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The Race is On

The Race is On

The race for more and more development is picking up speed.  Need proof that it is not just my imagination?  Glance at the upcoming pre-submission meetings and hearings periodically at https://data.howardcountymd.gov/Search_Plans/Search_Plans_Web.aspx.

In my opinion, as a long time resident, under current conditions the race is not a fair one. The rules, if they can be called that, greatly favor developers. Citizens are left in the dust wondering what happened?  What happened to the forests and the hillsides and the historic properties? What happened to all the things that attracted me to Howard County in the first place? What happened to the schools? How come I’m spending so much time sitting in traffic?

Residents are paying more attention, at least now and again, in an effort to slow development to allow infrastructure and facilities to catch up. They are also demanding more “breathing room” and planned open spaces rather than the scraps which are truly not buildable. Many are not accepting of the push for urbanization and are expressing it at the ballot box.

Developers are frantically racing ahead with plans in order to avoid proposed changes which they correctly foresee could

  • increase delays on their desired construction start dates
  • add to the school and other APFO fees they must pay to provide adequate public facilities for their new developments
  • decrease opportunities for maximum density/maximum profits with changes in regulations

It’s not unexpected that developers would prefer to continue the current operating conditions and profit margins in which:

  • the misinterpretation of the words “property rights” eliminates common sense best practices in favor of the all-holy maximum density.
  • HoCo developers pay significantly less than surrounding counties to cover the impact of their development yet use our school system as their major marketing tool.
  • the ambiguous development regulations permit them to ultimately do whatever they’d like despite the negative impact on the environment and residents’ quality of life.
  • Developers and their attorneys can recite their practiced mantra that it’s ALL LEGAL as written (the extreme density, the incompatibility with existing neighborhoods, the lack of truly effective storm water management, etc.) –because most of our codes were written by the developer’s attorneys in the first place.

Change is a comin’.  What are the PENDING changes that COULD help make the race a little more fair?

New thresholds on school overcrowding

  • Developers know they can be delayed up to three years if elementary or middle schools are overcrowded— currently defined as at 115% of capacity. But under the new APFO law the thresholds for delay will soon be 105% of capacity for elementary schools, 110% for middle schools, and new to the mix-115% of capacity for High Schools, HSs had previously not been considered at all. But with some HSs currently exceeding 147% and new HSs costing approximately $90 million to build, it is clear this MUST change.

Increases in school impact fees (and other APFO fees) developers must pay to provide adequate public facilities for their new developments

  • Unfortunately some have put forth that our State Legislators must authorize any increase in fees which HoCo charges, although others argue that we have the right to do so as a charter county. The former thought prevails and regrettably two legislative sessions has passed with NO relief! Whether you believe that “the third time is the charm” or not, you should attend the Legislative hearing this evening (Monday, Nov. 26) to express your opinion on the proposed bill to do so.***See details at the end .

Howard County DPZ is beginning the HoCode Rewrite, a process to modernize and unify the County’s development regulations under a single, comprehensive Unified Development Code that will make the regulations simpler for residents and stakeholders to understand and use.

  • Citizens will need to take an active part throughout the process to assure that developer campaign contributions don’t skew the results. Environmentalists and activists in neighboring Prince George’s County appear unhappy with the results of their code changes under the direction of Clarion Associates, the same contractor producing HoCo’s.

But why is the race to the finish line so intense right now? Numerous possible explanations come to mind:

  • The trifecta of changes listed above, possibly converging within the next 2 years, creates additional uncertainty and unpredictability for ever-declining available land in the state’s second smallest jurisdiction.
  • The new County Executive elect ran on a platform heavily prioritizing our schools and the environment and correcting issues contributing to Ellicott City flooding. If he is true to his word, those priorities could make development a slower, more thoughtful process—one that proactively preserves Targeted Ecological Areas and that recognizes that over-development and development without comprehensive planning is a threat to us all.
  • There is a totally inexperienced County Council assuming their positions next week, perhaps making it easier to ‘confront or confuse’. (Though I’m inclined to think we have a couple of tough cookies on the new Council who won’t be content with responses from DPZ staff like, “That’s how we’ve always done it.”) You go girls!

Developers know the public has been distracted by the election and the start of the holiday season. Citizens are less likely to attend Pre-submission meetings on new developments, new capital projects, local area plans and DRRAs, speeding them through the process. I hope to find time to share specific examples in a future blog.

***But for the moment, let’s revisit tonight’s all important hearing held by our HoCo state senators and delegates.

Here is a link to the actual proposed legislation on increasing school impact fees:  https://www.howardcountymd.gov/LinkClick.aspxfileticket=yJYqPwm3_zA%3d&tabid=2120&portalid=0

Here is a link to the citizen group which has been shepherding improvements to APFO along:

https://hocoapfo.blogspot.com/2018/11/howard-county-school-facilities.html?fbclid=IwAR2UmfvfAjVZ9x9DN1b77TFdoMy6xA_RuwJ1A3aE5LcY-8EJK3RwF-ln2AM

In order to speak at the meeting you must sign up in person between 7:00 and 7:20 pm outside the Banneker Room of the George Howard Building, 3430 Court House Drive, Ellicott City.  The meeting will begin at 7:30. Citizens will have just 3 minutes to address any and all proposed bills on the agenda, which includes one on redistricting (although no details are as yet available at the time of my writing).

I hope that you –and our newly elected county officials will be in attendance. I will NOT want to see you at HoCo budget hearings in the future asking for miscellaneous community-specific or activity-specific amenities if you cannot make the effort to show up for the opportunity to INCREASE developer charges for adequate facilities. If developers are charged their fair, market based share, then requests could be budgeted for without the need to increase property taxes!

Prepare for the hearing now—and meet me on the high road,

Susan

Scattered thoughts on our local election

Scattered thoughts on our local election

With Election Day only hours away I find I still have numerous, somewhat disjointed thoughts I’d like to share about our local elections.

Thought cluster one

Before you head out to vote November 6th it might be beneficial to do a little soul searching and self-evaluation.  Ask yourself some of these questions:

Am I voting based on my concern for a single issue rather trying to weigh a candidate’s position on multiple issues?  Is it unwise to base my vote SOLELY on

  • the location of the next high school?
  • the plan for Ellicott City?
  • my stance on “Sanctuary County” status?
  • industrial mulching on agricultural land?
  • developer influence on elections?
  • over-development and inadequate facilities?
  • a desire for more elected officials who share my party, my gender, my religion, my ethnicity, my neighborhood?

Am I ignoring my own obligation to be an informed voter by just voting as my friend has suggested?  or do I just accept a sample ballot of endorsements handed out at the polling place as a helpful time and thought saver?  Do I check to make sure I really know something about the group providing a list of endorsements?

  • Do I understand that if the group is ‘union-based’ (including the teacher’s union) endorsements sometime just reflect actual or promised pay raises from the candidate for members of that union, without a broader consideration.
  • Do I realize union endorsements generally have a strong preference for a single party, the Democrats, which perpetuates a single party system in Maryland?
  • If a group providing endorsements claims to be non-partisan do I check the party affiliation of the Board members to be sure they genuinely represent both major parties?

Am I letting my thoughts and feelings about NATIONAL issues erroneously color my voting for LOCAL or STATE candidates? Am I exhibiting the bias and rhetoric I claim to eschew?

If I like what a candidate says they will provide, have I checked out how they will pay for it?

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Thought cluster two

My very first blog this election season commented on how good it was to see additional ethnic groups step up to participate as candidates in the election process.  As a fan of the underdog I encouraged people to consider these legal immigrants and to be true to Howard County’s position of embracing diversity. It has been rather disappointing that these people of color have not been encouraged and supported by their own party and have been harshly criticized by the other.

I examined the existing make up of our County Council (4Ds, 1R; 3 men, 2 women; 4 Caucasians, 1 African American; two religions represented). I hoped for greater diversity—a diversity of Council members which reflect the changing face of Howard County.  For example, 19.5% of our population is African American.  Asians constitute just one half of one percent fewer, or 19%. With 5 Council seats available shouldn’t we be considering this population group which constitutes almost 20% of our population? Shouldn’t the same thought process be considered in evaluating candidates for Board of Education?

In terms of gender the new Council could turn out just the same as the departing one. But it also could result in 3 women and 2 men OR 4 women and 1 man. Given the Council candidates running, we are guaranteed at least 2 women Council members again. (District 3’s unopposed Christiana Rigby plus the winner from D4 where both candidates are women.) We are guaranteed just a single Councilman since both candidates in D2 are male.  So far there is no guarantee that the Council will be bipartisan……..

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Thought cluster three

Combining thoughts from both cluster one and two, I want to shine a spot light on D2 candidate John Liao. I have observed John campaigning very hard, familiarizing himself with the issues and generating a comprehensive platform. I regard him as another ‘underdog’ worthy of your consideration.  While both John and his opponent are first time candidates, I must admit some personal concerns. I worry that Opel Jones has been considered by his party as ‘heir apparent’ to Calvin Ball’s seat and therefore has not had to put in the same level of work getting to know potential constituents and their concerns. Quite concerning to me as well is the amount of developer money which had poured in to his campaign chest on a regular basis. He is one of the two highest Council candidate recipients of developer contributions with a long list which includes:

Double R Ventures, LLC                  $500

Erickson Living                                 $1000 + 487.32 + 1250

James Moxley                                  $250 + 500

Breeden Family LLC                        $500

Howard Research & Devel              $500 + 500 + 1000

First Deep Run Ltd                           $1000

The Morris Weinman Co                  $1000

Hoddinott LLC                                  $500

George Stone                                   $1000

William Erskine                                $500

Talkin & Oh                                      $500

IMA (Merriweather)                          $500

Costello Construction                      $1000

Buch Construction                           $1000

Arnold Sagner                                  $1000

Centennial Reserve LLC                  $250

Garand LLC                                      $500

BA B2 Residential LLC                     $500

Howard County PAC of MD

Building Industry Assc.                     $2500

In contrast, John Liao accepted NO developer money. While some may choose to make light of developer contributions I consider them to be a ‘red flag’ for possible undue influence. While I’d originally hoped to provide comprehensive data about all major candidates’ significant financial contributions just prior to the election I simply ran out of time for that comprehensive task.  I was pleasantly surprised today to find yard signs advertising more information on HoCo candidates at http://forthepeopleballot.com .  *If I knew who compiled the financial information that can be found there I’d surely thank them for completing that arduous task. It’s a task that requires a greater familiarity (than I or most citizens possess) of the major ‘players’ behind numerous development firms and development oriented law firms.  It was a bonus to read at  http://forthepeopleballot.com/county-council-2 that John Liao was the site’s recommended pick for D2 Council!

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Thought cluster four

One reason for such a collection of thoughts this late in the game is due to an ‘epiphany’ from the election of 4 years ago. At the time, in 2014, I was not yet blogging nor did I have a Facebook account. However, I was a prolific author of Letters to the Editor in which I freely shared my opinion of specific candidates.

Candidates, like most people, do not like someone holding up a mirror or magnifier to their faults, weaknesses, or questionable behavior. They don’t like to be identified as mailers of attack ads, recipients of large developer contributions, or having a history of voting for over-development without consideration of adequate facilities. Despite my exhaustively researching the validity of my claims, keeping an eye to civility, and carefully choosing my words to not reflect the brash, mean-spirited comments one encounters all too commonly on Facebook— those candidates for public office DID take offense at my lack of support for their campaigns. MOST of them nevertheless won the seats they sought.  ALL of them held a grudge for quite some time, SOME of them to this day.

With this knowledge, I felt quite stifled this election cycle. As a consequence, I shared my thoughts publicly much less often. I’ll admit I was envious of those bloggers and Facebook posters who “let it rip,” even if I doubted there was any real research behind the reasoning for their comments. I didn’t like the uncivility and snark in their statements. I particularly abhorred the partisanship and ‘us vs. them’ perspective. So why was I envious?  How come I wasn’t more ‘brave’ about sharing my recommendations for candidates?

Unlike most bloggers and Facebook posters who don’t actively participate in County affairs, I want to continue researching and commenting on proposed legislation and public plans at Council meetings and other governmental forums in order to shape public laws and procedures for the betterment of life in Howard County. I want my thoughts and ideas to actually be thoughtfully considered in order to justify my time for research, travel, and preparation and delivery of testimony.  Who wouldn’t?

Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that candidates who one offends (by endorsing their opponent) WILL hold a grudge, totally ignoring one’s input seemingly FOREVER. I am hopeful that with a totally new Council and many other first time officeholders, I too will start the legislative year with a clean slate.  But oopps, when silence may have been more beneficial to me personally, I took the risk of expressing a personal endorsement tonight.  Ultimately I guess I just value above my own interest the right of residents in District 2 to be aware of some additional considerations. But please note that I pointed out why I favor John Liao without harsh words for his opponent!

Exercise and cherish your right to vote by doing it thoughtfully—and meet me on the high road,

Susan

Early Voting: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Early Voting: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Let’s consider Early Voting.

The Good:

  • People who have travel plans, who have to arrange transportation days in advance, who work irregular shifts, or fear getting sick and missing “regular” voting day have no worries.
  • People who simply can’t bear to wait in line for anything but carryout avoid the potential of some waiting.
  • People who can’t remember when Election Day is have several opportunities to get it right.
  • People who have never been to the southeastern part of the County may use their GPS to locate the Ridgely Run Center to avoid lines at Miller and Bain.

The Bad:

  • Many people put a premium on being first—first in line, or at least first hour, first day…..without actually PREPARING to vote. I suspect many people these days devote more time to studying the features of a soon-to-be-released smart phone than they do studying the qualifications and positions of candidates who will be making decisions that will affect their quality of life for years. There are people who don’t even feel the need to compare the newest smart phone’s features and value before purchase, instead continuing their thought-free allegiance to a particular brand. Unfortunately, many who demonstrate this type of thought (free) process, in other words have decided to let Apple dictate their choice in phones, have also given over the ‘task’ of selecting highly qualified candidates whose philosophies match their own to a political party. If you reflexively and lazily vote according to which letter follows the candidate’s name (REGARDLESS of past crimes, being officially diagnosed as a pathological liar, or running naked in the public square) then YOU should do us all a favor and maybe not vote just to get your sticker.
  • Early voting creates an extra burden on candidates. They feel compelled to attempt to find sufficient volunteers to staff ‘greeting voters’ 10 hours a day for 8 days at four early voting locations—-in addition to many or ALL precincts on regular Election Day. This constitutes a small army of cold, wet, and wind-blown patriots. For those candidates with more money than friends, it often produces paid, ill informed, and aggressive greeters bused in from other jurisdictions.
  • Staffing by the Board of Elections for those 8 extra days at 4 locations is costly.
  • The early voting turn-out figures can create a false impression of how the voting is actually going.

The Ugly:

I again suggest voters take the time to acquaint themselves with the candidates. There are numerous resources on-line including videos of candidate forums and candidate interviews. (Including the final Council Candidate forum with a focus on U.S. 1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQmSsila7lI

For those who prefer print, you can pick up copies of the League of Women Voters’ Guide at libraries and senior centers throughout the county. Don’t rely on political commercials or mailers without carefully checking WHO is actually sponsoring that commercial or mailer. Learn to question scathing attacks.

Vote INFORMED—and meet me on the highroad,

Susan

It Takes a Brave Man

It Takes a Brave Man

It takes a brave man (or woman) to run for office in an incredibly gerrymandered district, one totally dominated by the opposing party. Most of the southeastern part of the county had both their legislative and council districts redrawn to assure Democrat domination.  Council member Sigaty was heard to say, “I’ve made sure that no Republican will ever win again in these districts.”  And indeed, the Democrat candidates for the two highly critical positions of State Senator and County Council member here have NO opposition in the upcoming election. How come both of those candidates still continue to fundraise, despite their offices being secured???

(Perhaps Scott Ewart gave some hints about the practice of candidates passing funds along to other Dems elsewhere.  In his excellent blog https://scotteblog.com/2018/10/15/the-mdhc-slate-attack-mailers-against-bob-flanagan-in-delegate-district-9b/  he called out the Maryland Democratic House Committee Slate for their scathing attack pieces in Legislative District 9. Although not unopposed, Shane Pendergrass of Team 13 provided $50,000 toward the effort to smear Delegate Flanagan in order to help Courtney Watson be elected. I guess when you’ve held that same office since 1994 a lot of money is bound to pile up. Since the strategy of blatantly untruthful attack ads against her opponent for County Executive didn’t work in 2014, I’m surprised and disappointed the same tactic is being tried again in Watson’s run for Delegate.)

It takes a brave man to run for office alone, as an individual, against an entire team. That team has the advantage of sharing large combined financial resources and they can blanket an area in signs and literature for the combined team, rather than individually. It can also significantly cut down on the number of poll workers needed to volunteer during early and regular voting, since one volunteer will ‘cover’ the 3 or 4 candidates of the team.

Doesn’t running as a team just prop up weaker team members, advertise that there will be no diversity in thought or voting, and put Party over what is in the best interest of citizens? (I was pleased that the Dem Primary challenger Larry Kudlow thought so. Hopefully it signals the approaching end of the Team Formula in the NEXT election.)

It takes a brave man to run for office as the “minority candidate,” the only male opposing three females in “the year of the woman.” What about gender diversity? Enough said.

It takes a brave man to run for office actually sharing his opinions and positions, recommending actions contrary to that of the majority party. Please review them at https://www.citizensforchrisyates.com/issues

It does indeed take a brave man to be a candidate for State Delegate in District 13. That brave man is  CHRIS YATES.

Why would a person invest the time, energy, and resources to seek public office under this seemingly hopeless scenario? One must really believe in the need for change in the State Legislature, that the legislature has been going down the wrong single-party path for too long. One must feel a strong commitment to serve the people of OUR STATE, after serving OUR COUNTRY for decades.

Although some might say there is no way for him to win, as a former navy captain, it’s not surprising that Chris has identified a scenario under which he could be elected. It’s not enough to vote for Chris– you have to vote for only him, despite the ballot direction to ‘choose up to 3.’  (Voting for one or more additional candidates just puts Chris further in the hole.) A man who could develop this strategy could certainly be counted on for innovative solutions to complex State issues.

After checking out his exemplary list of degrees, awards, service, and accomplishments at https://www.citizensforchrisyates.com/about are YOU willing to level the playing field by considering this strategy? Compare his background with that of the other candidates.

For those who never follow links, let me include just 4 sentences from Chris’ web page. “…..After a tour as Commanding Officer was selected for resident study at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. Graduated with honors with a Master Degree in National Security and Strategic Studies. Simultaneously earned a Masters in International Relations at Salve Regina College and MBA from Southern Illinois University. Earned the rank of Captain before retiring after 34 years.”  To me, this identifies Chris as a proven leader; a person who expects effort and excellence from himself; a person who will go the distance to solve complex problems; who is skilled in working with others, as well as one who understands budgeting, economics, and finance. These are skills I welcome in a State Legislator!

If one has served as U.S. Head of Delegation for the DIA for numerous exchanges in a number of countries and served as Program Manager of a national level effort against significant weapon system threats involving developing and executing strategies by conducting field missions, AND successfully fought cancer, perhaps that makes one brave enough to run for Delegate in District 13 against all odds..

Are YOU willing to help this unassuming and witty, highly educated, skilled, and dedicated person fight unfair odds? If so, consider sharing this blog with friends and neighbors as a way of introducing them to an inspiring candidate. Consider volunteering to work at the polls, telling voters about Chris and the important strategy of voting ONLY for him for State Delegate to improve the lopsided odds.

In a county that alleges to embrace diversity of race, gender, ethnicity, etc., etc., why not diversity of thought?  Would it really be so terrible to add a few well qualified Republicans or Independents to the Maryland legislature? Aren’t the needs of the PEOPLE more important than Party Allegiance?

Make District 13 a place of opportunity again—and meet me in the high road,

Susan

What is the opposite of a “Party” girl?

What is the opposite of a “Party” girl?

Q.- What is the opposite of a “party” girl (or guy)?

A.-  An “Independent”

I’ve had more parties this year than ever! No, I’m not bragging about my social life. I’m simply reporting that in 2018 I’ve switched my political “party” affiliation from Republican to Democrat and recently to Independent. I feel so free not needing to defend either major party’s (at times indefensible) people or positions!

It makes sense for me to “unaffiliate” since I ultimately don’t actually believe in “Party” politics. I prefer to evaluate a candidate’s qualifications and positions and vote for that person—not the D or R after their name– not their party.

I often think that if there was an “Underdog Party” that would be the best match for me. I freely admit I’m more likely than most to give full attention to candidates considered underdogs in their races. In fact, I will highlight one such candidate tomorrow, so please come back then! Subscribe so you don’t forget.

Don’t let your evaluation that both major parties may have gone too far to their extremes make you decide to give up your precious opportunity to vote.

TODAY, OCTOBER 16 IS YOUR LAST CHANCE TO REGISTER BEFORE THE UPCOMING ELECTION  

You can register right now on line. Just have your driver’s license handy.

https://voterservices.elections.maryland.gov/OnlineVoterRegistration/InstructionsStep1

Exercise your right to register and vote—and meet me on the highroad,

Susan