Forward to January 2001 Federation News Back to Federation of Citizens Associations main page Back to September 2000 Federation News
Volume 7, Issue 3, November 2000
3710 S Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007
(202) 338-5164 phone/fax
|Continuing Federation Push Is on to
Bring Land Use Abuse Relief to Residential Neighborhoods
October Assembly Is Multifaceted
A Stitch in Time: Snow and Ice Emergency Preparations
Officers and Board
Federation Plumps for Internet Open Access to Telecommunications Cables
Jonetta Rose Barras Back to City Paper
Buck Clarke New Federation Treasurer
Situation Report: Charter Schools
Million Dollar Civic Grant Obtained by Woodridge Activists
Peoples Counsel: When It Comes to PEPCOs System, Age Really Does Matter
Federation Quarterly Luncheon December 12
District Revenue Bond Project Financing
Federation Communities Push for Shift of Campus Plans from BZA to Zoning Commission
Future Federation Assembly Meeting Dates
FEDERATION ASSEMBLY MEETING
CONTINUING FEDERATION PUSH IS ON TO BRING LAND USE ABUSE RELIEF TO RESIDENTIAL NEIGHBORHOODS
Widely regarded as a taxpayer neighborhood-supportive councilman, Councilman Jim Graham comes to us with a good record of achievement on the Council, as well as with an impressive professional background. An attorney, Mr. Graham started out as a clerk with Chief Justice Earl Warren, and went on to be staff attorney with the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee (under heavyweight Senator Abe Ribicoff (D-Conn). He has experience in private. agency and public interest law. Not a bad background for the evolving city council.
In addition, the councilman has served as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center and George Washington University Law School. Mr. Graham is licensed to practice law in the District and before the Supreme Court.
More recently, Mr. Graham has sided with the organized citizenry on the proposed Hilton mega-Hotel that would impact the surrounding community, and in the council is readying up a tenant receivership bill. By the terms of the latter bill, when rental residential buildings are really bad the affected renters can petition for court appointed professional receivers to be appointed for the properties.
Mr. Graham's committee participation is:
Interestingly, the councilman is the council's voting member on the METRO board. The charge of neglecting constituents will never be laid at Mr. Graham's door. He seems to be ubiquitous in his citizen and other association appearances, and is ever ready to hug constituents and pay special attention to meeting attendees. We are pleased to have Mr. Graham join us for what promises to be sprightly presentation and Q and A period.
Action on Residential-Community Land Use Abuse
The Federation's Land Use Committee is scheduled to meet December 4 with staffers of Councilmember Sharon Ambrose's Consumer and Regulatory affairs Committee, to discuss an oversight Roundtable on the creaky Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. Lack of land use enforcement, illegal installations, dearth of inspectors, lack of legal definitions and frequent lack of general competence at DCRA together comprise one of the most serious community-impacting problems of the District.
The recent incident involving the now on-hold telecommunications megatower on Wisconsin Avenue is merely the tip of the iceberg, although the apparent disarray at DCRA related to it is reportedly not unusual. At the same time, the committee is requesting a meeting with the mayor on DCRA-related land use problems. These are preparatory to the appointment in the offing of a new DCRA chief.
Just about everyone in the full house found the October assembly meeting to be as interesting as it was informative. Mr. Tim Cooper of the Tenleytown citizens coalition that opposes would-be construction of an outsized communications tower in that area spoke effectively about the community grassroots effort. Some old-timers see striking parallels between the proposed tower construction plan and that of the failed Georgetown University commercial power plant project ten years ago. The Federation board will take up support of the citizen effort.
Councilman David Catania spoke on the parlous state of health care in the District, especially for uninsured persons, and discussed possible constructive roles for the D.C. General Hospital (the fate of which is under official discussion) and St. Elizabeth's hospital complex. The Federation board will take up at its November session the feasibility of collaborating with the Federation of Civic Associations in addressing unfolding matters concerning D.C. General.
In the midst of subsequent floor debate, Councilman Phil Mendelson paid the assembly an impromptu visit, together with infant daughter in a shoulder sling. The councilmember and delegates proceeded to have a good 20 minutes of interfacing before required adjournment time.
It is a good thing when city officials address the assembly and also feel sufficiently at ease to drop by Federation meetings (and babies, even triplets, are welcome, too). All such opportunities to dialogue enable delegates to meet and get to know councilmembers and others better personally than otherwise might be possible.
A Stitch In Time: Snow and Ice Emergency Preparations
Part of the city employee reduction scheme has been retirement incentive and voluntary severance incentive programs. Most of these programs offer a cash incentive with a stipulation that employees who accept incentive payment are not eligible for reemployment with the city government for five years after the date of separation.
The Department of Public Works now finds that it will have an insufficient number of employees to cope with snow and ice removal for the winter of 20002001. Nor does DPW believe it has an adequate pool of potential applicants from which to fill the necessary positions.
Accordingly, the city council in October initiated emergency legislation to authorize pertinent retirees (who took advantage of the incentives program less than five years ago) to be eligible for rehire during winter emergencies, the five-year ban notwithstanding.
This is a wise stitch in time, amid proposals that this winter may be a snowy and icy one.
President's Message Guy Gwynne
City elections have come and gone. Many delegates, as always, worked the poll for favored candidates and campaigned before that, and quite a number ran for ANC positions - usually with favorable results. Former Federation president Barbara Zartman, however, lost to a first-semester university sophomore.
Many delegates will be pleased that the Zoning Commission has inaugurated its electronic zoning map, that categorizes and tabulates every block and property in the city from different perspectives. I have requested and received the Office of Zoning's agreement for the Office to hold a special training session for Federation delegates in use of the comprehensive, impressive map. Foxhall Association president Bob Andrew, who worked pro bono in designing and setting up the map, will describe the map and its practical applications in the December Newsletter. Striking while the iron is hot, we will start taking applications for the training class at the November assembly. This is a winner and quite an accomplishment for the new city government.
Delegates will want to get ready for and attend the Federation's elegant pre-Christmas December 12 quarterly luncheon at the Diplomatic and Consular Officers Club at 18"' and F Streets. The beautiful historic club will be decorated in its Christmas finery, and will as always be a place to meet and greet other delegates and guests over clubby sherry and other good cheer. Reservations may be called in at 338-5164.
By far the most important long-range Federation accomplishment in October was securing the final federal authorization for the Legal Aid Foundation. High on the agenda of the foundation will be assistance to associations in preparation of necessary briefs and legal background work for associations, legal advice and carefully selected litigation, as the foundation boards) decide. The foundation will also serve as a vehicle for tax-exempt donations for individual associations. In other words, associations will be able to extend tax-exempt status to donors for donations for particular projects. This is an important tool, and makes a difference in local fundraising.
Kudos to all the delegates and associates who testified so effectively at (1) the Office of Planning/ Zoning Commission Roundtable on campus plans, (2) the hearing on open access to the telecommunications cable network and (3) the Zoning Commission hearing on transfer of campus plan responsibility from the BZA to the Zoning Commission.
On November 13, the Federation testified at an important city council public input Roundtable hearing on the upcoming sale of District Cablevision by AT&T to COMCAST, and on the terms under which the District Cablevision franchise is turned over to the purchaser. Both firms want the same arrangements now in force to carry over and continue when COMCAST assumes ownership. Prominent among current arrangements is sole company control of the Cablevision cables.
Behind this simple situation, however, is the imminent advent in the District and around the country of rapid-communication cable use capability, by which telecommunications (Internet, television, telephone) all will be sent exponentially more rapidly over the same cables. Present Internet communications are sent relatively slowly over telephone lines, and stand to become quickly uncompetitive once the combined cable-use mechanism is installed.
The Federation spoke in favor of open broadband cable access by the 400 to 500 Internet service providers that operate in the District and in the interest of Internet consumers. The advent in the near future of very rapid combined Internet, television and telephone service by cable stands to quickly supersede much slower telephone line-based Internet service. In other words, the smaller suppliers of Internet services would arguably be driven out of business if they are denied competitive broadband access for Internet supply service, and if they should have to continue to rely on slower service supply via the telephone lines in the future.
It has been advanced that the big seemingly oligopolistic cable companies say they have invested millions in buying up most of the cable systems in the country and therefore should be able to reap large profits by requiring their customers to use Internet access through their own affiliated Internet service providers. Reportedly, AT&T or its successor in the District could require customers to buy its own, @Home Internet service in order to gain cable access to the Internet. If customers should prefer another service, such as American Online, Erols or Mindspring, they would have to pay twice: first to AT&T-affiliated @Horne or its successor, and then again to their preferred service. This is unfair and not right, and smacks of nineteenth century monopolistic and oligopolistic schemes.
Many of our young entrepreneurs in the District have founded computer-intensive businesses that rely heavily on specialized Internet services. It is in their interests to be assured widespread availability of competing Internet services available via cable.
The Federation recommended that the council include language in upcoming cable transfer and renewal legislation to require that cable companies must allow access to their broadband cables to any requesting Internet service provider on payment of fair and non-discriminatory fees, no different from the rates they charge their own affiliated Internet service providers.
As to the timing of this requirement and legislation, there are reportedly relatively minor concerns related to the quick and simple sale and turnover of the D.C. cable system by AT&T to Comcast, should open access be required up front. These allegedly include possible withholding of a final payment due to the city by AT&T, and the ever-present possibility of legal action if one or the other of the cable-owner firms does not get its way. Company testimony alluded to the possibility of court action. However, apparently the payment in question is already clearly due to the city and could not successfully be withheld; and if the city quails in the face of nowadays routinely threatened lawsuits, very little - however beneficial and legal - would ever get done. We have a Corporation Counsel for such contingencies, and it can secure outside help as necessary.
How will the matter end? Indications are that committee chair Charlene Drew Jarvis will submit legislation to authorize the sale and transfer of the D.C. cable system by AT&T to COMCAST along with current sole company control of the Cablevision tables. At a later date, in March, when the cable franchise contract with the city comes up for renewal, access arrangements would be reviewed. It is possible that open access, opposed by the present and future owners, will be legislated down the road. But the present juncture seems to be the best time to assure further competitiveness and efficiency for crucial Internet service in the District. Council members should exercise independent judgement on this basic issue.
It is interesting to note that feisty D.C. newspaper writer Jonetta Rose Barras has left the Washington Times and will now be a full-time political columnist at the Washington City Paper. We have Ms. Barras to thank for the important and informative research projects on the major Washington law firm of Wilkes Artis, Hedrick & Lane, which appeared in the City Paper and made every civic activist's clippings file, and on the District's multiplicity of tax-exempt foundations, universities, societies and religious organizations ("The Tax-Free Zone", Dec. 2-8,1994).
A leader in one of the District's most active communities, Cardozo-Shaw, Mr. Buck Clarke has been appointed acting Treasurer, under the terms of the Federations constitution. Mr. Clarke is in his second year as a member of the Federation Board of Directors, and could create a vacancy there. He, plus any other candidates nominated from the floor, will be voted on at the November assembly.
The pertinent sections of the constitution provide:
Accordingly, nominations for both Treasurer and one Executive Board member will be called for at the November assembly, and a vote duly taken.
Interesting data excerpted from the Mayor's Order 2000-150 of October 5, 2000 (quoted in the October 13 District of Columbia Register) are:
Other provisions in the Mayor's order outline conditions for securing currently surplus city school properties by and for use of charter schools.
Yes, that's right, a breathtaking million. Mr. Anthony Hood, chair of ANC 2c (and
incidentally chair of the Zoning Commission as well), is Washington's best exponent of
"Do You Want - (your association) - To Be A Millionaire?" Reportedly, in the
fairly recent past Mr. Hood was able to secure a whopping grant for his neighborhood from
one of the corporate giants. Reportedly also, strict management of the funds has insured
that they have been used right, as agreed upon.
People's Counsel: When It Comes to PEPCO's System, Age Really Does Matter
On November 3, People's Counsel Elizabeth A. Noel filed recommendations with the D.C. Public Service Commission detailing OPC's findings related to the series of explosions and fires that have plagued PEPCO's District of Columbia distribution system this year.
"The Office of the People's Counsel has already called for PEPCO to concentrate its efforts on fixing its system before the District enters into full competition for retail electric service and before the divestiture of the company's power plants is complete. This report strongly supports OPC's position and provides a framework to move forward," stated the People's Counsel.
In its report, OPC's consultant found that the age of PEPCO's underground distribution system is a seriously significant contributing factor in the manhole incidents and an impairment to system reliability and safety. Thus far PEPCO's response has been a short-term strategy of focusing on limiting manhole incidents. While this strategy is needed, PEPCO must still develop a strategy that will prevent these incidents. A successful long-term strategy will require that PEPCO improve its data collection and analysis of system failures. OPC further recommended PEPCO implement an advanced "Geographical Information System" to track, predict and prevent future manhole failures.
Other recommendations in the OPC Report include:
PEPCO should continue the emergency random manhole inspections ordered in F.C. 991.
PEPCO should be directed by the Cable Service Commission to fill in gaps in data collection relating to its distribution system both historically and forward looking.
PEPCO should be encouraged to investigate the possibility that portions of its system are near or beyond the end of their useful lives and must be replaced.
Lest we forget, the Office of the People's Counsel is an independent agency, a legal bureau actually, of the D.C. Government that represents consumers of energy and telecommunications services, usually in connection with actions before the Public Service Commission. Even during the Barry and Kelly administrations the OPC functioned well, due to the earnest stick-to-it-iveness of (up for reappointment) OPC head Elizabeth Noel.
One reason for the continued effectiveness of both the OPC and the Public Service Commission is that much of their activity can by law be charged off to large-utility regulatory service applicants. They are therefore able to commission independent studies, secure outside experts and take better-informed action on utility matters.
Delegates will want to get ready for and attend the Federation's pre-Christmas December 12 quarterly luncheon at the elegant Diplomatic and Consular Officers Club at 18th and F Streets, N.W. The beautiful club will be decorated in its Christmas finery and will as always be a place to meet and greet other delegates over clubby sherry and other good cheer.
There are no guest speakers at Federation luncheons. Rather, delegates from across the city meet under optimal, relaxed conditions and get to know one another and swap a few stories and civic and other anecdote. Reservations may be called in at 338-5164. See you there.
The National Capital Planning Commission has moved from its former North Capital address. Its new address is
401 9th Street, NW
Metro access is Archives/ Navy Memorial (yellow/ green line) or Gallery Place (red line). All contact numbers remain the same.
Everyone hears of District government support for "revenue" bonds for major projects. Government support essentially means city council support, big time. As provided in the Home Rule Act, the bonds, if issued in support of a project, are "special obligations" of the District of Columbia.
The bonds are "without recourse to the District and do not involve the faith and credit or taxing power of the District." Nor do they constitute debt of the District or a lending of public credit for private undertakings. The bonds are payable solely from payments to be made by the applications which are pledged for payment of the obligations.
Reportedly, the principal rub with current D.C. city council practice in approving project financing bonds for large private enterprises is that nothing, besides a very modest fee, is required in return for a very considerable boon. In actual practice, city approval of large project bonds affords a requesting developer a sizable financial reward in the form of below-market-rate cost of debt. This can amount to many millions. Arguably, the city is remiss in failing to negotiate a substantial quid pro quo for its generous helpfulness. It could use the money, or possible help in kind.
In the words of one councilmember, "We make the mistake of voting for such bond support and not asking for anything in return." Once the city does bargain with developers for a quid pro quo in connection with revenue bond project financing, the beneficial practice is likely to continue. The city affords even support for the profitable refinancing of bond issues. (Ancillary point: corporations should be suitably grateful the second time around also.)
We will have several key councilmembers as guest speakers at future Federation meetings, as well as many interfacings at other meetings and behind the scenes. This surprisingly dormant subject of something-for-something due in connection with city council revenue bond help should figure in Q and A sessions and at other opportune moments. Arguably, the city is losing a bundle. We can help remedy the anomaly.
Consonant with previous Federation and constituent member testimony and other urging, eight Federation organizations on November 16 combined to urge the Zoning Commission itself to assume responsibility for processing university campus plans. Also recommending the arguably overdue change are the city council (by means of the Comprehensive Plan) and the Office of Planning.
From the community point of view, the BZA's performance with respect to university campus plan applications over the past decades has been a poor one. A direct result of this is existing destabilizing university impact on the communities of Georgetown, Burlieth, Foggy Bottom, West End and Glover Park, among others, and heavy and/or increasing impact on the communities of Michigan Park, Wesley Heights, Spring Valley, Foxhall, Cloisters and Columbia Plaza.
Intrinsically, the Zoning Commission is the defining, rulemaking authority for zoning matters, and it is in a better position to deal with large projects in general and the numerous ad hoc problems, anomalies, and unusual situations that come up for zoning review and approval.
Key to the matter is that the city's universities have in recent decades grown exponentially in terms of enrollments, buildings, expansionist plans and off-campus impact on surrounding host communities. One result of this is that some of the hitherto largely unregulated schools have become, in varying but substantial degrees, rich, untaxed civic detriments.
It is expected that the Zoning Commission will in fact assume responsible jurisdiction over campus plan zoning and control. While key elements are calling for the move, opponents are only the universities and their umbrella group the Consortium of Universities (collaboratively representing all D.C. Universities and itself legally represented by the law firm of Wilkes Artis, Hedrick & Lane, mainly). Congratulations go to the associations that testified well and effectively before the new Zoning Commission of the new reform D.C. administration. It was an impressive performance.
The Sumner School has reserved the following dates for the Federation's Assembly meetings. Each will begin at 7:00 p.m. at the School and Museum, which is at 1201 Seventeenth Street, at the corner of M Street, N.W.
Tuesday, November 28
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