Liz Farmer wrote an interesting article that adds to the Height Limit
debate, “Experts: Raising Building Height Limits Bad for DC,” http://tinyurl.com/7sd8ph4:
“The Heights of Buildings Act, enacted by Congress in 1910, has
enabled growth in downtown by not oversupplying the demand for
residences and office space with skyscrapers, planners said. Despite
developers’ complaints that they’d be more attracted to DC if the
city raised its height limit and they could make more money off their
buildings, that restriction is exactly what has fueled economic growth
in the District, experts said.”
Mark Lee wrote “Shut the Front Door on Regulatory Overreach,” http://tinyurl.com/7ej4r7o,
for the Washington Blade. It’s about the “DC Council ‘nanny
caucus’ — Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), Phil
Mendelson (D-At-Large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1)”: “[T]heir policy
efforts appear limited only by what can be cribbed from the hit lists of
special interest groups or that mimic legislatively trendy mandates
offered up by hyper-regulatory counterparts in other jurisdictions. A
reflexive tendency to meddle in the minutiae of business operation, as
if a parent scolding a small child, has become as unflinchingly normal
as commerce itself. Instead of scheming up overzealous and ridiculous
new business micromanagement measures of either controversial or
counterproductive merit, we would be better served by sensible Council
members supportive of local businesses and the revenues they generate.”
The DC Public Schools Five-Year Strategic Plan was released, http://www.dcpswatch.com/dcps/1204.pdf,
along with a press release from Mayor Gray, http://www.dcpswatch.com/dcps/120418.pdf.
Photo Enforcement — For Public Safety, or
for Revenue Enhancement?
Jack McKay, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Foxhall Road speed camera holds the record, I think, issuing 366
speeding tickets a day, or roughly one for every twenty passing cars.
One camera nearer me, on Porter Street just east of Connecticut Avenue,
is reported to be good for 170 speeding tickets a day. I’m surprised
it’s not more than that, given that it’s located where Porter opens
up into a four-lane, limited-access, divided highway, so it’s only
pokey oldsters like me who think that thirty-odd mph is fast enough.
What’s the purpose of the Porter Street speed trap? With neither
residences nor commercial establishments alongside the road, foot
traffic is minimal, and pedestrian crossing of the street at this
location is negligible. The idea seems to be to set an unreasonably low
speed limit, inviting automobile drivers to violate the limit and set
themselves up for a very unwelcome letter in the mail. One general rule
for setting speed limits is the 85th-percentile speed actually observed
on roads, based on the assumption that most drivers are actually pretty
reasonable folks who will drive at speeds they consider safe, given the
conditions of the road. By that rule, the speed limit for this section
of Porter Street ought to be 40 mph. But the MPD, in its wisdom, sets it
at 30 mph, and says hello to revenue enhancement.
There’s more to come. The FY2013 District budget is counting on an
additional thirty million dollars in revenues from an expansion of photo
enforcement, and a large purchase of additional cameras is in the works.
One has to ask, is this for increased safety on DC streets, or for
increased District revenues? These computerized traffic cops don’t do
anything about the most serious threats to traffic safety, namely
drivers who are drunk, on drugs, or distracted by cell phones. Nor does
this technology address the unsafe design of arterial roadways, which
the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration holds responsible for
more than half of all pedestrian deaths. We seem to be doing little
about the truly serious causes of traffic accidents and pedestrian
collisions, preferring to buy gimmickry that promises millions of
dollars in District revenues.
Another DC Budget
Balanced on the Backs of the Poor?
David Schwartzman, DC Statehood Green Party, email@example.com
Our Mayor proposes another DC budget balanced on the backs of the
poor; should we be surprised? On April 20, we learned that our former
mayor, Anthony Williams, has been appointed as Chief Executive of the
Federal City Council, the leading local think tank of the 1 percent, or
is it the 0.1 percent? (Note that Frank Keating, the former Republican
governor of Oklahoma and now president and CEO of the American Bankers
Association, is the FCC president). Anthony Williams served on Mayor
Gray’s transition team and was also just appointed to head the new Tax
Revision Commission. As CFO of the Control Board, Anthony Williams was a
key architect of the Urban Structural Adjustment Program that balanced
our budget on the backs of our poor, while favoring the wealthy with tax
cuts (the Tax Parity Act). The Control Board regime closed DC General
Hospital, privatized municipal functions, cut the so-called safety net,
and increased our income gap to record levels, while setting the course
for Mayor Fenty’s agenda that brought this assault on our working and
middle class majority to a new level. And Mayor Gray has not
unexpectedly continued along the same road.
While our mayor and council deserve credit for their liberal policies
regarding sexual orientation and immigrants rights, their economic and
public education policies should brand them as Republicans posing as
Democrats. For example, our mayor just endorsed new DCPS school closings
based on an IFF study funded by the Walton Foundation (Walmart), opening
up new opportunities for the semi-privatization of public education.
Colbert King just characterized conservative Democrats one hundred years
ago as favoring “the wealthy, to whom much has been given, have no
stake in anybody else’s success,” http://tinyurl.com/6twrwpf,
an apt description of most of our local Democratic elected officials,
and of course the Republican posing as an Independent, David Catania.
When will these Democrats follow President Obama’s example by at least
claiming to go on an “Offense Over Taxes on the Wealthy,” a headline
from the New York Times?
Now to address the DC budget process. For FY 2013, Mayor Gray has
proposed even more hurtful budget cuts in low income programs, amounting
to roughly seventy million dollars, which include programs involving
health care coverage for low income residents, affordable housing,
homeless services. and cash assistance for families with children (for
details go to http://www.dcfpi.org).
This proposal comes on top of $239 million already cut from low income
programs since 2008, according to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute’s
budget data. And while the mayor and the council squabble about where to
spend the $79 million surplus, specifically whether to pay back city
employees for their four-day furlough taken at the beginning of 2011,
the elephant sitting in the Wilson Building remains unnoticed, the
under-taxed, now growing income of the top 5 percent of DC residents,
whose family income is above $250,000 per year (note too that the
furlough subtracted four days of pay from all affected, hence putting
the greatest burden on the lowest paid employees). After the small tax
hike on the wealthy passed last year, no one on the council is talking
yet about another hike. Unless challenged by a relentless lobby, they
will go ahead and pass another austerity budget, once again balancing it
on the backs of the poor and near poor, including the former middle
class. According to Tavis Smiley and Cornel West in “The Rich and the
Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto,” 150 million, or nearly half, of
Americans are either poor or near poor, suffering from the lack of
income security. In DC more than a majority of residents fall in that
category. Fifty percent of DC’s Black children are living in poverty.
Meanwhile the Washington Post tells us that the 1 percent are
doing better than ever, with their minimum household income being
$617,000. (Note: this minimum is lower than the ITEP minimum of $1.5
million for the top 1 percent of District families, excluding the
elderly because the Census figures the Post relied on are
underestimating the real income because of tax avoidance.)
Here are the latest DC tax statistics, updated by the Institute on
Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP): the top 1 percent of DC families,
with three million dollars of million income now pay a lower DC tax rate
(6.1 percent) than the bottom 20 percent with $12,400 annual income (7.0
percent), while the working/middle class pays 9 to 10 percent, taking
into account the federal deduction benefit, mostly helping the upper
income families, restoring some of the money spent for their DC taxes.
Yes, the total DC tax burden of the top 1 percent is now even lower than
before the small hike on incremental income above $350,000 passed last
year. According to ITEP, the very wealthy across the nation have found
even more ways to hide their income from taxation.
There is an alternative: hike the overall tax burden of wealthy
residents by no more than two cents on the dollar of family income,
yielding two hundred million dollars a year in additional revenue, while
at the same time tax relief for our low income and middle class
residents could be provided, e.g., by coupling the District
income tax deduction and exemption with the federal rates. The increased
revenue should be targeted by legislation to restoring and expanding the
gutted programs that serve low income residents, especially for
affordable housing and income security (TANF and its supports that
facilitate entry into the workforce earning living wages). And any
budget surplus should likewise be targeted to restoring these programs.
More badly needed revenue should come from curbing corporate welfare
including unjustified tax abatements and subsidies, our mayor and
council campaigning for PILOTS, payments in lieu of taxes from the World
Bank, IMF, Fannie Mae, as well as making PEPCO pay its DC taxes and
taking immediate steps to establish a DC Public Bank, investing our
taxes into green economic development, living-wage jobs, and affordable
housing. For more on the District government’s record since 2008,
check out the Report on the State of Human Rights in DC: http://afsc.org/resource/report-state-human-rights-dc.
Bill Brown, Association of Oldest Inhabitants, firstname.lastname@example.org
When the Association of the Oldest Inhabitants of DC encouraged the
Commission on Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission to
commemorate the centennial of the Building Height Act in 2010, they
cosponsored a panel of experts discussing the pros and cons of loosening
the District’s height restrictions. In his presentation entitled “The
Equation of Height and Density in the Form and Economy of Washington,
DC, in the 21st Century,” keynote speaker Larry Beasley warned, “. .
. I close with a cautionary note. Be very careful as you gamble with the
100-year legacy of Washington’s Height Act. Take care not to open
things up too casually. I dare say, those height limits may be the
single most powerful thing that has made this city so amazingly
The AOI of DC, the city’s oldest civic organization, founded
December 7, 1865, has taken a position opposing changes to the Building
Height Act as we believe any change will be a slippery slope which, over
time, will continue to be re-/misinterpreted, twisted, modified . . .
all in the name of economic development and to the detriment of
neighborhoods, parks, open space, and livability. We also believe, as we
have stated regarding the issue of overhead streetcar wires, that what
is “good for the old city, should be good for the whole city” and
not disproportionately impact the neighborhood and residents east of the
Anacostia or outlying areas near Metro rail stations.
We hope this discussion continues (as it did in the April 10 Post)
but that the ultimate outcome will be to leave well enough alone!
Here is the link to Larry Beasley’s full presentation: http://www.ncpc.gov/DocumentDepot/Presentations/Larry_Beasley_Height_Act_Address_May182010_.pdf
Jenefer Ellingston, Ward 6, email@example.com
Let everyone who wants to live in Rossyln, go live there. And who has
the right to define the “monumental core”? Certainly not Congressman
Issa. Already, little remains of the beautiful city that was Washington.
If you drive on K Street, NE, and go west under Union Station railroad,
you will see building after building, each one exactly like the other.
No character, no aesthetic, no design; just ordered by number from a
catalogue. Be sure to put the right number on the building. How else
will we know which is which? Actually, they aren’t “buildings”;
they are upright aluminum envelopes with lots of glass, but no window
frames and no windows — just glass. It takes a week to build one of
these bloodless, shoe boxes.
Please keep up the fight.
In response to an opinion piece I wrote (themail, April 15) about
Mike DeBonis of The Washington Post, DeBonis responded (themail,
April 19) to clarify the equivocal meaning of his tweet, “sucker’s
wide open.” I was under the impression that DeBonis’ tweet — “sucker’s
wide open” — was directed at the At-Large candidate, Vincent Orange
(VO), for the following reasons: 1) the premises of DeBonis’ tweets
were only and solely referencing VO, his 2011 stats, and recognizing VO’s
vulnerability (“wide open”) in the 2012 election. 2) The series of
VO tweets concluded with the word “sucker” — in its slang context
— which gave the tweets all the pejorative connotation and multiple
I’m glad DeBonis clarified exactly what he intended to communicate
with his tweets. One would hate to believe that The Washington Post’s
failure to disclose DeBonis’ relationship with Biddle’s press
secretary, the tweets about VO and his Robo Calls during the last leg of
the election, and his March 29, article were used to influence public
opinion and voters.
In reference to DeBonis’ confusing piece on March 29, “DC Council
Can’t Escape Politics of Pay Raises,” http://tinyurl.com/772boro,
he did a follow-up story on Liz Framer’s, of the Washington Times,
article on March 27, http://tinyurl.com/89bcqw4,
about council pay raises and included links to Farmer’s article and
other write-ups. What’s “bizarre” is the 2006 picture DeBonis used
depicted five councilmembers — including Vincent Orange — and only
one of the councilmembers (Mendelson) was mentioned in his article.
Although the links used recent pictures of either Evans or the full
council, DeBonis chose not to use a picture of the 2012 council or
Councilman Jack Evans, who was the focal point of the article(s),
because he cosponsored the pay raise bill and took this year’s pay
The Ambiguous “Sucker” is “Wide Open”
Sheila Reid, firstname.lastname@example.org
I read Pamela Johnson’s and Mike DeBonis’ analyses of the word
“sucker” in its slang context and I agree with both conclusions.
DeBonis may have prevented his tweet from being interpreted as an insult
to Vincent Orange if the tweet weren’t written in the slang phrase,
“sucker’s wide open.” This use of slang can also mean the “sucker’s
nose is wide open,” and both expressions refer to a man or woman, not
an object or event, that is vulnerable and exploitable.
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