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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.

City Council Update -- Week of October 7, 2019

Dear Neighbors:

The City Council isn’t meeting this week because of Yom Kippur. The next Council meeting will be on October 16. Key agenda items for that meeting include a vote on the Housing and Economic Development Strategic Plan, and the first of three October work session discussions on tree policies. The City Public Works Department is also planning a November 2 community meeting with outside experts focused on the current problem of dying mature oak trees.

Some of the other topics on the agenda for October 16 include discussions on a speed camera contract, and a memorandum of understanding with the Montgomery County Board of Elections (this is connected to the synchronization of our local elections with Federal, State and local elections in even years). You can see the full agenda through this link:  https://takomaparkmd.gov/meeting_agendas/city-council-meeting-agenda-wednesday-october-16-2019/. Next week I’ll be providing more information about the October 16 meeting and my views on the various issues we’ll be considering.

Update from Last Week’s Council Meeting -- Signs in Public Rights of Way.  In the October 2 meeting, the Council discussed a potential ban on the posting of signs in Public Rights of Way. You can read some background on this issue through the link to last week’s information on this topic: https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20191002-4.pdf. Currently, while the City Code prohibits posting of most signs in the ROWs, there are exceptions for “home centered, occasional activities” like yard sales and bake sales. Also advertisements for home day care providers are explicitly exempt from the ban, and lost pet signs have typically been allowed.

I appreciate the interest in keeping the streets tidy and avoiding excessive clutter, but I’m not in favor of a complete ban. I’d like to see us retain some flexibility for community oriented signs, including those that announce local events taking place in the near future, and I spoke in support of that position during our discussion. Among potential options for addressing this question in a more flexible way, I’m interested in seeing if we can restrict signs by duration, for example by not allowing signs more than X days before the event they announce or removing signs that aren’t for a specific event within X days of their having been posted. This approach could avoid First Amendment entanglements which could otherwise result from controlling signage based on content, though it could impose a greater burden on enforcement staff.

There was a range of views on the Council concerning these topics, and in a straw vote on potential next steps the six of us who were present ended up evenly split on whether to pursue a stricter ban or retain some exceptions. The City Attorney and City staff will be looking into some alternatives and reporting back to the Council. It’s unclear at this point what the next steps may be or whether we’ll end up making any changes in this area. If you’d like to see the debate on this topic, fast-forward to the 1:46 mark of the Council meeting video:  https://takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/meetings-and-documents/city-council-video/ 

Housing and Economic Development Strategic Plan.  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20191016-2.pdf. The Council has been working for some time on the draft of the Strategic Plan, and we’re scheduled to vote on the plan at our October 16 meeting. I’m pleased with the overall vision statement, and the goals and objectives. My efforts over the last several weeks have focused on strengthening the strategies that are aimed at helping the City realize the vision and achieve the goals and objectives. It was my sense that in earlier versions of the plan the strategies weren’t as specific as they needed to be in terms of stating the kinds of actions the City would be taking. The implementation details don’t need to be in the plan; they can be developed later with the City staff playing a major role in that process. But the strategies themselves do need to indicate the kinds of actions we’ll be prioritizing.

I think there’s been substantial improvement in the plan in that regard, including in areas like zoning changes the City could seek, making clear that we might collaborate with regional and national affordable housing partners, the importance of addressing renters’ concerns, addressing the housing needs of the disabled community, and helping residents who may be facing eviction. However, I’m continuing to explore a few areas where I think we can make further improvements in terms of how much detail is included. As we continue working to finalize the document, I’d be very interested in thoughts about and reactions to the plan from residents. Please feel free to contact me directly.

Update on Re-paving Schedules for Pepco and WSSC Projects. At last week’s Council meeting Representatives from Pepco and their contractor CW & Sons made a presentation with Q and A, which you can see through this link: https://takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/meetings-and-documents/city-council-video/. My Q and A portion starts at the 37:40 mark. While most of the excavation work is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year, there are unfortunately several sections (including on Fenton Street and on Carroll Avenue) that aren’t slated to have their excavation finished until next year. You can see the excavation completion map here:  https://publicworks-takomapark.s3.amazonaws.com/public/current-projects/takoma-sligo-underground/PW-20190405-PEPCO-Completion%20Map.pdf.

Surface restoration work on the portions of Takoma Avenue from roughly Baltimore to Albany Avenues is supposed to be completed this year. Part of that stretch of road was milled last week, both in preparation for the eventual resurfacing and to at least partially address the many complaints about how poor the road surface has been in that area. Having now driven on the milled section, I can say it’s perhaps a slight improvement over the deplorable conditions previously on that part of Takoma, but still very far from ideal. I look forward to the completion of the remaining excavation work along that segment of the road as soon as possible so the actual resurfacing can be undertaken before the weather gets too cold.

I noted previously that CW & Sons has a new ombudsman for the project named Shamyra Edmonds. She can be reached at 202-643-3148 or sedmonds@cwsons.com. She also has office hours at the Lamond Recreation Center at 20 Tuckerman Street, NW in Washington, DC, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6:00 - 9:00 PM and on Saturdays from 10:00 AM - 2:00 PM. I’ve requested that she establish office hours at a site in Maryland as well. Pepco’s general phone number for the project is 855-888-9343.

With regard to the WSSC project on Philadelphia Avenue, the portion of the street up to Takoma Avenue has been repaved. The remainder, from Takoma to Fenton Street, is expected to be paved in the coming weeks, once some quality control testing for the water main work along that part of the project is completed.

Tree Policies and Oak Tree Problems. As noted above, this month starting on October 16 we’ll have three consecutive Council meetings which will include discussions about tree policies. We’ll be looking specifically at potential changes to the tree ordinance, the establishment of tree canopy goals, and ways of improving outreach and education on tree related matters. Much more information about those issues will be made available in advance of the October 16 meeting.

Any discussion of tree canopy goals needs to include tree health and maintenance, which at the present time is closely connected to the challenges we’re currently facing around the loss of so many mature oak trees due to borer or ambrosia beetle activity, most likely combined with the effects of last year’s historically wet weather and this year’s very dry trend. So, as one part of our larger policy discussions we’ll be exploring potential strategies aimed at reducing the likelihood of this kind of infestation in the future as well as figuring out how best to respond to such situations.

Meanwhile, it’s advisable for residents to support their trees by frequent watering during our current drought conditions (especially since weakened trees may be more susceptible to beetle and other pest damage), and by having a qualified arborist examine your trees. While signs of possible beetle infestation include dead leaves at the crown or “saw dust” around the base, it’s possible a tree could be in the early stages of a beetle problem without any of those signs being present. That’s why it’s important to have an arborist take a look. If you do see some signs of infestation, depending on how serious it is, an arborist might still be able to take some helpful action through the use of pesticides.

When I first became aware of the extent of this problem a month or so ago I recommended that the City host a community meeting with outside experts at which residents would be able to get information about the problem and ask questions. I’m pleased that our Public Works Department is planning an event of this type, tentatively scheduled for Saturday, November 2. The details will be widely circulated once they’re locked in.

For now, you can see some useful information through this page on the City website:  https://takomaparkmd.gov/news/statement-regarding-reports-of-sudden-tree-decline/.  There’s also some information on tree care on page 3 of this month’s City Newsletter:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/news/newsletter/2019/Takoma-Park-Newsletter-October2019.pdf. And here’s a little background on ambrosia beetles from the Maryland Extension Service website:  https://www.extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/ambrosia-beetles-trees. Many of the arborist companies active in this area also have useful information on their websites.


Community Choice Energy Event -- Thursday, October 10, 7:30 PM, Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center (4805 Edgemoor Lane): https://secure.foodandwateraction.org/act/md-community-choice-energy-town-hall. State Delegate Lorig Charkoudian is sponsoring legislation to amend Maryland law to allow Community Choice Energy, a tool that helps local governments seek cleaner, more affordable energy on behalf of residents. The City Council is officially supporting Lorig’s bill. This should be a good opportunity to learn more about the Community Choice Energy concept.

Presbyterian Church Annual Fall Bazaar -- Saturday, October 19, 9:00 AM - 3:00 PM. This event will be in the Church Gym by the intersection of Maple and Tulip Avenues. It’s like a big yard sale, with furniture, housewares, clothing, toys, books, jewelry and more. A bake sale, lunch and silent auction are included. You can donate items in good condition at the gym on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, October 14 to 17 from 4:00 and 8:00 PM.

Friends of the Takoma Park Library Book Sale -- Saturday, October 19, 10:00 AM - 3:00 PM in the front yard of the Library or in the Community Center in case of rain. https://ftpml.org/2019/09/28/our-fall-book-sale-is-around-the-corner/. Donated books can be dropped off at the Library (if you have more than three cartons call in advance at 301-891-7259).

Please feel free to be in touch with questions or comments about these or any other municipal issues.

Peter Kovar, Takoma Park City Council, Ward One

240-319-6281; www.councilmemberkovar.com


October 16, 2019 City Council Meeting Agenda

Agenda for October 2, 2019 City Council Meeting