Monday, March 23, 2015

Demolition on North Avenue

As I was leaving the Plainfield Donut Shop Saturday morning, I noticed fire trucks everywhere.  When I saw North Avenue blocked off between Park and Gavett Place, I stopped to observe the commotion on North Ave. 

Directors Riley and Watson were on hand to oversee the demotion.  It was halted when the building next door was damaged by falling debris. The restaurant occupying that space had no people instead.  That is good because the damage was substantial. 

I hope the restaurant owners have business interruption insurance because they will be out of commission for a while.  They have suffered unfortunate consequences through no fault of their own.  The city needs to do everything possible to help them turn this problem into a business opportunity.

The building to be demolished is now completely taken down.  Other bloggers have covered this situation well.  What I have to add is a planning perspective.  These properties are 1/2 block from the train station.  Renovations have taken place across the street and in the next block.  This block has seen no development or renovation activity because of the eyesore/safety hazard that is now demolished.  I called for its demolition 2 years ago but heard no response from city hall aside from the information that the property owner was "missing" for many years.  This demolition opens up a redevelopment opportunity that our downtown needs very much. 

The building next door may have to be replaced as well, depending on what the engineers have to say.  It is an one story building in a zone allowing at least 4 stories (maybe 5, not more than 6).  This property owner also may have a redevelopment opportunity. 

The interested parties - property owners, restaurant owner, current developers with projects near the train station, the city, other local business owners - should be talking about the potential this demolition has created.  A mixed use, transit oriented project belongs on this block.  One with architectural features respecting the North Ave. Historic District.  A project that could benefit all interested parties and Plainfield overall.

Sunday, March 15, 2015 Headline Misleading and Unfair to Eric Jackson

Shame on you or Star-Ledger editor who wrote the headline on the Plainfield fraud investigation.  Yes, you have to grab the attention of the public in a competitive news media market.  But you still have a responsibility when you write attention grabbing headlines not to make unfair implications about a persons behavior and ultimately his/her reputation. 

I have no problem with the facts in the story itself and I want to add my perspective on Eric Jackson and the climate in city hall during the time he served Plainfield as head of the Department of Public Works and Urban Development.

First of all, I was grateful to be able to work with Mr Jackson in Plainfield.  I shared the widely held view of him as a man of integrity and effectiveness.  In fact, he stood out in the Sharon Robinson-Briggs cabinet, rising about the political divisions, dedicated to getting his job done well and raising the bar for performance in his department.

As Bernice Paglia stated in her blog, Eric Jackson oversaw many divisions.  Some had been stuck using outdated tools and methods for many years.  That is changing under Mayor Mapp but Jackson started the ball rolling in the right direction.  Recreation in particular showed a lack of commitment to accountability and appeared to underperform with the approval and protection of Mayor Robinson-Briggs.  In spite of this difficult situation, Mr. Jackson took steps to improve the Recreation Division.

In this situation and others, Eric Jackson stood for what is right at the risk of angering the powers that be.  He passes the integrity test in my view. 

What is happening now at city hall is an audit of transactions in the Department of Public Works and Urban Development.  I cannot say more except to say that originally a majority of the City Council was opposed and now have approved funds for this audit.  We have to wait for the auditors report.  The firm hired is independent and from outside the city.  They will not risk their reputation to give us anything but an objective finding of facts.  I  believe that when we have more facts, the positive views of Eric Jackson throughout Plainfield will be confirmed.  Time will tell.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

March 2 Council Meeting Became a Blame Free Zone (for a while)

Council meetings have had a lot of citizen participation in 2015. The March 2 agenda fixing meeting was no exception. The Council chambers were packed with people interested in the Earned Sick Days ordinance which is up this month for second reading.  Here are some highlights:
  • the proposed ordinance creating a Manager of Motors (Fleet Manager) was not moved to the agenda.  I believe we have seen the last of it.  I previously did not support it.  The administration did finally answer my questions and I was satisfied with the rationale for the position.  Five Council members did not feel as I did.
  • the anti-tethering ordinance for dogs was moved for a vote next week.  I proposed an accompanying resolution making the ordinance effective immediately (normally there is a 20 day waiting period). Given the continuing cold weather, there is cause for limiting animals outdoor exposure time as soon as possible.  I believe both will have the votes for approval.
  • earned sick days ordinance - Its purpose is to increase benefits to workers who are not currently entitled to paid sick leave.  An additional reason for this ordinance is to increase the likelihood that sick workers will stay home and not spread germs to co-workers and customers.  These reasons make sense to me and I will vote in favor of the ordinance.  There were several dozen business owners who attended and many of them spoke during public comment period. Representatives from the Special Improvement District, Plainwood Square Merchants Association and the Plainfield Chamber of Commerce had concerns ranging from the severity of penalties for non compliance to recordkeeping burdens.  And of course the cost.  Proponents of the ordinance included Working Families, who have taken the lead and have seen passage in nine New Jersey towns so far.  An economist shared information on research demonstrating that businesses in cities that have the ordinance in effect, namely San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, have seen no ill effects from it.  I wonder if those cities reflect conditions in Plainfield where many businesses are very small, have no capital and little beside the sweat equity of their owner and perhaps some family members.   The Council, responding to the concerns of the business community, tabled the ordinance for one month to give time for input from local business people.  I voted with the majority to table although I pledged and do so again in this blog to support the ordinance in April.
The public discussion on earned sick leave was Plainfield at our best.  Many voiced their views, the views were diverse and the feelings were strong.  But absent were the negative emotions that sometimes impair relationships and decisions.  People were listening to each other and respectful to opposing positions.  I called it a blame free zone.  Let's think about how we can keep doing that - Council members and citizens in the audience alike.

There are a number of dividing points in Plainfield that we have to work our way through.  Many emanate from the political world and manifest themselves through topics such as youth baseball discussions.  That is for another blog.  The business community is also divided.  But they united around earned sick leave concerns.  I hope they can stay together and work more closely with the city. That is for another blog also, a blame free one.