Thursday, September 29, 2016

Q&A With Developer Mario Camino

Mario Camino's vision for Park & Seventh

Developer Mario Camino agreed to do a Q&A on plans for his project at Park & Seventh as well as some thoughts on the city he has now made his home and headquarters for his company, Arkad Group. We hope to follow up with a longer interview soon.

Q. Besides the Planning Board approval you received in April 2015, what other approvals have you had to get?
A. The approval I got from the board was conditional. The biggest challenge from that point until now was to get an easement from the church next door.

Q. Your building largely covers the lot. Have you made any arrangements with the church next door for scaffolding, etc.?
A. Yes, mostly updating them on when things will happen so it doesn't interfere with their sessions. No weekend work. The site will also be fenced in and protected from debris. 

Q. Are you still planning 14 apartments and commercial on the ground floor?
A. Yes, we have also come to an agreement with PPD to have a substation in the far right side of the East 7th side.

Q. When do you expect construction/rehabilitation to begin?
A. We are hoping to have building permits within 90 days. 

Q. What is your general timeline for the project?
A. Nine months to one year.

Q. You now have your office and home in Plainfield. What are some of your thoughts about living in Plainfield (people, places, things)?
A. My family feels safe and happy. My daughter is excelling in QCA and we are happy to have our headquarters in town. Most of my tenants are my neighbors and slowly but surely we feel right at home. That being said, there is a lot of work to be done for the future, but I’m fully vested and committed. Being a local allows me to see and feel this city for its true value and potential. 

Q. Any thoughts/concerns about the neighborhood at Park & Seventh?

A. Lots. It’s a very visible and busy corner. We want to make sure that this project serves as a means to bringing a new light to that section of town.. A more modern and vibrant feel. I believe eventually, the combination of upgraded living and proximity to a supermarket, train and restaurants, will help revitalize this area.  We plan on doing exactly what we did with 107 Park. Reviving  a “overlooked" corner of town. The way we see it, (it’s) one of the most important points of access into the city, on both streets. We want to make sure this project represents the new Plainfield. 

'Tis Autumn!

Milkweed pods are opening and their seeds are sailing away on silky fluff! We had a bumper crop this year, though I saw very few Monarch butterflies. I just saw an article about saving Milkweed seeds to plant for Monarchs, so maybe I will add them to my seed harvest and give them away.
The pods split and all the seeds emerge. We used to call the floating things "money catchers" when we were children. 

This Praying Mantis in the Miscanthus grass seems to be asking in a Jersey tone, "Whaddaya lookin' at?" I'm hoping to see a lot of egg cases on the shrubbery when the leaves drop. They favor the Forsythia bush, maybe because the early blooms attract little bugs for the Mantis nymphs to feed on.
Another Fall activity is crocheting hats. This batch is going to Crescent Presbyterian Church for their holiday distribution.
It's fun to create textures from just a strand of yarn. Fourteen hats donated so far, aiming for at least 25.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Grace Church Animal Blessing Saturday

FOSH Celebrates Animals Sunday

This is a press release

Plainfield Celebration of Animals Sunday October 2 at 1:30 PM

The Friends of Sleepy Hollow (FOSH) Animal Initiative Committee is holding the seventeenth annual Celebration of Animals on Sunday October 2, 2016 at 1:30 PM at Leland Avenue Park, (next to Cook Elementary School739 Leland Ave.PlainfieldNew Jersey.  The event is free of charge and open to everyone, with or without pets, to celebrate the importance of animals in the lives of human beings.  “Anatole France’s quote ‘Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened,’ says it best,” said MaryEllen Chanda, Animal Initiative Celebration event chairwoman. Held in conjunction with the Feast of St. Francis, the patron saint of animals, representatives of local religious and spiritual traditions will offer blessings for all animals. All are welcome to bring their pets to receive a blessing,” said Mrs. Chanda. Birds must be caged, cats must be in carriers, and dogs must be on a leash or in a carrier. Pets that are uncomfortable around other animals should be left at home. A photo can be brought to represent them for a blessing. Water will be available for the animals and light refreshments will be served after the blessing. For more information about the Celebration please call 908.256-3858 or visit

The Animal Initiative Committee (AIC) is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to increasing people’s awareness of their responsibility for the well-being of all animals. The Committee was formed in March 2000 after Plainfield’s contracted animal control kennel was closed due to over 600 counts of animal cruelty. “Wildlife and companion animals are being needlessly killed due to inadequate facilities and lack of education programs,” said Mrs. Chanda.  The AIC has always focused on the problem of overpopulation of dogs and cats, especially community cats. It implemented a very successful trap, neuter, and return (TNR) program for the latter. “We continue to emphasize the importance of the use of available spay/neuter programs in controlling dog and cat populations, but we can only succeed with the active support of both the community and City Administration,” Mrs. Chanda stressed. “We welcome volunteers to help with this important effort”, she concluded. For more information about the Animal Initiative Committee, please call 908.256-3858.

The Friends of Sleepy Hollow (FOSH) is a neighborhood association created by and for all citizens and taxpayers of Sleepy Hollow and surrounding neighborhoods in the City of Plainfield, New Jersey. FOSH was founded to
  • foster neighborhood awareness, camaraderie, participation and image
  • create and maintain secure neighborhoods
  • promote neighborhood issues and concerns to city officials
  • organize neighborhood activities for the benefit of the citizens of our community and Plainfield.
There are no membership requirements, dues or formal joining process for The Friends of Sleepy Hollow.  The group believes that all the neighbors in Sleepy Hollow are its "members". Having the support, participation and suggestions of our members is critical to FOSH's success.  Anyone is welcome and encouraged to join any planned activity that we host.  For more information about FOSH, please visit:

Be Prepared to Vote on Nov. 8!

If you missed the Plainfield League of Women Voters' presentation last night on how to judge a political candidate, here is a link;

How To Judge A Political Candidate

The evening also included presentations by city officials on their various responsibilities and tables staffed by local organizations.

The LWV information may help voters sort out their impressions of presidential candidates. There will also be candidates for Congress, the Union County Freeholder Board and the Citywide at-large and Third Ward seats on the City Council.

Plainfield LWV member Joylette Mills-Ransome gave the presentation last night on how to judge candidates. If you want to get involved in the Plainfield LWV, the group meets on the first Wednesday of each month in one of the Plainfield Public Library's meeting rooms on the lower level. To see more about the local chapter, visit the Plainfield LWV web site.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Mapp Administration's Steps to Engage Latinos

Regarding my repost on engaging Latinos, I do want to give credit to the Mapp administration for taking many steps to do so.

It is now the norm to see city fliers in English and Spanish. The Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs has been revived and honors the diverse communities within the Latino population of Plainfield. I believe there has been more of an effort to employ bilingual individuals in police, fire, and other divisions that interact heavily with the public. A directory of city services was printed in English and Spanish.

There are probably more examples, but these are the ones that come to mind right now. They bode well for achieving even greater engagement of Latinos by 2021.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Queen City Pride Campaign Expands

Plainfield Station from North Avenue.jpg
Plainfielders heard the call to clean up the main train station, with participation growing from an initial four volunteers to "30 hands" on Sunday.
Displaying North Street.jpg
The group reported a total of "42 bags of broken bottles, plastic bags and plain old trash," all collected within two hours on two Sunday mornings.

"One of the highlights of yesterday was a father that brought his three children out to help," an organizer noted, citing it as an example of teaching the youngsters respect and civic awareness.

Councilman Cory Storch stopped by correction - I didn't stop by.  I was there from beginning to end cleaning up with the rest of the group.and saw for himself the need for more trash cans and greater attention to the state of the train station. Members of the Shade Tree Commission pitched in by trimming overgrown trees and shrubs around the station.

At 8 a.m. on Oct. 2, Queen City Pride welcomes volunteers again the the main train station on North Avenue for another cleanup.

Queen City Pride calls attention to another effort, Councilman Barry Goode's Oct. 1 "Clean the Queen" event, from 9 a.m. to noon, starting at West Front Street and Clinton Avenue.

The group also suggests helping elderly and or handicapped neighbors who may not be able to trim their shrubs or cut their grass.

"We will help our neighbors as a community in all wards, all you have to do is ask or if you know someone that does not have access, we will be there for you as good neighbors. Many hands make the work easy," a spokesman said.

There are laws on the books against allowing property to become overrun with weeds and trash. City inspectors can issue notices with a given time for remediation. If an owner refuses or neglects to comply, the city will clean up and place a lien on the property for the cost. Queen City Pride urges compliance to make the city a place of which all can be proud. 

A Flash From the Political Past

I was looking up stuff in old journals and came across this interesting factoid:

On September 26, 1992, Jerry Green held a press conference to say he's asking the state to take over the city.

I was still a reporter at the time. Green began his State Assembly tenure that year, representing District 17, and from 2002 to present has represented District 22.

Despite his call for a state takeover, Plainfield remains self-governing.

Challenge of the Decade: Engage Latinos

Here's a post from 2011 that is still relevant:

Challenge of the Decade: Engage Latinos

(click on link to read post)

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Sights on a Downtown Walk

 I was on my way to a downtown block that was the subject of an "in need of redevelopment" or "in need of rehabilitation" study when I saw a large crane towering over the small city park on West Second Street. So I had to go there first. Public Works Superintendent John Louise was there and explained that a pre-fabricated rest room was being installed.
 He said all the utility connections were in place, ready to be hooked up to the new building.
 The building (or crane, or both) arrived on a flatbed trailer that was parked on Madison Avenue.
 A view of the crane and building from the West Second Street side of the park.
It's a nice-looking building. I had seen earlier preparations at the site and thought they were for a skate park, but John Louise said it will be on the Central Avenue side of the park.
 On to Block 247. This block is also bounded by West Second Street, Madison Avenue and Central Avenue, with West Front Street to the north. Its eleven properties include this very large apartment building on Madison Avenue, businesses on West Front, a large city parking lot and another city-owned lot recently used as a staging area for a PSE&G upgrade, and some vacant buildings on the West Second side.
 A popular fish market is one of the West Front businesses.
 Upper floors on West Front have ornate metal fire escapes. A proposal to redevelop the Cooper's Office Furniture building was withdrawn before a Planning Board hearing this month.
 This stretch of West Front includes a night club, Pueblo Viejo, and a billiards parlor. The "in need" study is available in the City Clerk's office and the Planning Division in City Hall. A public hearing on the study will be held at the Oct. 6 Planning Board meeting, 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.
 Walking home, I saw some interesting graffiti way up high on a building.
 This tagger's motif can be seen around the downtown, here also pretty high up.
Watching over all is "downtown guy," my name for this sculpture on an East Front Street facade.


Friday, September 23, 2016

Queen City Pride Leads Station Cleanup

Frustrated by conditions at the main train station, four city residents took action last Sunday.

Here's how Queen City Pride members described the effort:
Displaying trash pile.jpg
At 8 am, we took on the task of cleaning up the trash, the broken and empty bottles, the paper and plastic bags that were scattered across the south lawn and flower beds of the station. With eight hands, one leaf blower, a rake, pickers, gloves and labor sweat, we filled 20 extra-large garbage bags. This was just 2 hours of our time on a quiet Sunday morning.

They plan to be back at 8 a.m. this Sunday (Sept. 18) and welcome anyone else who wants to help.

We have plans to tackle the rest of the station weekly until we accomplish our goal- a station that shines and makes the community of Plainfield proud. 

It is necessary to spread the word to others that big business or government does not have to be the leaders, but every resident in every community can do their part to beautify the space we share with others; this is a grass roots start to our project.

We are not asking for special accommodations, but we are going to reach out to the public works department in the hope that the adjacent properties that border the train station will take it upon themselves to beautify and to make the area look like Jewels of the Queen City.

For those who want to see change, come and meet us.  We will be at the station next Sunday at 8 am to start another round of clean-up.  We have tools and bags to share.
While today we were only four, we hope to grow in numbers. We are a team of residents that care about Our Queen City and want to make the Jewels of the City sparkle.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Fall Begins

Displaying FullSizeRender.jpg

Happy Autumn
to all! 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Rahami Story Recalls Past Tales

My mind was wandering Monday while listening to the news all day about the apprehension of Ahmad Khan Rahami and its many unusual aspects.

- The reported dispute his family had with the city over the family restaurant being open 24 hours a day reminded me of the Park Avenue restaurant that once attracted dozens of people after the bars closed. I could hear the early morning noise four blocks away. Sometimes there were gunshots, followed by ambulance sirens and in very bad instances by a helicopter to transport a victim to a trauma center. The crowds spread across the street and police had to disperse them. One strategy was to block off a parking lot on East Seventh to discourage attendees. The clatter of sawhorses became another early morning challenge to sleep. Summer nights improved dramatically once police and city officials solved the problem.

- "See something, say something" was a tough call when a certain character (since deceased) left belongings in front of City Hall quite often. There used to be a mailbox out front, but after someone (maybe the same guy) set fire to the insides, the mailbox was removed.

- I recently read Jeffrey Toobin's book about Patty Hearst and was surprised at the interest in bomb-making by radical groups in the 1970s. There were actually books with instructions that one could buy (or steal).

Monday's story included a tale of homeless men inadvertently picking up a bomb and a bar owner spotting the alleged bomber sleeping in his doorway. A broad-based team of investigators pieced things together and had the suspect in custody by mid-morning. By Monday evening, Rahami had been charged with five counts of attempted murder of police officers and weapons charges, arising from the gun battle with Linden police when he was captured. Former Plainfield reporter Mark Spivey, now with the Union County Prosecutor's Office, issued the press release.

New technology helped solve this investigation and I think Plainfield's Nixle and other communications keep us more alert in emergencies. If you are not already signed up for alerts, go to the city website and click the "Stay Connected" link at the right to sign up for Nixle and other notifications..

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Little Visitor

For days I heard a bird's one-note call in the back yard and saw leaves fluttering as it made its way around. At this time of year, migration brings some interesting visitors even to urban centers.

I heard it Sunday and was thrilled to see the tiny visitor alight on the birdbath. Needing new glasses, I couldn't make out the details that would help me identify it, but I got some photos which could be enlarged.
If you click on this photo and look in the circle on the right, you can see the bird.
Even though the birdbath was dirty from the ablutions of raccoons and larger birds, the little visitor took a short splash.
A spin through The Sibley Guide to Birds confirmed the bird's call as a "sharp pik," and its markings as those of a female Common Yellowthroat.
Here's a close-up. I have seen a lot of interesting birds on this block at Park & Seventh, including the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, the Brown Creeper, Cedar Waxwings and more.

P.S. I cleaned the birdbath, although I'm sure the raccoons will mess it up soon again. They like to wash their food and made a pretty good mess trying to wash a greasy fried chicken wing in the birdbath last week.

Talking About Litter

As popular and useful as litter pickup campaigns are, I can never hear about one without thinking that it wouldn't be so necessary if people put trash where it belongs in the first place.

I have seen trash stuck in tree cavities, fences, bushes and down sewers, all of which show a glimmer of good intention but no common sense. And then there are the flat-out trashers who toss garbage from vehicles or eat on the street, leaving food wrappers behind them. The worst sight is a parent who lets children drop cups and snack bags instead of directing them to a receptacle or holding it until they get home. If children grow up expecting someone to clean up after them, we see the results around our schools in trails of trash.

It's true, a clean-up campaign promotes neighborhood camaraderie and pride in the outcome, I am just waiting for the day when we all agree to keep our yards, streets and public places clean in the first place.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

LWV Offers Voter Empowerment

If ever there was a year when voters need to be well-informed, it's this one.

The Plainfield League of Women Voters is ready to help, with an event including voter registration as well as  how to evaluate candidates, know what to expect from their elected officials and city government, and receive additional information on various city agencies and commissions.

Save the date! It's Tuesday, Sept. 27, from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Plainfield High School Cafeteria off Kenyon Avenue.

The League's community sponsors include the City of Plainfield, the Board of Education, the Plainfield Youth Commission,the Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs, the Human Relations Commission, CJA Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. Social Action Committee, Omicron Chi Chapter Omega Psi Phi, the Unitarian Society of Plainfield (Social Justice Committee), the National Association of University Women, and the Union County Board of Elections.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

City Aims For Vet Shelter at Dudley House

Dudley House, a Putnam Avenue residence for men in recovery from substance abuse, will undergo a $350,000 renovation to become "a first-class facility for those who have admirably served their country," as Finance Director Ron West put it Monday.

It will be the first veteran housing in Union County, said Debbie-Ann Anderson, executive director of Homefirst, the agency that is expected to administer the facility.

Council President Cory Storch, the president and CEO of another social service agency, questioned the plan and sought assurance that the renovation would lead to the desired use.

Storch had no qualms about the capability of Homefirst.

"I know of her work," he said regarding Anderson. "I respect the work of the organization."

He said he never had any doubt that they could do an excellent job, but he expressed concern over a $350,000 renovation "without any guarantee" of its function. He said he wanted a promise that it would come back to the council.

City Administrator Rick Smiley said the city did not have a memorandum of understanding yet.

"We're a little bit ahead of ourselves," he said.

Storch pressed again for an update on service funding and West responded that the MOU has to come before the governing body. Anderson had previously explained that there are federal grants that can be tapped and that her board is committed to the venture.

Anderson said the goal is "housing first" and then job training and care for substance abuse if needed in a program of "wraparound services and case management."

Although officials spoke of a $350,000 renovation to accommodate 18 residents, the resolution was to apply for $398,080 in NJ Department of Community Affairs Shelter Support funds. The city would make a 10 percent match of $39,808, bringing the total to $437,888 for a minimum of 25 residents. Homefirst is identified as a partner in the project.

Dudley House was operated and staffed by the city for many years, until the city faced a budget crisis in 2007 and the staff of five was laid off. The building also needed to be made handicapped-accessible at a cost of $250,000. Plaintalker reported on a 2007 protest at which many program alumni testified on its value.

In 2010, Sunrise House of Lafayette became the program operator. American Addictions Centers acquired the organization in 2015,

The Veterans Administration has programs to help homeless veterans, such as the Hope for Veterans program in Lyons, Somerset County, with 95 beds. A 2015 homeless count found nearly 700 veterans in New Jersey in need of shelter.


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Symphony Event Coming Up

Shut-In Council, Fire Division Honored

The City Council honored an organization Monday that brings cheer to 250 homebound residents. About 20 members of the Plainfield Shut-In Council were on hand to accept a resolution for the decades-old group that brings potted plants and holiday gifts to residents who can't leave home.

Council President Cory Storch read the resolution into the record and Mrs. Anna Booker told the history of the organization.
Councilwoman Diane Toliver presented members of the Plainfield Fire Division with a resolution honoring them for their dedication to the community.

"They need to be recognized." said Toliver, who recounted the Fire Division's response to two fires at her home.
Fire Chief Frank Tidwell spoke about the Fire Division's assistance to a boy with Down Syndrome who aspired to be a firefighter. He took part proudly in a cadet program and attended an event in Garwood with all the firefighters in Union County. Through the efforts of Freeholder Linda Carter, Cadet Mason Alexander Jones also got to tour the Fire Academy.

(More council news tomorrow.)

Monday, September 12, 2016

City Council Meets Tonight

Tonight's City Council meeting only requires roll call or voice votes on eight of 24 resolutions. The rest will be passed in one consent vote. There is also one ordinance.

Councilman Barry Goode will discuss a "community beautification initiative."

See the Sept. 12 agenda here.

The meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Remembering 9-11

On Sept. 11, 2001, my son and I were both home sick. I heard the news and told him to turn on the television set, which was in his room. We saw the second plane hit the tower. The horror of a plane full of innocent people being used as a weapon against a building full of other innocent people roiled my stomach and my spirit. As reports continued on the attacks, bells tolled at Grace Episcopal Church and Crescent Presbyterian Church near my home. My daughter called from Seattle to say nothing had happened there - so far. It was an unprecedented situation and everything was unknown except the feeling of vulnerability. The skies became quiet. On an errand to Westfield, I saw a mailman with an American flag sticking out of his bag, the first of many to be seen on cars, in windows and anywhere else a flag could go to show love of our country. Later I wrote in my journal, "I feel so weak," too weak to do simple tasks in the face of this enormity. Television and radio were out or spotty. President George Bush was expected to address the nation but that did not happen until evening. My notes say he quoted the Twenty-third Psalm. Former newsroom colleague Pasquale DiFulco was on CBS radio with a statement from the Port Authority, his new workplace. My journal says, "At least that means he is OK." It was reassuring also to hear Mike Kennedy's voice giving traffic reports. Formerly with a local station, he was at CBS. I note that Courier News reporter Tony Sclafani is going to New York with Piscataway firefighters. All first responders want to go, but within days the Union County Office of Emergency Management has to advise them to go only if asked. A death toll of possibly 4,700 is announced.

And so began a challenge to take care of everyday concerns while scares continued, airports suddenly shutting down and later anthrax alarms. The life and death stories mounted up, survivors and victims, the bereaved and the brave, and so it continues to this day, as we remember.


Images From PMUA Fair

This year's PMUA event was re-named the Eric C. Watson Memorial Environmental Fair in honor of the late Executive Director, Eric Watson, who also served before and after his PMUA directorship as director of Plainfield's Department of Public Works & Urban Development.

Hiw widow, Tonya Watson, was on the dais as officials including Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, Freeholder Linda Carter, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp and many others spoke of Mr. Watson's dedication to the environment and to Plainfield.

(I could not get photos of the officials as I was on the dais myself - see my view of the audience below.)

I came back later to take photos of the many exhibits and attractions.
A crew from the PAAAS High School was interviewing former PMUA Assistant Executive Director David Ervin.
David Ervin

Many community organizations were on hand Saturday. The fair featured fun for children and free food and drinks for all. Environmental education was a key theme.

It was a lovely day and Eric was well-remembered.