July 14, 2021

Council Reverses Parking Technology Vote

By Anne Levin

Taking into account numerous comments from the public against funding for parking enforcement technology, Princeton Council voted unanimously Monday night to remove it from a $7.2 million bond ordinance for capital improvements.

The governing body had voted two weeks ago to introduce the ordinance, which included $170,000 for the license-plate-scanning technology. The vote against it reversed that introduction.

Some members of the public said Council had slipped in the funding for the technology at the last minute, without giving sufficient opportunity for residents to react. Councilwoman Eve Niedergang said she regretted that impression, stressing that the introduction was “opening the door to action, and a number of people have called me on that interpretation.” Niedergang added that Council is committed to the public process for reviewing the technology, which is part of the parking permit program that has been under discussion for the past two years.

Councilwoman Michelle Pirone Lambros, one of three Council members on the Permit Parking Task Force, clarified that the intention of including the $170,000 for parking enforcement technology was not a decision to move forward with the technology, but rather to be transparent during the process of planning capital spending.

Councilman David Cohen said that one of his reasons for wanting to move forward at the meeting two weeks ago was that he was unsure of what the financial implications might be if the funding for the technology was not included. He has since learned from the town’s chief financial officer that there is no negative implication. “So I feel comfortable voting it down tonight,” he said.

The main advantage of the technology is that it allows online permitting, which is not possible with the conventional permitting process. “People would have to continue to come into the office or order permits online, with a five-to-seven-day turnaround,” he said. “The task force is open to exploring the option of working without the technology. It will be up to the community to decide whether the convenience outweighs the concerns.”

Several of these concerns were aired by local residents during the meeting. A woman named Nina commented that several questions are yet to be reviewed. “We really need to wait until we are truly post-pandemic before instituting such a plan,” she said, referring to the surveillance hardware and software as “robocop technology.” But she praised Council for reversing its decision, singling out Niedergang for her statement and Councilwoman Mia Sacks “for getting the facts out. “

Resident Marco Gottardis said a long-term solution to the town’s parking issues is needed, and that residents would like to be in on discussions with the task force. “We have not been given that opportunity,” he said. “We have had limited meetings, and you haven’t listened to us.” Gottardis added that he agrees with the task force’s commitment to making the system equitable. “I believe in equitable parking throughout the city and I don’t think any resident should have to pay for it.”

Resident and former Princeton Borough Mayor Yina Moore said she has concerns about “the flurry of ordinances that are happening in this COVID period, as though there is some urgency at this point, because the town has continued to conduct meetings not in person.” This makes it harder for residents to be fully informed about proposed projects or initiatives, she said.

Two neighbors on Boudinot Street registered their objections to the proposed permit parking plan, which would extend to their Western Section neighborhood. “As the former CFO of a major aerospace company, if someone had asked me to pre-approve funding for a capital expenditure project that had not yet been approved, I would send them out of my office very quickly,” said one of them, who identified himself as Mike.

Mayor Mark Freda said that the Princeton Police Department already has a license plate reader, which was given to them in 2016 by the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office. Freda said it hasn’t been used since the vehicle on which it was installed was involved in an accident during a blizzard last winter. It was used to look for expired registrations and suspended licenses for registered owners of vehicles, or to identify a car that had been stolen.

Council meets next on July 26 at 7 p.m.