Friday, May 15, 2015

Silver Spring Transit Center protest scheduled for Saturday morning

A citizen protest regarding the cost, delays and questions of who is responsible for them in the construction of the Silver Spring Transit Center will be held tomorrow, Saturday, May 16, from 9:00-11:00 AM. The protest will be located in front of the Transit Center site in downtown Silver Spring.

The protest is being organized by the Montgomery County Young Republicans.

"The Silver Spring Transit Center is an embodiment of failed policy and wasteful spending –$140 million of tax payer money wasted on a project that is 5 years behind schedule," MCYR Vice President Daniel McHugh said in a statement.  "No accountability and no oversight is unacceptable and outrageous! In January, the council awarded this failed effort with another $21 million of taxpayer money."

Prior to last November's election, the incumbent Montgomery County Council had assured voters that taxpayers would not have to pay the cost overruns on the project.

McHugh says the extra cost was money that could have gone to education and other top priorities.

The transit center's completion was recently delayed yet again.

Montgomery County-funded health initiative to reward students with sugary Starbucks drinks

Healthy Montgomery, a Montgomery County Government initiative co-chaired by County Council President George Leventhal (D-At-Large) and largely funded by taxpayers, was chartered to "improve the health and well-being of Montgomery County residents." Among its primary stated goals are the reduction of diabetes and obesity.

So you might be surprised to find that Healthy Montgomery plans to reward county students with gift cards for sugary, fat-filled drinks at Starbucks.

County high school students are invited to a Healthy Montgomery-sponsored "community conversation" at Suburban Hospital on May 21, to "discuss what they think about health and the quality of life in Montgomery County." For attending, the event announcement says, the students will be rewarded with a free "$5 Starbucks drink card". They'll also get a Chipotle gift card.

The most popular Starbucks drinks are loaded with sugar, and are often high in fat, as well. Many have more grams of sugar than the often-demonized 12 oz. Coca-Cola. They certainly exceed the recommended daily intake of sugar.

Chipotle isn't exactly health food, either. The average order at Chipotle comes in at around 1,070 calories, 75% of the recommended daily intake of saturated fat, and a whopping nearly-2,400 milligrams of sodium.

This is not only hypocrisy at taxpayer expense, but absurd when one considers Council President Leventhal's longstanding crusade against fast food restaurants in the county.

In 2008, Leventhal was quoted as saying, "school policies should support parents, and not let junk-food marketers go around parents’ backs directly to young children." Yet, the Healthy Montgomery initiative he co-chairs is literally going around parents' backs, and delivering Starbucks and Chipotle marketing and food "directly to young children." "It’s incredible, the extent to which our kids are subjected to [fast food] advertising," Leventhal told an audience of students and parents in 2007.

Sure, you can absolutely order healthy food and drinks at Starbucks and Chipotle. But you can at McDonald's and Wendy's, as well. Leventhal memorably took a publicity stunt trip to Wendy's, remarking on the nutritional content of the Baconator. He didn't mention that Wendy's also offers a line of salads and baked potatoes that are far healthier than the average Starbucks or Chipotle order.

The county just added new taxes on electronic cigarettes and Airbnb. And as Bill Turque writes in the Washington Post, the just-approved County budget increases spending by about $90 million, and your property tax bill "will tick upward slightly." A new property tax increase is being floated for next year's budget. And a majority of the Council voted to keep the Energy Tax the same, despite having promised to eliminate the massive increase it passed in 2010 in 2012. They lied to taxpayers. Period.

It's amazing that residents will be paying more and new taxes, under a new county budget that is bigger than last year's, and yet there is somehow money left for escapades such as this.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Silver Spring man arrested in TD Bank robbery case (Photo)

Montgomery County Police have caught up to a bank robbery suspect in Silver Spring - and he is a Silver Spring resident. Cortez Tyrone Mason of Castle Boulevard was taken into custody by police on May 7, after DNA evidence allegedly pointed to him as the robber.

Mason, 31, is accused of entering the TD Bank at 3132 Briggs Chaney Road in Silver Spring at 10:12 AM on December 31, 2014, and passing a note to a teller announcing a robbery was taking place. The suspect obtained an undisclosed amount of cash from the teller, and fled towards the Briggs Chaney Shopping Center. The DNA referred to by police was found at the scene by detectives.

Mason has been charged with one count of Robbery, and is currently being held on a $250,000 bond.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

House collapses on Easley St. in Silver Spring (Photo)

A house being renovated entirely collapsed Tuesday in the 800 block of Easley Street in Silver Spring. Only the porch and basement survived, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue spokesperson Pete Piringer said. No one was injured, and four workers managed to escape the collapse.

Photo by Pete Piringer

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

MoCo Councilmembers to county hospitals: Stop using pesticides

George Leventhal
The Montgomery County Council has yet to pass a controversial bill that would limit the use of many common pesticides on lawns, athletic fields and public green spaces in the county. But Councilmembers Roger Berliner (D-District 1) and George Leventhal (D-At-Large) are twisting the arms of hospitals in the county, asking them to cease using pesticides now. The councilmen sent executives of those hospitals a letter Monday.
Roger Berliner
“We are writing today to ask that hospitals in our County assume a leading role in increasing awareness of the health concerns regarding pesticides by voluntarily agreeing to eliminate their use on hospital grounds,” wrote Councilmembers Leventhal and Berliner. “As you know, in 2013, Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park ceased using insecticides or herbicides in advance of the Takoma Park City Council passing its ordinance restricting pesticide use. We believe it is time for every hospital to take a similar stance.” 

According to County Council spokesperson Neil Greenburger, the recipients of the letter were Terry Forde, the President and CEO of Adventist Healthcare; Gene Green, President of Suburban Hospital; Peter Monge, President of MedStar Montgomery Medical Center; Kevin Sexton, President and CEO of Holy Cross Health; and Kurt Newman, President of Children’s National Health System. 

Leventhal is currently President of the Council, Chairman of the Council's Health and Human Services Committee, and is the lead sponsor of the pesticide bill.

Here is the complete text of the letter:

May 11, 2015 

As you may be aware, the Montgomery County Council is currently considering a range of measures that would, if adopted, significantly reduce the use of pesticides in our County. This effort is driven in large part by concerns that have been raised by the medical community about the potential negative impacts of exposure to pesticides on human health. 

There are strong signals from leading medical professionals that there is a fundamental need to reduce the amount of pesticides to which individuals are exposed. In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics found that 

“Children encounter pesticides daily and have unique susceptibilities to their potential toxicity. Acute poisoning risks are clear, and understanding of chronic health implications from both acute and chronic exposure are emerging. Epidemiologic evidence demonstrates associations between early life exposure to pesticides and pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function and behavioral problems.” 

Earlier this year, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that glyphosate, a commonly used pesticide, was “probably carcinogenic.” 

We are writing today to ask that hospitals in our County assume a leading role in increasing awareness of the health concerns regarding pesticides by voluntarily agreeing to eliminate their use on hospital grounds. As you know, in 2013, Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park ceased using insecticides or herbicides in advance of the Takoma Park City Council passing its ordinance restricting pesticide use. We believe it is time for every hospital to take a similar stance. 

Regardless of how broader questions about pesticide regulation are resolved by our Council, your taking this step would help to reduce pesticide exposure for some of our most vulnerable residents, and more broadly, would increase awareness in our community as to its potential harmful effects. 

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your response. 

Photo of Leventhal: Robert Dyer @ Bethesda Row
Photo of Berliner courtesy of County Council website

Friday, May 8, 2015

Public forum on controversial MoCo Independent Transit Authority proposal set for June 17

The Montgomery County Transit Task Force has set a public forum on the controversial proposal to create an unelected taxing authority that could raise unlimited taxes on residents to fund Bus Rapid Transit and other projects. Residents and union leaders overwhelmingly rejected the idea at a raucous public hearing earlier this year. Yet County Executive Ike Leggett is bringing the Independent Transit Authority (ITA) proposal for another swing, via his Transit Task Force.

That task force is holding meetings to discuss the new taxing authority in Rockville amongst themselves. But there will be a "Public Forum" on the unpopular proposal on June 17, from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM, in the 3rd floor Hearing Room of the County Council office building at 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville. In the meeting agenda posted online, it says the topics will be the ITA's organization, transfer of functions from existing county agencies (a major point of contention for UFCW Local 400/MCGEO Union President Gino Renne), and - most important to you, the taxpayer - the financial and fiscal implications of the new taxing authority. Questions the task force wants your feedback on will be provided to the public via the Transit Task Force website prior to the forum. However, just what the ability of the public to speak at the forum will be is not specified. Is it a public hearing with a 3 minute speaking time? Or is it a forum where the public will simply be spoken to?

It must be noted that, like the BRT hearing 3 years ago, this forum is being held in the summer. Parents no doubt know that this June 17 meeting will come just after the end of the Montgomery County Public School year. That means many will be leaving for their first summer vacation, which will certainly hold down attendance.

That's probably not an accident. You'd schedule a forum for summer, too, if you were trying to ram through an unelected body that can be handpicked by the County Executive.

An unelected body that can exceed all existing caps and restrictions on tax increases (in fact, the task force is going to be discussing on June 3 the "merits of empowering [the] County to exceed Charter limitations in several respects"). Not the negatives, of course!

Keep in mind that this is the same task force that suggested you should pay a new, 15% property tax increase to fund the BRT system that will primarily benefit real estate developers. You would pay, not the developers, and this was a countywide tax proposal. Do the math.

It's also the same task force whose chairman Mark Winston - as I reported two years ago - could directly benefit financially from the creation of the ITA and a BRT system. Winston, leading the effort to "get you out of your car," memorably admitted "it has been a while" since he rode a bus himself. Something he has in common with the "pro-transit" County Council and Planning Board, as well.

Remember also that this unelected ITA, as described in the legislation the task force is discussing, would not have to show its budget to any elected official. To quote the actual legislation, the ITA would not be required "to submit its capital or its operating budget to the County for approval."

Incredible. Unelected and unaccountable.

Don't forget that the proposal also allows the ITA to take on unlimited debt. It also allows the County Council and Executive to transfer unlimited amounts of debt to the ITA - and then the ITA could use its literally unlimited taxing power to make you pay those unlimited amounts. Unreal.

The ITA would also have unlimited power to seize private property, and sell it at a sweetheart price to developers who contribute to the elected official who appointed them. It would have the power to carry out the demolition of homes and businesses, and not have to answer to the outrage of the landowners at the ballot box.

And speaking of ballots - the legislation would include a provision that would make it impossible for you, the citizens, to put a referendum on the ballot to bring the ITA taxing power under any control or limitation.

This proposal was thoroughly rejected by the citizens and county employees - yet here it comes again, as they do what they do best in the MoCo political machine: ram it through.

Save the date.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Silver Spring bottle bomber gets 18 years in slammer

Manuel Joyner-Bell, who entered an Alford plea admitting the state of Maryland had enough evidence to convict him of a rash of bottle bomb throwing incidents in area movie theaters last year, was sentenced to 18 years in prison in Prince Georges County Friday.

One of the bottle bombs was detonated at the Regal Majestic Stadium 20 theaters in downtown Silver Spring last May 4 at 1:00 AM.