All posts by David Lublin

Council Informed about Presley’s Conspiracy Theory Filled Social Media in Advance

After the appointment by the Montgomery County Council of Amy Presley as an interim Planning Board Member, I reported here about her right-wing conspiracy theory filled Facebook posts.

Turns out that the Council was informed about them in advance through a public submission. Not only that, but Council Executive Director Marlene Michaelson wrote to a resident:

We will be checking the social media comments of those the Council chooses to interview so they will have that as background for their decisions

The Council could offer a number of rationales for appointing her. They had advanced only three non-Democrats to the interview stage and needed to appoint at least two of them on a Board of five members. It turned out one candidate lives out of town and is ineligible.

Except these excuses don’t wash. They could have appointed just three members total and still had a quorum for Board business. Alternatively, they could’ve gone back to the pool and done more interviews.

Instead, after adjourning to a private closed session, the Council appointed someone who is part of the “but her emails” crowd and gives credence to coronavirus conspiracy theories among others.

Share

New Planning Board Member Believes in Right-Wing Conspiracies

Amy Presley, a former Clarksburg activist and Planning Board Member, has now been given a “temporary” appointment in the wake of the previous Planning Board’s en masse resignation. Presley has a very interesting Facebook page that reveals she believes in many right-wing conspiracy theories.

The Council has to appoint some non-Democrats to the Board. But one still wonders that the Council couldn’t find one who was not so wedded to conspiracy theories propagated by Tucker Carlson and the other usual suspects. Here is a review of some highlights:

The Origins of the Coronavirus

Coronavirus Prevention Measures

Hillary’s Emails and Benghazi

Harriet Tubman

Michael Flynn

Presley now runs a real estate investment liquidation company and it seems likely that her decisions will represent the real estate investment perspective strongly:

Share

Raskin Supports Withdrawal of Progressive Caucus Letter on Ukraine

Rep. Jamie Raskin has been a truly outstanding representative and leader in office. In the past, he has spoken eloquently about the importance of Ukraine’s fight. So I was shocked to read that he was one of the signatories to the appalling Progressive Caucus letter on Ukraine that has now been ignominiously withdrawn.

Markos Moulitsas explained well why this disastrous letter–a gift to Putin and other enemies of freedom, democracy and Ukrainian sovereignty–was so awful:

This is beyond naive, stupid and irresponsible. Let us count the ways: 

This is Ukraine’s war with Russia. The idea that the United States can waltz in and dictate terms to a foreign country would validate every accusation that Ukraine is America’s puppet, and validate tankie claims that the United States is an imperialistic power that can dictate the world order. Very ironic, indeed, from a caucus that bills itself as committed to anti-imperialism. 

The United States and Biden, along with our European allies, engaged in a strong diplomatic effort to prevent this war from starting in the first place. A lack of Western and American diplomacy isn’t what’s keeping the war going, it’s that Russia has zero interest in anything resembling honoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity. It has literally “annexed” four Ukrainian provinces it doesn’t even occupy, along with Crimea, which it annexed back in 2014. You think Russia is going to willingly surrender territory it considers part of Russia itself? 

Russia doesn’t honor agreements anyway. See this thread for more. 

Russia would kill for a ceasefire right now. In fact, it is literally doing that as it targets civilian infrastructure. Russian troops are being pushed back in three (and maybe four) of the oblasts (provinces) it currently occupies. They are so bereft of armor, that Russia has appropriated Belarus’ old shit tanks and armored personnel carriers for itself (as well as ammunition). It is begging Iran for suicide drones, rockets, and body armor and helmets. It has mobilized around 300-500,000 Russians and is shipping them to the front lines with little or even no military training. A ceasefire would allow them to lock in current gains—gains they are losing daily—as well as train, equip, resupply, and set up better defenses. 

President Biden’s leadership on Ukraine has been one of the major achievements of his presidency. Consequently, I was greatly relieved to read Rep. Raskin’s press release on the subject which firmly repudiates the Progressive Caucus letter and restates his commitment to Ukraine. Here it is in full:

I am glad to learn of the withdrawal of the letter of October 24, 2022, which—because of its unfortunate timing and other flaws—led to the conflation of growing Republican opposition to support for Ukraine, as exemplified by recent statements of Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, with the polar-opposite position of dozens of Democrats like me who have passionately supported every package of military, strategic and economic assistance to the Ukrainian people and are determined to see the Ukrainian people win victory over Vladimir Putin and expel his imperialist forces from their country.

In the eight months since Russia began its atrocity-filled and illegal war of aggression against the people of Ukraine, the Ukrainian people have given Americans not just the chance to defend the values of national sovereignty, democracy and pluralism but also great hope for the world’s future. Had Ukrainians been quickly defeated by Putin’s army, as so many people expected, had Volodymyr Zelensky fled the country, as so many people expected, then a dangerous tyranny would have destroyed a nascent democracy, and prospects for democratic causes everywhere in the world would have darkened. Large countries would have felt emboldened to attack small countries everywhere. 

But today there is hope because of the strength of President Zelensky and the Ukrainian people, and the cause of democracy and freedom in Ukraine is the cause of the democratic world. We should unite around this just struggle and stay focused on it.

Ukraine has given the world a lesson in anti-imperialism and how to fight a just war of self-defense even amidst enormous civilian suffering. Putin has claimed, as European colonizers did for hundreds of years, that the Ukrainian state and the Ukrainian nation do not exist. This obvious lie has been his rationale for an increasingly genocidal war of destruction, the openly avowed goal of which is the destruction of the Ukrainian people as such. These last weeks and days, Russian propagandists have repeatedly appeared on television to urge the murder of Ukrainian children and violence against the Ukrainian population.

It is a bad colonial habit to suppose that ultimately peace depends upon the wishes of the great powers and the great powers alone, and even progressive and liberal people can fall into this colonialist reflex. 

Ukraine’s struggle embodies a democratic future. Its civilian and military leadership is young and diverse, representing a post-Soviet generation that has learned to treasure freedom and value democracy. Its president, who is Jewish and thus belongs to a small national minority, was elected with 73% of the population, and now has even higher levels of support, thanks to his extraordinary wartime leadership. Thousands of Ukrainian women are fighting on the front, and a woman serves as deputy minister of defense. Sexual minorities are represented within the Ukrainian armed forces. Ukrainians soldiers routinely speak two languages. Ukraine has displayed a striking degree of toleration and decency during a war.

The Ukrainians also inspire democratic forces all over the world with their example of civil society. This war is fought and won on the Ukrainian side with the help of countless civilians, organized informally into small horizontal groups, who fill the gaps in logistics. An emblematic image of this war is of the vans driven to the front by civilians to supply soldiers. Where conscripted Russians destroy Ukrainian homes, neighbors come to help. Another common image of this war is the partially repaired house: in the regions from which Russia has been forced to retreat, Ukrainians do what they can to rebuild their neighbors’ homes.

Moscow right now is a hub of corrupt tyranny, censorship, authoritarian repression, police violence, propaganda, government lies and disinformation, and planning for war crimes. It is a world center of antifeminist, antigay, anti-trans hatred, as well as the homeland of replacement theory for export. In supporting Ukraine, we are opposing these fascist views, and supporting the urgent principles of democratic pluralism. Ukraine is not perfect, of course, but its society is organized on the radically different principles of democracy and freedom, which is why Russia’s oligarchical leaders seek to destroy it forever. I am proud to have been banned from Putin’s Russia for my pro-Ukrainian legislative activism, and I look forward to visiting Ukraine.

Ukrainians provide us with an example of courage in defense of national sovereignty and democracy. They are defending their democratic right to choose their own leaders and live in freedom and peace, and they are doing so at great risk and staggering personal cost. 

Ukrainians today give the democratic world a chance for a critical and historic victory, and we must rally to their side. It is important to be on the right side of a just war, and it is even more important to be on the right side and win. Just as Ukrainian resistance gives us hope, a Ukrainian victory would give us an opening to a much better future for all humanity. All champions of democracy over autocracy—whether they call themselves progressives, conservatives or liberals—should be doing whatever we can to ensure that Ukraine wins this just war as quickly as possible. Diplomacy by the Biden administration will inevitably follow as sustained diplomacy always marks the conclusion of war—even with tyrants and despots. But first Ukraine must win—let us continue to unite as Americans and focus on that central and historic imperative.” 

Share

Failure to Thrive

Although I have spent many posts detailing the Planning Board’s and the Council’s extreme failure to conduct proper and inclusive consultation, the central problem with Thrive 2050 is that it is backward rather than forward thinking. Why is this?

Telework

Telecommuting was a trend even before COVID-19 but the pandemic has accelerated it on steroids. The 2022 Council of Governments survey of nearly 8400 employed area residents revealed that telework is way up. Since 2019, 60% have started or increased telework and 32% have shifted to full-time telework.

It is not just the number of people who telework that has skyrocketed. People who telework now go to the office much less frequently than in the past with the average number of telework days increasing from 1.2 in 2019 to 3.4 in 2022. The percentage of all workers who telework on a typical workday has jumped from 9% to 44%.

Much of this shift is permanent. The survey reveals that workers like telework and want to do it more, not less. But Thrive barely touches on the subject except to say generically that we should encourage it and that we need digital infrastructure to support it.

Will people who work from home desire more space and prioritize access to green space? Will businesses leverage increased telework by renting less commercial space? This “forward thinking” document that is supposed to guide zoning and building patterns has literally nothing to say about this major sea change in work and living patterns that is going to shape either residential or commercial preferences.

Public Transit

Thrive calls for ever more public transit but completely ignores that public transit use has plummeted. Even before the pandemic, it was down and recovery in terms of the number of people riding has remained very weak. Yet Thrive sees building more public transit (oddly referred to as “transitways”) as the future even as we are having the trouble finding money to sustain the existing Metrorail and Metrobus systems with the last round of major increases in dedicated funding proving insufficient.

Even before the pandemic Metro ridership had declined. In 2019, Metro ridership at Bethesda, Medical Center, White Flint and Silver Spring was down 14%, 13%, 16% and 13%, respectively, from the peak over ten years ago. By 2019, Ride-On bus ridership declined 21% from 2010 levels. These numbers underestimate the pre-pandemic slide as the region’s population has continued to grow muscularly so we would expect ridership to increase.

The statistics from 2022 indicate that people are not rushing back even as the world returns to a new post-pandemic new normal. Based on numbers through August, Metrorail daily boardings remain roughly two-thirds below even anemic 2019 levels.

It’s reasonable to hope that these numbers continue to improve, as many are still put off from riding due to the pandemic, but telework is here to stay. At the same time, the Council of Governments survey indicates that people who ride public transit like their commutes the least. Satisfaction rates for people who ride Metrorail have fallen to 46% from 56% in 2019. People who ride the bus are even less happy with satisfaction dropping to 44% from 62% in 2019. In contrast, people who drive are more satisfied with their commutes.

My point is not that we should abandon public transit. But for Thrive to completely ignore these fundamental changes in transportation patterns while it continues to promote options that an ever-smaller share of our population elect to use is foolhardy.

When I spoke before the pandemic with former Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson, who essentially wrote Thrive, he was well aware of the rise in telework and decline of transit. Yet Thrive gives no consideration to either. Anderson’s argument was that we need new transit to encourage developers to build even though people are riding it less and plenty of existing stations lack significant development. Yet last year, Anderson argued for subsidies to persuade developers to build this same housing near Metro.

Density Siting

Much of Thrive sensibly proposes more density near existing public transit centers to maximize our use of this heavy investment. The Council made a step in the right direction by voting to remove River Road outside the Beltway from being designated a growth corridor because it lacks public transit. Yet they also voted to keep the section inside the Beltway a growth corridor because “public transit could be built there.”

Except we could theoretically build public transit anywhere. It’s just dotty to designate an area with no planned new public transit a growth corridor when there are plenty of existing underutilized public transit centers. It contravenes every intelligent smart growth principle to promote density away from transit. The Council should continue to focus density in existing transit nodes.

Trickle-Down Affordable Housing

Thrive advocates a trickle-down economics approach to affordable housing. First, there continues to be an almost touching belief that “if we zone it, they will come” even though much land already zoned for high density development remains unbuilt. Second, if we increase the supply, the people at the lower end will automatically benefit through lower prices.

There is little evidence to support either premise. Hans Riemer expressed not too long ago that he didn’t know why there was so much opposition to Thrive because it just extended our existing policies in these areas. This candor inadvertently made clear that Thrive proposes to continue a strategy that isn’t working to produce affordable housing. Thrive increasingly refers to “missing middle” and even “attainable housing” in tacit recognition of this fact.

Even worse, Thrive actively encourages the displacement of lower income residents from already existing affordable housing. It promotes the replacement of naturally existing affordable units with higher density that will include MPDUs. Except MPDUs are “moderately priced” which is more expensive than “affordable.” And where exactly are the displaced residents supposed to go? Yet this zombie parody of social justice is trumpeted as progress.

Yes to allowing more units. But we need to protect existing affordable units even as we build more.

Bottom Line

Thrive is supposed to plan for our future. Instead, it is a backward looking document that doesn’t take into key changes that are already dramatically altering how we live. My own view is that this is the result of insider-driven overly ideological process that systematically excluded meaningful public consultation or input.

This is a pity because, with some significant modifications, Thrive would likely be on the right track and gain real public buy-in instead of remaining an illegitimate, poorly thought out document that reflects ideological fervor rather than what our future really looks like or what residents want to see in Montgomery County.

Share

And the Planning Board Nominees Are…

The Montgomery County Council has whittled down the nominees for temporary appointments to the Planning Board to eleven people:

Raj Barr‐Kuma
Cherri Branson
Francoise Carrier
Norman Dreyfuss
Barbara Goldberg Goldman
David Hill
William Kirwin
Vincent Napoleon
Roberto Pinero
Amy Presley
Jeff Zyontz

This rushed appointment process is turning into a train wreck with a number of problems already emerging:

First, showing a lack of transparency let alone interest in public input, this information was posted less than 24 hours before the interviews that are to be held tomorrow with the appointments made on Thursday. Normally, the Council must appoint a politically balanced Board but the Council has failed to provide information on the political party of applicants. The Council hasn’t posted any minutes since July, so this lack of transparency is now seemingly the rule rather than the exception.

Second, though avowedly temporary, the appointments are for indeterminate length: “Temporary, acting appointees will serve until a successor is qualified and appointed under Section 15-103 of the Regional District Act.” This could be a long time. The Council has also decided that these “temporary” appointments are immune from the county executive’s veto despite their potentially lengthy nature.

You can review the resumes submitted by the applicants below or at this link:

Share

Maya Rockeymoore Cummings Finds It Fascinating…

Former Maryland Democratic Party Chair and Congressional Candidate Maya Rockeymoore Cummings lit up Twitter earlier this week when commenting on the decisions of various social media sites to turn off Kanye West’s accounts (deplatform as the kids say) in response to his directing death threats at the Jewish community:

Many replies found this dog whistling or overt anti-Semitism:

Ross Seidman is Senior Advisor to Senate President Bill Ferguson.

Jake Weissman is the Assistant Chief Administrative Officer of Montgomery County—this is his personal account..

Numerous others replied with overt anti-Semitism:

Seidman, who had a polite exchange with Rockeymoore Cummings, asked:

Reading it in a very kind light, Rockeymoore Cummings is trying to call out as unfair that West was kicked off after these comments but not after numerous other anti-Black or anti-Black women comments. As one commenter explained:

Another commenter expressed in an anti-Semitic way a much harsher form of the same grievance:

Others had different takes on why West was finally cut off this time and not previously for the sorts of incendiary comments referenced by Rockeymoore Cummings:

Here’s the view of one commenter who tried to turn a sour debate into something more positive:

My take?

I’m offended. The form of the Tweet invites all the negative tropes about Jews controlling the media and the world. It made people feel freer to embrace and to express open anti-Semitism.

Rockeymoore Cummings is an experienced political leader. As former state party chair, I’d hope she be more focused on bringing people together. Everyone deserves respect, which I’d like to think is at the heart of what she was trying to say.

But she said it very badly.

Share

Elrich on Planning Board Resignations

The Planning Board is overseen and appointed by the County Council, though the County Executive can veto appointments and is obviously deeply involved in planning and land use processes. The following is County Executive Marc Elrich’s statement:

Statement from County Executive Marc Elrich on the Resignation of the Montgomery County Planning Board

Like many in the County, I have followed with growing concern the unfolding events at the Park and Planning Commission.  As County Executive, I have not been a participant in the conversations about the details. I think where people are implicated, a resignation is appropriate. This cannot be the end of the conversation on the dysfunction and structural issues at Planning. The Planning Board faces a deficit of trust, and continued questions about management, transparency and process must be addressed.  I stand ready to work with the Council to ensure transparency in choosing the interim members of the board and ensure that the investigations continue. 

Beyond the recent reports regarding infighting and questionable behavior and decisions, the Planning Board has also been cited with multiple violations of the Open Meetings Act. Furthermore, the problems with Thrive 2050 and equity and community input should have been recognized and dealt with instead of a push for quick adoption of this significant guide for the next 30 years of development.  As noted by one racial equity consultant hired by the Council, “compressed timeframes are the enemy of equity.”

It is clear that new people and new voices are needed on the Planning Board. Park and Planning has been run by a group of insiders for far too long. There needs to be a respectful balance of the views of developers and those of the community. I hope that the new Planning Board appointees reflect the demographics of this community and are committed to our residents, community input, and an efficient and transparent process.

Share

Planning Board Resigns

The entire Montgomery County Planning Board has resigned at the Council’s urging. Daniel Wu and Katherine Shaver over at the Post have the story. They were going to face removal proceedings if they didn’t resign.

It’s a start but more work needs to be done.

High level staffers seem way too invested in the political outcomes and agendas rather than providing separate information and insight. Senior staff also need remedial training on how to deal with harassment claims, as they clearly don’t know or abide by accepted practices.

No outgoing councilmember should be appointed to any temporary or full-term on the Board. That it got to this point was a failure of oversight, a core function of the Council, and occurred despite the Board sending up numerous flares about its dysfunction. Too many cozy relationships are part of the problem.

Instead, the Council should appoint citizens who are not professional planners but represent the community and know something about the related issues. There is entire staff of planners, so let the Board exercise informed judgement separate from them.

No doubt there will be more recriminations but I’m more interested in seeing how the Council can continue to untangle this morass that goes well beyond the Board’s self-immolation.

Share