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March 20, 2013

News Hole

Dear Readers:

Eric Wemple reports on the impact of the Washington Examinerís closing of its daily print edition and its elimination of local news, http://tinyurl.com/18r, "Kytja Weir, the paperís tremendous transit reporter, says of the change: ĎIt sucks.í Nor did she and her colleagues have any notion that it was in the works, she says. (Even news editors were in the dark). With the Washington Times having scaled back its Metro coverage over the years and The Washington Post moving to a paywalled future, says Weir, Ďitíll be a lot harder for people to get accountability journalism.í Or just the news. On any given week, the Examiner heaved an enormous amount of content, though often in very small installments. Reporters would often have to shoehorn their copy into dispatches of 300-400 words. But whatever: The local coverage has blanketed the region, with two transportation beat reporters, two DC government reporters, a Maryland state house reporter, a Virginia state house reporter, two crime reporters and reporters covering Montgomery County, Fairfax County, and Prince Georgeís County. Thatís not counting around five people in sports."

The Examiner had, and temporarily still has, some very good local reporters and columnists, many more than Wemple mentions. Their firing will leave a very big hole in local news coverage. The paucity of local news coverage is even more stark than Wemple mentions. It is not just the Washington Times, but also the Washington Post, that has scaled back its Metro coverage. The Metro section of the Post is thin, and its news hole smaller. Local television "news" is devoted to sports, weather, crime stories, and funny animal clips from Youtube; the recent Pew survey of local television news showed that, nationally, only 3 percent of the time of local television news programs is spent on coverage of local politics.

This puts a greater responsibility than before on the Internet, on local bloggers and community listservs, to do the kind of reporting that our traditional news sources are shirking and abandoning. As individuals and members of community organizations, we have to share with others in our city and our neighborhoods what is going on. Washington Times columnist Jonetta Rose Barras has sent an E-mail today saying that, "I have been contacted by numerous individuals concerned about the void that may be created, particularly the absence of my twice weekly columns. When the frequency of my writing in the Examiner increased, I suspended my online column. Your E-mails and telephone calls have helped me to decide to resurrect my online publishing. Publication of The Barras Report will begin May 1, 2013." I hope that many other local reporters and columnists will follow her example and create their own outlets for local news on the net.

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Amid the coverage of the installation of Pope Francis, one commenter on CBS said that his success as a leader is due to his humility and his being a servant of the people. It sounds like good advice for anyone who wants to be a leader of the people, not just in religion but also in politics.

Gary Imhoff
themail@dcwatch.com

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There Is No Justice Here
Trish Chittams, mintrish@gmail.com

On January 21, I received the type of call which can make a parentís blood run cold. In an icy calm voice our seventeen-year-old daughter informed me that she was fine, but that someone had tried to rob the friend she was with at the Potomac Avenue Metro. The perpetrator told her friend, with my daughter and her twin sister standing there, "your money or your life" and put his hand in his coat as if he had a weapon. My daughter pulled her friend and her sister away and they ran. Fortunately, the police came immediately and were able to arrest the two perpetrators. I rushed to the scene. That was it. No one was hurt. The kids were a bit shaken up, and while they waited in the police car for their turn to speak with the detectives, they laughed and joked with each other, a normal way to deal with shock. When they got home it was a different matter, but it was over. The perpetrators were caught and all that needed to happen was the prosecution. At least that was what we were led to believe.

Unfortunately, they are being victimized a second time by the Juvenile Justice System. Despite having three witnesses, the city prosecutorís office has offered one of the perpetrators a plea deal to Attempted theft and miscellaneous threats. From my seat this was an attempted robbery and felony criminal threat. Ms. Nada Paisant, the ADA on the case, never even had the decency to contact the primary victim to discuss it with the parent first. They never interviewed our daughters. But this didnít stop the Public Defenderís office from sending investigators to my home to interview them, further victimizing the girls, who were scared to death to receive a phone call from one of the Georgetown law students telling her to open the door, as they were right outside and wanted to talk to them. Later I learned from the victimís parent that the second perpetrator was never arrested. Six weeks after the attempted robbery, after the parent continued to persistently call the prosecutor assigned to the case, Nada Paisant, and the detective assigned to the case, they finally provided the victim a photo array. The photo array consisted of grainy pictures from a photocopier. They couldnít even do one with color photos because they donít have color ink. And this is the nationís capitol. My daughters have still not been interviewed.

Now, because six weeks after the incident, one perpetrator is still on the loose, and the second individual may never be arrested, and these individualís have friends. My daughters, who are easily identifiable, as they are identical twins, are hostages. They are hostages because for safety reasons they cannot travel on their own throughout the city. Simply because they did the right thing, they have to be ferried to and fro by my husband, myself, or their grandparents. The best thing my girls can do, and these are girls with a 3.8 and 3.0 GPA respectively, who speak and read Latin, French, and English, who volunteer for their church and community, is to graduate from high school and get the heck out of DC, never to return.

I have found when speaking with other police officers, and parents of other children victimized by juveniles, that the lack of justice is commonplace. The police are not motivated because the Juvenile Justice Division, headed by Jennifer White, just offers plea deals, and the miscreants are on the streets before the paperwork is finished. No one wants to testify or tell the police, because nothing will happen to the juveniles who commit these and more egregious crimes. The "snitches" are then targeted, and there is no protection for them. In fact, I had one individual share that there is one judge within the Juvenile system who, no matter what the individual before them has done, feels sorry for them and puts them on probation again. The perpetrators know this and continue to perform heinous acts of violence against the populace. There is no justice for my daughters or for their friend. There is no justice for the hundreds of victims of crimes perpetrated by juveniles in this city and that is a damn shame. Liberal policies that give these miscreants a pass because they are poor or because they are Black is no longer acceptable. We have raised a generation of individuals who have no fear of consequences; they know the system better that we do, and they work it. Too bad the system doesnít work for us.

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Making Parking More Difficult
Tom Grahame, tgrahame@mindspring.com

I sent this E-mail to our ANC commissioner, Brian Pate, who voted for the proposal to allow developers to not include parking in new developments of ten units or less, if built within half a mile of a Metro stop. I donít begrudge bicyclists their bike lanes, though it surely makes driving a bit trickier. But I do think that this new policy, which will put many more cars on the street in competition for parking spaces with "incumbent" car owners, is very much anti-auto.

"Brian, thank you for your E-mail, and for your forthright explanation of why you voted the way you did on the proposal to allow developers to not include parking in new developments of ten units or less, if built within half a mile of a Metro stop. I wish all public officials were so forthright, and communicated so clearly and openly with their constituents. Thank you very much for doing so. For what it is worth, and if it is worth anything, it will have to do with future tweaks on parking regs, I will comment on what you wrote about the parking space proposals, knowing that at this point it doesnít matter with regard to the major policy issue, which is now set in stone.

"First, when you say that reducing reliance on vehicles is important to the future of our city, I would argue that most of us who chose to live in the city did so precisely because we did not want to rely on our cars. I never wanted to commute by car; thatís why I chose to live in a place in which I could walk to work. So if we have already chosen to not rely on our vehicles very much, at least for work, but we still need our cars for other things. Why chose a policy that might make it harder to use cars for anything? In a comment discussion on Larry Janezichís blog, someone said that they didnít need a car for shopping. Iím sure that person is young. Iím not, and there are a lot of heavy items in most of our grocery shopping. When I was younger, Iím not sure I did a good job in putting myself in the shoes of my parentsí generation, either. You make this point below: ĎThe current mandatory minimums donít alleviate the problem of over-congestion and parking scarcity. My sense is that if they did, we would not have congestion and parking scarcity on the hill, or elsewhere in the city.í

"Isnít this some kind of reverse logic? The current mandatory minimums, which have kept cars from big residences off the street, donít alleviate the parking in the street congestion problem, so letís make a policy that puts more cars in the street. Did I miss something? I think you take the (correct to me) view a bit later in your E-mail when you added these words as an amendment: "ANC6B is concerned that in the absence of a more well articulated policy framework and implementation plan, elimination of parking minimums alone may only serve to shift the burden of providing parking spaces from developers onto scarce public parking resources, with the potential to adversely impact neighbors in the process. Indeed, elimination of parking minimums alone may not achieve the desired effect of reducing the number of cars on our city streets." You also say: "The OP proposal does not prevent developers from building parking spaces. If the market demands parking, then developers will build parking spots." I agree with you entirely on this. Developers will build parking spots when on the street parking becomes so intolerable that people will pay a few hundred dollars a month over market prices for residences in order to get a sure parking space. This is what we are afraid of!

"Now, to a proposal. It is a proposal that takes aspects of three existing programs. One of them is that you can get a disabled parking spot in front of your house if you are a disabled driver (although we are not, and hope not to qualify for that designation). The second program is the tax program put in place circa 2000 to prevent the rise of RE taxes for existing owners when DC RE values came close to tripling from 1998 through 2005. RE tax increases (as opposed to valuation increases) were restricted to no more than 10 percent annually, for residents who owned their homes at the beginning of the period. Grandfathering. The third is a break on your RE taxes if you are over sixty-five or so and make less than one hundred thousand dollars annually (if I remember the numbers correctly, I may not).

"Perhaps we could grandfather a parking space, in front of the house, for people over age 65 at the time the new regulation is passed. Thatís the proposal. It is age-related, like the income tax policy. It grandfathers only people already living here, like the policy restricting increases in RE taxes to 10 percent annually. And it parallels the existing disabled parking space policy, not that all people over sixty-five are disabled, but letís face it, most of us have physical issues of some sort (I work out in addition to walking to work, but Iíve had five knee operations and I now have a bad back. Not complaining! Just illustrating the point.) With time, those spaces will disappear, of course. The virtue of this proposal, in my eyes, is that those who are least likely to be able to walk to the Safeway or Harris Teeter for their groceries, or who might be most at risk if they have to walk 4 blocks after parking their car at night (that already happens to me once in a while) will know that they can park near their home. We can deal with these issues at present: the issue is that this situation could get a lot worse.

"So that is my proposal. I hope that it will be viewed favorably by you, Brian, and by others. I have no doubt that there will be thoughts on how to make it better, and thoughts that it should never see the light of day. I would be very interested in what anyone might have to add."

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FOIA Request Denied for West End Library Agreement
Robin Diener, rdiener@savedclibraries.org

A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Officer has denied a request by the DC Library Renaissance Project (DCLRP) for a copy of the final land disposition agreement (LDA) between the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) and developer EastBanc, LLC for the controversial West End Parcels deal. An LDA is a contract of sale, often referred to as a term sheet. When the case was heard recently at the Court of Appeals, Judge Roy L. McNeeseís first question was "Where is the final LDA?" EastBancís counsel, Deborah Baum, confirmed that only a draft agreement was included in the record.

"The terms of a deal conveying valuable public property to a private developer should be public," said DCLRP attorney Oliver Hall. "The Districtís refusal to disclose the LDA, in apparent violation of the Districtís open records law, raises serious questions about the propriety of this deal." The DC Library Renaissance Project is suing the Zoning Commission (ZC) over its decision to approve a Planned Unit Development (PUD) of three pieces of publicly-owned land in the West End, which the city is conveying to EastBanc in exchange for its construction of a new library and firehouse. Among the points of contention is the improper granting of a waiver of the affordable housing required under the Districtís Inclusionary Zoning law.

DCLRP maintains that prime real estate was substantially undervalued and offered as an incentive to build the facilities, which the ZC then failed to take into account when approving the Eastbanc waiver. In addition, according to DCLRP, the new library/firehouse facilities are being paid for by the city through the land transfer and they should not count towards a waiver. DCLRP filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the finalized LDA document after the Court of Appeals hearing. On Friday that request was formally denied in an E-mail by DMPEDís FOIA Officer Ayesha Abbasi "on the grounds that these documents contain internal discussions and recommendations of a deliberative nature as well as attorney client communications. These documents are exempt pursuant to DC Official Code ß2-534 (a)(4)." DCLRP plans to appeal the denial of its FOIA request.

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Biennial Report Filing Fee for Corporations and LLCís
Richard Urban, drichardurban@urbangrocery.com

Can anyone explain why the filing fee for corporations and LLCs has increased from $150 every two years to $300 every two years? I have contacted virtually all of the DC council offices, but all anyone can say is that it is not their responsibility, that DCRA rulemaking set the fees, and there is nothing they can do about it. Most states charge no fee or only about $10 per year. I feel that this is just a blatant money grab that especially affects small LLCs. I think that any business fee increases need to be justified. Councilmembers voted to approve these fees. Why was there no questioning about such a steep increase? Also, does anyone know if these fees were previously set by the council, and the DC Code changed to allow them to be set directly by DCRA?

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Lon Anderson an Embarrassment to AAA
Daniel Wedderburn, danielwedderburn@cs.com

Lon Anderson continues to embarrass his employer, AAA. So many of us grew up admiring AAA for being in the forefront promoting driving safety. His anti-DC rhetoric that in effect promotes just the opposite is astonishing. Never occurs to him that cameras have had and continue to have a huge effect on reducing the number of deaths and serious injuries not only in the District but in the suburbs. Does he not know the overwhelming statistics about this? He seems completely unaware that people get tickets only when they violate safety laws. Itís really simple: People who obey the law do not get tickets. So sad he is unable to put peopleís lives above the dollar sign.

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CLASSIFIEDS ó EVENTS

Follow the Money, Citizens Federation Assembly on DCís FY 2014 Budget, March 26
Anne Renshaw, milrddc@aol.com

On March 26, 6:45 p.m.-9:00 p.m., at All Souls Memorial Episcopal Church Hall, 2300 Cathedral Avenue, NW, Jennifer Budoff, the Budget Director of the council of the District of Columbia, will outline the cityís FY 2014 budget for the DC Federation of Citizens Associations. Federation members are expected to question Ms. Budoff on the cityís $417 million budget surplus (whether to bank or spend the surplus, or cut taxes), DCís bond ratings, CFO Natwar M. Gandhiís approaching resignation, agency budget hearings, DCís $7.9 billion debt, federal budget cuts (and their impact on DC) and the councilís financial oversight of more than eighty million dollars to the DC Health Benefit Exchange.

Last year, according to Administration officials, the 2013 Budget contained "no tax increases," in line with the Federationís established position of "No New Taxes," adopted by the Assembly in 2011. What happened to the pledge of "no tax increases" in 2013 and the possibility of tax escalation (versus tax cuts) in FY 2014 will be central to the conversation with Ms. Budoff. The Citizens Federationís Assembly is open to the public.

All Souls Memorial Episcopal Church is located at 2300 Cathedral Avenue, NW, near Connecticut Avenue and the Woodley Park Metro (Red Line). The Church parking lot is off Woodley Place, behind the church. The entrance to the Church Hall is down the garden steps from the parking lot. The door will open at 6:30 p.m.. Ms. Budoffís presentation, to include audience questions and answers, will begin at 7:15 p.m., following Federation announcements. For further information, contact Anne Renshaw, President, DC Citizens Federation, 363-6880.

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