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More to Protect Anacostia

Here is another storm drain marking project in our area to protect Anacostia river from pollution. As I reported earlier, we had our first drain marking project on March 28. This time the event will be held on next Saturday, April 24, from 3-6pm.

Interestingly enough, this time the event will be organized by a College Park based youth group called Youth Take Action.

The activities include marking storm drains and educating the public about non-point source pollution to protect the Anacostia River.

Participants can earn community service hours. Refreshments will be served afterwards courtesy of Buffalo Wild Wings and other local businesses

This event is RSVP only. e-mail Caitlyn Hutchison at youthtakeaction@live.com. More on the event can be found here .

Rent Control – How Much and Why?

I’ve been following the issue of rent control lately after the city decided to take it for public hearings. The first of the two scheduled public hearings took place last Tuesday. The City council will vote on new rent ordinance by end of the month.

According to The Gazette, the ordinance currently bars residential landlords from collecting monthly rent greater than 0.6 percent of a home’s assessed property tax value, although the law is not currently enforced. Under the system, a landlord who owns a house with an assessed value of $300,000 would be barred from collecting more than $1,800 per month from its combined tenants.

In the 2010 assessment, the assessed values of these homes plummeted, meaning that 0.6% of the assessed value is now significantly lower than the fair market rent for most properties.  The 2010 Fair Market Rent in the D.C. Metropolitan area for a four-bedroom unit is $2,522/month.

Councilman Robert Catlin (Dist. 2) proposed at a March 16 work session that the council lift the cap to 0.8 percent, due to declining property tax values.

The idea of rent control is nothing new. Almost every city and municipality has a committee called rent stabilization board or committee that oversees the issue and recommends the city on how much maximum rent the homeowners can charge.

The rent control makes the houses in the city affordable for the tenants. A higher rent forces the low income family move out of the community which may adversely affect the community through “social unbalance”. The frequent relocations of such families across school district have also further impact on their children’s education.

However the property owners think such a control inhibits their ability to maintain and improve their rental properties. Without such improvements, the community becomes “a slum” – they claim. Opponents of rent control also argue that rent of houses should be decided by the competition in the housing / rental market.

As expected, most UMD students always have supported stricter rent control legislation favoring a lower monthly rent. UMD students make the significant portion of the city’s tenant population.

Aside from the intricacies of the law, a subtle cultural issue surrounding this debate can be noticed – students / tenants typically call the property owners as “landlords”, a term many property owners have a deep dislike with. The headline of  last Tuesday’s rent control public hearing story in the UMD student paper the Diamondback reads “Landlords mobilize against rent ceiling

UMD Police Beating Gets Global Attention

The recent news of an officer wielding nightsticks and beating a University of Maryland student received a national attention. The news is now everywhere – from the Washington Post, to CNN, CBS and to the London Telegraph.

As I wrote earlier, the news of the students rioting on Route 1 also caused much attention among the local residents.

According to CNN, the video shows a student identified as John “Jack” McKenna skipping down the street and approaching two officers on horseback. After a brief exchange, two officers on foot slam McKenna against a wall and he falls to the ground. A third officer joins the first two, and the three strike McKenna with nightsticks while he is on the ground as other students scatter.

McKenna had a cut on his head that required eight staples to close, said Sharon Weidenfeld, a private investigator working for McKenna’s attorney, Chris Griffiths. In addition, he had a concussion, a badly swollen arm and bruises elsewhere on his body. Griffiths’ office referred questions to Weidenfeld on Tuesday.

The suspected officer has now been suspended. As expected, the UMD students, have been outraged by the news.

For a Greener East Campus


[The following is a guest column by Rachel Hare of the UMD for Clean Energy]

No matter what the future holds for the University of Maryland’s East Campus development, students have shown that they are interested in making the project greener.

Last week, UMD for Clean Energy’s panel discussion, “Making East Campus a Beast Campus,” attracted some 70 attendees, consisting mainly of students.  Also in attendance were members of the College Park City Council, College Park Mayor Andy Fellows and Vice President for Administrative Affairs Ann Wylie.

“We absolutely rocked it tonight,” said Matt Dernoga, UMD for Clean Energy’s campaign coordinator. “It might not be quantifiable right now, but I can guarantee you, based on the reaction of the decision-makers in attendance, this development is going to be greener thanks to tonight than anyone was counting on yesterday.”

The panelists discussed how an environmentally conscious East Campus development would be in keeping with the university’s ambitious environmental standards. 

Tom Liebel, an architect and one of the first 25 U.S. professionals to receive LEED accreditation, asserted that the university could build an environmentally sound development that also fosters a sense of community by combining economic, social and environmental sustainability.
UMD for Clean Energy hopes that the development will be something that caters to the immediate area in order to reduce commuter congestion.  But the group would also like to see a development that is accessible to surrounding communities through public transit.

Enter Ralph Bennett, Director of Purple Line Now.  Bennett stated that by making the Purple Line accessible to the University of Maryland, the amount of incoming traffic to the university and the new east campus could be greatly reduced.

The new development should also be one that does not harm surrounding communities with dirty or inefficient waste- or storm-water-management. 

Everything running off the streets of College Park eventually ends up in local waterways, said James Foster, president of the Anacostia Watershed Society.  During the panel, Foster discussed ways for the east campus development to recycle storm water hygienically, and manage waste effectively.

When confronted with student questions about the project, Ann Wylie, University of Maryland vice president for administrative affairs, said that the east campus project would be as transparent and environmentally friendly as possible.  Input from students would be considered during the planning as well, she said.

UMD for Clean Energy hopes that the event has educated students about the new development to open up this kind of dialogue between administration, developers, environmental advocates, and students.

Debate Clip Update

For the past few days, I’ve contacted all the speakers on their permission to use their recorded speeches during last week’s amendment debate. Everyone who responded generally gave me their permissions. I must thank their kind considerations in this matter – this means a lot to me.  The speakers who responded include neighbors from both sides of the debate. I fully understand that I should have contacted them before posting their recorded audios. This I recognize a mistake – albeit an honest one, on my part.

I must also recognize Lourene Miovski and her husband Tom Bannister for their time and energies in the introduction of the amendment. Though their proposed amendment did not pass, they deserve credit for generating a vibrant debate at the NCPCA. 

In case you did not know, Lourene and Tom are my very close neighbors; we all live on 53rd Avenue. I think they both spoke eloquently in support of their amendment in last Thursday’s amendment debate.

I’d also like to thank those who decided to take the other side of the amendment. They include Mark, Bill, Mohammed, Nuyeed and Adil. I think they all tried their best to launch strong arguments to make their cases against the amendment. I specially thank Mark for the time he took to come to the meeting and speak, despite his health situation – something that caused him to take a break recently from the VP position.

Though we had some emotional exchanges of words for and against the amendment in the meeting, both sides agreed on a common goal – NCPCA must be a platform standing for non-discrimination and freedom of speech. Their differences in opinion were not on the stated principles of the amendment, but rather it was on the enforcement of those principles. I personally don’t think the difference in opinions that the members expressed was a sign of division in the community, it was rather an expression of democratic voices among the members.

Though I’ve received permissions from almost all of the speakers to use their recorded voices on this blog, I think given the emotional atmosphere surrounding the debate, it’d be prudent to put off publishing them right now. As I said earlier, my original idea for publishing the audio was to help members who could not be present in the meeting. However, I did not realize the publication would generate such a strong expressive trade of words among the members.  The last thing I want to do is to have something that goes beyond democratic debate – and can potentially cause more hard feelings and divisions among our neighbors.

Should the City Raise Parking Permit Fee?

The proposed FY 2011 budget is looking into increasing the residential parking fee from the current $5.00 to $10.00. Here is the text from the budget:

The FY2011 requested budget includes proposed increases in occupancy permit application fees ($10.00 per permit), residential parking permits (an increase from $5.00 to $10.00 per permit)

The increase is part of the city’s plan to offset an estimated $1 – 2 million revenue short falls that the city is trying to recover. The main reasons for such revenue shortfalls are mainly the loss of various taxes, such as the residential property taxes and the property taxes that the city used to get from the old Washington Post plant.

Though the hike is fairly small ($5.00), some residents question the need for  such an increase. Others argue why residents should be paying for parking permit at all. While many streets have parking zone restrictions, the city could get revenues from the fines on these streets – they argue. They want the city to look into cutting expenses in the existing programs.

The proponents of parking permit fees argue that these fees are essential to maintain a functional parking on the city’s busy residential streets, such as those close to the Metro station and the Duval field. The city needs money on such parking enforcements – they argue.

Some residents also think that the parking permit fee should be based on the number of vehicles in a household. They suggest a gradual increase of parking fee for vehicles more than a minimum number. This, as they argue, would address the parking problems on streets with houses having many vehicles, a common problem seen in many areas with rental properties.

What do you all think?

 


(polls)

Shuttle-UM for City Residents

Shuttle – UM

We’ve all seen the University of Maryland’s Shuttle-UM bus service on the main streets in our neighborhood – Edgewood, Rhode Island and Route 1. However, it appeared to me that many of our residents don’t know something important – they can also ride these buses.

Until 2008, only students, faculty and staff members were allowed on Shuttle-UM buses. But a new state law allowed the service to begin picking up city residents. In exchange, the city pays the Department of Transportation Services $5,000 annually. The law was scheduled to sunset in June 2011, but legislation making it permanent has been proposed in the House of Delegates and state senate.

“It’s been a good thing for the city of College Park and the residents of College Park” said Frush, who represents College Park and is sponsoring the bill removing the sunset clause. “I think it gets the young people and the residents together in a good way. I just think it’s useful.” – according to this Diamondback article.

Residents, however, will need to complete an application and show a photo ID and proof of College Park residency.  Residents can apply for the passes at City Hall from 8:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and 1:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday.  UM students do not need a resident pass to ride Shuttle-UM.

The only bus route that go through our neighborhood is 110 – Seven Spring apartments. Route 121, which used to run along Route 1 from IKEA in College Park to Franklin’s in Hyattsville, was eliminated in last September due to low ridership by UM students.

Recording Civic Association Meetings

My other post on the shared audio comments seems to have generated some interesting debate and to some it has caused some concerns. As I said earlier, we’ve been recording the meetings procedure for the past couple of meetings. True, this was not done through a public announcements, but many members know this, seen this, officers are completely aware of this. The recording helps me a lot in writing the minutes of the proceedings and overcome the controversies on the statements and voting procedure in the meetings.

My intention to post the recordings was to let the proceedings be known to members who could not be present due to their busy schedule. Only a fraction of some 170 members were present in the meeting. I thought an audio posting would be synonymous to the text posting, which we do through monthly minutes. NCPCA minutes do often contain members’ comments, though not in the verbatim format. NCPCA minutes are available through online and they are not private to members only, they are made public to anyone to the outside world.

However, it appears that the concerns on such postings have outwieighed the benifits of making them online. This I recognize as a mistake – albeit an honest one from my part, and hence my apologies for causing such unintended hard feelings. The original post containing the recording has now been removed. If the speakers in the debate feel comfortable with the recordings, I may consider posting them in future.

Regardless of the legal issues surrounding the media posting online, I personally think there are benefits of sharing such recording with other members. Like others, I hope to see NCPCA membership to increase in coming months and years, and ideally we’ll never have everyone be present in the meetings. Online multimedia postings will definitely help those members not present in the meeting.

I’ve seen such recordings are done in other public places too, for example city council meetings. The city does recording, the journalists from news media also do. The City even broadcast these proceedings to the public through the cable TV channel, anyone with cable access can listen and record these media. 

There are numerous other civic associations who also make such multimedia recordings of their meeting procedures online – for the very reason I mentioned earlier. Here are a few of them I’ve posted below. You can find numerous others in the websphere.

Perhaps, NCPCA members will appreciate the benefits of making such recordings available online and discuss the matter further in a future meeting.


NCPCA Meeting Roundup

We had a very productive meeting last night.

The PG Police Officer Sean Lewis made a PowerPoint presentation on the Basic Observational skills when it comes to report and describe a crime. The presentation was very engaging.

As usual, Officer Melanie Sarita reported that there has been a recent rise in car break-ins in the area. a total of 14 cars have been broken in the past few weeks in the Blackfoot – Rhode Island Ave. area.

Bob Stumpf of the City’s Public works made a presentation of his agency’s effort in the past snow season. Members generally appreciated the department’s effort given the extraordinary amount of snow they had to deal with.

Members discussed the upcoming May 8 picnic. If you want to volunteer, please contact Valerie Bleau, the picnic coordinator.

Members voted down the proposed By-Laws amendment by a wide margin (20-5). Several members participated in a very lively and spirited debate. I hope to make another post on the debate in a bit more detail in the future.

NCPCA Meeting Tonight, Please Attend

Today is the second Thursday of the month, and hence we’re going to have our regular meeting for the month of April.

Here is the quick summary of the meeting agenda:

  • The Prince Georges County Police will come and give a Workshop on the Basic Observation Skills. With the recent rise in criminal activities in the area, this is something we should all attend.
  • As usual, the PG COPS officer Melanie Sarita will be  making a presentation on the recent crime activities for the last month in her Safety Report
  • The Public Works did a fairly good job during the past snow season. Can their job be improved? Please have your voice heard.
  • We’ll be forming a Nominating Committee for the next year’s officers’ election.
  • As you know, Mark Shroder has regrettably decided to step down from the VP position recently. We’ll decide how to fill that vacant position.
  • There will be a debate and vote on the By-Laws amendment – see pending amendments page for additional detail on the NCPCA’s website. .
  • There will be an update report on the recently formed By-Laws Committee

Let’s all try to attend. See all at the meeting.

Organic Vegetable Gardening Workshop

 The College Park Committee for a Better Environment (CBE) is hosting an organic vegetable gardening workshop. Its goal is to help all of College Park’s gardeners and want-to-be gardeners learn more about growing their own vegetables, herbs, and fruits. Anyone who wants to save money on produce, reduce their intake of pesticides, and become part of a growing movement of urban “farmers” won’t want to miss this workshop!

Dave Kneipp, master gardener with the University of Maryland Extension’s “Grow It Eat It” program, will present the five steps of starting a vegetable garden: planning, selecting a site, preparing your soil, planting crops, and maintenance. Linna “the locavore” Ferguson is committed to eating locally raised food and growing her own food. Her passion is to teach people that everyone, no matter how little time or space they have, can grow their own food. Approaches include: square foot method; vertical, straw bale and container gardening; as well as the lasagna method.

When: Saturday, April 17 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Where: Old Parish House, 4711 Knox Road, College Park, MD 20740 (map below)

Be sure and ask for a parking pass when you arrive!

Attendance is limited to 30 people so please register early for this FREE workshop by emailing CPCBEworkshop@gmail.com or calling Elisa Vitale at 301-277-3445.

[mappress]

FY2011 Draft City Budget Now Online

The city has recently published the proposed FY2011 draft budget. Here is the link:

http://collegeparkmd.gov/Documents/Finance/FY11%20Requested%20Budget.pdf

It’s a huge document – nearly 19 MB in size – so just relax while the pdf opens.

I plan to go over the text in the next few days and hope to cover the key issues in future. Stay tuned.

Keeping a Tab on the Recyclable Trash

Save As You Reduce and Recycle

Here is a fact that might shock some of us. An average American throws away 4.5 pounds of trash everyday – 70% (yes, Seventy Percent) of those are recyclable.

Why this data should worry us?

Each time our city or town sends a truck down our street to pick up our waste, it costs money. It costs money even if we drop our trash off at a local dump. Ultimately, we pay for this service, usually through our local taxes. And it’s not likely that we have much control over the amount we pay, regardless of how much garbage we create.

There is a different system, however, under which residents are asked to pay for waste collection directly-based on the amount of garbage they actually generate. They’re called “pay-as-you-throw” (PAYT) programs, and nearly 6,000 communities across the country have begun using them.

Here is what EPA (the Environmental Protection Agency) says about PAYT program..

PAYT is a different way of paying for waste collection and disposal services. In some communities, it works on a per-container basis: households are charged for each bag or can of waste they generate. A few communities bill residents based on the weight of their trash. Either way, the system motivates people to take their scrap copper to scrap copper Newcastle recycling yards and to think about ways to generate less waste in the first place.

 For community residents, however, the most important advantage may be the fairness and greater control over costs that it offers. Do you have neighbors that never seem to recycle and always leave out six or seven bags of trash? While you may not have thought about it, right now you’re helping them pay for that waste. Under PAYT, everyone pays only for what they generate-so you won’t have to subsidize your neighbor’s wastefulness any more. It’s only fair. With PAYT, when you recycle and prevent waste, you’re rewarded with a lower trash bill.

Our City currently does not have any such program. However, do you think we should consider such program? Here is more to know about the program and its potential disadvantages.

Water Main Replacement This Spring

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) plans to replace approximately 4 miles of water main in our neighborhood. Construction is expected to begin this spring and be completed by the summer next year, weather permitting.

The afected streets are located between the following boundaries: the Beltway to the north, Hollywood Rd. to the south; 53rd Avenue to the west and Baltimore Avenue to the east.

The project is divided into two sections, Hollywood I and Hollywood II.

Please check the map to see if your area will be affected.

April Cleanup, Recycling and Donations Weekends

The City of College Park Public Works facility (9217 51st Avenue) will be open all four Saturdays in April from 7:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. City residents may drop off bulky trash, electronics for recycling, and yard waste; hazardous materials (including roofing shingles, and propane tanks) will not be accepted. Air conditioners, heat pumps, refrigerators and freezers may incur a collection fee; tires will incur a disposal fee of $4.00 each. These weekend events are only open for College Park city residents; you must show proof of residency in the City of College Park to participate.

Check your cabinets, closets and garages for all those items you no longer need or want. Want to donate them but don’t have the time to drive around to multiple donation centers? Bring everything to Public Works instead! From 9 am to 2 pm each Saturday in April, we will once again have the assistance of American Rescue Workers and Community Forklift.

American Rescue Workers (Capitol Heights; 301-336-6200; www.arwus.com) will accept your household items, including: clothing and rags, bedding and linens, books, toys, kitchenware and cookware, and furniture. This is a great way to find new homes for those items you don’t use anymore, but don’t have the time to drive to a donations center.

Community Forklift (4671 Tanglewood Drive, Edmonston; 301-985-5180; www.communityforklift.com) will accept your surplus or salvaged (in good condition!) building materials for donations, including but not limited to: lumber and trim, bricks and masonry materials, cabinets, doors, tiles and flooring materials, tools, hardware, and especially gardening supplies. Community Forklift is the DC Area’s non-profit Thrift Store for Building Materials. Visit them at their warehouse and you may find some inspiration for your next remodeling or hobby project!

If you would like to clean your driveways and exteriors of your home, we recommend you to hire the services of driveway cleaning dublin – professionals hidublin, they have all the necessary equipment to make it happen.

Don’t forget, everything you donate is tax-deductable. Please bring any items you wish to donate to Public Works (9217 51st Avenue) between 9am and 2 pm all four Saturdays in April. For questions, call 240-487-3590