Forward to May 2001 Federation News — Back to Federation of Citizens Associations main page Back to February 2001 Federation News
Volume 7, Issue 6, March/April 2001
3710 S Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007
(202) 338-5164 phone/fax
|Soaring Gas Bills, Dubious PEPCO
Wiring Politics, Exploding Manholes, Proliferating Antenna Towers,
First Impressions at the DC Public Service Commission
Board of Directors Activities
Council Term Limits: Status Report
Officers and Board
String ’em Up? Committee Update on PEPCO Poles, Wires & the Future
Helpful Documents to Have on Hand
Timely Zoning Commission Roundtable on Telcon Antennas and Antenna Towers
To the Hill and Back: Federation Testifies on Reopening Pennsylvania Avenue
Watergate West Sues City over Howard Johnson Hotel Conversion
Recent Election Law Decision
Ward & ANC-Area Redistricting: Crunch Time
BZA Moves to Protect Neighborhoods from Campus Street
New BZA Member
Federation Awards Banquet Gala June 5
Future Federation Assembly Meeting Dates
FEDERATION ASSEMBLY MEETING
SOARING GAS BILLS - DUBIOUS PEPCO WIRING POLICIES - EXPLODING MANHOLES - PROLIFERATING ANTENNA TOWERS - WHITHER D.C.?
We'll find out from this month's main speaker, Mr. Angel Cartagena, now chairman of the D.C. Public Service Commission. One of the mayor's new young, experienced and hands-on managers, Mr. Cartagena has come with hefty credentials on both sides of utility management. A product of Yale and Boston Law School, prior to joining the D.C. commission, he served in the Federal Communications Commission, specializing in regulatory issues related to consumer matters under FCC jurisdiction and complaints against common carriers.
On the private utility provider side, Mr. Cartagena served as Assistant General Counsel for Metromedia Communications Corporation, overseeing both federal and state regulatory proceedings involving common carriers. To boot, he supervised law firms working for the company in cases relating to federal and state regulatory concerns.
Not a newcomer to the District scene, Mr. Cartagena has worked as an attorney in the Office of the General Counsel of the PSC. Duties there, inter alia, included hands-on presiding as a hearing officer over hearings on telephone service in the District. All this covers both sides of the fence, not bad preparation for grappling with D.C.'s major utility problems as the city recovers and prepares to compete in the 215` century. This visit with a key Washington official stands to be interesting, with meaningful Q-and-A discussion.
Mr. Anthony Hood comes with intriguing credentials. While he is a commissioner on the Zoning Commission, which accomplishment enough, the Federation wants to hear how Mr. Hood applied for and secured a $I million grant from the Fannie Mae corporation for civic work in his ANC area. Some of our association areas raise funds for projects and legal actions in $500 and even $1,000 increments. Others sponsor events and activities and garner goodly thousands of dollars. Still more associations happily raise needed money in increments of any amount at all, including $20 and widow's mite donations. And the day of the spaghetti or other specialty suppers is not over as a fund-raising device.
Cool $1 million contributions to civic organizations may be effectively concealed out in the maze of charitable donations sources that exists in this country, but Mr. Hood is the first person in the Washington area to have identified, negotiated and secured one.
Everyone may want to take notes during this important presentation.
First Impressions at the D.C. Public Service Commission
Three months ago Mayor Williams appointed a new chairman of the Public Service Commission, Mr. Angel Cartagena. Mr. Cartagena brings to the job a degree of accessibility the community has never seen at the important agency, which regulates all utilities in the District of Columbia. All appearances are that Mr. Cartagena may well be another reform-mayoral appointment of the caliber of Mr. Anthony Altman at the Office of Planning (OP).
Can it be that the reform mayor means it when he says he will professionalize city services and insure that they give equitable emphasis to community health and welfare? Most delegates know that for far too long developers, utility franchise holders and institutions have enjoyed a largely free hand in the District, often to the detriment of the tax-base neighborhoods. Now that OP and the Zoning Commission are getting a condign professional grip on the major issue of institutional campus plans that impact communities, it looks as if the PSC may take a similar hard look at, and action on, community concerns in the electric utility field. Federation help \ ill be needed on this one. Let's be ready.
Council Term Limits: Status ReportA well attended city council hearing in early March on legislation to abolish council term limits drew a spectrum of witnesses. Presided over by Mr. Vincent Orange, other councilmembers were there, including Councilmen Jack Evans and Phil Mendelson. Term limits were voted into law by popular referendum in 1994. Expressed reasoning by many witnesses was not what was expected, however.
Witnesses came down on both sides of the issue: some for term limits and some against. The common thread of agreement, however, seemed to be that a popular referendum should not be repealed by a simple council vote. Witness after witness made the point, with the apparent consensus that, whatever one believes about the wisdom or unwisdom of term limits for city councilmembers, the issue should be decided directly by the voters, rather than the council itself. Discussion inevitably touched on a resubmission of the matter to voters in the next regular election.
Columbia Heights Association president Dorothy Brizill stated it forthrightly. She noted that, come what may, she sees the term limit issue (1) unavoidably coming up for another referendum vote, (2) being passed by the electorate and (3) term limits then continued or reinstated as circumstances dictate. This is a hot issue, with strong feelings on both sides. A council vote is expected in six to eight weeks.
One thought borrowed, sort of, from international treaty negotiations may be germane here. If and when the term limit question should be voted on and possibly repassed directly by the electorate, a clarifying stipulation in the referendum language could specify that any law so passed could be rescinded only by another referendum.
Members too soon forget that the primary requisite for public office is a willingness to serve, not a drive to become self-serving.
Carroll Green (Manor Park)
The housekeeping matter of unpaid association dues is an item of concern. Informal inquiries indicate that internal communication is usually the problem; word just doesn't get to the proper association officer - usually the treasurer. I urge everyone to give dues payment due concern.
Fund-raising has begun for the $10,000 seed capital amount for the legal aid foundation. The Foggy Bottom association has just voted its $1,000 contribution. I will propose a $2,000 Federation allocation at the upcoming assembly. Several associations have made informal pledges of $1,000 each; I encourage others to consider lesser amounts also. The establishment of the legal foundation stands to be one of the most important actions the Federation has taken to date. Let's unite to give it its baby teeth.
Please note on calendars: the new, improved date for the Federation's 91st gala awards banquet is Tuesday, June 5. A banquet committee member will be calling soon. It is not too early to start thinking of association table(s) for our grandest annual occasion. As always, this will be a winner and a great time will be had by delegates and guests alike.
Finally, the June 26 assembly will be the regular election meeting, before the summer hiatus of July and August. Nomination committee members will call some delegates, to form a basic slate of officers and board members. This simply insures that each position has at least one candidate. Anyone can run for anything, and nominations from the floor will be in order also. Next year should be an active and progressive year. It will be interesting and rewarding to be part of the leadership.
String 'em Up? Committee Update On PEPCO Poles, Wires & the FutureContext: PEPCO reportedly is "heavying up" residential neighborhoods with more numerous, more visible and heavier electric wires and cables. According to Mr. Bill Sim, vice president of PEPCO, the additional wiring is part of a "program for replacement of older infrastructure to bring the distribution system up to today's construction standards". The practical result is that most communities are or are slated to be festooned with unsightly and dubious wires and cables on huge poles, some close to houses and offices. An anomaly is that quite a few D.C. communities' and areas are already attractively and safely wired underground. End Context.
After the Federation vote February 27 to look into the District's power supply practices, a committee of representatives from three Federation communities met March 6 with the entire three-person Public Service Commission o (which regulates all D.C. utilities), PSC staffers. and seven senior PEPCO officers. The meeting turned on two principal themes: the emblematic near-term PEPCO "heavying up" of the small Northwest community of Burleith, and the long-term projection of electric and cable installation and supply for the District, particularly with regard to underground vs. aboveground placement of utility wires and cables.
Unsurprisingly, the attending PEPCO vice president defended both the firm's present supply program and its near total latitude for choosing which areas are wired underground and which are not. Community participants complained about various onerous short-term aspects of the Burleith project and received a company mea culpa for installation shortcomings, but got little else. What committee members did succeed in doing was to open for the PSC the issue of PEPCO's oddly spotty installation performance citywide and to help convince the PSC to examine the franchise firm's present and future plans for electric power supply.
The next planned step is for the PSC to confer independently with PEPCO concerning the many issues discussed at the March 6 meeting. Also indicated at the March 6 session was that the PSC will be conducting major research on the current state of the power infrastructure of the District. Meetings and studies imply time - and continued Federation effort. For practical purposes, the newly rewired Burleith community and others look like 1950s TVA villages. While everyone at the conference table recognized the preferability of underground wiring, relative cost is cited as the crunch point, with installation vagaries being secondary but important. Cost, appearance and efficiency will be the principal objects of PSC investigation.
On one point, the communities were clear: The PSC should contract for and conduct its own research into power matters, and not rely on PEPCO company data. Under the law, the PSC (and the People's Counsel) can charge off research and other expenses to applicants, in this case (as of now) the District's franchise-holding power supply company. Nor surprisingly, the PEPCO vice president objected strongly to such independent research. In point of cost, however, it makes little difference who conducts thorough research - the agency or the company. The cost would be the same for the same thorough research product. Qualitatively, however, the agency's commissioned data would be less likely to be tendentious, and would inspire greater trust by all concerned.
This conference started the ball rolling on the residential communities' current wiring plight and future prospects. After conferring further with the PSC, the Federation will consider requesting a city council oversight hearing on PEPCO's present and future wiring policy citywide for neighborhoods. This will prominently include underground wiring feasibility and safety considerations for all communities, rather than for only the selected areas now wired underground.
Helpful Documents To Have On HandOften when questions or problems arise in communities, there is an immediate need to consult the municipal regulations. It is handy for associations or community activists to have these on hand. The D.C. Municipal Regulations (DCMR) are sold in 35 separate publications for convenient use, and may be purchased at the Office of Documents and Administrative issuances. DCMR titles most used by communities are: 10 DCMR -District's Comprehensive Plan,
The Documents Office is located at 1 Judiciary Square, Room 520. It is advisable to have exact change or to pay by check.
Timely Zoning Commission Roundtable On Telcon Antennas and Antenna TowersThe D.C. Zoning Commission held a public "roundtable" hearing March 19 on the hot issue of Washington's rapidly expanding telecommunications antenna and antenna tower industry. Discussion encompassed all issues concerning antennas, antenna towers and the structures on which they are installed, relating to: "l. How should the current Zoning Regulations be updated in order to protect the safety and health of the public, and/or the character of the District's communities, while taking into consideration the increased need for new and expanding telecommunications services?
Eight witnesses from eight Federation associations testified at the two-day hearing. (There were 50 witnesses in all, ranging from pro se individuals to representatives from ANCs, Stop the Tower Coalition, AT&T Wireless, law firms and the local Green Party.) The common view of community witnesses was that the Zoning Commission needs to rewrite the regulations and proactively tighten safety and health-preserving provisions, now woefully lacking.
Speaking candidly in open session, Commission chair Carol Mitten agreed with many witnesses as she summed up that:
One solution for lacking D.C.-specific data: Reportedly, at least two agencies closely involved with the electronic antenna/tower issue have legal authority to commission necessary studies and data-gathering, and charge the cost of these to applicants - in this case the telecommunications companies and tower builders. The agencies are the Public Service Commission (which regulates all utilities) and the People's Counsel, which works closely with the PSC. Why not: (I) research and compare existing data, studies and policies from elsewhere and (2) consider commissioning D.C.-specific surveys and studies at (3) interested-industry expense?
That's for the birds? You bet. The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center recently launched
According to the Smithsonian: "Urban sprawl is destroying wildlife habitat at an unprecedented rate, adversely impacting birds and increasing public isolation from nature. In an effort to mitigate these effects, Neighborhood Nestwatch brings citizens and scientists together to study backyard birds and develop data necessary to understand the impact that rapid land conversion is having on bird populations.
With the help of Nestwatch staff, birds are netted, banded, measured and released, and their nest success and year-to-year survival are carefully monitored .... The goal of this citizen project is to learn more about birds that breed in urban and suburban areas, and how the process of urbanization impacts birds.
Individuals or communities interested in participating in this citizen-science project may e-mail the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center at email@example.com or call (443) 482-2200. More details about this program are in website: http://www.nestwatch.si.edu.
To The Hill And Back: Federation Testifies On Reopening Pennsylvania AvenueOfficial and non-official Washington trooped to the House Rayburn Building March 21, to testify in favor of reopening Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. New House D.C. Subcommittee chair Constance Morelia (R, MD) called and conducted the timely hearing. Fourteen witnesses ranging from the mayor and city council chair to representatives from the Federal City Council (Sen. Bob Dole), the Board of Trade, the Chamber of Commerce and the Federation pushed hard for reopening. Only the acting U.S. Treasury Secretary and the chief of the Secret Service opposed the idea. Obviously, if the organized city has its way, the avenue will be opened.
Much cited and complimented were the contents of the Federal City Council's Rand Corporation Report on reopening America's Main Street. Most emphasized were (1) closure of the avenue unduly divides the District economically, traffic-wise and psychologically, and (2) it is possible to protect the White House adequately and still have the street open.
A key factor to consider, however much the Federation and key city movers and shakers support Ms. Morella's excellent strategy and hearing, is that closure of Pennsylvania Avenue by the White House was not basically a congressional matter. Rather, it was done by presidential fiat. On the face of it, congressional action may have great weight and influence, but the final decision seems to reside with President Bush. And he is mulling the question over.
Among locally-based atmospherics at the Morelia hearing: Council chair Linda Cropp sharply noted that reopening the avenue was a Republican platform promise that needs to be kept; the NCPC's new ballyhooed task force on reopening the avenue was scouted by a business witness as being bureaucratic (Morelia: "Is this paralysis by analysis?"); D.C. Oldest Inhabitants Association president Bill Brown recalled former, freer times at the White House; and the Federation president decried the bunker image conveyed by an isolated White House. The Federation also had placed in the record for committee consideration a plan for strengthening and beautifying Pennsylvania Avenue of the D.C. architectural firm of Frank Lohsen McCrery. Interested, Ms. Morelia requested and received a short demonstration of the plan by a company partner.
The Federation will likely be testifying on occasion in the future before House and Senate committees on matters of District interest.
Watergate West Sues City Over Howard Johnson Hotel ConversionThe Watergate West Association has sued the District government, on the grounds that the DCRA Zoning Administrator acted erroneously in approving conversion of the Foggy Bottom Howard Johnson Hotel from commercial to university use. The large hotel, located near the Kennedy Center, was purchased by George Washington University for dormitory use and immediately taken off the tax rolls. The case is being argued at the D.C. Court of Appeals.
At issue is: Can a university (1) buy of right any property it wants? And (2) can it convert such property to off-campus university use? Not surprisingly, GWU claims a university can buy and convert anything it wishes. This sort of thing will be covered in the new regulations on institutional campus plans, now being drafted at the Office of Planning for Zoning Commission use. It will be interesting to see how a court deals with the matter under existing, sketchy law and regulations.
The incumbent as well as the office itself of DCRA Zoning Administrator are under increasing fire. As matters stand now, the incumbent must wing it on most cases for decision, having no technical backup or, in reality, no legal backup and no adequate staff. Much depends on the individual incumbent, and the position has long been a weak spot in the city's zoning structure. There are no easy answers to this comparative anomaly, created to enable DCRA to have input into zoning decisions. If, as touched on by council chair Linda Cropp in a recent oversight hearing, the city's zoning apparatus should be reorganized, the Office of Zoning Administrator will likely have to be upgraded and greatly strengthened within DCRA, absorbed by Zoning, or transferred to the Office of Planning.
Recent Election Law Decision
District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics regulations prohibiting voters from wearing campaign stickers when voting in a polling place do not violate the First Amendment. (U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, January 19, Marlin v. D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, No. 99-7206.)
Ward & ANC-Area Redistricting: Crunch Time
Context: District population is 572,059, according to the last national census. The District's eight wards must contain equal populations, give or take a small percentage, according to D.C. law. Dividing the new census totally by eight, each ward will have to have about 71,000 residents. Ward boundaries will have to be adjusted to achieve this balance. ANC districts should contain 2,000 persons as a rule. Some of these must be adjusted too. End context.
Redistricting subcommittee chair Phil Mendelson has held two "town hall meetings" on the current redistricting task, as well as two hearings. A third subcommittee hearing will be held April 23 at 10:00 a.m. in the council chamber at 1 Judiciary Square.
A first vote on redrawing ward boundaries is slated for June 5. The ANCs redistricting process will begin on June 6. Before then, councilmembers should have formed and worked with ward redistricting committees of their choosing. (Councilmembers Ambrose, Allen and Graham have begun forming their committees.) Recommendations on ANC are due October 1, with a first vote on revised ANC boundaries scheduled for January 8, 2002.
Where do we stand demographically in the District?
BZA Moves to Protect Neighborhoods from Campus SprawlWith two March 29 decisions, the Board of Zoning Adjustment has continued city efforts to bring responsible regulation to universities in the District. While not perfect or a cause for elation, the newly approved George Washington and Georgetown University ten-year campus plans are nevertheless a significant step forward. The greater-Foggy Bottom and Georgetown-area associations and ANCs have apparently accepted the plans that affect them. Worrisomely, it had appeared previously that Georgetown University had managed to insert a large unhoused-undergraduate enrollment rise into its plan. Fortunately, the Board reflected more thoroughly on all the testimony and on the obvious negative community impact such a provision would have and clarified the point in the approved order. Result: no undergraduate enrollment hike, for the tuition or otherwise.
The upshot of the decisions in both the GU and GWU cases is that for the first time the city is defining and getting a regulatory grip on previously ever-increasing campus sprawl and negative community impact. Unregulated to date for practical purposes, universities may understandably be less than happy with the attention the reform city administration is giving them, but they cannot seriously say that it is not fair or not overdue. Overdue? Ask any university adjoining neighborhood.
Delegates who wish to serve on the interesting BZA or Zoning Commission may indicate their interest to Ms. Jackie Randolph, Mayor's office of Boards and Commissions, 1 Judiciary Square, Suite 1050 North, Washington, DC 20001. Telephone 727-6744, Fax 727-2359, E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Federation Awards Banquet Gala June 5
The banquet committee announces that it has secured an even better date for the Federation's 91st birthday awards banquet - Tuesday, June 5. Delegates and friends are requested to enter the date on their calendars.
This year's do stands to be the biggest and best so far, and may have a few surprises to boot. Tables are for eight, nine and ten persons, with stanchions and identifying signs for the sponsoring association(s).
Future Federation Assembly Meeting DatesThe Sumner School has reserved the following dates for the Federation's Assembly meetings. Unless otherwise identified, each meeting 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, April 24
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