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Federation of Citizens Associations of the District of Columbia

Federation News

Volume 8, Issue 8, May 2002
3710 S Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007
(202) 338-5164 phone/fax

Citizens Win: Federal Court Affirms District's Right to Regulate Universities
A Word About Our Banquet Keynote Speaker: Mark Plotkin
June 2 "Cook-Off" Fundraiser for Capitol Hill Citizens Group
Eccentric Ruling on Georgetown University Student Voting Venue Case: ANC Commissioners Sentenced to Pay $22,000 Legal Fees
Building Industry Awards Given
FEMA Installs Center in District
Water Your New Trees
Officers and Board
June Is Federation Election Month
Upcoming Important Hearing on Surveillance Camera Legislation
Controversial Boys and Girls Town Development on Capitol Hill Gets Second Look
Federation Board of Directors
Tree Bill
Upcoming Hearing on Property Assessment Process and Property Tax Rates
Washington Gas Wants to Increase Rates and Charges for Gas Service: Hearings
Out-of-State Car Registration in the District: Definitely Not a Formality
Legal Avoidance of Environmental Impact


Thursday, May 23, 2002
Fort McNair Officers Club

Open Bar from 6 p.m.
Seating at 7 p.m.

Keynote Speaker:
Mark Plotkin

Reserved Tables Are Filling Up
Contact 202-338-5164


In a case of profound importance to the District government and DC residential communities, a federal judge on April 12 affirmed the constitutionality of the District's zoning regulations concerning universities. The specific case involved the George Washington University, its proposed 2000-2010 campus plan, and, indirectly, the worst ongoing case of freewheeling negative community impact by an institution in the city.

Having failed to secure total approval by the DC Board of Zoning Adjustment of an ambitious 10-year campus plan projection, the university sued the city and some of its officers, claiming to be exempt from city regulation on constitutional grounds. Had this line of reasoning prevailed, the city basically would have 1) no control over its numerous large and impacting universities as they exist in the larger community, 2) had its regulatory responsibilities severely compromised, and 3) had its taxbase communities around universities, already suffering from negative impact, left open to even further encroachment.

The court decision affirmed that the District of Columbia has the right to regulate the land use of universities, including the BZA's capability to set an overall limit on the number of students. (An overall GWU cap of 20,000 students has been reinforced by the decision.) By normal inference, the BZA can also mandate that a certain percentage of students be housed within campus boundaries. Evenhandedly, however, the court ruled against a BZA requirement that 70% of undergraduates must be housed within campus boundaries by a certain time, since it saw "no reason to anticipate that GW will not honor its commitment to construct, well before the expiration of the campus plan, additional on-campus dormitories … to meet the Board's requirement."

GW Disputed City's Right to Regulate

The George Washington University is the first of the District's numerous colleges to dispute the city's right or duty to regulate large institutions. Georgetown University has filed a pending lawsuit to dispute BZA findings regarding aspects of its own campus plan, including an enrollment cap. Other universities are doubtless watching the two cases closely. All DC universities are in the same DC Consortium of Universities and share common interests and often the same land-use law firms. It was imperative for the recovering city for it to win this crucial GWU case. Now that the city is finally getting a professional regulatory grip on its various components, it could scarcely afford to have loose-cannon status conferred on one restless, important component -- colleges and universities.

It Was Imperative to Win This Case

The judge also dismissed university claims that the requirement for periodic campus plans and special-exception permission for specific projects places more rigorous -- and therefore improper -- requirements for university use. He added, "In order to prevail, GW must establish that the zoning regulations it challenges are unconstitutional in all circumstances. It has not done so." The judge also agreed with the District's claim that colleges and universities "possess unique characteristics" that justify different treatment.

Credit Due to FBA, ANC & Others

The Foggy Bottom Association and its ANC 2A worked long and hard on this case, so important to the neighborhood's continued existence. The Federation Legal Aid Foundation kept close track and advised on it as well, and the Federation Impacted Communities Committee met as needed to compare and consult on campus plans citywide -- the GW case being the bellwether. Most credit, however, goes to the Office of the Corporation Counsel, which assessed the importance of the contention, brought in a special lead attorney, prepared excellent briefs and defended the case in open court. Also commendable, and more basically so, was the DC Board of Zoning Adjustment, which identified the important issues in this case and had the fortitude to resist the legalistic casuistry of a powerful, self-interested institution.

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Washington's favorite and most with-it communications personality, Mark Plotkin, will highlight the Federation's May 23 awards banquet. In step with much of what the Federation stands for, Mr. Plotkin has been an active participant on the District's political scene since the late 1960s. Following public school teaching stints in Chicago and the District, Mr. Plotkin became Washington's top radio political affairs host. He recently became the political commentator and analyst at radio station WTOP. He served from 1981 until 1985 as a member of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3B, and chaired the commission for two years.

Mr. Plotkin has championed lower utility rates for consumers and voter registration, and is widely known as an outspoken advocate of District self-governance and voting representation in Congress. He played a decisive role in negotiating the return of the District's city hall, the John Wilson Building, to city control in 1999, and in the adoption of the new DC license plates bearing the slogan "Taxation Without Representation."

Mr. Plotkin is a powerful contributor to the Canadian Broadcasting Company and makes appearances on CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, C-Span, and Australian TV. He has been quoted in major publications throughout the country, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, the Christian Science Monitor, Time, and the New Republic. In December 2000, Mr. Plotkin was honored by the Washington chapter of the United Nations Association for his work in promoting human rights through his advocacy of DC voting rights. The list goes on. Based on his work for District interests, Mr. Plotkin has been called a prime candidate for Governor of any eventual New Columbia state.

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June 2 “Cook-Off” Fundraiser for Capitol Hill Citizens Group

In its contention with the Boys and Girls Town organization over the charity's large proposed project on Capitol Hill, the Southeast Citizens for Smart Development has incurred expenses of close to $25,000. (Story below.) Getting in a stitch in time, the SCSD is holding an exciting "Chili and Auction" on Sunday, June 2, at 1432 G Street, SE. A number of city councilmembers will be on hand to help out, and the affairs promises to be jolly as well as useful. This is a good chance to have some fun on a Sunday afternoon. Hours are from 4 to 7 p.m.

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Eccentric Ruling on Georgetown University Student Voting Venue Case:
ANC Commissioners Sentenced to Pay $22,000 Legal Fees

In hearing evidence, as in hearing a joke, the worst failure is to miss the point. In early May, US District Court Judge Henry Kennedy ruled against three former Georgetown-Burleith ANC commissioners in a five-year case concerning student voting in the District. The case turned on legal temporary residence versus legal domicile or permanent residence, for voting purposes. At stake are unspoken ramifications for all DC taxbase residential communities that are impacted by universities. In a departure from traditional practice, the judge held that the temporary residence of seven or so months (taking into account lengthy breaks) by students in the District constitutes primary residence or domicile. In a parting shot he sentenced the ANC plaintiffs to pay $22,000 in defendant legal costs, "unless they can show that they cannot afford it."

The court failed to consider positively that home-state binding ties such as permanent home addresses, families, car registration, frequent returns home, most summer employment, and virtually all income constitute permanent residence and demonstrate proper voting venue. Ignoring these basics bodes ill for 1) democratic civic activism in the District, 2) future student vs. permanent-resident taxpayer community contentions, and 3) opposition to university political influence in the city and the neighborhoods they impact upon.

Such an egregious mulct levied on elected officials for basically doing their duty cannot but have an undemocratic chilling effect on future ANC actions. Also the proviso that "unless they can show that they cannot afford it" puts a time bomb into the important community-university-impact mix in the District. ANC or other officials likely "can afford," with difficulty, multi-thousand-dollar levies, while students can always convincingly plead inability to pay. Ergo, what's to lose by suing officials, associations, or individuals on all sides? Nothing, with the Judge Kennedys around, and the situation can metastasize. Tellingly, as this case percolated up through District courts, Senior DC Court of Appeals Judge George R. Gallagher emphasized during testimony the legal domicile issue as being decisive. The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) supported the ANC commissioners' positions, as a licit exercise of free speech.

The issue is not dead, and the Kennedy decision represents loss of a round. As long as a transient, fleetingly agglomerated element without interest in host neighborhoods or the city can en masse skew elections and overcome permanent-resident interests, the issue will be a live one, over and over.

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Building Industry Awards Given

The District of Columbia Building Industry Association, on May 9, gave awards for "significant contributions to the District of Columbia" to three individuals, all of whom interface with the organized residential taxbase communities:

  1. Eric Price, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development,
  2. Jerrily Kress, Director of the DC Office of Zoning, and
  3. Steve Trachtenberg, President of George Washington University.

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FEMA Installs Center in District

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has established an emergency operations center in the District to cope with attacks on the capital city. The agency has strengthened its capacity to rush food, medicine, heavy equipment, communications equipment, and hazardous material cleanup crews to the city in case of terrorist attacks.

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Water Your New Trees

New trees need extra water during the first three years to live. If there has not been a deep soaking rain during the past weeks, slowly water your new street tree with a hose for 1-2 hours a week, or slowly pour two gallons of water around the tree 2-3 times a week. Especially during drought conditions, the city's newly planted 4,000 street trees need your help.

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Patrick H. Allen, Esq.
Citizens Association of Georgetown

John C. Batham
West End Citizens Association

Allen E. Beach
Chevy Chase Citizens Association

Mary Bresnahan
Spring Valley Court Citizens Association

Francis M. Clarke, III
Cardozo-Shaw Citizens Association

Dino J. Drudi
Michigan Park Citizens Association

Kathryn A. Eckles
Residential Action Coalition

Carroll Green
Manor Park Citizens Association

Guy Gwynne
Burleith Citizens Association

James H. Jones
Crestwood Citizens Association

Ann Loikow
Cleveland Park Citizens Association

Jane McNew
Capitol Hill Citizens Association

Miles Steele, III
Hillcrest Civic Association

A.L. Wheeler, Esq.
Association of Oldest Inhabitants

Barbara Woodward-Downs
Citizens Association of Georgetown

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June Is Federation Election Month

Want to be where the action is? Dissatisfied with the way incumbent Federation officers and Board members are performing? Want to form an independent slate? A chance to achieve all of the above will be afforded all delegates from associations in good standing at the June 25 Assembly election meeting.

As usual a slate of officers and Board members willing to serve will be presented, in order to ensure that every office has a candidate. Also, nominations will be called for from the floor, and any delegate or group of delegates may be nominated or self-nominated. This year the presented slate will simply be the incumbent officers and Board members. Candidates who receive the most votes, naturally, win. In the case of Board candidates, delegates vote for ten persons out of, say 14 candidates, and the ten persons with most votes from the 14 choices win.

Current officers and Board members, running for office again, are:

President: Buck Clarke, Cardozo Shaw
1st Vice President: Ann Loikow, Cleveland Park
2nd Vice President: Carroll Greene, Manor Park
Secretary: Jane McNew, Capitol Hill
Treasurer: Allen Beach, Chevy Chase

Board Members (10):

Patrick Allen, Esq., Georgetown
John C. Bathan, West End
Mary Bresnahan, Spring Valley Court
Dino J. Drudi, Michigan Park
Kathyn A. Eckles, RAC
Guy Gwynne, Burleith
James J. Jones, Crestwood
Miles Steele, III, Hillcrest
A.L. Wheeler, Esq., Oldest Inhabitants
Barbara Woodward Downs, Georgetown

At the same meeting, representatives from the proposed Capitol hill Boys and Girls Town are expected to give a presentation of their side of the disputed installation of a large facility.

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Upcoming Important Hearing on Surveillance Camera Legislation

Councilmember Kathy Patterson's Committee on the Judiciary will hold a hearing on Thursday, June 13, at 10 a.m., prior to drafting legislation on surveillance cameras. The hearing will be in the council chamber of the Wilson Building.

The Federation has collaborated with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to urge legislation to define parameters for the new and burgeoning surveillance technology, which can easily, if misused, impact negatively on citizens' privacy rights. Interested delegates representing organizations will receive five minutes for testimony at the hearing; individuals will receive three minutes. Federation association witnesses wanting talking points may contact Ann Loikow, 363-6658.

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Controversial Boys and Girls Town Development on Capitol Hill Gets Second Look

The DC Board of Zoning Adjustment ruled on May 7 that it is revoking permits for a complex of four sizable contiguous group houses that Boys and Girls Town is trying to build on Capitol Hill. The citizen residents opposing the development, the Southeast Citizens for Smart Development (SDCD), claim the developer charity is trying to mislead the neighborhood and the city by calling the four group homes separate facilities, when it fact they comprise a unit. Such units, inter alia, may not be built within 500 feet of an existing community-based facility under DC law. Permanent-resident opponents, along with Councilmember Sharon Ambrose, note that the community is too fragile to support the group home, and also cite the area's open-air drug markets. Prominent Washington attorney Andrea Ferster is representing the organized citizens.

Mr. Michael McGill, chief attorney for Girls and Boys Town, announced, with possibly premature bravado, that "This is a minor skirmish in a major war [sic]. We will appeal the decision and plan to win the war." Andrea Ferster said, "Our appeal is a legal argument. It is a question about whether a development is going to evade plain and existing zoning principles."

Evenhandedly, the BZA agreed with the later legal argument, at least to the point of requiring the developer to apply for a special exception building permit if it wished to proceed with the project. This entails a public comment period and additional zoning hearings. The hearings will come at a time when public awareness of the ins and outs of the proposed installation is increasing, due to the efforts of the citizen SCSD. Community leaders addressed the Federation at its April Assembly. Expected at the June Assembly (May is awards banquet month) will be Boys and Girls Town representatives, to present their side of the case -- including reasons for a reported SLAPP suit (Suit Lodged Against Public Participations) lodged against protesting community leaders earlier on.

This proposed major entry into a fragile neighborhood reportedly has been undertaken with all-too-typical developer aggressiveness, combined with all-too-usual mega-charity canting. If the charity should be proven guilty of fraud in the application process by regulatory agencies and eventually courts, the four-house property could be available for normal apartment or neighborhood-upgrading residential home site purpose. If, as SCSD contends, the site is worth more than Boys and Girls Town paid for and into it, the charity could stand to profit from induced changes in its plans.

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Federation Board of Directors

At its May 9 meeting, the Federation Board of Directors:

  • Reviewed the Capitol Hill Boys Town issue and decided to afford the organization the opportunity to present its side of the issue at the June Assembly meeting
  • Discussed the awards banquet
  • Decided to have all current officers and Board members run for office again for 2002-2003
  • Reviewed the real estate property tax assessment issue, with a presentation by Peter Craig, Esq. (Cleveland Park), taxation expert
  • Noted that Board member A.L. Wheeler, Esq., helped write the tax assessment law in a previous administration.

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Tree Bill

The Urban Forestry Administration of the DC Department of Transportation has marked 3,150 locations for tree plantings in all wards throughout the city. The GCA Casey Trees Endowment Fund has marked 850 more locations in Wards 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. The new trees are to have been planted by April 30, 2002.

Fifty-plus witnesses supported the Urban Forest Preservation Act of 2001, the "Tree Bill," on December 20, 2001. That bill is still under consideration by the city council. Delegates with an interest in the important tree issue should send a letter or E-mail to Councilmember Carol Schwartz.

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Upcoming Hearing on Property Assessment Process and Property Tax Rates

The roiling property assessment issue has touched most residential property owners in the District, in the sense that the touch is on. Incidents of assessment increases range upwards of 167% (on two delegates' $1 million-plus homes in Spring Valley) to whole neighborhoods being assessed upward by 57% and more are rife. The process is unscientific at best, and comes at a time when residential business real estate tax rates have been reduced substantially.

To address community concerns regarding the new city move, Councilmember Jack Evans will hold a public oversight hearing on the District of Columbia's property tax assessment process and property tax rates. The hearing will be held on Thursday, May 23, at 2 p.m., in Room 412 of the Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.

Participating witnesses representing organizations will likely have five minutes to speak; individuals will have three minutes. The Federation will be represented by a tax expert and several supporting witnesses from the Board. Associations may wish to consider fielding testimony and witnesses at this important hearing. Talking points will be duly circulated for the possible use of associations.

Aide memoire: Property assessment evaluations are made by the DC Office of Taxes and Revenue, by an often dubious process. The tax rate -- how many cents or dollars per $100 of assessment amounts must be paid in real estate taxes -- is fixed by the city council. At present it is 94¢ per $100 of assessed value. One element of relief that the city council can extend to taxbase homeowners is a lowering of the 94¢ rate.

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Washington Gas Wants to Increase Rates and Charges for Gas Service: Hearings

Washington Gas, the District's supplier of natural gas, has applied to the Public Service Commission for allowed increases in its rates for delivery and charges for gas services. On February 17, People's Counsel Elizabeth Noel filed a complaint with the Public Service Commission on behalf of DC ratepayers, calling for an investigation into whether Washington Gas's existing rates are too high in light of current conditions. "Since 1994, the last time the PSC set WG's rates, significant declines in WG's cost of services, and improving economic conditions have allowed the company to easily meet its authorized rate of return. However, WG's current financial statistics clearly suggest that it is high time for WG to share the benefits of synergy savings and strong earnings with DC taxpayers," the People's Counsel noted.

The Public Service Commission has now scheduled three community hearings concerning the basic rates, charges, and terms and conditions of service the Washington Gas Light Company, District of Columbia Division. WGL wants to increase existing charges by $16.3 million, a 6.3 percent revenue increase. WGL requests authority to earn a 9.73 percent rate of return, including a return on common equity of 12.25 percent.

The three hearings will be held as follows:

  • Tuesday, May 28, 10 a.m., Asbury Methodist Church Fellowship Hall, 11th and K Streets, NW
  • Thursday, May 30, 6 p.m., 1 Judiciary Square, 10th Floor conference room, and
  • Saturday, June 22, 1 p.m., Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Club, 4103 Benning Road, NE.

Delegates and community leaders are requested to:

  • inform constituents of Washington Gas Company's application for a rate increase and give them the above hearing information,
  • sign up to testify at one of the hearings, and
  • send a letter or resolution supporting the People's Counsel's complaint that sparked the hearings.

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Out-of-State Car Registration in the District:
Definitely Not a Formality

A besetting reality in residential neighborhoods that abut or are near to universities is serious parking problems. These are caused in large measure by a superabundance of cars owned by renters in local group houses. The following article from the Burleith Newsletter articulates the problem.

Why Register Your Car in DC?
Dr. Peter Pulsifer (Burleith)

DC law requires anyone housing or operating a motor vehicle in DC for more than thirty days to obtain a DC registration for the vehicle. There are certain exceptions, such as for members of Congress and their personal staff, the President, the Vice President, and Cabinet members. But most people are required to get either DC tags or a reciprocity sticker indicating that they have registered. This requirement is not just a parking regulation! It applies whether you park on the street or in a garage. The Metropolitan Police have been cracking down on registration scofflaws in the Northwest community of Glover Park, and the enforcement is now getting started in Burleith.

DC registration is required because the system only works properly when everyone participates. Each out-of-state car increases the burden on those of us who properly register our cars. The consequences include:

Increased taxes. Scofflaws' registration fees go to another state, even though the DC government must still provide the same highway and public safety services to the out-of-state vehicle.

Increased pollution and reduced safety. Each state has its own inspection requirement, and many of these are less strict than the District's. For example, Maryland has no annual safety inspection -- the only mandatory inspection is when the vehicle is bought and sold. Out-of-state cars are also harder to hold accountable to DC vehicle regulations (although they can still be booted and towed).

Increased insurance costs. The cost of insurance is based on the total number of vehicles registered in a given area. It has been estimated that, if all DC vehicles were properly registered, our insurance bills would drop an average of 40 percent. (Many car owners don't realize that failure to house a vehicle in its "home" state is also insurance fraud; the insurance company could refuse to pay a claim if it discovers the fraud.)

Reduced jury pool. The names of potential jurors are drawn from vehicle registration records. Fewer DC-registered cars means more difficult jury selection and more frequent calls to serve for the rest of us.

At one time, a barrier to transferring was the one-time DC excise tax based on the car's value, but this has long been eliminated (of course, the excise tax on new cars remains). It is both good citizenship and good sense to register your car in D.C.

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Legal Avoidance of Environmental Impact

Community groups frequently rely on city regulations that require large developments have an environmental impact statement. In DC, this requirement is often honored in the breach.

An interesting insight into one part of the practice is afforded by a recent Zoning Commission order (Order 955, Consolidated Planned Unit Development and Zoning Map Amendment for Station Place, February 11, 2002). Under "Environmental Issues" the order notes:

"103. The Task Force, Norman Williams, and Richard Blackford requested that an environmental impact statement ("EIS") be required for the project.

"104. The OP testified at the public hearing that an EIS is not required. The OP testified that the DC Environmental Policy Act exempts properties within the Central Employment Area from the EIS requirement. The Site is within the boundaries of the Central Employment Area, as defined in the Zoning Regulations and the Comprehensive Plan and, therefore, no EIS is required."

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Federation Assembly Meeting Dates

The Sumner School has reserved the following dates for the Federation's Assembly meetings. Each meeting will begin at 7:00 p.m. at 1201 Seventeenth Street, at the corner of M Street, NW.

May Annual Awards Banquet , May 23, Fort McNair Officers Club
Tuesday, June 25

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