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Dear District 1 Residents and Friends,  
Thanksgiving...a time to reflect on our blessings and to share them with family and friends.  And I certainly know how blessed I am.  In part to remind myself, I join Bethesda Cares every Thanksgiving to serve food to our homeless community.  As you know, nothing feels better than being in service in such a way; the challenge is really to do it more often than on holidays when we normally think a little more about helping those in need. 
Tomorrow is our last Council session before the new Council is sworn in on December 1 and our new officers lead us on December 2.  I am hoping that tomorrow my colleagues will support my efforts to reform our road code for urban areas so that we really achieve walkable and bikeable communities.  In the next session, I will join the Health and Human Services Committee -- for reasons that I explain below -- in addition to continuing to chair our Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment Committee, to which I welcome my new colleague, Councilmember Tom Hucker, someone who is so strong on these issues.
This Berliner Brief of course isn't brief, and it only contains a fraction of what my team and I have been up to.  But in deference to your time and attention, and without further ado, I wish you and yours a warm and loving Thanksgiving.

Sincerely,


Roger Berliner

District 1

Why I Am Pleased to Be Serving on the HHS Committee 

On December 1, the new County Council will be sworn into office.  The next day, we officially meet for the first time as a group.  There will be changes with this new Council, not the least of which is new committee assignments.

I am pleased to be continuing my role as Chair of the Council's Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee.  Simply put, transportation is a major key to Montgomery County's economic future and our quality of life, and I look forward to leading our Council's efforts as we work towards building a 21 st century transportation system.  And, I do so enjoy working on energy and environmental issues that make our County a national model of sustainability.  And last but not least, WSSC does need a bit of oversight too!  Just ask anyone whose bill skyrocketed this past year or shakes their heads in dismay as WSSC discovers it can't open 60% of the valves on our big troublesome pipes.  

The big change for me is that I will not be continuing as a member of the Public Safety Committee.  I have enjoyed the work of that committee under the leadership of Phil Andrews and have such great respect for our public safety leaders.  The Committee will be in good hands under the leadership of Councilmember Elrich, and our community is well served by our public safety community.  It is a part of our County government that works best.  

I look forward to returning to the Health and Human Services (HHS) Committee, where I initially served as lead for Arts, Humanities & Libraries after I was first elected to the Council in 2006 .  The HHS Committee has oversight responsibility for a wide range of issues -- including  the provision of safety net services, affordable housing policy, seniors and public health issues, in addition to funding for our arts and humanities sector and our libraries.  

It's no secret that over the past decade, our county has experienced many changes -- both demographically and economically.  One only has to look at the most recent U.S. Census data to see that.  Simply put, we are getting more diverse, older, and poorer.  And with those changes comes certain challenges and opportunities -- challenges that our County must meet if we are to bring opportunity to all parts of our community and truly make Montgomery County a community for a lifetime.   

The economic divide and the shrinking middle class are not abstract issues that only exist nationally -- it is real here at home.  I don't claim to have unique insights into how we arrest and reverse these trends, but I feel this is where I need to spend more of my personal energy on the Council.  And I know that my colleagues on the committee  -- Chairman Leventhal, who has such a distinguished track record in this realm, and Councilmember Rice -- are more than equally committed to this work.   

Workforce Development Training Tour @ Montgomery College

I recently had the privilege of visiting Montgomery College to get a firsthand look at one of their workforce development programs.  As I have mentioned in previous  Berliner Briefs , I introduced Career Pathways legislation that seeks to align workers with the training they need so they can compete and get the jobs that are increasingly available in the emerging sectors of our economy.

One of those emerging sectors in our economy is residential property management.  With more people renting in the area, these companies lack the qualified workers they need to support growth in a booming industry.  With the construction of new apartments continuing in the DC area, new jobs are being created for talented workers to lease, manage, and maintain properties. Currently, the number of vacant jobs in the industry far outweighs the number of qualified candidates. Yet, despite these opportunities, thousands of low-skilled workers in our region struggle to earn enough money to support their families.

In order to help close that labor gap, the National Apartment Association Education Institute (NAAEI) partners with community colleges, such as Montgomery College, to respond to industry demand and cultivate a stronger workforce. As part of a progressive trend to enhance traditional technical training with literacy and basic skills training, Montgomery College utilizes the curriculum developed by NAAEI. The  Maryland  Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (MI-BEST)  Apartment Maintenance Technician Program c ombines English language, adult basic education, and workplace skills instruction into the technical training program.

The Community Foundation's Workforce Development Collaborative invested in the MI-BEST program, allowing low-skilled workers to participate in a free, seven-week program that includes technical skills training such as HVAC, plumbing, and electrical maintenance. Upon completion, program graduates may earn a Certificate for Apartment Maintenance Technicians (CAMT). Plus, NAAEI connects Montgomery College students to job fairs, and helps link the college with employers who conduct mock interviews and serve as mentors.  MI-BEST program graduates are on track to obtain sought-after, full-time jobs that pay good wages and benefits, and provide opportunities for financial stability and career advancement.

Visits such as these are important for me as a policymaker because they allow me to see firsthand the real life impact that important programs like these have on the lives of so many looking for employment. This is training that can lead to employment that will not only sustain an individual or family, but also lead to a successful and satisfying career.  That's the goal of my Career Pathways legislation...to help bring programs like these to greater scale to help more people.

Fighting for Reasonable Tree Trimming Practices by Pepco

As you know, I have worked hard on Pepco issues since taking office. I worked with State Senator Brian Feldman (D-15) to pass legislation that finally required reliability standards for the utility and I am currently leading the Coalition for Utility Reform in the merger proceeding before the Maryland Public Service Commission, a coalition whose goal is to bring about fundamental and lasting reforms so that we finally get a utility worthy of this century.  

I have also been very vocal on the issue of trees and Pepco. In 2012, I sponsored county-level legislation to reduce tree loss from utility work, only to be told that the Public Service Commission has exclusive jurisdiction over the issue. 

There is no question that trees and power lines do not mix. But there is a difference between appropriate vegetation management and excessive tree cutting. In response to citizen concerns about the latter going on in Potomac, Senator Feldman and I sent a letter  to the Public Service Commission asking them to examine Pepco's tree cutting. We have since heard back from the Public Service Commission that they feel that Pepco's tree cutting meets the Commission's standards and that they see Pepco's commitment to providing replacement trees as a step beyond Commission requirements.

Since our letter, we have continued to hear from constituents, particularly in the Sumner neighborhood in Bethesda, about aggressive tree cutting in our community. Senator Feldman and I are working to draft legislation at the state level that would work to reduce the impact of the work of Pepco's contractors, while maintaining a deep commitment to system reliability.

If you have thoughts as to the best reforms that we should take please  e-mail us with your suggestions.  You can also reach Senator Feldman  here.

Westbard Sector Plan Update

If you live in Bethesda near the Westbard Shopping Center, I am sure you have been following the Planning Department's work on the Westbard Sector Plan update carefully.  I know many of you have participated in the Planning Department's recent charrette process and I also know the preliminary thoughts that have been shared thus far has elicited some strong opinions.  And that is an understatement. 

First, let me assure you that my staff and I are following this plan closely.  However, it will be many months before any recommendations come over to the Council, where my role officially begins.  Here is a general overview of the schedule:

As you can see,  it will be a year and a half before this Plan is finalized.  We will have a lot of time to talk about it and we will once it is finalized by the Planning Board and sent to our Council.  If you would like me to come and talk with your neighborhood at that point in time I would be happy to do so -- just call my office and my staff will set something up for us.  In the meantime, I would like to clarify just a few issues that have arisen.

First and foremost, this plan is  not being done "for Equity One" as has been asserted by some in the community.  Our County's land use plan is comprised of many master plans for specific business districts, towns, and neighborhoods across the county.   Best practice in land use planning is to review and update each plan every twenty years or so.  That, of course, does not always happen due to a myriad of factors including the limited capacity of the Planning Department's annual work plan, the Council's schedule, prioritization of the County's land use and economic development goals, community interest, and the economic viability of redevelopment in a given plan's boundaries. 

The Westbard Plan was adopted in 1982 and not updated since. Certainly a lot has changed since then, including but not limited to greater awareness of the connection between building techniques and stormwater management, increased desire of our community for greater pedestrian and bicycle connectivity and access, and increased desire for a wide range of community amenities.  But the most important element of any master/sector plan is the opportunity to review and assess the adequacy our public facilities like schools, libraries, parks, and recreational opportunities. 

As long as I have been on the Council (since 2006), there has been talk about updating the Westbard Sector Plan.  Long before anyone heard of Equity One's interest in the area.  There was also shared agreement that in light of other pressing county needs, Westbard should not be included in the Planning Department's annual work plan (approved by the Council each year) until there was at least some reason to believe redevelopment might occur.  When the sale of the Westbard Shopping Center occurred, it seemed to the Council that the time was now ripe to review and update the plan - not for Equity One, but in terms of our standard operational practices for reviewing and updating our land use plans.

The second issue I know has received a great deal of attention -- as it should -- is  school capacity in the area.  Although my standard practice is to refrain from meddling in the planning stages of a plan, I have been actively engaged on this issue.  I have already met with local PTA leaders and parents about overcrowding at Wood Acres and have met with Superintendent Starr specifically to discuss the challenges to the Whitman Cluster as it relates to the Westbard Plan.  In that meeting, I encouraged MCPS to be fully engaged in the Plan from the very beginning stages and to perhaps think outside the box a little.  To be creative in looking for solutions.  And he promised me they would. 

My promise to the Whitman community and to the Wood Acres community especially, is that I will not vote for this Plan if it does not do its part to adequately address school facility issues.  One plan alone cannot solve all of a cluster's capacity problems, but a comprehensive look at the school needs in Westbard must be a central focus in the planning process.  I will continue this dialogue with the Whitman Cluster, MCPS, and Planning Staff until I feel we have found reasonable solutions for our burgeoning schools.

Finally, and more broadly, I know that many residents have indicated that while they are open to change, what has been shared with them thus far threatens to fundamentally alter the fabric of the community in ways that they strongly oppose.  I understand those concerns, and when we have a final recommendation from the Planning Board, we can collectively assess just how much is too much and issues of that nature. 

Until March, Planning Staff will continue working on their recommendations to the Planning Board. Please be sure to share your thoughts, ideas and concerns with them.  Remember, the best kind of feedback is specific.  Tell them what you  would like to see in the new Westbard in addition to those things that you don't care to see in the plan.  Feel free to copy me at councilmember.berliner@montgomerycountymd.gov and keep me in the loop until the Plan is sent over to the Council next summer.

The Future of Artificial Turf Fields : Organic Infill

In recent years, many in our community have voiced concerns about the potential risks that could come from contact with the crumb rubber infill on artificial turf fields.  The Council has worked diligently to understand the pros and cons of this issue and to follow the most current scientific thinking available on the health and environmental safety aspects of crumb rubber infill.

I plan to introduce a  resolution on December 2 that states the intent of the Council to endorse organic synthetic materials for use in artificial turf playing fields going forward. I will then hold a T & E Committee discussion of this resolution in January, followed by full Council action.

This resolution was conceived after a recent tour of the new turf field at Lakelands Park in Gaithersburg (see photo above).  The field is the first eco-friendly field installed by a municipal government on the East Coast.  Its infill is a mixture of rice husk, coconut fiber, and cork.  I was very impressed with the material, the condition of the field, and the increased playability that the organic infill provides.

After seeing that field in-person, I am convinced that there are now sufficient viable alternative infill materials available that we no longer need to rely on crumb rubber infill in our effort to maximize recreational opportunities in our County. While our national environmental and health experts will continue to study synthetic materials, I believe that we can now shift our focus to installing organic infill materials that alleviate many of the community's concerns and provide excellent playing conditions for our young athletes.

In the interim, I have asked Council staff to work with Park and Planning and MCPS to more fully understand the state of the industry of alternate infill materials, including what options are available as well as cost and durability information. I look forward to moving the Council's conversation about artificial turf into the next generation of science in this area.

Neighborhood Spotlight : Carderock Springs & Cabin John

I think that, too often, we fail to recognize the important work that individual neighborhoods are doing to work together and advance important causes in our community. We are launching a new monthly feature in the  Berliner Brief that highlights great work being done in a neighborhood. I hope it will help different neighborhoods work together on common issues and inform residents about great things going on in their backyard! If you would like to have your neighborhood featured, please contact  me .

This month, I would like to highlight the Carderock Springs and Cabin John neighborhoods, who are working on issues of stormwater and drainage that I know are important to so many of you. Drew Morrison from my office had the opportunity to listen to a community meeting in Carderock Springs, where two expert speakers were able to speak to steps that residents might take, and  the resources available from the county, to build rain gardens and other stormwater infrastructure. These pieces of infrastructure help to clean up our watershed by capturing the first 1.5 inches of rain. When communities work together and build multiple rain gardens, it can make a serious impact on our streams.

I would also like to highlight the work of the  Friends of the Cabin John Creek,who have been working for fifteen years to help make the Cabin John Creek a cleaner and healthier stream. Neighbors working together on initiatives like these will help Montgomery County make real environment progress in a grassroots way.  

New Scotland Recreation Center

In early November, I attended the opening of the new Scotland Recreation Center. Events like this reaffirm in the most basic sense how local government can -- and does -- make a real difference in people's lives.   This new center is a tremendous improvement from the previous center, as it has a gymnasium, two multi-purpose activity rooms, a game room, a weight and exercise room, and a spacious social hall.  In addition, it was designed to comply with SILVER Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines. 

As the Councilmember representing the Scotland community, I am pleased to have worked on this issue dating back to 2007, when I met with members of the community and representatives from the Action in Montgomery Committee about the need for a new center.  Despite the budget challenges the Great Recession posed, we as a Council made it a priority to see this center through to its completion...and it was absolutely worth that effort.  

This new center is named after one of the finest women in our county, Bette Thompson, a tireless and faithful servant of the Scotland community. She was an instrumental voice in moving this project to its completion and we are all indebted to her leadership.  I hope the residents of the Scotland community enjoy this new hub, and I look forward to visiting it often in the future as it is a real asset to our District.  

Sidewalk Snow Removal Plan Approved

Last month, seven of my colleagues and I approved  Bill 21-14 , sponsored by Councilmember Riemer, and known as the sidewalk snow removal bill. This bill requires the County Executive to develop a sidewalk snow removal plan with a digital map that demonstrates snow clearing responsibility for different sidewalks in the county, communications and public education plans, plans for clearing snow on publicly owned property in certain priority areas, and plans for trash removal during certain snow events.

I was proud to have supported this bill. We are working to make a walkable and bikeable community here in Montgomery County, and we need to be a walkable and bikeable community twelve months a year. That is why I led the effort to have the Capital Crescent Trail plowed during snow events, starting this winter.

The current situation, where many sidewalks are not cleared during snow events and who is responsible for clearing them is unclear, is unacceptable and we need to plan for a better approach. And that word -- plan-- is important. This bill does not lead immediately to all sidewalks being shoveled throughout the county.  Details need to be worked out and funding will need to be secured for some parts of these activities. But I stand with my colleagues in support of this bill and urge the County Executive to reconsider his opposition to it.

Update on Road Code Bill

In response to community concerns about how Old Georgetown Road in White Flint was going to be rebuilt,  I led the charge to insist that we follow our Master Plan and build a really pedestrian-friendly boulevard that would help this new urban center come alive. I believe that our county needs to do a better job of building roads that are human scale and are safe for all users.

For that reason, Councilmember Riemer and I sponsored  Bill 33-13, the urban road code bill. This bill will do a number of important things to promote a safer road environment in our new urban centers. When roads are built or rebuilt in our urban areas, lanes will be made narrower, helping to slow cars and reduce pedestrian crossing; the curb radii will be reduced, which will lead to slower turns, and again, to shorter pedestrian crossing times; and the design speed of the roads will be lowered to 25 miles per hour. The bill also creates stronger provisions for when sidewalks are built when roads are constructed or adjacent properties are redeveloped.

This bill also creates an 18-month long process where Montgomery County will follow communities like  Boston and 

Through this process, we have listened to the concerns of the Department of Transportation, Fire & Rescue, and Public Schools.  We made amendments to the bill that will retain the fundamental objective of the bill, while making sure that we have accommodations for our buses, our plows, and our fire trucks. This bill passed the T&E Committee unanimously, and it goes before the full council November 25. We encourage you to express your support for this measure and reach out to other Councilmembers about how this bill will create stronger and safer urban environments. 

Let Your Voices Be Heard on WSSC Water Billing Issues

In October, I led a T&E Committee hearing on WSSC billing practices. As you may know, my office has received dozens of complaints from constituents about  inexplicably high WSSC water bills. And we continue to hear from constituents who feel that their bills do not accurately represent the water that they have used and that the current appeals process, where WSSC is judge and jury, does not give residents a fair shake.

In response to these concerns, State Senator Brian Feldman (D-15) and I have put forth state legislation that would create an independent review board that would rule on residents' appeals on particularly high bills. The board would be comprised of five members, three of them citizens appointed by the Attorney General, one from the Office of People's Counsel, and one from WSSC. The board would be empowered to compensate residents with whatever amount they deem appropriate.

Senator Feldman and I believe that this is an important piece of legislation that will help to build outside accountability for WSSC, but we need your help. On Monday, December 8 at 7:00 pm, the Montgomery County Delegation in Annapolis is hosting a public hearing on "bi-county" bills like this one. We need you to make your voice heard, especially those of you who have faced WSSC billing issues, so that our delegation knows just how important it is that we fix WSSC's billing review system. 

'Ban the Box' Legislation Signed into Law

On November 10, I was pleased to join County Executive Leggett as he signed the 'Ban the Box' legislation that will delay the time during the job application process when certain employers can ask an applicant about their criminal background.  I commend my colleagues Marc Elrich and Cherri Branson for their leadership on this legislation, and was pleased to have played a part in shaping the final legislation by providing positive improvements to the law in the committee worksession. 

Nonprofit of the Month:  Interfaith Works 

For our third installment of " Non-profit of the Month ," I am pleased to feature Interfaith Works, a well-respected organization that does so much in our communities to alleviate poverty.  Interfaith Works was established in 1972 to help vulnerable Montgomery County residents facing homelessness and poverty. 


They partner with entities that also are committed to helping our struggling neighbors, including 5,200 compassionate and devoted volunteers, individual donors, 165 diverse faith communities, other social service agencies, foundations, corporations, and government agencies.  A s experts in providing services to people who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless, their professional, trained staff members provide individuals and families with resources and tools specific to their needs, empowering them to take responsibility and move from crisis to stability.

Every year, the agency touches the lives of more than 20,000 county residents in need. In fiscal 2014, Interfaith Works:

  • Provided housing to more than 760 adults and 60 children through our emergency shelter, transitional housing, and permanent housing programs. Provided seasonal overnight shelter to 345 individuals during the coldest days of the winter and the hottest days of the summer;
  • Served 133,000 meals through our homeless and housing programs with the help of more than 2,000 volunteer meal providers, saving $225,000;
  • Connected with over 6,000 uninsured residents to provide enrollment services for affordable health coverage through outreach by a team of multilingual, certified navigators and assisters;
  • Helped 3,459 neighbors avoid eviction, stay utility cutoffs, and pay for medicine and food by providing counseling, referrals and $168,250 in emergency grants and loans;
  • Provided millions of dollars' worth of clothing and home goods free of charge to 13,073 income-qualified residents, including 5,946 children. Provided 2,234 filled backpacks to at-risk children and 60 layettes to low-income, expectant mothers;
  • Provided vocational services to 226 homeless or underemployed workers, with 87 graduated from our Job Readiness class series, and worked with 134 to help them find jobs providing living wages; and
  • Provided intensive case management and mentoring to 40 vulnerable families with the help of 120 trained volunteer mentors, providing 2,800 hours of service.

With the holiday season upon us, if you would like to get involved with Interfaith Works, including providing gifts or meals for an individual or a family during the upcoming holiday season, please contact Yvonne Esipila, Volunteer Coordinator at  yesipila@iworksmc.org.

To find out more about Interfaith Works, go to  www.iworksmc.org




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