Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Report on Housing on Parkland Hearing- Great News

I attended the Council hearing today and am happy to report that they commented on the many emails that were still coming in regarding the importance of preserving parkland from being used for housing.

They voted to insert the phrase exempting parkland from consideration for housing:  Provide underused and strategically located surplus public properties, other than parkland, for housing that includes housing affordable to low and moderate income households at a higher percentage than required in the MPDU program.”

Thanks to all who called or wrote in, your messages were received loud and clear.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Act Now! (by COB today) Parks in Peril...again!

Sorry for this late breaking alert:
We have just learned that the Council will vote on the "Housing Element of the General Plan" tomorrow at 10:00 a.m.  Below is current and proposed language regarding the use of public lands for housing. 
As proposed, the Housing Element could seriously threaten county park property by making it available for housing.
  If you can attend the vote at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow, please do so.

The old Housing Element objective 4. H. provided that "Designate government-owned land, other than parkland, that meets appropriate housing site selection criteria for future housing development.  See that page of the plan here. 

The new Housing Element, as proposed by the PHED Committee, says at 2.13 "Provide underused and strategically located surplus public properties for housing that includes housing affordable to low and moderate income households at a higher percentage than required in the MPDU program." See that page of the plan here.

Please email or call the Council to ask them to reinsert the "other than parkland" language.

or call 240.777.7907- Leave a message for the full council with the receptionist    
Council Agenda:                       
B. Action - Housing Element of the General Plan 
PHED Committee recommends approval with amendments

Friday, March 4, 2011

Parks Merger Discussion Meeting, March 9

The West Montgomery County Civic Association (WMCCA) is hosting a meeting on the recently withdrawn parks bill. See Below for more information.

WMCCA Meeting at the Potomac Community Center
11301 Falls Rd., Potomac
Wednesday, March 9, 2011 – 7:15 p.m.
If schools are closed because of inclement weather, the meeting will be canceled.

Park Police Chief Darien Manley and Park Director Mary Bradford
Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission

Efforts to merge the Park Police force with the Montgomery County Police has sparked heated discussion and raised questions about park safety, potential cost savings to a strapped County budget, the use of tax revenue currently allocated to park policing functions, and if such a move might open our parklands to unintended uses at the hands of County government.  The Potomac Subregion is rich in parkland acreage.  Since Park Police duties are embedded in the stewardship ethic emphasized by Parks Director Mary Bradford, we invited her along with Park Police Chief Manley to brief our membership on the structure and function of our Park police force.
Our Endangered Park Police?
President’s Message – Ginny Barnes
        Our park system is a defining characteristic of Montgomery County and its vision.  With 34,000 acres of nationally-recognized parkland, Montgomery County offers citizens a wide variety of green space, historic and cultural sites, recreational facilities, and diverse ecosystems.  It is under the jurisdiction of Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC), a bi-county agency chartered by the State of Maryland.  There are obvious reasons for keeping such valuable assets out of the reach of elected politicians.  In recent years several proposals have surfaced that appear to threaten the delicate balance of parks stewardship.
         About two years ago, there was an attempt by the County Executive, sparked by an Office of Management and Budget Report and supported by Councilmember Marc Elrich to absorb Parks programming into the Recreation Department which is under the jurisdiction of the Executive Branch.  Questions arose about the complicated relationship between park ownership and programs, particularly with facilities such as ball fields, ice rinks and tennis courts.  Who would handle maintenance?  How to separate out programming that was strictly recreational from that which also teaches stewardship of our parks?  Who would control changes to facilities located within a larger park setting?  There was public opposition.  After being charged by the Council to at least find a solution to a confusing program delivery system, the Recreation Department and the Department of Parks worked closely together to streamline program registration and eliminate duplication.  The merger effort was put aside.  
         Then budget discussions at the County Council in 2010 brought up a new idea.  Merge the Park Police into the County Police Force.  Like the recreation merger, this was billed as a cost saving measure.  The issue was argued back and forth without definitive action.  But County Executive Ike Leggett was convinced the police merger will save money and lead to better service, so he introduced legislation to the State Delegation in Annapolis.  The first incarnation of the legislation requested far-reaching powers and was rejected by the Delegation, and a milder form of enabling legislation subsequently introduced by County Executive Leggett, and the second measure, proposed State Bill MC/PG 112-11.  This would have empowered the County Council to make police merger decisions as well as eliminating a provision that currently sets aside a portion of property taxes for parks, thus providing an assured means of covering debt as well as buying and maintaining park property.  The bill could have hurt MNCPPC's bond rating and raised the interest rate they pay to borrow money.
         Already unpopular with Prince George County, the Montgomery County Council was not convinced of the need for a merger, and Council President Valerie Ervin said the proposed legislation "over-reached" what was needed to simply enable such an action.  At least five Council members opposed, several vigorously.  Rejected by the very body it would have enabled, the legislation stood little chance in Annapolis, and County Executive Leggett has withdrawn the bill, vowing to bring it back again in the fall when State legislators return to Annapolis.  In the meantime, he has thrown the weight of the Montgomery County Office of Public Information behind a campaign to convince the public this merger should be done. 
         There is controversy and many questions.  Is an unproved saving of $2 million out of a more than $4 billion county budget worth the logistical nightmare of joining two police forces with very different benefit packages, training and duties?  Will our parks be less safe?  Will parkland come closer to being under the control of government entities committed to creating more housing in a county reaching build-out?  Will the proposed merger even produce any cost savings?  There is no enthusiasm for the proposed merger among either of the affected workforces.  Finally, by starting to blur the edges of park stewardship responsibilities, do we expose our treasured parks and green spaces to being reduced to political footballs by putting their fates and their budgets within the discretion of this and future County Executives?
         WMCCA believes that since this issue is not going away.  Since we have nearly ten percent of the total county parkland here in the Potomac Subregion, it is time we became acquainted with the full duties of Park Police and learn how they deal with issues of encroachment, public safety, and resource stewardship.  The public is always welcome to attend our meetings.  We look forward to seeing you March 9.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Parks Merger Bill Withdrawn!

This Just In! The County Executive has withdrawn Bill MC/PG 112-11, a measure that would have threatened Park funding and safety!      

Characterized as "enabling legislation" and late filed by the County Executive, legislation (MC/PG112-11) was withdrawn by County Executive Ike Leggett today.   Parks advocates characterized the bill as a "sneak attack" on the independence of the Parks system and its parent agency the  Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC).         
The bill was proposed as a cost saving measure, a claim disputed by a number of sources. 
A number of sources within the MCPD raised concerns about the possibility of decreased safety in parks as a result of merging the Park Police and MCPD.  

The coalition of groups behind Save our Parks Montgomery would like to thank all the concerned MoCo Residents that  wrote or called the Council, leading them to definitively vote down the proposal. You really made a difference! 

 This great news has come just in time to celebrate this beautiful spring day in one of the nation's very best park systems, the safe, well maintained parks of Montgomery County.    

  Thanks for supporting your parks!

Save Our Parks Montgomery  

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Welcome to Save our Montgomery Parks!

Montgomery County Parks under attack! Action needed before Monday, February14.   

Legislation just proposed by County Executive Ike Leggett,
threatens Park funding and safety!
Montgomery County's 34,000 acre Park system, long ably managed by the independent, bi-partisan Park and Planning Commission, has been nationally recognized as one of the finest in the nation.            
Incredibly,  Mr. Leggett's Bill MC/PG112-11 would:  
1.) Allow funds, now guaranteed to the Parks Department for acquisition, development, maintenance and recreational facilities, to be siphoned by the Executive and Council at their discretion.  
2.) Transfer management of all park lands and facilities from the  independent Park and Planning Commission to the Montgomery County government. Under Mr. Leggett's scenario, the County's vast acres of parkland would become subject to the political whims of elected officials. Pressures to use parkland for housing or transportation projects would likely increase under politicized management.  
3.) Negatively impact public safety and park use by merging the Park Police, now directed by the Planning Commission, to the County Police with allegiance to the County Executive. The assertion that the merger of the two forces would save money was debunked in the 2010 budget hearings.  Park police pay and retirement benefits are lower than county police. This merger may actually cost money. Park Police are trained to routinely monitor park use, safety concerns and more. Under County Police authority, in-depth park monitoring would not likely be a priority. 

What can you do to stop this dangerous legislation?

Write and/or call your Councilmembers before next Monday, Feb, 14 when they will vote. Tell them to oppose Bill  MC/PG112-11.  An individual email copied to each one is most effective.
Just a few sentences in your own words are more powerful than form letters. Talking points below:    

Phil Andrews                   councilmember.andrews@montgomerycountymd.gov 
Roger Berliner                  councilmember.berliner@montgomerycountymd.gov 
Marc Elrich                      councilmember.elrich@montgomerycountymd.gov 
Valerie Ervin                    councilmember.ervin@montgomerycountymd.gov 
Nancy Floreen                 councilmember.floreen@montgomerycountymd.gov 
George Leventhal             councilmember.leventhal@montgomerycountymd.gov 
Nancy Navarro                councilmember.navarro@montgomerycountymd.gov 
Craig Rice                        councilmember.rice@montgomerycountymd.gov 
 Hans Riemer                    councilmember.riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov  

Tell the Council:    
    Don't put our nationally acclaimed park system at risk. There is plenty to fix in the county but the Park system clearly works and has been recognized as one of the nation's very best.

1.  Continue to guarantee funding for parks. Provision for optional funding is an invitation to disaster to the long term health of the County's park system and to the public's safety and welfare.
2.  Montgomery's residents rate their park system as a primary reason to live and locate businesses here.  This action will negatively affect all residents.
3.  Park Police are best in charge of our parks!  Their presence keeps parks safe for all!
4.  Our County runs strong because of the independent nature of the Park and Planning Commission!  Politics must not play a role in the public's quality of life.
5.  The County's long term fiscal health depends on long term, prudent, collegial planning and decision making.  This legislation is counter to this basic premise.  
6.  This is a power and land grab that has no fiscal benefits and will not improve efficiency of either County government or parks operation.  
7.  Tell them how much you value Montgomery's parks in your own words.

8.  Please Vote No on Bill MC/PG112-11 !
 Please continue to monitor this blog for updates...