Monday, September 15

DC MONDAY

TREE REMOVAL SPURS DEBATE

Anthony L. Harvey, Intowner
- Dogs, drought, old age, impacted soil - together with intense community use of scarce recreational green space and 30 years of neglect by the DC Department of Parks and Recreation - have claimed their latest victims. Two of the oldest "special trees" in Kalorama Park - both once stately oaks - were cut down and removed after having been found to be "hazardous" by two professional arborists on the staff of city's Urban Forestry Administration . . .

Thus occurred the heated debate and discussion over the actions affecting these two Kalorama Park "special trees" at the Adams Morgan ANC's September 2008 monthly meeting. John Cloud, the neighborhood's volunteer version of famed naturalist John Muir, hotly contested the UFA's determination that the two oak trees were even dead, and eloquently asserted that these two oaks would only have become hazards if in fact UFA arborists had first pruned and cut back the trees. . .

John Cloud's exuberant and passionate intensity was offset, in contrast, by the calm and professional intensity of arborist John Thomas, Chief Urban Forrester and UFA Deputy Director. . .

The ANC's consideration of the UFA's tree removals concluded with Cloud's recommendation that biological and habitat diversity requirements be written into the District's urban forestry law and that two resultant oak tree stumps be allowed to bio-degrade naturally. John Thomas reported that a 30-day hold was in place over further Kalorama tree removals while officials and their neighborhood collaborators review their lists of planned tree removals.

INDICATORS

One in five DC residents is poor, a higher rate than in any year since 1997-98. Since the late 1990s, some 27,000 more DC residents have fallen into poverty. Thirty-two percent of the District of Columbia's children live in poverty, nearly twice the national average.

There are over 52,000 families on the waiting list for affordable housing

There are at least 6,000 homeless in DC every night

The AIDs infection rate (1 in 20), infant mortality rate (16:1,000) and illiteracy rates far exceed national averages

Forty-one percent of children arrested in the city tested positive for drugs.

There were 2,340 children in foster care in 2006. The average length of stay in foster care was 45 months.

One out of two children in DC is at risk of hunger.

Only 22 percent of children have received a dental screening.

In 2000, the system served 51 percent of the families who applied for shelter; by 2005 the service plummeted to 19 percent.

People's Property Campaign

RHEE THINKS REPUBLICANS ARE BETTER THAN DEMOCRATS

DC Wire, Washington Post - She's said it before, but Michelle Rhee keeps hammering away at the Democratic Party for being weak on education accountability and reform. Last night, Rhee appeared before the Ward 4 Democrats at Emery Recreation Center and explained that she appeared on an education panel discussion in Denver during the Democratic National Convention to "make a statement to the Democratic Party" about why it needs to get tougher on unions and other "political interests." Rhee stressed that she has been a lifelong Democrat, but then she lit into the Party. "Republicans are much better at education policy than Democrats," she said. "Democrats are soft on accountability and they're anti-NCLB [No Child Left Behind], they don't want to test anyone. This attitude in my mind does nothing for the neediest students who need help the most." To Rhee, Democratic leaders pander to unions and other interest groups who are "driving the agenda on school reform. Everyone thinks Republicans are for the rich, white oil guys to whom they give tax breaks and Democrats are for kids and the underclass. I don't think the Democratic Party operates that way. So we were there [in Denver] speaking out and pushing the Party to move in a different direction."

RHEE'S PALS AT ST. HOPE IN TROUBLE

Sacramento Bee - Federal agents investigating the use of taxpayer dollars by Kevin Johnson's St. HOPE have turned the case over to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Sacramento, officials confirmed. A spokesman for the agency conducting the probe said he could not comment specifically on the case. But, any " referral means that it's our opinion that there is some truth to the initial allegations, backed up by our investigation of the matter," said William O. Hillburg, spokesman for office of inspector general for the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Since the inspector general's office does not have prosecutorial authority, Hillburg said it depends on federal prosecutors to "decide whether it's a criminal or civil matter - essentially whether they want to put someone in jail or decide to get the money back. They might also say they can't handle it, because it doesn't meet their threshold for prosecution."

Federal agents were dispatched to Sacramento in April to examine Johnson's volunteer program, Hood Corps. They investigated whether the nonprofit misused federal funds, required volunteers to attend church and train for a marathon on the federal dime or mishandled allegations of sexual misconduct. . .

WHO'S NICE ON THE HILL?

A tiny sampling on the topic from the New Hill East internet group:

Amy H - When I moved to 13th & K St SE in 2002, I was overwhelmed by how friendly the neighborhood was. This is hands down the nicest urban neighborhood I have ever lived in. As one of my neighbors said, it was like being embraced by a family. It's still nice now but, it's changed a bit. Partly the change on my block has been a change of generations. Middle-aged and older people who lived here for years have moved out (and in one case passed away) and were replaced by younger folks, some married and some single. The middle-aged, older folks and the young marrieds tend to hang out more in front of their houses and chat at the end of the day. The young single people, in particular, are more likely to say "hi" on their way home but not hang out and chat. Everyone is very nice. But it is a little less warm than it used to be.

Jim Myers - There has been a major change in the atmosphere in the Hill East area in the past decade -- and I'm sure race, class and differing generations has a lot to do with it. As recently as 2000, some neighborhoods east of 15th Street and elsewhere nearby were more than 90 percent black. I notice the difference almost every time I go out of the house. The streets seem depopulated. The habits of daily interaction seem to have diminished. Some cynic might write in to say that there are fewer bullets flying -- and that's sometimes true. But I'm talking about the daily exchanges that have gone out of our lives to a large degree. But what can one say, other than the area was a black neighborhood in the past, and now it's becoming less of that? Perhaps some people prefer the urban anonymity that seems on the rise here. I don't particularly. . . People used to walk around with me and sometimes ask," How do you know all these people?" But it wasn't me that was different; it was the way the neighborhood was. And I miss it, which is not a judgement on new neighbors. They're fine -- but to one degree or another, they're from a different culture and time, and they have found a special warmth among themselves here, too, which is, perhaps, why so many younger residents see this a very friendly place. . .

Sarah - As the young white "newbie" with the "monster baby stroller" (what's up with that low blow?) I was more than offended with the bulleted email addressing my so-called rude behavior. Like Tim said, I find the word "newbie" totally offensive. My husband and I are quite young with a new baby and this is our first home and we're so proud of it. This is home. We've lived here for three years and while that may seem like a second to those who have lived here for 20 some years, it seems like forever to us. . . I am however, one of those quiet ones on the street. I smile when someone says hi to me, sure. But I'm often shy around people I don't know and I don't usually offer a hi to strangers. I never discriminate based on race. I would ignore a white stranger just as much as a black stranger. I will always say hi back. It's just the way I am. To say that I'm scared of black people is just completely ridiculous, offensive, and uncalled for. . .

Heather - I have lived on the in DC for quite some time(1 year downtown, 8 years on Seward Sq, SE, and 6 years on 16th SE). When I was in my 20s I knew none of my neighbors. I came and went, worked and played not caring who lived on my street. I then had kids and was constantly at home and then made friends with my neighbors. When I moved to 16th Street while pregnant with my second child I thought all my neighbors were lovely and friendly.

Two years ago I was talking with a friend who is much older than me and lives in the neighborhood. I said, I don't think the new people moving in around here are that neighborly. My friend then reminded that noteverything is about me. I didn't understand. She said think about this: most people buying a house now are paying double what you did. They work, they're bustin' their butts to work on their house, take care of young children or they're young and have their own friends that don't live here. They have their own concerns and ignoring you is of no concern to them. So I choose to think that if someone in the neighborhood doesn't go out of their way to talk to me it is because they've got something else on their mind besides me and I certainly have other worries of my own.

Justin - I'm white and gay, and lived in DC since 2001. oh, and I'm really young but my partner and I own a place... and you know what? I was raised to mind my own business... but I love my neighbors, sitting on my porch and talking to all of them. . . and I probably talk too much to them.

When someone walks by and doesn't say hi to me... I don't make it about me; I don't wonder "is it because i'm white, short, gay. . . (wait how do they know i'm gay). . . I assume their silence is about them. They want to be left alone. . .

Maybe some folks that were born and raised here were born with a very talkative social culture. Those folks would tend to be black perhaps. and maybe some other people were raised to mind their own business, and speak when spoken to, and leave others alone. and maybe those people are white. it does not imply that silent white people don't like black people. Nor does it imply that the silent white person is rude. Maybe that silent thinks that they are being polite by leaving that person alone.

Elaine - Hi, I'm a 45 year old white female "newbie" to the District of Columbia. I don't mind referring to myself as a "newbie" because it is true -- I've never lived here before. My husband and I moved here from Alaska. In Alaska, newcomers are referred to as "Cheechako", a Chinook jargon term for "newcomer", and depending on how well the individual adapts to living in Alaska, the term may be applied for only the first year or it may be considered a permanent term (with rather derogatory inferences).

Before visiting DC in 2006, I was under the impression that the entire city was a dirty, rude, violent place filled with politicians and criminals. Wow, I was wrong. My initial two week visit was so full of friendly multi-racial encounters that I did a complete 180-degree perspective shift (except for the "dirty" part -- I do wish there was less trash).

As a wildlife biologist, my observations of human behavior are based on a more general mammalian model. Discounting those individuals who are distracted or just plain rude, I tend to see two types of behavior on the streets -- Predator and Prey (or Dominant and Submissive).

Predators/Dominants tend to be confident and assertive. They walk with their heads level, eyes forward, posture straight. They make direct eye contact, often initiate verbal interaction, smile broadly, and move in a relaxed manner.

Prey/Submissives tend to be much more passive. They walk with their heads down or chocked to the side, eyes averted, posture rolled forward. If they make eye contact it is brief; they may or may not respond to verbal interaction or direct smiles. They move quickly and rigidly. Their entire demeanor can be interpreted to say, "Please don't hurt me, please don't eat me, I'm not a threat!".

Predators/Dominants are not "better than" Prey/Submissives -- They each represent one half of a balanced whole.

I offer this model in order to encourage compassion and understanding. Direct eye contact does not always translate into aggression or a threat. Failing to respond to a smile or verbalization does not always translate into rudeness or insult.

A balanced social animal (e.g. Humans) possesses the ability to exhibit one characteristic or the other based upon a given situation. An unbalanced social animal is generally a threat to the social order (i.e. too dominant, or too submissive), and is often avoided or even ostracized.

My encouragement to my new community is to be patient with others, and work at setting a good example. Our world is going through a more visible tough time. Compliments of global communication devices, we are now -- more than ever before -- made constantly aware of random acts of violence, and as a result live in an environment of perpetual uncertainty.

We can not know the personal history of each person we meet -- who was abused by someone that was trusted; who was victimized by an individual of another ethnic race; who was traumatized by ridicule or scorn, or who is simply busy trying to memorize a presentation speech.

Be gentle and try to avoid making assumptions. Each of us has a purpose in this life and should not be overly faulted for fulfilling that purpose.

Neighborhood Commissioner Ned Glick - Several years ago I was in Bethesda one morning. I passed a couple on the street, and said 'hello' just as I would on Capitol Hill. They had fear in their eyes, and looked at me like I was going to attack them. Then I realized I was in the suburbs and not on the Hill.

I try to say hello to everyone I see - for two reasons.

1. It is pleasant to say hello. Our world is hard enough and we should all do something to make it a little brighter. I see my neighbor-friends, like Sia, Ms. Boone (she gets a kiss and hello, and conversation), the gentleman that testified in favor of a liquor license I was protesting (opposite sides of a hearing and we always say hi), Mr. B who I also encourage in keeping up his sobriety; and my neighbors that play spades in the alley at night (one showed me her picture with Obama). I told them if they need an extra player, I'm around. The hello list is endless.

2. People not from the neighborhood usually don't respond to -- or initiate -- the greeting. So I know that they might be strangers. A lot of the women from the homeless shelters on the Hill East Waterfront don't say hello - they try to keep to themselves as they make their daily run to the liquor stores. Last night there were two very intoxicated older men in an alley staggering around. They didn't say hello, and they made no eye contact with me. They were also unfamiliar faces.

When we greet our neighbors, definately look at them. It's a great way to know who is in your community. When I see unfamiliar faces, that's when I sometimes say 'hello' and ask where they live. It catches people off guard, and helps me get a better sense of who lives here, and who is just vi siting, and shows people that this neighborhood is alert and stays on top of things.

I believe that a close knit community where we know each other, and greet each other makes it more uncomfortable for strangers to commit crimes in our neighborhood and get away with them.

DC SHORTS

WUSA -
Blind and alone, Denise Hamilton is fighting to get her job back. The former DC public school teacher was one of hundreds fired for failing the get certified in time. . . Blind since childhood, Hamilton was hired eight years ago to teach braille to visually impaired DC public school students. She passed certification tests for that specialty. But two years ago, someone in Human Resources changed her classification -- without telling her -- to Special Ed teacher. "She was pushed and shoved into areas she should never have been, and as a result of that, she lost her job," says Nathan Saunders of the DC Teachers' Union. The 40 year old went back to school to learn special ed, but when it came time for the test, she couldn't get it in braille, and had to hire someone to read it to her. "It's pretty challenging for someone to sit there and listen to someone reading something over and over again. It's pretty difficult," says Hamilton. Hamilton says she failed reading by one point. School officials told her she'd been given plenty of time and was terminated for failing to complete her coursework. . . . Hamilton says it's the blind students who once saw her as a role model who will really be hurt.

Washngton Post - D.C. officials, coping with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that threw out the city's handgun ban, have drafted legislation that would do away with several remaining firearms restrictions, including safe-storage requirements and a provision that bars ownership of semiautomatic pistols. . . Addressing contentious issues that have arisen since the Supreme Court ruled in June that the city's handgun ban was unconstitutional, council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) said he has worked with the administration of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) in drafting the legislation. . . Mendelson said officials are not seeking to placate members of Congress. He said the proposed changes, which he will urge the council to pass Tuesday, result from a careful review of the Supreme Court decision.

Longtime labor ally Carol Schwartz - a Republican and the sole labor-endorsed candidate not to win in Tuesday's primaries - "will be sorely missed by working men and women in the District of Columbia," said Metro Council President Jos Williams. First elected At-Large Councilmember in 1984, "The District has always been Carol's first love," said Williams, who praised her role as "a valuable bridge between the conservative and liberal communities here in Washington, as well as a supporter of working families."

Eric Wemple, City Desk - Buoyed by big dollars from pro-biz groups, Mara hammered Schwartz with campaign literature that described her as, well, a Democrat in Republican clothing. Much of Mara's support came from a D.C. business community peeved over Schwartz's championing a sick-leave bill that imposed new costs on D.C. firms. In a brief interview with Loose Lips this evening, Schwartz said that she'd 'never wage a write-in campaign' to leverage her popularity with the city's Democratic supermajority. Nor will she ever endorse Mara, on account of the 'guttural nature of the campaign.'

Anti Fenty campaign spreads "The response across the country has been great," says Metro Council President Jos Williams about the Metro Council's recent request that local labor organizations protest DC Mayor Adrian Fenty's appearances in their communities because of his anti-labor activities. "If this Mayor comes to our area, there will be pickets," promised Pat Emmert, President of the Palm Beach-Treasure Coast (FL) AFL-CIO. "An injury to one is an injury to all," added Rebekah Friend, Executive Director & Secretary/Treasurer at the Arizona State Fed. . . .

Dorothy Brizill, DC Watch - There were problems during February's presidential primary election, and the city council held a hearing on what went wrong. . . There was another election, a local primary election for which fewer than 13 percent of voters turned out. It should have been an easy one for the Board of Elections to handle, but it wasn't. Election officials are minimizing the problems, but the fact is that they weren't ready to handle even a low-turnout election smoothly. . . Few people, aside from Councilmember Carol Schwartz, paid attention as first Mayor Williams and then Mayor Fenty put their personal agendas ahead of ensuring that the Board of Elections was run well and competently.

Washington Post - Elections board spokesman Murphy said officials initially tallied more than 1,560 write-in ballots in the Schwartz/Mara contest. That number dramatically tumbled to 18 after midnight, when officials realized the cartridge had been misread. Murphy said the same error led officials to incorrectly tally 1,500 write-in ballots in the Ward 2 race, when in fact there were just 14. There were also incorrect results initially reported in Brown's uncontested race for the Democratic at-large council nomination, and in Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton's bid to run again for her D.C. delegate post. It was not clear this morning how a single cartridge, at a single precinct in Ward 1, could cause erroneous readings in different races -- both citywide and in Ward 2, and involving candidates from more than one party. . .

Jessica Alatorre, Lettet to the Post - Mayor Adrian M. Fenty plans to shut the Franklin School Shelter at 13th and K Streets NW on Oct. 1, leaving hundreds of residents without a place to live as winter draws near. In April, the D.C. government announced it would close the shelter and promised to provide affordable housing to the then-400 residents. To date, only three residents have been housed. The number of beds at the shelter has been reduced to make way for the shutdown, leaving more than 300 residents to be housed by Oct. 1. Demonstrators have tried to protest the rapid downsizing, arguing that the phaseout needs to coincide with needs being met and not just with the city's plans. . . Exactly how does the city plan to put more than 300 people in housing by Oct. 1?

Washington Business Journal - Commuters in D.C. can save more than $10,000 a year by taking public transportation instead of driving when gasoline prices and parking rates are factored in. D.C. ranked eighth of the top 20 cities with the highest public transportation ridership for its transit savings ($883 per month and $10,593 per year), according to the Transit Savings Report, a monthly analysis by the American Public Transportation Association. The analysis factors in the cost of automobile insurance, depreciation, finance charges and driving 15,000 miles annually, and the savings figure assumes a household gives up a car. The national average savings for using public transportation, instead of driving is $9,596 per year, up $411 from last year. The national average rate for unreserved parking in a downtown city business district is $143 per month and can amount to $1,720 per year, the D.C.-based association reported.

DC Examiner
- The Fenty administration has failed in its promises to protect and improve the lives of the city's mentally retarded and disabled, two federal court monitors determined in a new report. The District has been the defendant in a massive class-action lawsuit alleging that it was indifferent to the mistreatment of its mentally retarded and disabled wards since 1976. Two years into the Fenty regime, court-appointed monitors Clarence Sundram and Margaret G. Farrell found that "the end result is substantially the same as it has been in the past." The report was the latest in a series of scathing reviews of Fenty's reforms this summer. Two weeks ago, a separate court monitor, Amy Totenberg, condemned Fenty and his school chancellor, Michelle Rhee, for losing focus and allowing special education services to continue to slide into chaos. And plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit aimed at D.C.'s foster care system filed papers to have the city held in contempt.

Erich Martel calls Michelle Rhee's plan for young teachers "Peace Corps public schools" noting that "In the long run, the greater the percentage of teachers who stay less than five years, the less of a drain on vested retirement obligations.". . . KPW - It's a good thing that D.C. isn't interested in age discrimination, otherwise these comments would be disturbing. Maybe AARP needs to be called in on this. There is no dishonor in wanting to make teaching a life long profession and wanting to give quality service to children for the promise of their future. But perhaps the younger teachers cost less in terms of salaries and might leave before after a few years before they reach that $100K mark."

Terrance Lynch, Washington Post - With the 100th anniversary of the founding of the FBI in 1908, I'd like to suggest a wonderful centennial gift both for the bureau and for downtown Washington: Let's get the FBI a new headquarters. . . If you haven't walked around the FBI building in a while, you are not alone. The building creates a sense of emptiness to be avoided in a part of the city that should be hopping. If you have taken a closer look at the place, then you've seen that the upper part of the building is wrapped in netting. Chunks of concrete facade seem to have fallen off randomly around the exterior. Cement block "planters" and other elements have been placed around the building and are clearly designed to prevent any type of vehicles from approaching. Many entrances and doorways have plywood construction barriers, plastic "do not cross" tape or chains blocking pedestrian access to large parts of the broad, ample sidewalks surrounding the building. . . The FBI building, a "brutalist" design constructed in the late 1960s and early '70s, probably suffers from the same conditions that many other buildings of that era do: poor construction and an abysmal layout; highly inefficient use of interior space; and nightmarish heating and cooling systems. The building surely is on the opposite end of today's goals for a "green" space. . . The FBI has been looking for new locations. Let's not just get it added space, let's get it an altogether new location that would solve numerous problems at once.

WTOP - An arbitrator has ruled that three D.C. child welfare workers were improperly fired for failing to help four young girls found dead in a southeast Washington rowhouse. John Truesdale ruled this week that "basic notions of fairness and due process have not been met" in the case of Banita Jacks, the girls' mother. He ordered the city to reinstate the workers with back pay and interest dating from their dismissals in February. D.C. interim Attorney General Peter Nickles told WJLA-TV that the city would appeal the ruling, and he insisted that the workers would not be rehired under any circumstances. . . Mayor Adrian Fenty fired the workers after the girls' bodies were found in January. Jacks has been charged with murder.

DC Examiner - Private contract meant to revolutionize special ed system lasted just months D.C. school officials gave $2.3 million to a Pennsylvania firm to help the schools fight their special education crisis, only to scrap the contract within months, The Examiner has learned. The city's contract with Columbus Educational Services was supposed to help D.C. rehabilitate its $300 million-plus education system by bringing in an outside consulting firm that would rapidly respond to the needs of disabled or ill children. But Columbus "never hired the number of staff anticipated," suffered from "internal management shortcomings" and was subject to "inadequate management and oversight" by city officials, a federal court monitor reported last week. Instead of shrinking, the District's backlog of unresolved special education cases ballooned by 811, court monitor Amy Totenberg reported.

Jonetta Rose Barras, DC Examiner - A pattern of overspending in Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's administration has some residents feeling as if they are witnessing reruns of the 1990s, when Sharon Pratt Kelly ran the city. . . City Administrator Dan Tangherlini thinks I'm tripping: "It's an interesting thesis but the facts don't bear it out. That's the farthest extreme of where we are. Our level of control over agencies is unparalleled."
So, why has there been overspending in the Summer Youth Program, the schools modernization program, special education at the D.C. Public Schools, Child and Family Services, the Healthcare Alliance, the Board of Elections and Ethics, and the Office of the Inspector General? How have agency heads been allowed to exceed their appropriated budgets, broaching violations of the federal Anti-Deficiency Act? And, where was independent Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi through all of this?

Greater Greater Washington - A coalition of arts groups is trying to raise money and get a lease from the city to re-open the old trolley tunnels under Dupont Circle as a new art gallery and event space. Here's their flyer. The tunnels form two semicircles on either side of the underpass. They were built in the 1940s for trolley cars to stop on their way up and down Connecticut Avenue. When trolley service ended in 1962, the tunnels became abandoned until 1995, when the Dupont Down Under food court tried to reuse the space. It closed within a year, and became tied up in litigation between the developer and the city. In 2003, the Business Journal reported that a sports club was trying to reopen in the space. Nothing came of that. When ballpark construction displaced several adult gay clubs in Southeast, Councilmember Jim Graham suggested relocating some of them to the tunnels. Community opposition predictably killed that idea. WashCycle suggested a bicycle station for bicycle commuters to park-and-ride onto Metro. GGW commenters discussed the idea here. An art gallery and event space could be a great use for the area. Galleries don't need so many windows, and the odd shape shouldn't be a deterrent. The space exists; we should take advantage of it to bring more life to Dupont Circle.

Washington Post - About 13 percent of registered voters voted, a drop from the 20 percent who went to the polls in 2004, according to the preliminary results.

A REUNION AT MACOMB STREET PLAYGROUND

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