April 2020 Updates

Hi Friends,

I hope this email finds you in good health.

These are difficult times for many of us and, as we drag into the second month of operating life during a pandemic, some are feeling a general sense of exhaustion. 

If you are struggling at all, please let me know and we can connect you to resources.

Like you, the city has adapted as best we can to these times. While difficult, there are still a lot of places where we continue to move the ball forward:

COIVID-19, World Central Kitchen Partnership

Celina helped organize an incredible partnership with World Central Kitchen to provide meals to the elderly and needy in our community. During the week of April 7th, they delivered over 2,500 meals to residents and will continue to deliver meals through the duration of the pandemic. This is truly outstanding work, which you can read more about here.

The Mayor and Celina, along with the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), continue to take a lead role in providing resources directly to those or need or connecting people to the resource they need. If you would like to help in any way, I would recommend reaching out to Danielle Carter with CERT (dscarter86@yahoo.com) or Celina at CBenitez@mountrainiermd.org

FY 21 Budget

The city has started its budget talks and, with our shared state income tax revenue expected to drop (and the potential for a drop in property tax revenue if we see a spat of foreclosures), this will be a difficult budget to navigate. 

But, just as many of us are doing in our lives right now, it is also an opportunity for us to take stock of what is truly important right now - i.e., what do we value?

In that vein, I am lifted up by what I have seen our community value during this pandemic . . . Artists performing music on their porch. Volunteers organizing food drives. Neighbors organizing food deliveries and scavenger hunts. Residents clearing forest paths and planting a native forest. Shoppers patronizing Glut and ZZs. Many of us just enjoying additional time to hang out with neighbors (albeit 10 feet apart) and having a new appreciation for why we love them and why we love living here.

In this time of suffering, this reminds us of the joy a close-knit community can bring – a joy that is sometimes forgotten in a more hurried world.   

When we get through this, our lives and economy will be different. In that world, we must remember the building blocks of a happy community remain what we are relying on now – local businesses, a walkable and bikeable community, artists, a bit of nature to connect with, and a love for one another.

Whether it’s investing in public art, sustaining current businesses or attracting new ones, nurturing our environment or revitalizing public spaces, these buildings blocks remain my north star in this year’s budget, just as it was in the vision I laid out last August.

I am confident we can both pass a conservative budget that projects revenue declines while continuing forward with some of these important investments in our future. It's what the best organizations in the world are doing right now and we should strive for nothing less. 

Stormwater Management

Almost two years ago, I presented a short, medium, and long-term vision for improving our stormwater management practices and we have been making steady progress ever since.

Last year, we were awarded over $150,000 from the Department of Natural Resources to pay for installing the new bio-retention systems you've seen built around town. These small systems redirect stormwater off the streets and into redesigned parts of our city's tree boxes that are filled with plants that still thrive in water soaked conditions. The stormwater is then filtered through these plantings and into the ground, which means less stormwater (and the pollutants it carries with it from the street) into the storm drains that lead to the Northwest Branch. It all means we are doing our part to improve the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Well, thanks to our Public Works Director, Koroush Kamali, the city has now been awarded an additional $196,000 from the Chesapeake Bay Trust to construct 11 new stormwater retrofits throughout town. One of those projects includes the bio-retention project envisioned by the 3300 block redesign at Perry and 33rd Streets, with the remaining 10 slated for the Kaywood Gardens neighborhood.

This is great news that demonstrates what can happen when you make a vision, stick to it, and slowly chip away at it year-after-year. 

Arts Commission

On Tuesday night, the Arts Commission will once again update the Mayor and Council on the planned art mural for the 3300 block of Rhode Island Avenue. 

The project is still slated to move forward but we do need to prepare for contingency plans in the event some of the stay-at-home continue in effect through the summer. If you support this project, please let me know and I can share your comments during the meeting or send you the link for the meeting as soon as I have it. My goal remains getting this project done once it is clear we can continue with the work in light of the pandemic. 

Native Plant Network, 31st Street Pocket Park, and Forest Path

On Tuesday night, I will present an updated plan for the Mount Rainier Native Plant Network. This idea - meant to build on much of the work residents were already undertaking - seeks to promote native planting in our yards so that we can connect our little ecosystem in a manner that supports the bio-diversity found right here in Mount Rainier.

With folks taking notice of this project in neighboring jurisdictions, my hope is that we can lay the ground work for building this network beyond our borders to connect our yards to larger native ecosystems like the Northwest Branch Green Way. 

Speaking of native planting, the Tree Commission and Green Team partnered to move forward with the planting of the Community Food Forest in the 31st Street pocket park between Taylor and Upshur Streets. While respecting social distancing and rules against large gathering through a staggered schedule, volunteer residents were able to plant much of the planned plantings this past weekend and will look to finish it up in the weeks ahead. Please take a peak on your next walk and read some of the stakes in the ground to get a good sense for what we have planned. The goal is to create a self-sustaining food forest that can provide native habitat and food to humans and critters alike!

It is also great to see all the people using the forest path we helped clear a few weeks ago that connects the 31st Street Pocket Park to Rainier Avenue. If you haven't been yet, please go! It is a wonderful little respite from the concrete walking we have grown accustomed to recently. Email me if you can't find the path, it's a bit of a mystery :)

2020 Census

If you haven't already, please take the census! Last census, Prince George's County was undercounted by about 40%, which resulted in millions of federal dollars lost.

Celina did a great job of getting the city a $19,000 grant to help us publicize the need for folks to get counted, which we are using to send mailers to every residence in Mount Rainier, but we need your help! Please fill out your census and tell your neighbors to do the same (from 10 feet apart). 

Library Resources

The Prince George's County Library System reestablished free public access to Lynda.com Library, which contains over 4,000 courses and certifications in subjects ranging from web development to music production. The Library also launched a new partnership with D.C. United that provides Prince George's County families with online workout videos, #SavewithStories read-alouds and #AMA events with players, and activities during the stay at home order.

All Prince Georgians are also invited to enter the Library's 1st Annual Poetry Contest. Submissions are due May 8 (see guidelines here).

Well, that's all for now. If you've gotten this far, you deserve an award! 

I do also want to apologize in advance if it takes me a little longer to reply over email. Just like you, life is a bit more hectic these days with the kids at home and a full-time job to manage in addition to Council responsibilities. I appreciate the understanding and still look forward to hearing from you!

Please stay safe.

Peace,

Luke


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