February 6, 2013

Wishful Thinking

Dear Hopers and Wishers:

Do take note of the closing paragraphs of Mayor Gray’s State of the District address, which Dorothy quotes below.


Over the years, Jonetta Rose Barras has routinely criticized Natwar Gandhi, DC’s Chief Financial Officer, who announced his retirement recently. I have a more positive opinion of Gandhi, whom I think on balance has done a good job for years in a very difficult position. But Jonetta’s most recent column on Gandhi has useful suggestions for how to proceed now to find the next CFO, http://tinyurl.com/adflwgx. "Fortunately, a consensus appears to be emerging that Mayor Vincent Gray should conduct a national search. If he and the council want a new and improved CFO, they may want to go one step further: establish a transition committee. . . . The transition committee would review legal issues surrounding the CFO’s shop and answer questions like: Should there be changes to the office’s mission, structure, or range of control? Should the CFO supervise every finance officer in every agency of the government? Should the office continue to have authority for the lottery? With mayoral and council approval, the transition team could also conduct a forensic audit. Officials need to know exactly how Gandhi has managed his $119 million budget, especially since two of his former audit chiefs have suggested he has interfered with reports that have found control weaknesses that could lead to waste, fraud and abuse. There have been massive thefts under Gandhi’s watch. The work of the transition committee would need to be completed within the next 60 days. Undoubtedly, its report, if thorough and detailed, could provide a road map for potential improvements and reforms in the office."


In response to my piece on "YIMBY’s" in the February 3 issue of themail, an alert reader forwarded to me an article from the Washington Blade by Lou Chibarro, "Gay Couple Seeks to Block U St. Liquor Licenses," http://tinyurl.com/ame7nwv. "Gay former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Ramon Estrada and his partner, civic activist Elwyn Ferris, are playing a key role in what many believe will be a heated battle over whether the city should ban all new bars and restaurants with liquor licenses from opening in the rapidly developing 14th and U streets, NW corridor. The recently formed Shaw-Dupont Citizens Alliance, for which Ferris serves as secretary and Estrada is a member, and the lesser known Residential Action Coalition, filed a petition in December with the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board calling for the moratorium. Gay nightlife advocates, who strongly oppose such a moratorium, acknowledge that the proposal isn’t directed at gay bars or the gay community. But similar to their straight counterparts, they say the proposal would stifle economic development in a vibrant area where large numbers of LGBT people have moved because they embrace the nightlife amenities. . . . [Joan] Sterling [president of the Shaw-Dupont Citizens Alliance] dismisses these arguments, saying there are 107 existing liquor licenses in the proposed moratorium zone. ‘How can anyone claim this won’t remain a vibrant area for bars and restaurants?’ she said."

Gary Imhoff


The Bluebird of Happiness: Gray’s Vision for the City
Dorothy Brizill, dorothy@dcwatch.com

On Tuesday, February 5, Mayor delivered his 2013 State of the District address, http://tinyurl.com/bxesq6m, at the Sixth and I Streets Historic Synagogue downtown. While Gray has never been known for his oratorical ability, the address — brimming over with sports metaphors — was a boring eighteen-page mess, which sough to detail the "accomplishments" of the Gray administration and the extent to which DC is "now a big-league city." Most of these touted accomplishments are, in fact the routine work that most citizens expect from their government in areas of public safety, economic development, housing, the environment, job training, and public education. The mayor announced few new initiatives. Those that were included were appointment of a new business regulatory reform task force, working with the private sector to create work and office space downtown to help incubate new startup firms, the creation of a "DC workforce intermediary" that would link jobs in construction, retail, and hospitality to the unemployed, a new one-hundred-million dollar affordable housing initiative, establishment of a fifteen million dollar One City Fund to provide grants to nonprofit organizations, and new work agreements and pay raises for District government employees.

In closing his remarks, Gray detailed his vision for the city: "I envision that, in the not-so-distant future: we will have the best public schools in the country; we will have a diversified economy no longer hugely dependent on the federal government; there will be a job for every District resident who wants one, and all district residents will have the skills to complete; our residents will live more safely, more healthily, and more sustainably; affordable housing will be spread across all eight of our wards — enough to ensure that the District continues to enjoy a rich diversity of people, cultures, occupations, ages, and incomes; and the District of Columbia won’t even be the District of Columbia anymore — because it will be the State of New Columbia!"


Committee of 100 Criticizes National Capital Planning Commission Proposals
Byron Adams, badamsc100@verizon.net

The Committee of 100 on the Federal City comments that the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) recommendations to update federal planning policies could lead to new skyscrapers and other development out of sync with the capital city’s character. The proposals, the Committee says, downplay the long-standing federal responsibility for protecting the city’s unique layout and skyline by giving insufficient attention to three critical, historic, and still vibrant planning tools– historic preservation, urban design and the Height Act. "This is no time for the federal government to weaken its role in planning the future form of the nation’s capital. Collaboration between DC and the federal government should continue to protect the appearance and character of the city symbolizing our democracy," said Nancy MacWood, Chair of the Committee of 100.

Two legendary plans and legislation governing height of buildings initiated by the federal government have guided and protected the design of the most planned city in the country for more than 200 years. The L’Enfant Plan has defined the city’s singular pattern of circles, radial avenues, and broad open vistas. The one-hundred-year-old McMillan Plan augmented the earlier plan with a vision for ensuring parks, connectivity, and outstanding views to and from the topographical bowl land masses surrounding the nation’s capital. The 1910 Height of Buildings Act helped ensure that the physical form of the District would be like no other American city in representing the image of our democracy.

Three elements of NCPC’s draft recommendations come up short: 1) the Goal Statements of the Historic Preservation and Urban Design Elements do not mention the synergy of the three significant planning tools and their continuing importance in the development of the city; 2) the two elements ignore the citywide scope of the McMillan Plan and the Height of Buildings Act, which has thus far enabled the city to retain its human scale as it grows; and 3) the Historic Preservation Element fails to mention the intent to protect the iconic "horizontal skyline," determined in part by the region’s natural features and the complementary height restrictions.

For more than eight decades the Committee of 100 on the Federal City has advocated for responsible planning and land use in Washington, DC. We are planners, architects, preservationists, community activists, and concerned citizens. We respect the values we have inherited from L’Enfant’s original plan for the city and the work of the early 20th century McMillan Commission. Washington is both a truly world-class city — and our home — and our work aims to help the city grow and function even better in the 21st century. The Committee’s web site is http://www.committeeof100.net.



SBOE Working Session on High School Graduation Requirements, February 13
Jesse B. Rauch, Executive Director, sboe.dc.gov

The District of Columbia State Board of Education (DCSBOE) will hold a working session to discuss revisions to the proposed high school graduation requirements. The working session will be held on Wednesday, February 13, at 4:30 p.m. at 441 4th Street, NW, Room 1114. While working sessions are open to the public, individuals and representatives of organizations are not permitted to speak or participate during the working session. However, individuals and representatives of organizations may submit written testimony for consideration by the Board. Written testimony may also be submitted by E-mail at sboe@dc.gov.


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 http://www.dcwatch.com/themail.

All postings should be submitted to themail@dcwatch.com, 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.