Friday, May 15, 2015

Montgomery County-funded health initiative to reward students with sugary Starbucks drinks

Healthy Montgomery, a Montgomery County Government initiative co-chaired by County Council President George Leventhal (D-At-Large) and largely funded by taxpayers, was chartered to "improve the health and well-being of Montgomery County residents." Among its primary stated goals are the reduction of diabetes and obesity.

So you might be surprised to find that Healthy Montgomery plans to reward county students with gift cards for sugary, fat-filled drinks at Starbucks.

County high school students are invited to a Healthy Montgomery-sponsored "community conversation" at Suburban Hospital on May 21, to "discuss what they think about health and the quality of life in Montgomery County." For attending, the event announcement says, the students will be rewarded with a free "$5 Starbucks drink card". They'll also get a Chipotle gift card.

The most popular Starbucks drinks are loaded with sugar, and are often high in fat, as well. Many have more grams of sugar than the often-demonized 12 oz. Coca-Cola. They certainly exceed the recommended daily intake of sugar.

Chipotle isn't exactly health food, either. The average order at Chipotle comes in at around 1,070 calories, 75% of the recommended daily intake of saturated fat, and a whopping nearly-2,400 milligrams of sodium.

This is not only hypocrisy at taxpayer expense, but absurd when one considers Council President Leventhal's longstanding crusade against fast food restaurants in the county.

In 2008, Leventhal was quoted as saying, "school policies should support parents, and not let junk-food marketers go around parents’ backs directly to young children." Yet, the Healthy Montgomery initiative he co-chairs is literally going around parents' backs, and delivering Starbucks and Chipotle marketing and food "directly to young children." "It’s incredible, the extent to which our kids are subjected to [fast food] advertising," Leventhal told an audience of students and parents in 2007.

Sure, you can absolutely order healthy food and drinks at Starbucks and Chipotle. But you can at McDonald's and Wendy's, as well. Leventhal memorably took a publicity stunt trip to Wendy's, remarking on the nutritional content of the Baconator. He didn't mention that Wendy's also offers a line of salads and baked potatoes that are far healthier than the average Starbucks or Chipotle order.

The county just added new taxes on electronic cigarettes and Airbnb. And as Bill Turque writes in the Washington Post, the just-approved County budget increases spending by about $90 million, and your property tax bill "will tick upward slightly." A new property tax increase is being floated for next year's budget. And a majority of the Council voted to keep the Energy Tax the same, despite having promised to eliminate the massive increase it passed in 2010 in 2012. They lied to taxpayers. Period.

It's amazing that residents will be paying more and new taxes, under a new county budget that is bigger than last year's, and yet there is somehow money left for escapades such as this.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

2-alarm Kentlands fire sends 5 firefighters to hospital (Photos)

A fire in the Kentlands caused some scary moments for firefighters, as a section of the burning home's roof collapsed while they fought the heavy, 2-alarm blaze. Five firefighters were sent to local hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries, and no burns, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue spokesperson Pete Piringer said. The ambulance trips were primarily as a precaution, he said, to give them a full evaluation.

Firefighters arrived on the scene early this morning to find heavy fire at the 2-story home on Leekes Lot Way. The home's occupant managed to escape, Piringer said. A firefighter mayday was called during the battle when the roof portion collapsed, but all personnel were accounted for, he reported.

Piringer cited the chimney as the source of the fire, and that spread to the wood-shingled roof, attic and second floor. He noted that firefighters utilized master stream devices in tackling this fire.

Damage is estimated at $800,000.
Photos by Pete Piringer @mcfrsPIO on Twitter

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Celebrate Damascus Parade 2015 set for July 10

The 14th annual Celebrate Damascus Parade has been scheduled for Friday, July 10 at 7:00, in the town of Damascus. Expect to see fire and rescue vehicles from the Damascus Volunteer Fire Department and surrounding jurisdiction, vintage cars and big trucks, and a variety of local businesses and community organizations in the parade.

An impressive fireworks display (I've been there before) will follow at the DVFD Activities Building on Lewis Drive, where there will also be food and entertainment. The parade will follow Ridge Road from Damascus High School, and then turn left onto Lewis. You can set up chairs along the route.

This year's theme is World of Disney.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

MoCo Councilmembers to county hospitals: Stop using pesticides

George Leventhal
The Montgomery County Council has yet to pass a controversial bill that would limit the use of many common pesticides on lawns, athletic fields and public green spaces in the county. But Councilmembers Roger Berliner (D-District 1) and George Leventhal (D-At-Large) are twisting the arms of hospitals in the county, asking them to cease using pesticides now. The councilmen sent executives of those hospitals a letter Monday.
Roger Berliner
“We are writing today to ask that hospitals in our County assume a leading role in increasing awareness of the health concerns regarding pesticides by voluntarily agreeing to eliminate their use on hospital grounds,” wrote Councilmembers Leventhal and Berliner. “As you know, in 2013, Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park ceased using insecticides or herbicides in advance of the Takoma Park City Council passing its ordinance restricting pesticide use. We believe it is time for every hospital to take a similar stance.” 

According to County Council spokesperson Neil Greenburger, the recipients of the letter were Terry Forde, the President and CEO of Adventist Healthcare; Gene Green, President of Suburban Hospital; Peter Monge, President of MedStar Montgomery Medical Center; Kevin Sexton, President and CEO of Holy Cross Health; and Kurt Newman, President of Children’s National Health System. 

Leventhal is currently President of the Council, Chairman of the Council's Health and Human Services Committee, and is the lead sponsor of the pesticide bill.

Here is the complete text of the letter:

May 11, 2015 

As you may be aware, the Montgomery County Council is currently considering a range of measures that would, if adopted, significantly reduce the use of pesticides in our County. This effort is driven in large part by concerns that have been raised by the medical community about the potential negative impacts of exposure to pesticides on human health. 

There are strong signals from leading medical professionals that there is a fundamental need to reduce the amount of pesticides to which individuals are exposed. In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics found that 

“Children encounter pesticides daily and have unique susceptibilities to their potential toxicity. Acute poisoning risks are clear, and understanding of chronic health implications from both acute and chronic exposure are emerging. Epidemiologic evidence demonstrates associations between early life exposure to pesticides and pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function and behavioral problems.” 

Earlier this year, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that glyphosate, a commonly used pesticide, was “probably carcinogenic.” 

We are writing today to ask that hospitals in our County assume a leading role in increasing awareness of the health concerns regarding pesticides by voluntarily agreeing to eliminate their use on hospital grounds. As you know, in 2013, Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park ceased using insecticides or herbicides in advance of the Takoma Park City Council passing its ordinance restricting pesticide use. We believe it is time for every hospital to take a similar stance. 

Regardless of how broader questions about pesticide regulation are resolved by our Council, your taking this step would help to reduce pesticide exposure for some of our most vulnerable residents, and more broadly, would increase awareness in our community as to its potential harmful effects. 

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your response. 

Photo of Leventhal: Robert Dyer @ Bethesda Row
Photo of Berliner courtesy of County Council website

Monday, May 11, 2015

Gaithersburg house fire causes over $15,000 in damage (Photo)

Improperly-discarded smoking materials caused a rear deck in Gaithersburg to catch fire Sunday, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue spokesperson Pete Piringer said. The fire began to spread from the deck before MCFRS personnel extinguished it, and the damage is estimated at over $15,000.

No one was injured in the blaze on Hidden Field Drive, but firefighters did replace 2 smoke detectors in the home.

Photo by Pete Piringer

Friday, May 8, 2015

Public forum on controversial MoCo Independent Transit Authority proposal set for June 17

The Montgomery County Transit Task Force has set a public forum on the controversial proposal to create an unelected taxing authority that could raise unlimited taxes on residents to fund Bus Rapid Transit and other projects. Residents and union leaders overwhelmingly rejected the idea at a raucous public hearing earlier this year. Yet County Executive Ike Leggett is bringing the Independent Transit Authority (ITA) proposal for another swing, via his Transit Task Force.

That task force is holding meetings to discuss the new taxing authority in Rockville amongst themselves. But there will be a "Public Forum" on the unpopular proposal on June 17, from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM, in the 3rd floor Hearing Room of the County Council office building at 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville. In the meeting agenda posted online, it says the topics will be the ITA's organization, transfer of functions from existing county agencies (a major point of contention for UFCW Local 400/MCGEO Union President Gino Renne), and - most important to you, the taxpayer - the financial and fiscal implications of the new taxing authority. Questions the task force wants your feedback on will be provided to the public via the Transit Task Force website prior to the forum. However, just what the ability of the public to speak at the forum will be is not specified. Is it a public hearing with a 3 minute speaking time? Or is it a forum where the public will simply be spoken to?

It must be noted that, like the BRT hearing 3 years ago, this forum is being held in the summer. Parents no doubt know that this June 17 meeting will come just after the end of the Montgomery County Public School year. That means many will be leaving for their first summer vacation, which will certainly hold down attendance.

That's probably not an accident. You'd schedule a forum for summer, too, if you were trying to ram through an unelected body that can be handpicked by the County Executive.

An unelected body that can exceed all existing caps and restrictions on tax increases (in fact, the task force is going to be discussing on June 3 the "merits of empowering [the] County to exceed Charter limitations in several respects"). Not the negatives, of course!

Keep in mind that this is the same task force that suggested you should pay a new, 15% property tax increase to fund the BRT system that will primarily benefit real estate developers. You would pay, not the developers, and this was a countywide tax proposal. Do the math.

It's also the same task force whose chairman Mark Winston - as I reported two years ago - could directly benefit financially from the creation of the ITA and a BRT system. Winston, leading the effort to "get you out of your car," memorably admitted "it has been a while" since he rode a bus himself. Something he has in common with the "pro-transit" County Council and Planning Board, as well.

Remember also that this unelected ITA, as described in the legislation the task force is discussing, would not have to show its budget to any elected official. To quote the actual legislation, the ITA would not be required "to submit its capital or its operating budget to the County for approval."

Incredible. Unelected and unaccountable.

Don't forget that the proposal also allows the ITA to take on unlimited debt. It also allows the County Council and Executive to transfer unlimited amounts of debt to the ITA - and then the ITA could use its literally unlimited taxing power to make you pay those unlimited amounts. Unreal.

The ITA would also have unlimited power to seize private property, and sell it at a sweetheart price to developers who contribute to the elected official who appointed them. It would have the power to carry out the demolition of homes and businesses, and not have to answer to the outrage of the landowners at the ballot box.

And speaking of ballots - the legislation would include a provision that would make it impossible for you, the citizens, to put a referendum on the ballot to bring the ITA taxing power under any control or limitation.

This proposal was thoroughly rejected by the citizens and county employees - yet here it comes again, as they do what they do best in the MoCo political machine: ram it through.

Save the date.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Lab error led to hazmat situation at NIST in Gaithersburg

I have some additional details on Tuesday's hazmat incident at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg. The specific hazardous material was a combination of nitric acid and methanol often used in the etching of metals, Jennifer Huergo, NIST's Director of Media Relations said.

A researcher working with the substance stored it at room temperature without the venting necessary, Huergo said. Realizing the error, the researcher informed a supervisor, who called NIST's emergency response team. Ultimately, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue hazmat crews were brought in, and a bomb squad robot was utilized to stabilize the situation.

An examination of a similar chemical combination manufactured by Anachemia Chemicals suggests some of the potential concerns and hazards involved. It describes the material as potentially "toxic by inhalation," "severely corrosive to the skin," and says to "use with adequate ventilation."

Its vapor can cause flash fires, according to the Anachemia document, and requires firefighters to use carbon dioxide, chemical powder or foam to extinguish, rather than water.

No injuries were reported in relation to the incident.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

New dessert menu at Cafe Deluxe (Photos)

Try the new dessert menu at Cafe Deluxe at RIO/Washingtonian Center in Gaithersburg, which features a new semisweet chocolate bread pudding with caramel sauce, a gigantic new chocolate cake, a warm skillet cookie with ice cream, and this 5-star Brownie Ice Cream Sandwich I tried over the weekend.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Update: Hazmat situation at NIST in Gaithersburg

Updated at 5:10 PM:

Montgomery County Fire and Rescue personnel assisted in the response to a hazmat incident at the National Institute of Standards in Gaithersburg this morning.

The as-yet-unspecified hazardous material was reportedly confined to a laboratory area. That particular building was evacuated as a precaution, MCFRS spokesperson Pete Piringer said.

MCFRS hazmat crews consulted with NIST's own fire chief and personnel on the situation. Ultimately, a county bomb squad robot was brought in to contain and secure the unidentified substance.

As of this update, NIST itself has only described the material as a "contained chemical hazard."

Hopefully we will find out at some point just what the hazardous material is, and what happened in there. I will update this as soon as that information is available.
Photos by Pete Piringer

Monday, May 4, 2015

Pedestrian struck in Germantown Sunday

Montgomery County Police detectives from the Collision Reconstruction Unit are investigating an accident that left a Germantown pedestrian in critical condition last night. Officers and fire/EMS personnel responded to a crash around 10:07 PM Sunday near the intersection of MD 355 and Gunners Branch Road. They found an unconscious adult male in the northbound lanes of 355. He was transported to a local trauma center for treatment.

According to police, the 37-year-old pedestrian had allegedly been struck by a 2000 Chrysler Town and Country minivan, driven by James Kellogg McHenry of Montgomery Village. The driver remained on the scene and cooperated with police in the investigation. He has not been charged in the incident.

Anyone with information regarding this collision is asked to contact the Collision Reconstruction Unit at 240.773.6620.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Wormald City Home Collection Grand Opening Saturday at Crown (Photos)

Developer Wormald's collection of City Homes will celebrate the Grand Opening of the completed Georgetown model home tomorrow, May 2 - and you're invited.

From 1:00-4:00 PM Saturday, stop by the open house at the corner of Strummer Lane and Steinbeck Avenue in the Crown development in Gaithersburg. There is easy access to Crown from I-270 - just take the Sam Eig exit west to Fields Road, make a left, and then turn right into Crown by the Harris Teeter. Or follow Wormald's online directions and map.

In addition to taking the grand tour, and previewing all of the options and finishes to choose from, you'll also enjoy the sounds of classical guitarist Rich Barry, and catering by the renowned Ridgewells of Bethesda.

I toured the home myself this morning, and I think you will be impressed. Stay tuned for more about the Wormald homes at Crown, and more news from Downtown Crown.
Here's a shot from one of
two terraces you get with this
Georgetown model...

...just to show you how close you
are to all of the restaurants and
shopping in Downtown Crown
at this home