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Monday, September 16, 2019

More on the "white privilege" meme I shared on Facebook

I shared this meme on Facebook recently, It got some notice, and I got a phone call about it.

The meme above came up on my Facebook feed a couple of days ago and I immediately shared it because I thought it made a legitimate point about the American justice system.

I got a call from a reader who lives in Plainfield and happens to be white. Their concerns were (1) that sharing the meme would heighten racial distrust in Plainfield; (2) that the McDowell case was older and more complicated than the Huffman case, and (3) that Huffman got a lighter sentence because she had expensive and better lawyers.

Let me take the points up in order.

(1) I shared the meme because the comparison of the two cases underscores the inequities in the way that people of color are treated in the criminal justice system.

If you want a different comparison, how about petty marijuana purchases and distribution, where commentators have observed that whites are prosecuted much less often than perand receive lighter penalties and sentences when they are.

In my experience, people just want to be treated fairly and equitably. If a fact is a fact, why should it not just be laid out there?

(2) It is true that McDowell's case was more complicated (you can read an in-depth story here), but the bottom-line is that the 5-year sentence she received was for the "theft" of educational services. The fact that it is older is not relevant. You can read about Huffman's case and sentencing here.

(3) The argument that Huffman had expensive and better lawyers, rather than excusing her brings in the relevance of class in the criminal justice system. All my life, I have been aware that wealthy people get different justice from poor and working people. I am sure each reader can think of their own examples. (Epstein comes immediately to mind.)

But it is even worse, because understanding the kind of prison Huffman is going to experience will make readers even angrier. Check out a couple of stories here and here. Maybe we could arrange for her to spend her two weeks at the Edna Mahan facility?

I had a professor in college who said metaphors are like 3-legged dogs. They look like a dog, they bark like a dog, but don't try to get them to run like a dog.

You could say the same about Internet memes. They are a kind of shorthand. Of course, you could go on and on about the matter at hand and make distinctions of all sorts. But, bottom line, they are a quick way to communicate an important point in a condensed and memorable format.

Listen carefully to the Democratic candidates on criminal justice reform. Who do you think has the better plan?

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, September 14, 2019

Want to stop complaints about noise from downtown festivals? A simple suggestion.

Mr. Garcia's configuration to date has been to have the
bandstand along Somerset Street, facing eastwards.
The purple lines show how this becomes a 'megaphone'.

Edison Garcia, the owner of Los Faraone's nightclub, is hosting a festival this weekend (Sunday is the last day) in celebration of Latin American independence.

Though he has done it for ten years now, it is not quite annual -- and this is the second time for this year.

Suffice it to say, though, that these are familiar events -- with familiar complaints. Most notably about noise.

There was quite a stink and a lengthy Council discussion a couple of years ago, resulting in limiting the hours and volume of the music for these events.

I have often pondered those complaints and the lack of them when it comes to concerts in Cedar Brook Park (and today, at Milt Campbell Field).

Today, thinking about those other concerts and this event, the REAL problem -- and a solution -- suddenly dawned on me.

Driving up Somerset Street from Route 22, I noticed when passing the venue that the stage had no backing this time and was completely open to Somerset Street, though the performers faced into Lot 8A.

Then it hit me: The Teppers building in the back and the backs of buildings on either side of Lot 8A turned the space into a giant megaphone, projecting the music eastward as far as Leland Avenue (from which there were previous complaints).

I am no sound engineer (though I play one on this blog), but it seems to me the simple solution to this is to relocate the spot from which sound is generated.

Here are two simple suggestions --

Suggestion A: Move the bandstand to the rear of
Los Faraone's, avoiding east-facing sound.

Suggestion A is to relocate the bandstand to the rear wall of Los Faraone's nightclub. This would have the advantage of only projecting the sound against a one-story building. It would also leave the Lot 8A area for attendees the same, with the added benefit of easy pedestrian access from Somerset Street.

Suggestion B: Moving the bandstand into Lot 8 might
reduce sound complaints the most.

Suggestion B is to relocate the bandstand to the rear of the window company next to the Green Brook in Lot 8. This would leave the sound pointing to a broken multi-story structure much farther away than in Lot 8A. In addition, the reflected sound would be baffled by the lush trees along the brook.

Either of these placements would allow for an ample audience to enjoy the performances up close (in example A, in the exact same space) and at the same time reduce the spread of the noise eastward toward the residential areas of the First Ward.

All that would have to be done is for the Police Department to make that a condition of their approval of any permit.

This weekend's festival seems to be doing marginally better attendance-wise than the one in July (I'm sure that's a relief to Mr. Garcia), but the Plainfield police could be more attentive to the details.

I went by after dark, and there were two prowl cars with lights flashing parked on Somerset Street behind the bandstand, with officers stationed by the cars and watching the crowd.

On the Watchung Avenue side, all the street lights in the area were non-functional, leaving it pitch black. Since most attendees park in the lot behind Punto Peruano restaurant, those with small children were left to try and navigate crossing Watchung in the dark. A police van was parked athwart the driveway but there was not an officer in sight to guide pedestrians across the busy street. We can do better.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, September 12, 2019

Chairman Mapp sets Democratic fundraiser for Wednesday

The PDCC fundraiser is at the Tavern at Ashbrook,
Union County's newest entertainment venue.

Mayor and Plainfield Democratic chair Adrian O. Mapp has set a fundraiser reception for next Wednesday (September 18).

The event will be held at the recently opened Tavern at Ashbrook at the Ashbrook Golf Course on Raritan Road in Scotch Plains
from 6:00 PM - 10:00 PM.

The venue is one of the newest entertainment venues at Union County golf courses and is set in a new building with ample views of the course through floor-to-ceiling glass walls.

The event is a fundraiser for the Plainfield Democratic City Committee (PDCC). Tickets are $300/person. The invitation does not says if the event is "open bar".

Though the invitation says reservations are wanted by September 13, you can probably reserve past that time. Contact is: Use the email to confirm your attendance or for questions.

Checks should be made payable to PDCC and can be sent to PDCC, 535 West 8th Street, Plainfield, NJ 07060. (Checks can also be dropped off at the door, but please RSVP in advance so organizers can know how many to plan for. Thank you.)

A WORD ABOUT THE VENUE: The Tavern at Ashbrook is a restaurant and bar open to the public seven days a week. I have been there for dinner several times. The restaurant menu is interesting and well executed. The wait staff are friendly, efficient and knowledgeable. The bar (I don't drink) is well-stocked with a selection fine wines, spirits and specialty (some rare) whiskies. The menu is reasonably priced; drinks cost a bit more than elsewhere. The ambience is modern and can be a little loud as there are no sound-absorbing carpets or hangings. The terrace offers an excellent view of the golf course as the sun goes down. The course is on Raritan Road between Rahway Road and Terrill Road and has ample parking.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Councilor Davis honored by Mohawk Lodge for community service

James Spann, head of the Mohawk Lodge, presented
Councilor Ashley Davis an award for community service.

First Ward Councilor Ashley Davis and Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver were among those honored by Plainfield's Mohawk Lodge of the I.B.P.O.E.W. on Sunday (September 9) at a banquet at Spain Inn.

Davis, who is completing her first year of service as the First Ward's representative on the Plainfield City Council, has long been supporter of Girl Scouting.

She is active in the Heart of New Jersey Council, which serves 18,000 Girl Scouts from Hudson to Hunterdon counties in central New Jersey, including Plainfield (see the Plainfield Girl Scout website here).

Davis was also recognized for her outstanding efforts in constituent support and noted for her active promotion of activities and events on social media, and effective and modern way of staying in touch with constituents.

Besides Davis and Lt. Gov. Oliver, the Mohawk Lodge honored the Hon. Michele Delisfort, mayor of Union Township, and Pamela Travis, retired guidance counselor in the Piscataway public schools and Sunday School Superintendent at Mt. Olive Baptist Church.

The event was held at the Spain Inn and presided over by James Spann, leader of the Mohawk Lodge and a committee that included longtime Plainfield activist George Gore.

Congratulations to Councilor Davis and the other honorees.

Mohawk Lodge #307 of the I.B.P.O.E.W. is located at 1357 West 3rd Street.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Plainfield City Council gets new wardrobe fashion item

Usually outfitted in windbreakers with the
City seal, this Tee may be more appropriate
now that their redevelopment role is clarified.

My curiosity piqued by the previously unannounced discussion of "Redevelopment - Roles and Responsibilities", I managed to arrive just as Economic Development Director Valerie Jackson began her presentation.

Instead of taking issue with Planning Board attorney Peter Vignuolo, she agreed with him and underlined the point he made -- that the Planning Board's role is to determine if the state's criteria for declaring an area "in need of redevelopment" have been met.

The responsibility for deciding whether a plan is "condemnation" or "non-condemnation" lies elsewhere.

Communities may designate an organization as its redevelopment agency. Plainfield once had a Redevelopment Agency. It also at one time designated the Housing Authority as its redevelopment agency.

But, as Jackson explained it, the responsibility now devolves on the governing body. Without another designated agency, the City Council becomes the responsible party.

In effect, this puts the bulls-eye on the backs of the Plainfield City Council.

It means that those concerned about the proposed TODD South "condemnation" plan -- property and business owners and residents -- need to refocus their thinking.

While it will be important to attend the Planning Board hearing(s), its limited responsibility means those who have concerns need to address them to the body which has ultimate responsibility: Plainfield City Council.

While the City had only engaged in non-condemnation plans up to this point (where the developer buys the properties from individual owners to assemble a parcel), a condemnation plan shifts the focus entirely.

As the Mapp administration moves to place almost all of the downtown business district in the path of the wrecker's ball, a distinct shift is taking place.

Plainfield has never used condemnation before (where the City can used Eminent Domain to force the sale of private property to the City).

Previously, redevelopment projects have concerned themselves mostly with vacant or abandoned properties (Muhlenberg, Quin Sleepy Hollow, South Second Street, the Paul Building, etc.).

This began to shift with the West Front/Central Avenue and Richmond/3rd Street proposals, which included some active businesses and residences.

The focus now shifts in a major way to include 120 properties between 4th and 7th Streets -- many with thriving businesses benefiting the community. (You may want to read the take by Downtown Plainfield Alliance board member Ron Johnson in TAPinto -- see here.)

Jackson clearly delineated the Council as the responsible agency.

While the Administration may request a study or proposed a plan, it is the Council which is on the hook for taking action.

The City Council --

  • Authorizes redevelopment studies;
  • Designates redevelopment areas (by resolution);
  • Directs the Planning Board to create a redevelopment plan (then enshrined in an ordinance); and
  • Finally, works with the developer(s) in executing projects.
Like it or not, this puts a bulls-eye squarely on the backs of the City Council.

We'll see how that works out once the pressure is on.

Meanwhile, everyone awaits notice of the to-be-relocated and rescheduled Planning Board hearing on the matter.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, September 8, 2019

Surprise discussion item on Monday's Plainfield City Council business agenda

The OK Corral in Tombstone, AZ, where Wyatt Earp gained
fame in an 1881 shootout. Will we see a 'shootout' at
Monday's Council meeting?

Normally, the agenda from the agenda-setting session becomes the agenda for the business meeting. The difference is that lettered items in one become numbered items in the business meeting agenda, so that resolutions will conform to the City's numbering system (how else would you keep track?).

Very rarely, City Council or the Administration will not bring an item forward and it will not appear on the business meeting agenda.

This Monday's agenda has two new items. A minor one is the addition of a resolution asking permission to hang a banner on Front Street for the Fire Safety Fair and Parade.

The second is more interesting: A 'discussion item' on 'Roles and Responsibilities' in Redevelopment.

Since this was not on last week's discussion list, I wonder if it has to do with Thursday evening's Planning Board meeting.

As you will recall from my post about that meeting (see here), Economic Development Director Valerie Jackson was expected to participate in the Board's public hearing on the proposed TODD South Redevelopment Plan.

The hearing, which had been advertised as for a "condemnation" plan, was abruptly postponed to an unspecified future date -- ostensibly because the crowd violated Fire Department maximum occupancy for the room.

At the same time, Planning Board attorney Peter Vignuolo pointedly told the audience (and the Board) that the Planning Board's sole responsibility with regard to "areas in need of redevelopment" proposed by the Administration was to determine whether the state's criteria for such a designation were met.

The final call, he said, on whether an area was to be 'condemnation' or 'non-condemnation' was the Administration's.

Will we get clarification from the Administration's side on Monday? Or is it going to become a shootout?

City Council meets for its business session at 7:00 PM Monday, September 9, in the Council Chambers / Courthouse at Watchung Avenue and East 4th Street. Parking available on the street and in the lot across from Police Headquarters.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, September 6, 2019

An evening of unforced errors at the Planning Board

Chairman Ron Scott Bey (at left) prepares to open the meeting.

A portion of the audience; it grew much larger as the
meeting got under way, with many standing along the walls.

The agenda for Thursday's Planning Board was simplicity itself: memorialize three actions previously taken, take up one development application (the Coriell Mansion) and a public hearing on two potential redevelopment areas as previously advertised (see ad here).

As it turned out, it was an evening of unforced errors.

The memorializations were disposed of relatively quickly.

Next up was the Coriell Mansion matter. The owner proposes to turn it into a Bed and Breakfast.

Board Chairman Ron Scott Bey announced that the Board had yet to receive Fire, Police and Engineering reports on the proposal (unforced errors 1-3?).

After some back-and-forth about how to proceed, the applicant and the Board agreed to move forward with the stipulation that if any of the three reports raised concerns, the applicant would have to return to the Board.

Next, the applicant's engineer prepared to go over the itemized list of issues -- casually mentioning the date of the letter he was citing.

Chairman Scott Bey stopped him, saying that that was not the date of the letter in the Board packet and that needed to be the document from which they all worked.

The engineer said he did not have a letter with the date specified by the chair. Nor did the attorney or anyone else on their team. (Unforced error 4?)

After more back-and-forth including an apology by Chairman Scott Bey, it was agreed the engineer would go forward from his list and be stopped if there was a conflict.

The engineer covered the six points (which included plans, utilities, lighting, and storm water retention among others).

Vice chair Horace Baldwin summarized the three matters agreed upon and Chairman Scott Bey announced that the matter would be carried forward to the September 19 meeting.

Next up was the redevelopment study(s). (The agenda listed two: a non-condemnation study and a condemnation study; the legal notice cited above is for the "condemnation" study only.)

It was the prospect of the condemnation redevelopment study that had gotten out the large crowd which eventually numbered approximately 70 people.

As the Coriell Mansion crew cleared out, city staff and consultants moved in and put what appeared to be the opening slide of a presentation on the drop-down screen behind the chair's seat.

The opening slide of the presentation that was
not made. (Image courtesy Timothy Priano)

At this point, Economic Development Director Valerie Jackson came in. Apparently taken by surprise by the size of the crowd, she asked to speak with the chair outside.

After a ten minute recess, Chairman Scott Bey reconvened the meeting and announced that because of the time and space requirements for the hearing, it would be postponed to an undetermined date in the near future.

At this point, board attorney Peter Vignuolo advised the public that the ONLY role the Planning Board plays in redevelopment plans is to determine whether the site(s) proposed by the Administration meet the criteria of the NJ land use laws in order to be declared "in need of redevelopment".

The board attorney underscored that the decision of whether an area was to be "non-condemnation" or "condemnation"*** was not in the Board's purview, but in that of the Administration.

(He also said the Fire Chief recommended the meeting be suspended because of the size of the crowd.)

Comparing Vignuolo's statement with the legal notice --

PLANNING BOARD OF THE CITY OF PLAINFIELD, NEW JERSEY PUBLIC HEARING ON A CONDEMNATION AREA IN NEED OF REDEVELOPMENT INVESTIGATION PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that on September 5, 2019 at 7:30 p.m. at the Plainfield City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Avenue, Plainfield, New Jersey, the City Planning Board will hold a Public Hearing to consider whether to recommend to the City Council that all or a portion of the following properties (collectively, the "Study Area") should be designated as a Condemnation Area in Need of Redevelopment, in accordance with the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law, N.J.S.A. 40A:12A-1 et seq. (the "Redevelopment Law") which authorizes municipal governing bodies to designate certain areas of the municipality as being in need of redevelopment. (emphasis mine -- DD)

--it seems that the City made another unforced error (number 5?) by mentioning "condemnation" in the legal notice.

As if all this were not enough, board member Sean McKenna protested that the large audience was there because of the "condemnation" language and wanted to be heard.

Chairman Scott Bey insisted that with no hearing there would be no discussion. After some wrangling, Scott Bey put it to McKenna to make a motion to the Board on the matter.

McKenna proposed that Chairman Scott Bey reach out to the Administration to call for a public meeting including the City Council to discuss "condemnation" and "non-condemnation" scenarios. The roll call vote was unanimous in favor (9 voting; member Anthony Howard was not present).

When and where?

Stay tuned.

The next meeting of the Planning Board is Thursday, September 19, 7:30 PM in City Hall Library. The Coriell Mansion matter will be taken up again -- hopefully.

***In "condemnation" plans, the municipality may exercise its right of eminent domain to compel property owners to sell to the municipality at an appraised price. These plans are often litigious, with long, drawn-out, and costly court battles. The municipalities do not always win. "Non-condemnation" plans on the other hand, leave it to a developer and individual property owners to work out a sales price. Both the Quin apartment complex and the coming Wawa on South Avenue are "non-condemnation" projects.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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