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February 6, 2002

Car Problems

Dear Drivers and Riders:

Can improving the management of the Department of Motor Vehicles really be that difficult? Car registration, parking, ticketing, towing — some days these issues alone seem to account for the majority of problems that middle-class citizens have with the District of Columbia government. You may not have to depend on the District for other services, but if you own a car you still have to deal with the DMV. As I've written before, Mayor Barry understood that well, and he won reelection to his second term largely on the strength of his claims to have reformed DMV and to have gotten the water bills sent out on time.

Mayor Williams has bragged for two years about the vast improvements his administration made at the DMV, and he has made that department the primary example of the upgraded management his administration was going to institute through the city government. For the first two years of the administration, though reports about residents' experiences with the DMV in the press and by themail readers were mixed, they were mostly encouraging and hopeful. But in the past year there have been increasing indications that the DMV is still plagued with systematic problems — problems that are not due to understaffing or underbudgeting, but to poor management and planning. The continuing problems at DMV could be the car horn blaring in the night that awakens voters to the systemic management failures in DC government. More likely, most voters will sleep blissfully unaware through the night.

Gary Imhoff 


At 4:30 a.m., A Car Horn Blares; Police Refuse Assistance, Claim Hands Tied
David Sobelsohn, 

I am writing this at 5:45 a.m. on Monday, February 4. A car horn has kept the neighborhood awake since 4:30 a.m. I have just spoken with several police officers. They include Sergeant M. Hines and Lieutenant Glover of the First District and supervisor Barbara Hammett of Communications. Hines tells me that the police have received nearly a dozen complaints about this car horn and dispatched three squad cars. Hines, Hammett, and Glover all insist the only thing the police can do legally is inform the owner of the vehicle. Sergeant Hines reports that, although the car is registered in DC, the owner has an unlisted telephone number and therefore the police cannot reach him (the stuck horn “is not a police problem,” Hines says). Lieutenant Glover argues that the Fourth Amendment prohibits the police from either breaking into the car and disconnecting the horn or towing the car to a nonresidential neighborhood (the car is “legally parked,” Glover insists). According to Glover, the police must permit the horn to blare as long as the car's battery holds out.

Is this a police failure to enforce the law? If so, to whom do I report it? Or is this a failure of city law to provide the police with the tools they need? This car horn, by keeping my neighbors and me from getting a good night's sleep, will cost thousands in lost productivity from workers too sleepy to put in a good day's work. Besides that are the two squad cars the police dispatched after the first — what did the police in those two cars have to ignore to waste their time on this one car? If Hammett, Hines, and Glover are right regarding city law, we at least need a new law to equate a car with a stuck horn (or stuck car alarm) with a car parked illegally. That would at least permit DPW (Glover says DCPD doesn't tow) to tow the car into a nonresidential neighborhood. Even better would be a law permitting police, after making reasonable efforts to locate the owner, to break into the car and disconnect the horn (or alarm). Do any themail subscribers agree with lieutenant Glover that such a law would violate the Fourth Amendment?

[This message was also sent to Councilmember Graham, which resulted in a response giving the legal opinion of the Councilmember's staff director that the police could have ticketed the car. David Sobelson responded to the Councilmember, “But slapping a ticket on a car whose horn is blaring at 4 a.m. doesn't quiet the horn. Does city law permit the police to do anything else — e.g., break into the car and stop the horn, tow the car to a nonresidential neighborhood, or at least call the owner's 'unlisted telephone number'? If so, to whom do I complain about the police failure to act on this occasion? If not, please introduce a bill to amend city law. There should be a way, short of vigilante justice, for DC residents to get a good night's sleep.” — Gary Imhoff]


Illegal Parking on Sunday Mornings
Christopher Koppel, 

A week ago I came home from work to find no parking anywhere in my neighborhood (6th and E Streets, SE). I was forced to park with my car protruding a little too far into the illegal zone, and within a half hour was given a ticket. This is fine, as I was in the wrong. However on Sunday mornings, there are any number of vehicles parked illegally all over the area, and no tickets are issued. They are parked for as long as five and six hours. A church which moved to our neighborhood from Maryland is up the street, and the parishioners (all with Maryland tags) park anywhere they please with no tickets issued. I find this appalling. Nothing angers me more than blurring the wall between church and state, especially when laws are being broken. Why are churchgoers treated preferentially?


Sadly, the DMV Again
Yoma Ullman, 

On December 23, I mailed in my check for $90 and my completed forms for renewal of parking and registration. They expire on February 18. Hearing nothing by January 29, I called Kathy Patterson's office, where a lady with the world's most sympathetic voice promised to help. She told me she would fax my name and problem to the DMV, along with the many others she was sending in daily.

On February 1, she got back to me, saying that the DMV had no record of my check. I was able to send her, as she requested, a copy of both sides of the canceled check, plus a copy of the original form as I sent it in. Since the mails are also in terrible shape, I would have blamed them for the delay. But the failure of the DMV to record receiving and cashing my check suggests where the blame really lies.

I hear that many people in my building have the same problem as I do and have been forced to go down to the DMV to sort it out. The Director of the DMV used to read themail. I wonder if she still does. She has work to do.


Marc Bouchard, 

I wanted to recount a recent experience with DC DMV. I renewed my automobile registration online on January 7. I called DC DMV on the 29th of the month wondering when the new tags and registration would arrive. After going through the standard recorded announcement number I eventually found a human being. I was told my registration was renewed January 16 . . . i.e., the online renewal system seems to be little more than an online access point to a pile on someone's desk that they will get to in their own good time.

Well, I needed tags and a valid registration. I was told that if the word was passed to resend the documents to me I would not receive them until after my current tags had expired (not to mention the registration that already had expired). I could also come in and pick them up. I chose the latter. The H street office gave me the tags and told me to bring the others back when they arrived in the mail. Let's see . . . register online (credit card charged promptly on January 7) wait three weeks, then have to go in once to get the tags then go back a second time to return the set that eventually arrives in the mail. What is wrong with this picture?

Oh, did I tell you about getting a motorcycle registered this past summer? It was fairly well publicized. No plates were available. I was told to come back as each temporary paper plate expired. I did that twice before tiring of it. I called another four or five times until I was assured that plates were on hand. Is it just me, or do we spend a lot of time down there?


Plates and Drop Boxes
Ted Gest, 

Re the dismaying February 3rd post by Jack McKay on the Department of Motor Vehicle's drop boxes: too bad he had to go to all that trouble, but is it really necessary to turn in old plates, especially under these circumstances? When we purchased a car recently, the dealer advised us to do this, in case someone got hold of our old plates and did something bad with another car that could be blamed on us. But isn't this unlikely, unless you carelessly leave your old plates in some public place?


DC Schools
Janice H. Hopper, 

The DC Board of Education recognizes that Anacostia schools are more in need of renovation, supplies, equipment, even excellent staffing than any other District schools — yet the first school building scheduled for renovation, etc., is Georgetown's Hardy School. Politics as usual!


Open Letter to Chief Judge of the DC Superior Court
Lyla Winter, 

To Judge Rufus G. King, DC Superior Court. Dear Judge King, in regard to reinstating Evelyn Queen as a Superior Court Judge — don't even think about it! Her decisions were unbelievably irresponsible and played an important part in the chain of events that led to Brianna's death.


Building Receivership
Denise Wiktor, 

[The following message] was just posted on the Columbia Heights Forum. The first successful use of the tenant receivership law. I hope that it encourages tenants in similar situations to consider the same. The law dictates a bit on the priority of repairs and the court oversees. I am also pleased that the attorney who took this forward is a Antioch Law School classmate of mine, keeping our public service training in the forefront.

From: Catherine Harbour, New Parkwell Tenants Association,
Subject: receiver appointed for 3500 13th St. (13th & Monroe)

FYI — The city recently responded to a Tenants Association petition and appointed Fred A. Smith Management company as the receiver for 3500 13th St. (NW corner of 13th & Monroe). The receiver is like a foster landlord — the receiver collects tenants' rent and uses the money to make repairs to the building and to pay bills for the building. The landlord, Thomas John Ph.D., still owns the building, but no longer gets the rent money. The city has brought criminal charges against Dr. John for neglect of the building, and his trial is scheduled to start March 20th. The receivership law was passed about the time the list of hot properties was published, in March 2000. As far as we know, this is the first use of the law.


Taxi Maps Don’t Have to Wait
Diane Lee Schulz, 

Although I appreciated Bob Andrew's suggestion about using the Washington Post Taxi zone map as the official Taxi Commission map, I hope that drivers with that extra entrepreneurial spirit will take it a step further. They could have cards printed with their numbers on one side and the map on the other to build customer loyalty. Then we could get a map and a ready taxi number all in one.


Taxes Online
John Whiteside, 

My experience with the city's online tax return service couldn't have been more different from Ms. Gaffney's. I logged in, answered the questions, and pouf, my taxes are filed, with direct deposit of my refund. Fast and easy and no fee. I also have to file a Virginia return this year (thanks to my Virginia employer who mistakenly withheld VA tax for a few weeks); their online system just didn't work, telling me when I entered my 2000 information that I had to sign up with 1999 details, and then refusing the accept the 1999 details, locking out my social security number, and informing me that I have to file on paper. So much for “silicon dominion.”


Alexandria, DC, Free Online Tax Service, and Free ATM Withdrawal
Mark Richards, Dupont East, 

According to my AT&T Wireless bill, I retrieve my messages from Alexandria, DC. I called to ask customer service where Alexandria, DC, is, but they were unable to pull it up on the map.

Regarding the problem described with the free online tax service mentioned by Ms. Gaffney, during the Channel 16 demonstration of the new service, the Mayor typed in his Social Security number and it didn’t work for him either — that is, until he was instructed to type the number in with no spaces. The person who was leading the demonstration said there were still bugs in the system.

I noticed when I last stopped by the Third District police station at 1620 V St., NW, that if one withdraws cash from the bank machine at the station, there is no withdrawal fee. Good deal, and a safe place to withdraw!


Yes, Please Keep Postings Short
Rita Cloutier, 

Please urge patrons [of themail] to keep postings short, with a succinct first paragraph telling us what is to be discussed. Frankly, I read only the first paragraph or two. If the author wants to be heard or supported, s/he mustn't ramble — it discourages the reader who's short of time.


Problem with Firehouse Preservation
Kathy Smith, 

Sally Berk misses a major point about firehouse preservation. In the case of the Tenleytown Firehouse, the lot is small and the old building is set back further than it needs to be. The front and sides need to be demolished so that the building can be expanded. The existing doors are too narrow for modern fire trucks and need to be widened. (The doors were designed for horse-drawn fire trucks.) Yet the original front and one side are what the preservation folks are fighting to preserve. The existing doors cannot be widened unless the city wants to spend vastly more tax dollars doing so than the building could possibly be worth. I'm not sure, even with huge funds, that the doors could be widened.

The residents around Tenleytown don't mind if the building is torn down and a new larger building is constructed to look just like the old building. But that is not what the preservations folks want. They want to save the original facade of the old building. Unless the building is made larger, we are unable to get into it the additional rescue vehicle that we need. This is definitely a case of preservation over public safety.


Now They’ve Done It
Ed T. Barron, 

The Cleveland Park activists, living in the horse and buggy days and resisting change, are now applying for landmark status for the Giant on Wisconsin Avenue. Big mistake, since that will likely curtail any expansion plans for the supermarket. It may also inspire Giant to pull the plug on that location and pull up stakes. Landmark status will require much coordination and coordination with the very slow moving DC government for approval of any exterior changes to that building.

Home Depot was faced with that same situation when the old Sears/Hechinger's Building in Tenleytown was granted landmark status. With a very hard row to hoe in getting that site developed as a hybrid Home Depot store, the execs at Home Depot pulled the plug and opted for a site in NE DC, where a Home Depot was welcomed by residents who wanted improved products and services. Should Giant pull the plug on the Cleveland Park store some 1500 regular shoppers will be greatly inconvenienced.



Duke Ellington Comes to Petworth
Dorothy Marschak, 

Duke Ellington, DC’s native son and America’s most renowned and prolific composer, comes to life this Saturday at Petworth Library, Georgia and Upshur Streets, NW, from 2-3 p.m. You are invited to a presentation by saxophonist Fred Foss, educator and director of the Fred Foss Youth Jazz Orchestra with pianist Benito Martinez, on the “Music and Influence of Duke Ellington.” This program is one of an ongoing series, “Music Around the World” of nineteen free programs for all ages presented by CHIME (Community Help In Music Education) between now and the end of May at 4 DC libraries: Petworth, Lamond-Riggs, Benning and Mt. Pleasant.

Other programs this month include February 23 at Lamond-Riggs Library (South Dakota Avenue at Kennedy Street, NE) , singer and actress Angela Polite (now in the cast of Gospel According to Fishman at the Signature Theater) will present “The History of Gospel Music.” February 26 at Mt. Pleasant Library, 16th and Lamont Streets, NW, 7-8 p.m., Fred Foss and Benito Martinez will present “Music of the Latin Diaspora,” with a special emphasis on Latin Jazz. For a complete schedule of all 19 programs, to learn more about CHIME, or to volunteer or donate, visit our website at, or contact


Open Space Forum No. 7
Ivor Heyman, 

Are you looking to have thought provoking conversations that have the potential to alter your perspective on life? Open Space Forum No. 7: Dealing with Conflict in Personal Relationships, Saturday, February 16, 4:30 - 7 p.m. at the DCJCC, 1529 16th Street, NW. Cost $5.

The Open Space Forum meets informally on a monthly basis, bringing together a group of people from diverse backgrounds to discuss issues in an open and inclusive way. Please visit  for more information.


Mardi Gras Singles Night
Fadia Jawdat, 

Join us for Mardi Gras food and fun. Tuesday, February 12, 7:30 - 10 p.m. Cover charge $10 to benefit Food & Friends. At the Jamba Juice Cafe in our store, Fresh Fields/Georgetown, 2323 Wisconsin Avenue NW. Free parking. Reservations required at customer service, 333-5393, or online at  Dance, play, eat and celebrate. Music by our favorite DJ, David Beatty, palm reading, trivia and limbo contests. Raffle and prizes. Menu: jambalaya, Cajun catfish, crepes (strawberries, chocolate), and sparkling (non alcoholic) cider.



Temporary Housing Wanted
Reena Kazmann, 

A friend from New York is temporarily commuting to DC to consult at a nonprofit. She would like to rent a room from Monday-Thursday nights through March 22. Kitchen privileges would be nice, but are not essential. She is a nonsmoker and quiet. Ellen may be reached during the day at 362-7530 or at 212-362-7530 anytime.



Government Contract Certification for DC Business
Art Jackson, 

In the year 2001, more than $200 million in government contracts were awarded to businesses like yours, and in 2002 more than $250 millions is expected to be awarded. The AHJ Group will assist small, minority, and women-owned business in acquiring certification to bid on government contacts. To schedule an appointment call 240-508-5926 or E-mail



Hotel Advice
Emily Piccirillo, 

Please help me avoid a vacation disaster! I would appreciate suggestions from folks who have had relatives visit from out of town who stayed in a hotel in downtown DC. I would like to identify a clean, well run, moderately priced hotel with easy access to the Mall, preferably with a pool, for my brother and his family (two kids). All ideas are welcome!


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