Action Heroes

GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT


Dear Readers,

It was an Action-packed night! The Task Force on Environmental Action gave its Interim Report to the city council Monday Jan 11.

If the energy generated in the council chamber that hour could have been harnessed, our worries would be over! The task force showed up in, er, force. At least 7 of its 21 members were there, enthusiastically flexing their muscles and jogging in place. Glowing with proud parenthood, the council beamed at these, their brainchildren

The council created the task force last fall to take charge of the city’s environmental plan. The members were given a mere 6 months to deal with a daunting number of missions, all to be finished before the group ceases to exist March 31, the day it hands over a final report and recommendations.

The task force is charged with reviewing environmentally-relevant city plans, operations, polices, programs, and ordinances. They are preparing to make several recommendations, including how the city is to meet the council’s environmental sustainability goal. They will present a five year plan with recommendations for the city government, residents, and businesses.

But Wait, There’s MORE!

The council also calls for the committee to prepare a “roadmap” for realizing the city’s Strategic Plan’s vision, and to prioritize it’s recommendations in order of the largest gain for the smallest investment – or “bigger bang for the buck,” as it is often referred to.

Your Gilbert finds it close to miraculous that the council found 21 residents who were so gullible brave as to get drawn into this deal. But there they were, so full of beans that the council was concerned they were taking on more than intended. An awestruck Councilmember Reuben Snipper said he didn’t anticipate that the task force would “solve problems by March 31,” but would just lay out a “general roadmap” of where to go and how to make decisions. He said the material submitted was “already quite detailed.”

For instance, the report notes that half of the city government’s electricity use goes to street lighting. This provoked several “Hmmms!” from the council.

The committee wanted to add an opportunity for public feedback on their report before they submitted it, but they said to do so would require more time, which would create difficulties. As their terms are set to expire March 31, the council would have to extend them, and some members might not be able or willing to serve longer.

The committee was pleased with its work on what it called a “decision matrix,” a way to prioritize recommended projects and programs. It places emphasis on the “more bang for the buck” aspect of each, they said. Councilmember Josh Wright began waving a big yellow caution flag at them – urging the task force not to rely too heavily on a matrix, based on the council’s bad experience with one they used to decide which sidewalk projects to prioritize.

The committee asked the council to clarify whether they should be proposing actions that effect the city’s carbon footprint or should they include other environmental aspects. The council said all environmental aspects were within their mission. They mentioned the Chesapeake Bay, storm water, habitat. All are connected to carbon emissions in some way, they said.

A committee member asked what sort of recommendations would likely be implemented. Would the council be willing, for instance, to create staff positions or redirect current staff to address environmental concerns?
The mayor said that such options could be proposed, but, given the current economic climate, he assumes that in the next budget cycle the city won’t be adding staff. “Much more like we’ll have fewer staff,” he said. Letting staff members go and then adding environmental staff positions would be “tough,” he added.

Councilmembers Clay and Josh Wright told the committee not to worry about the immediate budget restrictions, that their recommendations are for the long view. More funds, possibly federal funds, might be available for environmental projects in the future, they said.

The council placed gold stars on the task force member’s foreheads as they summersaulted out the door.

Choose or Lose Booze

The council had another little chat about Demon Rum. Or in this case Demon Gourmet Wine Shoppes.

It was largely a rerun of their discussion last June on the subject. This time the council were deciding whether they should take the next step – asking for public opinion. They chose to proceed with that step, but with some mighty cold feet.

The question now goes to you residents, Dear Readers. Should the city allow beer and wine stores. And, if so, where?
Councilmember Colleen Clay was pretty sure where, and she didn’t like it.

If the council follows the model of Kensington, one of the options to consider, the city would designate a specific area where a beer and wine store could be established. The designated area, Clay said, would likely be in affluent wards 1 and 3, excluding the less affluent wards. Clay represents Ward 2. Clay said she was “concerned about the message it sends.”

Ward 1 councilmember Josh Wright, the most vocal council advocate of the proposal, said he was not excluding any wards, only responding to what he hears his constituents say they want.

Clay said whatever approach was used, it should be fair.

The main mover and shaker on this issue appears to be the Old Town Business Association (OTBA). most of Old Town is located in Josh Wright’s Ward 1, the rest is in Ward 3. Roz Grigsby, OTBA executive director, says the OTBA has fielded a significant number of calls from various entrepreneurs wanting to open an upscale beer and wine store in Old Town. The business association, concerned about the number of empty storefronts, is eager to change the laws so such a store could open. They see a lost opportunity for the city, and a loss of city revenue when they see residents crossing the border to purchase liquor.

Terry Seamens, who expressed opposition to a liquor store last summer, said he’d heard “nothing to dissuade me from my previous position,” He asked Ms Grigsby what “vision” OTBA had in mind. She said there are “thriving business models” that would include a fine wine store, but that did not mollify Seamens, who said he still wanted to see the “bigger picture.”

Councilmember Reuben Snipper remains as cool to the idea as he was in June, though he did not object to getting the public’s opinions, as raucous as they might be. He thought a “really nice pub” would solve a lot of the problem.

Tax It!

Councilmember Fred Schultz seemed to be open to the idea. He asked questions that leaned toward showing the advantages of having a beer and wine store. He asked if a liquor store would yield any more or less tax revenue than another business. City administrator Sue Ludlow said it was not easily calculable, but the city gets only real estate property and inventory taxes from businesses, and a liquor store would be no different.

Demonstrating that he has quickly adapted to thinking like a politician, the freshman councilmember asked if the city had the authority to slap a tax on liquor sales. The staff seemed to perk up at the suggestion of a new revenue source. Perhaps the mayor’s earlier words about possible future staff cuts were on their minds.

Schultz observed that the neither of the closest liquor stores for his Ward 6 constituents felt very savory. He said it would be nice to have a pleasant, comfortable place with a good selection.

Schultz and Wright asked the police chief if his department has had problems with liquor-serving establishments (Roscoe’s and the Olive Lounge) since they recently opened in Old Town. The chief admitted there have been none, though he said there were some problems with a liquor store on New Hampshire Avenue and a nearby liquor-serving restaurant. The liquor store is in a part of the city that was once in Prince George’s County, and upon unification it was allowed to remain a liquor store- the only one in the city.

Schultz asked if the city could regulate the size of liquor bottles sold. The answer was no, county law goes into detailed specifics about that.
Chief Ronald Ricucci reminded the council that the county laws relating to liquor fill several books. He said he’s spent several nights reading them and they are “the most complicated I’ve run into,” in his long career as a law enforcement officer.

The way the law is set up, once a license for a beer and wine store is issued to a particular establishment, the city would have little control over what happens there. If the upscale wine shoppe the OTBA envisions goes out of business, a downscale beer store could take its place.

Nebraska

Clay said she had no issue with issuing liquor licenses, noting that where she grew up people could just buy liquor in supermarkets, as they can in many other places. But, she said, when she moved here and encountered the county’s strict liquor control system she asked “Am I in Nebraska . . .?”

The county took control of all liquor sales in 1933 and held onto it as a lucrative revenue source ever since. Off-premise sales of hard liquor are restricted to county liquor stores. Off-premise sales of beer and wine are restricted to county liquor stores, and a few private stores and supermarkets. ALL liquor sold at those private stores and at restaurants must be purchased from the county, not directly from private distributors as is done in adjacent jurisdictions. This places all private beer and wine stores and restaurants at a disadvantage to their competitors in those adjacent jurisdictions. It also limits the selection.

They want opinions? Your Gilbert will give them one!

Colleen Clay ripped the band aid off the nasty oozing sore that is the Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control (DLC) when she said, in essence “what’s the big deal with liquor?”

We feel the same. The issue is ridiculous. People should be able to buy a six-pack or bottle of wine at the supermarket along with other foods and beverages. Store owners should be able to buy liquor directly from distributors, not from the county. The local liquor licensing laws should not be so byzantine and voluminous that hardly anyone, even lawyers, can fathom them. The county should treat its citizens like grownups and it should get out of the liquor business.

But, that’s not going to happen.

Since that’s NOT going to happen, we think the city should not stick its foot anywhere near this putrid tar pit. We should not waste our time, or the city attorney’s time, winding through the maze of county liquor law, and we should not encourage or aid the disgraceful county control system. The DLC deserves not one penny of our money. There are PLENTY of liquor stores just outside the county within a short drive, reasonable bike ride or walk of Takoma Park – including a county liquor store just across the border on Piney Branch Road at Flower Avenue.

What weighs the scale even more on the “no liquor store” side is Takoma Park’s long history as a dry town. There are some longtime city residents who would like to keep it the way it is. We’ve already allowed liquor in restaurants. Given all the liquor stores within easy distance, opening one here seems unnecessary. It also looks like an act of yuppie-newcomer arrogance.
So, in short, Your Gilbert thinks the city should go the way that is easiest and honorific of its history and older residents – which is to pass on the idea.

Those Dear Readers who don’t understand the origins and workings of the Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control (DLC) should take a few moments and read this excellent City Paper article “Pain in the Glass” by Tim Carman, published February, 2007

Meanwhile, Back in Nagasaki . . .

Maintaining the city’s liberal reputation, the council passed a resolution endorsing the Mayors for Peace Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol. The mayors are calling for a nuke-free world by 2020. The resolution was, naturally, requested by the city’s Nuclear Free Takoma Park Committee (NFTPC). The resolution authorizes Mayor Bruce Williams to sign the “Cities Appeal in Support of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol.”

NFTPC member Linda Gunter told the council that only 20 other cities have joined the appeal, so she urged them to pass the resolution. The addition of Takoma Park, she said, would help broaden awareness of the effort. The council and mayor were unanimous in their support.

– 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.

1 Comment on "Action Heroes"

  1. Steve Davies | January 22, 2010 at 12:46 pm |

    Gilbert — The task force has 19 members, not 21. One member became a father for the second time shortly after the task force began meeting and was able to attend but one meeting. So 7 of 18 active members showed up at the council meeting. I’d call that a pretty decent showing.
    Also, we were really given five months, not six, to do the job. The council didn’t finish appointing people till October and we had our first meeting on Oct. 21.
    Takoma Park residents who are interested in what we’re up to can check the city web site at http://www.takomaparkmd.gov/committees/tfea/index.html
    Steve Davies, co-chair, TFEA

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