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Ward 5 needs more, smaller ANC's

The Ward 5 Redistricting Task Force recently began the process of deciding if and how to redraw the ward's Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs). The task force should create more ANC's with fewer Single Member Districts (SMDs) in each.

SMDs are the individual districts that make up each ANC. Each SMD serves around 2,000 constituents. Commissioners are unpaid, non partisan, and elected to 2-year terms.

Every ward has their ANCs arranged slightly differently. The most common set up is 4 or 5 commissions with fewer than 10 SMDs in each. For example, Ward 7 has 5 commissions, each consisting of 7 SMDs.

Currently, Ward 5 has only 3 ANCs, each with 12 SMDs. This is problematic because each covers a large geographic area, encompassing a wide range of neighborhoods with vastly different characteristics and needs.

Current ANC boundaries.

A more responsive system could be created by revising ANCs to be based on historic neighborhood boundaries, future economic development prospects, and common-sense issues of geography. This would improve local governance by ensuring that commissioners were voting on issues that they were engaged in and would impact their constituents. It would also make it easier for interested citizens to attend meetings and get involved in local government.

ANC's should comprise neighborhood clusters that are near each other and have similar densities and zoning characteristics.

For example, ANC 5C includes some of Ward 5's most densely populated neighborhoods along the North Capitol Street corridor, sparsely populated areas around the Armed Forces Retirement Home, and most of Catholic University. These neighborhoods have little in common and cover an area almost 3 miles from north to south.

This variation is problematic when the whole ANC votes on something that will in reality only impact a few SMDs. The controversy over Big Bear Cafe's attempts to secure a liquor license pitted commissioners from miles away against supportive commissioners from the neighborhood.

Issues can also arise when commissioners deal with changes or challenges from areas outside their borders that do not affect the larger ANC. For instance, the Eckington and Truxton Circle neighborhoods in ANC 5C are located very close to development in the newly branded NoMa neighborhood. They have to deal with related economic development and housing issues that will have little impact on 5C commissioners from farther north.

Many of the problems inherent in ANC5C's makeup could be solved by reducing its size and moving its northern most SMD's to another commission. A better, smaller ANC 5C could look like this:

Image by the author. Click for interactive map.

Similarly, the neighborhoods of Trinidad and Carver-Langston in ANC 5B, located north of Florida Ave and Benning Road, NE are part of the rapid economic development based around the H Street corridor. But ANC 5B stretches for miles towards the Maryland border. It includes the National Arboretum, and has several SMDs clustered around Rhode Island Avenue, NE.

These areas have different economic centers and geographies. It makes little sense for them to be involved in each other's parochial decisions.

These issues can be solved by creating a smaller ANC representing Trinidad, Carver-Langston, Ivy City and Gallaudet University:

Image by the author. Click for interactive map.

As currently constituted, several of Ward 5's economic corridors, historic neighborhoods and institutions are split between multiple ANCs. This makes it difficult to create coherent and effective policy.

Catholic University, the surrounding neighborhood of Brookland, and its main street of 12th Street are currently split between three ANCs. The nearby Rhode Island Avenue corridor also touches three separate commissions. Creating one ANC to encompass Catholic University, Brookland and neighborhoods to the north and south of Rhode Island Avenue, NE would allow local leaders to make smart decisions about the future of this area without undue outside influence.

Image by the author. Click for interactive map.

These examples do not form a complete plan for redrawing Ward 5's ANCs. But they do show that the existing commissions can be broken down in a more logical and effective manner.

The three ANCs in Ward 5 are vast. The current setup does not make participation in local politics easy for anyone, but it is especially problematic for seniors, people with small children and those without cars or easy access to transit.

Ward 5 isn't the only ward considering more, smaller ANCs. In Ward 1, which is currently divided into 4 commisions, ANC 1A and 1B each have 11 commissioners. 1B would now grow to 13 commissioners if its borders don't change. Kent Boese has proposed adding a 5th ANC in Ward 1, giving each 6-9 SMDs.

Creating smaller ANCs will make it easier for regular citizens to get involved in local affairs. This line of thinking appeared at the first task force meeting when members suggested that citizens will be more likely to attend meetings if they know it will be a short trip from their house.

The Ward 5 Redistricting Task Force has a chance to improve governance and get more people involved when making their recommendations. They should move forward by creating more ANCs and decreasing the size of the existing commissions.

Their next meeting will be held on Wednesday, August 24 at the 5th District Police Station, 1805 Bladensburg Road NE. Visit the Ward 5 Redistricting Task Force's blog for more information.

Matt Rumsey moved to D.C in 2005 to pursue a degree in History at American University. Originally from Connecticut, he has had no intention of leaving D.C. since he moved to Columbia Heights in the summer of 2008. He now lives in Ward 5. He currently works at The Sunlight Foundation. Views here are his own. 


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As a Truxton Circle resident, I agree 8,000% with this notion. I'd be really interested to see the preference for size and arrangement of ANCs expressed by residents of various areas in the GGW redistricting game.

by The AMT on Aug 23, 2011 1:40 pm • linkreport

Commissions also receive monies based on population, so breaking the ANCs down to smaller groups also reduces the related budgets (and also temptation for misuse of funds).

by Andrew on Aug 23, 2011 2:36 pm • linkreport

I agree 100% with the need for smaller commissions in Ward 5!!! I also agree with them needing to be divided by adjoining neighborhoods and economic centers. That said I would make one adjustment to your suggestions. You left half of Edgewood in 5C and put the rest in the new "Brookland" one. As an Edgewood resident (residing a block and a half north of Rhode Island Ave) I feel all of Edgewood should be in an ANC with Brookland. RI Ave is a big geographic barrier and would make a better boundary in my opinion. Already Edgewood is forgotten in discussions about development around the Brookland Metro even when half of the development is in Edgewood. Having an ANC consisting of both neighborhoods would help connect the neighborhoods and the development that is occurring within both.

by Sally on Aug 23, 2011 3:59 pm • linkreport

The Ward 5 ANCs don't make sense. I agree that they might be better off having the precincts south of Rhode Island Avenue in a different ANC. I also agree that neighborhoods right above NoMa and downtown should be their own ANC. I also agree that Brookland, Ft. Totten, and those neighborhoods should have their own ANC. Ft. Lincoln and the precincts on the lower half of South Dakota Avenue should have their own ANC.

But Ward 5 is contrast in DC neighborhoods. That is, the part above Florida Avenue but south of Rhode Island Avenue is very different than the northern part of the Ward. Those neighborhoods are more dense; and, when it comes to Trinidad and the parts near Benning road, they have greater crime. Those neighborhoods are more like downtown and have very little in common with the more residential parts of the ward north of Rhode Island Avenue.

Above Rhode Island Avenue the ward is much more middle to upper-middle class and more residential. The issues of residents in Woodridge, north Michigan Park, Ft. Totten, Avondale, Brookland, Ft. Lincoln, and Michigan Park are much different than those in Bloomingdale, NoMA, LeDroit Park, and neighborhoods right above downtown.

by Rain17 on Aug 23, 2011 7:31 pm • linkreport

interesting point, but reducing the size of ANCs also reduces the number of commissioners in each. Having a 5-member ANC (for example; some are as small as 2) seems risky to me, as one pr two rogue members can make it a lot rougher on everyone else.

I also think ANCs should all have odd numbers of members. Fewer tie votes.

by sb on Aug 23, 2011 9:47 pm • linkreport

Or, we just get rid of the dysfunctional ANCs.

by Jasper on Aug 24, 2011 10:22 am • linkreport

Rain17 makes an interesting observation in that a key difference in W5 areas has to do with urban vs. more suburban development paradigms. Ft. Lincoln is an outlier given it's urban renewal antecedents.

Bloomingdale, Eckington, and Trinidad are different from Brookland and Woodridge.

The issue with smallness in ANCs should be addressed by capacity building.

In and of itself, "appropriate" size isn't enough to "guarantee" that problems won't result.

by Richard Layman on Aug 24, 2011 10:36 am • linkreport

I disagree with your statement on 5C ANC and Big Bear's ABRA license. It had nothing to do with the ANC being large. It had to do with Big Bear being in a residential zone; Big Bear put out a ton of misinformation, its occupancy permit hadn’t been properly filed, its owner was a sitting commissioner, and that there was opposition to the application by adjacent property owners.

by Bdaneker on Aug 24, 2011 10:58 am • linkreport

I absolutely agree that Ward 5 needs more and smaller ANCs. Meetings can be painful as numerous issues that have nothing to do with your "Neighborhood" (that pesky second letter of "ANC") sometimes dominate the agenda. However, I also agree with Rain that just north of RIA, a break between dense urban neighborhoods and less-dense, less-urban neighborhoods occurs, and putting these two groups together could cause many more of those clashes that you describe such as Big Bear.

Imagination: after Rhode Island Row gets going, and after someone buys up the Brookland Square lot and starts to build a large, mixed-use development on it, other parcels start to look more and more interesting to developers. Cue people in Brookland whining about people going to use the new amenities on RIA parking in their neighborhood. Kinda like how people were going to park all over Eastern Market and the areas south of the Capitol to go to Nats games and that never happened because people actually take Metro when it's near their destination? Yeah, but that's a battle I don't want to have to fight, living near the Metro and really, really wanting to live in the dense urban neighborhood it is slowly becoming.

Anyway...we can hash the details out, but the overall idea is solid.

by Ms. D on Aug 24, 2011 11:25 am • linkreport

I completely agree, though I would have liked to see more discussion of 5A.

As a resident of Brookland and 5A07 I think 5A is the worst in regards to the number of neighborhoods and areas that are covered. There are some ANC SMDs like 5A08 that cover many different neighborhoods (including Brookland) with very different priorities.

The gerrymandering of Brookland is pretty awful that its split between multiple SMDs and two ANCs is strange. It also makes no sense for the residents of "South Brookland" to be under 5B (5B04) when the rest of Brookland is in 5A.

5A definitely should be smaller than it is currently is. Like Sally I think Edgewood and Brookland are sibling neighborhoods and having them in the same ANC maybe along with Woodridge makes sense. I feel that Rhode Island Avenue would be the natural southern border for this ANC.

It would be good for the SMDs to be more neighborhood centric ( one or two per neighborhood) with ANCs containing related neighborhoods/SMDs. Though I am not optimistic that this will happen anytime soon.

One question , how is 12th Street in Brookland is split between 3 ANCs? I assume you mean 3 ANC Single Member Districts (SMD)? And not split between ANC 5A, 5B, and 5C.

by Brookland Avenue on Aug 24, 2011 12:04 pm • linkreport

Another argument for smaller commissions is that the larger the group, the longer the discussions. A "committee" of eight or nine persons is tractable, and keeps debates reasonably short. Eleven is the max.

Small commissions are also problematical. Ours (1D) is six, and that's pretty small. More participants are needed to bring diverse points of view to the commission. Furthermore, a small commission can too easily become the vehicle of one or two very active commissioners. On a commission of five (as ours threatens to become, due to population decrease), it's easy for one commissioner and a couple of followers to have control of the commission. Better to have eight or nine commissioners, so no group of three or four can have control.

by Jack on Aug 24, 2011 1:11 pm • linkreport

What about Michigan Park and North Michigan Park? I am a resident of Michigan Park. Please place us with Brookland. I am tired of being grouped in with the Woodridge community that expands all down Rhode Island Ave.

by jlc on Aug 25, 2011 9:14 pm • linkreport

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