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Federation of Citizens Associations of the District of Columbia

Federation News

Volume 10, Issue 5, February 2004
3710 S Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007
(202) 338-5164 phone/fax

People's Counsel Elizabeth Noel to Discuss New Utility Issues
Budget and Oversight Hearing for Office of Planning Upcoming
Norton Pans School Voucher Idea in Principle
Court Oversight of DC Jail Ended
Mayoral Recall?
US District Court for DC: Need for Volunteer Observers
Federation Board
Officers and Board
President's Message: Federation Alert: New Building Code
(Overly) Complicated Democratic Primaries / Caucuses / Superdelegates
Virtual Schools
Federation Assembly Meeting Dates


Tuesday, February 24, 2004
7:00 p.m.

Speaker: Elizabeth Noel, Esq.
People's Counsel for the District of Columbia

Other Business

1201 Seventeenth Street, NW
(At M Street)


Ms. Noel has arranged to reschedule her snowed-out January speaking visit to February. Washington's utility service and supply are hot items on the current scene, and no one can better supply the consumer perspective on utility matters.

Most delegates are aware of the virtually unique efficient operation of the Office of the People's Counsel during past administrations of poor government in the District. Operating as a public interest law firm, Ms. Noel's office represents utility ratepayer interests before the Public Service Commission, which regulates all DC-area utilities; the Federal Communications Commission; the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; the DC Court of the Appeals; and the federal courts — a weighty portfolio if ever there was one.

At the same time, the OPC and Ms. Noel herself have been consistently available to associations and community leaders with advice, information, and, at times, heavyweight assistance. Much of civic Northwest remembers the helping hand and advice to communities of Ms. Noel during the infamous case of an attempted installation by Georgetown University of a private commercial power plant on its property in residential Georgetown bordering other communities.

A latter-day heroic intervention on behalf of Washington electric power ratepayers is a successful lawsuit concerning the Mirant bankruptcy case, now before the US District Court, 5th District. (Under a Back-to-Back agreement, Mirant purchases from PEPCO the capacity and energy PEPCO is obligated to contract to buy from two wholesale suppliers.) If Mirant had been permitted to reject the agreement, as it tried, District ratepayers could have been faced with $227 million in additional power costs, costs Mirant agreed to bear when it bought PEPCO's generation facilities in 2000.

OPC was the only District regulatory agency to participate in the Mirant case before the court, and its participation made a substantial contribution with its amicus brief. (Where were the Public Service Commission and, possibly, the DC Office of Energy, we may ask.) Appeals may be in the offing, but for now OPC is congratulating itself.

In the always interesting Q and A session at our January meeting, the question of underground wiring, after the disastrous storm that wrought havoc with electric overhead lines, is sure to surface, and should be of broad interest.

On the civic front, Ms. Noel has served as Secretary of the Parents Association of the Holton Arms School in Potomac, Maryland, and serves as co-chair of its Fine and Performing Arts Committee. She is also a past recipient of the Federation's award for Outstanding Public Service.

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Budget and Oversight Hearing for Office of Planning Upcoming

Council Chairman Linda Cropp has announced a public oversight hearing by the Committee of the Whole on the Fiscal Year 2004 and Fiscal Year 2005 spending and performance by the Office of Planning, and on the "Progress Report on Implementing the Land Use Element of the DC Comprehensive Plan for Fiscal Years 1999-2002."

The hearing will be held on Thursday, February 26, beginning at 1:00 p.m., in the council chamber, fifth floor of the Wilson Building.

The purpose of the hearing is to provide the public with an opportunity to comment on the performance of the Office of Planning and to provide the Council with an opportunity to review and question the Director of the office of Planning regarding actual expenditures and performance in Fiscal Year 2003.

The hearing will also focus on the progress made in implementing the Land Use element of the Comprehensive Plan. The mayor's most recent progress report, dated April 2003, was submitted to the council in May 2003. Copies of the report may be obtained from OP's web site at The report is also attached to PR 15-214, the "Progress Report on Implementing the District of Columbia Elements of the Comprehensive Plan for Fiscal years 1993-2001 Review Resolution of 2003," which may be obtained from the council's Legislative Services Division, Room 2 of the Wilson Building, 202-724-8050.

Oral testimony will be limited to three minutes per witness. All written statements should be submitted to the Committee of the Whole, Council of the District of Columbia, Wilson Building, Suite 410, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004.

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District secondary school children stand to become eligible for federally funded school financial vouchers this fall, to enable them to transfer to schools outside the regular DC public school system, widely viewed as substandard. Interestingly, DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton has taken a principled exception to the federal move, since 1) DC public schools stand to be hit hard financially if a predicted 2,000 students exit the system in the fall, 2) the District leads the country in providing alternatives to the public school system, with an extraordinary 42 charter schools, widely viewed as being successful, and 3) "the best hope for our low-income children are our [fifteen] transformation schools that surround these children and their parents with extra services. . . ."

Poignantly, Ms. Norton noted, "Although the . . . voucher program is called a 'pilot,' the results are already in on vouchers. The GAO study of the Milwaukee and Cleveland vouchers found no evidence of student gains. Ten years of independent, verified research of public and private voucher programs in Cleveland, Dayton, DC, New York, Chile, and New Zealand have shown no substantial academic gains."

As one Federation delegate observed, "I hope no one is expecting [voucher-benefitted] children to transfer to the good quality but hugely expensive schools like the Cathedral, Maret, or Sidwell Schools." More likely is that transfer students with vouchers may seek to enter parochial schools, more affordable and possibly more congenial."

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Court Oversight of DC Jail Ended

A federal appeals court recently affirmed a lower court ruling that the DC Jail no longer requires court supervision. Federal oversight of the facility has been in effect for over thirty years. Jail authorities claim the new move reflects improved conditions in the formerly notorious prison. It would be good to see a poll of prisoners to corroborate the improve efforts and their practical effect.

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A move is getting underway to recall DC Mayor Anthony Williams, a la California. Proponents cite the troubled city; the mayor's office cites the proposition that Mr. Williams inherited all the problems, which are difficult to resolve. Recall signature collection has begun, with a necessary goal of some 18,000 signatures, i.e., 10 percent of all registered voters, provided that the petition reflects the signatures of at least 10 percent of the voters registered in at least five of the eight wards.

Delegates who feel strongly about this matter one way or the other will appreciate how difficult the enormous collection effort for the requisite signatures will be. Most of us have labored over getting 20 signatures on election petition forms, and know the difficulty connected with garnering even candidacy qualification numbers. Few voters outside of the recall activists are holding their breaths about actual recall. Reporter Tom Knott laconically noted in The Washington Times that, "The recall initiative, however, well-meaning, has the markings of being a frustration-relieving exercise." Meanwhile, we petition with our opinions and wait for the spirited recall exercise to play itself out to its toss-up or less contested end.

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Have you ever been offended by what you observed in the US District Court? The murmured proceedings, a nervous pop-off judge, seeming personal opinions from the bench? The Council for Court Excellence (CCE) is looking for community observers to collect information regarding the operations of the US District Court. It invites members of the public to consider this volunteer opportunity.

The purpose of the exercise is to provide information "that will help the courts be more responsive to the needs of the citizens who use them." Volunteers will attend regular court sessions, report their observations, and make recommendations for improving the administration of justice in the federal trial court that affects the citizens of DC.

Volunteer court community observers attend half-day court sessions on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis, where they will evaluate the performance of the judges and magistrate judges; the performance of attorneys; the performance of court officers, staff, and other personnel; the efficiency of proceedings; the court's physical facilities; and other aspects of the court's performance.

The sponsoring Council for Court Excellence is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, civic organization dedicated to improving the administration of justice in the Washington metropolitan area. Federation observers may not observe a particular judge if they or someone close to them has been involved in a case before that judge in the last five years. The project will go on from mid-February through April.

It is possible that some delegates have been annoyed or appalled by hijinks and liberties from the bench at this court in the past. Here is a constructive opportunity to influence more deliberative proceedings of a court that is often vital to Washington's residential taxbase communities. Interested persons need to contact the Council for Court Excellence Observers Project, Volunteer registration, 1717 K Street, NW, Suite 510, Washington, DC 20036, or fax 202-785-5922.

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At its February 12 meeting, the Federation Board of Directors:

  • Examined the extralegal use of PUDs in college campus plans;
  • Received an update on Comprehensive Plan reform progress;
  • Considered hazardous cargo legislation before the city council;
  • Began to consider awardee candidates for the May 23 Awards Banquet;
  • Noted that a considerable number of pay telephones are being installed or reinstalled in dubious locales; and
  • Touched on the matter of businesses opening as restaurants and metamorphosing into night locales, with attendant problems.

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Robert Andrews
Foxhall Citizens Association

Allen E. Beach
Chevy Chase Citizens Association

Francis M. Clarke, III
Cleveland Park Citizens Association

George Clark, Esq.
Forest Hills Citizens Association

Dino J. Drudi
Michigan Park Citizens Association

Kathryn A. Eckles
Residential Action Coalition

Elizabeth Elliott
Foggy Bottom Association

Carroll Green
Manor Park Citizens Association

Guy Gwynne
Burleith Citizens Association

James H. Jones
Crestwood Citizens Association

Ann Loikow, Esq.
Cleveland Park Citizens Association

Sally MacDonald
Woodley Park Citizens Association

Ann Renshaw
Chevy Chase Citizens Association

Laura Richards, Esq.
Penn Branch Citizens/Civic Association

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

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Carroll Green

The new building code amendments include a provision on "Public Access to Records" that differs considerably from the previous provisions that enabled ANCs and citizens to examine pending code applications with red tape and delays. The new provisions undermine transparency by complicating and delaying permit reviews, by requiring FOIA requests that will impede timely comments to the DCRA.

ANCs will be precluded from performing their statutory duty to give DCRA and other agencies advice based on the facts, the governing law, and neighborhood concerns about pending applications, unless the public has timely and effective access to applications unimpeded by bureaucratic red tape.

DCRA did not invite ANC or public input before making this change; the building Code Advisory Committee did not recommend this change; nor did DCRA's testimony before the city council last year flag this change.

The former provision, Section 103.5 of DCMR 12A, Public Access to Records, reads, "Official records of the Department shall be available for public inspection at all times, under procedures established by the code official and approved by the Corporation Counsel for legal sufficiency."

The new provision, Section 103.5 of DCMR 12A, reads, "Records of the Department shall be available for public inspection at all times, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act. If a person requests inspection of a permit file while the application for a permit is still pending, a Freedom of Information Act Request shall be required, since the status of the permit application and accompanying plans changes from day to day. The Code official will provide information in DCRA's response that is current as of the date stated in the response. If further or more current information is desired, a new FOIA request must be submitted.

Such rulemaking in camera is generally not in the public interest. The change is especially anomalous in that it hampers a process that has worked well, if not perfectly.

The fact that DCRA avoided public input into this recent change, and did not highlight it to the council, suggests catering to special interests at the expense of the citizens of the District of Columbia. I urge our 43 member organizations, the ANCs, and the citizens of this city to work for the revocation of this new rulemaking action that was conceived under the cloak of darkness and enacted without the input of the major stakeholders in the rulemaking process.

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DC majority Democratic voters have recently, for once, had their share of voting — but for what? The District's Democratic presidential primary, the nation's first, weighed in with confidence for candidate Howard Dean. When the primary idea effectively bombed, there was the St. Valentine's Day caucus, which went for John Kerry. According to the Georgetowner newspaper, the upshot is that Kerry, with one fourth of Dean's overall popular vote, takes nine DC delegates to the Democratic Convention in Boston in July 2004. Dean qualifies for three. But how many DC delegates are there?

The general question of delegate numbers and their distribution is delicate, and stands to be more so as word gets out. Washington, DC, sends thirty-nine delegates to the Democratic national Convention. The Democratic National Committee appoints twenty-three of these delegates. The mayor and Mrs. Norton are in that number; the rest are favored local Democrats. The local Democratic State Committee selects six more delegates. That leaves ten delegates who are elected by the ruck of Democratic voters. There is, additionally, a half-and-half generic requirement for convention delegates.

One Federation delegate expressed her outrage after a Ward 3 Dems meeting, at what she considered a stacked, undemocratic process. The Newsletter checked with an old-hand Democratic campaign facilitator, who was surprised at the complainant's surprise. "That's the arrangement they've always had," was his response. In an incisive editorial, the Georgetowner observed, "The lesson for Democratic Presidential hopefuls: skip the DC Primary in future years — only the little people vote, and their vote is thoroughly meaningless."

A number of Federation delegates are active in their Ward party organizations. If they perceive a need for changes in the present convention delegate ratio system, they will have to start grassroots opposition — against in-the-saddle pros, who wrote the book on political maneuvering.

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No, no, virtual schools are not almost schools, but online schools, perhaps the wave of the future. Going with the idea, the state of Oregon recently launched its first online high school at Bend, Oregon. Reportedly, there are similar virtual schools in eighteen states. In these areas, students have the option of taking all of their credits at a virtual high school, via computer.

Which leads thinking minds to speculate: today the high schools, tomorrow the universities? Reportedly, universities in general are offering more course work online, short of degree programs. Urban folk who tire of problems with urban universities may fantasize -- quiet, clean neighborhoods with abundant parking room, with formerly impacting, aggressive universities divesting themselves of unneeded extensive inner city real estate holdings (with final disposal covenants with pertinent citizens associations), and, finally, unloading the huge obsolete main campuses themselves. No breaths should be held in expectation of such progressive educational developments anytime soon, but the generic move is on and apparently growing; and better neighborhoods may dare to hope for more than virtual relief down the road.

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Federation Assembly Meeting Dates

February 24, 2004
March 23, 2004
April 27, 2004
May 19, 2003, Annual Awards Banquet
June 22, 2004
July No Meeting
August No Meeting

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