Author: Dave Kunes

Fighting for new Forest Glen Metro entrance

Last year, I fought to include $20.2 million in our new six-year Capital Improvements Program to design and build another entrance to the Forest Glen Metro station. This entrance will be across Georgia Avenue, linked by an underground passageway.

As part of his midyear savings plan, our county executive wants to delay this project by two years, but I will do everything I can to make sure it remains on schedule.

Because this new entrance on the northeast corner of Georgia Avenue and Forest Glen Road will provide safer access to the Metro station, it will attract more people to use Metro — one of our most effective tools when it comes to cutting our carbon footprint and relieving congestion on our roads.

Right now, transit users, pedestrians and bicyclists cross Georgia Avenue and Forest Glen Road to access the Metro station. This project will not only facilitate use of Metro, but help all pedestrians who are just trying to cross eight lanes of high-volume traffic. That will vastly increase the walkshed of the station, which stretches to Holy Cross Hospital — a major employer in the area.

Together with the improvements outlined in the upcoming Montgomery Hills/Forest Glen Sector Plan, this project will help transform this area into a safer, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood that benefits commuters and other residents, drivers, bicyclists and businesses.
More information is here: https://bit.ly/2Mvtq6V; search for “passageway.”

Cutting lead in school water

Lead is a neurotoxin that, when ingested — say, through drinking water — is dangerous to all of us, but especially our children, with their developing brains.

Even very low levels of lead in kids are associated with behavioral and learning problems, hyperactivity, lower IQ, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia.

That’s why I’m working to reduce the lead levels in our county’s public school drinking fountains.

Here’s some background:

In 2017, the Maryland General Assembly passed HB 270, requiring all schools to test for lead in all drinking water outlets every three years.

Last year, Montgomery County Public Schools completed the initial testing and found lead levels higher than the state action level of 20 parts per billion (ppb) in at least one outlet in 86 out of 206 county schools. Some schools were found to have outlets with lead levels of 100 ppb or more.

MCPS has since fixed 97 percent of the outlets that had lead levels at 20 ppb or higher. MCPS does not, however, plan to address the outlets that had detectable lead levels below 20 ppb.

But two federal agencies — the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — agree that there is no safe level of lead exposure. The EPA has set a maximum contaminant level goal of zero and an action level of 15 ppb.

Several jurisdictions in the area, including the District of Columbia and Prince George’s County, have set their lead exposure levels much lower than that. D.C.’s action level is 5 ppb, while Prince George’s is 10 ppb — much lower than our county’s level.

That’s why I plan to introduce a bill on Feb. 5 to lower our county schools’ action level to 5 ppb. It would require the schools to remediate and conduct follow-up testing on drinking fountains with lead levels higher than this.

We have an absolute responsibility to protect the health of our children. They deserve public health protections that are at least as robust as those in our neighboring jurisdictions.

Big turnout for Shutdown Social

Our beleaguered federal workers and contractors had to deal with a lot of financial hardship and anxiety during the long federal government shutdown. So I’m happy to report that more than 600 people came to the Shutdown Social that I organized on Jan. 11 at Montgomery Blair High School to show our community’s support for our federal employees and contractors.

We could have never pulled this off without such a supportive and generous community. I’m so grateful to the twenty restaurants that donated food — including 4 Corners Pub, Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant, All Set Restaurant & Bar, Busboys & Poets, Chipotle, El Golfo Restaurant, Fire Station 1, Ghar-E-Kabab, Kaldi’s Social House, Kefa Cafe, Kin Da, Jimmy & Mamma Lucia, Manny & Olga’s, Mark’s Kitchen, McGinty’s Public House, Middle East Cuisine, Pacci’s Neapolitan Pizzeria, Port-au-Prince, Simply Fresh Catering and TPSS Co-Op — to nonprofit partners Nourish Now and Manna Food Center, who picked up and donated meals; to Main Street Takoma for helping organize restaurant donations; to the Service Workers Training & Education Partnership of HERE Local 23, who stepped in to set up the service line; to iconic local musician Joe Uehlein, who organized eight other local musicians to provide free entertainment for the crowd, and to U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen and County Exec Marc Elrich, who stopped by to provide words of support.

And although the federal government has reopened — at least temporarily — we’re joining with Montgomery County Fire & Rescue and Jose Andres’ Chefs for Feds to plan another dinner at Blair on Feb. 8.

It’s not surprising that our county was among the hardest-hit in the nation by the shutdown, considering the presence here of major affected agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Food and Drug Administration and National Institute of Standards and Technology. That doesn’t include our many residents who work at other federal agencies in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia.

Not did thousands of our hard-working federal workers suffer without paychecks for more than a month — whether they were working or not — but their families took a direct hit, too, forced to make tough choices about paying their or mortgage, buying food or medicine, or paying for heat and electricity.

And the shutdown rippled through the whole economy, as businesses such as restaurants that depend on furloughed workers’ patronage saw their sales plunge.

That’s why it was particularly gratifying to see so many of these same restaurants and other food establishments and nonprofits contribute food, supplies and labor to the Jan. 11 dinner, which also featured great music by a variety of local performers.

Together, we showed what a caring, supportive community our county is. Like the first Shutdown Social, everyone is invited to the Feb. 8 event, on which I’m collaborating with Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service. If you’re an affected worker — employee or contractor — stop by with your family for some good food and companionship. And if you want to volunteer your time or donate store-bought packaged food, your contributions are much appreciated. Please stay tuned for details on the Feb. 8 dinner.

And anyone affected by the shutdown who needs help can check for county resources here: https://bit.ly/2HkvDmM

New Year, New Roles

As I begin my second term on the County Council, I’m also taking on two new important roles.

I’m honored to be named the new chairman of the Transportation & Environment Committee, on which I’ve served the past four years. I’ve also been selected as one of two Montgomery County representatives on the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments – where I can work on regional priorities like Metro service and economic development with elected officials from DC, Northern Virginia and Prince George’s County. READ MORE

The powerful Transportation & Environment committee sets county policy across a broad portfolio that impacts everyone in the county:

  • Our road network, including street design, regulation and repairs; and bike and pedestrian infrastructure and safety.
  • Transit, including managing our Ride On bus network and Bus Rapid Transit, and engaging with WMATA,  the Maryland Transit Administration and the Federal Transit Administration.
  • Environmental policy, including all the ways we address our climate crisis, protect our air and water, increase renewable energy usage, pesticides, stormwater management — and more.
  • Water and sewer services and other utilities.

I’m looking forward to tackling these major quality-of-life issues with two colleagues joining the committee, Hans Riemer and Evan Glass. We’re on the same page when it comes to ensuring our residents have safe roads, sidewalks and bike lanes, as our Vision Zero plan calls for; reliable, affordable transit, like Metro, the Purple Line and BRT; efficient, affordable water and sewer service; clean air to breathe; and clean water to drink. Plus, we’re all committed to fighting climate change by meeting our goal of being carbon-free by 2035.

At our first meeting on Jan. 22, my colleagues and I voted to reject the county executive’s proposed $166,000 cut in Ride On bus service, which would have reduced service on some of our county’s most used routes: https://bit.ly/2FIghqH.

Coming up, we’re planning a Feb. 7 briefing on the use of road salt and our winter storm response, issues of concern to many of us, judging from what I’ve heard from you after our last storm.  

I’m also working to help pass two bills this year to encourage more solar energy in commercial and residential buildings in our county.

More information on the T&E committee is here: https://bit.ly/2C5Ph1i

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments comprises representatives from municipal, county and state governments in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. Together, they work with the COG staff to find solutions to issues that call for coherent regional approaches — issues such as transportation, the environment, housing, economic development, public health and homeland security. For example, COG has been instrumental in securing dedicated funding for Metro from its three jurisdictions and in efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

Montgomery County is an integral part of the capital region and has a big stake in what happens regionally, which is why I look forward to serving as one of our county’s two members on the board, along with our new council president, Nancy Navarro. I’m honored to be chosen for this important role. More info is here: https://www.mwcog.org/

Inaugural Message: Welcome Our New Council & County Executive

Inaugural Message: Welcome Our New Council & County Executive

On Monday, December 3, I had the honor of being sworn in for a second term as your Montgomery County District 5 Councilmember. I would like to thank all of you who were able to join us in person or in spirit. I really appreciate all your well-wishes and support.

I am grateful for the opportunity to have served you for the past four years on the County Council. This opportunity allowed me to help enact landmark pieces of legislation, including the $15 minimum wage, a groundbreaking paid sick leave law, a crackdown on vacant and blighted properties, new protections for our renters, zoning changes to expand solar projects to address climate change, and new tools that our law enforcement staff need to tackle human trafficking.

I’ve also fought to ensure that our side of the county gets its fair share of resources — funding for much-needed transit including Bus Rapid Transit and a new Metro entrance at Forest Glen, expanded police and fire protection, pedestrian and bicycle safety projects, renovated parks and school playing fields for our children, a new nature center in East County, and economic development projects such as Viva White Oak.

I plan to bring the same energy, enthusiasm and determination to this second term. My major goals:  

  • Continue to promote renewable energy and transit to help meet our county’s goal of zero carbon emissions by 2035. Climate change is the most urgent issue facing us, and we must meet the challenge.
  • Successful implementation of the best Bus Rapid Transit system we can create on U.S. 29 from Burtonsville to downtown Silver Spring. And we’ve already won funding to study a new BRT system on New Hampshire Avenue as well.
  • Implementation of the Forest Glen/Montgomery Hills Sector Plan, which will transform this dated stretch of Georgia Avenue into a thoroughfare that’s friendly to pedestrians, cyclists and drivers, while helping expand neighborhood-serving retail businesses there.
  • Work with the state and county transportation agencies to make pedestrian safety a top priority and eliminate all fatal and serious crashes on our roads by 2030, under our county’s Vision Zero plan.
  • Work to ensure the Purple Line is completed on schedule with as little disruption to residents and businesses as possible.
  • Continued economic development and support for our small businesses, including downtown Silver Spring and development of Viva White Oak. This will help even out the economic, educational and social disparities between East County and West County.
  • Providing much-needed relief to student loan borrowers, by launching a county refinance program.
  • Continue to provide responsive constituent service to the hundreds of requests we get each year.

I’m also eager to start working with four new council colleagues and our new county executive Marc Elrich, who is a longtime friend and ally. I have greatly enjoyed working closely with Marc on the Council and I know he will bring new energy and fresh ideas to the executive branch.

Once again, thank you for all of your support and for allowing me to represent our community. Please call on me and my staff whenever we can be of service at (240)777-7960 or at Tom@TomHucker.com.

Sincerely,

Tom Hucker
Councilmember, District 5

Restaurant Week is Back for a Fourth Year

I launched Restaurant Week in 2015 to help promote our great restaurants and also expose residents to the terrifically diverse cuisine in our community. In our 4th year, we had 32 participating restaurants offering special fixed-price lunch and dinner menus featuring culinary treats from America, Korea, Italy, Latin America and more. This year I was especially proud Restaurant Week was featured on Good Day DC on Fox 5, and engaged over 5,000 local residents.

Silver Screens another success

Despite some meteorological challenges this summer — i.e., we had more than our fair share of rainy Fridays and some cancellations — our annual Silver Screens series of free outdoor movies was again a big success.

Many thanks to AFI Silver for presenting the movies and Sonny’s Green at The Blairs for hosting them. And thanks to everyone for turning out for these fun family evenings.

I’m looking forward to working with them again next summer — and hoping for drier weather.

Fighting climate change: What we can do

In August, I worked with One Montgomery Green, Integrative Strategies Forum and Poolesville Green to present “Leading the Way — Montgomery County Confronts Climate Change.” This month, a public briefing following up on the discussions at this important conference will be held in Rockville.

More than 80 residents, specialists and others attended last month’s public meeting in Silver Spring, sharing what local groups are doing to mitigate climate change, reviewing county programs in its Climate Mobilization Report and discussing initiatives the county could launch or expand to reduce our carbon footprint.

The meeting was held as an affiliate event with the Global Climate Action Summit , set for Sept. 12-14 in San Francisco.

As a result of these discussions, a report will be presented to county leaders at a public briefing at 6-8 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Council Office Building in Rockville.

As the Council’s Lead for Environment — and with frightening news about rising sea levels and record wildfires, floods and heatbeing reported on practically a daily basis — I know that fighting climate change is among our generation’s most urgent challenges.

Our County Council has set an ambitious goal of zero carbon emissions by 2035 and I’m committed to helping meet that goal.

This year I spearheaded a successful proposal to change our zoning law to allow community solar projects, each capable of generating up to 2 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 200 homes. And next month there will be hearing on another proposal of mine that’s designed to cut the red tape and expense for businesses that want to install their own solar projects.

More information about the Sept. 12 briefing is here: https://bit.ly/2NBmkgT

County’s student loan refinance program advances

As many of you know, I fought this spring to have $60,000 included in our fiscal 2019 operating budget to fund a market-demand study and cost analysis for a new county student loan refinance program, through which borrowers could refinance their college loans and save thousands of dollars. This summer, we solicited bids and received several from reputable vendors.

Our staff expects to rate the bids and award the contracts this month, with the actual studies getting underway shortly thereafter.

This is great news, as it means we’re on our way to helping our college borrowers ease their huge debt loads. The nation’s total student loan debt is now about $1.5 trillion — an enormous sum that’s crippling the ability of young professionals and their families to buy homes, start businesses, pursue graduate degrees and save for retirement.

Our county program would be similar to those that several states have run successfully for years. These programs are self-sustaining, with private activity bonds issued to refinance loans at lower interest rates; the borrowers’ monthly loan payments are used to pay off the bonds.

Not only do such programs help borrowers, they’ve been shown to boost the local economy. Businesses such as Microsoft use these public refinance programs to attract and retain employees.

By establishing the first such program run by a county in the U.S., Montgomery can become a national leader in this growing movement to help ease this burden on borrowers.

At a time when the Trump administration is doing what it can to hurt student borrowers — seeking to end the federal loan forgiveness program, siding with lenders over borrowers through its regulators — it’s more crucial than ever that the county step in to help.

You can sign a petition to support the proposal here.

Helping More Businesses Switch to Solar Power

As I reported in my last newsletter, I recently introduced a zoning text amendment designed to make it easier for businesses to install solar energy panels on their property.

It’s a follow-up to the zoning change I introduced that the council approved this spring, allowing community solar projects that can provide electricity to residents who can’t have their own solar panels.

This new proposal would exempt accessory use solar projects from the costly and lengthy site plan process.

Too often, the cost of the site plan process can outweigh the benefits of adding solar panels to a property.

Many of our businesses want to participate more in the new green economy, for both financial and environmental reasons, and this proposal would help them do just that.

The zoning change would apply only to properties zoned for commercial, employment, industrial and mixed-use without residential.

Together, by promoting more solar energy, these two zoning changes can help our county meet its goal of zero carbon emissions by 2035.

A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 11, at 1:30 p.m. You can sign up to testify at the hearing online athttps://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/council/phsignup.html or by calling 240-777-7803.

And the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee is scheduled to discuss the proposal at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 13.

More information is here: https://bit.ly/2Ap0LOA.

Concerns About Plans to Widen the Beltway

Like many of you, I’m concerned about Gov. Larry Hogan’s plans to possibly widen the Capital Beltway through Montgomery County. I’ve heard from many residents who point to the massive disruptions this project could cause, especially because it would require taking significant amounts of private property through Silver Spring.

Some also question the wisdom of investing billions of dollars into expanding our highways, when other traffic solutions, such as mass transit, are more environmentally friendly and would do much more to help the county meet our goal of zero carbon emissions by 2035.

The County Council held a briefing from our staff on the Beltway and I-270 plans at our first post-recess meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 11. You can watch the streamed version on the council’s website, here.

And please continue sending me your ideas and feedback on this major issue at Tom@TomHucker.com.

Council Tackles Bicycle Master Plan

Among the many available options, including cars, buses and Metrorail, many of us have turned to bicycling, for health, environmental, economic and other reasons.

The growing popularity of cycling has spurred the county to adopt a comprehensive Bicycle Master Plan, incorporating and revising bike and other master and sector plans dating to 1978.

It will bring the county in line with leading practices in bicycle network planning and help us realize our Vision Zero Two-Year Action Plan to eliminate traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries.

The new plan calls for creating a low-stress network of bikeways throughout Montgomery County, so cyclists of all ages and abilities can safely ride to transit stations, employment centers, shops, public facilities and other destinations in the county. A new bikeway classification system organizes bikeways based on their level of separation from traffic.

In addition, long-term bicycle parking stations are recommended at all Metrorail Red Line and many MARC Brunswick Line stations, and future Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway stations.

About 30 people testified at a public hearing on the new plan on July 10.

AFI Silver Screens kicks off with ‘Jurassic Park’

I’m proud to once again help present Silver Screens, AFI Silver’s annual terrific series of free outdoor family movies this summer. This year’s screenings kick off with 1993’s “Jurassic Park” on Friday, July 13, and continue on Friday evenings through Aug. 31. Movies start at sundown, between 8 and 8:30 p.m. There’s a new venue this year: Sonny’s Green at The Blairs District, 1401 Blair Mill Road in downtown Silver Spring. The Blairs is also a co-presenter, along with the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center. Other films this summer include “Moana” (July 20) and “Jumanji” (July 27). More information and the schedule are here: https://bit.ly/2xIFZYM.

Green jobs apprenticeship program good for workers, industry, environment

Green jobs apprenticeship program good for workers, industry, environment

Last month, the County Council unanimously approved my bill that will create a clean-energy jobs apprenticeship readiness program through Worksource Montgomery, which provides jobtraining and other employment services around the county.

This program will help meet two critical needs in our county:

  • It will give our jobless and underemployed residents a great opportunity to train for a well-paying career and climb up the economic ladder.
  • It will help provide the skilled workers that our construction companies need, as the industry increasingly incorporates greener technologies. And the need for these workers will only grow, with significant development scheduled in County buildings, schools, neighborhoods near the Purple Line, downtown Wheaton and White Oak, all of which will have a major focus on using renewable-energy sources.

On top of that, promoting more green building technologies is good for the environment and will help the County meet its goal of zero carbon emissions by 2035.

The program will focus on training unemployed and underemployed youth and transitioning adults. The goal is to set them up for success in apprenticeship programs registered with the Maryland Apprenticeship Training Council and for eventual long-term employment in the cleanenergy construction industry.

The program will help prepare participants to work in jobs related to solar systems, green roofs, geothermal systems, rainwater catchments, pervious pavement, thermal walls, wind, natural gas, sewage treatment and other environmental technologies.

The program is not expected to cost taxpayers anything, according to a fiscal analysis by the County’s Office of Management and Budget. The program is anticipated to cost from $10,000 to $17,500 annually, with Worksource Montgomery seeking grants or sponsorships to cover expenses. More information on the bill is here: https://bit.ly/2K81CXO.