October 13, 2022

Message from the County Executive

Dear Friends,

Like many of you, I have been following the recently unfolding events at the Planning Board this week that resulted in the resignations of the entire board. The Planning Board is part of a separate State agency, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC). Although it is not part of the Montgomery County Government, the County Council has oversight of the Planning Board and appoints its members.

As County Executive, I have not been involved in any part of the process overseen by the County Council, although I have been deeply concerned. I think where people were implicated, resignations were appropriate. However, this cannot be the end of the conversation about the dysfunction and structural issues within the Planning Board. It faces a deficit of trust and continued questions about management, transparency and process that must be addressed.

Beyond the recent reports regarding infighting and questionable behavior and decisions, the Planning Board has also been cited with multiple violations of the Open Meetings Act, as was reported by The Seventh State. Furthermore, the problems with Thrive 2050 and equity and community input should have been recognized and dealt with instead of pushing forward toward an artificial deadline to adopt this significant guide for the next 30 years of development. In its present form, it is a patchwork quilt. At the very least, additional review time is needed to allow for in-depth discussion of three important new chapters that were hastily added without the benefit of public hearings—chapters on the environment, economic development and racial equity that were so rushed for inclusion that they do not even incorporate recommendations that usually form the underpinnings of planning documents. As noted by one racial equity consultant hired by the Council, “Compressed timeframes are the enemy of equity.”

New people and new voices are needed on the Planning Board. Park and Planning has been run by a group of insiders for far too long. There needs to be a respectful balance of the views of developers and those of the community. I hope that the new Planning Board appointees are grounded in land use and planning issues, reflect the demographics of this community and are committed to our residents, community input and an efficient and transparent process.

I stand ready to work with the Council to ensure transparency in choosing the interim members of the board and ensure that the investigations continue. The County Council is scheduled to select new temporary acting Planning Board commissioners on Oct. 25. They are seeking individuals with expertise in land use, planning, economic development, transportation and environmental and park issues. Montgomery County residents who are interested in filling these temporary acting positions should apply to the Council by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 18. To apply, please click here. The County Council will conduct a separate formal application process for individuals wishing to be appointed to serve out the terms of the officially vacant seats.

It is important for your voice to be heard as new members are appointed to the Planning Board and throughout this process. Please continue to follow developments and together, let’s make sure we get the right people and processes in place.

Catch this Important Program on Affordable Housing in Montgomery County on WAMU.org

I want to thank Kojo Nnamdi and the staff at WAMU for focusing its most recent “Kojo In Our Community” on affordable housing issues in Montgomery County. I was invited to be a guest on the special program, which was recorded earlier this week in Silver Spring. It airs at 1 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 14, on the radio at WAMU 88.5 FM, but will also be available on WAMU.org afterward. The event was well attended and a lively and engaging discussion occurred. Despite many attendees having different perspectives and opinions, one consensus was clear: this County must do better when it comes to housing.

So many of our housing policies have been in place for years and you can see the position we are in—losing naturally occurring affordable housing and not getting enough new affordable housing units in return. Allowing developers to provide the minimum number of affordable housing units currently required by law does not yield the affordable units we need. And the standards and requirements of our existing programs do not address the depth or breadth of the challenges we face. Our key housing program, the Moderately Priced Dwelling Units (MPDUs) began in 1974 when the county was 95 percent White, and was designed to help our teachers, firefighters and police officers find affordable housing. It is clear that it no longer serves the residents of a County with an increasingly diverse demographic, where tens of thousands of households earn too little to qualify, and where many people earn too much to qualify for an MPDU, but too little to rent or buy a market rate unit.

During the forum, I focused on rental affordability from data gathered in our most recent census. Using the average income of renters in four categories—White, Asian, Black/African American and Hispanic—the data shows whether each group is “housing burdened” in several different areas of the County. That means that they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. The only area where Black and Latino renters are not housing burdened is Takoma Park. What is different in Takoma Park? It is the only jurisdiction with a successful rent stabilization program.

I will continue to advocate to County Council to pass our temporary rent stabilization bill and to send Park and Planning’s Thrive Montgomery 2050 plan back to the new Planning Board for further review. We need to address the affordable housing issues with strategies and policies that will actually create more affordable units throughout the County for households with a wide range of incomes.

My administration has been moving forward under our three-pronged approach on affordable housing: preserve existing affordable housing, protect diverse communities and produce more affordable housing. We are proactively working with developers, non-profits, and communities to do just that. After our successful first No Net Loss policy in Twinbrook, we need a countywide No Net Loss policy to protect residents in naturally occurring affordable housing units and allow them to remain when new developments are built. We have allocated record funding to create more affordable housing. And we identified 18 county-owned properties offering the potential for new affordable housing and are evaluating several proposals for redevelopment. Those proposals can be found here and here.

Creating opportunity and equity is a top priority for my administration, and I want to thank WAMU for organizing this event. Please tune in and listen to this conversation or catch it when it is posted to this page.

Hispanic Heritage Month Concludes

Over the past four weeks, we have been honoring the cultures, traditions and work ethics of many different Latino groups. As we celebrate our Hispanic and Latino neighbors, we must also recommit ourselves to addressing the challenges facing them.

A recent court decision is giving one section of our Hispanic population new reasons to worry. DACA recipients (or Dreamers) are people who came to the U.S. as children without the proper documents. They are now facing an uncertain future. As we mentioned last week, an appeals court decision sided with a 2021 ruling out of Texas declaring the program unlawful. That decision by a three-judge panel stands in direct contrast to a Biden administrative directive put into place almost one year earlier by the Department of Homeland Security giving DACA arrivals Federal protection from deportation.

We need to remember that many of those impacted by this decision are not young people. Many Dreamers are now in their 30’s and 40’s and arrived here in the 1980’s following destructive Reagan-era foreign policy decisions that created at least part of this problem decades ago. While there have been many steps forward for Dreamers, like the 2012 State law allowing Dreamers to qualify for in-state college tuition at public schools, this recent decision is a step back and has the potential to tear families apart.

Groups like CASA have fought tirelessly during this long struggle for Dreamers. CASA Executive Director Gustavo Torres joined me on my weekly press briefing this week; you can listen here. As CASA has detailed, there are more than 600,000 current active DACA recipients across the U.S. adding $5.6 billion to our national tax base and $3.1 billion to our State and local tax bases each year. They call America home, do essential work daily and deserve our respect and support.

We hope that soon there will be a final chapter written about the Dreamers that ends with them enjoying peace and freedom and allows them to gain citizenship in the country they’ve lived in for most of their lives.

MCEDC Launches “Be Next” Campaign to Attract Businesses

Next week is Economic Development Week throughout the State of Maryland. Leaders here in Montgomery County have gotten an early start drawing attention to our efforts with a new marketing campaign that launched this week.

The goal of the year-long “Be Next” promotion will help company leaders everywhere see Montgomery County as the place where their companies can grow and thrive.

I am proud of the work we have done to make the County more business friendly. We have cut regulations, sped up processes, and improved customer service. But Montgomery County is not simply playing defense—we are on offense. We know this jurisdiction is the best place for businesses from around the globe, of varying industries and sizes, and we’re determined to let them know that we’re open for business.

You can learn more about MCEDC and Economic Development Week at thinkmoco.com.

Procurement Fair Helps Keep Our Money in Our Communities

Business opportunities seem to be everywhere across Montgomery County right now. This week, I was on hand for an enthusiastic Procurement Fair aimed at business owners interested in applying for contracts with the County. This fair, which drew around 150 people, was held in East County. It provided an opportunity for minority-owned business leaders to learn more about County opportunities. Last year, $141 million dollars was awarded to local small businesses through the procurement process.

I want to thank our Procurement Director Ash Shetty and his team for organizing this event. I am pleased that we are using our dollars and procurement opportunities to help these local, small, and minority businesses succeed. A little more than half of the contracts signed through the County went to first-time vendors over the last year. I’m proud of the work we’ve done while I’ve been County Executive to keep more of our own money in our county.

You can follow watch the event on the Procurement website or catch the next online open house Wednesday, Oct. 19, starting at 10 a.m. Visit the Office of Procurement website to sign up.

Permitting Survey Seeks Public Feedback

Your opinion of the County's Department of Permitting Services matters. A survey has just been launched asking customers and anyone with recent interactions to grade the service.

The survey is short, only seven questions, but will help the department with our goal of making all business transactions easier for the public. The County does not want red tape to get in the way of doing business here.

DPS has made several significant changes, including reorganizing the department to include a Customer Support and Outreach Division. Other improvements include cross training employees for greater efficiency, creating internal dashboards to monitor and manage performance and enhancing online services for convenience so that customers do not have to visit the office in person.

The new survey also will be included in the department’s monthly newsletter, Constructive Comments, and will be shared on the County’s social media platforms. It is also available on the department's home page under the section “What's new at DPS.”

County Receives $22.6 million for Free Computers and to Expand Broadband

For the past several months the County’s Montgomery Connects program has been giving away free laptops to students and families in need of a computer.

Montgomery County has just received more than $22.6 million in Federal and State grants to expand the program focused on digital equity. The money will also pay for technology training for low-income residents and seniors. Access to computers, broadband service, and service discounts will continue to expand across Montgomery County thanks to this award.

This money would not be available without the work of our Department of Technology and Enterprise Business Solutions (TEBS), which secured the grant. TEBS has been on a mission to deliver 50,000 loaner computers to low-income County residents. So far, more than 25,000 have been given away to qualified families. More than 76 percent of Montgomery Connects computer recipients so far have been Black or Latino. Among the recipients, 84 percent live in households earning less than $50,000 per year. 

Computer distribution events also give families who qualify an opportunity to get set up with free home or mobile internet so they can better use the computers. Of the families receiving computers, 71 percent subscribe to broadband and are eligible for broadband subsidies but are not yet enrolled in broadband subsidy programs. 

There are more distribution opportunities this month and into December, but first visit the Montgomery Connects website to see if you qualify. Please know that having a library card is one requirement of the program. It is free and can be obtained easily by following this link.

Updated COVID-19 Booster Shots for Kids Clears First Federal Hurdles

In COVID-19 news, the Food and Drug Authority (FDA) has given emergency use approval for updated boosters for minors. The FDA approved the use of Pfizer shots for children 5 to 11 years old and Moderna shots for children 6 to 17. The CDC must now approve these boosters before they can begin to be administered.

As we have mentioned before, these updated boosters are specifically designed to attack the original virus strain as well as the Omicron variant. New variants are starting to appear in our community, but case rates remain around 80 cases per 100,000 people.

One thing that has not faded is the number of serious illnesses tied to COVID-19. When you combine deaths from flu, covid and pneumonia, we are still 30 percent higher than we would normally be.

That is one reason we’re encouraging everyone to get their flu shot and covid booster at the same time.

Student Vaccinations Increasing

As we are a month and a half into the new school year, I have been impressed with the efforts of MCPS and our Department of Health and Human Services to keep our schools safe from COVID. New numbers show Montgomery County has the highest school immunization rate in the state with Kindergarteners, 7th graders having a 97 percent compliance. Eighth graders in Montgomery County are 99 percent compliant on their school shots.

These are wonderful achievements, and we hope it is a sign that most parents are being proactive in preventing the spread of disease.

We can’t emphasize how important it is for parents to ensure that their kids receive all their vaccinations. And we will continue our strategic outreach engagement activities in those school communities that are lagging behind in their vaccinations. Children can’t learn when they are ill, and vaccinations keep them safe and healthy.

Environmental and Racial Equity Organizations File Federal Lawsuit Against State’s I-495/270 Project

A Federal lawsuit was filed this week by Sierra Club’s Maryland Chapter, Friends of Moses Hall, National Trust for Historic Preservation and the NRDC to halt the Beltway and I-270 toll-lane project. The lawsuit argues the State bypassed key review processes in an effort to jam this unnecessary project through as quickly as possible. This is too big a project to be subjected to sloppy work.

I have been clear on where I stand on this project from Day 1. We need traffic relief, but it should not be on the backs of our commuters, our environment and our communities.

This project is too big, too expensive, too invasive and is simply the wrong plan and design. There has always been a better way, and I am looking forward to working with a new administration on how to do this project the right way. Make no mistake about it, we are as committed as the advocates who support the Governor’s plan to address the very real congestion problems that run from the American Legion bridge to Frederick County. However, there are solutions that can address the congestion that cost less and minimize the community impacts. The current agreement will cost all of us far more than it should – and we can do better.

As always, my appreciation for all of you,

Marc Elrich

County Executive