1.What would your top priorities be as an elected official?
• Public transit and road improvements cannot be an afterthought. Intersection improvements, road fixes and public transit are tools to ending the traffic crisis in Montgomery County. From Chevy Chase to Clarksburg, White Flint to White Oak, our growth is outpacing infrastructure. The Montgomery County Council just can’t say “no” to unchecked development. With the planned increase in density countywide, and with our already overburdened streets and intersections, mass transit is crucial to our future economic growth and quality of life.
• Portables are emblematic of our County’s irresponsible choice to prioritize growth over our children’s education. If you watched my campaign video (www.bethdaly.org/why-im-running), you know my concern about the proliferation of portable classrooms. Portables should be an emergency/temporary – not permanent – solution to student population growth. Our lack of preparedness for increased enrollment is simply inexcusable. The County Council must start using real metrics to anticipate growth and require developers to provide solutions ahead of construction and to help build schools and public facilities.
• When we talk about the quality of life, we must look at the quality of our public schools. It is imperative that we adequately fund both MCPS and Montgomery College. Our nationally renowned school system has long been a powerful draw for business and residents, but we cannot rest on our laurels nor settle for mediocrity. We need to invest in our most advanced students, yet support teachers in schools with achievement gaps so that all students can succeed. I will work to reduce class size and to better fund English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). As the daughter of two teachers, I am acutely aware of the benefits of innovative teachers and administrators. I do not endorse simply “teaching to the test” and “one size fits all” approaches in a County with diverse needs. We must hold MCPS accountable to discard methods that do not produce results and find new teaching initiatives that do.
• We need to protect our green spaces, freshwater streams and the county tree canopy – before it is too late. Land use planning is our best tool to preserve green spaces. As a founding member of the Save Ten Mile Creek Coalition, I worked to save the last pristine creek in the County, a regional emergency water source. I testified against a bill that would have increased pavement at the creek’s sensitive headwaters by four times. Creating and preserving parks is also a priority, especially in areas with dense development, and I will work tirelessly to protect our mature tree canopy. I support keeping the public informed and will push for publishing online any proposed exemptions to stormwater and forest conservation laws so that the affected residents have a chance to be heard before the bulldozers forever change the landscape.
• We must come up with a way to create and protect affordable housing. It is not fair that many hardworking schoolteachers, firefighters, police officers, low wage earners, seniors, and young professionals must live outside the County because of our scarcity of affordable housing. Through master plans and zoning, the County Council can better protect existing affordable homes and incentivize moderately priced units in new developments. I will also work to increase funding for affordable housing initiatives.
Montgomery County needs bold leadership to make informed, transparent decisions on the issues critical to our day-to-day lives such as growth, transportation, education, the environment, and affordable housing. If we do not make – and budget for – the right decisions, right now, we will pay the price for decades. With my experience and ideas, I can help the County Council do a better job making tough decisions that affect all of us
2.Why should people vote for you instead of your opponents?
The most important reason for people to vote for me is that I want to change the way the County Council does business – especially when it comes to land use issues and transparency. I was prompted to run by school overcrowding and the excessive number of portables. I will insist on balanced development by making sure the school and traffic tests in the Subdivision Staging Policy reflect what actually is happening on the ground, and I will work to ensure that there is adequate funding for school construction ahead of development, not years later.
Currently, three of the four at-large members reside in Takoma Park – and all four live south of White Flint Mall. I am uniquely positioned to run for an at-large seat on the Council because I have lived both upcounty (14 years) and downcounty (ten years). As an apartment dweller in downtown Bethesda, a new mother of two boys in a single-family home in Kensington, and now an empty nester in the heart of the Agricultural Reserve, I have experienced Montgomery County’s variety, and I appreciate that we are all – regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or any other difference – in this together.
Although this is my first run for public office, I have more than 20 years of experience working in Democratic politics, first for U.S. Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), then as a media professional for Democratic candidates and progressive causes, and most recently for Telemundo, promoting political messaging to its Spanish-language viewers. I was named “Media All Star” by Media Week magazine in 1993 for my team’s work on the Clinton-Gore 1992 campaign. I am legislative director of the Sugarloaf Citizens Association; was appointed by County Executive Ike Leggett to the Upcounty Citizens Advisory Board where I am land use chair; and served as a community leader on the regional Transportation Planning Board. I am active on the Save Ten Mile Creek Coalition, Dickerson Facilities advisory board, PTA, within my church and as a hospice volunteer.
I know how budgets work and respect budgetary accountability. While directing the advertising placements for President Clinton’s first campaign, I managed tens of millions of dollars and had to account for every penny. I know how to spend other people’s money and to be accountable for it. I will do the same as a County Councilmember.
3.What do you think of Montgomery County’s budget? If you think there should be cuts, where should they be? If spending should increase, where is it needed?
Schools and transportation are the most important items in the budget. Excellent schools that prepare students for jobs of the future attract businesses.
The County needs to better coordinate between departments to reduce congestion on our roads. This must be addressed at the planning stage for new developments and master plans – not left for taxpayers to deal with ten years later. Not as important yet, but to be borne in mind as Montgomery County grows, is the need for adequate public safety resources for a larger, denser population. Montgomery County currently has slightly more than one police officer per thousand residents; only Anne Arundel has a lower ratio.
Montgomery County taxes are high: Our income tax rate is at its allowed maximum and our median residential property tax is the maximum allowed in our charter. We need to be creative in addressing revenue shortfalls, such as diligently appraising commercial properties so that they are accurately and appropriately assessed. I will advocate for the State to more equitably share corporate tax revenue with the counties – Montgomery County receives less than a quarter back on every dollar it sends to the State. Identifying new revenue sources is always a challenge, given the tax burden on residents and the need to attract businesses that will provide jobs. Public-private partnerships may be one way to ease budget issues, but the County must not cede too much authority, and must monitor and insist on accountability in both government programs and partnerships.
We need to bring an eagle eye to program and department budgets, to find expenses that can be cut, and to eliminate duplicative or ineffective efforts. We need to be as smart as possible in spending taxpayers’ money, and should consider judiciously hiring outside auditors to look for inefficiencies and to offer solutions. Consistent monitoring and evaluation will increase the bang for the taxpayers’ buck. As the economy improves, we must return some services that were hurt by the cuts, but we must be careful not to return to the unsustainable spending we had before the recent recession.
4.How would you like to see Clarksburg developed?
Clarksburg is a burgeoning community with an anticipated 43,000 residents, tucked between two busy 2-lane roads without foreseeable public transit options. Over 9,000 residential units currently are approved (over half unbuilt), and a staggering three million square feet of commercial space is still not built. Both routes – 355 and 27 – suffer from an extended rush hour because of backups on I-270 and through-commuters from surrounding counties. Clarksburg deserves what it was promised years ago: a cohesive, walkable and sustainable town. The amended plan should meet the twin goals of protecting natural resources and keeping community development in scale with infrastructure. Yet, the past errors remain unaddressed. Clarksburg’s overcrowded schools are littered with portables. Throw in unfulfilled promises and hundreds of developer code violations and it is no wonder that Clarksburg residents feel frustrated. The town center has yet to break ground and, oddly, the roads are too narrow for emergency vehicles to pass – a good example of how not to develop a community. This begs the question: How could the County Council exponentially increase the scope of Clarksburg’s development and then provide less transit and road infrastructure than originally proposed in 1968?
Incredibly, the Save Ten Mile Creek Coalition and forward-thinking Councilmembers recently warded off the possibility of a second outlet mall and dense residential development in Clarksburg Stage 4. Moving forward, the County must insist upon development that is truly staged by not going forward with Stage 4 until we fully understand the impact of Stages 1-3, and by working with developers to ensure infrastructure is a condition for increasing local population. We must fund a reliable public transit system – CCT or BRT – to get commuters to Shady Grove or work centers, and we must improve roads and intersections to accommodate the growth. And we must mitigate the environmental damage to the watershed by insisting upon buffers and retention of forests.
Finally, we now need to give the residents of Clarksburg their town center connected by village-style retail, bike and walking paths, and greenways. They have waited long enough.
5.What should the county’s transportation priorities be?
I served on the Community Leadership Institute of the Council of Government’s Transportation Planning Board because I strongly believe that transportation must be planned both intra-county and regionally.
The County’s FY2015 transportation priorities are moving toward more public transit – a needed shift. I also support the decision to explore BRT routes, but we also must work with neighborhoods along the proposed routes to ensure residents can access roads. As legislative director of the Sugarloaf Citizens Association, I often have testified on the need to extend public transportation north on 355 to some of the fastest growing communities in the County. I support extending the proposed Route 355 Bus Rapid Transit line to Clarksburg and adding a third track to the MARC Brunswick Line for residents along that route. For a relatively low investment we can improve existing public transit now, simply by marketing and improving the frequency, reliability, and accessibility of Ride-On buses. This would increase mass transit use and foster more acceptance of public transit. The County could do a pilot on one of our most congested corridors, such as Route 29 or Georgia Avenue. In the more densely populated regions of the County, we must concentrate additional resources on safe pedestrian and bicycle ways as a healthy and cost effective alternative to automobiles.
That said, Montgomery County is essentially a suburban county where cars remain the primary mode of transportation. The parent who picks up children at school or drives to the Germantown soccerplex; the head of household who is grocery shopping for the week; the older resident who needs to pick up a prescription or a library book – they will use their cars if it is more convenient. The County must work toward “complete streets,” especially in our commercial areas, to foster robust support for local business and retail. We must fix our intersection bottlenecks, light signal timing, and traffic management on existing overburdened roads. For example, 20 to 30 percent of the sensors that trigger traffic lights at intersections are broken.
I will make better land use decisions. In downcounty especially, this Council continues to approve large increases in residential and commercial density without planning or budgeting for public transportation and intersection improvements to keep up with growth. Traffic tests used by the planning department and Council do not meet local or national standards, and traffic targets change to accommodate developer-requested densities. These mistakes lead to more gridlock and will haunt us for many years. We must use modern, accurate, third-party analysis of traffic patterns at intersections and on roads near large-scale projects. I will insist on staging in master plans such as White Oak, where 25 million square feet of development is proposed, so that developers have a stake in remediating the traffic produced by their projects.
6.What is government’s role in trying to help Montgomery workers who are struggling to pay their bills?
Montgomery County is fortunate to have many nonprofit, faith-based and community service organizations that provide afterschool care, meals, homework assistance, cultural programs, translation, interpretation, and English instruction. Our public schools deliver many programs that support families, often immigrants, in need. These valuable programs may receive additional federal or foundation funds, stretching the County’s investment. If elected, I would continue to support County funding for those programs that show positive results, like the After School Dance Fund, Montgomery Coalition for Adult English Literacy, and others. I support the State’s proposed legislation to fund pre-K programs for challenged populations that has proven to reduce the student achievement gap. I would work with Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) and the Board of Education to increase support for teachers and health centers in our “red zone” schools.
Safe and affordable housing is not only a basic human right, but the stability it can afford families increases a student’s success in school. If elected, I am committed to supporting just cause eviction and non-retaliatory legislation, which allow families on low incomes to put down roots and build local relationships and have consistent, long-term enrollment in one school. I will review the County’s Housing Initiative Fund, housing partnerships, and Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) program with the goal of expanding them to increase the availability of various types of affordable housing, from workforce to Section 8 housing to first-time homebuyer assistance, and to ensure new development includes adequate affordable housing.
I was an early and strong supporter of the minimum wage increase recently enacted by the County Council. People must be paid a living wage if we expect them to be responsible citizens and taxpayers and to contribute to the economy. I also support the increase in the County’s share of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the County’s Local Small Business Reserve Program, which helps immigrants and minorities establish businesses. I would like to see an enhanced effort by nonprofits, facilitated when possible by County funding and expertise, to increase civic involvement and leadership training of immigrants and low wage earners so that their voices can be heard.
7.What is the most pressing environmental issue in Montgomery County? How would you address it?
Our parks, streams, trees and green spaces are the lungs of Montgomery County, and once lost, cannot be regained. And they are under threat. Preserving – and improving – our County’s green spaces, tree canopy, air quality, watersheds and parks must be a top priority. Wise land use planning is our best tool to preserve green spaces. That wisdom should not be applied only in less developed upcounty areas; we need to redouble efforts to guard against the loss of tree canopy and expansion of pervious surfaces downcounty. I have testified before the Montgomery County Planning Board and County Council on many environmental issues over the years. I am on the board of the Dickerson Area Facilities Implementation Group, which addresses community environmental concerns with the County’s solid waste facilities in Dickerson. I am an active and founding member of the Save Ten Mile Creek Coalition, working successfully to save Montgomery County’s last pristine creek and emergency water source for the region.
Given the amount of development and growth in Montgomery County, reducing or eliminating stormwater runoff and retaining and restoring our mature tree canopy are priorities. Montgomery County, specifically the Department of Permitting Service (DPS) and Montgomery Planning, must enforce the laws with a priority on using natural features, including mature trees, from the beginning of the conceptual design phase. We must bring back streams, such as Sligo Creek and Rock Creek, by restoring vegetation to their banks, allowing them to filter stormwater naturally instead of acting as concrete culverts. We must change the law so that engineered stormwater management does not replace mature trees and natural areas unnecessarily – something happening now on a regular basis. And we can crowdsource: Friends of Frederick has a smartphone app where citizens can take site-specific photos, log observations of violations, and send GPS locations to enforcement agencies: http://friendsoffrederickcounty.org/streams/app/. Finally, we need to levy higher fines for violations, and ask for regular updates from DPS on effectiveness and success at interagency coordination for stormwater management.