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November 20, 2005

Fun with Numbers

Dear Numeraticians:

Three fun numbers are in the news this week. Tarron Lively reports in the Washington Times ( that October was a record-breaking month for the District; it collected $2.9 million from its speed-camera tickets. The American Automobile Association has designated the entire city as a “strict enforcement area.” That sounds something like a speed trap, but without the stigma of being a small Southern town.

Lena Sun and Lyndsey Layton report in the Washington Post ( that Metro’s Transit Police have been underreporting crime rates on the transit system and at Metro stations by not including any crimes that are handled by other police forces: “During the 18-month period reviewed by The Post, Metro counted 463 serious crimes at its rail stations, but 98 other, similar incidents remained off its books, according to local police department records. That raises by more than 20 percent the total number of serious crimes -- rapes, aggravated assaults, armed holdups, pickpockets and purse snatches.”

And everybody reports that the city government and Major League Baseball are at loggerheads over stadium financing, that MLB is balking at guaranteeing at least $6 million in annual rent, and that city officials will go through some big-league posturing and blowharding before they settle on a way to disguise the fact that taxpayers will be stuck with even higher costs. Why didn’t anyone on the city council ever insist that finding “private financing” for the stadium didn’t mean finding somebody for the city government to borrow the money from, but finding somebody other than the city to bear some of the cost?

Gary Imhoff


Boards and Commissions Developments
Dorothy Brizill,

In recent weeks, Mayor Williams has forwarded to the council several nominations to key boards and commissions that have regulatory functions. His appointments will result in a wholesale turnover in the composition of some boards, and will affect the composition of these boards for the rest of the decade. For example, the mayor’s plan to install meters in taxicabs to replace the zone fare system has been frustrated by Taxicab Commissioners who have listened to the complaints of east-of-the-river residents, who will be the hardest hit by resulting fare increases. In recent weeks the mayor has forwarded to the council the nominations of five new members and the renomination of two current members of the nine-member commission. All of his nominees were from west of the river, and all were expected to support a metered fare system. Councilmember Carol Schwartz, concerned about the composition of this group of nominees, persuaded the mayor to withdraw two of them and to replace them with one east-of-the-river resident (who will be former councilmember Sandy Allen), and another citizens who is a frequent cab rider.

Last fall, Mayor Williams established a thirty-six member blue-ribbon taskforce chaired by John Hill, the executive director of the Federal City Council, to look at the future of the DC Public Library system. Many of the members of the taskforce are not DC residents, were not familiar with the library branches, and had to spend much of the past year touring and being introduced to the various libraries. The mayor has defended his appointees to the taskforce by saying that he had specifically looked for individuals with "high net worth." Last year, at the first meeting of the taskforce, chaired by Mayor Williams, the mayor closed the meeting to the public, but committed that the taskforce would hold some of its future meetings in public. The taskforce will issue its final report at the end of this month, having never held any public meetings and having had no public input or comments. As a result, there is growing concern within the general community, and especially among those in the library community, that only developers interested in acquiring library land holdings have been given access. The mayor’s agenda has long included closing the Martin Luther King, Jr., Library, designed by Mies Van der Rohe, to make it available to developers; and building a new central library as part of the old Convention Center site. Information about the taskforce is on the web at

These two boards are only examples of the concerns that citizens and civic leaders are increasingly expressing about the performance of the city’s boards and commissions. Complaints include questionable qualifications of mayoral appointees to the boards; unprofessional and unethical conduct by board members; illegal ex parte communications in contentious pending cases between board members and attorneys, representatives, and parties; and contempt and rudeness shown by board members toward citizens and community groups that appear before them. Now some ANC commissioners and community leaders are preparing to make the performance of boards and commissions an issue in the 2006 mayoral election, focusing especially on the Board of Zoning Adjustment, the Alcohol Beverage Control Board, and the Historic Preservation Review Board. There is also growing concern about the secrecy in which other boards do their business, especially the National Capital Revitalization Corporation, the Sports and Entertainment Commission, the Anacostia Waterfront Commission, and the Library Board of Trustees.


Another Don Quixote?
Ed T. Barron, edtb@aoldotcom

Is this guy Fenty kidding, or is he tilting at windmills? Fenty wants to have a referendum on a commuter tax for those who work in DC but live in Maryland, Virginia, or the moon. A referendum is ludicrous. It will cost a bundle to hold a vote and the results will be totally meaningless. Congress controls the District and will never approve a commuter tax. Get a horse, Adrian, and add DC statehood to your list of windmills.


Stadium Boondoggle Egregiously Lopsided Compared with Others
Ed Delaney,

Http:// “The larger context shows just how absurd MLB’s latest objection is. As Neil deMause of Baseball Prospectus (and Field of Schemes) pointed out earlier this year, private companies are paying for three-quarters of the new $387 million Busch Stadium the St. Louis Cardinals expect to use in 2006. The figures for stadiums in San Diego and Philadelphia that opened in 2004 were two-thirds of $449 million and half of $458 million, respectively. But for the Washington Nationals, just over one-tenth of the $550 million cost (make that $607 million according to DC’s CFO if the Deutsche Bank boondoggle is accepted as anticipated) will be private. The city will handle the rest. So Washington’s stadium deal — a deal in a much more promising market than any of the above — works heavily in MLB’s favor, and against a decade’s precedent in stadium finance.”

It’s nice of this rag to make a note of what a truly wretched and unacceptable deal this is once they think the thing’s a fait accompli. What makes this even worse is that all of those parks have all the Camden-esque bells and whistles, yet DC will be paying over a hundred million dollars (and who knows how much else) more for a cut-rate “Buick or Ford” park with glass for walls due to the unworkable costs at the untenable stadium site insisted upon and accepted by the water-carrying press and the browbeaten council in sickeningly docile fashion. The fact that so many issues could still be instantly resolved by switching the stadium site to the RFK Stadium site — a site that MLB was preparing to accept and found ownership groups completely willing to maintain their bids — only to have the council too willy-nilly and cowed by the pressure and deceit of the Brigade to insist on a switch of sites makes each revelation like this an indictment of their incompetence and lack of responsible oversight on behalf of the city virtually amounting to gross negligence.

“In any event, Wall Street is forcing the issue — it has told Washington to demand $6 million a year, or else lose investment-grade ratings for the construction bonds. The District would waive this if it could given its weak-kneed track record with baseball, but it cannot.” That fact gets more pathetic with each reading. And the DC council still wants us to believe that evidence of their worth as a body is sticking with the terms of this boondoggle, all while MLB changes the terms whenever it suits them from entire club levels to conference centers?

“The fact that MLB can balk at even this tiny a commitment with any credibility is another indication of the sorry depths of these negotiations. No sweetheart deal is good enough.” Perhaps if your rag had reported on this issue with a critical eye out for the facts and, dare I say it, with the interests of the community at large rather than a handful of power-hungry incompetents known as the Brigade, this boondoggle would have unraveled at one of the many opportunities it had to fall by the wayside only to be incessantly coddled at every turn by you and the Post with careful reporting that distorted the facts to the benefit of the Brigade and to the detriment of the community at large to an unwavering degree, of which the proof has been bountiful.


How Baseball Will Impact Southwest
Andy Litsky,

[An open letter to Mayor Williams] On Monday, November 28, at 7:00 p.m., the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly and ANC 6D will jointly hold a Town Meeting, "How Baseball will Impact Southwest." The meeting will be held at St. Matthew’s Church, located at 222 M Street, SW. Last September, when you briefed our ANC on your stadium plan, Robert Bobb promised us that our community would be "meaningfully engaged" during all stages of this planning process and further assured us that this project would "be managed holistically." Mr. Bobb repeated that pledge at a meeting two weeks later attended by, among others, Mark Tuohey, Andy Altman, Steve Green, Dan Tangherlini, members of the leadership of the ANC, SWNA, and representatives of Councilmember Ambrose’s office. However, during that intervening period of time, we have been presented with only the broadest of pictures, having no further opportunities to comprehensively engage public officials on how this project is being managed, how our community can maximize its positive aspects and or minimize the negative ones.

In several recent previous baseball stadium overviews, we have had some of the parties involved in stadium development attend and field audience questions. Unfortunately, we have observed that there is no one single entity able to provide us the answers we seek. Although every presenter seems relatively comfortable with "their piece," they are reticent to provide a more complete picture of aspects of a project over which they have no control. Whether by design or default, it has become apparent that baseball stadium project management is balkanized. We’d like our November 28th meeting to provide an opportunity for all parties under one roof to provide our community with as complete a picture as possible of what is going on presently and what we can expect moving forward. Timelines and, more importantly, a clear delineation of who’s in charge, would be most welcome.

Specifically, we hope that this meeting will provide an opportunity for government officials (not their consultants) to address a number of critical issues: 1) DDOT: DDOT has not provided a stadium transportation plan and analysis of how it integrates results of previous traffic plans focusing on the SW Waterfront, South Capitol Street, the reopening of Fourth Street, SW and the SE Federal Center. We must finalize a discussion about how parking will be handled on-site, including bus access, how two of the most dangerous intersections in the city (S. Capitol and M Street, SW and S. Capitol and Eye Streets, SW) will be impacted, and what residential parking plans are envisioned for Southwest, Near SE and Capitol Hill. 2) WMATA: Metro has attended no public forum on the stadium. They are a critical component of this project and yet they have not been forthcoming. We need specifics from them regarding Green Line capacity, Navy Yard station capacity and their projections about how riders might use other lines to get to the site. 3) Anacostia Waterfront Corporation: most in the community have never met Adrian Washington. A discussion of the recent RFP regarding the parcel north of the site would be welcome as would a discussion of how AWC plans to include our SW/Near SE community organizations in their future planning processes. 4) Clark Construction: although they have been awarded the construction contract, they’ve never met with the SW/Near SE community. We would like assurances that, given the current financial constraints, they will still able to build a green stadium. We also hope to gain an understanding of their plans to train and hire local workers and get a timetable for construction. Assurances that their construction trucks will not traverse the streets of residential SW would be welcome. 5) DCSEC: their agreement SWNA regarding certain community benefits has never been acted upon. We need to know why. We also need to know when and with whom they will address a wider discussion of community benefits. 6) DOES: we need to know what specific programs are being designed by the agency that will specifically benefit residents of impacted SW/Near SE to provide training and employment on the construction of millions of square feet of builds now underway in our neighborhood. 7) If, by the date of this meeting, a stadium design will have been made public, we’d like the supervising architect to present. . . . Thank you for your attention to this during such a busy time. All the best to you and your family for a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.


Petworth Outrage
James Carstensen,

I wanted to pass along information regarding an effort by Petworth citizens regarding possible development of land at the Old Soldier’s Home in northwest Washington. This situation — the secrecy of the planning commission and the coziness of the make up of the planning commission with at least one DC developer in particular — is an outrage. The Armed Forces Retirement Home (AFRH) is currently planning possible development of up to 160 acres of property, or 59 percent of the federal land that makes up the Home. This includes a section of green space that runs from the intersection of Illinois and Rock Creek Church Road to Park Place, and along Park Place from Rock Creek Church Road to the ponds. The Soldier’s Home and its planning committee that Includes developers are rushing this plan to final approval in the next few weeks. That will leave the community no more time to push for park space or to assess the impacts of this heavy development on traffic, pollution, and property taxes.

We view the property as important, not only because our nation’s military heroes live there, but also because President Lincoln spent a quarter of his presidency on the grounds of the Home. Lincoln’s cottage is being restored as a significant historic site. Long after we are all gone, hundreds of thousands of people will come to see Lincoln’s cottage. We believe that this land must be treated as carefully as the property around Washington’s Mount Vernon and Jefferson’s Monticello. Unfortunately, what we have witnessed in this process thus far is deeply troubling. The Old Soldier’s Home has excluded the community from participation and enlisted developers to help decide whether to develop the land, creating a possible conflict of interest. A developer and her husband are leading its community outreach effort, and the development plan is being developed in secrecy.

As is evident from the overwhelming majority of the comments held at the three recent publicity meetings, the community has lost faith in the process. As a first step to try to restore that faith, we request that the Home’s officials answer the following important questions:

What specific criteria qualified people to serve on the community planning committee? Leaders who represent neighborhoods near the Home have been excluded from this panel that is helping you craft the development plan. People who live miles away from the neighborhood have seats on the committee. Park View’s United Neighborhood Coalition and a number of Petworth civic and religious organizations have been excluded, while neighborhood organizations unrelated to the AFRH neighborhood, such as the Pleasant Plains Civic Association and the African American Civil War Memorial, have been included on the committee. Metropolis Development Company. and institutions that have expressed a desire for land to develop have seats on the panel. The historians restoring Lincoln’s Cottage and DC Parks have also been excluded. You have refused repeated requests to add important representation to this group.

What arrangement does the Armed Forces Retirement Home have with Gotham Development LLC? The firm’s owner, Desa Sealy Ruffin, has represented the Home at public forums to solicit neighborhood input. She has answered questions on behalf of the AFRH about who was selected to serve on the planning committee. Her husband, Joe Louis Ruffin, a former city employee, has identified himself as the Home’s community outreach coordinator. What kind of arrangement does the AFRH have with the Ruffins? When Mr. Ruffin spoke to United Neighborhood Coalition about the merits of development, he identified himself as a longtime city resident and a former city employee. He did not tell the community group he was the husband of a developer who is working on the Home project. Mr. Ruffin has recruited people to serve on the planning panel, whose members include his former boss and other former city employees. Did the Ruffins determine the composition of the panel? Why are a developer and her husband leading an effort to get community input on whether to develop federal land? What steps has the Home taken to prevent a conflict of interest? Ms. Ruffin previously oversaw construction of a 210-unit townhouse development in Washington. One of the major items under consideration for your plan is the construction of a major townhouse development. What, if anything, has Ms. Ruffin been told about her possible role in such a townhouse development? Metropolis has developed the five-story Langston Lofts on U Street. Have you taken steps to ensure that developers such as Gotham and Metropolis, who are helping you decide whether to build and what to build, won’t later be eligible to profit from any development? If companies that are helping you decide what to develop are also eligible to benefit from that construction, it would be a conflict of interest.

How much money does the Home require from this development plan to sustain its operations? You have said the driving force behind the development plan is the need to secure enough money to sustain the Home. Yet when the community asks you how much money the Home needs, you refuse to answer. It is impossible for me and others to assess the needed scope of this development plan if you refuse to disclose such basic information. US government agencies do not hide their budget needs. As a representative and employee of the US government, we view it as your duty to provide such basic information to the public. You have also refused the community’s request to open the community planning committee meetings to the public. You have also yet failed to make public the unedited minutes from those meetings, which you promised to do during the October 24, 2005, meeting at St. Gabriel’s Church in Washington.


Roy Kaufmann,

I join in the legions of dissatisfied and frustrated customers of Comcast. Five times (yes, five!) they failed to show up at the appointed hour for service. Twice they knocked on the door and literally ran away before we could get to the bottom floor of a four-story house to let them in (mind you, the repair was to be outside, at the pole). They were very efficient in calling within fifteen minutes and advising that the technician had appeared but left because no one was home. When I indicated that I was present (both to answer the phone and fifteen minutes prior), the caller lamented that it was not his job to reschedule. Until the matter reached the higher levels of service management, there were cheery promises that were broken repeatedly. I solicit suggestions as to what entity to complain to where it would have the most effect? Perhaps the DC Public Service Commission?


Satellite Dishes
Gabe Goldberg, gabe at gabegold dot com

Gary Rice [themail, November 16] said that the place where he lives now does not permit satellite dishes on the roof. I thought I’d heard that the FCC prohibited such prohibitions, in the interest of increased competition. Or maybe you can put them on your window/balcony but not on common space like a roof; they’ll only be useful on your space if you point in the right direction, southern sky, I think. And if you asked the satellite TV vendor for service, I’d hope they would know the regulations! In any case, I’ve certainly seen satellite dishes blooming in housing developments where they’d previously been prohibited. Http:// offers info, maybe it’s definitive, or points elsewhere for more clues.


Secondhand Smoke and Risk
David Sobelsohn, dsobelso-at-capaccess-dot-org

In the last issue of themail [themail, November 16], Ed Barron cited a study that (according to Ed and to Gary Imhoff) suggests that making public places smokefree might immediately cut heart-attack rates by 27-40 percent. As a strong supporter of smokefree public-place laws, I find this claim at least superficially implausible. On this I agree with Gary: the primary risk of secondhand smoke is cumulative and long-term. But every breath hurts — every foul inhalation of polluted air increases your risk. That’s why Congress passed the Clean Air Act. And that’s why the people most endangered by secondhand smoke are those who work in heavily smoke-polluted environments, like restaurants and bars. Just as those workers need laws to guarantee them (for example) accessible restroom facilities, those workers need laws to protect them against the long-term, cumulative effects of prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke.

After raising a valid question about the cited studies, Gary as usual goes off the deep end on this issue: if restricting secondhand smoke would really cut the heart-attack rate by 27-40 percent, then, he argues, “banning cigarettes entirely would surely eliminate all heart attacks.” So what? Even if “banning cigarettes entirely” would entirely eliminate secondhand smoke — and it wouldn’t — only a fool would suggest such a law. But Gary’s obviously more comfortable countering foolish "straw-man" proposals than he is addressing the serious arguments for making public spaces smokefree.



Window Ornament Design, November 27
Brie Hensold,

At the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line, Sunday, November 27, 1:00-4:00 p.m. Window Ornament Design, for kids. Create festive holiday window ornaments out of Plexiglas and colorful cellophane. $4 per ornament. Ages 5 and up. Drop-in program.


The Bowl Is Already Broken, November 29
Debra Truhart,

Tuesday, November 29, 7:00 p.m., Takoma Park Neighborhood Library, 416 Cedar Street, NW. Author Mary Kay Zuravleff will lead a discussion of her book, The Bowl Is Already Broken, with book club members. Public contact: 576-7252.


Toastmasters, December 6
Lavonda Kay Broadnax,

Would you like to improve your public speaking skills? Build your leadership skills? And learn parliamentary procedure? Attend the Lone Star Toastmasters club’s special workshop meeting and learn Robert’s Rules of Order, the most widely used parliamentary authority in the United States. Tuesday, December 6, 7:00 p.m., at Young Chow Restaurant, 312 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE. Metro: Capitol South, Orange/Blue line. Free of charge.

Lone Star Toastmaster’s club meets every Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. at Young Chow. Visitors are always welcome.


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