I know I am the only person (not!) saying to themselves, September?  Really? Yes. Really.  Summer is behind us, but memories of the eclipse, among other summer treasures, are not.  

What a moment.  And who truly appreciated in advance what a moment it was for community -- everywhere?  It certainly felt like that at Martin Luther King Jr. Recreational Park in Silver Spring.  Experiencing unity is always a powerful experience -- almost as powerful as the eclipse itself.

But this was not your normal August ending.  Not with the hurricane and the devastation and loss of life it has left behind.  Our hearts go out to the millions whose lives have been so terribly disrupted.

Closer to home, August ended with the terrific groundbreaking of the Purple Line, an extraordinary accomplishment that so many for so long fought for.  And now comes the hard part.  The construction.  And the temporary loss of the beloved trail.  

Below I share my thoughts on what comes next on the Purple Line, some other positive developments that should improve the quality of life in our county, and hot items on our Council agenda starting in September.  


Roger Berliner
Council President
District 1



No Way, No How To Pepco's Latest Rate Hike Proposal

Pepco is once again asking state utility regulators for a rate increase. This time, the $68.6 million increase would mean a $7 per month hike in the average residential bill.

This rate increase is not justified.  This week, I urged the Public Service Commission (PSC) to say no for three reasons:

• Pepco is asking for a rate of return that is too high
• Pepco is asking for the rate increase to recover the costs of reliability improvements it hasn’t yet made and hadn’t made at the time it made the request – contrary to well-established rules of utility ratemaking
• Most importantly, Pepco is making this request after failing to honor a fundamental reliability requirement of its merger with Exelon

One of the biggest selling points of the merger, an argument I never bought, was that Exelon could significantly improve Pepco's historically abysmal reliability more than a properly motivated Pepco could on its own.  And to bolster their case, they pledged to meet certain reliability metrics right away.  The PSC agreed to the merger and ordered Pepco to meet the metrics Exelon/Pepco promised.  

In January, not more than three months after the last rate increase went into effect, Pepco reported to the PSC that it failed to meet its System Average Interruption Frequency Index target for 2016. In real terms, this means Pepco customers in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties suffered approximately 20,000 more outages than they would have had Pepco met the target. 

A deal is a deal.  Pepco did not do what it pledged to do. It did not do what the PSC ordered it to do.  It should not be awarded with higher rates.  In fact, the PSC should penalize the company.

The PSC will be accepting written comments about this latest proposed Pepco rate hike until September 15.  Comments can be mailed to David J. Collins, Executive Secretary, Maryland Public Service Commission, William Donald Schaefer Tower, 6 St. Paul Street, 16th Floor, Baltimore, Maryland 21202.  Reference “Case No. 9443” with all comments. You can also file your comments electronically at the PSC website.


Georgetown Branch Trail to Close Tuesday for Purple Line Construction

After the groundbreaking for the Purple Line light-rail project on Monday, the Maryland Transit Administration and Purple Line Transit Partners announced the Georgetown Branch Interim Trail will close on Tuesday, September 5 for project construction.  The trail will be closed for much of the duration of Purple Line construction, which is expected to take four to five years.

While I have been a longtime supporter of the Purple Line, I do not minimize for a moment what a loss it is for those who live next to it, walk it, or ride on the Georgetown Branch.  We love the trail the way it is.  It has been a lovely respite from our urban environment.  And yet it was bought for this very purpose.  That was always the plan.  But the fact that this plan is now being carried out doesn't make it any less of a loss.  

Like almost everyone, I was surprised by how soon the trail would be closed and for how long.  I don't know how to square the state's prior assurance that it would work "to minimize" how long the trail would be out of service with a timeline that is commensurate with construction period for the project as a whole.  That was an important pledge, and it will be important for the state to keep its commitments to the affected communities in Montgomery County.  

In many ways, as hard as it has been to get this project to this point, the worst part is now approaching -- construction.  Four to five years of construction.  No one should minimize the importance of making sure that the private concessionaire constructing this project works to mitigate the disruptions that surrounding neighborhoods will experience.  Their private interest will be in reducing costs; the public interest is in making sure promises are kept.  To that end, that is why I along with Councilmember Tom Hucker wrote a letter today to Maryland Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn asking several key questions pertaining to the trail closure and construction impacts.  You can read the letter here

Do let my office know of your experience when you believe that some aspect of this project is not being handled in a manner that you think we deserve.  I see it as one of my responsibilities to do everything I can to insist that as the state advances this critically important project, it does so in a manner that is sensitive to the legitimate concerns of impacted neighborhoods.  


Fighting to Reduce Airplane Noise

For far too long, many of our residents have had the quality of their lives, and the value of their property, severely diminished by airplane noise.  This was the direct consequence of a decision by the FAA to reroute planes without full consideration of the impact on our area.  Working with neighborhood leaders and the Montgomery County Quiet Skies Coalition, I have urged our county to pursue legal action against the FAA as other communities such as Phoenix have done.  In response, our county has retained outside legal counsel that was involved in the Phoenix case to prepare a legal memorandum on our options.

Earlier this week, Phoenix won!  The U.S. Court of Appeals held that the FAA's actions were "arbitrary and capricious" and ordered them to go back to the way it was before until a new plan can be developed.  Equally important, the Court ruled that the city had legal standing to file their claim late because the city demonstrated good cause.  Those two findings are equally applicable to our situation.  I conveyed to our County Attorney this morning my belief that this case strengthens the argument for filing an action against the FAA and that we should request an expeditious response from our outside law firm.  He agreed on both points.  While our battle has not been won, yesterday's court decision was a very, very positive development.      


Fixing Our Residential Parking Permit System

I am happy to report that DOT Director Al Roshdieh has agreed to reintroduce paper permits for residents and visitors in Residential Parking Permit areas.

Our Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment Committee first took up the burdensome nature of the county’s new digital parking permit system in January and has been working to bring back paper resident and visitor permits ever since.

While DOT had legitimate reasons for going to a paperless system, the requirements -- particularly for registering guest vehicles -- too often became a nightmare.  Thank you to DOT Director Roshdieh and my Council colleagues for helping to make this happen.  Residents in these areas should be getting a paper permit for all registered vehicles and a letter asking whether you prefer paper or digital visitor permits throughout September.


Fall Legislative Preview

This fall will be a busy one with several issues before the Council you may be interested in. I certainly am!  Here are just a few:

Bill 28-17: Human Rights and Civil Liberties - County Minimum Wage - Annual Adjustment:
• The Council will revisit this very important topic beginning with a public hearing on Tuesday, September 26th at 7:30 pm before the bill heads to the Health and Human Services Committee (HHS) for review.  The bill before the Council would raise the minimum wage to $15.00/hour by 2020 for businesses of 26 or more employees and by 2022 for businesses of 25 or fewer employees, non-profit organizations, home health services organizations, and organizations that receive at least 75% of gross revenues through state and federal Medicaid programs.  If interested in this issue, you can sign up to testify here in the coming days. 

ZTA 17-03 Short Term Rentals & Bill 2-16 Transient Housing – Licensing and Registration:
ZTA 17-03 would establish certain limitations on short-term residential rentals and Bill 2-16 would amend and update the licensing and registration requirements for short-term residential rentals in the County Code.  The Planning Department and Planning Board have been working on this set of topics for quite some time and the Council will now review their recommendation beginning with a public hearing on Tuesday, September 12 at 7:30 pm. Should you wish to testify, you may sign up here

Rock Spring Master Plan:
• Building upon the 1992 North Bethesda/Garrett Park Master Plan, the Rock Spring Master Plan seeks to add residential and retail uses to the area which is currently utilized as an office park.  Preserving public open space, providing pedestrian and bicycle connections throughout the area, and implementation of the North Bethesda Transitway are among other goals for the plan. This summer, the Council held a public hearing on this plan and the Council’s Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee (PHED) reviewed the plan and made its recommendations to the full Council.  The Council will review those recommendations sometime this fall (Date TBD).  You can review the Planning Board’s recommended plan here and watch the PHED Committee’s work sessions here if interested.

White Flint 2 Sector Plan:  
• The Planning Board recently forwarded its recommendations for this plan to the Council and we will begin our review and deliberations by holding a public hearing on Tuesday, September 19th at 7:30 pm.  This plan is intended to complement the White Flint 1 Sector plan approved by the Council in 2010 and plans for mixed-use infill development, new infrastructure, additional affordable housing, increased sustainability, parks and open spaces, and bikeways and pedestrian connections.  If you are interested in this plan and wish to testify, you may sign up here.

Bill 24-17 – Burial Sites:
Bill 24-17, Land Use Information – Burial Sites would require the Planning Board to establish and maintain a burial site inventory in the county and establish a procedure by which residents can recommend additions to the inventory. Subdivision Regulation Amendment 17-01, Approval Procedures – Burial sites would require burial sites identified in a Planning Board inventory to be protected and preserved in the subdivision approval process.  The public hearing for the bill and SRA are scheduled for September 12 at 1:30 pm.  

More information on these and other issues can be found on the Council’s website.


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