Posts in category government
If you go to the large and interactive version on PlanItMetro, you can mouse over individual squares to see the date as a tooltip.
The darkest red days have the lowest ridership, the darkest green the highest. You can see high ridership events like President Obama's January
2005 2009 inauguration, the Stewart/Colbert rally in October 2010, Snowmageddon/Snowpocalypse in February 2010, and more.
Stepping back, it's clear how ridership is highest in April, June, and July, and the number of very high ridership days jumped significantly in 2008 but then has stayed flat or a bit down since. Weekend ridership has gotten lower in recent years, probably because of all the trackwork.
What do you notice?
WAMU Politics Hour co-host, NBC 4 reporter, and Dream City co-author Tom Sherwood defended the District's speed camera enforcement program during a brief exchange with host Kojo Nnamdi on last Friday's show.
Sherwood said he felt "irritated" by the May 29 Washington Post article by Ashley Halsey III on speed cameras. That story led off with the fact that one camera in the K Street underpass below Washington Circle wrote $8.1 million in tickets in 7 months.
The story did not talk about the effect of speeding on residents of Foggy Bottom, including seniors and families, or people walking to or from GW hospital, Sherwood said. From the Politics Hour transcript:
Kojo Nnamdi: Speaking of crowds, there seem to be a lot of crowds driving down K Street Northwest at rapid speeds or going through traffic lights because one camera on K Street Northwest has brought in more than $8 million into the District of Columbia's coffers during the course of the current fiscal year.
There was a camera on New York Avenue that used to come in first, but apparently, that has been surpassed by the camera on K Street. But we have to say that the District of Columbia government said, "This is not about the revenue. This is not about the money. This is about controlling traffic. The money means nothing to us."
Tom Sherwood: You know, I hear the skepticism in your voice. I hear the derision, the...
Kojo Nnamdi: Nothing.
Tom Sherwood: Well, let me say this, that's
— the Post story — I was irritated by the Post story. I think there's a story there about how the city is doing camera money, but to say that the city is getting a windfall from that one camera, ... [crosstalk deleted]
I was irritated the way other people play this story. On that K Street, the 2200 block or whatever it is, the cameras there, about 32,000 cars, vehicles go through there each day. The camera gives out about 300 tickets. Now, just math-wise, I think that's maybe 1 percent of the cars. The amount of money the city gets from ticket revenue is one-half of 1 percent of the city's entire budget.
And the Post story also didn't point out that since the city has been using speed cameras because citizens who live there, there's a hospital over there, there are senior citizens, there are families with children, they don't want those commuters rushing to get up onto the freeway going over into Virginia or in coming back. Since 2001, fatalities on the streets of the city from vehicular accidents has dropped 76 percent in part, Chief Lanier says, because we have speed cameras. Now, I can go on, but I think the point is made. There's ...
Kojo Nnamdi: Mayor Sherwood has spoken.
Tom Sherwood: So, yes, you know, if
— I don't know that 25 miles an hour is the right speed limit for that tunnel. I think probably it sounds low. But if you move it up to 30 or 35, then you can only write a ticket for someone going 45, and then you're getting up close to 50. So, anyway, that's the issue. It's more than just the city taking in money. It's not raking in money. It's not squeezing people unfairly. No one says the cameras don't operate correctly. And as Chief Lanier always says, you can't get a ticket if you're not speeding.
Kojo Nnamdi: It's just that to the average person, $8 million does seem like a lot of money. But moving on...
Tom Sherwood: Maybe.
Tragically, people are getting killed on District streets, two in one day in February. Experts acknowledge that stopping these deaths is a major challenge. In something of a reversal from decades past, as demographics and living patterns shift, it's also a serious problem in suburban areas such as Montgomery County.
What is the D.C. Council doing about it? Adding police? Investigating thoroughly? No. In fact, in the budget the council passed this month, Chairman Phil Mendelson dedicated considerable future revenue to ease punishment for those whose dangerous actions put others at risk, while simultaneously restraining the police from expanding enforcement.
I'm not talking about murder and similar violence, though violence in our city is no laughing matter. This problem strikes far closer to home for most of us: distracted driving, speeding, unsafe right turns on red or through crosswalks, red-light running and other forms of unsafe driving.
Continue reading my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.
This week, New York City opened its new bike sharing system. It uses the same private operator, Alta Bicycle Share, as DC's Capital Bikeshare. The Department of Labor is investigating Alta for not paying a prevailing wage, and 18 current and former employees of Capital Bikeshare say Alta owes them over $100,000 in unpaid wages.
Alta runs Capital Bikeshare under a contract with the District government. That means they have to follow the Service Contract Act, which requires companies who have federal or District contracts to pay their employees federally-determined prevailing wage rates, along with fringe benefits of at least $3.59/hour.
The employees launched a petition this week calling on Alta president Mia Birk to them their back pay and comply with federal law. So far, Alta hasn't contested the employees' claims or offered any public statements other than that they're complying with the investigator's information requests. But privately, Alta has told employees not to speak out about the issue.
The Service Contract Act requires employers to pay their workers wages derived from compensation surveys for dozens of job classifications in their metropolitan area. There are specific wages for desk clerks, truck drivers, and even bicycle repairers.
Federal labor laws also give workers the right to take collective action and speak out about their working conditions, so any retaliation against them for doing so would likely be illegal. Still, it's that much more inspiring that 18 workers are willing to speak out even with pressure from their employer not to do so.
If the employees think Capital Bikeshare is breaking the law, why don't they just sue? They can't. The Service Contract Act does not allow individual employees to defend their rights in court. The DC Department of Transportation and the US Department of Labor are responsible for enforcing the contract and the law respectively.
If Alta is found to have violated the law, it could face significant penalties from DDOT. The Department of Labor could also bar it from future public contracts. That could also affect Alta's contracts in other cities, like Chicago, where federal funds are involved.
The Department of Labor is understaffed and notoriously slow at handling these cases, so workers often need to use public pressure to get employers to follow the law. Hopefully, the DC Department of Transportation and councilmembers who care about workers' rights will help provide the scrutiny needed to resolve things quickly.
Update: Councilmember Mary Cheh, who chairs the DC Council's transportation committee, sent a letter about the issue today to the head of DDOT. It reads:
I am writing to express concern over a recent reports that Capital Bikeshare's operator, Alta Bicycle Share, is not paying its employees a salary consistent with the federal labor laws. On May 6th, The Washington Post published an article, "Capital Bikeshare Possibly Underpaid Workers, ex-Employee Alleges," suggesting that Samuel Swenson, a bicycle repairman, was paid $13.00 an hour when federal labor regulations require that he be paid $14.43 per hour. Now, we have learned that this failure to pay the proper wage may affect not just one employee, but eighteen employees. If true, I find this fact disturbing.
Please advise me what, if anything, your office is doing about this and whether you have been in touch with federal labor officials (the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division) to determine whether they are examining these claims.
Thanks very much,
Virginia and Maryland changed their gas taxes this year. Both proposals included weeks or months of debate, including public hearings before the legislature. DC made a similar change yesterday. The total time from the first news story about it to final vote? Less than a day.
In DC's budget process, the mayor releases a proposed budget. Various council committees hold hearings over a period of weeks on their portions of the budget. Committee chairs then schedule markups, and just before the markups, release a draft of what they plan to change.
If the committee approves the changes, they all go to the council chairman, who then tries to assemble them into a budget. Habitually, the chairman releases his own budget late the night before the council is set to vote on the budget. If unexpected changes come up, that gives little time for residents to contact their councilmembers.
When then-Chairman Gray decided to cut streetcar funding in 2010, for instance, most councilmembers found out that morning. In a very short time, we, other blogs, residents using social media, and others were able to spread the word, which drove 1,000 calls to the chairman's office in just 3 hours. Even so, it wasn't in time to stop the Council from cutting the streetcar program. Instead, after lunch, they had to take a separate vote to restore the funding.
At each phase of the process, new ideas come up, and there is less time to react. There's plenty of opportunity to weigh in on the mayor's budget. But committee chairs don't publicly circulate a draft of the changes they're thinking about before any hearing. Most residents found out, for instance, about Mary Cheh's plan to extend the Circulator to the Cathedral, Howard University, and Waterfront Metro, and pay for it with a fare increase, the night before or day of her committee's vote.
Residents still had time to lobby council to reverse changes, as happened when Muriel Bowser suddenly and unexpectedly sliced funding for a Capitol Riverfront development project in favor of Ward 4 projects. After considerable pushback, Mendelson reversed part of that change yesterday.
But any ideas that come from the chairman have virtually no opportunity for public input. For some changes, those which are changes to the law to support the budget rather than the budget itself, the council has to pass its Budget Support Act twice, so the council could change things on its second reading. Still, that's more difficult; members have already voted for something by that time.
This year, Chairman Phil Mendelson's surprise budget changes went beyond just adding or removing funding for programs. He made some significant policy changes, like the gas tax. Other amendments put new requirements on government agencies' ability to execute programs that already exist. We'll talk about some of those next week.
If the Council restructured the gas tax or made other changes in a standalone bill, there would have to be a hearing, a markup, and two votes. But if the chairman slips a change into the budget the night before the budget vote, it means no hearing, no markup, and virtually no time for residents to weigh in.
Chairman Mendelson is very smart, but he can't think of every implication of a policy. The gas tax switch might be a good idea, but that's not the point. Maybe people have arguments against it that I haven't heard, or Mendelson's staff hasn't heard. Even if it's the right choice, it's dangerous to make even a good move so hastily.
There's a reason the legislative process is supposed to take some time. Residents need an opportunity to see the chairman's final proposal, plus any amendments members plan to introduce, more than a few hours before the vote.
And even a day or two still isn't the right amount for changes that go beyond simply deciding how much money to spend on what programs. Changes like the gas tax shift deserve to at least be part of a committee markup; most likely, changes of such significance ought to happen in standalone bills that get their own hearings and real deliberative thought.
New residents of the District are sometimes discouraged from taking part in local politics. However, it's in everyone's interest for more people to get involved, even if they're only here for a short time.
I've had the pleasure of living in DC over the past four years as a student at Georgetown, and I enjoy being involved in the civic life of this great city. Nevertheless, in my work organizing college students through DC Students Speak, I've found that new residents are often marginalized as carpetbaggers who do not understand the issues facing the city.
At a DC Council candidate forum hosted by GGW in 2011, many candidates boasted about being "native Washingtonians," making them more qualified than others for higher office. I can't tell you how many times local political figures told me that college students don't have a right to be involved because we are relatively transient and have not lived in the District long enough.
These arguments bolster the credentials of long-term residents and question the legitimacy of newcomers' opinions. That's a problem considering how many people move to the District each year.
After decades of population loss, the District is adding new residents again. Today, it has about 630,000 people. It's foreseeable that it could go back to its 1950's-era peak of 800,000 residents as more people move here. It's essential that these new Washingtonians are encouraged to get involved in local politics.
The city benefits when relatively transient residents are involved in local politics. As a student organizer, I found time and time again that politicians ignored students' concerns. They didn't know what students wanted because my peers weren't engaged, so they couldn't help them. Moreover, residents from other places can make DC even more dynamic by helping to infuse the city with new and cutting-edge ideas.
Some residents don't have plans to stay here for a long time, like students or young professionals. We shouldn't hold it against them; rather, we should also encourage them to get involved while they're in town. I only got to live here for four years, but during that time I took part in my community through everything from DC Students Speak to tutoring in Petworth.
The only way that DC can truly become a great city is through engaging all members of the community, so they're interested and willing to care about where they live and give back to them in return. In the end, it's in the best interests of all District of Columbia residents to have a more involved citizenry.
We need to move beyond the tired rhetoric of who is or is not a "real Washingtonian." The way to build an even more dynamic District of Columbia by embracing everyone and encouraging them to join our community. After all, if they feel welcome, they might stick around.
The city routinely bids public land out to private companies. Instead of money, the city demands amenities like affordable housing, workforce development, or a library. Sometimes, these deals work well. Sometimes, they're just a bad deal, or developers renege on promises.
WAMU reporters Patrick Madden and Julie Patel have been delving into this issue in a series this week. Their Tuesday and Wednesday installments look at the ways public land deals and subsidies can go wrong.
Their week-long series frames the issue around the inappropriate influence of money in politics. If campaign donors get a leg up in the competition for deals, that is a serious problem, and good for Madden and Patel for giving it attention. However, campaign cash is only one of several possible reasons these deals can turn out bad. At the same time, they can also bring valuable benefits as well.
Land deals aren't just a giveaway
The Tuesday headline was "Million-Dollar Properties, $1 Deals." The lede talks about 5 projects that went to Donatelli Development and Blue Skye Construction. "The appraised value of all this public land, according to city records: $17.5 million. The price paid by the developers to the city, a little more than a parking ticket: $88."
Sounds like a massive handout! Where can I get a few acres for a buck? But later, Madden explains that it's not quite so simple. The deals come with big strings. In particular, they often have to build affordable housing.
Certainly there's some profit in these deals, and if that profit goes to the biggest donors, that's a big problem. However, Donatelli's profit isn't anywhere close to the $17,499,912 that the intro might lead people to believe.
Madden gives a table of the top 5 land deals:
|Project||Payment to DC||Value of land||Contributions|
by dev. team
|Hine Jr. HS||$21,800,000.00||$44,700,000.00||$194,045.00|
|West End (Library & Fire Station)||$18,000,000.00||$30,018,000.00||$127,295.00|
|Capital Fire Station||$15,000,000.00||$40,300,000.00||$123,646.00|
|Minnesota-Benning (Phase 2)||$10.00||$13,176,000.00||$122,076.00
This table isn't really, complete, however, without factoring in what the development teams have to spend on the public amenities that go into the buildings.
|Project||Pmt. to DC||Value of land||Public amenities|
|Hine Jr. HS||$21,800,000.00||$44,700,000.00||20% affordable housing|
C Street & plaza
|West End||$18,000,000.00||$30,018,000.00||New library, fire station|
|The Wharf||$1.00||$95,000,000.00||15% affordable housing|
|Capital Fire Station||$15,000,000.00||$40,300,000.00||(can't find this)|
|Minnesota-Benning||$10.00||$13,176,000.00||100% affordable housing|
What makes a good deal?
Figuring out how much those public amenities are worth, however, is the tricky part, and whether the government is getting a good deal. People often disagree about how much affordable housing is fair. In the West End, DC is giving Eastbanc two parcels, which now contain a library and fire station. Eastbanc can build housing, but has to also build a new library and fire station.
Eastbanc is also building 52 units of affordable housing with an additional $7 million subsidy from the city. DC's zoning commission then let Eastbanc out of the Inclusionary Zoning affordable housing requirement on one of the two parcels, after the developer and officials argued that the value the city is getting from the new library and fire station uses up all the value of the property.
Cheryl Cort thinks that despite the IZ exception, this is probably the best deal we can get. A library advocacy group Ralph Nader founded, the DC Library Renaissance Project is suing to stop the project, arguing that DC should have held out for more affordable housing. Many neighbors want the library, already and think the Nader group is going too far. There's no definitive way to know who's right.
Under the current leadership of DMPED's Victor Hoskins, the city has been seeking less affordable housing from its public land deals, and more direct revenues.
Sometimes public officials don't push for important amenities
DC economic development officials are often quite eager to get a deal done, even at the cost of important amenities. At Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road, a DDOT plan for the area recommended a new road connection to expand the grid around Minnesota Avenue Metro and a highly congested intersection.
One of the two bidders included the connection, while the winner, Donatelli, did not. Representatives of Mayor Fenty's Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) then joined Donatelli in lobbying against the concept or even reserving the right of way for a future street. Maybe it was too expensive or difficult, or maybe it was an important amenity that officials just didn't bother to push for.
Madden and Patel discusses some other problems with public land development deals like this. A law requires the developers to hire small and minority-owned businesses. Sometimes they don't. (Other times, those companies are just shells that give a payout to owners while a larger firm actually does the work.)
A WAMU investigation of 110 D.C. developments that received $1.7 billion in subsidies found:The series has an overarching thesis that much of this comes about because the developers are dishing out campaign cash. That certainly may be part of it, but it's not the only reason. Plus, Aaron Wiener plotted donations against the size of deals and found only a weak correlation.
- Flaws with benefits pledged for about half
- A third missed requirements on hiring local businesses, or the city didn't have paperwork for them
- Another 15 percent downsized or delayed benefits, costing the city millions in lost revenue and others arguably didn't need the subsidy in the first place
- Less than 5 percent of the subsidies approved were for the city's poorest areas, wards 7 and 8.
Cash probably does have an effect. So do other factors. Sometimes economic development officials or politicians just want to get the deal done because a ribbon-cutting is appealing while a project sitting unfinished is a hassle.
Public land deals, though often bungled, are still necessary
Madden says, "Activists and even some council members have asked why the city just doesn't hold a public auction for these properties and award them to the highest bidder." That's an option, but then there would be no amenities. Where would the new library go? Making it part of a larger mixed-use project is probably the best way to use the land, since a library doesn't need to take up an entire building. Wouldn't we be better off with a broader mix of uses that maximize the value of this site?
DC could just rent space in an office building for a library, perhaps, but is that space going to be well-suited for a library and in the right location? Plus, that would mean library rent goes up as neighborhoods become more desirable, creating a risk that future budget cuts imperil libraries entirely instead of just shortening their hours. Meanwhile, there's definitely no spec building out there that can fit a fire station.
Others, like Parisa Norouzi of Empower DC, feel that public land should never go to private uses. She'd like DC to keep all of the publicly-owned land for schools, libraries, and so on. Many other activists also view any public-private partnership deals with suspicion, and don't want a private company building a library.
These public-private deals, imperfect as they are, seem to be a compromise between these two views. The public gets something for its land, but the land can also accommodate housing and offices when the public doesn't need every square foot for public use.
Still, it's important that public officials push to get the best deal for the city, and ensure that winning bidders keep the promises that helped them win bids in the first place. When officials don't, sometimes it's because of campaign cash, but there can be many other reasons as well, which are just as important to combat.
- Community stories show the shift to a walkable lifestyle
- Young kids try to assault me while biking
- Focus transportation on downtown or neighborhoods?
- Metro bag searches aren't always optional
- Endless zoning update delay hurts homeowners
- DDOT agrees to repave 15th Street cycle track
- Where is downtown Prince George's County?