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Vol. LXV, No. 42
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
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Responding to Mayors’ Claim That Consolidation Is the Best Option

Alexi Assmus,
Maple Street

Consolidation a Shared Adventure That Will Bring People Together in a Common Cause

Van Williams
Broadmead Street

Plaintiff in Dinky Lawsuit Has Intimate Knowledge of Plan’s Impact on Traffic

Anne Waldron Neumann
Alexander Street

Borough/Township Governmental Structure Is Working: “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It”

Walter Frank
Riverside Drive

Proposed Faculty Housing not a Threat To Harmony Between Institute, Battlefield

Robert Fernholz
Trustee of the Institute, Dogwood Lane

Energetic, Optimistic, Consensus-Building Yina Moore Will Make Fantastic Mayor

Miki Saraf
Jefferson Road

Institute Has Open Lots, Empty Houses That Could Be Used for New Housing

J. Carney
Glenwood N.J

Can Opponents of Consolidation Find Positive Scenarios for the Island That Will Be the Borough?

Gail M. Ullman
Maple Street

Casting a Vote For Instead of Against: Jill Jachera Has the Right Approach

Brad Middlekauff
Hibben Road


Responding to Mayors’ Claim That Consolidation Is the Best Option

To the Editor:

I am not a mayor, but I am a Princeton resident and taxpayer who has read all three Consolidation Committee reports and the state’s DCA report on the two municipalities’ merger.

In contrast to the mayors’ claims, which I take point by point, what Princeton will get after consolidation is:

A government accountable to the majority who live a driving lifestyle. Borough voters are outvoted 2-1 by Township voters. People who depend on walking, biking, and public transit for their livelihood will lose representation. The Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood will have its voting influence cut nearly in half, even after houses on Birch and Leigh are included in the new municipality.

Decreased services. There will be a reduction of 20 percent in the number of patrol officers on the street. We will have reduced leaf pickup and large-item collection, and less immediate snow removal in the Borough.

Bigger and more costly administration. A larger government will have more overhead, more employees in middle management (be more expensive!) and be less responsive to citizens than two smaller ones.

Fewer police to manage emergencies Not only will we have fewer patrol officers on the streets at all times — the recommended cut is from the current 10 officers on patrol to 8 officers — , but dispatch will also be reduced to 2 communications officers.

Higher taxes. See financial analysis on www.preserveprincetonborough.wordpress.com.

Bulging budgets due to bigger government. Our elected officials believe they will have $3.16 million to spend after consolidation reduces administrative staff and police. But those reductions are unlikely to happen. Even if they do, increased revenue will only be $1.98 million because Township trash collection will be added to the municipal budget. See http://vimeo.com/29739878, 1.54 -1.60 (hr.min) for elected official confusion over how much will be available to “spend”.

Weak negotiating power with the university. One-stop shopping for university development projects.

Disempowered walking neighborhoods because suburban concerns dominate our politics. No guaranteed Borough representation on Council, or Zoning, Planning, School, or Recreation Boards.

Planning for the new future government conducted by unelected Commissioners and transition team. Why was the road map for a downsized municipal government made by a majority of unelected officials? What public hearings were held on the recommended staff cuts and the organization of the new municipal government? Why is a consultant remaking our government?

No time to plan for the future or to provide service in the midst of the large cost and turmoil of restructuring departments and harmonizing procedures necessary for administration, police (require SOPs and standards for evidence room and policing), public works, zoning, building inspection, engineering, and finance. Who will do this work in the midst of recommended Commission layoffs? The turmoil will result in an immediate decline in services.

Alexi Assmus,
Maple Street

Consolidation a Shared Adventure That Will Bring People Together in a Common Cause

To the Editor:

Let me offer three reasons why I believe Princeton residents should vote for consolidation on November 8:

First, unlike previous consolidation efforts, this time we have an excellent independent study that shows the potential cost savings and a timetable for making those changes. These data are available at www.cgr.org/princeton, and anyone who wants should read the report and come to their own conclusions. The data are clear; there are real savings, and the study shows exactly where and how the savings can be achieved.

Second, since debt levels and tax rates are essentially the same in the two municipalities, it is an easy transition to make now. Should changes in one municipality or the other cause relative tax rates to change significantly, it will be much harder to make a change in government structure. With the Borough essentially built out, such changes would be more likely to affect the Borough adversely than the Township.

Third, Alfred North Whitehead said, “The essence of life is in the frustration of established order.” Indeed, most people realize that no system can change unless it is perturbed. Consolidation would give us an excellent opportunity to consider all opportunities for change. Given the quality and interest of the citizens we have in Princeton, we should be confident that any changes will be debated thoroughly and will, in the end, be done well. It’s a wonderful opportunity for local democracy to go to work. We should be bold and look at this as a shared adventure that will bring people together in a common cause a rare opportunity these days.

Let’s consolidate; it just makes sense!

Van Williams
Broadmead Street

Plaintiff in Dinky Lawsuit Has Intimate Knowledge of Plan’s Impact on Traffic

To the Editor:

On October 6, Princeton’s Planning Board discussed University-authored zoning changes that would allow the University to construct arts facilities between Alexander Street and the Dinky tracks and ostensibly justify moving the Dinky station.

The Board sent the zoning ordinances back to Borough Council and Township Committee accompanied by the report of an ad hoc committee consisting of just three Planning Board members. Board members spent most of the meeting discussing how to edit that report. They should instead have altered its premises.

For example, the report claimed that “congestion in the area” requires the Dinky station be moved farther south on Alexander Street. Nonsense. This claim, one more of many reasons the University has floated for moving the Dinky, was meant to have been eliminated from the report after a July 28 Planning Board meeting.

Because my driveway opens onto Edwards Place, which leads into University Place, I know traffic “in the area” intimately. I have never seen congestion because of pick-up-and-drop-off at the Dinky station. But it’s already appalling on Alexander. The University intends to move the Dinky station away from no congestion directly into congestion.

Alexander Street currently has three lights, two of which (at Faculty Road and Lawrence Drive) were already installed for University traffic. University plans will remove one light in exchange for a roundabout and then add two more. Roundabouts in general smooth traffic flow — but not when traffic is very heavy or when there are traffic lights nearby. Not only traffic volume slows cars but also the bottlenecks through which they must pass.

Moving the Dinky may be, as the Board debated, “necessary and desirable” for the University. But planning boards do not ask whether development is necessary and desirable for developers. They ask whether it’s necessary and desirable for the community. The University has already announced plans to build its arts district elsewhere on campus. Let it do so.

My husband and I are among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit disputing the University’s right to move the Dinky terminus yet again. Elected officials should wait for that lawsuit to be tested before changing zoning between Alexander Street and the Dinky tracks. To join us in the suit, please email PrincetonDinky@gmail.com.

Anne Waldron Neumann
Alexander Street

Borough/Township Governmental Structure Is Working: “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It”

To the Editor:

I would like to share a couple of points about the consolidation issue in Princeton which I believe deserve more attention.

First, nobody seems to be saying that our current governmental structure has led to poor decision-making and for good reason. Somehow our current Borough/Township governmental structure has produced a series of good decisions, including but not limited to the downtown location of the Library, that have helped make Princeton a truly special place to live. Process matters and, for all the extra discussion it can cause, the overall Borough/Township dichotomy seems to work. This first reason may boil down to the old adage, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Neither Borough nor Township residents seem to be complaining about the quality of their respective governments, perhaps in part because each government can focus on concerns of particular importance to their constituencies.

Second, there is real value, I believe, in having two sets of heads looking independently at the kinds of important issues that require joint decision-making. One Borough Councilperson is quoted as saying that the recent experience with the pool complex is a reason for voting for consolidation. My reaction is exactly the opposite. While the process was not an easy one for anybody, I believe that the public and the pool community benefited both fiscally and from a design standpoint from the changes that resulted from the necessity of satisfying sets of thoughtful people. Checks and balances are particularly important when one party tends to dominate in the local election results.

I suppose my position boils down to this: the most important question is whether our governmental structure works, and I believe it both works and provides needed balance and input. The major reasons advanced for consolidation, possible modest tax savings (though this assertion is contested) and perhaps a gain in efficiency (again contested), do not seem weighty enough to make such an important change.

Walter Frank
Riverside Drive

Proposed Faculty Housing not a Threat To Harmony Between Institute, Battlefield

To the Editor:

The Institute for Advanced Study is seeking approval to build a number of houses for faculty members on their campus near the Princeton Battlefield. I strongly believe that Princeton Township should approve this project.

I was born and raised in Princeton, and I’ve lived here most of my life. Ever since my childhood, I’ve always felt a sense of harmony between the Battlefield and the Institute. In the early 1950s, a group of friends and I would occasionally play touch football on the Princeton Battlefield. I recall once as we rested in the shade of the Mercer Oak, we looked out over the trees, which were lower then than they are now, and we saw the roofs of the buildings of the Institute campus in the distance. As kids, we were inspired by this sight and by the idea that we were in such close proximity to true genius. This inspiration may have had an effect: several members of our group went on to earn doctorates, and one is a Nobel Laureate — though none of us were much good at touch football.

I now live in the Riverside area, near Carnegie Lake, and my office is in Palmer Square. It’s about two miles from my home to my office, and I can (still) walk there in a little over a half hour. I frequently go to the Institute for meetings and lectures, and it often takes me longer to drive there than it takes me to walk to my office — the traffic around University Place can be pretty bad.

The Institute is a residential community of scholars, and it is vital that its members have easy access to its campus. In the days of my youth, one would sometimes see Albert Einstein walking from his Mercer Street home to the Institute campus. But the cost of housing near the Institute has now become prohibitively high, so that few faculty members are able to live in the area. By approving the Institute faculty housing project we can make it possible for more of the Institute faculty to walk to the campus. The Institute housing has been carefully designed to preserve the harmony between the Battlefield and the Institute. The Institute is an inspiration to all Princetonians: let’s help out by quickly approving their new faculty housing project.

Robert Fernholz
Trustee of the Institute, Dogwood Lane

Energetic, Optimistic, Consensus-Building Yina Moore Will Make Fantastic Mayor

To the Editor:

Yina is one of the most energetic and optimistic people I know. She jumps right in, whatever the task, with enthusiasm. She gets the job done and she gets it done right. I think that she will make a fantastic Borough Mayor. In addition to her effervescent personality and community spirit, she is also a consensus-building leader with a proven record. She currently serves on the Regional Planning Board of Princeton. This is her eleventh year, and you can count on one hand the number of times she has not been able to attend a meeting. You can also probably count on one hand the number of times she’s missed a Borough Council meeting, for that matter. She is always prepared and asks insightful questions. She has a full grasp of the issues before us, and as mayor, will hit the ground running.

Yina has contributed so much to Princeton over the years. I am particularly proud of her efforts for Princeton Future — she was instrumental in the development of Hinds Plaza — and it is her work as Chair of the Neighborhood Task Force that led to the development of the Arts Council building that the entire community embraces. Her level of civic engagement is truly inspiring. She has served on many local boards the Princeton Library Foundation, Corner House Foundation, and the Princeton Nursery School to name a few — and she always does her homework. She wants to fully understand an issue before she makes a decision.

Yina is smart, engaged, and direct. She is also a good listener traits that, in my experience, don’t often go together! Whether or not she agrees with you, she will always listen to what you have to say, and try to fully understand your point of view. Yina cares; she wants what’s right for all of us within our wonderfully diverse community. Yina will serve the Borough well, whether for one or four years. 

Please join me in voting for Yina Moore for Borough Mayor on November 8.

Miki Saraf
Jefferson Road

Institute Has Open Lots, Empty Houses That Could Be Used for New Housing

To the Editor:

For the past year, I have read about and watched the developments surrounding the planned construction of houses adjacent to Princeton Battlefield State Park. The development as I understand it, will be built north of a row of trees that separates the park from the area in question. This land is owned by the Institute of Advanced Study. I originally felt bad that the battlefield would have houses built so close as to encroach upon it.

I then found that the houses were to be built on the battlefield. The land in question was part of the Battle of Princeton. The park was only half of the land involved, the other half was beyond the trees because the trees were not there 235 years ago. Washington, the Continental Army and Marines did not know to stay off the land owned by the IAS all those years ago, because the demarcation did not exist.

The IAS stated a year ago that Washington and the Continentals marched across their land and did not fight there. The march was to get into position to fight the battle. They were on the recently uncovered Saw Mill Road that goes north from the Thomas Clarke House (still standing) and then northwest into Princeton. The lead division on this road was commanded by General John Sullivan. The battle started behind him and to his left when General Hugh Mercer had his brigade move out and fight the British 17th foot. The British were winning until Washington rallied the troops and led his command to victory. The Continentals attacked from the Saw Mill Road and did not pick and choose what land they were fighting on. All of this is in the history books, but the IAS chooses to ignore it.

What we should not ignore is that Revolutionary War battlefields are rare. The sacrifice that Washington and the Continentals made on this land in blood is worth remembering and preserving.

I have walked the Institute lands numerous times. While there, I find open lots that are not part of the battlefield. I also find empty houses that are starting to go into neglect that could be used to house professors. That is what the planned housing is for, the faculty.

It seems contradictory to me that the IAS needs housing and ignores the houses it has and the lots that could be built on without issue. Instead, the Institute wastes millions on developing property that nobody but the Institute wants to be used.

I am not happy that the IAS is so close to gaining permission to build. I am upset enough to go to Planning Board meetings and voice my outrage that in this day and age, when we try and do a better job of taking care of our veterans, we are considering bulldozing the memory of our earliest heroes!

J. Carney
Glenwood N.J

Can Opponents of Consolidation Find Positive Scenarios for the Island That Will Be the Borough?

To the Editor:

Like most residents of Princeton, I am concerned about my mounting property taxes. Unlike some of the Borough opponents of consolidation, I believe that consolidating the Borough and Princeton Township is our best hope of slowing the inevitable rise of property taxes in both towns.

To create optimism about the lowering of future Borough property taxes, the opponents point out that Palmer Square Inc. is building 100 townhouses and apartments, which means new Borough ratables. At some point in the near future, zoning will allow the new owner of the hospital site to create more than 250 apartments. But I wonder, what will these additional ratables save the Borough taxpayers?

As a member of the Regional Planning Board, I am aware that the Township, which still has available land on which to build, also has prospective developments [aka “ratables”] in the works: 153 age-restricted units on Bunn Drive, 48 townhouses on Mt. Lucas; 8 units on Snowden; 16 houses on Province Line Road. Additional units throughout the Township are being planned. Let me say that again: the Township has the space to build new homes, office, stores.

Over 50 percent of the mile-square Borough land is owned by non-profit institutions, only some of which make a voluntary payment in lieu of taxes. Even as we debate Consolidation, some of these institutions are expanding. Once the anticipated Borough developments are completed, there will be scarce opportunity for growth. In both of our towns, the cost of government and facilities will necessarily increase over the next decades. Inevitably there will come a time in the Borough when even radical cuts in services cannot balance the books.

Then what? How will the Borough raise sufficient income to maintain the most necessary services? It might secure additional ratables by re-zoning to allow taller buldings downtown. We might encourage small homes to be razed and replaced with larger, more expensive houses. We might regretfully bid goodbye to the economic and social diversity we prize. Maybe the opponents of Consolidation can come up with positive scenarios for the tiny island that will be the Borough. I’d like to hear them.

I have many reasons for believing that Consolidation will make ours a more vigorous, more viable community. Only one of the many benefits of joining forces is a single government apparatus that will provide a better chance of slowing down the rise of property taxes. Together, our two towns can be stronger, and I urge residents of them both to vote for Consolidation.

Gail M. Ullman
Maple Street

Casting a Vote For Instead of Against: Jill Jachera Has the Right Approach

To the Editor: 

In a robust democracy, we often find ourselves voting against a certain candidate, rather than enthusiastically casting our ballot for a candidate. But in the Princeton Borough mayoral election, I will check the box next to Jill Jachera’s name with a strongly positive vote. Given the complex and important array of issues to face our next mayor, Jill is the right person to lead the Borough.

Why? First and foremost, because we will be facing real financial challenges for the foreseeable future. With severe reductions in federal and state funding, local governments across our state (and country, for that matter) will have to be creative and disciplined in budgeting and revenue creation. Jill’s proposed ground-up budgeting approach is the right approach for these times. Government at all levels will need to look itself in the mirror and ask, “what should stay and what should go?” This is not a “starve the beast” approach to government, as some are advocating on the national and state level; but it does mean that our elected local leaders will be faced with some difficult decisions about where and how much to spend, decisions that are best made through a zero-based budgeting methodology. 

Jill also strikes me as an individual who will be able to navigate the thorny path to reaching an accommodation with Princeton University on what and how they invest in Princeton Borough. This will require negotiation skills and a “get things done” temperament that I believe Jill has demonstrated throughout her career in both the private and nonprofit sectors. 

As a long-time Democrat who believes in an activist role for government at all levels, I have no problem voting for someone with an “R” rather than a “D” next to her name when that “someone” has the skills, experience, and energy to get the job done for all of Princeton Borough. With that in mind, I plan to cast my vote for Jill Jachera (and not against anyone).

Brad Middlekauff
Hibben Road

For information on how to submit Letters to the Editor, click here.

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