Monday, July 27, 2015

Bans as Takoma Park City Policy

Councilmember Jarrett Smith has drafted an ordinance that states, "a store may not distribute plastic disposable carryout bags to a customer at the point of sale." The proposed ban would not apply to packaging for bulk items, for restaurant carry-out, or certain other uses. It would address environmental and litter concerns.

I asked constituents' reactions. I got several pro responses and several opposing. Some opponents question the justification for this particular ban, and other think we do too much banning for a small city. One neighbor's response: "The only ban I would  like to see the City Council approve would be a ban on bans." Another asked, "what about addressing the tons of plastic and Styrofoam in all the things we buy? From plastic clamshells at Whole Foods to the many square feet of Styrofoam in the new printer we purchased, it makes up a significant percentage of my garbage each week." That is, there are bigger fish to fry, beyond the city's reach.

Let's look at local bans, starting with polystyrene, the material in Styrofoam.

The Young Activist Club celebrates Takoma Park's polystyrene ban
The city banned polystyrene food-service materials, via the Young Activist Act of 2014 (which I drafted in response to Young Activist Club advocacy), which went into effect July 1. It covers both foam and hard polystyrene food packaging. A Montgomery County polystyrene ban -- foam-only but also covering packing "peanuts" -- was introduced last year by Councilmember Hans Riemer. It will go into effect January 1, 2016. The ban on "peanuts" will affect local shipping stores, for instance, but of course isn't going to touch industrial packaging for shipping.

The city included hard polystyrene -- items such as Solo cups -- because the Young Activist Club made a strong argument about the health repercussions of those materials, in addition to their non-recyclability.

The point about bans is that they change behaviors in ways that reduce environmental harm and health threats. Replacement materials or practices are boosted and eventually you don't even think about the olds ways. We don't burn leaves any more nor smoke in restaurants or offices.

Montgomery County banned transfats back in 2007. An article from back then notes "Sara Lee cakes, for example, will be exempt" because they're produced and packaged outside the county. Fast forward to June 2015: "FDA orders food manufacturers to stop using trans fat within three years," reports CNN, for the same reasons the county banned them.

Sometimes local actions build into national change.

Back to local: I got take-out last week from a Takoma Park restaurant I've been patronizing for over 15 years. They're still using polystyrene cups, plates, and carry-out containers. They're aware of the city law but claim they can't find a supplier of non-polystyrene materials. That's bogus, and I'll add that this place's prices are high enough to cover any added cost. The city has provided information about suppliers; I'll make sure it gets to the restaurant again. The approach is to educate and facilitate, not to jump to punishment, in order to get to positive change.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

City council update, July 27, and Should the city ban plastic single-use carryout bags?

The Monday evening city council meeting is the last before a summer recess. The council has a packed agenda. Highlighting certain items -- the council expects to:

- Approve FY16 community grants. The council discussed the Grants Committee's recommendations last week and decided to shift $11,200 to the Old Takoma Business Association for festival support and $3,800 to the New Hampshire Gardens Civic Association.

- Authorize a contract for continued library renovation design. The council had included $200,000 in the city's FY16 budget for redesign next steps. We are not yet committed to library renovation but do need to proceed with detailed design to support the renovation decision. The aim is modernize the staff, stack, and program space and the restrooms and make the library accessible to persons with disabilities and improve overall flexibility and usability.

- Authorize purchase of thirty police body cameras and replacement tasers, and also of replacement police vehicles and equipment.

- Receive the city manager's quarterly report (which is not yet available). I'll just say that it has been a pleasure working with CM Suzanne Ludlow in the 3 months since the council appointed her. The city continues to operate well, and Suzie's work, extending back over the last few years, has been instrumental in bringing complicated matters such as union negotiations to successful conclusions.

- Discuss a request for proposals for a consultant who would look at police-community relations and recommend, per the draft RFP, an "implementable approach to building, strengthening and maintaining a strong positive relationship between the Takoma Park Police Department and the various communities of Takoma Park."

- Discuss options for refresh of the city's noise ordinance. This is the last item on the agenda, slated for 9:30 pm discussion.

The public meeting will be preceded by a 6:00 pm closed session "to receive legal advice related to terms and conditions to be included in a letter of intent with NDC for the redevelopment of the Takoma Junction property." NDC is the Neighborhood Development Company, the developer the council chose to move forward with revitalization of the city-owned lot in Takoma Junction. We're making progress!

Finally, should the city ban plastic single-use carryout bags?

Councilmember Jarrett Smith has drafted an ordinance that states, "a store may not distribute plastic disposable carryout bags to a customer at the point of sale." The proposed ban would not apply to packaging for bulk items, for restaurant carry-out, or certain other uses. It would address environmental and litter concerns. 

Montgomery County requires a 5-cent charge for each bag provided by county retail establishments that sell goods and provide the customer a carryout bag (either paper or plastic) to carry their purchases out of the store. It went into effect January 1, 2012. A city law would take precedence within our borders.

What do you think?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

July 20 update: Recycling, grants, legislative requests, and problem properties

The Monday evening, July 20 city council agenda includes a first vote on extending recycling requirements to city businesses, continued discussion of vacant and blighted properties, a resolution on city requests for state legislative action, and three grants items: a vote on $10,000 construction funds for the Takoma Park Presbyterian Church Commercial Kitchen and discussions of city large grant designees and of community legacy grants.

The meeting opens with public comment at 7:30 pm.

Recycling

Following preliminaries, the council will vote on a recycling ordinance. Montgomery County requires businesses to recycle, but this particular county law doesn't apply in Takoma Park. To me, matching the county's business recycling requirement -- and taking steps to facilitate recycling by apartment residents -- is a long-overdue no-brainer.

Problem Properties

Skipping ahead: The final item on the agenda is continued discussion of vacant and blighted properties, slated for 9:30 pm.

This is an on-going discussion, prompted by the existence of too many vacant, run-down residential and commercial properties within the city. The Washington-McLaughlin property off New Hampshire Avenue at Poplar Avenue is a glaring example: Formerly a school, now in very-partial use as a senior residence and adult day care facility. The city would like to see this property and dozens of others in Takoma Park returned to productive use.

Further, in many cases, the properties are neighborhood nuisances, for instance, in Ward 1, the house at Piney Branch Road and Philadelphia Avenue. We have had extreme neglect situations where regrettably the only feasible outcome is demolition. 36 Philadelphia Avenue, now a vacant lot, is an example.

We have tools available to us but need more: The topic for Monday evening's discussion.

Legislative Action Requests

Each year, the city gets to ask the Maryland Municipal League to consider three items as MML legislative priorities for the next state legislative session. At a July 13 worksession, the council identified five items. You can see the five in the meeting backgrounder. Monday evening, we'll winnow the list down to three.

My inclination is to go with reforms to state tax duplication mandates (which I'll explain to anyone who wants to know) and a communication and coordination mandate for utilities and public agencies such as the State Highway Administration. I would expand the latter item to cover counties, who also face problems working with utilities, and not just cities. My third would be either a Highway User Revenue item or, more likely, a bill regarding reporting of pension liabilities.

Grants

The first of three grant items is a vote on a $10,000 construction grant for the Takoma Park Presbyterian Church commercial kitchen, recommended by the 2014 Grants Committee but deferred by the council pending progress in neighbor-church discussions. The parties agreed to a mediation involving neighbor and church representatives.

One outcome is that the kitchen group scaled back the design from what had been proposed a year or so ago. A second is that the parties have reached an "agreement in principle." They did table a number of topics until an October meeting but none relate to kitchen construction. In bringing the item to a council vote, the mayor clearly believes that progress has been sufficient to meet last year's council conditions. Myself, I have weighed all community views. I am aiming to act in a fair and principled manner and I'm aware of still-open concerns. I know all the parties and believe they will work in good faith toward resolution of open operational issues -- their goal is to finalize and execute an agreement by November 30, 2015 -- regardless of the release of the $10,000 in construction funds, and I plan to vote for the grant.

At 8:30 pm, the council is slated to discuss FY16 community grants, the city's large grants program. The 2015 Grants Committee presented its recommendations at the July 6 council meeting, per the July 20 backgrounder. My inclination is to go with the committee's recommendations with one addition and one adjustment. The committee left $4,000 unallocated. I would put this money, and move $7,500 from the Dance Exchange (DX) grant (leaving $22,500), toward a $11,500 grant to the Old Takoma Business Association for community festivals. OTBA-organized festivals enrich and draw outsiders to our community. City financial support is key. The adjustment would bring the DX grant in line with other partial grants to the Crossroads Community Food Network, EduCare Support Services, and Community Health and Empowerment Through Education and Research (CHEER).

And a discussion of proposed FY16 Maryland Community Legacy grants is scheduled for 9 pm. The proposed capital projects focus on two adjacent New Hampshire Avenue commercial properties. New Hampshire Avenue (the New Ave) revitalization is a key priority so I anticipate that the council will approve an application for these uses.

Your Thoughts?

Please let me know what you're thinking: 301-873-8225 or sethg@takomaparkmd.gov.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

July 13 update: Piney Branch pool, library renovation, business recycling, and legislative priorities

The city council's agenda for Monday evening, July 13, starts with a 7 pm public hearing on business recycling.

Business Recycling

A proposed code revision would match a Montgomery County recycling requirement that was first enacted in 1993. City action to require recycling by businesses is long overdue! At the same time, the city would require that landlords of multi-unit apartment buildings provide adequate recycling facilities and that tenants recycle. We already require that residents of single-family home separate out recyclables.

Piney Branch Elementary School Pool


We will have public comment as usual at 7:30 pm, then vote on a resolution supporting keeping the Piney Branch Elementary School (PBES) pool open and urging Montgomery County to maintain its FY16 funding.

County Executive Ike Leggett has put pool operating funds on the chopping block, along with $50 million in other spending, due to an expected county revenue shortfall. The PBES pool plays an important community role. It's used by kids who wouldn't otherwise have access to lessons and recreational swimming, by seniors, by a wide swath of the community.

Reporting last May describes the situation.

If you support pool funding, please sign a Save Piney Branch Pool petition and ALSO contact county councilmembers directly by phone or by e-mail:

Craig Rice <councilmember.rice@montgomerycountymd.gov>
George Leventhal <Councilmember.Leventhal@montgomerycountymd.gov>
Hans Riemer <Councilmember.Riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov>
Marc Elrich <Councilmember.Elrich@montgomerycountymd.gov>
Nancy Floreen <Councilmember.Floreen@montgomerycountymd.gov>
Nancy Navarro <Councilmember.navarro@montgomerycountymd.gov>
Tom Hucker <councilmember.hucker@montgomerycountymd.gov>
Roger Berliner <councilmember.berliner@montgomerycountymd.gov>
Sidney Katz <councilmember.katz@montgomerycountymd.gov>

Legislative Priorities

After a number of voting items -- see the full meeting agenda -- the council will discuss 2016 Maryland legislative priorities. These are proposed items that the city would like to see supported by the Maryland Municipal League, a state-wide association. Each city gets to propose three items. Takoma Park's annual suggestions usually relate to state revenues, county-city tax duplication (which is very imperfectly addressed in state law), and larger-scale matters such as transportation funding.

Please share your thoughts!

Anticipating one question/comment: I'm trying to find out status of the Maryland Health Care Commission's issuing draft regulations regarding the licensure of freestanding medical facilities (emergency rooms) and of the MHCC's appointing a working group on the topic. These MHCC steps are overdue. A state moratorium on licensing of new freestanding ERs was due to have expired on July 1.

Library Renovation

Finally, the council is slated to continue, at approximately 8:50 pm, our discussion with staff of library renovation options. The council voted to include $200,000 in the city's FY16 budget for design of a modernized library building, one that will be accessible to persons with disabilities and that will support city library and programming needs for years to come.

The city has a Web page on the Library Renovation Project.

Your comments are welcome.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

ALERT: County executive moves to close the Piney Branch ES pool

The county executive, Ike Leggett, has proposed defunding the Piney Branch Elementary School pool, in response to an unexpected financial crunch. The pool would be forced to close.

Please contact the Montgomery County Council. Ask members to retain funding for the pool in the county's FY16 budget. Point out that the Piney Branch ES pool serves kids and adults throughout the community, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds and don't otherwise have nearby pool access for lessons and recreational swimming. A May 1, 2015 article, Piney Branch Pool in Danger of Closing, describes the pool's local importance.

Councilmember phone numbers are at http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/council/contact.html.

Councilmembers e-mail addresses are:

Craig Rice <councilmember.rice@montgomerycountymd.gov>
George Leventhal <Councilmember.Leventhal@montgomerycountymd.gov>
Hans Riemer <Councilmember.Riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov>
Marc Elrich <Councilmember.Elrich@montgomerycountymd.gov>
Nancy Floreen <Councilmember.Floreen@montgomerycountymd.gov>
Nancy Navarro <Councilmember.navarro@montgomerycountymd.gov>
Tom Hucker <councilmember.hucker@montgomerycountymd.gov>
Roger Berliner <councilmember.berliner@montgomerycountymd.gov>
Sidney Katz <councilmember.katz@montgomerycountymd.gov>

Please forward!

Seth

---------- Forwarded message ----------

From: "Leventhal's Office, Councilmember" <Councilmember.Leventhal@montgomerycountymd.gov>

As you may have heard, County Executive Leggett earlier today sent the County Council his proposed FY16 savings plan, including the proposed elimination of $145,000 to keep the Piney Branch Elementary School swimming pool open. The full savings plan is attached to this message.

I do not support eliminating the funds for the swimming pool. Although I am serving as Council President this year, I have no more influence on this matter than any other county councilmember, so it will be important to shore up the support of other members.

Here is the Washington Post's article on the savings plan, in which I was quoted as follows, "The council acknowledges that we need to adopt a savings plan and we will do that. We are not obligated to agree with everything the executive sends over and we won't."

Council committees will discuss the savings plan next week and the plan will move quickly through the council before the end of this month.

Feel free to let me know if you have further questions.

Best regards,

George Leventhal

President, Montgomery County Council
Councilmember.Leventhal@montgomerycountymd.gov
Office phone: 240-777-7811

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Takoma Notes, plus July 6 at the council: Takoma Junction attorney + community grants

I hope everyone has had a great July 4 holiday, however you spent it. I'll provide a council update, but first --

Takoma Notes

I enjoyed the rain-delayed parade so much I went back for a 2nd go-around, after marching as a council member. I joined Tara Malloy, Preston Quesenberry and his friend Rob, Lorig Charkoudian and kids Aline & Raffi, and my wife, Franca Brilliant, marching in support of Takoma Notes. Check it out: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10206157525752695&set=a.10204717448433063&type=1&theater

At the 4th of July parade. (Photo by Alan Bowser.)
What are Takoma Notes?

Your opportunity to invest locally.

"Working for over a year with a group of dedicated volunteers and representatives from Colombo Bank, the Old Takoma Business Association created a program which identifies local businesses that would benefit from additional capital and develops specific loan packages to meet their needs. Through the program, the OTBA vets the businesses then raises the money to make the loan by issuing Takoma Notes to local investors.

"The first recipient selected for the program is one of Takoma's newer businesses, MAD Fitness, a fitness studio in Takoma Park, MD which offers functional fitness classes and personal training. The Old Takoma Business Association will be offering $10,000 in Takoma Notes, available in increments of $100 and higher to MD and DC residents. The MAD Fitness series of Takoma Notes has a stated interest rate of 3%."

Visit the OTBA Web site for information and to invest.

Takoma Junction Progress

The city council is slated to authorize a contract with law firm Bregman, Berbert, Schwartz & Gilday, LLC, at Monday evening's council meeting. Attorney Douglas Bregman and his team, who include attorney Francoise Carrier, until last year chair of the Montgomery County Planning Board, will represent the city in our work with the Neighborhood Development Company, our selected Takoma Junction developer.

The city had issued a legal-services RFP, inviting bids. With the help of City Attorney Sue Silber and colleagues, we identified two firms with real-estate expertise that the council then interviewed. Mr. Bregman, Ms Carrier, and their colleagues will provide invaluable assistance moving the Takoma Junction revitalization process forward.

Community Grants

The July 6 council meeting will open with a 7 pm presentation by the Grants Review Committee.

Thanks to committee members Akena Allen, Elizabeth Boyd, Franca Brilliant, Gary Cardillo, Pam Coffey, Lesley Perry, and Jen Wofford for reviewing 38 letters of intent, and then 21 application totaling $317,900, in order to make recommendations for 12 grants totaling $161,000. They were assisted by city staff -- Sara Daines, Roz Grigsby, Jessie Carpenter, and Emily Cohen -- in the process.

The committee's recommendations include funds for Historic Takoma / Takoma Radio, the Youth Development Collaborative, Takoma Ensemble, CHEER for Takoma Park Civic Engagement, the Crossroads Community Food Network, EduCare Support Services (food pantry), the Takoma Park Difference Makers (Takoma Park Middle School teacher Bryan Goehring's service project), and the Dance Exchange. I support funding these projects and would prefer generally to adhere to the committee's recommendations -- we actually allocated $4,000 beyond the recommendation total -- although I do expect the council will make adjustments.

Please do review the recommendations and comment if you wish. It's up to the council to make award decisions.

The council will discuss the recommendations at approximately 8:20 pm, following votes on a number items including approval of the real-estate attorney contract. The full meeting agenda is online.

Public Comment

Monday evening's public comment, on voting and discussion items and all other city topics, is scheduled for 7:30 pm. As always, you may send your comment by e-mail to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov, or contact me directly at SethG@takomaparkmd.gov or 301-873-8225.

Friday, June 12, 2015

June 15 discussion of library options, and a question: Should the city offer paid parental leave to employees?

The Monday evening, June 15 city council meeting will be devoted to a discussion of library renovation options, taking place in and around the library, taking place after a public hearing and vote on debt issuance -- debt refinancing, actually -- and a first vote on a revised employee classification and compensation system.

The public hearing is legally required, scheduled for 7 pm. Usual public comment on other matters will be at 7:30 pm. According to the city manager, refinancing a bond issued to pay for the community center will result in anticipated savings of about $160,000 over 10 years.

Paid Parental Leave?

The council discussed the proposed revised employee classification and compensation system last week. The city aims to make up for ground lost during the recession. The revision will raise pay to fair, competitive levels. We plan to phase in higher pay over the next three years.

During last week's discussion, I brought up another compensation possibility. I asked the council to direct the city manager to evaluate offering paid maternity and paternity leave (which would extend to adoptions) to city employees.

City employees already have the possibility of equivalent coverage, through employee-paid disability-leave options and donated sick leave. The city manager estimates that offering parental leave would cost the city some tens of thousands of dollars yearly. Yet "equivalent" is not "equal." I believe offering parental leave is the right thing to do. But we will pursue the matter only if there's support, hence my question to constituents:

Should the city offer paid parental leave to employees?

President Barack Obama noted, in last January's State of the Union address, "Today, we're the only advanced country on Earth that doesn't guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers."

An employer can offer a benefit even if not legally required. I'm sure the city can craft a paid parental leave plan that works, at acceptable cost.

But what's your thought on the topic? Please let the city manager and council know, via e-mail to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov or comment at a council meeting.