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September 15, 1999

The Rains Came

Dear Storm Watchers:

Hope you're reading this all snug and comfortable in your own homes. Speak to you again when we all emerge once more.

Gary Imhoff


Cronies Rule!
Scott McLarty,

For those planning on Saturday, September 18 to protest the RLA’s decision to choose Giant/Grid/Horning over the patently superior Forest City plan for Columbia Heights: I just learned that the Mayor will attend the opening ceremony at the Georgia-Petworth Metro station at 1 pm, but will skip the earlier ceremony at the new station at 14th and Irving. But I'm informed that the ribbon cutting ceremony will still take place at the Columbia Heights station at 11:30 am, so we can expect a strong and angry crowd.

Someone might visit the Office of Campaign Finances over at the Reeves Center and learn how much the awardees and their top-level associates and cronies contributed to certain candidates last year. (If I get the time, I will.) Real estate honcho Herbert Miller contributed ten thousand dollars each to several mayoral candidates last year, bypassing contribution limits because each of his individual corporate PACs was allowed to give the maximum. That's how he won some lots near the MCI Arena in Chinatown, and helped drive out small businesses there. That's how DC politics works — it's the “Domino Development” plan. It's how the Shaw neighborhood got that Convention Center, and now faces displacement of residents and shops when conventioneers start demanding nearby accommodations, parking lots, bus and truck loading docks, etc. DC's economic reinvigoration has already begun to translate into a feeding trough for the most predatory real estate interests. The Mayor and his cronies (doesn't that sound like a phrase from the Barry era?) also plan to impose a downtown ballpark, a freeway down New York Avenue into the center of DC, and a spanking new set of taxpayer funded sports facilities in a joint bid with Baltimore for the 2012 Olympics.

I suspect that the decision to accept the Giant/Horning plan was made long ago, that the Request For Proposals process was a formality, and that the recommendations of the 1997 Columbia Heights urban design charettes were perhaps never taken seriously. I attended a community meeting at the Lincoln School last year at which Columbia Heights development was discussed in detail. At one of the workshops, I noted that nothing in the RFP’s language compelled developers to honor the design charities’ recommendations for urban community-friendly development. I was scolded by the workshop leader for raising the subject. Still, maybe we can help get the decision turned around. See everyone on Saturday.


The RLA Board Did It
David McIntire,

My wife and I attended the Mayor's picnic in Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park today (September 12). We, along with others, went not for the food but to express our outrage at the recent (Thursday September 9th) RLA decision regarding the Columbia Heights Metro parcels. I also wanted to pose a question to the Mayor. The question was simple. Why? Why were two proposals accepted that would develop only two of the four main parcels rather than the Forest City proposal that would have developed all four? Why was a proposal accepted that would destroy all but the exterior wall and lobby of the historically designated Tivoli Theater to build a grocery there rather than the Forest City proposal that would have preserved the entire structure and put it to new use as a smaller theater, community center, and high-tech education center for community residents? Why was a proposal accepted that would build an entertainment center of little relevance to the community and depend instead on the patronage of the more affluent from other neighborhoods, rather than the Forest City proposal that would have built a retail center emphasizing the basic goods most needed by residents, including a 75,000 sq. ft. grocery?

We waited for the Mayor. He was late. In the meantime the Park Police informed us that we didn't have a demonstration permit. When it became clear we were not about to leave without a major fuss, the Park Police made some ground rules that were accepted. Finally the Mayor arrived. We made our displeasure known as he entered the Park. We then were instructed by Park Police to go to the stage where the Mayor was scheduled to make his remarks. After about a 20 minute wait we were told that he wouldn't be speaking. As we dispersed, some of us noticed Mayor Williams across the grass hidden amongst his supporters. I (and others) pursued him and shouted the question, “Explain yourself Mayor”? I managed to get a few feet from him. He looked at me. I looked at him. I once again shouted, “WHY”?

He answered as follows. “I appointed the board, the board expedited its vote, and I stand behind the decision of the board.” That was it. The RLA Board did it — a description, not an explanation, from a Mayor who has been telling everyone to hold him personally accountable for the conduct of his Administration. The RLA Board did it — from a Mayor who promised to be open, honest, and frank with the public. The RLA Board did it — from a Mayor who purported to have the courage to break with the cronyism of the past. Yes, the Mayor didn't do it — THE RLA BOARD DID IT.


Wrong Again, Mr. Mayor
Ed T. Barron,

The Mayor says that the lack of productivity on the part of D.C. Government employees is due to the lack of good management, and he intends to hire more managers and pay them bigger salaries to get the productivity raised. That's bushwa, Mr Mayor. The problem with the lack of efficiency and effectiveness of the D.C. Government employees results from too much “management” and too little empowerment of the people who must make things happen.

The best way to improve employee morale and and effectiveness is to increase the involvement of those who are doing the work in determining what really needs to be done, who should do it, and how it should be done. Once you see the productivity gains that can be realized from this empowerment, then throw that money that you will waste on more “management” at those who are making it happen, not the watchers from the sidelines.


Never Pay a Ticket Through the Registration Process
Brian Reeves,

Last year I had an outstanding ticket on my registration renewal notice. It's a ticket that I disputed, but that's another story. I paid the $95 that the notice said I owed ($65 registration, $10 residential parking permit, $20 ticket). A few weeks later, I received my new '99 stickers. A few weeks after that, I received another “outstanding ticket notice.” I went down to DMV and explained that I paid the ticket as part of my registration. The woman I spoke with explained that DMV and adjudication are on different computer systems and that they (DMV) probably did not mark the ticket as paid in the other (Adjudication) computer system. She assured me that she would take care of it.

One year later.... Low and behold, my registration renewal came in the mail yesterday. That outstanding ticket is STILL on there. I called DMV this morning. They are requiring me to send them a copy of the canceled check to prove that I paid $95 last year. My bank doesn't return checks, so I have to get Citibank to send me a copy of the check (cost $5) so that I can send that to DMV. The moral of the story? This still appears to be a problem (even under the new and improved DC government). I'd advise you to not get tickets in the first place. But if you do and it's on your registration renewal form. Go to Adjudication and pay the ticket first. Then go to DMV to renew your registration with your receipt from adjudication in hand (or mail them a copy of the receipt along with your registration). Otherwise, you will be sorry like me.


Middle Class Parking Tickets
Connie Ridgway,

Although I am all for the police cracking down on street crime, I object to people saying that middle class taxpayers should not have their cars ticketed. We're all entitled to some form of sanction if we break the law.


Notes on DC's Symbols of Municipal Governance
Mark Richards, Dupont East,

DC has trouble holding onto its City Halls, along with its limited self-government. Here is some of the story as I understand it so far. Rhodes Tavern, built Federal style in 1799 under Washington's and Jefferson's design specs at 15th and F Streets NW, was Washington City's first City Hall. In 1801, it opened as a hotel, and was used as City Hall and civic center, hosting meetings for the city's first civic groups, labor organizations, and militia. The first DC municipal elections were held in 1802 — 90% eligible voter turnout. The “P Street Inhabitants and Proprietors Association,” the first neighborhood group, was organized and met there. The city's first theater, public market and schools emerged from Rhodes Tavern under leadership of elected officials like Mayor Brent, City Council Chair Daniel Carroll, and Councilman James Hoban. The building's rich history is documented by Historian Nelson Rimensnyder. In 1983, DC Citizens passed Initiative 11, establishing an advisory commission to negotiate preservation and restoration. Despite the effort led by Joseph Grano, it was demolished by Oliver Carr, Jr., in 1984. DC school children collected pennies for a plaque and asked Carr to put it on the side of his imperial style pride, but the King of Parking refused. Mortimer Zuckerman bought it in 1998 and agreed to add the plaque. It went up on June 7, 1999 — fifteen years later.

The first officially constructed City Hall was designed by George Hadfield in 1819 at the north end of John Marshall Place. The municipal government proposed a lottery, but later funded it with $100,000. It cost $150,000. It is one of DC's best examples of Greek Revival architecture. Constance Green wrote that Congress in 1823 contributed $10,000 in exchange for the rent-free use of one wing of the two winged building for the circuit court. It soon became a symbol to them that DC residents “live altogether out of [the federal] Treasury and the Members and persons who are necessarily here at the sitting of Congress.” When Lincoln was assassinated, DC citizens commissioned and placed the first sculpture in his honor in front of City Hall -- it is there today. It was abandoned as City Hall in 1871 when the feds merged the cities and county into a District with a Territorial government. The DC government was paid $75,000 for it in 1873, when the feds took it over for the courts, DC citizens lost home rule, and were placed under three federally appointed commissioners. There is still no plaque on the building. Under the Home Rule government, the District Courts were housed there, DC was responsible for costs (I've been told pre-Home Rule buildings are owned by the feds, control is delegated to DC; land is federal reservation.). The feds took over DC Courts in 1997.

DC's current official/symbolic City Hall, The District/John Wilson building, was built by the commissioners. Congress appropriated $550,000 (I'm uncertain if it was DC money). The site cost $550,000, the building $1,950,000. Cope and Stewardson of Philadelphia designed it, Adoph de Nesti did the statuary (Justice and Law stand over the main entrance — other figures represent sculpture, painting, architecture, music, commerce, engineering, agriculture, and statesmanship), James Parsons of DC constructed it. The white marble is from South Dover, NY. Work started in 1904 on the bluish clay and gravel bed of Tiber Creek. The foundation is formed of over 4,000 piles from 25'-60' in length, topped by granite blocks 1' thick and 2' wide, covered by 4' of hydraulic cement concrete covered with 8 layers of water-proof paper saturated with coal-tar and oil, each 1/8th inch with bituminous cement between each layer, covered by 4' of hydraulic cement. The cornerstone was placed in 1905, and a copper box with documents about the establishment of DC was imbedded in the brick foundation wall a few feet below the street level at the northeast corner. It was dedicated on July 4, 1908. As DC's infrastructure crumbled under financial strain, so did City Hall — and once again, officials rented it to the feds for money. The Council Chair whose name the building bears committed suicide. The feds (EPA) are scheduled to move into over half the building, and the DC government will continue to rent office space. The building sits smack in the National Capital Service Area (NCSA), symbolizing the importance of municipal government in “a city dominated by federal government interests,” according to Buildings of the DC. The NCSA would likely remain under exclusive legislative authority of Congress if District citizens are allowed to retrocede or become a state.


Hopefully the Final Chapter
Larry Seftor,

In past postings I've discussed the multi-person business that is being run out of a house on my block. Based on a phone message I received this morning, it appears that the situation will soon be resolved. I was told that the resident of the house met with zoning administrator Johnson who said that he would not issue a permit for this business to continue. He then gave them 30 days to move the business out of the house. In short, the DC Government did its job. The inspector responded promptly and the zoning administrator applied the law. I'm sorry that this situation occurred in the first place, but I'm pleased that the DC Government did a good job of responding.


Full Disclosure Re Denver Teachers
Paul Penniman,

Some more details regarding the Denver teachers' voluntary merit pay plan, according to last week's Times: the merit pay is on top of the current schedule of pay for the 450 teachers (out of 4300) who have signed up to participate, not an alternative to the usual system. For signing up, the teachers will automatically receive $500. They would receive an additional $1000 if a majority of their students improve. So we are not talking about altruistic mavericks here.

What does improve mean? There are several groups of schools, each with a different yardstick. One group will simply use the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, a fact that troubles me very much, given the lack of reliability standardized tests (“the lazy way out,” as Ted Sizer put it in the recent Newsweek cover story about testing). A second group will use tests and written work given by the teacher. The third group will include teachers who are taking a development course. The last two plans seemed murky in the article I read. At the end of a trial period of two years, a combination of school officials and union members might recommend that this system replace the old salary structure for the entire school system.

Prediction: in two years, either they take the lazy way out (option #1) or get bogged down in arguing about option #2 or #3. School choice, anyone?


Teachers’ Union Strikes Again
Ed T. Barron,

In another blow that will hurt the Districts' public school students, a Teachers' Union inspired policy has been issued by the DCPS that requires instructors and part-time teachers employed by PTAs to have provisional certification. This policy is a “save jobs for the union” policy that will preclude well qualified instructors and part time teachers from helping in the development of District students. Most of these instructors and part time teachers are specialists in their field and eminently qualified to teach what they are teaching. Salaries for the part time teachers, in many cases, are paid out of PTA funds contributed by parents of students in a school.

It is folly to insist on “certification” for those who have demonstrated the ability to help the Districts' students in favor of “certified” personnel who likely will be far less capable in the subject being taught, far less experienced in teaching that subject and, in general, not available or willing to teach in the District. This is a policy that should hastily be withdrawn and stuffed back into the Teachers' Union's craw (or some other likely place).


Metro Operations
Jack Werner,

The operation of Metro is so bad that I am considering buying a car. It does not run on a schedule and there is certainly no such thing as rush hour service, the maintenance problems are not being handled in a timely fashion, very few of the operators or station attendants are pleasant to tourist or local residents, the running of the green line on the red line tracks results in a lot of delays and confusion, the cars are getting dirty and very little enforcement of the no eating/drinking/loud radio playing (the discussion about the person fined $10 for drinking water reflects the hit and miss of enforcement), and, in general, the price we pay is getting close to not being worth it.


Metro Operations II
Lee Perkins,

Maybe we should improve public transit, especially during the rush hour, and make it free, including free parking at outlying stations, while either charging an arm and a leg to bring a car into the city during rush hour, exempting only bona fide delivery vehicles, or banning private autos entirely between 6-9 am and 4-6 pm.


Metro Operations III
Mark Serva,

There seems to be a little known fact about our Metro system. When the Metro was designed the team of planners wanted to make its design life 100 years. However, due to the high construction costs of a 100 year Metro, the politicians (who would all be retired or deceased by the time problems started to mount) decided to make its design life 50 years. Hence, some of the original stations as well as most of the tunneling is reaching its half life of 25 years. Although this decision saved considerable sums in the construction it will lead to more frequent and worse equipment failures, leakage and escalating repair and maintenance costs.

I am told (sorry I can't name the source) that at least one station has two 6" pipe diesel pumps, pumping water 24 hours a day to keep the station from flooding. Certainly, Metro can keep all the leaks and such plugged or pumped for an indefinite amount of time. Nonetheless, we should prepare ourselves for the real cost of keeping this vital system working and perhaps someday rebuilt. In many ways, our politicians repeated the same mistakes we allowed them to make in the design and construction of our Beltway.


Metro Operations IV
Naomi Monk,

I ride the Metro at least three or more times a week. I have run into reasonably short delays on a few occasions. Sometimes the Metro is crowded; however, those riding the Metro are generally polite to others. I find the attendants helpful. On a few occasions I have called the Metro customer service and asked for better maintenance of the metro station. From my experiences on riding the Metro for a decade or more, I have been delighted with the overall service. I believe that Metro service is one of the best things that have ever happened to DC. I love Metro.


Metro Operations V
Bryce A. Suderow,

It's not just the delays that bother me. The elevators are out of service; so are many of the escalators. And there aren't enough security guards to protect adult commuters from out-of-control teenagers.



Tenley Library Book Sale
Mary Lou Fahey,

The Friends of the Tenley Library will hold its semi-annual book sale at the library on Saturday, September 25, from noon until 4:00 p.m. Members of the Friends of the Tenley Library will be admitted to the sale at 11:00 a.m. (You can join on the day of the sale.) Paperbacks are a bargain at $.25 each, hardbacks for $1. The library is located at Wisconsin Ave. and Albemarle Street, N.W, (across the street from the Tenleytown Metro stop.)



Entertainment Books
Stacey Patmore,

The Partnership for Animal Welfare (PAW) a 501c(3) non-profit, all-volunteer organization ( ) is selling Entertainment Books to raise money for homeless dogs and cats. The Entertainment Book costs $35 and provides hundreds of dollars worth of coupons for fine dining, fast food, hotels, car rentals, airline tickets, theater and symphony tickets, movie theaters, dry cleaning, movie rentals, car washes, oil changes, etc, etc. Books are currently available for Virginia/DC, Maryland/DC, and Baltimore. In addition, books for cities across the country can be ordered. They make great gifts! Visa and Mastercard accepted. Please contact Stacey Patmore at or (202) 333-8486.


Judith Rosenfeld,

Because I'm in Vermont where such things are needed, I've moved to an AWD car, and I'm selling my lovingly maintained 1987 Volvo 240 DL station wagon. It's very sparing of gas and oil, 118K, auto, AC, cruise control, roof rack, stereo, and snow tires on two extra wheels. Price, $4000. Call 202-362-1977 and tell whoever answers that Judy sent you.



Looking for a One Bedroom
Alec Walen,

I'm moving to town some time in October, and would like to find a nice 1BR apartment, available at latest October 15, in a small building or private home, either in NW DC, or the near suburbs, from Glen Echo to Bethesda to Takoma Park to Silver Spring. I come with an 8 year old cat who has always been an outdoor guy, so it needs to be on a quiet street. My price range is up to $1200/month. I'm a non-smoking biker who'd most like to be near to either the Capital Crescent trail or Rock Creek Parkway. Any leads appreciated. You can email me at, or call at (301) 469-6969, where I'm staying while I look.


Dave Nuttycombe,

From's LOOSE LIPS column, appearing this Friday:
FALLING DOWN ON CEREMONY: While Mayor Anthony A. Williams may be a political novice, he has enough sense not to turn down an appearance before thousands of the District's senior citizens, a block of motivated voters that the mayor's predecessors curried favor with at every opportunity. Williams attempted to follow in their footsteps last Thursday at Elderfest! 1999, an event designed to “showcase the talent and creativity of District senior citizens.”
Perhaps skittish about trumping his elders, the mayor delivered a performance low on both.
Read the entire Loose Lips column here:

From's CITY LIGHTS page, here are a few early warnings for upcoming events:
TUESDAY: Neil Gaiman reads from his short fiction at 7:30 p.m. at Bethesda Theatre Cafe, 7719 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda. $20-$50 (proceeds benefit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund).
THURSDAY: Joey Garfield's documentary “Breath Control: A History of the Human Beatbox,” at 1 p.m. at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden's Ring Auditorium, 7th and Independence Avenue SW. Free.
More details and more critics' picks are available online at


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