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June 28, 2006


Dear Storm Watchers:

Well, Bob Dylan sang that a hard rain is gonna fall, and now a hard rain has fallen on us, and it isn’t quite over yet, since another heavy rain is predicted for tomorrow. Various meteorologists have termed it a rain that comes to the DC area once every hundred and fifty years or once every three hundred years. For most of us, it hasn’t been too bad — perhaps a fallen tree, a leaky roof, some water in the basement, or getting caught in a particularly mean rush hour. The state of emergency that Mayor Williams declared lasted for less than a full day.

But for others among us, it has been a full-scale disaster. Alma Gates writes below about Caroline Quandt, who lost her house to the rains. Dorothy and I met with Ms. Quandt over two years ago. Even then, she had spent a couple years attempting to get the responsible city agencies to pay attention to the disaster that she could foresee, and she was frustrated and looking for any advice she could get about who would take the necessary steps to help her save her and her neighbors’ houses. We gave her what advice we could, but couldn’t be very encouraging. Now that the responsible officials have failed to avert the disaster that she told them would occur, will any councilmembers or members of the administration pay attention, and — more importantly — take responsibility for failing to act responsibly earlier?

Gary Imhoff


Home Loss and Flood Destruction in Palisades
Alma Gates, Chair ANC3D,

[An open letter to the members of the Committee on Public Works and the Environment] The storm last evening dumped a significant amount of water on the city, and there is devastation everywhere. One such site is at 5320 Macomb Street, NW. Caroline Quandt lost her home last night when water caused the foundation walls to collapse and the basement to fill with water. Ms. Quandt has no insurance coverage, and now she has no home.

The real tragedy in this story is that for over two years ANC 3D has attempted to get some relief for this area of Palisades that has suffered with every significant storm since over-development began in the Palisades area and Frank Economides put in four large houses on MacArthur Boulevard where two small bungalows had existed on two large heavily vegetated lots. The Commission has been to see the Department of Health/Environmental Health Administration on this particular matter several times and was assured "all was well." Then, in an attempt to direct the water away from the houses that back on the alley separating them from the Economides houses, the Department of Transportation placed sandbags end-to-end along the alley last summer. These older neighborhood homes are frequently flooded due to poor grading, alley destruction, and inadequate storm water management systems installed at the Economides development site. WASA has agreed to replace the inadequate storm water pipe on Macomb Street that directs water to an outflow above the Potomac River. However, installation of the pipe is a year away, and the destruction it was meant to prevent occurred last night.

This is not just another “feel sorry.” The money needed to repair the District’s failing infrastructure has not been budgeted. WASA and DDOT have not responded in a timely manner. However, development has continued with encouragement as a revenue generator; and, the public has been assured that it will not have an effect on the community. This is the message ANCs hear on a regular basis at Board of Zoning Adjustment hearings as theoretical lots subdivisions are approved for 47 houses here, 29 houses there, and 13 houses elsewhere. Perhaps this tragedy will help you understand the consequences of overbuilding, poor planning, and lack of oversight. What are you, the legislators for the city going to do to ensure we don’t have more “Quandt” tragedies? How will you set budget priorities that include upgrades and maintenance of the existing infrastructure before we permit more stresses on a failing system? And, what are you going to do to help Caroline Quandt?


A Foggy Day in London Town
Dorothy Brizill,

Today, Mayor Williams hastily canceled his regular weekly press conference, “in order to inspect storm damage and visit with District work crews.” However, instead of visiting with residents and businesses affected by the rain damage, Mayor Williams decided to meet only with District workers. He inspected work being done by the Department of Transportation employees to shore up the area near the 2000 block of Belmont Street, NW, and visited with Department of Public Works workers at 1241 W Street, NE, as they filled sand bags.

Mayor Williams’s sudden decision to leave his sixth floor sanctuary in the Wilson Building was prompted in part by criticism from many, including Tom Sherwood, who reported this week that, “As a citizen of the city, would it be too much to ask for the mayor to emerge from his office to address all the road closings, flooded buildings and homes? Offer a reassuring statement in person and thank all the hardworking city employees on overtime in the muck?” ( Williams’s visits were also staged in the hope that it would defuse criticism of his departure today for another week-long trip overseas. On Thursday, he will be in London to attend a two-day conference sponsored by the Mayors’ and Leaders’ Forum on “Leading Sustainable Cities,” It is ironic that the stated purpose of the meeting is to “emphasize the pivotal role that strong, strategic, and visionary leadership can play in enabling cities to develop effective responses to common challenges including: economic globalization, climate change, and social exclusion.”" Following London, Williams will travel to Turkey to deliver a commencement address and attend a Glocalization conference. In DC, the only graduation ceremony Williams has attended for the past two years was last month at the private SEED School.

As always, the mayor’s office has refused today to provide important details regarding the mayor’s trip, including the list of people traveling with the mayor, the cost of the trip, and how it is being funded.


What Goes Around
Ed T. Barron, edtb1@macdotcom

As we see Constitution Avenue under water during this monsoon period, not many folks know that a long time ago, before even my time, Constitution Avenue was a canal.


Teen Pregnancy Online Survey
Joyce A. Fourth,

If you care about teens in the District of Columbia, here’s a chance to express yourself. DC Campaign invites all District residents including parents, teens advocates, service providers, community activists, and members of the faith community to "Express Yourself" by participating in an online survey at The survey runs through July 18. Tell us how teens are faring in the District. Your answers will be compiled into a final report and shared with mayoral and city council candidates along with a wide range of community stakeholders. You can make your voice be heard. Thank you for helping DC Campaign advocate on behalf of District teens.


Meters Versus Zones
Ed T. Barron, edtb1@macdotcom

Although I am a proponent of the taxicab meter system, I was recently delighted with the zone system in a (rare, but it was a hot day) cab ride from the FDR Memorial to Union Station. That’s not very far, but the traffic to and over the bridge at the Tidal Basin was horrendous. It took more than 35 minutes to travel that short distance. We were in an air conditioned cab and had time to do some slow sightseeing along the way with our Florida house guest. The fare was $12 and the driver earned a $3 tip for the three of us. I was glad to have the zone system that day.


I Think That She Is Waiting for Christmas
Jonathan R. Rees,

Despite the fact that our primaries are just two months away, I am a bit startled up here in Ward 3 that a good number of voters still think that Kathy Patterson is seeking reelection to her Ward 3 seat, that most people do not know who is actually running for her seat, and that the few who do know the names of one or two of the candidates think that they are running against Kathy Patterson. Whose fault is that? Kathy Patterson’s campaign manager Eric Marshall.

Eric Marshall may have been a great promoter of the push for the smoking ban, but he is proving to be a liability in getting Kathy Patterson’s message out to people by not first letting the people of her own ward know that she are not seeking reelection to her Ward 3 seat but for the chair of the city council. You can also blame Eric Marshall for the following: just go up and down the streets of Ward 3 and you will see ten Vincent Gray yard signs for every one Kathy Patterson sign; you will see Vincent Gray campaign literature, but nothing from Kathy Patterson; and you will stumble on people seeking signatures for Vincent Gray for the nomination petition in front of the grocery stores, and none for Kathy Patterson. Sadly, these facts repeat themselves city wide.

Kathy Patterson, take it from a man who ran three victorious campaigns in cities bigger than DC: Eric Marshall needs to be sent to the showers, back to the American Cancer Society, because he has become a deadly malignancy on your campaign.


High-Quality Public Schools
Marc Borbely,

Gary and Dorothy: you worry that establishing a right to high-quality schools would have “disastrous consequences” for the District; you predict there will be lawsuits galore — that enacting this right will do nothing but line lawyers’ pockets [themail, June 25]. You have my complete respect for the work you do for our District, but I don’t share your views on this issue.

What about our other civil rights: right to emergency health care, right to free speech, right to equal protection under the law, right to be free of sexual harassment and other discrimination in the workplace, etc.? We as a people have identified these as basic rights. We have a court system specifically set up to defend those rights, and, thankfully, we have lawyers to help us defend those rights when necessary.

A high-quality education is one of the keys to economic and political power in our society. Civil rights advocates around the country are recognizing education as the civil right of the 21st century. The two- or three-class unequal educational system we have perpetuates inequality, poverty, crime, and hopelessness. It’s the current state of affairs that is resulting in "disastrous consequences."


What Works for Me
Denise L. Wiktor,

Despite the recent incidents with Emergency Medical Services, I would say our fire department is pretty darn good, and so are my neighbors. I live in an all-wood house, and as I arrived to work one morning about a year ago I got a call that my house was on fire. By the time I got back home, my main office had been called. Neighbors and local stores called me at the office and its many variations, including the Director’s office; a teacher from my daughter’s school was passing the house, so the school called, too. That worked well.

When I got home it was thankfully still there. The Department determined it was a flue fire and dumped a gazillion pounds of baking soda down the chimney. They took a second to remove some things from the mantle before they tried (with no success) to break through the very solid brick chimney. Other than having to buy a bunch of HEPA filters for the vacuum, there was nothing that could not be fixed with soap and water. We later figured it was not a flue fire per se, but that the heat wrap around our flue liner burned — a little installation problem.

Once since then I went outside to find a number of fire trucks; a neighbor had called in smoke. In that case we were firing the furnace up after heavy rains and released a cloud of steam, but they thoroughly checked the house. This has given me warm and fuzzy feelings about my neighborhood as virtual strangers tried to locate myself or my husband. Almost twenty years ago, after deaths due to a fire in the neighborhood, the Fire Department came door to door to offer safety assessments of houses, and they made recommendations on my then house for escape routes, etc. I have, in a former job, dealt with the Department on packrat cases and gas leaks in major buildings. The one thing that bothered me several years ago was to see a fighter who came to an apartment building from a fire. He had wear holes in his safety coat, and he said he was not due for a reissuance. I hope that has improved.


No Service Complaints Here
Malcolm L Wiseman, Jr., Washington Free DC!,

I have lived in north Petworth for over twenty years. I cannot remember a single time when a trash pickup in my block didn’t happen on schedule. Also, I have never waited more than, say, forty-five minutes at any Department of Motor Vehicles station for renewals, inspections, etc.

This morning at 7:30, after rain emergencies galore, the DC bulk refuse pickup service arrived and hauled away two large appliances by appointment, on schedule. They have changed from picking up in the alley to requiring one to put the stuff out front. No big deal for me. How much would I have to pay a light hauling guy to do the same? I yelled “thank you” from my window, and they replied, “you’re welcome, sir!” Perhaps I’m blessed!

How many thousands of times do city services occur on time as expected? How many thousands of people are there here in the colony who are happy overall with city services, yet don’t have the time or the computer to tell DCWatch? How many thousands of rights are denied us colonists each day without much complaint at all? Yet, some of us whine endlessly on DCWatch about “potholes” and such.


What Works Well
Tolu Tolu,

Here is what works well in DC: any situation where the DC government can extort more money from its already overburdened residents. We certainly are not receiving what we are over paying for, from the schools to the lousy and corrupt permit office. But that’s our fault.


What DC Government Does (Mostly) Right
Mark Eckenwiler, themale at ingot dot org

In the last issue (June 25), Petra Weinakht complained that she smelled something fishy: the alleged absence of a certain DC bigwig’s house from the Tax and Revenue real property database on the web. Actually, as I confirmed in about ten seconds, the property is listed, and is currently assessed at $2.9 million (in 2007, rising to $3.3 million). The owner isn’t even claiming the homestead deduction, and — as you can see under “View Payments” — is paying his real property taxes promptly and in full based on the current assessment. (Most recent payment: $13,500 in March.)

In truth, OTR’s migration of real property ownership, assessment, and tax payment data onto the web over the past seven years is one place where DC government has made impressive progress. This isn’t to say that the database is perfect. For some bizarre reason, the web server unnecessarily uses secure HTTP (https) — an encryption mechanism designed to protect confidential data -- even though these are public records. The server also requires that you have cookies enabled, although there’s no earthly reason for this to be so. And the database, like many databases, includes records that contain typos and/or are input using varying formats.

I suspect Ms. Weinakht typed the full address, “3006 Albemarle St., NW.” Since the quadrant (NW) is missing from the record, she found no match. Here are two tips for using the database more effectively: 1) don’t enter the full address. The search engine automatically does wildcard matching, so it’s sufficient to type, say, “3006 Alb,” which is how I pulled up the record in question. 2) When searching by square/lot, you must use 4-digit numbers with leading zeroes, e.g., “2042 0811” (= 3006 Albemarle).


Response to Petra Weinakht
Natalie Wilson, Office of Tax and Revenue,

Your recent E-mail to themail titled “Mysteries of the CFO’s Assessment Database” [themail, June 25] is incorrect. The assessment of the property in question is, and can be found, on our online database. If you have additional questions, please feel free to contact me at 442-8072.


Reply to “Mysteries of the CFO’s Assessment Database”
Matthew Gilmore,

Not a really mysterious problem, just a data issue. The address in the database doesn’t have the "NW." Leave out the NW and you’ll find it.


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