Thursday, August 7, 2014

Food Waste Composting Notes

Takoma Park has now run two phases of a food-waste composting pilot, offering weekly curbside collection first to single-family homes in a couple of neighborhoods, and then to all single-family homes roughly south/west of Sligo Creek. The program is currently expanding to cover all city neighborhoods. Visit the city Web site for information and to sign up.

I responded to a request for stats on the city's experience, and thought I'd post what I wrote. 

I'll start by pulling stats from the October 21, 2013 council-meeting presentation, Takoma Park Food Compost Pilot: Current program results and next steps.

The pilot program cost was $33,500, covering 365 households for 35 weeks. That means a cost of under $1,000/week for 365 households (although the set-out rate averaged 70%, not 100%), or under $100 for one household for 35 weeks.

The pilot collected 55 tons of food wastes. I don't precisely how much the city pays in trash tipping fees (although see below for an overall cost), but at the county's tipping fee rate of $56/ton, that's only $3,080 saved on tipping fees, less than 1/10 the cost of the pilot. The major benefit is environmental.

An extension to the pilot, agreed by the council in October, covers an additional 500 homes for $45,065 or $2.65 per home/week for 34 weeks. The council agreed to go city-wide, for single-family homes, this fiscal year, which started July 1. The city projected 175 tons of food-waste collection for the FY.

The city's FY15 budget provides the following Solid Waste Management figures on page 95:

Tons of trash
Actual FY13 -- 3,162
Estimated FY14 -- 3,100
Projected FY15 -- 3,000

Tons of recycling
Actual FY13 -- 1,489
Estimated FY14 -- 1,500
Projected FY15 -- 1,450

Tons of yard waste collected
Actual FY13 -- 421
Estimated FY14 -- 460
Projected FY15 -- 450

Tons of food waste collected
Actual FY13 -- 42
Estimated FY14 -- 130
Projected FY15 -- 175

According to page 97, approximate costs include "$190,000 for solid waste tipping fees and $35,500 for processing fees for single stream recycling processing, yard waste and food waste composting, and electronics recycling." (We also have staff, equipment, and facilities costs.)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

City manager review and blighted properties

This message covers two items on the city-council agenda for Monday, July 21.

The council will meet in a non-public administrative session to conduct the city manager's review. Brian Kenner started as Takoma Park city manager in late June, 2013, responsible for budgeting and management of city staff, programs, and facilities, under the policy direction of the council. We will discuss Brian's performance as city manager as well as his job-related goals and objectives.

If you have comments regarding Brian's performance that you'd like to share, please communicate them to me by e-mail ( or phone (301-873-8225). Please let me know if you'd like me to keep your comments confidential.

I've already written about the proposed resolution, scheduled for open session discussion at 8 pm, of city policy on sharing license plate reader data. Also on Monday evening's agenda, slated for 8:30 pm, is a discussion of applicability of Montgomery County Code in Takoma Park, which is a relatively technical matter.

The other agenda item that will be of broader interest is a discussion, Vacant and Blighted Property Tax Rate, slated for 9:20 pm. We'd like to figure out a way to better handle private properties that have fallen into serious disrepair. Many of them, but not all, are abandoned. In many cases, but not all, the property owner owes back taxes and/or fees to the city or the county.

The Washington McLaughlin Christian School property, located at Poplar and New Hampshire Avenues, is a prime example. There are others including several houses around the city. The house formerly at 36 Philadelphia Avenue, demolished by the city last year, is an example. (I wrote about that property several times, including here.) That case took us so long to address via the limited set of tools legally at our disposal that the property became unrestorable. We'd like to be able to act more quickly. We'd like to see the properties rehabilitated, whether by their current owners or by purchasers, so we're looking for new tools.

An approach applied in other jurisdictions is to create a high property-tax rate for blighted and vacant properties. The council will discuss this approach on Monday evening.

Please let me know if you have thoughts on this matter.



Saturday, July 19, 2014

Should Takoma Park share license-plate reader data with the State of Maryland?

Monday evening, July 21, the city council will discuss and then vote on a resolution authorizing our police department to share its license plate reader (LPR) data with the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center (MCAC). Police Chief Alan Goldberg requested this policy change; MCAC is a state "fusion center" that would retain the data for one year (or longer if needed for an active investigation), making it available for law enforcement investigations by agencies state-wide and for homeland security investigations. Current city policy is that our own police department may retain LPR data for up to 30 days and may not share it with outside agencies.

Takoma Park has three vehicle-mounted license plate reader systems. They identify vehicles that have been reported stolen or that are of interest in a criminal investigation. Please note that Takoma Park can continue to benefit from the LPR technology, for local crime reduction, without sharing data from our own readers. Our police force has accees to other jurisdictions' crime data, regardless whether we share our LPR data.

Vehicle-mounted LPR (Gazette photo)

We are reconsidering city policy. The aim is to establish city policy that responds both to legitimate law enforcement needs and to concerns that data sharing infringes on civil liberties and that shared data could be improperly used.

We could authorize our police force to create a local database with extended local retention, say up to one year, or we could instead authorize transmission of our data to MCAC (making local retention unnecessary).

What is your view?

Please let me know; constituents' views will inform my vote. Contact me at or 301-873-8225. Do consider attending Monday evening's council meeting to comment at 7:30 pm, or share your position with the council: Bruce Williams <>, Frederick Schultz <>, Jarrett Smith <>, Kate Stewart <>, Terry Seamens <>, and Tim Male <>.

There are many information sources and opinions on this issue. They include:

- The resolution backgrounder, which includes the proposed General Order 717 covering sharing of LPR data; an excerpt of a MCAC internal policy document, and responses from LPR program manager Colleen Richarts to city questions; and a May message from Senator Jamie Raskin, Senate co-sponsor of a 2014 bill that governed MCAC data policy, regarding protections.

(Two House of Delegates co-sponsors of the 2014 bill, Ana Sol Gutierrez and Al Carr, also contacted us in May. They were dismayed that their bill had been watered down and asked the city not to change its policy. Carr wrote us, "We would also hope TP would not cede control of its residents' information to the fusion center (which can change its policy at any time and has discussed increasing its retention policy) and add to the growing problem of governmental databases about innocent individual's daily lives.")

- An informative May write-up by Councilmember Tim Male, and Councilmember Kate Stewart's most recent update, which provides a to-the-point description of the issue.

- The ACLU of Maryland, which issued a May action alter stating, "Sharing and storing location data is not necessary for using [automated] LPRs to identify stolen cars or find missing persons. But 99.8 percent of the data collected by police departments using this technology has no connection to any offense at all. If a crime occurs where location data might be useful, the Takoma Park police should store only that relevant data, and should not store or share all the data they collect. We must defend the core American principle that you are innocent until proven guilty. Takoma Park should not help fill a statewide database tracking the location and movement of innocent Marylanders. Tell Takoma Park Councilmembers: We can fight crime and protect privacy."

- Maryland SB699, as enacted this year, taking effect October 1, 2014, regarding state handling of LPR data. This is the bill that Senator Raskin co-sponsored -- again, see his e-mail to me in the Monday evening backgrounder -- but that Delegates Gutierrez and Carr believe falls short.

- Robert Wack, president of the Westminster, Maryland Common Council wrote us in May to related that Westminster decided not to share the town's LPR data. While Westminster's LPR use, like Takoma Park's current use, provides local police the "ability to scan, analyze, and report on licenseplate information day or night, under any weather conditions, and at any time, place, situation (driving or stationary)," from Westminster's "perspective, allowing the collection, storage, and sharing of this data is one more step toward a pervasive surveillance state that none of us are comfortable with."

- The draft Takoma Park resolution, authorizing data sharing with MCAC within MCAC's one-year retention policy.

Is the police chief's proposed policy acceptable?

Could it, or the council's authorizing resolution, be strengthened?

Will the law enforcement benefits that result from LPR data sharing be sufficient to justify this policy change, given the civil liberties and privacy concerns?

These are questions that the council will discuss in considering the resolution. Myself, I am unconvinced that LPR data sharing will enhance law enforcement in Takoma Park, or elsewhere. I have not seen a compelling crime-fighting argument.

My own suggestion is a compromise. The Takoma Park Police Department should be authorized to retain data for up to one year, and to continue accessing other jurisdictions' data through MCAC and other channels and systems. In one year, the department would report back to the council on the effectiveness of longer local retention, and the council would then, at that time and using actual data now lacking, consider data sharing.

Please do share your thoughts.


Added July 22, 2014:

The city council voted to change city policy on license plate reader data sharing and retention. By a 4-3 vote, the council decided that city LPR data should be transmitted to the Maryland fusion center, where it will be retained for one year (or longer, if needed for an investigation) and where it will be available for law enforcement and homeland security investigations.

I voted Against, because it did not seem that law enforcement benefits would be sufficient to outweigh privacy and civil liberties concerns. Also voting against were Jarrett Smith and Terry Seamens. Voting For were Bruce Williams, Tim Male, Fred Schultz, and Kate Stewart.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Green Purchasing & Flower Avenue Green Street: July 14 at the City Council

The July 14 city council meeting includes two items that will interest many residents: A vote on an environmentally-preferable purchasing ordinance and an update on the city's Flower Avenue Green Street project. (The complete agenda is online.) (The mayor has postponed, until July 21, a resolution setting out city policy for sharing of city license-plate reader data that had been scheduled for this Monday evening.)

The environmentally-preferable purchasing ordinance extends existing city purchasing preferences, which currently cover recycled products. The expanded preferences will help the city gain Sustainable Maryland certification, opening a variety of financial and technical assistance opportunities to the city. Information on Sustainable Maryland is online as is Monday's council backgrounder, which includes the draft ordinance. A big Thank You to Cindy Dyballa and the city's Committee on the Environment for their work on this ordinance!

(Meanwhile, we're continuing to develop the Young Activists Act of 2014, which would opt in to Montgomery County's business recycling requirement; expand food-waste collection to city apartment buildings and businesses; ban most food-service polystyrene use (including styrofoam); and require that disposable food serviceware be compostable. The council green-lighted development of the bill at a June 16 worksession. We are working over the summer to address questions about feasibility, costs, and facilities and hope to bring a bill to vote in September.)

The Flower Avenue Green Street project will transform a heavily-used, substandard street via the installation of new sidewalks, stormwater facilities, bus shelters, and traffic-calming measures. The city annexed the full Flower Avenue right-of-way from Montgomery County, took control of the street from the State Highway Administration, and has assembled over $2.2 million in funding for the project, which has taken shape over the last four years. We now own Flower Avenue between Piney Branch Road and Carroll Avenue (and then downhill to Sligo Creek Parkway).

We have six primary objectives for the Flower Avenue Green Street project, as described in the council backgrounder:

"(1) Design of ADA complaint sidewalk on the east side of the street and identification of repairs needed to the existing sidewalk on the west side, (2) identification of locations for, and design, of low-impact stormwater retention facilities to capture and filter run-off from the street, (3) design improvements to pedestrian crossings and bus stops, (4) recommend energy efficient street lighting fixtures for the area, (5) identify the amount of on-street parking needed for the current residents and (6) assess the optimum road configuration to enable objectives 1 - 3 above. The City will repave the street, once the project improvements are implemented." Upgrades to the Flower-Carroll intersection are also in the works.

Attend or watch the Monday-evening council session for the Flower Avenue update, or learn more at a community meeting that the city will be holding on Wednesday, July 16, 7 pm at Washington Adventist University's Wilkinson Hall.

And as always, please contact me directly, at or 301-873-8225, about any city-related matter that concerns you.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Old Takoma commercial district zoning

This is a belated report on the zoning discussion at last Monday evening's city-council meeting (June 16), regarding treatment of the Old Takoma commercial district in Montgomery County's proposed new zoning map.

The outcome is that the city is fine with NR (neighborhood retail) zoning, with modifications to an existing overlay zone. The city council will vote on a resolution regarding the new zoning map, this coming Monday evening. The agenda material and draft resolution are online.

Montgomery County Planning Director Gwen Wright and Deputy Director Rose Krasnow attended last Monday evening's meeting. Staffers Pam Dunn and Matt Johnson also participated.

The county planning staff clarified that Old Takoma zoning is governed not only by the area's base zone -- currently C-1 (convenience commercial), proposed for conversion to NR -- but also by the Takoma Park/East Silver Spring Commercial Revitalization (TPESS) Overlay Zone. The overlay zone will survive implementation of the county's new zoning code and zoning map.

The earlier plan had been to convert the Old Takoma base zone to CRT (commercial residential town) rather than NR. Gwen emphasized that the Historic Preservation ordinance would provide us very significant, additional protections. She reminded us that she was part of the creation of the Takoma Park Historic District a couple of decades ago. Given the historic district and overlay zone, NR is the right choice for the Old Takoma commercial district.

So the city is now comfortable with remapping of Old Takoma base zoning to NR, with certain modifications to the overlay zone, for instance, to require that any new building come up to the sidewalk rather than have parking on the parcel along the sidewalk. The Carroll Avenue CVS is an example of what WON'T happen elsewhere in Old Takoma.

The backgrounder from the June 16 council meeting is online. The meeting video is as well.

As always, please let me know if you have concerns.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

"Zero waste," zoning, and legislative action requests, at the council June 16

I'll call out three items slated for city-council discussion at the Monday evening, June 16 meeting. This is going to be a long update, with a fair amount of technical content. My write-ups are under the three section headers that follow.

The Young Activists Act of 2014

The Young Activists Club (YAC) raised over $5,000 to pay for a dishwasher for Piney Branch Elementary School, to allow the school to move from disposable polystyrene trays to durable, reusable trays. That was years ago -- the oldest Young Activists will start high school this fall -- and PBES still doesn't have a dishwasher, but the club's persistence won a partial victory: Montgomery County Public Schools will replace the non-recylable polystyrene with cardboard trays.

More recently, the YAC has asked the city to ban polystyrene food-service use, which includes styrofoam, city-wide. The council will discuss proposed legislation that does just that, and goes beyond to extend food-waste composting to apartments and businesses, on Monday evening.

The city's collection of food wastes from single-family homes, for composting, up to now a pilot program, will be extended city-wide in the fiscal year that starts July 1. It is a matter of equity that apartment residents should have the same benefit as residents of single-family homes. And business food-waste composting, and use of compostable disposables, while new to the eastern US, would catch us up to west coast cities that have long had compostables requirements.

The Young Activists Act of 2014 would also close a loop-hole, opting-in to Montgomery County business recycling requirements that have been in place for years.

Please read the council backgrounder to learn more -- I wrote it -- and also the draft ordinance. With this "zero waste" ordinance, Takoma Park would further environmental sustainability, for all our residents.

Legislative Action Requests

The city council will also discuss legislative action requests for consideration by the Maryland Municipal League (MML), for 2015 state-legislative session advocacy. The MML is an association of Maryland cities. We can ask the MML to take up three items, as priorities. Naturally, these should be items of broad municipal concern. Issues specific to Takoma Park, or to Montgomery County municipalities, we can take up through the District 20 or Montgomery County delegations.

In the past, the city's top priorities for MML advocacy have related to revenue issues such as gas-tax advocacy and transit funding. There is a revenue issue that is unresolved and should remain at the top of our request list:

1) The State of Maryland should dedicate a higher portion of Highway User Revenues for sharing with Maryland municipalities, in keeping with levels that preceded the start of the most recent recession. The city anticipates receiving just above $300,000 in FY15, up from a low of $43,931 in FY11, but far below amounts over $500,000 we received in years up to FY09.

Beyond that item, given concerns expressed by Takoma Park residents, I would consider asking the MML to take up:

2) Legislation to allow free-standing emergency medical facilities, beyond the emergency room (ER) at Shady Grove Adventist Emergency Center in Germantown. This request is a reaction to the planned relocation of Washington Adventist Hospital to White Oak. Many would like to see a leave-behind ER here in Takoma Park.

3) Legislation to strengthen protection of data held by the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center (MCAC), a "fusion center" that collects data from agencies state-wide. The text of the bill passed in the 2014 legislative session (SB 699/HB 289) was so significantly weakened that sponsoring Delegates Ana Sol Gutierrez and Al Carr recently called on the City of Takoma Park not to share its license-plate reader data with MCAC.

4) Legislation to lift the 17% cap on locally-designated income taxes that may go to a municipality. Allowing cities including Takoma Park a greater share of the income-tax revenue that otherwise goes to counties would put all parties in better share to resolve long-standing city-county tax and service duplication issues.

5) Legislation to change state provisions that restrict county tax-duplication payments to cities to amounts for services funded by property taxes.

I could list additional candidates, but the city may put forward only three items, and I've listed five (although my #4 and #5 could possibly be consolidated). My council colleagues and city staff will likely propose other items. But what do you think about the items I've listed, and what have I missed?

Old Takoma Commercial-Area Zoning

A third notable item slated for June 16 discussion is a change to Old Takoma zoning that will apply to the commercial areas within the historic district. The zoning designation will regulate building scale and will have repercussions for transitions to residential blocks, for traffic, and parking.

The Montgomery County Council enacted a long-in-the-works rewrite of the county zoning code earlier this year. The map -- the designation of new zones to particular areas, to replace the designations under the old zoning code -- is due for county-council approval later this year. Unfortunately, county planning staff blindsided the city in recommending, without proper notice to the city, alterations to the designation proposed for areas that include the Old Takoma historic district. This is a significant change, which the city manager protested by letter to the county council's Planning, Housing, and Economic Development (PHED) Committee by letter June 5, just prior to the June 9 PHED Committee meeting.

PHED is chaired by Councilmember Nancy Floreen; Councilmembers (and Takoma Park residents) George Leventhal and Marc Elrich are the other two members.

Per a memo from city Housing and Community Development Director Sara Daines, "The proposed change would convert all C-1 [convenience commercial] zoned property in the Takoma Park Historic District to the Neighborhood Retail (NR) zone, instead of the Commercial Residential Town (CRT) zone as originally supported by the Planning Board. City staff objected to the content and timing of the change." Ms Daines's memo and a variety of other materials are included in the city-council packet available online.

And That's It...

... for this update. Please let me know if you have questions or concerns, at, by phone, 301-873-8225, or during my next drop-in office time, Wednesday, June 25, 8-9 am at my office, 7006 Carroll Avenue #202.

Reminder: I've posted my picks for the 2014 Democratic primary election. I hope they're helpful!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

My 2014 Primary Endorsements

The following are my endorsements for contested races the 2014 Democratic Primary election, which takes place June 24, with early voting running June 12-19. My picks are listed in the order that offices appear on the ballot.

Governor/Lt. Governor: Heather Mizeur and Delman Coates
Heather is the most progressive candidate in the race.

Attorney General: Brian E. Frosh
Frosh is highly qualified and reliable (qualities lacking in one of his opponents), with strong positions on matters such as marriage equality (an issue with the other opponent).

House of Delegates, Legislative District 20 (vote for up to 3): Sheila E. Hixson and David Moon **
Sheila is a progressive champion, and her leadership position in Annapolis is a real asset for D20. David is a consummate strategist, a strong progressive, and great communicator.

House of Delegates, Legislative District 19: Paul Bardack
I've known Paul for years. His competence and integrity are truly outstanding, and you won't meet a nicer person.

County Executive: Ike Leggett
Ike is reliable and trustworthy and a champion for the county's neediest residents.

County Council At Large (vote for up to 4): George Leventhal **
George is the most responsive representative I have ever worked with, and has devoted his years on the council to bringing healthcare and social services to lower and moderate income residents, including our county's many immigrants.

County Council District 5: Evan Glass
Evan is a truly promising community leader, with local, Montgomery County leadership experience in affordable housing, environment, transit, and neighborhood building.

(For more on my at-large and D5 picks, see this link.)

Judge of the Circuit Court, Judicial Circuit 6: Gary E. Bair, Audrey A. Creighton, Nelson W. Rupp, Jr., Joan E. Ryon (the sitting judges)
These recommendations are actually Jamie Raskin's. I trust no one's judgment more than Jamie's.

Clerk of the Circuit Court: Alan Bowser
Alan is a community activist with strong legal and governmental experience.

Sheriff: Darren Mark Popkin
An incumbent who deserves to keep his job.

Democratic Central Committee At Large (vote for up to 8): Chris Bradbury, Dave Kunes, Kevin Walling
Dave is a leader in local party politics, and the Bradbury and Walling seem promising.

Democratic Central Committee, Legislative District 20 (vote for up to 2): Edward Malcolm Kimmel, Jheanelle Wilkins
I have known Ed for years, and Jheanelle made a good pitch for my vote.

Board of Education, At Large: Jill Ortman-Fouse
Jill is incredibly engaged, on the side of treating schools individually rather than via cookie-cutter management.

** I have not made a 3rd endorsement for D20 delegate because I think 6 candidates, in addition to the 2 I've endorsed, are qualified: Chappell, Hopewell, Jawando, Shurberg, Smith, Unger. Given the nature of the county-council at-large race, I'm bullet-endorsing a preferred candidate here.