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August 7, 2013

Attracting Families Back

Dear Families:v

In the last issue of themail (August 4), I wrote about "The Childless City,", and agreed with Joel Kotkin and Ali Modares that our cityís urban planning policies drive families away from our central city. They attract young singles to small, crowded, congested high-rise apartments, but have no attraction for families with young children. Here are the top three things families look for: safety, schooling, and personal green space. Living in DC, you can get one or two out of three at an affordable price. But our cityís planners make it hard to find all three. Safety is a difficult problem, and crime rates go up and down in various neighborhoods throughout the years. Schooling may be the most intractable problem to solve. But personal green space, the ability to have a lawn and your choice of a swing set or a small flower or garden patch, is actually easy to have. There are several neighborhoods in the city in which the average family can aspire to a single-family house, even at todayís inflated prices. But our urban planners donít like those neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods are too like the suburbs for their taste. They waste valuable urban space on yards and pocket parks, when that space could be put to better use on more concentrated housing.


The big news in the past few days is Jeff Bezosí purchase of the Washington Post. Here are four little-noticed aspects of that purchase. Jeff Jarvis writes that Bezos doesnít have a good relationship with local advertisers. "One issue Iím surprised I havenít seen discussed regarding Jeff Bezosí acquisition of The Washington Post is what his tenure will mean to local advertisers. They donít like him. Heís helping putting them out of business. Havenít you seen: retail is in the tank. Stores have become showrooms for Amazonís sales. Looking at the golf club? Go to the pro shop and try it out and learn about it and get advice about it, then go to Amazon and buy it for a better price. Amazon is going into local markets with experiments in same-day delivery. He will do that in competition with local merchants,"

Michael Walsh, in National Review Online, comments on what the sale means for the Graham family: "One has to read in full the Timesís puff piece by Sheryl Gay Stolberg on one of the members of its exclusive club of family-money and bien-pensant progressivism ó really rich folks, down for the struggle! ó to get a sense of just how out of touch with reality these people are. Theyíre like the effete lateĖRoman Empire poets, impotent capons peeling grapes and arguing the nuances of internal rhyme as the big ugly Germans come crashing through the gates, barely bothering to look up as Alaricís axe meets their heads," passes on an interesting comment from WTOPís Jim Farley: "So, what does Hubbard all-newser WTOPís vice president for programming, Jim Farley . . . , think about the Washington Postís sale to Amazon.comís Jeff Bezos for $250 million? We asked him and he texted us this response: ĎCould be good. Newspaper business model slammed by disruptive technology. Now they are owned by the best disrupter in the business. Fresh thinking. will no longer play second fiddle to print. Web and social media will grow at Post. More convergence. Amazing that Post sold for a lot less than WTOP is worth. Look for new owner to grow digital and make strategic alliances with TV, radio, and cable. . . . Maybe they will try to hire back John Solomon, pure speculation on my part, no facts to back it up.í"

And an interesting tidbit on Bezos from the Postís own coverage of him, more interesting than its speculation on his political leanings. Bezos reads three newspapers every day: the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. But he doesnít read any of them in print. He reads them all online, and he expects that print newspapers will expire within twenty years. Welcome to the future.

Gary Imhoff


DC Elections in 2014
Dorothy Brizill,

The DC Board of Elections has posted on its web site the tentative "calendar of important dates and deadlines" for the April 1, 2014, party primary election and the November 4, 2014, general election ( Candidates running in the April primary for the offices of Delegate to the US House of Representatives, mayor, council chairman, at-large member of the council, ward members of the council for wards 1, 3, 5, and 6, Attorney General, US Senator ("Shadow Senator") and US Representative ("Shadow Representatives") will be able to circulate nominating petitions beginning Friday, November 8, through Thursday, January 2. Independents and minority party candidates for the above offices as well as candidates for the state board of education and advisory neighborhood commissioners running in the November general election will be able to pick up nominating petitions on June 13, 2014, and return them to the BOE by August 6, 2014. Early voting centers for the April primary will operate from March 22-29 and for the general election from October 25-November 1.

Several key issues regarding the 2014 elections, however, will not be decided until mid-September, when the council returns from its summer recess. For example, at the last legislative session on July 10, Council Chairman Mendelson had intended for the council to vote on the Primary Election Date Emergency Act of 2013 (Bill 20-392), which would have moved the primary date from April 1 to June, but he pulled the bill from the agenda when it became apparent that there werenít enough votes to ensure passage. It is likely, however, that the bill will resurface now that BOE has published the election calendar, which will heighten concerns regarding candidate petitions having to be circulated over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, as well as the lengthy lead time between the April primary and the November general election.

In addition, at the July legislative session, the council approved, on first reading, the Elected Attorney General Implementation and Legal Services Amendment Act of 2013, Bill 20-134. The Bill included an amendment authored by Councilmember Jack Evans to postpone the first election of DCís Attorney General from 2014 to 2018. Councilmembers argued that there were no announced candidates for the seat, and that there was widespread confusion regarding the exact duties of the new Attorney General post. The bill passed eight to five with Evansí amendment. Since the July meeting, there has been considerable public outcry, since DC voters had overwhelmingly approved a charter amendment in 2010 (75.78 percent), that stated that DC residents would "elect the Attorney General for a four-year term of office" in 2014. The Evans Amendment will be debated again when the bill come up for its decond reading in September.

Finally, there are several bills before the council that would alter the Districtís campaign finance and election laws. While there is widespread concern regarding abuses in the 2010 mayoral campaign, there is no consensus among the councilmembers about how to reform campaigns in the District. Kenyon McDuffie, chairman of the councilís Government Operations Committee, is drafting a single consolidated bill over the summer that he will share with his colleagues when they return in September. Even then, it is unclear which changes in the Districtís campaign and election laws and regulations will garner enough votes, and which changes will or should be implemented during the 2014 election cycle.


Driving Families Away
Tom Grahame,

Gary, "Driving Families Away," themail, August 4, was one of your better editorials lately. We arenít quite there yet, but it wouldnít take too much more inconvenience to cause families to leave, or not come here. For one, families absolutely need transportation, with parking near their home.

I donít think that DCís planners mean to have such an effect on families, after all the city is spending huge amounts to make schools work for new students. Itís just that they seem to be captured by a particular strain of Smart Growth ó the strain that overemphasizes density of new construction, bicycles, fewer cars. I agree that cities should have density, I agree that there should be a welcoming urban place for people who donít want to own a car, I agree that if people want to bike around the city, they should have bike lanes (however inconvenient it might be for me personally). What is missing is balance, is consideration for people who live here now, who have lived here for decades, and who want to continue to live here. Take their needs into account as well. Your editorial I thought brought balance back into play.


DC United Soccer Stadium Deal
Anne Loikow,

I started looking into the proposal between the District government and DC United to build a new soccer stadium in southwest. I read the term sheet and did a little research into the owners of the team. The more I read the more concerned I got. Here is a quick list of the issues: 1) Why are we subsidizing a rich Indonesian? The majority owner of DC United is a very rich Indonesian by the name of Erick Thohir. He also owns an interest in the Philadelphia Ď76ers and major interests in other sports related businesses and media interests in Indonesia. His family are incredibly wealthy. His brother is on the Forbes list of billionaires. You can read more about Erick Thohir at My first gut reaction is that this guy can easily afford to assemble the land he wants for a stadium for DC United without government financial assistance. Given the many needs in the District, it looks very outrageous that we are devoting hundreds of millions of dollars for the benefit of someone like him.

2) The term sheet looks very lopsided in terms of what each side is obligated to do and on what timetable. The transaction agreements have to be finalized by October 1, 2013, and the District government has "obtain site control of the Stadium Site" and "obtain the necessary legal approvals from the Council . . . and, if required, the United States Congress" by January.1, 2014. For a deal that has only been proposed since July 25, 2013, this is awfully fast for a very complex and expensive ó for DC taxpayers ó deal. In addition, the District government has until March 1, 2015, to complete the necessary infrastructure work and utility relocation, demolish all existing structures (except "necessary elements of the Pepco substation"), complete its environmental remediation, and get approvals to close streets and alleys needed for the project. If the District government fails to meet this date, we basically have to arrange for DC United to get RFK rent free. Why are the taxpayers picking the costs of demolition and environmental remediation (in addition to land in the form of street and alley closings, and possibly more, if I am reading the maps of the site correctly)? In addition, the District government has to "pursue resequencing options" to advance construction of the streetcar line and construct a streetcar station at the stadium and designate the stadium site as a "Designated Entertainment Area" under Title 13, Chapter 8, of the DCMR. I donít know the ramifications of being so designated, but it bears looking into. In contrast, DC United supposedly has until March 1, 2015, to obtain all necessary Zoning and BZA approvals and advance the design to at least the "design development completion level." If they fail to meet that date, they have until March 1, 2017. Similarly, the stadium is to be substantially complete and ready for commercial operation by January 1, 2017, but if it isnít, they have until March 31, 2020, before the District has any legal remedies.

3) In addition, the Districtís groundlease to DC United is only $1 a year for the useful life of the stadium. The District government also shall bear the costs of all fees, proffers, or deposits customarily levied by District agencies (DCRA, DDOT, DOE, Office of Zoning, etc.) during the permitting and approval process (another taxpayer subsidy!).

4). I havenít fully parsed how the revenue sharing, "other revenue" and real estate tax provisions work (paragraphs D, E, and F), but it looks like we are giving up additional tax revenues, in addition to the fees mentioned above, we should otherwise get and in many ways ultimately subsidizing their operating losses.

5) Also, what are we giving away in authorizing DC United to "have the right to undertake ancillary development on the Stadium site"? What does this mean that they are getting? What is the cost to the government and the taxpayer?

6) Why are we doing all this for a team that only played sixteen home games in the District this year? At least the Nationals play 81 games for twice the maximum size crowd (40,000 versus 20,000).

7) Finally, to avoid bumping up into the borrowing limit, it is proposed that the District government give up some of its prime downtown buildings in lieu of borrowing the money to purchase the site from Pepco, Akridge, and Mark Ein. The buildings that have been mentioned as possible targets of this land trade are the Reeves Center, One Judiciary Square, and the Daly (MPD) Building. No mention has been made of what the cost will be to the taxpayers of replacing the office and other space we would be giving up and whether it would be in anywhere as central and convenient a location as these buildings are. I must admit this looks like another attempt to be "penny wise and pound foolish" by getting rid of prime property for the benefit of private companies and developers that the public would never be able to replace with equivalent property. I know those proposing this will say the buildings need renovation, etc., but that is because our government routinely does not properly maintain our public assets. I would much more prefer spending the funds necessary to renovate and bring District property up to snuff than do these sales to private companies at what often looks like bargain prices. In the case of the Daly Building, it seems it would make much more sense to renovate the building, using One Judiciary Square as swing space while we did so, so that the police departmentís headquarters could remain downtown, at a Metro stop and next to the courts! The Districtís holding cells are in the Daly Building. Moving them somewhere in the city would start creating all sort of complications and costs for getting prisoners to court.

8) Since Pepco owns about half the site and has a major substation on it that it just recently upgraded as part of a major reliability improvement (see If that substation has to be moved, where would it be moved, what are the implications for power transmission in DC, and would DC ratepayers end up paying for rebuilding this substation elsewhere (new Pepco rate case here we come)?

9) Finally, in a market sense, I think the development of this area does not need massive government investment and gifts to private companies. This is a desirable area and many private developments are in the works. This whole effort reminds me of the proposal several years ago to give tax breaks and grants to Northrop Gruman, one of the worldís largest and wealthiest defense contractors, which fortunately for DC taxpayers didnít go through.

Mr. Thohir can well afford to acquire and develop the land and build a stadium for his team. He doesnít need our subsidy.


Corrupt Politicians Bring McMillan Development
Daniel Wolkoff,

Kim Williams, staffer in the Office of Planning, Historic Preservation Office, wrote this great nomination for McMillan Park to The National Register of Historic Places, One can quickly understand from the description of the park, a memorial to Senator McMillan, The Sand Filtration Plant, and itís history, that McMillan is a resource of national significance. Any city in the country would gather the resources to restore and preserve it and return this wonderful park to public enjoyment. This is just plain common sense. I have been disappointed that the city council has not educated the people in DC or even itself very well, while determining the future of this incredible site, just as awesome as originally designed and landscaped by the founder of American landscape architecture, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.

Tragically, the DC governmentís chosen developerís plan will demolish most of the historic structures, over crowd, and super urbanize the site with a poorly coordinated and uninspiring plan for fifty buildings and streets. The ten planning and design firms in VMP (Vision McMillan Partners) are predictably failing, as the reworking of any great design is always a mistake, substantially diminishing the original intent and elegance. Itís presumptuous, even ridiculous, to pretend that overbuilding the work of Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., with condos, medical offices and a grocery store, can have some graciousness.

The design teamís response to community demands for more "park" has resulted in a supposed 50 percent park space, really a big lawn. VMP grudgingly carved the lawn out of their site plan, but it has nothing to do with the historic engineering treasure and shows how little understanding these current architects possess. Our Historic Preservation Review Board criticized their disconnected, discordant, and inappropriate designs throughout HPRB hearings. Parks are not created by percentages of land remaining unpaved, they are cultural, historic, or reflect the natural geography, streams, valleys, hills, etc. In the privileged upper NW section of DC, parks are community gardens, stream valleys and glens, and Civil War Fortifications, while we in central DC are confronted by the city government with an unhealthy deficit of natural areas, mature trees, and real parks. We donít want destructive compromises that are are not comparable to McMillan, when specifically hiking and biking trails, woods, and water features are desperately missing. Senator McMillan planned an "emerald necklace" of parks, and green-space over one hundred years ago and we have every right to see all of these recreational areas fulfilled, so that our families enjoy the benefits.

McMillan, a spectacular, historic "great place," is a perfect arts/performance/cultural Glen Echo type community campus and just one element in the System of Parks needed from NOMA to Woodridge, and Michigan Park. McMillan belongs to the people, not the mayor or city council. Gray was elected by campaign fraud, flat out electoral fraud, and Mayor Gray confronts us with wrestling our own resources back from arrogant, crass, DC officials abusing their power. A very small number of DC politicians are guilty of blocking public access and fencing it off, in utter contempt of the residents for twenty-seven years. There is nothing in this record of miserable, arrogant disservice that recommends any DC official to run this development. Right now, as I write this, Mayor Gray, under federal prosecutorís investigation, is declaring that "McMillan is no longer needed for any public use" as required by law, as part of his process to "surplus" this billion dollar 25-acre park, and literally give away the land and a $319 million taxpayer subsidy to the VMP. Ten developers, architects, and planning companies, all set to feed on this pig trough for years to come, at our expense. The barbed wire fence, and canceling site tours organized by the neighborhood ANC shows the mayorís and his economic planning deputyís hypocrisy, as if every kid, teenager, family, parent with babies, senior citizen, wouldnít be enjoying McMillan Park and its views, breezes, strolling, jogging, picnicking, urban farming, arts, music, movies, festivals, classes, our place to exercise and "build community"

This is not an either or proposition, Full services like the City Market can cleverly occupy the existing huge, twenty acres of under-surface, fifteen-foot-high galleries, in adaptive reuse as the entire surface park is restored, planted green, and active for all, residents and visitors alike. This is not a delusion, and could have been helping to build our community for twenty-seven years. It is specifically the theft of multimillions in recreational value to the community, lost for twenty-seven years, that should be added to the crimes of the corrupt DC officials who brought you this failed "redevelopment" scheme. All along, we have demanded an open process of education, analysis, and proper public discussion of all options for McMillan and a system of parks, for DC voters to decide. Itís called self determination, Mr. Mayor.

We must demand our representatives on the city council, who openly profess, not even knowing very much about McMillan, to reject the "surplussing" of our park land. This "redevelopment" has had so many versions, and agencies, and at present ten failing design partners as to be such an overworked flop. And frighteningly, it is even the work of corrupt DC officials imprisoned, indicted, convicted, and awaiting sentencing, for bribery, fraud, theft, and this plan is being run by a mayor under federal investigation for massive electoral fraud. WAMU reporter Patrick Madden and Julie Patel are right now in the middle of an expose of the "symbiotic" relationship between the DC government and the developers, a relationship distorting our cityís brilliant LíEnfant and McMillan Senate Parks Committee urban plan. A very tiny number of DC "elected" and appointed officials who are hell bent on removing wholesale our mature tree canopy, filling up every last sq. ft. with curb-to-curb, mega-urbanization, right as devastating flooding of this very section of DC is destroying our homes. Endless massive construction is a delusion, and the most damaging thing there is to the environment, as if the resources of the planet are endless and there is no imperative to restore, reuse, and adapt existing structures, to conserve our planet. Mayor Gray has produced a "Sustainable DC" plan aiming for DC to be the "greenest city" in the country by 2032. But continuing right up to 2032, exploiting every remaining open space, denuding the city of the most valuable tree cover, paving over endless more land, and overloading a failing antiquated infrastructure is not the path to this farcical goal. The priority to keep the construction trade piping along at full speed is not the way to the "green city" when these same construction industries should be renovating, restoring, and helping dc residents, especially seniors, improve their deteriorating houses and training the young and underemployed for good careers, not lining up to a pig festival of consumption, and pride in how many cranes mark the skyline, a view soon to be blocked by even more irresponsible zoning. This is the time, right now, right here in the center of our city, to put this wasteful over-consumption under sensible control, and make this incredible opportunity for a healthier quality of life to happen at McMillan. It is twenty-seven years late.


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