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June 1, 2008


Dear Observers:

An important aspect of California’s voter initiative law has been publicized in two recent California court cases, on same-sex marriage and medical marijuana. Here’s how the California Second District Court of Appeals phrased it: “The Legislature nonetheless cannot amend an initiative, such as the CUA [Compassionate Use Act, legalizing the medicinal use of marijuana], unless the initiative grants the Legislature authority to do so. The CUA does not grant the Legislature the authority to amend it without voter approval.” (Citations omitted, In DC, the city council has made a regular practice of overturning voter initiatives, such as those supporting term limits on elected offices and limits on campaign contributions. This has discouraged the use of the initiative process, especially efforts to use it to reform the city government. In California, unless an initiative specifically authorizes the legislature to amend or overturn it, the legislature instead has to pass a bill that would submit any changes it wants to make to an initiative to the voters. So why don’t DC citizens draft and sponsor an initiative that amends the DC initiative law based on the California model, so that the city council can’t overturn or amend voter-passed legislation on its own authority, but has to submit any changes to the voters?

Thanks to Marc Borbely for sending a link to EdBizBuzz, a blog by Marc Dean Millot published by Education Week. Millot has recently written three items on Washington, DC, schools and Chancellor Michelle Rhee, and all three are well worth reading:,, and Millot is the editor of School Improvement Industry Markets Report, so you would expect him to support Fenty’s and Rhee’s initiatives. Well. . . . The quote that Borbely highlights comes from the last paragraph of Millot’s third article: “What this suggests is that the Chancellor considers herself above the law, above the community, and above accountability. This may be what’s required to establish a dictatorship, but it’s no way to turn around a school district, or create an institution that will survive her departure.”

It’s almost unanimous; nobody (except Jack Evans, Marion Barry, and Vincent Gray) wants to repeat the baseball stadium mistake so soon with a soccer stadium. Here’s The Washington Times: “No Stadium Boondoggle,” Even The Washington Post, a major cheerleader for enriching sports promoters at the expense of the public and small businesses, has its editorial doubts, although it leaves itself wiggle room to support the new giveaway later: “Field of Schemes: Why Are Backers of a DC Soccer Stadium So Concerned about Public Scrutiny?” Columnist Marc Fisher, who lost his balance to promote major league charity for poor struggling baseball promoters, has regained his senses to oppose the same kind of giveaway for soccer: “A Stadium Plan That Won’t Pay Off,” He even writes, “. . . the city has no business paying for such a facility or grabbing riverfront parkland to build it.” And Colbert King, of course, writes the must-not-miss column on the scheme: “Handouts and Hands Out,”

DC has a bad history of misspending and wasting federal Homeland Security money. Do you remember the five mountain bikes that the city bought with Homeland Security funds for Tony Williams and four of his staffers, so they could escape the city in case of an emergency? (Where are those bicycles, anyway?) Do you remember the leather jackets the city bought for police officers as a Homeland Security priority? Do you remember the embarrassing Sixty Minutes story on our profligacy? Now the administration is proceeding with its plan to tie together all the spy cams in the city by using mostly federal Homeland Security funds. Isn’t this a much bigger waste? Most of those cameras, the great majority, are in public schools. Now, there may be some weak argument for video surveillance within a school; if teachers and administrators are too afraid of the students to monitor the halls themselves, remote video coverage could tell an assistant principal which hallways the truants are in, assuming that he spends his time staring at the screens rather than dealing with students. But what possible excuse is there for monitoring video feeds of school hallways in a remote, central Homeland Security office? What good does that do anyone? Is the city government really arguing to Homeland Security that the biggest terrorist threat to the city comes from our students, and that it’s worth millions in federal security funds to find out if students are skipping classes and walking in school hallways?

Gary Imhoff


DDOE Accountability
Alma Gates,

Now that the dust has settled at Ft. Reno, the opportunity is ripe for the District to take a good look at this event, how it unfolded, and what measures will be put in place to ensure there isn’t another false alarm somewhere else in the city. This is a full disclosure opportunity for the District Department of the Environment. Its director, George Hawkins, and staff member, Richard Albright, need to inform the public of how the “discovery” of high levels of arsenic at Ft. Reno got released. Who authorized the secret taking of samples at Ft. Reno? Who authorized the release of the faulty findings? How did Harry Jaffe obtain an internal DDOE memo? Who is paying for this false alarm? These are questions of accountability that only DDOE can answer.


Budget Earmarks Revisited
Dorothy Brizill,

On Friday, the city council will hold a final reading and vote on the Budget Support Act (BSA) for fiscal year 2009, Bill 17-678. As I noted in previous postings in themail, this year’s budget process has shown how out of control the earmarking of funds has become. In recent years, the city’s elected leadership, both the mayor and the council, have developed a bad habit of earmarking funds, that is, of circumventing the normal contracting and review process to direct government funds to specific groups, businesses, or policy initiative. In most instances, the earmarked grant language in the BSA is very vague and not even in complete sentences, simply specifying a stated amount and the name of the recipient organization, with an address or other means of identification. The BSA seldom gives details about the use of the funds, or the specific projects that they are for.

Last week, Eric Goulet, the council’s Budget Director, prepared a chart listing the one-time earmarked grants contained in the BSA as of May 14 ( The chart lists the recipient organizations and the amounts that they will receive. However, the column detailing the purposes of the grants is, in most cases, empty.

This year, Mayor Fenty’s initial Budget Support Act, which was submitted to the council in March, contained $24.6 million in earmarks to forty-four groups or organizations and $13.5 million in a “designated appropriation” to the Canal Park Development Association, a public-private partnership, to construct the three-block Canal Park in southeast Washington. However, by the time the council had its first reading and vote on the BSA on may 13, the total amount of earmarks had grown to $43.9 million, with additional millions of dollars in “designated allocations” by the council’s Committees on Health, Human Services, and Economic Development — for example, the $13.5 million for Canal Park, $1.5 million to the Primary Care Association, $300,000 to KPMG, and $300,000 to Food and Friends.


A Huge Mistake
Ed T. Barron, edtb1@macdotcom

It would be sheer folly to build another new stadium with taxpayers dollars in southeast DC. The District is in much poorer financial straits today than we were when the council approved taxpayer funding for the new Nationals Stadium. The idea that this new two hundred million dollar soccer stadium will produce a flurry of new development akin to that that is proposed and underway near the Navy Yards is very wrong. There are many soccer fans in the area and they have demonstrated the viability of soccer in DC with their attendance at RFK Stadium. It makes much more sense to invest a lot less money to refurbish and improve RFK for a good soccer field. Transportation and parking are already in place and very little infrastructure improvement will be required. As for who should pay for this refurbishment, let the new United owners fund the refurbishment in exchange for a share of whatever profits are realized. The new owners can sell shares in the United Team to raise the money for refurbishment of RFK.


Closed Firehouse
Tolu Tolu,

The firehouse on Florida Avenue and Orren Streets, NE, closed its doors on May 27 with no notice to the neighborhood. This is one of the oldest working firehouses in DC, and I am concerned that the closing was as quiet as if they had not paid the rent and needed to steal away at night.


Harris Teeter Jenkins Road
Bob Levine,

The new Harris Teeter Store at Pennsylvania and Potomac Avenues, SE, has blocked Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, at 6:30 a.m., getting trucks in and out of the new store for several mornings in a row. I’m trying to get to work at that hour and have been blocked from using the road for fifteen or twenty minutes each morning. The major reason for the problem is that Harris Teeter doesn’t bother to provide any supervision for their arriving trucks at that hour, feeling that Pennsylvania Avenue is a great parking lot for its arriving trucks. This is a wonderful way to promote economic development in our fair city.


Locking Bicycles on Handicapped Ramps
Annie McCormick-Dixon,

On Friday, May 30, around 11:15 a.m., my husband and I were walking down M Street, and there was an elderly woman in a wheelchair with her five-year-old grandson. She could not enter the ramp into the National Geographic building because two bicycles were chained on the inside of each side of the entrance to the ramp. She was sitting there in her wheelchair on the sidewalk with no way to get into the ramp to get into the building and no one to assist her. I went inside the building and my husband stayed with her. I asked a security guard, and someone came out to help. By that time there was an elderly man with a walker who had just come up behind her and he couldn’t get through, either.

Surely a world-class and highly respected organization can do better. Isn’t it illegal to lock bikes anywhere on a handicapped ramp, much more the inside of the ramp? Those bicycles should have been cut off their locks immediately and their owners fined on the spot when they came back for their bikes. National Geographic needs to provide better for its handicapped patrons.

It was very sad and a bit infuriating to see this lovely lady in a wheelchair with her young charge and the subsequent gentleman with the walker in a quandary. I am glad my husband and I were there to ask for help for them. I’ve written a letter to National Geographic.


A Teachable Moment
Ralston Cox, Dupont Circle,

I recently drove down to visit family in the piney woods of east Georgia. We’re talking the really rural, truly deep South folks. I had to go into the local county seat a couple of times on errands and knew I wasn’t in my beloved Washington, DC, when I could find parking right on the square in front of the courthouse two days running! Free! On both days I ate lunch at a sweet little sandwich shop run by a couple of very nice young women. On the second day, I happened to park right in front of their shop and when I stopped by to get lunch, one of the women said that the license plate on my car had been quite the topic of conversation while I was in the courthouse. It seems no one could quite figure out the “Taxation Without Representation” motto.

I rolled up my proverbial sleeves and did my really brief version (two minutes, tops) of the story of the disenfranchisement of DC voters. I reached the end of my spiel and said that the motto came from the fact that we were the only citizens of the United States that paid Federal taxes but were denied representation in Congress. There was a slight pause, and one of the women said, “Well, that’s just wrong. Shouldn’t be like that.” The other one piped up and said that “Somebody ought to fix it.” I suggested that they let their Senators (Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isaakson) and their Representative (Paul Broun) know their thoughts. All three of them being Republicans, I’m sure they’ll be interested, right?

It may not be perfect — I always thought it should say “Taxed Without Representation” — but our license plate motto served to raise just a little bit of social conscience in east Georgia and gave me the opportunity to talk to regular people about our situation. It’s too bad we can’t get it on the quarter.


The Broken Hand of the DC Government
Jonathan R. Rees,

There are some agencies of the government of the District of Columbia that have for years performed more poorly than the District of Columbia Public Schools, but the Fenty Administration has done little or nothing to address those other underperforming fingers on the hands of government of the District of Columbia. Why? Is it that the Fenty Administration is unaware of the poor performing agencies? Is it that the Fenty Administration does not see the poor performance taking place? Or is it that the Fenty Administration can’t handle more than it already has in its basket.

Most people will agree that that are too many broken agencies of the government of the District of Columbia and little is being done. Fenty wants to be judged by what he does or does not achieve as far as his accomplishments concerning his control of the District of Columbia Public Schools. Voters would be foolish to judge Fenty on one broken finger and think he is doing a good job while the other broken fingers have not even been set to heal.

Voters have a bad habit of allowing politicians to blind them with single issue matters, as it tends to result in voters making blind decisions. Voters need to start asking the Fenty Administration when it is going to get on the ball and go after those other underperforming agencies.


Dog Fight on Newark Street, NW
Jonetta Rose Barras,

The Department of Parks and Recreation kicked off this weekend its community garden program. But efforts to locate a dog exercise area (DEA) or dog park at 39th and Newark Streets, NW, could jeopardize one of the District’s oldest such enterprises, say some members of the Newark Street Community Garden Association. Other residents in the McLean Gardens community, where the proposed DEA would be situated, say the site is “the wrong size and the wrong place.” Still others complain about the danger to children. Proponents counter that the location is perfect, and will provide much needed space for nearly five hundred dogs. They claim to have more than two hundred signatures of support.

If District officials thought getting regulations approved for so-called dog parks was tough, they haven’t seen anything yet. The battle on Newark Street likely will be replicated in other parts of the city as the DPR attempts to force these DEAs in communities where residents are happy with dogs on leashes and parks for people.

Actually, the struggle at McLean Gardens began more than four years ago, when some politically connected residents and professional dog walkers lobbied the DC Council, including Ward 1’s Jim Graham and then-Ward 3 ‘s Kathy Patterson, to step into the proverbial poop. The legislature did, mandating the establishment of DEAs. Now, well, it’s stinky, nasty and loud, and for good reason. Read more at:


Response to Joan Eisenstodt
Rick Gersten,

This is in response to your query to themail [themail, May 28]. This is just a suggestion, perhaps from my recent experience working for the DC government, as I literally took a leave of absence from my own commercial real estate company for the first year of the Fenty administration to help at the Office of Property Management in strategy and implementation of commercial real estate matters. I was there only a short time and am back at my own firm now, but hopefully helped make some real world changes that will benefit “us citizens.” Along the way I learned a lot about how, as citizens, we can help get things done, like the matter you have raised. So I am addressing this with ideas for a long term solution and a short term one. Both require patience and diligence.

Long term: While writing Councilmember Jack Evans is a good idea, he is a legislator. So the long term solution would be for the ward councilmember, that is Jack, and the councilmember who oversees the Committee on the Environment, that is Mary Cheh, to sponsor legislation that would outlaw commercial vehicles idling for extended periods of time. This would presume, of course, that there is not already legislation on this, and/or there is not a justifiable reason for this, such as refrigeration or ventilation needing to be warmed up, or something that we may not know that explains why it is a nationwide practice at bus stops and truck stops on highways. The benefits seem obvious. Thought would have to be given to our public employees who do the same, whether it be for DDOT, MPD, or other agencies. I can assure you, the city administrator and the mayor would be in favor of anything that reduces waste and unneeded costs. I have had the opportunity to work with the city administrator closely, and find that he does not suffer fools within government who won’t make change happen to save these needed fuel dollars. Especially at the current price of a gallon. I can’t imagine any councilmember would not approve legislation on this point. It just has to have an appropriate sponsor and make it through its committee first.

In the short term, go to the web site and put in a tracked request for service. If you have never done this, it takes very little time to learn how it is done. Pick a category, such as “Parking Enforcement Service Request.” Track the effort taken to resolve the problem this way. I then suggest that you write a short E-mail to the directors of the Environment and Motor Vehicles, allowing them time to investigate the problem and a solution, and fill them in on your tracking number. This will get their attention. In the event you do not obtain a satisfactory resolution, it may because, unless there is a law to the contrary, the city may not control the problem. But the above folks will look into it and, rest assured (despite Gary’s insistence that the mayor is almost always in the wrong), this administration will want follow up to the service request.


Idling Regulations
Isabel Sternberg,

I read your post concerning he idling of tour buses in themail [May 28]. The issue came up recently in the Palisades neighborhood because of tour buses parking on MacArthur Boulevard. There are regulations governing idling in the District (and in VA, Title 40 of the Virginia Clean Air Regulations, 9 VAC 5-40-5670 Par. C and MD, Transportation Division of the Code of Maryland Regulations, 22-402 (c)(3)).

The District regulations are in Title 20 DCMR, 900.1: “The engine of a gasoline or diesel powered motor vehicle, including private passenger vehicles, on public or private space shall not idle for more than three (3) minutes while the motor vehicle is parked, stopped or standing, except as follows: a. To operate power takeoff equipment such as, but not limited to, dumping, cement mixers, refrigeration systems, content delivery, winches, or shredders; b. To operate for fifteen (15) minutes air conditioning equipment on buses with an occupancy of twelve (12) or more persons; and c. To operate heating equipment when the local temperature is thirty-two (32) degrees Fahrenheit or below.

You can call the mayor’s citizen service line, 311, give them the location of the idling vehicles, and ask for parking enforcement to ticket the vehicles. You could also print out the regulations and share them with people sitting in idling vehicles. Since many drivers are not aware of the existence of the regulations, it would be great to get this information out to the public and especially to drivers. Maybe the Department of Motor Vehicles could post notices.



DC Public Library Events, June 5
George Williams,

Thursday, June 5, 12:00 p.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, Auditorium A-5. Brown Bag Recital Series, Music of Tchaikovsky and Mozart performed by cellist Vasily Popov and pianist Ralitza Patcheva.

Thursday, June 5, 2:30 p.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, Arts and Literature Division, Room 221. Let’s Talk about Books. Discuss Major Barbara, a play by George Bernard Shaw. Next month’s selection: “A String of Beads” (short story) by W. Somerset Maugham.


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