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Dear District 1 Residents and Friends,  
 

I hope you and yours are enjoying your summer.  It has been a busy time at the Council.  A productive time.  What you will read below captures just a bit of it.  

 

And if I haven't highlighted an issue important to you, let me know -- I will share my thoughts on it with you.  But in the spirit of the "brief" part of the title of these ongoing communications, I will end my introduction now, and simply wish you the very best.      

  
Sincerely,

 

Roger Berliner

District 1

First Ever Transportation Committee Meeting Held with D.C. Council

 

Last week I was pleased to convene the first ever meeting between the respective Transportation and Environment Committees of the Montgomery County and District of Columbia Councils. During our meeting, we had in-depth discussions on how to enhance coordination on key issues that impact both of our neighboring jurisdictions. The meeting marked the third in an on-going series of meetings that I began as Chair of our Council's Transportation Committee with our counterparts across the region, including those on the Prince George's County and Fairfax County councils.  

 

Our transportation challenges are regional in nature and the solutions are regional as well. Tens of thousands of our daily commuters use our roads, particularly Wisconsin and Connecticut Avenues, to get to our nation's capital. The congestion on our roads affects the quality of life in both jurisdictions. It is in our mutual interests to work together to provide seamless, high quality transit services. This session with our colleagues on the D.C. City Council may have been the first, but it most certainly will not be the last. We laid the groundwork for future collaboration and coordination that I am hopeful will lead to real, tangible improvements in the quality of life for residents of Montgomery County and the District.

 

I was honored to co-chair the joint meeting with D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh, Chair of the District Council's Transportation and Environment Committee. In recent years, we have worked together on the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and on issues that affect our adjoining communities. To that end, during the course of our discussions, we reviewed the potential for the following:

  • Extending Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) routes -- include the proposed route down MD 355/Wisconsin Avenue -- from Montgomery County into the District;
  • Extending the future D.C. Streetcar line (or BRT) north up Georgia Avenue into Silver Spring; and
  • Extending existing Metrobus routes so more run through both jurisdictions seamlessly.  

The meeting was recorded by County Cable Montgomery (CCM-Cable Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon) and will be broadcast on the Montgomery cable system on dates to be determined. 

 

Next up:  Howard County and Frederick County.  I have been told that if our county's planned BRT on Route 29 extended well into Howard County, we could take 55,000 cars a day off of our roads.  And Howard County is also looking at BRT.  We need to be doing this together, not in isolation. Similarly, 270 is a mess.  Every day.  An unacceptable mess.  We should be working with Frederick County to make life better for our residents.  That's the plan...

  Council Approves Casey Anderson as New Planning Board Chair

 

On the morning of July 15, I joined my Council colleagues in voting 8-1 to approve current Planning Board member Casey Anderson as the new Chair of the Montgomery County Planning Board.

 

The selection of the Chair of the Planning Board is an important responsibility of the County Council -- and of mine.  One I take very seriously. The Planning Board is one of the most important institutions in our county government.  Its guidance on the future of our county and the manner in which it performs its responsibilities play a key role in shaping our quality of life. 

 

The next Chair arrives at a critical juncture for our county.  Our capacity to meet the challenges of the future -- and we have them -- is inextricably linked to our capacity to achieve sustainability in its fullest sense -- environmentally, economically, and socially.  Our goal should be nothing less than being a true national model for being a green, prosperous, and culturally and economically integrated community. 

 

When I assessed the candidates for Chair that I met with individually and our Council interviewed, a uniformly strong and impressive group, I concluded that current Planning Board Commissioner Casey Anderson came closest to holding the vision I have for our County's future.  And I say that as a member of the Council that has not always agreed with Commissioner Anderson on some issues.  But make no mistake about it, he is a strong proponent of smart and sustainable growth, served by world class transit.  These are the key components of a strong future for our county. 

 

Commissioner Anderson will be coming on-board at a busy time for our County, but I am confident he will hit the ground running, listen to all voices in our communities, and provide our Council the exact kind of leadership and counsel we need in this dynamic period in our County's history.  

 

I also want to thank out-going Chair Françoise Carrier for her service and steadfast leadership over the past four years. I wish her well in her future endeavors.

 

Click here to read my full statement on why I supported Commissioner Anderson to be our new Planning Board Chair.  

OLO To Review Affordable Housing and Liquor Control

 

Most residents don't appreciate the research capacity that our County Council possesses in the form of our Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO). As someone who once worked on Capitol Hill, it is our version of the Congressional Research Service (CRS), and it does fine work.

 

Every year, we approve its "work plan" for the year ahead.  Attention this year was placed on projects that would allow OLO staff to develop specific recommendations on high priority topics in areas that OLO has not recently focused upon, such as issues related to children and young people living in Montgomery County, Health and Human Service projects, projects that relate to the award, management and oversight of County contracts and projects that relate to public/private partnerships.

 

In addition, I am particularly pleased that OLO is proposing studies on our county's affordable housing stock and the operations of our Department of Liquor Control (DLC).

 

It is no secret that we need more affordable housing options in the county and the proposed OLO project will examine the stock of affordable housing in the County and document how it has changed since 1980. It is my hope that the study will help us find creative ways to increase the supply for affordable housing for our seniors, millennials, and low-income residents.

 

Likewise, I look forward to the analysis on the operations of the Department of Liquor Control. Along with looking into customer feedback on DLC's services, I am eager to see how alcoholic beverage licensing, sales, and operations impact the County's nighttime economy as well as the breakdown of the revenue and income generated by the DLC.  

 

We often hear how our almost unique control over all aspects of liquor acts as a deterrent to restaurants coming to our county; how people go elsewhere to buy wine; and how some upscale grocery stores would come here if they could sell liquor.  

 

For my part, I have asked our Department to explore opening a stand alone operation within a grocery store, as is done in Pennsylvania and other places that control liquor sales.  And I also want to explore whether restaurants should continue to be required to place "special orders" through our Department when it doesn't carry the wines that a restaurant wants, or instead place those orders directly.   

 

To see the full list of proposed OLO projects for FY 2015, click here. We as a Council are scheduled to approve the proposed work plan before we adjourn for our August recess.

Meeting with Senator Ben Cardin

 

On Monday, the County Council met with U.S. Senator Ben Cardin as part of an on-going dialogue with our federal officials on the issues of importance to Montgomery County.  Senator Cardin has been incredibly responsive to the needs of our county and he is a terrific national leader too.  Just last week, I attended a meeting his office convened with federal officials from NIH, HHS, Congressman Van Hollen's office, Senator Milkulski's office, the White Flint partnership, and county officials to make sure that they understood the importance of BRT in our county to their workforce, and to enlist their support for our efforts.  We have a great federal team working on our behalf, and Senator Cardin is an invaluable member of that team.   

 Commercial PACE Passes Major Hurdle

 

Two-thirds of our total energy consumption comes from buildings.  That is why I have focused much of my energy and environmental initiatives on finding ways to reduce energy consumption in both residential and commercial buildings in our county.  While it is relatively straightforward to require new buildings to become more energy efficient, it is much messier to figure out how to increase the energy efficiency of our existing buildings, which is the real challenge.

 

Among the most promising approaches, for both residential and commercial buildings, is what is called Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs.  Just as counties use property assessments to recover costs for various improvements, the PACE concept allows property owners to obtain financing to fund energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements and for the cost to be repaid on the property tax.  By utilizing the property tax bill for loan repayment, it offers potential lenders a safer, more secure loan opportunity, a key to obtaining financing at reasonable rates.  In an ideal situation, the annual energy cost savings will be the same or greater than the annual loan obligation.

 

In April of this year, I introduced Commercial PACE legislation (Bill 11-13) before the County Council, a measure that passed unanimously. The measure required the County Executive to define and establish the criteria for a PACE program in Montgomery County.  At the same time, I worked with Maryland State Senator Brian Feldman on state legislation that will now allow our County to recover on its tax bill obligations owed to third party funders.  As a result, now the county can assist in bringing about good green jobs and a better environment without fronting the money itself.  There is a whole world of "green" funds out there that are eager to finance sound energy retrofits for our multi-family and commercial buildings.  

 

As required in Bill 11-13, the County Executive transmitted an implementation plan for the creation of a Commercial PACE program in Montgomery County, which was reviewed by the Transportation & Environment Committee on July 21. I am pleased to say my colleagues endorsed the plan unanimously and we are expecting follow-up legislation from the County Executive authorizing the creation of a PACE program in mid-September.  

 Managing our Deer Population

 

One of the biggest issues my colleagues and I hear about from our County residents and my constituents is the prevalence of deer and their pervasiveness in our communities. 

 

In 2013, there were over 2,000 automobile accidents involving deer in Montgomery County alone.  I have hit one.  It is a public safety issue. And while there are various sources of ticks that cause lyme disease, deer are among them.  Finally, our farmers, folks with gardens, or just flowers will tell you -- enough!  

 

Although the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC) performs controlled and measured hunts to help cull the population, many residents ask what further measures can be taken to help mitigate the safety issue these wayward deer cause.

 

In March 2014, our State Legislature passed a bill that authorized our County to allow residents with hunting licenses to discharge a bow and arrow no less than 100 yards from private property. This area, known as the "safety zone," was previously set at 150 yards.  On July 17, my colleagues and I on the Public Safety Committee made a unanimous recommendation that the Council adopt Bill 35-14, which I cosponsored.  This bill would allow for this modest reduction in the distance required for bow hunting of deer. Importantly, the Police Department, MNCPPC, Montgomery County's Agricultural Advisory Committee, and Montgomery Agricultural Producers all have officially supported this bill.

 

Some have raised the concern of adverse safety issues in the wake of a reduction of the safety zone. Frederick, Carroll, and Charles Counties all currently have enacted a similar 100 yard safety zone and, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, have reported not a single instance of any adverse safety issues related to the 50 yard decrease. When looking at the effective range of a bow, an arrow only travels 20 to 40 yards -- if shot straight ahead with maximum force, an arrow will only travel approximately 70 yards before falling to the ground.

 

Testifying in front of the Public Safety Committee, MNCPPC Park Planning & Stewardship Division Chief Dr. John Hench endorsed this bill for allowing "greater use of a tool that has been proven to be highly effective." Bill 35-14 will help Montgomery County decrease its unsustainable deer populations to a manageable level, keeping our residents safe.

Honoring our Top Ranked High Schools

 

According to the 2014 U.S. News & World Report Rankings, Montgomery County is home to 11 of Maryland's top high schools. I am proud as the District 1 Councilmember to see Walt Whitman (#1) and Poolesville (#3) at the top of the list. But I was also happy to see high schools located in Gaithersburg, Rockville, Silver Spring, and Wheaton make this list. This speaks to the great team work that is done by our county's school system, our PTA leaders, our parents, and most importantly, our students. I was pleased to join Council President Craig Rice and Councilmember Phil Andrews in presenting the principals of these 11 schools with a Council proclamation in recognition of this great honor. Thank you for everything you do in educating our children.    

 Briefing on Innovations in Public Safety

 

As I mentioned in a previous Berliner Brief, our county's Chief Innovation Officer Dan Hoffman and his team of innovators recently traveled to the White House to be a part of their Smart America Challenge. The Smart America Challenge is an initiative to bring together public and private entities, as well as academia, around developing cutting edge technological systems to help in our everyday lives.

 

Last Thursday, the Council's Public Safety Committee received a more in-depth briefing about the "SCALE: Safe Community Alert Network" project, created by Mr. Hoffman and his team. 

 

The SCALE project uses state of the art sensors, acting on a very low frequency, that can detect emergency situations -- smoke in a home, a gas leak, even someone falling.  In conjunction with MIT, IBM, and many other organizations, Montgomery County partnered with the Montgomery Housing Partnership (MHP) to test out their pilot system in one of MHP's residential facilities. If a sensor detects warning signs -- increased carbon monoxide, rising temperatures, or smoke -- an alert is routed to a cloud based server. In order to deter false alarms, a call or message is dispatched to the resident. If no response is received or the emergency confirmed, emergency services are dispatched.

 

In the near future, SCALE could bring safety and security to those who cannot afford a more modern security system. By connecting them to a centralized network, even those without internet connections can have a state of the art alert system to keep them safe. This technology also has a future in creating smart grids for our most crucial county infrastructure. Using the SCALE project sensors, a County official could see the status of electrical devices from all over the County in one central location and assess what action emergency management needs to take.

 

If our county builds on this work, it can create a low frequency network that would allow the private sector to do what it does best -- come up with a wide range of innovations that you and I can't even imagine right now.  What I can imagine is our county putting out a Request for Proposals as to how the private sector would like to partner with us. 

 

Projects like these are what make me proud to have led the effort to create our County's Office of Innovation. I look forward to future updates on the SCALE project as it progresses to more advanced stages of development.

 




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