Monday, October 31, 2005

Reclaiming the Fort

Finally some good news on Fort Smallwood Park. According to the Sun, Baltimore City, which owns the park, and Anne Arundel County, in which the park sits, have reached an agreement where Anne Arundel County will take over control of the blighted 100-acre park. Anne Arundel County will pay no rent for the park, but will foot the bill for the estimated $10 million in clean-up costs.

For decades, the park, which is polluted with both asbestos and lead, has been a community nuisance, hosting drug dealers, poisoned playground equipment, and assorted unsavory activities. Baltimore City, which owns the park, failed to provide patrols for it, as police "usually place[d] a priority on more urgent matters within the city limits."

Congratulations to the individuals around the park who have been lobbying to get it into the County's hands, and congratulations to the City for finally recognizing that it doesn't have the resources to run the park in the proper manner. Let's hope Fort Smallwood becomes another beautiful waterfront park some time soon.


Friday, October 28, 2005

Exorcising Eric Smith

ANNAPOLIS, MD - 10/28/05 - Having determined that a simple "no confidence" vote would be insufficient to forever banish the everlasting soul of former Superintendent of Schools, Eric Smith, from Anne Arundel County, members of the Anne Arundel Teacher's Union have decided to take a more dramatic tact. They have agreed to vote on actions to make it clear to Dr. Smith that he should never return here from his Harvard hiatus.

Despite Dr. Smith's recent resignation as Superintendent, there remains the belief among some in the teacher's union, that his presence will continue to haunt union/school board negotiations for years to come. According to Union president Shelley Finley, "Dr. Smith's reign of terror was so severe that drastic steps have to be taken to ensure his eternal explusion. It was just horrible. For god's sake, he wouldn't even listen to us."

Some of the proposals that will be voted on in the November 2 balloting include: Whether to draw-and-quarter Dr. Smith's large oak desk; Whether to place Dr. Smith's personal assistant, Myra, in an iron maiden for a period not to exceed two weeks, and; Whether anyone uttering the words "Eric Smith" should have their mouth filled with hot coals.1

In a closing comment, Finley offered, "Hey, we can't seem to get the teachers better pay or benefits, so it seems like the least we can do is offer them the opportunity to symbolically flog this dead horse. And flog it we will."

An artist's rendering of one of the myriad tortures proposed for the former Superintendent, as voted on by the Anne Arundel Teacher's Association.

1 Capital cartoonist, Eric Smith could not be reached for comment on this final proposal in time for publication.

This is satire. Any resemblance contained herein to individuals living or deceased is purely coincidental.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Mayoral Candidates Face the Music

The candidates for Mayor of Annapolis were asked four questions about their vision for the future of Annapolis. Mayor Moyer and Mr. Renaut responded, Mr. Kelley did not. I thank each of them for their time. Here are their answers:

1. What are your opinions of the inner West Street development and the local festivals that business owners there have orchestrated?

ELLEN MOYER: The Inner West Street development is a great source of pride, from the adaptive reuse of the funky "West Village" homes to the completion of the Knighton Garage to the bricking of the first block of West Street and the Church Circle sidewalks.

Once again, the historic gateway to the City of Annapolis is a showplace where the arts and culture flourish.

The occasional (which is the operative word) festivals only enhance this hometown pride in the uptown commercial district. Having public events away from the City Dock, in a place which lends itself to promenades and gatherings, has stimulated business while creating fun and affordable community events.

West Street redevelopment which attracted more than ten times the City's outlay for infrastructure in private sector investment, is an excellent example of Smart Growth and I'm proud much of it has occurred during my administration.

GILBERT RENAUT: The Inner West Street business successes are exciting for the entire community. The businesses are employing people, and taking pride in their city. Much of the business is being generated by local residents and enjoyed by local residents, and that is especially impressive. Rams Head Tavern is probably owed the biggest thanks for jump-starting that part of the city a number of years ago. Those who have taken the risks and put in the work are to be congratulated and thanked for creating a wonderful atmosphere on a daily basis -- and for the enjoyable special events they've produced and attracted to promote the area.

However, we also want to do our best to incorporate the talents of the entire community as we move forward in business development anywhere in Annapolis. That means, for example, that we should work to make the Clay Street neighborhood a part of this West Street development. I will work to research additional economic development opportunities and grants if necessary to get additional minority-owned businesses along the West Street corridor, to make sure that all of our boats are rising with this new tide.

2. What would you like to see come of the Market House redevelopment?

MOYER: I'd like to see the legacy of the Market House as a community meeting place and purveyor of the "sale and purchase of goods and supplies" as the deed from long ago stated it should be.

I'm very sorry the Annapolis Seafood model did not work out. I think it contained all the provisions the residents and committees working on the Market House redevelopment said they wanted -- a local business supplying fresh local produce and seafood, with other vendors selling other grocery items, ready to eat items, and featuring the end gourmet specialties of Dean & Deluca.

But we need to look ahead to the lease we are working out with Site Realty. I am hopeful their Eastern Market model can be adapted to our Market House with some improvements on the aesthetics.

RENAUT: I'd like to see an open discussion among the city, the residents, and local merchants to determine the best and most efficient way to get the market open again as quickly as possible. It is sorely missed by residents and visitors alike.

I will meet with the Annapolis Business Association, the Chamber of Commerce, the visitor's bureau, local marinas, watermen's groups, the governor, the county executive, neighborhood associations, and anyone else to find common ground for merchants, visitors, boaters, and residents. The market house belongs to all of us. It is a unique and important centerpiece for the city, and getting it re-opened is among my first initiatives.

3. What would you do to see that many of the environmental initiatives that [the current Mayor] has put in place are continued and extended?

MOYER: To be very honest, one of the most compelling reasons for my running for re-election is to make sure the tremendous strides we have made, working with environmental interests and community associations to leverage the resources we as a city have put into programs is not discontinued.

Initiatives like GreenScape, the Nickel a Day for the Bay for stormwater retrofitting and rain garden construction, our creek conservancies, the projects at Back Creek Nature Park, the grand vision for Waterworks Park, Parks and Paths for People and many others could disappear with the next budget.

We have all invested too much time and effort to let that happen.

RENAUT: I am in favor of environmental initiatives, and would put any current programs under review for effectiveness, fairness, and the legitimacy of all alliances and contracts before making any decisions about them. In my opinion, the most serious environmental problems over which the city has any control are traffic and run-off, and that’s where I would concentrate my initial efforts.

4. What would you do, if anything, to increase affordable housing in the city?

MOYER: When I was elected, I appointed a committee to examine means to make affordable housing available in the city. The recommendations were fashioned into legislation by a task force I appointed and a landmark ordinance was passed.

I am proud that now 12% of new housing construction must contain affordable units. This also includes condo conversions, so the projects on West Street and the Spa Cove Apartments will be making these units available to Annapolis workforce before the end of the year.

RENAUT: This has long been an issue close to my heart, so yes, I will be working hard to address it.

There are at least three prongs to this sticky issue: affordable sale prices of homes, affordable rents, and affordable property taxes. Each one affects a different group of people, from young families buying their first homes, and single people renting an apartment, to senior citizens who want to stay in their family homes, but can no longer afford the taxes.

Providing affordable housing in our city is among the most complex of issues, in part because Annapolis is limited in its ability to grow. Due to the large number of government buildings, churches, schools, and protected historic buildings, there isn't much real estate left over for growth in our town. Many of the historic properties are not equipped with modern fire prevention tools, limiting again the opportunity for rental space in upper levels.

Where would I begin to unravel some of these issues? I would seek to maximize our available real estate assets. I would study the possible conversion of appropriate single-family properties to affordable multi-family units and finding safe and economical ways to encourage residential units in second stories of commercial buildings. I would put the best people I could find to work developing a smart-growth policy and community plan.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Annexation Exasperation

At Monday night's Annapolis City Council meeting, the issue of the City annexation of land in the county was the hot button topic. The concern, among the environmental and traffic-minded, is that allowing the City to annex land in the county, including "179 acres near Forest Drive and Spa Road known as the Katherine properties, and 6 acres off Edgewood Road near the Annapolis Water Reclamation Facility known as the Rodgers property", will result in the land being upzoned and more densely developed than if the land was left under the County's zoning.

Several Councilpeople, including Sheila Tolliver (D), Louise Hammond (D), and David Cordle (R), have sponsored a moratorium bill that would "put a freeze on city annexations until the council adopted a comprehensive set of policies that would 'define land use, transportation, and other conditions under which land would be annexed.'" Sounds like a reasonable position to me.

In fact, I like the idea so much I would like to see the County put a similar development moratorium in place until we can get an accurate sense of the adequacy of public facilities (e.g., schools, water, sewer, roads) countywide. Such a stance would be quite effective for a prospective County Executive candidate, given that whether in the City or in the County, a significant proportion of residents seem to be fed up with the deterioration in quality of life caused by unchecked growth.

Tomorrow's column will showcase the answers from various Mayoral candidates to a questionnaire I asked them to fill out last week.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Duncan You Hear Me?

According to the Post, Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan (D) was in Annapolis last Thursday to declare his candidacy for Governor. The charismatically-challenged Duncan has to overcome the hesitations of even many of those within his own party, who contend that Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley matches up much better against Governor Bobby (a sentiment which has been supported by the results of several early polls).

One particular segment in the Post article leads me to believe that certain Duncan "boosters" are either sorely misinformed, or self-delusional about his chances: "Duncan boosters argue that the counties ringing Baltimore will not be as crucial next year as they were in 2002 -- far more new voters have registered in the Washington area than anywhere else." This was, in essence, the mistake Kathleen Kennedy Townsend made in 2002. Preaching to the Montgomery County, PG County, and Baltimore City choirs is going to win you just enough support to be the first (or in Duncan's case) second Democrat to lose the race for Governor in the past 3 decades.

I said it earlier in the year, and I'm happy to say it again: Duncan isn't even going to get a shot at Ehrlich, he's going to lose to O'Malley in the primary. And, it's no great loss that he will, since both candidates seem to share a fairly similar agenda: cozying up to development interests, backing short-sighted transportation schemes, and buying Maryland Democrats four more years of complacency. Unfortunately, for all those negatives, they're still better than the alternative sitting in Annapolis.


Monday, October 24, 2005

A Tale of Three Cities?

In a curious coincidence, Friday's Capital reported the intentions of some in the Odenton area to seek incorporation for the burgeoning 'burb in west county. Apparently, the effort is being spearheaded by Dave Tibbetts, a member of the Greater Odenton Improvement Association, who sees incorporation as one way to reap the tax windfall of upcoming development in the area.

Mr. Tibbetts offered, "It takes us 30 years to get anything (from the county). We don't have enough clout with the political structure in general." Of course, it doesn't help that the area has been saddled with the largely inept Bill Burlison (D - Crofton) as its councilman for the last 7 years. One of the aspirants for Mr. Burlison's seat on the council, Jamie Benoit (D) said that "he's excited by the possibility .....but, the change is more likely in about eight to 10 years - "when Odenton is all grown up."

Certainly it's easy to understand why communities would seek greater autonomy, particularly when they feel as though they are being underserved, but there are other factors to consider as well: How will an additional layer of bureacracy either slow or speed local efforts? What sort of costs would the new local body cost just to sustain itself? Many communities in the county have special benefit tax districts, which take a portion of local property taxes for community purposes. This would seem to be an important intermediary step.


Friday, October 21, 2005

Quote of the Week

"It's common sense," he said, adding that it's always illegal to set someone's head on fire, permit or not. - Lt. Frank Fennell, Anne Arundel County Fire Department


Fixer Uppers

Annapolis, MD - 10/21/05 - Recent reports that Anne Arundel County schools are at least $165 million behind in maintenance and repairs have led officials in County government to seek out low cost solutions to prop up the failing infrastructure. Today, County Executive Janet Owens and the County School Board set forth an ambitious 3-point plan to get Anne Arundel's schools back into top form.

The initial strategy will be to forge public-private partnerships, with businesses in the county being asked to contribute materials and financial support to the school system in exchange for yet undisclosed benefits. An ecstatic William Weasel, Head of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Group, mused, "Think of the possibilities. If we can pull this off, it may not be long before we're unveiling Home Depot Middle School and Raytheon High. These are indeed exciting times."

The second prong of the plan involves sending county permit inspectors out, under cover of darkness, to raid dumpsters at construction locations around the county to scavenge useable materials. County Permitting Officer Sturge Icemayer stated bluntly, "Look, we already know where these sites are [as contractors are required to file permits with the County], and we're expected to swing by them every so often to check on silt fences and remediation efforts. But, honestly, we don't have that sort of time, so we're going to hone in on the big ones, grab their scrap lumber and wiring, and see what we might be able to use to patch up our schools."

"If all else fails, we intend to open several locations in the county as prospective sites for rubble landfills, with the ingenious requirement that the developers of those sites be required to patch up schools in the area," offered school board member Jimmy "Skeeter" Holmes. "My guess is that folks in Pasadena and Arnold will agree that a gaping crater in the community is a small price to pay for schools that aren't caving in on their children."

A recent photo of one of Severna Park's failing elementary schools.

This is satire. Any resemblance contained herein to individuals living or deceased is purely coincidental.

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Pre-Election Dimbulb Award

And the Dimmy goes to...... Norman Alton. Mr. Alton not only committed the unfortunately common, but politically unpardonable sin of stealing an opponent's yard signs (he works for Ms. Moyer and stole Mr. Renaut's signs), he was indiscreet enough to have done it in front of a member of the City's Ethics Commission, former Mayor Richard Hillman. And then, he lied to Ms. Moyer when pressed about it, eventually cracking and telling her the truth.

Ms. Moyer has decided to let Mr. Alton stay on as a volunteer, which seems to me, an error in judgement. He's embarassed the campaign, broken the law, and lied to the candidate. Sounds like a strike-out.


Checking the Supremes

On Tuesday and Wednesday, both the Capital and Post ran coverage of the Republican press conference announcing that the State GOP intends to try to pass a constitutional amendment to protect private property from government seizure. The precipitating event for this grandstanding (and that of the Democrats trying to introduce a similar bill in the legislature) is, of course, the US Supreme Court's ruling in the Kelo v. New London, CT case, where it was decided that the city of New London could legally require residents to sell their property so that the city could put it to the "public use" of redeveloping it into property which will generate greater tax revenue for the city.

This ruling set a horrible precedent, and I support the legislature in taking the steps to protect state residents from having their property stolen. I just wish they would have done it about 6 years sooner. You see, in the 2000 legislative session, former Baltimore County Executive (and current US Representative) Dutch Ruppersberger, several of his cronies, and a number of complicit senators and delegates from around the state (even at least one from Anne Arundel County) set their eyes on a tract of property in the Essex-Middle River area.

The plan was to "revitalize" the area by tearing down the water accessible properties of working class people and replace it with high-end condominiums. And, the plan would have worked (the bill passed) were it not for the tremendous efforts of the people who lived in Essex-Middle River and their allies to get a referendum on the ballot and have it overwhelmingly overturned by the voters of the state.

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Environmental Economics

Check out this blog dedicated to the dissemination of economists’ views on current environmental and natural resource issues.


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Boning Up on the Budget

Perusing budgets, particularly the labyrinthine, detailed budgets of large businesses or government entities is hardly anyones' idea of a good time. But, that doesn't mean that, on occassion, it doesn't have to be done. At over $1.1 billion for fiscal year 2006, there's a lot to investigate in the County's books.

Have you ever wondered where your property taxes, fees, and local income taxes go after they've entered the County's coffers? While it may be tempting to respond, "down the drain", that answer is only partially correct. Only .03% of those funds went to the Department of Public Works ($32.7 million), literally down the drains, while a far smaller percentage went down the figurative drains to fund the Office of the County Executive and the Department of Planning and Zoning ($3.8 million and $8.5 million, respectively).

But seriously, did you realize that 46% of County expenditures go to fund the public school system and Community College? "Public safety" (police, fire, and detention facilities) makes up another 19% of the budget. "Human services", which includes the Deparments of Aging, Parks and Recreation, Health, and Social Services, makes up another 8%.

Future columns will be dedicated to a more in-depth exploration of the budget. In the meantime, I invite you to do some exploring of your own.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Survey Says.....Time for Teacher Raises

In a characteristically reticent piece in yesterday's Capital, the editorial board announced the results of the salary survey committee put together by Superintendent Eric Smith and begrudgingly confessed its implications: County residents have gotten off easily for the last decade, skimping on teachers' cost-of-living increases, and now it's time to pay the piper.

Over the last 10 years, Anne Arundel County had the lowest cost of living increases of all 24 state school districts, 9 percentage points (26 percent) below the state median. What does this mean in practical terms? It's going to cost several million additional dollars a year (~$30 million over 5 years) to get teacher salaries up to $38,307, which will make them the fifth-highest in the state for the time being.

Of course, the median home price in the county has climbed to $330,000. Now, if we can only figure out a way to warm teachers up to the idea of group housing, perhaps we can find places for them to live on their "generous" increases.


Monday, October 17, 2005

Where in the World is Barbara Samorajczyk?

With Sheriff George Johnson having announced his candidacy for County Executive two weeks ago, and Department of Parks and Recreation Head Dennis Callahan already gladhanding around the county in anticipation of his likely announcement, the third likely Democratic entrant, Councilwoman Barbara Samorajczyk has been lying uncharacteristically low of late.

Granted, it is still 11 months before the 2006 primary election, but the fiery and often meticulous Samorajczyk has some serious name recognition obstacles to overcome, particularly among the Democratic strongholds of Glen Burnie, Linthicum, and Brooklyn Park, which constitute the Sheriff's chief stomping grounds.

With Johnson promising us sugar, spice and all things nice and Callahan offering a ballfield in every backyard, it's imperative that the residents of the County be offered a choice who both has considerable experience negotiating the ropes of County government, and the backbone to stand up the the vultures who have filled their bellies at the development buffet run by the current administration.


Friday, October 14, 2005

Smoking Grass?

Annapolis, MD - 10/14/05 - With the increasing popularity of townhouse communities throughout the Washington and Baltimore suburbs, developers and homeowners alike have encountered, time and again, the problem of the proper way to handle a postage-stamp sized yard.

Now, Rion Homes LLC has decided to take a fairly radical step in landscaping their newest offerings in the area: Astroturf. Well not exactly Astroturf, "Astroturf" is a trade name, like Xerox or Kleenex, and the product that Rion Homes will be using, EverGrass, is produced by Synthetic Turf Solutions.

According to Henry Blondell, the lead Western Shore Contractor for Rion, the bogus blades are actually a "fescue"-grade polypropylene. "The turf needs minimal maintenance, certainly no mowing or weedwacking, and homeowners should probably just be sure to vacuum it once or twice a month. They should also be sure to hose it down after each visit by the family pet. Oh, and it's probably not a good idea to grind your old cigarette butts into it either."

The new sham surface is apparently a hit with residents as well. Arlene Johnston of Willow Woods offered, "Who really wants to get dirty when they go outside? And bugs, I don't expect any bumble bees will try to pollinate my plastic petunias."

When asked if Rion had any future plans to expand their maintenance-reduced options for new homes, Blondell responded, "We've got some things in the works. I suspect few people have the time to rake their lawns anymore, and we're looking forward to the day when we can replace tulip populars and white oaks with simulated sweetgums and mock maples. With any luck, that day will soon come."

This is satire. Any resemblance contained herein to individuals living or deceased is purely coincidental.

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

A Tale of Two Cities

Here's a fun experiment: Ask one of your friends or family members to name the only two incorporated municipalities in Anne Arundel County. They're fairly certain to get the first, Annapolis, but what, oh what, is the second? Glen Burnie, perhaps? No. Odenton? Nada. Edgewater? Nyet. It's Highland Beach, out on the Annapolis Neck peninsula near Bay Ridge.

Founded in 1893 by the son and daughter-in-law of Frederick Douglass, who had been turned away from the nearby Bay Ridge Restaurant because of their race, it was the first African American municipality in Maryland at its incorporation in 1922. The town has its own Mayor and four Commissioners and now includes roughly sixty households and is still home to the descendants of many of the original settlers of the area. It is also home to the Highland Beach Community & Frederick Douglass Museum Cultural Center (3200 Wyman Avenue, Annapolis 21043; 410-268-2956).

As some point in the future, I hope to address the issue of why no additional communities in the County have incorporated since 1922 and why, as I understand it, the law prohibits such an act.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Menhaden Wars?

Recently, Dick Russell, a fisherman and environmentalist, published Striper Wars, an account of the political and environmental struggles of the 1980s that led to the moratorium on striped bass (rockfish) fishing, and their eventual bounce back to healthy population levels in the 1990s. Something of the epic struggle and ultimate success is known by most of those who have spent significant time by the Bay. After all, Maryland was at the heart of the controversy, being one of the most vociferous proponents of the fishing ban.

With crab and oyster harvests declining, and already dramatically below historical levels, we can at least rest assured that the striper has bounced back. Right? According to Russell, it's absolutely incorrect. Stripers are increasingly threatened, and this time, the culprit is again overfishing, but not the overfishing of stripers. One of the striped bass' primary food sources, a small, oily fish called menhaden is being harvested by the hundreds of millions of pounds per year. As a result, "most of the Bay’s striped bass suffer from poor nutrition and approximately half of the population is infected with the disease, Mycobacteriosis."

Who is the primary culprit? Omega Protein Corp. (slogan: "Healthy Products for a Healthy World"), which is based in Houston, TX and runs its menhaden fishery from Reedville, VA. If we continue to allow these greedy business interests to feed freely at the trough of our commons, the resulting loss of biomass is going to have implications for the Bay's ecology well beyond even our famed striper.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Bipartisan Bucks for Broncos

No sooner had I finished writing the prior piece, than the Capital came out with its announcement that "County wins bid for horse park." Turns out the Maryland Stadium Authority has chosen the former Horizon Farm site over Fair Hill in Cecil County as its top choice to "host" a State Horse Park. Republican Delegate and candidate for County Executive David Boschert declared giddily, "And they're off!" Off their rockers, perhaps. What we have is a combined Republican (Boschert, Councilwoman Vitale, Councilman Dillon) and Democrat (Mayor Moyer) lovefest proposing, from what I can tell, to spend $75-100 million state taxpayer dollars to build a horse-racing stadium.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't it fairly recently that Governor Bobby was warning us that Maryland might lose the Preakness if we didn't get slots? Building this stadium is like having been present at the dawn of the automobile and declaring that it's time to have the State foot the bill for bringing a buggy whip manufacturing plant on line.

It's clear why Boschert wants it, it's pork for his district. I'm curious as to why the generally tight-fisted Vitale and Dillon have gotten behind the project though [UPDATE: According to Councilman Dillon, both he and Ms. Vitale support a study of the idea, not necessarily going forward with construction]. As for the Mayor, one would have thought she had her hands full governing Annapolis such that she wouldn't need to concern herself with Gambrills. Unless of course this is part of some radical annexation scheme.

Why, oh why, can't we just leave this property an organic farm, keep $75-100 million in the state coffers, and keep the County off the hook for infrastructure upgrades? Why?


Leaving Well Enough Alone

The Baltimore Sun reports that the property formerly known as the Horizon Organic Dairy Farm in Gambrills has become one of the County's newest hot potatoes. Some one, or group of people, has gotten it into their collective heads that the 857-acre farm, owned by the Naval Academy, would be a great place for a "5,000-seat arena and an outdoor amphitheater for horse shows, along with an equestrian museum and trails for recreational riding." I've heard worse ideas, like turning the incredibly valuable organic farm into tract housing, but not many. Last I heard, the horse industry in Maryland was in dire straits due to the inability of facility owners to bring slot machine gambling to Maryland. The answer to this crisis is to add another state-sponsored horse park? Who comes up with these schemes?

If the State has a burning desire to hand out money to the horse industry, doesn't it make sense to try to work with existing facilities to try to see how they might modify their business plans (sans slots) to bring more people out to the tracks? A smart first step might be to clean up their image a bit, so that rather than being seen as seedy havens for the down-and-out, they begin to attract a wider segment of society, perhaps, one day evening being viewed as good, clean fun for families.

Thankfully, Executive Owens seems to be reluctant to endorse the plan, saying, "I strongly suspect that the issue of whether a horse park is an appropriate use of the farm is one that has yet to be vetted at all necessary levels of the federal bureaucracy." Though, she has said she likes the horse park "concept." Indeed, let's hope it stays a good idea.

The farm is currently being leased by Sunrise Farm LLC. The Sunrise's co-owner, Marian Fry was quoted as saying, "This county needs regional pockets of viable agriculture. This is a vital oasis in the middle of highly developed land." I couldn't agree more.


Monday, October 10, 2005

Who is Gilbert Renaut?

The darkhorse Independent candidate for Mayor of Annapolis, Gil Renaut, is for many, an unknown quantity. According to the Capital, Renaut is:

A 1968 St. John's College graduate who has lived in Annapolis [since the 1970s and in his current residence since 1984], Mr. Renaut said the growing affluence of new residents and visitors, combined with personal grudges among politicians, have hurt the city.

Mr. Renaut currently works as a trial lawyer for the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington, though he plans to retire in September. Under federal law, government officials are barred from running on either party ticket.

His chief issue is growth from the city's changing demographics. Real-estate values in Annapolis have increased dramatically in the last 20 years as Annapolis has changed into a mecca for affluent commuters from Washington and Baltimore, wealthy retirees and business owners.

"Money talks, and it's ruining this town," he said.

He said he would like strict enforcement of zoning, Historic District standards and more services for residents rather than businesses, developers and visiting boaters.

[His] issues are very similar to [Mayor] Moyer's platform, which has championed minority recruitment, public safety, cultural and environmental programs and other quality of life issues during her first term.

Sounds like a promising possibility. Certainly dealing with growth and changing demographics in the city as well as a focus on residents first are all laudable priorities. To my mind, several key questions remain. First, this agenda does sounds remarkably similar to Mayor Moyer's who, while admittedly gruff and often hostile to constructive criticism, has moved the City along nicely the past four years (with a couple of exceptions). Second, if Renaut is basically "a kinder, gentler" Moyer, how beholden is he going to be to the notoriously conservative ringleaders of the Ward One Residents' Association.

Some fear we may have a case of Louise Hammond stepping down from the Council, and husband John plugging his marionette strings into the back of Mr. Renaut. What we don't need is a Mayor who thinks he's running the community association of some suburban hamlet, eternally out of the earshot of the sounds of a City alive with fellowship and commerce.

Those considering their support of Mr. Renaut are counting both on his political independence and his independence from some of the more regressive personalities he's been associated with in the past.


Saturday, October 08, 2005

Autumn Glory Hike

Downs Park, 8311 John Downs Loop, Pasadena 21122 - Sunday, Oct. 9, 1 p.m. - Explore the changes in the season on this one hour, quarter mile hike. Meet Park Ranger Dave DeVault at the Downs Park Information Center. Please, no pets or large organized groups. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Call the park office to register, 410-222-6230.

Friday, October 07, 2005

More Market House Mayhem

Today, the Baltimore Sun reported that the City of Annapolis had received 7 bids to redevelop the Market House down by city dock. The bidders are the Site Realty Group, which operates Eastern Market in Washington; the New Market Group, led by Annapolis business partners Gavin Buckley and Jody Danek; H.B. Properties, led by Annapolis restaurateur Harvey Blonder; O'Leary's Seafood in Annapolis; Foundos Realty in Annapolis; Siganos Management of Northfield, N.J.; and Caribee Associates LLC of Ocean City.

In the wake of the Dean & DeLuca debacle, the City (read, the Mayor) is anxious to get this issue dealt with as quickly as possible, though it seems unlikely to be resolved before the November 8th election.

The list of bidders has some interesting prospects. The folks at Eastern Market have done a great job there, and as I've said in the past, would likely turn the Market House into a real asset for the City. The other bidding team that has me intrigued is the New Market Group. Buckley and Danek have done a beautiful job restoring the "West Street Four", now Lemongrass, Metropolitan, a salon, and a couple of boutique shops. They also own the successful Tsunami a bit closer in on West Street. These two are among the leading local entrepeneurs, possessing both a respect for the City's past as well as a constructive vision for its future. My guess is that losing the Dean & DeLuca contract will ending up being better for the City in the long term.

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The Courage to Make Promises You Can't Possibly Keep

Well, yesterday I was able to make an appearance at Sheriff Johnson's whistle stop tour through the County. The Sheriff was nicely coiffed, and certainly by Anne Arundel County standards, polished and well-spoken. He announced the official kick-off of his campaign for County Executive, and proceeded to regale the crowd with all sorts of inarguably desirable outcomes for the County, and by my unofficial count, 237 instances of the "courage" it would take from him and County residents to get there. Smaller class sizes (each under 30 students), cutting the fat from government, lower taxes, more green space preserved, and affordable housing. The only thing missing was a chicken and sizable tax rebate in each pot.

Lest I be accused of going too hard on the Sheriff, let me reject that charge. Each and every one of us needs to scrutinize the words and intentions of these pols running for Executive, or we'll be saddled with another inept "friendly face" presiding over the destruction our precious County for 4 more years. If you're sick of platitudes and promises, demand more.

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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Personal Responsibility and the Bay

Some folks are moved to protect the Bay because they see the Bay as an end in itself. They believe the Bay and the organisms that inhabit it have their own majesty and deserve the ability to make their way in this world as each one of us does. It would be worth saving even if we were not here.

Others choose to help restore the Bay because of the good that it provides to humans. The Bay's "resources" provide a livelihood for watermen, and sustenance for those of us who partake of its bounty. Its grasses and inhabitants clean the water of pollutants, and the Bay itself is a playground for many area residents. Of course, for many, their motivation is some combination of the two.

Some others, perhaps, don't care much about the Bay one way or another. They argue, that since they don't use the Bay for boating or swimming, or eat crabs and oysters from the Bay, they have no particular obligation to protect, restore, or otherwise "save" the Bay. For these individuals, let me take a page out of the "personal responsibility" playbook.

In this day and age, it's almost impossible to get through a political diatribe without some mention of "personal responsibility". The gist being, "our followers have it, yours don't." Never mind the fact that everyone I've ever discussed the subject with professes to have it. The fact is, we all like to think we are "personally responsible". My hope is, we all are. Part of personal responsibility is limiting the harm that we do to others, and to property which is not ours, to zero. Each and every one of us who owns a home in the Bay watershed, and who allows stormwater to leave our property, and flow onto the property of another, or into community property, is currently harming either our neighbors' property, or the property that we hold in common.

The Stormwater Restoration Fund, that has been mentioned here a number of times is, in essence, an effort to get us to take a share of personal responsibility for the damage we have done by adding impervious surface to the land. Please contact your County Council person and tell them that you would like to see County residents start taking personal responsibility for their property by introducing and passing the stormwater restoration fund.

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Annapolis Ward 7 Update

Early word is that the Democrats have managed to convince the City Elections Board to put Sam Shropshire on the ballot against Laura Townsend.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Bay is Dying, What are You Going to Do About It?

The Capital reported yesterday that the Bay had its largest dead zone in 20 years during the past summer. On average, five percent of the Bay's mainstem contained no dissolved oxygen at all. During August, 10 percent had no oxygen, and 41 percent had low oxygen. The low oxygen levels in the Bay are the result of high nutrient loads (e.g., nitrogen and phosphorous) and warm weather temperatures. These high nutrient levels cause rapid growth of algal blooms. The algal blooms then cause the water to become murky and reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the Bay’s underwater plants and animals. When the blooms die, oxygen is depleted as the algae decay.

Kim Coble, Executive Director of the Chespeake Bay Foundation called on governments to increase their efforts to reduce pollution. I'm calling on you, the citizens of the watershed not to wait for government to do something, but for us to take up the mantle of saving the Bay ourselves. Every time you fertilize your lawn you help put one more nail in the Bay's coffin. If you have waterfront property, please plant a buffer between your lawn and the water (if one doesn't already exist) to help prevent the runoff of nutrients into the Bay. If you have an old and/or failing septic system, purchase a denitrifying septic system. We have each had a role in the Bay's decline. It's time each of us gave something back to its recovery.

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More Water, Water...

Twice in recent weeks I've been presented with interesting, new developments on the bottled water front. If the tap is turning you off, or your well is getting you down, use your purchasing power for social good. First, I came across Biota Spring Water. Unremarkable for its taste (as most good water is), Biota appears finally to have cracked the nut that has plagued environmentally-minded folks since the beginning of bottled water: They've designed a compostable bottle. That's right, the bottle, which looks like any other clear, plastic bottle, is actually made of cornstarch, and can break down in a commercial composting situation in about 12 weeks.

Even Governor Bobby is getting in on the act. On September 27th, he announced a public-private partnership between the Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP) and the State of Maryland. The Chesapeake Bay Recovery Partnership (CBRP) will, as its first fundraiser, begin selling Maryland Natural Spring Water, from the award-winning Brick House Spring in Ellicott City. Funds raised through the effort are slated to be used to help boost large-scale Bay restoration efforts.

Perhaps someday soon we'll be able to get Maryland spring water in compostable bottles, and have the proceeds go to saving the Bay!


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Stepping Up to Stop Stormwater

Last Thursday, several local legislators were taken on a tour of sites that had been badly damaged by stormwater runoff and some that had been recently remediated. The tour was lead by citizens trying to build support for a watershed restoration fund (aka, a stormwater utility), and making an attempt to educate county council members about the extent of the problem.

Councilwomen Beidle (D-Linthicum) and Samorajczyk (D-Annapolis) are the only two solidly behind the implementation of the fund, which would cost homeowners about $60/year, while Councilmen Reilly (R-Crofton/South County) and Dillon (R-Pasadena) seem to have the good sense to recognize there is a serious problem, but lack the leadership ability to get firmly behind the fee. Councilmembers Vitale (R-Severna Park), Burlison (D-Crofton), and Middlebrooks (R-Glen Burnie) apparently think the problem will take care of itself, or simply don't care.

Even if Reilly and Dillon could be brought on board, our fearless leader, Executive Owens, has threatened to veto the bill, because she thinks it would be "unfair to saddle the next administration with the fee." How thoughtful. I wonder if such doubt crossed Bob Ehrlich's mind when he signed the "flush fee" bill.


Monday, October 03, 2005

Republicans Barnstorm Annapolis

The results from the primary elections on September 20th show yet another case of the Annapolis Democrats being caught with their pants down. In an off year for elections in almost all of the rest of the state (Frederick City being one exception), one would have expected a massive show of political force from the state's Republicans and Democrats. The Republicans delivered, helping hardcore conservatives Michael Christman and Laura Townsend to victory. Townsend promises to bring retrograde conservative "values" back to Naptown, the likes of which haven't been seen since Herb McMillan held a seat there. Concerned residents should probably place the Maryland ACLU on speed dial.

The Democrats, who Terry Lierman had promised to reinvigorate, mustered an anemic effort, and are now faced with the once unthinkable possibility that their sitting Mayor, Ellen Moyer, could be unseated by the virtual unknown, Independent candidate Gil Renaut. Last week's Capital poll, unscientific, to be sure, had Renaut collecting over twice as many votes as Republican George Kelley, or Mayor Moyer, despite pleas on the part of the latter to get supporters to the online poll. The Democrats' opponent against Townsend will be a write-in candidate who won't appear on the ballot because she bungled the treasurer information on her candidate application.

The Republicans know that wresting control in Annapolis is a good first step to trying to unseat House Speaker Mike Busch in 2006. The Democrats would have been wise to have anticipated this manuever when every other political observer saw it in the works, in 2002.