This November, Princeton will elect two Council members. On the Democratic Party side, four candidates are running, and the Princeton Community Democratic Organization will meet this Sunday, March 20, to make endorsements. Ahead of the PCDO meeting, we contacted the four candidates to hear their views on various questions relating to walkable living and reducing car dependency. Responses from Anne Waldron Neumann are below. Answers from Jenny Crumiller can be viewed at this link. Answers from Leticia Fraga can be viewed at this link. On Thursday, we will publish responses from the remaining candidate, Tim Quinn. Thanks to all the candidates for participating and sharing their views!
Responses from Anne Waldron Neumann:
1. 21,000 people drive into Princeton each day to work. Do you believe that the town should try to reduce vehicle-miles-traveled. If so, how?
As a six-year veteran of Princeton’s Environmental Commission, I believe we should all try to drive less so as to lower the carbon emissions that worsen global climate change. The best way to reduce vehicle miles traveled for those who commute into Princeton would be more public transit between Princeton and the places those in-commuters travel from—“most commonly the Route 1 corridor, Bucks County PA and Burlington County NJ,” according to Walkable Princeton’s website.
But what can the town itself do? Given our tight municipal budget, very little at present. Princeton University, on the other hand, has a current endowment of $22.7 billion on which it earned 12.7% for the fiscal year ending June 2015. The University also has 6,500 “benefits-eligible” employees, according to its website, most of whom drive to work on the University’s core campus. As the town’s largest employer, the University might take the lead in cutting traffic into Princeton, especially since the University seems increasingly reluctant to use its core campus for employee parking. For its own benefit, and for the planet’s benefit, the University could add satellite parking garages and increase shuttle-bus service. The University could offer financial incentives for using satellite parking. And I hope commuters who don’t work for the University might use those garages for the foreseeable future.
Question 2. What do you think the town should be doing to reduce the affordable-housing waiting list (currently estimated at over 1,000 households) and enable middle class people to live in town?
We can reduce Princeton’s several affordable-housing waiting lists—which total 1,600 distinct applicants—by building more affordable housing. As the former Chair of Princeton Borough’s Affordable Housing Commission, I favor that. But this question also mentions “middle class people.” The Pew Charitable Trust defines “middle class” as “households that earn between 67 and 200 percent of a state’s median income.” In New Jersey, in 2013, being middle class meant earning between $46,777 and $140,330. Rounding up slightly, 32.5% of Princeton households earned between $50,000 and $150,000 in 2013, according to city-data.com. And, although an astonishing 40.7% of us had household incomes above $150,000, 26.8% earned less than $50,000. Households with incomes between about $20,000 and $120,000 qualify for state-mandated affordable housing in our part of New Jersey, depending on family size. One reason for supporting affordable housing is that many of us may need it someday in order to age in place.
On the other hand, does Question 2 imply that building more affordable housing would raise our property taxes, making it more difficult for middle-class people to remain here? In fact, our affordable-housing providers, like Princeton Community Housing, assemble packages of funding to build affordable housing, including federal funds, foundation grants, and money from the sale of tax credits. Not all affordable housing costs the same, moreover: GRO Architects (groarc.com) recently built affordable townhouses in New Jersey for $72 per square foot. And, when developers build market-rate housing here, incentive zoning might persuade them to include more than the current one affordable unit in five.
We can also reduce Princeton’s affordable-housing waiting lists by modestly increasing density—with, for example, accessory dwelling units or ADUs (so-called “mother-in-law apartments”). Small ADUs not only offer affordable housing to renters but also help homeowners. We could facilitate ADUs with zoning changes—for example, by reducing the parking-space requirements from 1.5 to 1 per unit.
3. Princeton is working on a new bicycle circulation plan. What kind of changes do you think the town should make to promote cycling?
Connectivity will be crucial to any new bicycle circulation plan, and Princeton should approach adjoining municipalities to help those who commute into Princeton from nearby. For example, we could work with West Windsor to extend the Alexander Road bike lane all the way to Princeton Junction.
Within Princeton itself, the sharrows on Nassau and Witherspoon Streets work well. I would support adding sharrows to most of Princeton’s residential streets. Signs could remind motorists entering town to share our roads with bikes: “Bikes May Use Full Lane” has proved highly effective.
Dedicated bike lanes might be better than sharrows on heavily used streets. But I would hesitate to remove all parking to add bike lanes in both directions on residential streets. Where streets run parallel, I would favor a one-way bike lane on one side of a street, with a one-way sharrow and parking on the other. Kids on bikes should continue to use neighborhood sidewalks, as our police currently recommend.
I’d also like to see Princeton experiment with a downtown bike-share system (not just at the Dinky), including 3-wheelers, perhaps in Tiger Park. More Princeton merchants could offer discounts to bikers. Princeton children should continue to learn bike safety from our police and could, on completing the training, get badges to display on their bikes, showing pedestrians they can expect courteous and predictable behavior.
4. What specific idea or policy is the thing that drives you most in seeking office?
I grew up in Princeton, and I’m passionate about preserving our diverse neighborhoods. The biggest threat to our diversity in age and income is rising property taxes.
First, how could we lower taxes? I believe Council works hard to control costs. And we should remember that only 22-23% of our property taxes cover municipal spending! Nevertheless, we might pursue consolidation’s savings more vigorously. Before consolidation, Borough municipal spending per capita (including trash removal) was in New Jersey’s 51st percentile: dead average. The Township stood at 86% (without trash removal). A 2006 joint legislative committee report on consolidation in New Jersey warned that consolidation “may not produce immediate cost-savings” and could even cost more “because salaries generally rise to the levels of the highest paying municipality.” This more or less happened here after consolidation: municipal salaries rose to the Township level. It’s too late to change that. But has Council considered implementing every other method the Borough used to control costs?
Second, increasing municipal revenue is another a way to lower taxes. I propose, among other measures, a volunteer economic development commission to explore ways to retain existing businesses and to attract new ones in keeping with our town’s character. An economic development commission might study whether Princeton would benefit from a jobs-training program. Such a commission could also encourage business incubators in Princeton to foster start-ups that would remain here.
Another possibility for increasing municipal revenue lies in a current lawsuit arguing that Princeton University is not a pure nonprofit and therefore owes us more taxes. I studied how towns and their nonprofits interrelate for five years as a founding member of Princeton Citizens for Tax Fairness. Now this topic is getting national attention. According to a February article in insidehighered.com, “Members of Congress are reviving their scrutiny of the nation’s richest colleges [“56 private colleges with endowments larger than $1 billion”], an issue that largely was put on hold after the financial crisis in 2008.” Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Tax Court judge Vito Bianco ruled last June that Morristown Medical Center should pay taxes on virtually all its property because the hospital failed to prove that it operated as a non-profit. Judge Bianco is hearing the case against Princeton University, and the University recently agreed to mediation. Council needs to work with the attorney in this case to structure a settlement for the town’s greatest benefit. One possibility would be a greatly increased Payment in Lieu of Taxes (or PILOT) that grows each year according to some predictable formula: for example, the University’s annual income, the number of its students, or the value of its real property, fairly assessed.
Finally, lowering taxes is not the only way to preserve Princeton’s current neighborhoods. I believe that historic status for the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood is well-deserved, and that it will help preserve the neighborhood for its current residents and their descendants. But what else can the town do to protect existing neighborhoods from tear-downs and gentrification? Princeton Borough passed an anti-McMansion law in 2006. That law could be toughened and applied also to close-in, denser areas of the former Township. The ratio of floor area to lot size (FAR) should vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, based on each neighborhood’s average existing FAR. Form-based zoning, which can be used to regulate a building’s appearance as well as its size, might also help prevent McMansions. A quick-to-pass temporary moratorium on most new construction has protected other towns from over-development during the year or two needed to adopt new zoning policies, and we might consider that here. Having served seven years on Princeton’s Site Plan Review Advisory Board, which advises our Planning Board on applications for development, I know that the best way to control development is with zoning laws passed long before applications are received.
Measures like these—lowering taxes, raising revenue, and slowing gentrification—are all means I will pursue on Council to preserve Princeton’s wonderful diversity.