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November 2, 2005

A Glass of Madeira

Dear Friends:

Yes, thank you, it was a very nice vacation. Thanks for easing my way back to reality by sending your informative and useful messages for this issue of themail.

Dorothy and I actually took the time off, so all I really have to report is a tidbit from the island of Madeira. Madeira is an isolated part of Portugal seven hundred miles off the coast of Europe, best known for the wine it produces, which bears its name. The largest city on Madeira is Funchal, which has about 100,000 people; the whole island has only about 250,000, and it is a relatively poor region of a relatively poor European country. But fast and free public Wi-Fi service is widely available there.

When we got to the island, we looked for an Internet shop that we had been to a few years ago. We didn’t find it, so we stopped in an Apple computer store and asked where we could find one. The clerk told us that the whole island was being covered with a WiFi network, and was actually apologetic that it hadn’t been completed yet. He pointed us to some of the best hotspots downtown, including the cathedral and the municipal theater. We sat in a garden park across from the theater, admiring the waterfall and the swans, while we collected your E-mails from halfway around the world. So who’s backward and isolated now?

Gary Imhoff


Metro Station Development
Sam Jordan,

You are invited to join the struggle communities in the vicinity of the Benning Road Metrorail Station are conducting to avoid another predatory development project. CSOSA, the Court Supervision Agency, Marshall Heights CDO, WMATA and Jenco (the developer), have decided to build a five-story building with an 18.6 foot mechanical rooftop mechanical room. CSOSA, the buyer, will house ninety employees to serve five to six hundred ex-offenders daily in the facility. The five-story building will dominate the surrounding two-story residential neighborhood and will be built if the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) grants exceptions to the usual parking space requirements. A minimums of sixty parking spaces minimum are needed according to BZA’s own formula based on building use and size. Only thirty-one are available at the site. In addition, an exception must be granted for the mechanical room which will cause the building to exceed currently permitted height restrictions.

The communities have not been consulted by any of the applicant parties. Councilmember Gray and all the area ANCs and civic associations are in opposition, yet CSOSA, Marshall Heights CDO, and WMATA are hoping that they can complete the construction without public awareness — our greatest single ally in the struggle.

We are in need of experienced advisors from other communities who have had some degree of success fighting developers who don’t consult with communities, but announce what will be done instead. We are also in need of advice on researching development projects at MetroRail Stations to determine the proper application of standards and regulations that apply, particularly WMATA’s own rules and NEPA matters where disparate treatment may have occurred. Our committee of Party status holders, Community First at Benning Metro, has few fiscal resources, but will do what is necessary. A hearing is scheduled in this matter at BZA on December 13. Strategically, we must win the public support battle before that date and have accomplished a great deal of research. Mailers can help through your network by publicizing the struggle, attending the rally planned for November 12 at Benning Metro and giving us advice and references to relevant materials, regulations and similar cases.


Commercial Properties Paying Less
Ed Dixon,

One of the bogus realities of the increase in the commercial property taxes in the school modernization bill is the fact that so many commercial properties in the city are undervalued. This undervaluing of the properties is most likely the result of the attorneys of the commercial interests getting involved in the assessment process to the point that the assessed values creep up very slowly. Whatever the reason, Jill and Joe Property Owner are the ones who are getting stuck with the tab on paying for city services.

Here a just a few examples. 1) In Woodley Park, the land under the Marriott Wardman is assessed at $110 per square foot whereas homeowners across the street on the corner of 28th Street are assessed at $145 per square foot. 2) Apartment dwellers in the Wyoming and Schyuler Arms are assessed at about $350 per square foot of land whereas the Washington Hilton in the back is assessed at about $240 per square foot. 3) The Safeway on MacArthur Boulevard sits on land that is assessed at about $18 per square foot whereas houses behind are on land assessed at $75 per square foot. These differences fully undermine the fact that the city has different property tax rates for commercial property and residential property. One assumes that if a proper audit were done, the losses to the city would easily be in the tens of millions of dollars. There is considerable variation between what land is assessed at for what should be like properties. Certainly, some of the property owners mentioned above have good reason to question why businesses are being assessed at much lower rates.

If readers would like to do their own searches, they should use the Office and Zoning ( and the CFO ( web sites to cross reference. The Office of Zoning has city zoning maps clickable on the left margin. Click then locate the area of the city and receive the PDF version of the map with square numbers to reference blocks. Find the square you want, then go to the Taxpayer Service Center on the CFO site and on to the Real Property Service Center. From there, go to the Real Property Tax Database Search. Click on Search Real Property Assessment Database. On the form fill in the square you are interested in and click. Search through the addresses until you find the one you are interested in and see what folks are paying.


The Bright Line of the Law
Larry Seftor, larry underscore seftor .the757 at

Because everyone is different, we all have somewhat different ideas about what is right and wrong. To resolve this problem, we put laws into writing. The result is a relatively absolute standard that both citizens and law enforcement use to decide what can and cannot be done. The court system resolves the ambiguities that arise when applying law to actual situations.

Unfortunately, there appears to be a culture in DC that moves the decisions about behavior out of the hands of the legislature (the council) and the courts, and into the hands of the police. Two examples come to mind. The first is the “zero tolerance” stance of the police towards drinking. There are well established blood alcohol standards that can and should be used to determine whether a driver is intoxicated with alcohol. Blood alcohol measurement by its nature incorporates both drink strength and body weight and has been well studied. If a driver exhibits erratic driving behavior, that driver should be charged under a different law, intoxicated or not. If a driver exhibits good driving behavior and below-standard blood alcohol levels, the police should not be allowed to become vigilantes.

The second example is the requests by churches to the police to waive parking regulations. Parking regulations control contending interests in the use of our streets. Churches and their parishioners have no special status in law, and it is not the place of the police to grant them special privileges.


Making School Facility Improvements on a Self-Paying Basis
Ed T. Barron, edtb@aoldotcom

There’s no question that many, perhaps most, of DC’s schools are really in need of upgrading. There’s a way to pay for this without increasing anyone’s taxes. The first step is for the District to do an honest assessment of which schools are upgradeable at a reasonable cost and which are not. Then there has to be a real assessment of which schools are underutilized and which others could absorb the students if the underutilized schools that are not upgradeable at a reasonable cost are closed. Closing underutilized schools and those that it’s not practical to upgrade makes a lot of sense. You eliminate one principalship (with supporting administrative staff). You eliminate one expensive custodial staff, whom we all know really run the schools, for every school you close. My best guess is that ten percent of DC schools could be closed. And, just wait, there’s more. DC real estate is very valuable these days. Selling off the closed schools and property would provide megabucks that could be used to improve, and even add on, to the consolidated schools. This would be a self-paying proposition.

Every school needs clean working bathrooms, a very good up-to-date cafeteria, classrooms that are comfortable with no leaking roofs, and good places, inside and outside, for recreation. We don’t need Taj Mahals. Pouring billions into new and luxurious schools has not worked in improving education or outcomes. Good education and great learning can take place in a freight car if you have a good teacher in the classroom. How do we get good teachers in the classroom? I’ll address that in next week’s posting to themail.


Yoma Ullman,

Following the useful notice in themail, I put up a notice and tried to gather recyclables from my whole building (fifty units or so).

Today was the day, so I loaded up and drove over to Carter Barron where I found about a dozen unhappy drivers and no recycling truck. Someone managed to get through to DPW on a cell phone and was told that “word hadn’t got through” and there would be no truck. Next week, they said.

They also said we could go to the dump station on McCormack Road behind Catholic University. Four or five of us went in a file, following the only person who seemed to know how to get there. Once there, we were directed to drive into the huge shed and put our stuff on the floor. I asked if it would actually be recycled, and they told me it would. I am not convinced. The District fails again.


Reading the Washington Post Metro Section via RSS Feeds
Phil Shapiro,

If you’d like to keep up with Washington Post metro section articles without visiting the Washington Post web page, you can do so via the RSS feed for this section. Copy and paste the following RSS feed into your RSS reader:

Smart people tell me that is a good way of reading RSS feeds. My own current preference is reading RSS feeds from within the Firefox web browser, using a Firefox extension named Sage. Using Sage I can quickly check a bunch of RSS feeds and be back in my browser in under a minute.

Perhaps if more of us subscribed to the RSS feed for the metro section that would help the Washington Post understand some of the reading preferences of people in this city. I seldom spend much time in other sections of the newspaper.


C. DeLores Tucker
Dorinda White,

Dr. C. DeLores Tucker, founder of the National Congress of Black Women and first black Secretary of State of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, died on Wednesday, October 12, in Philadelphia. The Annual Brunch that I attended this year on September 25th was not the same without her and never will be again. The National Congress of Black Women (NCBW), formerly The National Political Congress of Black Women, was founded August 2, 1984, in Washington, DC, when the Honorable C. DeLores Tucker called a group of thirty-five African American women leaders of diverse groups to organize for greater involvement in the political process.

She was a great woman and a visionary. I had the pleasure of working with her when I first returned to the US after a ten-year stay in Europe. She showed me the ropes, taught me how to navigate within the political environment and most of all, she mentored me. She cared. She will be sorely missed. Che donna meravigliosa!


An Interesting Phenomenon
Ed T. Barron, edtb@aoldotcom

With the change in time, I am now taking my AM walk in the dawn’s early light and have observed something new in the ‘hood. All along Yuma Street, NW, from Massachusetts Avenue all the way to 42nd Street, there is now a plastic lawn chair (some white, some green) at each N8 bus stop, in both directions. Nice.


Is NARPAC Joining Alice in Wonderland?
Len Sullivan,

In October, NARPAC looked at four different current issues and ended up wondering if the District is turning into Alice’s Wonderland. Why does DC’s Department of Transportation seem so determined to get people out of Metrorail and up onto the city’s crowded streets in additional Metrobuses? And why do they feel obliged to morph into a Department of Destinations by spending scarce resources on creating more bottlenecks on major avenues than we have now? Our puzzlement is described at Why are we pushing to provide affordable housing for one-breadwinner households who don’t make enough to support their unaffordable kids even if their housing were free? Our interpretation of the recent Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) study is at Finally, we look at the results of the just-completed Base Realignment and Closing (BRAC) Commission, and wonder if DC’s leaders will do any better preparing for the (next) “post-Iraq BRAC round” when more underused DC military properties should come up for conversion to productive DC development. Important planning issues are raised at Take a look at NARPAC’s October update and see if you can help resolve our quandaries.



DC Public Library Events
Debra Truhart,

Friday, November 4, 10:00 a.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, Room 110. Irish Author Darren Shan discusses his latest book in the “Cirque Du Freak” series, The Lake of Souls. Public contact: 727-5535.

Saturday, November 5, 12:00 p.m., Juanita E. Thornton/Shepherd Park Neighborhood Library, 7420 Georgia Avenue, NW. Vincent Carretta, senior fellow at Harvard University’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research, discusses his book, Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man. Public contact: 541-6100.

Saturday, November 5, 3:00 p.m., Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library, 3310 Connecticut Avenue, NW. Author and Illustrator Susan Stockdale reads from her book, Carry Me! Animal Babies on the Move, which won the 2005 Parent’s Choice Award. Author Mary Quattlebaum reads from her newly released book, Winter Friends, a lively story in poems that was illustrated by Hiroe Nakata. Public contact: 282-3080.


The Coffee Cafe, November 4-6
Michael Andrews,

The University of the District of Columbia Theater Company presents a stylish and sharply satirical original play "The Coffee Café," in the University Auditorium Friday, November 4 through Sunday, November 6. Through song, poetry and a series of short vignettes, the play takes a no-holds-barred look at African-American life, culture and history. Professor Lennie Smith, who recently directed the UDC Theater Company’s production of “Zooman and the Sign,” will direct this production.

An original production written by the company, “The Coffee Café” uses a take-no-prisoners style of satire while lampooning of misplaced values, materialism, and “classism,” according to Carmen White, a professor who teaches Introduction to Theater Arts at UDC. “The play takes a snap shot of the struggles and challenges of African Americans,” says White. “It both assails and celebrates the resiliency of African Americans in America.” The play is narrated through poetry and song. A stylish poet and songstress welcomes everyone to the Café. “You can experience all the different flavors we have but remember if you ignore it too long it will eventually lose its flavor,” she tells the guests, adding “please, if you are not sure if you like your coffee bold, medium or smooth, you might want to try our herbal tea.” “This play hits so close to home in a musical and dramatic way,” says White.

The most praised “image” is “Home-girls on the Metro bus” which ridicules how some young African Americans chat loudly on the bus. The vignette opens with the hostess’ poem about materialism and the scene starts with two young women bragging about how they are able to get men to give them money. As they continue to dialogue, a well-dressed, sophisticated woman gets into a heated debate about their views. “The Coffee Café” is unique, innovative and timely. It incorporates drama, poetry, rap, dance and music. The curtain will rise on “The Coffee Café” at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, November 4 and 5. Matinee performances begin at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, November 4, and 3:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, November 5 and 6. The production takes place in the University Auditorium, Building 46 East on the Van Ness Campus. Parking will be available in the University’s parking garage off Van Ness Street, and the campus is available via the Metro’s Red Line. “The Coffee Café” contains strong language and adult content and may not be suitable for all audiences.


Rally to Defend DC’s National Parkland, November 5
Jason Broehm, Sierra Club,

A few weeks ago it was reported that Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA), chairman of the House Resources Committee, was proposing to sell off our cherished Roosevelt Island National Park as a way to raise funds to help make up the shortfall in the federal budget. The irony of such a proposal — selling a beautiful, undeveloped Potomac island dedicated to the memory of President Teddy Roosevelt, probably our greatest conservationist president to date (and a Republican) -- was not lost on many people. I heard outrage from a number of friends and associates, some of whom I wouldn’t have expected to hear the news much less get riled up about it.

Not surprisingly, Pombo dropped this proposal a short time later, but last week he moved a bill out of his committee that would sell off other national parkland in DC, including land along the Anacostia River (on Poplar Point and near RFK stadium) and other locations. It would also do many other bad things like permitting oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and off our coasts. The bill is heading to the House floor for a vote very soon, probably the week of November 7.

The Sierra Club has planned a rally for this Saturday, November 5, at 11:00 a.m. to mobilize opposition to this bill and save our national parkland from being auctioned off to the highest bidder. It will be held at Roosevelt Island National Park and will include a special appearance by Teddy Roosevelt. For more information, please contact: Chris Carney, Sierra Club Metro DC Office,, 237-0754.


National Building Museum Events, November 6-9
Brie Hensold,

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

Sunday, November 6, 11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Flying in the Great Hall, for kids. Learn about model airplanes as members of the DC Maxecuters fly their planes in the Museum’s Great Hall. Rubber band-powered, free flight model airplanes soar in a series of launches throughout the day. Free. All ages. Drop-in program.

Sunday, November 6, 12:30-3:30 p.m., Airplane Mobile, for kids. Be inspired by the different airplane models flown in the Great Hall. Families create simple mobiles with airplanes and decorate them with various craft materials. $3 per project. All ages. Drop-in program.

Wednesday, November 9, 6:30-8:00 p.m. Spotlight on Design: Lorcan O’Herlihy. Los Angeles-based architect Lorcan O’Herlihy creates imaginative forms through site-responsive design. In 2004, the Architectural League of New York named him an Emerging Voice in Architecture. He will discuss his firm’s use of unexpected materials in creating light-filled, innovative buildings, which include the Vertical House, West Hollywood’s Habitat 825 (next to a Rudolph Schindler house) and a mixed-use development in China. After his lecture, he will sign copies of his book Lorcan O’Herlihy (Rockport Publishers). $12 Members and students; $17 nonmembers. Prepaid registration required.


Old Convention Center Site Planning Workshop, November 8
Valca Valentine,

On Tuesday, November 8, The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, in partnership with Hines/Archstone-Smith, will host The Old Convention Center Site: Masterplan Alternatives for a New Downtown Neighborhood, the first community workshop to solicit input into the master planning for the city’s Old Convention Center Site. After an initial project overview, participants will visit stations organized by issues. These stations will provide information on affordable housing, jobs, traffic, parking, open space, retail, the new central library project, green building and environmental issues, as well as alternatives for the overall layout of the site.

Participants will be the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, Hines/Archstone-Smith (developer), and Foster and Partners, Shalom Baranes Associates (Architects). The workshop will be held on Tuesday, November 8, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., at Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW.


Tracing Your Jewish Roots, November 9
Diana Altman,

Targeted for young adults (18-35 years old), this workshop on tracing your Jewish roots consists of two parts: In the first part, attendees will learn the basics of how to conduct oral histories, as a means of documenting their family histories, through concepts that are being used in the new B’nai B’rith Oral History Heritage Project. The second part of the presentation will familiarize the participants with tools for conducting genealogical research. The workshop will be held on Wednesday, November 9, 6:30-8:30 p.m., at the B’nai B’rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum, 2020 K Street, NW. Attendance at the event is $5. Advance registration recommended. Light refreshments will be provided.

Ms. Irene Weiss will be with us to share her experience and insights as an interviewee. Ms. Weiss was born in Transylvania, Romania, and came to the United States in 1964. She is a Holocaust survivor, whose story was recorded by the Spielberg Shoah Foundation and told in her book Life at the End of the Tunnel. Diana C. Altman, director, B’nai B’rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum, will present the B’nai B’rith Oral History Heritage Project. Irene Saunders Goldstein, professional writer/editor and oral historian and chair of the B’nai B’rith Center for Jewish Identity, will share tips on interviewing family members. Diane Goldman, past president of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington, will share tips about conducting genealogical research.

For more information or reservations, please call 857-6583 or send an E-mail to


Master Education Plan Community Forums, November 9-21
Roxanne Evans,

DC Public Schools, in partnership with the DC Education Compact, will host five community forums in November, where residents will advise and help shape priorities for strengthening education programs and for determining how to better utilize school space. The forums are part of efforts by Superintendent Clifford B. Janey and his senior staff to develop a Master Education Plan, which will address questions such as how can we strengthen our education programs so they fully prepare students for work, college, and other opportunities after high school; should all schools offer the same programs; what guidelines should we use to partner with other groups, including charter schools, to use public school buildings; should DCPS transition from a mix of middle schools and junior high schools to create more K-8 schools; should more schools be organized by themes? For instance, one group of elementary, middle and high schools could focus on the arts, and another group could focus on science and technology; and what’s the best way to strengthen our career/technical/vocational programs?

The meetings are scheduled from 6:30 p.m.-9:00 p.m. on the following dates: November 9, Patterson Elementary, 4399 South Capitol Terrace, SW; November 14, McKinley Senior High, 151 T Street, NE; November 15, Cleveland Elementary, 1825 8th Street, NW; November 17, Janney Elementary, 4130 Albemarle Street, NW; and November 21, Kelly Miller Middle, 301 49th Street, NE. An open house format will allow participants to visit multiple “information stations,” where they can learn more about specific topics of interest to them and discuss these issues with senior DCPS staff and their neighbors. Attendees also will be able to fill out a questionnaire on many of the key issues. Community feedback from the forums, surveys and other outreach activities will be incorporated into the final proposals, which Janey is expected to present to the Board of Education in late January.

The Master Education Plan will build on recommendations of the DCPS Strategic Plan (Declaration of Education), which was released in May 2005. The Master Education Plan also will set the stage for more detailed recommendations on educational programming and facilities use in the coming months, including the Facilities Master Plan due in April 2006. More information about the master education planning process is available at 535-1524.


Film on the Tivoli, November 19
Jerry A. McCoy,

Silver Spring filmmaker Walter Gottlieb (producer of "Silver Spring: Story of an American Suburb") will be presenting his new film about Washington’s historic Tivoli theater at the Takoma Park Film Festival, Saturday, November 19, 9 p.m., at the Takoma Park Community Center, City Council chambers, 7500 Maple Avenue, Takoma Park, MD. Cost is free.

Entitled, “The Tivoli: A Neighborhood Landmark Reborn,” the documentary short tells the story of the history and restoration of the beloved Columbia Heights, DC, movie palace. The film features recollections from WAMU’’s Diane Rehm, historic preservationists, former movie theater patrons, and the Tivoli’s developer, Joseph Horning. The film is narrated by motion picture actor Keith David.



Original Abstract Art
Afrika Abney,

If you are looking for original abstract art, look no further then the works created by Afrika Midnight Asha Abney. For rates and services, please contact her at or by phone at 455-3773. Visit Afrika’s site at



Condo Management in the District
Mark David Richards, Dupont East, mark at markdavidrichards dot com

The District has thousands of condos, and we all know they don’t manage themselves. The wonders of efficient and painless community living are largely invisible to most of us. So, who are the companies with a proven track record for effective, or outstanding, condo management in the District (with approximately 150 units or more), for a reasonable per unit management fee? This includes effective communications skills in working with condo Boards, managing the routine accounting and billing, on-site projects (contracting and task management), as well as any required crisis management (responding to water leaks, etc.). Not necessarily included is on-site management and on-site employees. Where does one turn when one is shopping around?


Interim Libraries to Have Wireless Internet
Phil Shapiro,

Four interim libraries in DC, being set up in storefronts, will have wireless Internet capabilities. These libraries are in the Anacostia, Benning, Tenley-Friendship, and Shaw neighborhoods. Further information at

In counties surrounding DC there is free wireless Internet at Bethesda, Silver Spring, and several other Montgomery County libraries. The Arlington Central library has wireless Internet service, as do some libraries in Alexandria. Several of the above-mentioned libraries are fairly close to subway stops (i.e., within three or four blocks).


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