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March 21, 1999

Consulting with themail

Dear Consultants:

In the past few months, did you get a call from the Mayor asking for your advice and counsel about his baseball stadium proposal, about his proposal to move the University of the District of Columbia, about his proposal to eliminate City Council oversight of expenditures over $1,000,000, about his budget, or about anything? I didn't think so. Nobody else did, either.

In today's Washington Post, Tony Williams defends his governing style, and essentially insists that he'll continue to make decisions unilaterally, without public input or consultation. Even if he makes good decisions — which this style of decision making makes less likely — it's impossible in a democracy to impose decisions when you haven't built any consensus on or public agreement to them. And it's impossible to build consensus when decisions are made without any public participation. When Tony Williams was the Chief Financial Officer, he was unparalleled in his openness. He initiated what he called the citizens budget review process, in which he invited in both disinterested and interested members of the public to critique the budget proposals for the government as a whole and for particular departments and agencies. He got a wide range of opinions and suggestions; he said that the whole consultation process was tremendously useful and productive; and he expressed amazement that the Council and the Mayor had never done anything like that before. Now that he is Mayor, he has retreated to making the most important decisions in back room secrecy. I, for one, am hoping for a turn-around soon, and hoping that the Mayor returns to being the advocate for openness and consultation who ran to be the Mayor.

Gary Imhoff


Playing with a Full Deck (or, How to Navigate DCRA?)
Mark Eckenwiler,

Lunatic that I am, I've decided to buy a house on Capitol Hill. The one in question has a garage, and accordingly almost no rear yard. In the long run, I'd like to build a deck on top of the garage, as exists at more than half of the other houses on the same block. Assuming I'm sufficiently foolhardy to want to do this by the book, how should I go about it? Is there an office/phone number at DCRA from which I can get details about the process? A web site, perhaps? And since this is a historic district, what other hoops must one jump through? Leaving aside actual construction, what costs, deadlines, or waiting periods ought one to anticipate?

Pointers to useful information, or even hair-raising tales of what mistakes NOT to make (and/or which offices/officials to avoid), would be greatly appreciated.


Ralph Blessing,

Mayor Williams's proposal to relocate UDC to Anacostia is probably dead on arrival, due largely to the way it came across as government by fiat. Had he at least broached the subject with UDC's president and its board (if enough of its members could ever be gathered together), then he would have had the upper hand by being able to state that negotiations were attempted, even if they had gone nowhere. As it is now, everyone has staked out a position, each of which has a degree of legitimacy. Student fears about the university being “ghettoized” and UDC officials' concerns about being bypassed in such an important matter are certainly understandable; the mayor is probably correct, though, in suggesting that the current campus is greatly underutilized and that the land/property could benefit the city much more if used for different purposes. What might make the most sense at this juncture is a compromise of sorts: why not consolidate certain departments and campus activities in a reduced portion of the existing Van Ness campus (thereby freeing up large chunks of prime real estate for development) while at the same time building a second campus in Anacostia that could focus more on the needs of students in that part of town? After years of complaints about how the city's development plans always ignore wards across the river, one would hope that the construction of an educational institution there would be better received than what we've heard so far.


Economic Development
Lara Kozak,

As a former and future resident of the District I wanted to throw in my two cents regarding economic development. Economic development is not the glue that holds the city together and makes communities good places to live. Thousands of people did not leave the District because they were concerned about how businesses were being treated or if the government laid out the red carpet for big business. They left because numerous basic services were not maintained, crime was threatening and the physical fabric including historic structures were not cared for. These are not factors that are taken into consideration in the general scheme of “economic development,” yet it is “economic development,” “growth,” huge cash intensive projects (i.e..stadiums) and bowing down to big business that politicians and the government goes out of its way for, that the media hypes and that citizens are brainwashed into believing are the most important issues. I hope Williams will do right by the District and expand the notion and the reality of what is good for the city — the bottom line is not the bottom line, the issues not addressed by the market or economic development are just as important to the well-being of the city.


DC Schools
Ralph Blessing,

Parents of DC public school students are being asked to again complete the Impact Aid form (the one required by the feds for special grants) that is submitted at the beginning of the school year because those turned in last September, according to a memo from my son's principal, were LOST when the Board of Education moved to new offices. We're talking about individual forms for every public school student, in other words 70,000+ forms. How does one possibly go about losing 70,000 forms? And what degree of compliance do they anticipate in getting a second set completed by parents three quarters of the way through the school year? And we wonder why, once again, millions of dollars in available federal grant moneys went unclaimed by the DC school system.


Crunching the Wilson Bridge Numbers
Nick Keenan,

Some of the numbers that are being thrown around in the discussion of a new Wilson Bridge: The current bridge handles 200,000 cars per day, and opens about 220 times a year for boats. The new bridge will cost about $2 billion, about half of that cost will be to make it a drawbridge, and it will require fewer than half as many openings. What does this mean about the cost and who is bearing it? My guess (with no basis in reality) is that the annual cost of operation and debt service will be about 10% of the construction cost, or $200 million. Since half of the cost is due to the bridge being a drawbridge, that would mean $100 million allocated to cars, and $100 million to boats. 200,000 cars per day times 365 days per year = 73 million cars per year = $1.37 per car per crossing. 100 drawbridge raisings per year = $1 million per drawbridge raising.

It has been stated that the bridge will not be a toll bridge, as it would not be cost effective to recover the cost from motorists. I will concede that $1.37 seems nominal — if just barely. But boats are another matter — a million here and a million there, and pretty soon we're talking real money. Does anyone know how much, if anything, boats have to pay now to have the Wilson Bridge opened? There has been very little debate about whether a drawbridge is necessary — due perhaps to the fact that the current drawbridge benefits mostly the Washington Post — most of what you read treats it as a foregone conclusion that big boats need to get into the area between the Wilson Bridge and the 14th St. Bridge. But would there be any demand at all for a drawbridge if boats were forced to pay the real cost, a million dollars a pop?


Tax Refund
Leila Afzal,

Just thought I would report some good news in these early days of spring with hopes that such news will continue. We filed our DC tax return around February 28, 1999. Our tax refund arrived on March 16, 1999.


DC Geography
David Sobelsohn,

In his posting on a location for a DC big league baseball stadium, Phil Greene writes “RFK Stadium is in Anacostia.” My knowledge of DC geography is a little fuzzy. Isn't the neighborhood known as "Anacostia" south of the Anacostia river, and isn't RFK north of that same river?


RFK and Anacostia
Sara Cormeny,

Since when is RFK Stadium in Anacostia? I must admit I get inordinately riled when people mix up their SE/SW geography as it seems to me the assumption is that everything “over there” that's not in the immediate ultra-tony Capitol Hill neighborhood is all part of one large (unsavory) neighborhood. A little clarification is in order: Anacostia is on the southwest side of the Anacostia River, and RFK Stadium is on the east side. If RFK can be said to be in a neighborhood (and since it's such a behemoth astride the edge of the river, it's sort of beyond the edge of a proper neighborhood), I'd say Capitol Hill/Lincoln Park, but never Anacostia. It's like saying that the White House is in Georgetown, or that UDC is in Chevy Chase — only off by one or two miles, but still, a world of difference when you think about it ...


Ciao, Ciao Baby
David Sobelsohn,

In her posting on the closing of Ciao Baby Cucina, Annie McCormick writes, in effect, good riddance, because of the unpleasant service. I too was unimpressed by the service at CBC, which is why (after the first time) I went there only for the happy hour food, the best no-extra-charge happy hour food in DC. Not only was it a huge amount of decent food for no more than the price of a drink, but you had minimal contact with staff: it was all (except the drink) self-service. Maybe too many people had the same idea . . . .


Utility Rates for Churches
Andrea Wyyat Sexton,

As far as I'm concerned, churches, synagogues and mosques ARE commercial establishments. Not only should they pay their utility bills, but they should also pay DC real estate taxes. I'm perfectly happy for those establishments to take whatever charitable deductions the IRS allows (feeding the homeless, etc.), but stop forcing the rest of us to bear the financial burdens of lifting your spirits.


Utility Rates for Churches
Jonathan Abram,

“What on earth are they thinking of?” That is Barbara Lock Goodman's response to charging churches, synagogues and other charitable organizations utility rates at the “commercial” level. We [at Hogan and Hartson] have been fighting this battle for some time now with respect to water and sewer rates. Until 1997, the District had a long-standing policy of providing water to charities at reduced rates (or free), in recognition of the important services these groups provide to needy D.C. residents. Churches and other groups relied on these discounts to make ends meet. Two years ago, the Water and Sewer Authority, without warning, put a halt to that practice and raised charities' water and sewer rates to the full “commercial” or retail level, sending many charities reeling. One of the hardest hit groups, a community based non-profit housing provider, saw its bills increase by $100,000, a burden ultimately borne by its low income tenants.

WASA knew the public outcry that would result when news of this rate increase came to light. Perhaps fearing such an outcry, WASA raised the charitable rates in a secret meeting and, when the non-profit community tried to protest, WASA literally refused to give them a hearing, even though the law requires one whenever rates are raised. WASA compounded the problem further three months later, when it raised rates again — by an additional 42 percent. We are pro bono counsel to hundreds of congregations and community organizations who have gone to court challenging WASA's attempt to increase charities' rates without even so much as a hearing. The groups have asked the court to invalidate the increased rates until WASA gives them the hearing the law requires. The case will be argued in the D.C. Court of Appeals later this year. If the local charities prevail, they may finally get the public hearing required by law, at which they will recount the harm that "commercial" water bills have done to them and to the needy people they serve.


The Greaseman's Influence; Baseball in Our City
Paul Penniman,

Larry Seftor may not believe this, but the Greaseman's forum (and appreciative audience) is every bit as injurious to our citizenry as a publicly addicted mayor. The less we have to hear the likes of Mr. Tracht, the less our disenfranchised feeling comrades on the other side of the Anacostia will feel compelled to vote for any black man who appears to be on their side. John Thompson had it right two weeks ago when he advised Tracht to go talk to middle school suburban kids and not inner city church groups.

On the subject of baseball, the discussion needs to return to the following question: following the model of Baltimore, Cleveland, and Denver, how would an inner-city ballpark benefit our citizens? (To be economically tenable, a new ballpark or new guts for RFK would have to be built, at great expense.) It would be a great morale boost and lots of fun for people like me who are well-off and have been known to spend as much as $30 to watch a baseball game. But can we please start reversing the tide of not educating legions of people before we start building multi-hundred-million dollar play fields for the wealthy?


Double Standards
Dana Cole,

Hate to break it to you, Larry, but what Marion Barry did was to himself, was not a hate crime against another person, and did not involve senseless murder of another human. There is no comparison -- regardless of Mr. Tracht's profession, there are some issues which should be left off the table when it come to irreverence — i.e. hate crimes. In my opinion, Mr. Tracht, and every other American, should have been just as appalled as the jury which convicted King, if we are to believe in any of our founders' precepts, although our system has many flaws. Yes, there are many murders, all of which are egregious, and all of which should be as outrageous. We could debate for days as to why every murder does not evoke the same response of outrage. But face it, MURDER IS NOT FUNNY.


“Couple ’a Things...”
T. Jr. Hardman,

First but not foremost, Connie Ridgway takes issue with my suggestion that everyone arm themselves for possible Y2K disruptions. Actually, my suggestion is less that people be armed, and more that they be organized. There are career military and law enforcement personnel scattered throughout Washington's neighborhoods -- they probably are armed, and know how, when, and most importantly why to use, or not, their weapons in the common defense. Get to know these people. Secondly, we must finally and thankfully commend the Williams Administration for — at long last — taking aim at some of the worst abusers ever to leech off of the City — reforms have begun in Human Services. The mentally retarded once again are protected instead of being used as pawns to defraud Medicare/Medicaid. We can only hope that similar reforms will be seen in services dealing with the mentally ill. A choice between St. Elizabeths or freezing on the street is no choice at all. Most freeze.

Thirdly — the Onlining of Washington. There's no question that there are huge turf wars to be fought in this arena. But first let's dismiss this notion that DC is a state in the internet domain name system or should have “state” in the domain name. That's already implied in the part of the name. However, the .ci should probably be .gov. But the turf wars aspect of Onlining Washington is simply intolerable. Ridiculous infighting over the last two years has resulted in a situation where Congress has to spend enough — just to fix the City's Y2K disaster — to put a new Pentium II in the hands of every single District resident, including City employees and babes-in-arms. And if you even try to mention free Linux software to these people they just hang up on you — more due to Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt than through the slightest understanding of technical issues. This is absurd. The software cost savings alone could make that Pentium II for every resident into a top-tier laptop.


Learning Spanish
E. James Lieberman,

[In response to a request for recommendations for a Spanish tutor —] May I recommend a computer program put out by Transparent Language? It's amazing — you can even record your voice and compare it with native speaker on words and phrases. Also I recommend Tempo Bookstore near Tenley on Wisconsin Avenue NW for language books/courses (including TL). TL has a web site if you want to get a sample of what they have. It may not be a substitute for a “live” course but it makes a great supplement.



Evening Library Program
Jill Bogard,

Author-photographer Peter Penczer presents “Washington, DC: Past & Present,” a slide lecture featuring scenes of Washington “then and now.” Book signing, refreshments, free admission! Tuesday, April 6, 1999, 7:00 pm, Cleveland Park Library, Connecticut Ave. & Macomb St., NW (one block south of Cleveland Park metro on the red line). For information, call (202) 727-1345.


The 1968 Riots and its Effects on an Inner-City Catholic Parish in Washington, DC
Christopher J. Pohlhaus,

The Spring meeting of the Catholic Historical Society of Washington will sponsor a lecture and discussion: “The 1968 Riots and its Effects on an inner-city Catholic Parish in Washington, DC,” by Rev. Raymond B. Kemp, STL. Sunday, April 25, 1999, 4:00 p.m. St. Ann's Church, Tenley Circle, 4400 Wisconsin Avenue, NW. Father Raymond Kemp, a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington and a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center, will speak about the riots in Washington, DC, following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968. As a native Washingtonian and young priest assigned to Sts. Paul & Augustine parish at the time of the riots, Fr. Kemp has unique insights into the events surrounding this tumultuous period. The effects of the riots on this parish and the surrounding community will be discussed. Prior to the presentation will be a short business meeting. Refreshments will be served.

St. Ann's Church is located one block south of the Tenleytown/American University Metro Station. Parking is available on the street and in the church parking lot. Enter the church from the Yuma Street side and proceed downstairs to the Collins Room. The Catholic Historical Society of Washington was founded in 1976 in order to preserve and promote awareness of Catholic history in the Archdiocese of Washington, which includes the city of Washington, DC, and five Maryland counties (Montgomery, Prince George's, Charles, Calvert, and St. Mary's counties). The society sponsors four lectures each year, a quarterly newsletter, and occasional tours of historic Catholic sites. Annual dues are $20 and may be sent to the Catholic Historical Society of Washington, 924 G Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001.



Legal Assistant — Bilingual Spanish
Jon Katz,

Bilingual Spanish/English legal assistant and receptionist sought by downtown Silver Spring trial law firm. P/T & F/T available. Great experience. Near Metro. Fax res./cov. let.: Jon Katz, Marks & Katz, (301) 495-8815.



Mount Pleasant Arts Festival — Call for Artists
Becky Shannon,

We're planning an arts festival for Mount Pleasant, scheduled for Sunday, October 3, 1:00 pm to 6:00 pm. The scenarios is this: we're inviting D.C. artists to display their wares around Lamont Street Park, while we have a schedule of mellow entertainment — a swing band, Brazilian dancers, etc.— on the park stage. We're renting cafe tables for listeners and browsers who want to enjoy the performance or light fare from several food vendors and surrounding restaurants. The entry fee is cheap ($10 per space) to encourage amateurs. If you have a local art appreciation group or know interested amateurs or professionals, pass the word around or send me a contact name so I can get in touch.



Office Sublet, Silver Spring
Jon Katz,

One office and up to one secretarial space available at downtown Silver Spring law firm in nice building. Near Metro. Beautiful view of Woodside Park. Conference room and waiting area. Reasonable rates; short-term lease possible. Call Jon Katz, Marks & Katz, (301) 495-4300.


Any Suggestions for Off-Street Parking — Dupont/Adams-Morgan
Lonna Shafritz,

I'm looking for a parking place, as close to 19th and California as possible, starting early April, with easy access. Would prefer actual covered/protected garage space, but ANY ideas welcome. reply to above email or phone: 202-884-8784.


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