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August 3, 2008

Dog Days

Dear Fellow Bowsers:

Every dog must have his day, and since it’s the dog days of August, I’ll let sleeping dogs lie, doggone it.

Gary Imhoff


A Superstar’s New Pool, and Shuttered Recreation Centers
David Mallof,

Mr. Gilbert Arenas’ cool one million dollar new pool made a big splash this week on the Washington Post’s and Yahoo’s sports web sites. See Well, so much for the cool fifty million dollars the DC government gifted to Mr. Abe Pollin’s empire in January so his Verizon Center and Wizards managers could effectively give it to Gilbert and Antawn as a salary bump a few months later. I’m not saying public money went directly from one public tax account into the players’ hands, but in gifting public money to private interests, it effectively frees up other funding elsewhere for things like player salaries. It’s no different from the public’s paying 100 percent for an eight hundred million dollar baseball stadium, thereby freeing up funding for team salaries. Either way, it’s a wholly corrupt use by DC government officials of scarce public funding and borrowing power to benefit private interests while other dire civic needs go begging.

No wonder to this day DC’s Office of the Chief Financial Officer will not agree to provide — after repeated Freedom of Information requests — the fifty million dollar Verizon Center “Approved Project Plan” that DC Mayor Fenty was supposed to okay, as was specifically required by the tax legislation. Was this pool, or the salary bump DC’s gift made more affordable to grant, effectively floating around in the fifty million dollars that Mr. Pollin’s management team would spend? DC Councilmembers Evans, Catania, and Graham will surely recall from the non-videotaped “public hearing” that only fifteen million dollars was specifically identified as needed at the time (for a new high-tech scoreboard to be owned by the Center but paid for by the public) and the remaining thirty-five million dollars in Verizon Center “upgrades” was to be determined (TBD) at a later date. The use of the dangling thirty-five million dollars was not yet firmly identified when the legislation was ready for a final vote later in 2007, so the DC council nonetheless decided to grant a full fifty million dollars in taxes as a gift since, as was mentioned in the “public hearing,” fifty million dollars was a nice round number. I guess TBD really means the public never finds out precisely where incremental and precious tax money goes. We are only left to wonder after we drop the money onto center court. And no clear-cut protections were written whatsoever in the law to guard against the public’s tax money being used for non-capital improvement purposes, such as to retire the Center’s debt, or in general to clean up the balance sheet, or to commingle/transfer funds with operating expenses in the Center’s or other entities, such as the team. But the council got its own second sleek DC skybox during the very the midst of this shady DC governance “process.” Talk about utterly corrupt.

What civic suckers we are in DC for granting such implicit mass subsidies to a few individuals and families in town. We have recreation centers for kids, teens, and the elderly who are in critical need of healthful exercise that prevents myriad diseases — and possibly gunshot wounds. These centers and swimming pools close too early on Saturday afternoons and are totally closed on Sundays. The city has a rampant HIV rate, requiring more prevention funding. And at last report, about the city’s functional literacy rate was about 35 percent. I wonder if excellent players Antawn J and Gilbert A even know this kind of kiting using public money is going on. They seem like fine fellows, and I don’t think they would want the money at the expense effectively of the poor and needy in DC. I wrote to Mr. Pollin and his Verizon Center/Wizards team last March and asked that they donate a fresh $50 million in turn to support DC’s all-too-limited recreation centers and crumbling libraries. Mr. Pollin personally wrote me back saying he would look into it. Thus far this hot summer, there has been no word back yet for DC’s kids.


Why the Long Lines?
Ed T. Barron, edtb1@macdotcom

A lot of the seats at the Nationals’ Ball Park are empty during the games because there are tons of folks waiting on lines to get their chili dogs and fries. There are plenty of food vendors, though some are much more popular than others. The problem is with the serving staff. Despite being more than half way through the season, most of those staffing the food counters are real rookies. They waste a lot of time and motion in gathering their orders. If you go to a Burger King, McDonalds, or Wendy’s, you’ll find some real fast food. Their servers are experienced and really fast. Those who are staffing the vendor locations at the ball park need to be shown how to do things without wasting time and motion. Real pros should be imported to teach those rookies how to do things faster and better. Then we wouldn’t see so many empty seats during the game.

“Public Engagement” is the title of an editorial in the June 30 edition of The Northwest Current. The editorial complains that Fenty’s economic development officials seem like they are not interested in listening to neighbors regarding the proposed public-private partnership to develop the Tenleytown Library and an apartment complex atop the library. If the administration were to hold public hearings on the project the library would never be built. Trying to get the Ward 3 residents to agree on going to lunch would probably be impossible. Fenty has done the right thing for the right reasons in going ahead with the LCOR proposal. At last we will have a library and, perhaps, some nice new neighbors. Hearings would go on for years with bickering among those who cannot accept change. When you are green you are growing. When you are ripe you rot.


DC Vote Comments on Congressional Gun Bill
Jaline Quinto,

In an article in The Hill, “Pelosi opposes gun bill but may allow vote,”, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced that she will allow a vote on a bill that would dictate DC’s gun laws. The bill imposes gun legislation on the District and would override any legislation written by the locally-elected DC government. According to the article, supporters have a commitment for a vote by mid-September.

DC Vote Executive Director Ilir Zherka said, “It is an outrage that members of the House are trying to impose their will on DC residents by bypassing the local democratic process. Not one of these members would ever allow Congress to interfere with their local governments back in their congressional districts. Washington, DC, is home to more than half a million, taxpaying Americans who are entitled, like every other American, to elect officials who act in their interest and write local laws. What some members of Congress are attempting to do shows disdain for the rights of Washingtonians. Congress should reject efforts to curry favor with gun rights advocates who are willing to put the lives and safety of DC residents at risk.

“Ironically, while some in the House attempt to gut DC’s democracy, a bill to give DC a vote in Congress is languishing on the Senate floor. DC Vote is already working with our coalition partners to implement a very public demonstration of our opposition through rallies, call-in days and media outreach.”


Sidewalks and Construction Zones
Norman Metzger,

To respond to Ralph Blessing’s comment [themail, June 30], I raised the same issues — and about the same locations, plus others — with DDOT recently. I received a reply from the DDOT director with a commitment to send inspectors. That happened, and while the reasons given for the apparent noncompliance were reasonable, I still quarreled with them. One reason was that the regulations now allow for sidewalk blockage during facade work. I pointed out to DDOT officials that, “in New York City’s excellent regs — — I didn’t see any exception for facades on constructing walk throughs. I appreciate that you have to go about this carefully. Perhaps you can ask your NYC counterparts on their experience with protecting pedestrians during facade work. My own (rather obvious) prejudice is that the safety of pedestrians comes first, and that providing a well constructed walk through is best, no matter what is going on above them.”

Overall, I’ve been pleased by DDOT’s responsiveness and follow-up.


Un-Urban Planning
Clyde Howard,

Once again the hounds of Urban Planning have been let loose on the unsuspecting public with their un-urban planning schemes. Now they want to restrict parking spaces in the city, reduce the requirement for parking spaces in buildings, and just set sail on the likelihood of limiting cars in the city period. My, my, aren’t we full of great planning promises that will become the byword of urban planners. If allowed to go forward with their draconian ideas of making this city a giant pedestrian way with grandiose plans for public transportation, do you really think that they will become the lamp light of planners countrywide? I don’t think so.

They will set the population up in this city for a fall, a fall that would have devastating effects upon the life and safety of every man, women and child that will live and work in this city, now and in the future. Denying the population a means of escaping this city in an emergency is tantamount to building one massive mousetrap, causing untold injury and mayhem on everyone who is banking on public transportation to be their savior in an emergency. Our public transportation cannot move people during rush hour without some form of screw up. How can an inadequate subway system limited to two tracks, no express service, and unable to switch from one line to another without changing trains, be expected to move masses of people in an emergency? The day when the transportation system was impacted with the Air Florida Crash, snow, and subway trains derailing was a perfect example of trying to move a mass of people.

Where do they get these so-called planners? What do they do doing the day besides dreaming up some ideas that must have been sent from the far reaches of space. There are enough enforcement laws in place, if exercised by the book, to restrict people from driving into work and parking up all available curb space, and that will push them to use public transportation as much as is reasonable.


Parking and Zoning
Paul Wilson, dcmcrider at gmail dot com

I will take issue with Gary Imhoff’s characterization of changes to the Zoning Code on the subject of parking. The current parking regulations are routinely set aside by BZA as unworkable and a genuine hardship for owners. The changes in some ways cement in place what is already occurring in many cases through the variance process. My contention is reduction of the minimum parking requirements largely returns this decision to the marketplace. Developers are, after all, free to provide more parking than that required by the zoning code. Building owners and developers that want to rent space and sell units are still going to need to provide substantial on-site parking, in order to meet marketplace demands of tenants and condo purchasers.

What the zoning code revision will do is replace an arbitrarily high number with the invisible hand of the marketplace. The current parking requirement has also been a powerful tool of NIMBYs who object to anything that smacks of density. Removal of this lever is largely to the good, in my view, and strikes a proper balance between property rights and the public interest. Bottom line — I think we should have more faith in the market and less faith in the heavy hand of regulation.

I do find it a little unseemly that outfits like Zipcar are actively lobbying for changing the parking requirement. I’m a member and received a “junk” E-mail from them on this subject. This smacks of good old-fashioned rent seeking on their part, especially considering that Zipcar uses a lot of on-street spaces. WABA (Washington Area Bicyclist Association) also supports the change, but confines its efforts largely to the subject of bicycle parking.


Optimal Mobility or Induced Driving?
Richard Layman,

The more you accommodate the car, the more people drive. I call it “car heroin,” because face it, for individuals, it’s generally easier to get around by car. (However, in the city, taking into account stoplights and parking, bicycling is competitive for distances up to five miles.) It can definitely be easier for multiple people, especially adults having to manage one or more young children. (I don’t own a car, but do use Zipcar and rental cars at least monthly.) But the optimal individual decision isn’t the optimal group decision, because the amount of space required to park cars (at work, school, play, shopping, etc.) and fit them on roads is greater than can be accommodated by our streets, roads, backyards, front yards, and parking garages.

Part of the problem is that space devoted to cars is less productive and attractive in the hours it isn’t used. Parking lots often contribute to crime and disorder, not to mention create unsightly gaps in the building fabric. Parking structures cost a lot of money to build and maintain, and take space away from other uses such as housing and offices. But the real issue is exactly what Gary says about accommodating people living together but in different ways, along with the reality that the city is physically designed to be lived in a different way from the suburbs. In the city, walking and transit are the more efficient modes. In the suburbs, the car. The problem is what a colleague calls “inward suburbanization” or what I call “intra-city sprawl” — the repatterning of urban forms of land use in favor of car-based land use patterns typical of the suburbs.

Rather than make over the city for people who favor automobility, the option should be to live in places that the car-based lifestyle works, rather than to shoehorn it in to a place where it will never work optimally. (Frankly, I think the car proponents are losing anyway as in the core of the city, at many hours of the day and night there isn’t that much traffic, judging by my ability to cross the street against a red light without there being any oncoming traffic.) The great thing about DC is that it does have a variety of residential housing patterns that truly do allow for accommodating vastly different lifestyles. Maybe a place like Dupont Circle or Columbia Heights isn’t a great place to live with a car that you expect to park (virtually for free) on the street at any time of day or night. But plenty of outer neighborhoods in the city, places like AU Park or Woodridge or my new Manor Park neighborhood are car heaven. (Fortunately for me, Manor Park just as easily fits a biking-transit-walking lifestyle.)

I guess I would have to say that the core of the city, to maintain and extend its competitive advantage within the region, needs to strengthen non-car centric land use patterns. In the outer part of the city it can go either way, although you can imagine I prefer strengthening transit and adding new housing where it can be “surgically” accommodated, adding population able to support neighborhood-based amenities that many places are lacking. I aver this makes the most sense, given the likelihood of ever increasing prices for gasoline and the concomitant reaction and change in lifestyle and behavior patterns in favor of nonautomobile-based mobility. That is why I support the change in zoning requirements regarding parking. However, I wish that the Office of Planning had been far more strategic in recognizing the likely opposition and the time required to build the base of support for these changes. The kinds of practices that we must note haven’t killed San Francisco, New York City, or Seattle. Leading attempts to change the zoning code with perhaps the most incendiary and difficult of regulations to change likely dooms this effort to failure, and you and your car loving ilk will win in the short run, although in the long run changes in fuel costs give the advantages, at least in the center cities, to those who walk, cycle, and ride transit.


Parking and the Zoning Commission
Alma Gates,

I encourage you to send a copy of your excellent editorial [themail, July 30] to the Zoning Commission. It is extremely helpful for those who do not swallow the “Smart Growth Kool Aid.” Materials must be faxed to Sharon Schellin at 727-6072, and director for Case 08-06-2 (Parking).

[Anyone else who wishes to comment on the proposed new zoning regulations on parking, and who was unable to testify in person at the hearing, can also send comments to the Zoning Commission. — Gary Imhoff\]



Pluckerland Band and Charlie Salyes on National Night Out, August 5
Laurie Collins,

Enjoy an evening with the Pluckerland Band (formerly Danny Blew and the Blues Crew) and rockin’ jazzy Latin blues featuring DC’s own Charlie Salyes at a National Night Out event in Mount Pleasant’s Lamont Park.

Charlie Sayles’ performs a unique and diverse repertoire of American roots music and tailors its sets to the audience and venue. At the core of the music are his soulful and fiery blues harmonica and vocals and the solid dance groove of a veteran blues band. National Night Out is sponsored by the Third District Metropolitan Police Department and Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance. Tuesday, August 5, 6:00p.m.-8:00 p.m., in Lamont Park. Would you like to help or make a donation to this event? Please let us know; E-mail to volunteer, or to donate go to


Citywide Community Meeting on Crime, August 5
Cherita Whiting,

You are invited to a citywide community meeting on crime in all our neighborhoods on

Come, join, and lend your thoughts and ideas to stop the violence in all neighborhoods. We cannot take the Summer off to fighting crime. The residents of the District need to stand up and speak out. Our city leaders need to hear from the people on what we the people want and need to help keep our streets safe and our young people alive.

Mayor Fenty, Chief Lanier, and members of the DC city council have been invited to attend to hear from us, the people. Thursday, August 7, 7:00 p.m.-8:45 p.m., in the Old DC Council Chambers, 441 4th Street, NW, First Floor, South. Metro Judiciary Square stop, on the Red and Blue lines; Metrobus lines 80, D2, G6, and 96; on-street parking available at 6:30 p.m.

Community organizers: 5th District Citizens’ Advisory Council, Ward 4 Education Council, Eastland Gardens Civic Association, Council of Churches of Greater Washington Social Action Committee, and DC Federation of Civic Associations, Inc. For more information, contact Robert Vinson Brannum, 256-8452,; Cherita Whiting, 487-5926,


Fun Family Films Under the Stars, August 5-7
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, August 5, Barry Farms Recreation Center, 1230 Sumner Road, SE
Wednesday, August 6, DC Village, Lane, SW, Bldg. 1A
Wednesday, August 6, Emery Recreation Center, 5701 Georgia Avenue, NW
Thursday, August 7, Marvin Gaye Park, Division Avenue and Foot Streets, NE
Thursday, August 7, Anacostia Park, 1800 Anacostia Drive, SE


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