Friday, September 09, 2016

Bus depot search pours more gasoline on MoCo term limits fire

Montgomery County Councilmember
Sid Katz makes a point that he opposes
the Blair Ewing Center site being
considered for a bus depot
The voters who will decide if term limits pass in November keep getting more reasons to vote, "Yes," from their elected officials, who are presently combing Montgomery County for a site where they can drop 400 buses that will honk their horns as early as 4:00 AM each school day.

It was standing-room-only last night at the Bauer Drive Community Recreation Center, as residents from Rockville, Aspen Hill, and other neighborhoods near the Blair Ewing Center turned out to oppose a potential school bus depot at that school site on Avery Road. Citizen association leaders, activists, and a handful of elected officials were in attendance, and unified in one message to Montgomery County officials - no bus depot at Ewing, which also has a public park, and is adjacent to the environmentally-sensitive Rock Creek watershed.

The meeting was moderated by Aspen Hill Civic Association President Jamison Adcock, who fought this battle to save Blair Ewing from demolition along with a citizen coalition once before, just a couple of years ago.

"This whole issue
is a mess"

Last night's meeting was a success in terms of the objective for holding it - to clearly demonstrate the strength of the community opposition to a depot at the Ewing site. But citizens are still very much in the dark as to what the County's next move will be on the depot site selection, as well as the specifics on the secretive deal the County worked out with a developer to redevelop the existing bus depot in Shady Grove.

"We're trying to figure out how much money is changing hands," Adcock said, adding that residents can only estimate the County will receive about $30 million for the site from the developer. A memo dug up from 2009, written by then-Montgomery County Public Schools superintendent Jerry Weast, had called for the County to build a new depot and estimated the cost at $100 million - not including the expensive proposition of acquiring land. "I'm going to venture to guess it will cost even more," Adcock predicted, noting the size of the loss taxpayers would take if those numbers prove correct.

One resident pointed out that the $100 million figure was in 2009 dollars, and would be substantially higher with post-recession construction costs.

Adcock said MCPS had stated a depot would require 35 acres. The Ewing site is only about 22.5 acres in size. Only 16 of those are buildable, as 7 acres are in a forest preservation easement. Of the dangers to Rock Creek, Adcock said the stream valley park is "one of the things that makes the quality of life in Montgomery County special."

"It's a disgrace.
It's a disgrace"

While Aspen Hill would not be as directly effected by the noise and immediate fumes of buses at Blair Ewing, it is widely suspected that the County would try to move the special programs at Ewing to English Manor in Aspen Hill. That would prevent what the community wants, which is to reopen English Manor as a public school, to alleviate overcrowding at Aspen Hill-area schools. Aspen Hill would likely also feel the traffic backups that would result.

Another resident noted a recent traffic study, which showed that Norbeck Road cannot handle any additional traffic. When one attendee described her nightmare commute to Fairfax County, which begins on Norbeck Road, another commuter concurred. "I, too, drive to Fairfax County, where I'm considering moving because of this." Recalling a bus crash that blocked 2-lane, rural-esque Avery Road for hours during icy conditions, he added, "God forbid it should snow." Of the whole bus depot at Ewing idea, he concluded: "It's a disgrace. It's a disgrace."

Adcock agreed with the assessment of Avery, saying it is "the closest thing we have to a twisty country road."

"A tragedy
waiting to

Also complicating matters for the community, is that they won't really know exactly what they are fighting until the County releases its new assessment of potential sites in the next month or so. The only ones publicly known are Ewing and a former landfill in Olney; the latter is across the street from single-family homes.

Adcock and other civic leaders said that, for now, all they can concentrate on is continuing to demonstrate their opposition at public forums like the County Council Town Hall next Wednesday at Rosa Parks Middle School in Olney.

"I drive to
Fairfax County,
where I'm
moving because
of this"

In the meantime, residents and politicians alike lambasted the County for what all agree was a terribly-executed idea to redevelop the industrial area around the Shady Grove Metro station.

"I have, as you know, been opposed to this from the very beginning," said County Councilmember Sid Katz, the only councilmember to show up at the meeting. "This whole issue is a mess. [The bus depot] shouldn't be on Avery Road. I don't know where it should be, but I know where it shouldn't be."

Katz, who was not on the Council when the bulk of the so-called "Smart Growth Initiative" related to Shady Grove was approved by the body, is also one of the few who candidly acknowledges he voted for the bills that approved funding for two highly-unpopular depots in Rockville. Both sites ended up being taken off the table after residents organized and fought back, but funding for depots at Carver and Westmore were indeed unanimously approved by the County Council in the last two years.

"I voted for that, and I was very sorry I did," Katz said of the budget bill approved for construction of a depot at Carver. In contrast, Councilmember George Leventhal stated publicly that he did not read the Carver bill before voting in favor of it, a stunning admission of reckless irresponsibility by a legislative official. How many other bills has Leventhal voted for without reading, one has to wonder?

"Who is going
to profit from
this, so we know
who to go after?"

"Illogical, ill-conceived, irresponsible." That was how Delegate Ben Kramer described the prospect of a bus depot at Blair Ewing. Kramer, who has virtually no authority to step into a County matter like the depot, can be expected to get called up from the minor leagues by the County political machine if term limits pass and five councilmembers are ousted. He said buses on a road like Avery would be "a tragedy waiting to happen."

Chiming in on the earlier concerns about the already-bad congestion on Norbeck Road, Kramer said, "You know the traffic nightmare that is Norbeck Road." Ironically, some of that congestion can be blamed on the delegate's father, Sid Kramer, who canceled the Rockville Freeway despite admitting the road would indeed reduce congestion.

Referring to the lack of information that was foremost on the minds of many, Carver Coalition volunteer Theresa Defino said, "We need to stop guessing what is going on." She advised the crowd to press the County Council and Executive to have an open process on the depot site selection this time around. Defino said public hearings should be signed before a site is chosen or purchased, not after, as happened when the County secretly purchased the Westmore/WINX property for $12 million prior to a public hearing.

Representatives of the organization Preserve Rock Creek were also in attendance.

"We're not
going to
roll over"

But leave it to residents to put things in the clearest terms.

"Who is going to profit from this, so we know who to go after," one asked, delivering the quote of the night, during a question-and-answer session. (Hint: the developers, and the politicians who get checks from them - 82% of the campaign funds received by the Council comes from developers. Councilmember Marc Elrich does not accept contributions from developers, it should be noted)

"We're nice people," Adcock said, "but we're not going to roll over. My answer is, "No."

+ + +
Here is a series of photos panning around the room to show how packed it was. The crowd overflowed out into the hallway, which can't be seen in these photos.

Aspen Hill Civic Association
President Jamison Adcock
addresses the crowd


Anonymous said...

Shocking. Of course every council member and state delegate will be vocally opposed to a site in their district.

Nothing is wrong with redeveloping the site, but the county should have found a new location, before signing the agreement with the developer, especially in such a heavily-urbanized county where there are extremely few large, feasible locations.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the timely update, Robert. The other site doesn't care about this issue... And @6:27 - there certainly are things wrong with trying to redevelop that site. Did you read any of the talking points in the article? Where do you live, maybe we can offer a potential location near you.

Anonymous said...

Robert, as a repeat candidate for County Council, where would you propose putting the bus depot?

Robert Dyer said...

7:23: I would leave it right where it is. There's a reason it was there in the first place. They also gave away other sites where they could have expanded, and still been in an industrial area.

This situation reminds me of the Arlington Road post office scandal. USPS sold the site, and then their real estate guy came to a meeting here. He said they're looking for a property with parking, loading docks and "room for a truck to turn around."

I raised my hand and pointed out that he had just described the post office they sold, and the whole room burst out laughing.

The exchange was not reported by any other press in attendance, which is why people rely on this site, where the corrupt politicians of MoCo are not protected from criticism.

In short, they already have a bus depot. The Council needs to call off the deal, and accept the legal consequences of their personal greed to enrich their campaign coffers at the expense of the quality of life of their constituents. You broke it, you bought it.

Anonymous said...

All I know is it will not be in Bethesda or Chevy Chase. Who cares where else it will be?

Anonymous said...

As a current resident near the depot in Shady Grove I am glad it is moving. Why does Robert want to punish my community by creating this strife here? Why doesn't he listen to our concerns?

Anonymous said...

Robert, thanks for your response, that's helpful information!

Anonymous said...

Dyer, it appears that you used the old post office rarely if ever. The parking lot could hold only a few cars and there was little parking available on the street. The driveway was so narrow that it was a challenge to turn a car around, let alone a truck.

Anonymous said...

You can't be talking about the Arlington Road post office. The parking lot was huge. No street parking, but I stopped there almost every day and had no problems. It was easier to drive and park there than it was to cross the street to the new one.

Robert Dyer said...

Once again we have people who know nothing about Bethesda trying to lecture me about Bethesda. The Arlington Road post office property was huge.

Robert Dyer said...

7:51: Wrong - one of the alternatives is to park smaller amounts of buses at a greater number of MCPS or County properties. There are many in Bethesda and Chevy Chase. The MoCo political cartel realizes that, if they can crush Chevy Chase and the Columbia Country Club, they can crush anybody and do anything at this point. Hence why term limits are now on deck in November.

Anonymous said...

Robert, will you be running for Council again?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Dyer. Keep it in Shady Grove. Those people are trash and deserve it.

Anonymous said...

10:30 AM Well, the country dump ("transfer station") is already in Shady Grove, so why not?

Paul M. Bessel said...

Almost everyone can agree the search for a bus parking lot is a mess. What does that have to do with term limits? Some will say the Council Members who created this mess need to be kicked off the Council and term limits is the only way to do that. That is incorrect. All the Council Members who would be kicked off the Council by term limits are already leaving the Council to run for County Executive. Term limits aren't needed for that or any other reason. Lots of books and scholarly studies have been written about what has actually happened in places where term limits have been adopted. All of them agree that term limits never bring about what their proponents say they will. Spending and taxes go up, the percent of women and minorities in office goes down, experienced people for whom the voters wish to vote are replaced by inexperienced people who listen more to lobbyists. Get the facts about term limits, rather than the myths. There are ways to fix bad government. Term limits is not one of those ways. There is proof of that.

Anonymous said...

If it's been good enough for the presidency (since 1951) it's good enough for the Montgomery County Council.

I hate that they're necessary. But we don't have a constituency that cares to be well educated and informed about their candidates' platforms and we don't have elected politicians who remember that "the rulers are the servants, and the people their superiors" (B Franklin)

Having less time in office to develop financially beneficial commitments to lobbyists and other special interest groups might be good for the county.

Just my anonymous 2 cents

Anonymous said...

"We don't have a constituency that cares to be well educated and informed about their candidates' platforms"

Translation: "I don't like who they voted for. Therefore I will take away their freedom to vote for candidates whom I don't like."

Anonymous said...

"We don't have a constituency that cares to be well educated and informed about their candidates' platforms"

Assuming that this is true, do you think that these voters will be able to make better choices from a group of unknown, inexperienced candidates?

Anonymous said...

I've been against term limits, but some of this stuff recently, like not listening to constituents on the Westbard plan, has me suddenly favoring limits.

The Council isn't supposed to be a career- it's public service. 8 years is plenty of time to accomplish whatever you need to do. I don't see it as big limitation now.

Anonymous said...

@1:47 "Assuming that this is true, do you think that these voters will be able to make better choices from a group of unknown, inexperienced candidates? "

The United States manages fine with term limits on the presidency and so do the states of MD and VA for their governors. VA is limited to 1 term.

There are 8 other MD counties that manage to do fine with term limits: Anne Arundel, Baltimore County, Carroll, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Prince George's, St. Mary's. All of the Counties surrounding Montgomery have term limits. Montgomery is one of the last Charter counties that does not have term limits. We have over 1 million people in Montgomery. Do you honestly believe that these 10 people (including the County Exec) are the only ones who can do this job? C'mon. It's well past time for term limits here. There are many talented and smart people here and it's better to rotate these offices, not make them lifetime appointments.

Anonymous said...

Paul Bessel stated:
"All the Council Members who would be kicked off the Council by term limits are already leaving the Council to run for County Executive."
Where is this confirmed? Have any of them filed to run or are these just words?

Paul Bessel also stated that we should not vote for term limits because he has proof that term limits lead to the following:
"Spending and taxes go up, the percent of women and minorities in office goes down, experienced people for whom the voters wish to vote are replaced by inexperienced people who listen more to lobbyists."

Well let's take a look at the last 10 years without term limits: Dozens of taxes have gone up with no end in sight. The Council voted to break the Charter limit on property tax increases. The number of women and minorities has decreased. Any involved resident not tied to a special interest who follows the Council and County Executive's activities can tell you they listen more to lobbyists than to residents.

Anonymous said...

"[The bus depot] shouldn't be on Avery Road. I don't know where it should be, but I know where it shouldn't be."

That's some serious leadership by Mr. Katz! Way to come up with solutions to the hard problems!

Anonymous said...

The Council has once again revealed its lack of business acumen. The County is receiving less money for the existing land ($30 million) than it will cost to move the depot ($100 million). These deals with developers should be budget neutral or profitable for the County. The Council doesn't seem to understand the value of its assets and constantly makes deals with developers that are far too favorable for developers at the expense of the taxpayer.

As for term limits, I am for them. Moving to a top-two primary system or increasing the number of Council districts and members (not increasing at-large representation) probably would result in better government than term limits, but term limits are the measure we have on the ballot and may be necessary for broader reforms.

Anonymous said...

It's costs $100 million to build a bus depot? Isn't it basically a parking lot with a garage for repairs? I'll build it for $90 million!

Also, I'm not sure spreading buses around various schools is the best option. Then you'd have opposition from every neighborhood where they would be parked, as opposed to only 1 neighborhood near wherever the new bus depot ends up.

I have an idea -- let's get rid of a county liquor store and put the bus depot there. End the monopoly and find parking for buses!

Anonymous said...

"We don't have a constituency that cares to be well educated and informed about their candidates' platforms"

I asked 15 of my neighbors, older community, various ages and ethnicities, business owners to attorneys. All knew about the record property tax increase. They all know about school overcrowding. None could name a council member. If they voted, they just picked a name to vote for. This is a great neighborhood with lots of community involvement. Just a little under-educated on the political landscape.
Maybe not so much now.

Paul M. Bessel said...

Have term limits for the U.S. President worked out well? Let's ask Ronald Reagan, who said, he wanted to lead an effort to end term limits for U.S. Presidents, to allow the people to "vote for someone as often as they want to do. In short, term limits may be an idea that sounds good to some, but it takes away the right of the people to elect whom they wish, leads to more inexperienced people in office, and does not accomplish anything useful."
I notice people are saying term limits will results in this or that. Do any of you have proof of what you are claiming? i have proof of everything I'm saying about term limits, that they never bring about what you claim they will bring about. Don't you want to look at evidence rather than just believing what people claim will happen?

Anonymous said...

@Paul Term limits work in all counties neighboring MoCo. Why can't it work in MoCo? I hardly see people in Howard, Frederick, and PG counties lamenting term limits.

Anonymous said...

It hasn't worked well for lobbyists/developers. They have to introduce themselves and gain the trust of new, skeptical legislators every few years rather than rely on the cozy relations they've had for years. There's proof of that. I think that's "useful."
Just sayin.

Robert Dyer said...

4:45: That's what's at the root of this whole "smart growth initiative." Just the latest scheme to trade campaign donations for sweetheart County land giveaways at bargain prices. Why would a County in desperate need of land for new schools be selling ANY land at this point? Much like Metro, you won't get any real answers until the FBI starts turning over every rock in the Montgomery County political cartel. Farm Road was just the tip of the iceberg, and even that hasn't been independently investigated. That's where the FBI should start, along with the Council's exchange of creating a federal tax shelter for a major campaign contributor. Makes Bob McDonnell sound like a kid stealing a box of Girl Scout cookies.

Anonymous said...

I had to go look up Farm Road. Crazy sh*t.

Anonymous said...

Here's an idea, let's move the police/fire academy on Great Seneca and put the bus depot there. No houses, just offices, retail and Shady Grove hospital (and no one can sleep in a hospital anyway. 4 AM horns won't be a bother, still in Shady Grove and I'm sure that we can find a great place a brand new/state of the art fire/police facility.

Seems like a win for everyone.