Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Cretella: Many Proposals, Most Pending

Developer Frank Cretella has proposed eleven projects, encompassing office space, apartments, restaurants and retail space. As the city moves toward new leadership, many of these projects are still awaiting fulfillment.

The oldest one listed on a master chart in the Planning Division is a 2008 proposal known as "Front Street Offices Urban Renewal LLC" at 216-232 East West Front Street. It was to include renovation of the former Appliance-Arama warehouse and construction on two city-owned vacant lots for offices and an adult day care center. To date, the lots remain vacant and an image on the warehouse is the only indication of what is envisioned.

Cretella's fondness for fanciful names comes out in the next two 2009 proposals, both on Park Avenue near the PNC Bank. "Next Step to Collins Avenue" at 226-232 Park Avenue has eight finished apartments over ground floor space still awaiting development of a French bistro. It is now called the "Courier News Building." Next door at 212-216 Park Avenue, "Certified Green Property One" has four apartments over commercial space occupied by real estate and medical care offices.

 Also proposed in 2009, "Art Lofts I LLC" at 148-158 East Second Street and "Gavett Place Properties" at 130-140 East Second Street received approvals in 2011. The former two-story Romonds building (Art Lofts) is slated for construction of three more stories, with retail space on the first floor and 20 apartments above. The old Mirons warehouse (Gavett Place) is expected to yield 12 apartments. Some work has been done at the Mirons building, but no work is visible at the Romonds building.

"The Bank on Park LLC" is the PNC Bank building. Retail and hospitality uses are proposed. An application for a fifth story lounge addition was recently withdrawn. The bank still occupies the building.

By far the largest proposal, "West Second Street Commons Urban Renewal LLC" at 101-209 West Second Street calls for a new five-story building with 148 apartments and 12,300 square feet of retail space. The developer will be required to relocate the historic pre-Civil War Titsworth-Sutphen building. No action has been taken to date on the relocation or construction.

A building eponymously designated "109 East Fourth Street LLC" is next to the main train station but not in any designated redevelopment area. It is under renovation for eight apartments.

 Three buildings on North Avenue, each also named for its address, are up for renovation with retail space at ground level and apartments above. They are 134-136 North Avenue LLC, 138-144 North Avenue LLC and 177-185 North Avenue LLC. In 2006, Cretella was designated as developer for a plan to acquire and renovate historic buildings in the North Avenue Commercial Historic District. The designation ran out before any buildings were acquired. The plan also called for taller new buildings behind the historic ones, yielding 915 residential units, 130,000 square feet of retail space and an entertainment center. See Plaintalker's post here. The Landmark Developers web site still describes a five-block project with renovation of 35 historic buildings as well as construction of up to 500 residential units and 136,000 square feet of retail space.

Cretella is often spoken of as the city's best hope for redevelopment, as other projects - Marino's, East Third/Richmond, Heartstone, Arlington Heights - have faded away. But recently his attention appears more focused on hospitality venues such as the Ryland Inn in Whitehouse Station and Hotel du Village in New Hope. Is it time for an accounting of where things stand with the Plainfield projects?


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Park Hardware Moving, Expanding

One family's decision to take their business out of Plainfield has created an opportunity for another family business to expand.
Luis Cardona, left; Jhon Cardona, right
Williams Surgical shutttered its Park Avenue store at the end of May, citing adverse conditions at Park & Seventh and also a desire to change their business model to stair lift sales only. Meanwhile, the Cardona family was enjoying a surge of interest since modernizing Park Hardware and expanding offerings to equipment rentals and vinyl window installation. When the former Williams Surgical showroom at 627 Park Avenue became vacant, the family saw a chance to triple its space and add building supplies such as concrete and lumber that don't fit in their current location.

"The space was pivotal for that reason," Manager Jhon Cardona said.
Cardona explained that after the family acquired the hardware store, they added much more merchandise for both homeowners and contractors, but found the space "a little tight." The new location a few doors south will also provide more parking and storage.
The Cardona family also brought a new dimension to the hardware store, operated for 30 years by the Borchers family, in that they can welcome Spanish speakers in their own language. According to the 2010 Census, Plainfield's population is now 40 percent Hispanic, up from 25 percent in 2000.
The Cardonas expect to make the move by late August.

Jhon Cardona said he grew up in Plainfield.

"It's been good," he said. "We love this town."

The family's goal, he said, is to "become a landmark" in the growth of construction that he sees.

"Business is popping," with renovations of homes and rental properties, he said. "The population is growing."

Related posts: New Owners, New Service at Park Hardware


Monday, July 29, 2013

Hammering Man

"Hammering Man" in Seattle and other cities stands as a tribute to workers.

The "hammering man" on Block 832 in Plainfield is a sign of the times.

The 48-foot tall kinetic sculpture outside the Seattle Art Museum wields his hammer from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, but gets Labor Day off. His work is silent.

Our guy is at it whenever he gets a truckful of junk and is anything but silent. He brings home all kinds of metal cast-offs and uses his hammer to bust them apart for transport to a scrap yard.

We sometimes have the same kind of operation going on next door.

In addition, several people riffle through the trash on our block to pick out metal and take it away in bags or on bicycles or trucks, for processing wherever they live.
Hammering Man is symbolic of the worker. For our guys, scavenging is their work. One who uses a yellow kiddie trailer on his bike for his haul told me he goes all over Plainfield and beyond, collecting salable bits of copper from appliance cords or costly metals from the insides of old television sets.

Technically, when somebody brings home truckloads of junk and uses his back yard to process it, he is in effect creating an illegal transfer station. But given the number of scavengers we have seen over the past year, these operations are obviously just the means of augmenting or earning income in a very bad economy.

I sometimes wish our hammering guy would hold it down a little, as he often accompanies his smashing-up with loud, lewd conversations with somebody who sits in the yard. Easy for me to say - I have my pension and Social Security and not many needs. Just to put gas in his pickup truck must cost hammering guy a chunk of his profits from scavenging.

So if I go out to commune with nature and tend to the garden, I just have to turn the Walkman radio up a little higher to offset his racket. Maybe when the economy improves, he will pick up some other kind of work. Maybe he will at least take Labor Day off.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

City Government - Learn More, Get Involved

Random image: Coleus

Yesterday I was too tired to blog, today I have a stomach ache.I have not been getting enough sleep or exercise in the past couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, my thoughts are on the remaining 10 City Council meetings in 2013. What will it take to get a little more civic engagement from Plainfielders? If you attend or watch the meetings on television regularly, you will see a mix of people making the same speech month after month along with others who have read the agenda packet and have specific concerns or comments for the elected officials who will be voting on resolutions and ordinances. It's a free country; both kinds of expression are allowed, but perhaps those focusing on the matters at hand have the edge in relevance.

You, the citizens, voted for those who sit in the council seats. Do you care which ones are paying attention and contributing constructively to the legislative process? Some do, while others ramble or seldom have anything to say. They are your representatives - you can call them to account.

There are council members who use blogs to inform constituents on important votes. All seven have their phone numbers and e-mail posted on the city web site. Each meeting also has a portion for general public comment. Have you ever raised a concern to your representatives? The council also held four Town Meetings, one in each ward, to hear from citizens. Did you attend?

Maybe you have contacted the administration about a problem. Or are you among those who say, "It's a waste of time" or "Nothing will happen." As a resident, it is in your best interest to learn more about City Hall and the departments and divisions relevant to your concern and then to pursue results. There are about 500 public employees who ultimately report to you, the citizen, through the channels of government.

The city web site might well be your first stop in learning about who is in charge of what. Take a look around. The City Clerk's office has a public computer where you can file public information requests or just become more familiar with the parts of government. If you go to City Hall to pay taxes, take an extra minute to go across the hall to visit the Clerk's office, where information is also posted on a bulletin board for the public.

The League of Women Voters used to publish "This Is Plainfield," about city government and other resources. The last one was published in 1982 and the closest thing to it now is the city web site. It is there for your use, so take a look, bookmark it, browse when you have time and check the posted schedules for meetings you may want to attend. Government is supposed to be a contact activity - become engaged!


Friday, July 26, 2013

A Garden Cutie

These small but colorful flowers were among "wildflowers" in a packet my neighbor sowed last year. I saved seeds from several of the plants and these cute 1-inch flowers came up again this year.

Their name is one that took me a long time to find and a lot of trouble to remember. Yesterday I was repeating it and writing it down to fix it in my mind: Cosmidium. I kept wanting to say Cosmos-something.

It does not exactly resemble catalogue photos, as it has more golden-orange and less chocolate-brown on the petals. If anybody has more information, let me know.

The very small pot was created by Mary Vic Griswold, who was a potter as well as a philanthropist and is remembered very fondly by many Plainfielders.


Give Back Tepper's Condo

Every time I hear the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg mentioned, which is a lot lately with six contenders for his seat, I think of the useless condo in the Tepper's basement and how Sen. Lautenberg's effort was squandered.

Sen. Lautenberg in good faith saw to it that the city received a $459,000 grant for a proposed senior center in the building, which also has a commercial portion and 75 apartments. The clinker was that seniors did not want a center housed in a basement. They wanted and got a large ground floor center at 400 East Front Street.

The money could not be used for another site, so as the expiration date approached, a bid went out and only got one response. See what happened next here.

The "plain vanilla box" has been empty ever since. None of the proposed uses have become reality. The site is apparently unsuitable for public safety uses, as it shares access with the residential portion and would need additional construction to create secure entry and egress. The city is considered a condo owner for the site and is theoretically liable for condo fees, although the developer has not pressed for payment.

Officials who asked to see the interior of the site were rebuffed until recently. Councilwoman Rebecca Williams was able to get a look at the interior and here is her report.

If more than five years has elapsed without any use being identified for this space, if it is liable to flooding as some have said and therefore unusable and if the city is potentially on the hook for condo fees, why not see whether Regan Development would just take this white elephant off the city's hands?

The next mayor already has a huge to-do list in terms of sorting out responsibilities and accountability in City Hall, but perhaps this item can be added.

Sen. Lautenberg was also involved in another potential boon to the city, this time $1.1 million for debris removal after the Oct.29 storm known as "Sandy." He and Sen. Robert Menendez announced the funding in a November 2012 press release, but city officials claimed to have no knowledge of it. See more here.

At a minimum, the new administration should devise a way to monitor all existing grants and awards, along with conditions and expiration dates, and should make sure the efforts of federal officials to help the city are understood and appreciated. To do any less is an affront and can only make the city appear ungrateful and undeserving of future consideration.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

PMUA Interns On The Job

Eight interns are working at various PMUA sites after a move to disband the 2013 program failed.

The program was to have started on July 8, but controversy over hiring practices led to a special meeting on July 1 at which commissioners agreed to advertise the opportunity and monitor the selection process. Commissioners Harold Mitchell and Alex Toliver voted "yes" to drop the program for 2013, but Commissioners Malcolm Dunn, Carol Brokaw and Chairman Cecil Sanders voted "no."

PMUA Executive Director Dan Williamson said Wednesday the interns were assigned to locations including the transfer station and various offices. They began Monday and will work for about six weeks at $10 per hour, five hours a day.

The interns are Charles Boyd III, Tanishia Charles, Tyteianna DeBoles, Clayton Gravesandy, Courtney Jenkins, Anoa Morgan, Jarel Pellew and Vachele Wilson.

All are college age and their earnings are expected to help pay for higher education.

Mitchell had proposed dropping the program in light of layoffs and furloughs imposed on PMUA employees, but Sanders said funds had already been budgeted for the 2013 intern program and dropping it would not change the situation.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Liquor License Up For Tax Auction

Got  $100,000 and a dream?

If you have pictured yourself as the genial host of bar in Plainfield, make sure you are in Somerville Friday with lots of money and be ready to bid on a liquor license that is up for auction due to unpaid taxes..

The license now belongs to Jedaca Inc. trading as J. C. Lounge, at 210 Richmond Street. The state Division of Taxation will conduct the auction at 10:30 a.m. Friday (July 26) at 75 Veterans Memorial Drive East, Suite 103 in Somerville.

The minimum bid is $100,000 and the successful bidder must submit a renewal application to the municipality and pay the annual fee by Friday. Failure to do so "will result in forfeiture of all monies," the legal notice states.

There are more rules, including paying 25 percent of the winning bid at the time of sale and the balance by noon Monday (July 29). The whole thing can fall through if not all requirements are met. For more information, call the division's Assistant Chief Steve Kelleher at (908) 704-3350 or Investigator O. McLendon at (908) 704-3074.

Retired City Clerk Laddie Wyatt recalled only three other license sales by tax auction in her 23 years of service. It is the first one since Abubakar Jalloh became city clerk in 2011.

Some city officials have deplored the number of bars and liquor stores in Plainfield. The sentiment went so far as to result in 2001 legislation allowing the city to acquire and retire a license in order to reduce the number (Municipal Code Sec. 4:1-36). On the other hand, developer Frank Cretella may need one or more licenses for proposed restaurants downtown.

All liquor licenses must be renewed annually by June 30. One liquor store owner was the subject of a hearing this month after police recommended that his license renewal should be denied. The council will decide on Aug. 19 whether the license should be renewed.


A New Chapter For The Coriell Mansion

A young real estate entrepreneur aims to restore the troubled Coriell Mansion and promised to celebrate with a tea party when the work is done.

Jonathan Steingraber received approval from the Historic Preservation Commission Tuesday to make some exterior repairs and will later seek HPC permission to erect an iron fence, restore a solarium and change one driveway. A former owner planned to convert the mansion to a bed and breakfast, but ran out of funds. Steingraber said he expects to keep it a single-family home, which it was in the late 19th century.

The mansion at 957 Central Avenue is in the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District, one of six residential historic districts in Plainfield. In all, the city has 10 districts (see map here). Steingraber already has a video online about the mansion and the district. To read more about the bed and breakfast project, click here.

Steingraber said he was told the mansion was once the largest single-family home in Plainfield. He knew its  history, which included a bank takeover in September 2010. He acquired it for $85,000, he told the commissioners, but said a contractor estimated the cost of repairs at $195,000.

He found porch railings inside the house and set them out to make sure they were all there. But after finding skateboarders had used sections to make a ramp, he put them back inside. His reason for wanting the iron fence, he said, was "so kids stop skateboarding on my porch."

Describing his plans for the driveway, he asked commissioners, "Did you see the movie, 'Gatsby' ?" He wants to replace gray gravel with pure white as in the film.

Steingraber said he had also purchased another house next door, "because I don't like having bad neighbors."

He and a girlfriend had listened to several other applications before his turn came up. He asked permission to address the commissioners about the problem of buyers of historic homes being unaware of their status. He suggested having the designation appear right on the listing, so buyers would not make repairs and find out, as some applicants did, that they had to undo the work and fix it over following the city's historic design guidelines.

The commissioners Tuesday included some from the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District who invited Steingraber to a picnic the district is holding Saturday.

Many of the city's mansions were once one-family homes, but only a few have been restored to that status One is the former Monday Afternoon Club on Watchung Avenue, now the home of former Councilman Rashid Burney. Another is the home of WVBHD President John Stewart on West Eighth Street.

Asked after the meeting what she thought of Steingraber's plan to make the Coriell Mansion a single-family home again, HPC Chairman Sandy Gurshman said, "I think it's a miracle. I applaud anyone who undertakes it."


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Council Meetings On New Schedule

The July 8 and 15 City Council meetings are now on the PCTV schedule. Click here to view the schedule.

Midsummer Images

We are about halfway through summer now.
Here is one of our mantises on a Purple Coneflower bud a week before the first day of summer.
They are getting bigger. We had nine egg cases. Each one had up to 200 mantises inside, but once they emerge, they may prey on each other or be eaten by other insects or birds. We probably have just a couple dozen left.
There is a profusion of Cosmos in the yard, some yellow, some orange and some that look painted. They are all descended from seeds I brought home from a Bumbershoot event in Seattle in 1996. It was the end of the weekend and the crowd had trampled them, so I collected a few seeds as a memento.The Cosmos at Park & Ninth are also offspring of those seeds.

Bumbershoot takes place over Labor Day weekend. Click here to see the 2013 lineup.I think I recognize about six of these bands.
These flowers are leaning toward the light, a good reminder to look on the sunny side of life.
Last year the double pink Impatiens that was my signature flower for many years just failed. I found out that Impatiens plants in New Jersey were decimated by a disease. I had saved some sprigs that were being discarded in Lot 6 nearly 20 years ago and propagated cuttings every year since. But the downy mildew put an end to that.

My new favorite is Coleus that I grew from seed last year and wintered over with cuttings. I propagated a lot in many colors and patterns and am enjoying them almost as much as my lost Impatiens.

I hope all my fellow gardeners are having fun with plants this summer, whether you have a yard full or just some nice flowers in pots.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Muhlenberg Closed Five Years Ago

The fifth anniversary of the closing of Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center is about three weeks away and protesters plan to mark it with a demonstration on the preceding weekend.
It was on Aug. 13, 2008 that the hospital closed and nothing has happened yet to restore an acute care facility at the Randolph Road site, where only an emergency room remains.

The notion of putting up 600 luxury condos on the site is still around, despite vigorous objections from Plainfield residents, especially those in the small neighborhoods around the shuttered hospital.

Keep an eye out for more news on the closing and the owner's plans for the site as Aug. 13 approaches.


Commentary on PCTV, PCTVAB and Social Media

Viewers may now see the entire July 15 City Council meeting on YouTube.

Meanwhile, the city's own link to PCTV Comcast 96/Verizon 34 has a schedule with the most recent council meeting on May 13 and its Video Gallery has a council meeting from April 9, 2012.

Lamar David Mackson, still listed as chairman of the Plainfield Cable Television Advisory Board on his LinkedIn page, taped the July 15 meeting and is the producer of several videos on the local station. The PCTVAB is defunct, all memberships having expired.

What is going on here? Hard to say. But it points to a need for clarification of roles and policies regarding the local television station. On the city's web site, it is a division under Administration & Finance, related to Information Technology. At present, there appears to be a great deal more autonomy than is normal in municipal bureaucracy. In 2010, the city sought Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for videography services (see Plaintalker post here). What is the process whereby Mackson shifted from an advisory role to a hands-on production role? Was he hired under the title Media Technician 1?

If having the council meeting on YouTube was officially sanctioned, shouldn't there be a link at least on the city web site as seen here? So far, its appearance on YouTube has been publicized on social media such as Facebook, as have other PCTV productions. Personally, I felt it was intrusive to have a PCTV link posted on my Facebook timeline and I don't especially like being tagged with PCTV links. Should any city division be allowed to use social media at will or should there be some guidelines?

These are all questions that have occurred to me and perhaps they all have simple answers. If not, maybe there are some tasks indicated for the next administration. The city now collects franchise money from two entities and the amount has increased from 2 to 4 percent of revenues, so there is a fiduciary aspect. Both franchises need to be tracked for renewal, a function of the PCTVAB, which is currently not active. Use of social media is an evolving issue for many institutions, including media and government. So this is really not about Lamar Mackson, it is about the city's need to communicate with the community and best practices for doing so.

Your comments are welcome.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Bugged in the Yard? Not Yet ...

This visitor to Block 832 is a Green June Beetle, I found out with the help of online bug guides and Google Images.

Google Images also had a link to a page about making cyborgs out of Green June Beetles, the idea being they could become UAVs and get into places where larger devices couldn't go. Yikes!

This one was just going about his business and not spying on me, I think. Not sure anybody wants to document my activities in the yard, wearing my garden hat and denim apron. If I see one with a little camera attached, I will put on a better-looking outfit and smile while sifting compost and pulling up weeds.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Booker Opens Campaign Office Here

I was wondering why so many Cory Booker signs had sprouted up in storefronts at Park & Seventh when I came upon campaign headquarters for the Newark mayor at 633 Park Avenue.

Booker is one of four Democratic candidates to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the passing of Sen. Frank Lautenberg. Others are U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-12), U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6) and NJ Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34). Republicans Steven Lonegan and Alieta Eck are also running. The primary in the special election is Aug. 13 and voters will pick the final winner on Wednesday, Oct. 16.
 Booker's campaign office here will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., a worker said.

Based on the certified list of candidates, Booker enjoys support of most 11 out of 21 county Democratic organizations. PolitickerNJ also lists him this week as a winner for being nearly 40 points up over his nearest challenger.

Booker is fluent in Spanish and is launching ads in Spanish, according to PolitickerNJ. Both could be of interest to voters here, where 40 percent of residents are Hispanic and 33 percent speak Spanish at home.


Heat and a Hot Topic

July in New Jersey is heat wave season. This past week is an example of the hot, humid weather that tests the endurance of seniors especially. My strategy is to slow down and not expect to get much done until the weather moderates.

I did go out to do yard work Friday afternoon, as the weeds had thrived in the heat. Listening to WNYC on my old-fashioned but trusty Sony Walkman, I heard a lot of sound clips of President Barack Obama's comments regarding racial aspects of the Zimmerman verdict. He had previously said if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin; on Friday, he said he was in effect Trayvon Martin 35 years ago, when he experienced racial attitudes such as being followed in stores or having women clutch their purses nervously when he entered an elevator (full transcript here).

He said while this type of experience persists, things have gradually gotten better and the present generation's attitudes are generally different from those of earlier generations.

I hope he is right. I was trying to do a blog post last Saturday night when the verdict was announced and my first reaction was fear that it could affect Plainfield's diverse population by separating its components. Would rage over the verdict embolden my hostile African-American neighbor, who called me a "peckerwood" and forbids his young daughter to speak to the white people in our building? Would it encourage  the young man who called me a "white bitch" on the street and threw a rock at me on my way home late one night from a City  Council meeting?

By and large, people in Plainfield don't make such distinctions among black, white and Hispanic residents. I know I am considered "the devil" by some Nation of Islam folks, but others will share a handshake in greeting at public events. Most people here are Plainfielders first and everything else second, especially those who have lived here for 30 years or more.

This past week has produced calls for everybody to weigh in on the verdict, along with criticism on opinions and thoughts already offered. Crunk Feminist Collective calls out white feminists for not taking action, black pundits rank black institutions and officials on their responses. Detroit radio host Angelo Henderson said Obama "showed his brother card" Friday, critics said he "re-racialized" the situation.

Even at Monday's City council meeting, there was disagreement among speakers over whether the jurors' decision was an "outrage" or simply the outcome of a trial under the U.S. judicial system.

When I first came to Plainfield in the early 1980s, I was at a public event in the Plainfield Public Library when none other than Marshall Brown told me to leave because of being white. People chuckled. I stayed, but felt the "otherness" that Brown no doubt wanted me to feel. It's not like that today, by and large, though otherness may be just under the surface. Obama's remarks spoke to that point. What we make of it will set a course for the early 21st century.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Two Events Challenge Newsgatherers

Wednesday night presented a challenge for bloggers. A liquor license hearing began inside City Hall just before the Plainfield YOU rally started outside. Plaintalker did not get the remarks made outside, but did get some photos. There is other coverage of the rally at The Alternative Press.

Hearing Reveals Liquor Law Violations

Google image
A long-troubled liquor store on West Front Street was the subject Wednesday of a City Council hearing on whether the owner's license renewal for 2013 should be denied.

City Corporation Counsel David Minchello began by telling the governing body the evidence presented by police "will no doubt shock you." Present and past members of the Plainfield Police Division's Narcotics Bureau then detailed proof that the owner of the liquor store himself admitted selling alcohol to an underage buyer, that the owner's daughter was arrested once on drug charges and again for flouting an order not to be on the premises and that the owner did not comply with special conditions of a past license renewal.

Sgt. Ronald Fusco, who served in the Narcotics Bureau for 10 years before his present assignment on the Union County Homicide Task Force, testified on the Feb. 22, 2013  arrest of Williamah Naicken on four charges after police observed a drug transaction. She allegedly attempted to conceal the action by filling a cup with vodka and drinking it while she had drugs in her hand. The drink itself was a breach of liquor laws and led to another charge.

Although she was issued a "Drug Offender Restraining Order" barring her from the premises, Williamah Naicken was found on the premises on Feb. 28, 2013 by Detective Troy Alston and was again arrested. In addition, she was again charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance after police found a pill in her pocketbook.

Detective Adam Green testified that on Aug. 20, 2012 a 20-year-old police officer working undercover was able to buy beer without being asked for ID by the owner, Vadrajan Naicken., who later pled guilty in Municipal Court to underage sale of alcohol. Attorney John Motta of the Corporation Counsel's office, who was serving as the hearing officer, asked Mr. Naicken whether he had any questions for any of the officers, but he did not.

Police also said there were 136 calls to the premises in the past year, which were detailed in a six-page report. Nineteen resulted in police reports, 11 for drug offenses and eight for infractions including unlawful possession of a weapon, simple assault, aggravated assault and violation of the Drug Offender Restraining Order Act.

Police testimony also revealed that the special conditions imposed on Mr. Naicken for license renewal previously were not obeyed. Police found no evidence of the mandated dusk-to-closing armed security nor of exterior security cameras. In addition, the owner and employees did not cooperate with police or call for help.

Four council members, Adrian Mapp, William Reid, Rebecca Williams and Council President Bridget Rivers, were present for the hearing. After the testimony, the council members went into closed session to deliberate.When the meeting reopened, the facts of the case were reviewed and Naicken was offered a chance to ask questions or present witnesses, which he declined. The council will vote on the matter at the next regular meeting, 8 p.m. Aug. 19 in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Youth Group Holds Vigil

More than 150 people gathered at City Hall Wednesday for a candlelight vigil organized by Plainfield YOU (Youth Organization for Unity).
The vigil was meant to "commemorate the lives of unarmed youth killed without justice," the group said in a press release.
The diverse crowd assembled on short notice, as the vigil was only announced hours before it took place.
Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs was among the speakers.
Attendees were invited to sign a petition to the Department of Justice to seek a civil rights case against George Zimmerman.
Councilman Adrian Mapp encouraged all present to vote and take an active part in the community.
Plainfield YOU is "a citywide movement to provide a foundation for youth for strengthening thier pride and respect in e community, by fostering an outlet for youth to express themselves, to feel heard, respected and understood by each other and members of the community." Click here to see more.

PMUA Picks Nine Interns

Random image: Cosmos

Nine summer interns have been selected to work at the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority after a joint selection process by authority personnel and a commissioners' committee.

The program was supposed to start July 8, but was delayed after a special meeting on July 1 at which two commissioners sought to disband it for 2013. Commissioner Harold Mitchell said the authority should not expend $28,000 on interns in light of layoffs and furloughs for regular employees. Mitchell and Commissioner Alex Toliver voted "yes" to drop the program for 2013, but Commissioners Carol Brokaw, Malcolm Dunn and Chairman Cecil Sanders voted "no."

Brokaw had called for the selection process to be advertised and for it to be a joint effort by PMUA personnel staff and a commissioners' committee. On Tuesday, she asked for the names to be given to the commissioners and also to be made public. The names were not revealed at the meeting.

It came to light in the July 1 discussion that past interns had been solely relatives of staff or commissioners. Dunn decried the practice, saying nepotism "blemished" the program. Sanders said it would be stopped.
(See Plaintalker's coverage of the July 1 meeting here.) Sanders said the $28,000 had already been budgeted, so dropping the program would have no effect on the layoffs or furloughs.

PMUA Chief Financial Officer Duane Young, sitting in Tuesday for Executive Director Dan Williamson, said the interns were college students or college-bound and Plainfield residents were chosen first.

Interns had previously received $2,000 to $3,000 for the summer jobs, in effect a perk for PMUA families if, as indicated on July 1, all were relatives of staff or commissioners and used the funds to defray college costs.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Commentary on "Plainfield's Opportunity"

Councilman Cory Storch, now in his third term on the governing body, has enough experience and insight to be called an elder statesman. On his blog, Storch has now promised a series of posts examining how the city can prepare for a new era of government in 2014. Bookmark his blog if you don't already have a link, because his opinions need to be taken seriously.

Click here to read his take on "Plainfield's Opportunity."

Plaintalker will also be commenting on the possibilities for municipal government under a new mayor in 2014. My perspective will be based on 30 years of reporting on Plainfield, first at a weekly, then a daily newspaper and for the last eight years, a blog.

It's something for everyone in the city to think about and talk about. Municipal government sometimes seems like a huge ship that cannot easily change course. It may be easier to rearrange the deck chairs than to avoid calamity, but with a new person at the helm, the opportunity will exist.


Council Endorses Lampkin House Stabilization Plan

Pledges of support from preservationists convinced a dubious City Council to take the first step Monday to save the city's oldest residence by seeking grant money to stabilize the building.

The council agreed to apply for a $63,750 grant from the Union County Open Space, Recreation and Historic Preservation Trust Fund for Lampkin House, where a Revolutionary War militiaman once lived. The city will have to match the grant. The full cost of restoring the home could top $1 million, but preservationists have already offered personal funds and an investment banker turned fundraiser said he will guide establishment of a non-profit group to garner capital.

"I'm really impressed with the local energy," Erick Torain said.

Having already assisted other organizations including the Central Jersey Arts Charter School and the African-American Fund pre-school program in Plainfield, Torain said he did not see the Lampkin House challenge as insurmountable.

Speakers encouraging the council to approve pursuit of the grant included Sandy Gurshman, chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission; Eloise Tinley and Nancy Piwowar of the Historical Society of Plainfield; and Barbara Fuller, who has held city and county preservation posts. Fuller detailed the city's historic preservation movement and its many enthusiasts who see Lampkin House as "the next opportunity."

Piwowar said the city could capitalize on growing trends for cultural, military and geneaology tourism, especially related to the "Crossroads of the Revolution" if the Lampkin House is restored.

Council members' reservations included the small amount of money pledged compared to the projected cost of restoring the property, but then agreed to aim for stabilization of the property before it becomes unrecoverable.

"My concern was with the project's ability to sustain itself," Councilman Adrian Mapp said. Encouraged by the plan to establish a non-profit support organization, he said, "I look forward to seeing it become a reality."

Councilwoman Vera Greaves said she would vote "yes" on the grant application with the proviso that advocates would not come back looking for more money from the city.

Councilman Cory Storch said of the project, "It's a gamble," but joined in the unanimous vote to approve the grant request.


Monday, July 15, 2013

July Council Meeting Tonight

The regular City Council meeting for July is 8 p.m. tonight (Monday, July 15) in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

The agenda includes an ordinance up for second reading and final passage to ban smoking on city property, including parks and inside city-owned or -leased vehicles. Smoking of any kind, including use of electronic cigarettes, can lead to a $100 fine. The ordinance can be enforced by the city health officer or any code enforcement officer.

A resolution grants permission for Iris House to hold the Second Annual Plainfield Leading Ladies Community Health and Wellness Fair on Aug. 10 from 11 a.m. through 3 p.m. on Church Street  Read more about Iris House here

On July 8, Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig commended Police Sgt. Scott Gwinn for seeking grants totaling $44,275. One for $4,400 covers a Labor Day crackdown on drunk driving. Another, for $15,000, aims to improve pedestrian safety and the third, an Edward Byrne Memorial Grant, can be applied toward various police costs including overtime for special patrols and computer technology. No matching funds are required for any of the grants.

The council will be asked to approve spending $3,165 for translation of Historic Preservation Design Guidelines into Spanish, based on a need due to the city now having a 40 percent Hispanic population, according to the 2010 Census, and 33 percent of residents speaking Spanish in the home.

To see the full agenda for tonight's meeting, click here.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

New UEZ Concern: Administrative Costs

A resolution to add new revenues to the 2013 budget brought out more controversy over Urban Enterprise Zone funds when one council member questioned their inclusion and another objected to use of $92,000 to run the program.

Plainfield's Urban Enterprise Zone program began in 1985 and did well when the city had large revenue-producing businesses such as Macy's. Income from sales tax dropped after Macy's closed and the program never reached the desired level of involvement by smaller retail businesses. It was shut down after a state report revealed it was only producing eight cents in new revenue for every dollar needed to operate the state program. Participating municipalities received the balance of funds for local administration.

At the July 8 City Council meeting, Councilman Adrian Mapp, a chief financial officer in another city, said the UEZ funds should not have been lumped in with various grants to be added to the budget. Treasurer Diane Sherry-Buono said the state had advised cities to include the funds, but Mapp disagreed and a resolution up for approval Monday does not include the UEZ money.

Councilman Cory Storch had another concern, saying the funds are now finite and will no longer be replenished.

"Once we spend it down, it's gone," Storch said. "We should spend it very wisely."

Storch noted a long list of projects still to be covered by UEZ funds and called the $92,000 in local administrative costs "very short-sighted." The amount pays for two employees in City Hall to run the program.

Public Works Director Eric Jackson, who was filling in for City Administrator Eric Berry and Finance Director Al Restaino on July 8, said if the salaries were removed from UEZ funds, the cost would have to be taken directly out of the municipal budget. He said he wanted the council to be aware of that outcome. But Storch insisted that the cost be removed from the UEZ funds.

"So the resolution will come back without the $92,000 and you will tell us how you will adjust (the funding)," Councilman Reid said to Jackson.

The city began taking an amount for local program administration out of the UEZ money more than 10 years ago. But since the fund balance was turned back to the city in 2011, council members' questions about use of the money and status of projects went unanswered until a couple of months ago when the program director offered a spreadsheet. It still did not spell out the status of each project.

Formerly, approval for any project had to come from the state Urban Enterprise Zone Authority, but now it would have to come from the council. In December 2011, the council rejected the use of $32,600 for an "ecological park." No new proposals have been made. Mapp unsuccessfully pressed for a full accounting of each project in May 2012.

The 2011 state report showed that only 14 percent of eligible retailers in Plainfield were enrolled in the program when the state shut it down. One of the perennial sticking points was a requirement for an employer to add jobs, which most local "mom and pop" retailers were unable to do. Before the decline of major retailers, UEZ funds were used for such things as street cleaners, trash baskets, benches and extra police in the zone.


Friday, July 12, 2013

Don't Say You Weren't Warned

I sent a photo of this utility pole to officials in February, noting the rot at the bottom.
It was also leaning over the corner of Park & Sixth and had a lot of wires attached.

So today my taxi driver had to detour around a closure from Park & Seventh to Park & Fifth, because the pole fell down and took all the wires with it. Police, fire and utility personnel responded. A firefighter at the scene surmised that it had been put on a list, but fell before its turn came up to get fixed.

Well, don't say you weren't warned by an old pedestrian blogger months ago

Lily Time in the Garden

Click to enlarge and start a slide show.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Clinton Deli Faces License Hearing

A liquor store owner who won license renewal last year with strict conditions is now facing a hearing on possible denial of renewal for 2013-14.

Vadrajan Naicken, owner of the Clinton Deli on West Front Street, was permitted to stay open for 2012-13  only after agreeing to install security cameras and make other provisions to curtail illicit activity on his premises. For the term beginning July 1, the City Council voted not to renew his license based on a police recommendation. City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh said a hearing will take place at 7 p.m. on July 17 at City Hall Library.

At last year's hearing, Naicken's attorney did not show up, but an attorney on hand for another hearing filled in. Police reported 254 calls to the premises in the 2011-12 term for incidents including sale of alcohol to minors, drug possession, fights, assaults weapons offenses and sale of loose cigarettes. The most disturbing report to city officials and police was that drugs were found on several occasions “beneath the ice cream freezer” within the store, where ice cream and candy were sold to children.

Naicken agreed to install cameras in the store and parking lot, but balked at a requirement for security guards, saying he could not afford them. The council insisted on guards serving from dusk until closing as a condition of renewal for 2012-13 and Naicken finally agreed.

On June 17, the council acting as the local Alcoholic Beverage Control Board approved licenses for eight bars, restaurants and clubs and 10 liquor stores. Approvals for eight other bars or restaurants, one social club and one liquor store were not renewed pending payment of fees or receipt of state tax clearances. Clinton Deli was the only one recommended for denial.

The agenda for the July 15 council meeting includes renewals for two of the bars in question and also one liquor store that was not on the June list.

The number of liquor licenses in Plainfield has been a sore point with members of the governing body and has led to many complaints from residents. Although the state set a formula years ago for the number of liquor establishments based on population, many city licenses were "grandfathered in" and allowed to remain active. Plainfield's population of 49,808 in the 2010 census would permit 16.6 consumption licenses under the formula and the city has 16, plus four social club licenses. The state formula would limit liquor store licenses to 6.64 based on the city's population, but Plainfield has more than double that number.

Countering the outcry against the number of liquor licenses, one city resident wants the council to restore a fifth social license. Dawud Hicks has pleaded his case at numerous public meetings, saying his MDM Sports Club needs a license to bring in revenue for the club's youth mentoring projects. But the council has rejected his rationale.

Developer Frank Cretella is also seeking one or two liquor licenses for proposed restaurants in Plainfield, but has not found any current holders of active or inactive "pocket" licenses willing to sell.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Smoking To Be Banned On City Property

A City Council vote Monday will likely spell the end to smoking outdoors anywhere on city property.

The sight of smokers huddled in doorways became common after a state ban on indoor smoking took effect in 2006; the ordinance up for second reading and final passage Monday takes it a step further. The council will hold a public hearing before the vote. The meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

To see more than you ever wanted to know about smoking bans in the United States, click here.

On a personal note, both my parents were heavy smokers and both paid a price. My father developed lung cancer and my mother had emphysema. Neither could stop, having grown up when the tobacco industry used every means possible to entice young people to take up smoking. My father even tried to get us to bring him cigarettes in the hospital before his death in 1984. His fingers were stained with nicotine and his bedside table at home was marred with burn marks from cigarettes.

Even after becoming a near-recluse who spent almost all her time on the couch, my mother made sure she had cigarettes on hand. My father suffered several heart attacks starting in the 1970s and my mother died of a heart attack in 1992.

My husband and I did not smoke. When my daughter was a baby, the price of babysitting by Grammy and Granddad was that she came home with clothes reeking of smoke.We used to go to jazz clubs in New York occasionally and the smoky atmosphere there left us with red, watery eyes.

Believe it or not, when I first went to the Courier News building in Bridgewater in 1987, smoking was permitted in the newsroom. It made me sneeze. I was glad when it was banned, but those who were addicted to it got grumpy. One editor chewed on plastic straws all day just to have something in her mouth. She cursed a blue streak as well, which seemed to be another aspect of her oral fixation.

Nowadays I seldom encounter the smell of cigarettes, except on the street. But I do see cigarette butts all over. The high price of cigarettes has led to the sale of "loosies" on Park Avenue, despite raids by the state for sales tax violations. After Hurricane Sandy, one of the most closely-watched spots for reopening was the place that sold loosies, so bad was the customers' addiction.

Overall, this legislation is a good thing. Society has gone from seeing smoking as sophisticated to realizing it harms both smokers and those exposed to smoke. For those who have not been able to kick the habit, click here to learn about getting help to quit.


Ramadan Begins

For all our friends and neighbors
 of the Islamic faith,
Ramadan Mubarak

Council Discusses Lampkin House, Special Signs

Plainfield pride was invoked at Monday's City Council meeting in support of winning teams and the city's historic legacy.

Pat Turner Kavanaugh, president of the Friends of Sleepy Hollow civic group, asked the governing body's support for a plan to place signs around the city honoring outstanding Plainfield High School teams, while others sought help to stabililize the Lampkin House, a Colonial-era residence that is the city's oldest structure.

Turner Kavanaugh said the proposed 36- by 36-inch signs would have narrow strips at the bottom commemorating achievements such as the Plainfield High School basketball team winning state championships or the high school's Junior State chapter being "number one in the country." Each sign would cost $160 and between six and 10 would be erected through donations at no cost to the city.

Turner Kavanaugh said Martin Cox, a former school board member, also wanted the signs also to say that Plainfield had the first public school in the nation in 1847.

FOSH and others have already made donations and Turner Kavanaugh invited support from individual council members and the public. Councilman Adrian Mapp pledged to pay for a sign and other council members offered to contribute toward the cost of signs. Checks made out to FOSH may be sent to FOSH, P.O. Box 2711, Plainfield, NJ 07062.

The Lampkin House issue was more complicated. All that was being asked of the council was to authorize application for a $63,750 grant from the Union County Open Space, Recreation & Historic Preservation Trust Fund, but council members questioned what future costs might be incurred as well. The house was on Preservation New Jersey's 2009 10 Most Endangered Sites and needs to be stabilized to prevent further deterioration.

Planning Director Bill Nierstedt said the city hopes a "friends of" Lampkin House group will be established, but in answer to Mapp, he said it does not exist yet. Councilman Cory Storch expressed concern that the Lampkin House would end up competing with the city's Drake House Museum. He sought assurances that a group would be able to raise funds for Lampkin House. Nierstedt said he had contacted the Dolbeer family, relatives of  a Revolutionary War militia man who owned the house from 1796 to 1832, and that they had pledged support.

The plan also includes offering the current owner a land swap of the site for some city-owned parcels for development of one- and two-family homes, but Nierstedt could not guarantee the swap would go through.

The matter was put on the agenda for the July 15 regular council meeting, but may still require more discussion.

Later, city historian Nancy Piwowar said there was a rise in interest in the Revolutionary War era that was producing "cultural tourism" and "heritage tourism" that could bring visitors to Plainfield.

Historic Preservation Commission Chairwoman Sandy Gurshman thanked the council for moving the matter to the agenda and said a side benefit was that it gives access to a nature preserve.

The regular City Council meeting is 8 p.m. July 15 in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.


Monday, July 8, 2013

Enough With The Heat!

Mau is resting on a folded towel with a freezer pack in a washcloth as his pillow. When will this end, he wants to know.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

More Parade Pix

Wheels of all kinds were rolling on Front Street in the July Fourth parade Saturday.
Here are police officers on specially equipped bicycles.
This is not a Segway, it is a T3 Motion vehicle used by the Police Division.
The Police Division also has motorcycles and a massive Mobile Command Unit.
Another kind of horsepower was represented by these two Percherons, who will be pulling this wagon around town to collect food waste for recycling to biofuel and animal feed. Read more about Olive Lynch's Green Waste Technologies here.
Flags from all over were on display in front of the YWCA.
It's a grand old flag and a grand new banner in front of the Senior Center.
I learned something by looking up the flag of Barbados. Blue is for the sky and the sea, gold for the island's sand and beaches. The trident is the symbol of Neptune and the broken shaft represents the island's break with Britain. The flag became official in 1966. Barbados is the homeland of Adrian Mapp
More flags! This van was parked near the scene of a three-day festival marking the independence of the United States, an event geared to Latino Plainfielders who come from many countries.
And here is Maria Santiago on the parade route Saturday, ready to register voters in Spanish or English. This election year includes an August 13 special primary and October 16 special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacancy caused by the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg. Click here to see all 2013 election dates.And don't forget to vote!