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February 23, 1998

Your Electronic Backfence

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Dear Neighbors:

It's deja vu, all over again. I sent this message on Saturday. Most of your probably deleted the text because you didn't have a Rosetta Stone to decipher it. I believe I have most of my text formatting problems solved...short of torching my computer with the "new and improved" software. (Surprisingly, it's not a Microsoft product.) Please let me know if you are still having a bear of a time reading this -- and thanks for bearing with me.


I have been faithfully following your conversation but now wish to jump into the fray with both feet in my mouth.

Ronald Reagan Airport. Granted, many local Democrats oppose the nomenclature because they detest the ex-Prez. Still, that behavior does not devalue their primary arguments. Why strip George Washington of his proper due for RR's sake. Shall we remove Jefferson's statue with Rodin's "The Thinker," and dedicate the Tidal Basin memorial to Dobie Gillis? (This artifact will test your age.) Moreover, great American Heroes, such as Harry Truman, Dean Acheson, and George Marshall, have not received their due in DC. Reagan has his building. That's enough.

Parking meters. Let us distinguish between parking meters and punitive parking meter enforcement. Last Friday, Mark Plotkin likened the beheading of parking meters to civil disobedience. Seems more like theft and vandalism to me. Parking meters allow people to park downtown. Otherwise, the 3:00 AM risers from Dale City will keep all available spots all day. Parking meters are central to urban life. I am glad they are returning. In addition, they add money to the treasury to provide services, lower taxes, and make the world safe for democracy and shopping.

Cellular telephones and Rock Creek Park. I have serious concerns about the safety of using cell telephones in moving vehicles. I also have serious concerns with drivers in Rock Creek Park. Putting a cell telephone in the hands of Rock Creek Park driver is like giving a gun to a child.

Teaching certificates. Does not the issue boil down to one point? Because we devalue education as a profession, many teachers have not mastered the subject matter they are required to teach. Doing so ought to be prerequisite to stepping inside a classroom. Mastery of teaching pedagogy as demonstrated by certification, while important, should not permit classroom access by itself. In a perfect world, yada, yada, yada.

Rent control does distort the housing market. It became popular after World War II when there were too many GIs chasing too little housing. Arthur Levitt could not build the bungalow track housing quickly enough to satiate the demand. Consequently, landlords received high rents for their units after the war. The shortage was short term. Left to its own devices, housing markets are self-correcting, though more slowly than other markets. Meanwhile, rent-controlled cities are left with stakeholders and distortions. The welfare queen story may be mainly urban myth -- the four-bedroom Manhattan apartment for $325 per month is not. D.C.'s rent control laws appear to be less distorting than New York's. However, the best reason one can make against dismantling D.C.'s rent control laws is that doing so would disrupt the lives of people benefiting from it. In other words, the solution is the problem.

Coming Clean. In late 1995, the elected D.C. Board of Education submitted a FY 97 budget request that included a long wish list of approximately $70 million in extra funding: teacher pay raises; new computer networks; master teachers with release time at all elementary schools; new positions to cover department heads at all middle schools and high schools; more assistant principals; conflict resolution specialists; additional special education staff. The request was mocked as critics cited DCPS' per pupil spending far in excess of other cities, as well as its inability to do a credible student enrollment census. In early 1998, the Emergency Board of Trustees submitted a FY 99 budget request for $87 million in extra funding -- a 19 percent increase -- to cover teacher pay raises, additional special education teachers, summer school,better security, and teacher training. DCPS still spends more than most other cities on a percapita basis, and the student enrollment count may still be inflated. What is going on here? Maybe there really is not so much waste in D.C. schools -- there are many critical needs requiring attention and resources. Alternatively, maybe Control Board appointees are just as wasteful as our elected leadership was. Will the Control Board be more sympathetic about the funding increase now that its own appointees are in place and it is invested in their success? Like the Proctor firings and Control Board decisions, General Becton and the Trustees have good reasons, unsupported reasons, or whimsical reasons for their actions. As Washington City Paper points out this week in quoting Felix Rohatyn, Kathy Patterson, and Anthony Williams, the success of these institutions is going to depend a great deal on eliciting public support. "Hiding the books" will only lead to suspicion and resentment.

Jeffrey Itell February 23, 1998


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Auto Theft Quiz
Tom Berry @

Here's quiz time! Here are three easy questions for DC residents. How many cars are stolen a day in DC? a) 21; b) 11 c) 6. How many detectives work auto theft on the DC police force? a) 1; b) 10; c) 15. If you answered (a) to each of the above you have probably had a car stolen in the District and, knowing the answers, are disqualified from any potential prize resulting from this quiz. Now for the third question: Who owns the automobile driven by this lone ranger detective? a) FBI; b) CIA; c)DCPD. If you answered (a), you must work for the DCPD, because that's correct. In summary, one detective working an eight hour shift five days per week has approximately 15 minutes to work on a case load of 147 stolen vehicles per week. This includes his office time, examining stolen vehicles, talking to victims, court time, inspecting vehicles, and bladder relief respites. But he does have the privilege of driving a FBI-owned '95 Mazda! Let's ask some additional questions: How many police officers are on Hizzoner's security staff? How many police officers does it take to carry Hizzoner's 17 pieces of luggage back to DC from NJ following his trip to Africa? How many detectives work prostitution? How is an on-going insurance study on DC auto theft going to affect area auto insurance rates? When will the DCPD awaken to reality and assign more detectives to a hemmoraging situation...when there are no vehicles left to steal?


Reagan Madness!
Philip Murphy @

Who'd have thought there'd be such deep reservoirs of emotional support behind the profoundly mundane name "National Airport?" Of course, all the gymnastic reasoning deployed to block such a symbolic gesture as renaming the airport after a notable president only thinly camouflages the opponents' true feelings -- they can't stand Ronald Reagan. Funny how the mere spectre of Ronnie still gets some people so hot and bothered that they morph into exactly the type of neanderthals they say they so passionately oppose: reactionary, blinded to differing opinions, and motivated by mean-spiritedness and negativity rather than thought. Relax folks, its only a name. Think of all the neat things you'll be able to name after Clinton!


Attorney General
David S. Reed @

I see by the papers thatCouncilmember Catania (R-At Large) proposes creating an elected Attorney General for DC, who would focus on violations of law inside District government. Barbara Somson wrote earlier in dc.story about the widespread disregard of law within DC government, and my own experience confirms it. An Attorney General could win jail for the corrupt, and court orders to force action by lazy and incompetent officials. Of course, the U.S. Attorney for DC can do this already, but the U.S. Attorney plays to a national audience, and only the highest-profile local corruption, like a coke-sniffing Mayor and an (alleged) extortion ring in police headquarters, have received his attention. It's important that our Attorney General be elected, so he will not owe his job to somebody who runs the government he will investigate (Mayor, Control Board, etc.). Of course, every new government agency costs money, but there's plenty of fat to cut from DC government to free up funds for an Attorney General. [FYI: The current U.S. Attorney for the District is Wilma Lewis, a woman.]


Sonya Proctor's Choices
Ronald G. Eberhardt @

How in the world interim D. C.police chief Protctor could even be considered to become the next chief of police is beyond belief. Now, in an almost midnight raid, she has effectively fired three district commanders and had her husband make the notifications! Talk about a good ole boy network. I do not know anything about the competence of these removed officials. At this moment it is irrelevant. Such important decisions ought to be left to the incoming police chief and many of us hope it is not Proctor. I would not argue with the notion that as much as one-third of the entire department, from patrol officer to chief, ought to be removed - - but not for the reasons and motivations of Proctor. I was particularly disgusted with the willy-nilly reaction of Councilmember and mayor wannabe Jack Evans. Once again, Evans shows us that his stance on issues is driven entirely by public opinion. First he supported Proctor then once his phones began ringing off the hook he changed his mind. This is not the first time that Mr. Evans has reacted in such a manner. If he hopes to be mayor, we can only hope that he might possess an original thought and stand by it.


Sonya Proctor
Lee Perkins @

In view of the city's problems, I would be very suspect of "popular" managers, having known what some of the managers at UDC have done to maintain their 'popularity'. She cannot run her department if these 'popular' officers continue to undermine her authority, or if she has been convinced, for whatever reason, that they are ineffective.


Ex-District Commanders
Ed T. Barron @

My first reaction to the story that Sonya Proctor had asked for the resignations of three District Police Commanders was that she was taking a step that would ensure she would never be the next Police Chief. Then I thought that there must be more to this than meets the eye. If those Commanders really felt they had nothing to hide and that they were doing a fine job, then there is no way they would have resigned. In such a situation, if they had been fired they would have had a wonderful case against the District.


Rent Control
David F. Power @

John Whiteside voices a common misconception about rent control. Rent control is not a "subsidy" from the landlord to the tenant. Rent control is guaranteed profit to the landlord, with regulated limits. Rent control has built-in guarantees that the property owner will recover capital improvement costs, PLUS a reasonable rate of return. Large corporations which are buying up DC properties and selling them in the stock market as Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT's are back) naturally do not want anyone to regulate their level of profit. Rent control does not require landlords to lose money or to give up reasonable maintenance of their assets. It primarily ensures stable communities of renters, a concept which Mr. Whiteside ignores. Mr. Whiteside also states that "[a] better solution is to provide funds for subsidized housing for those who need it, and not place the burden on individual property owners." Such a revolutionary concept does exist: it is called Section Eight Housing, and we all pay for it because it is a federal subsidy financed by general revenue. Subsidized housing is a red herring in the rent control discussion. *****

Housing: The Haves and Have Nots
Janet Hess @

I agree that we should all be on equal footing when it comes to housing expenses. That's why I'm certain that all property owners will agree not to take advantage of any possible tax benefits associated with their ownership of housing. I don't get any such benefits as a renter, and I sure as dickens don't want to be in the inherently unfair position of subsidizing the undeserving needless (they aren't needy, after all) among us. Anyone who favors tax breaks for property owners is, of course, in the position of saying, "I like my freebie and I'm gonna fight for it," and it's not very convincing.


Teacher Certification
Jason Juffras @

The comments on teacher certification in the most recent edition reflect a polarization that seems to characterize the discussion of education on D.C. Story. One line of thinking regards private schools as vastly superior and concludes that private schools don't require certification; therefore, it is unnecessary. The other side rises to the defense of public education. Perhaps we could agree that teacher standards should not be scrapped, but strengthened. There is ample evidence for this position in our own history and in the history of other nations. New York City Public Schools once required tough subject exams for teachers. Like other students, prospective teachers in France take the baccalaureat; prospective teachers in Germany take the Abitur -- demanding exams that speak to subject mastery as a condition for university entrance and continuing training as an educators. People will argue that teacher unions will never allow similar standards to be imposed in the U.S., but the most powerful voice for stronger standards is certainly the late Al Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

"Nor is the evidence so clearcut regarding private education. Elite schools like Sidwell Friends may influence our perception of private education, but the average scores of private school students on the SAT, on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and other tests are mediocre. Average scores of private school students are higher than public school students, but private school students also have higher family income, better educated parents, and other advantages. Many researchers who have compared private and public school students with similar backgrounds find little or no difference in educational achievement.


Regarding Teacher Certification
Chip Levy @

The several recent pieces on teacher certification overlook that licensing, certification, and the other variations of credentialling activities are undertaken to protect the public health, safety, and welfare or students No one who works in this arena would ever (I hope) assert that the presence of the "ticket" assures competent practice, nor would they ever suggest that the absence of the ticket presumes failure. Rather, these activities, public or private, voluntary or not, merely serve to increase the likelihood of competent practice, and to suggest some level of administrative due diligence in selecting candidates for positions in the public interest. I do agree, however, with one of the themes: we seriously underpay these folk. We're lucky to have the good ones we've got. I'm reminded of one of our early astronauts who ruminated that he was about to be shot into space on a rocket built on the lowest bid....


Teacher Certification
Jamie Treworgy @

I don't personally see much use in teacher certification. Being a teacher isn't like being an electrician. There aren't a large number of rules, codes, and laws that need to be learned. I went to public and private schools, and there were good and bad teachers at both. But to be sure, what made the good teachers good wasn't learned through a certification course. Certification Hubub by Mike Hill @

Dk Black's claim that all private schools provide superior education, with all uncertified teachers, just ain't so. I attended private & public schools in Pittsburgh, Pa., and my mother taught in both. Her job was evaluating kids for learning disabilities and teaching the kids she identified basic skills they hadn't learned in their fine institutions, like constructing simple sentences. The national average for learning-disabled kids was 1 in 35 when I was growing up; in Pittsburgh it was 1 in 25. One of her biggest problems was getting kids, teachers, and parents to accept the idea that Johnny couldn't read when it came form the mouth of a black woman (so much for good, basic values). Also, this program was forced on the private schools by the state because so many of their kids were graduating without the basics; they didn't volunteer. The schools that you hear about, public or private, are the good ones; nobody does PR for sucky schools. Parish schools can stay open for years without doing a good job, precisely because their teaching isn't subject to review or evaluation by an objective authority. Private schools that are successful often have certified teachers, many of whom move from the public school for reasons that have been done to death in these pages. The black-and-white arguements that are put forth lately about how to train teachers, public vs. private, are obscuring the real issue; kids aren't learning. All you naysayers might want to talk to some actual teachers, public and private, before drawing conclusions.


Fixing Broken Parking Meters?
Ronald G. Eberhardt @

News that the District's newly hired chief management officer Camille Barnett will make replacement of the city's be-headed parking meters her first very public act is disappointing. I had hoped that a newly arriving person, lacking the D. C. Government mentality, would realize that first acts ought to be improvement or resumption of services FOR citizens rather then punitive ones. I dare say, most citizens have delighted during this period that has severely hampered the belligerent and over-zealous activities of the city's parking enforcement officers. While I agree the headless meters are a daily sign of the decay of this city, so are crumbling streets and sidewalks and the everyday disgust of the Metropolitan Police Department not to mention the myriad of other problems facing this dysfunctional city.


Park Antenas
Anne Drissel @

The cellular phone industry is moving at breakneck speed to secure approval for building of towers throughout the country. Citizens have been slow to organize to block the takeover of our visual space by these monstrosities. Soon it will be too late -- the damage will have been done. For those who may have forgotten or not be aware of it, Rock Creek Park is a national park. The water-flow and greenery of the park are essential elements of the ecosystem in this area. The park plays an important role in absorbing pollutants and balancing temperature and moisture in the area. It is not just a little local green space. The road through the park was originally designed to allow people access to the beauty of the park -- When I was a child, a Sunday or weekday evening drive at 15 miles per hour through the meandering roads of the park provided relief from summer heat. For those who use the excuse that the phones are needed for "safety" - I suggest that the numbers of accidents and incidents in the park have been relatively few in the course of my lifetime in this area. I would also raise a red flag of warning that access to cellular phones in the park might introduce opportunities for unsavory activities to be conducted in the park that heretofor had not been possible because communication access was blessedly scant.


Cellular Phones
Mike Hill @

Cellular towers are planned for Rock Creek because it is one of the few places in the city not subject to incredibly restrictive limitations on the height of buildings and what can be placed on roofs. Once the Park Service approves an idea, other planning agencies are largely out of the mix. The dishes will go somewhere, so if Rock Creek is out, be prepared to see them on the roofs of your favorite downtown buildings, maybe even some historical structures. The true mark of yuppiedom, in my opinion, is a belief that compromising any strongly held opinion is unacceptable; a burning need to have it both ways, all the time. This is your opportunity to differentiate yourselves in a way that means something; are you willing to sacrifice the roof of your plalatial condos to save Rock Creek?


Rock Creek Park Antenas
Nick Jacobs @

Every time I drive, walk or hike through the park I never fail to remark to myself what a wonder it is to have something like this right in the middle of a major metropolitan area. However, I regulalrly drive all the way through the park from Dupont Circle to the DC border up at 16th Street. When I drive I always carry a cellphone so that, should anything happen, I can call a friend or a tow truck etc. In my mind the questions is very simple: On what do we place a greater value: Maintaining the park by protecting every single leaf and twig or planning ahead for personal and public safety? I have never encountered an emergency in the park and I truly hope that those who oppose these towers never find themselves stranded either. Because then they'd only have themselves to blame.


Park Antennas
Scott Arnold @

We just bought a place near Rock Creek Park. In fact, our patio practically sits in the tree's of the park. All the cellular phone tower discussion has me thinking. I personally don't mind the towers, but do they have to be white. Maybe they could be painted "tree brown" or "grass green" or something less instrusive...wouldn't that be a compromise?


Cellular Phone Towers
Ed T. Barron @

I don't want to see these towers in what is left of Rock Creek Park. If someone can design a tower that looks just like a tree, albeit a pretty tall tree, then maybe we should O.K. it. Pepco put their substation at Westmoreland circle into what looks to be a typical NW D.C. brick house. It's right in character with the neighborhood and totally unobtrusive. Most of you have probably driven by it and never knew that it was a power substation.


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Zoo Lectures
Margie Gibson RSVP Line (202) 673-4801

Hawaiian Bird Lecture, 5 March @ 7:30 PM. Dr. Sheila Conant, zoology professor at the University of Hawaii, will present Remote Oceania: The Biology, Archaeology, and History of Hawaii's Leeward Islands. In a slide-illustrated lecture, Dr. Conant will talk about the incredible variety of bird species that evolved on the islands. She will also consider effects that the arrival of humans had upon the avian population, and will draw upon archaeology and history to better understand the current threats to Hawaiian bird life.

------ Southern Africa Wildlife, 19 March, Book signing at 7 PM and Lecture at 8 PM. Join Allen Bechky, naturalist, safari leader, and author of Adventuring in Southern Africa, for a slide-illustrated exploration of the wildlife and majestic scenery of Southern Africa. Preceding the lecture, Bechky will sign copies of his new book. Bechky will delve into the natural history and conservation issues of the region, which includes the habitats of some of the world's most fascinating and endangered animals.

Both events are free but please RSVP to me by telephone or email. All events at the National Zoo Education Building. Enter at Connecticut Avenue. Park in Lot A.


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dc.story is a discussion group. The opinions stated are the sole responsibility of the authors. dc.story does not verify information provided by readers. Kibitzing by Jeffrey Itell. Copyright (c) 1998. All rights reserved.

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