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January 15, 1996

Tales from Camp Swampy

Dear Neighbors:

Who among you reading this message doesn't have snow on their mind? Or at least puddles of melting snow. Thank you. You can now put down your mouse. Almost every letter below concerns the city's (expletive deleted) response to the snow fall. The folks on my side of Ordway Street have still not seen a plow or a mailman since the storm. Even the White House cabinet members are annoyed to the point of praying for the end of home rule, according to a reliable second-hand source. (Clinton stopped inviting me to cabinet meetings long ago.)

Our little newsgroup got some Washington Post attention today on page c4. And I quote:

Some exasperated residents swear that the Blizzard of "96 was the last indignity, that hey are now ready to bail out. "That's all I get on my e-mail, people saying, "I'm really stupid to stay here," says Jeffrey Itell, publisher of dc.story, an e-mail newsletter about life in the District. "It's gotten to the point we here we just don't expect services. But a lot of people conclude that as stupid as it might be, they're staying. Because it's going to totally change. The Control Board controls the purse; Barry's not doing the budget anymore. There is hope for the future."

Well, so says Mr. Pollyanna Itell. Here's what a couple of residents have written.

Thanks for the snow update. Between the metro and the non-plowing, I'm about ready to move to Virginia (and buy a 4-wheel drive anything). From what I can tell, Ward 3 isn't any worse off than the rest of the City - we all got screwed. I'm mad as hell, but don't know what to do about it. Any ideas?

A number of times you have written about how stupid we all are to put up with the nonsense that goes on in this city. Well, for those of us who are too stupid to figure out how to make heads roll, would you please give us some ideas? Calling/writing the mayor & council members does no good, as I am sure you know. Would greatly appreciate your thoughts. Thanks.

I'm ready to step up the challenge. But first a comment. Why is it taking analysts so long to figure out the cause of the problem. 26 inches of snow did not cause the problem. 50 plow tucks in working order and no credit with plowing vendors caused the problem. The District is about 68 square miles (I think). You do the math. We would have had problems with a 6 inch snowfall. As someone notes later, Barry is the Solar Mayor, seeking the solar solution to the snow problem. But unlike the reign of the Sun King, dc.story readers seem more interested in an ending befitting Louis XVI. With that in mind, I suggest the following solution.

Demand that the City Council hold hearings on the matter and hold responsible individuals accountable. (Then take them to a guillotine. Just kidding. Really.)

Without public pressure, Barry will pass the blame to The Control Board, Congress, and the Chief Financial Officer, claiming that they starved the city of the $200 needed to fix the plow trucks. Patently false, it's a tactic he always gets away with. The City Council, with the collective courage of a thousand Wizard of Oz lions, is not likely to take on Barry unless absolutely forced to. So let's force them.

I am writing the following letter and suggest you write a similar one. Due to the magic of word processing, you probably have to do little more than cut, paste, and lick. We now have 300 people on this mailing list. If everyone wrote their letters, the council would act. And if you passed this message on to others via email, we could have a rip-roaring time.

The Honorable Dave Clarke
Chair, City Council
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20004
15 January 1996

Dear Mr. Clarke: In your capacity as City Council Chair, I request that you conduct hearings on the city's abysmal response to the snowfalls of the previous week. Though sympathetic to the hard work of city employees, I believe all city residents were let down by the mayor and the executive branch of government. According to news reports, the city had so few resources that it would not have been able to handle a storm of even less magnitude. Also, new reports indicate that Metro management made serious errors that caused considerable and unnecessary deterioration of service.

[Add optional paragraph of personal trauma.]

Thought the mayor claims that the problem stems from a lack of resources, I would point out that Washington is one of the richest jurisdictions in the country, has one of the highest tax rates, and has a larger per capita budget than most (if not all) cities. Thus, the problem appears to stem from poor management and resource allocations.

As the legislative branch of this government, it is imperative that you act quickly to ensure that the government provides adequate basic services to all of its citizens. Prompt and thorough hearings are necessary. Is the council up to the challenge?

Sincerely, Jeffrey Itell

CC: Harry Thomas, Chair, Committee on Public Works
Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Councilmember (insert your favorite representative here)

And now the rest of your comments about the Blizzard of "96.

My block has not been plowed at 10:30 p.m. on the 13th. Even if a plow came it couldn't do anything because there has been a red Toyota Corolla wagon stranded in the middle of the street for the past 24 hours. Nobody seems to care.

It turns out that one of the helpful neighbors who tried to free the Med-Atlantic truck a few days ago stole my shovel.

And I, too, whacked a taxi as it nearly ran me down in the street. Good thing the driver couldn't hear my comments about people who immigrated from snow-free continents.

Oh, and no paper for a week now. Mail every day since Wednesday, from Saint Gary Harris, the best postman in Washington. Even today, with a car in the middle of the street.

Stephanie Faul

I think there is more to the plowing story that what one reads or hears in the news. Located in the 2900 block of Macomb, we had to wait till Thursday nite to have a plow come by. But when we did two trucks made a total of nine passes (yes, that's 9) up and down the street. Our oldest son lives in Arlington and he had a plow by Wednesday nite...but only one pass. And that one pass just didn't do the job. The news media reported that VDOT stated that all side roads were plowed by Wednesday. But what good is it if a plow makes a single pass and a non-4 wheel drive vehicle still can't use the street. We were better off waiting an extra day and having the job done right. What's the old saying? Figures don't lie but liers figure. BTW, has anyone seen a snow plow on a side street since Thursday?

David Burka

As a followup to my comments last night about DC and the snow plows, I am pleased to report that we woke this morning to a freshly plowed Macomb St. and, I might say, a job well done. No complaints here.

David Burka

Thought I'd share my snow stories. Today is Sunday and as yet a snowplow has not appeared in the 2700 block of Macomb. Of course, if those of use who park in the alley behind Macomb wanted to move our cars it would have been impossible. For days, one end of the alley had an abandoned truck blocking the entrance and the other end had a BUD LIGHT and Tropicana truck blocking the other entrance on Ordway. Isn't this some kind of violation? What about emergency vehicles getting through like fire trucks. On Thursday or Friday evening, I can't remember which days are just running into each other, I was awakened at 11:30 P. M. by the sound of a truck outside my building at Conn. and Macomb. I leaped out of bed thinking at last a snow plow truck. It was not only one but three on Macomb St. and Conn. by the library. To my surprise only one plow was clearing snow at the intersection while the other two sat in their trucks. In addition, there was another worker who arrived in a small pickup directing the snowplow to move back in forth. Seems to me like the other trucks might have done something else besides sit and watch. OH, well this is DC--the "gravy town" city. Does anyone know who to call about getting a snowplow to come. One sweep should do the job.

Helen Wallace

Is it against the law for my neigbhors and I (sic) to hire a private firm to come in and plow our street?  Greg Jones

Is it legal? I don't know. After reading an article in the W. Post (we got it delivered once) about some neighbors getting together and hiring a snowplow to clear the streets we on 29th and Rittenhouse decided to chip in about $35 each to plow our street all the way to Utah (which has been plowed) - about 4 blocks wortj. We can now get out of our houses and about the city (or at least those portions that are plowed). I should warn people that prices vary and you should get several quotes. If DC does get the streets plowed by Monday (Mayor Barry promised), it still worth the $35 to be able to drive to the safeway/gaint/fresh fields/ the office (?). Another interesting observation. DC did sucessfully plow Wisconsin, Connecticut and other major roads coming into town. But with DC residential roads all unplowed, only cars from MD/VA could take advantage of these plowed streets. Good use of DC taxpayers money?

Larry Bouton

33rd street update.
Place: 33rd between Northampton and Oliver.
Personna: Two D.C. mini vans each with 3 riders.
Me: Look Dear they must be heading for the plows! Come look! Forget it Hon They are taking pictures of the street! Questioning are we getting photos for King Barry and his Council for next years Christmas card, or, are the photos for His new book, D.C. and Me the Wonderland Years

Fritz Kramer

Check out the Dutch Embassy -- understand they city fined them for hiring a snow plow. The Newark St. Militia did too.

Sam Smith

Jeffrey -- I'm new at this, and I'm not sure who all this reply will go to, but I really enjoy reading all the neighborhood news via e-mail, PLUS I couldn't resist joining in on the comments about the snow. I live on a small street, about a block and a half long, and while I was reading everyone's snow stories what do I hear outside -- snow plows -- not one, not two, not three, but four in a row. A little overkill I think -- but I won't complain. It is afterall, Sunday night, more than a week after the BLIZZARD OF '96 began. Thanks for all the good humor during all of this.

Sherry Ettleson

Not to fan the flames of racial tension, BUT I read in the Post today that people in some African-American neighborhoods believe that the white neighborhoods have been plowed and that theirs are the only ones left with snowdrifts as high as one's head. I don't watch television so I wonder if perhaps the news crews who are parked around Ordway have not actually been sending their footage to the station - maybe they are just parked there, eating doughnuts. Actually, friends have been referring to Barry as the Solar Mayor, waiting to have Mother Nature melt the snow with little expenditure or pollution, after all, look what she did to extend the furlough when she got tired of listening to the politicians. Another solution would be to have the city hire the legions of able-bodied men roaming our neighborhood offering to shovel in exchange for money. It doesn't make sense for the city to invest a whole lot of money in snow-removal equipment when this doesn't happen very often; why not use relatively inexpensive, non-polluting people power and provide these folks with some income? The crowning blow for the self-employed, of course, was having having to write out that fourth quarter tax payment to the city, which I couldn't mail because the post office trailer was either closed or someone decided that they would park their mail cart sideways in front of the stairs for the duration of the blizzard. What on earth, I asked myself as I was writing the check, am I possibly paying for? What services am I getting for this? I read daily about the corruption in the Barry administration, and here I am writing a check so another compatriot can be rewarded with a trip to the Virgin Islands? What to do? Any suggestions?

Andrea Berman

Jeffrey Itell Publisher: dc.story Tel: 202.244.4163 P.O. Box 11260 Fax: 202.362.1501 Washington, D.C. 20008-0460 "For People Who Live Inside the Beltway... But Outside the Loop."

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