GRANOLAPARK: Hush!

IMAGE: Councilmember Jarrett Smith makes a point at the Feb. 10, 2016 city council meeting. Photo by Bill Brown.

GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT

Dear Readers,

The Takoma Park city council (quietly) hammered some teeth into the city noise ordinance at their Wednesday, Feb. 10 weekly meeting. They discussed (with lowered voices) changes and amendments to the ordinance. The amendment is almost ready for a vote.

When the amendment passes, the police will have discretion to shut down a loud party or event – without having to resort to taking decibel readings. As it is now, they have to take a reading. Otherwise, they can only tell the offenders that there has a compliant and would they please turn it down.

The council will also revive a neglected part of the ordinance, the Noise Control Board. This was – and will be – a citizen group appointed by the city council. The 5 – 7 member board will have court-like powers to review cases, hear both sides and make judgements. It will issue cease-and-desist orders and levy fines.

This amendment’s passage is certain once they’ve finished drafting it. You can tell by the muted “Muwhahahahaha!” laughs around the dais as they worked on it. They are all sick of not being able to do much about sound complaints except listen to constituents’ frustrations. Councilmember Fred Schultz, for example, has been trying for years to shut down loud, boisterous, late-night parties at a church building in his ward.

We note one amendment is to alter language about publicizing Noise Control Board hearings. Gone is the sentence about publishing a notice in “a newspaper of general circulation.” Instead the notice is to be made on the city website and in the city newspaper. In other words, taking advertising income from local news publications, and advertising for free in the government-subsidized competition instead. The underpaid Takoma Voice staff salutes you, councilmembers. In a manner of speaking.

Out of pocket recycling

Takoma Park homeowners’ taxes pay for residential recycling. Takoma Park landlords and business owners’ taxes pay for … residential recycling.

Soon however, Takoma Park landlords and business owners’s taxes will … CONTINUE to pay for residential recycling, AND they will have to pay out of pocket for their own multi-family and business recycling.

That’s because the city is requiring owners of apartment and commercial buildings to recycle, but the city won’t be collecting it. The owners will have to hire outside firms to do it.

At least the city is allowing them to charge tenants a fee to cover the cost. The fees are set at $143 per unit, with yearly increases allowed at the rate of the cost-of-living index. This is the same rate of increase allowed under city rent control.

Either landlords and commercial building owners don’t care about this or they haven’t noticed. None of them have showed up with pitchforks and flaming torches.

citycouncilfeb10DarylBBROWN02

Department of Public Works Director Daryl Braithwaite discusses the ins and outs of multifamily and commercial building recycling with the Takoma Park city council, Feb. 10, 2016, Photo by Bill Brown.

Fees-able

Speaking of landlords and fees, the council had a “first reading” of a city code amendment about fees.

Most votable items (amendments, ordinances, resolutions etc.) have two “readings.” That’s when they go over items and make changes, then vote on the item – as revised. There’s always a week or more between the first and second readings to do the re-writing and to give people – council members and the public – time to think about it and raise new objections or changes.

The city code under amendment is intended “to prevent landlords from charging abusive fees.” That’s the actual title of the ordinance.

The amendments are minor, intended for clarification. Looks like landlords have used fees to circumvent rent control. Tsk!

Marijuana flashback

Some advocates against city zoning restrictions on medical marijuana dispensaries have characterized our last column as supporting their position. There has been name-calling and harsh criticism made of the council majority (four out of seven) who voted to continue down the path of zoning restrictions. Your Gilbert does not want to be part of that.

We chronicle the city council the way we see it – with human faults and virtues, and large grains of bemusement.  We don’t always agree with them, but – believe it or not – we’re fond of the critters. They’re so cute with those big bags under their blood-shot drooping eyes, and their nervous tics.

Its all about US

Takoma Park resident Brian Roston’s Moving Takoma and Langley Park Forward blog focuses on the “Crossroads” area around the intersection of New Hampshire and University Avenues, but he also reports and opines on wider city issues.

A month ago, he was kind enough to note Granolapark’s tenth anniversary.

In that posting Roston summarized the first two Granolaparks posted in October, 2005. The first post, he says, “anaylzes the then-concluding mayoral race between Seth Grimes and his opponent, a presumably nice and reasonable and politically and philosophically uninspired female candidate who was inevitably going to win because she wasn’t going to offend the comfortable types who turn out and vote in municipal elections. Geez, look how things have changed!”

He describes our second post as “an overview of decades of Takoma Park city politics in a few paragraphs.”

He mostly gets it right, but not when he says we were “flummoxed by the emergence of a new group of residents and activists that didn’t fit nicely in his reductionistic dichotomy.”

It is true that we didn’t have much truck with Sustainable Takoma, the Neo-Con movement at the time. As we wrote in our 10/27/05 posting “It’s easy to stand on the sidelines and shout ‘you should have seen this coming, the system is broken!’ I hear a whole lot of angry rhetoric that appeals to people’s emotions and discontent, but when you look at the complaints they raise, most of them are “gottchas” – incidents that look bad when described in a certain way without the full story.”

As Roston said, “Geez, look how things have changed.”

Flummoxed?

We were not “flummoxed by their views.” We did not disagree with fiscal-conservatism but we had some problems with Sustainable Takoma. First, they continued to use a misleading tax burden comparison chart long after it was shown to be misleading. It did not show, for example, the county’s fees for trash pickup – an item covered by Takoma Park taxes.

They also proposed cutting costs by cutting city programs and letting the county provide them instead. The city council did – later – seriously evaluate their suggestions and in every case the alternative county program was found inferior. Getting rid of the most expensive city service – the police – would result in slower response times, less coverage and less local control, for example. Eliminating city services that people like and are happy to pay for went over like a lead-laced glass of water.

Sustainable Takoma member Seth Grimes, lost that 2005 mayoral campaign, but years later won the Ward 1 council seat. He did not pick up the fiscally-conservative cause, however. In 2007 Sustainable Takoma member Dan Robinson won the Ward 3 seat, and he did try to limit spending. If we remember correctly, it was when he was on the council they looked at dropping services.

Granolapark has always favored fiscally-conservative progressivism. Not that we’d be embarrassed if we’d changed our mind over a decade. Personal politics are like anything else in life – you learn as you go. As has been said – anyone who isn’t a socialist at age 18 has no heart, but anyone who is still a socialist at age 30 has no head.

By the way, the city had a fiercely progressive but fiscally-conservative city councilmember at the time – Marc Elrich. We praised his work often. He is now a county councilmember. The city still has councilmember Terry Seamens, who, like Marc Elrich back then, prioritizes the poor and needy. Councilmember Jarrett Smith tends this way, too. We recall Seamens objections to spending thousands on fancy “gateway signage” when some city residents could not afford food, for example.

– 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.