Friday, March 31, 2017

Theft at Whitman HS, Bethesda Row Apple Store + more -- Bethesda crime update

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on March 28, according to crime data:

Theft from vehicle. St. Elmo Avenue at Arlington Road.

Theft. 7200 block Woodmont Avenue.

Theft. Bethesda Row Apple Store.

Theft. 4300 block East-West Highway.

Theft. 5500 block Wisconsin Avenue.

Theft. Friendship Heights Giant.

Theft. Walt Whitman HS.

Theft from vehicle. 7100 block Democracy Boulevard.

Collision/property damage. 10600 block Kenilworth Avenue.

Progress at River Rd.-Braeburn Pkwy. intersection as Monday crash shows Whitman crosswalk danger

Maryland State Highway Administration workers have made significant progress toward completion of an interim flashing signal solution for the dangerous intersection of River Road and Braeburn Parkway near Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda. Additional poles have been erected, and already the "Braeburn Parkway" street sign is attached to a new signal arm over River Road at the intersection. The backplate of an eventual message sign is installed, as well.

At the crosswalk just east of the intersection, which nearby residents consider just as dangerous as the intersection itself, a street light has been erected. The project is supposed to be completed by the end of March, so they have about 13 hours left. Three people died in an accident at this intersection last year, when their turning Chevrolet Volt was hit by a westbound driver who had been traveling 115 MPH approaching the crossing.

On Monday, I saw the aftermath of the type of accident residents have reported at the crosswalk in the past. Approaching the top of the hill from Goldsboro Road, I saw a three-car crash had occurred in the left lane. A white Mercedes Benz was stopped just short of the crosswalk, and each of the two cars behind it had hit the rear of the vehicle in front of it. It looked as though the driver of the Mercedes had tried to stop for a pedestrian trying to cross River Road.

Just wanted to pass this report along as we await the results of the SHA study for a realigned River Road-Pyle Road intersection.

Protesters gather at first MoCo BOE meeting since Rockville HS rape reported

Protesters gathered yesterday outside the first Montgomery County Board of Education meeting since the alleged gang rape of a 14-year-old girl at Rockville High School on March 16. Angered to find that such an important incident was nowhere to be found on the meeting agenda, protesters and political candidates called for the immediate resignation of Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith. 

VIDEO: Rally highlights

"Our schools are overcrowded, undisciplined, low-achieving havens for violent street gangs," said Tom Ferleman, a candidate for the Montgomery County Council's District 2 seat. "The entire nation now knows us for the alleged rape of a child." Ferleman was one of those asking for Smith to resign.
Superintendent Jack Smith confers
with Board of Education member
Patricia O'Neill moments before
last  night's meeting began

After rally organizers held a press conference outside the Carver Educational Services Center in Rockville, several participants went inside to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting. Edward Amatetti, a teacher and also a candidate for Montgomery County Council District 2, said the gang rape was "not an isolated [incident]." He referred to the recently-revealed assault on a 17-year-old female student, which was covered up by Rockville HS school administrators and not reported initially to police nine days prior to the gang rape incident. The victim and her stepfather were given a "weeklong runaround" by the school and police, Amatetti charged.

Amatetti said a Latino immigrant father told him that he pulled his daughter out of Rockville H.S. after observing suspicious activities by students there. "He knew what he was seeing, even if school leaders didn't," Amatetti said, an allusion to the principal's recent denial of gang activity at the school. He recalled another Rockville H.S. parent telling him that his son was warned by a teacher to "keep his mouth shut in class," because members of the MS-13 gang were in that class. That teacher said he also was afraid of MS-13 himself.

The Board has been "too silent" on the gang rape incident, Amatetti said. He singled out Smith, telling him "your responses have been inadequate."

Montgomery County Republican Party Chairman Dick Jurgena pressed the Board as to "why illegal alien men, who come from a completely-different culture and have no apparent educational training, are mixed with students as young as 13 or 14 years of age. How these two young men came to be enrolled in the county school system, and in the freshman class, raises many questions."

After their critics spoke, some on the Board were less than contrite. Patricia O'Neill, who is about to celebrate her 20th year on the Board, said the alleged gang rape was "shocking to all of us," and "horrifying. But I do not have facts," she hedged. Then, like several other county officials over the last two weeks, her voice suggested the public criticism of Smith and the BOE was a bigger issue than the rape itself. Raising her voice, O'Neill complained she has "truly been troubled by the harassing, threatening emails and phone calls," apparently oblivious to the fact that that very focus on politics, instead of the crime itself, has been driving many of those communications.

While O'Neill hasn't been heard raising her voice against violence against 14 and 17-year-old girls in school, she said that while watching a Fox News segment on the rape, "by the time the show was over, I was shouting at the T.V. Fake news has triggered this avalanche of vitriol."

It was also intriguing that Board member Jill Ortman-Fause said the emails and phone calls had "raised the level of anxiety in our schools," as opposed to the threat of rape or violence being the source of anxiety. "A lot of them are threats, and have to be reported to the police," she said, before taking time to congratulate staff. Board member Rebecca Smondrowski chose to reprise Councilmember Roger Berliner's infamously tone-deaf assessment of the gang rape: "Bad things happen." Oops.

Board President Michael Durso appeared to endorse the vitriolic remarks of a speaker during the public comment period who lashed out at those criticizing the school system, accusing them of being racists and using the rape incident and immigration status of the suspects for political gain. Neither the speaker nor Durso appeared to realize that MCPS and the Montgomery County Council have already politicized immigration, including many public statements, issuing resolutions and hiring an expensive immigration attorney with no clear Montgomery County-oriented purpose. No other jurisdiction in the area retains a specialized expensive immigration lawyer other than Montgomery County.

Perhaps in response to criticism over leaving the rape case off the agenda, Smith outlined the general security topics he and the system will review in the coming weeks:

  • How to utilize existing security personnel
  • How to allocate security resources
  • Review all facilities, and look at "places in schools where we could do changes in facilities"
  • Increase the number of entry checkpoints
  • Review how existing security cameras are used and monitored
  • Get student input
  • Add a curriculum "component" on "harassment, inappropriate sexual advances, and assault"
"I cannot express to our community how serious we are about this," Smith assured. But, examining this list, it sounds like a checklist one would already have gone over every six months or so in the post-Columbine/9/11 era. Is this really the first time this basic sort of list is being considered in such a large school system? That's cause for real concern by itself.

The pattern in the county has been just that - addressing basic, fundamental problems only after a catastrophic failure. This is how the County Council has operated for years. 911 system fails? Now we'll take a look at the backup systems. Flower Branch Apartments explode? Now we'll step up code inspections of apartment buildings. Did they just put county residents' email addresses online for hackers to steal from the Open Data website? Now Hans Riemer will draft a provision that should have been in his original legislation to protect residents.

It's time for new leadership, who can take a back-to-basics approach to the issues and services government should be focused on, instead of styrofoam, vending machines and teenage tanning beds.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Burglary on Democracy Blvd., theft from vehicle in Randolph Hills + more - Bethesda crime update

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on March 27, according to crime data:

Theft. 6900 block Arlington Road.

Vehicle burglary. 5400 block Wisconsin Avenue.

Burglary. 6300 block Democracy Boulevard.

Collision/property damage. 7100 block Democracy Boulevard.

Theft from vehicle. 4900 block Macon Road (Randolph Hills).

Ourisman Honda said to be in violation of 3 rights-of-way at Capital Crescent Trail

Ourisman Honda may be in violation of 3 separate easements after having constructed a garage and wall up against the Capital Crescent Trail, it was revealed at a Board of Appeals pre-hearing conference yesterday. Aside from the encroachment into the trail itself, there are two additional 10-foot easements around it. The additional 20' are to the west of the trail.

Control of at least one of those rights-of-way may belong to the federal Surface Transportation Board, not Montgomery County. That is because the trail right-of-way was once a CSX rail line called the Georgetown Branch. Montgomery County's primary secret interest in the space here is the plan to eventually extend the Purple Line to Westbard and the Shops at Sumner Place via the trail right-of-way.

Questions raised about the additional easements yesterday will have to be resolved before the Ourisman appeal of the county's order to halt construction can go forward. During yesterday's conference, it was also revealed that the County Department of Permitting Services stopped Ourisman's demolition of its new wall by the trail, out of concern for the safety of passersby.

Developer ready to start Brightview Bethesda project downtown

Developer Shelter Group is right on schedule for the groundbreaking of its Brightview Bethesda assisted-living apartment project, which will be located at 4907 Rugby Avenue in the Woodmont Triangle. They have requested sheeting and shoring permits, which are related to excavation.

Shelter VP of Development Andrew Teeters had said the company expected to break ground in the first half of 2017. Of course, first the site will have to be cleared of the Dansez! Dansez! dance studio and the "pink house."

The building will be for assisted living and memory care residents, with a secure second floor for dementia patients. Floors 3-7 will be assisted living divided into studios, and 1-and-2-bedroom apartment units. Units will have kitchenettes, but 3 meals a day will be served in the building. Activity rooms are also planned for patients.

On the ground floor, Shelter plans to either have traditional retail tenants, or an art studio or physical therapy center. Market demand will likely determine the final decision.

Rendering courtesy Shelter Group

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Disorder on Cordell Ave., vehicles burglarized on Battery Lane + more - Bethesda crime update

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on March 26, according to crime data:

Liquor arrest. Arlington Road at Moorland Lane.

Disorderly conduct. 4900 block Cordell Avenue.

Disorderly conduct. 4900 block Cordell Avenue.

Vehicle burglary. 4800 block Battery Lane.

Vehicle burglary. 4900 block Battery Lane.

Vehicle burglary. 5900 block Wilson Lane.

Drug arrest. Rockville Pike at Cedar Lane.

Disorderly conduct. 5400 block Wisconsin Avenue.

Vehicle burglary. 6000 block Roosevelt Street.

Theft from vehicle. 11100 block Kenilworth Avenue.

Agenda for first Board of Education meeting since Rockville HS rape has no mention of the incident

The Montgomery County Board of Education will meet for the first time tomorrow, March 30, since the March 17th announcement by police alleging a gang rape of a 14-year-old girl in a bathroom at Rockville High School. Yet the meeting agenda makes no mention of the incident, nor of any planned discussion of immediate steps Montgomery County Public Schools should take to prevent something like this from happening again. This is absolutely mindboggling, given that policies and security lapses by MCPS and the Board allowed this alleged rape to occur. They've had two weeks to plan this agenda, and it appears the amount of thought they've given to student safety speaks for itself. Disgusting.

A protest of citizens demanding accountability is scheduled outside the Board offices, the Carver Educational Services Center, at 850 Hungerford Drive in Rockville tomorrow at 5:15 PM.

Blackwell Building winding down for Marriott in Bethesda

While the Bethesda Court Hotel is still operating, the Connor Building next to it is gone, and another neighbor is nearing the same fate. The Blackwell Building is one of several properties that will be redeveloped as part of the future Marriott headquarters and hotel in downtown Bethesda.

As a result, ground floor tenant Foot Solutions at 7758 Wisconsin Avenue is getting the boot (pun intended). Despite the "Moving Sale" signage, no new location has been announced. Stay tuned.

Cheval Bethesda condos crane removal will require road closure Saturday (Photos)

The Cheval Bethesda ultra-luxury condo tower is really entering the home stretch. This weekend, the tower crane will be removed from the construction site. That will require Fairmont Avenue to close between Old Georgetown Road and Norfolk Avenue this Saturday, April 1, starting at 7:00 AM. In case of bad weather, the crane will be removed on Sunday instead.

A lot of windows are now in place on the building. If you've been following my reports from the beginning, you'll recall the lower floors of the building are parking decks. What's interesting is that they've made glass windows that give those levels the cosmetic appearance of also being residential like the upper floors. Some buildings will simply leave garage levels with open-air punchouts, in comparison.

Duball, LLC is the developer of the Cheval Bethesda. The 17-story tower will house 72 condo units, and 7000 SF of non-residential space. Prices will be in the ultra-luxury tier: From the $900,000s to over $2.5 million. A sales gallery is located at 7706 Woodmont Avenue.
The angular curved facade
is really the signature
architectural trademark of
this building, along with
its height as the tallest
condo structure in town

Believe it or not, these are
garage parking decks, not
residential floors

The Cheval is the newest of 3
additions to this block of
Fairmont Avenue, joining
Bainbridge Bethesda (L) and
7770 Norfolk (center-right)

Bethesda restaurant named best in Maryland by Southern Living

One of Bethesda's newer restaurants has just been named the best in Maryland - by no less than Southern Living magazine. Duck Duck Goose just received the honor on the magazine's The Best Restaurants in Every Southern State 2017 list. The French restaurant is just one of the ventures of chef-owner Ashish Alfred in downtown Bethesda. Duck Duck Goose is located at 7929 Norfolk Avenue.

Attorney seeks freedom, asylum for Rockville rape suspect's father

Adolfo Sanchez-Reyes, father of Rockville High School gang rape suspect Henry Sanchez, was arrested by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency Friday. Now, the younger Sanchez's attorney is vowing to get Sanchez-Reyes out of immigration detention in Jessup, according to the Washington Post.

Attorney Andrew Jezic said he will also ask for asylum for the suspect's father. "We hope to get him out soon, and we will assert grounds for him to stay in the country," Jezic told the Post. While police in Montgomery County have said they never interacted with rape suspects Sanchez and Jose Montano since they arrived here illegally from Central America last year, Sanchez-Reyes has two Maryland traffic citations. The Post reported that one of those citations was for driving without a license.

It appears obvious that, because police were not permitted to check Sanchez-Reyes' citizenship status during a traffic stop, they never knew he was in the country illegally. That left Sanchez-Reyes able to continue living in Montgomery County. He would ultimately be able to serve as guardian for his son after Henry Sanchez was "caught and released" by Border Patrol agents, following Obama administration policy on "unaccompanied minors," after illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexican border seven months ago.

In other words, the alleged gang rape incident might never have occurred at Rockville H.S. on March 16, had the father been deported after driving without a license.

World of Beer sets opening date in Bethesda (Photos)

World of Beer on Bethesda Avenue will open on Monday, April 3, at 11:30 AM. Located in Artery Plaza, the restaurant and bar will have outdoor patio seating along Bethesda Avenue, despite its 7200 Wisconsin Avenue address. Here is a sneak peek inside, and you can see there will be many flat screens around the interior. World of Beer promises 500 beers on tap and in bottles and cans, always a challenge under the Montgomery County government liquor monopoly, which was left in place after County Councilmember Hans Riemer's failed "nighttime economy" initiative crashed.
Building owner JBG removed
a column to open up a larger
patio space here along
Bethesda Avenue

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

MoCo Council, at war with their constituents, to fortify their building - literally

The next time you try to testify before the Montgomery County Council, or attempt to meet with your councilmember, you may find yourself being patted down at a TSA airport-style security checkpoint. While doing absolutely nothing in the last 12 days to secure Rockville High School - where one girl was repeatedly kicked in the head, and another gang-raped in a bathroom just weeks later, the Council is moving extremely swiftly to fortify and harden their own office building. In yet another tone-deaf move, and yet another indication of this Council's chronic inability to get over themselves, they are about to spend millions of dollars to screen constituents trying to participate in their own government.

Councilmembers and their staff are of course giving themselves a pass on the pocket-emptyings, patdowns and stripdowns - they will now have card access that allows them to bypass the TSA-style checkpoints you'll have to endure to criticize the budget or their latest crazy scheme. In a rambling dialogue with reporters on the expenditure, which the Council is introducing this morning, Council President Roger Berliner could identify no credible or imminent threat to the Council or their staff that would justify this exorbitant cost.

Directly across Maryland Avenue, Rockville City Hall has no such entry restrictions and security screening (although you can bet they will if the Council sets the precedent).

What's going on here? Do they know of something we don't know - a pending zombie apocalypse, perhaps?

As always with this Council, hubris is a factor, with their delusional sense of self-importance already off-the-charts.

But it's clear that their increasing conflict with their own constituents has led them to believe they must fortify their building against their own people, their own voters. The Council more and more has thumbed their noses at the people of Montgomery County, whether it is in the form of tax hikes, or in the approval of massive developments incompatible with surrounding neighborhoods. With their latest scandal, the gang rape of a 14-year-old girl at Rockville High School, their incompetence and placement of ideology over the public interest has attracted scorching new criticism from across America. The thin-skinned babies aren't used to hearing criticism, and have been throwing one temper tantrum after another as a result.

Knowing that they plan to continue defying the will of the People, they have now concluded that the harsh criticism they've justifiably received is going to escalate into physical violence. For most rational public servants, that would be an indication that something has gone wrong, and that a change of direction is in order.

But not for these clowns. Instead, they're going to keep governing for their own personal and political gain, and simply fortify their building. They've made clear it's acceptable for girls in Montgomery County to live with the risk of being gang-raped, or beaten to the point of hospitalization. But for themselves, they are seeking guaranteed safety, at your expense.

The move is being handled quickly - the public hearing is already scheduled for April 4, 2017, at 1:30 PM.

It's also notable in one other respect. This fortification without any justifying security threat marks the only time the Council has proactively addressed an issue, and - surprise - it's all about them, not us.

The Council never bothered to ensure adequate backup for its 911 system until 2 of its constituents died when it failed. They never bothered to withhold redevelopment rights from older apartment buildings, so landlords wouldn't have an excuse to wind down maintenance and put tenants at risk - until one such building exploded, killing 7 more of their constituents. And even then, while they made a PR stunt of expanding apartment inspections, they quietly declined to actually appropriate the funds to pay for the additional inspectors.

No such problems here. As usual, the only jobs this Council has created have all are in county government. You'll be picking up the tab for the scanners, metal detectors, conveyor belts and pat-downs. In the war against their constituents, and no expense will be spared.

Rockville rape victim-shaming begins; ICE defies MoCo Council, arrests suspect's father

Lawyers for the two illegal immigrants charged with gang-raping a 14-year-old girl in a bathroom at Rockville High School warned in media interviews they would stoop low to defend their clients. Yesterday, they began their campaign of victim-shaming the girl in a court filing. According to the Washington Post, an attorney for alleged rapist Jose Montano, 17, again claims the encounter was consensual.

The attorney, David Wooten, also claims that the victim sent Montano "explicitly compromising images of herself" in text messages, and that she agreed to the encounter in advance via text. There's no indication Wooten has actually provided such evidence to the court yet, as he attempts to get his client bailed out of the unspecified juvenile facility he is locked up in.

Such legal boasts are clearly also an effort to intimidate the victim, in hopes that she will decline to provide the testimony that could put Montano and second suspect Henry Sanchez, 18, behind bars for life. They may also represent a craven attempt to appeal to a psychological weakness found in society regarding rape. "Why do we blame victims?" asked Juliana Breines, PhD, in a 2013 article. "The more innocent a victim, the more threatening they are. Victims threaten our sense that the world is a safe and moral place, where good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. When bad things happen to good people, it implies that no one is safe, that no matter how good we are, we too could be vulnerable."

Yet, even if such texts exist (for the sake of argument), they fail to prove rape didn't occur. "No" still means "no," and police say they have physical evidence of forcible rape in this case.

Meanwhile, for the second time in a week, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) has delivered a cannonball to the gut of Montgomery County elected officials. Even as county politicians were declaring Montgomery wasn't a sanctuary county early last week, ICE at the same moment was releasing a list of such jurisdictions, and MoCo was on it. Yesterday, ICE struck again.

As first reported by Kevin Lewis of ABC7 News, the father of the other accused rapist Henry Sanchez, Adolfo Sanchez-Reyes, has been arrested by ICE agents. This appears to have been the first ICE raid within Montgomery County since President Donald Trump took office. The Montgomery County Council has previously gloated that they have held ICE from conducting raids in the county. This arrest suggests otherwise. Sanchez-Reyes is in the country illegally like his son. He was living in an unidentified apartment complex on Bel Pre Road, and is now behind bars in Jessup awaiting an immigration hearing.

If that wasn't enough, Attorney General Jeff Sessions blasted the Maryland General Assembly's Trust Act Monday, a proposed law that the Montgomery County Council played a major role in writing. Sessions said the Trust act would put "the State of Maryland at more risk for violence and crime," a charge with extra sting in the wake of the Rockville High gang rape and the execution-style murder of a Gaithersburg girl by the MS-13 gang she became involved with at Watkins Mill High School.

In his weekly news conference Monday, County Council President Roger Berliner stressed his belief that Montgomery is not a sanctuary county, but did admit "our county does not honor civil detainer requests," which he considers unconstitutional. He did not explain why he thought the federal government would ask the county to do something that was illegal. But as an attorney, he was careful to use some lawyerly language: "We fully comply with the law as we understand it to be."

Monday, March 27, 2017

Target trucks continue to deliver inventory ahead of opening day (Photos)

There's only one way to stock the shelves and racks inside the new downtown Bethesda Target store before the grand opening on April 9, and Target 18-wheelers are quickly giving Teslas a run for their money as the most attention-getting vehicles in town. Here's one spotted arriving downtown along Wisconsin Avenue.

Left turn signal
activated as it approaches
the store

Climbing the hill
as it passes the future
Target storefront

Bethesda demolition update - 4733 Bethesda Avenue (Photos)

Demolition of an office building continues at 4733 Bethesda Avenue, to make way for a new JBG office building with retail, known as 4747 Bethesda Avenue. You can see that most of the glass is gone now.