Thursday, April 6, 2017

Pesticide-Free Lawns: Your Choice

The case for curtailing pesticide use has never been stronger.

We see too many headlines like Pyrethroid pesticide exposure appears to speed puberty in boys. ("Pyrethrins and pyrethroids are insecticides included in over 3,500 registered products, many of which are used widely in and around households, including on pets and in treated clothing, in mosquito control, and in agriculture," according to the EPA.) Others: Monsanto Weed Killer Roundup Faces New Doubts on Safety in Unsealed Documents and Trump's EPA undoes effort to ban pesticide linked to nervous system damage in kids.

We need to resist the Trump Administration, Republican Congressional anti-health, anti-environment agenda, on seemingly small matters just as on high-visibility attacks on immigrants, LGBTQ and minority civil protections, anti-poverty programs, and just about anything linked to science and fact. Resistance isn't limited to protest marches and lobbying. Local organizing and personal actions count too, a lot. But you knew that. What you maybe didn't know about is a bit of local organizing, by a well-know national organization –

The Sierra Club Maryland's Pesticide-Free Yards Campaign

The Sierra Club is "the nation's largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization." Grassroots translates into state organizations and local chapters, into response to localized needs and opportunities. In Maryland, the Sierra Club was particularly active, as a member of the Don't Frack Maryland Coalition, in the successful fight to win a state fracking ban making permanent moratorium that was due to expire. Excellent!

The Pesticide-Free Yards Campaign, which launched a few weeks back, aims individuals rather at enacting legislation. Locally, we do have protections created by the Montgomery County Healthy Lawns Act, a 2015 ban on non-essential, cosmetic lawncare pesticide use. Healthy Lawns built on the City of Takoma Park's Safe Grow Act of 2013, one of the city's many environmental sustainability initiatives. I'm proud to have helped advance both bills, but the real credit for them goes to the Safe Grow Montgomery activists, who built a broad health-environment coalition and overwhelming public support for the legislation. They demonstrated the activism's transformative power.

The Maryland Pesticide-Free Yards Pledge builds on the local laws. Of course, it's for all Marylanders, not just those covered by lawncare-pesticide restrictions. And signers pledge to stay away from all outdoor pesticide uses.

Want to show that you're on board? Put up a yard sign! Design to-be-done. You can help choose the sign design by responding to a Sierra Club Maryland poll, open through April 12. Choices are shown below.

Act Local

The Trump Administration is rolling-back federal environmental policies, regulations, and international commitment – inadequate as they already were! –  and proposal to cut the Environmental Protection Agency's budget by 30%. State and local environmental action – and informed personal choices – have never been more important.

Some choices are fun – please vote on Pesticide-Free Yards Campaign sign design. Some are a bit just a bit harder – please join me in pledging to reduce or eliminate your own use of synthetical chemical pesticides. Every bit of resistance counts!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Inventory Tax comment, February 8, 2017

Comment I sent to the members of the Takoma Park City Council, February 8, 2017:

Dear Councilmembers,

I note the council's February 8, 2017 discussion of personal property taxes, prompted by the large bill faced by Priti's Fashion and Jewelry.

It would be appropriate for the city to waive the over $80,000 in penalty interest owed by Priti's, suspend further interest penalties for the years 2013-6, and  direct the city manager to work out a multi-year finance plan with the business, and I urge you to put action on the inventory tax on the council agenda in time to have a change go into effect July 1, 2017. More on that topic below.

I oppose the council's forgiving Priti's back taxes and expect that forgiveness would prompt hundreds of Takoma Park businesses to demand refunds of past years'  taxes. Actually, I question whether the council even has the legal authority to forgive a single payer's back taxes, but if do move ahead with forgiveness, you might limit it to the amount above what any other commercial businesses paid in each of the subject years, to forestall refund requests.

Incidentally, the backgrounder ( misstates the contribution of Priti's PPTs to the city. PEPCO pays personal property taxes 2.5 times what Priti's pays, and Washington Gas pays almost as much annually.

Please act soon to rework or eliminate the inventory tax. A homestead-type exemption for locally owned businesses (with a suitable definition of locally owned) could be implemented immediately in order to take effect July 1, 2017 with modest loss of revenue beyond other than Priti's. Second best, elimination of the inventory tax (or all PPTs) in favor of a switch-over to multiple real-property tax classes, with commercial properties taxed at a higher rate, would need to be phased in over several years, I think, and therefore wouldn't provide needed immediate relief.

Other approaches would not work. A cap on inventory taxes paid by a single business would help Priti's but would unnecessarily reduce taxes paid by Aldi's and Walgreens, for instance, without revenue replacement. An inventory exclusion -- which I think is not a good idea for other reasons -- would solve Priti's' problem even

Thank you for considering this comment.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Ten Issues for Maryland District 20

Maryland District 20
Monday evening, January 9, the 28 members of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (DCC) will meet in public session for a public vote to appoint a new District 20 representative to the Maryland House of Delegates. The appointee will serve a majority-minoritylegislative district that includes Silver Spring and Takoma Park and extends north to White Oak and beyond, for two years through 2018. Let's quickly discuss the process and then move to what matters more at this moment: Candidate positions and response to issues.

As political observer Jonathan Shurberg notes, the approach to filling state legislative vacancies, via vote by county committee of the departed legislator's party, "has been around in the Maryland Constitution for over a century." Still, as Bill Turque reports in the Washington Post, "the appointment process has come under increasing scrutiny from critics who contend that it is undemocratic and rife with cronyism." The concern is that DCC members, most of whom are elected, and some of whom were appointed to fill vacancies and for gender balance, act unethically in appointing their own to fill state delegate and senate vacancies. My take matches Jonathan's. Each would-be candidate had equal opportunity to position herself for appointment to a mid-term vacancy. So sure, we can consider changing the system, but until it's changed, the DCC shouldn't punish a candidate's foresight.

You have two formal opportunities to hear the candidates, at a January 3, 2017, 7 pm forum at the White Oak Recreation Center Community Room, 1700 April Lane, Silver Spring, and January 5, 2017, 7pm, at the Silver Spring Civic Center, and you'll find them on Facebook and Twitter and out in the community. Myself, I met recently with three and spoke by phone with a fourth, and I know a fifth quite well through years of collaboration on community matters. What candidate Darian Unger reportedly calls “government by Starbucks” is a bit more open than you might think: The candidates are accessible to those who reach out to them. (For the record: I met Darian and candidate Daniel Koroma at Kaldi's in Silver Spring, and Jheanelle Wilkins at Busboys & Poets. Shop local!)

Review the candidates' applications — Yvette Butler, Lorig Charkoudian, and Amy Sabo Cress have also announced — attend a forum, pose questions, and make an endorsement if you wish. If you pose forum questions, or if you're a candidate reading this column, please consider raising these...

Ten Issues for Maryland District 20
  1. Sanctuary and civil protection are complementary concepts, the first the extension of shelter to undocumented individuals — to human beings — who seek to build a new life in our community, driven by political and economic conditions in the countries they left, and the second an end to institutional and institutionalized discrimination against minorities.
  2. Voting rights and civic inclusion. We in Maryland don't suppress voting, yet we could do much more to encourage it, starting with address of registration disparities. Automatic voter registration would be fantastic; Election Day registration, which Delegate Kirill Reznik has notably promoted, would help, as would campaign access to apartment buildings as allowed in Minnesota and in Takoma Park.
  3. Economic opportunity means policies that support both small business and fair wages. I don't mean corporate give-aways. I mean programs that foster business creation and employment and that underwrite expanded child care and affordable healthcare and housing.
  4. Transit. Let's get the Purple Line built and fund bus rapid transit — much of the Purple Line and most of the BRT Route 29 Corridor run within D20 — and fight Governor Larry Hogan's highway shell game.
  5. Takoma Park has been working on The New Ave, revitalization of the New Hampshire Avenue corridor and Takoma-Langley Crossroads, for many years. State involvement would help, given the need for funding and for cross-border cooperation involving Montgomery and Prince George's Counties and the City of Takoma Park. Former Governor Parris Glendening, a smart-growth pioneer, paid attention to the corridor's social and development needs. Robert Ehrlich and Martin O'Malley didn't and Larry Hogan hasn't. Can we revive state attention?
  6. District 20 and much of Montgomery County need new schools, to respond to school-population growth. Every candidate is concerned about closing the achievement gap. The first step is to eliminate the opportunity gap. State school construction funding and the governor's attempts to divert funding to private schools are District 20 issues.
  7. Protection of local authority, of the ability to expand on state and federal protections. Local authority is a priority for District 20. At this moment, Montgomery County's Healthy Lawns lawncare pesticide restrictions are under industry attack, based on a fanciful claim of state preemption. Governor Hogan has gotten into the act by aiming to prevent Maryland localities from requiring expanded business sick-leave coverage. I am especially apprehensive about federal and state attacks on Montgomery County, Takoma Park, and other Maryland sanctuary policies. We need legislators who will fight this aspect of the Trump-Hogan agenda — who might even work to expand local authority, for instance by introducing legislation to end state preemption of local firearms legislation — and who will also resist the devolution of federal and state responsibilities and funding liabilities onto local jurisdictions.
  8. State agency responsiveness. State agencies can be a pain in the butt. I'm thinking particularly of the State Highway Administration (SHA) and the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA). I served four years on the Takoma Park city council. I found no state agency more difficult to work with than the SHA which, in my experience, has little sensitivity to the needs of residential neighborhoods and urbanized business districts, to desires for walkability, multimodal transportation options including bicycling, and streetscapes friendly to businesses and the environment. The MDA wears similar blinders. The MDA, for instance in its pesticide regulations, simply won't admit that residential lawns and school playing fields can and should be treated differently from farms.
  9. Accessible and affordable quality healthcare. The looming Trump-Ryan-McConnell train wreck will start with steps to derail the Affordable Care Act and gut Medicaid. These steps are likely to engender a tepid response at best from Governor Hogan. So here we have another statewide, countywide matter that will hit disadvantaged District 20 neighbors particularly hard: the loss of accessible and affordable quality healthcare. And a side point, actually a very significant one for District 20: Silver Spring-Takoma Park needs a legislative advocate for creation of a free-standing emergency-care facility on the soon-to-be-former Washington Adventist Hospital Takoma Park campus.
  10. Constituent services. Jamie Raskin was Senator Pothole (to borrow the moniker that kept Alfonse D'Amato, a nasty right-winger, in office representing New York in the U.S. Senate). Fortunately our new delegate won't take up the burden alone. Sheila Hixson, Will Smith, and David Moon are a great District 20 team, one that recognizes that superb constituent services, direct-to-individuals and supporting Montgomery County and the City of Takoma Park in Annapolis, is what differentiates a strong-on-issues legislator from a great representative. Let's maintain their standard of excellence!
My ten points extend over a huge amount of territory. No single legislator can cover them all well, particularly not one appointed mid-term and just at the start of the legislative session. Readers and other District 20 neighbors will add issues to my list, but whatever the appointee's strengths and focus issues, teamwork, openness, dedication, and responsiveness will be key to her or his Annapolis success. I'm confident the Democratic Central Committee will make a strong appointment, and it will be up to us District 20 constituents to help our new delegate succeed.

Takoma Junction: Dateline 1995

I came across an old article on Takoma Junction while researching a new one, on Maryland state investment in our community.

Regarding Takoma Junction, dateline 1995:
'The $1 million from the state would be used to acquire other property in the area and spur creation of a commercial, retail and residential hub, said Del. Peter Franchot (D-Montgomery). "Without public investment, you won't get the right kind of private investment," Franchot said.'
With the City of Takoma Park's revived Takoma Junction revitalization initiative, we have private investment, from the Neighborhood Development Company, on tap. That's a good thing, something we've been working toward for years.

The full article, published in the Washington Post:


By David Montgomery August 30, 1995

After a decade of failed revitalization, things started looking up for an ailing section of Takoma Park yesterday morning when the governor, a posse of politicians and an army of activists met in a vacant lot and outlined a deal.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) said he would be favorably disposed toward Takoma Park's request for $1 million in state economic development funds if the city could demonstrate there also was significant new private money ready to be invested.

The state funds, in the form of a $500,000 grant and a $500,000 loan, would be used to spruce up Takoma Junction, an underachieving stepsister of the city's old town, which was revitalized a dozen years ago. The old town is situated where Laurel and Carroll avenues converge, and Takoma Junction is located a few blocks up Carroll, by the intersection with East-West Highway.

Glendening was careful not to promise anything. But he said the Takoma Park project "excited" him. And, with a twinkle in his eye, he observed that in the gubernatorial election,

Takoma Park handed him his highest margin of victory in the state: 91 percent.

"I won't forget this at all," said the governor.

Glendening was on a tour of Montgomery County yesterday, promoting his efforts to revitalize the older neighborhoods and "urban cores" of Maryland. Another scheduled stop was in Friendship Heights, where, he said, his vote margin was almost as overwhelming as in Takoma Park.

Takoma Park already plans to spend $515,000 next month to acquire a vacant 1.4-acre lot in Takoma Junction and convert it to interim parking while seeking a developer for the property, said Beverly Habada, the city administrator. The money includes $200,000 in block grant funds from Montgomery County and a $315,000 city bond, which will cost the city more than $27,000 a year in debt service, Habada said.

Montgomery County officials have discussed relocating the Takoma Park Volunteer Fire Department from Takoma Junction. City planners said that if that happens they might seek to acquire the fire hall for a cultural center, but they said no source of funds has been identified for that project.

The $1 million from the state would be used to acquire other property in the area and spur creation of a commercial, retail and residential hub, said Del. Peter Franchot (D-Montgomery). "Without public investment, you won't get the right kind of private investment," Franchot said.

Past proposals for the property have included a Pizza Hut and a chain drugstore, both violently opposed by city residents, who said they wanted a grocery store most of all. Residents banded together to create a community development corporation to foster controlled development of the Junction.

A leading contender to move into the Junction -- if financing comes together -- is the Takoma Park Silver Spring Food Cooperative, a booming vegetarian market in nearby Silver Spring.