Baltimore News: Restaurants Slammed by Omicron, Druid Park Lake Drive, AVAM Renovation, & Closing the Block Early

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This week’s news includes: Eyes on an early lights-out for The Block, AVAM whirligig temporarily taken down, Bramble Baking opens in Hamilton, the plight of restaurants, illegal evictions, and more reporting from Baltimore Brew, Greater Greater Washington, The Real News Network, Baltimore Magazine, and other local and independent news sources.



Alma Cocina Latina moved from Canton to Station North in February 2021. Photo by Irena Stein.

‘We’re back to struggle’: Confusion and adaptation inside Baltimore’s restaurants under omicron surge
by Laura Stewart
Published January 24 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: The week before Christmas, an omicron-fueled COVID-19 outbreak swept through Irena Stein’s lauded Station North restaurant Alma Cocina Latina, infecting all but two members of the kitchen staff and management team.

“It was like a firecracker,” said Stein, the Venezuelan restaurant’s co-founder.

Luckily, the restaurant had already planned to close for ten days between Christmas and New Years, Stein explained, avoiding the costly expense of a forced closure.

“We were very fortunate it happened while we were on break,” she said.

When the staff returned from the holiday, everyone had to receive a negative test before coming back to work.

The omicron variant added complications to the mix of challenges that restaurant owners and workers were facing even before the surge: supply chain issues, a lack of financial help from the government, struggles to hire and retain workers, and protocol to ensure the health and safety of staff and customers.

Sudden workplace outbreaks and an absence of clear guidelines have left restaurant owners confused and unsure how to react.



The 55-foot-tall Giant Whirligig at the American Visionary Art Museum was taken down and disassembled this week to be restored, repainted and reinstalled by this spring. Photo by Ed Gunts.

American Visionary Art Museum’s 55-foot-tall whirligig comes down for restoration
by Ed Gunts
Published January 26 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: One of the best-known features of Baltimore’s skyline has disappeared, but it will be back.

The 55-foot-tall giant whirligig at the American Visionary Art Museum was taken down from its support post and disassembled this week so it could be restored and repainted for continued display at the Inner Harbor attraction.

Created in North Carolina by the late Vollis Simpson, the piece weighs 3 tons and is officially called “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” It’s the largest of several works of art that have been on permanent view outside the museum, which recently marked its 26th anniversary.

As part of her effort to get the museum in top condition before she retires next spring, founder and director Rebecca Alban Hoffberger has been working to conserve the outdoor sculptures that have been exposed to the elements and need repair.

Others that have already received attention include Andrew Logan’s Cosmic Galaxy Egg; Ben Wilson’s meditation chapel, and Robert Benson’s blinged out “Universal Tree of Life” near the museum’s entrance. This spring, the museum will “regild” Adam Kurtzman’s “Giant Golden Hand” sculpture, which appears to hold up a 32-foot movie screen on the west side of the museum’s Jim Rouse Visionary Center.

“I feel like, before I’m gone as director, what I’m doing is like the trip in The Wizard of Oz to the Emerald City – getting everything buffed up and in the best shape possible,” Hoffberger said as she watched the whirligig get dismantled.



A map of Druid Park Lake Drive (in purple) by Baltimore City Department of Transportation.

Baltimore looks to right-size Druid Park Lake Drive
by Alex Holt
Published January 25 in Greater Greater Washington

Excerpt: Even by the checkered standards of Baltimore history, Druid Park Lake Drive stands out as one of the city’s biggest urban planning mistakes. Despite its relatively short length, the highway-like road which runs along the southern edges of Druid Hill Park in northern Baltimore has had an outsized impact on its surrounding neighborhoods for almost 75 years: cutting off residents’ access to transit, jobs, and recreation, increasing motorists’ speeds at the expense of other transportation modes, and contributing to some of the worst asthma rates in the city.

Four years ago, officials installed an ambitious multimodal path called the Big Jump to help link neighborhoods cut off by the high-traffic street. Now, a proposal by the Baltimore City Department of Transportation (BCDOT) to redesign Druid Park Lake Drive to match Complete Streets principles could offer residents of the three neighborhoods adjoining the road — Auchentoroly Terrace, Mondawmin, and Reservoir Hill — a chance to reclaim the qualities that made the area so desirable in the first place.

Part of the problem with how Druid Park Lake Drive affects its namesake park and the residents who live near it is that it was never really designed with them in mind. Both the drive and one of its adjoining streets, Druid Hill Avenue, were built in the late 1940’s as part of the “Druid Hill Expressway,” intended to help commuters already rapidly moving out towards the suburbs to get to and from downtown Baltimore as fast as possible.

The result was a stretch of road where pedestrians, cyclists, and mobility device users have to cross as many as seven different lanes at a time just to get from Auchentoroly Terrace to Druid Hill Park (while the speed limit is 30 mph, roads with multiple lanes encourage speeding and unsafe driving).



Petal Pushers: With its first brick-and-mortar shop, Bramble Baking Co. blooms in Hamilton
by Amy Scattergood
Published January 20 in Baltimore Magazine

Excerpt: The flowers are everywhere at Bramble Baking Co. bakery in Hamilton, strewn like footprints from a happy childhood: gomphrenas and marigolds, nasturtiums and mums, scented geraniums and roses. They’re drying upside-down above the window into the bakery’s open kitchen, in buckets near the refrigerated case—loaded with the popular biscuit breakfast sandwiches, one of the few bakery items not bedecked with flowers—and in vases and bottles around the cozy dining room. Petals trellis up the sides of baker-owner Allie Smith’s small-batch cakes—some the size of hubcaps, some of kitchen timers—and scatter across the tops of tiny carrot Bundt cakes.

But such artistry was not born overnight. In fact, in October, just a few weeks after Bramble opened as a tea-proper, brick-and-mortar-and-sugar bake shop, Smith, 30, closed the doors she’d spent five years working to open. “We’re learning how to bake even better for ya! Thanks for your understanding,” read a yellow construction-paper sign taped to the front door of the building, home to two previous bakeries (Batch Bake Shop, Hamilton Bakery), along a busy stretch of Harford Road.

Smith had pressed pause, scheduling a training and production day on a bright Wednesday to give the staff—most of whom started in September—time to reset, hone their already considerable skills, and come together as a team as they racked up trays of the popular baked goods. Clearly, the spot has since hit its stride.

Bramble’s calling cards come in the form of egg-yolk chocolate-chip cookies, chocolate tahini babka knots, purple sweet potato pies with toasty meringue, apple cider scones, chocolate cakes with cinnamon buttercream and salted caramel, and more—many festooned with flowers.



"The Block" as depicted in J.M. Giordano's 'We Used To Live At Night.' Photo by J.M. Giordano and shared with permission.

Battleground Baltimore: An Attack on ‘The Block’
by Brandon Soderberg and Jaisal Noor
Published January 21 in The Real News Network

Excerpt: Last month, Battleground Baltimore called attention to Democrats in the Maryland state house refusing to ensure that paraphernalia used for injecting drugs was decriminalized. State Senate President Bill Ferguson announced at the start of a special legislative session last month that, despite calls from harm reductionists, the issue would not be addressed. To decriminalize paraphernalia, Democratic legislators would simply have had to vote to overturn Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of the decriminalization bill.

Instead of overturning the veto, Ferguson said decriminalization would wait until this year’s legislative session when it will be taken up by way of a number of bills to address overdoses in the state. Disappointed harm reductionists will surely hold Ferguson and the rest of the state-level Democrats to that promise in 2022.

This week, Ferguson did introduce some “emergency” legislation, though it did not have to do with the overdose crisis; rather, it had to do with shutting down Baltimore City’s frequently vilified red-light district, “The Block,” by 10 p.m. each night.

The bill to close “The Block” earlier, which you can read here, says that the area should be closed earlier for “emergency public safety issues.”



Del. Lesley Lopez (D-Montgomery) and Sen. Susan C. Lee (D-Montgomery) have the support of House Judiciary Chair Luke H. Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) and Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) on a bill that would ban the sale and distribution of ghost guns. Photo by Hannah Gaskill.

Advocates Call for Ghost Gun Ban as Senators Debate Right Approach to Rising Crime Rates
by Hannah Gaskill
Published January 25 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: Dozens of gun control advocates flooded the plaza in front of the Maryland State House on Tuesday, demanding that lawmakers act to ban “ghost guns” after a student was shot with one of the untraceable firearms at a Montgomery County high school last week.

The rally on Lawyers’ Mall, which took place as senators were arriving for a floor session, was organized by the Maryland chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Sen. Susan C. Lee (D-Montgomery) and Del. Lesley J. Lopez (D-Montgomery) are introducing a ghost gun ban for the second year in a row, with the support of House Judiciary Chair Luke H. Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) and Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D).

“​​This year the bill is in the best posture has ever been,” Lopez said. “It is an outright ban.”



Report: Culture of misconduct within BPD emboldened crooked cops, paved way for GTTF unit corruption
by Alexis Taylor
Published January 20 in The AFRO

Excerpt: A two-year investigation has yielded a 515-page report on the Baltimore Police Department’s (BPD) Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) and the spoiled culture that have allowed corrupt officers to thrive.

The independent investigation by Steptoe & Johnson LLP, an international law firm, was set in motion by BPD Commissioner Michael Harrison the same year he took office in 2019.

Investigators found that as far back as 1999 and earlier, BPD has operated an ineffective system, giving way to criminal acts like those carried out by GTTF members and their superiors.

The “overemphasis” on reporting positive crime statistics, a poor system of supervision and accountability, and “an ‘us vs. them’ mentality” among officers serving City residents were all listed as key reasons the BPD officers were allowed to reign free for so long.



Credit: Sarah Y. Kim/WYPR

Tenants facing eviction not receiving proper notice
by Sarah Y. Kim
Published January 26 in WYPR

Excerpt: A Baltimore City Council committee is looking into repeated complaints of tenants being evicted illegally, without notice and even locked out of rental units.

In a hearing Tuesday, Councilman Kristerfer Burnett said his office heard from a constituent last June who had been evicted and was “desperately seeking housing resources.”

“The eviction was done illegally,” he said. “No notice was given to the tenant prior to the court date, or the scheduled eviction. And the sheriff’s office did not post a scheduled date to the tenant’s door. Nor were they present during the eviction.”

Burnett said the woman and her child are still not in stable housing and that her story is not unique. He said he’s heard similar complaints from tenants, landlords and housing advocates.

He also highlighted a specific complaint: tenants not being property notified when evictions were upcoming.



State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby at a 2017 community meeting about crime in Baltimore. (Fern Shen)

Marilyn Mosby used campaign funds to pay her defense attorneys
by Mark Reutter
Published January 20 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby dipped into her campaign coffers last year to pay nearly $50,000 to lawyers defending her in a federal criminal probe, despite Maryland law prohibiting such expenditures.

That probe resulted in Mosby’s indictment last Thursday on four counts of perjury and misrepresentations on her mortgage applications to purchase two Florida condominiums.

Since the indictment, her chief legal defender, A. Scott Bolden, has held a press conference and conducted numerous media interviews declaring her innocence and accusing federal prosecutors of personal and racial bias toward his client.

Hired by Mosby last March after a federal grand jury issued subpoenas for her campaign and private travel business records, Bolden has been well paid, according to her campaign report filed late last night with the State Elections Board.

It shows that Friends of Marilyn Mosby, the finance committee Mosby chairs and whose report she signed under oath as accurate, paid $37,500 to Bolden’s Washington D.C. law firm, ReedSmith LLC.



Photo via Wikimedia Commons

JPMorgan Chase commits $20M for Black and Latina women developers, community purchase of vacant homes
by Marcus Dieterle
Published January 26 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: JPMorgan Chase is committing $20 million to increase opportunities for Black and Latina women developers and expand housing for low-income Baltimoreans.

“I want to start by thanking JPMorgan Chase for committing $20 million towards closing the racial wealth divide in the Baltimore region,” Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott said in a statement. “This critical investment ties directly into our shared vision for equitable, community-based development and economic growth across Baltimore City. We can’t emerge as a stronger community if we don’t invest in the economic well-being of Black and Latina women.”

The investment banking company awarded a $5 million grant to a collaborative called POWER: Prioritizing Our Women’s Economic Rise, which is led by the Latino Economic Development Center in partnership with the Baltimore City government, the University of Maryland and other local organizations.



Header Image: Alma Cocina Latina moved from Canton to Station North in February 2021. Photo by Irena Stein.

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