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Hocotian Economics 101: Exposed

Hocotian Economics 101: Exposed

How come citizens can see the errors in Hocotian economics while many decision makers can’t?

Hocotian economics (origin HoCounty) defined as purported economic justifications out of step with current realities; purely designed to benefit the few at the expense of the many. An already out dated economic argument put forward, stated as gospel, to justify additional expenditures or increased development. Synonyms: total hogwash, self-serving drivel, a whopper

Disclaimer: I’m admittedly no scholar on economic theory but I founded and directed a Buyers Cooperative with annual sales of over $1million and was previously a member of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce. I’ve also been known to suffer from common sense.

As we plunge into a new County budget cycle, I can’t help but reflect on the constant barrage of past, present, and future projects in which bizarre Hocotian economic justifications play a big—and expensive role.

Example 1: How come Kimco maintains the addition of 260 apartments are essential for the Hickory Ridge Village Center to be sustainable? With more competition from Downtown Columbia Kimco purports that “adding mixed units and high-end apartments will give their retailers a captive market.” CAPTIVE??? Get real! Where is the hard evidence that the new apartment residents will faithfully shop at the Giant while high-end specialty markets like Whole Foods, Wegman’s, and Sprouts, and money-saving venues like BJs and Costco abound? Hasn’t Kimco heard of online ordering for grocery delivery services, or meal prep services like Hello Fresh or Blue Apron? Besides, isn’t there an expectation that Howard County families eat out several nights a week? No sir, the Planning Board shouldn’t buy the Hocotian argument that the massive, incompatible new design proposed is the Village Center’s only lifeline–any more than I buy that the 35 unit Bozzuto development proposed will assure an economic turn around for the Savage Mill. Disclaimer: I haven’t returned to the HRVC since the day Bella Luna closed. IMO, if Kimco hadn’t insisted on such an objectionably huge number of apartments, they’d probably be halfway through their renovation! 

Example 2: Seemingly limitless expansion of The Arts as an economic engine. Affluent, well-educated people can never have too much Art!  Or maybe they can…..According to the Sunday Baltimore Sun front page article, “Art no longer a huge draw: steadily thinning crowds are problem both locally and nationally.” Ooops, how much $$$$$ have we obligated for the Arts in the Crescent/Downtown Columbia and the revitalized Long Reach Village Center?  With high definition virtual museum tours, the ability to print 3D copies, and home theatres– why fight traffic for non-existent parking?  Disclaimer: While I lack artistic talent and the money to be a true patron, I proudly raised a fine arts major who chose to be gainfully employed as a graphic designer/marketing specialist.
Also in The Sunday Sun is the report on the collapse of the roof at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Work to raise it was already underway. Can Howard County really afford this $55 million renovation project with a swimming pool for performers when $$$ is so desperately needed for additional schools?  How come the MPP projected revenue figures never subtract the cost of police security and traffic management or EMS and hospital services?…or the sound volume monitors that are ignored?

Example 3:  How come a 20% pay raise for the county executive and council members is recommended in part “because of the high cost of living here?” Won’t continually raising salaries and other governmental expenses assure the high cost of living only gets higher? Disclaimer: I do think a county executive should make more than his employees. But perhaps we should look to lower the salaries of the other positions during turn-over? There is no shortage of persons seeking to be ‘our elected public servants’, nor is there a shortage of’ professionals eager to have their resume include having worked for Howard County. Indeed Council members have experienced increased workloads resulting from population growth. But isn’t that why each got an additional staff member last year to decrease that workload? What did that and an additional auditor for the Council Council add to last year’s budget? And why should we concern ourselves about what other jurisdictions are paying their elected officials? How come HoCo never looks at what other jurisdictions are charging?

Example 4: Citizens concerned with the adequate public facilities ordinance (APFO) did just that! They discovered HoCo developers are charged a mere fraction toward adequate schools, roads, etc. compared to our neighbors. Allowing developers to buy their way out of waiting until classrooms are available is Hocotian Economics at its worst! Paying two or three times the ‘normal’ rate in order to proceed with development when that ‘normal’ rate was so incredibly inadequate still doesn’t meet what developers are paying in surrounding counties, and will only further exacerbate our school overcrowding issues.  A Council Public Hearing will be held this Tuesday, January 16th beginning at 6 p.m. A large turnout is needed to convince the council to maintain the improvements voted on in November– even if it means slower growth until school facilities can catch up. Citizen should also demand an increase in the ‘normal’ rate developers pay. Citizens should not let Council members be swayed by….

Example 5:  BEWARE! Developers and the Chamber of Commerce representatives will ring their hands on Tuesday night, putting forth the Hocotian economics that affordable housing will be the victim of restricted growth. In reality developers are required to include 15% moderate income housing units in most zones but generally elect to pay a fee-in-lieu (which once again is not sufficient to purchase a housing unit). The current APFO bill exempts from the schools test the additional students generated from those 15% of units. Remember that gift of 100s of additional units to HHughs Downtown…..?  Let’s look for the devil in the details.

There are many, many more examples to discuss another day.  Send me some of your favorite examples, but let’s start by taking action on these.

Think about how over-development negatively effects YOUR family’s economics—and meet me on the high road,

 Susan

Can a “revolt” be civil?

Can a “revolt” be civil?

In my last post I predicted that overdevelopment would be the key issue in our local elections. I further commented that due to increased active involvement in and dissatisfaction with HoCo affairs, the coming ‘revolution’ may manifest itself as neither polite, nor civil.

Given the divisive atmosphere raining down from our national political situation there is little wonder that it will spill over into our own local situation. With a steady drum beat from the media and echoed on social media, surely everyone should feel offended by, incensed by, affronted by, provoked by, wounded by, victimized by, bullied by, or incredulous about– one issue or another……Or so we are led to believe.

It should not surprise anyone that our local principle of Choose Civility may languish this year. We are already seeing evidence of such. Besieged Council members have found themselves barraged by “uncomplimentary and threatening comments.” Some communities find themselves in virtual (un) civil wars as they heatedly debate what to demand re: a new high school.  Note: This issue took another hit on Friday when the Board of Ed announced that they didn’t consider EITHER the Rockburn Park site in Elkridge OR the Mission Road Quarry site in Jessup suitable for High School 13 which was to open 2 years ahead of schedule in 2022 in order to avoid redistricting. Now what???

Change and growth are a normal part of life. But unless the pace and distribution are better regulated (and more substantially funded by those profiting from the growth) we will continue down a road to destruction of all that has made Howard County great.  Citizens were handed numerous defeats since the last election cycle and contrary to popular belief, those closely involved have neither forgotten nor forgiven. Outstanding examples of accepting ANYTHING to assure maximum development in HoCo include:

  • Turf Valley being permitted to make the back wall of houses part of the sound barrier to Rt 70
  • Downtown Columbia approved to put senior housing units on top of the Banneker Fire Station and transit center
  • Approval of a large mortuary in a residential neighborhood on well and septic next to the last Tier 2 stream in the County (This battle cost local citizens well over $100,000 in legal fees and taxpayers over $1 million to mitigate the damage caused by sedimentation from the construction site)
  • Approval of an 800 foot long apartment building along Rt. 29 near Maple Lawn
  • Approval of even more changes to the CAC zone, allowing even more residential units at Rt 1 and 175 instead of promised commercial facilities
  • Approval of a special taxing district to assure a 3rd Transit Oriented Development with 1000 units on U.S. 1 in North Laurel –where no transit station exists
  • Approval of a Savage development in a Targeted Ecological Area above the steep slopes to the Little Patuxent, with conversion of federally funded parkland for use by the developer

Currently, dedicated Elkridge residents have taken on the burden of trying to locate a 45 to 50 acre site for their much needed high school, but have discovered that no such vacant non-parkland buildable parcel still exists today—except for one already in the pipeline for development. How ironic that the Council, at the request of the County Executive, just approved giving away 3 acres of county land “no longer needed” to the developer of that very parcel. Clearly NO ONE is thinking ahead to the need for school sites EXCEPT CITIZENS.

As frustration and dissatisfaction grow so will active involvement. As active involvement grows so will frustration and dissatisfaction. Left unchecked, a cyclone of emotion will sweep across the voting public.

However, disagreement doesn’t justify demeaning responses or disrespect (to or from one’s community members OR to or from one’s elected officials). But I predict that we WILL, regrettably, see much more of this as the result of growing frustration. In reviewing my own blog posts since 2015 I confess to seeing over time seemingly hopeless situations met with less gentility and a more barbed tongue.  I have however attempted, not always with complete success, to not resort to unproductive personal attacks.

I encourage all those who are more actively engaged in HoCo matters, especially this election year, to resolve to embrace some words of wisdom when ready to express your frustrations and your viewpoint…..

From Eleanor Roosevelt:  “Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.”

And from JM Barrie (author of Peter Pan):  “Shall we make a new rule of life from tonight: always try to be a little kinder than is necessary?”

Try examining your own Facebook posts as a starting point. What do you discuss??? Are you just sharing a steady diet of partisan barbs and criticisms? Or are you putting forth constructive ideas for change, words of encouragement, uplifting thoughts, acts of concern and kindness toward your fellow man?  Which better serves us?

Let’s go out and work together (rather than ‘fight’) for the changes we regard as necessary to protect our HoCo quality of life—and meet me on the high road,

Susan

P.S.—I am aware that my readership has increased considerably of late and I want to encourage Actively Involved newcomers to explore some older posts by putting APFO, for example, in the search box. You can continue to scroll through many in that manner, including clicking on ‘older posts’ to see even more.  If you’d like to trace a little frustration across several topics try this one from the fall of 2017 http://howcome.md/what-new-hell-is-this/   about misinformation on APFO, redistricting, industrial mulch; or from July of 2016 http://howcome.md/politicians-best-beware-of-the-double-double-ds/  on the threat of frustration. Welcome aboard new readers–and sign up to automatically receive new posts.

Predictions for HoCo 2018

Predictions for HoCo 2018

My best wishes for a happy, healthy, and less stressful New Year come with my personal predictions for Howard County in 2018. Unfortunately, I don’t see “less stressful” in the forecast.

I’m predicting that 2018, an election year, will be a tumultuous one in HoCo.

I predict there will be much more AI here! No, not Artificial Intelligence, but Active Involvement. I fear that involvement may manifest itself as neither polite, nor civil. But that will be a topic for another day.

I predict that just as the 2014 election was influenced by citizen outrage, so too will the 2018 election be. ‘The Awakening’ of citizens to the injustice of the squashed referendum effort to overturn egregious 2013 Comprehensive Zoning decisions extended throughout all corners of HoCo. Newly minted citizen activists were undeniably a key factor in the election of the County Executive.

I predict THE key HoCo Election 2018 issue will be over-development and all its concomitant issues. No single Exec or Council is responsible for the situation, but what can be done to stop it and reverse the ill-effects?  Who is wiling to re-balance the scales, revaluing citizens’ quality of life and investment in their communities vs. developer profits???

For some time I have been cautioning officials that we are nearing a tipping point that could foreshadow HoCo’s demise. Rapid, overly dense development is resulting in:

  • increasingly inadequate public facilities,
  • more and more not-really-temporary trailer classrooms,
  • the threat of a resurgence of school redistricting,
  • a reduction in forests and natural places to de-stress,
  • failure to safeguard sensitive environmental lands and species,
  • increasing industrialization of farmland allegedly preserved for agriculture,
  • destruction of historic buildings and sites,
  • a lack of effective storm water management, threatening people and property,
  • stressful, unproductive hours sitting in traffic, without reliable alternatives,
  • economic and social segregation,
  • a devaluing of the health and safety of citizens
  • a general decline in our quality of life

Ironically a “citizen rebellion” may be just what is needed to change that situation. While still a small proportion of the resident population, the growing numbers of Actively Involved, is having an influence.

What evidence do I have? The remarkable 2016-17 increase in

  • attendance and testimony at Council meetings regarding a variety of issues from the list above (including various cultural groups not previously active)
  • letters to the Council, Administration, School Board, State legislators, and the Press
  • yard signs, buttons, color coordinated T-shirts signifying unity
  • new issue-based citizen groups, websites, Facebook groups
  • citizen-to-citizen “101” (basic) training on critical issues
  • citizen group coalitions

and lest we forget, the successful ‘changing of the guard’ at HCPSS!

Rather than citizens focusing only on their very local, community-based issues they are beginning to recognize that they share issues with other communities throughout HoCo—and that they need to work together to effect change. They see that the problems go beyond the next proposed development in their own community which threatens all that attracted them to their established neighborhood in the first place. They see for example that when dealing with schools and other aspects of the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance we are better acting as a united front.

Preview of things to comeI predict 2018 will be a year of raging battles.

  • I predict those affectionately referred to (at least by me) as the “Angry Moms” or “Yellow Shirts” passionately stand up for children as the APFO debate continues before the Council in January.
  • I predict the residents of Greater Dayton continue to battle industrial mulching on agricultural lands, joined by folks in the East near industrial sites.
  • I predict those opposing doubling the density along Bethany Lane for a senior development on both sides of Rt 70 will continue their efforts to preserve their area.
  • I predict the battle for High School 13 continues within Elkridge and all along US 1.
  • I predict Savage and its friends will continue to fight for No Homes on Parkland.
  • I predict Clarksville/Riverhill will be actively involved in consideration of the Erickson proposal which will require changes to Plan 2030, extension of the public service area and open the West to further development all along newly widened Rt 32.
  • I predict those in Columbia will find themselves subject to more changes than they fathomed.
  • I predict an intense budget battle for competing priorities

And finally, I predict that citizens are going to expect candidates to be very clear about their positions on issues of concern. Broad generalities and placating platitudes will no longer be sufficient to gain one’s vote…..  And neither will repetitious spouting of National Party Platforms. My advice to candidates for HoCo offices:  Keep It Local!  Don’t try to distract with partisan politics. Let’s focus on cleaning up our own mess, the one created by years of thoughtless over-development.

Encourage others to join you as part of the Actively Involved—and meet me on the high road,

 Susan

When All the Trees Are Gone

When All the Trees Are Gone

Parents who have shared the Dr. Seuss story The Lorax with their children are familiar with what happens when all the trees are cut down…..  We in Howard County are beginning to experience the same fate.  It seems that the stripping of all trees from school and park playgrounds is now a recognized health hazard!  It is not enough that HoCo distributes hats and sun lotion to protect children from the sun, now we must build ‘shade structures’.

Structures are scheduled to be built in four parks for a total cost of $190,000. With funding coming from the HoCo Health Department’s budget, this is clearly a medical emergency of sorts. If only we’d consider this possibility years ago and retained or planted trees…….

HoCo prides itself on its “greenness.” It makes quite an effort to have facilities to teach children about the value of trees. But there seems to be a disconnect between ‘the teaching’ and ‘the doing’.

I’d like to share my letter to the editor which appeared in the December 14 issue of the HC Times and the Columbia Flier.

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Protecting children from overexposure to the sun while on playgrounds is indeed a laudable notion. But the erection of ‘shade structures’ as detailed in December 7’s Canopies coming to four county parks to limit sun exposure has me pondering. Is this just another manifestation of Howard County’s obsession with the built environment?

Is our Recreation and Parks Department overlooking TREES as a naturally occurring, sustainable means of providing shade? Granted, a newly planted tree does not provide much shade immediately–all the more reason to leave some well-established trees when developing parks and playgrounds.

It is disheartening when residential and commercial developers strip and flatten the land and do minimal replanting with landscape species. However, when the county sets that poor example by doing the same when it develops parks, schools, and government facilities, it really sets a bad example. State statistics show Howard County has one of the worst reputations in Maryland regarding forest retention. Between 2002 and 2010 we lost 2,367 acres of forest with accelerated development since.

Reforestation efforts on playgrounds CAN succeed if children and maintenance crews are educated to protect and value trees.

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If you’d like to join with other HoCo residents interested in protecting our forests and parks—before both are lost to development– please consider visiting my new Facebook group:   Protect Howard County Woods & Parks (STOPTHESWAP)  and meet me on the high road,

Susan

 

Theater of the Absurd HoCo Style

Theater of the Absurd HoCo Style

How come last Monday’s County Council meeting came off like a selection from the Theatre of the Absurd?  Allow me to play the role of drama critic and provide you with a synopsis.

The production was long in the making and highly awaited….as in years (Mulching/composting bill, CB60, was invalidating a hard fought earlier bill with which people were happy just 3 years ago. The new APFO CB61 had been a campaign promise from the 2014 election!)

The Show Must Go On…….but apparently not on time.  Citizens had once again inhaled or skipped their dinners and risked life and limb through Route 29 traffic to be in their seats when the curtain went up at 7:00 pm.  Only the curtain didn’t go up until 8:15. Council members were either still negotiating or rehearsing the lines that were to support their upcoming arguments or express their deep regret.

Regrettably, during this ‘down time’ citizens could not partake in either of the following:

  • A hot beverage.  Not available anywhere in the George Howard Building but needed to warm one’s hands in the frigid Banneker Room and to provide caffeine for the long night ahead) [As an aside, if hot beverage vending machines can’t be added to the first floor lobby, how come we can’t let scout troops or booster clubs take turns selling beverages during Council sessions??]
  • Declaring the winner of the pool. (The “How many police will be present for this evening’s contentious votes” pool.) Apparently they heard us betting while we were in our cars and they decided to ruin our fun….by appearing in plain clothes.  Yes, if you attend enough Council meetings, work sessions, etc. you can ‘pick them out of a line-up’ so to speak, even when not in uniform.

Like all good theatre there were protagonists and antagonists, tag team style in this case.  In the striped trunks were Council members Fox and Sigaty and in the solid trunks were Council members Ball and Terrasa.  Council Chair Weinstein had the unenviable dual role of referee and of tie-breaker.  He sided with the striped team during mulching/composting amendment votes and with the solid team during the APFO amendment votes.

So as not to appear to be imitating the U.S. Congress there were a few amendments that actually received affirmative votes from all.

https://apps.howardcountymd.gov/olis/PrintSummary.aspx?LegislationID=2892 links to the 30 pages of votes on the mulching/composting amendments and

https://apps.howardcountymd.gov/olis/PrintSummary.aspx?LegislationID=2890 links to the 50 pages of votes on the APFO amendments

Just when the ‘audience’ was feeling that some monologues were going on endlessly and the clock was about to strike 12, several developer ‘players’ in the audience took photos of the Council and photos of the clock striking midnight. They apparently thought the bill would turn into a pumpkin at that moment and free them to keep operating as usual. You see THEY had pre-calculated that the legislation would die if a vote wasn’t taken before midnight—and promptly left.  Ahhhhaa, but ALL were foiled again.  Under our complicated system for a 125 day deadline from time of introduction to time of vote, the Bills had actually died on midnight of Sunday, rather than Monday!  With the votes invalidated, the session had actually been nothing more than a very long dress rehearsal.

Earliest opinions are that the Amazing Amendments show will now have to go ‘off Broadway’ with CB60 Mulching going back to the Planning Board since it originated as a Zoning Map Amendment (ZRA). CB61 APFO and all of its amendments which ‘passed’ will hopefully be reintroduced in January. Tic Tock. No new legislation can be introduced in December. Hopefully APFO will be reintroduced as it had been amended, rather than starting over.

I really don’t want to be a season ticket holder to see this through. (We’ve been through several seasons already!) Here’s hoping this whole production won’t get turned over to a new Council cast in December of 2018!

No theatre review would be complete without a nomination for best leading actor.  In my opinion the hands down super star for her effort composing amendments in response to citizen testimony—and standing her ground– goes to my Council 3 Member, Jen Terrasa.  (She also issued an excellent summary of all the amendments to help citizens follow along in the complex process that was incredibly helpful.)  Council Member Ball gets my vote for best supporting actor as his support for Ms. Terrasa’s many amendments was crucial.

Really good theatrical productions leave the audience thinking as they return home. I personally struggled with replaying the ending scene where, rather like a Greek tragedy, the audience was warned of impending doom. This doom was to result from passage of the amendment to limit school capacity to 105% for elementary, 110% for middle and 115% for high schools.  As a result, beginning with 2020 almost all of the County will be closed to new development.  A thinking person might ask, “But wait, doesn’t that assume that HoCo will NOT build ANY additional schools?”

Somehow our neighboring counties manage to open a new school a year or even multiple schools in a single year. Why can’t the 4th richest County in the nation do the same?  I’m guessing it has something to do with priorities……….coupled with the low fees developers are charged…….and the insane belief that somehow residential growth will ever pay for itself.

It’s just amazing how with the pressure of APFO, increased exponentially by looming redistricting, the County Executive was able to move up opening a high school by 2 years and purchase an additional school site in Turf Valley.

Keep the pressure up—and meet me on the high road,

Susan