New zoning rules a recipe for abuse


June 14, 2008

As a case manager who has worked with disabled adults and seniors to help them remain safely in their communities for 25 years, I take issue with The Sun's editorial, "End discriminatory zoning" (June 5).

The editorial starts from the premise that "under a long-standing city law, smaller group homes that serve ... disabled people need City Council approval before they open in neighborhoods."

But no approval is required from the community or the council for group homes including up to four people, and a significant number of such homes now exist in Baltimore.

The zoning bill would define a small group home as one including up to eight people (or 15 in a neighborhood that has multifamily dwellings) crammed into a city dwelling and involves no requirement that the building's infrastructure be upgraded to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

This means that groups of the vulnerable poor would end up living in a small fraction of the space in which the average American family now resides.

This is not an end to discriminatory zoning but a rule change that would simply reinforce the reality of dense living conditions for the poor while increasing the profit incentive for proprietors of group homes.

As a result of an overwhelmed and underfunded state oversight system, neglect and abuse are not properly checked in licensed or unlicensed group homes in Maryland.

Advocates for the elderly and disabled are working with state and federal officials and attorneys to rectify these lapses in protection. Our recommendations include adding a city ombudsman to protect the interests of vulnerable group home residents and increasing funding to improve the capacity of state enforcement authorities.

But to change the zoning law now, before the situation is brought under control, is a recipe for more negligence and abuse.

Chris Muldowney, Baltimore

The writer is a case management supervisor for Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland.

Gifts from past benefit the young

In his column, "The immorality of the national debt" (Commentary, June 10), Andrew L. Yarrow quotes a 20-year-old who says, "It is a terrible thought knowing that my generation will have to pay for mistakes made before we were even able to vote."

Mr. Yarrow looks upon the federal debt as a fiscal millstone for future generations and a moral travesty. But he ignores the gifts that we older Americans, and those who lived before us, have given to today's young people and to those who will follow them

The young man Mr. Yarrow quotes was no doubt born in a hospital he did not have to build or pay for and driven home over roads constructed by past generations; the house he grew up in was connected to water and sewer lines other people built and left for him to use; and he has been educated in schools others helped pay for.

He does now, or will soon, pay taxes for the upkeep of such facilities and perhaps to build some new facilities. But they will pay for only a fraction of the cost of the immense infrastructure he has freely inherited.

As for the national debt, it is only a small fraction of the annual gross national product of our country. The bonds issued because of it pay annual interest, which is a safe source of income to investors all over the world.

Our debt helped build our country. It is a source of strength, not immorality.

Ed Keats, Baltimore

Invest in future of rail transit

With gas prices around $4 a gallon in Baltimore and higher in other parts of the country, it is apparent that a tipping point has indeed been reached ("Getting on Board," June 8).

As a student at the Johns Hopkins University, I often rely on public transportation to get to the Inner Harbor and Fells Point. However, one of my favorite places, Washington, remains out of reach to me by public transportation because the MARC train doesn't run on weekends and I am often too busy to head to Washington on weekdays.

Yes, Amtrak trains do run on the weekends. But with their high cost and constant delays, they're not worth the effort.

One of the transportation proposals that excited me in recent years was the Baltimore-Washington maglev project, a high-speed magnetic levitation train that could provide an alternative to the congestion of MARC and the delays of Amtrak. But the project continues to be stalled by political setbacks.

Clearly, the federal government has to spend taxpayers' money more wisely and invest in remodeling our transportation systems and enhancing the public transit infrastructure.

If commuters see railways as the future, funding for them must be readily available - especially for cleaner alternatives such as the maglev project.

Adam Goebel, Baltimore

Fence a defense that Israel needs

The writer of the letter, "Israeli wall is barrier to peace" (June 7), argues that Israel is "building a wall ... to defend its illegal settlements in the West Bank."

There are two major problems with this claim.

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