A Lot Closer Than You Think

TeamworkLooking at the signs on the Edgewood and other major streets in our district, the first thing that may cross your mind is – “it’s warfare – it’s a battlefield”.

Actually not!

Even with all these battles to win the hearts and minds of the voters, we, most of the candidates, do keep in touch. We send emails, we invite each other to our events, and meet each others at the NCPCA’s monthly and the officers’ meetings.

Given the small size of our neighborhood, we cannot afford to have frictions and divisions among us when we try to get important things done for our neighbors.

Funny enough, about a month ago, we signed each other’s petitions when we first applied for our candidacies before the campaign started in the full swing. Call this a true example of cooperation.

Thanks to the city’s election commission serving as the watchdog of this election’s campaign activities, I’ve noticed a few cases of “uneasiness” from a few candidates during our campaign. Some may think these are attempts to punish the other candidate, but I think they are ways to prepare the candidates to the larger role they aspired to take. As a candidate, one ought to prepare himself or herself a greater degree of transparencies and responsibilities.

Though unfortunate, our city councils in the past years have seen several incidents of bitter confrontations, many of them happening open in public, in front of the TV cameras and reporters. The scenes of such fights may be good candidates for entertainment session on the local TV channels, but not certainly good for the citizens, who elected those council members in the first place. Bitter fightings such as this prohibit the progress of council sessions, especially during the time of taking importatnt legislations.

During council and other public meetings, disagreements between our elected representatives is not an uncommon thing, but the key to a productive council lies in the getting along with other members in the team, especially during the time of disagreements.

In the end, our elected officials must learn how to build a strong team – for the sake of the residents who voted them to elect and to “get things done”.

Why Do You Run?

dog_walkingI like this dog-walking neighbor.

On my campaign trail, I met him at least 3 times at 3 different places within the neighborhood. He’s a friendly guy and loves to take a very long walk – good for him and his cute pet.

“Hey, I know you, you’re Kabir right?” – He stopped and asked me as I was passing him.

“Yeah, I saw you on the paper, you’re running…”, He explained before I got a chance to speak. It was drizzling and his little dog was getting restless, so we had to end our conversation there after a brief introduction.

The other day, we met again in another part of the neighborhood.

“Can I ask you a question?”, he asked.

“Sure”, I replied.

“Why do you run for the council?” – He asked me with curiosity covered all over his face.

I tried to explain my current involvement with the NCPCA civic association (as its secretary) and expressed my desire to serve the neighborhood in an expanded role

“…No, I mean, like where is the incentive? do you guys make a lot of money?”, he asked me again, seemingly not satisfied by my answer. I liked the frankness in his question.

Unlike many think, the council position is not a fully paid “salaried” position; the *very little* compensation the council members receive from the city is not enough for them to even bring bread to the table. Unless retired, most council members have a full time day job, and this also applies to the Mayoral position. Because of the day-jobs council members need to keep (and also enjoy, as I do), all council meetings happen after work (typically after 7:30pm).

With my many years of humble involvement with the civic activities, I can probably sense the kind of motivation that drives a council candidate to seek the council position. If I can guess it right, it’s the rewarding experience one gets due to the service for his or her community.

Even during the campaign, I had many opportunities to serve many of my neighbors as I talked to them and tried to find ways to meet their needs. They may be as little as getting contact information from the city or the county, or the law enforcement, but at the end, it felt great when I heard them saying even a simple “Thank you”.

Starting from the city’s council position to the nation’s presidential position, I guess this is the kind of self-satisfaction that has been driving our citizens to seek for higher offices.

Budget Cuts in PG Police

PG Co. Police Ad (courtesy of Washington Post)

PG Co. Police Ad (courtesy of Washington Post)

You have probably seen ads like the one on the left in the Metro station and on metro buses. The PG Co. Police (PGCPD) has been recently struggling with budget cuts due to recession and elimination of vacant positions. The department has also been facing a hiring a freeze for a long time.

Washington Post has recently reported this:

About 50 Prince George’s County employees across numerous departments were told Friday that they would be laid off, effective Nov. 1, as part of an effort to close a $22.7 million budget gap left by recent state funding cuts. 

PGCPD is one of the major law enforcement divisions we depend on everyday to patrol our streets. We use their service at the expense of our tax dollars, only next to the service we pay ($1 million annually) to hire their contract police. Cuts such as these will definitely worsen our public safety concerns that many of residents currently have - our residents will most likely see slower response from them in case of emergencies.

Please check my earlier blog posts on ideas of  improving public safety in our city.

www.kabir2009.org/public-safety-without-a-tax-increase/

www.kabir2009.org/more-ideas-on-public-safety/

Honored to be a Green Candidate

UMD_CEI’m  honored to receive a very important endorsement today from the University of Maryland’s UMD for Clean Energy.

Here is what Hilary Staver, the Political Liaison of the group sent to me:

Congratulations!  After interviewing every candidate in the College Park city council elections, I’m happy to inform you that UMD for Clean Energy has decided to endorse you in your campaign for the College Park City Council.  We think you will be a strong advocate for our platform and for a sustainable College Park.

I thank UMD for Clean Energy for providing such an important support.

You can view the standings of all the candidates here on the group’s website

http://www.umdforcleanenergy.com/where-the-candidates-stand.html

You can view the complete list of candidates endorsed by the group here.

” .. we ultimately felt Fazlul Kabir was the most impressive, demonstrating he’s been thinking about these issues for a long time, and at the same time he took firm positions on our ideas.  It was clear from his record and perspective that he shared our vision of making College Park a leader.”

Congratulations to Patrick Wojahn for sharing the endorsement in our district.

Earlier I blogged on how to make our neighborhood a cooler and a greener one

http://www.kabir2009.org/for-a-cleaner-and-a-greener-neighborhood/

Building Stronger Families and Communities

Right now, I’m attending a family summit at the City of College Park’s Youth and Family Services (YFS), which is located in my district. The YFS organizes this summit annually to brainstorm and find solutions to the challenges our families and communities are going through. The participants included community leaders, educators, social services workers and the members from the law enforcement agencies.

familyOverall, I must say that this was a great event. My thanks and kudos goes to Peggy Higgins (YFS director) and the YFS staff in general for organizing such an impressive event.

The groups identified the challenges our families and communities are facing, and there are many of them (no wonder!).  The most important ones are: communication gaps between different groups in the communities, public safety concern, weak connection among the family members, and lack of resources from the local and other governments.

A great deal of ideas came out from the participants on how to address these challenges. Again they’re many. They include: having a national / local database with the listing of pool of volunteers, stronger and improved Neighborhood Watch programs (my favorite), improved communication between family and community members, streamlined and better funding for community based programs, more participation of parents, encouraging the youth to be part of family, recognizing and getting ethnic communities more involved in civic activities.

Out of all these great ideas, if one thing I’d say resonated throughout the summit was a greater need for community activism and volunteerism. Many of our community based programs, such as tutoring, organizing focus groups, Neighborhood Watch program; annual community cleanup events, civic association activities, family counseling etc. are in a great need of community volunteers and activists. Programs such as these not only bring the neighbors together but also reduce cost of services that our city and local governments pay at the expense of our tax dollars, especially in this hard economic time our community is going through.

The key to the success of these ideas much depends on strong community leadership in the local government who can bring the local resources to the ordinary citizens and energize the neighbors and residents to participate more in such volunteer-based community programs.

For a Cleaner and a Greener Neighborhood

How green is our city? The answer to this question much depends on who you ask, and how much the person you ask cares to make our city a cooler and greener one.

GreenTreeI had an opportunity this afternoon to talk about many of these environment related issues in a forum at the University of Maryland, and I thought I should share with you all more on the same issues.

First of all, let’s get to the core issues – a greener city is not only good for the overall health and well being of the residents living in our neighborhood, but improving our houses to the better and greener standards also helps serve to raise the property values of our houses.

Let’s start talking about the more inexpensive ones first – the ones that should be no brainers to everyone.

To make our environment cleaner and free of pollution, more biking and public transportation can be something we should all encourage others to use. I personally bike to the Metro every day and there I catch the Metro train to go to work. Riding Metro not only makes me feel good in making my neighborhood a greener one (though it’s very small effort, I must admit), but I also find my ride on the Metro is a very productive one – I can get a lot of work done with my laptop during my ride.

The City can probably also introduce bike sharing program, something that many other cities are slowly adopting. There should also be awareness and recognition program in the community, to encourage others to bike, walk and use more public transportation.

Making our streets more biker friendly is another goal we should all be looking into. Fortunately, other than the Route 1 and the Rhode Island Ave., all of our streets in our district are owned by the City. Thus it should be a lot easier to make these streets more biker friendly. Rhode Island Ave. already has bike lanes on both sides, though I understand those lanes should be improved.

Most houses in our city are fairly old – the average age of our houses is about 40 to 45 years. Because of the fact that they were built a long time ago, most houses don’t use energy efficient heating and cooling systems, the windows, doors and the walls are also not energy efficient. In many houses, there may also issues with the lead standard.

Making our aging houses and businesses more energy standard can be a little harder and a lengthy one, but this is something we can always start with the right and creative incentive programs and with the right community based financial assistance.

The bottom line is, everybody wins when we make our houses more energy efficient and greener one. Even from strictly economic point of view, our utility bill will bound to go down in the long run, if we all appreciate the value of adopting such greener approach.

Having a green society is not a slogan of an agenda driven group, as many thinks, unfortunately – it should be the collective goal of all citizens looking to make our community a better and a healthier one.

Finding a Crime Near You

CrimeReports

www.CrimeReports.com

Though you can contact the P.G. Co. Police to find more about the crimes in your neighborood, there is a better way to find crimes related information. Websites like CrimeReports.com will let you choose specific location in your neighborhood and find crimes for upto past 30 days. Here is the link for our area:

http://crimereports.com/map?search=collegepark%2C+md+20740

CrimeReports.com is the largest crime-mapping and sex offender website in the world, with over 500 law enforcement partners and national sex offender data.

You can also get an automatic alert report by signing yourself to the site. Here is the link to sign-up

http://www.crimereports.com/user/register?r=na

Thank you, Neighbors!

Defying occasional rains, neighbors in our district gathered at 10am this morning to clean the four corners commercial district, the surrounding neighborhood streets and several neighbors’ yards and gardens.

Some 30 neighbors attended the entire event. Supervised by adults, several children took part of the event too. They were divided into several small groups. Some picked up trashes from the city streets and the four corners commercial areas at the back of MoM and the College Park Auto service stores. The volunteers cleaned both sides of Edgewood, Rhode Island, Paducah, Nantucket, Laguna, 51st and 53rd. At the end, volunteers collected some 25 large bags of trashes and several bags of leafs.

Members also raked leaves and cleaned weeds from several residents’ yards and gardens.

I thank everyone who attended the event and helped make our neighborhood a cleaner and better place to live.

Here are a few shots from the event. Please enjoy!!

 

Ready, Set, Cleanup!!

Just thought I should give you all another reminder of tomorrow’s cleanup event at the Hollywood commercial district. We’ll gather at the REI/MOM/Pizza Roma shopping complex at 10am and clean the neighborhood streets and lawns / backyards. We’ll pickup trashes, recyclable items and rake leaves.

The event will continue until 1pm.

This will be the fourth year we’ll be doing this fall cleanup event. In the past years, we’ve seen residents much appreciate such events. If you want us to clean your lawn or backyards or any other special area in your house, please contact us at (301)659-6295.

We’ll have enough supplies to get everyone going during the event – free donuts, juices and coffee included.

Hope to see you all at the event.

More Ideas on Public Safety

publicsafetyMy earlier post on the public safety seems to have generated some interests among my readers. Among those is an article published today on the UM paper Diamondback. With public safety being the hot topic and I’m probably the only candidate who is proposing some serious measure to address this important issue, I think I should go for the second round on this subject.

In my previous post, I advocated no-cost and low-cost measures to address this important issue in immediate term. This includes strengthening the community based policing program, such as Neighborhood Watch, and a smart auto-alert system as crimes happen.

As for the police presence on our streets goes, contract policing could still be best cost effective solution for the short term, however, for the long term, we should be looking into having our own police without any tax increase on the residents.

 To address the growing concerns on the public safety from the residents, our city conducted a feasibility study on having city’s own police program back in 2007 – you can view the report here on the city’s website.

Since the 2007 city-sponsored police study report, the city budget for contract police has gone up by 100% (from 0.5 to 1 million). This figure is expected to rise steadily in coming years to meet the growing concerns of our citizens on public safety, thus closing the gap between the cost of maintaining contract police and the city’s own police. Per the 2007 report, we need close to 3 million dollars to have our own police. We’re currently spending 1 million on the contract police and another 1 million will come from the county because of not using their regular police service. The conclusion is we’re not very far-off in having our own police.

Having our own police will not only make our residents feel more secure, but this will also help in generating revenue by contracting them out to special events throughout the year.

We should also be looking into the possibility of the formation of a unified city police in conjunction with the University police to reduce cost and overlapping of services of both police departments. More than a third of our residents think that the communication between the various police forces in our city is in a dysfunctional state.

Many of our university students live in our neighborhood – some say half of our residents are UM students. Thus the University Police should have a special interest in serving these students across the city. One may argue that the University Police should only be serving the students in the neighborhood and not other residents, but the same argument can go with the situation when they are currently and most likely served by the contract police, at the cost of the local tax payer’s dollars. As you can see, this will be another test for the University – City relationship, where both can win at the end.

We should also be looking into other creative ideas of supporting expenses, such as a “Patrol Vehicle Sponsorship Program”, something similar done in the City of Toledo and other cities.

I’m sure, there could be other ideas from the concerned residents. The key is to start looking into different options seriously in the context of an increasingly expensive contract police program and growing concern of public safety.

Improving the Community Relations

The social landscape of our city in changing..

The City of College Park used to be known some 50 or even 20 years ago is not the same as today’s College Park, New generations of people are moving into our neighborhood – Latinos, Asian, African and Europeans – people from all different parts of the world are changing the ethnic composition of our community.

rthnicThough the influx of this new generation of people is making our community a truly diverse one, their arrival is causing new complexities among the neighbors – there seems to be a decline in the trust among our residents.

“I don’t know who they are – we never met since they moved in” – this kind of expressions are abound when I talk to our long time residents and ask their opinions about their neighborhood on my campaign trail.

Sometimes the tones of their unknowingness turn into pitches of frustration. “This neighborhood is going to south – these people are changing the way I saw my neighborhood when we bought this house 30 years ago. I’m going to leave this place once I retire.”

Fortunately, many neighbors open up to express their reasons of frustration. These new neighbors, as one resident puts in “should behave better” – “they drive fast on our streets, their houses are full of people – I cannot even count how many of them live in that house.”.

I also noticed their concerns about the young members of these new families

“Their children play in the middle of our streets. When we grew up, we used to play in our backyards and parks; we never played on the street.”

Others even go further..

“Their children hang around at the street corners. Look at the four corner area; how many of their children roam around that place after the dark? Shouldn’t these kids be doing their homework at home? Do their parents know what their children are doing after the dark?”

I notice the repeated use of the words like “they”, “their” – as opposed to the use of words like “we” and “our”. And this signals the ethnic divide our community is currently going through.

True this social change may sound like an alarming one, but I’ve seen some very positive things that we should all be feeling proud of this community.

From the first look and by many definitions of ethnicity, I probably fall into the category of a minority group. (I was born in a foreign country, and I’m brown). Yet, except a few instances, I’ve found all of my long-time residents are very open-minded to have their ideas known to me. I found them very much engaged when I tried to discuss how we can all get our new neighbors into the greater fold of our community.

The nature of the challenges we’re facing in this ethnic ground is not radically different from the one we’re having between the residents and our university students – something that I blogged earlier. There is a parallel between these two issues – which can be summarized into one word – mistrust. This again results from the communication gap between the groups.

Many of the issues our long-time residents are concerned about may quite be true, and most likely because of the fact that our new neighbors aren’t quite aware of the city’s rules and regulations. Many of our young neighbors have language problems too; on top of that many do more than one job, thus having little time to take care of their families and social matters.

I think it’s the collective job of the City and our neighborhood associations to bridge this growing divide between the generations of the old and the new. The City’s family and youth services is doing a good  job in providing multi-language services to the city’s ethnic community; however I think the City and the neighborhood associations can arrange more educational and awareness programs on the ethnic issues that our  community is going through. In addition to having such programs, a joint multi-ethnic focus group should be created to explore the root causes of this ethnic divide and discuss steps to eliminate them.

Top Priorities in Route 1 Development – Fix Transportation and Reduce Tax

When it comes to Route 1 development, our neighborhood is going through some pretty tough challenges. If Park and Planning’s initial plan is approved, it may bring far reaching, mostly irreversible effect the way our neighborhood will look in the foreseeable future.

Route1One conclusion everyone draws about the plan is this – the plan is faulty and has several holes that need to be fixed before it goes for full implementation.

Before we talk about the drawbacks, let’s take a look at the potential positive sides about the plan. The plan looks to bring walkable nodes, allowing our neighbors and families walk to shops and catch public transportation. There will also be undergrounding of electrical cables, thus giving the central corridor of our neighborhood a better, safer and modern look.

Special cares need to be taken in designing shops and businesses, since such development can be a major source of the city’s business tax revenue – which in turn can potentially reduce the taxes that our residents currently pay. One of the major concerns I’ve heard from the campaign field is that our taxes are pretty hefty, especially in this hard economic time – any help in reducing tax should be considered carefully.

New businesses should also be family friendly and should meet the needs of the local residences. Local businesses need to be incentivized to encourage more local economic growth.

Business development unfortunately poses other serious challenges, the most notably the issue of transportation – something the current plan does not address adequately. More businesses mean more traffic to the area – this will potentially aggravate the current congestion problem we all are facing on Route 1. Unfortunately, the plan is not based on serious and comprehensive long term traffic studies and is thus very incomplete. Once the shops are built, it will be very difficult or near impossible to improve the road – thus any development before the transportation fix is like putting the cart before the horse.

The plan should also look into ways to reduce the local and the external traffic on the Route 1. More frequent and smarter shuttle services should be introduced, preferably between the area and the metro stations. To reduce the university traffic through the portion of Route 1 in our district, more students housing should be built near the campus. Alternate routes such as Kenilworth Avenue should also be improved to take away the traffic load from the Route 1. Other local governments and administrations such as the State and Highway Administration (SHA) should be brought closely during the design and implementation phase of the plan.

Unlike many think, we’re just seeing the beginning of the Route 1 sector plan development – the full implementation will take some time, depending on the funds available. It’s important that we all stay informed and get engaged as our central corridor takes shape in future.

Let's Keep Our Children in Our Own Neighborhood School

The only elementary school in our district is going through some serious growing pain. The Hollywood Elementary School located on the 49th Avenue (near the Edgewood Road) has outgrown 133% and is projected to grow 161% by the year 2015, according to the county statistics.

Hollywood elementary school - Distrct 1's only neighborhood elementary school

Hollywood elementary school - District 1's only neighborhood elementary school

The county’s education board is trying to fix this overcrowding problem by reboundarying the school district. Though this solution may sound like a cheap one, at the end, this may cause extreme hardship to many residents living in our district.

Speaking with the neighbors living in the Hollywood community it appeared to me that the idea of redistricting is an extremely unpopular one. When we move to a neighborhood, we look into a few things – safety, quietness, and most importantly, a better school for our children. The same happened to many residents who moved near the school and wanted to have their children going to their neighborhood school.

Redistricting will force many of our area parents to take their children to the PaintBranch school in the south; thus requiring them to spend up to extra 2 hours of their precious time. This extra time will go waste for our children too – we want them spending this time doing homework at home, instead of spending on the road doing nothing.

The best way to address this overcrowding issue is by expanding the school. The school has already added 3 new classrooms, and they also have spaces to grow further. True this may cost the board a little, but looking at the inconveniences our parents and students will be going through, this is the best solution the school board can make.

Critics may complain that an expanded school will bring more traffic, especially when the parents drop their children off or pick them up. But this traffic issues can easily be addressed by encouraging more parents walking their children to the school. The school has recently organized the second ‘Walk to School’ event, which should continue more frequently in future. Such programs reduce congestions in the neighborhood streets and improve our environment by reducing carbons in the air. About 93% of the students live within the walking distance from the school, thus more walking should nearly fix the transpiration issue for good. The key to fixing the issue is thus the awareness among the parents. Perhaps we can introduce an award program for these ‘Walk to School’ parents / families, thus encouraging other parents to walk their children more to the school.

Candidate Forum News on The Gazette

Kabir_NCPCAIn case you could not attend this month’s NCPCA candidate forum, please read the Gazette article. Here is the link:

http://www.gazette.net/stories/10152009/collnew180510_32522.shtml

Annual Fall Neighborhood Cleanup'09

It’s that time of the year – the time to do our annual fall neighborhood cleanup event.

fallcleanupThis will be the 4th annual fall cleanup event I’ll be organizing with other residents and school parents in the neighborhood. Those of you who attended similar events in the past years know very well how fun and rewarding it is to take care of your neighbors and the neighborhood.

We hope to gather at the Hollywood Commercial District (MOM/REI/Pizza Roma Shopping Complex) at 10 am on Oct 24, Saturday. We’d like to start cleaning the four corners area first and then go into other neighborhood streets. The event is expected to end by 1pm.

Now here is something that might entice you to join the event (in addition to  the ‘rewarding’ part I mentioned earlier). We’ll be serving free donuts, snacks, juice and coffee throughtout the duration of the event.

Oh!, you’re most welcome to bring your friends and families, especially the young children / students. You’ll see your kids will LOVE to work in these events – guaranteed.

Please call me at (301)659-6295 or Tanweer Ahmed  at (847) 962-1040, if you need more information.

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