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Friday, September 30, 2011

Fantastic Parks in Germantown and Clarksburg

Today I got the chance to go behind the scenes at the Parks Department. I spent the day touring a number of parks and maintenance facilities in the up-county area with Mary Bradford, our exceptionally pleasant and highly accomplished Parks Director, and a number of her staffers.

I particularly appreciated learning how the parks connect in the various communities around Clarksburg and how the Parks Department thinks about expanding park land. I always enjoy a stop at Black Hill Regional Park, where I am intent on taking a boating trip soon, and Little Bennett Regional Park, where I about ready to get the family out for a camping trip. The East Germantown Recreational Park --- aka SoccerPlex --- is astounding, as anyone who has spent time there knows. Some say its the best soccer facility in the country.

With Mary or one of her colleagues at the wheel, I took the chance to assess the state of roads and other infrastructure in the Clarksburg area. I am voting soon on a proposal to provide additional public subsidies into Clarksburg to get various road projects going.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sunny Ridge Farm

Have you always assumed that the fields of corn and soybeans in the Ag
Reserve or on the Eastern Shore were heading to the table? Not so.
That corn is largely used for feed as part of the meat production
process. On the Eastern Shore the crops are going to chicken feed.
Here it's more likely beef.

I've always wondered what was going on with the beautiful steel silos
you see in the fields. Now I know. The farmers let the corn and soy
stay on in the field until it dries to a certain moisture content.
Then they harvest it. The corn comes off the cob easily in the
combine's grinder because it's dry. Then they haul it to the silo area
where they dry it further to the right moisture level for storage.
Some of it they sell right then but most they store to sell based on
market price.

The rains this year have been tough on the farmers, and the drought was too.

Here I am with Drew Stabler, a really solid guy who taught me a lot on
my visit. The guy my age is David Lechlider. He's an 8th generation
farmer here in the region. If you do the math that's back to the
1700s.

We're looking at the corn coming off the truck into a conveyer and I'm
eating a few kernels while the massive dryer operates over head. The
roasting kernels smell sweet but mild.

All about a half hour from the County Council office building.

Solar in the Ag Reserve

Yesterday I met with Craig Ruppert of the Ruppert Companies. Craig and his
brothers grew up down county and started several successful
horticulture and real estate businesses. Their company has some 650
employees regionally and the HQ up past Derwood has superb green
features. Included among them is a solar field that provides all the
power they need to run the campus. I've often wondered why we don't
see more solar and wind power in the reserve since renewable power
could support agricultural uses there. Craig is a very forward
thinking guy and I had a great time getting to know him.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Daily journal, 09-27-11

A zone is not a master plan! That is my take-away from today's
lengthy but invigorating discussion of the CR zone rewrite. We are
working on a new family of zones for our commercial-zoned property.
The zone will not replace residential with commercial zoning or
supersede master plan recommendations about heights with zone-defined
heights.

What the zone will do is require many if not most property owners to
negotiate with the planning department over public benefits when they
want to do new construction. Master plans guide the public benefits.
Today many property owners do not have to negotiate at all. This new
approach will make it easier to build good commercial projects with
more public benefits and resident participation near public
transportation.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Daily journal, 09-26-11

Today was jam-packed with tough policy issues. First, a conversation
with the Fire Chief as a follow up to our committee meeting last week
on vehicle policy issues. Then a Gov Ops committee meeting where we
debated the level of borrowing we can afford to finance construction
of capital projects like schools, libraries, etc. I recommended, as
did Council president Valerie Ervin, that we should not reduce our
spending in this area because it will shrink our local economy. The
Count Executive is recommending $50 million in cuts to these projects
over the next 2 years.

Then a meeting with community advocates in the BCC cluster who are
opposed to the site that has been chosen for the middle school. I have
to give a shout out here to Cathy Fink, a local musician whose album
Pillow Full of Wishes is absolutely one of our family favorites. It's
tough getting lobbied by the lady who sings your kids to sleep!

Then to T/E committee to discuss the issue of artificial turf fields.
There have been a lot of concerns raised about them. My conclusion is
that the science certainly raises enough concern to implement testing
but not enough to warrant a moratorium. I am pleased that the parks
department is implementing a rigorous test on runoff and environmental
impacts. That will tell us a lot. I requested lead tests for all our
existing fields and that we explore alternatives to tire crumb for
filler for these fields.

Now I'm prepping for a vigorous discussion tomorrow on the CR family
of zones. We are working to bring new plans to life for communities in
Wheaton, Kensington and Takoma/Langley but we need to get the zones
right or the investment will not come.

I love this job!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

2012 campaign event in North Bethesda

Today I spoke to an energetic group of Democrats active in the
Montgomery County Obama campaign and also Democratic clubs. It was a
great turnout, particularly for 400 days or so out from the election.
My high praise for Jonathan Prutow and his co-conspirator Lisa Jerrum
who put it together along with Jon Randall, who never slowed down
organizing the County after 2008.

My comments focused on the need for Democrats to get their backs up
and get focused on winning. Not whining. Obama has done terrific work
despite an opposition that would sooner destroy our government than
compromise. And he has had to contend with a 60 vote requirement in
the Senate, which is untenable for democratic government to work
properly. Next time you hear a progressive complaining, turn that
conversation around and get them on board! The stakes are too high to
let morale slump.

Here I am with Sarah Wolf, one of my best staffers and organizers in
my 2010 campaign.

Friday, September 23, 2011

New science center at Montgomery College

If you want to see how America wins the future, it's right here on
display at the groundbreaking for the new science center at Montgomery
College's Rockville campus. Speaking is one of the colleges bright
science students who perhaps soon will be working at one of out
startup or flagship science companies.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Daily journal, 09-20-11

Today, two highlights: first, I shared a memo with my committee chair at the Government Operations committee, Nancy Navarro, and my other council colleagues, about some ideas I have for moving ahead on open government issues. I am excited that there is general interest to move ahead on this front and I think we are going to make some real waves. More on that soon.

Second, a briefing that I requested from council staff about the CR zone. I have been following developments at the Planning, Housing and Economic Development committee very closely. The committee members have been working hard on a commercial zone that can make for quality community life and strong economic development particularly in Takoma/Langley, Kensington and Wheaton, where we have master plans up for approval this year. Because these are complex issues and there are a lot of very smart people working on them, the debate has been very contentious. The council received recommendations from the Planning Board for the zone and the question before us now is how much to modify them. The primary issue at hand is that if we are going to spur quality development in these areas of the county that have not shared in the economic progress of, say, the 355 corridor, we have to make that development affordable or else nothing is going to happen.

We are trying to maximize the community benefits while minimizing the barriers to investment. Its tricky.

As always, please share your thoughts or questions and I'll try to respond.

Daily journal, 09-19-11

Today we had another round of discussions about the county's take home
vehicles. The proliferation of these vehicles and the county's
inability to properly manage the system has been a running problem for
decades. In 1992 and again in 2001 there were major council initiated
investigations into the problem, finding each time that the county was
failing to collect payments from many employees for their commutes.
The estimate at the time was over $200,000 in lost collections per
year. This year at my request the T/E committee reviewed take home
vehicles again and found the same situation occurring! The
administration has cut the number of take home assigned vehicles by
14% in response and has instituted new procedures to reclaim money
owed to the county going forward. Whether this can really work given
the repeated failures over the years is something I am considering
carefully.

After the busy day of council work I went to a dinner organized by
Bethesda Green at Chef Tony's focusing on "farm to table" issues.
With 40% of county land set aside for agricultural uses, we actually
have very little "table food" farming. It's something we need to
encourage.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Wider Circle

Today, after presenting to the D20 Brunch, I loaded up the car with a
number of our favorite new baby items that we no longer need and
headed over to A Wider Circle to donate them to families in need. This
is a terrific organization located just off Georgia Avenue near the
beltway. They fight poverty by helping low income families gain
dignity and independence with furnishings, education and other
support. They also have a big gala coming up and I am on the honorary
committee. Think about them next time you are wondering what to do
with that dresser or bookshelf!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Rolling Acres Farm visit

This farm today is an equestrian use. Over 90 horses, some boarders
and some trained for shows. Pam Saul runs the farm along with her two
sisters, one racer and one trainer. Her dad still lives in the main
house where they were all raises while each of the families and the
farm hands have their own house today. They employ 15 workers. The old
stone house and barn date to 1806 when the property belonged to the
Gaithers ---- the family Gaithersburg is named for. Pam was a
delightful host and walked Henry around in circles riding the horse
Pee Wee while we chatted about zoning and the farm business.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Daily journal, 09-15-11


Today's council highlight surely was the committee session on the curfew. There was a lot of very intelligent debate on the issue. One of the statistics that struck me as very concerning is the rising trend of juvenile arrests in the county. The number increased from 1,548 in 2006 to 2,626 in 2010. That is truly an explosion --- juvenile arrests were 21% of all arrests in 2010. At 2,626 arrests, that is about 7 a day!

If a curfew gives the police a way to be more preventative with juveniles by sending them home before problems escalate, that could ultimately not only prevent crime but also reduce juvenile arrests and help keep kids out of the justice system. One of the changes to the proposal from the executive that I was glad to see was making it a civil rather than a criminal offense. I want to keep kids out of jails.

My concern continues to be for protecting young people. I want young people to be able to hang out at night and not have to worry that they are going to get stabbed. Yes young people have to give up a little --- though, really, not much, since most can't be out on the streets after 11pm on weeknights or midnight on weekends anyway --- but I think you will get safer places to hang out as a result.

The council policy packet, well worth reviewing, is here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Daily journal, 09-14-11

Today I had a number of meetings and discussions on the topic of employee take home vehicles. Ever since I first learned that a number of employees had vehicles that they could take home at night and the county government was not forthcoming with information about them, I have been pushing hard for answers and reforms. We are getting ready for a committee hearing next Monday that will cover both public safety vehicles (except police vehicles) as well as county vehicles. We asked the executive branch to revise the policy and reduce the take home vehicle fleet significantly last spring, and now we are getting a revised policy. It has taken a long time, I have to say. I think we are going to make some real progress on this issue next week and put some changes in place that will save some real money.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Daily journal, 09-13-11

Today was the first council session since the end of July. Its been so long since I sat at my seat on the dais that I have to confess I was a bit nervous all over again. We started the day though with an open-press discussion with the County Executive, Ike Leggett. I was a few minutes late as I was getting an interesting update from Marc Elrich about his BRT plans as well as economic development issues, where we have some common interests. The session with the County Executive turned into a bit of a fracas over the issue of whether we should pursue a municipal power authority that would take over for Pepco. I strongly support pursuing this idea -- I think the residents will be very interested to see the option laid out before them (yes? no?). It appears to me there is enough support on the Council to go forward, regardless of the Executive's objections.

Another focus today was on capital spending and the capital budget --- where we borrow money to pay for long term investments such as schools, transit technology, roads, parks, libraries, etc. The County Executive is proposing a cut in the amount of money that we borrow. I am concerned about any proposal that would slow the pace of job creation in the county, and there is no question that building projects create jobs (good ones, too). We will be taking a closer look at this but my general philosophy is that we should spend every penny we can on job creation, within the bounds of affordability.

We also discussed a bill that I have introduced, along with six other co-sponsors (so far), that would change the timing of when impact taxes are paid to allow builders to use more of their seed capital to start projects. The timing would change so that builders do not have to pay taxes up front, but rather when they are ready to occupy and sell. This will mean more projects and more jobs, as well as more single and multi-family housing for our workforce, and more housing for companies looking to expand or locate here. It won't cost the county or taxpayers a dime --- in fact, as Council Vice President Roger Berliner noted, it will generate more tax revenue over time by improving the investment climate.

We are in a national employment crisis that demands an aggressive response from every level of government. I'm interested in any ideas you have for how we can spur job creation here in Montgomery County.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Daily journal, 09-12-11

Today starts a week back in session, meaning votes, committee
hearings, policy packets, and so forth! I love the intensity and
structure of the council's work. I get memos to review and discuss and
then vote on recommendations from our phenomenal professional staff.
Friends often ask what has surprised me most about serving on the
council and I respond with several observations, including the
experience of being supported by a professional council staff (in
addition to my own rock star team). The structure and process of an
independent council staff helps foster a culture of integrity in
Montgomery County Government that serves our residents well. There is
still plenty of room for politics of course but also an assurance that
many key issues will be raised.

This week the new Fillmore opens in Silver Spring. Not sure I will be
making many shows until the kids get a little older but I'm excited to
see what this does for the county.

Peace!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Daily journal, 09-08-11

I started today with a tour of the command centers for emergencies,
911, transportation and storm operations. In the wake of 9/11 the
county elevated it's command operations and there is an impressive
center in Gaithersburg now. Some of the highlights included seeing
the real time traffic control systems, where hundreds of cameras
monitor traffic and operators can change timing at any of the new
traffic signals from the center's desktop computers; the bus tracker,
which provides real time information about the timing and location of
buses via GPS, even including ridership numbers; and meeting the storm
operations team, who are I am sure working over time right now due to
the extreme rainfall we are experiencing today. This experience
affirmed my belief that we need to invest more extensively in
technology to manage our existing road and transit capacity. We can
greatly expand our transportation capacity within our existing built
footprint by using information more effectively.

Then I had lunch with the county executive, whom I saw last night at
the Equality Maryland benefit. We talked about many issues including
the curfew. After that a meeting with police chief Manger to talk
more about the curfew. He notes that he doesn't see slam-dunk
statistics about curfews and crime, but believes a curfew would be a
very effective tool in some situations.

Next a meeting with Leah Muskin-Pierret, a student organizer against
the curfew. She argued that a curfew would foster distrust of the
police and violate the rights of young people. I'm glad we are doing a
youth town hall in October, the timing is helpful to young people who
want to weigh in.

Finally, a reception at VisArts in Rockville for an exhibit by the
artist who painted the murals in Maine that the GOP governor removed
for being pro-union.

All in all a great day.