Community Vision for Takoma Endorses Schlegel, Kovar, Swyers, and Smith

For the 2020 City elections, Community Vision for Takoma has endorsed:

Roger Schlegel for Mayor (he/him)
CVT is enthusiastically supporting Roger for Mayor, as he will deliver greater transparency, accountability, and public responsiveness for Takoma Park. Roger will bring the City together by addressing the divisions exacerbated by the current administration. He also brings new expertise, education, and broad experience in comparative public administration to:

  • rein in the steady increases in the budget and City staff,
  • reassign resources to support the residents who need them most,
  • embed actions to dismantle systemic racism in all City programs,
  • keep big projects like the Library and NH Rec Center on budget,
  • identify ways to protect and increase affordable housing,
  • hire a new City Manager and restore proper Council/staff power balance,
  • apply a racial and social justice lens to the rethinking of policing and public safety,
  • put meaningful goals and actions into our climate plan and its application to development projects.

Roger has deep knowledge of why the current Takoma Junction plan will not work, and a vision for a consensus plan that will:

  • support local businesses including the Co-op,
  • face the traffic, transit, and safety issues,
  • further our climate goals, and
  • hold the developer to the City’s own vision to bring the community together on public land, rather than exacerbate racial and economic segregation.

It is essential to elect Roger to restore balance between Council and staff, reclaim the budget process, stop the current Junction plan and ensure the Co-op’s future at the Junction, create more effective responses on the urgent issues of racial justice and the climate crisis, and work to unify our community. 

Peter Kovar for Ward 1 Councilmember (he/him) 

Peter (running unopposed) keeps Ward 1 fully informed about City matters, with hard-working outreach and constituent consultation and an obvious commitment to listening and taking into account all perspectives on issues. He seeks progressive solutions for pressing problems in every ward, and clearly explains his positions and votes. Peter has been a consistent voice on the Council for reining in objectionable aspects of the Junction project, like its excessive size and lack of public space; when that effort failed he cast an appropriate ‘no’ vote. Peter will be able to join forces with new Council allies for needed staffing, budget, and management reforms.

Olly Swyers for Ward 3 Councilmember (they/them) 

As a documentarian and activist, Olly is immersed in the key issues of our times including housing insecurity, Black Lives Matter, policing, LGBTQ+ equality, and the climate crisis. Having grown up in Takoma and worked at several local businesses, they have experienced the value of the Co-op and assessed the danger of the proposed Junction plan to accelerate “late stage gentrification.” Olly has clearly stated they are opposed to the current Junction development plan. In contrast, the current Ward 3 representative refused to survey her own constituents or take constructive corrective action on the Junction project until very recently — when residents (and a challenger) rose up. Olly has a keen analytical mind and refreshing combination of energy, Takoma-grown understanding of the City, clarity and fortitude, professional communications skills and political experience, and dedication to justice. It will be exciting to have Olly bring new perspectives and action ideas to the Council.

Jarrett Smith for Ward 5 Councilmember (he/him) 

Among his significant contributions to both Ward 5 and the City at large, Jarrett proposed the City’s original framework for racial equity, later weakened by the Mayor and staff. He has deep experience in housing and tenant/landlord issues and the importance of rent stabilization, and previously served on the City’s Commission on Landlord-Tenant Affairs. He started and obtained funding for the Lunch and Learn program – a successful initiative to provide children with meals, academic support, and enrichment in the summer. He has been a leader in championing the Flower Avenue Green Street Project, and is well-known for the resources he has brought to Ward 5 residents. Jarrett voted no on the last Junction development plan vote, and has stated clearly that the current Junction plan is “not the way to go for this community.” In contrast, Jarrett’s opponent is a newcomer to Takoma Park who lacks experience in City issues or governance, and supports moving forward on the Junction development plan.

Moreover, as the only Black man on the Council, Jarrett’s perspective and opinions, including on the need to dismantle systemic racism, have been prophetic and moving.  His is an essential voice, versed in City history and municipal governance. Jarrett serves on the board of the Maryland Municipal League, and is an adjunct professor, and a graduate student in public administration. With support from a new Mayor, City Manager, and Council, he will be even more effective in enacting his vision for the City, and in representing and bringing resources to Ward 5. 

For more information on these candidates, or to lend them your support, click on the embedded links to their websites above. 

Community Vision for Takoma asked all candidates for City office in the November 3rd 2020 Takoma Park election to provide 200-word responses to three questions–on racial equity, Takoma Junction, and the budget. All of the questions and responses we received are posted here.  The responses informed our decisions on endorsements for this City election. We were not able to consider candidates who did not respond to the questionnaire (or responded after we had posted the initial responses).

If you’re a resident of Takoma Park, please remember to vote–by drop-box, by mail, or in person if you do not receive a ballot in the mail.  If you are registered to vote with the City or State, you should receive your Takoma Park ballot in the mail by mid-October. Any resident age 16 or over is eligible to register to vote in city elections. US citizenship is not required.

Candidates for City Office Respond to CVT Questions

Community Vision for Takoma (CVT) asked each of the candidates for City Council and Mayor in the November 3rd 2020 election to send us a 200-word response to each of three questions, with a deadline of September 16th. Three seats in this election are contested (Ward 3, Ward 5, and Mayor). Our intention here is to provide information for voters to directly compare responses from the candidates. We will also consider these responses in determining CVT endorsements.

We include one response that came in too late for endorsement consideration. We are no longer accepting responses at this time.

1. Is the City Council addressing racial justice effectively? What specific actions would you seek to take on the Council to achieve more racial justice in Takoma Park?

Peter Kovar (Ward 1):

The Council has taken steps to address inequities in our community connected to systemic racism through actions such as making advances on affordable housing; focusing more on community policing; exploring renovation of the New Hampshire Avenue Recreation Center; seeking to address the Purple Line’s economic impacts; expanding translation of City documents; making the resident survey more inclusive; targeting grants and programs to marginalized communities; and adopting our Racial Equity policy.

We need to do much more in order to fully live up to our ethos of inclusiveness, and to treat our Black and Brown neighbors with respect and dignity. The Reimagining Public Safety task force we’re establishing sets the stage for further improvements by helping ensure we’ll hear from residents most affected by policing and budgetary decisions. I’ll be pushing to further demilitarize the police, develop alternative first responder ideas that emphasize mental health and economic support, and widen participation in municipal affairs. But as a white male living in a wealthier neighborhood, it’s also important for me to listen to residents who live elsewhere. So I’m approaching these issues as someone with plenty to learn, and who needs to pay more attention to voices from other parts of town.

Cindy Dyballa (Ward 2), submitted Sept 20th:

The long-overdue need for racial justice to address systemic inequities requires long-term action at many levels.  At the local level, City council can continue to build on the clear intention of the city’s 2017 equity initiative and recent city efforts, to focus more consciously on building equity into our policies, programs, and budget decisions.  That would look like, to share some recent examples, funding youth recreation programs that serve youth of color and lower income; centering people of color in the effort to reimagine our public safety policies; expanding tree planting efforts in underserved areas; and targeting outreach for New Hampshire Ave. Recreation Center redevelopment to nearby neighborhoods most affected. Identifying and removing barriers to greater civic engagement by residents of color is another critical step. As a city council member, I actively seek out and listen to black and brown voices about what they see and what they need to address inequities.

Kacy Kostiuk (Ward 3):

The City of Takoma Park took the groundbreaking step in 2017 of adopting a Racial Equity Initiative, and racial equity considerations have become part of decision-making and planning-processes.

But this is only the beginning. There is much more to do. Racial equity needs to be a part of every decision and discussion, and we need to make systemic changes to build a truly racially equitable community.

We need to:

•Improve the Racial Equity Initiative through active consultation that gives power to Black and Brown residents

•Develop a comprehensive system for analyzing racial equity impacts in budget decision processes, since many inequities are tied to funds distribution

•Remove barriers and ensure Black and Brown residents are part of decision-making processes by changing the committee structure and providing new supports to run for office

•Systematize and provide more tools to City staff to create racial equity statements on agenda items

•Make difficult decisions and have open and honest conversations about needed changes

As we move forward, a key focus area must be making policing reforms. This process needs to be driven by collaborative, change-making, action-oriented discussions with Black and Brown residents that lead to adoption of concrete policy, procedure, and funding changes.

Olly Swyers (Ward 3):

The city has not done enough to address racial equity. It was exciting in 2017 when the city made a move to adopt a racial equity impact statement for major city actions. That is an incredibly bold and absolutely necessary step to beginning to unpack injustices and correct our path forward. The city was unable to establish a rubric and subsequently shifted the impact statement to “equity considerations”. If we are committed to seeing an equitable Takoma Park we need to do the work to build that rubric and then apply it to all major actions. We also need to address our budget, especially that for policing and salaries, and decide if it reflects our equity commitments. One thing that seems obvious, when you look at salary allocation for municipal staff, is an astounding wage gap between people who are doing physical labor at 40 hours a week, like our mostly Black and brown sanitation workers, and people who are working as managers and administrators a majority of whom are white . We need to take a hard look at who is being paid for what, and how and why we value some labor at such higher margins than others.

Sawa Kamara (Ward 5):

The city has to examine racial biases embedded in city department services such as the police department, affordable housing/ homeownership and businesses. Survey how well we’ve tackled these issues annually by creating an equity goal and a five year plan. To measure progress we should have a community report card or organizational assessment holding Takoma Park City Staff accountable. Hold culturally competent classes( racism training)  and also have a committee that implements racial and diversity decision making. Build our community’s capacity to judiciously address racism by providing opportunities to build relationships and work together on issues. When making decisions that directly affect residents, engage the censorious mass of diverse residents to not only participate but to lead the initiatives. Rather than focusing on racial equities, focus on racial inequities especially institutionalized incongruity in power, policies and practices.  Most people will point out rent control as addressing the issue but that is merely scratching the surface. 

Jarrett Smith (Ward 5):

Our City Council is a not fully immersed in what it means to truly address racial equity. When looking at the racial equity landscape, data is the true indicator of progress and we haven’t progressed when:

•Evictions are taking place that are affecting mostly Black and brown residents; this is unacceptable to me;

•COVID-19 cases are affecting more Black and brown people than anyone else; this is unacceptable to me;

•In a city that is predominantly Black and brown people, the average household income for black and brown people is dramatically less than everyone else; this is unacceptable to me;

•College entrance for Black and brown people in this city is dramatically less than it is for everyone else; this is unacceptable to me;

•Voting/Civic Participation is very limited among Black and brown people because, there is a feeling of hopelessness; what has the government done for me lately… This is Unacceptable to Me;

Takoma Park is a majority ethnic city, and these indicators show us that there is no racial equity.

I was the sponsor of our city’s Racial Equity policy that was unanimously adopted by this City Council. Measurable implementation hasn’t happened.

An economic plan that should accompany Racial Equity needs to be put in place immediately and measured constantly until we see marked improvements in these indicators.

There are members of the community and senior City leadership that have no interest in truly addressing racial equity beyond simply having an intellectual conversation about racial justice or reciting a poem by a nationally acclaimed black poet. These actions do not feed someone who is hungry, educate the unknowing, offer hope to the impoverished, put a roof over someone’s head, provide transportation to that struggling mother who is pregnant with no way to get to her sonogram appointment across town.

Racial equity is supposed to mean something and currently Takoma Park is missing the mark.

Roger Schlegel (Mayor):

The Council’s racial justice initiative is moving slowly and superficially. I would seek to:

  1. Catalogue our history of systemic racism.
  2. Incorporate anti-racist training in City meetings.
  3. Address racialized income disparities among staff.
  4. Use metrics to ensure equitable service allocation, including wifi.
  5. Activate groups to address transit, childcare, social services, building safety, and police relations.
  6. Overcome linguistic, temporal, geographic, and technological barriers to participation.
  7. Ensure pandemic assistance information is delivered to every resident in need.
  8. In near-term climate strategies, Do NOT burden residents of color; DO generate economic opportunities for residents of color; DO prioritize better transportation.
  9. Insist that new development do no harm to businesses that are crucial in building wealth or quality of life for people of color.
  10. Implement an affordable retail stabilization program.
  11. Leverage the establishment of an “Equitable Takoma” credit union to spur racially equitable economic opportunities.
  12. Develop a northern Ward 6 playground, and improve the Eastridge Avenue playground.
  13. Activate more public space to welcome residents of color.
  14. Ensure residents of color play major roles in Library and Rec Center projects.
  15. Ensure Junction redevelopment advances racial equity in use of that site.

Kate Stewart (Mayor):

The work to dismantle over 400 years of institutionalized racism is and must be an ongoing process. In 2017, the City intentionally took on this work which has been highlighted by National League of Cities.

In the last three years, we have trained city staff, Council, committees, and residents; put in place pilot engagement programs; and started to collect data – e.g. resident survey included questions on racial equity and focus groups with African immigrants and Spanish speaking residents.

This work is changing how we do business; guiding where new bus shelters go, how we conduct meetings, determining which local organizations receive City grants, informing the cultural plan, funding oral histories of Black residents, and guiding how we reimagine public safety. And, many other efforts.

These are meaningful, concrete steps forward, but not enough. We need expertise to analyze data, keep our Road Map updated, and all of us accountable. That’s why I am calling for the hire of a Chief Equity Officer. As co-chair of National League of Cities’ Racial Equity And Leadership Council, I have learned a great deal about how to sustain this ongoing work and look forward to doing so.

2. Do you support the current Takoma Junction plan? Why or why not? What is your vision of a successful Junction development — and what process would help the City attain a shared vision?  

Peter Kovar (Ward 1):

I support developing the Junction, primarily because a well-designed project can contribute to creating a more vibrant, walkable community. I don’t support the current site plan, and I voted against it in 2018, mainly because it had inadequate public space and excessive height. While some changes have been made, those concerns remain.

My biggest worry isn’t that I’ll dislike the development that may ultimately be approved, but rather that divisiveness around the project could have a long-term harmful impact. With passion on all sides, I think it’s healthier to seek a compromise. As review of the plan continues, I’d like to pursue a version of the project with a somewhat smaller footprint, meaning most of us — me included — wouldn’t get all we want. But a smaller structure could make it easier to address some concerns about public space, transportation, pedestrian safety, stormwater, and the project’s overall neighborhood impact.

I don’t want more lengthy delays — we should make a decision and move forward, one way or the other. So after the election, in coordination with the County review process, I’d like to work toward a smaller structure, ideally with a timetable for when we’d have a final vote.

Cindy Dyballa (Ward 2), submitted Sept 20th:

In line with the vision of the Takoma Junction Task Force, existing agreements, and the resolutions of other Councils, I support development that contributes to a vibrant and commercially viable Junction.  In 2018 I voted to move the proposed plan for the city lot to county agencies development review. I worked to address concerns about the proposal (such as the Coop’s operational concerns), and I pushed for specific requirements such as green construction, less height, and stormwater management.  When the county agencies process concludes and before any county planning board vote, the City Council must review the revised proposal in an open manner, to check that it conforms with our previous requirements and agreements, particularly sustainability, traffic, public space and the Coop/NDC agreement. As I did in 2018, I will hold several neighborhood meetings to hear thoughts of a variety of ward 2 residents on the revised plan.  I am troubled that some residents feel great mistrust as a result of their experience of the process to date.

Kacy Kostiuk (Ward 3):

Takoma Junction is an important cultural and social hub. In 2018, I voted to advance the project concept plan to the County Review Process because I believe in-fill development at this location has the potential to benefit residents and local businesses, reduce car use, and bring additional revenue for the City’s social and environmental initiatives.

A revised and more detailed plan will come to the City Council before it can move to a County Planning Board vote. The Council must thoroughly review that plan with the community. This must involve careful analysis, questioning, and advocating for change where needed.

I will not support a plan that makes stormwater worse, creates unsafe traffic conditions, negatively impacts racial equity, or creates environmental hazards for the neighborhood.

I will support a plan that benefits residents and local businesses; provides walkable, transit-oriented opportunities; enables the Co-op to serve the community, and offers small businesses and/or nonprofits and social-service providers space to serve our community’s needs.

Recently, I wrote to the developer twice, reminding them of the requirements in the 2018 Resolution, requesting rear illustrations, and asking a long list of community-generated questions. I look forward to receiving answers and having community discussions.

Olly Swyers (Ward 3):

I do not support the current junction plans. NDC’s current plans don’t even address the bare minimum standards set forth by the city council two years ago. It also doesn’t meet any of our climate goals and they have only proposed a bare minimum amount of useful, accessible public space without a paywall, one of many equity concerns. An ideal junction development and development process would welcome, seek, and incorporate community input from the beginning of the process to the final stages through town halls, forums and active feedback sessions. That is what a community partner looks like to me and that has not been the process I have witnessed thus far.  

This project should have been, and could still be, an opportunity for creative and collective decision making. As it is publicly owned land, this is one of the few times where we can actually have a huge impact on the final project. Our city is filled with passion and love for community, and working together on this development could be a chance to foster and grow connections, and find a solution that isn’t just merely a compromise.

Sawa Kamara (Ward 5):

I support the continued but careful progress towards the revitalization of the Takoma Junction area. I support every effort to ensure that the continued input of residents and business owners are taken into consideration. The City’s goals to minimize detrimental impact to neighboring properties, optimize the provision of retail services, and provide for both public and community spaces must be carefully executed to ensure the sustainability and viability of our diverse community for generations to come.

As a resident seeking to represent our community as a City Council member, I will ensure that residents, particularly those in Ward 5, are regularly informed of the status of this important project. I will continue to ensure that a good-faith effort is made to address our concerns appropriately and expeditiously. I will continue to work in direct collaboration and consultation with residents from all walks of life to ensure that the final design respects and meets our goals of ensuring accessibility, inclusivity, diversity, safety, environmental sustainability, and smart economic growth that supports local businesses.

Jarrett Smith (Ward 5):

I do not support the current Takoma Junction plan. Here is the email I wrote to residents prior to my re-election in 2018:

 “Neighbors,

 It has taken five years for us to get to this point on the Takoma Junction development project. Over the years, the city’s development partner has shared with the community various iterations of the project. They have shown us ideas for urban farming on the new structures roof, a CoOp in a newly built store, and an improved failing intersection.

 Council is tentatively scheduled on May 23rd, 2018 to vote on the current NDC site plan, and it is my intention to vote against it. I feel the current proposal doesn’t build on Takoma Park’s tradition of green space, the assurance that the CoOp’s long-term home is in Takoma Park, and there is still uncertainty surrounding improving traffic conditions around the Junction location.  This is unacceptable.  I’ve worked for and supported small business for years; therefore, I think this is the time to once again support the backbone of American business, which is neighborhood businesses.”

The project has torn the community apart. The decision making and discussion on the future of Takoma Junction needs to hit the “reset” button. We as a city and city leadership need to push up our sleeves get to work and starting this entire process over again. Council should ensure this redevelopment is what the residents of Takoma Park want.

Roger Schlegel (Mayor):

I do not support the current plan. In many substantive and egregious ways, it fails to meet community interests, the design constraints of the site, the challenges of the complex chain of intersections, and the needs or nearby businesses. This is clear evidence that NDC has not been serious about tailoring the project in response to the values and requirements expressed in the development agreement.

The silver lining of the controversies that have accompanied the process over the past several years is that we are now quite clear as a community on the types of amenities and design features that could be combined in a consensus vision for the site’s development. My vision of a successful Junction development activates that stretch of Carroll Avenue in a delightful way that provides flexible community space as well as some new dining and commerce while protecting the operations of the community owned-grocery store, maintaining adequate parking for the district, protecting pedestrians and cyclists, and preserving the forest. I think that with good leadership, the community can come together around a shared vision and find the partners and the resources to make it happen expeditiously, and in a way that advances the City’s values.

Kate Stewart (Mayor):

Over six years we have had many discussions and I have written extensively about, spoken, and voted on this project. On the last vote in July, 2018, I supported submitting the draft site plan to County Planning for technical review. The Resolution, along with Development Agreement, requires among other things:

  1. Storm-water treatment significantly exceeding City requirements;
  2. Parking for area businesses; 
  3. Dedicated public space; 
  4. No formula stores; 
  5. LEED Gold certification or higher;
  6. Minimization of impacts to neighboring properties;
  7. Accommodation of Co-op needs;
  8. Creation of an energy neutral building.

I have been and continue to be a strong supporter of the Co-op and believe we can have a project where it continues to thrive.

We have an opportunity to enhance walkability and vitality of the area, improve stormwater treatment (at no City cost), eliminate an unsightly parking lot, and provide the City hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue.

I support continuing County review process and having the project come back to the city for discussion and vote before going before Planning Board. We do not yet know if the next iteration will meet our requirements, but I believe we should continue the process and see.


3. How would you improve the budget process, and what changes would you seek to make in City spending and revenue generation?

Peter Kovar (Ward 1):

The budget is a large, dense document. And while we’ve moved toward more transparency, our budget process is still too opaque, for residents and Councilmembers. Decisions on funding often occur in isolation, rather than through comprehensive review of spending and tax options. We frequently make modest spending changes around the edges without stepping back to consider broader priorities and alternatives.

Major changes may be difficult given the uncertainty around COVID-19. But for future budgets I’d like us to debate several alternatives, for example Constant Yield (same overall property tax receipts as the previous year), flat tax rate (same as the previous year), staff recommendations (a possible tax increase), and a spending freeze or a two percent cut. The Council and residents could then better understand tradeoffs and how community priorities are aligned with taxes and other funding sources within a clearer overall fiscal context. We wouldn’t just be making spending changes around the edges.

I’d also like to see us further emphasize our lobbying for State legislation enabling municipalities to enact revenue measures, and appoint a resident task force to review County functions the City has absorbed so we can explore whether it would make sense to reconsider those decisions.

Cindy Dyballa (Ward 2), submitted Sept 20th:

There are no easy answers on budget, and the uncertain program and revenue impacts of the pandemic make future city budgeting an even greater challenge.  I’d like to continue and expand strategies adopted for this budget year–greater caution in spending, especially on personnel; shifting resources to an unexpected budget priority, COVID response; and significant funds on hold, pending quarterly reviews of spending and revenues.  Building a more diverse set of revenue sources is in order, such as attracting and strengthening local businesses, continued focus on increasing county “tax duplication” payments, close attention to projections for current sources of revenue, and actively pursuing sustainability and other grants.  And I am actively working for a targeted new city property tax credit and deferral program to help some low-moderate income homeowners.

The city budget process provides a great deal of information in a very short time. Actions such as more readable materials, summary graphics, and budget open houses for residents will help make the process even more accessible to a range of residents. I’d like council to consider budget options at the concept level—what it takes to maintain current programs, to target high priority areas, to keep within the current budget level—and focus more on budget strategy and less on smaller line items.

Kacy Kostiuk (Ward 3):

As residents face worsened economic hardships and the City faces possible revenue reductions due to COVID, we will need to make increasingly difficult budget decisions.

We need to improve budget materials and processes to ensure robust, representative resident input:

•Create more accessible budget materials, incorporating infographics and analytical tools such as percentage changes to expenditures

•Conduct targeted outreach to underrepresented groups — especially Black and Brown residents, renters, and residents with limited English

•Develop a comprehensive process for analyzing racial equity in budget decisions

We also must be innovative and look for opportunities to save and meet our goals:

•Set a manageable tax rate for all residents, while developing targeted tax assistance programs that create a more progressive property taxing system — so those who can afford it pay more, and those with greater need pay less

•Reassess and revise the Payment-In-Lieu-Of-Taxes program to meet and create incentives to achieve affordable housing goals

•Create a separate tax category for vacant developed properties

•Collaborate with institutions of higher learning, nonprofits, and volunteers

•Seek opportunities to pilot new programs or technologies, especially in sustainability and community outreach

•Make difficult cuts and changes when needed, prioritizing racial equity and the most critical needs of residents.

Olly Swyers (Ward 3):

Just some first steps to addressing our budget. We need to assess community needs first, as they pertain to our racial and economic equity goals, climate goals and also basic municipal functions. Our budget needs to reflect those priorities first and work within constraints that don’t deplete our emergency reserves. Fiscal responsibility at the city level is an equity issue, as we increase spending year after year and raise taxes at double the rate of inflation, we are already losing longtime community members who have low or fixed incomes. City salaries are incredibly inequitable for some, and growing at unsustainable rates for others. Our city manager and police chief both make well over 200k with benefits. We also have to address tax duplication, in some cases like stormwater management, deferring some services to the county and addressing accurate reimbursement amounts for ones that the city continues to provide. I’m only scraping the  surface here but the first and main thing we need to do is shift our budgeting process to one that is transparent, and asks for active input from the community.

Sawa Kamara (Ward 5):

Budget decisions have a profound impact on our daily lives from the police department (safety) to garbage collection ( sanitation). Our neighborhoods budget is integral for community development. We need transparency in the budget process by analyzing several aspects: connect budget spending with key performance targets, If the budget calls for cut or increase, share when and how it happen, explain reasons for budget cut or increase, share the entire information with the organization through meetings, department program managers, mayor,council, and individuals. Approve the budget in stages not in one action to accurately aim at our goal. Practice revenue forecasting which is an ongoing process six months prior that revises the budget execution phase of the cycle. When proposing a budget or developing that initial assumption the city should solicit inputs not only from the city manager but city council, key stakeholders, policy leaders and residents. Our highest priority should be economic development and affordable housing. We need a better budget for a better city. Our annual budget should identify and address health & social inequalities. 

Jarrett Smith (Ward 5):

Here is how I would re-imagine our city’s budget process. Our budget process could be improved using Zero Based Budgeting. It is efficient and the major advantages are flexible budgets, focused operations, lower costs, and more disciplined execution. Department heads should have to explain in detail their budget request before the budget is presented to Council by the city manager. This gives council the opportunity to ask questions and weigh-in on decisions before the budget is almost final. In our current process, there is a very small window of time for changes once City Council receives the annual proposed budget and has the ability to analyze line items, and suggest any additions or deletions, or request even further explanation.

I’d like to see our budget process adopt some of the rigor of the U.S. Government’s Accountability Office (also known as GAO). GAO is tasked to review programs and initiatives proposed by Congress or that are already on the books. According to their mission statement, they are tasked to, “examine(s) how taxpayer dollars are spent and advise(s) lawmakers and agency heads on ways to make government work better.” For me that is Takoma Park’s budgeting process “re-imagined.”

Roger Schlegel (Mayor):

In collaboration with the Council, I would direct the Manager to develop an outcomes-based budget that is closely linked to a fully fleshed-out and annually updated strategic plan. With this approach, I would insist that the Manager institute protocols and metrics whereby employees track their time on various programs and the outcomes achieved. I would lead the City Council to explore options for returning some services, such as stormwater and criminal investigations, to the County, and for merging and consolidating staff work teams within ecosystem services, human services, and planning/direction/evaluation.

I would press the Manager to propose achievable cost reductions and to identify the most efficient ways to accomplish the objectives of major projects such as the Library as well as ongoing expenses such as equipment replacement and the hiring of consultants. I would advocate strongly for allowing real property tax increases no higher than the rate of increase in the Employee Cost Index (ECI), and I would use budget and management improvements to lead a strong and forceful effort to advocate for an end to double taxation from the County. In select priority areas, I would support new spending, particularly for key racial equity and affordability initiatives.

Kate Stewart (Mayor):

  1. Budget Process: I have made improvements in the budget process the last five years by applying my experience as a small businessowner and executive of a non-profit which received private and government funding. I strengthened Council priority setting process to provide greater transparency and direction to staff on where to focus budgets. And, there is more to do. One change is “Participatory Budgeting,” which empowers residents to help decide how to expend City funds.
  2. Revenue Generation: Given the limitations under state law, I have focused on (1) sustaining and increasing our commercial tax base, especially during COVID-19; (2) getting County Executive’s budget to start addressing tax duplication (although the pandemic delayed Council action) and securing the County Council’s commitment to set aside COVID relief funds for municipalities; and (3) Grants (e.g. $100,000 state grant for New Hampshire Ave façade improvements and $457,000 grant for bikeways on New Hampshire Ave).
  3. Spending: I have advocated for City staff to present Council a “maintenance of effort” budget tied to the cost of providing services.  Through this lens, we can decide how to shift, cut, or increases services (e.g., shifting funds to address COVID-19 relief efforts).

What Takoma Junction Means to One Family

How does one family love the Co-op? And why are they weighing in on the proposed Junction development? Our City has repeatedly refused to hold a work session on racial equity at the Junction. We recently posted a letter signed by over 100 people urging the County to undertake a racial equity review of the Junction plan. But here, one voice, one story in all its rich detail, makes the point. With her permission, we are posting the letter Gimbiya Lim wrote to the County planning department this week.

The (seemingly endless) review process should come to an end one way or another this year, in 2020. So please weigh in now, this month, while the County staff is still reviewing the plan, with your own letter to Mr elza.hisel-mccoy@montgomeryplanning.org, and to City officials, to ask for a better Junction plan.

Racial Equity at the Junction

 A large group of neighbors and activists, Junction shoppers and business owners, along with City Councilmember Jarrett Smith,  sent this letter on racial equity this week to the County staff who are currently evaluating the proposed development at Takoma Junction. Community Vision for Takoma stands with this group of over 100 people who are urging the County to analyze the effect of the proposed development on racial equity at the Junction.

If you want to add your voice to these concerns, please send an email to Elza Hisel-McCoy, Montgomery Planning Board, at <elza.hisel-mccoy@montgomeryplanning.org> and simply say you join with others in the community of Takoma Park who are concerned about the racial equity and social justice impacts of the proposed development.

Takoma Junction Timeline

Original concept submitted by NDC with truck parked in loading zone at rear. City chose NDC based on their proposal including this plan.

It may be hard to see the full arc of the proposed Takoma Junction development process, a process unfolding over many years now. So here, we provide a preliminary timeline of events with linked documents, over the past 30 years. This is a draft, so we welcome suggestions.

1992. Takoma Park Historic District, including the Junction, established to protect against “unsympathetic alteration and insensitive redevelopment.”

1995. After residents “violently resist” proposed chain drug store on the empty Takoma Junction lot, City buys lot, hoping to attract Co-op to Junction.

1998. Co-op moves to Junction. City begins renting a portion of lot to Co-op for parking, storage, and loading. Co-op begins sponsoring public use, eventually including Earth Day, movie screenings, weekly concerts, and in the pandemic, hands-free grocery pickup, Farmer’s Market, non-profit food distribution, and Black Lives Matter protest.

2009. Independent study commissioned by Old Town Business Association (OTBA) identifies Co-op as the Junction anchor, recommends “every effort be made to encourage” its further development, and recommends 10,000 sf expansion of Co-op and addition of Co-op cafe.

Feb 2012. Takoma Junction Task Force Report issued. Mentions community desire for small town charm, food trucks, expanded community use, pavilion, playground, support for local businesses.

2011. Co-op membership votes to authorize Co-op Board to pursue expansion.

Jan 2014. Under a short-lived City Manager who now works for Amazon, City puts out Request for Proposals, effectively pre-ordaining choice of a commercial developer and excluding Co-op’s expansion and open public space proposal. City Councilman Seth Grimes later laments, “The city made a mistake in not providing detailed, clear guidance on community preferences” and that “none of the proposals” meet City needs documented by Junction Task Force.

2015. City chooses Neighborhood Development Company (NDC), based on their concept showing residential and commercial, a loading zone behind the building (no lay-by) and presumed expansion of Co-op as the anchor tenant.

March 2015. City Councilman Tim Male opines that plan is too big, says, “I have a hard time imagining…a 33,000 sf building…on that spot.”

July 2016. City signs a Development Agreement with NDC, laying groundwork for choosing new anchor tenant if they cannot agree with Co-op on expansion.

2016. First of at least three petitions opposing the development. Over 1300 unique signatures gathered by 2018. Majority of public comments oppose plan at numerous City Council meetings over multiple years. City refuses to survey residents or hold referendum to document opposition.

2017. NDC and Co-op fail to reach agreement for Co-op expansion as anchor tenant. City authorizes NDC to seek a new anchor tenant.

2017. NDC makes deal to acquire adjoining auto clinic, increases plan to over 50,000 sq ft, does not use that “new” space to add any public use back in, releases a three-story glass design received as “Bethesda style.”

April 2018. Community Vision hosts a packed Town Hall with State Highway Administration. Residents and Fire Chief express concerns about safety and traffic issues created by plan.

April 2018. NDC submits revised plans with funkier facade but maintaining 50,000 sf size. Images portrayed from a high vantage point continue to minimize perceived size of development.

May 2018. NDC and Co-op, unable to reach a plan for Co-op accommodation during and after construction, agree to mediation funded by City.

June 2018. Two Junction traffic studies issued. They find multiple problems: new traffic will create a “failed intersection,” road reconfiguration will induce demand and create more congestion.

July 2018. City Council votes on a resolution, 5-2, to let NDC submit site plan (over 50,000 sf) to County.

Sept 2018. Ground lease goes into effect. NDC begins paying rent to City. Co-op begins paying more to NDC to sublet the lot than NDC is paying the City. So NDC is now making money on the lot. City is now getting less per month from NDC than they got directly from Co-op to rent just part of the lot. Nevertheless, the Co-op begins providing free parking for the whole Junction on the lot they are paying for.

Oct 2018. NDC abruptly shuts down block of small businesses in NE DC. BlackLivesMatterDC leads protest march to home of NDC’s owner. Civil rights lawyer represents businesses against developer.

Oct 2018. Mediation between NDC and Co-op concludes. Co-op prohibited from any further protest in return for ability to rent lot from NDC until construction, other accommodations.

Feb 2019. After failing to convince surrounding businesses to sell them “transferrable development rights,” NDC reduces plan by more than 10,000 sq ft to attempt to comply with zoning. NDC submits plan to County.

March 2019. First review by County’s Development Review Committee (DRC) finds lay-by unacceptable, exit onto Carroll unsafe, inadequate emergency access, plan is bad for walkers and bikers and public transit, other issues.

2019. NDC has three Preliminary Consultations with County’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC). In May and August, staff and Commissioners critique size, shape, lay-by, public space, public input. Mayor, City Manager push back. HPC backs off, but asks NDC to return with Columbia (“rear”) facade.

Presentation to HPC, October 2019. Private balcony added. “Rear” facade pushed out toward Columbia. Note how small the Co-op (grey roof) still looks next to the development.

2019. All but one retail spaces in Junction currently rented, and public parking lot is frequently full now, undercutting City’s original stated intention to “revitalize the Junction” with a large development.

Nov 2019. NDC asks for a second 3-month extension to July 2020 for responding to the DRC’s comments, because they are waiting for the SHA’s Junction Vision Study on roadways and traffic.

January 9 2020, Montgomery County Planning Board votes to approve NDC’s extension to Sept 30 2020 instead of July, since the Planning Board will be out of session for the summer in July 2020.

May 8 2020, State Highway Administration releases a letter to the NDC’s traffic consultant, stating that four different SHA departments have reviewed the project and that the development would increase traffic, cannot be built without reconfiguration of Junction roadways, and there is no state money for reconfiguration through 2025. It also questions many other aspects of the plan.

May-July 2020 Residents get wind of backroom negotiations by the City to try to figure out some other way to accommodate the Junction development. Resident Andrew Strongin asks to see communications on this topic for the six-week period after the SHA’s May 8th letter. The City Attorney writes back that there are indeed over 200 communications on the Junction in this period, but that it will cost $985 to have him review and possibly redact the documents (due to “attorney-client privilege” or “executive privilege). A GoFundMe campaign raises the funds in a matter of hours, due to public outcry. The City drops the fee, and releases the documents. A text from the Mayor attempting to pressure the SHA is revealed.

July 2020 At a series of City Council meetings, residents request that the City re-evaluate the Junction plan in light of the pandemic, the recession, Black Lives Matter, and the climate crisis. The City declines, saying they will look at and vote on the plan only immediately prior to the final Planning Board vote.

July 20 2020 Developer submits to the County’s DRC the revised Junction plans (here and here) responding to the March 2019 DRC comments. This sets in motion deadlines leading to the final County vote. New drawings finally depict the Columbia/Poplar facade, leading to public outcry:

August 2020 Under persistent pressure by attorney and resident Andrew Strongin, the City acknowledges three documents that were not originally posted anywhere. One is a July 14th response from the developer’s traffic group to the SHA, stating that they are assuming in their plans that the C0-op’s entrance from 410 will be closed, and all entrance and exit to and from the Co-op’s Sycamore lot will be from Sycamore. A second document is the “Justification Statement,” a narrative piece describing the newly revised plans. A third document is a technical drawing of the stormwater management plan.

August 2020 Despite the fact that the City refused to hold work sessions on the plans, and that questions about the plan have gone unanswered, Councilmember Kacy Kostiuk arranges two zoom meeting with one neighborhood of her ward, with the Mayor, and City and County staff, to “listen to” neighbors angry about the Columbia Ave facade. The rest of the City is not invited to these meetings. Questions are collected.

August 2020 The City posts a false description of the process, urging people to wait to weigh in with the County until later in the process, even though the County staff very clearly urged residents to weigh in now, or it will be too late. The City also falsely states that SHA has not weighed in, when SHA has already documented serious issues with the project.

Still to Come (Not Chronological):

  • SHA Vision Study (on traffic, safety, and any reconfiguration at Junction) was due out in winter 2020, reportedly complete, and shared with various interested parties, but faced political pressure from the City and is not yet officially released.
  • A fourth preliminary consultation with HPC on the Columbia Ave facade was requested by the HPC but NDC chose to ignore this.
  • The DRC will write a final report.
  • The City must then consider changes made to the plan since 2018, whether the Co-op is accommodated, and vote up or down on a recommendation to the Planning Board, before the Planning Board vote.
  • NDC must get financing for the development, and find tenants.
  • Montgomery Planning Board vote.
  • NDC will then request a Historic Area Work Permit (HAWP) from HPC.
  • City must review the plan separately for stormwater and tree conservation plans.

Community Vision Takes Stand on Cell Tower Safety at Local Building

Colleen Cordes delivered a letter on behalf of Community Vision for Takoma this week warning of predicted “alarming” cell tower radiation from multiple antennae on a Takoma Park apartment building, and the racial equity issues of this potential health threat. The City weighed in to demand more information before a new antenna is approved. The issue, and Colleen, ended up on the local news. Here is our letter:

CVT’s Town Hall on the Takoma Park City Budget

Community Conversation on the Takoma Park Budget, Firehouse, May 3 2019

Approximately 75 people attended a community forum on the Takoma Park city budget on May 3 20019, organized by Community Vision for Takoma (CVT). The forum began with a presentation by David Navari, a Takoma resident who works in public sector consulting and examined the budget and met with each member of the City Council to discuss financial management best practices. The following are highlights from Mr. Navari’s presentation along with notes on comments from local residents. You can also listen to Mr. Navari’s 25-minute presentation and see his charts and data, in the video at the bottom.

1. The median household income in Takoma Park is about $85,000.  That means 50% of households make less than $85K.  This large group is “cost burdened” as housing exceeds 30% of their income – an increasing challenge when taxes grow faster than their income. (Note: The median for renters is $51,333 increasing the financial challenges for this group.  See charts in video at bottom.) Several people in this “forgotten middle” spoke of needing to relocate out of Takoma Park and/or knowing many people who have had to leave Takoma Park due to the unsustainable tax burden. Others expressed strong concerns about working- and middle-class homeowners who are being squeezed.

2. 80% of the City’s expenses are personnel salaries and benefits and the city staff does not track time-on-task, so we do not know what the services/programs cost, meaning we don’t really have “true transparency”.

3. The City Council isn’t provided critical data to make informed decisions.  For example, the tables of FY19 and FY20 budgets did not even show percent change from the previous year.

4. Eight out of nine years the taxes have grown at a rate faster than inflation which is a challenge for elderly on a fixed income and middle-income earners (i.e., middle/working class).     

5. Takoma Park’s city manager makes $235,000 compensation (salary + benefits) which is the highest paid city manager per capita in the state of Maryland by a long shot.  [See chart in video at bottom]

Community Questions and Comments:  A Summary of Key Points

Approximately thirty people testified about our town budget. Here are highlights:

  • Federal contractors, non-profit groups and corporations track time to know what projects are absorbing most of staff capacity. Takoma Park should do this too.
  • The combined loss of the IRS tax deduction for state taxes and rising local and property taxes is squeezing many households in the middle-income bracket.  One woman tearfully told of five friends who had moved out of the community due to rising taxes.
  • There is support for public and union employees but concern that the staff is growing and salaries and benefits may be growing at an unsustainable rate.  The ratio of employees on salary for the city to number of local residents has increased exponentially over time.
  • The budget is driven by staff. It needs to be driven by the community.
  • The “I can’t afford to stay here” drumbeat is growing stronger all the time.  Children of long-time residents cannot afford to buy here.  Retired military personnel and most working-class people are being forced out.
  • We need to prioritize a deeper investigation into the budget, looking at the police department as well as our tax and revenue arrangement with Montgomery County.
  • Takoma Park needs to do a better job of benchmarking its expenditures to comparable cities in the area.  How do we compare to others?  Very few towns of our size, for example, have a police department at the scale that we do.  What is the most economical and effective approach to public safety?
  • The way the budget is presented obfuscates things.  We must see how this year’s budget compares to last year’s budget and how changing property assessments affect bottom line taxes.
  • There is a lack of trust that needs to be addressed.
  • The budget should not grow faster than the rate of inflation.
  • Capital projects are worrying many people. Can this small community support all the staff time required for proposed or anticipated development at the Junction, New Hampshire Avenue condos and rec center, Library, Adventist Hospital, Langley Park, and elsewhere?  There are concerns about the financing for much of this and how much debt the city may be taking on.
  • The city is doing some things very well including developing metrics and outcomes to try to be accountable for positive impacts from various programs and spending flows.
  • Some feel we are losing the Takoma Park culture and spirit as it gets “fancy” and “unaffordable”.  One person called for an emergency intervention on gentrification.
  • Some people feel the recent budget hearings were sufficiently transparent and that there is no problem.
  • The overwhelming majority of attendees urged the city to begin tracking personnel time by project (activity-based accounting) as of July 1 and the new fiscal year. 
David Navari’s presentation on the Takoma Park city budget (with charts and data)

Junction Development in Trouble-County Rejects Lay-By

IMG-7137
 
 
County Reviewers Finding NDC’s Takoma Junction Proposal Deeply Flawed
 
 
The City has passed the Takoma Junction plan on and up to the County, but after initial review, County experts from multiple agencies are already finding multiple serious flaws in the proposal. Many of these flaws are those the community identified from the outset. But the feedback from County experts is buried in dozens of dense technical documents. So here, Community Vision analyzes the County’s critique on six key aspects of the proposed plan. (Links to some of the documents are here and here).
 
 
 
1. Proposed Garage Driveway Unsafe for Pedestrians and Cars
 
The County’s Department of Transportation (MCDOT) “Sight Distance Evaluation” finds the sight distance from the proposed underground garage driveway deficient. The measured sight distance from the proposed driveway looking to the left, around the bend towards the Fire House, is only 188-feet. The required line of sight is 325-feet. In other words, the proposed plan rests on an unsafe blind curve. 
 
 
2. ‘Layby Lane’ Unacceptable
 
The County’s Department of Transportation opposes the layby as planned and comments that it “should be removed” because:
a. the loading area extends beyond the eastbound traffic light on Carroll Ave.
b. it conflicts with the bikeshare station.
c. it conflicts with the bus stop.
 
It also conflicts with the County’s Master Plan for a bike lane in the Junction.
 
County Park and Planning officials joined transportation officials to voice concerns about the layby lane’s safety and practicality.
 
A third County agency, Historic Preservation, also expressed significant concern over the layby.
 
State Highway Administration (SHA), not County DOT, has independent authority to reject the layby; but SHA is withholding comment pending completion of the SHA Planning Department’s Vision Study, now underway.
 
 
3. The Reduced Building Size May Still Be Too Large
 
 After NDC already over-shot allowable density limits and had to reduce the proposed building from 52,000 to 40,000 sq ft due to their mistake on zoning requirements, it now appears that the building MAY STILL BE TOO LARGE due to another calculation error. Why? NDC’s design is based on the City claiming ownership to the center line of Carroll Ave; that added square footage increases the square footage that can be built. However, County reviewers say that this ownership proof is absent, which means the building would have to be reduced yet another 5,000 sq ft.
 
 
4. Historic Preservation Staff Gives Devastating Critique of Plan on Multiple Grounds 

In comments to the DRC, which may presage the HPC’s independent view of the project when NDC seeks a historic area work permit, HPC staff pans the project as basically incompatible with the area in terms of “overall size, scale, massing, height, and architectural expression.”  “The building is too tall.”  “Glass tower is inappropriate.”  It faults inadequate pedestrian space. It faults large-scale tree removal. And, critically, it notes that the proposed realignment of the Takoma Junction roadways is “incompatible with and detrimental to the historic district,” and would require “review and concurrence by Maryland Historic Trust as it is occurring in/on/to a State Road.”  
 
 
5. Roadway Reconfiguration On Hold
 
NDC’s plan will require traffic mitigation because it would add more cars to a failing intersection. NDC’s plans are premised on a proposed major reconfiguration of the roadways to achieve that mitigation.  But this proposed intersection redesign is just one proposed idea: all intersection improvement plans are on hold, pending completion of the State Highway Administration’s Vision Study. It remains unclear whether a reconfiguration would have a long-term positive effect. And neither design nor funds have been secured for any reconfiguration.
 
 
6. The Proposed Plan is Incompatible with Pedestrian, Bicycle, and Public Transit

 

MC DOT, Area Transportation, and Historic Preservation all note incompatibility of the NDC proposal with pedestrian, bicycle, and public transit requirements.  

 
 
Summary
 
To date, even as reduced from 52,000 to 40,000 sq ft, NDC still proposes a building that may be larger than allowed, and does not fit the historic character of the Junction. As shown in the comments provided by numerous County agencies, the proposed building is incompatible with car and pedestrian safety, and the use of roads, sidewalks, bicycles, and public transit. The proposal rests on the removal of the Grant Ave crosswalk, removal of the all-red signal that allows safe pedestrian crossing of the intersection, a problematic layby, and a driveway exit on a blind curve. The proposed project would require a major (and expensive) reconfiguration of the roadways, and multiple waivers for parking space reductions, for being too close to adjacent buildings, and for cutting down many trees. 
 
Does our community deserve a better plan? 
 
Weigh in with your City officials. 
 
Ask them to take back control of this project, and determine how we can safely use this public land for the public good. 

The Stormwater Issues

 

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The proposed Takoma Junction development plan is now going through the County approval process. But the City must still approve the tree plan, and the stormwater plan. So, stormwater experts with Community Vision for Takoma (CVT) analyzed the developer’s stormwater plan, and wrote this one-page summary of the many flaws in the plan.

 

TAKOMA JUNCTION DEVELOPMENT STORMWATER ISSUES

  • The City of Takoma Park has not reviewed stormwater aspects of the current proposal; the City’s approval letter in the record is based on the defunct April 2018 plan.
  • The City review of the older plan was incomplete; it did not consider many aspects of the proposal.
  • Neither the plan nor the City’s review considered the fact that nearby residents are already experiencing water management problems.
  • Currently most of the stormwater at the site flows from the City-owned parking lot to Carroll Avenue where it eventually enters City storm drains.  The developer’s plan would divert this water to a storm drain on Columbia Avenue.
  • Neither the City nor the developer conducted necessary studies including geotechnical, hydrogeological or storm sewer capacity studies.
  • Neither the soils at the construction site nor the soils on the wooded slope have been well characterized.  Clay layers in soil can make water management much more difficult; the limited studies available show clay layers on the site.
  • Stormwater can either run off over the surface or infiltrate the soil to become groundwater. This has implications for both surface drainage management and the ability of subsurface water to enter basements.  Neither the City nor the developer has studied groundwater at the site.
  • Neither the City nor the developer has assessed the potential impact of this additional stormwater on the downstream storm water management system.  It is not known if this system has enough capacity or what the potential impacts could be.
  • The proposed stormwater plan is under-designed given recent rainfall patterns and the anticipated effects of climate change in the future. The design, operation, and efficacy of the proposed stormwater management system is unclear.  The overall efficiency of the proposed green roofs has not been determined.
  • There is no analysis of water containing sediment that can accumulate in the large excavation proposed for this site.
  • In summary, it is difficult to see how this proposal meets the Maryland State guidance of controlling stormwater to the maximum extent practicable.
  • Based on all this, it is recommended that a refined comprehensive analysis, that (1) includes stormwater, groundwater and construction water and (2) is based on geotechnical and hydrogeological data, be undertaken by an independent competent authority with complete transparency.
  • This is a summary of a longer report linked here.