Thursday, November 13, 2014

Howard County 2014

It is often the case that campaigns can help define the future.  A candidate's promises, for good or bad, are presumed to be endorsed by the people and, therefore, given political space to develop.  I would welcome correction, but I'm not sure we have a clear description of what the next four years will look like or what priorities will get attention first.  So I thought I would dig in.

Inner Arbor - I think the success or failure of the Inner Arbor will portend the success or failure of Columbia as a whole.  It is a high profile public-private partnership that strives to be a "world-class" feature of what was once considered a "world-class" town.  More importantly, it includes all of the dangerous aspects of Columbia politics - clashing factions, weaponized transparency, and ceaseless letters to the Columbia Flier.

Believe it or not, I was the first person to go over the Inner Arbor plan with Allan Kittleman back in 2012.  We met at Bean Hollow on Main Street and I showed him the plans, explained the function of the Trust, and asked him if we had his support.  As a prudent elected official and candidate, he said that he thought this was "really exciting", but wanted to learn more.  At a debate in July, Allan expanded on that, and was quoted by Amanda Yeager as saying"I think the Inner Arbor plan is something that's good for Columbia... and is a good thing to bring young people to Howard County. I'm supportive of the plan; I want to work with those who may be concerned about it."

Furthermore, it appears that all five Council-members are on-board with the project and want to see it succeed.  That means the political will is there, it is bipartisan, and the remaining question is whether there is the courage to get this done.  Courage is a critical word here, because it is not enough to be on-board when things are going well or there is no opposition.  Michael McCall has been very much left on a island for the past two years, waiting for campaign season to end, and governing to resume.  Let's bear down, get this passed by the Planning Board, and start building the park we all want and deserve.

Aging in Place - Allan Kittleman focused on making seniors a priority in his race for County Executive and has carried that message over to his transition team.  This is a multifaceted issue with a diverse population of varied needs, resources, and abilities.  One can look no further than CA's attempt to implement the recommendations of the Senior Advisory Committee to see how complicated this issue is to address.

I think the bedrock for this issue is healthcare upon which all other components may be built.  Executive Kittleman has the opportunity to produce the same sort of innovative policy that put Ken Ulman on the map.  Work with stakeholders to expand access to home nursing care, in-house therapy, and fellowship groups like senior "village" communities to break down the walls of skilled nursing facilities and put those resources in the homes of every person who wants to live out their golden years with independence.

Transportation - This has become a perennial issue that breaks down to one simple question - How do we get Howard County citizens to use mass transit before it becomes a necessity?  We are less than three weeks away from my moratorium on visiting the Mall between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  With the addition of new housing units, an "open-air" mall, and a very popular Whole Foods, many folks will be expanding that no-go zone to all of Town Center.  So long as we continue to prize parking over public space, and idolize the independence and freedom of the personal automobile, Columbia is going to be a half-realized city.  While not talked about much, you can be sure that Howard Hughes has no interest in owning parking lots as trapped capital.  Over the next five years, I would expect Columbia's parking capacity to decrease by at least half and be replaced with $5-an-hour parking garages.  Will the County keep pace enough to provide an alternative way to get to our commercial center?

Homelessness - You didn't think I was going to leave this off the list, did you?  Ken Ulman has placed the ball on the tee for Allan Kittleman with regard to Howard County's current homeless population.  But our County's growth will inevitably require additional attention to this issue.  This presents the same question as we face on Transportation - Will the County keep pace?

Obviously, addressing homelessness involves more than housing.  You need the social safety net to 1) prevent homelessness, and 2) rehabilitate those who have fallen off their path.

I am concerned that a "set-it-and-forget-it" mindset may trip up our commitment to this issue.  "You want a Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness?  We've got one.  Now let's talk about X."  This is a pernicious issue that will get you when your back is turned.  Let's not turn out back.

Ellicott City Flooding - What can I say here that I have not already said over the past two years?  Allan Kittleman gets a blank slate on this one, but I've been dying to hear a County Executive go on the record to say "I will be corralling state, federal, and local resources to address Main Street flooding and make sure our residents and business owners are safe."

We're not going to be able to stop flooding in Ellicott City, but the current state of things unnecessarily puts lives and small businesses at stake.  And you can be sure that once lives are lost, there will be political will to get these projects done.  I have no interest in attending that press conference.

That's all for today.  Have a great Thursday doing what you love!