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September 3, 2008

Zoning Out

Dear Zoners:

On September 29, at 6:30 p.m., the Zoning Commission is going to hold a hearing on proposed zoning regulations that are so restrictive that they will make it nearly impossible to establish a gun shop in DC, The Zoning Commission has already adopted these regulations on an emergency basis; the hearing is only to accept comments on whether they should be adopted on a permanent basis. Basically, the proposed regulations forbid gun shops in industrial and mixed-use commercial-residential districts, and permit them only in commercially zoned C-3, C-4, and C-5 districts. However, no gun shop can open as a matter of right; each has to get a special exception from the Board of Zoning Adjustment, and even in these districts no gun shop can be within six hundred feet of a Residential District or Special Purpose District, a church, school, library, or playground. All gun shops have to be on a building’s ground floor, and, “Any proposal for a new or expanded firearm retail sales establishment shall be referred to the Chief of Police, Metropolitan Police Department for review and comment regarding security measures, and to the Director, Office of Planning for review and comment regarding neighborhood impacts.” Sounds to me like the District wants to provide another good opportunity for expensive and protracted litigation.

Until a real gun shop actually open in the District, DC residents who want to purchase a gun will have to buy it online or at an out-of-state shop, and have it shipped to a licensed firearms dealer in the city. Mark Segraves of WTOP News, who has been reporting on his own experience with the process of buying and licensing a gun, reported today that Charles Sykes, the only dealer in the city who is willing to transfer handguns to individuals, has had his federal and city permits renewed after moving his office, and will be open for business next Tuesday. While gun shops in Maryland and Virginia charge as little as $25 for the transfer service, Segraves reports that Sykes, with no competition in DC, will be charging $125.

Gary Imhoff


Continued Financial Recklessness Will Harm DC
David J. Mallof, mallof at

Based on my intensive past work with Wall Street equity and debt rating analysts, I was disappointed in the well-intentioned but highly superficial financial reasons offered in the Current’s and InTowner’s recent endorsements of Mr. Jack Evans for another term as Ward 2 councilmember. Retaining the seventeen-year incumbent would keep a reckless driver seated as Chairman of the DC Council’s Finance and Revenue Committee. We should not blame Mr. Evans for the current recession. Nor should we allow him to take any particular credit for the massive fiscal spending stimulus DC received over the last seven years, as well as the added monetary policy stimulus that decreased the overall structure of interest rates nationwide by a staggering 80 percent in a very short period of time during the single year of 2001. Yet Mr. Evans has invariably implied a direct personal link between his council tenure and DC’s recent growth.

He does, however, bear direct responsibility for over $1.5 billion in recent and negligent “lapses” cited in the partial list below. In the private sector, any one of these could well lead to the immediate dismissal of a manager entrusted with handling other people’s money:

Wall Street Illusions: Contrary to what Mr. Evans suggests about his own role, the Street does not look to one man to determine DC’s fiscal health, but looks to substance: DC’s balance sheet, income statement, managerial depth, and financial controls. Mr. Evans’ campaign web site says: “We now live in the most fiscally sound city in the nation.” Says who? DC’s credit ratings are average at best. Of the largest twenty-five US cities rated by Standard and Poors, twenty rank higher than DC. Arlington County is at the highest S&P level, AAA, which is four notches above DC’s A+. I believe this dangerous campaign-spun falsehood is an excuse for perpetuating fiscal non-oversight and spendthriftness. 

Approaching “Red Light” Debt Levels: Evans believes DC’s debt level can be 70 percent higher than the limit DC’s Chief Financial Officer urgently recommends. On at least five occasions, CFO Mr. Natwar Gandhi has begged the Council to limit the rapid borrowing increases, yet Mr. Evans has repeated that today’s debt levels, which are nearly at Mr. Gandhi’s “red light” and “alarm signal” levels, can keep going even higher.

Lazy Fiscal Oversight: Evans’ committee has approved nearly every spending deal over the last five years to grant boons to private interests with no real revision, and he never remands anything for further analysis by the mayor. He recently approved in one single twelve-minute session over $699 million in off-the-balance-sheet revenue bonds. His staff glibly says DC is not responsible if the bonds default. (That’s what Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac said about much of their off-the-balance-sheet commitments too, which is a significant reason in part why their balance sheets are crumbling.)

Looking the Other Way: Early last year Evans called “ridiculous” the US Government Accountability Office’s second desperate, even pleading report urging DC to finally fix massive no-bid procurement lapses (and likely fraud). A day earlier, Evans held a CFO confirmation hearing where he talked about how he would like filmmakers from India’s “Bollywood” to make movies in DC. Not one instant was spent in the hearing on any weighty matters like the new GAO report. He held a minimalist annual CFO oversight hearing soon thereafter, where he failed to ask any meaningful questions of Mr. Gandhi or the Office of Tax and Revenue Director about financial controls, even though DC’s auditors repeatedly warned that most financial management systems are very weak. I can’t say he should have found that one obscene $50 million OTR tax refund scam, but overall, his proactive scrutiny is nonexistent. After the scandal broke last November, I repeatedly asked the Committee in formal testimony and in multiple follow-up requests to provide reference to any video clip of archival material on the council’s web site to show any manner of rigorous questioning on financial controls over the last five years. Answer: continued silence.

Corrupt Public Property Dealings: Evans was the prime cheerleader for myriad no-bid sales and special access deals, including last summer’s attempted secret sale of the West End library and a strategic fire station, as well as the Anacostia Waterfront Corporation’s corrupt “Separate Development” award at the ballpark for Mr. Miller’s company. He helped lead the charge to approve the Radio One deal for the valuable Howard Metro stop location that was given away for a no-bid pittance — less than the single and old appraised value the District had in hand — all to a politically connected developer.

Enough Is Not Enough: Evans boasts constantly about the original 1998 Verizon Center development, yet DC initially offered to chip-in a 33 percent subsidy, not 100 percent, as with the baseball stadium. Then-Mayor Barry later called back and lowered the deal to 25 percent, telling the team owner, Mr. Abe Pollin, “the city is broke.” A 25-30 percent range can be a sound level of subsidy for public infrastructure, not 100 percent gifts to private interests, as with the ballpark. Last year, he led the Verizon Center $50 million giveaway that granted even more money to the already wildly successful private entity. Both Mr. Evans’ and the Chief Financial Officer’s staffs have refused to disclose the “Approved Project Plan” the District was required to review and approve. In other words, we don’t know where the money went. But we do know the DC council got its own sleek skybox — all led by Mr. Evans’ Committee. Mr. Evans also speaks often about using Gallery Place as a policy model, but that project almost certainly would have been built without giving $75 million in public benefits to his then next door neighbor and political benefactor in Georgetown, Mr. Herb Miller.

Bloated Baseball Blundering: Evans aggressively rushed forward with the initial $279 million stadium estimate in 2005. He protested any thoughtful review right up to the last minute creation of the meaningless $611 million “non-cap” that occurred after Mr. Gandhi removed $150 million or more from the project and buried it in the transportation budget and elsewhere. The ballooning total cost is widely recognized as approaching $800 million. The baseball stadium contract he ramrodded through the council will make you gasp in the sweeping subsidy by, and burden of total risk placed irresponsibly upon, District taxpayers. The deal includes near-negligent giveaway passages that even the most junior lawyer would never recommend to a client. This is why the Nationals’ owners demanded with straight faces — right up to (unsuccessful) arbitration — that even the team’s uniforms should be paid by DC.

More Looming Giveaways: To get the Redskins back to DC, fat money cows will need to jump over the fiscal moon to replace a ten-year-old private ballpark which the team owner, Mr. Daniel Snyder, has spent millions more of the team’s own money continuously improving. The scale of the DC public subsidy or giveaway would need to be massive. Has Mr. Evans offered even a basic sense of how such a deal would ever work — even jotted down “dealpoints” on a cocktail napkin or Post-It Note? No.

Our current road to public finance hell is uncritical, wasteful, and crony/corruption-based. What is our real return on investment? Should taxpayers accept another four years of this non-fiduciary stewardship and non-oversight?


In Contempt of Special Education
Dorothy Brizill,

Today, I attended a hearing in US District Court that Judge Paul L. Friedman held to review the findings of the court-appointed monitor’s report on the Blackman/Jones case, which details the District’s noncompliance with the provisions in the 2006 consent decree regarding special education. For an overview of the report and the court hearing, Bill Turque has written two articles: and

A notable aspect of today’s hearing was the judge’s focus on school reform and the issue of accountability. On several occasions, Judge Friedman acknowledged and even praised the “grand plans” and “reform efforts” of schools Chancellor Rhee. He also noted that a common element and theme of Mayor Fenty’s and Chancellor Rhee’s school reform effort is “accountability.” With that said, Judge Friedman then admonished Rhee, State Education Officer Deborah Gist, and the district government for failing to focus their reform efforts on special education and failing to implement the provisions of the consent decree by, as the Judge noted, “believing that something else is more important than special ed.” He also noted that “it isn’t clear who is responsible for what,” “who is responsible for rolling up their sleeves” and implementing the consent decree, and “who at the end of the day can Rhee call into her office and hold accountable for special ed.” In frustration, Judge Friedman noted that Rhee “says and claims that she was hired to fix DCPS’s dysfunctional system, and isn’t DCPS’s special education program part of that dysfunctional system?” In the end, Friedman suggested that the District could be held in contempt of court, and noted that there is a “lack of accountability, lack of coordinated oversight, lack of sufficient resources, and lack of an adequate knowledge regarding the consent decree.”


Motor Scooters
Bob Levine,

What is the law in the District regarding motor scooters, mopeds, or whatever you want to call them? Do they need a license plate and do the drivers need to wear a helmet? I was told by a driver of one tonight that she didn’t even need a drivers license to drive one. Then on the way home a motor scooter cut around a group of cars, ran a red light, and went into the entrance of one of our more notable universities. The driver wasn’t wearing a helmet and didn’t have a license plate. He was just operating a motor vehicle in DC. Have the city and its police force sunk so low that these vehicles operate with impunity on our streets? I ask because I’ve never seen any effort to enforce any laws for their use. It seems that police cars just drive by them without our fine officers even noticing them.


New Education Blog
Nathan A. Saunders,

I want to announce my new education blog,, which focuses on public education, unionism, and politics, with a little art and humor mixed in. Stories, opinions, and documents from the front lines of public education that are not accurately reported in the newspapers will be featured from a unique perspective. Critical issues and other pertinent stories are being missed by the Washington Post’s editorial board. In the words of Obama, “They just don’t get it.” Frankly, it is the independents and Internet-based media that will deliver the most important analysis of public education and political issues. Check out my suggestions for teachers on Chancellor Rhee’s evolving plan B. Teachers cannot assume that the Washington Teachers Union is fairly representing them. They must demand proof and evidence at every step. Don’t forget my rating of the WTU President’s union history knowledge. I couldn’t help myself, as I am a highly qualified and certified social studies teacher.


Paying for School
Michael Bindner,

Paying middle schoolers is silly. However, paying high schoolers, who have opportunity costs from not working full time, or even part time when they should be doing their homework, is more than appropriate — although the wage should be much higher than proposed. For most of the life of the species, youth of that age were independent of their parents and responsible for providing for themselves. It is deep in our DNA. One of the reasons we have so many problems as a society is that we continue to infantalize our young adults. Paying them to be in school (and providing them supervised housing, a marriage license, and family support funds if they produce their own children) is a step away from the current pathology. Needless to say, the implication of this action would be to cut parents out of paying for college altogether and finding someone else, like future employers, to do so instead. This would take most of the sting out of having kids and will likely increase family size — thus saving Social Security.


Bilking the City to Bear Arms
Sylvia C. Brown, Ward 7,

I am astounded by the $3.5 million claim that libertarian Dick Heller’s attorneys want to squeeze out of DC taxpayers. For all the talk about limited government and constitutional rights, libertarians are the same as any caricatured politician. It is my understanding the attorneys are already well-to-do and the billable hours were covered by the Cato Institute. This a case of the fat cats getting fatter and double-dipping. I also read that DC Attorney General Nickles is “planning to negotiate in good faith.” What? Do not cower to these strong-arm tactics. City council and city leadership stand up! Three and a half million dollars could construct the missing link of Minnesota Avenue, NE, and repair innumerable alleys and sidewalks in my long-neglected Deanwood neighborhood.

[For an account of legal fees being requested by the plaintiff’s lawyers, see — Gary Imhoff]



Fun Family Films Under the Stars, September 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.

Friday, September 5, Langdon Park Recreation Center, 2901 20th Street, NE
Saturday, September 6, Florida Park, 1st Street and Florida Avenue, NW
Sunday, September 7, Carver/ Langston Terrace, 21st and Maryland Avenue, NE


DC Public Library Events, September 6, 9
George Williams,

Saturday, September 6, 10:00 a.m., Palisades Neighborhood Library, 4901 V Street, NW. Palisades Lace Group.

Sunday, September 7, 2:00 p.m., Southeast Neighborhood Library, 403 Seventh Street, SE. Sunday Afternoon Jazz.


National Building Museum Events, September 9
Jazmine Zick,

September 9, 10:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m., Family Program, book of the month: My Town. Readings at 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. Join us in the Building Zone for a special interactive reading of My Town written by Rebecca Treays and learn about the life cycle of a community. Free. Drop-in program, recommended for ages 3 to 5.

September 9, 6:30-8:00 p.m. Celebrate the inspirational work of Dr. Charles H. Thornton, founder of the ACE Mentor program, which introduces high school students to careers in the building arts and sciences by connecting them with mentors and providing access to scholarships. The program includes a discussion with Thornton, Norbert Young, president of McGraw-Hill, Peter Davoren, CEO and president of Turner Construction, and Jon Pickard, AIA, principal of Pickard Chilton. $12 Member; $12 Student; $20 Nonmember. Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability. Both events at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line. Register for events at


State Board of Education Meeting, September 10
Kadidia Thiero,

The District of Columbia State Board of Education will hold a public hearing on Wednesday, September 10. At the meeting, the State Board will receive public opinion and discussion points regarding the essential role of familial contributions in education. The meeting will begin at 5:00 p.m. at 441 4th Street, NW, in the District of Columbia State Board of Education Chambers, located on the ground floor of the building.

Constituents who wish to comment at the meeting are required to notify the State Board of Education in advance by contacting the Executive Director, Beverley Wheeler, by phone at 741-0888 or by E-mail at before the close of business Monday, September 8, 2008.

The meeting will air live on DSTV Comcast Channel 99 and RCN Channel 18. For more information about the District of Columbia State Board of Education, please click


DC Neighborhood Circulation Study Meetings, September 10-11, 16-17
Sylvia Brown,

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), in partnership with the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), wants to enhance bus service through District neighborhoods. Currently, many District of Columbia neighborhoods lack efficient surface transit circulation to support mobility and accessibility; neighborhood-to-neighborhood connectivity; and District-wide economic development goals. The focus of this study is to 1) identify current deficiencies in neighborhood transit connectivity, 2) improve local bus services to enhance neighborhood circulation as well as connectivity, 3) identify new neighborhood services that will enhance circulation and connectivity, and 4) complement the long-range growth of DC’s transit system

WMATA and DDOT understand that residents are the most important part of the study. We want to hear from you. Please come to one of the community meetings and let us know how we can serve you better. All meeting times are 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Facilities are handicapped accessible, but if you have special needs or questions, please call the project hotline at 561-3700 or visit

Woodley Park/Adams Morgan Area, Wednesday, September 10, Mary’s Center, 2355 Ontario Road, NW
Bellevue Area, Thursday, September 11, Southeast Hospital, 1310 Southern Avenue, SE
Trinidad Area, Tuesday, September 16, Trinidad Recreation Center, 1310 Childress Street, NE
Capitol View/Benning Heights Area, Wednesday, September 17, Hughes Memorial Church, 25 53rd Street, NE


Internet Alley, September 25
Elisenda Sola-Sole,

Paul Ceruzzi will discuss his new book, Internet Alley: High Technology in Tysons Corner, 1945-2005, on Thursday, September 25, at 7:30 p.m. at the Kensington Row Bookshop, 3786 Howard Avenue, Kensington, MD. Much of the world’s Internet management and governance takes place in a corridor extending west from Washington, DC, through northern Virginia toward Washington Dulles International Airport. Much of the United States’ military planning and analysis takes place here as well. At the center of that corridor is Tysons Corner — an unincorporated suburban crossroads once dominated by dairy farms and gravel pits. Today, the government contractors and high- tech firms — companies like DynCorp, CACI, Verisign, and SAIC — that now populate this corridor have created an “Internet Alley” off the Washington Beltway.

In Internet Alley, Paul Ceruzzi examines this compact area of intense commercial development and describes its transformation into one of the most dynamic and prosperous regions in the country. Ceruzzi finds that a variety of perennially relevant issues intersect here, making it both a literal and figurative crossroads: federal support of scientific research, the shift of government activities to private contractors, local politics of land use, and the postwar movement from central cities to suburbs.

Paul E. Ceruzzi is Curator of the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC. He is the author of A History of Modern Computing (second edition, MIT Press, 2003) and other books, and coeditor of The Internet and American Business (MIT Press, 2008).


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