'Rally for the Region' Gets Thumbs-Up from Leaders

by Joe Capista
       Dreaming of community gardens and efficient mass transit? Dream no longer. On October 18, over 1,000 citizens and elected officials convened at the Rally for the Region, held at Sudbrook Magnet Middle School in Pikesville. They discussed proposed solutions to uncontrolled sprawl, neglected communities, traffic congestion, and air and water pollution.

County residents also want better mass transit, less congestion, better job opportunities, and more equitable distribution of resources and responsibilities.

        "The citizens of the Baltimore region understand that there is a real need to work together to solve our common problems," said Alfred W. Barry, Chairman of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association's Committee on the Region. "These solutions have worked in other regions and we will make sure they work in the Baltimore area."

       Over 65 community, religious, business, and environmental groups from Baltimore and its surrounding regions were represented at the event. The groundswell of support is the result of months of meetings and negotiations by issues work groups established at the April 30 Regional Connection Conference.

       "The Action Agenda," the fruit of their labor, was formally presented to the region's top elected officials at the Rally—including Gov. Parris Glendening and Baltimore City Mayor Martin O'Malley.

       The Agenda strives to secure "sustainable growth" in Baltimore and the surrounding counties, suggesting strategies and policy reforms designed to preserve the quality of life in existing neighborhoods.

       At the crux of this agenda lies a concept of interdependence dubbed "regionalism." Regionalism recognizes that one area's problems affect surrounding areas, and that pulling ideas and resources across county and city lines makes the region more livable for all citizens.

       CPHA staffer Matthew Weinstein points out, "All the community groups really indicate there's a growing realization that we must work together. Right now, there's a lack of regional cooperation....I'm out there [throughout the region] a couple of times a week, and when I talk to people, something clicks—they know it's regional problems that are affecting their lives locally."

       For instance, Beverly Jefferson, housekeeping manager at Johns Hopkins Hospital, questioned why the Metro does not run on Sundays, when scores of employees from the city and county need it for transportation to work. "It just doesn't make sense that this happens with the largest employer in the state," she said, referring to Hopkins.

        The audience was a cross-section of society, a crowd peppered with blacks, whites, suited business people, mothers and children. Groups represented included the African American Coalition of Howard County, the Baltimore Jewish Council, the Environmental Crisis Association, the Baltimore Green Party, and representatives from Southwest Baltimore.

       In addition to Gov. Glendening and Mayor O'Malley, other elected officials were on hand, including Baltimore County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger, State Senator Barbara Hoffman, Delegates William Cole and Michael Finifter, and Baltimore County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz.

       "I'm proud of these organizations and support each and every principle in their agenda, as will be reflected in my budget submission to the Legislature in January," Glendening announced to the cheering crowd. "This is your agenda, this is my agenda, let's make it Maryland's agenda!"

       A November first meeting is scheduled between the committees and Gov. Glendening to smooth out plans for his January budget presentation. If that goes well, the rest will be determined by the state legislature, which has the power to accept, reject or amend the plan.

       Was the trip to Pikesville worth it for the activists and politicians? Howard County Executive James Robey told the crowd, "A lot of meetings I go to, I wonder if anyone is awake. I've got to tell you, folks, you sure as hell are awake!"

The Plan

The Action Agenda, a five-point plan, was drafted by issues workgroups comprised of citizen leaders from all walks of life. Ratified by a citizen caucus on September 9, the Action Agenda includes:

       The Sustainable Communities Initiative—Uncontrolled growth in the Baltimore Region has resulted in disorganized development in the counties, as well as neglect in older urban and suburban communities.

       Recognizing this is a cycle, the Sustainable Communities Initiative aims to clean up neighborhoods, not gentrify them. The Agenda calls for a $25 million competitive grant program known as the Sustainable Communities Initiative from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. This money would be invested in improvements by current homeowners in older communities, promote mixed-income housing developments, and go towards developing strategies to work with local government to stop the cycle of social and physical decline.

        Regional Workforce Investments—CPHA board member Scot Spencer pointed out that job-training programs are open to residents in some jurisdictions only. Five local Workforce Investment Boards now handle federal funds for job training, childcare, and transportation. Multi-jurisdictional cooperation between these boards would insure that all workers can obtain the skills and services needed to take advantage of new employment opportunities in the region. The Action Agenda proposes the Governor, Mayor, and County Officials invest in a $1 million State matching fund for joint workforce development, as well as establish a Baltimore Regional Workforce Investment Board.

       Program Neighborhood Space—Recognizing that "cleaning and greening" helps stabilize, preserve, and revitalize older communities, the Action Agenda calls for local government to aid already existing community groups undertaking community greening. As the Agenda points out, these groups provide a valuable service to the community by rehabilitating small swatches of land—but at financial risk and with potential liability. A regional land trust known as Program Neighborhood space is proposed, which would hold title to small properties throughout the region, allowing communities to manage and maintain them.

       Each jurisdiction is called to commit $1 per resident per year over a five-year period for the cost of operating regional land trusts. The plan calls for the State to match these funds. Each regional land trust would be governed by a board of directors appointed by the Mayor and County Executives. The program would be required to work with local community representatives to make sure improvements are made in conjunction with community wishes.

       Fair Share Investments in Drug Treatment—In Mayor O'Malley's address, he cited a U.S. Census report that Maryland is the richest state in America, based on its $1 billion state surplus. This figure is in stark contrast to a recent Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) task force statement that cites Baltimore City as a leading city in heroin and cocaine use. So much addiction in such a wealthy state is "morally reprehensible," declared O'Malley.

        Recent reports estimate that there are over 126,000 drug addicts in Baltimore and the five counties; over 66,000 of these addicts live outside Baltimore City, which means addicts in the counties outnumber those within the city limits. Compared to the city, though, the surrounding counties have a dearth of treatment centers. Ten percent of Baltimore City treatment slots are used by county residents. The Action Agenda calls for more effective treatment plans implemented in the counties as well as the city.

       Seven Day Rail—The Action Agenda charges that regional fragmentation is increased by the lack of an efficient and effective public transportation throughout the region. The Maryland Transit Association serves over 250,000 citizens, yet few options exist for off-peak riders of the Light Rail, Metro Subway, and MARC trains.

       In order to seize employment opportunities, cut back pollution, and de-congest the roadways, the Agenda stipulates that existing rail lines must be operational for full hours of service. Rose Flemming, co-chair of the Transit Rider's League, pointed out, "People who ride mass transit should have an active role in designing it."

        Among the improvements called for by the Action Agenda are Metro service on Sundays, Light Rail operation all day Sunday, and weekend MARC service between Baltimore and Washington DC.

        Present at the meeting was Mass Transit Administrator Ronald Freeland, who said he supports the proposed regional plans. "It's very clear to me that for us to be a region, we must take a look at transportation across county lines," he said.

        According to plans outlined by Freeland, the MTA is looking to improve the overall quality of public transportation, which includes adding maps and information at bus and train stops and filling in the service gaps.

       Freeland said the MTA has discussed plans for improved weekend service with Gov. Glendening, who supports the drafts. "We are going to do it," Freeland promised the audience.

       There are problems, Freeman pointed out. The Light Rail is presently single-tracked, and the only service time available to make repairs or add track is from 1:00 a.m. Sunday morning to early Sunday afternoon. Double tracking the system will take time and require negotiating. Although MARC trains don't run on the weekend, he pointed out that regular users have the option to use Amtrak to access Harford County. Freeland said they are looking into options for non-regular riders.

        The crowd was especially responsive to the advent of what Freeman called "Neighborhood Shuttles." The MTA is looking into designing a system that will supplement the bus system within neighborhoods, tailoring each route to the specific community and linking them to other services.

       Will the Action Plan be implemented? If the enthusiastic citizens and politicians at the Rally for the Region have their way, it will.


CPHA is a nonprofit organization. For information, call 410-539-1369, or visit http://www.cpharegionalcampaign.org.

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This story was published on November 1, 2000.