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Separate(d)….. and definitely Not Equal

Separate(d)….. and definitely Not Equal

There have been numerous suggestions for improving school safety as a result of the Parkland, FL tragedy.  These range from installing bulletproof glass, double lock vestibules, and metal detectors at school entrances– to more regular emergency drills where students practice sheltering-in-place in classrooms, lavatories, and closets.

Unfortunately NONE of those suggestions will protect the Howard County students who receive instruction in thin-walled trailers behind school buildings.  These foundationless trailers are without the protection of brick and mortar, vestibules, bathrooms, or closets.

When will we address the need to eliminate the approximately 240 such ‘classrooms’ in use here in HoCo today? According to the 2019 proposed capital budget an additional $2.5 million is to be allocated for additional purchase and moving of “relocatables.” How come there is NO plan in place to eliminate the use of trailers as the solution to school overcrowding in the short OR long term.  The time for such a plan is NOW!

In a jurisdiction which espouses equality as a core value, where is the outcry to increase developer’s fees and excise taxes to provide adequate school facilities for ALL our students?  Oh wait.  There was an outcry during the recent Adequate Public Facilities debate. But some chose not to listen. Remember, they chose developer profits over children’s safety.

Speak up for ALL of the children—and meet me on the high road,


Gunfight at the APFO Corral

Gunfight at the APFO Corral

Not a real gunfight of course, but a major ‘showdown’ whose consequences may be just as dire….. How come I’m hearing the theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly as I write this?

In the beginning…..(Skip this paragraph if you are current)

Almost a year into his administration the County Executive met a campaign promise and convened a task force to revise the decade old Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance. Once the group completed their work inexplicably almost another year passed before the CE put the result forward as legislation almost identical to the task force’s recommendations. After time wasted before the Planning Board, the legislation was finally ready for the Council’s consideration as summer-recess-time 2017 approached.

Fast forward to November, when after hours and wee hours of testimony and an equal amount of work sessions, THE GOOD (Council Members Ball, Terrasa, and Weinstein) succeeded in amending the Bill to most significantly reduce the threshold at which schools would be considered sufficiently over-capacity to delay construction, as well as adding a capacity test for high schools. While some joy was felt by residents, those voting against the passage of the amended bill predicted dire consequences, concluding, incorrectly, that Howard County would now be shut down to development.

Monday night, January 5 at 7:00 p.m. the County Council will vote again on the APFO bill (which passed in November but whose outcome was invalidated due to a ‘calendar miscalculation’). That bill was brought forward exactly as passed in January 2018 as CB 1 and 2, sponsored by the three Council Members who voted to pass it.

However, on the night of the public hearing, THE BAD arguments arose in a clearly orchestrated attempt to mislead the Council and the public–and to shoot holes in the bill. All the elements of a chapter from a political party’s strategy playbook were displayed!

  • Define the issue by using an inappropriate, emotionally charged and entirely inaccurate term—in this case “moratorium” to describe a short-lived, slow-down.
  • Make dire predictions based on unsubstantiated, biased data—in this case, the total collapse of the HoCo economy if developers don’t have a ‘predictable’ atmosphere in which to build on every last inch of land.
  • Make a case for how cruel and heartless slower growth advocates are to those ‘less fortunate’—in this case, those in need of low income housing even if they are not current residents; despite most downtown Columbia projects already being in the pipeline and therefore unaffected; NO regulations requiring low income units be built, and allowing ‘fee in lieu’ to dodge moderate income housing requirements).
  • And when all else fails……shamelessly bring in the parents of individuals with special needs to plead your case for you –in this case, especially those on the autism spectrum, while doing NOTHING to make housing more affordable for them or anyone else.

Where were these people spewing THE BAD arguments for the last year???? Were they simply so confident that the original APFO bill would pass (because most every piece of legislation supporting increased development does) that they felt no need to bother attending and participating????

After THE UGLY Council legislative hearing and THE UGLY Council Work Session (during which only pro-development voices were given an opportunity to be heard), THE UGLY meeting of the Ho Co State delegation regarding enabling legislation to allow HoCo to raise the fees on developers was unsatisfactory to citizens. (Though Hats Off to Delegate Turner for pointing out those fees haven’t be raised in a decade and that paying 2 or 3 times almost nothing [to skirt school capacity issues] is still almost nothing. I guess it is easier to speak the truth when one will be retiring from political office.)

So how come I titled this blog The Gunfight at the APFO Corral rather than The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly?

I predict a BIG Showdown in the Banneker Room on Monday night. Eight substantial amendments have been proposed by 4 individual Council Members. Some raise school capacity figures, some lower them, some delay implementation. Some exempt ‘affordable housing’ from the schools test, some insist on equating housing needs to school capacity needs, some change the adequate roads provision.

Unless the Council takes a highly unlikely vote to table the Bill in order to allow future public testimony on the proposed amendments, only written input can be considered at this point.  I’m comfortable agreeing with others who have put in hours, months, years on the effort to get the best possible APFO for HoCo residents rather than big business.

I therefore suggest the following citizen action:

Go on record with only the briefest note to  Urge the passing of CB1 as drafted, or with the addition of amendments that strengthen the infrastructure of our county, namely amendments 1, 4, 7, and 8. Urge defeat of amendments which would increase school capacity, delay implementation of the APFO high school test, and create exemptions that defeat the basic purpose of APFO, namely amendments 2, 3, and 6. (If # 5 actually weakens the roads test, reject it as well.)

There has been other contentious legislation in the past, but none where citizens have put in more time studying, testifying, advocating, and collaborating.  They will not tolerate a further decline in their quality of life or of their children’s education. They will NOT tolerate the gutting of the bill passed in November. They will NOT soon forget those who attempt to do so. If the community’s desires are shot down, future plans of Council Members, whether seeking elected office or employment by the development community, may be shot down as well.

Our Ho Co State Delegation awaits the passage of CB1 so they can move forward on the companion legislation to address removing the buy-up provisions and increasing school surcharge fees.  Will there be purposeful Council delays to miss the State legislative session, leaving the current incredibly inadequate APFO in place? Will the CE veto the bill under consideration if he feels the economic impact is too great? Will we ever get the truth about whether State enabling legislation is really required since other Charter Counties set their own fees?

The stakes are high and so are the emotions. I expect Feb 5 to be among THE UGLIEST. Will Council Members do the right thing for their constituents? Will the State legislators? Will a referendum be necessary?

Write the Council now, wear yellow, make ‘em look you in the eye Monday night—and meet me on the high road,


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,


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,


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   about misinformation on APFO, redistricting, industrial mulch; or from July of 2016  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,