Saturday, July 21, 2018

Fallout from planning commissioner's comparison of residents to ICE agents continues

Planning Board Commissioner
Natali Fani-Gonzalez
Residents opposing the sketch plan for 4 Bethesda Metro Center at a Montgomery County Planning Board hearing Thursday are still stinging from a bizarre verbal harangue aimed at them from the dais by Commissioner Natali Fani-Gonzalez. Fani-Gonzalez compared them to ICE agents who are "putting children in cages," saying both believe they are "doing the right thing." She then raised her voice and added, "I'm doing the right thing from my perspective, which will be very different from yours."

It was unclear what a decision about placing the building further forward or backward on the Metro Center plaza had to do with federal immigration law, or the Latino community. That was the key question discussed in over 400 emails sent to commissioners by opponents of the sketch plan, which commissioners were to have reviewed prior to Thursday morning's hearing, and in public testimony.

Patricia Kolesar, a Bethesda resident who led the largest organized contingent of opponents, has now written to Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson suggesting that Fani-Gonzalez should apologize to those she targeted with her remarks. "Ms. Natali’s Fani-Gonzalez’s inappropriate lecture to the gathered regular Bethesda citizens, which compared us to ICE agents who put kids in cages, was beyond the pale," Kolesar wrote. "You may sweep this incident under the rug, or you may face it squarely and put a stop to this conduct immediately."

UPDATED: July 22 - This article was updated to correct a quotation error.

Photo via Montgomery County Planning Board


Anonymous said...

She was the least competent pick from the beginning. No background in land -use, engineering or architecture or other training, pracitical or formal for that spot. Moco should have higher standards, but then again, on another matter, Elrich the anti biz guy, is on deck next. Amazon should run the other direction. The county is swirling around the toilet bowl.

Anonymous said...

You shouldn't just single her out. Casey Anderson also had "No background land -use, engineering or architecture or other training, pracitical or formal for that spot".

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, there will be no consequences for Natali Fani-Gonzalez's offensive and ridiculous comments. The desire for green space is not equivalent to a barbaric immigration policy. This does shed light on her views of the resident's she represents. Fani-Gonzalez appears to be fighting a larger battle and is using her position overseeing land use and planning to do so.

Anonymous said...

9:09 you are correct. Maybe she should move to Bronx NY and join the Democratic Socialit party, more takers there.

Anonymous said...

Although her choice of words was awkward, and politically incorrect, I think her intent was simply to state that some people have different opinions, and although they might believe they are doing the right thing, others may disagree. Her poorly chosen metaphor I believe was intended to express that she has the right to support ideas that she believes are correct, even if others believe them to be incorrect. And conversely, just because the majority of a group disagrees with her opinion, she still has the right to express her ideas.

You all have twisted her comment, and I don’t believe she was comparing any residents to an ICE agent.

Anonymous said...

Trump retracts too! And now a moron at the local level to accompany Elrich and Reimer. Btw, before reimer arrived in moco he ran a non profit co which went bankrupt under his watch. All good choices moco! No wonder we are 25 years behind other local jurisdictions.

Anonymous said...

@12:05: You may think what you want, but no one really knows her intent except her. On its face, however, the residents present in the room felt attacked as racists - I was there, were you? It was ugly, over the top, and completely inappropriate - no other way to put it. She owes the citizens an apology. Her rantings also revealed that she did not even understand what the opposition was about ... she basically accused the opposition of not wanting any development at BMP and she was going to "do the right thing for her people." It was bizarre. Do the right thing for her people?? How does asking for a bigger and better green space translate into you're attacking "my people." It doesn't. The opposition explained that they wanted a bigger, better green space around the new 4 Bethesda Metro Center - and NFG twisted that into you're trying to stop development. My personal belief: she hears what she wants to hear, and she doesn't read her emails because she pre-determines the results.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe Fani-Gonzalez had the gall to compare residents who are advocating for open space to Ice Agents.

In this day and age in which people lose their careers after a bad joke on Twitter the fact that she will face no negative repercussions for comments is disappointing.

Anonymous said...

@12:05 pm: While I agree with your belief that Ms. Fani-Gonzalez probably was trying to express the view that different people have different views of what constitutes "doing the right thing," her words are not being twisted.

I was present at the hearing and felt that the content and tone of her remarks were inappropriate. Even if it was not Ms. Fani-Gonzalez's intent, her remarks came across as an angry and emotional rebuke of residents who called for a larger, continuous, street-facing green space at Bethesda Metro Center.

Regrettably, Ms. Fani-Gonzalez reinforced the already widely held view of many that the Montgomery County Planning Board is dismissive of County residents. An apology is owed.

Anonymous said...

This episode once again illustrates that the Montgomery County Planning Board is doing a very poor job in relating to the residents of Montgomery County.

In 2017, members of the Macedonia Baptist Church and their supporters were escorted out of a Planning Board hearing by police for peacefully protesting with signage the Planning Board's failure to require the developer of the Westbard project to conduct an archaeological study of the presumed site of an historic African-American cemetery site.

Now in July 2018, a Planning Board member uses an analogy to ICE agents who "put kids in cages" in criticizing Bethesda residents advocating for a bigger green space at Bethesda Metro Center.

Two days before Natali Fani-Gonzalez's intemperate comments, a Planning Department Development Review Committee meeting on the more than 800,000 square foot Westbard project was dismissed after 5 minutes (at most), with no substantive discussion because planners ostensibly had no questions for the development team. This despite the Planning Department's rejection of the project's stormwater management plan, a lengthy Planning Department memo detailing concerns with the proposed design, and the submission of some 150 comments by neighborhood organizations and the public
questioning many aspects of the project.

Was the shutdown of this Development Review Committee meeting on Westbard related to the presence of many residents who wished to observe the meeting? Although the residents in attendance were quiet and orderly, they were admonished by a Planning Department staffer that anyone who asked questions or "disrupted the meeting" would be asked to leave, with "no second chances." Sadly, this admonition was the longest statement made at the meeting. Other development review meetings conducted the same day included discussion of the projects under review, so the Westbard meeting was an outlier. (Robert Dyer posted a blog earlier this week about this oddly truncated Westbard Development Review Committee meeting.)

All told, the Planning Board and Planning Department are doing a very poor job of working with the County residents whom they are supposed to serve. Having attended a number of Planning Department and Planning Board meetings over the past 4 years, I would say that personnel changes are needed-- starting at the top.

Anonymous said...

Of course the public has a right to be heard, and a right to be involved in the proceedings, but our elected officials are empowered to appoint our planning commissioners. They are thus entitled to their opinion and are asked to decide on planning issues after reviewing all options. The location and size of the green space at MC4 in my opinion was fairly presented and the benefits of the proposed plan were examined and compared with other comparable plazas and locations. I still believe a large singular open space located on such a busy intersection would be pretty to drive by, but just like the one across the street at the Chevy Chase Bank, would be barely used.

I believe the developers and designers listened to critique from both the public and the DAP, and crafted an improved concept with three connected open spaces. Those calling for no development and just a large open green space are not being realistic about funding and the rights of a ground leaseholder. Those suggesting a smaller tower footprint pushed to the back of the plaza are not being realistic about the economics of functional and leasable residential or office floor plates, proportions and construct ability that were clearly presented.

I don’t disagree that the planning commission can sometimes come off as being insensitive to some residents and stakeholders, but in this instance I believe they made the correct choice. I urge all folks to stay involved to insure that the development of this sketch plan and how the plazas are activated during the next phase of development is consistent with the design guidelines and creates some world class publicly accessible transit orientated space and an iconic landmark at the epicenter of Bethesda.

Anonymous said...

@8:42 Yes, the elected county council appoints the commissioners. I am assuming, then, that the elected officials may also uninstall the appointed commissioners for misconduct. What we are discussing here is NFG's racist tirade against innocent residents. What her conduct confirms is what Bethesda residents have always known: this planning board likes Bethesda's money a whole bunch, but really hates the residents and their opinions.

You believe that the developers and designers listened to critiques? I believe the opposite. That's how it goes, I guess.

Who called for no development? This an adorable little lie and I am tired of it.

The funding and rights of the leaseholder? What about the rights of the public on land which is owned by an entity which uses public tax dollars - that is, WMATA? Why are driven to protect the rights of the leaseholder over the residents whose tax dollars help fund WMATA, the owner of the land?

And about the economics of it all: The 2008 Meridian project which examined this very plaza and would have allowed an infill project on the food court footprint - proving that a smaller building is, indeed, viable. Further, both the more recent Leinberger design and the Sasaki design also prove that a smaller building is viable. Your lofty statements about economics and leasable residential prove exactly nothing. I will agree with this: it was certainly "clearly presented" that the developers and the planners are lined-up against the residents. What did you think of the clearly presented slides shown by the Clark attorney? That was pretty clear, too.

We will stay involved, don't worry.

The planning commission can "sometimes come off as being insensitive" ... no they ALWAYS come off that way; and in this case, they could've done more for the residents, but as usual, did not. NFG's rant perfectly summarizes what this planning commission thinks of Bethesda residents. Guess what? We're sick of it.

Anonymous said...

Do you think that Ms.Fani Gonzalez takes into consideration the fact that FBI Agent Carlos Wolff and Fire Marshall Sander Cohen were killed on I-270 by an Illegal immigrant?Carlos Wolff the FBI agent had two small children who will never know their father now.ICE wanted to deport the person who killed them for criminal activity he was involved in 4 years before the accident but Montgomery County let him out of jail.Or is that just an inconvenient fact that should not be discussed?best not to talk about that?

Anonymous said...

OK @6:02 let's talk about it and the other murders that *aren't* connected to illegal immigrants like those at @CapitalGazette and let's talk about how illegal immigrants are reasponsible for a small % of all crime.

Anonymous said...

A Trump supporter suddenly loves the FBI?

Anonymous said...

"Do you think that Ms.Fani Gonzalez takes into consideration the fact that FBI Agent Carlos Wolff and Fire Marshall Sander Cohen were killed on I-270 by an Illegal immigrant?"

How did the driver's immigration status relate to the accident in which Wolff and Cohen were killed?

Anonymous said...

if after the Illegal immigrant was arrested for DWI and vandalism four years ago had been deported he would not have been here to run his car into the FBI agent and the Fire Marshall its just common sense.

Anonymous said...

Fani Gonzalez is completely unqualified to do the job. I am assuming that the Council wanted to diversify the Planning Commission and so she was picked. Her behavior is atrocious and she should resign and make room for somebody who is familiar with planning and knows how to interact with residents.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget that we almost lost our beloved Little Falls Library because of Fani-Gonzalez's comments about the lack of affordable housing. Following her comments in October 2015 the staff of the Planning dept was asked to find additional space for more affordable housing. They picked the Little Fall Library right next to Westland MS.

The Democratic Party wants to promote her to a political position. Can you imagine it?

Anonymous said...

Another rant of NFG, this time in response to Marc Elrich

Anonymous said...

I don't know why Dyer is mad since he's gone on record supporting not only Trump, but ICE.

Anonymous said...

@8:42, I think that you oversimplify the position of the critics of the currently proposed design for 4 Bethesda Metro Center.

1. Opponents of the current design were not arguing for no development at 4 Bethesda Metro Center-- they were proposing a larger, street-facing plaza-- which could be programmed by Arts Brookfield, as is recommended for the current design. FWIW, Brookfield's current design cuts up the open space at 4 Bethesda Metro Center. Other architects (notably Cooper Carry in 2016) have suggested different site layouts, with a cohesive park facing Wisconsin Avenue-- but still allowing development.

2. The arguments against a smaller building footprint (made at the hearing by Planning Director Gwen Wright), applied only to a very tall, slender tower, mentioned as only *one* possible design alternative by former Montgomery County Planning Director Dick Tustian. Moving the structure to the interior of the site can be done under a variety of floorplate scenarios. I found Ms. Wright's analysis unpersuasive, because it does not preclude building a smaller multi-family or office building at 4 Bethesda Metro Center, bur only rules out *one* of the Tustian alternatives. A variety of design alternatives to maximize usable green space at Bethesda Metro Center could have been considered. Because Metro Center is arguably the hub of Bethesda's CBD, I believe that it was incumbent on the Planning Department and the Planning Board to evaluate additional design alternatives. Sadly, they did not.

3. You might well be right that the public will use an interior lawn more than a street-facing green space-- but that depends on the width, elevation and landscaping of the space. It would have been responsible of planning officials to compare additional alternatives.

4. Indeed, the Montgomery County Council is charged with selecting the Planning Board and provides input into the hiring of the Planning Director. Many residents voted for the adoption of term limits because they were unhappy with sector plans approved by the County Council and the Planning Board, and recommended by the Planning Department. That suggests that there has been considerable discontent with the Council's work on land use matters, including Planning Board appointments. Natali Fani-Gonzalez's July 19 comments do nothing to dispel this belief.