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Federation of Citizens Associations of the District of Columbia

Federation News

Volume 8, Issue 5, February 2002
3710 S Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007
(202) 338-5164 phone/fax

Watchdog Agency Head Elizabeth Noel Assures Fair Deal for Consumers
DCRA to Get a Grip on Rooming Houses and Other Small Businesses
Federationís Jim Jones Nominated to Corrections Facilities Commission
Officers and Board
Sporting Life in the District: Thoughts from the President ó Buck Clarke
GWU Speeds Back to Federal Court
Heating Up: Surveillance Camera Issue Taking on Added Dimensions
AAA Denounces District Speed Camera Program
Federationís A.L. Wheeler, Esq., Receives Lifetime Award
Emergency Preparedness in Montgomery County to Be Aired at Georgetown Kiwanis
PSC Commissioner Ed Meyers Joins Federal Agency
Federation Board of Directors
New DCRA Regulation on Right of Entry by Government Officials
New Law Axes Requirement for Noise Meter Readings
Jaywalking Fine Limit Raise More than Doubled
No Need to Specify Grounds for Recall of Elected Official
Federation Assembly Meeting Dates

FEDERATION ASSEMBLY MEETING

Tuesday, February 26, 2002
7:00 P.M.

Speaker:

Elizabeth Noel, Esq.
Peopleís Counsel for the District of Columbia

Other Business

THE CHARLES SUMNER SCHOOL
1201 Seventeenth Street, NW
(at M Street)

Watchdog Agency Head Elizabeth Noel Assures Fair Deal for Consumers

Most delegates are aware of the virtually unique efficient operation of the Office of the Peopleís Counsel during past administrations of poor government in the District. Operating as a public interest law firm, Ms. Noelís office represents rate payer interests before the Public Service Commission (which regulates all D.C. utilities), the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the D.C. Court of Appeals and the federal courts ó a weighty portfolio if ever there was one.

At the same time, the OPC and Ms. Noel herself, have been consistently available to associations and community leaders with advice, information and, at times, heavyweight assistance. Ten years ago, for instance, when associations fighting the issue of private electric power plants in neighborhoods received short shrift at the then Office of Planning, various boards and commissions, and the mayorís office, OPC doors were open and attentive peopleís attorneys waiting. The tide turned, the communities (and city welfare) prevailed, and the Public Service Commission. proactively enacted timely regulations to control future potentially disastrous proliferation of electric power plants to be scattered throughout residential D.C.

On the broader front, Ms. Noelís vigorous representation of consumer interests is credited with turning back the now abandoned PEPCO/BG&E. (Baltimore Gas and Electric) merger, widely viewed as anticompetitive; creation of the Telecommunications Trust Fund being used to wire schools and public buildings to the Internet; and promoting quality of service standards to protect consumers as we enter into a period of increasing utility deregulation brought on by changes in federal laws.

Ms. Noel graduated from Thomas More College of Fordham University with a B.A. in economics. She received her J.D. degree from Georgetown University Law Center. With her extensive experience in administrative law, public utility regulation, state and federal regulatory and legislative issues involving telecommunications and energy law, Ms. Noel is a sought-after speaker for professional organizations, consumer and citizen organizations and the industry on emerging issues.

Since 1987, Ms. Noel has served as a faculty member of Michigan State University. In 1995 she joined the faculty of the D.C. Barís Continuing Legal Education Committee, teaching D.C. administrative law. Ms. Noel is a member of the D.C. Bar Association, the Washington Bar Association, the National Bar Association and the Womenís Bar Association. In addition, she serves on the Executive Committee of .the National Association .of -State Utility Consumer Advocates. It is no surprise then that Ms. Noel was a member of President Clintonís 1992 Transition Team in the Natural Resources Cluster advising on energy matter related to the Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Commission.

On the civic front, Ms. Noel has served as secretary of the Parents Association of the Holton Arms School in Potomac, Maryland, and serves as co-chair of its Fine and Performing Arts Committee.

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DCRA to Get a Grip on Rooming Houses and Other Small Businesses

At the Federationís January assembly Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Director David Clark offered positive encouragement to long-suffering communities with a plethora of illegal rooming houses. Among information distributed and discussed at the meeting was the DM announcement: "Small business or large Ö (sic) earning more than $2,000 a year in gross receipts in D.C. means you MUST have a Master Business License. Failure to get one could result in a $500 fine. (Followed by contact data.)" A call to the pertinent DCRA office brought out that the license fee is a mere $25. Whatís up?

According to Ms. Teresa Lewis, experienced DCRA Executive Officer who accompanied Mr. Clark, the cost of the small business licenses is secondary. Of primary importance is the fact that a licensing requirement is now in place. This means an across-the-board registration requirement, which means that the DCRA can finally tabulate the far-flung and virtually unaccounted-for neighborhood-centered rooming house industry. The new requirement, according to Ms. Lewis, is an important first step in a meaningful regulatory process. It makes sense. Whatís next?

Well, to begin with, once rooming-house businesses are accounted for with DCRA, that department and the Corporation Counselís office must get together and define the status of the numerous two- and three-family dwellings now lurking in single-family zoned residential districts. This is a besetting problem especially in communities that surround universities. The general format of this business activity is the dividing-up of single-family zoned houses ó usually small row houses ó into two or three apartments, which are multifamily dwellings.

To date, myriad community association and citizen complaints of illegal subdividing and the resultant problems of overcrowding and community impact have been bounced back and forth between DCRA and the Corporation Counsel. DCRA claims it cannot enforce an "unclear" law on basement and second-floor apartments in small R-3 residentially zoned houses, and the Corporation Counselís office ducks the issue with inattention. Meanwhile, the neighborhoods suffer and the cancer spreads.

What to do? As a start, Ms. Lewis confirmed in answer to a query, associations and individuals can compile a list of commercial rooming houses in their neighborhoods and send these to Ms. Lewis at the DCRA. This gets the properties into the regulatory system. DCRA has gone far toward computerizing its operations now and previous chaos and lack of regulable-housing information can be resolved. Once a usable inventory of small rental businesses is in place, more meaningful regulation such as inspections, taxability status and occupancy control can be imposed.

This new DCRA sensitivity and attention to the rooming house problem in residential communities is to be at once applauded and closely monitored by associations and the Federation. It is a good first step, and we can help the process along, but the bigger problem remains to be addressed.

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Federationís Jim Jones Nominated to Corrections Facilities Commission

On March 1 the city council will consider PR 14-535, "Community Corrections Facility Siting Advisory Commission James H. Jones Appointment Resolution of 2002," to confirm the appointment. Among other things, the commission deals with the number, concentration and location of specialized houses in residential areas.

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Officers and Board

Patrick H. Allen, Esq.
Citizens Association of Georgetown

John C. Batham
West End Citizens Association

Allen E. Beach
Chevy Chase Citizens Association

Mary Bresnahan
Spring Valley Court Citizens Association

Francis M. Clarke, III
Cardozo-Shaw Citizens Association

Dino J. Drudi
Michigan Park Citizens Association

Kathryn A. Eckles
Residential Action Coalition

Carroll Green
Manor Park Citizens Association

Guy Gwynne
Burleith Citizens Association

James H. Jones
Crestwood Citizens Association

Ann Loikow
Cleveland Park Citizens Association

Jane McNew
Capitol Hill Citizens Association

Miles Steele, III
Hillcrest Civic Association

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

Barbara Woodward-Downs
Citizens Association of Georgetown

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Sporting Life in the District: Thoughts from the President ó Buck Clarke

It seems that life in Our Nationís Capital has gotten exceedingly dull over the past few years. Many of us have been so busy trying to dig the city out of a hole dug during the preceding three decades that weíve forgotten just what it is that we need to lead productive, enriched lives. What we need, residents are being told of late, is "Sport," the bigger, the more corrupt, scandalous, and disruptive the better. What we need are the 2012 Olympics, Grand Prix auto racing, downtown baseball, and some professional heavyweight assault and battery. Thatíll spice things up! Thatíll show kids and hardworking adults that thereís more to life than otherwise exists in our humdrum efforts to revitalize the District through industry and productive effort.

Washington, D.C. has experienced a tremendous lift during the past five years. The residential exodus which had occurred in the 70ís, 80ís and 90ís had finally been stanched, largely as a result of a booming national economy and changing perceptions of the potential for urban living. New home buyers have flocked to our city, excited by the prospect of living in a vibrant, clean, functioning beehive of activity. With enough caring, contributing individuals and families, the city can overcome the horrible conditions which had made it an international laughingstock. Or so we thought. Clean up the government, clean up the streets, provide service for payment. Geez, it can be rewarding to be amid the hubbub and vibrancy of urban living. That was the compelling vision. Oh, but that is simply not enough, we are now being told. We need Sport!

The cityís economy has made great strides toward solvency. How delightful the prospect that ink can be ordered in colors other than red! Though we appear to be heading in the right direction, we can hardly be confident that we are on firm ground. The public school system remains horrible, and at this point comes with a fiscal deficit of unknown magnitude. There have been reports that some city services are greatly improved. Are things still on the way up? Itís hard to be certain.

The greatest improvement in the city has in fact been in the general attitude of those of us who live in the District. Through a pervasively optimistic morale, a faith that things could improve, we have made them improve. We have been able to will the city out of the morass in which it was stuck. But this positive morale can be broken and reversed if it were to become widely felt that the city believed that the city was returning to its earlier ways. Faith can move mountains, but occasionally we need to be given some reason to believe.

Professional sport as an engine of local economic development is a discredited theory the time for which has passed. Professional sport as the focus for the aspirations of our youth is a concept which is being sorely tested in our time. That the city as a whole will benefit from promoting and subsidizing these activities is a concept which brings with it memories of much of the decay in the District of decades not long gone. What kind of message are we trying to send? Sports as panacea? Sure! Just good clean fun? You got it! How about legalizing dog fighting while we're at it?.

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GWU Speeds Back to Federal Court
Final BZA Order on Campus Plan Says 70% "On Campus"

The final figure is 70%, meaning that by August 2002 the George Washington University must house 70% of its undergraduate students either within its campus boundaries or outside of the Foggy Bottom/West End residential area. Further, by August 2006, 70% must live on campus.

GWU Revives Court Case

However, on January 9, the university went back to federal court and revived its "stayed and pending" complaint about BZA provisions concerning its ten-year campus plan. The university claims the order threatens its academic mission, studentsí rights and the admissions process. The suit was filed against the city and the BZAís defense counsel is the Corporation Counsel.

One issue for GWU is the orderís provision which prevents the inclusion of off-campus Foggy Bottom student housing in the 70%, a ruling GWU says is illogical and unfair. Graduate students are not considered in the BZA order.

The Board also established an enrollment "base number" of 8000 undergraduates, making the university responsible for housing 5600. Only by providing one bed per student over that number could the university exceed the 8000 base. In addition, no approvals for campus buildings which do not contain housing will be allowed if the university fails to come into compliance with the BZA final order.

According to the order, GWU had enrolled 8044 undergraduates as of the 2001-2002 academic year, but had only 4108 beds on campus. The Board also found that "students had effectively turned apartment houses into dormitories and townhouses into fraternity houses. Such large transient populations Ö undermine the residential stability of the already fragile Foggy Bottom/ West End neighborhoods."

OP Gave Strong Support

The "Final Order on Remand" for the GWU campus plan was issued by the Board of Zoning Adjustment on December 21, wrapping up two years of meetings, filings, testimony, and controversy. Strong support from the D.C. Office of Planning ó which termed the stability of residential Foggy Bottom "at the tipping point," as well as extensive testimony from local ANC-2A, the Foggy Bottom Citizens Association and other residents, evidently convinced the BZA of the need to control the universityís expansion into the Foggy Bottom/ West End neighborhood.

In the near term, by the fall of 2002 the university must arrange for housing for 1000-1500 undergraduates outside Foggy Bottom, since by the terms of the order the Foggy Bottom buildings used by GWU ó including several university-acquired apartment houses, a large former Howard Johnson Hotel and a portion of the vast Columbia Plaza apartment complex ó cannot be counted toward the 70%. The Board felt that, given GWUís testimony that "lack of money (for dormitories) is not an issue," there should be "no major impediment to the universityís acquisition of housing Ö outside Foggy Bottom/West End by next fall." Campus boundaries were changed slightly by the Board.

The 23-page BZA order reiterated findings of the Board that university expansion is threatening the existence of Foggy Bottom/West End as a viable, tax-producing residential neighborhood. Many residents, while always hoping for more relief, applauded the strength of the orderís language, and the giant steps it represents for the area. These giant steps, of course, are threatened by the universityís federal court complaint.

(Taken from the Foggy Bottom Association News)

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Heating Up: Surveillance Camera Issue Taking on Added Dimensions

There are two aspects of the roiling surveillance camera issue: traffic monitoring devices and broad-area cameras. Recent headlines of "Vast Network of Cameras to Monitor Wide Areas of D.C." and "Police Surveillance Scheme Raises ĎBig Brotherí Alarms" point up the latter aspect. Calls for changes in the traffic tracking cameras have been issued by council members Linda Cropp and Jack Evans, and the mayor has called for less financial incentive to the private contractor involved. City council and congressional hearings will be held soon, and the new technology stands to be publicly aired and likely regulated upfront.

Polar emblematic stances are forming up. D.C. Police Charles Ramsey appears to be calling for trust in the police to "operate within the law," ACLU director Johnny Barnes heads a bloc wary that the new technology can be easily used to violate civil rights, and D.C. House Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and D.C. councilmember Kathy Patterson are scheduling hearings. Emphasized at a private briefing by Chief Ramsey of the ACLU, the Federation and several other organizations was an ongoing project of police-prepared "guidelines" for use of the possibly pervasive cameras. The ACLU is in process of preparing its own proposed legislation. The city government, via councilmember Pattersonís Judiciary Committee will likely come up with regulatory legislation already being discussed. Also likely is that the House District of Columbia Subcommittee chaired by Congressmember Constance Morella will think and act along the same lines.

The stakes are high. Basically, surveillance technology has overtaken citizen privacy protection laws, and is improving at a fast pace. It is now possible, in addition to scanning moving vehicle licenses and the people within, to scan large areas, buildings, and street scenes constantly and at will. Whose will? This is undefined. The implications for privacy are basic, thus the awakening awareness of the need for proactive, upfront regulation of the technology use process. The scope for abuse in an undefined situation is broad.

Added to the traffic side of the equation is that the surveillance camera use process, however flawed, has become extremely lucrative. Although some jurisdictions have jettisoned use of the cameras, it seems unlikely that the District will do so. While D.C. officials may call for easing and adjustment of the basic arrangement that governs the apparatuses, public opinion is not sufficiently geared up to address the issue effectively.

Next steps. On Monday; February 25, Federation delegates will be testifying before the Patterson committee, to the effect that (1) the new surveillance issue requires immediate and in-depth attention, and (2) that upfront, proactive regulations of some sort must be enacted. In addition, Federation first vice president Ann Loikow heads a committee to arrange for a blue ribbon surveillance issue panel forum for the March assembly. This is an issue that is upon us big time. The Federation will address it constructively and head-on from the community standpoint.

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AAA Denounces District Speed Camera Program

The Northwest Current reports that the Districtís surveillance camera program has drawn a sharp rebuke from AAA Mid-Atlantic, "which ranked the summertime introduction of -the cameras as among the regionís worst transportation stories of 2001." The organization noted that the speeding enforcement program aimed at penalizing speeders "along the way ran over common sense." Reportedly, the police department issued tickets at a pace of 300,000 tickets during the first five months of the program, "roughly one for each licensed driver in D.C.," according to AAA.

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Federationís A.L. Wheeler, Esq., Receives Lifetime Award

Mr. A. L. Wheeler, immediate past First Vice President of the Federation, received the Georgetown Business and Professional Associationís Senior Advisory Council Lifetime Achievement Award February 14. The high rolling lawyer, home rule enabler and all-over-the-place constructive community activist has been on the Washington scene for 55 years.

Mr. Wheelerís awesome curriculum vitae had to be abbreviated at the 2001 Federation awards banquet, where he received the Outstanding Achievement and Leadership Award, for reasons of sheer volume of remarkable activity. The Georgetown recognition is the latest in a long line of awards for disinterested public service.

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Emergency Preparedness in Montgomery County to Be Aired at Georgetown Kiwanis

Delegates who will participate in Federation-backed city preparedness training courses for the District may want to get a running start by hearing what is happening in neighboring jurisdictions. On Wednesday, February 27 Mr. Lynn Frank, Chief of Public Health Services for Montgomery County, Maryland will discuss the Montgomery County response to post-September 11 Terrorism and Biological Warfare Concerns, at the prestigious Georgetown Kiwanis Club. The luncheon meeting will begin at 12:00 noon at the Savoy Suites Hotel, 2505 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W. Everyone is invited.

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PSC Commissioner Ed Meyers Joins Federal Agency

D.C. Public Service Commission member Ed Meyers has accepted a position as Director (there are several) with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Nominations for a replacement for Mr. Meyers are in, and a short list has been forwarded to the mayor by the Office of Boards and Commissions.

The Public Service Commission regulates all utilities in the District, and thus touches the lives of every citizen and neighborhood. Commissioner Meyers (one of three) has been consistently citizen-welfare minded throughout his tenure. A prime example of this was his role in the cityís landmark defining and getting a regulatory grip on the private electric power plant issue in the early 1990s. At that time the District was threatened with the possibility of an influx of large, polluting, dangerous private plants to be scattered throughout the city, beginning in residential areas. The PSC proactively identified 27 most possible sites. Timely action by the Commission and enactment of regulations governing future installation of private power plants preserved the city from health and environmental problems and from likely endless litigation and trouble.

Let us hope the mayor will name as a replacement for Mr. Meyersí important position a duly responsible, pro-community person. There are several contenders. By way of interesting detail, the Public Service Commission is relatively insulated from budgetary vagaries of the kind suffered by most other agencies in past decades, since it may charge costs of its utility regulatory services to the service-using utilities themselves, including the substantial costs of research studies, expert advice and other outside consultant services.

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Federation Board of Directors

At its February 14 meeting the Federation Board of Directors:

  • Reviewed the status of the new George Washington University lawsuit against city regulation
  • Discussed city emergency preparedness training plans
  • Reviewed membership and dues
  • Discussed nominations to the Public Utilities Commission
  • Decided to begin possible cooperation with the ACLU on traffic and surveillance cameras in the District
  • Discussed the (May 23) 92nd Anniversary Annual Awards Banquet
  •  Discussed cosponsorship with Ward Two Democrats of a 2/26 forum on Baseball in D.C.

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New DCRA Regulation on Right of Entry by Government Officials

Effective March 10, 2002, a new regulation will be on the D.C. books governing the right of entry by government officials: "Any duly designated agent of the District of Columbia may enter the premises of a housing business for the purpose of enforcing this subtitle, except as limited by Sec. 104.4." Sec. 104.4: "If a tenant of a housing business refuses to give permission to inspect a portion of the premises under the tenantís exclusive control, the housing inspector shall not enter that Portion of the premises unless the inspector has: (a) A valid administrative search warrant Ö (b) A reasonable basis to believe that exigent circumstances require immediate entry into that portion of the premises in order to prevent an imminent danger to the public health or welfare.

"When a duly designated agent of the District of Columbia presents a valid administrative search warrant that permits an inspection or premises under a tenantís exclusive control, the tenant of a housing business who refuses to give permission to inspect that portion of the premises shall be in violation of this section.

"If a duly designated agent of the District of Columbia presents a valid administrative that permits an inspection of premises under a tenantís exclusive control, refusal to permit inspection shall be cause for withholding the issuance of a housing business license or revocation of any existing license, until :he inspection is permitted." (DCMR 14; Chapter 1, Sec. 104)

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New Law Axes Requirement for Noise Meter Readings

A new section of law "clarifies the Councilís intent that noise meter readings are not required to prove violations of the act outside of the Central Employment Area." It reads: "Sec. 2 Section 3(n) of :the District of Columbia Noise Control Act of 1977, effective March 16, 1978 (DC Law 2-53; 20 DCMR Sec. 2799.1) is amended Ö as follows: ĎIn making a determination of a noise disturbance, the Mayor shall consider the location, time of day when the noise is. occurring or will occur, and the duration of the noise. In addition, the Mayor may consider the magnitude of the noise relative to the maximum permissible noise levels permitted under this act, the possible obstruction or interference with vehicular or pedestrian traffic, the number of people that are or would be affected, and such other factors as are reasonably related to the impact of, the noise on the health, safety, welfare, peace, and quiet of the community."í

Inter alia, the new provision strengthens the ability of police to control noisy parties, in residential communities, loud music and general commotion on streets at night. It is a welcome move by the city council.

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Jaywalking Fine Limit Raise More than Doubled

The D.C. Register reports that legislative introduction and referrals between January 7 and January 12 include Bill 14-483, "Jay Walking Fine Amendment Act of 2001. To amend Title 18 of the (DCMR) to increase the fine for walking against the Donít walk or Wait signal from $10.00 to $25.00. Councilmember Schwartz, to the Committee on Public Works and the Environment."

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No Need to Specify Grounds for Recall of Elected Official

The Massachusetts Appeals Court dissolved an injunction in late 2001 that halted a citizen recall of an official for "lack of fitness, incompetence, neglect of duties and misfeasance." The citizens petition did not allege more specific grounds than those stated in the townís recall law. The official filed against the recall vote, alleging that the recall vote was based on a mere reiteration of statutory language, and not specific charges. The upper court held that, "To the extent that the Legislature required an affidavit of grounds, that requirement is more for the benefit of providing notice of the general reasons for the recall to the voters, not the elected official." (Mieczkowski v. Board of Registrars of Hadley, No. 01-P-986, 10/4/2001). (As reported by the National Law Journal, 11/11-19/2001).

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Federation Assembly Meeting Dates

The Sumner School has reserved the following dates for the Federationís Assembly meetings. Each meeting will begin at 7:00 p.m. at 1201 Seventeenth Street, at the corner of M Street, NW.

Tuesday, February 26
March Quarterly Luncheon (TBA)
Tuesday, April 23
May Annual Awards Banquet , May 23
Tuesday, June 25


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