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January 23, 1997

Disney on the Potomac

Dear Neighbors:

Everyone’s got a plan for the District—malevolent and otherwise. But why not cave to reality and go with the "Disney Plan?" Haven’t heard of this one before? Where have you been?

You’ll notice that slowly the federal enclave and surrounding shopping area is being themed. Hard Rock Cafe, Planet Hollywood, etc. Now plans include the MCI arena and a surrounding sports entertainment complex, the new downtown opera, and oodles of money looking to reincarnate downtown DC into the new Times Square (movies, games, amusements, and all.) Clean, family fun for tourists looking to move their Washington experience from the Smithsonian to the commercial area. (One of the DC’s great attributes used to be its separation of government institutions from commerce, even if that meant eating stale egg rolls from those belch-mobile vending trucks.)

So here’s the deal? If we’re turning the federal enclave into an entertainment Mecca, why not lease it to Disney? If we really want a theme park, who will manage it better than the Mouse? And let’s not let the feds off the hook. Let Disney take over the federal buildings from GSA. The Pentagon can become War World. Foggy Bottom can be a small world after all. Georgetown becomes Main Street, USA—watch those vacancies disappear. And with a turret or two, the White House can lead the Mundane family into the Magic Republic.

And the best benefit of all—every evening’s torch-light parade down Pennsylvania Avenue led by the members of Congress. I dare you to tell me the difference between Newt Gingrich and Goofy—except that Goofy retains his dignity.


Here’s a summary of the important Brookings study on District revenues. The full text may be found at their web site—see last issue—or by calling Brookings. To lend another voice of reform, I’ll add that my company will pay about $800 in District taxes for 1996---and the company had no, zero, nada federal tax liability (which is a sad statement in itself). Jeff]

THE ORPHANED CAPITAL: Adopting a Revenue Plan for the District of Columbia

by Carol O’Cleireacain

The District of Columbia*s revenue structure is collapsing — but it can be fixed. Unlike other cities, the capital’s tax base is severely restricted by federal law. There is no state aid, and government, the hometown industry, is tax exempt.

A sustainable revenue system is key to the survival of Washington, D.C. First, however, services must improve dramatically. Public officials must show that the District can live within its means. But as painful management reforms are made, District residents, employees, and political leaders should expect a tangible payoff: a rational and stable revenue base on which the city*s budget will rest.

This study offers workable remedies. It proposes a budget-neutral revenue structure more like that of a typical American city, with the federal government playing the role of a state. We propose that four business taxes be eliminated and that commercial property and personal income taxes be cut. The federal government should increase aid in three specific ways: a payment in lieu of taxes to make up for the 41 percent of property that is tax exempt; "state" aid comparable to that received by similar-sized cities; and coverage of 50 percent of the cost of state-type services provided to District residents.

The DC Revenue Project*s plan is fair and manageable. It is the least that the nation can do to ensure the viability of its own capital city.


Also free! Free movie passes, short movie reviews, and movie discussion. Send an email message to to subscribe.

Jeffrey Itell


Homestead Exemptions
Leila Afzal

We just found out that all home owners were to refile their homestead exemptions by October 1, 1996 in order to retain the exemption. Apparently, DC sent out applications, but we never got ours. So if you have not done so, you should go to 441 4th Street, Suite 480 North, and fill out the application. Otherwise, your tax rate will not include the homestead benefit. As it is, we are four months into the fiscal year and I am told that once the benefit is lost, you can’t get it reinstated retro- actively only prospectively.

[If you can’t remember filing, call (202) 727-6420. Have your lot and square number ready and hope their computer is up. jeff]


Carrie Staff

A friend of mine was crossing the Connecticut Ave. bridge over Klingle Rd. (between Woodley & Cleveland Parks) at about 8pm last Saturday evening when he saw a man being robbed. When my friend approached, the robber took off down the street and my friend instinctively (and stupidly I might add) chased the criminal and was able to tackle him and hold him until police arrived. Apparently the guy was familiar to police and had committed similar acts previously. The cops said gangs have been sending members into this area to commit robberies as an initiation rite. After the incident, the police called my friend ask that he testify against the robber. My friend indicated that he did not want to become a target of fellow gang members (or indeed, of that member himself when he was released from jail!) and thus, did not want to testify. The cop said if he didn’t agree, he would subpoena my friend. Has anyone else heard of this gang initiation taking place in Woodley/Cleveland Park or neighboring areas? Any thoughts on how likely it is that my friend might receive retaliation if he is forced to testify?


Cool Hand Luke
James Whitelaw

The opening scene, late night on main street in a small rural town, one traffic light and, nothing open, The quiet broken by screech of a pipe cutter followed by the thunk as another parking meter hits the sidewalk. The perpetrator of this mindless antisocial behavior is a very drunk character played by Paul Newman. So drunk that after decapitating a block’s worth of parking meters, he passes out next to one with the pipe cutter in his hand, an enigmatic smile on his face, and a one way ticket to the chain gang.

Wait, this isn’t dc movie, but has the District created its own crop of Lukes, cool hand or otherwise?. In front of the Phillips Collection, five headless parking meters in a row bear mute tribute to what? To theft of quarters? A failure to communicate? Judging by the amount of stray coins left in what was left of the meters (only the tops where the window was is gone) theft was not the motivation. Now the Post weighs in with a chronicle of meter vandalism run rampant all over dc. What is to be done? The magic flow of coins, threatened by unknown agents of anarchy. Visitors to downtown parking with impunity to go about their productive business with no regard to quarters or parcels of rented time. All because of someone, maybe named Luke, swinging a baseball bat in the name of free parking. I hope he likes hard boiled eggs.


Fallen Elms—Better Service
Lindsley Williams

Last Friday afternoon, January 17, I noticed a fallen elm along Reno Road, between Newark and Ordway. Though not huge by mature elm standards, its 12-15 inch trunk and limbs completely blocked the sidewalk, and may earlier have limited travel in the street (when I saw it, all the debris was on the sidewalk.

I called the Tree Division of the Department of Public Works. Since it was after 3 pm, a recorded message instructed me another number to call. I did, reported the problem to staff.

Lo and behold, the following morning a DPW crew was at the site with equipment removing the mess. All in about an hour of their time.

Quick, efficient, comprehensive, standing in contrast to the famous pothole at the intersection of Porter and Reno.

Alternatively, many others may have noticed the problem earlier, and my call simply added to the DPW’s list of callers. Whichever is the case, the tree problem did not last more than 24 hours. Bravo.


A narcotic for an ailing city
Larry Seftor

President Clinton’s plan for D.C. is a narcotic. It is very attractive since it suggests immediate relief from our common pain. But it is not a real solution to our fundamental problems, and it will strength our dependency on the Federal Government and our addiction to federal handouts. The bitter price for this addiction is further erosion in the little bit of home rule that we have staked out.

It is as if someone with a broken leg is given morphine, and no attention is given to setting the leg so that it can heal properly. Without repair to the leg, the morphine must become a way of life.

I’m sure that everyone has their own personal list of "fundamental" problems that D.C. faces. My list includes the unfunded pension liability, the ban on taxing commuters, and the local tax exemptions that the Feds hand out. These are true injustices, and throwing a little more money at D.C. does not solve these structural problems. I resent being asked to turn numb to these problems because a little extra Federal money is waved at me.

We have been cursed by a poverty of leadership in this city. (In particular, the unfunded pension liability was a burden that leaders of the past chose to assume.) I fear that now, when we need vision and judgment the most, we will again be left wanting.


Look What They’ve Done to Home Rule, Ma.
Carl Bergman

Bill Clinton’s plan for DC has many ups and downs. It spins off large chunks of DC’s government to various federal agencies. Its always been difficult to know just who’s in charge of a DC service, now you’ll have to go to your favorite cabinet member to find out. Maybe, Janet Reno will run her namesake road.

Then, there is the Federal payment. It’s been the city’s precious financial gem. The envy of big city mayors, its millions based not on a formula, but on city salesmanship. It goes up and down, but mainly up. But the payment, like many a diamond, comes with a curse: Congress. In return for footing under a fifth of the budget, Congress has line item review of all city finances. Clinton’s plan ends both payment and review. The Council and Mayor would set what’s left of the budget, period.

The swap has some obvious advantages. For the schools, for example, it has a major benefit, a dramatic shortening in its budget process. Currently, the school budget starts with the board, then goes to the Mayor, then Council, then Mayor again, then Control Board (if not before). From here it goes to the President (OMB), then the House, then the Senate, then Conference, then the President again (with a line item veto), then Congress again, and possibly the President again. Any of these can and will make changes. This takes a couple of years.

The swap may not go down easily. Someone on the hill may decide that keeping the payment means keeping Congress’s arbitrary hand on. Knowing congress, though, they could come up with another alternative: kill the payment, but keep their power.


Clinton’s flimflam scheme for DC
Sam Smith Free DC News Service™

President Clinton is proposing a financing scheme for DC that would replace a formula based on the equities of the city’s relations with the federal government with one based on major and permanent dependency. The Clinton plan would remove the any possibility that the city could gain true self-government again and certainly not statehood. It proposes that DC ever more be a financial ward of the national government.

Demonstrating that no humiliation is too great to bear provided they are not stripped of their salaries and token status, elected DC officials are lining up behind the scheme.

Two of these plans — the tax haven scheme and the latest White House proposal — bear the imprint of Franklin Raines, now the president’s budget director but formerly head of Fannie Mae. Fannie Mae is the city’s biggest deadbeat thanks to an enormous congressional tax exemption. Raines is close to Eleanor Holmes Norton who is already cheering the federal takeover.

Under the current system, the federal government makes an annual payment that theoretically reflects the cost of services provided by the city and revenues lost due to the federal presence. In 1993 the city estimated this cost to be nearly $2 billion dollars a year. The actual federal payment is one-third that amount and a smaller percentage of the city’s revenues that at the beginning of home rule.

Because the federal payment is a payment in lieu of taxes rather than a subsidy for servitude, it could easily survive even the granting of statehood. The Clinton scheme, on the other hand, would do away with the federal payment and replace it with a hodgepodge collection of federal takeovers of local functions. The IRS would collect local taxes, the feds would maintain the local road system and the Justice Department would be put in charge of the courts and prisons. Felons would be sentenced under federal guidelines and the convicted would be sent — in a manner reminiscent of Soviet penal practices — to federal installations that might be a couple of thousand of miles away from families and friends.

The one good thing about the proposal is that the federal government would finally take responsibility for the huge unfunded pensions left over from before home rule. It is also proposed that Congress — at least until it wants to — not exercise line item control over the remaining city budget. Of course, an earlier president and Congress once promised the city meaningful home rule and look where we are now. As Senator Thomas Eagleton said presciently at the time, "The lord giveth and the lord taketh away."

The decision to take over the city’s prison and court system has little or nothing to do with financing and a lot to do with control. Even under so-called home rule, the federal government retained the choice of judges and prosecutors. Now it wants to expand its power so it controls the city’s prisoners and their sentences as well.


Steph "Glad to have her name back at the bottom, where these little tags might actually seem funny" Faul

I dunno. I don’t get offended at much of anything any more, out of sheer perversity perhaps. "Mackerel snapper" is an impolite reference to Catholics, who eat fish on Fridays. (And, in the middle ages, on Wednesdays, because some monarch wanted to help the fishing industry. No lie.) I have seen almost no Amos &Andy stuff, on account of having grown up largely without television, but the few minutes I have seen were *funny*. There is a discouraging and foolish tendency of people to judge the past by the standards of the present, all the way from saying bad things about George Washington for owning slaves to using the fact that Jesus had no female disciples as an excuse to keep women out of the priesthood, as if both individuals should have been aware of the prevailing social mores of the late 20th century.

Incidentally, were you as ticked off by the "Republic of Red Line" article as I was? I found it shockingly shallow, as expected from an arriviste, and full of all the insightful, first-person experience found in the Claritas corporation’s PRIZM zip code marketing database. (Said database would characterize Ward 3 as a "Money and Brains" neighborhood; other clusters include "Shotguns and Pickups," "Furs and Station Wagons," and "Boheminan Mix.") No mention of any real local color — e.g., Rodman’s, Yes!, the overwhelming presence of libraries and used bookstores, etc. What’s more, I grew up in a house from which I walked to Sidwell Friends and wish devoutly that it was worth what the author estimates, since it would make my mother a rich woman. Ptui. Why does the Post always send some carpetbagger out to analyze local culture?

As to the Clinton plan to bail out the district: I agree with Ed Barron, that he who collects the gold rules, but not Sam Smith, who talks about the permanent impossibility of statehood as if that’s a bad thing. D.C. has no business being a state and at least the "Feds do everything" arrangement would make the District’s status as a Federal enclave clear. Of course, most U.S. citizens would shake in their boots at the prospect of having the Federal government run their city. (Montana Freemen! Call your office!) The fact that everyone is rushing to embrace the Clinton plan just proves how bad things really are.



A long while back, someone mentioned a "White Castle" sighting in the DC area, I believe it was somewhere in MD. A friend and I are craving some rat burgers and we would like to know where around here we can get them...… any recollection? he frozen supermarket rat burgers are edible, but they just don’t have that same fresh rat taste.

Jim Foti


I’m thinking about taking Spanish language classes. I would appreciate any opinions on USDA Grad School vs. Berlitz vs. ?????

Tracy Greer


Condo Property Management

I would be interested to know if story subscribers have any opinions, recommendations, etc., regarding their condominium’s property management company. Our condo board is currently looking for a new management company.

Liz Hoopes


dc.storyistas -

Being the impractical sort, I’m considering buying a car in the next few months. Being the cheap sort, I’d rather not get screwed on auto insurance in the process. As my initial digging has revealed, the second part may be difficult. For instance, I’ve found that GEICO isn’t the great deal it’s cracked up to be, as the quotes it gave me for two hypothetical car-in-D.C. scenarios each topped $2,000 annually for basic coverage. (FWIW, I’m an over-25, non-psycho driver, with no points on my license, and planning to get only a moderately stylish econobox, not, say, a Ferrari.) I was then going to ask friends of mine who have cars in the city, but, oops, I remembered that only one of them actually has their vehicle registered in D.C. Anybody care to recommend a non-exploitative insurer who doesn’t see the 20008/20009/20036 zip codes as Beirut with more monuments?

Rob Pegoraro


Jews by Choice Club of the Greater Washington, DC Area

*8 January 22: Jonina Ducker of Kulanu ("All of us"), an organization "dedicated to finding and assisting lost and dispersed remnants of the Jewish people" will speak of their projects! 7:00-8:15 PM, Rockville JCC.

* February 13: Who is a Jew in Israel? Buddy Sislen, the director for Masorti (Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel) will discuss the issues and ramifications for American and Israeli Jews by Choice.7:00-8:15 PM, Rockville JCC.

* March 18: Rabbi Saul Koss from the UJA Federation will be discussing synagogue life in the Washington Area. 7:00-8:15 PM, Rockville JCC.

For information contact Lisa Shapero at or (301) 881-0100 x 6782. See our page at™

Ana Kurland


2 tickets for Kennedy Center on Feb. 7 to #The Four Seasons (Vivaldi), played by The National Symphony Orchestra. Tickets were purchased @$40.00 each. We cannot go due to travel overseas. Best offer will get them.



Love Singing and Miss Singing in a Chorus?

The Runnymede Singers, a small singing group that performs for fun and community and charitable events, is looking for more people who love to sing. The group rehearses weekly in the Dupont Circle. For more information, please call Miriam Radakovich at 703-684-7289.

Renee Schwager


Math Tutor

Don’t let math classes get you down! Get a jump on the semester. Friendly tutor who aced algebra, trigonometry, geometry, pre-calculus and calculus 1, 2 & 3 can show you how to ace them, too. I’ll work with you until math seems easy. $12/hour.

Eric Norwood home: 301-982-5460 page: 301-923-9631


For those dc.story people who have a hankering to produce their own documentaries or news shows, the recently opened nonprofit One World Media Center, in Adams Morgan, may be worth looking into. I’ve written an overview article about the center to help others learn what this neat community resource has to offer. The article can be found on the web at

Phil Shapiro


Home PC Computer Assistance

I’ll help you choose and buy the best model for the lowest price, get your computer up and running, teach you the ins and outs of Windows 95 and applications, show you how to maintain your system, build special applications for you, and get you up and running on the Internet. $60/hour. 202.244.4163.

Jeffrey Itell


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