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January 17, 1996

The Big Thaw

Dear Net Buddies:

Thanks for all the great mail. Some of your net buddy colleagues have written their councilmembers requesting meaningful hearings. I monitored channel 13 today where your council did conduct a hearing on snow removal. I only caught the tale end but meaningful is not the adjective I would use to describe the hearing. Let's see whose fault this was. Congress. The Control Board. The press, as in DC didn't perform any worse than Maryland or Virginia. The gist of Linda Cropp's criticism was to chastise the city for not telling us the truth about when we would be snow free. In other words, if Barry had told us that there was nothing he could do, then if would have been ok with Cropp. Oh yeah, and the city should try to do better next time. Again, I missed the beginning of the hearing but I go back the point I made the other day--the City wasn't prepared for anything close to a major snow fall. Fifty trucks and no credit to hire contractors with 68 square miles to plow.

What's the real cause of the problem? Check my exchange with a subscriber at the end of this message for hints about my thoughts.

As a courtesy, please remember to sign your email messages at the bottom with your name on one line and your email address on the next. That will save me a great deal of work. And for those of you sending messages to Mr. Itell, that's my dad and he doesn't have email. Call me Jeff or Jeffrey (or even Ishmael). Just call me. Yuk! Yuk! Mr. Itell

It's pm, neither McKinley east of Connecticut, Nevada or Chevy Chase Pkwy have been plowed. These are major streets guys. Now the problem is that parked cars are willy nilly all over the place, blocking plowing, and each street is a one way adventure,depending upon how many cars there are behind you going in your direction, or coming at you.

Wasn't there a promise by the Mayor that each street would be plowed by 5 pm today? Maybe he believes in the power of the moon to melt the stuff as well. The height of mismanagement was the priority of loading the snow off Pennsylvania Avenue downtown at the beginning of a 3 day weekend when few would be using that street, and residents all over the city needed to get out and shop, not to mention the use of streets by emergency vehicles. Who is planning where to plow first, the Mad Hatter?

I like the idea of letters to compel the City Council to hold hearings. I would also suggest we Remember in November, and start now with bumper stickers and signs for lawns- "We'll Remember in November."

Martin Ganzglass

Dear Mr. Itell: [Are you addressing my Dad?]

1a. Hey, if you can go to the trouble of drafting a template, the least I can do is edit it and resend. I've given mine a Metro twist. Feel free to re-use as appropriate.

The Honorable Dave Clarke
Chair, City Council
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004
Dear Mr. Clarke:

In your capacity as City Council Chair, I request that you conduct hearings on WMATA's response to the snowfalls of the previous week. News reports suggest that Metro management made serious errors that caused considerable and unnecessary deterioration of service. Though Im sympathetic to the hard work of Metro employees, I believe city residents were let down by Metro management. Given the size of the Districts Metro contribution, the city ought to be asking whether its money is well spent.

Im sure I dont have to repeat for you the news reports about the failure of MetroRails third-rail heating tape and poor design of the cars such that blowing snow disabled the electronics. In a system in the Northeast, we design rail cars which can be disabled by blowing snow! Amazing. But theres probably not much that can be done about these now. However, you and the council might want to ask Metro management about decisions which could have made the situation much better: why were trains not stored in tunnels, for example? Why, if the above-ground lines were a loss, was it not possible to run a reliable system on at least the underground tracks?

MetroBus system managers probably couldn't do much about the citys weak plowing attempt, but you should certainly ask them why they don't have an agreement with the city to plow bus routes first -- certainly before clearing the roads for suburban auto commuters. I hesitate a little bit to ask for these hearings, since I would just as soon Metro not be put in a worse light than it already is, in a period of shrinking support. But with service like they gave last week, they can be ensured of shrinking support. Metro should have shone last week as a reliable answer to the too-easily-broken road system. You ought to make sure the Council understands why it did not.

I don't own a car, and so save the District road money, and free up space on its roads for others. I pay a rent premium to live on a Metrorail line. I pay high taxes, some of which go to run Metro. All I ask in return is that it not take an hour to get from Van Ness to Dupont Circle, when the feds have built and given to us an underground system, well out of the weather for most of its length.

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, Will Schroeer

cc: Harry Thomas, Chair, Committee on Public Works
Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Councilmember

1b. As someone without a car, I was tickled to death by the ability to enjoy my neighborhood free of cars. Frankly, the pleasure outweighed the Metro inconvenience.

One additional note: I don't suggest for a minute that the closure of many streets was not an inconvenience at least, and a serious danger at worst. However, on streets that were open but narrowed, my observation of driving and walking behavior suggests that the city would be much safer for everyone with narrower streets. Drivers respond much more to visual cues than posted speed limits, and our wide streets invite them to go all out. With snow-narrowed streets, however, two Broncos can pass each other only by slowing to a speed wich is appropriate for a residential street anyway. Traffic is not interfered with in any way--only civilized. Some enterprising homeowner who would like a larger lot ought to ask the city for permission to convert to garden or lawn a portion of the unneeded asphalt in front of his or her house.

2. The piece in the City Paper was hilarious. Bravo.

3. Here's a potential revenue-raiser: Story matches. The CPaper does it. The Post does it. And if you can find me (without revealing me to the masses) the woman who was riding her Jamis Diablo mountain bike in front of Sirius Coffee yesterday, I'll pay you big bucks. Her grace on the snow.... well.

Will Schroeer

It is Monday night, January 15 a whole week after the first snow fall and Rodman Street from Connecticut Ave to Reno Road has not been ploughed. I assume we will wait till it melts. Rodman from Quebec to Reno has not had mail delivery because according to the mail man who delivers to the other part of the block the mailman for our section has not showed up for work. He suggested I go to the Post Office, Freindship station, and request my mail even though he said the Post Office doesn't want people doing that.


Actually, I did see a plow on Ordway, between 29th and Conn. on Friday night. He got stuck, than sideswiped a car trying to get out. Haven't seen one since. And on our little side street, 30th Street, forget it. I will send your letter to Chairman Clarke, but why do you think even 300 letters would provoke any action from the ineffective blowhards on the D.C. Council?

Ralph Drury Martin, Attorney at Law, Storch & Brenner 1001 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036, Phone: 202-452-0900, Fax: 202-452-0930

In answer to your question about a defenestration at Quebec House, this is what I found out. A Howard University Law Student "jumped" out of an 11th floor window. He was living with an Australian woman (the point of this last bit of info is lost on me.) The police are investigating this a possibly more than a suicide, whatever that means. Snow----Ordway Street was plowed very poorly last Tuesday prior to the second snow, and nary a plow has been seen since (except for one with Maryland tags who refused to put down the plow to plow.) As for complaining about snow removal, who are we to complain about the incompetant DC government, when we as residence can't our own acts together and clear sidewalks--which is the law. And for my final thought, why are we the "Capital" city when Congress wants to meddle in our business, but we are only "just another American" city when we need help.

Leila Afzal

Report from Glover Park/Georgetown: Enough about Cleveland Park. We'd kill for your level of snow removal. A Metro stop, Connecticut Ave (plowed), Reno Road (plowed), or Wisconsin Ave (plowed). Let's talk about Georgetown and Glover Park for a moment. It is a complete disaster. Some residents in these neighborhoods are a mile away from a plowed road in any direction. Metro isn't an option. Our only hope is a long trudge to Wisconsin Avenue to the bus (good luck). Hundreds of blocks are either completely impassable or the two-track, one-way, undercarriage-scraping deal. It is total chaos. Comic relief: At the corner of 39th St & Davis Place, NW, there is a three-foot snowbank IN THE MIDDLE OF THE INTERSECTION carved out by 4-wheel drive vehicles. A couple days ago, somebody stuck a small two-foot christmas tree on top of it. Yea, you laugh as hard as you cry. I've got photos if anybody wants one. If a plow comes through, I'll let you know. Frankly, I'm not expecting one.

Rick Rosenthal

I've been greatly enjoying the "snow tales" from the front lines. On the 3300 block of Cathedral Avenue, three snowplows appeared not only on Sunday morning but also on Sunday, to replow. I'd like to think this happened because on Thursday (the only day I was able to get to work--just barely--by Metro) I called both Kathy Patterson and a guy in the teflon Mayor's office that Patterson recommended I call. The two people I spoke with were sympathetic, but noncommittal. However, our block is plowed! I'm about to mail off your suggested letters to Clarke (lots of luck with him) and Patterson. Keep your ideas coming! I'm acting on them.

Rona Mendelsohn Mendelsohnr.NSIAD2@GAO.GOV

Is it true, as I heard from someone in the Channel Four news department, that the District government sold all of the plow attachments that could be afixed to garbage trucks? If so, on whose watch did that occur?


January 16, 1996
The Honorable Dave Clarke
Chair, City Council
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20004

Dear Mr. Clarke:

I am writing to serve notice that this last round of storm-related foul- ups has pushed me well beyond the limits of my tolerance for violations of the public trust by city officials. This storm debacle comes on the heels of severe curtailment of emergency services, placing public safety at considerable risk; public education is a shambles despite one of the highest per-student expenditure rates in the country; bulk trash is no longer being collected; leaf pickup has been suspended; pick up of recyclables is erratic; automobile inspection has become an annual nightmare; and now the City is held hostage for two weeks by a widely- predicted snowstorm because city trucks are in disrepair, Metro left half its fleet outdoors to become incapacitated despite the expenditure of a great deal of money to avoid exactly this sort of problem, and snowplows still (two weeks later) can't get to large sections of the City, Although Mayor Barry 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 allocation of resources, not from inadequate availability of resources.

In my view, as Chair of the City Council, you are directly responsible for letting the situation get this far out of hand. Where was the City Council in the "checks and balances" that are supposed to prevent these sorts of disasters from occurring? If the City Council is not up to the job, it is a message to all of us that the current system of governance is not working. I am expecting to see you and your colleagues take all the necessary pro-active and productive steps to (1) investigate how this situation got so far out of hand, and (2) make sure that it never happens again. If you fail in either of these tasks, I will do everything in my power to make sure that you and your Council colleagues are never put in a position of public trust again.

In my view, this is the very last chance of the City Council to demonstrate its concern and ability to deal with a major debacle. The ball is squarely in your court.

Philip W. Wirtz

I forgot to mention that as of 9:00 this morning, Jenifer Street was still unplowed. As I said to a neighbor recently, "Gilligan is *never* going to get off this island...." [And later that next day...] A plow just went down Jenifer Street, Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. With the plow blade UP. Just drivin' over the lumps and ruts and packed-down ice, and having a moderately rough time of it near as I could see. I suppose the Mayor can now legitimately claim that "a plow has been down every street" and not be telling an actual falsehood. Yours with her car still in cold storage,

Stephanie Faul

I wanted to respond to Art Spitzer regarding the panhandling in Cleveland Park. While it may be legal, panhandling should not be encouraged for several reasons: It makes the city feel unsafe. An unsafe city will not be populated by middle class people which are needed to support the city financially. If people want to give to the homeless, give to a shelter that can provide food and access to other social services. Support political candidates that are supportive of these services. Oftentimes the panhandlers are rude. They might politely ask for money, but when you don't give it, they are often rude. While in general I support the ACLU and realize that free speech denied in one place, leads to free speech denied in other places, I don't believe the ACLU should condone panhandling, any more than they would condone hateful speech by Neo-nazis. The ACLU might feel compelled to support panhandlers' and neo-Nazis free speech, but they should not be dismissive of those of us who feel that panhandlers lead to unsafe and unpopulated streets. Thus, Mr. Spitzer's comments at the end of his email are inappropriate.

Meg Murray

I was quite vexed yesterday, when I heard the first lady on Diane Rehm's show, explaining that, since so many people helped her with her new book(she stopped counting after 60), and since she was bound to forget someone, she decided not to acknowledge any of them. This behavior is graceless and disappointing and often typical, I am sad to say, of the dems. Say what you will about their take on issues, republicans always say thank you. Now you can argue that the ideas in the book are so critical that the issue I address is unimportant, even picayune. But it seems to me that giving credit where it's due is one of the lessons we hope our children will learn.

Andrea Sexton

Woodland Drive, NW, runs between Garfield Street and Normanstone Drive. It is the site of numerous embassy residences, and is a good contender for the title of the District's highest per capita tax paying street. As of mid-afternoon Wednesday, January 17th, Woodland Drive has not seen a cent of its taxes devoted to plowing efforts. The street remains pristinely and virginally covered by snow (slush, and mud). At 0745 on January 17th, a sedan with New York plates got badly stuck on Woodland Drive, at 29th Street. The driver, a lady (who, if she is indeed from New York, should know how to drive in snow!) walked away from it. At 1045 a huge tow truck, already loaded with two other cars, arrived to haul off the stuck vehicle. The tow truck promptly slid into the front yard (an impressive one) of one of the street's residents, and, in turn, got stuck. At 1200 another tow truck arrived, and after much shoveling and general carrying on managed to free both tow truck number one and the abandoned car. All this finished at 1315 hours. And at 1315 hours, there is still no sign of a plow truck on Woodland Drive.

After having heard nothing but the vilest bad-mouthing of our gallant mayor and his hard-working colleagues for the last two weeks, it strikes me, in the interests of basic balance and decency, that something should be said in his defense.

No easy task. But, after considerable thought, how about this:

At least to date, Mayor Barry has NOT implemented any policy to dump on the streets of Ward 3 snow removed from the streets of other city wards (Ward 8, for example). Nor has he imported any snow from suburban Maryland or Virginia for this purpose.

Any other contributions out there?


Your article deals solely with WMATA's (mis)handling of the subway situation, but the truth is, the way the buses were running, it made the Metro look like Fascist Italy ("At least our trains run on time!"). You mention Thursday. That's a good place to start. I needed to catch a 30 bus, to get from Friendship Heights to Georgetown. Simple enough, right? I mean, Wisconsin Avenue is a major street, after all, and it was one of the first streets to get cleared after the blizzard. So there should have been no problems. Well, I left my house at 10:30 AM, and I didn't get to my shop in Georgetown until 1:30 PM. That's right, THREE hours! I spent an hour and a half waiting at Friendship Heights, the end of the line, the terminus, watching as bus after bus coming from Georgetown pulled up, deposited its passengers, and went out of service. I swear I'm not making this up when I say I saw at least a dozen buses pull this stunt. One driver even got off his bus, looked at the 70 or 80 of us waiting there, and said, jokingly, "No more buses today!" How he made it out of there alive, I'll never know...

When I got to the stop today (I took my chances with the train the next few days, but I didn't feel like walking from Rosslyn or Dupont Circle), the exact same thing was looking me right in the face. There were already scores of people waiting, griping and moaning, about the problem. C'MON!!!! It's been ten days already!!! No, I did not wait. I decided the train, while only running half as many cars half the time, and picking up twice as many passengers, was a more confortable idea. Scary, isn't it? P.S. Only took me two hoursa today. P.P.S. It's a 45 minute trip.

Mr. Itell, you'll have to forgive this long diatribe, I've been composing it for a few days now in response to one of your electronic missives, which I'm really beginning to look forward to, even more than I did the actual newsletter--you're doing a great thing!

In reference to a complaint in the January 13 news-byte "The Snow Remains The Same", I can appreciate the complaints against Metro, I can appreciate the complaints against the District's inefficiency at cleaning up the streets in a reasonable amount of time, but the indignant outrage against the Fresh Fields many violations by one of the writers really was the last straw for me. Come on now!!! It was bad for everyone, surely there's more productive things to rail against than the fact that a cashier at the Fresh Fields rang up an onion instead of a grape on their first night open.

Our street in AUPark remains unplowed even today (it's Wednesday) the alley where our car is even less so, and our car is stuck until spring it seems. So, I've been doing a lot of walking--encountering plenty of neighbors and various folks driving in the 'hood. It seemed to me that reactions to this storm were two-sided: one was a can-do sort of approach that recognized we were all in the same boat--some of us worse off if we were older, disabled, or with a new baby--those who weren't were lucky.

The other side was the Fresh Fields Rang Up An Onion And I Wanted A Grape outrage against all perceived slights. Surely this persecution attitude is unhealthy for us all as neighbors. It was a bad storm, we were jerked around by our elected officials, etc. but the My Needs Must Be First attitude hurts us all, and rather like the snow, we'll keep piling this bunker mentality up and up until we are too deep to dig ourselves out and be a community.

The old timers on my street were out in force--those who had lived here ten years or more came out and assiduously shoveled sidewalks, pushed cars, dug out neighbors that couldn't do it themselves, and stood and chatted with each other like it was spring. Many of the newer residents dug neat little lines directly from the front door to their Volvos, ignoring the sidewalks and forcing the pedestrians to make meandering cow-paths back and forth to get through. Many were grateful for car pushes, others got huffy and drove off without even a wave when they were freed by several passers-by. Now it sounds like I'm whining myself, but the difference WAS remarkable.

Yes, we had a bad storm. But it could have been much worse, hurricanes, floods and tornadoes are deadly--this was just snow. It did us good to have to get out and talk to our neighbors, and the snow was beautiful (at least for a while!) Let's try to band together in a positive way--think about who to vote into office then do it next time, show up to ANC and City Council meetings and give sensible voice and reasonable solutions that work for us all, dig each other out since DC won't do it, slow down a little, appreciate the fact that senators and trash-men alike were all stuck together for once, make a snow angel and try to be a little more neighborly. Yours in Rodney-King-like-pleas,

A. Sanford

I am often reluctant to criticize perceived incompetence because I always figure there is more to the story. But in this case I haven't heard a one syllable of an intelligent response to this latest example of DC's ability to --- as the say --- fuck up a shit sandwich.

I did take your advice and wrote Dave Clarke (Catch Us if You Can)... I assume that the Solar Mayor is a lost cause...his concerns for Ward 3 are probably directly related to the number of votes he received from that portion of the electorate...

Greg Pryor

From what I hear, snow removal was bad all over. I drove downtown yesterday and it was really bad even there. Metro didn't put the trains in the tunnel because they were afraid they would be blocked in by snowdrifts. As if plowing onne snow drift was harder than digging out a hundred cars. In 13 years of auditing government operations, I wouldn't discount incompetence as the root cause of the problem. Jeffrey Itell

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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