Friday, April 28, 2017

Montgomery County microlending could put taxpayer money in County Councilmembers' accounts

Last week, the Montgomery County Council got into the banking business. Despite there being a bank on almost every corner, and of every size, the Council thought it was time start their own bank - using your money, of course. $572,000 of your money in FY-2018 alone, to be exact. The result is the newest patronage scheme by our corrupt County Council, with real potential to put taxpayer dollars into the campaign accounts of councilmembers.

Here's how the scheme works. Small businesses based in Montgomery County can apply for microloans of $500-$15,000 from the Council's new "bank." The individuals who decide who gets the money are all either appointed directly by the Council, or are closely within their political orbit. So corrupt councilmembers could absolutely influence who gets the loans.

Once the businessperson obtains the loan, there is nothing to stop him or her from donating some of that money to the councilmembers' campaign accounts. This has happened in the past with another Council patronage scheme - the funding of non-profits. Councilmembers vote on which non-profits get money. They decide the exact dollar amounts given to the non-profits. Officers of those non-profits, who often earn salaries from their non-profit, have then made campaign contributions to the councilmembers who fought to obtain the funding for them. In some cases, they've made the maximum contribution allowed by law.

Both schemes may now become even more essential in the new age of public financing. We now know what I predicted in 2014 was correct - the specific public financing program passed by the Council was designed primarily to help Council incumbents, not challengers. Longtime councilmembers have vast numbers of patrons from which to extract the many, many small donations needed to unlock the taxpayer-funded public matching funds.

With the new bank "microloans," and the same non-profit scheme, an even larger portfolio of political patrons can now be developed. Meanwhile, challengers have no such Rolodex to draw upon. True public financing would give every candidate a reasonable amount of funds from which to get their message out. Montgomery County's does not. So many incumbents have signed up for the public financing option, there's a real possibility the funds will be depleted. What then? They'll simply make an appropriation of more of your taxpayer dollars.

Three ways to use your taxpayer dollars to fund their campaigns. It's outrageous. And it's amazing how the Council can find $572,000 in the sofa cushions for microloans, and millions in public funds for their campaigns, but not for a host of other more urgent needs. Things that make you go, "Hmmm..."

How do we get this ripe-for-corruption system under control? By passing a law to prevent those receiving these microloans, or who receive income from non-profits awarded funds by the Council, from donating money to political candidates who have influence over the awarding of those loans and funds. A reasonable approach to keeping the corrupt hand of the Montgomery County cartel from getting yet another chance to pick your pocket, to profit themselves. Demand all candidates support such a rule change in 2018.


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Silver Spring construction update: Central (Photos)

Central is starting to look close to being finished at 8455 Fenton Street in downtown Silver Spring. Since my last update, you can see some accents have been added, such as those horizontal white dashes between floors in the photo above.

The Grosvenor Americas mixed-use project is scheduled for delivery in Summer 2017. A total of 243 residential units, and 17,000 SF of retail/restaurant space, will be located steps away from the world-class Silver Spring Library and future Purple Line station.

On an interesting related note, the global Grosvenor Group released its annual report earlier this week. In it, they noted that positive financial results from their Grosvenor Americas division (the developer of Central)  - along with the group's Asia division - helped them offset losses from a real estate downturn in the U.K.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

More boardrooms to be replaced by bedrooms in Silver Spring

The "jobs" leg of the smart growth stool continues to grow shorter by the week in Montgomery County. A major site set aside for research and development in Rockville is now likely to become yet another residential development. So it goes in downtown Silver Spring.

At 8605 Cameron Street, Guardian Building Associates, LLC is proposing to transform the Guardian office building into 177 apartments, and 7496 SF of retail and restaurant space. The applicant claims the building is mostly vacant, not surprising given the County's moribund private sector economy, and the anti-business climate our elected officials have fostered. It doesn't help that every economic development trip the County Council has taken has been to a Communist country.

The Guardian project sketch plan will go before the County's Development Review Committee on May 2. There's certainly a cosmetic improvement in this from what is there today, but Montgomery County needs more boardrooms right now, not more bedrooms.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Ellsworth Place puts prime street frontage space up for lease in Silver Spring (Photos)

Ellsworth Place has added several major tenants, and a host of smaller businesses, to its completely-renovated indoor mall in downtown Silver Spring over the last year. Now owner Petrie-Richardson is offering up a prime, street-level space on Colesville Road. It will offer 30' of frontage along Colesville, the very-busy U.S. Highway 29 commuter route.

Monday, April 24, 2017

BIBIBOP Asian Grill taking over former ShopHouse in Silver Spring (Photos)

BIBIBOP Asian Grill, the fast casual chain taking over the shuttered ShopHouse restaurant at 935 Ellsworth Drive in Silver Spring, is now hiring staff. The brand is the latest venture by Charley Shin, who was also the man behind Charleys Philly Steaks (don't ask me where the apostrophe is in the name, though).

Each meal is a variation on the Korean dish of bibimbap, mixed rice with your choice of proteins, vegetables and sauce. A lot like the restaurant it replaces, but with the added benefit of coming to us from the great city of Columbus, Ohio.

Columbus was recently named the most high-tech city in America by Forbes magazine (the city actually has a long history of high-tech innovation, for those familiar with it). This likely befuddled our Montgomery County Council. When not struggling to find the doorknob to get out of the room, our Council has bumbled through one tech gaffe after another this decade. Gaffes ranged from the revelation that the County government was still using Windows 2014, to a humiliating state audit of cybersecurity failures at MCPS, and even Councilmember Hans Riemer breaking his own failed open-data law.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Watch the demolition of the Wheaton Library (Video)

Hot off the presses - new video of the demolition of the venerable Wheaton Library. Two hours, thirty-nine minutes, and forty-seven seconds of destruction, for your viewing pleasure. Sad to see this one go, but the demolished Wheaton Youth Center next door was architecture and history truly worth saving. Led Zeppelin did play there!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Wheaton redevelopment construction to start in June

Parking Lot 34 has been modified
in preparation for the start of
the Wheaton redevelopment project
The Wheaton redevelopment project is probably the topic I get the most questions about from readers. I'm pleased to report that there is finally some news on that front. Construction on the Montgomery County office building portion of the project is now scheduled to begin in June.

Montgomery County is citing the addition of two floors to the office building, and of a geothermal feature designed to help the structure achieve a Platinum LEED certification, as the two reasons for the delay in groundbreaking. In addition, some adjacent property owners were uncooperative regarding the use of tie-backs in excavation retaining walls. Those negotiations also added to the delays, according to Mid-County Regional Services Center Director Luisa Montero.

In preparation for the partial closure of Lot 13 in the Wheaton Triangle, Montgomery County has converted the Ennalls Public Parking Lot (Lot 34 at Ennalls and Grandview) into 2 hour spaces. They have also added more handicapped parking spaces in that lot. Taste of Wheaton will still be held in Lot 13 on the first Sunday in June.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

La Madeleine closes in Silver Spring (Photos)

La Madeleine has said au revoir to downtown Silver Spring. The country French cafe has closed its doors permanently at 8435 Georgia Avenue. They still have locations in downtown Bethesda, and in North Bethesda at Pike & Rose, but this leaves a major hole for Francophiles like myself in downtown Silver Spring. Your best and closest bets at this point are Fenton Cafe, and La Ferme on Brookville Road.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Montgomery County wants to increase your Rain Tax by 9.7%

Your rain tax may be about to increase. Bigly. Montgomery County continues to have an annual Water Quality Protection Charge, determined by the "total impervious area for each property." After the County's original, illegal rain tax was struck down by the courts in 2015, the Montgomery County political cartel simply figured out a legal workaround, and brought it back again.

County Executive Ike Leggett is recommending a whopping 9.7% increase in the Rain Tax, er, "Water Quality Protection Charge," for FY-2018. The County has already determined the amount of impervious surface on your property to determine your charge, by looking at an aerial photo. Very scientific.

You'll also pay higher property taxes this year, as rising assessments create an automatic tax increase even when the tax rate doesn't change. And the County Council gets another salary increase, just like Bell, California. The difference is, Bell's Council is in prison, and ours is still free and on-the-take.

Throw the bums out. Or #LockThemUp.

MoCo's number of registered voters exceeds its voting-age population, foundation threatens to sue

Judicial Watch, a non-partisan foundation promoting integrity and transparency in government, is threatening to sue Maryland in federal court over what it calls Montgomery County's "dirty election rolls." The foundation's analysis revealed that there are more people registered to vote in Montgomery County than there are citizens of legal voting age, based upon the latest U.S. Census data. Judicial Watch says the excess voter names are of those who have died or moved, or of non-citizens who have illegally-registered to vote.

Voter fraud can often involve people impersonating voters known to be deceased, or to have moved away, at polling places. In Montgomery County, only the most basic personal information (name, address, date of birth) about a deceased or absent voter would need to be known to vote using their name at the polls. Maryland U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D) warned last year that "We've seen fraud committed in our state in prior elections." Cardin and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) implored voters to "let us know" if they "encounter fraud or misconduct" at polling places.

Maintaining up-to-date voter rolls is required of states under federal law. Judicial Watch is demanding Maryland force Montgomery County to remove all ineligible voters from its rolls in 90 days, or they will sue the state - and ten others - for violating Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act.

“Dirty election rolls can mean dirty elections,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement. “These 11 states face possible Judicial Watch lawsuits, unless they follow the law and take reasonable steps to clean up their voting rolls of dead, moved, and non-citizen voters.”

Wheaton Metro robbery suspects still at large (Photos)

WMATA is downplaying a violent robbery aboard a Metro Red Line train nearing the Wheaton station Sunday afternoon, referring to it merely as a "strong-arm robbery." But these robbery suspects allegedly did more than twist arms.

In reality, around 5:40 PM Sunday, the alleged robbers didn't simply threaten violence or twist the victim's arm. Instead, the four suspects approached a man, and one sat down next to him and demanded the victim's phone. When the victim declined to cooperate, he was savagely beaten with fists.

"Give me that damn phone!!" one said as they beat the man, and also picked his pockets. The four assailants ran off the train at the Wheaton station, and remain at large. Their victim was hospitalized. These attacks happen frequently in the District, but not very often in Montgomery County, making this something that needs to be nipped in the bud. 

Don't expect our low-energy County Council to do anything about it; they have yet to comment on any of the gang-related shootings in Wheaton over the last three years.

If you can identify any of these four suspects, Metro Transit Police would like to talk to you. Call them at 301-955-5000, or text MyMTPD, and reference case number #2017-07929.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Pollo Campero coming to downtown Silver Spring (Photos)

The sign is up at the future Pollo Campero in downtown Silver Spring. Talk about "location, location, location:" Pollo Campero will be right next to The Fillmore on Colesville Road. A peek inside says there is still a long way to go on the interior build-out here.

Dallas-based Pollo Campero was founded in Guatemala in 1971, and boasts that it offers "authentic Latin chicken." The chain currently has a Wheaton location, as well. If they stay open late enough, they could make a killing on folks leaving concerts next door.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Police investigate hate crime in Wheaton

A Wheaton resident returned to her home in the 2300 block of McMahon Road around 3:20 PM Thursday, to find hate-based graffiti scrawled on her front door. Montgomery County police say a "derogatory word" was written in marker on the door. The resident believes she was targeted because of her race.

Anyone with information about this hate-based vandalism is asked to contact the 4th District Investigative Section at 240-773-5530.  For those who wish to remain anonymous, Crime Solvers of Montgomery County is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for any information that leads to the arrest of the suspect(s). Tipsters can call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County toll-free at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

Wheaton woman missing (Photo)

Sandra Yaritza Diaz
Montgomery County police detectives are asking for the public's help in locating a Wheaton woman who disappeared Thursday afternoon. Sandra Yaritza Diaz, 25, of the 11800 block of Selfridge Road, was last seen when she left her residence on foot that day. Diaz left her car parked outside of her residence when she left. It remains parked in front of the home, and family and friends have not heard from her.

Diaz is described as a Latina, 5’7” tall, and weighing 150 pounds.  She has black hair and brown eyes.

Police and family members are concerned for Ms. Diaz’s physical and emotional well-being.

Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of Sandra Yaritza Diaz is asked to call the Montgomery County Police non-emergency number at 301-279-8000 (available 24 hours).  Callers may remain anonymous.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Despite fake news headlines, you won't be buying liquor at grocery, drug or convenience stores in MoCo

You may have seen fake news headlines over the last few days trumpeting that "liquor" will soon be sold at "privately-owned stores" in Montgomery County. The careful wording was designed by the Montgomery County political cartel, to give casual readers the false impression that beer, wine and spirits would be coming to the shelves at Giant, CVS, 7-Eleven, etc. Nothing could be further from the truth, and it was surprising that many in the local media enabled the deception with false headlines. This is one of the more audacious public misinformation campaigns I've ever witnessed from the MoCo cartel.

Here are the facts:

The Maryland General Assembly just passed a bill which will only allow privately-owned beer and wine stores to sell liquor. Clever language in the bill specifically excludes grocery stores, drug stores, and convenience stores. Even popular convenience stores that currently sell beer and wine, like Talbert's in Bethesda, will be ineligible to sell liquor.

Even those beer and wine stores that qualify to sell liquor under the bill will still have to buy that liquor from the Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control - the government monopoly. That means they will be competing on retail price directly with the Montgomery County government liquor stores. Merchants like Bradley Food and Beverage have pointed out in the past that such competition is unfair to the small private businesses being forced to compete with the same government-monopoly seller, who sets the prices they have to pay for stock.

The new law allows the DLC to decide the criteria for the granting of contracts with private beer and wine stores by itself, with no public input or transparency. DLC, in other words, can decide the terms of competition itself. Profits for whichever few retailers DLC decides to "compete" with will likely be limited by the monopoly control over price, and that means no savings for you, the customer.

It's also unlikely that private beer and wine stores could be competitive with County-owned liquor stores on inventory, because the County stores are physically larger than stores which have been only allowed to sell beer and wine. And they'll still have to deal with the same DLC inventory and delivery problems that have hampered their existing beer and wine sales.

Once again, County politicians have tried to "look busy," even as they bolster and preserve the government liquor monopoly. Real change would be full privatization of beer, wine and spirit sales in Montgomery County, and being able to buy Bud Light or a bottle of wine at Safeway or Rite Aid. That did not happen with this new law.

Fact check score for fake news "liquor to be sold at privately-owned stores" headlines, designed to fool people who don't read the articles for the details?

Four Pinocchios/Pants on Fire

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Silver Spring construction update: Core (Photos)

Core has a much more finished-looking facade than in my last update about a month ago. Some interesting design touches have been added on the lower parking deck levels. Core will contain 292 apartments, and about 1500 SF of retail space. The Foulger-Pratt/Willco project is scheduled to deliver this summer, and appears to be on-schedule. Core is located at 8621 Georgia Avenue in downtown Silver Spring.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Silver Spring black history tour set for May 6

Silver Spring wasn't always the multicultural urban center it is today. Learn more about how it evolved from a segregated past in the Jim Crow era into the diversity we take for granted today, on a Silver Spring Black History Tour on Saturday, May 6, 2017, at 11:00 AM.

Meet in front of the Cameron Street Garage (Public Parking Garage 7) at 8530 Cameron Street at 11:00 AM. Dr. David Rotenstein will lead you on a two-hour, two-mile history walk around downtown Silver Spring.

Along the route, you will stop and learn about a variety of sites associated with black history and the civil rights struggle. 

Police seek suspect who exposed himself, touched teen girl on bus in Wheaton (Photo)

Montgomery County police detectives are asking for the public's assistance in catching a suspect who exposed himself and touched a teenage girl on a Ride On bus in Wheaton on March 30. They have now identified the man on footage from the bus surveillance camera, and released the above photo.

Police say a 17-year-old girl boarded a Ride On bus at the Twinbrook Metro station that evening, and sat down at the back of the bus. She told detectives that the man above, who was already aboard the bus, moved back to sit next to her. After a brief "conversation," he then exposed himself to her, and touched her "inappropriately."

As the bus stopped near the intersection of Randolph Road and Dalewood Drive around 7:30 PM, the girl went forward and told the bus driver what had happened. The bus driver called the police, at which point the suspect was allowed to exit the bus. He apparently was nonchalant enough to take time to collect his bicycle from the mounted rack on the bus, which he then pedaled south on Dalewood Drive, in a successful getaway attempt.

Detectives ask that anyone who recognizes the suspect or who has information about this incident please contact the 4th District Investigative Section at 240-773-5530.  For those who wish to remain anonymous, Crime Solvers of Montgomery County is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for any information that leads to the arrest of the suspect. Tipsters can call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County toll-free at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).