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I was in the city the other day and walked through the PATH station on my way to what I know as the World Financial Center.

And I walked past all of the top drawer stores, and I was thinking about the plaza level of the old World Trade. The Duane Reade, the Tie Rack; stores like you would see now at Port Authority.

I am okay with change, and I understand that the demographic that works there now has different tastes (and budgets) than when I worked around there.

But I will remember picking out ties there, and buying toothpaste. And then it wasn’t there.

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From My NYC Apartment Window

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Yep. 10 years of this. Granted, 4 posts a year does not a decent blog make, but we’re still here, and the archives have some less cringe-worthy things. Thank you for reading and for your comments over the years.

In the years we’ve been here in Cranford, we’ve made some great friends and have enjoyed ourselves. The quality of life definitely has been more than acceptable.

We’ve had fun at the rubber duck races, the Memorial Day Parade (if it isn’t rained out), the 4th of July festivities, National Night Out, the Street Fairs, some of the Car Shows (they get old after a while), Float Night at the pools, Hanson Park Halloween, Santa by the Gazebo and checking out the Christmas lights where some blocks go all-out. And there are the smaller group activities, the barbecues, and the quiet evening with the firepit in the backyard.

It has not been perfect, but anyplace that seems like it is, is most definitely not. The struggles with big developers, the COAH nonsense and the corruption and inefficiency of Union County are issues that we have to deal with often. The slow pace of implementing flood control and the trials many on the north side have dealt with since Hurricane Irene have made some people anxious.

But overall, I think we’re better here than we would be in most places. I have enjoyed meeting the unpretentious and helpful people that are here, and there are plenty of them.

Will we still be here in 10 years? Maybe, but we’ll see if jobs and the property taxes necessitate a move. Cranford is still in New Jersey, which has all of its problems. But it’s a nice island to be on.

 

 

A study has shown that Millennials are leaving NJ at a higher than expected rate.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/new-jersey-has-a-millennials-problem-1501426802

But I don’t really agree with the premise. Gen Xers did the same thing just that a higher proportion were able to live on their own. And they went to NYC or Hoboken (like I did) or Jersey City.

But one of the worst landowner situations I can think of is to own space on an office campus. Driving around, the main common attribute is a big AVAILABLE sign.

It’s not an attracting millennials problem, it attracting business in general.

How many pharmas have we chased? Dozens of companies have left for North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, you name it.

Another trend that I think is being overlooked is that people avoid going to the office as much as they can. And in the white collar world, working from home is easier than ever, with remote printing, VPNs, fiber to the home enabling video conferencing with ease, and global teams where it doesn’t matter where you are physically.

Yes, a great many firms still want their people in the office (a friend at JPMChase says that in their department, the credo is “we’re paying you NYC money, you come to the NYC office”).

But for millennials to want work in the Cranford Business Park, or in Roseland, or in South Plainfield, it will take healthy companies that can offer more than a ping pong table and a coffee bar.

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.

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