The Dernogalizer

February 24, 2010

UMD and College Park come to Agreement over Washington Post Plant, Hillock Saved

I had a post a couple of weeks ago about whether the University of Maryland and the City of College Park could reach consensus on the university’s purchase of the Washington Post Plant.

Here is what I wrote: “The environmental community in College Park has been on the edge of its seat since it was brought to light that the University of Maryland had made a bid for the abandoned Washington Post Plant in College Park.  The point of the purchase was for UMD to relocate its facilities from East Campus to the plant, so they could do their East Campus development.  This move would mean that the fight to save the Wooded Hillock, 9 acres of forest, would be won by the environmental activists advocating for its preservation.  However, the City is upset about this decision because of the lack of transparency that led up to it, along with the fact that College Park would lose tax revenue from UMD owning the plan since they’re a state institution, and thus tax exempt.  The Maryland Board of Public Works has to approve the purchase, and the approval is likely contingent on the support of the city.

So the question is, can UMD and the city agree to a PILOT(payment in lieu of taxes) where the university would compensate the city for some of all of its lost revenue?  I think that answer is yes because both parties badly want to see the East Campus development completed, and they won’t let something as petty as a few hundred thousand dollars get in the way of a 900 million dollar development that would generate a lot of tax revenue for the city, and graduate housing for the university.

The following is the letter the city council sent to the university after their meeting on Tuesday, and the response the university recently sent back.  It looks like they’re moving towards an agreement.

Dr. Mote Washing Post Letter

President_Mote_Feb_7_letter

I recently received a new letter the city sent to the board of public works supporting the purchase.  The two parties came to an agreement.  Here is the letter.

The noteworthy environmental excerpt from the letter: “We are also pleased that UMCP has confirmed that, with the purchase of the Post Plant, the University has no plans to use any part of the wooded hillock area on campus for building sites, and is currently studying the best uses for this area that meet the expectations of the academic community”

Game

Set

and Match

Advertisements

December 10, 2009

College Park’s Roadmap

The Diamondback has a staff editorial about the road map for the new Mayor, Andy Fellows.  They gave a shout out to the need to prioritize environmental issues, and to UMD for Clean Energy’s efforts in the City Council elections.  For more about those efforts, see here.

“The current council is environmentally friendly, but Fellows, who works for a clean-water lobbying group in Washington, plans to make green issues even more of a priority. The city council owes it to voters to look carefully at environmental issues and to lobby for improvements on a larger stage.

Much of the student voting constituency this year consisted of environmentally-conscious students led by the group UMD for Clean Energy. And a focus on environmental issues would help improve the city. If beautification is what the council wants to achieve in College Park, they must begin by cleaning up the city. And with news that the state and the university system will jointly purchase almost a quarter of their power from green utilities, the university and council could further strengthen their ties based on a common goal.”


November 26, 2009

UMD for Clean Energy in the Washington Post

I already had a post last week where the Diamondback covered our presentation to the College Park City Council, and on Thanksgiving day our proposal for tax credits for green businesses has made it into the Washington Post and the Gazette.

U-Md. students urge College Park to create tax credit for ‘green’ firms

By David Hill

Representatives from UMD for Clean Energy presented their plan to the College Park City Council at its Nov. 17 work session. Their proposal would give property tax breaks to businesses that provide energy-efficient products and services, as well as those that reduce their own carbon footprint.

It could take several years to implement, and city officials appear willing to listen. But the plan faces several obstacles, one of which is that it is not currently legal.

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Councilman Patrick Wojahn (Dist. 1). “We’d like to utilize some version of it and we’re working on a fix right now with the state.”

Municipalities in Maryland are not allowed to offer tax breaks to businesses based on whether they are environmentally friendly, or “green.” Federal and state governments have done it for years — mostly to reduce energy use and reliance on nonrenewable sources — and counties in Maryland have had the right since May.

Nonetheless, the students said that with time and legislation, the proposed city-level tax break would make College Park a popular destination for a growing number of energy-efficient organizations.

“The renewable energy industry is expanding,” said Matt Dernoga, who met with the council alongside fellow student Hilary Staver. “We’re going to have to invest and shift away from conventional energy sources.”

Their proposal would call for a two-tier system. Tier 1 businesses — those that specialize in energy-efficient products and services — would receive a tax credit. A smaller credit would go to Tier 2 businesses in non-“green” sectors that adopt eco-friendly practices such as recycling and improving storm-water management.

Edmonston-based Community Forklift, which collects and sells used building materials, and Beltsville-based solar energy provider SunEdison are examples of businesses that would qualify for Tier 1. Staver said the city has few, if any, Tier 1 qualifiers of its own and that adding new ones would have a positive impact.

The students did not suggest a specific amount for the credit.

“[If residents] see that these companies are taking steps to reduce environmental impact … then it makes people think more about it in their lives,” Staver said. “It helps set an example for the public.”

While new Tier 1 businesses also would boost the city’s revenue, Mayor Stephen Brayman expressed concern over the tax breaks existing city businesses could receive. He said that in difficult economic times, lower taxes for Tier 2 operations could leave residents to foot the bill.

“If residents are paying more taxes to give businesses tax breaks, that might not be popular,” Brayman said, adding that the city’s budget likely will shrink in 2011 and 2012 due to the current economic decline. “The city doesn’t really have any money to give up.”

The council and student group said they would be willing to work toward a compromise. City officials currently lobbying the state for permission to offer a revitalization tax credit to attract new businesses, and Wojahn said they could incorporate language that appeals specifically to green businesses.

“We could probably adopt some parts of [the students’] proposal,” he said. “It’s becoming more and more important to attract these types of businesses.”

November 3, 2009

UMD for Clean Energy Endorsements Stir Things Up

Today is our local College Park city council elections.  There’s been a lot of good press for UMD for Clean Energy, the student group I’m a part of that’s actively involved in this election.  The Diamondback has already given our endorsements and Green March to City Hall attention.  On election day, our march is plugged in regards to the logistics for the day, and our endorsements have been stirring up trouble in College Park.  Overall, I think the coverage worked out favorably for us.  Below are the excerpts from the article that discuss our group’s approach to endorsing candidates, and the disagreement a member of the community has with one of them.

“Although The Diamondback’s editorial board has always disseminated advice on which council candidates best match student interests, it is joined this year by the UMD for Clean Energy environmental group and the Student Government Association’s liaison to the city council.”

“The focus of the endorsements by UMD for Clean Energy took a different approach from either Sachs or The Diamondback, focusing mainly on each candidate’s environmental record and plans rather than their overall platform.

The group’s political liaison, Hilary Staver, arranged interviews with 15 of this election’s 16 candidates — spending well over an hour on each — to write up detailed summaries of each person’s views and ultimately name seven standouts.

UMD for Clean Energy has also lobbied at the state and federal level, but Staver said it’s easier to make a direct impact working at the local level — both by influencing the election and in dealing directly with whoever wins.

“You can work more closely with your [local] elected officials. They have more time to sit down and actually talk about these things,” she said. “Given the small margins that a lot of these races are won by, this could make a big difference.”

The group is also planning a rally on McKeldin Mall at 5 p.m. today to promote its endorsements; Staver hopes 100 students will march the half-mile to City Hall to vote or to catch a van to the city’s second polling station in northern College Park.

The three sets of endorsements included some overlap, most notably that none endorsed more than one District 2 candidate; UMD for Clean Energy didn’t endorse any of the three candidates.

But while these groups are targeting their message at the city’s student population, its permanent residents are also taking note of the endorsements.

Lourene Miovski, an environmental activist in northern College Park, said she heard from a neighbor that UMD for Clean Energy had endorsed Fazlul Kabir in District 1 after Kabir said so on his campaign’s blog.

Miovski recalled a dormant debate she and some neighbors had with Kabir several years ago over the widening of Edgewood Road and cuts to school bus service to the Al-Huda School there — she accuses him of putting convenience over environmentalism by not promoting mass transit. She also said other candidates did more “heavy lifting” than Kabir over the years in lobbying the county to be environmentally sensitive in its long-term plans.

Because Miovski thought the endorsement might have enough political clout to sway voters, she has printed and distributed about 300 flyers expressing her disapproval of Kabir’s past environment-related action and inaction.

Staver said endorsing candidates in District 1 reached beyond students, in what she called an unexpected plus for the group’s advocacy.

“We were mostly focused on students, but it’s become that far reaching. If people are paying attention off campus, that’s great. It’s going even better than we hoped,” she said. “If there’s anybody paying attention off campus, we’ve done our job well.”

Column on the College Park City Council Elections

I have an Op-Ed out today in the Diamondback about the City Council elections, what UMD for Clean Energy is doing, and how we need to move beyond the traditional “students versus the residents” mindset towards progress.

City council: More than who you side with

By Matt Dernoga

The College Park city council elections are today, and I’ve been actively involved in them. The student group I’m part of, UMD for Clean Energy, has interviewed every candidate for the city council — if you count a 30-minute phone conversation with Jack Perry declaring he would not meet with our ilk.

At both polling locations and at a rally to promote a greener College Park taking place today at 5 p.m. at the sundial on McKeldin Mall (that I am shamelessly plugging right now), we’ll be providing information about the candidates along with our endorsements. This information will include the candidates’ positions on the environment, transportation, development, green businesses and energy conservation endeavors. We’ll also be marching to City Hall during the rally.
I know, it’s hard to see why you should care. I’ve been there, too. Back in 2007, I attended a student-sponsored debate for one of the city council races and almost fell asleep.

I didn’t understand why anyone was wasting their time with College Park politics when it wasn’t remotely interesting. It turns out College Park wasn’t the problem. It was instead the issues students were trying to get me to care about: the same pro-student versus anti-student “issues” that are brought up every election. Usually when I ask someone what pro-student even means, that person is dumbfounded.

UMD for Clean Energy has done our best to change that and to bridge the divide between students and residents by crafting a platform that isn’t pro-student but pro-College Park. We think there should be financing mechanisms to make homes in College Park more energy efficient, a solution that would save everyone money. We think development needs to be smart, responsible and in cohesion with sustainable transportation policies that take cars off of Route 1 so students can get to class and everyone can get where they need to go. We even think there should actually be businesses besides Chipotle that recycle so you don’t have to carry your bottle a half mile to a bin or face throwing it in the trash. There’s plenty more, and it’s been well received by students, residents and candidates.

Ironically, what’s anti-student is the insistence of some that members of the city council solely fall into a category of being for or against students. These categorizations are based on issues such as how much noise council members think I can make at midnight or how tall I can grow the grass in my yard. The only aspect to housing seems to be whether or not it’s there — never mind the quality or the placement. The only expense anyone thinks of is rent, not the energy bill they’re paying in a 50-year-old house.

Pitting students against residents over uninteresting issues is a key reason students basically never vote, and it ensures there is never a student on the city council. If you want to disenfranchise students, make a category for them as a constituency with universal needs that allegedly contrast with the rest of the city. If you want to empower them, give them some credit and a little bit of substance.

There are already enough petty differences that divide us. We don’t need to invent another one.  Be done with it.

Oh, and vote.

Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com

October 5, 2009

Climate, Kyoto, and Council

Cross-posted from: here

There is a very well written column in the Diamondback by a member of UMD for Clean Energy Jesse Yurow, who is also our Outreach Director.  Jesse does a good job of explaining how we can’t only rely on the top down approach to make our society more sustainable, but we need to take charge at the community level.  The group Jesse alludes to working with the City Council to develop a energy efficiency loan fund policy, is of course..us.

Guest column: Climate, Kyoto and council

Twelve years ago, world leaders signed the Kyoto Protocol, a global treaty that promised to develop strategies to mitigate the perils of global climate change. Epic fail. Without mechanisms of accountability and without the support of Earth’s largest polluter, the United States, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has skyrocketed to about 380 parts per million and is still rising. NASA climatologist James Hansen suggests that, in order to avoid ecological catastrophe, concentrations of carbon dioxide must be reduced and held steady at 350 parts per million (see http://www.350.org). People sit with their fingers crossed, awaiting climate change solutions to be handed down at the next global summit on climate change this December in Copenhagen.

The United States may be able to redeem itself from the ghosts of Kyoto past and earn bargaining power on the world stage by committing to carbon emissions reductions before December. The House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act last June. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) recently introduced the Senate version: the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act. However, coal and oil lobbyists are sure to grease up this bill just as they have the House version.

In spite of the difficulties of top-down change, communities working together will bring about the clean energy revolution. In College Park, creative ideas generated by students are already taking hold. Two weeks ago, the College Park City Council held a work session to discuss the possibility of implementing an energy-efficiency loan fund to finance efficiency upgrades for College Park residents. This idea was suggested to the city council by a student group along with a list of several other policies which would save the city money while cutting carbon emissions.

The city council is working with a student group to develop policy? This surely is a historic moment. But it shouldn’t be. Students working with the city to make College Park a better place should be standard operating procedure. However, students have never represented a large voting block in a city council election, so the city council has never had a reason to listen to students. With an election on Nov. 3, we have a unique opportunity to change our relationship with the city council by voting en masse and engaging the council. In order to vote in council elections, one must register to vote in College Park. The deadline for registration is today at 5 p.m. You can find voter registration forms in the Student Government Association office in the Student Involvement Suite in Stamp Student Union.

The standard recommendations for “green living,” changing to compact fluorescent light bulbs, driving less and using “eco-friendly” products, illustrate the immense disproportion between the magnitude of the problem and the puniness of the changes we are being asked to make. We need to stop trying to be less bad and start trying to be good. Through direct action and engagement with elected officials on a local level, we can empower the communities we live in to implement innovative and far-reaching solutions to climate change.

April 14, 2009

City Council Column

Filed under: Dernoga,MD Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 2:59 pm
Tags: , , , ,

 

So I decided to take a week to go in a different direction and defend the notion that in the town my college is in(College Park) students under the age of 21(but 18 or over) should be allowed to run for citywide office.  Right now, you have to be 21 or older, and when asked about whether or not this rule should be adjusted to 18, a city councilman named Bob Catlin had some pretty unfavorable comments about it.   I disagreed with them, so here is my column addressing them.

City council: Encourage adolescent activity

MATT DERNOGA

Lowering the minimum age for College Park City Council candidates to 18 would mean incompetent people could be elected more easily, because the people who’d vote for them are uninformed. That would be a disaster. So said District 2 Councilman Bob Catlin last week. 

I know that 99 out of 100 people reading this just said, “Who the hell is Bob Catlin?” This might make Catlin sound correct in his opposition to making it easier for students to run for citywide office.

Before I unleash the fury (or mild amusement), let’s go over a few things. I don’t have any standing grudge against anyone on the city council. I’ve met with quite a few of them and found they’re friendly people who care about the city. I’m not for getting some student out from under the barstool on the city council. The 99 of you who don’t know who Bob Catlin is probably wouldn’t get my vote if I actually lived in College Park.

What was that about people voting for a student being uninformed? Catlin is actually right, but for the wrong reason. Most of the 95 people who voted for Catlin last election were also “uninformed” on the intricate issues of the city. Most people who vote don’t know all the issues. It’s unfortunate, but it’s also common knowledge to anyone who has tried talking to someone else about politics. Something like half the country thought the Republicans were in charge of Congress in 2008 when the economy tanked. The other half likely said, “Congress?” 

Voters are bad enough. Have you ever tried talking to a politician? Some of them have no clue what they’re talking about or doing. Some learn on the job. Even Catlin, if he’s reading this, is probably like, “Yeah, I know them.” I remember attending the widely advertised city council election debate in 2007, where Catlin and two other candidates squared off in a battle of wits in front of 17 college students. It wasn’t terribly impressive. Definitely wouldn’t scare any prospective student candidates away.

To be fair, Catlin is informed on issues, but why shouldn’t he be? He has more than a decade of experience in city politics, and I can understand why he’d be wary of a student who doesn’t know the city inside out. But I’ll bet there was a time when Catlin didn’t know nearly as much as he does now about the city. He might even consider his old self uninformed. Then he got involved.

Here is where Catlin is wrong. He berates students for lacking knowledge, yet discourages them from getting into the issues by effectively preventing them from running. A big problem in our country is there aren’t enough young people involved in politics. This is in part due to money constraints, but in cities like College Park, it’s age discrimination. As a result, our societies often lack fresh ideas and new perspectives. Our small towns and cities need youth involvement the most, because the best ideas usually start local and work their way to the top.

I’d consider supporting a qualified student, but first, all resident students in College Park older than 18 should be allowed to run, learn and lose. Or win. Maybe then, only 98 of you won’t know who Bob Catlin is.

Matt Dernoga is a junior government and politics major whose father serves on the Prince George’s County Council. He can be reached at mdernoga@umd.edu

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.