I have been traveling the county, talking to residents, businesses, nonprofits, educators, and officials.
We in Montgomery County have a lot on our minds! I’ve been asked – and I’ve been told – about concerns ranging from homelessness to composting.
The top 5 county issues? I’d say they’re school quality and capacity, the county economy, affordability, transportation, and development. Underlying these issues and others is a deep concern about poverty, equity, the environment, and maintaining a community that welcomes everyone. That’s the Montgomery Way!
I have deep experience developing and implementing local policy and programs, with special care for consulting stakeholders and crafting sensible solutions. I will be posting positions – with a sketch of plans – on key Montgomery County issues in the coming weeks. We’ll start with a few top issues – and please note that this page is a work in progress, and I highly value any feedback and corrections you choose to offer.
Affordability and Economic Opportunity
Montgomery County is expensive – stats such as the self-sufficiency standard show it, and our everyday experiences confirm it.
We’re a rich county, with many disadvantaged residents. The county’s newly enacted $15 minimum wage (which I supported) should not be seen as a “living wage.” It’s a start, but we still need a robust safety net to help our neediest neighbors. An estimated 78,000 residents are food insecure; 34.6% of students receive free & reduced-price meals (FARMS); 6.7% of residents live below the federal poverty level.
But affordability challenges go far beyond disadvantaged residents. They center on:
- Housing: Montgomery County faces demand for 4,000 additional housing units each year for the next ten; our greatest need is for more affordable housing, accessible to low- and moderate-income individuals and families including seniors. I support the county’s long-standing “inclusionary zoning” policies, which ensure inclusion of affordable units in new development. I support county partnerships with organizations such as Montgomery Housing Partnership and Victory Housing, to promote maintenance of our existing stock of quality affordable housing and the creation of new affordable housing. And I support renter protections that ensure that affordable units stay affordable, including as neighborhoods become more desirable due to the creation of new transportation infrastructure, commercial and community amenities, and schools. I will generally follow the lead of the Montgomery County Renters Alliance and would consider renter-protection measures that include rent stabilization, an approach that limits rent increases.
- Jobs and economic development are keys to shared prosperity, and growth will generate revenues that fund county operations and capital investment in schools and infrastructure. Local employment and local amenities will also reduce traffic congestion, shortening commutes and other travel.Focus #1 has to be retention of businesses currently located in Montgomery County. I applaud efforts to this end by the county’s chambers of commerce although county government can do better, however. As I testified before the Montgomery County Council, on September 27, 2017, “Progressive initiatives – work on sick and safe leave is a recent bright spot – involve and therefore concern county employers. As you develop solutions, please, please consult businesses and business networks – the county chambers of commerce – early in the process. What I’ve been hearing is that that hasn’t been happening.”We must also attract new businesses to the county. What do companies value? Convenient transit access, an amenity-rich location, and an educated workforce are frequently cited. All parties must cooperate: the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation and Maryland commerce authorities, and the county council working to ensure that land-use planning processes and outcomes are business friendly.And we must facilitate and encourage the creation of new businesses and foster their growth here. I see special promise in entrepreneurship, particularly in biotech / life sciences, in information technology, and in “green” business.
The environment and transportation
Climate change is a global threat, one that we can and should address locally, despite regressive federal non-policy. How? My priorities, based on Montgomery County community and government interactions and numerous conversations and meetings, are headed by:
- Waste reduction by promoting food recovery, and waste diversion via food-waste composting at residential, institutional, community scales and creation of a county food-waste composting program. On the commercial front, I would explore a requirement that food-service businesses move to compostable disposables, as in cities such as San Francisco.
- Support for transit including new projects (the Purple Line, bus rapid transit (BRT), the Corridor Cities Transitway, and possibly expanded MARC Brunswick line service), express buses, and higher service frequency; creation of cycling infrastructure per the county’s (draft) Bicycle Master Plan; enhanced walkability and pedestrian safety.
- Maintenance of high environmental standards (for coal ash, etc.) at the county’s coal-fired power plant and planning to close that plant and phase out the Dickerson incinerator.
- Protection of the Agricultural Reserve and preservation (and restoration) of local watersheds and greenspace with parks expansion.
- Enhancement of programs and expanded funding to reduce energy use and to promote renewal energy, in cooperation with community and business groups.
The bottom line: We must estimate and aim to minimize the environmental impact of Montgomery County programs, operations, capital expenditures, and procurement choices and create/extend programs that lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption, and environmental pollutants, setting targets and building measurement into programs.
Equity and opportunity
Our society is unequal, but of perhaps greater concern, it is inequitable. Synonyms for inequitable: biased, unfair, unbalanced, discriminatory. We need to redress past inequity. We need to ensure opportunity for all.
We must concern ourselves with discrimination, whether intended or not, associated with gender, race and ethnicity, geography, economic resources. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said Martin Luther King, Jr., injustice to any person and not just in any place.
Let’s think in terms of redress, having two senses: correction (of the underlying inequity) and compensation, noting that in many cases, those who are advantaged in an inequitable situation and wield power in that situation are not those who created the situation. We’re nonetheless duty-bound to address it.
- Let’s ensure educational programming and spending that will close the achievement gap and, even better, prevent it from opening via universal pre-K and early learning opportunities.
- Let’s address criminal-justice issues that have led to mass incarceration of African American and other minority youth and adults – end the school-to-prison pipeline – apply principles of restorative justice – boost reintegration into society.
- Let’s recognize the role African Americans and other minorities have played in building our county and historic discrimination against women and LGBTQ neighbors: We aim for inclusion and balance and equitable civic and political representation.
- Let’s help all county residents thrive, including seniors via aging-in-community initiatives and immigrants via English-language instruction and cultural sensitivity.
- Every resident deserves safe and affordable housing in an attractive neighborhood, strong schools, convenient transportation, and fair wages and the opportunity to start a business.
I applaud Montgomery County Public Schools’ Equity Initiatives Unit, aiming for awareness, knowledge, and understanding of one’s own and students’ and staff’s racial and cultural identity. Let’s extend this framework to gender and sexuality and let’s apply it broadly to county government.
The bottom line: Equity should be a primary consideration in Montgomery County revenue, spending, and programing decisions, and in county government operations. I will work to make that happen.
In response to inquiries from Montgomery County residents:
- I will take steps to reduce the kill rate at Montgomery County’s animal shelter, with the guidance of experts and advocates, moving aggressively to a No Kill policy. Immediate steps should include extending the time animals are sheltered before they may be put down, promoting and subsidizing adoptions, and special outreach to seniors.