October 20, 2022

Message from the County Executive

Dear Friends,

As we near the end October, I want to acknowledge Diwali which begins October 24. It is one of the most important festivals in Hinduism. Diwali signifies the beginning of a new year and symbolizes the victory of light over darkness. Many people marking the holiday will be dressed in colorful, traditional clothing. They may light lamps outside their homes, gather to enjoy large feasts and exchange gifts.

Diwali is one of the most popular holidays in India, stretching on for five days. There will be several events across our region and state marking Diwali including back-to-back weekends of festivities in Germantown. The County will also host an event marking the holiday on Friday, October 28 at the Executive Office Building on Monroe Street in Rockville from 6 – 8 p.m. Have a happy and safe Diwali.

Convincing Council to Vote No on Thrive 2050

The County Council is set to vote on Thrive next Tuesday. Thrive 2050 is the update to the General Plan that will guide land use for our county for the next 30 years. Councilmembers have indicated that they intend to approve the plan on the same day they will appoint five new temporary members to the Planning Board. They seem to believe that Thrive was not affected by the pattern of misconduct that led to the wholesale termination of previous Board members. I respectfully disagree.

I am urging the County Council to disapprove Thrive and send it back to the Planning Board to allow additional time for the necessary review, outreach, and public hearings that should have been done from the start. This plan is too important to be rushed for approval when there is no urgency to do so, and when multiple problems in the plan have been identified but not yet fully discussed or addressed. And it is important to note that many members of the public are either unaware of this revision to the General Plan or have been misled by the Planning Board and others about what the plan will or won’t do.

For example, I’ve received emails from people asking me to support Thrive to bring down rent prices. Thrive 2050 does not provide any solution to address rising rents, so passing it won’t help. And while the plan focuses on housing, its guiding principle is to produce more housing through a countywide rezoning of single-family neighborhoods, to be accomplished through an amendment to the Zoning Code that is ready for submission to County Council, despite little evidence that this “trickle-down” theory will help to lower rents or the cost of home ownership. There is clearly confusion and misinformation about Thrive.

These are just some of the problems with Thrive – here are some others:
First, the most glaring problem is the insufficient attention given to equity issues. The Planning Board exempted themselves from a racial equity analysis from the start – an odd decision given the serious housing equity issues that still face this diversifying county. The Council attempted to course-correct this by hiring a consultant to conduct a racial equity analysis of outreach and engagement of BIPOC and low-income residents. The consultants reported their ability to reach these communities was limited by a short time frame that was further compromised because they were doing outreach over the summer months. As one of the consultants told the Council, “Compressed time frames are the enemy of equity.”

Second, as previously mentioned, the recommendations in Thrive 2050 provide the platform for a countywide rezoning to allow for a diversity of housing types – in other words, one size fits all, regardless of proximity to transit and other smart-growth objectives. This is contrary to the long-established tradition of delineating areas of the county through master plans where zoning, land use, and other changes can be made based on a number of factors. Currently, there are 35,000 housing units in the development pipeline that are already approved by the Planning Board; all the developers need to do is get a building permit. Add to that another 85,000 units that are part of our approved master plans within existing zoning, the vast majority near transit. Although we have spent years approving master plans that recommended zoning for the housing we need, this housing is not being built. Thrive does not ask why, but we need to understand why before we rezone 123 square miles of the county’s single-family neighborhoods, much of which contains relatively affordable, stable housing.

Third, thrive focuses on building more housing without addressing the need to improve housing affordability. During the Thrive review process at the Planning Board, there were conversations about “missing middle” housing and “attainable housing” Planning’s own study in Silver Spring showed that “missing middle” housing would be more expensive than existing housing and unaffordable to most people. Planning’s definition of “attainable housing” is “unsubsidized market housing that is appropriate and suitable for the households that live here.” They even go on to say that the County needs to end its sole focus on affordable housing; this is a gross misstatement of our housing policies.

Sadly, this County has never had a “sole focus” on affordability; that statement is an insult to the approximately 50,000 households here today who are burdened by housing costs. When developments are approved, we ask for 12 ½ to 15% of the units to be affordable to people with incomes of around $60 - $75,000 per year. Nothing for lower income families (of which there are many) and nothing for households making more than $75K but not enough to afford the new market rate units being built. We need a General Plan that, at the very least, acknowledges these problems.

My fourth issue with Thrive and why the Council should not pass it next week is simple – the community was not engaged in this process. Thrive 2050 creators and proponents departed from the long-standing, well-respected process of deep engagement with residents. Years ago, they were called “citizens committees.” Residents took the time to work with professional planners and elected officials to develop long-term plans. I myself sat on sector plan committees for Silver Spring – a broadly representative group. This time planning staff told community members why they should like Thrive rather than working with the community to develop a general plan together.

If you share my concerns, please contact your County Council representative and ask them to vote ‘no’ on Thrive 2050. You can do that directly or by emailing your concerns to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov. This plan has problems that need to be fixed now. It does not have to be passed this quickly– it can and should be sent back to the Planning Board.
Montgomery College Officially Welcomes Dr. Williams

Montgomery College inaugurated Dr. Jermaine F. Williams, as the 11th President of the school this week. We are very excited to have him lead Montgomery County during this critical time for our county’s students and their future success as well as their part in our economic development efforts.

If we are going to create a more equitable Montgomery County, it needs to be rooted in education. Montgomery College has found the right person to take this already incredible institution – ranked 7th in the nation in best community colleges – and make it even greater.

Dr. Williams came here after leading Nassau Community College in New York – a very diverse community like our own. He is well known in academic circles as a leader who is focused on the historically underrepresented and marginalized groups and approaches each students’ education holistically. Dr. Williams’ history of addressing social inequities for historically underrepresented groups of college students is one aspect that makes him a good fit in Montgomery County.

Since arriving in February, Dr. Williams has seen Montgomery College work with MCPS and Apple to launch IgnITe Hub in Rockville to help students and degree seekers develop coding and information technology skills. Dr. Williams oversaw agreements with the University System of Maryland and the Universities of Shady Grove to get more students into the booming life science pipeline. He was also there to welcome Hughes Network Systems as a new partner in Germantown to develop a high-tech manufacturing plant with a program that will better prepare students for the workforce.

I am extremely enthusiastic about our collaboration with Dr. Williams and his team to expand the reach of Montgomery College to East County – an idea long overdue and critical to our equity efforts.

We wish Dr. Williams well during this time of celebration and will all be watching closely as he continues to find ways to make Montgomery College a fair and equitable place for higher education.

Careers Fair This Weekend Focuses on Public Safety

This Saturday, Montgomery County will be looking for more everyday heroes to join the ranks of the police, fire and rescue, corrections and rehabilitation professionals. The Sheriff’s Office is also using this Saturday’s Public Safety Careers Fair to get more people interested in public service careers.

The fair will be divided into a pair of 2-hour sessions, starting at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. respectively. During those sessions, participants will hear from women on the job, about leadership opportunities within each career path and other Montgomery County employment benefits.

This is a tough time for demanding jobs like law enforcement. Nationwide there’s been a drain on staffing as people have retired and burnout has set in because of staff shortages and other factors. In Montgomery County, we have raised pay for police and established these career fairs to make it easy to learn about the job and apply for these positions through a one-stop-shop event.

If you’re interested in serving the public and helping when you’re needed the most, I invite you to come out to the Montgomery County Public Safety Training Academy in Gaithersburg this Saturday to learn more.

National School Bus Safety Week

National School Bus Safety Week is held every year in October. This year it’s important to recognize the important role these essential workers play in getting our kids safely to and from school while also acknowledging that filling these spots has become increasingly difficult.

In January, my administration found the issue so dire due to illnesses we asked the National Guard to assist. More than 90 bus routes were cancelled impacting school attendance and the learning process. Thankfully this year we have yet to deal with transportation challenges on such a massive scale.

The National Association for Pupil Transportation is currently conducting research into the shortage which is being seen nationwide. Hopefully their work can offer solutions and direction on how to deal with this as a long-term issue.

As for bus riders, national safety advocates encourage kids and teens to:
  • Arrive early when being picked up.
  • Stand where they can be clearly seen by the bus driver.
  • Walk to the bus stop in groups so you’re easily seen by drivers on the road.
If you’re picking up a child after school, stand on the same side of the street that the bus is letting kids off. Their excitement to see you could lead them to run in front of traffic. It’s also important for bus riders to follow all the rules on the bus including whatever policies are in place for cell phone use.

With our Vision Zero goals in mind, I want to reiterate that we’re trying to make roads across Montgomery County safe for all travelers. If we continue to strive for no traffic deaths across our region it will in turn make the trip to and from school safer for all children.

New COVID-19 Variants Troubling; Boosters & Flu Shot Recommended

Our COVID-19 community level threat remains ‘low.’ Still, our hospitalization metrics have risen slightly, and our new case rate seems to be leveling out but not continuing to drop.

One possible explanation are new variants that are now being identified out of the Omicron strain. At least 10 have now been identified making up over 15 percent of new cases reported. Dr. Anthony Fauci noted his concern this week with the ability of some of the variants to evade antibodies being taken for treatment.

Bivalent booster shots are showing effective results. Remember the vaccines were approved and made available before going through human trials, which is typically a final step considered by regulators. Now that scientists have evaluated the additional protection in humans, they’re seeing a significant boost in the immune system from the shots. Anything that can knock down the number of people getting severely ill, hospitalized or dying from Covid is something we should be aggressively pursuing. We’re finally seeing demand for the bivalent booster begin to rise significantly.

Health experts encourage you to get your flu shot and bivalent booster at the same time, if possible. That recommendation comes ahead of flu season and should be done before people start attending large family gatherings for the holidays.

The CDC issued a report last week noting that the flu and similar illnesses are notably high next door in the District of Columbia – which is likely to impact us more directly than the “Low” level reported in Maryland. Typically, flu season ramps up in December, so now is a good time to get your flu shot. The CDC noted specific concerns about a strain called “H3N2”. These reports are concerning and it’s a good reason why getting the flu shot is as important as getting the new bivalent booster.

The latest state Health Department numbers show Montgomery County continues to have among the highest vaccination and booster rates - even among children 5 and up who are now eligible for their booster. Still, there are tens of thousands of children and adults eligible for the booster that have yet to get them.

Montgomery County continues to offer school-based clinics on a weekly basis and we have our third “BOO!sterama” scheduled for the last Saturday in October at the Westfield Wheaton Mall from 10 am to 1 pm.

I want to thank Westfield for teaming up with once again as well as raffling off $50 gift cards to those who get boosted at that event. Our boosterama events are a convenient and easy way for us to bring our shots directly to the community. We will continue promoting this fun and convenient way to keep you, your family and out community safe and hope you will help us as well.

No New Cases of Monkeypox in Montgomery County This Week

Monkeypox cases continue to climb slowly across Maryland now tallying around 700 cases across the state and around 27,000 cases nationwide.

There have been no new cases reported in Montgomery County since last week. We’ve put more shots in arms than anywhere in Maryland. We continue to be proactive— using our preregistration list to administer around 30 preventative vaccines every day.

I’m proud of our efforts and am glad to see the case rate slowing down.

A Beautiful Weekend Ahead

This weekend is one of the most beautiful on the calendar with the leaves changing across Montgomery County. Luckily, there are many ways to take in the beaty of Autumn.

On Saturday, Potomac Day returns with a parade through Potomac Village that includes horses from the Potomac Bridle and Hiking Trails Association. It’s the 40-th year of the community celebration which starts at 10 and runs through 3 in the afternoon.

On Sunday morning in Silver Spring, the humanitarian agency Adventist Development and Relief Agency is hosting a Walk In Silence event that starts at Veterans Plaza downtown at 8 a.m. Its focus is to draw attention to the War in Ukraine and Ukrainians forced from their homes. Aid workers and volunteers are helping those families with welcome packages that include clothes and other basic needs.

There are also many fall festivals and other adventures to learn about right here in the County and close to home. Please check out the Visit Montgomery website and app to stay up to date on all the opportunities to enjoy in Montgomery County.

As always, my appreciation for all of you,

Marc Elrich
County Executive