The Perez Economic and Housing Agenda:
Improving the Conditions for Owning, Investing and Living in Trenton
Our goal is to make Trenton an urban center of excellence in which:
• The city administration embraces its role as a steward of community resources—tax revenue, grants, properties, parks and authority—to advance the economic vitality of the community and its residents
• Individuals, couples and families people are eager to purchase and maintain homes
• Housing investors are excited about upgrading rental properties
• Tenants are assured they live in safe and healthy properties; and
• Business owners and employers are enthusiastic about opening businesses and hiring local talent
In sum, our goal is that the City of Trenton leverages the natural and financial assets of our city to promote the economic well-being of our city through competent management of our municipal government.
OUR STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES TO REACH THIS GOAL:
• Review existing current commitments and investments including city leases, abatements, development agreements, grant commitments and requirements, and covenants with the State of New Jersey to understand fully the terms and conditions associated with them.
• Create a standardized process for evaluating proposed abatements, PILOT agreements, and developing strategies to enhance these joint investments to benefit both the project and the entire community.
• Review the status and condition of all city-owned or city-controlled properties and develop a comprehensive plan for maintaining and enhancing those that support municipal activities, and disposing of properties that are unneeded.
• Use existing ordinances and laws to address the challenges of abandoned and vacant properties throughout Trenton.
• Work with residents to improve the safety, economic vitality, and quality of life of neighborhoods.
• Promote Trenton nationwide, but especially in the region, as an exciting, vibrant place to live, work, and recreate. Take steps to improve parking, remove obvious blight, and foster an atmosphere of a destination city.
• Create and execute a plan to celebrate and build on Trenton’s unique and notable history as a cornerstone of a tourism industry in our city.
• Work with financial institutions to create attractive loan packages to promote investment in Trenton for housing and small businesses.
• Take steps to improve the appearance of downtown: signage, upgrading sidewalks, replacing trees and plantings, addressing vacant storefront blight.
• Work with NJ Transit to improve bus service in ways that also promote a safer downtown
• Expand the capacity of City Hall to promote and support small business development in Trenton by creating a Small Business Office and improve coordination between the administration and Trenton Downtown Association and Greater Trenton.
• Increase the capacity of the city government to identify and recruit large scale enterprises that may be attracted by reclaiming Trenton’s Waterfront Areas, fostering development around the Trenton’s transit areas, the opportunities presented through anticipated legalization and control of cannabis-related products.
BACKGROUND AND DETAIL:
REVITALIZING TRENTON’S ECONOMY AND HOUSING
The revitalization of Trenton requires a multi-level strategy that includes improving the internal workings of city government so it can foster and guide appropriate development overall, and specifically in the areas of business creation (both small and large), recruitment of new employers, the promotion of home-ownership, the facilitation of investment and an increase in property values, thus ensuring that all residents—owners and tenants alike—are provided with safe, healthy safe housing and appropriate high quality municipal services.
City government must adopt a philosophy of being attentive “stewards” of the economic condition of this community. Only with the practice of good government principles which afford transparency at all levels, can our city become fully functional again. My administration’s task will be to establish the conditions and framework within which Trenton can prosper, with an eye at always being environmentally efficient. Trenton must invest in, and put systems in place to be a “smart city”; we must look to collect and use data to manage our assets and resources efficiently. We must look to facilitate development on behalf of all residents and investors in the city; a development grounded in the basic tenants of “smart growth”, with an eye to the unique set of circumstances Trenton has to offer. We need to market Trenton projects to developers sensitive to the scale Trenton’s assets. It alone cannot (and should not) be an investment engine for economic growth. However, city government has the responsibility to leverage and coordinate its authority and the investments of its current homeowners, external investors, financial institutions, employers, and other governmental entities to make Trenton an exciting and viable place to live, work, play, and invest.
My administration’s vision of growth for our city will be guided by community based planning that supports the quality of life of its current residents and homeowners, preserves their neighborhoods and diverse housing stock, and enhances their quality of life in the areas of healthy living, recreation spaces and a resilient economy. Simultaneously, it will promote Trenton as a regional epicenter drawing on its location as a transit hub, well positioned on the Delaware River and as a historical destination.
THE CURRENT SETTING
The economic condition of Trenton is a function of many global, national, regional, and local issues that have set up a set of conditions in which much of the rest of the nation has moved forward and Trenton has regressed. Some of our current conditions are a long time in the making; others are a result of poor local policy choices (proactive and neglectful), and driven by special interests that have been wrong for Trenton at the time. Trenton’s current challenges with blight, unemployment, vacant properties, absentee landlords, a dwindling tax base, lack of market-rate housing options, and low-level of civic engagement are a long time in the making, and neither can they be solved overnight, nor by some grandiose plan to attract a “savior” corporation who will augment our tax base, hire local people seeking jobs, and rebuild the cultural and historical heritage of the community. There is not a quick, short-term, easy solution to our problems – another ball park, a casino on the river, a housing development project, a corporate headquarters, a new theater, designated entertainment districts, two new state buildings, a new highway, will NOT alone suffice.
This will be an uphill battle and will take time AND more importantly, it will involve every citizen of this community – All residents need to be involved by understanding what is being proposed, and how it will affect them.
There are also positive opportunities that seem within our community’s grasp. Sustaining actions by public and private individuals that will result in the opening of new small businesses anywhere in Trenton is essential. New market rate housing and redevelopment must be encouraged without the displacement of the families already living here. Supporting an ever-expanding development of the cultural and arts scene in Trenton including new galleries, new arts organizations, new studio spaces, and expansion of arts programming of all types in our city must be part of the fabric of development in our city. These are tangible advances the make Trenton a more attractive place to live, work, invest, and play. A continued focus on the downtown area as a place people want to be must be sustained by continued recruitment of what residents want and need.
The job of my administration over the next four years will be to ensure that these opportunities are sustained and expanded, and to ensure that people choosing Trenton are welcomed and convinced that they have made the correct decision for themselves and their families.
Trenton brings many assets to this effort:
• A manageable city, only 7.5 square miles and with 85,000 residents
• A central location, with a transit hub affording exceptional access to the Eastern Corridor via highways and rail systems
• A premiere location between Philadelphia and New York City
• A city of significant historical importance, both regionally and nationally
• The seat of a critical state government, and important county government
• A dense and high quality housing stock ripe for both immediate residency as well as upgrading to premium housing options
• Substantial undeveloped industrial and commercial buildings that offer a substantial opportunity for businesses and corporations looking an opportunity to retrofit a facility for new use
• Imminent re-authorization of some sections of Trenton as Urban Enterprise Zones (UEZ) that can attract commercial merchants seeking to attract customer and employ local resident to fully benefit from the UEZ program
• Trenton already is home to mid to larger size industry that have not been engaged with the City. We must seek a larger local impact by engaging these mid- and larger players in the evolving economy of Trenton.
However, it is apparent to any resident and visitor to our city that its overall economic vitality is poor. This is reflected in many ways:
• The recent reassessment of property values—despite its many problems—revealed that overall residential property’s values declined by 1 percent over almost 25 years. That means, that on average, the costs of owning a residential property in Trenton (including its purchase price, mortgage interest paid, taxes paid, and any additional improvements made to the property) has, on average, resulted in virtually no increase in property values for homes in Trenton.
Like many other industrial cities, the population of Trenton has fallen from a peak of almost 130,000 residents in 1950 to under 85,000 today (a decline of 34%). At the same time, there has been an increase of residents who are of working age (18 to 64), but this has not resulted in higher levels of employment. In the five years following the 2008 recession, 15% of Trenton labor force was unemployed, twice the rate of Mercer County. As might be expected for a state capital and county seat, the ratio of public sector workers to private sector employees is skewed in Trenton, at almost 3 to 1. However, this ratio is not simply a function of a larger public sector. Since 1950, the number of private sector jobs in Trenton has declined from more than 50,000 jobs to just over 23,000. Were Trenton not the capital and county seat, the effects of such a loss of private sectors jobs would have been more devastating.
• The concentration of poverty is acute in Trenton. Almost half (48%) of all Trenton families have incomes less than $35,000. In contrast, in Mercer County, just one in four families have incomes less than $35,000. As a result, the median household income in Trenton is just over $37,200, sharply contrasting with the median household income across Mercer County of more than $70,000 (a statistic that includes the depressed Trenton income levels). Poverty is especially concentrated in Trenton Downtown and several adjacent neighborhoods.
There are an additional set of factors that contribute to depressed economic vitality in Trenton:
• Low (and falling) rates of home-ownership. Just 42% of Trenton residents reside in homes they own. Even adjusting for apartment buildings and public housing, single family home ownership in Trenton pales in comparison with other communities. Attention must be paid to current homeowners to arrest the decreasing rate of home-ownership.
• Trenton resident’s high reliance on rental properties results in high rental rates for all, as well as a structural incentive for investors to compete with potential home-buyers to purchase available properties. A recent report noted that the length of time it takes for an investor to recoup the cost of purchasing a Trenton investment property is shortened to less than two years since property costs are low and rents are high. In other communities, an investor might need to wait as long as seven years to earn back their investment.
• Purchase prices for Trenton homes remain low, partly as a result of large number of vacant (and abandoned) structures through the city that keeps sales costs low. Changes in vacant property registration requirements could place more of these properties on the market initially keeping prices low, but hopefully allowing the housing market to re-balance in several years.
• While some landlords appropriately invest in their properties and maintain them properly, many do not, and try to fly under the radar with minimal maintenance and upkeep. Ultimately, this lack of care jeopardizes the welfare of those who rent, destabilizes neighborhoods, and contributes to a spiral of decay in the community. Enforcement of laws and inspections protecting tenants is essential.
Although tenants in neighborhoods can be (and are) a positive influence, often circumstances (including trying to make ends meet, lack of stability, and limited civic engagement) keep them isolated and disengaged from their immediate neighborhood and the overall community. This dynamic lessens the chances that neighborhoods and Trenton can flourish. Conditions are further exacerbated when tenants feel they have no other housing options and feel exploited by landlords who do little, but collect a monthly payment, and ignore requests for basic services. We need to cultivate a sense of empowerment, pride and progress.
• Low levels of civic engagement at the neighborhood level also produces increases in crimes of all types: homicides, assaults, drug-dealing, and property crimes. Once entrenched, both organizationally and in the mindset of a community, it is a challenge to change the dynamics of a community in which extra-legal and gun-based solutions to economic, personal, and social problems are the norm.
There are immediate, medium and long-term steps that a competent administration can undertake to help launch and sustain a rebirth of Trenton economy. The first step begins right in City Hall.
The following areas will be the focus of new area of planning, development and sustainability:
UNDERSTANDING CURRENT COMMITMENTS AND INVESTMENTS
• Review all existing leases held by city either as tenant or owner. Confirm that each property is being used appropriately and in a manner that clearly benefits Trenton residents. Take steps to leverage existing leases to address needs of Trenton
• Review all existing PILOTs and abatements within Trenton to understand the extent which such arrangements contribute to Trenton growth (or stagnation), and identify and publish lessons to guide future decisions on PILOTs and abatements. Release and publish details of existing agreements with owners and investors.
• Review and inventory all existing developer agreements that have designated large areas of our city for development, and yet have sat vacant and undeveloped for many years. Review original intent for development of these areas against the Trenton 250 plan.
• Building on the research and community-informed process of Trenton 250, review expectations for the myriad redevelopment areas in Trenton and create a multi-year, prioritized plan for advancing these objectives. Assess and set up clear objectives and action plans for revitalization of the core business district.
• Explore abatement and PILOT practices in other communities and assess how Trenton’s programs can be enhanced to better attract and sustain investments in our city. Look to see what can be gleaned from similar cities.
MAKING ABATEMENTS & PILOTS SUCCESSFUL
In granting an abatement or agreeing to a PILOT arrangement, the City is entering into a partnership with an owner/investor. To protect and enhance its implicit investment, the City must sustain its attention to it. The key steps include:
• Develop a standard, well publicized PILOT package that is available for large and small investors. Review all projects according to this standard.
Enhance PILOT/abatement programs in critical redevelopment areas especially in Trenton business core.
• As part of substantial abatement/PILOT agreements, the city should leverage this investment further by increasing code enforcement, streetscape enhancements, and policing in properties adjacent to the property receiving the abatement/PILOT agreement.
• Strictly negotiate with developers in exchange for any abatement, their investment in the infrastructure needs of their projects as well as to explore what they can contribute more broadly that will enhance the quality of life for those who will ultimately live or work in or near their projects.
PRUDENTLY MANAGING CITY-OWNED PROPERTIES
• Set clear targets for disposing of all unneeded properties and buildings owned by the city especially vacant and abandoned properties that are a drain on neighborhoods. When properties are identified as being in unsalvageable condition, take steps to demolish these properties ensuring that the site is ready for new development.
• Re-examine the program allowing owners of properties adjacent to vacant city-owned lots to take them at nominal cost, require them to upgrade and maintain them.
• Engage competent external legal counsel to accelerate the transfer of properties from city ownership to new owners.
• Establish a comprehensive maintenance program for all city-controlled buildings—including those on hold, those receiving citizens and visitors, historical and cultural sites–to ensure that all vital systems, external and internal appearances are safe and conducive for a professional workforce and guests and visitors. Upgrade systems in key buildings to facilitate data collection and transfer, appropriate security, and presentation of a professional image to all who use these municipal facilities.
• Quickly identify, catalogue and plan for the development of several city “gems” such as the Hermitage, the Residence on Spring Street, The Higby School, the Eagle Tavern and other iconic gems before they further deteriorate beyond the point of being salvaged.
ADDRESSING BUILDING VACANCIES AND ABANDONMENTS
• Make Trenton a full participant in the New Jersey Abandoned Properties Act using the authority granted under this legislation to take possession and appropriately dispose of properties that constitute a risk to the social and economic health of Trenton downtown and in Trenton’s neighborhoods.
• Fully enforce Trenton’s Vacant Property Registration Ordinance (VPRO) and identify and use administrative authority to compel compliance with the ordinance and collect fees and fines as allowed by the ordinance. Report to City Council and the community progress in diminishing vacant properties in Trenton.
• Facilitate the regular update of the list of vacant properties in Trenton by making the list searchable and encouraging residents, neighborhood associations, realtors, municipal Inspections Department personnel to offer electronically additions and deletions from the list.
Foster safe upgrades and improvement in all properties by streamlining inspection permit processes, including expansion of Inspection Department hours, and expedited permit fees schedules with increased rates for developers and contractors.
IMPROVING THE SAFETY, ECONOMIC VITALITY, AND QUALITY OF LIFE OF NEIGHBORHOODS
• Trenton 250 is an excellent start for preserving and revitalizing our neighborhoods for the future,
but the city administration must work to make the actions outlined in Trenton 250 are realized. This will require ongoing, direct partnership with residents to execute a strategic plan of investment in neighborhoods as appropriate for the particular needs. In some instances this might mean addressing a handful of vacant properties or some quality of life issues; in others, more extensive steps may be needed to attract more substantial investment. A “one-size-fits-all” approach will be counterproductive.
• Research shows that high levels of home ownership can be beneficial for sustaining the economic and social fabric of a community. Steps need to be taken to support home-ownership through such programs as homesteading programs, support and monitoring of lease-to-own arrangements, and implementing programs that facilitate renovations and repairs of first-time homeowners seeking to achieve this aspect of the American Dream in Trenton. This is important for the preservation of Trenton neighborhoods and housing stock. Homeowners need to be a priority to preserve what currently exists of the fabric of many neighborhoods.
• Simultaneously, we need to ensure that residents who are renting homes are receiving the appropriate housing they pay for. Too many of our residents are paying dearly to rent substandard housing without the protection of state law and local ordinances because their homes are being rented without proper registration. Using data collected through VPRO (and its monitoring), city tax records, and other city databases, we will identify properties that are being rented without annual registration by landlords.
• Change the rental property inspection ordinance to provide for regular inspections of all rental properties on a three-year cycle (instead of just when tenants change-which is often not reported) so that all leased properties are periodically reviewed for the safety of tenants.
• Rental properties controlled by owners who have failed to meet the housing standards set by law and ordinance will receive focused attention, including the review of all properties registered to owners and corporations sharing common owner/landlord mailing addresses. We must break the cycle of tenant abuse by unscrupulous landlords.
• The city shall hold tenants and landlords accountable in those instances where renting tenants present a continuing public nuisance as reflected in sales of illicit substances, interruptions to the peace and quality of neighborhoods, uncontrolled pets, illegal parking, and failure to maintain properties and grounds in an acceptable manner.
• At the same time, we need to acknowledge the appropriate behaviors of the majority of landlords
who provide good quality, well-maintained rental properties at appropriate rental rates. The city must establish a well-coordinated response to assist landlords in addressing squatters, illegal leasing by third-parties, supportive assistance in evictions, and, support in clean-outs of leased properties when tenants change, and timely and reasonable inspections.
• To facilitate a more consistent approach to dealing with housing and neighborhood issues, the administration will act to establish a session of municipal court to offer expedited handling of cases related to housing issues including squatters, evictions, tenant complaints about living conditions, and hearings related to quality of life issues stemming from inadequate monitoring of tenants or failure to meet inspection codes. We will look to examples in other cities such as Cleveland, Ohio, to select the best components of such the municipal court model.
• To help maintain the quality of life of neighborhoods, the city will rigorously enforce housing code ordinances guiding the transformation of single family homes into multiple unit and/or boarding room facilities. We will ensure close, regular monitoring of all properties licensed as boarding room residences.
• Resolve challenges caused by illegal parking of construction and other work vehicles in residential
neighborhoods by developing publicly- or privately-controlled parking lots reserved by permit for such vehicles. This would help alleviate parking problems in some of our most densely populated neighborhoods.
• Making Trenton a more “livable” city includes building open spaces and walk-ability into existing neighborhoods and new development with intention.
• Reinvigorate groups of city residents who support the greening of Trenton by creating a viable “Adopt a Park Model” for city parks and recreational facilities to supplement the efforts of our Parks Department.
PROMOTING STRATEGIES THAT INCREASE THE SPENDING CAPACITY OF RESIDENTS AND VISITORS
Businesses thrive when they have clientele with the means to purchase their goods and services. Without a customer base with sufficient disposable income, businesses have little chance of success except by selling inexpensive, high profit items. However, once a customer base with more disposal income begins to frequent a business area, there are increased opportunities for other businesses to begin offering additional items that will attract even more customers.
Limited disposable (or spent) income in Trenton over the past two decades or more has resulted in the closing of many retail establishments, and has yielded a disproportionate increase in discount and low-cost variety stores among Trenton’s current retail establishments.
What are the obvious factors that might reverse this trend in Trenton?
• Support a proactive approach to making Trenton a good choice for purchasing a home or renting a market-rate condominium, apartment, or single family dwelling. Trenton has many attractive amenities and reasons for residing here, but realtors are often reluctant to suggest Trenton to their clients (some may actually steer them away!)
• Identify a lead financial institution to commit to offering (and releasing) substantial amount of funds for Trenton home (and business) mortgage and loans.
• Work with developers to build on the success of Roebling Lofts and others to develop and market additional market rate housing, especially in locations that limit adverse effects on existing homeowners and renters, such as in the transit area.
• Working with a progressive financial institution to offer home improvement loans to owners who want to make necessary upgrades to increase the marketability and price of a home (or investment property) that they wish to sell. Too many of our seniors (and others) feel trapped in a home that no longer meets their needs but have insufficient resources to make selling a viable proposition in the short-term.
• Explore the opportunities for neighborhood groups to pool funds (including personal investments, grants, and loans) to help neighbors upgrade their homes either to bring them to code or prepare them for sale.
• Develop a rational, accessible parking plan. On-street parking is haphazard; parking meter enforcement seems capricious; public parking is poorly marked; and downtown traffic patterns seemed designed to ensure that patrons want to escape to regional malls.
• Promote clean, welcoming establishments and streets. Work with partners and local businesses to keep downtown city streets and sidewalks clean that are currently marred by graffiti, torn-up or ill-repaired sidewalks, untended trees, unkempt vacant storefronts, and crow droppings. This should also include a formal plan for street lighting.
• Explore how existing bus routes and stops contribute to an overall sense of loitering in much the downtown sector. Either bus transfer schedules are causing extended waits between rides or people are using the “cover” of bus stops to occupy downtown city sidewalks for hours and hours. Work with NJ Transit to remediate these issues.
• Examine why existing grant and loan programs to promote storefront enhancement, increase local employment, etc. are not being fully utilized by downtown and other merchants and businesses. Determine whether the obstacle is vision, paperwork, restrictions, or publicity about them and devise new strategies for getting these funds used.
• Continue and expand the work of the municipal unit handling small business development and provide additional support to meet its mission. Create a Small Business Office that supports the existing entrepreneurial ecosystem in Trenton. The goal is for our residents to choose Trenton first for their basic needs.
PREPARING FOR FUTURE LARGER SCALE ENTERPRISES
It may be true that Trenton may obtain a bigger/quicker bang for the buck if it is successful in attracting a major corporation to establish all or part of its operations in Trenton. However, Trenton’s successes in accomplishing this goal has remained elusive and fleeting. For as many points of success that have been announced, two to three times more have evaporated before a deal was struck. One reason is that larger scale development in Trenton must be realistic, manageable, driven by a plan, and integral to the character of this city, building on its existing assets. We must be realistic in what can be expected – until either by good fortune or by the accomplishment of many of the steps describe above – Trenton can become sufficiently attractive that larger corporations and investors are clamoring to become part of the Trenton skyline.
The next administration must leverage the opportunity through the institutional investors in Greater Trenton, Inc. and regional partnerships, the opportunity to advance a coordinated effort to attract investments in Trenton that benefit and advance our city’s overall goals while keeping the character of our city. While increasing tax ratables is important, those can be easily diminished through abatements and other incentives.
Having prime real city estate locked into a corporation whose employees solely commute to Trenton, do not live or spend money in Trenton, will not advance or community. We must implement all the previous recommendations, as well as amenities, for those employees commuting to Trenton to truly see the city as a place to live and play, not just work.
As the municipal “steward” of the assets and promise of the City of Trenton, my administration must be sufficiently forward-looking and nimble in responding to the opportunities and challenges that may present themselves to Trenton in five to ten years, while not losing site of what we currently have.
Capitalizing on the natural assets of the waterfront, transit hub and Trenton as a historic destination would be the important set of circumstances to capitalize on.
Some areas/projects to consider are:
Reclaiming Trenton’s Waterfront Areas
We will work with regional and state partners to further current plans for the waterfront and realigning of Rt. 29 Blvd. reconnecting the city to its waterfront. Coupled with the announced plan to close and demolish two deteriorating state buildings between Warren St and Rte 29, along Market Street, the re-alignment of Route 29 could potentially be a community-changing undertaking. We must be diligent and intimately involved in all elements of this effort to ensure that it offers mixed use development including housing, retail, commercial, and public parkland options that invite residents to re-connect with the waterfront and make our capital city an inviting place to live, work, and visit.
Transit Area Development
Encourage developers to look at the areas around our rail stations for the relocation of major employers using the NJ Grow program as an economic incentive. While some important planning work has begun in considering ways to leverage our rail station locations, my administration will also examine how to improve the appeal of these areas by improving signage, improving the condition of streets, sidewalks, and lighting to make it easier for investors to imagine these areas’ potential.
Trenton’s proximity to major mega-urban areas with excellent links by rail makes our city a potentially attractive location for academic and policy think-tanks seeking access to the cities of the eastern seaboard and its higher educational institutions but in a manageable, affordable setting. I will direct our office of economic development to explore the potential opportunities for becoming the home of policy and research institutes that seek to foster knowledge and policies for the entire nation.
Celebrating and Building on Trenton’s Unique, Notable History
Trenton has a built-in marketing asset that is sorely undercapitalized. No other city in the nation can lay claim to be the turning point in the Revolution that allowed the United States to become a separate, democratic nation. And, our city’s history extends an additional 100 years prior to Washington’s victory on December 26, 1776. We need to exploit the grand historical role that Trenton has played. We must form regional partnerships that promote Trenton as a living, historical destination. We should explore creating a small scale “Trentown” concept in the area of the Trenton House, and consider how some other historical, but underutilized, buildings might be co-located in such a manner to enhance the historical experience of visitors and tourists.
Trenton’s history lesson need not stop at the Revolutionary War, our city has been an integral part of many historical eras in our nation, including the Industrial Revolution as reflected in the Roebling plants, in the ceramic and other industries. The Trenton community and many of its residents played important decisive roles in the Civil War, the Great War, and World War II. African-American families in Trenton were at the forefront in the fight for school integration which culminated in the Brown vs. the Topeka Board of Education; Trenton was not left untouched in the urban rebellion when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated 50 years ago. Our city continues to add to its historical legacy. We must celebrate our past to ensure a bright future.
Planning for Opportunities Resulting from Legalization and Control of Cannabis
It is likely that legislation will be advanced in New Jersey and possibly at the national level that will legalize and set institutional control over the production of cannabis products. There are substantial rational justifications for the legalization and government control of cannabis in this nation. From a social justice perspective, legalization may reduce unnecessary arrest, conviction and incarceration of individuals that has disproportionately fallen upon minority populations. From a public and social health perspective, the extralegal production and sale of cannabis risks contamination and adulterated product, promotes gun violence, and helps minimize the importance of cultural norms of behaving within the rule of law. Finally, legalization and control of cannabis can represent a source of additional (heretofore, untapped) revenue stream for governments in the form of licensing fees and taxes. Experience in the United States has demonstrated that prohibition has not worked to control use and has created substantial additional problems at the community level.
There are also attendant short-term and longer-term risks associated with legalization that must be addressed. In the short-term, communities will need to adjust to availability and some of the potentially negative consequences of exposure and overuse. While the technology for sales and control are already being worked and tested in other states, there will be a steep learning curve in New Jersey and Trenton when anticipated legislation is passed.
Depending on the plan for sales and oversight, the cannabis industry may remain a local, independent operation or may become the new investment area for large pharmaceutical corporations. Either approach will offer significant challenges for Trenton.
The Trenton city administration will need to begin to prepare for the eventuality of legalization and sales in Trenton. This will require that our key staff remain versed in the expectations of the roles of city governments in this area. Will licenses be granted and monitored locally or by the state controlled. Who will have responsibility for Inspections requirements?
Further, the administration will need to examine the opportunities for production of cannabis products in Trenton in terms of cultivation, packaging, distribution, and sales. While, in theory, cannabis is just another commodity, the political and social attention on it will require a strong plan. Study other cities where legalization has happened such as Denver and DC, and learn from their successes and mistakes.
Finally, in conjunction with the state and other municipalities, Trenton should take the lead on the impact that legalization will have on community residents – its youth, families, its workers. As a steward of our community, we will need to carefully monitor the public health implications of legalization and have strategies to ameliorate negative consequences.
My administration will carefully monitor legislative efforts in this area and, if and when passage seem imminent, I will assign portfolio responsibility to a qualified member of my cabinet to develop and execute a strategic plan that positions Trenton to be a key participant in this fledgling industrial endeavor while protecting the health and safety of our residents.