To the Editor:
William Potter's excellent Mailbox piece (Town Topics, March 11) raises questions about the huge new tax increase proposed by the Borough Council. He links the tax increase to the undemocratic and uneconomic downtown project rammed through by the Council. My reaction to these relentless tax increases and the high-handed methods of the Council is that we need a better way of doing business in the Borough. We don't need seven Council members, their pet developer, and their hired consultants to make decisions about our taxes and the life of our town. We are not stupid, indifferent or uninformed, and we can make these important decisions ourselves. There are several alternatives.
We can have a non-partisan election in May instead of electing the Council members at the time of the national election in November. This would allow people to run on the basis of ability, experience and issues instead of national party labels. The Borough has been dominated by one-party rule for more than 20 years because the candidates run on national party labels. Regardless of ability, experience, or issues, the candidate from the majority party always wins. If George Washington came to life from his statue on the monument in front of Borough Hall and ran for Council from a non-majority party, he too would lose. National party issues are irrelevant to Borough concerns. One-party rule is unhealthy. It always breeds arrogance and deafness.
The Council has abused its taxation power. Instead of getting taxation without representation, we are getting taxation with misrepresentation. We could condition the Council's power to tax on the express consent of the public. Any tax increase would require a referendum. Also, funds from unlegislated tax increases caused by rising home values could be put in escrow to be budgeted or returned to the people by referendum.
Referendum, initiative and recall. Referendum is the power to place enacted ordinances on the ballot for approval by the voters. Initiative is the power to place legislative proposals on the ballot. Recall is the power to remove an elected official. These powers are defined in Section 524 of the New Jersey local government law. The people may exercise these powers by submitting a petition to the municipal council. The petition must be signed by not less that 15 percent of the municipality's voters who voted in the last election for General Assembly. The petition is submitted to the municipal clerk who must put the item on the ballot in the next election. An enacted ordinance such as a tax increase is stayed until the election. Under these powers we could veto an enacted tax ordinance, such as the one proposed by the Council, or limit tax increases to the inflation rate, or require the Council to submit any tax increase to the voters. Under these powers we could remove an official who betrayed his or her public trustfor example, an official who said we could have a referendum on the redevelopment bond when the official had used a redevelopment designation to remove our right of referendum.
We are one of the world's most educated, informed and digital municipalities. Several states with less per capita education and computer literacy than Princeton will use computer voting in the fall presidential election. We could be the first municipality in America to have personal electronic voting on important municipal issues. If we voted directly on our taxes do you think they would routinely go up faster than inflation?
To my fellow residents of the Borough I say: It does not have to be this way, we don't have to just keep watching it and accepting it.
To the Editor:
We are appalled by the Site Plan Review Advisory Board's weak response to the Arts Council's latest plans for expansion of the Paul Robeson Building on Witherspoon Street. Since access and circulation sank the last huge proposal, we were sure that SPRAB would focus their analysis on these issues. Instead, their final resolution dismisses the already existing problems and ignores the impact of another huge proposal in a threatened neighborhood.
At the Arts Council's request, SPRAB made no recommendation to stagger the hours of classes and performances to smooth out the flow of pick-up and drop-off traffic. This is astonishing when you consider the congestion that already exists at the Witherspoon/Wiggins/Paul Robeson Place intersection at many times of the day.
The Arts Council now uses Green Street for trash pickup, and SPRAB did not insist on any change to this pattern. How can an institution on Witherspoon Street use a quiet residential street for service access? Using residential streets as a service alley should not be the pattern as larger-scale development marches down Witherspoon Street.
In their resolution, SPRAB chose to overlook the drop-off traffic that will use the new lane between Paul Robeson Place and Green Street. Ignoring an issue will not prevent it.
Worst of all, SPRAB made an unsolicited recommendation for a marked drop-off zone on Green Street. Astonishing! Existing drop-off traffic on Green Street already harms the adjacent properties. Encouraging more traffic there is hugely insensitive to the neighborhood's concerns.
The Arts Council, Princeton High School, and Princeton Medical Center are all actively growing community facilities located in residential neighborhoods. Why are we always giving away additional public benefits to a tax-exempt regional institution, while causing permanent detrimental effects to the many tax-paying residential neighbors? Who compensates the home-owners for the loss in value of their properties? SPRAB seemed to try to avoid all the toughest issues, leaving these for the Planning Board. The result was not worth anyone's time or effort.
To the Editor:
I empathize with Mayor O'Neill who, as reported in Town Topics, withdrew from participation in the antiwar rally in New York. It's unfortunate that every public event becomes a venue for promoting hatred of Israel. The antiwar movement could serve as a resource for those who believe that peace is possible and desirable (whichever side is supported) to discuss, disagree and bring forth ideas promoting peace and justice for both sides. Peaceful resolution of the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires compromise and respect between parties in this conflict rather than the venting of hatred. Saying "no" to poisonous visions, however hidden by placards promoting justice for the Palestinians, is an essential part of seeking peace and justice for Palestinians and Israelis alike.
As I remember the 1960s, the civil rights movement had two policies that kept it from being co-opted by political groups with agendas of their own. First, no organization was permitted to bring forth pamphlets, posters, leaflets or slogans with messages outside the venue of civil rights. For example, the right of Paul Robeson to speak, perform, and travel was supported, but his pro-Soviet politics were left unstated, neither defended nor condemned. Second, when it became clear that the Vietnam War was corrupting the society as a whole, Dr. King and others spoke of protecting American values from being corrupted by the war rather than condemning the United States as an aggressor. This policy served the interests of the civil rights and peace movements alike. The same is true today.
To the Editor:
The Princeton Human Services Commission of Princeton Borough and Township would like to extend our sincere thanks to the J. Seward Johnson Sr. Charitable Trust for the generous donation of $10,000 to expand the hours of the Crosstown-62. This is a door-to-door transportation service provided by the Borough and Township for seniors and the disabled who do not drive.
The new hours for the pilot program will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; it will operate for one year. These new hours will start on Monday, April 19.
To register for Crosstown-62, please call (609) 924-6162. For reservations, please call (609) 497-9022 between the hours of 3 and 7 p.m.
MARY AGNES PROCACCINO
To the Editor:
I was pleased to see Richard Hankinson's ideas on how to improve life for pedestrians in Princeton (Town Topics, March 17), but sorry to read that he felt slighted by the lack of an immediate response from the Borough's Traffic and Transportation Committee. We want to thank him and the many others who sent us suggestions and urge them also to send their letters to the newspaper so more people begin thinking about ease of pedestrian access in Princeton and related safety concerns.
Meanwhile, we're putting together a report summarizing everyone's ideas, and we'll make that report public as soon as we can. The deadline for submissions was March 15, but anyone who wants to get his/her thoughts in under the wire may still send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I should note that the Committee is composed of residents who volunteer to advise Borough Council on resident concerns about traffic and transportation issues; we're not salaried officials. Most of us walk around town a lot and each of us has his/her own maddeningly unsafe intersection to report. My personal "favorite" is at the comer of Bayard, Stockton, and Nassau (an intersection operated by the State). There, despite past pleas from Borough Council, there is absolutely no time whendespite a "walk" signalcars are not bearing down on the crosswalks and the people unfortunate enough to be using them. I should note for readers that while most roads in the Borough are controlled by the Borough, the State and County each have jurisdiction over certain thoroughfares. On these roads, officials elsewhere decide if and when pedestrian improvements get made; the Borough has to ask. The Committee is working with the Borough to develop a list of concerns to present to the NJDOT; letters from citizens are an important part of our effort to demonstrate the need for changes.
To The Editor:
The New Jersey state legislature is behind the times and should be ashamed of itself for failing to protect public health. As a body, it has not found the courage and will to stand up to the tobacco lobby by enacting legislation to ban smoking in public places and places of work. This has been urged by several of its members, notably Assemblyman Reed Gusciora and Senators John Adler, Thomas Kean, Jr. and Shirley Turner since the Princeton Regional Health Commission's ordinance banning smoking in public places was struck down by the courts in 2000. The judge in this case advised the Commission to seek a remedy in the legislature. The Commission and other health groups have tried mightily to do so, to no avail.
It is unusual for the legislature to pre-empt local government power to protect the health of its residents and to prevent ordinances which are more protective than state law. But in the 1980s the tobacco lobby wrung this amendment from the legislature and it has stuck for almost 20 years, although our information on the harmful effects of second-hand smoke has increased greatly since then. This local protective power should be restored.
Several states, including California, Delaware, Maine, Connecticut and Florida, have instituted smoking bans in public places. The country of Ireland has now done this nationwide, including their restaurants and pubs. Other nations, including Norway, Thailand and the Philippines, have done this. And closest to home, New York City banned smoking in all public places a year ago, with 97 percent compliance. It now reports that revenue and employment in the restaurant business have increased in the past year. The dire predictions of negative effects on business have not occurred. Most importantly, the air people breathe in public facilities has improved markedly. Thus, patrons and employees are no longer exposed to the negative health effects of second-hand smoke, which causes or aggravates respiratory and cardiac disease, including cancer. In addition, such bans have persuaded some smokers to give up the habit.
The tobacco lobby, with its financial clout in the legislature, has blinded our political leaders. Now that others have shown the way, perhaps our legislators and Governor will finally act to protect New Jersey's public health.
To the Editor:
As a member of both the Princeton Peace Network and the Coalition for Peace Action, I want to address your article from March 24. There is some apparent confusion and misrepresentation of the march in New York City on March 20, and especially the pre-Peace Train rally which Mayor O'Neill decided was too controversial to attend. The flier that was apparently so offensive to two people who lobbied the mayor not to attend our rally says (in small text as one of several sub-themes) "Stop the U.S. funding of the Palestinian Occupation." This is not an anti-Israel statement, but rather a criticism of U.S. diplomatic and foreign aid policy that has not been focused on bringing about a just and peaceful resolution to that conflict.
There was no reason for the Mayor to drop out of the Princeton rally. The pre-boarding rally was intended to criticize the war in Iraq as well as the ongoing occupation. After the Mayor's withdrawal (and implicit criticism of our groups) the Palestinian/Israel issue was brought up because speakers wanted to let people know that being Pro-Palestine and feeling that the Israel/Palestine conflict is of tremendous concern to those interested in promoting peace is not equivalent to being anti-Israel. The movement toward a dual state solution is being supported by peace groups in Israel, Palestine, and the world community, as evident by the grassroots Geneva Accord peace treaty.
The overreaction to our flyer for the March 20 rally by a few individuals is troubling. There is now an unfortunate trend for people who do not wish to face criticism of the government of Israel to scream "anti-Semitism" when they are confronted with the Israeli oppression of Palestinians. However, without equality and justice for Palestinians there will never be peace. We cannot ignore all the dynamics of the Israel/Palestine conflict (including the role of U.S. policy) if we want to foster a peaceful resolution. I urge people to find out more on their own and come to their own conclusions, and I think it's time that we have an open debate about the issues without fear of being labeled anti-Semitic.