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March 23, 2003

Waiting It Out

Dear Waiters:

Shawn Tully's article in the current issue of Fortune Magazine, “A Tax Upon Your House,” gives a national viewpoint on the debate we've been having in themail over the precipitous rise in DC's property tax assessments. The article's subtitle summarizes the story: “Skyrocketing property taxes are eating away at your home's value. Soon they might sink the broader housing market.” DC's officials seem to think that property taxes are a politically cost-free way to increase revenues, and that capping property tax rises at 25 percent a year, which effectively doubles taxes every three years, is sufficient protection for hard-hit homeowners. Some advocates of high property taxes, like the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, believe that even the 25 percent cap is too low, and should be eliminated. But Tully points out the real short- and long-term dangers in treating property taxes as a bottomless resource. He also unearths a startling fact: ". . . real estate taxes now rival mortgage payments as the largest expense for homeowners. Last year Americans paid $265 billion in interest on their houses. The bill for property taxes was $205 billion. . . ." (,15114,433155,00.html)

Bob Schieffer's commentary on today's edition of CBS's “Face the Nation,” was on “DC Held Hostage (By a Tractor?).” He wrote: “Maybe we should forget that stuff about duct tape and those silly ads assuring us 'the government is doing everything possible to protect us' and spend the money instead on realistic training and resources for our local authorities. When one guy on a tractor can paralyze a big part of the nation's capitol for two days, we've got a problem” ( It seems to me that many supporters of the National Park Service's handling of the incident miss the point made by the critics. When Dorothy asked the Mayor about it at his press conference last week, he dismissed the criticism offhandedly as though he didn't even understand it. But one man with a tractor was able to paralyze a large part of the strategic core of our city and the city and the NPS didn't seem to have any alternative plan aside from either killing him or waiting him out for as many days as it took.

Gary Imhoff


Morally Wrong
Ed T. Barron, edtb@aoldotcom

The Mayor's proposal to commit $300 M to build a baseball stadium in DC is morally wrong. Here we have a city that is more than $250 million in the hole and the Mayor is promoting an initiative that will drive the city into bankruptcy. Just think what $300 million (and a new baseball stadium plus infrastructure will more likely cost $400 million) could do if it were spent cost effectively to improve the educational processes and hire the best teachers we could find.

Education of minority and poor kids in the District should be our number one priority, not sky boxes in a new stadium. The lifetime payback of educating kids is much more cost effective. The Kipp Charter School in DC is an excellent example of a system with outstanding committed teachers and a program that proves these underprivileged kids can learn and prosper in a good environment. Let's put the taxpayer's and employers' tax monies where they should really go. To do otherwise is morally wrong.

The Mayor's proposal, which was presented yesterday, by the way, was characterized by a Major League Baseball official as “. . . very thorough and well prepared.” That's all folks. DC has just been gonged. Now let's get on with some real initiatives.


What Do We Do Now?
Anne Heutte,

There is an ancient saying about what to do when things get bad. To follow it, you have already to be doing the good that you know of: “Do what you are doing.”


Calling All Renters
Dorothy Brizill,

On Wednesday, March 19, Mayor Williams, City Administrator John Koskinen, and CFO Natwar Gandhi had a public briefing before the City Council on the Mayor's proposed budget and financial plan. Because the printed budget books were not available, the Executive Office of the Mayor placed a variety of budget summary documents, including spreadsheets, on a table outside the Council Chamber. One summary sheet, entitled “Fiscal Year 2004 Budget Support Act of 2003,” had buried in it a single line that said the Budget Support Act would “amend the DC Official Code to abolish the Rental Housing Commission and to transfer all functions and property to the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.” On Friday, March 21, the Council's Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs held a public hearing on the FY 2004 budget for DCRA. Not only were the Budget and Support Act not available to citizens, but most citizens, including renters, were unaware of the Administration's plan to do away with the Rental Housing Commission.

The Rental Housing Commission is a “quasi-judicial body that decides rental housing cases on appeal from the Rent Administrator.” Renters can appeal to the RHC without the cost of legal representation, as most of them do. The RHC often remands tenant cases to the Rent Administrator because of legal errors made by hearing officers. In its twelve years of existence, the RHC's decisions have been overturned by the Court of Appeals only three times, and its budget is only $300,000 annually. If it were to be abolished, renters who wanted to appeal a Rent Administration decision would have to appeal to the Court of Appeals, where they would be at a great disadvantage unless they were represented by attorneys. Because abolishing the RHC is part of the Budget Support Act, the City Council doesn't have to hold a public hearing or take a separate public vote on that provision, and since it has been buried in a budget that most members of the public have never seen, its abolition can be accomplished before the public is even aware of it.

Why would this action be taken in such a secretive, underhanded way? First, the chairman of the Commission, Ruth Banks, has offended David Clark, the Director of DCRA, by her independence. Clark wants to strengthen the Rental Accommodations and Conversion Division, which reports to him, at the expense of the RHC. Second, the decisions of the RHC have over the years become increasingly pro-tenant. This has angered the Apartment and Office Building Association, which is very influential in the Williams administration. The legal council for AOBA is Mark Policy, a specialist in rent control, condominium conversions, and landlord and tenant laws. Last year, many people wondered why Williams made the unusual choice of Policy to defend his election fraud and forged petitions. Now, tenant representatives are wondering whether the abolition of the RHC, a longtime goal of AOBA, is payback.


Property Taxes
Mary Chiantaretto,

I read in the Washington Times a story about the rise in the fines and fees and the astonishing news that ten DC Council members (Carol Schwartz, Kevin Chavous, Jack Evans, Sandra Allen, Adrian Fenty David Catania, Jim Graham, Harold Brazil, Vincent Orange, and Linda Cropp) voted to exempt themselves from restrictions on curbside parking anywhere in the city except during rush hours.

Perhaps we should check the property tax assessments of the houses of the Assessors who so professionally (they think) and illegally (according to DC rules) increased our home taxes in some cases more than the 100 percent.

[And while you're at it, Ms. Chiantaretto, check the assessments on Councilmembers' houses. — Gary Imhoff]


DC Tax and Revenue Misses Federal Deadline
Mark Eckenwiler,

State and local governments that issue refunds to income-tax filers are required to mail out Form 1099-G by January 31 of the following year (see,,id=106530,00.html).

My copy from DC OTR arrived this year on Friday, March 21, seven weeks late. Good thing I'd already taken account of the refund in my completed, filed federal return.


District Bond Outlook Boosted to Positive
Nick Samuels,

On Wednesday, March 19, Moody's Investors Service changed its outlook on the District's general obligation debt to positive from stable (keep in mind that's not a rating change; it's still Baa1). It's also worth noting that during the past year several states have had their actual ratings downgraded, and that as of February, no state had a positive outlook and sixteen had negative ones.

Moody's analysis of the District's finances is interesting. It cites “. . . both the financial results shown in the recently released 2002 Annual Audit and the District's strong response to a large projected budget gap in fiscal 2003, primarily employing timely spending controls.” It notes that the remaining budget gap will be closed by more spending reductions and “a fairly modest use of reserves.” It also says that the District economy has performed “relatively well” in the past year citing growth in the residential and commercial property tax bases and low office vacancy rates, but notes employment is trending downward. Specifically, Moody's says the rating reflects “(i) recent years' stabilization and improvement in the District's economy and tax base; (ii) good financial results over the past six years, mainly as a result of local tax revenue performance, the permanent shift of some program costs to the federal government, and improved financial oversight and management (despite recurring episodes of overspending vs. budget by some agencies); and (iii) a high-but-manageable burden of tax-supported debt. The rating also reflects the District's need to improve the quality and efficiency of public services, particularly K-12 education, in order to sustain positive trends in the economy and District finances.”

You can see the full analysis at, selecting “US Public Finance” and searching through “ratings actions.”


Tractor Terrorist
Ron Eberhardt,

Ed T. Barron correctly points out what I too consider the bungling of the deranged "cancer farmer" from Carolina who was permitted to stop commerce in our city unnecessarily. However, I have a different view of the causation. This matter was 100 percent under the direction and control of the U. S. Park Police. Yes, there were District and federal law enforcement there. However, Park Police chief Teresa C. Chambers called the shots (and, of course there were no shots). She proudly told the news media that it was a textbook nonviolent conclusion.

Whether lethal or non-lethal force, it was justified to end the siege much, much sooner then was the case. Furthermore, to de facto establish a policy, and thereby send a message to the next deranged individual who decides to target where we live, that they can do so with impunity is reckless. If the farmer or any successor is hurt as a result of their actions, then so be it. People are responsible for their actions and ought to be held accountable.

I am not suggesting bombing this guy from existence in the first hour, but, please, folks. You don't allow this nut, or anyone else, to hold hostage a good portion of the center of democracy. It's just plain poor policy. As far as I am concerned, neither was it a good outcome. I think Chief Chambers' actions, or lack thereof, ought to receive close examination and quickly before the next nut strikes.


Tractor Terrorist 2
Judith Kahn,

The DC police are helpers/keep the peace. They are not responsible for tractors on the mall. The tractor incident is one of the joys of living in the district. Not because DC is unable to do anything right, but because it is the Capitol.


Tractor Terrorist 3
Ed Kane,

I totally disagree with Mr. Barron on his recent submission. I think that the DC Government is to be commended on resolving this ludicrous situation without violence. Certainly, a police sniper could have taken out this poor deranged farmer at any point, but who wants that? Except, perhaps, Mr. Barron.


Tractor Terrorist 4
John Whiteside, johnwhiteside at earthlink dot net

Ed Barron is so right about how the tractor nut incident pointed out the vulnerabilities of the city. The evening he surrendered, I happened to catch the beginning of a rebroadcast of Diane Rehm on WAMU talking about terrorism. She had Asa Hutchinson (undersecretary for borders and transportation at Homeland Security) on the phone and asked him if this past two days weren't a cause for concern should we ever have to actually evacuate the city.

No, Hutchison told her, the tractor man incident actually proved that the government's plans are working well! Freedom is slavery! Ignorance is strength! War is Peace! It's nineteen years late, but the administration is help making Mr. Orwell's vision a reality. Now stop committing those thought crimes and get back to work.


Dupont Circle 911 Fiasco
Kate Farnham, kate larson at aol dot com

In all the well-deserved outrage over the alleged failures of the 911 system on the morning of the fire (which I agree is inexcusable), the fact seems to have gotten lost that the house in which the fire began apparently had no working smoke detectors. Why is nobody publicly condemning whoever was responsible for not providing this basic need in tenants' sleeping areas throughout the house, or for not making sure the batteries worked? Would this individual ever be fined or sued for such negligence? To me, this is just as dangerous and inexcusable as the actions (or lack thereof) of the 911 operators. While perhaps working smoke detectors would have made no difference in response time or damage to the building given the 911 situation, it clearly would have given residents of the house precious time to react and escape. Mr. Smith might have been able to escape himself had he been awakened by a working smoke alarm in his bedroom. These devices are inexpensive and save many lives every year. In addition to providing impetus to criticize the 911 response, this tragic incident should also serve as a wake-up call to homeowners, landlords, and tenants to install smoke detectors throughout the house and change the batteries twice a year, when Daylight Savings begins and ends. If your landlord won't do it, buy your own detector and take care of it yourself. It could make all the difference in whether you survive.


Klingle Road
Andrea Broaddus, ANC1C,

I was put off by the attitude of the Council at the hearing, and am puzzled why they aren't convinced of what is clear in my fresh perspective: Klingle Road is a pork project, identifiable by two main criteria, 1) it is driven by an influential, well-heeled special interest group with a green washing PR campaign, and 2) it has a price tag that outweighs the utility of the road. It was named such in the recent report “Green Scissors 2003, District of Columbia.” The sophisticated PR campaign on the road-proponents' website is deliberately deceptive. For example, the Adams Morgan ANC is listed as a supporter of rebuilding the road for car traffic, which is simply not true. The web site lists “Adams Morgan ANC (2000)” as a supporter because the previous Commission did pass a resolution in their favor, after hearing a one-sided presentation on the issue. The ANC's position was later reversed after Commissioners became more informed.

Rather than rebuilding Klingle for cut-through car traffic, $4.25 million would be saved in the Mayor's plan for a hiking/biking trail. That savings could be invested in ways that increase access to jobs for residents without cars, such as more bus service on east-west corridors. It represents a $4.25 million opportunity cost for projects in Wards that are poorer and more heavily populated by minorities. Being able to get to work without a car can make the difference for low-income households in making the step to home ownership. I urge the City Council to oppose the $5.7 million pork project, and support the Mayor's $1.45 million trail plan.


Saving a Green Klingle Valley
Lisa Swanson,

The DC Council has needlessly opted to weigh in on Klingle Valley instead of allowing the Mayor's plan to retain the green space as a pedestrian-friendly route to and from Rock Creek. Contrary to assertions of those who want to spent millions of dollars to reengineer and repave, paving over this valley will not improve the air by lessening idling. A voice at the American Lung Association has said, "Building more roads to solve an air pollution problem is like buying a larger pair of pants to solve an obesity problem."

The roadies would have you look back a hundred years, but also look ahead. In ten years, as a park, Klingle Valley will still be a piece of decent inner-city green space, used by many. Paved over, it would be just one more stretch of overused roadway. I bet those who are clamoring for it now would be complaining that it just isn't the shortcut they'd dreamed of.



IMAGINE: Fundraiser for Peace, March 30
Jen Tucker,

IMAGINE: a fundraiser for Black Voices for Peace and Code Pink the drums of war continue to beat, but our voices can be louder. Add your voice to the growing dissent on Sunday, March 30 from 3:00-5:30 p.m. at Mimi's American Bistro, 2120 P Street, Dupont Circle. $20 minimum donation. Thanks to the generosity of Mimi's, 100 percent of your donation will go directly to Black Voices for Peace and Code Pink. Highlights include two drinks and appetizers free, music, an auction of Code Pink Art, and discussion with the leaders of these two fearless peace groups. For more information, contact Jen Tucker, 486-6409 or


School Without Walls Auction, April 5
Mary Alice and Rich Levine,

Read the cover story of Thursday’s (March 20) Washington Post District Extra, and see why the School Without Walls High School auction is the place to be on Saturday night April 5 at the Reeves Center. There, you will have the chance to meet and mingle with students, teachers and parents of “one of the city’s most successful academic institutions.” You may be surprised to meet old friends that night. Walls draws its students from all over the city, and you’ll find alumni of every DCPS Middle and Junior High School at this fundraiser for one of the District’s gems.

We'll have over 250 items up for bid: Gift certificates for health clubs, photographers, family-prepared meals and scores of restaurants are available. We’ve got lunch with politicians and a groundbreaking shovel and a bow tie from Mayor Williams. Also, original artwork, signed books, theater tickets, videos, jewelry, accessories and weekend getaways. If last year’s action is any indication, there are bargains that you won’t get anywhere else. Let us know if you would like to see the auction catalog. We have it online.

There’ll be food and drink and live music. Admission to the auction is $20 per person, $25 at the door. If you’d like to purchase admission in advance, please E-mail us. The Reeves Center is located at 14th and U Streets. Parking is available underground for $5, or take the Green Line to U Street/Cardozo.


Stalking, April 8
Mark Gruenberg,

In the play “Boy Gets Girl” (2000), a smart, sophisticated New Yorker endures an awkward blind date, only to find herself terrorized when her rejected suitor's persistent unwanted attention escalates into violence. Time Magazine called “Boy Gets Girl” “one of the finest, most disturbing American plays in years.” Stalking annually affects over one million American women. On Tuesday, April 8, Footlights — DC's only modern drama-discussion group — will discuss stalking and “Boy Gets Girl” with Tracy Bahm, director of the Stalking Resource Center at the National Center for Victims of Crime. Our meeting takes place at Luna Books, 1633 P Street, NW, three blocks east of Dupont Circle. Dinner starts at 6:30 p.m.; our discussion takes place 7:30-9:30. Participation, except an optional inexpensive dinner (from a menu), is free (contributions welcome). Make reservations by calling 898-4825 any time, day or night, or E-mailing You can find copies of “Boy Gets Girl” at Backstage Books (near Eastern Market) and for a special Footlights discount at Politics and Prose (Connecticut and Nebraska, NW) and Olsson's Books and Records (Dupont Circle and Bethesda). For further information go to


Children's Defense Fund National Conference Free to DC Kids, April 8
John Vocino,

I wanted to pass along this information on a great opportunity for DC students. District's kids have opportunity to attend Children's Defense Fund national conference for free. The Children's Defense Fund (CDF), a nationally recognized advocate for children's issues, is holding their annual conference here in Washington, DC on April 8th through 11th. The conference will also have a student program, with youth coming from across the country to Washington. However, CDF organizers are having a hard time getting Washington-based kids to come, mainly because all the snow days have eliminated any flexible time for taking field trips. So, conference organizers are offering free registration and admission to the 3-day conference to any and all DC students.

In addition to the student workshops and rallies, the conference will also have a dinner conversation with author and historian Howard Zinn and Marian Wright Edelman, and a student town hall forum, “No to War/Yes to Children” with invited guests Gideon Yago from MTV, and renowned college professors Noam Chomsky and Nikki Giovianni. Also, the Children's Defense Fund will be providing a workshop to train students on SHOUT/SPROUT (Student Health Outreach and Student Poverty Reduction Outreach) where they go out to communities and assist families eligible for Medicaid, CHIP, and other benefits. For more information on the conference, please visit or contact Mr. Wylie Chen at 662-3588,



Red Brick from Old Housing Structures
Ashley Inselman,

Am seeking red brick for landscaping that comes from houses being demolished or renovated in the DC area, but don't want to pay Home Depot prices. Will haul! Not picky about quality. E-mail me at


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