Weekly Letter: Impact at MPact

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It’s Tuesday, and I’m on a plane again, flying home from Phoenix. Visiting my daughter and son-in-law was great, and so was the conference, but it was very strange being connected only electronically to the action back home.

I wrote about our Essential Worker Housing Access Act two weeks ago, and I won’t get into the details here, but I do want to congratulate the two hundred people who showed up last night at People’s Park to rally for the bill, and the ones who stayed late to testify before the County Council. I also want to congratulate my staff: the Community Engagement and Constituent Services team, the Communications team, the Legislative team, and the experts at Planning and Zoning, Office of Law and ACDS.

I am filled with pride because while I am currently serving as County Executive, I am a community organizer and advocate at my core. When my administration has done hard things, like forest conservation and transformational budgets that deliver triple A bond ratings, we have organized and we have advocated. We have used the power of government to bring people together and engage them in the work. And by doing so, we have ensured that the progress we make is protected, protected by the people who fought for it, as long as democracy exists. 

The MPact conference is a thousand planners, engineers, and advocates from across the country who gather each year to share what they know about creating community through transit. I was there with Baltimore Metropolitan Council Director Mike Kelly and MDOT Assistant Secretary Tony Bridges to tell the story of the rise, fall, and resurrection of the Red Line, and how it taught regional leaders that we need to come together and create our own regional transportation oversight rather than leave it in the hands of a Governor. I was asked to present because I just completed my term chairing the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board, and I’m a true believer in the power of transit to connect people in a way that is healthier, more efficient, and more equitable than the automobile.

The opening plenary was called Health In All Places. It’s the prism for policy-making that I’ve used off and on as County Executive but not implemented as thoroughly as I’d like. I wanted to create a system of Health Impact Assessments for legislation before the County Council, just like we have Fiscal Impact Statements. Should we do it?

The session was moderated by Jon Ford from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and included Mimi Majumdar Narayan from the Pew Charitable Trust and John Vu from Kaiser Permanente. They covered familiar ground: Health Impact Statements for policy and Community Health Needs Assessments for hospitals. It’s a way to pitch transit, trails, parks, public safety initiatives, education, workforce development, and housing, and to engage public and private institutions in the work. All good things.

But this morning’s plenary was about a thing I’d never encountered - ETOD. It’s not an animal, or an electronic device. It’s Equitable Transit Oriented Development. 

Transit Oriented Development is a familiar thing in our county. Odenton is our only state-designated TOD site, but we also have TOD planning underway at Laurel Racetrack, Cromwell Station at the northern edge of Glen Burnie, and BWI Airport. I’m a fan of TOD because it increases transit ridership and creates communities where people don’t need to rely on cars.

But ETOD is a concept that recognizes that TOD has often displaced communities, affordable communities, communities of color, by building housing that costs far more than what was there before. ETOD recognizes what we’ve recognized in our county, that just building housing doesn’t create sustainable communities. Increasing the housing supply only houses today’s residents, today’s workforce, today’s seniors, if we have a plan to make that happen. That’s why so many jurisdictions include moderately priced dwelling unit requirements for new construction, and that’s exactly what our Essential Worker Housing Access Act does for the people of our county. It was a good session to attend in the midst of our campaign to create housing access back home.

I heard from some wonderful people at the MPact conference, but there was one who really moved me - Congressman Earl Blumenauer from Oregon. They call him the father of the organization that does the conference, and after 27 years in Congress he’s not running for re-election. The audience gave him an extended standing ovation before he even got to the stage, and by the time he was done I knew why. His humanity, his wisdom, and his passion to protect our planet and its people were infectious. His Wikipedia page confirmed what I suspected. His life has made an impact.

Tomorrow morning, I will be up early, on the road at 6:30, and at the Fox45 studio by 7:30 to do my part to put another extraordinary talent in a position to have great impact for many years to come. I will meet my friend Senator Sarah Elfreth in the studio to publicly endorse her to succeed our mutual friend John Sarbanes as the Representative of Maryland’s Third District in the United States Congress. Tomorrow will be a good day.

Until next week…

Steuart Pittman

Anne Arundel County Executive