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December 19, 2010

Planning for Profits

Dear Residents:

I was at Vincent Gray’s press conference on Friday when Gray reappointed Harriet Tregoning as Director of the Office of Planning. Afterward, I spoke with a longtime observer of city politics and said that I was surprised there weren’t more press questions about Tregoning, since she was by far the most controversial appointment that day, and was opposed by influential citizen and civic organizations. “Well, you know who was pushing her,” he said. I assumed he was talking about so-called “smart growth” and “green” organizations, but he wasn’t. “She’s the developers’ candidate,” he said. “She’s made them millions of dollars, and she’ll make them much more in the future.”

Then it was obvious, and obvious why citizen groups have so little influence when fighting against the Office of Planning’s policies. Tregoning gives the developers cover; she makes their arguments for them while phrasing them in terms of “the public interest” rather than developers’ greed. Everything she fights for means more profit for developers. Closer, denser development, which she advocates, means developers can build on a higher percentage of a lot, up to the sidewalks, resulting in more profit for them. Raising or eliminating the height limitation, which is one of her long-term goals, means developers can build taller buildings, maximizing their profit, even though it makes the city less pleasant to live in. Devaluating green space and park areas within the city means developers can build on land that had been set aside for recreation or for aesthetic reasons. That means more money in developers’ pockets, with the “public interest” rationale that it is ecologically sound to make cities as congested as possible to combat “sprawl,” and that green spaces belong in rural areas rather than in cities or suburbs. Lowering or eliminating the parking space requirements for new buildings, with the rationalization that it discourages automobile use, makes building new office and apartment buildings significantly cheaper, shifting cost from developers to the companies and residents that will occupy these new buildings that are built without adequate parking.

“Smart growth” and “green” rationalizations are the facade, the happy face painted over the reality of big money’s controlling the development of the city — not in the interest of “ecology,” and certainly not in the interest of keeping Washington’s neighborhoods beautiful and livable — but in the interest of maximizing development and maximizing the profits from development. That’s why Harriet’s back for another term in a Vince Gray administration, and why citizens and civic groups are in for ever harder fights to preserve what’s best about their neighborhoods.

Gary Imhoff


Problems with DCRA
Sara Green,

Here are two reasons why I am concerned about the appointment of Nicholas Majett as director of the DC Department of Regulatory and Consumer Affairs.

1) As DCRA’s Deputy Director, Mr. Majett steadfastly refused to listen to the Advisory Neighborhood Commission’s views about the issuance of a new pawnbroker license for a site across the street from Walter Reed. Fortunately, a judge agreed with residents and issued a temporary restraining order against DCRA, but the decision cost residents $6,000 in legal bills. And the DC city council had to enact legislation directing DCRA to give ANCs the “great weight” the existing statute required.

2) A leaky roof threatens the Takoma Theater, the 1922 building that is one of the jewels of the Takoma Historic District. Owner Milton McGinty, who unsuccessfully tried to raze the building, is letting mold take over the interior. Mr. McGinty said he would rather pay fines than spend a dime on repairs. During a special public meeting Deputy Director Majett set a deadline of November 22 for repairs. However, Mr. Majett and his staff are not answering E-mails requesting a status report on the case.


Where Are DC’s Black Residents Moving?
Bryce A. Suderow,

Between about 1976 and 2010 the percent of black people living in the District has dropped from 75 percent to 55 percent. The people who left first were the newly hired city employees whom Marion Barry had hired. He increased the DC government work force until it numbered 48,000, nearly one tenth of the population. This first group moved to Prince George’s County. But where did blacks go in the past five or ten years?

I had assumed PG County, but one day while at the Social Security Administration’s office I overheard a young woman saying she was moving back to North Carolina to live near her kinfolk. She said she could rent a four bedroom house for $1,000 a month. Two or three other black people have told me the same thing. However, one woman who works for the Red Cross says a number of her coworkers have left, about half of whom were in their twenties and the rest in their fifties. Where did they move? Montgomery County, Northern Virginia, and North Carolina.

Does anyone else have anecdotal or accurate statistical evidence on where DC blacks are going?


Apologize to Gray and Green
Larry Lesser,

I think you exercised poor judgment in departing from policy to publish the anonymous comment critical of Gray and Green [. (What next? Anonymous allegations against other colors? Start with White or Orange. . . .) And it appears that you didn’t even fact-check the allegation that Green’s daughter had been appointed to a lucrative job in DCPS.

If I’m correct, you owe the Greens and the Gray and your readers an apology.

[Actually, at one time last year it appeared that Gray, Orange, and one or two Browns could all run for mayor, but no White or other color announced. In the end, only Gray ran for mayor, and Orange and one Brown ran for council chairman. Colonel Green, Miss Scarlet, Professor Plum, Mr. Green, Mrs. White, and Mrs. Peacock were all dispersed throughout the rest of the house. Larry is right that an editor who accepts anonymous submissions assumes responsibility for the errors in them, but the only error (rather than difference of opinion) that has been pointed out in Anonymous’ post is that Lorraine Green’s daughter, Leslie Green, does not work for DC Public Schools. The last time I checked, however, working for DCPS is not a disgrace, no matter how much Fenty and Rhee tried to make it into one. The main accusations that Anonymous made — that many or most of Gray’s campaign volunteers and supporters are disappointed and disillusioned by their treatment since the campaign, and that many or most of them blame the management of the transition effort on Lorraine Green — have been substantiated by many people. Those people, regardless of what some others think, are not just self-serving job seekers; from what I know of them they worked in the Gray campaign because they were committed to an issue or believed in Gray personally. — Gary Imhoff]


Gray’s Jobs Summit
Earl Shamwell, Ward 4,

I read Dorothy Brizill’s comments on Gray’s job summit [themail, December 15], which in the main seemed to be critical of Gray’s decision to include Chamber of Commerce members, corporate executives, and the like but not persons and organizations that in her words could speak directly about the problems associated with hiring unemployed DC residents.

It would seem to me that Gray’s move was most appropriate, in that the participants at this summit are the ones who are doing or should be doing the hiring, government excepted, in our city . What could be a better approach than going to these people and getting direct information about the barriers or impediments to hiring that exist in their individual and collective views and experience? It seems to me that the next step in trying to find a solution would be to convene a “summit” of the folks Dorothy says were excluded and get their input. And then, perhaps, the Gray folks who are now possessed of a full understanding of the issues and problems, can formulate an effective plan to address unemployment here. In my view, having the two groups or factions, if you will, at the first Gray summit would have been counterproductive, with each side feeling the need to justify whatever position each held. In the end, they would probably accomplish very little, if anything.

It can hardly be disputed that if any meaningful hiring is to come about, it will come from those who attended Gray’s Job Summit and not from those groups, persons, and organizations who may be able to “speak directly about the problems and hurdles facing the unemployed in the District.” While I would agree that Gray needs to hear from everyone, it was the far wiser course to speak first to the job providers who presumably laid out their concerns, issues, and complaints, and later speak to the other folks and make up a remedial plan.


Fewer Cars, Less Parking
Stephen Miller,

In the last issue of themail, Marilyn Simon opposed DC Office of Planning’s parking zoning proposals because “regulations should not be changed based on an unrealistic expectation that future residents will own fewer vehicles or none at all.” Ms. Simon and your readers should know that DC residents already own fewer vehicles than in the past, and this trend is continuing. It’s entirely appropriate for OP to propose zoning that matches this reality. As reported by Kytja Weir in the Washington Examiner []: “Vehicle registrations dropped 5.8 percent in the District between 2005 and 2008. . . . That drop occurred even as the DC population increased 1.7 percent during that time, according to US Census Bureau figures.”

[Do read Weir's article to see the various explanations given for why car registrations may have dropped. — Gary Imhoff]


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