GRANOLAPARK: Real live people!

GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT

Dear Readers,

There were PEOPLE out there in the council auditorium! “It helps to have live people come in to talk about the problems you face” said councilmember Fred Schultz.

It wasn’t even the usual four people who rotate through every weekly Citizen Comment session. Those people should just stay seated and hold up little signs that say “Same Old Stuff.” It would save a lot of time. More time for drinking!

The real people who trooped into the April 20 regular city council meeting with signs and everything thrilled the Takoma Park city council to its socks.

They were there to protest rent raises at Essex House, a low-income housing high-rise at 7777 Maple Avenue, just down the street from the city council chambers. The building does not come under the city’s rent-control laws. It was set up as “affordable housing,” by the county, and is now owned, apparently, by CPDC, which appears to be a non-profit development/building management organization.

Hopefully his isn’t a sign of another mess like last year’s “affordable housing” scandal at New Hampshire Towers.

Sounds gross

The April 20 meeting was mostly taken up with work sessions – followed by an “administrative function” session – meaning top secret you can’t attend only the cool kids allowed. Oh, yeah? Well, we don’t wanna go to your crummy “administrative function” session anyway. It sounds gross, like going to the bathroom or something.

They said it was to evaluate the city attorney but we bet they were having a party instead but like who cares?

Meh

The first work session was on the proposal – more like a edict in some councilmember’s minds – to synchronize the city and state elections – holding them on the same day and if possible on the same ballot.

Did we imagine it or did the city attorney have a air of someone who didn’t really want to deliver bad news to a bunch of people who will poo-poo it anyway and incidentally will be evaluating his job performance in an hour?

He did try to tell them that staff and the Board of Elections were having difficulties figuring out how to synchronize yet retain Takoma Park election’s unique features: non-citizen voting, Instant Runoff Voting, 16 – 17 year old voting, felons voting and all the rest. And they would have to rush the city charter changes before they could get all those problems solved, if they wanted to synch up by the next election cycle.

And, as before the council blew right past all of it, the charge led by councilmember Tim Male, voicing a carefree “meh”

And, once again Councilmember Fred Schultz made an attempt to explain what “advisory” means, as in “advisory ballot question.” As in the advisory ballot question on last November’s ballot that asked residents to advise the council whether or not to make the change, “providing that voting rights can be maintained for City residents who are [1] 16-17 years old, [2] noncitizen, or [3] on parole or probation for felony conviction, and that instant runoff voting and same-day voter registration can be maintained.”

The ballot question passed with around 70% of the vote – thanks to some last-minute heavy-handed campaigning by outside groups like the state NAACP and county and state politicians.

Qualms

The report by staff and the BOE lists eleven amendments that must be made to the city charter. Councilmember Schultz had qualms about some of them, and suggested that, since they were drastic changes, they should be put before the residents before the council proceeded.

For example, “amendments to the instant runoff provision may be required.” So that’s one violation of the ballot question provisions.

Voter registration deadline might have to match the county’s, another violation of the provisions.

The city council might have to surrender election regulatory authority over to the county board of elections.

The city’s nominating caucus, which kicks off the city election campaign, would have to be rescheduled from early October to the first Monday in August. A time when, as councilmember Schultz pointed out, many people will be on vacation. It turns the election season from one month to four. That’s what we had last year when Mayor Williams announced he was not running in late summer and it was exhausting.

Counting votes would take longer – and it might be the county board of elections counting the votes, not the city, City elections would have to comport with state election law. Timing of special elections regarding charter amendments would have to be handed over to the county.

Meh, meh, meh, and meh. The council majority saw no need to slow the process down by consulting with constituents.

At least Male conceeded that a shared state/county/city ballot may not be achievable by 2018. He was willing to have an election with two ballot boxes that year. Some of his allies were afraid that residents may not go to the trouble of voting twice, which would defeat the goal of increased votership, But, Male said it was not a problem in Ocean City, where two ballots is the norm.

The vote was 5 – 2 to push on. Councilmembers Schultz and Jarrett Smith voted “nay.”

Pets

There was also a short budget “reconciliation” session.

“Reconciliation” means that councilmembers ask for more money for their pet … er, priority projects.

Councilmember Terry Seamens was the only one who said he’d ask for more for his priorities, but would find things to cut to pay for it.

Last chance

The next and last public hearing on the budget will be next week, April 27. The state law-mandated hearing on the Constant Yield Tax Rate will be the same evening. So, if you want to speak up for your favorite programs or plead for a tax cut, this is your last chance. You can email or call the council, too.

The budget will wrap up with two votes, or “readings” as they are called,  the first provisional reading on May 11, the final reading on May 18.

Fun facts

The city manager announced that the city will be installing electric car charging stations in a few public spaces around town. They will be free to the public. She hopes to have them installed in time for the city’s GreenFest the last weekend of April.

We hope free charging for people well-off enough to buy electric cars was funded by grants, not the tax-payers. Who pays for maintenance and the electricity?

mayorcoffeeCCC041516

Community coffee with Mayor Kate Stewart and councilmembers Peter Kovar and Rizzy Qureshi at the Capitol City Cheescake cafe April 15. Photo by Bill Brown.

Jarrett Smith says the (current) date for the dreaded Carroll Avenue bridge closing is the third week of June.

Fred Schultz had a curious way of flogging his blog – “it’s a free country, you don’t have to read it.”

Last week’s mayor-and-council coffee at Capitol City Cheesecake was a success – biggest attendance of the informal coffee-meetings so far.

Rizzy Qureshi said to look for something similar at the VFW in Ward 3 – it won’t be for coffee.

Mayor Kate Stewart says there will be a youth conference, similar to the city’s program on affordable housing, in mid-June.

Comment

We’ve got families who can’t afford rent, and the city is installing electric car charging stations.

Are the city’s priorities in order? Top priority should be the city’s disadvantaged, especially youth. That IS one of the city’s priorities, and good for the council on making it so.

A city is like a family. Families sacrifice for their children to give them a good future. Most can’t afford to send them to good schools, enroll them in enrichment programs or even just summer camps and dance classes – while putting on an addition, landscaping the yard and buying a new Tesla.

A family puts its priority on the children’s needs, and if that means the house is scruffy and the car is used – so what?

The city could stand to look a little scruffier, especially if we know it’s because we’re providing programs to poor kids instead. Do we really NEED an expensive new “gateway” on Ethan Allen Avenue? Do we NEED a “street-scaping” manual? Do we NEED electric car charging stations?

Too many projects and ordinances are aimed at improving property values. That’s not a NEED. Maybe if we ditched property values as a priority we could invest in the lives of our poor and disadvantaged AND keep taxes down.

UPDATE: City Manager Suzanne Ludlow points out in the comment section below that “The electric charging stations are being installed in Takoma Park at no charge to the city other than the electricity.” First of all, what’s the big idea of bringing facts into this? Second, Your Gilbert has the higher moral ground in this situation – we held back from making that “no charge … other than the electricity” pun.

– 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.

6 Comments on "GRANOLAPARK: Real live people!"

  1. Randy Marks | April 22, 2016 at 7:33 pm |

    Re Gilbert’s comment at the end: I think one reason that the Council does not hold down taxes is because it’s far less visible than desirable new programs and activities. I suggest treating tax relief (any money from cuts in the existing tax rate [which represents a tax increase given that assessments are going up]) as funding an Affordability/Diversity Program. That way, it can be evaluated against all other programs.

  2. I’m with Fred on this one. The city spent decades and tremendous amounts of time and effort developing specific initiatives to expand voter participation and now we’re dismantling them without public discussion or vote, seemingly because a few wannabe politicos want to have an “accomplishment” to run on for higher office.

  3. Also, I’ll have to explain city dynamics. The city wastes money on windowdressing such as the “gateway” project for the same reason that the city wastes money on a lot of things – it’s a lot easier to spend residents’ money on feel good projects than it is to actually accomplish things. These projects do not increase property values. Property values increase because of inflation, geographic location, proximity to public transportation especially Metro, and reasonably good schools. The city’s high taxes are actually an incentive for people to buy outside of the city. Also, the city has to its credit done more than its fair share to provide affordable housing. The city does not have responsibility for public education – that’s the county’s responsibility. The city does not have responsibility for health and human services – that’s the county’s responsibility. The city should have been investing in economic development, which benefits everyone especially those with lower incomes by providing basic goods and services and jobs. Hyattsville has a spiffy new Safeway because the city and Prince George’s County invested $3.5 million in tax credits and incentives – https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/work-begins-on-safeway-project-meant-to-revitalize-hyattsvilles-university-town-center/2014/05/07/22662828-d5ee-11e3-8a78-8fe50322a72c_story.html. Takoma Park will spend an equivalent amount on expansion of an anachronistic library that should have been phased out decades ago. As a result, Hyattsville residents will have yet another amenity and source of employment. Takoma Park residents will continue to have empty storefronts.

  4. Suzanne Ludlow | April 23, 2016 at 6:20 pm |

    The electric charging stations are being installed in Takoma Park at no charge to the city other than the electricity.

  5. I would love to see some metric that the City & others could use to think about how a proposed activity improves the life of the poor or most vulnerable in this city. Such a metric could push our thinking collectively on projects — both perceived expensive and inexpensive ones — to ensure that we don’t have half-baked under-resourced proposals that do not meaningfully address issues of poverty and disparities. I support some expensive infrastructure projects — possibly the mentioned gateway projects — when I also see how some of this addresses in a more durable way the issues of the poor and most vulnerable.

    I also would welcome bold, rightly resourced proposals to address affordable housing of all forms and economic development. It is concerning that in Takoma Park there are the landed and the landless. The “landless” — People who never will own their own piece of Takoma Park as a home or business but will only be given the opportunity at best to rent a piece of the city as a modern day share cropper of sorts. Fortunately for us our jurisdiction has been scrutinized as a case study for suburban poverty –so if we want to do something we can in an evidence informed way. To move beyond this does require rethinking our old assumptions and paradigms. Applying last century’s thinking will NOT allow Takoma Park to retain any mantle of avant-garde progressivism in this century.

    Sure, the City can firewall itself from some issues like health or education because those technically may be the County or State’s responsibility. Nevertheless, other progressive communities haven’t been so inhibited because they seriously wanted to address disparities and issues of the most vulnerable. They have put their money where their mouths are — and have put strategic complementary amounts into health, built environment & safety, and education when it advances the larger community’s agenda. These pieces can and do fit together. My own experience is that addressing the needs of immigrants, the poor, or the most vulnerable doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive of other projects as framed in this article; many times there can be convergence – it does require serious discussion AND investment by the City.

    Finally, I am mesmerized by what the City does with the little money it has. For FY2017, it seems about $1400 per capita. Ignoring new proposals & grand plans, this seems miniscule. We need to find ways to expand the fiscal envelope to address the needs of the City’s residents. If not taxes, then as other cities have done, we need to explore other routes and find the right mix of solutions.

  6. The city spends over a million dollars a year in operating costs for the library because the state reasonably does not consider it a public library for funding purposes. The city could spend 400k a year and transfer relevant services to other departments (story times and after school study space to recreation, computer and meeting room facilities to the municipal center), spend another 400k a year on affordable housing and youth development initiatives, and still save money to reduce the tax burden.

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