March 7, 2012
On Monday, I attended a committee meeting to show my support for accelerating the Wheaton Library and Recreation Center. I recently toured the facility that would be replaced and saw first hand the heavy use by the community and the real need for modernization. I commented at the meeting on how a new library and rec center would be an effective tool for revitalizing the area, helping to attract new residents and making a positive statement that the county cares about that area of the county, which like many areas suffers from under-investment. We need to make Wheaton a better place to live.
Tuesday, we had a straw vote to approve the new Kensington Sector Plan. After some debate we voted 8-1 to approve the plan. You can see more about it at www.montgomeryplanning.org. The purpose of the plan is to revise the zoning to make it more likely that property owners will invest in redevelopment, making that area a better place to live. It’s a careful plan that balances the incentives needed for business to invest with community concerns to maintain a walkable, retail oriented town. I hope that we will start to see some progress there soon.
What time in the day remained I spent working on ideas for Wheaton revitalization as well as preparing for the transportation committee’s review of the CIP on Thursday.
Meanwhile I am keeping my eyes on Annapolis and the bad proposals that we have seen there that would have dramatic negative affects on Montgomery County. I am working closely with the www.stoptheshiftmd.com coalition and I urge you to sign up and speak out there now.
February 24, 2012
Tuesday started early with a meeting in Downtown Silver Spring with Ronnie Galvin, Executive Director of Impact Silver Spring. Impact focuses on building a thriving and engaged multicultural community, with campaigns in Gaithersburg, Wheaton, Silver Spring, and other areas. The organization does great work so it was a pleasure meeting with Ronnie.
Next came a meeting with leaders from the Rockville Economic Development Institute’s Women’s Business Center. I am very interested in seeing how the county can help entrepreneurs in the child care sector to expand or start new child care businesses. They are presenting ideas that I think are exciting and I’m looking forward to working on these issues at Council.
Lastly, a meeting with fellow Councilmember’s Roger Berliner and George Leventhal with the Maryland Secretary of Transportation, Beverley Swaim-Staley. We discussed Montgomery County’s critical transit priorities, the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway. I was heartened to hear the Secretary explain that while big infrastructure projects have doubters, the doers get them done and she firmly expects that we will figure out how to finance these projects and get them done.
Wednesday featured an extended meeting with Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ (COG) Air Quality Committee as a new member. The COG’s focus is simple; creating a more accessible, sustainable, prosperous, and livable National Capital Region. The MWAQC is the entity that sets policy on pollution limits and signs off on those air quality alerts you hear, for example. I will be working hard to keep the pressure up on measures we can take to prevent global warming.
Thursday started with a meeting of the Purple Line Now (PLN) board, then a meeting discussing the County’s development review process with our Director of Permitting Services, Diane Schwartz-Jones. After that, a whirlwind of meetings from Brian Edwards and Richard Lipsky of Montgomery County Public Schools discussing PEG Channels in our schools to issues relating to the Kensington Sector Plan with community advocates (hi Judy Higgins!) and finally a very helpful meeting with the past chair of the county’s aging commission, Elaine Binder, about senior transportation issues; I am working on ideas for our Transportation committee to consider.
Friday featured a discussion about workforce training with Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard. We are making sure our students are getting practical training so that they can confidently and competently enter the workforce. Meanwhile I am focusing intently on the coalition campaign to stop the cost-shift budget cuts on pensions – www.stoptheshiftmd.com – and also putting a great deal of thought into Wheaton redevelopment.
February 8, 2012
Today was jam packed with council session and a committee meeting on small business issues. Wheaton is very much on our mind as we sort through redevelopment ideas and county investments.
Tonight featured a hearing on the county capital budget. It was interesting and residents spoke compellingly about a diverse array of topics.
I expect that we are going to make significant changes to the capital budget. I am looking to protect the Purple Line and biking facilities, and I am waiting to hear about MCPS needs.
Meanwhile I am working hard on an effort to stop the Annapolis cost shift to county governments for pensions.
I’m continuing my focus on the Purple Line, working with my colleague George Leventhal to keep that priority on track.
I’m excited to tackle these big picture challenges while delving far into the weeds of capital projects. It’s a nice mix.
November 30, 2011
Monday began with a briefing from council staff about the health care and wellness task force that the council convened this year. The task force identified some helpful information, such as: the expenses per person for health care in MCPS and the county are basically the same, the county in total insures about 100,000 lives, roughly 20% of the insured population accounts for 80% of the expenses (which mirrors national trends), and the only real way to save money in health care spending over the long term is to reduce the growth of total county spending per plan member. The council and particularly the Gov Ops committee will return early next year to this topic. We need to find better ways to manage the spending of what is nearly $500 million per year on health care benefits and we do not invest enough to do that job right.
Monday evening I went to Clarksburg for a meeting with the Clarksburg Civic Association. We had a colorful and even contentious discussion over whether Clarksburg development has collapsed or not (I said it has, while some residents asserted that Clarksburg is booming; I believe the number of housing units that have been constructed in Clarksburg vs. the number approved supports my point), and talked about issues such as the proposed M-83 highway, sidewalks on 355, and so forth. Years ago, Montgomery County residents agreed to establish Clarksburg on certain terms, such as a development tax district that is higher than anywhere else in the county, in order to ensure that the new infrastructure in Clarksburg would be paid for by tax revenues generated in Clarksburg. Now, with rising energy costs and without the benefit of a real estate bubble, it is a question whether this model of development is fiscally sustainable.
Today’s highlight was passing the Wheaton Sector Plan, a document that describes how we want development to proceed in the future, largely in the Wheaton central business district. I am very happy about the plan on several fronts, including the more aggressive approach to job growth that it embraces for the downtown, the environmental protections that it encourages including in the Westfield green buffer, and, particularly, the neighborhood protections that it codifies. I listened closely to advocates from the surrounding neighborhoods and urged the council to find solutions for reversing the dismal commercial developments that have encroached on their single family neighborhoods — truly, there is nothing more depressing than having a storage facility in your single family neighborhood. I was glad to see that Council staff and the PHED committee found a great solution by putting in guidance and a zoning formula that will hopefully result in those properties being redeveloped in a town home style, which would be much more compatible with the neighborhood.
November 10, 2011
I began the day running late to meet Dan Adcock, the county’s Democratic Party chair. Dan and I have known one another since my second job in DC, back in 1995, when I staffed the Save Our Security Coalition and Dan represented NARFE. He is doing a great job as county party chair, which is probably harder and more thankless than the County Council. 🙂 (Note to self: ask George Leventhal if that is true…)
Next up a groundbreaking in Wheaton for the new 15+ story tower over the Safeway. The county contributed a loan into the financing of that project, which allowed it to go as high as it did. The County Executive deserves recognition for real leadership on this. As I said to the Gazette reporter who attended, this will build the customer base for the Wheaton small business community without displacing any of them. It sets the bar very high for Wheaton and now we need to make sure we meet that bar going forward.
Then a press event with the County Executive and Bob Hoyt at the Department of Environment at the Shady Grove Solid Waste Transfer Station. The topic: you may now call 311 to book a bulk trash pickup. I am a big advocate for 311 because it brings government services to the people in a unique way: you do not need to know any politicians or officials in order to get high quality service. Just call or search 311.
Continuing a whirlwind day, I met with the union for MCPS principals and administrators—their new president Deborah Mugge has just started. The MCPS unions are in their budget discussions for the coming year. What I find so impressive about the MCPS labor – management partnership is they have a table where everyone has input and can find common ground. The MCPS unions were the first to give up their COLAs three years ago when this crisis began. I do not think the MCPS collaborative model is appreciated in this era of anti-union education reform but it does contribute significantly to our success.
Next up a meeting with a business leader to talk about some ideas I am considering on the big box bill and then finally a lengthy meeting with the county executive’s land-use team to talk about a wide variety of issues that I have been tracking, particularly Lyttonsville, Wheaton, Bethesda and Silver Spring projects.
Say, I am looking for volunteers for the Thanksgiving Parade — please email me or Facebook me if you can join! I promise fun, friends, and a memorable day.