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September 13, 2009

Speed Trap City

Dear Speeders:

We haven’t discussed red light cameras and speed cameras lately, but the Washington Times has an editorial today that makes the story fresh again: “Fenty’s Traffic Camera Jackpot: DC Photo Ticketing Is Up 104 Percent in Two Years,” “By October, the District’s privately operated speed and red-light cameras will close out the 2009 fiscal year having mailed out a whopping 620,000 tickets worth $46 million. That’s an increase of 104 percent over the number of tickets issued just two years ago. On top of this, Affiliated Computer Services, a city contractor, has begun issuing thousands of fully automated $30 parking tickets using cameras mounted on street sweepers. . . . City budget documents show that the mayor plans to triple the number of speed cameras on our roads by allowing the city’s other private contractor, American Traffic Solutions, to issue speeding tickets at the existing 49 red-light camera locations. The private companies that operate traffic cameras get a cut of the profits generated for City Hall, so there is a substantial financial incentive to maximize the number of tickets issued. There are numerous documented instances of shoddy traffic-camera maintenance by various contractors, and bogus tickets have been issued to motorists innocent of any moving violation. Once dozens of traffic cameras are upgraded to issue both speed and red-light citations, the District could easily achieve levels in excess of 1 million photo tickets per year. Given the District’s population of less than 600,000, this ticketing assault is in shooting range of two citations every year for every man, woman, and child who resides in the city. For all the effort invested in collecting copious amounts of cash from motorists, the city has failed to provide a shred of credible, independently verifiable evidence to show its actions have yielded a safety dividend.”

The Times expresses the hope that District voters will eventually revolt against elected officials who use traffic laws not to increase safety, but simply to fill the city coffers. So far there’s been no hint of that revolt in the District; drivers seem to be content with being shaken down, and nondrivers seem to be pleased about it. But we’re in an era of voter dissatisfaction, and the mayor’s and council’s turning the District into a speed trap and red light trap for its residents and visitors alike invites retaliation at the polls.

Virginia Postrel Twittered today, “Per @Romenesko, ‘Washpo lost $143 million through the first six months of this year’ Which means they lose $1.10 PER COPY. Yikes.” Why are subscriptions and ad revenues, and thus total income of the Post, all down? Explanations vary from a general economic downturn, to a younger generation disinterested in news, to competition from the Internet, to revulsion against slanted news. Today, just from following this story, I’d guess the major reason is competition from the Internet. The story broke Saturday in the Post,; was picked up yesterday by Jim Romenesko at Poynter Online,; was Twittered by Postrel; was commented upon by Ed Driscoll,; and was blogged by Kenneth Anderson on the Volokh Conspiracy, In other words, what would just a few years ago have been a single story in a newspaper has become a conversation carried out by several people on several different web sites. By being looked at from several different viewpoints, the story quickly develops beyond what any single newspaper could do with it. Yet and still, losing $1.10 a copy? As Postrel so eloquently and accurately says, yikes.

I’ve forwarded the complaints that you sent me about RCN service to Marcella Hicks at the Office of Cable Television; I hope that you get the same resolution to your problem that most Comcast customers got a couple months ago.

Gary Imhoff


Good News from the DC Board of Elections and Ethics
William O’Field,

Good news regarding the voter roll came out of the September 9th meeting of the DC Board of Elections and Ethics (DCBOEE). This comes after my two postings in themail (July 15 and July 19) about the District’s bloated voter roll and how it can enable voter fraud. Those postings were as a result of my participation in public hearings when the city council was investigating the DC BOEE. They were also in the context of how the potential implementation of Bill 18-345, the “Omnibus Election Reform Act of 2009,” could possibly negatively impact DC’s elections.

In his public statement at the September 9 meeting, DCBOEE Executive Director Rokey Suleman reported that “we plan on moving forward with the ‘clean up’ of the voter roll. We are currently interviewing third parties to assist the office in this endeavor. The office hopes to have this project completed in the first quarter of calendar year 2010.”

He went on to state that “[T]his project will consist of the removal of any inactive voter that meets the requirements under NVRA [the National Voter Registration Act], scrubbing the list for all known deceased voters and we have been in preliminary discussions with Virginia and Maryland to look for duplicate registrations and how to resolve them.” This is good news.


Why Waste Money on a Ban When Exemptions Are for the Asking, and Cheap
Mary C. Williams,

An article appearing in the September issue of the Hill Rag, the monthly publication on Capitol Hill [], reveals that the Ward 6 ban on the single sales of beer and alcohol implemented earlier this year is largely ineffective in many areas because the ANCs, including my own ANC 6D, routinely grant exemptions to stores in their own neighborhoods. Despite a petition signed by more than thirty residents in my neighborhood against this move, ANC6D voted last December to support an exception for Cap Liquor Store, located at the corner of South Capitol and N Streets, SW, and directly across from the Nationals Ballpark. The store is the chief attraction and site of daily raucous and illegal activities. Located only a few yards from the dozens of federal buildings housing government contractors with disposable cash, it’s prime location provides a steady stream of unsuspecting and compassionate out-of-town “donors” or victims for the aggressive panhandlers, drug dealers, and addicts, prostitutes, alcoholics, and general loiterers looking to make a quick buck. And many aren’t asking, “Brother, can you spare a dime.” The demand is now for two dollars, the economic downturn notwithstanding; but a can of beer is expensive at this store. Neighbors complained routinely to police, but even hourly patrols cannot discourage the perpetrators, who scatter like roaches and return within minutes.

You can’t blame the perpetrators entirely. It’s a lucrative corner. In the last year ending May 2009, police responded to seventy-four calls for disorderly conduct outside this establishment. Despite the ever-present problems, the ANC chose to ignore our petition to deny the store’s application for the exception and accepted the recommendation of its ABC committee chair, who claimed that the store’s owner was a good neighbor and provided a community benefit. We are still wondering what their definition of a community benefit is. We don’t agree that making it convenient for alcoholics and drug addicts to get their fix while standing outside the corner is an overall community benefit. No one on the ANC mentioned the number of police calls to this store nor the letters of complaint from adjacent neighbors who endured the daily stench of urine and human waste behind our homes, or the dozens of bottles and cans that litter the area. My ANC offered up two supporters who noted in a letter that the store’s owner supplied sodas and donated items for their holiday gatherings. The committee chair told the Hill Rag that “we believe in live and let live.” We are outraged at this comment because our personal safety and that of thousands of other people who visit the ballpark, and work in this area, are being trampled and ignored for what appears to be a case of Pepsi or a half pint of vodka.. Our well-being is certainly worth more than that. We shouldn’t have to point out that millions of our tax dollars are spent each year on rehabilitation, food, shelter, and medical services for those same perpetrators who often scrape up enough cash each day to buy this liquor but who wouldn’t contribute one dime to buy a book bag or purchase supplies for the local elementary school or wouldn’t pitch in during a neighborhood cleanup of their own mess. My neighbors and I are not very happy that we must now spend an inordinate amount of time and money on meetings with ABRA (Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Agency) trying to undo this ANC decision. As a result of our work, we discovered that the legislation passed by my own councilmember is flawed. It does not provide for affected residents to appeal the ANC’s decision, a step that would give residents some leverage to protect their own interests and ensure fairness in the process. Because the ANC gave its unconditional support, a hearing on the store owner’s application for the exception was not held and ABRA did not know of our protest. Based on his record, the store owner did not meet all of the criteria for the exemption. Fortunately for me and my neighbors, the store owner’s license is up for renewal. My neighbors and I have filed a protest based on the ABRA violations and we will present our evidence for denying renewal of the license on Sept. 30, 2009. Meanwhile, we want to hear from residents who also would like to have the legislation amended to include a step for individual protests. We cannot trust our ANCs to represent the residents in this instance. We need better legislation and greater administrative enforcement now. Election is right around the corner.


Teacher of the Year Nominations
Kadena D. Duncan-Lawrence,

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education is requesting nominations for the 2010 District of Columbia Teacher of the Year. This award recognizes and honors the many contributions of our classroom teachers. If you would like to nominate a teacher who has demonstrated outstanding leadership and commitment to student achievement, please complete the attached application and submit it to the OSSE no later than September 30. Self-nominations are acceptable. The winner of the DC Teacher of the Year will be included in the competition for National Teacher of the Year. Submissions may be faxed to 724-7656 or E-mailed to or by the deadline with a hard copy to follow to Attn: Erika Lomax, 51 N Street, NE, 3rd Floor, Washington, DC 20002 no later than October 2.


Vibrant Minds in DC on Twitter
Phil Shapiro,

Wayan Vota is a vibrant mind in DC that I follow on Twitter. See

Follow his Twitter stream at You’ll be rewarded by seeing YouTube videos like this one, too:

People no longer subscribe to magazines. They subscribe to other people.


Conviction Before Trial
Edward Cowan,

It appears that in her post of September 6 on the shooting of Deborah Ann Brown, Dorothy Brizill convicted Devonte Carlton, the bicyclist who allegedly shot Brown, even before he went to trial. Brizill, an energetic reporter who presumably knows about the use of “allegedly,” wrote that Brown was “killed by” Carlton.

Are Brizill and her publisher not interested in due process, especially when a former neighbor of theirs is killed?



Art Salon, September 17
Martha Saccocio,

Join the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities for Art Salon, a monthly convergence of artists, techies, green-collars, art enthusiasts, bloggers, and educators that are creating the momentum for the new era of art. Art Salon is modeled after the salons of the late nineteenth century to inspire and provoke the minds of the creative community.

This month Art Salon travels East of the River to the Anacostia Art Gallery. Art by Corcoran Artreach, THEARC, Jonathan French, and more. Thursday, September 17, 7:00-9:00 p.m. Each month, we gather at a different location. This month, we invite you to converge at Anacostia Art Gallery, 2806 Bruce Place, SE. Metro: Green Line, Anacostia. Shuttle will pick up at 6:30 from Dupont Circle on Massachusetts Avenue, NW (across from PNC Bank) or 7:00 and 7:30 from Anacostia Metro (Green Line). For more info on shuttle locations and to RSVP, contact


Environmental Health Group (EHG) Events, September 19-20
Allen Hengst,

The Army Corps of Engineers is conducting a multi-year effort to find and dispose of munitions and toxic waste from the chemical warfare research and weapons testing done in Northwest Washington by the US Army during World War I. The Environmental Health Group (EHG) seeks to raise awareness of the issues and encourage a thorough investigation and cleanup. For more information, visit the EHG on Facebook at

Saturday and Sunday, September 19-20, 1:30-3:00 p.m., in cooperation with “WalkingTown DC Weekend,” EHG is offering guided tours featuring the historical features of the American University Experiment Station, the current Army Corps of Engineers cleanup operations and residents’ health problems. Tours are led by a former Restoration Advisory Board member and Spring Valley resident. Participants see where testing occurred during WW I and where chemical munitions are being removed today. Online registration required at


Chess Challenge for Youth (K-12) at MLK Library, September 19
Phil Shapiro,

Details and registration at


National Building Museum Events, September 21
Jazmine Zick,

September 21, 12:30 p.m.-1:30 p.m., Smart Growth: Beyond Zip Car: Using Technology to Share Time, Space, and Information. Robin Chase, CEO of GoLoco and founder and former CEO of Zipcar, offers a fresh look at sharing — time, space, assets, and information — which can deliver an exciting future in this time of burgeoning world populations, increasing urbanization, and tightening wallets. Free; registration required.


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