Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Moribund economy, MCPS declining, roads jammed; MoCo Council's top priority? Vending machines!

Moribund Montgomery County is the only DC-area jurisdiction to suffer a net loss in jobs since the year 2000. The County Council's own reports show Montgomery County Public Schools in a steady decline since 2010, with a growing achievement gap and deadly gang problem. Our unfinished highway system is in utter gridlock, nearly 20 years after voters elected the laughably-named "End Gridlock" council slate. What is the very top agenda item this week for one of that slate's members, George Leventhal?

"Healthy vending machines."

You can't make this stuff up, folks! That's right, Leventhal and...surprise, surprise...Councilmember Hans Riemer will be in the 3rd Floor Conference Room of the County Council Building this morning, for a big press conference to introduce a bill to replace your Big Texas Cinnamon Roll and Mrs. Freshley's Jumbo Honey Bun with bean sprouts and kale chips. The bill will apply to all vending machines on county property, and require 65% of vending machine items to be "healthy."

If you need to kill some time around 11:45 AM, get some cheap entertainment in watching to see if even one reporter asks them how in the world vending machines could literally be their top priority at a time like this. Are you kidding me?

Slightly less than two years after touting a study showing Montgomery to be the healthiest county in Maryland, and giving himself credit for the designation, Leventhal now claims in a press release that "almost one in four children in Montgomery County is not able to maintain a healthy weight. This rate outpaces the national average. More than half of all adults in County (sic) adults (sic) are not keeping a healthy weight."

So let's get this straight, folks. Mr. Leventhal and the Council made us the healthiest county in Maryland (and probably invented the Internet along the way). That past claim of credit now requires us to blame the same County Council for our sudden, supposed two year plunge in health, that Mr. Leventhal says has left us fatter than the average American. How could they have done this to us? All the more reason to throw the bums out in 2018.

Of course, maybe it was the taxpayer-funded gift cards Leventhal's "Healthy Montgomery" organization gave out to MCPS students for sugary, liquid-candy Starbucks coffees and fat-and-sodium-laden Chipotle burritos that can partly be blamed. Perhaps the historic tax increase of May 2016 forced cash-strapped residents to turn to cheap junk food for subsistence purposes. After all, we can't all afford to shop at Whole Paycheck like Hans Riemer.
You apparently can use the hashtag #HealthyVendingMoCo to tell Big Government what you think of their legislative priorities.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Email/call delegates NOW after unusual tactic keeps MoCo Council term limit-sabotage bill alive in Annapolis

Thanks to your calls and emails, and members of a committee who recognized the voting landscape has changed in Montgomery County, House Bill 348 (which would hand the Montgomery County Council a suite of tools to subvert the term limits passed by 70% of voters last November) was temporarily dead yesterday. But in an unusual move, the full delegation failed to respect the vote of their colleagues on the Economic Development Committee, and have kept HB 348 on their voting agenda for today.

Light up their phones and inboxes, and ask them to respect the will of the voters, and KILL BILL 348 by voting NO. The meeting starts at 10:00 AM, so the time to act is NOW.

Use this list of phone numbers and emails, or the email list below (just CC everybody on one message to get the job done):


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Contact delegates TODAY to stop MoCo Council's attempt to undermine term limits

As I reported last week, a bill that would give the Montgomery County Council several tools to undermine the term limits on their time in office is under consideration in Annapolis. HB 348 would the first step toward allowing the Council to stagger its terms, with some County Council seat elections moving to presidential years. Term limits passed overwhelmingly last November with nearly 70% of voters approving them. The County Council should not disrespect the voters' wishes for new leaders, and for a four-year cooling-off period for long-stagnant members who will finally be forced out.

Potential abuses the current text of the bill would allow include extension of term-limited councilmembers' terms for an additional two years, cutting short terms of new councilmembers they'd like to get rid of by two years, allowing those forced out by term limits in 2022 to run again in 2024 before the new Council has even four years to change the county's direction, and moving seats not as favorable to the county political cartel (District 2) to presidential years, when voters are paying less attention to county-level issues.

The Montgomery County delegation's Economic Development Committee will take up, and vote on, the bill tomorrow, Thursday, February 23.

and tell them to respect the voters' clear decision on term limits, and allow the reforms voters wanted to happen play out. The voters have not asked for this bill, some on the Council have.
Ask them to vote "no" and 

Ariana Kelly, Chair - Democrat, Legislative District 16; Phone: 301-858-3642 / 410-841-3642;

Maricé Morales, Vice-Chair - Democrat, Legislative District 19; Phone: 301-858-3528 / 410-841-3528

Sheila Hixson - Democrat - Legislative District 20; Phone: 301-858-3469/410-841-3469 

Anne Kaiser - Democrat Legislative District 14; Phone: 301-858-3469/410-841-3469

Kirill Reznik - Democrat, Legislative District 39; Phone: 301-858-3039 /410-841-3039

Jeff Waldstreicher - Democrat, Legislative District 18; Phone: 301-858-3130 / 410-841-3130

Then the whole delegation will take up the bill on Friday.

(carbon-copy every Montgomery County delegate if you can) 
Tell them to VOTE NO on HB 348

for their 
contact information

Thursday, February 16, 2017

MoCo Council got an average of $2469 in free gas last year - - from you

How would you like $2469 in free fill-ups at your local gas station (assuming it isn't being torn down by the Montgomery County Council and Planning Board)? You'll have to run for the County Council to get it.

According to Arelis Hernandez of the Washington Post, Montgomery County Councilmembers averaged $2469 each in free gas in 2016, paid for by you, the taxpayer. Nice.

This is the same Council whose members, thanks to a 17.5% raise they gave themselves at your expense a few years ago, will each be paid an astonishing $136,258 this year. By you.

Free gas is just par for the course, for our corrupt County Council, who - by the way - are running a structural deficit every year, and raised your taxes to historic heights last May. It seems they're only good at numbers when they're figuring out how much money they can get out of you.

The Bell, California City Council did this, too. They're in the slammer right now. Montgomery County's Council? Still on the street, and still on the take.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Are some MoCo Councilmembers seeking an end-run around term limits? MD House bill could do it

Four Montgomery County Councilmembers will be unable to run for reelection in 2018, thanks to voters overwhelmingly approving term limits in last November's election. Councilmembers Hans Riemer, Nancy Navarro and Craig Rice can only run once more in 2018, and if they win a third term, will have to step down in 2022.

Or will they?

Montgomery County's House delegation in Annapolis has quietly introduced a bill that would stagger terms of the County Council. Some seats would be elected in gubernatorial years, and others in presidential years. Presidential year elections strongly favor incumbents and establishment candidates, which is why municipal incumbents financially-backed by developers and other special interests often press for their towns and cities to move their elections to presidential years.

Voters in presidential years are greater in number, but studies and voting results have shown they are less attuned to local politics than those who turn out in off-year elections. Those pressing for local offices to be elected in presidential years will often turn that fact on its head, and claim that invisible force fields are somehow preventing large numbers of voters from reaching the polls in off-year elections, a farcical claim. 

The fact is, people who don't care about what's going on at the county level, don't vote in off-year elections. Having more low-information voters who literally don't care about the local outcomes deciding our County elections is a terrible idea.

But put that debate aside for a moment.

This bill could be abused by a County Council and political machine still smarting from being totally repudiated by their constituents in the last election in three ways:

First, and most appallingly, the way this bill is written would leave the door open for the County Council itself to extend an American Idol-esque "save" to colleagues of their choice in 2022. Riemer, Navarro and Rice could actually vote themselves a two-year extension in office until 2024. Or would they still get the boot, and whoever runs for the seats that will be voted on in 2024 will only get a two-year term? The problem is, the bill doesn't say.

Second, the bill's language allows the Council to determine which seats would move to presidential year elections. You can be sure, for example, that the all-Democratic County Council would want upcounty District 2 to move to presidential years, as that district has a much higher percentage of Republicans than the others.

Third, County Councilmembers ousted by term limits in 2022 wouldn't have to cool off for four years before running again, as voters clearly said they should. Instead, they could try to get back on in two years.

All three of these abuses would be clear moves to subvert the will of the voters in 2016. Of course, those among the majority who voted against the ambulance fee probably wouldn't be shocked.

There is no mass support or demand from the people for a switch to staggered elections. No meaningful effort has been made by either the Council or the delegation to alert or educate the public that a major change like this is being proposed. It's a change clearly designed to favor incumbents and candidates of the political machine.

This bill should either be edited to give the Council less leeway to abuse the process, or be tabled. In the meantime, watch this effort carefully. A public hearing is scheduled in Annapolis before the Ways and Means Committee on the bill this Thursday, February 16, 2017 at 1:00 PM.

If, like most people, you will be unable to travel to Annapolis midday on a weekday, please use this contact information to tell our delegates and senators (and the members of the Ways and Means Committee) to table House Bill 348.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Victim in Montgomery Village shooting homicide identified, police locate wounded 2nd victim

Montgomery County Police have identified the male victim in Friday's fatal shooting in Montgomery Village. Wassi Harron Raheem Young, 20, of Vermont Avenue in Hyattsville was likely not a random victim, police say. Young and an unidentified 23-year-old male may have agreed to meet the shooter(s) in the 8500 block of Hawk Run Terrace, detectives believe.

Police learned of the second victim when he was admitted to an unidentified local hospital suffering from gunshot wounds. After interviewing him, detectives determined he had been shot in the same Montgomery Village incident.

Detectives say they will not divulge any additional information at this time, "due to the ongoing investigation." However, they are still seeking information from the public about this homicide. If you have any, contact the Major Crimes Division at 240-773-5070.  For those who wish to remain anonymous, Crime Solvers of Montgomery County is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for any information that leads to the arrest of the suspect(s).  Tipsters can call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County toll-free at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Montgomery Village shooting under investigation as homicide

A shooting in the 8500 block of Hawk Run Terrace in Montgomery Village yesterday that left one man dead is being investigated as a homicide by Montgomery County Police detectives. Fire and rescue and police personnel responded to the scene Friday around 2:02 PM, and found a male victim suffering from a gunshot wound in a parking lot.

The victim died at the scene as a result of his wounds, police said. No motive for the shooting is known at this time. It is unknown at this time if the incident was gang-related, but police said there is no danger to the public at large.

Detectives urge anyone who may have information to contact the Major Crimes Division at 240-773-5070. For those who wish to remain anonymous, Crime Solvers of Montgomery County is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for any information that leads to the arrest of the suspect(s). Tipsters can call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County toll-free at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

Friday, February 10, 2017

MoCo out of the game again as 150 manufacturing jobs leave MD for VA

Put another mark in the "loss" column for moribund Montgomery County. idX Corporation, an international firm that manufactures custom retail store displays for everything from mom-and-pops to big box stores, was seeking a new home for its Columbia, MD factory. The Montgomery County Council never expressed any public interest in wooing idX. Virginia did.

150 skilled manufacturing jobs are now going to leapfrog Montgomery County, and land at a shuttered General Motors plant in Fredericksburg. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe approved a $400,000 grant, and idX will invest $7.2 million. McAuliffe took a victory lap on Tuesday, celebrating as "we welcome another impressive international manufacturing company to our corporate roster.”

Rubbing extra salt in the wound, is that the factory is located next door to a hip craft brewery, ritzy Fredericksburg Country Club, and a vibrant residential neighborhood. Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett laments that we are becoming a "bedroom community," forcing our residents to commute to job centers elsewhere. At the same moment, Spotsylvania County Administrator Mark B. Taylor is praising the arrival of "150 skilled jobs. Good local jobs like these are opportunities for some of our talented Spotsylvania workforce to reduce their commutes – and that’s good for their families, and good for our community.” 


Just to dwell on the complete humiliation of our impotent Montgomery County Council for a moment longer, think about what a bomb Councilmember Hans Riemer's failed "nighttime economy" initiative was, with 9 night clubs shuttering after just a few years of his "leadership." One of the only two 24-hour restaurants closed, and businesses cut back late-night hours. Attempts to attract a craft brewery to downtown Bethesda stalled, and Riemer and his political-operative-turned-$150K-County-employee ran 96% of food trucks out of the county or out-of-business altogether.
New neighbors - 150 skilled
jobs are moving from MD to
11032 Tidewater Trail, which is
next to a hip craft brewery
Now look next door to this Fredericksburg factory, at what Maltese Brewing Company is doing there. Their brewery and beer garden are open to the public, and there are events like comedy shows, Ugly Sweater Christmas parties and breakfasts. And...a regular roster of food trucks. Yesterday, you could have been enjoying their new Coffee Brown and English IPA on a warm afternoon in the beer garden. You can be sure idX employees will appreciate this nearby amenity, as skilled workers pump spending money into local businesses.

The Council could have come up with a bold vision for the future of the River Road industrial area during the rewrite of the Westbard sector plan, to maximize corporate office space, research facilities and skilled manufacturing for aerospace and tech firms. They didn't, instead voting unanimously for a series of boxes filled with over 3000 new residents, whose cars will hit River Road each morning to reach their jobs elsewhere.

In addition to a superior business climate, with lower taxes and fewer regulations, the Spotsylvania County site is also located near major highways, including I-95. The seller touted "excellent interstate highway connectivity in all directions." Meanwhile, the Montgomery County Council defiantly refuses to finish our master plan highway system, and is trying to reduce speed limits to jam traffic even more.

The 77.10 acre Frederickburg site also has its own rail spur that connects to the CSX railroad for shipping purposes. This is something we could offer to private space and aerospace manufacturers at the current Montgomery County Fairgrounds site, but you can bet our current elected officials will try to make that land residential instead when it is sold in the future. In fact, the only use the Council has made of land along the CSX mainline to Chicago so far is a plant that turns trash into energy. Which was on fire for about a month recently, as I recall. Nice. But, hey, pretty appropriate when you have a County Council that's the equivalent of a dumpster fire.

Montgomery County was the only DC-area jurisdiction to suffer a net loss of private sector jobs since 2000, including the loss of over 2000 retail jobs. While our elected officials continue a super-low-energy style of "leadership," lurching from one reactionary and tardy response to failure (like our 911 system and Flower Branch apartments explosion, government failures that directly caused 9 of their constitutents to die) to another, jurisdictions around us are moving forward.

“Spotsylvania County is an ideal location for a growing business, which idX’s decision reaffirms,” VA Senator Ryan T. McDougle said Tuesday. Why isn't Montgomery County? Throw the bums out.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

MoCo traffic jams worsening, new study shows (Photos)

Typical morning rush
conditions on southbound
I-270 this morning: RED
You know traffic is getting worse when even a Montgomery County government report admits it is. While traffic and intersection tests utilized by Montgomery County planners are notoriously and laughably skewed to make things appear better than they are, the latest one finds drivers are crawling even more slowly than they were six years ago. The Montgomery County Planning Department's 2017 Mobility Assessment Staff Report shows you are moving, on average, 4 MPH slower around the county than you were in 2011. "Unexpected delays and peak congestion are increasing," the report says.

These results - and remember, the real conditions are even worse than they can appear under the lax tests applied for this study, and traffic has slowed much more than 4 MPH on many routes; 4 MPH is the average reduction in speed countywide - clearly indicate that our elected officials' current transit-only strategy has been a failure.

In fact, the study found that Ride On bus ridership has declined 7% since 2010, and Metro ridership within Montgomery County declined 3% over that same period. Metrobus is the lone bright spot. Ridership of Metrobus has increased "just under eleven percent" since 2010. That may be partially because of people fleeing Metro along the major corridors where Metrobus dominates, but certainly positive news in an otherwise bleak period for transit.
What happens when the
Montgomery County Council
approves massive development
in Clarksburg and Damascus,
but doesn't build the
M-83 Highway and
Damascus Bypass
Interestingly, just as planning commissioners and County Councilmembers are saying jamming the maximum development downcounty as possible (and we're not talking about transit-oriented smart growth, but transit deserts like Westbard) is a great idea, the report found that traffic jams have increased the most...downcounty. Oops.

So, let's get this straight: Transit use is clearly trending downward. Cars are moving slower than they were before "smart growth." We were promised exactly the opposite would happen by these same county officials. It didn't.

Amazingly, the Planning Board and County Council just approved the addition of over 3000 people to the Westbard sector plan area along River Road. Yet this latest study shows that the intersection of River Road and Western Avenue is number 3 on the top 10 bottlenecks in Montgomery County! And they've said they have no plans to increase capacity on River Road. This is planning malpractice of the highest order. Criminally, the report does not give a congestion map for River Road between the Beltway and Western - was that because it would show a red line? You betcha.
The County Council has
designated this completely
jammed segment of
Connecticut Avenue as a place
where...thousands more
automobile commuters should
be added!

Check out the red-lined severe congestion during the evening rush on Connecticut Avenue through Chevy Chase Lake - where the County Council recently approved thousands of new housing units. This is unbelievable. What are these people smoking?
Will it be better in
the morning? Uh, no
The Level 5 [traffic]storm
known as MD 355
northbound in

Are we ready for
thousands more cars
in downtown Bethesda
in the morning? Nope

"Kill me now"
- George Costanza

Considering how much growth is coming to the MD 355 (Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Avenue corridor) in the next decade, it should be a red flag that four of the top ten bottlenecks in the county are along that corridor. The others are New Hampshire Avenue, Connecticut Avenue and Georgia Avenue. We can now see the impact of never completing the Northwest Freeway, North Central Freeway and Northern Parkway, as those were supposed to take through-traffic off of those north-south commuter routes.
Aspen Hill is moving
much more slowly;
the top purple number is 2017 speed,
the bottom green is 2011

What happens when you don't
build the Rockville Freeway, Part I

What happens when you don't
build the Rockville Freeway, Part II
(and delay Montrose Parkway East)

Heavy traffic jams shown on Randolph Road and Norbeck Road, as well as sizable decreases in travel speed since 2011 along those east-west corridors, show the impact of failing to build the Rockville Freeway and Montrose Parkway East along the Rockville Facility right-of-way.

In short, we are being led by very stupid people.

None of this is to say we cannot have growth and greater density near Metro stations in our urban areas. What it is saying is that our elected officials have failed to provide the infrastructure necessary to handle that growth. And it is forcing us, as voters, to ask ourselves how much longer we'll allow these clowns to get away with it.