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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.

September 11, 2019 City Council Meeting Agenda

Dear Neighbors:

Here’s a link to the September 11 City Council meeting agenda:  https://takomaparkmd.gov/meeting_agendas/city-council-meeting-agenda-wednesday-september-11-2019/. The meeting will start with an appearance from County Councilmember Tom Hucker at 6:00 PM. Members of the public will be able to ask him questions.

In the regular meeting, there’s one vote, on appointments to the Committee on the Environment. In the work session, the key agenda item will be a continuation of our discussion on tree policies, including potential changes to the tree ordinance and developing tree canopy goals. We’ll also be reviewing the findings of the Impervious Area Study and possible changes to the stormwater rate structure; a mutual aid agreement with the Laurel Police Department; and the draft charge to the Council Compensation Task Force. In addition, we’ll have presentations of annual reports by the Old Takoma Business Association and the Takoma/Langley Crossroads Development Authority, and the introduction of the 2019-2020 Youth Council members. The Mayor will also make proclamations on National Preparedness Month and Car Free Day, which is September 22.

Office Hours:  I’ll be at the Girl and the Vine (7071 Carroll Ave.) from 2:00 - 4:00 PM this Wednesday. Feel free to stop by to talk with me about local issues. No appointments necessary.

White Oak Infestation Problem.  There’s a serious problem facing mature white oak trees, which are dying off in Ward One and elsewhere in the City. A common indicator is dead or browning leaves at the very top of the trees. I can see four examples of this from my yard, all involving oaks more than 100 years in age. It appears the very wet weather last year and the dry weather this year have made the trees more susceptible to a borer beetle infestation. You can frequently see small collections of “sawdust” around the bottom of trees, which are caused by the beetles. I have a photo of this that I can send to anyone who would like see it. The key is to have a professional arborist check out your oaks and potentially other trees as soon as possible. In cases where the infestation is still in the relatively early stages, it may be able to be treated effectively with chemicals. There may also be a fungus affecting some of the trees. In several cases I’m aware of, the City has approved permits for removal of the trees very quickly.

I’ve asked City staff to provide an update and recommended guidance at this week’s Council meeting (when as noted we’ll also be discussing broader tree policies). I’ll make sure to circulate the staff information widely. I’ll also be doing what I can to ensure that ideas on how best to both respond to and potentially prevent this type of problem (including through improved maintenance and information sharing, a more diverse species mix, and financial help for those who may not be able to afford necessary treatments or tree removals) are appropriately incorporated into our tree policies going forward.

Utility Projects. I had mentioned previously that the re-surfacing work connected to the Pepco work on Eastern Avenue across from the Metro Station between Cedar Avenue and Piney Branch Road was starting up. Unfortunately, we learned last week that some aspects of the excavation work already done there didn’t meet standards. As a result, some additional work is needed to address those deficiencies before the re-surfacing can go forward. Ugh. I’m consulting with City and State officials on steps we can take to address the continued failure by Pepco to perform at an acceptable level. I’ll provide more information about the work on Eastern, including a projected schedule for the paving, as soon as it’s available. Meanwhile, as announced earlier, Pepco representatives will appear before the Council on October 2 to discuss the status of the project.

As for the WSSC project on Philadelphia Avenue, where the key remaining issue directly affecting the City is re-paving from Piney Branch Road to Chicago Avenue, City staff are meeting this week with WSSC representatives to go over the details of that work. I’m hopeful we’ll have information on the schedule and details on the re-striping in the near future.

Parking Management Task Force -- volunteers needed (applications due September 20). The Task Force will be a short term body appointed by the Council to review parking management in the City, consider policy proposals for parking management, engage community participation, and provide advice to the Council on possible next steps. The application form for serving on the Task Force can be found here: https://takomaparkmd.gov/government/boards-commissions-and-committees/parking-management-task-force/

Upcoming Events

Montgomery College Math-Science Building Update Forum, focused on construction issues -- Tuesday, September 10, 7:00 - 9:30 PM, Catherine F. Scott Commons, Room CM 211. http://mcblogs.montgomerycollege.edu/tpss-math-science-building/project-update-forum-september-10-2019/

Takoma Park’s 11th Annual Play Day -- Saturday, September 14, 10:00 AM - 2:00 PM at the Middle School. http://letsplayamerica.org/upcoming-events

Takoma Cleanup Day, sponsored by Old Town Business Association/Main Street Takoma -- Saturday, September 14, 10:00 AM - Noon at several locations in the Old Town area. https://mainstreettakoma.org/event/clean-up-day-2/

City Climate Action Workshop -- Tuesday, September 17, 7:00 - 9:00 PM, Community Center Auditorium.  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/takoma-park-climate-action-workshop-tickets-71118291725

Takoma Foundation Beerfest -- Saturday, September 21, 4:00 - 8:00 PM at the Cady-Lee House. https://www.takomafoundation.org/events/beerfest

Farmers Market Pie Contest -- Sunday, September 22, 11:00 AM - 2:00 PM, Seventh Day Adventist Church in Old Town. http://takomaparkmarket.com/pie-contest-rules/.

Takoma Langley Crossroads Night Market -- Saturday, September 28, 4:00 - 8:30 PM, on Anne Street by University Boulevard. http://takomalangley.org/night-market/

Takoma Street Festival -- Sunday, October 6, 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM, on Carroll Avenue and Carroll Street in Takoma Park and Takoma DC. https://mainstreettakoma.org/featured-events/takoma-park-street-festival/

Proclamations and Presentations

National Preparedness Month Proclamation:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/mayoral-proclamations/2019/pr20190911_national-preparedness-month.pdf

Car Free Day Proclamation:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/mayoral-proclamations/2019/pr20190911_car-free-day.pdf

OTBA Annual Report:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/Documents/Old-Takoma-Business-Association-FY19.pdf

Takoma/Langley Crossroads Annual Report:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/Documents/CDA-Report.pdf

Vote and Work Session

Committee on the Environment Appointments:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20190911-1.pdf. I’ll be voting in favor of the appointments.

Impervious Area Study Results:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20190911-2.pdf. In January an outside contractor presented the findings of the Impervious Area Study, which measured impervious areas on private owned property throughout the City. Impervious areas form the basis for stormwater fee calculation, though single family homes are charged the same amount regardless of the impervious area size on each property. In the case of apartment buildings, commercial structures, etc. the fee is calculated based on the actual impervious area on site. The Council had initial discussions about revising the fees to more accurately reflect the impervious areas on properties with single family homes. Obviously, a change of that type would lead to some homeowners paying more than they currently do and others paying less. That’s something we need to think through carefully, including the impacts on lower income residents, how the fees would relate to the recent re-assessments (increases and decreases), whether homeowners would be able to receive financial consideration for stormwater control systems they install on their property, etc.

Laurel Police Mutual Aid Agreement:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20190911-3.pdf. Our Police Department, in seeking to develop closer collaborations with nearby jurisdictions, is pursuing mutual aid agreements with several neighboring communities (including Washington, DC). I think such agreements are beneficial, and I’m supportive of creating closer ties with Laurel. In the case of this agreement, I’ll be seeking clarifications on a few points, including the distinctions between how emergency and non-emergency situations may be handled and the process for resident complaints, if any, involving Police officers from one City taking action within the borders of the other.

Tree Policies:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20190911-4-rev2.pdf. This is a continuation of the discussions the Council has begun in order to move toward changes to the Tree Ordinance, development of tree canopy goals, and improvements to tree education and outreach. While it’s our hope to move forward in all three areas, we haven’t yet made any decisions. As noted in the cover memo for the agenda materials, some of the proposals that we’ll talk about may even contradict each other. So this is a point in the process where continuing to receive feedback from residents about options we’re considering (and new suggestions) will be especially valuable. I would add that, while there’s more detail in the agenda materials on the ordinance than on the tree canopy, the Council views both as important. At this point we’ve gotten more feedback on the ordinance, and it’s somewhat easier to map out potential action in an area that already has extensive documentation (like the ordinance). But I expect our work on potential changes in both categories will be well aligned as we move forward.

For my part, among the key areas I’d like to see us take action are: emphasizing the importance of planting native trees and a more diverse range of tree species; ensuring that our tree policies appropriately take into account which trees are better suited to the changing climate; putting more flexibility into the process for removing hazardous trees; finding ways to address infestation problems like the one affecting white oaks noted above; determining whether staffing or administrative changes can make the permitting process more efficient; expanding efforts to provide residents with information on tree health and maintenance; exploring ways to incentivize more planting on private property; and helping lower income residents facing high costs associated with tree removal and maintenance.

Council Compensation Task Force https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20190911-5.pdf. Every four years, the Council appoints a resident task force to review the compensation for the Mayor and Councilmembers, and make recommendations about appropriate levels of pay. Under our City code any changes to compensation the Council may approve can only take effect for a future Council (that is, after an intervening election). As we prepare to establish the task force again, questions have arisen about whether we should add to the charge given to the members of the Task Force. In particular, should we have them look into whether the current structure of part-time remuneration -- $14,771 for the Mayor and $11,362 for Councilmembers -- constitutes an unfair barrier to participation in the Council by lower income residents, those who may be single parents, etc.? I believe we should ask task force members to consider that topic, and I’ll be supporting the idea of including it in their charge.

Please be in touch with questions or comments about any of the matters that are covered in this message.

Peter Kovar, Takoma Park City Council, Ward One

240-319-6281; www.councilmemberkovar.com

September 18, 2019 City Council Meeting Agenda

September 2, 2019 City Council Update