Friday, December 29, 2017

Bump 'n Grind, Twins Fashion open at Ellsworth Place in Silver Spring (Photos)

A long-awaited coffee kiosk and international fashion retailer have opened for business at Ellsworth Place mall in downtown Silver Spring. Bump 'n Grind brings one of Silver Spring's favorite coffee purveyors to a convenient location inside the mall's center court.

Also celebrating a grand opening is Twins Fashion International. The boutique offers a colorful variety of apparel for men, women and children. Clothing is imported from, and features the styles of, Africa, Asia and Europe. It's an outstanding fit for Montgomery County's most-international town.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Sanctuary on steroids: MS-13 able to use government-owned Silver Spring house as hideaway

Montgomery County hid
gang safehouse from
public until ABC7 report

The fatal shooting in Takoma Park Christmas Eve now appears to be gang-related, and the incident has led to shocking new revelations. Kevin Lewis of ABC7 broke a startling story two days later revealing that MS-13 gang members have been able to use a government-owned home in Silver Spring as hideout. Lewis reported that the gang refers to such a safehouse as a "destroyer house."

Montgomery County had covered up the revelation since October 17, when workers sent to prepare the home for demolition were confronted by masked MS-13 members, armed with guns and machetes. After talking their way out of the situation, the workers called police. Officers raided the house, located at 807 University Boulevard East, four hours later. Among those arrested in connection with the destroyer house were Jesus Ponce-Flores, 19; David Lagunes-Bolanos, 18; Ricardo Arauz-Pineda, 25; and Jose Herrera, 18. Herrera was the victim of this week's shooting on Quebec Terrace.

The house was clearly never secured or inspected by government officials, and was in use for a substantial period of time. Police report it was decorated by the gang, with skulls, skeletons, graffiti, candles and masks hung on walls. Drug paraphernalia, liquor bottles and other items were found scattered around the house, which had been purchased by the Maryland Transit Authority to be razed for the Purple Line.

ICE had issued detainers for Ponce-Flores, Lagunes-Bolanos and Herrera, but Montgomery County did not comply; Herrera was released from Montgomery County jail last week, Lewis reported. Had Montgomery County complied with the detainer, Herrera would have been taken into custody at the jail. Instead, he is now dead after being shot in Takoma Park days after avoiding ICE capture thanks to Montgomery County.
CASA "Silver Spring Welcome Center"
is directly across the street from the
MS-13 "destroyer house"
A CASA de Maryland immigrant Welcome Center is located directly across University Boulevard from the Destroyer House. It's hard to believe no one nearby was aware of this longstanding use of the house by gang members. Thanks to Lewis' reporting, we know that Montgomery County kept this information from the public for over two months, and County officials are indeed presiding over a sanctuary jurisdiction - as proven definitively by Herrera's release from County jail.

Lewis noted that police would not say how many other "Destroyer Houses" may be operating in Montgomery County or the region.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

MoCo Council prevents Robin Ficker from testifying on tax bill

Email from Montgomery County Council
President Hans Riemer to Robin Ficker on
Christmas night; there is no mandated limit
on how many speakers can testify at a hearing
Montgomery County Council President Hans Riemer rejected County resident Robin Ficker's request to testify at a hastily-scheduled public hearing Tuesday on a bill that would allow pre-payment of property taxes before December 31. Ficker is running against several members of the Council for the office of County Executive. This was a clear conflict-of-interest for the Council in excluding Ficker's testimony, as he would surely have discussed the Council's record property tax hikes in his remarks, and the narrow tax relief the bill would provide for only one tier of taxpayers. Some of his opponents on the Council used the taxpayer-funded Council public relations office to issue statements praising themselves following the hearing Tuesday, despite being the ones who forced County residents to pay more than $10,000 in property taxes in 2016.
Ficker is mobbed by supporters
outside the Council building earlier
this year
Ficker's exclusion raised eyebrows because the Council had all day to listen to testimony; this was an emergency session and there was no other item on the agenda, as anyone can confirm by examining it. The Council recently used a similar tactic to limit public participation in the debate over a proposed expansion of Old Angler's Inn, which left more observers in the hearing room than actual speakers.
Ficker's successful ballot
questions limiting Council terms
and tax increases have enraged
councilmembers, who prevented
him from testifying Tuesday
The tax bill passed 7-1 yesterday, with Councilmember Craig Rice voting against it, and Councilmember Tom Hucker absent. It remains uncertain if all or any taxpayers who pay more than $10,000 in property taxes will be ultimately be able to prepay and/or save money. But councilmembers were forced to reverse their opposition after other local jurisdictions quickly allowed their residents to prepay. Many of those paying that amount were only put over the $10,000 mark by the Council's record 2016 and 2017 tax hikes. While the Council took pains to blame Donald Trump, who is unpopular in blue Montgomery, it was the Council themselves who put so many of those affected by the federal tax changes into that position.

Police identify victim in Takoma Park shooting death

Montgomery County police have identified the victim of a fatal shooting in Takoma Park on Christmas Eve. Jose Herrera, 18, of an unconfirmed address in Silver Spring, was shot dead in the 1000 block of Quebec Terrace around 6:30 PM that evening. His alleged killers remain at-large, and armed. Police have not yet indicated whether the killing may be gang-related or not.

Anyone with information regarding this homicide investigation is asked to contact the Major Crimes Division at 240.773.5070. Tipsters who wish to remain anonymous and be eligible for a reward of up to $10,000 may call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Police investigating Takoma Park shooting, suspects remain at-large

Montgomery County detectives are now investigating the fatal shooting that occurred in Takoma Park on Christmas Eve. An 18-year-old man was found dead outside of a residence in the 1000 block of Quebec Terrace around 6:30 PM that evening by police, who were responding to a report of an assault and shots fired. As I reported shortly after the incident, scanner reports indicated the victim was shot in the head, and that two suspects fled on foot.

Those suspects remain at large as of this morning. Police say the perimeter they established, and a search by a K-9 unit, were unsuccessful in capturing the suspects following the shooting.

Anyone with information regarding this death is asked to contact the Major Crimes Division at 240.773.5070. Tipsters who wish to remain anonymous and be eligible for a reward of up to $10,000 may call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Fatal shooting in Takoma Park, suspects at large

A man shot in the 1000 block of Quebec Terrace in Takoma Park this evening has died, according to scanner reports. The victim reportedly was shot in the head. Two suspects fled the scene on foot, and remain at-large.

We are awaiting official confirmation and additional details from police on this shooting. This is breaking news; this story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Exposed: Montgomery County Council is not a "full-time job"

Wouldn't you like to have the power to raise your own salary? In doing just that, to a record $137,000 taxpayer dollars, the Montgomery County Council justified the cash grab by claiming serving on the Council was "a full-time job." That claim, already easily proven false, has now been totally debunked, after Councilmember George Leventhal released a statement yesterday announcing he has secretly been earning a doctorate in public policy.

In fact, Leventhal has been on a Rodney Dangerfield-esque return to college since 2007, by his own admission. He has been on the Council since 2002. Surely, his ever-increasing taxpayer-funded salary over the last decade has afforded him the ability to pad his thin resume with degree after degree, an advantage not available to many of the constituents paying his salary.

Council observers have known for some time that members have too much free time on their hands. New Council President Hans Riemer recently spent a day on Capitol Hill, trailed by taxpayer-funded County government TV crews to capture it all. Alas, things went awry when Riemer found himself being arrested by police in Washington, D.C. later that day. It's believed he is the first Montgomery County Councilmember to be arrested while in office.

Montgomery County celebrity Matthew Lesko has been selling books on how to get free money from Uncle Sam to earn a "GED, or a PhD!!!" on TV for years. Winning a County Council seat could actually be a smarter move at this point. Sit on a padded leather chair for four hours a week, and the rest of the time, earn a law or medical degree at taxpayer expense using your amped up Council salary. Maybe even hit up a few frat house parties in-between.

The Bell, California Council jacked up their own salaries, too, raising taxes massively to cover the costs. Sound familiar? Bell's Council is currently in prison. Montgomery's is on campus. What's wrong with this picture?

Silver Spring construction update: Massage Envy (Photos)

Massage Envy appears to be completed at 955 Wayne Avenue in downtown Silver Spring. The massage business is located in a former office supplies store. They are offering introductory prices to celebrate the opening.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Orange Theory to begin construction in Silver Spring

The owners of Orange Theory, a new gym opening in the Central development at 8455 Fenton Street in downtown Silver Spring, have requested a permit to begin construction. Other tenants coming soon include Pure Barre and a new restaurant concept from Silver Spring's Urban Butcher. Orange Theory was scheduled to open this winter, but we'll have to see if they can still make that deadline.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Silver Spring construction update: Patient First (Photos)

The sign is up at the future Patient First urgent care center in downtown Silver Spring, located at 8206 Georgia Avenue. It is designed as an alternative to hospital emergency rooms. This used to be a mattress store in the past. Still to be installed is the main sign on the front facade.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

MoCo Council to take another stab at criminalizing the homeless

The Montgomery County Council building is just overflowing with Christmas spirit, as the Council is taking the initial steps before the holiday break to criminalize the homeless. This isn't the first time, as the Council tried this previously in their last term, but ran into controversy, including a report from a national organization that condemned the effort.

With Council Bill 39-17, they will again attempt to ban panhandling in the County. The Council memorably claimed last time that the majority of those who panhandle are not actually homeless, but "professional panhandlers" who drive into the County each morning from out-of-state. That's probably news to the folks in downtown Bethesda and Silver Spring whose main wheels are shopping carts filled with everything they own.

What's driving the Council's mania to criminalize the homeless? Well, it may just have something to do with politics and the election year ahead. Councilmember George Leventhal has given himself loud credit for supposedly finding homes for every single homeless veteran in Montgomery County. The local media hasn't bothered to fact check Leventhal on that claim, and simply print it as fact. In reality, it's almost impossible to verify such a boast, which is probably why Leventhal is making it.

Now Leventhal has promised to house every single homeless person in the County by December 2018. Conveniently, that will be a month after the election, in which Leventhal is running for County Executive. Wouldn't it also be convenient to use a panhandling ban to clear the homeless from their most-visible perches on County roads, to make it appear as if they aren't there?

They've just banned circus animals, now the homeless...think they'll get around to dealing with that $120,000,000 budget shortfall anytime soon?

Monday, December 18, 2017

Discovery HQ lights up for holidays in Silver Spring (Video + Photos)

The Discovery Communications headquarters in downtown Silver Spring has activated Christmas colors. But you need to see it in-person, or on video, to get the full effect. Fortunately, I have a video for you right here:

Friday, December 15, 2017

Demolition of Midcounty Services Center delayed again in Wheaton redevelopment

Demolition of the vacant Midcounty Services Center has been delayed again. Now the plan is to raze the building in late December and early January. One reason is that contractors found asbestos in the building, which had to be addressed before demolition can begin.

Excavation has reached bottom at the south end of the future site of a new Montgomery County office building at Lot 13. They are now about ten feet from the bottom on the north end.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

More details on new Lindsay Ford dealership in Aspen Hill (Photos)

Lindsay Ford's proposed auto dealership at 4115 Aspen Hill Road will include a two-story, 30' tall, 95000 SF main building. The former BAE building on the property will be demolished down to the slab foundation, and then rebuilt as the dealership structure.
Truck traffic circulation plan;
trucks enter from Connecticut Avenue
A vehicle circulation plan submitted by Lindsay Ford shows auto rack trucks delivering cars, and other trucks delivering things like auto parts, using a shared curb cut north of the property off of Connecticut Avenue, rather than the main Aspen Hill Road entrance.

According to a traffic analysis submitted by Lindsay, the dealership will generate 143 incoming vehicles and 47 outgoing trips during the peak hour of the morning rush. During the peak hour of the evening rush, 155 vehicles are estimated to be exiting the dealership, and 104 arriving. Because these numbers are less than for an office use, Lindsay's traffic firm says no traffic study is required.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Don Berto's Kitchen to return soon in Silver Spring

Fans of Haitian cuisine have been wondering when and where Don Berto's Kitchen will return in Silver Spring. I have some very good news on that front. The owner now has an 1190 SF space at 7912 Georgia Avenue, a wonderful spot in downtown Silver Spring near the D.C. line. This will be a full-service restaurant, not just a pop-up. They are currently hiring experienced bartenders and servers.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Bump 'n Grind signage goes up at Ellsworth Place (Photos)

The new Bump 'n Grind coffee kiosk is getting closer to opening at Ellsworth Place mall in downtown Silver Spring. Signs have been installed behind the construction walls.

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.