Sunday, October 12, 2014

October 13: Hearing on a city polystyrene ban + police cooperation, snow removal & the city Web site

The October 13, 2014 city council meeting will open with a public hearing on a proposed ban on food-service polystyrene serviceware, at 7 pm. Also notable on the council's agenda: A police mutual aid agreement between Takoma Park and Montgomery County, discussion of snow removal plans and policies, and award of a contract for city Web site improvements.

Each item in turn --

The City Polystyrene Food Serviceware Ban

The city polystyrene ordinance -- the Young Activist Act of 2014 -- would forbid food-service use of polystyrene cups, plates, utensils, and other serviceware, effective July 1, 2015. Think "styrofoam" cups, plates, and clamshell take-out containers and also hard-plastic Solo Cups and the like marked with a number 6 recycling symbol. These materials have deleterious health effects, and they're not recyclable.

Recognition for Young Activist Club members in 2011.
The proposed city action culminates years of local advocacy by the Young Activist Club, which organized around efforts to replace disposable (non-recyclable) polystyrene foam trays, at Piney Branch Elementary School, with durable, reusable trays. That effort did not succeed, although earlier this year the county school system committed to switching to recycled/recylable cardboard trays.

As for the City of Takoma Park: We ended our own use of polystyrene food serviceware in 2010, and a year ago, we disallowed use of polystyrene food serviceware at city festivals and by food trucks, which must apply for city permits.

Please comment at tomorrow (Monday) evening's public hearing -- it starts at 7 pm -- or you may submit written comments to the City Clerk, 7500 Maple Avenue, Takoma Park, MD 20912 or by e-mail to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov. The complete notice and text of the proposed ordinance may be found online. Actual council votes are slated for October 20 and November 10. (Two votes are needed to amend city law.)

Note that the Montgomery County Council will consider a county polystyrene bill. The bill was developed and introduced by Councilmember Hans Riemer (a Takoma Park Ward 1 resident). The county ban would take effect January 1, 2016, but would not cover non-foam food serviceware. The county bill would go beyond the city's by banning bulk sales of polystyrene foam serviceware and by mandating, as of January 1, 2017, that food-service businesses use only recyclable or compostable serviceware. I support the county legislation and hope it will be strengthened to cover non-foam polystyrene food serviceware.

County-City Police Mutual Aid Agreement

An ordinance on the council agenda is a next step in formalizing stronger cooperation between the Takoma Park and Montgomery County police departments. The draft agreement negotiated by the city and county is online. Assuming the council approves the agreement -- and I think we will -- it will go into effect once signed by Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett.

I expect the police agreement to come up around 8:30 pm. It will be preceded on the agenda by an --

Ordinance Awarding a Contract for Website Improvements

The city Web site has had issues related to content maintenance, indexing and findability of material, usability on smaller form-factor mobile devices, and accessibility for persons with visual disabilities. The city manager issued a Request for Proposals over the summer, and staff, assisted by a couple of council members, selected a contractor for council approval. The cost proposed by contractor Ignition 72 is $34,500. Please see the backgrounder.

I do have certain reservations. The contract would not cover posting of content that has long been missing from the city's Web site including old council minutes, resolutions, and ordinances as well as administrative regulations issued by the city manager. It is not at all clear to me that it provides for comprehensive indexing for search of all city content, in particular, council agendas and minutes hosted at Granicus, a service provider, and the MANY documents the city hosts in the Amazon S3 cloud.

Further, it is not clear that the contract would cover improved online processing of permit and rental applications, program registrations, payments, and the like, or a credible request reporting and tracking system. It is not clear that it would address undesirable practices such as creating PDF-document images of textual documents, which are not searchable or accessible to persons with visual disabilities. These documents should be created in accessible, indexable form. I have asked the city manager to address when and how he plans to address the request system and content accessibility.

Planning for Snow Removal and Snow Emergencies

Tomorrow evening's council meeting will close with preparation for "snow events." What's the issue? Here's how the council background describe it:

"The winter of 2013-2014 had seven winter weather events that involved calling Public Works crews in to pre-treat streets and plow snow. During some of these events, there was discussion over if and how the no parking provisions should be enforced on the City's one Emergency Snow Route on Maple Avenue. There were also complaints that many property owners did not clear their sidewalks of snow in a timely way and there were complaints that the City's enforcement of its sidewalk clearing law was ineffective. In April, the Safe Roadways Committee made a presentation to the City Council that noted sidewalks not adequately cleared, improper disposition of snow from parking lots onto sidewalks, the problems of snow-blocked sidewalk curb cuts at intersections, and urging greater attention to the needs of pedestrians and bicycle riders during winter weather events."

Scroll to the bottom of the agenda page for the backgrounder and three supporting documents.

Finally...

If you comment on these items or other city business, or questions or concerns that I can help you with, please contact me at sethg@takomaparkmd.gov or 301-873-8225, or pay me a visit during my next drop-in office time, Tuesday, October 14, 5-6 pm at my office, 7006 Carroll Avenue #202. The entrance is between Mark's Kitchen and the Middle Eastern Cuisine restaurant.

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