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Volume 10, Issue 2, October 2003
3710 S Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007
(202) 338-5164 phone/fax
|Key Administration Star
to Visit Federation
Personnel Reduction at Sumner School
Time to Get Serious about Underground Wiring and Cables
Governor Shepherd Statue to Return to City Center
Expanding the District Tax Base
Real Property Assessments Lawsuit Ongoing
Is Official Mayor’s Mansion a Done Deal?
Officers and Board
President’s Message: City Administrator on Accountability — Carroll Green
City Right of Entry into Housing Business Property
Abandoned Vehicles in Communities Can Be Impounded and Sold
Federation Assembly Meeting Dates
Tuesday, October 28, 2003
The Charles Sumner School
KEY ADMINISTRATION STAR TO VISIT FEDERATION
Bustlingly active and strategically situated, Department of Public Works head Leslie Hoteling will discuss nuts and bolts concerns of the city and the residential taxbase communities at the Tuesday Federation Assembly.
Ms. Hoteling comes well prepared and with a killer résumé. "Under her leadership, DPW is using state-of-the-art technology to re-engineer DPW's services — street cleaning, fleet management, trash collection, parking enforcement, nuisance abatement and sanitary enforcement, as well as the District's snow and ice removal program." She is also instituting performance-based management practices to improve service delivery and increase accountability — revolutionary in the D.C. context.
One major strategy of Ms. Hoteling has been to integrate the District's Neighborhood Services Initiative — with its agency teams — into DPW's front-line operations at the neighborhood level. Federation Q and A will want to address this in depth.
While not the omnibus agency that DCRA -- Consumer and Regulatory Affairs -- is, the Public Works Department's portfolio is a broad one, affecting communities as few other agencies do. DPW provides environmental services including trash, recycling, and street and alley cleaning, to every resident, visitor, and business in the District. DPW also "educates the public about sanitation regulations and enforces those regulations. With a sense of community, DPW makes an effort to work with residents and businesses to help alleviate the high cost of energy, by offering conservation tips and assistance with energy bill costs."
In addition, "DPW maintains District government vehicles, except those of the police, fire, corrections, and public schools. It also keeps a master inventory of all vehicles, including those used by the police, fire, corrections, and public school officials."
With Ms. Hoteling, as with few other key officials, the Q and A period is expected to cover the spectrum of community bread-and-butter issues. (Delegates and others are requested to make questions succinct and follow-up comments terse.)
PERSONNEL REDUCTION AT SUMNER SCHOOL
In recent months, the management personnel contingent at the city's community house, the Sumner School, has been cut to two persons. Sumner management requests the Federation and the (fewer) organizations that meet at the School to end meetings promptly at 9 p.m. and leave the premises in reasonable time. After some lively, discussions, conversations and debates can adjourn to the sidewalks or to nearby hotels and restaurants.
TIME TO GET SERIOUS ABOUT UNDERGROUND ELECTRICAL WIRING AND CABLES
Nothing showed the vulnerability of DC's neighborhood overhead wiring more than the disastrous outages caused by Hurricane Isabel in September. PEPCO, which no longer produces electricity, is still in charge of wiring and delivery, has shown a strong penchant for more, bigger, and heavier wiring on bigger and taller utility poles in many Washington communities. So much so that it is "heavying up" discrete neighborhoods while doing underground wiring in other areas.
Previous Federation efforts with PEPCO and the Public Service Commission, aimed at having the entire District wired underground, foundered on PEPCO exceptions based on cost. In the wake of Isabel, the Washington Post (10-21-03) quoted PEPCO spokesman Robert Dobkin: "We will work with communities that want to see lines put underground." The Post added that, "PEPCO executives said they believe the idea of burying power lines is worth reconsidering, given the public's concerns about the vulnerability of its overhead system to severe weather," and that "there is some evidence that the investment could pay off with improved performance during major storms."
Somewhat vaguely realized is that much of the District of wired underground already. Downtown, much of Capitol Hill, Georgetown (for decades), and all new subdivisions and major construction areas enjoy freedom from at-risk, unsightly, tree-damaging overhead festoons of utility wires and cables. Parts of newly "heavied up" Washington resemble 1940s TVA villages, with the likelihood of more line installations to come. As a Federation delegate testified at a city council oversight hearing recently, overhead wiring is obsolete and PEPCO's heavying-up policy is retrograde.
Affected or otherwise interested associations and individuals will want to be on the lookout for pertinent hearings and other opportunities to testify on this important issue. The combination of recent disaster and PEPCO's softening its stance comprise an important crossroad and opportunity for action.
GOVERNOR SHEPHERD STATUE TO RETURN TO CITY CENTER
One of the continuing issues of the DC Association of Oldest Inhabitants has been the return to downtown of a statue of former DC Governor Shepherd. The imposing statue was removed from Pennsylvania Avenue to Blue Plains "temporarily" when construction of Freedom Plaza encompassed its site in front of the District's Wilson Building.
The AOI has pursued the restoration of the historic monument for several years, both publicly and behind the scenes, and at one point agreed to underwrite the transportation costs of the marble statue. Recently, the mayor spoke publicly in favor of the return of Governor Shepherd to the scene of so many of his (immediate post-Civil War) triumphs, with the support of several city council members and the agreement of the chief of public works. The main remaining problem is where to re-site the heavy monument. Freedom Plaza is out for design reasons, and the Department of Public Works is reportedly unable to find the schema for underground pipes and other weaknesses in front of the Wilson Building, for foundation siting purposes.
For the record, Governor Shepherd is best known for converting Washington into a presentable capital city, with wide, straight streets, abundant trees, and a range of city improvements — including drained swamps and a modern sewer system. In the process, the city overspent and went broke. Congress reacted by changing the form of the District's government to a three-commissioner arrangement, which endured basically until Home Rule was enacted in the 1970s.
On a more modern note, Mayor Williams, when asked recently which two notable Washingtonians he would select for representative statues in the U.S. Capitol crypt, responded Governor Shepherd and free-man-of-color Benjamin Banneker, the principal surveyor of the District of Columbia in the 1790s.
The Northwest Current newspaper quotes District economic authority Alice Rivlin as noting that "the city's efforts to rebuild the middle class and draw 100,000 new District residents are essential in order to resolve a structural deficit between $470 million and $1.1 billion annually." Ms. Rivlin added that many different kinds of people are needed in the city, including singles, childless couples and empty-nesters, and "Upper-income people with no kids are a big help on the resource front. . . . They pay taxes, and they don't use many services. . . ."
Fine. But how to attract thousands of upscale and other taxpayers? The District has made itself downright unattractive to the more affluent element recently by its decoupling of DC estate and inheritance taxes from federal law, "to ensure the continued collection of the taxes at a level comparable to the tax collected prior to recent amendment to the Internal Revenue Code of 1986." The upshot: decedents, especially upper-bracket decedents, stand to pay much higher taxes than they did before, when estate and inheritance taxes were paid only to the federal government. There are moves afoot to rescind the new DC law, but little concrete progress. And the need for immediate cash continues as a counterweight.
Perhaps it is time for Ms. Rivlin to devise a comprehensive plan for the attraction of taxpaying new residents, using her undoubted expertise and economic vision to address what is arguably the District's most besetting systemic problem.
The lawsuit of Peter Craig, Esq., et al., against the District et al., Tax Docket No. 0112-02, is alive and well. The suit is for the purpose of "contesting constitutionality of across-the-board increases in assessments of residential properties — transferring value from more expensive, improved properties to less expensive unimproved properties." As of mid-October, Mr. Craig was deposing witnesses, and the case continues to percolate through the court process.
Many associations and association members have a direct stake in this case, which the city is fighting energetically. Tax-exempt contributions to this effort are still needed. Checks should be made payable to Committee of 100 on the Federal City, P.O. Box 57106, Washington, DC 20037. (Mark checks TACA [tax assessments class action.])
Appearances to date are affirmative. On September 30, Council Chairman Linda Cropp held a hearing on "Transfer of Jurisdiction of U.S. Reservation 357 for the Mayor's Official Residence Resolution of 2003," PR15-359, to deal with the relatively ancillary matter of the proposed transfer of 1.8 acres of park land to the 17-plus-acre Foxhall estate area projected for a mayor's mansion. Community opponents of the specific transfer, led by Friends of Whitehaven Park activist Howard Bray, denounced the proposal in convincing terms, and Burleith activist Guy Gwynne lodged objections to the entire mansion project. But Ms. Cropp seemingly remained unconvinced by exception-taking and convinced of the usefulness of the project.
Such usefulness is in the eye of the beholder of the future. Mansions are expensive to operate, even for deficit-running cities such as the District. Arguably, an official mansion is unnecessary at best. Pricey domestic entertaining and crowd functions can be held at suitable hotels or other locales, and foreign dignitaries are not seeking more pointless protocol functions on their packed agendas.
Inside word at the Council is that this mansion and additional land parcel transfer are "very likely" to go through. It is uncertain how members of Congress, who find their own housing, will view a high-living DC mayor, viewing the world from ex officio residential splendor.
PRESIDENT'S MESSAGE: CITY ADMINISTRATOR ON ACCOUNTABILITY: Carroll Green
Columbia Heights delegate Dorothy Brizill hosted a meet and greet on October 9 for new City Administrator Robert Bobb and neighborhood activists from across the city. Mr. Bobb was greeted with a potpourri of what is not working in the city, and in many instances why it is not working.
Mr. Bobb revealed from the outset that he had been advised not to appear at such a meeting. Having served in similar positions in cities of varying sizes, Bobb is obviously experienced enough to know when not to accept advice.
Robert Bobb spoke with refreshing candor, an individual who says he doesn't like bureaucracies, a manager who holds employees accountable, a public servant who believes citizens should have a collaborative role in the governance of their city.
A high point of the evening occurred when an emergency medical technician (RMT) stated that about 20 percent of the RMT workforce had left city government, and that the fire chief and the mayor continue to say all is well despite the obvious crisis.
The technician said that EMTs had been unable to meet with anyone of note in the city government, and asked if they could come and meet Mr. Bobb. Robert Bobb replied, "Better yet, I will come and meet with you."
Bobb did not dodge tough questions; several times during the evening he actually said, "I do not know the answer to that question." He appears to be the right person at the right time for the job, at a time when the Williams administration is seriously floundering.
Complaints at the meeting, not surprisingly, ran the gamut from no city government telephone directory, to chronic unresponsiveness to citizens' concerns, to the fact that key managers are simply inaccessible.
Bobb cited a program he instituted in Richmond that included citizen involvement in the planning and operations of municipal government. The program proved to be successful, so much so that it has become a staple in his managerial tool box.
We have long maintained that the neighborhood activist is not an adversary of the timely deliverance of service, the responsiveness to citizen concerns and competency in municipal governance. The neighborhood activist is an adversary of ineptitude, incompetence, and mediocrity.
It is indeed refreshing that Robert Bobb understands and accepts the important role of the neighborhood activist. We very much look forward to working with Mr. Bobb.
CITY RIGHT OF ENTRY INTO HOUSING BUSINESS PROPERTY
As of early 2003, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) added several amendments to the Construction Codes and Approval and Amendment Act of 1986, to better enable inspectors to enter housing businesses. As amended, the new regulations "prevent an inspector from entering tenant premises of a housing business without tenant consent, a search warrant, or a reasonable basis to believe that exigent circumstances exist.
Chapter 1 (Administration and Enforcement) of the new law now reads:
Interesting, especially for communities impacted by universities and the rental rooming house industry that usually accompanies such impact. One factor in the equation, however, is that, in the present law enforcement climate in the District, the owners of housing businesses or rooming houses often have no operating license to begin with. Housing inspection quality could be a proper item for the top of new City Administrator Robert Bobb's agenda.
Encouraging news for communities subject to vehicle abandonment or overly longtime parking of vehicles is new (June 2003) legislation that "(empowers) the Department of Public Works to . . . quickly remove classes of vehicles that are junk or dangerous, and more quickly to auction or dispose of them, rather than storing them in excess of 45 days. . . ."
The law notes that: "(d) Many of these dumped vehicles . . . become breeding grounds for vermin, trash dumping, crime, drugs, prostitution, and other illicit activities," and "(e) The dumped vehicles occupy precious parking space, erode property values, and blight [sic] throughout the District."
October 28, 2003
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