- Do you agree with us that more housing, both market rate and subsidized, should be created in Takoma Park? If so, what steps will you take to facilitate creation of new housing?
In light of the regional housing crisis, I agree with the goal of creating more housing in Takoma Park. Absent the generation of more equitably distributed housing, particularly in the affordable range, our community, situated as it is between Bethesda and Landover, downtown DC and Burtonsville, is going to continue to accommodate more and more through-commuters, while itself becoming ever more bifurcated in terms of income and wealth. Generating a good balance of new housing here in Takoma Park will help increase the market for local goods-and-services businesses and will thus help to support the transition to more localized and thus greener transportation patterns.
I think that Takoma Park’s priorities should be on generating truly affordable housing, e.g. for households with incomes at or close to the regional poverty rate, and on generating first ownership opportunities in the form of new properties that are simple, efficient, transit-oriented, and thus affordable to households at or below the median income level for Takoma Park (I would call these “simplicity homes.”)
The Housing and Economic Development Strategic Plan approved by the Council last year contains no real objectives. There’s nothing in the Plan that seriously indicates a commitment to stemming and reversing the loss of affordable housing in Takoma Park. Not one of the 17 objectives in the Plan contains a single numerical target, measurable indicator, specific location, or date by which the objective should be achieved. In other words, these “objectives” are not specific, measurable, or time-bound.
An October 29, 2018 Council work session suggested that staff would be responsible for creating indicators associated with the Plan. While it may be that staff are in the process of developing indicators for equitable generation of new housing, it has been at least a year now since such work should have begun; and any staff-generated indicators are only the precursors to a productive community dialogue and decision-making process.
Without clear objectives, it is not possible to prioritize actions, schedule actions, or budget properly for actions. These objectives cannot be called “realistic” since there is no clear path to ensuring that they are achieved. The only thing making these statements look like objectives is the fact that, in broad terms, they are “actionable.”
Therefore, I would go further than the current Housing and Economic Development strategy, which calls without elaboration for “aligning” housing generation by 2030 with regional targets; I would work to establish community and Council consensus on definitions and specific numerical targets for the categories of “affordable,” moderately priced,” and “market priced” units. As a starting point for discussion, if the City were to apply available regional targets proportionately to Takoma Park’s population, City targets would need to be set at:
- 393 additional low-cost housing units (round to 400 units)
- 166 additional units that are affordable to middle-income households, at under $2,500/month (round to 170 units)
- 186 additional units that are affordable to higher-income households (round to 190 units).
These numbers indicate the magnitude of the commitment that our current plan seems to have made implicitly: roughly 760 new units in ten years.
In planning how and where to generate new housing units, two key first steps are to agree on Takoma Park’s definitions of “affordability” and to agree on targets for new housing creation by neighborhood to support a more equitable distribution of housing types (in terms of rent levels/prices) across the City.
To produce new affordable housing in big numbers, the City should explore and seek to implement the following three strategies, perhaps to varying extents. Individually or combined, these strategies would clearly disrupt the current pattern and function as significant “game-changers”:
Reserving Land for Future Affordable Housing
The cost of land, not the cost of construction, is the biggest obstacle to producing new affordable housing. One strategy the City could use to mitigate this problem is to leverage government grants, nonprofit grants, donations, or City funds to reserve particular properties around town for potential future development of housing. These could include underused sites in commercial areas, empty or underused institutional properties, or other properties with a right to build more housing density. The idea would be that easements or agreements can be purchased right now at lower cost than would be the case in the future, assuming that area property values continue to increase. “Land trusts” are one form that these kinds of agreements can take.
Zoning and Regulatory Changes in Detached-Home Neighborhoods
In the past, Takoma Park’s detached-home neighborhoods accommodated many more low-priced housing units. This is because many larger homes were subdivided as duplexes, triplexes, etc., were used informally as group houses, or had owner-managed rental units on site (sometimes unregulated), also known as “Accessory Dwelling Units” (ADUs), perhaps in a converted garage, a basement, or an upper floor with separate access. A simple and (environmentally speaking) fairly low-impact path to producing more housing is simply to make it easier for homeowners to establish ADUs. (This can also help some homeowners of limited means to pay their property taxes and thus stay in Takoma Park.)
Takoma Park could make it possible for more detached homes to host ADUs by easing its regulations and allowing more ADUs to be permitted in closer proximity to each other. In some cases, the City would have to advocate for changes at the County level to achieve these results.
If Takoma Park wanted to go even further, it could follow the lead of Minneapolis, Minnesota and push to get all detached-home neighborhoods rezoned so that any detached home could be modified or replaced to accommodate a duplex or triplex. (Since 2019, Minneapolis allows triplexes and was considering allowing four-plexes but backed away due to neighborhood opposition.) This radical change won support in Minneapolis when it came to be viewed by the majority of homeowners as an opportunity to “welcome new neighbors.” Key issues to resolve in considering such a change would be the supply and allocation of parking, the impact on local schools, and the importance of mitigating negative environmental impacts such as increased impervious surfaces and tree canopy loss.
Zoning Changes to Accommodate More Affordable Units in Mixed-Use Developments
Montgomery County’s zoning code governs how land can be used in Takoma Park. In recent years, many commercial areas have been rezoned to allow for “mixed-use” development, which typically combines first-floor commercial space with upper floor housing. Takoma Park could advocate with the County to allow mixed-use developments to add, say, an additional floor if the extra units thus produced were permanently priced at affordable levels.
On page 10 of the Plan, there are four “strategies” outlined for encouraging mixed-use development in Takoma Park. But the objective of these strategies says NOTHING about producing below-market (affordable) housing. This is a major omission that I as mayor would seek to remedy as soon as possible.
Locking in land for future housing, allowing more density in detached-home neighborhoods, and allowing more density in mixed-use developments are all very significant actions. Not only would they require successful advocacy or partnership with other levels of government and/or outside partners; reaching the decision to take any of these actions would require very difficult, frank, and open conversations about our community’s values and interests.
For example, there are questions about how the look and feel of neighborhoods and commercial areas would change if they hosted more housing. There are questions about how each strategy might work to reverse or reproduce historic patterns of residential segregation. There are questions about environmental impacts of greater density, both locally and in global terms. And there are questions about the impact of increased housing density on local taxes, demands placed on services and schools, and allocation of public space such as street parking, parks, and playgrounds to accommodate “new neighbors.” These questions cannot be resolved, and the community cannot move forward amicably and continuously, without a well-facilitated, broadly inclusive community dialogue.
Examine the City’s Housing Strategic Plan, and you will see that it sidesteps consideration of the three big strategies described above. Instead, it focuses on “low-hanging fruit,” such as making sure existing rental properties are maintained in good condition, providing workshops on how to qualify for home buying, and continuing to provide tax credits to homeowners on low incomes. These may be effective approaches, but they do not produce affordable housing.
Whether or not our community would “buy in” to any of the productive and disruptive strategies above is not known. As Mayor, I will advocate for a frank, informed, and transparent conversation about what Takoma Park can and should do about the affordable housing crisis.
2. Takoma Park has several potential development and revitalization opportunities. Please describe your vision for the following sites. In your opinion, how should they be further developed?
a. Takoma-Langley Crossroads (Purple Line station)
The Takoma-Langley Crossroads commercial area is excellently situated for mixed-use infill development, located as it eventually will be (if all goes well) along a key transit corridor. (The small commercial area at the southeast corner of Flower Avenue and Piney Branch Road in Ward 5 has similar potential.)
My vision for the Takoma-Langley Crossroads area is for mixed-use development that protects existing affordable goods and services, generates rental and ownership housing units at a variety of price points, incorporates excellent public amenities including a piazza or public square and a play area, improves pedestrian and bicycle access to the area from Wards 6, 2, and 5, protects the Long Branch and Sligo Creek stream valleys, and maintains the character of the adjacent Ward 6 neighborhood in terms of noise and light buffering and traffic circulation patterns.
Care should be taken to integrate the design of the entire Crossroads area and to coordinate the timing and logistics of construction projects across jurisdictions, so that the area, when developed, has an even more cohesive feel and so that the two major road arteries do not function as dividers between neighborhoods or sub-districts.
To encourage walkability and bikeability as well as reduction of our community’s carbon footprint, innovative designs should be encouraged in coordination with the Counties and State. These could include rooftop or parking-lot based solar installations, narrow-profile wind turbines, the planting of canopy-scale shade trees, bicycle infrastructure, pedestrian pathways, and possibly even a cross-intersection pedestrian bridge.
It is critical that all of Takoma Park begin now to view and use the Crossroads area as a “second front porch” for the City, and to that end, any redesign of local bus/circulator routes and networks should allow for easy transportation to connect Takoma Park’s commercial and major institutional nodes with the Crossroads.
b. Takoma Park Recreation Center (New Hampshire Ave.)
The public-private partnership approach for the Recreation Center project is sound in principle. The City’s challenge is to ensure an inclusive participatory design process whose outcomes are incorporated into the eventual design. Additionally, it is crucial that the City strongly assert its interests for the project, not only with respect to Recreation facilities and programs, but also with respect to the project’s generation of affordable housing, its adherence to City climate-emergency standards for new construction, and its advancement of racial equity.
With the design of the new Rec Center itself, I have participated in the community visioning process and have personally advocated for:
- safe and convenient access (in actuality as well as in perception) by bus/circulator, by bicycle, or on foot; including a pedestrian-activated crosswalk at the site
- space for childcare, a critical expressed need across all neighborhoods of the City
- space for before- and after-school study/activities, to complement or be coordinated with the programmatic aims of the Library renovation (and preferable with a satellite Library kiosk)
- a good flow between indoor and outdoor space, with great (sunny and shaded) outdoor space
- maximal green design
- outdoor space set aside for a pollinator garden and/or a community educational garden
- facilities allowing for creative and fitness activities by people of all age groups
- flexible space for meetings and education/training programs
- a splash area or other outdoor water feature
- a great gymnasium
With respect to the floors of the building devoted to housing, I favor a variety of sizes of housing types, including
- a supply of “simplicity” small-sized units which would be affordable on the market at very reasonable prices
- a supply of truly affordable units, as described in my answer to the first question above
- a supply of moderately-priced “workforce housing” units, with many sizeable enough to accommodate families
- units that could sell/rent for more on the basis of size or amenities to help subsidize the cost of more affordable
The building should have separate entrances for residents and Rec Center users.
The building should have a commodious “third space” for residents to use for free in lieu of everyone living in large-sized apartments,
Efforts should be made to see if the building could accommodate a small food-related establishment as an additional “third space” where Recreation visitors and building residents could meet.
Care must be taken to ensure that there is adequate on-site parking or incentives for residents to forgo the use of a vehicle, e.g. credits for occasional car rentals or transit incentives.
Care must be taken to ensure that parking needs generated by the project can be met on-site; with an awareness that the peak demand time for Rec Center parking may be different from the peak demand time for residential parking, such that some spaces could shift in their use over the course of a 24-hour period.
c. Washington Adventist Hospital campus
I recognize that there is no guarantee now that Washington Adventist Hospital will be selling its property or otherwise opening up parts of it for redevelopment. However, the City should be convening stakeholders (residents as well as neighbors and interested agencies) now to explore various redevelopment or re-use options and arrive at a working vision for desired future use(s) of the property. The City itself as a key stakeholder should be working to align that vision with its strategic objectives for racial equity, climate response, and affordable housing.
My role as Mayor will be to help facilitate this visioning process rather than to advocate for my own personal ideas for the site. I will also say that I need time to walk the entire site (and learn about the status of each building, the steep slope, the infrastructure, etc.) before I can feel informed enough to venture any strong opinions. However, since you are asking for my opinion at this point, I will say that I am intrigued by the following possibilities.
Under a scenario whereby WAU retains control of the property:
Establishment of a regional birthing center on the site, with the leadership of local midwife organizations
- Conversion of any available commercial-grade kitchens on the site to sites available to local food and nutrition advocacy groups, in concert with local farmers and food processors
- Use of the property for new community solar or wind power generation
- Use of parts of the property for new urban forest or community gardening
- Removal of unnecessary sections of impervious surface
- Establishment of a community-based, partly volunteer-staffed, mental health clinic and crisis response team, in conjunction with changes in the City public safety approach
- Use of part of the site for a County-operated fitness center, which could include exercise spaces and equipment and a swimming pool
- Conversion of any suitable space to small senior-living apartments
- Conversion of any suitable space to childcare operations and/or day space for adult children with special needs
Under a scenario where WAU sells the property:
- Any of the above uses as deemed high-priority by the community
- Use of part of the site for a new or replacement MCPS campus
- Use of a significant portion of the site for townhome, duplex-townhome, or other village-style moderate density housing, with the goal of generating a good mix of new middle housing in the heart of town
- Use of part of the property for a neighborhood-scale transit-transfer location (with a bike parking/bike rental area included)
- Rezoning to accommodate a few local goods-and-services businesses to support the goal of a walkable, “20-minute” community and also to provide an informal community meet-up area
- An adjacent small piazza/park with attractions/activities for children as well as seniors.
3) On the long-debated Takoma Junction development process, do you support continuing the existing County and City review process or do you propose restarting the development process, including a new Request for Proposals? If so, how would the City fund this work?
The most recent site plan submitted by NDC for Takoma Junction fails to meet community interests in many substantive ways; it does not effectively tailor the project to respond to the values and requirements expressed in the development agreement. The silver lining of the controversies that have accompanied the process over the past several years is that we are now quite clear as a community on the types of amenities and design features that could be combined in a consensus vision for the site’s development. My vision of a successful Junction development activates that stretch of Carroll Avenue in a delightful way that provides flexible community space as well as new dining and commerce. I think that with good leadership, the community can come together around a shared vision and find the partners and the resources to make it happen expeditiously, and in a way that maintains safety and advances the City’s values.
I intend as Mayor to press NDC to fulfill its obligations under the terms of the Development Agreement, but I am prepared to defend the City’s interests on the site and terminate the agreement with NDC if it cannot meet its obligations.
I am a smart-growth proponent and have been teaching about, and speaking out in opposition to, suburban sprawl since the 1990s. I am well-versed in the principles of smart growth and have extensively researched urban design, walkability, and transit-oriented development.
Among those principles are the need for community consensus-building around infill development, the need for protecting open space, and the importance of using infill development to support racial and economic equity. I also understand at a basic level that the word “smart” implies paying careful attention to the constrictions imposed by a site within its situation. I understand that the word “growth” is meant to align with the objective of creating a greener, more walkable community without encouraging gentrification (a very tricky proposition that the smart-growth movement did not fully grasp at its inception). These are the principles that have guided my thinking about, and analysis of, Takoma Junction issues for the past ten years, beginning with my service on the Takoma Junction Task Force in 2010-2012, work for which I was honored with an Azalea Award. These are the principles that cause me to take issue with numerous elements of the NDC design in its most recent iteration.
It is easy to imagine how to apply smart-growth principles at sites along New Hampshire Avenue, East University Boulevard, Piney Branch Road, and near the Takoma Metro. However, we have at Takoma Junction a quite idiosyncratic piece of publicly-owned land that calls for a truly attentive and responsive smart-growth strategy. It is located along a block where two state highway routes crisscross — and both routes are quite significant for regional commuters as well as local users. Via a long-standing arrangement it hosts the delivery operations (as well as some customer and employee parking) for the adjacent grocery store. It functions as the primary parking lot for a number of nearby businesses (just as the two large parking lots in Old Town serve that purpose). It is located close to the geographic center of the community, in the only significantly-sized commercial district that is not on the border of Takoma Park (the others are at Erie and Flower Avenues, on Maple Avenue at Sherman Avenue, and at the south end of Sligo Creek Parkway). It has a very steep wooded slope in the rear that is significant to the City for its tree canopy and stormwater absorption. It is underlain by significant portions of dumped fill material that would need to be excavated and hauled away in an ecologically sound manner. It is located along key pedestrian, bicycle, and transit routes. It is located along a curving stretch of roadway which makes midblock egress and ingress difficult (although there is an option for aligning the entry/egress with Carroll Avenue northbound). It is located on a ridge where there are solar and wind opportunities. It offers the best possible location for flexible community gathering and vending space in a centrally located commercial district. It is located in a walkshed that includes neighborhoods of expensive detached homes as well as neighborhoods of rent-stabilized multi-unit housing and condominiums. And oddly, while it is served by buses, it is farther from any rapid transit stop than any other commercial site in the City (if we assume that the Purple Line and New Hampshire Avenue BRT will be built).
I do not support the current Takoma Junction plan (the version available to the public as of September 18, 2020). I would vote “No” on NDC’s current proposal or any further iteration of it that retains the same egregious failures to align with the City’s requirements and values.
Having had several years to put together a close-to-final site plan, and with a full understanding of the City’s interests and the site’s design limitations, NDC has refused to budge on the most problematic aspects of its proposal:
- On-street truck deliveries in a heavily trafficked area with few turnaround options
- Lack of legal or safe drop-off and pick-up options for cars pulling in front of the building
- No clarity on the quantity or cost of parking spaces available for other Junction businesses and their customers
- A mid-block driveway location too close to the Philadelphia Avenue intersection
- Unacceptably long queues for exiting vehicles, encouraging parking on neighborhood streets
- Intent to eliminate the crosswalk at Grant Avenue, crucial to pedestrian safety
- No commitment to the revitalization of B.Y. Morrisson Park
- Intent to reconfigure the intersection at Ethan Allen, which would increase traffic volumes, encourage use of Sycamore/Columbia/Poplar as a cut-through, and reduce convenience for pedestrians
- Removal of the existing bikeshare station and bus stop
- Barring an intersection reconfiguration, reduction of the planned “public space” to a size below the minimum deemed acceptable to a majority of Council members
- In conflict with the priorities for safety, alternate modes of transportation, and public gathering space expressed in the 2012 Takoma Junction Task Force vision and reiterated by the 2020 SHA Vision Study
- A deeper-than-ever extension into the forested area, with a corner that essentially abuts Columbia Avenue
- Permanent removal of a significant portion of the forested area, and no clarity on how much more of this area would be impacted by excavation and construction
- Above-ground garage in the rear, topped with an open-air patio for private use, with unknown lighting, sound, and exhaust impacts on the residential area
- No clarity on emergency egress from the rear or fire department access to the rear
- An inadequate stormwater management plan in terms of capacity for large rain events and impacts on the water table downslope
- Non-compliance with the City’s expectations for new construction expressed in the climate response plan, which emphasizes fossil-fuel free development
- Assumption that the owners of the Co-op property would consent to the removal of the driveway apron on Ethan Allen Avenue and thus reduce the capacity of their parking lot
- Due to the negotiated consent agreement between the Co-op and NDC, no clarity on adverse impacts on future operations of the Co-op or long-term functionality of that property as a local grocery store
Council members and staff have been discussing the status of the project via weekly scheduled meetings during the past two years, and the City — as partners in the development project — has thus had ample opportunities to assert City priorities and influence the refinement of the design. It seems clear that NDC should by now have a well-defined understanding of the expectations for a successful project, not only in terms of the City agreement but also in terms of other requirements and expectations on the part of the County and the State Highway Administration.
NDC’s initial proposal, which won it the partnership with the City, was far more modest in scale and more responsive to the design constraints imposed by the site and its situation. It shared many characteristics with other promising designs put forth by local architects, landscape designers and urban design experts. I have not ruled out the possibility that an experienced commercial development partner that is seeking to have a successful early project in Montgomery County can find the means to achieve a project that is viable for itself and for the City.
The intent of this partnership with NDC, as outlined in the 2015 Resolution to Negotiate that then-Councilmember Stewart herself introduced, was never simply to generate revenue for the City — it was to help revitalize and enhance the Junction as a commercial and cultural district, within the constrictions imposed by the site itself and its situation, and in alignment with the City’s values. As Mayor, I will continue the work of seeking that ultimate objective.
Should the partnership with NDC prove to be unconducive to meeting that objective, I would lead the City Council to seek a different development partner, but only after a brief pause to consolidate the consensus vision that the community seems to have arrived at via the arduous and argumentative process of the past several years. I am convinced by conversations with many local experts that the capital, financing, and goodwill exist to build a beautiful, appropriately scaled, responsive, and successful infill development on the site!
- Would you promote multifamily construction by offering additional relief from rent stabilization for new buildings, as the District and many other jurisdictions do?
Consistent with all of my intentions as Mayor, I will seek to examine all of the City’s programs and partnerships to see how well they fulfill objectives and to consider adjustments that can improve fulfillment of objectives. The City’s policies and programs related to the rental housing market and supply have the objective of maintaining an affordable supply of high-quality rental housing, and the City has gone further in the past year to commit to an increase in that supply. The first priorities for the City with respect to these policies and programs are to assess how to define “affordable,” “high-quality,” and “increase” in light of new City commitments and the regional housing crisis.
Operating and maintaining rental properties is a business and a source of income and employment for many people. I think that landlords should be held to standards for providing safe and well-maintained housing to their tenants, and I also believe that tenants should have the security of knowing that they won’t be evicted without just cause so long as the building remains a rental property. I also think that landlords should be able to make income from their properties so as to support their own families and to fairly compensate their employees.
Multi-unit dwellings are one of the most complex kinds of human relationships, as their management and upkeep truly are a cooperative responsibility of the tenants as well as the owners, given the sharing of walls, halls, ceilings, floors, and stairwells (and air itself, as the covid-19 pandemic has made everyone aware). As Mayor, I will work not only to ensure that the City and County effectively regulate these relationships but also to support the strengthening of tenant associations, the strengthening of the local network of landlords, dialogue among these groups facilitated by the City, protections from evictions without cause, and support (direct or leveraged) for landlords who need or wish to make upgrades to their properties for purposes of safety, sustainability, and equity.
In light of the considerations I’ve outlined above, I would not characterize a well-designed rent stabilization program as something from which new buildings should need “relief.” If the upfront investments in land and construction are barriers to the production of new rental housing, then it is incumbent upon the City and its willing partners (including residents, church and civic organizations, banks committed to social justice, foundations, and intergovernmental entities) to identify and preserve land/easements and financing arrangements as soon as possible to allow for future construction of great, affordable rental housing.
- City public engagement currently over-represents the views of older, white, and home owning residents. How would you change the process to better engage renters, minorities, immigrants, and young families?
I have written and spoken extensively on this topic. My position is that we cannot have economic or racial justice without a comprehensive, cohesive plan to prioritize participation and problem-solving by and with residents from all races, ethnicities, and language backgrounds, and of every status.
From the start of my campaign, I have already been seeking to change the process by working relentlessly with volunteers to meet and engage with residents in renter neighborhoods of the City, especially nonwhite and immigrant residents, and by making myself as available as possible to young families via Zoom calls, informal meet-ups in the street, and presence at both farmer’s markets. Conversations in these settings make it clear that there are a host of everyday issues with which residents would like to see more engagement from the City (and more opportunities to engage). These issues include:
- safe, affordable childcare,
- convenient and comfortable transit,
- availability and cost of wi-fi, internet, and printer access,
- computer literacy and availability,
- park maintenance and adequate play spaces for children,
- responsiveness and courtesy of public safety personnel,
- responsiveness of other City staff,
- building maintenance and safety,
- availability of affordable and convenient retail,
- third spaces for teens as well as adults,
- local jobs and training,
- assistance in working through the residency and/or citizenship processes,
- assistance for informal businesses seeking to attain legitimate status,
- access to mental health services, health screenings, clinics, and prenatal care,
- help for families of children with special needs,
- access to City and County information in languages other than English,
- protection and enhancement of the natural environment,
- access to healthy, affordable food,
- local food-growing opportunities,
- protection from eviction without just cause,
- spaces and opportunities for festivities that highlight and introduce others to rich cultural traditions,
- spaces and opportunities for local entrepreneurs to build a local customer base, and
- opportunities to work alongside and get to know residents who are
A good place to start in building new social networks across the homeowner-renter divide (and thus changing patterns of public engagement) is to activate existing organizations, coalitions, and/or new City committees to focus on the issues above that clearly cut across socio-economic categories. On reflection, one can see that every one of the issues above does offer such opportunities. My experience as a diversity trainer and as community leader in a diverse neighborhood tells me that new relationships and social networks are forged across lines of class, income, race, ethnicity, age, and language when people come together to work on common goals rather than simply to dialogue about the issues. We have no shortage of community interests to work on together, particularly as we enter the heart of the twenty-first century and begin in earnest to transition back to more locally-scaled ways of living.
A comprehensive effort to register and activate all voters is also important; this year’s unexpected experiment with mail-in balloting may prove to be something that the City wishes to continue regardless of the health situation in two years.
Once the community can set new common goals with strongly established objectives, the oft-discussed challenges of where and how to meet and communicate seem easy by comparison. Closing the digital divide and thus being able to normalize distanced (e.g. Zoom-based) participation in meetings is an important first step, as remote meetings can help many residents get over the hurdles of scheduling, transportation, and family supervision. For in-person activities (and actual activities are better than mere meetings), confidentially arranged stipends or vouchers/allowances for transportation and childcare (or provision of childcare onsite) could be transformative supports for new participants in public processes. Perhaps most importantly, intentional education and training of older, white, home-owning residents is needed to help them get past the kinds of informal patterns of communication and engagement that can cause them to make unwarranted assumptions about renters, immigrants, residents of color, or younger people, and that can lead them to be dominating or exclusionary in meetings, communication, and activities. Up front, it’s essential that the City do a better job of training in, and insisting upon the use of, basic parliamentary procedures in official meetings (with any necessary adjustments of ground rules to ensure equitable participation) such that the rules themselves can serve as recourse for those seeking to undermine inequitable patterns of participation and power.
It is naive, however, to ignore the deep-seated biases, norms, and political dynamics that lead to the domination of public processes by property owners. With that awareness, I believe that the work of balancing participation cannot be separated from the work of building wealth for Black, brown, indigenous, and people of color as well as immigrants.
With all of these thoughts in mind, here are some broad value statements that I would apply to my work if I am elected Mayor of Takoma Park:
- White people, in the absence of people of color, or in white-dominated discussions and spaces, cannot presume to “know” what policies and priorities are most important to non-white residents.
- Effective and equitable allocation of government resources (common resources) is an essential element of any meaningful approach to racial justice in Takoma Park.
- Every public space in Takoma Park — every street, every park, every facility — should feel as welcoming to persons of color, at any time of day or night, as it is to white people.
- No one who lives in Takoma Park, regardless of race, ethnicity, age, or language, should experience police-initiated, police-induced trauma.
- Anyone who grows up in Takoma Park should have a realistic chance to own a home in Takoma Park and build up equity.
- In light of past racial wrongs and in the spirit of reparations, the City should act — and leverage others’ actions — to help build up wealth and economic opportunity for historically disadvantaged residents of color.
- White people, having been the beneficiaries of white supremacist government policies for several generations, should rightfully play a significant role in the pursuit of racial justice in Takoma Park.
Specific actions I would seek to take on the Council to build a unified, diverse community where all residents are equally empowered:
- Commission a coalition of local civic organizations, congregations, nonprofits, and educational institutions to create a truth-finding initiative to catalogue the history and impacts of institutionalized racism in Takoma Park, as it has been supported by local residents and institutions as well as by municipal, county, state, and federal policies. An outgrowth of this effort should be a rewriting of the Takoma Park collective “story” to highlight and celebrate the experiences and contributions of non-white residents of the area from pre-colonial times to the present.
- Institute an annual program of required anti-racist training for all members of committees, boards, and task forces, as well as the City Council; require the City Manager to extend anti-racist training to all staff; incorporate an anti-racist teachable moment into every City Council meeting; and reduce the salary/wage racial disparity among City staff.
- Introduce program-based budgeting and metrics to ensure that programs, services, staff time, and infrastructure maintenance/improvements are allocated and directed in ways that promote racial and geographic equity — not just aiming for racial parity, but truly geared toward equity, which has “leveling the playing field” as its goal.
- In the climate response strategy, recognize that persons living in multi-unit housing, persons using public transportation, etc. are already generating a smaller carbon footprint than persons living in detached homes and driving cars, for the most part. Therefore, in the short-term and mid-range climate action strategies, Do NOT prioritize requirements that unfairly burden populations that are primarily residents of color at present, either directly or indirectly.
- In the climate response strategy, DO prioritize actions that leverage and incentivize new economic opportunities for residents of color in Takoma Park, in partnership with other local businesses, organizations, and institutions (such as our two in-town colleges and the University of Maryland). Our push to develop a more local, “twenty-minute” economy, with more local food and energy production, more carbon sequestration, and new approaches to deliveries and transit, should generate meaningful wealth-building opportunities that close the wealth gap for BIPOC residents.
- In the climate response strategy, DO prioritize actions that make transportation as low-cost, reliable, and convenient as possible, for the benefit of all residents, and affording dignity, safety, and comfort for all those who walk, bike, or use transit.
- As a pillar of the City’s strategy for guiding commercial development, insist that new development as well as redevelopment do no harm to existing businesses owned by, significantly patronized by, or significantly staffed by, people of color (residents and non-residents alike) — either during construction or as a long-term consequence.
- Similar to the rent stabilization program, pilot an affordable retail stabilization program to make it more likely that affordable goods and services remain in close proximity to residents on lower and fixed incomes in the City.
- Work with the local realtor community to create and disseminate information to prospective buyers stating very clearly the City’s stance on, and commitment to, racial equity, so that all people who move into the City are fully apprised of this long-term City priority and its attendant impact on the allocation of public resources.
- Investigate and, if feasible, work to leverage the establishment of a local “Equitable Takoma” credit union or banking arrangement into which Takoma Park residents could place capital that could then be used locally to spur economic opportunities (home-buying, renovations, college loans, and business start-ups and expansions) that would have racial economic justice as their core mission.
- In the Recreation Department, offer free language courses and conversational opportunities in English, Spanish, Amharic, French, and any other widely spoken local languages, with the encouragement of all Takoma Park residents, including native English speakers, to become conversant in a second local language.
- Fast-track the development of a playground in northern Ward 6 as a gathering place for building social networks across racial difference in that neighborhood. Review the condition and safety of the Eastridge Avenue playground in Ward 5, and make improvements as needed to the facilities and safety of the area.
- Evaluate all public spaces in the City, especially small parks and gardened areas such as those along Philadelphia Avenue, to assess how and whether they might be better activated as free, informal, unsupervised public gathering spaces.
- Ensure that the Library and Rec Center redevelopment projects, and any ancillary programs related to after-school or enrichment activities for young people, closely involve many residents of color, incorporate their concerns and perspectives, set objectives and measure efficacy, and ultimately contribute to positive outcomes for young people of color as they go through their lives.
6. Takoma Park, Piney Branch, Rolling Terrace ES, and Montgomery Blair HS are at or over capacity. Do you support advocating the Montgomery County Public Schools system for a new local school? How else would you work with MCPS to provide sufficient capacity and quality for our growing community?
I believe that smaller-scaled local schools create stronger, more secure, and more cohesive learning communities that build lasting relationships across difference in communities. At the same time, I am opposed to redistricting approaches that result in the continuation or deepening of racial and economic segregation among students and families. Given that Takoma Park is as diverse as any part of Montgomery County, I support advocating MCPS for a new local school. In my response to question 2(c) above, I described my openness to exploring the repurposing of a part of the Washington Adventist Hospital campus for a new or replacement school.
My understanding is that MCPS views our two vacant/underutilized education campuses in town (John Nevins Andrews School and the Washington-McLaughlin School) as too small to accommodate modern school facilities or as poorly situated in terms of transportation and bus access (in the case of JNA). I recognize that there are cost savings and curricular enhancements that can be achieved with larger campuses and student bodies; however, I would still like to pursue conversations with MCPS about piloting experiments with smaller campuses and student bodies in Takoma Park, in alignment with our interest in becoming a locally-scaled community while staying diverse.
Redevelopment of the Takoma-Langley Crossroads area or of middle/lower New Hampshire Avenues could also present fresh opportunities for co-locating an educational campus in a vibrant commercial district that is convenient to light rail and/or potentially bus rapid transit, so I am open to working with the County on such possibilities.
Finally, I think it’s important to mention that the construction of the new Math and Science building at Montgomery College, disruptive as it has been to our community, generates important opportunities for City and local partnerships with Montgomery College to help local students transition into successful careers in a burgeoning local green economy that is establishing new ways of generating and saving energy, utilizing land and water, supporting public health and well-being, expanding the local food system, and innovating systems of transportation and delivery.