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Court Tosses County Council Redistricting Plan

Last night, we came to know about a County Judge’s ruling that the County Council improperly adopted the controversial Council Redistricting Plan in November. This is a win for the residents who opposed the politically motivated gerrymandered redistricting map. Please read here for more about the news from Councilman Dernoga’s office

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County residents rejoiced Friday when Circuit Court Judge William Snoddy ruled that the County Council improperly adopted the controversial Council Redistricting Plan in November.

The County Redistricting Commission produced a Recommended Map after months of public discussion and input. This Map (“Least Change”) proposed minimal changes from existing Council District boundaries.

A majority of the Council developed a new gerrymandered plan to disadvantage their political opponents who are candidates for County Council. This Map was revealed at the last possible moment to hopefully limit the opportunity for public opposition – which it did not.

The Council adopted its gerrymandered map on November 16th through Council Resolution CR-123-2021. Apart from disadvantaging political opponents, Vansille, Lakeland, College Park and Suitland residents became innocent bystanders whose communities were negatively affected.

Four County residents from these affected communities filed suit Monday arguing that a Council Resolution is an improper means of enacting the Council Redistricting Plan. These residents successfully argued that the Charter (and State law) require that all “laws” must be adopted by a Council “Bill” subject to Executive Veto (unless specifically excluded).

Judge Snoddy ruled from the bench and the parties are awaiting the issuance of his Order to understand the details.

I believe that the plaintiffs are legally correct (and that the Council’s Redistricting Plan was an undemocratic gerrymander), we will have to wait to see whether my colleagues decide to appeal. One may hope that they finally put their personal political desires aside and put an end to this public embarrassment.

[Office of CCM Tom Dernoga]

County’s Recreation Facilities Set to Open Next Week

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Department of Parks and Recreation, Prince George’s County announces the re-opening of all its facilities on Monday, January 31. This includes art, nature, fitness and community centers, indoor swimming pools, and museums.

 

Pre-Order for February 5th Winter Farmers Market

6 vendors from the Hollywood Farmers Market will be delivering Pre-orders next Saturday, Feb 5th to Duvall Field from 12-1 pm.   Choose from Calvert Farms, Janelle’s Crumb Shoppe Bakery, Back Yard Boogie Baking, Alcoba Coffee, Waltz Family Farm and a new Fisherman – Two Oceans Surf and Turf….the owner, Gaylord, is a Fisherman & farmer and he is joining us this winter into spring and hopefully the rest of the year.  You can read about his farm & business on his farm store.

Please see below the ordering info for Calvert & Janelle’s

Alcoba Coffee –
Dark and Light roast coffee, beans or ground.
$10 a bag of 14 OZ,         please email order to Jose.castillobenza@yahoo.com      He brings extra with him​

Back Yard Boogie Baking’s online store link is https://backyardboogiegardens-baking.square.site/

Waltz Family Farm  and  Two Oceans Surf & Turf have the same farm store group.  Just enter your zipcode and you can choose from each farm individually.   The link is  https://www.farmmatch.com/
*You must Pre-order AND  most orders are due by noon-midnight on Wednesday depending on vendor

Pick Up is at Duvall Field 9119 Rhode Island Ave College Park

Despite 8-fold Increase in Cost, Voter Turnout in City Elections Hasn’t Improved Since 2013

Voters at the 2021 City election at the College Park Community Center (photo credit: the Diamondback]

At next week’s City Council worksession, the Board of Election Supervisors will meet with the Mayor and Council to debrief the 2021 Election Debrief.

Overall, from 2013 to 2021, the cost per ballot has gone up from $4.97 to $39.83, but the voter turnout (% voting) has marginally increased from 9.1% to 10.35%.

Even with the pivot to mailing out ballots to over 13,579 residents, we only had a total of 1,536 residents to vote. The statistics are below:

District 1-Number of Registered Voters-5,133
Number of Persons Voting-595
Percentage of Voting-11.5%

District 2- Number of Registered Voters-2,933
Number of Persons Voting-251
Percentage of Voting-8.5%

District 3-Number of Registered Voters-4,134
Number of Persons Voting-478
Percentage of Voting-11.5%

District 4-Number of Registered Voters-2,638
Number of Persons Voting-212
Percentage of Voting-8.0%

The cost of the Election from 2013-2021:

2013
# of Ballots Cast – 1,568
Total Cost-$7,798
Cost Per Ballot-$4.97

2015
# of Ballots Cast-2,222
Total Cost-$23,575
Cost Per Ballot-%10.61

2017
# of Ballots Cast-2,648
Total Cost-$28,118
Cost Per Ballot-10.61

2019
# of Ballots Cast-2,092
Total Cost-67,171
Cost Per Ballot-$32.11

2021
# of Ballots Cast-1,536
Total Cost-$61.175
Cost Per Ballot-$39.83

The data analysis shows that we are spending more on ballots while the number of voters engaging in the city’s electoral process decreases every election cycle. Councilmember Mitchell and I will recommend conducting a city-wide survey to enlist your thoughts on residents who are not coming out to vote.

Over the years City has taken several steps to increase voter turnout. These include:

  • making voting by absentee / mail-in ballots easier
  • increasing the number of polling stations
  • introducing early voting
  • changing the date of the election to the weekend.

Due to COVID, some of these options couldn’t be implemented in the 2021 election. For example, the City had to hold elections at only one polling station

The City Council will discuss the election-related statistics and ways to increase voter participation.

City Plans to Make Homeowner Grant Program More Attractive to New Homeowners

At next week’s Council meeting, the City Council will discuss ways to expand the reach of the City’s homeownership program and further incentivize homeownership in the City

In 2005, the City Council established a homeownership grant program, known as the New Neighbors Program, to provide $5,000 in closing costs to buyers purchasing a single-family home in the City and agreeing to reside at the property for a minimum of five years.

The primary purpose of the program was to encourage the conversion of rental properties to owner-occupied housing, and eligible properties are currently restricted to properties that have been rented for a minimum of two years, properties in foreclosure or subject to a short sale, and newly constructed homes.

An amendment to the program in 2016 allowed City grants to be combined with the CPCUP homeownership grants for eligible properties.  CPCUP offers $15,000 grants to University of Maryland faculty and staff.

Buyers not subject to the New Neighbors property restrictions include City employees, police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians. All purchasers must execute a Declaration of Covenants with the City or repayment agreement with CPCUP.

Since the inception of the program, 69 grants have been provided for a total of $360,000 or approximately 4-5 grants per year.

To make the program more attractive to new homeowners, staff is recommending amendments to the program guidelines as follows:
1. Eliminate the requirement for a property to have been a rental for a minimum of two years except in cases where City funds are combined with CPCUP grant assistance.
2. Increase the grant amount for the purchase of a former rental property from $5,000 to $10,000.

[City of College Park]

City Announces new Racial Equity Officer

Today the City of College Park announced the appointment of Raven Rodriguez as the City’s new Racial Equity Officer. Ms. Rodriguez comes to the City with a wealth of knowledge and expertise in intersectional anti-oppression, race, racism, and racial history.
Ms. Rodriguez is an accomplished writer, educator, equity consultant, and public speaker in the field of racial equity. A native New Yorker, her clients have included Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, New Haven Public Schools, Princeton University, and The Community Foundation of Greater New Haven.
She previously served as the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Yale University’s School of Nursing.
As part of the City of College Park’s commitment to seek out and confront systemic racism, the City created the Racial Equity Officer position in FY2021. The Mayor and Council emphasized the importance of highlighting and acknowledging the City’s history and improving racial equity within College Park through its 2021-2025 Strategic Plan. This position will be instrumental in helping the City achieve its goals of a more equitable community.
The City’s Racial Equity officer will administer and facilitate City-wide race equity programs and ensure that policies are created fairly with equitable access to opportunities. This is in addition to collaborating with City departments and staff to make meaningful movement towards a more equitable City.
The officer will review, monitor, and provide guidance on personnel policies and practices that have negatively impacted specific populations of employees, identify institutional barriers that limit diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, and work to improve engagement among employees. Ms. Rodriguez will also work with the community and be the staff liaison for the City’s Restorative Justice Commission that will focus on the restorative justice initiatives in the Lakeland community of College Park.
She will begin working for the City on January 31, 2022.
[City of College Park]

City of Hyattsville reports the passing of Mayor Kevin Ward

It is with great sadness that we report that our beloved Hyattsville Mayor Kevin Ward passed away yesterday, January 25, from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Mayor Ward was a valued and trusted leader and a fierce advocate for all the people of Hyattsville. We are heartbroken at this loss and extend our deepest sympathy to his family.                                                                                 Details about services or remembrances will be shared when they are available. We ask that you please respect the privacy of Mayor Ward’s family during this time. The City knows that Mayor Ward was a well-connected member of our tight-knit community and that this is difficult news. Community members in need of grief counseling or mental health support are encouraged to contact Community Crisis Services, Inc.: dial 211 and press 1 or call 800-273-TALK; or the Affiliated Sante Group crisis support line: 301-429-2185.The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 1-800-273-8255.

[City of Hyattsville]

Serve on the Restorative Justice Commission

The Mayor and Council of the City of College Park are seeking applicants for the newly formed Restorative Justice Commission (RJC). Building on the report of the Restorative Justice Steering Committee, the RJC will recommend concrete restorative actions to the Mayor and Council to redress the harms impacting current and past African American residents and their descendants. Elements of the restorative justice process may include discovering and memorializing the truth of governmental actions impacting the City’s African American community, understanding the harm done, and providing opportunities for healing.
The RJC will have specific areas of focus as described in Resolution 21-R-25. The Commission will meet monthly and may form subcommittees that may meet more often. To apply for a position on the RJC, please complete an application (click here) and submit it to Janeen S. Miller at jsmiller@collegeparkmd.gov by February 14, 2022.
If you have any questions, please contact Ms. Miller at jsmiller@collegeparkmd.gov or call 240-487-3501. For more information, visit: www.collegeparkmd.gov/boards.
[City of College Park]

Council To Ask M-NCPPC to Delay the Adelphi Rd Sector Plan, Save Guilford Woods

At this week’s meeting, the City Council will consider approving a letter with comments on the Adelphi Road Sector Plan and Proposed Sectional Map Amendment.

M-NCPPC staff attended our City Council Worksession a couple of weeks ago to provide a briefing on the Adelphi Road-UMGC-UMD Purple Line Station Area Sector Plan and recommendations including proposed zoning changes.

The plan area is small, comprising only 102 acres of mostly unincorporated land except for small areas in the City of Hyattsville and the City of College Park. The County Council initiated the plan in November 2020 and the preliminary plan was released to the public in October 2021. A joint public hearing with the Prince George’s County Planning Board and County Council will be held on January 18, 2022, with final approval anticipated between June and October 2022.

The Council also heard from the Council members and the community.

The letter recognizes that the plan is based on a vision that is inconsistent with Plan 2035 (County General Plan), inadequately addresses environmental, transportation, and public facility issues, and recommends zoning changes that are not justified, and thus strongly asks the Planning Board and District Council to defer action on the Plan.

The plan’s land-use policy preserves 3.94 acres in Reserved Open Space (ROS) which is a surprisingly small amount and the only environmentally sensitive area recommended for open space in the land use map. The letter asks to revise Map 6 to show existing parks and open spaces including Guilford Woods.

On transportation and mobility, the letter says that the Plan does not include a transportation or traffic impact analysis, and the Plan does not demonstrate how the proposed new development will impact traffic conditions.

The letter asks to include traffic impact analysis of proposed new development and other transportation information about the impact of the Purple Line. On the Natural environment, the letter asks to recognize the Guilford Run Watershed and opportunities in the plan area to address serious downstream flooding, investigate the discovery of a new species of carnivorous worm in Guilford Run and its relevance, determine if removal of trees in Guilford Woods will create a network gap in the Green Infrastructure Network, Expand conservation areas, increase the size of the proposed Guilford Run Stream Valley Park, and modify zoning recommendations to protect these sensitive areas, Require onsite preservation of trees to satisfy the Woodland and Wildlife Habitat Ordinance.

[City of College Park]

City to Build a Walking Tour Promoting Lakeland’s History

The Council will consider accepting a grant of $15,000 from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA) FY2022 Grant Agreement for the Lakeland Community Heritage Augmented Reality Tour.
The City will provide a cash match of $15,000 and a significant amount of in-kind services will be provided through volunteers and donated services from professionals such as genealogists and historians working with LCHP.
The project is expected to enhance the existing neighborhood walking tour by adding an augmented reality element with historical narrative, photographs, and oral histories of former Lakelanders. The first stage of the work entails developing new content for the tour and collecting, assessing, interpreting, and curating data such as property records, photographs, maps, and oral histories.
This is being accomplished through paid interns and volunteer community members. The second phase of the work will involve hiring technical consultants to transfer information to Metaverse software to create a free, accessible mobile app.
Physical markers with QR codes will be placed at heritage sites throughout the community, and visitors and residents will be able to scan the codes to experience the augmented reality tour through their mobile phones.

Work to Fix Starbucks Traffic Backup Starts this Summer

Cars could be seen waiting in line at the College Park Shopping Center Starbucks (photo credit: Waymaking.com)

There has been some great progress in addressing the traffic backup issue at the entrance of the College Park Shopping Center caused by the drive-thru customers at the Starbucks.

The backup often blocks the right lane of the westbound Cherry Hill Road, causing safety issues for vehicles turning right from Route 1 onto Cherry Hill Road.

This issue has been affecting many College Park residents, for many years, possibly since the Starbucks opened here in this shopping complex.

The City Council discussed the issue last October when representatives from the County came before the Council to discuss some initial design ideas to improve the Cherry Hill Road and Route 1 intersection.  At that meeting, the Council asked staff from the City and County to work with Starbucks and the Michaels Company (the shopping complex management group) to address this ongoing problem.

Since then, the group has been meeting to address this ongoing issue. Based on their work, here are the main highlights of the improvements that we can expect in the future.

  • The County has agreed to design roadway features with a tar & chip surfacing contractor to improve the traffic safety of Cherry Hill Road at the driveway entrance with Michaels Company consensus. The County indicated that this project could be constructed in late summer or early fall of this year if everything falls into place.
  • Starbucks would like to complete its drive-through and building remodeling this coming fall.
  • Starbucks asked the County to assist them with the DPIE permitting process. The County and City agreed to assist as best they can.
  • The State has given the County feedback on alternatives for Right of Way and extension of a Median on Cherry Hill Road. Please note the County owns and maintains  Cherry Hill road and the State of Maryland (SHA) owns and maintains Route 1.

Please note that Michaels and Starbucks have not submitted an application to the County for the Site Plan approval. Therefore, it’s a little early to estimate a time for project completion.

I want to thank our City staff for their hard work in making this much-needed collaboration happen.

Free COVID Vaccination Clinic for Ages 5+

COVID vaccination clinic happening next Monday from 4 PM till 8 PM at College Park Academy. Below is the link to book an appointment. Appointment Booking Link: https://www.marylandvax.org/appointment/en/reg/0057621139

FREE COVID-19 Test Kits

The White House is providing four FREE COVID-19 rapid at-home tests test kits to every home in the United States. Those interested in ordering tests must provide a name and residential mailing address. Tests will ship through the mail within 7-12 days of ordering, with no shipping fees. To order your tests, click here.

Opportunity to Give Input about FY23 City Budget

At last night’s meeting, Staff will provide a preview of the FY2023 budget cycle and review the City’s  Homestead Tax Credit Rate.
In FY 2023, Staff is projecting revenues at levels consistent with the current year. Staff Salaries in the proposed budget will include a 2.5% cost of living adjustment, as negotiated with the union plus estimates for merit increases where applicable. For the last several years, the City Council has maintained a cap of 0%.
With that, the City is providing the maximum property tax relief for homeowners. Staff is recommending to keep City’s Homestead Tax Credit Rate at 0% for FY2023. Staff is recommending the following FY23 budget calendar
(a) Friday, February 4 – Mayor & Council requests and residents’ suggestions for the FY2023 Proposed Budget are due.
(b) Friday, March 11 – FY2023 Proposed Budget & CIP published and posted on the City’s website.
(c) Saturday, March 26 – Budget Worksession.
(d) Tuesday, May 10 – Public Hearings on the Budget and Constant
( e ) Tuesday, May 24 – Adoption of FY2023 Budget and CIP.
Once the draft budget is released, we’re also planning to host a budget town hall to share the budget and get your input.
The City Council is also inviting residents to submit suggestions and recommendations to City staff for the FY2023 Budget.  Preparation is beginning on the Proposed Budget to be published in March 2022 for the City Council’s review and subsequent adoption. The deadline for submission is January 31, 2022. Form Link

State Bill to Address Vehicle Racing on Neighborhood Streets

Does your neighborhood sound like the Indy 500 on a Friday night?

Many residents express growing concern over excessive vehicle noise and car racing on residential streets.

Since the COVID-19 lockdowns, an uptick in racing, street takeovers, burnouts, sideshows, and modified vehicle exhaust systems have caused College Park and many local communities to scramble to address this.

The excessive loud noise from these speeding cars has been a quality of life, health and safety issues.

Penalties for these racing are not good enough to deter such racing.

Thankfully, Del. Mary Lehman is introducing a bill on Thursday to raise the fines and points received for those arrested for vehicle racing (including motorcycles) and exhibitions.
HB102 – Vehicle Laws – Race and Speed Contests – Penalties

The hearing is on Thursday, January 20 at 1:00 pm in the Environment and Transportation Committee. Submitting testimony and signing up as witnesses will happen tomorrow. Below is the link for signing up to speak. You must do so between 8 am – 3 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday).

https://mgaleg.maryland.gov/pubs-current/current-ent-faqs.pdf

If you do not want to speak, please email Del. Lehman at: Mary.Lehman@house.state.md.us

If you have further questions, you may also email her office.

Below is the bill itself: https://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2022RS/bills/hb/hb0102F.pdf

There is an amendment that will be presented with the bill attached to this email..

The bill changes the penalties for participating in speed contests and exhibitions.

The bill will:

  • The points will increase to 8 for participating, 12 if someone is seriously hurt.
  • The participant’s car will be impounded.
  • The fine will be raised to $1,000.

Update [1/18/2022]: College Park City Council approved a letter of support for this bill at last night’s City Council meeting.