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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Changes at Gannett a sea-change for Central Jersey news

Logo of the Courier's website presence.
The reality of the sea-change in Plainfield and Central Jersey news coverage flowing from Gannett's move to regionalize its reporting is beginning to sink in -- at least among the bloggers (see Olddoc's Wednesday take here, and Bernice's assessment of the Plainfield blogosphere here).
After the Star-Ledger abandoned its county bureaus and then the benefits-less contract journalists that followed, the Courier News was the last outlet to give this city of 50,000 decent news coverage.

I took up the question a week ago (see here), hazarding that Plainfield coverage will change sharply with Mark Spivey's time being spread farther afield, and also sharing a concern about Gannett's Plainfield microsite --

One hopes the Plainfield mini-site, which has been an online goldmine for the Courier from the day Spivey first took it on, continues -- Gannett would be crazy to kill it. On the other hand, editing it takes time, and if they have Mark chasing over half the state to cover stories, something may have to give.
Well, that question is now answered, with Mark's farewell post to the microsite yesterday (see here), revealing that Gannett has officially pulled the plug on all its New Jersey microsites (of which the Plainfield one drew the most traffic, I have been told).

Mark, an award-winning journalist of the highest standards, will weather these changes and my wish is that he continue to be successful and prosper as the news industry reinvents itself.

As for Plainfield and the rest of Central Jersey, the thirst for timely, insightful local news is hardly likely to be slaked by Gannett's latest rearrangement of the deck chairs.

It is a time of challenge, danger and opportunity.

For Plainfielders, those are our regular conditions of life.

-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Put the phone down!

I'm not hearing voices, but I do get instructions from my inspection sticker.
Getting in my car in front of Plainfield's Quick Stop convenience store, my eye was caught by the way the sun struck the windshield's registration sticker which replaced an earlier one after a recent inspection.

A bold headline practically commanded 'PUT THE PHONE DOWN'.

And above it a schematic supposed to resemble a cellphone, I guess.

New Jersey, the nanny state?


-- Dan Damon 
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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Canon Michael Barlowe, former Rector, at Grace Church in July

Former Rector Michael Barlowe will preach at Grace Church.
The Very Rev. Michael Barlowe, a former Rector of Grace Episcopal Church, will preach at the principal morning service on Sunday, July 10.

Canon Barlowe is an assistant to the bishop of the Episcopal diocese of California, which serves San Francisco and the Bay area, where he is responsible for area and congregational ministries.

Grace Church, Plainfield, was his first rectorate, to which he came after having served as curate at St. Paul's, Westfield. In 1991, he became Dean of the Cathedral of St. Paul in Des Moines, Iowa, where he served until going to California.

Under his leadership, Grace Church determined to become a truly diverse religious community, reflecting the makeup of the Plainfield area by becoming a congregation that was both racially inclusive and also welcoming of gay and lesbian Christians.

While he was Rector, the congregation enthusiastically embraced the liturgical reforms adopted by the Episcopal Church and re-established a Boychoir which performed at special services and in concert throughout the tri-state area. The Boychoir both re-established an earlier Grace Church tradition and formed part of the outreach ministry of the parish, drawing in youngsters from the community who received not only musical training but also tutoring and recreational opportunities.

A concert by carillonneur Toru Takao on the Pittis Carillon will follow the morning service at Noon (see more here).

Holy Eucharist - 10:30 AM

East 7th Street at Cleveland Avenue
(Parking on the street and in the public lot across from the church.)

-- Dan Damon
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Monday, June 27, 2011

Open House for new Red Cross Chapter

Plainfielders are cordially invited to an Open House tour of the area's new Raritan Valley Chapter of the Red Cross tomorrow and Wednesday, 10:30 AM - 3:30 PM.

The Raritan Valley Chapter replaces both Plainfield's original Tri-County Chapter and the former Westfield-Mountainside Chapter. The new chapter's executive director is Suzanne Lutz, who oversees the chapter's many activities from the office at 321 Elm Street in Westfield.

"There are exciting changes going on within our organization and we want to ensure transparency to the community regarding the role of the Red Cross, said Lutz, "and this is an opportunity for past supporters, volunteers and anyone curious about our chapter to speak personally with staff and have their questions answered.  The Red Cross will continue to be here to help those in need, educate individuals on what to do in an emergency and be the organization people look to when disaster strikes down the street, across the country and around the world."

On Thursday June 30, restaurants in the area will be hosting a Red Cross Dine Out opportunity.  For one day a percentage of the proceeds raised by patrons "dining out" at participating restaurants will be donated to the Red Cross for disaster relief, preparedness and prevention.  Participating restaurants will feature a Red Cross Dine Out window decal.

Some of the restaurants supporting the Dine Out are:

  • IHOP (Elizabeth)
  • Limani Seafood Grill (Westfield)
  • Fujiyama Mama (Westfield)
  • Tarantella’s Ristorante (Clark)
  • Nagoya Japanese Restaurant (Westfield)
  • Tropicana Diner (Elizabeth)
  • Zupko’s Tavern/Dunellen Cinema CafĂ© (Dunellen)
For a complete list, call the Raritan Valley Chapter at (908) 232-7090.
The new chapter serves half a million residents in 24 communities in Union, Middlesex and Somerset counties.

Raritan Valley Chapter
American Red Cross
321 Elm Street
Westfield, NJ 07090
(908) 232-7090

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Computer problems continue, Day 2

Computer problems continue, Day 2. -- Dan

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Computer problems, no post today

Computer problems, no post today. check back later. -- Dan

Friday, June 24, 2011

Downtown Block Party, plenty more on Saturday

Crowd at 2010 SID Downtown Block Party.
Plainfielders will find plenty to do on Saturday. The big event of the day will be the annual SID Downtown Block Party (11 AM - 3 PM) featuring music, food, entertainment; car. truck and bike show; and drawings for SID gift certificates. Artists include: Somers & Steel; Anthony Nelson Trio, and Bobby Syvarth. Latin groups include Grup Salvasion, Luna de Miel, Ill-Ego Flow and Caporales de San Simon. RAIN DATE: July 9. Info: (908) 756-1088.

Other activities you want to check out include (full details on the Community Calendar here) --

  • 9 AM - 2 PM: Health Fair and Family Fun Fest, Rose of Sharon Church, 825 West 7th
  • 10 AM - 3 PM: HIV/AIDS Testing, Plainfield Health Center, Myrtle and Rock Avenues
  • 11 AM - 4 PM: SID Downtown Block Party, Front Street between Park and Watchung
  • 3 PM - 5 PM: H.E.R.I.T.A.G.E. 2011 Graduation/Concert, Covenant UM Church 631 East Front

Popular activities at the Downtown Block Party include
the Rock Climb, face (and arm) painting, and FOOD!

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

How will Courier changes affect Plainfield?

How to make 50,000 people disappear? Just jigger the map.
Map from the East Brunswick Patch.
How will the changes Gannett is making to its New Jersey newspapers affect Plainfield?

Even as I finished posting to CLIPS yesterday the links to the breaking story on layoffs throughout the media giant's New Jersey operations, an email link to a post by Courier reporter Mark Spivey on the Plainfield mini-site landed in my inbox (see here).

The bottom line? It appears that Spivey, who began as the 'Plainfield beat' reporter, and then was in recent months assigned several other neighboring towns, will now be a 'general assignment' staff reporter, meaning essentially without a regular beat. The news has to be disheartening to Gannett employees everywhere.

Will breaking news about Plainfield disappear?

I don't think that's likely, but what IS LIKELY is that folks won't be pleased with what the editors assign Spivey to cover: contention and crime.

One hopes the Plainfield mini-site, which has been an online goldmine for the Courier from the day Spivey first took it on, continues -- Gannett would be crazy to kill it. On the other hand, editing it takes time, and if they have Mark chasing over half the state to cover stories, something may have to give.

In the end, it's a business decision, and both a Gannett exec (see here) and Poynter (a journalism site, see here) underscore that the chain's advertising revenue continues to slide, battered by online competition and a rotten economy.

And when it comes to the advertising that must underwrite daily newspapers, Plainfield simply cannot generate enough to make a difference.

This is hardly news. Back during Al McWilliams' time as Mayor, the Suburban News (before it was absorbed by Advance, the Ledger parent) tried home deliveries of free copies to half of Plainfield. Ultimately, the experiment was dropped when ad revenue failed to cover the cost of the printing and delivery.

While Gannett has trumpeted the stylistic changes it has been rolling out for its Jersey papers, the sad truth is the news gets thinner and thinner, as does the newspaper.

To the point that when I pick up a Monday copy, I ask myself why I am plunking down 75¢ for something that won't even wrap a good order of fish 'n chips.

Am I just one of that dying breed of those who need the physical 'paper' to feel I've gotten the news?

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Elmwood Gardens proposal clears another hurdle

Proposal to replace complex with townhomes moves to next step.
The Housing Authority of Plainfield's proposal to replace the aging, crime-ridden and non-compliant Elmwood Gardens complex on West Second Street with 72 townhome units cleared another hurdle Monday when the City Council passed a resolution authorizing the Planning Board to conduct a study as whether the area was 'in need of redevelopment' (see previous coverage here).

Immediately after the resolution had been introduced and seconded, Councilor Bridget Rivers moved to table the item. Without a second to the motion, Council President Annie McWilliams invited HAP Executive Director Randy Wood to the mike to take questions from Council members.

The Housing Authority owns and manages Elmwood Gardens along with other complexes in the city, as well as some privately-owned HAP-managed properties. While HUD has management guidelines and ultimate oversight of local housing authorities, the properties are managed by the local housing authority and not HUD directly.

Wood addressed the question of how existing tenants would be treated in the changeover, insisting that ALL RESIDENTS IN COMPLIANCE would be eligible for the relocation program and would be issued Section 8 vouchers which he reiterated can be used anywhere in the country, including Plainfield
(for more about the vouchers and how they work, see here and here).

In a story in this past Sunday's New York Times (see here), Water's Edge, an 81-townhome development in Elizabethport which replaced two notoriuously derelict and crime-ridden complexes gets high marks from resident Wynona Ancrum, who is also chair of the Elizabeth Housing Authority's board --
“I don't think you need homeowners to have a strong community,” said Wynona Ancrum, who has lived in public housing, as a renter, for most of her life.

“The way your neighborhood is designed and put together, that’s what is important,” said Ms. Ancrum, 55, who heads the board of the Elizabeth Housing Authority. “Not whether you own, or you are a renter.”
Councilor Mapp had several pointed questions about whether a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) would be proposed and whether the income associated with Section 8 vouchers would be included as 'revenues' in HAP's PILOT calculations.

Wood answered that there a PILOT would be requested (PILOTS are mandated by the state if it puts up the money for the project, and the fees paid to a municipality are set within formulas established by the state in setting up the PILOT). Though he was not prepared to discuss the PILOT matter further at this time, Wood assured the Council that the matter would be thoroughly presented to it when the time came.

After Councilor Rivers was reassured by Wood that further informational meetings with the tenants would be held (Wood reported on one that took place already and included other residents from the neighborhood), and by fellow Council members that the Planning Board's recommendation would have to be voted on by the Council (meaning further opportunity for deliberation), Rivers withdrew her motion to table.

The resolution then passed unanimously.

The matter now goes to the Planning Board, where expeditious action is expected.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Decoding the curious conversation of Councilor Mapp and the CFO

How money is spent always seems to be a puzzle around here.
As the audience at last night's Plainfield City Council was eagerly looking forward to the end of a string of 55 or so resolutions, all of which passed unanimously, a curious conversation took place on resolution R 215-11, which concerned transfers of funds between various accounts, a practice allowed in the final two months of a municipality's fiscal year.

CFO Ron Zilinski was summoned to the mike by Council President Annie McWilliams to help answer questions concerning the transfers.

The whole matter had caught the Council's attention last month, when one of the items Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson brought up at the end of the meeting was a resolution for the funds transfer that included swapping money OUT OF the Recreation Division account. This raised eyebrows because the recent tussle to PUT MORE MONEY INTO the Recreation Division (see my post here).

By last week, the Administration's figures now had Recreation as the RECIPIENT of a transfer of $21,000, all of which set the stage for last night's conversation.

Pressed by Councilor Mapp as to why the $21,000 should be transferred to Recreation after the Council had previously expanded that budget line, CFO Zilinski said there was 'no stated reason' for the transfer.

With Mapp continuing to press, Zilinski said these were Trust Fund monies, which had to be spent on their dedicated use (Recreation) and that the transfer was being requested TO PREVENT MONIES BEING USED FOR PURPOSES OTHER THAN THOSE TO WHICH THEY WERE DEDICATED.

While CFO Zilinski appears wanting to do the right thing, one only has to wonder what was going on with the trust account before Zilinski arrived on the scene.

Now, what could that mean?

Whatever it means, it seems likely that we would never have heard this curious exchange of words had it not been for Councilor Mapp's persistence.

At the end of the complicated rearranging of the swaps, Council President McWilliams shot a glance at the Clerk, asking 'Do you have that?'

Without missing a beat, Clerk AJ Jalloh replied, 'Of course, Madam President'.

At which point the audience burst into laughter.

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Should gang truce organizer blog?

When someone signing themself as 'Tayir Pugh', one of the organizers of the recent 'gang truce', commented on the Plainfield Today post on the East 6th Street Posse/Liberty Street Gang shootings recently (see here, and here), an intriguing suggestion emerged: that Tayir consider starting a blog.

With 27 comments logged in on the two posts and indicating considerable interest, an anonymous reader on Saturday said --

Tayir Pugh one the things you could do to help all of us in Plainfield is to start your own blog. Tell us how you see things in Plainfield and in the world from your point of view. In order to solve Plainfield's problems we need everyone's input, criticism and feedback.
-- which strikes me as a worthwhile proposition.

Why not learn about Plainfield from how yet another person sees things?

What would be wrong with widening the conversation about what could be done to make Plainfield a better place for everyone?

Tayir, if you're reading this, please chime in and let us know your thoughts about joining the Plainfield blogsters.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Council tonight: PMUA Task Force appointments; Liquor license hearings

Plainfield's 1917 City Hall, an exemplar of the 'City Beautiful' architectural school.
Liquor license issues and appointment of the PMUA Task Force are on the Plainfield City Council's full agenda tonight, which also includes several new items not discussed last week.


I cannot recall the Council having sat separately as the local Alcoholic Beverage Control Board for several years, but it seems they will do so tonight.

That is a sign that serious issues are on the table in the renewal of several local liquor licenses.

Besides some bars about which the Robinson-Briggs administration has questions, Councilor Storch has insisted that some retail outlets also be subject to the hearing process.

While most social club, consumption (restaurant, bar and night clubs) and distribution (liquor stores) licenses will be renewed without fuss, there are some licensees who have had repeated problems over the past year, including fights, drugs, sales to minors and repeated calls for police presence.

Holding ABC renewal hearings gives the Council, which is the local licensing authority, its only chance to put some real squeeze on licensees whose calls on the police are excessive and whose operations verge on being a public nuisance.

This should prove an interesting portion of tonight's business, and give a window into a part of Plainfield life of which many Plainfielders are unaware.

The Council discussed making these appointments at last week's agenda-setting session. Though it does not appear on the agenda, I am guessing that is an oversight.

My recollection is that after Mayor Robinson-Briggs suggested she be given a seat, the Council decided to stick to its original plan: a COUNCIL-APPOINTED task force, with one member for each Council seat.

While it is a Task Force, and has no formal authority to compel any changes, the very fact that the Council feels it is necessary attests the intensity of feelings around the matter of the PMUA, its cost structure, the refusal of the Commissioners to honor certain items in the establishing interlocal services agreement (regular meetings with the City Council, for example), and what kinds of options the Council,as the enabling body, has.

There are some residents who have taken a rather simplistic view that the only issue with the PMUA is getting rid of its solid-waste collection monopoly, but the agency has other components for which the City would ultimately be responsible (sanitary sewers, for instance) that make it prudent to examine all the issues and all the possible means of resolution.

The Task Force will have four months from its initial meeting to submit a report with any findings and suggestions to the Council.
It's going to be an interesting, though probably long, evening.

Plainfield City Council
Business Meeting

Monday, June 20
8:00 PM

Council Chambers/Municipal Court
Watchung Avenue at East 4th Street
(Parking on the street and in the lot across from Police HQ)

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Hidden Plainfield: June 19 property ID

The Gilbreths are listed at 711 Ravine Road in the 1912 City Directory.

Hey! 60% of those taking a crack at yesterday's Hidden Plainfield got it right: 711 Ravine Road.

Awright, so there were only five checking in -- after all, it WAS Father's Day, and folks had important stuff to do (I hope).

As to whether I was right or wrong about the Gilbreths living there, all I can say is I checked the City Directories at the Plainfield Public Library and they are listed at this address in the 1912 directory.

The biographical information for Frank Jr. says he was born in Plainfield in 1911, the fifth child and first boy of Frank Sr. and Lillian. The Gilbreths appear in the City Directory for 1912; by 1913, they are gone.

The Gilbreths seem to have been quite peripatetic, at least until they moved to Montclair around 1922. Though I can find no birth place for the oldest child Anne, born in 1905; Mary Elizabeth, the second child (who died aged 5 from diphtheria), was born in San Francisco County, California; Ernestine, the third child, was born in New York City in 1908.

Plainfield seems to have been a temporary perch for this still-growing family.

A Realtor® who lives in the area tells me that the family who lived in the house at 711 Ravine for years had a framed, signed letter from one of the Gilbreth daughters attesting to their having lived in the house.

Where shall we go next week?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Hidden Plainfield: On Father's Day, Cheaper By The Dozen

'Cheaper By The Dozen' author Frank Gilbreth Jr. was born in Plainfield.
The family lived  in this house, where is it?

The book and movie Cheaper By The Dozen are about a family that lived in Plainfield a hundred years ago. The house is pictured above. I thought the connection would be perfect for a Hidden Plainfield selection. So, Happy Father's Day and see if you can locate the house.

Frank Gilbreth Jr. and his sister Ernestine Gilbreth Carey wrote the humorous account of their large family's upbringing in Montclair, to which they appear to have moved soon after Frank Jr. was born in Plainfield in 1911. Published as a book in 1948, it was turned into a film in 1950.

Frank and Ernestine's humorous take on their
upbringing in Montclair was published in 1948.

Their parents, Frank Sr. and Lillian, were pioneers in industrial time-and-motion studies, though their interest seems to have been more in safety and relieving worker fatigue than in speeding up production, which was the aim of the other early industrial engineering pioneer, Frederick Winslow Taylor (he of stopwatch infamy, see more here).

Frank Sr. is the person who first suggested that a nurse be assigned in the operating room to act as a 'caddy' (his word) to the surgeon, handing over the sterilized instruments as needed. He died of a heart attack at the Montclair train station in 1924 at age 55.

The family vacationing on Nantucket, ca. 1922-3.

I find Lillian a far more fascinating person. Not only did she bear and rear twelve children (one of whom died in childhood), she was a partner with Frank in his consulting business and after his early death had to manage running the business, raising the eleven children, the youngest of whom was barely two, and developing a professional career.

Lillian went on to have a long and pathbreaking career of her own in both psychology and engineering, becoming the first female engineering professor at Purdue in 1935. Among other universities, she was also a visiting professor at the Newark College of Engineering (now NJIT) and Rutgers.

Lillian Gilbreth in 1921.

She often lent her skills to serve the nation, chairing the women's section of the Emergency Committee for Employment under President Herbert Hoover as the nation fell into the Depression. During WWII, she advised the War Manpower Commission, the Office of War Information and the Navy, mostly on women in the workplace. She served President Harry Truman on his Civil Defense Advisory Council. For twenty years she was on the national board of the Girl Scouts.

Applying her analytical eye to the home, Lillian gave us the 'work triangle' (see here), which is the foundation of the modern kitchen that you and I know (and work in) today.

While it is Father's Day, which is what led me to find this home in the first place, I want to acknowledge this truly remarkable and inspiring woman. My only regret is they didn't stay in Plainfield longer.

A still from the movie, which featured Clifton Webb as Frank Gilbreth,
and Myrna Loy (famed from the Thin Man series) as Lillian.

Do you know where this home is?

Answer tomorrow.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Did Mayor Sharon do a good deed, finding jobs for organizers of gang truce?

Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs

Did Mayor Sharon do a good deed and find jobs for some of the organizers of Plainfield's gang truce?

The following comment on Plainfield Today's June 9th story on the shooting incidents between the East 6th Street Posse and the Liberty Street Gang came in last night --

Tayir..!!! said...
Hello, plainfield residents my name is tayir pugh and yes iam one of the guys from the truce that took place..and I see alot of people gotta lot to say about alot of things like they were born angels..the truce was made and since that day it has been held up!!! I see alot of feedback from anonymous people, personally I think its a shame that a person has to hide when expressing there feelings, thats not my cup of tea. The mayor is a very wonderful person and I think is doin a great job cause if she wasnt then why is she the MAYOR? Remember she was voted in by the citizens but it seems everyone forgot that... Everybody that criticizes her wat she has done needs to take a look in the mirror and asked themselves "am I perfect" ?. Things take time to change !!! the people that got jobs from the mayor (3 of us that made the truce) works very hard! Call the job and asked about us..sorry to you naysayers that didnt get the memo! And my name is a "TAYIR PUGH" by the way, I do the anonymous thing im too outspoken for that, something like a MAN before anything! & the pancakes were great! Lol nice soft and fluffy..(but there's nothing soft about me or anybody that was there)!!!! I guess thats why Im so outspoken and dont hide behind my feelings & words!
First, let me say I have no way of knowing if the writer is indeed Tayir Pugh, which is just the way anonymous comments work (you can see the comment on the original blog post here, and the original Courier story by Mark Spivey on the gang truce here).

Secondly, the writer refers to three of the truce's five organizers getting jobs 'from the Mayor'.

I'm sure Plainfield residents would appreciate an update from Mayor Robinson-Briggs on this good deed.

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Mayor Sharon's CNN interview on Plainfield foreclosures

Mayor Robinson-Briggs, with residents and Jacques Howard,
in CNN story on Plainfield foreclosures.
Once again, Plainfield gets bashed by the national media, this time in a lurid story on foreclosures featured on CNN yesterday (see video here).

Painting with breathless broad brush strokes and exclamation-point statements ('foreclosures are nearly three times the national average'..., 'crime is now rampant in Plainfield'..., 'police spend their time breaking up gang activity'...), CNN correspondent Poppy Harlow does a pretty one-sided job of trashing Plainfield under cover of a 'news' story.

Using RealtyTrac information that there are 900 foreclosed properties in a city with approximately 9,000 residential structures, Harlow's story fails to provide any sort of nuanced picture, and then, worse, gins up a 'connection' between the foreclosures and crime, a point into which she draws Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs.

Here is a transcription of part of Harlow's voiceover --

...crime is now rampant in Plainfield, and the police spend their time breaking up gang activity, and determining which came first is a chicken-and-egg situation for Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs...
The suggestion is that there is a connection between crime and foreclosures, and Mayor Robinson-Briggs falls for it.

RealtyTrac map of a portion of Plainfield.

The reality is far more complex, but hey this is TV. Consider --
  • Plainfield's real estate market has collapsed as elswhere, because of MARKET CONDITIONS not because of CRIME;

  • Plainfield was especially hard hit by the SUB-PRIME MORTGAGE BUBBLE, foisted on uninformed buyers by hustling realtors and mortgage reps;

  • This is a totality of foreclosures that have ACCRUED OVER THE PAST THREE YEARS, and is more than the market can absorb;

  • There is no attempt to separate out the properties that are DELINQUENT IN PAYMENTS, those in FORECLOSURE PROCEEDINGS, and those already FULLY FORECLOSED;

  • No distinction is made between SINGLE FAMILY homes in which the homeowners couldn't keep up and MULTI-FAMILY properties where INVESTORS were caught out by the real estate bubble's bursting;
It is beyond me why Mayor Robinson-Briggs did not take on Ms. Harlow on the spurious crime-and-foreclosure connection.

And then Robinson-Briggs says, 'Do we want more help from the banks? Absolutely.'

No details are in the clip about what that would mean, whether or not the Mayor offered any to Ms. Harlow. (But we can recall this is the same Mayor whose idea of 'help' for those in danger of foreclosure was to host a bus tour of the City for PROSPECTIVE INVESTORS IN FORECLOSED PROPERTIES.)

Followers of Plainfield's struggle to get a handle on its finances will be surprised to learn from the piece that '50% of the city's workers have been cut since February'. How could the Mayor let an outrageous statement like that go unchallenged?

Bad as all this is -- and I don't think the piece will have a long-term impact on the local real estate market -- it pales in comparison with the trashing Plainfield received at the hands of the New York Times in 2002 after our local police broke up an international sex trafficking operation on West Front Street.

Though Plainfield protested to the Times over the shabbiness of the story, we never got so much as an apology. (See my coverage of that story here, and here -- with links to the NYTimes and Slate magazine's coverage.)

Is Plainfield better off for the Mayor's participation in CNN's 'foreclosure' charade?

You tell me.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mayor Sharon's job fair? What job fair?

Everyone is in agreement that one of the cornerstones of dealing with youth violence and gang activity in Plainfield is to provide jobs for our young people and those who need to find a way to re-enter society as productive and contributing members after involvement with the criminal justice system.

In that vein, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs said she was setting up a citywide job fair for June 15.

As the Courier's Mark Spivey reported on May 26th (see here) --

...[t]he mayor also said she is in the process of reaching out to local companies willing to hire employees with criminal histories as part of an outreach program to impoverished city neighborhoods.

A citywide job fair expected to be attended by representatives of some of those companies is slated for June 15, and Robinson-Briggs said the city also is purchasing a van and acquiring free bus vouchers to help transport workers to and from job sites.

“We hope to be able to locate and identify jobs for as many people as possible,” Robinson-Briggs said. “They (employers) will be flexible, because everyone deserves a second chance.”
So, June 15th, right?

Checking the city's website, I found no notice of the Job Fair, nor could I find anything on the Courier's website (other than the original story).

Union County Workforce Investment Board? The person answering the phone was somewhat perplexed, put me on hold, and returned to say that no one there knew of a job fair in Plainfield, and that the only event statewide for the 15th was retail training at the Jersey Gardens Mall (the other end of the County from Plainfield).

She did, however, refer me to the Plainfield One-Stop number. No luck there, either; they were kind but perplexed, seeming somewhat caught off guard that a job fair would be slated for Plainfield that they would not be included in.

So, I'm curious.

Did Mayor Robinson-Briggs find there were NO LOCAL COMPANIES willing to give former offenders a chance to get into the job market?

Did she find that there simply are NO JOBS AVAILABLE?

Or did she FORGET her promise altogether?

And the van? And the bus vouchers?

How will our young people be helped without some sort of follow-through, some sort of accountability?

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Housing Authority exec outlines plans for Elmwood Gardens

The four Elmwood Gardens units, plus unspecified other properties
would be included in a redevelopment plan.
The Housing Authority of Plainfield's executive director, Randy Wood, appeared before the City Council Tuesday evening to request it instruct the Planning Board to do a study to declare the Elmwood Gardens complex and its 'surrounding neighborhood' in need of redevelopment. (This is the first I can recall hearing that the area would include properties in addition to the HAP buildings themselves.)

The designation of a redevelopment area will then allow the process of replacing the current four-building multi-story configuration of 128 apartment units with 72 townhome units.

Wood listed the reasons for the requested redevelopment area designation --

Higher rate of crime activity than elsewhere in the City, due to...
  • Antiquated interior design;
  • Unsecured unit access;
  • Shared common hallways;
  • Lack of defensible interior space;
...all leaving residents feeling intimidated by loiterers, drug dealing and vandalism.

Additionally, none of the buildings is ADA-compliant, which negatively impacts the quality of life of residents.
In his opinion, the redesign into townhomes will reduce criminal activities significantly and will revitalize the surrounding neighborhood.

Wood noted that residents have already been informed of the Housing Authority's long-range planning, and that putting a redevelopment plan in place by August would allow for the Authority to begin relocation of remaining residents in October.

It was stressed that no QUALIFIED residents will be left homeless; they will receive Section 8 vouchers that are usable countrywide for relocation purposes.

There are currently 13 vacant units, with one quarter of residents out of compliance with HUD regulations. Fourteen units are in eviction litigation, with a further twelve units where non-payment of rent is at issue. Wood estimated that 70 of the 128 units would be vacant by October.

A redevelopment plan would include a zoning change from R-4 to R-7, and the proposed townhomes would be built by a private developer with financing by the NJ Mortgage and Finance Agency.

Financing through NJMFA carries with it tax credits for the developer and mandatory provisions by the state that the municipality execute a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement with the developer.

To my mind, this is actually preferable to the current situation, in which the Housing Authority properties are tax-exempt. Wood stated that the project would add approximately $14 million to the assessment rolls. A PILOT payment would certainly go a long way to relieving the burden on the taxpayers, who have been picking up the policing costs associated with Elmwood Gardens since its inception.

Councilor Rivers, participating by phone, was critical of plan, expressing concerns over whether some residents might be left homeless. Wood had complete control of his facts, and reaffirmed that
no QUALIFIED residents will be left homeless.

Having a study by the Planning Board done, passed by the Board, referred to the Council for agenda-setting and passed by the Council at its August business meeting will require good coordination.

Let's hope everything moves like clockwork.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Council works with Administration. Is this news?

The only business to actually be transacted by the Plainfield City Council last night showed the Council working with the Administration, as it does MOST OF THE TIME -- a point made by Councilor Storch over and over amid the campaign noise about a 'dysfunctional' relationship.

The Special Meeting called by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs contained four action items --

  • Resolution approving end-of-year fund transfers;
  • Resolution authorizing execution of a contract with Jersey Professional Management;
  • Resolution authorizing application to the state to change to Calendar Year;
  • Ordinance to revert to Calendar Year.
Though scheduled for 7:30 PM, which was also the starting time of the regular agenda-setting session, the Special Meeting did not get under way until 9:05 PM, after Councilors Greaves, Mapp and Williams arrived from the Union County Dem Committee reorganization.

The Council UNANIMOUSLY APPROVED both the Robinson-Briggs administration's resolution to apply to the state for the change to a Calendar Year, AND the first reading of an ordinance for Plainfield to revert to a Calendar Year (which the city been on previous to, I think, 1991).

The Concil also
UNANIMOUSLY APPROVED the contract with Jersey Professional Management, under which its associate David Kochel assumes the responsibilities of Acting City Administrator.

As for the end-of-year fund transfers, a quick scan by the Councilors (as well as myself and Bernice) noted that the details of 'From' and 'To' were different from the Resolution presented to the Council last month (Recreation, which was originally slated by the Robinson-Briggs administration to LOSE FUNDS, is now proposed to RECEIVE FUNDS; would it be fair to assume there are some questions that need answering?). Chairman Mapp proposed instead only taking up the transfer of $20,000 at this time to cover expenses associated with the Acting City Administrator, and that action was also

Dysfunctionistas take note!

The earlier portion of the meeting was taken up by discussion items that ran well over their allotted time, including --

  • An update from the ShotSpotter technology salesperson on a proposed LEASE -- rather than PURCHASE -- option. With only four Councilors participating (McWilliams, Storch, Reid and Rivers, who was once again on a phone-in), Reid was highly critical of the cost of the initiative, saying he was in favor of having more cops on the street instead. Storch was more supportive, but cited the need of the Administration to provide the Council with INDEPENDENT (that is, not from the Vendor) data on the program's effectiveness.

  • And yet another discussion on the Armory by the Robinson-Briggs administration -- short on facts, long on rosy prose -- citing once again the 'urgency' of acting so the state's 'deadline' doesn't run out. Storch was not impressed, noting the State was in a tough market and not likely to have a buyer in the current circumstances and urging the Administration to hang tough.
At the risk of boring folks with facts, proposals involving the Armory have a long history, going back to 2005 (see a Ledger item here, and two Courier stories here, and here), and see my 2008 overview (here), including threats by the State that its offer of the property would 'time out'.

As an aside, I spoke with my brother-in-law while in Connecticut yesterday (he is in HVAC) and he guesstimated installing an HVAC in the Armory (my estimate is it's a 30,000 square-foot building) at $300,000 at the minimum. So, folks, we are talking REAL MONEY here, and that doesn't include updating electrical, plumbing, roof/insulation, asbestos and/or possible underground fuel remediations, or ADA-compliant building adaptations.

The Council is wise to be chary of this project.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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