Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich pushed back on affordable housing goals proposed by the County Council.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich pushed back on affordable housing goals proposed by the County Council.

In Montgomery County, affordable housing and public school redistricting are top-of-mind. County Executive Marc Elrich joins this week’s Politics Hour to talk about the latest news in the region and to look back on his first year as executive.

Elrich pushes back on Montgomery County’s affordable housing goals

  • In November, then-Council President Nancy Navarro (D-District 4) introduced a resolution for the county to add an additional 10,000 housing units by 2030, mostly priced for low-income residents.
  • Elrich says he supports creating more affordable housing, but that these numbers are too high.
  • The county executive wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post explaining his rationale, saying “affordable housing is also a wage problem, so an assumption about affordable housing is essentially an assumption about the employability of future residents.”
  • On the show, Elrich said: “I don’t have objections to affordable housing goals. I have objections to the way the studies were done. I didn’t object to adding 10,000 units to the housing goals.”
  • Specifically, he said the studies simply took old growth numbers and projected them to future years. Elrich said that studies should have considered county initiatives to develop a stronger workforce and better jobs: investments in early childhood education, high school work preparedness and attracting new businesses. “The [Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’] report acts as if we’re not going to have any better jobs,” Elrich said.
  • Councilmember Hans Riemer called Elrich’s opposition to the housing resolution “NIMBYism in disguise.” Elrich’s response: “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Montgomery County’s school boundary analysis

  • After the school board passed a resolution in January to analyze school boundaries, Montgomery County launched its analysis this fall, with an outside firm taking the lead.
  • The study will look at schools’ capacity and socioeconomic composition, as well as community members’ feedback.
  • The contractors have been getting a lot of feedback, some of it hostile. Project leaders hosted their second of six community meetings this week. Tensions rose among attendees, with several community members interrupting presenters.

Transportation changes in Maryland

  • State Highway Administrator Gregory Slater will be replacing Pete Rahn as the head of the Maryland Department of Transportation.
  • Councilmember Tom Hucker asked Maryland Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Kensington) to file a bill that would allow the county to use automated cameras to catch distracted drivers and issue tickets.
  • Elrich emphasized that the bill would only allow the county to use these cameras, not that the county will necessarily implement them.
  • “I want to know how they would do it, and are they going to do it in a way that is minimally invasive,” Elrich said. He also has concerns about cameras using artificial intelligence.

Pedestrian safety in Montgomery County — especially around schools

  • In Montgomery County, 9-year-old-girl died this week after being hit by her school bus. Less than 24 hours later, a Walter Johnson High student was seriously injured when he was hit by a car crossing the street to board his school bus.
  • Elrich said he has asked his staff to look into putting in more crosswalks, including hawk lights with red lights and mid-block crosswalks.

Elrich’s reputation

  • Tom Sherwood brought up what he’s heard about Elrich’s relationship with members of the Montgomery County Council. “They’re not angry at you, they’re disappointed. They think you should be more collegial,” Sherwood said.
  • “We’re going to retool a little bit about how we can go across the street,” Elrich said. “Communication is a bit of a problem. But on the other hand, I think I’ve worked with them on a lot of their bills, and we’ve not tried to obstruct things.”
  • On Elrich’s relationship with Councilmember Riemer, Sherwood said, “That’s oil and water for now.” Elrich’s reply: “Or gasoline and fire.”

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 Cydney Grannan

Guests

  • Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper; @tomsherwood
  • Marc Elrich County Executive, Montgomery County; @Marc_Elrich

Transcript

  • 12:00:39

    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 writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.

  • 12:00:58

    TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon, everybody.

  • 12:01:00

    NNAMDIOur guest today for the entire hour is Marc Elrich. He is the County Executive of Montgomery County. County Executive Marc Elrich, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:01:09

    MARC ELRICHThank you.

  • 12:01:10

    NNAMDIBefore we get to the County Executive, Tom, President Trump is moving Jessie Liu so to speak. He plans on nominating the U.S. Attorney for the District to a top Treasury Department Sanctions post. That's according to Spencer Hsu in the Washington Post. She has had a prickly relationship with D.C. officials. She seemed to have a pretty good relationship with the Mayor Muriel Bowser, but when it came to members of the Council and even Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton she was not the most popular U.S. Attorney we've had.

  • 12:01:43

    SHERWOODThat's true. The bottom line is she had been considered for another job, but her support of candidates who support abortion had stopped that. But they want her. This is better for her as a corporate lawyer type. She's been here since 2017. She's gotten along with the mayor and they reached an agreement to prosecute more violent crimes, gun crimes in federal court. But with the D.C. Council when Charles Allen, Judiciary Chairman, wanted to pass a bill that would allow people, who had been convicted under 24 years of age to have their sentences reduced.

  • 12:02:21

    NNAMDIShe went out and campaigned against it.

  • 12:02:23

    SHERWOODYeah. Not only did she -- unlike most U.S. Attorneys she called in community leaders for a private meeting to complain about it, wrote letters. I think she may have even written an op-ed piece. But then when the Council held its hearing she didn't send anyone to the hearing, the public hearing to discuss it. So it seemed to be disrespectful of the elected government of the cities. So maybe it's good that she'll move on. One big question is, you know, with the big issue for the U.S. Attorney locally is what's going to happen to the investigation of Councilmember Jack Evans. That's still open. So I don't know if she'll wrap that up before she leaves or if the new U.S. Attorney whoever that is will have to deal with that.

  • 12:03:02

    NNAMDII guess we will soon find out. Changing of the Guard at the Maryland Department of Transportation states Highway Administrator Gregory Slater has been nominated by Governor Lawrence Hogan to serve as Head of the Department of Transportation replacing one Peter Rahn who was the previous Head of the Department of Transportation who -- again using this word "prickly" -- who had a prickly relationship with some Maryland officials including the one sitting in this room at this point.

  • 12:03:32

    SHERWOODActually, we might have more to say about that. That's true. Well, you know, Rahn has been -- I don't know if he ever became a citizen of Maryland. He lives in -- his family is in New Mexico or something. And he's been there four years. He's been the architect along with the governor of the big $9 billion plan to alter I-495 and 270 and then the American Legion Bridge. But that plan, which was moving right along despite some opposition from dozens of local leaders in suburban Maryland. It's hit a few snags. Even Peter Franchot the State Comptroller threw a caution flag and said, hey, wait a minute before we move on there's some changes here. We've got to study this more before we pass it along. So maybe it's a good time for Peter Rahn to move on. Our guest had some very nice things to say about Slater.

  • 12:04:24

    NNAMDIAbout Gregory Slater.

  • 12:04:25

    SHERWOODHe might be more approachable.

  • 12:04:28

    NNAMDIYou might want to repeat those things here or extend your remarks.

  • 12:04:32

    SHERWOODRevise and extend.

  • 12:04:33

    NNAMDIExactly.

  • 12:04:34

    ELRICHI don't do a lot of revising like that. But I will say that, you know, in first place with Pete even though we disagreed and I understand when he shoots back he shoots back on behalf of the governor. By and large when we had discussions the discussions were actually pretty civilized. And there were things that we agreed about and things that we didn't agree about. Then things they did that I don't agree with. You know, their justification is a lack of funds and that's a whole other discussion about how you approach things.

  • 12:05:01

    ELRICHBut I've worked with Greg since I was a councilmember. So that's like 12 years of working with him and his department. And I thought he was a really good leader. And he was one of the transportation officials who kind of led the transformation in Maryland from looking at intersections and focusing on people throughput rather than vehicle throughput. So if you're a transit supporter the shift from vehicles to people is important.

  • 12:05:28

    SHERWOODSo you think that will affect -- obviously money is still an issue no matter who the Secretary of Transportation is. But do you think Slater will have a better understanding to talk to the governor about all the objections from Prince George's County, from the Montgomery County, people concerned in Frederick about how it all works. Do you think you have someone who will listen better and maybe approach the governor differently?

  • 12:05:50

    ELRICHWell, I think he does listen better. I think, you know, his training and, you know, he's an engineer. He brings a level of expertise that I really do appreciate. I've been able to work with them and we get into wonky details about things, because I'm really interested in this. So I think he'll at least -- he'll listen. I think if he has opinions he'll let the governor know what his opinions are. I don't know. We talked, but I didn't drill into, what do you think about this specific things?

  • 12:06:06

    SHERWOODWell, what about Peter Franchot the State Comptroller who is part of the Board of Public Works or whatever it's called. He had been supporting the governor's massive plan. There were some changes to do more condemnation of homes right away and all of that earlier rather than later. He said, no we can't do that. We need to have more public -- where is that now because you had serious concerns about the governor's plan and at least it's on hold briefly?

  • 12:06:48

    ELRICHWell, they're going to have a real hard time going through the park.

  • 12:06:52

    SHERWOODWhich park?

  • 12:06:53

    ELRICHThrough Rock Creek Park.

  • 12:06:54

    SHERWOODOkay.

  • 12:06:55

    ELRICHI mean, Park and Planning has made it pretty clear that you will have to take it from us. It's not going to be handed over. So that will delay -- if that is his goal that will delay things substantially. On the other hand, we think there are ways to work from the bridge up the I-270 corridor. And, oh by the way, it's important to get Frederick on this. We think that we can do that, we think we can do it without busting the walls of I-270 and without impacting neighborhoods. There's room today to add a lane to a lot of that road. It is possible to add two lanes without doing a whole lot of damage. And so we're hoping that upon further review, as the officials would say, they'll focus on something they can do. They would have a significant impact on traffic and does have a benefit to the Beltway, because traffic as we know not only backs off on the I-270 side, but it backs up going toward Wisconsin Avenue.

  • 12:07:50

    SHERWOODRight.

  • 12:07:51

    NNAMDIHow about the last month when Governor Hogan and Governor Northam of Virginia announced that they're going to be partnering to rebuild and widen the American Legion Bridge. What do you think of that project and how are you hoping to work with the state and Gregory Slater, soon to be Head of the Department of Transportation on that project?

  • 12:08:08

    ELRICHSo I was actually happy. If you had been to last year's committee from Montgomery Breakfast in the first week of December after the state has spoken about their plans, I got up and I said if the governor was serious they would start at the American Legion Bridge. You don't start at the back of a backup. You start at the thing that causes the backup. Relieve that point and then see what the next point where you need to apply an improvement. So about a month later they said, we're going to start at the American Legion Bridge. So it's good to know that people at least listen to some things I say and think about it and I consider this a really positive step. At least we're going to start at the right place.

  • 12:08:46

    SHERWOODIs there ever going to be another bridge north of American Legion?

  • 12:08:49

    ELRICHSo COG ...

  • 12:08:54

    SHERWOODCouncil of Governments.

  • 12:08:55

    ELRICHCouncil of Governments.

  • 12:08:55

    SHERWOODYour favorite organization.

  • 12:08:56

    ELRICHMy favorite transportation research board -- not -- the Transportation Committee, we studied this and I was not part of the committee that made this decision, they evaluated what would be the game changers in the region. The bridge was one of the things they considered. It did not make the list, because ...

  • 12:09:13

    SHERWOODSo there's no even preliminary plan to look at a new bridge.

  • 12:09:17

    ELRICHNo. And like I said I didn't even vote on it.

  • 12:09:18

    SHERWOODOkay. I've sat in that traffic. So that's all I need to say about it.

  • 12:09:21

    NNAMDIRobert McCartney of the Washington Post published an opinion piece that raised two concerns about this bridge, climate change and the financial viability of the project or the tolls will be way too high for drivers. What do you think about his concerns?

  • 12:09:34

    ELRICHWell, I would like to see an approach that was done on the Wilson Bridge where there are no tolls. And it was a massive project including ducking to include rail. And they managed that project without tolls. I mean, at some point -- and I don't want to make this snarky in terms of the governor. But at some point we've got to face the problems we have. And sometimes taxes are the answer. Sometimes more revenues are the answer. And it's going to be unusual to go all the way around the Beltway and have a toll going into and out of Virginia and no tolls any place else including the Wilson Bridge. So I would like the state to think about that a little bit. So I would agree on the tolls. The environmental issues are real.

  • 12:10:19

    SHERWOODGasoline taxes are down, because of fishing season. But it seems to me -- someone was telling me here in the District, you know, government is supposed to, you know, provide the roads, pay for the roads and raise revenues to do that. You do it as efficiently as possible. If you keep doing all these private public partnerships all you get -- Julie Carey from Channel 4 just tweeted yesterday morning, I think somebody on one of the toll roads it was $46-$47 to be on the toll road to get into or out of town. At some point you just -- every stop is going to be a cashier spot on the roadways. Why don't we just build the roads and charge people for the roads because everybody uses.

  • 12:11:00

    ELRICHLook it's in our tax base. And if they need to adjust the tax base we should be looking more broadly at revenues. It's not just this. It's the education budget they're treating the same way. I mean, the argument is, we don't have the money. And it's like, yeah, we don't have the money in this moment, but it is our job to figure out where to get the resources from not throw up our hands and say -- in the case of education say, we can't do anything.

  • 12:11:20

    SHERWOODRight.

  • 12:11:22

    NNAMDIHere's Michelle in Rockville. Michelle, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:11:25

    MICHELLEOh, thank you, Kojo. I had a question for the Executive. Sir, I have concerns about the proposed distracted driver cameras in Montgomery County. I'm all for the red light cameras and the speed cameras, but I feel like cameras that look into a car and take an image of the driver maybe takes it a little too far. What are your thoughts?

  • 12:11:45

    NNAMDIWell, Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker is asking the State Legislature for permission to consider installing highway cameras that record driver's using their phones and fine them for the offense. If implemented it could be the first such program in the country and among the first in the world. And we got an email from AJ who says, the idea of putting up cameras that take pictures of what people are doing while driving is so Orwellian. I can't believe County Executive Elrich is for them. He'll be voted out of office for this invasion of privacy. You only have about 30 seconds, sir, to respond.

  • 12:12:17

    ELRICHSo the bill is enabling. It doesn't mean we're going to do anything.

  • 12:12:23

    SHERWOODBut do you want to do it?

  • 12:12:25

    ELRICHI want to know whether -- how they would do it and are they going to do it in the way that is minimally invasive. One of the things that concerned me when I saw, you know, some of the language was that a photograph would then use AI to determine what you're doing. I don't want AI being used to determine what people are doing. I think that, you know, that's not evidence. That's some computer running an algorithm. And if that's all they can come up with that's a problem. I do understand people's concerns about the cameras, but frankly if you're caught on a red light camera that you see drivers sometimes -- they go right through the window.

  • 12:13:03

    SHERWOODYeah, but you don't see the person next to them, who might not be the spouse.

  • 12:13:06

    NNAMDIExactly. Exactly right. We got to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue our conversation with Marc Elrich, County Executive of Montgomery County. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:13:42

    NNAMDIWelcome back to the Politics Hour with Tom Sherwood. He's our Resident Analyst and Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper. Our guest this entire hour is Marc Elrich. He's the County Executive of Montgomery County. He's a Democrat. If you have questions or comments for Marc Elrich you can call now, 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet @kojoshow. Email to kojo@wamu.org or you can go to our website kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there.

  • 12:14:07

    NNAMDIYou have been pushing back on the affordable housing goals proposed by the Montgomery County Council. House member Nancy Navarro's resolution for housing goals proposes 10,000 additional housing units by the year 2030 mostly priced for low to moderate income residents. Navarro's numbers come from recommendations from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments or COG. What are your objections to these affordable housing goals?

  • 12:14:32

    ELRICHSo I don't have objections to affordable housing goals. I have objections to where the studies were done. I didn't object to adding 10,000 units to the housing goals, but if you knew anything about Montgomery County and this is what distressed me about the study, the UI study talks about ...

  • 12:14:51

    SHERWOODUI, Urban Institute?

  • 12:14:53

    ELRICHYeah. So they're one of the companion studies here. And they said Montgomery County has to add 10,000 units for people earning 30 percent of AMI. They can afford $800 a month. And that's what I need to build over the next 10 years. I'm sorry, but I've got 20,000 people right now in Montgomery County who do not get vouchers earning 30 percent of AMI who can only afford $800 a month, who are spending 60 percent of their income, which means they're spending between $1500 and $1600 a month. So to say, this is what I need to do, and not even consider what I need to do for the people, who live here today, I thought that's not much of a study.

  • 12:15:33

    ELRICHI mean, I would expect the study to analyze our problem and say, you've got this base right here. And you may grow the other part of the base. This is what you need to build. So on the one hand I think their analysis of what we need to do way understates what we need to do. On the other hand, their assumptions about wage levels really bothered me, because if you look at the District they were projected for more jobs, more households and fewer households in deep poverty. If you look at Fairfax County, more jobs, more households, fewer units than us in deep poverty. And we're down there about 20-25 percent less than they're projected to grow. And I've got more people in deep poverty. And, oh by the way, other than D.C. we're the only jurisdiction that will have a $15 minimum wage.

  • 12:16:19

    ELRICHAll they did was take some of our past growth in the county and project it forward, and I'm thinking, we're making a big invest in early childhood education. Why, because we expect different outcomes for people. The school system is beginning to focus on skill training for high school graduates. This whole emphasis on going from, if you're going to college we'll take care of you everybody else good luck, to we want to make sure you have the skills.

  • 12:16:44

    ELRICHSo we're doing a lot of things to change what our residents should be able to earn, our ability to attract businesses. And everybody on the Council when they talk about early childhood and they talk about the changes in the school system say, this is how we're going to make sure our residents get better jobs. This COG report acts as if we're not going to have any better jobs.

  • 12:17:06

    SHERWOODSo politically it seems the Council of Governments report -- they do all kinds of reports and all kinds of studies and all kinds of assessments of this and that. But is there any doubt that you and the nine members of the Council are going to move forward with affordable housing? It doesn't matter if they project you need 10-20,000 in 30 years or 5 years. The question is what is the Council politically going to do now? Nancy Navarro is no longer Chair. Mr. Katz is. But apparently Council is still moving forwards early spring to have a proposal for affordable housing. Are you working with them? You'll have something to do about affordable housing regardless of what big number people put at the end of the rainbow.

  • 12:17:50

    ELRICHSo we're doing a couple of things. One is I'm the first County Executive to appoint the Deputy Director of Housing whose focus is affordable housing. And because we thought it was important enough that we wanted a person at a high enough level of government to take a lead on that.

  • 12:18:05

    SHERWOODCan you say what affordable housing is without saying AMI?

  • 12:18:09

    ELRICHYeah.

  • 12:18:12

    SHERWOODI mean, is it a human being? Is it a family of four that makes $40,000 or $80,000 or is it in your county $100,000?

  • 12:18:19

    ELRICHSo family size matters, but more generally like at $30,000 that's one cohort. Those are people at

  • 12:18:26

    SHERWOODCohort?

  • 12:18:27

    ELRICHOkay. One group of residents at about $30,000 is the lowest income residents. They're the ones who find it impossible to find housing today, because what they can afford if you're ...

  • 12:18:38

    SHERWOODThirty thousand is $15 an hour.

  • 12:18:40

    ELRICHYeah, but if that -- what you can afford is about $800 a month. And there would be building $800 a month units. There's another cohort that -- another group of people that find that they think can only afford $1300, which means about a $50,000 income. Then there was another cohort -- these are all roughly equal $10,000 each who can afford MPDU housing, which is what we do in Montgomery County.

  • 12:19:02

    NNAMDIAnd what kind of housing?

  • 12:19:03

    ELRICHModerately Priced Dwelling Units. Now ...

  • 12:19:06

    SHERWOODWe're going to put out -- online, we'll have to put out a guide to (unintelligible) .

  • 12:19:10

    ELRICHThe guide to the universe.

  • 12:19:12

    NNAMDIGuide to the acronyms, yes.

  • 12:19:14

    ELRICHBut the point of all that is that Montgomery County has not historically done anything for people at the bottom, or people below MPDU, moderately priced dwelling unit levels. We do a little bit, not very much. We've got temporary rent assistance programs we don't have long term. We focused on this one group of residents in the 55 to 75...

  • 12:19:35

    SHERWOODSo, we're going to see affordable units and workforce, the people who call it workforce housing, because you know your county is growing, we want more jobs, but you also have to have housing.

  • 12:19:46

    ELRICHYes.

  • 12:19:47

    SHERWOODSo, there will be some plans going forward in 2020.

  • 12:19:49

    ELRICHSo, we're putting county property up for bid for affordable housing development. We're requiring that if you bid on a county property, you have to provide housing for people at $30,000, $40,000, (laugh) 50 -- if you can translate to percents.

  • 12:20:05

    SHERWOODAlexandria just this week said it was going to buy -- Alexandria itself is going to buy a 600-unit apartment building complex so they can remain affordable in Alexandria.

  • 12:20:15

    ELRICHRight. And we've done -- that's something we've done before, is we've helped work with nonprofits and helped them buy properties. But we're going to have to do a lot more of it, because we don't have the affordable units to buy. I could buy those units, but they wouldn't be affordable to people at the $30,000, $40,000 income levels.

  • 12:20:34

    NNAMDICouncilmember Hans Riemer called your opposition to the housing resolution nimbyism, as in not in my backyard. How would you respond?

  • 12:20:42

    ELRICHHe doesn't know what he's talking about. This doesn't have to do anything with ...

  • 12:20:45

    SHERWOODIs he running against you?

  • 12:20:46

    ELRICHWho knows? He says no, but everybody thinks yes. This has nothing to do with nimbyism. This has to do with whether or not you're going to be able to build these units. And, you know, the government doesn't build units, at least it hasn't up till now. I took note of what they did in San Francisco, where the mayor there is looking at modular housing companies, and they actually did a study to see whether they could locate a modular housing company in the Bay Area, in San Francisco, actually, by the port area. And she was willing to commit -- at least according to the press release -- $100 million to purchase affordable units to ensure the viability of the company.

  • 12:21:26

    ELRICHI'm actually intrigued by things like that, because standard construction costs are so high, and the costs of high-rises is so high, that producing affordable units is pretty much impossible. So, we need some other techniques, and so we want to introduce some other ideas into this equation to see whether we can actually get more affordability than we've been getting, and at a deeper level of affordability.

  • 12:21:50

    NNAMDIHere's an idea. Annie tweets, why doesn't Marc Elrich propose a rent increase cap in Montgomery County, or at least around the Purple Line stops? Landlords are not following the suggested 1.5 percent annual increase. In my apartment building, neighbors are seeing increases of $200 to $300 a month near the Purple Line.

  • 12:22:07

    ELRICHFunny you should mention that. This is another thing that I found glaringly absent in the reports. So, they say that Montgomery County -- in fact, everybody in the region -- cannot afford to lose any of their existing affordable housing units. Prayer will not solve this problem. The only way you're going to do this is if you have policy. So, we're looking at a policy of no net loss, that if you tear down a building, you're going to have to replace the units and not just with MPDUs, moderately priced dwelling units, because the prices are too high. You're going to have to replace them at the prices that the people who live there can afford.

  • 12:22:47

    ELRICHAnd, yes, I do believe in rent stabilization. I would not do a county-wide law because, in the first place, the development community would go crazy. Second, what's the point of rent stabilization on $2,500 and $3,000 units? We want to focus on the older communities that are most likely to suffer gentrification pressures, so we can preserve that affordable housing. I agree with her, in the Purple Line area is -- it's ironic. You know, the article yesterday in the Business Journal and the report from the Purple Line committee about the threat -- I said this two years ago, and I said that the Purple Line is going to cause the loss of major affordable housing, particularly the efforts of the Planning Department to rezone all that stuff.

  • 12:23:31

    ELRICHAbsent any plans of local government, those units will be gone. And we have to do something. And I can only think of preservation and some kind of controls on rent. If we're not willing to do either of those two things, those units are gone.

  • 12:23:44

    NNAMDIHere's Oriole, in Silver Spring. Oriole, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:23:48

    ORIOLEThank you for taking my call. I wanted to ask about crosswalks. I have a middle-schooler. He just started middle school in September. And we discovered that there are no crosswalks that cross Weller Road. They all go along Weller Road. And he has to cross to get to his bus. And he actually missed his bus the second day of school. He was there, but he couldn't get across the street. So, my husband, still to this day, walks with him, and then helps all the students cross Weller Road.

  • 12:24:18

    ORIOLESo, I contacted the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. I was told a study would be done by Halloween. I begged them to go faster. I contacted them after Halloween, and I was told, if it's deemed necessary, it'll go in in the spring. Why is this so hard?

  • 12:24:34

    NNAMDIAnd now 17-year-old Walter Johnson, a high school student who was seriously injured Friday morning after being struck by a vehicle in North Bethesda while waiting to board his school bus, that according to Montgomery County Police.

  • 12:24:49

    ELRICHSo, I don't disagree with you. I have asked our staff to look at putting in more crosswalks. I think you're not going to be pedestrian-friendly if we don't start putting in more crosswalks. I'm even interested in midblock crossings, because, just to be honest, you tell people to cross at corners, but we have very long distances between corners. People are going to cross in the middle of the street. We ought to deal with the reality. We ought to put crosswalks in. I'm a big believer in the hawk lights which actually make cars go to a hard stop, not the flashing yellow hawk lights. But the ones that give you a hard red. You push the button, you get to cross. We're not going to have successful urbanization and densification of areas and deal with our traffic and protect pedestrian safety unless we're willing to do some slowing ...

  • 12:25:38

    SHERWOODWhy does it take studies?

  • 12:25:40

    NNAMDIWe've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation (laugh) with Marc Elrich. If you've called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. He's the county executive of Montgomery County. I am Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:26:07

    NNAMDIWelcome back to The Politics Hour, with Tom Sherwood. He's our resident analyst and contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Our guest is Marc Elrich, county executive of Montgomery County. Tom Sherwood, you have been looking very closely at the incoming Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson putting together his leadership team. And you have discerned that a number of the individuals on that leadership team, what seems to me like an excessive number, are from Montgomery County.

  • 12:26:34

    SHERWOODWell, you obviously don't live in Montgomery County. You know, Bill Ferguson is from Baltimore City, and there was a concern -- and Adrienne Jones, the House speaker, is from Baltimore County, I believe, in Howard. And there was concern that with the new leadership of the General Assembly, that the Washington suburbs would lose out.

  • 12:26:52

    SHERWOODBut Montgomery County has some significant county executives, significant people. Senator Smith is going to be the judicial proceedings chair. (all talking at once) Nancy Keen, Education, Health, and Environment vice chair, Cheryl Kagan, who's been very active with the Assembly. Senator Brian Feldman is finance. He's still the vice chair. The majority whip is Senator Susan Lee from Montgomery County, and Democrat Caucus chair, Craig Zucker.

  • 12:27:21

    SHERWOODAre you confident -- and the county has important issues, the Kirwan report, school funding. Are you confident that Montgomery County has the elected leadership that's going to be in Annapolis to make sure the county gets more respect than you believe it has gotten, maybe, in the past?

  • 12:27:38

    ELRICHI think we're going to have a good relationship. I think these appointments are important to Montgomery County.

  • 12:27:45

    SHERWOODBill Ferguson has reached out, to give more geographical balance.

  • 12:27:48

    ELRICHYes, but he also was born here. And he was here through at least high school, I know, because he talked about that today. So, he's not a foreigner to Montgomery County. And the other thing is -- and, you know, Bill's more attuned with Montgomery County's political values, if I can say it that way. He's more progressive. He's a friend on the environment. He's a friend on school funding, like me. He's a former school teacher, so he understands exactly why Kirwan and these things are important. And I supported his leadership here, because I felt having the Senate president to support sort of the outlines of an agenda that most Montgomery County legislators, if not all legislators, share is important.

  • 12:28:34

    SHERWOODWill he be able to work better with Governor Hogan than Mike Miller did? Miller was fairly -- or is it just Hogan's going to be doing what he wants to do? And he's trashed the Kirwan Report, even before it really came out. And it's the most significant thing the General Assembly's going to do.

  • 12:28:48

    ELRICHIt is, and, like I said, this is one of the things that baffles me. This is a major need in this state. We have slipped in our rankings, to the extent that people care about rankings. I care more where we're at in educational outcomes, but we're not where we need to be. And to simply say we don't have the money and raise taxes ignores what's the problem. If we're trying to deal with our education shortfall, early childhood education comes to mind. You actually need the support.

  • 12:29:12

    ELRICHI think that our leadership is in the position to really support our agenda. I think the fact that the Senate president put him there is a sign that he understands what's important to us.

  • 12:29:23

    NNAMDIMontgomery County Public Schools commissioned a school boundary analysis. The second of six public hearings was this week, and it was very heated. Some attendees of that hearing posted heated parts of the conversation on Twitter. There was shouting, interrupting of the consultants who were presenting. Bethesda Beat reported that one presenter cry. This analysis was initially proposed by a former Richard Montgomery High School student. And the students are largely driving to push for this analysis.

  • 12:29:48

    NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Brian Kramer, who says: will you release a statement supporting the MCPS boundary analysis? And then there's this, Paul in Potomac, Maryland. Paul, go ahead, please.

  • 12:29:58

    PAULHi. Thank you. Mr. Elrich -- Kojo, you did a great job introducing the topic. So, as you know, Mr. Elrich, I'm sure, there's just an incredible amount of animosity on both sides, it seems like, which, I suppose from my perspective, is way too early to even have the animosity. But I think a lot of it is the lack of transparency and the lack of information that the board is providing. It seems like they are sort of one step removed (unintelligible) an accident as all of this animosity is happening.

  • 12:30:30

    PAULAre there steps you can take to try to make the discourse more civil and to just try to ensure that the board is really on top of being transparent in engaging ...

  • 12:30:37

    NNAMDIMarc Elrich.

  • 12:30:39

    PAUL... taxpayers as they should be?

  • 12:30:41

    ELRICHSo, I wasn't a part of that discussion, and I'm not quite sure what the School Board has released or not released to your point. But I do think this is way too early for anybody to be upset about anything. It is a study, and is the first of the meetings. And the time, I think, for concerns and see what solutions they propose. I think some people are imagining you're going to have cross-county bussing and people are going to be on the buses for an hour, and going back and forth ...

  • 12:31:10

    SHERWOODWell, this partly -- they've seen what's happened in Howard County, where there were significant changes. And people think they buy into a school boundary, then that's where their kids will grow up forever and amen. And the suggestion is that they won't.

  • 12:31:21

    ELRICHWell, that's a tough assumption to make, because ...

  • 12:31:25

    SHERWOODBut it's one thousands of parents make.

  • 12:31:27

    ELRICH... populations change. And we do have an obligation to provide a school system that's more balanced than it is -- it is not the case that every school is the same. And that there -- I taught in a high-poverty school. You teach differently, depending on the levels of the students that you have, because you have to try to -- you know, some people walk into a classroom. They already know what they need to know. Other kids need to be raised up to know what they need to know.

  • 12:31:55

    SHERWOODWhat is the out -- again, you don't know the details of these proposals, but is this something that's going to be done in the next couple of years, school year '22-'23 or '23-'24? And is it something that's going to happen a year from now? Do you have any sense?

  • 12:32:09

    ELRICHI don't know what the school system's targets are. They've got six public meetings out there. Hopefully, though, if people are saying that we're not getting information, I would hope the school system would respond, at least a quick request for information. If there are things that people think they need to hear that they're not hearing, they should hear it. But at the end of the day, after they do all these, they're going to have to go back and look at the individual boundaries ...

  • 12:32:35

    SHERWOODIs this at Council, or you have a role in this at all?

  • 12:32:38

    ELRICHNo. This is the thing about the school system. The school system is independent from the county government.

  • 12:32:44

    NNAMDIOne of the things Tom Sherwood has been doing in preparation for this broadcast is looking at your record since you have become Montgomery County executive. It's been one year now?

  • 12:32:54

    ELRICHMm-hmm, and a week.

  • 12:32:55

    NNAMDIAnd so he has a few questions about that.

  • 12:32:58

    SHERWOODWell, I want to ask how the first year has gone. You were -- some of these things you'll probably wince at, but some you won't. But I'll just say, 12 years on the Council. Before that Tacoma Park...

  • 12:33:09

    NNAMDINineteen years.

  • 12:33:11

    SHERWOOD... that you were pretty much, people would say -- 10 people I spoke to all said the same thing, without being prompted. On the Council, you were one of nine. And now as county executive, people who like you, people who think you're not doing well, people who think you're doing pretty good are complaining -- and that's the best word I can think of -- that you're not reaching out more. That your staff is not as aggressive and in tune with the Council as Ike Leggett's staff was. And you did hire some of his people when you first got in. Some, I think, are gone.

  • 12:33:44

    SHERWOODBut they're saying that they're not angry at you. They're disappointed. They think you should be more collegial. And one of them pointed out the racial equity thing that you and Nancy Navarro did when you were council members -- and she carried it through and you signed it a week or so ago. And you stood up ...

  • 12:34:02

    NNAMDIA low that establishes an Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice.

  • 12:34:05

    SHERWOODAnd I apologize, but I'm going to try to sum up, so he can actually answer. You, at that press conference -- I watched it on the video. You turned to Nancy Navarro and you immediately complimented her on what she had done to bring the bill to where you could sign it. She stood up. She turned to you and thanked you for your concern and your interest.

  • 12:34:25

    SHERWOODAnd one of the council members said to me, why the hell can't that be -- with all these other issues, why can't he be more involved? He's still too much of a loner, and he kind of still wants his way. And he's not working the halls of the legislature to get things done. He'd be far more successful, maybe not everything he wants, but that would be happening.

  • 12:34:47

    ELRICHSo...

  • 12:34:48

    SHERWOODOver to you. (laugh)

  • 12:34:50

    ELRICH...I haven't sent a lot of stuff over there. And one thing I haven't done is send things over there that I thought would immediately be controversial and outright get rejected. Because, you know, I don't see any point in picking fights over things. There are things I want to do. When we do the housing stuff, we're going to send over some tough decisions for people to make. But people said, you know, we're going to need to make some tough decisions. So...

  • 12:35:14

    SHERWOODBut when you send them over, just -- I mean, they call it a sausage-making for a reason, but that's a real thing. Before you send something to the Council where you talk with the committee that oversees housing or where you bring people in, where you do the kind of schmoozing, the LBJ-style stuff of talking to people, they think you should just be personally more involved, because they think -- it's not like you have a conservative council or a crazy liberal council. But that they want you to be more involved -- and I hate the word collegial, but that's exactly the word nine people used -- collegial, you'll be more successful. The county will be more successful.

  • 12:35:51

    ELRICHYeah, we're going to retool a little bit how we approach going across the street. I mean, I...

  • 12:35:57

    SHERWOODAnd staff members who can speak for you...

  • 12:35:58

    NNAMDIWe only have a minute and 30 seconds left.

  • 12:36:00

    SHERWOODOkay. Yeah, so the staff members -- last thing, staff members who can't speak for you, they say, oh, we have to go back and check with Marc.

  • 12:36:08

    ELRICHYes. I hear that. We're actually adjusting to that. We're going to make some changes. I mean, I think about how Ike handled things, and I know who used to (laugh) come over and talk to us. And we're looking -- we're going to address some of those issues, because communication is a bit of a problem. But, on the other hand, I think I've worked with them on a lot of their bills. And we have not tried to obstruct things. We have tried to be supportive.

  • 12:36:34

    SHERWOODWell, they want you to actually be more involved, except for Hans Riemer -- I always say his name wrong. I mean, that's oil and water, apparently, for now.

  • 12:36:43

    ELRICHYeah, or gasoline and fire.

  • 12:36:45

    SHERWOODSo, you can work with (unintelligible)...

  • 12:36:46

    NNAMDIThis one you can answer in 30 seconds or less. Theresa in Tacoma Park, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:36:51

    THERESAHi. Hi, Marc. Hi, Kojo. Marc, I was just wondering, the Adventist Hospital moved out of Tacoma Park, and that whole complex is abandoned, except for an urgent care clinic. And I'm wondering, is there any consideration to turn that into affordable housing, since lots of stuff is already...

  • 12:37:13

    NNAMDIOkay. We don't have any more time.

  • 12:37:14

    ELRICHSo, A, we've looked at it for a number of different uses, including some affordable housing. Unfortunately, the hospital, a decision made by the religious leadership of the Adventists has said that the hospital needs to sell it to the Columbia union over there at Washington Adventist University. And so we're not going to get a chance. We were in discussions with the hospital about could we acquire that building and what kind of good things we could do with it. We may not get that opportunity.

  • 12:37:43

    NNAMDIMarc Elrich is the county executive of Montgomery County. He is a Democrat. Thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:37:48

    ELRICHThank you.

  • 12:37:49

    NNAMDIToday's show was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, our Winter Book Show, and we want to know, what was the best book you read this year? Record a voice memo on your phone, no more than 30 seconds, and send it to Kojo at WAMU.org with the subject line Best Book. We'll play a selection of your responses on Monday. That all starts at noon, on Monday. Until then, you have a wonderful weekend. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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