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Friday, March 30, 2012

JCRC 2012 Advocacy Day at Montgomery County Council

On Wednesday this week I met with the JCRC, or the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. They are an umbrella of various service providing agencies serving all residents of the county and they play an enormously valuable role in helping the county achieve its social vision. We discussed my position on a requested increase in funding for Montgomery Cares, our health care service delivery program for the uninsured; I'm not sure yet if we can afford more on this but I am reviewing. They asked for my support for various council grants from their member groups, which I will certainly review after the Council Grants Advisory Group makes their recommendation. As a former non-profit director myself I know how difficult it is to live from grant to grant. I have urged the executive branch to respond favorably to JCRC’s request and Non Profit Montgomery’s request that when a grant is awarded to a non-profit, about one third of the annual amount should be provided up front. Non-profit workers, including the JCRC members pictured below, provide important services for everyone in our community and we need to do what we can to support them.

Here I am with JCRC allies and included among them, Ron Halber, the executive director.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Action In Montgomery for Senior Issues

On March 20th I attended the Action In Montgomery forum on seniors issues, featuring County Executive Leggett and Council President Berliner. This was without a doubt one of the most impressive community action events I have attended in Montgomery County. I knew I was in for something special when the organizer welcomed the crowd with a rousing speech about how “people working together can change the world.” I felt right at home. Then they put their values into action by bringing a representative from every faith group that was participating in the event to announce how many people they pledged to bring and how many they actually brought. Most of them exceeded their goal.

The purpose of the forum was to unveil the seniors agenda and have a public accountability session with the County Executive and Council President on the terms of the agenda. Here is the County Executive discussing the issues with them:

The AIM seniors agenda includes the following four points:

· Senior Housing: Require developers of housing projects built on county-owned land to set aside a portion of affordable and market rate units for 60+ residents. County also to leverage senior housing on private projects.

· Affordable Housing Money. Phase in full funding of the Housing Initiative Fund with general fund property tax dollars rather than bond funding beginning in FY 2014.

· Senior Housing Plan: Create a senior housing plan with AIM that includes yearly measurable goals.

· Transportation. Work on and fund creative senior transportation solutions that support Aging in Place.

These are all initiatives we can and must proceed with. For my own part, I am working with Council President Berliner on an initiative to promote mobility for seniors through transportation policy solutions. I have had some preliminary meetings with folks from the Commission on Aging and the plan is to have proposals this year that will address transportation issues.

On the question of housing, the perception out there is that when the county creates urban areas with condo and apartment buildings, we are just trying to lure young adults to the county. The reality, as anyone who knows the population of residents that currently lives on the 355, from Friendship Heights to Rockville, is that seniors are a huge market for this housing.

As the county’s population ages, boomers who are in single family houses today would transition to the condo/apartment lifestyle, opening up single family housing for millennials in search of a little more space for the family. Over lifespans, we need enough of each type of housing for everyone to trade places. Today, however, I do not believe the county has enough multi-family housing to make this possible.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Daily Journal, March 21

On Wednesday, I had the chance to participate in one of Montgomery County’s most innovative practices: the effort by our Department of Health and Human Services to work with local nonprofits in a campaign to go door-to-door, neighbor to neighbor to raise awareness about critical county services.

The campaign is in several target areas of the county; I joined the door-to-door effort in a low income area of Long Branch. The outreach was organized by the community group IMPACT Silver Spring.

One of the “connectors” joining us was a woman who lived in a nearby apartment and lost her home in a fire. The building owner did not provide any assistance to her or the other two families who lost their homes, but the county was there to help in a crisis. Now they are relocated in the same neighborhood to a different building. The mom was out there with us, meeting neighbors and sharing her story to raise awareness about our social safety net.

Saba, a ten year old who lives in the apartment building, joined up with us as we went door to door and talked to me about life in the building and the neighborhood. She said she wished there were more after-school activities, as she doesn’t have much to do in the afternoons. I saw a lot of kids with time on their hands.

I will be reviewing the budget and working to support more after school programs, something I have long believed in as a policy maker and a parent.

So thanks to the awesome team at IMPACT Silver Spring and HHS – you guys are true champions for building the community and quality of life that we want for all residents in this county!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Daily Journal, March 14 (Digital Gov)

Today started with an impressive briefing by leaders in the tech sector on the topic of Montgomery County and the new economy. We talked with a venture capitalist, Brad Burnham, who urged us to create urban areas where young tech workers want to live, promote community banking to increase lending for small businesses, and use our data effectively to foster new tech start-ups. These are all initiatives I am working on and excited about, so I was very encouraged by his comments.

David Lieber from Google talked about ways that we can partner with the company, particularly with Google Transit but also Maps, Apps and other areas. We’re already started with Google but need to build a more effective partnership.

Wayne Jackson, CEO of Sonatype, a cyber security firm, talked about how he moved his company here from Silicon Valley. His comments were particularly interesting as we discovered a tension between the advice of Burnham, who said that young tech workers are less interested in schools, and Jackson, who said that he located his company here precisely because the workers are more loyal and rooted in the county. Jackson said our quality school system is essential for fostering the kind of workforce that he needs to have a successful company. He targets a different workforce, essentially, that has tech skills but won’t jump ship for the next start-up quite as easily when times get tough. In truth I assume you need both layers for a robust economy and in my view MoCo doesn’t have enough of the younger types to have the right balance, but according to Mr. Jackson we don’t want to swing the pendulum too far in that direction.

Over lunch I sat with my team to talk about upcoming priorities, strategies, and legislation that I am preparing to introduce.

In the afternoon, I had a discussion with a current events group at Magruder High School. I left that meeting invigorated by the unique and amazing qualities of our MCPS students.

Rushing back to the office, I then met with the county executive’s team to talk about our progress on digital government. We will soon be rolling out an open data platform (as Burnham was urging this morning) and an array of other initiatives that I have been planning with the Executive Branch. They are doing a superb job getting this initiative going.

After some time chewing over various issues with my chief of staff, I headed down to Glen Echo for the Montgomery County Commission on Children and Youth’s awards event, where they honored the generous volunteers who do so much to support youth programs in the county.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Hiring a Digital Gov Staffer

I’m hiring a policy assistant who will focus on digital government and engagement, in addition to other public policy and community organizing duties. Qualifications include a keen understanding of current developments in the digital gov field and the ability to help the council office form policy and legislative initiatives as well as implement digital campaigns. Please contact me for details. Thanks!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Daily Journal, March 12 (Cost Shift Update & Wheaton Revitalization)

Today, the council president and county executive sent a letter to the state delegation about the proposals for the pension shift and maintenance of effort. The letter concludes by saying, “In our meetings in Annapolis with you and other leaders of our delegation, we have stressed that we will stand by you if at the end of the day the total package that emerges treats Montgomery County and its residents fairly. We stand by that pledge. However, in the absence of substantial changes to the pension cost shift and maintenance of effort legislation, we will not be able to say that.”

Tough times.

On a more positive note, we had a long discussion at the economic development committee about Wheaton. As I said at the meeting, I personally appreciate what the county executive has done by putting $42 million into the capital budget (meaning that the money is borrowed, and not money that could be used on salaries, etc) for Wheaton redevelopment. I have been concerned about the specific proposal that this budget item would fund though, as it has a potentially devastating effect on many small businesses in Wheaton while the upside benefits may or may not materialize in 2, 5 or even 10 years. I am looking for a plan that will have more certainty in the benefits and reduce our impact on small businesses. This can be achieved by funding the construction of a county building on county property in Wheaton, rather that a platform over the Metro.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Daily Journal, March 9

Friday morning I was a guest reader at Rachel Carson Elementary School in Gaithersburg, Maryland. This is a Maryland Blue Ribbon school and hopefully will be a national award winner soon, with something in the range of 98% of the kids passing the MSAs, according to the principal. What an amazing achievement. The first grade kids were a lot fun! We really engaged in the story of Abraham Lincoln, as I read from a book that is one of my son Henry’s favorites.

I got a chance to speak with Gary Bartee of the Montgomery County Association of Administrators and Principals. One of his big focuses is the peer review system, which is Montgomery County’s innovative way of improving accountability for teachers by providing support and training to teachers who are not performing. I was happy to see a Washington Post article about this system the next day; it is an approach that deserves more recognition nationally. It is also worth noting that a few years ago MCPS refused Federal Race to the Top money due to a dispute over how to do teacher evaluations. The Federal requirements would have forced the county to redesign our own carefully constructed evaluation and support system. It was a good decision by Jerry Weast to opt-out.

Meanwhile I am continuing to work on Wheaton redevelopment, as we prepare for some important council decisions. On Friday afternoon I met with the Coalition for the Fair Redevelopment of Wheaton. We walked around Triangle Lane and spent some time talking with Mr. Leo, proprietor of Marchones. I’m looking for an approach in Wheaton that will support our local small businesses, not replace them.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

What does Wheaton Need?/¿Qué necesita Wheaton?

Thanks to a significant proposal from the County Executive, improving or redeveloping Wheaton is on the council agenda for action in this capital budget. The council is considering an Executive Branch proposal that would have a profound effect on the core area around the Metro station.

We have a big decision to make. As Councilmember Nancy Navarro says, Wheaton’s time is now, and I am working with her and other county officials to put a plan into place.

Here is the question: What does Wheaton need? And how do we get it?

Everyone agrees that Wheaton needs more customers for the businesses there.

The question is how to generate more customers.

Here’s my approach. I think Wheaton’s downtown is sorely missing a public place to go and just spend time. I know, for example, that if I go to Downtown Silver Spring, Bethesda or Rockville, I can spend several hours with my family without having to move the car. I can pick a destination -- and the afternoon starts there. There will be other people moving about. I may run into friends. I can eat, shop at a market or in one of the stores. My kids can play at a fountain or other structure and I can knock off an errand.

Wheaton has many businesses to support this but it lacks a central place where people can gather. It lacks an Ellsworth Drive or Bethesda Row - not necessarily a town square, although it could be, but a place with a compelling and memorable identity that has been built and designed for people.

Wheaton’s core already has many great shops. Some of my favorites there on Triangle Lane include Marchones, where I buy the best deli sandwiches, Showcase Aquarium, and one of the region’s coolest stores, the Toy Exchange, which has vintage toys, from Star Wars figures to Lionel trains. In the surrounding blocks, there are notable restaurants such as Pho Hiep Hoa (where I discovered Pho), Nava Thai, Full Key, Hollywood East, Ren’s Ramen, Caramelo Bakery (with the most spectacular saltenas), and the list goes on.

But what Wheaton does not have is a connecting space to weave the shops, and its identity, together. Typically I have to park at one restaurant and then get back in the car to drive to another location, which is a real pain with kids. I end up spending additional money somewhere else.

In my view, Silver Spring is a success not because of any particular office building in the area, but because of the public space that was created and the sense of identity it fostered. People just love going there.

Wheaton could have that, too. Wheaton has plenty of potential customers in the surrounding neighborhoods, but I suspect that many of them prefer to go out to other destinations that have more street life. They spend their money somewhere else, too.

It is hard to create street life in a parking lot, which is what we currently use as a big space at the center of the urban core.

If we are going to make Wheaton a real destination with appeal to families, teens, singles and everyone, we should start by building an urban park.

What is an urban park? My favorite is the spectacular Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco, where I’ve spent hours soaking in the city. While I don’t think we can go that far, we do have nearly $42 million proposed in the capital budget for Wheaton redevelopment.

We also need to remake Triangle Lane, pictured below, so that not only cars and delivery trucks can access the area but people can walk around in an enriching environment. We could have a wider storefront sidewalk for businesses and customers, pavers, lamps, benches and trees. Triangle Lane is, after all, “Wheaton Row.”

Finally, reaching a little further out into the orbit of the urban core, we should get the new Wheaton Library and Recreation Center built as fast as possible. A quality community amenity like that will go a long way to getting residents in the surrounding area even more engaged in their own local community, and it may help attract new, higher income residents to the area.

Wheaton certainly needs new office workers to support the businesses, and the county needs to relocate agencies in order to reduce leasing costs. Fortunately, there are many places in Wheaton to locate new office buildings. We could even build a tall tower where the Mid-County Regional center is today.

We will see what the best approach is, but I am dead set against any construction impact that will wipe out the businesses on Triangle Lane. If these businesses have their parking removed during many years of construction, I am worried that many of them may not survive. There is a possibility that this approach will only end up sterilizing the small business ecosystem that makes Wheaton unique.

Wheaton is different, and we should take a different approach to economic development there. Don’t wipe the businesses out and then build new. Nurture the core and let it grow organically. Make it a destination, and the people will come.

If you have thoughts on what Wheaton needs and how to provide it, please reply or scroll down to comment.

Hans Riemer
Council Member At-Larger

PS: Some of you may have heard the unfortunate rumor that funds for Wheaton redevelopment are threatened by the Purple Line station in Bethesda. That is not true. We can, and must, do both.


Mejorar o reformar Wheaton está en la agenda del Consejo para la acción en este presupuesto de capital. El consejo está considerando una propuesta del Poder Ejecutivo que tendría un efecto profundo en la zona central que está alrededor de la estación de metro.

Tenemos una gran decisión que tomar. Como Concejal Nancy Navarro dice, el tiempo de Wheaton es ahora, y estoy trabajando con ella y con otros del condado para poner un plan en acción.

Aquí está la pregunta: ¿Qué necesita Wheaton ? ¿Y cómo lo conseguimos?

Todos coinciden en que Wheaton necesita más clientes para los negocios alrededor del área. La pregunta es cómo generar más clientes.

Creo que al centro de Wheaton le hace falta urgentemente un lugar público para ir y simplemente pasar el tiempo. Sé, por ejemplo, que si voy al centro de Silver Spring, Bethesda o Rockville, puedo pasar varias horas con mi familia sin tener que mover el coche. Yo puedo elegir un destino - y la tarde se inicia allí. Típicamente hay otras personas que se desplazan alrededor y puede ser que hasta me encontraré con amigos. Puedo comer, ir de compras a un mercado o en una de las tiendas. Mis hijos pueden jugar en una fuente o otra estructura y puedo desprender un recado.

Wheaton tiene muchas empresas para apoyar esto, pero carece de un lugar central donde la gente pueda reunirse. Se carece de una unidad de Ellsworth o fila de Bethesda - no necesariamente una plaza de la ciudad, aunque podría ser, sino un lugar con una identidad atractiva y memorable.

El núcleo de Wheaton ya se encuentra con muchas tiendas. Algunos de mis favoritos que se encuentran en el Triángulo de carril incluyen Marchones, donde puedo comprar los mejores sándwiches, Showcase Aquarium, donde puedo comprar peces tropicales, y una de las mas cheveres tiendas de la región, Toy Exchange, que contiene juguetes antiguos como cifras de Star Wars o los trenes Lionel. En los bloques del alrededor, hay varios restaurantes notables, como Pho Hiep Hoa (donde descubrí Pho), Nava Thai, Full Key, Hollywood East, Ren’s Ramen, Caramelo Bakery (con las salteñas más espectaculares), y la lista sigue.

Pero lo que no tiene Wheaton es un espacio de conexión para tejer las tiendas, y su identidad, juntos. Por lo general tengo que aparcar en un restaurante y luego volver al coche para ir a otro lugar, que es un verdadero dolor de cabeza con los niños.

En mi opinión, Silver Spring es un éxito, no debido a cualquier edificio de oficinas en particular en la zona, sino por el espacio público que fue creado y el sentido de identidad que fomentó. A la gente le encanta ir allí.

Wheaton tiene un montón de clientes potenciales en la comunidad de los alrededores, pero sospecho que muchos de ellos prefieren ir a otros destinos que tienen más vida en la calle. Gastan su dinero en otro lugar, también.

Es difícil crear vida en la calle en un estacionamiento, que es lo que usamos actualmente como un gran espacio en el centro del núcleo urbano.

Si vamos a hacer a Wheaton un destino real con atracciones para las familias, jóvenes, solteros y todo el mundo, debemos empezar con la construcción de un parque urbano.

¿Qué es un parque urbano? Mi favorito es el espectacular Yerba Buena Gardens en San Francisco, donde he pasado horas de remojo en la ciudad. Aunque yo no creo que podamos ir tan lejos, tenemos cerca de $42 millones propuestos en el presupuesto de capital para la reurbanización de Wheaton.

También tenemos que rehacer a Triangle Lane de manera que los coches y camiones no son los únicos que pueden acceder a la zona, pero que también la gente pueda caminar en un ambiente enriquecedor. Podríamos tener una acera más ancha para las empresas y los clientes, adoquines, lámparas, bancos y árboles.

Por último, alcanzando un poco más lejos en la órbita del núcleo urbano, deberíamos construir lo más rápido posible la nueva biblioteca de Wheaton y el Centro de Recreación. Este seria un servicio de calidad para que la comunidad en la zona que rodea se involucre mas en su propia comunidad local.

Wheaton también necesita nuevos trabajadores de oficinas para apoyar a las empresas, y el condado tiene que reubicar a las agencias con el fin de reducir los costos de arrendamiento. Afortunadamente, hay muchos lugares en Wheaton para localizar nuevos edificios de oficinas. Incluso se podría construir una torre alta donde se encuentra el Mid-County Regional Center.

Vamos a ver cuál es el mejor enfoque, pero yo estoy decididamente en contra de cualquier impacto de la construcción que acabará con las empresas sobre Triangle Lane - La "Fila" de Wheaton. Si estas empresas tienen su estacionamiento eliminado durante muchos años de construcción, me preocupa que muchos de ellos no van a poder sobrevivir. Existe la posibilidad de que este enfoque sólo nos llevará a una torre de oficinas, y la esterilización del ecosistema de las pequeñas empresas que hacen Wheaton único.

Wheaton es diferente, y debemos tomar un enfoque diferente para el desarrollo económico allí. No hay que limpiar los negocios hacia fuera y después construir nuevos negocios. Cultivando el corazón ayuda el crecimiento orgánicamente. Si convertimos a Wheaton en un destino, la gente vendrá.


Concejal, en todo el Condado

PS: Algunos de ustedes han escuchado el rumor que los fondos para la reurbanización de Wheaton están amenazados por la estación de la línea púrpura en Bethesda. Eso no es cierto. Podemos y debemos hacer las dos cosas.

Daily Journal (March 7th)

Today I received a tour of the Shady Grove Innovation Center, one of the county’s five business incubators. Some years back the county launched an aggressive program to incubate new businesses, and today it is one of the country’s largest. The innovation centers provide a more efficient way for entrepreneurs to get their companies off the ground, and also they provide access to a community of other entrepreneurs and workers.

I met Richard Garr, CEO of Neuralstem, a company building therapies with Stem Cells. I met Noel Doheny, of Epigenomics, a company that is seeking FDA approval for a device that will improve reliability and reduce cost for identifying colonoscopy.

I’m pictured here with Tashu Trivedi, an IT entrepreneur whose company provides support for the financial services that Federal agencies use.

In this picture, I am with Dr. Yan Su, a former academic researcher whose company, GenProMarkers, is working to identify a biological “proof” of PTSD that the military can use in determining benefits. You can’t quite see it, but we are looking at a slide with an example of his research.

Each of these entrepreneurs finds a different value in the innovation center. For some, like Dr. Su, it helps him make the transition from academic researcher to business manager – the “technology transfer” issue that we hear so much about. With agencies like NIH in our midst, for example, we must see new pathways to help commercialize the economic value that can be created from research programs.

This science and technology based economy is crucial to our future in the county. As I face down a continuing budget crisis, I have concluded that if we want to pay for school buildings, we need more office buildings. Our over-reliance on residential property tax income is creating a real challenge for the county. With the innovation centers, we are planting seeds for a spring to come.

My last meeting of the day was with youth from Gandhi Brigade—a great non profit that focuses on youth using the media for social justice issues. We started off the meeting with an ice breaker called “The Big Wind Blows”. This got our energy going for the conversation that followed. Gandhi Brigade youth expressed the need for space to hold community activities and engagement amongst generations. There needs to be a space that the community sees as their own, one that is affordable.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Daily Journal (March 5th & 6th)

On Monday, I attended a committee meeting to show my support for accelerating the Wheaton Library and Recreation Center. I recently toured the facility that would be replaced and saw first hand the heavy use by the community and the real need for modernization. I commented at the meeting on how a new library and rec center would be an effective tool for revitalizing the area, helping to attract new residents and making a positive statement that the county cares about that area of the county, which like many areas suffers from under-investment. We need to make Wheaton a better place to live.

Tuesday, we had a straw vote to approve the new Kensington Sector Plan. After some debate we voted 8-1 to approve the plan. You can see more about it at The purpose of the plan is to revise the zoning to make it more likely that property owners will invest in redevelopment, making that area a better place to live. It's a careful plan that balances the incentives needed for business to invest with community concerns to maintain a walkable, retail oriented town. I hope that we will start to see some progress there soon.

What time in the day remained I spent working on ideas for Wheaton revitalization as well as preparing for the transportation committee's review of the CIP on Thursday.

Meanwhile I am keeping my eyes on Annapolis and the bad proposals that we have seen there that would have dramatic negative affects on Montgomery County. I am working closely with the coalition and I urge you to sign up and speak out there now.