From the County Council Office of Valerie Ervin

Message from Valerie: Kensington Town Hall

Kensington Town HallOn March 24, the Council hosted a Town Hall meeting in Kensington. This meeting was a terrific opportunity for the Council to hear directly from residents about their concerns for the upcoming budget and about significant issues facing the community.  

Kensington residents expressed concerns about two significant proposals from the County Executive--repurposing Noyes Library for Young Children and the assistance package for Westfield Mall to locate Costco in Wheaton.

Noyes Library
First, I am working with Mayor Peter Fosselman to see what can be done to preserve Noyes Library. My staff met with Mayor Fosselman, Parker Hamilton, Director, Montgomery County Public Libraries, and Council staff to discuss the County Executive's proposal to turn this library into one that utilizes the best of programs such as, Storyville in Baltimore County, the discovery rooms in some Montgomery County Public Libraries, and the Children's Museum in Washington, D.C. The goal is to make Noyes Library into a children's center that promotes interactive early learning through programs and activities designed specifically for children from birth to age eight. Under the County Executive's current proposal the Noyes Library would be closed for approximately two years; however, by working with Mayor Fosselman and the Kensington Town Council, I am hopeful that this closure can be avoided or minimized.

Costco in Wheaton
Finally, I do not support the financial assistance package for Westfied Mall or Zoning Text Amendment 10-04, which would make automobile filling stations permitted uses if they are located in regional shopping centers. I believe we cannot take a piecemeal approach to revitalizing this area because it often leads to a mismatch between what the community wants and what is actually realized. This is why I am enthusiastic that the County and Metro is moving forward with a master developer agreement to revitalize the Wheaton Central Business District.  I am hopeful that this process will produce a plan focused on walkable, transit-oriented development that will revitalize the central business district and maintain the quality of life in the surrounding residential neighborhoods.

I appreciate the time that residents took to attend this meeting, and I look forward to continuing to work with each of you on these issues and the many other budget proposals that the Council will act upon during the coming months. Your views matter, and I encourage you to contact my office with issues or concerns.

FDA: A Good Neighbor and Valued Asset

From left to right: myself; Betsey Bretz, Marc Bloom, Andrew Dempster and Deanna Murphy of the FDA; and Councilmember Nancy Navarro
FDA Proclamation
On March 9, I recognized representatives from the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) White Oak Campus for their efforts to minimize traffic within the campus community and for making the campus accessible for alternative modes of transportation. While the FDA is located in my district, it is close to the boundary line with District 4, which is represented by Councilmember Navarro.
I worked with many of the representatives pictured to convene a meeting with LabQuest, which is a collaborative resident-government advisory panel that focuses on issues in and around the FDA, and Johns Hopkins University, Montgomery County. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss ways in which we can work together to promote partnerships for research and development. The FDA is a tremendous resource for the County, and Johns Hopkins is a world-class education institution for health and science. Identifying ways that the FDA and Johns Hopkins can work together to enhance our knowledge-based economy will help drive the economic engine of the County into the future.

Creating Innovative Partnerships to Keep Children in Class

Addressing truancy issues

I was so proud to partner with the University of Baltimore School of Law, the State's Attorney's Office and Montgomery County Public Schools to kick off Montgomery County's first Truancy Court Program at Key Middle School in Silver Spring on March 24.  We have been working together for several months to make this program a reality for Montgomery County students.    

Truancy is an issue confronting communities throughout the nation and research links truancy to higher drop-out rates, substance abuse, and juvenile delinquency. As I meet with residents around the County, the issue of truancy often emerges, and it was one of the focal points of the Safe Silver Spring Summit led by Tony Hausner.  

As the Chair of the Council's Education Committee, I requested that the Council's Office of Legislative Oversight perform a comprehensive analysis of truancy in Montgomery County and to identify best practices for dealing with this issue.  

The report, titled Truancy In Montgomery County, shows that 984 students, or less than one percent, of MCPS students were classified as habitually truant. This means that students are unlawfully absent from school for 20 percent or more school days. A full copy of this report can be found here. (PDF file) 

The goal of the Truancy Court Program in Montgomery County is to improve student attendance by discovering the root causes of truancy and assisting students and their families with issues that impact attendance. This preventative program, which is funded by a federal grant, pairs students with a volunteer judge who meets with students for 10 weeks to determine why a child repeatedly misses school.  

Students who may not otherwise listen to an adult will often sit up and take notice when they appear before a judge. Once we have their attention, the truancy court team figures out why students are not fully participating in school and plans appropriate interventions to turn this behavior around. I am confident that this program will have a positive impact on the lives of these students.

Multimodal Transportation Takes a Big Step Forward: Metropolitan Branch Trail

bike trailIn February, I asked the Council's Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment (T&E) Committee and the Department of Transportation (DOT) to re-examine the timing and funding of the Metropolitan Branch Trail project.
The Metropolitan Branch Trail is an important eight- to ten-foot, off-road project that will be part of a larger system of non-motorized trails throughout the region. It will create a more bicycle-friendly Silver Spring, facilitate multimodal access to the new Paul S. Sarbanes Transit Center, and contribute to the revitalization of the area. The County's Planning Board recommended that the Council accelerate the design and construction schedule so that the project opens concurrently with the Transit Center and the portions of the trail being constructed in Washington, D.C.  
When the County Executive's Recommended FY11-16 CIP did not include design funds until FY13, I advocated for more funds to be programmed. In March, the T&E Committee and Council tentatively approved a $6 million addition to the project to program design of the entire trail, land acquisition and construction of the trail west of Georgia Avenue.

Building Needed Pedestrian Walkways in Communities

Building Pedestrian WalkwaysMany residents who call my office want to know why it takes so long for the County to build a sidewalk when all the neighbors support its construction. Currently, it takes four to 18 months to construct a sidewalk, with the public hearing process comprising 80 percent of this time.

To remedy this time delay, I sponsored Expedited Bill 3-10, Streets and Roads - Sidewalks - Public Hearing Requirement, along with Council President Floreen and Councilmember Leventhal. This bill was enacted on March 2 by an 8-1 vote.
This new law eliminates the requirement for a public hearing for simple sidewalk projects that have community support. A public hearing would not be required if: 1) a sidewalk is entirely in a County right-of-way and does not require detailed engineering designs; 2) the sidewalk is supported by a civic/homeowner association that includes a substantial number of owners of property on the proposed route (or a petition signed by a significant number of owners on the route); and 3) the Executive Branch has given notice, met with residents, and determined that no significant controversy has arisen.

I want to thank the Sligo-Branview community for their advocacy on this important issue and the parent teacher associations and the County's Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Advisory Committee who supported this change.

Kensington Sector Plan

Town of KensingtonThe Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee met to discuss the Kensington Sector Plan on March 17 and April 5. I want to thank PHED Committee Chair Mike Knapp for keeping this plan on schedule. I also want to thank Fred Boyd of the Planning Department's Community-Based Planning Division, and Mayor Fosselman for all of their work on the plan. As you may know, over the past three years I have advocated to have this Council act on the Kensington Sector Plan because it was long overdue. Council action on the Kensington Sector Plan is expected this summer.

The areas included in this sector plan include: the Town of Kensington, Ken-Gar, the neighborhood commercial district centered at Connecticut Avenue and University Boulevard, and the West Howard Antiques District. The vision of the plan is to promote a mixed-use town center with pedestrian-friendly connections to revitalize the vibrant neighborhoods in Kensington. This plan also protects stable residential neighborhoods by maintaining residential zones and preserves the Town's historic character by recommending added areas and sites for evaluation to the Master Plan for Historic Preservation.  

A copy of the sector plan can be found here. (Photo courtesy Town of Kensington)

Police Officer Loses his Life in Wheaton

On Easter Sunday, April 4, Officer Hector Ayala was killed when his patrol car struck a tree while responding to a call to assist fellow officers in Wheaton.  Officer Ayala was a seven-year veteran of the department, and all who knew him describe his dedication to the job.  According to Police Chief Tom Manger, "Officer Ayala gave his life doing what he loved-serving the people of Montgomery County."  He is survived by his wife, who is pregnant with triplets, his son, and his extended family.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #35 has set up a fund for the Ayala family:

Montgomery County Law Enforcement Officer's Relief Fund
"Officer Hector Ayala"
18512 Office Park Drive
Montgomery Village, MD 20886

If you have any questions, contact 301-948-4286. 

Preventing Cuts to RideOn Service

Valerie taking bus to work

In November 2009, the Council approved an amended FY10 savings plan of roughly $30 million; and in February 2010, a second savings plan of $70 million.  However, in each of these budget reductions, I opposed cuts to Ride On routes and service.  Ride On is a vital component of the infrastructure and services that help get our residents to their destinations.

Meeting with Gist Avenue Neighbors

Val at Center for nonprofit Advancement 1Preserving the quality of life for District 5 residents is my top priority. In January, I met with neighbors along Gist Avenue in Silver Spring regarding ongoing public safety issues in their neighborhood. Together with representatives from the County Police Department and State's Attorney's Office, I listened to residents' public safety concerns, answered questions, and identified action steps for the future.  

Residents reported ongoing public safety issues at one specific location and documented a pattern of criminal activity. The Police Department and State's Attorney's Office were able to follow up on this information, which lead to an arrest and prosecution.      

Thanks to the help of the law enforcement agencies and these committed neighbors, the criminal received a longer sentence than expected. This is an example of how getting involved in your community can truly make a difference.

Update: Silver Spring Projects

I am excited about the progress being made on essential projects in downtown Silver Spring.  As many of you already know, blasting is currently proceeding for the Paul S. Sarbanes Transit Center, and the Civic Building at Veterans Plaza is scheduled to open later this summer.  The growing pains we are experiencing today will lead to valuable community resources that will serve our residents for years to come.

For updated information on Silver Spring projects, click here.

Supporting Our Young Activists

As Chair of the Council's Education Committee, I first met with the Piney Branch Elementary School Young Activist Club in May 2009 to hear their proposal to install a dishwasher and purchase reusable trays and utensils in their school.  In June, I wrote a letter to the Board of Education and Superintendent Weast requesting that Piney Branch be able to proceed with this pilot project.  On February 3, at the Council's first Youth Town Hall Meeting, the Young Activist Club spoke eloquently about their "No Styrofoam Campaign".
On March 23, I met again with the Young Activist Club to support their efforts to eliminate the use of Styrofoam trays and plastic utensils in their school. At this meeting, I presented a second letter signed by a majority of the Council asking MCPS to allow the pilot project to proceed. We believe this is a win-win proposal for MCPS, Piney Branch Elementary School, and the environment. I want to thank Councilmembers Berliner, Elrich, Leventhal, Navarro, and Trachtenberg for their support on this issue.

Henderson Avenue Road and Storm Drain Improvements

I am excited to announce that the Council tentatively approved the T&E Committee's recommended Henderson Avenue road and storm drain improvements.  Henderson Avenue is located near Wheaton Regional Park.  

I support this capital improvement project because the street is crumbling as a result of frequent flooding and numerous potholes. The Council will take up a final vote on the entire budget in May.