Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Jack Evans Responds

In the interest of fairness, here's an excerpt from a response from Councilman Jack Evans's office to points raised in e-mails sent by several neighborhood residents (including your humble blogger) about last week's "crime forum":

"1) Our office gave Mr. Moulton permission to videotape the meeting at the United House of Prayer. Our contact for using the building is Doris Brooks. When Mr. Moulton got there with his equipment, Ms. Brooks informed him that he could not videotape the meeting. IF the meeting was held in a facility controlled by Councilmember Evans, i.e., the Wilson building, he would have been able to give the final word. Since it was Ms. Brooks who arranged use of the building for us, Mr. Evans was not abel to "overrule" her decision. We allowed Mr. Moulton to tape our Constieunt Fundraiser event becaus that decision was solely up to us. In the future we will be sure to find out the rules of the facility we're using to ensure an incident like this doesn't happen again.
"2) The meeting was hosted by Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, ANC 2C and ECCA - it was at the top of the agenda if you were able to get a copy. Mr. Thorpe is the President of ECCA. Doris Brooks and Alex Padro are ANC commissioners. They all sat at the head table.
"3) When Mr. Evans began the meeting he recognized the members for both groups (ANC 2C and ECCA) and asked if Barbara and Kevin were present.....there was no response. Apparently, they both came late to the meeting. Ms. Curtis was identified by Windy Abdul-Rahim of our staff who tried to escort her to the front of the room....Ms. Curtis declined. Mrs. Rahim did not see Mr. Chapelle. I assure you if she had, she would have extended the same courtesy to him. Again, Mr. Evans recognized both Ms. Curtis and Mr. Chapelle and apparently, they were not present at the time. Mr. Chapelle had every right to come to the front of the room and had Mr. Evans known he'd shown up later, he was have invited him to do so. You were there, so you saw how many people were in attendance. Again, had we know he was there, he would have been escorted by Windy or invited by Jack to come up front, but he could have also just walked up and made his presence known."
Here's what I think about the response:
1. This might be an adequate explanation if there were no long-standing context of efforts by Mr. Thorpe and Ms. Brooks to prevent video recording of ANC meetings despite the absence of any legal prohibition against such recording of public meetings. Jack Evans's staffers are certainly well aware of this and he should have been as well. To acquiesce in Doris Brooks's prohibition of the recording makes it appear that he supports the Thorpe/Brooks position. If holding a public meeting with our mayor, councilman, and police chief in a private space means it no longer operates under the rules of a public meeting, then it should not be held in that space.
2. I did get a copy of the agenda, and the only non-DC government names on it were those of Leroy Thorpe and Doris Brooks. None of the other ANC commissioners were included. Again, there's context here--namely the maneuvering by Mr. Thorpe and his enabler, Ms. Brooks, to maintain defacto control over the ANC after losing an election. And again, Evans's staffers should be well aware of that. I can see no reason why this meeting (unlike the previous ones in June and September) needed to be "co-sponsored" at all. (Wondering whose idea that was...hmmm.) Giving Thorpe and Brooks equal billing with Jack Evans (and giving the other commissioners no billing) suggests--rightly or wrongly--that Evans supports their shenanigans.
3. Okay, okay, partial credit here. But if there is a head table, who sits there carries symbolic weight. Why weren't all of the commissioners invited beforehand to sit at the table? Mr. Thorpe's dubious credentials as "president" of the ECCA aside, I really have no problem with him being seated at the dais (assuming there needs to be one at all), but what about other (dare I say more active?) community associations? This was supposed to be a show of unity against crime, not a veiled political rally for one faction.

At least there seems to support for holding any other such meetings in a more neutral setting.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Howard Theatre

I was watching Channel 4 news this morning and saw a nice segment on the Howard Theatre project, featuring our neighbor Lillian Gordon. She recounted her younger days as a chorus girl at the theatre, which then was perhaps the most prominent venue for African-American entertainers. Ms. Gordon demonstrated that she still has some moves. You go, girl! (Haven't found the video on line, maybe it's not up yet.)

The program on the Howard Theatre project is this afternoon (Sat., 2/25) at 3:00 at the old Carnegie Library/City Museum.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Jack Evans Meeting on Crime, 2/21

Tonight's meeting on crime attracted a large number (I'd guess at least 150-200) community residents to the United House of Prayer--not surprising given the alarming increase in shootings in the community. Acting Police Chief Lanier spoke at some length, making what seem to be good points:

  • We cant just rely on statistics, but have to look at non-numeric indicators, like graffiti and general conditions in the area;
  • Police visibility has been increased and will remain so, but visibility isn't the answer for everything--some shootings have taken place within sight of fixed police posts;
  • There has been a shift of resources into Shaw and this will continue--it's not just a temporary fix;
  • The age of kids doing this stuff is very disturbing; there's a great need to engage them in positive activities;
  • People are not reporting what they see, and without that help there is much less that the police can do.
Mayor Fenty arrived late (about 6:40) and left early. I didn't think he had anything very interesting to say, but at least he was there to listen to some of the community comments and questions. Most of the latter were familiar to anyone who attended the last two meetings in June and September which were covered in previous posts here and elsewhere. One resident of 1330 7th made an impassioned plea for help from the city and MPD to get rid of residents at that and other properties who are engaged in crime, saying it simply takes too long. Some other issues mentioned included a growing rat problem in the neighborhood, and the need for programs for seniors. A representative of UHOP made another pitch for the city to sell the bleak little "park" at 7th and N to the church. Someone else said--to some applause--that people need to be placed ahead of dogs--presumably a reference to requests by some residents for a dog park.

I guess the meeting was useful as a indicator of neighborhood residents' increased concerns, and top level agency heads were all there to listen. Unfortunately, a lot of the time was consumed in introducing city and neighborhood notables and (thankfully fairly brief) speechifying. These meetings are looking more and more like political events for the folks on the dais.

Which is an interesting point, and seems to call for a sort of local version of old-school Kremlinology. Though supposedly organized by Jack Evans, the meeting was co-hosted by Leroy Thorpe (there as "President East Central Civic Association") and ANC Commissioner Doris Brooks, who as usual played second fiddle. As for the other ANC commissioners, Alex Padro managed a seat at the table (at the end) but neither Barbara Curtis nor Kevin Chapple were included. Chapple was not invited, as it turns out, nor was he recognized as being present in the audience (he was there), though at least a dozen other people were. Don't know about Curtis. The Mt. Vernon Square Neighborhood Association was not at the table either (nor has it been included at previous meetings), but the ECCA was. Go figure. Apparently, the crime problem isn't bad enough to get beyond this kind of pettiness.

Oh, yes. There probably won't be a video of the meeting. Commissioner Brooks told a resident who was setting up to record the meeting that this wasn't to be permitted, even though he had written permission from Evans' office to do so. Evans apparently caved when the moment came. What is with this videophobia?
(I did see one other resident with a videocamera, so maybe some of it will show up anyway.)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Chapple's SMD Meeting Tonight

I'm sure ANC Commissioner Kevin Chapple's website will soon have a recap and video of the meeting for his single member district earlier tonight at the Kennedy Rec Center, so I won't attempt one here. But I do want to commend and thank him for taking this initiative and arranging for an informative and useful public forum. Let's hope this will be a continuing new tradition. Oh, and no one yelled at anyone.

A couple of observations:

Safe Shores, the organization that will be running the Childrens' Advocacy Center at Bundy School, seems to be a well-run and effective group and certainly seems unlikely to have any negative impact on the neighborhood. Demolition (all internal--no outside construction is planned) on the school could start within a couple of weeks but won't be finished until late summer 2008. The center will operate only during normal business hours, but will probably have a round-the-clock police presence in the building, since the detectives and other related agencies will be co-located there.
Only the school site proper will be included in the project. I.e., this will not affect the Bundy playing field or the big parking lot in the rear of the school (on the P Street side), which belong the the US Government, not DC.

Here's a question: If the DC Parks and Recreation doesn't own Bundy playing field and the parking lot, why is that agency posting "no dogs allowed" signs there? Who actually administers the field? I guess my idea about using a slice of the parking lot area for a dog park (see earlier post) will have to be re-thunk.

The presentation on pedestrian safety got a lot of interest from folks at the meeting. DDOT official George Branyan explained that the Pedestrian Master Plan now being formulated is focusing mainly on improving safety and access (e.g., around construction sites). Questions about speed humps and other "traffic calming" measures should be directed to Chris Ziemann, the Ward 2 Traffic Planner (didn't get an e-mail address).

DC Greenworks is planning a community garden on 7th Street (next to Bread for the City) and is looking for volunteers and other community participation. A chance for frustrated apartment dwellers to get their hands dirty.

MPD Sgt. Penn talked about the increased presence in PSA 308 in response to the recent shootings. Apparently this increase is open-ended at this point, not just a short term thing. Much of this has been noted elsewhere, so I won't repeat it here. However, let me say that I think all of us appreciate the fact that we're getting a good response from the 3rd District, and some of it seems to be working. Sometimes criticism of the police may be justified, but sometimes we also see some genuine improvement and that deserved to be recognized. I get the impression that there is considerably more openness on the part of the police regarding interfacing with the public, and we should seize this opportunity. I think we'll get a lot better effect from working positively with our police officers than from constant bitching and confrontation. I'm hopeful that the Adopt-a-Block program will help with that, but still haven't seen anything tangible from that yet.

Also, check out the really interesting posts on the tour of the police command center at Mt. Vernon Sq. and the ANC2C02 sites. Cool stuff--wish I could have been there.

Again, you go, Kevin! Keep up the good work.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Mt. Vernon Square has posted the names of the officers in PSA 308 and their block assignments. Also information about how to contact them by e-mail. This could be a promising program--let's try to make it work. Still lots of orphan blocks, however. Get in touch with Lt. Neal, if yours didn't make the list.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

How About a Dog Park at Bundy School?

Mt. Vernon Sq. has an informative post on plans for the Bundy School site at 429 O Street. Personally, I'm disappointed that the Planning Commission's vision for the site has been trashed, but it looks like a fait accompli so I guess we'll have to make the best of it.

Here's an idea: How about using some part of the parking lot in back of the school building to create a dog park? The lot is enormous, and there would be plenty of room to dedicate some of it for that purpose and still have lots of room for parking cars.

The Office of Property Management says it wants to include the community in plans for landscaping, etc., so why not take them at their word? This would be a valid community recreational use of the sort that was envisioned for the site, and would be one way for the neighborhood to get some use from the property.

Just to be clear: I'm not talking about the playing field next door, which is under DC Parks and Recreation. That would remain as is: in lousy condition and poorly utilized.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Chief Lanier Talks to Loganites

In case you missed it, DCist posted an account of what MPD Chief-designate Lanier told the February meeting of Logan Circle neighbors. What she said should be of interest to us too.

If ANC2F can get the Chief to show up, why couldn't ANC2C? After all, our area has all the bang-bang going on. Or would that require some initiative on the Chairman's part? And maybe a more cooperative attitude toward the MPD?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

ANC2C02 Newsletter--Fantastic!

Kevin Chapple and his team have just put out their first newsletter for his single member district (though the info is for the entire neighborhood), and it's terrific. Check it out online here. I think he plans to distribute hard copy around the community as well.

This is a great idea and beautifully carried out. Congratulations to all concerned.

Don't forget the ANC meeting tonight at 6:30 the Africare Building on at 440 R Street. I can't make it myself tonight (unavoidable obligation) but look forward to getting a readout.

What's Going On at Bundy School

There has been some speculation in the community recently about what’s happening at the Bundy School (429 O Street). Back in January 2005, the Post reported that “the District now plans to put the D. C. Children’s Advocacy Center, also known as Safe Shores, in the Bundy school....The cost of renovating that building will be $5 million...and construction work will start in late summer.” Apparently this was all decided sometime back in 2004 or even earlier; I don’t know how much, if any, community involvement there was in that decision.

According to its website, Safe Shores is a “direct service non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and working directly with child victims of sexual and physical abuse.” Kevin Chapple has scheduled Melissa Hook, of Safe Shores, to speak about that organization’s plans at his first ANC2C02 meeting on Thursday, February 15, at 7:00 at the Kennedy Recreation Center.

What’s not clear is whether the DC government has abandoned its intention to convert the Bundy School property to mixed income housing. This is from a document called “Implementation—Comprehensive Plan District Elements, Adopted 12/19/06”:

NNW-2.1-K: Bundy School Redevelopment. Explore re-zoning and public-private partnerships to facilitate redevelopment of the old Bundy School and adjacent surface parking lot. Construction of mixed income housing and recreational uses should be pursued on the site. ZONING-RELATED

The city’s Convention Center area development plan called for rehabbing the Bundy School building for residential development, with a new multi-family apartment/condo building to be constructed on the parking lot behind the building, including a structure that provides parking. A presentation of that plan is here. (The plan also mentioned the possibility of redeveloping the 2nd NW Coop for higher density, while retaining the current numbers of affordable units.)

UPDATE: I found another document referring to the Bundy School decision: "Volume 5: FY2007 - FY2012 Capital Appendices". Here's the reference:

The Office of the City Administrator manages two projects. (1) Child Assessment Center (receiving no new funding in FY 2007): Pursuant to an agreement executed by Mayor Williams, the Bundy School will be transformed into a Child Assessment Center (initially planned to be located at the Gales School). The facility will house Safe Shores (a program to treat victims) as well as caseworkers from the Child and Family Services Agency, the Metropolitan Police Department, the Office of the Corporation Counsel, the US Attorney’s Office and the Superior Court Social Services Agency.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Wacky World of DC Property Taxes

Mari of In Shaw did a post about property taxes a few days ago that got me going. Rather than clutter up her blog with long rant of a comment, I’m going to do a post of my own on a subject that drives me nuts.

Here’s the thing: DC tax assessments are totally capricious and make a complete mockery of the principle of equal taxation based on actual property value. Within any given block in this city, you can find at least a dozen examples of absurd valuations, and the city has in effect created two classes of tax payers: those who bought their property before the price bomb went off (roughly 2003) and those who bought later. If you’re in the former category, you’re sitting in a tub of butter. If you’re in the latter group, you’re paying for the butter.

This situation was accomplished by creating a “taxable assessment” value a few years back that can rise no more than 10% per year. So even though the tax appraisal may now reflect pretty much the real value of the property (not necessarily the case, BTW), the taxable assessment—the number that your taxes are actually based on—could well be only a small fraction of that amount.

Before about 2004, DC tax appraisals were actually well below the true market values even for those pre-boom days. The District has since tried to make the valuations more closely reflect the market values, but that doesn’t matter if you bought several years ago because your taxable assessment will remain absurdly low forever. This is fiscal insanity and, probably wouldn’t hold up in court, if properly challenged. But it’s political genius, because it means most people have a big vested interest in keeping this grossly unfair system going.

Let me take one block in Shaw (guess which one) for few examples. (No names or addresses, and the amounts have been fudged slightly to avoid ratting anyone out, but I can back all of this up with publicly available data.)

  • A’s house was purchased prior to 2003 for a bit over $400K. The total valuation for 2007 is something over $500K, but the “taxable assessment” is less than $90K. That means A’s tax bill (at $0.88/100) will be a bit over $700.
  • Just around the corner in the same block is a condo B bought in 2005 for something over $500K. The 2007 valuation for this property is almost exactly the same as for A's house, but the “taxable assessment” is nearly $500K. That means that B will be paying over $4,000 in taxes.

In case you’re wondering, none of the parties involved is elderly or poor, and both are availing themselves of the homestead deduction. But taxpayer B is paying about 6 times as much in taxes as taxpayer A for properties of equal value.

But, you might ask, wouldn’t the taxes equalize eventually? No, my child, they will not—unless there is a catastrophic fall in real estate values that will drop all market values to the level of the grandfathered assessment of taxpayer A. Remember the assessment increase is limited to 10% per year. Therefore, happy undeserving A’s taxable assessment can only rise by $9,000, while wretched meritorious B’s can increase by more than $50,000. This means the gap between A and B will only get larger as time goes on. And no, this is not an exceptional case; there are many similar examples on this block alone.

Mari brought up the issue of land valuation. The total valuation of a property is the sum of two components: the land and “improvements”. Here’s Mari’s definition: “Land = dirt stuff stands on. Improvements = stuff standing on dirt. It could be a designed palace or a crack-shack.” (Can’t do better than that.) Logically, land in one lot should be worth about the same as that of the lot next door. Not in DC. In our sample block, your friendly tax assessor has valued land anywhere from $23 per square foot to $234 per square foot. That’s right—a tenfold difference. In three adjacent lots, the valuations range from (a) $82/sf [a vacant lot] to (b) $23/sf [a derelict shell] to (c) $174/sf [a renovated condo]. This is crazy. The value of the land should be identical—remember, what’s on the land is appraised separately. The only possible explanations are incompetence or corruption.

Then there are the other anomalies, like the 4-unit new apartment building whose total taxable appraisal is less than that of our 2 bedroom condo. And apparent outright fraud, like the house that has been unoccupied for at least 2 years but which is still receiving the “homestead deduction.” And the building bought last year for almost a million dollars, whose appraisal and taxable assessment were set at roughly half that amount. I could go on.

Before someone goes all bleeding-heart on me, let me stipulate that I believe that retired folks and people of limited financial means should get a break—even a big one—on their property taxes. But there are other widely-used ways for dealing with those issues. I don’t really even think the tax I’m paying is particularly out of line with what it ought to be. What makes me angry is the inequity of it.

I know of no other jurisdiction in the region that operates this way—i.e., basically imposing a punitive tax for buying property and moving into the District. While urban hipsters may love to look down on suburbanites, if you buy a property in DC, you’re the one being played for the rube, sugar.

Oh, and newcomers…the next time some neighborhood old timer tells you that your opinion doesn’t count because you haven’t been here long enough, feel free to remind them that you, not they, are paying for the wonderful public services that the District of Columbia provides.

There’s more to say on the subject, but I feel my blood pressure rising and I’ve probably already pissed off enough people for one day.