Tuesday, February 21, 2012

My questions regarding the 410/Flower SHA-Takoma Park MOU

Ownership and responsibility for Maryland state routes 410 (Philadelphia and Ethan Allen Avenues) and 787 (Flower Avenue) in Takoma Park has been the subject of extended public discussion and city-State Highway Administration (SHA) negotiation. Now the city and the SHA are considering a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that would seal a deal. The Takoma Park City Council is slated to discuss the draft MOU at its Tuesday evening, February 21, 2012 meeting.

Please consult the agenda backgrounder prepared by city staff and September 26, 2011 briefing materials on negotiations, prepared by city staff at an earlier stage.

I'm a council newcomer and have quite a few questions about the proposed MOU. I'm putting them out for comments, suggestions, and correction of any misconceptions I might have. I've grouped them according to the nature of the question. Here we go:

Drafting questions
  1. How, precisely, is it that "the Perpetual Maintenance Easement... are [sic] a necessary accommodation for the traveling public, and promote the health, safety and general welfare of the citizens of the State and Montgomery County"?
  2. A WHEREAS clause states, "if a provision of this Agreement provides notice and a comment opportunity, the CITY will provide its comments within ten (10) business days of receipt of notice of the proposed action. The SHA will review the CITY’s comments and respond prior to commencing any action." This timing appears not to be consistent with the "seven (7) business days"granted for comment on IV. Utility Permits and VI. Signs. Should this language not be consistent?
  3. Could the city-comment, SHA-response provisions not be included explicitly in V. Signalization and VII. Pedestrian Crosswalks, (separately) preferably with a provision that the SHA respect the city's views and preferences?
Financial questions
  1. The MOU states, "SHA will provide the CITY the amount of $696,000.00 as a contribution towards the CITY’s repairs to Flower Avenue." Noting that the MOU mandated payment would be "a contribution towards the CITY’s repairs" rather than payment of the full cost of the city's planned Flower Avenue green street and of roadway maintenance, What is the full estimated cost of the city's planned Flower Avenue green-street and of on-going right-of-way maintenance? Does that estimate include stormwater management upgrades?
  2. What benefit to the city is there in conveying ownership of the 7800 Block of Carroll Avenue to the state, whether direct or measured in avoided expense liability?
Operational questions
  1. The MOU states, "The SHA will determine, in its sole and absolute discretion, the maintenance schedule and implementation of routine maintenance to the MD 410 Easement Area." The SHA has admitted that they have not maintained Route 410 to standards. What MOU assurances can we include that future maintenance will meet standards and to protect against a diminution in standards? What MOU assurance can we craft that SHA practices will conform to Takoma Park standards, for instance involving tree trimming and snow removal? The draft MOU text refers to "roadway patching." Could this be modified to "roadway paving, resurfacing, and temporary patching"?
  2. For Utility Permits, Signalization, and Signs, the MOU appears not to require that the SHA pay any heed to city comments. How is this acceptable?
  3. What mechanism can we create for the city to initiate, and have a reasonable expectation of positive response to, requests to the SHA related to Signalization, Signs, Pedestrian Crosswalks, and Sidewalks?
  4. What assurance can we craft that permitted roadway work performed by, or under contract to, utilities that may include Washington Gas, WSSC, and Pepco is performed to the highest standards, in consultation with the city?
  5. Could we add to IX. Stormwater the words in [[double-square brackets]], "SHA will remain responsible for managing stormwater on its roadways [[and at curb-cuts]] in addition to its existing stormwater management facilities, including pipes and inlets."
Technical questions
  1. A WHEREAS clause states, "the CITY and the SHA each own certain portions of a roadway known as Maryland Route 410, including Philadelphia Avenue from Chestnut Avenue (Mile Point 5.00) to Cedar Avenue (Mile Point 5.20); Philadelphia Avenue from Maple Avenue (Mile Point 5.29) to Carroll Avenue/MD 195 (Mile Point 5.63); and Ethan Allen Avenue from Elm Avenue (Mile Point 6.16) to Carroll Avenue/MD 195 (Mile Point 5.63)." How could two entities own particular portions of the roadway?
  2. Noting the language, "VIII. Sidewalks (a) Installation of new sidewalk along State highways where none exist today may be eligible for construction funding under the provisions of SHA’s Sidewalk Retrofit Program. Once constructed and in accordance with the Annotated Code of Maryland relating to Construction and Maintenance of Sidewalk (8-630(6)(i), the maintenance and repair of sidewalk would then become the responsibility of the political subdivision in which the sidewalk is located.. [sic]": Why could the Green Street sidewalk on the north side of Flower Avenue not be constructed with SHA funding with maintenance responsibility assumed by Montgomery County?
  3. Is there a particular reason council members did not take part in negotiations with the SHA?
  4. Why is there no statement for the SHA that mirrors "This Agreement shall inure to and be binding upon the City of Takoma Park, its agents, successors and assigns"?
Decision questions
  1. Why is it necessary for the state to own all of Route 410 in order for the SHA to maintain the full extent of Route 410 in Takoma Park?
  2. Can, and should the city and the SHA not, separate out handling of the Flower Avenue ownership and upgrade?
  3. What would be the consequences of simply declining to enact an MOU?
  4. Given the contention that that SHA will not agree to never widen MD 410, could we include language that "the SHA agrees not to undertake, without the full consultation and consent of the City of Takoma Park, any initiative within the next 99 years that would widen Route 410 in Takoma Park"?
I wish to acknowledge comments and suggestions from individuals who include Terese Bouey, Lorig Charkoudian, Heidi Hessler, Ann Hoffnar, Andy Kelemen, Lorraine Pearsall, Rosemarie Sabatino, Ray Scannell, and Josh Wright.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Takoma Junction report, zombie committees at the February 13 council meeting

There are two items of note at this this evening's (Monday, February 13) city-council meeting.

1) The Takoma Junction Task Force will present its report, slated for 8 pm.

Takoma Junction is the area stretching from the fire station to the TPSS Co-op and down Carroll Avenue to Lee Avenue. The report covers businesses, traffic flow, pedestrian safety, use or development of the city parking lot, historic-district & environmental concerns, and more, including what the task force heard in numerous community outreach meetings. The report is online at http://takomaparkmd.gov/clerk/agenda/items/2012/TJTF_Report_FINAL.pdf.

I plan to push city implementation of task-force recommendations and need your feedback. Please do attend the council meeting or view it online or on the city cable TV channel, or review the report and let me know your thoughts.

2) The council is scheduled to discussion what I'll call "zombie" committee: Safe Roadways, Environment, Free Burma. These committees have existed only on paper for several years.

I still see a need for a Safe Roadways Committee, for study of safety issues, recommendations, and coordinated city advocacy. There are open safety issues -- speeding, pedestrian-signal timing, crosswalks & intersections, and so on -- in a number of parts of Takoma Park including several in/bordering Ward 1. I've found past SRC material to be useful, for instance the committee's 2005 report.

I still see a need for an Environment Committee, again for study of environmental and energy issues, recommendations, and coordinated city advocacy. Environmentalism remains a leading city concern, regarding both city-government operations and for residents and business.

The time for a Free Burma Committee has passed, in my opinion.

I'd welcome hearing residents' opinions regarding the committees. Should the council eliminate them or seek to revive them? If you have thoughts to share, please let me know.



Sunday, February 5, 2012

City-council topics, February 6 2012

At its Monday evening's meeting, the city council is slated to hear annual reports from the city's Tree Commission and the City Arborist, covering the state of the city's tree canopy. The council will consider two resolution related to bills in the state legislature and discuss grant applications from organizations seeking city funding.

Background materials for the agenda items are online.

I've posted my criteria for assessing grant-funding requests to my blog. There are 9 applications; large grants are for amounts greater than $2,500. Please do share your thoughts on the requests.

The two resolutions regarding state-legislative items are a) Supporting Efforts to Reverse the Decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and b) Resolution Supporting Raising the Tax on Gasoline in Maryland. See the backgrounder for this agenda item.

Governor O'Malley has proposed extending the 6% Maryland sales tax to gasoline. Funds could go to transporation projects and other uses. The city resolution would support the tax and call for the money to be spent on transportation projects and increase in highway-user revenues, provided by the state to local governments, which have been cut severely in recent years. I favor it.

I have misgivings about the other item. The Citizens United decision is bad news -- corporations are not people, and heavy corporate spending in electoral campaigns is pernicious -- but Citizens United isn't a city issue. Should the city devote time and resources to this question? Again, please share your thoughts.


Seth, 301-873-8225

How I Would Assess Takoma Park Grant Funding Requests

The city council is slated to discuss large-grant applications on Monday evening, February 6. Applicants are community organizations, 9 of them, seeking a total of $130,648.50 in public support. The council must assess the applications and decide which to include in the city's FY2013 budget (for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2012). Here are the criteria I would apply:

  • How is the proposed use of funds aligned with the interests of Takoma Park residents and other stakeholders?
  • How wide is the reach, and how deep is the potential impact, of the proposed use of funds?
  • Does the proposed use serve more needful, underserved segments of community?
  • What's the "bang for the buck," the ratio of impact to requested amount?
  • Is the proposed use duplicative of programming or services offered by the city or another organization? If it is, what is the justification for funding despite the duplication?
  • Does the proposed use (by contrast) relieve the city of responsibility for delivery of needed services that the city would otherwise deliver?
  • Does the proposing organization have its own resources that could fund the project?
  • Could the applicant tap non-city funding that would be more appropriate than city funding given project goals, reach, and city impact?

The following is the list of FY2013 large-grant applications. Full applications are available via links on the city Web site. I'll reserve my evaluation for the February 6 council meeting, but Ward 1 residents, what do you think? Please let me know.

  • Adventist Community Services of Greater Washington - Swimming and Water Safety Lessons; Requesting: $8,060
  • Crossroads Community Food Network, Inc. (formerly Crossroads Farmers Market, Inc.) - Crossroads Healthy Eating Initiative; Requesting: $17,368.50
  • Dance Exchange - HOME at Dance Exchange; Requesting: $20,000
  • Music from Maple View - Classical Chamber Music Festival and Series ; Requesting: $2,500-$10,000
  • Old Takoma Business Association/Main Street Takoma - Main Street Takoma; Requesting: $30,000
  • Takoma Park Folk Festival, Inc. - Festival Support; Requesting: $7,000
  • Takoma Park Independence Day Committee, Inc. - Independence Day Fireworks; Requesting: $13,500
  • Takoma Park Women’s Business Network - Support and Networking for Women Entrepreneurs; Requesting: $20,720
  • Washington Adventist University – Halcyon Hall - Halcyon Hall Courtyard/Raingarden; Requesting: $4,000