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July 7, 1996

Home Rules

Dear Neighbors:

Today's Washington Post Outlook section features an article by Julius Hobson, the father of home rule, and Howard Croft, where they advocate turning the reigns of the city over to a receiver--at least temporarily. The Post solicited 300-word essays on the subject. Violating my rule against writing for no money, I turned in my homework assignment. The Post asks that you send your comments to and write Home Rule Solutions on the subject line. My entry into the fray is below.

Solving the issue of home rule is akin to the conceit of bringing a "comprehensive" peace to the Middle East. When you have different folks with divergent interests fighting over the same piece of real estate, the best one can hope for is to manage the situation and limit the damage. The federal government, by constitutional law and the ongoing angst of running a national government, has interests it must and will assert in the District of Columbia. Its closing of a stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue is just the latest manifestation of that interest. Meanwhile, District residents have their own desires and aspirations to live as normal city-zens. How do we reconcile the differences?

First, we should regularly rewrite the home rule charter--the national-local peace treaty. Times change, conditions change, and the treaty should reflect those changes. Second, we ought to create a neutral, impartial arbitrator that has powers akin to the Control Board. The city and the feds will periodically clash--with each side trying to gain more than their "just entitlement." Why not defuse the political rhetoric by giving this "Solomonic" body a chance to reconcile the differences that divide the feds and the city? Only when the board fails to find a win-win solution will we revert to bashing as usual--only not as often. As for city government, I vote for a stronger city manager to clean up the mess, diminished mayoral powers and a larger city council to enhance democracy and rid us of the "cult-of-personality" politics, and statehood, with proscribed constitutional limits to protect the federal interest. It's a messy, non-idealistic solution, which is a sign that it has merit.


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Jeffrey Itell


Tap Water

The last time I was on the Derek McGinty show, Marion Barry bragged that a recent test showed that DC's water was safe. I pointed out that the test had shown no such thing. It only showed the water was safe on that day. Since the city only barely passed the test, it was fair to assume that on other days -- given normal variation -- the city's water wasn't safe. This seems to continue to be the problem.

Incidentally, neither Marion nor Robo-host liked my comments and the latter announced after the show that I was banned from the program. See if I share my Evian with either one of them.

sam smith the progressive review



The discussion of hot and cold streaks reminds me of a line I heard at a recent convergence of Advanced Placement math (calculus) graders: Lotteries punish those who are not good in mathematics.

Paul Penniman


The Washington Post

Were you as irritated as I was by today's Post front page? The biggest story they could find was "Hundreds of Thousands Flock to Mall for Fireworks," followed by "Saudi Overthrow Unlikely." Is either of these stories *anything* resembling news? What are they going to come up with next? "Start of Work Week Clogs Area Roads"? "Alien Attack on White House Improbable"? Meanwhile, "D.C. Screws Up $840,000 Worth with $1.1 Million More in Jeopardy" is back on the Metro page.

No wonder newspaper readers are dropping out.

Stephanie Faul


I just read the "Caller ID" article. Somehow the Post's crack reporters failed to uncover the fact that D.C. residents can't get the kind of service that shows the caller's name. They also failed to investigate whether and by how much the incidence of phone harassment complaints had fallen since the introduction of the service, which is of course probably the single biggest benefit Caller ID has provided.

The service *really* worth waiting for is, of course, Caller*IQ, which displays the intelligence quotient of the caller along with all that other information.

Stephanie Faul


Ma Bell

i too have a Bell Atlantic story. It only took them 4 days to install another phone line. I wouldn't have cared, except that they kept telling me it would be imminent, i.e., right after lunch, or first thing in the morning, or before 7 tonight. Everyone I spoke to was just so polite, and all had the same words of sympathy, i.e., " I share your concern". when I told someone that I had heard that before and asked if it was scripted, she said, "we're supposed to show empathy." Well, eventually I got my line and they finally agreed not to charge me for the installation. I thought it was an isolated story until I began reading over the back fence.


Pennsylvania Avenue

An interesting twist on the issue of Pennsylvania Ave. being closed to vehicular traffic: last evening (the 4th) I lugged my tripod a mile or so in anticipation of getting a time exposure shot of the White House with the fireworks in the background. I set up shop on the sidewalk but was told a few minutes later by one of the uniformed Secret Service police that I couldn't use a tripod on the sidewalk, though anyplace in the street would be OK. I comply, and the about 15-20 minutes later (just as the fireworks were about to begin) the same cop tells me that "they" don't want my tripod anywhere in the street either, even though he could easily verify to them (?) that it was a genuine tripod and not a miniature missile launcher. I asked if it would be OK to use it in Lafayette Park. He said he didn't think that would be a good idea either. So I pack my gear and stroll over to the Ellipse and watch the fireworks, but don't bother trying to set up the tripod in that crowded spot. Needless to say, I was surprised to see this morning's Post front page featuring the shot I was hoping to capture. I guess tripods are alright (less threatening?) inside the White House fence.

Ralph Blessing


City Council

The Council had its next-to-last legislative session prior to the summer recess this past Wednesday and I'd like to share three items. First, on the FY 97 budget support act -- we deleted a provision that would have hit co-op dwellers with a 53% hike in property taxes; we had first reading on legislation that will permit competitors to D.C. Cablevision; and we took some shots at an alley closing that would benefit the Secret Service.

The budget support act is the Christmas tree policy piece that undergirds the FY 97 appropriation (known as the budget request act). Support act is local law; request act takes Congressional action. The support act is where we legislated lower welfare benefits, smaller Taxicab Commission, authorized mailing moving violations to drivers photographed running red lights, and a host of other items to bring the FY 97 budget to (just) a $99 million deficit. It included various revenue measures -- not necessarily bad policy but certainly bad process.

The mayor proposed the revenue measures, spent the anticipated funds in the budget, and for the Council in the final stages of writing a budget, to delete any of the revenue measures required alternative revenues or offsetting budget cuts. The Financial Authority zapped some of the revenue measures in the "consensus budget" but left the co-op provision in. I gave warning last month that at the July legislative session I might go after some of the revenue measures, substituting less bad revenue measures. The co-op provision would have raised assessments on co-ops from 65% to 100% of estimated value, or a potential 53% increase in what co-op owners would pay. I told co-op representatives that I would try to find alternative revenue on the grounds the proposal hadn't been given fair hearing and was the kind of issue that should be tossed to the new tax revision commission. The amendment I offered -- to the relief of colleagues since there had been a good amount of lobbying early in the week -- deleted the co-op provision and, to come up with offsetting revenue, increased the fee for reciprocity parking stickers from $125 to $250 a year.

Raising the price for parking stickers for non-residents was something my office has been looking at, connected, initially, with addressing the parking issue around the AU law school. Doubling the price of reciprocity stickers brings that option closer in cost to paid parking. And it's far cheaper than registering your car -- even with doubling the price of reciprocity stickers. Public policy should tilt the playing field toward mass transit for all sorts of reasons -- cleaner air, more stable base for Metro etc., so using that as an alternative revenue source made sense for a host of reasons.

The Council also gave first reading approval to legislation from the Economic Development Committee to open cable television in D.C. to competition. The bill calls for developing a model franchise agreement that other operators could use, rather than a competitive RFP process that yields a single operator. Second and final reading is scheduled July 17. I am not certain how quickly someone could actually sign on with a second cable operator -- I'll send more on that if story readers are interested.

Finally -- one of the alley closings that came forward from the Committee on Housing and Community Development would permit the General Services Administration to build a 10-story building in the block bordered by 9th, 10th, H and G Place downtown to house the Secret Service, so they can get out of lease space in several downtown locations. The property is already owned by the federal government. The fiscal impact is minimal -- we lose 5 parking meters -- but closing an alley to benefit the agency of the federal government that has tried for 20 years to close Pennsylvania Avenue -- and finally succeeded -- seemed too good an opportunity to miss. Chairman Clarke added an amendment to the alley closing saying it could go forward either when Pennsylvania Avenue is reopened, or when the feds come up with a thorough fiscal and environmental impact assessment and pay for all costs of closing the avenue. I think he anticipates removing the amendment on July 17, but I've suggested coming up with a list of terms for the alley closing over the next two weeks.

My favorite item for the list: ask the Secret Service to give up parking on the south side of E Street immediately south of the White House. That's 1-way eastbound now and very congested. (A year ago when the Secret Service and Treasury briefed the Council after the fact of closing Pennsylvania I asked the head of the SS about this strip of parking and why an additional lane of traffic couldn't be created by giving up some of the parking. He literally recoiled across the table. "That's, that's," he sputtered, "White House staff parking!" "So?" I asked. Anyway -- half or more of the cars still bear out-of-region tags. It's a pet peeve, I'll confess.) The Department of Public Works is negotiating with the GSA for the revenue foregone from the 5 parking meters and I'd like to ask for more. Please e-mail me with your suggestions!

[For those who don't know what an alley closing is -- it's a term of art that is essentially a legislative go-ahead for a development project. We did alley closings to permit the arena to proceed. Usually an alley closing does, in fact, close an alley, but they usually permit far more than that. The feds violated D.C. law by closing Pennsylvania Avenue WITHOUT a Council-passed "alley closing" bill.]

Kathy Patterson Ward 3 Councilmember


Parking Ticket

Help! Please give some advice about how to deal with a parking ticket that was unjustly issued. I was parked on 19th and I at the World Bank building. I got there at 12:10 pm and drop $2 in quarters for two hours. When I got back at 2:08 pm, there was a ticket on my car with the expired meter. The ticket was written at 1:56 pm. Something is really wrong here.

The back of the ticket state that I can plead "guilty" (no way), "Not Guilty" or "Guilty with explanation." Anyone had this problem before. Please tell me what has been the most effective way to deal with this kind of "revenue enhancement" by our District government. I hate to waste half a day at court to challenge this $15 ticket.

David Wong


Internet Service Providers

In answer to Alexis's inquiry about low-cost Internet Service Providers, a friend of mine in DC recommends Neptune Interactive, which charges $10/month for unlimited PPP access. There is a one time setup charge of $15, and you do need to pay for six months in advance. Further info can be found at:

I'm very happy with my own ISP, the Heller Information Service, which charges $20/month for 10 hours/day of access. The clincher for me is the exceptional Mac tech support that Heller offers. There's nary a Mac telecom tech question these folks can't answer (although I hear they're pretty strong on their Windows tech support, too). Further info at

Phil Shapiro


I have been using Excalibur for over a year. In May they started offering full Internet connections for $99 a year for every hour of every day. In addition to the reasonable price they offer the excellent services of their knowledgeable and indefatigable systems operator, Norris Sydnor. He has solved every problem I have presented to him and often in record time. They use Eudora for and Netscape on the web. Norris's number is 301-808-4557. I have no financial interest in CapCity, the company that runs Excalibur, but I can't say enough good about its service, features and, of course, its very reasonable cost. You can E-mail them at or check their website (

Barbara Goodman


For fast, reliable Internet services and cutting edge Websites contact Michael Mann at Interstate Internet Web:


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