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Federation of Citizens Associations of the District of Columbia

Federation News

Volume 13, Issue 8, November 2007
910 17th Street, NW, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20006
(202) 331-3200 phone/(202) 331-2100 fax

President's Message, George Clark
Officers and Board
Charter School Angst, Dino Drudi and Anne M. Renshaw

Speaking of Neighborhoods
Zoning Review Taskforce
Rosenbaum EMS Roundup
Homeland Security: You'd Better Be Ready to Help
Assembly Meeting Dates


Tuesday, November 27, 6:45 pm


1201 Seventeenth Street, NW
(At M Street)


On November 13 the Hillcrest Community Civic Association and the Palisades Citizens Association celebrated their 10 year partnership with a reception on the German Embassy grounds. The event was a lively and lovely affair, well attended by members of both associations, the Mayor, Chairman Gray and Councilmember Cheh. Several Federation members were in attendance. The partnership started at a Federation Annual Awards Banquet, and we were honored to be invited.

Alice Stewart and Miles Steele III were the moving forces behind the partnership. They think-and we think-that more efforts like these will help unite the City. We've all (re)learned this year that concerted action from all parts of the City can work wonders in getting things done. And this partnership is a way to get people to know each other and work together.

The Federation and many others testified on November 1 about the problems with public private partnerships in developing "surplus" City land. On November 7 we testified about the broken process for declaring land surplus. One of the big surprises is that the development community, too, is tired of being blocked from competitive bidding and the City undervaluing its land. Councilmembers Schwartz and Brown have both promised to introduce new legislation to update these processes and make them work. The Federation intends to play an active role. Let us know if you want to help.

OP has finally started the study on the PUD process and the establishment of a planning commission called for in the Comprehensive Plan legislation. The report is now due by year's end. We expect it to do little to change the PUD process. But we fear it will propose massive changes to eliminate the Zoning Commission, due process hearings with the right to cross-examine witnesses, and consolidate all zoning, planning and development power in OP. Those don't sound like citizen friendly proposals to us. Stay tuned.

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Patrick Allen, Esq.
Association of Oldest Inhabitants

Allen E. Beach, Treasurer
Chevy Chase Citizens Association

Gale B. Black, Esq.
Crestwood Citizens Association

Jordinia Brown
Shepherd Park Citizens Association

Sylvia C. Brown
Deanwood Citizens Association

George R. Clark, Esq., President
Forest Hills Citizens Association

Dino J. Drudi
Michigan Park Citizens Association

Kathryn A. Eckles
Residential Action Coalition

Elizabeth B. Elliott
Foggy Bottom Association

Carroll Green. Second Vice President
Manor Park Citizens Association

Ann Loikow, Esq.
Cleveland Park Citizens Association

Sally MacDonald, Secretary
Woodley Park Citizens Association

Ann Renshaw, First Vice President
Chevy Chase Citizens Association

Louis Wassel
16th Street Neighborhood Association

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

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by Dino Drudi and Anne M. Renshaw

At present, there are 55 charter schools, including 20 charter high schools operating on 71 campuses in DC with an enrollment of approximately 22,200 students, about a quarter of all DC's school children. The Washington Post (11/18/07) reported that DC School Chancellor Michelle Rhee may contract out the management of 27 "failing" traditional public schools to nonprofit charter school firms. Even the Roman Catholic archdiocese is getting in on the act, proposing to ``convert" insolvent parochial schools to charter schools which would rent space in archdiocesan property. With that said, what's the problem with charter schools?

Dino Drudi: Michigan Park Citizens Association member, Dan Emerine addressed the Federation's October 23 Assembly meeting concerning charter school locating in residential neighborhoods as a matter-of-right. A seminary located at the end of a narrow cul-de-sac in Dan's Michigan Park neighborhood sold its property to the Stokes Charter School, best known for ex-teacher Jenna Bush, daughter of the President and board member, development lawyer Enrico Cecchi, son of Techworld developer Giuseppi Cecchi. Instead of housing 50-100 seminarians, the building will be converted to a charter school for 320 elementary school students, plus staff, with deliveries, daily drop-offs and possible removal of neighbors' on-street parking. Dan explained that the school is inappropriate for that site because the narrow cul-de-sac is less than regulation width and the hillside behind the property is sliding into the street below.

Anne Renshaw. Recently, another DC charter school had a contract to purchase, for a reported $4.5 million, a former senior residence facility situated on a busy residential comer in Ward 4/ Chevy Chase. The headmaster of an existing private high school with over 1,000 students across the street from the pending charter school site warned the charter officials that rivalries would surface between his students and the charter students. Moreover, the charter students, with no place to hang out after school and with no on-site recreational space, would inevitably head to the private school to watch soccer or football practice. Neighborhood leaders saw nothing but problems ahead.

Dino: Charter schools are popping up everywhere. By a 1996 act of Congress, charter schools must be construed as public schools for zoning purposes. While there's still debate about whether charter schools are an improvement over public schools, they enjoy broad political support with moderates, some liberals, business interests, and most conservatives supporting them as an alternative to DC's troubled public school system.

Anne: My neighbors questioned the economics of a charter school buying expensive property which could accommodate 5-6 private homes when there are vacant public schools which could be turned into charter schools. We want to know if tax dollars are being used to finance charter school property purchases. Moreover, we asked the Zoning Administrator to disallow a change of use of the property (to a charter school) based on substantial "objectionable conditions" (Section 206.2) which the community should not be compelled to tolerate.

Dino: Were a traditional public school to set up in some location, the elected school board would have to approve it. Disaffected residents could vote out board members who had approved the location over community objections. Electoral resistance is a major reason the traditional school system could not close woefully underutilized schools while not having enough funds or students to make repair ing them feasible. Charter schools, on the other hand, are "contracted-out" public schools re ceiving per student allotments straight out of public funds, often supplement ed by charitable contributions from developers and other business interests. With little (if any) public accountability, they can wield public authority in their location decisions and residents have no recourse.

Anne: Never underestimate a residential community, however. In our case, while the charter school took the neighborhood by surprise, the neighbors collected over 100 signatures against the conversion of this senior facility to an unwanted, high-impact charter school. The Public Charter School Board's 2007 Annual Report states that "The Board solicits input from community members during public hearings when decisions regarding charter approvals ... are considered." That was not done in our case, nor was there any "evidence of community outreach" by the charter school to counter our petition drive in favor of a senior facility over a charter school on that comer lot. Without conceding defeat, the charter school wisely withdrew its application; a senior residence facility will take over that site.

Dino: The Citizens Federation passed a motion at its last meeting which called on City Council to change the existing law so it must vote on siting any NEW public facility. This would include not just charter schools, but public schools, dog parks, libraries and fire stations, for example. Any change in use should be addressed through the elected legislative body to compel whomever is wielding public power-and therefore public resources, i.e. tax dollars-to engage the affected community and be held accountable for the siting of public facilities.

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Speaking of Neighborhoods
Where Are We?: Part 2

The Federation is calling upon City officials to adopt a single list of neighborhoods that would be used consistently by all of the agencies. The city map currently does not show 16th Street Heights, Crestwood North (formerly Rock Creek East), Carter Barron, Riggs Park or North Portal Estates, and yet these are all existing neighborhoods.

Shout Out!

Please tell us about an upcoming special event, award, or other happening in your association and we'll publish it here! We'd like to make this a regular feature.

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The Federation has long supported a rewrite of our Zoning Regulations, which date from 1958. A Task Force to study and write those changes over the next two to three years has been formed. The members and their affiliations are listed below. The first meeting is November 28 at 6:30 p.m. at the Council of Governments conference room at 777 North Capitol Street, NE.

Anthony Hood, Chair, Zoning Commission

Nancy Mac Wood,  CM Brown

Ruthanne Miller, Chair, Board of Zoning Adjustment

Ellen McCarthy, CM Gray

Matt LeGrant, Zoning Administrator

Carol Mitten, CM Mendelson

Julia Koster, National Capital Planning Commission

Jerome Paige, CM Bowser

Bill Bonstra, CM Evans

Jacque Patterson, CM Barry

George Clark, Federation of Citizens Associations

Gary Peterson, CM Wells

Bill Crews, CM Catania

David Powell, DC American Institute of Architects

John Goodman, CM Cheh

Laura Richards, Councilmember Gray

Geoff Griffis, CM Graham

Greg Rhett, Federation of Civic Associations

Denise Johnson, CM Schwartz

Stephen Sher, DC Bar

Samuel Jordan, CM Alexander

Paul Tummonds, DC Building Industries Assoc.

Victoria Leonard-Chambers, CM Thomas

Barbara Zartman, Committee of 100

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Thought to ponder:


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November 20, 2007, marks the first milestone for the Rosenbaum EMS Task Force 2007 Final Recommendations. The Federation provided Councilmember Phil Mendelson, Chair, Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, with a list of the 37 Rosenbaum EMS proposals compiled by due dates. Six recommendations were due "no later than" November 20. The Federation asks Councilmember Mendelson to provide a Rosenbaum Milestone Report, covering the implementation of the first six recommendations, one of which calls for "the Medical Director (to) establish ... procedures to certify the operational competency of medical providers at all levels of training within the Department." We eagerly await Councilmember Mendelson's EMS Milestone review, and to be able to determine whether the required EMS reforms have been fully implemented and if their implementation is on schedule.

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Let's focus, for a moment, on Homeland Security. You haven't been thinking about terrorism in a while? We're not surprised. Absorbing your time and atten tion are your holiday shopping, your son's soccer games, your job, your daughter's wardrobe crisis, PTA meetings, tak ing Fido to the vet and having the car winterized. Watch ing for and report ing odd packages, abnormal situations and suspicious per sons have not been high on your to-do list. Join the club.

Somehow we forget how much our first responders count on our being their eyes and ears. We don't want to think about the very real probability that a terrorist attack will strike the nation's capital. We've heard the words: "not if, but when." But the thought of an IED exploding on a busy downtown street, a bomb being detonated in a crowded mall or anthrax (or worse) being released in the subway is too troubling to grasp. Like Scarlet O'Hara in "Gone with the Wind," we'll "think about it tomorrow."

You know Friendship Heights? It's the city's popular and trendy "uptown downtown" which straddles the DC/Montgomery County line where Wisconsin and Western Avenues intersect. A major bus depot sits over one of the Red Line's busiest subway stations in Friendship Heights. Traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, crams upper Wisconsin Avenue, a popular shopping and restaurant destination.

Aware that the area could also be a target for terrorists, the Friendship Heights Public Safety Committee, a consortium of business, political and civic leaders, recently brought together the four police departments (MPD, Montgomery County Department of Police, Chevy Chase Police Department and METRO Police) which cover the bi-jurisdictional region to discuss "Homeland Security, What's the Plan?"

Business and citizen representatives were told about joint police training and drills, upgrades in police protective gear, better communication among first responders, as well as more sophisticated equipment and apparatus. According to the police, we're to "shelter in place" (in other words, stay where you are) until the scope of the disaster is known. The police reminded us to have three-days worth of food and water on hand; to have an emergency go-kit (packed with such items as a flashlight, toilet paper, hand wipes, bandages, pocket portable radio and scissors) and have a family plan where to go, should you need to leave town in a hurry.

While that information is all well and good, the police (all four departments) had not one shred of information on how to combat the apathy and complacency that has overtaken the public (and to some extent, DC and Montgomery County's leadership). Considerable Homeland Security money is being spent to ready our first responders, but it probably will take another Oklahoma, New York or Pentagon disaster to dislodge the public from the apathy in which we seem to be mired.

When it comes to terrorism, we all have a job to do. Face it. No matter how many police on the streets, they need our help to combat potential acts of terrorism. The Homeland Security "plan" for Friendship Heights, for instance, is based in large part on the public alerting the police about any suspicious person, package or activity. Are we ready to help fight terrorism? We better be.

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2007: November 27

2008: January 22, February 26, March 25, April 22, June 24

HOLIDAY LUNCHEON: December 18, 2007, 11:30 a.m.

Holiday Luncheon
December 18, 2007
Tentative: DACOR Bacon House, 1801 F Street, NW
Call 202-331-3200 for Reservations and Location Confirmation

Federation Awards Banquet: May 13, 2008

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