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Sun., 1/28/07

Pensions & Benefits for Crooks

Bob Ingle is right again: why should we allow the elected officials and public workers whose nefarious deeds led to the decision to sever their pensions in the first place go on collecting them? (Politics Patrol, APP 1/28/07) This lot will be grandfathered in, rather than lose pensions for the jobs on which the government got convictions. Makes you wonder if the Grandfather involved here is a Soprano.

Who are we favoring here? It was their actions that so infuriated the populace, who then lit fires under their elected officials, which finally shamed them into passing the senate bill. So these same crooks should toast in the Miami sunshine, sipping Pina Coladas, while the rest of us schlep to work in order to pay for their ever mounting keep? Let’s not forget that while the rest of us battle current and former employers for whittled down benefit packages, these former ‘public servants’ can look forward to years of COLA (Cost of Living Act) increases. So they’ll likely never be as much at the mercy of their bad influences on the state’s economy as the rest of us.

It’s too bad we don’t have mandatory sentencing guidelines that take breach of trust into account. It’s almost ludicrous that former mayor and senate president John Lynch and John “Jack” Westlake are serving sentences because they didn’t pay taxes on their ill-gotten gains – not the deeds that led to the gains themselves - Westlake, the former president of the Monmouth County Board of Taxation!! The charge should’ve been influence peddling – or better yet extortion.

Are those who remain in power really as outraged as we’d like to believe? Come on. If they were, would they have let Westlake postpone his post conviction resignation from the Tax Board in order to file the necessary papers to ensure the continuation of his health coverage? Think of that the next time you look at the withholding section of your pay stub. Just how many hours did you work last week to ensure Jack Westlake retains all his health benefits?

Maureen Nevin


Mobs, Gangs & Breaking Asbury Park's Legacy on the West Side
By Maureen Nevin  12/28/06

The lens of redevelopment is finally focusing on the Asbury Park community west of the railroad tracks with a committee report 14 months in the making, a redevelopment plan and the perfunctory redevelopment agreement. There is even the eminent domain mandate to free the governing body to seize anything in its path to revitalizing a neighborhood whose blight dates back to America's racial riots.

Meanwhile city police are addressing the crime blight, seeking recruits from neighboring forces for an all out run on gang-members. Although founded by a strict Methodist, so devout that he even named the city after the first ordained Methodist Minister in the U.S., Francis Asbury, Asbury Park, quickly grew to also be known as "Sin City". Asbury Park, unlike Ocean Grove, its neighbor to the south on the Atlantic Coast, served up liquor, offered a rich nightlife and a variety of entertainment venues. One of the most influential figures in what many called Asbury's "Shadow Government", the late Phil Konvitz, spoke with pride of his associations with organized crime. Today, after a series of shootings and seven murders in as many months, one has to ask, is crime as integral to Asbury Park as salt water toffee? And if the answer is yes, why? 

To say that organized crime, or the mob, only found an open door on the West Side of Asbury Park would be a gross exaggeration. Traditionally the disenfranchised classes, including threatened ethnic and racial groups, found support, equality, access and consequent financial opportunities and protection through mob connections. Konvitz, a white man who controlled the bail bond business, was often glorified by poor whites and blacks for coming to their aid with cash loans he often forgave. To think that today's gangs, who also require oaths and acts of loyalty while also assuring protection and support for cooperative individuals and families, are an anomaly is ignoring the similarity in the systems. It is clear to observers that although the names Bloods and Crips strike a new kind of terror in people's hearts, their roles in this sub-culture are probably well rooted in history. So how do we end this dependence?

"People are poor because society has denied them the real social and economic base to grow on," says Nobel Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus, whose micro-lending theory is now in widespread use in Third World countries. Yunus' philosophy may hold an important message for the West Side. If residents there have been denied access to the 'real social and economic base' of Asbury Park, perhaps finding a way in for them may end the reliance of youth on the counter-culture. The city's Springwood Avenue Redevelopment Plan calls for construction of storefronts to allow families to run businesses while living above, and watching their young, similar to the pre-riot model for the West Side. But without start-up funding, the stores are just useless shells. The city has an opportunity now to end the historic reliance on the netherworld. It can step in and provide the capital needed to provide the equality it has so long professed to want.  ~~~

Vision lacking for boardwalk  -- AP Editorial
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 01/2/06
It's been three years since Asbury Park signed a redevelopers' agreement with Asbury Partners to breathe new life into the city's beachfront. Progress has been made. The boardwalk has been rebuilt, new benches and lighting have been added, and the walkway through the Casino has been opened.
But more needs to be done. The city is growing increasingly and understandably concerned about Asbury Partners' failure to proceed more quickly on the rehabilitation of the Convention Hall/Paramount Theatre complex and the Casino, and the reconstruction of the boardwalk pavilions. Even more troubling is the redevelopers' failure to come up with a well-defined game plan for enticing suitors to the retail-entertainment portion of the redevelopment zone.

The city's patience is wearing thin. Asbury Partners has come up with a variety of excuses for why further progress hasn't been made, and why it has yet to attract any substantial interest in the boardwalk or to develop a coherent strategy for attracting businesses to the boardwalk.

In response to what the City Council perceives as foot-dragging, it has given Asbury Partners a Jan. 18 deadline for presenting a concept plan, a budget and a time line for the redevelopment of boardwalk buildings. The request is more than reasonable. It's essential that Asbury Partners comply. Failure to do so could raise a warning flag to potential investors, residential and commercial, in the redevelopment zone. Asbury Partners can't allow that to happen.

Nearly three years ago, SOSH Architects of Atlantic City, which specializes in entertainment-oriented design, developed a retail and entertainment concept for the redevelopment area that generated enormous enthusiasm. The concepts looked great on paper. SOSH's vision of a boardwalk that capitalized on Asbury Park's beachfront location, its entertainment heritage, its musical bloodlines and its artistic character made perfect sense. It still does. But the failure of Asbury Partners to advance the concept and recent indications it is turning to traditional full-time retailers to help turn the boardwalk into a year-round venue are disturbing.

The revitalization of the boardwalk will not succeed by trying to fill the pavilions with retailers commonly found in malls and strip malls. Even after the oceanfront condominiums are built out, the people living in them — many, no doubt, part time — will not generate the "critical mass" Asbury Partners suggests is needed before retailers are willing to commit to the boardwalk.

The formula for success is a boardwalk that is sustained by two things: the beach and year-round entertainment. Anchored by the Convention Hall/Paramount Theatre to the north and the Casino to the south, the boardwalk should be top-heavy with restaurants, clubs offering various types of music, performance spaces for theater and dance, indoor active entertainment for young people and high-tech gaming pavilions. An Imax theater and a New Jersey Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and Museum also would be wonderful draws.

In the off months, the only thing that will draw substantial numbers of people to the boardwalk in Asbury Park is entertainment. The traditional retail should be a complement to the entertainment, not the other way around.

Asbury Partners needs to think out of the box. If it is incapable of doing so, it should hire entertainment-oriented consultants who can. The boardwalk at this point remains largely a blank canvas. It's long past time for someone to pick up the brush. At the same time, Asbury Partners needs to develop realistic leasing and construction terms that will encourage investors and businesses to dip their toes into the water, rather than discouraging them from even walking on the beach.

This is a critical juncture for the redevelopment zone and the future of the city. Asbury Partners must demonstrate more creativity, more flexibility and a marketable long-term vision for the oceanfront. And it must send a clear signal to the city and potential investors that it's prepared to do so soon.

Asbury residents deserve answers on height of C-8 structure
By Dan Sciannameo, Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 12/21/05
The Press has managed once again to gloss over the serious issues at stake in the redevelopment of Asbury Park's waterfront. ("Councilman seeks prosecutor's help," Dec. 10.) Councilman Jim Keady should be encouraged in his quest for transparent government and answers to serious issues raised, a task he alone on the City Council has taken up.

The story fails to inform the readers that the city disavowed a version of its redevelopment plan only after it was determined that no part of the C-8 structure could be reused in the new Esperanza building and would have to be destroyed. It was pointed out to the city that the plan only permitted the developer to finish the project and that, if demolished, the site could not be rebuilt to its prior height.

Citizens suggested to the city that the plan would require an amendment to permit rebuilding and that the city should receive something of value for amending the plan since there would be a substantial difference in the value to the developer if the site couldn't be rebuilt to a higher height.

The plan that was disavowed was on the city's Web site for a couple of years, sold to the public out of the city clerk's office, and considered to be the official plan by not only the public, in general, but the city clerk and the city's redevelopment director. I would suspect that even the elected officials considered it to be the official plan, but they are silent when faced with this question.

This plan was also submitted to the state Department of Environmental Protection for the city's Coastal Area Facility Review Act permit and to the Office of Smart Growth for its "urban center" designation.

Concerned citizens have been unable to receive reasonable answers from the city on this issue. These questions are being asked since no one in the city was under the impression that the C-8 site could be rebuilt to its prior height if demolished. The Planning Board recommended on April 26, 2002, that the structure be demolished and the developer not be allowed to finish the project.

This contradicts remarks made at a recent City Council meeting by Councilman John Loffredo, who served on the Planning Board at that time. There is also an audiotape of Loffredo giving an interview after the board released its recommendations in 2002 in which he states that C-8 would be demolished were it in his power. He also states that it would be foolhardy, both from an economic and aesthetic standpoint, to restore the structure.

The planner, John Clarke, in his recent appearance at a City Council meeting, took the blame for "changing" the plan and submitting the wrong one to the DEP. But he couldn't remember why he added the language that C-8 could not be rebuilt to its prior height if demolished. There is also an audiotape of an interview with Clarke in April 2002 in which he indicates that he could find no support for 14- and 16 stories and clearly stated that the C-8 would exceed eight stories (the maximum height under the plan) only if it were restored. These tapes are available on
  {Listen to Planner John Clarke April 2002  - Councilmember John Loffredo May 2002}
It is in the face of these circumstances, and the continual stonewalling by the city and its redevelopment attorney, James Aaron, that Keady is forced to seek outside help. We could use more politicians like him.
Daniel F. Sciannameo




DEP commissioner failed Asbury Park
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 12/20/05
Three cheers for Carl J. Mayer of Princeton, whose integrity meter is apparently working just fine. ("State needs fresh leadership for environmental protection," commentary, Dec. 15.) He was able to see through the forest of accolades surrounding state Environmental Protection Commissioner Bradley Campbell to the pandering that's been going on for at least the past four years.

Mayer rightly cites Campbell's track record with backing the "fast-track" bill, which takes even more environmental control away from taxpayers and the obvious political influences affecting his other decisions, including Petty's Island.

But Mayer should see the waterfront plan for Asbury Park that Campbell's DEP approved. He might be concerned to see that Green Acres property along the oceanfront has been approved for rental to the redevelopment rights holders, Asbury Partners, because the city couldn't sell it outright as it did the rest of the oceanfront strip that was deeded in the last century to remain in the public domain by the city's founder, James Bradley.

Or Mayer may be interested to know that the DEP also approved the construction of townhouses east of the Asbury Tower, basically on the beach, along with a 111-car park -- a paved parking lot -- where a dune exists. Ocean Avenue and Deal Lake Drive will be vacated to allow for maximum development at this juncture of Deal Lake Drive and Ocean, an area that flood maps show would be inundated in a Category 1 storm.

Campbell must go, but getting rid of him won't solve the problem. We need a leader in that office who can follow the law without fear of political intervention. Are you listening, Gov.-elect Jon S. Corzine?

Maureen Nevin