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Federation of Citizens Associations of the District of Columbia

Federation News

Volume 5, Issue 4, December 1999
3710 S Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007
(202) 338-5164 phone/fax

Will Mediation Take Hold as City-Wide Dispute Resolution Mechanism?
Federation Quarterly Luncheon
Glimpse of the Telecom Future at Federation November Meeting
$5,000 D.C. Homebuyer Tax Credit Extended
Mark the Calendar Date
Officers and Board
President’s Message
The Mayor’s November Citizens Summit
Future Federation Assembly Meeting Dates

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Will Mediation Take Hold As City-Wide Dispute Resolution Mechanism?

On the initiative of the D.C. Office of Planning, mediation sessions have been held and are winding down between George Washington University's Mount Vernon College and the communities of Palisades and Foxhall regarding the college's ambitious expansion plans. The college campus sits squarely within the residential community and abuts Foxhall Road. Any major expansion, particularly of on-site students and commuting professors and ancillary personnel is viewed as likely to become objectionable to neighboring property because of noise, traffic and other objectionable conditions, and to impinge negatively on the surrounding low-density districts.

The mediation effort is part of the new planning initiative for the city announced recently by Mayor Anthony Williams and new Director of the Office of Planning Andrew Altman. Apparently, this is the first dispute resolution attempt of the kind to be made by the new OP. (New in the sense that, in addition to the director, there has been a considerable turnover of senior personnel at the OP, with authorization for new additional hirees.)

Community representatives report that the mediation sessions have gone "well", after an initial refusal of the college and GWU attorneys to enter into discussions of potential negative impacts of new and extensive plans to expand Mount Vernon's student enrollment and major reconfiguration on and about the campus. Insiders have stated they see, mirabile rnirabilis, for the first time a key District agency intervening pro-actively, in advance, to head off a potential explosion during community-college conflict resolution. For the record, both Palisades and Foxhall are upscale, well-funded and well-organized neighborhoods and are well able to prosecute their concerns up and down the city regulatory apparatus as well as the in the courts. Both are members of the Federation. The mediation is timely, provided the college refrains from being greedy.

The communities hope to accomplish as much as possible through the novel prior-mediation mode, before the campus issue comes before the Board of Zoning Adjustment. The last (of six) session took place December 6.

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12:00 NOON

The traditional December luncheon takes the place of the December Federation assembly meeting

The luncheon will be at
18th and F Streets, N. W.

Reservations: 338-5164
Cost $15 per person

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Glimpse of the Telecom Future At Federation November Meeting

Prominent D.C. attorney and former Councilman John Ray opened many delegates' eyes in November, with a riveting presentation regarding "the need for open-access legislation to preserve competition and consumer choice in Internet access and other telecommunications services to be offered in an expansion of cable television". Central to the concept of cable expansion is that currently discrete services — E-mail, telephone, television and other increasingly common services — will be amalgamated soon into a single-package offering by various competing companies, via cable.

The issue comes before the D.C. City Council as it considers an application for the transfer of the D.C. cable television system from AT&T to Comcast, or the renewal of the current cable franchise contract which is due to expire in March 2000. The ownership change is occurring because of a recent merger agreement between AT&T and Media One. As part of the arrangement, AT&T agreed to sell its interests in the D.C. cable system to Comcast, a large telecommunications company which will now control cable systems throughout the Mid Atlantic region.

Basically, and largely unknown to the public, the District along with the rest of the country is caught up in the decision-making process concerning imminent, and important, provision by a few or by many firms of voice, video and high speed Internet access through the broadband cable network on a nationwide basis. The competition is spirited and the business and service stakes are high. While local telephone companies are required to share their networks with competitors, cable companies, led by AT&T, are seemingly demanding exclusive rights to their networks. All the while, cable services are expected to explode in the next decade. Regionally, the seeming stakes are one Internet provider, one cable provider and one long distance company, or possibly a very few, or many.

The companies that own cable systems throughout the country, including Comcast and AT&T, are beginning to offer their customers high-speed Internet access through cable connections, and it is probable that Comcast will do so in the District, as it already does in Baltimore. Reportedly, in and of itself this is a positive development, providing individuals, schools and businesses an Internet service alternative that is much faster than Internet connections through telephone lines.

However, a broad dispute has arisen stemming from an attempt by AT&T to require Internet customers to use AT&T's own Internet service provider, which is called "@Home". Comcast also has its own Internet service provider, called "Comcast@Home". Absent open access legislation, it is possible that Comcast will require its D.C. Internet customers to use the Comcast @Home service provider - or to pay additional fees if they wish to use another Internet service provider, such as America Online, Mindspring, or a number of others that have become popular among consumers in this area.

To protect consumers' ability to choose whichever Internet service provider they want, the City Council is being asked to approve legislation providing that the owner of the D.C. cable system must allow all Internet service providers "open access" to the cable system, so that they too can offer their customers the high speed service of a cable connection.

Reportedly, similar provisions have already been enacted in several jurisdictions, including Portland, Oregon; Broward County, Florida and — in this area — Fairfax County, Virginia. Open access proponents report that a local government's right to take such action is implied in the local franchise nature of cable contracts, and note that a local government's right to take such action was upheld by a federal court decision in Oregon in a decision issued June 4.

Most recently, in late September 1999, the City of Fairfax jumped into the growing national debate over the future of the Internet when its City Council voted to require its new cable television provider to open up its high-speed lines to other Internet service providers. Legislators across the country are mulling the same issue.

This article is a non-advocative heads-up only on an important issue facing the District NOW. Technically-oriented and informed delegates may want to track the issue and possibly intervene in the city's ongoing debate and consideration process. There is no avoiding the matter, and the results of Council action stand to bear directly on most D.C. citizens and businesses, their pocketbooks and their future efficient communication.

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$5,000 D.C. Homebuyer Tax Credit Extended

Another sign that the Congress is finally taking a proper constructive interest in the District of Columbia is the November extension of the $5,000 D.C. homebuyer tax credit. The original credit was passed in 1997; the extension is valid until December 3l, 2001. D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton pushed for the extension and claims credit for it, but there had to be widespread support in both houses of Congress for this concept of aid to the rejuvenating city.

Basically, the federal credit allows homebuyers who have not owned a house in the District for at least a year to get a $5,000 credit on their federal income tax. Mrs. Holmes' office reports that Fannie Mae even allows prospective homeowners to convert the credit to cash, enabling them to use it to help make a down payment on a house. Single homebuyers with incomes up to $90,000 and married homebuyers with incomes up to $130,000 are eligible.

A- reported jump in home sales in the District since the credit has been on the books is a strong indicator of its effectiveness. Many of our neighborhoods have seen a visible rise in numbers of young, obviously taxpaying, couples and individuals in the area. In a number of Northwest neighborhoods, at least, young wives pushing baby buggies on the sidewalks are in abundant evidence — an almost forgotten phenomenon. In some areas also, young {and older) new homebuyers are replacing sometimes uncaring: landlords, a double advantage.

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The Annual Awards Banquet Committee has arranged for the Federation's 90th Anniversary dinner to be held:

Wednesday, May 17
6:30 p.m. (cocktail hour)
Ft. McNair Officers Club Ballroom

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Officers and Board

Patrick H. Allen Esq.
Citizens Association of Georgetown

Gracie V. Baten
Shepherd Park Citizens Association

Rhoma Battle
Penn Branch Civic Association

Allen E. Beach
Chevy Chase Citizens Association

Larry Chatman
16th Street Heights Citizens Association

Buck Clarke
Cardozo-Shaw Citizens Association

Dino J. Drudi
Michigan Park Citizens Association

Kay A. Eckles
Residential Action Coalition

Lois Forster
Cleveland Park Citizens Association

Guy Gwynne
Burleith Citizens Association

M.R. Peggy Snyder, Esq.
Hillandale Homeowners Association

Alice F, Stewart
Palisades Citizens Association

A.L. Wheeler, Esq.
Oldest Inhabitants Society

Dr. Marc Weiss
Southwest Neighborhood Assembly

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President’s Message — Guy Gwynne

As the Federation approaches the millennial year, it is worthwhile to look both backward and forward, take stock, and carefully eye the future. In the year 2000, the Federation will reach a venerable 90th birthday. We may look back proudly on a near century's record of, at first, serving as one (of two) principal direct channels of citizens concerns to the D.C. Board of Commissioners. Upon the advent of Home Rule and the creation of ANCs as part of the charter process, the Federation necessarily regrouped and concentrated on representing D.C. citizen concerns before boards, commissions, the city council and other fore, as well as operating behind the scenes for civic objectives. Latterly, we are adding to these activities more pro-active ones, which will likely include the imminent establishment of the legal aid foundation, and should complement as well as work with the ANCs.

ANCs are, among other things, unable to oppose the city meaningfully, have "no general authority to affiliate on a city-wide basis, or finance a city-wide assembly" and, in practice, may not testify before the U.S. Congress. The Federation has no such disabilities, and can weigh filling this gap beginning in 2000, alone or in combination with other parties — depending on the situation and carefully considered.

The Board of Directors at its most recent meeting adopted principles for emphasis in 2000 as being of most pressing importance for the city and community. These are:

  1. To combat negative institutional impact on residential neighborhoods.
  2. To push for aggressive, effective enforcement of existing laws and regulations that impact positively on our taxbase communities.
  3. To work to insure healthy community commercial areas.

There is reason to believe that the ailing city is on the road to recovery under new leadership, as spotty as this initially must be. The Federation's role is basically what we make it, as shrewdly and effectively as we can. It will be a long haul, but what are we at age 90 if not a united long-haul assembly of communities?

On-another, lighter note, delegates and alternates are urged to get in their reservations for the millennial quarterly luncheon December 14. It's time to celebrate.

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The Mayor’s November Citizens Summit

Federation delegates were in abundant evidence at the November 20 Citizens Summit at the downtown Convention Center. The summit's stated purpose was to enable the organized citizenry, individual citizens, small business, big business and organized labor to, in effect, be polled concerning principal issues facing the troubled metropolis.

Polling was electronic, fast, state-of-the-art and keyed to a wide variety of multiple choice concerns, identified in advance by the Mayor's office. Such, however, was the breadth and scope of the selected issues that there were no complaints that the summit preparation committee had unduly restricted the agenda. Each (of some 240) table of from eight to ten persons was equipped with a computer that connected to a central computer, with voting results tabulated by the latter being quickly projected onto huge screens at the front of the meeting hall.

High among areas of principal concern were rejuvenation of residential neighborhoods, improvement of public secondary education and making the city government work. Unlike previous meetings of the sort in both the District and elsewhere, Harvard Business School--style study groups and group reports were not the end result of the exercise, although that process had been predicted by some mayoral personnel. Majority results of around-the-table voting effectively comprised the summit's reporting. The Mayor assured the large and heterogeneous audience (of a claimed 2,600, all told) that the administration will take the summit's results to heart, and factor them into as well as use them to shape ongoing administration efforts to revive and improve the city.

Federation delegates were usually key to the formation of opinion and voting at their numerous tables, with special attention being paid to the computer operator and the actual messages and vote counts forwarded for tabulation. One Federation member organization, Columbia Heights, occupied four tables. Others, particularly in the regionalized afternoon session, witnessed strongly for community welfare. (Regionalized in that tables were regrouped according to neighborhoods, usually contiguous ones.) The morning session's composition of tables was randomly based on the order of arrival of attendees. For example, the Federation president's morning table included two recent university graduates from the Cleveland Park area, an ax-convict now engaged in social work in the North Capitol Street corridor projects near Union Station, two of his colleagues, a North Michigan Park Civic Association activist, the table's pre-appointed chairman from a Virginia suburb, an elderly woman activist from Southeast and a mid-level city official.

A propos, one official from the Mayor's office is reported to have remarked that, "if the summit did nothing else, it got the various areas of town talking to one another". The going impression is that that was of secondary, if salutary, importance. Most delegates reportedly left with the impression that the broad-based summit meeting did and will continue to make a difference, although there was disagreement on the degree of importance. Based on the clear success of this Citizens Summit, there will likely be further ones. Federation delegates, alternates and associates should be in the thick of any future action.

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Future Federation Assembly Meeting Dates

The Sumner School has reserved the following dates for the Federation's Assembly meetings. Each will begin at 7:00 p.m. at the School and Museum, which is at 1201 Seventeenth Street, at the corner of M Street, N.W.

Tuesday, January 25
Tuesday, February 22
Tuesday, March 28
Tuesday, April 25
Tuesday, May 23
Tuesday, June 27

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