Tuesday, March 31, 2009

less white flint, more white oak

A family tries to cross Route 29 at Stewart Lane in White Oak. Below: pedestrians are rare in White Flint, save for this homeless man at the corner of Old Georgetown Road and Rockville Pike; townhouses in Briggs Chaney backing to Route 29.

There's been a lot of talk about the ongoing redevelopment of White Flint, which Montgomery County planners say will be bigger than Downtown Bethesda. Landowners in the area around Rockville Pike and Randolph Road are seeking to build 335-foot-tall buildings, which would be the tallest in the county.

No one who lives on the east side of the county would disagree that there is already a huge discrepancy between where we live and the rest of MoCo, specifically along the Route 355/Wisconsin Avenue/Rockville Pike corridor. I can't help but look at the proposals for new housing, offices and retail in North Bethesda and say: does this really do the east side any good? Should I support any elected officials who continue to push this development over something here?

When I read about the White Flint proposals in last week's Post, I remembered when Henry (from the Silver Spring Scene) and I went to interview County Councilmembers two years ago. "Why are we approving 300' tall buildings in North Bethesda when the height limit is still under 200' in Downtown Silver Spring?" he'd ask them, never receiving a satisfactory answer. While I doubt buildings that tall would be appropriate anywhere on the east side, I think the emphasis on densifying the Rockville Pike corridor now means we've lost an opportunity to provide dense, pedestrian- and transit-friendly communities in areas where a population that relies heavily on walking and transit already exists.

The Z line buses along Route 29 are some of the most well-ridden routes in the region, always packed as they head into Downtown Silver Spring each morning and out each evening. I've never seen as many people walking or riding buses along Rockville Pike with its strip malls as I've seen on Columbia Pike, darting across six lanes of traffic, exit ramps, service roads. It's far more dangerous than Rockville Pike, which at least has sidewalks along some segments - and no interchanges, either.

East County does not look like a transit-friendly place, because even when there were plans to run light-rail down the middle of Route 29 we still designed everything around the car - hence the "great failure of transit serviceability" that resulted in the removal of any mention of increased density or improved transit from the 1997 Fairland Master Plan. But this community, with its thousands of apartments and townhomes and a large population of transit riders, has the potential to become a very transit-friendly community, as much as White Flint, I think. We've already got the people, and they're already out of their cars.

I'm not asking for 300-foot towers. But I'd like to see Montgomery County at least begin to study ways to practice here what they already preach in Rockville and Bethesda, if only on a smaller scale. We don't have transit like the Red Line to sustain the level of development proposed in White Flint, and it doesn't hurt that demographics and zoning make the profits a lot higher for any development over there, either. But, on the other hand, we could probably fit all of the retail opportunities on Columbia Pike between White Oak and Burtonsville into a couple blocks of Rockville Pike. It's time to level the playing field, one game at a time.

Monday, March 30, 2009

what's up the pike: three things to do today

- Over at Maryland Politics Watch, Adam's got a complete list of candidate forums for the District 4 special election to fill the seat vacated by former Councilmember Don Praisner. Also, there's a re-cap of last Sunday's (the 22nd) debate hosted by the Audobon Society in Chevy Chase which, as you may remember, is not in District 4.

- And, of course, tonight is the Paint Branch High candidate forum, tonight at the school on Old Columbia Pike in Burtonsville. The event starts tonight at 7pm.

- If talking about your landlord behind his/her back is more your deal, East County apartment dwellers can discuss the highs and lows of renting at a Tenant Work Group hosted by the MoCo Department of Housing and Community Affairs at the East County Regional Services Center on Briggs Chaney Road. That meeting also takes place at 7pm. (Thanks to Megan Moriarty for the heads-up.)

- Don't forget to check out our interview with Andrew Padula, the sixth in our series of County Council candidate profiles.

andrew padula: finding the "fourth level of thinking" (updated)

Part SIX in our series of interviews with candidates in the County Council special election. For more information on Andrew Padula, check out his campaign website or blog.

Andrew Padula at Ratsie's in College Park.

“First thing I’d do on the council is legislate that every place that sells pizza sells it by the slice,” jokes Andrew Padula. The County Council candidate running for the Republican nomination doesn’t mind cracking a joke or two when we meet for lunch at Ratsie’s, the timeworn pizza parlor in College Park. It was there that he graduated from the University of Maryland in 1987 in the midst of a national recession with a film degree but no real job prospects.

While a successful jazz career put Padula on the same stage as Bobby Parker and Bo Diddley, he’s more interested now in taking on a government he feels has destroyed the community he was born and raised in. East County residents have been forced to subsidize the rest of Montgomery’s prosperity at our expense, he says. “How did it end up that we have the highest disparity between jobs and housing in the county?” he says. “Have you been up to Rio in Gaithersburg? Why don’t we have communities like that here? Or Downtown Bethesda?”

He criticizes the “Rockville-centric policies” of the county government, whose leaders live in a “glory world while the rest of the county are ghettoes,” he laments. While he voted for Councilmember Marilyn Praisner’s first term in 1990, she became “outnumbered” by the establishment, he laments, further shortchanging the east side. “We have the highest percentage of minorities, highest crime, forty percent of the MPDUs. Can’t you have poor people in Bethesda? Can’t you have poor people in Potomac?”

The core of the problem, he says, are elected officials who make politics a career, instead of a contribution to society. “When I saw what they make on the Council, I was like ‘Oh, my God, you gotta be kidding me,’” says Padula. “You serve the public. You take your skills and you apply them to the community and do public service and then you go back to your career. Not ‘oh, it’s five o’clock, let’s jump in Buffy’s BMW and get cocktails and tapas!’”

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

An abandoned office building in the Montgomery Industrial Park on Route 29.

A graduate of Kennedy High, Padula grew up in Stonegate with his mother and sister – “on family land,” he insists, noting they knew nothing of the neighborhood’s reputed affluence. When I explain I graduated from nearby Blake High School, he replies, “I used to ride my motorcycle around there,” along with on the former Parker Farm at Bel Pre and Layhill. “I wish I could’ve apologized to Mrs. Parker for cow-tipping there as a youth.” He rattles off everything there used to be in the area growing up – a livery stable, a general store – and laments how much the district has changed since.

“We have the most diverse district,” he says. “We go from farms up by Brighton Dam to almost city . . . when you talk about crime, about traffic, it was tabula rasa,” or clearing everything out to build over it. “It comes down to policy, planning, zoning. This crime, it was all planned.”

After graduating from Maryland, Padula bounced around different jobs, choosing to pursue a career playing jazz guitar. At the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, he “did funk workshops with the guy who used to tour with Prince,” says Padula. “You take seminars with everyone.” He returned home with “hair down to my shoulders” and an “assload of gigs,” along with one piece of advice. “You gotta have an angle,” he recalls a teacher telling him. “Some way that people recognize you.”

So I ask: what would your angle be on the County Council? Padula names Thomas Sowell, an economist who wrote the text Applied Economics. “He writes about a first, second, third, fourth level of thinking. A lot of politicians will do the first level of thinking – whatever they need to get themselves ahead. But for that, what will that cause, and for that, what will that cause? I’ll give them that third and fourth level of thinking.”

He uses the “Go-Zone,” an area of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama where the federal government is offering economic incentives to attract development in communities ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, as an example of what the “fourth level of thinking” would mean for East County.

Padula laments a lack of developments in East County like the Washingtonian Center/Rio complex, located in Gaithersburg.

“How many streetlights are there in Montgomery County?” he asks. “If we take a technology like LED lights, they take like fifteen percent of the energy of fluorescent lights. You create a Go-Zone. You put out a contract to say ‘We will give this land. We’ll forgo the taxes for anyone who can manufacture LED streetlights and we’ll put a charge against future budgets for the money against the savings for the streetlights. You’ll never have to replace them. You’ve just attracted a business. You’ve attracted jobs. You’ve been ‘green.’ You have something you can plan a community around.”

“We’re in a whole new world reality right now . . . we need to scrap everything and start over,” says Padula. “While everyone else is looking for ways to spend money, I’m looking for ways to make it.”

After years of touring the world and playing “all the big festivals” from Montreal, Canada to Switzerland, Padula decided to settle down. He still plays four or five shows a month, he says, but his day job is giving lessons at a Music and Arts Center in Burke, Virginia. Music is “not a profession for the meek or the weak,” he says. “We’d have a gig in Kansas City and we’d time our drive so we check into the hotels . . . we’d drive to Kansas City, check into the hotel, play the show, get two or three hours of sleep and drive to St. Louis. That’s why I came off it. It beats you up.”

Padula laughs at my comparing him to Governor Martin O’Malley, who fronted a Celtic rock band called O’Malley’s March before taking office. “Here’s the difference between me and Martin,” he says. “He’s a wannabe. I’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt. He’s just trying to stroke his ego. I’ve been there, and I’m glad to be taking a break, my friend.”

He’s been active in local and national politics, notably in energy policy. He writes a column called “The Topsoil” for All About Race, a blog about issues of race, and campaigned for Steve Hudson, the Republican candidate for the Eighth Congressional District last fall. “I spent a lot of time with the campaign going from neighborhood to neighborhood, and I see what’s going on here and what’s going on in the rest of the county,” says Padula. “And when I compare them . . . it makes me mad. I’ve had my house robbed six times, my gear stolen twice.”

“I don’t have to go to Detroit to know crime,” he says, referring to one of his opponents who grew up there. “Don’t cut the police. My neighborhood pays more taxes probably than the state of Idaho.”

Padula knows that, as a Republican, many voters are likely to draw their own conclusions before getting to know him. “A lot of people in Montgomery County have this same nit about the word ‘Republican.’ Look, Bush was an idiot, but this is a County Council seat,” he says. “Ideas are ideas. The ‘R’ or ‘D’ shouldn’t make a difference. Either you’re right or they’re wrong. I look at half the Democrats on the ticket – they’re Republicans,” he continues. “They just don’t want you to use the word.”

There are “just a couple of churches on New Hampshire,” Padula says sarcastically. “It surprises me that more of these people aren’t Republicans.”

Friday, March 27, 2009

what i do, sometimes

A little behind on the blog this week. (It is always convenient that when I don't post, Silver Spring, Singular and Thayer Avenue do, and vice versa.) But I thought it would be nice to show you what I do in school. I am taking an art class this semester, which has enabled me to tackle some local issues with the media of charcoal:

Bonus points if you can guess where this is. No cheating with maps, though you can probably figure it out from the process drawings below:

Thursday, March 26, 2009

what's up the pike: third time this week

I'd really like to run these "what's up the pike" updates more frequently, as the JUTP inbox regularly fills with information on local meetings/events/cool stuff that should get publicized, but often is lost in the shuffle. I'm thinking about putting together a JUTP Calendar of local stuff (not unlike the amazing calendar at A Parent in Silver Spring), but there's still an issue of getting information from my inbox to the calendar. Sigh. Maybe when I graduate I can figure out a way to make this a job, right?


- As always, check out my weekly column in the Diamondback, U-Md.'s independent student newspaper. This week, I'm writing about cul-de-sacs - which, as you may have read, will soon be banned by the state of Virginia.

- Skaters in K-Town cleaned up the makeshift skate park in Kensington entrusted to them by the county this week after reading in the Gazette about neighbors' frustration with the site's lack of upkeep. We wrote about K-Town last week, noting that a lack of accountability in who 'owns' public spaces can make them hard to maintain.

- The redevelopment of a portion of Falkland Chase was approved by a County Council subcommittee, though two-thirds of the New Deal-era apartment complex at 16th Street and East-West Highway will be historically designated. If the full council approves the project, developer Home Properties plans to build a high-rise apartment building on the North Parcel of Falkland Chase.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

nancy navarro: hitting the ground running

Part FIVE in our series of interviews with candidates in the County Council special election. For more information on Nancy Navarro, check out her campaign website or our interview from last year's election.

Navarro at her campaign headquarters in Plaza del Mercado.

When Nancy Navarro decided to run a second time for the District 4 County Council seat, she knew she wanted a campaign office. But as the only Latino running in the race, it's funny that her new headquarters are in Plaza del Mercado, the Spanish-themed shopping center at Layhill and Bel Pre.

It’s a “complete coincidence that I recognize as a good sign,” says Navarro, explaining that she found a vacancy in Plaza del Mercado while picking up her daughter from driving school. “It’s Spanish Colonial,” she notes, “which happens to be my favorite architecture.”

The new headquarters is just one of the many changes Navarro’s campaign has made since last year, when she lost to Don Praisner by three hundred votes for the seat vacated by his wife Marilyn’s passing in February 2008. “Last time, we were coming together and pulling a plan out of the blue,” she says. “This time we were hitting the ground running. We started canvassing three weeks ago. There’s a different dynamic this year.”

However, the issues in East County remain the same, she says, but “with a little more urgency. 20906 has the highest rates of foreclosure in the district . . . Requests for assistance from Health and Human Services have doubled. It’s not just people who are poor, it’s people who are middle-class as well. We need to figure out how to bring jobs to the district, how do we handle redevelopment,” she continues. “I feel already the economic security of our district will be first and foremost.”

Claims that Navarro is beholden to the ‘special interests’ of the development industry have waned this year, not only because of the economic downturn, but because her main opponent, Ben Kramer, is a developer himself. “There’s no such thing as ‘evil developer’ and ‘good developer,’” says Navarro. “Every advocacy group comes to the table and you look at their agenda, you look at your proposal, and you look at what’s best for your community. I don’t have a problem saying we don’t know how we’ll fare in the long term and you have to give something up.”

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Campaign volunteers Alexis Reed, Ken Silverman, Dolly Kildee, Cornelia Parish and Russell Jackson with Navarro (center left) and campaign manager David Moon (center right).

After years of working in volunteer organizations and serving on the PTAs of her children’s schools, Navarro was appointed to fill a vacant seat on the Board of Education in 2004 before being elected for a full term two years after. The jewel of her tenure on the Board of Education is the Kennedy Cluster Project, which aims to close the achievement gap between white and minority students in the cluster with Montgomery County’s largest population of Black students. Multiple County agencies are brought together to form a “safety net” for at-risk students, “leveraging existing resources to have a better impact,” explains Navarro.

“It was incredible to see high schoolers saying ‘I wish I had a warm meal at night,’” she says, noting how a student’s life outside the classroom can hamper their academic progress. “How do we connect Health and Human Services and non-profits with the school system and begin to link everybody? I think that is the wave of the future, using our resources wisely, updating our indicators and matching it with the community.”

East County youth still suffer from a lack of things to do, says Navarro, noting that she's "constantly chauffeuring four or five of her friends as well and they lament about how there are no places to socialize after school." The fights that broke out after a “Stop the Violence” concert in Downtown Silver Spring three weeks ago speaks to that need, Navarro argues. “Where do our young people go to have fun in a constructive way?” she says. “It seems like you have to have a car, you can’t walk anywhere. I think we need to come together in a more realistic way to find opportunities for safety for our young people.”

Navarro's campaign headquarters in Plaza del Mercado.

Kennedy High School is one of eight campuses in the Northeast and Downcounty consortia, in which eighth-graders choose a school based on signature programs offered there. Last year, a report from the Office of Legislative Oversight concluded that the program hadn’t achieved its stated goal of increasing racial diversity in the schools. With a daughter attending Springbrook High School, one of three high schools in the Northeast Consortium, Navarro has a firsthand glimpse of how well that goal has been reached and calls it a “disconnect between what looks like a really good approach to socioeconomic integrity.”

“The OLO report wasn’t an indictment on the Northeast Consortium,” says Navarro. “It said the investment didn’t create a stark improvement on student achievement.”

“Why not have strong high schools in each community so they can have a sense of ownership, so students can connect in their neighborhoods?” she asks. “I love the fact that you can have signature programs, but I think it’s hard for a student in eighth grade to choose. Not everybody can make that decision.”

“I’m open for a discussion on is it necessary to have the consortium, or can we ensure that each of the high schools can be the best they can be,” she continues. “Everywhere else people identify with their high schools, Gaithersburg, Seneca Valley.”

Much as the achievement gap makes it difficult for minority students to excel, Navarro feels that minority politicians have a similar struggle, expressing a frustration with local elected officials being 'delivered' into their positions. In last year’s election, she claimed County Executive Ike Leggett – who endorsed her opponent, former Councilmember Don Praisner – urged her to drop out of the race. Meanwhile, a district with a large and growing minority population lacks a representative of color or a political base to help put them in office.

“We don’t have an infrastructure,” she says, “a network in our communities where you’re able to tap into finances, tap into volunteers. How are we cultivating the pipeline?”

Navarro testifies at a Purple Line public hearing last fall.

Nonetheless, Navarro struggles with whether race should be a factor in an election, saying that her accomplishments should speak for themselves. “I’m qualified, I’ve had years of service and by the way, I’m a Latino woman,” she says. “People need to be vetted, but it shouldn’t be this hard. Not in 2009.”

With District 4’s last two councilmembers passing away in as many years, concern remains about “consistent leadership,” says Navarro, something she promises to deliver. “I say we need to hit the ground running and see what the council already has on their plate. The budget is supposed to be worse this year than it was last year. I hope I take a little vacation in between, but that isn’t going to happen.”

One thing she hopes to bring from the school board is a sense of direction, making the government’s priorities clearer in a time when funding is short. “The School Board has a very robust strategic plan, so it’s hard to go off on tangents,” she says. “It serves as a road map so when you have economic crises, you can go in with a scalpel rather than blindly going off after things . . . We have to have a real sense of priority in the County. People can’t afford more tax increases.”

“I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get to know my constituents,” Navarro says. “I hope that voters recognize that I’m back to have a long-term commitment to my district.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

what's up the pike: extra-long edition

There's a lot going on this week, and you probably don't want to piss away precious working/sitting around/eating/Sudoku time going from site to site. So here's a list of everything (almost everything) going on in East County this week:

- MetroExtra, the new not-quite-rapid bus service, adds a new route serving Silver Spring: the S9, an express service along 16th Street between the Silver Spring Metro and McPherson Square with ten-minute headways. It joins the 79, a MetroExtra route along Georgia Avenue, which started running last year.

- Four County Councilmembers endorsed School Board member Nancy Navarro's bid for the open District 4 Council seat. Councilmembers Valerie Ervin, Mike Knapp, George Leventhal and Nancy Floreen announced their support of Navarro, a Colesville resident, at a press conference yesterday in Rockville.

- Speaking of which: JUTP sat down with Nancy Navarro last week, along with fellow candidates Andrew Padula, Thomas Hardman, and Ben Kramer. You'll see posts about them in the coming days, but in the meantime, check out the four interviews we've already completed in the "district 4 head-to-head tour" box on the left side of the screen.

- The Greater Silver Spring Democratic Club hosts Senator Ben Cardin during their monthly meeting this Wednesday at White Oak Middle School on New Hampshire Avenue. He'll be talking about the economic crisis, and what Congress plans to do about it. The meeting starts at 7:30pm.

- A mixed-use development planned in conjunction with the Silver Spring Transit Center is on hold indefinitely, reports the DCmud blog. While the transit center itself should be finished later this year, developer Foulger-Pratt - who also built Downtown Silver Spring - says they don't know when they'll build up the rest of the site or what they'll even put there, though a hotel, an office building and an apartment building have been discussed previously.

Monday, March 23, 2009

robin ficker: accessibility at all costs

Part FOUR in our series of interviews with candidates in the County Council special election. For more information on Robin Ficker, check out his website.

Robin Ficker at the McDonald's in Colesville.

"Step into my office," Robin Ficker says, motioning me to an upholstered booth.

We're at the McDonald’s in Colesville, where senior citizens from the retirement community across the street have gathered for an early lunch. Ficker’s set up a large, hand-written poster in the window, and as soon as I sit down, he starts gesturing to the poster and rattling off all of the different tax increases imposed on Montgomery County homeowners: income taxes, sales taxes, and a ‘speed camera tax’ – which, as a recipient of multiple speed camera citations, I can appreciate.

"When you have 10,000 tickets in one location, does that mean there are 10,000 bad people in one place?” Ficker spurts. “No! It means the system is improper."

"My goal in this campaign, and until December of 2010, is to be the homeowner's champion," says Ficker. "The Council has been using them as an ATM. Homes are assessed for fifteen percent more than houses on the same street are selling for. This is the county's economic stimulus plan."

"If Obama had run on this plan," he jokes, "he wouldn't have won his own precinct."

Brash and startlingly enthusiastic, Robin Ficker has been crusading for tax relief for over three decades, becoming a fixture in local politics while earning the ire of many established politicos. After putting forth dozens of referenda on reducing property taxes, Question B – or the Ficker Amendment, as it’s commonly known – finally passed last November, forcing the County Council to vote unanimously for any property tax increases.

Now, more than ever, Robin Ficker is unstoppable. The phone rings several times as we talk, and each time, he picks it up to take a call from a potential client or inquiry for a job opening. “When I'm on the council, people aren't going to have to go through some call screening,” says Ficker. “I answer my phone, all day into the evening. When I'm watching American Idol, I answer the phone. I'll be very accessible.”

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

An older woman in green hesitantly approaches us, waiting for a pause in conversation before she steps up, but jumps back nervously. "I just wanted to see who you are," she says. "You go right ahead, young lady," Ficker replies. "You're being used as an ATM," he continues. "Did you know that?"

"How'd you make that poster?" she asks warily, pointing at it. "I made it up," he says. "I'm Robin Ficker."

"I know you!" she says. "I thought I recognized you."

"I'll take you to lunch," he offers, to which she replies, "You gonna take me to McDonald's or somewhere else?"

"Well, you can get an inexpensive meal here," Ficker says. "People are cutting back, but they still want to eat out."

"Senior citizens come in here all day," the woman says. Ficker asks her "what she did" before retiring, and she explains that she worked at NIH. "You know, I heard that women who worked at NIH were very smart," he notes.

It’s easy to be skeptical of Ficker’s candidacy when the Gazette reports that he moved to East County just to run, but he insists that he’s lived in the district “off and on” since 1943, growing up on Flower Avenue (which today is in District 5) and graduating from Blair High School (across the street from the district line). “I remember when my parents were thinking about buying a house at Powder Mill (and New Hampshire),” Ficker says, “but didn't because it was too far out." (The intersection of Powder Mill and New Hampshire is also in District 5.)

I struggle to find out what, if any, issues Ficker would like to tackle that are specific to District 4. “You want to talk about transportation?” he says, a little irritated. “Let’s talk about transportation. I think I'd like to see the Purple Line built, I'd like to see a monorail run up the median of Route 29.”

The biggest issue on the east side, he says, is a lack of representation. “I think the fourth district needs leadership which it hasn't had lately, and it's not their fault. The council didn't have to decide on the budget before the special election. They could've held [the election] earlier. The fourth district representation couldn't participate. I think there were some selfish reasons . . . the smaller a piece of the pie for district 4, the larger pieces for districts 1, 2, 3 and 5."

Ficker also laments that there hasn’t been enough action from the County in luring business to District 4, noting the recent move of Hilton Hotels to Northern Virginia. They “could've located along Route 29 with easy access to Thurgood Marshall Airport. I would’ve been on the first plane to talk to Mr. Hilton,” he says. “Instead, what we have at the council is a lot of hand-wringing when there should've been hand-shaking. We let that go, three hundred and fifty good jobs, and there could've been multiplier effects as well."

When asked about the fights that broke out after a concert in Downtown Silver Spring, Ficker says that local kids aren’t getting enough exercise. “Students have all this energy and no wholesome activity to let it out,” says Ficker. “Kids need to have some good physical activity every day. This is woefully underemphasized by Montgomery County education. These children aren't evil, they're frustrated.”

“I believe in working hard and playing hard, and some of these kids instead of just hanging out could be playing soccer or running track or wrestling,” Ficker says. It’s something he’s practiced with his own family. His daughter is a triathlete, and his son a wrestler. There used to be a photograph on his campaign website showing him with Muhammad Ali. I’d heard that Ficker runs up and down the stairs of Cole Field House at the University of Maryland, and he says it’s true. “I go up there every day, Monday through Friday, when it's open,” Ficker explains. “It's very good cardiovascular, it helps you keep your weight down. If you know you have to run up and down stairs, you don't eat too much."

“I think I can get along with all the other councilmembers,” says Ficker of his potential new job. “I can provide a robust debate on all the other issues I think are lacking now. I'd advocate for the fourth district, which I think has been a stepchild and I'll work with Ike Leggett, a fellow resident, to make it the shining star of Montgomery County.”

Ficker’s been called an “anti-tax advocate,” but says that “name-calling” is a bigger indictment on the people who push tax increases, not him. “I'm simply opposed to large tax increases, which we've been getting a steady diet of. When you look at all these people who opposed Question B, it shows they're out of touch,” says Ficker, holding up a slick anti-B mailing sent out last fall. It lists a raft of state delegates, Board of Education members, and the “Entire County Council” as opponents of the amendment. “The view of the homeowners [isn’t] being represented at all."

"I wasn't surprised” that Question B passed, Ficker says. "You realize for the last year and a half I've called every person who has a foreclosure action filed. There are well over one hundred filed each week, several in District 4. I have motives here; if they want to sell their house, I'd like to help them . . . but they -" he points west, to Rockville - "have caused these foreclosures."

"The reason I got in this race is I think homeowners couldn't wait until 2010," he says. "One vote can make a difference now on the Council. I'm gonna be the difference.”

what's up the pike: spring, finally (updated)

Remember that competition my friends and I are working on where we're designing an apartment building on Bonifant Street? Here's a (very, very rough) perspective I drew of it over the weekend, looking at the corner of Georgia and Bonifant. Note the generous retail and fountains. Anyway:

- The District 4 Wiki has a list of candidate forums for the County Council special election later this month. While last night's forum in Chevy Chase (did the Audobon Society know it wasn't in District 4?) may have been a trek for any voters without a car, there are several far more convenient forums coming up next week, including one in Paint Branch High School on Monday, March 30; at Kennedy High School on Tuesday, March 31; and at the AFI Silver Theatre (also not District 4) on Wednesday, April 1.

The Kennedy forum is hosted by the Sierra Club and Action Committee for Transit and was organized by ACT member Cavan Wilk of Wheaton. Cavan's also a frequent poster on Greater Greater Washington, and you can see his announcement for the forum here.

- Speaking of which: Yes, that's my name you see above a post at Greater Greater Washington, one of the D.C. area's leading blogs on urbanism. I'm looking forward to contributing to GGW and raising the profile of East County in the region. In the meantime, though, I'm just waiting for some comments to show up.

- A makeshift memorial to slain teenager Tai Lam on Ellsworth Drive may soon be removed, according to Jennifer Nettles, manager for Downtown Silver Spring. She's told Councilmember Valerie Ervin's office that the arrangement commemorating Lam, who was shot to death on a Ride-On bus last November, will be taken down, but no details have surfaced on if a more permanent memorial will be built.

Friday, March 20, 2009

residents seek a middle ground on ellsworth

Ellsworth Drive on a summer night.

Yesterday's Silver Spring Urban District Advisory Board meeting suggests that local residents are willing to come together after a concert two weeks ago erupted in violence in arrests. But with "the Turf" now a construction site for the Civic Building and Veterans’ Plaza – set to open next spring - Downtown's largest and most popular open space will be gone this summer, creating an even bigger challenge for dealing with rowdy young people on Ellsworth Drive.

“This summer’s going to be tougher than ever because there’s no turf,” says Richard Jaeggi, who attended the meeting, in a phone interview with JUTP. “It’ll be more congested than before.”

Jaeggi is the director of the Gandhi Brigade, who with Mixed Unity organized the “Stop the Violence” concert March 7. He sees “different sides and different concerns” among the many people who live, play and work in Downtown Silver Spring. “The tension between safety and inclusiveness is a real one, and I don’t see that as a matter of sides,” he says. “I feel pretty deeply that with work we can find some solutions that’s both safe and inclusive.”

Brent Gilroy, who’s lived in Seven Oaks for twenty-four years and also attended the meeting, argues that the solution is to “run the bad players out of town,” but is aware that this may not pan out. “It's clear that terms like ‘massive police presence’ and ‘get tough’ and labels such as ‘thugs’ are upsetting the people working with Silver Spring's youth -- the people who will have to have a say in the solution to the things bothering some of us,” he wrote in a letter to the SOECA listserv.

He laments that there was “no discussion of the larger issue that some of us have talked about -- the perceived rowdiness on downtown streets,” an issue which has appeared frequently on local blogs and listservs for over two years.

Jaeggi says many of the behavioral issues stem from a lack of things for young people to do in Silver Spring. “They need a place downtown and it’s a damn shame that the one place that is the public space, the Civic Building, is built ten years after the beginning of the project,” he says.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

The loss of "the Turf" leaves one fewer space for Downtown Silver Spring visitors to go.

It’s important, Jaeggi says, for frustrated residents to reach out to the young people who frequent Downtown Silver Spring – but also for young people to understand that their behavior isn’t always appropriate. “There are young people who, you know, act a fool and cut up, but most of them don’t mean any harm at all. But for some people, it’s really threatening,” he says. “It’s really good for those who are threatened by youth – especially minority youth – to rub shoulders with them and realize ‘they’re just like my kids.’”

Despite the negative attention that the “Stop the Violence” concert has brought the group, Mixed Unity has a lot of potential, says Jaeggi. “This is a really powerful group of young people, very diverse, not just ethnically and culturally but in economic status,” he says. “I see this as a real fantastic opportunity for Montgomery County to reach out to these youth and make good things happen. It’s a rare resource to have organized youth who want to make good things happen and be part of the solution.”

And, as the concert’s organizers have stressed in the past, this won’t be the last “Stop the Violence” event you’ll see in Downtown Silver Spring. “We’re about nothing if not non-violence . . . but good intentions are not enough,” says Jaeggi. “I also believe in making mistakes and not giving up and getting it right the second time, or the third time, or the fourth time.”

The blame can be laid at everyone's feet, suggests Gilroy. "There was general agreement that we're all falling down on the job, and need to do more," he says. "I think the non-profits will look to the business community to do more to sponsor activities and make the kids feel included in our downtown."

Gilroy notes that the Peterson Companies is making strides to ensure that future concerts are better planned. Mixed Unity and the Gandhi Brigade will become part of a "planning group" that'll work with Peterson to hold more events with the condition that they end at 8:30pm. Both Jennifer Nettles from the Peterson Companies and Richard Jaeggi from the Gandhi Brigade will be at the Seven Oaks-Evanswood Civic Association's next meeting in April to talk about how the community should move forward.

Both sides agree that the time for fighting is over. “It's clear that a continuation of the kind of discussion we've all engaged in the past two weeks will . . . get all of us labeled as insensitive, or far worse,” says Gilroy. "If we're willing to . . . set aside our emotions, drop the heated words and understand that the kids acting this way are doing so for reasons that are largely the community's responsibility -- I think they will work with us."

Jaeggi is confident that the community’s hardship will result in a compromise. “A lot of the anger and frustration was existing before . . . and this was a catalyst,” says Jaeggi. “I’m really hopeful and optimistic, even though it’s been a painful thing for all of us. It’ll get us off the fence and start coming up with some solutions.”

meetings on ellsworth violence not taking community input

Two weeks after a "Stop the Violence" concert on Ellsworth Drive erupted in fighting and thirty-five arrests, one resident alleges that the Peterson Companies - who developed and manage the Downtown Silver Spring complex - has been trying to hide the conflict and any discussion relating to it.

The following is a series of e-mails between Silver Spring resident David Lautenberger; Jennifer Nettles, manager of Downtown Silver Spring and board member on the Chamber of Commerce, several local advisory committees and non-profits; and Captain John Feissner of the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services. Lautenberger argues that not inviting the community to participate in meetings between the Fire Marshal and the Silver Spring Urban District Advisory Board suggests that their concerns are not valued in any analysis of the incident and, rather, favors any attempts by the Peterson Companies to put their own "spin" on what happened.

read the e-mails AFTER THE JUMP . . .

From: [David Lautenberger]
To: [Jennifer Nettles]; additional Peterson Companies e-mail addresses
Cc: Montgomery County Council; two Gazette reporters
Sent: Wed Mar 11 12:18:57 2009
Subject: Downtown Silver Spring / Events of Saturday Night 3/7/09

Ms. Nettles and The Peterson Companies Management:

I live on the quiet residential end of Ellsworth Drive four blocks north of Fenton Street and have been here for 24 years. I belong to our civic association and am a block captain of our Neighborhood Watch Program. I patronize the local shops, pay taxes and pick-up litter left on Ellsworth Drive by those passing by. Our neighborhood welcomed the DTSS project and the many opportunities it brings to the neigborhood. All we ask is that you (i.e., The Peterson Companies) be a good neighbor and steward of what was constructed largely with public money and lots of community input and support.

The events of Saturday night and some of your comments in the Gazette indicate that you and The Peterson Companies are not up to the commitment to be either good neighbors or good stewards of the public trust.

First of all, you need to reasonable establish limits on crowd size in the "plaza" area. Wall to wall people with loud throbbing Go-Go music is not reasonable for that plaza. There was no space for patrons of the various shops to move about freely; there was no space for ambulance, police or firefighters to move freely; there was no space for innocent folks trapped in the melee to simply get out of the way; there was no provision for directing the hundreds of additional people coming out of the Majestic theater away from the area.

Your comment that 7,000 people in that small space was acceptable and that even 10,000 could have been handled is ABSOLUTELY INCOMPREHENSIBLE AND TOTALLY IRRESPONSIBLE.

One big question is: "Why was this event allowed to continue for 1 hour after the planned 9 pm ending?" Who made that stupid decision? Has anyone been folowing Prince George's County efforts to shut down Go-Go clubs because they attract criminal elements?

By copy of this email to our County Council, MCPD and the County Fire Marshall I request that a formal review of the capacity of the plaza area be conducted from a public safety point of view and that the results be analyed in context of what happened Saturday night and what could have happened if a fire broke out, if someone had a heart attack or if shooting or looting had started.

By the grace of God a real tragedy was avoided that evening. You should not have a second chance. You need to get it right - right now. A long, hot summer is coming.

Your comment that future such events will continue and that you will not turn your back on anyone is specious. You are turning your back to the decent people of Silver Spring who fought hard for the very project you manage and who simply want a decent place to shop, eat, have a drink or watch a movie. By allowing the loitering and disgustingly rude conduct of so many self proclaimed "thugs" who typically frequent Ellsworth Drive on a typical Friday or Saturday evening you have turned your back to us. By promising more go-go concerts with 10,000 16 to 20 year olds you are turning your back to the people or paid for the project and are your real community and customers.

You also need to establish a code of decency rather than tolerance of the disgusting behavior so often encountered at the corner of Ellsworth and Fenton which I refer to as "Thug Central." I have a 20 year old son and a 17 year old son. They have told me of behavior witnessed - and I have personally experienced behavior in DTSS that is way beyond their expections of reasonable or decent. My sons have at times been frightened and offended by the thugs that hang out leaning on light poles with their pants hanging down, cursing at passers-by, shouting lewd comments at girls and generally daring anyone to approach them. They are thugs and need to be told to "move along" that they are not welcome. You do need to turn your back to them and tell them to clean up their acts or get out of town.

The key to success of the DTSS project is the PERCEPTION of a safe, decent, friendly shopping and entertainment environment. So far you are failing miserably in that perception - and all of us will suffer for it. The community needs a full report on this and promises that it will not be allowed to happen again.

I expect a reply.

David M. Lautenberger

From: Feissner, John
Sent: Friday, March 13, 2009 8:04 AM
To: Jennifer Nettles; additional Peterson Companies e-mail addresses
Cc: Lautenberger, David; additional e-mail addresses
Subject: FW: Downtown Silver Spring / Events of Saturday Night 3/7/09

Good Morning.

I have been tasked my The Montgomery County Fire Marshal to conduct fact finding surrounding an event that took place on March 7th in Silver Spring. I understand that the Peterson Group may have had something to do with the sponsoring of this event.

I would ask that someone from the Peterson group give me a call to schedule a meeting. I look forward to hearing from your group soon.

Captain John Feissner

From: David Lautenberger
Sent: Wednesday, March 18, 2009 3:24 PM
To: John Feissner; Jennifer Nettles
Cc: Councilmember Valerie Ervin
Subject: Follow-up: Downtown Silver Spring Event of 3-7-09 // Fire Marshall's Inquiry // SS Urban Advisory Meeting

Captain Feissner and Ms. Nettles:

I am writing to find out if representatives of The Peterson Companies and the Fire Marshall have met to discuss the various issues related to the March 7th events as requested by Capt. Feissner?

If the meeting has taken place I would hope that a detailed report of the meeting would be made available to the community, and if the meeting has not yet taken place I would hope that, when scheduled, it would be an open meeting so that interested citizens might attend. Please advise.

I have also noted that Ms. Nettles and the organizers of the event are scheduled to present testimony to the Silver Spring Urban District Advisory Committee at their Thursday, March 19th meeting. Interestingly, no one from the community was invited to speak at the meeting as to potentially "opposing" views of the event.

David M. Lautenberger

From: Jennifer Nettles
Sent: Wednesday, March 18, 2009 4:16 PM
To: Lautenberger, David; John Feissner
Cc: Councilmember Valerie Ervin
Subject: RE: Follow-up: Downtown Silver Spring Event of 3-7-09 // Fire Marshall's Inquiry // SS Urban Advisory Meeting

Captain Feissner and I have emailed each other and he has been invited to a meeting on this Friday.

You are correct that the organizers of the event are talking with the Urban District Advisory Committee at their next meeting. Your comments and various other community comments, including opposing views will be discussed at the meeting.

Please feel free to give me a call if you want to discuss further 301-587-0867.


From: Lautenberger, David
Sent: Wednesday, March 18, 2009 4:25 PM
To: Jennifer Nettles; John Feissner
Cc: Councilmember Valerie Ervin
Subject: RE: Follow-up: Downtown Silver Spring Event of 3-7-09 // Fire Marshall's Inquiry // SS Urban Advisory Meeting

Thank you for your reply, Ms. Nettles. Please tell me if I understand you correctly to say that (a) your meeting with Capt. Feissner is private, and (b) that the community's comments will be merely "discussed" rather than invited at the Urban District Advisory Committee meeting. If the answers to (a) and (b) are "yes" then I believe we as a community, quite unfortunately, have a definite problem. Do you fear the community's involvement?

David Lautenberger

Thursday, March 19, 2009

'k-town' sparks discussion about accountability in public-private spaces

Skaters in the former Silver Spring Metro Urban Park.

Yesterday's Gazette discusses unrest over 'K-town,' a makeshift skate spot in a park behind the Housing Opportunities Commission offices on Summit Avenue in Kensington. Four years ago, Kensington skaters made an agreement with neighbors to take care of the space themselves, but a rotating cast of kids has led to a drop in upkeep and unsafe conditions for both skaters and park users alike.

This is a literal example of giving kids a stake in the public realm, something I've really taken an interest in over the past few months. (I've always wanted to be a skater, you see, but I am deathly afraid of putting my feet on anything that moves by itself.) The K-town skaters 'own' this space, much in the way that young people owned "the Turf," though it was clear who was responsible for maintaining it.

The County will face an increasing demand for public or semi-public urban spaces for people of all ages to hang out/do recreational activities/hold concerts, festivals and parties. I mean, it already happens with skaters, who make a hobby out of repurposing the rooms and furniture of the city. With today's budget crisis, it's feasible to imagine a whole network of these informal public-private partnerships on underutilized government properties throughout Montgomery County. (In fact, County Council candidate and frequent commenter Thomas Hardman suggested doing exactly that with vacant parking lots in a comment thread here a few days ago.)

But where K-town fails is that there was an unclear delineation of responsibility - the neighborhood and the County gave the space to the skaters to maintain, but didn't install a framework to keep it maintained; i.e., nobody was put in charge. It's a tenant-landlord relationship. A tenant makes a contract with the landlord to take care of the space given to them; in this case, neither the tenant or the landlord was clear. No one was held accountable and there's no one to be held accountable to.

Accountability is also a major concern in Downtown Silver Spring. Ever since the redeveloped area opened, people have asked if the patrons are held accountable for their own [bad] behavior; if it's the County or Peterson Companies that are accountable for maintaining Ellsworth Drive; or who should be held accountable for the post-concert violence two weeks ago.

The lesson learned here is that it's not just about providing spaces for people to go, but making it clear who's in charge and what the rules are. There's no reason why a County office building, a skate spot and a neighborhood park can't coexist - but the boundaries of use and responsibility need to be made clear.

rob goldman: bringing it back to burtonsville

Part THREE in our series of interviews with candidates in the County Council special election. For more information, check out Rob Goldman's campaign website.

Rob Goldman at the Burtonsville Starbucks.

Rob Goldman's biggest concern, like many East County residents, is his commute. He spends an hour and a half each way going to his law office in Bethesda daily. "You get to work and you're exhausted," says the Burtonsville resident and Pittsburgh native. "You're stressed and you wonder 'why do I live in this area?'" He’s trying to convince his grandparents to move down from Pennsylvania, but they're worried about the traffic. "They'll wait until they can't drive anymore, then they'll come," he jokes.

He knows, however, that many residents have it even worse. "I have some people in my neighborhood who take the bus at McKnew Road and 198, and on the weekend, that bus doesn't run. So they have to walk over a half-mile to Burtonsville Crossing to ride the bus."

And for all their troubles, people on the east side don’t get a lot of recognition from Goldman’s colleagues in Bethesda, where “they have everything where they are,” he laments. “They just see the environmental impacts of the Purple Line,” says Goldman. “They don't see the traffic improvements, the environmental impacts that congestion causes . . . but the benefits for people who live in District 4 outweigh the harm."

Goldman feels the same way about the InterCounty Connector. "It'll make our lives better,” he says. “Listen, this was thirty years of planning and thirty years of study. It wasn't something that was entered into lightly. It's something that had to be done. I see the construction on my way to work and I anxiously wait its completion.”

With a lack of things in town and little public transportation to get them out of town, Burtonsville residents are “kind of isolated,” Goldman says, and he’d like to see the area built up more. "There has to be something that makes people who live in Burtonsville want to stay in the area. Burtonsville can't just be the place between Silver Spring and Columbia, but it is . . . there’s nothing that's unique about Burtonsville.”

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Goldman holds up urban neighborhoods like the Kentlands in Gaithersburg as examples of what he'd like to see in East County.

“Whenever we go somewhere on the weekends, it's not Burtonsville,” says Goldman. “It's Downtown Silver Spring, it's Kentlands [in Gaithersburg] . . . they're developed areas that attract a lot of people. It decreases the stress on the infrastructure.”

Not only that, but having things close by decreases the stress of people in a community already grappling with bigger issues. "My neighbors have lost their homes, my other neighbors are worred about their property values going down,” Goldman says. “There are other people who have lost their jobs. There's been an increase in crime in our community. People have legitimate concerns. They shouldn't have to worry about getting to work, or County services or shopping."

"I think that any growth is positive. We need to make sure that there's suitable roads, suitable housing, suitable economic development," says Goldman. "Anything that'll make people's lives easier is something we should support."

That being said, however, Goldman expresses some concern about development in other parts of the county. “We can't keep developing Silver Spring or Rockville or Bethesda. We have to show that District 4 matters,” he says. “The other candidates are from 'larger areas' in District 4, but we also need to pay attention to the Burtonsvilles, the Ashtons, the Olneys.”

Aside from transportation and development, the biggest issue in District 4, says Goldman, is home foreclosures, noting that over a hundred homes have been foreclosed in the district just in the fourth quarter of 2008. “We need to provide foreclosure assistance. The County had some classes, but they weren't well publicized,” he says. “We need to make sure people keep their jobs. We need to make sure the businesses in this area stay and don't close.”

Over the past year, Goldman has taken an increased interest in local crime. He’s been attending meetings of the Montgomery County Commission on Juvenile Justice, and is active on his homeowners’ association. "Our police force is overtaxed and they work hard, and I think they're doing a great job,” says Goldman. “But we need more citizen involvement, neighborhood watches . . . I know that in my area there have been some security meetings. There have been some property crimes and we need to get more involved in protecting our houses."

However, Goldman expresses dismay at County Executive Ike Leggett’s recent decision to allow police officers to check the immigration status of arrested individuals. “We need to discourage using local police for federal immigration enforcement,” he says. “We don't have the resources.”

Kids stealing a cart full of stuff in Downtown Silver Spring.

A frequent visitor to Downtown Silver Spring with his family, Goldman has “never had a problem” there, but he’d like to see something done about the ongoing complaints of violence and lewd behavior on Ellsworth Drive. “Knowing that there are problems and at specific times, we need to focus more law enforcement resources on that time of day,” he says, suggesting that store owners should be more vigilant as well. “We can get things under control . . . there are violent acts and there are people who need to be watched and we can use what happened as a learning tool."

As a lawyer, Goldman feels his “common sense approach” to the issue will benefit County residents. “I've represented my clients' best interests for eleven years and I don't think there's a difference in representing the Council,” he says. “I can't ignore what the reality of the situation is. I don't take this lightly."

"I think there are very different times we haven't had challenges like this our generation,” he continues. “I take a different approach. I haven't been enmeshed in County politics for years and I have a positive outlook on bringing appropriate changes where necessary.”

No matter what, Goldman says, he’s committed to his community. “I'm from Burtonsville . . . I think that too often in the past Burtonsville and Ashton and Brinklow haven't gotten the attention that we need and are entitled to,” he says. “A lot of people that I speak with don't even know that Burtonsville is in Montgomery County.”

Goldman laments there isn't enough to make Burtonsville "unique."

“I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't have concerns,” says Goldman. “I have two kids who are going to be three in a few weeks. I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't want to make sure they're safe, they had good schools, they had places to go."

And he’d like to offer his children the same quality of life he had growing up in Pittsburgh. “Growing up in Pittsburgh, it was safe outside, I could go to a good public school, and I want to make sure we have the same advantages . . . I wouldn't have done this if I were still in Columbia or Atlanta, but I feel a real connection here, I want to serve, and I want to make Montgomery County better."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

this kid will end up on the hood of my car

It's very dangerous, but I enjoy taking photos while driving. This is on East University Boulevard in Four Corners, right after Blair High School let out last Friday afternoon. It looked like a prison escape: groups of students milling about, unsure where to go, but clear on getting the hell out, hopping Metrobuses, mounting skateboards, or just taking off.

This kid was staring right at me when I snapped the picture, and as the light changed, he darted in front of my car when I hit the gas. A few seconds made the difference between him making it across University or landing on my hood. Wish I was that crazy/stupid when I was his age; then again, wish I could've walked home from school to begin with at his age. Oh, well.

guest blog: can't have it both ways (updated)

The following is a guest post by Brent Gilroy, a Seven Oaks resident for over two decades. He contacted the Peterson Companies after the violence following last weekend's "Stop the Violence" concert and has a simple message for them: either clean up the scum or watch them take over.

Read our previous related guest blogs by Pershing Road and John Haslinger.

I chose to live adjacent to downtown Silver Spring 24 years ago to be part of a livable urban community – walking distance from shopping, entertainment and transit. Silver Spring was struggling amidst the remains of its vibrant post-war life, but with promises of revitalization.

As residents bickered over the kind of community they wanted, the one they had became a wasteland of abandoned storefronts, litter and aggressive “street people.”

Eventually, revitalization came to Ellsworth Drive – a bookstore, high-end grocer, a mainstream movie house and the “art” offerings of AFI, plus restaurants generally cleaner and more comfortable than the ‘90s’ shabby eateries. Some complained about the chains, but they proved people would dine here – paving the way for Jackie’s and Nicaro and bringing new customers to the Quarry House and Tastee Diner.

Early on, we who saw Silver Spring through its downslide warned, “You gotta get the nasty, belligerent people off the streets so that decent folks – upper, middle or working class – will stay.” City Place – an attractive discount mall that became ultra-low end, frequented by surly young men loudly proclaiming their sexual needs to buddies nicknamed (fondly) “muthafucka” – was a cautionary tale.

Others decried the “sterile” nature of the new Ellsworth and warned authorities not to deal harshly with ANY visitor. “Everyone has a right to be here,” they said. “THAT is diversity…Foul language is part of city life...Crime happens wherever there are people.”

Montgomery County and its revitalization partner, the Peterson Companies, listened to those “more tolerant” voices. The Majestic Theater became infamous for littering and outrageous behavior. Sidewalk diners with children found fresh air and strolling families came with a dose of passersby declaring, “Bitch, don’t fuck with me or I’ll kick your goddamn ass!” The walk to the parking garage or home included confrontations with belligerent beings whose stance said, “Wanna get by me? Kiss my ass!” All amidst the litter they dropped.

(This, I MUST be clear, is a separate issue from the gaggles of sometimes annoying but seldom vile or abusive teenagers often seen downtown. That IS just part of urban life.)

Many complained to the county and Peterson – our pleas for order growing in proportion to the disorder. We said: “Clean it up or we’ll take our money elsewhere.” Last summer, our discontent boiled over on blogs and neighborhood list serves.

“We hear you, and we’re acting,” county and Peterson officials assured.

Then, March 7, a concert honoring a youth violence victim itself turned violent. Thirty-five arrests (according to the March 18 Gazette), confused and frightened shoppers fleeing down Ellsworth, pepper spray in the air.

The county and Peterson say, “We still hear you.” But they make no promises; they downplay the seriousness of March 7 and how much worse it could have been.

Nationwide radio accounts (reported by people in other cities) of “a riot at an anti-violence concert in Silver Spring, MD” can’t be good for business as Peterson struggles to fill retail space that remained vacant even when the economy was good. (Silver Spring’s past of decay and bad behavior always made it a hard sell.)

Yes: “We told you so.”

You (Montgomery County and Peterson) heeded the other guys. From both political and economic standpoints, it was just easier

Maybe you figure those who like peace and order along with convenience and diversity will just keep coming no matter how much filth and profanity (and now, it’s been proven, violence) you tolerate.


Many are ready to vote with our feet – not only by not shopping and eating in Downtown Silver Spring, but by moving to Bethesda, Arlington and other truly LIVABLE urban communities. That exodus – once publicized – won’t be good for business.

So the question to government and business leaders is this: Do you want decent, law-abiding people to SPEND MONEY in Silver Spring, or do you prefer to have potty-mouthed, violent scumbags who might buy a Coke or a t-shirt (if they don’t strong-arm it from someone else!)?

You can’t have both.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

chris paladino: "i'll talk to anybody"

Part TWO in our series of interviews with candidates in the County Council special election. Two weeks ago, Chris Paladino dropped out of the race citing his mother-in-law's ailing health and endorsed his former opponent, Delegate Ben Kramer. For more information, check out Paladino's campaign website.

Chris Paladino at Panera Bread on Tech Road.

When Chris Paladino made up his mind to run for County Council, he knew people weren’t going to know his name – but he didn’t think they’d have already made up their minds about him.

"One of the most painful things said about me in these past three weeks is that I'm 'just a white man' and I couldn't possibly understand the Latino community, the Black community, the people from Mars community," says Paladino, who spent twelve years working with the Red Cross throughout the country. "But look at the people who came to the Red Cross for help. It's not the people living in the mansions. It's people in the lowest socioeconomic bracket, and they came in all forms."

"I'm afraid that with the strengths of our community, our diversity will become a divisive factor in this race," he continues. "I say God bless us. That's great. But you should pick the person on the council because of their ideas, not where they came from."

During his time with the Red Cross, Paladino moved from state to state as the organization used him to repair and jumpstart ailing chapters. His first stop was in Newark, New Jersey, less than an hour from his childhood home in New York City, but where he nearly gave his life to set things right. "It was in dire straits. A million dollars in debt." Paladino says of the Newark chapter. "I worked seventy hours a week, got shot at, spent six hours in surgery to repair my face." He adds, smiling, "This isn't the pretty face I was born with."

Nonetheless, the job provided a sense of satisfaction that was hard to beat. "I really fell in love with the mission . . . reaching out to the community to make it a safer place," he says.

When he was transferred to the organization's office in Washington, D.C., Paladino and his family looked across the region for a place to live, settling in Hillandale before moving to his current home in Layhill. "My wife and I did a little research, we drove around the area, but we fell in love with Montgomery County and Silver Spring," says Paladino.

Paladino is quick to draw connections between his time at the charity and a term on the council. "I've got a record of fiscal responsibility," he says. "I ran a charity for twelve years. I had to convince people to buy our products and services. Our donors are our customers. I constantly had to do more with less, to make things more efficient."

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Creating and keeping jobs in East County makes the community more vibrant, Paladino says. Above: an abandoned office building on Industrial Parkway.

"The thing that excites me most about a district seat is that it's about constituent service," he says. "My entire career focused on outcomes: how many calls did we answer, how many potholes did we fill . . . what I'm concerned about is what difference that makes. Do these measurements actually indicate any result, any outcome?"

Making decisions, he says, is all about having the right information. "My father would tell me, 'Statistics are so fascinating because you can make them say anything you want,'" says Paladino. "We've got to be very careful not to make decisions in a vacuum."

And he's not afraid to seek out the experts. "I know what I know but, more importantly, I know what I don't. I know how to ask for help," says Paladino. "Something I felt genuinely lacked in politics is the ability to say 'Hey, I was wrong.' We had eight years of an administration that never said that."

"I'll talk to anybody," he continues. "Why in the world would I shy away from a conversation? I grew up in a large Italian family where everyone came to dinner and yelled and cursed at each other."

Dinner talk may be one thing, but overheated debate has stymied progress in Montgomery County, Paladino laments. "It seems the most vociferous people have the strongest point of view," he says. "The worst thing we can do is take these extreme positions and say 'Well, we're doing nothing.' We're talking about large issues that affect lots of lives . . . many of the things we talk about doing take years. The longer we wait, the harder it becomes."

LifeSci Village is a proposed mixed-use development on Cherry Hill Road.

The anti-growth sentiment has sent many County residents packing, Paladino says, especially its youngest and oldest. His ninety-one-year-old grandmother lives in his house. "What a tremendous loss of resources" caused by the loss of older citizens, Paladino laments. "Do you know how blessed I am having my grandmother living with us? The things my ten-year-old son has learned? We're driving many of the people who lived in this county for twenty, thirty, forty years because they can't afford to live here any more. Who are we going to be left with?"

Growth is inevitable, he says, and the challenge is how to deal with it. "This county is going to grow," he says. "If we could stop anyone from moving here, the birth rate's still bigger than the death rate. The population's still gonna grow."

"It's very easy for people, businesses to say 'we're gonna go over there.' The anti-business, anti-growth contingent is loud," he says. "But if you can't find a place to live, a place of employment, you're gonna move. It's a vicious cycle and it just exacerbates the problem."

One source of growth could be LifeSci Village, the proposed mixed-use development at the current Percontee gravel mine on Cherry Hill Road. Developments like this are necessary, he says, to capitalize on the Food and Drug Administration's ongoing move to White Oak. Curious about the project, Paladino met with representatives from Percontee to discuss the specifics.

"I would venture to say that we're not going to agree on everything, but say this is worth exploring," he says. "Everybody's not going to get everything they asked for. But we get great jobs, we get great new walkable housing, we get an area that has 24-7 vibrancy instead of just office space, nine-to-five. I think this is a great concept."

A lack of transparency makes it difficult to generate results, Paladino says. "I hear from all sides that there isn't a clear process. You can spend years and not coming out with an idea of what they can do," he says. "The problem is the process, not the infrastructure. 'Tell me what the rules are,' developers say."

In these trying times, the time for deliberation is over, Paladino says. "I worked for twelve years on a charity. I ran a business. I don't believe 'business' is a four-letter word. Just get some decisions to be made."

He may not have name recognition, but Paladino feels that his lack of connections could be an asset. "I don't have any loyalties, I don't have any disloyalties. I do the best I can and admit I made a mistake," he says. "You've got a split council, you want someone with an open mind . . . You may not agree with what I have to say, but you'll say 'He's a good guy. I could work with him.'"

what's up the pike: name game (updated)

Insert St. Patrick's Day reference here. (Is Doug Duncan Irish?)

- Citing his tireless efforts to revitalize Downtown Silver Spring, local residents are circulating a petition to have the new Civic Building named for Doug Duncan. "[Duncan's] decisiveness and active involvement with our communities were instrumental in shaping a vision for our downtown," reads the letter. "Many people talked about revitalizing Silver Spring. Doug Duncan got it done. "

Despite County law stating that buildings can't be named for recent elected officials, this isn't the first time Duncan's name has been suggested for a new building; in 2007, a controversy erupted over naming the Rockville Library for the former County Executive.

- The Old Blair Auditorium on Wayne Avenue is one step closer to reopening as the Board of Education has hired local architecture firm Grimm + Parker to do a feasibility study (warning! PDF file.) for the four-decade-old theatre's renovation. After years of hosting Blair High School plays and famous faces as varied as Ralph Nader and Stevie Wonder, the then-named Elizabeth Stickley Auditorium fell into disuse after Blair moved to its current campus in Four Corners in 1998. Grimm + Parker, which has an office in Calverton, has designed multiple schools across the region, but is best known for the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda.

- There may not be any blue-collar workers in Bethesda, but there are plenty of white-collar workers who commute there from the east side. The Maryland Commons blog interviews Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce president Ginanne Italiano, who lives in Silver Spring (ironic, huh?) and looks forward to the Purple Line on the Capital Crescent Trail.

"I travel regularly from Silver Spring to Bethesda and would be thrilled to be able to catch the light rail at the Forest Glen Metro Station and be to work in nine minutes," says Italiano. She might want to consult a map before he leaves for the office.

Monday, March 16, 2009

guest blog: one step forward, two steps back

The following is a guest post by a Pershing Road resident who's lived in Silver Spring for forty-two years and attended last Saturday's "Stop the Violence" concert with her three kids. She laments that there are too many "bad apples" in Downtown who lack proper supervision, and not enough to do for the good kids who frequent Ellsworth and Fenton as well. Also read our previous guest post about the events.

I was asked to comment on this blog. I admit I was hesitant to do so, as I don't really feel like being trashed, which I surely will be, but what the hell. I'm a big girl.

In light of recent events, namely, the aftermath of the Mixed Unity Stop the Violence concert in downtown Silver Spring on Saturday night, area residents are up in arms. Some are angry, some are scared, some are fearmongering, some are genuinely fearful, some are complaining, some are whining, and some, like me, are very pissed off. Some are planning to escape to the safety of Bethesda where there are no gangs, drugs, go-go, crime, violence, Black people or Latinos. Yeah right, good luck with that.

Some are writing letters to County executives, the management company, the fire marshal, the concert promoters and sponsors - GREAT JOB, by the way, ya'll. Some are tearing up their neighborhood listservs. Guilty as charged. The listserv, that is.

The intent of the sponsoring organizations involved was good and should be commended. Their message was a positive one that definitely needed to be heard. But you know what they say about "one bad apple...". Too bad, so sad. It IS sad, actually, that a 'stop the violence' event ends in beatdowns and pepper spray.

I was quoted, sort of, in a recent Gazette article about the incident on Saturday night, as saying: "[The concert goers] were rowdy, loud and impolite. There needed to be more adult supervision." Or something like that. I probably did say that at the end of my REAL comments, which were more along the lines of:

"They were rude, crude and lewd, they acted like they had no home training and had no manners at all. I'm tired of seeing the cracks of their asses and their belly buttons, tired of the foul mouth language, and tired of their cocky-assed attitudes. They all need to have a good ass whipping. Their parents need ass whippings too."

I don't need to have my 12 year old son hear a 15 year old boy tell his mother (me) to "get the fuck outta my way." All because he didn't want to be near my dog. Of course, he could have just moved a few feet away if he was nervous. After all, my dog actually lives in this neighborhood; the boy said "we ain't got no big mahfuckin rockwilders [sic] in my hood". Which doesn't tell me much, exactly, except that he didn't live in DTSS.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

I have seen both Silver Spring and our neighborhood change in many ways, both good and bad. The "youth" and their behaviors are a problem, no question about that. But it's more an issue of lack of basic home training than it is anything else. The deeper issue, however, is not really gangs, go-go or security, it's the lack of civility and decency and basic manners being taught to anyone anymore. I sound like an old fuddy-duddy, but I'm not. I just happen to be an old-school type of parent and citizen who rues the day that civility went away. Oh, and proper parenting, too.

The whole reason why I happened to be at that concert at all is because I felt it inappropriate that my three children, who are certainly old enough to do so, should be out after 8:00 at night "hanging" in the street, not involved in any productive, supervised activity. Damn, am I glad that I went with them. I hate to think of my kids being caught out in that mess without me. I had not yet had the opportunity to teach them the "How To Run From an Onrushing Panicked Mob" lesson, "Escaping Possible Riots 101", or even "Pepper Spray: The Basics".

Which brings me to my other point. There is NOWHERE FOR THEM TO GO. There is NOTHING FOR THEM TO DO. Our lovely DTSS has shops (most crappy), restaurants, and the Majestic. That's pretty much it. If there was some other supervised, organized activity for the kids to participate in, they wouldn't be hanging out in the street. Well, some of them would, but lots of them would prefer having something to do.

I don't know gangs. I don't know gang insignia, tattoos or colors. I don't know a Crip from a Blood from a Hare Krishna. I don't know if the incidents on Saturday were gang-related. I was there and I still don't know. Some believe it WAS gang-related. I'm not saying they are wrong, I just don't know. I DO know, however, that the kids - as a rule - have no respect. No respect for anyone or anything. Not their parents, not authority, not property, not each other, not even THEMSELVES.

It has been said that "it takes a village" to raise children. True, true. But if some of the villagers would just as soon shank you as thank you, who the hell wants to live in the village?? And if I'm raising my little villagers to be proper and upstanding citizens, why do the other parents get to dump their villagers off on the rest of us to raise?

It has been suggested that Ellsworth should not be closed on the weekends. For the record, I love it when the street is closed off to vehicular traffic, and I really wish that block of The Promenade Ellsworth between Georgia and Fenton would be closed permanently. That way, there could be some REAL green space built into the design, and no one would have to worry about being run down. The skateboarders could skate (YES, they should be able to – yes, they can be annoying, but at least they are doing something!), the adults who want to hang out with their kids could do so....it would be like the Fake Green Grass all over again. God, I miss that space, contamination and all.

It has been suggested that the police officers shouldn't station themselves at the barrier. For the record, I like seeing them there, they are readily available if something should happen, and since they are there every weekend, they get to see and know faces and people and behaviors, and are likely to anticipate when someone is really causing trouble and when someone is just showing off or trying to get attention. Just like the old cops on the beat back in the olden days. No, I am not old enough to remember those days.

I also must admit that, though I do not fancy a police state, I DO wish that our local officers had more authority to bounce rowdies out of town. They can't though, because everyone has "rights". To me, if you cannot behave in a civilized manner, your "rights" are effectively rendered null and void. Where's Robocop when you need him?

DTSS is a far cry from what it used to be....ancient warehouses, barren blocks, and dusty repair shops. Yes, I'm old enough to remember them. But it's also a long way from what it COULD be. It's also a long way from what it was before Our Youth discovered it as a hang out place. I'm not against kids....I have three. I'm against rude, rowdy people with no apparent direction, manners, or respect, and parents who just don't seem to give a damn. I said that already, didn't I?

I'm sure there are a lot of people who feel exactly as I do, but they don't comment on blogs or post like mad on their neighborhood listservs when they get heated about an issue. I'm sure there are just as many who think that I am a Big Brother loving, white, liberal, Republican, racist elitist. Or so said a few people who sent me private emails in response to some of my posts on my neighborhood list. Funny, funny stuff, that. Newsflash, my lovelies. I am not into Big Brother. I am not racist. I am not a Republican. I am not an elitist. I'm not white, either. I AM a liberal, though. You did get that one right.