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Dear District 1 Residents and Friends,  
 

I don't know about you, but it never fails to amaze me how September feels so different than August.  A ten degree drop (or more) in a matter of days.  

 

And it is different for all of you I'm sure.  Vacations are over, school has started, life is busy, and the Nats and the Redskins are winning (really!). 

 

It certainly is busy here at the Council.  We have a lot going on.  And this not so brief "Berliner Brief" touches on just some of the issues -- from Uber to utilities, from Bus Rapid Transit to Connecticut Avenue, and from workforce training to the opening of school.  And I haven't even written about public financing legislation (which I co-sponsored) or ban-the-box legislation that I hope to help improve going forward.  

 

This issue does inaugurate a new feature -- our Nonprofit of the Monththat we will showcase.  Feel free to share your favorite nonprofit -- and tell us why you love them!

 

Sincerely,

  
 

Roger Berliner

District 1

 

Spurring Greater Innovation in our Local Taxicab Industry

 


 When new technology  leads to innovation,  government needs to  innovate, too. That is true  in utilities (and you can  read more about that below), and thanks to ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, it is true in transportation, too. As I wrote in a letter to the County Executive, now is the time for Montgomery County to update its outdated taxicab regulations and foster a spirit of innovation in transportation.

 

I believe that services like Uber have been of tremendous benefit to our community. Customers like it and drivers are drawn to it. Its technological innovations have meant reliable and available service. We should learn from Uber, not try to drive it away.

 

Unfortunately, on August 5, Department of Transportation Director Art Holmes wrote a letter to Uber pushing them to comply with our outdated regulations. Instead of trying to make innovation fit into old models of regulation, we need new models now. I will be hosting a Transportation and Environment Committee work session on October 9 on the issue of Uber and taxicab regulation to see how government can innovate to better serve consumers and drivers.

 

Lastly, let me say that my interest in this issue is based on a desire to see taxicabs survive and thrive, while improving customer service and reliability.  In particular, the Call-n-Ride and wheelchair-accessible services that traditional taxicabs offer are important public services. They must be maintained, and the other services that taxicabs offer must remain competitive to do so.

 

Promoting Utility Reform

 

One of the most important issues facing our community right now is the proposed sale of Pepco Holdings, Inc. to Exelon.  

 

As you may know, the merger will be considered by the Maryland Public Service Commission, which will determine whether the sale is in the public interest.  Conditions can then be placed on Pepco-Exelon should the sale be approved.  

 

I believe -- and I am building a coalition of local government leaders, environmental groups, and advanced energy organizations that share my view -- that if the Commission finds that the merger is in the public interest, now is the time to push for fundamental reforms.  Granting a single entity such a dominant position in our state -- Exelon would be the distribution utility for approximately 85% of our residents -- should only come in exchange for a commitment to being a national leader in providing the highest quality service.  

 

What would fundamental reform look like and why should it matter to you?

 

What it would look like:  The core reform would involve making a significant portion of the merged utility's financial return -- its return on equity -- tied to meeting performance targets set for what we really need our utility to provide.  Performance based ratemaking.  It is a simple concept.  It is used in various forms all the time.  We should pay them on how well they do what we really need them to do.  

 

What do we need them to do?  We may all have differing thoughts on this issue, but based on conversations with the leading thinkers nationally on this question, there is an emerging consensus that what we need them to do is: satisfy customers; hold down costs; provide excellent reliability; help us use less energy; promote cleaner energy; reduce carbon and generally be good environmental stewards; allow customers more control over their energy use; and support innovation.  Not an exhaustive list, but those are some of the fundamental objectives. 

 

Why should it matter to you:  In short, by holding the merged entity --should it be approved -- accountable in this manner, we can promote reliability, sustainability, and an advanced energy economy that thrives on innovation.  More of the power that you receive will come from clean sources and less energy will be wasted because of inefficiencies in the grid.

 

This is the vision that I am working to help bring about.  If you or your organization would like to join the coalition to bring Utility Reform to Maryland, please contact Drew Morrison in my office.   

 

BRT: The Bus of the Near Future

 

There was a new ride at the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair this year, and it appeared to be a fan favorite. Communities for Transit showed off a brand-new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) vehicle, letting visitors learn more about the planned BRT system and even take a look inside the vehicle.

 

On August 11, I joined County Executive Ike Leggett, along with fellow Councilmembers Marc Elrich and Cherri Branson, and Gaithersburg Mayor Sid Katz, in re-affirming our commitment to this important system that will provide transportation relief and sustainable economic development in our community. At the event, I stressed that nothing is more fundamental to the future of our County than making this system a reality in the next four years.

 

I am particularly excited by what BRT can offer our district. A line along 355/Wisconsin Ave. can provide added mobility for Bethesda residents, reduce automobile congestion along the route, and provide important relief to our heavily-trafficked Red Line on the Metro.

 

At the same time, I am aware of the challenges posed by the construction, operation, and funding of this system. I promise to listen to your concerns and make sure that they are addressed as the system is developed. When constituents came to me with concerns about the Purple Line, I worked on their behalf and helped to create the Purple Line Implementation Advisory Group. I believe the Group was a constructive force in airing neighborhood concerns and I am confident that we can make the BRT system benefit all residents of this district and the entire county.      

 

Connecticut Avenue Construction

 

As many of you are aware, there is significant paving work on Connecticut Avenue (MD 185) being conducted by the State Highway Administration (SHA).  I wanted to give you an update on the work to help you plan your commutes.  However, I first want to address the major traffic snarl from just before Labor Day.

 

Initially, SHA planned to close lanes mostly during non-rush hour periods, focusing on completing overnight work to avoid disrupting the morning and evening commutes. Unfortunately, when SHA removed the top two inches of asphalt, they found severely deteriorated conditions underneath that required emergency repair.  As a result, they worked for 24 hours a day for several days to complete the work within three days.

 

While I understand that emergency work needs to be done, as I told WTOP, SHA needs to do a better job of communicating with local officials and the public in such situations so that you can plan for your daily commute.

 

SHA has now begun work on a safety and resurfacing project between I-495 (Capital Beltway) and Dupont Avenue along Connecticut Avenue. Crews will be allowed to close up to one lane in both directions on weekdays between 9 am and 3 pm. They may close up to two lanes between 9 pm and 5 am Sunday through Thursday.  In total, the work will last for approximately one year, terminating in late fall 2015. The resurfacing work will begin in 2015, and that is when the majority of the resurfacing work will take place.

 

To connect with SHA and get the most up-to-date information, visit their Facebook or Twitter pages.

 

Celebrating National Night Out

 

I had the pleasure of celebrating National Night Out with the Scotland community in Potomac.  National Night Out, started in 1984, helps strengthen the partnership between citizens and law enforcement and helps keep communities informed on issues of crime prevention.

 

The events are filled with fun community activities, as well as informational booths and tables that help raise awareness about community safety. Reaching over 37 million people and 16,000 communities national wide, the program brings together law enforcement, local businesses, civic groups, and neighborhoods to show their commitment to a safer community.

 

In its 31st year of celebration, over 32 communities in Montgomery County participated in or hosted festivities for National Night Out. Among the many ways local communities are encouraged to celebrate are front porch vigils and block parties, which are great for promoting community spirit and allowing neighbors get to know one another.  After all, a familiarity with your neighborhood and sense of community with your fellow neighbors helps reinforce and support the comfort we each try to build at home.

 

Serving on the Public Safety Committee, I have worked first-hand with our police officers, fire and rescue services, and all the men and women whose number one goal is our safety and security. Our County is proud to have a group of public safety officials that are second to none. Their efforts in community outreach are such a huge part of what keeps us safe. If you have not yet, I encourage you to join me in participating in a future National Night Out.

 

Touring our Correctional Facility with Attorney General Holder & Secretary Perez

 

We have on one of the finest correction facilities and leaders in the country. It was no accident that Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez paid it a visit.  I was pleased to join them as they saw some of the rehabilitation, education, and workforce development programs that have become such a successful component of our Department of Correction & Rehabilitation's efforts.

 

During our visit with the staff of the Correctional Facility, Attorney General Holder lauded Montgomery County as a national leader in its 

approach to corrections and rehabilitation.

 

"What [we] are seeing here at the Montgomery County Department of Corrections is a national leader in looking at the problems that confront our nation, and that have bedeviled our nation, I think, for so long, coming up with really new approaches," Holder said. "By doing the things that are being done up here, which we hope to replicate around the country, you are enhancing public safety."

 

As a former Montgomery County Councilmember, Secretary Perez made note of reentry and job training programs being undertaken by our County to the Attorney General, and suggested the federal government look towards our model for guidance.  

 

"We have demystified the process here in Montgomery County so that we can scale it across America," said Perez.

 

You can watch the official news briefing held by Attorney General Holder and Secretary Perez during their visit on MCMedia's YouTube page here. 

 

Back to School Visit @ Walt Whitman HS

 

I was pleased to join MCPS Superintendent Dr. Josh Starr, State Delegate Arianna Kelly, and Principal Dr. Alan Goodwin as we toured Walt Whitman High School during the first Friday morning of the new school year. Even on a Friday, it was clear to see how busy and engaged students and teachers were in their lessons, which ranged from math, chemistry, to traditional photography (see above photo), and chorus.

 

As a proud parent of two Whitman graduates, it is always good to visit the school that gave so much to my children. Our school system is one of our County's finest assets, and I wish much success to our students, teachers, faculty, and PTA leaders throughout this new school year!

 

In addition, with the start of the new school year, I want to remind our drivers of the County's automated school bus camera enforcement program that catches drivers moving past a stopped school bus. More cameras will continue to be installed in the coming months and more bus routes will be using this technology. This is an important program because there are far too many violations. From this past January through March alone, 272 drivers were caught on camera. That is 272 too many.

 

The fine from the automated enforcement is $125.00. No points are associated with a citation issued through this program. However, if a driver is stopped by a police officer for passing a stopped school bus with flashing lights, the fine is $570 and 3 points. Let us all do our part and drive safely when near a school bus.  

 

Career Pathways Legislation Update

 

Over the course of this summer, I have continued to seek feedback on the legislation that I introduced in May which would establish a Career Pathways program here in Montgomery County. As I mentioned in a previous Berliner Brief, Career Pathways is a workforce development approach that has been adopted by ten other states and is generally regarded as the best overall approach to providing support, training, career navigation, and real world job connections for individuals.

 

When I was with U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez as we toured our County's correctional facility in ClarksburgI personally delivered a letter to Secretary Perez, a Montgomery County resident and former member of the County Council, asking him to review our draft legislation and offer feedback. We recently received a positive response back from the Secretary's team which will ultimately help strengthen the bill when it comes before the PHED Committee on October 6 and hopefully to the full Council later this year.

 

The bottom line for our County's economy is that employers are looking to locate in place where there is a trained workforce.  There are jobs available. It is up to us as policymakers to help link our residents with the necessary training so they can get the skills they need to fill these jobs. It is a win for our residents, our businesses, and our County's overall economic competitiveness. 

 

New Library Hours Beginning in October

 

Beginning October 5, sixteen library branches throughout the County will have expanded hours of operations. After many lean budget years, where we as a government had to make the very difficult decision to reduce the libraries budget, this is welcome news as we continue along the path to restore those funding cuts.

 

More hours will mean more opportunities for our children to read and learn, individuals to look for and find that new job, or a community or a club to have a meeting on an issue of importance to them.  This is truly where rubber hits the road with tax dollars being put to work for the greater good of our County.

 

Branches located in District 1 that will be open longer starting October 5th include: Chevy Chase, Davis, Kensington Park, Little Falls, Noyes, Poolesville, and Potomac. Hours were expanded at the Bethesda branch in 2012. To see a full chart of the new operational hours of libraries throughout Montgomery County, click here

 

Expanding Bioscience/Healthcare Opportunities in the Upcounty

 

Our County prides itself on being a home to a thriving bioscience community. After many years of planning and construction, we recently celebrated the opening of the Bioscience Education Center located at Montgomery College's (MC) Germantown campus. The new Bioscience Center building is part of a long-term plan for the Germantown campus to function as a science and technology park.

 

The new building will now provide lab and classroom space for students studying biology, chemistry, and biotechnology. In addition, I am pleased that this new building has undertaken energy-efficient measures such as wind-turbines on its roof.

 

Along with the upcoming opening of Holy Cross' Germantown hospital (also located on MC's Germantown campus), this is an exciting time not only for Germantown, but for our County as a whole. This bioscience center along with the new hospital provide us with a new collaborative avenue not just to teach and train our emerging workforce, but will also create and fill good paying jobs that will help the Upcounty economy.

 

Nonprofit of the Month: CollegeTracks

 

Our County is home to a diverse array of nonprofit organizations that do so much to enrich the quality of life we are fortunate to enjoy.

 

In this inaugural "Nonprofit of the Month" brief, I wanted to feature CollegeTracks, which gives Montgomery County's low-income and first-generation-to-college students the chance to go to colleges where they can succeed -- and with enough financial aid and continuing support to help them attain the degrees they seek. Postsecondary education is critical for preparing for and getting jobs that pay a family sustainable wage.

 

Montgomery County's students have access to a world class K-12 public education, but too many of graduates from MCPS's fastest growing demographic groups -- low income families and minorities -- do not enroll in postsecondary education of any sort within the year after high school graduation, according to a 2012 study by MCPS. 

 

CollegeTracks was founded in 2003 by a few Bethesda-Chevy Chase (B-CC) High School parents that realized students who would be the first in their families to go to college were at a tremendous disadvantage. Unlike their middle class counterparts, they had no adults in their lives familiar enough with the American higher education system to help them successfully navigate the complicated maze of gaining admission to college and securing enough financial aid to attend. 

 

In response, the CollegeTracks founders collaborated with B-CC HS administrators, counselors, and staff to create a college access program to turn dreams of college into reality for students who do not have the college-going know-how to make it happen by themselves. 

 

CollegeTracks evolved from an all-volunteer operation in 2003 serving 40 - 70 seniors a year at B-CC HS to a proven, data-driven program with 12 staff members and 60 volunteers that annually helps more than 600 B-CC and Wheaton HS students in two high schools get to college and helps more than 200 college students persist and graduate.

 

CollegeTracks Outcomes 2014

 

Delivered college admissions/financial aid advising to 582 low-to-moderate income high school students including 340 seniors; Delivered college success coaching to 197 college students;

 

CollegeTracks students admitted to colleges that fit their abilities and interests: All 340 CollegeTracks 2014 seniors were admitted to one of more than 220 colleges or vocational schools, ranging from most to least selective. 58% were admitted to 4-year colleges;

 

CollegeTracks Class of 2014 offered over $7.3M in financial aid for their first year of college: Earned high-value scholarships including POSSE, Questbridge, Gates Millennium, Horatio Alger, Herb Denton, NAACP, and New Futures; and

 

Almost all (97%) of CollegeTracks students who joined the College Success program from 2010- 2012 enrolled in college after high school. Almost all who enrolled (95%) persisted to a second semester and 92% persisted to a second year.

 

To learn more about CollegeTracks, please visit their Web site.

 

And tune in next month for the next installment of "Nonprofit of the Month."

 

 

 




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