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Federation of Citizens Associations of the District of Columbia

Federation News

Volume 10, Issue 12, December 2004
3710 S Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007
(202) 338-5164 phone/fax

A Civic DC Wish List, Ann Loikow
The District Gets Some Respect
Game of Tendentious Definitions: The Old Story
Hydrogen Fuel Concern Continues
Save the Bay: Casey Foundation Hustling
Officers and Board
The President's Corner — Carroll Green
Better Not Shout, Better Not Flout

FEDERATION CHRISTMAS QUARTERLY LUNCHEON

Wednesday, December 22, 2004
Sherry, 12:00 m.
Seating, 12:45 p.m.

Yearly Get-Together of Delegates, Guests, and New Member Organizations

THE DIPLOMATIC AND CONSULAR OFFICERS CLUB
1801 F Street, NW

A CIVIC DC WISH LIST

Dear Santa:

The Christmas holiday season is a time for kids of all ages. That said, I thought it best to write to you, via the DC Federation of Citizens Associations newsletter (with guaranteed delivery), to let you know my stocking stuffer wish list. It's a little bit late, I know, but I've been busy. Anyway, this personal letter will save you precious time and money. I don't want you lugging down the chimney so-called gifts that would not be appreciated, even from you, dear Santa.

DON'T BOTHER WITH THESE STOCKING STUFFERS:

A publicly financed baseball stadium. The 50 percent deal is better than nothing, but DC has too many community needs demanding the city's revenue (e.g., a new public hospital, public school repair, affordable housing, and additional police).

Over development along Wisconsin Avenue from Tenley Circle to Friendship Heights, DC. The Office of Planning promulgated Red Line corridor growth (also called transit-oriented development) that was supposed to address "random development," but strained the limits of community acceptance and cooperation. At least the mayor delayed a determination of the Upper Wisconsin Avenue Corridor Study until DDOT complete a more comprehensive, less piecemeal report of current and projected traffic along the busy Wisconsin Avenue corridor. For now, let the subject (and activity) rest.

Automated DC government phone lines. Where are the DC employees, if not at their desks? Hiding from the public? Too many DC government phones are being answered by message systems and voice mail. Residents and businesses want to speak to DC government officials, not to hear automated messages, sometimes followed by dial tones.

MY STOCKING STUFFER WISH LIST:

An MPD Traffic Enforcement Division. Too much "traffic calming" has been relegated to DDOT, which has rolled out controversial and expensive traffic studies, raised crosswalks, speed bumps, lane closures, island traffic diverters, and other measures to pacify residents clamoring for traffic enforcement. Given the projected surge in traffic throughout the city — due to tourism, economic and population growth, along with additional vehicles per household — traffic has become a primary neighborhood topic, as well as a headache and a danger. While MPD-controlled red light and speed enforcement cameras are a substitute for police presence, they are few and far between. MPD should pay greater attention to traffic and traffic-related problems than just dumping a response in DDOT's lap. Reinstating an MPD Traffic Enforcement Division would elevate the necessity for comprehensive traffic enforcement citywide.

A streamlined Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA). The appointment of Toye Bello as Zoning Administrator is a great start. Now how about more enforcement and building inspectors?

Overhauled Zoning Regulations. The city council and the mayor should adequately fund an Office of Zoning consultant to assist OZ and the Zoning Advisory Committee with this vitally important project.

Shorter ambulance response times and more medical transports. Talk about critical city services. The buck stops here. When was the last time the DC Fire and Emergency Service Department released a public accounting of ambulance response times? Could you leave a note in my stocking, Santa, whether the DC ambulance response times have improved and now fall well under more than fifteen minutes?

Renovated public schools and libraries. Both great city investments.

Municipal parking garages, especially near Metro stops. Not everyone lives close to a subway station, but they want to use Metro. If Bethesda, Rockville, and Silver Spring found ways to provide municipal parking garages, which boost business, why can't the District? Work on this, Santa. I'd like to park relatively near Metro without paying a fortune to attend city-related meetings.

That's about it. This has been a long letter. Any one or combination of the above stocking stuffers will be greatly appreciated. They are substantial gifts, I know. Therefore, I've tacked an oversized stocking on the mantle to accommodate their size.

Happy holidays to you and all those who are watching for your sleigh in the nighttime sky.

Your friend,
Ann Renshaw.

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THE DISTRICT GETS SOME RESPECT

The US Appeals Court for the District of Columbia recently confirmed that District government actions are entitled to the same respect in federal courts as those of states. The case: "GARLAND, J.: JMN Corporation, the operator of an adult video store in the District of Columbia, sued the District in federal district court, alleging that its zoning regulations for such establishments were unconstitutional. In light of ongoing proceedings against JMN, the district court dismissed the complaint under the abstention doctrine of Younger v. Harris, 401 US.37 (1971). There is no doubt that the dismissal was appropriate if the District of Columbia is entitled to the benefit of that doctrine. We are therefore required to decide whether Younger is applicable to the District, a question the circuit [court] has heretofore avoided. JMN contends that, because the District of Columbia is not a state, its enforcement actions do "not merit the same protections" as would a state's. Reply Br. At 2. Young will apply, the appellant insists, only '[i]f and when the District of Columbia attains statehood.' Id. At 3. But the District does not have to wait until that day. We hold that the enforcement actions of the District of Columbia are entitled to the same respect that the federal courts accord to those of the states, and therefore affirm the dismissal of JMN's complaint." U.S. App. D.C. No. 03-7057, August 17, 2004. Affirmed per Garland. Summary from the National Law Journal, February 23, 2004.

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GAME OF TENDENTIOUS DEFINITIONS: THE OLD STORY

In November, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board denied a long-sought request for a liquor license by the Georgetown "Social Safeway," due to its being too close to a school. City regulations require liquor-vending stores to be at least 400 feet away from a public school or recreation facility. To get around the rule, the Safeway claimed it is actually 420 feet away from a nearby large school, since its parking lot is between the store building and the school, the lot comprises a separate lot from the store proper, and measurements should be calculated accordingly. The ABC Board duly recognized legalistic sophistry at work and turned down the liquor license application.

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HYDROGEN FUEL CONCERN CONTINUES

Fuels and Vehicles Daily Updates reported in August that a then-recent explosion and fire in Burnaby, BC, illustrates some of the problems related to the new idea of substituting hydrogen fuel for gasoline. More than a week after the incident, the source of the fire was not determined, and the fire was never actually extinguished, but simply ran out of fuel after burning for more than eight hours.

F&V Daily notes that the accident comes at a time of greater sensitivity to hydrogen safety because both the fuel and fuel-cell technology, which is fueled by hydrogen, are beginning to emerge from laboratories and into neighborhoods. Auto makers, energy companies, and municipal governments are in various stages of installing hydrogen fueling facilities and demonstrating fuel cell vehicle fleets. The Newsletter has noted earlier that just such a "demonstration project" hydrogen fueling station has been installed in the DC River Terrace community, in a residential area and next to an elementary school.

The debate may be coming, to this: maybe hydrogen fueling in DC is feasible, but the data are incomplete and experimentation needs to be done cautiously. Exponents of the new fuel should consider that one hideous accident in the experimental stage would probably sink hydrogen technology chances in the District for the foreseeable future. The French statesman Talleyrand instructively observed, "Above all, no zeal," to his diplomats. The same holds true for industry, city, and business interests throughout the area.

Reportedly, an official with the Burnaby Fire Department suggested that the hydrogen leak in that city was caused by a truck driver who had not properly shut a valve, allowing hydrogen to escape. It remains unclear what ignited the combustible gas. The ignition was rapid enough that the shock wave tripped a nearby seismic sensor, which shut off all hydrogen flows at the Canadian facility.

In the District case, it is unclear if local hydrogen facility owner Shell Oil Co. has undertaken comparative risk and safety analysis with respect to the release of hydrogen in confined and semi-confined environments such as city streets (for transport) and close to sensitive institutions such as secondary schools. Casting a long glance at the DC River Terrace project, it seems obvious that the goal of investigating and experimenting with hydrogen as a cheaper fuel is an interesting one with literally volatile risks, but that the siting of the initial physical refueling plant is purely awful.

Since federal "demonstration project" grants are seemingly available these days (the failed partially coal-fired electric power plant in residential Georgetown was one), perhaps the quickest solution to the present concern in the District is for Shell or the city to get another demonstration grant for another, out-of-the-way, venue for the busy Shell plant, with its perceived problems of volatility, transport danger and imperilment of a large neighborhood school. In this way, community safety would be insured and progressive fuel interests would have more leeway for experimentation, observation, and possible accidents without the danger of catastrophic effects.

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SAVE THE BAY: CASEY ENDOWMENT HUSTLING

Last spring and fall, Casey Trees worked with the Urban Forest Administration, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Anacostia Watershed Society, the National Park Service, and other partners to plant trees and shrubs along the Anacostia River, where they can filter pollutants from entering the river. To top it off, so to speak, the Case Endowment has a green roof on its K Street building, as a cutting-edge demonstration of another approach to reducing the runoff that eventually finds its way into local rivers. According to Casey Trees, replacing aging roofs on downtown buildings with green roofs of water-absorbing plants could cut runoff in half in densely built commercial areas with less room for trees. Rain barrels and rain gardens are other techniques.

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OFFICERS AND BOARD

Patrick Allen, Esq.
Association of Oldest Inhabitants

Robert Andrews
Foxhall Citizens Association

Allen E. Beach
Chevy Chase Citizens Association

Francis M. Clarke, III
Cleveland Park Citizens Association

George Clark, Esq.
Forest Hills Citizens Association

Dino J. Drudi
Michigan Park Citizens Association

Kathryn A. Eckles
Residential Action Coalition

Elizabeth Elliott
Foggy Bottom Association

Carroll Green
Manor Park Citizens Association

Guy Gwynne
Burleith Citizens Association

James H. Jones
Crestwood Citizens Association

Ann Loikow, Esq.
Cleveland Park Citizens Association

Sally MacDonald
Woodley Park Citizens Association

Ann Renshaw
Chevy Chase Citizens Association

Laura Richards, Esq.
Penn Branch Citizens/Civic Association

A.L. Wheeler, Esq.
Association of Oldest Inhabitants

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THE PRESIDENT'S CORNER
Carroll Green

Baseball in DC at any price is what the Williams administration would have you believe. That the relocation of the Montreal Expos, now known as the Washington Nationals, would be an economic shot in the arm for the city, and particularly for that part of Southeast near the Navy Yard and adjacent to the Frederick Douglass Bridge on South Capitol Street.

The Federation did not take a position on the famed Baseball Agreement foisted on the residents and taxpayers of our city as a done deal.

At our November meeting, Mr. Bill Hall, speaking on behalf of the DC Sports and Entertainment Commission, told us that the proposed new baseball stadium will be financed by a gross receipts tax on the city's largest businesses, a concession tax, and annual rental fees. Consequently, he claimed that it is user-financed, not publicly financed.

Interestingly, the only certainty about this done deal is the uncertainty of the total cost. Equally as interesting is that the opponents of this deal were not against baseball, but vehemently opposed to the "give away the farm and the store" aspect of the deal for residents and taxpayers in the city.

Many of the amendments on the proposed legislation, offered by Councilmembers, contained issues one would expect to be considered and addressed at the negotiation table. The devil was indeed in the details of this agreement, negotiated among the baseball cartel, given to city officials on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

Some of the terms in the take-it-or-leave-it deal were simply beyond belief: designated parking on neighborhood streets for five to six thousand vehicles, with parking proceeds accruing to a private entity; that baseball will not share the cost of construction of a new stadium; that the city absorb all cost overruns on stadium construction; that baseball will not share any proceeds accruing from stadium naming rights or broadcasting revenues and that the city would have use of its stadium for 12 days of the year.

The cartel was less concerned about generosity and a balanced deal, but keenly focused on the expected financial windfall resulting from the sale of the team to new owners. The overriding question facing the cartel is one of profit — not if there will be a profit, but rather how large the profit margin would be. This is the good old American way, greed with a capital G.

The Council was then left with the task of applying due diligence a task that the executive branch failed miserably, of being responsive to and responsible for the rights of the citizenry for the financial integrity of our city. That city officials expressed shock and dismay at the eleventh-hour approval of the amendment requiring 50 percent financing underscores the fact that this administration is hopelessly out of touch with the electorate.

While the private financing amendment may not kill major league baseball in our city, it certainly will send the cartel and city officials back to where they belong, the negotiating table.

Some proponents of the done deal suggest that the private financing amendment gives the baseball cartel an opportunity to walk away. The baseball cartel announced that the amendment is wholly unacceptable. Some would say good riddance. I suggest that they should not walk away, but run, to the next jurisdiction reckless enough to give them their farm and store. But I predict that these good capitalists will not walk away from a moneymaking venture.

There is nothing equitable about the current baseball agreement. The owners, who comprise the baseball cartel, are all accomplished business people in their own right. These individuals did not achieve success by being careless or passive in their pursuit of profits. City officials participating in the "negotiations" were simply outflanked, outfoxed, and bamboozled by the cartel.

Major league baseball in DC at any price has been soundly rejected by the electorate. The council hears and understands this, as evidenced by the clear majority vote (10-3) on the private financing amendment. This administration again demonstrates that it is politically tone deaf on matters of governance. But then, I suppose it is very difficult to hear what is going on in neighborhoods when commuting in first class and cruising at 30,000 feet much of the year. This mayor has virtually isolated himself from the various neighborhoods across the city. His public utterance, immediately following the approval of the private financing amendment, "I don't want to talk to anybody right now," has apparently become his mantra.

This father-knows-best approach to municipal governance simply isn't working. His unapologetic junketeering simply makes matters worse.

Since becoming an ambassador of goodwill and a mouthpiece for the National League of Cities, this mayor's availability and commitment to govern has diminished considerably.

The only surprise is that there are not more potential candidates in the wings awaiting to dethrone this high-flying ambassador.

Baseball yes; at any price, never.

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BETTER NOT SHOUT; BETTER NOT FLOUT

The Third District MPD confirms what most people are getting around to suspecting: the new (July 1) law regulating distracted driving is being enforced in the District. On the no-no list are handheld cell phones, grooming in the car, fiddling with the radio, reading, or "any other activity that interferes with driving." Anyone caught holding a phone while driving can be fined $100, but no points will be assessed.

The Washington Times reports that, "Under the law, drivers will be permitted to hold a phone only to make emergency calls, dial a number, or turn a phone on or off. The city will suspend fines for first-time offenders who show proof that they have acquired a hands-free device." The new anti-distraction law is enough to drive some busy drivers to distraction.


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