Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Council Approves Aspen Hill Minor Master Plan Amendment

After months of technical analysis and considerable community input, the Council approved the Aspen Hill Minor Master Plan Amendment which will provide opportunities for re-use of the former Vitro/BAE property in a way that focuses on design and encourages pedestrian use.

The plan creates mixed-use options for redevelopment of a long-empty office building and neighboring properties. Based on neighborhood concerns, we restricted the "big box" potential for the Vitro/BAE site while providing flexibility for future retail and possible residential use.

The area being addressed covers about 14 acres west of Connecticut Avenue near Aspen Hill Road. The vacant Vitro/BAE property encompasses ten of those acres. At the time the Council reviewed the 1994 Aspen Hill Master Plan Amendment, the Vitro/BAE office building was occupied and the Master Plan supported the continued office focus.

We are grateful to the Aspen Hill community for its tireless commitment to its neighborhood's future. We listened long and hard to the concerns of residents in crafting a sustainable solution for this challenging site. The passage of this plan paves the way for much-needed and long-anticipated redevelopment in the area.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

National Conference on Ending Poverty

Here's the full press release:

Montgomery Councilmembers Focus on
Poverty Issues at National Conference
More Than 1,500 Expected in Washington, D.C., for Conference Hosted by A Wider Circle on Saturday, March 28

ROCKVILLE, Md., March 26, 2015—Montgomery County Council President George Leventhal, Council Vice President Nancy Floreen and Councilmembers Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich, Tom Hucker, Nancy Navarro and Craig Rice will join national and regional leaders on Saturday, March 28, at the Washington Convention Center to connect with those living in poverty and non-profit service providers to share innovative approaches to ending poverty. The National Conference on Ending Poverty, which is a day-long regional event hosted by Silver Spring-based non-profit A Wider Circle, is expected to draw more than 1,500 participants.

The conference will be held from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. the Washington Convention Center, which is located at 801 Mount Vernon Place NW in downtown Washington.

Montgomery Councilmembers will participate in a panel discussion at the conference entitled “How Our Political Leaders Will Propel the Movement to End Poverty,” which is scheduled in two parts (from 11:20 a.m. to 12:05 p.m. and from 2:30 to 3:15 p.m.) The panels will be held in Room 151A.
 The Washington metropolitan region has a high standard of living, in comparison to other areas around the nation. The Montgomery County self-sufficiency standard, which is a measure of the income required to meet basic needs without public or private assistance, is nearly $83,000 annually for a household with two adults and one preschooler. According to Non-profit Montgomery, the number of County residents living below the Federal Poverty Level increased from 4.8 percent in 2006 to 6.7 percent in 2011. The number of children and youth under 18 living in poverty grew from 5.5 to 8.8 percent over the same period.

Montgomery Councilmembers have been working with non-profit organizations and service providers to develop strategies and provide funding to assist the County’s neediest residents.
“As Council President and chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, I know how important it is for residents to access essential safety net services,” said Council President Leventhal. “That’s why the work that A Wider Circle does is so pivotal. It is on the front lines in the battle against poverty, and it is up to all of us to make sure it has the tools to win that fight.”

“Montgomery County ranks toward the top of the list of counties with the highest median incomes, and we take pride in being the economic engine of Maryland,” said Council Vice President Floreen. “Yet we have pockets of poverty that are not easily seen. Families of working poor and people whose circumstances have taken dramatic turns for the worse due to the economic conditions of the past few years make up an increasing portion of our community. We owe it to them to do better. That’s why I’m looking forward to working with our terrific non-profits to expand our capacity to help those who are living in poverty now and to prevent others from slipping into poverty in the future.”

Since poverty indicators are often first observed in the classroom, County officials use Montgomery County Public School’s data as a barometer for measuring community need. Currently, more than 34 percent of public school students qualify for free and reduced price school meals. The income eligibility for this program is less than $44,123 annually for a family of four.

“It is important that we look at all the aspects associated with poverty including education, job training, and housing and figure out how we can join forces through public private partnerships and other collaborations to truly make a difference in our communities,” said Councilmember Rice, who chairs the Council’s Education Committee. “This conference is an excellent opportunity to come together to talk about how to end poverty in Montgomery County.”

“Non-profit organizations like A Wider Circle do incredible work helping those in need, which reinforces the fabric of our society,” said Councilmember Navarro, who is a former member of the Montgomery County Board of Education. “We do work on the Council every day to help those in need—from increasing access to health care to making affordable housing a priority. However, it is a strong and robust economic development strategy that leaves no area of the County behind that truly allows us to invest in our social and educational infrastructure.”

"Ending poverty must be at the top of every agenda,” said Councilmember Berliner. “All tools in the tool box must be used and more added. Proven strategies focused on early childhood education, universal pre-kindergarten, workforce training, adult ESOL classes, affordable housing and food security are all essential in the fight against poverty. Our great non-profits, like A Wider Circle, are leading the way, and we are so very grateful to be its partner in this fight.”

Many working on poverty and income inequality recognize that policy changes are necessary at all levels of government to promote social change.

"The persistence of poverty in America is the result of conscious policy decisions that can be changed, if we have the political will to do so,” said Councilmember Elrich. “How we approach wages, access to health care, education and housing creates or eliminates poverty."

"It is not right and it is not just that so many working families are raising their children in poverty,” said Councilmember Hucker. “In Maryland and in Montgomery County, we do not need to tolerate persistent poverty alongside great wealth. We can do better. From working to raise the minimum wage, expanding access to high quality pre-kindergarten, investing in our infrastructure to create good paying jobs, training the next generation of workers for the jobs of tomorrow and making the workplace more family friendly through paid sick leave and equal pay for women—these are things we can do today to fight poverty in our communities."

“Urgency is the reason for this conference,” said Mark Bergel, executive director of A Wider Circle. “There are so many great programs and leaders doing wonderful work to address the unacceptable conditions that many of our neighbors endure. None of us can do it alone; we must engage together and with urgency.”

For more information about the conference, visit A Wider Circle’s web site http://awidercircle.org/org or contact Samantha Gloss at 301-608-3504.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Montgomery County GreenFest This Saturday

Gather up the family to celebrate our local environment and learn more about ways you can play a part in greening your community at the Montgomery County GreenFest this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Cultural Arts Center at the Montgomery College Takoma Park/Silver Spring campus and Jesup Blair Local Park. Activities include:

  • Rope-assisted tree climbing for kids with Montgomery Parks staff
  • An electric vehicle car show
  • Environmentally oriented exhibitors throughout the day
  • Documentary films, in partnership with the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital, including “Racing to Zero,” “ Growing Legacy,” “ Anacostia River: Making Connections” and student films from Montgomery County Public Schools
  • Featured speaker, Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, discusses the Monarch Butterfly and what we can do in our own backyards to help restore their population
  • Eight panels and workshops throughout the day on topics ranging from sustainable food to green landscaping, in-home water conservation, electric vehicle ownership and raising environmentally conscious kids

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Recommended Budget Transmitted to the Council

The County Executive released his Recommended Operating Budget yesterday, and now it is up to the County Council to consider his proposals and approve a final budget at the end of May. We will hold our public hearings on the budget on: 

  • April 14 at 7 p.m.
  • April 15 at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.
  • April 16 at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.
To sign up to speak call 240-777-7803. If you can't make the hearings, you can also let us know your views by e-mailing county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov. Also, check the Council's Web site for regular budget updates.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Montgomery Women's Shining Star Award

I was extremely honored to receive Montgomery Women's 2015 Shining Star award. Montgomery Women is a non-partisan leadership and political action committee started in 2001 by a diverse group of experienced and emerging leaders who recognized the need to provide a forum for women's voices in Montgomery County. I'm proud to have been a founding member of this important organization. I also want to congratulate Planning Board member Natali Fani-Gonzalelez, who received the Rising Star award.

"You've come a long way, baby." Remember that? Since the Virginia Slims slogan debuted in 1968, the number of women serving in state legislatures has more than quintupled. That's the good news. The bad news is that the proportion of women in state legislatures in 2015 is only 24 percent. Maryland is slightly ahead of the average at 31 percent.. So yes, we've come a long way, but we haven't come nearly far enough. That's why I am such a fan of Montgomery Women and its mission to support women's efforts to serve in elected and appointed office as well as other leadership positions.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Report Potholes Online or by Phone

Watch out for those early spring flowers--potholes. The Department of Transportation is hard at work filling them right now, and remember, you can report potholes online or by calling 311.

DOT has filled more than 2,000 potholes since January 1, and most of them were filled within 48 hours of when they were reported. The Division of Highway Services has four pothole trucks and crews that fill potholes nearly every day of the year. The crews respond to reports of potholes and, if on their way they see others that need to be filled, they take care of them as well. Since spring is a peak time for pothole formation, DHS has added 20 additional trucks and crews this week to fill potholes. Sometimes potholes result from significant structural problems in the roads. In these cases, major repairs to the roads will need to be made, and these fixes require more than 48 hours to accomplish.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Snow Angels in Takoma Park

Check out WTOP's heartwarming story about Snow Angels in Takoma Park. Remember, if you have great neighbors like Anna and Prayag, nominate them for a Golden Shovel.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Winter Weather Information

Preparing for the Storm

Emergency preparations should include having enough food, water, medication (if needed) and batteries to last two to three days. Make sure portable radios, smoke detectors and flashlights are working properly. 

Keep a fresh supply of extra batteries on hand, along with a basic first aid kit and a non-electric can opener.

Check with neighbors who may require special assistance to see if they need help in stocking up on supplies or medications, and call them during the storm.

Park vehicles in driveways or off the street, if possible. When parking on-street, pull close to the curb on the even numbered side of the street to clear the way for snowplows.

Be sure your vehicle is ready to drive after the storm by filling the gas tank; checking tires to make sure they have an adequate tread and are fully inflated; checking oil, antifreeze and windshield washer fluid levels; and ensuring windshield wipers, lights, flashing hazard lights, exhaust system, heater, brakes and defroster are all working properly. Keep a windshield scraper and small broom in the car for ice and snow removal, and a small sack of sand or kitty litter to improve wheel traction.

If driving during the storm is unavoidable, put together a separate disaster supply kit for the trunk of the car that includes:
  • Flashlight with extra batteries.
  • Flares.
  • Blankets or sleeping bags.
  • Dry clothing, mittens, socks, and a wool cap.
  • Newspapers for insulation.
  • Plastic bags.
  • Canned fruit, nuts, or high energy “munchies.”
  • Bottles of water.
  • A small shovel, a pocket knife, and small tools --pliers, a wrench and screwdriver.
  • Jumper cables.
  • First aid kit and necessary medications.
  • Brightly colored cloth to tie to the antenna.
During the Storm

During the storm, residents are urged to travel only if absolutely necessary, and to stay indoors.

Residents concerned about the safety and well-being of children, elderly individuals or adults with disabilities should call the County’s Crisis Center at 240-777-4000.

If traveling is hazardous, residents should be prepared to shelter in place.

In the event of a power outage, avoid using candles or outdoor grills indoors, to prevent the risk of a fire.

For downed trees on public property, residents should call 3-1-1 (or 240-777-0311 from a cell phone).  To report trees that have fallen on utility lines, contact local utility companies. Contact information is available on the County’s website at http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov. “Hot” wires or sparking wires, especially those across roadways, may be reported by calling 9-1-1. 

After the Storm

In the event of power outages, treat intersections with non-working traffic signals as four-way stops.  If your home is without power, contact your utility company:  PEPCO, 877-737-2662; BG&E, 877-778-2222; or FirstEnergy/Potomac Edison, 1-800-255-3443.

Exercise caution when shoveling snow. Try to shovel snow into the yard rather than into the street. Cold weather puts an extra strain on the body. Individuals with heart disease or high blood pressure should follow their doctor’s advice about shoveling snow or performing other hard work in the cold. Avoid overexertion. Heart attacks from shoveling heavy snow are a leading cause of deaths during winter.

When going outdoors, dress warmly and stay dry. Adults and children should wear a hat, scarf or knit mask to cover face and mouth; sleeves that are snug at the wrists, mittens (they are warmer than gloves), a water-resistant coat and boots, and several layers of loose-fitting clothes.

Serious health problems such as hypothermia and frostbite can be caused by prolonged exposure to the cold. Watch for loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in extremities such as fingers, toes, ear lobes and the tip of the nose. Signs of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion. In both cases, residents should get medical attention immediately if symptoms are present.

Do not attempt to drive if you are not comfortable driving on icy or snowy roads. When preparing to drive, be sure to thoroughly clear the snow from the entire car – including roofs, windshields trunks and hoods – to ensure visibility and prevent snow from blowing onto surrounding cars. When driving, do not speed and be sure to leave plenty of space between your car and the one in front of you. Avoid pulling out in front of other vehicles and do not slow down before going up a hill.

For timely severe weather and emergency notifications, go to https://alert.montgomerycountymd.gov and sign up for Alert Montgomery. Warnings and emergency updates will be sent directly to your cell phone and/or email address. The service is free, but text charges may apply, so check with your cell phone carrier before selecting text alerts. Information is also available on the County’s website at http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/snow.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Council Passes Bill to Regulate Electronic Cigarettes

The Council today unanimously approved my bill to prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes in public places where traditional tobacco smoking is prohibited. The bill also will restrict the sale of certain liquid nicotine or liquid nicotine containers in retail outlets unless the nicotine is in a container considered child resistant packaging.

Perhaps swayed by the belief that electronic cigarettes are safe, or emboldened by the fact that e-cigs have little odor that parents could detect, teens who have never tried traditional cigarettes are using e-cigs, putting themselves at risk for nicotine addiction, nicotine poisoning or exposure to harmful chemicals. I am not willing to gamble with the health of our current generation of young people by waiting for federal regulations. The Council did the right thing by putting these protections in place.

At a July 21 worksession on e-cigarettes, the Council’s Health and Human Services Committee received briefings from the National Institutes of Health and the Legal Resource Center for Public Health Policy. The briefings included a discussion of the current medical understanding of the health risks and public policy concerns with electronic cigarette usage. After the briefings, committee members discussed the use of electronic cigarettes by minors and directed staff to provide options to restricting youth access to electronic smoking devices.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not currently regulate e-cigarettes. However, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act gives the FDA the authority to regulate the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products. The FDA has proposed a “deeming regulation” that would subject electronic cigarettes to FDA’s regulatory authority. It is unclear when (or whether) the FDA will issue a final rule and what the substance of that final rule will look like.

While at least 30 states have comprehensive clean indoor air laws restricting the use of lighted tobacco products in indoor public places such as bars, restaurants and office buildings, only a few have extended these provisions to include the use of electronic cigarettes. Among those states, New Jersey, North Dakota and Utah have specifically amended their clean indoor air laws to prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes in public places and workplaces.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Nominate Your Neighbor for a Golden Shovel Award

Did someone you know make your neighborhood safer? Nominate them for a Golden Shovel.

I started the Golden Shovel awards in 2003 to honor residents who lace up their boots to help neighbors shovel out after a snowfall. The awards recognize individuals who go above and beyond in helping clear ice and snow from County sidewalks.

Our seniors, school children, people with disabilities and those who walk to work or use mass transit depend on snow-free sidewalks. This goes beyond convenience--it is a matter of public safety. I certainly hope that residents will nominate for a Golden Shovel those individuals who put the Golden Rule to work. The deadline for nominations is March 31, and awards will be presented in a Council session in April. Get the nomination form.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Local Civil Rights Leaders in Black History Month Tribute

Six long-time residents of Montgomery County, each of whom played a key role in civil rights changes that impacted the County, told their personal stories as they were honored by the Council as part of Tuesday's Black History Month commemoration event. See the terrific video of these residents talking about Montgomery County history as they lived it. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

No Boundaries with Chris Van Hollen

Congressman Chris Van Hollen and I sat down at Black's Market Bistro in Garrett Park to tape the most recent episode of No Boundaries, an innovative program by County Cable Montgomery that's designed to cross jurisdictions and seek common ground. No Boundaries features local leaders in an open exchange of perspectives, concerns and ideas. The congressman and I talked about our families, our early careers and the people who influenced us along the way. See the program.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Town Hall Meeting for Faith Community Postponed

The Montgomery County Council’s planned special Town Hall Meeting for leaders of the County’s faith community scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 26, has been postponed. A date to reschedule the meeting has not yet been determined.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

My Letter to The Gazette about Regulating Electronic Cigarettes

Check out my letter in today's Gazette explaining why we must regulate the use of electronic cigarettes in Montgomery County. For your convenience, I have reprinted it below:

It is hard to keep up with the mounting evidence that electronic cigarettes pose more risks than their marketers would like us to believe, especially for children and teens.

Although electronic cigarettes do not produce tobacco smoke, they do contain nicotine and other dangerous chemicals. That’s why I introduced a bill in the Montgomery County Council to prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes in public spaces where traditional cigarette smoking is banned, including in public buildings and restaurants. The bill also would prohibit use of electronic cigarettes by minors and would require child-resistant packaging for them.

The use of electronic cigarettes, commonly called “vaping,” has grown dramatically since the product’s introduction in 2007. The practice has become so commonplace that the Oxford Dictionary selected the word “vape” as its 2014 “Word of the Year.”

Perhaps swayed by the belief that electronic cigarettes are safe, or emboldened by the fact that e-cigs have little odor that parents could detect, teens who have never tried traditional cigarettes are using e-cigs. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that e-cig use has tripled among teens in just two years. These young people are unwittingly putting themselves at risk for nicotine addiction and nicotine poisoning, as well as potentially graduating to harmful tobacco products.

What exactly is in an electronic cigarette? It is hard to say. In addition to the most common ingredients — propylene glycol, nicotine and flavorings — studies have revealed a lot of unsavory things, like carcinogens, heavy metals and even silicon fibers in some e-cigs. But with 90 percent of electronic cigarettes being manufactured in China, where production lacks even the most basic of regulations, they could contain just about anything.

Many states, including Maryland, prohibit the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors. Municipalities including New York City, Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago, also have enacted restrictions on their use.

While the Food and Drug Administration is currently considering regulations to address electronic cigarettes, it is not clear when those regulations would be finalized or take effect. In the meantime, I’m not willing to gamble with the health of our current generation of young people. We must put some protections in place, and we must do it now.

Nancy Floreen, Garrett Park
The writer is vice president of the Montgomery County Council.