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September 24, 2014

Council Antics

Dear Washingtonians:

Two recent city council meetings have left me dispirited about the possibility of good government in DC. The more recent hearing was held yesterday, and was chaired by Councilmember Mary Cheh. The DC Inspector General had issued a report on the numerous failings of DC’s automated traffic enforcement (see for the IG report itself; Ashley Halsey, III, “DC Is the Wild West when Enforcing Tickets for Traffic Violators, Audit Finds,”; a Washington Post editorial critical of the report, “Automated Cameras Mean Safer Streets in the District,”; and a Dr. Gridlock column supportive of one of the report’s main points, Robert Thompson, “Location Always Important in Placing DC Speed Cameras,” Even before Ms. Cheh called for the city council hearing, she had already made up her mind, and rejected the IG’s criticisms of the program. She told reporter Ashley Halsey, “I wish there were a red-light camera on the corner of every intersection in the District of Columbia,”, and accused the IG of creating citizens’ dissatisfaction with red light cameras, speed cameras, and parking enforcement, asserting that all the citizens she talked with supported the cameras and wanted more of them.

Councilmembers Cheh, Wells, and Grosso all used the council hearing of September 24 to attack and attempt to discredit the Inspector General for honestly pointing out the government’s use of speed cameras as a revenue-raising program, and strongly said the IG’s report undermined credibility in government and in speed cameras — not recognizing that it was their refusal to admit what every citizen knows, that the government games the system to raise money — that undermines the credibility of government. Councilmember Cheh was particularly hostile and antagonistic to the witnesses from the IG’s office, and hectoring toward them. She stated her preference for a zero tolerance policy toward all speeding. Of course we understand, the councilmembers said, that some small number of tickets are issued in error, and we should take some small palliative measures to make the use of speed cameras less controversial.

Wells asked Blanche L. Bruce, the Interim Inspector General, about the Republican members of Congress who were listed on the IG’s standard distribution list, attempting to imply something suspicious about their receiving copies of the report. Grosso raised doubts about why the IG would initiate its report based just upon citizens’ complaints, and questioned whether there were enough complaints to justify doing a study. Grosso said that he believed speed cameras should not have to be justified by safety concerns, but should be placed “prospectively” where safety concerns could arise in the future. Wells spoke about his — and, he claimed, most councilmembers’ — strong support for automated traffic enforcement methods like speed cameras, and he said that raising any doubts about those programs was a “political and ideological position” that undermined confidence in the government. Cheh’s hectoring and shrill closing questions to the IG’s witnesses emphasized same quotation in the report from a senior District official that she raised in her opening comment: “One of the beauties of parking, it’s like the [Internal Revenue Service]. If you get a parking ticket, you are guilty until you have proven yourself innocent . . . and that’s worked well for us.” Cheh said that in fact the burden should be on the citizen to prove his innocence rather that on the government to prove his guilt and that guilty until proven innocent was the correct legal standard for a civil citation. David Alpert, of Greater Greater Washington, said in his testimony that, “We do need to grow our camera system and increase the amount.”


The second discouraging council meeting was the vote on legislation to set up a program by which the government could comply minimally with which the court had ordered, an end to the city’s blanked prohibition of taking any already licensed weapon out of the owner’s house. Mayor Gray, City Council Chairman Mendelson, and Attorney General Nichols had already announced their agreement about the limited extent to which the Bill of Rights should apply to citizens of DC, and that agreement was ratified by the city council’s unanimous approval of a concealed carry bill on Wednesday. Under the new law, a citizen of DC who feels that he or she has a clearly articulable need to exercise Second Amendment Rights, one of the fundamental rights of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution may apply to the chief of police of DC for a permit to exercise that right. If the chief of police agrees that the DC citizen has a good enough reason, she may at her discretion issue a permit to the citizen to exercise that right under severely limited circumstances. While the mayor, chairman, and attorney general continue to hope that the courts will reverse their position and find that the Bill of Rights does not apply in DC, they hope that this “concession” will be enough to convince the courts that they are obeying their Constitutional duties. Mayor Gray, Chairman Mendelson, and Attorney General Nathan are showing that they were good students of the southern states’ strategy of massive resistance to Constitutionally mandated desegregation, and that they will follow that strategy as long as possible with respect to the Second Amendment, until the courts force them to respect the rights of DC citizens. Until then, they will grudgingly give minimal signs that they are trying to respect Constitutional rights, meanwhile forcing DC citizens to continue to sue every step of the way as they trample on those rights.

At the council vote on the legislation, all councilmembers announced their opposition to allowing any citizens of the District to possess any guns, much less carry guns in public. Councilmember Grosso, Cheh, Catania, and Alexander all spoke in favor of Grosso’s amendment to the bill that would have the District government make public the names of those people who successfully convinced the chief of police that they had a substantial reason to carry a gun to protect their safety, and when it was pointed out that Grosso’s amendment may increase the danger to citizens who were successfully able to convince the chief of police that they were already in danger, Grosso acknowledged that with pleasure, since the primary purpose of his amendment was to use public disclosure to discourage citizens from applying for a permit to carry weapons for their own protection. Grosso was convinced, finally, to withdraw his amendment temporarily and to introduce it at a later date

Gary Imhoff


Hooray for Ward 5’s 5B04 200-Footer Residents
Carolyn Steptoe,

As the former three-term Ward 5 ANC commissioner of the district within which the 901 Monroe/Col. Brooks project is/was slated — and especially as the former ANC rep of residents who withstood much ridicule, mockery, and criticism for their objections to this behemoth development, I am thrilled to read that the DC Court of Appeals remanded this case back to Zoning Commission (Michael Neibauer, Washington Business Journal, September 11, “Court Remands Brookland Project to Zoning Panel in Ruling that Could Set Precedent for Future Development Bids”).

Based on this Appeals Court order, the 5B04 200-Footers property owners, the majority of whom are seniors, along with the indomitable, unyielding, Mrs. Barbara Kahlow, who supported them for more than three years as a volunteer, have been publicly vindicated in their staggering fight to protect their property, their quality of life, and the character of their neighborhood against an infrastructure Goliath.

Kudos to the 200-Footer residents and Mrs. Barbara Kahlow for this phenomenal victory! May we all clip a page out of this precedent achievement of average citizens to never give up, irrespective of what appears insurmountable odds. Continue your fight citizens!


Shift to a Renting Economy?
Marcia Rucker,

Would a shift from a homeowning economy to a renting economy be good or bad? Whether you plan to rent or plan to buy, you can only do that if housing to rent or to buy is available — and at a price you can afford. And whether you rent or you own, you pay, directly or indirectly, for utilities and maintenance. My sense is that we can’t have a rational discussion of the rent/buy question until we know what kind of housing we allow builders to develop or redevelop. We can only talk about renting versus buying when we have answers to some questions. Who are we building for? The affluent, the average family, low-income family? Will all new housing be built for maximum energy efficiency and lowest utility bills? Will all new housing be built to maximum standards of durability and lowest maintenance costs?

Another question needs to be answered, of course. Who is “we?” And do we plan to demand that our elected officials do what “we,” the folks of every segment of the people they are supposed to represent, need them to do for our well-being as individuals and members of the entire community?


Streetcars and Gun Rights
Richard Rothblum,

I have to comment about streetcars and gun rights (themail, August 14). First, why are people surprised that the streetcar right-of-way on H Street is often blocked? Second, in calculating the economic effect of streetcars, did they include the cost of tearing up the track and restoring the street? That is the fate of virtually every streetcar system in the world.

Re Gun Rights, Democratic Rights, and Second Amendment Interpretation: Both Jack McKay and Andrea Rosen confuse democratic rights (the right to be governed by laws passed by simple majority) and the human rights guaranteed to us by the Constitution regardless of majority will. It may be true that the citizens of the District of Columbia “should” have the right to pass whatever laws we (a majority) please. Fortunately for all of us, those who disagree are still guaranteed our fundamental rights by the Constitution, and in particular, the Bill of Rights. All ten of the amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights are individual rights, with possibly the exception of the footnote at the end of the Tenth.

The problem with the wording of the right to bear arms is that it was composed in the context in which the states were considered to be at risk of subjugation to a totalitarian central government. To ensure that states would have the wherewithal (arms) to resist an overweening federal government, it made sense to ensure that individual citizens would have the right to keep and bear arms, the unstated potential enemy being the federal government, to be resisted by state militias. Then, after the Civil War, when the 14th Amendment was passed, citizens were given the same rights against their state governments as they had against the Federal Government. This event is what makes the wording of the Second Amendment a bit awkward. The Fourteenth Amendment expanded the rationale for the original individual rights to include state governments in the same category of potential adversary as the Federal government.

Citizens were originally given the right to bear arms at least partly and ostensibly so that state militias would be able to resist the central government. Then the Fourteenth Amendment deemed citizens rights to be protected from the states as well as from the Federal government. This made sense in the context of a reaction to the Civil War, in which states denied fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution to some of their citizens using a perfectly “democratic” process.


InTowner September Issue
P.L. Wolff,

The September issue content can be viewed at, including the issue PDF in which will be found the primary news stories and museum exhibition reviews, plus all photos and other images. Not included in the PDF but linked directly from the home page is Stephen A. Hansen’s “What Once Was” feature — this month, “The Fosters: Three Generations of Secretaries of State.”

This month’s lead stories include the following: 1) “Growing Push to Increase Development in Lanier Heights Roils Neighborhood”; 2) “Corcoran’s Takeover by National Gallery and GWU Now Complete; DC Judge’s Ruling in Favor Analyzed”; 3) “Adams Morgan Residents Participating in Initiative to Plan for the Future.” The Community News page at calls attention to Attorney General candidates forums, concerts, and various neighborhood-focused events; it is updated during the course of the current publication period. As for the museum reviews found on PDF pages 7 and 9, these highlight exhibitions at The Corcoran and the National Gallery’

The title of our editorial, “Push to Bring Olympics to DC Pure Folly,” speaks for itself. Your thoughts will be most welcome and can be sent by clicking the comment link at the bottom of the web page or by E-mail to The next issue PDF will publish early in the morning of October 10th (the second Friday of the month, as usual). For more information, either send an E-mail to or call 234-1717.



Ward 2 Solar Co-op Launching; Solar for DC, October 7
Susana Baranano,

Want to go solar? Want to connect with neighbors and people in your community who are also interested in solar? Want to start a Ward 2 Solar Co-op? Come listen to Anya Schoolman, Executive Director of DC SUN (DC Solar United Neighborhoods), a network of fifteen neighborhood co-ops that are working to make solar energy accessible and affordable for all DC residents. She started the first solar co-op, Mt. Pleasant Solar Co-op, in 2007 with her son and in less than a decade, she has helped create fifteen DC neighborhood coops and assisted more than three hundred DC residents go solar. Anya Schoolman has received several awards since 2009, and is known as one of the top ten amazing activists in the Name of Solar. Her latest award was in the White House Champions of Change for Solar Deployment, which she received in April 2014.

At the Woman’s National Democratic Club, 1526 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, October 7, 6:00-8:30 p.m. $20 members; $25 nonmembers, with one complimentary drink. Reserve by telephone at 232-7363, ext. 3003. or online at


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