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May 15, 2005

Political Food

Dear Foodies:

Dorothy prepared the main dish for dinner tonight from a Paula Deen recipe. Fried scallops, rolled first in flour seasoned with salt and pepper, then in a beaten egg, and finally in a half-and-half mixture of bread crumbs and shredded coconut, served with a simple sauce of orange marmalade and dark rum. The scallops came from the Harris Teeter grocery store in Pentagon City. Harris Teeter has topnotch fresh seafood, and if you follow their sales you can get it at bargain prices. Harris Teeter actually wants to build a store in the city. It wants to move into the old Citadel roller rink that has been vacant for more than a decade in Adams Morgan, but the political process to get approval has taken well over a year so far, and is likely to take several months or a year more. For the bread crumbs we used panko, the trendy ultra-fine Japanese bread crumbs. We couldn’t find panko in the chain grocery stores in DC, and of course the Asian markets have been driven out of Chinatown by development around the MCI Center. The promises that the city made to Asian businessmen that their businesses would benefit and prosper from the redevelopment around Gallery Place in exchange for their support of MCI stadium have been honored by putting Chinese language signage over Starbucks and Fuddruckers outlets. We finally had to get the panko at a Giant supermarket in Bethesda.

Sometimes even I wonder at myself. I can get grouchy over a good dinner.

Gary Imhoff


Free Rides
Ed Dixon, Georgetown Reservoir,

I remember, several years back now, when the Roy Rogers restaurant in Tenleytown was changing over to a McDonalds. Comments were floating around about how little Roy Rogers had been paying in property tax; something like $1000 per year for the prime real estate. Monday this week, the Kansas City Star ran a story claiming that almost 25 percent of the Senate was receiving Homestead deductions for their second homes in DC []. The story was also picked up by the Boston Herald. Both papers highlighted their local politicians who were taking advantage of the tax break. One wonders how many of these deals are in existence.

The gist of the two stories was that thousands of dollars in collectible revenue for DC has been let go for who knows why. The Senators blamed the District. The District says the Senators requested the break. One should wonder how many of these deals are going on in this city where “who you know” is the common currency. Good government alludes us. One of the Senators was Sam Brownback, who chairs the Senate’s Committee on DC. Another was Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy (D). His Kalorama home is worth $4.5 million. Missouri Senator Kit Bond (R) got $1000 off his tax bill on a $1.65 million house he recently sold in Spring Valley. The funny thing is that the Post didn’t pick up the story this week. Editors must have been salivating too much over their own property tax breaks that the city council was doling out to think about corruption in regard to the property tax laws.


Another Walk Through
Phil Carney,

The Dupont Current’s editorial page reported on one of the DC government’s better ploys. “Officials conduct a walk through.” The officials can claim they did something while really doing nothing. The media can claim they are responsible by reporting this unreality. Most importantly, residents are left holding the bag of responsibility for organizing and getting something done.

My favorite example of this was years ago when a DC multi-agency task force conducted a walk through with residents and businesses on Seventeenth Street. That walk through resulted in a laundry list of problems. As far as I know, the only actual fix was the repair of one pothole. Years later, many of those same problems remain — waiting for another official walk through to accomplish nothing and again leave residents with the responsibility for getting something done.


The Budget and Taxes
Matt Forman,

Last week, the Council passed a budget which provides an astronomical 18 percent increase over this year’s. A large chunk of the increase is funded from property taxes, which go up 12 percent per year under the current cap. The council also approved on first read an increase in the real property tax homestead deduction from $38,000 to $60,000, providing a one-time $211 savings. The DCFPI claims that this will benefit more than half the people more than would a decrease in the cap from 12 percent to 5 percent. However, the DCFPI ignores the out years. As soon as 2007 or 2008, almost everyone would benefit more under the lower cap than the homestead increase. The homestead increase is a one-shot deal. After that, it’s 12 percent a year. That is, unless the amendment reducing the cap from 12 percent to 10 percent also goes through on second reading. On first read, the cap reduction was approved as a trigger — it only goes into effect if enough extra revenue is found later on, and it takes its place in line behind over $20 million of other trigger items. There’s still a second reading, so there’s still time to contact your councilmembers to encourage them to enact greater tax relief, and put it higher in line in the list of trigger items. Meanwhile, as reported in the last issue of themail, Councilmember Catania is disputing the Chief Financial Officer’s estimate of how much it will cost the City to purchase the land to house the future baseball stadium. The CFO estimates it will cost $77 million to acquire the properties. But the CFO’s Office of Tax and Revenue has currently assessed the properties for taxes at a little over $33 million. So which time was the CFO wrong? As typical, OTR has under assessed commercial properties, meaning that we’re getting about half the taxes we should be from these properties. Who pays? The homeowners, with annual 12 percent increases.


Schools Versus Tax Cuts
Katie Hodge,

I can sympathize with Zinnia’s comments that her property tax has doubled in the last four years and the schools are still a mess. I think that most of the quality of education problems are not problems that money can fix. On the other hand, it is a fact that the school system has put off capital repairs for long periods of time and, even if some have been done in recent years, there is a lot of catching up to still to be done. For that reason, I am supportive of increased funds for schools specifically for capital improvement. Bathrooms that fall apart, water leaking through ceilings, mold, and plywood covered windows are problems that money can solve. On the flip side, I also highly support investigating the consolidation of schools (for instance, in my neighborhood from what information I’ve been able to gather Payne elementary and Tyler elementary school both have half the students they did in the not so distant past). I’ll leave whether surplus property should be disposed of or used in a different manner, and salary issues, for another day.


Obstructing the View
Ed T. Barron, edtb@aoldotcom

In Sunday’s Post, this week, there’s a picture in the Source section’s “How To” column (page M3) that shows a DC Metrobus with a bicycle rack on the front for two bicycles []. Carrying bikes on the bus might not be a bad idea, but placing them in the front is a terrible idea. The picture shows one of the bikes with a large child seat on it. That seat clearly obstructs the vision of the driver of the bus. Bike racks should be placed on the rear of the bus, not the front.


Metrobus Is in Trouble
Bryce Suderow,

Metro Bus is in trouble. Its older bus drivers are retiring, and it is being forced to replace its departing drivers with new drivers. This is part of a national trend where people hired in the 70’s are old enough to retire. But Metro cannot come up with adequate numbers of replacements to keep all of its busses manned. This is because Metro is hampered by the fact that it’s forced to draw on DC residents for its hiring pool. Cold statistics tell the sad story. Out of one hundred applicants, 70 percent fail to get hired. This is due to 1) background checks that produce criminal records or lack of driving skills, 2) drug and alcohol testing that eliminates a significant number of applicants, 3) a basic reading and writing test, which large numbers of applicants fail, and 4) face-to-face interviews that reveal truculent attitudes that forecast an inability to work with the public.

Once the thirty hirees go into training to learn to drive busses, two thirds of them drop out or are kicked out. This is due to the unwillingness of many of them to consistently show up on time. Also the trainers are very demanding, and many hirees resent being told what to do. Thus, out of one hundred applicants for Metro Bus positions, only ten end up driving a bus.

These figures certainly are startling, but they seem reliable because a number of metro personnel gave me the same figures and because I’ve heard similar percentages from people in the post office system, which likewise can’t find sufficient numbers of good and reliable workers in the DC labor pool.


Some Encouraging Citizen Journalism News
Phil Shapiro,

The Ford Foundation has provided the Center for Social Media (associated with American University) with two years of a projected five year grant to explore the future of public media in a digital era. Details at

I’ve attended documentary screenings at the Center for Social Media, and can say without qualification that the catering service used for the receptions before these free screenings is top of the line. (The documentaries were excellent and thought-provoking, too.)


Don’t Shoot (or Fire) the Sentinel, Mr. Mayor
Mary C. Williams, ANC 6D03,

When I first glanced at the Washington Post’s weekend editorial headline (May 14), “Don’t Do It, Mr. Mayor” [],  I immediately assumed that the writer, like me, wanted to give our chief executive some friendly but sound advice regarding City Auditor Debra Nichols. Rather than criticize Ms. Nichols for the timing of her unveiling of the administration’s circumvention of District laws in awarding contracts for baseball and the China trip, our mayor and the city administrator should laud her as an example of good government at work and hold her up for all employees to emulate. Both should be tripping over each other in public to apologize to the residents of this city for the latest embarrassment, and then turn the evil eye on their own staffs (privately, of course) to find blame. Upon reading the Post’s headline, I thought that the writer was warning the mayor against another self-inflicted shot in the figurative foot. Maybe the mayor, who appeared quite perturbed last week at Ms. Nichols rather than over the news that the administration had broken the law, was thinking that he could sweep the problem away by reprimanding, or worse, firing Ms. Nichols. Big mistake. But we know from experience that even the continuous scrutiny of a downright righteous public citizenry, and Ms. Nichols’ own competence and dedication over the years, may not stave off this administration’s penchant for retaliation. Remember the former chairman and members of the Board of Elections and Ethics following the 2002 mayoral election? Don’t Do It, Mr. Mayor.

Meanwhile, the Post and Gary Imhoff have both offered the mayor excellent advice on this travel problem. Whatever you do, Mr. Mayor, don’t turn to the private sector to pay for your trips. It’s not a good option and it is on par with taking money under the table. Read a little beyond the newspaper’s headlines each day. Many a congressmen and former elected official would join in the choir against such a move.

In lieu of private funding, I offer small alternatives to your travel dilemma: first, don’t plan any more out of world/country/city junkets. Stay home for awhile and be the mayor. And when you’ve just got to go to Paris or Milan or Singapore or Mars on city business, then have the staff schedule it in advance to avoid procurement problems. Second, and simultaneously, you might use this dormant travel time to oversee the implementation of a workable contracting and procurement system. The city will avoid further embarrassing and illegal actions, and we all will benefit from a more efficient and effective process. Just Do It, Mr. Mayor.


RFK Area Parking Solution?
Paul Penniman,

I am just catching up on past issues of themail. Years ago, in the city neighborhoods surrounding Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, one side of the streets had prohibited parking between something like 5 and 8:30 p.m., and the other half 8:30-11 p.m. That way you could go to half a game and park legally in the area, and residents could still be accommodated. They had some way of changing the times on the "no parking" signs for day games, too. Another solution, of course, would be a two hour limit at all hours of the day (except for residential parking permit holders), which I read is something the Crestwood neighborhood is considering due to the encroachment of Maryland parkers from the apartment buildings in Silver Spring.


Correction on Property Tax Rate
Ed Lazere,

My submission to themail on May 11 stated that the DC Council had voted to lower the property tax rate to 92 cents per $100 of assessed value (from the current 96 cent rate). While the Council discussed lowering the tax rate to that level, what they actually passed was a reduction to 94 cents.


Choking Ourselves to Death for Urban Vibrancy?
Len Sullivan,

NARPAC loses its cool this month while trying to make sense out of the city’s conflicting planning objectives. On the one hand, DC’s long range planners reject any and all objections to its very rosy twenty-year projections of 50,000 additional households and 100,000 additional jobs. This will surely generate at least 100,000 additional vehicles on DC streets, including residential, commuter, commercial and supporting service industries. On the other hand, independent transportation planners are scaling back the city’s currently marginal traffic capacity by floating schemes that: reduce DC’s miles of freeways; provide no more Metrorail capacity or widened roads; add dozens of new grade-level intersections; usurp existing road lanes for bicycles and trolleys; offer no substantial new off-street parking or “mobility management” systems; introduce additional traffic-slowing, pedestrian-threatening rotaries on major arteries; and draw thousands more pedestrians and tourists closer to more congested streets.

Why is a city more "vibrant" by mixing vehicles and pedestrians on a common-grade nineteenth century ‘boulevard’ rather than separating them with modern urban decks for malls, promenades, or parks? Why are the choices on transportation capacity and modalities left up to the city’s routine transportation management offices? Check out NARPAC’s views on: a) a plan for a scenic and vibrant South Capitol Street that reduces arterial mobility in the already depressed Southeast quadrant of the city at, and b) a study for a scenic, vibrant Georgetown waterfront without a Whitehurst Freeway that constricts arterial mobility in the revenue-producing Northwest quadrant at Does the city really want to encourage its transportation department to strangle the city’s growth in its own peculiar quest for urban vibrancy? This is all about DC’s future.



Author Talk and Signing: A Whole New Mind by Dan Pink, May 21
Barbara Conn,

The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind. The era of "left brain" dominance, and the Information Age that it engendered, are giving way to a new world in which “right brain” qualities — inventiveness, empathy, and meaning — predominate. That’s the argument at the center of Free Agent Nation author Dan Pink’s provocative and original new book, A Whole New Mind: Moving From the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. In this book Dan uses the two sides of our brains as a metaphor for understanding the contours of our times. A Whole New Mind includes a series of hands-on exercises culled from experts around the world to help readers sharpen necessary “right brain” abilities.

A book sale and signing by author and Cleveland Park resident Dan Pink, courtesy of the Trover Shop, follow the program. Attend the talk, buy a book, and get the book personally autographed by the author. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Friends of the Cleveland Park Library. Book cost: $26.00.

Gather your friends, colleagues, and family members and bring them to this Saturday, May 21, 1:00 p.m. (check-in: 12:45 p.m.), author talk of the Capital PC User Group (CPCUG) Entrepreneurs and Consultants Special Interest Group (E&C SIG) cosponsored by the Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library. This free talk will be in the First Floor Large Auditorium of the library at 3310 Connecticut Avenue, NW, just over a block from the Cleveland Park Metrorail Station on the Red Line. For more information about this event, speaker Dan Pink (including what Tom Peters, Alan Webber, Seth Godin, and others have to say about Dan and his new book), and CPCUG [a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization], and to register, visit


Monumental Mosaics, May 22
Brie Hensold,

Sunday, May 22, 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. Monumental Mosaics. Inspired by the exhibition Washington: Symbol and City, families create mosaics of the city’s famous buildings, including the US Capitol and the Washington Monument. $3 per project. All ages. Drop-in program. At the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line.



Nora Bawa,

Free firewood, some aged, some newer, all clean, available for the taking. Call 301-424-0932, ask for Majbritt.


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