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July 9, 2008

Making Life Difficult

Dear Survivors:

In the introduction to the last issue of themail, I mentioned in passing a front-page article in Sunday’s Washington Post about the Fenty administration’s plans for several ways to make it more difficult and expensive to drive a car in the city, I didn’t intend to write about this topic until Marilyn Simon wrote about yet another ill-advised element of these plans, below. (Tip to young and inexperienced condominium buyers: don’t buy a condo in a building that doesn’t have adequate parking. Even if you don’t think you’ll need it, the hit you’ll take in resale value won’t make up for any small discount you’ll get when purchasing it.) In addition, driving and parking issues have been an active topic on many blogs: Matthew Yglesias,; DCIst,; and Richard Layman, (scroll down to Sunday, July 6). Peter Suderman in The American Scene even suggests, fancifully, that a solution to crime in DC is to “increase the public transportation infrastructure,”

The comments on Yglesias’ and DCist’s blog entries are mostly from young, childless DC residents who see no need to own a car, and they are predominantly adolescent in tone. To paraphrase: “Good for DC. I hate cars; I hate the suburbs; I hate suburbanites; we don’t need them to come into the city; we don’t need their business; and we don’t need the companies they work for. Everybody should bike.” Unfortunately, this is also the spirit that animates the Fenty administration’s proposals. City planners and urban “experts” hate cars. They want to make people walk or use busses, subways, and bicycles. Most people, on the other hand, like their automobiles. Cars give them the freedom to travel when and where they want, and liberate them from the discomforts and the limited routes and schedules of mass transit. City planners hate suburbs, and want people to live in more congested urban neighborhoods instead. As Washington residents, that’s what most of us like; but most people want detached houses with two-car garages on quarter-acre lots, at a minimum. Most people don’t care what urban experts prefer. The problem is that city planners and urban experts return the compliment, and don’t care what most people want, either. Instead of planning Washington to accommodate the actual preferences and real lives of both DC residents and suburbanites, our city’s planners want to force us to accommodate their preferences and their theoretical ideals. Instead of making our lives easier, our city’s planners want to make our lives more and more difficult until we give in, give up, and adopt the way of life they think is best. Making it even more difficult and expensive to own cars may influence one, two, or three percent of car owners to use bicycles or the subway instead; more likely, it will influence a larger percentage of people not to live, work, or locate their businesses in Washington. But its greatest impact will be just to make more people miserable.

Councilmember Phil Mendelson is circulating another draft of the Firearms Control Emergency Regulations Act of 2008 (, and has asked for it to be placed on the schedule of the next city council legislative session. This draft doesn’t contain the earlier requirement that firearms be tested ballistically before they are registered, but it still requires that all guns kept in a home must be inoperable — unloaded and also either disassembled or locked. There is no longer any question about the intent of the law, since it is clarified by the Firearms Control Emergency Declaration Resolution of 2008 ( This is a deliberate provocation and invitation for further lawsuits, and it rests on a rather too cute misinterpretation of the Supreme Court’s decision. The Court held that the District’s gunlock provision was unconstitutional because it prevented the use of guns in the home for self-defense. In fact, the District’s gunlock provision currently makes it illegal to use a home gun for self-defense; it’s illegal to load, assemble, and unlock a gun in your home even when your life is threatened by an armed intruder. The city council and the administration are interpreting the Court’s decision to mean that they can still require guns to be kept in an inoperable condition, difficult and nearly impossible to use in an emergency, as long as they remove the provision making it illegal to use a home gun for self-defense. Presumably, the city attorneys won’t indict you if you throw the unassembled pieces of your unloaded gun at an armed attacker. Good luck with that. To interpret for yourself what the Court said about the District’s gunlock provision, read page 58 of its decision,

Gary Imhoff


OP Proposes to Eliminate Many Minimum Parking Requirements
Marilyn Simon, MJSimon524 at yahoo dot com

The Office of Planning has proposed major changes in the parking regulations for new construction, eliminating many of the current minimum parking requirements. Minimum parking requirements have been used to reduce the impact of parking “spillover” on our neighborhoods. Even with our current regulations, many DC neighborhoods already bear significant costs related to spillover parking from nearby commercial and higher density residential zones. Spillover parking reduces the availability of parking for residents and brings an increase in traffic to residential streets.

OP proposes to eliminate all minimum parking requirements for residential uses. In fact, minimum parking requirements would apply only for retail, office, service, or restaurant uses in C-2 zones that are not designated “transit oriented development zones” and for nonresidential uses in low- or moderate-density residential zones. In addition, the draft regulations include an unspecified limit on the amount of off-street parking that developers can provide. These are radical changes that would set into motion a sweeping citywide experiment that could potentially have irreversible, adverse impacts on many neighborhoods across the District. The quality of life in our neighborhoods is diminished by the increased traffic and reduced on-street parking. OP’s proposal can exacerbate the spillover parking problems in these neighborhoods and introduce new spillover parking problems in other neighborhoods.

OP claims to base their proposal on “best practices,” and yet can provide no example of a city that has eliminated minimum parking requirements on a broad scale. In fact, one of the cities cited in their “best practices” analysis, Arlington, Virginia, with the same transportation system, has retained a minimum parking requirement of at least one space per dwelling unit even near the Metro entrances, but has reduced the minimum parking requirements for only a very limited set of uses. Arlington has minimum parking requirements, even near Metro, for most uses, and many of those minimum parking requirements exceed DC’s current standards.

A hearing before the Zoning Commission on this proposal is scheduled for July 31 at 6:30 p.m. A copy of the proposed regulations is also available on the Office of Zoning web site,, and can be found at


Seizing Defeat from the Jaws of Victory
Sue Hemberger, Friendship Heights,

Early last month, DC Public Libraries held what was billed as its final design meeting for the long-delayed reconstruction of the Tenley-Friendship Library. The mood in the room was ebullient – the community was obviously pleased with the snazzy design, the architects were feeling the love, and Ginnie Cooper was delighted to be able to announce that everything was on schedule for reopening the library in March of 2010. The design was nearly final, materials selections had been made (and revised) to ensure that the project would come in within the budget, all that was left to be done was to bid out construction services over the summer (based on the detailed specs DCPL had developed) and then get council approval in the fall for the resulting contract. At long last, we were in the final stretch.

Now news is leaking out that the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development has pulled the plug on DCPL’s rebuild of our branch library in favor of pursuing a public-private venture at the site. This is an option that the community has overwhelmingly opposed since three developers presented their Request for Proposals submissions to the public in February. Prior to that time, there were people in the community eager to explore the public-private development option. But when they saw the type of project that would result — one in which the library was overwhelmed by a massive residential building, in which the Janney campus would lose playground and playing field space, and in which the entire project would necessarily become slower, more cumbersome, and more costly to the District — a consensus quickly emerged that this was not the right approach for the site. Only a half dozen of the more than one hundred individuals who submitted written feedback, and not a single organization, expressed any enthusiasm for any of the three proposals presented.

Throughout this project, our community has been assured both by DMPED and by Mayor Fenty himself that the city was not wedded to a public-private approach at this site (after all, capital funds have already been allocated for the reconstruction of both the school and the library), that the option was merely being explored, and that the mayor would not move forward with it if the community was opposed. Well, the community is opposed — vehemently opposed, opposed for valid and well-documented reasons, and united in its opposition.

So why hasn’t the plug been pulled on this project yet and why does it now threaten to undo a years’ worth of progress on rebuilding the library (not to mention waste over well over a million dollars already spent)? Why does DMPED seem to be calling the shots, especially when, under the LEAD Act, it seems pretty clear that, legally, decisions about public-private ventures involving DCPL property and air rights are not within its purview? And why on earth has the city hired first-rate facilities builders like Ginnie Cooper and Allen Lew if it’s going to let Neil Albert, whose track record on construction projects at the Department of Parks and Recommendations was abysmal, overrule their decisions about who rebuilds our libraries and schools and how?

Right now, the choice is Mayor Fenty’s. In 2010, will Tenleytown’s major intersection house the exciting new library that our community has waited so long for? Or will it house a construction site with a gaping hole where the library and our kids’ soccer field used to be and with construction materials, vehicles, and trailers littering their playgrounds?


DMPED Moving Forward with Janney/Tenley Library Public Private Partnership
Amy McVey,

Mayor Fenty made a campaign promise that he would not go forward with a development project without the support of the affected Advisory Neighborhood Commission. Five months ago, in a meeting with the Tenleytown Neighbors Association, he reiterated that promise, pledging that a public-private redevelopment proposal for the Janney School/Tenley Library site would not go forward unless the community was solidly behind it. Since then, the Friends of the Library, the Janney SIT, ANC 3E and five other community groups all emphatically rejected the offers submitted in response to the RFP, as did 95 percent of the individuals who submitted comments to the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development on the proposals.

Now is the time for the Mayor to live up to his words. I have just learned that, despite overwhelming and well-founded community opposition to proceeding with a public-private project at the Janney School/Tenley-Friendship Library site, DMPED has decided to move forward and hopes to partner with LCOR []. This will delay the reconstruction of the library by a minimum of two years and significantly compromise Janney’s exterior facilities needs, while seriously disrupting the educational environment at both Janney and St. Ann’s during the multi-year construction period.

I urge you to contact Mayor Fenty immediately and to voice your opposition to this recommendation. In the end, the decision is the mayor’s. Let him know that you understand that and expect him to pull the plug on this ill-considered and unnecessarily destructive project. Councilmember Cheh should be urged to transmit a similar message to the Mayor. Without her support, the mayor is unlikely to go forward with DMPED’s recommendation. Please pass this on to your organizations and to any interested people you know. This is not a time to rely only on E-mail. Call and complain. Do both!

Mayor Fenty, 727-6300,; Kwame Brown, 724-8174,; Carol Schwartz, 724-8105,; Phil Mendelson, 724-8064,; David Catania, 724-7772,; Vincent Gray, 724-8032,; Mary Cheh, 724-8062,; Harry Thomas, 724-8028,


Earmarking Gang Violence
Dorothy Brizill,

On Thursday, Mayor Fenty and Ward One Councilmember Jim Graham held a press conference to announce a “gang/crew violence prevention strategy.” No “strategy” was actually announced. Instead, Fenty and Graham indicated that the District government was providing $200,000 in grants, divided among twenty-five organizations, for youth and gang/crew violence intervention activities this summer. The extent of the government’s commitment to the initiative could be questioned, since no representatives of key government agencies — the Metropolitan Police Department, the Department of Parks and Recreation, Child and Family Services, or the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services — bothered to attend the press conference. The qualifications of the twenty-five organizations vary widely; the ability and credentials of some of the organizations are questionable.

More disturbing, however, is how the initiative will be managed. The grant program will be managed by the Columbia Heights/Shaw Family Support Collaborative (CHSFSC), which will be the actual recipient of the District funds, with input from two other organizations — Peaceaholics and the East of the River Clergy Police Community Partnership (ERCPCP). The three organizations will collectively administer the grants, and for their efforts in managing the $200,000 in grants, they will receive $300,000 in compensation. According to their spokesman, Susie Cambria, the $300,000 will allow the three coordinating organizations to expand their staffs and to provide the grant recipients with technical assistance, training, data collection, evaluation, and assistance with special events. Moreover, the FY2009 Budget Support Act provides that the three coordinating groups will receive one million dollars in additional funding on October 1, 2008. Unfortunately, the budget contains no details to explain how the FY2009 funds will be spent; it has only a single line that makes a dedicated appropriation to CHSFSC.

Aside from the outrage of spending $300,000 to administer $200,000 in grants, this initiative also highlights the problem with the city council’s proclivity for earmarking budget funds. The initial half million dollars was earmarked in the supplemental FY2008 budget passed by the council. Because the funds were earmarked by Councilmember Graham, the council approved the funding without a written plan or proposal for the use of the money and without a public hearing to explain its purpose. Indeed, it was only after the funds were earmarked and approved by the council that the coordinating organizations developed a plan for how to use them. Yet the same procedure was used this year to double the amount of the earmarked grant to one million dollars in next year’s budget.


Rhee Offers Tenure-Pay Swap for Teachers
Pat Taylor,

DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee has plenty of chutzpah, but sometimes seems lacking in common sense. This seems the case in her proposal to the DC teachers union “offering thousands of dollars in bonuses and raises, funded with foundation grants, for relinquishing tenure” (reported in the Washington Post, July 3, Presumably the extra dollars in raises would go into a teacher’s base pay and accumulate year after year. It seems unlikely in the extreme that any foundation is going to guarantee these extra dollars from now until these teachers retire. I’m not familiar with a single sizable foundation that gives multi-year grants to fund base operating expenses. What if this pay option were started with foundation funding that ended in a few years — is the DC Government committed to continuing the payment of these extra raises?

DC citizens have a right to know whether Rhee is acting as a lone ranger in making this extraordinary proposal to the DC teachers union. Or was the proposal authorized by Mayor Fenty and, if so, what was he thinking? Also, what is the DC council’s position on this astonishing offer?


Schools Ombudsman
Cherita Whiting,

We have an Ombudsman for the public schools system, Tonya Kinlow, whose salary is $140,000 a year. She asked for a half million dollars more for her staff’s salaries at a city council budget hearing, at which she had no written testimony or written support for the request when asked by the council chair. We have had thirty principals fired; twenty-three assistant principals fired; two hundred fifty aides fired; principals who didn’t know when their budgets would be approved; teachers on sick leave and medical leave after being injured who were told that they could not return to their home schools; and elementary school counselors being eliminated. The Ombudsman has done nothing about any of this. Does anybody else see something wrong with this picture?

Many of us who fight this fight everyday have helped those listed above, but not the Ombudsman or her staff. This is what is listed on for the Ombudsman’s office: “Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education led by Tonya Kinlow will provide district residents with professional assistance in problem resolution and accurate, timely communication regarding public education issues — services that have proven in other jurisdictions to increase the public’s access to and satisfaction with their public education institutions. The Office will also identify trends and potential problems, making frequent reports to the Mayor and other appropriate officials to contribute to policy reviews and changes that are needed to improve the delivery of educational services.”

The Ombudsman office is supposed to submit monthly reports to the mayor and council. On July 7, I noted that the last monthly report filed by the Ombudsman was for February. It was only after I publicly inquired why the reports for March, April, May, and June hadn’t been filed that the Ombudsman submitted the March, April, and May reports were filed, all dated July 7. When is anybody going to see this mess of an office for what it is? When would we have received them if I hadn’t asked? When would someone on the council have noticed this and asked about it, had I not mentioned it?


DC Student Achievement Data Show Significant Gains
Kadidia Thiero,

Mayor Adrian Fenty and State Superintendent of Education Deborah A. Gist released preliminary data that show the largest gains in District of Columbia student achievement in nearly a decade. The data, released Wednesday, reflect achievement for students attending DC Public Schools as well as DC Public Charter Schools. The preliminary data were compiled from the results of the 2007-2008 DC Comprehensive Assessment System (DC-CAS). The DC-CAS is based on District of Columbia standards that define what students should be learning each year and are used to measure student proficiency in reading and math.

District students showed significant improvement in reading and math at both the elementary and secondary levels for the 2007-2008 school year. Preliminary results indicate that, in reading, the number of elementary students performing at the proficient level or higher went up 7.3 percent from last year, and secondary students reaching or exceeding proficiency also increased by 7.3 percent. In math, elementary students scoring at the proficient level and higher increased by 10.2 percent, and secondary students proficient and above increased 10 percent, over the 2006-2007 scores. The annual DC-CAS tests are mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, and their results help the District to determine which schools have made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for the year. Preliminary results indicate that, this year, 56 schools made AYP, compared to 42 schools during the 2006-2007 school year.

The No Child Left Behind Act seeks to ensure that 100 percent of students perform at grade-level proficiency in reading and math by 2014. For more information about the DC-CAS results and AYP determinations for the District’s schools, please visit the OSSE’s web site, at http://osse-dev/nclb/index.asp.


The “Right Hook”
Jack McKay,

The collision that killed Mount Pleasant bicyclist Alice Swanson on Monday morning is so common in the bicycling world that it has its own name, the “right hook.” The vehicle driver, failing to see a bicyclist overtaking on his right, turns right. The bicyclist, unaware that the vehicle is about to turn right, continues straight on. When the vehicle turns right, the biker plows into its side. In this terrible case, this put the bicyclist under the wheels of a large truck.

What can drivers do to prevent such tragedies? Do not make the right turn from way over on the left, as if the bike lane is forbidden territory. Make the turn from the right-hand side of the roadway, in the bike lane. Yes, invading the “restricted” lane is allowed and required by DC law, and if this causes bicyclists in the bike lane to have to slow down, fine. What can bicyclists do? Bike defensively; be prepared for the driver who, oblivious to the bicyclist he’s just passed, turns right. Way too many DC drivers think that bicycles are stationary objects, to be forgotten, once passed.

What can the District do? Mark bike lanes clearly all the way through any intersection. District practice is, unfortunately, to terminate bike lane markings at intersections, thus eliminating any reminder that there may be bicycles on the right, even in the intersection. Better than continuing the bike-lane stripe, the bicycle figure painted in the bike lane should be right there in the intersection, where a driver turning right has to drive right over it. Maybe that would make a driver think, and look, before making that right turn.


Errata! Gesundheit!
Bill Coe,

Responding to Mr. Austermuhle’s item in themail of July 7, I believe his own calculation is incorrect; the description he makes of Jonathan Rees’ number is off by a factor of ten; we have to multiply five hundred thousand by a thousand (not a hundred) to reach Rees’s fancy total of five hundred million dollars, supposedly appropriated by DC for lobbying in support of a congressional vote. At any rate (it’s incredible to me that I am writing these words), I completely agree with Mr. Rees’ argument.

Notwithstanding Austermuhle’s opinion, a lot of us are just ignoble enough to trade away the full federal representation we don’t have (and never will have during our lifetimes) in exchange for the lucrative tax break enjoyed by American colonists in such other places as Puerto Rico or our Pacific islands. If DC were declared an income-tax haven, we would immediately attract untold amounts of wealth and investment, which would enrich even the least of us already here and turn many of us into land barons.

It’s worth noting also that the two propositions we’re discussing — full political representation versus tax forgiveness — are not mutually exclusive. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see our “virtual” representatives on the Hill use some good sense and agitate first for the tax break we deserve, which could be enjoyed while DC continues to lobby for that congressional standing we’re all supposed to want so much. Then, someday, when we (or our great-great-great grandchildren) do finally receive a real congressional vote, we’ll gladly resume paying federal taxes. By that time, of course, we’ll be so wondrously prosperous; an extra tax bill from IRS will be easily tolerated. Bottom line: If I can’t have my rights, at least let me have my money!

[Edward Cowan,, also noted the misplaced decimal in Martin Austermuhle’s correction of Jonathan Rees’ message. — Gary Imhoff]


Errata by Martin Austermuhle
Jonathan R. Rees,

In the July 7 edition of themail, Martin Austermuhle makes the standard argument about why DC should be granted voting rights in Congress, but he fails to present a single benefit that DC residents would derive from it, a higher standard of living, a lower poverty level, a better educational system, or anything that would bring meaningful change into the lives of each resident.

Mr. Austermuhle wrote, “Activists, revolutionaries, and regular citizens have fought for centuries around the world for their democratic rights, and it’s appalling to think that we could merely do away with them just so we could avoid having to pay taxes.” That is a concept that is nice in theory but, again, what benefit has anyone presented that each of us would derive from one voice and one vote on Capitol Hill? Mr. Austermuhle ignores the fact that this is 2008, not 1776, and the residents of DC have all the Democratic rights as all the people in our fifty states and five territories do under our Constitution and Bill of Rights. A voice and vote on Capitol Hill will not result in the people of DC being treated differently from all other citizens of the United States.

The big difference for the US citizens in the five US territories are that they have all the rights every other American citizen does; but they don’t have to pay any federal income taxes. The choice is clearly a no brainer!


Follow-up to Daniel Pink’s Book, A Whole New Mind
Phil Shapiro,

Two weeks ago [themail, June 22] I shared info here about DC-author Dan Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind. Pink shows up for some insightful comments in this YouTube video on the future of learning, You can see him from 3 mins. 20 sec. to 3 mins. 40 secs and from 3:50 to 4:05. (You can spot him quickly by looking for the person wearing the yellow tie.)

In my previous message here I recommended people sign out his book from the library. I work in a public library and my instinct is to send readers to libraries. But people should also buy this book. Pink is 100 percent on target in his thinking. We won’t be hearing what he thinks next if everyone accesses his books from public and academic libraries. The currency of his thoughts are deserving of some of the other kind of currency.



Fun Family Films Under the Stars, July 11
John A. Stokes,

The District’s Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) will hold “Fun Family Films Under The Stars,” its 2008 Family Movie Night Season, this summer. “Fun Family Films Under The Stars,” which continues until late-September, will afford residents of all ages and families of all sizes the opportunity to enjoy viewing the free, family-oriented films in DPR’s outdoor settings. As in previous years, viewers are invited to bring their own snacks, chairs, and blankets. This year, District residents will have a greater selection of viewing locations. Movies will be shown from 8:45 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Community members who arrive early enough for each screening will have the opportunity to place a vote between two movies that may be shown that evening. The movie that receives the most votes will be shown.

Friday, July 11, Langdon Park Recreation Center, 2901 20th Street, NE
Friday, July 11, Douglas Community Center, 2100 Stanton Terrace, SE
Saturday, July 12, Brentwood Recreation Center, 2311 14th Street, NE
Saturday, July 12, Langdon Park Recreation Center, 2901 20th Street, NW
Sunday, July 13, Trinidad Recreation Center, 1310 Childress Street, NE


DC State Board of Education Public Meeting, July 16
Kadidia Thiero,

On Wednesday, July 16, the DC State Board of Education will hold its regularly scheduled public meeting. At the meeting the State Board will vote on home schooling regulations and receive a presentation on special education reform. The meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. at 441 4th Street, NW, in the Old Council Chambers located on the ground floor.

Constituents who wish to comment at the meeting are required to contact the State Board of Education prior to the meeting by calling the Executive Director, Beverley Wheeler at 741-0888 or E-mail before the close of business on Monday, July 14. The meeting will air live on DSTV, Comcast Channel 99 and RCN Channel 18.


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