Thursday, September 28, 2006

the green line and developer green

Pictured: State Sen. Giannetti's proposal for extending the Green Line to BWI.

It's a couple of days old, but according to the Post, developers who throw money at Governor Ehrlich might earn the neighborhoods they build in some swanky transportation improvements - such as, in the case of Kingdon Gould III, developer of the Konterra "mini-city" between Calverton and Laurel, a proposed Green Line extension to Konterra and beyond.

The Green Line extension is no more news than the InterCounty Connector, but the fact that Bobby Haircut actually gives a care about what some might term "Smart Growth" (i.e., building infrastructure to go along with new development) so long as he profits from it . . . actually, that's not news either. That's just politics. (Also "just politics" is the defection of state Sen. John Giannetti, the biggest proponent of the Green Line extension, to the Republican party after losing in the Democratic primary.)

Dammit, it's so hard to just say "I'd really like the Green Line to go past Greenbelt." I spoke to Giannetti last spring and he explicitly said the Green Line would follow I-95 north of Greenbelt. That means a potential stop in Calverton at Powder Mill Road. (I'm sure you know how happy that makes Just Up The Pike.) The folks at Howard County Blog take the Green Line extension idea even further. It's a little far-fetched, but certainly worth a look.

Nonetheless, I can't help but think that we could finish other, less controversial transit projects - such as the Green Line extension and the Corridor Cities Transitway, which is so non-controversial it's almost been forgotten - in the time it will take to just get the Purple Line approved. The economic, social and mobility benefits of the Purple Line, however vast they are, aren't worth much in the face of politics.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

just up the pike wants to know . . .

What would you like to see from Just Up The Pike? Currently I'm doing a mix of anti-NIMBY rants, anecdotes about East County, and the occasional political review. Is that working? What could I do differently? As a blogger of some stature, I'd like to think I'm doing my community a service, and I want to do as good a job as possible.

And if you're wondering if this is because comment counts have been a little low this week . . . you just about hit the nail on the head. =)

barack obama comes to college park

above: A number of Maryland legislators, including Montgomery County Executive-elect Ike Leggett and County Councilwoman Marilyn Praisner (towards the left) showed up for Ben Cardin's rally at the University of Maryland this morning.

"I've met Michael Steele. I've shaken his hand. He's got that 'local news anchor' feel . . . seems like an affable guy. I'll even bet he likes puppies, but that's not what this election's about." - Senator Barack Obama

In a show of support that he's likely repeating across the country, Sen. Barack Obama came down to the University of Maryland in College Park today to speak at a rally for Senate candidate Ben Cardin. While most of the vitriol by the speakers - Barbara Mikulski, Kweisi Mfume, Cardin and Obama, and Paul Sarbanes - was directed at President Bush, quite a few jabs were taken at Michael Steele's now-infamous "puppy" ad. The Post has more on how the Democrats are criticizing it.

It was an inspiring rally. Despite the swell of support around Ben Cardin, it feels like Mfume's still smarting from his loss in the primaries earlier this month. Nonetheless, it was all smiles and promises of universal health care as Obama, the man everyone says could be president one day, worked the crowd of a couple hundred students and faculty.

This is the second visit from a political luminary this week. On Monday, Hillary Clinton spoke at the conference center on campus to a packed, slightly tipsy crowd. I did not go because I couldn't shell out $75 for a student ticket (think of how many concerts at the 9:30 Club you could see for that much!) but I'm sure it was quite a scene. Despite the early hour of this morning's rally (being in college, 9 a.m. remains an un-Godly hour), the crowd was more than riled up by the end. I was this close to slipping into Terp Football Game mode and yelling "Buck Fush" or something similar.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

no sales trailer for deer park

It looks like Deer Park, the "controversial" new development at the corner of Musgrove Road and Marlow Road in Fairland, won't be getting any swanky model homes or even a sales trailer like this one (pictured) at Albany Grove.

Yesterday I got a call from a Richmond American Homes sales associate letting me know that sales for Deer Park are starting this week, with prices from $689,990 for a the Waterford, a 2,700-square foot Colonial. (This is compared to about $735,000 for a similarly-sized home in nearby Cross Creek Club.)

When asked "how can I learn more about Deer Park," he pointed me to Taylor Village, another Richmond American development fifteen miles away in Ellicott City where the Deer Park sales office will be located. Now, I'm familiar with builders using satellite offices when there won't be enough business for an on-site office. After all, Deer Park will only have twelve homes. Then again, it's only fifteen miles out of the way for a family driving around on a Saturday looking for houses to tour.

Do families even do that anymore? Most of my childhood was spent trolling for "Ryan Homes" signs or impatiently sitting in model-house dens with a Judy Blume book while waiting for my parents to finish their tour. I kind of missed those days after we settled into our current house. You can only imagine how excited I was in tenth grade when a model house opened at Marlow Farm, a recently-built subdivision at Fairland and Musgrove roads.

The smells, the sights, and the new technology of a model house are unmistakable and irresistible to the suburban, house-obsessed public. It's a shame that I, too, have fallen victim to everything that is new and shiny.

Monday, September 25, 2006

high schools and The Sprawl

blake high school aerial
Loudoun County, Virginia - or The Sprawl, as I like to call it - is a magical place. It is the wealthiest county in the country, a land of manicured new towns and discreet poverty. They're even shooting for their own World Trade Center, which should put Montgomery County to shame.

But when land in Loudoun is so heavily contested - either for development or preservation - why do they demand so much for their schools? According to the Post, which today profiles the guy who goes trolling the county for potential school sites, Loudoun County designs high schools for sites of 75 acres or more. That's nothing short of ridiculous, even in The Sprawl.

The School Building Association standard for school sites is 10, 20 and 30 acres for elementary, middle and high schools, respectively. Despite a few exceptions, such as my alma mater Blake High School (pictured), which sits on 90 acres, Montgomery County schools are on fairly small sites. Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School has only 16 acres - and there's still room for parking and athletic facilities.

Loudoun County wouldn't have nearly as hard a time dealing with the pressures of their rapid growth if they were more creative with placing the infrastructure (i.e., schools). Their requirements for new high schools would put them far away from the neighborhoods where students live. A good school is part of a community - and, as a graduate of Blake, which sits on a formerly rural road lined with estate homes and megachurches, I can tell you first hand.

Seriously. Cutting school was very, very difficult. I mean . . . where did we have to go?

Friday, September 22, 2006

a newfound interest in prince george's

"We may just sort of muddle along for four years" - Steve Silverman
Is Steve Silverman (pictured, left) suffering from sour grapes? In what appears to be the only post-election piece on the former County Executive candidate, Silverman says he is "disappointed" to have lost because Ike Leggett's promise to slow growth could mean less funding for schools and roads from the developer impact tax.

Surely, we must have other means of running the County than off of taxes. I mean, there are property taxes, income taxes, sales taxes - a gas tax! We'll be fine without Mr. Evil Developer setting aside land for a school or something sinister like that.

But, honestly, I'm growing less and less worried about Montgomery County's return to the Stagnant Nineties with each day. Over here in College Park, Just Up The Pike's headquarters during the school year, new developments, like the recently-completed University View apartment building (pictured, background), are being rammed through a rather skittish City Council nearly every day.

In neighboring Hyattsville, construction is underway on University Town Center, a Downtown Silver Spring-esque development that will have street names such as America Boulevard and Freedom Way. There's even a "Rethink College Park" blog, whose editors I had the chance to meet on Wednesday, devoted to the revitalization of the city.

Yes, if there is any anti-growth sentiment in College Park, it either moved to Montgomery County to join the Neighbors or, in the case of the liquor store in front of the View, is holding out for all its worth. Nonetheless, I believe Hyattsville/College Park will easily become the new Silver Spring. Take my word for it! Our new NIMBY government might be a good thing - for Prince George's County.

the teachers vs. neighborspac (a guest blog)

Just Up The Pike is still busy combing the Post for stories that have the words "Montgomery County" in them, but until then, Adam Pagnucco is back with another guest piece. The responses to his guest blog on the Teachers Union were pretty staggering, so this week, he breaks down the County elections a little further.

The Teachers vs. Neighborspac

The reaction to my earlier guest blog (Teachers Union: the 800 lb. Gorilla of MoCo Politics) contained some agreement and some disagreement. Critics of my analysis question the relevance of the Apple Ballot, arguing that the county’s voters made their decisions on another basis, namely growth. I thought this comment was worthy of further examination.

Local politicians have two elementary tasks: A) develop and refine their message, and B) amplify it. Message content is the product of the politician’s beliefs and his or her opinion of the positions of the constituents. Message amplification is a logistical issue: the candidates need to spread their message to the greatest number of voters. In the 2006 primary election, amplification was a critical determinant of electoral success.

Message amplification is affected by the way in which voters obtain political information. “Passive consumption” involves television coverage, newspaper articles, campaign literature and advertisements. These sources are easily available, quickly consumed, and require no sacrifice or time adjustments by voters. “Active consumption” involves attendance at campaign events, writing letters and emails, and actual meetings with candidates and surrogates – sometimes at the voters’ initiative. These activities require considerably more time and effort for voters, and so they are far less frequently used than passive consumption.

In national races, passive consumption is often enough to allow voters to make relatively informed decisions. The current U.S. Senate race in Virginia is one example. Voters can read many newspaper articles and view frequent television coverage to form their opinions of George Allen and Jim Webb. They do not have to actually hear each candidate speak in person to learn their positions on, for example, the war in Iraq. Each candidate can additionally draw on a party apparatus and many surrogates to press his case for election.

In local races, passive consumption is less practical. Television coverage of the Montgomery County Executive race was scanty and perfunct. The print media was better, but Washington Post voters had to dig into the Metro section to read about the executive candidates. Television and print coverage of the county council and statehouse races was very sparse. The candidates’ literature and websites were hardly more informative. Every one of the Democratic candidates say that they support education, oppose traffic congestion, support diversity and will work on behalf of their constituents. No candidate proclaims their support for unfettered development. As a result, passive consumption – the preferred information receipt mechanism of most voters – is not sufficient to allow them to differentiate between local candidates. The sole useful source of passive consumption may be the Apple Ballot, which comes from a trusted source (the Teachers) and is delivered just outside the voting precinct.

As for active consumption, I practiced it during this election cycle. I met eleven candidates running for county office and almost every statehouse candidate in my district. I attended one debate, three campaign coffees, and several community events where candidates appeared. By September 12th, I felt I had learned enough to cast an informed vote. But how many voters actually apply this much energy to determining their choice in local races? A few thousand in the entire county? If this is the case, then where did the tens of thousands of votes necessary to elect winning at-large council candidates come from?

Faced with the limited usefulness of passive consumption and the infrequent practice of active consumption, the candidates must work very hard to reach out to voters. One aspect of this is fund-raising; an often-detested job that most candidates regard as a necessary evil. Another aspect is endorsements – especially from organizations that can deploy volunteers. Many candidates regard election-day volunteers as a more valuable resource than dollars since enthusiastic bodies are much more scarce than money. I personally witnessed a half-dozen candidates show up at my precinct to lobby last-minute voters. Two sent their wives.

The critical advantage of the Teachers Union in the 2006 Democratic primary relates to its epic ability to mobilize large numbers of election-day volunteers. I saw at least four carriers of the Teachers’ “Apple Ballot” at my voting precinct. This projects to over 800 “Apple” volunteers across the county if the union’s efforts were evenly spread. I have not heard of either Neighbors for a Better Montgomery (a group favoring development restrictions) or the Washington Post endorsement staff fielding a similar number of volunteers across the county. And of course, the Teachers’ mobilization capacity was substantially aided by the closing of the public schools on primary day. Distribution of the Apple Ballot may have been the most effective information consumption technique of the entire campaign, passive or active, by any organization or candidate.

The Apple volunteers were able to sway the opinions of many of the last-minute voters in my precinct by appealing to them to consider the opinions of “teachers” – not the “Teachers Union.” In my thirteen hours outside my precinct, I saw over a hundred voters read the Apple, occasionally while sitting on a bench outside the door and away from the electioneers, before heading into the voting building. The fact that the union’s endorsees won 27 of 30 contested races at the state and county levels testifies to the success of its efforts.

Four years ago, two of the Teachers’ endorsees were losing at-large candidates Blair Ewing and Marc Elrich. So far this year, none of the Teachers’ county-level endorsees have lost, including the phoenix-like Elrich. In fact, the Teachers’ at-large county council candidates (George Leventhal, Elrich and Duchy Trachtenberg) finished first, second and third, while two incumbents the Teachers did not endorse, Nancy Floreen and Mike Subin, finished fourth and fifth. Not being foolish, the Teachers declined to endorse the opponents of council members Phil Andrews (District 3) and Marilyn Praisner (District 4), each of whom was sure to crush their opposition.

As my critics argue, growth was certainly a big issue in this race. It had a significant impact on the County Executive contest, in which MCEA made no endorsement. And it was also a factor in the county council races, as any observer of one of the candidate debates would conclude. But compare the electoral record of the Teachers with that of Neighbors for a Better Montgomery (aka Neighborspac), a citizens organization arguing for limits on development. MCEA endorsed five candidates in contested county council primaries: Mike Knapp (District 2), Valerie Ervin (District 5), and Leventhal, Trachtenberg and Elrich (at-large). All of those candidates won. (The fate of Republican Howard Denis, who represents District 1 and was endorsed by both the Teachers and Neighborspac, will be decided in the general election.)

Neighborspac endorsed nine candidates in contested county primaries: Of those, six won. The group’s at-large candidates finished second, third, seventh and eleventh, while MCEA’s picks finished first, second and third. Neighborspac took more risks than the Teachers, choosing to oppose four incumbents, three of whom won despite the group’s opposition. (Subin, a target of both the Teachers and Neighborspac, was the only defeated incumbent.) MCEA was more conservative, choosing to endorse three rather than four at-large council candidates, leaving room for one of its non-endorsed incumbents to win. And while the Teachers clearly disliked Andrews and Praisner (criticizing them as “fiscal conservatives”), they did not support their opponents.

Neighborspac and MCEA faced off against each other on incumbent at-large council member and 2006 council president George Leventhal. Neighborspac criticized Leventhal for accepting 43% of his campaign contributions from developers, a charge the council member disputed. The group even depicted Leventhal as a puppet dancing on developer-controlled strings in its infamous “County Council Can-Can” internet animation.

The Teachers rallied to Leventhal’s defense. In endorsing him, MCEA wrote, “He championed the ‘Montgomery Cares’ program, which makes health care accessible for poor, uninsured county residents. George is seen as one of the more reliable pro-labor members of the council, consistently supporting negotiated contracts and the revenue proposals necessary to fund them.”

MCEA won this clash as Leventhal finished first in the at-large race. Additionally, MCEA endorsee and incumbent Mike Knapp (District 2) defeated Neighborspac endorsee and challenger Sharon Dooley by nearly 30 points. If growth was the dominant issue in the election and Neighborspac the most influential group, how can the victories of Leventhal and Knapp be explained? Overall, MCEA’s 5-0 record compares favorably to Neighborspac’s 6-3 record.

Neighborspac has two of the three elements required for a successful citizens’ pressure group: a research-backed policy agenda and political allies. It lacks the third element: a large number of volunteers, particularly election-day volunteers. The group should consider developing an election-day “Neighbors Ballot,” assuming it can round up 800+ volunteers to distribute it. Until Neighborspac assembles this kind of volunteer network, it will not match the power of the Teachers Union. Still, with a council lineup including at least five endorsees in addition to new County Executive Ike Leggett, Neighborpac is poised for success in obtaining at least some of its goals.

The Teachers, with a so-far perfect electoral record in this year’s county council contests, a professional and experienced leadership, and an army of election-day volunteers, should score many of their legislative wins by heftier margins than a mere five votes. Their power will soon be put to the test as their current contract expires next summer.

- Adam Pagnucco, Silver Spring

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

what does 'progressive' mean?

"We need progressives with a capital ‘P’ — aggressive progressives, kick-ass progressives" - Takoma Park resident Scott Denman (on Jamie Raskin's win; read story)

"I used the word ‘slow’ purposely; not ‘managed’ or ‘smart.’ I said, ‘If you vote for me, this is what it means.’ And looking at [the results], voters seemed concerned about growth and development and voted that way . . . a strong progressive wing of the council has emerged." - County Executive-Elect Ike Leggett says that progressive means "making progress toward better conditions; employing or advocating more enlightened or liberal ideas, new or experimental methods, etc." I'm at a loss here: how is "slow growth" a) progress; b) enlightened; or c)experimental? This sounds more like a cop-out to the inescapable pressures of population and economic growth.

Does Montgomery County understand what they've voted for? The Gazette says they've "sent a message" about growth. Joel Hirschhorn, Chevy Chase resident and author of Sprawl Kills: How Blandburbs Steal Your Time, Health And Money, wrote in to say how proud he was of Montgomery County residents for rejecting a so-called "sprawl politics."

Well, I'll tell you this, Joel Hirschhorn: Montgomery County voters won't be getting any healthier driving around a community that is turning its back on the "smart growth" policies that have given us places like Downtown Silver Spring or Bethesda. So much for being progressive.

Monday, September 18, 2006

the development train rumbles on

The Neighbors are getting smug in the wake of the primary election - note that a link to their anti-developer pamphlet Where Are The Brakes? has appeared on the left side of their homepage.

For the time being, though, the Development Train continues to roll through Montgomery County and other Washington, D.C. environs, leaving in their wake some very strange subdivision names. In Denver, the process of naming these new neighborhoods has gotten a little easier with one blogger's Guide to Suburban Denver Subdivision Names. I can just see "The Plantation at Horizon Valley Highlands" squeezed into a "NEW HOMES" sign by some highway forty miles into Loudoun County or wherever.

Friday, September 15, 2006

teachers union: the 800-lb gorilla of moco politics (a guest blog)

Just Up The Pike is taking a little time off this weekend, but in my place, I offer a very different take on the MoCo election results from Adam Pagnucco, who worked at the polls on Tuesday. You may remember Adam from last month, when he called into NewsTalk and asked Valerie Ervin and Hans Riemer about the proposed pedestrian tunnel under Georgia Avenue. So - have a great weekend, and enjoy Adam Pagnucco. He's a bit more well-read than I tend to be.

Teachers Union: The 800-lb Gorilla of MoCo Politics

The mainstream media and the blogs are characterizing the 2006 Democratic primary in Maryland’s Montgomery County as the year that voters turned against growth. After all, many of the county-level winners – especially Ike Leggett, Marc Elrich, Duchy Trachtenberg and Valerie Ervin – ran on slow (or slower) growth platforms. So-called pro-growth candidates like Steve Silverman did not do as well. There is some truth to this story. However, to understand the results completely, we must realize that 2006 is the year the Teachers Union became the 800 pound gorilla of Montgomery County politics.

I first realized this while I was working at the polls on primary day. I spent all day at my precinct circulating a petition to build an east-side Metro entrance at Georgia and Forest Glen. I talked to all the political volunteers who showed up. Many candidates sent volunteers: county executive candidates Silverman and Leggett, county council candidates Ervin and Hans Riemer, and six of the eight District 18 state delegate candidates. Many candidates also showed up in person for parts of the day. The volunteers behaved pretty much the same way: chasing voters and giving them their candidates’ literature. Some voters took it while others didn’t. In many cases, the volunteers seemed to neutralize each other.

However, the candidates were not the only ones who sent volunteers. For almost the entire day, volunteers with the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) were present at the precinct. These volunteers distributed the MCEA’s “Apple Ballot” – a district-customized endorsement list appearing on a red, apple-shaped handout. The MCEA volunteers did not tell voters that the Apple Ballot candidates were endorsed by the Teachers Union. Instead, they asked them, “Would you like to know who teachers are voting for?” The majority of the voters said yes, took the ballot, and read it before entering the booth. The fact that the public schools were closed on primary day no doubt helped the MCEA field an army of these volunteers across the county.

Many voters had pre-conceived opinions about some of the top-ticket races, especially Cardin-Mfume for U.S. Senate and Leggett-Silverman for County Executive (both races in which the Teachers made no endorsements). However, most had no opinion on the down-ticket races such as county council, state legislature and school board. That is where the Apple Ballot made the biggest difference. After all, who wants to vote against teachers?

The MCEA endorsed 41 county, statehouse and school board candidates. Of those candidates, 30 had contested races. Apple Ballot candidates won 27 races and lost 3. That’s an astounding 90% success rate.

The Teachers had decisive impacts on the following races:

At-Large County Council

Montgomery County has four at-large county council seats, and all were up for election. Three incumbents were running: George Leventhal, Nancy Floreen and Mike Subin. Ten challengers were also running, of whom the strongest were Marc Elrich and Duchy Trachtenberg. Conventional wisdom would dictate that the three incumbents would cruise to victory as the ten challengers diluted each other’s votes. But the Teachers had other ideas.

MCEA was upset that Floreen and Subin had supported delaying a 2003 cost-of-living increase that was due to teachers under their contract because of budget problems. As a result, Leventhal and challengers Elrich and Trachtenberg made the Apple Ballot, while incumbents Floreen and Subin were excluded. The Apple candidates won the top three slots, while Floreen earned the fourth seat and Subin lost. Subin’s loss was particularly notable because he was a 20-year council veteran and the long-time head of the council’s education committee.

District 5 County Council

Two candidates were running for this Silver Spring-Takoma Park-Wheaton-Kensington seat: school board member and council staffer Valerie Ervin, and Rock the Vote political director Hans Riemer. Ervin had the endorsements of most Montgomery County organizations and the advantages of council connections and a long residency. Riemer outraised Ervin $118,000 to $57, 000 – far outpacing Ervin in individual contributions – and knocked on at least three times as many doors. Most bloggers were calling this a close race. But the Apple was telling voters to support Ervin.

At my precinct, Riemer’s volunteers were present all day while Ervin’s came and went. Riemer’s people thought they had the field to themselves, but I told them, “You’re not competing with the Ervin people. You’re competing with those ladies with the apples.” The power of the Apple prevailed and Ervin blew out Riemer 62%-38%.

District 18 State Legislature

One of the three state delegate seats opened up when the incumbent state senator retired and one of the three incumbent delegates moved up to run for senate. The resulting open delegate seat attracted six challengers in addition to the two incumbents who were running for re-election. The field was deep: all six were solid candidates and had pockets of support in the district.

The two incumbents were Jane Lawton and Ana Gutierrez, who ran on a slate with the uncontested state senate candidate. Lawton worked hard, visited the neighborhoods, appeared at dozens of events and finished first with 20% of the vote. Gutierrez’s efforts focused almost solely on Spanish-language media, but that plus her slate support and incumbency earned her second place with 16% of the vote. And of course, both were apple-approved.

That left the third and final slot, and the two strongest contenders were young, aggressive lawyers Dan Farrington and Jeff Waldstreicher. At first glance, Farrington appeared to hold most of the advantages. Sometimes compared to Bill Clinton, Farrington surpassed Waldstreicher in public speaking and one-on-one contact and earned the Washington Post and Gazette endorsements (neither of which backed Waldstreicher). And while both candidates raised slightly more than $100,000, about 90% of Waldstreicher’s money came from himself and his family while Farrington had more than 450 contributors. One advantage Farrington did not possess was work ethic; both candidates worked extremely hard. Waldstreicher’s pesky, hustling style matched Farrington’s omnipresence and the two blanketed the district.

But Waldstreicher was the Apple candidate and let everyone know it. Every one of his literature pieces showed the apple, and he usually started off his voter contacts saying he was “teacher-endorsed.” Visitors to his website even found a giant red apple flying across the screen before seeing the candidate’s picture! Waldstreicher’s apple-carriers earned him a 392-vote victory for the final delegate seat (pending provisional ballot counting).

As for the school board, apple-endorsed Shirley Brandman won 59% of the vote in a 5-way contest for the at-large seat. And apple-endorsed Nancy Navarro won 57% of the vote in a 3-way race for the District 5 seat. If those winning percentages resemble each other, it’s probably not a coincidence.

Of course, each of these races involved other factors besides the Teachers. Voters were clearly tired of development, and that favored Elrich and Trachtenberg. Ervin’s supporters consistently criticized Riemer for his two-year county residency even as they were privately surprised by his fund-raising and hyperactive door-knocking. And the county’s widespread voting machine meltdown may have affected the District 18 statehouse race. But the MCEA’s ballot was the common thread in all these contests. I personally witnessed over a hundred voters reading the Apple while turning away candidate-specific literature from the other volunteers.

So what does the Teachers’ emergence as Montgomery County’s dominant political force mean for the future? With property tax growth slowing down, the next county council will face tough budgetary decisions. Public schools account for half of the county’s budget and would be an obvious location for cuts. But don’t expect any action there: the county’s politicians have learned that those who cross the Teachers Union once are unlikely to be given a second opportunity.

- Adam Pagnucco, Silver Spring

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

a new direction for moco

The countywide election results are up, and incomplete at best, but it's a given that Ike Leggett is our new County Executive, Marc Elrich and Duchy Trachtenberg are our new At-Large Councilmembers, and Valerie Ervin is our new District 5 Councilwoman.

The Clarksburg scandal not only destroyed the credibility of the Planning Board, it awakened a frustration with development and the problems it causes that has been simmering for years. Neighbors for a Better Montgomery, unfortunately one of the County's most influential interest groups now, tapped into that discontent and has used it to bring in a wave of slow-growth candidates into Montgomery County.

I am not so much disappointed in Silverman's loss - after all, the writing is on the wall that he isn't the most honest guy - as I am in the possibility that slow growth becomes no growth as we drop building moratoriums all over the County while waiting to build road and transit projects to which our newly elected officials have a dubious commitment.

I think the question now is whether the "sensible growth" Leggett, Elrich and Trachtenberg have pushed for will be any better than the "sensible growth" the End Gridlock team talked about four years ago. Will our schools and roads still be crowded in 2010? Will the new direction that Montgomery County takes be beneficial in the long run? And, most importantly, can slower growth still provide jobs and housing for a growing population? I'm not even sure if that makes sense, but we are about to find out.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

an election day tradition, ruined

I have grown up every election year watching the results on TV, scanning the little ticker at the bottom of the screen for the names of the candidates (typically Democratic) that my family voted for. And this year, the year of my first election, I have to wait until Monday to get the results? I am livid.

This will not stand. There is nothing else to watch on Tuesday nights, and I have nothing to do but wait and seethe.

more idealism before the primary

ELECTION DAY SPOILER: Martin O'Malley wins Democratic nomination for governor! You heard it here first!

One of my closest friends is really excited about voting in the primaries today, but she doesn't know who to vote for. Last night, she brought out the stack of mailers her family's gotten and we went over each one. Her favorite mailer is the Steve Silverman "Good Guy. Bad Ideas." piece about Ike Leggett. This may have to do with the fact it lists "anchovy toothpaste" as a bad idea. Silverman sure knows how to pick 'em.

If you have any questions about the election, check out the Board of Elections website. Other than that, I can't help you too much. I can't even give you a single endorsement. Hopefully, though, Just Up The Pike has been a good asset to you over the past few months as I have fumbled through the Montgomery County political landscape. I've put a couple of my more political pieces on the right-hand side, but other than that, you're on your own.

I've got a solid idea of who I'm voting for, and, much to my chagrin, it's largely based on the issue of growth. People have to live somewhere, and I'm voting for candidates who aren't going to sell our County's future short to please a handful of selfish NIMBYs. To me, that's what matters. We built this County on progressive planning, and that's where I want to keep it. I'd like to think everyone who votes tomorrow is thinking of a Montgomery County ideal they'd like to keep.

What's your ideal? And who's going to deliver it to you? Today we decide.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

a sunday special

The Post profiles Brian McLaren, former pastor of Cedar Ridge, the Church-and-Local-Hangout-in-a-Barn on Route 198 in Spencerville. I never knew it was on the vanguard of a new movement in Christian ministry, but it's just another boost for what is already the hometown of the Seventh-Day Adventists (see picture).

Primary elections are in two days! Time to go looking for endorsement ballots, but in the meantime, check out what the older set has to say about the County Executive elections. Surprisingly, there isn't a lot of consensus on Silverman or Leggett - but, then again, a lot of County residents are increasingly convinced that this election is simply a choice between the lesser of two evils.

Friday, September 8, 2006

a wildly idealistic speech to rally the troops

I have some serious election fatigue right now. God willing, I can last until the primaries on Tuesday, after which I will sleep the sweet sleep of children. And after that, of course, Just Up The Pike will be back and ready to go for the general election!

In the meantime, however, I just wanted to thank everyone - my readers, my fellow bloggers both in Silver Spring and throughout Montgomery County, and the politicians and community leaders who were willing to put up with a few questions from me - for your support over the past three months. Together, we are transforming the face of community politics, making it more accessible and proving that a few well-meaning people can make a difference.

Montgomery County is an amazing place. I can drive ten or fifteen miles in any direction and go from farms to office parks, from mansions to rowhouses, from dirt roads to highways and corner stores to shopping malls, from unimaginable wealth to staggering poverty. I can stand on a hill in Gaithersburg and miles of trees and buildings in every direction. I can sit on the banks of the Potomac or Patuxent rivers and watch the seasons change. I can eat Peruvian in Wheaton; French in Bethesda; Ethiopian in Silver Spring, or McDonald's down the street from my house - anything.

I truly love Montgomery County, but we have a long way to go, even now. Come Tuesday, we will determine which direction our County will go in for an indeterminate future. What will we have to show for ourselves in twenty or thirty years? What will our children say about the community we have left for them? Our story begins now. What will the first line be?

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

valerie ervin vs. lucy v. barnsley

Now that we're less than a week away from the primary, I wanted to talk about Valerie Ervin. Though she hasn't brought it up in more recent interviews, she has gone on the record as saying that Montgomery County Public Schools' Gifted and Talented Program is racist, barring students of color from higher-level classes. She proposes that we dismantle the GT program and make its advanced curriculum available to everyone, regardless of ability.

Over ten years ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Gifted and Talented Program at Barnsley Elementary School in Rockville for fourth and fifth grade. I remember how excited I was to be there; back home at Woodlin Elementary, I was the smartest kid in class - and now, I would be among my peers.

And I was wrong. My classmates came from wealthy families in Bethesda and Rockville and were ruthlessly competitive. A kid from a then-blighted Downtown Silver Spring who had only a vague idea of tutoring sessions and summer camp, I found myself slipping behind. My teachers were unsympathetic and condescending; one of them taped my mouth shut for talking too much. There were fifty-four students in the program, and I was one of only three students of color.

I failed the test to get into the magnet at Takoma Park Middle School, went back to my local middle school, and never looked back. Over ten years later, I found out some of my classmates had entered the Intel Science Talent Search - and won. They had good things to say about Barnsley. After all, it probably got them where they are today. Can I say the same about Barnsley? No.

But do I think the system is racist? No. The Gifted and Talented programs are designed for students who can handle advanced curricula. Forcing minority students who aren't qualified into the program would only make it worse for the students who are, and dumbing the curriculum down so anyone could take it would defeat the purpose of the program. Valerie Ervin's plan is political correctness gone awry and it's wrong.

Right now, the only way you could get into a school like Barnsley and succeed is if you came from a place like Potomac or Bethesda where the schools are good enough to prepare you for it. We should set all Montgomery County schools to a standard where willing and able students can go to a Gifted and Talented school and do well. I loved Woodlin, but it didn't get me where I needed to be for higher-level material. And that's where the problem lies.

Monday, September 4, 2006

the affordable housing debate continues

Yesterday's Post has an article about the continuing debate on how Montgomery County should provide more affordable housing. The article opens with a single mother living in a Rockville shelter who makes just over eight thousand dollars a year, but the real focus is on how Silverman and Leggett are just trying to one-up each other:
Leggett characterized as inadequate Silverman's workforce housing program, which is expected to yield 2,500 affordable units over 20 to 30 years, and the moderately priced housing program, which produced 400 units last year . . . Silverman also has attacked Leggett's plan for clusters of middle-class housing, saying it would create economically segregated communities -- an assertion Leggett has rejected. "I just think that's a bad idea," Silverman said. "That's not the policy of economic integration that we have had."
It's a shame that our two front-runners are squabbling over proposals that neither of which will do anything to improve the County's affordable housing crisis. Silverman's plan, which involves allowing developers to build taller buildings in exchange for providing affordable housing, would produce barely one hundred affordable homes per year. It sounds like for all of the new towers the County will get there will be only a slight increase in subsidized units. Maybe it is a reward for developers, as Leggett said.

But he doesn't get off so easily, either. Leggett's proposal is to build clusters of about fifty moderately priced homes throughout the County, though he doesn't say where they would go. This doesn't seem any better than the current MPDU program, which has produced incongruous-looking projects like the Scotland community in Potomac, best known as the breeding ground for Churchill High's football team. Are a handful of poor black families in a super-wealthy town "diversity"? No.

Maybe Leggett wants to see a revival of the massive, 1940's-era developments like Viers Mill Village in Glenmont. Sixty years ago, it was completely white and completely middle-class; today, it's become a place for families of all colors to work their way up the economic ladder, as can be seen in the multiple additions tacked on to the little bungalow-style houses. Subsidized housing is not an end; it's a means to better and more stable life for families in need. When our County Executive candidates finally understand that, we can start working on the affordable housing crisis.

developments up the pike: deer park

BUT FIRST: Could one of D.C.'s biggest developers (and a major client of the architecture firm I work at) be heading to jail for charges including bribery, conspiracy and mail fraud? (In other, unrelated news: do I still have a job?)

FINALLY: After five years of hotly contested proposals, construction has begun and advertising is underway for the new "Deer Park" subdivision off of Musgrove Road in Fairland, roughly two blocks from Just Up The Pike headquarters.

My neighbors have been whining that this project's going to destroy the "rural character" (pictured, circa 2004) of the area. Keep in mind, though, that I cannot see the stars at night because of the lights from both the Montgomery Auto Park and Darcars out on Cherry Hill. I also remember a Chinese couple complaining to the Planning Board that the developer was discriminating against them because an access road had been moved up the block so it was in front of their house instead of the house of a white family. Oh - and don't get me started on the community-drafted proposal insisting that the new homes cost "at least $600,000."

Can you play the race card while demanding that only better-off people should live in your neighborhood? Maybe there's more to Montgomery County's growing NIMBY community than all of this "developer funding" crap. Either way . . . there will be twelve fewer homes going up in West Virginia.

Friday, September 1, 2006

rain falls on east county

- Bad news on the county line today: the Post reports that a van plowed into a school bus stop at the corner of Piney Branch Road and New Hampshire Avenue near the Northwest Park apartments, hitting ten kids and critically injuring six. Piney Branch at New Hampshire is a dangerous intersection with steep grades and poor visibility. I'm sure it's ten times worse in the rain . . . I pray that the kids, who went to White Oak Middle School - which I attended in the 90's - will be okay.

- Steve Silverman is profiled in the Post, which says "he can raise money like a Republican and spend it like a liberal -- an effective combination in Montgomery, a heavily Democratic jurisdiction where many voters expect an array of services." And it makes sense. Montgomery voters are very demanding, which is why claims of irresponsible spending are rarely heeded.

Montgomery residents, being idealists, like candidates with "grassroots" support, but we'd prefer to have our trash picked up regularly and new textbooks in our schools. We like results. So I'm not so worried that Steve Silverman is cozy with the developers (keep in mind I do not vilify them like some do) if it means things are going to get done.

pictured: Briggs Chaney Road in the rain, June 2006.