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July 20, 2008

On the Grill

Dear Grillers:

The Trinidad neighborhood blockade is back up. A month ago, the Partnership for Civil Justice filed a motion for a preliminary injunction ( to prevent the Metropolitan Police Department from using these unconstitutional tactics again. The motion is still pending; it wasn’t initially granted largely because it seemed so improbable that the police would taunt the court by flouting the Fourth Amendment so openly again. Expect to see the Partnership at the courthouse bright and early Monday morning to request a temporary restraining order.

It would break my rule about keeping themail strictly local and not involved in national politics to reprint Sam Smith’s smart comparison of Adrian Fenty and Barack Obama, and I definitely do not invite discussion of the presidential election or of the prospective major party candidates in themail, but you still should read Sam’s article:

The first person to complete an application for a gun permit under DC’s new procedure was not Dick Heller, but Tenleytown’s Amy McVey, who brought a Ruger .357 Magnum (thirteen inches in total length, seven-and-a-half-inch barrel, three-pound weight — a serious pistol) to MPD headquarters. Amy had some good quotes in the Examiner’s article: “‘The cops were professional, polite and courteous,’ McVey said. ‘A couple of them remarked what a nice gun it was.’ McVey found the cops very encouraging of her gun ownership. ‘I asked them, “Do you mind good people owning guns?”’ she said. ‘One said, “It will help make our job easier.’”’”

I’m not going to reply to Richard Layman’s message about DC’s transportation policy tonight, although in the next few issues I may say why I think he’s wrong about the priorities the city should follow. In the meantime, if you want to add to the discussion, please do so. I’ll write about hamburgers instead; see below.

Gary Imhoff


New DCPS Staffing Model Creates Great Inequities
Margot Berkey,

This year the city gave more money than ever before for public schools. DCPS established a new way to distribute funds and to staff the local schools. Its goal was to make sure that every student would have access to the same kinds of teachers and support staff throughout the city. But we found serious problems with the new approach.

1) Class size and per student funding is unfair: overall, elementary and high schools with the most low income students will have larger classes, and receive hundreds of dollars less per student than schools with the lowest number of low income students. Also, schools of the same enrollment have radically different staffing and funding per student. 2) One size does not fit all: the staffing model is so inflexible that schools are deprived of staff necessary for existing successful programs. This includes, for example, science, foreign language, and counselors at the elementary level, and deans of students and technology support at the secondary level. 3) The staffing model was not followed: half the schools have fewer classroom teachers than they are entitled to according to the model and others inexplicably got more. 4) Schools in restructuring got less: overall, elementary and high schools in No Child Left Behind restructuring have lower funding per student than other schools. Custodial assignments are unreasonable: the formula used by DCPS results in some custodians cleaning as little as 5,500 square feet and others cleaning 37,000 square feet. They are assigned without regard to building size or industry standards. Under this model, if a typical classroom is 800 square feet, then some custodians will clean the equivalent of 7 classrooms and others will have to clean 46 classrooms.

We were alarmed by this, so we wrote a letter to the mayor asking that he make sure this is fixed before the start of the school year. Please read our letter to Mayor Fenty and the key findings from the analysis. You will find the letter, analysis of key findings, and specific information about your school at and you will be able to compare your school to other schools. Share this information with your local school and community. If you share our concerns, please contact the mayor and council at and

Signed by the 21st Century School Fund, Mary Filardo,, and Nancy Huvendick,  Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals, and Educators, SHAPPE: Cathy Reilly, Parents United for the DC Public Schools: Iris Toyer,, and Margot Berkey, Public Education Reform Project, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law: Mary Levy,


Help Reinstate Wilson High School Teacher Art Siebens
Barbara Somson,

You may have heard about the unsupported firing of one of Wilson’s most beloved teachers, Dr. Art Siebens, who taught Anatomy and AP Biology among other science subjects. He was, without a doubt, one of the very best DCPS teachers Becca ever had, and his dismissal has stunned us and many others.

Students and families who know Art Siebens have created a grassroots campaign to get Dr. Siebens reinstated. If you are or have been a Wilson student or parent of a student and if you would like to help support Dr. Siebens, the students have created an online petition that just went up on July 17 at

You can read more about the situation and Art’s very creative and inspirational teaching at the petition web site as well. I encourage you to join the campaign and help spread the word so we can get Dr. Siebens back where he belongs!


A Call to Action: Boycott Chancellor Rhee
Candi Peterson,

This is a call to action to all DC Public Schools teachers and related school personnel to boycott the Washington Teachers Union Executive Board Meeting as well as the WTU informational/unofficial sessions on both Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week with Chancellor Rhee. Demand that our WTU President, George Parker, present our teachers contract in writing and in its entirety as required. This effort by Mr. Parker is an attempt to sell teachers on the benefits of giving up our seniority. Even if that is the option the membership should chose, then we have the right to review any tentative proposal without coercion or influence by Chancellor Rhee. We as a body must demand that our president adhere to the process and present the tentative contract to the WTU Executive Board in writing upon completion of contract negotiations and then to the WTU Representative Assembly in an official meeting and to the WTU membership.

At no point has our WTU Executive Board been queried on this matter. We have not been given the right to decide whether we wanted to invite Chancellor Rhee into a question and answer session either with the executive board, representative assembly, or the membership. Mr. Parker is acting in isolation and has canceled WTU Executive Board meetings in both May and June 2008 without input from WTU elected members , and has failed to follow through on a motion by the executive board to hold a WTU membership meeting prior to the close of school to discuss loss of seniority in our proposed contract .

Please boycott all of the WTU meetings with Chancellor Rhee. Demand that President Parker follow the process. Address your concerns about a WTU teacher contract that proposes the loss of seniority, a two-tiered system that is divisive to workers , and funding based on private donations in writing to Mr. George Bordenave, the AFT and WTU National Representative, at and to our newly elected American Federation of Teachers President, Randi Weingarten, at


Summer Job Students Not Paid Again
Cherita Whiting,

Well, well, well, July 18 was to be the second payday for the youth of DC in the summer jobs program. But guess what. They weren’t paid again.

Why is it that adults being paid good money to run the summer jobs program cannot make sure that youth in the program be paid on time? I started receiving phone calls at 7:57 a.m. on the 18th from parents and students saying they were not paid. My son included. But after I started making phone calls, my son and those whose names I E-mailed to the mayor were paid by noon. But by 8:00 p.m., there were some who still had not been paid. These kids had plans this weekend to go out to eat, to go to the movies with friends, to just be kids — and they could not. They should have been paid, since they earned their pay. However, the adults who do the input, the processing, or whatever can’t seem to get it right. But I bet you they got their paychecks. Now here’s the crazy part. Some kids did get paid. The normal check for this week should have been $340 to $360, and no one should have been paid over $450, but one kid got a thousand dollars and another got $720.10. For some reason the Department of Employment Services cannot get it right. Maybe on the next payday the youths should do the payroll for the adults!


New Home Schooling Regulations
Kadidia Thiero,

The DC State Board of Education (SBOE) has adopted a resolution approving new regulations for home schooling in the District of Columbia following a request for approval by State Superintendent of Education Deborah A. Gist. The regulations, which were developed by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), provide the District government with additional tools to ensure that all students receive an excellent education. The regulations were approved by a vote of five to one and now move to final promulgation by the State Superintendent of Education.

Under the new regulations, parents and guardians electing to home school will be required to submit written notification of their intent to home school to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. The approved regulations will now require parents to maintain a portfolio of their child’s work, which the OSSE may review upon request up to two times a year. Most significantly, the new regulations allow the OSSE to make a determination about whether regular instruction is taking place in the home.

“The participation of the home schooling community was a very significant component of this process. The voice of the community helped to ensure that we approved regulations which are sound and balanced. We must make sure that our work with the community continues on this issue,” said DC State Board of Education President Robert Bobb. Gist noted that “we look forward to working with home schooling families in the District of Columbia to ensure that they receive all of the supports necessary to successfully educate their students at home.”

The home schooling regulations can be found at or


No Rent, No Box; Taxi Meters Must Be Working
Ed T. Barron, edtb1@macdotcom

The Lerners, owners of the Nationals baseball team, who were handed a six hundred million dollar stadium courtesy of the DC taxpayers, are withholding rent for the Nationals Stadium based on a ton of “punch list” items of small things not completed in the construction of the stadium. It’s time for a little retaliation by DC. I would strongly recommend changing the locks on the Owner’s box at the stadium, thus denying the owners their plush seats at the Nationals’ games until they cough up the overdue rent payments.

The taxi meters must be working. The lack of complaints from cab drivers and the number of taxicabs still on the streets seem to indicate that cab drivers have not lost any significant income as a result of the shift from zone to meters.


Optimal Mobility
Richard Layman,

Optimal mobility doesn’t mean anti-car, but it does reduce the privileging of the automobile, privileging that most drivers take for granted. There is a difference between being anti-car and pro-mobility. The fact is that center cities, to work best, have a different mobility paradigm, based on walkability, transit, and to some extent bicycling, than do suburbs where, rightly or wrongly, houses, job centers, and activity destinations are located separately, with long distances, and generally are reached by driving privately owned cars.

Unfortunately, most of us who live in the city came from other places where the car was dominant. So we don’t understand that we are imprinted with a particular paradigm, and that this paradigm is inappropriate for the city. DC’s physical design heralds from the period of the Walking and Transit Cities (1800-1920), where the small blocks, dense grid of streets, radial arterials, and mix of uses meant that most people didn’t travel far and they either walked or rode transit to do so.

You can see a difference in the city between the areas developed before the car was dominant, and the farther out parts of the city which were developed after the car. Places like Brookland, Woodridge, Manor Park, AU Park, etc., even if they have decent access to transit, are more suburb-like, and most households own cars and drive more than they walk, bike, or use the subway, which is far more common in the core of the city. (Moving to Manor Park, after having lived in Greater Capitol Hill for more than fifteen years, I am still shocked to see rowhouses with rear-entry garages, and end houses, even bungalows, with basement garages. And of course, many detached houses were built with rear garages. Except for carriage houses, built originally for horses, this is a rare site on Capitol Hill.)

From an efficient use of space stand point, a forty-foot-long bus takes up space equal to about three cars on the street, but it seats up to thirty-nine people, and has room for as many as forty additional passengers standing. Similarly, moving forty people walking takes much less space than three cars. But to move forty people in automobiles in the best of circumstances (two per car) requires a minimum of three hundred feet, if the cars are bumper to bumper. The typical block in the core of the city is two hundred seventy feet long. Maximizing automobility is nonsensical in the city, because there just isn’t enough lane space or parking space to accommodate cars for everyone. In fact, I wrote about this in themail in 2003, in a post about the campaign to attract new residents to the city (

Under the Williams Administration, DC’s Department of Transportation and the Office of Planning started a refocus of planning efforts towards livability and optimal city-appropriate mobility. This means improving streetscapes, improving public transportation, and reducing public subsidies of driving. This process continues and is expanding under the Fenty administration. For example, in the SNAP planning process in 2001, my neighborhood suggested that larger cars pay higher parking permit fees, and that additional cars in a household pay stepped-up registration fees as well. Still, such policies aren’t in place; they are too difficult to implement politically, even though about 40 percent of the city’s residents don’t own cars.

An automobile owner sees no problem when publicly owned streets serve as parking lots, basically for free. People with a broader agenda see the value in using precious public space for activities which serve more people. That is in part what this “battle” is about. All of DC’s efforts in this area are hampered by the fact that DC still doesn’t have a transportation plan, although to some extent the transportation element in the Comprehensive Plan serves as a de facto plan in the interim. In the meantime, the DC city council puts forward various legislation in a piecemeal fashion, and here and there in the city, rebalancing transportation between automobiles and more optimal forms occurs in fits and starts, with a lot of pushback from drivers.

As long as DDOT treats all modes of transportation as relatively equal, since the car has been treated as more equal and privileged in transportation planning and traffic engineering for the last fifty years, walking, bicycling, and transit take a back seat. And nobody talks about the fact that about 50 percent of the cost of roads comes from general funds, not automobile registration fees and gasoline excise taxes.

While commuting times in the region are significantly higher than the national average, in DC proper, commuting times are about at the national average. Similarly, without any significant transportation demand management plans in place, DC’s mode shift (people who walk, bike, or take transit to work) is the highest in the region (due to the dense transit network and proximity of housing to jobs) and one of the highest in the US. But it should be clear to everyone that in a 21st century when gasoline is no longer cheap, and in a region with the second highest highway congestion in the US, DC reaps new competitive advantages vis-a-vis the rest of the region in terms of possessing efficient non-automobile centric mobility (transit and walkable neighborhoods replete with destinations and services).

I recommend reading probably what is the best local transportation plan in the US, that of Arlington County. It sets priorities very clearly towards achieving optimal mobility, and the decisionmaking, policy, and regulatory processes in Arlington flow from that foundation ( Compared to Arlington, DC’s parking and curbside management and transportation demand management programs pale. But because of DC’s superior urban design and denser transit network, DC’s mode shift is 50 percent higher than Arlington’s. Just think if DC really tried!

Rather than write even more, I will refer readers to something I wrote in February fulsomely called the “People’s Transportation Plan.” Its suggestions range from enacting a transit-first mobility policy in the city, HOV-2 requirements on certain commuter routes in and out of the city during rush periods, to a transit withholding tax on wage income earned in DC, to be used for transportation system enhancements (


Second Amendment and Self Defense
William Haskett,

Gary has gone way over the limit in his defense of the Second Amendment right of private citizens to own (and to use, presumably) firearms. Scalia set a precedent in ignoring the normal rule of English grammar that a preliminary phrase (such as that to the amendment, with its references to the militia) provides the context for what follows it. He seems to have swallowed this negative assumption as his own. I jump the useful historical context (“militia” versus “standing army,” which is a long story in itself) but go back to the core of self-defense as the key concept in the use of any such weapon. First of all the state (which embodies the defense of all citizens, and creates official police to attempt to defend that fact) is surely built on the presupposition that I do not have to defend myself in most contexts, and am responsible for any use or concealment of weapons, or excessive use of them.

Let me put it quite absolutely: I do not wish to assume the responsibility of self-defense. This has enabled me to live to what used to be considered a ripe old age of seventy-seven, without having had or seen one weapon or firearm, and left me to admire the technical skill of their maker as an artifact of occasional beauty but dubious utility in unskilled or unscrupulous hands (as in the archtypical Western of all our childish aspirations). I would much rather switch attention from the thing, and the rationalizations of its defenders, to the legal questions that arise when self-defense becomes illegal offense, and circumstances beyond anyone’s control take charge of fears in extreme situations.

For myself, I would transfer my attention from the empty question of a right to have or to own any weapon to the issue of how responsible I have to be to use the owned thing in a way that the immediate society can (in its own interest) allow. This would require that all uses of any such weapon or firearm would become the subject of legal inquiry by legitimate authority, and prosecution if such use is found to be illegitimate. Whatever the outcome, this practice (which may already exist) would seem to confine “right” and “regulation” within their proper, legitimate, constitutional bounds.


Heller Announcement Is Welcome
Paul D. Craney,

On July 17, Dick Anthony Heller, a Capitol Hill resident and the final plantiff in the Heller vs. DC gun case, announced his candidacy for the House seat currently held by Eleanor Holmes Norton. Heller is seeking signatures to be on the ballot as a libertarian candidate.

“Mr. Heller’s challenge to Ms. Norton is welcomed in the spirit of debate, and as his campaign unfolds we look forward him hearing about some of his ideas to better DC,” stated Robert J. Kabel, chair of the District of Columbia Republican Committee.


Summer Pleasures Additions
Joan Eisenstodt, jeisen at aol dot com

Less traffic because Congress and many others are away, which means quieter, more peaceful restaurant experiences. More room at Eastern Market (even now) to wander. Various concerts all over town.


Gary Imhoff,

The New York Times assures us that hamburgers are now chic in Paris (, which should make even the most snobbish foodies anxious to explore DC’s suddenly exploding hamburger scene. The Post tried its hand at reviewing new burger restaurants on July 9 ( It mentioned several restaurants that Dorothy and I haven’t tried yet: Big Buns Gourmet Grill, BGR: The Burger Joint, Elevation Burger, and Z-Burger. If you have a comment on any of them, or a recommendation for other hamburgers around town, please write in. In the meantime, here are our takes on four of the better or trendier choices.

Ray’s the Burgers, also known as Ray’s Hell Burgers and Butcher Burgers, is the best new eatery because of the quality of its steaks and the care with which they are treated. High quality, aged steaks are butchered, chopped, and shaped into patties in the open kitchen just before they are cooked. Burgers are cooked to order so that you can specify the degree of doneness you want, and this is one restaurant that cares enough about the taste of its food to stick a thumb in the eye of the food police and encourage, not just allow, its customers to order their burgers rare. The patties are ten ounces. Summer sides of a half-ear of corn and a small slice of watermelon, as well as the plentiful toppings (except for cheese and bacon) are included in the $6.95 price. The only signs of pretentiousness are fancy cheeses that can cost up to five dollars a slice and the failure to put French fries on the menu. The only drawbacks are the long lines, the small dining space, and the few available tables. Go at off hours to avoid the crowds and long waits. I can’t find a web site for it, but owner Michael Landrum has described it himself on Don Rockwell:

Urban Burger Company, in northern Rockville (, is a spin-off of the great Urban Bar-B-Que Company in southern Rockville (and now also in Silver Spring), and it’s nearly as good as its progenitor. The hamburgers are satisfying, the buns are first-rate, the pre-designed “styles” are uniformly good (especially Frank’s Favorite and the Bleu Bayou), and it has an add-your-own toppings bar for the more common condiments. Fries are tasty and the onion rings are irresistible, and this is one of the few burger joints where you may want to order something else on the menu, such as the bratwurst or chicken sandwiches. Urban Burger also does a knockoff of Urban Bar-B-Que’s unique soul rolls, which are egg rolls filled with barbecued brisket, onions, and cheeses, served with redneck fondue — three cheeses, imitating Velveeta or Chez Whiz, melted over their chili — as a dip). Urban Burger’s version substitutes ground beef for the barbecued brisket. If this sounds good to you, this is your kind of place, and you’ll also want the fried Twinkie sundae dessert.

I wrote about Five Guys ( in themail on October 8, 2003, when it opened its first franchise restaurant in DC, and I said then that it served the best hamburgers and fries in the nation. In a sense, that may still be true. Traditional American burgers aren’t enormous, thick chunks of lean, prime, aged beef; they aren’t chopped versions of top-shelf steaks. Instead, they show how good fatty, tough beef scraps can taste when they are ground to make them soft enough to eat and shaped into small patties. I’m not saying that Five Guys uses beef scraps, but it honors the rule of using flavorful 80 percent lean chuck instead of 95 percent lean filets, and its burgers reach their six-ounce size by piling two three-ounce patties together. That lets its customers achieve the proper proportion of beef to toppings and condiments. The Post is right that Five Guys’ expansion has let to a reliability problem, and that the chain’s fear of undercooked meat has led to an unfortunate tendency to overcook burgers to dryness, but when the grill cook is attentive enough to pull the patties at the right time, the Five Guys burger still reaches traditional perfection.

Good Stuff Eatery on Capitol Hill ( is all right, but nothing special compared to the other places. Its patties are pre-formed, then the burgers are precooked, placed in buns and wrapped, and put under a heat lamp to wait for their toppings. Some of the toppings are good, and there are touches that some may consider special and other consider “special,” such as sea salt on the tables and a choice of mayonnaises flavored with mango or Old Bay seasoning. But the precooking and heat lamp storage compromise the quality, not only of the burgers, but also of the French fries and especially of the onion rings, which end up in moist clumps. The music on the lower serving level is so loud as to make it difficult to yell an order to the cashier, and even on the second-floor seating level voices have to be raised to talk. The milk shakes are good, however.



Fun Family Films Under the Stars, July 22-24
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.

Tuesday, July 22, Fort Davis Recreation Center, 1400 41st Street, SE
Wednesday, July 23, Upshur Recreation Center, 4300 Arkansas Avenue, NW
Wednesday, July 23, DC Village, Lane S.W. Bldg. 1A
Thursday, July 24, Harry Thomas Recreation Center, 1801 Lincoln Drive, NE


Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, July 26
Jazmine Zick,

Saturday, July 26, 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m., Special Dance Performance Day 2: Mortar and Muscle: Animating Architecture. Participate in a dance-based “scavenger hunt” and watch Liz Lerman Dance Exchange and guest performers in site-specific, choreographed dance pieces that are inspired by the Museum’s shape, meaning, and history. Free. Registration required. At the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line. Register for events at


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