WELCOME TO THE WEEKLY AGITATOR: WHO AND WHAT YOU SHOULD BE ANGRY AT, WHO’S ORGANIZING ABOUT IT, AND HOW YOU CAN FIND OUT MORE
It was a dark and foreboding night last Tuesday, May 15, 2018. An eerie quiet hung over the county hearing room. Republican Candidate for County Executive lurked by the hearing room door, in a manner worth of a 21st century Nosferatu.
Lobbyists from the local Chamber of Commerce led a funeral process to take their seats, while a cadre of organizers lined posters in sight of the County Council’s seating. But overall, attendance to the public hearing of Zoning Text Amendment 18-05 was sparse. The amendment in question has one goal: to break down the barriers to developers and giant corporations invading Montgomery County.
Presently, zoning law in Montgomery County requires the County Planning Board to evaluate a future business’s site development plans. Under ZTA 18-05, corporations bringing more than 25,000 employees to a single metropolitan area would have their development plans reviewed in half the currently mandated time. This would mean Amazon HQ2, the latest expansion of the world’s largest corporation, would have their development reviewed in 60 days rather than the current 120 days.
It was no secret on Tuesday that this amendment was intended for that exact purpose — as a bribe to help Amazon encourage Montgomery County as its new victim. Those who testified in favor of the amendment spoke glowingly of Amazon and Montgomery County’s prospects at being the next home for HQ2.
Robin Ficker, the lone Republican contender for County Executive, conjured strange propositions such as Jeff Bezos joining his son in the Seattle Seahawks locker room, of creating “Bezos’s Friendship with Ficker,” and cursing Seattle’s progressive head tax on large businesses to fund solutions to homelessness. Ficker’s formula to invest County pensions in Amazon fell flat immediately after being corrected by Councilmember, and also County Executive Candidate, George Leventhal and Ficker slinked away into the night.
Multiple lobbyists and representatives from the local Chamber of Commerce applauded the amendment, as did the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation. The will of the business community was clear in their testimony:
“…Create a larger, more competitive market…”
“…Bring new capital investment…”
“…Attract larger companies and Fortune 500s…”
Community members presented clear reasons to oppose the amendment:
“…I’ve had multiple local environmental experts read this ZTA and tell me that compressing the timeline would make it almost impossible for the public to participate in the process…It’s almost like this is more of a plan to prevent opposition to Amazon and future Amazons, than anything else…”
“…I do not see evidence that the general public knows about this ZTA, or understands what would be changed and how it would affect them…”
“Seattle has seen its homeless population almost double in ten years…in the last five years, rents went up 39%… Amazon uses jobs and development as a bargaining chip against legislation it doesn’t like…”
History will vindicate the opponents of ZTA 18-05. The amendment stretches far beyond the race-to-the-bottom contest held by Amazon and the 2018 local elections. What is politically expedient today will be our misfortune four to five years down the road, when the next Fortune 500 corporation looks to take advantage of our County. It was plainly the intention of the Economic Development Corporation, the Planning Board, and the Chamber of Commerce to prepare the ground for exactly that — the facilitation of further corporate infiltration into Montgomery County.
It is a shame that our local politicians are clamoring over one another to pass this amendment — either out of full complicity with the Bezos-Amazon “Wish List” or for short-term political gain.
The amendment will be a blight on our County’s duty to the general welfare of our residents. It will be the easy avenue for powerful owners of capital to ride above public oversight, to further crush other enterprises underfoot, and to transform Montgomery County into a ghoulish reflection of their own likeness.
As the opponents to the bill left the dark Council Office building and ventured home in sorrow over the state of affairs, the clouds opened up, and heaven wept for Montgomery County.