Monday, February 20, 2017

Rush Holt: Scientists, Take A Stand

Hearing Rush Holt's name on the radio tonight piqued my interest. I was a big fan when he was Plainfield's Congressional representative for a while. Now he is the CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and he is asking scientists to take a stand against President Donald J. Trump's recent immigration ban, calling it "damaging to scientific innovation and U.S. science and engineering capacity. "

See the AAAS article here.

Scientists protested Sunday in Boston (see Boston Herald article) and are planning a march on Washington, though not without some criticism from their own kind.


The Office of the New Jersey Climatologist has documented changes in the state climate and also has a link to a NOAA report on climate change.

I went out Sunday to do some yard work and while I enjoyed the warm, sunny day, it just made me wonder what July and August in New Jersey will be like this year.  Attention needs to be paid to climate change and the health risks associated with it. Scientists need to study climate change and many other things without being impeded by travel bans and threats of federal de-funding of programs.

--Bernice

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Candidate Update - So Far


Image result for Plainfield NJ City Hall roses
 City Hall
With six weeks still to go before the primary filing date, four mayoral candidates have already declared they are running.

Incumbent Mayor Adrian O. Mapp announced his intention last year to seek a second term. Despite a sometimes uncooperative City Council, since taking office in January 2014, Mapp has attracted several developers to the city.   He revived the cabinet-level post of Deputy City Administrator for Economic Development and chose Carlos Sanchez to fill it. Mapp's team can now point to a $50 million, 212-unit development on South Avenue, among others, as proof of progress.

Rev. Tracey Brown, who just concluded a four-year term as the Citywide at-large representative on the City Council, is in full campaign mode for the mayoral seat. Brown is using social media to convey her message of compassion for 2016's dozen victims of gun violence and has held several public meetings since leaving the governing body.

Brown and Mapp are Democrats.

Mustapha Muhammad ran for mayor in 2013 as an independent candidate, describing himself as a "student of the Honorable Louis Farrakhan." This year, he is using his Facebook page, which lists more than 3,000 friends, to announce his mayoral intentions and to give his views on what the city needs in leadership.

Councilwoman Bridget Rivers is completing her second term representing the Fourth Ward, but instead of seeking re-election to the council, a recent Facebook post indicates she is running for "alcaldesa" (mayor) on a slate with Alma Blanco as a candidate for "consejal" (council). Rivers is also a Democrat, making three so far for a primary race for mayor.

Besides the Mayoral and Fourth Ward seats, the Second & Third Wards at-large City Council seat is also up for an unexpired term. Rebecca Williams was the incumbent, but vacated the seat after winning the Citywide at-large seat. Appointee Joylette Mills-Ransome is expected to file for the primary, now likely facing a challenge from Blanco.

So far, no Republicans have announced. Before the November 2016 general election, registered Democrats numbered 14,524 to the Republicans' 930. Independents totaled 7,793.

Party members must file by 4 p.m. April 3 to run in the June 6 primary. Independents file on June 6 to be on the November 7 general election ballot.

--Bernice

Friday, February 17, 2017

News From PMUA

New commissioners, new staff uniforms and a new footing with city officials were highlights of Thursday's Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority meeting.
Marleen Powell and Miguel Edghill take their oaths of office.
Pat Van Slyke takes her oath of office.
The City Council just approved the three new commissioners Monday and they took part Thursday in the 2017 annual reorganization. The board chose Henry Robinson as chairman for the year, Michelle Graham-Lyons as vice-chair, Miguel Edghill as treasurer and Robin Bright as secretary.
In his report to the board, Executive Director Daniel Mejias called attention to new uniforms for PMUA workers. The reflective stripes are an important feature, he said, as workers may be out at any hour of the day or night. He said he also wanted a distinctive, identifying outfit for PMUA personnel, noting UPS "brown" as an instantly recognizable example of a uniform.

Mejias said he met with Oren Dabney, the city's new director of Public Works & Urban Development, and they discussed ways to address "public confusion" over roles of the city and authority on tasks such as tree-trimming and street sweeping, which the city performs but which many residents believe to be a PMUA responsibility. He said he also discussed ways to address illegal dumping and a new requirement for businesses to have a "trade waste license" posted, showing they have a trash removal contract with PMUA or another entity.

Regarding grease traps, he said the PMUA can't levy fines but the city Health Division can.  And when it comes to abatement (cleanup of dumping and such), the PMUA is responsible only after being instructed by the city to take action.

Mejias announced a new superintendent of solid waste, Larry Chambers, who was promoted from within the organization after the former superintendent had to step down due to medical issues. Mejias said it is a goal of the authority to promote from within whenever possible.

Mayor Adrian O. Mapp visited PMUA headquarters and the Rock Avenue transfer station to speak to members of the authority on his goals and visions for the city and how the authority can play a major role, Mejias said, and also to dispel rumors of the mayor wanting to shut down the authority.

Robinson said the mayor spoke very highly of the PMUA and wanted to partner with it. He noted in the past the city and PMUA had not had a strong relationship, but said the mayor explained he wanted to make it "more .of a shining star than it already is."

In other comments, Mejias noted that former Commissioner Carol Brokaw was appointed to the Plainfield Area Regional Sewerage Authority's finance board. PARSA conveys sewage from several Central Jersey municipalities to the Middlesex County Utilities Authority and charges each one for its service. Mejias said PMUA "will now have a voice on the board" of PARSA.

Another bit of news is an agreement between PMUA and the Salvation Army to have drop boxes at the transfer station where Plainfield residents can drop donations instead of having them go into landfills.
Mejias said PMUA partners with the Salvation Army for bike giveaways and for the Halloween "Trunk or Treat" event.

My visit to PMUA headquarters Thursday allowed me to take a photo of a memorial created to honor Eric C. Watson. the authority's original executive director, who served from 1995 to 2011. He came to the PMUA after serving as director of Public Works & Urban Development in the administration of former Mayor Mark Fury and returned to the role in September 2014. He passed away unexpectedly on July 17, 2016. 


--Bernice

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Immigrants Rally at City Hall

Maritza Martinez has had a business in downtown Plainfield for 20 years, but today she shut it down and took to the steps of City Hall to lead a rally for immigrants' rights. The "Day Without Immigrants" was observed nationwide.
Maritza Martinez, center, hand on railing
The crowd began assembling at noon, with banderas (flags)of Guatemala, El Salvador and other nations, and cries of "Arriba Hispanos!"
"The downtown is closed," Martinez said to cheers.
Many protesters carried handmade signs.
Between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, Plainfield's Latino population grew by 67 percent, an increase reflected in the burgeoning number of restaurants and clothing stores that cater to the newcomers. Children entering the Plainfield school system now come largely from Spanish-speaking households. St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church offers numerous Masses in Spanish, and other denominations have are sharing space with older churches or meet in former office buildings.
Taxpayers, not "bad hombres" 

Pastor Henry Gramajo
Speakers gave blessings and led chants such as, "Latinos unidos jamas seran vencidos,." Latinos united will never be defeated.

Telemundo recorded the event.
By 2 p.m., the crowd had swelled to fill the plaza.
View from City Hall.
People continued to gather on the sidewalks on both sides of Watchung Avenue and on the grounds around the plaza. Plainfield's rally was one of many across the nation to remind the public and government leaders of immigrants' contributions, as well as their rights and concerns. In solidarity, we say, "Arriba los Hispanos!"

--Bernice

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

PMUA Reorg, Planning Board Meeting Thursday

The Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, which provides trash removal and recycling services to the city, will hold its annual reorganization meeting Thursday (Feb. 16) at 127 Roosevelt Avenue, electing officers and making other designations for the year.

The Feb. 6 committee meeting was rescheduled to Thursday and will precede the reorganization. See the agenda here. The meeting starts at 6 p.m.

The City Council voted approval in January to replace longtime PMUA Commissioner Carol Brokaw with Pedro Estevez, formerly Alternate No. 2, for a five-year term ending in February 2021. Miguel Edghill was also appointed to succeed Charles Tyndale for a term to February 2021. Marleen Powell was named to succeed Robin Bright and Pat Van Slyke to succeed Estevez as alternates with terms expiring in February 2019.

At 7:30 p.m.Thursday, the Planning Board meets in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Avenue. The agenda lists only one application, an amendment to final site plan approval for the former American Red Cross building at Grove Street and West Front Street. The applicant, Shun Cheng LLC, received preliminary site plan approval in 2014 to convert the building to nine apartments over retail space on the ground floor.

Representatives of Shun Cheng LLC appeared at the Jan. 19 Planning Board meeting to explain changes that became necessary as they found unforeseen conditions. (I was on my so-called break from blogging and attended but did not take notes - I believe the problems were in the facade.)

--Bernice

City's 1988 Taxi Ordinance Needs Review


So this was my view of Monday's City Council meeting. Not only was there a very controversial item affecting many taxicab owners, drivers and their families, two ceremonial matters were added, each honoring numerous individuals. Police officers had their hands full with crowd management, helping council members and city officials get through and making way for honorees to pass.

Someone posted brief video clips of the meeting on Facebook, featuring comments by Councilwoman Bridget Rivers. If I heard correctly (the sound was not clear), in one she urged the city to study the ordinance.

While there is more to the taxi issue than what is in Plainfield's ordinance, the only legislation that the governing body can change is what exists in Plainfield's Municipal Code. Longtime followers of city government may recall that it took about two years to create the taxicab ordinance, and at the time there were only a couple of companies, Apple Taxi being one. The owner objected to a rule that a company's taxis must all be the same color, arguing that apples come in different colors.

Whether it was the new, strict rules or something else, companies went out of business and for a time there were none left. It was not until the city population shifted, with a 67 percent increase in Latinos reflected in the 2010 Census, that the taxi business grew to meet the needs.of new residents without cars.

I  joined the ranks of the car-less in 2008 when my 1991 Ford Escort gave out and I decided not to get another vehicle. I wrote three posts on taxis in July 2008, one on the companies at the time, one on fares and one showing the rate card. 

You can click on the image of the rate card to enlarge it. (The last two sentences were obsolete and I struck them out.)
Whatever happens with the towing penalty next month, the original ordinance probably needs to be reviewed and perhaps revised. It currently includes a dress code for drivers, requiring an item of clothing with the company's name on it, and forbids wearing sandals or shorts.

Drivers must also "Refrain from using vehicle horn or audible warning devices to summon passengers." We all know how well that rule is followed.

The city's population is shifting again, with an expected influx of renters for luxury apartments with limited parking. Many may prefer travel services such as Uber or Lyft over taxis, but there will still be residents who want a simple cash transaction, no apps with links to bank accounts. The taxi business will be with us for a while, so why not take a closer look and make sure those 1988 rules are still relevant?

--Bernice

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Valentine's Day

Here's a Valentine's Day message from way back in 2009!

No Council Blog Post

I was not able to get into the City Council meeting Monday. Police officers declared the courtroom filled to capacity. After waiting an hour or so, I left. Sorry, folks.

--Bernice

Monday, February 13, 2017

Taxi Towing Ordinance Up for First Passage

Note: The title of this blog post has been corrected to indicate first passage possible tonight. Second and final passage could follow in March.


Legislation that supports licensed Plainfield taxi drivers and will permit towing of outside taxis is sure to be the main event at tonight's City Council meeting, as it has gone beyond turf issues and is now a political flash point in a volatile election year.

The meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave. The complete agenda is posted on the city web site.

Protesters jammed City Hall Library last week when the governing body council decided to put the measure on the agenda for tonight. Many of the same out-of-town owners, their families and employees had celebrated in December when the towing ordinance failed in a 3-3 council tie, with one member absent. As of January, the council make-up changed and the consensus last week was 5-2 to go forward with the towing penalty.

The council previously increased fines for unlicensed taxis at the behest of the city taxi owners. In 2014, fines for taxis without city licenses were increased, from $300 to $500 for a first offense, from $500 to $1,000 for a second offense and from $800 to $2,000 for third and subsequent offenses.The new penalty gives a police officer who stops an unlicensed taxi the discretion to order the vehicle towed, with the owner then liable for the towing cost plus storage fees. The taxi customers are primarily Latino and the idea of being stranded, possibly with children and any groceries or purchased items from shopping, has raised fears of further problems with immigrant status or language barriers as displaced passengers seek help.

Fabian Soria, owner of a North Plainfield cab company, alleged in 2014 that police were ordering people out of his taxis and asked the council for relief.

The city gains revenues from the four licensed taxi companies, who must also carry special insurance and pass police inspections of their vehicles. Their business association has rallied for council support in the past. The out-of town competitors say their employees live in Plainfield and allege they give better service to the many Plainfield residents who rely on taxis. The outside owners say because Plainfield has exceeded the allowable number of licenses, they cannot even apply for one.

A solution suggested last week was for the city to change the formula based on population, currently one taxi per 1,000 residents, as indicated in the last census, though in no case to exceed 60 taxi licenses. It is possible, officials said, but unless the council minority (Bridget Rivers and Diane Toliver) can convince the majority (Barry Goode, Cory Storch, Joylette Mills-Ransome, Charles McRae and Council President Rebecca Williams) to hold off, the towing penalty is likely to pass tonight.

The mayoralty and two council seats are up for election this year, and even though the filing date is many weeks away, competition for constituencies is heating up. Citizens who want a seat at the meeting should plan to get there early.

--Bernice

Sunday, February 12, 2017

2017 City Council Meetings

Agenda Fixing Session
City Hall Library
7:30 p.m.
Combined
Municipal Court
7 p.m.
Regular Meetings
Municipal Court
8 p.m.
Feb. 6

Feb.13
March 6

March 13
April 3

April 10
May 1

May 8
June  13 (Tuesday)

June 19

July 10


August 14

Sept.5 (Tuesday)

Sept. 11
Oct. 2

Oct. 10 (Tuesday)

Nov. 2

Dec. 4

Dec. 11

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Details Needed on Muhlenberg Plans

Among the many topics in Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's State of the City Address, there was a brief mention of a development agreement for the Muhlenberg campus signed between "a potential developer" and the owner, JFK Health.

Tell us more!
 
Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center closed in 2008 despite protests from the community. A satellite emergency department remained, but was relocated to the Kenyon House building on the campus when the owner, previously known as Solaris, sought to clear a 10-acre portion of all but the vacant hospital. It is that tract which has been studied for redevelopment for the past several years. In 2013, JFK Health Systems was promoting a controversial plan to build 600 luxury apartments on the site and the city hired a planning firm to study the tract for other possible uses.

Plaintalker reported in March 2016 on the issuance of a "Request for Proposals" for development of the site. Proposals were due by April 27, 2016. The notice stated, "The City's vision is for the Site to have a health-care focus with a variety of healthcare and complimentary uses to serve the local and regional community, that are contextually consistent with the surrounding neighborhood. The developer will purchase the site from JFK Hospital and enter into a Redevelopment Agreement with the City of Plainfield."

The Planning Board had previously agreed in September 2015 that the site was in need of redevelopment and to recommend a "Non-Condemnation" option to the City Council rather than use of eminent domain.

In his address Wednesday, Mapp said, "When I took office, I made a commitment to work hard to bring redevelopment to the now closed Muhlenberg campus.. We promised that any redevelopment would have a major healthcare component. That was my pledge - that was my commitment.

"I reached out to the CEO of JFK Health Systems built a relationship and was able to make it happen. I’m happy to report that an agreement between the potential developer and JFK has been recently signed. We will continue to work in 2017 to ensure that the site is developed into a state of the art facility with a heavy concentration in healthcare.

"We have Kenyon House where JFK renovated the first floor to house a satellite emergency department. They offer out-patient medical services, diagnostic services, and hospital community outreach programs. This new Emergency Room is actively serving the community."

(Please note he deviated somewhat from the prepared text.)

No doubt the public has many questions, such as whether any housing is involved, as there have been strong objections to having it as a component. The type and scope of the health care component will also be of high interest. Since Muhlenberg closed, people in need of hospital care must go to Somerville, Summit, Edison or even Morristown or New Brunswick. "Doctors' Row" on Park Avenue has cleared out and specialists have become affiliated with health systems in the locations mentioned above. The community will be eager to get more information. 

--Bernice

Friday, February 10, 2017

Commentary on Plainfield Promise

Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's mention Wednesday of a proposal to increase college attendance has raised questions about how it would work.

From his 2017 State of the City Address:

I believe that if every single person had the benefit of a good education there would be ninety percent less crime in the world and I want to do my part to make that happen.

Studies have shown that children who are exposed to financial literacy at an early age grow up to practice sound money management later on and are more likely to be solid achievers.

With this in mind, Plainfield Promise has as one of its goals to establish a bank account with an amount of money (up to five hundred dollars), for every single child starting school in the City of Plainfield. 

You have to sow the seeds today if you want to reap the rewards tomorrow, and this is about changing outcomes for generations.

 The other component of Plainfield Promise throws out a challenge to every high school student in Plainfield. 

If you complete high school and qualify to go to college but cannot afford to do so, we will pay for you to attend Union County College. And if there’s a child who’s more interested in learning a trade than going to a traditional college, we’ll also provide assistance for them to pursue their dreams.

Plainfield Promise will provide funding to assist our young people who have worked hard and deserve the opportunity to explore their full potential; this is the future of Plainfield; this is how we begin to transform the landscape of opportunity and re-create our city. 

Education expands the mind; education fights hatred, education provides opportunities, education opens doors. It elevates and paves the way for change that affects generation after generation. Plainfield Promise will be funded from several sources, the details of which we will share as soon as the logistics are worked out and the program is ready to launch. 

I emailed the following questions to the mayor:

Could you explain the funding mechanism for Plainfield Promise? What would the source be? How would it be administered? Is there any current model in another municipality?



His reply:
We are not ready to release that information as yet. The program is modeled after the Oakland Promise.

That led me to look up Oakland Promise. I found out it is still in early stages, has a broad base of funding commitments ranging from private individuals to foundations and including municipal and school system contributions.

If the program is accurately described, it seems to show a much greater agreement on the need for this particular kind of help and an acceptance of the responsibility to carry it out than may currently exist in Plainfield, where class and race distinctions are frequently invoked. Many taxpayers here may be less inclined to feel they are their brothers' keeper because they are fighting for economic survival themselves.

In addition, Plainfield's educational funding is based on an assumption of high poverty levels here. As one of the 30 poorest districts, Plainfield is said to have an 80/20 percent ratio of outside funding to local taxes raised in support of schools. Accepting the designation of neediness seems to preclude the ability to "do for self" that appears to be implicit in Plainfield Promise. 

The mayor began announcing Plainfield Promise as far back as September 2016 on his blog. By talking about it in the State of the City Address, he is raising expectations as well as concerns that must be addressed sooner rather than later.

--Bernice

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Hello, Niko!


Weather.com
Have we really had 13 storms already this season?

Do you remember any of them? I don't. I can imagine Blanche swishing along in a taffeta dress and Maya poetically invoking the storminess of life. Niko reminds me of Nico and the Velvet Underground, not the upper atmosphere.

Niko is producing thundersnow in some places. By now, most of us have heard of that term, but Niko may also be a weather "bomb," short for a more obscure meteorological term, "bombogenesis." Such drama. Reminds me of some other ill winds that are blowing lately.

If you are enjoying a day off, thank Niko, but if you have to shovel, feel free to hurl a few Jersey swearwords at Niko. To look past the rest of those stormy characters, plant a few seeds on the windowsill and by the time they sprout, the 2016-17 winter storm season will be gone!

--Bernice

Mayor Mapp Delivers State of the City Address

In a wide-ranging State of the City Address Wednesday, perhaps the best news was that Mayor Adrian O. Mapp had to share was the surge in development, with over 60 potential projects representing a more than $230 million dollar investment in the city.

When he took office in January 2014,  he said, the word on the street was that "Plainfield is a difficult place to do business." Mapp filled a vacant cabinet-level post for economic development and examined how developers fared as they moved through the process. Now, he said, the city has a reputation for welcoming serious business partners and investors have taken note.

Mapp listed a 212-unit, $59 million luxury apartment project on South Avenue and two major projects in the city's West End as examples of the change.

He also announced an agreement with a developer for the vacant Muhlenberg site where a medical center closed in 2008 and said it will have "a major health care component."

In all, the address took over an hour. Click the link to see the full 2017 State of the City Address.

Mapp also reported improvements in public safety, fiscal controls, community health and recreation. In addition, an outstanding resident from each of the city's four wards was honored and given a plaque. The recipients were First Ward resident Nelson Santana, a businessman and commissioner with the Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs; Second Ward resident Mary Burgwinkle, an advocate for the arts and member of the Plainfield Charter Study Commission; Third Ward resident Bob Wilson, not present but described as a civic leader and mentor to youth; and Fourth Ward resident Stacey Welch, an entrepreneur and owner of LiVay Sweet Shop who also organizes charity drives.

Council members Barry Goode, Joylette Mills-Ransome, Cory Storch, Charles McRae and Council President Rebecca Williams attended the event, along with many cabinet members.

Looking ahead, Mapp announced proposed improvements at Hannah Atkins Center to produce "a compelling community space with updated recreational and community revitalizing features" that will make it a hub for community services. The future also holds improvements at Rushmore Playground and Seidler Field, as well as a new skate park in Madison Avenue Park, he said.

"It's going to be an exciting year, but we're not done yet," he said, going on to describe goals including a permanent "One-Seat Ride" to New York City, road improvements, an on-time budget and technology training for students.

On a personal note, before describing a new educational campaign Mapp traced his beginnings in Barbados, where his grandmother cared for him while his mother worked on Long island, N.Y.

""We were very poor, and we knew it," he said, noting how he often went hungry and poorly clothed. Through it all, his grandmother drilled into him the need to gain an education. After migrating to America, he said, "I worked my way from Union County College to Rutgers University, from Rutgers to Fairleigh Dickinson .." persevering despite many challenges.

Believing education and early financial literacy are keys to success, Mapp now wants to establish "Plainfield Promise," a program to provide a bank account of up to $500 for every child starting school in Plainfield and a challenge for students to complete high school and qualify  for college and, if they can't afford it, a promise to pay for them to attend Union County College. See more on Plainfield Promise here.

As the crowd at the Senior Center began to disperse after hearing the address, Plaintalker asked a couple of people for their impressions. Shirley Dean said she was most impressed by the Plainfield Promise concept, while Elizabeth Lee said she was amazed at Mapp's recounting of his early struggle to succeed.

"It made me feel kind of sad," she said, though admiring his determination.

--Bernice

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Making Plainfield "Fair and Welcoming"

On Monday, the Plainfield City Council will vote on a resolution to declare the city a "fair and welcoming community."

The resolution does not include the term "sanctuary," but a commenter warns of President Donald J. Trump's threatened loss of federal funds for such cities. It appears to be another piece of uncharted territory under the Trump administration. NPR reports that it may be law enforcement grant money, not other federal funding, that would be withheld, although that might be at cross-purposes with the order's goals to deter .

The resolution is too lengthy to include in a blog post, but anyone who needs to explore it in depth can examine the Feb. 6 agenda packet online.  where it is listed as Resolution G. Among the provisions, it cites the need to keep the trust of immigrant communities by not discriminating against them or exposing personal information to outside authorities. Workers' rights, such as earned sick days, would be upheld regardless of their immigrant status. The city would re-affirm its "commitment to publicly and vigorously oppose any government registry based on religion or national origin."

In public comment, downtown business owner Maritza Martinez spoke in favor of the resolution and said, "Everybody is very scared," and some people are planning to leave the city.

"If Plainfield becomes a fair and welcoming city, it would be a wonderful thing," she said.

She then translated for three Spanish-speaking pastors.

"We believe in the unity of Plainfield," said the first. "We believe God has plans for the city of Plainfield."

The second pastor said the only thing the Hispanic community asks is for the resolution to pass, which drew applause from the large crowd in City Hall Library. The third pastor said he has been working for the Board of Education for 20 years, currently with 60 children who are all citizens. But, he said, their parents are not citizens. He said he was "very happy" that Plainfield will have the resolution and reminded the governing body that in eight years, all the children will be old enough to vote.

The regular City Council meeting is 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 13, in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice

Taxi Towing Ordinance Moved to Feb. 13 Agenda

Their signs said City Council action will destroy their livelihood, but as a capacity crowd of North Plainfield taxi owners, drivers and their relatives watched, a City Council majority agreed to vote next Monday on an ordinance allowing police to have out-of-town taxis towed.
Plainfield taxis must be licensed, inspected and insured at a considerable cost to the four companies doing business here, but two North Plainfield taxi companies claim they give better service and want the right to pick up fares in Plainfield. They cannot obtain licenses in Plainfield, as the limit on the number of taxis has been met.

The city has increased fines for unlicensed cabs to deter them, and tried in December to up the ante by allowing police to order them towed. The measure failed, but with a new council majority, it is being brought back for a vote at the Feb. 13 regular council meeting.
In public comment Monday, Dr. Harold Yood led off by saying, "I think this ordinance should be trashed."

Yood, author of the blog Doc's Potpourri, said Plainfield, North Plainfield and Watchung constitute one economic entity and the whole (Municipal) Code should be revised to recognize that.

He was followed by a string of speakers from the North Plainfield taxi companies who said passage of the ordinance will take bread off the family table, among other dire predictions.Some made the point that many drivers for the out-of-town taxis are Plainfield residents and taxpayers.

Council members Barry Goode, Joylette Mills-Ransome, Cory Storch, Charles McRae and Council President Rebecca Williams agreed to move the ordinance to the Feb. 13 meeting, while Councilwomen Bridget Rivers and Diane Toliver said "no."

Rivers was extremely outspoken in support of the out-of-town taxis, calling the ordinance "a disgrace" and asking how dare the city tell residents which taxis they can call or not call.

"It's wrong, it's so wrong," she said to applause from the taxi faction.

 At the end of the meeting, the last speaker said he had to go home and tell his family he had lost his job.

"Don't be surprised if you see me on the corner doing bad things," he said.

Rivers encouraged him to stay positive and said she will be praying for him.

The taxi towing ordinance will be up for passage on first reading at the regular council meeting, 8 p.m. Feb. 13 in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice

Monday, February 6, 2017

Taxi Towing Ordinance Is Back

A controversial change to the city's taxi ordinance has resurfaced and will be considered at tonight's City Council meeting.

The amendment gives permission for police officers to order unlicensed taxis to be towed and impounded, and makes the owner liable for towing and storage costs. A similar ordinance amendment failed in December, to the relief of drivers and owners of North Plainfield taxis that are not licensed to operate in Plainfield. See Plaintalker's report here.


Dec. 12, 2016 City Council meeting
The December vote fell short of the four needed to pass. The council vote was 3-3, with Barry Goode, Rebecca Williams and Cory Storch saying "yes" and Tracey Brown, Bridget Rivers and Diane Toliver saying "no." Gloria Taylor was absent. After the crowd left the building, Soria Taxi supporters cheered and honked horns outside to celebrate.

Since then, the council make-up has changed, as winners of the November general election have been sworn in. Williams, formerly the Second & Third Wards at-large representative, is now the Citywide at-large member, replacing Brown. Charles McRae has replaced Gloria Taylor in the Third Ward. Joylette Mills-Ransome has been appointed to replace Williams. There is now a majority favorable to the administration that sought the amendment, which reads as follows:

Any vehicle operating in violation of this chapter shall be deemed a nuisance and a menace to the safe and proper regulation of traffic, and any Police Officer upon his or her discretion, may provide for the removal of that vehicle. The owner shall bear the costs of removal and storage which may result from such removal before regaining possession of the vehicle 

The agenda-fixing session is 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave. If there is a consensus to move the amended ordinance, MC 2017-10, to the agenda, it will be up for a vote on Feb. 13. That meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Back to November for School Board Elections?

Tuesday's agenda for the Plainfield Board of Education includes a resolution to move the annual school board election back to November, coinciding with the general election. The resolution says the board believes the move will result in more citizen participation in the selection of board members..

See the Feb. 7 agenda here.

If approved, it will be the third move for the annual school board election, at which three members are elected for three-year terms.

The City Council initially moved the election from April to November at a tumultuous meeting in February 2012. The change could have been made by either the school board or council, and several board members objected strongly to the governing body making the change. Although the school board election is presumed to be nonpartisan, then-Council President Adrian O. Mapp  took heat from John Campbell, who masterminded elections that had produced a super-majority on the board.

John Campbell and Richard Wyatt joined the board as appointees before the last November election, where  they won full terms along with Emily Morgan, who had Mapp's support.

State law allowed for the election to be moved back to April after four years, and with Wilma Campbell presiding, the change was quietly made as a walk-on item at the school board's Nov. 10, 2015 work and study meeting

John Campbell, Wyatt and Morgan were sworn in on Jan. 5, 2016.

The change to April proved to be a gamble that Wilma Campbell, seeking her fifth term, lost. Despite the short time to put together a campaign, a slate backed by Mapp took all three seats.

 Mapp swore in the winners on May 3, 2016 and predicted a "synergy that has not existed for the past 30 months."

The initial election change to November gave incumbents an extra eight months of service, but the change back to April did the opposite. Changing back to November will extend terms that would have expired in May 2017.

If the resolution to change the school board election back to November passes Tuesday,  a previously announced filing date in March will become moot.

--Bernice

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Just Some Mad Ramblings

Of five applications to be heard by the Zoning Board Wednesday, three were carried to future meetings and the other two were inconclusive, so there is no outcome to report. Only 52 people read the post and only two citizens attended, so maybe land use is not as interesting as, say, politics.

When I got home, there was more Trump weirdness on the interwebs. I read a couple of items that flummoxed me. Were they real news or fake news or surreal news, or a swirly confection of all three?

But things seem a bit out of focus on the local level as well. I have seen fliers online for a "State of the City Address" meeting.
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As City Clerk Laddie Wyatt will tell you, I am a creature of habit and get all bent out of shape over change and anomalies. I always expect the State of Address to be given at the annual reorganization in early January. I asked a City Hall official what kind of meeting this was (besides being one at a venue I dislike). The answer was:
 It is not being called as a Council Meeting.  The Mayor delivered brief comments about the State of the City which fulfilled the requirements as set forth by the code.  February 8, 2017 will be a standalone State of the City Address.

Checking the Jan. 9 Reorganization agenda, I do see item 12 described as "Remarks by the Mayor." But can my obsessive-compulsive self believe that "remarks" meet the requirements as set forth by the code?

The code says one of the duties of the mayor is to "Address the Council annually on the condition of the City government, its needs and his recommendations for the ensuing year ..."

So if that happened on Jan. 9, need I make that long walk to 400 East Front Street on Wednesday night? Couldn't I stay home and wait until the State of the City Address is posted on the city website?

Speaking of which, I just checked the previous State of the City addresses online and the 2016 one was given on Feb. 4! What! I had a whole year to get used to this innovation and I am still not with the program? Maybe I have to put this on my list of lapses that indicate the onset of senility.

See my post on 2016 State of the City Address here.

Well, let me just give a reminder about the 2017 State of the City Address. It's at the Senior Center on Wednesday. Don't park in the back, all the spaces are assigned and you will only embarrass yourself by having to go out and move it if a resident complains. Try to find a spot on a nearby side street. 

The next council meeting is an agenda-fixing session on Monday,  Feb. 6 at 7:30 in City Hall Library. The agenda-fixing meetings are back there after several months of meeting in Municipal Court. But the regular meetings will still be at Municipal Court. The next regular meeting is Feb. 13, when the council will vote on items that were moved to the agenda the previous week. 

This year has a bumper crop of combined meetings where agenda-fixing and voting happen on the same night. The Jan. 17 meeting was one. There will also be combined meetings in July, August and November of 2017. (Cue the cranky old lady voice - "Why, I remember when the council held regular meetings on the first and third Mondays of every month, and each was preceded by an agenda-fixing session on the prior Monday!")

OK, it's after 4 a.m. - time to log off of Blogger and on to Facebook to see what Trump has done while I was blogging. Y'all be sure now to check Dan's blog and read all about the new guy in the blogosphere, "Anonymous Gadfly."

I can just hear someone in the BOE building saying, "Quick, Henry, The Flit!"

--Bernice

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Zoning, Planning Boards Meet This Week

I intended to write about two land use board meetings this week, but drifted away on the internet to musings on Imbolc, Brigid, Groundhog Day and other things that mark the quickening of the earth.

Snowdrops

Back to the original topic. The Zoning Board of Adjustment meets tonight (Wednesday,.Feb. 1) at 7 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave. and the Planning Board meets at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 2 in the same location. Agendas are online here.

Items of interest at the Zoning Board include the application proposing a laundromat at 400-406 West Front Street. A Google street view shows renovations at the former Sears Showroom, and a Union County Economic Development Corporation report describes it as a $1 million-plus project.for nine apartments  and retail use. I don't get around as much as I used to, so the Google image was quite interesting to me.
The applicant, Front Street Realty LLC, wants to install 32 washers and 18 dryers on the first floor.

Gavett Place Properties LLC (above) is applying to add a 400-square-foot studio apartment to 130-140 East Second Street, which has 12 apartments and ground-floor retail space. 

430-432 West Second Street
Judging by the date on the application, Alvin and Venus Hannah's case dates back to 2013. I wrote about their complicated situation in 2012, when they were seeking help from the community after a fire. The Hannahs are asking the Zoning Board for an interpretation of the city Land Use Ordinance regarding outdoor storage, in addition to other questions.

There are two other applications listed, but the list may change for various reasons. Last month, three of the five cases to be heard were carried to tonight's meeting.

On Thursday, the Planning Board agenda has no applications, but a Capital Project Review of the proposed Rushmore Playground Concession Stand and Restrooms Upgrade may be of interest. At the Jan. 17 City Council meeting, the project came into question. From a post on the council meeting:

Council members demanded more information about a concession stand and restroom upgrades at Rushmore Playground at a cost of $232,800. Toliver said it was "too much" and asked for details of the proposed construction.
The contractor is Hahr Construction of North Plainfield. Toliver asked what other concession stands the company had built and Rivers said she looked up the company online and didn't see where he built a concession stand.
City Administrator Rick Smiley said he could get the council "the schematics and what the contractor proposed."
The discussion included a mention of another concession stand (see details here) that cost $193,952.
"Maybe we should table this until we see what we are getting for our money," Rivers said. And tabled it was, unanimously. 

--Bernice