Friday, June 29, 2007


I went to the CAC meeting at the MPD 3rd District last night to hear the Shotspotter presentation. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I went away feeling a bit let down.

The (fairly brief) presentation was made by an MPD officer named Brito (wasn't quite sure I got the name right), who gave a quick overview of Shotspotter capabilities. Basically it is a sophisticated microphone system that can distinguish between gunshots and other similar noises (like firecrackers, backfires, etc.) and pinpoint their location within 10-20 feet. The system has been set up in the 7th District (in Anacostia) and is tied in to the MPD control center, so that it can give virtually instantaneous information about shootings without relying on call-ins from citizens. The officer noted that the people who call in usually have only a vague idea about the location of the shots (something we're all familiar with), and they frequently are unavailable or unwilling to give follow-up information. According to him, it has proved a useful tool for apprehending guns and shooters where it has been used.

I asked about how decisions are made about where the system is deployed, and noted that in PSA 308 we have been experiencing several incidents of gunfire virtually every week and lots of residents are keen on having Shotspotter deployed here. The answer was that the initial deployment was paid for by the FBI, and it is being installed in the 7th, 6th, and 5th districts (in that order), with the FBI funds. Beyond that, however, he said it will have to go through the normal procurement system, which I take to mean that it will have to be paid for out of MPD budget allocations. As I understood his answer, there are no imminent plans to deploy it in the 3rd District. No one else asked any questions about it.

I'd like to be proved wrong, but my takeaway from this is that the only way we're going to see Shotspotter around here soon (or maybe ever) is to ratchet up the political pressure on the Mayor, Council, and the Police Chief by writing to them and demanding this. I think we have a good case, given the frequency of gunfire in this area, and Columbia Heights (also in MPD3) is another hot spot. This is also one more reason to call in 911 or 311 if you hear gunfire--it does go into the record and help establish a statistical basis for putting it here rather than somewhere else. [BTW, I'm trying to maintain a little DIY database of such incidents that I pick up off of the blogs, listserves, etc.]

I think we all realize that Shotspotter is just a tool, not a panacea, and the degree to which it helps depends greatly on the response time of the officer on duty at the time. After all, we've had shootings recently with officers less than a block away, and the response time in those instances was at least as good as one could hope for with Shotspotter. The basic problem remains that there are too many young dudes packing heat. One sidelight to last night's discussion was the observaton that even though being caught with an unlicensed gun is a felony, the courts generally don't give jail time until the same individual has multiple offenses.

Commander McCoy also noted that several new crime cameras are being installed in the area: 5th and N, 11th and N, 9th and T, and 200 block of V. There's some discussion of these on the MVSNA blog, with most people saying that they just push the criminal activity somewhere else, or don't really help deter crime. I guess I'm agnostic on whether they're worth the expense. Still, I'm kinda glad there's one on my corner.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Sick of Derelict Properties?

Most of us in this neighborhood have at least one derelict nuisance property on our block. If you're fed up with the DC government's indifference and incompetence in dealing with the problem, here's your chance to vent:

Councilmember Mary Cheh will be holding a public oversight hearing on vacant and nuisance property administration and enforcement at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday, July 3 in the 5th Floor Council Chamber of the Wilson Bldg. at 1350 Pennsylvania Ave., NW. According to the notice, the hearing will "explore a range of issues, including the outcomes of vacant and nuisance property cases, enforcement against serious and repeat violators, and best practices in vacant and nuisance property administration and enforcement. The public hearing will begin at 1:00 p.m. in the fifth-floor Council Chamber at the John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Please note that this hearing was originally scheduled for Monday, July 2, 2007, at 10 a.m. The hearing date had to be changed due to a scheduling conflict."

Anyone wishing to testify at the hearing should contact Aukima Benjamin, Staff Assistant to the Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs, at 724-4902 or via email at All witnesses will be permitted a maximum of five (5) minutes for oral presentation. The witness list will close at the end of the business day on Friday, June 29, 2007.

If you are unable to testify at the hearing, written statements are encouraged and will be made a part of the official record. Copies of written statements should be submitted either to the Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs, or to Ms. Cynthia Brock-Smith, Secretary to the Council, Room 5 of the John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20004. The record will close at the end of the business day on Tuesday, July 17, 2007.

Comment: In my view the system is still broken, despite some recent improvements in the regulations. It takes obnoxious persistence to get a derelict on the vacant property list, and that's just the beginning of the process. There are many loopholes for a scofflaw owner to avoid getting on the list (e.g., getting work permits for work that never gets done), and even if the property does get listed, there is no assurance that it will have the Class 3 (vacant property) tax rate applied that hikes the tax to five times the normal rate. There is a gap between the inspection agency (DCRA) and the tax agency (OTR) and the connection seems to fail more often than it works. And then there are still multiple ways to evade the punitive tax rate. The result is that the slumlords get off basically scotfree, and the rest of us pay the price.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Some Things to Like about Shaw

Sometimes we get so caught up in neighborhood problems, that we forget to note the really nice things that just happen around here. Here are a few from this weekend:

Saturday morning at the Catania Bakery: I love going over there to get fresh croissants (the best in the city, IMHO) and some of that great, crusty, dense Italian bread. (Four large croissants and a loaf of bread for $5.30!) I generally pass up the pastries, though they are also terrific and I can recommend them as well. You need to go pretty early, though, because they often sell out well before noon. Yesterday, I ran into In Shaw blogger Mari, who is also a regular customer, while I was making my purchase. The bakery is like a trip back in time--I kind of miss the old mechanical cash register that they recently replaced with an electric one. And have the correct change handy if possible. (N. Capitol Street between P and O.)

Good Libations' capoeira show: Ronny Green got a good crowd for this yesterday afternoon--I'd say at least 40-50 people were there. The samba warm-up featuring three well-endowed lady sambistas was also well-received, and they even enticed a few brave souls to join them on stage. The capoeira was very good with the percussion and sung accompaniment--no audience participation on that, thank goodness--a concussion would have been a definite downer. It was a lot of fun, and something you don't see every day in DC. I hope he sold a lot of Pitú.

The X event at BeBar: Sort of an updated 60's light show (we used to do it without computers!) combined with performance art and other stuff. Can't say it was exactly the promised "sensory overload" (though another one of those pear vodka and tonics might have done the trick), but it was interesting and different and a cool backdrop for hanging out with friends. This event drew a somewhat different (i.e., less overwhelmingly gay) crowd than the normal BeBar clientele. It's great that they're hosting events like this.

Bloomingdale Sunday Farmers Market: I got there right at the 10:00 opening time and there was already a good crowd. I counted about eight vendor stalls, selling everything from strawberries and cherries (from PA) to fresh flowers to organic lamb to specialty wine vinegars. I came away with strawberries, cherries, radicchio, baby red onions, fresh basil and lemon thyme (the latter from our own 7th Street Garden, no less), squash, and a mixed flower bouquet. (No field-grown tomatoes, yet, unfortunately.) Everybody seemed to be delighted to have the market, so it was a real upper. Also the Big Bear Cafe has opened next door. I didn't have time to linger but walked through it and really liked the vibe. They sell coffees, teas, pastries, etc. and have a really pleasant space to enjoy it in. I plan to go back when less rushed. Maybe it's not technically in Shaw, but I think it's wonderful to have this in the neighborhood, and kudos to whoever got this to happen. (1st and R, NW, every Sunday from 10 - 2)

Friday, June 15, 2007

Capoeira, Cachaça, and Farmers Market

Ronny Green's Good Libations at 5th and M will be hosting a cachaça tasting on Saturday, June 16 from 6-8. For those unfamiliar with this Brazilian potent potable, it was once a kind of moonshine made from the fermented sugar cane stalks and considered to be the drink of the poor, but no more. Cachaça has now been elevated to another level--kind of like the way tequila in Mexico has gone upscale--and once you try it, you'll like it. The most famous drink made from cachaça is the caipirinha (which means little country girl in Portuguese), in which whole limes are mashed with sugar and stirred with cachaça and ice. They are deceptively smooth and delicious--so pace yourself if you start.

As part of the event the DC School of Capoeira (an acrobatic Afro-Brazilian martial art/dance from Brazil's Northeast) will be performing and showing off their moves.

While you're there, be sure to check out Ronny's expanding wine selection. He holds a regular wine-tasting every third Thursday of the month. Any questions, you can call him at 202-347-1006.

And don't forget the Bloomingdale Farmer's Market that starts this Sunday from 10 until 2, rain or shine, and 1st and R Streets, Northwest.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Are You Being Served?

Those of us who live within the East Central Civic Association's (ECCA) amorphous boundaries (see below) may legitimately wonder what purpose is served by that organization, other than being something that Leroy Thorpe could claim to be president of after his defeat for ANC commission last November. (For an account of how he hijacked the ECCA, see here.)

The ECCA was founded in 1947 in then-segregated Washington, and it was once an important voice for the black community in this part of the city, who were excluded from the political power structure of the city. Recently, however, the ECCA has done little but hold monthly meetings, which generally have been attended by no more than 15-20 people. Even though I live in its area, I have never seen a meeting announcement flyer on my block. The organization has no web site (I naively offered to help set one up last year, but got the brush-off) and no e-mail address, even though it has supposedly received computers as largesse from the ANC and private donors for the express purpose of communicating with the public and the police. Unlike the activist Mt. Vernon Square Neighborhood Association which organizes neighborhood projects and engages constructively with city agencies, the ECCA basically does nothing.

So what area does the ECCA cover? Well, that depends on who you ask. Former President Betty Newell defined it as being bounded by NJ Avenue on the east, RI Avenue on the north, 7th St. on the west and O Street on the south. Now, according to a notice in Jack Evans's latest newsletter, "it serves the area bounded by 3rd Street, NE on the east, Pennsylvania Avenue, on the south, 7th Street, NW on the west and Florida Avenue on the north." So all you folks in Mt. Vernon Square, Gallery Place, Penn Quarter, Truxton Circle, NoMA, and a little piece of Capitol Hill: you should know that Leroy Thorpe claims to speak for you.

In my opinion, the ECCA doesn't actually serve anyone (except perhaps its "president"). So is it time to create something else that would? A couple of other people have raised that idea as well.

Does it even matter? Sadly, I think it does. Despite improvements in responsiveness under Tony Williams, this city still operates under a system of patronage politics with a lethargic bureaucracy that often won't move unless prodded from above. It really shouldn't take two years and intervention by the mayor's ombudsman Joe Martin (who is doing a fantastic job, by the way) to get lights in the NJ&O park, but it does. Organizations carry more clout with the city government than individuals do. They get recognized and listened to at neighborhood events. Visibility counts.

One possibility would be to organize a new neighborhood association that would basically cover the part of Shaw that lies outside of Mt. Vernon Square's area. Given ECCA's exaggerated territorial claims which encompass a number of existing neighborhood or civic associations (e.g., MVSNA, Downtown, Bates Area, and probably some others I don't know about) there shouldn't be any problem about having another independent organization operating within its purported boundaries. But starting something like that is a major commitment and should not be undertaken lightly.

Another less ambitious option would be to organize around a specific issue or two that is of concern to the community--derelict properties, for example. As glad as I am to see the spotlight shining on Shiloh's egregious offenses, that's just the tip of the iceberg, and most of the derelict properties in the neighborhood are in private hands. MVSNA has done a great job at getting an inventory made of such properties in its area and engaging city agencies, but there is no similar effort for the rest of Shaw. Face it: ECCA will never do anything of the sort, and the ANC won't either because it remains deadlocked. But there's no reason residents couldn't form an association to attack such problems, and maybe eventually it could evolve into something else.

The important thing is to be inclusive and genuinely open to anyone who wants to be involved--something that the ECCA unfortunately is not.

I hope this post will stimulate a dialogue which I'd be happy to continue here and in other forums.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

June ANC Meeting--Almost Normal

Well, whaddya almost normal ANC meeting. The bar is set pretty low, of course, but at least it didn't degenerate into a shouting session. Martin got the whole thing on tape (no static on that, so maybe that point is finally settled), but if you don't have the sitzfleisch to watch the whole thing, here are a few observations from your humble blogger:

The treasurer's report and minutes of the May meeting were approved unanimously. This may seem pretty humdrum, but it actually represents a breakthrough of sorts, because for the first time the draft documents had been delivered to commissioners Chapple and Padro before the meeting. Alas, this was not the case for the quarterly report, and Chapple moved to table it for that reason. There ensued a long, rather confused discussion about rules of order, but after fifteen minutes or so the tabling motion came to a vote. Brooks voted no, Chapple and Padro voted yes, and I think Curtis voted yes too initially. However, the Parliamentarian then tried his best to get Curtis to change her vote, launching into extended "explanations" of what it all meant. Despite protests that the motion had already been voted on, there was another vote, and maybe another (it was pretty chaotic and I couldn't always hear what was going on), but in the end Curtis abstained, so the motion passed to table it. Another first, I think.

The two written agenda items presenters were no-shows, but Mr. Wang (not sure about the spelling) of the Chinatown Steering Committee alleged that the DC Planning Commission was ignoring or bypassing the committee regarding various approvals. It was unclear to me whether his complaint referred to one of the no-shows (Yemi Wong, regarding a project in the 600 block of H Street) or to a project by the Gould development company on the block bounded by Mass, I, 6th and 7th, but most of the ensuing discussion involved the latter. (This was in part a reprise of an earlier ANC meeting back in October, I think.) Without a lot more background, it's hard to understand exactly what all the discussion is about but the initial complaint seems to be that the DC Planning Commission approved the design of the Gould project without the imprimatur of the Steering Committee. The poor guy from the Planning Commission got lambasted by Thorpe, who basically accused him of not knowing what the rules were. It's hard to tell if the issue is mainly a question of not being sufficiently deferential to the Steering Commitee or if it's really about the latter's dissatisfaction over what they've been able the shake down the Gould operation for. Gould, who was there again, made what seemed to me a pretty convincing case citing numerous meetings with the Steering committee or its sub-committees and concessions made to the Chinese community regarding design, amenities, contributions to organizations, and leasing, etc. He said he had paid Tony Cheng $6.5 million for the property and had offered him a pro rata share of the project, but Cheng opted out. So who knows what the real story is. Despite occasional lip service to preserving the Chinese presence in Chinatown, it mainly seems to be about tussling between rich developers and rich Chinese businessmen.

One interesting note: Thorpe urged Mr. Wang to make a presentation at the next ECCA meeting. Last I heard, the southern limit of ECCA's bailiwick is N Street--a long way from Chinatown. This is the second little indication I've heard recently suggesting that Thorpe sees his sphere of influence as covering a much wider swath of the city than the ECCA presently allegedly represents. An issue for a later date.

The Chinatown discussion took a very loooong time, and ended with a powerpoint presentation showing the project and highlighting derelict buildings and trash that have already been cleaned up in anticipation of construction.

Debby Smith made a quick appeal for support for a day spa she wants to build at the NE corner of 7th and P (1501 7th). The lot is presently owned by the NCRC but it will be disposed of by the DC government and she apparently has prepared the way to acquire it. She alluded to a previous bid for ANC approval, which apparently had been shot down by Thorpe. A fairly heated exchange ensued, but thankfully was cut short. Would be interesting to know the back story.

There was a presentation by the "People's Property Campaign" which is pushing a "Public Property Community Bill of Rights". Basically, there pitch is that no more publicly owned DC property should be sold until a promised inventory is completed, and that if sold its use should be restricted to certain purposes as determined by the community. They have a website. No vote was taken on this. (Wonder if that had something to do with the little "park" on N Street that UHOP would like to acquire.)

Finally, there was a presentation by Roosevelt Cohens who wants to open up a program providing day services for released criminal offenders from his house at 1718 5th Street. Thorpe (who lives nearby) reacted strongly to this, and discussion was cut short and the meeting gavelled closed.

Overall, this was a big improvement over previous meeting. The Parliamentarian still runs the show, speaking whenever he likes for as long as he likes, and either directly deciding who gets to speak or telling Ms. Brooks whom to recognize, and favored people get to go on and on. And rules of order are flouted repeatedly. But still...

Tires Slashed on O Street

Several residents (apparently all of the 2nd NW Coops) woke up this morning to find that someone had slashed the tires of their cars parked on the 400 block of O Street next to Bundy Park. We spoke to one of the victims whose tires were being replaced this morning, who said that the tire slashings looked to be reprisals against coop residents who have been calling the police on criminal activities, adding "it seems like the more the neighborhood gets better, the more some people just want to make it worse."

Amen to that. And here's to the residents who have been brave enough to blow the whistle on malignant elements in the community--they deserve the thanks and support of everyone.