Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Montgomery County Planning Board seat open for a non-Democrat

The current term of Montgomery County Planning Board commissioner Gerard Cichy will end on June 14, and the Montgomery County Council is now accepting applications for the seat. Under the current rules, the board cannot have more than three members from one political party. Since there are currently three Democrats on the board, applicants for Cichy's seat cannot be a Democrat.

This does not mean you have to be a Republican to apply. Applicants could be Republicans or unaffiliated voters, but they can also be a member of another party such as the Green Party or Libertarian Party.

Annual compensation for commissioners is $30,000. A financial disclosure form must be filled out; only the ultimate commissioner selected by the Council will have his or her disclosure form made public prior to being sworn in.

It would be nice to have a member who represents the interests of residents, rather than the Montgomery County cartel! If you are such a person, here is how to apply:

Letters of application expressing interest, including a resume (no more than 4 pages) listing professional and civic experience, political party affiliation, home and office telephone numbers and an email address, should be addressed to: Council President Sidney Katz, County Council Office, Stella B. Werner Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, Maryland 20850. Applications can also be submitted via email to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov

Letters of application and resumes are made public as part of the appointment process, and are available for public review. The interviews are conducted in public and will be televised.

Letters with resumes must be received no later than 5 p.m. on Friday, April 17. It is the Council’s policy not to consider applications received after the deadline. After the closing date, Councilmembers will review the letters of application and select applicants for interviews to be held soon thereafter.

What does a mandatory Stay at Home order mean in Maryland?

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan took a somewhat stern tone in announcing his mandatory Stay at Home order Monday morning, frustrated with ongoing violations of his earlier advisory Stay at Home policy. There was confusion among some in the following hours about exactly what the order means. For most people, it means very little change to what you've already been doing. The key change is that the order can now be enforced by police, and gratuitous violations could earn you a fine or jail time.

Under the order, you may leave your home for essential travel to buy groceries, fill up your gas tank or seek auto repairs, shop at drug stores or liquor stores, travel to your job like you've been doing if it was classified as essential (or otherwise, telework, if that's possible), visit another home or property you own - i.e. to check on utilities, travel to care for a relative or friend in need, and go outside for fresh air, exercise, and walking or running as long as you keep six feet away from other people.

Hogan ordered a text alert to be sent to all devices capable of receiving one in the state. The alert went our successfully at 3:00 PM Monday afternoon. This was a very effective move to get the public's attention and reinforce the seriousness of the situation. The point on gatherings could have been clarified a bit better. You really should not be engaging in any group activities of ten people at this time if you are serious about protecting yourself and others from contracting coronavirus! That is nuts. Social distancing would be expected if such an event were to be held, however.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Montgomery County's shortage of hospital beds: I told you so - ten years ago

Headline from my March 9, 2010 article
calling for 2 new hospitals to be built in
Montgomery County
My uncanny ability to predict Montgomery County's future could have been put to good use had I been elected to the County Council when I first ran ten years ago. Thanks to a news blackout by a local press controlled by the County's political cartel, that hasn't happened. But what I've predicted in articles and speeches has consistently happened. The latest controversy over Montgomery County's missing hospital beds reminded me of a ten-year-old article I wrote arguing for the need to build two additional hospitals in the county, entitled, "A Real Health Care Plan for Montgomery County."

According to the Maryland Department of Health, Montgomery County is 500 beds short of the number it will need to serve coronavirus patients at the peak of the outbreak. Imagine if we had started on the long process of adding our hundreds of missing hospital beds ten years ago.

In 2010, there were proposals on the table from Adventist Healthcare and Holy Cross to build a new upcounty hospital. This followed Montgomery County's failure to require more beds in approving Suburban Hospital's expansion plan a few years earlier, something I also criticized County officials for at the time.

State and County officials were determined to build only one new hospital upcounty. Looking at the 2002 SARS and 2009 H1NI pandemics, and the fact that the D.C. region is a major terror target, I correctly saw our needs differently.

"I believe that our county and state must commit the resources necessary to build both projects, and make further investments over time to expand those facilities, if we are to face the health and public safety challenges the near future poses," I wrote. "The need for more hospital beds could not be more clear."

I noted an incident one day in January 2007, when a norovirus outbreak and a large number of flu victims overwhelmed the emergency departments at Suburban, Sibley and Shady Grove hospitals with sick patients. Ambulances bringing patients with other injuries or illnesses were being diverted to other hospitals, according to a first responder familiar with events that day.

"Imagine what the situation will be if a terror attack, disease outbreak, or natural disaster does occur," I warned. "It's time to wake up. And time to build two hospitals."

Remember when I was right about the underground fuel spill in Bethesda, the need to find the "missing" African-American cemetery before starting the Westbard sector plan process, the BETCO property land swap money not going to the Little Falls watershed as promised by the Council, the plan to bulldoze existing single-family home neighborhoods the Council finally admitted in 2019, and what a fiscal disaster the County's finances would be in if we hit an economic downturn (like is happening just now?). "We can't go on like this," I told several County Council debate audiences in 2010 about our structural budget deficit, out-of-control spending, declining revenue and skyrocketing debt.

Just to name a few. Too bad you wound up with the council members who brought you more important government actions, like banning trans fats, circus animals and tanning beds for teenagers.

When coronavirus hits Montgomery County full strength in the weeks ahead, and we don't have enough hospital beds, many residents may find themselves once again having voter's remorse.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

More signs of the impact of coronavirus on Bethesda

The Hyatt Regency Bethesda's circular driveway is usually bustling with activity - taxicabs and Ubers idling or dropping off passengers arriving from the airport, luggage carts and parking valets. But on a recent night, the driveway was deserted, and a sign advised drivers to self-park in the garage.

There was someone on duty at the front desk, but only two room windows were lit up. Of course, many other hotels have simply closed up, so it is good to know there is lodging available for people who have to travel at this difficult time.

Other signs around town attest to the impact of coronavirus, announcing closures or "we're still open." Chevy Chase Acura is wishing us good health on their electronic message board. Brickside Food & Drink is touting new takeout cocktails. And the Starbucks on Norfolk Avenue is now advising customers to order delivery or pickup from the Starbucks at Wildwood Shopping Center.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Bethesda liquor store, nursing home report coronavirus cases; Hogan announces Bloomberg partnership for Covid-19 treatment

Ride On reduces bus 
service to essential routes
drive-thru coronavirus 
testing site opens in Bethesda

A major coronavirus hotspot was identified by Montgomery County in one of its own County-owned liquor stores Friday. An employee at the Montgomery County Liquor store at 4920 Hampden Lane in Bethesda has tested positive for Covid-19, the County liquor department announced in a press release. The County said anyone who shopped at the Hampden Lane liquor store on March 23 or 24 should monitor themselves for coronavirus symptoms.

However, unless the employee only started working March 23, that does not seem like sound advice. The employee tested positive after exhibiting symptoms of Covid-19 on March 25. But a person can be asymptomatic for up to 14 days after being exposed to the coronavirus, so customers could have been at risk of exposure long before March 23.

When you think of how heavily the county government has pushed liquor sales during the coronavirus shutdown, and how many people in downtown Bethesda, Edgemoor, East Bethesda and Chevy Chase likely stocked up at the downtown Bethesda store over the last few weeks, this represents a major risk to the community. The Hampden Lane store has been temporarily closed for sanitizing and deep cleaning.

Montgomery County nursing homes
with coronavirus

The Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services has identified three nursing homes in the county where either residents or staff have tested positive for coronavirus. Three residents at Brighton Gardens on Tuckerman Lane in Bethesda have tested positive for Covid-19, the HHS confirmed. All three are currently hospitalized.

One staff member at Fox Chase nursing home in Silver Spring, and one staff member at the Fairland Center on Fairland Road in Silver Spring also have tested positive. Each is self-quarantining at this time.

The reports on this and the liquor store are among the very few cases where the County has been open with the public on where infected people have worked, shopped or traveled. Such a lack of open information has helped to spread the coronavirus because residents could not avoid places of exposure, and people who were in those places could not self-isolate to protect vulnerable household members and others in the community.

Ride On further reduces
services to essential routes

Ride On announced that bus service is being further reduced to essential routes. If your regular bus includes a hospital as a stop, you're in luck, such as the Ride On 23 in Bethesda that goes to Sibley Hospital. If it doesn't, not so much. A full list of routes still operating can be found online.

Hogan announces partnership to find
coronavirus treatment with Bloomberg,
Johns Hopkins

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced a major research initiative the state is undertaking in partnership with Johns Hopkins Medicine and Bloomberg Philanthropies. The research will center around blood plasma samples from patients who have recovered from Covid-19, and attempt to find a treatment for the disease, if not a vaccine. Bloomberg is donating $3 million, and the state is contributing $1 million.

MedStar opens coronavirus
testing site in Bethesda

MedStar has opened a coronavirus testing site in Bethesda, as predicted by Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich earlier this week. However, rather than using the White Flint Mall site Elrich suggested, MedStar has opened it at the Pauline Betz Addie Tennis Center, located at 7801 Democracy Boulevard. Before you jump in your car, though, you must have a referral from a MedStar physician who will approve you as a candidate for testing.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Pitango Bethesda construction update (Photos)

Pitango Gelato is coming soon to 4901 Fairmont Avenue in downtown Bethesda. Here's a look at the progress on the interior construction. Still some final touches needed here before you'll be ordering a Croccatino or Rhubarb in Bethesda. But warmer weather for launch can't hurt a business like this (but coronavirus sticking around might).

Bethesda post office hours change

The United States Postal Service has changed the hours of the Bethesda post office at 6900 Wisconsin Avenue. Until further notice, the post office will no longer be accessible 24 hours a day. Access to the post office lobby and its self-service functions will now only be available during business hours, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, on weekdays. The lobby will close an hour earlier, at 4:00, on Saturdays. And the lobby will be closed all day on Sundays.

"Unforeseen circumstances" are the reason for the change, according to the USPS. There are two issues that may explain the change, however. Most obvious, is the coronavirus outbreak. But related to that, the post office has recently become an unofficial hotel for homeless people, who sleep on the floors inside at night. This was already an unhealthy situation, but now imagine adding Covid-19 to the problem. People living unattended in the post office at night certainly exposed the USPS to legal liability, as well as post office users to potential criminal activity.

The new hours render the P.O. Boxes here essentially useless to people who work during the day. Hopefully they will restore wider hours after the pandemic has ended.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Bethesda's Waverly Garage to be converted from parking meters to pay stations

The Waverly Garage (Montgomery County Public Parking Garage 47) at 7401 Waverly Street in downtown Bethesda is getting a welcome upgrade to its payment system. On or about April 1, 2020, the garage will partially close for the installation of pay stations. The updated payment method will replace the existing parking meters.

I don't know how readers feel about the various payment methods used in different garages. My personal preference is the system where you pay when you leave the garage, because you don't have to worry about running back - or using your phone - to add time if your plans change. It is a much more convenient system, and you only have to pay for exactly the time you use, rather than maxing out the meter when you don't know how long an appointment is going to last.

Waverly Garage trivia: The garage was constructed on part of the right-of-way for the unbuilt Northwest Freeway, which was planned to run east of Wisconsin Avenue in a trench.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Hallmark Store closes at Montgomery Mall; does your building allow contactless delivery?; 17 Metro stations closing Thursday

Hallmark Fonz Christmas
ornament from 2014

Banner's Hallmark Shop at Westfield Montgomery Mall is temporarily closing. The store said it decided to close to protect its employees and customers from the coronavirus, and that they hope to reopen soon. Gov. Larry Hogan ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses in the state on Monday.


Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has already warned residents that you shouldn't be on transit unless you are an employee of an essential business, or a frontline healthcare worker. Riding Metro will get even tougher tomorrow, Thursday, March 26, 2020, when WMATA closes 17 Metro stations.

Red Line stations closing that may impact Montgomery County residents most are Grosvenor-Strathmore, Cleveland Park, and Judiciary Square. 

In addition, the Jennifer Street entrance to the Friendship Heights Metro station will be closed. So will the SW corner of L and Connecticut Avenue NW entrance to the Farragut North station, the South Entrance at 19th St & Connecticut Avenue at Dupont Circle, and the 12th and F Streets entrance at Metro Center.


The coronavirus pandemic, and its national and worldwide impacts, have put us in uncharted territory. Another new controversy emerging from the outbreak is whether multifamily buildings should permit contactless delivery of food directly to a resident's unit, or bar deliverypersons from elevators and hallways, and require tenants to come down to the lobby to pick up their food.

A change in policy at The Palisades apartments in downtown Bethesda has ignited the online discussion. One resident expressed concern that the building's management has reversed its policy that allowed delivery of food to unit doors in the building. The new policy is that the deliveryperson must place the food package(s) down on a table in the lobby for that purpose. Then the resident must come down to the lobby and retrieve their delivery.

The resident noted that having to travel through the corridor, elevator and lobby would naturally increase her exposure to the coronavirus. She is requesting the management company change the policy.

Several residents agreed with her. However, some said a delivery person traveling the corridors and "touching all the buttons" in the elevator is a health risk, as well.

This is a tough call. Clearly, having to leave your apartment puts you at greater risk than staying in. At the same time, the delivery man or woman is also contacting numerous customers and restaurant staff throughout his or her shift. That multiplies the number of contacts. Of course, with contactless delivery, he or she theoretically is not making contact. 

What do you think about this? What is your building's policy, and do you think it should change? Give your two cents in the comments below, and maybe we can get a sense of what policies are in place around Montgomery County, and which of these two reasonable and compelling arguments is stronger from a medical and contagion standpoint.


Montgomery County landmark Talbert's, the longtime convenience store and beer/wine retailer at 5234 River Road in Bethesda, is reminding drivers on River Road that it always has made deliveries. A sign attached to the store's famous sign pole out front reads, "TALBERT'S DELIVERS: 301-652-3000." I can confirm that they have just about every snack or beverage you would need to survive the pandemic, and ice in case the freezer you stuffed full suddenly gives out.


New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is warning America that New York City's increasing coronavirus death rate and spread is a preview of what's coming to other parts of the country in the next few weeks. Join Marsha Coleman Adebayo of Bethesda's Macedonia Baptist Church this morning at 9:00 AM on WPFW-FM 89.3 for a discussion with NYC activist Margaret Kimberly, the Senior Editor of the Black Agenda Report, and the author of Prejudential, and King Downing, JD, WBAI morning host.


The same day that Montgomery County removed basketball hoops from some of its parks, Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton said basketball hoops had to be removed from city parks due to groups violating the governor's ban on gatherings of more than ten people, and of Hogan's order to maintain social distancing. In an ongoing series of video updates posted by the City, Newton encouraged residents to follow Hogan's directives. "We will get through this if we follow the rules, make smart decisions, and, above all, be kind and supportive of each other," she said.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Bethesda Row garage entrance closed

The Bethesda Avenue entrance to the Public Parking Garage at Bethesda Row is temporarily closed, and will remain so through the end of the month. Use the Elm Street entrance by Matchbox.

Blue light special returns to Chase Bank in Bethesda

The controversial blue lights at Chase Bank were back on Monday evening in downtown Bethesda. In recent days, men were seen fixing or replacing the existing blue LED accent lighting on the building's facade. Those lights irritated some in the neighborhood when they were originally activated in 2019, leading to them being shut off for many months at the Wisconsin Avenue bank branch.

Montgomery College student and employee test positive for coronavirus; YMCA offering free kids' meals, produce

College to restrict access to
campus buildings starting today

UPDATE - March 25, 2020: YMCA says it has had to suspend plans to distribute meals due to supply shortages.

Montgomery College announced Monday that one of its students, and one of its employees, have tested positive for the covid-19 coronavirus. The student hadn't been on-campus since March 11, 2020, and did not begin experiencing symptoms until March 16. But the employee did begin to feel sick the last day they worked on-campus, college officials said, which was March 13.

The college and the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services are cooperating to determine and identify who may have been exposed to either patient. Those individuals should be informed by the end of today.

A memo about the coronavirus cases by the head of public safety for the college did not identify which of the three campuses - Rockville, Germantown or Takoma Park - the student and employee were on. 

The cases came to light on the very day that the college transitioned most coursework to online classes. College officials said they had hoped to allow some campus facilities to remain in operation, but have now announced that starting today, March 24, access to all buildings on all campuses will be restricted even to employees. Only employees who have a critical need to take or return equipment or resources necessary to complete online course instruction will be allowed to enter any college facility. They will have to keep social distance of six feet while inside the building, and must exit the building in 30 minutes.


Gov. Larry Hogan has admonished residents that they should not be boarding transit unless they work at an essential business like a grocery store or pharmacy, or are a frontline healthcare worker. But if  you do qualify to ride, your Metrobus trip is now free by default. Starting today, passengers must board using the rear doors of the bus, unless they require the ADA features at the front doors. Passengers will not be required to pay fare on buses until further notice.


The Village of Friendship Heights shuttle bus has been making trips to the Westwood Shopping Center Giant on Westbard Avenue on Saturdays since the Chevy Chase Giant store closed. Given the grocery shortages caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the shuttle is adding a second day of Giant trips to Westbard. The shuttle will travel to the Westwood Giant on Wednesdays between 10 AM and 9 PM.


Several YMCA locations in Montgomery County will be offering boxes that contain 3-days' worth of breakfasts and lunches to anyone 18 or younger twice a week. They do not need to have any affiliation with YMCA to receive the free meals.
In cooperation with Keany Produce, these YMCAs are also offering free fresh produce to anyone who wants it, while supplies last. All you need to bring is a bag to put the meals and/or produce in. Here is a list of the YMCA locations offering the meals and produce in Montgomery County, and the days and times they will be available:

Paul Bakery reopening this morning at Bethesda Row for takeout

Paul Bakery will reopen for business this morning at 4760 Bethesda Avenue, in the Flats at Bethesda Avenue apartment building. Their new hours during the ongoing coronavirus crisis will be 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM. No cash payment is being accepted to reduce the health risk to employees and customers. All orders will be takeout-only. You may place orders in person, or by calling ahead to 301-656-3285.

Paul is also providing free coffee and tea to customers who are either first responders or healthcare workers.

Monday, March 23, 2020

"We are still here," open Bethesda businesses say, as others fall to coronavirus

Historic Bethesda diner cordoned off
Something you don't usually see in downtown Bethesda is the Tastee Diner closed. But the usually 24-hour restaurant is shuttered. This is emblematic of the new abnormal of business in the age of coronavirus in Montgomery County, as businesses countywide react to frequent new restrictions placed on activities and operations, and make decisions about how, and if, to keep the lights on.

Lights out at the Hilton Garden Inn
in Bethesda


The Bethesda Hilton Garden Inn has closed, with the hotel industry being hit hard by the low demand for travel. General Manager Roberto Perez says the hotel doesn't anticipate reopening before May 1 at the earliest. Bethesda-based Marriott International is laying off a large percentage of its employees until the crisis pauses or ends.
Ordinarily, this curbside on Waverly Street is
a hectic scene of airport cabs, Ubers and luggage


GameStop in Wheaton is also closing - apparently for good, as the video game emporium's furniture and fixtures are all up for grabs in the store's closing sale. All products are 50-80% off. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is not reduced to a liquidation price, however. GameStop has been the subject of controversy in recent days, as the already-struggling chain argued that its employees were "essential," and therefore their stores should be allowed to continue operating. 
Right now, the Wheaton GameStop - located at 11147 Veirs Mill Road - is operating on a schedule of 12:00-8:00 PM. Only 8 customers may be in the store at one time, and they have temporarily suspended trade-ins to avoid coronavirus contamination. There's only one week left to shop here, according to a sign in the store window.


Businesses still toughing it out amid empty streets and parking spaces are trying to let people know they are still open. "We're Still Here!" declares a sign popping up in some Montgomery County restaurant windows, including this one at Guapo's.

EagleBank at 7815 Woodmont Avenue in Bethesda closed Friday, but will reopen today, March 23. The Blue House is still open nearby. They are offering curbside pickup, Virtual Shopper service, and free delivery if you live within 5 miles of their store at 7770 Woodmont Avenue. Capital Beer & Wine is still open every day at 7903 Norfolk Avenue in Bethesda. They have online ordering, curbside pickup, and delivery.
Random Harvest is temporarily closed at 7766 Woodmont Avenue, but the good news is that you'll still be able to shop with them later this week. The Bethesda furniture store says they will operate by appointment or telephone sales after March 24. Check their website after that date for full details.

Also closed, like many around the county, is Starbucks on Norfolk Avenue in Bethesda. Starbucks customers can't give up their favorite drinks, though, and are lining up for long waits at Starbucks locations with drive-thrus in places like Gaithersburg, Kensington and Burtonsville. Drive-thru is the way to go!
Look for these signs in urban
areas of Montgomery County
to avoid paying for parking when
picking up your carryout orders
Curbside pickup is also the way to go at this time. Look for special curbside stopping areas where you can avoid having to feed a meter during the coronavirus crisis in downtown Bethesda, Silver Spring, Bethesda Row, Pike & Rose and Rockville Town Square. Buffalo Wild Wings at Rockville Town Square is currently offering curbside service from 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM. World of Beer has all 250 beers on their list available for carry-out.