Each year, we pose questions to candidates for local office ahead of the November election. This year, Princeton is electing two new Council members. Democrats Leticia Fraga and David Cohen are running to replace outgoing Council members Bernie Miller and Jo Butler. No Republicans are running in this cycle. Why are Leticia and David running for office? And what are their thoughts on housing and transportation?
We asked one question to both candidates:
“What do you hope to achieve if you are elected to represent Princeton? In particular, what are your thoughts about the current questions of affordable housing and regional transportation?”
Their responses are below:
- Leticia Fraga
My goals for serving on Princeton Council remain the same as when I first started my campaign last election. If anything, I probably gained a bit more insight this past year, and have had the opportunity to meet more members of our community and heard their concerns, wants and needs. Housing affordability continues to be a top concern.
Keeping Princeton affordable for people with low and middle incomes is crucial. That means preserving the existing stock of affordable housing as well as increasing the affordable units with a new supply of quality affordable housing. Managed correctly, high quality affordable housing is in everyone’s best interest. That means integrating subsidized housing throughout the various neighborhoods of our town, not concentrating and isolating these options apart from the rest of the community.
Successful zoning will include affordable low and middle-income options for singles and families and provide a blueprint that we can use to shape the space and character we want for our town going forward. A new option that could limit sprawl and meet the needs of the town is “micro-units” which could be built to be attractive, affordable, near transit options and would help ease overcrowding in some overcrowded neighborhoods. This may require changes to zoning laws in order to support smart growth in neighborhoods served my mass transit.
We have more to do to ensure we meet the needs of neighborhoods throughout Princeton. Investments in sidewalks and other alternative modes of transportation will be a priority for me and I look forward to working with others to meet our pressing transportation needs.
Addressing social inequities is important to me. I have heard from many members of our community who question why other neighborhoods have better streets and sidewalks, or more responsive municipal services such as snow removal. There is a perception that these inequities are a result of an inequitable distribution of resources. I have made the promise that I will work to be a voice for All Princeton residents to address these concerns. I intend to apply a very strong social justice equity lens to any and all planned policies that come before council.
2. David Cohen
My overarching goal for my time in office will be to plan for change, to shape the kind of town Princeton will become over the course of the 21st century. I keep hammering on the fundamental truth that change is inevitable, and if we stick our heads in the sand and try to pretend we can have the same kind of Princeton indefinitely into the future, we will wind up with change we don’t want – it is happening already in the form of modest homes being torn down at an alarming rate and replaced by homes 3 and 4 times the cost! Better to plan for change and have a chance to steer it in a positive direction.
So what kind of change do we want? Most of the Princetonians I talk to value socio-economic, cultural, and generational diversity. Most value sustainability and protecting the planet for our children and grandchildren. Most value the aesthetic appeal of our community. And most value the fundamental premise that sharing with others the benefits we enjoy ourselves is the right thing to do. Luckily, I believe all these values can be preserved and even enhanced while allowing our town to grow, in fact they are entirely dependent on allowing it to grow in an intelligent way.
Smart Growth, focusing development on existing population centers, helps address virtually all of the priorities I bring to my campaign. Denser town centers make possible a sustainable and healthy lifestyle incorporating walking and cycling as primary forms of mobility, while also creating the user base required to make public transit viable. Denser, more urban housing types spread the high cost of land and fixed infrastructure costs across multiple dwelling units, making each individual unit more affordable, even market-rate units. Reduced housing costs, and the reduced need for every family to have multiple automobiles, can significantly bring down overall cost-of-living in Princeton, making the town affordable to a more socio-economically and age-diverse range of citizens. One could even argue that a healthier walking and biking lifestyle will bring down healthcare expenditures, making the town yet more affordable. And as a side benefit, the economic vitality of the business community in town will certainly benefit from an expanded customer base.
Let me emphasize that I am not advocating wholesale changes to the character of every neighborhood in town. There are many places where an apartment building just wouldn’t be appropriate, but even in these neighborhoods, a small block of townhomes, or additional duplex units alongside single family residences, and a greater number of accessory dwellings (so called mother-in-law apartments) can all help diversify available types of more affordable living space. Such development would be entirely in keeping with the already existing housing stock, and should be encouraged as part of the overall solution to housing needs in town.
Market forces can only address a limited fraction of the demand for housing in a desirable community like Princeton, so I believe that subsidized affordable housing is also a critical part of the picture in meeting our housing and diversity goals. I think subsidized affordable housing should be integrated into the community to foster interaction between the residents and the larger community. For this reason I support constructing most of our fair share requirement as inclusionary units – 20% or even 30% of larger market-rate developments. We should also find ways to ensure that such units are as environmentally sustainable as possible. If and when we do construct municipally financed affordable units, we should absolutely commit to making them state-of-the-art eco-friendly. Any slight increase in construction cost will easily be offset by future reductions in operating expenditures.
There are those who would argue that greater density necessarily leads to a gritty, unpleasant urban aesthetic, but I would point out that some of our most appealing places in town – Palmer Square, Hinds Plaza, Firestone Court, and the new upscale residential development between Hulfish Street and Paul Robeson Place are fundamentally urban in character, and convey great aesthetic and lifestyle benefits to the community. I admit that not every development is as appealing as the ones I list, and for this reason I do advocate for a more robust design review process. This need not necessarily mean creating a new step in the land use application process, but could simply consist of broadening the purview of SPRAB’s (the Site Plan Review Advisory Board’s) oversight.
Let me also note that much of the unpleasantness in American cities comes from the car-centric design of these places – if you have ever wondered why European cities are so much more agreeable, a large part of the reason is that they were laid out before the invention of the automobile. When we design for human scale rather than for cars, we create livable, humane cities. For this reason, I enthusiastically support the Bicycle Masterplan currently slated for adoption by the Planning Board this year, and will advocate energetically for its rapid implementation. I also am pleased that the community is in the process of reexamining our approach to parking, and hope that the recommendations which come out of that process will reduce parking requirements for new development, and support design approaches that mitigate the negative impacts of cars on our local streetscape.
I could go on and on, but don’t want to write more than people will read. I guess I want to end by reiterating that the right kind of growth can be a boon to Princeton on many levels, and we already know how to do it right, as demonstrated by a range of recent projects in town. We also know that development can be more in the interests of the developers than the town, and we need to be vigilant and put in place processes to ensure that Princeton realizes its full potential in the coming decades.
Thanks to the candidates for responding. The Election will take place next Tuesday, November 7, 2017.