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Friday, October 28, 2011

Daily journal, 10-28-11

I find it harder to do the journal when I'm out at an event until
10pm, as was the case on Wednesday night for the year-out Obama rally
at Blair High School. 1,000 people I am told---awesome showing and due
to the superior organizing of Jason Waskey, Jon Randall, the Obama
fellows, MCDCC members and good Democrats all over the county.

I didn't catch any of the speeches as I was talking to activist
residents in the back of the hall about issues such as the curfew,
school redistricting, and how to get involved in county affairs. I was
amazed to meet a Silver Spring resident named Robin who had worked as
the regional coordinator for Rock the Vote in 1992!

Today was frenetic with all of the balls that are in the air with the
close out of the year and the legislative term. The proposed CBA
(community benefits agreement) bill is the subject of much discussion.

We are also preparing for a town hall in December and scoping out our
game plan for the Silver Spring Thanksgiving Parade. Hope to see you
there!

Monday is going to be a big day with not only an update from the
Transit Task Force but also the work session on Open Government issues
that I have designed. I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Daily journal, 10-25-11

Today's council session featured a presentation by the new Montgomery
County Business Development Corporation. This group of CEO level execs
are working to make recommendations for how we can create more jobs
here. I observed that according to our most recent economic report we
have fewer private sector jobs in the county than we did 10 years ago.
We need to get moving on building new economic development tools and
creating the infrastructure to grow our economy, particularly
transportation.

Then this evening I joined my colleague Roger Berliner, chair of the
transportation committee, at a committee session in Bethesda about the
escalator problems and the proposal for a new entrance to the Bethesda
Metro. We heard a range of suggestions for how we can improve access
there and manage the crisis when the escalators all go out of
operation. WMATA said that current plans are for replacement of the
escalators to begin in January of 2014. We will look into what it
would take to accelerate that timeline.

The picture is my view at the Bethesda Metro hearing. The gentleman in
front on the right side is Art Holmes, Director of the county
department of transportation.

Daily journal, 10-24-11

Today in Gov Ops committee we passed out my bill relating to the
timing of impact tax payments. The measure would change when impact
taxes are paid from the front end to near completion of construction.
The effect is to allow investors to preserve cash for investing -- and
to make Montgomery County a better place to invest. With some helpful
amendments from the executive branch, the bill passed unanimously.

In the afternoon, after an audit committee meeting, I met with the
county's chief administrative officer Tim Firestine to discuss some of
the technology initiatives I am exploring. He encouraged me to push
forward. We have a Gov Ops committee meeting on Monday the 31st where
this effort will really get going.

Monday, October 24, 2011

What I do on a daily basis

Below, please find the email that we just sent out to our list. Please subscribe to our list today!

Dear Supporter,

Have you ever wondered what a member of the county council does on a daily basis? I get questions like that a lot, and I think it's important for residents to have a better understanding of what their elected officials do to advance the public interest.

That is why I have started a regular blog providing highlights about my work on legislative issues, meetings in the community, people I meet and places I learn about.

This is an effort to promote transparency and accountability on my part, to show how I am engaging with residents and grappling with the challenges facing the county. I also want to educate residents (as I learn myself) about the role of a County Council member. I consider this the first initiative of an “OpenGovernment” council policy agenda that I am working on.

A few examples from recent blog entries: zoning debates, upcounty parks, horses, farms and solar in the Ag Reserve, capital spending for schools, take home vehicles for county employees, curfews, zombies, and more.

Invite me to your next community meeting or send in a question and my response may show up on my blog! You may also follow me on Facebook and participate in the dialogue there.


Bethesda Metro Station Will Be Subject of

Special Montgomery Council Committee Meeting

Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee

to Meet at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 25, at

Bethesda-CC Regional Services Center to Discuss Problem

ROCKVILLE, Md., October 21, 2011—The Montgomery County Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment (T and E) Committee will hold a special meeting at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 25, at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center to discuss what can be done to avoid another incident such as the one on Friday, Oct. 14, when all three escalators at the Bethesda Metrorail Station simultaneously had mechanical problems and were all put out of service.

The Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Service Center's street entrance is at 4805 Edgemoor Lane in Bethesda (corner of Old Georgetown and Edgemoor) and is marked with County and American flags. Take the elevator to Level 2 for the meeting room.

The T and E Committee, which is chaired by Council Vice President Roger Berliner and includes Councilmembers Nancy Floreen and Hans Riemer, is expected to exchange thoughts with Metro officials at the meeting.

The discussion will include plans for the replacement of the escalators at the Bethesda Station, as well as plans for the construction of a new station entrance on Elm Street. Representatives from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) and the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) will testify before the committee.

Members of the public are invited to participate in a question and answer period.

The incident last Friday, when all three escalators were broken down at the same time, underscores just how intolerable the situation at the Bethesda Metro has become,” said Council Vice President Berliner. “WMATA’s customers deserve better service and they deserve better answers – this has been going on for far, far too long. Our residents deserve to hear directly from WMATA what measures they will take to ensure the health and safety of all Metro riders. ”

“The Bethesda Metro station has one of the longest escalators in the western hemisphere,” said Councilmember Riemer. “It is unacceptable that the escalators break down and residents must climb their way out of that deep tunnel. This committee hearing is a timely opportunity for residents to hear about solutions from WMATA and to join us in holding WMATA accountable.”

Councilmember Floreen said: "WMATA owes Bethesda residents and workers a full explanation as to why this multiple year problem is still not fixed."


Yours Sincerely,
Hans Riemer
Council Member At-Large

Hans Riemer | Montgomery County Council, At-large

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Wider Circle

I volunteered today at A Wider Circle, a great nonprofit based in
Silver Spring. We built this bed and tomorrow morning it will be out
the door with a family. I hope having a decent bed for the kids to
sleep on instead of the floor helps this family move more quickly to
self sufficiency.

Bike facilities discussion

Now we are meeting after the tour to discuss how we can improve
conditions so more people will see that biking is a realistic
alternative.

Bike facilities tour

This morning I am joining county officials and bike advocates for a
tour of bike facilities from Bethesda to Silver Spring. Here we are at
Cedar Lane and 355. The surface we are on is previous concrete.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Daily journal, 10-20-11

On Wednesday I attended Rail~Volution, a national conference about building better communities through transit. I saw a presentation by Peter Calthorpe that I will go ahead and say was the best presentation about planning and the environment that I have ever seen. We can see all around us now the evidence of a change in living patterns as people return to the cities and embrace/build the high quality of life that a great urban area can provide.

Here in Montgomery County we have great suburban neighborhoods and a truly rare agricultural belt, but our urban districts are only starting to blossom. It is in these urban districts, served by public transportation, that we must focus our future job and housing growth. That will be the best way to keep our suburban and rural ways of life intact while fostering the job growth we need to pay for our government services and accommodating the population growth that we know is coming. And I would say most importantly, it is a necessary change if we are going to avert catastrophic climate change. I think we all know that we cannot continue to add cars to the road and vehicle miles traveled at the same rate in the next 50 years as we have in the last 50 years. We have to make a bold change.

These concerns are what animates me in a lot of the daily battles that we have at the County Council. The council has a huge influence on land-use and transportation. Zoning, for example, is the intersection of community building, economic development, neighborhood preservation, environmental stewardship, transportation planning, and so many other key policy areas. It is NOT an eye-glazer!


On a separate note, if you have been reading this blog you know that I have been working diligently to sustain the Fenton Street Market, a great example of grassroots economic development in the Silver Spring area. I am delighted to see this work get results as Hannah McCann and Megan Moriarty have announced they will work to keep the market going. There was a huge gap between the county and the market over use of public space in Silver Spring that we have been working to resolve. We are close now. If this works I hope to see similar efforts take root around the county.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Daily journal, 10-17-11

Today's Transportation Committee hearing focused on several issues
that I want to see us move quickly to address. First was pedestrian
safety. As a county we must move to promote walkability so that there
are meaningful alternatives to driving everywhere and clogging the
roads. The County Executive has implemented an effective pedestrian
safety initiative that appears to have had a strong positive effect by
reducing pedestrian crashes.

A big portion of that discussion focused on walkability and school
safety. I was interested to learn that the county reviews data and
makes improvements for a quarter mile "walk shed" for our schools, but
the actual walk shed for that school could be a half mile, three
quarters of a mile, and so on. I plan to discuss this issue more with
our transportation officials and see if there are any changes that we
need to make.

Finally, an invigorating discussion on bikesharing. The county has
pursued federal grants for several years to build a bikesharing
system, as DC and NoVa have done with great success. The revelation
in the meeting for me was viewing the bikesharing operation as an
additional transit system that we can put in place. Already since its
founding just over a year ago, the capital bikesharing program has
generated more than one million trips.

Committee Chair Berliner pushed very hard, noting that our relative
lack of a bikeshare transit system is embarrassing to the county and
needs to be resolved. I asked the County DOT for us to be the first
jurisdiction in the state to apply for a new bikesharing program that
the state government is going to fund on an 80-20 split. As our DOT
pointed out, we will need to figure out where the resources come from
on our end, as these are very tight budget times.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

At the World of Montgomery Festival, 10-16-11

The view from where I'm standing about to join County Executive
Leggett and Councilmember Navarro in making remarks to the attendees.
Now off to do some reading for tomorrow's committee meetings!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Daily journal, 10-14-11

Today I spent some time in Clarksburg with my friend and planning
board member Casey Anderson and separately with District 2 County
Councilmember Craig Rice.

In this picture, note the grassy expanse in the middle of the picture.
That is where the Clarksburg town center retail center is supposed to
be -- the grocery stores and so forth that were promised to the
community and have not been delivered.

The sense I get in that part of the county is that the development
moved way too fast, leaving no room for error. The intention was to
build out to a city of more than 40,000 almost overnight. It was all
predicated on infrastructure that was a long way off, such as the
Corridor Cities Transitway, or may never come at all, such as the "mid
county highway".

Today, as residents will tell you its a land of broken promises. Not
the only one in Montgomery County, but the wounds are fresh.

This year the Council jumpstarted some convenience retail such as a
grocery store in Clarksburg Village with a zoning change, in response
to a citizen suggestion at a town hall that Craig Rice organized.
Hopefully this will help.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Daily journal, 10-13-11

We have an economy that "grows" but doesn't create jobs. The human
toll of this national crisis is devastating for so many families.

It might surprise you then to know that there are hundreds and maybe
thousands of private sector jobs that could come online in Montgomery
County but have not materialized because they are moving in slow
motion through our government bureaucracy.

In an economy like this, if we could accelerate an approved project
for a new office building or hotel and deliver that project and those
jobs in one year instead of two, wouldn't that be an effective job
creation strategy and economic stimulus? Over the short term, clearly
more effective than chasing after companies headquartered in other
jurisdictions?

Just in the past few weeks, I have spoken with business leaders in
Bethesda and Silver Spring who have said that their new commercial and
residential projects, though approved with community support, are
stuck in the mire of our development process. Multiple decisions from
an array of bureaucratic stakeholders at the county level don't happen
quickly enough because there is actually no one inside the government
responsible for getting the projects to the finish line.

This is not to denigrate the individual players at our agencies who
are doing good work. We just need someone who can steer everything
through that maze successfully.

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the county's
economic strategy. I am passionate about these issues because I know
that a job with decent pay is the bedrock of any family and community.
As a county, we make a big profit on tax revenues when we create jobs
but not so much when we create housing. If we want to keep funding our
schools, parks, libraries and social services in a time when incomes
are falling, we need more robust job growth to pay for it.

There is tremendous value locked up in our bureaucracy. We need to get
it moving and get those jobs out to our people. I'm going to see how
I can address this issue.

Meanwhile also, please keep asking Hannah McCann to keep Fenton Street
Market going!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Daily journal, 10-12-11

Tonight's youth town hall was a huge success. Yes it was contentious
but it was very healthy. Naturally the young people there raised many
objections and criticisms about the proposed curfew. For my own part I
tried not so much to convince everyone of my views so much as to
explain how I look at this issue and what I want to accomplish.

Alan Xie, the student member of the board of education, asked
questions about education funding that were sufficiently detailed to
provoke some guffaws from the council. I hope he didn't take that the
wrong way. Everyone is just tense over the budget because we have no
money and next year isn't looking very good either.

You can catch the town hall on county cable and on demand at our website.

I also continued my work today on the Fenton Street Market. You may
have seen the market announced that it plans to close rather than
compete for the RFP for veterans plaza. I reviewed the RFP and I can
imagine a document like that does not look friendly (you can see a
copy at the market's website).

If you care about this issue please tell Hannah and the County
Executive and the Council that the community wants this market to
continue! I believe we can find a solution. One day Hannah is going
to have her markets all over Montgomery County.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Question for you

Is there something you'd like me to write about here at this blog? My
reasoning for doing this journal is to promote openness and
transparency --- so residents can learn more about what I do on a
daily basis. I hope this will demystify the Council to some degree and
encourage more people to get involved.

I am not planning to write extensively about particular issues here
but if you want me to address something, send a note to
Councilmember.Riemer(at)montgomerycountymd.gov and I will do my best.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Daily journal, 10-7-11

Today's highlight was a presentation from Tom Street and Mark Winston
about the rapid transit task force. They are preparing recommendations
for a county wide rapid transit system using advanced vehicle
technology on the street surface. Preliminary studies show that there
is a strong benefit to residents by improving mobility and reducing
congestion. Drivers are much better off with this transit system
since there are fewer new cars on the road.

The challenges include how much it costs, how to pay for it, how it
affects long standing priorities such as the Purple Line, and where to
start with it first.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Daily journal, 10-6-11

I started off today meeting with Ana Lopez van Balen, the new mid
county services director, to learn more about her work and see some of
the social services that are provided out of the county building in
Wheaton. Then I stopped in to chat with Mr. Leo, my good friend who
runs Marchones Deli right there in Wheaton. We talked about the coming
redevelopment and how it may affect local small businesses.

Then into a great meeting with advocates from the senior community.
Patrick Lacefield in the county executive's office is working with me
and a team from Senior Leadership Montgomery as well as nonprofit
service groups to help identify how we can more effectively inform
seniors about transportation options available through 311. We are
making great progress.

Then I met with community leaders from the Lyttonsville area,
including Ms. Charlotte Coffield. They have a challenge with how the
Purple Line will impact their community and I am glad to be able to
help them out. Coincidentally I heard from my dear friend Barbara
Sanders that the Purple Line received a new approval from the US DOT,
which will mean continued progress in design and construction.

Finally, a helpful presentation from Federal Realty about upcoming
development in White Flint.

The council was briefed today on results from the beefed up police
patrols in Silver Spring and Burtonsville. The additional enforcement
has cut crime significantly, which is great news.

Swirling in the background: my impact tax bill, the peace resolution,
the curfew, the fire commission, a big box community benefits
agreement bill with UFCW, politics with MCGEO, and a whole lotta
email.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Walk To School Day

This is the spectacular view from my seat at the county's Walk To
School Day, where I joined superintendent Starr, County Executive
Leggett, and Councilmember Craig Rice. Craig fired up the crowd of
students at James Daly Elementary and I tell you, the sound of
hundreds of kids screaming is something to behold (in a very good
way).

Asked to speak I told the students how when I was a kid I walked 1.2
miles each way almost every day (I biked some too). It was always an
adventure. Eating plums, splashing puddles, making friends,
bickering with them, and trying desperately to get home before I peed
my pants. I think that formative experience of walking hours each day
helps explain why I've always preferred to walk to my job (can't any
more tho) and why to this day I put such an emphasis on walkability in
our community planning.

Good times.

At Bethesda Library

Today I read to a group of second graders at the Bethesda Library. I
had a blast. The event was organized by the library system as part of
a statewide effort. I was excited to join up as I worked hard (and
successfully) this year to restore cuts that had been proposed to the
library system in the budget.

The Bethesda Library shows why libraries matter. As I said to the
kids, they can spend time in the library their entire lives. There is
a kids reading room and a teen reading lounge. A quiet study area for
students and a computer bank where you can job hunt. A room where you
can meet with colleagues or community groups. At every stage in our
community life, the library is a backdrop.

The kids seemed to enjoy the reading, especially the book Stone Soup,
one of my favorites that my parents read to me.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Daily journal, 10-04-11

Today's council session featured a lengthy debate and then a
preliminary vote on the new proposed commercial-residential zones for
the areas in our communities with commercially-zoned property.

I'm pleased with the outcome. The proposal that I supported moves the
county more aggressively in the direction that I pledged to support
during my election campaign: a shift towards
environmentally-sustainable growth, development that is centered more
around public transportation and that allows us to add jobs and
housing without adding as many new cars to the roads; development that
builds more vibrant, people-oriented, walkable communities in our
urban areas while preserving our suburban and rural neighborhoods and
way of life.

Yes there are still many issues that we have to continue working on,
particularly how to promote more affordable housing production in the
county. We will return to those issues.

Over the past few months, I have heard many concerns from residents
about the new proposal. Some are legitimate and represent the kind of
difficult choices to balance the public interest that have to be made:
for example, some residents want all restaurants on commercial
property that is adjacent to residential property to go through an
expensive "site plan" process. These residents are worried about the
worst case scenarios (biker bars? chicken joints??). The problem is
that placing such a large barrier to new restaurants opening on this
kind of commercial property county-wide would have to result in fewer
restaurants, most or nearly all of which are desired by the community.
This means fewer opportunities for local entrepreneurs, and probably
a higher likelihood of chain restaurants since they would have more
capital to spend on planning expenses; not to mention less desirable
places to live across the board.

Other concerns that I heard were not founded. Many residents seemed
to think that we were rezoning residential property to commercial,
which of course was not true, or that we were replacing guidelines in
master plans with a one-size-fits-all zone, also not true.

The master plan process will continue to be where the community
gathers to form a vision for future development, which the planning
department will use to negotiate with developers as projects proceed.

The exciting and interesting thing about the new zoning proposal is
that it will vastly expand the number of projects that must have
negotiated public benefits. The community will get a lot more
amenities as a result, and residents will have a much stronger voice
in shaping the future of land-use and development in this county.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Daily journal, 10-03-11

First up, breakfast with my friend and now member of the Montgomery
County Planning Commission, Casey Anderson. I first met Casey when I
knocked on his door in 2005 during my campaign for council, district
5. He was involved with a few local officials (Raskin) and advocacy
campaigns. We had a pretty involved discussion about county issues
right there on his door step and we've never stopped talking. Funny
enough he was in Clarksburg with Commission Chair Francoise Carrier
while I was there with Parks Director Mary Bradford on Friday. We
decided to tour together in the upcounty to mull over planning issues.

Then a meeting with Roger Berliner and Dan Hoffman to talk about
technology and OpenGov issues. I relayed some of what I learned last
week talking with Bryan Sivak, Maryland's new Chief Innovation
Officer, who had a lot of great ideas about how to move forward.

Then into scheduling discussions and keeping up with the outstanding
legislative work by my team. We have a public hearing tomorrow on an
economic development bill I have sponsored.

Next, a committee meeting for T/E where we got a briefing on road
maintenance. I put my OpenGov learning into practice, requesting that
our DOT provide a map showing residents the condition and maintenance
schedule for county roads. We get so many inquiries on this issue that
I think there may be a big audience for the map. Our DOT does a superb
job with limited funds, making wise investments about how to maintain
the roads, in my view. But residents have to contact an official in
order to learn that kind of information and we could provide it
openly.

Last, some studying for tomorrow's vote on the new CR zone. I am
excited about the implications of this zone for our commercial areas.
I think it will improve our environmental impact, enhance resident
input into development and promote transparency, facilitate more
growth in the right places rather than in traffic-generating sprawl
locations, require developers to provide more community benefits, and
make for much better places to live.