Monday, October 26, 2015

How My Council Opponent and I Differ

PMUA Rates
At last nights NAACP forum, John Campbell Jr stated that he has no problem with the PMUA rates.  But there is a problem:  many people, including seniors that Mr Campbell claims to sympathize with, can't afford the rates.  
I have held a consistent position on PMUA rates.  They must be lowered significantly.  Not just for homeowners but for businesses.  Our combined sewer and solid waste disposal rates are higher than almost anywhere.  That is a disincentive to businesses to locate in Plainfield. 
There are a number of ways that PMUA rates can be lowered:
  1. give residents the option of once a week pick-up
  2. arrange for the PMUA bill to be included in property taxes so the expense is tax deductible
  3. keep marketing PMUA services to other towns.  This option works best in combination with the two above.  Otherwise the PMUA rates are not competitive, unless rates offered for out of towners are lower than for our residents.
I have strongly advocated for replacement of PMUA commissioners with ones who understand they are responsible to the ratepayers, not politicians motivated by patronage appointments and million dollar retirement payments.  Now we have new people in place.  Lets not settle for the small rate reductions recently made.
Mr Campbell is a nice young man who aspires to a future in politics.  But he needs to do more research on the issues affecting his would be constituents.  We cannot afford City Council members who like the PMUA rates where they are today. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

South Avenue Development

How My Council Opponent and I Differ

I am a strong advocate for the proposed apartment complex on South Avenue.  Here's why:
  1. Adding more than 200 apartments will invigorate the businesses along South Avenue.  Many are struggling for lack of customers.  These apartments are designed for middle income residents and particularly young people and recent retirees.  People with money to spend.
  2.  This project will help stimulate the creation of new businesses along South Avenue.  A complex this size, added to Netherwood Pointe (recently opened and fully occupied) and the renovation across from the Netherwood train station, brings a total of 300 new apartments to the area.  More residents means more customers for new businesses. 
  3. This is what 2nd Ward residents want.  Community input from our vision study, done in conjunction with NJIT, clearly pointed to development around our train stations.  The study specifically called for the apartment complex now proposed.
  4. Towns along the Raritan Valley railroad are creating apartments.  Look at Cranford especially and also Fanwood, Somerville, Dunellen and Garwood.  Now that Plainfield is becoming more business friendly, developers and investors are ready to go to work here.
  5. This development, called the Gateway development, is being proposed by a reputable firm that has done good work in Maplewood and South Orange.  I have seen these apartments.  They are nice and have nice amenities.  Plainfield's Planning Board (of which I am a member) made sure that the Gateway will have these amenities.
My opponent in the 2nd Ward City Council election, John Campbell, has stated his opposition to the Gateway complex.  He doesn't understand development.  Here is what he is saying:
  1. Gateway wont rent up because we haven't created a climate for this type of residential occupancy.  He is wrong.  The proximity of two train stations is a draw.  Look at Netherwood Pointe.  It rented up quickly and fully.  And it doesn't have the amenities that Gateway will have.
  2. A 30 year payment in lieu of taxes is bad deal for the city. He is wrong again.  Comparing the tax payments for Gateway to what the city will get from the current property owners, Plainfield will actually gain $5 million over the 30 year period.
  3. The school system will be hurt by the influx of more school aged children.  Campbell is wrong again.  These are one and two bedroom apartments.  Netherwood Pointe is not hurting the school system.  This type of apartment is going up all over New Jersey in urban areas, near train stations.  There is no sign of significant school enrollment increases.

My opponent is opposing a project that brings a real opportunity to Plainfield.  We can talk all day about wanting Starbucks but ideas without financial backing have led us to nowhere.  We have a developer who wants to make an investment in a $50 million project in our city.  An investment significant enough to stimulate more businesses along South Ave, to bring more customers to the existing businesses, to create jobs and add vitality to one of Plainfield's neighborhoods.  An investment that will attract young people to move to Plainfield.  It's ironic that young Mr Campbell is opposing young people moving to South Ave.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Best Practices in Public Safety

Plainfield is engaged in two initiatives that will address community concerns about police use of force and accountability.  These initiatives, Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) and body cams, are welcomed by our Police Division because they increase officer safety as well as the safety of our residents.

Lets take CIT first.  This is an evidence based practice that started in Memphis, has spread across the nation and has taken root in Union County.  Plainfield police join officers from other municipalities alongside mental health practitioners and advocates in a week long, 40 hour training program.  Police and mental health stakeholders teach each other what they do so the can better collaborate to handle mental health crises.  Officers completing the course are certified  and become the "go to" people in their departments to respond to mental health crises. The lead agencies are the Prosecutors Office, Linden PD, Trinitas Medical Center and Bridgeway Rehabilitation Services (where I work).  Results are less use of force by police and less police and citizen injuries and deaths resulting from response to crisis calls.  More people dealing with a mental illness are referred for treatment instead of going into the criminal justice system.  Of course, violent offenders have to accept the legal consequences of their actions.  Plainfield sends officers to CIT, which is held at the Police Academy in Scotch Plains three or four times a year.

Body cams are a newer initiative and were well covered by Bernice Paglia's blog.  It is a positive reflection on the Plainfield police that we are participating in the pilot for body cams in Union County.  Credit goes to Mayor Adrian Mapp, Police Director Carl Riley and Union County Prosecutor Grace Park for their leadership.

Crime is down in Plainfield but we are not resting on our laurels. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

We need to retain our Planning Division staff

I was against moving this to the agenda for an October 13 vote.  The administration has not adequately justified outsourcing the Planning office.  My questions have not been answered, namely:
  • why weren't the bids immediately sent to the Council upon opening on October 1? - so we could see them for ourselves prior to the agenda fixing meeting.  After all, this initiative has generated many questions and concerns, not just from me, but from Plainfield residents and particularly land use board members.
  • what would the staffing schedule and staffing positions be, including qualifications and experience of outsourced planners?  What would  the response time be for residents and developers needing their services?
  • would the outsourced planners provide services for our brownfields projects, our Shade Tree Commission, our Historic Preservation Commission?
The administrations argument for outsourcing is the cost savings.  But I believe that will only be true if we drastically cut services.  The administration officials responding to this concern are giving assurances to the contrary, but not with a credible explanation. We cant take chances, hoping they are right.

I support Mayor Mapp wholeheartedly.  He has been good for Plainfield.  With his administration, we have become more business friendly and that is important for creating jobs and increasing tax revenues.  But there are better ways to make Plainfield business friendly than outsourcing Planning.  An example - the Planning Board, with the support of the Planning Division, is currently working on revisions to the Zoning Ordinance.  These changes would make it easier for businesses, developers and our residents to do what they need to do with their properties - with less need for governmental approvals.  Our Zoning Ordinance has to reflect Plainfield needs.  We are not Elizabeth or Westfield.  Bringing in outsiders to work on the Zoning Ordinance in a city of 50,000, poised for development, is a bad idea.

If we eliminate the knowledge that exists in the Planning office, it will take 10 or more years to replace it.  I am not referring to knowledge of the law but of facts on the ground.  Plainfield is unique and benefits tremendously from the knowledgeable professionals we have in place.

This is one of those times I disagree with my Mayor.  I promised I would give his administrators the opportunity to make their case.  They have not been convincing.  Adrian Mapp does not have a supportive City Council and I feel strongly about my obligation to support him in any way I can - for the benefit of the city.  But this outsourcing initiative is not the way to benefit the city.

I urge Mayor Mapp and my Council colleagues to take the lay-off plan off the agenda and retain the Planning Division staff.