ANGER! MEAN! NASTY! RESENTMENT! TRUMP! These are the takeaways from named and unnamed sources among the tiny group of supporters of the Westbard sector plan who spoke to Washington Post reporter Bill Turque. The resulting article has been endorsed by developer Equity One, which is now using it in its PR campaign (see photo above). Opposed by the vast majority of residents, the plan is scheduled to be voted on by the Montgomery County Council this afternoon.
I commend Mr. Turque for giving this topic the coverage it deserves in the final weeks of the debate, and thought the article had many strong points. But since the loud voices of those representing the developers are being amplified by those developers after the article's publication, I have to make a few points to balance the scale. (Many of the anti-resident comments you see on the Post are coming from a developer-funded cadre based in the District who hang out daily at the Greater Greater Washington blog, a pro-developer blog whose owner has declined to reveal who funds his website; and the Coalition for Smarter Growth, another developer-funded entity)
While the article noted that 70 protesters marched outside the Council office building last week, it did not mention that hundreds of residents had marched at previous protests. While the (justified and appropriate) "boos and jeers" were mentioned, left unmentioned was that Equity One called in 4 police cruisers, hired security "muscle" and a tow truck to threaten protesters, and chase children and grandparents from the shopping center at a previous protest.
Also unmentioned were the nasty, personal attacks and anonymous threats directed at me on this blog, and toward other opponents of the plan online by its supporters. Yet, Councilmember Roger Berliner is portrayed as a weak victim of angry, nasty constituents. "The vitriol that has been expressed is the most I've ever experienced," Berliner is quoted as saying in the article.
While the nasty attacks against plan opponents have been very public here and elsewhere online, I have yet to see a shred of evidence of the "vitriol" Berliner claims to have received from opponents. Where is it?
Booing at a protest, when you come out and basically tell your constituents to "get over it" - while they are paying your six-figure salary, and their wishes are being completely ignored by their elected officials? To quote Gene Simmons, "Look at my little violin." It seems that "nasty vitriol" has about as much physical evidence as the "support" for the plan.
Those willing to go on the record to attack plan opponents included Timothy Tutt, senior minister at the Westmoreland Congregational United Church of Christ. Taking the side of out-of-state developers over his own neighbors, he lumped opponents of a development plan in with "the Trumpification of America - that it's okay to be mean and nasty to each other."
First of all, Mr. Tutt, show us evidence of any opponent of the Westbard plan being "mean and nasty." Please show us, sir. Second, do you condemn the "mean and nasty" attacks that people on your side actually have made publicly? I haven't heard you disavow those "mean and nasty" attacks and threats, sir. The absurdity of using "Trump" to attack a majority-Democratic neighborhood is only exceeded by the irrelevance of partisan politics to a land-use debate. Period.
Out of left-field comes an attack from Jeffrey Slavin, the mayor of the Town of Somerset, who calls those of us who oppose the plan "Johnny-come-latelys." I'm a life-long resident, Mr. Slavin, as are quite of few of those opposing the plan, and many more are longtime residents.
The Post article described Slavin merely as "a veteran neighborhood activist." It did not mention he is a real estate broker. It also did not mention that he put big money into a City of Rockville election to back a slate of candidates who favored a particular set of development projects. One of the development firms with a project endorsed by that slate was - EYA, Equity One's partner at Westbard! In fact, members of that slate voted to change Rockville's school capacity standards to permit the EYA development, over resident objections (sound familiar?).
I am shocked. Shocked! to hear that Mr. Slavin supports EYA's Westbard plans. He also made a completely false statement that "most of the communities are 'very pleased'" with the plan. Only 3% of residents favored the plan in a poll released yesterday, and opposition has been overwhelming in every form of public comment, testimony and email to County officials.
The article also omits that Slavin has been a NIMBY himself, attacking the Bethesda Fire Department's plan for a development closer to his home than the Equity One project. His "mean and nasty" attacks included calling the BFD board "tone deaf."
At least those two were willing to go on the record.
Many talking points in the article are clearly coming from Councilmembers, developers and planning officials. But they are not named. "County officials," "veteran neighborhood activists," "planners and lawmakers." But too scared to go on the record.
"Smart growth"? "New urbanism"? The Westbard plan is neither of those things. "Westbard" is nowhere close to being walking distance to Metro. Transit is nearly non-existent. There isn't even direct bus access to downtown Bethesda!
Contrary to the article's statement that emails between planning officials and developers "show nothing improper," the emails in fact reveal a secret meeting between Planning Board chair Casey Anderson and developer Equity One. In violation of ex parte communication rules, Anderson (and potentially other commissioners) failed to disclose that meeting at the next public business of the board.
The bottom line? The County political machine is having a temper tantrum, faced with an unprecedented resident uprising that is spreading countywide - Westbard, downtown Bethesda/Chevy Chase (CBAR citizen group), Luxmanor and the Walter Johnson cluster, the Carver coalition vs. the County Council over the wacky bus depot plan, Lyttonsville, Rockshire in Rockville, Keep Damascus Rural, the Belward Farm battle, the list goes on and on. The electoral consequences are clearly underestimated by the Council, just as Sid Kramer and other Election Day losers didn't know what hit them in 1990.
As the Council votes today, remember what I said back in 2014: "We need a Councilman who doesn't get all weak in the knees when a developer walks in the room." Get ready for a weak-kneed vote this afternoon from the Montgomery County political cartel, suffering from a "mean and nasty" case of Westbard Derangement Syndrome.