Most rail and bus service to return to pre-pandemic levels

More trains, more stations, more buses, more hours. Metro is finalizing plans to restore most rail and bus service to pre-Covid levels across the region in the largest – and likely most complex – service change in the system’s 44-year history. To support the effort, thousands of frontline Metro employees will transition to new work schedules as the region continues its gradual recovery and more customers are expected.

Metrorail service changes take effect today, Sunday, August 16, including the restoration of Silver Line service for the first time since Memorial Day. Six Fairfax County stations will reopen following planned summer work, resulting in 87 of 91 Metrorail stations open for customers. Wait times will be reduced dramatically, with trains running every 8 minutes on each line during rush hours, and every 12 minutes on the Red Line and 15 minutes the Orange, Blue, Silver, Green, and Yellow Lines during off-peak times. Trains will arrive more frequently at stations served by more than one line.

A week later, on Sunday, August 23, new Metrobus schedules will take effect across the region, including the restoration of bus service on routes that have not had service in months, and significantly more frequent service on almost every line.

Learn more: https://www.wmata.com/about/news/More-Metro.cfm

Back 2 School Grab-N-Go Event

Each summer under our the Events of Summer initiative, the Office of Community Relations pf the Prince George’s county participates in at least 100 fun, family-friendly community events and activities across the County, in an effort to engage and connect with our residents and community.

Join on Saturday, August 22nd from 10AM to 12 PM as the County close out this summer with a Back 2 School Grab-N-Go Event! Giveaways include pre-packaged meals and non-perishable goods, backpacks, school supplies, community resources, and a chance to win a Tanger Outlets gift card! Please register at https://ocr100eos.eventbrite.com or email Harrison Nwozo at hnwozo@co.pg.md.us for more information.

Bulk Trash Pilot Program – March 1, 2020 through February 28, 2021

In January 2020, the Mayor and Council adopted Ordinance 20-O-01 which made changes to the collection of Special Trash. It prohibits the placement of materials at properties that did not generate the materials; sets fees for collection and fees for Refuse, Recycling and Yard Waste receptacles; and sets penalties for violations.

During the pilot program, The Department of Public Works is tracking all bulk trash items collected. Residents may receive correspondence from the City regarding this, it is not a bill, but instead should be used to help inform you of how many items we have picked up and how many collections you have had. During this time you may have many questions, please reach out to publicworks@collegeparkmd.gov. This is a learning process and your feedback is welcome.

In its final form, this Ordinance includes the following provisions:

For a single-family, owner-occupied residence: Up to four bulky refuse collections per calendar year, with a maximum total of 20 bulky refuse items, will be free of charge to the resident.
For a single-family rental property that pays for City trash services: Up to four bulky refuse collections per calendar year, with a maximum total of 29 bulky refuse items, will be free of charge.

For quantities and/or frequency more than stated above, a $20 collection fee per item over the allowable number of items will be imposed.
[City of College Park]

Take Survey on new Police Chief and Police Reform Work Group

Prince George’s County is doing a national search for the next Chief of Police. They are seeking input from the community to assist with the recruitment of the next Chief. Your responses to this survey will help identify key characteristics, skills, traits, and issues to consider.

The culture of the department starts at the top, and that is why the hiring process for a new Police Chief is so important. Changes are needed, and here is a way for you to be involved. Take a few minutes to complete the survey from the County Executive about what you would like to see in a new Chief of Police. Take the survey HERE.

All results must be submitted by August 17.

Council Supports College Park Participating in the Fulton vs Philadelphia Supreme Court Case

At last night’s meeting, the City Council voted in support of College Park participating in the Fulton vs Philadelphia Supreme Court Case

Personally, I had concerns about the nature of the case, in particular, the conflicts it presents between the important groups, the LGBTQ and the faith group, as the rights of both groups are protected by the U.S. Constitution and the City Charter.

One of the 3 questions the Supreme Court justices will be looking into is the first amendment right of the Catholic charity to exercise their faith freely. The faith groups are protected in this country by this first amendment right, just like the LGBT and other communities are protected for their rights too.

It is very important to say that no one can be discriminated based on his or her sexual orientation, but can it be equally said that a faith-based organization or a charity be denied funding because of their sincere religious belief in their scripture?

Supreme Court justices took the issue of religious freedom into its consideration when they gave a narrow victory to the Colorado baker in the Masterpiece Cakeshop vs Colorado case recently.

Philadelphia’s Catholic charity CSS has been providing foster care services for about a century, and I don’t think they’re a discriminatory or hateful group, they are just trying to follow their belief and scripture, just like many of our faith communities in College Park are trying to follow their faith with conviction.  If CSS was a discriminatory or a hateful group, they wouldn’t be offering help to same-sex couples by referring them to another foster care service, even though they haven’t received any such requests.

College Park is a diverse and pluralistic community and both LGBT and the faith groups are very important and strong parts of our community. We all want both groups to live here side by side together with respect and dignity. Taking one side over the other will only divide us instead of uniting us, especially when the rights of both groups are protected by the US constitution.

There are dozens of Amicus briefs in this case, and for this very reason, I didn’t feel that College Park should have taken part in any of these – either for or against it.

I’d have been very happy to support the Philadelphia Amicus brief if a faith group such as CSS which is protected by the US constitution wasn’t part of the case. I joined my colleagues and supported another Amicus Brief a year ago about a workplace discrimination case Georgia against the LGBTQ community. However, this Philadelphia case is quite different and a lot more complex than the Georgia case, and I don’t this College Park should have been a part of this case.

Last night’s vote went 5-3. CM Mitchell, Mackie, and Kabir voted in opposition to the motion of College Park participating in this case.

Thank you all who joined last night and spoke, and those who wrote to us about this important matter.

You can read more about the vote here on the Diamondback.

UMD’s Fall In-Person Classes Delayed by Two Weeks

The University of Maryland announced yesterday that it will begin the semester as scheduled on August 31 but will delay undergraduate in-person instruction until September 14. Undergraduate instruction will be delivered online for the first two weeks. All graduate-level instruction and approved research activities will proceed as planned.

The University is saying because of the current pandemic situation, it will prioritize the health and safety of every member of our campus community, and will protect and support the educational and research missions to maintain academic excellence. Additionally, it will provide timely and transparent communication and obtain input from internal and external stakeholders about the proposed reopening plans.

Over the past several weeks, the University worked to develop and enhance plans for reopening our physical campus this fall. Hundreds of faculty, staff, and students are collaborating in work-groups and teams to create an academically-rich environment for the fall semester. Over 600 grants have been awarded to innovative approaches to online and blended learning. We have also worked to create a physically distant, socially-rich environment.

City May Start School Essay Contest in Memory of Late Doris Ellis

City’s Educational Advisory Committee (EAC) is proposing a one-time essay contest to honor the memory of Doris Ellis. Ms. Ellis, a retired Physical Education teacher, who was serving on the EAC for the past 10 years until her death this April 21, 2020.
The proposed essay question is: “How have you kept your mind and body active during the pandemic?” The essay contest is proposed to be open to elementary, middle, and high school students living in the City of College Park. There will be one award per category (elementary, middle, and high school).
The award will be $200 to the writer of the winning essay and $2,400 to their school to purchase equipment or special supplies that might be needed for the P.E. program to open safely, due to COVID 19 concerns.

Council to Consider Continuing to Support City’s New Newspaper

The City contracted with the College Park’s new newspaper “College Park Here and Now” for an initial five-month term for four pages of advertising space in each edition to place City announcements, Council actions, and information about upcoming City activities. As a community newspaper, the total advertising space cannot exceed 50 percent of the newspaper (the paper is 16 pages). The City’s initial contract for this advertising space was at the following rates: $6,500 for the first month; $6,000 for the second month; $5,500 for the third month; $5,000 for the fourth month; and $4,500 for the fifth month.

The newspaper anticipated that the monthly rate for this new contract would be much less than the average rate of $5,500 for the first five months. Small, local businesses are important advertisers for the College Park Here & Now—it contributes to the mission of building community and the paper’s rates are more affordable compared to other media. However, due to COVID-19’s impact on the business community, advertising revenue has significantly diminished. Many small businesses have closed, and most others are reducing expenditures.

Because of the reduced advertising revenue at this time, and the relatively fixed expenditures for producing, printing and mailing the newspaper, the College Park Here and Now is requesting the City pay $5,000 per issue for its ad space to ensure the paper’s continuation. The paper agrees that this rate will be reviewed after six months to determine if total advertising revenue has increased to a level that would enable the City’s rate to be reduced.

At this week’s meeting, the City Council will consider approving the request. Advertising in the newspaper was budgeted for $45,000 in the FY21 budget which would cover the cost through the end of the FY21 (June 30, 2021).

Few Applied for City’s COVID Grants, Council Mulls Relaxing Rules

Businesses on Route 1

As of yesterday, less than 5% of City’s COVID grant money went to qualified businesses and City residents.

Since the City announced the COVID-19 grant programs, $59,291.71 was awarded to 43 small businesses through the Small Business Assistance Grants program. A total of $11,051.75 was given to 23 City residents and families through the Individual & Family Financial Assistance Grants program. The City has allocated around $1.5 million dollars of grant money through the COVID-19 CARES Act grant program that the US Congress recently announced.

On a positive note, there has been some traction on businesses and families receiving grants. For example, over the past week, businesses receiving grants went up from 28 to 43, and individuals/families went up from 18 to 23.

City’s Emergency Financial Aid to Families, Senior Citizens, and Other Individuals Program provides financial assistance to families, senior citizens, and other individuals who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Financial assistance may be provided for eligible expenses, such as rent/mortgage payments to avoid eviction/foreclosure; unforeseen funeral costs; utility payments; and other emergency needs as deemed necessary. Each eligible family/person can receive up to a maximum of $5,000 per household for indirect payments to the applicable payee (landlord, lender, Utility Company) and/or gift cards for eligible expenses. City has allocated a total of $200,000 for this program.

City’s Small Business Assistance Grants Program is designed to assist non-residential small businesses and non-profits with 25 or fewer full-time equivalents (FTEs), with direct economic support for costs of business interruption caused by required closures, voluntary closures to promote social distancing, or affected by decreased customer demand due to COVID-19. Each business/owner can receive up to a maximum grant of $15,000. City has allocated a total of $1 million for this program.

Both programs and their fundings are expected to end on December 1, 2020.

In order to provide more financial assistance to City businesses, City Council will consider relaxing rules to receive these grants. At next week’s meeting, the Council will consider the following requirements/criteria to apply and be eligible for the grant be modified:
1) The restriction that a business could not be part of a national franchise/chain be removed.
2) The restriction that a business has 25 or less full-time equivalent employees be increased to 50 or less

Council to Weigh in on Supreme Court Case Fulton vs. Philadelphia

U.S. Supreme Court building Photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

At next Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the College Park City Council will consider taking a position on the Supreme Court case of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia.

The case, which will be heard by the Court in the fall, concerns whether Philadelphia is required to continue to contract with a private, faith-based foster care agency, Catholic Social Services (CSS) that refuses to work with same-sex couples, despite the city’s nondiscrimination policies.

The Supreme Court decided to take the case to hear in February this year. Earlier, lower courts ruled in favor of city leaders, so Catholic Social Services appealed to the Supreme Court.

Sharonell Fulton (pictured below), a foster parent in Philadelphia, joined in a lawsuit challenging the city of Philadelphia for barring Catholic Social Services of the Philadelphia Archdiocese from placing children in foster families. The Catholic Social Services (CSS) has been operating in Philadelphia since 1797.

Sharonell Fulton, a foster parent in Philadelphia, is pictured with a young woman and children in a May 23, 2018, photo.

If approved by the City Council, College Park will participate in an amicus brief to be submitted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors to the Supreme Court. An amicus brief is a legal document that can be filed in a court case by people who are not litigants in the case but have an interest in the case or subject matter.

More details about the case and the amicus brief itself can be found in the City of New York’s primer on the brief here. The primer also includes a request for information that can help demonstrate the impact of potential rulings, including examples of services provided by a jurisdiction.

This case could ultimately impact the ability of local governments to enforce nondiscrimination policies when working with contractors on a wide range of city services.

Supreme Court justices will consider whether the government violates the First Amendment by conditioning a religious agency’s ability to participate in the foster care system on taking actions and making statements that directly contradict the agency’s religious beliefs, among 2 other questions.

Several groups have recently taken positions on both sides of the case. While groups such as the City of New York are filing a brief in support of the City of Philadelphia,  34 friend-of-the-court briefsdozens of diverse religious groups76 Members of Congress16 states, have sided with CSS and have asked the Supreme Court to protect faith-based agencies.

According to the critics, the City of Philadelphia has terminated its contract with the CSS even though no same-sex couple has ever approached CSS for an endorsement. Furthermore, they argue that if asked, the CSS would meet the adoption needs of a same-sex couple by referring to one of 29 other agencies, including several with expertise in serving LGBTQ families.

[Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of mine alone and are not necessarily those of City of College Park, or any other organization that I’m officially affiliated]

City Publishes More Information about Odessa Park in Sunnyside

A revised concept plan for the Odessa Park project has been added to the City website on the Project page in the project documents section. Please click this link

The plan is listed as Odessa Park Concept Plan.

The proposed park will be located at the end of Odess Rd. Please see below.

City hosted a community meeting early this year to get input from residents living near the park. This happened after the MDOT/SHA released its plan to widen I495 beltway, potentially affecting some portion of the proposed park close to the beltway. The MDOT wanted to create a 30 ft buffer from the property line. Accordingly, the City conducted a new survey and adjusted the design.

The access path from the street to the play area is a fairly direct connection to encourage users to follow the path. This direct pathway will limit the amount of new impervious surface that will require stormwater treatment. As more square footage of impervious service is installed in a project, the requirement for additional stormwater treatment components increases. These required stormwater components add to the overall cost of the project. Therefore, limiting the amount of new impervious surface in a project will help to control the project cost.

The perimeter landscape buffer includes evergreens for year-round screening as well as flowering trees for interest.

There are 2 options for play surfacing material under the play equipment; engineered wood fiber (EWF) mulch, like is used at other City playgrounds, or rubberized surfacing. The EWF is less expensive initially but needs to be replenished annually, which will entail a significant amount of time to move the material from the street to the play area. In addition, any remaining bamboo rhizomes will be able to regenerate through the EWF surfacing and require control treatment. A rubberized play surfacing option is initially more expensive but requires less routine maintenance. Another benefit is that it will help prevent the re-growth of any remaining bamboo in the play area.

Play equipment selection has been revised to include a swing for 2 users that face each other, turning bars at various heights for different aged users, and a rock log for inspiration play. The play structure shown is very open to allow for easy visibility.

The cost estimate for the plan is in line with the project budget.

Please review the plan & provide comments, as live meetings are still discontinued.

Police Community Meeting, Monday August 10, 2020

Join by Zoom – http://b.link/CPCommunityPolice
Join by phone: 3017158592, Meeting ID: 863 9609 7322 Password: 464259

  • Come Meet with College Park Contract Police Officers and Prince George’s County Community Police Officer
  • Bring your concerns directly to the Police
  • Discuss Crime and Safety in the Neighborhood
  • Meet with other Neighbors

All College Park residents are welcome

Council to Explore a More Active Role in Improving COVID Issues

Recently, the County Executive for Prince George’s County issued Executive Orders, that are currently more restrictive than the Governor’s.

Under the Governor’s Orders and the County Executive’s Orders, it is the County Health Officer that issues directives with respect to the COVID-19 restrictions and enforces the Restrictions. The current Order from the Governor requires use of face masks indoors when the public is present and outdoors when 6 feet distancing cannot be maintained. The Order from the County prohibits large gatherings, which are currently defined as more than one person/family unit per 200 square feet, or a maximum of 100 persons—whichever is lower. According to recent data, 67% virus transmission in the County comes from family gatherings and house parties (https://bit.ly/2DvwFLr ). Bars and restaurants are limited to 50 person maximum outside and 50% of capacity inside, and patrons must use masks.

The City has not adopted health rules and regulations, and so relies on the County Health Officer as well.

The County intends to meet with stakeholders in the City to discuss how enforcement will work. Staff believes the Prince George’s County Police are authorized to warn large private gatherings that are not complying with the restrictions and to disperse the gathering.

At tonight’s meeting, the Council will discuss and determine the enforcement protocols that will be in place if a large gathering occurs. Cooperation between the various agencies is necessary and meetings are underway that will include Public Services. However, staff thinks that the County is charged with front-line enforcement of the COVID-19 restrictions and staff will be proceeding on that understanding.

Council to Discuss Senior and Community Recreation Needs Assessment Survey Responses

Early last year, the City Council decided to do a study on the comprehensive recreational/activities and program space needs assessment. The purpose of this study was to gather community feedback on The City of College Park’s facilities, trails, amenities, programs, future planning, communication, and more.

Furthermore, there was a need to assess senior program offerings specifically. This survey research effort and subsequent analysis were designed to assist The City of College Park in developing a plan to reflect the community’s desires, needs, and priorities for the future.

The goal was to ensure all residents had a chance to voice their opinion in this process. The consultant Greenplay LLC held 7 focus group meetings with a total of 125+ participants.

Additionally, 3,500 mailings with survey questions were sent to all city residents. 497 residents completed these surveys, leading to a +/-4.4% margin of error. Subsequently, the survey was made open to all city residents. 40 residents completed the open link survey.

According to the survey results, the top priorities include: (a) More/improved open spaces and natural areas (3.9) tie (b) Increased focus on health and wellness (3.9) tie (c) More/improved indoor facilities (3.8) (d) Additional active adults’ programs (3.8).

You can see the complete survey results here: https://www.kabircares.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/College-Park-Findings-Presentation-7.31.2020.pdf . Please review the survey results and let us know what you think. Though due to COVID-19, residents are having limited access to the outdoor and indoor recreational activities and programs, the City is preparing itself to meet the future needs of the community.

City Mulls Declaring Juneteenth a City Holiday

Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration honoring the end of slavery in the US. Activities on such a holiday could be planned to engage the entire community in learning and celebrating the strength and resilience of the African American people and to promote the well-being of the African-American community in College Park.

Recently, the City also recognized Juneteenth as the National Freedom Day.

Currrently, the City provides basically the same holidays as do other municipalities except for the two holidays given every four years for the presidential election and presidential inauguration. Human Resources also discussed with union leadership if they would be interested in trading the two presidential holidays which occur every 4 years for the Juneteenth holiday which would occur every year. Union leadership was interested, but union membership was not. The fact that this is a presidential election year (when they would actually get the 2 holidays) probably had something to do with their response.

At this week’s meeting the Council will discuss the proposal. Staff is recommending approving the Juneteenth holiday for an annual holiday on June 19 and negotiate formally with the bargaining unit before June 19, 2021 to “trade” the two presidential holidays (election and inauguration).