Thursday, November 7, 2013

Working Families Income Supplement Bill Enacted


The Montgomery County Council on Oct. 29 unanimously enacted Expedited Bill 8-13. The bill increases the County’s Working Families Income Supplement for low-income households to 90 percent of the Maryland refundable credit beginning in Fiscal Year 2015, 95 percent in FY16 and 100 percent in FY17 and beyond.

The chief sponsor of Expedited Bill 8-13 is Councilmember Hans Riemer. Councilmembers Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich and George Leventhal were co-sponsors. The Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee, which is chaired by Nancy Navarro and includes Councilmembers Riemer and Valerie Ervin, at a worksession on Oct. 21 voted 3-0 to recommend that the full Council pass the bill with several modifications.
The bill permits the Council to approve a lower amount in the annual operating budget by a vote of at least five Councilmembers. The minimum funding levels in the bill for the WFIS will not apply in any year that the State increases its refundable earned income credit above the current level.  

“Montgomery County is often thought of as one of the wealthiest counties in America. But while we do have many prosperous communities, we also have a very high cost of living,” said Councilmember Riemer. “Experts estimate that a household with two adults and one preschooler needs $89,784 to get by. Many thousands of residents struggle to earn this much, and poverty is growing faster in our County than anywhere else in the region. As the County slowly recovers from recession, it's only fair to working families that we help them recover too. I am gratified that we continue to look out for our most vulnerable residents.”
Started in 1975, the EITC allows households earning income to apply tax credits to their returns. The County Working Families Income Supplement (WFIS) is derived from the federal earned income tax credit (EITC). The EITC is a refundable tax credit for lower income working families and individuals. Recipients of the WFIS include some of the lowest-paid residents of the County. To qualify for the EITC in Tax Year 2013, a taxpayer must earn less than:
·       $46,227 ($51,567 married filing jointly) with three or more qualifying children
·        $43,038 ($48,378 married filing jointly) with two qualifying children
·        $37,870 ($43,210 married filing jointly) with one qualifying child
·        $14,340 ($19,680 married filing jointly) with no qualifying children

The Tax Year 2013 maximum credit is:
·       $6,044 with three or more qualifying children
·       $5,372 with two qualifying children
·       $3,250 with one qualifying child
·       $487 with no qualifying children

In FY11, the County had 33,840 WFIS recipients who received an average amount of $381.81 each.  Restoring the County match to 100 percent would provide an additional $124, for a total of $505.81.  For a worker on the edge, this could mean making a car payment, paying an overdue utility bill, or paying rent.  The program encourages people to work because a recipient must have earned income to be eligible for a refund. 

Twenty-two states (including Maryland), the District of Columbia, New York City and Montgomery County offer their residents a WFIS based upon the EITC. Maryland permits residents to claim a credit of one-half of the federal EITC and provides a refund for up to 25 percent of the federal EITC. In 2000, the County began matching 100 percent of the Maryland refundable credit to help working County residents meet the high costs of living in Montgomery County. In May 2010, the Council enacted Expedited Bill 33-10, which permitted the Council to set the WFIS at less than 100 percent of the Maryland refundable credit by resolution each year.

Accordingly, the Council set the WFIS at 72.5 percent for FY11, 68.9 percent for FY12 and 75.5 percent for FY13.
On May 23, 2013, the Council appropriated funds to increase the WFIS to 85 percent of the Maryland refundable credit during FY14.


Montgomery County Retains AAA Bond Rating From All Three Rating Agencies


Montgomery County learned on Oct. 28 that all three bond rating agencies—Standard & Poor’s, Fitch and Moody’s—reconfirmed that the it has retained its AAA bond rating.

County Council President Nancy Navarro, Council Vice President Craig Rice and County Executive Isiah Leggett recently traveled to New York City to meet with representatives of the bond rating agencies and explain steps the County has taken to maintain its financial health during the Great Recession of recent years and as the nation has begun to recover.

 The AAA bond rating allows Montgomery County to issue bonds for its capital borrowing at the most favorable rates, saving County taxpayers millions of dollars over the life of the bonds.  The County's pending issuance will refinance $295 million of bond anticipation notes and $27.7 million of long-term debt.

Montgomery County is only one of 38 counties (out of 3,140) in the nation to receive a AAA rating from all three rating agencies.

Council President Navarro, who has chaired the Council’s Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee since 2010, said the following after learning the AAA bond rating was confirmed:

“During the Great Recession, the Council took extraordinary steps to strengthen Montgomery County’s fiscal health. Starting in 2010, the Council approved a balanced six-year fiscal plan that ensures the County develops a long-term strategic approach to budgeting. The Council also made structural changes that have enabled Montgomery County to bounce back faster than most jurisdictions nationwide.

 “This decision by the rating agencies is a reflection of the hard work of this Council and the County Executive. During the most challenging economic times, we developed a proactive strategy to put our fiscal house in order for the future.

“The land-use decisions the Council has made over the past few years—to invest in smart-growth opportunities and encourage redevelopment in all corners of the County—will create a strong tax base for years to come.

“Since I joined the Council, we have closed a cumulative $2.7 billion budget gap, slowed the rate of growth in expenditures and put our County on a sustainable fiscal path. As our economic recovery continues, this decision today by the rating agencies demonstrates that Montgomery County is moving in the right direction.” 

100,000 Homes Campaign Seeks to Have County’s Homeless Accept Available Housing


Hundreds of volunteers joined members of Montgomery County’s nonprofit community in the early morning hours during Nov. 4-6 to assist in the County’s first-ever “Registry Week” that is a key element of the 100,000 Homes Campaign. The campaign seeks to reach out to the chronically homeless, especially those who are medically vulnerable, to assess their needs and try to get them to accept the variety of housing opportunities that are available to them.

During Registry Week, about 300 volunteers spread out throughout the County from 4-7 a.m. on each of the three days to survey homeless individuals who are living in streets, parks and other areas. By assessing the reasons that they have attributed for refusing housing options, the County can better formulate attempts to get them to accept housing.

Members of the Montgomery County Council, County Executive Isiah Leggett and representatives of the County-wide non-profit community worked for several months in urging residents to volunteer for Registry Week. The survey of the homeless is part of the commitment Montgomery County has made in joining more than 200 communities nationwide in the 100,000 Homes Campaign.

The local campaign is a joint effort that includes Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless, the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services and many other government agencies, nonprofits and organizations. This is the first time Montgomery County has assembled an organized effort to participate in the 100,000 Homes Campaign.

The public is invited to attend a community/media debriefing on the outcome and results learned during Registry Week. The debriefing will take place at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 13, at the Council Office Building (COB) at 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville. At the event, formerly homeless individuals will share their stories. Other speakers will talk about how the 100,000 Homes Campaign is changing lives, the reality that people living on the street die 25 years prematurely than the rest of society and how permanent housing is more cost effective than hospital, jail and shelter recidivism.

It is intended for the survey data to be utilized quickly and efficiently to move the County’s most vulnerable chronically homeless neighbors into permanent housing with supportive services. 


Earlier this year, the County participated in the 2013 Point-in-Time Count of Homeless Persons in the Metropolitan Washington Region in which volunteers attempted to count and survey as many homeless people as possible in a one-day event. That count found that, on one given day, 1,007 individuals experienced homelessness in Montgomery County, and that 222 of these individuals were chronically homeless.

“The 100,000 Homes campaign has worked in other areas of the nation and Montgomery County has been studying the most successful practices used,” said County Councilmember George Leventhal, who chairs the Council’s Health and Human Services Committee, serves on the Executive Committee of the Montgomery County 100,000 Homes Campaign and urged the Council to fund the program. “We are fortunate in our County. If we can identify the most medically vulnerable homeless people in our County who can be helped, we have the resources to help them. Not all jurisdictions are in that position. Taking this survey is crucial to the success of this effective program.”

County Council Vice President Craig Rice said the County must take steps to help solve a continuing problem.

“This County has done many things over the years to help address our homeless population,” said Council Vice President Rice. “The 100,000 Homes Campaign targets a special segment of this population—a population that has been difficult to reach. Through this program, and the steps that are being put in place, we now have a better chance of letting them tell us their needs and then directly working to finding housing for these most vulnerable people.”

County Executive Leggett said: “Helping those most vulnerable in our community is extremely important. This campaign will help us identify those at greatest need so we can help move them into permanent housing.”

This past summer, the local Campaign reported 64 of the most vulnerable people were housed since the County joined the 100,000 Homes Campaign, helping push the national campaign to over 50,000 housing placements. Currently the national 100,000 Homes Campaign has housed over 70,000 homeless individuals.

“The Campaign has been preparing for this monumental moment when we will join together as a community to not only assesses homeless individuals’ needs towards effectively housing them, but we will also know them each by name,” says MCCH Executive Director Susie Sinclair-Smith.

For more information on the Montgomery County 100,000 Homes Campaign, contact Homes Campaign Manager Herb Smith at hsmith@mcch.net or 301-917-6648.

More information on reducing homelessness also is available at: http://www.mcch.net/endhomelessness/homescampaign.html

Leaders of HOAs, Condo Associations Exchange Ideas, Seek Answers to ‘Common’ Problems


Approximately 100 people representing more than 60 homeowners and condominium organizations from across Montgomery County on Oct 23 attended a forum in Rockville designed specifically for homeowner association and condo board leaders. During the forum, which was hosted by County Councilmember Nancy Floreen, participants exchanged ideas about problems they share and asked the representatives of twelve County Government departments and agencies how they could better work together.

Issues raised during the forum ranged from speed humps on neighborhood roads to nuisance animals. Many participants said homeowner associations, and especially condo boards—which can assess monthly dues in the hundreds of dollars—need better tools for collecting overdue fees. Several people had questions about the County’s recently revamped Water Quality Protection Charge and its associated credits. Others expressed a need for individual utility meters in multi-family buildings.

With so many department and agency heads on hand, many participants who came with questions or unresolved problems were able to leave the forum with answers or commitments for further follow-up. Several participants expressed appreciation for the opportunity to meet with leaders and decision-makers face-to-face.

“I organized this forum because people who are involved with their homeowner associations are connected to their community in a unique and highly localized way,” said Councilmember Floreen, who chairs the Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee. “I wanted to make sure these volunteers have the tools they need to continue in their good work.”

The forum can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube.  Many of the subjects discussed apply to homeowners and condominium associations that were not represented at the forum. To view the forum, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_yPosvaJPY .

Among the representatives of County departments and agencies present at the forum were: Jewru Bandeh (East County Regional Services Center), Ken Hartman (Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center), Cathy Matthews (Upcounty Regional Services Center); Nadim Khan (Health and Human Services), Reginald Jetter (Permitting Services), Eric Friedman (Consumer Protection), Peter Drymalski (Commission on Common Ownership Communities), Steve Shofar (Environmental Protection), Rick Nelson (Housing and Community Affairs), Walter Wilson (County Attorney), Gwen Wright and Pam Dunn (Park and Planning), Bruce Johnston and Gary Erenrich (Transportation), Commander James Fenner and Lt. Jaques Croom (Police) and Susan Hoffman (Recreation).

Second Public Hearing on Proposed Zoning Changes to be Televised Live


More than 90 people have signed up to testify as the Montgomery County Council will hold a second public hearing on proposed changes to the County's Zoning Law starting at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 12, and continuing at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 14. The hearing will address proposed changes to the law recommended by the County’s Planning Board and by the Council's Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee. The hearing will give residents a further opportunity to comment on Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 13-04 and District Map Amendment (DMA) G-956.

The public hearing will be held in the Third Floor Hearing Room of the Council Office Building at 100 Maryland Ave. in Rockville. Each night of the hearing will be televised live by County Cable Montgomery (CCM—Cable Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon) and will be streamed through the County Web site at www.montgomerycountymd.gov.

The PHED Committee, which is chaired by Nancy Floreen and includes Councilmembers Marc Elrich and George Leventhal, held worksessions every week in June and July, and on several occasions in September, on the Planning Board’s recommended Zoning Law Rewrite. The committee is expected to recommend amending many aspects of the text and map, but until it completes its worksessions in December, its recommendations are tentative.

The Council introduced the Planning Board’s recommendations on May 2 following years of the Planning Board’s extensive work and discussion with community groups and other stakeholders. The Council heard from more than 50 speakers at a public hearing on the Planning Board’s recommendations in January and has received extensive email and other correspondence from County residents as the committee continues to do its work.

The Zoning Law has not been comprehensively updated since 1977 and has grown to more than 1,200 pages over the last 30 years. The goal of the Rewrite is to reorganize and simplify the Zoning Code. Rewriting the code in plain language and reorganizing it into rational sections will enable residents to more easily participate in key land use decisions, and courts and agencies will have clearer rules to apply.

Although the County Charter calls for only one public hearing, the Council decided to hold a second public hearing because it recognizes the significance of the proposed text and map changes. Few changes are proposed for single-family residential properties, but non-residentially zoned properties and their neighbors could be affected. ZTA 13-04 would implement the text changes to the Zoning Law, and DMA G-956 would update the zoning for each property to apply a new zone. The proposed rezoning in DMA G-956 is designed to mirror each property's current zoning as much as possible.

Residents can see the proposed Zoning Rewrite, along with the tentative changes being considered by the PHED committee, at www.zoningmontgomery.org.

On the Web site, residents also will find an interactive map that enables users to determine the existing and proposed zoning for every property in the County.  Clicking on a particular property will display the development standards (density, height limits and setbacks) for the existing and proposed zone.

Written testimony or comments about the proposed zoning changes can be mailed to County Council / 100 Maryland Ave. / Rockville, Md. 20850 or emailed to all Councilmembers at county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov

Restaurants Contributing to Child Obesity Focus of HHS Worksession


How children’s meals at fast food and other types of restaurants contribute to obesity in children was the focus of an Oct. 31 worksession held by the County Council’s Health and Human Services Committee. The worksession included a presentation from representatives of the nutrition policy section of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which has produced a report entitled, “Kids’ Meals: Obesity on the Menu.”

The HHS Committee, which is chaired by Councilmember George Leventhal and includes Councilmembers Nancy Navarro and Craig Rice, started the worksession by stating it did not call for the discussion based on any developing legislation. Committee members said they wanted to learn more about the findings of CSPI and how restaurants in the County were trying to address the issue on their own initiative.

Margo Wootan, the director of nutrition policy for CSPI, was among those attending the worksession. Also in attendance was Michaeline Fedder, president of MD HEAL (Maryland Healthy Eating and Active Lifestyle Coalition, Inc.); Melvin Thompson, senior vice president for governmental affairs and public policy for the Restaurant Association of Maryland; Joan Rector McGlockton, vice president for food policy for the National Restaurant Association; and Joy Dubost, director of nutrition for the National Restaurant Association.
The report "Kids' Meals: Obesity on the Menu" states that many restaurant chains offer menu items especially for, and marketed to, children. Research has shown that children consume on average 25 percent of their daily calories at fast-food and other restaurants, meaning the nutritional quality of those meals is important. The report investigates the types of children's menu items and the nutritional quality of children's meals at the largest restaurant chains in the United States.

“Fast food restaurants use toys and other sophisticated marketing techniques to peddle food to children that isn't good for them,” said Councilmember Leventhal. “Children are not equipped to make wise consumer choices in their own best interest. This is a serious ethical problem. The Center for Science in the Public Interest found that 91 percent of meals specifically peddled to children fail to meet a minimum nutritional standard.

“We held this meeting to send a message to our local restaurant industry that the Montgomery County Council takes seriously its charge to promote a culture of wellness and advance public health. While we are not considering legislation at this time, we will return to this topic again in the future in the hope that local fast food restaurants will change their practices and offer more healthful choices for children's meals.”

Of the top 50 chains, nine (18 percent) did not have dedicated children's menu items or meals. Of the 41 chains with children's items, 34 (83 percent) offered children's meal combinations and provided adequate information for nutrition analyses. The report assesses the nutritional quality of all possible children's meal combinations against a set of standards developed by a panel of nutrition and health experts, and against the National Restaurant Association's (NRA) Kids LiveWell standards.
Of the 3,494 meal combinations, 97 percent do not meet the expert nutrition standards for children's meals and 91 percent do not meet the NRA's Kids LiveWell standards. Nineteen of the restaurant chains offering children's meals (56 percent) do not have even one meal that meets the expert nutrition standards and nine chains (26 percent) do not have one meal that meets the Kids LiveWell standards.
For more information about restaurants and obesity in children, see the Council packet at: http://www6.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/council/pdf/agenda/cm/2013/131031/20131031_HHS1.pdf 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

New County Law Seeks to Control Synthetic Marijuana



A new Maryland law that took effect Oct. 1 to criminalize possession of designer drugs sometimes referred to as "K2/Spice" or "synthetic marijuana” was detailed on Sept. 30 in Rockville. Among those attending were members of the Maryland General Assembly who worked to pass the law, Montgomery County Councilmember George Leventhal, State’s Attorney John McCarthy, representatives of the County Police Department and members of the Eichler family that has been tragically affected by synthetic marijuana.

Also attending the event were State Senator Jamie Raskin and State Delegates Sheila Hixson and Craig Zucker, all from Montgomery County. Susie Sinclair Smith of the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless and Carol Walsh of the County Collaboration Council for Children, Youth & Families also were present to explain how synthetic marijuana has affected people with whom they work directly.

Montgomery County Police and State's Attorney McCarthy have sent a letter to all retailers in Montgomery County informing them about the new law.

During its 2013 session, the Maryland General Assembly passed a law outlawing the sale or possession of the major chemical components of synthetic marijuana, classifying them as controlled substances. The products have been sold in smoke specialty shops and neighborhood convenience stores and, in some cases, were available for purchase with no age restrictions. Many of the products were sold in packages aimed at young users.

Prior to 2010, synthetic marijuana was not controlled by any state or by the federal government. Since then, states around the nation have moved to pass laws to criminalize possession of the drug.

Despite its name as “synthetic,” the product is made with natural herbs that are sprayed with synthetic chemicals. When consumed, it mimics the effects of regular marijuana. However, the chemical aspect of synthetic marijuana has sent many people to hospital emergency rooms, and in some cases, led to deaths.

“One reason that synthetic drugs are extremely dangerous is that buyers don’t know what chemicals they are ingesting,” said Councilmember Leventhal, who chairs the Council’s Health and Human Services Committee. “Individual products can contain a vast range of different chemical formulations and potencies. Outlawing the possession of synthetic marijuana is the first major step. Now we must make sure retailers who may have been selling the products, young people who have been using it and parents are aware of its dangers.”


Hearing on Changes to Zoning Law Set for Nov. 12, 14


The County Council will hold a second public hearing on proposed changes to the County's Zoning Law starting at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 12, and continuing on Thursday, Nov. 14. The hearing will address proposed changes to the law recommended by the County’s Planning Board and by the Council's Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee. This hearing will give residents a further opportunity to comment on Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 13-04 and District Map Amendment (DMA) G-956.

Those interested in testifying at the public hearing should call 240-777-7803 by 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 11. Sign-ups are now being taken. Spaces are limited.

The PHED Committee, which is chaired by Nancy Floreen and includes Councilmembers Marc Elrich and George Leventhal, held worksessions every week in June and July, and on several occasions in September, on the Planning Board’s recommended Zoning Law Rewrite. The committee is expected to recommend amending many aspects of the text and map, but until it completes its worksessions in December, its recommendations are tentative.

The Council introduced the Planning Board’s recommendations on May 2 following years of the Planning Board’s extensive work and discussion with community groups and other stakeholders. The Council heard from more than 50 speakers at a public hearing on the Planning Board’s recommendations in January and has received extensive email and other correspondence from County residents as the committee continues to do its work.

The Zoning Law has not been comprehensively updated since 1977 and has grown to more than 1,200 pages over the last 30 years. The goal of the Rewrite is to reorganize and simplify the Zoning Code. Rewriting the code in plain language and reorganizing it into rational sections will enable residents to more easily participate in key land use decisions, and courts and agencies will have clearer rules to apply.

Although the County Charter calls for only one public hearing, the Council decided to hold a second public hearing because it recognizes the significance of the proposed text and map changes. Few changes are proposed for single-family residential properties, but non-residentially zoned properties and their neighbors could be affected. ZTA 13-04 would implement the text changes to the Zoning Law, and DMA G-956 would update the zoning for each property to apply a new zone. The proposed rezoning in DMA G-956 is designed to mirror each property's current zoning as much as possible.

Residents can see the proposed Zoning Rewrite, along with the tentative changes being considered by the PHED committee, at www.zoningmontgomery.org. Residents also will find an interactive map that enables users to determine the existing and proposed zoning for every property in the County.  Clicking on a particular property will display the development standards (density, height limits and setbacks) for the existing and proposed zone.

Written testimony or comments about the proposed zoning changes can be mailed to County Council / 100 Maryland Ave. / Rockville, Md. 20850 or emailed to all Councilmembers at county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov

Councilmember Floreen Reminder: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month


Have you had your mammogram?

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Since BCAM began in 1985, mammography rates have more than doubled for women age 50 and older, and breast cancer deaths have declined. Councilmember Floreen, a breast cancer survivor, says that is something to celebrate, especially since one in eight women in the United States (12 percent) will develop invasive breast cancer at some point in her life.

More than 600 Montgomery County women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. Although Montgomery has the highest incidence of breast cancer in the state, it also has the lowest mortality rate. That is due in part to the fact that approximately 2,500 uninsured women receive free mammograms in Montgomery County.

“Montgomery County is fortunate to have many partners across various disciplines that not only raise awareness about the importance of early detection of breast cancer, but also provide medical and support services to those who have been diagnosed with the disease,” said Councilmember Floreen. “This month, we honor those providers and show our support for the mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts and friends who have been affected by breast cancer.”

Councilmembers Elrich, Ervin, Navarro Lead Effort to Create Regional Minimum Wage


Montgomery County Councilmember Marc Elrich on Oct. 1 introduced a bill before the County Council that will be part of a collaborative effort with the District of Columbia and Prince George’s County to establish a regional minimum wage of $11.50 per hour over the next three years. Councilmember President Nancy Navarro and Councilmember Valerie Ervin are co-sponsors.

A public hearing on Bill 27-13 is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 24.

On Oct. 9, Councilmembers Elrich and Ervin joined Prince George’s County Council Chair Andrea Harrison and District of Columbia Council Chairman Phil Mendelson in a joint news conference at the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments offices to discuss how they plan to navigate their regional minimum wage through their respective local governments.

Councilmember Elrich announced early in September that he would be introducing a bill to raise the minimum wage in Montgomery County. Although Bill 27-13 would increase the minimum wage over three years to $12 per hour based on his original proposal, Councilmember Elrich said he intends to request an amendment to change the rate to $11.50 per hour to be consistent with similar bills that Prince George’s County Council Chair Harrison and District of Columbia Council Chairman Mendelson have introduced in their respective jurisdictions as part of an effort to establish a Washington regional minimum wage.

“Maryland’s minimum wage at $7.25 per hour is the equivalent of $15,000 a year for a full-time, year-round employee, and that leaves a wage earner and their family below the federal poverty line,” said Councilmember Elrich. “We are not talking about people who are trying to take advantage of the system—we are talking about people who just want to take care of their families as a result of the hard work they do, and at the current minimum wage, that is not possible.

“If we have a minimum wage of $11.50 per hour, it will at least be a step a right direction for workers, and in the end, everyone benefits. If people have a better chance of taking care of their own needs, they will be less dependent on the supplemental assistance that they now must have to survive.”

Bill 27-13 would require certain private sector employers in Montgomery County to pay the minimum wage to employees working in the County.  The bill provides credit for an employer who provides health insurance to the employee. The provisions of the bill would be enforced by the County’s Office of Human Rights and the Human Rights Commission.

“Raising the minimum wage is not just an economic demand; it is a civil right demand,” said Councilmember Ervin.  “The 1963 March on Washington called for a $2 per hour minimum wage.  Fifty years later, we are still marching and fighting for jobs and freedom.  In my opinion, we must combat poverty regionally by raising the minimum wage and creating jobs.  These are two of the best ways to help our working families reach their goals and create better lives for themselves and their children. I am delighted to stand shoulder to shoulder with our regional partners to help make this happen.”

Council President Navarro said establishing the minimum wage in a regional approach addresses the economic issues presented by living in the Washington area.

"Taking a regional approach to raising the minimum wage recognizes the high cost of living in the D.C. Metropolitan area,” said Council President Navarro. “Everyone deserves a living wage for an honest day's work. Passing a regional minimum wage is an important step toward ensuring every resident with a job has the ability provide for themselves and their families."

The County minimum wage would be phased in over several years. The rate would be $8.25 per hour on July 1, 2014, $9.75 per hour on July 1, 2015, and $11.50 per hour on July 1, 2016 per Councilmember Elrich’s amendment. During the phase-in period between July 1, 2014 and July 1, 2016, an employer would be able to pay the prior year rate for an employee's first 90 days on the job. Beginning on July 1, 2017, the rate would be raised by any increase in the Consumer Price Index on an annual basis.

The County minimum wage would not apply to a worker who is not covered by the State or federal minimum wage law, a tipped employee or a worker subject to an opportunity wage under the State or federal law.

Transportation and Environment Committee Begins Review of Proposed Bus Rapid Transit System



The Montgomery County Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment (T and E) Committee has started its review of the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan. The primary purpose of the master plan is to identify the specific lines and approximate station locations for the proposed bus rapid transit (BRT) lines within Montgomery County, as well as the minimum rights-of-way required for the segments in each line.

The T and E Committee, which is chaired by Roger Berliner and includes Councilmembers Nancy Floreen and Hans Riemer, held its first two of several worksessions on the plan on Oct. 7 and 14. The next worksessions are Oct. 25 and  29 and Nov. 1.

Bus Rapid Transit would be a public transportation network in which buses with modern designs run mainly in dedicated lines.

The County Planning Board is recommending a master-planned network of eight BRT lines, covering about 81 miles and 101 stations. Two of the corridors--Georgia Avenue and Maryland Route 355—are each split into two segments due to their length, so the Draft Plan presents the system as 10 corridors. The BRT network would be in addition to the Corridor Cities Transitway, a master-planned BRT line between Shady Grove and Clarksburg. This system is considerably pared down from the 160-mile network of exclusive bus lanes proposed by County Executive Isiah Leggett's Transit Task Force in May 2012.

Portions of three of these lines are already in master plans: Georgia Avenue North (Corridor 1) between Glenmont and Olney; Veirs Mill Road (Corridor 10) within Aspen Hill; and Maryland Route 355 South (Corridor 4) within White Flint.

The Georgia Avenue Busway and Veirs Mill Road BRT Line are in project planning by the Maryland Department of Transportation, funded with $5 million and $6 million, respectively, provided by the County. Project planning also is underway for the White Flint segment of Corridor 4, funded as part of the White Flint District West Transportation project.

Fundamentally, the Master Plan should make three types of recommendations for each corridor: the route; the general location of stations; and the minimum right-of-way needed. Even those recommendations will be considered as guides rather than prescriptions. A subsequent project planning study could likely indicate that a given route be diverted slightly to serve a major destination.

The transit corridors master plan also proposes establishment of several Bicycle-Pedestrian Priority Areas and the addition of a third track on the CSX Metropolitan Branch between Metropolitan Grove and Frederick County to allow for the potential for MARC rail service during other than weekday peak periods.
Prior to the start of the T and E Committee’s first worksession, Committee Chair Berliner made the following statement:

“This morning, our Committee begins its review of the Draft Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan recommended by our Planning Board.

It is as ambitious as it is necessary.  It would create, if all 81 miles along eight corridors were constructed, the most extensive rapid transit system in the country. For a community that has suffered through decades of some of the worst traffic congestion in the nation—traffic that is projected to only get worse not better—rapid transit is considered by our planners, the County Executive and the County Executive's Transit Task Force, to be our most promising, cost-effective option. Doing nothing is not an option.  Just imagine what it would be like—and what the benefits to our community would be—if we were able to describe Montgomery County as having the finest transit system in the county instead of the worst traffic

And it isn't as though we just thought of this yesterday. As Dr. Orlin's packet observes, portions of three of the eight corridors—Georgia Avenue, Viers Mill and Rockville Pike—are already master planned for rapid transit and more than $10 million of County dollars has been allocated for that purpose.      
That said, at the heart of this plan and our future work—and I stress the phrase "future work"—is a critically important, yet simple, concept. The concept is that, in using our scarce public resources—our roadways—we must prioritize moving people, not cars.  It is a ‘People First Plan’ in effect.

Like all of my colleagues, I heard both much praise and many concerns expressed during our two full nights of public hearings on this plan. And as a District Councilmember, I listened very carefully to the concerns articulated by my constituents, too.  But as I said at the beginning of those hearings, and as I repeat this morning, almost all of the concerns that have been expressed anticipate decisions that are not being made now, and will only be made after extensive study, public comment and future action by the County Council.

It is understandable why the community has these concerns. The Planning Board document "recommends" various treatments in addition to the right of way decisions, including dual dedicated lanes in the median, some single dedicated lanes in the median, some dedicated curb lanes, some repurposed lanes, and some mixed traffic.

We are not taking up those recommendations in this plan. In this plan, those recommendations will have the equivalent of an asterisk that makes it clear those are the Planning Board's recommendations, not our conclusions.  Those decisions will be left for a future Council after much more work is done by both the Planning Board and our Department of Transportation.

The Planning Board itself—and the plan before us—recognizes that it too has more work to do. For this network to achieve its goal, we must ensure that it performs well, and for that to occur, we need performance standards.  As the draft states on Page 63, "the Subdivision Staging Policy should be amended to incorporate standards for transit service in the recommended BRT network area that are consistent with the minimum level of service that would be provided by this Plan's recommendations.”

DOT has much work to do as well.  Before any treatment is ultimately selected, we will need to know what impact it has on traffic generally, as well as on specific corridors, and we should make sure that we understand the impact on surrounding neighborhoods.

All of this detailed work will be done before a future Council decides exactly how and where rapid transit will be employed in our County. What we have before us now is a necessary predicate to doing that detailed analysis. In that regard, it is no different than what we have done for major roads in our County forever, many of which, like M-83, have been in our master plans for years, and then studied and given more precise cost estimates. And yet, no decision has been made on that project or many like it.
 
Our Committee's plan for addressing the issues that are before us—rights of way, general station locations and the corridors themselves, as well as any issues my colleagues raise—is to have a day of big picture discussion, then have three worksessions on groups of corridors, leaving one additional session for follow-up items.

We have asked the Planning Board to present its work, and for both the Executive Branch and the Transit Task Force to offer its guidance to begin this important discussion.”  

Montgomery Launches First Bikeshare in Maryland

Montgomery County on Sept. 27 launched the County’s Bikeshare Network with the first installment of 51 Bikeshare stations and 450 bikes in Bethesda, Friendship Heights, Silver Spring, Takoma Park, Rockville, Shady Grove and the Life Sciences Center area. Montgomery County’s Bikeshare program is the first year-round system in Maryland and is part of the regional Capital Bikeshare network, linking the County with the District of Columbia, Arlington and Alexandria’s Bikeshare systems.

The County Council and County Executive Isiah Leggett have been major supporters of the Bikeshare program.

"Bikeshare is an important step forward for Montgomery County and the entire region,” said County Council President Nancy Navarro. “The Council funded this project as part of our ongoing quest to reshape Montgomery County roads so they are safe and pleasant for residents to walk, bike, drive or ride public transportation."

In November 2012, the Council unanimously approved two measures designed to encourage the expansion of Capital Bikeshare to Montgomery County. Bill 25-12 allows transportation impact tax funds to be used to help fund bikesharing stations. Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 12-14 allows private property owners to more easily seek building permits for bikesharing facilities.

Councilmembers Roger Berliner and Valerie Ervin were the lead sponsors of the two initiatives. Councilmembers Phil Andrews, Marc Elrich, Nancy Navarro and Hans Riemer were co-sponsors of Bill 25-12. Councilmember Riemer and Council President Navarro were co-sponsors of ZTA 12-14.

“The sturdy red bikes are finally rolling into Bethesda, Silver Spring and Rockville,” said Councilmember Berliner, who chairs the Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee. “Bikeshare represents an important step in creating a Montgomery County that is less dependent on the automobile and more supportive of healthier, greener options.”

Councilmember Ervin said: “Since my arrival at the Council in 2006, the Bikeshare program and the completion of the Metropolitan Branch Trail have been at the top of my legislative agenda. I am thrilled that the Bikeshare program will provide Montgomery County residents with another way to bike to work or enjoy a weekend ride on one of the many beautiful trails in our community. The infrastructure needed to keep pedestrians, cyclists and motorists safe is also a priority for me and remains on the front burner as I continue to work on these issues.”

County Executive Leggett agreed that the Bikeshare program will have a significant impact on residents.

“Bikesharing is proving to be a phenomenal success in the region having recently celebrated its five millionth rider and we have no doubt that Montgomery County residents, employees, retail and restaurant patrons and other visitors will also be enthusiastic participants,” said County Executive Leggett. “Bikeshare is another cost effective transit option that can help reduce traffic congestion by eliminating the need to drive for short trips. We expect Bikeshare to significantly expand opportunities and improve the quality of life for all our residents. And, the special assistance available to low-income Bikeshare users will make this 24/7 transit option particularly appealing to those who hold multiple jobs or participate in job training programs.”

Several hundred people attended ceremonies unveiling the Bikeshare station in Rockville Town Center. That is one of the 21 stations in the Rockville, Shady Grove and the Life Sciences area designed to encourage low income reverse commuters and job trainees. Those who qualify will receive a free, one-year membership in Capital Bikeshare that will enable them to use any Bikeshare station in Montgomery County, as well as receive a free bike helmet, safety training and route planning assistance. These stations were partially funded by a $1.3 million Federal Transit Administration Job Access Reverse Commute (JARC) grant approved by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board and $300,000 in local matching funds from the City of Rockville.

Other supporters of the Rockville / Shady Grove / Life Sciences Center Bikeshare program include the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority; MontgomeryWorks; Montgomery College; The Universities at Shady Grove; Johns Hopkins University, Montgomery County campus; Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce; and the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce.

For the Downcounty Bikeshare program in Friendship Heights, Bethesda, Medical Center, Takoma Park and Silver Spring, the Maryland Department of Transportation provided a $1,008,000 grant. In addition, the Maryland General Assembly approved a bill that provides a $250,000 bond to the Bikeshare program. Montgomery County received a $112,000 funding commitment toward the cost of the Downcounty Bikeshare stations from Chevy Chase Land Company and $140,000 from other developer payments made to the Montgomery County Planning Board and dedicated to Bikeshare.


“We are proud to support Bikeshare in Montgomery County,” said David Smith, president of The Chevy Chase Land Company. “Its popularity and success in D.C. and Virginia demonstrates the importance of bicycling as part of an effective urban transportation network, and we expect that residents and commuters in Montgomery County will embrace this option.”


The Downcounty system will expand the reach of Metrorail, Metrobus, MARC and MTA bus services; provide low-cost transportation options in the most urbanized and congested portion of Montgomery County; help get people out of their cars for short trips; and produce environmental benefits while enhancing economic activity.


In April, Montgomery County’s Department of Transportation (MCDOT) signed a contract with Alta Bicycle Share to bring the popular Capital Bikeshare program to Montgomery County. The contract provides for equipment purchase and operating costs for the program.


MCDOT’s top priority is to ensure the safety of riders by locating stations in areas with safe connections to activity centers and other stations, including bike paths, bike lanes and sidewalks, or on streets that are less congested by traffic. MCDOT is working with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority on locating Bikeshare stations at each of the Metrorail stations in the areas to be served.


Bikesharing provides short-term bicycle rentals at self-service, automated, solar-powered docking stations sited at publicly accessible locations. Bikes may be picked up at one location and returned to another, creating a system that allows for one-way trips. Bikeshare is considered ideal for short trips of less than five miles. Trips under 30 minutes are included in the membership fee, while longer trips are charged based on their duration.


Membership options cost $75 a year, $25 a month, $15 for three days and $7 for one day. Yearly and monthly memberships can be purchased online or by phone, while the three-day and one-day memberships can be purchased with a credit card at any Capital Bikeshare station.


Over the next few weeks, the remaining Montgomery County stations will open. More information and a map showing installed stations in the County is available at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/bikeshare. Visit www.capitalbikeshare.com for more information on the entire regional system. For information on eligibility for free Bikeshare memberships and JARC program benefits, contact Montgomery County Commuter Services at 240-777-8380 or: mcdot.CommuterServices@montgomerycountymd.gov.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Study Begins On Bus Rapid Transit System

Identifying the specific lines and approximate station locations for the proposed bus rapid transit lines within Montgomery County, as well as the minimum rights-of-way required for the segments in each line, will be the focus of the County Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment (T and E) Committee as it holds as many as five worksession in October on the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan.

The T and E Committee, which is chaired by Roger Berliner and includes Councilmembers Nancy Floreen and Hans Riemer, is scheduled is tentatively scheduled to hold worksessions on the plan on Oct. 7, 11, 14, 18 and 21. The meetings will be broadcast live on County Cable Montgomery (CCM—cable Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon) and streamed live on the County Web site at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/council/.

At public hearings on Sept. 24 and 26, approximately 70 speakers testified about the bus rapid transit plan that, if fully implemented, would cover about 80 miles around the County, not including the already planned Corridor Cities Transitway between Shady Grove and Clarksburg. Those who generally favor the proposal stressed the need for better public transportation options that connect various parts of the County. Those opposed to the plan cited the cost and the concern that re-purposing certain lanes for express buses would generate increased congestion in the remaining lanes.

The transit corridors master plan also proposes establishment of several Bicycle-Pedestrian Priority Areas and the addition of a third track on the CSX Metropolitan Branch between Metropolitan Grove and Frederick County to allow for the potential for MARC rail service during other than weekday peak periods.

The Planning Board’s draft of the master plan can be found at: http://www.montgomeryplanning.org/viewer.shtm#http://montgomeryplanning.org/transportation/highways/documents/ctcfmp__planning_board_draft_production_version_7-24-2013.pdf

The appendix to the master plan draft can be found at: http://www.montgomeryplanning.org/transportation/highways/appendix.shtm

The Countywide Transit Corridor Functional Master Plan’s recommendations include:

• Transit facilities along 10 corridors to facilitate Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service that will move more people to and from jobs, homes, shopping and entertainment areas in urbanizing parts of the County, while making more efficient use of our public rights-of-way and existing pavement.

• Pedestrian facilities that meet ADA Best Practices and provide safe and adequate accommodation along and across the recommended transit corridors, ensuring that transit patrons can safely cross to and from transit stops and that the general public can safely cross these roadways at all intersections.

• Accommodating all master plan bikeways within the recommended rights-of-way and accommodating additional on-road bike facilities where possible.

• Designating more than two dozen Bicycle-Pedestrian Priority Areas around major transit stations, several of which are included in the County’s initial round of proposed bikeshare stations.

• A third track on the MARC Brunswick Line between the Frederick County line and the Metropolitan Grove MARC station to reduce conflicts with freight service and enabling the expansion of commuter service, as recommended by the Maryland Transit Administration’s Growth and Investment Plan.

Town Hall Meeting for Students: Wednesday, Oct. 9

The County Council, which for the past several years has held Town Hall Meetings throughout the County in its efforts to find out what issues most concern residents, will learn what is on the mind of younger residents when it hosts its fourth-ever Town Hall Meeting for Students on Wednesday, Oct. 9, at the Council Office Building in Rockville. The meeting, in the Council’s Third Floor Hearing Room, will start at 7 p.m. A pre-meeting reception will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the building’s second-floor cafeteria.

The meeting is open to high school and middle school students from public and private schools from around the County and to students from local colleges. The meeting will allow the participants to let Councilmembers know how they feel about specific issues and also will provide the opportunity to ask questions of the Councilmembers in an organized, but informal, setting.

The Council Office Building is located at 100 Maryland Ave. in downtown Rockville. It is about a three-block walk from the Rockville Metrorail station, which also is a main stopping point for many RideOn bus lines. For students traveling to the meeting by car, free parking will be available by entering the Council parking garage from the Fleet Street entrance.

Students who wish to attend the meeting are asked to RSVP by calling 240-777-7931. The meeting will be broadcast live on County Cable Montgomery (CCM—cable Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon) and rebroadcast at various times in the weeks following the meeting. Susan Kenedy, a producer for the County station, will moderate the meeting.

Council President Nancy Navarro said that the youth town hall meetings have become learning experiences for both the Councilmembers and the students.

“The County Council funds the school system and many other programs which have a direct impact on our county's youth, and this meeting is an invaluable opportunity to hear directly from them,” said Council President Navarro. “In the past, feedback from our youth has led us to restore the Kids Ride Free program on Ride On, launch the Teen Escape Clubs, and begin many other important initiatives. We gain a unique perspective on the needs of our young residents, and we always take their feedback seriously."

Council Vice President Rice, who is a member of the Council’s Education Committee, said that hearing the perspectives of students is a great opportunity for Councilmembers.

“So many major decisions concerning education—and students—are made by adults talking with other adults,” said Council Vice President Craig Rice. “But the students often have so much to offer that adults do not necessarily see. We are looking forward to learning about how they see the issues we are discussing and to hearing from them about new things they would like to see us consider.”

County Launches Effort to Address Panhandling

Councilmember George Leventhal and County Executive Ike Leggett have joined representatives from homeless advocates, grassroots social service agencies, the faith community and County Police to launch a joint public education campaign to address panhandling in Montgomery County.

The theme of the program is: “Give a Hand Up. Not a Hand Out.”

“Panhandling is not safe and giving cash to panhandlers doesn’t help them,” said Councilmember Leventhal, who chairs the Council Health & Human Services Committee.

“We all know the feeling. We want to help those less fortunate than ourselves. We feel guilty. We all want to help. The question isn’t whether to help – it’s how. That’s why Montgomery County government is joining together with homeless advocates and social service providers throughout the County to urge you to give a hand-up, not a hand-out.

“Those who work daily with panhandlers in homeless advocacy and other social service groups know that most panhandlers use the money they collect to support their addictions – drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. None of that helps panhandlers to solve their problems.”

County Executive Leggett said: “I hear a lot from County residents who are concerned about the proliferation of panhandlers at intersections throughout the County. I agree that the status quo is unacceptable. Even though panhandling is legal under the First Amendment and Maryland law, it is not a safe thing to do and giving cash to panhandlers doesn’t help.

“By texting ‘SHARE’ on your cell phone to 80077 you will contribute to grassroots efforts throughout the County to make sure people get the food, shelter, health care and help solving their problems that will make a real difference.”

The County Office of Public Information is coordinating efforts that will include messages on RideOn buses, public service announcements, signs in County facilities, email and listserve messages, a new web site, social media and other outreach designed to spread the word.

“We want to give these folks the help they need, but the way to do it is not to give them cash on the street,” said Police Chief Tom Manger. “The way to do it is to donate that money to organizations that help. Panhandling in the roadway is dangerous and causes distractions for drivers. If you want to see the panhandling issue go away, stop giving money to panhandlers.”
For more information on the initiative, go to www.montgomerycountymd.gov/panhandling.

Navarro: We Must Protect Right to Vote for All

A resolution in support of action at all levels of government to improve and protect the right to vote of citizens in Montgomery County, Washington, D.C. and across the country was unanimously approved by the Montgomery County Council on Sept. 24. Council President Nancy Navarro was the chief sponsor of the “Right to Vote” resolution and the other eight Councilmembers were co-sponsors.

The resolution calls for creation of a task force that will review and offer recommendations to improve the election processes in Montgomery County. The resolution also calls for Congress to strengthen the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Council President Navarro said the resolution “affirms the Council’s commitment to expanding participation in elections and protecting voting rights for all of our residents.”

The Council is now seeking applicants for the Right to Vote Task Force that will study state and local laws and practices that may affect the right to vote. The task force will develop plans and take action to promote early voting and same-day registration, develop plans for a comprehensive voter registration program and make recommendations for changes in state and local laws, regulations and practices.

Persons interested in serving on the committee should submit their letter of interest with a resume by 5 p.m. on Oct. 30 to Council President Nancy Navarro, Montgomery County Council, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, Md. 20850.  Letters can also be sent by email to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov

In Montgomery County, elections are administered by the Montgomery County Board of Elections according to federal, state and County laws and regulations. Voter turnout was 66 percent of registered voters in the 2012 presidential election and 51 percent of registered voters in the 2010 gubernatorial election.

The State of Maryland recently expanded early voting, resulting in at least three new early voting centers for the 2014 elections, and adopted same-day voter registration during early voting.

The County Council created the Right to Vote Task Force to ensure that the County maximizes these new opportunities to make voting easy and accessible for every citizen. The task force will consist of up to 15 members, appointed by the Council, with a staff member from the County Board of Elections serving as an ex officio member. No more than two-thirds of the members may be registered to vote in the same political party. The Council will designate a chair and vice chair. The chair and vice chair must not be from the same party.

The task force must issue an interim report by Feb. 28 and a final report with recommendations by May 31, 2014. The Task Force must also submit a report by Feb. 28, 2015 that evaluates the efficacy and implementation of its recommendations during the 2014 general election.

In an event on Sept. 23 on the steps of the Council Office Building in Rockville,  Council President Navarro was be joined by U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, Congressman Chris Van Hollen, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray, Council Vice President Craig Rice, Councilmembers Phil Andrews, Marc Elrich and Nancy Floreen, State Senator Jamie Raskin, Rockville Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio and Councilmember Bridget Newton and other community leaders.

 “With states like North Carolina and Texas rolling back voting rights and instituting draconian photo ID laws, the need for robust federal enforcement of election law is needed more than ever,” said Council President Navarro.

Hearings On Zoning Changes: Nov. 12 and 14

The County Council will hold a second public hearing on proposed changes to the County's Zoning Law starting at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 12, and continuing on Thursday, Nov. 14. The hearing will address proposed changes to the law recommended by the County’s Planning Board and by the Council's Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee. This hearing will give residents a further opportunity to comment on Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 13-04 and District Map Amendment (DMA) G-956.

Those interested in testifying at the public hearing should call 240-777-7803 by 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 11. Sign-ups will begin on Thursday, Oct. 3. Spaces are limited.

The PHED Committee, which is chaired by Nancy Floreen and includes Councilmembers Marc Elrich and George Leventhal, held worksessions every week in June and July, and on several occasions in September, on the Planning Board’s recommended Zoning Law Rewrite. The committee is expected to recommend amending many aspects of the text and map, but until it completes its worksessions, its recommendations are tentative.

The Council introduced the Planning Board’s recommendations on May 2 following years of the Planning Board’s extensive work and discussion with community groups and other stakeholders. The Council heard from more than 50 speakers at a public hearing on the Planning Board’s recommendations in January and has received extensive email and other correspondence from County residents as the committee continues to do its work.

The Zoning Law has not been comprehensively updated since 1977 and has grown to more than 1,200 pages over the last 30 years. The goal of the Rewrite is to reorganize and simplify the Zoning Code. Rewriting the code in plain language and reorganizing it into rational sections will enable residents to more easily participate in key land use decisions, and courts and agencies will have clearer rules to apply.

Although the County Charter calls for only one public hearing, Council President Nancy Navarro said it was decided to hold a second public hearing because Councilmembers recognize the significance of the proposed text and map changes. Few changes are proposed for single-family residential properties, but non-residentially zoned properties and their neighbors could be affected. ZTA 13-04 would implement the text changes to the Zoning Law, and DMA G-956 would update the zoning for each property to apply a new zone. The proposed rezoning in DMA G-956 is designed to mirror each property's current zoning as much as possible.

Residents can see the proposed Zoning Rewrite, along with the tentative changes being considered by the PHED committee, at www.zoningmontgomery.org. Residents also will find an interactive map that enables users to determine the existing and proposed zoning for every property in the County.  Clicking on a particular property will display the development standards (density, height limits and setbacks) for the existing and proposed zone.

In addition to being able to testify in person, residents can submit written testimony or comments to County Council / 100 Maryland Ave. / Rockville, Md. 20850 or comments can be emailed to all Councilmembers at county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov

Councilmember Comments - A More Vibrant Nightlife for Our County

Councilmember Hans Riemer:

As many neighborhoods evolve in Montgomery County, it has become a priority to find ways that we can build a stronger nightlife in the areas of the County that are setup to take advantage of new opportunities. I recently posted a survey to see what residents thought of this issue, and I thought it might generate substantial interest. But I was blown away by the responses: more than 2,000 residents have completed the poll!

So here are some preliminary results. While specific opinions varied, one clear theme emerged: Montgomery County residents want a more vibrant nightlife here at home.

We can do that, and we can do it responsibly.

You can see a comprehensive report on the survey results at: http://www.councilmemberriemer.org/2013/08/moco-night-life-survey-results.html

The following are some top-line findings from the results we have already gathered:

• It's not just young people who want better night-life options. Older residents, including retirees, do as well. Better dining and entertainment appeals to every generation.

• Most people say that our nightlife options are “okay” or “not that great” today.

• For young adults, a key factor in deciding where they are going to go out is accessibility to public transportation. Most of them go to the D.C.

• Another key factor for many people is whether establishments offer wide selections of beer and wine—for example craft beers or small batch spirits. Our County regulations make providing those options extremely difficult for our restaurants.

• Fewer than 10 percent of respondents say that it is a good thing that grocery stores do not sell beer and wine.

The Bottom Line: We have the ability to foster a vibrant night life here in Montgomery County, but in order to do that, we need to make some changes. The Montgomery County Night Time Economy Task Force, which I helped launch, is considering a range of recommendations, and your input is needed. Here are some of the ideas that have come up for me:

• Abolish outdated rules that create barriers to great restaurants and entertainment venues, such as liquor-food ratios.

• Significantly expand public transportation, such as the proposal before the County Council now to expand transit on our major arterials, to make our urban centers accessible at night.

• Reform the County Department of Liquor Control (DLC) so that it provides real accountability to the restaurants and entertainment venues that it serves by giving them a voice in policies and procedures.

• Change DLC rules so that restaurants that want to stock craft beers and other small batch liquor will be able to do that just as easily as they can in any other jurisdiction.

• Designate dining and entertainment districts with increased funding for walkability infrastructure, such as sidewalks and lighting

I have received a wealth of insightful comments from residents on this issue. What I have learned first of all is that everyone wants something different from our social centers. My response is that quality urban areas can provide the diverse offerings that give everyone what they are looking for.

What do you think about these ideas? Let us know by taking my survey and making sure to fill out the comment box. You can find the survey at:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1QXhv4pV7G5chkxzLLso0BkWCqveuyNw2LbII_0q0YxY/viewform
With your help, we will make Montgomery County nightlife more attractive, fun, and safe. This initiative has the potential to improve the social opportunities for current residents, attract young professionals, and ultimately, strengthen our economy. It is just that: A win, win, win. Let’s get started.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Councilmember Ervin Helps Launch County-wide Food Recovery Program

Members of the Montgomery County Council’s Food Recovery Work Group, the president of Montgomery College, the director of Public Policy for the Capital Area Food Bank, non-profit leaders, private sector partners and community advocates have joined with Montgomery County Councilmember Valerie Ervin to take the steps needed to create a food recovery program in Montgomery County. Once in operation, it is believed that the program will be the nation’s first county-wide food recovery program.

In a report that was released to the County Council on Sept. 10, the County’s Food Recovery Work Group presented a roadmap for establishing a streamlined process for collecting unused, edible food and distributing it to non-profit providers who serve the hungry.  Councilmember Ervin brought together all of the partners in a Council-appointed work group, which met for eight months to develop recommendations on how to create a food recovery program in the County. 

“We needed to hear from our non-profit providers, faith-based institutions and community advocates who deal directly with helping those in need about where the gaps are and what they needed to better serve families who are food insecure,” said Councilmember Ervin.  “My hope is that the Council, which unanimously voted to create this work group, will again join with me to implement these recommendations so we can start a streamlined distribution system to get unused food directly to those who need it most.”   

Creating a county-wide food recovery program is also an outgrowth of February’s SNAP the Silence Challenge, spearheaded by Councilmember Ervin. Participants in the challenge—including all members of the County Council and hundreds of others—agreed to live on a food budget of $25 for five days. That is the approximate average amount allotted to the nation’s neediest residents through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP was formerly known as the Food Stamp Program.

“The SNAP Challenge was truly an eye-opener for me and many of the hundreds of people who participated,” said Councilmember Ervin. “Now we are in a position to take action by moving ahead with recommendations to develop a program to help reduce hunger and help those in need and our working families.”

Some cities have food recovery programs, such as the D.C. Central Kitchen in Washington, D.C., and City Harvest in New York City. However, it is believed that Montgomery would be the first county to implement this type of program.  The Manna Food Center is Montgomery County’s main food bank and nearly every non-profit organization that deals with food insecurity issues relies on Manna to provide food for their clients. This food recovery effort would enhance existing resources for Manna and other non-profit groups in a new way.   

Food insecurity is a nationwide challenge. The Capital Area Food Bank reports that 40 percent of its clients must choose between paying for food and paying for other necessities like housing, utilities, medical care and transportation. 

In Montgomery County, the economic downturn has forced more people than ever to ask for public assistance.  In 2012, the self-sufficiency standard (the minimum income families require to achieve financial security) for a family of four in Montgomery County was approximately $82,877. One-third of students in Montgomery’s public schools qualify to receive Free and Reduced Price Meals (FARMS). 

Councilmember Ervin was motivated to start a food recovery effort in Montgomery County after she saw the work that student volunteers were doing at the University of Maryland. Students Ben Simon and Mia Zavalij created a model of food redistribution called the Food Recovery Network at the College Park campus. As of May 2012, the University of Maryland chapter had collected and distributed enough unused food to create more than 30,000 meals. Nationally, the organization has generated 135,000 meals. After helping launch food recovery programs at colleges across the United States, the organization is becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with the mission of replicating the model in other communities. 

“When I saw the amazing job the students at University of Maryland were doing, I thought, ‘Why aren’t we doing this in Montgomery County?’” said Councilmember Ervin.  “Hunger is an ever-increasing problem in our community, and many of our working families struggle to put food on the table. Since we have numerous public institutions and private sector partners who dispose of unwanted food, it seemed like a no brainer for the county to follow the lead of the students who began the food recovery movement.”

There also is an environmental component to the initiative. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2011, more than 36 million tons of food waste is generated annually in the U.S.  In Montgomery County, approximately 19 percent of the waste stream is made up of food.    

“The food recovery initiative will not only help our area non-profit organizations who fight hunger, but should also reduce the amount of food that ends up in our waste stream,” said Councilmember Ervin.  “In my mind, this initiative is a win-win as those who donate food receive tax benefits and those in need receive healthy meals.”     

For more information on how a food recovery effort works, view a clip from County Cable Montgomery about the University of Maryland Food Recovery Network at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJ1iX1KzFTA&feature=youtube