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Gaithersburg passes polystyrene foam ban

I am pleased to share that the City of Gaithersburg has adopted a ban on polystyrene, which effectively implements that County’s ban within the city limits of Gaithersburg. I authored the County ban ( Legislation | Blog Post ), and it passed the Council unanimously in January, 2015.

According to Mayor Jud Ashman, “Creating a sustainable community is a key component of Gaithersburg’s strategic plan. Joining Montgomery County in banning these materials that don’t break down in our landfills furthers our goal of protecting the environment and ensuring a high quality of life for future generations.”

Polystyrene is a petroleum based product that breaks up into small pieces, but does not decompose. It builds up in the waterways and wildlife can mistake it for food. The key points of the County ban are:

  1. Prohibits the use of foam food service products by food service businesses beginning on January 1, 2016.
  2. Prohibits the sale of foam loose fill packaging (packing peanuts) and bulk foam foodservice products (bulk foam cups and plates) beginning on January 1, 2016.
  3. Requires the use of compostable or recyclable food service products by the County, County Contractors, and food service businesses beginning on January 1, 2017.

Enforcement for the City of Gaithersburg will begin January 1, 2017.

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Thoughts on the Westbard Sector Plan

Following are my prepared remarks on the Westbard Sector Plan. You may also watch a video of my remarks as delivered.


I want to start by thanking all the people who put a great deal of time into formulating this plan. Hundreds of Westbard residents – and residents across Montgomery County – who wrote, called, and came to testify to the Planning Board and the Council throughout this process, and while no one person is getting exactly the outcome they might want, I truly believe that the plan before us today is much better because of the extensive public input we’ve received – and the many changes we have made in response. Ultimately, I believe that this plan strikes the right balance between respecting the legitimate expectations of the existing community and providing a sustainable path for future growth.

I think some context might be helpful for anyone who cares to understand my vote today, so I hope my colleagues will excuse me if this is a little long:

I ran for Montgomery County Council as a progressive Democrat because I am deeply committed to the progressive values of social justice, equal opportunity, and shared responsibility. Here at the local level, these values play out very differently than they do on cable news – the county council doesn’t get much say over immigration, or gun control, or foreign policy.

Instead, we reflect our progressive values through our budget – where we ensure a robust safety net, universal health coverage, a strong education for all students. We try to build an economy that works for everyone by combining relentless economic and workforce development with efforts to level the playing field with a reasonable minimum wage, paid sick leave, hopefully one day paid family and parental leave. We do our part in the fight against discrimination and for equal rights.

But for me, the key to our community’s success is that we are welcoming and open. The message I want Montgomery County to send to the rest of the world is: Whoever you are, wherever you are from, whatever your economic status, if you are willing to work hard and be good to your neighbors, come to Montgomery County and share in the good life. You’ll have access to basic services, to training and education and jobs, your kids can go to a good school and play at great parks, and you will be safe. If you want to start a company you can find investors and a world class network of incubators, if you need employees we have the best educated workforce in the world.

I know that sounds grandiose, but at its core, the progressive values that drive the Democratic positions on economic issues, on social issues, are really about inclusion – about realizing a vision of shared prosperity – that’s it’s not enough for just the elite to prosper. And nothing is more fundamental to this vision than housing. Where you live determines the quality of your schools, what jobs you have access to, and so many other things. So I really believe that the community planning process we are engaged in today is really where the rubber meets the road for putting progressive values into action. That means providing income-restricted housing in every neighborhood to ensure that the very poorest and most vulnerable in our community have a place to live and aren’t clustered in high crime areas with little opportunity. We are breaking new ground by requiring at least 15% of new units to be affordable to low-income families. But it also means building enough housing to ensure that people of all income levels have a place here. If we don’t build enough housing to meet demand, prices rise and working class people are priced out.

And we have a moral imperative to plan this housing in an environmentally sustainable way. We know with scientific certainty what the combustion engine is doing to our planet. This means clustering new housing in existing communities rather than allowing green space to be developed and providing ways for people to get around on foot, by bike, and by public transit. While this plan is not on a metro station, and some of these new residents will certainly drive, the plan does make great strides in improving the walkability of the area and I am hopeful that expanded demand will allow us to improve bus service even further. But there can be no doubt that building townhouses on what is already a giant parking lot, just a mile from two metros, right across from the DC line, is far better for the environment than developing a farm or bulldozing a forest an hour north on 270.

Of course, our first principle must be do no harm. I don’t want to change any of the things that make Westbard wonderful. First, not a single existing home is being touched. We reduced the allowed development proposed by the Planning Board by half because we were convinced that it would have been too much, too fast for the roads, schools, and neighborhoods to handle. The plan before us today will only improve life for everyone in the Westbard sector. Traffic will be still be bad, but not noticeably worse. There will be new shopping and dining options and a great new park. The schools will still be great and Kenwood’s cherry blossoms will still bloom.

This also means making sure that the developers, who there is no doubt will make a profit from this project, pay their fair share to ensure there is adequate school and transportation capacity for all residents. This year we will be revising the Subdivision Staging Policy, which governs what developers must do and what they must pay to build in Montgomery County, and I know all my colleagues will be working to make sure that the rules line up with reality and we have the resources we need.

All in all, I truly believe this plan strikes the right balance between protecting and enhancing the things that make Westbard, and Montgomery County, such a wonderful place to live, while creating new opportunities for families from all socioeconomic backgrounds to enjoy our community’s marvelous resources.

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Launching Tree Montgomery – Request A Tree!

Growing up in Oakland, California — and without a TV in the house as a kid — I spent a lot of time climbing trees, often the beautiful Coast Live Oaks that are native to that region and that populated my family’s backyard. Beyond my neighborhood, my parents often took me out to appreciate the Redwood forests that blanket the coast and mountains, and I have so many memories of hiking adventures in the Sierra Nevada range, including wandering in the groves of the Giant Sequoias.

I still love trees just as much as I ever did, and I am always disheartened when I see impressive, older trees come down from natural causes, poor maintenance, or, sometimes, a lack of appreciation for the value of trees or unfounded fears about the risk of trees.

Because I have always wanted to increase our county’s focus on protecting trees, I wrote a letter to County Executive Ike Leggett in 2013, asking for his support for a campaign to plant 100,000 new trees in Montgomery County.

My discussion with the executive and his team lead to legislation I introduced that called for Department of Environmental Protection to develop a campaign to work with residents and civic organizations to plant more trees on private property and better manage our planting program on public property. This legislation passed the Council in 2014 as part of the Office of Environmental Sustainability.

When County Executive Leggett and I announced the 100,000 Trees initiative in the spring of 2014, the new campaign to grow Montgomery County’s tree canopy took an important first step. Our goal is to continually plant new trees in Montgomery County, ensuring that the tree canopy will not only be preserved, but strengthened in the coming years. DEP is off to a great start, using funds from the Tree Canopy Law, which includes a planting provision that I requested that requires property owners who are redeveloping property and impact existing trees to plant new trees or pay into a tree canopy planting fund.

This year, the campaign moved into a whole new phase: Tree Montgomery, which will be the enduring name for the initiative. I was pleased to join the County Executive to launch Tree Montgomery.

The local benefits of trees like these are enormous. Besides the obvious aesthetic appeal and the increased privacy, shade trees purify our water, keep communities cooler in the summer, and help to mitigate the effects of storms by cutting wind and soaking up rain water.

Here is where residents come in: If you are interested in requesting a tree in your area, head over to treemontgomery.org and fill out the posted form, and ask your friends and neighbors to do the same. Shade trees require lots of space, so we are especially focused on open spaces near parking lots, single-family homes, and multi-family communities. Don’t miss out.

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Tree Care 101

One of the many great things about Montgomery County is our plentiful green space and robust tree canopy. In addition to removing carbon dioxide from the air, trees purify our water, protect our soil, and cool our neighborhoods on hot summer days.

With my 100,000 trees initiative (pdf), the county is doing its part to reinvigorate the tree canopy that we all enjoy, but did you know that nearly 85% of the trees in the county are on private land? I’m proud of the county’s investment in the future of our tree canopy, but no matter how much we do, a fresher, greener, shadier future will always depend on a partnership between our government and our citizens.

With that in mind, I hope those of you with trees in your yards will consider a trip out to one of Conservation Montgomery’s Tree Care 101 Classes this spring. This is a great opportunity to speak with tree-care professionals about everything you can do to keep your trees healthy and beautiful, and enjoy some fresh air at the same time. You can also organize a class in your neighborhood, so talk to your friends and neighbors, and you can bring the class to you. Maybe I’ll see you there!