From the County Council Office of Valerie Ervin

Dear Resident, 

 

As the Montgomery County Council heads into its summer recess, I am delighted to report that, like the Lorax in the Dr. Seuss classic, the Council spoke on behalf of the trees by enacting two bills that will preserve, protect and enhance our environmental quality by providing additional protection for trees.  Bill 41-12, Streets and Roads-Roadside Trees-Protection, and Bill 35-12, Trees-Tree Canopy Conservation, will enhance the State's Forest Conservation Law by providing additional planting requirements when street trees are removed and maintaining and establishing additional tree canopy for the benefit of future generations.      

lorax

As a member of the Chesapeake Bay Trust, I know how important our tree canopy is for filtering groundwater, reducing surface runoff, and providing essential habitat for wildlife.  Trees also add significant value to neighborhoods and communities and increase property values.     

 

The issue of protecting trees is also personal for me because my son, Jonathan Carney, is an arborist for Casey Trees, which is a nonprofit that works to protect the tree canopy in our region.  In a few days, he will be riding more than 500 miles in the Tour des Trees for tree research and education.  I couldn't be more proud of him, and I'd like to think that my commitment to environmental issues has influenced him in some way.  A story about Jonathan's bicycling adventure can be found here, and I am encouraging him to detail his ride on social media. 
  
tree ride jonathan
  

I hope you are enjoying a wonderful summer with family and friends.  I look forward to visiting with many of you at one of our farmers markets, in one of our community gardens, or around the county.  

 

All the best, 

 Valerie Ervin  

Valerie Ervin

 

Follow me on Twitter

Challenges of Poverty & Triumph of the Human Spirit

 am winter theater

 

I want to thank everyone who came out to the sold out screening of HBO's American Winter on May 28 at American Film Institute's (AFI) Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring.  We had a great community conversation with many special guests, including Maryland Lt. Governor Anthony Brown.  I also want to thank all those who generously donated personal care products and emergency preparedness supplies to support the United Way of the National Capital Area's 2013 Shoebox Project.

 

This screening was an outgrowth of our community conversation, 'Raise Your Voice to SNAP the Silence' on poverty.  As a result of one of the worst economic downturns in decades, now more than ever, many of our relatives, friends and neighbors are suffering financial challenges.  This film shows how easy it is for families who are living paycheck to paycheck to end up in poverty and the tremendous impact it has on children.  The film follows eight families during the winter of 2012 in Portland, Oregon to tell their stories of overcoming issues related to job loss, homelessness, and catastrophic illness.

 

The goal of this event was not only to show a powerful film, but to continue our collaboration with residents, nonprofit providers, labor organizations, community activists and government partners to develop new initiatives to end poverty in our community.  It is essential that we continue to build momentum to push for new policies and funding that will end hunger, provide job opportunities that pay a living wage, promote affordable housing, access to health care and transit option for all residents. 

 

In case you missed the screening, you can check out the video here.

 

Walk-in for a Meal: Expanding Access to Food in the Summer

  

summer food speaks

 

Many children depend on the meals they receive at school as their primary source of nutrition.  The Summer Food Program is a key link to providing nutrition to students, especially the one-third of students who qualify for free and reduced meals-when school is out.  In 2007, I initiated a working group that recommended expanding the Summer Food Program to more needy children throughout the county.  This program is one of many initiatives and long-term solutions to combat poverty and to assist working families.  

 

Each summer, MCPS serves children free meals as part of a variety of summer programs.  In 2007, there were 79 sites.  This summer, nearly 9,000 students will receive meals at 117 locations, including the eight walk-in locations, where children 18 and younger can come in for a free meal. Last year, the Summer Food Program served more than 217,000 meals. As a result of my advocacy and partnership with MCPS, from 2006 to 2012, participation in the program has increased by 24 percent.

 

This summer, I am delighted that the Summer Food Program is implementing a new option at school-based sites serving large groups of children. At these 47 sites, the kitchens will provide hot and cold meals. These nutritious, hot lunches should help increase participation.

 

On June 27, I joined Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Board Member Shirley Brandman; Brooke McCauley of Maryland Hungers Solutions; Molly McCloskey of Share Our Strength; and community members to kick-off the program at Springbrook High School. I want to thank all of our many agencies and partners that help make this program possible.
  
The July 10 Gazette Editorial shined a light on this great program in Montgomery County.

  

students

Early Childhood Education is Fundamental      prek2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the Chair of the Council's Education Committee, I am committed to the success for all children in Montgomery County.  It is important to strengthen the system of early care and education services, serving young children ages birth through five, and increasing the participation in early childhood education programs, especially for children in families with low-incomes and other challenges such as special needs or limited English proficiency.  As you may know, I have been working on this issue for many years, including the formation of the Universal Preschool Implementation Work Group.

 

High-quality, early care and education has been demonstrated to positively affect children's early development, school readiness and academic achievement.  That is why I introduced a resolution on July 9 to request that the County Executive formally institute the Montgomery County Early Childhood Advisory Council.  This group will monitor, advocate and make policy recommendations for developing a comprehensive coordinated early care and educational system that supports school readiness, provide support to state and local initiatives, and build on the existing efforts to improve the system of early care and education in the county.  It will be comprised of representatives from the school system, Department of Health & Human Services, Montgomery College, advocate organizations and services providers.

Planning for the County's Future

  

 

Zoning Code Rewrite

As you may know, the last comprehensive revision to the zoning ordinance occurred in 1977.  Since that time, zoning changes and our piecemeal zoning text amendment process, which is necessary to respond to community and development concerns, has created a fragmented document that guides our county's land use.  The goal was to create a readily usable document that property owners and other stakeholders could understand.    

 

Accomplishing the goals of the Zoning Code Rewrite is extraordinarily ambitious, and I believe that the Planning Board has made significant progress.  On April 2, I wrote a memorandum to the Planning, Housing & Economic Development (PHED) Committee outlining these concerns.

 

In June, the Council's PHED Committee began working on the Planning Board's draft of the zoning code. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues and stakeholders on this important issue.

 

Long Branch Sector Plan

Reflecting community input collected for the past three years, planners have proposed land use and regulatory recommendations for a mixed-use, transit-oriented community in Long Branch.  This includes development with varied housing options within a pedestrian-friendly community anchored by two Purple Line stations.  The PHED Committee began reviewing the plan, which is expected to be considered by the Council this fall.

 

White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan

The Planning Board is currently working on the White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan.  The plan will address land uses, urban design, transportation, environmental issues, and the need for more community facilities and recreational opportunities.  This includes exploring options for a new research and technology node that capitalizes on the growing presence of the FDA and is complemented by mixed-use development. They are also examining the future of several sites, including the National Labor College, the White Oak and Hillandale shopping centers and several vacant properties on US 29.  The Planning Board is scheduled to deliver the plan to the Council this fall, with a public hearing tentatively scheduled for October 29.

 

Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan

The Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan will recommend rights-of-way for individual transit corridors to accommodate bus lanes and station locations for the proposed transit network. It will inform planning efforts and provide policy guidance to the Council on the proposed bus rapid transit network.   This functional plan amendment will not include any changes to land use plans or zoning.  The Planning Board has transmitted its recommendations on the plan. The Council has scheduled a public hearing in September.

 

Greater Lyttonsville Sector Plan

Planners are currently working with the community on the Greater Lyttonsville Sector Plan, which focuses on the commercial/industrial area along Brookville Road and two proposed Purple Line stations.  The Planning Board is scheduled to deliver the plan to the Council in 2015.

 

Growing Opportunities: Community & School Gardens

 

Bringing community gardens to the county has been one of my most rewarding initiatives since my election to the County Council.  In partnership with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission's (M-NCPPC) Department of Parks, this initiative has grown from the first site at Sligo Mill Overlook in 2009 to ten sites - all with such high demand that there are waiting lists for participation.

 

The benefits of these community gardens are clear.   Community gardens enhance the lives of residents by providing hands-on food production for adults and children; promote social interactions among neighbors; encourage self-sufficiency; beautify areas; and provide habitats for urban wildlife.

 

That is why I requested, with the support of many advocacy groups, that Parks and MCPS work together to expand community gardens at school sites.   In December 2009, I convened a joint Education and Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee meeting on the community gardens initiative.  In addition, I asked the Council's representative to vote in favor of supporting the Montgomery County Master Gardener Association and Montgomery Victory Gardens in their effort to remove the MCPS ban and promote the establishment of school vegetable gardens at the Montgomery Commission on Health's 2010 meeting.

 

On July 22, school officials provided an update to the Education Committee on edible gardens at schools

School gardens are educational tools  that help students learn about healthy eating habits and the environment.

Taking it to the Streets: Pedestrian & Bicycle Safety Update

  

As the Council's representative on the Pedestrian, Bicycle and Traffic Safety Advisory Committee, I am committed to continuing to make our county safe and friendly for bicyclists and pedestrians.  I have championed legislation to make it easier and faster to build sidewalks where communities want them; funded bikeshare and necessary bike infrastructure; pedestrian safety and roadway projects; and co-sponsored legislation to incentivize the creation of bikeshare stations.

 

I recently requested that the Council receive the fourth annual review of the county's pedestrian safety programs this fallMaking our communities walkable and bikeable is important to all of us, and many of these issues cross over multiple Council committees. Specifically, I have requested more information on: 

  • Programmatic outcomes of the Pedestrian Safety Initiative since its inception;
  • Planned roadway striping and signage and other infrastructure improvements to support the implementation of bikeshare and the growth of cycling as a means of transportation;
  • Bicycle infrastructure at or near schools, including bike racks, paths and signage;
  • Outreach efforts, including Safe Routes to Schools and pedestrian safety education at high schools;
  • Public rights-of-way access from agencies and public utilities, including blocking or closing sidewalks; and
  • State Highway Administration (SHA) coordination on projects along major roadways at high incidence areas.
I look forward to hearing from county agencies this fall
Supporting Historic Preservation

It is important to help owners of historic buildings invest and preserve their properties for future generations.  On July 16, the County Council approved Expedited Bill 14-13, which allows owners of properties designated as "historic" to take tax credits of up to 25 percent for qualified improvements that help preserve the historic nature of the property.  Councilmember Craig Rice was the lead sponsor of this effort, and I was happy to co-sponsor this legislation.

 

Maryland and Montgomery County have previously allowed tax credits of 10 percent for qualified improvements to historic homes.  As of July 1, the state law changed and now allows a 25 percent tax credit. Passage of the bill keeps the county at highest possible tax credit allowed by law.  In FY11, there were 141 applications for historic tax credits.

 

The Council designates specific properties or districts as historic by including them in the Master Plan for Historic Preservation.  The designation provides public benefit by retaining the history of the property.  Once designated, the owners of historic property must seek a historic area work permit before making changes to the exterior of their property.  The review is intended to ensure that the historic integrity of the site is maintained. The cost for improvements to historic properties is generally higher than it is for non-historic properties as the material and labor necessary to adhere to historic preservation standards make improvements more expensive.  The tax credit will help offset this burden.
Farmers Market Week

   

In 1980, the Montgomery County Council made one of the most significant land-use decisions in county history by creating the 93,000 acre Agricultural Reserve, which accounts for almost 1/3 of all Montgomery County land resources. According to the Department of Economic Development, it contributes more than $243 million annually to the county economy, and local farms employed more than 10,000 residents in 2010.

 

I always look forward to shopping at farmers markets every summer and encourage all county residents to support their local farmers market.  On July 30, I gathered with organizers and vendors to recognize National Farmers Market Week and celebrate the critical contributions farmers make to our community.  Farmers provide high-quality and nutritious food for our families, and their farms serve as an important economic resource for Montgomery County.  A series of recent case studies has shown that for every dollar spent at locally owned enterprises, like farmers markets, up to three times as much money is retained locally than money spent at large chains.

 

Farmers markets increasingly offer electronic benefits transfer technology for use by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients in redeeming their benefits, which increases access to healthy foods.  In FY14, the Council allocated funds for the County's first Double Dollars Program at eight of our 21 farmers markets.  I requested funding for this important initiative to make nutritious foods more affordable by multiplying the buying power of SNAP benefits for low-income residents.

 

I want to thank all those who were able to join me, including representatives from the Department of Economic Development; Maryland Department of Agriculture; Milk Lady Farmers Markets; Crossroads Farmers Market; Damascus Farmers Market; Olney Farmers and Artist's Market; and Gaithersburg Farmers Markets.

Improving Accessibility in the Right-of-Way

 

Responding to my request, the Government Operations and T&E Committees met on June 27 to discuss the issue of surplus utility poles on sidewalks and in our rights-of-way.  If we are going to be serious about smart growth, walkability and pedestrian/bicycle safety, we need to make sure that our public infrastructure is accessible for all. Thank you William Smith, Walk Silver Spring and Silver Spring residents for your advocacy.  I am confident that the utilities and DOT are working together to make significant progress in this area.

 

Paint Branch High School's Destination Imagination

 
Destination Imagination, Inc. is a non-profit organization that provides educational programs for students to develop their math, science, creativity, teamwork and problem solving skills.

Every year, 125,000 students across the U.S. and more than 30 countries participate in their challenges that require youth to think on their feet and work together. 

 

On June 25, I recognized the Paint Branch Destination Imagination Team, who recently placed 2nd in the Maryland State Tournament.  The team went on to compete at the Global Finals 2013 at the University of Tennessee in May and placed 32nd out of 66 teams from around the world.

Bikeshare Implementation

 

 

I am committed to expanding low-cost transportation options through reliable transit and facilities that allow bicyclists and pedestrians to travel in a safe, reliable and convenient way.  Since 2008, I have been pushing at the local, state and federal levels for funding for a county bikeshare program and the expansion of interconnected bike routes.   After the Council recently funded bikeshare in the FY14 Operating Budget, the program is scheduled to launch in late September. The Department of Transportation is finalizing station locations, which will consist of 20 stations and 200 bikes in the Rockville and 29 sites and 200 bikes in the downcounty area, including Silver Spring and Takoma Park.

You can follow updates and submit suggestions regarding the program here.
Taste of Fenton Village
 

Everyone knows that Silver Spring is an eclectic dining destination.  Many of Silver Spring's best restaurants are showcased each year at Taste the World in Fenton Village.  Each June, people sample culinary delights from participating restaurants just south of downtown Silver Spring.  This event not only showcases the diverse culinary creations from local restaurants, but also supports our small business community.  A big thank you goes out to the organizers.  I look forward to next year!