KabirCares.org

A Hike in PEPCO Bill

Starting from July this year, you’ll see as much as $4.00 increase in your monthly PEPCO bill.

According to this news,  “Pepco customers in Maryland would see a 2.5 percent increase in the rate they are charged for electricity distribution, under a request the utility filed last week with the state’s Public Service Commission. For example, residential customers who get standard offer service and use 1,000 kilowatt-hours per month would see an average $3.76 increase that would raise their monthly bill from $151.78 to $155.54, according to Pepco.”

On the rate hike, Crystal Kim, the director of a consumer advocacy group Justice First, “Our utility rates have doubled in the last five years. Since the 2005 Bush Administration, there has been a 30 percent increase in the electricity rates. This is double in the D.C. area, where the average bill is 100 percent more than it was five years ago.”

Early this month, PEPCO reported a decrease in first-quarter profit, citing higher Power Delivery operation and maintenance expense related to two severe winter storms that occurred in February 2010 as well as income tax adjustments of uncertain tax positions.

PEPCO will be having a hearing on the proposed rate hikes in place for the upcoming year.  The hearing will be held on Thursday, May 20, at 6:30 pm in the College Park City Council Chambers.  The public hearing notice is available here.

More news on the rate hike can be found on PEPCO’s official website here.

MD’s Drug Paraphernalia Law

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned a a resident’s comment on a State of Maryland law that prohibited drug paraphernalia some 25 years ago. This led further research into this subject. Thanks to District 1 council member Chris Nagle who confirmed the existence of such a law. Later I found the online reference of this code on the PG county’s website:
http://egov.co.pg.md.us/lis/docPopUp.asp?File=27-115&Type=CODE

The law clearly states that the sales and display of such drug paraphernalia is prohibited in the state. The Bamboo Eater’s inventory link matches a number of outlawed items listed below.

(A) “Drug Paraphernalia” means all equipment, products, and materials of any kind which are used in planting, propagating, cultivating, growing, harvesting, manufacturing, compounding, converting, producing, processing, preparing, testing, analyzing, packaging, repackaging, storing, containing, concealing, injecting, ingesting, inhaling, or otherwise introducing into the human body a controlled dangerous substance in violation of Subheading Health-Controlled Dangerous Substances, Article 27, Annotated Code of Maryland.  “Drug Paraphernalia” includes:
    (i) Kits used in planting, propagating, cultivating, growing, or harvesting of any species of plant which is a controlled dangerous substance or from which a controlled dangerous substance can be derived;
    (ii) Kits used in manufacturing, compounding, converting, producing, processing, or preparing controlled dangerous substances;
    (iii) Isomerization devices used in increasing the potency of any species of plant which is a controlled dangerous substance;
    (iv) Testing equipment used in identifying or analyzing the strength, effectiveness, or purity of controlled dangerous substances;
    (v) Scales and balances used in weighing or measuring controlled dangerous substances;
    (vi) Dilutants and adulterants, such as quinine hydrochloride, mannitol, mannite, dextrose, and lactose, used in cutting controlled dangerous substances;
    (vii) Separation gins and sifters used in cleaning or refining marijuana:
    (viii) Blenders, bowls, containers, spoons, and mixing devices used in compounding controlled dangerous substances;
    (ix) Capsules, balloons, envelopes, and other containers used in packaging small quantities of controlled dangerous substances;
    (x) Containers and other objects used in storing or concealing controlled dangerous substances;
    (xi) Hypodermic syringes, needles, and other objects used in parenterally injecting controlled dangerous substances into the human body;
    (xii) Objects used for ingesting, inhaling, or otherwise introducing marijuana, cocaine, hashish, or hashish oil into the human body, such as:
                        (aa) Metal, wooden, acrylic, glass, stone, plastic, or ceramic pipes, with or without screens, permanent screens, hashish heads, or punctured metal bowls;
                        (bb) Water pipes;
                        (cc) Carburetion tubes and devices;
                        (dd) Smoking and carburetion masks;
                        (ee) Roach clips (meaning objects used to hold burning material, such as a marijuana cigarette, that has become too small or too short to be held in the hand);
                        (ff) Miniature cocaine spoons and cocaine vials;
                        (gg) Chamber pipes;
                        (hh) Carburetor pipes;
                        (ii) Electric pipes;
                        (jj) Air-driven pipes;
                        (kk) Chilams;
                        (ll) Bongs; and
                        (mm) Ice pipes or chillers.

A new Tobacco and Smoking Accessory Shop Causes Controversy

Bamboo Eater (thebambooeater.com)

A few of my neighbors have brought this news article to my attention.  I first saw the article early this week but missed reading the location. A new tobacco and smoking accessory shop is opening in our neighborhood.

The name of the shop is “The Bamboo Eater”, and according to the Diamondback article, it will open in the Hollywood Square Shopping Center (near the four corners) on Rhode Island Avenue at the end of this month. Please see the map below.

Here is the website of the shop: http://thebambooeater.com/

Our city needs new businesses to get more revenue, and also it’s welcome news that a UMD alumnus is opening a business in the city, but concerned residents want to examine the negative consequences a business may bring to the surrounding residential community.

The owner of the business insists that the shop is a tobacco store and will not just cater to smokers but instead will offer a range of products while also striving to establish itself within the community.

However, the neighbors who brought this to my attention are unimpressed. Here is what one of the residents wrote to me:

This type of business is for the most part is directed to those people who use illicit drugs ie hashish, cocaine, etc. We do not want anything like this across the street from the College Park Youth and Family Services, the soon-to-be Sunnyside Skate Board Park (for our youngsters, teenagers, and young adults), and the childcare facility on the corner of Rhode Island Avenue at Edgewood Road. This will attract the wrong people to our family orientated community,  jeopardize our efforts to revitalize that business district, potentially increase crime and be a nuisance to the neighborhood and to those local businesses that could and probably will lose business because most people DO NOT want to be around that kind of people. Also, we do not want our young people to be exposed to that type of thing or being curious as young people go there and possibly be exposed to a culture that is not in their best interests, family stability, or community safety.

Not everyone shares this neighbor’s concern though. My fellow NCP blogger Joe Smith disagrees with this postMy point: let’s not judge a store before it’s even open…  if the store is involved in illegal activity after it opens, then there are already mechanisms in place to deal with it.

District 1 Councilman Patrick Wojahn thinks the city cannot do anything from the shop is operational. “Although I believe we (council members) both share the concerns about illegal drug use in our community, there is little that the City could do to prevent this business from opening, as long as they are not doing anything illegal.”  Patrick wrote in a North College Park listserve.

Some residents think the city should have come to an agreement with the store owner even before the news of the store’s opening became public. “I fault the city for not having an understanding with the landlords.” – wrote one resident. “The city has once again dropped the ball.” – commented another.

The residents’ concerns seem to be based on the increasing opposition against selling paraphernalia in neighborhood stores across the nation. Though a coincidence, just two weeks ago the state of Florida banned selling pipes in most head shops. The so-called “Bong Bill” passed by the Senate and then overwhelmingly passed 115-0 in the House. Violators could face up to a year in jail. “I’ve been fighting the pipe industry for the longest because it is all a part of the drug trade and the criminal enterprise that we know exists and destroys neighborhoods, families, and order in our society,” said Bill’s sponsor Rep. Rouson. Here is more on NBC

Speaking of the MD state law, one resident pointed out that they were outlawed in this state some 25 years ago.  The drug paraphernalia laws are pretty effective here, which is why so many of the shops closed down (or became tattoo parlors) once those laws passed.  It’s an element of nostalgia that is better left in the past, I think most of us who remember would agree. – commented one long-time north College Park resident.

I second the concern about having this so close to a skate-park, as well.  With so many kids getting ready to enter their mid-to-late teens around here, organized children’s activities such as the Boys and Girls Club getting hammered by budget cuts, and the city hovering around a 20% poverty level, I see dark times ahead if this goes forward.  A store like this would likely only be throwing gasoline on a powder-keg, and selling the lighters. – the same resident commented further.

April 2010 Crime Map

Here is District 1  crime map for April 2010. I used the data available in public domains, such as The Gazette’s weekly Police Blotter reports and the City’s contract police reports.

Please click on the red markers to find more on the individual incidents.

I hope reports such as this will help us realize the importance of having a stronger public safety initiative in our city. Neighborhood Watch is one avenue that all residents can be part of. Please email me or a leave a comment below if you want to get involved.

[mappress]

NCPCA Meeting Tomorrow, Please Attend

Tomorrow, May 13  is the second Thursday of the month, and hence the day of the regular meeying for this month.

Here are a few key agenda items:

·      Community Response Team Safety Report: PG COPS Officer Sarita will give a report on the rise of recent house break-ins and other crime activities in the area.
·      Parking Permit program: Bob Ryan from City’s Public Services will make a presentation on the parking permit program, including the recently suggested fee increase.
·      By-Laws Committee: As you can recall we formed a By-Laws committee in the past month. The committee currently has 5 members with Bill Robertson as its chair. The committee met a few times in the past few weeks and will provide a progress report on its works it has accomplished so far.
·      Picnic report: We had quite a successful turnout in the past weekend’s picnic – thanks to the picnic coordinator Valerie Bleau and the team of volunteers for making this a success. Those of you who could not be present in the picnic, will get a report on how it went.
·      Nominating and Elections Committee: The NCPCA’s 2010 – 2011 session is coming to an end. That means it’s the time to nominate and elect new officers for the upcoming year. The nominating committee will present its report on a list of candidates for the new session. Also, an election committee will be formed to conduct next month’s election.

More on the meeting agenda can be found at the NCPCA’s website http://myncpca.org 

See you all tomorrow at the meeting.

Public Hearings on Parking Permit and Budget, Tonight

There will be two important public hearings on the proposed FY11 budget and the ordinance to increase parking permit and occupancy permit fees, as well as parking fines.

The public hearing on increasing the parking and occupancy permit fees and parking fines will begin at 7:15 pm. We took a poll on this earlier, which can be found here.

The public hearing on the proposed budget will begin at 7:30 pm. I wrote a post on the proposed budget earlier here.

More on the hearings can be found here  and here.

Fare Hikes for Metro Riders Next Month

The fare hikes that I blogged earlier seem now almost certain to happen – in a slightly different way.

Metro has been eyeing this fare increase to close its$189  million budge gap.

According to this WTOP news post, the options include a 10-or 20-cent surcharge during that “peak of the peak” time, or a 50-cent surcharge for riders who use the busiest Metro stations during those hours. Some of Metro’s busiest stations include Union Station, Metro Center, Dupont Circle, Farragut North, Farragut West, L’Enfant Plaza, Gallery Place-Chinatown and Pentagon City.

The full board is expected to vote on the fare increases May 13. The fare hike, the largest fare increase in its history is expected to go into effect June 27, 2010, per this report. But federal employees, who make up an estimated 40 percent of rush-hour commuters, likely wouldn’t feel the pain of such a fee as more than 100,000 of them locally currently receive up to $230 a month directly for transit.

Picnic Roundup

I thought I should give a brief summary of yesterday’s NCPCA picnic at Davis Hall.

Some 35-40 residents showed up at the event. The participants included Mayor Andrew Fellows, council members Bob Catlin and Patrick Wojahn. It was a great opportunity for many residents / members to relax and get to know each other.

The picnic started around 11am and continued until 2:00pm. The weather was gorgeous, despite an early warning of an unfavorable one.

Thank you all who came to the picnic. My special thanks to picnic coordinator Valerie and the volunteers who made the event a success.

Winners and Losers in FY2011 Budget

Inspired by mainstream media’s efforts (this, this, this , this and this, for example) in declaring winners and losers of the past federal budget, I spent some time to do the same for our proposed FY2011Y city budget.

The principle I used in producing the winners / losers list is the same used by these media outlets: (a) Winners are those who will be receiving more or  same funding despite some residents’ view that they could receive less (b) Losers are those who will be receiving less or same funding despite some think that they could receive more.

Though my main source of this list is the city’s budget document as posted on its website, I’ve contacted several city officials in getting more clarifications of this document. The most help I’ve received is from City’s Director of Finance Stephen Groh. I’d like to thank Steve, various council members and the Mayor for providing important information and explaining things for me.

The proposed FY2011Y  budget is a tough one; the Mayor and the Council had to make some serious choices to make the budget lean due to the heavy loss of revenues from multiple sources – property taxes, state Highway funds and sales of Washington Post plant.

Yet, you may want to see things differently. If you do so, please have your voices heard by attending the council public hearing on the coming Tuesday, May 11. More on the public hearing can be found here.

Winners

(1)    Home owners: Like our neighboring city Hyattsville, the city is proposing to keep residential property tax the same as last year. I think the Mayor and Council deserve credit for keeping the figure same. “In the near term I  believe our property tax will remain the same.  As I said during my campaign last year, I have no plan to raise taxes, though I believe that any responsible budget process has to consider potential revenue and expenses – and revenue include taxes” – wrote Mayor Andy Fellows to me in an email.

(2)    Mayor and Council members:  The wages for the Mayor and the Council will either remain the same. The draft budget posted online on the City’s website requests for a $2500 hike (from $45,000 to $47,500). To explain this hike Steve Groh wrote to me:  “In FY10, one of the Council members had chosen to receive no pay.  However, in FY10, we budgeted for 1/2 year salary in case that council member was not reelected.  For FY11, that council member may use the pay he does not receive for a course.  As a result, we budgeted for his full pay for FY11”. The Mayor is currently paid $7,500 annually and the Council members are paid $5,000 each annually.

Losers

(1)    Residents Parking Vehicles on Streets:  The budget is proposing to increase the residential parking fee from the current $5.00 to $10.00. KabirCares took a survey earlier on this,and most residents don’t like this hike. According to Steve Groh, the parking permit fee increase is projected to bring in approx. $14,000.

(2)    Property / Business Owners:  The occupancy permit application fee for the property owners will go up to $10. This is the annual fee that is paid by all residential rental properties and all commercial properties.  It covers a portion of the cost of the code enforcement program and includes the annual inspection of those properties. 

(3)    City Streets: The City has lost around $600,000 of user fees that it used to get from the state and use for patching roads. Thus their won’t be any major street improvements in the coming year. The city will however spend some money to make emergency repairs of its streets. That money will come from the approximately $70,000 it has remaining in highway user tax revenue and the rest (about $80,000) as a transfer from the general fund to the pavement management CIP fund.

(4)    Parking Enforcements. The city will save $49,621 plus benefits by reducing the number of parking enforcement officers by one. One parking enforcement officer retired early this month and will not be replaced.

(5) Public Safety: The funding for the County Contract Police will remain the same. “The FY2011 budget continues to provide $1,000,000 in funding for 3 full-time and a pool of part-time officers to provide 320 hours per week on average of supplemental City-wide policing.”– says the draft budget. Though the violent crime has gone down across the entire county, house and car break – ins have gone up in the city. The public safety remains a major concern among city residents.

(6)    The Committee for the Better Environment (CBE): CBE will lose $1000 (from $2500 to $1500)

(7)   Public Schools: The City’s public school grants will go down from $15,000 to $10,000

(8)   Boys and Girls Club: CPBG will get a big hit by $7500 reduction in their city grants (from $20,000 to $12,500)

(9)   Shuttle – UM for Residents: The city’s grant for the service will go down from $10,000 to $5,000. There will be reduction of one bus route in north College Park.

Last Updated: 05/08/2010

House B&E Alert

This is a crime alert from the PG community police officer Ofc. Melanie Sarita.

5 houses were broken into in Hollywood last week. Three were on Hollywood Rd, one on 52nd Ave, and one on 48th Pl. These breaking and enterings have occurred during the day. One incident the resident came home and saw the suspect fleeing the side of her house as she was parking in the driveway. The lookout was for a young black male. Please call the police department when you see any suspicious people in the area. Please forward this email to all the members that are on your list serve so that they are aware as well. Thank you in advance.

There was another break-in at the 9700 block of 52nd Avenue last Thursday. Unlike the 5 incidents Ofc. Melanie reported above, the incident happened in the middle of the night (around 1am) – the perpetrator tried to sneak into the house through a window. Fortunately, the residents inside the house woke up and called 911. By the time the police came, the thief left fled the house.

Officer Sarita later told me that she visted the victim and the lookout is  for an older male possibly black.

Residents are reminded of these Burglary Prevention Tips:
Make your home look occupied, and make it difficult to break in.

Lock all outside doors and windows before you leave the house or go to bed. Even if it is for a short time, lock your doors.

Leave lights on when you go out. If you are going to be away for a length of time, connect some lamps to automatic timers to turn them on in the evening and off during the day.

Keep your garage door closed and locked.

Don’t allow daily deliveries of mail, newspapers or flyers build up while you are away. Arrange with the Post Office to hold your mail, or arrange for a friend or neighbor to take them regularly.

Arrange for your lawn to be mowed if you are going away for an extended time.

Check your locks on doors and windows and replace them with secure devices as necessary.

Pushbutton locks on doorknobs are easy for burglars to open. Install deadbolt locks on all your outside doors.

Sliding glass doors are vulnerable. Special locks are available for better security.

Other windows may need better locks. Check with a locksmith or hardware store for alternatives.

If you see something going on in your neighborhood or street please report it.
Call 911 or the Prince George’s County Police non-emergency number 301-333-4000

It’s Picnic Time!

This Saturday, the NCPCA will hold its annual picnic at Davis Hall.

The picnic is open to all residents and family members living in North College Park. You don’t have to be a NCPCA member to attend the picnic.

The picnic will be a great opportunity for members and non-members alike to get to know each other. Our regular meetings are full with tight schedules, thus we don’t often enough time to socialize at these meetings.

If you plan to attend, please let Picnic Coordinator Valerie Bleau know (valgal20740@gmail.com or by phone 301-474-1338) – soon.

The picnic will start at 11am and will continue until 1pm. Please come a little early if we want to volunteer.

Rent Control Vote Sharpens Students – Landlords Divide

Council Session - Diamondback online

Last week’s council vote on the City’s rent control ceiling has further ignited the age old debate among the city’s students and homeowners community. The vote to raise the rent control ceiling at 0.8 percent was voted down by 5-2 votes. 

Only District 1 council members Patrick Wojahn and Chris Nagle voted for the proposed hike. 

The vote came after two public hearings, where students and property owners spoke consistently against and for the proposed ordinance respectively. 

The passage of the ordinance would have allowed the property owners to raise the rent of their properties up to 33 percent of their current property values. With the ordinance now voted down, the ceiling will remain at the 0.6 percent level. 

Proponents of the ordinance wanted to see the raise to counter the declining property values. “This (ordinance) will allow for some flexibility for landlords to charge higher rents on properties assessed at higher rates”– said council member Patrick  Wojahn before the vote. 

Opponents charged the landlords with the motives of profiteering from the proposed legislation. ““Landlords still seem to think they can make a profit converting houses in College Park [into rental properties],” said Councilman Marcus Afzali (Dist. 4), who said many available houses in his district are being bought by landlords.” – according to this Gazette report.

As expected, Student Government Association student liaison Jonathan Sachs spoke out against the measure, saying its passage would have “a profound impact on students.”

FY 2011 Budget Summary

I attended the town hall meeting on the FY2011 draft budget at Davis Hall last Saturday. Some 12-15 residents, including three council members (Bob, Patrick and Chris) attended the meeting.  I thank the council members for organizing the event.

The attendees received a set of handouts, the electronic copies of which I received from City’s Director of Finance, Steve Groh. I’ve uploaded the summary documents below. Hope you will find them useful.

Chart Revenues in FY 2011Y Budget

Chart Expenditures in FY 2011 Budget

Chart-Comparative Revenues

Summary of FY11 Changes between Requested and Revised Budgets

Comparative Operating Budget Summary - GeneralFund

Weekend Community Cleanup Summary

A few enthusiastic volunteers gathered at the Hollywood Four Corner area last Saturday with a mission in mind – to cleanup trash from the area that it collected over the past several months since last summer.

Though we’re only a few in number (Council members Afzali and Patrick, CBE member Alex and myself), we did a lot together. Coincidentally, the Hollywood Elementary School parents also did another CBE sponsored cleanup event at the front and the sides of the school. The school cleanup event started at 9:30am and continued until 11:30pm. Our team started at 11:30 and continued until 1:00 pm. We covered the area back of the school, both sides of the Rhode Island Avenue and the areas east if 7/11 store.

I took a few snaps, which I’ve posted below.

Arbor Day Event Roundup

I attended the Arbor Day tree planting event yesterday. Some 20 volunteers planted 8 trees around the Branchville Vol. Fire Dept complex. Many of the volunteers came from the Boy Scout Troop #740. The City of College Park’s public works and the Committee for the Better Environment (CBE) provided trees and other related planting help. The fire dept. provided morning snacks and a bbq after the program.

Here are a few pictures of the event I took. Enjoy.