Browsed by
Author: SethGrimes

“Seth has the skills, knowledge, contacts, and vision we need in county leaders”

“Seth has the skills, knowledge, contacts, and vision we need in county leaders”

I’m gratified to have the support of Takoma Park community leaders Diana and Howard Kohn.

“Dozens of candidates are running for office in 2018. Seth Grimes – a former Takoma Park councilmember, an environmental champion, and an accomplished community advocate – rises to the top in the race for Montgomery County Council, at large.”

The Kohns’ full letter…

An additional Potomac River bridge is a lousy transportation option

An additional Potomac River bridge is a lousy transportation option

Of 10 regional transportation-improvement options designated last summer by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board for further study, the clear worst is an additional Potomac River bridge + Montgomery County highway corridor. Add that such a project would be hugely expensive and environmentally destructive, cutting a swath across Montgomery County’s Agricultural Reserve.

The image here is from the Long-Range Plan Task Force: Draft Analysis Results, available at https://t.co/Fs9qBlhIAD.

I’m glad Montgomery County (http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/COUNCIL/Resources/Files/res/2017/20170718_18-870.pdf) and the City of Takoma Park both voted to oppose consideration of this option, and thanks to the Montgomery Countryside Alliance and the Coalition for Smarter Growth for their advocacy.

The Minimum Wage Should be Set Locally. One Chart Shows Why.

The Minimum Wage Should be Set Locally. One Chart Shows Why.

“I helped enact a minimum wage increase as a legislator in Annapolis,” writes Delegate Bill Frick. “Minimum wage policy, however, is more effective as a state policy than as a local one.”

Thus we infer that Mr. Frick opposes Montgomery County legislation that would phase in a $15 county minimum wage. Bill 28-17 is due for County Council vote this Tuesday, November 7, and I hope it is enacted.

Mr. Frick’s argument is a misdirection. “More effective” isn’t a consideration because a 2016 state Fight for Fifteen bill, HB 1372, failed to even make it out of committee, and I know of no plans for reintroduction in the next year’s election year legislative session. So Maryland’s minimum will ascend no higher than the $10.10 level Mr. Frick supported in 2014. And “more effective” will remain an abstraction, like saying that a six-legged horse could run faster than one that actually exists.

Why won’t the Maryland General Assembly raise the state minimum? I’d surmise because much of the state has a far lower cost of living than Montgomery County’s.

Let’s look at the data, in particular a measure called the Self-Sufficiency Standard, “how much income families of various sizes and compositions need to make ends meet at a minimally adequate level without public or private assistance.”

The 2016 self-sufficiency wage in Montgomery County, for a household of one adult, one preschooler, and one school-age child is $40.99. “A parent with two young children would still need to work over 155 hours per week in Montgomery County to make ends meet with a minimum wage job.” To support just herself, a single adult living in Montgomery County would need to work 63 hours per week at $11.50/hour, or 48+ hours at $15/hour.

Yet the self-sufficiency standard varies widely across Maryland. The chart below shows why legislators outside high-cost counties including Montgomery might see a higher minimum as less of a priority than we in Montgomery do:

Montgomery County especially needs a higher minimum, but statewide action has failed. So Mr. Frick would let a specious search for “more effective” policy hold us back from needed local action.

There are many precedents for local action in the face of state obstructionism. Here are three:

  • The Charlotte, North Carolina non-discrimination ordinance that was nullified by the infamous North Carolina “bathroom bill.”
  • Montgomery County policies that mandate police non-cooperation with federal immigration authorities, proudly in place despite the General Assembly’s failure to enact a Maryland Law Enforcement and Governmental Trust Act.
  • Montgomery County’s Healthy Lawns Act restricting cosmetic lawncare pesticide use, enacted in the face of inadequate federal and state protections. (The county is preparing to appeal an adverse July court ruling that overturned the law based not on substance, but rather on supposed state preemption.)

A progressive stance says, if you can’t make progress at a state level, then enact locally, where you can pass a bill, as in these example. And don’t let a specious search for “more effective” policy hold you back from doing what’s right.

Mike Tidwell: Will you join me on Sunday?

Mike Tidwell: Will you join me on Sunday?

A letter from environmental activist Mike Tidwell:

My friend and former city council rep Seth Grimes launches his Montgomery County Council campaign this weekend at a Takoma Park event. I’ll be with him. Will you join us?

Seth drafted Takoma Park’s polystyrene food serviceware ban and wrote a bill expanding recycling. Seth worked with activists to ban cosmetic lawncare pesticide use and helped pass a countywide ban. He promoted curbside food-waste pickup for composting and advanced the city’s environmental sustainability agenda. He has backed fossil-fuels divestment and acted to protect the county’s watershed and the urban forest.

Seth understands environmental challenges, and he knows how to make local government work.

This is why I’m backing Seth for Montgomery County Council at large and speaking at his October 22 launch event, 2 pm in Takoma Park. RSVP at http://bit.ly/SG22Oct to join us.

If you can’t make it then, you have another opportunity on Sunday October 29: Seth’s Campaign Launch II in Bethesda at 2 pm. RSVP at http://bit.ly/SG29Oct.

Both events are free, but donations of $10-$150 are welcome. Seth has opted in to Montgomery County public finance and is not accepting developer or PAC money. Visit http://SethGrimes.org to learn more and donate.

The time to get behind strong, progressive candidates like Seth is now.

The TPSS Community Kitchen: A Model for Local Economic Opportunity

The TPSS Community Kitchen: A Model for Local Economic Opportunity

In January 2012, I wrote, “A shared-use neighborhood commercial kitchen facility can be a key component in building economic opportunity, environmental sustainability, and improving the health of local citizens.” I was calling for support for the Takoma Park-Silver Spring Community Kitchen, a facility that would “provide small-scale food entrepreneurs the space to prepare value-added food for public sale… This micro-enterprise focus strengthens our area’s food system by increasing the volume of food grown here that can be processed locally.”

Now, almost six years later, that kitchen is operating. A grand opening celebration takes place tomorrow, Saturday, September 16.

The Takoma Park Presbyterian Church had reenvisioned a disused kitchen as a community resource. The church formed an operating partnership with the Crossroads Community Food Network, which runs the Crossroads Farmers Market, whose mission is “building a healthier, more inclusive food system in Maryland’s Takoma/Langley Crossroads.” The Crossroads-kitchen link is essential. It connects bricks-and-mortar – the church facility – to local food suppliers, producers, and vendors, that is, to kitchen users.

This project represents infill economic development. It is based on renovation in place, within an existing building, rather than new construction, working to meet established local need. It provides a model adaptable to a range of community initiatives.

I got involved myself, as a community activist and the Takoma Park City Council member representing the church and the surrounding neighborhood. The church’s first step was to seek a zoning modification, introduced by Montgomery County Councilmember George Leventhal, necessary to house an additional commercial use within a residential zone. Other religious institutions that house similar uses – Meals On Wheels Of Wheaton has long been housed by Temple Emanuel in Kensington, and Meals on Wheels of Takoma Park by Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church – are already commercially zoned. My January 2012 article, Community Commercial Kitchens: An Update on ZTA 11-08, will give you an idea of the give-and-take involved, which led to a better project and to a 9-0 County Council pro-ZTA vote. That give-and-take was actually quite extensive and continues, due to concerns about the kitchen’s neighborhood impact.

The project won $250,000 in Maryland state bond funding, a $75,000 Montgomery County grant, and ultimately $10,000 from the City of Takoma Park, as well as strong community financial support in response to diligent Kitchen Coalition fundraising.

Innovation takes time, however, and persistence counts. Source of the Spring quotes Vicki Warren of the Takoma Park Presbyterian Church: “The beauty for us was that this project, I think, represents the true marriage of community in every respect… No matter what hurdles we came up against, you just had a solid core group of people that just never would give up.”

Montgomery County had initiated a parallel project to develop kitchen incubators in 2013. Then-county Chief Innovation Officer Dan Hoffman cites Econsult Solutions’ report, U.S. Kitchen Incubators: An Industry Snapshot, and you will find quite-interesting food-entrepreneur quotes, on the county Innovation Lab site. However the county refocused soon after on job creation rather than on entrepreneurship and abandoned its kitchen incubator initiative. The need for shared kitchen-space remains, which is why it’s so wonderful that the TPSS Kitchen Coalition persisted.

And now we have Manna’s Mobile Kitchen & Pop-Up Pantry, “designed to tackle two barriers at once by bringing nutritious foods and cooking skills to our community. ”

What if we took the models one step further and expanded cottage industry food production? Maryland already allows small-scale farm-home production. Why not allow others, training in commercial food preparation and safety standards, to similarly prepare products for sale, outside a commercial kitchen? We allow licensed home daycare; why not home commercial food production? The aim is to create economic opportunity delivering wide community benefits at low cost.

The TPSS Community Kitchen embodies a model for local economic opportunity. The model is limited but inspiring. Let’s expand on it to provide additional food-entrepreneurship opportunity for all.

Legislation would protect Montgomery County burial sites

Legislation would protect Montgomery County burial sites

Below is my comment on Montgomery County legislation that would protect county burial sites. Redevelopment of Bethesda’s Moses African American cemetery site, near the Macedonia Baptist Church, pushed the need to address burial sites to the forefront. A council bill hearing is scheduled today, September 12, 2017.

Thanks to SURJ MoCo: Showing Up for Racial Justice, Montgomery County MD for their advocacy on this issue. The bullet points in my letter are drawn from SURJ’s materials.

This version of my comment is addressed to the legislation’s lead sponsors:

Councilmembers Rice, Berliner, and Leventhal,

I write in support of Bill 24-17, Land Use Information-Burial Sites, and Subdivision Regulation 17-01. I recognize that you are lead sponsors of the legislation.

I agree with Planning Board staff’s analysis: “Staff finds that the proposed legislation in SRA 17-01 and Bill 24-17 is a beginning but believes that the County Council should more comprehensively address the topic of protection for burial sites and archaeological resources, in part by examining other review processes outside of subdivision review. Staff believes that the County could benefit from establishing a special advisory committee with wide representation to more comprehensively explore legislation surrounding burial sites and archaeological resources.” (http://montgomeryplanningboard.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/SRA-17-01-Bill-24-17-burial-sites-HP-to-greg-final-8.31.2017_Final.pdf)

In particular, I call your attention to community advocacy, that further:

  • The County Council and Planning staff must solicit input from affected communities when crafting and evaluating planning documents and legislation.
  • Focus should be not only on preliminary plans, but also on sketch plans, requiring early identification of burial sites in sketch plan applications.
  • Burial sites need to be identified on all official documents and protected during all phases of planning and permitting—such as sector plans, residential and non-residential construction, tax maps, and road configurations.
  • This legislation only pertains to subdivision applications, but almost all of Montgomery County is already subdivided. All development applications should be required to appropriately preserve burial sites.
  • Provisions for discovery of unknown burials and emergency situations, with a requirement for archaeological protocols and additions to the inventory, should be added.
  • Enforcement language needs to be included here, with consequences.
  • To manage and monitor this agenda, plus conducting research and outreach programs, a full-time credentialed staff person is needed.

Thank you for your work on this legislation and for considering these additional points.

Sincerely,

Seth Grimes

Bike Parking Where?

Bike Parking Where?

[Also published in Greater Greater Washington, August 22, 2017.]

For me, a light went on after I made a mistake. I had pushed bicycling infrastructure as a member of the Takoma Park City Council, but when we brought Bikeshare stations to the city in 2013, I was too quick to accept staff-recommend station locations. I voted to allow a station to be placed in a community gathering space, 250 feet distant from the center of one of Takoma Park’s business districts, rather than in a much better spot: a couple of sheltered curb car-parking spaces right at a commercial cross-roads. My lack of awareness reflected an outdated attitude toward road space, an attitude that prioritizes preservation of underutilized road-space over much-needed people-space. I now realize that parking matters, as much for bikes as for cars.

The Bicycle Master Plan’s bike facility classification – where “facility” refers exclusively to cycling-surface types and locations.

Another light went on as I read the Bicycle Facility Design Toolkit, published last month (July 2017) by the Montgomery County Planning Department. The document, a component of the county’s Bicycle Master Plan, contains 49 instances of the word “parking,” each associated with motor vehicles, describing bikeway positioning in relation to on-street car parking. There’s nothing in the design toolkit about the location of bike parking.

There is a lot to like in the bike plan. It’s a major achievement, a guide to building out the “multi” in our aspired-for “multi-modal” transportation network. As realized in the years to come, it will boost alternatives to car trips, easing congestion, good for the environment, good for public health.

Yet the plan’s disassociation of bike parking from bikeway options seems a glaring omission.

Locating Bike Parking

The master plan’s Framework Report does address bike parking, specifically the quantity and type – capacity in relation to population and floor-area figures; rack specification; availability at public facilities, transit hubs, and new developments; security – but it doesn’t address location.

My view: Bike parking should be convenient to both biking destinations and bikeways. And you shouldn’t have to bike on a sidewalk to get to it, as you do to use the ill-located Takoma Park bike share station I described above and perhaps a majority of Washington DC area bike share stations and bike parking facilities.

In November 2015, the Takoma Park’s Safe Roadways Committee recommended relocating the Old Takoma station. The SRC’s reappraisal noted, “A number of cities, including Washington, D.C., New York City, Pittsburgh, Boston, and others, use some curb parking spaces for bike parking, including Bikeshare. Safety concerns are easily answered: Car drivers already walk unsheltered in the street to enter and exit their vehicles much like a Bikeshare rider would do.” The SRC recommended relocating the city’s Urban Park station from its spot near the edge of the business district to one centered within one block of a majority of businesses, to a spot that is “both highly visible and symbolically important, marking a repurposing of two car-parking spaces to instead house 15 docked bikes.”

How would this work? Consider two now illustrations, from Santa Monica, California and from Washington, DC. Note how these cities have reclaimed vehicle space for bike infrastructure, for bike parking – bike share stations in this case – directly adjacent to on-street bike lanes.

You can find many, many more examples, via a Web search, of curb-lane situated bike share stations. Here are some.

The curb lane can be a suitable place for personal bike parking too. Witness shots I took in Denver and Salt Lake City, again with on-street bike lanes.

What do we actually see, here in Montgomery County? A couple of snaps I took in downtown Silver Spring and tweeted – and yes, I drink a lot of coffee…

These snaps show business-district bike parking. Forget adaptive reuse of street parking space. Urbanized downtown Silver Spring doesn’t even have bike racks, not even on the recently-redone Georgia Avenue!

Of course, many county locations do offer bike parking, although too few. That judgment applies both to streets and to private parking lots including, I’ll report anecdotally, most shopping centers. And when there are shopping-center racks, they’re typically off in a distant corner.

The Bicycle Master Plan public comment deadline was July 15. I missed it by a month. Nonetheless, I ask the Planning Board to direct staff to cover bike-parking location in the Bicycle Facility Design Toolkit. As a bicyclist, I know that safely and conveniently located bike parking is an essential bike-infrastructure element. And as an urbanist, I know that public spaces should be for people and not for vehicles. Let’s repurpose existing parking, including curb parking spaces, for designed-for-safety bike share stations and bike parking.

Let’s get bike parking right and not make an avoidable mistake we’ll later regret.

NEPA and the “strange case of Maryland’s Purple Line project”

NEPA and the “strange case of Maryland’s Purple Line project”

Excerpting from am article in Governing, “What Judges Don’t Understand About Transportation”:

“NEPA [the National Environmental Policy Act] was enacted in 1970, at a moment when environmental activists were giddily enthusiastic about their ability to produce a cleaner planet through federal regulation… It wasn’t meant to be a statement of transportation policy, and for most of its early history it wasn’t that… And so we come to 2017, and the strange case of Maryland’s Purple Line project…

“The whole case provides glaring evidence of how years and millions of dollars can be wasted arguing about projections that can’t possibly be made with even a shred of confidence… Whether or not to build the Purple Line is a question for the democratic process — for the citizens we elect as legislators and appoint as managers. Reasonable people will differ on it. But when a judge hijacks the whole issue and issues rulings on spurious legal grounds, he undermines public trust in the judicial system.”

Read the full article at http://www.governing.com/columns/assessments/gov-transportation-judges.html.

P.S. Author Alan Ehrenhalt’s analysis in Governing could equally apply to Judge Terrance McGann’s ruling striking down Montgomery County’s Healthy Lawns Act restrictions on cosmetic lawncare pesticide application.

On women in tech and leadership

On women in tech and leadership

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki writes, “Yesterday, after reading the news, my daughter asked me a question. ‘Mom, is it true that there are biological reasons why there are fewer women in tech and leadership?'”

The news: Yet another instance of a pernicious and frequent allegation – this time from a now-fired Google engineer – that denies women’s abilities and contributions.

Wojcicki’s simple answer: “No, it’s not true.”

We should all be so clear and outspoken. And we should work to right the balance, via educational and employment opportunity for all, without bias and with special attention to encouraging and enabling girls and women and those who don’t fit traditional categories, via STEM programs, via paid parental leave, via access to affordable, reliable, safe child care. Those are examples. Your thoughts?

Click here for Wojcicki’s article.

Let’s add two Montgomery County district council seats

Let’s add two Montgomery County district council seats

Sharing testimony that I submitted:

Montgomery County Charter Review Commission
July 29, 2017

Chair Bessel and Commission members:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on possible changes to council representation.

The current council-representation arrangement, with a mix of district seats and at-large seats, ensures both locally-focused representation and the election of councilmembers who answer to all the county’s voters. That’s good. The county should continue to have both at-large and district council seats.

The minutes of the May 10, 2017 commission meeting record, “Commissioners discussed different models for the composition of the Council, including all district (no at-large) membership, fewer at-large members than currently, and all district members elected by countywide vote.”

Should district members be elected by countywide vote? I see little appeal in that approach and won’t address it beyond saying that if geographic disparities are feared now, this scheme would magnify them. In the 2014 Democratic primary, 7,626 District 2 votes were cast for a county-executive candidate, and 19,450 votes in District 1.

Should the number of at-large seats be reduced? Again no, at least not because three of four at-large council seats are held by residents of one corner of the county. This current situation is the result of voter choice within a democratic and transparent process. It is a temporary situation that does not reflect an historic pattern (www.theseventhstate.com/?p=8251) and will end on December 3, 2018.

I would counter calls for reduction in the number of at-large seats with the argument that each Montgomery County voter is advantaged by being represented by multiple at-large councilmembers in addition to that person’s district member.

By contrast, I see underrepresentation issues that the county can and should address. Please consider two steps:

1) Addition of two district council seats, to bring the number of district seats to seven. Hold the number of at-large seats at four. Currently each council district has over 200,000 residents. Adding two districts will reduce this number to under 150,000, presumably boosting district councilmember responsiveness.

2) Institution of Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV), also known as Instant-Runoff Voting, for county offices. I do not see that the Maryland Constitution or code would preclude Montgomery County’s counting votes however it wishes, so long as the counting approach stands up to judicial scrutiny, which RCV would and has. RCV would magnify minority voices in our majority-minority county, per advocacy by FairVote (www.fairvote.org/solutions) and other organizations. (The commission might consider other “fair representation” approaches described by FairVote.)

I would like to see Montgomery County pursue steps that mimic Automatic Voter Registration (AVR), to address registration disparities, although that investigation would be outside the purview of the Charter Review Commission.

Thank you for considering this comment.

Respectfully,

Seth Grimes