThursday, July 2 to avoid overtime costs, while the parade will still take place on Saturday, July 4.

In addition, a concert will be omitted to save money.

Funding for the firewworks in Cedar Brook Park includes $8,282.50 for an agreement with Union County for use of the park and $13,500 to Garden State Fireworks for the big display. The expenditures will be up for a City Council vote at the regular meeting, 8 p.m. Monday in Municipal Court.

Council members are still awaiting a comprehensive breakdown from the administration of the total costs for all Fourth of July activities.

--Bernice Paglia

More To Follow

Well, I got one story up before the modem went crazy and now have a moment of opportunity to say there will be more!


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Road Repairs a Big Issue

The roadway on South Avenue is failing, City Administrator Marc Dashield said Tuesday as he asked the City Council for approval to use bond funds for repairs.

Calling the road “an important gateway to the city,” Dashield said it must be fixed. South Avenue is the entry into the city from Fanwood and points east and is part of the city’s Urban Enterprise Zone.

A reconstruction in 2004 went forward on the say-so of a city employee despite advice from an engineer that the design was flawed, Dashield said. Because the project used state funds and it was the city’s error, Plainfield cannot seek state funding again for the needed repairs, nor can it seek recourse from the contractors.

The original reconstruction became controversial for a traffic-calming feature known as “bump-outs” that resulted in numerous accidents. The bump-outs extended the sidewalk several feet into the street to slow traffic and improve pedestrian safety, but cars ran over them, causing the need for reflective markers and signage. Although the idea was to promote the South Avenue “Restaurant Row” and Plainwood Square business district, many drivers opted to take East Seventh Street, a block south, in order to avoid the bump-outs.

“I hope you take out those bump-outs,” Councilman William Reid said Tuesday, echoing a thought that crossed the mind of this writer when the subject came up.

In other discussions on road repairs, Dashield said a contractor for Netherwood Avenue road repairs began work last fall, but did not show up again in spring to resume work. The city will use performance bonds to continue.

“The roads will get done, but it will take longer,” Dashield said.

--Bernice Paglia

To the Rescue

A technician, Xavier of Verizon, has diagnosed my problem as modem malaise and is sending me a new one. Meanwhile, as the little green lights go off and on, blogging will be spotty. Thanks for all your kind words and offers of help.

On Tonight's Agenda

Besides 69 resolutions and one ordinance, there are several discussion items on tonight's City Council agenda.

The meeting is 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library.

City Administrator Marc Dashield is scheduled to give an update on South Avenue road construction. There will also be further discussion of getting Board of Education meetings on Channel 74. Councilwoman Linda Carter and Board of Education President Bridget Rivers were at last night's Democratic City Committee reorganization and neither had seen a November meeting that was aired last week. Both agreed it would be better to have more recent meetings shown.

(Rivers won the Fourth Ward primary by six votes, according to official results posted by Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi Monday. Democratic Chairman Jerry green told the committee some provisional ballots are in doubt and attoerneys are working on the case.)

The council will also discuss the transit-oriented study advocated by Councilman Cory Storch and the possibility of getting City Council pages on the city web site.

There will also be a council discussion of a resolution on school funding. The state Supreme Court recently upheld the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 that changes the way education funding is allotted.

Most of the resolutions on the agenda have to do with liquor license renewals. Twenty-two establishments met all requirements. Others failed to pay fees or get approvals necessary for renewals.

The regular meeting this month will be at 8 p.m. June 15 in Municipal Court.

--Bernice Paglia

DSL Troubles

I had a LOT of trouble last night and early today with my DSL connection. It just goes off and on at random. I will probably have to get Verizon on the case. I could not fix my post on the Democratic City Committee reorganization, so it looks a little peculiar.
Maybe the blog deities are telling me to take a break.


Monday, June 08, 2009

Dem Rapprochement in Question

A potential political lovefest went wrong Monday after newly-re-elected Chairman Jerry Green of the Regular Democratic Organization apparently altered terms of a negotiated deal on committee representation with the New Democrats.

Initially, members of the public who showed up at the YWCA for the Democrats' biennial reorganization found themselves barred by uniformed police from entering the meeting room until 7 p.m. while caucuses of the warring factions took place.

The New Democrats had backed Councilman Adrian Mapp for mayor in the June 2 primary, while the RDO backed incumbent Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who won with 47 percent of the vote in a field of six candidates. Mapp received 39 percent of the vote and his slate of committee candidates won 28 of the possible 68 committee seats.

The first proposed slate included New Democrat campaigner Rebecca Williams as second vice chair and Mapp as third vice chair, but Green then added a pledge that all would support 2nd & 3rd Ward Councilman Rashid Burney in a re-election bid next year. New Democrats said they would consider it later on, but objected to the condition being added to the vote Monday.

In the end, a slate with no New Democrats was adopted, kind of giving a hollow ring to Jerry Green's statement on his support of Burney: "This is my way of bringing everybody together."

Green spoke of the need to back Gov. Jon Corzine in the upcoming governor's race, while also acknowledging that Democratic voting was down statewide. In Plainfield, only one-third of eligible Democrats bothered to vote.

Mapp supporters had also made a bid for him to become chairman, but he received only 27 votes to Green's 41 and conceded the election.

While Mapp preached partnership, saying, "There needs to be one Democratic party in Plainfield," his supporters appeared to be stung and bitter over the outcome of the meeting, which was characterized by frequent outcries prompting calls for order by Sergeant-at-Arms Hugh Smith.

Regarding Burney, the current City Council president, his term and that of the First Ward incumbent William Reid, will be up next year.

The roster Monday ended up having all RDO members as officers.

In a side note, Green said results of the Fourth Ward City Council race are under scrutiny by attorneys over the status of provisional ballots, despite posting Monday of official results from County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi that show Bridget Rivers as the official winner by six votes over the mayor's Fourth Ward running mate, Vera Greaves. Objectors have until June 17 to demand a recount.

--Bernice Paglia

Senior Center Advocate Passes

Word spread Monday that Charles Nelson, a staunch fighter for a new senior center, had passed away.
As Senior Center president, Mr. Nelson had been a regular speaker at City Council meetings through all the many proposals for a new center and never wavered in his resolve to see the seniors receive their very own building. Since 1989, seniors met in a leased space at 305 East Front Street. The lease ran out in 1999, but no new plan had been made for a new center and the rental arrangement straggled on.
When developer Glen Fishman proposed a 63-unit condo development with a senior center and veterans' meeting place on the ground floor, Mr. Nelson was in on every discussion of the plan. Seniors formulated their wishes for the new center and each month, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs gave an update on the project, which she ceremoniously handed over to Mr. Nelson as head of the Building Committee.
Illness prevented Mr., Nelson from attending a May 20 dedication of the new site, but a large crowd held him in their thoughts.
On Monday, the mayor remembered Mr. Nelson and his quest.
"He fought as long as he could, with his illness, to make sure all seniors received the building they wanted," she said.
At her next monthly visit with seniors, the mayor said, she may discuss some way of including a tribute to Mr. Nelson in the new building.
The mayor recognized Mr. Nelson's role by having him countersign the contract for the new building as a symbol of the "full partnership" he promoted for seniors in the design of the new center.
Still emotional over the loss, the mayor recalled Mr. Nelson as being "very business-like, soft-spoken and kind" in his campaign for a new center, calling him "easy to get along with and easy to work with."
"I'm really going to miss Mr. Nelson," she said.
For Plaintalker's file with references to Mr. Nelson, click here.
Personal comment: Both as a senior center member and a newsgatherer, I had great respect for Mr. Nelson and I extend my condolences to his family.
--Bernice Paglia

Taking a Day Off

I'll be out in the yard today or doing spring cleaning. Enjoy your day!


Saturday, June 06, 2009

BOE Now on Channel 74

A random peek at Channel 74 this afternoon turned up a school board meeting.

City Councilwomen Linda Carter and Annie McWilliams and BOE member Patricia Barksdale have been pushing to have the school board meetings televised, as council meetings now are. But for many weeks they were told it could not be done due to lack of staff. Barksdale, the school board liaison to the City Council, recently came to a council meeting to hand over the most recent DVD of a school board meeting, noting about six had already been given to the city for airing on the city's community channel.

The session shown today dates back to November and features impassioned pleas from parents and coaches of the Tsunami Track Club, which had used the high school for indoor practice until being denied early in the 2008-09 school year. The matter was resolved many months ago.

Besides being a bit out of date, the BOE meeting was not reflected on the Channel 74 schedule, which is on the city web site. So there is more work to be done on correlating the programming with the posted schedule.

Now that the City Council only holds one agenda session and one regular meeting per month, the governing body is turning up quite often in repeat showings on Channel 74. Dr. Harold Yood and other regular commenters may turn into local celebrities with all the exposure.

--Bernice Paglia

West Eighth Street Repairs Near Completion

In April, Maria and I saw road repairs being done on West Eighth Street down by Hubbard Middle School. Last week, workers reached Park Avenue.

On a 6-Year Capital Improvement Plan drafted in 2004 by Schoor DePalma engineers, this work was listed as Year 2 and was to have taken place in the 2006 calendar year. All the roads listed had been found to be in "very poor" condition. Possibly to disguise the time lapse, Year 2 is now being called Phase II.

The work was to be done in two parts, from the city limits to Central Avenue and from Central Avenue to Park Avenue.

--Bernice Paglia

An Update

I was able to finish and post the Planning Board story after getting up in the middle of the night. The modem behaved and it is now 4:07 a.m., not 3-something p.m. as indicated on the post.

Last fall I had hoped to do a review of all the pending development and redevelopment projects, but a promised "official" update took a long time to be released and I kind of lost momentum on the story. The other problem was that a summary by the name of each proposal does not include context and background, which when added would make quite a long story, given the lapse of time since they were offered. The rapid flow of proposals in 2006 has not been followed by much action since then.

The mention Thursday of the vacant lot on Somerset Street and the fact that the Park-Madison office building has yet to receive sign-offs on all conditions imposed by the Planning Board indicate some of the loose ends out there. Newcomers may not even have heard of the 18 or so proposals that I have been trying to track over the years.

Because this blog basically began four years ago to apprise readers of redevelopment issues, I will try again this month to go over them.


Friday, June 05, 2009

Planners Approve Road Projects

Planning Board members had lots of questions Thursday before they approved three road projects to be funded with $409,000 in federal economic recovery funds.

They included the status of a bridge by one road site and the the difference between "shovel-ready" and "shovel-worthy" projects from another Planning Board member's view.

The city is in Phase II of a six-year road improvement program, but to take advantage of the opportunity, city engineers Remington & Vernick extracted three roads from year three of the plan. Grants through the Community Development Block Grant program must be awarded and work must begin before July 20.

The projects include Somerset Street from Front Street to the city's north border, Geraud Avenue from West Front Street to the city's border with North Plainfield and Cedarbrook Road from Prospect Avenue to Watchung Avenue.

Planning Board member Gordon Fuller asked how the city would fund the repairs if not for the extra money and engineer Randy Laks said the city would have gone out for bonds. The total for all three roads exceeds $429,000, Laks said. Asked by member Horace Baldwin how the city would handle the gap, Laks said bids were coming in "very aggressive" and the projects might come in under the funding.

Describing the projects, engineer Dennis McNulty said Somerset Street would be milled and resurfaced, with new pavement stripes and one new street tree. Councilman Cory Storch, liaison to the Planning Board, asked about a vacant lot on Somerset Street that was supposed to be developed as part of the former Tepper's department store conversion to 75 apartments. Planning Division Director Bill Nierstedt said to date there are no plans for the lot, prompting Storch to ask whether the city has any leverage or will just have to wait and see what happens. But as the question was not strictly related to the road projects, it went unanswered Thursday.

Board member William Toth questioned how the how the tree will be installed and McNulty said although the sidewalk has stamped concrete, plain concrete will be used for the sidewalk. Board member Ron Scott-Bey said he wanted it to match, but Laks said the stamped concrete has a polymer coating and there are questions of its longevity. Laks said engineers could try to match the existing streetscape or could use pavers.

Geraud Avenue will be completely reconstructed, McNulty said. Instead of a two-to-one replacement for six trees to be removed, six will be planted on the block-long street and the balance will be applied to the Cedarbrook project, where the street is much longer. Curb ramps will be added in anticipation of a project to build a walking and bike path along the Green Brook.

Board members were concerned about the Geraud Avenue bridge, which has been closed for many years. Storch questioned its status and Scott-Bey asked why the street was chosen. Nierstedt explained that the three sites were chosen to use the grant opportunity and Laks said the projects had to meet certain criteria. But Storch repeated the words of President Barack Obama, who said projects should be both "shovel-ready" and "shovel-worthy," noting there are few houses on Geraud Avenue.

Toth asked what would happen to the road if the bridge is replaced, but was assured it would not be damaged. Laks said a developer was "adamant" about having the bridge restored and McNulty said he believed Somerset County had obtained a grant to do preliminary design on a new bridge.

(Some background - the bridge is one of 18 over the Green Brook. Replacement costs for several were set at $1 million each and the city, North Plainfield and engineers from Union and Somerset County met many years ago to decide on priorities for bridge repair. Because a supermarket and other development was proposed for the Marino's site on West Front Street, Plainfield wanted the Geraud Avenue bridge replaced to make a link to Route 22. However, the site has yet to be developed. The last developer considered for the site was AST Development Corp. in 2006, but the conditional designation expired some time ago.)

On Cedarbrook Road, McNulty said the proposal is to reconstruct the entire road, which has drainage problems. New curbing and a concrete gutter for drainage would be installed. Because the road abuts an historic district, a special concrete mix will be used. The street will receive a number of new London Plane trees to replace missing ones on the road.

Fuller asked whether any work would be done on Brook Lane and Laks said that was part of Phase II.

The Cedarbrook Road project must be reviewed by the Historic Preservation Commission, Laks said. Fuller asked about curb materials and Laks said there had already been "quite a bit of discussion" on the subject. (A recent City Council meeting included a lengthy discussion on Belgian blocks versus bluestone or plain concrete.)

Toth asked whether trees were being selected with regard to overhead wires and was assured that they were.

Before the vote, board attorney Michele Donato suggested two conditions: That if stamped concrete is removed, pavers must be installed and that the engineers continue to work closely with the city on selection of street trees. The projects, as well as another on South Second Street from Spooner Avenue to Plainfield Avenue, were then approved. The South Second Street work will use a $265,000 CDBG grant and another $239,161 in NJDOT funding for a total of $504,161.

--Bernice Paglia


My DSL line is going on and off at random. Not sure what's up. It could be the heavy rains, which have affected my phone line in the past.
If Plaintalker is dark over the weekend, never fear, it's just technology gone wrong.


On Road Improvements

The stimulus money hailed by City Administrator Marc Dashield and reported in today's Courier News was the subject of a Planning Board review last night. Unfortunately, my modem behaved strangely and I only finished posting the school district item early this morning before I lost my blogging impetus. The time of posting, 10:31 p.m., was when I started, but I didn't finish until after Mousie woke me up at around 4:30 a.m. I will try later to post on the road issues.


Thursday, June 04, 2009

Cedarbrook Will Receive Temporary Classroom

A Plainfield Board of Education request to relocate a temporary classroom from Maxson Middle School to Cedarbrook Elementary School received Planning Board approval Thursday, marking a district shift aimed at competing with charter schools and other choices for young adolescent students.

Cedarbrook was among the first schools identified by new Schools Superintendent Steve Gallon III for the shift to a K-8 format. Click here for a Plaintalker Q&A with Gallon on the plan. The movement started with introduction this year of a sixth grade in the formerly K-5 school. Ultimately, Gallon wants all elementary schools to have the K-8 configuration.

Starting in the 2008-09 school year, Cedarbrook had a 99 percent retention rate of students who wanted to stay in the elementary school, Schools Business Administrator Gary Ottmann told the Planning Board. The resultant decrease in the middle school population caused the need to relocate the temporary classroom.

Planning Board member Ron Scott-Bey raised concerns about student exposure to the elements on proposed walkways from the temporary classroom to the main building, but was assured that the students would have less movement in the new plan than if they were in middle school. The walkways will have a roof structure that can withstand snow buildup, and will have vinyl sidewalls to adhere to a Fire Division prohibition on canvas construction that can quickly catch fire, presenters said.

Asked when the temporary structure would be replaced by a permanent upgrade, Ottmann said that will occur when the Schools Development Authority funds a replacement. The district will pay from general funds the approximate $400,000 needed to relocate the temporary classroom, he said.

In light of the ongoing shift of students from middle schools, Planning Board attorney Michele Donato said the district should revisit its long range plan for schools. Ottmann said the state Department of Education requires the district to submit a revised long range plan in 2010.

--Bernice Paglia

Shakespeare Garden Information

The Plainfield Garden Club has lots of information about the Shakespeare Garden on its web site. Click here to see it.

I agree, it would be nice to have markers, but from what I understand they have been vandalized in the past. Because the garden is part of the Union County Park system, maybe they could get some funds from the New Jersey Travel & Tourism agency for a brochure. The city got funding for a very nice brochure on the historic districts through the efforts of the city Cultural & Heritage Commission.

--Bernice Paglia

Comment Reminder

Please make comments relative to the post or they will be deleted. Thanks.

--Bernice Paglia

A Visit to the Shakespeare Garden

The Shakespeare Garden in Cedar Brook Park is one of Plainfield's gems. Devoted volunteers keep it looking lovely. It is coming up on its peak season, so try to pay a visit soon.

Peony beds feature these showy beauties.

Singly or cascading all over a bush, these pink roses delight the eye.

Blossoms may be tall, low or in the middle as the display varies along the fence.

Formal beds lend symmetry to the landscaping.

My neighbor and I did not know the names of all the plants, but we enjoyed the sight and smell of them. It is a pleasant escape from the cares of the world to walk around this garden and admire Mother Nature's creations.
--Bernice Paglia

Scenes from Cedar Brook Park

Here's a view of a tulip tree in the park. Normally, the colorful flowers are too high up to be seen, but this must be a young tree.

My neighbor holds one flower for a better view of its structure.
The gazebo has a new roof and the white egret is still in residence at the pond.

What's good for the goose is good for the gosling - both are nibbling grass.
--Bernice Paglia

Phone, Internet Troubles

On Monday my phone line went off twice but then came back on. Early this morning my Internet line wouldn't connect. If I am MIA later, it is due to technical difficulties.


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Fourth Ward Victory Grows Slimmer

Absentee ballots have narrowed results in the Fourth Ward City Council seat race to a mere five votes, Union County election officials confirmed Wednesday.

Primary night results had Mayor Sharon-Robinson-Briggs' running mate, Vera Greaves, seven votes short of the 237 cast for Bridget Rivers, but the count now stands 238 to 243, with provisional ballots yet to be tallied.

Greaves was making her first try for elective office, while Rivers won her second term on the Plainfield Board of Education in April 2008 and is serving her second stint as board president.

Provisional ballots are expected to be counted by Friday and official primary results will be released Monday by Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi.

According to a guide Rajoppi published on 2009 election dates, June 17 is the deadline for seeking a recount of the June primary election. "Application for a recount must be made with Judge of Superior Court," the guide states.

Plainfielder Deborah J. Dowe filed June 2 as an independent mayoral candidate, meaning Robinson-Briggs will face Dowe and Republican James Pivnichny in the November 3 general election. Dowe most recently filed to run as a Republican in 2008 for the citywide at-large City Council seat, but dropped out before the November election, leaving June Democratic primary winner Annie McWilliams unopposed in the general election. McWilliams, a daughter of the late two-term Mayor Albert T. McWilliams, began a four-year term on Jan. 1.

Previously, Dowe ran for the Second Ward City Council seat in 2007.

On Monday, winners of the 68 Democratic City Committee seats will meet to select the party chairman for the next two years, a post held by Assemblyman Jerry Green for many years except for one two-year ousting by former Mayor McWilliams, who led the New Democrats faction against the machine. This year, New Democrat successor Adrian Mapp, a former freeholder and councilman now in a new council term representing the Third Ward, fielded a slate of committee candidates against Green's roster, but may not have garnered a majority to challenge Green on Monday.

--Bernice Paglia

Incumbent Mayor Wins Primary

According to unofficial primary results posted Tuesday by Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs beat her closest contender, Third Ward Councilman Adrian Mapp, by 314 votes Tuesday.

Four other contenders drew a total of 597 votes, 345 of which went to Board of Education member Martin Cox. Carol Ann Brokaw Boles, chairperson of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, was next with 147 votes, followed by 68 for Bob Ferraro and 37 for Tom Turner. Two voters wrote in personal choices for mayor. (Mickey Mouse? Mousie?)

As of May 15, Plainfield had 12,420 registered Democrats eligible to vote in the primary, so about one-third of the people who could have spoken actually did so.

Plaintalker will check whether any independents filed Tuesday. In the November general election, Robinson-Briggs will face Republican James Pivnichny and any independents who filed Tuesday.

The June 2 vote will be certified by the county clerk on Monday, which is also the day when the Plainfield Regular Democratic Organization holds its reorganization and selects a party chairperson for the next two years. Assemblyman Jerry Green, the current chairman, received 4,006 Union County votes Tuesday in his District 22 re-election bid, while his running mate Linda Stender received 4,321. New Democrat Rick Smiley received 1,938 votes in his Assembly bid. District 22 includes Clark Township, Dunellen Borough, Fanwood Borough, Green Brook Township, Linden City, Middlesex Borough, North Plainfield Borough, Plainfield City, Rahway City, Scotch Plains Township and Winfield Township.

Mapp, a former councilman who retained his New Democrat leadership role even while holding a Union County freeholder seat, is in the first year of his current City Council term, so will still have some say in local government until Dec. 31, 2012.

The Fourth Ward City Council race may lead to a recount, as the mayor's running mate, Vera Greaves, lost by only seven votes to Board of Education President Bridget Rivers, 237 to 230, according to the unofficial results. Keith Hardy won 11 votes and there was one personal choice.

--Bernice Paglia