themail.gif (3487 bytes)

July 18, 1999

Those Cell Towers in themail, Again

Dear Communicators:

Stephanie Mencimer, who writes for the City Paper, suggests below that I do something that I have resisted so far, which is to edit submissions for length. I have sent long messages back to their authors and asked them to cut them, and I have frequently used this space to beg you to keep your E-mails short. But I haven't gone to the kitchen drawer, pulled out the meat ax, and applied it to themail. I'll leave it up to you -- should I butcher your carefully and artistically crafted missives brutally and crudely and stupidly, or should I let the windbags blather on endlessly?

I hope I say this concisely enough. Mayor Anthony Williams took a position on the cell towers during his WTOP interview on Thursday — “He says there are alternatives to providing telecommunications coverage in the park. The mayor is among opponents of Senator Tom Daschle's amendment to the city's budget that orders the National Park Service to allow the erection of two towers in the Park.” For the story, see . Actually, the people who oppose Bell Atlantic's position now do so for five different reasons. Some people are just against all cellular telephone communications, and think that microwaves are a health hazard. Others think that driving while telephoning causes accidents, like driving while drinking, and should be discouraged. A third group weighs the the benefits of eliminating all cell phone dead spots against the costs of erecting the towers in the middle of the park, and thinks the environment is more important than minor disruptions in telephone calls. A fourth group believes that the dead spots can be eliminated by erecting antennas on buildings around the park, and thinks Bell Atlantic is just trying to save money by building towers in public parkland instead of leasing roof space. And a fifth group isn't persuaded on any of those grounds, but is offended by the company's strong-arm tactics to undermine District sovereignty. Bell Atlantic, of course, disagrees with all of these positions.

Gary Imhoff


Too Long
Stephanie Mencimer,

I used to love reading dcstory, but I have to confess that I can't get through the mail these days. It seems to be a compilation of the same old blowbaggers writing ad nauseum about stuff we already know. The mail would be much more lively if more people wrote shorter things — or at least if the old blowbaggers got cut off at a short paragraph or two. Just my two cents....


Cell Towers in Rock Creek
Leila Afzal,

Let's have a compromise on the cell towers in Rock Creek Park. We can allow them, but make it illegal to use one's cell phone while driving. I think those who argue that they want the towers only for safety reasons are hiding behind that argument. Most want the cell towers so they can chat on their way to and from work. Let's see how many cell tower advocates agree to the ban on talking on the phone while driving.


Cell Towers
Gaelyn Davidson,

In response to Ralph Blessing, I like your spirit! I can see the headlines now: “Tree-hugging DC Citizens Defend Park from Cell Towers.” If it comes to that, I'm willing to spend a couple hours chained to a tree too — not because I don't want cell towers (I agree with Mr. McGinty and Mr. Davidson that they're good technology and good safety as long as they're not abused/used while driving), but because I thoroughly resent the way they're being politically manhandled into the park.

Why not propose a compromise? We'll take the towers peacefully as long as: a) they're blended into the landscape, b) they're shared resources, not proprietary (why should only one company benefit?), and c) that a federal law be passed that makes operating both a cell phone and an automobile, at the same time, anywhere in the country, illegal (since our national government is pushing the towers, they should be the ones to ante up this bit, AND take the heat from their own constituency). There. That should give them some pause.


Cell Phones and Park Activists
Stan Wellborn,

Well, I was one of the silent majority on this issue until I saw that Derek McGinty had the courage to say that reliable cell phone service was indeed needed in the park. On issues regarding Rock Creek Park, an activist minority typically refuses to acknowledge the “greater good” argument. Whether it is cell phones or closing the parkway completely to all motor traffic, a relatively small group of park users throws up political barriers to all citizens who also have legitimate reasons to make full use of the park — such as getting to work by car or bicycle. In this case, I believe the majority of park users want their cell phones to work when and where they need them.

Park activists have every right to press their causes, but they should not forget that Rock Creek is a national park that is supported by our Federal — not District — taxes. Because Rock Creek Park is administered by the National Park Service, the Senate had a strong argument on its side when it once again pulled rank on D.C. As a District resident, I get angry when Congress overrides the expressed wishes of D.C. citizens. But I also want the benefits of communications technology to be available citywide at all times. And the photos of the proposed towers — one near the tennis courts and the other at a maintenance yard — suggest to me that this will not be the aesthetic or environmental disaster that the opponents tout. Now, if you want a real environmental, aesthetic, and safety disaster, turn your attention to the carving up of major city streets to lay cable for, what else, communications networks.


Cell Phones and Needed Towers: Public/Govt. Affairs Blunder
M-D Richards, Dupont East,

I don't have or use a cell phone — one time a friend from out-of-country left hers with me but I never used it. Blessing says it is a home rule issue — that is, it's about who decides — I agree. And political issues call for political action. Some, like McGinty, need a cell phone to make their commute more productive or interesting, while others, like Vidito, advocate abstinence. I think those who want cell phones should have cell phones, and the “safety issue” is the rhetorical high ground both sides are trying to snatch. Can't they design something attractive and unobtrusive, for the gods sake? Employ artists and designers! And, target some of those profits into local needs. Corporate and political interests should know by now that citizens, regardless of the issue, get outraged when they are cut out and “Screw DC” bills are passed (just watch what happens with our “friend” from northern Virginia, Moran, when he tries to jam the federal prison down our throats while he talks about home rule for DC and gets shrill over slapping Ronald Reagan's name on National airport... hypocrite). If anything, this shows poor political savvy on the part of Bell Atlantic. Don't they understand the value residents assign to that green space? They should call (what appears to be) their Congressional dogs off and work with their customers to find a solution. They should hire public consultation experts — they'll save money in the long run by avoiding lawsuits and a loss of reputation, and maybe, just maybe, everybody can win. There are more important issues on which to use citizen energy. And while the cell phone companies are at it, why don't they teach their customers a little bit of “public” phone etiquette. People walking around screaming into the phones, even during a dinner conversation, is rude. Add that to police, fire, and buses, and we'll all be deaf by 50. By the way, isn't Rock Creek Park the only federal park paid for by local, as in DC, residents? I wouldn't complain if cars were banned altogether from the park. These noisy pollution machines, however practical, make a bike ride or jog in our main green space, our shared urban park, unpleasant and polluted. In urban areas, where we have fewer yards, shared public park space is more important than in areas with lots of green space. Urban parks contribute to the health of our community, retain property values and residents. If DC residents don't look out for these items, nobody will. Can you imagine what this place would look like now if citizens hadn't protected the historical sites? For one, there would be a highway through West Dupont to match the one in East DC. Our neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, not highways. Parks are parks, not highways. Let's keep it that way. These are our main assets that we must improve and leverage to survive and pass to those who live here 100 years from now. Long after Bell Atlantic is gone, future generations will honor local citizens who paid attention and spoke out.


The Economics of Cell Towers
Austin Kelly,

The Rock Creek Park cell tower issue has been portrayed as nature lovers vs cell phone users. True enough, but there's at least one more constituency here. I don't believe that towers IN the park are the only solution. A previous poster on the list pointed out that towers on tall buildings alongside the park would also fix the problem. Towers IN the park are simply the cheapest solution from Bell Atlantic's perspective. If the park's stewards decided that eyesores don't belong in parks, mobile providers would have to pay some serious bucks to owners of DC property for the right to put towers on their property. If the Feds force towers in the park, they are essentially undercutting the owners of private property on the park's edges, and renting government land to a well connected special interest at prices below those that the free market would set.


Selling Closed Schools
Sarah Woodhead, 21st Century School Fund,

I just read today's story in the Post Metro section on DC Public Schools and the sale of closed school buildings. Two contradictory messages came out of yesterday's Council hearings on the subject: First, sell those buildings ASAP; and second, don't sell anything until we know what we need for the future. Both impulses respond to genuine and valid community concerns. On the one hand, empty and unmaintained school buildings blight neighborhoods and deprive those who would use them well (some charter schools and others) of the chance to develop their programs, renovate the buildings, and perhaps reinvigorate neighborhoods. Those who oppose sale of closed school buildings generally reflect the position that some of the closure decisions were dire mistakes. The school system hasn't operated under a long-range facility master plan since 1967, leading many to question whether DCPS is clear about what its building infrastructure needs are. In our travels around the city, we hear regret and frustration in particular about Kingsman Elementary School, McKinley High School, Carter G. Woodson Junior High, and the former site of Hardy Middle School. Are there others? I would like to ask the readers of themail: What school sites, if any, would be on your list of sites the school system should hold onto? What school sites (open or closed) are the best (largest grounds, most convenient to get to, etc.) in your neighborhood? What I'm getting at is to assemble a short list of closed sites that folks think may be worth holding on to. It may not be possible, and themail readership is probably not geographically diverse enough to provide an overview, but I'd be interested to know what people think. Please e-mail your responses to me and I'll submit a summary back to themail.


Down the Slippery Slope of Quality of Life
Larry Seftor,

One doesn't really have to search out quality of life problems while living in D.C., they just kind of thrust themselves in your face as you live your life or read the paper. Here are a couple of mine from this past Tuesday. Because I had purchased a car I received one of those temporary inspection stickers that allowed me a month of driving, during which I was to go to a District Inspection Station for an actual inspection. Believing that one of the two inspection stations might be closed, I found assistance from the back of the temporary sticker. It gave the address of a single inspection station, the one on West Virginia Avenue. Following the instructions on the sticker I made my way over there, only to find that the facility was fenced up and closed. I was not the only one who wasted a trip, as I saw at least one other car make the same mistake — another one of probably hundreds a month who are mislead by those faulty inspection stickers. Correct stickers should have been printed (the pennies they cost would have been a tiny fraction of the registration fee charged), but if not that, at least someone could have taken a magic marker and crossed off the incorrect address. Unfortunately, there appears to be not a single soul within DMV who has both the intelligence and initiative to correct this misleading information.

That same day there was an article in the Post's Style section that reflected the depths to which the state of movie theaters has dropped in the city. Because of the closing of theaters that show “art movies” there is a new initiative at the Fair City Mall in Fairfax, where two investors are going to invest $250,000 in renovations and then show quality movies. (Unlike most readers of themail I have actually been to Fair City Mall, albeit many years ago.) It is sad state of affairs when a far out suburb shows more interest in this aspect of culture than our “city.”


Traffic Lights and Traffic
Ms. Dorothy Persiflage,

Ms. Persiflage wishes everyone a good day, and wishes to share a concern about traffic which may have validity in other parts of the city than those which she will address. In order to do this, Ms. Persiflage must share a piece of personal information about herself: she is a “reverse” commuter. That is, every weekday she commutes to her incredibly high powered position in a large organization out in Maryland. She leaves the inner city via Florida Avenue, turning left onto New York Avenue, and out onto the Baltimore-Washington Parkway each morning, and she retraces this route each evening. On her way home, she often sees “Moses” waving his little tree branch at motorists (a somewhat disoriented fellow recently profiled in The Washington Post), and enjoys the other unusual people and sights which abound on this particular route.

One thing she does NOT enjoy are the frequent stops at traffic lights along New York Avenue, at backwater streets which often have no vehicles waiting to cross or turn onto New York Avenue. Over the years she has noticed long lines of “non-reverse-commuters” waiting at these lights for non-existent vehicles to cross the other way. This is not only frustrating, but Ms. Persiflage, who long ago tore up her Sierra Club and Greenpeace cards (not to mention her NOW membership card — she shamefully confesses that she was once a bona fide member of that now thoroughly discredited organization), worries about the substantial air pollution this causes in our city. The area she speaks of is where 9th St., Burview (spelling?), Kendall, Fenwick and 16th St., N.E., cross New York Avenue. Ms. Persiflage will defer to the more technologically oriented subscribers to themail, but she suspects that fairly simple technology exists which can either locally sense when vehicles are waiting to cross or turn onto New York Avenue, or which can remotely monitor traffic and control the traffic lights accordingly. She suspects that the cleaner air, and shorter and more enjoyable commutes for so many people, would more than justify the costs of installing such a system. The current system is, frankly, unacceptable. She sincerely solicits the views of others on this topic.

And since we are on the topic of New York Avenue, Ms. Persiflage will offer her own opinion on one of the city's great, and enduring, mysteries, i.e., why is it that the traffic in the middle lane of New York Avenue is always the slowest? Ms. P suspects that it has to do with personalities; slowpokes tend to be, quite literally, middle-of-the-roaders. But in this one extremely rare case, she may not have it exactly right. If not, she invites readers to set her straight. A tout ta' . . . . Do


Georgetown Ghosts, by William Tipton Tablott
Mark Richards, Dupont East,

Here's a new subject, in honor of the Mayor's announcement of the creation of the City Museum. Georgetown was merged with Washington City and County on February 21, 1871. This poem conveys the sentiments of those who might have preferred to remain a city of the District rather than become a neighborhood:

The ghosts of Georgetown when they meet
In haunted house or moonlit street
With pride recall the functions gay
When down the Philadelphia way
The Federal City overnight
Moved to its bare and swampy site,
For Georgetown then a busy mart,
A growing seaport from the start,
Where a whole-hearted spirit reigned,
Threw side its doors, and entertained
With wines and viands of the best—
The Federal City was its guest.

In memory of the good old days,
Whose ways to them were modern ways
Congenial ghosts across Rock Creek,
With formal bows and steps antique,
Rehearse a spectral minuet
Where once in bright assemblies met—
Beruffled belles looked love to beaus
In powdered wigs and faultless hose;
Or merchant ghosts survey the skies
And venture guesses wetherwise
Regarding winds that will prevail
To speed their ships about to sail.

Still in the shaded hillside streets
A trace of old-time welcome greets
The passer-by who has a flare
For scenes of old. No longer there
A buoyant Georgetown stands alone,
The Federal City having grown
Until their boundaries overlap;
So that, deleted from the map,
Though once the Federal City’s host,
Georgetown itself is now a ghost.


DC Government Web Address
Roxanna Deane,

A good list of these addressees can be found at . Click on community in the column of choices on the left of the screen.


Medical Marijuana Initiative
Art Spitzer, ACLU (

Willie Schatz, , asks about the status of the Marijuana Medical Initiative. As readers know, the ACLU filed suit last fall seeking release and certification of the votes. The case was argued before our newest federal judge, Richard Roberts, on December 18, 1998. He has been sitting on it since then. A very poor way to begin service as a judge. If you happen to bump into Judge Roberts at the grocery store, feel free to tell him that if he won't do his job, you think he shouldn't get his pay. Meanwhile, the “Barr Amendment” (which is what is preventing the release and certification of the votes) expires with the fiscal year on September 30, 1999, and that would remove the bar. But Barr and others are trying to re-enact it as part of the fiscal year 2000 D.C. budget. So tell your friends around the country to tell their congressional representatives to vote against it.


Satellite TV
Peter Luger, Mt. Pleasant,

When I moved a few months ago, I was very excited to live in a house that had PrimeStar Satellite TV. I could finally get Comedy Central in DC! While I highly recommend it for the choices you get, the service is actually worse than District Cablevision. Every time we've had a problem and called for service (three times in the past three months), the service tech has not arrived. Once we were given an 8 hour window. After a few calls to check on the tech's status, we received a call at about 7 p.m. that he wasn't coming. The call was made to a wrong phone number, so we got the message a day later. The other two service calls, to be filled within a four hour window, both resulted in calls hours after the tech was to arrive to say he wouldn't be coming. PrimeStar has recently been acquired by DirectTV, but the transition is going to take 18 months. I don't know if this is effecting their service or not. I'll report back in 2001.


Richard Gervase,

For Ralston Cox and anyone else interested in Starpower, I'd suggest contacting Roland Braswell at (202) 250-7851 or . I recently signed a contract with Starpower (also for the purpose of busting the District Cablevision monopoly) for a newly constructed 134-unit townhouse project on Capitol Hill and Roland was very aggressive in getting our business. We are now proceeding through the design/installation phase, so I can't yet comment on Starpower's delivery of services, although they could just about stand still and outpace District Cablevision (suspecting Cablevision's incompetence, we installed all necessary underground and in-house cable well in advance and at our expense and still waited forever to get the site connected).


The Devil You Know vs. the One You Don’t
Austin Kelly,

Ralston Cox wrote in to report problems with getting StarPower interested in his 77 unit building. The same process has just begun here at VanNess North, looking into rewiring the building for high-speed net access, alternate cable providers, etc. Any interest in a list dedicated to condo and co-op buildings looking at communication issues? I think would be willing to host it, but I say that before thinking through the technical issues<g>. Sharing results and negotiation issues might even the field a bit. We saw one offer from a provider that contained fine print to the effect that they had an exclusive franchise with us for 17 years! Like when District Cablevision sent long term contracts to big buildings just before deregulation, presumably in the hope that some would sign without thinking. Putting our heads together we can avoid those mistakes.


Drummers in the Park
Bonnie Gantt,

The drummers began gathering in Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park some 25 or so years ago. During the warm season, any musician can come to the park and practice their skills. Sometimes African dancers and others move to the music to the delight of the crowds that gather around the drummers and their enchanting music. At one time, some of the old-timers were a powerful force in the park and helped to clean up and clean out the illegal activities that once kept the community from enjoying the park. Recently, they were approached by Park Police about the noise level and a few complaints that had been called in from new comers to the neighborhood. They are currently working on a compromise that will work for all. You are invited to come to the park around 3:00-8:00 in the afternoon on Sundays and join the fun.


RE: WP Reports Marion Barry Is Mayor
Eric Lipton, Washington Post staff writer,

We did in fact have an old page posted on our website that suggested Barry was still at the helm. It is now gone. The District section of our site instead now has an up-to-date listing of some of the city's new websites. You can reach it at .

I also welcome E-mails from themail readers about subjects they would like a reporter to look into, particularly related to the quality of city services, which is what I mostly write about. Can't guarantee I will get to all of the ideas right away, but it is important that I know what is going on in different city neighborhoods so I will always have fresh anecdotes for the stories I am writing. Thank you in advance.


Re: WP Reports Marion Barry Is Mayor
Sara Cormeny,

As a matter of fact, it was probably _me_ who wrote that, back in 1997! I used to maintain the regional Q&A section for, until I left the organization in November 1997. Apparently somebody who still works there saw your post, because that page now seems to have been turned into a redirect. (Dan Froomkin is the current Metro editor at and he's a close friend of mine.)

I won't trash or defend my former employer, but I will say that is a humongous site maintained by a lot of people, and out-of-date information is unfortunately impossible to avoid completely, though all the great editors there strive to do so. Send Dan E-mail at if you find other moldy Metro section information, and I know he'll act on it quickly or get his minions to do so.


Unsolicited Faxes
Robert Revere,

In response to Bill Adler's query: I received the same unsolicited faxes on the same day — 2 from a company with a 900 number and a London address, and one from a cellular phone company in Falls Church. I don't know the DC laws, but I am anxious to find out.


Junk Faxes
E. James Lieberman,

I get quite a few, and usually call the 800 number if there is one. The “faxer” pays for that call, and they are always glad to remove my number from the list. One even gave me the number of a master list from which they got my number.


Unsolicited Faxes in DC
Austin Kelly,

Bill Adler complained about junk faxes and asked about DC law in regard to them. Bill, you don't need DC law. 47 USC 227 is federal law that gives you the right to sue for $500 ($1500 if you can prove that the faxer knew it was illegal) in local courts. sells a book called “How to Sue a Telemarketer” that will give you all the details. Our co-op gets the occasional junk fax, and I've asked our lawyers to look in to creating a standard form. The idea is that we'd let our staff prepare the form and do the legwork on their own time, and proceeds would go annually to a staff party. A lot of times you don't actually have to file suit — just sending a demand letter will get you $100 or $200 in return for not suing. And you can sue the company selling the advertised product, not just the offshore marketing company that sent the fax.

On a related telemarketing and privacy note, am I the only one to see the irony in the fact that the same Republican Congress that blocked banking privacy and has blocked E-mail privacy is now up in arms about a PBS station sharing data with the Democrats?


Roast Chicken
Peter Luger, Mt. Pleasant,

Lebanese Taverna in Woodley Park, across from the Metro Station. It comes wrapped in crispy pita with great roast potatoes.


Best Roast Chicken
Andrea Berman,

The Best Roast Chicken in Washington DC is found at the Granja D'Oro near the Northeast corner of Columbia and Adams Mill Roads in Adams Morgan.



Computer Whiz Wanted
Greg Jones,

I am looking for a computer whiz to come to my house and restore my 3-year-old Dell computer/printer to working condition. The CD-ROM has crashed, and the info provided by Dell has not enabled me to get it running. Also the printer works intermittently, at best; most recently I couldn't turn it off and had to unplug it. I think (but don't know) that the problem is with the PC. Any assistance appreciated. Thanks.



Moving Sale
Marcy Walcer,

5 piece set of luggage (gray w/black and red piping), $125.00. IKEA white 6 drawer lingerie chest, $60.00. IKEA white 4 drawer dresser, $50.00. 2 pine end tables, $30.00 each or 2 for $50.00. Pine coffee table, $50.00. 3 drawer metal filing cabinet, $30.00. FUTON (w/blue cover) and pine frame (throwing in matching pillows and curtains), $150.00. Night table w/2 deep drawers, $40.00. Brass lamp, $10.00. Radio w/dual cassette and detachable speakers, $20.00. If interested in any of the above, please contact Marcy at 202-362-1195 and leave message.


Couch and Table
Steve Goodman,

Original Zimmerman Mohair Couch (red) with matching Love Seat (green) — from the 1920's! $945 OBO. Oak Wood Kitchen/Dining Room Table (diameter=39"), with 4 chairs. $375 OBO. Steve Goodman, (202) 986-9431.


For Free
Mishelle Miller,

Free! Brass-type and mirrored vanity with two glass shelves and bench seat. Paid $100 for it 5 years ago, it's in good shape but no longer stunning. Pick up in Dupont.


themail@dcwatch is an E-mail discussion forum that is published every Wednesday and Sunday. To subscribe, to change E-mail addresses, or to switch between HTML and plain text versions of themail, use the subscription form at . To unsubscribe, send an E-mail message to with “unsubscribe” in the subject line. Archives of past messages are available at .

All postings should also be submitted to , and should be about life, government, or politics in the District of Columbia in one way or another. All postings must be signed in order to be printed, and messages should be reasonably short — one or two brief paragraphs would be ideal — so that as many messages as possible can be put into each mailing.

Send mail with questions or comments to
Web site copyright ©DCWatch (ISSN 1546-4296)