Thursday, December 28, 2006

More awards...

Continuing on the fun we had yesterday, let's keep this awards thing going, shall we? Remember, the emphasis here is on good-natured fun. We're not really keeping score, just having a good time. Like Cindy V said today over at Keelan's place, "At some point it would be smart to accept the election results and try to make the most of them — an ambitious democrat as CE and a Democrat in the Governors mansion —- HoCo should make hay while the sun shines."

Best Proto-Mainstream-Issue Coverage by a Blog: The Hatch Act on David Keelan's blog.

The “Nicest” Blog Post: Courtesy of nice guy, David Wissing.

Most Ambitious Proposal: Evan’s plan for bringing Metro to Columbia.

Most Misconstrued Post: My endorsement of Ken Ulman, which some seemed to think was motivated solely by the fact that he supports gay marriage and reproductive choice. Here's what David Wissing had to say about it:

In addition, Hayduke has endorsed Ken Ulman (surprise, surprise), but he claims the reason for doing so has something to do with Chris Merdon not answering some question about gay marriage and abortion, which is odd since these issues have nothing to do with being County Executive….
Again, my emphasis wasn't on how Ulman answered the questions, but the fact that he did when others would not.

Most Universally Loathed Shopping Center: Columbia Crossing, criticized by Evan, Wordbones, and me.

Least Accurate Pre-Election County Executive Poll: Not even close.

Best Cross-Partisan Secret Keeping: David Wissing, who knew my true identity long before I had even considered making it public. Thanks, Dave.
Noted recluse, Hayduke, promises he will eventually “identify” himself in the near future and attend a candidate’s forum, although unbeknownst to him (or maybe he knows, I don’t know), I already know who he is. (Remember, if you send an email from your home email address, your name comes along with it) But his secret identity is safe with me until he is ready to make himself public.
Newest Local Blog: Frequent commenter Freemarket joins the fold (thought you could hide from us, did you?).

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Hayduke Awards...

I thought about doing a month-by-month recap of major stories throughout the year, but soon realized that was way more work than I was interested in doing. So, this – an entirely fabricated and indulgent set of awards, some silly, some serious – is my compromise. I plan on covering a lot of ground (i.e. making up a lot of awards) over the next few days and by the end of it, hope to have a list of posts encompassing most of the significant local issues from 2006.

On, then, to the first installment of the first annual Hayduke Awards -- or, for short, "The Dookies."

Quote of the Year: "I didn't realize Howard County residents were that stupid." -- Brian Harlin, Republican Party Chairman for Howard County. Thank you, Brian.

Best Previous Awards Post: The first COPE Forum.

Best Made-Up-By-Hayduke Award: "The most outrageously stupid and evil bureaucracy in history," Fairfax County (in fairness, they did repeal the hurt-the-homeless measure that was the source of my ire, but they're still pretty dumb for coming up with it in the first place).

Best Inter-Blog Discussion: Bloggers David Keelan, David Wissing and I debated a pair of competing tax cuts with (surprisingly, in blogdom) fact-based, non-partisan arguments. First installment here, second here and third here.

Best Insult: It's a toss up between "YOU'RE an IDIOT!" and "your credibility level is now at -45 and descending," both from (who else) Tom Berkhouse in the same comment.

Most In Depth Coverage of an Issue: Affordable housing. Here are what I consider to be the top three posts: one, two and three.

Best Post About Buying My First House: Pretty self-explanatory.

Best Endorsement: I like to think that this piece is the reason Ken Ulman was elected County Executive. Nothing you say will convince me otherwise.

Best Post-Election Recap: Here.

Best Post-Election Recap with Charts: Here.

Best Post-Election Recap by Someone Other Than Me: Here.

Biggest Non-Story Story of the Year: The Resume.

Best Method for Dealing With Non-Stories: Satire.

Best Guest Blogging Appearance by Family Members: Brother, Mother and Wife (kinda).

Best Guest Blogging Appearance by a Non-Family Member: MacHater on the new Kings Contrivance Harris Teeter.

Best Journalist Impersonation: My post about a meeting of the Merriweather Post Pavilion advisory committee.

Best Photo: Hmm...either this or this.

Best Photo Series: The HFStival at Merriweather, Part I and Part II.

That's all I have time for now. More tomorrow, with an expanded focus on other blogs. In the meantime, feel free to suggest your own awards or nominees in comments!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Thursday Round Up...

Even if news isn't happening, reporters still have to report, right?

This, perhaps, explains the overall length of this actually terse Round Up…

New County Council Chair Calvin Ball hopes to create consensus among his colleagues – certainly, a noble goal. In the story, the part of "Republican critic" is played by David Keelan, who explains how his remarks were taken out of context by the reporter here. His defense, however, is hard to buy into when he follows it an attempt at humor that's more mean than funny. More questions and explanations follow in the comments section.

Speaking of the council, their first public hearing was Monday and it centered on the proposal to enact a task force to study the recently passed senior tax cut. Story here. Local blogger Steve Fine, who's been on the tax cut like germs on Vegetarians, weighs in on the above-linked story, which includes a quote from him, here.

Keeping with my recent trend of offering opinions mostly in response to other bloggers' comments, here's a link to a Town Center discussion on Evan Coren's blog and here's what I gather to be his reply.

Speaking of Town's another generalized story about it, and here's a story about the ongoing fight over the Plaza tower, which is still in the phase of trying to figure out if opponents have standing to legally challenge it; so, not much has changed recently.

Meanwhile, the Columbia Association board – well, the five members that formed a caucus to oust current president Maggie Brown – got an earful the other night from residents who oppose the handling of the situation. CA's (mis)handling of situations seems to be an ongoing, systemic thing, huh? For an example of testimony given, check out this post from Wordbones.

Catching up with the new County Executive: Ken Ulman just appointed a new director of technology, Ira Levy, who will, like other recent appointments, probably not be talking to the press for at least a little while, an edict that seems only appropriate during a transition period. Also, and finally, the county Department of Parks and Recreation is looking to the state for cash money.

That's about it for today. Stay tuned for a few year end surprises over the next week.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Suburban overlords...

Are homeowners associations in store for more state oversight? Likely.

Seeking to address complaints about abuses in Maryland's growing number of homeowners and condominium associations, a state task force is calling for greater local oversight of these quasi-governmental bodies, which essentially tax their residents to take care of swimming pools, playgrounds, trash pickup and other community services.

But at least a few members of the 23-member task force complained yesterday that the group did not go far enough in protecting residents from abuses by their homeowners or condo association boards, which have the power to fine owners or even seize and auction off their homes for unpaid fees.

The task force, created by the legislature and appointed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., recommended among other things that local governments field complaints from residents about such privately governed communities and attempt to resolve disputes through mediation rather than through costly court battles.

Among those "few members" who wanted stronger protections is a fequent Columbia Association critic.

"It's a start, but it falls way short of where advocates for residents wanted to go," said Alexander Hekimian, a task force member. The president of a townhouse association in Columbia, he said he has long advocated for greater accountability in associations, including the Columbia Association, which essentially governs a community of nearly 100,000 people in Howard County.

Hekimian contended that the task force was stacked with association representatives and "passed the buck" on addressing abuses by leaving enforcement largely up to local governments. He had drafted a two-page "bill of rights" for residents similar to one backed nationally by AARP. But he said the task force was unwilling even to endorse the concept, much less his language.


Meanwhile, Bill Santos has concerns of a similar sort about how CA's board of directors is handling the contract extensions of current president Maggie Brown. Also, via Wordbones, her contract is the subject of a meeting tonight.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Monday Round Up...

So, there I was, in the beginning of December, finishing up my Christmas shopping, thinking I'm a paragon of good planning. Then, idleness happened (or didn't, I suppose) and over the past two weeks I've questioned most of the gifts I so thoughtfully purchased. Time constraints and shipping costs make it impossible for me to replace the gifts, though one will ultimately end up a gift to myself on Christmas. So, friends and family, let's all hope my early hunches were good.

Anyway, here are several assorted stories I thought were worthy of passing on...

Homelessness isn't just a problem facing cities anymore. Increasingly, suburban counties, like ours, are having to cope with high demand for supportive services, something we're not really accustomed to. This story mentions Howard but focuses on Baltimore County's situation, which is in many ways analogous to ours.

Almost 400 people (wow!) attended a meeting about the low-income housing project proposed for the Centennial area. Nothing really new came out – at least as far as I can tell—so I'll just leave things at that.

Now this is something we can all support. Howard County Library is leading an initiative "to position Howard County as a model of civility." The program is called Choosing Civility and the first event is scheduled for February 22. Tom Berkhouse: I'll go if you do. More information here.

Finally, it's no surprise to me, but it might be to you: Vegetarians are smarter.

Yes, I know all about confusing correlation and causality. But, still, we're smarter. Just ask either of my veggie siblings. Well, don't ask my brother, who eats fish and jerky and claims the title of Vegetarian only when it suits him, which is, typically, when he needs to appear smart.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sunday Round Up...

This post should serve as an example of what to expect from me for the next week or so as I finish last minute Christmas shopping and spiffying-up my house, which increasingly looks to be the spot for the Hayduke Family Holiday Gathering.

Better late than never: The Sun, after discussing some activities of new County Executive Ken Ulman, tackles the possible partisan issues surrounding his appointment of two Democrats to post formerly held by Republicans, something already covered by the local blogs. As I said before, it's about performance more than politics. But to some, it's always All About Politics.

Ever expanding plan: At General Growth's most recent Voices of Vision forum, the speaker, Robert W. Burchell, urged consideration of Columbia's village centers in our Town Center master planning effort. While I agree in principle with the idea, we certainly need to put spatial constraints on the plan to keep our efforts focused. Also, I would note, villages on their own have begun planning for the future of their centers -- particularly the oldest, Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills -- often in the context of how a new Town Center will alter the local village landscape.

I'm a firm beleiver in keeping local planning local. That is, conducting it at the most appropriate level, which, for a village center, is the surrounding village. Meanwhile, Town Center, whether for good or bad, is the center of our county -- or, at least, the eastern half -- and planning for it should therefore involve a county-wide constituency.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Friday fun...

I've been struggling with a mean cold the last few days, which is my excuse for not writing more. But what's yours. Seriously, the local blogosphere seems to have shut down. Are we all just too busy shopping for the holidays or attending parties?

Well, some of silence might be related to the fact that there's not much going on.

With that in mind, let's throw fuel on a smoldering situation.

Ulman got an earful from 32 speakers at his first charter-required budget hearing Wednesday night at the George Howard building in Ellicott City, including a continuation of the argument over a proposed community center building at the planned North Laurel Community Park.

A small group of residents who live near the park site, behind Laurel Woods Elementary School near U.S. 1, oppose plans for a large community center there similar to one recently opened in Western Regional Park in Glenwood.

Debbie Clark, the group's leader, said she was notified only recently of the $13.3 million center and suggested that Ulman could use money intended for the park to satisfy some of the other requests.

"We actually came here asking you to withhold funding," Clark said. The proposed building would be too big and would replace woods that buffer her Heather Downs community off Whiskey Bottom Road from the "criminal element" in the area, she said.

If the parkland is developed as planned, "the criminal element will have a paved way to our homes," she said. "I implore you to at least postpone funding."

The story, ostensibly about a recent budget hearing, goes on to provide feedback from several residents who support the community center. But why highlight reasonable arguments, when ones based solely on fear are so much fun?

Granted, I don't know the whole backstory, but I do know that appeals such as these are a good way to make me tune out the rest of what you have to say.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Housing cleaning...

In his first real splash as County Executive, Ken Ulman yesterday appointed a new director and deputy director for the Department of Housing and Community Development.

...Howard County Executive Ken Ulman announced yesterday that he's replaced the county's two top housing officials with his own choices. The firing of 15-year housing director Leonard S. Vaughan, 66, and 10-year deputy director Neil Gaffney, 60, mark Ulman's first moves to replace veteran county officials.

Stacy Spann, 33, of Fulton, an assistant commissioner in Baltimore's housing agency since March 2004, who rose from his teen years as a resident of Howard's Guilford Gardens public housing to live in Maple Lawn, will take over Howard's agency Jan. 15, Ulman said.

...Ulman chose Tom Carbo, 47, of Westminster, a 17-year veteran assistant county solicitor, county labor negotiator and Board of Appeals hearing examiner, as deputy director. Carbo began his new job immediately. Spann will earn $124,134, and Carbo's salary will be $110,573, according to Aaron Greenfield, Ulman's chief of staff.

The changes underscore the sensitivity of the housing issue in Howard, where the county government has struggled to promote units limited-income families can afford as home prices escalated beyond the reach of many working people. At the same time, some residents are increasingly opposed to even housing for people earning between $35,000 and $55,000 a year.

"Housing is a tough issue. Folks want affordable housing, but often times they have different thoughts about where it should be located," Ulman said.

...The new executive has otherwise moved cautiously, hiring a permanent police chief, a new budget director, and a chief administrative officer, all from within county government and without firing anyone. Ulman's predecessor, James N. Robey, a former county police chief who just completed two terms in the top job, didn't fire any appointed department heads when he took office in 1998.

...Ulman, a Democrat, said politics played no role in his decision. Vaughan and Gaffney are both Republicans who served under former executive Charles I. Ecker, a Republican, and Robey, a Democrat.

Ulman made the change, he said, because he wanted "a new director with a sense of creativity and vision" to work on the Affordable Housing Task Force report completed last month.

"As we work through that report, I thought it was very important to have a new direction, a new team in place with a sense of creativity and vision so that we can try to make sure that the policies we have in place are meeting the goals we have set out," Ulman said.

At the risk of stating the obvious, I wholeheartedly support Ulman's decision. And as I said elsewhere, my support has nothing to do with politics.

I’m sure Mr. Gaffney and Mr. Vaughan are great people, but the truth of the matter is that these guys have been running the housing department for over a decade and what do we have: a task force report saying the shortage of affordable housing in this county is somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 (units).

If we really want to make headway on the affordable housing issue, we’re going to need new ideas and energy. The same old same old hasn’t, and won’t, cut it.

Also, here's another good take on the appointments:

The Rev. Robert A. Turner, president of the African American Coalition of Howard County, said, "I think it's a positive move. You need someone not wedded to the status quo."

Much of what the housing department does is adminstrative stuff. It adminsters federal and state programs and funds for affordable housing. And with respect to these activities, I think Vaughan has done well.

But with a problem as large as ours, we need the department to be more active and proactive. And, unfortunately, a lot of what I've heard from Vaughan has been, as Turner said, defense of the status quo or, more accurately, a belief that our affordable housing shortfall is an endemic, intractable problem. See, for instance, this post.

So, in addition to his youth (33!) and high school alma mater (Hammond High!), what else is there for me to like about Spann?

Spann is a former investment banker who moved to the non-profit housing field, Ulman said, as social investment officer for the F.B. Heron Foundation of New York, the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City in Boston and the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation.

Spann, who grew up in Alabama before moving to Maryland as a teen, became one of five assistant housing commissioners in Baltimore. City housing commissioner Paul Graziano praised him in a statement yesterday.

"Stacy Spann played a key role in this organization and his acumen, energy and enthusiasm will be sorely missed," Graziano said.

Spann said despite the lure of Wall Street, where he worked as an analyst, he was drawn to non-profit service.

"This is something I really wanted to do," Spann said about his career switch. "I want to use some skills to help revitalize a community."

A former investment banker giving up the riches of Wall Street to work in affordable housing? Sounds familiar. But that's beside the point, which is in fact that Spann already has a lot of experience working in a range of capacities in the field and is clearly committed to the idea of affordable housing and the role it plays in helping people move up in society.

Also, his new deputy's credentials don't sound so bad, either.

Ulman said Carbo's experience would benefit the county.

"He really understands the nuts and bolts of the department," Ulman said, noting that Carbo drafted the law that created the Howard County Housing Commission, the county's primary agency for creating lower-priced housing.
The Sun has a couple other stories on affordable housing in today's issue, including this one on the controversial Centennial-area proposal and this one on why its so hard to get affordable housing built in Columbia (hint: because it's not part of the law).

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Employment opportunity...

Nothing really newsworthy to report today, which is a good thing for two reasons: 1. It means everything must be going swimmingly; and 2. I have only a few minutes to post.

If you're the kind of person who loves meetings, how about getting paid to attend?

The Howard County Board of Appeals is short one member and stands to lose another in the coming weeks, and the County Council is pressed with filling one vacancy immediately.

“We have some cases already before the board [that] are controversial and complex in nature,” said County Council Chairman Calvin Ball, D-District 2, in an interview.

The five-member board, appointed by the council, decides zoning cases on requests for conditional land uses and variances to the zoning regulations.

At the council’s meeting Monday, members decided against advertising the position and opted to alert their contact lists and get the word out through a job notice.

So, I guess I'm doing the council's legwork here. Oh, well.

Anyway, here are more details courtesy of an email from my councilman, Calvin Ball.
The Howard County Council is seeking candidates to serve on the Howard County Board of Appeals. The current vacancies were filled by residents from councilmanic districts 1 and 5. Although the Board was equally represented by district, geography may be considered. The terms for the current vacancies differ. One would serve an unexpired term which ends December 31, 2009 and the other which ends on December 31, 2011. Members of the Board of Appeals must be registered voters and residents of Howard County.

The Board of Appeals consists of five members appointed by the Howard County Council. The Board hears and decides special exceptions, non-conforming uses and appeals of departmental or administrative decisions based on criteria and conditions in the County Zoning Regulations. Meetings are scheduled on Tuesdays and Thursday evenings as needed and scheduled by the chairperson of the Board. Board members receive $4500 per year plus $90 per session.

Interested applicants are to send a letter of interest and a resume to Dr. Sheila Tolliver, Council Administrator, Howard County Council, 3430 Courthouse Drive, Ellicott City, MD 21043. If you wish to send your materials via e-mail, please send to or by fax at 410-313-3297. Applications will be accepted through December 20, 2006.
Not only would you be providing a valuable service to the county, but you'd also get paid for it!

Monday, December 11, 2006


I heard someone say recently that they're most interested in reading people who consistently surprise them. I'd say that's true for me, too. I don't want to read the same predictable stuff everyday. What's the point?

Anyway, speaking of surprises, two caught my eye today (or, kinda, yesterday). The first were the letters to the editor in the Sun yesterday regarding CA President Maggie Brown's contract craziness. All of the writers expressed support for her, even though half of CA's board wants her gone after next year. Wordbones is on the case.

The second were the responses to this post on Evan Coren's blog. The Plaza Tower, it seems, is not as universally loathed as many would have you believe.

All I want for Christmas...

...Is everything.

In a good and long post about Town Center development, Bill Santos wonders about our wish list.

Having read the Co Fo Co Do Executive Summary, the overall impression I get is that if downtown Columbia development were like a wish list for purchasing a car, Co Fo Co Do seems to want a car that gets the gas mileage of a Toyota Prius, the performance of a Dodge Magnum (with the SRT-6.1L Hemi engine), the people carrying capacity of a school bus, and the load hauling capacity of a Ford F-150 truck. This would of course be the ideal vehicle, but it does not exist.

…Rather than a conspiracy of pre-determined outcomes, I believe the folks running the Charrette looked at what people wanted, and tried their best to incorporate everything. The final plans showed increased density, but also more green space, and more public sculpture and art. Most of the problems with the Charrette outcome was in the conflicts between desires. An example would be that (in my opinion) most groups expressed a desire for more mass transit. One does not have to look very hard to determine that for mass transit (and funding for mass transit from the state and federal governments), medium to high density residency is required, and that is what subsequent Charrette plan reflected. Low density development does not allow for mass transit.

…Said another way, you can't tow a boat with a Prius, you are going to need a truck. It is my hope that Co Fo Co Do can come forward with an alternate funding program such that mass transit can be part of downtown Columbia. Otherwise, I would hope that they would reconsider their downtown density position; or in a worst case scenario, embrace low density as a priority and renounce mass transit.
I've gone down this path before with respect to a school site in Town Center, but the basics are the same.

We are, rightly, asking for a lot from the Town Center redevelopment. Certainly, there is no shortage of ideas for ways to make our downtown better and live up to the standards or ideals that were "promised" as part of the Columbia experiment.

But nothing's free. And though most seem to recognize that General Growth needs to make a profit in this endeavor, there is considerably disagreement regarding how much profit they should make and how much of it we're entitled to in the form of affordable housing, mass transit, cultural amenities, and so forth. Some of this disagreement, as Bill points out, is based on the flawed assumption that we can't have everything or, said another way, we can't force GGP to do acquiesce to all of our demands.

Although the issue of prioritization surfaced in the later sessions of the charrette and during the Focus Group meetings, it was not discussed during the first day of the charrette. And, when it was brought up at later times, the choices often lacked context, allowing for the simultaneous advocacy of both low density development and extension of the DC subway. Given the former, the latter is simply not feasible. This is not to say we can't have transit, but it would have to be Rapid Bus Transit or something similarly scaled-down (I'll preempt a regular commenter by saying, perhaps Personal Rapid Transit[?]).

As I said on Bill's blog, I've been thinking about a way to help visualize the trade offs inherent in our discussions about the future of Town Center. It seems to me that somewhere in the ether is a formula where we can plug in a series of assumptions or "desirable amenities" and see what level of development would be required to support them. Ideally, it would be a spreadsheet that allowed for easy manipulation of variables. The problem, of course, is how you go about quantifying everything. However, the goal would not be precision -- I strongly recommend against using such simple tools (like Excel) for such significant undertakings -- but rather a way to help guide us as we inevitably make the difficult decisions and trade offs that will dictate the final downtown master plan.

Bill has much more to say about the charrette in general and I urge you to read his post.

Big Brother is watching...

And he's helping you park.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Thursday Round Up...

Sorry for the non-substantive post today, but I only have a couple minutes to write today.

Since I promised more on the affordable housing report in yesterday's post, I'll lead off with a few choice excerpts to see if we can spark a discussion or at least ruffle a few feathers.

A list of barriers to creating more affordable housing starts off with the predictable – high cost of land due to limited supply – but quickly moves to others:

Government regulations and procedures, including zoning and permitting processes, have not kept pace or been updated to handle the changing state of housing and development in the County.
OK, sounds reasonable.
Growth control mechanisms such as the County's Housing Allocation system which limit supply without addressing demand contribute to increased housing costs.

Econ 101, and something I touched on a while back.

Limits on the authority and powers f the County Housing Commission and/or Housing Department to intervene or initiate affordable housing preservation or development opportunities.
This one kind of gets at what I was talking about yesterday – namely, the need for a stronger non-profit housing sector that is freed of the chains of bureaucracy but without the inherent distrust or encumbering commitment to massive profit margins. The report expands on the difficulties facing government agencies.
The processes of government are slow and the ability of the Housing Commission or the Department of Housing and Community Development to act in a timely manner is constrained by the need to obtain legislative approvals. For instance, the Commission has not fully utilized the tax exempt bond cap available to the County, likely due to bureaucratic difficulties.
I've only begun to scratch the surface of this report.


I left the transition team public forum early last night. I didn't have anything to say and was getting pretty hungry. When I got home, though, I couldn't resist watching some of it on GTV. I lead a boring life.

Anyway, it occurred to me that these kinds of meetings (i.e. public meetings) are pretty inefficient. Don't get me wrong, everyone deserves a chance to have their voice heard – and to have their voice strengthened by the physical presence of supporters -- but I don't see how it's in anyone's best interest to sit through long, often-repetitive sessions. And as the only ones who aren't paid to attend these meetings, citizens, it seems, get the rawest deal.

Of course, I don't know that there's a better way of doing this.


If anyone still reads my picture blog, sorry for the lack of updates. I blame the sun -- it sets too darn early in December. There's a new (from the archive) photo up today.


Finally, a few people have mentioned to me in person this great house in Owen Brown where the Christmas lights illuminate the entire neighborhood. I was immediately excited to learn about this heretofore unknown Columbia gem and planned on including it in my holiday tour. Alas, I'm too late.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Developing a new way...

Up until now, much of the focus on this blog and elsewhere with respect to affordable housing has been quantifying the need. I don’t want to belabor this aspect of the debate any further. I think it is pretty well established that Howard County has a deficit of affordable housing and the question that now needs answering is: What do we do about it?

A group of smart, concerned people met over several months at the behest of former County Executive James Robey to discuss this question. The task force’s final report (available here in pdf format), offers an array of recommendations aimed at creating a "full spectrum" of housing available to meet the needs of our diverse workforce. (As an aside, it's a little funny that many are now coming to realize the importance of a range of housing options, considering this was at the heart of Columbia's creation over 40 yeas ago.)

Analyzing and discussing all of the task force's recommendations in one blog post is impossible. Instead, I'll try to address each individually in a series of posts, starting with the fairly non-controversial and straightforward idea to "leverage public dollars through public/private partnerships."

Public/private partnerships in the development of affordable housing and the preservation of affordable units need to be encouraged and utilized as a way to leverage public dollars. Neither sector can solve this problem alone.
This concept was echoed by County Executive Ken Ulman during his speech at the installation ceremony on Monday.

"We go further," Ulman said. "We know that a gap exists - and to a certain extent will always exist - between where we are today as a society and where we know we should be. Together we must constantly strive to bridge that gap.

"Government cannot do it alone. But working together with our business community, our nonprofit partners and, most especially, our citizenry, we can strive to close that gap."

What's curious about this idea is how far down the list of task force recommendations it falls. This, I believe, should be the guiding principle of our affordable housing program.

The days of public housing (i.e. government built and managed) are gone, for the most part. Since the 1970s, after it became apparent that government could do little more than warehouse the poor in large, isolated "projects," private developers -- both for- and non-profit -- took over the business, building houses and transforming neighborhoods (for the better) effectively and efficiently. Granted, much of the funding for low-income housing still comes from public sources -- both directly and, more so, indirectly through the tax code.

In Howard County, affordable housing is, for the most part, produced in one of two ways: by the Department of Housing and Community Development (public) or by for-profit developers as part of the Moderate Income Housing Unit program (private). Obviously, neither has been very effective.

Where there's room for improvement is with non-profit developers, a sector that is largely non-existent in this county. Which is unfortunate, given that our county is home to the leading organization committed to helping (financially and otherwise) small non-profit developers build affordable housing in their communities. It is a vast and mostly untapped resource that could help build on the legacy of its founder in the community where he made his name.

A stronger, savvier non-profit development sector has access to financial resources and can accomplish things for-profit developers and public agencies cannot. Furthermore, collaboration between the three sectors can create synergies that are vital to affordable housing development, especially in areas, like ours, where land and development are so expensive.

My thoughts on this aren't complete or very well-developed at this point. But I'm heading out to the transition team public hearing now, so I'll just post what I have and hope it makes sense.

Expect more affordable housing stuff tomorrow.

It’s baaaaaaaack…

Comp Lite – and its associated lawsuit -- is in the news again today. The latest development in the ongoing battle over the junior rezoning process is a motion filed by the county asking to have the case thrown out of court. From the Sun:

In a formal response, the county claims the residents lack legal standing and waited too long to contest the legislation authorizing the Comp Lite process.

The latter point invokes not the doctrine of statute of limitations but of "laches," which states that a legal right or claim will not be allowed if a deliberate and long delay in asserting that claim has adversely harmed the defendant.

Such delays may be regarded as a "legal ambush," according to the legal Web site
The County Council passed legislation authorizing Comp Lite on May 3, 2004, but the lawsuit challenging that action was not filed until two years later, the county's filing with the court notes.

"By delaying over two years," the filing says, "plaintiffs put in jeopardy ... potentially the county's zoning regulations that affect thousands of property owners."

Having wisely decided against law school, I can’t speak to the legal merits of this argument, but from a practical perspective, the decision delay a court challenge of the legislation in favor of a referendum probably hurt the opponents’ cause. Ultimately, the question of its legal status needs to be answered by a judge, not voters. Regardless of if they voted for it or against it, Comp Lite is what it is, legal or illegal. And we’ll have that answer eventually, likely following at least one appeal.

The Examiner’s story on this case is here.

Love thy neighbor…

Or not.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Tuesday Round Up...

Not much to report from last night. Numerous commenters shared their thoughts in yesterday's post, David Keelan, David Wissing and Steve Fine offer reports of their own.

For the most part, I tend to agree that the speeches were all pretty good, some better than others but none stood out as particularly great. If forced to choose, I would give the speech of the night award to Calvin Ball for both content and delivery. The performance of the night award, however, had to go to the Glenelg jazz band.

A couple other housekeeping items before we get to the much-anticipated News Round Up portion of the post.

First, I'm still looking for good places to see Christmas lights in Howard County. There were a few good suggestions following my last post, but not enough to occupy an entire evening. I would include my overly-decorated house on the list, but the ever-private Abbzug is a little concerned about disclosing too much personal information on this interweb thingy. If you really want to see what someone with more time and desire than design sense can do to spread holiday cheer, shoot me an email.

Second, Ken Ulman's transition team is hosting a public forum tomorrow night at 7:30 pm, where residents will have the opportunity to share their thoughts about the future of our county. Input from citizens will be used to help guide the transition teams final report to the county executive. Citizens can also provide feedback before December 22 by sending an email to

And finally, the Round Up.


Speaking of the transition, Ulman wasted no time getting to work on the business of the county. In his first official act as County Executive, he today named Bill McMahon Chief of Police. McMahon had been acting as, er, Acting Police Chief for the last several months and has been with the force for 20 years. I would wager that this appointment is welcome by almost all.


Well, this is getting strange: Now we have a citizen group opposed and a citizen group in favor of the Plaza Residences building slated for Town Center. The opposition group will take their case to the Board of Appeals tonight. One thing is certain, what began as citizen activism has turned into a rather expensive endeavor, with opponents having raised over $20,000 to pay for legal fees.

Now, I support the tower as much as the next unapologetic urbanist/developer apologist, but the thought of citizens having to raise tens of thousands of dollars to have their issues aired is, as Cheese would say, unseemly. I don't wish to destroy the illusion of intelligence I've tried so hard to cultivate, but would this be case represent an instance mediation is warranted?

UPDATE: Via Wordbones, a website for the citizens group supporting the plaza, Fair Play Columbia.


More citizen activism: Some residents in the Centennial area are none to pleased about plans for an affordable housing development in their neck of the woods. This latest development in the story, it seems, stems from a communication breakdown more than anything else. Not having followed the story closely or seen any plans, I'm hesitant to comment. However, certainly, if the project passes legal muster, I see no reason for it not to go forward.


Finally, for those of you who actually like the stuff, here's a story about a new local coffee shop/distributor.

Monday, December 04, 2006


We celebrate a beginning and an end today. First, naturally, the beginning.

The new County Executive and County Council will be sworn in tonight at Centennial High School. There’s not really much to be said about this, though Steve Fine and Evan Coren weigh in with some thoughts of their own.

I had thought about writing about the only real source of intrigue with this new council – namely, who would be elected chair. But, the Sun seems to have fairly well covered the issue. The short story: Calvin Ball will be chairman for the first year – with about seven months on the council, he is the most experienced – and then the position will rotate among the other three Democrats in the following years. David Keelan’s take on the matter, which (un-ironically and needlessly) includes a patronizing piece of faux dialogue meant to show how Ulman will patronize Ball as council chairman, is here.

Of course, I could forecast what’s in store for the county under its new leadership. But, again, much of this has been covered elsewhere – see here, here and here.

As much as you will all be anxiously awaiting a recap post on the swearing-in mumbo jumbo, it ain’t happening tonight, because it’s the end…

The season finale of The Wire is now available on HBO On Demand, and there’s no way I’m not watching it tonight. After watching the first three seasons (37 episodes!) in only a few weeks last August, the exceedingly drawn-out broadcast schedule -- one episode per week for the past three months – has been brutal. Certainly, however, the reality of having no new shows for a couple years will be significantly more painful to endure.

As for the show itself (rather than just my obsession with it), the sense of foreboding -- which is usual for the show but was heightened this season by the presence of the school kids and the fact that we’re seeing how the cycle repeats itself – will probably, unfortunately deliver on its promises tonight. We’ve known the kids just long enough to like them all, even Namond. And we also know that nobody gets out of west Baltimore unscathed. How bad does it get and what’s left over for next season, I think, are the real questions.

Anyway, I’m ready for both – the Beginning and the End. Or, I should say, I hope I am.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

How about a few libertarian rants?

Now, I don't want to turn Howard County into a gambling hot spot, but it is absurd that of all the counties in this fine state, ours is the only one where it is illegal for bars to host poker tournaments, which, in case you haven't noticed, are quite popular nowadays. I don't think we'll slide down a slippery slope towards full-bore casinos if we allow bars to host a couple tournaments a year as a way to drum up some extra business and let their patrons have a little fun.

Also, why is this a state law that affects on Howard County? More absurdity.

Although our county may be a little overbearing in this respect, at least we're not as bad as Fairfax, whose government was just given (by me) an award for being the most outrageously stupid and evil bureaucracy in history.

The casserole has been canned.

Under a tough new Fairfax County policy, residents can no longer donate food prepared in their homes or a church kitchen -- be it a tuna casserole, sandwiches or even a batch of cookies -- unless the kitchen is approved by the county, health officials said yesterday.

They said the crackdown on home-cooked meals is aimed at preventing food poisoning among homeless people.

But it is infuriating operators of shelters for the homeless and leaders of a coalition of churches that provides shelter and meals to homeless people during the winter. They said the strict standards for food served in the shelters will make it more difficult to serve healthy, hot meals to homeless people. The enforcement also, they said, makes little sense.

Under state and county code, food served to the public must be prepared in a kitchen that has been inspected and certified by the county Health Department. Those standards are high: a commercial-grade refrigerator, a three-compartment sink to wash, rinse and sanitize dishes and a separate hand-washing sink, among other requirements.

Health officials said they weren't aware that food from unapproved kitchens was being served in homeless shelters.

"We're dealing with a medically fragile population . . . so they're more susceptible to food-borne illnesses than the general population," said Tom Crow, the county Health Department's director of environmental health. "We're trying to protect those people."

To help the churches prepare, the Health Department is waiving a $60 fee for certification and is holding additional safe food-handling classes for church volunteers. It is also giving churches that do not have approved kitchens a list of other houses of worship with such facilities.
Isn't that nice of them to waive the fee? I'm sure that $60 will really help all the churches upgrade to professional kitchens. Commercial grade refrigerators can't be more than a couple hundred bucks, right?

Oh, well, it's just another reason to not like the Commonwealth to our south, as if you needed more.

(Sorry if you're from VA. As Cindy V says, present company excluded.)

(In case you couldn't tell, I'm a little cranky today. But football is on tonight, so the world will be right soon.)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Data Digging III, Special Guest Edition...

I'm posting the following without comment of my own, but I'll probably have something to say about it later. A friend of mine was interested in gauging how much of an impact Bush Derangement Syndrome had on our little old county's elections -- specifically the race for County Executive -- and decided to take a look at the data. Below is how it was done and what was found.


"I don't think growth was an issue in this election. I think George Bush and Iraq were the issue." -Chris Merdon, The Baltimore Sun, November 12, 2006

Speculation in the local media and blogs suggests that the 2006 midterm elections were nothing more than a vehicle for voters to send a message of discontent to the national politicians and, specifically, Bush.

Is Ulman’s lead by 9,111 votes over Merdon attributable only to voter anger with the federal government and/or ignorance on local issues?

Looking at a Pew Research Center for the People & the Press poll conducted in the days leading up to the mid-term elections, we see that public opinion weighs heavily against Bush and the Iraq war. Poll results can be viewed here.

What if voters voiced their discontent through local elections on November 8? What if the votes were based only on dissatisfaction with national issues?

Three poll results were used to extrapolate possible county executive votes. They are: “If voters saw their vote for congress as a vote or against Bush,” “Opinion of how the military effort in Iraq is going” and “Approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president.”

Poll respondents were registered voters, grouped as registered Republicans/Republican leaning, registered Democrats/Democrat leaning, and undecided. The results were also tabulated to reflect the responses of all registered voters. For the purposes of this exercise, only respondents grouped into the first two groups were counted.

Calculations were run to determine probable county election outcomes based on three scenarios. The first scenario assumes that voters saw their local county executive vote as a vote for or against President Bush. The second scenario assumes that a vote for the county executive candidate followed sentiment regarding the status of the Iraq war. The third scenario assumes voters chose the county executive based solely on their approval of President Bush’s job as President.

In each scenario, it was assumed that public opinion in favor of Iraq or the President would equal a vote for the Republican candidate for county executive. Where public opinion was not in favor of the President or the war, a vote was tallied in favor of the Democratic candidate for executive. In instances where a material percentage of poll respondents indicated that Bush or the war were not factors or they were undecided, votes were split according to respondents’ party lines. Lastly, results from Hayduke’s Votes Stolen by Wallis calculation were used to remove votes from the both candidates’ calculated results and attribute them to Wallis.

The results if our county residents were truly trying to send a message to the federal government?

The calculation shows that if voters actually voted based solely on their dissatisfaction with national issues, Ulman would have won with a significantly larger margin.

In a county where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by nearly 22,000 voters, is it any surprise that a Democratic candidate won? If anything, the margin of only 9,000 votes speak volumes to the fact that voters were willing to jump across party lines to vote for the candidate that they trusted with the next 4 years at the helm of Howard County’s government. That the margin of victory for Ulman was not wider shows that despite strong public sentiment against Bush and the Iraq War, voters were willing to vote Republican.

In every election, there are voters, both Republican and Democrat, who vote strictly according to party affiliation. However, in 2006, Ulman’s victory cannot be attributed solely to the anger and dissatisfaction of voters.

Wednesday Round Up...

Just a couple short items today...

First, although I'd rather not wade into such murky waters, the most recent Columbia Association kerfuffle confuses me. The gist: Five board members are opposed to granting a three-year extension to CA president Maggie Brown's contract because they "are looking for a different style of management and a different direction." One of the five, Phil Marcus, explains more on his blog, saying he'd like to see CA "gently shaken" to bring about better quality assurance measures and more innovation.

I don't really feel like commenting much on this story myself, but I do have a couple questions I'll pose to you. First, what's your opinion of the now in vogue concept of performance measurement for individual employees? Dealing with performance measures for a non-profit on a daily basis has soured me (to an extent) on the practice.

And second, what do you think of five CA council members meeting as a "caucus?" Although they're just under the threshold for open meeting requirements, such collective action I think raise concerns about closed-door decision making, the same type of concerns that (ironically?) brought at least a few of the five involved in this caucus to power?


The second item came to me in an email from the county. File it in the Not Surprised folder. After getting sworn in this Monday night, the first piece of legislation on the new council's agenda is: "Council Resolution No. 145-2006 – By Calvin Ball – Calling for a task force to study the tax credit enacted by Council Bill 68-2006 and advise the County Council; calling for certain membership, officers, staff, duties, and lifespan."

That would be the senior tax cut, passed just days before the election by a lame duck council comprised mostly of people unwilling to be deemed "anti-senior" in last minute politicking.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

More green buildings...

All right. First it was DC, now MoCo's getting into the green building mix.

The Montgomery County Council today is expected to approve legislation that would encourage builders to include energy-saving and pollution- reducing features in future developments.

Called the "Green Buildings" bill, the legislation would make the county one of the most environmentally clean metropolitan areas in the nation.

"This is my most major initiative of my last year as council chairman," George Leventhal, at-large Democrat, said during a press conference yesterday.

Later yesterday, the council's Transportation and Environment Committee began working out details of the bill.

If approved, the Green Buildings legislation could take effect in a year and would apply to new and public buildings of 10,000 square feet or more.
(How about that? Hayduke linking to the Washington Times.)

I said it before and I'll say it again: Where's our green building law?

Despite what you may think, the specifics of such a law shouldn't be that hard to iron out. The U.S. Green Building Council already has standards for what classifies as a "green" building, as do (ahem) other groups. Using these criteria as a foundation, we would only need to tweak a few things to fit the unique circumstances in our county and figure out whether green building requirements should be mandatory, voluntary with inducements, or something in between.

What's more, USGBC is also working on standards for green neighborhood development, which would be really great to include in our efforts. Note that MoCo and DC fail to include private residential development in the green building laws, an oversight (or, more likely, compromise) that I do not support. If we really want green buildings and design to have an impact, we have to apply the standards as widely as possible. Including residential buildings and neighborhoods in the law is only sensible.

So, new County Executive and Council members, what say you? DC and MoCo have set the bar. Do we raise it?

Thanks to David Keelan for sending the article my way.


An interesting column about post-election transition teams from the Sun and how they've swelled in size over the last few decades.

When Harry Hughes was elected governor in 1978, his transition team consisted of himself and a few trusted advisers.

Today, though, Hughes is co-chairing a 47-member transition team helping Peter Franchot ease into the Maryland comptroller's office, as well as serving on the 42-member transition team of Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley. He somehow escaped being named to the third transition team that is in business these days - City Council President Sheila Dixon's 47-member group, marshaling her move into O'Malley's soon-to-be vacated mayor's office.
I'm not particularly alarmed or concerned about the large number of volunteers willing to spend their own time crafting a plan for a new administration. But I will point out that Howard's County Executive-elect has a team of only nine members, though with subcommittees being formed, the number will likely rise.

The best take on transition teams, I think, comes at the end of the above-linked column:
"You want to do something for people who were of value to you during the campaign," said Alan Ehrenhalt, executive editor of the Washington-based magazine Governing. "It's an honorific. People like to say, 'The governor listens to me.' You're giving small rewards, particularly to people you might not be able to reward any other way."

Transition teams have grown along with government in general, he believes - there are simply more positions to fill these days.

Speaking of Ken Ulman's transition team, there will be a public input session next Wednesday, December 6 at 7:30 pm in the Banneker Room of the George Howard Building. Residents will have an opportunity to share their thoughts on the future of the county with the team.

Three cheers for lawsuits...

The city of Baltimore (Get in on it!) is joining a bunch of states and assorted rabble rousers in a lawsuit aimed at forcing the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, those pesky people-produced chemicals that are fueling large changes in the composition our atmosphere. From the Sun:

The city, which hasn't had a case before the nation's highest court in decades, is arguing that at least 860 buildings near the Inner Harbor could suffer $420 million in flood damage if the federal government doesn't act on its legal obligation to slow global warming and sea-level rise, according to papers filed with the court.

New York City and the District of Columbia also have joined Massachusetts, California and other states in suing the Bush administration for refusing to regulate carbon dioxide and other global warming gases from vehicles under the Clean Air Act. That law, last revised in 1990, says the EPA shall set standards for emissions that "cause or contribute to air pollution which may be reasonably anticipated to endanger public health or welfare," including through climate or weather.

The arguments in Massachusetts v. EPA are scheduled for 10 a.m. tomorrow, although a decision is not expected until after February. A win by Baltimore and the other plaintiffs could empower federal and state governments to take action on what some have called the most important environmental issue of our time, while a loss could inhibit efforts to reduce global warming.

"Congress has already acted - and they've given the EPA the clear mandate to regulate air pollutants," said Bill Phelan, principal counsel for the Baltimore city solicitor's office. "And all of the greenhouse gases being considered - carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide - are all things that easily fall within the definition of air pollutants."
(Phelan, huh? That name sounds familiar. Oh yeah.)

In case you're wondering, I support the lawsuit and, by extension, the regulation of greenhouse gases. But then, I tend to think that byproducts of fossil fuel burning that alter our atmosphere with potentially catastrophic consequences should be classified as pollutants, not "Life" or some other inappropriate euphemism. And I'm continually amazed at things like this:
The Bush administration argues in its brief to the Supreme Court that carbon dioxide isn't really a pollutant, but instead a normal and inevitable product of burning oil and coal. The only way to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles is to improve their fuel economy, and these standards are set by the Department of Transportation, not the EPA, the administration argues.
Sulfer dioxide is a normal and inevitable product of burning oil and coal. So are mercury and nitrogen oxides. Yet, all of these are regulated as pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

Am I missing something?

Monday, November 27, 2006

It's beginning...

My, news has been rather slow around here as of late. Local bloggers have either been dormant or shifted focus to matters beyond Howard County, while newspaper scribes are busy trying to keep post-election politics interesting or, oddly, sharing stories about their own exercising experiences (perhaps a subtle hint to some of us).

So, into this news vacuum I tread, soreness be damned (with each passing year, the annual Turkey Bowl football game gets a little harder to recover from). Below are a few short and hopefully substantive posts, but for the remainder of this one, I’d like to submit a request.

Some friends were talking this weekend about driving around Howard County to look at Christmas lights. And while there's always the Symphony of Lights, they (and I) were more interested in seeing what our neighbors have done. But, the county's a pretty big place and just heading out willy-nilly probably isn't the best approach.

Of all people, Abbzug, my wife, said the local papers should compile a list of particularly bright streets or neighborhoods to use as a starting point for those seeking free light shows. I was offended that she would defer such a task to "the papers," and decided to take her up on the challenge.

But since I don't get around much, I really have no idea where any good spots are. My parents' old neighborhood is a good place to start and I'm planning a light extravaganza for our house that is sure to annoy the neighbors (my tackiness knows no bounds), but beyond those, I'm lost.

So, I'm asking you, the readers, to help me and my friends in our quest for Christmas kitsch. Do you know of any houses, streets or neighborhoods where holiday displays are worth the trip? I know Howard County lacks a "34th Street," but there must be a few other shameless crazies like me willing to spend lots of time (and/or money) on decorations with a shelf-life of little more than a month.

Leave your suggestions in the comments section or send them to me in an email. If demand warrants, I'll post a summary of the recommendations in a week or two. Also, feel free to send pictures of your house. If I get a some good ones, I'll post them (with the homeowner's permission, of course).

We are not alone...

From the left coast, an interesting way of dealing with regional growth.

To ensure that market-rate and low-income housing keeps up with population growth, California law has since 1984 required regional agencies, such as [The Association of Bay Area Governments], to mandate how many new units individual cities must build. It also requires individual cities to outline how they will meet those goals — although it does not actually require cities to build housing, according to Cha.

For the first time, ABAG will create those quotas based on economic growth — those cities showing signs of job and residential growth near major transit corridors will be assigned a higher housing responsibility.
And, naturally, the quotas are causing concern for some.
San Francisco is protesting a new method by which Bay Area cities and towns will be asked to create new housing, in part because it would double the amount The City is recommended to build.

...For San Francisco, ABAG will boost local quotas for the creation of new housing — which were 20,000 between 2002 and 2009 — to 40,000 between 2009 and 2016, according to San Francisco Planner Sarah Dennis. In the past seven years, The City has struggled to meet its allocation, creating only 13,000 new units by the end of 2005.

“We would be looking at 5,000 or 6,000 units a year, which San Francisco has never seen,” Dennis said. “It’s hard to imagine, especially at a time when the market is cooling off.”

Despite San Francisco’s protests, ABAG created the new methodology “based on what cities and communities have said about their own parameters, restrictions and challenges,” Cha said.
To some extent, we've seen some regional coordination in Maryland -- namely, during the Reality Check Plus visioning exercise. But, so far, nothing that carries the power of law has been enacted.

Is it about time?

Look what the cat dredged up...

I can’t say that I’m sad to see this:

Researchers have concluded that Asian oysters are susceptible to a parasite that could wipe them out if they were ever planted in the Chesapeake Bay, raising new concerns about a proposal to use the foreign species to revive the region's struggling seafood industry.

The research found that Asian oysters experienced "almost total mortality" when exposed to the parasite Bonamia from the earliest stages of life, said Ryan Carnegie, a scientist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, where the study is being done.

Upon taking office four years ago, the Ehrlich administration said it planned to introduce Asian oysters into the bay to help filter the increasingly polluted water and to give struggling watermen a crop to harvest. Diseases and overharvesting have all but destroyed the native oyster populations in the bay.
Although the threat posed the parasite isn’t enough, on its own, to halt the potential introduction of the non-native oyster species, it certainly doesn’t brighten the prospects of this fool-hardy policy.

Because I’m talking about oysters on a local blog, perhaps a little background is in order. The short story of the last 150 years is this: Oysters were once so plentiful in the Chesapeake Bay that they could filter all its brackish water in a couple days and their reefs posed serious navigation hazards; then, a lot of people decided they really liked the taste of oysters, and watermen obliged, tonging and dredging them from the Bay bottom in tremendous quantities. Add two deadly diseases to the mix in the mid-20th century and you have a population of oysters – an essential, maybe even the essential, species in the bay – and an industry that are barely hanging on.

Enter Crassostrea ariakensis: A fast-growing, disease-resistant Asian oyster that can thrive in the Bay’s water. In short, a silver bullet, or so it seemed.

Though the idea of introducing non-native oysters to replenish the Bay’s supply has been around for a while (non-native oyster introduction has proved successful elsewhere, but may have played a role in the presence of the deadly-to-natives diseases we are dealing with today), it really gained steam when Governor Bob Ehrlich took office four years ago.

The Asian oyster was, wrongly, seen as a single solution to a problem with two parts: economy and ecology. It was assumed that the Asian oysters could provide filtering services to the Bay at the same time that struggling watermen could revive their businesses on the backs of the implanted bivalves. Unfortunately, as with all things that seem too good to be true, we’re now finding out it was.

By giving short shrift to the separate-but-connected ecological and economic problems posed by the decline in our native oyster population, we’re destined to develop a series of easy-to-swallow, but terribly ineffective and unsustainable “solutions.”

However, finding the right solution is not really what we need right now. To be sure, each day another waterman closes up shop, the Bay’s health declines, and the myriad other issues caused by these occurences continue toward intractability. But before we can hope for a solution, we must first fully understand the different problems.

Something to keep in mind as we address ecological problems in our own backyards with solutions that are decidedly and unanimously not sustainable. The superficial problem in our county described in the above links is, of course, that our lakes are filling with sediment, but the underlying cause of the problem – the real problem – is the excessive rain runoff sliding across impervious surfaces and scouring our slopes and streambeds. And in a sense, the lakes filling with runoff is actually a solution to another problem, the burying of submerged aquatic vegetation in the Bay.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanksgiving Round Up...

I’m a little burned out on the numbers stuff for now and, therefore, am calling shenanigans on this whole blogging business. That’s right, the most rested blogger in the local ‘sphere is using a four-day hiatus from paid work to take a four-day hiatus from the volunteer stuff, too. Between all the gatherings, concerts, sporting events and other activities, there’s simply no way I’ll have enough time to blog and get the requisite 8 hours of sleep I need to maintain my youthful good looks. Alas.

Before I go, however, I’ll attach a few random thoughts to some links, in a special Thanksgiving Round Up.

General Growth is reaching out to local high school and college students to hear their thoughts on the future of Town Center. I applaud this move. Young people are full of ideas – some reasonable, some not – but aren’t very likely to engage in the community meeting-type stuff that is essentially required if you want your voice heard. So, rather than waiting for them to engage, GGP is actively connecting with the local students, which is probably the only way we’ll hear from them. Considering many who grow up here will choose to live here as adults, it’s only fair that their input be included in this community visioning process.

As for what they had to say, well…

Some concepts, to be sure, reflected a decided generational gap: the need for an arcade parlor, more free concerts, a casino and expansion of the mall to serve those with an insatiable desire to shop. One student at a recent discussion even suggested -- twice -- that there be a prohibition downtown on housing for the elderly.

But many other suggestions mirrored those advanced in the last year by county officials and residents: mass transit, an improved pedestrian network, nighttime entertainment venues and better parking facilities.
Some reasonable, some not.


The Columbia Association is rolling out a new program that encourages volunteerism and good deeds by giving those who serve others points in a time bank that can be used “or tutoring, landscaping, transportation and errands, among other services.” It’s kind of like karma, only exclusively positive and you don’t have to wait for the afterlife to enjoy its benefits. I’d say Instant Karma, but I think that evokes negative connotations (“Instant karma gonna get you, gonna knock you right on the head”).


Finally, here’s a good story about HoCo’s newest organic/natural foods store, My Organic Market in Jessup, and how its emphasis on organic stuff is not just a marketing gimmick to get affluent liberals and other crunchy-types to buy their food, but an extension of their concern for the environment, too.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Data digging, Part II...

After starting with an overview yesterday, I’m going to dig a little deeper into the results of the County Executive (CE) race today in an effort to determine how much independent Steve Wallis affected the outcome. Since there’s no clear, objective way to do this, I used some creative measures that may take a little while to explain. Please bear with me.

As was shown graphically in yesterday’s post, both Ken Ulman and Chris Merdon failed to keep pace with candidates for county council from their party in most districts; Ulman bested Calvin Ball in District 2 and Don Dunn in District 5, while Merdon only outran one council candidate, Tony Salazar in District 1.

While such data are interesting, they don’t really tell us much about how the candidates performed relative to expectations or whether Wallis stole some of their votes. Indeed, in order to gauge whether Wallis had any impact at all, we have to first establish a baseline (how we think they would have performed without him). With the data I have, there’s no elegant way to do this. So, here’s my makeshift attempt, the methodology for which you are welcome to question or improve upon.

I established a new variable that called the Party Proxy Index. This variable estimates the expected performance of CE candidates by averaging the precinct-level voting percentages for the County Council, Governor and U.S. Senate candidates from within their respective parties (I used percentages to account for differences in total number of votes).

So, for instance, if Bob Ehrlich received 55 percent of the votes in a given precinct, Michael Steele received, and Tony Salazar received 45, the average/expected percent of votes going to Merdon should be 50.

Then, I multiplied the expected percentages for both Merdon and Ulman by the total number of votes cast in the CE race, arriving at an expected total number of votes for each candidate in that precinct, or what I call the PPI. Crude, I know, but it’s what I got.

The differences between their actual total and the PPI (essentially, deficits or surpluses), aggregated by council district, are shown below.

As you can see (and compare with the graph in yesterday’s post), Ulman did significantly worse in District 1 than his fellow Democrats. I can think of three reasons for this: Courtney Watson had a strong showing in several precincts, which skewed the index to an extent; this was Merdon’s council district and though it leans Democratic in registration, he managed to win here for years ago with well over 60 percent of the vote; and, as you’ll soon see, Wallis. To be sure, Comp Lite was likely a contributing factor to all three of these reasons, particularly with respect to Wallis. Overall, however, Ulman’s performance relative to expectations was fairly even.

Though Ulman had trouble in District 1, Merdon did, too. He failed to beat the Republican PPI in his own council district, something Wallis likely had a hand in. But the big surprise with Merdon, I think, are his performances in Districts 2 and 5, where combined he lost almost 2,000 votes relative to the average of his own party mates. Instead of guessing whether Wallis played a role in these discrepancies, let’s just go to the tape…

(Actually, before I show the graph, let me explain how I came up with a “Votes Stolen by Wallis” Variable. With the PPI, I had for each precinct a value showing how many votes CE candidates should or should not have gotten based on the performance of their party. For many precincts, there was a surplus for one and a deficit for the other, but these were never exact mirrors. So, I examined the unaccounted for votes [those not explained by the surpluses/deficits], compared them to Wallis’s totals, and arrived at a rough number of votes that I could reasonably expect as being votes that normally would have gone to a major party candidate in a two-person race. As I said, it’s crude.)

As you can see, Wallis took many votes from Ulman in District 1, thanks almost entirely to a few key precincts – for one, St. John’s Lane Elementary School, Wallis’s home district and the center of much of the Comp Lite backlash. Also, Wallis took a lot of votes from Ulman in District 4, but again, a few key precincts – his school, Harper’s Choice Middle, Harmony Hall and Longfellow Elementary – accounted for much of this.

Meanwhile, the main story of the graph has to be District 5, where Wallis nabbed almost 800 votes from Merdon. I’m still not sure what caused this, but a few people floated some ideas in the comments of yesterday’s post, including the incident at Cattail Creek Country Club and Merdon’s failure to endorse Greg Fox in the primary. I’m not sold on those explanations, however.

But, then, I don’t have any ideas of my own (yet), either.

In the end, however, with less than 5 percent of the total votes, Wallis didn’t alter the outcome of the election; even if all of his votes went to Merdon, it would not have been enough.
Feel free to share your thoughts below and expect more charts tomorrow (probably a closer look at District 1).

Bonus coverage: I not sure what this shows, but I ran a correlation calculation using the percentage of votes for each CE candidate and the percent turnout. Interestingly, there was a fairly strong correlation between high turnout and higher percentages for Merdon, with a weaker but still positive correlation between Wallis votes and turnout. Here’s a graph from District 1.

Notice how Merdon’s line tracks with turnout. Thoughts?