It's been two years since an unarmed man, 25-year-old Bijan Ghaisar, was shot and killed by police in Fairfax County. Kojo sits down with Bijan's family to discuss their quest for answers.
As Virginia heads into a much-anticipated off-off year election, we’ll take a look at the Commonwealth’s Attorney race in Fairfax County. Steve Descano, the Democratic nominee for the Commonwealth’s Attorney, joins us to talk about his “progressive justice” platform, his primary win over incumbent Ray Morrogh, and his independent, GOP-endorsed opponent, Jonathan Fahey.
Then, Montgomery County Councilmember Evan Glass (D-At Large) joins us to talk about his bill that would impose new fees on builders who tear down older single-family homes to build new ones.
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.
We invited both Steve Descano and Jonathan Fahey to join our show to talk about the Fairfax County’s Commonwealth’s Attorney race. Fahey’s campaign said he was unable to accommodate any of the dates and times provided.
Produced by 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 contributing writing for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon, everyone.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with Evan Glass At-Large councilmember on the Montgomery County Council. Joining us in studio now is Steve Descano. He's the Democratic nominee for the Commonwealth's Attorney in Fairfax County, Virginia. Steve Descano, thank you for joining us.
STEVE DESCANOThank you for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, Elijah Cummings, the respected congressman from Baltimore, passed this week after he had been battling illnesses for several years. A lot of praise came in for him. It seemed to unite people on both sides of the aisle when they were talking about respect for him, but now they're talking about whose going to replace Elijah Cummings in Baltimore and the list seems to be getting longer and longer.
SHERWOODWell, we'll get to the politics of who will replace him in Baltimore and Baltimore County and I think part of Howard. But I think Eleanor Holmes Norton said it very eloquently on MSNBC when she was being interviewed. She said that we have lost a giant. We need him. And he has been sick. You know, in September he was unable to chair the Congressional Committee hearing on D.C. statehood. Eleanor Holmes Norton chaired that committee meeting. I had seen him. He was walking with a cane for a while. He was in a wheelchair for a while.
SHERWOODAnd his ability -- and it's kind of a cliché to say work across the aisle. He didn't necessarily work across the aisle, because he just disagreed so much with Republicans. But the Republicans on his committee, Mark Meadows and others, genuinely liked him and found that they could talk to him. He was a true human being on Capitol Hill and, of course, in Baltimore despite what President Trump said earlier this year about it being a rat infested place and criticized Mr. Cummings.
SHERWOODIn Baltimore he's revered and there should be funeral arrangements announced today.
NNAMDIWhat's going on with the Washington Blade seeing its 50th Anniversary right now even though it's dealing with a lot of challenges?
SHERWOODWell, you know, it nearly went out of business about 15 years ago.
NNAMDIFor those who don't know what the Washington Blade is.
SHERWOODYes. The Washington Blade for 50 years has been a principle in one of the nation's leading LGBT newspapers in the country. And it has survived lots of financial crisis. It's very influential. Lou Chibbaro, I think has worked there for 50 years. Tonight on the Wharf and in southwest Washington there's a gala party to celebrate its 50 years and we should wish them all well.
NNAMDIThe Trump emoluments case is going to apparently get a second chance. This is the case brought by the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia having to do with the Trump Hotel here. Now it seems to take on an additional significance given that the president has decided that the G7 Summit should take place at his Mar-a-Lago estate resort next year.
SHERWOODAnd no it's going to be Doral.
SHERWOODWhich is a fine place according to President Trump. It's the perfect place to have the G7, the leaders of the West Alliance. It rotates every year.
NNAMDIYou've never been there?
SHERWOODI have passed by the Doral. I'm told the golf course has been pretty good.
NNAMDIBut the emoluments case is getting a second chance.
SHERWOODBut, you know, Brian Frosh and Karl Racine -- Brian Frosh the Attorney General of Maryland and Karl Racine, the Attorney General of D.C. sued a couple of years ago now in court saying that the Trump Hotel here and Trump's business with foreign governments and the federal government was a violation of the constitution that the president can't enrich himself or herself from business. The appeals, one of the federal courts threw it out saying they really didn't have standing. They hadn't shown any loss. But now the U.S. Court of Appeals from the 4th circuit, I think that's Richmond, will be hearing the case again. I think in December 12. And this is part of the issue is President Trump in his business interests with his family benefitting from him being president. Under the constitution that is illegal.
NNAMDIOur guest as we said is Steve Descano. He is the Democratic nominee for the Commonwealth's Attorney in Fairfax County, Virginia. This is your first time running for an elected position in Fairfax County. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Tom Sherwood would say, don't make it too long.
SHERWOODRight, 30 seconds is what I give interns. Tell me your whole life story in 30 seconds. And this is your first time on the radio too, right?
DESCANOThat is correct.
SHERWOODOkay. So I know you're a little bit nervous, but just who are you?
NNAMDINot as nervous as we are, but go ahead.
DESCANOFair enough. I am a West Point graduate, a former U.S. Army Officer, and when I left the military I worked my way through law school and was recruited to come to the area to be a federal prosecutor in the Obama Justice Department. And I did that job for over six years traveling all around this country dealing with cases of national and international import. And what I do now is run a business that provides services for kids with autism. And I've been involved in the community in Criminal Justice Reform at Fairfax County for a number of years.
SHERWOODWhy did you get into the race to be the Commonwealth Attorney for Fairfax? And you beat a longtime incumbent and you'd be a really new face in Fairfax. Why did you run?
DESCANOWell, it's my background as a prosecutor, my deep experience in the community that caused me to take a really hard look at the Commonwealth's Attorney and our Criminal Justice System in Fairfax. And what I saw was a number of outdated and outmoded policies that weren't really serving us well. Up until this time, we only had two Commonwealth's Attorneys in 52 years, and the person I picked in the primary was the handpicked successor for his predecessor.
DESCANOThat's correct. So as the county has changed dramatically over 50 years, we had a Criminal Justice System that hadn't kept pace. And really what we need is a leader that can have an idea -- that has ideas that actually is all about keeping up with the changing pace of Fairfax. And that's why I got into this race, because I've written that plan. I have that plan. It's on my website, stevedescano.com. Part of that plan is part of the reason -- or that plan is part of the reason why the Washington Post endorsed me, because they know my opponent doesn't have a plan. All he wants to do is cling to the status quo. And I want to build a Criminal Justice System that keeps us safe, aligns with our values and can meet the challenges of today's Fairfax.
SHERWOODShould we mention the opponent now, who's declined to --
NNAMDIWe should at this point.
NNAMDIJonathan Fahey is your opponent. We invited both Mr. Descano and Mr. Fahey to appear on the show. Mr. Fahey said he could not make it on any of the days that we proposed, because apparently it clashes with his schedule. But let's back at the primaries in June when you unseated the aforementioned incumbent Ray Morrogh for the Democratic nomination. He has held that position since 2007. And despite a huge infusion of cash from the Steve Soros PAC the race turned out to be very very close despite your advantage in money. Why do you think it was so close?
DESCANOWell, I think, of course, you have the incumbency advantage is a big factor here, but also I think a big part of that was a lot of people had not really given this position any thought. We hadn't had -- we've only had two Commonwealth's Attorney in 52 years. We hadn't had a primary for this position since even before then since 1963. And I will say that I hear a lot about the money that we received. But I'm very proud to have gotten the support that we've gotten from inside the county all around the country, especially from groups that have a vision of safety and justice which is what I ran on.
DESCANOAnd I will tell you that it wasn't the money that won us the race, because you take a look at the chairman's race, somebody spent over a million dollars to come in last place. It was really the ideas and the values and the plan that we brought. That's what got people excited and that's what allowed us to win this race.
SHERWOODWe have a good audience. But tell people who don't live in Virginia. What does the Commonwealth Attorney -- it's like the County Prosecutor, right, just to be clear?
DESCANOAbsolutely. In a lot of places it's called the District Attorney. So this would be the county prosecutor for Fairfax County and Fairfax city. It is the leader of our Criminal Justice System. The job really is to lead the office. Make sure that the values of the community are reflected in our Criminal Justice System, and make sure that we are kept safe as well. I always like to say that really what we need from our Commonwealth Attorney's office somebody, who leads with our values and recognizes that the only to path to community safety is through justice.
NNAMDIGot an email from Brian in Fairfax. In radio interviews and campaign emails, Fairfax County School Board member, Elizabeth Shultz has said quoting here, "Hard left advocacy organizations" funded by George Soros are promoting a quote "radical agenda" that could really change the entire structure of Fairfax County. Considering how Mr. Descano has received contributions from a PAC that Soros is associated with, can he respond to Ms. Schultz's comments?
DESCANOWell, I think that those comments are off base. During this campaign both in the primary and then general election I've been receiving a lot of criticism, a lot of fearmongering that's simply unfounded. What we're trying to do here is we're not trying to do anything radical. We are trying to keep our community safe and aligned with our values. And to give you an example of how inline and non-extreme these views are, we've been endorsed by the Washington Post, because they've read my 20 page plan and they see the changes that are needed in Fairfax.
DESCANOAnd I'll tell you I'm actually going to break a little bit of news here for you on your show, we actually -- not only have we endorsed by local leaders, state leaders, the Washington Post. But today we actually are endorsed by Attorney General Eric Holder, President Obama's Attorney General. I've met with him.
NNAMDIYou worked in his office, didn't you?
DESCANOI worked in his office, had the great pleasure of working under him for a number of years. But he sees the changes that we're trying to bring and quite frankly he knows the fact that my opponent was a political appointee in the Trump administration as the general counsel to the drug czar and sees how devastating those war on drugs policies can be. And the choice for him was clear and we're extremely happy to have his endorsement in this race.
SHERWOODTrump is a factor in this race. And we've been interviewing people every Wednesday now about the Virginia races and I think it was Tom Davis, former congressman, who told me that Trump is quote "radioactive" in much of Virginia. But Mr. Fahey has, since he's not here and is not going to appear says that he supports the death penalty. Do you?
DESCANOI do not support the death penalty.
SHERWOODHe also says he decries as this word says here your plans to dismiss marijuana possession charges as a policy in the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office. What do you think? What's your response to that?
DESCANOYou know, my response to that is it is the same type of fear -- uninformed fearmongering that we've seen before, because when you take a look at marijuana what we have to do is ask, what is going to keep our community safe now and in the future? And prosecuting simple possession marijuana cases simply doesn't keep us safe.
SHERWOODIs it a waste of resources or it's just as a policy it shouldn't be prosecuted?
DESCANOIt's actually both of those. The first thing is it's a waste of resources. We can be putting that towards things that actually do keep us safe. But it also creates more -- it's proven to create more criminal activity down the line because in Virginia you can never get that arrest expunged. And so that's going to follow you every time you go to get an education loan, rent an apartment or get a job. And that's going to push people towards a cycle of decreased opportunity, increased poverty, and more likely some more crime.
SHERWOODIf I could just real quickly. You're part of a progressive group of Democrats across the state, but in Northern Virginia in particular. Commonwealth races in Arlington and Alexandria had similar issues, like getting rid of cash bail. That's something you also support on your website I saw.
SHERWOODDo you see the whole mood change in Northern Virginia or in the State of Virginia to explain your candidacy and the candidacy of others for the Commonwealth attorney?
DESCANOWell, you know, it's really interesting. I think that the mood change -- we are seeing a mood change in Northern Virginia. But I think we're seeing a mood change all around the country. If you take a look at every Democratic presidential debate that's happened Criminal Justice Reform is an issue that comes up in each and every one of them. People have really started to tune into the problems that we have in our Criminal Justice System and the need to fix them to not only build a system that's more fair and equitable. But one that actually does a better job of keeping us safe.
NNAMDIHere's Jack in Fairfax, Virginia. Jack, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JACKYeah, so I'm a member of the Fairfax bar and I can tell you what's more important than a Washington Post endorsement, a bunch of journalists, is the lawyers, who work with the Commonwealth Attorney's Office day in day out. And I can guarantee you that they did not support Mr. -- this gentleman. That Ray Morrogh was the much more qualified person. And there was a political hit job not only from the left by Soros. But also Terry McAuliffe, who was mad that Ray Morrogh did not support --
NNAMDIWell, we're not going to refight the primary here, Jack. What's your point?
JACKMy point is how can you continue to work the Fairfax bar when you did such a hit job on the well-respected Ray Morrogh and what makes you qualified to be litigating and supervising state cases when you've never litigated a state prosecutorial case?
SHERWOODHow about that?
SHERWOODJust specifically, have you ever litigated state cases or they're all federal?
DESCANOWell, you know, I think that there's a lot to unpack there. And the fact that I did a political hit job is simply wrong. Every statement that we made and every contrast that I drew between myself and my opponent in the primary is backed up by documentary, video or audio evidence. People don't like to hear that. But the fact of the matter is my opponent in the primary had a view of justice and a value system that did not match Fairfax County.
DESCANONow really what this job is -- this job is not to be in the courtroom every single day. That is what you have dozens of attorneys to do. This job is to lead the system through policies and procedures making sure that what is needed for the community is happening in our Criminal Justice System. It requires somebody who is focused down the field long term. That's what I plan to do. That's what my written plan is all about is keeping us safe today and looking down the field to make sure we're being kept safe tomorrow.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break, when we come back we'll continue this conversation with Steve Descano. If you have called, stay on the line. If you'd like to, the number is 800-433-8850. He is the Democratic nominee for the Commonwealth's Attorney in Fairfax County. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to the Politics Hour. Later in the broadcast we'll be talking with Evan Glass, At-Large Councilmember on the Montgomery County Council. Right now our guest is Steve Descano. He's the Democratic nominee for the Commonwealth's Attorney in Fairfax County. And we're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. The last call suggests what some people have been talking about and that is that your defeat of Morrogh sent waves through the Democratic Party establishment in Fairfax County. Are you now confident that the Democratic Party is reunited and standing behind you?
DESCANOI am absolutely confident, and I think there were at the beginning of this maybe some shockwaves. But we have coalesced around our Democratic ticket. And I will tell you I'm actually -- besides the endorsements that I have from all of the local elected officials in the entire delegation for Congress, statewide leaders, the thing that I'm most excited about is the number of delegates and senators who have sat down to talk with me about what their hopes for the future and how they want to work with me, because they have told me that they really always needed a partner in this role to help them push on Criminal Justice and Criminal Justice Reform down in Richmond. And they're so excited that they have someone in that office to help them with bill ideas. Write bills to go testify. So we are very united.
NNAMDIThe last caller mentioned that a number of attorneys in the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office came out in support of your predecessor. How are you planning to work with those individuals if and when you do get this job?
DESCANOWell, I think that's a great question. And I also want to mention that --
NNAMDIYou're fired. No, I'm just kidding.
DESCANONo. Not quite.
SHERWOODHow many attorneys are we talking about roughly speaking?
DESCANOThere are roughly about 36 attorneys give or take in that office. Now there are a few members of that office that are very very loud that are loud in opposition to me during the primary and even some today. But I also have a number of supporters not only in the courthouse, in the bar, but also in that office. And my vision here is I am coming in with my ears open. I know what the people voted for and I plan to implement that. But I respect the work of the prosecutors in that office. They're dedicated. They're professionals. They are public servants. And if they can be part of a team going forward I am happy to have them, because I know continuity is important. And I know at the end of the day this can't be a political office. This has to be an office that keeps us safe as a community.
SHERWOODYou did -- looking at your website and other news. You've raised racial discrimination -- institutional racial discrimination within the Justice System. And you promised to weed that out of Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney's Office. What is institutional racial discrimination? What are we talking about?
DESCANOWell, that's a great question because what we're talking about a systemic problem. We're not talking about a problem of individuals in that office doing bad things intentionally. What we're talking about is hidden systemic discrimination that we see when things may look facially neutral.
SHERWOODWhat would be a good example of that? Is it choosing all white juries? What is it that's racially discriminatory within that office?
DESCANOWell, you can take a look at -- a great example is the prosecution of marijuana that we came up with. We know that African-Americans and Caucasians use marijuana at roughly the same rate. But in Fairfax as well as all around in Virginia and the country if you're an African-American you are sometimes eight times more likely to be arrested and prosecuted. That is a systemic problem. And the other big fat part of this is we don't know what all the systemic issues are.
SHERWOODJust for these you mentioned charging decisions on what you charge someone. An African-American can demonstrably get tougher charges against them. Bail recommendations, plea agreements, all those things that you see a racial bias there that you want to make certain is not in Fairfax.
DESCANOWe want to make sure that it's not in Fairfax. One of the big parts of what I plan to do is, I actually really think a smart on crime Criminal Justice System needs to be data driven to some extent. And what we need to do is we need get data that is polled from economic social racial location lines to see where there are system discriminations and disparate outcomes, because we need to focus on a laser to get that --
NNAMDIA lot of people want to talk to you. Let me go to Amanda in Falls Church, Virginia. Amanda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
AMANDAHi, thank you. I think the caller before me said that all those Commonwealth Attorneys are against him. That's exactly why I'm going to vote for him. I mean, if we are voting for change the people, who are in office or hold these attorneys positions who have upheld what I believe is systemic racism in our Justice System, I don't really want them saying, yeah, we're for this guy more of the same. We need change and I am particularly interested in -- I mean, Tom kind of asked my question and asking in a much better way.
SHERWOODWell, thank you.
AMANDAYou're welcome. But I want to know how he's actually going to go through and find these places where racism just seems to be -- I mean, I just want to know what he's going to do about that. And I want to know more.
NNAMDIAllow me to be clear here. You were actually praising Tom saying that he asked your question in a much better way, weren't you?
SHERWOODI set it up for her.
AMANDAYeah. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you. Here is Steve Descano.
DESCANOWell, Amanda, thank you for that question. First step to do that is we need to get data. And there are organizations out there that are ready, willing and able to come into the office at no cost to the taxpayer and go through our records and take look and create data. And the data that I want create it is broken up by race, age, location, economics. Really so we can see a cross section and find out where there is any disparate impact or disparate outcomes, because if we have those we need to focus on them like a laser and that's what I plan to do.
NNAMDIHere is Camila in McLean. Camila, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CAMILAHi. My question is about, you know, in the current political climate that we have it's kind of a scary time to be an immigrant. And I'm wondering, you know, our voices tend not be heard, because we can't vote in these elections. I can't vote for Mr. Descano and I can't vote for anybody else, but I would like to know what Mr. Descano has planned to help protect immigrants from these same discriminations that we face since are our voices are often not heard?
NNAMDIYou think law enforcement in Fairfax should also be cooperating with ICE? I just added that to the question.
DESCANOWell, that's great. And I appreciate the question, Camila and Kojo. You know, it is actually a huge difference between myself and my opponent. If you listen to the audio of my opponent receiving the Republican Party endorsement one of the reasons that they endorsed him was because --
NNAMDIWe should mention that your opponent is technically an independent. Go ahead.
DESCANOTechnically an independent, but is the Republican endorsed candidate. They talked about how he was going to be tough on immigrants. And to me in my office, I'm never going to allow my office to be an accessory to Trump's war on immigrants. And I'm never going to allow my office to use the Criminal Justice System as a tool to penalize immigration. We have a lot of neighbors, diverse Fairfax County. And many of those are undocumented individuals. And they need to know that they get equal protection of the law just like everyone else.
DESCANOIt's very very important to me that everyone knows that I'm not going to cooperate with ICE to extent any greater than what is the minimum allowed by law, because not only is that the right thing to do to keep our community united. But it also keeps us safe, because if we don't protect our immigrant neighbors, if we don't make sure that we're not going to be turning them over to ICE, they will be scared and they won't want to come forward to law enforcement if they have an issue. And all that does is create a pocket of victims that are waiting to be further victimized. And that doesn't keep us safe, and it doesn't align with our values.
SHERWOODAnd some people think that the exception would be people who are charged with violent crimes. Do you have a violent crime exception to what you just said?
DESCANOWell, of course, crimes of violence are -- we always look at this through the lens of what keeps us safe. And people who are committing crimes of violence, of course they're going to be prosecuted to the extent of the law. And once they're prosecuted and they're in the system -- because they need to be because they are a dangerous individual -- then immigration consequences will follow after that. My stance on immigration, there's nothing in there that is going to make us less safe or to give people a pass simply because of their immigration status.
SHERWOODThis may be too complex, but I'll try to ask it simply. You have something on your website about trial by ambush. And that is, in the state of Virginia, if I'm correct, that defendants are not entitled to know witnesses against them and what police investigation has uncovered. And you've called that trial by ambush. I didn't know that that was a law in Virginia. They can keep information secret from the defense. One, is that true, and two, how would you address it, since it's state law and not county law?
DESCANOIt is true. Discovery in Virginia is incredibly limited, but what we can do is, in the office, we can go past that. What we can do is even though the law doesn't mandate certain things be turned over, office policy can do that. And that's what I'm going to do. And it's actually an important issue. And I want to tell you something that came up this week, because I think it's very, very important. You know, I've heard stories from a number of attorneys in the defense bar and attorneys in that office that say the games they play with discovery because of trial by ambush have disastrous consequences.
DESCANOEarlier this week, there was a case that the office bungled. It was a violent shooting case. And because they played games with discovery, what they did is they failed to turn over something that was very, very important. And because they failed to turn over, because that's the culture in that office, that case, that violent shooting, that judge was forced to dismiss that case for prejudice. That means that a victim...
SHERWOODThat would be prosecutorial misconduct?
SHERWOODI mean, I don't know if that's what the judge called it, but that's -- okay.
DESCANOI don't know if that's what the judge called it, but it was a failure of leadership and oversight and training from the top of that office. And that's why we need to change that.
NNAMDINot much time left, but here's Julie in Alexandria, Virginia, with a completely different issue. Julie, your turn.
JULIEHi. Thank you so much. I'm a military spouse, and so veterans' issues are something that are really important to me. And I'm sure that Mr. Descano shares that, as a veteran himself. We have over 70,000 veterans here in Fairfax County, and a lot of them suffer from issues related to PTSD. They tend not to be well cared for or respected by the criminal justice system. And I'm wondering how you're going to work to help change that.
DESCANOWell, that's a great question. It's something that's very important to me, as a veteran. And I understand that we have a great opportunity here, because of the high concentration of veterans, to help people. We actually have a veterans docket treatment in Fairfax County, which can actually help individuals get at the root causes of their problems, things like PTSD and drug addiction. But, right now, it's underutilized, because the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office is the gatekeeper. And we have less than 10 people in that program right now.
DESCANOWhat I want to do is expand it, get more people on that program, because I want to help our veterans, not stand in the way of them getting help. My opponent wants to keep the status quo. I'm going to be a leader on this, and I'm going to make sure that we do everything we can to honor our veterans who served and help them wherever possible.
NNAMDISteve Descano is the Democrat nominee for the Commonwealth's attorney in Fairfax County. We invited his opponent, Jonathan Fahey, to join the show. His campaign said he was unable to accommodate any of the dates and times provided. Steve Descano, thank you very much for joining us. Good luck to you.
DESCANOThank you very much for having me.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, Evan Glass. He's an At-Large councilmember on the Montgomery County Council. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst and contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Evan Glass is an At-Large councilmember on the Montgomery County Council. He joins us in studio now. Tom Sherwood, Mayor Bowser, in her effort to find and provide more affordable housing in the District of Columbia, says, well, we need to put more affordable housing in some of the more affluent wards in the city, specifically the ward we're sitting in right now, Ward 3. There's often been pushback against that, when it has been raised in the past.
SHERWOODWell, the mayor's been talking about how we've got to have more housing in the city, but she has not put any numbers on it, so this week, she did. She went to Tenleytown which has been very aggressive in opposing the high multiunit projects up there and said, we've got to have more affordable housing. And she wants it in all development areas of the city, all eight wards. She wants 12,000 more affordable units by 2025. And that would be a total of 36,000 housing units, market rate and others, by 2025. And, roughly, so people will know what we're talking about, if you're renting, she says this affordable housing would be where you don't pay more than 30 percent of your income for housing. But the question is, how do you pay for it?
SHERWOODThe city's changing its comprehensive plan now, and one of the big changes will be, if it passes, it will be more difficult for groups to go into court and sue to stop planned unit developments, where a lot of the affordable housing is built. But the fact that she really wants it to cross Rock Creek Park and upper Northwest, she herself lives in, I think, a home that's off of 16th Street that the tax records this morning showed as valued at $858,000. It's a neighborhood of single family homes. But is there land available for affordable homes? If so, she wants them built. How it's going to be done yet, we don't quite know.
NNAMDIEvan Glass, this week, speaking of housing, you introduced a bill called the Housing Impact Fairness Act, which would force builders to pay fees if they demolish older, single-family homes and replace them with new ones. How would this regulation work?
EVAN GLASSWell, thanks for having me back, Kojo and Tom.
GLASSAnd so, it's housing affordability week here in the D.C. region. You know, the Council of Government said that we need, as a region, to build 374,000 units over the next decade. And so my proposal is to close a loophole that exists in Montgomery County, whereby all new construction contributes to our infrastructure needs.
GLASSSo, right now, if you build a studio apartment, a one-bedroom apartment or a townhouse, you contribute impact fees to help with our growing infrastructure. But if you demolish an existing home and replace it with a brand new home that is, on average, 4,200 square feet big, you do not pay an impact fee. And so my proposal is to close that loophole, so that all new housing construction in Montgomery County contribute to our growing infrastructure.
NNAMDIWhat does this look, like in terms of dollars? How much would this bill raise over the next decade for school construction and affordable housing?
GLASSSo, over the last decade, there have been approximately 2,000 demolition permits in Montgomery County, where individuals have purchased a home that is, on average, built in 1948. It is 1,700 square feet big, and sells for 700,000. With that demolition permit, they tear it down and replace it with a home that is now 4,200 square feet large and retails for $1.75 million. So, over the last decade, those 2,000 permits would have generated $100 million in revenue. And so $10 million a year, my proposal is to give 57 percent of that, $5.7 million, towards school construction and 43 percent, $4.3 million, towards affordable housing.
SHERWOODYour program would say, as I read it, that if we have a tear down, say it's a 1,000 square feet home, and you build something more, any square foot more than the 1,000 that had previously existed would be taxed at $9 a square foot. Is that right?
GLASSSo, there are two components to it, and one is the school component, and then one is the affordable housing component. The school component is for a flat fee for every type of housing structure. So, every single family home pays the same fee. The variable is the affordable housing component. So, everything that you build new, any additional space, would be $9 per square foot.
SHERWOODHow did you arrive at -- some of the opponents that you've heard, you know, some of the opponents are saying that you're adding 50, $60,000 to the price of a home in the county, and it will penalize small businesses who are trying to make money by redoing these homes, McMansions or not, just bigger houses. Where did you get $9?
GLASSWell, let me take a step back and say that these fees are already being applied to all new construction.
GLASSWell, impact fees. And so, if you build a studio or a one-bedroom apartment, you're already paying fees, except these 4,200 square feet homes are not paying the same fees.
SHERWOODYeah, just so people will know, a studio or a one-bedroom, we pay about $6,700 to almost $20,000 a year, depending on what size it is.
GLASSThat's correct. And so the impact fees are approximately $40,000 for a newly rebuilt home. And about 26,000 goes to the schools, and then the rest -- which is somewhat variable -- would go towards affordable housing. And that's because we already pay these impact fees, so that's...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Is that where the $9 comes from? Is that just -- that's the carryover from what existing law is?
GLASSSo, this is a great question. So, current property, current new homes pay an impact fee for schools and for transportation. But because these newly rebuilt homes are in existing neighborhoods, you don't have to build the same roads, you don't have to build the same sidewalks or bike dock stations. So, because we're in a different time than 1986, when these laws were originally written, I have updated them to understand the -- to be more reflective of the current infrastructure demand that we currently have, which is where I've swapped transportation for affordable housing.
NNAMDIWell, let me ask you to respond to a number of the specific criticisms of your proposal. Replacement homes in existing neighborhoods do not exact the same toll on infrastructure and services as new homes in undeveloped areas do. That comes from the CEO of the Maryland Building Association. What do you say to that?
GLASSWell, I would say that newly rebuilt homes...
NNAMDIThe infrastructure is already there, they're saying.
GLASSNewly rebuilt homes have 20 percent more students from them than other single family homes. And when we look at all the housing structures across Montgomery County, newly rebuilt homes have the highest student generation rate. And so what I'm trying to do is make a fair process for everybody. When we have studios, one bedrooms and townhouses contributing to our school infrastructure, and they have lower student generation rates, yet we don't have newly rebuilt homes contributing to our school infrastructure in the same way, I don't think that's fair.
NNAMDIDeveloper Larry Cafritz, quoting him: "An old home might generate $7,000 a year in property taxes while a new replacement home will generate an average of nearly triple that amount."
GLASSWell, that's already the case. You know, when we redevelop our communities and we have a three-story, small-rise apartment building, and we turn that into a 10-story high rise, you know, the tax that the county generates is greater from that new property, yet we still ask them to contribute to our infrastructure. It's just making sure that this is fair across the board.
SHERWOODYou've been looking at this for a while, and you've introduced it, but on the Council, you've gotten one cosponsor, Will Jawando, has supported it. But do you expect a huge fight or a significant fight? Are you confident it's going to pass, or you're uncertain? Where are we politically on this passing the Montgomery Council?
GLASSWell, based on, you know, even the questions that you're asking, this is a complex issue. And so I need time to explain this to my colleagues. And there are activists and advocates who need to take time in explaining why we need more school infrastructure, better school infrastructure and expanding affordable housing. And while I introduced this on Tuesday, the public hearing is going to be on December 3rd...
GLASS...correct. And then we'll have a work session probably some point in the new year.
SHERWOODWhere will that December 3rd hearing -- I saw it's going to be at 7:30, but didn't know where.
GLASSThat'll be at the council chamber.
SHERWOODIn the council chamber.
NNAMDILet's see if you have answered Matt's question in Rockville, Maryland. Matt, you wanted to know how the councilmember was going to provide or support affordable housing. Did you hear any answers to your question? Matt, are you there?
SHERWOODApparently, he did.
GLASSWell, if Matt or anyone else forgot, this proposal will give $4.3 million to the Housing Initiative Fund, so that we can provide more rental assistance, we can build more affordable housing, and do a host of other things, as well.
SHERWOODWhere could someone -- is there a website for your Council seat where someone could read your proposal, as opposed to just our cherry-picking questions about it?
GLASSYou can go to my social media, where there's...
SHERWOODWhere is that?
GLASS...a number of articles written -- some written by WAMU. That is EvanMGlass, my Twitter, Instagram. And my Facebook is EvanGlassforMoCo.
SHERWOODYou're the former chairman of the Montgomery Housing Partnership. Has this been kind of a career kind of issue for you about fair taxing and housing affordability and availability?
GLASSWell, fairness is something that I fought for all of my life. And I first learned about affordable housing issues when I was living in downtown Silver Spring, and that there was an apartment building that was supposed to be turned into a condo. And that was right when the market crashed, the housing market crashed. And so this building was dark for nearly a year, and then all of a sudden, we got word that it was going to become affordable housing.
GLASSAnd my neighbors got very concerned by it. And, at the time, I was a CNN journalist and didn't know much about affordable housing, but I did what any good reporter does, and I investigated and asked a lot of questions. And when I learned that that building was to become affordable housing for teachers and graduate students and people on lower incomes, I explained that to my neighbors, and said that the shape of our neighborhood isn't going to change. The flavor of it isn't going to change. And they came onboard, and that building is there with 100 units, and they're great members of the community.
SHERWOODPolitically, I think, when many people hear affordable housing, they hear public housing.
GLASSAnd that's part of the public education campaign.
NNAMDIHere's Matt again. Matt, are you there this time?
MATTHey, guys, sorry about that. Thank you, Kojo, for taking my call, and hi, Evan. Thank you guys for taking my call. My name is Matt, and I live over here in Rockville. I recently graduated from the University of Maryland in December, 2018. You know, I was lucky enough to find a job and move out of my parents' house. But looking for housing in this area was extremely difficult. And to add onto that, I don't own a car. I rely on Metro rail and Ride On.
NNAMDIEvans a Metro kind of guy, too. (laugh)
GLASSYeah, yeah. I mean, anywhere you look on the Red Line, I mean, single bedroom apartments will be, like, 1,800 bucks, 1,700 bucks, 1,600 bucks, totally unaffordable for someone like me. And I guess I have a two-part question, just from a budget standpoint. The county wants to attract more working millennials, right. And if that's so, you know, what are you doing to reduce, like, the housing prices in the area...
NNAMDIGot to stop at that one part. We don't have that much time.
GLASSWell, Matt, thank you for the question. And your life experience is borne out in data. You know, homeownership rates in Montgomery County between for 18 to 35-year-olds has fallen over the last 30 years, from 45 percent to 28 percent. And so we need to do something to make sure that our younger workforce, the future of our county are able to live in our county, maintain the vibrancy, and hopefully starting your own families here, as well.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Here now is Diane in Poolesville, Maryland. Diane, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DIANEI'm actually here in Laytonsville, but I was just -- it's not really about your new act, but I had a question, as a member of the LGBTQ community. You know, I was ecstatic to see you providing more events this year and kind of putting it out there who you are, and that we have someone to see as a voice for us. And I was just curious, you know, the larger events are still outside of our district. And it can be hard to get to D.C. to go to the Pride parades.
DIANEAnd I want to know what you plan on doing in the future to kind of show that Montgomery County is this inclusive paradise for all, and how you plan to incorporate more Pride events into the county.
NNAMDIAnd Mark from Rockville emails us: what is your plan for improving LGBTQ experiences for students?
GLASSWell, thank you Diane and Mark for your questions. You know, for the listeners who might not know, as the first LGBTQ member on the Council, I decided to host a series of events for Pride, during the month of June. And shortly after I announced all of those events, I started getting hate mail, hate phone calls, hateful tweets. And what ended up happening is we did not answer my phone in my office for three days because of the terrible, nasty comments people were calling in with.
GLASSAnd so that has only strengthened my resolve to...
SHERWOODCould you tell where the calls were coming from? Were they within the county or everywhere?
GLASSThey were everywhere. They were a mix of folks in the county. And then when they started sharing their disgust on social media, it go viral. And so we could see spikes from people around the country as Tweets were sent. But the point is, they were coming from residents in the county. And I'm already gearing up for a number of other events throughout Montgomery County in June. Because, as we know, Montgomery County is a wonderful place to live. And we want to make sure that it's a strong place to live, regardless of your sexual orientation, regardless of how you identify, regardless of your immigration status or your race, religion or creed.
NNAMDISpeaking of immigration, Joanna emailed us to ask: Fairfax County, Washington, D.C., Prince George's County and Baltimore City are all funding legal representation for immigrants detained by ICE without restrictions based on prior criminal convictions. Why is Montgomery County the only county in the DMV still insisting on excluding people from legal representation because of prior criminal convictions?
GLASSWell, I'm proud that this Council and the county executive increased our immigration defense fund this year in our budget. I think we increased it by nearly $300,000. So, now there's a sizeable amount of money that will go towards our immigrant neighbors who deserve to stay in our community. And we are using taxpayer dollars to help them to make sure that Montgomery County is a vibrant place to live, work and play.
SHERWOODLet me go back to education, which is important to housing and transportation. The working group from the Kirwan Commission, which is looking at how to fund state education, has proposed $4 billion more by 2030. It would include something like a 14 percent increase for Montgomery County, which is already leading the state in spending on education.
SHERWOODMost of the county budget, I think, goes to education, or a great deal of it. How would a county like Montgomery and other counties afford these -- as the governor says, this commission is hell bent on raising taxes to spend on education -- how would Montgomery County fund a 14 percent increase in education? That's a huge amount.
GLASSSo, currently, you are correct, that Montgomery County spends approximately 50 percent of our budget on our public school system. And we have a $5.8 billion budget. And earlier this week, a committee of the Kirwan Commission revealed their new formula. And based on that formula, we'll have to chip in approximately $26 million more a year towards those efforts. And what I'm doing here is sparking a conversation about how we find revenue to support our growing infrastructure, whether it is schools, whether it's affordable housing, or anything else.
GLASSAnd so I've laid this out as a way to help with our growing infrastructure, particularly our schools and affordable housing, and look forward to talking with colleagues throughout the state to figure out ways to make this happen.
SHERWOODThis really is a big deal, because in Prince George's County, this formula would require it to spend 38 percent more. So, it's a real pressure, I mean, because a lot of school funding comes from what, real estate, residential taxes.
GLASSWell, and Montgomery County has a strong track record of supporting our schools. And so the difference that we have to make up is not so great. Plus, what I appreciate about the Kirwan Commission is recognition that we have tens of thousands of students who receive free and reduced meals. And we actually have more students in Montgomery County who get free and reduced meals than there are students in the entire D.C. Public School system. And that formula -- that fact is weighed into this formula.
NNAMDIThe Montgomery County Council introduced legislation this week that would establish community policing guidelines. This bill would also require annual reporting requirements from the county police department. What exactly will this bill do, and do you think it's sufficient to restore community trust in the department?
GLASSGreat question. I'm a cosponsor of that bill, which aims to provide guidelines to employees to promote community policing and promote the values that we have in Montgomery County by ensuring cultural competence throughout the department, emphasizing recruitment of candidates throughout the county. We need to make sure that our workforce, specifically our police force, reflect the county and the communities in which we work.
GLASSAnd as we continue growing as a community, we need to have these regular updates, and see how our police officers and police department is doing. But I'll say that it's important to note that, overall, crime in Montgomery County is down. It's down 7.3 percent, and we are one of the safest jurisdictions in the D.C. region.
SHERWOODHow are we doing on getting a new police chief?
GLASSWe are still waiting for the county executive to officially convey a name for the new police chief, but...
SHERWOODWhat is the delay? I know he hasn't submitted a name, and two of his candidates have gone by the wayside.
NNAMDIBut he's indicated that the acting incumbent is who his selection is going to be.
GLASSRight. This is the news media, and you are all well-sourced, and we read the same things, yes. I fully expected the nominee to be the current acting chief, Marcus Jones. It hasn't officially been conveyed. I speak to Acting Chief Jones quite frequently, and actually I just spoke with him earlier this week regarding the incident in Silver Spring with Officer T.J. Bomba, who I'd like to express my condolences for, to him, his family and the rest of...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Took his own life.
NNAMDIYou only got 30 seconds, if you...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) I just want to say that's what we should point -- that's a real stress issue, with veterans and police officers having suicide.
GLASSIt speaks to the importance of mental health awareness and how we need to make sure all of our emergency first responders and everybody in the workforce, you know, quite frankly everybody in the D.C. region. We need to do a better job. We need to remove the stigma, and make sure everybody gets the help they need.
NNAMDIEvan Glass is an At-Large councilmember on the Montgomery County Council. Thank you so much for joining us.
GLASSThank you very much.
NNAMDIToday's show was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, we'll check in on the controversy that's raging around Howard County's proposal to redistrict its 7,400 public school students. And the Washington Spirit had an impressive season. We'll find out what new momentum is driving professional women's soccer in the district. That all starts Monday, at noon. Until then, I hope you have a wonderful weekend. What are your plans, Sherwood?
SHERWOODI'm planning for the World Series next weekend.
NNAMDISo am I.
SHERWOODNo, you're not.
NNAMDIHave a great weekend. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. (laugh)
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