On Tuesday, Council will be in session. We will review and act upon the County employee compensation agreements that have been negotiated by the executive branch and our employee unions.
Then, a joint committee will hold a meeting with representatives from our Board of Investment Trustees, who are responsible for managing our employee pension plan, to discuss fossil fuel divestment. Montgomery County’s pension plan has achieved a 92% funded ratio, putting it in a best in class category.
On Tuesday night the Council will hold a public hearing on a special appropriation to provide legal assistance for low-income County residents without violent criminal convictions who have been detained and face deportation proceedings. While previous administrations have focused immigration enforcement efforts on those that present a public safety threat, law-abiding residents who have not previously been in danger of deportation are now being placed in detention while their cases proceed. The Department of Justice is also ending a program that helps detainees understand their rights.
These are our neighbors, family members, business owners, and employees. Legal representation provides residents with much better odds of avoiding deportation when the law allows them to stay and a judge agrees.
The real solution is comprehensive immigration reform that provides a pathway to citizenship. Nevertheless, the Council is determined to act. It is important to note that the funds will not be available for individuals who have committed any one of a long list of crimes.
Finally, committees continue the heavy lifting on the budget covering important items such as the Department of Recreation, the Maryland National-Capital Park and Planning Commission, the Department of Liquor Control, Arts and Humanities Council, and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Tuesday is Council session. While this is a very busy week, much of the heavy lifting comes at committee. Council staff is working overtime to review the executive’s budget and prepare recommendations for committee deliberation. At committee is where Councilmembers typically propose additions and reductions to the executive’s budget; all of these potential changes are then resolved through “reconciliation” in mid-May.
Tomorrow the Council will vote on a resolution to proclaim 2018 as the “Year of the Anacostia.” See this fascinating story about the history of river; the County has worked hard in recent years to reduce our pollution into the river. We will also vote on a resolution to develop an equity policy framework for County government.
Council will consider several important appointments to County government, including Commander Marcus Jones, nominated as Assistant Chief of the Police Department. The Council will also hold interviews on an appointment to the Board of Investment Trustees, which oversees the County employee retirement plans.
Meanwhile, Council committees will have reached the halfway point in their review of the FY19 budget by the end of this week. This week they will consider funding requests for transportation, snow removal, schools, police, corrections, economic development, environmental protection, solid waste services, and technology services. See the full committee agenda. The Council remains on track to approve the final budget by the end of May.
The County has five Councilmanic districts that each are represented by one Councilmember. Four at-large Councilmembers represent the entire County. Find out who your district Councilmember is by visiting the Council’s handy “Find My Councilmember” tool. Simply locate your home on the digital map or type in your address. And don’t forget that you are represented by five council members!
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:
Prohibits the use of foam food service products by food service businesses beginning on January 1, 2016.
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.
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.
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.