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Federation of Citizens Associations of the District of Columbia

Federation News

Volume 8, Issue 9, June 2002
3710 S Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007
(202) 338-5164 phone/fax

Retrograde District Wiring Practices Continue
Federation 92nd Anniversary Awards Banquet a Real Blowout
Push Needed from Associations on Owner-Occupant Homestead Exemption Rise
Ticket Writers Galore
New DC Flag Design Likely
Proposed New Zoning Commission Regulations on Appeals from Administration Decisions
Does the Federation or Your Association Need a Professionally Administered Poll?
Corporal Punishment Banned in DC Public Schools
New Parking Enforcement Law
Important DC Superior Court Judge Reviews, with Public Participation
Officers and Board
Tax Assessment Class Action Lawsuit
Primary Election Date Approaching
Federation Assembly Meeting Dates


Tuesday, June 25, 2002
7:00 p.m.

The Work of the Girls and Boys Club in the District
Ms. Kara Covington

Other Business

1201 Seventeenth Street, NW
(at M Street)


For the most part, cities in more developed European countries have their utility wires and telecommunications cables underground. Most cited is the example of Paris, which reportedly, and efficiently and scenically, has no overhead wires or cables on utility poles. Such underground placement is not only the wave of the future, it is the wave of the present. Not so in Washington, DC, however.

As of January 1, 2004, PEPCO will cease to be the city's electric power supplier, and will be in charge of its wiring system only. Expected to replace PEPCO as predominant supplier are a number of private electric companies, which will compete for shares of the market. Some have already begun.

In the District, as in other cities, power demands have risen in recent years, with the advent of expanding populations and an increasingly electronic business and lifestyle milieu. Prudently, PEPCO has begun "heavying up" many District areas and neighborhoods, to prepare for projected power needs for the next thirty years. The trouble is that this heavying up is being done 1) above ground on huge intrusive utility poles that are 2) unsightly, arguably dangerous and that 3) represent retrograde technology.

Anomalously, large parts of the District are already successfully wired underground. The downtown business district, Georgetown, large parts of Capitol Hill, and all new housing developments work very well with all wires and cables out of sight and safely below ground. If downtown and Georgetown can be served efficiently, why not Chevy Chase and Hillcrest? Ask PEPCO representatives and the answer is: cost, even though underground boring technology and wire/cable-laying techniques have improved greatly in recent years, and even though extensive trenching is currently being done in the District in connection with gas, electric, and water conduit repair. (This could be combined with wire and cable laying also.)

The result of the current PEPCO heavying up strategy is that the heavied-up areas of the District look like TVA towns of the 1940s, festooned with wire and cables on outsized poles. The Europeans, inter alia, have the problem resolved. Why can't we do the same? We can, of course, and a useful step will be for pertinent District officials and other parties to visit and observe successful European urban infrastructure and consult with, say, German or French counterparts. There are well established programs for such exchanges, particularly on the American and German sides.

The Federation has made tentative inquires at the German Embassy about the availability of consultative travel grants for District officials and other pertinent persons to travel, cost-free and with arranged consultative programs, in one or two German cities, to [continued on page 2] observe the efficacy (or disadvantages) of total underground utility and cable delivery there. The Embassy's tentative reply is encouraging. We will see if anything develops from this, and the stakes for District neighborhoods are high.

The longer the DC Public Service Commission, the People's Counsel, and the Department of Public Works (which controls use of public space along rights of way) remain inert on this issue of overhead vs. underground utility/cable installation, the more the ongoing PEPCO retrograde "heavying up" program will spread, to serve for the next thirty years. We deserve better.

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The good times rolled at the May 23 Federation awards banquet at the Ft. McNair Officers Club. Already in the mood for a good time, delegates and guests were both entertained and improved mightily by socko keynote speaker Mark Plotkin as well as Washington's cutting-edge political cabaret Hexagon Club. One of the District's best speaking venues, speakers are virtually guaranteed an enthusiastic reception at the Federation's yearly banquets, where just about anything goes.

With association-identifying signs above tables on stanchions, the floor took on the aspect of a jolly political convention. Before as well as after seating, cross-town and cross-association networking and acquaintance renewing kept the floor busy. The Hexagon Club, if it were possible, outdid themselves in irreverent performance ("Deep Political Thought"), while Mark Plotkin demonstrated a serious side of his persona in addition to its usual upbeat and jovial aspect. ("Let's put the pressure more directly on the powers that be and made DC statehood happen.")

This year's outstanding award recipients were:

  • The Logan Circle Community Association, "for Proactive Community Defense," for dealing with a wide range of community problems and successfully assisting with community improvement and development over the long haul.
  • Ms. Harriet Hubbard, "for Lifetime Civic Commitment" for many years of redoubtable activism in the Dupont Circle area.
  • Mr. Stanford Hicks, "for Sustained Community Service," as the Grand Old Man of the Crestwood/Carter Barron area for civic activism.
  • Hon. Adrian Fenty, "for Courageous Community Service," as new community-oriented City Councilman for Ward 4, active for taxbase communities citywide as well.

The banquets just keep getting better every year, and there's already talk of next year's whopping 93rd-year celebration and get-together. Best thanks go to all the associations that directly prepaid tables or that arranged and collected in advance for their table(s). This makes it much easier on the banquet committee. Happily, over two thirds of tables were prearranged by associations.

For now, let's take a rest, and then gear up for next year's affair!

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Good news for residential home owner-occupants is before the city council, in the form of a proposed $100,000 homestead exemption — up from the current $30,000. The cuts would offer relief on property taxes for all owner-occupied homes, including co-ops and condominiums. The new bill, introduced by Council member Sharon Ambrose, would reduce property tax bills by $960. Cosponsors of the bill are Council members David Catania, Kevin Chavous, Jim Graham, and Phil Mendelson. Seven votes are needed by passage.

Associations and delegates with an interest in the property tax issue should contact nonsponsoring council members, to express their support (or opposition) to the proposed ameliorative legislation which, inter alia, can help older neighborhood residents on fixed incomes to keep their homes and not be taxed out of them.

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The District of Columbia Register reports that the following are empowered to issue Notices of Infraction for all moving and parking infractions within their respective jurisdictions:

  1. DC Metropolitan Police
  2. Metro Transit Police
  3. National Zoological Park Police
  4. United States Capitol Police
  5. United States Park Police
  6. United States Secret Service, Uniformed Division
  7. Walter Reed Army Medical Center
  8. Bolling Air Force Base Security Police
  9. United States Federal Protective Service
  10. Commandant, Naval District of Washington
  11. District of Columbia Housing Authority Police Force
  12. Library of Congress, and
  13. (recently) United States Mint Police

There is a separate, mostly redundant, list of agencies that may issue citations for parking violations alone. Interestingly, Catholic University, which issues official-looking parking tickets for $15 fines, is not on any official list.

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On June 14, Councilman Phil Mendelson held a public hearing on the proposed "District of Columbia Flag Redesign Act of 2002." The bill is aimed at "promot(ing) the cause of full voting representation for the citizens of the District of Columbia in the United States Congress by redesigning the flag of the District of Columbia to include the words 'DC' and 'TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION' within the flag."

Thirty witnesses testified at the hearing: 28 for the change, 2 against. Inside word at the council is that the bill will pass, and that the "taxation" motto will appear at the bottom of future District of Columbia flags.

In a related development, as of mid-June the only new auto license tags available at the Department of Motor Vehicles bear the "taxation" phrase.

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The Zoning Commission has put out for public comment new draft regulations "pertaining to appeals to the Board of Zoning Adjustment from the decisions of the Zoning Administrator and other administrative officers in the administration and enforcement of the Zoning Regulations." Close of the public comment period is June 24. The proposed new text reads:

"(a) An appeal shall be filed within sixty (60) days from the date the person appealing the administrative decision had notice or knowledge of the decision complained of, or reasonably should have had notice or known of the decision complained of, whichever is earlier.

"(b) If the decision complained of involves the erection, construction, reconstruction, conversion, or alteration of a structure or part thereof, no appeal shall be filed later than ten (10) days after the date on which the structure or part thereof in question is under roof. . . . "under roof" means the state of completion of a structure or part thereof when the main roof of the structure or part thereof, and the roofs of any structures on the main roof, are in place.

"(c) The Board may extend the 60 day deadline. . . ."

Comments on this draft rulemaking should be sent to Mr. Alberto Bastida, Office of Zoning, 441 4th Street, NW, Suite 210-S, Washington, DC 20001.

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Maggie Gallagher notes in the Washington Times that: Most Americans do not know this, but respectable polling companies will help anyone with approximately $750 to develop and insert a question in a nationally representative telephone survey. Some polling firms are Opinion Research Corporation and The Pew Research Center.

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The DC Board of Education recently clarified rules for corporal punishment of students in DC public schools. It provides:

1) The use of corporal punishment is strictly prohibited in and during [sic] all aspects of the public school environment or school activities. No student shall be subject to the infliction of corporal punishment by any teacher, other student, administrator, or other school personnel.

(2) Permission to administer corporal punishment shall not be sought or accepted from any parent, guardian, or school official.

(3) Conduct prohibited by this section includes actual or attempted use of physical force against a student . . . provided that the conduct is not prompted by reasonable efforts at self defense or the defense of others; is necessary to maintain or regain order; or is necessary for the safety of the educational environment. . . .

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In new DC Bill 14-356, the city council has amended the municipal regulations to provide for a parking enforcement moratorium in residential parking areas between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7:30 a.m. New subsections provide that: vehicles with valid residential parking permits may park a) 25 feet from the intersection; b) in loading zones, except those of hotels; and c) in entrances, except hospital entrances. Vehicles with valid residential parking permits may park on any residential permit parking street within one block of any street that serves as a new ward boundary (under the new redistricting act), provided that the parking permit is valid for a ward on either side of the new ward boundary street.

Notwithstanding any other law, full-time students who reside within the boundaries of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2A and 2E shall not be issued or use a reciprocity parking sticker for out-of-state vehicles. As of January 1, 2003, this provision shall also apply to full-time students who reside within the boundaries of ANC 3D06 and 3D09.

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The DC Superior Court is of major importance to organized communities and other citizen groups in their contentions with developers, institutions, and other community-impacting corporations. Unlike DC law firms and individual attorneys, who are prudently familiar with Superior (and other) Court judges, their histories, quirks and proclivities on the bench, the broader community knows little of these matters. Nevertheless, our associations and the Federation have unavoidable experience, and chance to observe, individual judges in action, and to evaluate their performance. From time to time, public input and commentary regarding judges' performance is requested by the DC Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure.

The latest call by the Commission for public participation comes in connection with the Commission's review of the qualifications of Senior Judges Bruce Beaudin, Stephen Ellperin, and Peter Wolf of the Superior Court, who have requested reappointment as Senior Judges. For the record, any retired judge willing to perform judicial duties may request a recommendation as a senior judge from the Commission. The Commission's decision is final.

In a recent public notice the Commission "… requests members of the bar, litigants, former jurors, interested organizations and members of the public to submit any information which it is believed will aid the Commission. The cooperation of the community at an early stage will greatly aid the Commission in fulfilling its responsibilities. The identity of any person submitting materials will be kept confidential unless expressly authorized by the person submitting the information."

All communications should be mailed to DC Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure, Building A, Room 312, 515 5th Street, NW, 20001 or faxed to 727-9718 by July 12, 2002.

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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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Tax Assessment Class Action Lawsuit

Veteran civic activist Dr. Peter S. Craig has announced plans to file a class action lawsuit on behalf of homeowners in Washington adversely affected by recent across-the-board tax assessment increases. These assessments further aggravate the highly discriminatory tax assessment system being employed by the city's Office of Tax & Revenue. The lawsuit will challenge the current assessment system as unlawful and unconstitutional, and will ask the DC Superior Court to restore equalization of assessments in all neighborhoods.

By law, OTR is required to assess all residential real properties at full market value. This involves tracking sales to insure that assessments are in line with such sales and reassessing residential properties whenever building permits are finalized. Instead, OTR has contrived so-called "market trends," derived by assessment-sales ratio studies. These studies compare recent sales against former assessments for the same properties in each neighborhood, without any segregation of improved versus unimproved properties. OTR then applies the median ratio to all properties in that neighborhood. Such studies are statistically invalid and result in transferring increased value of real property from renovated homes unrenovated ones. Assessments of homes throughout the city now range from less than 50% of market value to over 200% of market value. Where this unauthorized assessment system has been used, only about 17% are within 5% of market value. 38% are under-assessed and 45% are over-assessed. This has had a destabilizing effect on Washington neighborhoods.

The lawsuit will seek restoration of the Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal (CAMA) system authorized over a decade ago. Ironically, OTR prepared property-specific CAMA assessments, but chose to override them, presumably because its "trending" yielded a higher tax assessment base.

Dr. Craig will be handling this litigation in cooperation with Gilbert Hahn, a former member of the DC Council, who brought a successful class action against the city in a similar tax assessment case (Green v. District of Columbia) in the mid 1970s.

Dr. Craig and Mr. Hahn estimate that over $100,000 will be needed up front to finance the class action, including funds for discovery, depositions and expert witnesses. Individuals desiring to support this pro bono class action are encouraged to make their tax-exempt donations to the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, showing on the check that it is for the "tax assessment class action" (or TACA for short). Such checks should be mailed to the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, PO Box 57106, Washington, D.C. 20037. For more information about the lawsuit, call Peter S. Craig at 362-7192.

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September 10, 2002, will be primary election day in the District for the offices of: Mayor of the District; Chairman of the Council; At-Large Member of the Council; Ward members of the Council for Wards 1, 3, 5, and 6; Delegate to the US House of Representatives; US Senator, and US Representative.

Qualifying petitions with signatures for candidates must be turned in to the Board of Elections by the close of business on July 3, 2002. Delegates and association members who have been collecting signatures on behalf of candidates should, if possible, have these to the candidates or their campaign staff a day or so in advance of July 3.

ANC Commissioner and Board of Education candidates are not voted on at party primaries, as these positions are not related to party politics. They will be voted on at the general election in November.

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Federation Assembly Meeting Dates

The Federation will not meet in July and August.
The next Assembly will be September 24, 2002.
There will be a Quarterly Luncheon in August.

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