GRANOLAPARK: Council pounces

PHOTO: Bruce Crispell, director of long-range planning for Montgomery County Schools, presenting to the Takoma Park City Council.

GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT

Dear Readers,

The city council is on break. They are all on a strict exercise regime, building up speed, working off the excess blather. Otherwise they won’t be able to keep up the Olympic-level pace they’ve achieved since new mayor Kate Stewart took control of the agenda.

The four meetings since Stewart’s election have each ended before 10 p.m. Unheard of! The November 30 meeting lasted a mere one hour and nineteen minutes. A miracle!

Even though two of those record-shattering meeting-times don’t include closed sessions that led or followed, they ended long before the 11 p.m – midnight mark that meetings frequently crossed before Stewart’s election.

Your Gilbert predicts this won’t last through February. And then there’s the spring budget season – requiring two meetings per week. Then we’ll be back to the midnight wrap-ups. How fun that will be.

Ripping the rep

The council invited a county school system representative to ‘splain to them their plan to solve overcrowding by razing the popular Piney Branch Elementary School pool.

Bruce Crispell, director of long-range planning for the county schools wheeled his charts and graphs into the council chambers Dec. 14, the last council meeting of 2015.

In his presentation Crispell said – as the council quietly sharpened their claws – that school system is making a feasibility study of Piney Branch Elementary. This is a step toward making additions/improvements/modernizations in 2021. He showed a “New Projects” list, which included Takoma Park Elementary and East Silver Spring Elementary to be completed in 2020. A companion list showed “approved and moving forward” projects. They were mostly in wealthy areas to the west: Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Kensington. Their completion date was 2019.

councilMCPS-BBROWN02

From Crispell’s presentation which is available in pdf from on the city website here.

The council ripped into Crispell for what they said was the school system’s bad planning and discrimination. Why, they asked, were schools in wealthier areas – which are in better shape and less crowded than schools in and near Takoma Park – getting improvements first? Crispell’s answer – that every school gets a turn eventually – did not satisfy.

The county school system, said the council, failed to notice how young parents are moving in hipster herds to urban or inner suburban areas like Takoma Park. So, the schools are unprepared for the school population boom here. This failure was due, they charged, to the county’s usual bias towards the outer suburbs to the north and the wealthy areas to the west. The perception to many, including the city council, in south-east Montgomery County, is that “up-county’ gets the premium chow while “down-county” gets the scraps.

At times it sounded more like a PTA- than a council-meeting. Our councilmembers with school-age children are close – and critical – observers of the system.

But, as much as they want additions and moderizations to local schools, the city council’s priority is to save Piney Branch Pool.

Located in one wing of the elementary school, the pool is popular and used by many in the community. It is open to the public part of the time. It has been a constant battle to keep it in the county budget. Last year there were two attempts to cut county funding – which would have closed it.

There IS an alternative to razing the pool – expanding other nearby schools to take the extra students. The council made it clear they would like the school system to focus on THAT plan, please. That’s what the note pinned to Crispell’s bloody chest said.

councilMCPS-BBROWN01

From Crispell’s presentation which is available in pdf from on the city website here.

QUIET!

Cops will have the power to shut down noisy events – without taking decibel readings – if the council passes the noise ordinance amendment, which Yours Truly is certain it will in a few weeks.

As it is, the cops can only ask the offenders to turn it down, and if there are more complaints, keep returning with the same request. And they have to confirm that the noise is too loud by taking decibel readings.

That’s the meatiest change to the noise ordinance, as written by council member Fred Schultz. Another change, raising the allowed decibel level, stirred up the masses until Schultz explained that the current level was so ridiculously low (about the same as a normal conversation) it was meaningless.

A pointing

At the Dec. 14 meeting the council made a number of committee appointments: Committee on the Environment, Grants Review Committee, Nuclear-Free Takoma Park Committee, Commemoration Commission, Recreation Committee and the Tree Commission.

New day, new way?

The council passed a resolution Dec. 7 adopting new meeting procedures. The most obvious change is moving the weekly meetings from Monday to Wednesday nights. All meetings will start at 7:30 p.m.

The first city council meeting of 2016 will be Jan. 13.

Looks the the council is eager to tear up the city’s existing election procedures. Tentatively scheduled is a “board of elections update.”

Odds are that the council will bring up last November’s successful ballot question, which would “synchronize” the city election with state elections.

The council is also tentatively scheduled to take up: public art contracts, a police patrol car purchase, a grant to MANUP (Making a New United People), and a briefing on Crossroads Farmers Market. That will include a request to close Anne Street on market day.

Later in January the council may take up that noise ordinance amendment and proceeding with the library design. And it will deal with other more mundane things, such as the city manager’s quarterly report and the police pension actuarial report. The prospect makes us thirsty.

– Gilbert

 

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About the Author

Gilbert

Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog.

Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park’s mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.