December Community News Update (The Villager 2017-12)

December Community News Update

This article is published on the River Hill Community Association “The Villager” 2017 December issue.

Columbia Association Side

At the request from many community members, the Columbia Association (CA) Board of Directors recently affirmed the Paris Agreement on climate change and remains committed to clean energy. I am glad that CA has been a pioneer for environmental protection and clean energy adoption. I hope this act will encourage individuals in our community to take steps to reduce their personal carbon footprint by doing such things as walking more and maintaining reasonable room temperatures. Walk our walk, not talk our talk.

Other recent CA Board highlights:

  • Held a discussion on New Town Zoning with Howard County DPZ and Consultants;
  • Discussed and approved the new and simpler Assessment Share for the Columbia villages;
  • Discussed the village associations’ contingency fund (around half million dollars) and decided the funds will be distributed among the 10 villages (each village gets 5%) and CA (gets 50%).
  • Discussed and approved a 20% Cap on Cash Reserves for the villages.
  • Discussed major capital projects and new operating initiatives received to-date in the Proposed FY 2019 and Conditional FY 2020 Budgets

School System Side

Many community members have kept an eye on or become involved in the school redistricting process since summer. The Board of Education made the final decision on attendance areas for the 2018-2019 school year on November 16. Here is how the River Hill area is impacted:

  • Pointers Run Elementary will receive Polygon 127 from Clements Crossing Elementary.
  • Clarksville Middle School will receive from Lime Kiln Middle School Polygons 117, 118, 120, 123, 126, 127, 296, 1117, 1120, 1123, 1296.
  • High school overcrowding will be mitigated by the JumpStart Program and Direct Enrollment Program. River Hill High School will receive students from other crowded high schools.

Happy Thanksgiving! Be prepared for the cold winter and enjoy the happiness of the holidays.

Chao Wu, Ph.D.

River Hill Representative to Columbia Council and Columbia Association Board of Directors

Email: chaowu2016@gmail.com Website: http://www.chaowu.org

Disclaimer: This letter only represents Dr. Chao Wu’s personal opinion. It does not represent River Hill Board of Directors nor Columbia Association’s Board.

Photo: The big tree inside the Mall of Columbia.

We Need to Improve Our System Modeling (The Villager 2017-11)

We Need to Improve Our System Modeling

This article is published in the River Hill “The Villager”, November 2017 Issue.

In this column, I will briefly present information about two system modeling problems that negatively impact the River Hill community from Columbia Association (CA) and Howard County Public School System (HCPSS).

Case I: Columbia Association Assessment Share Formula.

A CA work team has been analyzing the formula that determines the amount of money that is distributed to each village association from the assessments paid by Columbia property owners. This Assessment Share forms the foundation for each village’s income stream, with additional revenue generated by rental of the village-managed buildings, newsletter advertising, and various programs and services. As the River Hill Board of Directors was preparing a response to the CA work team on the revised formula, there was a debate on how to simplify the formula. CA board members hear complaints that the current formula is too complicated and a simpler model is needed.

The fallacy is that simplicity results in a better or more accurate model. During the River Hill Board’s discussion, one example of over simplicity identified was with the computation of the newsletter printing costs that was factored into the formula component . The proposed formula uses a flat rate:

formula 1

where x is the printing rate and N is the number of copies. So, if we print 2000 copies, the cost is 2000 * x dollars. If we print 10000 copies, the cost is 10000 * x dollars.  Based on this, the more copies a village needs (a.k., the larger population the village has), the more beneficial the assessment share formula will be. However, in reality, we know printing rates vary depending on the volume of the copies. A slightly better model will account for varying rates, for example:

formula 2

where we have two different printing rates, , for different printing volumes. Usually,  x1 is larger than x2.

As a result, the over-simplified model in Equation (1) gives unfair advantage to villages printing more newsletters. Villages with smaller populations, such as River Hill, are negatively impacted. Similarly, other over-simplified models were used to compute other cost components of the assessment share formula. As a result, the final recommended formula does not accurately reflect the true expenses of each village.

Case II: School Population Prediction.

When Renee Kamen, Manager of Office of School Planning of HCPSS, attended a recent redistricting forum sponsored by the River Hill Community Association, she stated the HCPSS student population prediction model is accurate within 1% error, which implied the predictions model is very accurate. However, based on research by River Hill residents, Pointers Run Elementary School (PRES) consistently receives around 10% more students than predicted by the HCPSS model in recent years. So, the overall accuracy of the model masks the populations in some schools. After examining the actual enrollment numbers at PRES during 2002-2012, analysis shows a continuous decline in student population. However, the student population bounces back very quickly after that. In the HCPSS student projection model, student population at PRES decreases continuously into 2018. Obviously, the HCPSS prediction model does not take into account the current enrollment trend at PRES.

In this case, for each individual school, no matter how accurate the overall prediction is, it does not matter. It only matters when the model predicts the right student number at the school. If not, the model fails. The school system needs to find a way to modify, improve and validate the current student population prediction model as it is being used to support school redistricting.

I hope this article gives you some idea of how an over-simplified or inaccurate model can impact our community and the importance of  getting the mathematical modeling correct.

 

Chao Wu, Ph.D.

River Hill Representative to Columbia Council and Columbia Association Board of Directors

Email: chaowu2016@gmail.com  Website: http://www.chaowu.org

Disclaimer: This letter only represents Dr. Chao Wu’s personal opinion. It does not represent River Hill Board of Directors nor Columbia Association’s Board.

A Bridge to the Future (The Villager 2017-10)

A Bridge to the Future

This article was published in The Villager of River Hill Community Association, October 2017 Issue.

After the first village, Wilde Lake, was built 50 years ago, Columbia has become a very large city with more than 100,000 people, 2000 business and a very vibrant community. The Howard County Citizens Association (HCCA) made a documentary film about the last 50 years and challenged the community to think about how Columbia can continue to be built for a bright future.

To ensure a bright future of Columbia for the next 50 years, we need a planned and visionary development in both education and housing aspects.

First, our educational system must adapt to the changes we anticipate. With fast advancement in automation and artificial intelligence, future life and work will be quite different from today’s. Manual labor and tedious work will be replaced by the computer and robotics. Computer literacy will be a must for many future workers. So, our education system will need to adapt to educate the workforce of the future. We need to ensure our school system is guided by student-focused principles:

  1. motivate all students to achieve their full and diverse potential
  2. expanding learning opportunities to all students by utilizing all available resources

Second, all housing and commercial developments should provide the infrastructure needed to support the uses, especially the need for schools. This can partially be regulated by tightening the Adequate Public Ordinance (APFO) which is currently being debated by the County Council. I testified on behalf of myself at the County Council and made the following points:

Three loopholes should be removed:

  1. Include the high schools in the capacity test. I am not sure why high schools were not included in the test more than 10 years ago.
  2. Remove the waiting time for development. Now, when a development does not pass a capacity test, it will automatically pass after waiting for four years (in reality, three years) without a second test
    . This practice should be abolished.
  3. Include the Medium and Low Income Housing (MLIH) units in the development unit cap. For each new development, it is required that 15% of the units be MLIH. However, this 15% (i.e., around 300 units) is not presently counted in the annual cap of 2000 new residential units.

Two Numbers should be revised:

  1. The school capacity limit should be set at 100%, not 115%.
  2. The developer fee should be raised substantially. For comparable housing units, the developers in Howard County are paying less than 10% of the development fee in Montgomery County. Housing prices in Howard County are not cheaper than those in Montgomery County to justify this huge fee difference.

I support development since only continuous economic, housing and social development and improvement will solve many problems we face today. However, the development should be planned with a long -term vision. Unregulated development will lead to chaos. Tightening APFO now will give our legislators a rare opportunity to address the problems created over the last 15 years.

Some neighborhood news:

County Executive Allan Kittleman proposed a new site for the High School 13 on Landing Road in Elkridge and asked the Howard County Public School System to delay high school redistricting until this high school is built in 2022. Previously the proposed location for High School 13 was on Mission Road in Jessup.

The school redistricting process has created many heated debates, anxiety, and expectations in the county. I encourage everyone to be civil and respect others’ opinions during this difficult time. The superintendent, Dr. Martirano, will provide his final redistricting recommendation to the Board of Education on Oct. 3.

Columbia Association (CA) is developing the FY19 and FY 20 budgets. The CA Board has heard from residents and villages about their funding needs. We will continue work on our budget until early next year.

CA Board Members also looked at the Lakefront Core Design Guidelines during the September board work session and will provide feedback to the Department of Zoning and Planning on the development.

The River Hill Village Board is working with CA and residents to upgrade two existing tot lots to meet residents’ needs. The Village Board will solicit resident feedback on upgrades.

Thanks for reading. I am looking forward to hearing your feedback.

Chao Wu, Ph.D.

River Hill Representative to Columbia Council and Columbia Association Board of Directors

Email: chaowu2016@gmail.com Website: http://www.chaowu.org

Disclaimer: This letter only represents Dr. Chao Wu’s personal opinion. It does not represent River Hill Board of Directors nor Columbia Association’s Board.

The picture was taken on 10/1/2017 morning at the Centennial Lake while I joined the Centennial Runner Group for Breast Cancer Awareness fund raising event.

 

Busy Fall Agendas (The Villager 2017-09)

Busy Fall Agendas

By Dr. Chao Wu,  This article is published on The Villager of River Hill, September 2017 issue.

The fall is a busy time for everyone, including the River Hill Community Association (RHCA) and Columbia Association (CA). In September, the River Hill Board of Directors (RHBOD) will host a public forum related to school redistricting. There are two proposals in front of the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) superintendent: One is from the HCPSS 2017 Feasibility Study and the other one has been developed by the Area Attendance Committee. The proposals have different impacts on Clarksville Elementary School, Pointers Run Elementary School, Clarksville Middle School, River Hill High School and Atholton High School. The RHBOD wants to use this public forum to channel residents’ redistricting concerns. The RHBOD is holding another meeting with residents in September to explore the potential for a community playground or updated tot lots in the village. The CA Board Operations Committee has finalized agendas for meetings this fall. Here are some highlights:

September:

1. Community Stakeholders provide input for consideration for the FY 2019 and FY 2020 draft budgets.
2. Analyze Village Financials.
3. Discuss Lakefront core design guidelines.
4. Discuss FY 2018 1st quarter financial report (May, June and July 2017). This report will provide the board members with some understanding of the implementation of the new membership structure and pricing.
5. Discuss assessment share committee final report and recommendations.

October:

1. Work on major capital projects, new initiatives and community stakeholder requests, for the proposed FY 2019 and Conditional FY 2020 budgets.
2. Review CA dashboard.
3. Discuss and vote on the Paris Climate Accord, encouraging other entities and our residents to reduce carbon footprints.

November:

1. Meet with Howard County Department of Zoning to discuss New Town Zoning.
2. Overview of CA Open Space and Facilities Services Department.

Chao Wu, Ph.D.
 River Hill Representative to Columbia Council and Columbia Association Board of Directors
 Email: chaowu2016@gmail.com Website: http://www.chaowu.org
 Disclaimer: This letter only represents Dr. Chao Wu’s personal opinion. It does not represent River Hill Board of Directors nor Columbia Association’s Board.

We Are In Need Adequate Public Facilities (The Villager, 2017-08)

We Are in Need of Adequate Public Facilities

Dr. Chao Wu

This article will be published on River Hill “The Villager” August 2017 Issue.

We are facing probably one of the largest school redistricting efforts in the Howard County Public School System’s (HCPSS) history. The  current HCPSS redistricting proposal aims to move 8,800 students, the equivalent of 16% of the total student population county-wide, where the River Hill community is greatly impacted as follows:

Elementary Schools: Clarksville sends 42 students to Triadelphia Ridge; Pointers Run sends 160 to Clarksville, 38 to Dayton Oaks and receives 196 from Clemens Crossing.

Middle School: Clarksville Middle sends 28 students to Folly Quarter;  and receives 123 from Lime Kiln Middle and 33 from Wilde Lake Middle;

High Schools: Atholton sends 337 students to Hammond High and 614 to River Hill; Atholton  receives 325 from Hammond High and 420 from Oakland Mills; River Hill sends  227 to Glenelg High.

This redistricting is urgent and needed because of over-capacity issue in some schools. However, such a large-scale redistricting creates unnecessary burdens and pressures on our students, who are the primary focus of our educational system. This over-capacity problem was created by the imbalance between housing development, public facility development, and insufficient funding of our school system. The urgency of school capacity issues could be greatly mitigated in the future if the to-be-revised HoCo Adequate Public Facility Ordinance (APFO) is modified accordingly.

The balance between school capacity and community development is not so difficult to fix. Just as when we see water leaking, the first thing we do is close the faucet. The overcapacity in our schools is caused by over-development. We need to reduce the speed of development first, and reducing the existing over-capacity now . Otherwise, over-capacity in our schools is like a leaking facet.

With the Adequate Public Facility Ordinance (APFO) is currently being reviewed and planned to be updated  by the Howard County Council, we need ask the county council to decrease the ratio for school capacity limits from 120% to 100% and remove the maximum wait times but freeze new project developments when projects fail APFO adequacy tests. Currently when a project fails APFO test first time, it will be automatically pass after three years without another test. When capacity is permitted to be higher than 100%, it means we cannot smooth out the current school over-capacity issue. The result is that we will probably see another large-scale school redistricting in five years.

Adequate means “enough school capacity” to handle the additional students generated by development. Portable classrooms once used become quasi-permanent. A new high school has not been  built in the County for a while. Considering that each year HCPSS gains another 1000 students, we need plan ahead. The average elementary school has around 800 students. The annual increase of total students will fill a new elementary school each year. These students will eventually go to high school.

Adequate means “enough road capacity” to handle the additional vehicles generated by development. With many new houses and other facilities being constructed, I do not see much improvement to the local roads. One very example in our community is the intersection at Ten Oaks Road and Clarksville Pike, in front of commercial development under construction. The traffic is both congested and dangerous during peak traffic times. At least, there should be some work to widen both MD 108 and Ten Oaks Road in this location. Please also notice, there are two schools in the vicinity.

Furthermore, we need to be forward-thinking with our roads which means we need to build roads anticipating higher traffic volumes in the future. One example is Route 29. The State Highway Administration is replacing many intersections with overhead bridges which greatly improves the traffic situation. In fact, they should build those bridges when they first design/widen the roads. Planning ahead on the traffic patterns and traffic volumes while building a road may cost more money, but it is really worth the extra money. This upfront investment could be used to build a bridge, widen access to intersection, better signal control system, etc.

I am looking forward to your thoughts on how we ensure there are adequate public facilities.

Chao Wu, Ph.D.

River Hill Representative to Columbia Council and Columbia Association Board of Directors

Email: chaowu2016@gmail.com  Website: http://chaowu.org

Disclaimer: This letter only represents Dr. Chao Wu’s personal opinion. It does not represent River Hill Board of Directors nor Columbia Association’s Board.

We are Neighbors and Friends (The Villager 2017-06)

We are Neighbors and Friends

The article is published at River Hill Villager, 2017-06 issue.

There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “neighbors nearby are better than relatives faraway”. That is so true in today’s world since more family members are scattered around the globe. Instead, many families have been neighbors for more years than they have live with or near parents and other relatives.  At a difficult time, or for convenience, a friendly neighbor can often offer greater help than a relative not in the area.

I am writing this article  following two of my experiences in the neighborhood. The first  experience is an example of a not so friendly situation. A family sought my help because their neighbor always parked their car along the curb in front of their home. River Hill’s Covenants do not address areas within the public rights-of-way and the location and manner in which the vehicle parks is not illegal and therefore there is no action the police can take  However, the parking of the car did cause difficulty for the family when backing out from their garage and there appears to be enough space in their neighbor’s driveway to park which adds to their frustration. Though the family talked with their neighbor, they were unable to resolve the issue and asked for my assistance. I tried to mediate and have not succeeded yet.  In another example, some neighbors are very friendly and considerate. I know of two neighbors who both have dogs. They set up regular play-dates for their pets. When one neighbor has a vacation, the other neighbor takes care of their dogs and cats, and vice versa. This level of cooperation is a tremendous help to each resident and to their pets.

We are now living in a more compact world and in Howard County, Columbia, and at in the villages we are dedicated to creating a more walkable environment which will lead to more interactions with each other. The most important element of  a good neighborhood is our neighbors and our connections to one another.

This concept can also be extended to land development. Adding a wall to reduce sound disturbance or a fence to avoid light pollution are soft and friendly measures developers can take to give consideration to residential neighbors. Improving traffic conditions around commercial development as early as in the design phase as possible will increase acceptance from the neighborhood as well. Surely, some residents do not want any changes in their neighborhoods and the surrounding area; but, most our residents are reasonable and ask no more than necessary to protect their peaceful existence. Their concerns should be respected and honored.

We are neighbors and have the potential to be friends.  If we cannot be friends, at least, we can be considerate of our neighbors. A greeting, a smile, or offering to help with kids or pets are ways we can assist each other. Let us embrace our neighbors.

Chao Wu, Ph.D.

River Hill Representative to Columbia Council and Columbia Association Board of Directors

Email: chaowu2016@gmail.com  Website: http://chaowu.org

Disclaimer: This letter only represents Dr. Chao Wu’s personal opinion. It does not represent River Hill Board of Directors nor Columbia Association’s Board.