Tuesday, August 25, 2015

First day of school safety

The first day of school is next Monday, August 31. We'll see plenty of yellow school buses on our local streets and young people walking to school. With the new, later start times, please drive gently and be alert as you travel.

Under Maryland law, drivers travelling in both directions must stop and wait until a school bus's red lights stop flashing before proceeding. The only exception is on a divided highway of four lanes or more with a median separation, either a physical barrier or a wide space, such as a swale. In that case, only traffic following the bus must stop. (See graphic below)

For parents, now is the time to remind children of pedestrian and bus safety tips. Maryland State Highway Administration has an excellent website on getting to and from school safely.

 

 

 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Advisory Board says Schools, urban livability, are top capital budget priorities.

The following is the text of the July 28, 2015 letter from the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board to County Executive Isiah Leggett expressing local priorities for the County's six-year capital budget. The letter follows the Board's public forum held on June 22, 2015

The priorities were also the subject of a August 3 meeting held by Mr. Leggett with leaders of the County's five area citizens advisory boards. The Board was represented at the meeting by vice chair Scott Goldberg.

These priorities will now be used by County departments in assessing projects to be included in the County Executive's recommended Fiscal Year 2017-22 Capital Improvements Program - due to be released in January 2016.  


Dear Mr. Leggett:

Thank you for this opportunity to provide our recommended priorities for your consideration as you develop the FY 2017-2022 Capital Improvements Program (CIP). As you know, the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board (WMCCAB) held a Capital Budget Forum on June 21, 2015. We were pleased to be joined by staff members from County agencies who could discuss specific CIP projects.

The Forum provided the opportunity for the WMCCAB to receive input on the needs within the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Area. On the basis of the information we gathered, we recommend that you consider the following two priorities in your Capital Budget planning.

1. Address the capacity challenges at our public schools

Attendance at our County schools continues to grow at approximately 2,500 students per year and capacity constraints are a critical problem. We recommend the County adopt  proactive strategies to address the capacity challenges. Specifically, we recommend addressing capacity issues in the Walter Johnson cluster with an addition (with a set completion date) at Walter Johnson High School, to raise the capacity to 3200 students. All of the efforts to increase capacity at the elementary levels over the last several years will be for naught if the anticipated capacity challenges are not addressed at the middle schools and high schools.

Even with those efforts, capacity issues continue at the County’s elementary schools, with the many of our youngest students continuing to be instructed in portables. Accordingly, we recommend advancing the Ashburton Elementary School addition – designed to address the school being over capacity by over 250 students this coming year – in the schedule to be completed in the 2017-2018 school year. Ashburton is the most over-capacity elementary school in the cluster and moving it up its completion date to address this need is justified.

Second, we propose the dates set in the CIP for other school construction not slip. It seems each year, the school construction budget slides important projects to further in the future. The capacity challenges do not improve over time – they only will become more pronounced.  Specifically, it is important that the new elementary school at in the Richard Montgomery cluster at Hungerford Park stay on track -- several elementary schools in that cluster are already over capacity.

Third, we recommend that the County more proactively plan for land acquisition. Most of the schools that have or will be renovated in the next couple of years have been built to capacity.  Some schools no longer will have adequate space for sports or recess, such as BCC High School and Somerset Elementary School. We may reach a point in the not too distant future when renovations will no longer be an option to address the County’s public school capacity issues and new schools will need to be built.  For example, a seventh elementary school is anticipated in the White Flint Sector plan for the Walter Johnson cluster. The land that has been proposed as a donation may not meet the requirements of a new school. We recommend that the County embark on identifying other parcels, setting aside funds, and exploring alternatives for funding sources for required land acquisition. When an opportunity to acquire a large parcel of land arises, the County would be better suited to assess the situation and, if appropriate, make an offer from a designated fund or funding source. Opportunities such as the WMAL property do not arise often but having a mechanism for addressing those opportunities in a nimble fashion should be the goal.

2. Focus on making our urban and residential areas more livable

Throughout the region, new development projects are underway leading to an influx of new residents in need of services and amenities. In Downtown Bethesda alone, current plans anticipate 3200 new housing units yielding more than 5000 new residents. We recommend that the County focus on making these areas more walkable, accessible, and livable.

We specifically recommend that funds for ensuring that there is adequate, usable green space in these urban areas be a high budget priority. Communities need spaces where children and adults can engage in recreational activities and neighbors can congregate. The new Bethesda Sector Plan draft highlights the need for green space but seeks to accomplish this goal with the vague idea that transferring density will incentivize private landowners to sell/give property to the County for parks. In some instances (e.g. expanding Battery Urban Park and the area in front of the Landmark Theater), relying on private landowners will be insufficient. More definitive goals with concrete action plans  and funds are needed now to insure development levels, as set forth in the draft Bethesda Sector Plan, must be accompanied with usable and friendly green spaces..

In addition to green space, our urban centers - especially Bethesda and the Pike District - require enhanced pedestrian and bicycle connectivity and safety. Streetscape and lighting enhancements in these areas should remain a funding priority. Needs in the Pike District include completing the street grid and building dedicated bicycle facilities. Needs in Bethesda include the planned “shared street” concept for Norfolk Avenue, the much-delayed streetscaping of Wisconsin Avenue, and the proposed change of one-way streets to resume two-way traffic.

Finally, we urge the County to step up its residential road refurbishment project. Neighborhoods throughout our region require such road work – in our both urban and residential areas.

Thank you for your consideration of these recommendations.


Sincerely,

Tara M. Flynn, Chair

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Downtown Bethesda Plan update

On July 20, the Montgomery County Planning Board, part of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, completed its first work session to review the Bethesda Downtown Plan. The session addressed several issues and considered transportation infrastructure. Planners are summarizing all testimony received at and following the June 24 public hearing, through July 2, when the public record closed. 

Four more work sessions on the plan are scheduled: September 17, October 5, October 22 and November 12. [You can learn more about the planning process here.]

The board will transmit its recommendations in November to the County Executive and the County Council, after its last work session. The County Council will hold a public hearing on the Bethesda Downtown Plan in January 2016. 

Other Master Plan Schedules

  • Westbard Sector Plan:  September 24, 6:30-9:30 pm, public hearing at Planning Department HQ, 8787 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, MD.
  • Rock Spring
    • September 1, community kick-off, 7 pm, Walter Johnson High School. 
    • October, scope of work presented to Planning Board; date and time TBA.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Summer crime prevention tips from Captain David Falcinelli

The following is a message to the community from Captain David Falcinelli, Commander of the Montgomery County Police, 2nd District Station in Bethesda.

All

I am pleased to share that crime in most major categories is down as of the end of May according to year-to-date statistics. Our most recent success occurred when a suspect stole a bicycle, then attempted to sell it on Craigslist. The alert owner saw the “for sale” ad listing his bike and alerted police who set up a purchase from the suspect and made the arrest. This is the third arrest for bicycle theft made in the last several weeks. Theft from autos, which is one of biggest property crimes in the 2nd District, has been relatively low over the last several months. Residential and commercial burglaries are also down, along with stolen autos. The only major category that has seen an increase is Robbery in which there have been 18 events so far, versus 16 at the same time last year.

While it would certainly be easy to look at these decreases and relax, school is out and summer is here and we need to increase our vigilance more than ever. Summer is a time when many vacations occur leaving homes unattended. It is a time when windows and garages are left open to enjoy the nice weather. Unfortunately, it is also a time when criminals take advantage of opportunities that are presented to them.

Many people apply sunscreen before spending a day on the water or at the pool because it is a simple preventative measure that prevents a burn. It only takes a few minutes, but the benefits are great as one quickly learns when they forget to do so and end up with a burn. Preventing crime is a little like preventing sunburn. Put a little thought and effort into prevention, and your risk of becoming a crime victim will be reduced tremendously.

As your police department, we are going on the offensive in an effort to keep these downward trends heading in the right direction. I have requested and received additional resources that will be specifically targeted into neighborhoods where theft from autos traditionally increase during the summer months. We have begun overtime crime prevention details. Our District Community Action Team is patrolling  neighborhoods on bicycles, including some areas that have never seen bike patrols before.  We are deploying our resources in a variety of ways to keep the criminal element guessing as to where we are.

Despite all these additional measures, the most important part of this equation is each of you. Before going on vacation, remember to make sure your newspapers/mail/flyers are picked up or delivery is stopped, ensure your grass is cut, use timers on lights and/or TV’s (do not leave a front porch light on during the daytime!), engage your alarm system, and have a neighbor look in on your house.  If you are a bike rider or store your bikes in your garage, please close and lock your garage doors if you are not actively using the garage. We are seeing an increase in theft of bikes from garages.  Make your bike unique by using stickers, etc. Take a picture of it (and you on it) and jot down the serial # and have it available to share with the police in case it is stolen.  Use a strong, U-shaped lock. Most importantly, help us prevent theft from autos by locking your car doors, removing anything of value and anything that appears to contain anything of value, and report any suspicious activity in your neighborhoods immediately to the police  

Our continuing partnership to reduce crime in our communities is critical, but we each need to do our part. You are our eyes and our ears. You know who your neighbors are. You are the ones that will most likely see a young person with a backpack trying door handles in the late night/early morning hours. You are the ones that will see someone in a backyard that does not belong there. You are the ones that will recognize a car parked on the street that has never been there before and may be occupied by someone you have never seen before. This is when you need to call us at our non-emergency number 301-279-8000 or 911 for a crime in progress. Help us help you keep your neighborhoods safe!

Thank you again and please keep the lines of communication open. You can always e-mail any concerns that do not require an immediate police response to   2DCommander@montgomerycountymd.gov  I will usually get back to you within 24-48 hours.

Sincerely,


Captain David Falcinelli
Commander – 2nd District
Montgomery County Department of Police

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Public forum on FY 2017-22 capital improvements

The Western Montgomery Citizen Advisory Board is hosting a public forum on Monday, June 22, 7 pm, to receive public comments and recommendations from attendees on the capital facilities needs our area. That public input will help board members in their consideration of the development of the county's FY 2017-2022 capital improvements program.

The forum will be at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, 2nd floor, 4805 Edgemoor Lane, Bethesda, MD 20814.   

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Advisory Board to host event with General Assembly representatives.


YOU ARE INVITED TO:

THE VIEW FROM ANNAPOLIS

Come hear your State elected officials talk about the recently completed legislative season and future priorities, followed by your questions.

When:  May 18, 2015, 7:00 pm

Where:  Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center
4805 Edgemoor Lane, Bethesda, MD

Who:  Maryland General Assembly representatives from
Districts 15, 16, 17 & 18 (invited)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Advisory Board testifies in support of school funding transparency, Bethesda Urban Partnership, public libraries

The following testimony was provided to the Montgomery Country Council by the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board on April 15, 2015.

Members of the County Council, on behalf of the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board, we thank you for the opportunity to share with you our feedback of the County Executive’s Fiscal Year 2016 operating budget. Our input comes from interested citizens, neighborhood organizations, local businesses, community groups, non-profits and many others who took the time to share their thoughts about what our priorities for the county should include.

With multiple days of testimony from dozens of groups, we are keeping our recommendations short to highlight how important we feel that they are within the budget.

In our letter from early March to serve as input for the County Executive’s Budget, we asked that funding be prioritized to effectively manage the impact of new residents. The front line of that effort in downtown Bethesda is the Bethesda Urban Partnership, or BUP we call it. With continued urbanization, there’s no substitute for the BUP. BUP makes downtown Bethesda a vibrant community, aesthetically pleasing and a destination for so many. We ask that BUP’s funding be fully restored by an increased transfer from Parking Lot District funds.

With regard to education, the community understands the technical process of the County Council allocating funds, primarily by statute through the Maintenance of Effort law but has little if any direct oversight over how this money is spent. We wholly support fully funding public education. However we would like to bring to your attention a growing desire for there to be more transparency and input over how education dollars are being spent. We feel that any action towards transparency and input from you will make our schools more effective at educating our children.

The recent news that Marriott may look for a new location for its headquarters continues to highlight our needed effort to find and tout competitive advantages to Washington, DC, northern Virginia and our neighbors to the east, Prince George’s County. The County Executive’s six-point plan has brought more vision to this effort and we feel the 7.5% increase in spending for DED should be maintained. 

The CAB was delighted to see the 5% increase in library funding as libraries serve a core government function and have fantastic advocates.

An area of concern is a 4.7% decrease in spending for the Board of Elections. Those involved in the 2014 General Election know that there was a considerable delay from the time polls closed at 8pm until results were available the day after, unlike in other counties. Even though this year’s decrease is due to no major elections, the long delay in election results being released causes people to question vote totals, leaves candidates with rooms full of supporters anxiously awaiting the outcome and is an area where we lag our neighbors in a very public way.

As you deliberate over the coming weeks, we want to further ask you to support:

  • The holistic approach of aging in place, such as home healthcare, social activities, support groups for ailments and illness, housing and protecting senior citizens against physical, emotional and financial abuse;
  • Affordable housing programs for the working poor and those in need of temporary support;
  • Services and organizations that aid the quality of life for intellectually and developmentally disabled citizens, such as the Arc of Montgomery;
  • Continuing the quality of our current public transportation system. As you've surely heard, one objection to developing a new Rapid Transit System has been the ability to properly operate already existing modes of transportation. 

Finally, we would like the operating budget to support increased outreach and usage of 311. We feel that this is a fantastic service that significantly reduces the need to navigate through bureaucracy and citizens need to know about it. The Public Information Office has set a target that 15% of requests be web based but we feel that there needs to be more so people know where to report potholes, get information about trash pickup, access housing programs, seek help in case of mental health crisis, or - as is currently on the Tips section of the website to request a county service - report a dead deer along the roadway.

Submitted by Tara Flynn, Chair and Scott Goldberg, Vice Chair