Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Share the Vote: Montgomery County Board of Education Elections

Delegate David Moon (D-20) is the primary sponsor of proposed 2016 Maryland legislation that would enable Montgomery County to enroll new voters in county Board of Education (BOE) races.

I'm for it! There are strong, legitimate, and compelling reasons that non-citizens, and perhaps also 16 and 17 year olds, should be allowed to vote in local races that concern them -- BOE races per David's MC 25-16 bill draft, and perhaps also elections for Montgomery County Council and Executive.

The Montgomery County state legislative delegation held a hearing Monday evening, November 30, on a variety of county bills, MC 25-16 among them. At David's suggestion, I testified at the hearing, as did Takoma Park City Manager Suzanne Ludlow, relaying the city's favorable position, and a number of others. Of course Takoma Park supports this latest instance of the inclusive politics! As I note in my testimony, below, we have had non-citizen voting since 1992, and further expanded the franchise in 2013, to 16 and 17 year olds and on-probation and on-parole felons.

The case, then, for bill MC 25-16 --

I favor bill MC 25–16, enabling legislation that would allow the Montgomery County Council to establish voter qualifications specific to Montgomery County Board of Education races. This right is a limited form of the same right that Maryland municipalities have enjoyed for many years, to establish voter qualifications for their own elections. 

The City of Takoma Park exercised this right in 1992, allowing non-citizens to vote in city elections, after a 1991 Share the Vote campaign led to a favorable referendum vote. 

In Takoma Park, non-citizen voting works. The city clerk maintains a local registration database, separate from the state voter rolls. Election judges are easily able to handle the two classes of voters, state-registered and city-registered.

Takoma Park further expanded the electoral franchise in 2013, when Councilmember Tim Male and I, then a city council representative, introduced successful legislation to extend the vote in city elections to 16 and 17 year olds and to on-probation and on-parole felons and to establish same-day registration and voting during early voting and on election day. 

In Takoma Park’s 2015 city election, we had 105 registered 16/17 year olds, 47 of whom voted, a 44.8% rate. We had 523 registered non-citizens, of whom 71 voted. 

I don’t believe that, in 23 years of non-citizen voting, anyone has ever been deported for voting in Takoma Park or been denied naturalization. 

The city also uses instant run-off voting, instituted in 2006 after a referendum, and a referendum this year directed the council to move city elections to even years, to coincide with county, state, and national November general elections, if the city’s distinctive voter qualification rules can be maintained. We are optimistic that the city will work out a mechanism to support the different classes of voters.

In 2012, Maryland Delegate Patrick L. McDonough tried to strip cities of the ability to allow non-citizen voting. His legislation failed. As Montgomery County Councilmember George Leventhal said that year, in opposing the delegate’s bill, “A foreigner might have a different foreign policy interest, but when you are talking about choosing a mayor or a city council member, your interests are equal to your neighbor’s.”

The same thought applies to local Board of Education races. Montgomery County non-citizens send their children to public schools and pay taxes that educate others’ children. Their interests, in the BOE races, are equal to their citizen neighbors’. They deserve a vote.

MC 25-16 is about inclusion of an underrepresented, interested segment of Montgomery County’s population. It’s about engagement, about creating a sense of community belonging for recent immigrants. There are few downsides. Please endorse and support MC 25-16.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

PBES expansion in MCPS document on downcounty elementary schools

A heads-up for local parents and PBES pool users --

(TPSS Voice photo)
Montgomery County Public Schools has posted the interim superintendent's recommendations for addressing elementary school overcrowding in our corner of the county. They include (page 9):
"Request FY 2017 facility planning funds for a feasibility study to explore the feasibility, scope, and cost of an addition at Piney Branch Elementary School with a completion date of August 2022."
The motivation is that PBES is projected to have a deficit of 129 seats by 2021-2. Text includes (page 8):
"A feasibility study will need to be conducted to explore razing the existing pool to construct an addition in the future. With the smallest site of any school in the county, at 1.9 acres, there is no room in the Piney Branch Elementary School site to accommodate relocatable classrooms."
The doc is the Interim Superintendent's Recommendation to Address Elementary School Overutilization in the Lower Portion of the Downcounty Consortium." It covers elementary schools that include Takoma Park ES, Piney Branch ES, and Rolling Terrace ES.

It's posted to the MCPS Capital Improvements Program/ Master Plan Web page.

Regarding PBES --

Not reflected in the recommendations doc is that Councilmember George Leventhal and Board of Education Member Chris Barclay have asked MCPS to study building new PBES classroom space *above* the pool, keeping the pool open in the expanded school building.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Medical marijuana dispensary proposed for Takoma Junction

Park Avenue residents Tara and Chad Blaise have proposed opening a medical marijuana dispensary on Carroll Avenue in the Takoma Junction area. This initiative has prompted a city council discussion, this evening, whether the city wishes to provide guidance on locations where a dispensary would be appropriate to operate in Takoma Park, per the council backgrounder.

The council materials include a FAQ on dispensaries and a document, Maryland state proposed action on regulations.

Personally, I don't have significant concerns about medical marijuana or this particular location for a dispensary, although I have heard from a few residents who do have concerns. I don't believe I have been contacted by any Ward 1 residents, other than the applicants, hence this request for your comment. Please let me know what you think the city should do in response to this proposal, whether:

- nothing
- seek Montgomery County Zoning changes
- something else

I'm at sethg@takomaparkmd.gov and 301-873-8225. Write to the whole council, via the city clerk, at clerk@takomaparkmd.gov.

I note that a Washington DC medical marijuana dispensary, the Takoma Wellness Center, has operated since August 2013, without any major incident that I know of, at a location close to the Takoma Metro station.

The dispensaries discussion is scheduled for 9:10 pm.

Follow-up, October 20:

At last night's city council discussion, Stephanie & Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn, operators of the Takoma Wellness Center in Washington DC, attended and got lots of council questions about their operations. 

The city council discussed asking the county council to come up with guidelines, but we did not more forward with that idea. Instead, the city council agreed that city staff should research how dispensaries are handled in other jurisdictions and report back to the council. My guess is that the city council won't pick up the topic again before January.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

October 12 council items: Montgomery College, Taco Bell, Hillwood Manor & Rent Stabilization

On Monday evening, October 12, the city council will vote on five items, discuss the site plan application for a proposed Takoma Park Taco Bell, and then discuss a tax waiver to facilitate purchase and rehabilitation of the Hillwood Manor apartments on New Hampshire Avenue.

The meeting agenda is online.

Montgomery College

The first voting item is a Resolution Regarding the Montgomery College Facilities Master Plan (FMP). This FMP update will cover 2016-26 and must be filed with the state by February 1. We expect it will lay out the college's plans for grounds and buildings over the next decade, but we don't have a draft to comment on yet, so the city's resolution comments on expections and the process.

Our key points: New or enlarged construction should be located on the Silver Spring side of the TP/SS campus, and the city, residents, Montgomery County, and Historic Takoma (as a party to a 2002 agreement) must be fully consulted.

Taco Bell

Monday evening's worksession will be the last-minus-1 time the council takes up the Taco Bell restaurant and drive-thru that MUY Companies' proposes to build at New Hampshire Avenue and Holton Lane. MUY has filed a site plan application and the city has an opportunity to comment. We'll discuss a resolution for an October 19 vote.

MUY proposes a bit of micro-sprawl that would occupy a central location in what the city had hoped would be a pedestrian-friendly zone, the New Ave. MUY has attempted to conform with the letter of the zoning rules and master plans that govern the location, even while including an anti-pedestrian, anti-smart growth, drive-thru service window in the proposal.

I oppose the drive-thru, as do Councilmember Tim Male and many, many community members. I'm hoping we can get at least recognition of concern, about inclusion of a drive-thru and about low-density development, in the city's resolution. Councilmembers Fred Schultz and Kate Stewart and Mayor Bruce Williams have yet to state a firm position on the drive-thru, so if you have thoughts on the topic, you might focus on them.

Do visit the We Can Do Better than a Taco Bell in Takoma Park Facebook page and consider signing on to a resident-generated petition.

Hillwood Manor and Rent Stabilization

The City of Takoma Park is on the fore-front of preserving affordable housing in the Washington DC region, due to our rent-stabilization law and to our willingness to enter into partnerships with organizations the work to rehabilitate properties and maintain their affordability.

Montgomery Housing Partnership (MHP) is on such organization. MHP owns several Takoma Park buildings and seeks a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement with the city. that would include a five-year property tax waiver, to facilitate purchase of another building, the Hillwood Manor apartments on New Hampshire Avenue.

In principle, I support an MHP PILOT for Hillwood Manor purchase. I would like to understand the justification for a full, 100% tax abatement, or a lesser amount. The MHP arrangement would allow a rent-stabilization exemption. While MHP has honorably lived up to its past commitments, this would be the first exemption to come up since the Hampshire Towers debacle involving Tenacity Corp., which purchased the building and received a rent-stabilization waiver but did not live up to agreement terms. Tenacity, from all appearances, acted shamefully and the government entities involved, including both the City of Takoma Park and Montgomery County, didn't do our jobs.

The city's grant of rent-stabilization waivers, which property owners including MHP say are a must if they are to receive funding that allows preservation of affordable housing, should be discussed openly. And instead of a waiver's being automatic on application, and conveying automatically when a property is sold, an exemption should be granted only by council vote and should be subject to renewal conditions.

Finally, there should also be a code provision allowing the council to revoke an exemption if the grantee has not complied with terms of the agreement that justified the exemption.

I hope the next council will take up these changes to city code.

Your Thoughts

Please relay your thoughts on these items and other city concerns to me at sethg@takomaparkmd.gov or 301-873-8225, or write the full council via the city clerk at clerk@takomaparkmd.gov.

I have only a little over a month left to my council term. Please do challenge the candidates for election -- the incumbents and aspirants -- candidate information should be posted soon at elections.takomaparkmd.gov -- on every city matter that concerns you, and then vote!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

New Hampshire Avenue opportunities and more: October 5 at the City Council

The centerpiece of Monday evening's city council meeting will be a New Hampshire Avenue item --
Discussion of Recreation Needs and Opportunities in the New Hampshire Avenue Corridor including: a) Report on Concept Plan and Site Analysis for the Site of the New Hampshire Avenue Recreation Center; b) Report on Study of Recreational Needs for the New Hampshire Avenue Recreation Center; c) Update on the Washington-McLaughlin Property; and, d) Other Opportunities.
This is an important item.

The New Hampshire Avenue Recreation Center is owned by M-NCPPC (Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission) and is operated and programmed by the City of Takoma Park, in exchange for a yearly modest fee, currently $87,650, provided via Montgomery County Park and Recreation. The facility is out-moded and should be replaced.

The council-meeting materials include reports from two city-commissioned studies:

a) Report on Concept Plan and Site Analysis for the Site of the New Hampshire Avenue Recreation Center

b) Report on Study of Recreational Needs for the New Hampshire Avenue Recreation Center

I won't summarize them here. I will say that it is Montgomery County's responsibility to renovate or replace this facility, soon. (The city does not receive a tax-duplication payment from the county, and city property owners, unlike Rockville's and Gaithersburg's, are not exempt from the county's line-item "Recreational" property tax.) I expect that Monday evening's council discussion will get into approaches that can bring a modern recreation facility to the eastern side of Takoma Park.

The council will discuss the Washington-McLaughlin Property, specifically, the wooded parcel that the city now owns. (Community members have suggested a better name for the property, the J. Enos Ray woods (or something similar), reverting to the name of the Prince George's County elementary school that used to operate at the site. The Takoma Voice explains, Who was J. Enos Ray anyway?)

At the time we were discussing buying the parcel, I publicly advocated consideration of selling the unwooded part of the parcel for construction of a couple of houses. As I recall, other councilmembers talked about this as well. I believe it is fiscally responsible and quite reasonable to consider recovering money we spent to buy the property. I do support preserving and restoring the woods. I don't recall covenants with anyone regarding disposition of the unwooded part of the parcel.

I would like the city to consider, as an interim measure, rehabilitating the disused basketball court, part of the unwooded portion of the site, for public use. I'm thinking nothing fancy: no lights, fences, or drinking water. Just a new, neighborhood recreational opportunity.

Finally, the agenda item contains a teaser, "At least one other site of considerable size in the eastern portion of the City may become available for recreational or other community use within the coming year." I think I know the site that's being alluded to, and the opportunity is indeed interesting.

The Rest of the Story

The full October 5 council agenda, with background materials, is online

I've separately written up two items, discussion of a resolution commenting on the 2016-26 Montgomery College Facilities Master Plan update and Boston Avenue traffic calming measures.

Otherwise, we'll be discussing:

- FY17 Community Development Block Grants. We anticipate being able to award $11,625 for community- or public-service projects. The Grants Review Committee will present recommendations -- for apartment-tenant community building and for EduCare Support Services' Takoma Park Food Pantry -- at 7:10 pm, with council discussion slated for 8:10 pm. The committee is not recommending funding for a third proposed project, "Pilot Program for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities," proposed by the Village of Takoma Park.

- Snow Removal Policies and Procedures, at 8:30 pm. This item continues early-2015 discussion, advanced by Safe Roadways Committee advocacy, of possible changes to city code. See the council backgrounder for staff's recommendations.

Please contact me at sethg@takomaparkmd.gov or 301-873-8225 with your comments, or send them to the full council via clerk@takomaparkmd.gov.

And don't forget: We have a city election coming up November 3, 2015, with early voting October 30-November 2.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Boston Ave traffic calming, Montgomery College facilities master plan

The city council will consider two items of special interests to North Takoma neighbors, at Monday evening's council meeting.

At 7 pm, the council will hold a public hearing on requested Boston Avenue traffic calming measures. You're invited!

The council will then discuss the request, at 8 pm, following general public comment and other meeting preliminaries. The backgrounder for the hearing and council discussion is online.

The council is slated to discuss, at 9:50 pm, a resolution regarding the 2016-26 update of Montgomery College Facilities Master Plan (FMP). Maryland state regulations require periodic plan updates.

The college first informed the city of the pending update only a little more than a month ago and briefed the community in a September 10 public meeting. As I observe in my September 14 meeting report, the college proposes a highly compressed schedule, in order to meet a February 1, 2016 Maryland Higher Education Commission deadline.

The October 5 city council discussion will surround a draft proposed council resolution commenting on the FMP process. The resolution comments on the process, because we don't yet have a draft 2016-26 FMP to comment on, and according to the college's timeline, we will have only a few days between draft availability and Montgomery College Board of Trustees consideration to comment.

Whether the FMP is subject to Montgomery Planning "mandatory referral," with a 60-day review period, is a matter that is being debated (still, so far as I know) by the Montgomery College and Montgomery Planning lawyers. Note that "Mandatory Referral review and comments by the Planning Board are advisory in that the statute allows the applicant to overrule the Planning Board's disapproval, or any conditions attached to approval, and proceed," according to Montgomery Planning's Mandatory Referral Submission Requirements.

Please review the draft city council resolution. Relay your comments to me at sethg@takomaparkmd.gov or 301-873-8225 or send them to councilmembers via clerk@takomaparkmd.gov.

One remedy we could seek -- not (yet) reflected in the resolution -- is for Montgomery College to expedite facilities master plan development. The college would work to complete a draft by the end of October. The college would release that draft for public comment and for Planning Board review and comment. Allowing 60 days for review, Montgomery College could make any FMP revisions indicated and proceed with planned community meetings the first week of January. Board of Trustees presentation would take place the second week of January and the board approval vote, as already scheduled, on January 25, 2016, in time for February 1, 2016 submission to the state.

The council will discuss the resolution on Monday and vote on it, possibly with revisions, a week later, on October 12.

Finally: A reminder that there will be a meeting on traffic & parking around MC, Thursday, October 15, 2015 at 7:00 pm in Room CM211 in the Catherine F. Scott Commons Building on the MC Takoma Park campus.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Update on Takoma Junction development, Orchard Avenue development, and more at the Sept 28 city council meeting

Yesterday's Takoma Junction
Yesterday's Takoma Junction
Neighborhood Development Company (NDC), the city's chosen Takoma Junction development partner, will present an update on plans at the Monday evening, September 28 city council meeting. The presentation by NDC CEO and founder Adrian Washington and Michael Gilioni, analyst, acquisitions and development, is scheduled for 7 pm to 8 pm. Join us at the community center auditorium or view video via city TV live-streaming.

The city maintains a Takoma Junction redevelopment page. The council met last week to review a development agreement drafted by the real-estate attorneys retained by the city to assist us with the Takoma Junction process. NDC may request changes to the draft; once signed, the agreement will provide a framework for next steps include community design meetings and stakeholder consultations, including with the TPSS Co-op.

The Regular Meeting

The full September 28 council agenda is online. Public comment is scheduled for 8 pm, followed by a number of voting items.

Orchard Avenue Site Plan Comment

The first voting item is a Resolution Commenting on Site Plan for 6413 Orchard Avenue. Maggio Roofing plans to build a two-story storage structure at the site, which is adjacent to residences and close to an existing community garden and the planned Sligo Mill Overlook Park and playground, which are situated on Orchard Avenue. The site is a block from New Hampshire Avenue, but the existing street grid routes commercial traffic including trucks past the garden and park-playground site.

While the 6413 Orchard Avenue plan is of particular interest to Pinecrest neighborhood residents and businesses, commercial-corridor development has impacted and will affect residents in many Takoma Park neighborhoods, particularly along New Hampshire Avenue. The proposed Taco Bell, at New Hampshire Avenue and Holton Lane, is another, immediate example. The steps the city takes in the Orchard-Sligo Mill area -- beyond the council resolution on Monday evening's agenda -- and our to-be-discussed position on the Taco Bell site plan will show the degree of regard we pay to residents' concerns while accommodating business requests.

Elections and Council Compensation

The council will vote Monday evening whether to put an advisory question on the 2015 ballot for referendum vote, whether to change the municipal election year to even years in order to align city elections with federal, state, and county general elections, and we will hear a presentation by the Council Compensation Committee regarding recommendations for council salary adjustments. Visit the meeting agenda page for these and other items, and do relay your views to me by e-mail, sethg@takomaparkmd.gov, or phone, 301-873-8225.

The 2015 Election

Finally, the nominating caucus for the 2015 election takes place Tuesday evening, September 29, starting at 7:30 pm. Election Day is November 3, preceded by several days of early voting.

The last day to register to vote via the Maryland State Board of Elections or the Montgomery County Board of Elections is October 13. Given Takoma Park same-day registration and voting, enacted in 2013, for city elections, residents (including non-citizens and 16 & 17 year olds) may register any time, up to and including the day of the election.