Unfortunately I could not attend the Community Center meeting last night. From the sounds of things I would not have gotten in anyway.

https://www.tapinto.net/towns/cranford/articles/cranford-residents-organize-to-resist-750-walnut

For non-Cranford readers, a large parcel near the southern border of town was an office / warehouse park that is owned by Hartz Mountain, the flea collar people. The anchor tenant recently left / was kicked out and they want to rezone for over 900 rental units.

http://www.goleader.com/news/docs/2017-06-05-CF-Hartz/Hartz_Site_Plans.pdf

This did not sit well with thousands of Cranford residents.

Understandably. That’s a lot of units.

Being a southsider, I drive on Walnut Avenue daily. I have an incentive to have traffic be metered or  be not much worse that it is today. It does get busy several times per day already. (An aside: I have long been in favor of a weight-sensitive light with left turn signals on Walnut northbound for those turning left on Chester Lang, but more for cars wanting to turn from Chester Lang to Walnut Ave northbound. They can sit there waiting for quite a while and with these units that wait will be longer.)

With people leaving for work, coming home and driving to stores and activities, this would add thousands of vehicle trips on Walnut per day. You think the backlog at Lincoln is bad now….

Plus I agree that a large residential development (which would add about 10% more households to the town) is likely to stress the schools (I could go on a rant on how the schools probably could do more with less, but that would be every rant ever). It would heavily affect Walnut Ave, Livingston Ave, and Hillside Ave schools since all of those students would be assigned to those schools. Or they’d need to be bused to the northside schools. THAT would go over with the northsiders…

Yes, the development would be paying taxes, but the schools may be at a point of capacity where they cannot accommodate the number of children physically in the space with the additional influx. With capital projects being ludicrously expensive due to inefficiency, paying union prevailing wages, and overruns, any increase in school tax revenue would be heavily offset by the increased costs. Most likely resulting in more bond debt.

Hartz is entitled to see what they can do with the property that would create the most value and generate the most cash. Unfortunately the NJ economy limits the potential uses due to obscene tax rates and regulation. Also, retailing has overcapacity, office space has overcapacity, and residents would be fighting even harder against any heavy or potentially polluting industry so close to homes.

So that leaves residential, nursing homes, and not much else, (I don’t think a hospital could work with one in Rahway so close).

Another issue with residential is that it is very tough for the land use to change once it is residential. Rental units would require eviction and some legal battles before buildings could be razed. A very hard bell to unring. Business buildings are much easier to change and reconfigure (kicking out 5 tenants is easier than 900). So if Hartz gets their wish, we’d have to live with it for many, many years.

I’d be interested to see if any leeching of any materials from the adjacent site (a former GM ball bearing plant that is now Hyatt Hills) is in ground samples of the Hartz site, and there may be contamination from Hartz’s activities from back in the day.

So, in my opinion, pretty much the citizen’s best shot at stopping this is to make it so the numbers could not work for Hartz. Demand that they build a school or expand the current schools. Demand widened roads and traffic signals that are timed to improve traffic flow and pedestrian safety up and down Walnut (maybe even at Lincoln, maybe even up to North), perhaps even purchasing additional property to accommodate the widening. Demand traffic management by Walnut Avenue School with a parking turnout for people’s safety. Insist they test the living heck out of the soil. They need obstacles. Bad press is not enough.

That would be tough to do…Renting 905 units is going to be pretty stinking profitable. Lets say they have a 10% vacancy rate and rent them out at an average of $2,000 per month (that includes the cheap COAH units). Assuming 815 units are rented, that’s $1.6 million in revenue per month. Or almost $20 million a year. We’ll have to come up with a LOT of obstacles.

But, if the expenses to get it built and rented impact the numbers so badly it hurts the potential profitability for the next 10 years, they will look at another use.

But that means we as residents have to permit another use. Hartz owns the property and is entitled to do something with it. If we are against every last thing we’re just NIMBY idiots that show that Cranford is hostile to all business, and that is not a reputation you want to have.

Not to whomp on whom I am sure are quite earnest college kids, but oh, man this is a howler.

http://www.nj.com/opinion/index.ssf/2017/05/what_causes_inequality_among_similar_towns_in_nj_o.html

First, I will admit that “income inequality” to me is a tell that whomever is speaking doesn’t understand microeconomics or any economics for that matter.

So the question is posed, why is Plainfield so different from Westfield now with their marked inequality? Their suggested reason:

Consider the towns of Plainfield and Westfield in Union County, where income inequality is abundantly clear. Westfield households earn 2.69 times more and the average property is worth $429,100 more than their neighbors inPlainfield. Until the Central Railroad of New Jersey built a direct line between Westfield and Jersey City in 1901, Westfield and Plainfield shared a similar history.

Both towns were largely dependent on agriculture for growth and sustenance. But once the connection from Jersey City to Manhattan was established, Westfield transitioned from a blue-collar to white-collar town and naturally experienced economic prosperity. On the other hand, Plainfield did not gain access to the Jersey City line until 1910 – for  reasons which are still unclear.

Today, Westfield has an express line to/from Newark Penn station during rush hour that skips the seven other towns between Westfield and Manhattan. This has attracted more wealthy families to the area, led to a better school system and public services, and, overall, perpetuated the vast inequality between the neighboring towns.

Got that? Having rail service to Jersey City NINE YEARS longer than Plainfield is what made Westfield what it is today.

Wow.

I was tempted to say that if you tried to statistically model why the two towns are different, the discrepancy is rail service would have almost zero predictive value. But the explanation can be much simpler.

This is like saying that one restaurant is better than another because of napkin fabric selection in the 1980s.

There are hundreds of factors that would make two towns near each other diverge economically. Things like:

  • Local industries located in town (in the early part of the 20th century manufacturing was king)
  • World War II labor and housing for wartime workers / post WWII suburban development
  • Highway access (Westfield had better access to the GSP since it was built in the early 50s, 78 wasn’t completed until the late 70s.)
  • Land use and development (zoning or lack thereof)
  • Housing stock (homes for manufacturing employees vs professionals)
  • Crime and Policing effectiveness
  • Taxation policy
  • Political leadership and corruption (potentially the biggest factor)

But, no. Nine years of no railroad service equals economic doom.

Yes, I know, these are college kids and you may think I am being mean. I’m not. And to be fair, they do try to give themselves an out that their analysis is not very thorough.

In no way should one assume that rail access is the only factor which has created and continues to create such wide differences in town income levels. However, it should be clear, through historical context, that rail access (or lack thereof) played a role in the economic development of several New Jersey towns.

If that is true, then why are so many towns with fabulous rail access built early on (Linden and Rahway come to mind) aren’t as nice as Westfield? Is the difference that Westfield is “nicer” than Cranford because we don’t have an express train that skips Roselle Park and Union?

Um, no.

But, if they ever read this it’s for their own good, because they segue into something completely laughable.

As it turns out, the New Jersey state government itself tacitly acknowledges this fact with their relatively new Transit Village Initiative, which has had issuesgetting off the ground.

The Initiative offers funding to municipalities lacking access to NJ Transit’s train lines so that they can build new train stations and stimulate economic development in their towns. However, much of the burden to plan and create the infrastructure for new train stations (and subsequent development) falls on the towns themselves.

Yep. Transit Village cash from the state can be a key to solving income inequality!

Sigh.

Yes, a town can try to change its trajectory, and some have. But it takes decent political leadership and a will to out-compete other towns in the area to attract businesses and more upscale residents. Will a nicer train station help? I don’t think it helps as much as they think. Two blocks away from the Fanwood station, which is a cute little station, you don’t really know it’s there.  But then, Cranford’s is hideous, and it hasn’t dragged the town down with it.

But, you may argue, isn’t Cranford Crossing better than the vacant lot that was there? And wasn’t that a beneficiary of the Transit Village initiative? Yes, better than a vacant lot, but could it have been approved and built without any assistance from Transit Village funds? My understanding was that the 4 story parking garage was the major change from what would have been done if done completely privately. You’re welcome to set me straight in the comments.

Bottom line, Transit Village money is a token from the state that may make a few structures around the train station more aesthetically pleasing, but will have little effect on a town’s status and trajectory.  A town’s trajectory is much more dependent on the political leadership and focus on quality of life issues in the town as a whole.

Solving income inequality by removing government barriers to development such as lowering taxes and reducing corruption would be more effective than any Transit Village initiative, and more effective than any wealth redistribution.  A wealth redistribution would be successful at making Westfield more like Plainfield, but not Plainfield more like Westfield. But the latter two methods are “easy” for politicians and can enable them to enrich themselves and their friends, so they are the two methods more likely to be tried.

Maybe we should ask the kids to do some research on effects of poor tax policy and corruption in creating income inequality. Then they’d learn something.

Sigh.

Unfortunately, NJTransit plays a role in our family’s life that is greater than we’d like. And we have plenty of war stories on how many times it made us late, left us behind, left us stranded, or gave us a miserable commute.

So, this morning I read a breakdown of candidate “plans” on how to “fix” NJTransit.

http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2017/05/every_candidate_for_nj_governor_has_a_plan_to_fix_1.html#incart_2box_nj-homepage-featured

And I am now certain of how I feel about the candidates.

I don’t like any of them.

NJTransit has been a mess for decades, and I get that to fix it would be a herculean effort.

http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2017/05/every_candidate_for_nj_governor_has_a_plan_to_fix_1.html#incart_2box_nj-homepage-featured

What would be the fastest way to clean it up? People will rain hate on my when I say privatization and modification of union contracts, but that is what it would take.

And anyone running for governor in NJ could never say that and have a prayer. Plus the constituencies that all line up for the fleecing of the state and commuters are very entrenched. It would be hard to do.

So the candidates are all picking easier things to do.

An Audit? Easy. Consequences are hard and would be limited.

More Federal Dollars? Easy. Papers over the problems and more people who should not get rich will get rich.

Raise taxes? Easy. But doesn’t fix anything.

Cross Honoring? They do that now.

My takeaway? Whomever gets in, nothing will happen. And we will be retired and long gone before anything gets better, or remote working arrangements finally nullify the need to commute. I see the latter as more likely than fixing NJTransit.

 

I’m wracking my brain as far as what movies I have seen in the theater this past year. I came up with Zootopia. I didn’t even see the December Star Wars other-quel. Finger on the pulse…that’s me.

So the Oscars would be a waste even more than hearing how half the country are just awful, awful, people. I wouldn’t know (or remotely care) about the films, even though some may have some redeeming qualities.

I reorganized a bunch of stuff in my basement instead, which I found much more satisfying. Plus it will result in fewer “what is the deal with that stuff by the workbench” queries I get regularly.

I noticed this weekend that the bulbs are starting to grow. The daffodils and the crocuses are pushing their way through. Will we get another dumping of snow or are we done? I think done.

Bridgegate was a scandal that I never really got interested in. For me it was sort of petty college prank level stuff. My reaction was more “really, this is what they’re going with?? as opposed to a reaction of “He. Must. Resign. Today.”

The Star Ledger beat the drum daily for years and that was tiresome and I would scroll past the articles. I did a lot of scrolling. Actually most articles on NJ.com are worth scrolling past. But that’s another post.

So the Governor’s office had a press release noting the fact that the matter is over. http://nj.gov/governor/news/news/552017/approved/20170127c.html

Did it derail his career and Presidential aspirations? I think they were pretty much done without it. The man can talk. I’ll give him that. He can think on his feet when confronted. But as far as getting things done and governing? I think he missed so many opportunities that we will be bearing the brunt of it for years. NJ is sliding downward. Just drive around if you don’t believe me. Not crashing, but sliding downward. He didn’t do much to arrest that.

If he had more traction in the polls he would have gotten more scrutiny on his record. The things he touted as “fixed” are in fact not fixed at all. The property tax “fix” is  nonsense. Towns just discovered that they can peel off services and bill for them separately.

He really didn’t get very much done.

What I think would have really killed his candidacy even if he survived the scrutiny was his plan to “save” Social Security by introducing means testing. So once again, if you worked and saved and were able to squirrel away enough to retire, the government would look at what you had and determine that the 15% or so percent that they withheld from you and your employer would no longer be yours anymore, and be handed to some impulsive and irresponsible person who didn’t save.

Which, as far as government behavior goes, is pretty typical.

But that is a crappy solution to the problem. A partial privatization would have fixed it without pain. A transfer of a portion of funds to an individual account where you could determine the allocation (so you had a shot to get it to get some return on investment) could have worked better. But to turn around and tell a large segment of the population they’ll get nothing and like it? Whomever his pollster was that said it would fly should have been escorted out immediately.

With his eviction off the Trump transition team, it’s not clear what’s next for him. At least I would think he won’t lose billions of dollars of his customers money trying to bolster a hare-brained investing scheme, like some people we know.

 

 

 

 

Was going to post something about the Halloween Parade but in doing yard work on the almost too-warm Sunday, I didn’t make it in time. Oh, well.

So thankfully, mercifully, finally we are done with the political season in a week. I can’t wait.

I have spent some time in the past couple days reading some of the emails on the wikileaks site. Not necessarily the ones highlighted in the media but skipping around and reading a random one here and there and in bulk. And I’ve learned a few things.

  1. John Podesta is not technologically savvy and will take the bus.
  2. They knew the private server was a wrong thing to do (it was) and everybody was using gmail instead of expected domain servers.
  3. They worried about things that I was surprised that they found important (emails discussing hours-long meetings on arcane or what I’d consider trivial topics).
  4. They really have pals in the media.
  5. Being corrupt is harder work than I thought.

Please, before I am savaged for partisan bias, note that I am not endorsing anybody or promoting anybody. And I live in New Jersey where my vote doesn’t really matter.I just thought that I’d take a look at some of the raw data dump as it is an opportunity to peek behind the curtain. https://wikileaks.com/podesta-emails/

That said, in aggregate our votes do matter, especially for Cranford Board of Ed and for the Town Council. As well as the referenda.

So go vote on November 8th!

 

Hard to believe it has been 15 years. Today I was away in New York state and away from a computer. So I didn’t have a chance to post until now.

It also let me beg off from a “day of service” project, which I had no interest in doing. Not because I am not for performing service and being part of the community, but a “service day” on September 11th is hollow to me. A distraction or a minimization of what happened.

I don’t want to remember a day of service. I don’t want to forget this:

p91100131

From My NYC Apartment Window

Coming home tonight I first noticed the lights from downtown NYC shining into the sky a little north of Poughkeepsie. A high cloud ceiling helped. And I could see them as the Thruway and Parkway bent around the curves and around the hills. And I could see them in Cranford without any trouble, provided there is a high enough spot or large enough clearing.

dsc_0417

Taken near the Walnut Avenue School 9/11/2016