Sunday, December 22, 2013

Glass and Moon campaign events: 2 for the price of 2!

I support David Moon for Maryland House of Delegates, District 20, and Evan Glass for Montgomery County Council, District 5, in the June 2014 Democratic primaries. I hope you'll also support each, and attend their up-coming, early-January fundraisers: January 5 for Evan and January 7 for David.

(Evan's and David's campaigns aren't connected and they haven't endorsed each other. I'm hitting you up with just a single message only because their events are within 2 days of each other.)

Evan Glass's fundraiser will take place in Takoma Park, 5pm - 7pm on Sunday, January 5. Please visit http://www.evanglass.com/takoma_park_fundraiser to purchase tickets.

I have characterized Evan as the next-generation leader that we in Montgomery County need, to build consensus around an agenda that advances education, environmentalism, affordable housing, transportation, jobs, and growth. I probably first got to know him as chair of the county's Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board. I've also had working exchanges with him in his capacity as a board member of Conservation Montgomery and of the Montgomery Housing Partnership. Evan is the best candidate to replace Valerie Ervin, to represent District 5 on the larger stage, in Rockville.

There will be a "Dinner Party with Friends of David Moon" on Tuesday, January 7, 6pm - 8pm at Addis Ababa Restaurant in Silver Spring. Visit http://davidmoon.us/deadline/ to respond and contribute.

David knows his way around Maryland campaigns and politics and the issues, of course with the progressive take that we expect from all the local Democratic primary candidates. He's a strong strategist and a great communicator. The issue I've talked to David about most is justice policy and drug-law reform; there is no question in my mind that David can *both* relate to constituents' (and the whole of our state's) varied needs and craft team approaches to meeting them.

Please join me at David Moon's and at Evan Glass's fundraisers, and in my support for their campaigns.

Thanks very much,

Seth


P.S. Feel free to forward this message, which, by the way, wasn't endorsed or paid for by anyone other than me.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

2014 Primary Endorsements: Glass, Moon, Leggett & Mizeur

While the 2014 Maryland primaries are six months off -- June 24, 2014 -- candidates have been running hard for months.

We have a three-person race for the Democratic nomination for governor -- I endorsed Heather Mizeur, the most progressive candidate in the race, months back -- and I've now met with 7 of the 9 challenger-candidates for the three District 20 seats in the House of Delegates. I'll make an early endorsement in that latter race -- from my viewpoint as a local activist and small-potatoes elected official -- and an endorsement in the now-contested Montgomery County Council District 5 race.

But first, there's no contest, so far as I'm concerned, in the race for Montgomery County Executive: I'm with incumbent Ike Leggett all the way. I do wish his opponent Phil Andrews, currently District 3 council rep, well. The less said about the return ambitions of former County Executive Doug Duncan, the better.

Montgomery County Council District 5

Silver Spring civic activist Evan Glass declared for the District 5 county-council seat earlier this fall. I held back from any endorsement in that race because incumbent Valerie Ervin had yet to declare. Valerie announced on December 10 that she'll be stepping down in January -- the council will appoint a successor to fill out her term, through December 2014 -- clearing the way for me to endorse Evan, who is astute, experienced, progressive, and full of promise. My statement:
Evan Glass is the next-generation leader that we in Montgomery County need, to build consensus around an agenda that advances education, environmentalism, affordable housing, transportation, jobs, and growth. I'm delighted to endorse Evan for Montgomery County Council, District 5.
I had attended Terrill North's campaign kick-off, for an at-large seat on the county council, back in September, and I donated to his campaign. Terrill has a strong resume and is developing as a candidate. With Valerie's announcement, Terrill chose to jump into the District 5 race, but I have to stand by my endorsement of Evan. Evan Glass is the right person for the job.

Maryland House of Delegates District 20 

"Right person for the job" also describes both District 20 delegate incumbents, Sheila Hixson, whom I have grown to appreciate and admire immensely in recent years, and Tom Hucker, who has been a force for progress in the state house. With his growing seniority, Tom should be able to accomplish even more in a next term, on issues such as a increase in the minimum wage (and other steps to address economic disparities and social needs) and a much-needed reform of our state's drug laws. (I favor a legalize, regulate, and tax approach to marijuana.) Plus Takoma Park and other Maryland cities rely on him as an advocate when it comes to state revenues and other municipal needs. I hope Tom sticks with the state legislature and does not jump into the county-council race, though he'd quite likely win, given the greater contribution he can make at the state level.

I'm going to endorse one challenger-candidate to join Sheila and Tom -- who should both easily win reelection since the large number of challengers will split the vote for the third seat -- although I expect I'll endorse a second before too long. (There's no rule that says I have to stick with one.) 

I endorse David Moon.

David Moon knows his way around campaigns and state politics and the issues, of course with the progressive take that we expect from all the Democratic primary candidates. He's a strong strategist and a great communicator, and a plus: He lives in Takoma Park. 

And the others? (Alphabetically:) Justin Chappell, D'Juan Hopewell, Will Jawando, Jonathan Shurberg, Will Smith, and Darian Unger are all qualified and would likely do a stand-out job as D20 delegate.  

Among the challenger-candidates other than David Moon, I do like best D'Juan Hopewell and Will Smith.

D'Juan Hopewell's life story is inspiring. His accomplishments (including working the tough sale of the Dream Act and Marriage equality to not-typically-progressive church communities) are impressive. He is dedicated and personable. His potential as a public servant is limitless. Yet I do have reservations. D'Juan's local presence is not strong, certainly weaker than those of highly qualified rivals who grew up in, or have long been active in, the Silver Spring area such as, well, all the other candidates I named above, including Will Smith.

Will Smith's resume catalogs the many ways he has delivered on, and not just spoken about, a commitment to District 20 and Montgomery County. His record of public service, as an Obama Administration appointee and Naval Reserve officer, extends beyond our immediate area, and as 2010 campaign coordinator for the then-incumbent D20 legislators (who were reelected), he clearly knows his way around electoral politics.

I look forward to continuing to hear from, and to interact with, all the D20 delegate candidates. As the race develops, I'll consider another challenger endorsement. For now, I hope this helps you in your own consideration of the 2014 Democratic primary contests!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Washington Adventist Hospital relocation request: December 9 presentation, hearing & council discussion

The December 9, 2014 city-council meeting will be devoted to a single topic --

Washington Adventist Hospital's petition to relocate to White Oak

-- with a 7 pm presentation by WAH President Joyce Newmyer, followed by a 7:30 pm public hearing and then a worksession discussion with Ms Newmyer.

(Worksessions are open to the public but do not involve public participation. If you have points you'd like me to raise, please let me know. You can watch the council meeting, and other city TV programming, online via a link on the city Web site.)

The hospital, earlier this fall, submitted a revised Certificate of Need application to the Maryland Healthcare Commission, to justify moving the major part of its operations to White Oak. The commission would likely rule on the application in the spring of 2014. The relocation wouldn't happen for something like five years after that, and the hospital would leave certain medical services behind in Takoma Park.

The December 9 meeting agenda is online. You'll find two links on that Web page:

- Washington Adventist Hospital Relocation Information

- Takoma Park Newsletter - December 2013 Issue

The December issue of the city newletter, which you should have received by mail earlier this week, includes a background article, "Public hearing explores hospital move," by Deputy City Manager Suzanne Ludlow; a summary of WAH's plan by Diana Troese, WAH Public Relations and Marketing Manager; and material compiled by city staff answering "What would the move mean for Takoma Park?"

Finally, my next Ward 1 drop-in office time will be Tuesday, December 10, 5 pm-6 pm at my office, 7006 Carroll Avenue #202, above the Middle Eastern Cuisine restaurant. I won't have office time the 4th Wednesday of the month, December 25, but you can come by the next 2nd Tuesday, January 14, 5 pm-6 pm, or just phone (301-873-8225) or write (sethg@takomaparkmd.gov) if you have anything city-related you'd like to discuss.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Takoma Metro development: Traffic analysis + my November 21 comment

WMATA has provided a Takoma Traffic Analysis Technical Memo assessing the impacts of the proposed joint development project at Takoma.

WMATA's next official project step will likely be consideration, by the board's Planning, Program Development & Real Estate (PPDRE) Committee, of a Takoma Amended Joint Development Agreement (JDA) with developer EYA, at a December 5, 2013 meeting. If PPDRE votes to move forward with the Amended JDA, the full board would take up the topic at its December 19 meeting.

For those who are interested, the following is my comment before the WMATA board, at its November 21, 2013 meeting. Also commenting were ANC 4B Commissioners Sara Green and Faith Wheeler and community member Jim DiLuigi, an architect with ADA-accessibility expertise.

My comment:


Good morning. I am Seth Grimes, a member of the Takoma Park City Council. Thank you for the opportunity to comment this morning.

I was here at the last board meeting, last month, to comment on the Takoma project. Subsequently the Takoma Park City Council did pass a resolution on Takoma Metro development, on October 28. You received it. It was also transmitted to the Montgomery County Executive, to the Montgomery County Council, to the Director of the Maryland Department of Transportation.

The city, officially, does call on WMATA and developer EYA to modify the design for development at the Takoma Metro station, that would be incorporated in the Takoma Joint Development Agreement, to fully address concerns about safety (the loading-dock positioning in particular), transit accessibility for persons with disabilities, neighborhood compatibility, massing and step-back from Eastern Avenue, building height within the current zoning -- the proposed building height is far outside the current zoning limits, and speculation about a Washington DC Planned Unit Development process is only speculation at this point -- and traffic impact on Takoma.

I understand that the design that we were provided by developer EYA on November 4th mislabels the position of the ADA and elderly persons' drop-off. We have not been provided with a revised design, nor with a design that addresses the loading-dock positioning, which would entail trucks backing across a sidewalk on Eastern Avenue NW.

It is important for you, as the WMATA board, to insist on a correct, workable, safe, accessible design, prior to voting a Takoma Amended Joint Development agreement, in particular, noting that WMATA does wish to move forward with EYA despite an expired [earlier] agreement, without recompeting the project. Normally a recompete would surface the best financial terms and best design.

We are confident that EYA can come forward with great financial terms for WMATA, with a design that will promote transit usage, that will meet community concerns regarding safety, transit accessibility, traffic impact, community compatibility.

We ask you to insist on such a design from developer EYA, prior to enacting a Takoma Amended Joint Development Agreement.

Thank you.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Attitudes toward council initiatives, and metrics-based performance management

I recognize that some are still angry about Safe Grow and the time spent on topics that one Philadelphia-Eastern Neighborhood (PEN) resident characterizes as "excesses" and another calls "grandstanding, headline issues." Another PEN resident asked why the council isn't "establishing measures of accountability to the community, that is, mechanisms to measure success of the initiatives they voted for and funded."

By way of response:

We don't agree that the initiatives seen as excesses and grandstanding, are. Local supporters of innovations such as Same Day Registration & Voting, and voting for 16 year olds and on-parole/on-probation felons, believe that these are positive steps that make a substantive difference. They are designed to work for Takoma Park, and financially, they don't cost much.

Uncontroversial steps such as creation of a half-time senior-services coordinator position (designed to support Aging In Place and city-wide "village" development) and opening the library on Sunday afternoons are cost far more.

Yes, innovations do gain headlines. (That's not bad in itself.) I'm glad that the coverage I've seen has been positive. The voting analysis Takoma Park Sees High Turnout Among Teens After Election Reform is typical, and I was glad to read ex-Takoma Parker Susan Harris's take on Safe Grow, Lawn Pesticides Outlawed! (Safe Grow won a first victory before it was even enacted, when Washington Adventist Hospital agreed to forego use of lawncare pesticides.)

What about "mechanisms to measure success of the initiatives"? Implementation of suitable mechanisms is something I and other council members have been pushing. One, in particular, is collection of operational data ("metrics") with regular reporting against performance benchmarks in order to determine the cost, effectiveness, and ways to improve the spectrum of city programs and operations. My understanding is that the previous city manager had committed to piloting metrics & reporting for one city department -- Josh Wright could possibly comment on this -- but didn't deliver. I brought up metrics & reporting during the search that led to hiring of the current city manager, and I believe he will deliver. Please hold me accountable on this point.

I have also been pressing for staff-council discussion of year-ahead program plans, during the first quarter of the calendar, prior to the budget presentation and discussion that takes place, in April & May of each year, for the fiscal year that starts the following July 1. I don't know if I can make this innovation happen. Really, it depends on buy-in from the mayor, who creates the council agenda, and Bruce Williams hasn't yet reacted on this point.

Thanks again to everyone who has shared thoughts on city operations and planning and the choices we make. Please do keep them coming.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Inauguration of the new council, Monday evening, November 18 + CDBG grants

The new city council -- same as the old council -- will begin its two-year term Monday evening, November 18.

The meeting agenda is online. Please join us for a dessert reception following the meeting, at approximately 8:30 pm, at the community center. This will be an ideal occasion to (re-)meet the council members, at the start of a term.

First, the last act of the old council will be to vote on FY15 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) recommendations. Takoma Park's recommendations will be forwarded to Montgomery County for incorporation in plans for the county's overall allocation.

"The CDBG program provides flexible funding for a variety of neighborhood revitalization, economic development, capacity building and housing projects which directly benefit low and moderate income (LMI) residents of Takoma Park or are located in and serve an area that is predominantly inhabited by LMI residents." As a Capital Improvement Project, the council is supporting $106,250 for the Flower Avenue Green Street project. Public Service Projects may receive up to 15% of the overall allocation. The council will support the city review committee's recommendations:

- Catching Up Program, $5,000, funding the African Immigrant and Refugee Foundation for homework assistance with individualized mentoring and tutoring, with interpretation and translation assistance, targeting 20 students residing in the Essex House Apartments (7777 Maple).

- Microenterprise Development, $6,480, to the Crossroads Community Food Network, Inc. to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate job training (food production), mentoring, and skills development and linkage of micro-entrepreneurs with existing resources and local food mentors.

- Smart Choices with Emotions, $7,270, to the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington, DC-Youth and Family Service for weekly therapeutic group meetings for at-risk students at Takoma Park Middle School.

Thank you to reviewers Elizabeth Boyd, Franca Brilliant, Gary Cardillo, Andrew Kelemen, Howard Kohn, Anand Parikh, Lesley Perry, and Jacqueline Schick!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A city-election report, and a council retreat

Incumbent members of the Takoma Park City Council all ran for reelection and -- no surprises we all won. The only contest was posed by a late mayoral write-in campaign. A big Thank You! to everyone who voted.

Election results are posted. The vote tally includes 59 16 and 17 year olds, 41 of whom took advantage of the city's new Same Day Registration & Voting. Overall 91 individuals registered just before voting: 64 U.S. citizens and 27 non-citizens. Early voting, from October 30 to November 3, attracted 226 voters.

The City Council -- the old council, same as the new council -- will meet this week in a facilitated discussion of council priorities, in a "retreat" format rather than in a conventional meeting. The meeting is open to the public. Join us if you wish: Tuesday, November 12, 6:00 p.m. at Washington Adventist Hospital, Building 7620, 3rd floor, although the public will not participate and the meeting will not be broadcast or recorded.

I welcome constituents' comments on the agenda posted below, in advance of the meeting, by e-mail (sethg@takomaparkmd.gov) or phone (301-873-8225) or in-person at my resumed twice-monthly Ward 1 councilmember drop-in office time, Tuesday November 12, 5-6 p.m. The address is 7006 Carroll Avenue, #202, entrance between the Mark's Kitchen and the Middle Eastern Cuisine restaurants. My drop-in times after that will be the 4th Wednesday of the month, November 27, 8-9 a.m, then the 2nd Tuesday of December, December 10, 5-6 pm.

The draft agenda for the Tuesday, November 12 council retreat, created by facilitator Ellen Kandell, is as follows:

6:00 Dinner, welcome, agenda review and ground rules

6:20 What are the criteria for evaluating priority items?
Outcome: Information sharing and discussion

6:40 Review of Priority rankings memo
Outcome: Consensus on priorities

Break

8:00 This legislative term: What do you want to accomplish? What are the themes for this term?

Outcome: Consensus on themes

9:00 Legislative decision making process:
A) How do you support the body's decisions when you don't agree with them?
B) How to streamline the council process?
Outcome: Possible list of ground rules or common understandings

9:45 Next steps

10:00 Adjourn

What about city priorities?

Earlier this fall, City Manager Brian Kenner asked councilmembers to prioritize items in an extensive list of city matters. He compiled the responses as follows:

Top 10 High Priority Goals - Prioritized

1. WAH Relocation
2. Tax Duplication
-----------------------------
3. Gang Task Force
4. Dog Park
5. Flower Ave Green Street
6. Upgrade Web Content
-----------------------------
7. Anti-Littering
8 (tie). Sustainable Action Plan
8 (tie). Police in Schools
10. Safe Grow

[Paragraph added November 10, in response to comments I received by e-mail:] We recognize that this exercise does mix items that are funded and part of current city plans, such as the Flower Avenue Green Street project, with items that are aspirational, in relatively early stages and not yet funded, such as the dog park. Further, this priority ranking is for purposes of discussion at the Tuesday council retreat. It is not a planning document or anything like that, and there isn't going to be any "one from group A, one from group B" type of selection.

Top 3 Goals - organized by their rank in each thematic area

Environmentally Sustainable
1. Sustainable Action Plan
2. Safe Grow
3. Food Compost

Service Oriented Govt
1. Upgrade Web Content
2. Library Visioning
3. Outreach Coordinator

Safe, Accessible & Enjoyable Community
1. WAH Relocation
2. Gang Task Force
3. Dog Park

Fiscally Sustainable
1. Tax Duplication
2. Flower Ave Green Street
3. Takoma Junction

Again, join us if you wish at the retreat Tuesday, 6-10 p.m. at WAH, or get in touch with me directly by phone (301-873-8225), e-mail (sethg@takomaparkmd.gov), or during my drop-in office time.

Thanks,

Seth

Monday, November 4, 2013

Latest EYA plans for Takoma Metro site development

Three update points concerning proposed Takoma Metro site development:

1) The Takoma Park City Council passed a Resolution Regarding Development Proposed for the Site of the Takoma Metro Station on October 28, 2013. 

2) WMATA's real-estate (PPDRE) committee will defer its consideration of a Takoma Amended Joint Development Agreement (JDA) with developer EYA -- reactivating the expired agreement from the previous development initiative -- until at least its December 5 meeting. In particular, the Takoma traffic study that WMATA is conducting was not completed in time for November 7 PPDRE consideration.

3) Jack Lester, an executive at developer EYA, has provided an updated building + site design plan. It shows a degree of response to community concerns. Mr. Lester wrote, in November 4 e-mail:
"Height: We have eliminated an entire level of residential from the building. The building is now 4 levels of residential above the podium level.

"Parking: We have dramatically reduced the residential parking from .87 spaces/unit to .67 spaces/unit. This results in a reduction of parking of more than 40 spaces.

"Density: Density has been further reduced to 208 total units."
The key page to look at is the last, A08. You will see that while the building is maximum 4 levels above the podium, the podium height at Eastern Ave NW is 18' 4" for a total building height, fronting on Eastern Ave, [corrected November 4:] of 39' 8", rising to 50' 4" after a set-back of only 8 to 10 feet, despite zoning restrictions that limit the front half or so of the building, which bears Washington DC R-5-A zoning, to 40'.

My only other comments for the moment are: a) EYA has not relocated the building's loading dock. It still opens onto Eastern Ave NW, which would mean vehicles including trash trucks backing in across the Eastern Ave sidewalk, a clear safety hazard. b) The distance between the "ADA drop off" and the elevator entrance to the station remains significantly greater than the current distance. This degradation of transit accessibility for the disabled and the elderly is a continuing negative about the design.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Compost + a Takoma Metro development resolution + tax duplication + drop-in hours

The Takoma Park City Council meeting, Monday evening, October 28, will feature 2 items of particular interest to Ward 1 residents, and I'll also update you on the county-city tax duplication situation, which is approaching a decision point. Those matters and a bit more:

1) The city council will consider expanding the city's food-waste compost collection program to cover most city neighborhoods, including all parts of Ward 1. In Ward 1, only North Takoma was included in the initial pilot. Judging from council reaction to Public Works Director Daryl Braithwaite's October 21 presentation on the pilot, the council will favor program expansion. My only regret, at this point, is that we can't include commercial establishments and multi-unit apartment buildings.

2) The city council will also consider a resolution on WMATA's plans for a Takoma Amended Joint Development Agreement (JDA). The Amended JDA, currently slated for WMATA board approval once a traffic study has been released, would revive designation of developer EYA to create an apartment building, currently planned to have 212 units, at the Takoma Metro site.

I worked with city staff to develop the draft resolution. Its draws from discussions with community members, meetings and conversations with EYA executive Jack Lester and WMATA staff, and my, staff's, and my council colleagues' assessments of the EYA's plans and the best means of shaping the plans to respond to our community's interests and concerns. We took into account testimony offered at the council's October 7 public hearing and came to basic agreement on a city position, at this stage in what will be an extended process, in a worksession discussion on October 21.

The resolution is changeable -- I'll actually be asking for some adjustments prior to the council meeting -- so please let me and other council members and the mayor know if you have comments. Your comment will go to all council members if you send it to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov. There will be an opportunity for public comment before the council votes on the resolution.

3) Tax & service duplication has been with us for decades. Residents, businesses, and property owners pay taxes to both Montgomery County and the City of Takoma Park, while only the city provides police, recreation, and public-works services in Takoma Park. The county transfers certain compensatory payments to the city, according to an agreed formula that the county actually hasn't been living up to in recent years.

I bring this up now because the county council's Government Operations (GO) Committee is slated to discuss the topic at its October 28 meeting. The background packet is online. I and several of my city-council colleagues and city staff plan to attend. OLO suggests cutting the county's payment to Takoma Park and other municipalities. The city believes a cut is unfair and unjustified. A cut would also seriously affect city finances and could lead to service cuts and/or transfer of certain services to the county, which would mean a likely reduction in service levels.

To explain the issue:

Payments dictated by the formula are higher than the state requires tax-duplication payments to be, observes the Montgomery County's Office of Legislative Oversight. The payments are lower than the county's cost to assume responsibility for those services would be, says the city. So we are all seeking a rational, fair, sensible approach. We just differ on what that approach should be.

The city is hoping to find allies in the GO Committee members, GO Chair Nancy Navarro (District 4), our own District 5 representative Valerie Ervin, and at-large Councilmember Hans Riemer.

[Added October 28:] The city has a Web page on Municipal Tax Duplication that includes a link to an October 23, 2014 city letter to County Council Chair Nancy Navarro on the topic. 

I will plan to keep you posted on progress.

4) Finally, I'm resuming my Ward 1 drop-in office time. I had to take a breather starting in August because of my work and personal travel schedule. Please stop by my office the 2nd Tuesday of each month, 5 pm-6 pm, and the 4th Wednesday of each month, 8 am-9 am, if you'd like to discuss a city matter. Next dates are November 12 and November 27. My office is at 7006 Carroll Avenue, #202, entry between Mark's Kitchen and the Middle Eastern Cuisine restaurant. You're welcome to phone (301-873-8225) or write (sethg@takomaparkmd.gov) as well.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Takoma Metro update #74

No, this isn't really update #74 concerning proposed Takoma Metro site development, not even if you include exchanges that date back to last decade's stalled (expired, really) development proposal. Still, even with many months of discussions and meetings yet to come, it already feels like we've been going at it -- reviewing plans, assessing impact, organizing and attending meetings, and weighing community and city responses -- for ages. So update #whatever.

The Takoma Park City Council discussed a city position on the proposed development at Monday night's (October 21, 2013) meeting. Our discussion was informed by testimony at the council's October 7 public hearing, by e-mail we received commenting on development plans, and by public comment from community activists. The outcome is that the council will consider a resolution, the council's mechanism for establishing and communicating city policy, at the October 28 council meeting.

I spent time this past week compiling a statement, below, drawing from many hours of discussions and e-mail exchanges involving residents,including community activists from both Takoma DC and Takoma Park, Maryland, and from public testimony. The statement also reacts to an October 18 meeting and discussions I have had, jointly with Washington DC Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners (4B) Sara Green and Faith Wheeler, with Jack Lester, an executive with developer EYA. Mr. Lester and colleagues are making changes to their Takoma "concept design." It is clear to us that the changes will fall far short of meeting community concerns.

My statement is a best attempt at a distillation of those consensus community concerns, and (I hope) it's reasonable. Points are made in bullet, rather than narrative or the WHEREAS... BE IT RESOLVED form that the city's resolution will take, because I am planning also to adapt them for testimony at the October 24 WMATA board meeting.

The statement addresses the WMATA board, whose Planning, Program Development & Real Estate (PPDRE) Committee is tentatively slated to consider a Takoma Amended Joint Development Agreement (JDA), on November 7, 2013, if a traffic study is completed sufficiently before the meeting. The full board would vote on the Amended JDA at its next meeting that follows a favorable PPDRE vote. The statement's punch line is given in the first sentence...


WMATA board consideration of a Takoma Amended Joint Development agreement should be conditioned on adequate address of a number of procedural and project-design points. We explain those points and the reasoning behind them:

- WMATA is a public body whose responsibilities include providing exemplary transit services while maximizing transit accessibility, use, and transit-generated revenue. Any development of WMATA owned land must further this mission, hence WMATA's embrace of transit-oriented development that would get people out of cars and onto transit.

- WMATA's Policies of Local Jurisdictions Affecting Joint Development state, "WMATA coordinates closely with Local Jurisdictions to implement its joint development program. Additionally, WMATA requires its selected developers to work with Local Jurisdictions throughout the joint development process." Selected developer EYA has presented to a Local Jurisdiction, the City of Takoma Park, but has not worked with the city in any meaningful way.

- Within its mission boundaries, WMATA should seek maximum financial return from any development activities. Normally this means competition. We recognize that WMATA would prefer not to recompete its now-expired Joint Development Agreement with developer EYA. We trust WMATA to act in the public's best interests, which means that WMATA must justify any decision that would avoid competition, through transparency, disclosure, and accountability. We commend the public process surrounding Takoma joint development that has brought us to this point. In continuation of that process, WMATA should release the draft Takoma Amended JDA for public review. The WMATA board and the PPDRE Committee should not vote on the Amended JDA without allowing for ample time for public comment.

- Because the presentation of an Amended JDA with developer EYA involves a specific concept design proposed by EYA, approval by the WMATA board of the Amended JDA is an endorsement of that design. Yet the proposed Takoma concept design fails key points: Safety, disabled access, conformance with Transit Orient Development principles, and community compatibility. Specifically:
  • The design positions a loading dock, whose use includes waste hauling, that opens directly onto Eastern Avenue NW. The loading-dock positioning means that vehicles, including waste-hauling and delivery trucks, will back across the sidewalk. This design flaw creates a significant pedestrian-safety hazard.
  • The design degrades transit access for persons with disabilities. The proposed design increases the distance between the Metrorail elevator entry and the disabled drop-off by a factor of 2 to 3.
  • The design includes four levels of residential parking totaling 178 residential-parking spaces serving 212 apartment units. The .844 residential-parking ratio is far too high for an apartment development sited at a transit hub. Over-availability of residential parking may mean a lower-than-optimal rate of transit usage by residents, costing WMATA revenue. Further, the design's four levels of parking mean extra ramps that cost valuable space that could be given over to apartment units in ways that would improve community compatibility.
  • The design decreases the number of transit-user parking spaces from approximately 144 to 98 despite significant community parking demand (which has been artificially inhibited for years because of puzzling restrictions on rush-hour parking). Fewer transit-user parking spaces means fewer transit users and lower station transit revenue.
  • Regarding community compatibility, the set-back from Eastern Avenue would be a barely-adequate 23 feet, but of as-great concern is that the building would step up to 5 stories from 3 at a distance of only 8-10 feet from the front, Eastern Avenue face. Community compatibility, this Washington DC Historic District-located residential building, would mean a step-up to full height pushed farther back away from Eastern Avenue NW and a full height limited to 4 stories, the height of every other recent residential development in the Takoma area: Elevation 314, the Gables, Cedar Crossing, the under-construction Takoma Central building, and the planned Spring Place project.
  • The design separates 3 parking-access lanes from the adjoining residential property by only 9 feet, which is a clear affront to neighboring residents.
Adequately addressing these points will entail very significant design changes. Because the Takoma Amended Joint Development Agreement incorporates EYA's proposed design, it should not be voted until those changes have been adequately made.

Further, we reiterate our request that the WMATA board not vote on the Takoma Amended Joint Development Agreement before a traffic study has been completed and released to the public with ample time for public comment. Please note that we have NOT questioned the proposed 212 apartment units (and we have no doubt that a company of EYA's capabilities can adequately address our points, for instance, by placing a reduced number of residential parking spaces, along with the loading dock, on a single level under the ground-level transit-parking facilities). We and community members accept Transit Oriented Development, however only if it is:
  1. Park-friendly, preserving a Takoma Green as a Community Park. We call for creation of a permanent park, of size approximately 2 acres, in the current Takoma station green space.
  2. Pedestrian-friendly, design so walkers, bikers, wheelchairs and strollers have metro and bus access that is better, not worse, than today.
  3. Neighborhood-friendly, designed to fit the scale and style of the surrounding area rather than to assault it.
Please ensure that the points we have raised, on behalf of our (and your) Takoma constituents are adequately addressed before you consider a Takoma Amended Joint Development Agreement.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Update: Environmental Sustainability + Takoma Metro

Two points for today, on Takoma Park environmental sustainability and on proposed Takoma Metro site development.

Sustainable Energy Action Plan

The City of Takoma Park engaged consultant the Brendle Group to create a Sustainable Energy Action Plan, now available on the city's Web site. Brendle Group staff presented the plan, with recommendations, at the September 23, 2013 city-council meeting. Comment from the city's Committee on the Environment is posted as well.

The council is slated to discuss the draft plan and comments at our October 14 meeting (http://citycouncil-takomapark.s3.amazonaws.com/agenda/items/2013/101413-2.pdf), in order to provide guidance to staff on a preferred strategy. If you have thoughts to share, please let me know or send your comment, for distribution to all council members and the city manager, to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov.

Takoma Metro Development

Next, news regarding proposed Takoma Metro site development: I'll remind you that, given a) WMATA's public status, b) developer EYA would seek exceptions to zoning restrictions that apply at the site, and c) the site is in a Washington DC historic district, the proposal faces several rounds of public process and official approval. There are three bits of news:

1) The WMATA (Metro) board's Planning, Program Development & Real Estate (PPDRE) Committee postponed its vote on an Amended Joint Development Agreement, which had been scheduled for its October 10 meeting. PPDRE Chair Muriel Bowser deferred the vote because the Takoma traffic-impact study, while underway, has not yet been completed.

2) Given the delay, Mayor Bruce Williams has cancelled the city council's October 14 worksession discussion and October 21 vote on a resolution offering city comment. However, I see reasons to move forward with council discussion and a resolution and plan to take the question up with the mayor and my council colleagues.

3) The Eastern Avenue NW building set-back (closeness to the street) and massing (height) have been significant community concerns. Fortunately, EYA is in the process of modifying the design to address these points. Other elements, such as positioning of the loading dock entry directly on Eastern Avenue, which would have garbage trucks backing in across the pedestrian sidewalk, pose a clear safety threat and must be addressed. Some community members are concerned about overall building height, over 80 feet at its highest point: All matters for further discussion with EYA, which I expect undertake in cooperation with Washington DC Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners Sara Green and Faith Wheeler. If there are particular points you'd like us to raise, please let me know.

You may also wish to add your voice to community organizing efforts by signing on at http://dc-mdneighborsfortakomatransit.org, where you can also find links to a variety of EYA, WMATA, and other documents.

Thanks,

Seth, 301-873-8225

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

City of Takoma Park letter on proposed Takoma Metro development

The City of Takoma Park sent a letter to WMATA relaying comments regarding the proposed Takoma Metro development project, which comes before the WMATA board's Planning, Program Development and Real Estate (PPDRE) Committee tomorrow, October 10. The letter, under the signatures of City Manager Brian Kenner and Mayor Bruce Williams, is addressed to PPDRE Chair Muriel Bowser.

The PPDRE Committe is slated to vote, at its October 10 meeting, Approval of [the] Takoma Amended Joint Development Agreement (JDA). This vote would set the stage for an October 24 vote by the full WMATA board to revive WMATA's expired JDA with developer EYA. A Board Action/Information Summary document is online on the WMATA Web site.

A copy of the City of Takoma Park's letter is posted on the city's Web site. I will paste in the text below.

I'd be happy to field and forward on any comments to my city colleagues, or you can write directly to all Takoma Park City Council members and the city manager by sending your message to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov. In particular, the city council and staff are slated to discuss the WMATA-EYA Takoma Metro development plans at its Monday, October 14 meeting, and we expect to consider a city resolution at our October 21 meeting. Video of the city's October 7 public hearing on the development plans is available online.

Seth


http://dc-mdneighborsfortakomatransit.org/WMATALetter_10.8.2013.pdf

October 8, 2013

The Honorable Muriel Bowser,

Chair, Planning, Program Development and Real Estate Committee
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
600 5th St., N.W.
Washington, DC 20001

Dear Ms. Bowser,


The City of Takoma Park deeply values the access to transit provided by the Takoma Metro station on our border with Washington, D.C. As the proposal to develop the Takoma Metro station property moves through the review processes before the WMATA Board and the District of Columbia, the Takoma Park City Council will submit comments regarding design elements.


We understand that the WMATA Board will be considering amending the Joint Development Sales Agreement with EYA for development of the station property at the Planning, Program Development and Real Estate Committee meeting on October 10. Further, we understand depending on the results of this meeting, WMATA intends on holding a Compact Public Hearing sometime later in 2013 to hear further public comment on the project and provide results of a recently issued traffic study. The Takoma Park City Council is in the process of receiving public testimony on the proposed concept plans and will consider a resolution on the concept plans on October 21. Since the WMATA Board may be taking initial action before that date, we ask you to consider the following information.


First, the longstanding position of the Takoma Park City Council is that access to transit facilities and services, now and in the future, is the most important function of the Takoma Metro station. The access by pedestrians, bicyclists, handicapped patrons, and bus riders should be easy, safe, comfortable and attractive. Transit facilities must be of an adequate capacity to accommodate the community's transit needs for decades.


Second, any development of the property should complement the surrounding neighborhoods in Takoma Park and Washington, D.C. While we cannot provide definitive comments on the concept plan until the results of the traffic study are examined and residents have shared their opinions with the City Council, we have some preliminary comments that may be helpful for the Board's early actions related to the project.


The proposed multi-family structure is more appropriate than a townhome development for the site. How the structure is sited on the property is important so that direct, safe and comfortable paths are clear for those coming to and leaving the transit station. The massing and design of the building should be attractive and not have a negative impact on adjacent properties, including those in Takoma Park, Maryland.


Green space on the property is a valued amenity. In particular, it is important that it be attractive, usable, and function as a buffer where needed.


If parking and circulation patterns related to the development are not well planned, there could be serious traffic impacts to the community. When the results of the traffic study are released and the site plans refined, the City of Takoma Park may have recommendations regarding these elements.


Thank you for considering our comments. We look forward to working with you and the District of Columbia throughout the review process for this development proposal.


Sincerely,


Mayor Bruce Williams

City Manager Brian Kenner

Sunday, October 6, 2013

October 7 at the council: Takoma Metro development & CDBG hearings

The October 7, 2013 Takoma Park City Council meeting will include three public hearings, two of which will be of interest to Ward 1 residents. I'll describe them below. 

The first hearing of the three, not of much Ward 1 interest, is on Long Branch Sligo neighborhood traffic-calming measures. The council meeting will continue, after the three hearings, with a Resolution Commenting on the Purple Line Final Environmental Impact Statement (public comment invited) and a council worksession discussion of city priorities for the 2014 state legislative session that will open in January and run until April.

I am traveling and will miss the October 7 council meeting, but I plan to watch the recording after I return. Of course, I'm happy to field your questions and hear your views at any time, via e-mail to sethg@takomaparkmd.gov and by phone, after October 9, at 301-873-8225. Testimony sent to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov will go to the whole council.

On the October 7 council agenda, following the LBS traffic-calming hearing -- 

A second hearing will solicit public comment on the FY2015 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. Via federal CDBG grants, the city funds capital and service projects: "The City will receive an estimated $125,000 in funds for PY40 (FY2015). Of this amount, not more than $18,750 or 15% of the anticipated award can be allocated to community or public service projects with the balance ($106,250) directed toward qualifying capital improvement projects. The actual funding level is uncertain at this time given anticipated budget reductions at the federal level."

The third hearing will be on Takoma Metro site development proposed by WMATA (Metro) and developer EYA. For background, I'll refer you to an update I posted on September 29, Takoma Metro Development: The October Agenda. Your views -- your comment at the hearing and your views, as sent to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov -- will inform the council's October 14 worksession discussion and October 21 resolution comment on the proposed development. I plan to work with my council colleagues to create a strong resolution. My reading is that the community will support sensible transit-oriented development that is appropriate in scale and design for the surrounding neighborhoods. To achieve this end, we must protect the interests of Takoma transit users, residents, and businesses, via (among other elements) adequate set-back and design facing Eastern Avenue and green-space preservation.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Takoma Metro Development: The October Agenda

Takoma Metro site development is back on the public agenda in October... not that was ever off the community's. I'll explain what's up, under the headings October and Community Action below, but first a couple of sections of background for those who need a refresher:

The Plan

WMATA (Metro) and developer EYA propose a building with 200+ residential apartments, to be constructed primarily on the what is now paved surface parking at the Takoma Metro site. At its highest point -- based on a "concept plan" released over the summer -- the building would rise 5 stories above ground-level transit parking and amenity space. Given a grade that rises as you move from Eastern Avenue NW -- where the building would have 4 levels total -- toward the railroad tracks, the building would total 7 levels.

Much in the plan could change, and based on community reactions I've heard, most of us in the DC and Maryland Takoma community -- those who know about the developer's plan -- hope that much will change. A mandated public process will afford us opportunity to be heard. We have to make the most of the process, and beyond the process, to motivate the changes we would like to see, more on which below.

The Process

WMATA staff and EYA presented their plans in July, 2013 meetings to the WMATA board's real-estate committee, to a community meeting, and to the Takoma Park City Council. You can find their presentations online at dc-mdneighborsfortakomatransit.org, under the subheading Presentations from the July 16, 2013 community meeting. You can find conceptual design documents under the subheading Provided July 5, 2013 by Stan Wall, Director, Office of Real Estate and Station Planning, or refer to a blog item I posted on July 5. EYA Senior Vice President Jack Lester told me, in a September 24 conversation, that his company has not further developed plans. They are waiting for a WMATA board vote that would revive the now-expired Joint Development Agreement (JDA) that led to last decade's failed development initiative, which would have placed townhouses at the Takoma Metro site.

October


What's past is prologue. The next WMATA-EYA move is the JDA revival that Mr. Lester and his EYA colleagues are counting on. In October, look for:

  • October 10 -- WMATA -- Presentation of Takoma action, for a vote, to WMATA's Planning, Program Development & Real Estate (PPDRE) Committee.
  • October 14 -- Takoma Park City Council -- Work session (council & staff) discussion of Takoma Metro development.
  • Mid-October -- WMATA -- Completion of a WMATA-chartered Takoma traffic study.
  • October 21 -- Takoma Park City Council -- Council vote, with public comment, on a resolution commenting on Takoma Metro development.
  • October 24 -- WMATA -- Board vote on the Takoma Action (assuming affirmative PPDRE vote on October 10.
  • Late October (assuming Board October 24 approval) -- WMATA -- Advertise Compact Public Hearing and distribute review materials to the public.
On these topics, two notes:
  • WMATA real-estate director Stan Wall provided the WMATA dates above in a September 3 e-mail message, responding to questions I had sent him on behalf of myself and Washington DC Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4B Commissioners Sara Green and Faith Wheeler. Mr. Wall also provided a map annotated with the intersections to be included in the Takoma traffic study.
  • Intersections included in WMATA's Takoma traffic study.
  • I have asked Mayor Bruce Williams to schedule an October 14 public hearing to precede the council work session.
Community Action

A small group of community members and I started working in late winter to prepare for the revival of the Takoma Metro development project, which we saw as inevitable. Our timing was fortunate; we learned soon after about WMATA steps. We joined forces with ANC Commissioners Green and Wheeler, leading to the June 7 community notice the commissioners and I posted and to a June 19 letter to WMATAAfter the July 16 community meeting, we expanded our organizing group. The discussion now extends to 20-some DC and Maryland community members, including representatives of Historic Takoma Inc. We hold a range of views and have worked to create consensus. We arrived at 3 key points, as follows.

The group supports transit-friendly development, which in the Takoma Metro site context is development that:
  • preserves the current green space as a park
  • enhances transit access, and
  • is neighborhood-friendly via appropriate set-back and size of the Eastern Avenue NW frontage, buffer separation from the next-door apartment building, and managed traffic impact.
The community group asks all Takoma stakeholders to endorse these principles. You can express your support by signing on electronically via the form at dc-mdneighborsfortakomatransit.org.

Takoma Park Action

Regardless of your opinion, if you are a Takoma Park Ward 1 (Hodges Heights, North Takoma, Philadelphia-Eastern Neighborhood, Victory Tower) resident or business owner or employee, I would like to hear what you think, both your thoughts on the development proposal and what you think the City of Takoma Park should do.

Best is to contact me at sethg@takomaparkmd.gov. I will be away October 2 - 9, but outside those dates, you can reach me at 301-873-8225. The overall process, however, will be long.

Beyond October

October events will set the stage for further milestones:
  • The required WMATA compact public hearing, likely to be held in early winter.
  • A Washington DC Planned Unit Development (PUD) process, required because the developer would be seeking approval of variances -- very significant ones -- from building design allowed by zoning. Maryland residents and entities would not have standing to participate.
  • Review by the Washington DC Historic Preservation Review Board.
I will do my best to keep community members informed of developments. For now, please sign on to join the community advocacy effort, if its principles reflect your view, and do share your thoughts with me.

Thank you.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Environment presentation on the council agenda, plus a talk on organic lawncare

The September 23, 2013 city-council meeting will feature a presentation by contractor The Brendle Group, which the city tasked to develop a Sustainable Energy Action Plan and a greenhouse gas inventory.

This session is a follow-on to a July 29 public forum. Project background is online. In July, the Brendle group presented a number of high-return-on-investment steps, with reasonable financial cost, that the city could take to improve our community's environmental/energy profile. (Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of their presentation materials.) The Brendle Group had planned to refine their proposed strategy in response to July 29 public comments. 

I expect the city will move forward with selected environmental steps in the coming months and in enacting our FY15 budget, including hiring a Sustainability Coordinator, a step recommended by the city's former Task Force on Environmental Action.

Also of note on the environmental front --

The City of Takoma Park is hosting "Fall Lawn Renovations, Naturally: Everything You Need to Know for a Safe, Organic Landscape With Paul Tukey!" on Saturday, October 5th from 10:00 am to 12:00 noon at the Department of Public Works, 31 Oswego Avenue, off Ritchie Avenue.

About the speaker: Paul Tukey is a journalist, author, ternationally recognized for his expertise in environmental issues related to landscape management and water quality. Mr. Tukey is lauded for his ability to turn a mundane subject - lawn care - into a rousing public discourse. Currently, Mr. Tukey is Chief Sustainability Ocer for Glenstone, a museum in Potomac, Maryland, where he will help create a "living classroom" about organic landscaping.

This event is part of the city's Safe Grow Zone education campaign. Regarding Safe Grow implementation, check out a short interview with Washington Adventist Hospital's Director of Facilities, "Hospital Says no to Pesticides for Turf Management."

An excerpt from the transcript --
"Q: What have you determined is the alternative to using insecticides or herbicides for your lawns and landscapes?

"A: We are still in the discovery process. For insecticides, having beneficials such as ladybugs and praying mantis, keep the non-beneficial insects, such as aphids and lace bugs, in control, and make for a good integrated pest management program. If needed, optional environmentally friendly products may include Neem oil, other horticultural oils and soaps. For herbicides, we are still reviewing. In landscaped areas, maintenance by hand, weed mats and mulching should be effective. Turf is still under review -- alternatives may include overseeding to provide competition for the weeds, higher cut height, etc."

Friday, September 20, 2013

Please apply: Safe Roadways Committee, Arts and Humanities, Emergency Preparedness

The city council expects to appoint members to the city's Safe Roadways Committee (SRC) in early October. We have 7 applicants for up to 11 slots, so we'd welcome additional applicants.

The SRC task is "to advise the City Council on transportation-related issues including, but not limited to, pedestrian and bicycle facilities and safety, traffic issues, and transit services" and "to encourage Takoma Park residents to use alternatives to driving, including walking, bicycling, and transit." Committee members will decide meeting frequency with a minimum of quarterly meetings.

To apply, use the form at http://takomaparkmd.gov/bcc.

You'll see that there are openings on other committees. I'll call out in particular the Arts and Humanities Commission, which "promotes, coordinates and strengthens public programs to further cultural development," and the Emergency Preparedness Committee.

Please consider applying. Let me know if you have questions or send them to City Clerk Jessie Carpenter <jessiec@takomagov.org>.

Thanks,

Seth

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The War on Drugs in Maryland, and the Home Front (Part 1)

Many of us believe marijuana possession for personal use should be decriminalized -- some believe marijuana should be legal, regulated, and taxed -- but given current laws, the City of Takoma Park, my personal bailiwick, does not decide for itself. The federal government classifies marijuana as a banned "Schedule I" controlled substance. Takoma Park enforces federal and state laws, as it must, by making arrests, including for possession of small quantities of marijuana and of paraphernalia.

Our city is, regrettably, on the front lines of the ill-conceived War on Drugs.

Conviction for possession of small amounts of marijuana, and for related drug paraphernalia, has serious consequences. Conviction (or even just arrest) affects a person's ability to get a job or student loan, the ability to function fully in society. We note, not incidentally, that enforcement, arrest, conviction, and incarceration heavily and disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities, in Montgomery County and just about everywhere else in the U.S. Consequences for everyone arrested for possession may be life-long and life-altering far out of proportion to the gravity of the crime... which isn't even a crime according to certain states whose drug policies are more progressive than Maryland's.


Progressive Maryland?

There have been efforts to change our state's law. Most recently, Maryland Senators Bobby Zirkin's and Allan Kittleman's SB 297 would have reduced the maximum penalty for possession up to 10 grams of marijuana to a $100 civil fine. That level of possession is currently a criminal offense punishable by up to one year in jail and a $500 fine. The state senate passed the bill by a 30-16 vote, but it did not advance out of the House of Delegate's Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Delegate Joseph F. Vallario, Jr.. The vice chair is Kathleen M. Dumais, a member of the Montgomery County's house delegation.

Reportedly Senator Zirkin plans to try again in 2014, and I hope our District 20 representatives and the Montgomery County delegation will support his decriminalization bill and a bill in the House of Delegates. (I would also support legalization within a regulatory framework.)

The Home Front

I started writing this article in July after noting local arrest statistics, but held off posting in order to gather information and gain a more complete picture of the local situation. According to the Takoma Park Police Department's published crime reports, the city made at least thirteen arrests for possession of marijuana and/or drug paraphernalia in the three months to mid-July alone. (I write "at least" because Police Chief Alan Goldberg told me that the department may not have reported juvenile arrests. According to Chief Goldberg, there were 42 citations for possession of marijuana in the first six months of 2013, but many were coupled with charges for other crimes.) I will list the 12 report records that I found:

  1. Unit blk. of Darwin Ave., on Sunday, July 14th at 3:00 p.m., a male 24, was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia
  2. 1100 blk. of University Blvd., on Sunday, July 14th at 2:31 p.m., a male 49, was arrested for possession of marijuana.
  3. 7200 blk. of New Hampshire Ave., on Wednesday, July 10th at 10:24 a.m., a male 23, was arrested for possession of marijuana.
  4. 7400 blk. of New Hampshire Ave., on Monday, May 27th at 4:27 a.m., a male 39, was arrested for possession of marijuana.
  5. 1100 blk. of University Blvd., on Tuesday, May 21st at 9:47 pm, a male 23, was arrested for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.
  6. 1300 blk. of University Blvd., on Sunday, May 19th at 12:40 am, a male 41 and a female 27, were arrested for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.
  7. 6900 blk. of New Hampshire Ave., on Saturday, May 18th at 4:24 pm, a male 23, was arrested for possession of marijuana.
  8. 7700 blk. of Maple Ave., on Thursday, May 16th at 1:38 a.m., a female 21, was arrested for possession of marijuana.
  9. Intersection of New Hampshire Ave., and Larch Ave., on Wednesday, May 15th at 11:32 p.m., a male 23, was arrested for possession of marijuana.
  10. Intersection of Flower Ave. and Garland Ave., on Thursday, May 2nd at 2:00 pm, a male 30, was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia
  11. 1100 blk. of University Blvd., on Monday, April 29th at 6:30 pm, a male 42, was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia.
  12. 600 blk. of Boston Ave., on Friday, April 26th at 11:54 am, a male 18, was arrested for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.
(I have not included records that additionally cite other offenses, records such as "6400 blk. of 5th Ave., on Wednesday, July 10th at 11:21 a.m., male 36, was arrested for possession of cocaine, drug paraphernalia, possession of marijuana, and violation of protective order." And by the way, during that same period we have made at least seven arrests for "having an open alcoholic container in public" or "drinking alcohol in public," not associated with any other charges such as disorderly conduct or theft, but that's matter for a different article.)

The city has discussed a "deprioritization" policy on marijuana enforcement although there's nothing in writing in city code or police orders.

Could Takoma Park enact policy with teeth, a non-enforcement rule, regarding possession of small amounts of marijuana and of associated paraphernalia? No, simply. The city does have the policy that it will not assist in the enforcement of federal immigration laws, but I do not believe that model could extend to marijuana possession.


Maryland Law, Racial Disparities, and Public Opinion

According to Maryland law, possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana, deemed for personal use, is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine. Possession of 10-50 grams is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Possession of paraphernalia is a misdemeanor carrying the same penalty. It is not uncommon for a prosecutor to drop a case if an arrested individual agrees to do community service. As reported in the Baltimore Sun, "The General Assembly changed the marijuana laws last year in an attempt to soften the blow of those arrests. In addition to lesser sentences for having less than 10 grams, a law that came into force Jan. 1 this year instructs police to charge possession by citation, which can be done on the street. The measure was designed to keep people out of jail before court dates." A lawyer-published page does a fair job of explaining the citation situation. It's only a matter of time before a bill like 2013's SB 297, or outright legalization, passes. In the mean time --

"Black Americans were nearly four times as likely as whites to be arrested on charges of marijuana possession in 2010, even though the two groups used the drug at similar rates, according to new federal data," reports the New York Times, citing a recent ACLU study. According to the ACLU,

"The aggressive enforcement of marijuana possession laws needlessly ensnares hundreds of thousands of people into the criminal justice system and wastes billions of taxpayers’ dollars. What’s more, it is carried out with staggering racial bias. Despite being a priority for police departments nationwide, the War on Marijuana has failed to reduce marijuana use and availability and diverted resources that could be better invested in our communities."
I don't know whether Takoma Park arrests show the same disparity -- Councilmember Terry Seamens has asked our police department for data -- but our city surely pays the same unjustified social and financial costs.

I hate our our participation in this whole mess, as do many, if not most, Takoma Park residents. It's a waste of money; it makes none of us safer. Knowing Takoma Park, it's likely that local opinion regarding legalization far exceeds bare-majority national support. According to study findings released by Pew Research on April 3, 2013,
"About half (52%) of adults today support legalizing the use of marijuana, up from 41% in 2010. Since then, support for legalization has increased among all demographic and political groups."
Takoma Park Options

A Takoma Park non-enforcement ordinance would be ill-advised. Maryland municipalities may not nullify provisions of the Maryland constitution and laws. Regardless, our police officers have sworn to uphold the state constitution and laws, and a court could overturn our law. It would be wasteful to enact an unconstitutional law and damaging to pursue a city law that would pit the council against the city administration.


Police have discretion in enforcement of laws. We recognize that officers legitimately apply judgment, in light of circumstances, drawing on their experience and management guidance, in their responses to the wide variety situations they encounter. Perhaps our police department could revise orders to allow for greater on-the-streets enforcement discretion, or to delineate don't-investigate/don't-enforce situations. But council imposition of such a directive would undercut police management's authority, and I will not pursue it.


Part 2?

I titled this article "Part 1." I expect to post a Part 2, describing steps toward a decrease in the number of Takoma Park citations and arrest, although not soon. I believe we will see progress, through work on a larger scale to assist allies outside our city borders, within the next couple of years.

A change in state law is the most promising answer, the best answer short of a change in federal policy. Should a responsive bill be introduced in the Maryland Senate or House of Delegates, I will join with my city-council colleagues (all of them, I'd hope) to support it. A state initiative could again be blocked in the 2014 legislative session, but 2014 is an election year, with a June primary and a November general election.


In 2015, in the first session of a new state legislature elected I would hope and expect we'll see progress, steps to decriminalized small quantities of marijuana (or legalize it) in Maryland.