Was it just me, or did summer fly by faster than ever? I hope you got to spend some relaxing time off and now get to enjoy this lovely fall weather. I am always amazed at how dramatically the weather changes at this time of year. And how nice that for the first time in so so many years, fall means something exciting for our poor suffering sports fans.
It's back to business here at the Council, and we are off to a busy start. Below you will find updates on our efforts to relieve congestion, Bikeshare, accessory apartments, the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan, Lot 31, and of course, Pepco.
As we look ahead to the election in November, I hope you will take a moment and familiarize yourself with Question B that will appear on your ballot. Question B deals with a law the Council repealed in 2011 regarding "effects bargaining" - you will find a discussion of it below.
And for those of you who are observing the High Holy days, I wish you an easy fast and a Happy New Year.
Update on Pepco
On September 13, the Maryland Public Service Commission held a hearing in Baltimore to better understand the recovery and service operations of Pepco and other utilities during the June 29 Derecho storm.
The PSC raised several concerns with Pepco officials. Among them, the amount of contractors used, the impact of their long-term reliability work during the storm, and the duration of outages following the storm. A final report from the PSC will be released soon.
Meanwhile, last month I took part in the inaugural session of Governor O'Malley's roundtable on electricity distribution. Because reliability is such an important (and unfortunately ongoing) issue for us, I was pleased to share with the Governor and his staff a first-hand experience of what we've been dealing with in Montgomery County. I shared with the roundtable several thoughts on how we can bring about reliable, efficient, and green electricity.
I continue to believe that our County should explore the possibility of public power as an alternative to Pepco. It may ultimately not be a good fit for the County, but I do believe it is an option that needs to be fully considered. Towards that end, I have asked our County Attorney to reassess his previously stated view that in order for the County to move towards public power, we would need the explicit approval of the state legislature. If that remains the case, it would be a very steep hill to climb.
Alternatively, I have asked the Governor to support Montgomery County serving as a national model for what some call "Utility 2.0", a 21st century utility system that would serve our need for reliable, green, efficient power. As Chair of the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment Committee, I will be hosting a forum for advocates and architects of Utility 2.0 to explain what it would look like and the benefits it would bring to our community and the state.
While Pepco has regrettably dislodged congestion as the number one threat to our quality of life, congestion remains unacceptable and a real threat to our county's future. We have been putting our shoulder to the wheel on this issue as well with a multi-pronged approach.
Earlier this summer, I initiated the first ever meeting between Fairfax County and Montgomery County - on anything. Our two transportation committees met to discuss what we have in common - enormous traffic challenges at and around the American Legion Bridge that are only going to get worse when the new HOT lanes that are being built on the Virginia side are completed around the end of the year. That meeting went well. While we can compete for businesses locating in our region, we can also collaborate on making the lives of our residents better.
One specific outgrowth of that meeting was a joint letter our two counties sent last week to our respective state transportation leaders asking them to consider using the shoulder of I-495 north and south of the American Legion Bridge for a HOV lane until a more permanent solution can be found. We have the room, and it has been done before on I-95 and I-66. We need to move more people through existing capacity and this seems to us a logical, if not perfect, solution. Our hope is that our state transportation leaders will follow the lead of our two counties so that some solutions are put in place quickly to avoid a worse bottleneck before and after the bridge.
In that same vein, our Council and the Executive will be asking Maryland state transportation leaders to do more on I-270 to ease that daily nightmare. We have HOV lanes today from I-370 to the beltway, but we don't have HOV lanes from I-370 to Clarksburg. The only way we can ease congestion short of adding lanes, which the state has not acted on, is to use existing capacity to move more people through. And HOV lanes do that. And we need to make our express buses even more attractive, and HOV lanes will achieve that objective as well. Again, not a perfect solution, but the best way to make progress that is available to us at this time.
One piece of good news is that our County has received $40 million from the federal government to fund a critical piece of infrastructure related to the Base Realignment and Closure happening at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Team Maryland - Senators Cardin and Mikulski and Congressman Chris Van Hollen - secured funding to build a tunnel connecting WRNMMC and the National Institutes of Health that will ease congestion along Wisconsin Avenue by providing a direct link between the two facilities.
Finally, our County is increasingly concerned about the lack of progress on funding transit projects at the state level. We need a long term solution and we need it soon if the Purple Line, the Corridor Cities Transitway, and rapid transit are going to move forward. And we need these transit projects to move forward to move our county forward. So just know that we are pushing hard and will be pushing even harder for a funding solution - either a statewide approach or a regional or local approach. Just saying no is not acceptable.
Proposed Tree Legislation
Earlier this month I was joined by Councilmember Elrich in introducing legislation aimed at increasing accountability regarding Pepco's vegetation management practices. This measure will help to better protect one of the County's most valuable natural resources - our trees. The trees in our right of way that line our streets and roads serve many valuable purposes which include maintaining the beauty of our suburban/urban landscape. We are mindful that their value extends far wider and protects the quality of our air, water and wildlife. At the same time, the legislation recognizes that tree trimming done properly can play a significant role in increasing Pepco's reliability.
The bill focuses on vegetation management by utilities and continues our work to ensure that our utilities find the balance between delivering reliable service and trimming our trees. It will:
1. Require that vegetation management plans be submitted to the County so that we can know where the trimming is planned, to ensure that best practices will be followed to ensure tree health and that there will be oversight and follow up inspection to make sure these standards have been followed.
2. The legislation provides for a "Customer Bill of Rights" so that homeowners and the utilities will know their rights and responsibilities in a clear, concise and easy to understand manner.
3. We have included a process so that if a tree poses an imminent hazard to the system and thus to our citizens ability to receive electricity and the homeowner withholds consent, the utility may ask the Chief of Tree Maintenance to inspect the tree and, if they agree, the Chief can direct the utility to remove the tree without obtaining the consent of the owner.
4. Along Rural and Rustic Roads and in Historic Districts, trees in the public right of way or within 35' of the road centerline can only be removed with the consent of the Chief of Tree Maintenance.
I recently authored a piece for the Gazette newspaper in response to an editorial that you can find here.
The legislation will go to public hearing on June 12 at 7:30 pm. I invite anyone who has had concerns or issues with Pepco's practices to speak at the public hearing. To sign up, please call (240) 777-7803.
Effects Bargaining on the Ballot
Last spring, all nine Montgomery County Councilmembers voted to support a critical reform at the Montgomery County Police Department. The County Executive signed it into law.
Under existing County law, collective bargaining remains available for wages and benefits and workplace conditions, and every union in the County has the right to bargain for them.
"Effects bargaining," however, means that Police Chief Tom Manger has to bargain the effects of any management decision with the Fraternal Order of Police leadership. Such mandated bargaining prevents the Chief from effectively carrying out his job of managing the Police Department in the most productive and efficient way possible -- protecting both his officers and the lives and property of County residents.
No other police union in the State of Maryland has "effects bargaining." No other Montgomery County employees' union group has this power in their contract.
That's why the County Council unanimouslyrepealed "effects bargaining" this spring. That's why the County Executive signed it into law.
My colleagues and I, the County Executive, and your Police Chief ask for your support FOR Question B.
Even with the repeal of effects bargaining, the Police Department will still maintain its requirement to bargain with the Fraternal Order of Police leadership on wages, benefits, hours, working conditions, grievances, schedules, leave and more...just like other County unions and other police unions around the State.
Here are just a few examples of the consequences of "effects bargaining":
Under effects bargaining, the distribution of critical police equipment must be bargained with the Union.
Under effects bargaining, police officers stilldon't have to sign their time cards. Can you imagine working at an agency where managers can't even require employees to sign time cards?
When the Police Chief needed to redeploy officers last year to immediately respond to an uptick in crimes against residents and property in Silver Spring and the Route 29 corridor last year, the Union leaders demanded that he bargain over that - even though officers had already volunteered to shift to meet the problems!
The Police Department's revised policy on "Use of Force" -- important to protecting the public and officers alike - was sent to the Police Union for their "approval" on June 27, 2008. More than four years later, Chief Manger is still waiting. In all, 15 policies are awaiting union "approval" -- 12 of them for over two years.
The Police Chief could not even require that police officers have County email accounts - or check their email. It took months to negotiate that common sense measure with Union leaders.
The Police Chief wanted to require that officers use yellow "Police" armbands in situations where officers in civilian clothes responded off-duty to incidents (such as the Discovery standoff ) - in order to protect officers from "friendly fire" and make clear to civilians who were the police in a given situation. Using effects bargaining, the Union objected.
It is our job to make sure that our government serves our residents well and that critical public safety departments are run efficiently.
With this reform, we will have a better department, the union will maintain its collective bargaining rights and the Police Chief will have the basic management rights he needs to manage the department - protecting officers and the lives and property of County residents.
I urge you to vote FOR Question B.
Bringing Bikeshare to Montgomery County
This month, Capital Bikeshare celebrates its second birthday in the District of Columbia. Since it began, nearly 1700 sturdy red bikes have been taken out for over two million trips around DC, Arlington, and Alexandria.
Montgomery County has been working aggressively to get on board. In July, our County secured a Maryland Department of Transportation grant for over $1 million to expand Capital Bikeshare to the county. We received a $250,000 allocation from the state legislature thanks to a bond bill sponsored by Senators Brian Frosh, Rich Madaleno, Jamie Raskin, and Delegate Bill Frick. We have also received significant financial commitments from the Chevy Chase Land Co. and other private sector sources, for which we are extremely grateful.
Last week, Councilmember Ervin and I introduced legislation that will help the County build on the progress it has made so far, by encouraging the private sector to partner with us to establish the first phase of our downcounty network. I am pleased to have the support of Councilmembers Riemer, Leventhal, Elrich, Andrews, and Navarro on one or both of these efforts. ZTA 12-14 would exempt developers from having to file a costly and time consuming site plan amendment in order to install a Bikeshare station; Bill 25-12 would allow the Department of Transportation to use developer-paid transportation impact funds towards Bikeshare stations. A public hearing on these bills will be held October 23.
I have asked DOT to set an ambitious timetable for implementing our downcounty network so that Montgomery County can join in Capital Bikeshare's success in the very near future. DOT staff expects to see stations installed starting in Spring 2013.
Earlier this month, the Council held a public hearing regarding Zoning Text Amendment 12-11, accessory apartments. Thirty people testified at the hearing, which lasted for over two hours. Some speakers were in support of the ZTA, some speakers were in opposition to the ZTA, and a few were some combination of both.
Montgomery County's zoning code currently allows for accessory apartments by special exception - a process that includes the Hearing Examiner, the Board of Appeals, and a public hearing. The process takes between eight and twelve months and can cost a few hundred dollars. There are roughly 400 licensed accessory apartments in the County today, and the Department of Permitting Services received 22 new applications in the last year.
The ZTA, as introduced at the request of the Planning Board, would permit accessory apartments not by special exception but "by right" - meaning no special exception required. This change is consistent with the recommendations made by the County Executive's Task Force on Affordable Housing. This would be a significant change from the current procedure and deserves serious consideration before any modifications to the process are made.
The main argument in favor of the ZTA is that it would encourage more affordable housing units and make it easier for home owners to stay in their homes. The main arguments against the ZTA are that it could change the character of communities, increase parking problems, and adversely affect home values. Under the ZTA, the number of new accessory apartments would be capped at 2,000. Most communities that have adopted similar measures, and our Planning Board, expects considerably fewer units should this new system be put in place.
The Council's Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee (PHED) will have several worksessions on accessory apartments, starting on October 8 at 9:30 AM. While I am not a member of the Committee, I will be monitoring its work closely. As someone who believes in finding common ground, I hope that the Committee and our Council will be able to find ways in which we can facilitate more affordable housing opportunities and still honor and maintain the integrity of our wonderful residential neighborhoods. I will be working towards that objective.
Chevy Chase Lake Update
Planning staff has been busy laying the framework for the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan, which will update a portion of the 1990 Bethesda-Chevy Chase Master Plan. The staff draft of the plan will now be reviewed by the Planning Board who will begin by holding a public hearing at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 18 in the Planning Board auditorium at 8787 Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring.
Anyone can testify by calling 301-495-4600 to sign up through Planning Board staff or testimony may be mailed to: Chair, Montgomery County Planning Board, 8787 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20910. After the public hearing, the Planning Board will hold work sessions on the plan before approving the version that will then be sent over to the Council. Once at the Council, there will be yet another public hearing followed by committee work sessions of the Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee (PHED). The PHED Committee will then make recommendations to the full Council who will then hold worksessions on the plan before casting its vote on the plan.
As you can see, the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan has a long way to go before it is approved by the Council. Although I am not on the PHED Committee, I plan to sit in on all the committee deliberations as I do for all plans that impact District 1. I know many of you have been following this plan closely as well, and I am pleased that the community is engaged in the sector plan process. Much of the discussion thus far has been centered around heights, densities, and determining the appropriate mix of uses in the plan and I suspect that will continue to be the case. But I also hope we will be able to talk about community amenities and ways to make the Chevy Chase Lake area a more walkable, pedestrian friendly area that feels like a true town center.
Celebrating Our Hometown Olympians
I was honored to take part in celebrating our hometown Olympians at a celebration in Bethesda last month. Their hard work and determination made our community - and the country - so very proud. Julie Zetlin, on the left, was the only American to compete in rhythmic gymnastics. Scott Parsons, on the right, represented the US in the slalom kayak. And Katie Ledecky, in the middle, won the gold medal in the 800 Meter Freestyle. Congratulations to each of these Olympians!
Lot 31 and Woodmont Avenue Closure
If you ever spend time in downtown Bethesda, you've probably noticed that as of September 7, the surface parking lot across the street from Barnes and Noble has closed. Funded and organized by a public-private partnership, this critical project will more than triple the number of public parking spaces available by the time it is completed.
As you have probably experienced, there is a tremendous shortage of parking in the popular Bethesda Row shopping area, and while this project will surely be somewhat of an inconvenience, it will be worth it in the long run. The new parking facility will house nearly 940 parking spots, which will greatly relieve some parking problems associated with the area.
As you can imagine, as is true with any project of this size, there will be bumps along the way (and some of you have suggested that is an understatement) and inconvenience for many. Know that I have already been in touch with members of our small business community and residents that are feeling the impact of the street and sidewalk closures, and sharing those views with our Department of Transportation, Bethesda Urban Partnership, and the project developer directly. Together, we will try our best to solve as many of these issues as we can.
In the meantime, I would encourage everyone to use the free - FREE! - Bethesda Circulator, which stops every 10 minutes and is a great way to get around downtown Bethesda. Handicapped drivers are being accommodated as close as possible to Lot 31.
The contractors responsible for the project and the Department of Transportation have been working closely with local residents to preserve the Capital Crescent Trail. Due to construction requirements, the trail will have its travel patterns adjusted slightly for 4-6 weeks while preliminary work is done, but it will be restored to its original path quickly. This will limit inconvenience for local residents who use it frequently.
Celebrating Labor Day in Kensington
The Kensington Day Parade was a huge success with a great turnout from the community. My dogs (Max and Molly) and I were happy to participate in the parade this year. As I traveled the parade route, a new addition to District 1, I experienced the strong sense of community in Kensington. Although just outside the beltway in one of the country's largest metropolitan areas, Kensington truly feels like a small town.
Bumped into Rich Madaleno (D18) and Kensington Mayor Peter Fosselman at the parade.
Alex Gibson, Ethan Gibson, Senator Ben Cardin, and Pete Gibson pause for a photo along the parade route.
Molly loves parades.
Great Weather for Poolesville Day
Another first for me this year was participating in Poolesville Day. It was a glorious, crisp fall-feeling kind of day. A perfect day to ride in a parade, host an informational booth, and meet many of the newest residents to join District 1. If you haven't been out to Poolesville, you should go there sometime. The drive out there is just beautiful and the area offers a great deal to do, especially outdoors. You can hike, fish, eat at some of the local restaurants, or pick your own apples at Lewis' Orchard - which I visited not long ago with Town of Poolesville Commissioner Eddie Kuhlman. Eddie also took me to Dave Weitzer's dairy farm and the Jamison and Sons farm to help get me acquainted with this new part of my councilmanic district. It was a great day and I am so grateful to everyone who took time out of their busy schedules to meet with me and make me feel so welcome.
I've enjoyed working with Poolesville Commissioner Eddie Kuhlman since Poolesville became part of my district earlier this year.
Civil war re-enacters!
Taste of Bethesda
I hope to see many of you at the Taste of Bethesda this year. It is truly one of the best events in the County in my opinion.
Bethesda's famous food and music festival brings 60 restaurants and five stages of entertainment to Bethesda's Woodmont Triangle. Each year, more than 40,000 attendees sample the delicious restaurants, enjoy the live entertainment and visit the kid's corner for face painting and arts & crafts.
Admission to the Taste of Bethesda is free. Taste tickets are sold on-site in bundles of four tickets for $5. Food servings cost one to four tickets. Restaurants serve delectable dishes from 11am-4pm. Ticket sales end at 3:30pm.
The event is held along Norfolk, Fairmont, St. Elmo, Cordell and Del Ray Avenues in Bethesda's Woodmont Triangle. Taste of Bethesda is located just three blocks from the Bethesda Metro.
The Bethesda Urban Partnership needs 100 volunteers who are vital to the success of this delicious day! Click here for more information on volunteer duties and the sign-up form.
Walk To School Day at Wood Acres ES
One of my favorite events each fall is Walk To School Day. It is a great opportunity for our students to enjoy the crisp fall air and spend some time outside getting exercise. It is also a chance for me to get to know a particular school community a little better.
This year, I'll be walking to school with Wood Acres Elementary. I have gotten to know the Wood Acres community over the years and look forward to spending some time with them in October. If you're a Wood Acres walker, I hope to see you there!