Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Wednesday Round Up...

Is it hot enough for you?

Actually, today hasn’t been that bad, but yesterday...sheesh, that was unwelcome. It takes me a while to accilmate to the heat and humidity of summer, and after our stunning spring, yesterday’s weather was simply jarring, causing my body to unsuspectingly shut down shortly after 10 pm.

As a result of the early bedtime, I got way more sleep than usual and have subsequently been paying for it today. Too much sleep turns my brain to mush and makes me extremely tired throughout the day. Even writing simple emails has been challenging.

So, in answer to my own question: Yes, it’s hot enough. Thankfully, the weekend promises some relief.

Anyway, enough complaining. How about we Round Up some news?

Lies, Damn Lies and Police Statistics: As the local rags tell us in large, bold headlines, Crime Is On The Rise in Howard County, at least when comparing the first quarter of this year with the same three months from last year. Of particular concern are the increases in burglaries (up 49 percent), robberies (up 20 percent) and rapes (up 75 percent). Naturally, the police department has its own spin on these increases.

On burglaries:

"We closed 36 construction site thefts with one arrest," said police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn; another 25 commercial burglaries in Elkridge were also cleared with one arrest. Mild winter weather may have helped boost criminal activity, she said, though a three-month period can see wild fluctuations from year to year.

"One person can have a huge impact in three months," Llewellyn said. Burglaries jumped from 234 in the first quarter of 2005 to 348 in the same period this year. The number of homicides remained unchanged at one reported during the three-month period.
On robberies:
While police are working to get burglaries under control, Llewellyn said officers have made headway against their robbery problem, creating a task force that has seen results.

In February, police temporarily reassigned officers from various agencies to participate in the robbery task force and increased both the undercover and uniformed presence throughout Columbia.

The result was a decline in the number of robbery cases in the county in the early part of 2006 and an increase in arrests for those serious crimes, police statistics show.

During the task force’s efforts, police made 62 violent-crime arrests as officers worked in the villages of Long Reach, Oakland Mills, Wilde Lake and Harper’s Choice. At the same time, robbery incidents in the county dropped to 14 in February and 16 in March, from 40 cases in January.
And on rapes:
Reported rapes were also up, from eight last year to 14 this year, but police said that represents improved reporting rather than a real increase in crimes - a contention supported by Jeannie Meece, executive director of the nonprofit Sexual Trauma, Treatment Advocacy and Recovery Center.

Police Chief Wayne Livesay, who is leaving office today after 8 1/2 years, said, "We know more rapes happen each year than those that are reported to police. We're glad more women feel they can come forward after being so terribly victimized."

Meece said she agrees with the police assessment, because the number of rapes reported to the STTAR program typically runs one-third higher than police statistics. In the first quarter, however, the program recorded only two more rapes than police did.
All of this department spin sounds reasonable, and when you look at the actual numbers, it’s hard to say we’re in the midst of a crime epidemic. Still, you can’t explain away the fact that crime rates have increased and our community suffers because of it.

What’s more, the timing of the news – the day Livesay retires – surely isn’t good for his campaign.

More generally, I think crime statistics are a little suspect. What do they actually tell us? Can they effectively measure a police department’s performance? To be sure, preventing crime is a major part of what the police do, but how much of it is out of their hands. How do we square an increase in crime rates with an increase in number of arrests, as was the case last quarter?

What about crimes that go unreported, like so many rapes regrettably do? Also, what about people like this guy who commit crime after crime after crime? In this county, his transgressions can have a nontrivial effect on the overall county crime statistics. Finally, what about police who game the system and under- or over-report based on expediency?

In other news, the Battle of Turf Valley rages on.

That’s all for today!

Monday, May 29, 2006

HFStival Recap...

I think we can finally say that Merriweather, IMP, Howard County Police and everyone involved in the planning and running of the HFStival did it right. As far as I can tell from my own experience, that of a dozen or so others I've talked, and reports in the news, the impact on Columbians was minimal.

I could hear parts of the concert from my house, which is about a mile away as the crow flies, albeit to the east (most of the sound from Merriweather travels to the north, the direction the pavilion is pointed). So, I'm sure those in Town Center and Wilde Lake heard it; I'm just not sure how much. While I was walking from the Mall parking lot to the pavilion last night, The Strokes were playing on the main stage and I didn't notice it being particularly loud (though my hearing, after years of playing music in bars, has lost some of its sensitivity).

As for traffic: nonexistent, so far as I and others could tell on our drives through the area. I made a couple, not-really-on-the-way trips through Town Center both days and was actually impressed with how well the roads looked. And that's coming from someone who once had to help direct traffic because it was so bad.

What about all the other potential problems caused by large masses of young people. The concert, as they all do, had its share of drunks. However, the presence of way more police than usual for a concert and the vigilance of the beer servers in checking ID's certainly helped keep things in control. I even had a chance to talk with a police officer who said the show had run smoothly, with no incidents of significance to report.

More than 40,000 people showed up over two days, which was less than expanded capacity (54,000) but still two days of 20,000, a sell-out for Merriweather on any other day. Of course, as the Post points out, things haven't been the same for the concert or the station in a couple years.

In all, I think the concert was an unqualified success, both in planning and execution. Further proof that we're lucky to have people running Merriweather who care...and know what they're doing.

But that's enough writing. Here are some pictures. Enjoy!


Symphony Woods around 7 pm last night, looking very empty and very clean!

Lots of emergency vehicles in the VIP lot.

Just inside the main gate. The concession area is pretty empty, probably because The Strokes are playing.


Tree Stump Tables. Cool.

Truck in a tree. This is in the "Backyard" portion of the venue, behind the lawn. It's been turned into a trailer park barbecue, of sorts, with a converted Airstream serving as a margarita bar and tables and benches carved out of logs. Just another thing IMP has done to make Merriweather that much better.

Another enhancement: A picnic area near the front gate.

The Merriweather Post.

ATV: Automated Teller Van

If only the ATV wasn't "Temporarily Unable to Dispense Money"...

The second stage.

Interesting sight by the second stage. Free cases of energy drinks cause mild hysteria around marketing RV...

Overly burdened concertgoers undaunted by their bounty. Party Like a RockStar, indeed.

As usual, the wait for the ladies room is considerably longer (the line extends beyond the edge of the picture). Most assuredly, new restrooms are on the "To Do" list (right after "get long term contract").

Why not? They're everywhere, right?

Sunset. Time to watch some music.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Sunday Round Up: Slow Day

Not much in the news today. Here's a brief rundown:

In Politics, Shmolitics, an independent candidate for county executive appears poised to enter the race. Harper's Choice Middle School principal Stephen Wallis needs 2,000 signatures by August 7 in order to get on the ballot in November. As an independent, he can skip the primary.

Like all third-party (rather, in this case, "no-party") candidates, Wallis' entrance into the race is going to take votes from one of the two main candidates. But how? And how many? Knowing almost nothing about the man, I can't say if his politics lean left or right, but I would guess that his campaign will generate the most votes from Ellicott City (where he lives) and Harpers Choice. That's as far as I'm willing to go at this point.

Utterly obvious. Here's the story's headline: "Public support for rezoning 'can be critically important'." See?

That's all for now. Check back later for some more HFStival coverage.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

HFStival Dispatch #1

I know it's still early, but things are looking pretty good at the HFStival. I dropped in around 10:30 am, a half hour before the concert began. Here's what I saw.

Not much of a line at the front gate. Nonetheless, everything seemed to be in place for a big crowd. Something tells me, however, that we're not going to see a big rush with this concert like we have with other large events. Because each festival day is so long, people are most likely going to filter in and out. I'm thinking the worst traffic will occur tonight at 11 pm after Kanye West's set. Consider yourself warned.

This picture was taken on the east side of Merriweather, where the grounds have extended into Symphony Woods. This is looking towards the southeast parking lot -- the one bordering Broken Land Parkway.

Standing on Broken Land Parkway. This stage is right on the road.

Crowd control on Little Patuxent Parkway. I call them Drunk Catchers.

Speaking of crowd control, I would say there was probably a 1:1 ratio of attendees to police/fire/ems workers. I think they're ready.

This is weird. Looks like a portable cell tower. Is it related to the fact that I can't get reception at my house today? Note the Drunk Catchers on the other side of the road, too.

Looking into the pavilion. This was actually the first picture I took; I rearranged the order here for the sake of the story.

Finally, the question on everyone's mind: Traffic?!?

Well, all the roads in Town Center were fine, as you can kind of see in the photos above. As for Rt. 29, here's what I saw on my way back at 11:30. Looking southbound from the pedestrian bridge:

Pretty wide open. But if there's traffic coming north from Rt 32 we wouldn't be able to tell from this photo. So, let's zoom in.

Overpass going to Broken Land looks good. Zooming more:

I know it's hard to see, but the upper left corner of the photo is Rt. 29 north as it comes over the hill before the exit for Broken Land. If there's ever a back up going to Merriweather, it's here. I've seen it spill on to 32 west, almost all the way to I-95. Today, though, nothing.

I hope to get back over there later.

Apocalypse? No...

...It's just the HFStival, and it starts today. Although I'm swamped with housework, I plan on "covering" the event on this blog. So, in typical live-blogging fashion, look for short posts and pictures throughout the weekend. I'll be riding my bike into Town Center to tour the outside scene and, since I actually won free tickets, I will probably stop in for some of it tomorrow.

Let's all remember: It's here, we might as well enjoy it!

Friday, May 26, 2006

You asked for it...

I was looking through my site meter tonight (that's what it's there for, right?) and noticed an abundance of visitors coming via searches for "Brandy Britton," Howard County's alleged lady of the cul-de-sac.

Though I have nothing to add to the story, I can at least point the searchers in the right direction. The latest on Britton is here; it's also the first story to feature a picture of her, and a horribly unflattering one at that. Britton's trial today was delayed so her lawyer could have more time to prepare, and she had nothing to say as she "dashed" to her car.

More background here, including a link to a very, er, interesting website.

Enjoying the weather?

Actually, it is a little muggy. Alas, most, though not me, prefer our late May weather over this.

958 AM MDT FRI MAY 26 2006



That's the latest bulliten for Gallatin County, Montana, home of Hayduke's sister. I hope there's still some of this left in July, when the whole family goes west for her wedding. There's nothing like snowboarding in the summer!

Behold: The power of...

...the Forward Button.

I’m really not sure what to say about this. Sure, it’s just a gossipy story (all the best ones are) and there’s nothing really to analize, but I’d be foolish not to at least dig in and see what happens. Right?

A spat over a seat at a charity buffet may seem a minor thing - except when the primary protagonist is the Republican candidate for Howard County executive and the angered party is a Republican with friends in the candidate's political backyard.

The e-mail fueled fuss that was labeled a "misunderstanding" by Christopher J. Merdon, chairman of the Howard County Council. He called it "an unfortunate situation that was taken too far" and said he had apologized. He refused to discuss it further.

But several members of the exclusive Cattail Creek Country Club in western Howard are furious at Merdon, as much for his e-mails the day after the incident as for anything else.

"I think he thinks he's a little bit above us, which is not a good way to be if he wants our votes," said Susie Lanuza, a fellow Republican who was involved in a testy e-mail exchange with Merdon. "He's supposed to be one of us."
Naturally, the local Republican bloggers have taken to blaming the press, blaming the Cattail Creek members, and even trying to indict Ken Ulman (in a roundabout way) in this whole mess. The fact is the blame for this incident starts and ends with Merdon, and he knows it. He apologized. There’s no need to do so for him.

But what sparked this incident? Sun Reporter Larry Carson, following the train of emails, fills us in.
Merdon was a guest at the 11th Albright Foundation golf tournament and silent/live auction at the country club in heavily Republican western Howard on May 8. With more than 300 participants through the day and just 165 seats at tables, "there are no reserved seats," said Stephanie Albright, whose family foundation has given $1.3 million to groups that help needy children.

Lanuza said she, her husband and eight others were sitting at a table when Merdon approached and accused her husband of taking his reserved seat, rejected their entreaties and then angrily walked away.

"He came over and tapped my husband on the shoulder and said, 'This is my table and my seat.' We said, We're so sorry; we'll eat really quick.' We didn't notice the napkins on the backs of the chairs," Lanuza said.

"He huffed away, mad," she said. "It just left a really bad feeling."
Not really the way you would expect a candidate to act in a public setting, but he is entitled to anger over the fact that someone took a seat upon which he clearly called “fives”.

Now, if Cattail Creek were more like Vegas -- that is, if what happened there, stayed there -- we wouldn't be talking about this. But it ain't, and we are.
Things got worse the next day when Lanuza received an e-mail invitation to Merdon's free campaign picnic May 13. She took the opportunity to e-mail the general campaign address to complain about her interaction with him at the charity event.

"His high-horseness was really uncalled for and not taken very well. Just thought someone should know. Oh, and no, we won't be at the picnic," she wrote.

Well, she certainly could have phrased her displeasure better. But this is surely not the worst barb Merdon has received via email. Politicians, I’m sure, get this stuff daily. Heck, even I’ve gotten some pretty nasty emails – and I’m just a punk with a blog.
The following day, she got a reply from Merdon.

"It is common courtesy to have a seat reserved when there is a napkin on the chair - as was done throughout the room. That courtesy was not extended to me. It says more about the people who sat in those seats then it does about me."

"I am glad you won't be at the picnic. I want my guests to enjoy themselves and not have to interact with rude people who do not recognize common courtesy," the candidate wrote.

Lanuza was outraged, she said, and forwarded the message to friends, who have now forwarded it to dozens more GOP voters in western Howard.
Um, some would say that sending hasty, angry emails to those who once supported you is also considered rude (and not a good political strategy to boot). However, rudeness, like a lot of things, is in the eye of the beholder or, rather, the affronted.

Of course, you can always say “she started it!” But, trust me, that never works.

After cooling off – and probably getting an earful from some of his close supporters – Merdon admitted that he didn’t handle this situation very tactfully.
Merdon later sent another e-mail apologizing, both for his message and the entire incident.

"I was stressed out yesterday due to exhaustion of being on the campaign trail and working through the county budget," he said. "When I saw your e-mail, I reacted the wrong way."
Although I’m glad to see that he apologized, the fact that he was “stressed out” does little to justify his reaction. He is, after all, desperately trying to win the chance to have what is perhaps the most stressful job in this county. Also, as I’m often reminded by my better half, stress is no excuse for acting like a jerk.

Finally, don’t well all know by now that you never write something in an email that you don’t want the entire world to read? It’s just too darn easy for someone to hit that forward button.

Historic re-use...

I’m linking to this story for two reasons. First, I applaud the efforts of Peter Ruff, an Ellicott City resident who wants to convert a county-owned historic building into a restaurant. Profiting from historic preservation is probably the best way to ensure our history is preserved – assuming the profit is generated in appropriate ways (for instance, converting this building into a dance club would probably not meet my standards).

The second reason is the interesting background it provides on another building where this approach was used: The Elkridge Furnace Inn, which, in addition to being a beautiful, well-preserved old building, is the site where I committed myself to eternal servitude…er, got married.

Electricity buyers of Howard County, Unite!

For too long, our energy needs have been met by a heavily-regulated monopoly. But now, thanks to a deregulated “free” market – if such a thing is even possible in this industry – we will soon have three (three!) electricity providers to choose from.

Aside from the intrinsic “goodness” of choice, the benefits from this new competion probably won't accrue. All of us will face significantly higher rates, regardless of which provider’s juice powers our lives (and, yes, I know our state legislature and Public Service Commission are mostly to blame for the pending dramatic increase, but that’s not the point). What's more, by the time raw energy reaches consumers, after being channeled through numerous conglomerates/producers and markets, we have very little say in the prices, choices or not.

But, through the power of collectivity, we can finally respond in kind to our electricity providers by distorting the market in our favor.

Howard County could be the first county in the state to buy electricity in bulk for residents resulting in lower utility bills.

“I want Howard County to have every tool at its disposal to soften the blow of these steep rate increases on citizens,” said Council Member Kenneth Ulman, D-District 4, who announced the plan to a group of seniors Thursday at the Bain Center in Columbia.

Howard County must petition the Maryland Public Service Commission for a declaration that county residents do not have enough competition from energy companies.

With an approval from the commission, which regulates public utilities, Howard County would be free to create a residential energy cooperative for two to three years.
If you recall, the Columbia Association is also planning to form its own cooperative, but with a larger pool of potential members, the county’s could result in significantly higher savings. What's more, the more people join -- thereby increasing our market status -- the more (theoretically) prices will go down.
A cooperative would boost purchasing power, saving residents between 15 percent and 20 percent on their bills, Ulman said.

The Columbia Association is working to form a cooperative to purchase electricity for residents, which may save about 8 percent, said Phil Marcus, Columbia Association board member.
The county council must first approve a bill authorizing the county to petition the PSC. The bill will be introduced in early June.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

And now, some good news...

Part two of the Examiner's three-part series on police chief Wayne Livesay speaks to things he's done I think we all can support:

But Oakland Mills, which once had one of the highest crime rates in the county, has experienced a dramatic reduction in crime under Livesay, the department’s longest-serving police chief.

Between 2002 and 2005, the police department’s statistics have shown drops in:

• Liquor violations by 67 percent

• Trespassing by 53 percent

• Drug violations by 51 percent

• Fight calls by 44 percent

• Breaking and entering and intoxicated subjects by 26 percent;

• Assault calls by 18 percent

• Disorderly conduct calls by 17 percent

The department also conducted major drug sweeps that targeted Oakland Mills among other communities in Columbia, and arrested dozens of dealers, which community leaders said helped improve the atmosphere of the village.

You may disagree with his politics or how he’s handled the last few months, but there’s no discounting the fact that Livesay has done some truly great things in the community. Oakland Mills, my current stomping grounds, is just one example. Other Columbia villages, such as Long Reach and Harpers Choice, as well as North Laurel have benefited from his commitment to community policing strategies, which in addition to keeping more officers on the streets in the neighborhoods, go a long way to fostering strong ties between residents and the police.

If only they had a nicer looking building serving as the Oakland Mills substation…

In some related news, the Flier’s editorial this week calls on Livesay to stop campaigning until he has officially resigned on May 31. Although the sentiment is laudable, shouldn’t this editorial fall into the too little, too late bin? I mean, we’re talking about less than a week. At this point, does it matter?

Budget: Done.

Without much fanfare, the county council yesterday passed the fiscal year 2007 budget, devoting $1.2 billion in taxpayer money to all sorts of good, meaningful things.

Included in the budget is a modest property tax cut that will reduce the rate from $1.044 per $100 of a home’s assessed value to $1.014, which translates to a savings of about $135 a year for someone living in a $450,000 home (median price in HoCo).

However, Council Member Charles Feaga, R-District 5, said the cut is not deep enough.

He had proposed lowering the county’s cap on taxable property value from 5 percent to 4 percent in March. That would limit increases in property taxes as the housing market values rise.
Ah, Feaga. So, the cut that was passed isn’t deep enough? I thought it was pretty clear that it takes at least seven years (possibly twelve) for a homeowner to "break even" under Feaga’s proposal as compared to Robey's. Yet how many of us really believe our tax rate won't change again before then? I don't. What's more, if you move, you lose out on the benefit of the tax assesment cap anyway.

Does this mean he’s admitting he didn’t really support his own, not-deep-enough cut either? Or is he just criticizing Robey’s plan because, well, that’s what he does?

Movin' on up...

I covered the appeals hearing of the 22-story tower yesterday, but I saw this in the Flier and thought it needed highlighting.

Despite the appeal, WCI already has sold roughly 45 percent of the project's 160 condominium units, which range in price from $720,000 to $2.2 million and include many upscale features, said Anthony Albanese, president of WCI's Tower Division.
Wow, the prices are really going up. When this thing was first in the news, the prices ranged from $500,000 to just over $1 million. Now, the penthouses are up to $2.2 million.

Again, wow.

Clearly, there are at least some people who aren’t opposed to this building.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Dueling in District 5...

Who would have thought that of all the council races this year, the GOP primary for District 5 is probably going to be the most interesting? Considering the district’s about as safely Republican as you can get, I guess it makes sense that the real race worth watching in the west is the primary. But still, it’s only May and the politicking is already more intense than I expect to see in any other race.

And I think any discussion of this race begins and ends with soon-to-be-retired police chief Wayne Livesay, whose candidacy has sparked consternation, backlash, and legal questions among Republicans. Need more background? Thanks to HoCoBlog’s new site, you can catch up on the whole Livesay story here.

For his part, Livesay’s weathered the storm and – freed from the constraints of being a public official – is ready to jump head-first into the fray.

“I’ve never backed down from a tough fight,” he said in an interview Monday.

Livesay, a Republican, is vying for the westernmost County Council seat, District 5.

Backers of Greg Fox, Livesay’s Republican opponent, have questioned whether the chief violated the federal Hatch Act, which prohibits local government employees who oversee federal funds from campaigning in partisan elections.

Livesay said he received an e-mail Friday from the federal Office of Special Counsel, telling him that Fox’s backers were right: Livesay must resign from either his job or his County Council campaign by June 2 to avoid violating the Hatch Act.

…Livesay accused his opponents of being politically motivated in raising the Hatch Act issue.

Republican Jim Adams, who is also seeking the seat, said Livesay is the front-runner in the race, and his opponents should run positive campaigns.

“I think the bloggers are playing this [Hatch Act violation] up, and I really believe that we should give [Livesay] a fair shake,” Adams said.
Aside from being overly conciliatory towards his opponents, Adams makes the mistake of lumping us bloggers together. I claim no credit whatsoever for this. Were it not for HoCoBlog, I’d still be wondering if the Hatch Act is related in anyway to Orin Hatch. In fact, I am still wondering that. HoCoBlog deserves all the credit/blame (depending on your perspective) for this one.

I merely congratulate him on getting his blog’s URL in the press several times over the last few weeks. Well played, sir!

Tower tussle...

Although I don’t support their appeal, the treatment received by opponents of the 22-story Plaza Residences is disgusting but, sadly, emblematic of our abysmal development process.

…[T]two opponents, both of whom live in a condominium project adjacent to where the 275-foot tall tower is planned, were forced to acknowledge that before acquiring their units they had been warned there could be additional development in the area and that they had failed to determine what might be built on the property.

The hearing grew increasingly testy as [Joel] Broida and [Jo Ann] Stolley were subjected to pointed questioning by S. Scott Morrison, an attorney brought in by [Dick] Talkin and who specializes in cross-examination.

...Morrison grilled them on what they knew, when they knew it and their responses to the information and warnings before purchasing their Lakeside units.

He reminded them frequently that they were giving sworn testimony, which finally prompted [opposition lawyer E. Alexander] Adams to snap, "I've had enough of your saying they are under oath. You're abusing these witnesses."

Morrison complained of Adams' numerous objections and accused him of being "obstructionist."
So, on one side you have regular citizens engaged in a process that should be at least somewhat accommodating, while on the other you have a professional attack lawyer (a ringer, no less!) making the process as inhospitable and contentious as possible. Doesn’t sound fair or right, if you ask me.

That said and his apparent jerkiness aside, Morrison found what he was looking for.
Stolley and Broida acknowledged that their contracts stipulated that their views were not guaranteed and warned that additional development could occur in the area.

Broida acknowledged that he had seen an advertisement for a planned 25-story tower in Town Center before purchasing his Lakeside unit. Although that development did not materialize, it was proposed on the same site WCI acquired for its tower.

Stolley said she and her husband did not contact the county to determine what might be built on the lot near their condo, as recommended in their contract.

"We didn't do any of the things people are supposed to do" before purchasing the unit, she said.
While I have sympathy for them over the way they were treated, I’m not sympathetic to their argument, a variation on NIMBYism that is made flimsier by the fact that they live in a practically-brand new building themselves. You know, caveat emptor and all that.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Monday Round Up: Loose Ends...

Another reason why I dislike Our Nation’s Capital: During the final game of the first “Battle of the Beltway,” a couple young Orioles fans ascended to the top rows of the outfield upper deck at RFK and unfurled a large sign reading “DC is still Oriole Country.” As far as stadium signs go, it was pretty inoffensive; indeed, it was considerably less crass than the signs I helped Abbzug and her friend make for the Cowboys – Redskins game last December. Far from any other attendees, they stood solemnly with their sign as their team struggled to score against the (g)Nats. Their silent free speech demonstration, however, was cut short by an unruly group of rival fans, which was not surprising, given our location.

At first, the (g)Nats fans merely filibustered the sign, standing shoulder to shoulder in front of it so as to block its offensive message from our eyes (and delicate sensibilities). Eventually, as with most endeavors undertaken by Washingtonians, violence against fabric erupted and private property was destroyed. When a couple yellow-jacketed security personnel arrived at the scene, the banner was in tatters and the perpetrators scattered, walking unmolested by the Officers of the Peace, who were busy lumbering up the stairs to retrieve the tattered remnants of the sign from its owners.

Granted, no punches were thrown and on the whole the fracas was more peaceful than others I’ve witnessed at DC-area sporting events, but the lack of justice was all to familiar to jaded, Outside-the-Beltway types such as myself. But it was symbolic of all the reasons why, despite its plethora of jobs in my field, I’ll never work or live in Washington, the land that law, morality, and civility forgot.

Am I being a little harsh? Yes, but I’m still bitter about yesterday’s loss. I’m also still annoyed by the non-jerky fans of the home team who, apparently, can’t understand why you would walk a hot-hitter with first base open (hint: force play

There, I feel better.

Here are some Monday Loose Ends…

Unlike HoCoBlog, who has a really fancy new site, I’m not really concerned about the teacher’s union failing to endorse a Republican aside from soon-to-retire police chief Wayne Livesay. Really, what I’m interested in is the fact that Democrat Joshua Feldmark got the nod over party-mate Mary Kay Sigaty, a school board member, for the District 4 council race.

Sigaty called the endorsement decision "extraordinarily odd."

"I'm still quite mystified because (the endorsement) really doesn't take into account what would be good for the county," Sigaty said of the union's decision to pass over her in their endorsements. "All I can say is I think I've been a friend to teachers."

Sigaty, who was endorsed by the union in her 2004 bid for the school board, said she "honestly can't say" whether the union's action would strain her future relations with union members.

If elected to the council, Sigaty would step down from the school board and the county executive would appoint her replacement. If she is not elected to the council, she would remain on the school board. Her term expires in 2008.
I can see how she would be upset about this, but the implication of her non-denial -- a strained relationship with union members -- is a little unsettling considering that she’ll be on the school board for another couple of years should she lose the election. I would hope that both sides recognize the need to separate politics from school issues and policy.
De Lacy said the union chose to back Feldmark because he is "more closely aligned" with the union's vision. "He had a real grasp of what our needs are. He just knew our concerns and was ready to address them," she said.

Feldmark, whose mother and sister are Howard County teachers, said he tried to relay "unconditional support" for educators during an interview with the union.

"I can't speak to why they would choose me over Mary Kay," Feldmark said. "I very much pride myself on supporting teachers."

Certainly, by snagging the endorsement, Feldmark has won an early round in what is sure to be the most interesting Democratic primary battle.

(Bias Disclosure: Feldmark was one of the first politicians to contact me and is still the only one to correctly guess the source of my pseudonym.)

The House With The Lights On. So named is the Washington Post’s lengthy story on Howard County’s high profile, awaiting-trial “escort,” Brandy Britton, PhD. What can I say? It’s an interesting piece. Embedded in the archives of this blog is another bizarre element of this story that I don’t want to link to but that curious readers can find if they’re so inclined. Or, you can just check out this local guy’s blog for more.

Finally, a bleg (From Wikipedia: A blog entry consisting of a request to the readers, such as for information or contributions. A portmanteau of "blog" and "beg". Also called "Lazyweb.").

I’m trying to rid my yard of poison ivy and am wondering if anyone has any suggestions. Most of the plants are small, but they are interspersed with desirable ground cover and such. Although I’m a certified tree hugger, I’m not averse to using chemicals if needed. However, because one of the plants is growing next to my fish pond – home to Trey, Paige, Mike and Tubs, whose company the neighborhood kids and I thoroughly enjoy – herbicide will not be the silver bullet. In addition to suggestions, I’ll gladly accept any offers to come over and help with the removal, but I’m not holding my breath.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Sunday Round Up: More Edition...

No time for intros...going down to RFK for the rubber match of the first series between the O's and the Nats. Two sub-.500 teams facing off in May: Catch the Head Cold!

More on the Town Center Tower: Two and a half paragraphs worthy of highlighting from the story. First:

...[T]he thrust of his case dates back four years, when the Planning Board approved WCI's final development plan by amending regulations to permit residential uses on property previously restricted primarily for commercial development.

"Such approval ... was and is ultra vires," or illegal, by going beyond the board's jurisdiction, E. Alexander Adams declares in his appeal.

Then, this:
The appeal, though, raises at least two fundamental questions. First, is the appeal legal since it was filed well beyond the 30-day limitation imposed by county regulations? And, if the zoning for WCI's tower is unlawful, what does than mean for the nearby luxury Lakeside at Town Center, a condominium project constructed and occupied under the same zoning and where two of Adams' clients reside?

More on the HFStival: While the music from Wine in the Woods yesterday reverberated across Rt. 29 into the peaceful serenity of my backyard, nobody cares about this event or the pain I felt having to listen to music I didn't like. A concert geared to young people, however, is still causing serious concern among some local residents, many of whom seem to think a horde of Deadheads will be rolling into town next week, poised to turn Town Center into a massive, stinky Shakedown Street, which is simply, regrettably not the case. Read the story if you want my diplomatic take on the concert.

More Politics, Shmolitics: Democratic governor hopefuls non-committal; Teachers endorse mostly Democrats; and Sheriff's race heating up.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Thursday Round Up: No School Talk...

I'm taking a day off from my discussion with Evan about a school site in Town Center. If you want to catch up on the latest, scroll down to the next post and be sure to read the comments. I'm sure, however, that this will not be the end of it.

Who says bloggers can't make a difference? David Keelan, aka hocoblog, has been tracking closely police chief Wayne Livesay and the potential legal ramifications of his decision to hold his post after formally filing his candidacy for the District 5 council seat. Today, both the Washington Post and the Examiner ran stories about possible Hatch Act violations, and the Examiner even credited Hocoblog with raising the issue. Although I'm basically agnostic about the chief and this issue in general, I think David deserves praise for his persistence and for researching the issue so thoroughly.

Final curtain call. Theater Outback, Howard Community College's "underground" performance space (where student productions are held) is closing. However, it sounds like what the college is replacing it with will be much better.

So, what's the point of mentioning this? Well, in 1996 it was the site of the final production of my illustrious acting career when I played the skeptical, intellectual Reverend John Hale in The Crucible (talk about type-casting, huh?). Directed by Sue Kramer, as almost all of the productions in the theater were, the play -- one of the only non-musical productions I participated in -- was quite a learning experience insofar as it taught me that acting was clearly not the ideal career path for me.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the experience immensely and am glad to see that Kramer and the students of HCC are finally getting a performance space worthy of their talents.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Town Center School...continued

I think Evan and I are talking past each other.

After my first post against setting aside land in Town Center for a school site, Evan wrote a lengthy reply arguing that my concept of a school – ugly, sprawling, at odds with the rest of the proposed Town Center – was wrong while ignoring my bigger concern, that requiring General Growth to set aside land for a school site would force us to sacrifice some other amenity, like plazas, affordable housing, public art, and other non-profitable but socially-desirable goods.

Although I was prepared to, a commentor stepped in and refuted much of Evan's glowing claims about the benefits and usefulness of a school site in Town Center, even mentioning that we could reopen Faulkner Ridge Elementary School to accommodate the additional students that will be generated by new development (something I had thought about but not written about).

Yesterday, I reiterated the important point in this issue:

If we force the landowners to set aside a piece of land for a school, what other amenity will we be sacrificing? I think we have to assume that there is a limit to the amount of "proffers" we can expect from General Growth and that this limit is related to what we give them.
I thought it was a pretty straightforward question, but Evan's response leads me to believe otherwise. After proclaiming that he and everyone he knows wants General Growth to make a huge profit (something I didn't think we were contesting), he gets to the meat of his argument:
There are certain inherent costs that come with new residential development such as schools, transit systems, and parking. These are costs the developer bares in exchange for the ability to make their huge profits. If it were any other way it would mean that the tax payers would have to pay and why should tax payers have to pay to give someone else a profit? New residential units will mean we will need more classroom space…and thus to say that it is an "either schools or other amenities" argument is patently false. The cost is there and it has to be borne.
After mischaracterizing my argument, Evan then goes on to wonder about the integrity of our elected officials, which is also beside the point.

What about school costs? How, ostensibly, is additional capacity funded. For every new house we allow to be built in Howard County, the total cost of providing the same level of services in this county goes up (while, in theory, average costs stay the same or shrink). Because of these added costs, the county imposes fees on every new residential unit – among others, there is one dedicated to transportation infrastructure and one dedicated to schools ($1 per square foot of living space).

All development in Howard County is subject to these "impact" fees, including development in Town Center. These fees probably do not capture the full costs development imposes on the county, but that is a completely different problem, unrelated to Town Center. If we think the fees are too low, than let's discuss that in its own context, not in the context of downtown. Although we can (maybe/sort of) charge more for development in Town Center through the use of Tax Increment Financing or something similar, doing so would be unfair and might send the wrong signals (unless, it was a very well thought-out, targeted plan).

So, we wouldn’t be pushing the costs of Town Center onto the taxpayers any more than we do with other developments. As I said, if this is a problem, it is its own problem, not Town Center's.

Sometimes, though, developers offer the county more "reimbursement" in exchange for a sweetened deal. Jim Rouse did this with Columbia, donating sites for schools in every neighborhood, many of which the county chose not to use and have since become neighborhood parks. And that is what we're talking about here: General Growth donating land for a school site in Town Center – not whether new development has to pay for school capacity.

My main concern is that General Growth will only offer so much for the right to additional development, meaning we have to prioritize what we think is most import. I'm sure they would set aside land for a school, but after doing so, they may resist building a non-trivial amount of affordable housing or utilizing green building design or building large plazas or helping fund a better downtown transit system or whatever else we’d like to see because these would cut too much into their potential profits to make the Town Center plan financially viable.

Rather than a new school site, I’d like to see a better transit system, a true commitment to affordable housing, green buildings, and more cultural and entertainment choices – none of which represent the pinnacle of profitability – included in Town Center. That is not to say there isn’t a need for additional school capacity. It’s just that I don’t think additional school capacity in downtown is the best use of the limited supply of land or the limited “profit” the community stands to make from this development.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Going to school...

Evan at Howard County Blog has written a response to my post about a school in Town Center, which also drew a response from a commentor. I had hoped to address these critiques today, but the blogging clock struck all naughts before I had a chance to finish.

But, I don't want to go without posting at least something. So, since neither answered the main question that I have, I'll pose it again. If we force the landowners to set aside a piece of land for a school, what other amenity will we be sacrificing? I think we have to assume that there is a limit to the amount of "proffers" we can expect from General Growth and that this limit is related to what we give them.

Given this limited community "profit," however much it is, what do we think is the best way to allocate it? A school site, I would argue, takes up a pretty major portion of this bounty, leaving less for all the other stuff we want. So, if we decide a school site is our top priority -- and we'd still have to foot the bill for the building of that school -- what gets cut from the priority list when the bill comes due?

Perhaps tomorrow I'll post a full response.

Monday, May 15, 2006

From caterpillar to butterfly...

At least that’s what planners think will be happening over the next several years along Route 1.

“Route 1 is the answer to the question, ‘Where do we grow from here?’ ” said Dick Story, CEO of the Howard County Economic Development Authority.

…Because growth pressure is mounting as available land wanes, the Department of Planning and Zoning is focusing its attention on areas of the county that already have been developed.

The department predicts Route 1 will mature into a livelier county player in the next two to three decades.

“Rather than slamming into a wall and stopping, let’s coast to 2020 and phase in the build-out of Howard County,” Story said.

The Route 1 area is more desirable than the open areas in the western part of the county because prices are lower, and it flows off county water and sewer lines.

“You cluster your density in places you’ve planned for it, with roads, water, sewer, and schools in that community,” Story said.
Story is right on the money. It boggles the mind why we still see so much development in the exurban west (it no longer qualifies as “rural”) when it is on so many levels such an innefficent way to deal with the inevitable, growth.

Would you rather see the fields and pastures disappear – and traffic, environmental degradation, and the cost of services increase – for the sake of surface parking and downtown highways?

Looking out for the future...

I’m honestly not trying to butter up General Growth’s new Columbia GM, Douglas Godine, in hopes that he’ll give me what I want. Over the past few months, I’ve written several pieces that have been complimentary of him, which some may say reeks of blatant brown-nosing. But I swear it’s not. He just keeps saying the right things, like this:

Godine said he hopes the revival of Town Center will appeal to the next generation in Howard County.

“We’ve got to show them that change can be good and beneficial. We’ve got to address the young people; they are the future of Columbia,” he said.
Thus far, whether we care to admit it or not, the the voices of Howard County's tomorrow have been mostly silent in the discussions over Town Center. Although the initial process was open to all, something -- apathy, disengagment, ignorance, lack of time, different priorities -- kept the younger people away; meanwhile, the current process has made things worse, actively marginalizing citizens under 35 -- even those sitting right its nose -- because not enough of them showed up for the auditions.

At least Godine's looking out for us (yup, there's my admission of bias). The question is, what do you do about it?

Believe at your own peril…


Howard County school officials are breathing a sigh of relief — for now.

After the system experienced rapid enrollment growth in the 1990s, school officials said projections show the numbers leveling off.

…David Drown, manager of school planning, said student enrollment will level off at about 49,000 students in 2012.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Great Coke vs. Coke Debate

There has been a lot of discussion recently (here and elsewhere) about the sweet, fizzy nectar that is "soda." Much of it bores me. I don't care if schools sell soda. I don't care if people, kids or adults, drink too much of it. Sure, it's probably not the healthiest thing you can drink, but it is certainly not the least healthy.

In fact, the only thing about this issue that has interested me at all is the difference between Coke Classic and "Real" Coke. Apparently, there was a time when Coca-Cola Classic was sweetened using sugar, but in the 1980s, it was replaced by high fructose corn syrup either because of costs or conspiracies involving New Coke. Regardless of what you believe, the switch was made, and following it, many connoisseurs say the World's Most Popular Soft Drink just ain't the same.

Unless you go to Mexico.

You see, Mexican Coke never changed to high fructose corn syrup. Instead, bottlers south of the border continue to use cane sugar, and many say their product is that much better for it.

As one who has had a long, loving, but sometimes torturous relationship with soda, I'm intrigued by the possibility that there could be an even better variety of my beverage of choice. Since sugar-sweetened Coke was only around during my early years (before my taste buds became sufficiently discerning), I don't really remember Coke ever tasting any different than it does now, leaving me to wonder what the "real" thing tastes like and if it really is the best variety.

Well, I wonder no more.

On a trip this morning to the local corner store -- the first time I have visited since moving to the new place -- I stumbled upon Sam's wide selection of "imports," which included a trove of 355 ml bottles of Mexican Coke and, by extension, the answer to the pressing question: Is the Coca-Cola Company depriving American consumers of the best product available?


My culinary tastes are often the subject of jokes among friends and family members. I'm what you would call a "Meat and Potatoes" vegetarian. For the most part, I like bland food, though with lots of salt and pepper.

However, while I might not have the most refined taste for food, my taste for soda, particularly classic Coke, is unmatched and when coupled with my unrelenting quest for knowledge, it created a perfect scenario for answering the long-standing, if somewhat arcane, question.

To perform my test, I came home with two bottles: a glass one containing Mexican Coke and a plastic one containing American Coke. Of course, you can rightly argue that the flavor of soda is greatly dependent on its packaging material. I know these differences well, and would have purchased a can of American Coke -- by far the best tasting variety -- but finding cans in most convenience stores is impossible, as it was at Sam's. After conducting the test, however, I can say that the difference in bottles had zero effect on the outcome.

I placed the bottles in the freezer for about ten minutes to make sure they were both roughly the same temperature (also because Coke is best when it is super cold). After their time in the freezer, Abbzug poured an equal amount of each into identical glasses while I started writing this post. She called me into the "lab" and had me taste each one.

The first one was definitely good, as Coke always is. It had the right amount of fizz, tasted sweet but crisp (not syrupy), and, most importantly, induced the proper Coke burn as it traveled down my throat. The second one, meanwhile, tasted like water.

There was no question which was which and which I preferred. Although she knew what she was drinking, Abbzug tried both and noted how bland the American version tasted in comparison. The difference is quite striking.

Is this definitive proof that high fructose corn syrup-sweetened Coke is worse than it's sugar-sweetened brother, despite contrary claims made by Coke officials? Perhaps, but probably not. There is, after all, no accounting for taste.

So, try it for yourself. Go to Sam's (or an online retailer), get a bottle of each, conduct a blind taste test, and let me know what you think. Just be sure to leave enough of the good stuff for me.

UPDATE: Yum...

Mother's Day Round Up...

I'm completely at a loss for how to start this, other than by saying Happy Mother's Day to mine and all the other mothers out there. And with that, onto the Round Up...

Here's your chance (if you're invited, that is) to learn everything you ever wanted to know -- but didn't learn during one of the plethora of investigative reports or made-for-TV movies -- about the bird flu. Kidding aside, it's always good to Be Prepared.

Politics, Shmolitics: Potential chairmanship coup thwarted, discord remains; banking on commercial success/efficacy; Bobby Gov scared of irrelevance.

Here's a great question posed by The Sun in their weekly Speak Out feature:

Merriweather Post Pavilion will host Wine in the Woods on May 20-21, then the HFStival on May 27-28. Talk about diversity. Isn't this what Columbia is all about?
Does the question sound a little biased against those who have been complaining recently about the HFStival and Merriweather's supposed "youth/pop focus?" Perhaps. But I'm fine with that, naturally, and think this question is a great way of making those who view the pavilion as serving solely non-Howard Countians clarify their positions. You can send responses, which must be in by Thursday, here. Go ahead, inundate the Sun's inbox.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Budget battles...

The headline is, admittedly, overblown. I jazzed it up to convince you to read the post. Shameless, I know.

Actually, there doesn’t seem to be much battling going on this budget season; indeed, quite the opposite.

Council Chairman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican, said he is prepared to support County Executive James N. Robey's operating budget "as suggested."

He said he is not going to offer an amendment to cut the income tax rate rather than the 3-cent property tax rate reduction that Robey proposed.

“It would just promote more political turmoil," Merdon said. Although chairman, Merdon now has only one other supporter on tax issues -- western county Republican Charles C. Feaga. The resignation in March of former Councilman David A. Rakes and his replacement by Calvin Ball gives Democrats a three-vote majority on the five-member council.
What? I thought we wanted political turmoil. I’ve got nothing to write about if everyone’s happy with each other. Surely, there has to be some low-level skirmish brewing somewhere.
Feaga remained angry about the way Democrats found $3 million to divert from plans for a new Columbia fire station to renovations at Clarksville Middle School.

The Democrats, he said, must have known earlier that the $3 million would not be needed next year for the Banneker Station replacement, making their rescue of the Clarksville project suspect in his mind.

"I think it's a cheap political stunt," Feaga said.

Ah, yes. There it is. Feaga’s mad that the Democrats get to look like educational saviors while the Republicans sit on their hands, failing to dig deep enough into the budget to ensure funding for overdue renovations. Maybe he’s right. But was political gain really the Democrats motivation to push for the $3 million transfer? I’m saying no, and here’s why.

Long ago, when this budget was being tossed around by county bureaucrats, there was a common perception among most of us that the citizens’ Town Center Master Plan would be finished and voted upon before this council leaves office. However, as complaints mounted, the plan was delayed to allow for further input (from a select group of citizens, known as the Focus Group). This delay meant that the future of Town Center – which will very much affect the future of the Town Center fire station – was put on hold.

With the plan in limbo until at least June of next year (the end of the fiscal year for the budget we’re currently discussing), does it really make sense to move forward with a new fire station when you don’t know where it will go or how it will fit within the as yet undetermined landscape of our new Town Center? That would just be silly, especially if the money can be used for another pressing issue, like school renovations.

The Democrats figured out after the official delay of the master plan was announced that they could make this transfer without really sacrificing anything (usually unheard of in budget transfers). They saw a great opportunity to do something good for the school and themselves, and they took it. Just as Feaga, Merdon or any other politician would have done.

None of this is to say that politics didn’t play a role; surely, Robey and crew are expecting to gain political points for this decision, as they should.

Good policy can also be good politics. Actually, the two should be the same.

Charrette update...

Time was spent this week at the charrette focus group meeting discussing what to do with the current gravel parking lots surrounding Merriweather Post; the land known as “The Crescent.” Surprisingly, I like much of what I hear.

A plan to create a miniature Central Park in downtown Columbia needs more attention paid to the arts, according to members of a focus group that is helping to plot downtown's redevelopment.

"Wouldn't it be nice if every office building and lobby had a place for artists to display artwork?" said Robert Tennenbaum, one of Columbia's original planners and a member of the focus group.

Tennenbaum spoke May 3 at a meeting in which Howard County planners floated a proposal to build a school, fire station, cultural and civic places, and residential and commercial development on a 51-acre plot bordering Merriweather Post called the "crescent site."
Central Park? Yup.

Public Art? You betcha.

Cultural and Civic Buildings? I’m right there with you.

School? No way.

Aside from the fact that there are several schools already within a few minutes of Town Center, I’m completely opposed to having a school site in Town Center because I think it’s a huge waste of land that could otherwise be used for something we want but currently don’t have.

Let’s face it: schools ain’t what they used to be, even just 30 years ago. Instead of nice, little neighborhood school buildings that double as community meeting places and ballfields for organized and non-organized play (something kids today should probably have more of), we have turned them into massive, unwelcoming, aesthetically-grotesque complexes that are more akin to penal institutions than educational ones (I more than partially owe that observation to a friend of mine).

They devour huge swaths of land -- more than 10 acres for just an elementary school (.pdf of school system policy). They’re surrounded by massive lots of surface parking. They’re built on shoestring budgets by governments (e.g. housing in the Soviet Union). All of this, it seems, runs counter to the walkable, visionary goals we have for Town Center. Why devote almost a quarter of the land in the Crescent to something that doesn’t fit with its surroundings and is easily substituted for existing resources within the county?

In fact, substitution is the right way to look at this. The amount of land in Town Center is limited, but our wants for that land, at least for the sake of argument, are not. If we choose to have a school, then we have to substitute it for something else we might like. But is a school site really close to the top of the priority list, considering the strong desires expressed for more civic buildings, more cultural buildings, more affordable housing, more entertainment, more restaurants, more retail, or more transportation? This is, after all, our downtown -- our urban core -- not the traditional neighborhoods in the rest of the county, where nearby schools are much more appropriate and desirable.

Of course, since I’m a noted wishy-washer, I can be convinced that we should dedicate a nice big chunk of land to a school. But before that ever happens, I need to know what we will be sacrificing and how such a land-intensive use will mesh with its more land-efficient neighbors.

Better know a district...

Or, rather, better know your District 2 council candidates. Here’s a profile of Democrat Adam Sachs, and here’s a profile of Republican Gina Ellrich (no Calvin Ball?). I look forward to both of them knocking on my door sometime soon.

Cyclist killed, police looking for information...

I know it is a shot in the dark, but as an avid cyclist, I feel a personal obligation to do whatever I can to spread the word about this story.

On many weeknights, David Allen Overmiller would ride his bicycle five miles to his son's Elkridge house to spend the night and shower before his boss picked him up for work the next morning. The 58-year-old plumber's mobile home off U.S. 1, which he shared with two friends, had no electricity.

As Overmiller pedaled to his son's home about 9:40 p.m. May 4, a car struck and killed him on U.S. 1 near Troy Hill Drive.

Howard County police are seeking the public's help in identifying and finding the car's driver, who did not stop.
I know the reach of this blog is significantly smaller than that of The Sun, but it certainly can’t hurt to post this, even if it is seen by only one additional person. Police are offering a $2,000 reward to anyone providing information that leads to an arrest. Contact the department here.

I don’t like using such situations to moralize about things, but I'll just say that David Allen Overmiller’s death should serve as a reminder to us all to keep an eye out for cyclists.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A slate divided...

There's a story in the Post about the "group" of local Republican candidates working together to promote their property tax portability proposal; they really don't want you to call them a "slate" or a "ticket," but for that matter, they don't even know what to call themselves.

So what should people call them?

"I don't know," [District 5 candidate Greg] Fox said. "Do you have a suggestion?"

I'm not writing this poke fun at them for not coming up with a good name for their cooperative efforts, though it is funny to see their collective squeamishness over their collectivity. Instead, I'm writing to chide the Democrats for not working together as effectively.

Tony McGuffin, chairman of the Howard County Democratic Central Committee, said the proposal -- which he called a "half-baked idea" that is "just way too complex" -- was not likely to have much effect.

"Apparently what they're trying to accomplish is that they have teamwork and can rally around a single idea, and that shows their strength," McGuffin said. "To organize around a bad plan is not a good sign."

As I've said, I'm no fan of the plan, but that doesn't mean that their strategy is a bad one or is worthy of scorn from the Democrats. The plan may be irredeemably flawed, but it addresses an issue that is a concern for many voters and is right in the Republican wheelhouse -- namely, taxes.

Rather than focus their energy on discrediting the work of their opponents, I'd like to see the Democrats, or at least a good number of them, come out with something that will resonate with voters -- perhaps a better affordable housing policy, a smarter transportation program, a new approach to land preservation, or a better system for approving and controlling development. To be sure, addressing any of these in a substantive way would require a large, complicated proposal, but they are all important (and progressive) issues that have to be addressed anyway.

Why wait until next year when, for some, there might not be a next year?

Thursday Round Up...

No comments on anything in this week’s Flier. Nothing against the old rag, which is slowly decomposing in a puddle on my driveway; I just haven’t had a chance to read it yet. Sure, I could read it online, but since it’s the only actual paper that’s delivered to my house, it’s kind of fun – in an old-timey sort of way – to turn the pages and wade through the ads. Not this week, I guess. That’s just as well – it’ll give me something to do tomorrow during lunch.

Let’s round up some news, shall we?

Many is the time I link to stories with little or no comment. This – a profile of Patty Rouse – is one of those stories, and it is definitely worth your time. In fact, if reading for you is a zero sum game, stop reading my drivel and click the link. (I promise, you’re not missing much here.)

I read about my old neighbor in the paper today. I’m glad to see he’s doing well – started his own business, actually – even if he didn’t like my dog.

They got a wall at Merriweather. To keep in the teenagers they made it strong. As you probably know, the HFStival at Merriweather will be a pretty big concert, so big, in fact, that the grounds have been expanded to accommodate an additional 8,000 people. The venue just won approval to serve alcohol on its temporarily expanded grounds, though future use of the additional land will depend on how the kids behave at this first show. Said Columbia Association board member Barbara Russell, “A lot will depend on how this first concert goes.” Let’s just hope the outcome of this “trial concert” is not predetermined.

Speaking of Merriweather, a fantastic new show has just been added. Because I don’t want to steal IMP’s thunder, I won’t say who it is, but if you know where to look, you can find out pretty easily. Or you can try to decipher some of the (rudimentary) clues I’ve left in this post.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Wednesday Round Up...

No time for fluff today. We’re taking Father Hayduke out to celebrate (temporarily forget?) his 60th birthday, and since he turns into a pumpkin at a shamefully early hour, we’ve got to get the show on the road. Of course, it doesn’t help that I still have to go out and get him a card.

HoCoBlog has some great information on Belmont and the mess it could/has become.

And the award for the Best Unintenionally Ironic Statement goes to Howard County GOP central committee member John Wafer for his thoughts on early voting, which will take place at three locations in the county this year.

“For Anthony McGuffin [Howard’s head Democrat] to say this is a straw man just proves to you the Democratic Party does not understand what it means to have fair elections,” said John Wafer, a member of the Howard County Republican Central Committee who is leading the petition.

“This is not about the Republican Party; it’s not about the Democrat Party. It’s about the people — the voters — and making sure that their vote counts.”
Yes, we will not rest until every vote is counted. Or, at least until enough are counted to make us happy with the outcome.

Finally, this has been on the internet for quite some time, but it never ceases to make me happy. It’s the great Soda vs. Pop debate. Check out the maps to see the county-by-county breakdown and you'll note that Howard is staunchly in favor of "Soda," which is as it should be. Lest there be any confusion about the proper way to refer to carbonated sugar water, the primary term is "Soda," followed closely by the acceptable and favored-in-the-south "Coke." It is never, under any circumstances, appropriate to use "Pop." I have no idea what is wrong with the Midwest and Rocky Mountain states.

Seat bragging: a day late.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Here it is, May 9, and I'm finally going to my first Orioles game this season. By this time last year, I had already been to four O's games, inlcuding Opening Day, as well as a San Francisco Giants game. And last year was really no different than any other year. The Haydukes watch a lot of baseball.

But this year we've been total slackers; at least Abbzug kept our consecutive Opening Day steak alive. Hopefully things will change for us and the O's, but I'm not counting on either.

Stay tuned later for a shameless cell phone post bragging about my seats, which come courtesy of the nonprofit overlords.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Candidate Forum this Thursday is hosting another candidate forum -- this time in my neck of the woods. Here's the skinny:

Thursday, May 11, East Columbia Library Branch.
6:45 - 7:00 pm Meet & Greet
7:00 - 8:00 pm County Council District 2 candidates
8:00 - 9:00 pm Circuit Court Judge candidates

If you live in District 2 (and you know who you are) or would like to actually know something about the judges you are voting on, this forum will be well worth your time. And who knows, if things go right, you might even catch a glimpse of this reclusive blogger.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

? Does anyone why two

? Does anyone why two crane trucks are flying a massive US flag on the eden brook/rt 32 overpass? Just curious. Too slow to get pic.


Today is the one year anniversary of my wedding, and I'm pretty sure Abbzug would kill me if she knew I was blogging. I've only got a few minutes while she's out getting coffee, so here goes...

Critics claim downtown plan has too many details. Yes, that can happen, though we're not, at this point, talking about Columbia's downtown.

Can you spot which one of these letters is part of a campaign machine? RECAP? First time I've heard that name.

That's it for today.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Here’s a legitimate scoop…

By virtue of nothing other than employment, I have the privilege of telling the world -- er, whoever reads this -- that MD 175 between Interstate 95 and U.S. 29 will be (has already been?) renamed the Jim and Patty Rouse Parkway. The announcement came during a celebration for Patty Rouse’s 80th birthday, which is today (it’s also the birthday of another prominent Howard Countian, I believe).

In case you don’t know, Patty still works almost everyday at Enterprise Community Partners – the non-profit organization she and Jim founded over 20 years ago. Her dedication to the organization, to the principles she shared with her late-husband, and to ending poverty through fit, affordable housing and comprehensive community revitalization is a source of inspiration to us all. As CEO Bart Harvey said, Patty provides the “conscience” and “vision” for Enterprise, a constant reminder of why she and Jim created our organization and what we work everyday to accomplish.

A key distinction was made by Trent Kittleman, head of the Maryland Transportation Authority, when announcing the renaming of MD 175: most times roads are dedicated to individuals, whereas in this instance the official name of the road is changing – meaning all of the signs for this stretch Rt. 175 will be replaced in the coming months with new ones bearing the Rouse name. In short, it’s a pretty big deal – and the surprise and happiness on Patty’s face, as well as the reaction of those present, is testament to that.

A special thanks to my former (and to some extent kinda still) boss for making this happen (and for giving me the scoop a half hour before everyone else heard!).

And, as a long-time Columbian suggested to me at the party, maybe it’s time to consider extending the Jim and Patty Rouse Parkway name all the way to the road’s end (Yes, I know: technically it doesn’t end – but you know what I mean).

Biz Monthly...

I've said before how much I like the Business Monthly -- despite the lack of coverage I devote to their stories. Although I'm low on time now, there are two pieces in this month's edition that are well worth a read. As always, their coverage is significantly more in depth than the dailies and weeklies.

The first is a story about Merriweather and the HFStival. Needless to say, you'll learn more about the concert and pavilion in this story than you will from all the others that have thus far been written. Quote worthy of highlighting:

While Howard County has been recognized as a great place for young adults to live, "they sometimes think that there isn't a whole lot to do here," [Rachelina Bonacci, executive director of Howard County Tourism] said. "But with Merriweather in their backyard and now the HFStival, what else can they ask for?"

Oh, this is good, too:
But Doug Godine, the new general manager of Columbia for the Chicago-based corporation, waxed enthusiastic about the pavilion's future. "Merriweather will stay, most definitely," he said.
Another noteworthy item from the story is that tonight's Fall Out Boy concert is Merriweather's first sell out of the year. As I was leaving Town Center around 4:30, there was already a long line of concertgoers waiting outside the gate, which is good to see. Also good to see was a portable road sign this morning on Broken Land Parkway that mentioned tonight's concert and warned of possible delays. Can't say they didn't warn you.

Speaking of Doug Godine, the Monthly has a nice, long piece on the new head of Columbia operations for General Growth. From the story, he seems like a really good guy who understands Columbia and it's importance to residents.

Comments on this week's Flier tomorrow -- or maybe later.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Wednesday Round Up: Simple Things Edition…

It’s the simple things that make life great, right? That’s what I hear, at least. By those standards, today must be a great day. I spent lunch today sitting on a bench behind the Rouse Building (it will not be referred to as GGP HQ anymore in this space) talking to an old friend about plans for his move back to the area (and the celebratory softball game). It was good to see lots of walkers and cyclists enjoying the day. Even saw some sunbathers/nappers lounging on the grass.

While on talking on the phone (no doubt, disturbing the serenity of the day), I watched as an Osprey circled over the lake -- on the lookout for lunch, I supposed. Sure enough, after a couple minutes of searching, the fish hawk hovered for a second, tucked its wings back and dove almost straight down, splashing and disappearing momentarily as it hit the water.

Though enjoyable for me, the acrobatic display worked out for the bird, too, as it surfaced with a bluegill clenched in its talons. After a few more circles (to build up sufficient height), it turned west and flew over the Rouse Building.

Although DDT reduced the birds’ numbers in the middle of the twentieth century, Ospreys certainly aren’t uncommon in Maryland. However, if I’ve seen on in Columbia, I can’t recall it now. And I know I have never seen a nest.

So what was this one doing here? Is the Bay getting a little too crowded? Should we expect to see more of them patrolling our lakes? One can only hope.

Well, that’s enough bird talk.

A bill passed Monday by the county council will make it cheaper for police officers to live in Howard County. In exchange for discounted rent, officers will be expected to provide some level of additional security in their communities, but the exact terms of such arrangements will be determined by the landlords and officers.

Having lived next to a police officer for a couple years, I think this is a great idea. Even just the presence of a patrol car in the neighborhood is probably enough to ensure your car stereo won’t be stolen any time soon. What’s more, if the high cost of living in this county is driving law enforcement workers away, shouldn’t we do something to correct that? Don’t we want those charged with protecting the safety and welfare of citizens to have a personal (as well as professional) stake in their duty?

Of course, not everyone thinks the idea is a good one. Councilman Charles Feaga claims it is "absolutely the wrong way to go," but offers no alternatives to finding affordable housing for officers (he does say landlords should hire security if crime is a problem, but that is the lesser of two benefits this bill provides, I think). Instead of proposing how he would address this issue, Feaga just writes it off because it would create “"more bureaucracy than we need.” A more tired excuse for voting against something I have not heard.

Too Much Tower, Part II: The 22-story Tower of Anguish is again making news, this time as part of the appeals process. As you may recall, The Plaza Residences – a 160-unit condo tower planned for Town Center – was approved by the Planning Board a few months ago, despite persistent calls to the contrary by citizens.

That approval was challenged, and the first hearing occurred…I’m not sure when – the story makes no mention of a date. Oh, well, that part is immaterial. And, for that matter, so was the first hearing, which seemed like a 4 ½ hour argument over legal minutiae (isn’t it all minutiae?).

Irrelevance notwithstanding, there was one part of the story that kind of made me chuckle:

But opponents also are expected to argue in the hearings that approval of the tower is illegal, and that the Planning Board ignored its discretion by not restricting the height of the structure.
Isn’t it the Board’s discretion to decide whether it should ignore its discretion?

Howard’s Most Endangered List: Preservation Howard County just released its list of the most endangered historical sites in the county, and not surprisingly, Doughoregan is at the top with Belmont in the second position. For more information, visit the group’s website.

With the CA elections a distant memory, there’s no need to comment extensively on this story and the whole non-issue of “openness.” But I would like to highlight just one part, towards the end, where a current board member (finally) speaks Truth to Truthiness.
Patrick von Schlag, representative of River Hill, said his skepticism about of the board's open-meeting guidelines when he started his tenure last year were unfounded.

"People hear that we have a closed meeting and they wonder why," von Schlag said. "We have closed meetings for the purpose that any homeowners association would have -- to discuss legal and personnel matters to take care of our fiduciary matters." Von Schlag said he discovered that there wasn't anything alarming happening in the closed meetings.

"We certainty welcome [the new members], and we expect them to give much input. With these deep fears about the meetings ... they will be let down by the amount of stuff that is actually there."

It’s been a while since I let one of those go. Feels good. Very cathartic.