DPW, Bowser, Hebrew Home & more: Notes from ANC 4C's May meeting

All photos: Glen Lam for Petworth News

(Ed note: The following notes from ANC 4C's May meeting were taken by Glen Lam as I wasn't able to attend. Glen did an outstanding job.)

The Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4C meeting started promptly at 6:30 pm by Chair Vann-Di Galloway. The usual business was taken care of pretty efficiently with unanimous passing of the April minutes, Quarterly Report of Financial Activity, and the Monthly Financial Activity. Commissioner and Treasurer Michael Halpern reported April’s financial activity, which included various office supplies, the administrative assistant’s salary, and membership dues to the Urban Land Institute for Commissioner Timothy Jones. The ending bank balances for the checking and savings accounts were $12,263 and $16,745, respectively.

Connor Weber

After the agenda was adopted, Connor Weber took the floor to represent the Office of Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd. Chair Galloway noted that it seemed like we get a different representative from the Office every meeting. Mr. Weber introduced himself as a new hire on Councilmember Todd’s staff and is a resident of 4C. 

Mr. Weber announced that Councilmember Todd is having an Open House on Monday, May 16th from 5-7 pm at The John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Suite 105 to celebrate his one-year anniversary as the Ward 4 Councilmember. To RSVP, please call Councilmember Todd’s office at 202-724-8052.

Representation from the Metro Police Department (MPD) was not present and Mayor Muriel Bowser would speak at this meeting later on, so Chair Galloway moved on to Community Comments. 

Emily Hedin

First up was Emily Hedin, Director of Community Engagement at Breakthrough Montessori public charter school. The new school will open in August and had recently announced its location in Petworth at 1244 Taylor St NW. Breakthrough Montessori will open with grades PreK3 to 6th grade for now and will add one grade each year thereafter. If there are any questions about the school, please get in touch with Ms. Hedin or check out their Facebook group.

Erin Lane, the board chair of Petworth Community Market, announced that the farmers’ market located at the corner of Upshur and 9th St NW has opened for the season. The hours are 9 am to 1 pm each Saturday until November. Ms. Lane thanked the ANC and the community for their support.

Alice Peck

Alice Peck, a resident of Ward 4 and resident advocate at District Alliance Safe Housing, spoke about drawing attention to the former site of the Hebrew Home for the Aged at 1125 Spring Rd NW. Ms. Peck said that we need more affordability in this city and spoke about how victims of domestic violence needed safe and affordable housing, especially after going through their attack. She called for the community to attend meetings and to make sure that it was developed in an affordable way, which garnered much applause from the meeting attendees.

Juanita McKenzie

Eliana, Walker, and Sam followed up to echo Ms. Peck’s statements and to say that they would like the former Hebrew Home land to be used for 100% affordable housing. Juanita McKenzie, President of the 930/940/960 Randolph St NW Tenant Association, advocated for affordable housing. The building that she is living in has been sold three times, and is up for sale for the second time in three years. This makes Ms. McKenzie wonder if she will be pushed aside unless affordable housing is asked for in DC. Her comments also garnered much applause.

Commissioner Taalib-Din Uqdah made a few announcements:
Legal Counsel for the Elderly is looking for volunteers to work in their DC Long-Term Care Ombudsman System. Commissioner Uqdah mentioned that even though we may not need senior services now, one day we’re going to get there.

MPD announced their exchange zone locations where buyers and sellers can safely make their Craigslist (and other online marketplace) transactions in person. People are encouraged to use these locations so that it lessens the chance of a robbery or scam.

DMV is alerting the public about parking ticket scams. There are scammers going to people (or by email) to give them an opportunity to settle up with the district. (Drew: This particular issue from May 13th isn't a real scam, it was actually an April Fool's joke from one friend to a group of his friends that inadvertently went viral. It isn't a real issue. Laughably, the fake DMV email is signed. "Y.U. Parcthar.")

There is a 2016 Youth Empowerment Summit sponsored by WMATA. They are asking young people for ideas to help with bullying and behavioral situations on the Metro. Interested folks can register at their website, but other than that, it’s pretty scant on details.

Commissioner John-Paul Hayworth made two announcements:
There will be a SMD 4C07 meeting on May 17th from 7-8 pm at The Pitch Tavern. The establishment is asking for the approval of backyard occupancy.

The DC State Board of Education (SBOE) is looking for high school sophomore, juniors, and seniors to serve on the board as well as the student advisory committee. For more information or to apply, please check out the SBOE website. In the interest of full disclosure, Commissioner Hayworth disclosed that his day job was with the DC SBOE.

Commissioners Maria Barry, Taalib-Din Uqdah, John-Paul Hayworth and Chair Vann-Di Galloway

Commissioner Maria Barry’s announcement: 
There have been numerous pedestrian and vehicle incidences on Georgia Ave NW near Farragut St NW. DDOT will perform traffic calming measures which will include installing a HAWK beacon at Georgia Ave and Emerson St NW. ANC 4D will be supporting this measure, and they are asking 4C for support as well. 

Commissioner Timothy Jones’ announcement: 
There will be an Animal Health Fair where DC residents can get free vaccinations for their dogs and cats on May 21st from 9 to 11 am at the Upshur Dog Park at 4300 Arkansas Ave. All dogs in DC are required to be licensed, and licensing will be provided at the fair ($15 for spayed/neutered dog and $50 for an unspayed/unneutered dog).

Commissioner Michael Halpern’s announcements: 
DDOT is conducting a Rock Creek East II Livability Study where they are asking residents to identify anything that can make the city and area more livable. People can report issues like pedestrian difficulties, challenges for bicyclists, and problems with parking.

DDOT has promised that they will install a rectangular rapid flashing beacon at 14th St and Randolph St NW. It has taken 2 years to get to this point, so Commissioner Halpern is asking Councilmember Todd's office to keep on top of this as it will ultimately improve safety and compliance with pedestrian crosswalks. 

There is an election happening on June 14th. Commissioner Halpern encouraged folks to volunteer at the polls to meet neighbors and help people, especially if someone can speak multiple languages. 

Commissioner Jonah Goodman made two announcements:
There will be a traffic calming walkthrough with the Councilmembers’ Office and the Mayor’s Office near the Old Soldiers’ Home. The goal is to reduce vehicle speed and increase pedestrian and bicyclist safety, especially on Rock Creek Church Rd NW. Please contact Commissioner Goodman for more details because the date is TBD as of this ANC meeting.

At the next ANC meeting, Cmmr Goodman will be presenting on standards of decorum and conduct, so he is inviting feedback from residents on how we would like the ANC meetings to operate in terms of civility and conduct. 

Commissioner Zach Teutsch’s announcements: 
Joe Vaughn, a former commissioner and Commissioner Teutsch’s predecessor, is organizing a community cleanup on May 14th. 

Commissioner Teutsch encouraged people to join neighborhood listservs to learn about community events. For residents that have computers, please engage with neighbors without computers and connect with them.

DPW Director Christopher Shorter

Chair Galloway introduced Christopher Shorter, the brand new director of the Department of Public Works. Director Shorter was joined by some of his DPW staff and spoke about an executive dashboard that he gets weekly to keep track of trash pickup, parking enforcement, and fleet management of over 6000 government vehicles. 311 is the main point of entry for thousands of service requests each week, and he hopes for a healthier and cleaner city by closing out requests. Multiple times throughout his presentation, Director Shorter said that residents can contact him directly if a lingering issue is not resolved.

There are two DPW exemption programs for residents aged 65 and over and those with physical disabilities. First, there is a sidewalk shoveling exemption that is an annual program, so residents must re-register with DPW for this coming year. Please call after October 1st or in November to register again for the sidewalk shoveling exemption. Director Shorter also mentioned a hazardous hardship program where DPW crews will bring trash and recycling bins to the front or back door if you cannot. Please call 311 to register. The hazardous waste hardship program is not annual so it will stay in effect until otherwise notified.

Street sweeping started on assigned routes on March 1st. Citations were not issued for first the 2-3 weeks because in past years, the sweeping did not start on-time. However, citations are now being issued. 

DPW staff

Cmmr Barry asked Dir Shorter about the relationship with Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) regarding trash pickup at Hamilton park, which has a lot of overflowing trash cans. DPW does not cover litter in parks and Cmmr Barry says neither DPR or NPS are responsible. Department of General Services (DGS) should be the one responsible.

In answering Cmmr Barry’s question about composting, Dir Shorter mentioned that a city-wide compost service is only months away from an announcement. This was met with applause! 

Cmmr Teutsch asked Dir Shorter about complaints from residents regarding abandoned mattresses not being picked up, which represents a health and safety problem. DPW gets 100s of requests per week, have a team of bulk trash collectors collecting trash already, and are working toward a 48-hour service level wait time. If calling 311 does not get the foul mattress picked up, then contact Dir Shorter. There was some clarification about alley cleaning versus illegal dumping. If someone calls about illegal dumping, it will initiate an investigation, which will prolong the pickup process. When calling 311 about a mattress, just state that there is a mattress or other material that needs to be picked up. 

As an aside, DPW has a Solid Waste Enforcement and Education Program (SWEEP) that teaches responsible trashing and dumping and also has inspectors that watch out for people who dump their personal trash into public litter cans. These are the same inspectors that will need to investigate illegal dumping calls.

Cmmr Uqdah says that during the week of May 16th, DPW is going to hold their first annual Great Graffiti Wipeout. There should have been live chat but it did not take place due to a technical issue. According to Dir Shorter, DPW does monthly live web chats and will be happy to put it back on the schedule for next month. Cmmr Uqdah said he noticed that walls and pull down gates were tagged less when there was a mural, and Dir Shorter said yes that is absolutely right. DPW now employs local artists to create murals across the city in partnership with a group named MuralsDC.

Cmmr Uqdah then told Dir Shorter that better coordination between street cleaning and other activities that happen on the same day would be good. For example, tree trimming and street cleaning was scheduled for opposite sides of a street on the same day, which resulted in residents not being able to park for most of that day. In addition, during this past snow season, some snow trucks were pushing snow back onto shoveled sidewalks, especially the narrower sidewalks. Cmmr Uqdah took photos to document proof of his shoveling in case he got cited. Dir Shorter responded by saying that 70% of DPW’s snow crews live in the district and end up having to clean their own sidewalks too. DPW will train the crews about being conscious of when sidewalks are already cleared, look into issues of the timing of clearings, and use a slide forward schedule for snow so that residents won’t have to wait multiple weeks for trash pickup like some did this past season.

Dir Shorter responded to Cmmr Halpern’s recommendation about using parking garages to store vehicles to help residents get their cars off the road before a snow event by saying that he would investigate the possibility of private garage owners volunteering their garage spaces. 

During the community Q&A, a resident who lives on the 4100 block of 9th St NW said that there are No Parking signs for Tuesday morning street sweeping, but no truck has swept the street for five years. Residents started sweeping by hand, but parking citations are being handed out anyways. Dir Shorter and Cmmr Hayworth will follow up with this resident who wants the signs removed because the block sweeps the street themselves.

Nancy Lyons

Nancy Lyons from the MuralsDC program spoke about their process for painting a mural. It begins with identifying a site, which is usually a frequent target of illegal graffiti, engaging the community for ideas and suggestions, selecting an artist, and ultimately creating the mural with involvement from neighborhood youth. MuralsDC has produced nearly 60 murals in the city. Please visit the MuralsDC DC.gov website for more information or to submit an application for ideas for a mural on the back of a building on Arkansas Ave NW. Their next web chat is on May 26th.

Chair Galloway spoke about the former site of the Hebrew Home, which has been vacant for a number of years. The redevelopment of the site has been handed to the Office of the Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development (DMPED). Tsega Bekele, a representative from that Office that handles real estate and business development for the city came up to speak about the Request for Proposals (RFP) process for the 1125 Spring Rd NW site and about getting community input and preferences.

April 9th was first community meeting and 125 people from the community showed up to discuss about the population served and the public space. The former Hebrew Home site is historically designated, so any development must be reviewed. The adjacent school site is not historically designated, so it can be demolished for additional housing. The purpose of the second meeting will be to refine input and will be on June 2nd at 7 pm at the Raymond Recreation Center.

Tsega Bekele

Chair Galloway went on to say that there are plenty of market-rate apartments available for rent on and around Georgia Ave NW, so there is not much need in our neighborhood for market-rate housing. We do not want to waste this opportunity by giving it to a developer that would make unnecessary luxury apartments.

On to Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) matters! Cmmr Teutsch, in the interest of time, described the situation for both Golden Paradise at 3905 14th St NW and El Don at 4401 14th St NW restaurants. Meetings produced settlement agreements that were agreeable to both residents and businesses and were signed by the businesses. The commission passed motions to adopt the settlement agreements with both restaurants and to appoint Cmmr Teutsch to represent the ANC in front of ABRA.

Next is Washington Heights Bar and Grill at 3714 14th St NW who wanted a sidewalk café. Cmmr Halpern explained that neighbors overwhelmingly supported this and will compliment other existing businesses in the area that have or will have sidewalk cafes. Mr and Mrs Solis are the owners and previously owned El Sol. Alfredo Solis, the chef owner, was present and said that he wants customers to be able to sit outside in the summer and spring to enjoy the weather. The commission passed motions to adopt the settlement agreements with the restaurant and to appoint Cmmr Halpern to represent the ANC in front of ABRA.

Taking care of old business, Cmmr Hayworth talked about Timber Pizza at 809 Upshur St NW applying for a public space permit to have two picnic tables on the sidewalk. The restaurant is not yet open, but there’s a shiny new brass oven inside already. The commission passed motions to write a letter of support in favor of the sidewalk tables.

Cmmr Uqdah and Cmmr Goodman have been working on revising the ANC 4C grant application process. There was a lot of back and forth discussion among several commissioners about whether or not the grant application process can be streamlined. Some commissioners said that it would be helpful to the community for the process to take less time. On the other hand, the ANC may need to justify its budget to the DC Auditor and missing documentation could result in a reduced budget.

Debate was then paused because Mayor Muriel Bowser had arrived.

Mayor Muriel Bowser

Mayor Bowser spoke about some budget highlights: 

  • $100 million pledged for affordable housing to the Housing Production Trust Fund
  • Continued investment in public education by increasing the operation budget by $75 million because there are more public school students this year
  • Increased capital budget for schools by $220 million for school modernization over the next two years. The goal is to finish renovations at McFarland, Eliot-Hine, and Jefferson Academy middle schools, open Roosevelt high school this fall, and complete Coolidge within a six-year plan.
  • Funding for a safer, stronger DC will go toward adding ambulance capacity because previously DC did not have the correct number of ambulances and for a police body camera program so that all patrol officers will have body cameras by the end of the year

Cmmr Barry said that West Elementary School, which is in her SMD 4C02, has no walls between classrooms and many rooms have no windows. It is hard for the community’s parents to want to send their children to a school where the physical structure is so inappropriate. Mayor Bowser says that she can't fund every school this year. In the past, there was a little bit in the budget for each school, but it wasn't enough to do much. Now, the city is putting in the proper budget to completely fund schools but that means some schools will have to wait for future years. 

Cmmr Uqdah and Cmmr Teutsch spoke to the mayor about wanting more timely responses from DGS regarding construction sites and that the commission gets disregarded by DGS regularly. Mayor Bowser defended the specific instances that the Commissioners brought up and said she would bring it up in a meeting with DGS in her office. 

Cmmr Hayworth highlighted and thanked the Mayor for working on DC statehood. There is a proposal to the New Columbia Statehood Commission to have a new initiative on statehood put on the ballot in November (the last one was in 1982). This was met with thunderous applause!

(DC recently received a push from Hillary Clinton for DC statehood endorsement.) The statehood commission released a draft constitution that lays out the function of how the government would operate, which is similar to how DC operates today. There will be a constitutional convention on June 17th at 6 pm at Woodrow Wilson High School, 3950 Chesapeake St NW where delegates will review and discuss the draft constitution. Mayor Bowser is asking everyone to vigorously support it. 

Cmmr Teutsch says that Ward 4 has the highest rate of seniors and 4C has the highest rate of children, so there is a huge amount of resident feedback for some kind of paid family leave. This generated a funny point of clarification from Mayor Bowser and Cmmr Teutsch said that it that would help grown children take care of their senior parents. 

Cmmr Teutsch also said that affordable housing is a major concern and with the former Hebrew Home project moving to a certain developer, it might be a sign of the development plan going toward less units of affordable housing. Mayor Bowser says that RFP meetings will give feedback to the mayor’s office and help them craft the proposal. The site will have a mix of income levels.

Cmmr Goodman said smart development and growth for DC is what he wants, and it seems like residents here don't believe DCRA has oversight on developing properties. There are too many hardship variances where the only developer excuse is they can't get enough money. Mayor Bowser needs to get more information before she can respond.

Cmmr Halpern mentioned that the residence on 1422 Shepherd St NW is vacant and is a Hofgard property. He would like to see more pressure on the developer to get it going again. Cmmr Halpern also spoke about support from residents for the Piney Branch pathway project (slated for spring 2017) to be funded. Mayor Bowser will need to put it on the agenda for their next meeting.

Chair Galloway brought up an issue about the 4000 block of Kansas St NW, and Mayor Bowser sighed and said that she was very familiar with that property and her office was working on it.

During the Community Comment to the Mayor period, Lauren Spokane echoed concerns about housing development and the former Hebrew Home site RFP. Mayor Bowser said that the processes have been collaborative and while because there are extremes on both sides, those issues must be settled. At the 0-30% poverty level, there is a big need, but there must also be a balance.

Joshua said to the mayor that there is not enough money on the education budget and also the order of renovation does not seem to match the school’s priority. If there shouldn't be tax cuts, then he supports that so schools can get funded. Mayor Bowser said that she agrees that there needs to be more money, and there are currently proposals to tax businesses 1% that would raise 400 million per year. However, even if DC had the money, there is also not enough capacity to complete all projects in one year.

A resident brought up the issue of seeing a lot of new pop-ups and pop-backs and asked about what residents can do to help neighbors when BZA seems not to show interest in community and what residents think. Mayor Bowser hopes to see a change coming for BZA when an updated zoning code goes into effect later in 2016. The types of development will be better contemplated.

At this point, the library administrator showed up due to the closing time of the library at 9 pm. Chair Galloway asked the library administrator for an extended time, and it was granted. How could he deny the mayor more time?

Mayor Bowser says the council is looking at 16 week paid family leave, but it needs more research, needs a funding source (may come from employees). A chief priority is raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2020, but asking for all this may unbalance what our businesses can afford, so we need to have defined buckets of benefits to prevent people who take advantage of the system, balancing tax increases on businesses with what else needs funding, and universal paid leave.

The former site of the Hebrew Home was a major topic this evening and multiple residents called for the mayor to look at 100% affordable housing. 

Chair Galloway thanked Mayor Bowser for coming out to address the community and extended an open invitation. All other ANC issues were tabled because it was now nine past nine, and the library really had to close.

(Author’s note: As a first-time ANC meeting attendee, I had a great time and would like to encourage all community members to attend and learn about the issues our neighbors face.)

From Drew: I appreciate Glen Lam doing an excellent job of taking the notes from the meeting. With the Mayor and entourage present, I'm sure it was a busy meeting. Big thanks, Glen!

Drew Schneider

Local DC blogger in Petworth, Washington DC.

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