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April 20, 2005

Neighborhood Inaction

Dear Neighbors:

The Williams administration, in its first term, attempted to simulate devotion to the city’s neighborhoods by multiplying the number of offices within the Executive Office of the Mayor that dealt with neighborhood issues. The Office of Neighborhood Services, the Office of Community Affairs, and Neighborhood Action had vaguely defined and overlapping duties and areas of responsibility, but the real task for each office was to create a network of community supporters for the mayor’s initiatives.

But the three offices resulted in few actual programs or achievements, and those plans are now in disarray. Now, none of the three offices has a permanent director in place. Patrick Canavan, formerly the director of Neighborhood Services, has been named to head the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, and his position has not been filled. After Larry Hemphill resigned as director of the Office of Community Affairs, he was succeeded by a series of short-term replacements, including Alfreda Davis and Anita Bonds; an interim appointee, Henry Stewart, now holds the position. After the administration fired Beverly Wheeler as director of Neighborhood Action, it replaced her with her deputy, Neil Richardson, who quickly submitted his own resignation letter that expressed his disappointment with the administration’s inattention to neighborhoods.

With these three vacancies, and no urgency in the administration about filling them, it’s harder than ever to sustain the illusion of the administration’s concern about revitalizing neighborhoods.

Gary Imhoff and Dorothy Brizill


Property Tax Relief Response
Matt Forman,

Ed Lazere claims [themail, April 17] that I said that a 5 percent real property tax cap would be a progressive tax policy. That’s not true. I clearly said that the cap doesn’t change the incidence of the tax. In other words, it makes it neither more progressive nor regressive. Therefore, I said Phil Mendelson is simply mistaken when he continues to say that the cap is regressive, when in fact its effect is neutral.

Ed then says that the higher-value homes get the most benefit from a 5 percent cap. I disagree. As measured by percentage relief from their existing tax bill, everyone gets the same “relief,” i.e., 7 percent, which is the difference between the current 12 percent cap and the proposed 5 percent cap. As measured by relief as a percentage of amount of home value not taxed, the lower-value homes get more relief, since their assessments have gone up at a faster rate than the higher-value properties, and thus have benefited more under the cap.

Finally, Ed says that only homes valued at $750,000 or more would benefit from the 5 percent cap versus the homestead increase to $60,000. Wrong again. Under the homestead increase, everyone will still get a 12 percent increase minus $211 for 2006 (this is under the Mayor’s anticipated new proposal; previously the homestead didn’t kick in until the cap was exhausted). So the equilibrium point is a capped assessment of $313,988, i.e., a $3,014 tax bill. A 5 percent increase on $3,014 is $150. A 12 percent increase on $3,014 minus $211 is also $150. Therefore, anyone with a current capped assessment over $313,988 benefits more under the 5 percent cap-by my estimate, about half of the population. But there is one important note: the foregoing analysis is for 2006 only, as the homestead increase provides relief only for 2006 and taxes would continue to increase at 12 percent per year thereafter. So as a long-term matter, everyone benefits more under the 5 percent instead of the 12 percent.


Cut the Property Tax Rate
Henry Townsend,

The only way that DC residents will get real property tax relief is to lower property tax rates. All talk about reducing the rate of growth of taxes, also called the rate of growth of the cap, whether 5 percent or 25 percent, is a subterfuge: Even at a 5 percent rate of growth, sooner or later the city will get close to one percent a year of the increase in property values. Is it really impossible to cut tax rates by 50 percent to get closer to the increase in property values? Other jurisdictions in the US commonly decide first, how much money to spend, something close to last year, say inflation plus population growth (negative in DC in large part because of our high tax rates), then set among other parameters a property tax rate that gets that revenue. But not DC’s greedy mayor and council. And the Fiscal Policy Institute, who really seem believe that somewhere there is a nirvana of a well-educated, well housed city, if only we had enough money. Other people’s money, that is.


Misinformation Campaign
Warren Gorlick,

I am disappointed that Ed Lazere and Councilman Mendelson, who oppose Councilman Evans’ proposal to cap annual property tax increases at five percent, have used themail to spread misinformation about the Evans proposal. In the April 17 edition of themail, for example, Lazere asserts that increasing the homestead deduction to $60,000 (from its current $38,000) “would promote more relief than the 5 percent cap to homes worth under $750,000.” This is simply not borne out by the facts. Take a homeowner whose assessed valuation for 2004 was $600,000 (therefore paying property taxes of $5,395), with a 16 percent increase in her 2005 assessment, about average for the District. With the current 12 percent cap, this property owner’s taxes increase $647, to $6,042 for 2005. The Lazere/Mendelson proposal to increase the homestead deduction to $60,000 does not provide one penny in relief for such a homeowner (because the increased homeowner exemption would still allow the District to raise taxes each year by 12 percent), a point made ably by Matt Forman earlier this week. Nonetheless, Lazere continues to state, without any support whatsoever, that his bill would benefit such homeowners. It would not.

Unfortunately, this campaign of misinformation is standard policy for Lazere and his council ally, Mendelson (they have appeared together at various neighborhood events to defend the District’s ability to raise property taxes 12 percent each year). In the April 17 edition of themail, for example, Lazere takes some figures that Fannie Mae cited about classified rental advertisements to assert that “[a]ccording to a Fannie Mae foundation report, the median asking rent for a two-bedrooom apartment rose 84 percent in the past two years.” When I checked, I discovered that Fannie Mae stated that a two bedroom apartment had increased from $907 in 2001 to $1,218 in 2004. Thus, where Lazere asserted that Fannie Mae found an 84 percent average rent increase over two years, in fact, Fannie Mae found an increase of just 25.5 percent over three years.

While Lazere and Mendelson state that they favor property tax relief for the poor, they don’t suggest any relief for the middle-class. Take a couple with the $600,000 house discussed above. This couple each makes $50,000 per year (thus, $100,000 total), who, after 7 percent social security withholding, 28 percent federal income tax withholding, 9.3 percent DC income tax withholding, and charges for unemployment insurance, their company health plan, and their 401k, take home a combined $50,000, even with various deductions. They have two children in day care, at a cost of $20,000 (that is actually well below market, but let’s give Lazere and Mendelson every possible benefit of the doubt). That leaves this four-person family $30,000 on which to live, of which, as discussed above, they already pay out $5,395 in property taxes, leaving this family of four less than $25,000 to pay everything from food to their mortgage. Lazere and Mendelson, by opposing Evans’ five percent property tax cap, assert that it is excellent social policy that this family pay an extra $647 in property taxes in 2005 out of their $25,000 disposable income. I disagree.

I know of a number of people who have already been forced to sell their homes and leave the District because of the high property taxes. Lazere’s and Mendelson’s efforts to oppose meaningful property tax relief will continue this trend to force middle-class residents to leave the District. For those of you who think it is problematic that the District is loving its middle class due to property taxes, I would urge you to come out on April 26 to support Councilman Evans’ bill to limit annual tax increases to five percent.


Some Tips for Contacting Reporters at the Washington Post
Phil Shapiro,

If you’d like to contact a reporter at the Washington Post, a list of E-mail addresses can be found at

Do take time to send favorable feedback, questions, info tidbits. Dialogue is healthy. More dialogue is healthier. The reporters who work at the Post are just like you and me, except they squeeze words onto paper every day. Their mind is like a toothpaste tube. They go to work each day, pound on the toothpaste tube, squeeze the words out, and then go home. Considering that they are like you and me, please don’t send them flame E-mails. If you disagree with something they said, explain why in the exact way you’d explain why to someone you care about. For the most part I’ve had favorable interactions with reporters at newspapers. It’s the management who most often doesn’t have a clue. They’re literally stuck in a different century with a mindset that refused to cross the centennial mark. I betcha if you did DNA studies, you’d see remarkable overlap between newspaper managers and the DNA of mules.


Taking the Heart Out of Home
Harold Goldstein,

While ridiculous real estate prices are particularly onerous in DC, please do not place the blame on "this government’s patronage" as there are plenty of other items, as enumerated, that are the fault of the government’s inadequacies. Ridiculous real estate prices occur in every jurisdiction in this region. Come out here to Howard County and see all the quarter-acre subdivisions with huge houses for a million and a half. Again, most of the people who have lived here for generations couldn’t afford to come here now, although some of the old time farmers have cleaned up. Who can blame them? They have worked their entire lives, their kids have no interest in the land, and a developer offers ten million.

But real estate is a market and without the demand side, without someone buying homes much bigger than they’ll ever need, or paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for closets, then that market wouldn’t happen. Who is to blame? Most of us can be blamed . . . any one of us who has participated in this crazy market. This has nothing to do with patronage or a particular jurisdiction’s inadequacy. It is greed on the one side and panic buying on the other.


How Long Does Pepco Really Take to Respond?
Gabe Goldberg, Gabe at gabegold dot com

Larry Seftor finished his complaint [themail, April 17] with, “In other words, in ideal conditions, Pepco takes well over two hours to respond to a call, despite the lack of other problems.” Did you ask the crew what they’d been doing before they answered your call? Do you imagine that they sat at the station finishing their Scrabble game before rolling to your house? On what do you base your assertion that there were no other problems? What makes that evening “ideal conditions” other than nice weather? Have you heard news stories about cars hitting utility poles? About fires? Might the crew be occupied with scheduled maintenance work? When I had a similar problem (transformer exploded without a squirrel’s help, darkening a row of six townhouses on a nice evening) Vepco’s crew showed up maybe ninety minutes later, apologized and explained that they’d been working on another emergency at the other end of their territory. Queuing theory explains/predicts statistical wait times based on the number of servers (in this case, crews and trucks). No surprise, more servers reduces expected wait time. No surprise, more crews and trucks cost more money. Unless you have info you didn’t share, you have no idea how busy your crew and Pepco overall were that night. I also suspect that they prioritize calls, so some dark houses might be less urgent than a hot wire down on a road or some other emergency. Pepco could staff so you’d have gotten faster service — at a cost to them, and then to you. Maybe they were goofing off. Maybe Pepco is understaffed. You said that you have “evidence that proves Pepco’s tardy responsiveness.” I don’t think you do, and if you do, you didn’t share it with us. There’s a common themail thread of complaints not just with incomplete information but unwillingness to recognize that the world is complicated, that anything complex involves tradeoffs, etc. There’s still no free lunch.


Smokefree DC Urges Citizens to Contact their ANC Commissioners
Angela Bradbery,

Recently, Smokefree DC sent information about smokefree workplaces to all the ANC Commissioners in DC and urged them to support 100 percent smokefree workplace legislation. While this is fine for background information, they need to hear from you, the residents they represent. A single phone call from a resident, especially a voter, means the issue is more likely to get the attention it deserves.

Most of us don’t know who our ANC Commissioner is, so SmokefreeDC has created, a Web site where you can easily find your ANC Commissioner’s name and phone number, along with some helpful discussion points. Since some are shy about asking people to get involved with politics, we have a contest going: People who go to the site are eligible for a $100 Gift Certificate to Trattoria Lilliana’s. To enter, visit and look up your ANC Commissioner (you can also get the name of your council representatives). Of course, we’re hoping you’ll also call these folks, but that’s not required to enter the contest. We’ll be announcing a winner at the end of the month.

Please also consider attending your next ANC meeting and urging the commissioners to support 100 percent smokefree workplaces in the District. Everyone deserves the right to breathe clean air on the job. For more information, visit


Internet Audioconferencing as a Form of Community Media Production
Phil Shapiro,

For those who might be interested, I’m blogging about Internet audioconferencing as a form of community media production at You can follow related blog postings on the group blog at



Bethesda Literary Festival, April 22-23
Victoria McKernan,

As part of the Bethesda Literary Festival this weekend, thirty local authors will be signing their books at Barnes & Noble in Bethesda from 1:00-3:00 on Friday, April 22. A great chance to stock up on summer reading!

[For information on the festival’s events, visit — Gary Imhoff]


Baseball Stadium Area Community Planning Workshop, April 23
David Howard,

The Anacostia Waterfront Corporation, the DC Office of Planning, and the DC Department of Transportation, in collaboration with the DC Sports and Entertainment Commission, will hold a planning workshop for communities around the South Capitol Street Corridor and the area near the planned baseball stadium. This workshop will build on previous planning efforts and will be an opportunity for the community to help refine the vision for South Capitol Street and shape how the planned new baseball stadium will be integrated into the South Capitol Street Corridor to achieve the best results for the surrounding neighborhoods and the city as a whole. It will be held on Saturday, April 23, from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., at the Van Ness Elementary School Auditorium, 1150 5th Street, SE.


Woodridge Library Book Sale, April 23
Suzanne Griffith,

The Friends of the Woodridge Public Library are holding a book sale on Saturday, April 23, from 9:30 until 4. We’ll have hardcovers, paperbacks, fiction, nonfiction, books for adults, books for children, books on tape, videos, records, and more. All proceeds will benefit the library. The library is located at the corner of Rhode Island Avenue and 18th Street, NE. Call 541-6226 or send an E-mail to for more information.

Have any books, tapes, or records you’d like to give to a good home? Feel free to bring them along. We’re always looking for donations.


National Building Museum Events, April 28
Brie Hensold,

Both events at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line.

Thursday, April 28, 12:30-1:30 p.m. Architects and engineers with vision seek to create buildings that are both aesthetically pleasing and environmentally responsive. Steven Strong, president of Solar Design Associates, Inc., will present an overview of Solar Electric Architecture, using outstanding examples of solar-powered residences and commercial buildings from Europe, Japan, and the US. Afterwards, he will sign copies of his books. Free. Registration not required.

Thursday, April 28, 6:30-8:00 p.m. Each year the American Institute of Architects’ Committee on the Environment (COTE) invites architects to submit sustainable designs for the annual Top Ten Green Projects competition. Vivian Loftness, FAIA, 2005 COTE chair, and David Nelson, AIA, a member of the 2005 COTE advisory group, will discuss this year’s winners, many of whom will be present to briefly discuss their projects. $12 Museum and AIA members; $17 nonmembers; $10 students. Registration required.


JAM on U Celebration Concert, April 29
Scott Pomeroy,

What better day than U Street’s own, Edward “Duke” Ellington’s birthday, to celebrate the close out of Jazz Appreciation Month on U Street (JAM on U) with a concert, and where else would you hold it other than at the Historic Lincoln Theater at 1215 U Street, NW. Enjoy a full day of events culminating in a special concert with an array of performances and features that celebrate jazz and the role of U Street as a national and international spotlight where Jazz is recognized, celebrated, and cultivated as befits U Street’s role in Jazz history. JAM on U Celebration Concert, April 29. Doors open 7:30 p.m., concert begins 8:00 p.m.. Lincoln Theater, 1215 U Street, NW. Performers include JAMMIN on U All Stars, The Reginald Cyntje Group, The Michael Thomas Quintet, Afro-Blue, and Tappers w/Attitude. Admittance is free. Donations are appreciated.

JAM on U is Produced by 14th & U Main Street Alliance and presented by the DC Lottery and Charitable Games Board. For more information about JAM on U please visit or send an E-mail to for the latest event details and promotional activities.


Art Exhibits, May 1, 6
Africa Midnight Asha Abney,

Afrika Midnight Asha Abney has several art happenings taking place throughout the Metropolitan region and would encourage everyone to attend the events listed below. To learn more about this DC based visual artist, please check out her artist pages located at and

May 1-May 15, solo artist exhibition at Norton Kirby Advertising, 2410 18th Street, NW.

May 6-May 7, Mary’s Center for Maternal and Child Care’s fifth annual art exhibit, 2355 Ontario Road, NW, in Adams Morgan. Opening reception for artists, friends, family, and the public from 6 p.m.-10 p.m. on Friday, May 6, and a continuation of the exhibit, as well as activities for children, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday, May 7. Participating artists include Afrika Midnight Asha Abney and others. Stay tuned for updates!


Public Rally to Support Bill 16-50., May 3
Betty Sellers

In 1980, City Council endowed all tenants in the District of Columbia with the right of first refusal when their building was sold. Tenants enjoyed this important and valuable right for nearly two decades, many becoming proud first-time homeowners. But for at least the past five years, many landlords have conveniently sold their buildings without offering them to tenants (in 95/5 sham sales) and the Mayor’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), helped them do it. The Conversion and Sales office of DCRA released letters, without notice to tenants, allowing buildings to be sold without providing notice to tenants, declaring that these 95/5 transactions were not sales under the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA), while ignoring all other factors in the law. The person responsible for writing these letters had no legal training or background to determine whether the transactions were sales. The supervisors of this DCRA employee and the government attorneys working within the agency supposedly never reviewed these letters.

Now Councilmembers Mendelson, Fenty, and Graham have introduced Bill 16-50 to stop the 95/5 shams and restore TOPA to its original purpose. This legislation was passed by a vote of 10 to 1, with 2 councilmembers voting present, on the first reading during the Council’s April 5 legislative session. It now must pass the second reading on May 3.

Now is the time for all tenants in the Nation’s Capitol to stand up for your rights and show the City Council and Mayor Williams that this law must be passed. Let your voice be heard. Come to a public Rally in support of Bill 16-50 from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Tuesday, May 3, on the front steps of the John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. Afterwards, come to Council Chambers wearing red T-shirts to show your support of Bill 16-50. This rally is organized by a coalition of over a dozen tenants associations, DC tenant advocates, and organizations supporting tenants rights. For more information about this event or to sign up to help, send an E-mail to or phone 328-9799.


Rum, Cigars, and Rumba, May 10
Brad Hills,

Washington Storytellers Theater presents the SpeakEasy Open Mic, Rum, Cigars, and Rumba: Stories about the Finer Things in Life, at the HR-57 Center for the Preservation of Jazz and Blues, 1610 14th Street, NW (between Corcoran and Q Streets), Tuesday, May 10, 8:00 p.m. Ticket price, $5 (corkage: $3 per person). Purchase at the door (doors open at 7:30 p.m.). Street parking, Metro Red Line (Dupont) or Green Line (U Street/Cardoza). On the first of each month, we will begin taking sign-ups for that month’s Open Mic. Call the WST Office to reserve a space.

We all have that vision of a perfect life, of the things that make us believe we’ve got it made in the shade. A good cigar, a view of the ocean, a backyard hammock and an endless supply of Budweiser, dancin’ till the sun comes up, Veuve Cliquot on tap, the vision is different for us all. Join our featured storytellers Megan Hicks and Miriam Nadel this month as we explore just what makes up "the finer things in life."


Women Speak, May 14
Shari Miles,

The DC Commission for Women’s Town Hall Meeting, “Women Speak!,” will be held Saturday, May 14, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the National Graduate University on Capitol Hill. Women Speak! will bring together the District’s women and girls to provide their input on a variety of issues impacting them. The participants’ discussions will be recorded by note takers for development into a report to the Mayor on the needs and interests of women in the city. The morning will begin with a large group discussion to prime the participants for thinking about specific issues related to women and girls in the city. We will follow-up the group discussion with a series of breakout sessions on women’s health, education, economic security, violence and safety, and young women and girls. In addition, during our luncheon program we will present the Women Speak! Awards, recognizing women who have taken courageous and public positions on issues important to women in the District.



Ross Elementary Third Annual Mother’s Day Book Drive, April 23, 24, 30, May 1
Phil Carney,

Contribute to buy a book in your name and the name of a loved one. Ross Elementary, at 1730 R Street, NW, needs books for its reading enrichment program for students from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. Our school’s volunteer librarian has compiled a list of books that are fun, have literary value, and are ideal for regular instructional periods as well as for the tutoring and mentoring volunteer programs. For a suggested donation of $25.00, you may have a book inscribed in your name only or dedicated in your name to a loved one. Any contribution is welcome. From the volunteer librarian’s wish list of needed books, you can select the book you would like to donate and have it dedicated with an inscribed bookplate and a letter to whomever you are dedicating the book. Make many kids happy and show your support for our fine public elementary school. 100 percent tax deductible, and all proceeds go to buy books. For more information, call 462-2054. We are also upgrading the school library. Ask volunteers about making a dedicated donation to help us purchase additional shelving, improved lighting, and new carpet. Saturdays, April 23 and 30, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. in front of Safeway, 17th and Corcoran Streets, NW. Sundays, April 24 and May 1, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., at the farmer’s market, 20th and Q Streets, NW.



Harold Holdstein,

I need to level out and compact some areas in preparation for rubber mats. Does anyone have a compactor, either powered or not, that I can borrow or rent for a few weeks?



Twenty-Four-Hour Recycling in DC?
David Sobelsohn, dsobelso -at- capaccess -dot- org

Does anyone know of a 24-hour recycling center in DC, comparable to the 24-hour drop-off center in Alexandria?


Painter and Carpenter
Russell Cramer,

I am seeking the services of a good, reasonably priced painter/carpenter to renew our home.


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