Friday, September 29, 2006

Friday Round Up...

Wow, it feels like college again. Here it is, the month of October is about to begin, and I’m way behind on my work. I clicked through the papers this morning and found about 50 stories that needed at least some comment, which doesn’t count the longer posts currently brewing in my largely occupied brain.

And the forecast for next week is even worse than this past one. Early in the week I’m traveling to Boston for the culmination of a major project I’ve been working on, and almost as soon as I get back, it’s out to the mountains for an extended camping trip, which promises to take me far from the internet, emails and cell phone reception.

So, I’ll post when I can until Wednesday, which won’t be often, but after that you won’t hear from me until at least next Monday.

For now, here are a bunch of stories you probably already read…

Another article on the costs/revenue analysis of the new Town Center. It’s a bit clearer than the one I linked to yesterday, but emphasizes essentially the same points.

Although, really, all you needed was my instant coverage, here are two additional stories (Sun, Flier) on Monday’s Merriweather meeting. Meanwhile, the Flier’s editors make some good points – that I largely agree with -- here.

A couple stories on the Oakland Mills village center master plan. Though I will definitely write more about the actual plan, I wanted to say now how impressed I was with Town Hall meeting on Tuesday. There is a lot of positive energy and enthusiasm in Oakland Mills and I’m happy to be a part of it.

A discussion of the District 3 council race and, surprise, how zoning will play a role in its outcome.

Finally, because my friends are always razzing me about my "availabilty" members of the press, there are times when even I -- in all my vanity -- can’t find time to talk to a reporter.

Kennedy, a 29-year-old Democrat, writes a blog called HoCo Hayduke while Wissing, a 31-year-old Republican, authors the Hedgehog Report. Neither could be reached for comment.
To be honest, I just didn’t get the reporter's email soon enough -- I suppose I better start having the messages forwarded to my cell phone again.

David Wissing, who was MIA because of his job (come on, either commit to the blog or not, Dave), has more on the story.

That’s all till Monday!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Confusing headlines, assumptions...

I’m honestly a little confused by this story and its headline, “Schools, police costs could fall short of Town Center growth.”

This is from the story itself:

The schooling and police costs might not be enough to address the redevelopment of downtown Columbia into an urban center.

“I’m concerned that the increase in density would require an increase in police presence,” said Jen Terrasa, a Democratic candidate for Howard County Council District 3.

The redevelopment is expected to yield an average of $11.7 million each year for 30 years, after expenses such as police and schooling, according to a Planning and Zoning Department study. But the county is expected to spend about $2 million extra per year on schooling and about $2.1 million on additional police, according to the study presented Tuesday at the final meeting of the Downtown Focus Group, in which residents met with the department about plans for the Town Center.
OK, so the projected costs of school and police services in Town Center are too low because, some believe, the projected levels of service are too low to meet the needs of the new Columbia downtown. Is that right?

But if it’s the assumed levels of service that are too low, why not just say that?

Well, further down in the piece someone does.
Columbia Association Board Member Cynthia Coyle said more children should have been tallied in the predicted costs for schooling.

“If you bring in more affordable housing [into the Town Center], you will probably bring in more children,” she said.

The study was based on ratios from the current population in Town Center. Bronow said he only counted 84 children in his study of the Town Center communities of Ryland, Evergreens, Archstone, Whitney, Governor’s Grant and Gramercy.
This I agree with. I generally think the ratios are going to increase as Town Center gets developed, and not just because of the affordable housing. I think in time a good amount of families will choose to move downtown, specifically in the more residential areas, though not in percentages as significant as the rest of the county.

Town Center now is largely a commercial area, but as more houses get built and parts of it take on a more neighborhood-y feel, kids won’t be such an uncommon site (I’d be lying if I said I haven’t considered moving to Town Center myself and, barring some strange unforeseen circumstance, it’s a pretty safe bet to say you’re going to be subsidizing my progeny’s education in the coming decades).

Besides, when making these projections isn’t it better to err on the side of caution? At least the projected revenue figures seem to indicate there’s some wiggle room to cover additional costs.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Odss and ends...

Patapsco beckons. My bike yearns for action. And Little Duke needs a friend.

Although I briefly flirted with the idea of going to the BRAC committee meeting tonight, it was quickly overruled by the saner part of me. I’ve already gone to three after-work meetings this week, which is about as much as I can handle.

Speaking of meetings, I wanted to write up something about the Oakland Mills revitalization plan, as well as the Howard County Tomorrow discussion on youth engagement. But, since the OM plan won’t be posted on the web until next week, I’ll hold off on that for now. I will say, however, that there is a lot of positive energy in the community and I was actually surprised at how open people were to some of the plan's more dramatic, longer term “Big Ideas.”

As for the youth meeting, we still haven’t solved the problem of disengaged young people, but I did learn a few things – particularly about a Horizon Foundation youth leadership program that I’ll discuss sometime soon. Also discussed was the lack of activities for young people – coincidentally, the topic of a post at Columbia Compass.

Since I’ve never really done one before, consider this kind of an open thread. What are your thoughts on activities for teens (and people in their 20s, for that matter)? What about the revitalization Oakland Mills (and other older village centers, for that matter)?

Or, what about Columbia and its annoying covenants? (I actually think they're pretty good.)

Or, how about the fact that the ticket fairy came through with a seat for me at this week’s Ravens game?

WOO-HOO!

(Sorry for gloating, but this is the best news I’ve gotten in a long time.)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Are you sitting down?

You might want to be before reading this:

Empty beer cans and used condoms found at a Dorsey’s Search playground in Columbia have prompted the Columbia Association to consider closing the facility at night.

The tot lot “has become a place for teens to drink and discard all sorts of paraphernalia,” stated a letter from Jeff Marcus, the chairman of Dorsey’s Search Village Board, to Chick Rhodehamel, director of open space for the Columbia Association. Rhodehamel oversees how playgrounds are used.
What!? Teenagers drinking at a tot lot!? Please tell me the police are doing something about this out of control debauchery.
The Howard County Police Department does not collect information about playgrounds if they do not have a formal address, Howard County Police Department spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said.

She would not comment on whether teens loiter at Columbia’s playgrounds
So, they're just standing around while our fine, upstanding youth waste countless nighttime hours huddled on playground equipment downing 30-packs of Beast and not bothering to take their trash with them. (Such nerve! Don't they know there are trash cans conveniently placed at each tot lot?)

Clearly, CA must do something.
If the association votes to close the tot lot after dark, signs would be posted at the facility, and police could prevent people from loitering there, said Tom O’Connor, the Dorsey’s Search representative for the Columbia Association Board of Directors.

This policy is in place in many other playgrounds in Columbia, O’Connor said.

The Village Board voted unanimously to request the association post a sign at the playground, stating it is closed after dark, said Jackie Felker, Dorsey’s Search Village Manager.
Ah, yes, a sign and possibly a police cruiser in the area as deterrents. That'll learn them.

Excuse me for being flippant about this, but having moved to Columbia in my early teen years, I thought teen gathering/boozing was the intended after-hours purpose of tot lots and, for that matter, pools.

Whoops. I think I said too much.

If I can be serious (that is, if I haven't already completely offended the fine residents of Dorsey's Search, including my in-laws, and most of the parents of county teenagers), doesn't the fact that tot lots serve as de facto hang-outs for teens speak to the tremendous dearth of other, more-acceptable activities for them? Doesn't the new Town Center seem like a logical place to address this need?

If only they could have made their frustration known in a formal, productive way, like at the charrette, instead of taking it out on the playgrounds.

Rerouting...

Big changes are in store for Howard Transit, the fleet of green buses currently representing the totality of our county’s internal public transportation system. Well, big might be overstating it. There is, after all, only so much you can do with an annual budget of $4.9 million.

We’re not changing one route; we’re changing almost every route,” said Carl Balser, transportation chief at the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning.

If a proposed overhaul meets public approval, the perennial complaints from riders about long wait times and areas that don’t have service might be abated, he said.

The changes would stagger arrival times, reroute six lines and create a new line. It’s the largest overhaul in a decade, Balser said.

The bus system has evolved, and rather than continuing to modify the lines, officials said the entire system needed to be reworked.

The problem is: riders are still going to have to wait an hour between buses at their local stops (staggering at the Mall, the central bus stop, will reduce transfer wait times there for some). Cutting this time from an hour to 30 minutes, however, would require doubling the budget, which is likely not a priority for a county where practically everyone has a car.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Merriweather in Winter?

So, I'm an idiot. I showed up for the Merriweather meeting tonight promptly at 7:30 pm -- a half hour late. For this, I blame my calendar, which had the correct meeting time but failed to alert me when that time was near. I guess that's what you get when you're still using a pen and paper to schedule your life.

Anyway, I didn't miss much and what I did miss was easy enough to pick up from the discussion (and from others in attendance who I hope will add their input here).

Generally, the consensus is that Merriweather is doing great, thanks to the stewardship of IMP Productions.

However, the panel seemed genuinely concerned about the lack of action on its recommendations from a year ago -- namely, that structural improvements and other investments were needed to keep the pavilion viable for the coming decades. The panel, it should be said, has always been very supportive of Merriweather in its current configuration and recognized early on the important role it plays in the county.

"We're a little frustrated with the lack of progress," said Rand Griffin, chair of the panel, adding. "What we intend to be is an active participant in [this] process."

Another of the panel's recommendations was that General Growth needed to commit to a long term deal with an operator for the pavilion. IMP has been working with single-year contracts since it took over the venue a couple years ago, and in a bit of theatrical timing, it received its contract for next year today. A longer contract represents both a commitment to keeping Merriweather open and an opportunity for IMP to make the investments urged by the panel, as well as a few others.

"I have to pinch myself whenever I'm there. I can't believe I'm allowed to run it," said Seth Hurwitz, co-owner of IMP. As for a long term contract, he said the longer the contract, the more money he'd be willing to invest. "I am available to sign on for the rest of my life, and then some."

GGP vice president Doug Godine also maintained his commitment to the pavilion, saying his company was "absolutely" committed to keeping it open-air.

"It should be the cynosure of Columbia," he said.

Despite this support, he stressed that his company is still working with the county to come up with a final plan for Town Center, which will also help add clarity to the Merriweather situation.

"We're not waiting for the county. We're working with the county," said Godine. "We've been spending a considerable amount of time on Merriweather Post."

Time, however, might be running short for IMP, which is looking for a venue that it can call its own, where it can operate shows year round. Although he said IMP's already found a few potential spots, if it can reach an appropriate, long-term agreement with GGP, this venue could be Merriweather.

Yes, that's right. Three years ago, the ostensible impetus for closing MPP was so that shows could take place year round. But, as Hurwitz stressed, he has completely different vision.

Although an architect has only given a preliminary assessment, Hurwitz believes that he can convert Merriweather into an open-for-the-summer and enclosed-for-the-winter venue, similar to the Tweeter Center in Camden, New Jersey. Only better (and not in Jersey).

IMP books shows at several venues in the DC area now -- the Patriot Center, for instance -- but an enclosed Merriweather would allow them to consolidate all these shows into one place.

However, Hurwitz understands the importance of keeping Merriweather's outdoor character and said that his architect has "revolutionary" ideas for accomplishing this.

"I believe we can turn Merriweather into a cultural center, not just for Columbia, but for all of DC and Baltimore."

Now, all of this sounds good (particularly the have-our-cake-and-eat-it-too idea of an convertible venue that still maintains its Merriweatherness), but without a long term commitment that's more than just words, it won't happen.

To this effect, Griffin made a great point. Since the vision of Merriweather's future is well-known and largely agreed upon, it should lead the transformation of Town Center. Rather than wait for the details of the master plan to be filled in and the zoning to be finalized, GGP can show how highly it regards the pavilion and our city by taking the necessary steps to see a successful future for both is guaranteed.

Youth: Engaged?

I hoped to write more about youth engagment prior to tommorrow's Howard County Tomorrow meeting focused on getting young people involved. But since it's Monday and I need to leave soon for the Merriweather task force meeting, a few facts and charts is the best I can do. Perhaps the discussion tomorrow will help put some of this information into perspective...

First, the lack of participation in public affairs among young people is a dependable source of handwringing for many, particularly because the statistics tend to be on their side. In this midterm election season, it's prudent to look back at voting rates from other midterms. And, thanks to my friends at the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, here's a handy chart (from this pdf)showing voting participation over the last three decades.


Clearly, the young voters are not making themselves heard as much as their older counterparts others, though at least this paltry voting rate isn't a particularly new phenomenon. I'm not sure what caused the surge in 1994 (perhaps the Contract with America or an associated liberal backlash -- this is Maryland, after all).

But midterm elections notoriously suffer from lackluster participation overall when compared to presidential ones. From this study (again, pdf), however, we see that even though Maryland young people (in this case, 18 - 24 year olds) had high turnout in 2004, 51 percent, it was still well below that of all other ages, 67 percent. And this after an epic get-out-the-young-vote effort. In 2000, meanwhile, the youth rate was only 39 percent.

Unfortunately, there is no county-specific information on youth voting, but we do have one data point that is at least representative of youth participation in county issues. During the first day of the Town Center charrette, the county collected demographic data on all 250 participants. And, in terms of ages, this is what they found:



Residents under 30 accounted for less than eight percent of total charrette participation, which is kind of sad when you consider that this age group in another decade or two will be largely in charge of the master plan implementation. What's more, helping shape the future of your city with maps and pictures and markers should be something full of engagement opportunities for young people. Unlike the passiveness of voting, this was an opportunity for active and meaningful participation.

So, why such low numbers? I don't know. Maybe younger folks were busy that Saturday. Maybe they were turned off by the amount required time commitment. Maybe they just didn't know or care about it. I'm sure we'll talk more about this tomorrow.

If I can digress for a second, one idea I've batted around for the dearth of youth engagement is that being engaged requires an understanding and familiarity with government systems that comes largely through experience. While we all learn civics in school, this provides (if we're lucky) a basic understanding, but not familiarity. I think I have more to say about this, but no time.

Finally, if only because it struck me as important (to something) while collecting information on young people, what do you think about this graph from the National Conference on Citizenship's study America's Civic Health Index (yes, pdf):

To be sure, there is more I want to say about this, but for now, what do you think about it. Basically, the chart shows decreasing community engagement and increasing political activity, a trend I've felt intuitively to be true. While you can question the various indicators and assumptions used to generate these indices (and I hope to soon), I still think these data show possible cause for concern. And I don't think it's just liberal academics wringing their hands over the loss of community and too many people bowling alone.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sunday Round Up...

Because I'm a dork (and I wanted a free t-shirt), I decided to ride my bike yesterday morning to the mall for the opening of the new Apple Store.

To my surprise, however, my dorkiness was surpassed many, many, many times over. (I mean that affectionately.)

When I got there around 10 am, the line for the store -- which would let only 140 people in at one time -- stretched outside the mall, across a footbridge and far into the parking garage. After going inside for a few minutes to see first-hand what the fuss was about (a store full of attractive computers and a free t-shirt, apparently), I went back outside, noticing the line hadn't budged, and decided ride around the lakes.

More coverage of the craziness here, here, here, here, here and video (including a couple getting engaged) here.

Now, for something less divisive than computer brands: Comp Lite. It looks like we will finally get an answer to the question that's been presumptively answered, by some at least, for months. Although I'm certainly happy that citizens will have clear resolution to this -- especially after the judgement against the referendum -- I still wonder why opponents didn't first challenge the legislation's legality in court. Did they think there was a better chance of voters overturning it than a judge? Was it a matter of finances? I'm not trying to be combative, just curious.

Either directly or indirectly, taxes and their impact on elections are the focus of a couple stories in the Sun.

And that's all...

Friday, September 22, 2006

Friday Round Up: Another Birthday...

First and foremost, a Happy Birthday wish from Maryland to Montana for my sister.

When I talked to her earlier today, we discussed the dreary weather out west (40 degrees and raining) and the fact that the onslaught of a wet September brought an end to the typical summer forest fires. One of the fires that was burning close to her house, pictured below from about a month ago, swelled to about 14,000 acres, which is roughly the size of Columbia.


Now, on to matters of local interest.

The proposed senior tax break, covered in the news here and here, is a source of considerable concern over at Columbia Compass. Well, it's not so much the tax plan itself, but rather statements like this:

Others argued that keeping longtime residents at home would help the school system and reduce the bill's cost by delaying younger families with children from buying the homes.
Which does seem to unfairly target (even vilify) a specific segment of the population, if you ask me.

Here's an interesting look at the significance of the District 13 Senate race and its broader implications for the upcoming elections.

Meanwhile, watching The Wire on television sometimes makes you forget that what happens on screen is also happening in reality. And say what you will about Dan Rodricks -- I'm not his biggest fan, but I admire how dedicated he is to the city of Baltimore -- but he offers a reasonable and sane approach to ending the city's drug problem.

Finally, a couple of meeting notices. The Merriweather Post task force will be meeting again on Monday (Sept. 25) at the county's Gateway building to hear updates on the pavilion's performance over the past year.

Also, Howard County Tomorrow will be discussing on Tuesday how we can better engage young people in local matters. The meeting will start at 6:45 pm in the Lakeside Coffee Shop and will run until about 8 pm. If you're young and reading this blog, thank you...and please come out. (What else is there to do in Columbia on a Tuesday?)

Another ignored study...

Anyone who has read this blog for a while or who knows me personally should be well aware that affordable housing is something I care about deeply.

Accordingly, I’ve been following the work of a county task force charged with addressing housing affordability in Howard County, a problem that many believe is growing. A story in today’s Sun offers a glimpse of some of the possible recommendations the committee will release in its final report, which is due by October 31.

• Permitting greater density, or the number of homes per acre. Developers have long insisted that skyrocketing land costs in the county make it economically infeasible to construct single-family homes for low- and middle-income earners.

• Authorizing taller, multifamily buildings, which also results in higher density.

• Increasing public funds, perhaps by increasing the excise tax, that could be used in unison with developers to make construction of affordable-housing economically practical.

• Revamping zoning regulations, which many developers complain are cumbersome and result in undue delays and higher costs.

• Increasing the number of housing units that can be constructed annually. The county restricts that to about 1,700 a year, but Armiger said perhaps units designed for low- and middle-income earners should be above the regulated cap.

• Making "excess" public lands available for development.
Also discussed is the idea of creating a community land trust – essentially a non-profit entity that buys land, the most expensive component in the cost of housing, and builds affordable units on its property. The buildings – not the land – are sold to qualified buyers, with contingencies to ensure the property is permanently affordable. It is one of the few solutions that offers sustainable affordability, although because of rising costs and diminishing supply of land, it may have limited success in Howard.

Going back to the list of possible solutions, it’s pretty clear that some will be controversial -- in particular, those that relax development restrictions (building heights, density) and even, to an extent, those requiring greater public funding. Over the past few years, the approach with the most widespread support is that which requires developers to set aside a percentage of newly built units for moderate-income households. Not surprisingly, this is also the approach that requires the least amount of sacrifice and acquiescence from existing residents.

The task force, however, seemingly believes (and rightly so, I think) that set asides as described above are not sufficient to fully address the affordability problem. Therefore, they hope to match their beliefs with reality and gain a little political will at the same time.
The complexity of its work is underscored by the fact that it knows neither the scope of the problem today nor what it will be in the future, and by the admission that unanimity among the sharply diverse group might be impossible.

Nonetheless, quantifying the need remains a goal, because without pinpointing the problem the hope of winning broad support for its recommendations becomes more difficult.
Local affordable housing advocates have long maintained, largely via anecdote, that the affordability problem is real and growing. And, as stated above, the truth of the situation is not well known. But how hard can it be to show the problem exists?

I spent a couple minutes today trolling the Census website and came up with a few charts that might shed some light on the situation (this is, pretty much, what I get paid for).

First, let’s look at housing costs as a percentage of income (keeping in mind that to qualify as “rent-burdened” in HUD’s terms or “house poor” in common parlance, you must pay more than 30 percent of your gross income towards housing).

For all households, we have this:


Interestingly, those paying 35 percent of more of their income towards housing increased at the same time those paying less than 20 percent did. Which is not as surprising when you look at these two charts, separating owner and renter households.


So, while the distribution remains basically the same for owners, except for the significant up tick in those paying less than 20 percent of income, the distribution for renters changed pretty dramatically – over a third of all renters now pay more than 35 percent of their income for housing, and the percentage of those paying less than 20 percent dropped by more than ten points.

In a county with considerably more owners than renters (71,577 to 25,684, respectively), it is not surprising that the trends were harder to distinguish when all households were combined into one chart.

Another factor to consider when looking at the chart for owners is that banks will not approve mortgages (for the most part) if your income doesn’t qualify, meaning it’s fairly unlikely that we would see large numbers of owners paying more than 35 percent of income towards housing.

Of course, there are plenty of other charts one could make suggesting that there is a growing affordability problem. For instance, the ratio of median house value to median income:


(The current rule of thumb is that the cost of your house should roughly equal three times your annual income.)

So, after only a couple minutes, I’ve managed to create a series of charts that show a growing disparity between incomes and housing, the definition of an affordability problem. Just imagine what a paid government employee, doing this stuff five days a week, could accomplish.

However, it occurred to me while I was doing this that all the fancy charts and expensive studies in the world probably don’t matter. While a rigorous study demonstrating conclusively that the scope of the problem is large may increase political will to an extent, it will not create the groundswell of support needed to make affordable housing a top priority, let alone to “solve” the issue.

Either people care about affordable housing or they don’t.

As someone who can’t take two steps without falling under the gaze of Jim Rouse, I obviously care about affordable housing. True believers in the Columbia Idea care about affordable housing. Mushy bleeding heart-types and socialists care about affordable housing. But we all care about it regardless of if the problem is growing or shrinking or critical or whatever.

We believe that mixed income communities function best for everyone, that people should have a right to live near where they work, that your future should not be determined the ZIP Code you were born into. And to bolster our beliefs, we point to things like the 1949 Housing Act, which guaranteed a “decent home and suitable living environment for all Americans.”

That statement is often considered by people like me as part of the Bill of Rights: every American has a right to live in a good home.

What’s not guaranteed, and indeed overlooked by local advocates, is the fact that the location of this suitable living environment is left promised. To be sure, nobody wants poor kids growing up in concentrated poverty, but that doesn’t mean they want them growing up down the street either. And that’s their choice, whether you agree or not.

No amount of studies are going to convince everyone that affordable housing is an issue we need to address. As long as we have housing and job markets that stretch across multiple counties and jurisdictions, the will to create more affordable housing in one subset of the market – Howard County – while it’s readily available in other parts will likely never materialize.

So, even if the task force’s study shows low-income families being pushed out or burdened at an alarming (to my sensibilities, anyway) rate, the response from many, perhaps even the majority, will be: So what?

I still support efforts to better understanding the housing, income and jobs imbalance in our county, even if the stated goal for such a study makes it a fool’s errand.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Adequate natural facilities...

Since I led what I thought was a good discussion Tuesday at the Howard County Tomorrow meeting on green infrastructure, I figured this would be as good a topic as any to start with. It doesn't hurt that "greening" the county is also the subject of a couple stories in the local papers.

The foundation for the idea of green infrastructure is similar to that of our "gray" or built infrastructure -- namely, that a comprehensive, interconnected and well-planned network of facilities (open spaces, in the case of green infrastructure) is the best way to ensure the entire system functions effectively and provides the highest return on our investments. Also like gray infrastructure, green infrastructure can be costly, especially in areas where land values and development pressures are high, like Howard County.

Just as we expect our roads to connect and our water and sewer systems to be built with adequate capacity to meet our needs, our system of green spaces should also connect and should also have the capacity to ensure healthy, functioning ecosystems. Or, according to The Conservation Fund:

"Green Infrastructure is the Nation's natural life support system – a strategically planned and managed network of wilderness, parks, greenways, conservation easements, and working lands with conservation value that supports native species, maintains natural ecological process, sustains air and water resources, and contributes to the health and quality of life for America's communities and people."
The Conservation Fund also provides a set of guiding principles that are worth a read.

The benefits provided by land preservation are many. In addition to fulfilling our innate desire to be near and a part of nature, open space offers opportunities for recreation, reflection and exploration. Plus, as numerous studies have shown, living near protected open space greatly increases the value of your property. But, it’s not just about us.

Strong green infrastructure systems are simply better at doing everything nature is supposed to do: filtering air and water, providing habitat for plants and animals (some of which can only live here), and enriching soils, among other functions.

As alluded to earlier, green infrastructure networks are accomplished by setting aside large(ish) areas of land where ecosystems and habitats can be protected, and connecting these areas by a series of green links. Often, these links follow stream corridors, but in order for them to accomplish the intended results, linkages must meet certain criteria, depending on the types of ecosystems and habitats they're connecting. Which is similar to gray infrastructure in that the facilities (water treatment plants, power plants, etc) and connectors (pipes, power lines) must have the sufficient capacity to perform and link to our homes the services that underlay our existence.

Where green and gray infrastructure differ substantially, however, is how they are planned for and how these plans are implemented.

Gray infrastructure -- including water and sewer systems, roads and even schools -- is the source of considerable attention and oversight. Laws are in place to ensure adequate capacity before additional development is permitted, and funding for these systems is usually from dedicated, dependable sources.

Similar to land development in general, land preservation and conservation efforts, in their most prevalant current form, are conducted in an ad hoc, haphazard and unplanned manner. Rather than looking at acquisitions and easements in a broader context, investigating how a parcel will fit within and contribute to the overall strength of the existing green network, expenditures are made based on short-term needs, often because of political or economic expediency.

Moreover, funding for green infrastructure is often subject to political and economic whims, to say nothing of the fact that compared to gray infrastructure funding, it amounts to pocket change. For an example of this, look at Maryland's GreenPrint program, which sought to implement a state-wide, green infrastructure approach to land preservation. Although it produced several great maps, including the one below, the program has been sitting fallow for the last few years. (During my eight-month tenure with the Department of Natural Resources, I worked in this department, which is staffed, basically, by a single person.)

Although much of this is relevant to Howard County, the truth is that our government, more enlightened than many others, is well-aware of the need for connected and vibrant ecosystems. Both the General Plan 2000 and the 2005 Land Preservation, Recreation and Parks Plan recognize the importance of a green infrastructure system. However, recognition does not equal action, and the action items spelled out in these plans leave much to be desired.

Making green infrastructure hard to plan for is its complexity. Rather than simply a network of undisturbed natural areas, green infrastructure is composed of areas for recreation, managed conservation, agriculture and preservation. The nature of government programs, naturally, is to divide these different areas into different silos within the bureaucracy, which results in uncoordinated efforts and inefficiencies. Case in point, the General Plan has separate chapters on Preservation of the Rural West and Working With Nature (both PDFs), and though there are clear differences between the two on one level, one another, they're quite similar.

Montgomery County recognizes this. Despite having plans and programs for agricultural preservation, parks and other open spaces, it is in the process of developing a green infrastructure plan that will integrate these, and importantly, coordinate various efforts to ensure the best possible outcomes.

Another benefit of Montgomery's plan is that it will create specific implementation goals and measures of success. Howard County's land preservation plan, on the other hand, lacks the regulatory teeth required to make green infrastructure a priority, let alone a reality. Noticeably lacking are specific benchmarks and targets that make action compulsory, not just advisable. The closest we come in Howard County are vague goals like "ensure the environmental integrity of rivers, steams and wetlands", "meet County-wide green space needs" and "remain committed to the State's Green Infrastructure concept and using selective easements and fee-simple acquisitions to further this initiative, where appropriate."

At least, as can be seen in this map, Howard County has a decent start on its green infrastructure network. Although in many cases the linkages are too narrow and the hubs are too small or nonexistent, when developing Columbia, Jim Rouse had the foresight to fill in the "negative spaces" (in artists' terms) first and place development outside of these areas, which is as it should be. Development is subject to the capacity and placement of our gray infrastructure, and green infrastructure should be given the same weight.




Unfortunately, development is already so prevalent in the eastern part of the county that filling in the negative space first is impossible. We are thus left having to go back after the fact and make room for it. This is both difficult and expensive, making the prioritization of preservation a green infrastructure approach affords that much more important. In addition to finding areas where the natural network can be expanded, we need to look for places where our existing open space can be improved to restore ecosystem strength. The county is already doing this to some extent with a series of watershed management and restoration plans.

Another way to improve our process is to better integrate all land preservation programs. As part of the General Plan, the county is working on an inventory of environmental areas. In addition inventorying preserved lands, we should rank unprotected areas of ecological value and use these rankings to better target acquisition and easements. Some areas are more valuable than others, and our open space and agricultural preservation funds should reflect this (they already do, to an extent).

Finally, green infrastructure should be tied to development in the same way its gray counterpart is: create real benchmarks, cutoffs, a monitoring system and dedicated funding sources, both public and private.

Healthy green infrastructure isn't just about appeasing environmental sensibilities; it is a recognition of the fundamental role ecosystems play in our economic and social systems and the importance of intelligent and efficient investments open space preservation.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Ugh...

So, this whole Blogging 2.0 thing is turning out to be harder than I thought. Which means the promised green infrastructure post is probably not happening tonight.

Instead, here are a couple of stories you might have missed.

The continuing saga of the Harper's Farm Road Chestnut Tree. The story starts with this anecdote:

"As recently as a 100 years ago, it has been said, a squirrel could travel from Maine to Georgia without touching the ground, by hopping from one American chestnut tree to another."

Hmm. The way I've always heard the jumping squirrel story is that, prior to the arrival of European settlers, said furry-tailed rodent could go tree-to-tree from the Atlantic to the Mississippi. Could both be true? If so, what are the implications for American folklore?

Here's the previous post on my favorite, barely-surviving tree.

The continuing saga of height limits in downtown Columbia. For 3-D representations of the Town Center of tomorrow, look here.

Howard County kids getting involved in politics. Bring 'em on. For more on civic engagement among youth, try this, a University of Maryland research center staffed by one of my favorite professors -- the one who taught me the wonders of economics and statistics.

"Sports are good...[b]ut music is also very good for the heart." So says the owner of a couple music stores in Howard County. Perhaps I've finally found a new place to buy guitar strings.

And lastly, just because, here's a link to a video of the first segment of The Daily Show from Monday night. Yes, Jon Stewart mentions Merriweather but fails to comment specifically on the, in his words from Saturday, "indiscriminate location between Washington and Baltimore."

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

People get ready...

For the first time in probably a year, I left work yesterday having no idea what I was going to write about. I'm pretty sure this was a good thing.

If you don't mind, I'm going to indulge for a few moments in some old-fashioned public introspection.

I've thought a lot over the last couple weeks -- indeed, since this blog's birthday -- about what I set out to accomplish by writing this blog and how close or far I am from those original intentions. One of the more straightforward (and overtly stated) objectives was to become a better writer. On that, I'm not sure if I've made any forward progress. But then, writing for a blog is completely different than any other type of writing. So, perhaps, I have just widened my abililties, rather than having refined them. Which is fine.

Obviously, however, I had more in mind than just personal improvment when I decided to narrowly focus on Howard County. I'd like to say my intentions were pure: instead of trying to convince others to think about things the same way I do (which is impossible, as anyone who's ever tried can attest), I wanted merely to add something -- information, perspective, value -- to a community dialogue that I thought needed more of whatever it is I hoped to add. My record on this is mixed, but that's about as good as one can expect given the type of forum blogs offer.

What I didn't want this blog to do was foster more partisanship, divisiness and bitterness. And this is where I think I failed.

The most egregious example of this failure was this post from last week, where I – for purely political reasons – attacked one candidate and defended another. While criticisms are the nature of opiniated writing, this wasn’t an example of the clear-headed logic and reasoning I espouse. It was angry, partisan bickering, prompted by a notion – perhaps misguided – that “my guy" was being slighted by some informational imbalance that would go uncorrected if not for the weight of my words.

The sad thing was, in the course of reading and writing about this stuff everyday, I was total unaware of my descent into this new level of partisanship and the emotional baggage I was bringing with me. This is not to say I wasn't aware of the divisiveness of this election season, but my cautionary post from last month seems more like a bone thrown to my subconscious, something to compensate for my personal, if not-acted-upon, misgivings.

It wasn’t until Friday that my father, who had just handed me a sermon from his (sometimes) church entitled “Finding Calm (In an Increasingly Crazy World)," clued me into how angry I was, and more importantly, how much I lacked both self-awareness and self-control.

The following night, I went to see Jon Stewart at Merriweather. And though I can give or take the jokes about our President, he actually made a lot of interesting observations about the politics of extremism and moderation. Having always considered myself moderate -- and having been called a Republican (to my delight) by a fellow blogger before he knew who I was -- hearing Stewart's comments (as well as those of my wife and father on a more personal level) rattled me.

So, what's the point of this lengthy, indulgent and overly-personal post? It's both an admission of fault and a promise of change, even though I'm not sure exactly what type of changes are in store. I fault myself for not following the largely unspoken principles I laid out for this blog; for drifting away from a forum based on ideas and hope to one of pettiness, feuding and competition; and for, basically, being asleep at the keyboard.

As for the changes, there are only a few I can say for sure. The first is that there will be noticeable shift away from day-to-day politics. The issues I'm concerned with don't hinge on the latest news story or the most recent post on someone else's blog. I've already spent too much time focused on minutiae, parsing words and soundbites in hopes of mining a nugget of partisan gold. However, I still plan on covering the general election in the same way I covered the primary, because, well, that was fun. And, ultimately, I do this for fun.

The second likely change is that I'll write longer posts, but less often, that focus on wider issues than just what's in the newspapers. I chose being a professional researcher over a reporter for a reason, after all.

Paradoxically, another thing I hope to do more of is covering events and issues that aren't being covered in the papers. Some of the most fun I had on this blog was writing about and photographing the HFStival, and I hope to do more of that -- for instance, the upcoming meeting on the future of Merriweather (next Monday) and the Oakland Mills Town Hall (next Tuesday). I'd rather serve as a resource for my community than as a resource for my party.

Now, none of this is to say I'm done reading the papers or other blogs. I'm sure there will still be Round Ups and, where appropriate, snarky comments about the news and politics. But it does mean that I'm going to resist the urge to comment on everything I read.

Also, this isn't meant to imply that I'm above politics or partisanship at all. I still want certain people to win -- though I honestly believe that the strength of our community vastly outweighs the power of any and all elected officials -- and I'll probably still work to help them win, but it's not my job to use this space -- my own dark corner of the internet -- to support them. I've invested a lot of time and energy into writing about what I believe in on this blog, and I'm not about to relinquish control of it, even if only to my baser instincts.

All that said, I am interested to hear what you have to say (so much so, in fact, that I've lifted the draconian, register-to-comment requirement). Was there value in the increasingly partisan posts I was writing over the last few months? Do you seek the type of juicy, political posts that are a hallmark of most blogs? Do you think I am just ducking the heat of elections? Am I too far gone to have any anti-political credibility? Are you interested in longer, more issue-based posts? Would you even read them?

Basically, what are you looking for from your local blogs?

Look for a post tomorrow on Green Infrastructure, the topic of the discussion I led tonight at the Howard County Tomorrow meeting. By the way, next week we'll be discussing getting "young people" involved in local issues, with "young people" being (arbitrarily) anyone under 40 -- or anyone who says they're under 40.

By the way, Little Miss Sunshine was fantastic.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Oh, well...

So, the post I wanted to write was taking too long, and I promised Abbzug we'd go see Little Miss Sunshine tonight (after the Redskins loss yesterday, she could use a non-football-related distraction). It's actually kind of fitting that I didn't finish the post, but you won't know why until at least tomorrow.

Anyway, I also wanted to point out that Bill Santos at Columbia Compass has a couple great posts about building heights and interfaith centers that are well worth reading.

And if you're looking for something to do tomorrow (Tuesday, September 19) between 6:45 pm and 8:00 pm, I'll be leading a discussion on Green Infrastructure at the weekly meeting of Howard County Tomorrow, a group that I kind of helped start with Jud Malone and others. The meeting, as always, will be at the Lakeside Coffee Shop in the American City Building (where I spend most of my waking hours) and everyone is welcome -- but you have to buy your own coffee.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Friday Round Up...

Let's start this Round Up with a song lyric:

We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age's most uncertain hours
and sing an American tune
Oh, and it's alright, it's alright, it's alright
You can't be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow's going to be another working day
And I'm trying to get some rest
That's all I'm trying to get some rest

--Paul Simon, "American Tune"

The need for rest is so important, it must be stated twice.

Anyway, I've got no real substance for you today. Just some links to interesting or newsworthy items to keep you occupied until I've caught up on sleep.

Larry Carson at The Sun digs into the dirt of the County Executive race. Lots of quotes, but nothing really new or surprising to report.

Speaking of said race, here's the Flier's story about it, including a picture of Ulman and his daughter that (I don't care where you're from or who you support) is freaking cute.

A Flier editorial bemoans the "pitiful turnout" for the primary election, only 23.7 percent in Howard County. I, too, bemoan.

Meanwhile, Flier columnist Doug Miller talks about age this week -- specifically the ages of our County Executive candidates. He leads with this: "I first began to feel my age when I started noticing that all the ballplayers were younger than me." Which is exactly when I started to feel old.

From the Sun's Community Notes section: Tomorrow is the final Lake Elkorn Festival, and a draft pedestrian master plan for the county has been developed and will be discussed at a meeting on September 26. The plan is available for download here.

Finally, the Flier has a piece on Niki Barr, a singer-songwriter who my old band, Pinfold, used to play with back when she was still a teenager. At the time, we both shared the same shyster management company, which, as you can see, worked out a little better for her than it did for us -- probably because we wouldn't wear shiny shirts at gigs like they told us to.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Growing debates...

On this blog there are few things I enjoy less than defending politicians who are certainly capable of defending themselves. That said, before we strain our collective neck by nodding in agreement, let’s get a little perspective on the Ulman vs. Merdon showdown.

In the papers today, Chris Merdon leaves no doubt about his plans for the next two months: go after Ulman on the issue of growth. Here’s what he said to the Examiner about the results of the primary and Harry Dunbar’s 5,000 or so votes:

“I think a lot of those votes were protest votes against Ken Ulman’s record on development,” said county executive candidate and Council Member Christopher Merdon, R-District 1, who accused Ulman of pushing a public forum for the redevelopment of Columbia’s Town Center into an urban area, before traffic and school impact studies were prepared.
Meanwhile, in the Post, we get this:
Yesterday, Merdon called Ulman “pro-development” and noted Ulman’s vote for a controversial rezoning bill last year. He also criticized the planning process for redeveloping downtown Columbia, a project championed by Ulman.
Leaving aside the simplistic, “you’re either with us or against us” generalization of “pro-development,” which one could just as easily (and inappropriately) ascribe to Merdon’s record on growth prior to his decision to run for county executive, he attacks Ulman with the old stand-bys of Comp Lite and the charrette. But how much moral authority does Merdon have to criticize based on these issues?

I know I’m delving into a world of rage with this one, but with Comp Lite, Merdon’s vote against it was a great bit of political theater and maneuvering. With respect to actual development in this county, however, it will have almost no impact whatsoever.

These rezonings would (will) happen with or without being tied together in a comprehensive bill – in fact, some have already been granted (with Merdon’s support, no less). Of course, spot rezonings don’t usually draw county-wide attention or the participation that Comp Lite did, making it easy to vote for them and, by extension, more development while covering yourself politically with a meaningless vote on the bigger, controversial package.

As for the Town Center issue, I still think we’re lucky to be having the problems we face. Prior to the charrette, there was hardly any detailed, citizen-oriented long term planning for downtown. Development was up to the whims of the developers (for the most part) and stuff like pedestrian connections, public transportation, infrastructure, public spaces, and cultural facilities were planned on a fractured, ad hoc basis. The charrette and master plan process changed this, and part of why it has taken so long is because creating a truly comprehensive vision for Town Center is a massive undertaking.

Merdon now thinks the process was broken, which is strange because we heard no such complaints from him before the charrette – or at the charrette, which he was more than happy to participate in. It wasn’t until the political winds shifted that he decided to jump on board with criticism for the process, criticism that should largely be directed at those who designed and implemented the process, the Planning department, rather than those who, like Merdon and Ulman, simply approved the funding for it.

Apparently, one of Merdon’s complaints, according to the Examiner, is that the charrette occurred before “traffic and school impact studies were prepared.” But this is exactly how it was supposed to happen. When we create a community plan, do we generally let the details dictate the vision or the vision dictate the details? Of course it’s the latter. If we want to achieve something worthy of our community, we must first craft a vision that suits us and then work through the messy details and compromises need to make it work.

This is exactly how the charrette was supposed to occur. But more importantly, this was the process used to create Columbia itself.

I wonder, too, how Merdon would have addressed the Town Center issue, since all I've heard so far is criticisms and not suggestions from him.

Development debates in this county extend well beyond Comp Lite and Town Center, but these are the only ones worth discussing by some because they can be used for partisan gain. And Merdon, I would wager, has been on the side of development interests probably as often as Ulman, yet now he’s trying to claim the mantle “slow growth” from Harry Dunbar? One wonders how he feels about this development (which is strongly supported by his boy for Governor) or the prospects of large-scale development at Doughoregan or extending the water and sewer boundary.

Now that Harry Dunbar is out, nobody in the county executive race really has any authority to cast stones about development. And the more times we here things like “pro-development” and “slow growth,” the further from reality the debate will drift. These are not simple matters of black and white. However, by trying to paint them as such, politicians may gain something in the short term, but in the long term, the community loses.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

And so it begins, Part II...

Now, I suppose, the real campaigning begins...

In case you had trouble making sense of the numerous results posts from last night, our trusty paid scribes detail the outcomes in various county races here, here and here. Also, the county Board of Elections has finally posted the results on its website.

Having stayed up way too late last night, I'm too tired to try and write anything coherent about the election now. But feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section.

I'll be back tomorrow with thoughts on all the other stuff that's going on in our county.

Woo-hoo!

The Greatest Show Ever, The Wire, has been picked up for a fifth season. The creators of the series have always said that the entire story would be told in five seasons, even though HBO was at times reluctant to renew the program because of lackluster ratings. The final season will detail the role of the media in Baltimore.

The fourth season, which premiered last Sunday, is examining the city's school situation and is based on the experiences of one of the creators -- Ed Burns -- who taught in public schools after retiring from the police department.

I really can't recommend this show enough. Seasons 1 - 3 are available on DVD. New episodes air Sundays at 10 pm and on HBO OnDemand for the week beforehand (for instance, episode 2 is now available to watch at your convenience even though it won't officially air until Sunday).

Wow...

Was that a poorly-run election or what?

Let's tour the mess. First, Montgomery County:

Police officers were dispatched to polling stations where election officials hadn't been able to reach precinct judges by telephone in order to instruct them to stay open an extra hour, according to Board of Elections lawyer Kevin Karpinski. He said that, in some cases, precinct judges were being asked to give voters a sample ballot and let them vote by filling out a sheet of paper indicating their choices.

At the county Board of Elections headquarters in Rockville, Alan Banov, a member of the county's Democratic Central Committee, barked orders into his cell phone as he spoke to colleagues in the field. Precinct "1332 is closing!" he yelled shortly after 8 p.m., after getting a report from a candidate who was at a polling place in Silver Spring. "There are people who are going to get disenfranchised -- that's all there is to it."
And now, how about Baltimore City?
In Baltimore, voters turning out early found locked doors and absent workers at polling places from Highlandtown to Mount Washington. Those workers who did report for duty on time struggled with a balky new electronic voter list, which at times erroneously declared a voter had already cast a ballot.
Though clearly not as egregious as the prior two, Prince George's appeared to have it's own problems as well.
State Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lierman said he had heard of problems primarily in Montgomery County and Baltimore, but also of some in Prince George's County, where some election judges didn't know the passwords to turn on voting machines in the morning. The Prince George's board of elections did not return repeated phone calls for comment.
And, of course, Howard County -- the land-locked little giant that's always trying to play with the big boys -- was not without it's own mishaps. As far as I can tell, voting itself went off without a hitch. But getting the results out was, um, not good.

The elections board set up this website, which I dutifully refreshed every few seconds, claiming that "Election results will be posted on election night 2006." Something that was totally untrue.

My local elections board let me -- and by extension, my readers -- down.

But at least we weren't handed a sheet of notebook paper and told: "Don't worry; your vote will be counted."

UPDATE: Both Evan and David Wissing call out the Board of Elections for poorly handling the results. I have a feeling we'll here from David Keelan about this, too. Really, it was not good.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Some results final, others pending...

Well, Mary Kay Sigaty defeated Joshua Feldmark in the District 4 primary. I don't have the final percentages, but from what I hear it was pretty close, though not as close as the battle between her and Ulman in 2002. Although I was pulling for Feldmark in this race (Disclosure: He's a friend of mine and he likes The Wire), Sigaty is certainly dedicated to this community and is qualified to serve. Here's to hoping the rifts from this race can be mended for the good of the county.

As for County Executive, I think it's safe to say Ulman won with around 80 percent of the vote. I'm still not sure if this is good or bad, however.

In District 2, Calvin Ball looks like he'll win with about 65 percent of the vote. He should take the seat comfortably, and will be the only incumbent on the council.

Elijah Cummings just dropped in to say hello. As for me, I'm about to say goodnight. If I see something interesting when I get home, however, I'll probably post about it.

Thanks for reading!

More updates...

With almost a quarter of the precincts reporting, the District 13 Delegate race is shaping up (kinda). It's tough to say what's what without knowing which precincts have reported, but for now, here's what we got:

Pendergrass: 28 percent
Guzzone: 25 percent
Turner: 25 percent
Quinter: 15 percent
Basu: 6 percent

As for the county council races...

District 2, with 8 of 21 reporting:

Ball: 64 percent
Sachs: 36 percent

District 4, with 6 of 21 precincts in:

Sigaty: 55 percent
Feldmark: 44 percent
UNcommon: 1 percent

As for County Executive, we have 34 of 103 precincts in and the results are:

Ulman: 77 percent
Dunbar: 23 percent

We're hoping to get more detailed information soon...

More returns...

I hastily wrote down some numbers from the races. I don't have the total number of precincts or votes for each (suffice to say, the numbers are small at this point). Here's what I got in terms of percentages...

County Executive:
Ulman: 79 percent
Dunbar: 21 percent

Delegate District 13:
Pendergrass
Guzzone
Turner
Basu
(No percentages, sorry)

Council District 2:
Ball: 74 percent
Sachs: 26 percent

Council District 4:
Sigaty: 59 percent
Feldmark: 40 percent
UNcommon: 1 percent

In District 4, River Hill -- which gave Ulman a tremendous boost four years ago -- has yet to report, but neither has Swansfield, likely a Sigaty stronghold.

More soon...

Just a reminder...

Sometimes Blogger acts funny. Keep refreshing to see the most current post.

Election night song lyric...

Down the tracks
Beautiful McMansions on a hill
That overlook the highway
Riverboat casinos and you still
Have yet to see a soul

--Ben Folds, "Jesusland"

I'm glad I brought the iPod.

More photos and an update..

Democratic party chair Tony McGuffin just announced that the delay in results is related to the extended polling hours in MontCo and Baltimore and that results should be coming in shortly....

More election results. These from Harmony Hall:

Ulman: 209
Dunbar: 59

Sigaty: 144
Feldmark: 118

More pictures...



Hey, we got something...

Results from three machines at Longfellow Elementary...

County Executive
Ken Ulman: 110
Harry Dunbar: 43

Council District 4
Mary Kay Sigaty: 85
Joshua Feldmark: 71

"Keep Blogging!" yells Ken Ulman's campaign manager...

Fuzzy reports coming in...

So, everyone here is asking everyone else: Who's got the numbers?

Apparently, the Board of Elections said the results would only be available on their website, which has yet to be updated. But some of the people sitting next to me appear to have some results that they're sifting through and entering into a computer. So, maybe in a few more minutes we'll have something. Stay tuned...

UPDATE: The results we have are from one precinct -- Hammond High -- and technically they weren't supposed to be handed out. Ah, the fog of election night...

It's 9 pm...

Do you know where your election results are?

I don't.

What's going on here...

Here are a few quick photos I snapped from the last few minutes...

Here's Hayduke Blogging Central. And yes, I keep my own blog up on the computer at all times -- I'm into myself like that.


Here's my blogging partner in crime, Evan Coren.


And, the first candidate to make an entrance, Calvin Ball, with his whole family -- including the two young ones...


An overview of the hall...


Sandwiches with minature American flags...


More soon...

And so it begins...

Polls just closed in most Maryland counties -- because of problems at polling stations, Montgomery and Baltimore City are staying open until 9 pm -- and results should start coming in over the next hour. Things won't really start picking up until after 9 pm here at Kahler Hall, the Democrats' election night headquarters. I'll probably fill time between now and then with random posts and pictures (as soon as Abbzug gets here with the camera cable that I left at home -- D'oh!).

I'll be mainly focused on the primaries for County Executive and the District 2 Council race, though I'm sure I'll comment on the other races, including statewide, and the atmosphere here in the room, as well.

Meanwhile, Evan, who's sitting next to me here at Bloggers' Row, is going to offer extensive, precinct-by-precinct coverage of the District 13 Delegate and District 4 Council races (he's got maps and tables and all kinds of good stuff that I'm too lazy and impatient to deal with).

As for the Republicans, the Davids -- Keelan and Wissing -- will be posting primarily at Keelan's site on county races, while Wissing promises coverage of races from around the state and country.

Since things might happen kind of fast around here, I'm not making any promises on the quality of writing. The quality of the grammar, I can assure you, will be horrible.

Also, the metal table we're working on is freezing. Oh well, it'll keep my Gatorade warm, I suppose.

Finally, I took the "How old are you" poll down; the pop-ups it creates are annoying.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Primary Eve...

Polls for tomorrow’s primary open in a little more than 12 hours from now. Do you know where your polling place is? If not, go here.

I take it by now most of you have already decided who you’re going to vote for (or if you’re going to vote at all). So, there’s no sense belaboring the races any longer. What’s done is done and we’ll find out tomorrow night (live on the Blogs!) whose campaigns will continue until November and who finally gets a decent night’s rest.

Since tomorrow’s going to be blog-crazy and I don’t want to run out of words half-way through the evening, I think it’s best that I leave you with just a few links to stories not-even-tangentially-related to the election.

Good to know the law of unintended consequences is still working.

If you don’t like it, bring your own lunch to school. I hate to sound like an a crotchety old fart, but I never bought lunch when I was in school. In fact, my mom stopped making them for me sometime in elementary school and ever since that time I’ve always managed to keep myself properly fed at school or (now) work. Granted, I subsist on a diet of nuts, berries and energy bars…

Finally, here's a story about the rise in popularity of age-restricted housing in Howard County, which I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on. This story was just sent to me by my father, who, according to the current poll results, is the oldest reader of this blog and someone who might be interested in such housing -- assuming, of course, that it's on a golf course.

See you tomorrow!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

I'm going to be completely honest...

I have from now (10:48 am) until 1 pm to fix my lawn mower and then use it to cut the grass that has finally started growing again. This process will surely involve a trip to Home Depot, lots of swearing, and possibly a bloody knuckle or two, as I focus more on getting it done quickly than getting it done right. But it will all be worth it at 1 pm, when I will drop whatever it is I'm doing and spend the next seven hours parked in front the glowing box of happiness watching football. After that, I'll be at the Ben Harper concert at Merriweather. So, blogging's taking a back seat today.

There are a couple things worth pointing out. The first is that the mystery of who's responsible for the horribly innaccurate sample ballots printed in the Flier/Times has been solved. Hint: it's not who we thought it was.

The second is a page of letters on building heights in Columbia. Though I'm partial to the first, almost all are well-written and full of reasonable, rational arguements.

Go Ravens!

Friday, September 08, 2006

HoCo Blog Round Up...

There isn't much news in the news today...

Oh, there is this: a story about the fact that CA (really, the Owen Brown Village Board) is now hiring a mediator to help decide whether or not a fence should be erected around the Lake Elkhorn tot lot. Really? I'm beginning to think this all a long, drawn-out piece of performance art, staged for the enjoyment of all lienpayers. Either that, or CA has become a parody of itself. I don't care how you feel about the fence, CA could have saved itself a lot of time, anguish, humiliation and money by just building the fence.

But that's about it for news. So, let's see what's happening on the other blogs...

Bill Santos has a great piece weighing the pros and cons of various solutions to the soon-to-be-vacant supermarket space in Wilde Lake.

David Keelan thumbed through the HoCo Times from front to back, detailing the various campaign adds he spotted along the way.

David Wissing, meanwhile, finds a disturbing number of errors in the sample ballot printed in Patuxent's papers yesterday (apparently, the gaffes are the fault of the Board of Elections, however).

Evan Coren likes some Board of Ed candidates and really doesn't like others.

As for me, well, there\'s clearly not much going on here. Did you see the new poll?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Elections, celebrations and introductions...

With the primary elections only five days away, the Patuxent rags are charging head-first into the voters' knowledge vacuum with all you could ever want to know about the candidates and primary races, including a mention of the local blogs in this piece. Although the papers' endorsements came out last week, readers are given the chance to lobby for votes today in one of the longest "Letters" pages I've ever seen.

Aside from that, there isn't much of note in the Flier/Times, which is good because it's Thursday, Band Practice Day, and I have to take care of a few things (setting my fantasy football lineups) before trekking down to Annapolis. This admission is, naturally, just a pathetic excuse for today's pathetic output.

Before I go, however, I want to point out two things. First, it's the one-year anniversary/birthday of this blog. From this humble beginning, the blog has grown into...well, whatever it is now.

Second, after a limited release garnered favorable responses from people who are admittedly predisposed to giving me favorable responses (read Family), I'm sharing with a wider audience the location of my other blog, One Daily Shot. After I got a nice camera for my birthday, I decided I should learn to take better pictures. Using the same logic that prompted the creation of this blog -- improvement through constant practice -- I decided to take more pictures and force myself to post one a day. So, now when I take the mutt on walks, I bring the camera and look for a shot worthy of the Hayduke name. As you can see, the results have been mixed.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

New Poll!

Check out the new poll on the right. Rather than focus on political stuff in these polls, I'd rather learn more about who lurks in this dark corner of the internet. So, be honest (or at least as honest as anyone is about their age).

Wednesday Round Up...

Oh, my. There is a ton of stuff to write about today. So much, in fact, that the only way to squeeze it all in is with a Round Up.

Here, in no particular order, is what has transpired in the last few days in the Fourth Greatest – But Third Richest! – Community in America…or, FGBTRCiA for short.

First things first. There’s a new guy in Blogumbia (get it, a combination “blog” and “Columbia”). Bill Santos, lifelong Columbian, former member of the Wilde Lake Village Board, and all around good guy, has carved out his own little slice of blogging heaven over at Columbia Compass, which has by far the best tag line of all the local blogs: “Navigating through the social, political, and cultural world of Columbia, Maryland.” Welcome, Bill!

Second things second. I saw her waving at cars this morning, now you can see her on YouTube. Nina Basu – the plucky, upstart, outsider, darkhorse, (insert other clich├ęd adjective for non-incumbent) candidate in the five-way race for three spots on the Democratic ticket in District 13 – just released a commercial to help spread the word about her campaign. What she lacks in fundraising, she makes up for in energy – the video was produced, apparently, using only volunteers. This is probably as close as I’ll come to an endorsement in this race: Before you decide who to vote for in this race, at least check out her website.

Speaking of District 13, the Sun released endorsements for this race yesterday. Like the Flier’s endorsements, the Sun opted to keep all three incumbents. The editors offer very little reasoning for their decision, saying there is an “excess of good candidates” and that Guy Guzzone “gives the impression that he views the House of Delegates as a step back from the rigors of running a local government.” The second part is a reference to the fact that he decided -- at least in part because of his father’s declining health -- to run for the House rather rather than County Executive. And the Sun's comment is completely true -- but neither in a good or bad sense, which makes the paper’s use of it seem silly.

Delegates are in session three months out of the year, and the rest of the time, well, they pretty much do whatever it is politicians do on a nine-month break: some fundraising, a few constituent meetings, working a real job, golf, etc. The County Executive works year round – day-in, day-out – on county stuff, a schedule that is considerably more taxing. But does the question of whether a candidate is qualified to serve rest solely on his/her desire to put in full-time hours? Isn’t the General Assembly made up of citizen-legislators, who by their very nature aren’t supposed to be full-time?

Also in the above-linked story are the Sun’s endorsements for District 9 – Gail Bates and plucky, upstart, outsider, darkhorse Melissa Ridgely Covolesky.

Remember Doughoregan? Well, it sounds like they’re approaching a solution for preserving most of the estate(s), though much is still up in the air, and development -- significant amounts of it even – is still on the table.

Another day, another trailer park announces it’s closing. Residents of this park have known for sometime that they would be forced out eventually, but the letters making it official just arrived. Here’s wishing them luck in their quests to relocate.

For now, I also think it makes sense to have the transportation department reside in the broader Department of Planning and Zoning. This, I hope, helps integrate the planning for system improvements with the county’s overall planning activities. Eventually, however, as the transit system grows, there will come a time when the two should be separated.

I suppose I could find something wrong with this idea for purely political reasons, but on the whole Chris Merdon’s plan to strengthen middle school athletics is pretty good. Of course, limiting it to one sport is going to make deciding which sport a bit tricky. And doing something for athletics without commensurate support for the arts or other non-athletic, extracurricular activities isn’t really fair. Moreover, when I went to middle school (actually, junior high) we had intramural leagues within our school that worked just fine and didn’t require busing, like Merdon’s plan would. But, on the whole, I’m generally in favor of it.

As for the synthetic turf fields at high school, I will only support this if they allow the “community” to use the fields when not in use by the school – i.e. for my annual Turkey Bowl on Thanksgiving. There’s one of these fancy fields up at Rockburn Park, but you can’t get on it without super special permission from some park overlord, which is malarkey. If there’s an empty field – especially a fake turf one – let people play on it!

Finally, I serve on an obscure Columbia Association committee and I have never gotten free booze at one of our meetings. I am outraged! In the big picture, this story doesn't seem very significant, but that doesn’t stop CA’s most vocal critic from making a completely invalid comparison: “But Alex Hekimian, president and co-founder of Alliance for a Better Columbia, a watchdog group, said he told the oversight committee, ‘If you give away free booze, why not give out free cigarettes because I'm sure people would like to have a cigarette, too.’”

I think I need a drink.