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April 30, 2008

Recycling Comments

Dear Recyclers:

In the last issue of themail, I wrote about the chaotic recycling event for “hazardous” waste that the Department of Public Works held last weekend at Carter Barron Amphitheater. One reader wrote that he was sure that I had exaggerated the problem, since he had attended previous events, and they had been well organized with no problems. A while later, he had an Emily Litella “nevermind” moment. He wrote again, and said that he had read the article in the Washington Post, and now realized that I hadn’t made the whole thing up, as he thought I had.

Aside from the unfortunate assumption that items in the Post could actually be more accurate and reliable than messages in themail (and I have no idea how a regular reader of themail could be under that misapprehension), the exchange was useful, because it prompted me to list more clearly what I thought the problems with the recycling event were: “1) holding ‘hazardous waste’ recycling events only twice a year, without convenient alternatives; 2) designing an event that could handle only a low volume of recyclers; 3) not having the ability to respond flexibly when more people showed up than they expected; and 4) not responding promptly after the event with a plan (or even a promise to get a plan) to do better in the future. Predicting accurately how many people will show up to an event is one of the skills an event planner should have, but mistakes can and will always be made when attempting to predict the future, so I’m not counting that as something for which I would blame DPW.”

I’m pleased, or at least semi-pleased, to find that the fourth mistake that I listed has been corrected. Tom Sherwood writes in his column today (, “NBC4 reported this week that the Fenty administration has regrouped and was planning to announce a ‘makeup’ session for this Saturday. And it’s going even further. City Administrator Dan Tangherlini told NBC4 that the city is looking at establishing a weekly drop-off site or similar effort to make recycling more of a routine event, rather than a semiannual haul-a-thon.” In her message below, Nancee Lorn has the details of this Saturday’s event and news that DPW will begin regular Saturday drop-offs starting on May 17.

The reason that I’m only semi-pleased is that DPW is late in getting the word out about this Saturday’s event, and the recycling event that is currently listed on the DPW web site is still last Saturday’s. Lyn Stoesen points out, below, that the reason so many people came to last weekend’s recycling event was that DPW actually publicized it well in advance, and that past events have been poorly advertised. Still, believe it or not, I want the administration to do the right thing; I don’t want them to mess up just so I can complain. This is one of the few times that I can say that the Fenty administration has done the right thing, even though it was the same thing I recommended, so it would be churlish not to commend them for it.

Gary Imhoff


DC Homeowners Being Robbed by DCRA Vacant Property Office
Robert Stillwell,

I am writing because I have become completely dissatisfied by the DCRA’s Vacant Property Office. On November 28, 2007, my wife and I bought our first home. We purchased a house that was in foreclosure and immediately moved in. We were excited. We started saving some money so that we could replace the windows, paint, and slowly renovate our new house while we lived there. It wasn’t easy; the mortgage payment is quite high as DC real estate is expensive; but we budgeted things out and found that we could replace our windows by early summer. That dream dies tomorrow.

Sometime after our purchase of the property DCRA reclassified it as vacant. I’m not sure how they came to that decision. We had moved in, painted, the utilities were on, we had an installer come in and hook up satellite television, we purchased some furniture, dug up and replanted grass and flowers in our front lawn, and came home everyday to a full mailbox. Then a friend told us that we should take a moment and pull up our house on DC’s web site. It was tax season and we weren’t worried about real estate taxes because our mortgage company was set up to pay them on our behalf. We had filled out the homestead exemption forms at closing and told that our taxes would be just under $4,000 a year. The total taxes for 2007 were $3,841.54, and we had paid our portion of that amount at closing. Weren’t we surprised when the first half 2008 taxes were reported as being almost $12,000! Furthermore, the owner of the home was still listed as still being owned by SV1 INC. (the company from which we purchased the property) and the tax class was 003 - Vacant ***Not receiving the Homestead Deduction. That was on April 8.

I had not received notice of this change. Nobody knocked on my door, nobody sent me a letter, nobody talked to my neighbors, nobody even sent me a tax bill. I called up the DC Office of Tax and Revenue and they were able to locate us as the owners on one database and noted that the database driving the online application needed to be revised. They stated that they were unable to change the tax amount until DCRA changed the tax class. On April 9, I found out that my mortgage company had paid $11,808.40 to the DC Office of Tax and Revenue on our behalf for real estate taxes. On April 10, I went to the DCRA Vacant Property Office and submitted an application to change the vacant status of our house. The application was brief and we included a copy of our deed, electric and water bills that show usage from the time of our purchase, and a satellite television bill started in December 2007 (because nobody pays $100 a month for cable  for a house nobody lives in). I handed my application in and kept a copy of the application for myself. The DCRA employee that I handed my application to said that it would take about a week for this to be resolved. 

Since April 10, I have made a number of phone calls into DCRA’s Vacant Property Office. My phone shows thirteen calls placed to their number since April 16, although some of these only made it to an answering machine. Every time I asked about the status of my application I was told that they had not yet received it in the approved pile, nor had it been placed on the rejection list. I became anxious that they had lost it, and when I asked about that I was told that the investigator was not in and that it was likely on his desk. On April 28, my wife received a new mortgage booklet showing that our monthly mortgage had increased by $2,000 a month, reflecting the exorbitant amount that had been paid on our behalf and our negative escrow balance. That bill is due by May 3.

On April 29, I called the DCRA Vacant Property Office to see if my application had been processed. Finally somebody was able to locate my application. I was told that my application could not be processed because it lacked the appropriate utility bills for August 2007. I said that we had not purchased the property until November 2007. I was told that I would have to supply a copy of the deed if that was the case. I said that they should already have a copy of the deed. After some paper rustling and a minute or two I was told that they did, in fact, have a copy of our deed. I then asked when it would be processed and was told “not today.” Why not? Because DCRA currently has only one inspector processing these applications, and he has “hundreds” of applications on his desk right now. I asked if mine could be expedited because I could not easily afford the extra $2,000 a month for the mortgage. The response I received was entirely unacceptable, “most people have been paying their usual amount until this is resolved.” My wife and I had spent two years cleaning up our credit so that we could purchase a home. We had spent a ton of time and money to resolve issues in the past, mostly accrued from our college years. Not paying our mortgage and having that reflect on our credit is not an option for us, and DCRA should not be asking homeowners to ruin their credit due to DCRA’s mistake. Furthermore, the worst case scenario of not paying the full mortgage amount can lead to foreclosure. I don’t want to ruin my credit and my wife’s credit, and we definitely don’t want to lose the home that we work so hard to get and to keep. The mortgage company paid out almost $10,000 more than they should have on our behalf, they deserve reimbursement and if DC will not give it to them, we are required to.

Today is April 30. When you check the DC web site, our home is still listed as being owned by SV1 INC. We are still listed as tax class 003 - Vacant. We are not receiving the homestead exemption. We cannot buy new windows because the extra $2,000 being paid for this month’s mortgage does not leave enough in savings to purchase them. Our current windows do not open because they did not close when we moved in over the winter and I had to seal them with caulk in order to save our heating bill. Maybe if this is resolved soon we will not have to pay into our real estate tax escrow for the rest of the year, and maybe some of next year, but it will take us several more months before we can get our new windows, so much for our AC bill.

I’m sending this letter to several persons associated with DCRA and the DC council because I would like to see the system fixed. I agree with the purpose of the Vacant Property Tax; it helps lower the number of abandoned homes in the area. But it is being badly enforced I believe that in buying our house we have been doing exactly what the Vacant Property Tax set out to do, turn vacant property into occupied property. We are not the only persons in the District facing this problem. When I went into WASA to get a copy of my previous water bill on April 10, I was told that a steady stream of people with the same problem as my wife and I had been coming in for the past few weeks. I know people who have renovated dilapidated buildings and are unable to sell because they have to have the vacant property tax resolved first. Residents listening to the advise of the DCRA and not paying their full mortgage are ruining their credit; many will not find this out until they try to buy a car or refinance their home. Others that are already paying everything they can to stay out of foreclosure may be pushed over that line. Some may lose their homes due to this mistake. Others don’t know what to do, or how to do something about this. Please fix the mistake and fix the system. Please get another investigator working on this caseload. Please don’t make me pay $2,000 more next month.


Metro and Nationals Park
Ted Gest,

While I’m on Metro topics (Dan Tangherlini still was the interim general manager on a poster as of Monday), one other one: what have other list members’ experiences been leaving Nationals Park via Metro at the end of a game (as opposed to during a game)? We did this on Sunday, April 27, and it was not a smooth experience.

Large crowds had to wait on Half Street for ten to fifteen minutes before being admitted to the station (it was about to rain, which could have been a disaster). Once in the station, it wasn’t clear whether or when any trains would be going north beyond Mt. Vernon Square. (We were told, incorrectly, the “next train.”) It was not clear to us why Metro was running most trains only to Mt. Vernon Square, not the entire Green Line, forcing people to change trains to go beyond that stop. Bottom line was that it took us well over an hour to get home in upper northwest DC.). We can get to Camden Yards in Baltimore in less than an hour. Was this experience typical?


Hazardous Waste Rush on Services
Lyn Stoesen, Park View,

Thankfully I got rid of my hazardous waste last fall at Benning Road, so I didn’t have to experience the crush and madness of last weekend’s Hazardous Waste Disposal Day at Carter Barron.

There are many reasons for the chaos that ensued, but I think the underlying cause was the fact that the District actually let citizens know about the event more than a few days before it took place. Previous Hazardous Waste Disposal Days have been poorly advertised and people haven’t been able to plan ahead for them.

Clearly our fine citizens have been hoarding their hazardous waste in anticipation of the big day. I hope the District follows through on promises to expand hazardous waste disposal opportunities.


A Better Way
Ed T Barron, edtb1@macdotcom

Though not related to Carter I, too, visited the hazardous waste collection site on 16th St. last Saturday. I arrived at 8:20 a.m., and was about one hundred fiftieth on a long line of cars inside the park grounds. By 9:10, I was on my way out the exit. That was a bit of a problem, since traffic was already backed way up on the south side of Cater Barron Park entrance. Getting on to 16th Street heading north was a real challenge. By that time the line on 16th Street was backed up solid way past Military Road, where I exited to get back to Tenleytown.

The Post called the event disorganized (implying that it was organized at one point). In fact, there was some semblance of organization, once the lines started moving at 9:00 a.m. The problem is that DC residents, newly conscious of the need to recycle, simply overwhelmed the collection facility. The solution that I propose is to have at least four collection dates annually and to have four collection sites, with one in each of the four quadrants of the city: northwest, northeast, southwest, and southeast.


Hazardous Waste
Qawi Robinson,

I agree that it would have been good if Fenty did make a photo op at Carter Barron, especially during Earth Week. He is visible (sometimes ad nauseum) at other functions, but his presence this time would have served as an endorsement for clean living in DC. This is not meant to criticize, however. Even something small like recycling Blackberry batteries could have been a good gesture. In terms of the hazardous waste collection, several years ago, they had a collection at the trash transfer station on Benning Road. With the hours mostly the same as those at Carter Barron, there were indeed lines, but the collection was efficient and relatively well run. DPW staff and other volunteers were out in force directing traffic and getting items (old TVs, computers, etc.) out fairly quickly. I don’t know if this is in the plans for the future, but doing something like this at Benning Road does two things: 1) the processing and transferring of the items is done in a space designed to accommodate it; meaning that you are not inconveniencing park grounds and small lanes of traffic. 2) You get to see true effect of environmental waste. The Benning Road trash transfer station is adjacent to the Anacostia River in all its recovering putridness. Every oil leak, overfertilized lawn, etc., has the potential to make it’s way to the Anacostia. In other words, the hazardous waste (paint, oil, other chemicals) that you donate won’t make it to DC’s waterways. 3) It brings the residents of the Gold Coast and folks from other economically affluent areas to a much-neglected part of the city. This reason isn’t ecological, but socially environmental in a sense.

I say this because oftentimes I read about the activism for Ward 3, Spring Valley, Tenleytown Library, Massachusetts Avenue, etc., especially in themail. However, there is another DC (using John Edwards’ “Two Americas” metaphor) where circumstances are close to dire, yet the economic conditions and activism have not reached a level of pathos for others across the city. When 16th Street is a bottleneck on an otherwise wonderful day is a problem, try dealing with the several bottlenecks on Benning Road, Florida Avenue, and H Street, NE, on a daily basis. Benning Road in particular hasn’t fully recovered from the redirection of traffic last summer to support the renovations of the Frederick Douglass Bridge, and now sports two construction projects. The condo and housing boom downtown is almost nonexistent in Ward 7, with exception of Capitol Gateway off of East Capitol Street. The Tenleytown-Friendship Library is sacred ground, but so are others. Where were the collective cries when Watha T. Daniel-Shaw or Benning Library got demolished? Again, this is no criticism, but I am reminded of a quote attributed to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”


Don’t Rebuild Klingle Road
Tony Bullock, Ward 3,

Jack McKay makes a lot of sense [themail, April 27] when he points out that the growing number of retail opportunities in Columbia Heights, Logan Circle, U Street, and other communities east of the park make the need for reopening the unopened portion of Klingle Road far less compelling than might have been the case a decade ago.

Also compelling is the fact that reopening this road now will cost nearly twelve million dollars, three times the original estimate, and more than twenty million dollars with interest. And the price tag is likely to rise as the costs of concrete, steel., and heavy equipment in the DC area continue to reach new heights. This is a road that should never have been built where it was built. That is why it has fallen apart. The steep slopes, curves, and poor lighting made it a dangerous road to travel when it was open. Steady movements of underground water and surface water runoff go under and over what’s left of this abandoned portion of Klingle Road. ANC Commissioner Frank Winstead has documented this with a dozen photographs — see his link

There are a dozen other existing ways to cross the park. You can go east or west, north or south. This project would cost more per mile than Boston’s Big Dig — and it would probably take longer to build it. DC’s limited highway funding should be spent on real priorities. It is encouraging to see that a majority of the council is now prepared to abandon this foolhardy project before more taxpayers’ money is wasted on a road that nobody needs.



DC WASA Public Hearing on Lead Service Replacement Program, May 1
Michele Quander-Collins,

The District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DC WASA) will conduct a formal public hearing to receive comments on its review of the Lead Service Replacement (LSR) program. Thursday, May 1, 6:30-8:30 p.m., at The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, 777 North Capitol Street, NE, First Floor Training Center. DC WASA Board members (District representatives), DC WASA personnel, Washington Aqueduct representatives, George Washington University public health advisors, and US Environmental Protection Administration Region III officials will be present.

The DC WASA Board is reviewing options to continue or modify its accelerated Lead Service Replacement (LSR) program. The goal of the current program is to remove all 35,000 known public lead water service lines in the District by 2016 at a cost of more than $400 million. The service line is the pipe that brings water from the main in the street to the home. So far, DC WASA has removed more than 15,000 lines in public space.

In response to elevated lead levels found in tap water at many District homes in 2003 DC WASA began an aggressive LSR program. For the last three years, following a change in water chemistry, the District’s tap water has met federal limits for lead and is in compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act regulations. As a part of its biennial program review, the Board is considering whether to modify the current pace of the program. Oral presentations by individuals will be limited to five minutes. Oral presentations by representatives of an organization are limited to ten minutes.


Additional Hazardous Household Recycling Event, May 3
Nancee Lorn,

The DC Department of Public Works will conduct an additional household hazardous waste/E-cycling collection event to accommodate District residents who did not get a chance to participate in last Saturday’s semiannual event. “Last week’s event attracted more than twice the number of people who came last year,” said DPW Director William O. Howland, Jr. “Not everyone could stay until their turn to unload their toxic items and unwanted electronic goods, so we are offering this additional collection event to apologize to residents and express our appreciation for their commitment to protecting the environment.”

The collection will be held on Saturday, May 3, 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., rain or shine, at RFK Stadium, Lot 7, 2400 East Capitol Street, SE. If driving west on East Capitol Street, stay in the right lane to reach the Lot 7 Entrance Gate. If driving east on East Capitol Street, make a left on 19th Street, then a right on C Street, and use the C Street entrance.

On May 17, DPW will provide weekly HHW/e-cycling collections for District residents on Saturdays at the Benning Road Trash Transfer Station, 3200 Benning Road, NE, 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Later this summer, Saturday HHW/e-cycling drop-offs will begin at the Ft. Totten Trash Transfer Station.


Kidsave Summer Miracle Information Session, May 3
Anne-Marie Bairstow, abairstow at alum dot swarthmore dot edu

On Saturday, May 3, at 1 p.m., Kidsave is holding an information session for families interested in hosting a child for the Summer Miracles program. This program brings orphaned children between six and fourteen years old from foreign countries to the USA to enjoy a summer with a family. They are currently seeking host families in the Metro DC area to host fifteen orphans from Colombia for five weeks this summer. The information session will be at the Kidsave offices at 5165 MacArthur Boulevard, NW.

For more information, visit or call the Kidsave office at 237-7283.


Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Station Open House, May 3
Jerry A. McCoy,

The Silver Spring Historical Society sponsors a free open house of the historic 1945 B&O Railroad Station, 8100 Georgia Avenue (at Sligo Avenue) in downtown Silver Spring, MD, on Saturday, May 3, 10:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.

Bring the young ones to play with our Thomas the Train set (they can also watch real trains go by outside)! Limited free parking is available in front of the station (please do not park next door at the fire station) with ample street parking and a parking garage available nearby. The railroad station is also an easy four block walk from the Silver Spring Metro station on the Red Line. Information 301-495-4915.


National Building Museum Events, May 4, 8
Jazmine Zick,

Sunday, May 4, 5:30-7:00 p.m., The Saarinen Legacy Remembered. Landscape architect Susan Saarinen, daughter of Eero Saarinen, and Mark Coir, director of the Cranbrook Archives, reflect on the lasting legacy of the Saarinen family. $12 Museum and Finlandia Foundation National Capitol Chapter Members; $12 Students; $20 Nonmembers. Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability.

Thursday, May 8, 12:00-1:30 p.m., Shigeru Ban: Paper Houses and the Architecture of Disaster Relief. Hear architect Shigeru Ban, Karen Van Lengen, dean of the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture, and architecture students from Japan’s Keio University and UVA discuss their experience creating relief shelters made entirely of paper. Presented in collaboration with the Meridian International Center. Free. Registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability.

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


Women’s International Religious Fellowship Dinner, May 16
Vivian Henderson,

The Women’s International Religious Fellowship will host an international dinner with entertainment, Friday May 16, 6:00-9:00 p.m., in the Fellowship Hall of Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, 4606 16th Street, NW. Come prepared to feast around the globe, enjoy international entertainment, and meet new people. $15 per person. Proceeds from the event support children’s charities of participating countries. For tickets/information call 582-5920 or 723-3420


Special Needs Kids Community Resource Fair, May 17
Kristin Moe,

Find free information on programs and services for special needs kids in DC on Saturday, May 17, 11 a.m.-3:00 p.m., at the Columbia Heights Community Center, 1480 Girard Street, NW. There will be free developmental screenings, on-site intake for the Child Care Subsidy Program, on-site child care referrals, and information about legal and social services and after school programs. For more information, call Empower DC at 234-9119.



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