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Welcome to my blog, which features frequent updates on local Takoma Park issues, including City Council meeting agendas, plus occasional commentary on national news and politics.

Agenda for October 18, 2017 City Council Meeting

Dear Neighbors:

The following is a link to the agenda for the October 18, 2017 City Council meeting: https://takomaparkmd.gov/meeting_agendas/city-council-meeting-agenda-wednesday-october-18-2017/.  We have votes on appointing Election Judges for our local elections next month; adding neonicotinoids to the Safe Grow ordinance; expressing the City’s opposition to the Northern Bridge over the Potomac River; and reappointments to the Tree Commission. There will also be discussions on the draft Housing and Economic Development Plan, and a proposed budget amendment. I would be grateful to have resident input on both of those discussion items.

Last week of course the key issue under consideration was the concept plan for Takoma Junction submitted by the developer, NDC. The Council’s next action on the Junction will be at our meeting on October 25 when we’ll be taking up a resolution outlining the changes we would like to see in the concept plan. The exact form of that resolution has not yet been determined. I’ll be sending out a separate message a bit later this week on where I think we are with the Junction and the changes to the concept plan I’ll be working for.

Election Judges and Tree Commission.  I’ll be voting in favor of the election judge resolution (https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20171018-1.pdf) and the Tree Commission appointments (https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20171018-4.pdf).

Safe Grow.  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20171018-2.pdf.  This will be an initial vote, with the final vote in an upcoming Council meeting. The resolution would add neonicotinoids, which have been linked to the destruction of bee colonies and the death of other pollinators, to the list of substances banned under our local Safe Grow law. neonicotinoids have been banned in the state of Maryland, except when used by certified pesticide applicators. Thus, it’s currently against the law for homeowners in Maryland to use neonicotinoids on their own. This resolution would go a step beyond State law by prohibiting the use of neonicotinoids on Takoma Park lawns, even by certified applicators. Given the crucial importance of pollinators in our food chain and the severe losses they’ve experienced, and taking into account neonicotinoids’ strong link to that unfortunate trend, I think it’s reasonable to add them to our local law, and I’ll be voting for the resolution.

As I mentioned in a previous message, this resolution is separate from steps the City may take in response to the recent State of Maryland court decision overturning the County Safe Grow law. That issue is covered in the discussion below on the budget amendment.

Northern Bridge.  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20171018-3.pdf. This resolution would put the City on record as opposing the idea of an additional span over the Potomac. The Washington Council of Governments’ Transportation Planning Board (TPB) put together in the summer a package of 10 major transportation ideas that had the potential to help address our regional traffic problems. This set of proposals, which includes the Northern Bridge, is to be studied preliminarily by COG staff, with TPB then scheduled to take a final vote on the package in December. If approved, a more detailed study process on each of the projects would begin.

I don’t agree with the bridge idea, in particular because I think we should focus on Metro and other transit solutions to our traffic challenges. In fairness, the version of the bridge proposal in the TPB package is not limited to car use; it could also involve rail. But it’s clear that cars would be the focus. I was initially unclear on why we should take action now, since the COG staff analysis will continue anyway. But, with the TPB vote set for December and our Council having only a few more formal meetings before that, I was persuaded that voting at this time makes sense. I’ll be supporting the resolution.

Housing and Economic Development Strategic Plan.  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20171018-5.pdf. The City has contracted with Laurel-based Cloudburst Group to develop an Economic Development and Affordable Housing Strategic Plan. The components of that effort have been prepared in draft form for review by the Council and the community: a Housing and Economic Data Analysis, a so-called SWOT analysis, which comprises “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats”, and the plan itself. The documents are quite lengthy, and I’m still working my way through them. I urge interested residents to take a look for themselves. And for those who do, I’d love to hear your reactions. These documents are drafts, meaning they can be modified. So thoughts on changes are welcome. Also, additional opportunities (likely next month) for public input will be scheduled.

Budget Amendment.  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20171018-6.pdf. This budget amendment includes several routine funding shifts, plus one issue that merits deeper review: the proposal to provide $10,000 for attorney services connected to the legal defense of our local Safe Grow ordinance, in the context – as noted above – of the recent court ruling against the County Safe Grow law.

The County is appealing that decision, and a majority of our City Council favors the idea of Takoma Park joining the appeal in some fashion, potentially by submitting a friend of the court brief. I’m uncertain myself on the best approach. To the extent our argument focuses on the broader question of when the State can pre-empt local laws -- a key element of the ruling -- I think that’s an argument we should engage in. A court ruling based on pre-emption could apply potentially in the future to our ability to chart our own local course on other issues, like, for example, election law (as we do by allowing non-citizens and 16 and 17 year olds to vote).

There are other areas in which excessive leeway given by the courts toward State pre-emption could be harmful to municipal governments like ours. While speaking up for our rights on that point is important, I’d like to have clearer sense of the direction we’re going on the appeal process before deciding whether to support these funds. I also think it’s something on which we should have more public input. Please let me know your opinion.

And feel free to be in touch with me about any of the other matters discussed in this message.

Peter Kovar

Takoma Park City Council

Ward One




October 25, 2017 City Council Agenda

Agenda for October 11, 2017 City Council Meeting