Tuesday, September 29, 2009

City Filmmaker Wins Release

Were you one of the unpaid extras who showed up on the steps of City Hall for a film shoot two years ago?

Since then, the film has a new name, has won several awards and has finally garnered a release date this month.

In September 2007, Plainfield hometown guy Jake Cashill was filming “The Broken Bond” in locations including Plainfield, North Plainfield and South Plainfield. The premise was that of a “woman whose obsession with her dentist drives her to masochism, madness and murder.”

Now re-titled “Oral Fixation,” the film has won several awards, including Best Actress, Best Cinematography and Best Director at the Long Island International Film Expo and Best Screenplay at the Atlanta Underground Film Festival.

Most importantly, it has been picked up for distribution by Lifesize Entertainment and is now available on Netflix, Blockbuster.com, Amazon and other online sites, this fall. Click here for more information.

Cashill says the DVD “contains a cast and crew commentary, a behind-the-scenes documentary called 'Welcome to Oral Fixation,' and a fun behind-the-scenes photo gallery.”

Aware of the changing face of the film industry, I asked Jake to respond to the challenges filmmakers now encounter.

From Jake:

“You're absolutely right about the dramatic changes which have occurred in the traditional distribution strategies for film. Even just a couple of years ago -- when I wrote the business plan for my film -- filmmakers could hope for a studio or a mini-major (like Miramax back when it existed) buying their film for a decent chunk of change if it performed well a reputable festival, like Sundance.
Those days are over. Even films that have starpower and win marquee festivals are being ignored by distributors or being purchased for peanuts because distributors can no longer rely on recouping their investment.
Twenty years ago, when theatrical distribution was threatened by home video and cable, studios found that they could still count on domestic and foreign DVD sales to recoup distribution costs.
Those days are gone, too. With streaming video, rampant piracy and the staggering number of films being produced (good, bad and ugly), making a profit on DVD. let alone theatrical, for all but the most-hyped studio films, is very difficult, if not impossible. “On the flip side, there are many, many more modes of getting one's film "out there." A filmmaker can make his or her film on cheap digital video, upload it to the internet and voila, It's "released." But will anyone see it?
Their good friend and family, maybe. Will they make money from it? No. “I was well aware of this when I set out to make ORAL FIXATION. So what I did was craft a film that I considered had the best chance of making its money back -- a sexy thriller. They're marketable around the world. They translate well. And they don't rely on costly special effects to produce. My pitch to investors was, "A well-written, sexy thriller shot on a low budget without sacrificing production value can make its money back." We kept the budget very low, included some nudity, some blood and, I think, hit the story points that a thriller must to engage an audience. “And I think we succeeded. We won Best Actress, Best Cinematography and Best Director at the Long Island International Film Expo, and won Best Screenplay at the Atlanta Underground Film Festival. Moreover, we were picked up for distribution by Lifesize Entertainment, with a limited theatrical release this fall coinciding with a domestic DVD release, and followed by a worldwide release on DVD, TV, VOD etc. “That said, we don't have an advertising budget and we're up against the scores of studio films and hundreds, if not thousands, of other independent films being released each month. It ain't gonna be easy. But in a sense, we've already won, as the vast majority of independent films don't get picked up for distribution at all. Now our job is to raise awareness and try to get as many people as possible to rent and buy our film, and with any luck, we'll make enough money to shoot another one. “

(Plaintalker is aware of the many creative film entrepreneurs out there and welcomes more stories.)

--Bernice Paglia

A Bit of History is Lost

This ornate facade with a Ford logo in the middle harks back to an early 20th-century love of the automobile. Click here for Plaintalker's previous post.

Alas, as I hurried up Cleveland Avenue to catch a train, I saw that the facade is now covered over.

Workers are making the building's exterior uniform by applying a styrofoam-like material. This material has been used recently for facades on East Front Street and Richmond & Third.

The leftover bits tend to drift into the surrounding area, piling up in the grass or curbs.

I wonder what this stuff does to the quality of stormwater when it gets washed into the drains. If anyone has any information on how this material came to be so popular to create smooth facades, I for one would like to know. As for stormwater, there is a strong state initiative to keep it cleaner to protect our waterways. Another factor important to ratepayers is that suspended solids in stormwater add to the cost of treatment by the Middlesex County Utilities Authority before it is released to waterways. It must be a chore to get all those tiny particles out.
--Bernice Paglia

Milestone for Plaintalker

As Plaintalker hits the 2,000 mark with blog posts, I want to say thanks to readers for your interest. It's about 50 months since the blog began with the main goal of informing citizens about city matters. Along the way, local photos and vignettes have become another thread. I hope to keep informing and entertaining you for many more months.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Condolences to the Cohen Family

With the passing of Irving Cohen, the downtown business community has lost a staunch advocate.

Suburban Jewelers has been a mainstay of the central business district for a long time. This family business is exactly what Plainfield needs, passing down interest and values to future generations. Elissa (Lisa) Cohen has long since taken up the mantle and has shown exemplary leadership in promoting Plainfield in her various roles as Special Improvement District leader and her new presidency of the Plainfield Chamber of Commerce.

In all these efforts, we see the embodiment of her father's ideals.

Irving Cohen's life will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Higgins Home for Funerals, 209 West Eighth Street. Besides his daughters Elissa and Marcy, he is survived by his wife of 50 years, Beverly.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Slide Show

Once again, the mysteries of creating a slide show have eluded me. I finally go t the pictures up, but can't get rid of the stuff at the bottom.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the images of the happy event. I went over on short notice and did not try to make a detailed report. Mr. Hellwig has made many friends in the city during his tenure since 2006 and I'm sure many will be glad to share his happiness.


Martin Hellwig Weds Huiling Liu

Jumping the Gun?

After hearing about the mayor's Live Where You Work gathering inside City Hall, I was trying to remember any resolutions that may have been passed authorizing application to take part in this program. Normally, these state/municipal partnerships require an agreement on both sides.

Sure enough, this list of LWYW partner municipalities does not include Plainfield.

So was this encouragement of city employees to buy Monarch condos a misstep? A Cops on the Block program that offered similar assistance several years ago had to be carried out under a partnership agreement, if I recall.

Inquiring minds want to know.

--Bernice Paglia

Meet the Funnel-Web Spider

This Funnel-Web Spider conveniently set up housekeeping on top of an azalea bush, making it easy to get a photo. It has incorporated a brown leaf and a cast-off spray of pink geranium flowers into its web. Can you see the spider lurking inside?

Unlike orb weavers that make the classic circular web beloved of Halloween decorators, this spider makes a less glamorous but equally useful means of catching prey. The spider darts out when a bug lands on the web, then retreats inside the funnel to consume it.

When they were very young and becoming interested in exploring the natural world, my children found these funnel webs and their makers fascinating. We lived for a time in a rustic section of Piscataway called Possumtown, with a lovely wildflower meadow and a brook nearby, affording us a living laboratory for nature study. But even in the urban environs near Park & Seventh, there is plenty to see and admire in the natural world.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Official: Senior Center Occupancy Secured

Image: Seniors celebrate a one-day opening of the Senior Center on May 20, 2009.

When the City Council gathered for a special meeting Thursday, (Sept. 24, 2009), it turned out that the matter of a tax abatement for the 63-condo/senior center project known as "The Monarch" had been withdrawn. But officials told worried members of the public, including several seniors, that the proposed tax abatement had nothing to do with the opening of the senior center.

In fact, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said Thursday, the building had received its certificate of occupancy for the center just that day.

Image: July 2007 groundbreaking ceremony.

No move-in date was firm, Williamson said, citing unspecified parking issues.

The seniors are still meeting in leased space at 305 East Front Street, about a block away from The Monarch at 400 East Front Street.

Among speakers Thursday, real estate agency owner John Campbell was given extended time to explain his views on a tax abatement for the condo project, which officials say is a bellwether for future downtown development. The developer is seeking a five-year deal in which condo buyers will pay only 40 percent of city taxes.

Campbell complained that he saw few Plainfield residents involved in constructing the four-story building. and also doubted the validity of the sales price for the two-bedroom condos. Set at $300,000 early on, the price is now about $279,000, but Campbell said in a "broker's opinion of value" requested by the developer, his staff found the price too high. Perhaps there was "some happy ground in the middle," he suggested.

A public notice for the meeting listed five topics, including introduction of the State Fiscal Year 2010 budget. But on Thursday only three were listed, and withdrawal of the tax abatement reduced the voting items to two. Councilman Adrian Mapp seemed to take umbrage at the imposition of a City Council vote on his request to attend the Black Issues Convention in October and asked for other council expenses to be made public. Council President Rashid Burney said it was the first such request this year put to a vote. Previously, the city council president signed off on such requests.

Councilwoman Annie McWilliams asked for a written copy of city policy on granting council expense requests.

The only other item up for a vote was an ordinance to exceed budget limits for the 2010 municipal budget and establishing a cap bank. As explained by City Administrator Marc Dashield, the measure would allow the city to exceed a 2 1/2 percent state limit on a budget increase for SFY 2010 and would permit use of any past savings on the cap limit to be applied to future budgets.

Councilman Cory Storch objected to the plan, saying it gave flexibility to strike a budget higher than 2 1/2 percent, thus removing external pressure to stay within budget limits. Storch said calling it "fairly typical" was not a good reason to do it and urged the governing body to exert internal will to keep the budget tight. He voted "no" in the 6-1 approval on first reading.

In another matter, downtown merchant Freddy White complained that he did not receive notice of a two-day fiesta held last weekend in city parking lots 8 and 8-A. He alleged that only Latino business owners were included in the plans and said when he complained to Assemblyman Jerry Green, Green himself said he had no knowledge of the plans. Green has an office on Watchung Avenue and like White, uses the lots that were closed for two days from noon to 7 p.m. for the fiesta.

"No one else knew about it but them," White said, referring to the Latino merchants.

White's remarks contradict Green's claim on his blog that he was involved in planning the event for six months prior to the occasion.

Despite being pared down to two items, the meeting went on for nearly two hours with the added discussions.

The City Council will hold an agenda-fixing session Oct. 5 at Hubbard Middle School and its next regular meeting is Oct. 13 in Municipal Court. A special conference on economic growth is slated for 8 p.m. Oct. 19 at Municipal Court.

--Bernice Paglia

The Stink Bug is Here

Along with everything else going on in Plainfield, a new exotic insect is invading.

You may see these bugs on your windows or in your house in coming weeks. Don't step on them! The reason for their name is that they emit a big stink if crushed. A Rutgers Cooperative Extension fact sheet on the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug recommends vacuuming them up and releaseing them outdoors or disposing of the vacuum bag.

Click here to get the fact sheet.

After seeing several on a screen and window and verifying the bug's identity, I called the Union County office of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension to report its presence, as the fact sheet suggests. I had collected a couple in alcohol as the fact sheet advised, but the person I spoke to said they wanted live specimens. Either way, I couldn't take them to the office, so I just asked her to note my call.

The stink bug not only can damage fruit crops, but ornamentals and other food crops as well. Keep an eye out in the house and garden, and let the Rutgers Cooperative Extension know if you see some.


Random Images

While awaiting tonight's meeting, I am posting some recent photos in no particular order. Above, a poster version of the words on the front of City Hall.

Those who recall my squirrel misadventures of 2007-08 can imagine my thoughts at seeing this new hole and the wily perpetrator peeking down at me. The opening has since been covered, but I am not assured that squirrels will not invade my apartment again.

Hmmm. An interesting way to do business on Park Avenue.

Somebody put an upside-down flag decal on a Connolly trash bin. A sign of distress?

Here is the Block 832 cat known as Bowie. He has one blue eye and one yellow eye.

Mousie has a new scratch pad. Judging by the lower right corner, it is also good for gnawing.
Lucky Mousie gets to recline at home while I traipse off to the City Council's special meeting. It's at 8 p.m. in City Hall Library. Main event: The Monarch tax abatement ordinance. No text was available as of this afternoon.

TSB Prognosticates

TSB (That Scurrrilous Bloviator) predicts that Republican Assembly candidates will offer me a job if they win.

Geez, how would I have time to blog for free if I had to hold a day gig?

TSB also has his crystal ball tuned in to the school district. Will these episodes show up in the sequel to your roman a clef about the district? Inquiring minds want to know.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Constituent Service: Throw a Party

With all the pressing needs of Latinos in Plainfield, where is the advocacy and leadership?
The late Ray Blanco saw to the establishment of an Hispanic Affairs Commission in 2005, but in the four years of the Green-mentored mayoralty, not a single member has been appointed. Yet JG has time to spend six months organizing a two-day fiesta with food and beer.

His favored representative to the Latino community is a good-hearted JG loyalist who happens not to be a city resident. In contrast, JG has launched vicious attacks on a Plainfield Latino who serves on the school board and who offered his background and expertise to the Regular Democratic Organization a while back, only to be told to stay on the farm team and maybe he would have a chance later.

A broad-based, objective membership on the Hispanic Affairs Commission might have been working all along on such issues as preparing for the best Census outcome, helping Latinos to improve their personal safety, educating the larger community to the legal plights faced by immigrant families and individuals and by generally forging links between these new Plainfielders and other residents. The face of the city has changed remarkably in the last 10 years and there is a lot more to be done than glad-handing Latinos at a fiesta.

Another ordinance passed in 2009 (Correction: 2005) was supposed to help those interested in serving on boards and commissions find out what opportunities exist and how to access them. Here again, one can see the hand of politics when seats get filled by the likes of the mayor's bodyguard, her husband (a very nice guy, by the way), her City Hall greeters, her confidential aide, JG office staffers and many members of the Democratic City Committee. The near and dear are nice, but where is the broad community representation? Plainfield is full of smart, talented people who would be more inclined to serve if there wasn't a political hoop to jump through on the way.

More later ...

--Bernice Paglia

Check the Figures, Please

Soon the city will have to send the official FY 2010 budget document to the state Division of Local Government Services. Let's hope those who sign off on it will actually look at it this time. Last year, a $1.7 million typo in revenues distorted the figures, necessitating some major adjustments. How hard is it to notice an increase of more than 800 percent in one line item?

This year, the city has a new finance director but still no permanent chief financial officer. Before he retired, former CFO Peter Sepelya served as the fiscal watchdog. Last year, a part-time CFO from Bridgewater signed off on the document.

Residents who have joined the City Council's budget committee need to have a copy of the budget document as well as the large binder that details budget requests of departments and divisions.

It will be interesting to see what is presented Thursday when the budget is introduced. The meeting is 8 p.m. in City Hall Library. There have been times in the past where an administration has given the governing body a low-ball budget, forcing the council to take the heat for a needed tax increase.

The council is also being asked to approve an application for extraordinary state aid for the fiscal year that began July 1, 2008. That kind of aid has been shrinking and there was talk in the last budget year of working for timely budget passage instead of waiting for the state to announce aid amounts so late that most of the budget year has elapsed.

Also on the agenda is approval of Councilman Adrian Mapp's request to attend the Black Issues Convention on Oct. 8 to 10. This is a new procedure. Council expenses for such things as attending conferences formerly required only the signature of the council president for approval. But in recent years, one former councilman drew heavily on the account, while others hardly used it. I believe this is the first instance of the new plan to have such requests approved by the full council.

Of course, the big item on the agenda Thursday is the introduction of an ordinance on a five-year tax abatement for P&F Management LLC for the new senior center/condo complex at 400 East Front Street. Click here for more information on P&F Management.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Citizen Alert!!

Click here to read a legal notice that was published today.

Note that the wording on Item 4 refers to an ordinance "authorizing a five-year tax abatement agreement" between the city and P&F Management. Previously, the talk was that the proposed ordinance was merely giving permission to enter into negotiations regarding an agreement.

The City Council will meet in closed sessionat 7 p.m. Thursday and the public portion is set for 8 p.m., but don't count on it. My guess is that steam will be issuing from the City Hall Library door for some time until the council is ready to open it up.


Monday, September 21, 2009

NJ Transit Parking Concession

To the reader who asked about who makes money on train station parking, it is a West Orange firm, Pacific Parking Inc., that has the concession.

I have no further information except that it is not the city that profits from train station parking. Most likely NJTransit solicited bids for this service, but I do not know the terms.

--Bernice Paglia

For Nancy P.

Nancy Piwowar recently raised concerns that demolition crews might take down the wrong building when this site was slated for removal, noting past instances of mistaken identity with historic sites.

Not to worry, someone marked the site with big spray-painted numbers.

We still wonder whether the very nice slate roof of the smaller building on the site will be reclained for another use.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, September 19, 2009

More Fiesta Sunday

The slide show below is from the first "Independence of Central America" celebration. The fiesta continues Sunday from noon to 7 p.m. The crowd Saturday was enjoying loads of traditional foods of their homelands, socializing in the beer tent, trying to ride a mechanical bull and browsing all sorts of items to show pride in their heritage.

The fiesta resumes in the parking lot between Somerset Street and Watchung Avenue (lots 8 and 8A).

A large stage had only recorded music when I was there, but dancing and live bands from Central America, Bolivia, Brazil and Ecuador were promised.

The city's Mobile Command Center was stationed on the parking lot and police and private security were on hand to keep things orderly.

--Bernice Paglia

Fiesta 2009

Remembering Walter Jinotti

My fall allergies made me think of the person who always alerted newspapers to the pollen count around this time. At present, a sneezing person is easily confused with someone spreading the H1N1 virus when maybe the cause is just ragweed. I didn't remember the name, but a Google search turned up an obit for Walter Jinotti, whose pronouncements on pollen counts were in the newspapers daily in heavy pollen seasons.

He died in 2001, according to this New York Times obituary, which also reveals he was a Plainfielder.

I wonder what he would think of the current sneeze-in-your-elbow craze.

If something is tickling your beezer,
It's ragweed most likely the teaser.
I'm sure that Jinotti
Would think us all dotty,
To ostracize every last sneezer.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Short Notice Olympics

Vying for the Short Notice Prize this weekend, the mayor made up a flyer about the 4th Annual Community Fun Day Saturday at five city recreational areas, but as of my visit to City Hall Thursday it was not on the informational table in the City Hall rotunda. It was posted today on the city web site under Community Events. Click here to see the flyer.

Not to be outdone, Assemblyman Jerry Green on his blog gave less than 24-hour notice of a big political event Saturday called "Yes We Can 2.0." Click here for details.

You go, Plainfield RDOs!

--Bernice Paglia

Some Really Good News!

My friends at the Plainfield Garden Club have updated Plaintalker on success in funding needed improvements at the Shakespeare Garden. Rather than rewrite their press release, I am posting a link here. The link also has graphics and photos.

The Shakespeare Garden is one of those gems that will be an asset in a proposed "branding" campaign for Plainfield. Located in Cedar Brook Park and maintained by the Plainfield Garden Club, it draws visitors and residents alike for an esthetic experience and a link to other Shakespeare gardens worldwide. My neighbor and I visited in June and I gave the garden club permission to use my photos as they saw fit. Click here for the original blog post.

Volunteers start maintaining the garden on a weekly basis in April and continue through cleanup time in Fall. The garden is always open along with the Union County park, from dawn to dusk.

It is very heartening to know that the club has been successful in receiving help to achieve the goal of replacing the pergola and making other improvements. Some will be dedicated to members who have passed on, but who left a legacy of decades of devotion to the cause.

Besides Shakespeare's famous garden references, there are many more. Click here to see a compilation by the fancifully-named "Emily Compost." (Get it?)

--Bernice Paglia

Let's Look Back

The air of puzzlement over the proposed Monarch tax abatement may have its genesis in events of June 2006.

Here are links to three blog posts from that time frame:




Note the projected aura of transparency while at the same time pulling what some council members perceived as a fast one.

The more one ponders the new situation, the more one sees a contrast between reassurance, i.e., the City Council is only being asked to approve negotiations toward a five-year tax abatement, and the fact that a set amount (40 percent payment only) is verbally on the table. Is this a classic sleight-of-hand case of misdirection? Look here, the magician says with one hand raised, while I do something you won't notice down here. But in this case, is the council itself expected to pull a rabbit out of the hat while blindfolded?

Somebody needs to explain where the UCIA is in all this. For quite a while, weekly City Hall meetings were held on redevelopment, with yet another consultant getting paid a large sum to guide the process. But what is there to show for it?

This is just one of several instances coming across lately as "fool me once" moments. I for one do not want my elected representatives to be fooled again.

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Please Change the Calendar

Consulting my City Council calendar just now, I see that the agenda session on Oct. 5 will be at Hubbard Middle School and the Dec. 7 agenda session will be at Cook School. Did you know that already?

Because months have elapsed since the last agenda session at a location other than City Hall Library, I had almost forgotten the nuisance for me of getting there. Previously, agenda sessions were always at City Hall Library, a half-block or so from where I live, and regular meetings were a couple of blocks further on Watchung Avenue at Municipal Court.

Surely the governing body can meet wherever it wants and it will be my tough luck as a pedestrian to figure out how to get there and back at night. The city's special charter does call for regular meetings at least once a month at City Hall, but hey, that was written in the 1960s and there is no mention of agenda-fixing sessions.

But it's not about me, it's about making it clear to residents where and when to show up to see the governing body in action.

In addition to the Sept. 24 special meeting, remaining 2009 meetings on the published calendar are the Oct. 5 agenda-fixing session at Hubbard Middle School, the Oct. 13 regular meeting at Municipal Court, the Nov. 9 agenda-fixing session at City Hall Library, the Nov. 16 regular meeting at Municipal Court, the Dec. 7 agenda-fixing session at Cook School, the Dec. 14 regular meeting at Municipal Court and a Dec. 21 agenda-fixing session at City Hall Library for the Jan. 1, 2010 reorganization.

All agenda-fixing sessions are at 7:30 p.m. and all regular meetings are at 8 p.m. There is also a special working conference on Economic Growth at 8 p.m. on Oct. 19 in Municipal Court.

No doubt the agenda Oct. 5 will be expanded by several unannounced presentations, prolonging the agony for those who picked up agendas beforehand and just want the business listed to be dealt with.

Being part of a captive audience for insurance company and web site provider pitches is not what citizens want, especially because the decision to hire such firms lies with the administration, not the City Council. As for the community groups that show up unannounced to ask for money or other support for their causes, however worthy, it just doesn't seem like the right way to do things. The governing body can't make ad hoc commitments and sometimes the groups feel rebuffed when maybe they should not have petitioned the council for help before exploring other means.

Not so long ago, "walk-on" items were anathema at council meetings. The council also set its calendar before the turn of the year and appointments to boards and commissions were made at the Jan. 1 reorganization meeting. More recently, rules have been relaxed and items may be added late, without public discussion. Twice, a calendar has been adopted in January, only to be thrown out for a new one in April. Appointments straggle on throughout the year, sometimes hindering the ability of a board or commission to meet.

Since the early 1980s, this writer has had the task of alerting citizens to important items before the governing body and providing context that cannot be garnered just by looking at an agenda. For example, a one-sentence resolution regarding a layoff plan in January 2008 actually meant the city was getting ready to do away with the office of police chief after 138 years.

With all the council's business now crammed into one agenda session and one regular meeting per month and then with extras added on and alternate locations scheduled, it has become increasingly hard even for dedicated council-watchers to follow the action. To the average citizen, the taped council sessions are barely comprehensible. The council could start 2010 off on the right foot by re-establishing the traditional calendar and locations by the end of this year, to take effect Jan. 1. Transparency would increase and so might citizen participation. And this writer would be very, very grateful.

--Bernice Paglia

Book Sale Saturday

As I was leaving a meeting last Thursday in one of the Plainfield Public Library's downstairs meeting rooms, I noted the increasing array of books and other material around the pool.

A flier filled in the details: The Book Sale is Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
I saw lots of books, and I can also mention that my son donated 53 Musician and Guitar Player magazines from the 1980s, for all you fans and collectors out there. In addition, he donated 36 vinyl albums with an eclectic range of artists from Taj Mahal to Ravi Shankar and all points in between.
Our household is in what museums call the "de-accessioning" mode, sort of like your mother throwing out your comic books in the 1940s. There may be similar regret over the losses, but with stuff there are only two options: pare down or buy more containers for the stuff.
Anyway, with the recorded music, Michael has, along with many others, replicated the vinyl collection on cassettes and the cassettes on CDs, so it's not like the music is gone forever, like my Nancy and Sluggo comics. And although the stuff is reduced for us, is just now becoming available to traditionalists who want to see the album covers and liner notes.
Please come out, browse and purchase, even if in the spirit of recycling you will donate books back to the library later to raise even more money. And if you are an eBay entrepreneur, you may find the means to make money for yourself.
See you there,

Three Images

This handsome 1886 building is downtown on Park Avenue. Take time one weekend to do a "walking and gawking" tour of the central business district.

The entire facade of this 1888 East Front Street building is ornate and worthy of studying from the sidewalk. Don't worry about looking silly, bring your birdwatching binoculars or a zoom-lens camera.

Advertising from another time persists in "ghost" signs. Here is one on a North Avenue building.
A walking tour of the downtown or any of the city's six residential historic districts is free, educational and inspiring. There is a lot to enjoy in these visual treats and Fall is a great time for a walk.
--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Hyperlocal Example

Following up on learning more about hyperlocal blogs, my daughter and son-in-law have just moved to West Seattle after having previously lived in Seattle neighborhoods including the University District, Capitol Hill (twice), Mount Baker and Seward Park.

West Seattle Blog is an excellent example of a local blog that includes news, citizen alerts, shopping and event tips and a general opportunity to build pride and camaraderie in one's neighborhood. It has multiple contributors, including spot news photos from phone cameras. I am using it to get familiar with their new neighborhood.

Plaintalker is a solo effort with limited topics, including redevelopment and municipal government. But there is plenty of room on the blogosphere for anyone who wants to set up a blog similar to that of West Seattle.

To detractors who say we did not include this or that, I say, dial up Blogger.com and do what you feel is needed. Given the limitations of the city web site, blogs are all the more valuable to promote Plainfield in all its many aspects. The Plainfield music scene, its theater world, restaurants, outdoor recreation, shopping and more could be highlighted. Crime reports might be harder to come by, due to Police Division policies, but some city neighborhood blogs already share alerts on burglaries and car break-ins.

It's all information, folks, and that's what is needed to enjoy any particular neighborhood.

My mission is mainly to help citizens understand what their elected officials are up to, but I also enjoy finding out new things about Plainfield.

To that end, I will now break with tradition and publish a news release in its entirety:

Five representatives of faith communities will offer blessings to animals at the 10th annual Celebration of Animals scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 4, at 1:30 p.m. at Leland Avenue Park in Plainfield.
The program is free and open to the public, and any animals who choose to attend as long as properly leashed or otherwise safely contained. In the past this has included dogs, cats, iguanas, gerbils, various birds, turtles and rabbits.
Animal-lovers who wish to honor a friend which would be uncomfortable in the park or who has died are encouraged to bring a photo or favorite toy instead.
Those offerings blessings are Rev. Leonard Bethel, retired from Bethel Presbyterian Church; Rev. Carolyn Eklund, rector of Grace Episcopal Church; James Handlin, a Buddhist; Sandra Miller, a shaman; and Rev. Frank Rose, poster of St. Bernard/St. Stanislaus R.C. Church. Always popular, Bethel will be accompanied by Gabriel, his black lab dog. Individual blessings are available afterwards.
The event is provided for the community by the Friends of Sleepy Hollow, a non-partisan, non-profit, all-volunteer organization devoted to the betterment of Plainfield. The FOSH Animal Initiatives Committee arranges the Celebration, and has paid for pet oxygen masks in three sizes for the Plainfield Fire Department, spaying and vaccinations for feral cats in the city, and other projects.
In the spirit of animal welfare, the cake for the celebration will be "vegan," meaning made with no animal ingredients. There will be coffee for adults, juice for youngsters and water bowls for animals. FOSH will have plastic bags on hand for easy clean-up.
Mary Ellen Chanda will serve as master of ceremonies and developed the program. Further information is on the FOSH website, www.foshnj.com.
There is no rain date.

--Bernice Paglia

Look Up Hyperlocal, Please

It seems that TSB, the anonymous blogger that I think of as That Sorry Bastard, doesn't know the difference between hype and hyperlocal.

Writing in the style of Jerry Green before the Assemblyman tried to start acting all statesmanlike instead of stupid, TSB chides local bloggers for not covering a meeting in Scotch Plains or weighing in on the controversy over the bad behavior of a South Carolina legislator. Excuse me, Plainfield bloggers tend to write about Plainfield, whether it be the schools, municipal government or community issues.

If TSB/JG knew the meaning of hyperlocal, it/they would have referred readers to this article in the Scotch Plains Patch blog:


This is a coherent report on a local issue in Scotch Plains, a far cry from the illogical drivel dished out by TSB/JG today.

As far as Assembly candidates being in towns other than their own, it was only recently that JG realized he represents towns in three counties, not just Plainfield. If Bo and Marty took a cue from him and stayed only in Scotch Plains, they would be following a bad example. Bo's blog roll indicates that he understands the scope of the constituency he desires to represent. Contrast it with JG's links only to his Plainfield office, his Legislative office and Plainfield's web site. Don't get around much, Jerry? At least lately somebody is posting out-of-town letters and press releases on Jerry Green's Page for him.

Oh dear, now I am going to be called a Republican again for pointing out some facts. But Jerry/TSB, maybe you are really the elephant in the room. Some people can't wait to wave the circus goodbye.


Skipped the PMUA Session

Sorry guys, other obligations kept me from attending the FOSH meeting on PMUA issues. I am sure it will be reported elsewhere.

There is still a vacancy on the PMUA board of commissioners. It might be good for interested citizens to apply for the seat. There is a downloadable form on the city web site that can be used to apply for PMUA or any other appointive position on boards and commissions.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Park & Seventh Road Hazards Repaired!

On Monday, workers came to fix the dangerously rutted road left behind by water main repairs in 2008. The lumpy road was a nuisance both to drivers and walkers.

Despite the damage, the road was striped when new traffic lights were installed at the intersection. Officials said the striping was necessary for safety.

Here is the lovely new smooth stretch of roadway, a pleasure to walk on and no longer a jarring experience for drivers. All it needs now is re-striping. Thanks to New Jersey American Water or whoever set things right at this very busy corner!
--Bernice Paglia

Monday, September 14, 2009

Council Withdraws Tax Break Ordinance

Lower left, developer Glen Fishman watching the mayor lead a May 20 celebration of the new senior center, which was opened on a one-day temporary certificate of occupancy.

An ordinance to work toward a tax abatement for buyers of condos at "The Monarch" project was withdrawn at Monday's regular City Council meeting.

The ordinance is expected to be discussed in closed session Sept. 24 and action may be taken that night. The City Council also expects to introduce the state fiscal year 2010 budget on Sept. 24 at the special meeting, 8 p.m. in City Hall Library.

On Monday, City Council President Rashid Burney prompted City Administrator Marc Dashield to acknowledge the withdrawal.

"Did you want to talk about withdrawal of one item?" Burney asked.

Dashield's face took on a quizzical look.

But Burney then said, "We're not going to vote on it tonight," referring to the tax abatement ordinance.

Burney said information needed before the council could vote "just got to Marc hours ago."

Even though city interaction with developer Glen Fishman dates back to 2006 and a development agreement was signed in January 2007, the governing body is now reviewing the deal and the reasons why the developer is now seeking city approval for a tax abatement. The building at 400 East Front Street has a new senior center and veterans center on the ground floor and 21 condos on each of three upper floors. Although it is not spelled out in the ordinance, officials say Fishman wants a five-year abatement allowing condo buyers to pay only 40 percent of city taxes.

The ordinance passed on first reading in July, but did not go on to second reading and final passage due to a public outcry and council questions. Last Tuesday, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs cautioned a group of seniors outside the council's agenda-fixing session that the building, including the new center, could be lost to the city if the tax break was not granted. There was nothing on the agenda about a tax amendment and seniors did not get a chance to speak until past 11 p.m.

Since then, several bloggers have written about the development agreement and one even put it up online in an effort to resolve questions on its terms. Seniors who have been meeting in leased space at 305 East Front Street since 1989 mostly want to know when they can move to the new center.

Meanwhile, officials are asking the developer to explain his situation and why the proposed tax break is needed to ward off converting the condos to rental apartments. Only about 15 have sale contracts. There are also some building code issues with the center, Dashield said last night.

Some seniors who pleaded with the council last week to pass the tax abatement appeared to have taken a harder look at the issue.

"If you can't pay some taxes, don't come to Plainfield," senior Emily Washington said in public comment.

Referring to the proposed tax break for newcomers, Marion Trabelsi asked, "Why not pay attention to the people that are here?"

Under the 2007 agreement, the developer had two years from the date of being granted a building permit to complete the project. A ground-breaking ceremony was held in July 2007, but the developer then missed three stated completion dates. The two-year span is up in October and if it is not met, the developer will be in default of the agreement unless the governing body grants an extension.

--Bernice Paglia

Monarch Issues Continue

Banners and signs at 400 East Front Street indicate the sales model for 63 condos is now open there. The condo complex, which has a senior center and veterans' center on the ground floor, is likely to be up for discussion tonight as City Council members are being asked to vote on a tax abatement allowing condo purchasers to pay only 40 percent of city taxes.

In May 2008, Dornoch Plainfield LLC received City Council permission to place a sales office on a city-owned lot across the street from the project. The agreement was for seven months at $500 per month. However, the trailer office was only dismantled last week, according to blogger Dan Damon.

On Sunday, potential buyers were directed to an office in the future Veterans Center.
A review of documents signed Jan. 4, 2007 reveals that the city sold the land to the Union County Improvement Authority for $1 in order for the authority to develop it. In turn, the UCIA sold it to Dornoch Plainfield LLC. Among terms of the agreement, the senior center was to be completed by two years from the issuance of a building permit. As verified by Construction Official Joseph Minarovich, that would be October 2009.
No closings on residential units were to take place until the senior center was complete, as indicated by a temporary or or permanent certificate of occupancy for the center. At that time, Dornoch was to sell the center to the city for $1.
The Veterans Center was to be sold for $1 to the city "upon the sale of all 63 residential condominium units."
According to City Administrator Marc Dashield, 13 to 15 units are currently under contract for sale.
Dornoch Plainfield LLC was not referred to in a proposed agreement for the city to permit negotiations on a tax abatement. Instead, the agreement was with P&F Management. It passed on first reading July 20, but was not brought back in August for second reading. The ordinance was discussed in executive sessions before and after the Sept. 8 meeting, but not in the public portion. It is expected to come up tonight. The meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.
In the January 2007 documents, the two-bedroom residential units are described as ranging from 1,170 square feet to 1,390 square feet. However, in real estate articles on the project, they are described as ranging from 1,120 to 1,289 square feet, a reduction of from 4 to 7 percent. The sales price has varied from about $300,000 initially to $199,000 in a May 2009 ad. It is now being described as being in the mid-$200,000s.
Councilman Adrian Mapp, who said he voted "yes" reluctantly when the ordinance passed on first reading, has come out vehemently against the tax abatement. Mapp published his questions and Dashield's answers on his blog Saturday along with his commentary. Click here to read it.
Officials were supposed to be reviewing the January 2007 documents last week. Considering that the UCIA is headed by Union County Democratic Party Chairman Charlotte DeFilippo and that the UCIA office building at Park-Madison has yet to comply with all the Planning Board conditions in order to receive a permanent certificate of occupancy, any behind-the-scenes discussions may not exactly be collegial. The Park-Madison building received a temporary certificate of occupancy in 2005 and has been in use ever since, despite the unfulfilled Planning Board conditions raised in 2006.
--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Two Crowdpleasers Defy Weather

Organizers of two Saturday events had scheduled rain dates, but both took place despite gray skies and sprinkles. Above, the PMUA Environmental Fair wrapped up with ballons for all.

A Downtown Block Party on East Front Street drew large crowds of Latinos. Here, costumed dancers prepare to perform to Ecuadoran music.

La Virgen de El Cisne is adored by Ecuadoran Catholics. A procession revering the saint was recently held in Plainfield.
Both events featured, food, music, informational booths and a chance to enjoy the company of family and friends.
Another big event is coming on Sept. 19 and 20, if the City Council grants permission Monday. It is the first downtown fiesta marking the Independence of Central America and will take place in city parking lots 8 and 8-A, behind stores on East Front Street.
--Bernice Paglia

Friday, September 11, 2009

Fiesta Proposed for Sept. 19 Weekend

Former bank, now a nightclub.

A proposed two-day fiesta celebrating the independence of Central America will be a first for Plainfield, organizer Edison Garcia told the City Council Tuesday.

Garcia said other cities, including Elizabeth, Jersey City and Paterson mark the Sept. 15 date with celebrations, so why not Plainfield? He is asking permission to use city parking lots 8 and 8-A, between Somerset Street and Watchung Avenue, for the event. It will span the weekend on Saturday, Sept. 19 and Sunday, Sept. 20 from noon to 7 p.m. each day.

The origins of the holiday date back to 1821, although its history has been a bit rocky, according to a Revue Magazine article online. Depending on what source one consults, the holiday is marked in countries including or not including Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. Here is a Wikipedia post on the holiday.

Garcia owns a nightclub at 111 East Front Street and said all businesses on the block will participate. Some restaurants will bring food outside and there will be beer stations on a one-day alcoholic beverage permit.

Parking Lot 8
Councilman William Reid asked Garcia to consider making census information available as part of the event, noting that if Plainfield’s population in the 2010 census tops 50,000, the city will be able to receive federal Community Development Block Grants directly. At present, with the official population tally hovering under 48,000, the city must send CDBG requests to Union County for approval.

It is widely believed that there are more than 50,000 residents in the city, but for various reasons, Latinos have shunned being counted.

Garcia said event organizers will provide for security, including the presence of police, fire and rescue squad personnel.

After Garcia indicated the event will also include sidewalk encroachments on East Front Street, Councilman Cory Storch noted that was not stated on the resolution.

Storch also suggested use of the plaza in front of the Park-Madison office building, saying the event would be “hidden” in the parking lots behind stores. But Garcia said it would be hard for restaurants to move their kitchens from their locations on the block to the plaza across Park Avenue.

The resolution granting permission for the event is up for approval Monday. The council meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Taking a Break

Tuesday's meeting left us bloggers with a bleep-load of reporting, but I am taking a cue from my 1977 ex-husband and am declaring Friday a "Mental Health Day" off from normal duties.

Of course, this all may change as I realize how much fun it is to open yet another can of worms from City Hall.


Redevelopment Hype Not Valid

My take on Tuesday’s redevelopment presentation before the City Council is that it was misleading in terms of what has actually been accomplished.

The presentation leaned heavily on what might happen, but close observers will differ on the results so far.

The West Front Street office complex relied on a financing program whose terms were not met by December 2008, therefore no action hence. In addition, the developer has yet to acquire the two adjacent city-owned lots needed for the project.

Of the two Park Avenue Landmark projects, one still has a stop-work order and one has a big broken window that is not properly secured, but just has a piece of plywood behind the broken glass, which is still a potential hazard.

Unless Landmark has actually acquired the PNC Bank site, all talk of a Trader Joe’s and “hospitality” venues on the site are mere speculation and should not be included in a redevelopment report.

My biggest question is where is the Union County Improvement Authority in all this talk? The UCIA was designated in August 2006 as the entity in charge of Plainfield development, but nothing has been heard lately from the authority lately.

If anybody at City Hall can shed real light on these projects, please do so.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

City Council Melange

OK, this is a play on Potpourri, but how else to offer a mixed bag of items from Tuesday's meeting?

Please note all items approved Tuesday will be moved to the Sept. 14 agenda.

In no particular order, items on the agenda included a 3.75 percent pay increase for the Firemens Mutual Benevolent Association retroactive to Jan. 1. Then there was the layoff plan for Dudley House staffers, one of whom will go to Public Works and another to Plainfield Action Services. The fate of the program past Dec. 31 is still up in the air.

Even though the council approved spending $80,000 for a "visioning study" about transit-oriented development, the proposal still drew flak Tuesday from First Ward Councilman William Reid, who objected to the expense. Once again, Councilman Cory Storch, champion of the study, explained the process, which will not be accepting the view of an outside group , but will entail developing a vision for the city's future from what citizens want.

The administration asked the council to approve a three-month budget through December, but council members decided that a one-month temporary budget for October was more appropriate. The City Council may hold a special meeting Sept. 24 for budget introduction, after which the council and its budget advisory committee may propose amendments to the SFY 2010 budget for the year ending June 30.

Item K turned out to be a request for City Council permission to submit an application for $8 million in Homeland Security funding for repairs to two firehouses. The two firehouses mentioned did not include the one that fire officials previously said needed a $7 million upgrade to prevent the floor from collapsing due to the weight of new equipment.

Item N had an interesting highlight, as it would provide for a Special Improvement District project to create 11 "gateway signs" into the city. The resolution also states that there will be a hearing Nov. 16 on the SID budget. Mark your activist calendar!

A $100,000 contract using Community Development Block Grant funds would provide home security for income-eligible home owners, adding locks, window pins and other equipment to prevent intrusions. The vendor is R.D. Sales and Door Hardware.

An ordinance to create the position of an IT manager with a salary range of $70,000 to $110,000 will be up for second reading and final passage Monday. It will take effect 20 days later, at which time the administration can hire somebody.

There are several discussion items to report on, which I will do later.

--Bernice Paglia

Paramount Gains Tax Appeals

A chance visit to the tax assessor's office this week uncovered the fact that the largest owner of commercial properties downtown won tax appeals resulting in a $1.3 million reduction in the assessed valuation of 18 properties formerly valued at $4.2 million.

In 2007, Paramount Property Management acquired 45 city storefronts from the Pittis Estate, many in the prime downtown shopping district. At the time, Plaintalker compiled a list of the properties, many of which were under limited liability company names, but all with the same address in Bayonne. Plaintalker's chart included the block and lot, street address, name under which each property was listed in the tax book and the assessed value of each property.

Having written a blog post about 110 East Fifth Street, this writer realized it was not on the chart. Upon checking the books in the tax assessor's office, it became clear that the assessed value of many Paramount properties had changed. The value of some had dropped by over 50 percent, meaning proportionately less taxes had to be paid by the owner. Overall, the average reduction on the 18 properties was 32 percent.

It is a legitimate thing to file a tax appeal. The petitioner must demonstrate proof that the value has declined, based on values of nearby properties, among other things. Plaintalker makes no claim to understand the fine points, but here is a link to a state brochure on the process. The question that comes to mind, however, is how the process may differ when one entity owns the bulk of one category of property. Paramount owns a large share of commercial property in Plainfield, just as Connolly owns most of the residential multi-family buildings. Although Plaintalker did not document recent tax appeals for Connolly, several have taken place, according to the tax assessor's office.

These reductions may just be a drop in the bucket. In researching the value of exempt properties recently, Plaintalker learned that the total value of all property in Plainfield is $1,260,499,421. Believe it or not, it has been higher in past years. A million here, a million there in reduced value is worthy of notice, but maybe it will not break the bank.

How to change the trend upwards? That is the question. As long as tax abatements and PILOTs are added to the mix, revenues will decline and property owners will have to chip in more to meet the cost of running the city.

--Bernice Paglia

Blogger Overload

Last night's meeting generated many possible stories. There were several scheduled and non-scheduled presentations in addition to the actual agenda items, several of which merit blog posts. For all the talking done Tuesday, both the citizens in attendance and the future viewing public were largely left in the dark on what was being moved for action at Monday's meeting. Most items were read off by the letter assigned to the resolution and if "everyone was OK " with the item, it got placed on the agenda for Monday. Plaintalker hopes to shed a little more light on some of them, as well as the discussions.

In addition, I have some independent stories that may be of interest if I can find the time to do them. So please stay tuned!


Tax Abatement Issue Resurfaces

Regular City Council attendees arrived Monday (Sept. 8, 2009) to see a crowd of seniors in the City Hall rotunda. Some seniors weren’t sure why they were there, but thought it had to do with a proposed tax abatement for a condo complex that also includes a new senior center.

There was nothing on the agenda regarding the tax abatement. In July, an ordinance to allow negotiations on the tax abatement passed on first reading, but quickly drew an outcry from residents. Officials were seeking a deal that would permit condo purchasers at The Monarch to pay only 40 percent of city taxes for five years. Longtime homeowners asked why they should not get the same consideration.

The Monarch is a 63-condo project that includes a senior center and veterans' center on the ground floor. Seniors now meet in leased space about a block away. Recently, the mayor and the administration urged support of a tax abatement to prevent the condos from becoming rentals.

In an unprecedented move, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs came out of her office Tuesday into the rotunda to urge the seniors to support the tax abatement, suggesting that without it, the project might fail. The City Council was still in executive session.

But even on Tuesday, a senior brought up the issue of longtime homeowners needing a tax break before the city helps a developer.

Once inside the meeting at City Hall Library, seniors had to endure more than three hours of presentations, discussions and council business before being allowed to speak. Only three seniors spoke, mainly reminding the legislators that the seniors’ efforts over the decades paved the way for their election to the governing body.

Robert Nelson reminded the council of city civil rights pioneers such as the late Marshall Brown and Emily Washington. Washington herself said Tuesday, "Do what you can for us."

But City-wide at-large Councilwoman Annie McWilliams pointed out that the council had no knowledge of the new effort to push the tax abatement until Tuesday. To learn that private citizens had the information earlier, she said, “For me, that’s a problem.”

Senior Marion Trabelsi, speaking of the promised move from leased space at 305 East Front Street to the new center at 400 East Front Street, said seniors “feel lately that we are going to be put in the street.’’

Robinson-Briggs took the floor during the council meeting to urge the governing body to support the tax abatement. Councilman William Reid, the mayor's campaign treasurer, reminded the council that the ordinance only opens the way for negotiations. As midnight approached, the council closed the public portion of the meeting to go back into executive session for more discussion of the tax abatement, even though Reid said he thought the discussion had been completed.

Meanwhile, seniors filed outside to board a city-owned van for the ride home, some grumbling they had been taken advantage of.

The condo/senior center project has missed three completion deadlines so far, but the mayor hosted a large celebration at the new center on a one-day occupancy permit May 20, before winning the June primary. In the Nov. 4 general election, she is opposed by Republican James Pivnichny and independent Deborah Dowe. The senior center is the focus of her "Promises made, promises kept" campaign slogan.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Last (Moss) Rose of Summer

Moss Rose, or Portulaca, is one of my favorite garden plants. It grows from really tiny seeds. I like to start the seeds in a container, then transplant the seedlings to where I want them. My experience has been that the seeds tend to wash away if simply planted in the garden.

The low-growing flowers come in a wide range of colors and really light up a border. I have been collecting the seeds for next year, each small capsule yielding dozens of seeds. The plants are fading now as summer wanes.

Last year's hard frost, also known as the "killing frost," came in late October, so there are still many days of bloom left for some tender annuals. Click here for garden writer Valerie Sudol's column on last year's first frost.

--Bernice Paglia

Progress on East Fifth Street

It appears that an interesting facade may be preserved in the conversion of a used car dealership to retail and office space. Plaintalker previously posted about this Art Deco detail with a Ford logo in the middle.

Paramount Property Management, the company that acquired 45 Plainfield storefronts in 2007, received city approvals some time ago to convert the building into four offices and 10 retail spaces.

The location is 110 East Fifth Street, south of the main train station.
Modern windows are being installed as the building is being converted to 10,245 square feet of retail space and 3,173 square feet of office space.

Debris from the conversion is piled up for removal. If you happen to pass by the corner of Cleveland and East Fifth, peek through the chain-link fence draped in blue tarpaulins to see how things are going.
--Bernice Paglia