Every Step of the Way!

Dear Readers,
Those bad boys want to take our fire truck away!

You know how everyone says the city council is always thrown into the role of being reactive rather than being proactive? It doesn’t get any more reactive than this!

And just when we thought we had it all settled.

This comes only a couple of years after the end of a long, difficult and often contentious struggle over the location, configuration, and size of the new fire station (to begin construction in the fall of this year). The new station was designed with the assumption that it would house our beloved hook-and-ladder Truck #2 which they’ve tried to take away more than once before and been blocked by the city council.

In his second month on the job, the new county fire chief Thomas W. Carr, Jr., has stepped into the hornet’s nest that is our proud and feisty city. He came to the Feb. 22 city council meeting with a Power Point presentation “proving” that Truck #2 (affectionately known as “Jumbo” for the stuffed elephant that hangs from the ladder just in front of the windshield – actually a tool to help the firemen assess the ladder’s angle) would be more useful to the county’s overall needs if it were relocated to Station #1 in Silver Spring.

Oh, is that the sound of swords being sharpened behind the city council podium?

He said it was nothing personal, but hey, it’s his job to place COUNTY (not city) resources where they will do the most good. Unfortunately for Takoma Park there is an increasing need up-county for “resources.”

But, fear not, he said, this will be a negligible change. To prove it he showed maps. Currently, according to the map, Takoma Park is covered in blue, indicating the hook-and-ladder response time is less than 6 minutes. If Truck #2 were moved to Silver Spring, the westernmost part of the city would still be in the blue, the easternmost section would be in blue (within range of a hook-and-ladder truck in Prince George’s County), but the central part (you know, the Maple Avenue corridor of high rises where a hook-and-ladder truck would be essential) was GREEN.

Not to worry, green indicates a less-than-8 minute response time, reassured Chief Carr, and a less-than-8-minute response is perfectly adequate. In fact, a 8 minute response time is the department’s goal response time. Our less-than-6-minute response time amounts to an unnecessary frill, he seemed to imply.

The council members were busy loading the cannons.

Ready, . . . aim, . . .

It was continuous fire, each council member taking a turn. It can be summed up with the words of council member Bruce Williams, “We’ll fight you every step of the way!”

Marc Elrich zinged: “The buildings (in Takoma Park) haven’t gotten any shorter and they haven’t gotten any newer.”

Most of them pointed out that the county council allowed up-county development but didn’t charge any fees to purchase the additional fire fighting resources needed. Why, they asked, should the city then be asked to sacrifice our resources? In short, they told Carr, buy more trucks, and charge it to the developers.

No clue whether the county chief was moved. He didn’t say one way or the other. More on this later, readers.

In other council news an interesting debate occurred between new council member Colleen Clay and veteran member Marc Elrich. In a work session staff-briefing about city rent stabilization (which, you remember is under review right now), Clay asserted the position that if a community (read: Takoma Park) values affordable housing (remember Gilbert’s analysis of this term?) it should spend money on affordable housing, and spread the cost around so everyone shares the burden, not foist it onto a small group (read: landlords).

She objected, she said, to the characterization of all landlords as rapacious exploiters. She did not glance sideways at Marc Elrich. Some, she admitted, were big corporations with vast holdings, but individual landlords who owned small buildings with just a few units in them should not be lumped in with these.

She said these people were not profiteers but were similar to business people who might open a small restaurant.
No homeowners in Takoma Park, she said, would be willing to lower the selling price of their homes so that poor people could afford them, and they certainly wouldn’t want a law passed that would require them to.

Aha! In the short time I’ve been regularly observing council meetings, this is the most openly anti-rent control statement i’ve heard from a council member. So far there has only been an uneasy agreement that all the council members are for “affordable housing.”
Marc Elrich, who is probably the most pro-rent control member, responded that unlike a restaurant, housing is a fundamental need, and that even the Supreme Court has judged that government regulation of rents is permissible. Landlords of any size, he said, are investors, and the profitability of rental properties in Takoma Park can be shown by how often they are sold and resold.

He cited the rows of rental buildings on Roanoke Ave. which, he said are indeed owned by a large corporations with rental properties all over the county. These, he said, were not individuals using a single rental property as a retirement hedge. “This is a place to make a lot of money.”
It would be nice to have an affordable housing plan, he said, but it is costly, and as there is no such policy in place, and nobody (read: Council Member Clay) has offered a comprehensive proposal for such a policy, then we have to keep the policy we have – until such a proposal has been made.

The Mayor, though she agreed that this was an important debate, said this was not the question before the council and it was getting late.
Before they left the subject, however, council member Terry Seamans remarked briefly that “we’ve skirted around this issue for years.” and he looked forward to a comprehensive discussion on affordable housing, which Mayor Porter has proposed, and he looks forward to hearing at that meeting “proposals for a better way to do affordable housing” He did not look sideways at council member Clay.
Now, dear readers, I’m going to turn the floor, er page, over to Ward 6 Council Member Marc Elrich’s comments on last weeks posting. Take it away, Marc . . . .
– Gilbert

First of all, no one is voting as a bloc of allies and not allies.

Second, going forward with the bond bill is not the same as going forward with the gym. The point of going forward is to avoid a repeat of the last public hearing where the question was raised about how much will it cost and how will you pay for it. Even at that hearing, there was a lot of support expressed for the gym – but not for plunging ahead without knowing what we need to know first. If we tried to have the discussion now, without knowing whether it’s feasible, what it will cost and who will pay for it, we could pretty much guarantee that no one would support going forward.

Getting the bond bill, whatever we get, will let us tell people how much money we have. It doesn’t obligate us to do anything, but it lets us at least tell people that we have “x” dollars for the project.

We are also having the utilities surveyed and the condition of the soil explored so that we know what we’re building on, so we can get a real, accurate picture of what it will cost to build on that site, and what the problems are regarding soil and utilities. Without knowing those things we can’t do more than guess what a gym would cost and they have the ability to double the price of the project if both of them deliver bad news.

When we know what the conditions are, what at least some of the revenues are, and then get feedback about what kind gym can go on the site and what it will cost, then we can go to the community and lay out what it’s going to take to get from here to there.

As for the gym itself, I’ve always supported it. What I object to is the suggestion in some people’s discussion that the gym was never vetted to the community and never had support. If anything, this was the first piece brought to the community, it was the piece that had the most enthusiastic support, it was part of the original project, it would have been built as part of the original project had we had all the money and had the need to stage construction not been raised. The gym isn’t missing because it wasn’t discussed or agreed to, it’s missing for reasons of money and staging. So, yes, I have a problem with the revisionist approach that the gym wasn’t part of the original agreement, understanding and extensive community discussion.

I don’t want a repeat of the what happened with the first phase of this project. You could just as easily count me among those who are unhappy about how it went. I had different ideas about how to proceed at the time, but I didn’t prevail. Such is life.

And back to the “split”. Every single member of the council has said they support a gym and want to build it. That’s not much of a split.
No one is proposing that we let the contracts on this thing. I don’t know what this will cost and, therefore, how it will be paid for. I think you’ll have very different discussions depending on the answer to those questions. It seems to me that if you’re going to have a meeting to ask people whether it’s “worth” it, we better be able to say what that means. That’s all we’re doing now.

The point, by the way, in going forward with the bond now is (and remember this doesn’t cost us anything) is that it’s an election year and all the delegates are hard at work delivering money to their constituents. If we don’t get in now, we’d have to wait another year, and prospects next year would probably not be as good. So this is the best shot we have at getting a decent amount of funding. I don’t want to have meeting, have someone ask “how are you going to pay for it” and try to tell them “we’re going to get “x” dollars from the legislature next year. I’d vote against going ahead with the project if someone told they were going to try to get the money from Annapolis “next year.”
– Marc Elrich.

About the Author

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.