Passing Out

Dear Readers,
What IS a “kudo,” anyway? Whatever it is, it must be fairly compact, because the council was passing them out by the handful to the Public Works Department for how well they dug the city out of the recent snow storms.
It was supposed to be Ward 6 Night at Feb. 16th’s city council meeting, but it frequently digressed into The Big Snow Night instead.
Plowing, and whether people’s streets were plowed quickly and adequately was discussed a lot. A LOT!

Other issues came into it, one resident wanted to know what to do about her neighbor’s stand of bamboo that was leaning on her house, weighed down by thick snow, and likewise leaning over the sidewalk and into the street, making snow-clearing difficult. Another resident had a lengthy complaint about PEPCO not restoring her power quickly, though she acknowledged that the city had no control over PEPCO. As often happens, the city council is the most accessible set of officials around, so that’s who people vent their complaints against the world to.
The council took the opportunity to vent a bit about PEPCO, themselves. Ward Six councilmember Fred Schultz heaped scorn on a PEPCO web site map that purportedly showed where current power outages were or had been fixed. It “bore no resemblance to the situation,” he said.
Sticky Situation
It wasn’t all about snow. One resident complained about how shabby ” Ward 6 looked. She particularly noted “sticky roads,” streets on which cracks and patches have been filled with a tar substance that, she said, looks ugly and gets on pedestrian’s shoes.
She also wanted to know if the city could repost a “no left turn” sign where cars turn from Carroll Avenue into her neighborhood. A temporary sign was placed there as a test, she wanted it back on a permanent basis.
A couple of “teachable moments” lit up the faces of the council and staff. One resident’s question was a springboard into a short discourse on the city/county double taxation for services, and the county’s inadequate (in the city’s opinion) rebate system.
Another springboard question about landlords and renters was answered by Housing and Community Development director Sara Daines with a short description of the city’s rent control and tenant’s rights.
Fred Schultz wrapped up the Ward 6 session by reminding the crowd that when they have a problem, “I’m your guy, talk to me!”
There’s Snow Talk LIke Snow Talk
Every councilmember had something to say about the snow storm – besides handing out kudos to the Public Works Dept. Colleen Clay, having observed two busses trying to pass in opposite directions on Maple Ave, asked it if was possible to at least plow out places where vehicles could pull over to allow another to pass.
Kudos were also passed to Mayor Williams for improvising a food program for the snowplow operators. He asked residents via e-mail to make hot home cooked meals for them. They passed them to the crews as they went by. We bet they were tastier than kudos.
Are we going to use the storm experience to plan for the next one – or for something worse? Clay said the recent storm showed that preparation is key. Terry Seamens said it is apparent that the city is ill prepared to deal with a disaster. He cited the difficulties with power outages, meals-on-wheels deliveries, still-buried fire hydrants, and the fact that the homes of “vulnerable neighbors” such as the elderly and infirm, are not always identified. Clay called for more preparation on the neighborhood level, and for the the city to work with community associations toward that end.
Josh Wright, reported the grim news that the storm had taken one victim in his ward, an elderly man who had a fatal heart attack while shoveling snow. He was concerned about city contractors dumping show on sidewalks – which residents are supposed to keep clear. Dan Robinson asked the city manager to send him information about how city contractors are picked, but he did not reveal why he was interested.
Wright also was concerned with preparedness. He said the city’s Emergency Preparedness Committee should take a look at how the city dealt with the storm, and he hoped people would be inspired to join that committee.
Clay also brought up an issue that was not related to the storm. The sidewalk in front of the under-construction firehouse was closed off when the below-ground floor was being dug out. But, now that part of the project has been completed, the former sidewalk is now full of porta-potties, stored construction materials and parked cars. Since the lack of sidewalk on a busy, difficult-to-cross road creates a danger for pedestrians, she said, shouldn’t the sidewalk be opened up?
Road Trip
The council was “treated” to an extremely long report via speaker phone from the city’s legislative lobbyist. Your Gilbert skipped this part. We went outside to shovel the street, hoping a neighbor would bring out a homemade cocktail, but alas!
We did hear the bit about Ethan Allen Avenue.
Ethan Allen – not the avenue, not the furniture store, but the original Revolutionary War soldier – lived in the Vermont Republic before it became a state. He was a judge in charge of confiscating property from tories.
Coincidentally, Ethan Allen Avenue has been confiscated. The state says we confiscated it, and welcome to it – but they don’t really mean it. The city says yeah, it’s our street, but they don’t really mean it, either.
Apparently, this all started decades ago when the city resisted the State Highway Administration’s plan to widen Route 410, which includes Ethan Allan Avenue. Route 410 (“East-West Highway”) is one of a few state highways – main traffic arteries – that pass through Takoma Park.
The SHA’s reaction has been, apparently, “OK, if we can’t widen it, it’s yours – to fix and maintain (but it’s still a state highway, so you have to ask our permission to do anything to it, such as paint a crosswalk, and guess what our answer will be, nanny-nanny boo-boo?)”
Dear Readers who have had any dealings with the SHA will recognize that this is one of their more reasonable and mature responses.
Mine (Yours) or Yours (Mine)?
Whoever owns it, it is a mess and needs repair. The city has asked SHA to do it and SHA says “we don’t want that ol’ road, we’re turning it over to you.” The council thinks the offer is as sincere as Nixon’s Checker’s Speech.
The city would sort-of like to own it, but that would be expensive, it being a big, heavily traveled street badly in need of repair. So, our local state delegates are slyly pushing a bill that would require all state roads turned over to municipalities be redone prior to the hand over.
Colleen Clay said that to further call SHA’s bluff, “let’s be totally and completely ridiculous – we’re good at that!” She jokingly proposed installing stop signs, painting crosswalks, and other acts calculated to poke a finger in SHA’s face. Josh Wright modestly proposed making it a toll road.
A more sober Mayor Bruce Williams cautioned the council not to act too much as though they really want the road “if we get what we wanted, we don’t want it. Be careful what you ask for. It could be a sinkhole in cost.” he warned.
Also, if the council makes too much noise about it, the SHA may revisit the idea of widening the route through the city. Despite the cost, Dan Robinson said that he’d prefer the city owned it than to see it widened.

– Gilbert
Next Post: “Talking Dog”

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.