Virginia is halfway through a whirlwind legislative session. How are new laws going to change the lives of Virginians? And Montgomery County Public Schools are taking the first steps toward redistricting, making some parents and students hopeful and others angry. How might the process end?
Alexandria City Councilmember Canek Aguirre joins us to talk about transportation, from efforts to make the city more walkable and electric scooters to the soon-to-end Blue and Yellow line Metro shutdown. Plus, we’ll talk about affordable housing.
Then, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball III discusses the region’s relationship with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, plans to help Ellicott City mitigate the costs after two floods and a proposal for funding education in the county through an increase in fees for housing developers.
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Mark Gunnery and Cydney Grannan
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour starring Tom Sherwood, I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst. He's a contributing writing for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with Calvin Ball the Howard County Executive. Joining us in studio now is Canek Aguirre. He is an Alexandria City Councilmember. Canek Aguirre, thank you very much for joining us.
CANEK AGUIRREGreat to be back.
NNAMDIFirst up, Tom Sherwood, what's going on with the D.C. lottery and sports gambling contract? The Washington Post did an apparently exhaustive investigation of the company that is supposed to be the subcontractor. The contractor being the Greek company Intralot. The subcontractor being a company known as Veterans Services Corporation, turns out that apparently Veterans Services Corporation's work will be performed by a company called DC09, but apparently DC09 was formed by and is controlled by Intralot. What's going on?
SHERWOODWell, they seem to be a sham subcontractors to Intralot, which is the big gaming firm out of Greece. First of all, the story was well documented by Steve Thompson for The Washington Post. I want to give him credit for it. And this is another blow to this contract. We had a big fight earlier this winter and spring in the city about whether and how the city would go forward with sports betting. Intralot runs the city's lottery, and it wanted to control sports betting. The CFO of the city, Jeffrey -- his name went out of my head. Anyway --
SHERWOODDeWitt. I started saying someone else's name.
NNAMDIDon't know why I remembered it.
SHERWOODSaid, look, we want to get off the ground quickly. Let's do a sole source contract. Let's move ahead. Intralot is in place. It can do it. And the Council was very close. Vote allowed it to go forward. And now this shows that this Veterans Services Corporation essentially is a nothing contract. The person who controls it is actually employed or gets money from Intralot in a different way. So it's a mess.
SHERWOODAnd I had just spoken -- not spoken but texted with Councilmember Silverman this morning, Elissa Silverman who was opposed to the sole source contract. She says she is now talking to the Attorney General Karl Racine about whether or not the Council can bring this thing back up in the next couple of weeks and maybe put a halt on it till we figure out what's going on. And maybe move away from sole source contracting and put it out for bid for other people, who might want to do it. So it's a big blow to sports betting in the city, which just this week released the rules and regulations for businesses that want to do sports betting. It's a mess.
NNAMDIOn to the commonwealth of Virginia where in Fairfax County the Virginia State Police are opening an investigation into Fairfax County Board member Jeff McKay, why?
SHERWOODWell, the allegation from a former opponent is that he did some favors -- zoning favors and then ended up getting a house built at a reduced cost. He says this is political smear. There's nothing to it. McKay says he'll fight it, and that's where it stands.
NNAMDIAlexandria City staff are exploring the idea of closing off part of King Street to car traffic to make the area, which leads directly into Waterfront Park more walkable. What do you think about this project? And how do you balance the needs of all the different people using roads including pedestrians, cyclists and drivers especially in such a high traffic area?
AGUIRRELet's not forget the scooters, right?
NNAMDII was about to get to that, but go ahead.
AGUIRRENo. I think, you know, it's a good idea. If anybody has ever been down there during peak times you see how many people are walking and crossing traffic. And the cars just start to get backed up, because they can't turns because they have to seed the path to pedestrians. I think the one major thing that we have to take into consideration is those with disabilities and some of our senior populations, how do they access that last two blocks, right? Because we could get parking for everybody further up and not give access to vehicles. How do we get everybody else down there?
AGUIRREPotentially maybe letting the trolley keep on going down there. So it's still something that we're talking about. And I believe the mayor and Councilman Chapman have brought it forward. So I'm looking forward to doing it. And we already have one example from a car festival that we had I think earlier this year. And it went really really well.
AGUIRREYeah. So it was classic cars. It was really cool.
SHERWOODOkay. Alexandria is growing just like other cities and parts of the region. But every jurisdiction has got to do something more about cars, though. We just can't have everybody have a car.
AGUIRRENo, absolutely. You know, we're trying to encourage people to use other modes of transportation and I don't want to get ahead of ourselves. But, you know, with the WMATA shutdown and everything I know there was a lot of people using the water taxi and had never used it, myself included. And so we're trying to look at different modes of transportation.
NNAMDIWell, Alexandria's pilot program for dockless electric scooters, speaking of other modes of transportation, was extended until the end of this year. Mayor Justin Wilson recently said that what he's hearing from his constituents is that the scooters have, quoting here, "Either destroyed our city as we know it or are a welcome transportation alternative." Where do you fall on this scooter question?
AGUIRREWell, I think it's somewhere in between, because honestly I don't think the regulations and the technology have caught up to what it is exactly. I do like the idea of the scooters especially with the whole concept of the last mile home. One of the big concerns that I know my colleague Councilman Seifeldein is looking into is the environmental impact and how long do these scooters last?
SHERWOODThe environmental impact of a scooter?
AGUIRREBecause of the batteries and if they're not used for longer than say a month, what happens to all the parts, right?
SHERWOODOkay. Well, scooters, everyone refers to them as Kojo just did as dockless scooters. Of course, cars are kind of dockless too because they park anywhere the hell they want. But, you know, there is -- it's called micro transit. You've got to accommodate people who are going short distances.
SHERWOODBut in a longer -- Metro, I was just reading there have been plans -- not plans, discussions and studies by WMATA to extend Metro with all these stations reopening soon, you know, next week or so. Metro across the Wilson Bridge to National Harbor, no, not real -- is that going to be something that is even on the agenda of the Alexandria Council? It would go from Alexandria to National Harbor. The Wilson Bridge was redone and it was built in order to provide rapid transit, but it hasn't been done because it costs too much.
AGUIRREI mean, this is the first I hear about a Metro extension from Alexandria to National Harbor.
SHERWOODOkay. So that means it's not high on the list of Alexandria issues. Back to scooters.
NNAMDIWell, wait. Before we get back to scooters, Kay Stimson, the president of the North Ridge Civic Association emailed in to say, does the councilmember intend to stand in support with the 11 Alexandria civic associations representing 8,000 plus households in maintaining four traffic lanes along Seminary Road when the Council vote on the city staff's recommendation on September 14th?
AGUIRREAll right. So jumping right into it.
NNAMDIThat's a yes or no question right there.
AGUIRREWell, first of all I live in that community, right, when we're talking about Seminary Road. And last year I actually walked that route and we saw a little bit of everything, people running lights, the bikes riding on the sidewalks because they don't feel comfortable on the road. So there's a lot of things that are going into this. And people are very passionate about it on both sides to reduce it to three lanes, and, of course, the other side to keep it to four lanes. And I've been at the community meetings. I've met with residents from both sides of the issue and there's still a lot of information coming in. The thing is at the end of the day as a community it's our responsibility to, you know, ensure safe and reliable mobility for all of our residents across the city whether you're walking, biking, scootering, taking the bus or driving.
SHERWOODI didn't hear a yes or a no.
AGUIRREYou guys will have to tune into the City Council meeting.
SHERWOODWell, you have those four lanes. That's four lanes there now, right?
AGUIRRETwo lanes in each in direction, yes.
SHERWOODIs Duke Street also? I was out for something I forgot, and went on Duke Street and it's like four lanes or more.
AGUIRREOn both sides.
SHERWOODBut the speed limit is 25.
SHERWOODOn Seminary it is also 25?
AGUIRREOn Duke Street certain portions are 25, but other portions are 35.
SHERWOODOf course, no one goes 25.
AGUIRREAnd, you know, part of the concept behind a road diet, if you will, is that by making it one lane as long as you have one person going the speed limit everybody else is going to be going speed limit behind you.
SHERWOODOr passing illegally.
AGUIRREI don't know if -- people aren't too encouraged to go into oncoming traffic. So I don't know about that.
SHERWOODWell, I don't know. I've seen some pretty outrageous behavior of people who get stuck behind one lane traffic.
NNAMDITwo weeks ago the real estate website Redfin said that Alexandria and Arlington County have the most competitive housing markets in the country. While there is still debate over just what is causing that competition, the effects are clear. More demand, less supply, housing staying on the market for less time and selling above the list price. In light of all of this, how do you think the city should ensure that its affordable housing stock grows and stays well, affordable?
AGUIRREYeah, this is a huge issue in the city and we talked about it a little bit last time. But I'm actually really excited, because I'm going to a national convening down in Durham, North Carolina in October and we're going to be discussing different strategies for not only preserving affordable housing, but trying to create new affordable housing. And it's a mix of financing. It's a mix of zoning. It's a mix of talking with the community so that they're on board. And also working within our own constraints as a state, right, because in Virginia we're a Dillon rule state. So we have to work within those constraints. Although we all know in November the situation might change a little bit at the state level. So we have to keep an eye on that as well.
SHERWOODWhen you announced it in February of 2018, you said affordable housing was the most important issue in your campaign, but studying it yes going to the (word?) in North Carolina, is there an idea of what you think needs to happen? Is it just a matter of spending more money, setting aside affordable housing, workforce housing? You must have some ideas of what you want to do and if you're not sure, ready yet to say what you will do?
AGUIRREYeah, I think, you know, we definitely have to look mix use. Creating density, but when we're creating density it's very counterintuitive because people -- talking about cars again, right?
AGUIRREWhen we're creating density we have to make sure that we're putting the proper infrastructure in place with retail and services so people just have to walk within their community. And then the transportation infrastructure as well, because then that way people are not isolated within their region. They could still get to different places.
SHERWOODAnd, again, it can't be carcentric.
NNAMDIHere Paul called in to ask, what is Canek Aguirre doing to preserve the property values of the west end in Alexandria? So you're not dealing only with people who want affordable housing. You're dealing with people who apparently don't want their property values to drop in the west end.
AGUIRREHonestly, I don't see that happening, with some of the development that we have going and the potential for our transit corridors that we want to put in along Beauregard and Duke Street, some of the funding that we're going to be getting from the state to look into some of things. I think there's a lot of opportunity in the West End. And, again, we have to make sure that infrastructure is in place, because we're not forcing people out of their cars. We're encouraging people to look at other modes of transportation. So I think the real estate values will still be going up.
NNAMDIAgain, others modes of transportation, at a round table this Monday with leaders from Northern Virginia, Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey who is also on the WMATA Board said he wants to see quoting here, "See the attention to Metro's buses that is paid to rail." Where do you think buses should be fitting into transit solutions?
AGUIRREBuses are extremely important. Part of the thing is people don't think they're reliable or that they're going to be on time they're not going to use it. So we have to make sure that they're reliable. They're on time and that's there's frequent, right.
AGUIRREI would love to see more dedicated lanes. You know, we have a partial bus rapid transit with a dedicated lane in Alexandria. We're hoping to try and create something similar on the West End as well and maybe in the future on the Duke corridor as well.
SHERWOODYou know, many people do depend upon the buses to get to jobs and to other things, see family members. But buses have a sense that many people of means who could have a car or do something else feel it's kind of step down to ride a bus. One thing you have to do is change the reputation of buses in addition to having them be on time. To make sure that they're clean, that they're available.
AGUIRREAbsolutely, I think that's a big point there.
NNAMDIWith the closure of the Metro stations, the Metro rail stations recently apparently there was a significant increase in bus ridership that we saw. You were named in May to El Tiempo Latino's Powermeter 100 list. This list honors the 100 most influential people in the local Latino community.
SHERWOODWhat number was he?
SHERWOODDo you know what number you were?
AGUIRREThey put us in alphabetical order. So apparently I'm around number one.
NNAMDIHe's number one because his name starts with A.
SHERWOODOkay. Sorry. Excuse me for interrupting.
NNAMDIYou were born and raised in L.A. Your parents are Mexican immigrants. But you've been in Alexandria since 2011, and you've been in office since the beginning of this year. What has your experience been representing Latino and immigrant communities in Alexandria?
AGUIRREYou know, I think this is an important time for the Latino community in the DMV as a whole. It's a very interesting point. We're kind of at that critical mass point where the Latino community has graduated from high school, graduated from college, created businesses, and now we have that base of support to kind of go out and start taking some more political action. The thing in Alexandria and looking, of course, at the national level with what's going on with administration I think it's extremely important for local politicians to be protective of their communities, to show the impact and the benefit of immigrant communities.
AGUIRREAnd so it's been a pleasure to be working with lots of different groups such as Tenants and Workers United in the City of Alexandria, New Virginia Majority at the state level to make sure that those protections are in place. And also to highlight, you know, the benefits of having the immigrant community, the culture that they bring, the food, the diversity and the economic benefit, of course, as well.
SHERWOODYou did work as an interpreter for the immigrant community. Are there enough interpreters to make sure that people of different languages and cultures can understand what's happening in your city in Alexandria?
AGUIRREThere's never enough interpreters, right. I think it's something that we're working towards, but it is a very crucial role especially when you talk about in our school system in Alexandria there's over 100 languages that are spoken. So we're constantly trying to see how we could be inclusive as possible.
SHERWOODI was seeing that on September 14th there's a second annual Ethiopian annual taste of Ethiopia in Alexandria. And I tell people all the time, you go to Montgomery County wherever there are like 100 languages spoken everywhere. I'm sure in the District too. But you still don't see and even with the deaf community in this city, there's not enough interpretation, sign language. So everyone knows what's going on.
NNAMDIThere is a great deal of fear in the immigrant community, because of the current political climate. How do you think that will affect especially where you are the 2020 census?
AGUIRRESo I'm glad you bring that up. I'm actually the Chair of the Complete Count Committee. We have --
SHERWOODThe Complete Count Committee?
AGUIRREFor the City of Alexandria.
SHERWOODThat's an official group or a social group?
AGUIRREIt's an official group for the city, yeah. It's our official census committee to get a complete count in the city. You know, I think one of the biggest things is to have trusted messengers within the community whether they're speaking Amharic, Arabic or Spanish and folks that you see in your neighborhood, folks that you see at the bus stop, folks that you see at the grocery store. This is the way we're going to get people and encourage them to take the census, right, because it's still -- they feel that risk. They feel that fear, and we have to show them that it's safe. It's easy and it's secure because, you know, there is case law that says that they cannot share any information from the census data. Granted I know the administration that we're dealing with, but this is what we're working with and the messaging that we're trying to use.
SHERWOODIt seems that Ken Cuccinelli, who is the former attorney general of Virginia now is in an immigrant position for the Trump administration is being much more aggressive. You know, he made that horrific remark about the Statue of Liberty quotation. We only want people, who can sustain themselves and there's the new rules about people who are here for medical reasons who may have to reapply to stay here. And that it's -- you can understand why people are not just fearful. They are frightened. They are really truly are withdrawing from society in many respects, because any exposure to a hospital or to a school or to a library puts a target on their backs or on their fronts.
AGUIRREAnd if I could piggyback on that the whole thing with the public charge is not helping either. October 15th, I know there's pending litigation, but I mean, you're taking away critical services for individuals that they need and because of the fear they're saying, well, I'm not going to try to get any or access any of these services. So it's a very frightening time, but, you know, we have to put in as many supports as possible.
NNAMDIUtara emails, and I'm a resident of Alexandria, will the trolley still run on King Street or are you moving it to another road? What will you do with King Street traffic? As a resident on Prince I don't want more traffic going in front of my house. It's already strained.
AGUIRREI have never heard about moving the trolley off of King Street. So I'm pretty sure we're keeping it there and I would advocate to keep it there as well.
SHERWOODWell, you mentioned the elections coming up on November the 5th, the off year elections. Every Senate and House seat is up. I looked at Alexandria. There are 28 Senate or House seats that are affecting in Alexandria or parts of Alexandria. Of those 28 only 9 are contested. And so the democrats hold a substantial lead in all of those. In the House, there are 19 seats and only 6 are opposed. In the Senate, there are 9 seats and only 3 are opposed. It seems to me that the democrats have a great expectation that you're going to flip some more seats and you're going to take the House and the Senate. What are the contested races in Alexandria? Tim Hugo, Dan Helmer is running against Tim Hugo. What races do you think people should be looking at as we head to November the 5th?
AGUIRREI think that's a good one, Dan Helmer. Down in Virginia Beach there's one I think in the 99th or the 100th. Phil Hernandez is running. But, I mean, within the city proper of Alexandria all of our folks are pretty much safe, because we have five people in our delegation. I think only Senator Barker is being contested. I think he has a strong group, though, in the City of Alexandria and parts of Prince William and Fairfax.
NNAMDIAnd finally, go ahead.
SHERWOODI was just going to say, so Northern Virginia democrats again will lead the way to Richmond?
AGUIRREWe're leading the way, but we're hoping to get some help from the other parts of the city, state as well.
NNAMDIFinally we got an email from Larry, council and staff seem to focus on increasing residential development, but there's a major tax based disparity with such a small percentage of revenue coming from businesses. What will the Council to rebalance the tax revenue to increase the business tax base?
AGUIRREHuge issue, we've had an imbalance for a long time, and part of the difficulty is land is at a premium in the city. And where do we create -- where can we build some of this commercial base? And that's part of the importance of the Potomac Air and Metro, right. We're going down to Richmond on September 6 to get our last permit to try and push this forward from the Department of Environmental Quality and the Water Control Board. And this is an area in Potomac Yard where we could try and create some more of that commercial base to help, you know, even out that percentage if you will.
NNAMDICanek Aguirre, he's an Alexandria City Councilmember. He's a democrat. Thank you so much for joining us.
AGUIRREAlways a pleasure. Thank you guys.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll be talking with Howard County Executive Calvin Ball. You can start calling with your questions or comments for him now, 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. This is of course The Politics Hour. Tom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst. He's contributing writer for Washington City Paper. And joining us in studio now is Howard County Executive Calvin Ball. He is a democrat. Thank you so much for joining us.
CALVIN BALL IIIThank you for having me, and welcome to all the listeners.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, in Montgomery County, County Executive Mark Eldridge is apparently going to nominate Daryll McSwain as the next Montgomery Police Chief. McSwain only retired from the Montgomery County Police after 30 years last year. He's currently chief of the Maryland National Capital Park Service Montgomery County division. I guess the surprise however, earlier was when the county executive's nominee Tonya Chapman had withdrawn herself from consideration apparently, because of so much chatter surrounding her time as chief in Portsmouth, Virginia.
SHERWOODYou know, this has been a big setback for the county executive. You know, he did a big search and considered a variety of people. Tonya Chapman's name came out, but she did have a terrible time in Portsmouth. She wrote a four page memo back then about the assault back when she left that job, the assault on her, the racism of Portsmouth. She sent out an email to all the police officers, who were grumbling about her. It just seemed like an unpleasant fit for Montgomery County and she surprisingly withdrew. But not so surprising to people who were paying attention, because not one councilmember in the County Council of Montgomery had said anything positive about her. And she was answering a 40 page questionnaire, and it did not look good for her so she withdrew.
SHERWOODEldridge said that he was disappointed. That she might be considered for another job in another jurisdiction, but he would move ahead. And he hasn't yet appointed or nominated Darryl McSwain, but already councilmembers are publically saying this is the right choice. This is someone who knows Montgomery County, who has the integrity, can address the issues of both running a 1300 member force, but also the racial concerns that had been raised in the last couple of years in Montgomery County about police were treating minorities. And, of course, this is to replace Tom Manger, who had held the job for 15 years. And it's one of the most important jobs that Mr. Eldridge will fill.
NNAMDII know Mr. Eldridge wanted the Tacoma Park police chief who was one of the finalists for this position to apply for it. And then the Tacoma Park police chief said, I just remembered how wonderful Tacoma Park is.
SHERWOODAnd I think he has -- yes, I'm sorry. His name is escaping me now, but he has like 40 police officers in --
SHERWOODSo, I think that's what happened there.
NNAMDIAll right. On to Calvin Ball. Last weekend, a natural gas explosion did major damage to a commercial building in Columbia. What's the latest on the recovery operation there?
IIISo, at about 7:30, our Department of Fire and Rescue Services got a call for a gas leak. They went in. They were able to ascertain that there was a gas leak. They put together a perimeter, and then at about 8:00 a.m. on Sunday, there was the explosion. It's a good thing that they were able to put that perimeter up. And we had no injuries or deaths.
IIIPeople are having a lot of challenges, moving forward. About 22 businesses were adversely impacted. We're working with our Economic Development Authority and our Office of Workforce Development for the displaced workers. BG&E is working to do an investigation, and we are going to continue to move forward as a united Howard County.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) May I...
SHERWOODWhat does move forward mean? (laugh) It sounds like we're playing chess. But has the county had to commit monies to this, other than the emergency personnel who responded, as they're moved -- some of these smaller businesses, to move them -- to help them move and save money, or have fewer losses? What's moving forward mean?
IIISo, working with the businesses, those who want to potentially be in other locations during this time of transition. Those who were able -- we had a very controlled and brief time for them to go in and get some of their most valuable possessions, paperwork, what have you. Move forward means helping those displaced workers with maybe other job opportunities. Seeing which aspects or which portions of the explosion people might be able to go into sooner rather than later. Working with the property manager on ensuring that anything that we can do is -- luckily, they had insurance.
IIIAnd so, you know, some may not return. Where might they want to find other locations in Howard County? We're working with them on that, so...
SHERWOODOkay. It's pretty comprehensive. Okay.
NNAMDIYesterday, you and Governor Hogan hosted a press conference announcing a land deal to help with Ellicott City mitigation costs, after two floods did serious damage over the past few years. What are the broad outlines of that plan?
IIISo, as we know, in recent time -- in 2011, 2016, 2018 -- we had significant flooding in Ellicott City. The last time we had flooding, there was actually monies taken away from moving the Waterloo fire station forward. That fire station's something that, as a councilmember, I've been working with our county executives and the fire department to move forward for about a decade.
IIIAnd so $3.5 million was shifted from that project, which caused a minor delay. And in talking with the governor, he was very gracious, within my first 30 days. We sat and we talked about a myriad of issues, including Ellicott City and the fire station. And so being able to actually make that deal for a dollar, and then moving forward with that station while moving flood mitigation projects forward in Ellicott City was critical.
NNAMDIWell, Tom Sherwood did a personal inspection of the Ellicott City environment, if you will, this week, so I'll leave the rest up to him.
SHERWOODCan I give a commercial endorsement to the Manner Hill Tavern chicken sandwich (laugh) that I had there in Ellicott City?
NNAMDIYou just did.
SHERWOODRandy Marriner, you know, because of all that big fighting about whether Popeye's or Wendy's or whoever has the best chicken sandwich, I think Manner Hill Tavern worked out pretty well. Most of the people who were eating when I was there had to take half of it home.
NNAMDII thought you were looking around Ellicott City.
SHERWOODWell, in addition to eating and getting fatter, (laugh) I did walk up and down in Ellicott City. I hadn't been there in some time. I talked with some of the construction workers, some of the businesses that were opening Tuesday morning. You've got a big plan, an expensive plan. I want to ask you about the funding for it in a moment, but there's a lot of work being done. But if there were another 1,000-year flood again soon, it looks like they would still be subject -- those businesses that are being rebuilt, that the county is rebuilding, would still be subject to serious flooding.
SHERWOODI know the doors are stronger, the windows are stronger, but where is it in terms of protecting Ellicott City? This is Labor Day weekend. It's a popular time for people to come there as tourists and visit. I'm sure you want them to go and there's certainly things to see. But where are you if there were another storm in the next couple of weeks or months? Wouldn't a lot of this new work just be wiped out again?
IIIWell, first of all, thank you so much for coming to visit and patronize Ellicott City.
SHERWOODIt's a great town.
IIIIt is a fantastic place, so people come from all over the world to visit. And it's our second-largest economic driver in the county.
SHERWOODWell, you answered one of my questions, which was, you're going to all this expense. Is it significant enough, Ellicott City -- and talked to Mark DeLuca your chief engineer, about how it sits there and its deep drop off, and what's the tunnel you want to build to divert water. But is it significant? It's not just a little town in Howard County. It is economically significant.
IIIEconomically and culturally significant. You know, (laugh) Ellicott City is a special place, as are all of the areas of Howard County. And we have been moving forward with a plan that is not only a plan to address flood mitigation for today, but into tomorrow. I was talking with someone recently about the increased flooding due to more intensity and frequency of storms all around the world. And they said, you know, this plan will actually be a blueprint, and could help people in not only all of the 3,069 counties in the nation, but throughout the world.
IIIThe previous plan would have left about four-and-a-half feet of floodwater on lower Main Street in a 100-year storm. Our new safe...
SHERWOODThat was Mr. Kittleman's plan, the county executive you defeated.
IIIOur new Safe and Sound Plan now leaves less than a foot of flood water in that same 100-year storm. And to your point about what's been going on since then if there were to be an issue, not only have we continued moving forward with those flood mitigation projects, as well as starting an emergency public alert system, just making sure that people know what's going on, and clearing our waterways.
IIIBefore I took office, quarterly we would clear the waterways. And I worked with our team to institute a program, whenever there is a significant weather event we would clear the waterways. And already, since I've been in office, we've cleared more than eight tons of debris. And so a lot of these mitigation access points to higher ground, a lot of these mitigation efforts are things that will make us safer and more sound.
NNAMDIBut there is pushback. After last year's flood, the county placed a 12-month moratorium on development in historic Ellicott City, which you recently extended by three months. Councilmember Liz Walsh has proposed legislation that would stop developers from building on certain land in the historic district and would protect nearby forests. She says that your proposal on storm water management would allow developers to keep building on sensitive land, so long as they pay fees limiting how effective the flood mitigation will really be. How do you respond?
IIISo, I was supportive and voted for the moratorium that was in place. And I actually was also supportive of the extension. The goal of the moratorium was never to end development. The goal of the moratorium was to ensure that we developed in a smarter, safer way. And so since then, I have pre-filed two pieces of legislation, in particular, just this week, and previously some other legislation.
IIIThe first will strengthen storm water management requirements, ensuring that development needs to manage to the storm level of 2016. So, frankly, if they are to develop, they need to develop so that there is no disturbance, or things are even better. And it will reduce runoff and mitigate flooding.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) That's not -- a lot of the complaints are is that all of the development above Ellicott City and around Ellicott City, which had been forest land and farm lane and trees, became impervious, because concrete was laid, streets were laid, buildings were built. And so the water has nowhere to go. So, under this new plan, it would be that if you're going to build something, you have to incorporate something that had never been done before, which is you have to figure out where the hell is the water going when you build something.
IIIYeah, if there is going to be development to take place, for it to not adversely impact the environment. And then the second is our fees in lieu.
SHERWOODFees in lieu? That sounds like a dance. (laugh)
SHERWOOD(overlapping) So, if you don't fix it, you pay more fees, so something else will be done.
IIICorrect. So, the current fees are 72,000 per acre foot. The next legislation will raise it to $175,000 per acre foot. And that's only, only if the storm water management facilities cannot be accommodated on site. And then those dollars will go toward flood mitigation efforts in the watershed.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break, but when we come back, I don't think we'll be able to talk about flood mitigation much longer, because all of our calls and all of our emails have to do with two things: schools and ICE. (laugh) So, we'll be addressing those issues when we come back. If you want to get through, send us a tweet @kojoshow, or email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Calvin Ball. He is the Howard County executive. And, Tom Sherwood, you had one quick question left about Ellicott city flooding?
SHERWOODPart of the plan is to build a big tunnel to divert water off the main road, but the question everyone had -- I had when I was there is: how are you going to pay for it? Have you found funding for all of this yet?
IIIWell, just like we do any other capital project, we're going to work with our partners. We'll do some bond funding. We have, since I've been in office, worked with our state partners. I mean, just like the $3.5 million wasn't previously allocated. So, we are going to move forward, and we're going to do the best thing to keep Ellicott City safe and sound.
SHERWOODJust let the record show that's the fourth time you've said move forward. I'm keeping track over here.
NNAMDINext week, Howard County students head back to school. Superintendent Michael Martirano recently released a redistricting plan that would move more than 7,300 students to different schools. It's meant to alleviate overcrowding and address inequities in the school system. Got a bunch of calls and emails about it, but what do you think of the superintendent's plans?
IIIWell, I think that it's important to have comprehensive redistricting. A couple years ago, there was a proposal from Dr. Martirano to move about 8,000 students. We ended up moving about 2,000. Right now, we have some schools that are over 130 percent capacity. And so we have children who might even have difficulty finding space in the lunchroom.
IIIConversely, we have other schools that are under 70 percent capacity. We have some schools that have free and reduced meal rates of over 40 percent of the school, and others that are below 5 percent. So low that it's not being calculated. I think that we should, to the extent possible, keep neighborhoods together. I think that there should be a thoughtful redistricting program, but it needs to be comprehensive.
IIIAnd so I think Dr. Martirano has put forward a proposal. The Board of Ed will be spending most of the fall evaluating that, going through a transparent process, where people can weigh in, and then making their determination about mid to late November.
SHERWOODNow, who makes the final decision, the School Board or the Council?
IIIThe School Board. So, the superintendent makes his proposal to the School Board. The School Board makes the determination.
NNAMDIAn op-ed in the Baltimore Sun this week said the plan would, quoting here, "spread poverty across the system." So, that said, here is Jeeta in Ellicott City, who seems to have a similar concern. Jeeta, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JEETAOkay. Yeah, actually, I just wanted to know, what is the role of (unintelligible) in the county, rather than, you know, the (unintelligible) doing that by moving the students around and creating more transportation and environmental issues in Ellicott City, which will be a problem in the future? So, I think there is going to be a redistricting again in two years, so it's an ongoing problem. What is the role of county executives this?
IIISo, I believe that it's all of our responsibility to ensure that we have the best quality of life for all of our residents, no matter what their station is in life, whether it's race, religion, socioeconomic level. Just this spring, I, with my team of our Department of Community Resources and Services and Recreation and Parks actually put forward an equity plan. And it can be found online. There are numerous aspects that we have a role in when it comes to equity. And I believe when it comes to the policy related to redistricting, that is one of the factors that they're considering.
SHERWOODPeople move to neighborhoods because of the reputation of the school system. Would this plan say to them that no matter where you might live, you would stand a chance of having your child move out of your neighborhood to a similar close-by neighborhood, maybe? But being in the neighborhood doesn't guarantee you the right to go to the school where you've moved.
IIIWell, I think, you know, we have a Howard County...
SHERWOODThat's a great fear from people.
IIIWell, we have a Howard County school system, so it's the entirety of the system. There are people not only around the state or the region, but around the world who are, today, advertising come from wherever to come to a Howard County school. While there are definitely opportunities for improvements for all of our schools when it comes to teaching and learning environments, I think that there are so many people outside of Howard County who would love to come to any Howard County Public School.
NNAMDIWell, Alex and Shane have similar concerns. Alex called in regarding, quoting here, "the disastrous school redistricting plan just put forward.” How does Dr. Ball plan to pay for the transportation and bussing of students through insanely gerrymandered school districts? And Shane emailed to say: how would the county executive pay for double or triple school bus costs, and how would bussing our kids around improve educational performance?
IIISo, transportation is an issue in Howard County. The Board of Ed is an elected body, and so they actually create their own budget proposal after the superintendent gives his recommendations. And they evaluate how they will prioritize, whether it's education or whether it's bussing or transportation, or what have you. I do think that transportation and time to get to school should be a consideration.
NNAMDIWell, on the other hand, here is Maura, in Ellicott City. Maura, your turn.
MAURAHi. I'm a former Howard County Public School teacher and parent of five kids in the school system. And I just have seen the racial and socioeconomic segregation in our schools continue. And I'm seeing, recently, the vitriol in our community and the backlash against the county resolution as well as the equity goals of the Board of Ed.
MAURASo, I'm wondering if so many people have a counter-narrative to what we're hearing in the community that's really not positive, what's the best way to offer support for these efforts and support the Board of Education support back to Martirano and some of the county councilmembers who have come out saying that equity needs to be a priority? How do we do that?
IIIGreat question. You know, it is unfortunate that this conversation, in many parts, has become so negative. I think that it is realistic and appropriate to have questions, concerns, to talk about different proposals that might meet all of our goals. But I think pitting schools against each other, talking negatively about our children and our educators, is not as productive. I think if there are issues and challenges, which there are in many of our schools, let's work together to address those. I think that's a much more productive conversation.
SHERWOODYou know, this is clearly -- was it New York City, which has the most segregated schools in the country, people say, to the District of Columbia has a lot of out-of-bound students to anywhere the ratio socioeconomic issue is a fundamental issue. It's like addressing racism in the country. It's a pretty tough task, but you say the county's going to do it.
IIIIt is a touch task, and I think that we all have a role in trying to make things better.
NNAMDIWell, here's the other issue people seem to be concerned about. Ana emails, asking for County Executive Ball to address what she calls the, quoting here, "lack of transparency and ICE funding at the Howard County Detention Center" she says. According to an article in the Columbia Flier, Howard County has received $14 million in revenue since 2013. Is this the total amount received, without considering costs? What is the actual profit to the county? Is the Howard County Detention Center dependent on this funding for its operations?
NNAMDIThen there's Richard, who emailed: why haven't the contracts with ICE been cancelled? Why is Howard County operating a concentration camp to put innocent people in jail in our county? This is very disappointing. And here, now, finally, is Leslie in Columbia, Maryland who identifies as the chair of the Friends of Latin America of Howard County. Leslie, you're on the air. We don't have a great deal of time left, but go ahead, please.
LESLIEThank you so much, Kojo. I was at the Howard County Detention Center yesterday with several groups concerned about the fear that ICE causes in our community. Since I speak Spanish, I was able to talk to a few young men -- Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras -- who are in jail.
LESLIEWhat they told me is not what the Howard County officials told us about the conditions that they live in. But even if they were in a five-star jail, their rights have already been violated by ICE when they detained people primarily because of the way they...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Like I said, we don't have a great deal of time left.
LESLIE...look and the work they do. See, I'm finishing. So, this violates Howard County nondiscrimination of laws. So, my question is, why do we have a contract with such an agency? We do want all people in our community to be safe, but without fear. Thank you so much.
IIISo, first of all, Howard County police officers do not and will not assist ICE in civil immigration laws, enforcing civil immigration laws. I also went to the detention center yesterday, and there are four criteria that have people who are there when it comes to ICE. They have to be convicted of crimes. They have to be charged with jailable offenses, members of criminal gangs, or deported criminal felons who have illegally reentered.
IIII looked at the charges of everyone who is currently in the detention center, and they range from DUI, DWI to numerous sexual offenses, first-degree assault, many other very concerning things. We spend about $20 million for our detention center, annually. The ICE contracts are between 2 and $3 million. There is no profit in working with ICE, and there is no way that we are going to be able to stop what President Trump and ICE are doing.
IIIIf people are arrested and detained via ICE, they will go somewhere. And I believe, in Howard County, they are getting the best treatment possible.
NNAMDIYou've got 30 seconds.
SHERWOODDoes your county hold people who legally could be released, except that ICE wants you to hold them?
IIIThose are the four criteria. These are criminals (all talking at once)...
SHERWOODIf the court says they can be released, do you hold them because ICE says hold them?
IIIIf they are convicts at that time, sometimes we do.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's about all the time we have. Today's Politics Hour was produced by Mark Gunnery. Today is Mark's last day with the show, and we're very sad to see him go. He's been the force behind the Politics Hour and our resident music and culture guru for the past two years. But he will be continuing his public radio journey in his beloved hometown of Baltimore. And they're very lucky to have him.
NNAMDISo, since he's going back home to Baltimore, we thought we would say farewell to Mark in a particularly Baltimorian kind of way. We're going to have lemon sticks, to which Mark introduced us. And he told us that this is a terrific delicacy in Baltimore, Maryland. Mark Gunnery, could you explain what lemon sticks are? Could I have one?
MARK GUNNERYYeah, sure. A lemon stick is a half a lemon, with a soft peppermint stick put inside of it, and that it kind of turns into a straw from the citric acid if you...
SHERWOODDoes President Trump know about this? (laugh)
GUNNERYI'm not sure.
NNAMDICan you demonstrate for our audience how this is consumed, so they can hear what I'll be doing here?
GUNNERY(overlapping) Yeah, yeah. So, I'll be sucking on the soft peppermint stick. Yeah, that sounds good.
NNAMDIHe can make the sound. I can't.
GUNNERYYeah, this is ASMR, for you all (sounds like).
SHERWOODWhat alcohol goes with this? (laugh) Because, surely, there has to be more than this. Unless it's for a five-year-old.
NNAMDISee, that's the skeptic in Tom Sherwood.
GUNNERYYou've really got to work on it for about 20 minutes. (laugh)
SHERWOODI don't think I can do anything for 20 minutes.
NNAMDIHave you ever had a lemon stick before?
NNAMDII figured you're close enough to Baltimore that you would know about it.
IIIThat's right. That's right.
NNAMDIYes, this is a Baltimore delicacy.
IIISo, may I just very briefly give a shout out to Appleton High School. I was there today. I promised them I would, and wish everyone a very happy Labor Day, and appreciate everybody who works so hard.
NNAMDIAnd lemon sticks for all of you.
NNAMDIMark, thank you very much for all the hard work. The Politics Hour will not be the same without you, so we wish you the best of luck in Baltimore, even though we hate to see you go.
GUNNERYWell, thank you, Kojo and thank you, Tom. And thank you to everyone here.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Mark (unintelligible) customer. (laugh)
NNAMDIWe will be off for the Holiday weekend. Any big plans, Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODI'm going to enjoy the weekend. I'm going to go up somewhere in Maryland for a 45th wedding anniversary of someone who doesn't want to be mentioned, because she won't come on this show.
NNAMDIWell, make sure you go by Ellicott city again.
NNAMDIThey love you there. Calvin Ball is the Howard County executive. He's a Democrat. Dr. Ball, thank you for joining us.
IIIThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. Have a great weekend. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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