Monday, December 11, 2017

Palisades Lounge to open in former Silver Spring paint shop

The vacant Benjamin Moore paint store in downtown Silver Spring has a new tenant. A new nightclub called Palisades Lounge will open at 8211 Georgia Avenue early next year. Owner Abimalek Ayele is a Montgomery County resident.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Silver Spring construction update: Bump 'n Grind coffee kiosk (Photos)

Construction continues on the Bump 'n Grind coffee kiosk at Ellsworth Place mall in downtown Silver Spring. This is a spinoff of the popular coffee shop and record store located nearby at 1200 East-West Highway.




Thursday, December 7, 2017

MoCo Council president Hans Riemer arrested

A Montgomery County Councilmember who has had trouble obeying the law in the past found himself in handcuffs Wednesday. Council President Hans Riemer was arrested on the steps of the U.S. Capitol by U.S. Capitol Police yesterday, after refusing an order to disperse following an immigration rally.

"I was arrested today," Riemer wrote on Facebook last evening. Riemer has promised to introduce legislation to declare Montgomery County officially a "sanctuary county" for illegal immigrants, according to Gustavo Torres, Executive Director of CASA de Maryland.

Riemer has run afoul of the law in the past, including violating his own Open Data law this past spring, when he directed that a file required to be posted on the County website be removed. In 2014, he appeared to have inside information on illegal activity in the County's Department of Liquor Control, over which he has oversight authority, but waited to report it until after he was safely reelected that November.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Riemer seizes Council presidency, declares war on his constituents

A backroom political deal culminated Tuesday with a unanimous vote by the Montgomery County Council naming Councilmember Hans Riemer Council President for the final year of their current term. In a rambling seven minute speech, Riemer took aim at the County's established suburban neighborhoods of "cul-de-sacs," which he described as "appealing, if exclusive, suburban communit[ies]" that are home to "those who already have every advantage."

Delivered with a sneering tone and slight smirk, Riemer's remarks echoed those of his colleague George Leventhal a few years ago. Leventhal declared the suburbs "a mistake," and during the Westbard sector plan battle, told residents angry about the plan to urbanize their neighborhood they should just be glad they were "lucky" enough to live there.

"People used to come here to get away from the city," Riemer said Tuesday, announcing a new "metropolitan" identity for a County where a majority live in leafy, suburban neighborhoods. Riemer appeared delusional when referring to the visceral anger displayed by residents toward the Council in the last several years - a backlash that culminated in the passage of term limits by an overwhelming margin in November 2016. Despite having his own term limited by that vote, in Riemer's world, "emotions in our community are charged" because of Donald Trump, not his own votes for tax hikes and urbanization of existing rural and suburban neighborhoods.

Riemer's Trump-like reputation for falsehoods was on full display in yesterday's speech. Moments before casting a vote to pass the controversial Westbard sector plan in 2016, Riemer claimed the Westbard community was "a mile from two Metros." That was a four-Pinocchio whopper, given that Westbard is at least two miles from any Metro station, nowhere near the quarter-to-half mile distance universally agreed upon for "transit-oriented development."

On Tuesday, Riemer stated that the Purple Line would place the University of Maryland "minutes away" from Montgomery County residents. In reality, the light rail's average speed between Bethesda and College Park will be less than 19 MPH. He came up with a new definition for the County's longstanding achievement gap between white and Asian students, and their black and Latino peers. Stunning observers active on education issues, Riemer falsely described Montgomery County Public Schools' gap as only affecting those between the ages of "zero and five." A clever scheme to absolve failed County officials from any blame, but unfortunately, completely false.

Riemer was more honest about the County's hated government-controlled liquor monopoly, which he took steps to strengthen and preserve during his current term. "We may have a reputation for liquor control," Riemer acknowledged. That control has frustrated restaurant and bar owners, who are forced to pay higher prices while getting poor selection and service from the County. Meanwhile, residents are among the few in America who cannot purchase beer and wine from grocery, drug and chain convenience stores.

Riemer's disdain for his suburban constituents, who represent a majority of County residents, raises questions as to how he intends to get anything done this year. It also brought to mind a quote from chef Anthony Bourdain:

"He’s a classic example of the smirking, contemptuous, privileged guy who lives in a bubble. And he is in no way looking to reach outside, or even look outside, of that bubble, in an empathetic way.”

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Despite record tax hikes, bungling Montgomery County Council runs up $120 million shortfall

Montgomery County is facing a $120 million budget shortfall, despite record tax hikes on residents in 2016 and 2017. County Executive Ike Leggett has asked every government department to identify 2% budget cuts, and encouraged the Council to follow suit.

The shortfall seemed to take the Council by surprise, despite projections of a structural deficit as far out as the forecast goes. More knowledgeable observers know exactly why revenues are down - the County's private sector economy has been moribund for some time, and the wealthiest residents are fleeing to lower-tax jurisdictions like Loudoun, Fairfax, Frederick and Howard Counties. Montgomery has dropped far out of the Forbes Richest Counties Top Ten list in 2017.

Add in the heavy debt load councilmembers have run up, and the fiscal scenario worsens still. How much debt is there? If County debt was a department, it would be the third-largest department in Montgomery County government. Yikes.

The spendthrift County Council has also engaged in a hurricane of wasteful spending. In just one example, earlier this year they approved $22000 for a surveillance camera system that, in the real world, can be purchased and installed for under $1000. Importantly: this expenditure was not itemized in public budget documents, instead lumped into a $34500 line item. Multiply this by every budget item, and we could be talking about millions in wasted funds. Don't expect this Council to identify them!

What raised eyebrows among many who follow the County budget closely yesterday was the petulant insistence by some councilmembers that they would not make major budget cuts. Considering that taxes are at a record level, many are wondering what planet these folks are speaking to us from. Leggett warned at an NAACP meeting last week that the Council simply cannot use a tax increase to solve shortfalls in the coming years. He clearly knew then what became public yesterday - we have a $120 million shortfall.

Prediction: The County Council will use another tax increase to close the budget shortfall, as they have every year since 2010. Then they will be voted out of office in November 2018.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Silver Spring construction update: Silver Strings (Photos)

Silver Strings remains under construction at 8630 Colesville Road. You may recall this was a beauty supply shop previously. A very modest-sized patio is being added to the storefront, as you can see here. The restaurant and live music venue is expected to open in early 2018.





Friday, December 1, 2017

Chin & Lee closes in Kemp Mill, being replaced by kosher Chinese restaurant

Chin & Lee, a solid neighborhood favorite for Chinese food, has closed at the Kemp Mill Shopping Center at 1331 Lamberton Drive. They will be replaced by HolyChow, a kosher Chinese takeout restaurant, which sounds like good news for nearby residents. I will post an update as soon as I hear back from HolyChow regarding their opening status.