Security Cameras – Safety vs. Privacy

The recent approval of security cameras in our city stirred a debate of public safety vs. the citizen privacy. As I blogged earlier, our part of the city will not get any of these cameras, mainly due to the lack of funding. The city applied for 3 million dollars for the cameras, but received only one sixth of that. The cameras will mainly be installed in the downtown area. It will probably take many years for our part of the city to get the cameras.

Watching the recent spikes in crime numbers in the city, I think the cameras are a good tool to deter crimes. They’re sometime also proved very powerful in finding leads to the investigations of the crimes that already happened.

There are however concerns surrounding the use of these cameras. They include maintenance of these cameras and the issue of privacy. “I’m afraid of Big Brother watching”said Council member Afzali, who later approved the cameras during council votes. Former councilwoman Mary Cook also had concerns. “We do not want to open a door that we are not able to close later,” she said.

It’s true that there have been numerous incidents where the abuses of cameras have been reported. While we should be aware of these abuses and their negative impact on our citizens’ rights, I don’t think we should stop using such an useful tool to maintain public safety in the neighborhood.

What do you all think?

Recognizing the Old, Nurturing the New

At a time when we need more cohesion and understanding between various communities and ethnic groups in our neighborhood, talks of more accusations got on our way.

Very recently, I came across an interesting theory explaining the reason for the attempted dissolution of our neighborhood association NCPCA. According to this theory, dissolution of NCPCA was related to the amendment vote that failed to pass in the last January NCPCA meeting.

As a secretary, I record not only who says what in our regular meetings, but also when statements are made, so let’s take a deeper look at the series of events happened.

The amendment vote was taken around 10pm that night, nearly 2 hours after the dissolution motion was raised. Before the dissolution motion at 8pm, there was no debate on the amendment motion, and no member said anything the way she or he would vote. How can we then conclude that the reason for the dissolution motion was the outcome of the amendment motion?

As an avid student of science, I know it’s tempting to introduce a theory, but in this case it would have been a lot easier, if the sequence of events would have happened just opposite – if the dissolution motion had come after the amendment motion – unfortunately, just the opposite had happened.

In explaining the unfortunate matters, I also find this saddening to see an effort to identify some of our neighbors as part of a “group” – whereas a neighbor should be considered as a neighbor, just that.

I wonder however how we identify the members be part of a group, if we do need to put the blames on. Could it be – by looking at their names, by the way they wear dresses, by their languages or by the way of their livings. I thought gone are the days when citizens in this country used to be judged by their “traits” they carry with. There is a term identifying citizens based on their color, religion, race or language – it’s called “profiling”. I hope none of us is taking that dark alley of our history again.

While it’s undesirable to profile our neighbors based on their race, religion and language they speak, solely for the purpose of putting the blames on, it may help to know more about them to find a positive solution.

Many of the members of this group, as the allegation hints, belong to newer and immigrant generation, while as I understand the members having the ‘left-out’ grievances belong to older ones.

I think our time and energy will be better spent if we stop profiling our fellow neighbors as part of a group or groups and as source of ‘problems’. Instead we should find ways how we can bring these two generations – new and old together.

In my earlier article in the Gazette, I tried to touch upon this issue of recognizing the old and nurturing the new members, however due to restriction of word counts, I could not go further, let me expound on this now.

Like many, I do recognize that the older / long time members of our community deserve respects. They are the ones who have started many community projects like our civic association. I wonder if we can recognize them with awards in public ceremonies for their hard work and contributions for our community at large. I know other civic associations have similar recognition programs.

We should also start projects like brief community history project, taking the stories from our older community members. This would connect the older generations with the newer ones by establishing the heritage of our neighborhood. Our neighboring city Berwyn Heights has just done that.

In a similar fashion, the newer generation of community members also needs to be nurtured. As a long time member of the association, I do recognize that my fellow long time members have a responsibility to invite and nurture the newer members. If we do recognize who are our new members why don’t we approach them and find their issues. I know many of them have difficulties in the ways our meetings are run, other have small children, whom they cannot bring with them to the meeting. Discussing these matters with them would probably enable them attending our meetings on a regular basis.

Pointing fingers to the old and the new generations will only widen the gulf between the two. Recognizing and respecting the needs of these two generations can bring them together.

Last Night’s NCPCA Meeting Roundup

Last night we had a rather brief but productive NCPCA meeting at the Davis Hall.

Safety Report: As usual COPS Ofc. Sarita and Ofc. Taylor briefed the members on the recent crime incidents in the neighborhood. The number of break-ins has gone down significantly this month compared to the similar numbers in the previous month. The Police now have a suspect relating to the incident at the St. Andrews Pl. Last Thursday, there was a burglary around the area of Lackawanna Ave and the Mangum Rd. – the suspect pretty much ransacked everything in the house. We had an stolen auto in the area – an warrant has been issued against suspect living in DC.

Reuse of WaPo Plant: Reps from the University of Maryland came over to update the reuse of UMD’s Washington Post plant on Greenbelt Road. The new location will support the East campus development and will thus save 22.4-acre forested area near Comcast Center known as the Wooded Hillock. The University will use the space to relocate facilities currently housed on East Campus to clear space for a 38-acre development that will include shops, a music hall and graduate student housing. The new facility will include the Campus Mail Facility, Shuttle-UM and maintenance shops.  Around 150 employees will be located in the facility, however the UMD does not have any plan to transport them through shuttle service. There hasn’t been any traffic study on the impact of the move and the UMD does not have one in future. It will take around 1 to 3 years to complete the move. Mayor Andy Fellows added the City’s PILOT contract with the UMD does not include the personal property tax, as it used to get from the WaPo from its press equipments; the PILOT however include real estate taxes based on the real state. Bob Catlin said the City may lose as much as $175000 from the loss revenues.

NCPCA Funds: Members also discussed the use of NCPCA funds. Suggestions included spending on improving acoustics at the Davis Hall, community get together / refreshments / ice-cream socials, picnic and on concerts.

Budget Priorities: There was a brief discussion on the budget priorities. Due to anticipated loss of revenues / budget gap this year, the City is less interested in getting ‘Wish list’ as it used to get in previous years.

Dissolution: The dissolution motion was brought again, but was tabled later by another motion.

NCPCA Meeting Tonight – Please Attend

Please attend tonight’s NCPCA February regular meeting at Davis Hall. The meeting will start at 7:30pm.

Other than the recurrent agenda items, tonight’s session will include the following discussions:

(1) The Purchase of Washington Post Plant by the UMD: As you probably know, The UMD has recently purchased the Washington Post’s old College Park plant. The UMD later agreed  to pay the City compensation towards the loss of revenues the City used to get from the Washington Post. This will primarily be an information update session on this subject.

(2)    Budget Priority: NCPCA will get your ideas on how the City should be spending your tax dollars in the upcoming FY 2011 budget. Typically NCPCA sends a prioritized “Wishlist” of top items that the members want to see in the budget. These items are prioritized upon the number of votes they get from the members.

(3)    NCPCA Fund: Over the years, NCPCA has collected nearly $2000 from its members. NCPCA would like to know how best members want to spend this money. The discussion is also important in case some extreme circumstances happen, such as the members decide to dissolve the association (read more..)

(4)    Dissolution Motion: In the past January meeting, a motion was brought to the floor to dissolve NCPCA. While the motion was declared out of order due to a procedural issue, it was promised to have this discussion in tonight’s meeting. The motion will need at least 2/3 votes of members present in the meeting.

To vote on any of the matters discussed in the meeting, you must be a member before the start of the meeting. Also please sign in your name on the signup sheet at the entrance of the meeting hall.

See you all at tonight’s meeting. Stay warm.

Welcome Mark, Mohammed

We’re all excited to know that two long time NCPCA members have kindly agreed to serve two recently vacant NCPCA officers’ positions. They are: Mark Shroder and Mohammed Taluckder.

Mark will be serving as the new Vice President and Mohammed as the Treasurer.

Mark is a well-known face in our community. He has served the City council before. He was also the former NCPCA president. I’m sure Mark’s presence in the NCPCA’s officers’ body will inject new dynamism to the overall growth and direction in our civic association.

Let’s all congratulate both for becoming part of our association’s leadership and thank them for agreeing to volunteer and serve our association.

Speed Cameras on Rhode Island Avenue

I know speed cameras are subjects of controversial discussions – some say they reduce speeding problems, others suspect they are often “abused” to generate revenue for the cash-strapped municipalities. Tonight, there will be a discussion on this at the City’s council meeting.

The City staff has been meeting with Optotraffic, a contractor specializing in installation of speed cameras, to find out whether we can install speed cameras in the City, and where would be best to install them.  Optotraffic has selected a number of areas with serious speeding problems – including Rhode Island Ave in north College Park, Greenbelt Road near Rhode Island Avenue, and Paint Branch Parkway near the trolley trail – where it would be willing to install speed cameras.  The city would not have to pay anything for these cameras – Optotraffic would receive money only from the revenue obtained through tickets.  This resolution would authorize the City Manager to pursue this further. 

[Source: NCP group post]

Assessment Falls, But Tax May Rise!

If you’re a property owner, you probably have been delighted recently seeing your property assessment to go down. Like many, you may have received property tax assessments from the local government.
You’re not alone – your joy has been shared by many – take Cindy Branigin
When the envelope arrived, Cindy Branigin said, she closed her eyes and hoped for the best. After nearly 15 years in her Southern Maryland home, the arrival of her property tax assessment had become a gut-wrenching ritual. This time, Branigin said, she was pleasantly surprised. The assessment of her home had dropped by $50,000.
According to statistics, assessed values of residential property fell 27 percent in Prince George’s (28percent in Charles County, 19 percent in Montgomery).
 
Overall, in the state of Maryland, the residential assessments is down nearly 20 percent.

Not so fast! – though the assessment has fallen, property taxes may not fall accordingly – in fact it may actually increase.

 “We may have to use a combination of service reductions and tax rate and fee increases.” -said Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan.
In Maryland, many homeowners are paying taxes on only a fraction of the assessed value because of the state’s Homestead Tax Credit program, which caps the amount of increase that can be taxed each year. During the housing boom, that protected homeowners from sudden jumps in their tax bills.
For example, Charles Co residents who saw their homes values went double in 2006 did not pay double in taxes. They paid closer to a 21 percent increase over three years. So increases from 2006 will still show up in homeowners’ August tax bill and the following bills until the bills catch up to the assessed value.
[Update] Unlike in a few other counties in the DC metro area, it looks like the property tax will actually go down in our area. Please see Bob Catlin’s comment below.
 

NW Block Captain Meeting Update

I attended the Neighborhood Watch block captain meeting yesterday at the city hall. Unlike the other block captain meetings, this time had a slightly higher participation. The recent rise of crime incidents might be a reason for this – I know at least one participant’s house was broken into recently. Around 6-7 new block captains joined the program – congratulations to all of them.

There will be a City wide NW coordinator meeting on March 10 at the Davis Hall. The next block captain meeting is tentatively scheduled on March 20.

A Strong Civic Association for All North College Park Residents

The following article was published in this week’s Gazette paper.

http://www.gazette.net/stories/02182010/prinlet123058_32552.php
 
A Strong Civic association for All North College Park Residents

[In reference to the story], “Proposed household voting limit splits group,” I decided to vote against the amendment because the proposed amendment would have caused serious conflict with the existing bylaws that guarantee membership to all residents living in the North College Park (“Article IV: Membership Section 1: Eligibility. Membership in the North College Park Civic Association shall be open to all residents in the North College Park area”). Limiting the voting memberships to only one or two thus equals to disenfranchisement of many residents who are part of large families living in one household. Most University of Maryland students sharing their houses with their landlords would have lost their voting rights, too. Many members also found it strange that a resident was being denied the chance to vote when the same person just voted to elect their council members two months ago and a president two years ago. The denial of such voting rights is like taking the association backward to a time when women and African Americans were denied their voting rights in this country.

As a NCPCA member of many years, while I think my fellow long-time members deserve recognition for their contributions to the association, they also bear responsibilities in inviting and retaining them in the association. The credibility of our association to the public officials depends much on the strength of our membership. I wonder how credible our association appears to our elected officials when only 0.01 percent of the population votes on an important matter that affects the entire neighborhood. Thus, instead of being welcoming and neighborly to the new members, blaming them as being part of a bloc or branding them as “recruited” will only repel them from the association.

We need to find strength in these new members, especially when our city’s budget is shrinking at an alarming rate and the demand for services are going up.

Fazlul Kabir is secretary of North College Park Civic Association

New Bus Service On Rt 1

Now here is a good news for those of you who use public transports.

Rt 17 Bus Routes

Prince George’s County Council members announced Thursday that bus service dedicated to the Route 1 corridor has begun. 

The bus runs between Mount Rainier, at the District line, to the Ikea store in College Park, making 35 stops along the way. 

According to a news release, the service is meant to better connect the communities and businesses along Route 1 as well as the University of Maryland. 

More information, including a schedule of stops as well as fare information, is available in pdf form.
[Source: WashingtonPost]

No CCTV Cameras for NCP – Soon

Last year, the City applied for a $2 million grant to place closed-circuit TV cameras and license-plate reader cameras around the City.  The grant would have allowed the City to place cameras around the whole city.  The University offered to monitor a portion of these cameras, located near the University, for free.  The camera feed would be viewable by the Prince George’s County police (including the City contract police) from their laptops.  Unfortunately, the City only received  $500,000 of this grant application.  The staff has received a proposal from the Avrio group to place and operate the cameras.  Because the cameras rely on wireless internet, the cameras would have to be close to the Security Operations Center to begin with.  This means that, at first, no cameras would be placed in north College Park.

“I understand the problem we face with not having the funding we had originally hoped for, but I want to be sure that what we’re doing will set us up for cameras to be placed in north College Park in the future.  Specifically, I want to be sure that the network can be expanded when we have more money, and that this will continue to allow the cameras to be monitored by Prince George’s County police officers as well as University of Maryland police.  I am also concerned about ongoing operating and maintenance costs for the cameras, and how we will pay for those with a shortened budget.  The current proposal we have received does not address these concerns.  This should be an interesting discussion tomorrow night.” – said Patrick Wojahn

Tonight’s NW Meeting Canceled

Sorry for the late notice – Kim Lugo, the City’s Neighborhood Watch Coordinator has sent this message canceling tonight’s meeting at the City Hall.

However SATURDAY FEB 20 at CITY HALL 3 TO 5 PM will be a intro to Neighborhood Watch and BLOCK CAPTAIN TRAINING SESSION please come and bring your neighbors!!!!

See you there and thank you for supporting Neighborhood Watch of College Park. All persons interested in Neighborhood Watch are encouraged to attend.

UMD’s weBike Bike Sharing Program

Being an avid biker, I found this interesting.

weBike is dubbed as the “next generation bike sharing system at the University of Maryland, College Park.”

The University and the City are currently pursuing a number of possible avenues to develop bike-sharing around the City.  Last fall, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments submitted a grant proposal for a region-wide bike-sharing program that would include College Park, and look to integrate the City with the programs already in place in the District.  The WeBike program was developed by a couple of recent U-MD graduates to provide a simple way for students to engage in bike-sharing.  The owners approached me shortly after the Council of Governments grant application went in, and were interested in working with the City to expand their program throughout the City.

In tonight’s council’s session, they’ll make a presentation on the program.

[source: NCP listserve]

Neighborhood Watch Block Captain Meeting, Feb 20

Wow! Two Neighborhood Watch meetings in 3 days!

There will be a neighborhood watch block captain training on Saturday, Feb. 20, at 3 pm, at City Hall.  We tried to get it at Davis Hall, but it was unfortunately booked at that time.  This is a great opportunity to get involved with Neighborhood Watch and find out what it takes to help protect your block from crime. (courtesy of NCP listserve).

Don’t get cofused -  The one on the 17th is an information session and update about the recent criminal activity in north CP, and the one on the 20th is a regular neighborhood watch block captain training.

Neighborhood Watch Meeting – Feb 17

The Neighborhood Watch will have a meeting for all College Park residents and Business owners to update you on the current crimes. Wednesday February 17th City Hall Council Chambers beginning at 7:00 pm until 8:30 parking passes will be given inside from the front counter.

Please mark your calendar.

For further information, please contact the City’s neighborhood Watch Coordinator Kim Lugo kslugo@yahoo.com

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