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County unanimous in support of climate accords

  • Published in Local

MoCo LogoROCKVILLE – After President Donald J. Trump announced his decision June 1 to withdraw the United States from an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Montgomery County refuses to follow suit.

On Tuesday the Montgomery County Council unanimously supported a resolution that was introduced to affirm a commitment to the Paris Climate Accords, an international agreement that 195 nations signed in order to reduce levels of carbon dioxide emissions to stem the rise of climate change.

Montgomery County joins large cities nationwide such as Pittsburgh, Seattle, Atlanta and Philadelphia, which have made similar pledges to follow the Paris Climate Accords’ promise to reduce greenhouse gases.

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County sets sights on ending homelessness

  • Published in Local

Montgomery County has set what it considers a very doable goal of providing housing for its 242 chronic homeless people and is committed to ending chronic homelessness within its borders by the end of this year.

In a community memorial service held outdoors in the Circuit Court Plaza on June 7, the new initiative called Inside, Not Outside, was announced.

County Administrative Officer Chuck Short explained that since the County’s homeless veterans have now been placed, it is time to focus on the chronically homeless, people who have been homeless for at least one year or have had at least four episodes of homelessness during the previous three years and have some problem or disability that needs a specific intervention, such as drug or alcohol addiction or illness.

Those who aren’t considered the chronic homeless have a specific, short-term, problem that forced them into the streets for a few months, including job loss or high medical bills.

Even if the County does provide housing — not just space in a shelter — there always will be new people ending up on the street or in a car, said Council member George Leventhal.

“We have to keep working on it every year,” he said. “People’s situations change all the time.”

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"We Are Still In"

  • Published in Local

County defies the President and vows to adhere to Paris Climate Accords

 

ROCKVILLE - “We are still in” the Paris Climate Accord despite the president’s decision to withdraw, declared County Executive Leggett, along with more than 1,000 local, state-level and business leaders around the country this week.

The officials and business leaders released the statement June 5 after President Donald J. Trump announced that the United States would leave the greenhouse gas reduction effort four days earlier.

Leggett cited the county’s Fiscal Year 2016 sustainability report, showing that it is well ahead of its own goals for “reducing greenhouse gas emissions from government operations” and installing solar energy atop government buildings. The county recently bought more electric vehicles for its fleets and has seed-funded a new Green Bank helping to finance energy-efficient retrofits in private buildings.

Area businesses and consumers appeared to remain on track for planned energy improvements. Joe Inglisa, who heads sales for Bowie-based SemaConnect, a manufacturer and seller of electric vehicle charging stations, said Trump’s announcement had “no impact” and that the “Trump announcement might even motivate buyers to do their own thing.”

Charging stations are usually installed in office and apartment buildings and parking lots.

Inglisa said, “Our momentum is picking up for several reasons. Many states and cities have their own environmental standards, and there is no sign they are changing anything. Maryland still has strong incentives, and I do not see this changing.”

In fact, unless tax laws are changed, there remain substantial federal tax benefits for both electric vehicles and solar installations.

Inglisa added that electric vehicles’ reputation among consumers “is getting stronger as time goes on, and prices are coming down.” Inglisa’s market area includes Maryland, D.C., Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Ohio.

“Consumers, especially in our area of higher-educated people, are motivated to do their part in contributing to a cleaner environment,” he noted.

Amelia Chasse, deputy communications director in Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) office, noted that Hogan “signed the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act into law in 2016, adopting some of the most aggressive air quality goals in the country — significantly more aggressive than those in the Paris accord.”

Hogan’s 2017 legislative program included programs to “encourage the use of EVs [and added] incentives for renewable energy,” Chasse said. He “remains committed to preserving Maryland’s natural resources for future generations, and Maryland will continue to lead by example,” she added.

Kaymie Owen, communications manager for the Maryland Energy Administration, said that statewide in 2016, the solar industry employed 5,429. As of the end of May, the state had 9,300 electric vehicles, or EVs.

Maryland has 1,260 energy and sustainability businesses, she said. It ranked seventh among the states last year in the square footage per capita of LEED-certified commercial and institutional green buildings. LEED certification is the nation’s primary designation for energy-efficient buildings.

Mark Bryan, communications director for D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council, the main advocate for LEED standards, told the Sentinel, “We do not expect that the Trump administration's decision to withdraw from the Paris Accords will have any immediate effect on LEED or green construction in the D.C. metro area, as local standards and regulations are strongly supportive of building and operating sustainably. Building owners and developers in Montgomery County and other partners in Maryland have been working with local lawmakers to ensure that new construction meets or exceeds some of the strongest standards in the country, and investors are increasingly demanding green building practices before they commit to financing. None of the administration's recent decisions are going to change that.”

One potential cause of a future slowdown in the building efficiency realm, Bryan said, would be action taken by the Trump administration to have the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency cease developing new standards, benchmarking and research. Bryan concluded: “While we're all disappointed by the administration's decisions, the momentum toward building sustainably is unlikely to slow for one simple reason: It's good for business.”

Maryland ranked near the top among states in a scorecard compiled last year by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy for “combined heat and power policy,” Owen added. The scorecard includes requirements that electric companies give solar consumers credit for power they put back into the electric power “grid.”

Practically all the Maryland delegation in Congress responded to Trump’s June 1 decision immediately after his announcement. The response was along party lines, with the lone Republican, Rep. Andy Harris (R-1), saying that former President Barack Obama “made a bad deal” for the U.S. in the Paris accords. He said any new agreement should be run through the Senate as a formal treaty.

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County settles on Silver Spring Transit Center

  • Published in Local

County Executive Ike Leggett praised a $25 million settlement between the County and developers of the Paul S. Sarbanes Silver Spring Transit Center last week.

Months after the County sued the transit center’s contractor Foulger-Pratt, its designer Parsons Brinckerhoff and the construction inspector Robert Balter, they settled May 30. The County claimed the developers and designers of the Silver Spring Transit Center were negligent and breached the contractor when they designed, built and inspected the transit center, but settled before the matter was decided by a jury.

"I am pleased that the County has settled the lawsuit we brought to recover taxpayer costs associated with the repair and remediation of the Silver Spring Transit Center,” Leggett said in statement after the settlement. “This is very much in the public interest. The $25 million payment to the County will cover 90 percent of the hard costs we incurred to deliver a safe and durable Silver Spring Transit Center.”

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Hometown Holidays carries on in the rain

Hometown Holidays Rolling ThunderA local Rockville family lines up to watch “Rolling Thunder” coming up I-270 for Memorial Day. PHOTO BY JACQUI SOUTHROCKVILLE – Neither rain, nor rain or more rain could keep local residents from enjoying the local party.

Rockville celebrated its 29th annual Hometown Holidays this Memorial Day weekend with live music, a parade and food from a variety of Rockville restaurants.

Weekend rain kept the crowds smaller than previous years, but thousands still showed up to celebrate.

“I thought it was another opportunity that kind of really showed how warm and welcoming we are as a community,” said Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton.

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County Pride events prosper while D.C. falters

  • Published in Local

Rainbow DC Gay Pride Parade 2012 7171189629Pride events in Montgomery County are increasing even as Capital Pride, which began in D.C. in 1975 and is the area’s largest Pride event, draws both protests and praise from other Pride events and citizens in the D.C. Metro area. Part of the discord comes from disagreements over the meaning of pride and the evolution of the event.

No Justice No Pride D.C., a coalition that is part of the larger umbrella organization ResistThis, is one of those groups protesting Capital Pride.

“Pride was born of a resistance,” said Lourdes Ashley-Hunter, the executive director of the Trans Women of Color Collective and who is familiar with the efforts of No Justice No Pride. “‘Now it’s a parade, a festival,” she added.  

“No Justice No Pride is a response to the way that pride has been appropriated by cis (gender), white, gay men… (and) is an alternative to the corporate glitter and glam that Capital Pride represents,” Ashley-Hunter said about the origins and purpose of the group.

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MoCo athletes win state titles in track and field at championship meets

  • Published in Sports

BALTIMORE – Montgomery County Public Schools athletes earned multiple titles in track and field at the State Championship Meets at Morgan State University Friday.

Walter Johnson junior Abbey Green (10:46 minutes) beat her long-time distance rival Annapolis High School senior Maria Coffin (10:56 minutes) to become state champion.

It was her second track and field state title, her first for the outdoor season. Green said she and Coffin became friends during the last few years as they competed in track and field and in cross country.
Poolesville sophomore Nandini Satsangi came in first place in the 3A 3200m race (11:07). Satsangi held the second-place spot for most of the race, and then she led the final two laps. Her legs suddenly gave out a couple of feet from the finish line and she fell, but she won the race by finishing a few seconds ahead of Northern-Calvert junior Abby Sweeney (11:12).

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Race for county executive, county council touched by public financing law

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Robin Ficker remembers raising $200,000 for his unsuccessful 2014 run for State Senate.

Now, public contributions to his 2018 campaign for County Executive can be matched up to $750,000 by the County Public Financing Fund, a potential fundraising boon to his campaign. Even more importantly, his campaign could change the political landscape of Montgomery County. Public financing itself could create a more democratic election and encourage voter participation in 2018.

According to Ficker, a former member of the House of Delegates, the County Public Financing Fund “gets the big moneyed interests out of [the race] and gives power to the average person in Montgomery County.” Ficker notes that the fund’s ability to match citizens’ donations “gives the average person some clout” especially since the first $50 donation to a campaign is matched six-to-one and adds $300 to the campaign, something that Ficker considers unique, saying “There is no jurisdiction in the United States that has anything close to this.”

Although Ficker says he has never taken contributions from PACs, unions, or other groups, this law forbids participating candidates from taking such contributions, another attempt by the Montgomery County Council to expand the impact of private citizens and limit the influence of large organizations. Furthermore, officials say that the Public Campaign Financing law requires candidates to accept only donations from Montgomery County residents and only donations between $5 and $150.

However, there is some debate as to the effectiveness of the program’s limits on donations from large organizations. According to George Leventhal, the program is “an experiment in democracy which is intended to reduce the influence of big money in local politics.”

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Sentinel claims awards

  • Published in Local

Sentinel Staff Photo 1bThe Sentinel Staff with owner Lynn Kapiloff, seated. PHOTO BY MARK POETKER   ANNAPOLIS - The Montgomery County Sentinel Newspapers was awarded the Maryland Delaware, District of Columbia Press Association “News Organization of the Year” award for the second time in as many years in a ceremony here Friday.

“It is an honor to be awarded this distinction for the second time in as many years and the third time in the last five years,” said Sentinel owner Lynn Kapiloff. “It is vital for independent publications to remain vibrant – especially at this time in our history.”

The Sentinel won 35 awards out of a possible 48 categories, picking up first and second place in categories such as Investigative Reporting, State Government Reporting, and Multimedia Storytelling (news).

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MoCo sees slight dip in number of homeless residents

  • Published in Local

Homelessness in Montgomery County decreased by 9 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to an annual survey conducted by Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

According to the survey, which was a one-night snapshot of the homeless population on Jan. 25 of this year, there were 894 homeless people in the County, as compared to 981 in 2016 and 1,100 in 2015.

The 894 people included 86 families and 172 children, according to the survey.

The survey, in its 17th year, tallied the homeless population in nine jurisdictions in the Washington, D.C. area. Overall, there were 11,128 homeless individuals in the nine jurisdictions, according to the survey which was released last week.

Amanda Harris, Montgomery County’s chief of special needs housing in its Department of Health and Human Services, called the numbers in the survey “typical,” although the survey noted that day was unseasonably warm.

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