Bridget Donnell Newton
Name: Bridget Donnell Newton
Neighborhood of Residence: West End
Office Seeking: Mayor
What do you identify as the number one challenge facing Rockville today and how do you propose to address it?
The number one challenge facing our City is managing growth. This means having the infrastructure capacity (schools, water and sewer, adequate resources for our police and fire departments, roads and transit system) in place to adequately support new development as well as the organic growth in turnover of existing housing. Rockville must work with our partners in Montgomery County and MCPS to get our existing schools – like Twinbrook Elementary - rebuilt - so that all are safe and welcoming with up- to- date classrooms, technology and resources. Good schools create great neighborhoods and great neighborhoods support great schools. I worked hard to convince MCPS to build Bayard Rustin - our newest elementary school- to full capacity – and thank goodness they did since Bayard Rustin is nearly at 100% enrollment in their second year. The City needs to continue to replace our water and sewer pipes to keep up with increased demand and ensure that our public safety officers have the equipment they need to provide critical safety to increased residents and businesses. We must ensure safety on all transit modes (including auto, bus, metro, bike and pedestrian) and coordinate with our county and state partners on accessibility and Vision Zero.
What is the role of City government in addressing housing affordability issues in Rockville and what would you do to encourage the production of more affordable homes for working families?
We are a city of neighborhoods and Rockville must offer a “continuum of housing” so that there are options for every interest, need and budget. I believe that the best communities are those that have a cross-section of housing, incomes and cultures. The City of Rockville is fortunate that we control our own zoning - therefore we can make changes to allow for more options than single family, apartment or condo. I’d love to see row houses like in Baltimore, duplexes/triplexes and quads as seen in DC. We need workforce housing so that our police, firefighters, teachers, social workers can live in the community in which they serve. We need universal design housing so that those with ADA requirements have options that meet their needs. For as long as I’ve been on the Council – I’ve been requesting that developers also build apartments with 3 or 4 bedrooms so that families can live comfortably. I also strongly support maintaining our garden-style apartments as they tend to be a bit bigger, offer balconies and more community style living. When I moved to Rockville in 1981 – I lived at 1001 Rockville Pike and felt very fortunate to have a balcony and green space within my community. Rockville also needs to examine our MPDU regulations to ensure that they are providing the opportunities originally intended. Rockville has many methods to ensure that we encourage housing for all who want to live and work in our City – requiring more MPDU’s in new development, supporting our care giver partners in their efforts and through Rockville Housing Enterprises. Ensuring that every neighborhood is supported equally with regards to City Services and Code Enforcement is vital to maintaining the wonderful mix and quality of options Rockville offers for living in our City.
How do you feel about the transportation options currently available in our city? Do we have enough options? How would you mitigate those concerns or change the situation?
Rockville has several transit options within our borders (3 metro stations, MARC and Amtrak, Metro buses), however I have always felt that we were missing the first and last mile. We need some sort of shuttle (or circulator) to get from neighborhoods to transit, town, shopping and dining. I realize that ride-sharing apps are attempting to fill the need however they are also contributing to the emission pollution and congestion. I want to partner with Montgomery College and County officials to establish a new shuttle between the Rockville Campus and Town Center during the week. Scooters are a popular new option – for some – but we need to work through the initial challenges they’ve presented when just abandoned in the middle of our sidewalks. With respect to the State’s proposed I 270 project, I have testified and personally met with state officials to express the concerns of our community. Although it appears that any future widening south of 370 would occur within existing right-of-way, building roads and not transit is not forward thinking. All you have to do is look at what’s happened in Virginia, Texas, Illinois and Indiana to understand that ceding land to a private entity (or another country) to build toll lanes is a bad idea. I was shocked to hear Maryland’s Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn say at a County Council meeting that the reason they were widening I-270 South of 370 FIRST, was so that the tolls would pay for widening the road from 370 to Frederick. Toll roads are regressive and tend to hurt those who can least afford the additional commuting expense. I am also disappointed that other proposals such as a monorail from Frederick to Shady Grove has been given little interest as it could potentially be an environmentally and cost effective alternative since it would run in the State’s right-of-way, not take years to build and offer a hiker/biker trail underneath. Finally – pushing WMATA to best serve Rockville is another project I’ve been pleased to work on as Mayor. Rebuilding both the Twinbrook and Rockville Stations would be incredible opportunities for economic redevelopment and offer safer and better experiences for travelers. I’m the only member of the Mayor and Council to testify at METRO in favor of ending the Red Line turnback at Grosvenor resulting in all trains now running to Shady Grove Station. A huge win for Rockville’s commuters. While Chair of the Transportation Planning Board, I was proud to work together with regional partners at the state and local level to secure historic new dedicated funding from the DMV to support WMATA – another big win for Rockville and our region.
Do you believe Rockville’s APFO (Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance) is working as intended? Why or why not? What changes would you propose?
Some people want to blame the APFO for the slowdown in development that occurred during and following the Great Recession. The fact of the matter is – we are the place we’ve all moved (or stayed) BECAUSE of the great schools, safe neighborhoods and preeminent services. Children crammed into portables, insufficient public safety or lack of premium services come when the rate of development out paces the government’s ability to provide those things which enhance the quality of living. We’ve got to address our concept of school buildings and funding. Perhaps money could come from a larger cut of the casino revenue spread per student throughout the State. Or the County could repurpose empty office buildings into magnet or technical middle and high schools. We need to be more creative in our thinking about what a great education really means and also value acquiring skills in trades, technology and cyber security. We should be publicizing the partnership opportunities currently offered by Montgomery College/MCPS whereby a High School Junior or Senior can get a dual degree – MCPS Diploma and Associates Degree at the same time. That would be a huge savings for our families as well as opening up seats in High School classrooms.
How do you plan on maintaining a balance between environmental sustainability and economic development?
Environmental sustainability and economic development are not mutually exclusive – they are partners. Corporation, small businesses, retail and restaurants are all dependent on location and the ambiance of their surrounding area. I think that the more green space we include in our downtown, neighborhood centers and redevelopment areas (Twinbrook Quarter, Stonestreet, ) the more time people will want to spend there. REDI (Rockville Economic Development, Inc.) and the Chamber have new Executive Directors and their energy and creativity will be instrumental in moving Rockville forward with regards to our commercial and business development goals. I’d love to see an Arts and Culture District in Rockville so that there’s more to do and learn. We have incredible talent here – let’s find a way to create space so that our artists can work where they live.
How will you implement the City’s commitment to Vision Zero? What strategies will you use to effectively partner with the County and State to ensure that Vision Zero is a reality?
From the beginning - I was one of two on the current Council who strongly supported the Pedestrian Safety Advocacy Committee. After several life altering collisions between pedestrians and vehicles – the City needed to take an immediate and direct approach to ensure that our community could safely navigate our streets. Though Rockville adopted Vision Zero a few years ago – we’ve have had more focus on moving traffic and creating bike lanes which - while very important – does not encourage multi-modal options and pedestrian safety. The PSAC will help us get there and I intend to continue attending their meetings and consider their recommendations carefully. I have heard from many of you that you would like more bike paths so that you and your families and friends can ride for leisure, errands, exercise – but not in or alongside traffic. I wholeheartedly support the Great American Rail Trail - and I hope to partner with all our stakeholders to find ways to create more connectivity through neighborhoods and to existing trails such as the Carl Henn Millennium or the Capital Crescent Trail.
As Rockville’s population continues to grow and diversify, do you support increasing the size of the City Council to offer more opportunities for representation? How do you plan to involve residents from all corners of Rockville in the decision making process if you are elected?
When this proposal was raised late this Term – I agreed that we should convene a Charter Review Commission and give the community the opportunity to weigh in and also suggest any other changes we might make to our structure for good governance of our City. Unfortunately – that proposal failed to move forward. The issue of increasing the size of the Council was put before the voters in 2013 and was not supported by the majority of voter. Therefore, adding 2 council members by a vote of the sitting Mayor and Council without input from the community seemed to be self serving as campaigning for the 2019 term had already begun. As Mayor I have made a concerted effort to nominate a diversity of residents to each board and commission. Diversity across all sectors including but not limited to racial, ethnic, religious, gender, age, geographic, education, time in Rockville and thought. Rockville is the 9th Most Diverse City in America – and we have a wide ranging spread of opinions. I value that diversity and think we are more representative of our whole community when we listen to understand and not prejudge people’s positions.
Are you satisfied with Rockville’s city-manager form of government? If not, how would you propose changing it?
Rockville has a Council-Manager form of Government which means the Council sets policy and gives direction, and the City Manager is responsible for implementation. That is different than your question suggests. The Mayor and Council also supervise (and give direction to) the City Attorney and the City Clerk/Director of Council Operations. I think this is a fair and reasonable form of governing - as the people elect the mayor and council to represent them and they in turn are supposed to represent those viewpoints. I have served 4 years as a Councilmember and now 6 as Mayor. I firmly believe that once elected - it is then their obligation to work together to serve the people. That means putting aside personal differences, moving forward together, and working in the best interest of the whole city – not just one’s own neighborhood, community or viewpoint.
Do you support protecting equal rights for all individuals in Rockville, regardless of gender, race, age, religion, ethnic origin, disability, immigration status, sexual orientation or gender identity?
The answer to this is an unequivocal YES.
If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why?
If I was given $1million - I would give it to Twinbrook Elementary School. Rehabilitation of critical areas, another counselor in the Linkages to Learning program to work with students and mental health, ESOL classrooms and support, more teachers and resources, and to make the outside playground area inviting are all critical equity measures that should not be delayed another minute. If I don’t get that $ million– I give you my word that I will continue to work with Mr. Devan and support the administration, staff and PTA. I have enjoyed running with everyone in the Fun Run over the years and will continue to partner with County Councilmember Sidney Katz, Board President Shebra Evans and all our elected representatives to see that we move Twinbrook to the front of the MCPS Capital Revitalization and Expansion list. All elected officials must come together to ensure that we provide quality and equitable education at every school – including and especially to our students at Twinbrook Elementary School. I believe that good schools build good neighborhoods and good neighborhoods support great schools.