All posts by David Lublin

Council President Navarro Responds

Good to see that even after time away from Seventh State that I can still touch a nerve with powerful officials. Today. I am pleased to present Council President Nancy Navarro’s response to yesterday’s post on how the “Council Drive for Budget Equity Hit the Budget Rocks.” I hope to have mine up on Monday.

The Seventh State’s May 30 post by David Lublin, “Council Equity Drive Hits the Budget Rocks,” incorrectly describes where the County Council is, in creating a Racial Equity and Social Justice Policy for Montgomery County. We do not yet have a policy. In 2018, I spearheaded Resolution 18-1095 that was adopted unanimously by the Council to start the process of the policy, which we plan to adopt later in the fall, after community input.

The post also leaves the reader with the erroneous impression that by not fully funding the salary increases originally negotiated by County Executive Elrich with MCGEO that we are somehow not committed to racial equity. Actually, the Council did approve generous raises for all our employees (approximately 6 percent)—that achieve parity among all our negotiating groups and that are sustainable for our county. Most MCGEO employees will receive salary increases of between 5.75 to 6.75 percent. Racial equity and social justice are urgent moral and socio-economic endeavors for our community and county leaders, however, to tie the Council’s approved raises of about 6 percent for each employee, to racial inequities and social injustice, as Mr. Lublin does, is a baffling stretch.

In fact, beyond the raises, the fiscal year 2020 operating budget makes several investments needed to assist our more than one million residents and focuses on initiatives and programs that will help to dismantle inequities. Some examples of these priorities, many of which I championed, include: fully funding the Board of Education’s request; adding $3.1 million to Montgomery College’s budget to provide $314.7 million for higher education; providing $84.1 million for Head Start and pre-k programs; earmarking $7 million in resources for the Early Care and Education Initiative, which I initiated; providing $327.8 million for the Department of Health and Human Services; earmarking $65.2 million for the Housing Initiative Fund; providing an additional $1 million to make Kids Ride Free an all-day service, as recommended by Councilmember Glass; and increasing Recreation Department programs that serve youngsters after school. We were able to make these strategic investments, while also providing our outstanding county government employees with substantial salary increases.

Finally, Mr. Lublin makes the following observation. “The increases are well above growth in our relatively stagnant tax revenues. Few county residents have received extra pay increases to make up for anemic wage growth during the economic crisis. I know I didn’t.” The Council agrees with him; that is why we adopted affordable but fair raises for our employees. Achieving racial equity and social justice in Montgomery County is a monumental task that demands access to opportunities for all residents. I encourage Mr. Lublin to engage with us in this process. I can assure him that I do not need to tout how “woke” I am. As the only Latina ever elected to the Montgomery County Council and the lone woman currently serving among eight men as president, I along with a significant percentage of our County residents, live it every day.

Share

Council Equity Drive Hits the Budget Rocks

The Montgomery County Council has repeatedly focused on racial and gender equity. Supported by the entire Council, Councilmember Nancy Navarro sponsored legislation that requires a racial equity analysis of each piece of legislation. Councilmember Evan Glass sponsored successful legislation this year that bans consideration of salary history in an effort to promote pay equity between male and female county employees.

While these primarily symbolic acts passed easily, the Council flinched from much more meaningful action when it passed the budget this year.

County unions negotiated some stonking good raises with County Executive Marc Elrich this year. Analyses by Adam Pagnucco understandably focused on the politics of the raises for unions that supported Elrich. It’s certainly true that the unions supported Elrich, but the nature of the way that Montgomery negotiates union contracts propelled these raises forward and also merits attention.

Montgomery negotiated first with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and reached agreement without mediation or arbitration. The Firefighters union (IAFF) went next. These negotiations ended up in arbitration, as required by the contract when the two sides cannot agree. The arbitrator mandated generous raises for IAFF employees, which the county executive was contractually obliged to support during the budget process.

The unions aren’t supposed to talk to each other about these negotiations, but what do you think the chances are that doesn’t happen? As a result, there was no way MCGEO, the county employee union, was going to settle for any less. One imagines that the county executive was ill-positioned to talk them down, knowing the results from the previous arbitration (and knowing that MCGEO also knew even though they theoretically did not).

The County Council understandably viewed these raises as budget busters. The increases are well above growth in our relatively stagnant tax revenues. Few county residents have received extra pay increases to make up for anemic wage growth during the economic crisis. I know I didn’t.

The Council chose to sharply reduce the pay increase projected for MCGEO, the county employee unions, which on top of a COLA and step increase had included an additional 3.5% for a step increase that got deferred during the economic crisis. The police union (FOP) received the same deferred step increase, but the council left it untouched.

While MCGEO members have received no deferred step increases, the other county unions have been much more fortunate. Not just FOP and IAFF employees but also MCEA employees (the teachers’ union) have now received two apiece due the actions of this and past councils.

Unlike the membership of the IAFF or FOP, MCGEO is the only union of the three that is both majority female and majority minority. In cutting salaries for MCGEO, the County Council directly eliminated spending that would have done far more to promote racial and gender equity than the more symbolic legislation sponsored by Navarro and Glass.

From budgetary and policy perspectives, the Council choices made sense. The MCGEO raise had the biggest impact on the budget because they represent far more people than FOP and IAFF. Moreover, police and fire protection are core services. My guess is that most county residents would rather see firefighters and police officers receive pay increases than, say, county liquor store employees represented by MCGEO.

It was the right decision. Indeed, one could easily argue that the Council should have cut more from all of the union pay raises because tax revenues have regularly disappointed with the county seemingly facing budgets shortfalls with the predictability of humidity in August.

MCGEO remains an easier target than the sacred cows of education (MCEA) and first responders (FOP and IAFF). However, along with Department of Liquor Control (DLC) employees, MCGEO also represent people like prison guards, sheriffs, social workers, librarians, and snow plow drivers. Many engage in dangerous and difficult work.

Perhaps county councilmembers should spend less time touting how woke they are in the future. When it came to spending hard cash, the Council blinked and reduced the negotiated salaries of the predominantly female and minority union even as it once again protected pay increases for the other two unions. Reality bites.

Share

Speaker Michael Busch Died Earlier Today

The Baltimore Sun has the story on this sad news. Here is Senate President Mike Miller’s statement:

My heart is broken for Mike Busch’s family, the State of Maryland, and the Speaker’s extended family – elected officials and staff that he has been a mentor and coach to over his time in public service. Mike has been a friend for years, and has led the state to new heights of environmentalism and education, while ensuring that a new generation of leaders move our state forward. He was a true model of a State Delegate; he cared for every corner of the state, but never forgot about the people he was elected to represent. I will miss him as a friend and partner in state government and I join all the state in mourning his passing.

Share

Guys Like Del. Jalisi Don’t Belong in Public Office

Del. Mary Ann Listanti (D-Harford) has been roundly and rightly called out for using a horrible racist slur ever since Ovetta Wiggins’s reporting over at the Washington Post brought it to public attention. Many of her colleagues, party officials, and activists have called for her resignation.

Bizarrely, however, the General Assembly has appeared far more tolerant of Del. Jay Jalisi’s (D-Baltimore County) repeatedly harmful actions in his public and private life as opposed to Lisanti’s hurtful words. Recall that Wiggins also reported that Del. Jay Jalisi’s daughter successfully applied for a protective order in 2015:

According to court documents, Jalisi’s daughter, 18-year-old Alizay Jalisi, applied for the protective order after her father allegedly slapped her late last month during an argument, the Associated Press reported. He was not criminally charged in the case, and Jalisi has denied the allegations.

“I just chose to be the parent and end the dispute with my child and save my family from more trauma,” Jalisi said in a text Monday night. “There was no finding of guilt by the court. And I am sure everything would be normalized within my family soon since the media spotlight would not be on us after today.”

Personally, I don’t believe Del. Jalisi’s denial, as no one, least of all someone in public office, would willingly accede to a protective order due to a domestic violence claim if it had not occurred. Even if the judge didn’t find him legally “guilty,” there was sufficient evidence to grant the order. As an elected official and a physician, Del. Jalisi also certainly had the agency and the ability to fight the allegations. (In an unusual career path, Del. Jalisi has now left medicine to become a real estate investor.)

The only consequence for Jalisi in the General Assembly was a transfer of committee assignments. Now, the Ethics Committee reports that Del. Jalisi has been abusing his staff and cheating them out of pay that they earned for years and has flouted past committee judgements. His atrocious behavior began soon after he was sworn into the House in 2015:

According to sworn testimony and contemporaneous emails, Delegate Jalisi instructed an aide to work approximately 100 hours of overtime, but refused to approve timesheets reflecting those hours. Delegate Jalisi also refused to allow the aide to leave work when the Maryland General Assembly was on liberal leave status and all bill hearings had been canceled due to inclement weather

According to sworn testimony, Delegate Jalisi’s behavior toward his 2015 legislative staff was “unpredictable” and often “volatile.” Delegate Jalisi treated his staff as “truant” if they left to go to the restroom or to get lunch, and required his staff to keep daily logs of their work and justify to him how the tasks listed on their logs met their job requirements. Delegate Jalisi belittled his staff and accused them of failing to complete their tasks.

Once again, Del. Jalisi denied everything despite a wealth of testimony, evidence and contemporary written accounts of his behavior. Del. Jalisi was similarly “bullying,” “abusive” and “belligerent” in 2016, 2017, 2018, and now in 2019. State troopers were called in during one incident at the Clerk’s office. People in an adjoining office filed a complaint after overhearing his loud abuse of staff. Unacceptable behavior is not a one-off for Del. Jalisi.

The General Assembly reacted very slowly to Del. Jalisi’s repeat offenses:

  • In 2015, the Ethics Committee sent him an admonishing letter stating that his behavior “reflected poorly” on the General Assembly.
  • The Speaker and Majority Whip spoke to him about the complaint and further bad behavior in 2016.
  • In 2017, the Speaker and the Majority Whip “counseled” Del. Jalisi in March and again in October about his improper treatment of staff in both the Human Resources and Clerk’s offices.
  • The Ethics Committee recommended in 2018 that Del. Jalisi not be allowed to have staff starting in 2019 if he did not complete anger management training. The committee essentially reiterated its recommendation when another incident occurred.

Del. Jalisi didn’t complete anger management training by the start of the 2019 session. According to the Ethics Committee report, he nonetheless hired staff and then later falsely promised that his company would pay the staffer when it became clear that the General Assembly would not.

The Ethics Committee recommendations are now stronger, recommending a reprimand by the full House of Delegates and that Del. Jalisi lose committee assignments as well as staff if he doesn’t completely anger management by the start of the 2020 session.

This is too little, too late. Del. Jalisi should resign.

Since Angry Delegate seems unlikely to pursue that course, he should be immediately removed from committees and prohibited from participating in any House activities beyond casting his vote, including county delegation and Democratic Caucus meetings. This should continue until he shows a stronger commitment beyond one anger management course towards mending his ways and should include restitution in some form to the many people he has abused in public office.

The people of Baltimore County and the citizens of Maryland deserve better. Though I laud its recent report, the Ethics Committee also needs to examine why it did not take action with meaningful consequences until the fourth year of Del. Jalisi’s unacceptable pattern of bullying and abuse.

Share

Improving the Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) Bill

Councilmember Hans Riemer’s proposal to greatly ease restrictions on accessory dwelling units (ADUs) has a lot of flaws, as I have detailed in previous posts. The presentation of inaccurate information also undermines confidence that it has been well thought out. The county’s very poor enforcement of existing housing law further reduces trust. Moreover, recent legislation designed to promote ADU construction is just now going into effect.

Fortunately, two easy fixes to Hans’s proposal can assure that it will better accomplish his stated goals of increasing smart-growth oriented affordable housing and minimize any negative effects on the county finances and residents.

Fix #1: Locate ADUs Near Transit

The county wants to promote transit-oriented growth so let’s limit ADUs to within a three-quarters mile radius of Metro, MARC, and future Purple Line stations. As one can rarely walk directly in a straight line to transit from a single-family neighborhood, a three-quarter mile radius is really greater in terms of travel distance and provides a very generous zone. (This would include my Metro-walkable single-family neighborhood.)

The bus network is also largely oriented towards these nodes, so people living in these areas will have maximal public transit access. Transit accessibility will also likely reduce the share of ADU residents who have cars, or at least a second car. This simple fix will assure that we continue to promote growth where smart growthers claim to want it—away from car dependent neighborhoods.

Fix #2: Reduce, Rather than Increase, ADU Size

Hans’s zoning text amendment (ZTA) proposes to allow ADUs larger than the current 1200 square foot maximum up to the one-half of the size of main home. This is a disastrous idea as it encourages the construction of larger, and therefore less affordable units. It also incentivizes the construction of bigger homes, which also runs counter to the idea of smart growth.

While Hans has repeatedly spoken about his ZTA in terms of promoting “cottages” and as part of the “tiny house movement,” the legislation runs directly counter to this idea. According to The Tiny Life, a publication promoting tiny homes, tiny homes have a maximum of 400 square feet, and the average tiny home has just 186 square feet.

At 1200 square feet, Montgomery’s current limit is already three times the maximum size for a tiny home and over six times the average tiny home size. (Scouring the web, the most generous maximum for a tiny home was 600 but this was on a builders’ website and is still only one-half of what the county already permits.)

Instead of increasing the size limit and encouraging the construction of less affordable ADUs, we should be reducing it to 750 square feet. This smaller size would assure that new ADUs would be truly fit within the affordable, smaller home ideal, instead of large second homes or apartments out of the range of people struggling to find housing.

Additionally, it will minimize any negative impacts on neighborhoods and the county. Smaller homes mean it’s less likely that schools will face as substantial an additional burden as if we amp up the home size instead. Fewer people also usually means fewer cars. Existing units larger than 750 square feet would be grandfathered.

The smaller size also reduces any additional hardscape, especially important since the chance of the county adopting more meaningful storm water control standards is about nil. Smaller homes cut down the added burden on existing aging infrastructure not to mention on dumping water into neighboring basements.

Bottom Line: Make this an Affordable Housing Bill

These changes to Hans’s ZTA would turn it from a bill that undermines affordable housing by incentivizing big into one that would encourage the building of smaller, more affordable units in transit-accessible areas. It would retain the proposed elimination on the construction of an ADU in close proximity to another one, allowing for substantially more construction in zones near transit.

As bill proponents claim loudly that they are promoting small development and favor smart growth, adopting these amendments to gather community support ought to be easy. A special exception process could be included to accommodate unusual circumstances that require more space or location away from transit. But any such process should require real scrutiny and difficulty in order to keep the focus on affordable.

The bottom line is that adopting these changes would turn the bill into one truly focused on transit-oriented affordable housing and a genuine win for Hans. On the other hand, if self-proclaimed proponents of affordable housing continue to argue for larger rather than smaller units, it will reveal plainly that they are simply interested in promoting development rather than affordable and that this is really an effort to undermine recently adopted zoning codes and Master Plans.

Share

Just Say No to E-Cig Lobbyists

Late last month, I received the following note from Raymond Glendening, the CEO of Scarlet Oak Strategies lobbying firm:

I hope you’re well.  I wanted to reach out for an idea for Seventh State.  As you likely know, the e-cig industry is currently being regulated by the FDA and there is looming regulations coming out of Annapolis (21 bill) and Baltimore City (flavor ban).

We are reaching out to see if you have interest in interviewing the vaping industry’s national spokesperson, David Pasch, on one of your talk shows.

We want to help balance the coverage, as there is considerable evidence that vaping products and e-cigarettes are among the most useful tools to help adult smokers’ quit traditional cigarettes, as noted in this recent study by the New England Journal of Medicine.

This new tax would make it harder for adults to gain access to these life changing products which are not only 95% safer than combustible cigarettes, they have been proven nearly twice as effective as other nicotine replacement products – like patches and gum – at helping adults quit smoking.

David Pasch, a spokesperson for Voices for Vaping, is available to further discuss the impact this tax would have, especially for adults seeking alternatives to smoking. David previously served in a senior communications role at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, as a Communications Director in the House of Representatives, and for various non-profit organizations active in the healthcare and public health space. 

Maryland became one of the first states to ban smoking in indoor workplaces in the country under the leadership of the then-Gov. Parris Glendening, Raymond’s father. While e-cigs may help smokers quit, they have also proven to be quite the gateway drug for teenagers, who are more likely to take up smoking if they used e-cigs. Of course, there is nothing healthy about e-cigs, which contain nicotine and formaldehyde among other noxious chemicals.

Trump Cheerleader David Pasch is one heck of a choice of a representative for this industry, as Politico reported:

David Pasch, who ran HHS’ digital communications until this month, regularly parked his car — with “FAKENWS” vanity license plates — outside agency headquarters.

This Trump hack ought who went from HHS to advocating for the tobacco industrial complex ought to be a real hit on State Circle. Of course, it helps to have the son of a former Democratic governor paving the way

Share

Riemer Admits ADU Error and Responds

Even if a reply on twitter isn’t quite the same as a publicly-funded email blast, this is the first time I’ve seen Hans correct the record, so that’s a positive step. Except the inaccurate 133 number has been bandied about and propagated a lot, including by Hans at his own forum on ADUs, if memory serves, and without correction by either Casey Anderson or Lisa Govoni from Planning at the meeting.

Additionally, Hans continues to underestimate the number of ADUs. As Andy Harney points out, the number on the county website arbitrarily excludes many ADUs given a different classification but that are ADUs. While 473 is over 3.5 times the figure given by Hans, the 1268 identified by Harney is over 9.5 times Hans’s inaccurate numbers.

I don’t why Hans ended up inadvertently using incredibly outdated information – there were far more than 133 ADUs even in 2012. But the existence of nearly 10 times more ADUs than he claims exists would seem to be an important difference to many, though reasonable people can disagree on this as on so many issues.

Moreover, I have had both detractors and supporters of ADUs point out that the count excludes many illegal or unregistered ADUs. As a result, the legal ADU count greatly underestimates the number of ADUs in reality. The unknown true number is well off from Hans’s erroneous representation.

ADU supporters hope that Hans’s legislation will make it easier to legalize illegal units. While perhaps so in some cases, I’d hope that units that, say, don’t meet the fire code would not be legalized. Either way, the presence of many illegal units reinforces the truth of claims regarding the total inability or unwillingness of the County to enforce its laws.

Share

Riemer Massively Understated Number of Existing ADUs

In his effort to push forward his zoning text amendment on accessory dwelling units (ADUs) that would radically alter building conditions and Master Plans throughout single-family neighborhoods, Councilmember Riemer has lamented the lack of existing ADUs, claiming that only 133 exist throughout Montgomery County.

Except that figure is completely false. It greatly understates the number of existing ADUs by a factor of at least 3.5 and probably more. The information showing it’s untrue is readily available on Montgomery County websites. Indeed, memos provided to the Council in the past directly contradict the claims made by Hans in his publicly funded communications.

The county’s own website says that there are 473 existing ADUs – over three times more than advertised by Hans Riemer and other advocates of his ZTA.

Look at the teeny-tiny print on the bottom left for the total count

A look at requests for ADU approvals under existing rules reveals 257 applications in recent years with only a small minority withdrawn or denied. The number of applications refutes Hans’s claim that virtually no one can legally build them under existing rules in Montgomery County. And this is before rules adopted just a few years ago to make it easier to build them have gone into effect and had a chance to have an impact.

In devastating follow-up testimony sent to Council President Nancy Navarro, Andy Leon Harney, explained in more detail that even these higher figures sorely underestimate the number of existing legal ADUs:

The figure often quoted that there are only 133 ADUs for a county of 1 million is simply false. In 2012, when the Council was considering ZTA 12-11, the Board of Appeals, which approved special exception accessory apartments said that between 1983 and 2012, they had approved 605 accessory apartments. Mr. Zyontz in memos to the Council at the time (10/8/12 p. 7 and 10/22/12 page 10) reported there were either 413 or 431 (probably a typo). At the same time, there were also 698 Residential Living Units—that is rent free accessory apartments approved for use by a relative, elderly parent or caregiver which are still legal and over time may well have been converted to rental units.  That would mean there were at least 1,111 ADUs plus guest houses which are no longer allowed but were grandfathered in with the passage of ZTA 12-11. The 133 number so often quoted is not accurate, and in fact there are 157 ADUs that have been approved since 2012, making the total ADUs closer to 1268, with others in the pipeline. If the Council is data driven, these facts should matter. If the Council allows itself to be persuade by an inaccurate number of “only 133 ADUs in a County of 1 million”, they are being misled.

Andy Harney is the Village Manager of Chevy Chase Section 3.

As I’ve previously explained, Hans’s legislation is deeply flawed for a number of reasons. In a post later this week, I hope to present a couple of easy amendments that would shift the focus back to the creation of smart-growth affordable housing and virtually eliminate most of the likely harms stemming from the misguided approach in the proposed ZTA.

Share

Progressive Legislation on Cell-Phone Towers a Casualty of Lisanti’s Fall?

Del. Mary Ann Lisanti’s (D-Harford) pariah status within the House of Delegates may have the important side effect of aiding cell-phone company efforts to get a favored bill passed.

Expansion of 5G networks requires small cell phone towers going into neighborhoods. Del. Dereck Davis (D-Prince George’s), the Chair of the Economic Matter Committee, has sponsored the bill favored by business. Lisanti, who also served on Economic Matters until losing her committee assignments, sponsored the more progressive and neighborhood-oriented bill.

One key difference between the bills is that Davis’s would preempt all local laws, while Lisanti’s would grandfather in all existing local laws on the installation of small wireless facilities. Another important difference is that Davis’s bill bans the collection of any fees from wireless providers, but the competing legislation would allow collection of a surcharge of up to 1% of revenues in order to provide wireless to underserved areas around the State.

Prior to Lisanti’s censorship by the House for use of a hateful racial epithet, her bill was gaining more traction than Davis’s. While Davis’s bill has no cosponsors, Lisanti’s has 17 with seven sitting on the Economic Matters Committee. While Lisanti’s bill did not have a public majority of the committee yet, her bill presented an unusually strong challenge to the one favored by the Chair.

Unless another delegate is willing to take up the lead in fighting for the bill, including facing off against a powerful committee chair, Dereck’s more conservative legislation may prevail thanks to Lisanti’s exclusion. Davis and the cell-phone industry look to notch up a victory as the neighborhood-oriented legislation is collateral damage to Lisanti’s fall.

Share

Update from Reader on Illegal AirBnB

A reader has also been curious about the illegal AirBnB that I profiled yesterday and contacted the Montgomery County office of the Maryland Department of Assessment and Taxation asking that the property be reclassified as commercial. (Note: this is a state, not a county office.) Here is the reply they received:

We have researched and found that the property is zoned R-60 for residential use and does not have any type of special use agreement with the Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services, Zoning and Site Plan Division .  Therefore we will not reclassify the account as commercial property.  Our records also show that the property is not owner occupied, so there is no further action to be taken by the State of Maryland. 

The owner doesn’t live there but continues to run a commercial youth hostel out of the house. The lack of commercial classification on the property seems woefully unfair to hotels engaged in the same business–renting out spaces in non-owner occupied structures. It is also quite different from an owner renting out a room or two in their own home, as AirBnB was originally conceived and presented.

In any case, it has been over a year since a county resident made a complaint about this illegal ADU and it’s still going strong. The use is not remotely consistent with the zoning code.

Share