Saturday, June 06, 2020

Thief steals from cars in Massachusetts Avenue corridor of Bethesda

A thief pilfered items from cars on both sides of Massachusetts Avenue in Bethesda near the District line on Thursday. Property was reported stolen from vehicles parked on the street in the 5300 block of Worthington Drive in the Westhaven neighborhood, and in the 5100 block of Cape Cod Court. If you live on either street, you may want to check if anything is missing from your vehicle.

Remember to lock your doors, and remove any valuable visible from the cabin. Thefts from vehicles usually spike in June each year.

Kensington cyclist accused in Bethesda trail assault fired by MadeToOrder, Inc.

Anthony Brennan III, the Kensington man charged in the June 1 assault of three people posting George Floyd flyers along the Capital Crescent Trail in Bethesda, has been fired from his job. A few hours after Brennan's arrest, his employer - MadeToOrder, Inc. - announced that it had "terminated" him.

MadeToOrder called Brennan's alleged actions "disturbing, wrongful, and completely unacceptable behavior." The Pleasanton, CA firm manufactures custom branded promotional products.

Friday, June 05, 2020

Anthony Brennan III arrested, alleged cyclist in Bethesda trail assault over Black Lives Matter flyers

Anthony Brennan III, 60, of Kensington was arrested by Maryland National Capital Park Police tonight, in the Bethesda trail assault of three people posting Black Lives Matter flyers near the Dalecarlia Tunnel on June 1 around 12:45 PM. Brennan is accused of being the angry cyclist who assaulted one male and two female "young adults," as the Park Police described them - though the video showed the two females were clearly minor children, which is what added fuel to the outrage over the case. 

In a press release, the Park Police said Brennan turned himself in, but only after the police had executed a search warrant at his home and communicated with his attorney. The search for a suspect took a remarkably long time in the Twitter age. Suspects in photos are typically identified, shamed and fired from their jobs within hours at the hands of Twitter "police" these days. That Brennan eluded scrutiny for four days is intriguing.

The long investigation ended up causing major trouble for several people who were falsely accused by armchair detectives on Twitter. A Bethesda man and a retired Montgomery County police officer were among those doxxed and denounced online, while a college professor found her address being posted on social media. None of the three had anything to do with the Capital Crescent Trail incident whatsoever. The delay in identifying a suspect into late Friday night led some to speculate on social media that the alleged assailant might be a police officer, or someone with some pull or power in Montgomery County or the region. 

Brennan has been charged with three counts of second-degree assault.

Peace in our time at Chevy Chase Cars

Nearly every business is marketing one message or another about the tumultuous turn America has taken in the last week. Chevy Chase Cars is broadcasting a simple one on its electronic sign on Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda: Peace.

Excavation for self-storage building begins at edge of Moses African Cemetery site in Bethesda

A day after Bethesda residents marched in a Black Lives Matter parade, heavy equipment was moved onto the site of a former auto repair facility behind the Bethesda McDonald's on River Road. And Thursday, those machines were digging up the property, which became embroiled in the controversial case of the Moses African Cemetery in recent years. The parcel being dug up is directly adjacent to the cemetery, which was already desecrated by a construction crew building the Westwood Tower apartments in the late 1960s.

Leaders of the nearby Macedonia Baptist Church on River Road and cemetery advocates had fought the proposed self-storage project's approval. Outlet Road, on the McDonald's side of the property, was once the route of funeral processions from the church to the cemetery.

Part of the property that literally was part of the burial site was hastily transferred from the property owner to Montgomery County at the behest of the Mongomery County Planning Board, which has blocked every effort to identify gravesites across the entire cemetery, which lies beneath asphalt and fill dirt. Board Chair Casey Anderson infamously called police on African-American church leaders and protesters at several board meetings, including the one where he and the board unanimously approved the self-storage project.

In a County that pledged "Black Lives Matter" verbally this week, the white Anderson faced no blowback from his Democratic colleagues in political office nor the press, despite national campaigns exhorting whites to "stop calling the police" as a convenient way to remove an inconvenient situation involving African-Americans such as this. When my camera came out to capture the scene, reporters for the Washington Post and other local media outlets conspicuously put theirs away. Anderson was unanimously reappointed chair of the board by the all-Democrat Montgomery County Council last year, despite his actions, and over the objections of the black community and progressive activists. In fact, Anderson continues to be rewarded for his loyal work on behalf of the Montgomery County political cartel, including being named "Montgomery County's Most Influential Person" by The Seventh State's Adam Pagnucco this year. Anderson is "one of the greatest planning board chairs ever," Pagnucco gushed, predicting the County will bear Anderson's stamp "for the next 50 years."

Protests against the self-storage project centered around two concerns. First, the County consistently blocked efforts to identify specific gravesites, and the piece the landowner transferred to the County meant that once again cemetery advocates would be blocked from any archaeological investigation on that plot.

The second concern relates to a common phenomenon in historic African-American cemeteries, many of which - like this one - have been neglected, or built over by developers: cemetery boundaries were often unclear. Sometimes casket would be mistakenly buried over the official boundary of the graveyard. So while the portion of the property being redeveloped for the self-storage building was not part of the cemetery according to land records, there is a legitimate fear that remains buried over the property line by mistake could be disturbed by the excavation and construction. Or, given the construction method planned for the building, any such graves might simply end up under a self-storage facility.

Calls for an archaeological study to ensure this did not happen were rebuffed by County officials, just as they were in the larger case of the cemetery portion that belonged to Equity One and - later - the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission. As of now, construction on the River Road site is full-speed-ahead.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Judge denies restraining order for Montgomery County check program, but orders 25% of funds frozen until he rules on merits

A U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland judge has denied Montgomery County residents' request for a temporary restraining order to stop the County's controversial Emergency Assistance Relief Payment (EARP) cash distribution program that primarily benefits illegal immigrants. But Judge Peter J. Messitte said plaintiffs Sharon Bauer and Richard Jurgena are still likely to succeed on the strong merits of their case. For that reason, Messitte has ordered the County to freeze 25% of the $10 million in the EARP fund until he can rule on the merits of the case.

Messitte wrote in his opinion that Bauer and Jurgena are likely to prevail on the question of whether the County Council violated federal law, which states that illegal immigrants are not eligible for any state or local public benefit that is not authorized by a law passed by the state legislature. He said Montgomery County does not deny, and that no one could credibly argue, that the EARP payments are not a public benefit.

Bauer and Jurgena will also suffer irreparable harm from the EARP program, Messitte agreed. He said that the County has distributed the EARP checks so quickly to recipients that there is virtually no way to recover those funds. Messitte said the cost could end up raising the property taxes of Bauer and Jurgena, and that the court can provide no relief or compensation to offset their higher taxes.

Messitte did find that the EARP program is in "the public interest." Based on Montgomery County's description of the program, he wrote, the beneficiaries are in severe financial distress due to the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown. Messitte said the funds are likely to go to urgent needs like food and housing.

The judge will rule on the merits of the case at a later date. But under his preliminary opinion,  the County cannot spend the remaining 25% of the $10 million fund until Messitte issues his ruling in the case. That fund became even more controversial after the County Council quietly appropriated an additional $5 million more than the public was notified of in the beginning. 

The case was brought by right-wing government watchdog group Judicial Watch, and is Sharon Bauer, et al v. Marc Elrich et al.

Montgomery County won't join rest of Maryland in Phase 2 reopening Friday

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has put Montgomery County officials on the hot seat again, announcing that he will move the state's reopening from coronavirus lockdown to Phase 2 on Friday, June 5, 2020 at 5:00 PM. Montgomery only entered Phase 1 three days ago, long after most of the state did. That led to many complaints from the business community and residents who argue the damage to their livelihoods and the economy is worse than the risk of contracting coronavirus. With County Executive Marc Elrich making clear he once again will be taking a more cautious approach than Hogan, those critics are livid.

By Friday evening, most of the state will be permitted to reopen businesses the governor had termed "non-essential." Churches, hair salons, barbershops, nail salons, massage parlors, tanning salons and tattoo parlors will be allowed to reopen at 50% of capacity inside. But not in Montgomery County. Elrich said on Twitter that he and other officials are evaluating if any of the loosened criteria lines up with Montgomery's Phase 1 guidelines.

Even Hogan did not escape criticism Wednesday, as his executive order still does not allow gyms, movie theaters, indoor malls, amusement parks, bowling alleys, or sporting events. One Twitter critic said the governor was "social distancing from reality."

Still others remain afraid to venture out to businesses just yet, and are in no hurry to loosen restrictions. By the middle of next week, we should know whether or not the Memorial Day weekend Ocean City boardwalk crowds caused a spike in infections or not. If so, leaders will be in quite a pickle. If not, they'll still be under fire, as there will be even more demand to reopen at the county and state levels.

Hilton Garden Inn reopens in Bethesda

The Hilton Garden Inn has reopened at 7301 Waverly Street in downtown Bethesda. It joins the Hyatt Regency Bethesda in reopening this week, as there is some modest recovery in the travel sector with states reopening from Stay-at-Home orders, and summer approaching rapidly.

PassionFish reopening today in Bethesda

PassionFish will reopen today, June 4, 2020, at 7187 Woodmont Avenue in downtown Bethesda. As now permitted by Montgomery County, the restaurant will be offering patio seating only. Seating is therefore much more limited than in their large indoor dining room. For that reason, and because social distancing is being observed, reservations are highly recommended. If you can't get a seat, you can also order curbside pickup for takeout meals.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Montgomery County Executive drops by as Bethesda resumes outdoor dining

Outdoor dining is back in downtown Bethesda after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich determined it was safe to allow under the current coronavirus statistics. Elrich himself ventured to Bethesda last night, enjoying chicken wings at downtown institution Flanagan's Harp & Fiddle. The executive went partly to get the wings, but also partly to encourage anxious residents to venture out themselves to support local businesses. Many are still staying home, letting others be the guinea pigs to discover if the virus is receding for the summer or not.

Some restaurants lack patio space, and are being severely squeezed even further financially being unable to seat many outside. In some cases, like Gringos & Mariachis, restaurateurs can solve the problem themselves. Gringos will use the patio of Alatri Bros., which is under the same ownership. Others aren't so lucky, and are turning to Montgomery County, which has proposed closing streets to create more outdoor dining space.
Saphire reopened its popular rear deck. Tommy Joe's has a rooftop deck, where they are focusing on table seating instead of barstool seats, to facilitate better social distancing. The temperature will be even warmer today.

Speed bump installed on Hillandale Road in Bethesda

Cut-through traffic has only increased on Hillandale Road after the Montgomery County Planning Board's illegal road diet was implemented on Little Falls Parkway. Now the County has installed a speed bump on the road near an unsignaled pedestrian crossing by the Bethesda Pool.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Bethesda Black Lives Matter protest draws thousands (Video+Photos)

A Black Lives Matter protest at the Bethesda Library this afternoon drew a large crowd and shut down Arlington Road just after midday. Crowd estimates by reporters with helicopter views ranged from over a thousand to several thousand people. Speakers not only addressed national issues, but also local ones; many in the crowd were students from Walt Whitman and Bethesda-Chevy Chase High Schools. Most people wore masks to the rally, which remained peaceful, and then marched around the downtown. Police provided an escort, blocking traffic as marchers made their way through the central business district. Marchers stopped at spots to kneel.

Despite the peaceful nature of the event, many nearby businesses continued to hammer boards over their windows - even as speakers addressed the crowd at the rally. Some boarded up but stayed open, like Five Guys. Others had been open for morning customers, and were rushing to close before the rally ended. In perhaps the oddest case, the CVS Pharmacy on Wisconsin Avenue was closed, and a sign blamed the closure on a "curfew." Problem: There is no curfew. But the drugstore was entirely boarded up, and unlike other businesses, even had piled up objects to blockade the entrance.

Luxury apartment and condo buildings also took varying degrees of protective measures. Upstairs at Bethesda Row pulled their street-level curtains and sealed both sets of inner doors. Others went further, deploying private security guards to patrol outside.

So far this afternoon, the event has been peaceful. And for the first time since my early years on Twitter, our town of Bethesda is actually outnumbering tweets about Bethesda Softworks in Twitter search!

This looks like a tactical police SUV with rear gun ports,
but it's actually a news vehicle, a helpful reporter
told me. Even the media is becoming militarized!

Warby Parker boarding up as
the event begins nearby