Testimony on the Confederate Statue…

Here’s my testimony to the Rockville Historic District Commission tonight.  I’m delighted that later in the evening, the HDC voted 4-0 to approve Montgomery County’s request to move the Confederate Statue from the grounds of Rockville’s Red Brick Courthouse:

Thank you for allowing me to speak on this issue tonight. My name is Tom Moore. I serve as an elected representative of the citizens of Rockville on the Rockville City Council. I appear before you tonight in my capacity as an individual Councilmember, and not as a representative of the body as a whole.

I speak tonight in strong support of Montgomery County’s application to move the Confederate Statue from the grounds of Rockville’s Red Brick Courthouse.

The application before you tonight regarding the Confederate Statue is different than most that you see. This is not a homeowner trying to replace a roof on a historic house. This is not someone trying to tear down an historic building.

In organizing my thoughts to bring them to you tonight, I took a look at the Secretary of the Interior’s Rehabilitation Standards, which you use to evaluate applications.

This reminded me of how different a matter this really is. How different the basic purpose of the application is. The usual purpose of an application before the HDC is the “rehabilitation” of a building. The federal standards define “rehabilitation” as, quote,

the process of returning a building or buildings to a state of utility, through repair or alteration, which makes possible an efficient use while preserving those portions and features of the building and its site and environment which are significant to its historic, architectural, and cultural values as determined by the Secretary

…unquote. That’s not what’s going on here, and I would caution you against relying on your standards in your usual manner.

The second standard, which is one of those at issue tonight, states,

The historic character of a property shall be retained and preserved. The removal of historic materials or alteration of features and spaces that characterize a property shall be avoided.

It’s important to keep the purpose of this application in mind as you consider how this standard might apply.

The change the County proposes is not an attempt to return the Red Brick Courthouse to a state of utility. Montgomery County is not trying to cheap out on repairing the windows or the roof. The County is not trying to tear down a great old building because it wants to put up some ugly new thing. I’m sure the County has come before this Commission many times with applications that do seek to do those things, and I hope you gave those applications an appropriately skeptical look.

But the County’s purpose tonight in asking to remove this statue is very different. It is to right the wrong caused by the very presence of this statue on the courthouse grounds. To help end the pain that Confederate symbols stir in too many of our citizens.

I ask you to weigh the importance and significance of both of the symbols involved here – the Confederate Statue and the Red Brick Courthouse itself. This statue soils our historic courthouse’s promise of equal justice for all.

There is no place at a courthouse in the United States of America for a statue calling those who fought to preserve the profoundly unequal institution of slavery ‘heroes,’ for a statue asking us to love forever those who killed hundreds of thousands of United States Army soldiers in an attempt to preserve that profoundly unequal system.

As the President said in his eulogy in Charleston, removing Confederate symbols “would not be an act of political correctness; it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought – the cause of slavery – was wrong.”

Again, this is not a matter of whether approving a metal roof on a house in the West End is better than approving asphalt shingles.

This is a matter of who we are as a City. The presence of this statue in Rockville’s downtown distorts Rockville’s role in the Civil War. It reflects exceptionally poorly on this City for us to host a statue proclaiming undying love for the Confederate Army. That was not Rockville then, and it is certainly not Rockville now.

I ask that you support Montgomery County’s application to move this statue from its deeply inappropriate current site.  Doing so will not erase our history, nor will it fix the problems of race that still plague this nation. But it would be, as the President said, “one step in an honest accounting of America’s history; a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds.”

This Commission, above all others in this City, should strive to provide an honest accounting of our history. Please do so tonight.

Thank you.

Campaign Announcement

After much soul-searching, I have decided not to run for re-election to the Rockville City Council this fall. I have cherished the privilege of serving the people of Rockville on their Council. But my family has paid a high price while I have campaigned and governed virtually nonstop over the past six years, and it is time for me to turn my attentions homeward.

Though I am keenly disappointed that my elected service must draw to a close for the time being, I take great satisfaction in what I have helped accomplish in office: 

  • We ended our downtown’s disastrous decade-long building moratorium;
  • We saved an entire affordable neighborhood from developers who would have priced hundreds of working families out of their homes;
  • We adopted a tough City ethics law; and
  • We protected Rockville residents’ privacy by placing sharp limits on the data the government keeps on our movements.

My hard-won victories on these and other issues leave the City in a much better place than when I joined the Council. We can better protect our existing neighborhoods and better create great new ones. We can better compete with neighboring jurisdictions for residents and businesses and investment. The tough decisions I made on budgets and utility rates will maintain our infrastructure and strong City services for years to come.

I am surpassingly grateful for the efforts of Rockville’s superb City staff, whose round-the-clock efforts have made my job significantly easier every moment I have served in office.

You should know that I am very excited about some good folks who are preparing to run for office in Rockville this year. You will be hearing much more from them in the coming weeks. Keeping Rockville such a wonderful place to live, work, and enjoy life requires dynamic, experienced, and forward-looking leadership. We will have the chance for just that this fall. Stay tuned!

Finally, I am deeply grateful to the hundreds of friends and neighbors who have worked so hard over the years to send me to office so I could help fulfill our shared vision for a progressive, efficient, fair, safe, and neighborly Rockville. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to make our great City even better.

Sentinel’s plagiarism response: ‘Move on’

Click here to ask the Sentinel to appoint a third party to investigate its serial cartoon plagiarism!

After several weeks of silence from the Sentinel’s corporate offices about the plagiarism scandal in which the newspaper has enmeshed itself, a letter arrived yesterday from Sentinel owner Lynn Kapiloff. Its message: “[I]t is time to move on.”

I had written to Ms. Kapiloff in the hopes that the publishing company would hold its editorial staff publicly accountable for its actions (which, at latest count, amounts to publishing 81 of its 83 editorial cartoons since October 2013 with fully or partially plagiarized content).

Public accountability does not appear to be forthcoming. The employee who knew about the plagiarism for at least six months before stopping it, Brian Karem, remains editor of the Sentinel; he produced this week’s issue. In her reply, Ms. Kapiloff reduced the concerns I brought to her as “beliefs” and “opinions” that she disagreed with.

In the letter I am mailing to Ms. Kapiloff today, I write:

Let me be clear. I have not expressed to you my “beliefs” about what the Sentinel knew, nor have I made “assertions” with which you may simply disagree. I conveyed to you the fact that the Sentinel’s editor, Brian Karem, knew of the serial plagiarism occurring in his newspaper for six solid months before he did anything about it. I am not relying on any interpretation of facts or statements in relaying this information to you. I absolutely know that Mr. Karem knew of his newspaper’s plagiarism and did nothing about it for six months because I told him, face to face, on Nov. 29, 2014, that his cartoonist was stealing artwork from the Internet, and Mr. Karem chose to continue to publish plagiarized work in the Sentinel from the same contributor until at least as late as May 14, 2015. Your letter does not acknowledge this other than to obliquely dismiss it as my “opinion.”

Ms. Kapiloff wraps up her reply with: “The Sentinel is handling the situation and it is time to move on.”  I disagree.  This response boils down to “trust us” in a matter centering on a serious breach of public trust committed by the Sentinel. I would not have accepted “trust us” back when I was a reporter, and I sincerely doubt any Sentinel reporters would accept “trust us” from anyone, either. I do not accept it now.

Enough is enough.  I call upon the management of Sentinel Newspapers to appoint a neutral third party to investigate the actions of The Montgomery County Sentinel’s editorial staff in the matter of its serial cartoon plagiarism and release a public report detailing its findings. 

Click here to add your voice to the call, and be sure to share it on Facebook and Twitter.

Here are the letters: June 9 letter to L. Kapiloff | June 13 reply | June 19 letter to L. Kapiloff

The Sentinel has been stealing artwork!

The Washington Post: "Cartoon plagiarism and the case of the unknown Maryland cartoonist"
Bethesda Magazine: "Rockville Council Member Accuses Newspaper Of Stealing Political Cartoons"
Daily Cartoonist: "Sentinel Newspapers Apologizes for Plagiarized Cartoons; May Continue Using Cartoonist"
iMediaEthics: "Cartoon Plagiarism in Maryland Newspaper"
Help crowdsource the plagiarism detection by clicking here!

The Montgomery Sentinel has been systematically stealing artwork for its editorial cartoons, butchering it, removing the original artist’s signature, and having someone else sign it as their own.

Now, I wasn’t 100% sure whether this was the result of some sort of licensing arrangement I had never heard of, or if cartoonists see this sort of thing all the time.

Neither appears to be the case. I alerted several cartoonists to what the Sentinel is doing with their artwork, and they were uniformly shocked.

I received this from cartoonist Mike Shapiro:

Thanks for alerting me to this incredibly odd situation. I’ve been working as a cartoonist since ’87 and this is one if the craziest things I’ve seen. I’ve identified 11 other cartoonists whose work Mr Charles is using. He also has taken a few of my characters and put them in a cartoon with the work of a colleague who may, or may not, be amused.I appreciate the heads-up. I’ll contact the other cartoonists whose work I’ve spotted. Perhaps if enough of us contact the editor he’ll realize this is not okay.
Mike Shapiro

And this from Pulitzer Prizewinner Walt Handelsman:

Wow!!! Thanks. That is crazy. Never had that happen before! I will follow up and let you know what happened. Thanks again.

I used a simple Google reverse image search to confirm and document the thefts.  A few examples:

1. This cartoon (found here), which ran in the January 9, 2014, print and electronic versions of the Montgomery Sentinel…


…is a mangled knockoff of the Jeff Parker cartoon that Cagle Cartoons sells here:
2. This cartoon (found here), which ran in the March 27, 2014, print and electronic versions of the Montgomery Sentinel…


…is a mangled knockoff of the Walt Handelsman cartoon found here:


3. This cartoon (found here), which ran in the September 4, 2014, print and electronic versions of the Montgomery Sentinel… 

…is a flipped and mangled knockoff of a Chris Riddell cartoon (found here):


4. This cartoon (found here), which ran in the July 31, 2014, print and electronic versions of the Montgomery Sentinel…
…is a mangled knockoff of the cartoon that CartoonStock sells here:
'... And this guy in the fancy suit is a big fan of my work, too.'
5. This cartoon (found here), which ran in the November 14, 2014, print and electronic versions of the Montgomery Sentinel… 


…is a knockoff of the Mike Shapiro cartoon (found here):


6. This cartoon (found here), which ran in the June 5, 2014, print and electronic versions of the Montgomery Sentinel… 


…is a mangled knockoff of a David Willson cartoon (found here):
These were just the thefts I found using Google’s reverse image search.  Other cartoons, which feature artwork stolen from a number of different sources, would have to be tracked down another way.  For instance, the figure to the right in this cartoon:
…is clearly recognizable as the work of New Yorker cartoonist Leo Cullum, which takes some nerve to pass off as one’s own.  But because it’s several artists’ work pasted together, a reverse image search is not helpful.The Sentinel’s full cartoon archive is here.  A .zip file of all their online cartoons is here.I will note for the record that I am the target of many of the Sentinel’s cartoons.  I don’t mind being razzed in political cartoons, even razzed hard – as a former journalist and political history buff, I wear it as a badge of honor.But even those fully protected by the First Amendment have to play by the rules. I am far less offended as the target of these cartoons than I am as a guy who spent a lot of time in his 20s making sure Congressional Quarterly’s publications had full rights to every scrap we ever published.

The Sentinel’s editors can take all the hard shots at me they want to (and I celebrate their right to do so), but they had better not steal when they do so.  It’s breaking the law and it hurts the profession.  I am truly offended by the Sentinel’s laziness and its disregard for the intellectual property of its journalism colleagues.

I informed the Sentinel’s editor, Brian Karem, in person several months ago that his newspaper is stealing art from all over the Internet and passing it off as its own; he seemed unconcerned and said he’d maybe mention something to “William Charles” about it.

Usually, newspapers excel at shining sunlight on issues; in this case, this newspaper needs some light shined on its thieving ways.  I realize it’s tricky, because newspapers don’t ordinarily like to call their competitors to account. So sometimes a blog posting will have to do.

Proposal: A Truly Multi-Modal Rockville Pike

pikeplanscreenshotRockville’s Mayor and Council has been studying the Planning Commission’s draft Rockville Pike Plan for months, and we have heard testimony from dozens of interested citizens and landowners on how we might best approach the corridor’s future.

By and large, I have been pleased with the Planning Commission’s vision for the future of the Pike. But I have had a concern from the start.  I was not able to fully articulate it before our months-long study of the draft Plan; I can now do so.  It is in the Plan’s insufficient embrace of multi-modal transportation.  While the cross-section proposed by the Planning Commission includes dedicated lanes for mass transit,  local lanes to improve vehicular flow, excellent bike lanes, and much-improved sidewalks, the Plan’s overall vision of possible modes of transportation is too cramped.

Today, I am proposing an alternative cross-section for the careful consideration of the public, the Planning Commission, and my colleagues on the Mayor and Council.  Details may be found here: Pike Plan – Multimodal Focus.

Rockville Embraces Vision Zero

I’m delighted that the Mayor and Council last night adopted my suggestion that we include “Vision Zero” principles in the Rockville Pike Plan.  Vision Zero is a policy that countries, states, and local governments can establish that sets a goal of zero fatalities and injuries on their roadways.  Over time, this will save the lives of Rockville’s pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers.

At its heart, Vision Zero shifts the responsibility for road incidents from drivers to the road system itself:

Vision Zero requires a paradigm shift in addressing the issue of road safety… It requires abandoning the traditional economic model where road safety is provided at reasonable cost and the traditional transport model in which safety must be balanced against mobility. At the core of the Vision Zero is the biomechanical tolerance of human beings. Vision Zero promotes a road system where crash energy cannot exceed human tolerance. While it is accepted that crashes in the transport system occur due to human error, Vision Zero requires no crash should be more severe than the tolerance of humans. The blame for fatalities in the road system is assigned to the failure of the road system rather than the road user. 


The concept first originated in Sweden in 1997.  Its results have been good:

Fatalities involving unprotected pedestrians in Sweden have fallen by almost 50% in the last five years. The number of children killed in traffic accidents has also been cut. In 2008 the first traffic death involving a child did not occur until 22 October that year.


Results in the U.S. have been very good as well:

The plan cites successes from several U.S. states that have implemented similar approaches with dramatic results, including a 43% reduction in traffic fatalities in Minnesota, a 48% reduction in Utah, and a 40% decrease in Washington State.

This report from the Swedish Road Administration (on the United Nations website) has some great visualizations of the problems that Vision Zero intends to address.

New York City has embraced Vision Zero wholeheartedly (here’s a New Republic article about it); Mayor Bowser has also announced plans to commit the District of Columbia to Vision Zero.   Each jurisdiction implements the vision in its own way; NYC has a focus on bus drivers and improvement of some archaic city and state laws that would be inappropriate for Rockville; the idea is to chart our own course in a way that will best get us to our goal.

The vision of keeping every adult and child safe on Rockville’s roadways is not controversial, nor will setting this goal ever obligate the City to spend money a future Mayor and Council doesn’t want to.  What it does do is take Rockville’s already-impressive efforts in making our streets as safe as possible and focus it on the goal of reducing fatalities and injuries on our roadways to zero.  We, and future mayors and councils, can do what we want, but our actions — appropriately — will be viewed through the prism of whether a proposed action helps reduce roadway fatalities and injuries.

On supporting the Pike’s local lanes.

After a lot of thought about the local lanes that the Planning Commission has proposed for the Rockville Pike master plan, I have decided to support including the lanes in the plan.  Here’s my thinking.

In a nutshell, the Pike cross-section proposed by the Planning Commission would keep vehicle capacity where it is, which I think is appropriate. Over time, we’re going to use our cars less, but there are going to be more of us living here, so it balances out.  The proposed plan makes room for bus rapid transit, which I think is great. It creates a pleasant space for bicyclists and pedestrians to actually use the Pike, and not just hop from place to place in their cars. And the local lanes make the driving, the biking, and the walking safer, which is absolutely key for me.

The proposed 252-foot cross-section is a reduction from the current 1989 plan’s 270 feet. Between the BRT, the bike lanes, the green spaces, and the wide sidewalks, it provides about as much space for cars as we do now.  But many other uses are provided for as well.

The Planning Commission has worked on this for five years. They have no financial stake in where this goes; they’re just trying to do what’s best for the City.  The City’s planning staff has also been working on this for five years.  (Click here for the staff’s summary of the options before the Mayor and Council).  They also have no financial stake in where this goes.  Neither does your Mayor and Council.  Our only goal is a safe and prosperous Rockville in the future.

Those who do have a financial stake in the success of the parcels they own would like to see the local lanes removed so they have more room to build their projects and can make more money.  There’s nothing wrong with that, and I’d argue that these developers also have a pretty good interest in seeing Rockville be safe and prosperous over the long haul.  But they have not launched this battle over the future of the City.  If the local lanes didn’t hurt the developers’ bottom line, I sincerely doubt they would have spent as much time and money as they have done to try to get them stripped out.

I kept an open mind on this for a long time.  I’ve talked to everyone who wanted to talk to me, I’ve weighed all the information, I’ve used my judgment, and I have decided that the local lanes should be included in the Rockville Pike Master Plan as the Planning Commission has recommended.  No one would ever accuse me of blindly accepting whatever our Planning Commission says, but on this issue I think they have gotten it right.

City staff on the options for the width of the Pike

In response to a citizen’s inquiry, Rockville’s Chief of Long Range Planning, David Levy, explained in great detail what’s going on with the proposed width of Rockville Pike.  It’s a good summary of the choices before us:

Thank you for your email and request, which was forwarded to me by the City’s Clerk’s office.  I am one of the City staffers working on the Rockville Pike Plan.

We appreciate that there is a great deal of confusion in the community regarding this topic. I will do my best to explain here. If you have the appetite for a much more detailed discussion of the topic, or of more comparison documents (there are many!!!), I can point you to places on the City’s Web site where you can find information or I can send them to you directly.

In short, there are three distinct “cross-sections” (which are plans for the road area) that are important to understand.


1) Current (1989) Plan:  There is an existing plan for the Rockville Plan corridor, which was adopted in 1989 and still stands. It establishes a “cross-section” distance of  270 feet  between the buildings on opposite sides of the Pike. It includes the road, sidewalks, service drives, buffer areas, and other components.

2) Planning Commission June 2014 Draft:  Rockville’s Planning Commission, through many work sessions, developed a proposed revised cross-section, which is the version that the Mayor and Council are considering now. It has a proposed cross-section distance of  252 feet , which includes the road, sidewalks, service drives, buffer areas, dedicated bike lanes and dedicated lanes for bus transit.

3) Narrower Cross-Section:  Some public testimony has proposed narrowing the Pike even further than the current Planning Commission draft. Two particular notions have been presented – a) removing dedicated lanes for bus transit, or b) removing the “service drives” (or access roads).  A proposal from B.F. Saul, for example, has proposed adopting one of the two cross-sections from Montgomery County’s White Flint Sector Plan, which has approved a cross-section distance of 182 feet , without service drives.

I will do my best to explain clearly some key differences among the three of them.

Current (1989) Rockville Pike Plan

The current (1989) plan width along the Rockville Pike corridor is 270 feet, from building face to building face.  What that means is that new buildings are required to have a large portion of the building front at 135 feet from the center of the road. The new buildings that are under construction right now are meeting that requirement.

Within those 135 feet are the main travel lanes of the Pike, a service road, landscaping, and parking.

As you may have heard, the service roads are a big part of the discussion with the Mayor and Council, and community. The current (1989) plan re-affirmed the City policy, dating from the 1960s, that service roads be a part of the cross-section. Just to be clear, the service roads are the drive aisles and informal roads that run parallel to much of the Pike now and that allow for movement between sites without having to return to the main roadway. They are in front of Best Buy, Jos Banks, and many other places.

The service roads are not completed and are not quite “real” roads. Plus, there are gaps; they are not designed as consistently as would be preferred; and they do not all line up in the same location. Furthermore, in their current design, they do not make walking or biking on the Pike comfortable. However, these service roads do serve a function now by allowing local, inter-site movement and they do reduce the number of curb cuts that would otherwise be required if every property needed its own access point from the Pike. As a result, they help keep the right lane of the Pike flowing a bit better than if they were not there.

In their current (1989) form, their primary purpose is to separate traffic that is passing through from local traffic, to make the system function better for automobile travel. The new draft plan attempts to make them good for pedestrians and cyclists, as well.

Planning Commission June 2014 Draft Plan 

The Planning Commission June 2014 draft plan proposes that the overall width be  narrowed  from the existing policy of 270 feet to 252 feet.    Please understand, because there is much misunderstanding out there on this point – the Planning Commission draft is proposing to  narrow  the entire cross-section, not widen it, compared to the current (1989) plan and where buildings are currently being built.

The narrowing is permitted mostly by changing the approach to parking, with greater emphasis on reducing (but not eliminating) the amount of parking that would be in the front of buildings.

The other main changes that the Planning Commission draft proposes as compared to the 1989 plan are 1) to include two new lanes for bus rapid transit in the center of the Pike, and 2) to make design adjustments to the service lanes. The Mayor and Council has heard testimony in favor of and opposed to both of these.

The proposed new bus transit lanes widen the overall cross-section by approximately 35 feet, compared to not having them; though they are accommodated in the 252 feet.

The main proposed design changes to the service roads are 1) to make them one-way, in the same direction as the traffic to which it is adjacent; 2) add two-directional bike lanes (on both sides of the Pike); and 3) require 20-foot-wide sidewalks at the front of buildings, which would include the walking area and the area for trees, signs, outdoor seating, etc. Below is a diagram of the service road portion of the cross-section, as shown in the Planning Commission’s current draft. The main portion of the proposed new cross-section for the Pike is on the left of the picture.

37194080Narrower Cross-Sections

As mentioned above, there are two lines of testimony indicating how the cross-section could be narrowed. One of them proposes to eliminate the dedicated transit lanes. To date, the Mayor and Council have indicated their desire to retain that feature and preserve lanes for transit.

The other line, which is the active community discussion to which you referred in your email, proposes a cross-section of 182 feet, from building face to building face.  This proposal has been actively promoted by the B. F. Saul Company, in the context of their current concept for a development project near the Twinbrook Metro Station; and quite a few community members have testified to the Mayor and Council in favor of this approach, while others have testified in opposition.

The concept proposes that the City adopt one of the two cross-sections presented in Montgomery County’s White Flint Sector Plan. That proposal includes sidewalks and bike lanes, and on-street parking on the main portion of the Pike, as illustrated below. It also includes dedicated transit lanes in the middle of the Pike. As such, the center portion of this cross-section, which includes three travel lanes on both sides and dedicated transit lanes, is the same as the Planning Commission’s draft.

The main difference from the Planning Commission draft, and the existing (1989) plan, is that this approach would eliminate the local service roads. By eliminating the service roads, the need for the buffer between main lanes and service roads (shown above in the prior section) is also eliminated.

The Mayor and Council have not yet made a decision as a body regarding whether to retain the service roads, though they did indicate their preference that there not be parallel parking on the main roadway.

This is fairly complex stuff and difficult to synthesize briefly in writing.  I would be more than happy to meet with you or discuss by phone, if that would help. 


David Levy

David B. Levy
Chief of Long Range Planning and Redevelopment
Dept. of Community Planning and Development Services
City of Rockville
111 Maryland Avenue
Rockville, Maryland 20850-2364
Desk: 240-314-8272
Main: 240-314-8200

The facts on Rockville’s failed school standards.

There’s a lot of noise out there on the issue of the City’s school standards, but here are the facts.

The effort to change the standards is being driven by members of the Mayor and Council who care deeply about our schools and our City.   As many of you know, Amy and I have two kids at RM, three at JW, and one at Beall. No one is more heavily invested in the success of our schools than we are.

Rockville’s APFO has failed to keep our schools from becoming more overcrowded.  It is hurting our schools and hurting our City.  It’s the Mayor and Council’s job to get rid of this failed experiment and find something that works.

The school standards Rockville wrote into its development laws in 2005 were tighter than Montgomery County’s based on two untested theories:

  1. That the standards would keep our crowded schools from becoming more overcrowded, and
  2. That the County would direct money to Rockville sooner than it otherwise would because without the funds, sections of the City would fall into building moratoria.

Nine years later, it’s clear that these theories were wrong, our standards have failed, and Rockville and its schools are paying the price.  Our schools have become substantially more crowded since 2005.  And Montgomery County has made it clear to the City that it will never direct money to us more quickly because we have standards that are different from theirs.

Rockville Town Center has been in moratorium as to new projects since the APFO was enacted, and the entire Richard Montgomery High School cluster – which includes all of Town Center and most of Rockville Pike – will be at a standstill until at least 2029 if we fail to fix our standards.  This imperils all the hard-won progress we have made in Rockville Town Center, and makes impossible the improvements we have been hoping to make on Rockville Pike.

The APFO has shut down our progress in Town Center in an attempt to stem school overcrowding, but it has failed to accomplish that goal. The problem is that it aims at the wrong target.  85% of the enrollment growth in our schools has come not from new development, but from people who move here for the good schools and fill our existing houses with children.

Likewise, Rockville’s standards have failed to bring school-construction funds to the City any sooner.  The County only funds construction when schools are over the County’s capacity standards (not the City’s).  Therefore, having a lower capacity standard than the County makes it less likely that schools in the City will be expanded or replaced.  When the County had a chance in May 2011 to dedicate money to expand Julius West and build a new elementary school for us, it decided not to do it because the funds wouldn’t lift the area out of the City’s artificially strict moratorium.

Worse, The City’s standards do not prevent development just across the city limits in the County, where there is no moratorium.  This County development places pressure on Rockville’s roads and schools without providing any benefits to the City.   In clusters like Walter Johnson HS, where much of the cluster is outside Rockville, we’ll soon be facing a situation where we’ll stop development when the high school hits 110%, but the County will keep building in the areas outside the City until it gets to 120%.  Our kids will end up going to a school that’s just as crowded, but Rockville will lose out on a lot of economic development.  This can happen in four out the five high schools Rockville kids go to: Rockville, Walter Johnson, Wootton, and Gaithersburg – all but Richard Montgomery.

The better course is to adopt Montgomery County’s school standards, as recommended by the 13 community members who studied the issue during the 2012 Rockville Summit on its Housing Working Group:

After extensive review and considerable discussion about the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance the committee has determined policy makers should give significant consideration to modifying Rockville’s APFO to mirror that of Montgomery County’s. The primary reason for this recommendation is the impact the school occupancy portion of the APFO has on residential development. The City does not have domain over the schools. That authority lies with the county. To limit development based on something out of Rockville’s control is not in the best interest of the City.

Twenty-six community members on the Summit’s Education and School Capacity Working Group who studied the issue closely also recommended that the City “[m]odify its Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) to harmonize with the County, especially with regard to school facilities.”

Montgomery County only acts according to its own standards, not the City’s.  If we adopt the County standards, Montgomery County will have the same incentive to invest in Rockville’s schools as it does elsewhere.  Our law will better reflect and predict what the County’s school-construction plans will be.  This will allow Rockville to more accurately plan for future growth, which is the entire point of an APFO.

Nine years of failure is enough.  The APFO school standards have not protected our children from crowded schools. All they have done is damage Rockville’s ability to manage its growth and plan for its future.  It’s time for them to go.

The Mayor and Council are holding a public hearing on these proposed changes on January 5, and I invite you to come and listen or speak.

On public campaign financing…

Below is an e-mail I have sent to members of the Montgomery County Council urging them to pass Phil Andrews’ public campaign financing bill and recommending that they remove an amendment that would not serve the County well.


Dear [Councilmember],

I wanted to take a minute to thank you for hearing my comments on the Right to Vote Task Force report on Tuesday night, and once again to strongly encourage you to pass Bill 16-14 on Public Campaign Financing of Elections next week.

I am writing to you as an individual member of the Rockville City Council (and silver medalist in the most recent County Council primary election) and not on behalf of the City of Rockville.

I am alarmed by the amendment that has been added in committee to Bill 16-14 that would match contributions raised outside Montgomery County. As a policymaker and as a Montgomery County taxpayer, I believe such a provision to be inappropriate. It is also unlikely to help those it is designed to help.

From a policy perspective, such a match defeats what I see as the best purpose of the bill – to force candidates to focus their communications efforts on Montgomery County voters. It is enough for the law to allow unmatched $150 contributions from outside the County – that way, if a candidate has a deep network of contributors who live outside Montgomery County, she or he can still tap that resource and participate in the system. But candidates’ main focus should be communicating with voters squarely within our borders.

My concerns as a County taxpayer are equally serious. Say a candidate raises most of her funds from contributors in DC and Virginia. Why should my tax dollars be working to vastly amplify the voices of these outsiders, whose interests may not align well with the County’s?

Aside from these concerns, the outside-the-County match would be ineffective in the stated purpose of the amendment: Helping launch the campaign of a candidate whose family and friend network lies outside Montgomery County. A candidate can tap her out-of-County network as hard as she likes, but because matching funds are paid to candidates only after they have qualified for the program with sufficient local contributions, a match of outside-the-County contributions would come far too late to help a candidate get her campaign off the ground. Once you’ve raised enough local dollars to qualify for matching funds, your campaign is pretty-well launched, whether or not you have outside money as well. At that point, the matching funds paid on outside-the-County contributions just serve to dilute the contributions of Montgomery County residents.

I appreciate your attention to the devils that lie in the details of this bill, and urge you to pay close attention to this one. Matching contributions from outside Montgomery County undermines the purpose of the law, it uses Montgomery County taxpayer money to dilute the influence of Montgomery County voters, and it doesn’t actually help a candidate with an outside-the-County fundraising network get his or her campaign off the ground. Limiting the total out-of-County match to 10% of public funds makes this bad idea better, but just slightly. The idea of matching outside-the-County contributions should be scrapped altogether.

Thank you.

All the best,

Tom Moore
City of Rockville