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September 28, 2005

We Are the City

Dear City:

A city is nothing but the people who live there. It is not its buildings, however grand. It is not its institutions, however powerful. It is the people. The destruction of New Orleans and the debate over rebuilding it remind us of that. Should New Orleans be rebuilt and, if so, as what? Should it become a sanitized shadow of itself, functioning as a reproduction to be sold to tourists? New Orleans’ Mayor Ray Nagin, whose many shortcomings and flaws became appallingly clear when he was faced with a bigger challenge than mayors should have to meet, has at least got this question right. New Orleans is peoples’ home. He has urged the residents of New Orleans to return sooner and at a much quicker pace than more cautious authorities want. Because Nagin knows the big thing: it is those people who are New Orleans, not the location nor the buildings, and he cannot afford to let them become comfortable in Houston or DC or wherever they have been dispersed. He has to call them back, and the sooner the better.

These thoughts occurred to me as I read two news stories this week. The first story was the indictment of three officers of Douglas Development Corporation, Douglas Jemal, Norman D. Jemal, and Blake Esherick, for bribing an official of the city’s Office of Property Management in return for contracts worth millions in excessive profits ( It was amazing how cheaply the city official (Michael Lorusso, who has already pled guilty) was bought. He didn’t get even pennies on the dollar of the contracts he gave the Jemals; he got less than a penny — sports tickets, a trip to Las Vegas, cash for his ex-wife, cowboy boots. But it was even more amazing that the Jemals thought that giving gifts to a city official was necessary to get favorable contracts and excessive profits from this administration and city council. This government, both the executive and city council, is so entranced with those whom it sees as the rich and powerful — developers, sports promoters, whatever — this it is eager to do favors for them and enrich them further. After all, it’s just taxpayers’ money, and taxpayers, residents, don’t count.

The second news story is the complete victory of Peter Craig and his allies in their lawsuit against the Office of Tax and Revenue. They fought a tremendous battle, proved their case, and won every point. But the reaction of city officials, Mayor Williams and Councilmember Jack Evans taking the lead, is to urge the city government to appeal, to continue its legal fight against its residents and taxpayers, to oppose the people who elected them. They just don’t understand. The city is not the location, not the property, not the buildings, not the developers, not the big projects they want to build with the excessive taxes they extort from taxpayers. The city is its people; it is us; and it is us and our interests that they should serve.

Gary Imhoff


Taxpayers Win Tax Assessment Class Action Lawsuit
Peter S. Craig,

After fifty-two months of labor to try to establish the rule of law in the Office of Tax and Revenue, the decision by Judge Hamilton, finding that tax year 2002 assessments of residential properties in Cleveland Park and other neighborhoods in Triennial Group 1 were contrary to DC law and the constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection, is a welcome reward. This is a class action that I could not have managed alone, and I am deeply indebted to three other Cleveland Park lawyers for their tireless assistance — Nathalie Black, Stephen Truitt and Stephen Ives. Also, thanks to the many persons who have contributed money to cover out-of-pocket litigation expenses. The class whom we represent on a pro bono basis are all owners of residential property in Triennial Group 1 neighborhoods who were adversely affected by the across-the-board multipliers used by OTR in making assessments for tax year 2002. This includes all residential properties in these neighborhoods except those house owners assessed for the first time in tax year 2002 or those few benefiting by a reduction from their tax year 2001 assessments.

The court will now turn to the relief stage and has asked me, as counsel for the petitioners, and the District’s lawyers to submit their proposals for relief by October 17. The judge will hear argument on the relief issues on Wednesday, November 30, at 11:30 a.m. As counsel for the petitioners and the class we represent, I will be urging that the court adopt the conventional remedy where assessments are voided; namely, to restore the previous assessment (if lower) and refund to the taxpayer the difference in taxes. To lessen the impact on the city, I will also be urging that such refunds be in the form of property tax credits against future bills, except where the property has been sold, in which case the 2002 taxpayers would receive cash refunds.

After Judge Hamilton has issued his final order, we expect that the District government will file an appeal to the DC Court of Appeals. The judge’s rulings, however, are sound and in accord with the uncontested facts of record, DC law, and case precedents, and we are confident that his decision will ultimately be affirmed by the DC Court of Appeals. There is, however, a continuing need for funds to defray the out-of-pocket costs of this litigation. Tax-deductible contributions may be made by checks payable to The Committee of 100 on the Federal City, entering the initials "TACA" (for Tax Assessment Class Action) in the memo section. Mail such checks to Peter S. Craig, 3406 Macomb Street, NW, Washington DC 20016, and I will forward such checks to the Committee of 100 for deposit. [Excerpts from the Conclusions of Law and Order from Judge Hamilton’s decision are available at the end of this issue.]


Dorothy Brizill,

At his weekly press conference today, Mayor Williams announced his top ten priorities for the upcoming legislative session ( The mayor’s priorities place a heavy emphasis on edifices — seven of the ten refer to buildings rather than policy initiatives or programs. The mayor calls for construction of a new hospital on Reservation 13, a new ballpark in southeast, a headquarters hotel adjacent to the new Convention Center, a new central library on the former Convention Center site, and a new mental health hospital facility on the grounds of St. Elizabeths, as well as the “new communities” mixed-income communities initiative and the disposition by sale or long-term lease of five surplus schools.

Does this reflect your priorities for the District?


Why Not a Good Vocational High School in DC
Ed T. Barron, edtb@aoldotcom

With many students, particularly young boys, not interested in attending DC’s public schools, why not establish a good vocational charter school? A really good school teaching carpentry, construction, plumbing, electrical/electronics, and automotive maintenance would result in skilled graduates who would likely earn a very comfortable living and be solid citizens in DC and elsewhere.

It is likely that major construction companies and trade unions would actively support a charter school of this type in DC. Courses in appropriate math (algebra, geometry, trig) would be needed, as well as communications courses in writing and speaking. Instead of a regular high school diploma, a certificate of successful completion of all courses could result in an automatic apprenticeship with a firm that matched the trade covered by the completion certificate.


Lobby for a Billion to Fix DC Schools
Marc Borbely,

In two weeks, on October 12, the DC city council’s education committee will vote on the School Modernization Financing Act of 2005 (B16-250), the bill that would authorize the mayor to borrow $1 billion to renovate and modernize our public schools. As you know, our school buildings need a major, major investment. The six-year capital budget proposed by the mayor and passed by the city council earlier this year calls for just one more year of adequate spending (this coming year: $297 million, up from $180 million, thanks to Linda Cropp and the rest of the council, and thanks to the hundreds of citizens who pressed hard for funding for facilities). Starting next year, the budget calls for a major cut, to $98 million a year for the next five years. At that rate, it will take forty more years for all kids to have the school buildings they deserve. Our school buildings need a continued, sustained investment for the next decade, to make up for the past 75 years of neglect.

It was thanks to a major lobbying and testifying effort by parents, students, teachers, staff and others this summer that the $1 billion bill passed the Finance and Revenue Committee on July 14, by one vote (Kathy Patterson voted in favor. Jack Evans, Sharon Ambrose and Vincent Orange abstained. Marion Barry was absent). This was the bill’s first of three hurdles.

Now we need another massive lobbying effort to make sure that as strong a bill as possible comes out of the Education Committee on October 12, back to the full council. If our city can build convention centers and hotels and stadiums, it can build schools. Please sign up today to lobby one of the Education Committee members (Patterson, Gray, Barry, Mendelson, or Schwartz). Tell us how you can help. Sign up online at Urge friends to sign up too. Committee members and their constituents can post comments from that web page, too. To the bill’s eight cosponsors and co-introducers — Councilmembers Barry, Brown, Catania, Fenty, Graham, Gray, Mendelson and Schwartz: thank you! I hope you will continue to support this bill even now that it has a chance of passing. To all DC residents who care about our schools and who are willing to help lobby for the needed resources: thank you for your time and your energy. It will make a big, big difference.


DC’s Disaster Plans
Bryce A. Suderow,

On September 26, Deputy Mayor Ed Reisken was one of three guests discussing disaster plans on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer []. I wonder what people thought of his remarks.


Learning How Team Blogging Can Benefit Communities
Phil Shapiro,

In the interest of learning how team blogging can benefit communities, I’m teaching myself about team blogging on the free service owned by Google. (For those who might not know, a team blog is when many people contribute postings to a single blog.) If you’d like to explore how team blogs work, send me an E-mail and I’ll get Blogger to send you an invitation to join the blog at You have no obligation to post messages to this blog. It’s a learning space.

What fascinates me about team blogging is that it feels like you’re sitting in a boat with many people rowing. A team blog can move forward with far greater momentum than an individual blog. And there is a constant element of surprise on a team blog when you discover the postings of other team members. When done right, a team blog can have the feel of an Amish roof raising.


First Time at the New RFK
Ed T. Barron, edtb@aoldotcom

This was my first Nationals’ ball game at the refurbished RFK Stadium. Nice place to watch a ball game. Great refurbishment. Had divided emotions since the Nats were playing the Mets, but cheered for the Nats to win. Looked like the stadium was only half full, as the Nats have dropped out of the race for the playoffs. It was clear, however, that at least half those in attendance were cheering for the Mets, who responded by smashing four homers (five runs) in a 6 to 5 win over the Nats. It’s hard to hit homers in the environs of RFK but Mike Piazza stroked two over four hundred feet. One was about 445 feet.

As I noted long before the Nats came to DC, there is a dearth of minority fans at the ball parks in cities that are largely minority populated (e.g., St. Louis). It was the same on Sunday at RFK. Very few minority fans. I guess they are all basketball aficionados. Not likely to change unless the Nats can manufacture another Jackie Robinson from the minors in the next few years.


The Gentrifiers Versus the Disposed
Lea Adams,

Mark Eckenwiler’s lament (“Unwelcome Relaxation by DC Parking Enforcement,” themail, September 25) demonstrates that we are still a long way from the sort of community that — though divided by deep-rooted racial and cultural identities — worked to embrace our diversity under more progressively enlightened local and national leadership. Now we have The Gentrifiers (protecting their newly escalated property values) versus The Uprooted (former neighbors coming to church in the family neighborhood they can no longer afford). The seething resentment of the dispossessed natives pales by comparison to the whining hubris of the victorious settlers. In this case, parking enforcement gets my support for sensitivity we might all try to cultivate.

Most people buy in “transitional” DC areas to enhance a portfolio with real estate they’ll be out of in four years or when the kids are ready for school, whichever comes first. Their predecessors came to those same neighborhoods to stay, as evidenced by all those churches they built. People return to familiar places to worship because home is still where the heart is, and they are drawn by ancient rhythms of the heart and of faith. Corners all over DC are anchored by edifices of brick and stone whose insides are alien and of no interest to the new neighbors unless they can be transformed into loft condos. People who once walked to nearby Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic churches, mosques, and synagogues with their neighbors now come by car -- for services, classes, weddings, baptisms, first communions, and funerals — not to disturb the new neighbors, but to maintain a sense of community with the old.

“Affected community” isn’t just property owners, and buying up a place someone calls home does not cut the ties that bind them to that place. But relax: the people who park in your space on Sunday and then disappear until next week aren’t going to hurt you. They never have. In fact, you may find that if you nod and smile while walking the block from where you parked to where you live, they will nod and smile back, and maybe say, “Good morning” and mean it.


Newspapers’ Death Spiral
Star Lawrence,

I am glad the Post was hiring, at least the one editor Gabe Goldberg heard about [themail, September 25], but the New York Times laid off 500. Maybe that is why the Times needs the newspaper equivalent of a bake sale — that Times Select thing, which requires online readers to pay $50 a year to read the columnists and access the archives. I, for one, am not ponying up.


Sierra Club Pork
Laurie Collins,

DC Sierra Club President Jason Broehm’s letter about Klingle Road to themail [September 21] is a perfect example of environ-mental doublespeak punctuated with expedient half-truths and undocumented factoids. Here is what we mean. JB: “In response to Gary’s invitation [themail, September 18], I know of a local pork project that could save DC and Federal taxpayers a lot of money and at the same time save Klingle Valley from an environmentally destructive road.” Our response: the Klingle Road project is not “pork.” Upkeep of our public transportation infrastructure is a fundamental obligation of our city government. Moreover, repairing Klingle Road is not “environmentally destructive.” To argue otherwise requires facts. The studies do not support the doomsday rhetoric. What is environmentally destructive, and expensive, is the waste that has taken place in Klingle valley over the past decade and are half due to the Sierra Club and selfish, illegal political cronyism for the benefit of a paltry few.

JB: “Right now the city is moving to rebuild a 0.7-mile segment of Klingle Road at an estimated cost of $7.18 million. The case for spending so heavily on such a minor road, which has been closed to automobile traffic for fourteen years, is flimsy at best.” Our response: the road is classified as a "collector," not a minor road. Moreover, Klingle Road was never “closed.” It was hijacked. Road closures require an act of the DC city council signed by the mayor. Citizens are not required to “make a case” to have the city keep its roads in good repair. The Sierra Club made its case to the council for closing the road and lost. The council decided to keep the road open.

JB: “The city’s draft environmental study released over the summer fails to demonstrate a transportation need for rebuilding and reopening Klingle Road for automobile traffic.” Our response: it is not necessary to establish a need for repairing an existing road. What is necessary is for Sierra Club to establish a need to close the road, which they failed to do.

JB: “In this study, the city concluded that the ‘long-term adverse impacts to traffic’ of not rebuilding the road would be ‘minimal.’ These findings mirror the findings of the 2001 Klingle Road Feasibility Study, which stated: ‘Reopening Klingle Road would produce negligible long-term beneficial impacts to traffic congestion or safety at surrounding intersections. Given the limited size of the ROW [right of way], reopening Klingle Road would only lead to minor improvements in relieving congestion at surrounding intersections.’ When it was last open to traffic, the road only carried about 3,200 car trips per day.” Our response: the amount of traffic carried by a road is not germane to any issue here. How many car trips per day does the road to your house carry? If it is fewer than 3,200, should we close the road? Unless and until a road is closed, the city has a legal obligation to keep its public roads open and in good repair, no matter how much or how little traffic they carry. Sierra Club tried to get the city council to close the road, and they lost.

JB: “A simple cost-benefit analysis, even without consideration of the harm it would inflict upon the natural environment of Klingle Valley and Rock Creek Park, demonstrates the sheer absurdity of this project.” Our response: cost-benefit analyses are not applicable to whether or not we repair roads. If we did a C-B analysis for every road, we would have no roads left. And again, more unsupported doomsday rhetoric about “the harm . . . upon the natural environment.” What harm? The very studies from which you quote found no environmental reason not to build the road. Instead they found environmental reasons why the road should be built. Sierra Club comes to this issue with unclean hands and has no standing to preach about environmental concerns, because it is largely their efforts to keep the city from fulfilling its public obligations that has led to the increased costs to taxpayers and the severe environmental degradation that exists in Klingle valley today. Repairing the road and the associated repairs to the sewer systems will alleviate the environmental damage that Sierra Club ironically has caused. This should be done without further delay before the job becomes even more expensive than it is already.

JB: “In fact, two years ago, the DC Environmental Network highlighted this proposed road project in its DC Green Scissors report ( and concluded that cutting it from the budget would save $4 million. Since then the cost has escalated, and many of us remain convinced that the cost will only continue to increase.” Our response: it is interesting how environmentalists will disparage a project they don’t like as costing too much, but no expense is too great for projects that the do like. The city had Klingle Road slated for rebuilding long before it washed out in 1991. The federal money and federal (4F) approval were there. The detailed studies and plans had all been done (at some cost to the city, now lost, by the way). The contract had been put out to bid and awarded to a minority-owned DC business. And, the cost was even less than it was two years ago. A few cronies and Sierra Club folks single-handedly caused this project to become way more expensive and way more involved than ever, and apparently intend to delay it even more, thereby costing the city ever more money in a pointless attempt to win a political, not an environmental, victory.

Open both eyes — there are two sides on the coin: Sierra Club complains that the road was never used. How can it be, then, that the road will cause harm to the environment?


Spawning Priority
Victoria McKernan,

P. Walters,, wrote [themail, September 25]: “There is a project in Rock Creek Park to change Rock Creek so that fish can swim upstream, past the dams and barriers, to spawn. Is this really an important priority? I don’t know how much remains to be committed on this, but surely no one would notice if the project was shut down.”

I assume P. Walters would notice (and object) if his spawning were shut down? No one is changing Rock Creek; it is being restored by removing artificial barriers to allow an essential natural process to resume. While you’d have to ask the Kansas Board of Education exactly how intelligent a design it is to require a marathon swim upstream just to make a little fish whoopee, the fact remains that it does. Restoring a healthy aquatic ecosystem is essential to maintaining this unique park. Or is that not a priority either?


Fish Migrations in Rock Creek
Mark Bjorge, ANC 2B05,

Shad are a traditionally important migratory fish. For centuries, and even today, shad have been a much appreciated seasonal component of menus throughout the mid-Atlantic region. In this area, shad spawn in Rock Creek which, like most other habitat throughout the mid-Atlantic, has been degraded due to human impacts. Restoration of habitat for wild species is not pork. It is particularly not pork when that restoration concerns public parkland and species of both historic and commercial importance.



Credit Improvement Seminar
Tolu Tolu,

Improving or repairing your credit is a process that focuses on improving lenders’ perceptions of you as a credit risk. Attend a credit seminar on October 1, 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., at 1333 H Street, NE. $25.00 per person. Sponsored by Tolu2Books. For more information, call 331-4418.


Cultural Institute of Mexico Events, October 6
Barbara Ruesaga,

Wednesday, October 5, 6:00 p.m., at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Avenue, NW. Opening of the exhibit The Painter and the Body, showcasing artwork of the outstanding Mexican painter Mónica Castillo. This is the first event of the series Women Artists Worldwide. Mónica Castillo is one of the most prominent contemporary Mexican artists. She has had individual exhibits in the Museum of Contemporary Art (Mexico), in the Museum of Contemporary Art Sofía Imber (Venezuela), in the Museum of Modern Art (Colombia) and in the Museum of Fine Arts (Chile). She has also held individual exhibits in Munich, New York, Los Angeles and Sao Paulo. For more information, call Alfonso Nieto, 728-1628.


Conclusions of Law and Order
Judge Eugene Hamilton

From the decision of Judge Eugene Hamilton on September 26, in Peter S. Craig, et al. v. District of Columbia, et al., Tax Docket No. 8112-02: Conclusions of Law and Order. Upon consideration of the Petitioners’ and Respondents’ motions for Summary Judgment, the papers filed in support of such motions, and Oppositions thereto, as well as the record as a whole, the Court concludes [unless otherwise specifically stated, the assessments referred to in these conclusions are assessments for Class 1 residential properties in Triennial Group 1 for Tax Year 2002]:

1. That the Court has jurisdiction to hear and determine this case under 42 USC § 1983, and DC Code §§11-1201, 1202.

2. That Petitioners have fully established the material allegations of their petition and that all of the actions complained of were taken by the respondents knowingly, intentionally and deliberately.

3. That the notices of proposed assessments for residential properties issued for tax year 2002 knowingly, intentionally and deliberately failed to comply with the requirements of the DC Code §§47-801(2), 824(a) and 823(b) and elementary rights of due process under the Constitution of the United States by failing to inform the taxpayer of the basis, rationale and methodology used in reaching the proposed assessment, thus depriving the taxpayer of information necessary to exercise his rights of appeal.

4. That the notice of decision by Respondents on first-level administrative appeal were intentionally, knowingly and deliberately not accompanied by the assessors’ work papers or, indeed, any explanation of the rationale of the decision made, in violation of DC Code §825.01(f-1) and of due process under the Constitution of the United States, thus depriving the taxpayer the taxpayer of information necessary to exercise the rights of appeal.

5. That Respondents knowingly and intentionally and deliberately without notice to the taxpayers, adopted across-the-board multipliers to determine assessments for property assessments, rather than individual assessments for each specific property, thus establishing new rules governing assessments which were not the subject of rule-making proceedings as required by the DC Administrative Procedure Act, D.C. Code §2-505. 6. That Respondents knowingly and intentionally established new rules of assessments which established differing treatment of residential properties depending on classifications by neighborhood, by type of use of residential property and/or by size of lot or floor area, in contravention of the property-specific factors required by DC Code §47-820(a)(2) and Petitioners’ rights of equal protection in the Constitution of the United States. 7. That except for condominiums, the Respondents willfully, knowingly, intentionally, and deliberately established across-the-board multipliers to be applied to previous assessments, such multipliers varying by neighborhoods and/or uses as unilaterally defined by Respondents, and that this willful, knowingly, deliberate and intentional conduct violates the Petitioners’ right to equal protection guaranteed by the Constitution.

8. That, in the case of condominiums, Respondents willfully, knowingly, intentionally and deliberately made assessments based on floor area alone, without complying with the property-specific requirements of D.C. Code § 820(a)(3), thus willingly, knowingly, intentionally and deliberately creating discrimination in violation of Petitioners’ right to equal protection under the Constitution. 9. That the assessment-sales ratio studies used to establish multipliers to be applied to prior assessments or to the lot area or floor area of each property were invalid in that Respondents assumed, contrary to law, that the gross sales prices in the sales used in such studies, was the equivalent of estimated market value under the statute. 10. That estimated market value, as used in the DC Code, refers solely to the value of the real property being assessed and does not include personal property or services or taxes related to the sale of such real property that would be borne by the owner if the property were sold, such as agents’ commissions, fix-up costs (or seller subsidy at closing) and transfer taxes.

11. That the assessment-sales ratio studies used to develop multipliers for Triennial Group 1 properties for Tax Year 2002 were, in any event, invalid for the purpose of developing across-the-board multipliers for assessment purposes. The Respondents knew or should have known that the process was invalid and in violation of both the Constitution and law of the District of Columbia. 12. That the assessment-sales ratio studies of record demonstrated widespread discrimination, generally in favor of more expensive properties. The Respondents knew or should have known of the discrimination, but willfully, knowingly, intentionally and deliberately used this process to determine Tax Year 2002 real property tax assessments for Triennial Group 1 Class 1 residential properties. 13. That the discrimination shown on this record has been due in large part by Respondents’ willful, knowing, intentional and deliberate failure to reassess residential properties when additions or renovations have been made, to periodically inspect the exterior and interior of residential properties, and to regularly and systematically send questionnaires to owners of residential properties, with the result that Respondents had inaccurate and incomplete data with which to make proper assessments for Triennial Group 1 residential properties for Tax Year 2002.

14. That the discrimination shown on the record has been compounded by Respondents’ willful, knowing, intentional and deliberate failure to inspect and reassess residential properties when major building permits have been issued for additions or renovations, in violation of DC Code §829(e)(2), with the result that the Tax Year 2002 assessments for Triennial Group 1 unlawfully discriminated between improved and unimproved properties. The Respondents knew or should have known of this discrimination and knowingly and intentionally used the process nevertheless.

15. That the purpose of the requirement in the DC Code §47-823(c), that Respondents prepare and publicize assessment-sales ratio studies is to evaluate the level and uniformity of past assessments by comparing them with sales subsequent to the valuation date. Such studies are not intended to be used for subsequent across-the-board multipliers for changes in future assessments.

16. That the assessments made by Respondents for class 1 residential properties in triennial Group 1 for Tax Year 3003 are arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not in conformity with the Constitution of the United States or the law of the District of Columbia.

ACCORDINGLY, on the issue of lawfulness of the assessments the Court grants the Petitioners’ Motion for Summary Judgment and denies the Respondents’ Motion for Summary Judgment.

It is, therefore, by the Court ORDERED

1. That each side within 14 days of the date of this Order submit to the Court its Proposal of Notice to all Triennial Group 1 2002 Tax Year Tax Payers of the pendency and status of the case and their rights.

2. That within 21 days of the decision, the Petitioners submit to the Court their proposal for appropriate relief, in the form of equitable relief, refunds or damages, or otherwise; and

3. That Respondents submit their counter-proposal within 21 days thereafter; and

4. The Petitioners submit their reply within 14 days thereafter; and

5. That the question of relief be argued on November 25, 2005, at 11:20 a.m. before the Court.

6. Final judgment for the Petitioners, as the class is finally determined, will be entered upon determination of relief to be granted to such final class.


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