Systemic Suburban Problems Fixed in Camden

New Jersey is currently facing a few intense battles. While most battles are currently economic, there is also the growing battle of heroin in the Garden State. For the most part, New Jersey residents are surprisingly just as aware as the government is about the severity of the heroin epidemic that is sweeping through. For example, New Jersey legislators have passed some fantastic legislation equipping 911 responders and residents with narcan, a drug used to reverse the side effects of opiate drug overdoses. This legislation has and continues to save lives in New Jersey. However, despite several suburban areas being named as top heroin abusers, methadone clinics are being located elsewhere.

For example, Cherry Hill has a very significant heroin problem. This is a statement of both local knowledge and state data. So therefore, I must beg a question of common sense.

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http://www.opiateaddictionresource.com/treatment/methadone_clinic_directory/nj_clinics   In Camden County, 2 clinics are located in the downtown area of Camden City, and one clinic is listed to exist on the boarder of Pennsauken and Camden City.

 

Why are the closest methadone clinics to Cherry Hill located within the same neighborhoods where Cherry Hill, and other suburban addicts previously bought their heroin? I understand that Cherry Hill, as a township, tries very hard to subdue what would be considered “bad press”. But when it comes down to reality, sometimes it is best to simply own what makes up your town. Build a methadone clinic in Cherry Hill! It would pretty much just be Cherry Hill residents going to a clinic, in Cherry Hill!

It is also unfair that another fix to a suburban problem has been shipped off to Camden. What other problems, you ask, have been shipped to Camden?

1. Camden County’s Trash to Steam Plant 2. The entire County’s Sewage 3. A cement grinder 4. A metal recycling plant 5. 76.8% of Camden County’s affordable housing units. And now, it seems like Camden County has graciously given Camden City two out of three locations for methadone treatments.

New Jersey’s Minimum Wage: Government vs Academia

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On November 5th, 2013 the People of New Jersey overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that would change the state’s pay scale. The approved referendum raised the wage from $7.25/hr to $8.25/hr as of January 1st, 2014, and from 2015 forward, the wage would need to be annually adjusted to the cost of living.

An announcement from New Jersey’s Department of Labor on September 30th, 2014 declared that the state’s minimum wage would increase to $8.38/hr on January 1st, 2015 in order to adhere to the constitutional amendment. The Department of Labor cites an increase of 1.59% of the consumer price index as the reason to increase the hourly wage by 13 cents.

That is what the New Jersey government says. However, there are several academic entities that suggest New Jersey’s 2015 minimum wage should be much higher than a mere 13 cent increase if New Jersey followed the constitutional amendment as it is written. For example, last year, MIT projected New Jersey’s cost of living for a single adult to yield a needed $11.13/hr wage. Within MIT’s database, every state and just about every town in the country has a calculated wage that corresponds to the cost of living. In May of 2013, the Legal Services of New Jersey Poverty Research Institute projected the state’s cost of living to yield a $13.75/hr wage for a single adult. Based upon such conflicting numbers, New Jersey residents should be questioning if the constitutional amendment is being followed as it was written. Even on the national spectrum, President Barack Obama has claimed that the entire nation is subject to insufficient wages, therefore he has launched a campaign to raise the national minimum wage to $10.10/hr in order to keep the nation on pace with the cost of living.

After acknowledging the above academic reports as well as the President’s national effort, while also taking into account the fact that New Jersey is the fifth most expensive state to live in throughout the entire country, how is it that the New Jersey government is falling an average $3.28 below exterior projections for a minimum wage that adheres to the cost of living?

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Camden County: Selected Competition Only

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Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Camden_County,_New_Jersy_Municipalities.png

Not too many people who live in Camden County know that there are 37 individual municipalities that make up the county. Some are rather large, especially when compared to several very small towns. All 37 of these towns are expected to co-exist with each other, with their own municipal codes, police departments, fire departments, school districts, and of course, their own businesses.

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Some municipalities do very well as far as attracting business. Take Marlton for example, home of the Promenade. In this shopping center, there are high class specialty stores and some of the finest restaurants around. But, that’s just one side of RT 73. Shopping centers line both sides of the highway all the way into Berlin, which also has a plethora of stores. Audubon has even managed to cram the Audubon Crossings within the 1.5 square mile borough.

In Voorhees there exists a very unique town center setup in which retail is fused with living spaces. Such a layout exists both at Voorhees Town Center and Cooper Towne Center in Somerdale, located maybe five minutes from Voorhees’ center. Then of course is the Eagle Plaza, which sits at the edge of Cherry Hill, but is still within Voorhees.

 

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Speaking of Cherry Hill, who can ignore the Mall? It is an indoor shopping experience and supposedly it is “South Jersey’s fashion destination”, as well as having several fine dining choices in the parking lot. Just down the road is Market Place at Garden State Park, which includes retail and living spaces. Then of course, Cherry Hill also has the Ellisberg and Barclay shopping centers to offer.

 

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I really could go on, noting the main street developments in Haddonfield and Collingswood, or the soon to come, tax abatement-sponsored development in Gloucester Township. But in the end, it is very important to realize why there are so many shopping districts within a seemingly close distance in Camden County. Very simply, these shopping and living districts exist because they sell to the needs and desires of the communities that surround them.

So, this makes me beg the question; Why are there no such movements for the City of Camden? Surely, in fact I know, such shopping destinations and community areas are wanted by Camden residents. I remember an exercise that I participated in during a “college field trip” with former Rutgers-Camden Chancellor Wendell Pritchett. We visited elementary school students in 2012 at Coopers Poynt, and we asked the students what they would like to see if their neighborhood was redeveloped. The boys collectively wanted sports stores that sold nice hats and sneakers, and the girls wanted a Justice store and some places to get their nails painted. Both the boys and the girls said they wanted a movie theatre. These were instantaneous desires for these young Camden residents, and I’m certain that similar desires are held by their parents and grandparents too. After all, it would make the day a lot easier knowing that it would no longer be necessary to leave the city in order to go shopping.

So, again, I must beg another question; Why is the State of New Jersey pledging $40 million for the citizens of Gloucester Township to shop in places they’d want to shop, while also pledging another round of hundreds of millions of EOA approved dollars for Camden residents to again receive the things they do not want, and won’t benefit from?

I hope that the developments coming to the waterfront lead to many possibilities for Camden residents to have the places and the things that they want for their own community. For now it just seems like some big businesses and entities got a free ride into Camden on tax payers’ backs. To continue a trend that started in the 1990’s with the $100 million foundations of the aquarium and battleship, then continued in 2002 with the $175 million MRERA, hundreds of millions of state tax payer dollars are being sent to Camden in the form of relocating enterprises and sports teams to “bring it back”, but there still lacks an immediate (or any) benefit to residents to in fact bring the city back. One last question:

For whom, exactly, are we bringing Camden back?

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Almost Complete Safety

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As an extremely regular visitor to the City of Camden, I am very pleased that after three weeks and five days, a fence has at last been partially erected beneath the Radio Lofts building at Second and Cooper Streets.

I am concerned, though, as to why it took such an extremely long and drawn out process to simply prevent the public from risking serious injury by walking near the deteriorating building.

Due to how long it took for the city government to half-act on it’s own ordinance to close the sidewalks, I wonder how long it will take to completely close them, as the city’s own ordinance demands.

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The city ordinance, date August 29th, calls for the complete closure of the sidewalks, both length and width, along the distance of the building plus 15 additional feet. That same ordinance, from my perspective at least, encompasses the RiverLine station.

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The train station does sit higher above what is normally walked upon as a sidewalk. This fact unfortunatley does not create some sort of force field that would shield a RiverLine passenger from falling debris.

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I know that closing the northbound Cooper Street location would be very inconvenient, but so is a brick crashing into someone’s skull, followed by copious amounts of liability issues.

If the City of Camden’s code enforcement officials would end up taking another three weeks to extend the protective fence, I would then urge the NJ Transit and RiverLine officials to take action on their own station in order to protect their riders.

This issue is not one of opinion due to the city’s own documentation of the building presently being a danger to human life. This is the reality that exists on Cooper Street.

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The Radio Lofts: Ordered To Be Demolished

I received a phone call today from the City of Camden’s Municipal Clerk’s Office. They advised me that my Open Public Records Act request was now available regarding the condition of the Radio Lofts Building at 2nd and Cooper Streets. I shall now share the report with the citizens of Camden as well as the city’s visitors, while simultaneously raising brand new issues about the same building:

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The Cooper Grant neighborhood and I are very pleased that an inspection has finally taken place. As it turns out, the inspection has declared that the Camden Redevelopment Agency has been ordered to demolish the Radio Lofts since it poses a hazard to human life. We now have official documentation rejecting the claims of the City’s Business Adminstrator, by which Robert Corrales stated, “The Building is solid”. It is not, by any means, structurally solid. However, still there remain some very big questions to be answered. My first question is: Why are the sidewalks still not closed for the entire length and width of the building, plus fifteen additional feet, along Cooper Street and Front Street as the Emergency Sidewalk memo demands? These photos were taken earlier today, as you can tell by the iPhone within each picture, used as proof of both time and date.

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Based upon the date of August 28th, 2014 by which the report is said to have been completed in accordance with the New Jersey Uniform Construction Code, a fence was to have immediately been erected in order to prevent a hazard to human life. The report also says that failure to do so could result in fines up to $2,000 per week. I am confident that the inspection itself did not take place until September 9th, 2014 base upon my own physical observation:

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And to prove that I took this photo on Tuesday, September 9, 2014, here is a screenshot of my iPhone’s timestamp in my photo album:

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Something remains to be very fishy about the exact date by which things have been completed. I don’t know why the dates would be deliberately fudged since in the end, it would result in fines and potential lawsuits. Maybe they have been fudged in order to make it not seem like the sidewalks were closed only following my filing for the open record. Who knows. But, to me at least, the fines are not what is important here. What is important is that these sidewalks still remain accessible to the public, and the RiverLine station beneath the Radio Lofts is still in operation despite this official report, which is said to have happened two weeks ago.

I urge the City of Camden to appropriately close these sidewalks so that under no circumstances can a pedestrian become harmed by falling debris. I also urge NJ Transit to close it’s station beneath the building that has been deemed structurally unsound so that under no circumstances can one of their riders become injured from the building’s falling debris. I also urge the Camden Redevelopment Agency to act upon this report’s demands so that no motorist on Cooper Street, pedestrian, or RiverLine passenger can become harmed in the future.

Downtown Danger: Follow-Up Part 1

Earlier this month, I published an article that displayed several structural safety concerns of the Radio Lofts building, located at the corner of 2nd and Cooper Streets in Camden. Thanks to my readers and Facebook friends, professors, and fellow urbanists, the article went viral locally, and the City of Camden told Philly.com’s journalist Kevin Riordan that an inspection would take place.

Today I took a step to ensure that an inspection has taken place, or, that it will take place in the future. I filed a Municipal Records Request Form with the Office of the Municipal Clerk in Camden. I have to wait 7-10 business days for an answer, but either way, the citizens of Camden and those who will begin using Cooper Street as a regular means of transportation next week are 7-10 days closer to knowing what exactly is going on with the Radio Lofts building.

Prescribing Our Addictions

As of August 2014, there exists a holy plethora of data and statistics that show the strong correlation between prescription opiate drugs, heroin, and addiction. Sadly, the high school graduating class of 2011 and I are watching the data come to life, right in the middle of suburbia. Opiate drugs have infected my town, turning many young Cherry Hill residents into full-fledged drug addicts.

New Jersey, and many other states, have launched specific task forces with the sole objective, “to educate young people on the dangers of prescription pain killers”. Hundreds of young people are prescribed percocet, tamarol, oxycotin, cyclobenzaprine, and others, for sports injuries and common procedures like wisdom teeth removal. I myself was prescribed several forms of opiate pills and muscle relaxants for one back injury.

It is important to note that I was completely immobilized by my pain, and I was taken to the hospital via ambulance, so some form of pain relief was in order. However, within three days of my injury taking place, I had been prescribed 80 days worth of opiate pills and relaxants between what I was given at the hospital and then at the physician’s office. Professionalism aside, that’s a stupid amount of pills for one injury. I only took the drugs for five days, but if I took them more regularly,  who knows, maybe I’d be next in line for heroin. After all, I was given 80 days to get hooked.

The sure ease of getting copious amounts of opiates is one aspect of our medical system that needs to change. A lumbar disk displacement should not result in that many pills of 4 different varieties.

The second aspect that needs to change when it comes to prescription opiates is that they all together, collectively, need to go away. New Jersey’s Legislature has the ability to outlaw their use either all together. Or, less extreme, the Legislature can outlaw the use for certain age groups, or more strictly specify what injury or pain should yield their prescription. The Legislature can also move forward with an initiative that better regulates the amount given to a patient within a specified time period. All four of those options are possible for New Jersey with a vote, and with such an addiction epidemic that is stemming from the use of opiates, one has to wonder why the vote wouldn’t happen once proposed.

But what would people do for intense pain if things like percocet are banned in New Jersey? The bottom line is that New Jersey can no longer stall with making medicinal marijuana an accessible treatment. A non-habit forming approach to treating temporary pain is what the Garden State needs. The only hold up seems to be the Governor’s refusal to speak about the taboo topic. Until he decides to entertain such a conversation or he eventually no longer holds office, New Jersey residents will continue to be subject to addiction following injuries and procedures. Everyone holds the right to not risk addiction as a side effect of every accident, injury, or procedure they endure. Opiates do not need to be claiming our children’s lives, but we are acting as if they are the only options when it comes to treating temporary pain.

As citizens, we also need to take some initiative and dispose of our unused poisons in a proper way. Flushing them down the toilet is not safe for our water systems, and leaving them in our medicine cabinets is another way in which our children get hooked. I’ve destroyed my unused medications based upon the guidelines by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, so they’re long gone and disgusting (read the hyper-link, I have a big dog who needs to go potty a lot).

It’s time to get serious about the root causes of so many young people’s addictions. For a society that classifies addiction as a disease, why are we essentially prescribing a disease? It is time to say that the temporary relief that non-addicts receive from opiate drugs is just not worth such damage to society anymore.

-Brian K. Everett

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Downtown Danger

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When it comes to Camden City, it is widely assumed, and known, that the Downtown Business and University District is the safest area of the city. After all, Rutgers University is right on Cooper Street with its own police force, L3 Communications has a security team, the Delaware River Port Authority has some jurisdiction in the area, and of course, the Camden County Police Force patrols within Downtown’s vicinity. The Adventure Aquarium and the Susquehanna Bank Center are also a part of Downtown Camden, and they both draw thousands of visitors throughout the year which in turn creates a need for high police presence. All of these locations are reachable by taking the PATCO or RiverLine.

However, the biggest danger that currently faces this section of Camden can not be tamed by any police force, no matter what jurisdiction of the law it may hail from. Downtown Camden, from a ground perspective at least, is facing the potential threat of a large building’s collapse.
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The Radio Lofts building says that “Condominiums (are) Coming Soon”, however these banners have been displayed for roughly a decade with no sign of condominiums coming anytime soon.  The Radio Lofts property is owned by Dranoff Properties, a redevelopment firm that owns and has constructed several high rise apartment and condominium structures in Philadelphia, as well as the Victor building in Camden.  On their website the firm displays virtual images of a proposed refurbishing project of The Radio Lofts in an effort to bring luxury housing to the Camden Waterfront.
The images of what could have become of the building are magnificent, even breathtaking.  However, I believe they are simply images of an abandoned dream now. Given the current physical state of the building, I do not see how Dranoff Properties can even touch the building without it falling in on itself.
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More importantly, though, is the safety risk that this seemingly forgotten project poses to pedestrians, motorists, and RiverLine passengers. There are several obvious locations on the Cooper Street facing side of the building where bricks and decorative cinder stones have detached and fallen to the ground.
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 At least two corners of the building display large separations of bricks of which appear to be growing.
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At some point in time, wooden support beams were installed in the window units, but now they are completely weather-beaten, and they are either falling in or out of the building.
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What appears to be most alarming about the visible dilapidation of The Radio Lofts can be seen from the cracks between a large gate blocking the entrance from the sidewalk. It appears that the ceilings are beginning to cave in, most likely from years of rain, snow, and wind. Most abandoned buildings in Camden have ended their existence following the destruction of the ceilings and roofs. That is when physics will take full effect and the buildings collapse.
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The City of Camden and Dranoff Properties need to act immediately. A building collapse of this size can cause dozens of deaths and serious injuries to motorists, pedestrians, and the RiverLine riders who wait at the foot of the building for the train to come. This is a threat to public safety without much time left to act, and monetary responsibility can no longer be an impediment to action.

National Power Over Dinner

According to an nj.com article published on July 11th, George Norcross III will be hosting a dinner fundraiser for his brother, Donald Norcross, on August 4th at Caffe Aldo Lamberti in Cherry Hill to raise money for his Congressional Campaign in New Jersey’s First District. Nj.com did not publish the article simply to advertise for the event, but rather it was published because US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will be in attendance. Also, in order to attend, you’ll need to scrounge up $2,600 for dinner.

Given the price of dinner, I wonder why such a fundraising initiative is being attempted, especially while considering the Norcross camp does not seem to need the money. According to ballot results from the June 3rd primary and the finance contribution totals provided by ballotpedia.org, one can safely assume that Donald has the election won as it stands now.

Donald received 72.1% of the Democratic vote and his campaign reportedly spent $25,254.11 as of April, with a remaining $353,285.70 left to spend. With a solid $378,000 reported in one period, and roughly $25,000 spent before the primary, I think it’s safe to say that Donald’s campaign has more than enough money to finish out the race.

After all, New Jersey’s First Congressional District is overwhelmingly democratic. Ballotpedia also reports over 25,000 people voting in the Democratic primary, and just over 8,700 for the Republican primary. What may be concerning though to the Norcross brothers, is that their campaign has spent over $25,000 for 18,305 votes, but Garry Cobb, the Republican primary winner, reportedly has not spent a single cent nor raised any money at all for 6,602 votes, roughly 27% of all cast votes.

So, based upon the math, why is a $2,600 fundraiser even happening? My guess is so it filters back into the Camden County Democratic Committee‘s agenda for future elections around the state, and now even around the country. This particular plate is more expensive than some presidential fundraisers from 2012. Mitt Romney and Barack Obama attended several dinners for just $1,000-$2,500 a plate. They both also attended dinners upwards of $30,000 dollars, but that was also a very tight race for the White House, unlike this rather uncompetitive congressional race.

The dinner at Lamberti’s is “invite only”, so most likely only those who can afford it have already been asked to join. However, it still remains a mathematical question as to why such an expensive plate is being offered for this particular campaign. My last guess on the topic would be that the dinner has solely been planned to make cross-country allies with Harry Reid. After all, as the nj.com article states, the former chief of staff of Reid’s campaign had ties with George Norcross and a super PAC that maintained democrats in their legislative seats. Maybe the next time nj.com, or anyone for that matter, writes a story about George Norcross and his fundraising and powerful political strategies, the story won’t just be confined to New Jersey. The Norcross influence has now begun to extend throughout the nation.