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September 12, 1999

The More They Stay the Same

Dear Suckers:

We've been had again. In last week's “Loose Lips” column, Eric Wemple wrote about the conflict between Mayor Tony Williams and the City Council, and wrote, “It's difficult to figure out why the mayor ends up at cross-purposes most often with the councilmembers who share his bent for reform.” Well, no, it isn't hard to figure out at all. The reform councilmembers want real reform — they want a city government that is not just efficient, but also clean, honest, and open. So far, Mayor Williams has shown only that he wants efficiency — the same corrupt government we've had for twenty years, just better run.

I'm a congenital pessimist and skeptic, so I'm rarely disappointed by the actions of the District government. But this time I was fooled, and the dashing of my foolish hope that something had changed and that DC would do something right has left me depressed. This week's decision by the Redevelopment Land Agency, written about below by David and Elizabeth McIntire, was abominable. The RLA, dominated by three new members appointed by the Mayor, made exactly the same decision that it would have made under the Barry administration. It rejected an outstanding proposal for the development of city owned properties surrounding the Columbia Heights Metro station, ignored the merits of the developers' proposals, and awarded the land to the same bunch of connected “developers” who have benefited from the District's largesse over the past two decades. Today, at the Ward One picnic for the Mayor, Williams turned his back on and gave the cold shoulder to fifty to sixty of his supporters in Columbia Heights who turned out to protest this decision, and he warmly embraced the few long-time Barry cronies who came to thank him for the favor.

The RLA's — the Williams administration's — decision in Columbia Heights sends two messages to the whole city. First, to citizens who are tempted to participate in the Mayor's “neighborhood action initiative” planning process, it says “don't waste your time.” Columbia Heights citizens participated in a two-year planning process for this property, and held two major public planning charettes, and the RLA and the Williams administration trashed and threw out every one of the citizens' findings and recommendations. Second, to major developers in the metropolitan area and throughout the nation, who were wondering if there were a new day in DC, it says “stay away” — the process is still as corrupt and as fixed as it ever was. What will win in DC is not how good your project is — that doesn't count under Williams any more than it did under Barry — but who you know, and the same corrupt insiders are still in charge. It isn't what you bring to the table, because the deals are still being done under the table. Damn.

Gary Imhoff


Tivoli Parcels in Columbia Heights
Dave and Elizabeth McIntire,

Well, our voices apparently were not heard. The disheartening Redevelopment Land Agency decision (either caving in to special interests, or, charitably, misguided) cannot go unchallenged. We have to let the Mayor and Councilmember Graham know how we feel about their hypocrisy on historic preservation and neighborhood development. If you would like to receive updates on Columbia Heights meetings, ongoing issues, and commentary, you may subscribe to the mail list at


Why the US Attorney Is Not the Answer
Nick Keenan, Shaw,

While it's a nice gesture that the US Attorney's office has taken an interest in nuisance properties, I can think of a few reasons not to get too excited — actually, a practical objection and two philosophical objections. The practical objections: nuisance properties are not a problem that can be “solved.” Rather, they represent an issue of law enforcement and governance that requires continued attention as the only long-term solution. Since the US Attorney's office has no obligation to do this work, it is inevitable that eventually their interest will wane, and they will declare victory and go home. Over the past ten years there have been a procession of “task forces” and “special operations” that have all followed this pattern, yet somehow the houses that were problems ten years ago are still problems today.

Philosophical objection one: What does it say about us and our city that we have to rely upon the feds for a basic function of government? Philosophical objection two: It lets the executive branch off the hook. We have a Housing Regulation Administration. It has over 60 employees and a budget of over $3 million. It has broad, almost draconian, legal authority to fine property owners and even seize their property. Yet as far as anyone can tell it has been years since the Housing Regulation Administration has actually done any Housing Regulation. Why are we the taxpayers spending $3 million a year on people who aren't getting their job done, while at the same time we are asking the feds to do it for them?


Library Community Information Services
Diane Mohr,

Just wanted to remind everybody that for referrals to public/private service providers you can always try the Community Information Services at the DC Public Library. Unfortunately not on the web, yet, but please call 202-727-0515 to speak to the manager. She will attempt to connect you with organizations, agencies and service providers via her Information and Referral in-house database. Subjects covered include emergency services, recreation, health and educational service providers, etc. For questions about the service please reply to this E-mail, as none is available for staff at the library as yet.


Hooray for Denver Teachers
Ed T. Barron,

Denver teachers (and the Teachers' Union) have approved a merit pay provision for teachers who meet the goals set for students in their classrooms. Teachers are given the option of accepting this method of annual reward as opposed to traditional “pay for just hanging around long enough.” About 15% of the teachers in the Denver School System have demonstrated confidence in their abilities and signed up for this innovative provision. They are to be commended.


Misunderstood Properties
Kirsten Sherk, Dupont Circle,

Does anyone know anything about the row of beautiful brownstones on the 1700 block of N Street, NW? They are abandoned, but they seem only recently abandoned — there are still blinds and air conditioning units in the windows. And then there's strange graffiti on the beautiful wide front doors. I'm practically ready to start squatting in one to take advantage of the beautiful southern facing large windows, high ceilings and — dare one hope? — wood floors. Besides, it's probably the only way I could afford one, because if it went on the market they'd be WAY out of my range.


Real Enforcement, Not Selective Enforcement
Bryce A. Suderow,

Ms. Cochran claims I want a selective enforcement of the law, i.e. that want young black men locked up and that I want white lawbreakers to go unpunished. She couldn't be further from the truth.

I want the Summer Mobile Force to do the job Chief Ramsey said it would do — prevent violent crime, especially murders, in high crime areas. I don't see how he accomplishes this purpose when the Mobile Force is in middle class areas writing tickets or taking boat rides on the Potomac. I am simply asking the Chief to get control of his cops and make them do the job he said they would do. Frankly, I think the mobile force is a flop, a waste of manpower and our tax dollars and I'd just as soon disband it and send the officers back to their PSAs where they are badly needed to deter crime.


Smokers, Beware
Ed T. Barron,

Those few folks who still smoke should be careful of lighting up in front of the Chevy Chase Bank on the West side of Massachusetts Avenue between 48th and 49th Streets. There is a gas leak from a gas lamp in front of the bank. Bank personnel were alerted last week but the front of the bank still reeks of gas. Any one lighting up in front of the bank may get launched back into the bank.


Metro Subsidies
John Whiteside,

The discussion of driving costs brought up another issue: Metro subsidies, and the fact that Metro fares don't cover the costs. The real question is, “Should it?” The answer is “No.” The reason: the cost structures of “natural monopolies,” the economic term for products and service which, because of their high fixed costs are best provided by a monopoly — like transit. For natural monopolies, at the point where supply and demand are in balance (where the market is supposed to move all prices), the cost of the production is more than the price. Raise the price to where it covers the costs, and there's a large unmet demand for transit. Since getting people to jobs and school is something that benefits the public, this is a problem, which we address by subsidizing transit.

Bottom line: if Metro covered its costs, it would be an expensive taxi service, and there would be lots of stranded citizens. Subsidizing public transit is good economics and good public policy. Don't let any car-centric folks complaining about Metro subsidies tell you otherwise. That's why this died-in-the-wool free market capitalist thinks Metro should be free.


Is Metro Dead?
Janet Hess,

How the devil are other folks coping with Metro? For me, this has been a summer of repeated treks between the Cleveland Park and Foggy Bottom Metro stations. I don't want to belabor the point, but, having been poked, prodded, hospitalized, pathologized, surgeried, monitored, and otherwise appointmented silly, I found one overarching theme to the summer: Metro was abysmal. No matter the time or the day, Metro seemed far more likely to be “experiencing delays” (as I heard over and over) than to be running even remotely on schedule. Even the morning I allowed an hour for the trip, the Red Line didn't cooperate.

I can't imagine that I'm alone in this. What are other people doing? Have I just had rotten luck, or is Metro falling apart before our eyes? How about those who rely on Metro for commuting: Can you get there from here? If so, can you get home again?


More on Crestar
Clare Feinson,

I can't believe Crestar continues that ridiculous policy! Mike Livingston's experience with Crestar brought back some very bad memories. My own experience was with Crestar's predecessor — I can't even remember the name, but it was the same bank. They told me that they wouldn't open an account without a driver's license and that no one else in town would, either. I said I would see about that, and I walked out of the bank, half a block down the street to another bank, and opened an account — the only question the second bank asked me was what color checkbook cover did I want.

Not too long after, I sent a note to Bob Levey at the Washington Post about my experience, and he mentioned it in his column. Maybe a week or ten days after that, I got an irate call from a fancy flower shop — they had some flowers for me that they had been holding for some time because they said I was never home when they tried to deliver them. They wanted me to come down and pick the flowers up (the real problem was that I lived in Columbia Heights at the time and they just didn't want to deliver them to my door). This was very mysterious — who could be sending me flowers?

It turned out the flowers were from Crestar, accompanied by a card with a very condescending note of apology for the service I had received — but, I noticed, no invitation to come back and open an account, or anything like that. Also, by the time I got them, the flowers were completely dead. I left my money in the other bank. I suggest everyone else do the same.


Automobile Inspection
Wayson Lee,

The New Department of Motor Vehicles, as Kathy Chamberlain wrote, is improved. But yesterday, I spent close to 3.5 hours at the DMV for a used car title and tags. Yes, the place LOOKS polished, comfy chairs, but it still is a long afternoon. It makes you wonder, just how easy is the Civil Service exam? Look at what we get!


Another Solution to Long Postings
Lee Perkins,

Maybe this group should have a web page to contain longer postings. Anyone interested could post an abstract and a path to the web page.

[Is there any interest in this out there? A long message could be cut for the E-mail version, but carried in full in themail's archives, at Or is that too much trouble? Let me know. — Gary Imhoff]


Stan Wellborn,

Thanks for the shorter submissions. It make for a much more readable letter. And congrats on the CQ ranking.


Jeff Itell,

Congrats on the good news about DCWatch. The Post should write that up big time. Kind of a self-flagellation.


Long-Winded Citizens
James McLeod,

I had planned to respond to Kelly Parden's 9/5/99 “Short Question” message, but Gary Imhoff beat me to it. In response to Dana Katherine Kressierer and others (including Parden's) concerns, he has started sending long messages back asking people to shorten them. It is hard to criticize a desire for conciseness, and Imhoff's selective enforcement standards sound reasonable, but let's be careful not to discourage discussion. We hear far too little from citizens. On Sept. 20, the City Council Judiciary Commission will hold hearings to consider FOUR bills and 60 pages of material regarding halfway houses primarily in response to editors at the Post. “Persons wishing to testify as individuals will have 2 minutes to present oral testimony.” TWO minutes. It looks like the council is appeasing gatekeepers at the
Post by keeping annoying chatter from the masses to a minimum and pushing the Post's agenda forward along with the incumbents chances of getting the Post's endorsement next election. So gatekeeper Gary, I hope your discretion (and my down arrow key) will indulge good hearted, but hopelessly long-winded concerned citizens. Other than on a jury, where else can they participate in DC democracy?

Speaking of wind. After years of effort by Foggy Bottom residents, you can once again rent sunfish sailboats at the Thompson Boat Center ($10/hr; 9-5 pm, must pass written sailing test). It's a great way to enjoy a oneness with nature. Speaking of oneness, I found a great yoga joke which by its nature includes DC: What did the Yogi say when he walked into the Zen Pizza Parlor? “Make me one with everything.”


Searching Washington WebSpace
T. Jr. Hardman,

Greetings all, I thought I would come out of the woodwork once again and announce that I have at long last managed to be recognized by the Washington Post as having done a public service directly related to the Washington DC area. That it's taken so long is not surprising, as I have generally done whatever hellraising and political cheerleading I've done, not to mention being an unrelenting DC Internet gadfly, under an alias which I won't mention here.

Still, now that I no longer have to worry about getting assassinated by a Marion Barry goon squad should I go downtown, I suppose I can let the (cheesy) cat out of the bag and actually own up to what I've done, at least the part that was sufficiently noteworthy for the Post to mention. Otherwise I suppose I shall have to continue with my policy of remaining shrouded in secrecy, having at last learned about a Policy of Truth. In his great little "www.worthit" column in the “Fast Forward” section, Rob Pegaroro (who is still probably trying to figure out what I was blathering about regarding making deserts bloom that night at a dc.story meet) pointed to the Greater Washington Metro WebSpace search engine. It is at — and it searches every serious site that focusses on the District of Columbia of which I'm aware. Most such sites have their own search engines, which unfortunately generally only index their own site, and predictably, they yield results within only the particular focus or venue around which those sites concentrate.

The Washington_Metro search engine searches all of those 65 sites. Mr. Pegaroro points out that searches on any topic tend to yield results which are “interestingly unfocussed,” possibly due to the search engine's operations being directed by myself, who am also rather interestingly unfocussed. And like myself, yes indeedy the interface is not pretty and in fact probably should be kept moping in some suburban basement and reviled in public downtown, however it does indeed allow the user to make very structured queries, and results will be quick in coming. Of course it works and works fast, and is as stable as local electric supplies can make it; it's Linux. When I can afford it, I will add another 10 gigs of drive and greatly expand the search venue. Aside from indexing all of the known District Government sites, on a weekly basis, it also indexes such excellent sites as NARPAC and DCWatch, and many of the sites that they recommend. The latest addition to the search venue is the National Capital Planning Commission. Please use and bookmark the Greater Washington Metro WebSpace Search Engine, and if it's usable for you, please add a link to it from your pages. This is yet another completely unprofitable public service project of TJH Internet SP and “Earth Operations Central.”



Ward 7 Picnic
Kathy Chamberlain,

Ward 7 residents: Please join your neighbors and Mayor Anthony Williams at the Annual Ward Seven Community/Family Picnic on Saturday, September 18th, 1:00-5:00 p.m., at the Hillcrest Recreation Center, 32nd and Denver St., S.E. Come and enjoy the food, fun and games.


VAS Benefit Dinner w/ Speakers Tim Bui and Stanley Karnow
Ky Nguyen,

You are cordially invited to the Vietnamese American Society's Fourth Annual Benefit Dinner. Keynote Speaker: Tim Bui, Co-Writer/Producer of “Three Seasons” — Winner of 1999 Sundance Film Festival’s Audience Award, Cinematography Award, and Grand Jury Prize. Special Guest: Stanley Karnow, author of Vietnam: A History. Saturday, October 2, 1999. Capital Hilton Hotel, Grand Ballroom, 16th and K Street NW. Welcome Reception, 7:00 pm. Dinner, 7:30 pm. Semi-formal or Traditional Dress.

themail@dcwatch subscribers are entitled to the discounted ticket price of $40 (regular price is $50). Please make checks payable to VAS, 2201 L Street, NW, #602, Washington, DC 20037. Please RSVP by September 17, 1999. VAS is a 501(C)(3) charitable organization. Contributions are tax deductible to the extent permitted by law. For more information, please call (202) 872-8699 or check the web site, The Vietnamese American Society was founded in 1995 with the goal of promoting Vietnamese culture, fostering better relations between Vietnam and the United States, and serving the Vietnamese community in the United States and abroad.


Hypnosis at Borders
Wayson Lee,

Your lucky day! FREE HYPNOSIS demonstration, unlock MORE percentage of your brain and/or have fun doing it! September 18, 3:30 p.m., BORDERS BOOKS — Friendship Heights, 5333 Wisconsin Avenue (area safe daytime, park on street, cheaper, if not FREE. Take Metro — still cheaper. 202/686-8270). Upon arrival, pick up a Borders Brochure, yours truly — Lee's picture is there!


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