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February 17, 2013

The Twilight Zone

Dear Zoners:

The best way to hide important news is to print it openly under a snooze-inducing headline, like "Zoning Regulations Review." Who cares, and even among those who care, who can sustain interest in an article about it for more than the first three or four paragraphs? When a "Zoning Regulations Review" article is printed on page one, donít your eyes immediately wander off in search of something more compelling, like an account of Lindsay Lohanís latest brawl in a nightclub, or her most recent car accident as she sped off, fleeing from the paparazzi?

Which is a way of saying that there are several messages below about the Office of Planningís Zoning Regulations Review, and that they are important and deserve your attention.

Gary Imhoff


Special Privileges
Dorothy Brizill,

Under the leadership of Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, the city council is continuing its questionable practice of adopting major, substantive legislative as emergency legislation, even hough o real emergency exists that would warrant circumventing the normal legislative process. At Tuesdayís upcoming legislative session of the council, the agenda will include "emergency" and "temporary" versions of two bills ó the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability Amendment Act of 2013 (Bill 20-116) and the Prohibition on Government Employee Engagement in Political Activity Amendment Act of 2013 (Bill 20-117). Emergency bills go into effect immediately for a period of ninety days; temporary bills go into effect for 225 days, or through September 2013. On the surface, both bills would appear to be noncontroversial, and yet both could determine the manner in which the District handles and punishes those who violate the Districtís ethics laws as detailed in the Code of Conduct, as well as District laws against political activity as provided for in the cityís local Hatch Act (DC Law 18-335, Prohibition on Government Employee Engagement in Political Activity of 2010).

In many ways, the BEGA Accountability Emergency Act is intended to address shortcomings in the ethics bill when it was rushed out and adopted as emergency legislation in December 2011. It would allow the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability to "issue, on its own initiative, and advisory opinion on any matter." The legislation would also giver the Ethics Board the ability to impose additional penalties for violations of the Code of Conduct. These could possibly include: "(A) Remedial action in accordance with the Merit Personnel Act; (B) A public censure imposed by the Ethics Board; (C) A nonpublic informal admonition imposed by the Director of Government Ethics, appealable to the Ethics Board; (D) A finding of a violation and a period of probation during which a respondent may seek expungement of the violation upon successful completion of any probationary terms imposed by the Director of Government Ethics or the Ethics Board; or (E) The Director of Government Ethics may offer, and a respondent may accept, any negotiated disposition of a matter subject to approval by the Ethics Board." While it is important for the BEGA to have a wide range of actions at its disposal to take in response to ethics violations, it is troubling to note that three of the five new sanctions could be imposed by the Director of the Office of Government Ethics, and would increase his role and power, simply making him, and not the Board of Ethics, the equivalent of an ethics czar in DC. Moreover, it is troubling that the BEGA, which will oversee the Districtís new Open Government Office, when a director and staff are appointed, is itself likely to resort to a secret "nonpublic information admonition" as a means of dealing with ethics violations by government employees and officials.

The Prohibition on Government Employee Engagement in Political Activity Emergency Amendment Act of 2013, Bill 20-117, amends Law 18-0335, the Districtís Hatch Act, which the council had adopted in January 2011, pending the passage of a revised federal Hatch Act by Congress, the Hatch Act Modernization Act of 2012. Under B20-119, enforcement of L18-335 would be the responsibility of the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, and any violation would be investigated and treated as a breach of the District Code of Conduct.

Last Thursday, February 14, the councilís Government Operations Committee held a hearing on Bill 20-117, and received startling testimony from the Districtís Attorney General, Irvin Nathan. He testified that he and the Gray administration supported B20-117 "subject to two qualifications: first, that the Political Activity Emergency Act be amended to allow lawyers employed by the District to run for the new elected Attorney General position; and, second, to give the elected Attorney General the same freedom to engage in political activities as is provided by current law to other elected public officials in the District." Thus, while acknowledging that "the Districtís local prohibitions on political activity continue to bar [District] employees from running for any partisan political office," Nathan wants himself and all attorneys who work for the District government exempted from the Hatch Act. In short, Nathan argues that an amendment would be offered by the administration so that he and other attorneys employed by the District government would be accorded special privileges and could run for the new elected Attorney General position in the April 2014 primary. In a self-serving footnote to his claim for special status of DC government attorneys, Nathan notes in his testimony that, "I understand that this proposal may raise for Councilmembers the question of whether and to what extent District employees should be allowed to run for other elected position in the District government, such as for Mayor or for the Council. That is an important question and should be considered by the Council and the Executive when permanent legislation is reviewed. But because the Attorney General position is unique among elected offices, and because there is some reason to act quickly here with the first Attorney General primary election scheduled to take place in about a year, the Council should amend the law now to allow lawyers employed by the District to run for Attorney General, consistent with the federal reform recently secured."


OP ZRR vs. Home Equity
Kirby Vining,

Many recent articles in themail have been devoted to the Office of Planningís Zoning Regulations Review (OP ZRR) process and attendant public outreach meetings. I too am concerned by some of the points raised in the OP ZRR and by the character of the outreach meetings. Specifically, I did not move here and carefully work with all the community and neighborhood residents and interests to see "matter-of-right" trailer parks and garage apartment conversions spring up without the benefit of zoning hearings, and I am not interested at all in the "matter-of-right" possibility of corner shops popping up in our entirely R3-zoned neighborhood. I donít see that a simple review of the zoning rules could produce such suggestions, but OP sees this otherwise. When I occasionally visit Blagden Alley and Naylor Court, I appreciate why that location was "grandfathered" for such Auxiliary Dwelling Units, but also see that itís not for everyone. Thereís almost nothing unbuilt in those neighborhoods: itís all bricks and streets, no green. Among the highest values of my neighborhood is some little space for a garden or whatnot, not crowded out by intense residency, and comfortable distance from (or to) various transportation and stores. I personally would not want to be any closer to those things than I have chosen to be, and thought that the R3 zoning and the zoning hearing process would help keep it that way.

There are problems with unwieldy aspects to the current zoning process, and there are illegal ADUs which I think we have sufficient bureaucracy to address, but we seemingly lack the willpower to enforce regulations now on the books. The answer to a littering problem is not to abolish the littering law but to enforce it. Which is perhaps a bad analogy because in our lovely city we have no littering law. Why arenít we hearing recommendations from BZA and DCRA which have both experience and authority in these matters, rather than OP?

I wrote to the mayor about my concerns, and about the rather glib, I thought, dismissal of some of the questions raised during the outreach meeting, and also about the lack of community information about the meetings. About 70 percent of our neighborhood does not have or use E-mail or the web, and so I suggested that flyers and mail are the only way to reach this neighborhood, which was not represented at all at the Ward 5 meeting but for myself. Apparently home equity and responsible stewarding of community resources are not considered important in the face of utopian change, so flyers and direct mailings to solid citizens is unnecessary? The omniscient OP knows what is best for me? Brave New District.


DC Agencies Ignore Challenges Facing the City
Alma Gates,

Some may recall a forward-thinking planning document entitled "A Vision for Growing an Inclusive City," which provides a framework for the Comprehensive Plan revision and identifies three challenges the city must address if it is to succeed in its plans for the future: create successful neighborhoods; increase access to education and jobs; and connect the whole city.

In a recent Post op-ed,, Harriet Tregoning and Terry Bellamy say that "few proposals in the [Zoning Regulation Revision] ZRR have generated as much interest as parking." Thatís because OPís proposals are completely disconnected with the way our city lives and breathes and because the proposed zoning changes do little to preserve or protect the cityís one hundred thirty diverse neighborhoods. Absent are references to the Comprehensive Plan, a legally required document, which guides the cityís zoning laws, which in turn affect how property and surrounding properties may be used; the types of uses allowed in residential and commercial areas; and the amount of parking that must be provided. Instead, the Office of Planning has substituted a different planning rationale for the sound policies and guidance outlined in the Comprehensive Plan, while simultaneously tossing the current zoning regulations into the trash.

The op-ed uses a new DDOT initiative, Move DC, to justify some of the more controversial proposed parking regulations in the ZRR that suggest "in limited areas of the city, including downtown and other higher-density, mixed-use settings with plentiful access to mass transit, the minimum-parking requirements should be lifted. The draft changes also include allowing shared parking between buildings and requiring set-asides for car-share spaces. We view this as a highly tailored, "go slow" approach to simplifying and right-sizing parking requirements after decades of assuming a car-centered city very different from the one we now plan for." The two agency heads also used the op-ed to respond to a recent Washington Post Local Opinion by Sue Hemberger and Lon Anderson, which points to the faulty premises and data upon which OP is basing ZRR parking regulations, OP and DDOT initiatives should be framed within approved guidelines and oriented to meeting the challenges the city must address if it is to succeed in its plans for the future. Unfortunately that does not appear to be the approach that is being pursued.


Parking Rules for a 21st-Century DC
Gabe Goldberg, gabe at gabegold dot com

From an article by Harriet Tregoning, director of the DC Office of Planning, and Terry Bellamy, director of the DC Department of Transportation, "Few proposals in the comprehensive overhaul being considered for the Districtís 50-year-old zoning code have generated more public interest than proposed changes to parking requirements. Letís consider whatís been proposed and why. Current zoning regulations include a laundry list of parking minimums (the minimum number of spaces that must be provided) for each land use. But the same use is treated differently in different zones, and requirements are calculated on the basis of different criteria ó such as the length of a church pew, the number of employees or dwelling units, or whether a fast-food building has a side yard. These use-based parking standards interfere with the adaptive reuse of buildings and make no distinction between a development with great access to mass transit and one along an automobile-oriented commuter corridor."

Tregoning and Bellamy write that, "Concerns about competition for curbside spaces are understandable, but this is precisely why the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) has embarked on a vigorous effort to examine and update its own regulations, covering everything from the residential parking permit system to the pricing and management of parking meters. DDOT has also recently launched the MoveDC effort, a participatory, long-range plan that will guide future transportation investments to make it easier for everyone to get around."

Blah, blah, blah, I donít have much faith that the revisions will do anything to address ongoing street parking follies that prevent easy street-parking evening access. Nor do I expect rationalization of regulations requiring multiple signs and meter stickers governing individual parking spaces.


Costs of Transportation
Lars H. Hydle,

Does anyone know whether DC has a good system for collecting traffic ticket fines from residents of VA and MD?

And do the Circulator and Bikeshare break even?


I Need Your Help
Anita Bonds,

Last December over 75 percent of the DC Democratic State Committee voted for me to fill the Districtís at-large council position. Throughout my life I have worked tirelessly to bring people, ideas, and resources together to get work done to improve the lives of the people of the District of Columbia. Since joining the council, Iíve been hard at work meeting with people across the District to learn how government can better serve our communities.

On April 23, voters will go to the polls to fill the remaining term of the at-large council position. I need your support to continue the work of getting jobs for District residents, increasing the availability of affordable housing units, developing a quality education system, addressing health disparities, and giving attention to the needs of those less fortunate in our communities.

Your help will allow us to have the resources we need to reach out and secure the support of voters in every neighborhood across the District. Can you please contribute today to help us build the team we need to win? Any help is greatly appreciated.


Despite Redskinsí Claims, Concern Over Name Isnít Political Correctness Run Wild
Gabe Goldberg, gabe at gabegold dot com

Quoting Robert McCartneyís column, "The only morally defensible argument for keeping the name of Washingtonís professional football team is that people (like me) who wish to replace ĎRedskinsí are supposedly exaggerating the problem because of political correctness run wild. In this view, the nameís critics are just a small group of overly vocal, overly sensitive Native Americans backed by a knee-jerk chorus of guilt-ridden, non-Indian liberals. . . . ĎThereís nothing that we feel is offensive,í Allen said. ĎItís ludicrous to think that in any way weíre trying to upset anybody.í The second half of that quote is fine. Many Indian advocates concede the team is not consciously Ďtryingí to antagonize them. The wording of the first half is damning, however. Allen doesnít understand (or wonít acknowledge) that itís not up to him, a white man, to decide what offends Native Americans."

Last point there seems most important, hmmm?

[The problem is that itís McCartney, a white man, who has decided, against the available evidence, what he thinks should offend Native Americans. As I wrote in themail on February 10, the National Annenberg Election Survey found that 90 percent of American Indians had no problem with the name of the Washington Redskins, and only 9 percent of American Indians said that it was offensive. Is it possible that the portion of American Indians who are offended by the name has increased since the Annenberg Survey was taken in 2004? Itís entirely possible, since the 9 percent of American Indian activists has been joined by "a knee-jerk chorus of guilt-ridden, non-Indian liberals" to convince them that they should be offended. But there has to be better proof than quoting anti-Redskin activists to prove that a majority of Indians are actually offended by naming sports teams after Indians. ó Gary Imhoff]


Marion Ethel Howard,

Thanks to Mr. Lief who accurately described [themail, February 14] the Anacostia Indians, Newspaper and Yearbook names. I was a teacher of Spanish there for 32 years (1967-1999). No one ever thought any less of the name nor from the "tribe" from which it was derived. The current diatribes about the Redskin name is only an attention-grabbing exercise for a few who need their own publicity. Real Redskin fans are proud of the team and the name.


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