January 5, 2022

Tell Council to Protect Residential Streets Like Community Parks

To the Editor:

“I want to remind everybody that the roads are public property, they are not the property of the residents who live on the streets. To say that nobody else can use the parking because you want the occasional luxury of being able to park on the street in front of your house doesn’t make sense to me.” These are the comments of Councilman David Cohen, the Permit Parking Task Force’s chief architect, talking to the Princeton High School neighborhood last Spring (https://vimeo.com/623580557/f383ea1737).

For the past several years, Mr. Cohen has been tallying up the residential parking spots which the Council could appropriate then lease to for-profit enterprises as a “low cost solution” to subsidizing business parking expenses. Couple that with maps Mr. Cohen recently presented of mile-wide circles showing neighborhoods across Princeton that could be used as commercial parking lots, and there is no ambiguity as to the long-term intent: all of Princeton’s residential streets are at risk of being appropriated for business parking.

The Task Force’s final proposal, to be presented at a meeting on January 11, includes the first step towards that goal. It includes the establishment of a business parking subsidy program in which the municipality appropriates up to 50 percent of street parking in Jackson-Witherspoon and Tree Streets and leases them to businesses. Voters from across Princeton are uncomfortable with the conflicts of interest of the Task Force that drafted the proposal. For one, its members include the very merchants who would profit from the policy they had a hand in writing. Jack Morrison, its most vocal merchant, is both the former president of the Merchants Association and also a political donor to Councilmembers leading the Task Force. The mayor and Council have failed to respond to inquiries about what, if any, ethics standards are in place to prevent self-dealing and conflicts of interest in Princeton’s policy-making process, a question voters see as extending beyond the issue of just parking.

Hundreds of citizens have signed petitions that reject the very premise of taxpayers subsidizing a business expense, but the Permit Parking Task Force deployed tactics to prevent this fundamental question from being discussed (e.g., canceling a public meeting last month when this became the central issue). For Princetonians to trust that a parking policy is in their best interest, this Task Force must be disbanded in favor of a transparent process.

All of our residential neighborhoods are the community parks where we raise our children and grow old with friends. Even if parking capacity exists in certain residential neighborhoods, it does not mean it should be appropriated for profit. Just because a mineral deposit exists under a national park, doesn’t mean business interests have equal right to exploit it. National parks are preserved for the exclusive use of citizens. So too can Princeton’s residential streets. Like any community park, ensuring its initial and ongoing protection for the exclusive use of residents will require the voices of citizens to be heard and listened to, something this Task Force is unable to do.

Jonathan Hopkins
Library Place