Archive for the ‘Edifice Complex’ category

Good News and Bad News

22 March 2014

Restoration is complete for the Sally Callmer mural of the commuting penguins that used to be displayed at the Silver Spring Metro station.  The mural, which was originally scheduled for a one-year display period, won the hearts of commuters and passersby in Silver Spring.  That’s why, when the mural was taken down a few years ago for restoration, those same passersby raised the private monies to restore the mural

The bad news: WMATA doesn’t plan to put the penguins back up until the Paul S. Sarbanes Super-Duper Bus Stop is completed.  See you in ten years, guys.

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Band-Aids for Affordable Housing

26 October 2012

A new controversy involves the plan for the City of Rockville to buy the Fireside Park Apartments, a 236-unit complex in the Hungerford area. The purchase will cost $36 million, and Montgomery County is offering to chip in.  Rockville plans to subsidize apartments for households earning up to 60% of the county median income.  For a family of four, for example, subsidized apartments  would be available if their income was as much as $65,000.

A few thoughts:

– Creating public housing projects has rarely been an effective solution to achieving affordable housing.

– Homelessness is a serious problem.  The county should be looking towards long-term structural solutions, not just band-aids.  That begins with recognizing that MoCo policies are largely responsible for causing homelessness (and inflated home prices), and those policies must be changed to alleviate it.

– MoCo government seems to have no understanding of the economics of housing, or how their policies are making housing too expensive.  Rockville is competing with a private firm seeking to purchase the complex.  That is wasteful.  Richard Nelson, director of MoCo’s Department of Housing, defended the purchase: “Their objective — return on equity — is not the public policy of supporting affordable housing.”   Increasing the supply of housing, by economic reasoning, will help alleviate the high price of housing.  Too bad Nelson seems to be ignorant of this.   Governments in general, and especially Montgomery County, are more often blinded by the attraction of building something they can point to and say “That’s ours.”  The edifice complex wins out over an effective policy to improve housing.

White Elephant / Black Hole on Colesville Road

19 September 2012

The completely pointless Silver Spring Transit Center (formal name: Paul S. Sarbanes SuperDuper Bus Stop) is surely a waste of tax dollars, but we don’t yet know how much.

A monument to a politician (“Hey look what I built with my own two hands! Ain’t I wonderful?), the Center brings no additional usefulness to MoCo.  Originally, the project was planned by the Maryland Transit Administration, as an upgrade to the bus depot and parking lot; the cost was estimated at $35M.  However, that wasn’t good enough for Montgomery County, which likes things more grandiose.  The expanded design was priced at $75 million, scheduled to open in 2009.  Since then, the Center has been repeatedly delayed and increased in price.  Construction costs were underestimated. (Surprise! Who could have guessed?), but we don’t know yet by how much.  In addition, the county Department of General Services has raised questions about the quality of construction, and it is not yet clear what might need to be repaired, or at what cost in time or funds.

This spring, the County Dept of General Services was saying that the only solution may be to tear down already built construction.

Besides the taxpayers, here are some other losers from this project, so far:

– The handicapped:  I once had to explain to a man with a cane that buses were several blocks away, and even a cab was several blocks away.  If you are handicapped and trying  to use the Silver Spring metro station, you are just screwed.]  Everything is just too far away for those who are in wheelchairs or just have difficulty walking.

– Cab drivers:  The ad hoc taxi stand is very far away from the Metro station, so they lose business.  Even so, it is much smaller than the cab space needed, so the Post reports that cabs are sometimes ticketed for being parked illegally.

What we do know is that the Center is at least three years overdue, and at least 25% over budget – the cost has more than tripled from that $35M estimate to over $112M.

When is a Library Not a Library?

3 June 2011

(Multimedia would be nice.  I’d like to be able to read that title in the voice of Frank Gorshin. )

Just like the Fillmore project – hell, just like every county project, the new seven-story Silver Spring “library” is already over budget – and construction isn’t due to start for another year, at least.  The budget for the project is $63.7 million.

The library space itself – and I love libraries — is questionable.  The space for the library is not twice, not thrice, but five times larger than the current Silver Spring library.  Just how large is the book collection compared to the book collection at the current Silver Spring Library?

But the library space is the minority of the project.  More than half the floors in the building are to be dedicated to non-library uses.  The building will have an art gallery, county offices, public meeting rooms, a coffee shop — a coffee shop! — , subsidized space for some community groups, and – oh, yes – a library.

So why call it a library?  Because, like schools, it’s easier to build public support for a ”library” than for another unneeded county office building, and purchasing support for subsidized space for politically connected community groups.  (How many civic buildings does that make in Silver Spring alone?)

So rather than calling it a seven-story high monument to wastefulness, it’s called a “library.”  Of course, calling it a library doesn’t make it a library.  The Pentagon isn’t a restaurant just because it has a cafeteria.

“Maybe We Can Build Our Own Racetrack”

31 March 2009

Magna Entertainment, which owns the Maryland Jockey Club, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  The Jockey Club owns not only Laurel Race Track and Pimlico Race track, but also the rights to the Preakness itself.

If they go under, they will sell their assets, including the Preakness, which might then be moved out of state.  But Senate President Mike Miller won’t let that happen.

Once again, he’s floating the idea of the State building its own “super track” for racing in Baltimore.  He would have the state purchase the rights to the Preakness from Magna, and run the Preakness at the state-owned track.  He also said it might be necessary for the state of Maryland to skip over Pimlico, and build its own racetrack.

What’s the thinking here?  That the state can do a better job, and make money where Magna failed?  “Well, those people don’t know how to run a racetrack.  But Mike Miller surely does.”    More likely, the thought is that the business will still run in the red, but the taxpayers can pick up the slack.

Does this make sense to anybody? (As much as the US government placing itself as the guarantor of automotive warranties, I suppose.)

Miller, by the way,  has his office in the Mike Miller Senate Office Building — yes, it’s named after him.  I wonder how many State office buildings are named after living office holders — and how many of those are politicians who are still serving in office.  That has to be some kind of a record, outside of small Third World countries with imperious dictators.  Apparently, that’s not enough.

I think he’s envisioning the “Miller Preakness Stakes” at the “Mike Miller Race Track” now.  And Imperial Government continues to gain power.

Subsidizing the Horsey Set

6 March 2009

The state has already spent nearly $700,000 to build the Woodstock Equestrian Center near Beallsville.

Now the county is planning to add more funds.  This coming Tuesday (March 10), the County Council will seek approval to add funding for the project.  The County Planning Board has requested a special appropriation of an additional $750,000 to pay for an outdoor riding ring, terraced seating, a storage area for jumps and maintenance equipment. A “special appropriation” means they can appropriate this with reduced oversight and procedure.  Why?  Because, as the funding request notes, “The County Council declares that this action is necessary to act without delay in the public interest.”

Whenever you hear someone citing “the public interest”, it’s time to reach for your wallet. What’s the “public interest” here? The county cites “recreational opportunities”.  Recreation — for whom?  We’re not talking about playground basketball here.  Riding horses is an expensive hobby, undertaken by folks with a lot of disposable income.   Those who benefit from the center should be paying for it – not the taxpayers. But this is a typical MoCo ploy;  taking money from taxpayers to subsidize the leisure of the rich. I note that some of the funding will come from a state “Community Parks and Playgrounds Grant.”  Somehow, I don’t think the intent of that grant was to provide a playground for wealthy horse owners.

The county justifies the expenditure thus: “A fully developed equestrian center expands the economic impact of the equestrian industry in both the State and County. The equestrian industry contributes in both direct and indirect ways to a majority of Montgomery County’s agricultural income.”   As many have noted, including this blog, we already subsidize the equestrian industry with millions of state dollars annually.  That’s wrong, and more money shouldn’t be taken from taxpayers to subsidize the industry, no matter how much political pull they have.

Transit Pork, Again

31 July 2008

The county executive, the county council,  and the county planning board have been feuding lately.   It’s all about power struggles.  The planning board has rejected the county exec’s plans for the Silver Spring music center, because they fear he is taking too much authority away from them.  Now the question is about the Silver Spring Transit Center (Actually, that is technically the Paul S. Sarbanes Silver Spring Transit Center.)   You know we’ve got white elephant pork (the other white meat?) when the politicians are not only building monuments to themselves, but modestly naming it after themselves, too.)

In an earlier post, I questioned how much (not whether) the cost of this monstrosity would increase over the initial $75 million.  Now we are starting to see.  County Executive Leggett has asked for an additional $16.7 million for frills.  The Council doesn’t think that is enough, so they appropriated an additional $18.6 million.  Says Council member Valerie Ervin, “I think that we should be building buildings that are aesthetically beautiful.”

No, Valerie.  You should be conserving the taxpayers’ funds, rather than building monuments to politicians.  The purpose of the center is to bring together Metrorail, buses, and MARC at the same location.  That’s exactly what we have now – without spending an additional $100 million of county taxes.

This is a project that should be killed now, before construction begins.