themail.gif (3487 bytes)

March 17, 2010

Illicit Views

Dear Washingtonians:

Here’s what Council Chairman Vincent Gray wrote in his introduction to the first of a series of council hearings on DCPS last week: “Today, I’m also excited to announce that the Committee of the Whole will expand beyond our traditional cadre of weekday budget hearings, and convene two Saturday hearings specifically designed to illicit views from our young people and their families on the proposed FY 2011 education budget.” Actually, the views of the young people and their families at the first hearing were sensible, well informed, and quite licit. Too bad the school and city administrations are contemptuous of them and dismiss them.


Jack McKay, below, argues that the District of Columbia should not enforce immigration laws, that breaking immigration laws is not a crime, and that the Metropolitan Police Department should not inquire into the immigration status even of those who are arrested for serious crimes — because that would hinder law enforcement. What sayest thou?

Gary Imhoff


A Case of Not So Benign Neglect
Frank Zampatori,

Welcome to the Hilleast Waterfront, or Reservation 13, as it is also known, and its 67 acres located in eastern Ward 6 bordering the Anacostia River and home to a number of empty, decaying city-owned buildings, various clinics, and the closed DC General Hospital.

In 2002 the city council approved a master plan for development of the 67 acres into a mix of residences, office buildings, health facilities, retail space, and a number of parks and green space. From 2002 through 2006 not much happened on the Hilleast Waterfront with the exception of a failed attempt by Howard University to construct at mostly taxpayer expense a $500 million dollar National Capitol Medical Center. In other parts of the city there was major construction and development, but the Hilleast Waterfront remained forgotten with the exception of the completion of the St. Coletta School for special needs students. But hope springs eternal and by the end of 2006, the voters elected a new mayor, Ward 6 elected a new councilmember, and Congress approved the transfer of the 67 acres comprising the Hilleast Waterfront to District control provided that the city first locate a twelve-acre site somewhere on DC land for a mail sorting facility approved for use by the Architect of the Capitol. It is now four years later. Mayor Fenty is nearing the end of his first term, as is Ward Six council member Tommy Wells. So where do we stand with the Hilleast Waterfront?

First, the land has yet to be transferred to District control. It appears that neither the Fenty Administration nor the Ward Six councilmember has given the issue much priority. We are told it will happen soon, or they are working on it, or the councilmember has made a phone call and written a letter or two on the subject, but nothing has been done. Some neighbors actually still go to a meeting or two and listen to these false promises from elected or appointed officials. (A few brave souls in the Mayor’s Office have said that it is of such low priority that nothing has been done on the transfer issue.) In the interim, the neighborhood has been assured that a master developer will be selected for the site, first in early 2007; then late 2007; then early, mid, or late 2008; then sometime in 2009; then early 2010, and now midsummer 2010. Of course the District is nearly bankrupt, so there really is no money to do anything.

Second, there have actually been some additions to the Hilleast Waterfront, but not the changes that were in the master plan. The city has moved employees from DCRA to empty buildings; MPD seems to have created a training center of some sort next to the ambulatory care center; the DC Department of Corrections has expanded its offices into office space by the old emergency room; Georgetown University has opened a clinic on the fourth floor of the old DC General Hospital to care for the homeless; and a new emergency psychiatric care clinic has opened. The Fenty Administration has also opened several homeless shelters. Some neighbors believe that Tommy Wells, who chairs the Committee on Human Services which includes oversight of the homeless shelters, facilitated their creation. There is a hundred-bed permanent women’s shelter in building 9 and, thanks to the reporting of the City Paper, we now are aware of a new and expanded shelter for homeless families in the old DC General Hospital. As of March 10, it had 851 residents, making it the largest homeless shelter in the city. The shelter is at best a health hazard with rodents, mold, peeling paint and plaster, and disease. This facility is of a permanent nature and has little to do with hypothermia issues, according to the City Paper articles.

Finally, several empty lots on the Hilleast Waterfront that are uphill from the Anacostia River became dumping sites for hundreds of truck loads of snow and debris during this past February. As some of this snow has melted, we are left with are huge piles of dirt, sand, garbage, trash cans, chunks of asphalt and concrete, salt, and whatever else was picked up from District streets and deposited here. From what I have read, this stuff will eventually make its way into the Anacostia River and eventually the Potomac unless the city cleans it up beforehand. It appears the city views the Hilleast Waterfront area as a giant landfill and a nickel bag tax will not do much to clean the Anacostia.

As a resident of the Hilleast neighborhood and a neighbor of the Hilleast Waterfront, I should look forward to the city’s finally implementing the approved master plan. However, from what I have seen over the last four to eight years, I doubt the city is capable of creating and sustaining a vision for the Hilleast Waterfront.


The People’s Voice II
Eric Woods,

I received several informative responses to my piece (“Will the DC Council Ever Hear the People’s Voice”) in the last issue. The responses did not disappoint — they understood what I wanted to convey and provided different perspectives on our shared viewpoint. I’m now heading down a path of more research and analysis to determine the foundation for realistic options leading to a local system of government that is more accountable to taxpayers.

Imagine another system with twenty-five or forty councilmembers instead of thirteen (assuming that a bicameral system was not possible). Imagine a council where the average member does not possess budgetary control over more than $460 million (like the present) but over just a half or a third of that amount once it expands. Picture how each council member would be accountable and have to think critically if wards were reapportioned to allow for new elected officials of local government, much like states have county governments or municipalities — even states with populations sizes similar to DC. If those numerous additional voices were heard in the discussion of how to spend the taxpayer money, perhaps Evans could not get so cozy with special interests like big developers or continue giving away tax revenues. Additionally, Rhee could not get a free pass to be so dismissive with community groups, parents, teachers, principals, and the council in the name of reform without providing supportive data for her reformative actions.

This themail exchange has helped to encourage me to work more directly to improve our system while elevating the voice of the taxpayer. I welcome input from those of you who have come across papers, testimony, organizations, books, or people who are on, or well along on, a similar path.


The Metropolitan Police and Immigration
Jack McKay,

Beware of any program with a “motherhood” name, such as the Patriot Act, and now the so-called Secure Communities program. Who’s opposed to a “secure community”? Well, maybe the security of our community isn’t what this Federal program, quietly signed up to by the District last November (Washington Post, November 13 2009, “DC to Help US Identify Illegal Immigrants in Jail”), is really about. Here’s the deal. Anyone arrested for a serious offense in the District is fingerprinted and the prints sent to the FBI, to find out if the person arrested is on the lam for some other charges. No one’s arguing with that. What “Secure Communities” does is allow the FBI to forward those prints to ICE, the Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (previously known as the INS, renamed upon being absorbed into Homeland Security). This is done even if the FBI files turn up nothing negative about the arrestee. The purpose, plainly, is to permit the Feds to identify and deport illegal immigrants.

The MPD won’t admit that. “It’s going to facilitate the removal of dangerous felons from our communities,” claims an MPD spokesman. But wait — why is the FBI check not sufficient to accomplish that? If the FBI check comes up clean, what’s the purpose of the ICE investigation? Whatever smoke the MPD blows, the purpose of this process is clearly to identify undocumented immigrants here in DC, including people innocent of any crimes. (Being in the country without authorization is a civil offense, not criminal.)

Some may ask, what’s wrong with that? Well, up to this time the MPD has been very careful to distance itself from immigration law enforcement, fearing that any such association would cripple police work in immigrant communities. Never mind what you see on TV, crimes are solved by residents coming forward with information, not by sophisticated forensics, and the police need the trust and cooperation of the public for crime solving. What happens if immigrant residents are afraid to come forward, fearing exposure of themselves, or fearing being ostracized by their own immigrant communities because contact with the police is considered tantamount to collaboration with ICE? More crimes will go unsolved, more criminals will remain free.

Why this sharp break with preceding MPD policy to avoid any connection with Federal immigration authorities? This degrades the effectiveness of the police in dealing with real crime, robberies and burglaries and assaults, while serving only “la migra” in its search for immigrants lacking documents, however innocent those immigrants may be of actual crimes.


Statehood and the Council
Ann Loikow,

Eric Woods asked in the March 14 edition of themail, “Will the DC Council Ever Hear the People’s Voice?” He ended by saying that, although he heeded the cry for DC statehood and voting representation in Congress, he would like to see the District move beyond a one-house legislature of thirteen members to a more true participatory political system. Becoming a state would allow us to precisely do that. As a state, the citizens of the State of New Columbia would be able to organize our state legislature however we wished without any interference from Congress. The 1982 Constitution approved by DC voters called for a single house legislature (House of Delegates) of forty members. The council approved an amended constitution in 1987 that provided for a single house legislature of twenty-five members. The bottom line, though, is that as a state we could decide how our legislature would be organized and so provide in our state constitution.


DPR Releases Online Survey
John A. Stokes,

The DC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) is undertaking the process of updating the DPR web site. DPR has released an online survey to ensure that the new web site will meet the needs of District of Columbia residents and DPR customers. The survey will be available until Monday, March 29, at

Additionally, DPR will host focus groups April 5-10 to gather more in-depth information on what people want to see on the web site. Those interested in participating in focus groups can share contact information at the end of the online survey or can contact Stuart Allan by E-mail at The update of the web site is expected to be complete in late spring.


Can Joyce Little Get an Amen?
Jonathan Zurer,

No. [Referring to themail, March 14]



National Building Museum Events, March 22, 25
Johanna Weber,

March 22, 6:30-8:00 p.m., DC Environmental Film Festival: A Necessary Ruin: The Story of Buckminster Fuller and the Union Tank Car Dome (USA, 2009, 30 minutes.) When it was completed in October 1958, the Union Tank Car Dome, ostensibly designed by the visionary Buckminster Fuller, was the largest clear-span structure in the world. A Necessary Ruin relates the compelling narrative of the dome’s history. A discussion with Fuller expert Jonathan Marvel and filmmaker/landscape architect Evan Mather, ASLA, follows the film. Presented as part of the DC Environmental Film Festival. For more information visit $10 members, $10 students, $12 nonmembers. Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability.

March 25, 6:30-8:30 p.m., DC Environmental Film Festival: Megamall (USA, 2009, 81 minutes.) Twelve years in the making, Megamall documents the origins of the massive Palisades Center Mall and its impact on the community of West Nyack, New York. The film gives a rare look at the process and rationales behind mall building. A discussion with the filmmakers follows the film. Presented as part of the DC Environmental Film Festival. For more information visit $10 members, $10 students, $12 nonmembers. Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability. Both events at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square Metro station. Register for events at


Community Forum on Franklin School, March 23
Joseph L. Browne,

A discussion of the possible future uses of Franklin School will take place at the Goethe-Institut, 812 Seventh Street, NW (Metro: Gallery Place/Chinatown), on Tuesday, March 23, at 6:30 p.m. The “Community Forum” will feature presentations of ideas for education programs that could be located at the 140-year-old historic school building, located at 13th and K streets, NW. Audience ideas and questions will also be included. The Coalition for Franklin School has worked with the Goethe-Institut to organize the event.

Since it closed as an adult education center in 1989, Franklin School has been the subject of regular controversy. Though its exterior was restored in 1990-92, the building was vacant for a decade, then illegally leased to a boutique hotel developer. Then it was pressed into service as a homeless shelter, which Mayor Adrian Fenty closed in 2008. In September 2009, the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development issued a Request for Proposals calling for private for-profit, commercial proposals for developing the building. The city received three proposals in January, one for a charter school, one for a hotel/restaurant, and one suggesting a variety of possible educational uses.

Franklin School is the work of Adolf Cluss, the District’s signature nineteenth-century architect, whose Eastern Market and Sumner School are among the District’s most cherished public buildings. Opened in 1869, Franklin pioneered new programs for District schools, including a teacher education school (housed at Franklin for forty years), Washington’s first public high school classes, and successful adult education programs. For more information about this event, see For more information about the Coalition for Franklin School, see


themail@dcwatch is an E-mail discussion forum that is published every Wednesday and Sunday. To change the E-mail address for your subscription to themail, use the Update Profile/Email address link below in the E-mail edition. To unsubscribe, use the Safe Unsubscribe link in the E-mail edition. An archive of all past issues is available at

All postings should be submitted to, and should be about life, government, or politics in the District of Columbia in one way or another. All postings must be signed in order to be printed, and messages should be reasonably short — one or two brief paragraphs would be ideal — so that as many messages as possible can be put into each mailing.

Send mail with questions or comments to
Web site copyright ©DCWatch (ISSN 1546-4296)