Friday, March 20, 2020

Montgomery County declared economic disaster area, coronavirus scenes across MoCo (Video)

Image: U.S. Small Business Administration

Restaurants retool to survive coronavirus;

Rural Maryland largely unscathed
by COVID-19 virus

Montgomery County's moribund economy already was the worst-performing in the region over the last decade, according to federal statistics. Yesterday, that same federal government officially declared the county an "economic disaster area" in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, making it eligible for federal Small Business Administration disaster relief funds.

Montgomery County Congressman Jamie Raskin
announces the county has been declared an
economic disaster area on Twitter
I hate to say, "I told you so," once again, but...yep. I've been warning since 2010 that our economy was moribund, and our fiscal course unsustainable. And posing the question of what would happen if we were hit by another recession while in this precarious financial state.

Our elected officials have ignored my warnings. It's instructive to go back to a notorious incident at the Council in 2016 at this moment. A top professional Council staffer declared at a worksession on the Westbard sector plan that an expensive, pie-in-the-sky solution to school overcrowding from urban-style development being permitted in that area was supremely doable. The math presented moved all financial burden, aside from standard impact taxes, from the developer to taxpayers. The math also presumed no financial downturns between FY-2017 and FY-2034 - no recessions, no depressions, no asteroid crashdowns, and no...pandemics.

The Council didn't question the math, and approved the plan.

And here we are. Does anyone outside of 100 Maryland Avenue actually believe we could afford a nearly-$6 billion FY-2021 budget in coronavirus-ravaged Montgomery County this year?

County revenues have been steadily declining. But a recession would sound pretty good compared to what we are facing in the next fiscal year: something between depression, and total economic collapse. 

You think falling revenues are bad - how about virtually no revenue? That's where we are for the indefinite future. We still haven't attracted a single major corporate headquarters in over 20 years, and if the County's debt was a department, it would be the third-largest department in the County government.

As I've said so many times, we're in real trouble, folks. Do the math. Because the Council apparently can't.


Brickside Food & Drink at 4866 Cordell Avenue is one of many restaurants retooling practically overnight to survive the tidal wave of coronavirus that threatens to put many eateries out of business. In addition to converting to a carry-out operation, as all operating restaurants must at this point, Brickside has gone a step further, offering even more reasonable prices for brunch (Community Brunch Menu available Saturday and Sunday) and carry-out orders, in recognition that many are feeling the financial pinch of missing paychecks at the moment. Take a look at the menus here, and give them and the other restaurants remaining open across the county whatever support you can.


Montgomery County is temporarily allowing restaurants to sell take-out beer and wine along with take-out food, in acknowledgement of the financial distress businesses are under at the moment. The beer and wine must be consumed off-premises. It will be hard for elected officials to explain why this could not continue after the coronavirus crisis ends. If it's safe now, it'll be safe then.


Save 25% off usual menu prices when you order take-out from Olazzo Bethesda, Olazzo Silver Spring, and Alatri Brothers (Bethesda) pizzeria. Prices are also temporarily 30% off at Gringos & Mariachis in Bethesda and Potomac.

Here are their current hours; call ahead to double check in the coming days (as you know, things change by the hour in this coronavirus situation):

Gringos & Mariachis Potomac 4:30pm-8:30pm
Gringos & Mariachis Bethesda 4:30pm- 8:30pm
Olazzo Bethesda noon- 8:30pm
Olazzo Silver Spring 5pm-8:30pm
Alatri Bros 4:30pm- 8pm

Here's a video of scenes of the coronavirus' impact across Montgomery County. Shuttered businesses. Mysterious men in hazmat suits. Empty streets.

All scheduled Montgomery County Council
meetings through March 23 have been canceled
according to the Council calendar
The Montgomery County Council announced earlier this month that the public could not enter its building, attend its meetings or testify at public hearings due to coronavirus. But they did not publicly announce that they were going on hiatus. As the photos of their schedule here prove, that's what they are on right now, with all meetings and hearings between March 12 and 23 canceled or postponed. 

The only Council member seen in public in recent days was Will Jawando, but only on a Facebook livestream. Gov. Larry Hogan has effectively been running the Montgomery County government and public schools in absentia of their elected and professional leadership for the last couple of weeks.


Predicting when Marylanders will be ordered to stay in their homes has been an online parlor game since the first Montgomery County coronavirus cases were announced. California went into total lockdown yesterday, and the City of Los Angeles went even further. City residents are now ordered to remain in their homes under penalty of "fines or imprisonment," according to the Los Angeles Times. There are specific exceptions, such as trips to the grocery or drug store, scheduled medical appointments, family caregivers, or exercising outdoors in your neighborhood, while maintaining a distance of 6' from others. All Los Angeles-based businesses requiring employees to be present in-person must close, and no public gatherings are permitted, the Times reported.


A Republican party official told a GOP convention crowd in a red Maryland county in 2007 that they would "sleep well tonight." Why? "Pure Republican air," the official said to laughter. Is there anything to it?

Seriously, though, it's another data point that should be analyzed in the spread of coronavirus. No county on Maryland's Eastern Shore except for Talbot has a single case of covid-19 confirmed so far. None of the counties in Western Maryland have it either. Carroll and Frederick counties have 2 and 1 cases, respectively. Meanwhile, Montgomery County has 33, Prince George's has 23, Howard has 16, and Baltimore County has 12. 

It would seem that clustering millions of people into megacities is actually not the healthiest lifestyle for our future. We could look to our rural neighbors to learn more of the benefits of less-dense development and housing, cleaner air, open spaces, green space and trees. Mother Earth appears to be sending us a message.

At a minimum, the geographic clustering of the cases would tend to discount the idea that coronavirus was raging here back in December. Not to mention the lack of deaths. Even if they were misdiagnosed as cases of flu or pneumonia, the number of deaths would have been high enough to register public alarm. Had coronavirus been circulating prior to Christmas, we would likely have seen it spread to these rural counties as family members traveled back and forth for the holidays. That didn't happen.

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