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December 24, 2000

Merry Merry

Dear Carolers:

We aren't much for seasonal sentiment in themail, but consider this brief note your Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, and New Years cards. Best wishes.

Nicole Taylor,, asked me, “Funny the only person you had anything positive to say anything about [in last issue's item on Council reorganization] was David Catania. Any reason for that?” Interesting question. A few years ago, I wrote a piece categorizing the Councilmembers; there have been several membership changes since then, and it may be a good time to go through that exercise again. Does anyone want to start off? Whom do you think are the good government champions and opponents, the friends and enemies of neighborhoods, the effective and the ineffective Councilmembers?

One unrelated note. This week Flo Kennedy, a true child of the sixties, died. She was a radical, civil rights, and feminist lawyer, a big mouth, and a royal pain in the ass who was always entertaining. Her obituary in the New York Times contained a quotation from her that could have summarized both her life and the decade that made her famous: “Sweetie, if you're not living on the edge, you're taking up space.”

Gary Imhoff


Not So Fast
Ed T. Barron,

The Mayor and his minions have declared victory over a lousy one and a half inch “snowstorm.” Not so fast, guys. You ought to see the side streets in AU Park where I walked this morning, almost a full day and a half after the snow stopped falling. For blocks on end both the numbered and named streets were coated with ice. No need to go down to the mall if you want to get in some real ice skating. Just come on up to NW DC. If you don't ice skate then bring your spiked golf shoes. Fortunately the second half of my 2.7 mile walk is across the great divide between DC and MD in Westmoreland Hills. A mere 100 yards from AU Park lies a network of streets that have been totally cleared, sanded, salted and completely dry. That's the norm for MD as opposed to DC.

If we are ever to have decent schools, cleared roads and good parks and recreation services then we should get annexed by MD. Forget making D.C. a “state with yet another layer of clowns who couldn't manage a one car funeral. Let's get annexed. We'll have a real voting Congress person (Eleanor, you can be legit) and far better services from a proven management team that knows how to run a state and it's major cities. All that tax money that leaves the District and currently goes to MD would finally be put to good use in fixing a broken city.


Character of the District

What, one may ask, is the character of Washington, of Washingtonians? It's really difficult to say — there are so many people here, from so many walks of life, on so many different trajectories, of such diverse origin and with such diverse and unpredictable destinations. I've only been in the area since 1963, when my parents moved here from New Mexico chasing after Federal advancement. Everyone in the family has at one or another time been employed by Uncle Sam, some made it their career. Even I have “career status.”

I'm one of the people who has lived in town and out of town, both near and far on the latter score. I am one of the people of whom tourists ask directions. Generally I can give 'em knowledgeably. I have very much a love-hate relationship with the District and its people; nothing will make me madder than elitist yuppie scumdogs who've managed to become educated beyond their intelligence and are devoting a career to watching a clock. What makes me almost as mad is the incredible waste of potential of some of the kids in the poorer communities, mostly due to the terrible public schools and the poverty which is made only more appalling by the contrast between the powerless and the powerful, the discarded and the pampered, the outcasts and the insiders. I'll never see the completion of a college degree and most of the people downtown with whom I deign to associate probably won't see the completion of their GED unless they maybe get it in prison. I have sat in many a park and talked to many a young'un and it just burns me up that as smart and quick as some are, their best opportunity to avoid starvation is to spend their young lives leading the police on a chase that starts out merry, and ends too frequently on the wrong end of a gun or dying from a fix of bad -- or too good -- heroin. It doesn't help at all that on the one hand the MPD often comes from the same place as the kids they chase and so they just know that sometimes kids are kids, and on the other hand they know that all too soon the harshness of winter and poverty are likely to grow those kids up into something far from childish. But the cops made it out, and the people who were saved by the graces of their gods make it out — or make the best of it where they are; and so much of the District might as well be one family so that with enough love and enough community, making the best of it is good enough: you can hope the next generation will do better. These are the people I love, and for whom I wish to see the District perform as it should. You cannot erase entrenched poverty or remove the scars of a former oppression with the stroke of a pen or even with unlimited handouts — but you can do the best possible, to give as many as can be convinced to receive it the benefits of a decent education. Will you kindly fix the District's schools? They're dying out there because they were taught nothing better.

[Klaatu is back in this issue of themail with a very long posting on the District's character that I shall print in two or even three parts. — Gary Imhoff]


Born in the USA
Paul Williams,

In response to Steph “Been here since temp buildings on the mall” Faul's posting: Steph wrote: “And to all of you who say, 'Well, I've lived here 20 years, so I FEEL like a native,' I say: 'In your dreams.' Black and white, we have more in common with each other than we do with the carpetbaggers who come in and try to pretend they're locals.”

Steph, that hurts. To those of us like myself that have only been here a mere ten years, and have managed to, say, establish a historic district where you never dare tread from your Sidwell association (U Street) and youthful riverboat concerts, authored historic landmark applications to save buildings in "your" city, brought light to DC history through book publications, and participated in hundreds of ANC meetings, serving years of leadership roles in community organizations, etc., I take offense at your “born in DC” attitude. If only those born in DC can shed any light on the past and solve the future, where will the few thousand of you take us? Maybe the oldest of you can take us back to a city of swamp canals, Shepherd scandals, Barry quality of life, low paying government jobs, and even slavery. My hometown in upstate NY changed, and new people are in charge; I accepted it. I wonder, with your posting, can those of us born outside the DC shell ever be appreciated for what we can bring to and contribute the city?


Michael Bindner,

Sadly, both the Council and the Executive are in dire need of reorganization. The Departments of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, Government Operations, Housing and Community Development, and Public Works and the corresponding committees are all in need of reshuffling (along with Human Services). The proper thing to do at this point is for the Mayor and the Chair to form a joint task force on reorganization to create a committee and a department structure to make sense. I would recommend Departments of Sanitation, Community Services, Economic Development and Transportation, with corresponding committees of Health, Sanitation and the Environment; Housing and Community Services; Human and Employment Services; Economic Development and Transportation (linking infrastructure to development). Note that putting environment in a separate committee gives that chair an incentive to examine the work of the other chair, putting environmental protection on an equal footing to both public works and economic development projects.

I agree with the editor, the self-interest of the players has trumped logic yet again. What do you expect out of a 13 member body which, even without corrections, is still both city council and state legislature? Even as just a city the size of the Council should double! As a state, we are way understaffed legislatively. A legislature this size is just too easy for the Federal City Council to buy. If you want good government, insist on constitutional change.


DC Landmarks
David Sobelsohn,

I second Don Lief's call for more plaques on buildings to indicate DC's historic sites. I've tried for years, without success, to convince the owner of the office building at 1720 I St., NW, to erect a plaque. On that site for 32 years — nearly all his time in Washington — lived perhaps the best-known and best-loved Supreme Court Justice in U.S. history, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Since the Court during most of his life had no building of its own, Justice Holmes wrote nearly all his opinions at home, including many of the most influential opinions in Supreme Court history. You can E-mail me directly for more information. Perhaps a flood of telephone calls will convince the building owner to relent.


No Recycling Pickup
Christopher Koppel,

I have had a problem with the recycle trash collectors leaving behind cardboard boxes which I have, as instructed, broken down and tied with string. This is very irritating. I call the DC government hotline and complain but nothing is done. What is with these guys? Wondered if anyone else has this problem.


Neighborhood Business
Kirsten Sherk, Dupont Circle

Gosh I'm feeling feisty these days — two postings in as many weeks! I wanted to respond to Paul Michael Brown's post on the Amoco Expansion on H Street. While I agree that gas stations are few and far between in this city, let's remember that it's not as if BP/Amoco was adding a new gas station. The gas station exists. Perhaps adding more pumps would be of use to the neighborhood — maybe there are actually long waits there at any time except those times that I happen to be passing by.

But I must say that I'm completely troubled when Mr. Brown states that, Now we have a proposal to expand a gas station to include convenience store in a complex that would be the equal of anything you'd find in the burbs.” I'm sorry, but if I wanted huge strip mall-like gas station complexes like that, I'd live in the suburbs. Does H Street need another convenience store? Yes, it's always good to have well-lighted places that are open 24-7, but does it need to take over half a block?

And while I don't think anyone expects Sutton Place to open up a shop on H Street any time soon, I think what “folks” are looking for are merchants who will be part of the neighborhood, perhaps even (gasp) an independently-owned business that respects and reflects the character of the neighborhood and its historic architecture.


Amoco Business
Richard Layman, Northeast,

Paul Michael Brown,, is wrong. The Amoco expansion on H Street NE doesn't deserve our support as is currently presented. Like Kevin Palmer, I am against this proposal. I don't think that Amoco should benefit because their bad management of their property for over 30 years destroyed the value and viability of the adjoining properties, which they were then able to buy for cheap. And others were unwilling to buy these properties because they couldn't count on Amoco to be a good business neighbor.

I am not against development. I am against development that makes my part of DC look no different from US 1 in Laurel, Maryland, or Alexandria, Virginia (Richmond Highway). Every new development on H Street NE in the past 15 years pays no attention whatsoever to the historical architecture of the city — the City office building at 6th Street, the H Street Connection between 8th and 10th Streets, and the AutoZone all look like they would be at home anywhere in the suburbs. They wouldn't look so great in Georgetown or most other places in the city. (Note: 801 N. Capitol St. NW, technically in NW but on H Street), was built in 1988 and it is one of the only office buildings around that was built with a great design that respects the area's architecture.)

The Amoco proposal is no exception (see the web site for a link to a virtual tour of the BP station model). Plus, it's huge. They want to take up most of a city block (going from 7,000 square feet to 50,000 square feet), making it one of the largest if not the largest gas station property in the city — for a station that gets very little business from the surrounding neighborhoods. If Mr. Brown would look in the files and see most of the letters written on the subject, none of us has said we're against development on this site. What we've asked for is a mixed use development that is taller and probably bigger actually than anything they've proposed. At more than one public meeting I've brandished a photo from the book Capital Losses (which depicts various buildings of architectural distinction that have been torn down throughout the city) which shows an old Standard Oil of New Jersey combination gas station, garage, and office building that was six stories tall — on the site of the present Department of Labor.

All Amoco has offered thus far is to face the station in red brick and to put up a monument sign rather than a big “light pole” style sign. And, they haven't responded at all to any of the letters written thus far (mine was distributed on October 11th for example). Fortunately, the Board of Zoning Adjustment postponed the hearing on this site until March 20th, 2001, asking all the parties to sit down and negotiate in good faith. Hopefully, that is what will happen.


NIMBY? I Don’t Think So
Kevin Palmer,

In a biting and accusatory response to my original post calling for the city to pay attention to what's going on over on H Street, Mr. Paul Michael Brown felt justified in marginalizing me as part of the “rest of the NIMBY crowd.” His argument that my plea falls into a “damned if you do, damned if you don't” paradox simply doesn't fly. I have called on the city and its residents to pay attention and help guide the development of this crucial section of the “formerly-vibrant commercial corridor.” I have not said, “we don't need a gas station in Northeast.” Get real.

I would ask Mr. Brown to disclose where he lives before throwing about accusations of NIMBYism in this NIMBY-heavy region. Northeast hosts its fair share of community-based facilities (that's the luminous code for halfway houses, transfer stations, drug treatment centers, runaway homes, and shelters). Sure, BP Amoco has a right to develop its property on H Street. But the last time I checked, citizens have a right to demand the best from those that would purport to be engaging in “economic development.” Have you attended any of the meetings that BP Amoco has held, Mr. Brown? BP calls its development community investment. If you look at the plans, Mr. Brown, you'd soon realize that the real benefits will be to BP Amoco and the suburban commuters passing through our neighborhood.

This project does not provide real benefits to the community. It offers none of the services I've heard identified as common wishes from residents — sit down restaurants, grocery stores, bagel shops, copying center, gym, daycare center, and so forth. It is being geared toward, and designed by, suburban mentality. I find it hard to believe that BP (a UK-based company) would even consider placing such a project six blocks from London's Parliament buildings, as it is pursuing here. And incidentally, I don't stand alone in this viewpoint. Residents whose backyards literally will be the BP project have voiced their objections loudly. The Office of Planning has issued a 15-page damning treatise on the ill-conceived project. Sharon Ambrose has stated her displeasure at the idea. They realize that allowing such a development to occur here will set a very dangerous precedent, one that once started could have devastating effects on the rest of the city.

Lastly, as for your flippant remarks about the likelihood of “oh-so-upscale” development such as a National Gallery satellite or Volvo dealership coming to H, well, you're right. But show me how a block-long low-density single-use gas station will change that. Do you think Sutton Place will say, “Oh great, they've got a new gas station — that's just what was missing! Let's build a store there now!” I simply cannot accept such insensitive and ignorant attitudes as those of Mr. Brown. His philosophy of “take what you can get” is exactly why parts of H Street have gone nowhere. The neighborhood, and the city, deserves much better. We must demand it.


Amoco Expansion on H Street, NE Deserves Our Support?
Mary Vogel,

Mr. Paul Michael Brown,, makes an interesting use of the word NIMBY. Usually it has been used to refer to citizens who object to density. In this case, citizens like Mr. Palmer and myself are calling for greater density at the site, not less. We already have developers waiting in the wings to build our vision if Amoco moves on.

Here's part of mine. . . a four to five-story Victorian style structure that mimics the row house architecture for which Capitol Hill is so acclaimed. The first floor is storefront retail with an interesting mixture of shops. The second floor is offices — perhaps medical and dental. The next two to three floors are residential, serving people who want to be close to jobs, services, Metro and other rail transportation. Most of these urban pioneers have chosen not to own a car since public transportation and services are so convenient. So is abundant secure bicycle parking. What an ideal location -- especially now that H Street has been reclaimed for its residents!

This gateway building has earned a “Platinum Rating” through the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system. With its green roof, diverse native plant landscape, shared block garden (created from all the back yards on the block), largely day lit rooms and other passive solar and energy efficiency features, it is a model for the rest of the infill and restoration that is going on along H Street. I wonder if Mr. Brown is related to one of the attorneys for the Amoco Corporation, John Patrick Brown.


Amoco Expansion
Ronni Glaser,

Mr. Brown, your comments toward Kevin Palmer and the near northeast community are not only out of line, they are ignorant. The issue is certainly not as clear cut as you would make it. As you may or may not know, there is already an Amoco station operating on the site. This station has plagued the community for a multitude of years with violent crime and as well as an open air drug market. Residents who live behind the station have been harassed and threatened and in some cases worse.

The newly proposed station will be a vast improvement over what is currently there; however it is completely out of scale with its surroundings. As well, it will require that the main alley servicing the houses directly behind the station be closed and another alley rerouted to provide emergency vehicle access. This new alley will require emergency vehicles to turn halfway into the alley. If your house was on fire would you want to wait while a fire truck maneuvered a turn to get to you? Residents are not asking that the station be shut down, they are asking that the project be scaled back to something more reasonable. You are correct when you say that the new station is equal to anything you would find out in the burbs. The problem is, we don't live in the burbs. Many of us have chosen to live in the city to avoid living near and around a huge gas station complex such as this.

The issue goes far deeper then historical preservation or saving a few “raggedy ass buildings”; the larger issue is what a station like this would create on our corridor. Have you even considered the fact that the station is directly next to the DC Children's museum where several Charter schools are currently operating? A gas station the size of what BP Amoco is proposing would create a thoroughfare with increased traffic and pollution. The investment that BP Amoco is willing to make in our community is minimal the larger benefits will go to Maryland commuters. They are the ones who need to pump up on their way out of town. What our neighborhood needs and wants are retail spaces that encourage people to stay and get out of their cars.

There is no reason in the world that H Street can't be developed into something its community will use. It has happened in other cities on streets far worse then H Street. Unfortunately in DC it is people like you, Mr. Brown, that hold the rest of us back. Why should we settle for something we don't want in our community? Why should we settle for something that serves the commuters from Maryland rather then the residents of our neighborhood? We shouldn't, and you shouldn't expect us to. Finally I think it is fair to mention that the residents of this community are not the only group protesting this project. DC's office of Planning has given the new station the thumbs down, and the MPD has also written a letter of protest for the station siting the many violent crimes of the past that have occurred there. Councilwoman Sharon Ambrose has also spoken out vehemently against this project. Perhaps in the future, Mr. Brown, you might consider educating yourself on more then just one side of a situation before you comment.


Chances for Statehood
George S. LaRoche,

Mr. Sobelsohn's right. Most of Alaska, as he says, is owned by the federal government. Most of what's not owned by the federal government is owned by Indian tribes (indigenous people, as some like to call them, but they usually call themselves “Indians” nevertheless). What's left cannot support itself as a state but for one thing. When Alaska was admitted to statehood, the state gained title to — thus income from — some of the vast quantities of oil lying below the surface of the ground. This is all probably fair, but who paid for all this land in the first place when it was purchased from the Tsar of Russia? The federal government — i.e., all citizens of the United States. So, Alaska succeeds as a state only because the people of the United States gave the residents of Alaska a boon. Sorta takes the glow off the “self-supporting state” gloss.

Also, on a different tack, every state in the nation receives payments from the federal government for various reasons. There are “grants,” of course, but there are also payments to compensate state and local governments for services rendered to federal installations and to compensate for lost taxes. In the District, these payments once were called “the Federal Payment,” as if it was unique.

Also, throughout its history (but mostly within the last 110 years), District residents have been taxed to pay for development of federal property in the District. The first "major," unitary project is Rock Creek Park. Certainly, RCP is a wonderful asset and many District residents use it, but its history and funding frame a worthwhile question: what would the District be like today if decisions how to spend its tax money had always been solely in the hands of local officials, thus spent on projects chosen by the people of the District rather than members of Congress from elsewhere? And of course, this question is related to the District's recent fiscal “crisis,” but as both the Appleseed Center and Carol O'Cleireacain demonstrated, major components of that “crisis” were conferred upon the District by Congress (in the unfunded pension liabilities and inability to tax income at its source, etc.). So where would the District be if Congress were not standing on its coattails?

All these points indicate that the District is not the uniquely pathetic beggar its detractors portray. Certainly, the District will have to convince Congress to admit it as a state and Congress will probably have higher thresholds of approval than it had for most territories petitioning for admission. We can't do much about that, because it's a political decision in the hands of Congress. But the prospects for statehood are far stronger than detractors would have us believe and they would be even stronger if more people with the skills to do cogent analysis came forward to help fight for a real solution instead of abstract, honorific symbolism or chimera which might even set the District back or lock it in place.


Re-Writing DC’s Demographic History: Statehood vs. Metrohood
Len Sullivan,

Timothy Cooper's entrancing prose (12/17/00) paints a mythical picture of DC's Great 30-Year Exodus. Far from “shattering the tax base,” it reduced the need for city services. Over half the loss was in kids, and most of the adults were not net tax payers either. DC's revenue base from income taxes has increased over 50% since 1988; car registration and home ownership are up; real estate values are generally up; salable homes are scarce. There is no noticeable physical void from missing taxpayers. Financial capacity for statehood was far worse 30 years ago.

But the financial advantages of statehood surface only if there is a large non-urban tax base that is willing to share urban public service costs; if a higher tier of government is needed to control local political/financial abuses; and if neighborhood activists feel the need for an air national guard unit. DC is an inner, core, or central city with 15% of the metro area's population, perhaps 12% of its taxpayers. What it needs is wealth- and poverty-sharing with its thriving, free-loading suburbs. It should aspire to metro-hood, not statehood. Enlightened Congressional oversight — without blatant conflicts of interest — could help make this happen, though local DC politicos appear terminally disinterested.



Selling Used Computers
David Meadows,

Does anyone have information about people who buy old used computers and their equipment? I have monitors, hard drives, printers, etc.


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