Name: Matthew Perkins
Neighborhood of Residence: Twinbrook
Office Seeking: City Council
What do you identify as the number one challenge facing Rockville today and how do you propose to address it?
I think the number one challenge faced by the city is also the greatest source of opportunity for the city – the tremendous growth experienced in the last 20 years and expected in the next 20. At it’s worst, growth results in individual social isolation, stresses on infrastructure, lack of civic involvement and stresses on city services. At it’s best, the growth allows us to redefine Rockville as a model city, with a truly mixed transportation infrastructure, vibrant communities served by community-based amenities, including parks but also including neighborhood-based commercial enterprises (think about Carmen’s in Woodley Park) and a city government embracing technology rather than being overwhelmed.
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?
City government can be more flexible in zoning, to allow for duplexes and quad units, to allow for smaller residential structures, including Alternative Dwelling Units (ADU’s). I support ADU’s, recognizing that some may take advantage, but confident that there are sufficient safeguards in place or tools which we can adopt, like code enforcement, landlord regulations, and parking restrictions, with which we can address these issues. Redgate golf course can be re-purposed, with part of the land being used for housing – other uses including developed parkland, undeveloped parkland, and a portion set aside for future determination. As the owner of Redgate, the city can dictate to any buyer and developer the mix of housing to be built to assure mixed and affordable options. The city can work with developers, including non-profit developers, to ensure a mix of housing types are included in any new housing developments.
What we cannot do is to keep confining the City’s population growth solely to apartments on Rockville Pike without proper community spaces and amenities.
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?
I feel we are well served by mass transit and there is certainly plenty of infrastructure for car travel. My main priorities for transportation is to build out a much greater and more convenient bikeable and walkable infrastructure, including; separate biking lanes along main routes, such as Rockville Pike and Viers Mill Road, and traffic control measures. Better amenities and infrastructure to support walking, including wider sidewalks, trees for shade, adequate but not overpowering lighting, traffic calming and crosswalks. Amenities such as multiple biking and walking bridges over metro and railroad tracks. As well as a long-term commitment to a more comprehensive mass transit infrastructure, possibly including light rail.
Better biking and walking infrastructure supports several of my main priorities, including community building through more neighbor to neighbor interaction, green infrastructure and practices, preparing for population growth, and encouraging neighborhood-based commercial centers and small business.
Do you believe Rockville’s APFO (Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance) is working as intended? Why or why not? What changes would you propose?
It is clear that the APFO has NOT been sufficient to prevent school overcrowding, whether that is a problem with the writing of the Ordnance or estimates of population growth, I do not know. City government needs to be much more active in finding solutions to the school overcrowding problem, which directly effects so many of our residents. Possible solutions include building facilities and renting them out to MCPS, partnering with MCPS to seek additional state, federal or foundation funding, or by changing the APFO, school crowding will be a high priority to me.
Schools are just part of a larger challenge, however, with Rockville’s population expected to go from 70,000 now to almost 100,000 in twenty years. The City needs to plan and prepare now for this population growth, including transportation infrastructure, adequate parks, and community spaces along with schools. I drive by new apartment buildings off Rockville Pike and see residents walking dogs in the couple square feet of grass devoted to ornamental trees or in the median between road and sidewalk, because there is no access to parks or green spaces. We cannot treat our newest residents like they don’t deserve the amenities we expect.
How do you plan on maintaining a balance between environmental sustainability and economic development?
I do not agree with the idea that sustainability and development are opposing goals. Establishing environmentally-friendly infrastructure will generate jobs and economic activity, environmentally friendly housing is smaller and so allows for more density and more development in defined spaces, green spaces, like parks, encourage neighborhood-centered development which supports small business development and small businesses. The city will prepare for the impacts of climate change, such as more frequent and severe weather events – by burying utility cables for example. Rockville also has the talented and technical workforce to take advantage of larger industrial approaches to environmental issues. The city can lead municipal responses to climate change, and what’s more, must be part of them.
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?
Vision Zero can only be successful if the city is willing to adopt policies that impact drivers and recognize walking, biking and mass transit use as legitimate and equal transportation choices. To take the bus to town center, from my home on Midway, I must cross local access lanes, 4-lanes of traffic on Viers Mill Rd and a turning lane. There is no crosswalk or light within at least ¼ mile in either direction and a very small concrete median in the middle. Cars routinely travel at over 50 mph which makes crossing to catch the bus, even in broad daylight, dangerous and uncomfortable. We need better infrastructure for bikers, pedestrians and transit riders, but we need more traffic calming like curb bump-outs, speed bumps and rumble strips, as well as adjusting traffic lights to provide more time for pedestrian-only crossing of intersections. Vison Zero needs to be as much about changing infrastructure as about changing or modifying attitudes.
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?
I have already called for an expansion of the City Council. Instead of 4 seats, I would like to see a city council of six; 2 of whom are elected as at-large candidates so represent the citywide population, and 4 members representing 4 separate council districts. This will prevent the council from being dominated by 2 or 3 neighborhoods. I also have called on my website (mattperkins4rockville.org) to open voting in city elections to all adult residents, regardless of citizenship. There are legitimate reasons to restrict federal voting to citizens, but for local elections it is an unnecessary distinction.
Beyond the structure of voting and government, my first priority for the council is constituent service and increasing city outreach to bring ALL residents into decision-making and into moving the city forward. I recognize this will take a tremendous amount of work, in reaching out individually and in changing city practices, such as developing an app and text notification services for residents to opt into. My life and career have been dedicated to inclusivity and collaboration, qualities I hope to bring to city government.
Are you satisfied with Rockville’s city-manager form of government? If not, how would you propose changing it?
I am satisfied with the city manager form of government, but for such a system to work best, all city residents must be represented in council and mayoral oversight. This includes increasing the number of council members and ensuring that the voices of all residents are heard and represented. The alternative – for a city run by a mayor and council - will necessitate paying council members and the mayor more than the current part-time salary. Running a city of 70,000 plus is a full-time job for multiple people. We should examine pay for council members and the mayor regardless; I am fortunate, with a graduate degree and a 25-year career, to have the flexibility and control over my work to be able to take-on a council member’s job, but that is unusual. We have too many people, and disregard too many voices, with the demands and current compensation levels which discourages participation by younger candidates.
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?
If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why?
I work as a technical assistance provider on a federal program with grants that are $1 million, so I’m pretty familiar with how much that is, and how little it can buy if not used well. I think that my main priorities would be to use the funding for 3 purposes;
First, to train all city staff in methods for community outreach and to develop a city plan for continuous neighborhood-based outreach an collaboration, including an aggressive internship program for students from local high schools and Montgomery College. The purpose is to establish a culture of resident led government and local action.
Second, would be to develop a comprehensive plan for an overhaul of city technical capacity including the development of performance indicators and data collection and analysis practices. Also developing a city app for communication and to facilitate city services. This may be the most boring response ever but an efficient and data-driven government can better serve residents while being more responsive and helping achieve city goals of equitable outcomes for all residents.
Third, and last, I would develop, with substantial resident input, a detailed plan for an innovative and transformative overhaul of city transportation infrastructure within the next ten years. Not just pictures to show an idyllic future, but a detailed plan with staging and schedules. I believe that major funders, not just the state and county, but the federal government and large foundations will be very interested in funding a comprehensive transportation overhaul that promotes environmental transportation practices, promotes health, and promotes a diverse commercial community. Effort spent to develop such a plan could pay for itself many times over.