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Federation of Citizens Associations of the District of Columbia

Federation News

Volume 9, Issue 1, September 2002
3710 S Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007
(202) 338-5164 phone/fax

Far-Reaching Uglification Street Furniture Bill Could Ease Through Council Without Associations’s Action
New DC Initiative: Electronic List of All Reports by or for the City Government
Aggregation of Electric Power Users into Rate Bargaining Unit
Federation Officers Reelected for 2002-2003

Mosquitos and West Nile Virus Dangers Worry Citizens
Zoning Commission Hearing October 17 on Regulation of Antennas and Towers

Lower Property Tax Rates Needed
ABC Confirmation

Officers and Board

Federation Board of Directors
City Council Honors Capitol Hill Association Fighting Megacharity
Real Property Assessments and Appeals
The Board of Real Property Assessments and Appeals
New Policy on Quarterly Luncheon Nonattendance
Period Extended for Master Business Licenses
DC’s Antique Police and Fire Call Boxes
Update on Closed Circuit TV Surveillance Legislation
Move Is on to Get DC Elected District Attorney
One Community’s Property Ownership Story
New DC Pick-a-Surname Law
Federation Assembly Meeting Dates


Tuesday, September 24, 2002
7:00 p.m.

Ann Loikow
Saving DC Streets from Twenty Years of Visual Pollution

Various Updates
Other Business

The Charles Sumner School
1201 Seventeenth Street, NW
(at H Street)


Bill 14-652, the District of Columbia Street Furniture Act of 2002, was taken up on September 18 by Councilmember Carol Schwartz's Public Works and Environment Committee. The bill would authorize, via 20-year contracts, advertising on all street-side benches, bus shelters, and public toilets, inter alia. Reportedly, the bill originated with the DC Department of Transportation, at the behest of three interested corporations.

The bill is a massive delegation of authority to the Director of the DC Department of Transportation (whose confirmation hearing came up immediately after the hearing on this bill) to negotiate and approve, without any public review, franchise agreements for up to 20 years "for the design, fabrication, construction, installation, operation (where applicable), repair and maintenance of street furniture on public space in the District of Columbia," and to approve advertising to be placed on any street furniture at any location. Street furniture includes, "but is not limited to, self-cleaning automatic public toilets, information kiosks, newspaper vending boxes, news stands, public benches, bicycle racks, and other products including … bus shelters."

The bill has a number of major problems. For starters, the bill preempts the District procurement law; eliminates the public's oversight of the procurement process; preempts Congressional prohibitions on outdoor advertising; ignores Federal and local planning law and processes (e.g., historic preservation law and review by the DC Historic Preservation Review Board, NCPC, and Fine Arts Commission jurisdiction; overlooks National Park Service and Federal ownership and control of some spaces in the District; does not consider whether it is in the public interest to make the streets of the National Capital, including all its neighborhoods, a mass of advertisements; and ignores the question of whether under the First Amendment the government can put any limits, once it allows it, on advertising in public space, among other things. (E.g., look at the problems raised by DCRA's "special signs" fiasco.

This bill should be sent back to the drawing board as it "is not ready for prime time." The city and DDOT may need more money, but selling the city streets to advertisers is not the way to get it. — Ann Loikow (Cleveland Park)

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New DC Initiative: Electronic List of All Reports by or for the City Government

In early August the mayor signed into law an act "to amend the District of Columbia Public Records Management Act of 1985 to require that an electronic version of a list, by category, of all reports generated for and by the government, be made available through the Internet," as of October 1, 2002.

Specifics of the law are:

Sec. 2(b)(a) Except as provided in subsection (c) of this section, each agency shall transmit to the Library of Governmental Information at least 2 copies of each report, study, or publication prepared by the agency or independent contractor immediately after they have been issued. At least one copy of each report, study, or publication shall be made available to the public at the Library of Governmental Information.

Sec. 2(b)(b) The Mayor shall make available to the public an electronic version of the list, by category, of the documents transmitted under subsection (a) of this section through the Internet, not later than 30 days from the date of the transmission from the agency.

Sec. (b)(c) The provisions of subsection (a) and (b) of this section shall not apply to drafts or unofficial copies of accounting, auditing, or financial reports, studies, or publications.

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Aggregation of Electric Power Users into Rate Bargaining Unit

As of January 1, 2003, PEPCO will no longer be the monopoly business for supplying electric power to the District of Columbia and environs. Instead, as in the case of telephone service suppliers, many individual power suppliers will all enter the District market. Aggregation of a pool of electric power customers, residential and business, is a plan of the People's Counsel (OPC), the city's utility watchdog. It aims to sign up and pool a maximum number of power users on whose behalf the city will negotiate the best electric power rates possible, offering economies of scale as an inducement.

This important aggregation issue has come to a head. Following People's Counsel Elizabeth Noel's presentation of the issue to the Federation in late 2001, the aggregation plan has matured, been prepared by the OPC, and has been recently approved by the mayor. The mayor's office will now send Requests for Proposals (RFPs) to various electricity suppliers for bids for an aggregated pool of subscribers. This last step is currently at the DC Department of Energy and the Corporation Counsel's office for final examination and decision on a transmittal date.

The new plan presented in the RFPs includes the "opt in" requirement for future aggregation subscribers. This means every aggregation participant must affirmatively opt into the arrangement, probably by means of a signed card. Those who do nothing will remain temporarily with PEPCO. PEPCO will offer default service until February 2005.

When the city weighs company offers and chooses a supplier firm to furnish power to its aggregation program, an explanatory letter and "opt in" card may be sent to power users. At that point persons who wish to opt into the aggregation arrangement may indicate this on a card or form, return it to the designated address, and be included in the aggregation.

The Federation has voted to support the new arrangement, as being potentially most beneficial to op-in power users in the District in an upcoming free-for-all milieu. The time frame for completion of this plan is estimated as one year.

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Federation Officers Reelected for 2002-2003

At the June 25 assembly, delegates from associations in good standing unanimously reelected the serving officers and board of directors. The next election is scheduled for June 2003.

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Mosquitoes and West Nile Virus Dangers Worry Citizens

Mosquitoes are plaguing Washington, DC, and mosquito control efforts are having limited effect. Too many DC residents are unable to use back yards, decks, and patios in the dusk and evening hours because of a plethora of biting mosquitoes. Interestingly, this is not true of National Park Service controlled areas, where one may walk or sit for a concert in an insect-free environment. Does the Park Service know something the city doesn't?

DC's Department of Public Works has stepped up, which is a relative term, its mosquito control efforts, chiefly by spreading larvicides rather than by traditional spraying. These come in grain, spray, or cake forms; the District relies chiefly on sprays. The city is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on a daily and weekly basis, according to Health Department officials. In another state, the Arkansas Health Department says it considers larvicide the most efficient, cost effective, and environmentally friendly mosquito abatement program available.

That Department added that private citizens probably can have the greatest effect on the mosquito population by removing sources of standing water on their own properties, right down to earthen planter catchment pans.

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Zoning Commission Hearing October 17 on Regulation of Antennas and Towers

"Text Amendment — Regulation of Antennas, Antenna Towers and Monopoles," Zoning Commission Case No. 01-02, is upcoming. The hearing will consider a substantial revision of the Zoning Commission's rules governing antennas, antenna towers, and monopoles.

The Commission last promulgated rules applicable to these devices and structures on February 24, 1989 (Zoning Commission Order 587). Since that time, there have been significant technological advances that warrant a reexamination of the existing regulatory scheme. After initial public roundtables in February and March 2001, the Commission encouraged interested groups to meet with the DC Office of Planing to begin fashioning new regulations.

Based on that participatory process, a new text has been proposed. It is that text that will be considered and examined on October 17. Because of the complexities of the subject matter, the entire regulatory scheme for antennas will comprise a new chapter in the DC Municipal Regulations. For further information on this hearing and key new legislation on already proliferated antennas, contact the Office of Zoning at 202-727-6311. The text of the new proposed law is available electronically.

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Lower Property Tax Rates Needed

I have owned my house in the Logan Circle Area for 19 years. My house's assessment recently went up 80 percent! At a 25 percent yearly increase in my rate, my tax bill will double in four years. I cannot afford much an enormous increase in such a short time.

What we need are lower income tax rates to attract more people to live in the District and reasonable increases in real estate taxes, capped at no more than 10 percent a year, with a minimum $100,000 homestead exemption and a tax rate of 80 cents per $100 valuation (not the present 96 cents).

To have one's property tax double in four years will in no way assure citizens they won't lose their homes because their cash flow is not the same as the value of their house. Only when the house is sold does the owner realize the increased value.

Forcing people out of their homes due to outrageous property taxes is hardly a way to bring all the citizens of the District together. — Mark D. Gordon (Logan Circle). Originally published in The InTowner.

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ABC Confirmation

In July, Capitol Hill activist Ellen Opper-Weiner, Esq., was approved for confirmation of reappointment to the DC Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, at the request of the mayor.

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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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Federation Board of Directors

At its September 12 meeting the Federation Board:

  • Voted to send newsletters to all association officers.
  • Discussed quorum requirements.
  • Noted the need for a new Federation secretary.
  • Voted to request payment for future non-attendees with reservations at Federation luncheons.
  • Discussed assistance to the Michigan Park Association in the matter of the Catholic University campus plan before the Zoning Commission
  • Endorsed dissolution of the Legal Aid Foundation, and voted to downgrade it to a committee.
  • Voted to return Legal Aid Foundation contributions pro rata to donor organizations.
  • Discussed Tax Assessment Class Action lawsuit status.
  • Discussed status of Federation historical and informational brochure.
  • Reviewed draft new antenna regulations and voted to participate in upcoming hearing(s) on the regulations.

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City Council Honors Capitol Hill Association Fighting Megacharity

In mid-August the city council voted "To recognize and honor the Southeast Citizens for Smart Development for their outstanding work in the community in promoting sensible development in and around the Potomac Avenue Metro station." The citation includes:

"Whereas, the Southeast Citizens for Smart Development enjoys the support of over 2,000 residents in the Capitol Hill-East neighborhood,

"Whereas, the Southeast Citizens for Smart Development has been sued by a multi-million-dollar nonprofit in order to quiet their community activism, etc.

"Resolved, by the Council of the District of Columbia, that this resolution may be cited as the 'Southeast Citizens for Smart Development Recognition Resolution of 2002.'

Key city councilmembers have supported the SCSD in its fight against a SLAPP (suit lodged against public participation) suit against it. The SLAPP plaintiff, Boys and Girls Town, is attempting to build a large housing facility for troubled youth in the Southeast area. Area activists and Councilmember Sharon Ambrose recognize that the area is too fragile to support such a major center, and that it would in any event be mis-zoned because of proximity considerations.

Boys Town is reportedly trying to skirt the definition of a large unitary facility by claiming that the four closely contiguous buildings involved are four separate, smaller facilities, and therefore are legally acceptable. The megacharity has lashed out at community activists with a lawsuit that has already cost SCSD more than $28,000. It has also been the beneficiary of a letter to the House DC Subcommittee, signed by ten congressmen, advocating the large project.

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Real Property Assessments and Appeals

The issue of home value assessments continues on the red hot list of matters of interest to organized communities and homeowners in general. A lawsuit endorsed by the Federation has been filed by Dr. Peter S. Craig of the Cleveland Park Association area. Dr. Craig has also petitioned DC Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Dr. Natwar Gandhi to:

  • Issue an order to the Chief Assessor to cancel all tax assessments of single-family houses made last year (for FY 2002 and FY 2003) on the basis of across-the-board increase factors derived from so-called "assessment-sales ratio studies," and substitute for these the assessments already developed by his office under the computer-assisted mass appraisal (CAMA) system;
  • Order the Chief Assessor, in the case of properties sold since January 1, 1998, to assess such property on the basis of the price paid for the land and improvements, as required by DC Code Secs. 47-802(1) and (4) and 47-802(a)(3). ("It is a general rule that a recent arms-length sale of the property is evidence of the 'highest rank' to determine the value of the property at that time." — [Paul A. Levy v. District of Columbia, DC Superior Court Tax Docket No. 4027-88, slip opinion of Judge Wagner, p. 13, July 2, 1990]).

In support of this requested action, Dr. Craig cites:

  • Inadequate data collection by the Chief Assessor,
  • Erroneous assessment-sales ratio studies,
  • Invalidity of assessments by sales-ratio studies, and
  • Unfair assessment procedures, including issuance of unreasonable requirements for first-level appeals.

Dr. Craig and associates' point of departure for this most important legal challenge to current District assessment practices and methodology is the Cleveland Park community.

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The Board of Real Property Assessments and Appeals

The BRPAA reviews real property assessment appeals. It sits in panels of three members to hear and make decisions on appeals from taxpayers. It meets four times per year, at the discretion of the chair. The Board is composed of eighteen residents appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the city council. Members shall be persons "having knowledge of the valuation of property, real estate transactions, building costs, accounting, finance and/or statistics." The mayor names the chair. In the past some board members have been egregiously deficient in real estate qualifications.

Five new board members are up for confirmation before the city council on Thursday, September 26: David Charles Bowers, Paula Tannoti, Michael Charles Potts, Lawrence C. Smith, and Leroy W. Battle, Jr.

Delegates and other persons with an interest in the views and qualifications of these nominees should contact the Committee on Finance and Revenue, chaired by Councilmember Jack Evans, at 724-8058.

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New Policy on Quarterly Luncheon Nonattendance

It is with some regret that the Federation has instituted its new policy of charging delegates for nonattendance at quarterly luncheons for which they have reserved. The luncheon chair must arrange in advance with the Diplomatic and Consular Officers Club caterer for a given number of expected attendees, and is charged accordingly. The Federation treasury must make up any shortfall.

In recent months the Federation has taken too severe a hit from caterer expenses to be overlooked. Anyone billed by the treasurer is urged to make the requested minor remittance of $15 in reasonable time. The sherry fund that keeps the luncheons well supplied has more than enough donors for the two-case lots in which the clubby beverage is purchased. Everyone is urged to exercise due care in reserving for luncheons and to make necessary cancellations of reservation 48 hours in advance. The next (Christmas) quarterly luncheon will be December 17.

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Period Extended for Master Business Licenses

The grace period to obtain a Master Business License (MBL) has been extended until December 31, 2002, for businesses located in the District and for those that conduct business within the District but whose offices are located outside the city. Businesses that required a license prior to this new law do not have a grace period and must already have a valid license.

Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs spokesperson Teresa Lewis noted at a Federation assembly in 2001 that rental rooming houses in university areas specifically must obtain an MBL. While the cost of a license is minimal, the licensing process enables the DCRA to list on its computers all neighborhood rooming house properties. Carefully drawn up lists of such properties may be compiled by associations or individuals and sent in to the DCRA, according to Ms. Lewis.

The MBL is a new license program implemented in August 2001. Under the new law both for-profit and nonprofit businesses must obtain an MBL if the business generates $2,000 or more in gross receipts. The law puts no limits on age or business activity type. Prior to the MBL law, many businesses, including attorneys, contractors, and consultants were not required to have a license. The MBL consolidates all other licenses that are currently required for business. It eliminates the use of multiple registration numbers and establishes one renewal date for all business licenses.

For more information, interested persons should consult, telephone (202) 442-4311, or e-mail Failure to obtain an MBL can result in a $500 fine.

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DC's Antique Fire and Police Call Boxes

The DC Heritage Tourism Coalition (DCHTC) and the DC Commission on Arts and Humanities have united to spruce up many neighborhoods' remnant outdoor call box stands. And they are backing up their move with solid financing for communities that want it. The basic idea is to renovate the rusting iron stands scattered through older communities and make them decorative, neat street-corner accent pieces.

Association proposals are invited by the DCHTC. Its Art on Call Review Committee of artists, historians, and community leaders meets three times annually to evaluate proposals and release up to $250 per call box.

Funding criteria are 1) artistic quality, 2) historical accuracy, and 3) durability and appropriateness of materials. In some communities historical accuracy has taken the form of simple red and gray or blue and gray painting. In other areas, artistic quality has become exuberant.

At any rate, communities that want to redo their call boxes and obtain some funding for the purpose should obtain a standardized survey form in Microsoft Excel format by E-mailing, calling 202-661-7581, or writing to the DC Tourism Coalition, 1250 H Street, NW, Suite 850, 20005.

Project brochures will be available at the Tuesday, September 24, Federation Assembly at the distribution table.

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Update on Closed Circuit TV Surveillance Legislation

The matter of police surveillance cameras is still ongoing. PR 14-873, "Metropolitan Police Department Closed Circuit Television System Rulemaking Approval Resolution of 2002," is under consideration by the city council's Committee on the Judiciary. Essentially, this proposed legislation is the submission of the MPD, and has been termed more of an internal MPD police SOP (standard operating procedure) than proper regulatory legislation. At the same time, the Judiciary Committee is researching and preparing its own legislation. The Judiciary Committee is chaired by Councilmember Kathy Patterson.

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Move Is on to Get DC Elected District Attorney

In July, the city council voted unanimously to put the matter of an elected District Attorney for DC before the voters in the November 5 election. The current arrangement is for the DC Office of the Corporation Counsel to prosecute minor misdemeanors and juvenile offenses and for the federal US Attorney for the District of Columbia to handle all other crimes and misdemeanors, both District and federal. DC Corporation Counsels are appointed by the mayor, and US Attorneys are appointed by the President. The main idea behind an elected District Attorney is that such an officer, responsible directly to the voters, would be more likely to prosecute cases that impact on and are of interest to the citizenry and the residential city.

While the current Office of the Corporation Counsel is exerting an excellent effort in connection with the ongoing George Washington University case, its record of enforcement has been spotty in the past. One prime example: in the area of definition of legalities and non-legalities of basement apartments in R-3 single-family zoned areas, the OCC has dragged its feet for years in making the necessary legal definition that the DCRA inspection department says it needs. This in effect stymies DCRA housing inspectors from proceeding against out-of-compliance landlords in taxbase residential neighborhoods. The communities continue to suffer from predatory lessors.

Former US Attorney for DC Eric Holder, in a notable first, did reach out to the organized communities, but this effort failed to catch on. An elected DC District Attorney, with direct responsibility to the residential electorate, is exactly what the city needs, according to DC Councilmember David Catania. He may well be right.

The methodology of the proposed move is: 1) the concept of an elected DC District Attorney is put as a referendum item on the November 5 general election ballot. 2) If it passes, the DC Council will pass legislation requesting Congress to amend the Home Rule Act to provide for an elected DC District Attorney, separate from and probably over the Corporation Counsel. 3) If Congress amends the Home Rule Act to establish an elected DA, the US Attorney would still prosecute cases of federal interest. This important move needs to be aired much more thoroughly before September.

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One Community's Property Ownership Story

"Here are the bare statistics on Burleith based on the most recent assessment records. Note that there are some gaps in the records and I do not include government-owned property in my figures.

"217 absentee owners (no homestead exemption), avg assessment $364,006.
"59 senior citizen homestead exemptions, avg assessment $388,839
"235 'regular' homestead exemptions, avg assessment $386,677.
"TOTAL: 531 properties, avg assessment $376,799.

"Total valuation of private property in Burleith comes out to be $200,080,018). If everyone is being honest about the homestead exemption, Burleith is now 55% owner-occupied." — Dr. Peter Pulsifer (Burleith)

[Editor's note: the four-square-block R-3 single-family zoned community of Burleith adjoins Georgetown University. Absentee rental houseowners for the most part operate the 237 houses noted above as rooming houses for students. Surveys similar to the assessment-based one here would be useful for other communities in testimony, city planning, and community association awareness.]

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New DC Pick-a-Surname Law

The "Surname Choice Amendment Act of 2002," Bill 14-715, and "Surname Freedom Amendment Act of 2002," Bill 14-716, are before the city council. The first bill provides that a child's surname shall be either the surname of the mother, the father, or both parents in any order. The second bill allows parents to select any surname for their child. The Committee on Human Services will hold a hearing on both bills on September 26. Register to testify by calling 726-8061.

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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.

Tuesday, September 24, 2002
Tuesday, October 22, 2002
Tuesday, November 26, 2002
December Quarterly Luncheon, Tuesday, December 17, 2002
Tuesday, January 28, 2003
Tuesday, February 25, 2003
March Quarterly Luncheon, To Be Announced
Tuesday, April 26, 2003
93rd Federation Awards Banquet, To Be Announced
Tuesday, June 24, 2003
August Quarterly Luncheon, To Be Announced

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