Wednesday, December 31, 2008

DC Government 2009 Wish List - Top 10

The top 10 areas that I'd like to see progress on in 2009 -- or at least the top 10 that come to mind at the moment....

10. DDOT addresses dangerous intersections, such as the crosswalks at New York Avenue NW at 4th and 5th Streets NW where pedestrians have 20 seconds to cross 6-10 lanes of traffic.

9. DC government disposes/better maintains the hundreds of vacant property it OWNS throughout the city, such as properties in the Home Again program.

8. MPD provides assurance that ShotSpotter (detects the location of gunfire instantly) is fully operation and producing results in the Third District.

7. Election reform ensures every citizen's vote is actually counted (no more touch screen ballots without a paper trail). Consideration of eliminating set-aside seats for minority parties on the DC Council and authorizing open primaries through a referendum vote.

6. Generally, more consistent enforcement of DC laws -- all of them -- and applying the law equally to all, i.e. permitting/construction and "quality-of-life crimes."

5. An effective, well-managed Advisory Neighborhood Commission representing the Shaw, Mount Vernon, and Penn Quarter neighborhoods.

4. Tax relief and other support for small businesses in areas that were hit by high property tax increases over the past decade so that they do not go under and find themselves replaced with more Starbucks and Subways.

3. The DC Council stops giving away public property (i.e. the Southwest waterfront for $1 a year for 99 years) without a transparent, open competitive bidding process. Next up: Franklin School?

2. Renovation of abandoned and neglected parks, such as Carter G. Woodson Park, 2nd and Massachusetts Avenue NW, 6th and N Street, or the Chinatown Park at 5th and Massachusetts Avenue NW. Let's see at least one more forward in 2009! Also - more dog parks.

1. When federal legislation to provide DC with a vote in the House fails yet again (or is declared unconstitutional), I hope the DC Council will restart discussion of true Home Rule issues (as opposed to license plates and billboards at the baseball stadium). Potential action items include having our own prosecutors and judges, an elected attorney general, placing federally-controlled small parks (aka "reservations") under DC control, and legislative and budgetary autonomy. DC Council passes a resolution urging Congress to move forward in one or more of these areas.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays

Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, and a very happy new year to all! Tune back in on January 2, 2009 when The Other 35 Percent goes back online.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rent Control (for developers)

Councilmember David Catania: "We are handing over the property to people and we don’t know what it’s worth.... So this is dumb. But we are where we are."
DC Council website.

In the wee hours of Tuesday night, the D.C. Council approved, through "emergency legislation," a land transfer deal to develop the Southwest Waterfront.

The deal includes leasing 16 acres of the most valuable property the District owns to developer PN Hoffman for the sum of $1 per year for 99 years. The ultimate rent control.

It's the largest deal in recent memory outside of the baseball stadium and the convention center, yet you won't find more than a peep from the media on it. (You can read what DC Watch's The Mail said here). Observers of the council hearing (and you can watch it live here at 10:36:30), report that some members of the Council did not know the details of what they were voting on and deals were being cut in the hallway outside as the hearing was going on.

It's an exciting project, but is giving away our most valuable property for a buck a good deal for the District? Is the agreement or even the legislation anywhere the public can access it? It's not as if this is a superfund site that needs a massive cleanup -- its the waterfront!

Here's Councilmember Catania's description of how this broken process of giving away land works (he later voted for the deal anyway):
I think this deal is a far cry from perfection. And from what has been going on today it’s bad and getting worse, to be honest, because everybody and their brother is inserting their own self interests into this. And left aside are the discussions and interests of the District taxpayer - people who own this land that we are giving up today and we don’t know for how much. And that, for me, underlines why I object to this deal - that we are disposing of property without having an independent appraisal of the value of the property, without knowing, in fact, how much the property is worth, and we are handing it over.

Now, we are told, “we can’t know how much it is worth until we go through the zoning process, how high the density, etc. and then we can have a proper evaluation.” And of course that is utter nonsense. Because any grown up organization like the District of Columbia is supposed to be with the largest per capita Office of Planning in the country, by the way, that could have and should have run a zoning process based on what we might want as legitimate owners of the land - x number of square feet for retail and residential etc. We could have, through our office of zoning, determined what we wanted, gone through the zoning process as the proprietor, and then sold off the parcels to the highest bidder.

That’s not where we are here. We are handing over the property to people and we don’t know what it’s worth. And we’ll negotiate it after the fact. And I’ve often said how utterly ridiculous that is.

No one and their brother would sell their house, can you imagine selling one of the largest assets you own, in this case, this prime one-time land on the Potomac. That we would run a process, which was utterly a joke to pick a winner with no objective criteria at all, totally subjective. It is like selling your house by saying, “Well, who will come in and promise to take care of the garden? And who will promise to take care of the kittens who come out back?” I mean, really, it is that ridiculous, right? And so if you promise to take care of kittens and keep the garden up, we are going to tell you that you get to keep this house. Don’t worry about what the house is worth or whether you’ll ever get the money. We’ll worry about that later.

But of course everyone understands the absurdity of selling a valuable asset without ever discussing the amount of money you will get, but then picking the winner. Now, I want you to imagine how the negotiations go in that perspective. How does that go? You have picked the winner. And then you go to the winner who has promised to take care of the kittens and you say, “What are you going to give me for this property?” And the person says you have already sold it to me. And you have no other choice.

And we are now six years down the road here. And this is not Mayor Fenty’s ridiculously contorted structure. This is the trajectory, the inertia of many years, of having blown this from the jump street, when Andy Altman refused to work for Ted Carter of whomever and our former Mayor just took a pass and said, “Well, I’m not going to get involved in this, Christ, we are only talking about the most valuable piece of property in the District outside of the Old Convention Center.”

Alright? So this is dumb. But we are where we are. And our choice is either we go forward with what we have or we don’t. If we don’t, we get sued. And we further imperil the promised development of this site. Or we go forward and we hope there are some hard bargainers at the table going forward. But we’ll see....

We are where we are and I am reluctantly voting to support it - under the idea that we never dispose of property again without knowing what it is worth. Hardly a high standard.
You can watch Councilmember Catania's statement beginning at 10:48:30.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

And the Award for Creativity in Charitable Solicitations Goes to...

...the Whitman Walker Clinic. The mailing: An addressed paper bag with a prescription drug sign in my mailbox certainly led to a close look. Who knew that one could even send a paper bag through the mail, but Whitman Walker found a way.

The message:
The annual cost for treating a single HIV-positive patient in the U.S. is as much as $34,000. And last year alone we spent $800,000 on prescription medications for those who cannot afford them.
They'll be getting an additional donation this year. And someone in marketing should get a promotion. That probably won't be happening this year because I just read that Whitman Walker is in trouble - with donations down 29%, it is closing its Northern Va. office and laying off 45 employees.

Inauguration Closures

Here's some information I received on the inauguration plans:
This year’s Presidential Inauguration is sure to be historical in nature and turnout. Many sources report upwards of four million attendees, enhanced security and long lines at Metro or access to the secured parade route.

Metro will provide rush hour service from 4AM well into the evening on Tuesday, January 20. Anticipate pedestrian inspection centers. Vehicles are likely to be prohibited up to four blocks from the White House, Capitol and the parade route itself. Certain roads shall have restrictions as well. Turns that require crossing over an on-coming stream of traffic, such as left turns, shall be restricted on certain streets, such as I Street from 14th Street continuing through 18th Street. These sorts of restrictions could commence on the evening of the 19th and continue through late evening on the 20th.

The Inauguration parade route, which is open to the public, runs from 14th Street, NW, to 1st Street, NW. Authorities may choose (and it is likely) to stop admittance into the secured areas should the crowd grow too large or for social disturbances. If you plan to try to enter the secured area surrounding the parade, be prepared to arrive early. There will likely be enhanced security measures such as bag inspections - plan to pass through a metal detectors.

Authorities will likely conduct visual and canine inspections of properties, garages, and exteriors located within four blocks of the White House in the early morning hours on Tuesday (20th). Garages around the White House and parade route will be required to close Monday (19th) afternoon around 5 PM. Autos remaining in these garages shall not be released until late on Tuesday (20th). Traffic is sure to be at a standstill - or prohibited altogether in some areas. One example, traffic shall be prohibited south of I Street–to–Constitution Avenue and from 14th Street continuing to 18th Street. These restrictions shall commence at 5 PM on Monday (19th) and finish late afternoon on Tuesday (20th).

The above map area that will be barricaded-off to all vehicular traffic (except emergency vehicles and placarded official vehicles) is bounded by:
  • I (Eye) Street to the north between 12th and 18th.
  • 12th Street to the east then along F Street east to Union Station and 2nd Street, NE.
  • 18th Street to the west - the area west of 18th Street will experience some traffic restrictions, as well.
  • Independence Ave to the south.

*This area may be expanded as they deem necessary. There will be a vehicular entry point at 13th and I Streets for official vehicles that have been pre-registered and swept for explosives. Several other access points to the east and west of this site are expected. Vehicles will not be permitted into the secured areas, unless credentialed by the USSS and authorized before December 15th.

Concrete ‘jersey’ barricades will begin to be set across intersections early as 3PM on Monday, January 19, 2009. As noted above, vehicles parked in private garages may be allowed to leave the area, but this will cease early in the evening on the 19th.

Pedestrian access will not be restricted until a block (or two) of the parade route. Again, magnetometers will be set up at various locations. Backpacks and bags will not be permitted along the parade route.

As a note, many, actually most, of the law enforcement officers at the checkpoints and along the parade route will NOT be DC/MPD officers.

An area for protestors has been designated on Freedom Plaza -- 1300 block of Pennsylvania Ave: in 2005, this is where chemical munitions were used, an area to avoid and to prepare your engineers in the event they have to shut down their HVAC system.

Metro will be overwhelmed, but is still considered the best option of movement. Again, Metro will open at 4AM on Tuesday (20th) and close at 2AM (21st).

The Inauguration is anticipated to begin around 2PM, and the Inauguration parade will step-off at 2:35PM and is scheduled to end at 5:30PM, but could end as late as 6PM on Tuesday. Barricades will begin to be removed later Tuesday evening. Pennsylvania Avenue and several north-south streets may not reopen until early morning on the 21st (Wednesday).

Police rest/warming site: The DC agency is looking to identify such locations and say only several officers at a time would be in the site at any one time.

As for the Chinatown, Gallery Place and Verizon Center area, on Monday (19th), ‘jersey’ barriers are planned to be arranged by 3PM with street closures to traffic. Monthly parkers will be able to get out of their buildings after 3PM on Monday (19th) in most buildings; however to reenter the area, parkers will have to go through a security checkpoint and will have to be on the checkpoint's list through Tuesday (20th). Drivers may be required to submit their name, date of birth, and social security to their respective property management group. Please check with your respective property management team for further detailed instructions as guidelines could vary building to building (across the City as well).

On Tuesday (20th), security checkpoints for vehicles and pedestrians open on 8th and F Streets, USSS has suggested that people arrive before 7AM in anticipation of very long lines accessing designated checkpoints. The only way to access most of this area will be through the aforementioned security checkpoint.

Archives Navy Memorial Metro Station and Smithsonian Metro Station will be closed all day Tuesday. Therefore, plan for the Gallery Place Verizon Metro Station to be extremely overcrowded. And, the areas around this station to be very busy.

The average high for January 20th, provided by the Washington Post, is 37 degrees. President Ronald Reagan holds the record for both the coldest and warmest Inauguration Ceremonies: 7 degrees (1985) and 55 degrees (1981). Here is a chart of weather conditions during the Inaugurations. The DC Government also provides information on the Inauguration.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Playgrounds Downtown?

Imagination Park, New York City. Designed by the Rockwell Group. 15,000 square feet. Concept: Hundreds of blue foam blocks of various shapes and sizes allow kids to create their own play environment. Renderings: Rockwell Group. Featured in GOOD magazine.

At a meeting of the Residential Advisory Committee for the CityCenterDC (the Old Convention Center project), the discussion veered off the mundane topic of transportation circulation around the site to the design of its planned park. Would it include a playground? "Where are the children," one longtime resident repeatedly asked.

"A playground is not in the current plans," responded the developer, although he was open to the idea. The reasons presented as to why were very similar to that which I heard when I raised the issue with respect to the broken park at 2nd and Massachusetts Avenue NW several months ago:
  1. Few people living downtown have children.
  2. The apartments/condos being built are small and targeted toward single people and young couples, who will inevitably move out as soon as they have children because of DC's terrible school system. Or, if they do stay, they'll move away from downtown to a single family home where there are playgrounds.
  3. The streets around the park very dangerous and its not safe for kids to go to a playground there.
While there's some truth to these points, the more I think about it, the more I'm not buying it.

To a large extent, I believe it is a self-fulfilling prophesy. In fact, a playground or two downtown would get plenty of usage. Even if there's not a whole lot of kids living downtown now, there certainly are some. And then there's the tourists who have kids in tow as well as visitors who will come with their kids to shop downtown, especially when the new CityCenterDC opens. A playground might be a welcome distraction from wandering around a museum or Macy's for hours.

As for the dangerous streets... that's a problem whether its a playground or not, and there are ways to address the situation: (1) Narrow the streets in order to make it a shorter distance to cross. While this may not work at every location, this is an easy solution at the 2nd and Massachusetts Avenue park, for example; (2) install brick, raised, or otherwise prominent crosswalks to send a message that pedestrians come first; (3) place a fence around the playground area to protect against children wandering into the street; and (4) plenty of lighting.

Downtown living... now with children.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Iraqi Sendoff for Bush

The Washington Post reports that during a press conference today with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki:

Bush received a taste of the immense resentment many Iraqis feel toward his policies: Just after Bush finished his remarks and said "Thank you" in Arabic, an Iraqi journalist took off his shoes and hurled them both at Bush, one after the other. The incident lent an air of chaos and farce to a trip intended to highlight improving security conditions in the war-torn country.

"This is a farewell kiss!" the man, identified as Muntadar al-Zaidi, a reporter with the Cairo-based network Al Baghdadia Television, yelled as he threw the shoes. Bush had to duck out of the way, and narrowly missed being hit, according to on-scene reports. Maliki reached out his hand to shield the president.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What Reeks?

I'm putting this in the "That's News?" category, but really I am indebted to the Washington Post for this little piece of investigative journalism. Finally, an answer to what the heck is that stench coming from those things that fall off the trees. How the government managed to apparently make it worse is a mystery of science.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fenty Unveils New Agency Slogans

Earlier this week, I noted the interesting, somewhat random choice of slogan for the Department of Public Works (DPW): "The Preferred Choice." Well, our other agencies deserve good mottos too. Here's are some proposals, but feel free to chime in with better ones or add agencies that I missed:

ABRA: "More Fun, Less Singles"
DDOT: "The Best Part of Waking Up..." (is trying to cross [insert dangerous intersection])
DCBOEE: "Every Vote Counts, We Think, Maybe, Sequoia?"
DOH: "The Freshmaker!"
DPR: "I'm lov'in it!"
DMV: "Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't."
DCRA: "The Permit Expediters"
Washington Gas: "Got Gas?"
HPRB: "The few, the proud, the staff."
OTR: "There are some things money can't buy. For everything else, there's embezzlement."
PEPCO: "Clap on. Clap off."
CFO: "What's in YOUR Wallet?"
BZA: "Better...stronger...higher."
DCPS: "Get Cash-Back on all your learning!"

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Butt Out!

Official Press Photographs from websites of Senators Feinstein and Bennett

A few days ago, I questioned the DC Council's abruptly allowing all-night drinking during inauguration week without adequately considering the public safety implications for neighborhoods. Well, this week, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Bill Bennett (R-Utah) weighed in, sending a letter to Mayor Fenty and Council Chair Vincent Gray urging them to reverse course. The action signals that Congress might not permit the law to take effect. I agree with them, but stay out of our business!

To the respected senators, in DC, as in the states you represent, we're allowed to enact dumb or simply unwise laws without your involvement. According to several internet sources (Disclaimer: I have not taken the time to verify these laws), in Senator Feinstein's hometown of San Francisco, just for example:
  • Elephants may not stroll down Market Street unless they are on a leash.
  • It is illegal to wipe one’s car with used underwear.
  • Persons classified as “ugly” may not walk down any street.
  • One may not pile horse manure more than six feet high on a street corner.
Headline: DC Mayor Urges San Francisco to Free Elephants, Reduce Health Hazard of High Horse Manure, Eliminate Requirement of Using New Underwear to Clean Car; Mary Cheh Introduces Legislation.

It doesn't get any better in Utah. In Senator Bennett's hometown of Salt Lake City, no one may walk down the street carrying a paper bag containing a violin. Sounds like an ABC single sales restriction targeting drunk musicians. Utah has a whole mess of ridiculous laws. Its restrictive alcoholic beverage regulations are not exactly mainstream. In fact, during the 2002 Winter Olympics, Utah relaxed its alcoholic beverage law enforcement, and when no catastrophe occurred, it adopted a new set of regulations that moved toward normalcy in 2003.

Utah is a place that until recently limited drinks to no more than an ounce of alcohol. Bars got around the rule by offering “sidecars,” an extra half ounce served separately that the customer could pour into the drink himself. Restaurants got mad, since they had to serve weak drinks. So now, you can get a drink with an ounce and a half of alcohol in Utah, and sidecars are prohibited, unless, of course, you would like a side shot of a different type of alcohol with your drink. In order words, you can order a vodka tonic and a shot of tequila, but don’t try ordering a vodka tonic with a shot of vodka for your friend. Huh? Most Utah ABC licensees are located in Senator Bennett's hometown. Did he raise a stink when they relaxed restrictions during the Olympics, is he urging reform of his own state’s oddball ABC laws, or does he only butt into DC's business?

Perhaps DC Council action is in order: "The Bringing Rationality to Utah’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Laws Emergency Resolution of 2008."

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

DPW: The Preferred Choice!

A few weeks ago, new trash cans arrived in my yard. They proclaim, DPW: "The Preferred Choice." (Quotations on the Can). The preferred choice? I have no qualms with Department of Public Works, but it is an interesting choice of slogan. What other choice do I have as to who is going to pick up my trash? Is that the reason for the quotation marks?

"The Preferred Choice" sounds more like a motto for an auto parts shop, a handyman, or an insurance company.

The previous slogan, "It's Everyone's Job," at least makes some sense.

Also of note, apparently Mayor Adrian Fenty does not want his name associated with trash.

Flip Flopp'in With Guns Blaz'in

If you closely watched the race for Ward 2 in its final months, you'll remember that my opponent, Councilmember Jack Evans, attempted to label me some type of gun nut.

Why? It was a two-step:

(1) He represented that I was a gun industry lobbyist, which anyone with an internet connection could have looked up in 10 minutes on the federal lobbying disclosure database to find was patently false. Now, I do have more experience with guns, but because that's because I live in Shaw; and

(2) I had the audacity to suggest that in shaping a new gun law for DC following the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Heller, it would be odd to allow a small business owner, say a corner store, to have a gun for protection when upstairs at home, but not downstairs the store, where, of course, the danger of robbery is greater. A court would likely strike down the law in a New York minute, making us again the laughingstock of the country. Councilmember Evans in debates, on the radio, and to newspaper reporters, portrayed my view as wild. "No one is even talking about extending the law to allow businesses to have guns," he said.

Here's the text of exactly what Evans' campaign wrote in an August 7, 2008press release entitled, "Audience Favorite, Jack Evans Wins Debate against Pro-Handgun Opponent":
The debate drew but one surprise when Councilmember Evans spoke of limiting the prominence of handguns in the district in the wake of Heller v. DC while his opponent, gun industry lobbyist Cary Silverman, called for the use of handguns to be expanded beyond private residences into places of business. It is unfortunate that Silverman must learn the difference between representing his lobbying clients in the gun industry and serving the residents of the neighborhoods of ward 2.
It's also unfortunate when politicians say anything to get elected. Last week, with Councilmember Evans' support, the D.C. Council unanimously passed legislation doing just that.

In fact, the legislation that passed first reading sounds similar to what I proposed. News reports say that the legislation requires mandatory safety training, prohibits those with a history of domestic abuse or those convicted of violent crimes from owning guns, and for guns to be kept out of reach from children (I actually don't see those provisions in the introduced bill, but good luck finding anything on the Council's horrible "LIMS" - It was probably amended with the changes not reflected online). And, the proposal allows D.C. residents to keep a loaded and unlocked handgun "at his or her place of business, or while being used for lawful recreational purposes within the District of Columbia, or for the purpose of immediate self-defense in his or her home.” It's up for second reading on December 16. (I would have also imposed strong civil and potentially criminal penalties for owners whose guns fall into the wrong hands and are subsequently used in crimes).

Kojo, Segraves, Stewart, Kennedy, Ch. 9 -- you were all duped. Some credit goes to Debonis for at least debunking the gun lobbyist myth during the campaign, rather than letting it slide. Is anyone going to call him out on this flip flop? What suddenly changed in three months to make something so radical... so unanimous?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Keeping Bars Open All Night

Ok, I hail from the City-that-Never-Sleeps and I'm used to having restaurants, bars, and clubs open all night. But I'm concerned about the DC Council's abrupt legislation authorizing them to stay open 24 hours and sell alcohol until 5am between January 17 and 21 for the inauguration. Why?

1. When legislation is enacted essentially in the middle of the night, with no public input, you can guarantee it's not the citizens of the District of Columbia who are calling the shots. The manner in which the Council passed the bill is reminiscent of the West End Library sale debacle. In this case, however, it's not a politically-connected developer that pushed it through, but the powerful restaurants and bar owners/lobby
who generously contribute to councilmember campaigns.

2. I don't live in Adams Morgan or Georgetown, so for me, personally, it is not about the loss of parking or noise. It is, however, about safety, not just in nightlife heavy areas, but my own neighborhood as well. Inauguration week is already going to be "all hands on deck" with police resources stretched incredibly thin. Now our overworked police officers will be trying to control what is predicted to be as much as a quadrupling of the District's workday population all through the night, after trying to keep order during the day. You can bet that the increased bar activity will siphon what is left of neighborhood police resources to the club zones.

The police union, which was not consulted when the DC Council extended hours,
is concerned:

"With our resources stretched so thin that weekend to provide security at the inauguration, we're going to be at the bare bones out in the districts," Kristopher Baumann, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1, which represents D.C. officers, said, referring to the seven police districts whose officers respond to neighborhood crime. . . . "If you're going to have the bars operating beyond a capacity they're operating under usually, we don't know what kind of manpower needs we're going to have."

My neighborhood had a shooting last Monday night, a murder on Wednesday, an apparent mugging Friday night, and a serious domestic dispute last night. Will police be available to respond?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Is it time to get rid of the big green signs?

For years there been talk about stopping 395 at Massachusetts Avenue and turning the New York Avenue corridor into a a nice tree-filled boulevard rather than a piece of urban blight. While the recommendations of the New York Avenue Corridor Study and much of the Mount Vernon Triangle Transportation & Public Realm Design Project remain unfulfilled, hundreds of residents are moving into new apartments and condos along the New York Avenue between New Jersey Avenue and 7th Street NW. Thousands more will be coming with the additional of Yale Lofts II and as Yale I and CityVista fill up, and as the tremendous Northwest One project comes online in the old Sursum Corda site. I can't tell you how many residents have struggled with trying to get across 10 lanes of flying traffic from Mount Vernon Square to the new Safeway at 5th and New York Avenue, or the number of accidents at that intersection or the NJ/NY/3rd/4th Street intersection.

So when will the DC government stop viewing New York Avenue as a superhighway?

This week, a Yale Loft resident suggested to me a small measure that could go a long way in changing that perception among NY Avenue drivers: get rid of the big green signs.

They send a message that drivers are indeed in the freeway. And there appears to be no need for them. There are an abundance of smaller signs already along New York Avenue pointing out where to turn for 395, which way is to downtown, and how to get to 50. Perhaps one sign is needed to inform truck drivers of the height and hazmat restrictions of the 395 tunnel, but five?

And the flashing "STOP PEDS" sign as drivers approach the convention center doesn't quite do it. Of course, removing the signs is not even by far a silver bullet and does not excuse the need to make the street truly more pedestrian friendly and safer for drivers, but it will begin to change the atmosphere.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Democracy-Enhancing Reform Package

Marc Fisher's column in this morning's Washington Post advocates for elimination of the set-aside seats provided for the DC Council for members of minority parties included in the Home Rule Charter and mandated by Congress. As you may know, 2 of the 4 at-large seats on the DC Council are designated for non-Democrats, leading to the Michael Brown situation/lawsuit. I agree with Fisher wholeheartedly, but I believe there may be another element necessary for DC election reform, particularly if we get rid of the set-aside seats: open primaries.

While in other jurisdictions, I might not support open primaries, in DC, the closed primary system further disenfranchises the already largely disenfranchised. Those who are not registered Democrats are effectively precluded from a say in mayoral and city council races -- and eliminating the set aside positions will render their votes almost completely irrelevant. It will lead even more people to remain registered in their prior home state, stay home on election day, or engage in the silliness of our DC system in which numerous independents, Green/Statehood, and Republicans switch their registration to Dem to vote in the primary, then switch is back for the general (it would be interesting if the DCBOEE could give us statistics on the number of switcharoos).

I can't tell you the number of independents I ran into on the campaign trail, many of which were relatively new to the city, who didn't realize that by choosing to be unaffiliated with a party for whatever reason, they would effectively have no say in our local elections.

Should open primaries be part of an election reform package that eliminates the set asides?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Where the Streets Have No Name

Photo: Truxton Circle from More historic photographs here.

I was out walking the dog tonight and found myself staring up again at the banners that appeared along the 200 Block of N Street NW promoting the area as Truxton Circle. Truxton Circle? Where is Truxton Circle? There is no Truxton Circle. There was once a revolutionary war hero named Thomas Truxtun (with a "un" not an "on") and the area did once have a misspelled Truxton Circle located at the intersection of Florida Avenue (then known as Boundary Street) and North Capital Street, which was wiped off the map in the 1940s. I'm not sure when Truxton Circle first came about, but it's not shown on my 1867 map of the District, and it is not part of the L'Enfant plan of the city. According to the great research by In Shaw (part 1 and part 2), it was considered more of a landmark than a neighborhood. The primary civic associations in the area are the Bates Area Civic Association and the Hanover Civic Association, and the Mount Vernon Square Neighborhood Association takes in a little piece of its southwest corner. No Truxton Circle civic association, although Truxton Circle does have an informative website.

Ok, so there's no Truxton Circle. Well, how about Mount Vernon Triangle? Where's the triangle? There's a Mount Vernon Square that goes back to the original L'Enfant Plan. There's a Mount Vernon Square Historic District. There are numerous little triangle parks known as reservations throughout the area, but none of them is called Mount Vernon. Truth be told... there is no triangle. The name refers to the triangular piece of land, formerly (and still to a degree) filled with surface parking lots, between Massachusetts and New York Avenues NW and New Jersey Avenue and 7th Street NW (at Mt. Vernon Square). The name was a little marketing genius to promote the area as a new and upcoming neighborhood.

Map: Mt. Vernon Triangle Community Improvement District. Click above for interactive map.

So, what will stick? Will Truxton Circle gain more widespread usage, despite the lack of an actual circle? Might DDOT actually reconstruct a Truxton Circle at some point? I've seen speculation online (I bet that will happen rights after they implement the decade-old New York Avenue Corridor Study). Any interest in spelling the 'ol Commodore's name correctly this time? - I think he'd appreciate it. Will the Mt. Vernon Triangle name survive after all the condos are built and sold? Or will the area generally become known as Mt. Vernon, Mt. Vernon Square, north Penn Quarter, or simply referred to by its condo name - i.e. CityVista? I guess only time will tell.

Until then, take a left at Mt. Vernon Triangle, then go around Truxton Circle onto North Capital Street.

The Usual Returns: Another Shaw Shooting

At 12:15pm tonight, 6 shots rang out on the 1300 Block of 5th Street NW. I called 911 and the first police arrived within 3-5 minutes, followed by fire trucks and one, then another, ambulance at the 2nd NW Coop. I don't have any more details as the block was taped off, but after about 20 minutes, the two ambulance left, sirens on, with police escort. It had been relatively quiet in Shaw for the past few months.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Pumpkin Abducted, Split in Two

I returned home from Thanksgiving to find my pumpkin halfway down the block and across the street from my stoop, and in this sorry state. I wonder if the police camera above my house recorded the mysterious events that led to this fruit's untimely demise.