Published on: Tuesday, December 18, 2018 City Council & Mayor Blog

Year-end Message from Mayor Kate Stewart

Kate Stewart, Mayor
Kate Stewart, Mayor

“The future is now. Roll up your sleeves and let your passion flow. The Country [City] we carry in our hearts is waiting.” — Bruce Springsteen

It is an exciting time in our City. We face both opportunities and challenges. The arrival of the Purple Line, increased growth in population in the region, the need to continue to provide affordable, good quality housing, the urgency to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and pushing back on the policies and actions of the current federal Administration are just some of the issues that we have been working on and will continue to do so in 2019.

Our future is now and we certainly have the passion in this City to do the work needed to face head-on the challenges and opportunities before us.

As we look toward 2019, I want to reflect on the accomplishments of the past year and the work to come. In January 2018, the Council met to establish our priorities for the next few years. The Council priorities are used as a tool to guide policy and budget decisions. Think of the priorities as our roadmap. We will meet again this January to review the priorities and make adjustments as needed for the year ahead.

Before we move on to 2019, let’s review what happened in 2018. It’s impressive!

Livable Community for All

A major priority for the Council has been to ensure a livable community for all residents. In 2018, we continued this work to ensure a range of safe, quality, and stable housing options are available for residents of varying incomes, including:

We continue to defend our status as a Sanctuary City and work toward making sure we are a welcoming and inclusive community. To that end, the first act we took as a Council in 2018 was to pass a Resolution to call on Congress to continue Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for currently covered residents and establish a pathway to permanent residency for TPS and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.

Throughout the year, we have moved forward on a number of other efforts to make sure we are welcoming community, such as newsletter articles in multiple languages and links to the City website with additional translations.

Part of being a livable community for all is continuing and deepening our work on racial equity.

  • Most of the Councilmembers and City department heads have now completed racial equity training through the Government Alliance for Racial Equity, and Councilmember Kostiuk and I completed the National League of Cities Racial Equity 201 training and I completed the 301 training this fall.
  • We continue to work with the Government Alliance for Racial Equity and this year I was appointed to serve as the Vice-Chair of the Racial Equity And Leadership (REAL) Council for the National League of Cities which enables us to learn from what other cities around the country are doing to implement a racial equity framework.
  • This summer we took a close look at how we are approaching this work and made changes to our approach based on lessons learned and community input, which is outlined here.
  • We are also continuing to provide workshops on racial equity in the City. In particular, a group of 17 residents, including members of the City’s resident committees, are taking part in the “What’s My Bias?” trainings. Last year I attended these training’s and this year’s cohort includes Councilmember Kostiuk.
  • Prior to the distribution of the Resident Survey (which is currently being completed by randomly selected residents), we conducted focus groups with residents who are immigrants from African and Latin American countries. The reason for focusing on these groups in particular is that response rates to previous surveys from African and Latin American immigrants in the City have been low. Focus groups were seen as way to gather important feedback from these residents that could both help inform the content of the survey and also information about their perspectives and needs to City officials.
  • And, starting in 2019 with our priorities retreat, thanks to Councilmember Smith, we will be working with consultants on racial equity to facilitate the retreat and help inform our discussion.

Related to the racial equity work, is the Social Justice Film series co-sponsored by Washington Adventist University’s Center for Law and Public and local community activists including members of the City Council. New films and discussions will be announced in January.

We also continued to identify programming needs emphasizing youth, families, seniors, and our more vulnerable residents. The City:

  • Continued to develop the new youth success division of the Recreation Department, including bringing a new Youth Success
  • Coordinator on board and developing new programming geared toward youth success.
  • We continue to provide scholarships to Takoma Park residents who are students attending Montgomery College, an effort started by Councilmember Smith.
  • The Youth Council finished its first year and throughout the year advocated for issues of importance to young people. We look forward to their second year.

We closed this year with work on cell towers and will begin 2019 taking up this issue again to ensure we are protecting the community and its residents as telecommunications companies look to install this equipment in the City.

Community Development for an Improved and Equitable Quality of Life

A great deal of the Council’s work this year focused on planning and preparing for development in the City.

  • Purple Line construction has begun and Councilmember Searcy has taken the lead in advocating on behalf of the businesses and residents in the area. And, thank you to Councilmember Searcy for all her work to assist the Crossroads Development Authority to hire their new Executive Director and review their bylaws this year.
  • Ethan Allen Gateway Project completed! This project, which was years in the making, provides increased pedestrian safety at the intersection of Ethan Allen and New Hampshire Avenue. Councilmember Dyballa and I are thankful to the residents who met with us numerous times to ensure the project was a success.
  • Takoma Junction Project, after many meetings, open houses, and other forms of public engagement (including an evening where we experimented with one-on-one conversations with Councilmembers), moved to the next step in the process. The site plan is beginning the County planning review process, and we will keep updating the City website with more information as it becomes available.
  • MDOT-SHA Takoma Junction Vision Study started. We successfully advocated with the Maryland State Highway Administrator to undertake a project to study and put forward a vision for the intersection at Takoma Junction to address safety and traffic issues.
  • The next step in the New Hampshire Avenue Recreation Center project took place by initiating a land swap with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. I want to thank the residents who have been advocating for this project.
  • Advocated on public school facilities. In 2018, the City Council and staff focused more than past years on advocacy regarding public school facilities, especially Piney Branch Elementary School. In 2019, we will continue to push for better school facilities in our community.
  • Continued efforts to work with Washington Adventist Hospital regarding the future of its campus once the hospital moves, and continued advocacy at the County and State level for greater attention to the health needs of the community.
  • Montgomery College’s new Isiah and Catherine Leggett Math-Science Building moves forward after a series of charrettes with local residents that Councilmember Kovar and myself attended this year.

More detailed information about these and other major projects in the City can be found here.

Environmentally Sustainable Community

On the environment and sustainability, we have redoubled our efforts to fight climate change.

  • Our biggest step forward to date – and a monumental move for the City! – is the switch of all our streetlights to LEDs. This will reduce the City’s annual electricity use from 850,000kWh to 340,000kWh and reduce annual expenditures by approximately $100,000. We continue to be a leader in programs and policies for energy and environmental sustainability!
  • Purchase of Dorothy’s Woods was finalized this year. With the assistance of residents, the City was able to clear the debt and liens on the property and now owns the 2.68-acre parcel of mostly wooded area – one of the largest undeveloped properties in Takoma Park that was privately owned. Thank you to Councilmember Dyballa for all her work on this effort and to all the residents who helped us secure the resources needed.
  • Under the guidance of Councilmembers Dyballa, Kostiuk and Kovar, we have begun the process of reviewing and updating the tree ordinance and preserving and growing our tree canopy. Be on the lookout for an article in the January Newsletter highlighting the work to come in 2019.

In the upcoming year, the City will be looking to do more not only to mitigate but to put in programs and policies to adapt to the impact of climate change we are already witnessing in our community.

Engaged, Responsive & Service-Oriented Government

We started 2018 welcoming a new Police Chief to Takoma Park.

  • Chief DeVaul in his first year is instituting structural changes in our police department and placing a greater emphasis on community policing. I want to thank Councilmember Seamens for all his work over the years on ensuring we have a police department that reflects the values of our community.
  • A great opportunity to get to know the what, how and why of policing in Takoma Park is to take part in the Community Police Academy. Last year Councilmember Kostiuk and I took part in the Academy and it is a great way to get to know and learn more about policing in the City.

The Council and City staff are always looking for ways to increase our engagement with the community and make sure we are a responsive and service-oriented government.

  • In addition to the weekly Council meetings, we held a number of open houses and interactive, web-based informational sessions for residents to come and ask questions about the budget, the affordable housing and economic development strategic plan, Takoma Junction, and many other issues. Staff put together a pop-up in Takoma Junction so people could get a better sense of the dimensions of the proposed project. And, we took a streetlight tour with Pepco to examine the LED lights.
  • In addition, we continued the Friday morning coffees in different parts of the city and the Friday lunches in the Crossroads area that allow the public to drop in and chat with Councilmembers and key staff. Individual Councilmembers also held meetings, play dates, walks and other great gatherings to get to know, listen and engage with residents.
  • As noted above, we completed a series of focus groups this fall to gather feedback from members of our immigrant community on City services and are in the process of conducting our periodic Resident Survey.

A challenge this year has been the amount of utility work in the city. Councilmembers Kovar, Kostiuk, Searcy, and I, along with the City staff, have tried to find ways to lessen the impact on residents and hold the utilities and their subcontractors accountable. It has been a difficult year in this area and we appreciate your patience and continue to look for ways to address these challenging situations. I am pleased that Councilmember Kovar will be the City’s representative on a newly reconstituted Pepco Community Advisory Group and his advocacy will be helpful.

Fiscally Sustainable Government

In 2018, the Council undertook a number of actions to ensure we are fiscally sustainable, as well as responsible. Among other things, we:

  • Adopted a financial policy to establish the appropriate level of designated reserves.
  • Began looking at a sustainable investment and banking policy and practices and the steps we need to take to put in place a policy. Thank you to the work of the Nuclear Free Committee on this issue.
  • Took action to do away with the inventory tax on businesses in the community.
  • We began the process of revising the procurement policy for the City and will return to this in 2019.
  • Continued efforts to advocate on increased funding from County and state to address tax duplication. I am hopeful that with the new County Council and County Executive, 2019 just might be the year we resolve this issue!
Advocating for the City and Residents

Throughout the year, we find ourselves outside the City in Rockville or Annapolis or Washington, D.C., advocating on behalf of residents. Members of the Council serve on a number of regional and national boards and councils to learn from other jurisdictions and to advocate for the City.

  • This year we saw successes in our work to lobby in Annapolis. Councilmember Smith in his roles with the Maryland Municipal League as the District Vice President, Board Member and Chair of the Conference Planning continues to keep us up-to-date with legislative issues in Annapolis and represent the City. The biggest win this year is the reinstatement of highway user revenue fees to municipalities.
  • An area many of us worked on this past year is fighting preemption. We have advocated at the state and national level to ensure that our local authority is not usurped, and have defended our ability to pass laws to benefit members of our community. We filed an Amicus Brief in the Appeal of the Circuit Court Ruling on the Montgomery County Healthy Lawns Act, and we have joined lawsuits against the FCC on the cell tower installations.
  • On the preemption front, we saw some success in this area. We helped to defeat a preemption amendment in the national Farm Bill, securing our local laws that protect our children, pets and pollinators from pesticide industry overreach.
  • We also successfully lobbied and testified this year on gun safety, renewable energy, and many other issues. Coming in 2019, we will be advocating in Annapolis on just-cause eviction, ranked choice voting, prohibiting widening of Maryland Route 410, efforts to combat climate change, and other issues.
  • Members of the Council also advocated for the needs of Takoma Park residents within the larger region in their roles on boards and committees of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the National League of Cities. In particular, Councilmember Kostiuk represents the City on the MWCOG Transportation Planning Board and Councilmember Dyballa serves on the MWCOG Climate, Energy and Environment Policy Committee and the Chesapeake Bay and Water Resources Policy Committee.

In addition to all of this work, I want to acknowledge the work of Councilmember Seamens and his wife Joyce. Terry and Joyce help those most vulnerable in our community through their work with Adventist Community Services of Greater Washington and Manna Food Center of Rockville to address food insecurity in the community. They also are working with Frontline Community Services to develop a transitional housing program for some of the area’s homeless residents.

I have the great honor to work for the residents of Takoma Park, with my colleagues on the Council, and with the most dedicated staff of City employees. Together, we accomplished a great deal in 2018. I am looking forward to rolling up our sleeves and working together in 2019!

Thank you!

Mayor Stewart