Posts by Ken Archer
|Ken Archer is CTO of a software firm in Tysons Corner. He commutes to Tysons by bus from his home in Georgetown, where he lives with his wife and son. Ken completed a Masters degree in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America.|
Councilmember David Grosso has called for Mayor Gray to pay DC employees during the federal government shutdown and to implement DC laws without submitting them to Congress for approval. His actions show us that the path to statehood isn't through protest, but by simply living as free citizens of a state.
Until this point, DC residents relegated to second-rate status have had two options. First, we could meekly submit to the humiliating rituals imposed upon us by federal law. Remember when a US Senator put a hold on our budget because they didn't like our taxi fares?
Second, we could protest as we have for decades. Mayor Gray was arrested for sitting down in traffic to protest our status. Grosso offers a third way, and the best part is that we cannot lose.
Unlike every other jurisdiction in America, during a federal government shutdown the District of Columbia cannot spend its own locally-raised tax money. That's because Congress treats DC's budget as part of the federal budget.
Mayor Gray has responded to this obvious injustice by going back and forth between our two traditional options, protest and obedience. Last week, Gray confronted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at a press conference, and has staged protests on a nearly daily basis.
But ultimately Gray says that he is prepared to obey this unjust law if protests prove unsuccessful. Mayor Gray said in a speech last week that paying DC employees during the shutdown would undermine our "moral authority."
Gray's speech shows a lack of understanding of the moral logic of nonviolent disobedience in the face of unjust laws. Nonviolent disobedience isn't simply protesting by breaking the law. It's avoiding protest altogether and instead living one's life as a free citizen, even if innocent activities of daily life are illegal.
The central appeal of disobedience is that it cannot lose. Protests only work when those in power concede some of their power. Disobedience always works, because you deny to anyone authority over your freedom to live as a full human being.
That's why disobedience always works. It immediately undoes the most harmful effect of unjust laws: when a community internalizes its second-rate status.
Statehood isn't about budgeting, though that is one important benefit. It's true that DC residents bear a heavy fiscal burden, to the tune of about $1 billion a year, because of a structural deficit that Congress would likely fix if DC was a state.
But statehood isn't about the budget. It's about dignity and ridding much of our community of decades of internalized disenfranchisement. So many of our social and economic challenges in DC stem from a deep lack of agency, what many call a spiritual disenfranchisement. In his landmark book Development as Freedom, Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen calls this internalized disempowerment the true source of poverty.
When our mayor claims the dignity of self-governance and simply governs as any other freely-elected mayor would, we can expect a larger percentage of our city's remarkable talent will stand up to govern too, as Kojo Nnamdi so eloquently explains. In fact, disobeying laws denying our self-governance engenders far more civic dignity than the civic pride of a thousand professional sports franchises.
So, breaking unjust laws doesn't undermine moral authority. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. broke unjust laws. Jesus broke unjust laws. And, of course, so did Mahatma Gandhi.
Czech dissident Vaclav Havel called this "living in truth." Under communism, Czech dissidents split between activists planning petitions and artists who simply wanted to do their art. Havel unified them by explaining to activists that attending a banned music concert was more effective than any protest.
Mayor Gray faces a huge decision whether or not to disobey federal laws. But the right choice is clear, and if he doesn't make it, another mayor ultimately will.
DC has lavished attention and subsidies on a few tech companies to bolster its economy. But the growth of tech firms in and around Dupont Circle suggests that investing in an attractive urban space is a more effective way to grow a local tech scene.
DC has a flourishing tech scene, as seen in the growth of several coworking spaces, where startups can get work done and find community. There are 5 in DC, 4 of which are in or near Dupont Circle, as are several other tech companies and the Acceleprise incubator.
But does the District attract tech companies because we subsidize firms like 1776 and LivingSocial that claim to be hubs of talent and capital? Or is it because we have invested for a decade in urban amenities and density that attracts talent and capital to places like Dupont Circle, as Richard Florida argues?
Dupont Circle has emerged as the hub of the DC tech cluster. Besides Canvas and 1776, Affinity Lab on U Street, and PunchRock in Adams Morgan provide coworking space. Several tech companies and the Acceleprise incubator also reside in the Dupont Circle area.
This cluster emerged without government assistance or backing. 1776 is an exciting coworking space that I hope is successful, but the startups laboring in these other coworking spaces seem to be just as critical to diversifying our tax base.
Today venture capital investment and startup activity also reflect the turn back to the urban core; nearly half of the [Washington] region's total (47.5 percent), or $600 million, went to the District of Columbia proper. Most of that was concentrated in a single zip code (20005) that spans McPherson Square, Thomas Circle and Logan Circle.While Gray expresses support for DC's tech sector, it sometimes looks like a search for a North Star he can follow, like Living Social, by providing subsidies and personal encouragement. Rather, tech clusters naturally emerge in dense urban areas that attract smart young people, with no single company as the hub.
I work 2 days per week at Canvas, a coworking space in Dupont Circle. I see startups there working all-nighters to build their businesses.
At minimum, it would be incredibly encouraging for more of DC's startups to get a visit from the mayor. After all, we are relying on all of these startups to diversify DC's economy beyond dependence on the federal government. After a recent tweet from Gray about visiting 1776, I replied asking why he hadn't visited any other coworking spaces.
— Vincent C. Gray (@mayorvincegray) June 7, 2013
However, DC angel investor and entrepreneur Glen Helmen recently questioned whether Gray's involvement in the tech sector is broad enough.
— Glen Hellman (@glehel) July 24, 2013
It's great that Mayor Gray is looking for investment opportunities in DC tech. And we all want 1776 and LivingSocial to be wildly successful, as they are prominent contributors to the local tech sector.
But most startups came here or decided to stay here because they like DC, not because of subsidies or Living Social or 1776. Doesn't that tell us what our strength is that we should build upon?
A better way to support and nourish the city's tech scene would be to encourage the creation of a great urban environment, by continuing the same investments in transportation and public amenities and housing and commercial space that the city has been doing for the past decade. That way, companies will have even more reasons to come here, and those who already like it will have more reasons to stay.
In the meantime, Mayor Gray would do well to show his support for all local tech companies, not just those he has strategically invested in. If he wants to visit other coworking spaces and tech firms, the mayor has a standing invitation from Canvas, and presumably from every other coworking spot.
The challenge of poverty in DC can feel overwhelming. What can any one person do? Experts largely agree that workforce development is the solution, and the good news is that you can have a big impact.
Workforce development is the systematic removal of barriers to employment, whatever they may be, that jobless residents face. There are many stereotypes about the causes of poverty in DC. Examining the true causes of poverty shows why workforce development matters so much, and why it deserves far more attention than it gets.
The initially-apparent causes of poverty are unemployment and underemployment. But what personal or systematic barriers to employment do jobless people face? You may be surprised to learn what they are.
The root problems of poverty may not be what you think
Joblessness in DC is due to poor workforce readiness, not lack of jobs. Martha Ross, a Brookings Institute fellow who leads research on DC, notes that the city has more jobs than residents and is located in an economically strong region. That means our primary lever to reduce unemployment and poverty isn't adding more jobs, it's workforce development.
"We're in a relatively fortunate position: we have jobs to connect people to or train them for," says Ross. "We're not like other cities or regions that are hemorrhaging jobs."
Despite this, elected officials talk about creating jobs for DC residents far more than they talk about workforce development. We could do so much to improve our broken workforce development system if we only had the will to do it.
So, what needs fixing? Some people assume that the issue is those who provide workforce training, but that's not true. If a lack of skills were the only barrier to employment faced by poor people, DC would not have a poverty crisis.
Most jobless and underemployed residents have more obstacles to full employment than occupational skills. Major obstacles to employment are lack of child care, lack of literacy and basic adult education, soft skills, lack of transportation, addiction issues, and barriers to hiring citizens returning from prison.
Unemployment is an assault on one's dignity. All of these barriers may cause unemployed people to lose their sense of agency and empowerment, something that most working residents take for granted. This creates the greatest challenge to public policy, but it is one for which there are proven solutions.
How can workforce development help?
It's understandable that we would want to focus on helping the unemployed who are motivated to help themselves. The reality, though, is that doing so won't solve the crisis of poverty. But there are proven solutions to addressing the poverty of hope that holds back those with multiple barriers to employment.
- Integrating literacy, basic education with skills training Literacy and adult basic education are usually considered prerequisites to occupational skills training. Not surprisingly, completion rates for literacy and basic education courses are low. They take a long time to complete, and people struggling with a loss of empowerment may be reluctant to put in the effort.
- Pre- and post-employment wraparound services DC agencies offer many services to address obstacles to employment, like childcare, literacy, transportation, and skills training. Unfortunately, they are often hard to find, require repeated visits at all hours to offices around town, and require providing duplicate paperwork that is sometimes lost. As a result, these services often go to the jobless who need them the least because they possess the drive to navigate this system.
- Outcomes reporting There are dozens of workforce development programs spread across 13 DC agencies, but little reporting on the outcomes of those programs. Reliable reporting would expose the ineffectiveness of isolated point programs that don't follow the models described above.
There is a better way. In 2004, Washington state piloted a new model: integrated basic education and occupational skills training. It's more expensive, because it requires two instructors. Literacy and basic education are taught in the context of a specific occupation. But it works.
The program, called I-BEST, greatly improved completion rates for basic education and was expanded statewide in 2006. Many states have created their own I-BEST programs, which are often provided through community colleges. In Maryland, both Montgomery College and Prince George's Community College have successful I-BEST programs.
Meanwhile, the University of the District of Columbia Community College (UDC-CC) still provides separate basic education and occupational skills training according to the old model. And literacy services, which are contracted by DC's State Superintendent of Education, are also disconnected from occupational training.
The unemployed poor need a one-stop delivery model of wraparound services. Federal law requires every state to establish One-Stop centers to disribute federal training grants to the unemployed. But DC's One-Stops are in desperate need of reform.
Numerous studies point to long waiting times for services at DC's One-Stop centers. And a report leaked earlier this year showed the consequences: lots of jobless come to the One-Stops for help, but very few receive services.
"Effective One-Stop centers often have strong partnerships with social service providers", according to Brooke DeRenzis of DC Appleseed, who led a study of DC's One-Stops this year. "In some cases, partner organizations that provide services like public assistance or housing may even locate staff at the One-Stop center", an arrangement that doesn't exist in DC's One-Stops.
In addition, UDC-CC has been unwilling to provide any user-friendly wraparound services. The UDC-CC president actually told a Council hearing last month that "job placement is not part of our mission". Unfortunately, even their core services of class registration have proven inaccessible, with reports of lost paperwork and long waiting periods.
Outcomes reporting should focus not in individual job training programs, but on the One-Stops and UDC Community College. (See Update below for UDC-CC reports.) That's because these are the agencies that should coordinate training with other services to help jobless overcome all barriers to employment.
The lack of outcomes reporting is particularly tragic given how readily available it is. The employment status and salary of every employed DC resident is easily accessible in DC's unemployment insurance database, which is integrated with those of neighboring states.
How can you take effective action to help solve poverty in DC? For starters, you can volunteer with organizations that use best practices. Look for organizations that provide integrated basic education and skills training, wraparound services, and report their outcomes.
One example is So Others Might Eat, or SOME. This organization uses the I-BEST co-teaching model in their Center for Employment Training, and provides wraparound services to clients and tracking of graduates for reporting purposes.
You can also advocate for reform of OSSE literacy services, UDC Community College, One-Stops and our outcomes reporting system at many venues. You can email your councilmember or testify at one of several hearings each year on workforce development and adult education.
The next hearing, on September 27, concerns UDC. Come testify about the urgency of reforming the UDC Community College as described above. You can follow DC Council hearings on their online calendar, or email me and I'll keep you informed of upcoming hearings on workforce development where you can testify.
Update: While UDC-CC is not required to produce outcomes reporting, it turns out that they do anyway and, to their great credit, posted the reports to their site yesterday.
Most of the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions in DC's Ward 2 have passed resolutions saying they don't want a free visitor parking placard program in their neighborhoods. The commissions went on record on this issue up to a year ago, but last week, transportation officials announced that they'll expand the program citywide anyway.
Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans also opposes the plan. He citing the opposition of "most of the ANCs" in his ward, while saying he only has gotten a few messages from constituents who support the program.
Georgetown's ANC hasn't passed such a resolution, but that doesn't mean they support it, either. Its chair, Ron Lewis, told residents and the media that "this came as a total surprise to us." Lewis has been working for years with Georgetown residents and DDOT parking planners to find agreement on a set of parking proposals that everyone would support.
Shortly before DDOT's announcement, the agency's planners in charge of parking, Damon Harvey and Angelo Rao, left or were fired. Harvey and Rao had led two parking town halls in Georgetown and dozens of meetings of an ad hoc Georgetown Parking Working Group made up of residents and business representatives. I was involved in these meetings, and all parties felt that the group was very close to a set of consensus proposals after years of negotiation.
Free visitor parking passes for all Georgetown RPP holders was never a serious proposal in these discussions, and community leaders communicated concerns about expanding these passes into Georgetown several times.
We've been here before
Last year, a similar process played out. DDOT spokesperson Monica Hernandez told reporters that the agency intended to expand the trial citywide. In response, ANCs throughout Ward 2 passed resolutions opposing the idea and sent the resolutions to DDOT.
For example, here is Dupont's ANC 2B resolution from last October.
DDOT ultimately pulled back and did not expand the program to these neighborhoods in 2012. Rao promised to devise a replacement system before this fall. However, with no new program on the horizon, DDOT announced it would offer visitor passes to all neighborhoods by October 1 and proposed regulations making that possible.
You can provide feedback on DDOT's expansion of the visitor parking program through the mandated 30-day comment period for all such regulations. To tell the agency how you feel about their regulations expanding free visitor parking placards citywide, email firstname.lastname@example.org before September 8.
Last week, the DC Council passed an act that requires big box retailers to pay a living wage, and Walmart threatened not to build 3 of 6 planned stores here. Opponents say it's proof that the Large Retailer Accountability Act will kill jobs, but there are better, proven ways to encourage economic development.
Economic development experts know what works: a long term coordinated strategy around workforce development and business development. This approach has successfully revitalized downtown and other once-blighted corridors what works. But Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Victor Hoskins has focused on cutting deals that get headlines, whether or not they produce results.
We don't need Walmart to revitalize DC's underserved neighborhoods, and we can still reduce unemployment while insisting that large retailers pay their employees enough to make a decent living.
Requiring a living wage won't increase unemployment
Earlier this month, I met with Mayor Vincent Gray for 45 minutes to discuss unemployment. He's one of the foremost experts in unemployment in DC, and he understands that unemployment in DC is caused by poor workforce readiness, not a lack of jobs. Only 28% of DC's jobs go to DC residents.
Gray is responsible for several initiatives that will help reduce unemployment in DC, like starting UDC Community College, reconstituting the Workforce Investment Council and One City One Hire. The job prospects of unemployed residents relies more on these initiatives than it does on Walmart. After all, even if Walmart offers new jobs, residents can't fill them if they're not trained to be good employees.
One challenge in addressing unemployment is job retention. DC has a far lower job retention rate than other states. Economists have demonstrated that low wages have a significant impact on job retention, and that raising the minimum wage increases job retention.
This is particularly true with low-skilled service class jobs. Leisure, hospitality, and retail jobs are the fastest growing source of jobs in DC and nationwide for low-skilled workers. But they are usually crappy jobs that offer little to no path to a living wage, let alone the middle class.
Urban researcher Richard Florida says part of the answer is to make service jobs better by requiring employers to pay a living wage:
Two kinds of jobs are growing in great cities - highTo that end, Mayor Gray has launched several little-noticed initiatives to train unemployed workers for hospitality and retail jobs. They produce the kind of workers that retailers who pay living wages and require a low-turnover, high-value workforce want to hire.
— paying knowledge, professional and creative jobs, and low skill low pay contingent service jobs. Inequality is growing and our cities are increasingly divided. A higher minimum wage is an important part of a badly new urban social compact which values workers and raises wages. It can be a first step toward viewing workers as a source of innovation and creativity.
But there's a disconnect between Gray's workforce development strategy and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development (DMPED), the city's economic development agency. For all its merits, DMPED's 5-year economic development plan says little about workforce development. The reconstituted Workforce Investment Council, while technically housed in DMPED, does not actually collaborate in DMPED projects.
Gray's workforce experts would tell DMPED that the city needs businesses that have re-engineered their retail and hospitality positions for higher value, who will use the pipelines we are creating to train workers who can deliver that value. Many studies show that a higher minimum wage results in higher-quality service jobs, which lead to greater job stability and less unemployment.
Economic development of Ward 7 doesn't depend on Walmart
Walmart says they will cancel 3 proposed stores if LRAA is passed: one at New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road NE in Ward 5, and one each in the Capital Gateway and Skyland Town Center developments in Ward 7. Residents have anticipated all 3 projects for years, especially Skyland.
Ward 7 resident Charles Crews says there is much more that the city could be doing. "It's horrible how they aren't working on beautification of the ward," he says. "There's trash, and the buildings are not maintained at all. This creates an attitude among residents that Walmart is the best we can do".
But do these neighborhoods, especially those in Ward 7, need Walmart for economic development? According to councilmember and mayoral candidate Jack Evans, who led the economic development of downtown DC, 14th Street NW, and other distressed and blighted corridors, they don't. "People are looking for the silver bullet," Evans said, "but there is no silver bullet. You need a long term plan."
Evans cites Georgetown as one example. "Georgetown used to be the same, trash everywhere. The way you change that is the BID concept," he says, referring to Business Improvement Districts. He proposes creating publicly-funded BIDs in Ward 7 neighborhoods to make them more attractive to businesses, while hiring local residents to keep streets clean.
From there, he would offer targeted subsidies for retailers who want to locate there. This was hugely successful in Ward 2 and produced both economic and non-economic returns for the city. Today, Ward 7 receives fewer economic development subsidies than nearly any part of town, according to a report from the CFO's office.
Ward 7 resident Kendrick Jackson says that the city has been unwilling to partner with small businesses, like a coworking space and a coffeeshop, who could really make a difference in his community.
"The city should be working with them with incentives and assistance, but instead they are having to deal with obstacles at DCRA [the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs]," he says. "I would rather see attractive small retailers that would draw people to the area than something like Home Depot that brings a giant parking lot. But the city doesn't see small retailers as part of their plan for ward 7."
Evans says that after a city-led beautification and public space project, he is confident he could provide subsidies to the right retailers to set up in Ward 7. This is the type of long-term planning that results in sustained economic development, and it features prominently in a document put together by the DC Office of Planning and Bethesda-based retail consultants Streetsense last year called the Vibrant Streets Toolkit, which offers advice for DC's struggling business districts.
Edwin Jones, pastor of Living Faith Baptist Church and resident of Ward 7, supports Councilmember Evans' proposal. "That's how the plan should work, instead of just accepting Walmart," he says. "It's that kind of plan that improves the community and includes the residents in the community."
Will Gray challenge his economic development team to give him a real plan for Ward 7 that combines business and workforce development? Or will he perpetuate a culture in his economic development agency that reduces development to dealmaking that produces headlines?
Last week, DC officials quietly reversed their recent traffic calming project in Glover Park and began removing a new median on Wisconsin Avenue.
With the Glover Park ANC's support, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) replaced one lane on Wisconsin between 35th and Garfield streets with a painted median in January to calm traffic and improve pedestrian safety. However, a number of residents who drive through Glover Park, including Councilmember Jack Evans (Ward 2, including Georgetown), pushed to reverse the move.
DDOT previously said their plan was to leave the median in place long enough to study it, but in the face of pressure, the agency suddenly began removing the median between Calvert and Garfield streets. Drivers struck 2 pedestrians each year in this stretch between 2008 and 2010. DDOT spokesperson Monica Hernandez says the change is "permanent" and that "the plan is to monitor pedestrian safety going forward."
Community supported median on Wisconsin Avenue
ANC 3B, which contains Glover Park, endorsed the median after a long vetting process. In June 2009, DDOT and its consultants at Toole Design Group recommended replacing one through lane with a center left turn median lane. Studies from the Office of Planning and DDOT found that it would increase pedestrian safety, calm traffic and direct it to the commercial strip by removing turning cars from the through lanes.
While DDOT originally proposed a raised median, ANC 3B advocated to start with painted medians so DDOT could study their effect and make changes if needed. After multiple ANC meetings and ample discussion on the Glover Park listserv, DDOT finally completed the painted median in January. Some neighbors immediately began to question the new median's impact on local businesses and whether it had just pushed traffic onto other streets.
Despite some complaints, most Glover Park residents agreed that the new configuration made it safer to move around Wisconsin Avenue, whether by car, foot or transit. The Glover Park ANC was also supportive, though they advocated for continued study and tweaks to reduce congestion.
Political pressure trumps collecting data
DDOT offered to study traffic delays for a year and look at ways to change the light timing, signage and enforcement to reduce congestion, but opponents said that was too long to wait.
Evans kept pressure up on the issue, including railing against it at public forums. He made regular phone calls to Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3, which includes Glover Park) while driving through the area, which he traverses several times a day to take his kids to and from their home in Georgetown.
When DDOT presented preliminary results of traffic studies showing that the median only added 1-2 minutes to driving time, Evans was incredulous. "If we were talking about just a couple minutes, we wouldn't be here," he said.
Last week, DDOT quietly began removing part of the median. The agency made this decision without telling residents of Glover Park or ANC 3B. DDOT spokesperson Monica Hernandez says they acted based on "direction provided by those at the May 1 hearing."
ANC members are disappointed in DDOT's change of heart. "It's outrageous that DDOT would make this change without considering its impacts on pedestrian safety and traffic flow and without consulting with the community most affected by the modifications," said ANC 3B chair Brian Cohen.
Cohen also says Evans' involvement shifted the decision from safety-focused to political. "The change from data-gathering to simply reversing DDOT clearly happened when Councilmember Evans inserted himself into the issue," said Cohen. "Jack Evans hasn't shown the slightest interest in the well-being and safety of the people who live, work, and play in Glover Park. ... It's galling that he's been given carte blanche to make decisions that undermine pedestrian safety in our community."
The Wisconsin Avenue median was the result of extensive study, community discussion, and eventually community buy-in. It's disappointing that DDOT would subvert its own process and put pedestrians at risk based on political pressure. Glover Park residents deserve better treatment from their officials and elected leaders.
wrote last week about the DC Sustainable Energy Utility's progress toward helping DC residents and businesses save energy. Here is a less sanguine view.
The DC Sustainable Energy Utility (SEU) was created with the best of intentions and much fanfare. Unfortunately, after more than $30 million dollars and nearly 3 years, DC SEU has had trouble even changing light bulbs effectively, and is lagging behind successful programs in other states.
Energy-efficiency programs around the country have successfully demonstrated ways to assure that communities invest in saving energy, but DC ranked only 29th among states in energy-efficiency programs in 2012, according to one recent analysis.
That's not great, since many states in the South and Great Plains have terrible records. The District should be a leader, or at least emulate the best programs from around the nation.
For example, in Massachusetts, utilities work with local banks to provide 0% interest loans for homeowners and businesses for energy efficiency. This addresses a common and fundamental impediment to efficiency investments at scale: poor access to capital. The public sector's upfront incentives to the banks make the 0% loans possible, which then leverages significant investment capital from the private sector.
Virginia offers basic and straightforward rebates for commercial building energy audits. These audits identify where a building is inefficient (from HVAC to lighting to operations) and catalyze efficiency investments. Once a commercial building owner sees a facility's inefficiencies, and has information about what investments could pay for themselves in savings, they often make sustainable improvements without further incentives.
SEU isn't meeting its goals
DC residents and businesses pay a small percentage of their electric and gas bills to support DC SEU. As a result, DC SEU raised $17.5 million this year and will raise $20 million next year.
The Vermont Energy Investment Cooperation, or VEIC, won a competitive bid from the District to operate DC SEU. Their contract has been renewed each year, but so far, VEIC is struggling.
In fiscal year 2012, DC SEU met just 2 of 6 performance benchmarks the District set for things like reducing energy or increasing renewable energy generation. Their goal was to reduce citywide electricity use by 45,000 megawatt-hours, but they only saved 21,000.
DC SEU even fell behind on creating green jobs, which is one of its main goals. The organization hired just 41 people in 2012, well below their goal of 53.
DC SEU claims that it saved DC residents and businesses $2.8 million in annualized energy costs, but it received $14 million in funding last year. For a group intended to be a "market catalyst," this return on investment is disappointing.
It also counts spillover effects from its work, like customers who don't participate in their programs but are still working to reduce their energy use. This method of measurement may be an industry standard, but it doesn't really reflect DC SEU's effectiveness.
Is the SEU trying to do what it takes?
Nor does the organization's FY 2013 First Quarter report acknowledge any of DC SEU's past shortcomings or the need for any improvements. While the report calls for "strategic enhancements to [their] programming," there's little description of anything other DC SEU's existing efforts, like their programs to replace light bulbs and seal heating ducts.
If this is all the District wanted to do to improve energy efficiency, there was no need to create a new organization. It could have given the job to PEPCO and Washington Gas, which are perfectly capable of doing this kind of work. Meanwhile, DC SEU admits that natural gas consumption has actually increased due to their focus on replacing incandescent light bulbs with high-efficiency bulbs. The new bulbs give off less heat, which means that in the colder months, customers actually use more heating gas to hear their homes and businesses (but save energy in the summer on cooling.)
DC SEU wasn't even trying to balance the modest impact of the lighting upgrades with other programs to reduce heating loads. They spent just $700,000 of the $2 million allocated for natural gas-related programs. Whether this is simply poor management, misplaced priorities, or both, this is clearly not a good sign.
What can be done?
DC SEU needs help. They aren't meeting their goals and they aren't fulfilling their legal obligation to District ratepayers. Meanwhile, the District Department of the Environment (DDOE), which manages the organization, has done little oversight. A lot of the relevant staff has turned over at DDOE. Plus, that agency's main expertise is not in "big data" or the economics of financial leverage in the ways necessary to push the SEU toward bolder thinking and better results.
There's already a strong market for compact fluorescents (and an emerging one for the the even newer LED bulbs). The amount of savings from bulbs is small compared to commercial space, which uses a vastly disproportionate share of energy. With incentives to focus on the greatest possible value, the SEU could do more with, for instance, energy audits for commercial space.
Mayor Gray's sustainability plan puts forward an exciting and laudable vision for the District. It would be a shame if DC SEU doesn't play a key role in making it a reality.
The recent investigation into cheating in DC schools highlights a little-understood fact in the District: Our mayor has too much power. Every state-level agency charged with overseeing the mayor's activities reports to the mayor
The agency that investigates cheating, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), is charged with overseeing our schools. But OSSE also reports to the mayor, the same official who runs most of the schools they are supposed to oversee.
The same conflict exists with the state-level agency charged with overseeing job training in the District. This agency, the Workforce Investment Council (WIC), reports to the same mayor who runs job training and wants voters to see his efforts to train job seekers as successful.
Continue reading Ken's latest op-ed in the Washington Post.
This week's Washington City Paper cover story quoted AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend calling Greater Greater Washington editor David Alpert "retarded" and a "ninny," and comparing Greater Greater Washington to the Ku Klux Klan.
Many other reporters, people on Twitter, and residents generally have clearly stated in response what should of course go without saying, that such personal attacks are beyond the pale.
Some may get the sense that there is personal animosity between Townsend and the team here at Greater Greater Washington. At least on our end, nothing could be further from the truth. We simply disagree with many of his policy positions and his incendiary rhetoric.
Spirited argument is important in public policy, but it should not cross into insults. When it does, that has a chilling effect on open discourse. Fostering an inclusive conversation about the shape of our region is the purpose of this site, but discourse must be civil to be truly open. That's why our comment policy here on Greater Greater Washington prohibits invective like this. In our articles, we try hard to avoid crossing this line, and are disappointed when we or others do, intentionally or inadvertently.
The "war on cars" frame unnecessarily pits drivers against cyclists and pedestrians instead of working together for positive solutions. The City Paper article, by Aaron Wiener, does a good job of debunking that, and is worth reading for much more than the insults it quotes.
When pressed, Townsend told Wiener he wants to back away from the "war on cars."
"I regret the rhetoric sometimes," he says. "Because I think that when you use that type of language, it shuts down communication with people who disagree."We hope Townsend, his colleagues, and their superiors also regret the things he said about David and Greater Greater Washington. We look forward to the day when AAA ceases using antagonistic language and begins working toward safety, mobility, and harmony among all road users.
In the meantime, residents do have a choice when purchasing towing, insurance, and travel discounts. Better World Club is one company that offers many of the same benefits as AAA, but without the disdain.
- More roads won't solve traffic on I-95 in Northern Virginia
- Metro maps out loop line between DC and Arlington
- The reason cyclists love green bike lanes
- How does DC's proposed Metro loop compare?
- Alexandria board rejects King Street bike lanes
- Ask Congress to give DC self-rule on building heights
- Can motorcycles fit in an urban context?