Friday, July 31, 2009

Note to Newsletter Editors

Maybe you got my e-newsletter today. (If not, you can subscribe online.) Some people have asked me if they can use the material from my newsletter in their own civic association or HOA newsletters. The answer is yes. I provide this information to help residents find what they need and participate in the legislative process, so feel free to use it.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Protect Yourself From Lyme Disease

Spring and summer bring warm temperatures, just right for walking in the woods and other outdoor activities. This can mean the risk of tick bites and Lyme disease. In fact, Montgomery County saw more than 300 new cases of Lyme disease in 2007, and if attendance at a recent meeting on the subject is any indication, County residents take the risks seriously. Fortunately, when Lyme disease is detected early, it is usually mild and easily treatable.

You should see a doctor if you experience the symptoms of Lyme disease, including headache, fever, muscle and joint aches and general fatigue. In particular, look for the circular or oblong rash at the site of the bite. Up to 90 percent of people bitten by infected ticks develop a rash, which can grow from two to three inches in diameter to as much as 20 inches. As it gets bigger, the center of the rash clears giving it a bull's eye appearance. If left untreated, Lyme disease can affect the joints, nervous system or heart.

To prevent Lyme disease, avoid contact with blacklegged ticks (formerly called deer ticks) which carry the bacteria and can pass it to humans by a bite. Lyme disease can be transmitted at any stage of the tick's life cycle, even during the larva and nymph stages when ticks can be smaller than a pinhead.

To learn more about preventing Lyme disease, including the best way to remove a tick, visit the County's Health and Human Services Web site.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Some Recovery but Unemployment Still on the Rise

In an update on economic indicators this morning, we got a mixed bag. For example, the number of home sales in Montgomery County has increased in 2009, especially in recent months, but average sales prices have decreased. Both trends are expected to continue into 2010.

Consistent with national numbers, unemployment in the County has continued to increase, reaching an all-time high of 5.7 percent in June of this year. Prior to 2009, Montgomery County saw its highest rate of unemployment in 1992 when the rate was 3.6 percent.

While we’re optimistic about some of the indicators, such as the declining amount of time homes are on the market, employment remains a huge challenge. Because the unemployment rate is a lagging indicator in terms of an economic recovery, it may not improve significantly over the next calendar year.

Although our unemployment rate remains well below the national average, I continue to put jobs at the top of my list of priorities right now. Do you have any good ideas for creating and maintaining jobs in the County? I’d love to hear them. To learn more about the economic indicators, see today’s Council background packet.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My Son Tweets His Novel

I was proud to see my son, Matt, on today talking about his novel, The French Revolution. This Bastille Day, Matt began publishing his book 140 characters at a time on Twitter. Take a look, and better yet, read the book.

Marye Wells-Harley Appointed

With yesterday’s vote, Marye Wells-Harley became the first African-American woman on the County’s Planning Board. Being from Silver Spring, Marye also brings geographic diversity to the board, and I think this perspective will be a valuable addition. (Now there is a majority of women on the Board, as it was when I was appointed in 1986.)

After working for 42 years for the Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission—the last six as the director of parks and recreation in Prince George’s County—Marye now will join the 5-member Board which serves as the Montgomery County Council’s principal adviser on land use and community planning.

Marye has committed to making sure the County is accessible and affordable, and I look forward to working with her on these objectives. Congratulations, Marye.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Corridor Cities Transitway on Tuesday Agenda

On Tuesday, the Council will consider a recommendation that I believe is the best bet to maximize transit usage and reduce congestion along the I-270 corridor.

The Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee, which I chair, recommended Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) for the Corridor Cities Transitway. This option offers a much higher level of service and convenience than a standard bus, and it provides the best flexibility to serve residential neighborhoods.

The alignment we chose for the transitway provides service to the highest-demand areas between the Shady Grove Metro Station and Clarksburg, including the Crown Farm area (which also serves the popular Rio commercial center) and the Kentlands (which includes the growing MedImmune campus). We also recommended a stop to serve Johns Hopkins’ proposed biotechnology center at the Belward Farm. We’re aware that the Council may approve higher densities in the upcoming Gaithersburg West Master Plan, so we reserved the right to revisit the light rail option if the new plan warrants it.

For the I-270 portion of the two-pronged plan, we’re supporting the option that adds two electronic toll lanes in each direction. I don’t like adding pavement any more than you do, but I’m convinced the juice is worth the squeeze in this case, especially since much of the land needed is within the existing I-270 right-of-way, and this, they tell us, is the best way to maximize transit and reduce congestion in the corridor up to Frederick.

The new lanes will be operated as High Occupancy/Toll (HOT) lanes, which are HOV lanes (allowing buses, carpools and vanpools to drive at the speed limit even during congested times) that also allow lower occupancy vehicles to use the lanes if they pay a toll. The experts tell us this is the best option to provide the most congestion relief with the least disruption to the people who live near the highway.

This is only the first step in coming to regional and state agreement on locally preferred alternatives both for the CCT and the I-270 project that will then go to the feds for review and, we hope, funding in the next year.

I have long believed that providing the appropriate transportation infrastructure is one of the government’s most basic jobs. That means supporting our growing biotechnology industry, the emerging Germantown Employment Corridor and the ongoing build-out of Clarksburg. Our proximity to the nation’s capital affords us vast opportunities, and we need to have the infrastructure in place to make the most of them. I feel confident we’ve chosen a good mix of highway and transit improvements to meet our goals.

For more details, see the press release, and remember to tune in to the Council session on Tuesday.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

On the Wrong Page

Perhaps you saw me on one of our local news programs Sunday night when stories ran with photographs of a Ride On bus driver apparently reading a book while driving. Such poor judgment is not only distressing but also a clear violation of County policy. I’m following up to make sure this individual situation is addressed appropriately, and in the meantime, I remain confident that our bus drivers as a whole perform safely and professionally.

Council Agrees to Purchase Land in Burtonsville

Today, we as a full council approved the purchase of 52.9 acres of land as an addition to the Fairland Recreational Park. The Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee, of which I’m a member, had recommended this purchase (see my July 2 post). The parcel contains old growth forest more than 100 years old, as well as wetlands and bogs that will serve as a buffer for the nearby ICC. As I’ve said before, I think this is the best use of the money we received from the State as reimbursement of land used for the ICC, and I’m glad we were unanimous in this decision.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Progress on Climate Protection

Since the Sustainability Working Group released its Climate Protection Plan in January, we’ve seen some good progress, particularly in the area of clean energy. The Council directed the formation of the SWG as a way to help the County with our pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. With 58 recommendations in the plan, we still have plenty of work to do, but while our G-8 leaders discuss climate change issues internationally, here are some good things we have going on right here, right now:

  • Home Energy Loan Program (HELP)—Homeowners can voluntarily obtain a home energy audit and then take the results of the audit to the County, which will provide a zero-interest loan to make improvements. The County is currently working on developing the regulations.
  • Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants—The County will receive approximately $7.6 million from the federal government through these block grants. While a final determination regarding its use will hinge on federal approval, a significant percentage will be allocated to greenhouse gas reduction actions listed in the Climate Protection Plan.
  • Maryland Clean Energy Center—The County will host the center’s headquarters. The center will provide a coordinated approach to building a strong, clean energy economy in Maryland through technology commercialization, business incubation and workforce development and training.
  • Biogas Feasibility Study—WSSC’s FY10-15 Approved Capital Improvements Program includes $345,000 for a feasibility study to develop a comprehensive program for the engineering, design and construction of sustainable energy equipment and systems to produce biogas at the Seneca and Piscataway Wastewater Treatment Plants.
  • Programmable Thermostats—The County was selected for a $70,000 grant award from the Maryland Energy Administration for the distribution of programmable thermostats.
  • Bikeway Improvements—The Department of Transportation has completed 10 bike route sign plans ready for installation; distributed 1,000 bike safety lights and bike safety brochures to encourage increased usage of bicycles; and purchased 15 bicycle racks which can be installed in the public rights-of-way upon request.

The SWG will take up its work again at the end of the summer, and I look forward to continued progress. Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Germantown Sector Plan Schedule and Background Info

If you are following the discussion of the Germantown Sector Plan, here's the schedule and background information. We'll finish our committee work sessions today, and then the full Council will take up the plan.

Germantown Sector Plan schedule:

June 22, 2 p.m.--Committee Work Session, COB, 3rd Floor Conference Room
June 29, 2 p.m.--Committee Work Session, COB, 3rd Floor Conference Room

July 7, 1:30 p.m.--Committee Work Session, COB, 7th Floor Hearing Room
July 21, time TBD--Council Work Session, COB, 3rd Floor Hearing Room
July 28, time TBD--Council Work Session, COB, 3rd Floor Hearing Room
Sept 15, time TBD--Council Action, COB, 3rd Floor Hearing Room

*The schedule can change rapidly, so always check the agenda for the most up-to-date information.

Background information:

Draft Master Plan

Montgomery County Planning Board's Germantown Sector Plan Website

Planning Board’s July 28, 2008 Public Hearing

Council Staff June 15, 2009 Memo

Council Staff June 22, 2009 Memo - Continued from June 15, 2009

Council Staff June 22, 2009 Memo - Transportation Elements

Council Staff July 7, 2009 Memo

Council Staff July 7, 2009 Memo - Transportation Elements Follow Up

Monday, July 6, 2009

Four Master Plans Coming Up

After a bit of a hiatus from master plan revisions, we now have four of them lined up for approval. Master plans serve as vision statements for our communities’ growth over the next 30 years, and they include zoning recommendations, future transportation plans, parks and green space. We revise them about every 20 years or as circumstances change, although we sometimes review smaller areas called sector plans more frequently. We take our master plans very seriously here, and we use them as a guide for all of our land use decision-making.

Once approved by the Planning Board, a plan goes to the Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee (PHED) and then on to the full Council. We’re currently considering the Germantown Sector Plan and expect to complete it this month. For the Gaithersburg West Master Plan, we’ll hold a public hearing on September 15, followed by PHED work sessions through October and Council action in December. Then we’ll take up the White Flint Sector Plan with a public hearing on November 6, PHED work sessions through January and final action in February. Finally, we’ll look at the Kensington Sector Plan with a public hearing in January, PHED work sessions in February and action in March. To get Council agendas by e-mail visit e-Subscription.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Park Expansion to Provide ICC Relief

I’m delighted that today my committee (the Council’s Planning Housing and Economic Development Committee) agreed that we should purchase 53 acres of land to expand the Fairland Recreational Park. We’ll pay for it with money the County received from the State as reimbursement for land used in construction of the Intercounty Connector. I can think of no better place to invest this money than in replacement parkland in the communities that are bearing the greatest impact of the highway project. The property being purchased lies just 1.5 miles north of the ICC, so this type of environmental mitigation is right on target.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Planning Staff's Recommendations on the CCT

Last week, planning staff at the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission recommended bus rapid transit for the Corridor Cities Transitway. Such a system would be designed to move transit vehicles past traffic congestion on dedicated lanes between Shady Grove and Clarksburg.

Following recommendations rolled out in the draft Gaithersburg West Master Plan, planners have endorsed a route for the CCT that follows a long-established alignment from the Metro station through Gaithersburg, Middlebrook and Germantown on its way to Clarksburg. However, planners recommend a change to the previously planned route through the Life Sciences Center near Gaithersburg. The recommended alternative will cost around $450 million, and the transitway will carry up to 27,000 people daily by 2030.

The staff recommendations now go to the Planning Board. You can have your say by testifying at the public hearing or submitting written testimony to the Planning Board.

My committee, the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee, will take up the Planning Board’s recommendation on July 13. Once the full Council has looked at the my committee’s recommendations we will forward our formal position to the state.

These are important decisions that will affect the entire county and the Upcounty in particular, so please let me know what you think.

Celebrating the Fourth of July

I hope to see you this weekend as I make my way across the county celebrating the Fourth of July. I’ll be at Leisure World on Friday. Then I’ll visit Takoma Park, Wood Acres, Somerset and Friendship Heights on Saturday. If you’re going to be at any of these places, save me a hotdog, and I’ll introduce you to my daughter Rebecca, and my dog Lady.