Inclusion | Opportunity | Innovation

Strengthening police oversight

Dear Resident:

As a community that provides leadership on important issues, Montgomery County has an opportunity to strengthen police work by building greater community support.

I know that we have an excellent Police Department – full of conscientious and highly professional public servants.

But we are obviously not immune from the challenges that communities all over the country are facing.

“Policing needs to go in a different direction on transparency and community engagement,” a local police chief recently shared with me as we discussed the situation around the Country and here at home. “Where we are now isn’t working.”

That is why, on June 18th, I am introducing legislation with Councilmember Will Jawando, supported by the NAACP, Identity, Casa de Maryland, ACLU, Jews United for Justice and other groups, to establish a Policing Advisory Commission.

The Commission would allow for “civilian” participation in Police Department policy formulation, using data and focusing on best practices, and strengthening the Council’s oversight role.

Unlike civilian oversight boards in other jurisdictions, this Commission would not address disciplinary matters. It would not review complaints about an officer, or investigate a police-involved incident. While those are crucial matters, Maryland state law denies a body like this jurisdiction over personnel matters.

Instead, this Commission would focus on the policies that could prevent these incidents from occurring in the first place. For example:

  • Community police — how can we become more of a community police force?
  • De-escalation training — is our program a best practice and is it well implemented?
  • Traffic stops — what are the outcomes from traffic stops? What does the data show? What is the cost/benefit?

There is no doubt that issues like these are appropriate for public discussion and oversight. In fact, given the profound consequences of police action, there is nothing more deserving of public discussion and oversight.

Historically, these kinds of policy issues are often addressed internally at the Department, with the police leadership making policy decisions with minimal oversight from the County Executive and Council and limited input from the public.

That is where a Commission comes in. With members drawn from residents who are experts in criminal justice policy as well as representing communities that have not always been heard on police issues, the body would meet and deliberate over policy matters that are of significant public concern. Researchers would support the Commission to help ensure a data-driven conversation.

The Commission would make recommendations to the Department and the County Council. A great example of this approach is successfully operating in Sacramento, where the initiative has earned support not only from community groups but also the police department there.

A strong coalition is advocating for the bill because, as the groups recently wrote in a letter to the Council and County Executive, the Commission “will become an important pathway to enhance trust between the community and the Police Department.”

You may have seen a recent editorial in the Washington Post about the proposal. The Post stated:

With more than 1 million residents, Montgomery is Maryland’s most populous jurisdiction. It is a bellwether and a leader whose example could prompt other localities to fashion more meaningful civilian oversight of law enforcement. It can move proactively now, or be forced to act later, under pressure and amid controversy, when an unwarranted death occurs at the hands of police. The former is the smarter way to go.

I agree, and I look forward to working through the legislative process with my Council colleagues over this summer and into the fall.

A public hearing is tentatively set for July 9 with committee and full Council worksessions to follow.

Thanks for reading and participating. If you have feedback, please share by emailing me at Councilmember.Riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov.

Sincerely,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large

Council to discuss Accessory Dwelling Units

Dear Resident:

On June 18, the County Council will discuss zoning code changes that support “Accessory Dwelling Units.” Here’s some important information I want to share with you.

Si prefieres leer mis comunicaciones de correo electrónico en Español, puedes suscribirte aquí.

Starting with what ADUs are and what they are not: An ADU is not the same thing as renting out a house or renting out rooms in a house. An ADU is a private residence inside of a house, such as a basement apartment; or a backyard cottage or garage conversion.

Picture of an ADU

A detached ADU in green on the left

To get an ADU construction permit and license, the unit must have separation and privacy from the house as well as its own kitchen and a bathroom.

There are about 160,000 owner-occupied single-family detached homes in the County and about 15,000 rented single-family detached homes. But there are only 475 ADUs.

ADUs are a more targeted housing solution because they require owner occupancy on the property. That requirement puts some organic limits on ADUs as the arrangement has to be something that the homeowner welcomes as part of daily life.

Because ADUs require a kitchen and bath and a separate entrance as well as possibly on-site parking, ADUs require considerable construction. The cost of that will depend on a lot of factors, similar to any home renovation project. A modest basement conversion could be less than $50,000, while a backyard cottage could be 3 or 4 times that amount.

Benefits of ADUs

More affordable housing
ADUs are generally smaller than houses so they are more affordable as rentals. A 900 square foot basement apartment or a 700 square foot backyard cottage will rent for a lot less than a house. As a result ADUs can promote economic integration and diversity in communities by providing access to smaller and more affordable housing in otherwise very expensive areas.

Aging in place
ADUs can enable older, modest-income homeowners to age in place with a new source of income by renting out the ADU or by living in the ADU and renting out the house.

Families living together
ADUs are also a desired solution for parents seeking a way to live with adult children or with grandparents. While they certainly can all live in one house together with no ADU, having separation and privacy from an ADU while living together is for many a more appealing and affirming arrangement, including for families with an adult child with disabilities.

Smarter growth
A final benefit of ADUs is that they add housing where there is already infrastructure. The impacts of these units are dispersed across a County that already has about 369,000 housing units in total.

What changes are proposed?

Unfortunately, the County’s zoning rules generally treat this housing type as a nuisance to be avoided rather than a resource to be welcomed. Our byzantine restrictions are a large reason the County is only producing a few dozen ADUs a year, a pittance compared to communities that have embraced them and create several hundred per year. This zoning change aims to change that framework.

Montgomery County zoning laws essentially prohibit backyard cottages or detached garage conversions. The code requires a property owner to have at least one acre in order to build one. Homeowners with an acre are the property owners least likely to need one and they don’t build them.

The proposal before the Council, as amended by the Planning and Housing Committee (where I serve as Chair with Councilmembers Andrew Friedson and Will Jawando), would limit the size of backyard cottages in a thoughtful way. The proposal limits the size of new cottages to 10% of the size of the lot.

In other words, if you have a 6000 square foot lot, the maximum size cottage you can build is 600 square feet.

Existing structures (typically garages) are exempt from this rule, as they already exist and there is no additional visual impact of the structure. They would have to meet code, of course.

Basement units are allowed to be the same size as the basement of the house, whatever footprint that may be.

In the existing County code, interior ADUs (typically basement apartments) cannot be closer than 300 feet to the nearest other ADU. This restriction basically limits them to one per block. The Committee proposal deletes that restriction, seeking to be supportive of ADUs.

To address concerns about parking, the Committee proposal requires ADUs that are farther than one mile from Metro or the Purple Line Station to build an additional parking space on the property or apply for a waiver based on available street parking.

As for setbacks and height restrictions and storm water, the proposal does not change any of those rules from the existing code for accessory structures — the rules that exist for homeowners who might want to build a separate garage or studio or guest house on their property, for example.

While some say we should have stricter rules for ADUs than garages, I don’t share that view.

What protections are provided?

I recognize that there are some residents who find this housing solution problematic. If you are among them, please consider the following.

Owner Occupancy
First, owner occupancy is a requirement. The owner must live on the property. That naturally constrains how the ADUs will be used. For example, an investor can’t purchase a house, add an ADU, and then rent out both units.

More generally, a property owner is only going to allow a property to be used in a manner that the owner is willing to live with personally. The historic Town of Brookeville which strongly supports ADUs has noted the benefit of the owner occupancy rule.

Prohibition of short-term renting and other rental limits
Another key point is that the units may not be rented out as short-term rentals (i.e., Airbnb). Montgomery County homeowners are allowed, under certain circumstances, to rent out their homes or rooms in their homes on a short term basis. That right would not extend to ADUs.

Any homeowner who wanted to rent out the bedroom from an ADU on a short term basis would have to remove the features that make it an ADU, such as kitchen equipment or even the internal separation from the house.

As a result, space built for an ADU would have the same short-term rental value as any other spare bedroom or underutilized living space.

Another significant restriction is that no other rental would be allowed on the property. So an owner could not also rent out the main house or rooms in the house.

Inspections and code enforcement
ADUs have license and inspection requirements. Licenses can be taken away for noncompliance, and penalties can be significant.

Finally, after hearing from some neighborhoods about general crowding of housing and concerns about the capacity of the County to conduct ADU inspections, the Council just added 3 code enforcement positions to focus on inspections in residential neighborhoods. Those positions will be hired soon.

What about schools?

One of the common questions asked about expanding ADUs is about the impact of this new housing on schools. Given that many schools are crowded, it is a natural concern.

To find out the answer, our Planning department pulled the list of all the licensed ADUs in the County and cross checked the property address with school enrollment data at MCPS.

What they learned is that properties that have a house and an ADU have no more students on average (0.464 students per address) than properties with just a house (0.462 students). To be clear, the data point compares the house and the ADU combined, versus properties with just a house. There is no difference in school enrollment.

Given the owner occupancy requirement, this should not be surprising, when you think about it. A property owner with a family might bring in grandparents or a tenant; or a retired couple might bring in a young family; but for one family on a property to add a second family as a tenant would have a big impact on that first family. That’s why it doesn’t really happen.

I find this data to be highly persuasive that ADUs are exactly what we have suggested they will be: a tailored housing solution that makes a very big difference in small targeted ways.

What is the process from here?

On Tuesday, June 18, the County Council will hold a worksession on the Committee’s recommendation.

The Committee met 3 times in March and April to work the issue through, following a public hearing in February. The Planning Board also conducted a public hearing and worksessions.

Presumably the Council will consider amendments raised, if any, and then come back at a later date to vote.

Thanks for reading. If you have made it this far and have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Sincerely,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large

Mis prioridades presupuestarias

Estimado residente del condado de Montgomery,

Hoy estoy lanzando una traducción de mis comunicaciones de correo electrónico para residentes que prefieran leerlas en Español. Espero que comparta este enlace de suscripción con su familia y compañeros.

El proceso presupuestario para el próximo año ha culminado. Hay buenas noticias para compartir, como también hay asuntos pendientes.

Nuestro proceso presupuestario tiene dos etapas. El Ejecutivo prepara un borrador del presupuesto y lo presenta antes del 15 de marzo de cada año. Luego, el Consejo hace cambios y finaliza el presupuesto a fines de mayo.

Estos son algunos de los puntos más destacados de este año, los cuales reflejan mis prioridades;

Comenzando con la educación, hemos podido financiar completamente la solicitud de presupuesto de MCPS, gracias a un aumento en la financiación estatal; ahora MCPS podrá reducir aún más el tamaño de clases. También hemos podido financiar completamente a Montgomery College. Es importante destacar que ni MCPS ni Montgomery College fueron totalmente financiados en el borrador del presupuesto del Ejecutivo.

En el área de cuidado infantil y preescolar; este es el tercer año consecutivo en el que expandimos la asistencia preescolar para niños de bajos ingresos. La expansión de cuidado infantil y preescolar ha sido mi prioridad en la política de educación temprana y me alegra comunicarles que gracias a la reciente expansión, la cantidad de niños de bajos recursos que se beneficiarán del programa preescolar de día completo alcanzará los 1500, de los 750 de hace tres años.

Quiero también felicitar al Presidente del Comité de Educación del Consejo, Craig Rice, a la Presidenta del Consejo, Nancy Navarro, por su trabajo en educación temprana, y al Ejecutivo del Condado por incluir los fondos en su presupuesto. Estamos progresando, aunque
aún hay mucho más por hacer.

Estoy aún más entusiasmado por la expansión de programas extracurriculares, siempre me ha interesado este tema y trabajo arduamente todos los años para que los programas extracurriculares sean agregados a nuestro presupuesto. Los miembros del Consejo Albornoz y Jawando se unieron a la causa este año y hemos podido agregar cuatro nuevas escuelas primarias de alto índice de pobreza a nuestro exhaustivo programa Excel Beyond the Bell, alcanzando un total de 8 escuelas que hemos agregado en 3 años.

Cada uno de estos programas sirve a 120 niños, cinco días a la semana. ¡Con 8 escuelas, ahora llegaremos a casi 1,000 niños de edad primaria atendidos todos los días del calendario escolar!

También hemos agregado 3 programas extracurriculares en middle schools o escuelas intermedias y hemos creado una iniciativa llamada “ Skills for the Future” o “Habilidades para el Futuro” en español, para apoyar a los programas de STEM para jóvenes.

En el área de tránsito, pudimos restaurar cuatro de las siete rutas de autobús propuestas para ser reducidas en el presupuesto del Ejecutivo. Estoy decepcionado de no haber podido restaurar las siete rutas completas, lamentablemente el corte del servicio de autobús aumentará el tráfico y va en contra de la equidad social y de nuestros objetivos medioambientales.

Sin embargo, estoy contento de que ahora el servicio de autobuses RideOn y WMATA sea gratuito para los estudiantes. Esto creará toda una nueva generación de pasajeros de tránsito. Agradezco al Concejal Evan Glass por su apoyo.

Al mismo tiempo, agradezco a mis colegas por llegar al acuerdo de rechazar el recorte de $5 millones propuesto por el Ejecutivo al programa de “Áreas Prioritarias” para bicicletas y peatones (BiPPA). BiPPA es un programa que construye nueva infraestructura de seguridad en áreas del Condado con infraestructura antigua. BiPPA tiene proyectos planeados en Wheaton, Silver Spring y en el corredor de la Línea morada.

También pudimos restaurar los fondos para construir nuevas entradas en las estaciones de Metro de White Flint y Forest Glen las cuales el ejecutivo había propuesto recortarlas del presupuesto, ambas obras son necesarias ya que hace que el transporte sea más accesible al público.

En cuanto a la emergencia climática, quiero agradecer a mis colegas por apoyar mi propuesta de $ 400,000 para comenzar una iniciativa integral de planificación del cambio climático.

También, pudimos restablecer fondos cruciales para nuestro sistema de Parques, el cual fue programado para recortes significativos en el presupuesto del ejecutivo. Quiero agradecer al Concejal Friedson, nuestro Líder del Consejo para Parques, que no descanso hasta conseguir restablecer los fondos.

Quizás se pregunte cómo el Consejo pudo financiar estos programas. La respuesta está en cambiar ciertas prioridades dentro del presupuesto. No subimos impuestos. Sin embargo, hicimos cambios de otras maneras, como por ejemplo, reduciendo compensaciones irrazonables.

El aumento de 9% propuesto por el Ejecutivo del Condado no era asequible. La reducción de su capacidad permitió que el Consejo agregara fondos a muchas de estas prioridades clave mencionadas anteriormente. (Aunque en mi opinión el aumento de 7% acordado por el consejo continúa siendo más de lo que podemos costear, y no concuerdo con esa propuesta).

En cuanto a los asuntos pendientes: mientras elaboramos un mejor presupuesto, el Condado continúa teniendo un problema subyacente: tenemos un déficit estructural. Un déficit estructural es cuando nuestros ingresos continuamente están por debajo de nuestros gastos; aquello sucedió nuevamente este año. El presupuesto que acabamos de aprobar se financia sustancialmente del uso de reservas destinadas a los gastos de salud de los jubilados. Esta práctica debe terminar.

Necesitamos arreglar nuestro déficit estructural alineando nuestros gastos con nuestros ingresos. El Ejecutivo del Condado ha hablado acerca de “dimensionar correctamente” al gobierno del Condado, y los miembros del Consejo han indicado su apoyo. Eso ayudaría a asegurar que la compensación no crezca más rápido que los ingresos, dejando espacio para financiar prioridades críticas.

En el futuro, debemos trabajar juntos para hacer cambios que nos pongan en un camino más sostenible.

¡Gracias por su atencion!

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Concejal del Condado de Montgomery

My budget priorities

Dear Resident:

The County’s budget for the next year is done. There is good news to share, as well as unfinished business.

Our budget process has two stages. The Executive prepares a draft and submits it by March 15. The Council then makes changes and finalizes the budget by the end of May.

Here are some of my highlights from this year, reflecting my own priorities.

Starting with education, we fully funded the MCPS budget request, thanks particularly to an increase in state funding. We also fully funded Montgomery College. Neither were fully funded in the Executive’s budget. MCPS will now reduce class size guidelines further.

On child care and pre-k, this is the third year in a row that we will expand pre-k for low income kids. Including this year’s expansion, the number of poor children benefiting from full-day pre-k will reach 1500, from 750 three years ago. This has been my highest priority in early education policy.

I want to salute Council President Nancy Navarro and Council Education Committee Chair Craig Rice and for their work on early education, and the County Executive for including the funds in his budget. We are making progress, though we have more to do.

I’m particularly thrilled by our expansion of after school programs. I have worked hard to add programs every year to our budget. This year I was joined by Councilmembers Albornoz and Jawando as we added four new high poverty elementary schools to our comprehensive Excel Beyond the Bell program, bringing the total to 8 that we have added in 3 years.

Each of these programs serves 120 children, five days a week. With 8 schools, we will now reach nearly 1,000 elementary age children served every school day!

We also added 3 middle school programs and we created a new initiative called Skills for the Future to support youth STEM programs.

On transit, we were able to restore four of the seven routes proposed for reduced service in the Executive’s budget. I am disappointed that we could not restore all seven. Cutting bus service is sure to increase driving and works against our social equity and environmental goals.

I am however happy that RideOn and WMATA bus service will now be free to students, all the time. This should create a whole new generation of transit riders. Thanks Councilmember Evan Glass for your advocacy!

I am particularly grateful that my colleagues agreed to reject the Executive’s proposed cuts of $5 million to the bicycle and pedestrian “Priority Areas” program (BiPPA). This is a construction program that builds new safety infrastructure in areas of the County with older infrastructure. It has projects planned in Wheaton, Silver Spring, and along the Purple Line corridor. Thank you Transportation Chair Tom Hucker!

We also restored funding for new Metro station entrances in White Flint and Forest Glen, both badly needed to make these station areas more accessible. The Executive had proposed cutting them from the budget.

On the climate emergency, I want to thank my colleagues for supporting my proposal for $400,000 to begin a comprehensive climate change planning initiative.

And finally, we were able to restore crucial funding to our Parks system, which was slated for significant cuts in the executive’s budget. I want to thank Councilmember Friedson, our Council’s Lead for Parks, who pushed until we got it done.

You may wonder how the Council was able to fund these programs. The answer lies in changing certain priorities within the budget. We did not raise taxes. We did, however, make changes in other ways, including scaling back some compensation that was excessive.

The County Executive’s proposed 9% raises were not affordable. Scaling them back enabled the Council to add funding to many of these key priorities mentioned above. (Though my view is that the 7% raise the Council agreed to for many employees was still more than we can afford, and I opposed that proposal too).

So as for unfinished business: while we crafted a better budget, the County still has an underlying problem — we have a structural deficit. A structural deficit is when our revenues continually come in below our expenditures. It happened again this year. The budget that we passed is substantially funded by using reserves intended for retiree health expenses. That practice needs to end.

We need to fix our structural deficit by bringing our expenses in line with our revenues. The County Executive has talked about “right-sizing” County government, and Councilmembers have indicated support. That would help ensure that compensation does not grow faster than revenues, leaving room to fund critical priorities.

Going forward, we need to work together to make changes that will put us on a more sustainable path.

Thank you for reading!

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large