themail.gif (3487 bytes)

August 8, 2001


Dear Contributors:

The "perennials" in the title doesn't refer to your messages to themail today, but to my frequently repeated pleas. First, please sign your contributions. Anonymous contributions aren't printed in themail, so put your name as well as your E-mail address on your message. I had to send back a few very interesting messages because they weren't signed; I hope they'll be returned in time for the next issue. Second, keep it brief. Again, I had to send some interesting messages back to be cut from novelette to short story length, and I hope they'll be back by Sunday. Third, let us know what's going on in your block, your street, your neighborhood. The closer to your home and your own experiences, the more likely it will be that what you have to tell us will be interesting.

Gary Imhoff


My DMV Experience
Phil Carney,

At 301 C Street, NW, going through a metal detector set the tone, followed by confusion over the information line inside, and then the whole process only took 2 1/2 hours! Improvements: 1. Rope dividers to guide new arrivals to Information desk with three to four people instead of only one person. 2. The numbering system is a great improvement! Same ole: 1. The rope dividers are confusing to most new arrivals and should be better organized. 2. Still no pens. 3. Still no narrow counters built high enough to write on while standing, although there were maybe half a dozen clipboards. If banks and other institutions can figure out how to handle #2 and 3, why can’t DMV? My favorite: I saw this happen way too many times. New arrivals look at their number, look at the board to see which number is being processed, then with an expression of horror look down at their number again, then look up again at the board while shaking their head in disbelief. PS: If anyone ever runs a contest for filthiest public rest room, 300 C Street has a potential winner.

Despite being horrified by the Post’s Marc Fisher’s experience, I was really impressed with an Inspection Station process that took me only one hour. Everyone was courteous and the process went efficiently. The system may be overloaded with too many cars and must be improved or changed, but what is in place works well. At least until I left with sticker attached and discovered that I now have a constant squeak in the car that was not there before the inspection. PS: If residents are required to cut and clean overgrowth, why isn’t DMV?

I’d give C Street a grade of D+. The Inspection Station had a grade of B until I discovered they damaged my car; now it gets an F.


More Taxes and the FR-500
Dave De Seve,

This week I received a letter in the mail from MBIA Muniservices Company (MMC). They have been contracted by the DC Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR) to locate taxpayers “who may not be registered for District taxes, or who may not be filing or reporting all taxes due.” When I contacted their office they said they were not sure (even though they claim they have been hired to help residents resolve tax issues), but believe I received this letter because I collect rent on my basement apartment. I informed them that this income is diligently reported and taxes are paid via my personal Federal and District tax returns. MMC said that it did not matter, the District requires that I register as a business via FR-500 and pay DC Franchise Tax. I contacted someone at the OTR, and was unconfidently informed that if I made 1 cent in the District I needed to complete the FR-500 and register as a business. I disagreed based on the requirements as they are stated on the FR-500. The only requirement that came close was for those businesses with rental incomes in excess of $12,000 per annum. I do not (yet) fit this requirement. My accountant subsequently reviewed the FR-500, agreed with my conclusion, and then called MMC. The representative we reached, after being walked through the form by my accountant, then also agreed (contrary to what I had been told previously) that I do not fit the requirements that necessitate filing of this form. He added however, that I should still file it anyway “just to be on the safe side,” because the District had requested that they (MMC) have everyone complete one regardless. Is the OTR just fishing for more revenue at any cost? Are they just sampling to see how many real businesses (those that fit the requirements of FR-500) are not filing, and did I just happen to fall into the sample group? Has anyone else received this letter, or does anyone know who could provide an authoritative answer to the question of whether individuals renting their apartments need to do this? Just by filing this form I will be required to pay a minimum of $100 per year. In addition I had to pay my accountant for his impromptu investigation of the matter. At the very least this unexplainable event has a financial consequence to taxpayers, whether they are required to file or not.


MOU with Bethesda Chevy Rescue and Kathy Patterson
Kenneth L. Lyons,

While the District of Columbia residents suffer from inadequate health care from pre-hospital care to in-hospital care, Ward 3 residents enjoy the services of free ambulance service that's just a phone call away. In a memorandum of understanding that was negotiated by the Ward 3 representative and Judiciary Chair, BCC now services, without cost those who are the most affluent. These individuals can be transported to other medical facilities as far as Shady Grove Hospital and avoid the four to eight hour wait now endured by those less fortunate. In addition to the transport agreement, these units were supplied with portable radios at the cost of $3,000.00 apiece, all paid with DC taxpayers' money. When confronted with the facts of the MOU, Mrs. Patterson replied, “It's a tradition of long standing.” It is also important to note that this agreement was signed just weeks prior to the early closure of DC General Hospital. As chair of the Judiciary Committee, Mrs. Patterson knew the impact of the closure and sought to protect her constituents, which is commendable as Ward 3 council representative but not as the chairperson of a committee that is to protect all that live within this great city, regardless of social or financial status. To this end a great disservice was bestowed upon those less fortunate and their fate is to suffer silently and in what is becoming the rule not the exception, to die a death void of dignity.


Pete Ross,

ANC redistricting is now proceeding. A little-known fact is that DC law requires that all ANC redistricting meetings be open to the public. Not only are they open to the public, but nonmembers who attend the redistricting meetings are permitted to speak and participate in the proceedings. The only thing that nonmembers cannot do is to vote whether to approve or disapprove the proposed ANC boundaries. Due to the increasing influence and relevance given to the ANC's and the effects that their decisions can have on the direction of our city in the next ten years, I am very surprised at the lack of interest shown by the general public in these deliberations. For example, only one nonmember attended the Ward 3 ANC redistricting meeting that was held on 6 August. The one nonmember was a student who is an intern in the Mayor's office and came to learn about our government.

You can obtain the dates of the redistricting meetings for your ward by calling your councilmembers office. Usually, these meetings are planned on a very short notice, so you should be prepared to call your councilmember once a week to get the dates and locations of the redistricting meetings.


Public Radio
E. James Lieberman,

The duplication of programming on WAMU and WETA bothers me, as does the profusion of ads, which NPR calls something else. But since it began, I felt that if they accept money from Archer Daniels Midland, Philip Morris, and a lot of nicer organizations, I will divert my support to WPFW (Amy Goodman at 9 a.m. weekdays is a serious alternative to the usual news). I also recommend tapes from the Teaching Company for those who are frustrated with radio offerings while driving in these parts.


Who Really Cares About Vacant Properties?
Nick Keenan, Shaw,

If you spend any time in DC, you may get the impression that there is no one who cares about vacant properties. Actually, that's not true — there are lots of people, inside and outside the DC Government, who care deeply about vacant properties. Unfortunately, the only ones I've ever found are most concerned with keeping them vacant. Who are these people? Let's start with the Department of Tax and Revenue. Until two years ago, there was a special punitive tax for vacant properties, but Tax and Revenue refused to collect it. Then there's councilmember Jack Evans, who crowbarred through the legislation that removed that tax. On the non-governmental side, one of the largest owners of vacant buildings in Shaw is politically powerful Shiloh Baptist Church, where President Clinton gave the sermon the Sunday before the last election. That sermon had been scheduled to be delivered by Shiloh minister Carlynn Fuller, who at the time also had a day job as Director of DCRA, the city department responsible for regulating vacant property. Needless to say, she was never a forceful advocate of nuisance property enforcement. Rather, DCRA has constructed a tangled web of regulations that make it essentially impossible to take any action against vacant and nuisance properties, and serve no purpose other than to protect the interests of the property owner. DCRA seems to be openly hostile to anyone who wants to renovate a vacant building. In my neighborhood, it is a very common occurrence for a vacant building to be ignored by DCRA for years, despite the pleas of neighbors, and yet if the building is renovated it is ticketed on the very first day, yes the very first day, of construction.

Where does Tony Williams sit on the issue? Despite his campaign promises, and “Neighborhood Action,” he has done nothing. With a stroke of a pen he could rewrite the DCRA regulations, but he has chosen not to. Rather, he was the one who appointed Carlynn Fuller. Early in his term, I pressed the issue with a member of his cabinet, who responded, “nuisance property enforcement is not a priority right now.” The more I follow this issue, the more deeply puzzled I am. There seems to be a widespread, deep feeling in this city that vacant properties are a good thing. Where does it come from? Can any readers help me out with clues?


Taxation Without Occupation
John Whiteside,

Paul Michael Brown raises an interesting point in his comment on property taxes and vacant buildings. Under the system of property taxation used in most of the US, assessed values are based on both the land in question and the structure built on them. While this sounds reasonable, it has some unpleasant side effects. Property owners have a disincentive to improve their property (their taxes will increase) and “land-hoarding” is encouraged; if you own a vacant lot downtown (or a run-down empty house near Dupont Circle), you can sit on it for a while as its value increases, and someday make a profit selling it. In the meantime, though, it's a liability for the surrounding neighborhood.

In The Death and Life of Great American Cities (a classic and a must-read for anyone interested in understanding how vibrant urban communities grow and prosper), Jane Jacobs argues for site-based taxation, in which property owners are taxed on the value of the site of their property, without consideration for what's on it. The idea is that in order to pay those taxes, you need to do something economically useful with the land. So, if you have a vacant lot downtown, you can't afford to leave it there, and a blight use (like a parking lot) is less attractive than a building which will generate revenue for you. And if you own that abandoned house, you will fix it up and rent it, make it your primary home, or sell it to someone with the means and desire to do so. The end result: the property becomes a “good neighbor” to the community around it.


Unwanted Input
Cornelia Moore,

No, I do not believe that my input is wanted. A group of concerned citizens tried to persuade the Financial Control Board and mayor to build a state-of-the art hospital for DC General. We could not even get Eleanor Holmes Norton to help us. They've all turned their backs on us. There is no representation for the poor and underserved in DC.


Neighborhood Action Plan
Ralph Blessing,

Apparently my message disputing Gary's comments about the Neighborhood Action Plan got lost in cyberspace, so here goes again. A couple Saturdays ago, a group of about 65 Ward 4 residents from our neighborhood cluster met for more than three hours to help formulate an action plan. Rosalynn Frazier, the city's Neighborhood Action Coordinator for Ward 4, conducted a totally open meeting and appeared sincerely interested in hearing our concerns. The final list of recommendations was driven almost exclusively by the residents' comments and suggestions, with only minor tweaking by Ms. Frazier. It's certainly possible that this degree of democratic participation may decrease as the plan moves up the ladder downtown, but at least at the community level, I felt that our input was genuinely desired and factored into the planning process.


Permanent Federal Presence
David Pansegrouw,

Len Sullivan, writing about DC's future, mentions “the permanent presence of the federal government.” A while back, WAMU (I think) hosted an on-air forum about voting rights for DC. One person made a comment that intrigued me. They said that if DC were to become a state that there would then be nothing to compel the federal government to centralize in DC. The idea presented was that if DC were a state like any other state, why couldn't various federal functions be spread around to other states? Things like Senator Byrd's various moves to locate various agencies in West Virginia would likely increase. It seems to me that proponents of a smaller federal government would have a field day. Dismantle Washington! Bush the Younger seems proud that he will be away from DC longer this August than any other president has been away from Washington. If other people can telecommute, why not the Prez?


From Geneva
Tim Cooper,

In light of the serious expressions of concern voiced on Monday, August 6th, by two distinguished members of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination about the possible disparate impact created by the continuing denial of equal political rights to minority populations in Washington, DC, Mr. Matthes's; assertion that the racial implications in the disenfranchisement of those minorities constitutes some kind of “silliness” would appear to be at variance with their perspectives on this matter.

Ms. Gabriele Britz, a professor of racism at Frankfurt University in Germany who initially raised the issue before the US delegation in Geneva, asked Mr. Frank Boyd, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, for the “current justification” for the lack of equal political rights for Washingtonians, and Mr. M.J. Yutzi of Argentina, who stated that he was “unsatisfied” with Mr. Boyd's explanation for the denial of political rights to minorities in DC, are both world renowned experts in the field of racism, and sit on the oldest human rights committee in the UN system.

From this perspective, the only “silliness” in evidence is the US government's continued reliance on an antiquated rationale for depriving equal political rights to Washingtonians by claiming, as the Founding Fathers claimed 200 years ago, that "a dependence of the members of the general government on the State comprehending the seat of the Government for protection in the exercise of their duty, might bring on the national councils an imputation of awe or influence." It now appears that UN committee members believe that the Founding Father's historical justification has long since turned into a wrongful discrimination.


Statehood by Legislation
Michael Piacsek,

Tom Matthes is disingenuous, or at least misinformed, about the cause of D.C.'s status. (Dear Mr. Cooper, Please Be Careful What You Wish For, August 5). The Constitution is not the problem, and amending it is not the only solution, despite what he may think. Congress has had the power all along to grant full civil and political rights to the residents of D.C., but has consistently refused to do so.

How can it do this? By making D.C. a state -- which doesn't require an amendment. The residents of D.C. will be granted full civil and political rights, and our dear Constitution remains intact. Voila — Constitutional “crisis” solved. The beauty of this is that D.C. residents voted for it in 1980, making it the solitary democratic solution. It only remains for Congress to take action. The question is why they haven't, and that's where Timothy Cooper comes in. There is no question that racism has played a large role in denying D.C. voting rights. This isn't just paranoid fantasy, it's in the Congressional Record. Over and over again, members of Congress had no qualms about going on record why they didn't want to give D.C. home rule or voting rights — “dumb black people.”

The D.C. Statehood Green Party and the American Friends Service Committee are filing an Amicus Brief in the latest round of Adams v. Bush, showing how Congress was openly racist. We cite to the Congressional Record numerous times with explicit examples. D.C. residents voted for Statehood. We deserves Statehood, and it's unconstitutional to violate the equal rights of D.C. residents by denying us a republican form of government. If Timothy Cooper has to go to the UN to expose the dirty truth on why that is, then we should be applauding him. Hiding behind the Constitution to defend a manifest injustice is childish (“He made me do it!”) and outright wrong.


Nonprofit Technology Survey — Participate Now
Sue Bell,

Nonprofits, make your technology needs known! DC-area 501(c)(3) nonprofits are encouraged to participate in the fifth annual Nonprofit Technology Tracking Study. Gifts In Kind International conducts this Study to determine the state of technology among nonprofit organizations and to assess their technology-related needs. Survey results will be presented to leading national high-tech companies and grant-making foundations to assist them in identifying strategies to support the nonprofit sector.

Nonprofits can review and submit the 2001 Gifts In Kind International Nonprofit Technology Tracking Study online. Just click here: to participate electronically. Please have your information technology expert complete the questionnaire and return it by Friday August 31, 2001. Gifts In Kind International is based in Old Town Alexandria. It is the world's leading nonprofit in product philanthropy, helping companies contribute $456 million in newly manufactured products to 50,000 nonprofits worldwide in 2000. For more information, visit To learn how your DC-area nonprofit can receive products through the local Gifts In Kind program, contact Lakeisha Peten at United Way of the National Capital Area at 488-2125 or via E-mail at



Upcoming Events at DC Public Libraries
Debra Truhart,

August 11, 12 noon, Drawing Lines of Isolated Labor, Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, N.W., Room A-9. Young Adult Services Division presents Kaneia Mayo, a nationally published poet, who works with young adults, ages 12-19, on writing poetry.

August 11, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Smithsonian O. Orkin Insect Safari, Washington-Highlands Neighborhood Library, 115 Atlantic Street, SW. For one day the Smithsonian O. Orkin Insect Safari, a free, traveling multimedia educational expedition, will visit the Washington Highlands Library in Ward 8. This 53-foot mobile unit exhibit is designed to be an interactive educational tool for students of all ages. Visitors will learn where insects live, how they interact and affect the environment.

August 15, 12 noon, Will the Cost of College Ruin Your Finances?, Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library. The Business Division of the Library sponsors a seminar on a tax deduction savings plan for higher education. Adults.

September 6, 4:30 – 7:30 p.m., Adult Back to School Information Fair, Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library. Literacy Resources Division sponsors annual Information Fair for adults to find out about preparation and testing for GED/High School Diploma, learning to read, learning English, and applying for college. Information on: different classes, programs, schools, organizations, and community resources available to them.


Bike DC Car Free September 23
Eric Gilliland,

On September 23rd, join the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) for a 32-mile bicycle tour of Washington DC. This tour will be completely car free with rest stops, full mechanical and EMS support and a festival at the end. The day before WABA will be holding a Kids Bicycle Rodeo and Great Gear Exchange at the DC Armory. Volunteers ride free. For more information, please visit


An Evening with D.C. Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Paul L. Vance
James Berry,

The ANC Assembly is sponsoring an evening of discussion with D.C. Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Paul L. Vance and other members of his Cabinet. Topics of discussion for the evening will include an overview of before and after school programs currently offered by the D.C. Public Schools (DCPS); the issue of truancy and DCPS students; initiatives made by the DCPS concerning volunteerism as well as parental involvement; and the DCPS' Strategic Plan. This gathering will be held on Tuesday, August 7, at the Logan School, 215 G Street, N.E., from 7:00 p.m. until 8:30 p.m.



Calling All Bancroft Butterfly Garden Volunteers
Peg Blechman,

As you know, the two Bancroft Butterfly Gardens have been planted and look great. But they need your help keeping them watered during August. Please contact me when you're available.



Seeking Housing in Alexandria or DC Starting 8/25
Lisa Pinsker,

I am a nonsmoking young professional starting a job in Alexandria at the beginning of September, and I need to sublet a room or share an apartment/townhouse/house. Must have parking, air conditioning. Please E-mail me if you know of anything available.



Free Upright Piano
Matthew Kessler,

We are moving our offices and have a free upright piano and bench for anyone interested. All you need to do is come and get it. It needs extensive work, but has great potential! E-mail if interested.


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)