District officials fire back on NCPC "bureaucratic blackmail"
National Capital Planning Commission Vice-Chair Rob Miller, who works for Vincent Gray, NCPC member and DC Planning Director Harriet Tregoning, and DDOT Director Gabe Klein sent strong letters to NCPC Chairman Preston Bryant objecting to his sudden attempt to block an FTA grant for DC streetcars.
The letters make a number of important points. The FTA grant itself would pay for extending the streetcar outside the area where overhead wires have been traditionally disallowed. Meanwhile, the DC Council's legislation on overhead wires goes to great lengths to protect the areas NCPC has generally considered to be part of the "federal interest," including the Mall and areas with views of key memorials.
In fact, as Gabe Klein notes in his letter, the legislation allowing wires on H Street and Benning Road but not allowing them elsewhere until after further planning and debate is an approach "NCPC initially supported as a compromise." DC has repeatedly tried to craft the rules in a way that accommodate NCPC's concerns, but NCPC seems to have responded by seeking broader power over streetcars than the law allows and beyond their traditional role.
And, very importantly, Bryant's letters represented a commission consensus that didn't exist; the board, which includes Presidential appointees, representatives of executive agencies, Congressional representatives, and DC officials and appointees, hasn't yet debated the issue.
In her usual diplomatic yet effective style, Tregoning wrote,
As you may know, I was very much looking forward to your leadership of the Commission and based on my own experience working with you (recently and when you were part of Governor Kaine's Administration), I had complete faith in your good will and candor. I particularly relied on your representation in your communication to the Commission in mid-June:Klein also points out that the Benning Road segment, the one the FTA grant would cover, would "serve a highly transit-dependent community, experiencing a 20 percent unemployment rate." This is, as Tregoning noted, "an area of the District in which the Commission has historically shown limited interest."I am aware that each Commission member has his or her own thoughts over streetcars. Therefore, in discussions with other parties, we are being mindful not to suggest that the Commission has agreed to anything at all. ...Thus, I was particularly disappointed and concerned about the letters that went out under your signature this past week.
Items that impact the Mall and views of major monuments are generally agreed to be part of the federal interest, and the Council's initial legislation clearly offered those protections while the final emergency overhead wire legislation went even further. All new streetcar purchases will be required by law to operate for one mile without wires, and the Council will need to approve any new segments including a plan detailing the potential impacts on view corridors or historic districts.
However, when the Council declined to expand NCPC's approval authorities beyond the powers granted by federal statute (which it cannot do in any event), the seemingly petty response was a letter to the FTA. ...
I especially regret the loss of comity and the potential harm to the heretofore excellent working relationship between the District and the NCPC, but this is an issue of democracy and home rule and thus a matter of principle for the District.
I hope we can endeavor to get beyond this disagreement and regain a state of mutual respect and cooperation, but the path forward will not be via one of us seeking to restrict the funding of the other.
She's being too kind; NCPC, like the Committee of 100, seemed very unconcerned about what goes on east of the Anacostia until it became politically expedient to suddenly want to protect views all across the city from the pesky wires that would interfere with looking at all the freeways, power plants, and aboveground power lines that nobody had objected to before.
Commission members are slated to discuss the wire issue today in executive session. I realize there are legal opinions involved, but it's ironic that NCPC will now be talking in secret about their position on wires given that one of Bryant's arguments for a stepped-up NCPC role was to ensure public participation. Did they really want public participation or just their own?
From: Miller, Robert (COUNCIL)
Sent: Mon 6/28/2010 1:27 PM
To: Bryant, Preston; Commission Members
Cc: Young, Deborah B.; Acosta, Marcel C.
Subject: RE: streetcar issue - update #3
A direct response from Chairman Gray to your 6/24/10 letter to the DC Council may be forthcoming, sometime after consideration by the Council of the pending legislation discussed in your letter, which would amend the existing law regarding overhead wires in the L'Enfant City.
However, in the meantime, I must strongly object to your 6/24/10 letter to the Federal Transit Administration, opposing the District's $25 million federal grant application. The purpose of this application has nothing to do with the existing law that would be amended by the Council's pending legislation. Rather, the purpose of the grant is to extend the tracks on the H Street-Benning line from Oklahoma Avenue to the Benning Road Metro - an area of the city not even affected by the existing overhead wires prohibition. These grant dollars are critical to the District's efforts to extend economic revitalization and transportation connections to one of the most underserved areas in the city located east of the Anacostia River.
I also must object to the statement in your letter to FTA that "NCPC maintains Council's legislative action is contrary to a legal opinion issued by NCPC's General Counsel." As you well know, no vote has been taken by NCPC to date on the legality of the pending legislation, and for you to have characterized that as the NCPC position in your letter to FTA
— as opposed to your position or the NCPC General Counsel's position — is misleading. The cited legal opinion has not even been shared with me as vice chair of NCPC, nor I believe with any District members of NCPC (although it was verbally summarized and discussed at NCPC's June 2010 executive session), despite the fact that the District has been open in providing NCPC with two other legal opinions (one by the DC Office of Attorney General, and one by attorney Andrea Ferster) which each concluded that the District has the authority to enact the proposed legislation.
Regarding your substantive concerns about the legislation, it is my understanding that the current draft of the bill includes several accommodations to federal interest and historic viewshed concerns, and the District executive and Council continue to work with NCPC on processes going forward to ensure that federal interests and historic viewsheds are protected, which I hope would be incorporated in a Memorandum of Understanding between the executive and NCPC. However, I am sure you would agree that the Council has no authority to provide NCPC with approval authority over any matter, as had been proposed by NCPC staff to Councilmember Wells' staff.
I respectfully request your withdrawal of the 6/24/10 letter to FTA, which I would characterize as a form of bureaucratic blackmail that is contrary to the best interests of residents, workers, and visitors in the District of Columbia.
Legislative Counsel to
DC Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray
The John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Suite 504
Washington, DC 20004
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