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Speak NOW or forever……..

Speak NOW or forever……..

Speak now or forever…..  Nope I’m not going to say ‘hold your peace’. Because you won’t. You’ll moan and groan about your child’s overcrowded school, the horrific traffic jams you sit in, and the clearing of seemingly every last tree for yet another development. But the stark reality is– you’ll have no one to blame but yourself for those conditions continuing.  The time is NOW to speak out and say “We’re not going to take it anymore.  We want APFO legislation that will help us catch up on our woefully inadequate public facilities.  We want schools and roads and police and fire & EMS brought up to standard BEFORE more building occurs. We want developers to pay their fair share going forward so we don’t proverbially find ourselves in a hole.

Speak now or forever…..  There’s a whole list of other ways to end that sentence when one is talking about the final opportunity to testify on the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance. (This Monday, September 11th beginning at 6 p.m. the County Council will hear additional testimony on the APFO legislation in the Banneker Room of the George Howard building,  3430  Courthouse Drive Ellicott City.)

Speak now or forever…… regret it.   Speak now or forever face blaming yourself when your child spends a year in a decades-old ‘temporary’ classroom. Afterall,

  • it’s great practice to put one’s coat on and off multiple times in a 6 hour span—or to worsen a cold with not bothering.
  • lock downs or evacuations are an engrossing real life learning experience.
  • computers can’t be made available in temporaries due to the risk of break-ins so we’ll just teach without them….

Speak now or forever……live with uncertainty

Live with the year-to-year uncertainty that you may ‘lose’ during Redistricting Roulette so that builders can keep building. Sure the salesman told you which schools are served by your new house and you assumed that would be the case forever. Maybe you and your spouse are each working two jobs to assure your child a great Howard County Education.  However, your dream could quickly turn into a nightmare when you learn your elementary schooler will now be boarding a bus before dawn and traveling 15 miles to another location.  Maybe you believed that all Howard County schools are created equal but come to the reality that student achievement and extracurricular activities vary widely from community to community. Just how great will their High School experience be when enrollment reaches 150% of capacity? How much will your home’s resale value drop when you are not in the “prime” attendance area?

Sure you can assume that some other parent– perhaps someone more experienced at speaking out at a council meeting– will take care of this situation. Sure you can conclude that the number of people attending the council meeting won’t make a difference. Sure you’re tired after a hard day at work: So is everyone else. Are you sure you are ready for the consequences?

But schools are just one aspect of the APFO legislation. Roads are another. It is not okay to accept Road Ratings of E or F. It is not enough to simply erect signs which say “Be Alert! Congestion Next 3 Miles” or “Roadway Closed due to Flooding.”  We need development that realistically covers the cost to FIX IT! rather than making the situation worse.  It is not realistic to think increasing bicycling will eliminate the need for more roads– or for public transportation.  There is nothing quite so anxiety producing as sitting stalled in traffic as the clock ticks down the moments until your daycare center closes and will begin charging—by the minute—for your tardiness.  Or you know that sports practice has ended and your child is waiting at the curb—but once again you are stuck in traffic.  We shouldn’t have to live like this and see the situation worsen year after year.

Election promises were made to revisit the adequate public facilities ordinance. Perhaps like me, you foolishly thought that would assure significant improvements. The reality is that what is proposed in the legislation is Too Little Too Late.  It is up to YOU to demand that the legislation be strengthened by:

  • declaring development should be halted when school capacity reaches 100%, not 110 or 115%
  • declaring that the similar standard should apply to high schools (currently enrollment capacity is considered limitless!)
  • Mitigation (funding, additional time, or both) begins when a school reaches 95% capacity.
  • Include quality of life services like fire, EMS, hospitals, libraries, recreation, etc. as some surrounding counties do
  • NO reductions to the current wait time for housing allocations or school tests.
  • APFO needs to be reviewed every 4 years.
  • Increase real estate transfer tax by 1.0%.

And please:  refuse to accept adding an additional 200 units per year in the Established Neighborhoods category—established neighborhoods are already being destroyed by building half a dozen units where a single house once stood. Stop allowing building in the front or rear yards of homes!

The last opportunity to try to make vital change is soon upon us but it is not too late for you to learn enough to take a position. You can read testimony that has been submitted or listen to things that were said at the last hearing. (see below for links) It’s great that for the first time the Council of PTAs, Teachers Union and the Board of Education will be taking a position on the APFO legislation but they can’t do it alone. If you are too shy to speak, then offer to drive someone who will– and support them with your presence.

Speak now or forever…….. and meet me on the high road,

 Susan    (FYI- I spoke up at the July session so I cannot speak again.)

https://apps.howardcountymd.gov/olis/PrintSummary.aspx?LegislationID=2890  to read the bill and the written testimony submitted

http://howardcounty.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=3279  go in two hours, 15 minutes for APFO testimony to begin (some GREAT stuff there)

https://apps.howardcountymd.gov/otestimony/  to sign up to testify for CB 61, 62

 

 

See something nice….say something nice

See something nice….say something nice

It has been over 4 months since my last blog login. If that sounds a bit like the start of a confession, perhaps it is. For months now most of my waking moments have been spent trying to defend my community against a development unwisely being considered for an historic and extremely environmentally sensitive area. (A sad story for another day) I’d surface now and then for a Council bill I couldn’t ignore, a gathering of political candidates, or a meeting of the Development Regulations Evaluation groups being held by Clarion Associates. But basically, my focus has been quite singular—preserving the community I love.

But ultimately the real reason for my absence from the blogosphere has been thoughts of my long departed mother. You see, like many mothers, mine used to advise me that “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Taking that to heart, I have therefore been silent waiting for, if you will, something nice to say.

It’s been a turbulent year in Howard County, one which has evoked a lot of emotions—including feelings of betrayal and hopelessness resulting from disappointment in some of our local leaders. There have been so many issues which divide rather than unite us that it is easy to slip into negativity and say things which are ‘not nice’. I’m determined to find some good.  (The outpouring of parental concern over the inadequacy of APFO and the looming school redistricting may be one example of an unintended unifier.  Watch for it.)

Much of the local turbulence in 2017 resulted from the extensive consideration of the ‘Sanctuary County’ bill. I’ve been trying to find something good to come out of that divisive battle and I now believe I have. I think it is definitely something worth saying something nice about.  During the long nights of testimony citizens, including many from our immigrant community, for the first time spoke out on their feelings. Many had never experienced first-hand the democratic process of writing testimony and presenting it before a large audience–in what was sometimes not their first language. This took much preparation time and courage. While that experience was a good thing, had their activism stopped there, it would have been far too short-lived.

I’m quite tickled that persons who chose to be citizens of this country have exercised the right to actively participate and now choose to further “give back” by volunteering of their time and talents to offer their leadership!

It is way too early in the political season to declare who one is backing (and I may just skip that altogether in 2018.) However, I must express my extreme pleasure in seeing members representing our diverse community step up to serve our County. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and talking extensively with several early candidates, both R’s and D’s, for the County Council vacancies which will exist next year. I invite you to get to know each one better: Raj Kathuria, District 1; John Liao, District 2; Hiruy Hadgu, District 3; Lisa Kim, District 4.

How cool is it to see our diverse Howard County citizens, individuals with Indian, Chinese, African and Korean heritage, roll up their sleeves to do the hard work of making our democracy work for ALL its citizens!  (I welcome hearing from others who have joined or are considering joining the competition.)

Upon meeting these brave and ambitious folks I was flattered to be asked if I had a bit of advice for them. This is what I offered several months ago:

  • Put aside your National political agenda. Even if national office is your ultimate goal, as a Council member your job is to think and act locally on those issues of most importance to your local taxpayers—quality schools, adequate public facilities, affordable housing, health and safety, preserving the environment for our children and grandchildren, intelligent growth, equal opportunity, etc. In my opinion the Howard County Council is not the place to work on either the Democrat or Republican Central Committee agendas. If you need a national committee to dictate legislative ideas, then you are clearly unable to think on your own and should therefore not seek public office.
  • Most importantly, to get my vote I want to see and hear you out there at all of the meetings which I personally consider important enough to attend as a concerned citizen. These include meetings of the County Council, Planning Board, School Board, Zoning Board, Board of Appeals, Zoning Regulation reform contractor, and local community associations. If you can’t make time for these now, you won’t if elected. After gaining an understanding of how each group functions through observation, then begin to formulate your opinions and express them at those meetings. This will tell the public that you are willing to put in the hours to do the hard work to carefully analyze the issues before making a decision. Seeing you in action will be far more effective than random campaign promises.

I consider this advice good for everyone considering running for County Council, not just those from our immigrant community. I am delighted to report that over the past several months each of the four candidates I’ve identified HAS been visible and HAS spoken out at meetings which I’ve enumerated.  As a result they have truly gotten my attention and my respect. I suggest ALL local candidates get out and do the same, regardless of the office you are seeking.

Here is an opportunity for true diversity on our Council. I hope worthy candidates receive genuine consideration by a public that will give more than lip service to the concept of One Howard.

Check out these newcomers—and meet me on the high road, 

Susan  (not promising to only say nice things, just promising to look for balance) 

https://www.facebook.com/ElectRajKathuria/

https://www.facebook.com/CommunityMattersJL/

https://www.hiruyhadgu.com/news/

https://votelisakim.com/index.php

 

Is that HOPE I see on the horizon???

Is that HOPE I see on the horizon???

April 23rd is Shakespeare’s birthday, (as well as mine), making it ever so appropriate to use one of The Bard’s quotes to introduce today’s post.  Shakespeare composed his own Tombstone message which ends with the lines:

‘Blessed be the man that spares these stones.

Cursed be he that move my bones.’

You know you are a land use and development junkie when quotes from Shakespeare make you flash back to last week’s Planning Board meeting—with glee. But indeed the April 20 PB meeting seemed to signal a possible time for Hope and Change. Just when I thought developers’ requests could sink no lower, the request to disinter the remains of 11 members of the Reimensnider family from their family cemetery in Elkridge was before the board. The grounds for the request was that to disallow the disinterment would prevent the developer from realizing his full development rights on the property. It seems that the centuries old cemetery was inconveniently located on high flat ground on an otherwise challenging parcel where new homes were proposed.

 

Public testimony showed that:

  1. A 5 minute Google search was actually all that was needed to locate family members– despite earlier reports that no living relatives could be located to weigh in on the issue.
  2. There was not actually agreement among surviving relatives as to what was ‘best to do’
  3. A Last Will and Testament from 1876 clearly indicated Charles Reimensnider’s wishes. I direct that the cemetery on my farm wherein members of my family are interred shall never be sold, but reserved as a place of interment for members of my family.”

In the past, the full property rights argument might readily have won over respect for one’s final wishes, respect for historic families, and just plain human decency.  But not this time!  This was indeed a step/ a reach/ a grab too far…..even in Howard County.  To my great and wonderful surprise our planning board members expressed the same horror at what was being proposed as those in the audience. Although the Department of Planning and Zoning recommended approval, the PB members unanimously voted to deny the request!

Maybe, just maybe, in the not too far distant future there will be a realization that our zoning and subdivision regulations delineate a MAXIMUM number of units, rather than the imagined “inalienable right” to that maximum.  Perhaps going forward we will agree to be more realistic about the difficulty of constructing homes on the more topographically challenging properties which remain. Perhaps we’ll recognize that sensitive environmental areas and historic structures and yes, human remains, can subtract from the magic number desired.  Perhaps, oh dreamer that I am, we’ll consider improving the aesthetic of our built environment, placing quality (of product and of life) over quantity.

Land development, like all business, involves risk. Developers purchase property at their own risk.  It is not up to the public or to the government to ‘make them whole’ when their risk doesn’t pay off exactly as they may hope. We allegedly have a Buyer Beware policy here in HoCo, but I’ve seen very little evidence of it.

Land development is in many ways analogous to prospecting for gold.  If the land you purchase produces no gold (or less than hoped for), it’s not up to the public to refund your purchase price and buy back your tools.  Neither is it up to the public to endure the stripping of forests, the inadequacies of storm water management measures, the elimination of sensitive environmental resources and historic sites, inadequate public facilities—and the disinterment of previous residents– to accommodate perceived maximum development rights.

There was a second indicator of a New Dawn at the April 20 PB meeting, perhaps even more exciting than the cemetery decision.  But I’ll save it for another day, when we perhaps get a little closer to the consideration of the APFO legislation by our County Council.  I will, however, preview that the PB’s vote was again uncharacteristically brave. I am so proud of how they truly heard the pleas of those testifying, asked strong and probing questions, considered their own experience with reality in HoCo, and voted in response to heartfelt testimony to not further damage our established neighborhoods. Kudos to our Planning Board members!

Keep the faith, continue to participate to make things better—and meet me on the high road,

 

Susan

Yikes! Sidewalks Not Safe in HoCo!

Yikes! Sidewalks Not Safe in HoCo!

How come people are driving more and more like terrorists-in-training in HoCo?  Is it the rapid pace of life? Distractions? Drug or alcohol abuse?

I can’t define the cause of the clearly deteriorating driving skills I see regularly.  I can’t explain the increased “traffic laws are optional” mindset of drivers.  All I can do is report what I’ve seen— and caution you to be alert every minute— whether you are in a car, on a bike, or on foot.

Greater sharing of our roadways by vehicles and bikes is something to which we are adjusting. But who thinks that opens the door to the sharing of sidewalks by vehicles???

To have observed these two occurrences in two days is enough to make one take up residency under one’s bed.  This weekend I observed the aftermath of a truck which had clearly been traveling along the sidewalk on the south side of Gorman Road just east of the Savage Library.  As these photos clearly show a vehicle plowed down the bicycle lane sign between the road and sidewalk.  From the vehicle debris left behind on the sidewalk and in the roadway for a quarter mile, it was clearly a Ford pick-up of some variety.  One can only hope that the sign and vehicle were the only things damaged at this location so close to an RTA bus stop and the library.

 

 

 

On Monday afternoon while turning right onto Guilford Road from the King’s Contrivance Village Center I witnessed a truly unbelievable site—-a car driving down the sidewalk toward Hammond High!  They eventually rejoined the roadway at a curb cut and went on their way.  Thank goodness schools were closed on Monday!  I only wish my dash cam had been able to catch their license plate……

 

Are folks in other parts of the County also seeing this kind of reckless behavior?

Be ever vigilant of the increasing dangers which surround us as we become more urbanized—and meet me on the high road,

Susan

My tax dollars are paying for WHAT???

My tax dollars are paying for WHAT???

How come tax dollars are supporting luxury facilities for ‘visiting celebrities’ but not-even-adequate facilities for us taxpayers? As the annual local budget battle proceeds, just before the (hopefully eventual) consideration of the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance revisions, I find myself near outrage over several items recently brought to light in the HoCo Times.

Allow me to weave these items together to help you understand my incredulity. As a voice (seemingly in the wilderness) trying to bring attention to the inadequacies and inequities that detract from the quality of life in the Route One Corridor I was super pleased to see Fatimah Waseem’s comprehensive article “As residents wait, visions for Route 1 languish“ (HoCo Times, Thursday, April 13, 2017) as the front page story.  Finally! An article telling it like it is, was, and always has been along Route One. An article to be clipped and preserved. (Except I could only read it on-line, since my paid subscription once again failed to be delivered.)

It was greatly disappointing then that the Sunday Sun 4/16/17 Howard section felt the chief librarian’s move back to Berkley was far more compelling than the Route One tale of woe (and she therefore was the feature article.)  Really?  Did someone in HoCo “get to them” to NOT share our Rt. 1 shame with a larger audience?  That predictable lack of attention to Route One both creates and perpetuates its issues.

But here is the related something that REALLY has had me pulling my hair. It began more than a week ago, when a small picture with caption on page 17 of the 4/6/17 Howard County Times caught my attention on several levels. Bear with me on a little background.  I had awakened that Thursday to the disappointing realization that I would be unable to speak at the Council’s session on the capital budget that evening. Once again I faced the obstacle of not being able to drive after dark. I had really hoped to be able to speak in support of the study for a swimming pool at the North Laurel Community Center. The NLC Center was more than 20 years in the making, but was completed sans the promised pool.  Four plus years later, still no pool.

The private consulting firm which helps the Department of Recreation and Parks develop its five-year plans recently concluded that a county of Howard’s size should have at least three public swimming facilities.  Currently there is only one, the Roger Carter Center in Ellicott City. This is “a far piece” from North Laurel. While a closer facility exists in PG County, a non-resident fee makes this an expensive alternative.  More distant Columbia Association indoor heated swim facilities offering aqua aerobics for Seniors are prohibitively costly to non-residents.

The benefits of aqua therapy for seniors is very well documented. Therefore I’ve been thankful that the administration has responded to the pleas for a year-round pool from the many senior citizens who frequent NLCC.  Together with other senior citizens from the area I had dramatically lobbied for this pool for therapeutic purposes in prior years–including testifying in a swimsuit cover up that illustrated a daisy dukes-style outfit on a much more well endowed body than my own……… ANYTHING to get attention for the health needs of Seniors.   While the pool completion is still several years off, we cling to the hope of “seeing it in our lifetime”.

Imagine my fury then that Thursday morning when I read the photo caption on page 17.  Imagine learning that the Merriweather Post Pavilion “newly renovated backstage” includes “a pool being constructed for the performers and their families.”    Really? Really the only way we can attract acts to Merriweather is by providing them with a swimming pool for their exclusive use? Are performers somehow more deserving than those of us who have been longtime residents and taxpayers? I’m sure most of these celebrities probably have pools of their own. And surely if their families cannot be without one while they’re on the road, the ones in hotels should be adequate. Or are free ‘luxury accommodations’ also part of MPP’s package to entice performers?  Are our politicians even aware of what they are funding????

From this week’s HoCo Times article on the 2017 State legislative session I was able to confirm that indeed such frills are coming at taxpayers’ expense—in the form of $8 million from the State and another $4 million from Howard County to ‘revitalize MPP’.

I remain totally befuddled by how MPP supporters seem to get everything imaginable to keep MPP profits growing. They and the politicians who support them would have us believe that MPP is a critical economic engine for Howard County. However a detailed financial analysis which can be found on the Howard County Citizen Association website indicates otherwise. http://howardcountyhcca.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/HCCA-MPP-Letter-to-Delegates-19-October-2016.pdf .  Attachment 6 points out that when one deducts the cost to taxpayers of providing police coverage for all events, the actual revenue is insignificant compared to taxpayers’ support for revitalization.  The annual benefit to the County from the Pavilion (Admission Tax minus Police Cost) is only $327, 017.  If you include the taxes received from hotel stays and restaurant meals that still only comes to $936,857.

I’d sure have liked to see the most recent $12 million in taxpayer dollars go into Revitalization of Route One —the blighted, other alleged economic engine of the County. (I suspect the blighted village centers would have welcomed some of this cash also.)  Somehow money designated for Route 1 revitalization always seems to be reduced, year after year.

I tried to look for an upside in the MPP story.  I thought, “Well at least the State legislature unanimously voted to lower the sound level at MPP back to its 2013 cap.”  This was in response to HCCA’s successful campaign on behalf of citizens impacted by the volume and vibrations from concerts.  But alas……the opening of the concert season has jangled the nerves –and furnishings—of those well beyond immediate proximity.  While the lowered sound levels don’t go into effect until June 1 county taxpayers are already being told by HC police that they will NOT stop a concert for exceeding the cap.  Without enforcement, and attention to the effect of bass notes, it’s looking to be another miserable summer for taxpayers……..

We don’t hear Merriweather along the Route One Corridor….but maybe they’d like to open their pool for use by Seniors from this part of the County on non-concert days……….just to say “thank you for your sacrifice.”  Or maybe our politicians will finally stop providing almost $1 million in free Police and EMS services to MPP each concert season.  Oh sorry, it must be today’s heat making me delirious.

Let your outrage be known. Demand greater support of quality of life for taxpayers, rather than taxpayer financial support of business venues—and meet me on the high road,

Susan