Horror Missed

Dear Reader,
Your Gilbert has been unable to entertain you for a few weeks. They don’t allow internet access in jail.
You haven’t missed much. That’s not to imply that the city council hasn’t been busy, but they have been boring. It’s not their fault, it is just impossible to beat the eye-widening horror of last year’s budget sessions. Every week brought new terrors as county and state administrators on high cut us, then cut us again, heedless to the city’s naive appeals for fairness.
No such luck this year, Dear Readers. You’ll just have to settle for news that doesn’t give you nightmares. Sorry.

The Sidewalk War has been settled – for this year. The council voted 4 to 2 (Dan Robinson and Terry Seamens against) with one abstention (Josh Wright) to keep sidewalk funding at the same amount planned in the city manager’s 2012. The vote was on May 2.
Anti-sidewalk troops will be unhappy about that. They’ve been trying to scuttle new sidewalk plans, and to get the funds – which come from speed-camera fines – diverted to other city expenses. Very likely, they will be heard from again.
Begging to Differ
May 9th the council aggressively took up passive panhandling. City panhandling law needed updating, as similar laws have been overturned due to being unconstitutional. Begging is free speech. The new approach is to ban aggressive panhandling. Passive is ok – holding out a hat, or sign, or hand – as long as the begger doesn’t get in the beggee’s face. The previous discussion about this new law came to a lurching halt as several questions arose – questions that could only be answered by the ordinance’s author, the city attorney (who was not present). Since then the city attorney addressed the questions in a memo.
The council wondered why the proposed ordinance didn’t ban begging on median strips. The city attorney told them that the state allows it, except by minors, and the city can’t pass laws that counter state laws.
The city attorney also replied to a resident’s concern that restricting panhandling from “sunset to sunrise” was too vague. The term was commonly used, she said, and would not give any grounds to challenge the law in court.
The new ordinance was passed 6 to 1, councilmember Terry Seamens cast the only nay vote.
Letter Reading
Those of you worried that the city might still give Route 410 away to the State Highway Administration (SHA) so it can build a super-highway, or trans-continental canal, or something through the middle of Takoma Park might want to know that a letter from SHA arrived some weeks ago. The letter has a proposal regarding Route 410 which the council and staff have been parsing. The city attorney will present her legal opinion of it at the May 23 meeting. Don’t panic, the proposal is not likely to be that we give them the road. More likely it is about who’s going to pay for maintenance.
Sector Specter
Citizen concern about the Takoma/Langley Sector Plan continues to bubble. It has come up at most Citizen Comment periods this spring. The Sector Plan is a county-devised development scheme. The development will be at the corner of University and New Hampshire Avenues – and on down those roads. New Hampshire and University are multi-land and heavily used, that intersection and the surrounding area was first developed haphazardly in the 1950s.
Area residents are worried about how it will affect the quiet Ward 6 neighborhoods next to the development. One woman was upset that the plan does not include maintaining ethnic/economic diversity. She also charged that the plan gives insufficient help to local businesses, calling the county’s plan to provide technical help and new facades “putting lipstick on a pig.” The May 16 council meeting was Ward 6 night, and citizens raised worries about the Sector Plan then, too.
Don’t Read This Part – It’s Boring
The budget has been discussed this month and on May 16 it had the first of 2 “readings”. Like all council decisions there are two votes – the first and second readings. The first reading gives the council an opportunity to raise objections and suggest changes or ask for more information before the final vote, usually a week or so later. Citizens can make comments, too.
No citizens showed up and other than Councilmember Reuben Snipper asking for clarification about the city’s reserve fund* there was little discussion, so the budget was passed unanimously on this first vote. See? Boring!
Too Much Detail
The council doesn’t want to have to pass an ordinance whenever a change is needed
in the regulations governing public use of the city’s buildings and spaces. Too much detail, they said, give that job to some committee or something.
Good idea, but the ordinance that the staff crafted to do it is so complicated that the council strained to understand it in a May 16 work session. At one point councilmember Dan Robinson laughed bitterly as he read out one of the earlier-established guidelines, “Regulations will be written out in plain language.”
Back to the writing desk for that one.
See you later, we have to go check in with our probation officer.

– Gilbert
*city reserve funds are basically savings accounts the city keeps for big expenses like heavy equipment.

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.