Progressive Review

LIFE AS A MOVING VIOLATION

IN THE MINDS OF OUR POLITICIANS, SIMPLY LIVING IN DC IS A MOVING VIOLATION SUBJECT TO PENALTIES, WHICH THEY INSIST HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH BALANCING THE BUDGET

MARCH 2003

CRITICAL MASS BB - Hi, I am somewhat new to the area, so i'm not quite up to speed on local regulations. I've heard that in the District, cops can confiscate any bike that's not registered as long as it is not indoors. Is this true? Does it ever actually happen? Thanks, Kelly

Several pointers about this law: first of all, it's primary purpose for at least the last decade has not been to recover stolen bikes but rather to harass people (like protestors and night people) that cops don't like. In neighboring Montgomery County, the cops openly said they wanted to keep bike registration as a "tool" to use on "drug dealers!" The fact that it is almost impossible to register a bike in DC (you have to have proof of sale, "acceptable ID", lights, horn, etc and the police or fire station has to not be conveniently out of the forms) is further evidence of this intent.

Second, they cannot forfeit a bike for this, only impound it. Then, they have to release it to you if you can prove (by the same evidence needed to register it, sometimes less) that you own it. They cannot charge an impoundment fee like for a towed car either! In addition , friction between the cops and messengers led to an arrangement where the cops cannot take your bike if you have the proof of sale or ownership with you at the time. In essence, that means the whole process just short-circuits and it is "released to you at the scene." I have used this three times on very motivated cops (even a vicious park pig!) and they always backed off. If you are not a protestor or other enemy of the cops you can essentially ignore this law with little more worry than running a red light with no cross traffic and no cops.

During the run-up to A16, when the cops used registration to steal just one bike from someone they presumed a protestor; it earned them hostile Washington Post coverage. Last summer, when they did this again to someone riding at night and by chance through a presumed crime scene, it earned them a hostile City Paper story. In short, it is not used like auto registration, but only as a weapon.

JANUARY 2003

MATTHEW CELLA, WASHINGTON TIMES - The District issued $57 million worth of parking tickets last year - up sharply from the $45 million in tickets issued in 2001 - and the amount is expected to rise again this year as fines increase and more ticket-writers roam the city's streets. There were 1.67 million parking tickets written last year, up from 1.3 million in 2001, according to statistics provided by the D.C. Department of Public Works.

ARLO WAGNER, WASHINGTON TIMES - Enforcement of a seldom-used and largely unknown law dictating the manner in which cars are parked on hilly streets is angering tenants in the Cleveland Park area of Northwest. Safety prescribes that vehicles parked on hilly streets should have their wheels turned toward the curb. . . Residents in the area said police began enforcing the law about 10 days ago, but they said ticketing was heaviest Sunday night. "It's the most asinine [thing] I've ever seen," said Ari Rubenfeld, a surgeon living in the 2500 block of Porter Street NW. Moreover, some of the ticketed cars "had their wheels turned the right way," said Dr. Rubenfeld, who learned to park on hills while growing up in New York. Police are "treating us like idiots and insulting our intelligence," said Brian Hopman, who must pay a $20 fine for failing to turn the wheels of his car toward the curb on sloping Porter Street. Mr. Hopman estimated that 100 cars were ticketed Sunday night along both sides of the 2500 to 3000 blocks of Porter Street east of Connecticut Avenue. "It's gotta be a revenue-generating thing," said Rachel Kaufman, 28, who parks on Porter Street although she lives on parallel Quebec Street. She said she plans to write letters of complaint to Mayor Anthony A. Williams and any other D.C. official who might be involved

WASHINGTON POST - D.C. police will begin enforcing a new law tomorrow that requires children to ride in a car safety seat until age 8, police said. The District is the first jurisdiction in the country to have such a law, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

DECEMBER 2002

MATT HOWES, ACLU - The next time you visit the nation's capital, your every move may be watched and recorded. The DC Police Department, without public knowledge or city council approval, has set up a centralized video surveillance network. The system can bring together video feeds from police cameras on streets and buildings, in neighborhoods, within the city's subway system and even at public schools. With the flip of a switch, officers can zoom in on people a half-mile away.

The implicit justification for the video surveillance system is security. But it is far from clear how the proliferation of video cameras through public spaces in D.C. would have any real impact on crime. In Oakland, CA, officials considered video surveillance for three years and rejected it. Police Chief Joseph Samuels, Jr., stated that his department had hoped to be "among the pioneers in the field of taped video camera surveillance" but ultimately found that "there is no conclusive way to establish that the presence of video surveillance resulted in the prevention or reduction of crime."

Instead, tourists, opposition politicians, racial and ethnic minorities, peaceful dissidents and other people could have their every move catalogued and tracked. This system of cameras could be used to monitor peaceful protests and the activities of innocent people throughout the city. This information could then be misused to blackmail, intimidate or bully people who are exercising their freedom of speech, freedom of peaceful assembly, or just going about their daily lives.

This system would make D.C. the first city in the nation to have comprehensive video surveillance and unless it is stopped, other cities and communities will inevitably follow its example. We must not allow Main Street USA to become Surveillance Central.

BRIAN DEBOSE, WASHINGTON TIMES - According to the Metropolitan Police Department's Web site, 70 percent of the District's 408,180 automated speeding citations were issued to out-of-towners: 48 percent to Maryland drivers, 14 percent to Virginians and the remaining 8 percent to drivers from other states. D.C. motorists received the remaining 30 percent of the tickets. . . Early 2001 figures provided by police showed that 60 percent of the photo-radar citations were issued on heavily traveled commuter roads and limited-access roads with no intersections or pedestrian traffic. . . Chief Ramsey said last year that 75 percent of the District's red-light camera citations were issued to drivers from Maryland, Virginia and other states. Maryland drivers also receive close to 50 percent of the red-light-camera tickets.

THE DC GOVERNMENT charges a $35 fine for every campaign poster left up more than a month after the election

CAM SCAM UPDATE
Targeted drivers equal
to 70% of city's population

BRIAN DEBOSE, WASHINGTON TIMES - D.C. officials have raked in more than $20 million in the first 15 months of the city's photo-radar camera program, exceeding revenue estimates of $11 million annually. The revenue tally comes about two months after Mayor Anthony A. Williams said he wants to expand the use of traffic cameras because the city needs the money. . . Officials have collected $20,602,947 from the 275,474 motorists who have paid speeding citations mailed to them since the automated traffic enforcement program began in August 2001. Automated speeding citations have been issued to 408,180 drivers whose cars have been photographed by the photo-radar cameras.

. . . Efforts to implement photo-radar programs have failed elsewhere. Several jurisdictions instead have focused on installing red-light cameras. The Maryland General Assembly this year killed two bills that would have allowed any city or county in the state to obtain photo radar. Senate and House leaders rejected the idea as a "revenue generator" scheme for urban jurisdictions. Virginia's Republican-led General Assembly last year moved toward letting the red-light camera program end at its cutoff date of 2005. No legislation proposing speed cameras was introduced.

BRIAN DEBOSE, WASHINGTON TIMES - D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said he supports the Metropolitan Police Department's use of surveillance cameras despite waning support on the council. The mayor said the police cameras can help maintain a high level of security and deter crime.

BIG BRO

DAVID A. FAHRENTHOLD AND DAVID NAKAMURA WASHINGTON POST - The D.C. Council lambasted the city police department's system of surveillance cameras, with several members saying vehemently that they did not want the technology -- now an entrenched part of D.C. police operations -- to be used at all. The sudden and impassioned objections, with several council members talking about the Orwellian potential of the cameras, could have serious consequences. . . The council initially voted to reject the regulations by a 7 to 6 vote but then reconsidered. Council member Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8) changed her vote to yes, allowing the measure to pass by one vote, but she made it clear that she was hardly endorsing the surveillance network. Allen explained her switch by saying that if no regulations were passed, police would be free to do whatever they wanted -- including video surveillance in poor neighborhoods. Several other members said they were concerned that approving any regulations might be construed as an implicit approval of the cameras in general. "At first, I thought Washington, because it's prone to more terrorist attacks, would be a place where visitors would want cameras," Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) said. "But I agree now with my colleagues who say Washington should be a beacon of freedom." Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) expressed a similar view, declaring: "These cameras have been set up to deal with demonstrations and dissent. This will have a chilling effect and discourage citizens from demonstrating openly here in the capital of the United States of America."

ED T. BARRON, DC WATCH - Just try to appeal one of these "guilty until proven innocent" tickets. If you can prove you were not the driver of the offending car, you still pay up unless you rat out the actual driver. Should you want to appeal, you pay $10 for the right to appeal and $10 for each page of any hearing transcript. Both these fees are nonrefundable. Just as a comparison, Fairfax County reduced red light running by more than 90 percent at the corner of Route 50 and Fair Ridge Drive by lengthening the yellow light from 4 seconds to 5.5 seconds. But the down side to our Northern VA friends is that they only write one ticket per day at that intersection now.

OCTOBER 2002

THE CITY, which on the one hand tries to encourage people to leave their cars at home and use public transit, simultaneously gives residents tickets for parking their car in the same spot for more than 72 hours. Apparently you're not meant to use Metro more than two days in a row.

WASHINGTON TIMES - One of the foremost advocates of traffic safety has withdrawn support for the District's traffic camera enforcement program after city officials conceded revenue was a primary motivation. The AAA, which supports the use of traffic cameras to enhance road safety, has rebuffed the city's plan to expand the program to earn more revenue. The Metropolitan Police Department collected $18,368,436 in fines through August 2002 with the automated red-light enforcement program, which was implemented in August 1999 to combat "the serious problem of red-light running." "There is a mixed message being sent here. When using these cameras you should not have a vested interest in catching one person running a red light or speeding," said Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. Mr. Anderson said that AAA brought attention to a camera that the automobile association deemed unfair on H Street Northeast adjacent to the Union Station garage exit. The camera was affixed at a location on a declining hill with a flashing yellow light that went to red without changing to a solid yellow. "Drivers didn't even know they were running a light. That camera issued 20,000 tickets before we caught it," Mr. Anderson said. . . He said he became furious when he read reports in The Washington Times quoting D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams as saying that the cameras were about "money and safety.

DAVID NAKAMURA WASHINGTON POST - Ticket scalpers who work the pavement outside stadiums and arenas have long been as much a part of the sports fan's experience as beer and hot dogs. But if teams once viewed scalpers only as a curious sideshow or a pesky nuisance, they are now an impediment to the way teams market their entertainment to the public. . .

Scalpers are now fined $50 under city vending regulations. [A] proposal would force them to pay $300 to $700 for a first offense and up to $1,500 for a third conviction. The legislation, which could be adopted by the end of the year, would not prohibit fans from selling tickets for face value, officials said. It is not a punishable offense to buy a ticket for more than face value. . .

[Some fans] argue that in an age when teams sell many premium seats to corporations and to licensed ticket brokers who peddle to an affluent clientele, the street-level scalper offers a service to regular fans who otherwise would be left out. . .

According to a study conducted last year by Arizona State University Profs. Stephen K. Happel and Marianne M. Jennings and published by the Cato Institute, 22 states had strict laws governing ticket scalping, three states had minor restrictions and five states left regulation up to municipal governments. The other 20 states had no laws.

TOM KNOTT, WASHINGTON TIMES - City leaders are up to their old revenue - generating tricks again, looking to harried motorists to ease their fiscal concerns. The city has hired about 170 additional parking-enforcement sleuths in the past six months, ostensibly to increase the city's quality of life, however quality of life is defined by the mayor and the D.C. Council. An increase in parking fines is a quality-control measure, intended to punish those who just say no to the parking meter's two-hour limit or who can't decipher the convoluted language on the parking signs. The dedicated sleuths are apt to be at the side of a vehicle the minute it has overstayed its legal welcome. The high level of efficiency within this city service is well-documented, the anomaly of a bureaucracy that suffers from bloat, an absence of ideas and chronic fatigue syndrome. City leaders have about two political notes: raise taxes, write tickets. They might as well stand on the main arteries leading into the city, with tin cups in tow. At least that would be more honest than the attempt to dress up the parking racket under the guise of safety.

DUNCAN SPENCER, THE HILL - There can be few worse feelings than returning to your car to find an orange "Denver Boot" clamped like a landmine to a wheel of your car. Desperately trying to remember past parking tickets, racing for the phone, paying large sums of money to surly city employees. ... It's a nightmare that will grow only more intense under the Tony Williams (D) administration's plans to raise parking and speeding fines while increasing the number of surveillance speed cameras. . . Forget what officials said in the past about safety and traffic control and orderly parking procedures beneficial to businesses. Now the sword is drawn, and Williams is the first D.C. mayor to admit that the machinery of the Parking Enforcement Division is aimed at extracting more revenue from the motoring public.

SEPTEMBER 2002

MUSIC PROHIBITION STOPPED

The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not mov'd with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark Erebus.
Let no such man be trusted - William Shakespeare

GUY TAYLOR, WASHINGTON TIMES - A proposal to ban cover charges and limit the size of dance floors to 100 square feet at bars in the District was all but killed by the D.C. Council, with several members saying they would not support it if it came up for a vote. Council member Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat, who heads the council's Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, said the proposal "will not move forward." Mrs. Ambrose repeated her statement several times to the dozens of angry musicians, bar owners and music fans who crowded into a hearing before the committee to criticize the proposal

 Evans has no idea that the same constituency he wants to kill is the same constituency that is driving the economic rebirth of the District. . . For so many years, we've been a sleepy southern town, but now D.C. is a vibrant city. If [Evans's] bill passes, boom, turn out the lights - Bill Duggan, owner of Madam's Organ Restaurant and Bar

To predefine a restaurant as having white tablecloths and cooks until 2 a.m. is really limiting for the city if it wants to become something like a New York, where there is tremendous night life. There's a vast majority who live in Adams Morgan who moved there because they love the fact they live next to the District's premier nightlife district - Constantine Stavropoulos, Tryst

It's like anthrax to the social vivacity of Washington - Al Jirikowic, owner of Chief Ike's Mambo Room

If passed, the bill would drive live music in small venues out of town. . .
Many musical greats have been nurtured in this town spanning generations and a wide range of musical genres from jazz and blues to hip hop, soul and salsa. -- from Duke Ellington, Chuck Brown, Eva Cassidy, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Roy Clark, Bo Diddley, Marvin Gaye, Ruth Brown, the Orioles, Danny Gatton, Sweet Honey In The Rock and many, many more. In a town where black and white, rich and poor, liberal and conservative rarely mix, can we afford not to support, indeed celebrate, those small, intimate and increasingly rare venues where people can come together to experience music as it was meant to be heard - DC Blues

WELL, ALMOST. . . .

WILL CLEVELAND, GEORGETOWN VOICE - Buzzlife Promotions announced that buzz, its weekly club event at D.C.'s Nation, was canceled without future plans to resume. Buzz had been held every Friday night at Nation for the past nine years and had come to be regarded as one of the premier club events in the United States. The club was the first to bring many big-name DJs to American audiences, and had become a mainstay of District nightlife.

Amanda Huie, director of marketing for Buzzlife Promotions, explained [the] decision was a pre-emptive step taken by Buzzlife once it realized that increased police presence inside the club was leading to harassment of patrons and management alike. "It seemed as if there was a witch hunt," she said. A recent incursion into the club by the Metropolitan Police Department had yielded eight arrests. "Come on," quipped Huie. "You could come to my house on a Saturday and get eight arrests." Additionally, buzz had been under pressure from the U.S. military. On Aug. 22, local military installations decided that nation would be off-limits for personnel. . .

JACK EVANS' WAR
AGAINST MUSIC

[Rick Massumi is a DC lawyer]

RICK MASSUMI - There seems to be considerable confusion about the nature and effect of the Jack Evans bill to amend the ABC laws to redefine the license restrictions for restaurants in the District of Columbia. The fact is, the Evans bill would have the practical effect of virtually banning live music and dancing (to live or recorded music) in the city.

The Evans bill is reminiscent of what John Ray attempted in 1986, when he introduced complex ABC proposals that would similarly have had the practical effect virtually banning music and dancing in Washington. The difference then was that John Ray did not have a full understanding of how the zoning and ABC laws overlap and interact, so he likely did not at first realize the full effect of his proposal, i.e., that it would result in a virtually total prohibition of live music and dancing.

Jack Evans appears not so naive, and the bill he proposes is deliberately intended to have exactly that effect. To his credit, Ray ultimately did not resist when his bills were rewritten to assure that these uses could continue, or indeed when language was added to affirmatively protect these uses.

The Evans bill would remove all protections and replace them with prohibitions. The bill would be an unqualified disaster for the city. It is important to recognize that the vast majority of live music and dancing venues that have ever existed in Washington have been licensed as "restaurants." This tradition is in part because licensure as a "nightclub" was so restrictive that it was essentially impossible to place one anywhere in the city.

The Ray bill attempted to force any establishment that wanted to present live entertainment or to allow patrons to dance to be licensed as a "nightclub." When it was demonstrated how this would almost completely prohibit music and dancing citywide, the DC Council wisely rejected Ray's proposal.

Here's how the law, as it currently stands, works. [It] states that "nothing in the license classifications in this section shall be construed as prohibiting or restricting a restaurant from offering entertainment or facilities for dancing." [The bill] then explicitly enables a restaurant to "offer entertainment . . . and facilities for dancing." It is these provisions, and their earlier versions, that have allowed such venerated establishments as Kilimanjaro, Metro Cafe, Madam's Organ, and many more, to operate in the city. Under the Evans bill, . . . a restaurant is only able to offer entertainment and facilities for dancing if it does not charge admission or a cover charge; and if it provides facilities for dancing, the dance floor cannot exceed 100 square feet or 10% of the total square footage, whichever is smaller. It should immediately be apparent that no Kilimanjaros, Metro Cafes or Madam's Organs could possibly exist as restaurants under these restrictions.

It is obvious that their ability to offer live music and entertainment dies with their ability to charge a cover for doing so. As for dancing, it is essentially outlawed - prohibited if there's a cover charge, and permitted without a cover charge only on a scale so small as to be meaningless. . .

Under the proposed Evans bill there would be almost no commercial area where "entertainment," which includes live music, plays, skits, performances, comedy shows, magic shows, drag shows, bingo games poetry slams and everything else, could be presented because restaurants would be economically disabled from doing so by the prohibition on charging admissions, and nightclubs and public halls are so severely restricted that there is almost no place to locate them.

To give some idea of the effect, this would mean that nowhere in Georgetown, Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, any of the commercial strips on Connecticut Avenue, any of the commercial strips on Georgia Avenue, the Capitol Hill commercial strips along Pennsylvania Avenue and Massachusetts Avenue, and most of U Street and 14th Street, could there be any ABC-licensed establishment (except perhaps a theatre) providing any form of music or other entertainment for a cover charge, or allowing dancing with or without a cover charge.

The effect on the District's musical and cultural life, and the vibrancy of its neighborhoods, would be catastrophic. Think of the Cellar Door, Desperado's, the Chancery, Gallagher's on the Hill, Kilimanjaro, Mr. Henry's, Metro Cafe, Madam's Organ -- you will never see their likes again. . .

The District is, and should be the cultural and entertainment hub of the region, and both economic and quality of life factors favor its continued and expanded role in that regard. If the Evans bill were passed, a permanent shroud of silence would descend upon our most valued commercial districts.

FULL LETTER

WASHINGTON TIMES - The speed camera "experiment" begun a few months ago could be about to expand into a city-wide grid of cameras - and a flurry of tickets for D.C. motorists. The Washington Times has learned that the city has the option of modifying the contract it originally signed with Lockheed Martin IMS, the supplier of the photo-radar units, to erect a much more comprehensive "Automated Traffic Enforcement Program" that would make it possible to ticket literally millions of motorists every year, at almost any time and place in the city. Under the terms of the contract tendered by Lockheed Martin IMS to William M. Cartis of the Metropolitan Police Department, "speed on green" photo-radar units that track the rate of travel of automobiles as they pass through intersections could be set up all over downtown. According to the language of the contract, "photo radar and speed on green units will target all vehicles traveling above the posted speed limit." This represents an order of magnitude increase beyond the initial, small-scale use of photo radar that involved one "fixed" unit, and five mobile units installed in city police vehicles that could be set up at various points around town. How much is all this worth to the city? According to estimates provided by Lockheed Martin IMS, the District could mulct motorists to the tune of $10,988,588 annually - after it pays off the private contractor, who gets a big chunk of each $29 ticket issued by the photo-radar and speed-on-green units. Lockheed Martin IMS stated in the original contract with the city that it "anticipated over 80,000 payments per month." Never before has the use of speed traps to generate revenue for municipal government been so flagrant. And the unabashed cashing-in by the private contractor helpfully setting all this up is something to behold.

TALIBAN MOVING TO DC

CHANNEL FOUR - D.C. City Councilman Jack Evans has introduced a bill that would greatly limit live music at all restaurants in the city. In an attempt to appease some District residents upset by some after-hours crowds, the City Council will hold a hearing to discuss the bill. . . If passed, the bill would restrict restaurants from having more than 10 percent or more than 100 square feet of its space used for dancing. Also, restaurants wouldn't be allowed to charge a cover fee for entertainment.. . . Petitions are being circulated outside nightclubs in city for people opposed to the bill to sign. NEWS 4 observed one petition signing outside Madam's Organ. But Evans told NEWS 4 this is an issue about regulating they way restaurants operate. "This is a way of maintaining control over [alcohol beverage control] licenses in the District, and, frankly, if you want to be a nightclub, apply for a nightclub license. If you don't get it, then you're out of luck," he said.

CHIEF GAINER WANTS
TO TRASH FIRST AMENDMENT
TO KEEP TRAFFIC FLOWING

[Note: Chief Gainer and his former boss, Chief Ramsey, are happy to close down traffic - for benefits runs, tastes of DC, construction around the Capitol and so forth - whenever it suits the city government.]

MANNY FERNANDEZ & DAVID A. FAHRENTHOLD WASHINGTON POST - Law enforcement authorities are considering legal maneuvers against groups planning disruptive or violent demonstrations during next weekend's World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings, U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer said. Gainer, asked about the protests during a congressional hearing on the region's general emergency preparedness, said he and D.C. police had met with the U.S. attorney's office and the Department of Justice to discuss protest plans that include trying to shut down the District, clog the Capital Beltway and vandalize stores and police cars. The major street protests are scheduled to begin Friday. Authorities had discussed whether such activities "are so deleterious to security efforts that we ought to take proactive action, whether there are violations of the law that are so potentially egregious that they outweigh the First Amendment rights of someone to come in and speak with their life and shut down our intersections," Gainer said. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office said the protests were discussed at a regular meeting with law enforcement, but he declined to say what subjects the meeting included and would not talk about Gainer's remarks.

Protesters reacted with indignation to Gainer's remarks and said they would not be cowed. A statement issued yesterday by the Anti-Capitalist Convergence, the group calling for a shutdown of the city Friday, said police have been "spreading lies about the nature of the demonstrations and the actions planned. Thus far, the ACC has mainly been planning and publicizing marches on K Street and bike rides and anti-war leafleting and theatrical production." The statement said accusations that the group is planning violence are "reckless and unfounded." Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, an attorney for the District-based Partnership for Civil Justice, dismissed Gainer's comments. She said her group and the National Lawyers Guild plan legal support for activists. "This is their standard demonization tactic," she said. "There has been no call for violence by any of the people in organizations who are coming to Washington to protest." "The police department is once again demonstrating their contempt for the constitutional rights of protesters in this city," she said. "Frankly, when they talk about preemptively shutting down protests and First Amendment speech, that is a hallmark of a police state and a repressive government."

BIG BROTHER

[Excerpts from a letter that the ACLU and other organizations are circulating concerning MPD's use of spy cameras]

A decision of the Council to approve MPD's proposed regulations would for the first time legitimize the use of surveillance cameras in the District of Columbia. Before you take that momentous step, you should consider whether this is a good use of public funds. Soon you will be deciding whether to increase taxes and reduce essential programs to deal with the budget shortfall. This is not the time to allow MPD to be wasting its resources on a scheme that not only does not work, but does all the wrong things. . .

Regrettably, MPD continues to insist on its right to use cameras to monitor "major public events". This will have an unacceptable chilling effect on expressive activity protected by the First Amendment. Persons participating in demonstrations and rallies should not have to be concerned that their images could end up in a police database. . .

MPD's proposed regulations would also permit the use of surveillance cameras "to coordinate traffic control on an as needed basis." Presumably, the intent is to use cameras to deal with traffic congestion. There are three problems. First, this exception is open-ended. The exception could become the rule. Second, it is not limited to cameras trained only on traffic choke points. And third, if the purpose of traffic cameras is to assist officials respond to problems of congestion on a real time basis, the cameras do not need the capability to record. The proposed regulations do not address any of these issues.

And finally, MPD claims the right to use surveillance cameras in "exigent circumstances." They are defined in the proposed regulations as "unanticipated situations that threaten the immediate safety of individuals or property within the District of Columbia." . . .

MPD stated that it has cameras of its own in 14 locations. They are at the Old Post Office Pavilion, Smithsonian Castle, L"Enfant Plaza, the Department of Labor, Dupont Circle, Voice of America, Park Tower-Rosslyn, Union Station, Hotel Washington, Banana Republic in Georgetown, National Gallery of Art, World Bank 1, World Bank 2, and Columbia Plaza. This list suggests that cameras have been sited for general surveillance and not limited to places where we could expect "exigent circumstances" to occur. How else to explain the placement of cameras at Dupont Circle and the Banana Republic in Georgetown? If the assumption is that "exigent circumstances" can occur anywhere in the city, then the exception for "exigent circumstances" becomes the rule. . .

Surveillance cameras were first introduced into Great Britain to fight I.R.A. terrorism. That proved unsuccessful, and the mission became general crime fighting. But in Britain, the evidence is that surveillance cameras are not effective for fighting terrorism or crime.

JULY 2002

AVRAM GOLDSTEIN WASHINGTON POST - Consultants, landlords, music teachers, nannies, massage therapists and other home-based workers in the District face fines of as much as $500 if they do not obtain a new type of city license by Aug. 31, but most are unaware of it. Self-employed individuals and District firms, including nonprofit groups, that collect more than $2,000 in annual revenue will have to obtain a master business license to legally sell their services. . . The law covers independent workers of any age, including teenagers, as well as D.C. residents who earn money outside regular employment. Last week, however, city officials said that, for now, they will not punish minors who earn money babysitting or mowing lawns without a license. . . Floyd Abrams, a New York media lawyer and prominent expert on press freedoms, said he is unaware of another jurisdiction that licenses journalists. "The very notion of any government, federal or state, licensing journalists is at war with the First Amendment," he said. "Governments don't have the power under the Constitution to license journalists, and nations with far less protection than this one have reached the same conclusion."

The District's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs is now giving out tickets to people who haven't cut their grass, have broken guard rails and or unpainted woodwork. It is not yet entitled to fine people for unapproved color schemes but that is probably under consideration.

JUNE 2002

SHAUN SNYDER, DC WATCH - Here's why the DMV can't be a popular agency: no one needs it! My car would still run even if it didn't have valid registration stickers on it. Actually, it would run if it didn't have license plates. And I would still know how to operate a motor vehicle if I didn't have that little piece of plastic called a driver's license. The problem is that a successful trip to the DMV produces no net benefit, just a continuation of the status quo for me. How can that ever be something people like?

GARY IMHOFF & DOROTHY BRIZILL, DC WATCH: We don't live in our home anymore. We know that because the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs tells us so. Their story is that they received an anonymous telephone tip (most probably from a developer who wants to buy the place) that our house is vacant and abandoned, and so DCRA put it on the official list of vacant and abandoned properties. DCRA did no checking of government records, and didn't even send a letter or make a telephone call to us, before placing our house on the list. Now, they say, it is not their responsibility to prove that our house is vacant; it is our responsibility to appear in person and to prove to them, to their satisfaction, that we live here, as we have for the past twenty years. We're hearing reports from several parts of town, but especially from the hot low-income house markets of Cardozo-Shaw and Columbia Heights, that DCRA is listing many occupied houses as abandoned, which is the first step toward seizing the properties. We're also hearing reports, so far unproven but very credible, that the city is targeting some properties at the behest of politically favored developers who want to get title to them through the "Home Again Initiative."

GARY IMHOFF, DC WATCH - The Williams administration designs its initiatives across the board -- with regard to parking tickets, car registrations, tax bills, applying for special education, health care, or unemployment assistance -- so that the mistakes of bureaucrats become the problems of DC's citizens, not of the government. It's up to the citizens to try to correct mistaken tickets, double billings, incorrect registrations, improper denials of service, and so on, and the systems are designed to make it so difficult, time-consuming, and expensive for citizens to prevail that is easier for us just to give in to the bureaucracy's errors. The promise of Tony Williams's candidacy was that government would work better for citizens -- not just for large businesses and institutions, but for average citizens. That promise, if it were ever meant seriously, remains unfulfilled.

NATALIE HOPKINSON WASHINGTON POST - The District government has abandoned a plan to crack down on galleries that serve wine at art openings without a license. Under pressure from Mayor Anthony A. Williams, the Alcohol Beverage Control Board announced yesterday that it will not prosecute any galleries until after a June 19 hearing at which the board, the art community and neighbors will review the issue. "No enforcement action against any commercial art gallery will take place for failure to obtain an appropriate license until after the board has considered the facts and circumstances regarding their activities during the June 19 hearing," ABC Board Chairman Roderic L. Woodson said. 5/02 

COMMUNITY COALITION - The Kaffa House has hosted many fundraisers for progressive groups including and especially World Bank protesters. Are the gentry of U Street using the police to close Kaffa House, 1212 U Street, NW? Did the Metropolitan Police Department plant a "security firm" at Kaffa House, to break the law and invite a raid? According to sworn testimony before the Alcohol Beverage Control Board, the actions of this firm enabled the police to conduct a raid on October 27, with 25 police officers detaining and searching club patrons as well as to confiscate over $1400 from the cash register. This company sent a team of three security guards to cover the door at the Kaffa House and to screen underage patrons. However one of the security team admitted a minor as an adult, who happened to be a police informant. The informant purchased alcohol with marked money, supplying the police with a reason to raid. Somehow this team member "disappeared" when the police raided the place. When questioned, the other two security team members denied the existence of the third member. Following this raid, the security firm went out of business and the missing security guard could not be located. Further testimony revealed that on the same night, the undercover police had attempted to buy drugs from Kaffa patrons, but were unable to find any sellers. During the raid they claim to have discovered small amounts of marihuana. The presence of these small amounts justified the confiscation of the complete contents of the house cash register. Why is Kaffa House being given so much police attention? Could it be their support of progressive groups? Could it be because they offer space to these groups for meetings and fundraisers? 5/02 

JEFF YOST, DC WATCH - Many fans of the beautiful game have been lobbying the soccer-friendly bars to open for the World Cup matches in a few weeks so that soccer fans in DC can get together and watch their national team. Because of the time difference between here and Asia, most games will be shown live at 3, 5, and 7 a.m. Lucky Bar and Capitol Lounge agreed to a pretty decent schedule between them; almost all the games live. Well, fans just got some pretty bad news from Cap Lounge/Lucky Bar. It seems that within a couple of hours of posting the bars' World Cup viewing schedule on the Soccer-Nation web site they got a call from the ABC Board advising them that they are not to open outside their normal hours under any circumstances. There's really not much they can do about it. It's their livelihood, so they can't very well thumb their noses and open anyway. Besides, they have to deal with these ABC guys every day, not just for one month of the World Cup.

COMMON DENOMINATOR - This time, it's Chevy Chase Village Police Chief Roy Gordon weighing in with the news that D.C. motorists better scrape those expired validation stickers off their vehicle license tags or they risk receiving $50 tickets anywhere in the state of Maryland for displaying expired tags. Properly displaying the new D.C. validation sticker on your vehicle's windshield, along with expired stickers on your vehicle's metal tags, does not comply with Maryland's laws that apply to any vehicle driven in that state. Seems no one at the District's DMV bothered to notify suburban law enforcement officials that D.C. was replacing its annual vehicle tag validation stickers with a windshield sticker. Minus any notice, law enforcement officials in Maryland and elsewhere across the continental United States will see only expired license tags on a D.C. vehicle if motorists don't obliterate the old stickers, Chief Gordon warns.

"If DMV had notified folks that they were going to this new format, I feel several folks would have offered suggestions," Chief Gordon wrote in a recent e-mail to Councilman Adrian Fenty, whose ward borders Maryland. Gordon suggested that D.C. issue new metal plates along with the windshield validation stickers.

"It would have also been helpful for DMV to send a teletype to all law enforcement agencies across the country and, at a minimum, to those in the Washington metro area announcing the changes," Gordon wrote.

. . . DMV officials apparently also disregarded the difficulty that police will now face by not being able to tell at a glance whether someone is driving a D.C. vehicle with expired tags

. . . And beware: During the transition to the new system, many motorists also did not get their routine notices in the mail to renew their tags. That meant a trip to the DMV in person. Some vehicle owners, of course, got their renewal notice in a most-unwelcome way: a pink ticket on the windshield carrying a fine of $100.

METRO TRANSIT POLICE Chief Barry McDevitt said he will ask prosecutors to void a ticket issued to a disabled man who cursed in a Metro station after he encountered broken elevators and found himself stuck in the subway. "I'm going to recommend to the prosecutor that the case be dismissed," McDevitt said. Metro received about 50 complaints about the case from the public and a demand from one Metro board member to drop it. . . . EARLIER STORY: LYNDSEY LAYTON WASHINGTON POST - In his wheelchair, Jeremiah Hamilton rode Metro from station to station on the Red Line Saturday night, hunting for a working elevator so he could reach the street level and leave the subway. Instead, he found stations with broken elevators, inaccurate information and indifferent Metro managers, he said. Hamilton finally got a response from Metro when he vented his anger by yelling an expletive-laced sentence in the Gallery Place Metro station: A Transit Police officer gave him a $25 ticket . . . Metro makes no apologies for the ticket. "It's against the law to use that kind of language in the station," Metro spokesman Ray Feldmann said. "This is not the type of behavior we condone in our Metro system that's used by a million people a day, including children." In fact, Feldmann said, Transit Police Officer Christopher Archer did Hamilton a favor by writing a $25 ticket for "profane language" when he could have issued a $75 ticket for "obscene gestures or comments." . . . "We would certainly look into this," said Johnny Barnes, executive director of the National Capital Area chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "As they say, 'One person's profanity is another person's lyrics.' "

COMMON DENOMINATOR - Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who says he wants more people to patronize retail businesses and restaurants in Washington, has an odd way of encouraging people to do so. The mayor has proposed more than doubling fines for illegal parking - while parking of any kind remains at a premium downtown and in most of the city's neighborhood commercial centers. Suburbanites will certainly look forward to finding a $35 ticket on their windshield, because they didn't interrupt a leisurely meal at a downtown restaurant to walk a quarter mile or so to feed a parking meter between courses. And, of course, many D.C. residents who already abandon the city for suburban shopping malls - with lots of free parking, allowing people to "shop 'til you drop" - will be encouraged to waste their time looking for a downtown parking space, then feverishly rush to do their business and get back to their car in time to avoid playing the "$35 lottery."

. . . Common sense dictates that people who drive their cars to work are not the people who generally park at meters and in "no parking" zones in Washington. People who need short-term parking - largely, retail shoppers and restaurant patrons - are the people most likely to get ticketed. These are not the kinds of people for whom using public transportation is always a viable option for conducting their business in the District.

. . . Rather than raking in millions of dollars in parking fines - and perpetuating ill will toward the District of Columbia - the D.C. government could be reaping millions in short-term parking fees, while providing a much-needed service that would encourage people to believe that the District really is, as the mayor often says, "open for business."

THE LIST OF LOCATIONS chosen by the DC Metropolitan Police Department for its surveillance cameras makes it clear that the purpose of these devices is to monitor protests rather than to watch for terrorists. The 12 cameras, which have 360-degree views and magnify human sight 17 times, are located in places of little use for spotting terrorists but ideal for photographing and recording persons at public demonstrations. For example, generations of protesters, winos, and chess players have gathered at Dupont Circle, but no one has ever before imagined the statue of Admiral Farragut to be a potential target of the Al Queda. Similarly, a camera is to be placed outside the Banana Republic in Georgetown at Wisconsin and M, a popular place for revelers and occasional protests but one of the least likely terrorist targets. Other cameras are clearly position to record (and intimidate) those coming to Washington to exercise what's left of their constitutional rights. The police department gave away its non-terroristic concerns when it noted that the camera at the National Gallery of Art was "For use only for special events." The department also states in its internal documents that the will only be used for special events, such as scheduled rallies, protests and marches. WASHINGTON TIMES STORY

GUY TAYLOR, WASHINGTON TIMES - Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said the District must and will expand its use of surveillance cameras, much like London, which uses 150,000 cameras to monitor its population. "I have visited London and had a chance to take a look at their system, and people would be surprised," Chief Ramsey said. "There is a great deal of safety and security that people feel while they're out and about, and it has had a positive impact on crime. All we're trying to reach here in the District is that same sense of safety and security." However, violent-crime rates across the British capital have increased steadily and in dramatic fashion in recent years. The latest crime figures to come out of London indicate that street crimes have ballooned by 40.3 percent during the past year, according to a report in the New York Times. Experts say most of the increase comes from theft of mobile telephones in street muggings, but other kinds of crime are also on the rise. Reported burglaries increased 3.6 percent from 2000 to 2001, and crimes involving automobiles, including carjackings, went up 3.8 percent, while crime in general in London rose 6.7 percent. But that hasn't stopped top police officials in the city from maintaining that observation through closed-circuit television, which was introduced in Britain in the early 1990s, is vital to the improvement of public safety. They say that since the cameras were introduced in Liverpool they have led to the lowest rate of burglaries in 26 years. Similarly, in the London borough of Newham - one of the poorest corners of Europe, the introduction of closed-circuit television has brought about a 21 percent decrease in assaults, and vehicle-related crime and burglaries are down 39 percent. MORE

NOVEMBER 2001

BRIAN DEBOSE, WASHINGTON TIMES - The D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles ran out of motorcycle license plates nearly four months ago, and some owners complain the temporary tags on their bikes have led to frequent stops by police." . . . Plates for all vehicles in the District used to be made at the Lorton prison complex in Fairfax County, but all of the inmates there have been moved to prisons in Ohio and Tennessee in anticipation of Lorton's closure Dec. 31. D.C. officials said the closing of Lorton prison and the high demand for motorcycle plates this year contributed to the shortage. 

OCTOBER 2001

WASHINGTON POST: It's always sad to see a good thing go bad. That, however, is exactly what will become of the District's successful downtown business improvement districts, or BIDs, if the innocent sounding "Retail District Management Regulatory Reform Act of 2001" is allowed to become law. Under the plan, proposed by BID officials and introduced in the D.C. Council by four members, government power to regulate public space would be ceded to private groups; a potential hodgepodge of retail zones with a crazy quilt of enforcement rules would be created in the city, and the mandate of business improvement districts would be unnecessarily expanded beyond anything envisioned by their original sponsors. We hasten to note that The Post supported the 1996 legislation authorizing the business improvement districts and is a member of the downtown BID. The Post, as part of a coalition of local newspapers, also opposes the latest bill on constitutional and business grounds and testified on it before the council this week. By turning over the regulation of news racks to private sponsors, the bill intrudes upon the ability of newspaper publishers to make their own decisions, within legal limits, about newspaper distribution. The legislation also ignores the constitutional protections that prohibit newspapers from being regulated to the same extent as other commercial activities on the public sidewalks. But there's more involved than our serious concerns about the bill's incursion on free speech and its adverse effect on public access to the news. A large number of users of public space, mainly street vendors, are concerned that a non-D.C. government entity will be given powers to manage the location, type and appearance of permitted business activity -- hence the power to assist or destroy their small businesses.

JABEEN BHATTI, WASHINGTON TIMES: The Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District (BID) has proposed a plan to institute an annual $60 fee per vending box for publications, and to regulate the type, number and location of the boxes. Proponents of the plan, introduced by D.C. Council member Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat, say that something has to be done to help clean up business districts because the city has failed to take action . . . "Newspapers must be able to reach their readers," said Kathryn Sinzinger, editor and publisher of local weekly the Common Denominator. "Readership drives a newspaper's ability to disseminate, to attract the dollars necessary to keep publishing. When you restrict [that], you eliminate our ability to function as what the Constitution of the United States intended us to be - a free press." USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, the Washington Afro-American, the Washington D.C. Informer and the Common Denominator testified against the bill because of the economic constraints it would place on publishing and the physical constraints it would place on the public's access to the news. "It hurts my ability to manage my boxes," said Edgar Brookins, general manager of the Afro-American. "I need the flexibility to move the boxes when sales drop." The Afro-American has almost 100 boxes. If fees were imposed, the small newspaper would be charged $6,000 annually, money Mr. Brookins says it can't afford. Newspaper representatives also worried that the legislation would allow the business district to force newspapers to replace vending machines, which could cost news companies hundreds of thousands of dollars. Mr. Brookins echoed other publications' executives when he complained that the papers had not been consulted about the plan.

SEWELL CHAN, WASHINGTON POST: Outraged street vendors told District lawmakers that their livelihoods would be undermined by a private business group's proposal to oversee the location and appearance of vending stands, newspaper boxes and commercial signage in a broad swath of downtown Washington. More than 120 vendors packed a day-long D.C. Council hearing on the proposal by the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District. The idea has touched off a divisive debate over the regulation of public space and highlighted tensions between entrepreneurs and large downtown firms. The plan would allow sponsoring organizations, including business improvement districts and community development corporations, to submit a plan for managing public space in new "retail district enhancement zones" that the city would approve. The sponsor would have the power to issue, modify and revoke compliance certificates and could manage the location, type and appearance of permitted business activity. In addition to vending stands and newspaper boxes, the bill would cover sidewalk cafes, street furniture, public art, and information or display kiosks. The city would retain ultimate authority over business permits in the zones, BID officials said . . . A coalition of local newspapers, including The Washington Post, also testified against the bill, saying it would violate constitutional protections of free speech and diminish public access to the news. The Post supported the 1996 legislation authorizing the business improvement districts and is a member of the downtown BID. MORE

THE VENDOR BATTLE IN OTHER PLACES

Baltimore: Arabbers (horse drawn produce peddlers) threatened with extinction.

Save Chicago's Eloteros (Mexican Corn Vendors) Home Page

Jacksonville Florida: Crackdown on Street artists. See http://clubs.yahoo.com/clubs/saintgeorgestreetperformers; http://www.geocities.com/pics_to_go/; and http://www.geocities.com/roger_jolley/

Yaounde, Cameroon: Street traders clash with riot police in Cameroon's capital.

Street Vendors in Lesotho: Authorities leave poor families at risk by denying street vendors the right to sell their wares. Also a newspaper editorial

Indian Street Vendor Union: An Indian trade union has successfully lobbied for street vendors' rights

Kenyan Street Vendors

International Street Vendor Alerts

Ice cream vendors in Las Vegas

Street artists in NYC