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July 1, 1998

Your Red, White, & Blue Backfence

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Dear Neighbors: My mind is blank as is my poison pen. There are some good postings below so I won't delay you with my usual blather. Cheers, Jeffrey Itell July 1, 1998

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Common Denominator: Greatest?
Mike Livingston, Green Party candidate for Shadow U.S. Representative

Yes, as Ted Gest notes, the City Paper provides "some decent local coverage" -- namely, one good feature story each week and a sarcastic, if informative, political gossip column, adding up to ten pages of substance covering a hundred pages of entertainment guide (not that there's anything wrong with entertainment guides, but...) and 976-LUST ads. The District has no citywide local newspaper, period. It has some fine neighborhood papers; it has some fine special-interest papers (the Afro-American, the Blade, the Peace Letter); and the City Paper, a highly commercial subsidiary of a Chicago media chain. So I'm optimistic about the Common Denominator -- it is stepping up to fill a gaping niche. The first few issues could have been written better, could have shown more depth, but they do cover the right issues. Notably, they print a citywide ANC calendar and they are, to the best of my knowledge, the only paper to acknowledge all 17 registered candidates for mayor. If they're competing with the City Paper, they win -- but it's more accurate to say they have no competition: there's just nothing else like it.

Important Law Suit Upcoming
Sam Smith, The Progressive Review,

I will be among a score of DC citizens who will file suit against President Clinton and the Congress on Wednesday for denial of rights provided by the US Constitution. The argument will be one that has never been before a court before. It is also dramatically different than the suit for congressional representation being prepared by Covington & Burling. Here's an embargoed (until Weds) soundbite from plaintiff Smith: "The difference between their suit and ours is the difference between the right to eat in any restaurant in town and the right to beg outside of 7-11." All queries concerning the suit should be directed to attorney George Laroche at 301-270-2199 ( There will be a news conference: Wednesday, July , 10 am United States Courthouse 3rd & Penna. Ave NW. PS: I don't screw around on public interest lawsuits. I've been a plaintiff in six and three have been winners. . .

Speaking of Property Taxes . . . .
Cynthia Harrison,

Some years back, the D.C. Council passed a law forgiving property taxes (varying according to a formula) for home-owners older than 65 with incomes *up to $100,000.* The intention of the law was to permit the folks who had purchased homes way back when to keep living in them although the value of the house may have doubled or tripled (or quadrupled -- whatever) and they could no longer afford to pay the property taxes on the assessed value of the house. Note that the law simply forgives the tax -- arguably for some of the wealthiest people around and ones that no longer have dependents. The same goal could easily have been achieved by deferring the tax, and making it payable when the house was transferred, either by sale or bequest. But, as a council member explained, people want their kids to inherit their houses free of liens. No kidding. He also noted that there was a deferment provision available, but these oldsters weren't using it! I think the folks in the district who are earning $35,000 a year and raising a couple of kids while they live in a $150,000 house need the tax relief more than the folks living alone in 4-bedroom houses. If they want to continue to live that way, they should be able to defer the taxes but pay them (with interest) when they transfer the property. Lower-paid working taxpayers shouldn't subsidize these wealthy home-owners.

No Teeth in D.C. Tax on Vacant Land
Thomas C. Hall, thall@washbj.comw

Thanks to Nick Keenan and Leslie Miles, I was able to develop a story on the non-enforcement of the District's higher Class 5 tax rate on vacant property and unoccupied buildings. It isn't quite as bad as Nick thinks -- they +do+ assess 2,979 properties at the Class 5 rate, but common sense (and Leslie) tells us that more than 1.9 percent of the District's 154,582 (taxable) properties are abandoned/vacant. Ironically, the city could be collecting a bundle from Class 5 properties, if they could only find them: The Class 5 rate is $5 per $100 assessed value, more than five times the residential rate (96 cents) and more than double the already-high commercial rate ($2.15). The city blames its lax enforcement on the many loopholes in the law. For example, there is a two-year waiting period before a vacant/unoccupied property can be put into Class 5, and +any+ effort at fix-up at all restarts the game clock. Condemnation, fires, floods, and building permit applications can all delay a Class 5 ruling, too. But the reality is that the city's assessors, who had to take a one-year siesta just to be able to properly process current assessments, are not able to even think about reclassifying properties into a new tax category, especially one that may be tossed soon anyway. For details on this story, it is in the Washington Business Journal's June 26-July 2 edition. Cheapskates can catch it on the Web at:

Cop Bicycles at $1,481.28 Each
Harold Goldstein

For reference the MNCPPC recently purchased bikes for its mounted officers (4 I think). These were very nice trek suspended mountain bikes, perfect for the their task which involves patrolling parks, often off road. For the DC bikes I'd have guessed that less expensive hybrids would do the job. The above bikes cost about $900 since Trek agreed to provide them at cost or thereabouts. However don't jump the gun here; must look to see if this budgeted item also includes helmets, lights, racks and accoutrements and other paraphernalia that could easily add another $3-500 per bike to the cost. So the total may not be that far out of line.

The High Price of Bicycles -
TJ Hardman,

Ron Eberhardt questions the price Police Chief Ramsey is willing to pay for bicycles for his officers. In the first place, this is not an extreme price for such bicycles. Ask any of the reputable couriers around town, and they'll direct you to City Bikes in Adams Morgan. I expect that Ramsey is shopping there if he wants a bike that will stand up to the bu-sdevouring potholes one sees around town. One can buy a 50-pound bike at K-Mart for $100.00, and they'll last maybe six months of hard riding, and give a cop a heart attack. Instead a top-flight Cannondale, Xtreme or Rockhopper will weight perhaps 30 pounds with all of the required police-special equipment, will be exceptionally durable and maneuverable, and may last three years before the frame is irreparably damaged - and the auxiliary parts (half of the original cost) can then be mounted to a new frame, bought singly, and they'll last another three years. Remember, it's better to spend more for quality than to be penny-wise, pound foolish.

Cop Bicycles
Ed T. Barron,

$1400+ dollars may sound expensive but you have to remember that that includes: Seventy hours per cop in instruction time to learn how to ride one; a license from the license bureau; and all the folderol equipment required before the license can be obtained (light, horn, helmet, gloves, Spandex skivvies, and those hard-to-find clips that keep your trousers from getting caught up in the chain).

Sewer Covers
Alex Johnson,

Re: Rona Mendelsohn ( comment: ... The District "repaved" this strip [Massachusetts Avenue from Sixth to Third streets] and incorporated sewer covers (or whatever they're called) that rise a few inches above the road. As a consequence, cars (including mine) hit the covers every couple of feet. They did the same thing to 18th Street through Adams Morgan, spacing 3-inch-high manholes perfectly situated to whomp your right tires every five feet; likewise in the eastbound right lane of M Street through Georgetown. All of these roadways are in areas where residents or businesses have complained loud and long about traffic congestion. I doubt there was any intention to slow traffic, but it's very effective nonetheless.

Is It Greek or Is It Roman?
Ed T. Barron,

There's some major cosmetic surgery being performed on the Mass. Ave. facade of the AU Law School Building. It's hard to say just what the architectural style is. If they add elephants to the top of the columns then we'll know it's D.W. Griffith's work. Glad to see some attention being paid to this terminally ugly building. The landscaping is being improved but it would be nice if they would add some large round planters with surrounding benches on the helicopter sized landing area in the very front of the building to make it less stark and more campus like.

Setting the Record Straight
Steph "Copy editor among other things" Faul,

The name of the raincloud character in "Li'l Abner" is actually spelled "Joe Btsplk" and pronounced "Pbbbblt." As a child I hunched over the comics trying to figure out how to say a word with no vowels until my father stuck out his tongue and showed me. That was part of the joke -- poor Joe was not only a schlemozzle in general, but he would also get into trouble when anyone asked his name and he told them. Al Capp was the artist (hence Jeff's confusion) and he had some strange political ideas. One recurring theme involved "schmoos," strange blob-like creatures that performed competent household labor, had eyes that made dandy buttons, and, when fried, tasted just like chicken. Their existence endangered all kinds of profitable industries, which tried therefore to suppress them.

Media Coverage of the AIDS Ride.
Dianne Rhodes, Crew # 5020 (Sweep Crew),

Perhaps the Washington Post and Washington Times have a very short attention span in covering this Third Washington DC AIDS ride. The Times ran a two page story, but seemed more interested in provoking criticism and rehashing past problems than in presenting fresh information about the riders and crew. Riders and others who are interested in this mobile community can subscribe to the Washington AIDS Ride listserv. More information and instructions on how to subscribe can be found at:

So you're interested in that big advertising spot in the beginning of dc.story? Contact Jan Genzer -- the dc.story marketing maven--at or call him at 202.364.0383.


A Good Bank
Lynn Dorman,

In response to Gabe Goldberg and his comment on Weird Bank Marketing let me tell you about a good bank that does no marketing at all--OBA Federal at 600 F Street, N.W. Unless they have changed since I left, they pay interest on checking accounts and do not charge for the checks. It was also the only institution I saw that still had some rotary dial phones !!!

Billions of Business Opportunities in Latin America and the Caribbean!
Carla White,

The Inter-American Development Bank will offer a seminar on July 14 on business opportunities that result from the IDB financed programs for modernization of the state and public sector reform in Latin America and the Caribbean. There is a $150 fee per participant which includes a six-month subscription to IDB Projects, the monthly magazine that carries the Bank's inventory of projects. The seminar begins at 9:00 a.m. in the Andres Bello Auditorium on the 9th floor of the IDB headquarters at 1300 New York Avenue, N.W. Those interested in attending should contact in advance Carla White (202) 623-1365, or Kathy Sanchez at (202) 623-1364.

Forest Hills Summer Social at Levine School of Music
Ann Kessler,

The Forest Hills Citizens Association will be holding its annual summer social (and brief business) meeting at the Levine School of Music, 2801 Upton St.NW, on Thursday July 9th from 7-9. Our social will feature musical entertainment, refreshments, and the opportunity to visit the new Sallie Mae Hall and Levine School campus. Please join us for this neighborhood musical event!

Pentagon Theater Owner Agrees

The manager of the Pentagon City mall theaters has agreed to show the X-Files movie at 10:13 p.m. on Friday, July 10. True Philes will know the significance of 10:13! This will be a special audience-participation event; bring your cell phones and flashlights, a script will be provided. Think "Rocky Horror" without singing and dancing. Let me know if you have any questions.

Meeting Location Sought
David Sobelsohn,

Our modern-drama discussion group, Footlights, seeks a meeting location in a restaurant in the Maryland near-suburbs. We need a private, quiet, well-lit room seating 25-30 near the metro with some main courses below $10. We can't pay extra for the room. If you know of such a restaurant please send an e-mail message to

Need Help With Your Computer Needs At Home Or In The Office?
Nick Chang - (202.237.0130)

PC hardware repairs and upgrades; hardware/software installation and upgrades; maintenance, troubleshooting and network support; Back-up and archive your files and email on CD-ROM; setup computer network for the small office; build customized database in Access or other programs; web training and web page development; application/Internet training; data recovery. Reasonable rates. Excellent references.

Design/Build/Carpentry: Small design build firm specializing in additions, decks, built-in furniture, and custom-designed furniture available for in-home consultation. No job too small. John Taboada,

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

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Kibitzing by Jeffrey Itell. Copyright (c) 1998. All rights reserved.

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