Greater Greater Washington

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New ANC 5D selects meeting location that avoids residents

The new ANC 5D, which includes the neighborhoods of Ivy City, Trinidad, Carver Langston, and Gallaudet University, will hold its second monthly meeting next Tuesday at a location outside the ANC's boundaries. Why would the level of DC government closest to the people purposely meet at a place that makes it difficult for residents to attend?


Boundaries of ANC 5D. Image from Office of ANCs, annotated by the author.

When the ANCs were redrawn last year, I was part of the team that created the map for Ward 5 which the DC Council adopted.

We made a serious effort to push for geographically-smaller ANCs than the 3 large ones the ward had previously. One significant reason was to help residents reach meetings without driving long distances. We purposely drew what ultimately became ANC 5D to unite dense, urban, rowhouse neighborhoods in the southeastern part of the ward into a compact commission.

There are multiple community spaces that could house meetings within the ANC: Gallaudet University, churches, two recreation centers, multiple schools, and other locations open to the public. It would be easy to find a place where residents could walk a couple blocks to interact with their elected representatives.

Last month, the newly-seated ANC met for the first time at the Metropolitan Police Department's Fifth District headquarters, on Bladensburg Road in the Arboretum neighborhood. While located outside of the new ANC, this location is within the boundaries of the former ANC 5B, which included all of the new ANC 5D as well as more area to the north (Arboretum, Gateway, Brentwood, Langdon, and part of Brookland).

It made sense to hold the meeting at a familiar location, and I assumed this would be a temporary location until the commission chose a regular meeting space inside the new ANC's boundaries.

Unfortunately, at this meeting, the commission announced they would continue to meet regularly at the police station. They gave spurious reasons:

  • Meetings would be held at the police station because people's emotions run high at these ANC events and it would be good to have the police nearby in case things get out of hand. If this were the case, why don't other ANCs all hold meetings in police stations?
  • There is nowhere in the ANC that could hold the thousands of people who live in the ANC all at once. I have attended ANC meetings for years now, and I've never seen attendance higher than a couple dozen people. As noted above, there are many places in the neighborhoods that could hold ANC meetings.
  • Everyone drives to these meetings anyway, so it doesn't matter if it's far from the homes in the constituent neighborhoods. This is the most facetious reasoning of all. It's a chicken-and-egg situationpeople drive to the meetings now because there's no easier way to get to the meetings. Biking is difficult because the most direct route (Bladensburg Road) is a dangerous six-lane arterial with speeding commuters and a long, steep hill.

    Only one bus route (the B2) runs up to the police station from where most of the population lives, and it doesn't run frequently in the evenings when meetings are held. The end result is that those without cars have multiple reasons to not attend ANC meetings.

    According to the latest Census estimates, approximately 51% of the households in ANC 5D have a car. By holding the meetings in a place where driving an automobile is the most logical way to attend, the ANC is selecting for a certain type of resident, and not receiving the input of at least half of the community.

The ANC did announce that they would hold some meetings inside the commission boundaries at some point, but there's no reason not to hold them all there. They should rescind as soon as possible the decision to hold meetings at the police station. It's the smart, sensible, democratic thing to do.

Rob Pitingolo, NeighborhoodInfo DC, assisted with data for this post.

Geoff Hatchard lived in DC's Trinidad neighborhood. The opinions and views expressed in Geoff's writing on this blog are his, and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer. 

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Meetings would be held at the police station because people's emotions run high at these ANC events and it would be good to have the police nearby in case things get out of hand.

Wow. Seriously? What the heck are they planning?

by oboe on Feb 5, 2013 2:34 pm • linkreport

@oboe

They're planning on demonstrating "The soft bigotry of low expectations" in action, I guess.

Granted, there have been some ANC meetings that have left me with a not-insubstantial desire to assault several commissioners and participants, but the ability to control one's baser impulses seems like a basic prerequisite for participation in civic fora.

by Dizzy on Feb 5, 2013 2:44 pm • linkreport

Maybe a Councilmember can introduce legislation mandating that ANC meetings take place within its boundaries.

One wouldn't think such legislation is necessary, but then...

by Andrew on Feb 5, 2013 2:51 pm • linkreport

Looks like a hastily-assembled list of lazy excuses for just continuing the current situation instead of putting any work into finding a more convenient location.

Geoff, maybe if you did the legwork yourself to find out what location could host, and then just present that to the ANC on a platter they might take you up on it.

by MLD on Feb 5, 2013 2:53 pm • linkreport

And here we have another reason to get rid of the ANCs.

BTW: It is sad that not only the VA GOP has given up on democracy, but also the ANC 5D folks.

Oh America, land of the not-so-free.

by Jasper on Feb 5, 2013 4:08 pm • linkreport

well, isn't this Kathy Henderson's ANC? With her sign-stealing, illegal electioneering, etc. history, it wouldn't surprise me if the police needed to get involved at some point.

Also, check the ANC's books--are they paying to host the meetings at the MPD station? If so, that might be your answer as to why they have them there.

by sbc on Feb 6, 2013 12:29 am • linkreport

I'm pretty sure it is not "legal" to meet outside of the ANC's boundaries. This came up with ANC6C having meetings at Capitol Towers, which is located in 6A. (but two blocks outside of the 6C border). There was another instance of this too.

by Richard Layman on Feb 6, 2013 12:56 pm • linkreport

MLD: Apparently Gallaudet offered to host meeting before, but I don't have verification on that one. The Trinidad Neighborhood Association simply goes through DPR to schedule the use of rooms at the two rec centers in the neighborhood. I'll see what I can find out to present at the meeting this coming Tuesday.

sbc: I'm certain there is no money involved here. The police station doesn't charge community groups for use. It's just inconvenient for residents, that's all.

Richard: Do you have documentation about the 6A/6C issue? I'd love to know if there's precedent here. Thanks!

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Feb 7, 2013 9:48 am • linkreport

It's not strictly illegal to hold meetings outside the boundaries. The exact rule is:

"Each Commission shall meet in public session at regular intervals at least 9 times per year at locations that are designed to reasonably accommodate the residents of the Commission area, depending on the issues to be considered by the Commission." DC ST § 1-309.11 (b)(1)

I think sufficient evidence is provided here that the location does not reasonably accommodate the residents of the Commission area, so you could probably notify the Commissioners and the Attorney General that you believe the Commission is violating the DC Code by holding their meeting in a location that does not reasonably accommodate the residents, given location outside the boundaries, number of residents without a car, lack of busses and other transit, etc, if you were so inclined. (I'm not a lawyer or anything though, so that's not legal advice.)

by George on Apr 3, 2013 3:18 pm • linkreport

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