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Dear District 1 Residents and Friends,  
 
I hope this Brief finds you well and, more importantly, safe and warm somewhere.  Last night's storm dropped up to 18 inches of snow in some parts of the County.  It will take a while for our Department of Transportation (DOT) to get to all the neighborhood roads, but please know that they are working 24 hours a day to do so.
 
DOT prioritizes our primary and arterial roads -- the central corridors -- first for public safety reasons. As soon as they finish with those, they will begin the neighborhood streets.
 
The good news as of this writing is that there are very few outages in the County.  Pepco reports no outages.  Zero. Whew. Hoping that is true through the second snowfall tonight as well. 
 
Know this too -- my staff and I are manning our computers, monitoring emails so that we can make sure we are in a position to help you if there is something we can attend to on your behalf.  
But this isn't just a weather/storm advisory...there has been a lot going on at the Council since our last Berliner Brief.  After years of work (our staff noted the revolutionary war took less time!), we adopted a comprehensive rewrite of our zoning code. There was broad agreement that the existing code was antiquated and too complex.  The new system is simpler, more focused on the land use issues we face in our county now rather than thirty years ago, and provides even more protection for our wonderful residential neighborhoods.   

We then we tackled the issue of a local minimum wage -- a serious moral and economic issue.  I worked hard to try to find the right balance between adopting a high local minimum wage and not harming our economic competitiveness given that we did (and still do) not know what the Maryland General Assembly will do this legislative session.  In the end, I offered an amendment that would have placed our minimum wage at among the highest in the nation, yet no more than $1.00 above the state once we got to $10.75 in 2016.  That approach was at first accepted, then subsequently changed by a majority of my colleagues to go to $11.50 in 2017 regardless of where the state is.  And that was what we adopted.  We should hope, for plenty of reasons, that our state legislators do raise the state minimum wage to $10.10 in 2016.    
  
The intensity did not drop after that those issues were resolved. We then turned to arguably the most consequential environmental/land use debate our county has faced -- figuring out the amount, nature, and manner in which further development may proceed in the headwaters of a true county "treasure" -- Ten Mile Creek.  As Chair of our environment committee, I have been deeply engaged in this work...and pleased with the results thus far.      
 
When not attending to the work of the full Council, I have focused on other issue that I feel are important to our county's future -- moving forward on sustainability with 13 new legislative initiatives and making our urban nodes more vibrant, more pedestrian friendly, and more bikeable with amendments to our road code. You will read about this and more below...if I haven't exhausted your patience already.
 
Stay safe and warm and enjoy the unexpected time with your  family and friends.   
  

Sincerely,

 

Roger Berliner

District 1

 Promoting Energy Efficiency and Greener Energy Use in Montgomery County

Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner Proposes Measures to Protect the Environment

Climate change is real and we as a society need to use less energy and cleaner energy. And fortunately, there is much we can and must do at the local level if we are to meet our county's goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.  We certainly know that we can't count on Congress to get us where we need to be.  

 

That is why I introduced a package of 13 energy/environmental measures that are designed to ensure that Montgomery County remains at the sustainability forefront. These measures focus on renewable energy, energy efficiency, transportation, and government accountability.

 

This package of bills is taken in many instances from what other leading jurisdictions are doing -- from Chicago to Seattle to California and New York states. They are a mix of leading by example, rewarding green businesses, supporting market forces, adopting more exacting standards, and holding our county government accountability.  

 

I hope that these measures help reinforce the notion of Montgomery County as a leader in energy and environmental issues and bolster its reputation as a community that embraces sustainability as a core value. I am pleased to have the support of national and local environmental organizations like the Alliance to Save Energy, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club for these efforts.  

 

Our Council has historically embraced sustainability as I have -- and every one of these bills now has a majority of my colleagues as co-sponsors. There will be more work to do to get some of them just right, but at the end of the day, I am confident that we will have moved the needle just a bit in the right direction.   

 

If you would like to read the text of the legislation, a link to those bills can be found here.

Supporting Public Financing of Campaigns for County Government 

It is a privilege to serve a county that has so many civically engaged residents who take the process of governing seriously and are not afraid to speak out on the critical issues facing us.

 

That is why I was proud to join Councilmember Phil Andrews and every one of my council colleagues in co-sponsoring legislation that will provide public financing for candidates seeking to serve on the County Council or as County Executive.  Under Councilmember Andrews' bill (Bill 16-14), Montgomery County would be the first jurisdiction in Maryland to provide this funding option for candidates running for office.

 

Since 2001, Councilmember Andrews and our Council have urged the Maryland General Assembly to provide the County with the authority to adopt campaign finance reforms. In 2013, the General Assembly adopted a bill that enables counties to provide for the option of public financing for county elections beginning with the 2015-18 election cycle. Participation by candidates would be voluntary.

 

This bill represents a significant step forward in leveling the playing field for individuals who may not have access to traditional donors, but possess vital expertise and experience that would benefit the people of Montgomery County.  I think it is good for the health of our democracy.  

Council Approves Bethesda Purple Line Station Plan

On Tuesday, the Council approved the Bethesda Purple Line Station Plan, a minor master plan amendment intended to facilitate a better design for the Purple Line Station below the current Apex Building in Bethesda and a dedicated tunnel for the Capital Crescent Trail under Wisconsin Avenue.

 

The plan rezones the block surrounding the planned station and incentivizes redevelopment with an additional 50 feet height allowance, if redevelopment occurs before the Purple Line is constructed. Without redevelopment of the Apex building, the station would remain as planned -- functional, but less than ideal for Metro and Purple Line passengers and pedestrians in Bethesda. Without redevelopment, the tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue cannot be built.

 

For now, the ball is in the court of the property owner, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, which may or may not decide to redevelop the property.

Protecting Ten Mile Creek

One of the most difficult issues the Council has been grappling with in recent months is the Ten Mile Creek Area Limited Master Plan. At the center of our deliberations was the task of balancing the desire to preserve and protect the Ten Mile Creek watershed, one of our county's most pristine and fragile watersheds, and the land use goals and objectives of the original 1994 Clarksburg Master Plan.

 

As one who firmly believes we have an obligation to be good stewards of the environment, I spent a great deal of time examining the science pertaining to the watershed and listening to local, state, and national subject experts. We heard that the unique geology of watershed, coupled with the natural slopes of the land, made it particularly susceptible to degradation from development. We were told that the lower the amount of impervious surface, the better for the watershed. But there were still land use considerations to be weighed. For example, some argued that added density on certain parcels of land was needed in order to meet the community-building goals of the original 1994 Plan. Whether one agrees with that conclusion or not, we also had the legal obligation to consider the rights of property owners to some beneficial use of their land. This is a serious responsibility of the legislative body and one that I took very seriously.

 

In the end, I came to the conclusion that we simply had to protect this treasured "reference stream" which, according to our county environmental experts, is the healthiest stream they have found in Montgomery County, Howard County, and Carroll County combined. That is why, along with my colleagues Councilmembers Marc Elrich and Hans Riemer, we put forward a proposal to restrict development on the parcels of land containing the most sensitive sub-watersheds.  

 

At the joint Planning and Transportation & Environment Committee worksession, we were joined by Councilmember George Leventhal in a 4-1 vote that not only significantly mitigates the harm to Ten Mile Creek from further degradation but also provides some support for the Town Center as well.  The joint committee recommendation will now go to full Council for action on February 25th.

 

I feel confident the full Council will agree that we only have this one opportunity to protect this resource for future generations. We will not get a second chance.

Safer Roads for All Users
Pedestrian and bike safety is an issue I hear about frequently in my office. Whether the issue is kids having a safe route to school, the need for connectivity of our bike routes, or the need for safer roadway crossings, the theme is the same: we need our streets and roadways to work for all people, not just those in cars. We have made many advances in pedestrian safety over the years.  However, there is still much work to be done and our County's road code needs to be updated, especially for our more dense urban places where we want to encourage more walking, biking, and overall livability.

 

In December, I introduced Bill 33-13: Urban Road Standards and Pedestrian Safety Improvements. This bill, co-sponsored by my colleague Councilmember Riemer, calls for several amendments to our current code for our county's urban areas. Transportation planning and design has, like everything, evolved over the years and whereas we once relied upon a primarily suburban model for transportation engineering, we are now realizing that a one-size-fits-all approach is not necessarily what we need or want.

 

At the heart of this bill are reductions in road widths and intersection radii. These measures are the two most important things we can do to make our streets more pedestrian-friendly. In addition, this bill strengthens language regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act, requires larger pedestrian refuges in the median, and sets target speeds for urban roads. Above all, Bill 33-13 will ensure that when new streets are being designed or existing roads are being retrofitted, they will be designed for all users -- the driver, the pedestrian, and the bicyclist.  

 

I will continue to work with our Department of Transportation and stakeholder groups to ensure this bill incorporates all best practices appropriate for our county. I expect the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy, and Environment Committee, which I chair, to take up this bill sometime in June.

County Council Appoints Cherri Branson as New District 5 Councilmember

 

On January 28, we at the Montgomery County Council appointed Cherri Branson by acclamation as the new Councilmember for District 5.  Ms. Branson will succeed former Councilmember Valerie Ervin, who resigned from the Council on January 3rd. I look forward to working with Ms. Branson to help better District 5 as well as the County as a whole.

Senior Citizens Transportation Initiative Launched

Our senior citizens are an active, engaged, and important part of the social fabric here in Montgomery County. That is why I am very pleased to announce that our County is launching a Senior Center Transportation Initiative.  This initiative supports Montgomery County's commitment to ensuring an accessible and vibrant lifetime community for residents and helps the County work towards its goal of allowing our seniors to age in place.

 

This public-private collaboration between the Montgomery County Department of Recreation and the Jewish Council on Aging will provide public, curb-to-curb transportation to and from our County's five senior centers: Damascus, Holiday Park, Schweinhaut, Long Branch, and White Oak. The program runs from Monday-Friday and County residents 55 years and older are eligible, as long as they live within the operating area for one of these senior centers. Seniors not currently using county transportation may call their local senior center or 240-777-4980 for more information.

Tour of A Wider Circle's Center for Professional Development

 

I was fortunate to recently meet with the leadership of A Wider Circle and learn about their Center for Professional Development and tour their new facility in Silver Spring.

 

While we are blessed in Montgomery County with great resources, poverty is a very real issue facing us.  Luckily, District 1 and Montgomery County as a whole is home to a vibrant and diverse community of non-profit organizations that significantly contributes to our overall quality of life and provides a hand-up for our most vulnerable residents.

 

A Wider Circle is one of our best.  It is known mostly for its great work in distributing beds and other furniture to those who often have nothing more than a chair in their entire home.  However, under Executive Director Mark Bergel's leadership, and with the support of Deputy Director Anne Thompson and their fantastic staff, A Wider Circle has launched a terrific program to help people learn the skills they need to apply for and obtain higher paying jobs.  

 

It simply isn't enough to just provide a decent minimum wage.  We need to help people get the skills they need to sustain a family.  That is work that I am deeply committed to addressing.  There is a model that many states have adopted -- Career Pathways -- that I have been advocating for our county and state to embrace.  Stay tuned.     

 

I look forward to continue meeting with many more non-profit organizations in the future and telling just a part of their story.  

MCPS CIP Recommendations 

In October 2013, MCPS Superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr released his FY 2015 Capital Budget and his FY 2015-2020 Capital Improvements Program recommendations. These

CIP recommendations reflect the Superintendent's proposals for additions and modernizations within our school system's facilities. In response to the Superintendent's recommendations, the Board of Education has recommended restoring some of the additions and modernization projects to their FY13-18 timetable. You can see their request here.

  
It is an ambitious ask and one that is, of course, merited.  The proposed additions and revitalization projects are vital to our schools -- not only to provide modern facilities in which we can deliver a nationally recognized level of education, but to sufficiently support the school system's growing enrollment.  Providing adequate 21st century facilities is one element of preserving MCPS's well deserved reputation of excellence.
  
Our District 1 school projects have been and will continue to be a top priority of mine as the council works to finalize our capital budget. Reconciling the vast array of budgetary needs in the County is never easy, but I am committed to funding as many school construction projects as we can afford in this budget cycle. My colleagues and I on the Council will continue to work with my colleagues on the Board of Education as we move toward finalizing the FY15-20 CIP this spring.
  
In the meantime, I will continue to advocate -- along with the Superintendent, the Board of Education, and the PTA community -- for more school construction funding in Annapolis in order to ensure our county gets our fair share of funding in the State budget.
School Bus Safety Cameras 
 Implementation Begins 

In March 2012, the County Council passed legislation enabling the County to implement school bus safety cameras. The purpose of the cameras on the school buses is to monitor and enforce violations where vehicles pass a stopped school bus that has its flashing signals, stop sign, and stop arm extended.  We have all seen this happen at some point, and we must put a stop to it in order to keep our school children safe.

 

In January and February, the first twenty-five cameras were installed on buses spanning different routes throughout the County. As of early February, 10 citations were issued to motorists who ignored the stop signs.

  

The initiative will also provide wiring for an additional seventy-five school buses so that cameras can be moved among high priority routes as needed. The County anticipates purchasing up to seventy-five additional cameras over the life of the contract for this program.

 

An important feature of implementing the school bus camera program will be continued public education and outreach to increase awareness of the law and the new enforcement measures. To that end, MCPD has begun implementing a multi-platform campaign about these cameras and the need for drivers to slow down and fully stop when the red light is flashing. 

 




Montgomery County Council, 100 Maryland Ave, Rockville MD 20850
Phone: (240) 777-7900 (voice) • (240) 777-7888 (fax) • (MD Relay) Dial 711 or 800-201-7165
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