We are hopefully nearing the end of this dangerous heat wave, defined as when the Heat Index reaches or surpasses 105° F. We issued a Heat Emergency Alert, which is rare and meant to help protect everyone from potentially deadly heat. Even at night, when temperatures are lower, the heat still poses a health threat with extended exposure during a Heat Emergency Alert.
Many of our departments have temporary policies and procedures in place to help protect people and animals which include:
- Designating County facilities, including libraries, swimming pools, recreation centers and senior centers, to be open to the public as cooling options during normal operating hours.
- Ride On buses to carry water bottles for riders and can be used to get out of the heat.
- Our facilities for the homeless in Silver Spring and Rockville are both to be open around the clock instead of closed during the day, like they normally are.
- Staff and volunteers at the Animal Services and Adoption Center are given adjusted instructions regarding walking animals to keep them safe.
- Pet owners are warned not to leave pets unattended in vehicles or outdoors in the heat. Violations could lead to criminal charges.
Intense Heat a Reminder of Climate Change Problems Around the World
Record-breaking temperatures, wildfire smoke and drought conditions are not mere anomalies. Sadly, these are becoming our new normal. Unless we take climate change seriously, things will only worsen.
There have been more than 12,000 record-high temperatures so far this year.
- In Phoenix, the heat produced nearly 30 straight days of temperatures above 110° F.
- People have been getting third-degree burns from contact with metal objects or from falling onto the pavement.
- At least seven have died.
- Miami hit a record for 44 days with a heat index above 100° F.
- Water temps in the ocean around Florida have exceeded 100°.
- In El Paso, records were broken for consecutive days with triple-digit heat.
- Palermo, Italy, recorded its hottest day since records began in 1790, hitting 116.7° F.
- Deadly wildfires are causing mass evacuations in Greece.
- China’s highest recorded temperature happened earlier this month at 126° F in Sanbao.
This week, we learned about the breakdown of the ocean circulation system, referred to as the “conveyor belt,” in the Atlantic that could simultaneously accelerate the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, create cold conditions in Europe, create drought conditions in parts of Africa and raise sea levels along the East Coast of the U.S. beyond the sea level rise already predicted to occur without the breakdown of the circulation system.
None of this is normal, but unfortunately it is going to be, unless we make serious policy changes quickly. The Montgomery Climate Action Plan is our “roadmap” to improving sustainability and combatting climate change. The goal of the Climate Action Plan is to reduce 80 percent of carbon emissions by 2027, and 100 percent by 2035. This is one of the nation’s most ambitious plans and our goal of a 100 perecent greenhouse gas reduction is 10 years ahead of the State’s goal to achieve the same by 2045.
I urge you to read our Climate Action Plan and follow the news and developments from our Department of Environmental Protection.
Capital Area Solar Switch Program
While we alone cannot solve climate change here at the local level, we are promoting programs, incentives and best practices to help achieve our climate goals.
One new program is called the Capital Area Solar Switch. This program is open to anyone in Montgomery County interested in going solar. You can sign up by following this link. Applications are accepted until Aug. 30.
The goal of this program is to make it easier and less expensive for residents to install rooftop solar panels, battery storage and electric vehicle charging stations for their homes. A virtual webinar will be held from noon-1 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 9, for people who would like to be taken through the process and ask program leaders questions.
Upon signing up for the program, homeowners will be asked for a fully refundable $150 deposit that will either be applied to the installation cost or refunded if there is no installation. So far, more than 415 County residents have enrolled, but we want those numbers to greatly increase.
I have solar panels on my home, and it is worth it. My electric bills are much lower, and thanks to Federal tax credits, I have already recovered the initial downpayment I spent on this system. Please consider making the switch to solar for your house, too.
Rent Stabilization Bill Is Signed into Law
This week, we celebrated the passage of the Rent Stabilization Bill as I signed it into law. The law will limit yearly rent increases to inflation plus 3 percent, up to 6 percent, and it will take effect after regulations are approved by the County Council.
Rent stabilization is an important step in providing predictability and stability in housing for renters. Those of us who are homeowners are able to count on a steady mortgage payment and do not to have to wonder each year if the cost of housing will drastically increase and put us at risk of losing our homes. Renters do not have that security.
Takoma Park has had rent stabilization for decades and I have seen how meaningful rent stabilization can make a difference in people’s lives. It is good for families and for our schools. Children do not have to move because of unaffordable rents and parents do not have the stress of sky-high rent increases. We know that reduced student mobility is a positive factor in academic performance.
Some developers and property owners worked hard to defeat the bill and ignored the provisions that protect property owners. They pushed the false narrative that it will keep them from being profitable. But the truth is that property owners are allowed to increase rent every year by inflation plus 3 percent, with a cap of 6 percent. That’s a lot. Most working families do not see that type of increase in their incomes every year.
The bill also allows landlords to go above that amount if they show that they have actual costs that are higher than the allowed up to 6% increase. And the bill allows increases for capital expenditures, big capital projects that fall outside of regular maintenance like roofs, boilers, and air conditioning systems. It allows them to maintain their prior net operating income percentage, meaning that new rents would be set so they maintain their historic profitability.
This is common sense stuff. No one is being asked to invest without getting a fair return on their investment. They will be able to get a return on their investment and maintain their properties. All we’re asking them to do is justify the need to raise rent above 6 percent.
This is a very reasonable bill that was a compromise. Those that say differently are simply using scare tactics that are not helpful to preserving and extending affordable housing.
This bill helps renters. It is also good for the entire community. Many businesses rely on lower wage workers. Driving those people out of the County will damage the ability of many businesses to attract and maintain their workforce.
As important as this bill was, alone, it is not enough to address affordable housing issues. We will continue to work on other initiatives, investments and policies to produce, preserve and protect affordable housing.
Fentanyl Awareness Signs and Symptoms
During our recent public safety and youth engagement forum in Wheaton, a concerned woman in attendance asked a simple yet profound question: "How do I identify what fentanyl looks like, and how do I know if my child is using this drug?"
This question is crucial, and it reminds us that, amid all our discussions about fentanyl prevention, we must address this very fundamental concern.
First and foremost, we have observed that a significant amount of fentanyl is being confiscated in tin foil, as many individuals use it to smoke the drug. In addition to recognizing what fentanyl may look like, parents need to be aware of the signs and changes they may witness in their children who might be using this dangerous drug.
Physical signs and symptoms may include:
- Changes in appetite, eating more or less than usual.
- Bloodshot eyes or unusually large or small pupils.
- A runny nose that cannot be attributed to allergies or a cold.
- Impaired condition or slurred speech.
- Unusual sleep patterns, sleeping at odd hours.
- Drastic changes in social circles, mixing with different groups or changing friends.
- Losing interest in previously enjoyed activities.
- Extreme fatigue and sadness.
- Neglecting personal hygiene like bathing, changing clothes, or brushing teeth.
- Increased anxiety levels.
- A sense of euphoria or heightened energy.
- Irritability that seems out of the ordinary.
- Mood swings and drastic shifts in emotions.
- Paranoia or displaying suspicious behaviors.
- Missing important appointments and neglecting responsibilities at work, school or home.
- Exhibiting secretive behaviors.
- Giving up hobbies, sports, and social interactions.
- Facing financial difficulties or unexplained spending.
Additionally, I have tasked our HHS teams with improving our communication about these signs and other critical information related to fentanyl awareness. I encourage you to know the risks of fentanyl and opioid use by visiting montgomerycountymd.gov/opioids or knowtherisksmc.org.
Together, we can combat this threat, protect our loved ones and work toward a safer and healthier Montgomery County.
La Abuelina to Focus on Road Safety
Throughout the pandemic, our cartoon character La Abuelina was enormously helpful in sharing information about COVID-19 prevention and vaccinations. La Abuelina garnered national and international media attention and has received an Emmy three years in a row.
Recognizing the success of this campaign, I asked that we copyright her image and use her for other public safety and educational efforts. Vision Zero’s pedestrian safety efforts was a logical use.
In the coming weeks, La Abuelina will play a crucial role in sharing information with the community on how to safely navigate pedestrian hybrid beacons, newly installed in placed like Silver Spring and Gaithersburg. This technology gives users the ability to stop traffic and provides extra protection for people walking, biking and rolling across the street. Road safety leaders say that public outreach is crucial to help walkers and drivers safely navigating the crossing.
The campaign includes bilingual social media posts and pop-up events at grocery stores over the next two weeks in Gaithersburg and Aspen Hill. Upcoming events will take place at the following locations while additional activities are posted on the campaign website:
- Wednesday, Aug. 2, 4-8 p.m. Aspen Hill Shopping Center, 13661 Connecticut Ave., Silver Spring.
- Saturday, Aug. 5, Noon – 4 p.m. Aspen Hill Shopping Center, 13661 Connecticut Ave., Silver Spring.
Farm Tour Visit
I was able to visit one winery, one cidery and two farms. Now with our grape crush facility at Crossvines, I am looking forward to even more fabulous wines. All of this should add to our growing agritourism.
Looking ahead, we have another significant event on the horizon. The Montgomery County Agricultural Fair will run from Aug. 11-19 at the fairgrounds in Gaithersburg.
This is another important event that raises money, attention and awareness for our farmers. You can start planning your trip to the fair now at mcagfair.com. You can also plan your own trip into the Ag Reserve (like taking the Tastemakers Trail) through the Visit Montgomery Adventure Planner App.
UPS Labor Deal is a Win for Workers
A few weeks ago, as we celebrated our nation’s birthday, I praised the role of unions in helping workers win key victories, which is an essential part of true independence.
It was great to see this week the UPS workforce and the Teamsters Union successfully negotiate an agreement for pay and benefits, and the protection they deserve. Drivers delivered goods in un-air-conditioned trucks in the summer, sweltering working conditions that UPS initially refused to address.
These workers were critical to our nation’s economy during the pandemic – they risked their health and their family’s during a time when UPS profits increased 140 percent. These workers deserved more, demanded more and got more.
I also want to take a moment to acknowledge my support for the actions taken this summer by the Writer’s Guild and in the Screen Actors Guild who create the movies, television and streaming entertainment that we all love. I hope their strike ends soon, but most of all I hope it is successful in getting corporations to understand that their greatest asset is the people producing the work from which they profit.
I have longed supported a unionized work force and decent wages. This week, I took lunch orders at Sala Thai Restaurant in Bethesda to show my support of the nationwide One Fair Wage initiative that would eliminate the tipped minimum wage.
Access to labor unions, the right to organize and decent wages, are all important for worker protection, a family’s prosperity and our nation’s economy.
As always, my appreciation for all of you,