December 1, 2013

Preserve and Protect

Dear Protectors:

Our first duty, as the current generation of people living in Washington, is to preserve and protect what is best about our city for the enjoyment of future generations. That means we have to recognize the good things, and not assume that we’ve so clever and all-knowing that we have the wisdom to improve everything through radical changes. In the 1950’s, urban planners believed that cities had to be redesigned to give cars primacy. Highways had to be run through the city of Washington to make everything easier for drivers. Civic activists and organizations fought against that vision of the city, and preserved our neighborhoods against the planners. Today, urban planners believe that cars have to be discouraged in the city, and the city redesigned to center only around pedestrians and bicyclists. Civic activists and organizations — many of them the same organizations that fought against highways in the 1950’s — are fighting against that vision of the city, and working to preserve the easy access that driving gives people to a wider world than the constricted vision that today’s planners have of isolated neighborhoods.

One of the grand sights in Washington is the dome of the United States Capitol, and for a viewpoint that you haven’t seen, watch this Sunday’s piece on 60 Minutes about the building of the dome. Reporter Scott Pelley is given a tour of the dome by the Architect of the Capitol, Steven Ayers, and they walk entirely around the upper walkway on the dome. The film and the segment’s script are at http://tinyurl.com/ljfh69t. Pelley’s reaction is worth noting: “Wow. What a beautiful view. It’s about thirty stories and because DC outlawed skyscrapers back in 1910 you can see forever.” Even the Philistines who can’t or won’t appreciate the charms of the District, and wish we had an urban skyline more like Crystal City’s or Roslyn’s, should appreciate DC as seen from the Capitol dome. As Jonetta Rose Barras wrote, also this Sunday, “In Praise of a Towerless DC,” http://tinyurl.com/mvzqefm, “In the late 1990s, elected officials imagined the District as Paris on the Potomac. The city may not have achieved that distinction, but it is a wonderful cosmopolis. People have flocked here after falling in love with the city’s Southern charm, enviable beauty and dramatic vistas. Why mimic Chicago and Gotham City? The cultural opportunities in New York are great, but I am not enamored of the city. On a spring day in the District, I can see the sun and feel its warmth on my face. A walk around Manhattan often is like traveling through an endless tunnel. Monstrously huge buildings overshadow everything.”


Joe Grano, a civic activist who first gained prominence fighting to preserve Rhodes Tavern (the real, historic Rhodes Tavern that used to be on F Street, not the impostor restaurant around the corner that uses that name now) against a city government that saw no value in this city’s history, and worked to demolish it in the name of “progress,” died last week. Reporter Tom Sherwood called attention to Grano’s death in The Northwest Current and on Channel 4’s web site, http://tinyurl.com/148zbk2: “Joe Grano died this week. A more obstinate optimist you’ll never meet. He relentlessly padded around Washington for the past thirty years-plus, promoting voting rights, statehood, and respect for the once-dilapidated World War I Memorial. He buttonholed, cornered, cajoled and — some say — corralled journalists and politicians to please pay attention to the issues that burned so bright with him. Joe Grano, always on the case. He was a living example of my E-mail tag line — ‘local Washington only is good as the people active in it.’ Joe was one of the good guys.”

Gary Imhoff


District Elections in 2014
Dorothy Brizill, dorothy@dcwatch.com

Paul Zukerberg and the Office of Campaign Finance. On Tuesday, December 3, the DC council , and reflect the legislative compromise hold a final reading and vote on Bill 20-76, the “Campaign Finance Reform and Transparency Amendment Act of 2013.” The bill is the culmination of nearly two years of debate and discussion within the council and the community over the need for campaign finance reform in the District, in light of the ongoing US Attorney’s probe of Mayor Gray’s 2010 mayoral campaign. The core provisions in the bill are drawn from twelve different bills that could be struck among the thirteen members of the council as we enter the 2014 election year.

In large measure, any actual effort to reform campaign finance in the District will fall on the shoulders of the DC Board of Elections (BOE) and the DC Office of Campaign Finance (OCF). Even the report by the council’s Government Operations Committee on Bill 20-76 notes that “statutory campaign finance reform will only be successful when paired with robust oversight, vigorous enforcement, and accountability at the ballot box.” It is for that reason that the recent actions by the BOE and OCF regarding Paul Zukerberg, a candidate for Attorney General in the April 2014 primary, is alarming and should be scrutinized.

On Friday, November 8, Zukerberg filed a declaration of candidacy for the office of Attorney General with the BOE and was issued nominating petitions which he could circulate to secure the requisite two thousand signatures by January 2, 2014, to be placed on the ballot. That same day, in compliance with District law (3 DCMR 3002.2), he visited the OCF to file a statement of candidacy and register his campaign committee so that he could raise and expend money in support of his candidacy. In his interactions with officials at both the BOE and OCF, Zukerberg fully discussed his pending court litigation to overturn the council’s legislation to delay the AG election until 2018 and to remove the position from the April 2014 primary ballot. At both offices, he was allowed to file his paperwork; both offices accepted the paperwork and date-stamped it. On November 21, OCF’s public affairs manager, Wesley Williams, sent an E-mail to Zukerberg stating that, “The Office of Campaign Finance is in receipt of your registration documents to become a candidate for the Office of Attorney General. However, because the decision as to whether the election for that office will occur in April 2014 is in abeyance, we will hold your documents until a final decision is rendered. Until that time, please refrain from collecting or spending any funds in relation to campaigning for that office.” The effect of OCF’s sudden, unexplained decision would be to shut down Zukerberg’s campaign, including the circulation of nomination petitions.

OCF’s action was unprecedented and had no basis in the city’s law code or municipal regulations. It raised serious questions regarding the operations of the OCF and the BOE. As a result, I sent an E-mail to OCF’s General Counsel, William SanFord, and Public Affairs Manager, Wesley Williams, asking the following questions: “Can you cite for me the section of the code and/or regulations on which OCF relied in taking this action? Why was communication with Mr. Zukerberg on the matter done via an E-mail signed by [Wesley Williams] and not by a letter or formal order signed by OCF’s director or general counsel? What does OCF understand to be the decision issued by Judge Boasberg on this matter last week? Did OCF consult with the Board of Elections, which has issued petitions to Mr. Zukerberg for the April primary? To what extent did OCF consult with the Attorney General, Irv Nathan?”

On November 25, in an E-mail to Zukerberg, OCF “clarified its November 21 correspondence.” In so doing, it completely reversed its earlier position, and detailed the manner in which Zukerberg will have to report all campaign contributions and expenditures to the OCF.


Mobile Roadway Vending Assignments
Alma Gates, ahg71139@aol.com

It’s not surprising that Black Friday was chosen by DCRA/DDOT to announce the new Mobile Roadway Vending (MRV) assignments. The food truck assignment sites, removal of 95 on-street parking spaces, the installation of jumbotrons at the Verizon Center, and bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue will contribute to a changing human experience for residents and visitors to the nation’s capital.

Most likely, the city is planning ahead for the inevitable economic downturn predicted to follow more sequestration cuts in January. Instead of taking clients to five star restaurants, lobbyists would be able to meet at one of the food trucks parked next to Farragut Square and conduct business on a nearby park bench. The MRV program will surely enable the State Department to strengthen diplomatic ties as foreign dignitaries are escorted to one of the ten mobile roadway vending sites in that area, and there might even be an opportunity for the public to rub elbows with Secretary Kerry. The predictability of the vendor parking assignments is terrific, and don’t worry if one of your faves didn’t get an exclusive assignment; they can still park within two hundred feet of the “inner circle.”

No doubt the White House, Kennedy Center, and National Gallery of Art are upset not to have been included in the initial roll out for the MRV program, but the program announcement was very clear. “Only permitted vendors may be parked from 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. at the following designated, signed locations: Farragut Square, (seventeen parking spaces) 900 block of 17th Street, NW; Franklin Square, (twelve parking spaces) 900 block of 13th Street, NW; George Washington University, (three parking spaces) 2100 block of H Street, NW; L’Enfant Plaza, (eighteen parking spaces) 200 block of 7th Street, SW, and 600 block of Maryland Avenue, SW; Capitol Riverfront, (eight parking spaces) 1200 block of New Jersey Avenue, SE; Metro Center, (thirteen parking spaces) 600 and 700 blocks of 12th Street, NW; Union Station (fourteen parking spaces) unit block of Massachusetts Avenue, NW; Virginia Avenue/State Department, (ten parking spaces) 2000 block of Virginia Avenue, NW.”

“During this initial roll out, parking in these designated locations will be restricted by temporary ‘Reserved Parking’ signs, which will allow only assigned food trucks to park in each location during the designated time period; no other vehicles may be parked in these locations during this time. Food trucks not participating in the MRV location assignment program may continue to vend in areas that are at least two hundred feet away from designated locations, must park legally, and pay parking meter fees.”


A Question for Candidate Wells
Samuel Jordan, Samuel.Jordan@msn.com

The bag tax has become a fact of life in the District since the successful passage of the Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Act of 2009 (the Act), requiring a five-cent-a-bag purchase for those who don’t shop with recyclable satchels. There is no doubt that the behavior modifying feature of the Act works, as thousands have adopted the practice of bringing their own carryalls whenever they shop, thereby relieving the Anacostia River of hundreds of pounds, even tons, of river-degrading, street and drain-tossed debris. DC councilmember and mayoral candidate Tommy Wells has been well-feted for the bag-tax initiative for which he has been credited. However, in addition to the noticeable behavior modification benefiting the river’s ecology, the fee’s purpose is also to generate funds for river cleanup projects, school and community-based environmental programs, and a greatly improved public consciousness of the state of the river’s health. In order to achieve these goals, more money is needed that will go directly to river restoration activities.

This is the time, when candidate Wells is tending to the outreach duties of a mayoral campaign, to him a question. If he were elected mayor, would he consider creating an Anacostia River Trust, modeled after the Chesapeake Bay Trust, which raises public and private funds for environmental education and restoration programs targeting the Chesapeake Bay for rescue? An Anacostia River Trust would be charged to do a more coordinated and visible job of notifying the public of the river’s condition, the efforts to restore it, scheduling and conducting higher profile programs including forums, tours, and social events, letting us know also what we can do to help the Anacostia River breathe freely again. Its main task, however, would be to use an optimal combination of methods to raise money dedicated to the river.

Currently, there is no periodic, well-publicized report on the amounts of money collected for the river. Have you seen or heard lately how much money has been collected in toto or periodically? In addition, little emphasis is given the fundraising measures featured in the Act. For example, the DC income tax form check-off box for contributions and the special license plate that is available from DMV for an added fee are among the best-kept secrets in the District’s highly competitive fundraising arena.

An Anacostia River Trust would not only give greater attention and public positioning to the fundraising practices included in the Act, but it would also be able to seek and receive donations from individuals, corporations, and foundations. Furthermore, DC’s Department of the Environment is not yet prepared to manage the legalities and precise supervision of testamentary gifts for river restoration. An independent Anacostia River Trust would be ideally suited for receipt of such gifts because such gifts and all other monies contributed would be dedicated to the river and would not be commingled in the District’s general fund. Donors need to be assured that the money will go to the river and nowhere else. Intended-use confidence raises money. Mayor Fenty wanted to divert monies from the bag fund to purchase street sweepers for Ward 3. Yet, Ward 3 drains into the Potomac, not the Anacostia. An Anacostia River Trust would protect funds generated for river salvation from political horse-trading.

An Anacostia River Trust would be timely for another reason. The lack of greater publicity and management for river-restoration fundraising programs in addition to the bag tax means that a lot of money is being “left on the table.” Ironically, the principal characteristic of the bag tax is that it is a self-extinguishing fund. That is, the more effective it is in modifying river-trashing behaviors, the less money it will collect. So, Mr. Wells, if you had the opportunity, would you lead the creation of an Anacostia River Trust?



DC Health Exchange Event, December 3
Susana Baranano, susigbf@yahoo.com

Please come to the DC Health Exchange event on December 3 (6:00-8:00 p.m.) at the Woman’s National Democratic Club, 1526 New Hampshire Avenue, NW. Dr. Linda Wharton-Boyd will discuss the mechanics of the new DC Health Exchange. She will explain the procedures that DC residents should follow to participate. Representative of health insurers Aetna, Kaiser, UnitedHealth, and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield will provide information on coverage, rights, and benefits and discuss the differences among their plans. Tell your friends and coworkers. Register to attend at http://tinyurl.com/k6wmw8s.


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