Howard County Council APFO Work Session
On Monday October 23, the County Council held a work session to discuss preliminary amendments to the two pieces of APFO legislation CB61 and CB62. APFO - Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance - is the county's growth management tool.
APFO is broken, which has led to school overcrowding, traffic congestion, increased hospital wait times and the degree of strain on our police and EMT is currently not clear because we do not measure it a function of the county's growth. The video provides a quick summary of the deficiencies.
At Monday's work session, a total of 22 amendments were proposed. Here they are. Some addressed roads and many addressed schools. Based on my discussions with certain committee members of the task force, the amendments related to the roads are not that meaningful.
I think the first eight amendments are the most meaningful and straightforward. The other amendments seemed to give with one hand and take with another. For example, one amendment added a high schools test while removing the regional or adjacency test for elementary schools, which is an additional safeguard against overcrowding.
The next legislative session is scheduled for November 6th where the Council will vote on these amendments. Keep an eye out and email them at firstname.lastname@example.org to demand the strongest growth management that we deserve.
October Day of Door Knocking
We had our campaign's first door knocking event on Sunday, October 22nd.
I have been out there before over the last few weeks and it was great to share this experience with my friends and family.
I have had the most pleasant experiences interacting with voters. I heard someone compare door knocking to going to the gym. It sounds daunting on the way there, but it feels good on the way back.
Upon our return, it was clear from the door-knocking teams' reaction that they found it enjoyable. The campaign t-shirts look pretty snazzy too!
Our next door-knocking event will be held on November 5.
Savage Settlement Hearing
A few weeks ago, I testified in front of the Howard County Planning Board regarding the proposed Settlement at Savage development hearing.
The so-called quasi-judicial hearing is used to argue development proposal by allowing the developer to prove that the proposal meets the requirements of the zoning classification of the land/parcel.
The format is supposed to be "fair" because it allows citizens to object the proposal and serve as their own attorneys during this quasi-judicial hearing. However, the proceedings are held just like the court-room. On the developers' side is normally a well trained zoning attorney. While the Savage Settlement hearing has representatives such as Mrs. Susan Garber of the Savage Community Association, who understand the zoning and land-use laws, many cases involve local residents with somewhat less knowledge of the arcane rules even though their dedication makes up for it.
I have long stated that the county would benefit from a trained Ombudsman - a people's representative - on zoning and land-use laws to handle zoning issues. This will benefit the residents because the process will be on a somewhat level playing field.
The Planning Board in many cases has served as a rubber stamp to any and all requests by developers. It was clear from the proceedings that the petitioner's attorney knew more than the combined board on both the quasi-judicial proceedings as well as the actual zoning itself. Let's remember that the individuals on the Planning Board are dedicated, civic-minded individuals who are also volunteers. The ideal Planning Board makeup would be individuals who are well versed in the zoning and land-use issues.
After the Planning Board decides on this case, it will go to the County Council. They decide on a key component of the case - whether to approve a land-swap between the County's Recreation and Parks and the developer. The developer has unusable land and is proposing an even exchange of relatively flat usable land with the County. The Recreation and Parks consents to this exchange. This is inappropriate for many reasons. For starters, the developer is not paying a premium for the usable land.
Because of the thorough case presented by the citizens, the developer plans on presenting a rebuttal on November 21st. Please attend to learn more about the case.
NAMI Howard County 3rd Annual Basket Bingo
On Friday, October 20th, I joined the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Howard County at their 3rd Annual Basket Bingo.
NAMI is the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization that helps individuals and families affected by mental illness. Visit their website here.
This is an important organization working on a worthy cause. Mental health is not a widely discussed issue because of stigma. Access to mental healthcare is also not widely available.
We as a society can change that to allow discussion of mental health as another body ailment and make it easy for us to confront our problems. I think we should look at therapy and other forms of mental health treatment just like treatment of any other ailement and access should be as easy as going to get a flu shot or getting an annual physical. We have to take care of the most important part of our body.
Howard Community College Sustainability Day
On Wednesday, October 18th, Howard Community College held its 5th annual Campus Sustainability Day event.
While this is an all-day event, I attended the speaker and panel discussion portion of the program. The speaker, Anne Lewis, president at City Wildlife, presented on the danger that birds face due to building design. According to this Washington Post article, in the U.S. alone, nearly 1 billion birds die annually due to window collision.
Admittedly, I did not know that this was a big problem. But organizations such as Safe Skies Maryland and City Wildlife are working to increase exposure to this issue by measuring and providing hard data.
They are making the argument that sustainable building design should include windows that are safe for birds in addition to conserving energy.
Howard County Diwali Celebrations
This year, Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights took place on October 19th. But this is a days' long celebration.
I was fortunate to attend three events to join Howard County families of Indian origin in this joyous occasion.
The food, music, and display of other forms of culture were remarkable. What was especially remarkable were the children's performances. It is easy to lose touch with one's culture after leaving the native land. Yet, many of the children who are born here in the U.S. are still connected to their culture, which is a credit to their families. Thank you to Mr. Pravin Ponnuri and the members of the Indian Origins of Howard County (IONHoCo) for inviting me to share in their celebrations.
I also attended a fundraiser held by the Suri Foundation, which works to help solve one of the most pressing and acute problems in the world - lack of access to toilets and clean water. The foundation used the Diwali occasion as a way to bring people together to raise funds to this worthy cause. As the saying goes "to whom much is given, much is expected" and this is an embodiment of that saying by people such as Mr. Gopi Suri.
Get Money Out of Politics
On Sunday, October 15, I attended the Get Money Out of Politics presentation and panel discussion organized by various Howard County progressive groups.
The program began with a presentation by Congressman John Sarbanes about the Us Campaign.
The mission of the Us Campaign is simple. To get money out of politics.
One of the main reasons that popular and commonsense proposals remain stuck in legislative committees or are shelved is because of the asymmetric influence that special interest money plays in politics.
Expensive campaigns prevent a diverse array of citizens from getting involved. It also prevents elected officials from doing their jobs as they spend their every waking moment raising money for the next election rather than doing the work they are sent to do.
We in Howard County have taken matters in our own hands and created a public finance system that takes effect for the 2022 election cycle, thanks to the hard work of Councilwoman Jennifer Terrasa and Councilman Jon Weinstein.
I for one will not be accepting contribution from developers who have had a stranglehold on county policies for many decades.