Thursday, December 17, 2009

Latest Crime Bill - What it Includes...

On Tuesday, Councilmembers Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) introduced the “Neighborhood and Victims Rights Amendment Act of 2009" [PDF].  The legislation:
  • Provides mandatory minimums for gun crimes by gang members (3 years possession, 10 years use);
  • Expands current law allowing the ability obtain a court order prohibiting public nuisances;
  • Recommends establishment of a "gun court" to quickly address such offenses;
  • Provides for consideration of "community impact statements" during sentencing;
  • Amends a District law that permits MPD to impound vehicles used in prostitution;
  • Provides for criminal background checks of alcoholic beverage license applicants;
  • Includes new penalties for PCP-related offenses and driving under the influence of PCP; and
  • Includes various protections for crime victims and witnesses, such as a right to know the status of the case; information related to any stay-away orders, pleas, releases, probation, or other placement; and protection from adverse employment action when attending court proceedings or meeting with law enforcement.
A more detailed summary follows this post below.

In the District, which has about four times as much violent crime as New York City, it is not uncommon for individuals to be arrested ten, fifteen, even twenty times for serious offenses, such as gun possession, robbery, burglary, car theft, possession of drugs with intent to distribute, and, even murder, and nevertheless remain on the street.

Councilmember Mendelson, who chairs the Council's Committee on Public Safety and Judiciary, believes that the city needs closer study as to the reasons behind this "revolving door."  How much of this situation stems from "no-papering" due to lack of evidence or other factors, plea bargains, court rulings, jury verdicts, or sentencing?  How much accountablility lies with police officers, detectives, prosecutors, and judges?  How much lies with weaknesses in the District's laws?

If the District lacks critical data as to the source of the problem, as Mendelson suggests, then such a study should be included among the bill's provisions so that the city can better target areas of the criminal justice system for future improvement.  It is not a replacement or excuse, however, for delay or inaction in providing the tools included in the legislation to fight the current violence.

Overall, the bill appears to be a positive step forward.  There are some legitimate questions such as how would the court determine a defendant is a "member of a criminal street gang" subject to mandatory minimums for gun offenses, how significant of an expansion of the current nuisance law is the proposal, would the new gun court require additional funding from Congress, don't courts already consider community impact statements, and why hasn't MPD used the prostitution-related impoundment law since it was amended by the Council to address constitutional issues in 2006?

Mendelson should schedule a hearing on the bill in early 2010 and give the Graham/Evans proposal full and fair consideration.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Billboards Fall!

And the citizens said, "Director Argo, take down these billboards!"  And, this morning, residents ran out onto the streets to watch them fall, all four of them, at New Jersey Avenue and P Streets NW (and shared their observations via e-mail).

Neighborhood activists and ordinary citizens, working with the District's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, should be proud.  The process demonstrates DCRA's commitment to address quality of life issues in our neighborhoods, even when they might seem relatively small to some.

A bit of background.  Residents of the Shaw neighborhood, including the Bates Area Civic Association pleaded with DCRA to seek removal of what appeared to be illegal billboards at NJ and P.  Not only were they unsightly, but the large vacant lot lent itself to dumping, littering, drug dealing, and other crime.  The billboards contributed to blight and lowered property values in the neighborhood.  Residents longed to see housing, a park, anything at the prominent corner location.  Even a dedicated website emerged.

While DC law has long banned billboards, some were allowed over the years.  Additional regulations made clear that billboards were not permitted near residential buildings.  Records dating prior to Home Rule, however, were misplaced.  City regulations changed repeatedly and their retroactive application to previously permitted billboards was apparently arguable. 

Nevertheless, these billboards and many others across the city, remained in plain site.  Many provided a source of income for derelict owners of vacant lots, parking lots, used car dealerships, and liquor stores.

The Mount Vernon Square Neighborhood Association chimed in and urged DCRA to remove billboards at several locations in its neighborhood and review the issue citywide.  To its credit, DCRA promptly announced that it would begin enforcement of the billboard law.  Given missing records and conflicting regulations, enforcement posed a challenge.  DCRA commited itself to fixing the situation and, eventually, at least three sets of billboards came down over the past several months.

The billboards at New Jersey and P Streets NW, however, led to a fight.  They are owned by Clear Channel, which had a permit dating back several decades and they sought and obtained an court injunction prohibiting their removal.  In the midst of the legal strangling, the situation took an odd turn when another District agency, the Department of Health, placed a public service ad on one of the billboards.  To avoid an expensive legal fight, last week, DCRA promulgated emergency regulations to address the issue.  That seemed to get Clear Channel's attention. 

According to DCRA Director Linda Argo:
The District has reached a settlement agreement with Clear Channel regarding their four billboards at 4th and P Street, NW and additional billboard at 3rd and K Street, NE.
The agreement calls for Clear Channel to begin removing the billboards today, Tuesday, December 15, and to completely remove the billboards no later than Monday, December 21. Clear Channel will then remove any supporting posts for the billboards by December 31.

I’m thrilled we’ve reached this amicable settlement with Clear Channel and want to express my gratitude for the community’s invaluable assistance in these efforts.
Just fifteen minutes after receiving Director Argo's e-mail, Richard Dane Norwood, Ward 5 Coordinator for the Mayor's Office of Community Relations and Services reported that removal was underway.

Congratulations to the community for its hard work and to DCRA (as well as the Attorney General's Office) for following through on their commitment and delivering an early holiday gift to the neighborhood.  Let's hope to see the lot put toward a beneficial and productive use in 2010!

UPDATE: More photos and commentary from the Prince of Petworth as well as video from the Bates Area Civic Association. Also Washington Business Journal, Examiner (via BACA blog), and DC Wire coverage.

Gone, but not forgotten, in 2009 (from top to bottom): 7th and L Streets, NJ Avenue & P Street, and the 300 Block of New York Avenue NW.

Car Sharing to Expand

Residents may be interested to learn that the the District Department of Transportation Office of Zoning will hold a public hearing next Monday, December 21, regarding new regulations for Zipcar and, I assume, other car sharing companies, to operate beyond downtown and in residential neighborhoods.  Zipcar

Here is a blurb from Zipcar, which received the 2009 Mayor's Environmental Excellence Award for Outstanding Achievement for Innovation in Green Products or Services.
Over the past few months, we've been working tirelessly with DDOT and the DCRA to adjust the zoning regulations as they pertain to some of the home locations for our Zipcars. The new regulations would officially allow Zipcar to conduct business in residential areas of the District. That means we'll be able to continue parking your beloved neighborhood car in the alley behind your house. However, there's still one last step, and for that we need your help.
On Monday, December 21 at 6:30pm at 441 4th Street NW Suite 220 South, there will be a public hearing for citizens to vocalize their support for the new regulations. We would love it if you could stop by to share a story or two about what Zipcar means to you. As a token of our thanks, we'll be handing out Zipcar t-shirts so you can show your pride during the meeting.

If you think you might be able to make it, send a quick email to to let us know.

Thanks again for being a Zipster, and we hope to see you soon.
If you would like to provide some "information sharing" for readers on the proposed regulations, which I have not located online, please do!

A Frank Discussion on Crime

Last month, a post on this blog led with a quote by Councilmember Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who chairs the D.C. Council's Committee on Public Safety and Judiciary, "Violence in Shaw is not a legislative problem."  Last night, Mendelson, to his credit, came out to the that neighborhood to explain his view, discuss what he has done and continues to do to address crime, and respond to the safety concerns of his constituents.

Mendelson began by sharing two actual case studies.
Person A, age 60, has been arrested 26 times (19 as an adult and 7 as a juvenile) for 2 stolen autos, 1 robbery, 2 for carrying a gun, and 5 for drug dealing while armed.  He was most recently charged and found guilty of carrying a gun in May 2009.  Of the 26 arrests, there were only 3 guilty verdicts and 2 not-guilty.  The rest were dismissed or "no papered."
Person B, age 27, has been arrested 20 times (19 as an adult and 1 as a juvenile) for murder, 2 assault with a deadly weapon, a carrying a gun, and 8 for drug dealing.  Most recently, he was arrested for 1st degree murder (in January 2008, but dismissed by the U.S. Attorneys Office).  Of the 20 arrests, he was found guilty on 2 and not-guilty on 2.  The rest were dismissed or no papered.  
One might assume both of these fellas are doing hard time.  No.  Person A was sentenced to 12 months after being caught with a gun, all time suspended.  The U.S. Attorneys Office dismissed 1st degree murder charge against Person B.  Apparently, two of Bs brothers pleaded to 2nd degree murder.  In other words, A and B are walking the street today.  They are likely armed and dangerous.

Mendelson's Exhibit A was intended to show that the Council can pass law after law without solving the revolving door problem, which may lie with shoddy evidence, plea bargains, poor prosecutorial discretion, or judicial rulings and sentencing.

Not everyone saw it that way. 

"This is an embarrassment - you should be ashamed," a resident of the 1200 Block of 7th Street  repeatedly stated. 

The resident, who has had three shootings on his block in the few months he has lived in the neighborhood, noted that he holds the members of the Council and the Mayor responsible. 

Why?  Because when he goes to the polls, those are the names on the ballot -- not the prosecutors or judges.  "It is the Council that is responsible for running the city, structuring the criminal justice system, and holding police, prosecutors, and judges accountable," he exclaimed. 

Therein lies the rub. 

The District's quasi federal-city status leaves it in a situation where major crimes are prosecuted by the U.S. Attorneys Office (federal), not the D.C. Attorney General or the District Attorney that we do not have.  There's no requirement that the U.S. Attorney or federal prosecutors live in the District.  Judges are appointed by the President of the United States to 15-year terms, not the Mayor.  They can come from anywhere in the country. 

While representatives of the U.S. Attorneys Office frequently testify on legislative proposals before the D.C. Council, there is no true city oversight of its prosecutors or its courts.  The city makes the laws and polices the city, but it is left out of the final steps of the process - bringing charges, prosecuting cases, and sentencing. 

Mendelson's Exhibit B was a list of 33 pieces of legislation passed by the Committee on Public Safety and Judiciary during the four years he has served as chair.  He offered it to show that he does, indeed, in some cases, believe crime is a legislative issue.  Generally, the list was not compelling.  It included a dozen bills  unrelated to the type of violent crime of concern in Shaw and many other communities, such as white collar insurance fraud, dishonored checks, animal cruelty, and littering.  It also included items that have little to do with crime at all, such as a bill to improve jury service (which I testified on).  That's not to say that some of the omnibus bills that ultimately passed have no teeth.  I'm sure some provisions have made a difference.

There was plenty of finger pointing, but on to some of the highlights of some proposals:
Loitering.  Mendelson committed to looking at a Chicago-style anti-loitering ordinance, moving away from his longstanding opposition to such laws as a violation of liberty.  His commitment came in response to the type of situation raised by a resident in which a group continuously hangs out on his corner.  Public drinking quickly escalates to fist-fighting, then to shootings.  If the police would get involved earlier and ask them to move on, then the violence might be avoided.   In order for such laws to be constitution, Mendelson believed, they must be limited in area and duration.  Some residents, however, find 5 and 10 day drug-free zone type laws just silly.  Why isn't it always a crime-free zone, they ask.  As an alternative, I suggested to Mendelson that rather than an arbitrary 5 or 10 day period that requires significant MPD paperwork to obtain, that the Council grant the police enhanced power to address loitering at any location in which there has been X calls for service to 911, Y arrests for guns/drugs, or Z reports of gunfire through Shotspotter within the past month for the following month.

Safe Passage to School Law.  Mendelson recently sponsored this bill with the support of all members of the Council. It will create a no loitering zone in posted areas around schools. In response, DC Attorney General Peter Nickes, however, said the safe passage bill is "not an effective way to deal with ... the real problems." "I think it's halfhearted, ineffective and has legal problems," Nickles told The Examiner.

Civil Gang Injunctions.  Mendelson continues to feel they are counterproductive.  Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) supports them, at least on a trial basis in Ward 2.  Today, Evans who participated in the forum, will introduce a bill that again proposes such a measure, as well as a new gun court and nuisance law (anti-loitering).

Funding Gang Intervention Groups, such as the Peacaholics and Alliance of Concerned Men.  Mendelson commented that the District has given too much money to such programs without adequate performance measures.  While these groups may do a lot of good, I wholeheartedly agree that accountability for public funds is sorely lacking.  Taxpayers (and the Council) need to know how the money is spent and what results are achieved to understand whether the city would more effectively spend such funds on job training programs, extended recreation center hours, or mentoring programs, or more police officers.

Deputy Mayor for Public Safety.  Mendelson criticized Mayor Adrian Fenty's elimination of the position of Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, which was established under Mayor Williams.  That position, Mendelson commented, coordinated efforts between the federal and city governments and forced them to sit down at the table and communicate.

Addressing the revolving door.  While almost everyone seems to acknowledge that violent criminals get arrested repeatedly and remain on the streets (the representative of the U.S. Attorneys Office seemed to be the only one who took issue with this representation), no one can put their finger on WHY?  What happens after arrest is "amazingly opaque," said Mendelson.  While citizens (and policy makers) can, at the touch of their laptops, pull up data for an area on arrests, calls for service, and shots fired, what happens after an arrest is a mystery.  What percentage of arrests are "no papered?"  Is that a result of shoddy police practices, lack of evidence, or some other reason?  How many of those arrested for 1st degree murder actually serve the "mandatory" minimum already set by the Council?  What percentage of those arrested are charged with a lesser offense or released because of a plea deal?  Where does the responsibility lie and how can lawmakers, prosecutors and judges improve the criminal justice system?  I suggested that if the District lacks needed data to back sound public policy decisions with respect to crime, it ought to establish an agency/office such as the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics to track local arrests, prosecutions, and sentencing.  Mendelson seemed supportive of that idea.  He suggested that he may seek funding from the DC Council and speak with Evans about it.

Why is DC so different?  Borderstan questioned why DC’s murder rate is 4.56 times higher than that of New York City, noting that other crimes follow the same pattern.  While DC has made progress in recent years, it remains leaps and bounds away from other major cities with respect to the prevalence of violent crime.  There was no explanation offered.

What's the U.S. Attorneys Office going to do differently?  In a terse exchange, Evans demanded that a representative of the U.S. Attorneys Office, Albert Herring, answer this question in light of the community's frustration.  There's was no response -- other than, "we prosecute crimes to the fullest extent of the law...."

Home Rule.  Evans noted that both he and Mendelson support the District gaining control over its courts.  It would cost $120 million annually.  While such a proposal was considered (and died in Congress) years ago, the Council and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton have not pushed such a proposal under the Obama Administration and a Democratic Congress.  There was no discussion of whether they support establishing an elected District Attorney or additional Home Rule with respect to prosecution of cases.
So, what did the meeting accomplish? 

Mendelson seems closer to lending his support to a broader anti-loitering law, has already backed a school-zone loitering law, and wants funding to examine the District's revolving door. 

Evans has an anti-gang bill due out today, which Mendelson should give a timely hearing and fair consideration. 

Mendelson and the U.S. Attorneys Office both got an earful.  One can hope that what they heard will add vigor to their efforts and give them helpful perspective in their decisionmaking.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Photo Tour of Franklin School

On Thursday, December 3, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) held an open house at the Franklin School for those interested in responding to its Request for Proposals. Although the RFP clearly is geared to submissions from private developers, those who attended included charter school representatives, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners, and historic preservationists, among others. I attended as a support of the Coalition for Franklin School, which supports using the building as a model school for the 21st century.  There was no guided tour or handouts.  Those who attended wandered the building on this rare opportunity.

As you will see by the photographs, the building is frozen in time from the six-year period it served as a homeless shelter.  A calendar hangs on the wall of what was an office marking September 2008, when the city closed the build, and a flier tells occupants to register to vote because "this is the most important election of our life time."  Looking more closely, one can find remnants of its history as a school building.  Outlines of chalkboards and room numbers.  I am told that above the false ceiling in the great hall, there is is a portion of a mural that once extended down to the floor.

Press coverage:

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Disposition of Public Property: Some Thoughts

The DC Council is (finally) moving forward in considering legislation that will require an assessment of potential public uses of public property before it is deemed "surplus" and sold for private development.  Earlier this week, a bill passed first reading.  Providing an open and transparent process for the sale of public property that guarantees community input is a goal that we should all support. 

Here are some thoughts on current or potential elements of the legislation:
  • The legislation should factor in that a public use does not in every situation provide the greatest public benefit.  For example, a vacant lot owned by the DC government in Ward 8 might offer more to residents as a supermarket than a government office.  Likewise, development of a publicly-owned building in a residential neighborhood for private housing might be strongly favored by residents over a drug rehabilitation clinic or social service agency.
  • Parks, schools, and libraries should have the strongest presumption against private sale.  Once a green space is sold and developed, it's gone for good.
  • Whenever feasible, public properties, particularly historic properties, when made available for private use, should be leased (preferably short-term), not sold, so the city can reclaim them for public use when a need arises.
  • Not all government-owned properties are created equal.  For example, the District owns numerous vacant houses and residential-zoned lots.  Those properties fall into government hands as a result of fire, calamity, or abandonment.  The problem with those properties is not that they are sold off too fast, but that they decay for decades under District neglect.  Such properties should be put back into private residential use as soon as possible.  If such properties are placed in an affordable housing program, then the program should have its own expedited process for renovation and sale.  Councilmember Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) has reportedly introduced an amendment to address this issue by providing that blighted or dilapidated properties that the city acquires “for the sole purpose of converting them to productive commercial uses” should be exempt from the bill's provisions.
  • The legislation should not include a private right of action to enforce its provisions.  Some have advocated for such a tool and their intentions are understandable and good.  However, it is important that the bill not create a situation where a single person can easily destroy a project that is supported by a community by seeking an injunction in court for a claimed technical violation during the transfer process.  Developers will be very hesitant to enter into a project in which there could be a cloud on the title due to a legal challenge.

Sports-Team Plates May Be Coming

It's nice to see an idea possibly get implemented. 

Yesterday, Councilmembers Kwame Brown (D-At Large) and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) introduced legislation that, if enacted, will allow DC residents to get license plates that show their support for the Redskins, Wizards, United, Capitals and Mystics, and possibly college teams as well [DC Wire / WTOP]. 

I think I am entitled to share a little credit.  Exactly one month ago today, I suggested such legislation to Councilmember Evans.  I e-mailed the idea soon after driving by a car with a Maryland plate with a Washington Capitals logo on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, finding it offensive that we live practically next door to the Verizon Center, but don't have the same option as our suburban neighbors.  I had also suggested putting some portion of the revenue gained from the fees from the special plates toward a recreational purpose that benefits city youth.  While I have not yet seen the actual bill, reportedly revenue generated from the plates under the proposed legislation will go into the general fund.

Press reports do not mention whether license plates will be available for the Nationals or DC United. Hopefully, these teams are included in the legislation as well.  Maryland and Virginia residents can already sport DC United plates.  [UPDATE: DCist reports that the omitted teams will be added to the bill].

Now, if I could only address the shootings, put vacant properties back into productive use, improve the District's education system, get some of our parks renovated (legally)....

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

New Poll: Franklin School

The Franklin School, located at 13th & K Street NW, was designed by Adolph Cluss in 1869.  It is a National Historic Landmark. Photo: army.arch on Flickr.

What do you think is the best use of the vacant Franklin School building at 13th & K?  Please take a moment to vote in the poll in the top right corner of the blog.  Here are some of the options:

Magnet high school:  Did you know that aside from School Without Walls, which has far more applicants than available slots, there is no public high school in all of Ward 2?  Students on the west side of the Ward travel up to Woodrow Wilson in Tenleytown.  Those on the east side head over to Dunbar in the area of Shaw near New Jersey Avenue that extends into Ward 5.  Franklin's central location would be easily accessible through multiple metro stations and bus stops.  I attended a magnet high school in New York, as I believed it provided an environment that was more conducive to learning (i.e. safer than my neighborhood school and with more focused students) and it had an alternative curriculum that was a better fit for me.  The magnet school could also have a limited in-boundary area to guarantee a slot for those who live downtown.  It could provide an innovative program, such as focusing on international studies or the arts.  The school has a capacity of approximately 400 to 450 students.  While there is no athletic field, arrangements might be made with another school. 
Innovative elementary/middle school program: According to the Downtown BID, there are now about 3,000 apartments and 2,500 condos downtown. Not all of these are in the immediate area of Franklin, but some are, and more will be.  For instance, about 700 additional units are planned for the Old Convention Center site, just a few blocks from the Franklin School.  While there may be few children in these buildings, if DC is going to have a sustainable and livable downtown, it will need high-quality schools in the area.  Franklin may provide a location to fulfill this need.  A challenge, however, is that it does not have playground or outside recreation space, is not conducive to busing, and downtown streets could pose a safety challenge to walking to school.  Parents who live or work downtown, however, would find it convenient to walk or drop off their children at school.  For instance, Stevens Elementary (closed this year) located on K Street had a population of out-of-boundary students whose parents worked downtown.  Likewise, Hardy Middle School in Georgetown is about 80% out-of-boundary students.

Community college: Earlier this year, UDC established a community college.  In addition, DC Appleseed and the Brookings Institution have voiced support for establishing an independent public community college.  While the Franklin School would not provide capacity for an entire community college, it could provide a flagship downtown campus.  The school might focus on a program such as hospitality management, a paralegal program, construction management, or provide technical training.  This is consistent with UDC's goal of opening several campuses throughout the city over the next few years.  The downtown location would be particularly convenient for DC residents, many of whom might work in the area while taking classes, who would otherwise need to travel to Van Ness.  Franklin Square would provide a quad that students could use for study groups, reading, and lunch.

DC-Semester college programs.  Various public and private colleges throughout the country have semester-in-DC programs.  Some of the larger universities, such as the University of California, have classroom space in the District, but many do not.  The Franklin School classrooms might be made available, for a fee, for such programs.  In addition, the building's Great Hall could host lectures both for students and the DC community.  If not filled by educational programs, rooms in the building might provide ideal conference space for business and other meetings.

Charter school.  The city recently put out a "Request for Offers" for charter school use of the school, but, after receiving responses, deemed none of them acceptable.  That may be because the city expected the charter school to finance renovation of the massive building.  There are many quickly expanding charter schools that are looking for space and could fill all or a part of the building.  KIPP and a chinese language immersion public charter school, Washington Yu Ying, are two examples.

None, prefer another public use: The Franklin School was designed for educational uses, however, there may be other options that serve District residents.  The building might provide space for local artists and exhibits, performances in the Great Hall, or cultural events.  In the past, the building provided administrative space for the Board of Education.  It could provide government offices or a recreation center of some type.  Fortunately, the building is no longer being used as a massive emergency homeless shelter without sufficient services.

None, prefer private development.  Currently, the District government is accepting proposes for a private use of the Franklin School.  In the past, developers have expressed interest in turning the building into a boutique hotel.  The private option has its attractiveness.  Such a use would generate tax revenue for the city and put the building into productive and well-maintained use.  There would be limitations, however, given the building's historic landmark designation, which covers both the inside and outside of the building.  Such a hotel, at that location, would have few rooms, extremely expensive rates, and could not have any retail/restaurant space opening onto the street.

Some view private development as a faster way to fill the vacant building, particularly given the RFP process already underway. That's not necessarily the case. Think Convention Center Hotel, 5th and I project, Old Convention Center site, O Street Market. Not exactly quick movers. Nor is private development necessarily free for the city. Quick frequently in recent years, the DC Council has provided substantial public financing for such projects.

Even when the building opened over 150 years ago, there were those who thought it was too magnificent for a school.  Men in top hats fought and lost that argument back then.  Will their arguments win the day in 2009?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

DC Council Approves Gay Marriage 11-2

A few moments ago, the D.C. Council voted on first reading to approve same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia.  The measure passed by a vote of 11 to 2.  Councilmembers Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) voted in opposition.

In his opening remarks, Councilmember Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) noted that the Council had heard 17 hours of testimony on the bill from 219 witnesses, two-thirds of which supported the bill.  In response to opposition from the DC Archdiocese, Councilmember Mendelson characterized the proposed legislation as expanding, not reducing, religious freedom.  Some churches and other religious institutions that would like to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies are precluded from doing so, Mendelson explained.  On the other hand, the legislation would not require any religious institution to perform same-sex marriages if contrary to its beliefs.

Catholic Charities has asserted that it will not be able to provide valuable social services on behalf of the District should the measure become law because they would be required to provide services, such as marriage counseling or adoption services, to same-sex couples on the same basis as straight married couples.  Mendelson noted, however, that after closely reviewing the laws of the six states that have by legislation or court decision recognized same-sex marriages, he could find no basis for providing an exemption to religious institutions to permit discrimination in providing social services or employment benefits.  Despite discussion of a potential "compromise" over the past weeks. no such amendment was offered.

The legislation will now move to a second reading.  It will then be subject to the ordinary Congressional review period applicable to all DC laws before taking effect.

Poll Results: Lift Off

"Lift Off" at 5th and K Streets NW.

The survey on reader reaction to the new sculpture at 5th and K Streets NW has closed.  About one-third of readers (34%) reacted positively to the addition to the street-scape, while two-thirds (64%) initially expressed reservations.  Seventy-one individuals voted in the poll, which is now closed.  Some also expressed their comments here.

I am looking forward to completion of the sculpture, including the addition of lighting.  I think that most, if not all, of us can agree that it is good to see the District supporting public art and livening the street-scape.  It certainly a positive development to see more art and less prostitution on that particular corner!