I'm in a good mood tonight, so I have nothing to complain about. I don't feel guilty about it, because the messages in this issue from several thoughtful contributors more than compensate for what I may have had to say.
Thanks to the several readers who commented favorably about the introduction to the last issue, and special thanks to the former reader who let me know that he unsubscribed because of it.
DC Voter's Guide — Not
Ron Leve, Dupont Circle, firstname.lastname@example.org
Why is it that a government that can send fluff to all its constituents cannot mail a Voter's Guide for the Presidential Primary to registered members of each of the three parties? I received a postcard giving a variety of options to obtain the booklet; not much more effort would have been required to mail the guide itself.
Zipcar Still Getting Lots of Free Parking
Steve Seelig, Chevy Chase, DC, email@example.com
I've written before about Zipcar's and Flexcar's getting free parking spaces from DDOT (eighty-six of them!) and DDOT has just released a Notice of Program Evaluation published in the DC Register on January 4. The report is interesting reading that includes a discussion of antitrust issues (Zipcar and Flexcar just merged), economics (will two separate companies be more or less likely to pass on fees to customers), and line drawing for what fees are and are not appropriate for passing through to companies (lost revenue from parking meters, yes; costs to paint stripes and install parking poles, no). You can read the report here on page 0101
and submit your comments to Anna McLaughlin of DDOT firstname.lastname@example.org by January 31.
On the positive side, DDOT is to be congratulated for finally recognizing that Zipcar is a for-profit corporation (albeit one helping to reduce automobile congestion in DC) that is in business to make money. Zipcar is not a fledgling, startup corporation. The newly combined Zipcar/Flexcar is backed by the extremely deep pockets of AOL founder Steve Case, whose express goal for the company is to create a deep enough of a footprint in major urban areas to sell shares to the public market:
“‘We just wanted to rapidly expand in new markets and rapidly expand the fleets,' said Case, whose Revolution LLC bought Flexcar in 2005.
‘They're both in turbo-growth mode. We think the companies combined will be on a path to profitability in the next year or so, and with rapid and significant expansion will be
ready’ for an initial public offering of stock.” (“Zipcar and Flexcar Driven
Together,” Washington Post, Wednesday, October 31, 2007, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/30/AR2007103002221.html.
On the not-so-positive side, DDOT only wants to charge a fee on a going forward basis, but only for the annual foregone parking meter fees for all eighty-six spaces at $1,782 per space, or $153,252 for the upcoming year. However, DDOT proposes no attempt to seek recompense for the $150,000 the city paid for the program during the demonstration period. This is simply a giveaway by DDOT to Zipcar that needs to be recouped. DDOT should have been charging fees to Zipcar and Flexcar all along, especially when there were competing companies who would have been less likely to pass the fees on to consumers. Because of the desire to go public, I do agree Zipcar would be unlikely to pass these fees on to consumers until that time, but I have real concerns they will up their fees after they go public, when they must answer to shareholders. DDOT should receive a commitment from Zipcar to not raise its fees to customers for a period of two years after its IPO. And it should recoup its $150,000 in prior fees. Also, it is not at all made clear who picks up the tab for the creation of new spaces in the future. It does not appear DDOT will be charging Zipcar for this service. DDOT should receive full reimbursement of the cost for creating new spaces.
Clearly, DDOT and the city have an opportunity to negotiate with a very willing buyer to permit them to continue to have on-street parking in DC. Zipcar is a captive audience and has a clear business interest in making sure it has visible, on-street parking throughout the city. Off-street parking is important for them, but it in nowhere near as significant in terms of advertising and convenience for many users. Footprint is vital to their business case in going public. Certainly, there are other things Zipcar can do for the city rather than a cash payment. It can create secure bicycle parking near each Zipcar space so bikes can be locked while folks use their cars. This is currently being done in Portland, OR. It can contribute to the painting and designation of more biking lanes in the city. It can develop a discount or free membership system to some of our less fortunate citizens who may need transportation to buy groceries or clothing. The list of city-friendly things they could do is endless.
DC Weird News
Gabe Goldberg, gabe at gabegold dot com
[From today's “News of the Weird” mailing]: “In December, as the director of the District of Columbia's Youth Rehabilitation Services spoke before the city council on the successes of his special unit tracking down escapees, one on-the-run youth watched from the audience a few feet away, unknown to the director, according to a
Washington Post report. (Another nineteen year old ran away in September and was unaccounted for because a female YRS officer, unknown to her superiors, had subsequently married him and was keeping him at their home, according to the
Post.)” [Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/14/AR2007121401518.html,
Developing See Forever
Gina Arlotto, Save Our Schools, email@example.com
This weekend brings news that the See Forever Foundation (in partnership with UniDev LLC) is one of three firms that have officially submitted bids for the Tenley/Janney development project. For those who don't know, the See Forever Foundation is the nonprofit organization that runs the Maya Angelou Charter School empire here in DC. Despite their protestations last year that they had no desire to expand continually, Maya Angelou now has four campuses: their flagship is located in the Shaw neighborhood, there is one in Evans Jr. High, one in Fletcher-Johnson (a former DCPS with four hundred students, closed last year for under-enrollment) where they use one wing on one floor for about seventy-five students (according to their own web site), and they have recently been given Oak Hill to run. Their founder, James Forman, Jr., (yes the son of that James Forman) has yet to prove himself in the education realm. Regardless of such educational innovations as paying their students a stipend of around $1200 per year to attend school, not a single Maya Angelou campus has yet to make Adequate Yearly Progress [as defined by the No Child Left Behind Act], and, in fact, they have some of the lowest test scores in the city. But I digress.
So what is an educational organization doing submitting a bid for a major development project? The See Forever Foundation, like many other DC charter foundations, is simply making use of a financial sleight-of-hand tool as described in
The Finance Gap; Charter Schools and their Facilities (Ascher, January 2004):
“A number of charter schools we interviewed created their own nonprofit 'holding company' that own their buildings and then lease them back to the schools. As a separate 501(c)(3), the holding company can exist beyond the life of the charter and so has access to better financial options than a school with a charter of only three to five years might have. In addition, this strategy allows ownership to remain in the hands of the holding company without returning to the public school system in the event the charter school
The line where the public charter school begins and the real estate developer ends was already blurred, since so many charter schools have foundations and boards that are heavily populated with real estate developers. But now See Forever has taken it to a new level, and I expect many more DC charter foundations to follow their lead. For a business, which all charter schools are, what's not to love about twenty-three DCPS properties coming on line for development proposals as soon as the end of this school year? Of course, I am sure that the charter foundations will invoke their congressionally-mandated 25 percent discount for purchase or long term lease, or maybe the 15 percent rent discount plus credits for improvements. Let's put a charter school on one floor and condos above! Yeah, I can See Forever, and it doesn't look good.
Much has been said about the April 6 deadline. Many have said that it is the right thing to do. However, citizens will soon see "where the rubber hits the road" and how incomplete the plan and its implementation are. In talking with a Certified Public Vehicle Operator, I've found that the following questions have yet to be answered by [Taxicab Commission Chairman] Swain or by Fenty's staff: 1) is this announcement a proposal or has final legislation been drafted or approved? If so, Are copies available for review? 2) Has any funding mechanism been developed for the installation of meters? 3) When are the perspective vendors going to be announced or published?
4) A noncompliance fine of $1,000 will be assessed after April 6., but there will not be a full meeting of the Taxicab Commission until March 12. How will the drivers be notified of vendors and funding, to avoid receiving a notice of infraction? Are the drivers supposed to rely on the media for their interpretation of the law? Will DCTC send notices to all licenses public service vehicle operators prior to that date? 5) Was all of this a smoke screen? 6) Has the council's Committee of the Whole voted on this issue? 7) Are the bills introduced by Councilmembers Barry and Mendelson moot? 8. What, if any, part will the DCTC Task Force play in recommendations? 9) Why is the share riding provision only for Union Station? There are other transportation centers, like the bus station and airport, that are not included. 9) Why were these locations not considered for the change if this change was for fairness? 10) How were the over one thousand comments addressed by the commissioners, since the full commission meeting of January 9, was spent voting on the minutes from May 2007, June 2007, July 2007, September 2007, November 2007, and December 2007? Chairman Swain told the attendees and the commissioners present that,
“He would collect all of the comments and would make copies for the commissioners to discuss prior to his final recommendation or
One final comment. The entire process of announcing the that meter implementation would begin on April 6 took place only four working days from the DCTC meeting on January 9. Adding more insult, not all of the commissioners were present for the meeting, and those who were present did not stay for the entire meeting. Once again, is this another smoke screen by the Fenty administration?
“I [Fenty] made the decision, you guys [DCTC] figure out how to make it
Asking the Wrong Question about Economic Development
Richard Layman, firstname.lastname@example.org
Too often government programs and actions are rash responses to actions or proposals rather than a proactive decision made in terms of overarching priorities and commitments. The McFarlane Group is so great at playing off the various jurisdictions with regard to a stadium. See
“Pro soccer stadium may come to county” [http://www.gazette.net/stories/012408/prinnew185724_32385.shtml]
and from the Gazette and “Md. Weighs Stadium for D.C. United: Study Will Gauge Pr. George's
from the Post.
It's but another classic example of the Growth Machine [http://www.nw-ar.com/face/molotch.html]
at work. As I say time and time again, if you haven't read that classic article by Harvey Molotch, or the book,
Urban Fortunes, based on this work, you're going to get your clock cleaned time and time again, if you are a community-oriented representative dealing with developers.
So Vincent Gray, Chair of the DC city council, is looking at how to keep DC United in DC. From the article:
“The step concerned Vincent C. Gray, chairman of the DC Council, who noted the team's success and potential for financial growth.
‘I continue to believe that we should work with DC United to construct the stadium in Poplar
Point,’ Gray (D) said.” The real question is what is the best way to build a local economy in DC proper. It is not
“how do we keep DC United in DC?” First, you determine what is the best way to revitalize Anacostia and what to do at Poplar Point. Second, you determine how much you are willing to spend to do this and why. The earlier DC United proposal called for about $300 million in infrastructure improvements. That's a lot of money. What's most important is figuring out the best return on investment on $300 million in public investment in incentives and infrastructure.
If a soccer-based development is the way to do that (which I seriously doubt), then go ahead. If not, make the hard choice, be a leader, and tell them to go to PG County. Note that the impact of the Redskins in PG County would be minimal if there weren't a local tax on concessions and ticket sales. According to the
Post article, PG County nets $10 million in Redskins-related economic benefit, but 80 percent comes from the additional tax on concessions and tickets. Even $10 million annually might not be an adequate return on investment in terms of what was expended by the State of Maryland and the County to land this facility. Soccer has fewer patrons and the tickets cost a lot less compared to football. Likely the average additional spending per patron is much less too. They do play more games. But just doing a back of the envelope calculation, it's likely that the economic impact of soccer in DC is less than $5 million/annually. If you are looking for a 10 percent return on your money, that means it isn't worth much more than $50 million in public incentives to spend on keeping DC United in DC. And that is dependent on assessing taxes on tickets and concessions. Likely most of the players and team officials don't live in DC, meaning that the city won't collect additional income and property tax revenues from the employees. I don't know how much the team pays in business taxes but it isn't likely to be much.
What's the Big Hurry?
Ed T Barron, edtb1@macdotcom
The Fenty administration is talking about trying to lure the Maryland Redskins back to Washington by offering to build a brand new stadium at the RFK Stadium site. We are still spending money on the more than $600 million baseball stadium in southeast DC. What's the big hurry? We don't have any clue, yet, as to whether the baseball stadium will be a cost effective investment and really won't know that for several years. The Redskins are not going anywhere else and we should wait until the returns are in on the new Nationals' Stadium and environs before we spend another chunk of the
DPR: Barking up the Wrong Tree
Jonetta Rose Barras, Rosebook1@aol.com
For decades, the city has required dogs on leashes — at all times and in all locations. Even on leashes, dogs aren't permitted on athletic fields, in gardens, and on playgrounds. In 2005, the DC council, at the urging of Ward 1's Jim Graham, passed The Dog Park Establishment Amendment Act, ordering the Department of Parks and Recreation to establish
“off-leash dog-exercise areas on government-owned land.” Before the agency could implement the bill and promulgate regulations, some dog owners began commandeering parklands. The Department of Parks and Recreation simply watched, acquiescing to pressure from select constituencies and politicians.
E-mail correspondence obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and interviews with key officials cast the DPR's efforts to implement the dog park law as ineffective and inefficient, marked by palpable incompetence and political interference. Its actions surrounding implementation of the dog park law confused both proponents and opponents; exacerbated divisions in neighborhoods like Kalorama, Chevy Chase and McLean Gardens; and squandered valuable public resources, seeding and reseeding parks and replacing vandalized or stolen signage warning that dogs are prohibited from playing fields, gardens, and playgrounds. Additionally, as the agency looked for space to locate dog exercise areas, it declined a credible offer made via E-mail on June 26, 2007, by Paul Grandpierre to donate land in Columbia Heights for the effort. The failure to seize this opportunity is tangible evidence of the lack of imaginative/creative management and problem solving at the agency. That deficit remains apparent. This is Part 4 in a series on the management of DPR. Read the full article at
Cell Phones and Driving: The Law, Not Opinion
James Treworgy, email@example.com
I am not sure what makes Mr. Levine an expert on the subject [themail, January 23], but, as I noted in my original post, the text of the law specifically refers to moving motor vehicles. If you would care to review the text yourself it is available here:
“(a) No person shall use a mobile telephone or other electronic device while operating a moving motor vehicle in the District of Columbia unless the telephone or device is equipped with a hands-free
I am not sure what Mr. Levine's vehicle is doing while at a red light, but mine is not moving.
While Gary did a nice job at marking out the issues, some of
“Fenty's Solution” [themail, January 23] are conjecture at best, even in a satirical sense. To imply that Fenty cares more about DINKs (double income no kids) is one thing. To say he is trying to use a divide-and-conquer strategy is another. For Fenty to do that would imply that he could actually plan a conspiracy. If he has trouble planning school meetings and is reactionary and secretive at best, how could he plan such a divide-and-conquer strategy? The unfortunate part about politicians and specifically Fenty is that the populace believes everything that they say. The populace doesn't take under consideration that neither Janey, nor Rhee, nor Reinoso, nor Fenty has a magic wand to conjure up a good school system. Most just believed and accepted his notions or visions on how the schools can be. I am a product of DCPS. I'm proud of that accomplishment and have defended it vehemently against people in Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, and other places. Still, when I read this satire and know that Fenty's sons aren't in DCPS, it continues to give a black eye to the system. This message is for Gary, Fenty, and all others . . . don't just talk reform, be about it!
CLASSIFIEDS — EVENTS
Ward 5 Democrats, January 28
Hazel B. Thomas, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Ward 5 Democrats January 2008 meeting originally scheduled for January 21 will be held on Monday, January 28, 7:00-9:00 p.m., at Michigan Park Christian Church, Taylor Street at South Dakota Avenue, NE. After the business meeting, we shall have the Ward 5 Democrats presidential candidate representatives debate and straw poll. Volunteers are needed for the 2008 preprimary delegate selection caucus, to be held at McKinley Technical High School, 151 T Street, NE, on Saturday, January 19, 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Voting Rights Activists Take Message to Montana, January 28-February 1
Kevin Kiger, email@example.com
DC Vote is beginning a public awareness campaign to spread the message of DC's disenfranchisement to the states, starting with a trip to Missoula, Butte, and Pablo in western Montana. Staff will travel to several states where Senate members are blocking an up or down vote on the DC Voting Rights Act (S. 1257) in order to educate constituents about the bill, reach out to media, and engage potential supporters to strengthen DC Vote's national coalition. The trip will be from January 28-February 1, and will be to Missoula and Pablo (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes), and to Butte, Montana.
Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library Meeting, January 30
Martha Saccocio, firstname.lastname@example.org
Please join DC Public Library staff, your neighbors and the firm of Brody, Davis, Bond Aedas for the third in a series of community meetings to discuss the design of the future Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library on Wednesday, January 30, at 6:30 p.m. at the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Interim Library, 945 Rhode Island Avenue, NW. For more information, please visit the DC Public Library web site,
http://www.dclibrary.org (click on the Improving DCPL box). If you are unable to attend this meeting, you may submit a feedback form electronically to
World Premiere of Chocolate City, January 31, February 10
Jim McGrath, email@example.com
We cordially invite all to the world premiere of Chocolate City, a film showcasing the plight of tenants in the nation's capital, Washington, DC. It was directed and filmed by London producer Sam Wild and co-producer Ellie Walton, known for their productions on the problems of the urban poor throughout the world. In the film, the removal of tenants of the Arthur Capper public housing project and the demolition of their homes for high-income condominiums is highlighted, symbolizing the affordable housing crisis faced by low- and middle-income people in the District of Columbia, as well as nationally, as urban-centered living has become fashionable throughout the world, never mind its terrible displacement consequences for poor and low-income people.
The film stars the actual cast of this drama: the aged, the poor, and the parents and their children uprooted from Arthur Capper by developers. The filmmakers also interviewed affordable housing and tenant advocates involved in the ongoing struggle in Washington, DC, including TENAC Chairman Jim McGrath, Linda Leaks of Empower DC, and several others. You are invited to join the audience at one of the following venues: January 31, evening screening (time to be announced), Continental Ballroom, Marvin Center, George Washington University, 2121 I Street,; February 10, 4 p.m., Our City Film Festival, Busboys and Poets, 2021 14th Street, NW.
Hearing on the Child Fatality Review Committee's Recommendations, February 7
Susie Cambria, Scambria@dckids.org
We hope that many of you will testify at the joint Judiciary/Human Services city council hearing on February 7. The purpose of the hearing is to review the recommendations on the Child Fatality Review Committee, particularly as they relate to child welfare. At the recent Human Services Committee roundtable on the deaths of the Jacks and Fogle children, many in the advocacy community — including the Foster and Adoptive Parent Advocacy Center, the Children's Law Center, Mary's Center, and DC ACT — spoke about next steps for the community in protecting the welfare of vulnerable children. This hearing may give us another chance to influence the city's agenda.
Beth Jamieson, senior policy analyst here at DC ACT, will be taking the lead on this hearing for us. Should you want to check in with her about the issues, preparing your testimony, etc., please E-mail her at
themail@dcwatch is an E-mail discussion forum that is published every Wednesday and Sunday. To change the E-mail address for your subscription to themail, use the Update Profile/Email address link below in the E-mail edition. To unsubscribe, use the Safe Unsubscribe link in the E-mail edition. An archive of all past issues is available at
All postings should be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org,
and should be about life, government, or politics in the District of Columbia in one way or another. All postings must be signed in order to be printed, and messages should be reasonably short
— one or two brief paragraphs would be ideal — so that as many messages as possible can be put into each mailing.