The issues I am most focused on for the coming term center around Climate Change and Affordable Housing. I have been integrally involved with our community’s initiatives on both of these pressing issues in the past two and a half years, serving as the Council Liaison to Sustainable Princeton’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) Steering Committee, and as a member of Council’s negotiating team for our Affordable Housing settlement with the Fair Share Housing Center. These issues dovetail perfectly with the Smart Growth agenda I ran on in my first campaign, focusing future development on walkable, transit-friendly, energy efficient patterns of growth.
Now that the CAP has been adopted, much remains to be done, both to prepare for with the impacts of climate change and to reduce their severity. I have been deeply engaged with Princeton’s emergency preparedness plans and resiliency strategies. These activities will protect the lives and well-being of our residents as the effects of climate change are increasingly felt. I have led the effort to create the Neighborhood Buddy Initiative, pairing and empowering residents who will support each other in the event of a local emergency; I have played a critical role on the Planning Board in helping to craft the new Green Building and Environmental Sustainability Element of our Master Plan, which establishes sustainability as a guiding principal in our formal planning document and details how it should shape policy; and I am Council Liaison to the newly reconstituted Flood and Stormwater Management Committee, which will advise on and promulgate policies to cope with the dramatically increasing quantities of rainfall impacting our region. My work on mitigating the impact of climate change helped to bring about the recently enacted Renewable Government Energy Aggregation (REGA) program which offers Princetonians less expensive energy with a larger amount of renewable content. I am currently focused on other mitigation strategies that should bear fruit in the near future.
On the Affordable Housing front, my experience as an architect will help guide the preparation, review, and execution of plans for each of the sites identified in our Fair Share plan. Princeton will see an unprecedented amount of rapid growth in the next five years as we strive to meet our obligation. Having a member of Council with relevant professional experience in this field will be invaluable as we move forward, helping to ensure sustainable, neighborhood friendly designs we will be proud of for years to come.
I believe this question is based on a flawed assumption – that cheaper single-family housing is the path to making Princeton more affordable for the middle class. Single-family housing is essentially already fully built out here. There is no realistic way to provide more single-family housing. The limited supply of land is the driving force behind tear-downs, which are rapidly replacing what little affordable single-family housing we have with unaffordable new units. The new, often larger and more expensive houses then increase the assessed value of the remaining housing stock, causing taxes to go up for all residents in the affected neighborhoods, even if they make no changes to their own homes. The solution is no mystery – it is being implemented in communities across the country: loosen zoning regulations to provide a more diverse range of housing options. This is the essence of Smart Growth. It can mean allowing more duplexes and triplexes in certain zones where they are appropriate, and in many cases in which they already exist. We should also encourage accessory dwelling units (sometimes called flats) throughout the town, small apartments located on the same lot with a single-family home, which can accommodate young singles, couples, or older residents wishing to downsize and age in place, while simultaneously generating a stream of rental income to supplement the homeowner’s mortgage and/or tax payments. Yet another approach would be to permit condominiumization of our grand old housing stock in the Western section to allow multiple residents to downsize to a walkable location, while preserving the wonderful architectural ambience of this iconic neighborhood. Please note all three of these strategies create new housing opportunity while consciously focusing on preserving the existing special character of our town. The introduction of all types of more modest dwellings into the mix advances our sustainability agenda as well since these smaller dwellings use fewer resources both during construction and subsequent occupancy of the building.
In connection with our Affordable Housing obligation, Council has been cognizant of the need to balance provision of affordable units with creation of market rate rental housing in walkable locations, too. This has several desirable outcomes: integrating the residents of our affordable housing fully into our community, increasingly affordability for all by reducing transportation costs, the second most expensive budget item for most families, and creating yet another form of middle-class housing for those uninterested in home ownership, who comprise a growing segment of the market. As an architect, I have been at the center of Council efforts to advance all kinds of “missing middle” housing in recent years and will continue to do so if I am reelected.
In recent years, Princeton Council has been working much more closely with the Board of Education than previously, thanks to active outreach by Mayor Lempert and School Board President Beth Behrend. The leadership of the two bodies has been meeting quarterly to coordinate planning, a process I have joined this year as Council President. In early 2019, Council member Tim Quinn initiated a study to investigate opportunities for savings through shared services, which is ongoing. This year I have also been serving as liaison to the School Board’s technical planning committee studying their facility needs and options for the coming years.
Probably the most fruitful aspect of this increased collaboration in the past years has been exchange of information about the municipality’s affordable housing plans, which could have dramatic impacts on student enrollment. Considering our fair share obligation in light of these impacts, along with many other factors, will allow us to manage community growth in an optimal way, while allowing the Board of Education to plan effectively and efficiently for their space needs going forward. It is impossible to guarantee the future, but this cooperative approach should produce significant tax savings to the average resident over time.
It would be crazy to think that any of us can predict how or when we will exit the pandemic crisis, both from a health and safety standpoint, and from an economic perspective. The best we can do as municipal officials is bring flexibility to our planning process. Having served on the Citizen’s Finance Advisory Committee (CFAC) for the last two and a half years, I have been intimately involved in our budgeting process both prior to and during the pandemic. We have been able to keep taxes flat this year by realizing savings on discretionary projects which would have been difficult to pursue during the shut-down anyway, by deferring some regular wage & salary escalation, and by drawing on our surplus – a resource available thanks to responsible management in years past. So far, tax receipts have not been impacted. For 2021, we do anticipate some decline in tax revenue, particularly from commercial properties, which have been experiencing significant loss of rental income due to business closures, whether temporary or permanent. Loss of parking revenue in the form of meter fees and court fines will be another factor. How we respond to these impacts largely will depend on how the economic recovery comes to Princeton – we have been lucky in past recessions to see housing values hold steady here when they haven’t elsewhere, and our work force is disproportionately in the fortunate group able to work remotely and suffer relatively little job loss. We on Council must provide a supportive environment as businesses start to reopen, mitigate financial losses to residents and landlords, and be flexible and ready to respond with creative cost-saving and revenue-producing initiatives as the post-pandemic future starts to come into focus, so our local economy bounces back as quickly as possible.
I have been actively engaged in recent weeks with one effort to foster a supportive environment for local businesses: in my role as liaison to the Bicycle Advisory Committee, I have spent many hours planning with local merchants how to bring residents, who have been walking and biking in striking numbers during the pandemic, safely into town to patronize these businesses as they reopen, while also providing ample space in the public right-of-way for customer parking, curbside pickup, and COVID-safe fresh air dining. I have also been participating in my role as liaison to the Senior Resource Center with a collaborative effort between Human Services and local non-profits to provide rental assistance to local residents experiencing COVID-related income loss, benefitting both landlords and tenants, and easing the road to recovery. I hope both of these initiatives will have the indirect effect of reducing budget impacts in 2021, while simultaneously helping those in our community weather the pandemic.
The Coronavirus pandemic has been the ultimate test of Council’s ability to “walk and chew gum at the same time.” We have had to figure out how to pursue our agendas for governing while at the same time finding ways to address the unique and urgent needs created by the crisis. I ran for office three years ago on a Smart Growth agenda. Smart Growth has the three-fold benefits of increasing sustainability, enhancing economic vitality, and preserving diversity in our community. Please check out my campaign Facebook page for more information about Smart Growth. The pandemic has created special challenges to keeping that agenda moving forward, indeed, challenges to keeping local government functioning at all.
My experience serving as IT coordinator for two architecture firms prepared me well to help local government, and especially our Planning Office and Board, get back up and running. Information Technology can help us turn the necessity of closing our municipal offices for public safety into an opportunity – moving vital government functions online. As part of my Smart Growth platform, I have been working vigorously to get the municipality to accept and process land use and building permit applications electronically, for convenience of applicants and efficiency of government services. The closure of the municipal building has turned this into a top Council priority and I have been central to the effort, helping staff understand the rules and embrace the benefits. I have also worked collaboratively with municipal attorneys and staff to understand the capabilities of Zoom and develop protocols for holding online public hearings for Planning Board, Zoning, and Historic Preservation applications under the guidelines issued by the state. Thanks to my efforts, we are one of the first communities in the area to be able to resume this vital governmental function, which will, in turn, help us rebound quickly from the economic slowdown associated with the pandemic.
The collaboration required for this initiative is characteristic of my approach to Council work. I have a history of supporting constituents, my colleagues, and staff to achieve their policy goals, and have had good success gaining support for mine as well. The give and take, mutual respect, active listening, and trust in each other’s expertise and abilities is fundamental to effective government, and I want to express my appreciation for the talents and support my colleagues bring to our work together. I ask that the residents of Princeton support my bid for reelection so I can continue to help build an ever more responsive and responsible governing body.
When I first decided to run for Council, I saw affordability, inclusiveness, and quality of life as issues that I wanted to focus on if elected. During my two and a half years on council, I have worked on moving forward initiatives to address those issues. Our current health and economic crisis highlighted urgent needs that we will need to focus on and should take priority. Access to healthcare for every individual is critical - including members of our community who may be uninsured or underinsured. Working with our Health Department and Human Services, I am working to not only expand services provided by our well-baby clinic, I have long advocated for those services to be provided locally, and will work to ensure we can move forward to put that in place in the near future.
In addition to the financial hardship that our residents are experiences, our business community is also being hit hard. As a member of Princeton’s Economic Development Committee, I have worked with other members on strategies, policies, and improvements for a more vibrant business district. I have already started working with colleagues on strategies to ensure our residents and business community can recover from the pandemic’s economic devastation.
To address the housing needs of our teachers, nurses, first responders and all others who serve our community, we need consider a mix of zoning changes and policies in order to provide much needed diverse housing options. Homeowners wishing to downsize, live near parents or children, or want the opportunity to age in place would have increased options through missing middle housing. Dwellings such as duplexes, fourplexes, and accessory dwellings could provide much-needed diverse housing options for middle-income renters and buyers, including first-time homebuyers. I would want for us to consider potential revisions to the current zoning code to allow for more forms of housing and to identify areas where middle housing will best fit.
Although the Board of Education and Princeton Council are two different entities, they are very connected as the funding comes from the same taxpayer base. Although we have explored shared services, our options appear limited. However, we should always strive to coordinate our efforts whenever possible to prevent waste. We also need to continue exploring possible collaboration with neighboring municipalities and also the county. We must however ensure that we do not compromise the quality of services that we provide.
The impact of COVID-19 on world and local economies has been significant. It has also created uncertainties about what the long-term impact of the pandemic will be. Post-pandemic, we asked all municipal departments to take a second look at our goals and priorities and to make recommended changes based on COVID 19. Our Municipal Administrator and departments heads were deliberate in recommending deferral of projects based on what we know today. How we will be impacted in 2021, will also be subject to swings based on what happens at the state and federal level with our economy. It is unclear just how long we may need to react to the rapidly changing economic landscape. Our utmost priority must be to ensure the wellbeing of all of our residents during this health and economic crisis, while also continuing to provide essential services.
I have served our community for almost 20 years - first as a volunteer and now as a public servant. I share our residents’ expectations that Princeton as a community must be safe and friendly, inclusive, fair and prosperous for all who call Princeton home.
I know firsthand what it means to fight for better opportunities for our families. Not only as a first-generation immigrant - but also as a one-time single parent who knows too well the hardship of having to live paycheck to paycheck - and in part the reason for my commitment to making Princeton the best version of itself: standing strong in our shared progressive values. Committed to kindness, fiscal prudence, overall quality of life, and general health and well-being.
These past two and a half years, it has been my distinct privilege both to serve and to lead. Our municipal staff are some of the most thoughtful, hard working professionals around. Side by side with them, and with the many dedicated volunteers who serve on our boards, commissions, task forces and committees, and through our rich network of local organizations, I have taken on big challenges. I am immensely proud of what we have managed to accomplish together in just two and a half years. With all I have learned, I understand better than ever how much there still is to do.
As the liaison to Public Safety and designated Police Commissioner for Princeton, I have worked closely with our Chief of Police and other members of our Public Safety Committee to ensure we are continuously fostering a culture of trust and respect. I take part in the process of recruiting new officers, and at my suggestion, the department now posts monthly and annual statistics on the municipal website on traffic stops that include racial/ethnic makeup of citations issued versus warnings.
The tragic events of the last few days and weeks, have once again shown a spotlight on centuries of abuse and mistrust nationwide. I will continue to work on seeking community-based solutions that uphold our shared values, with a focus on equity, affordability, prosperity and inclusion.