Tag Archives: Purple Line

Political Awards 2020

By Adam Pagnucco.

It’s that time: here are the political awards for 2020, the year that was!

Politician of the Year: Governor Larry Hogan

There is really no other choice. Because of the unique demands of the COVID-19 crisis, it’s possible that no Governor of Maryland has wielded more power than Hogan did in 2020 since the colonial era. Local governments, employers and residents all over the state have had to react to his many executive orders. He has had successes, such as Maryland’s relatively low COVID case rate compared to the rest of the country, and he has had failures, such as the flawed test kits from South Korea. Above all, he has been incredibly consequential – far more than any other political figure in the state – and that is enough for this award.

Debacle of the Year: The Purple Line

Again, there is no other choice. The Purple Line’s public-private partnership (P3) was supposed to protect taxpayers from liability, but its collapse will cost us $250 million that would otherwise be available for other transportation projects. The state is promising to complete the project, which will someday generate real benefits for the Washington region, but no one knows its completion date or its ultimate cost. With another P3 pending for the Beltway/I-270 project, the Hogan administration owes it to Marylanders to report on lessons learned from the Purple Line so that its mistakes are not repeated.

Runners Up
Two powerful officials – Hogan Chief of Staff Roy McGrath and MoCo Chief Administrative Officer Andrew Kleine – lost their jobs due to scandal. The McGrath story may not be over.

Worst Move of the Year: Robin Ficker’s Question B

Ficker thought he could get MoCo voters to approve a draconian tax cap that would handcuff county government forever. Instead, not only did voters reject his idea, but they approved a competing ballot amendment (more below) that will actually generate more revenue for the county over time.

Runners Up
MoCo Republicans badly wanted the nine council district charter amendment to pass but they wound up helping to defeat it because of their prominent embrace of it in the toxic year of Trump. Talbot County officials insisted on keeping a confederate statue at their courthouse, a long-term loser for the county.

Best Move of the Year (Tie): Andrew Friedson’s Question A and Evan Glass’s Question C

Former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel once said, “Never allow a good crisis to go to waste.” Council Members Andrew Friedson and Evan Glass sure didn’t, drafting competing ballot questions against Ficker’s anti-tax charter amendment and another amendment providing for an all-district council structure. The result of the passage of Friedson’s Question A and Glass’s Question C is a more rational, liberalized property tax structure and a larger county council to service a larger population.

Runner Up
Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski Jr. issued an executive order capping third party food delivery app fees at 15%, preventing excessive fees ranging as high as 30%. The order also bans them from reducing driver compensation and tips to comply with the fee cap.

Missing in Action Award: Almost Everyone Planning or Thinking of a Run for Governor

Comptroller Peter Franchot is the only declared candidate for governor. He has a war chest, a statewide profile and a consulting firm. Right now, he has no competition. As Roger Waters would say, is there anybody out there?

Big Deal of the Year: Moratorium Repeal

The county council repealed the county’s illogical housing moratorium policy, which did not accomplish its intended purpose (alleviating school crowding) but did prevent housing construction in the face of MoCo’s affordable housing shortage. Housing construction still has challenges – including financing problems stemming in part from slow job growth – but the council was right to junk moratoriums that did no good and made housing problems worse.

Just Because She’s Great Award: Delegate Anne Kaiser

She never asks for attention or takes credit for anything. But Delegate Anne Kaiser is everything you could want in an elected leader: smart, practical, savvy, mentors younger politicians and plays the long game. Best of all, she’s a down to Earth person who doesn’t let success go to her head. She’s a worthy successor to the great Sheila Hixson as chair of Ways and Means. Long may she serve.

MoCo Feud of the Year: JOF vs Stephen Austin

In one corner: political newcomer Stephen Austin, running for school board on a platform of opposing MCPS’s boundary analysis. In the other corner: former school board member Jill Ortman-Fouse (universally known as “JOF”), leader of a movement favoring boundary studies in the interest of equity. This was never going to be a great relationship, but this feud set a record for most screenshots in a MoCo political dispute. Here’s to more in the new year!

Runner Up
County Executive Marc Elrich vs Governor Larry Hogan. This one runs hot and cold but it flared big-time when Hogan stopped MoCo from instituting a blanket shutdown of private schools. These two can’t stand each other so expect more this year.

Media Outlet of the Year: Baltimore Brew

If you’re not reading Baltimore Brew, you need to start doing it right now! No city scandal can hide from the Brew’s hustling, dirt-digging journalists, whether it’s document shredding, scams, SLAPP suits, politician tax liens, travel expenses, or other questionable activities. Baltimore Brew is a must-read and a true gem of Maryland journalism.

Game Changer Award: Len Foxwell

For more than a decade, the Franchot-Foxwell partnership roiled Annapolis, grabbed headlines and marched steadily towards Government House. Now Foxwell is a free agent and available for hire as a communications, public relations and political strategist. Few people combine knowledge of politics, policy, press and all things Maryland like Len. Having him on the market is a game changer, especially for anyone who hires him.

County Employee of the Year: Inspector General Megan Davey Limarzi

Limarzi is MoCo’s dynamite inspector general, whose reports on mischief in county government regularly rock Rockville. Two especially notable reports revealed an “overtime scam” in the fire department and overpayment of COVID emergency pay in at least one county department. In Fiscal Year 2020, complaints to the inspector general increased 92%, suggesting confidence in her work. Count me as her biggest fan!

Runners Up

Like Calvin and Hobbes, Travis Gayles (the county’s health officer) and Earl Stoddard (the county’s emergency management director) come as a pair. Both of them have played critical roles in responding to COVID. Gayles is a happy warrior who shrugs off criticism and is indefatigable in his job. Stoddard is a stand-up guy who earned a lot of respect in taking responsibility for the county’s grant management issues. Given the nature of their jobs, Gayles and Stoddard are not always loved, but they deserve credit for taking the heat and carrying on when so many other health officials are leaving around the country.

Quote of the Year: “Hope is Not a Fiscal Strategy”

Council Member Andrew Friedson has said this so many times that his colleagues (and executive branch officials) are probably sick of hearing it. But it’s true: the county has been praying since the summer for a federal bailout that has yet to arrive while the day of reckoning is near. We could have done better.

Gaffe of the Year: “Can I Say the Council is Fact Proof?”

Here is an instance in which County Executive Marc Elrich’s snarky sense of humor was not appreciated by the county council in this hot mic moment. Can we get more hot mics please?

Survivor of the Year: Linda Lamone

After numerous glitches in the primary election, state elections administrator Linda Lamone looked like she might finally be run out of Annapolis. But she outlasted calls for her resignation and the general election went better, so she remains in her job. Given her many problems and a string of bad audits, Lamone isn’t just a survivor of the year – she is THE survivor of the last twenty years. State leaders need to restructure the accountability of her position after she finally retires.

Departure of the Year: Bob Dorfman

We’re not fans of the county liquor monopoly here at Seventh State, but former monopoly director Bob Dorfman was a capable manager who tamed some of its worst problems. Depending on who succeeds him, the county could really miss him.

Most Ignored Story of the Year: Public Information Act Suspension

The Elrich administration’s indefinite suspension of public information act deadlines is the single biggest setback for open government in MoCo that I have seen in almost 15 years of writing. And yet to my knowledge, not a single politician said anything about it publicly and not a single D.C. area press outlet has followed up. I’m not surprised by the politicians. But I am surprised by how meekly the press surrendered to the suspension of one of the greatest tools of investigative reporting available – the public information act. To quote Roger Waters again, is there anybody out there?

That’s all for 2020, folks!

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Purple Line Transit Partners Announces Timeline for New Contractor

By Adam Pagnucco.

Purple Line Transit Partners (PLTP), the consortium partnering with the state to build the Purple Line, has announced a timeline for selecting a new design-build contractor to complete the project. The previous contractor left the project in November. PLTP’s press release is reprinted below.

*****

For Immediate Release
January 8, 2021

Contact: John Undeland
Purple Line Transit Partners

Purple Line Transit Partners Takes First Step in Procuring a New Design-Build Contractor

Riverdale, MD – In collaboration with the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) Maryland Transit Administration (MTA), Purple Line Transit Partners (PLTP) today took the first step in engaging a new design-build contractor to complete the project. PLTP shared a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) with a host of highly qualified contractors that had previously expressed interest in being considered for the work.

As per the settlement agreement approved by the Board of Public Works on December 16, PLTP is responsible for procuring the replacement contractor. During the weeks since the terms of the settlement were agreed to, PLTP and MTA have been working closely to prepare the RFQ.

“Today marks the start of a sprint to bring on a new contractor, enabling us to swiftly resume full-scale construction and deliver the Purple Line to the people of Maryland as soon as possible,” said Jane Garvey, Chairman of PLTP. “We again thank Governor Hogan, Secretary Slater, Administrator Quinn and our MTA Purple Line counterparts for helping us get to this milestone and for their participation in the rapid-paced process going forward.”

“A great deal of progress has been made on the Purple Line since the Board of Public Works approved the settlement agreement three weeks ago,” said MDOT Secretary Greg Slater. “We have an in-depth construction plan in place during this interim period, and today’s solicitation for qualified, experienced design-build firms represents another positive step in advancing this important project to completion. Every step and investment that we make during this interim period is designed to create value on the rebid.”

The following are the key milestones in the procurement process. After reaching terms with the selected contractor, PLTP anticipates a rapid mobilization and full-scale construction to resume as quickly as possible:

Purple Line Transit Partners is headquartered in Riverdale Maryland and holds the Public-Private Partnership Agreement (P3 Agreement) with MDOT MTA to design, build, finance, and operate the Purple Line Light Rail Project. PLTP is comprised of majority partner Meridiam and Star America. Meridiam is a leading equity investor, developer, asset manager, and long-term partner with $8 billion of assets under management and over eighty P3 projects in U.S., Canada, Europe, and Africa. Star America, a subsidiary of Tikehau Capital, is a U.S.-headquartered developer and manager of infrastructure assets in North America with investments in projects that have a total asset value of more than $5 billion as of September 30, 2020.

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How Mike Miller Helped Save the Purple Line

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Purple Line is the subject of much drama today, but the truth is that the project has always been wrapped in drama and almost died several times. Indeed, it could have met its end back in 2013. The fact that it survived was a near miracle, and that is in part because of one critical person: retiring Senator Mike Miller. For the first time ever, here is the untold story of how Mike Miller helped save the Purple Line.

As the summer of 2013 approached, the Purple Line was facing a critical deadline: the state had to show the federal government that it could afford its share of the rail line’s cost to be eligible for nearly a billion dollars in federal funding. The problem was that the state didn’t have the money. Depleted by revenue declines during the Great Recession, the state’s transportation trust fund was broke. Without new money, we could never show the federal government that we could meet our part of the cost. Baltimore’s Red Line had the same problem. With no adequate state funding, the feds were bound to send their money to other projects around the country. Both the Purple Line and the Red Line would then die.

A group of advocates then put together a coalition called Get Maryland Moving to lobby for new transportation revenues. Our members included smart growth groups, environmentalists, business organizations and local governments from all over the state. We had a website, social media, press hits, lobbying, day-to-day coordination and all the accoutrements of a mass campaign, all thrown together in a few weeks. We wanted the Purple Line and the Red Line, but we understood that the rest of the state needed their projects too. Our approach was to get enough money for everyone because that was the only way new funding would pass.

Right off the bat, my contacts in the General Assembly told me that a transportation revenue increase was dead on arrival. The legislature had passed a variety of tax increases in the 2007 special session, leading to GOP gains in the House of Delegates in the following election. Nevertheless, the Democrats raised the income tax in 2012. Developer Larry Hogan, who had served in the administration of GOP Governor Bob Ehrlich, had founded Change Maryland largely on the tax issue and was a year and a half away from becoming governor. Democratic state legislators conceded privately that more transportation money was necessary, especially for the Red Line and the Purple Line, but they were extremely reluctant to raise taxes again.

We were underdogs but we had two aces in the hole.

Senate President Mike Miller

Miller seemed like an unlikely ally for MoCo as he had masterminded both an income tax increase and a teacher pension shift the year before, both of which disproportionately crushed the county. But Miller was an absolute warrior on the issue of transportation funding. He knew that the entire state had massive infrastructure needs that had no chance of getting built without more money. Ever since the state’s last gas tax hike in 1992, Miller had never stopped talking about transportation funding. As far back as 1997, Miller told the Baltimore Sun: “The money for these projects doesn’t come out of the sky… It’s going to take a tax increase. It’s a bad word, but it’s got to happen.” In 2008, Miller told me in an interview that he had pushed for a 12-cent gas tax increase, declaring, “We need to move forward as quickly as we can on mass transit.”

Miller never gave up when he cared about an issue, and he cared a lot about transportation funding. He also had no fear of Governor Martin O’Malley, who was reluctant to get out front on a revenue increase that voters opposed. In January, Miller introduced his own revenue bill and put O’Malley on the spot, telling the Washington Post, “This needs to be an initiative by the governor… It doesn’t poll well, but that’s what leadership is all about.”

To hell with the naysayers. We had Mike Miller on our side. That meant we had a shot.

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell

Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell is now known primarily for his gifts scandal in 2014, which led to a conviction that was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. But before that, McDonnell was a rising star in the national GOP who seemed to be going places. As unlikely as it seems now, in the world of 2013, it was not out of the realm of possibility that both McDonnell and O’Malley would someday be on the presidential tickets of their respective political parties.

In his final year in office, McDonnell put together a giant transportation funding bill, showing a level of boldness that contrasted with the reticence of his rival across the Potomac. Annapolis felt the pressure. O’Malley could not be seen as failing on transportation while McDonnell got a new funding package through a state legislature controlled by Republicans. And McDonnell did just that, scoring a huge success in late February as bipartisan majorities passed his multi-billion dollar transportation bill. McDonnell’s success in Virginia along with Miller’s constant urging prompted O’Malley to get off the bench, as he finally sent over an administration bill in early March. The train was starting to move.

But there was one more problem: Baltimore’s lawmakers were resisting the bill. We thought that the prospect of funding the Red Line gave them reason enough to support it. But some city legislators were indifferent to the Red Line, others were outright opposed, and one even told one of our organizers that the state would build it even without new money because “they owe it to us.” The city wanted something different: state school construction money to fix their aging schools. That could have meant the end of transportation funding right there as not everyone was enthralled with the idea of sending more money to Baltimore. And without the city’s votes, our bill would have died.

So state leaders cut a deal with the city: they would get a billion dollars in school construction money, financed with lottery proceeds, in return for voting for the transportation bill. The city got a great deal but the Washington suburbs got the Purple Line. (Hogan canceled the Red Line two years later, causing city leaders to cry injustice on behalf of a project that many of them never truly wanted.) O’Malley’s bill was amended and passed, generating hundreds of millions of dollars for transportation and keeping the Purple Line alive.

Raising transportation revenue required a team effort. Local governments, advocacy groups, the business community and key elected officials all played a part. But Mike Miller was absolutely critical to the effort. He was the first powerful state leader out of the box on the issue. He had talked about the necessity of raising money for transportation projects for years and years while many other politicians cowered under their desks. He wouldn’t let it go and he publicly took on a sitting governor from his own party to get the money. Having Miller in our corner gave us a fighting chance even when it looked like we would lose. When it was time to cut the final deal, we knew that he had both the desire and the capability to work with others and get it done. And he did. To this day, I believe the Purple Line wouldn’t have survived without him.

Here’s an idea. When the Purple Line opens, the state should name its station on the University of Maryland’s College Park campus for Miller. He loves the university, from which he graduated with two degrees, and he has done as much for the state’s infrastructure as any other Marylander. If anyone deserves recognition of this kind, it is surely Mike Miller.

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Top Seventh State Stories, November 2020

By Adam Pagnucco.

These were the top stories on Seventh State in November ranked by page views.

1. Will MCPS Reopen?
2. MoCo Democrats Issue Statement on Ballot Questions
3. MCPS Reopening Looks More Unlikely
4. Who Has the Edge in the At-Large School Board Race?
5. Elrich Extends Response Deadline for Public Information Act Requests
6. Council Drops the Other Purple Penny
7. Sitting Judges Get Temporary Restraining Order Against Pierre
8. Does Downcounty Pick the At-Large Council Members?
9. Scandal: County Employees Got COVID Pay They Were Not Entitled to Get
10. Winners and Losers of the Ballot Question War

Three of these stories were leftovers from the election and dominated the first week. Of the rest, two of the top three relate to whether and how MCPS will reopen – a huge issue that has yet to be resolved. Parents may disagree on exactly what MCPS should do, but all of us (I’m one of them!) are intensely interested in the outcome.

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Purple Line Drowns Maryland in Red Ink

Most Maryland pols are heavily invested in the Purple Line. Virtually all discussion by politicians has been on the imperative of finishing it while downplaying the financial cost. In “Hogan’s Purple Passion”, longtime columnist Barry Rascover has taken the opposite approach in his hard look at the epic financial mess that is now the Purple Line.

Though Purple Line supporters sold the P3 (public-private partnership) as insulating taxpayers from rising cost, Rascover explains that we’re now on the hook for the skyrocketing price.

By the time the east-west Purple Line from Montgomery County to Prince George’s County opens years after Hogan leaves office, the state’s total spending on the mass-transit line could exceed $2 billion. It may even top $3 billion.

If the state takes over construction duties of the Purple Line in the next month when the private consortium running the project could leave the job, there’s at least another $1 billion worth of work to finish. Plus, an added delay of six months — or longer. 

Given the line’s history of unexpected delays and under-estimated expenses, that $1 billion projection by the state for future costs could be way off.

This comes on top of the $1 billion in taxpayer dollars already expended by Hogan. 

And this doesn’t count the unpaid $800 million in contested cost overruns the contractor, and a judge, blame on the state.

Either we pay the consortium building the Purple Line what they want or we pay even more and suffer greater delays building it ourselves. Instead of protecting taxpayers, the P3 has turned them into hostages.

Rascover assesses who is to blame for this fiasco:

The state tried to lay the onus on the consortium. But a judge didn’t buy that bit of illogic. He ruled the state was responsible for out-of-control costs. He called it a “self-inflicted” wound.

In hindsight it’s clear [Secretary Pete] Rahn badly under-estimated the Purple Line‘s complexity and its costs. Lawsuits by unhappy residents along the route were inevitable — but Rahn plowed ahead anyway, never anticipating these almost certain legal delays of almost a year.

Rahn also didn’t anticipate lengthy fights over obtaining rights of way along the route, or expensive re-designs to separate the Purple Line from CSX tracks. Both were predictable.

The governor’s determination to privatize this project and get it completed while he is still in office overtook common sense. Now taxpayers will foot the bill for Hogan’s and Rahn’s terribly flawed miscalculations.

It’s even worse than Rascover outlines.

The Governor campaigned against the Purple Line and the gas tax passed under O’Malley to fund transportation improvements. He didn’t repeal the gas tax but instead used the monies raised to fund new road projects around the state.

Pressured by the Washington Post, which then endorsed him for reelection, Hogan changed his mind on the Purple Line. But instead of paying for much of the construction up front as originally planned by Democrats, he put it all on credit via privatization, so he could continue to pay for his road projects.

Excepting perhaps Anthony Brown, Democrats shouldn’t feel too smug. They pushed the P3 forward in their eagerness to move the project ahead and also went along with Hogan’s magically cheaper numbers that have now turned out to be wildly unrealistic.

The state’s ability to borrow to cover the monumental additional cost is consequently highly limited. Many sacred cows are going to be gored to finish the Purple Line.

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Transit Cuts are Just Starting: They’re Going to Get Much Deeper

The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) has authored an open sign-on letter (posted below) to Gov. Larry Hogan vehemently protesting major cuts in transit service and calling for more capital expenditures on transit.

The reality is that these cuts are just the start.

Due the economic devastation wrecked by the pandemic, revenues are down substantially. The federal government has shown no inclination thus far to help bail out the states, viewed as a “blue state” bailout by President Trump, so no money is coming from that source. The Maryland Constitution requires a balanced budget, requiring substantial cuts ahead. Gov. Hogan will not support a tax hike and there is little enthusiasm among Assembly Democrats either.

The drastically higher than expected costs for the Purple Line to the tune of over $750 million are about to suck even more funds away from other projects. The State has already indicated that the funds will come from other transit projects, like MARC. Even without the pandemic hit, the transit budget was set to take an enormous hit. The Washington Metro, unmentioned in the LCV letter, has already seen its funding cut.

The signatories to the open letter are notably a Baltimore heavy group. The absence of either Purple Line Now or the Action Committee for Transit, both staunch Purple Line supporters, from the letter signatories is perhaps telling. Both are normally easy gets for these sorts of letters but it tacitly recognizes the reality that the Purple Line will not be finished unless major cuts are made elsewhere.

Here is the LCV letter:

AN OPEN LETTER TO GOVERNOR LARRY HOGAN, MARYLAND TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY GREG SLATER, AND MARYLAND TRANSIT ADMINISTRATOR KEVIN QUINN:

Last week, the Maryland Department of Transportation and Maryland Transit Administration announced major cuts to the MTA system, including cutting bus service by 20%, reducing MARC, commuter local bus, and paratransit service, and cutting the MTA’s already strained six year capital budget for critical safety needs by $150 million. We, the undersigned, urge rejection of these cuts, which would be devastating to many Marylanders that live in low-income communities, communities of color, and people with disabilities.

Rather than take steps to relieve the strain of a veritable tsunami of challenges to Maryland’s most vulnerable communities, MTA’s plan would exacerbate residents’ difficulties and hobble the state’s recovery. TransitCenter found that 40% of transit commuters in Baltimore City and 35% of transit riders in the state work in essential job sectors, with hospital and health care workers being the largest share of riders. A large number of essential workers – nurses, grocery store workers, child care professionals, nursing care staff, and so many more – rely on public transit to get to their jobs. The proposed cuts would make it harder for these vital workers to get to their jobs, which would threaten their employment and exacerbate the devastation the pandemic has wrought to our economy. A shortage of these critical workers will also add strain to a healthcare system that is already spread too thin.

Maryland should be investing in more public transportation, not less. We should be increasing access to job centers from the communities most in need, not cutting it. We should be prioritizing cleaner transportation alternatives that reduce pollution and the health conditions that make marginalized communities especially vulnerable to the impacts of coronavirus and other respiratory illnesses like asthma. Vehicle emissions also create NOx that ultimately contributes roughly one-third of the nitrogen pollution to the region’s rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay.

Among the problematic cuts to service, the proposed changes eliminate any route from Baltimore City (the jurisdiction with the highest reliance on public transportation) to Annapolis. Even in its current state, public transit to Annapolis is extremely limited, but at least it was available and provided mobility services. With the cuts, Annapolis would become inaccessible by public transportation, limiting the ability of many Marylanders to participate in our state’s Democracy. Public participation is always essential to a free and fair government, but never more so than in a crisis.

In reference to Maryland’s essential workers, the Maryland Transit Caucus has stated in their letter to the administration following the proposed cuts: We rely on them. They rely on MTA. We call on the administration to take immediate action. Funding from the Transportation Trust Fund should be allocated to public transit that benefits all Marylanders, rather than to highway expansion and construction projects that benefit only the wealthiest.

Signed,

  1. Maryland League of Conservation Voters
  2. Maryland Sierra Club
  3. Common Cause Maryland
  4. Clean Water Action
  5. Climate Law & Policy Project
  6. Safe Skies Maryland
  7. Maryland Legislative Coalition
  8. Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition
  9. Maryland Campaign for Human Rights
  10. Coalition for Smarter Growth
  11. Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition
  12. Transit Choices
  13. Central Maryland Transportation Alliance
  14. Maryland United for Peace and Justice
  15. Sunrise Movement Baltimore
  16. League of Women Voters Maryland
  17. Maryland Nonprofits
  18. Nuclear Information and Resource Service
  19. Labor Network for Sustainability
  20. Family League of Baltimore
  21. Bikemore
  22. Eastern Shore Land Conservancy
  23. Maryland Center on Economic Policy
  24. Job Opportunities Task Force
  25. NAACP Maryland State Conference
  26. Public Justice Center
  27. Our Revolution Maryland
  28. Indivisible Baltimore
  29. Indivisible Howard County
  30. Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility
  31. Echotopia, LLC
  32. Maryland Conservation Council
  33. Ji’Aire’s Workgroup
  34. Indivisible Towson
  35. ATU Local 1300
  36. Food and Water Watch Action
  37. Chesapeake Bay Foundation
  38. Disability Rights Maryland
  39. Consumer Advocates for Ride Services
  40. Progressive Maryland
  41. Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Mary
  42. Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) – Baltimore
  43. WISE Maryland
  44. Maryland Climate Justice WIng
  45. Takoma Park Mobilization Environment Committee
  46. Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake
  47. Accessible Resources for Independence
  48. League for People with Disabilities
  49. Climate X-Change Maryland
  50. The Nature Conservancy – Maryland/DC Chapter
  51. Saltzberg Consulting
  52. Chesapeake Climate Action Network
  53. Sunrise Howard County
  54. Baltimore 350
  55. The Parent and Community Advisory Board, Baltimore City Public Schools
  56. Sunrise Rockville
  57. Marylanders for Patient Rights
  58. Bus Workgroup 14
  59. South Baltimore Community Land Trust
  60. Free Your Voice
  61. Represent Maryland
  62. Green Team at St. Vincent de Paul Church, Baltimore
  63. Baltimore People’s Climate Movement
  64. The Climate Reality Project: Baltimore Chapter
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Lucrative Waiver to Chevy Chase Land Company Scrutinized

Today, I am pleased to present a guest post from Del. Al Carr (D-18) on an issue that the Planning Board is taking up today.

The Montgomery County Council approved the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan in 2013 after a lengthy process of gathering public input.

The plan contains environmental provisions requiring developers to restore the local tree canopy which has been ravaged over the years by road construction, development, Pepco, and clear cutting for the Purple Line. It requires that utility wires be buried allowing for the planting of large overstory trees. A healthy tree canopy is vital to protecting water quality in Rock Creek and its tributaries.

Unfortunately, the Montgomery County Planning Board quietly waived these environmental provisions for the well-connected developer in 2017. The developer successfully lobbied to be released from the requirement to bury the wires on the east side of Connecticut Ave. As a result, the developer is not planting tall overstory street trees on Connecticut Ave and Manor Rd to maximize the restoration of the tree canopy.

In the 2017 staff report, planning staff used the following rationale when recommending the waiver: “Although undergrounding of utilities is typically required for site plan applications in Chevy Chase  Lake Sector Plan area, this application is not required to do so because the electrical utilities along the property frontage are high-voltage transmission lines that are not routinely buried.”

However the exact same “high-voltage transmission line” was recently buried immediately to the south where the purple line bridge will cross Connecticut Ave. Identical lines are routinely being buried in the county including in Silver Spring (Linden to Sligo project) and in White Flint (new substation).

There is a long-shot opportunity to correct this mistake when that same developer returns to the Planning Board on July 23rd for amendments to their plan. The Planning Board has the opportunity at that meeting to mandate that the wires be buried at the developer’s expense and that tall overstory trees be planted where possible along the site frontage on Connecticut Ave and Manor Rd.

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Should There Be Rent Control Near the Purple Line?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Council Member Marc Elrich, who recently equated potential gentrification near the Purple Line with “ethnic cleansing,” is taking flak for his remarks and is not backing down.  We will leave it to others to judge his choice of words.  But what interests us is the policy proposal he has made: specifically, Elrich would like to see rent control imposed near Purple Line stations.  That’s worth discussing.

Economists tend to disagree on many issues but a huge majority of them oppose rent control.  Liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has written, “Almost every freshman-level textbook contains a case study on rent control, using its known adverse side effects to illustrate the principles of supply and demand.”  A massive review of economic research on rent control found evidence that it encourages conversions of rental units into condos and leads to higher rents in non-controlled units.  Rent control repeal in Cambridge, Massachusetts led to a surge in property values in both controlled and non-controlled units and a 20% increase in housing investment.  Even Communists denounce rent control.  In 1989, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach told a news conference that rent control did more damage to his capital city than American bombs.  “The Americans couldn’t destroy Hanoi, but we have destroyed our city by very low rents. We realized it was stupid and that we must change policy.”

One need not go to a Communist nation to observe the effects of rent control.  MoCo has a good example of that policy right here at home: the City of Takoma Park, which passed a rent control law in 1981.  We examined U.S. Census data to analyze how the city’s housing stock compares to the county’s.  Below we show that just 10% of the city’s housing was built in 1980 or later, much lower than the county’s percentage of 47%.  That’s not a fair comparison since the city is much older than the vast majority of areas in the county.  However, other older areas inside the Beltway like Downtown Bethesda (27%), Chevy Chase (20%) and Downtown Silver Spring (26%) have much higher percentages of their housing built in 1980 or later than Takoma Park.

It gets worse.  Takoma Park has been losing rental housing units for years.  Below we show the city’s total, owner-occupied and renter-occupied housing units in 2000, 2010 and the five year period of 2011-2015.  During that time, the city’s total housing units fell by 4% and its renter-occupied units fell by 18%.  Owner-occupied units increased by 10% and vacancies rose by 30%.  No housing policy that produces double-digit losses in rental units can be described as good for renters.

Takoma Park’s housing decline is not going to turn around soon.  According to the site plans, preliminary plans and sketch plans listed on the MoCo Planning Department’s development tracking map, only two housing projects with a combined seven units are pending in Takoma Park.  Those units are all single family, which are exempt from the city’s rent control law.

This extract from the Planning Department’s site plan map shows the huge contrast in development plans between Takoma Park and Downtown Silver Spring.

The implication of all this is clear: housing developers are steering clear of Takoma Park’s rent control law.  These folks are not going to be any more enthusiastic about rent control near Purple Line stations.  Why does that matter?  When it comes to building new housing, there are basically three options.  First, you can build it near transit.  Second, you can build it away from transit, thereby incurring the associated congestion and environmental costs.  Or third, you can try to block it from being built, and that’s one probable effect of rent control.  But that won’t stop population growth – instead, it will result in overcrowded housing, unsafe living conditions and code violations.  (Such phenomena are not unknown in some areas of the county.)  Rent control near the Purple Line just encourages options two and three.

Finally, the Purple Line is a huge investment, costing at least $2.65 billion to construct.  Only an insane society would pour billions of dollars into a transit project and then stop new housing from being built next to it.  Even Vietnamese Communists would agree.

Disclosure: Your author is a long-time supporter of the Purple Line and is a publicly listed supporter of Council Member Roger Berliner for Executive.

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Elrich: Without Rent Control, Purple Line Will Cause “Ethnic Cleansing”

By Adam Pagnucco.

In response to a question about just cause eviction and rent control at the Progressive Neighbors County Executive forum, Council Member Marc Elrich stated that the Purple Line would cause “ethnic cleansing” without a rent control law.  Elrich said:

I support rent stabilization and I think we need to be honest with ourselves about this.  If we throw up our hands about this and say the market will determine the price of housing and the market alone will determine that, then we are going to wipe out neighborhood after neighborhood in Montgomery County.  If you did that, then if you did not put rent stabilization around the Purple Line stops, for example, then the neighborhoods around the Purple Line will not continue to exist.  They will be bought, they will be repurposed and they will go to other people.

When we did the Long Branch plan, and Park and Planning came in and said we want to rezone all the existing housing in Long Branch, I accused the Planning Board of ethnic cleansing.  And I said some people do it with the gun, you guys are doing it with the pen but the truth is those folks would be gone and they would be gone forever…

Elrich’s remarks begin at the 2:29 mark of this video taken by Ryan Miner.

Disclosure: Your author is a long-time supporter of the Purple Line and is a publicly listed supporter of Council Member Roger Berliner for Executive.

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BREAKING: Brookeville to Open Montgomery’s First Casino

brookeville-acadBrookeville Academy

Comptroller Peter Franchot’s discovery that the Town of Brookeville owes $7.2 million to the State of Maryland due to his office’s miscalculation of municipal tax receipts for many years placed the Town in quite a bind, as the municipality of just 134 souls had no idea how it could repay the debt.

Today, Brookeville Commission President Katherine Farquhar announced that, after working on the issue with the County and the State, Brookeville will open a casino in historic Brookeville Academy (pictured above), which is owned by the Town, to raise monies to pay off the debt to the State.

Franchot praised the decision, stating that he “appreciates the Town’s gratitude to my office for finding the errors” and plans to award the Town the Comptroller’s Medal for its “creative solution” to the Town’s financial difficulties.

Members of the County Council had initially expressed concerns regarding the project. But Council President Roger Berliner (D-1) has now announced that the casino will be the first recipient of the microloan program he has advertised on Facebook in anticipation of his 2018 County Executive bid.

In a press release, Berliner said “I’m so pleased that the microloan program will make the casino possible. It will help jump start Federal Realty’s development of the outbuildings for future expansion, showing the importance of partnerships like these.”

After initial opposition, Councilmember Tom Hucker (D-5) came on board once the Town agreed to hire MCGEO workers transferred from county liquor stores. “They know as much about gaming as beer, wine and liquor, so this is a great opportunity,” said MCGEO President Gino Renne.

Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Gigi Godwin agreed with the union president, as she commended the County for brushing aside development concerns with the adoption of a special Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) over the objection of the Civic Federation. “We need the County to take a more proactive approach on business.”

Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-AL) also applauded the project, saying that he was happy to learn that Brookeville “is open to serving craft beers” that an official taskforce determined were crucial to revitalizing nightlife in the County.

The sole casino opponent, Councilmember Marc Elrich (D-AL), pointed out that Georgia Ave. is already a parking lot and that the development violated County traffic tests. His statement was interrupted by George Leventhal, who brusquely asked Elrich “Why do you care about people coming from Howard County? Haven’t you figured out we ignore you yet?”

In contrast, Councilmember Nancy Floreen (D-AL) expressed optimism regarding transportation: “SafeTrack has been such a success. We should use the projected savings on Metro to initiate a study on extending the Purple Line to Brookeville.”

The casino will have a War of 1812 theme, reflecting Brookeville’s role as the “U.S. Capital for a Day” in 1814 during the British occupation of Washington. The building’s exterior will be preserved as the interior is redesigned in a “modern Madisionian” style.

(P.S. I think most have figured out by now, but yes, this is satire. Happy New Year.)

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