Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Thanks to the Netherwood Neighborhood Association for organzing the luminaria display the night before Christmas. The organizers and block captains should feel proud to have continued a long tradition with what was the biggest display yet.
AS I walked around the neighborhood that night, I was thinking how special Plainfield is and how lucky I am to have such great neighbors.
No insult intended to the photographer ( my daughter Alexa) but pictures don't do justice to the actual sights that night.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
If you want to check it out drive over to Oak Lane off Watchung Avenue - the lower portion. It was on my list as the worst road in the 2nd Ward and probably the whole city (with Central Street close behind). The new equipment does large patches with milling and paving machines. It is not the same as total road reconstruction but it will last a good amount of time, it is much cheaper and it will make life more livable for residents until we can work our way through the road reconstruction list.
Our new equipment will save us millions of dollars in the long run. We have not maintained our roads for decades. As they get worse, a less costly milling and paving will not suffice. A total reconstruction will be necessary. This costs twice as much. It is shameful that we have allowed some roads to reach this point.
Instead of allowing our roads to continue their deterioration, the new maintenance program will prevent the need for total reconstruction. Just go to a shopping mall parking lot and look at the asphalt cracks. They are regularly sealed. This will become part of our program too.
Thanks go to the following for this improvement in city services:
Al McWilliams, whose administration got the ball rolling
Sharon Robinson Briggs, whose administration followed through with the equipment purchasing
John Louise, Public Works Superintendent, who has been the driving force behind the road maintenance program start up
The DPW work crew, who now are the envy of the surrounding towns for the training and new equipment Plainfield has provided
The 2004 City Council who embraced and funded this program (including current council members Rayland Van Blake, Linda Carter and yours truly)
Its nice to highlight an initiative that I can truly be proud of, one that will be nicer for our vehicle tires and suspensions, and will save Plainfielders lots of money for many years.
2nd Ward City Councilman
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
I thank my supporters from the bottom of my heart. I have been in five 2nd ward elections now and none were easy. I feel very fortunate to live in a place where so many people have a real passion for their town.
Once the anxiety and excitement wore off, and very quickly I should add, my thoughts turned to what the voters are saying. The 2nd ward Democratic Council race should be particularly instructive since it was the only local race that was contested. I received around two thirds of the votes. That means a significant percentage of voters did not support the incumbent(me). This reflects how residents feel, not only about their councilman but city government in general. One third of the voters are not happy with our services. We need to do better.
Even more important, the turnout was low, even for an off year. Are many people satisfied and therefore not motivated to vote? Or are they feeling nothing will change. I think some of both. The bottom line: we should not be satisfied with the election results and we should dedicate ourselves to the improvement of Plainfield.
For the most part I thought it was an issues oriented campaign. I stuck to my plan to talk about solutions. My opponent made some good points about economic development and ran an energetic campaign. I credit him for his passion. It got the best of him twice, once when he got very personal with a blogger who had, in my opinion, expressed his opinion about my opponent in a non-personal manner. Even more unfortunate was the election day exploitation of Park Hotel residents to make a political point that had no basis in reality. The voters did not buy it. I feel that my opponent is a good man and I hope he is re-evaluating this tactic. I also hope that like the rest of us candidates for public office, he is learning from his mistakes. I hope he will stay involved.
I am glad to put all that campaign energy back into my Council job and will do everything I can to earn your confidence.
Sunday, June 3, 2007
What are Plainfield's assets? Lets start with people. We are much more diverse than any surrounding towns. When our downtown reflects that diversity ethnically and socio-economically, we can make the central business district a regional destination point, a place where cultures meet. A place for people looking for interesting shops, restaurants and cultural/arts experiences. Let's stop saying that we can't compete with Blue Star and Watchung Mall shopping centers on Rt 22. Yes, they offer convenience but there is no excitement up there, no real appeal.
Can we really create some excitement in our downtown? If you realize that we are part of the way there already, the answer is clear. Some of our downtown assets are ethnic restaurants, North Avenue Historic district architecture and eye catching streetscape design. We have Swains,the best art gallery/frame shop in New Jersey,on the edge of downtown. We have a college campus. We have a beautifully restored train station with 900 riders per day. These are assets to build on.
^^who says we don't have downtown nightlife
The news media make much of our crime problems. We can get caught in the trap of learned hopelessness when we accept the outsider view of Plainfield. We should know better. We have some of the best residential neighborhoods in the greater Union County area. If you haven't looked around, take my word for it. I drive and bicycle across the county to Elizabeth 5 days a week. I've seen the whole county, nearly every block of it. Plainfield has the best residential areas, bar none.
We know what we have to do in Plainfield: improve ourselves, one child, one house, one block at a time. We have to start from strengths. No young person ever became successful through constant criticism. It takes a celebration of what's good, coupled with thoughtful constructive criticism. It takes persistent action over time. That's how Plainfield has come back this far and it is the only way we will continue to move ahead.
Friday, June 1, 2007
Meaningful input from residents on public safety, taxes, development and other important topics is the force that makes local government more effective. I want to acknowledge the efforts of Maria Pellum, from the Crescent Ave neighborhood association, who is working hard to increase the lines of communication between city hall and Plainfield citizens.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
The result is many angry homeowners who are cited for minor cosmetic problems. Eye sores and serious safety concerns must be the priority. When a dilapidated building is allowed to just sit as is, the neighboring property owners are less likely to invest in their properties. When a block or neighborhood is allowed to decline, crime rates up and quality of life goes down.
When our homes look this good, everyone benefits
When a home sells in Plainfield, a certificate of compliance is required. Since we are not using technology to the fullest, the process takes a long time and makes the home buyer and sellers life even more stressful than it already is. This can be fixed by giving inspectors hand held computers. When a home is inspected and passes, the inspector should be able to immediately print out a report for the homeowner or realtor documenting that fact. Just like when you are caught speeding and the police officer immediately hands you a ticket.
What is the role of City Council in what is really the responsibility of city hall administration? Our job is to give them the resources they need (through the budget) and hold them accountable to meet their objectives. The Council is also responsible for the ordinances governing code enforcement. When the administration proposed ordinance revisions to increase user fees, I was one of the Council members to table the proposal. My position is no fee increases until we fix code enforcement. I will be calling for a complete review of the code enforcement operation this year so we are using our staff effectively: to fix eye sores and serious safety problems and to expedite the sale of homes.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Well I have good news and bad news. First the bad. We have been neglecting our roads for several decades with no plan for repaving or maintenance other than an annual pothole filling program in the spring. And did you notice that the patches never lasted long anyway.
Here's the good news. Three years ago, the City Council came up with a 15 year repaving plan. I am proud to have been a member of that Council and kudos to Malcolm Dunn, who was the first to advocate the plan. The plan would require an annual bond to cover the costs. It was (and is) very expensive because many of our roads, through neglect, now need complete reconstruction instead of the much less expensive milling and paving. We are a year and a half into that paving program. Here's some bad news. There have been delays in the bond financing which have slowed but not stopped the program. Here's the good. We should be back on track this fall.
More good. The City Council called for a road maintenance program. This means filling cracks, intersection milling and paving and hot patching potholes instead of cold patching. We just purchased the equipment to do this ourselves. This will mean that major problems will be fixed while you are waiting for your street to come up on the repaving list. It will also extend the useful life of our roads, saving taxpayers millions of dollars going forward.
That may be more than you ever wanted to know about Plainfield's roads. Unless you live on Central St or Oak Lane.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
Some recent victories include creation of Plainwood Square Park and swimming pool reconstruction at Seidler Field. Some lost opportunities include conversion of a large, vacant lot on Woodland Ave into a church with a large parking lot and the lack of creative design that led to the plain concrete plaza at Park Madison.
I have been an advocate for open space since (and before) I took office as Councilman. Here is what I am fighting for:
1. Green Brook Walkway - we have set the stage with planning grants, site acquisition and easements. Now we have to start construction. The west end section should be the first to begin. The result will be an outstanding walking and biking path running the complete length of the city.
2. Open space downtown - the City Council has required the creation of a public plaza for the North Ave development project by the downtown train station. We must include similar provisions for upcoming projects.
3. I was a member of the Council that approved the Environmental Commission ordinance. Other towns have used these commissions to great advantage for open space planning and acquisition. It's time we got ours up and running.
4. Our parks must be a showcase for our residents and visitors. I have been advocating that chain link fences enclosing many of our parks be replaced with attractive metal picket fences.
These are just some of the steps Plainfield needs to take. This is not a secondary priority. Open space, quality of life and enhanced property values go hand in hand.
Friday, May 25, 2007
28 years later: we have lost many trees to age, disease and storms, many more trees than we have planted to replace those lost. What Plainfield needed was a forest management plan.
I am proud to say that we now have such a plan. Thanks to some farsighted staff, we applied for a state tree grant 3 years ago. I called for a budget appropriation for matching funds and the Council made it happen. Since then, we have begun a program of tree planting and improved maintenance. We even started a tree farm. As of this year, we have a functioning Shade Tree Commission of trained Plainfield volunteers to oversee our tree management program. I am proud to have been a key supporter of the ordinance that created this commission. Our tree program is one example of how Plainfield is finally addressing its infrastructure needs.
Plainfield has a lot to be proud of. I'm not just talking trees. I am also referring to the Tree Blog created by a Shade Tree Commissioner, Greg Palermo. He is highlighting the many unusual trees around Plainfield. I didn't know that Redwood trees grow on the east coast. There are two Dawn Redwoods in my neighborhood! Check out the specimen to the right and Greg's blog at plainfieldtrees.blogspot.com
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Here are some police division strategies that we can use and that I have been advocating for:
1. set up surveillance cameras downtown and in the neighborhoods that have the highest incidence of crime. The basement of Horizons (Teppers)has been set aside for city use as well as a grant for $450,000. This is an opportunity to set up the surveillance facility.
2. have more police officers on foot and bicycle to increase their visibility and interaction with the people they serve.
3. assign officers to a traffic detail so we can finally get a grip on speeding in our residential areas. Our Public Safety Director rightfully says that the increased revenues from speeding tickets would pay the officer salaries. This needs to happen right away.
4. change the police strategy for block associations so they are attending local meetings regularly in addition to or instead of depending on the city wide coordinating meetings.
5. We have a top heavy police hierarchy. We need to increase the deployment of officers into the community by reducing the number of supervising officers. This is being done by attrition and should continue.
The police are just one part of our solution. We need stronger jobs programs, a much stronger partnership between the city and the Board of Education and more mentoring of young people. This is a job for the whole community. What are your thoughts. You can contact me at email@example.com.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
If our police officers are working hard, isn't that enough. Not if they are deployed only in crime hotspots. We need a balanced deployment, one that focuses on quality of life enforcement issues. We need increased police visibility in all our residential neighborhoods and our shopping districts. If all we do is fight the perpetrators, we will never see a significant drop in crime. I am talking about getting at root causes of crime, of the "broken windows" view of community revitalization.
We have two problems: crime and the public perception of crime. If you look at crime statistics, you will see that our downtown is really a safe place to shop. Unfortunately, many people have an image of downtown that keeps them away. We have recently added some police officers to this area and they will be deployed so that they are highly visible and not just cruising in vehicles. We need a lot more of this kind of deployment.
In my next blog, I will be more specific about my ideas for improved public safety.
You can respond with you ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, May 21, 2007
* individually, we can all use compact flourescent light bulbs
* as a city we can require green building
* as a nation, we can support government policies to develop new technologies
for clean and renewable energy
As your City Councilman I will fight for what our city can and should do to create a sustainable community for our residents. I want a sustainable community where the air is good to breath, the water healthy to drink, the city is a good place to be outdoors for walking and biking and has ample opportunities for all kinds of athletic activities. Where there is a decreased dependence on cars and buildings are energy efficient.
Earlier this year, I fought to include green building language in developer agreements. As the City Council representative to the Planning Board, I made sure our Master Plan re-examination emphasized green building. I will be fighting for an ordinance to require developers to use LEED standards (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).
Plainfield is planning development projects. We face some critical choices. Do we want green building or construction as usual. Sounds like a no brainer but remember that GM and Ford didn't install seatbelts voluntarily. They were brought on board kicking and screaming. As a community we will have to require that our new buildings are energy efficient and environment friendly. If not, they will not hold their value relative to new buildings in more progressive towns. This is not a train we want to chase after it has left the station.
Sustainable development means managing stormwater to minimize flooding. It means pedestrian friendly streetscape, public art, farmers markets and open public space. It means shopping, jobs and residential areas are in proximity to each other.
If development projects can't meet our standards for sustainable, people friendly neighborhoods, then we should hold out for projects that will.
Friday, May 18, 2007
This is the story of a successful development project recently done in the 2nd Ward near City Hall and the downtown train station. It is dedicated to the non-profit housing development group Faith, Bricks and Mortar, whose President is Robert Wilson. His team of unsung volunteers make home ownership a reality for Plainfielders who would otherwise have no opportunity to be part of the American dream.
Picture East 7th Street near Watchung Ave, a well traveled street in a "transitional" residential neighborhood. "Transitional" meaning some well kept homes, apartment buildings and churches along with some run down properties. A few crime hotspots nearby. A neglected building, shown to the right, is now getting some attention after decades of decline. Picture an outstanding art gallery in a historic building across from an old Victorian multi-family house that has seen better days. A neighborhood that could go uphill or downhill.
This dilapidated Victorian becomes abandoned. Does it burn down, get replaced by a cheap, modern looking prefab home or just gradually fall apart? Fortunately for Plainfield the unexpected happens. Faith, Bricks and Mortar is asked by the city to take on this project.
There are very few developers who would do this project. And likely none who would do what Faith, Bricks and Mortar did. Not only do they restore the exterior to its early days of glory, not only do they create condo units to keep it on the tax rolls, they reduce the density of the property from a six family to a two family. This non-profit group takes on financial risk to make this happen and they succeed. Both units are sold and the neighborhood tilts in a positive direction.
Check out the Faith, Bricks and Mortar building today (I wish a had a "before"photo):
I will highlight people and projects in Plainfield in the future because this is what makes Plainfield a community worth living in, a place to be proud of. No local group deserves more thanks than Robert Wilson and his Faith, Bricks and Mortar crew.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Transit Village is a concept whose time has come, especially for a densely populated state like New Jersey. It means redirecting development away from our shrinking farmlands and green space and concentrating it where the infrastructure already exists - where the mass transit is, near shopping and jobs. In Plainfield, it means concentrating development around one or more train stations. We are currently in the pre-construction phase of a large mixed use residential and retail project across from our downtown train station.
The Transit Village approach can reduce the tendency towards suburban sprawl and revitalize urban centers. But it can also be an excuse for poorly conceived projects that benefit “in and out” developers but not neighbors and property tax payers.
Remember urban renewal? It was supposed to eliminate slums in the 1960’s. Until recently, the empty Park-Madison block in downtown Plainfield was an all too real example of the failings of good intentions and big picture planning. How do we use the transit village concept so that all stakeholders benefit from development? Here are some ways:
1. Mix of commercial and residential
Development must benefit property taxpayers. Even though most of the development profits seem to be with residential projects and the denser the better, commercial development must be part of the mix in tax starved urban towns like Plainfield. These towns already carry undue burdens of costly public safety and human services. Residential tax ratables do not solve town’s tax problems because the new revenue is offset by the cost of services to the new residents. Municipal tax experts are telling us that commercial ratables are necessary to reduce the property tax burden. A healthy development mix that includes commercial and retail is good for everyone as it is creates more local jobs and reduces vehicular traffic. Towns will have to take a strong negotiating approach with redevelopers to accomplish this goal.
2.Dependence on sound land use planning
Downtown living is a good thing as long as open space, security, parking and traffic congestion are addressed. Although towns are competing for experienced developers and must be responsive to their needs, the driving force for development must be the needs of the town residents. Their elected officials and volunteer land use board members must be proactive in creating a vision that works for everyone. The town Master Plan and Zoning Ordinance must be used to guide beneficial development. After land use plannning comes project planning. Residents and business owners must feel confident that their input is important and that plans are not just developer driven.
A town like Plainfield, with unique features, will not benefit from cookie cutter development. In order to attract developers that respect our cultural diversity and history, we will need to use competitive bidding for some projects. Its not just about price, it's about finding creative partners that are the right match with Plainfield.
Tomorrow my blog will continue with "telling good development from bad". Let me know what you think at email@example.com.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Development can help us achieve our vision of a vibrant central business district with shops and restaurants that attract not just segments of our population but all residents. We can create opportunities for the arts to flourish. We can not only protect our historic and architectural resources, we can require that new construction adds to the character of our historic streetscapes. Along the rail corridor we can create new job opportunities for our residents.
Development does not guarantee these benefits for Plainfield residents. It must include significant input from the community to make sure that we are doing it right. It's not just the developers money that is at risk, it is our resident's quality of life that is at risk. After all, our children and their children will have to live with the results of development for many years to come. With this in mind, I propose the following measures to create a shared vision for development in Plainfield:
1. We should always try other ways to spur development and only use redevelopment as a last resort. Redevelopment is a very costly and time consuming enterprise that takes a lot of government involvement. Other methods that must be used include
* Effective code enforcement to help maintain the integrity of buildings and neighborhoods
* Increased police presence in our downtown
* Active marketing of Plainfields assets to attract new businesses
We must do much more to prevent the need for designating an area as blighted.
2. We need a moratorium on all new redevelopment studies until a shared vision for development in Plainfield is created.
3. The Planning Board and Council should conduct a study of all currently approved redevelopment studies and plans that have not led to action and recommend which ones should be revoked or put on hold.
4. Property owners should be encouraged and offered incentives to become partners in redevelopment projects. Eminent domain should be a step of last resort only.
5. The city should start a community visioning process that will guide future development for the downtown and the rail corridor. This process should be led by the Mayor and Council and should elevate the status of residents and business owners from bystanders to active participants.
6. The visioning process should include active outreach to the community so input is obtained by people who do not attend Council and Planning Board meetings.
7. This vision process should build on the strategic planning process conducted in Plainfield eight years ago.
8. The community input should be used to create a report and guidelines that city officials and developers can use to proceed with development.
Development is needed in Plainfield but it will only be beneficial if we make residents and business owners partners in the process. This is not an easy task but a necessary one if we want to get it right. I am working with my Council colleagues and the city administration to put these recommendations into effect. Let me know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org
Check here tomorrow for more on development.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Hello, I'm Cory Storch. I am seeking re-election as City Councilman for the 2nd ward. I have been a Plainfield resident for 28 years. My wife, Lois Mattson, and I have raised two children here. My family and I have become very involved in Plainfield in many ways and love our city very much.
Here is a little background on my life and work in Plainfield. Both of my children attended Cook School. When they were at Cook, Lois and I became very involved with the school community through the Parent - Teacher organization CSAC (Cook School Advisory Committee). I participated on the CSBAC (Citizen's School Budget Advisory Committee) for six years, and chaired it for two years. After my involvement with CSBAC I decided to run for School Board and was elected. My School Board colleagues and I changed a polarized Board of Education into a cohesive working group. When I was School Board President, I presided over the search committee for Superintendent of Schools which resulted in the hiring of Larry Leverett. I served on the Board of Education for six years.
I was appointed to the Plainfield Planning Board in 2000 and have served continously to the present. I have been an advocate for lower density building in residential areas and I am proud to serve on a Board that has had a positive impact on the quality of the projects that come up for review and approvals.
I was elected to the Plainfield City Council in 2004 and have been a consistently independent voice on the Council with the two adminstrations and Mayors I have worked with. I ran for municipal office because I saw that the potential of Plainfield was unfulfilled and that there was an opportunity for positive change. What was needed was teamwork among city leaders. I thought I could make a contribution. I will detail what I have accomplished in a future blog. For now, I will say that I have been part of a turnaround for our city. There is much to do and I want to see this positive trend gain momentum and demonstrate substantial progess. I feel that my commitment to Plainfield, my years of experience in local government and my understanding of Plainfield, gained from much involvement in civic affairs, can continue to be an asset to Plainfield citizens.
In addition to my local government work, my family has been deeply involved in the local community. I was a coach for the Plainfield Youth Soccer Club for eight years. Lois, my mother in law Jean Mattson and my daughter Alexa have all served on the YWCA of Plainfield Board of Directors (Alexa is a current member and Lois serves in an advisory capacity). We have been active supporters of the Plainfield Symphony and many other worthy Plainfield causes.
In my professional life, I have been Executive Director of Bridgeway Rehabilitation Services, Inc. for 19 years. Bridgeway is a non profit agency that was recently recognized as outstanding provider agency of 2007.
I ask for your support in the June 5th Democratic primary election. I am optimistic about Plainfield and I hope you will give me the opportunity to help Plainfield. In future blogs, I will share my vision for our city in detail and my platform/goals for the next four years. You can contact me at email@example.com or 908-412-1343. I am looking forward to hearing from you.