Saturday, May 31, 2014

Reminder: June 2 Takoma Park public hearing on Dog Park options, 7 pm

A reminder:

The city council will hold a public hearing, Monday evening June 2, to invite your comment on city dog-park options. The hearing starts at 7 pm.

The council has allocated $70,000, in the city's budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, toward dog-park construction, although we could spend much more than this amount, depending on the site(s) chosen, the type of fencing used, etc.

There are several candidate sites, as described in the council backgrounder. The leading options are Heffner Park and the Prince George's Avenue triangle. The Heffner Park site is adjacent to the parking lot at the end of Darwin Avenue. That lot serves the Takoma Piney Branch Neighborhood Park and could be used by dog-park visitors. A Heffner Park dog park that fully uses the available space would require installation of retaining walls, given the grade at the site. The Prince George's Avenue site, just west of New Hampshire Avenue, is flat but nestled closer to homes.

The city could create a dog park at either location, or at both or somewhere else. Your testimony Monday evening will help us decide. If you can't make the hearing, please do relay your view to the mayor and councilmembers via clerk@takomaparkmd.gov.

The full agenda for Monday evening's council meeting is online. Open comment, on topics other than the dog park, is scheduled for 7:30 pm.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Metro hearing on Takoma development will be June 18; city council discussion May 27

Metro is holding a public hearing, Wednesday, June 18, 2014, to solicit comment on the proposed residential development at the Takoma Metro station. It is scheduled to run from 5 pm to 10 pm, with an information session at 4:30 pm. WMATA (Metro) asks you to register to speak. Send a message to speak@wmata.com; include only one registration request in each message.

The full docket of hearing materials is online.

The hearing announcement is also online. WMATA is required by its charter to hold this "compact hearing."

I won't recap history that preceded the WMATA's board's March 27, 2014 vote to proceed with the project (packet online), other than to note that the City of Takoma Park's view, stated in the council's October 28, 2013 resolution, has not changed: We believe the building is too big. Developer EYA has designed a building rising to 72 feet (plus parapets, possibly) in a parcel zoned by Washington DC with 40 and 50 foot limits.

The Takoma Park City Council will discuss city strategy surrounding the compact hearing at its Tuesday evening, May 27 meeting. Discussion of he WMATA compact hearing is scheduled for 8:45 pm. Public comment is welcome at the 7:30 pm start of the meeting.

The council may also discuss a proposal of the mayor's, to engage developer EYA is a series of meetings involving three or fewer council members at each meeting. With fewer than a quorum of council members present, these meetings would not be subject to the notice, public access, or minutes requirements of the Maryland Open Meetings Act.

Finally, the council may discuss city strategy going forward, past the WMATA compact hearing. Given that the project exceeds site zoning limits, the developer will need to go through a Washington DC Planned Unit Development process. The site is in an historic district, so plans will be reviewed by the Washington DC Historic Preservation Review Board. And because WMATA is a transit agency, presumably the Federal Transit Agency will review the plans.

Please do relay your views to the Takoma Park City Council, at our May 27 meeting or by e-mail to councilmembers (Bruce Williams <brucew@takomaparkmd.gov>, Fred Schultz <freds@takomaparkmd.gov>, Jarrett Smith <JarrettS@takomaparkmd.gov>, Kate Stewart <kates@takomaparkmd.gov>, Seth Grimes <sethg@takomaparkmd.gov>, Terry Seamens <TerryS@takomaparkmd.gov>, Tim Male <timm@takomaparkmd.gov>), and please do consider testifying at Metro's June 18 compact hearing.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Quick license-plate reader summary

The city council spent something like 2 1/2 hours last night, discussing a proposed change to city handling of license-plate reader data. We did not make a decision regarding a change in city policy. I'd say the general feeling is that there are information and views out there that we haven't yet fully accounted for. Expect the item to be brought back before too long, and there may be a public hearing.

(My write-up, providing information prior to last night's council meeting, is online.)

Last night, Monday May 12, we had testimony from residents, representatives of the Maryland ACLU, and the LPR program manager at the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center (MCAC). The proposed policy change is that Takoma Park would send its data to MCAC, which would aggregate it in a database with LPR data from other jurisdictions and would make it available, on a controlled basis, to law enforcement agencies. MCAC would purge data after one year, except data deemed necessary for longer retention.

While Police Chief Alan Goldberg said that MCAC's data protections are already stronger than those required by Maryland legislation (SB 699/HB 289, enacted this year), it was observed that MCAC can change its policy at any time. For this reason, we would not change our policy before the legislation goes into effect, October 1, 2014, which affords us time for discussion. 

But further, two of the principle sponsors of the state legislation, Delegates Ana Sol Gutierrez and Al Carr, communicated to the city council that they oppose a change in city policy. They say the the legislation was very significantly weakened from what they originally introduced.

Another point to consider is whether uploading Takoma Park's data would actually make a difference in crime-fighting efforts. I plan to elaborate on this point, and other points, in a follow-on that I hope to post within a few days.

Finally, Councilmember Tim Male expressed a desire that the council pass a resolution, laying out rules for LPR data sharing and retention, rather than approve new policy via an informal straw vote. I agree. Thinking a bit more about his suggestion, I'd go further. I will sound out my council colleagues about an ordinance that would address data collection, sharing, and retention in city code -- in city law -- or perhaps even via a charter change.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

May 12 at the Council: Takoma/Langley Crossroads + License Plate Readers

Much of the agenda for the Monday evening, May 12 council meeting is important but routine and pretty-much decided -- Council votes on the FY15 property-tax rates and city budget and on committee appointments -- while two other items promise to be quite interesting. They are:

- A presentation by an Urban Land Institute (ULI) Center for Leadership mini-Technical Assistance Panel (mTAP), on Commercial Investment in the Takoma/Langley Crossroads area, and

- Follow-Up Discussion of License Plate Reader (LPR) Policy.

I and my council colleagues have heard from MANY people about LPRs. The city currently retains data for 30 days and then deletes it. Police Chief Goldberg proposes that the city provide its data to the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center (MCAC), which would retain it for a year, with access restricted to law-enforcement queries.

Maryland Senate Bill 699/House Bill 289 creates new data-access rules, effective October 1, 2014. It is online. It's good stuff, yet in the wake of past Maryland state police spying on Takoma Park activists, and given civil-liberties concerns, I remain uncertain how the city should proceed. I think we would benefit from a public hearing (which the 2009-11 council called for, in February 2011, but which never happened) and further study. Because SB 699/HB 289 doesn't go into effect until October 1, 2014, and I strongly oppose transfer of city data to MCAC before it takes effect, we have time.

Please do attend Monday evening's council meeting to testify, at around 7:30 pm, on any agenda item or other city matter, or send your comment to the mayor and councilmembers: Bruce Williams <brucew@takomaparkmd.gov>, Fred Schultz <freds@takomaparkmd.gov>, Jarrett Smith <JarrettS@takomaparkmd.gov>, Kate Stewart <kates@takomaparkmd.gov>, Seth Grimes <sethg@takomaparkmd.gov>, Terry Seamens <TerryS@takomaparkmd.gov>, Tim Male <timm@takomaparkmd.gov>.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Takoma Park policy on license plate readers, plus city small grants & dog-park candidate-site photos

Monday evening's city-council meeting will include a discussion of city policy on license-plate reader (LPR) data retention and sharing. The city currently has three car-mounted mobile readers (although there have been repair issues). We match scanned plates against a database in order flag stolen vehicles and other vehicles being sought.

Per the backgrounder, "The primary proposed change... recommended by staff, governing LPRs, is to allow the Takoma Park Police to share collected LPR data with the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center (MCAC)," which would retain the data for one year. City retention would remain 30 days.

The council may discuss acquiring additional readers including stationary readers that would be mounted at certain locations at the city's borders -- which is to say that a councilmember will likely bring up the topic -- and also whether the city has timely access stolen-vehicle records from the District of Columbia, Prince George's County, and other jurisdictions.

The council is also slated to discuss Mini Grant Award Recommendations made by the city's review committee. This is current fiscal year (FY14) spending, a total of $10,000 in grants, up to $2,500 each. Absent any surprises during the discussion, I plan to support the committee's recommendations.

We will discuss a special request from the Takoma Park based US Africa Diaspora Business Council for $5,000, beyond our waiving the usage cost of city facilities for a June 21 conference, justified as a local economic-development step.

Finally: One of the city's candidate dog-park sites is part of the city's Heffner Park property, which includes a small community center and playground off Oswego Avenue and extends across the adjacent ravine to the edge of Takoma-Piney Branch Local Park. The council is slated to discuss candidate locations, on May 19. Please also see my May 1 Dog Park Status post.

I snapped a couple of photos to help you visualize this particular location, which is at the end of the parking lot reached from Darwin Avenue. The first was taken from the end of the Darwin Avenue parking lot:

The second has the Darwin Avenue parking lot in the distance:
The Monday, May 5, council meeting opens with public comment at 7:30 am. Speak out on any topic you wish, or send your comment by e-mail to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Dog Park status

A constituent asked me about Takoma Park dog park status.

The city council discussed dog-park funding as part of the fiscal year 2015 (FY15) budget discussion at the Monday, April 28 council meeting. We agreed to allocate $70,000 in FY15 to pay for dog park planning, design, construction of basic elements. The council is scheduled to vote on the budget in two "readings," on May 12 and 19. Public comment is invited.

The council also voted to authorize the city manager to start the hiring process now for a Public Works construction manager. That's a new position for FY15. It would replace an administrative assistant. The fiscal year starts July 1, and if we hadn't authorized an early start on the hiring process, it wouldn't have started until July 1, so we're potentially gaining a couple of months.

There is no dog-park design or description beyond the requirement that there'd be a fence with a gate on suitably prepared ground. The site has not been chosen yet. (There's still some advocacy for developing more than one dog park right off, but I don't think we'll go in that direction.)

We have a leading candidate site, which is city property called Heffner Park, adjacent to Takoma Piney Branch Local Park. The Heffner Park site -- an area that's currently unused, not the Heffner Park community center location -- would be reached from the end of the parking lot at the end of Darwin Avenue. A second candidate is the space above Ed Wilhelm field. The advantage of that site, which is owned by Montgomery County Parks, is that people could use the community center parking lot, which would keep traffic off Darwin Ave and the streets that lead to it.

The City Manager has proposed a Dog Park Timeline, shown on the 6th slide in one of his budget-presentation decks.

It calls for June 2014 community meetings with stakeholders to discuss the location of the park and October 2014 community meetings with stakeholders to discuss designs. Outside of that timeline, I've set up a May 18 meeting with Hodges Heights residents to get their reactions to a couple of candidate sites close to their neighborhood. I've heard concerns from a number of people about off-leash dogs and traffic impact. I've heard from a couple of people who object to this city spending, and while I respect that opinion, I believe this expenditure is justified and affordable. The strong, patient, persistent Takoma Dogs advocacy has moved us along.

The next public milestone, other than the budget votes, is a city-council discussion of locations and next steps that is slated for May 19.