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Council commitee funds Stead Park upgrades

Parents from around DC who throng Dupont Circle's Stead Park can rejoice: Yesterday, after months of community advocacy, a DC Council committee voted to fund upgrades that will expand play space, install a jogging track, and better utilize the large playing field.

Photo by afagen on Flickr.

Stead Park has an endowment from the Stead Family, which will help maintain the transformational renovations, but the project requires city funds. Mayor Gray originally included $1.6 million in capital funds in his budget, but not until Fiscal Year 2015, which starts in October of 2014.

Residents asked the Council to approve the funding and move it up to FY 2014. Marion Barry (ward 8), the chairman of the Committee on Workforce and Community Affairs, was very supportive; yesterday, his committee voted 5-0 to put the funding in FY 2014, which will allow the construction happen over the next year.

The committee report says,

While the Committee applauds the Mayor for funding this initiative, the community and advocates of Stead Park are ready now for the much needed project... In order to not slow down the major progress of advocates, the committee recommends that 1.6 million of funding be moved into the FY14 budget so that the project can begin in the next fiscal year.
While playground is packed, field often goes unused

Stead Park, on P Street between 16th and 17th, has some playgrounds for children, a basketball court, and a large playing field. A few wonderful sports teams and after-school programs use the field loyally and lovingly, and know how rare such space is in this part of the city.

However, the field currently doesn't get much use during the rest of the day. It's also in bad shape. Holes and dirt patches mar the surface, and large puddles make it unusable after heavy rain.

Photo by tedeytan on Flickr.

Meanwhile, Stead's extremely popular playground draws parents from Mount Pleasant, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, U Street, Shaw, Logan, and Dupont. Friends of Stead Park, whose board I serve on, has been gathering community input since last year. Because the playing field is so underused, many residents without children that we've spoken to didn't even know the acre of greenspace exists behind the playground.

On Sunday, the field hosted a rare community event: a Jewish Music Festival organized by the nearby JCC. But even though the field was bustling, the playground was still very crowded with visitors from all over. Over 20 strollers and dozens of kids and parents were trying not to bump into each other as they crammed among the jungle gyms.

The playground was renovated 6 years ago and is very popular, while the field has sadly been neglected. Many of the parents we spoke to said that while they want to stay in the city and raise their kids here, they worry that there currently is not enough multi-use space or outdoors options for recreation and community building located nearby.

Project will provide fitness, recreation, and entertainment for all ages

With the city assistance, Friends of Stead Park plans to renovate the field with a smoother surface, better drainage, and artificial turf that will hold up better with use. A jogging track with trees and benches around the edge will give people another way to use the field during the day, while it will remain large enough for the organized sports leagues that use it in the evening.

A small part of the field space will become a kiddie splash park. A performance stage behind the existing building will allow the field to host more concerts, films, and cultural programming.

Plans for the park.

Parents and community members are excited to let their kids run around the field safely and reduce congestion on the playground. They are happy that more concerts, films, and cultural programming will come to the performance stage. They were relieved that there will finally be trees, shade, and seating, and places for children to splash on hot days. They are excited to be able to go for a jog without having to battle with street traffic.

Friends of Stead Park told the committee that we are glad the city is upgrading playgrounds, including the Harrison playground on V Street. That is necessary since the number of adults and children is growing so rapidly. Stead's playground is already quite nice and doesn't have much room to expand, but this great piece of green space is crying out for better and more use.

Starting the project this year will go a long way toward encouraging families to stay in the city and to be actively engaged, as community members said recently and during public meetings last year.

We would like to thank Councilmember Barry and the other members of the committee for voting to accelerate the funding. We ask that the full Council retain this relatively low-cost, high-value project in the FY2014 budget when it votes on May 22, so we can move forward this year to start improving the field and provide some much-needed space and options for our families and our community.


Thanks for the foolishness yesterday

We hope you enjoyed yesterday's April Fool joke posts on Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. Our April 1 edition was a true team effort, with significant writing, editing, and image creating by Andrew Bossi, Jessica Christy, Tim Krepp, Dan Reed, Miriam Schoenbaum, Jim Titus, and Steven Yates.

Photo by flowercat on Flickr.

Many, many more contributors and volunteers also assisted with ideas to flesh out the articles, concepts for breakfast links, or even helpful submissions we weren't able end up using. Thanks go to Agnès Artemel, Matt Caywood, Shree Chauhan, Neil Flanagan, Steve Glazerman, April January, Matt Johnson, Tracey Johnstone, Sarah Lewis, Dan Malouff, Michael Perkins, Alex Posorske, Ben Ross, Matthew Rumsey, Mitch Wander, Abigail Zenner, and anyone else I've forgotten.

A lot of other local writers had some excellent April Fool articles. John Kelly wrote a fantastic fake history article about a subway in the mid-1800s, called the "Mole Way," which had "stops near the Capitol, the White House, each of the city's markets and an adults-only nude beach near the Tidal Basin" as well as Georgetown and Tysons Corner.

Instead of escalators, people used rotating spiral "spinners" to get down to the stations. But trains entering the station blew off people's hats, which made people stop riding and the system was ultimately abandoned.

Rendering by Capital Pixel via UrbanTurf.

UrbanTurf broke the news of Donald Trump's planned design for the Old Post Office. New Columbia Heights reported that DC USA would place a curling rink in the underutilized parking garage. (Hey, maybe not a bad idea!)

Kaid Benfield announced that sprawl will no longer happen, Southwest TLQTC posted plans to redevelop Greenleaf Gardens, a public housing complex, and Alan Suderman discovered Marion Barry is running for mayor.

Finally, DC's elections board sent out a postcard telling residents they can only vote on April 23 at One Judiciary Square, nowhere else. Oh, wait, that last one wasn't a joke; it was just a really poorly-written note that conflated early voting and regular voting and will confuse residents.

What other local and regional April Fool posts did you especially like?


Barry: "Have courage" and pass the Maryland bag fee

Yesterday morning, DC Councilmembers Marion Barry and Tommy Wells went to Annapolis together to brief the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus on the success of DC's 5¢ disposable bag fee, and ask them to support a similar proposal currently before the Maryland General Assembly.

Photo by the author.

The Community Cleanup and Greening Act (HB1086/SB576) would mirror the District's Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Act and Montgomery County's bag law, which impose a 5¢ charge on all disposable plastic and paper bags retailers give out.

As in DC and Montgomery County, the bill intends to reduce the number of disposable bags shoppers use, and thus reduce litter and water pollution. Grocery stores report giving out 70% fewer bags since the fees took effect.

Delegate Michael Summers (D-Prince George's), a lead sponsor of the bill, introduced Barry as "everybody's mayor," and caucus members and the audience responded with a standing ovation. Barry went on to explain how Councilmember Tommy Wells had convinced him of the need for the bill by taking Barry out to the banks of the Anacostia River and showing just how much plastic bags pollute the river.

Wells provided context and rationale for the bag fee, and called it the "most successful environmental initiative in DC." He described how discount grocery stores like Aldi and Save-a-Lot have never given bags away for free, as part of their commitment to keeping prices as low as possible.

Barry concluded the briefing by urging his Maryland counterparts to "have courage," noting that the "community benefits are worth far more than five cents." After the meeting, Barry committed to further supporting the effort. "We have to do more to educate them," he said.

While the Anacostia River has seen significant reductions in plastic bag pollution, more than half of the river's watershed is in Prince George's County, which does not yet have a bag fee.

The Community Cleanup and Greening Act was heard by the Senate's Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday. The next public hearing, before the House Environmental Matters Committee, is scheduled for March 8. In addition to Summers, the bill's sponsors are Delegate Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City), Senator Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery), and Senator Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery).


DC Council bill would lower traffic camera fines

Councilmembers Tommy Wells (ward 6), Mary Cheh (ward 3), and Marion Barry (ward 8) just introduced a bill to lower traffic camera fines for low levels of speeding, blocking the box, stop signs and more.

Photo by BoyDisappearing on Flickr.

The bill will drop fines to $50 for certain offenses:

  • Speeding up to 20 mph over the limit
  • Blocking the box
  • Not yielding to a pedestrian in a crosswalk
  • Not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign
  • Not coming to a complete stop before turning right on red
  • Turning right on red when not allowed
There are 2 things explicitly not on this list: speeding more than 20 mph over the limit, and running a red light.

At the task force meetings, participants expressed a desire to keep higher fines for these. They felt that more excessive speeding is far more reckless and not something one can chalk up to not paying close attention, or a road designed for a too-high speed, or something like that.

For red lights, the task force heard evidence that while there isn't a relationship between the size of speed fines and compliance, there is one for red lights. Many felt that running red lights is something drivers more clearly recognize is wrong. I've still heard drivers argue that running a red light is better than coming to a stop because of the risk of getting rear-ended, or dispute the timings of yellow lights, but MPD's Lisa Sutter said that she is focusing on enforcing the more egregious red light running.

DC is going to start rolling out cameras for some of these infractions which don't have cameras now, like not yielding to pedestrians. Many drivers don't understand that it's wrong to make a turn quickly across a crosswalk and block a pedestrian's path. MPD has promised a substantial public information campaign, but an appropriate level of fine will hopefully ensure that there isn't too much backlash against stopping this very dangerous behavior.

Bill proposes 30-day warning period

Under the bill, every vehicle will get one warning period. The first time the vehicle gets an automated ticket, MPD will send the owner a notice about the ticket and more information on the kinds of infractions that cameras catch. They will then get 7 days after the letter gets mailed, or 30 days after the initial violation, as a grace period.

I had suggested an approach like this in the meetings, because some people have said they got 9 speeding tickets all in a couple of weeks and then found themselves owing over $1,000 before they even found out about the first ticket. If the purpose of the program is to stop speeding, there's no point in giving someone multiple tickets at once.

On the other hand, this could significantly cut into revenue, especially since most violations are from vehicles that only violate once. Many of those might be casual visitors to the District, and one could argue both sides about whether we ought to give expensive tickets to tourists who drive recklessly.

There won't be a separate warning for speeding versus blocking the box; a driver just gets one warning, total. Shared cars and rental cars won't get new warnings for new drivers.

Half of revenue would go to safety programs

One of the most important provisions of the bill is one dedicating half of the revenue from the camera program to safety programs. Some of the revenue can go toward MPD buying new cameras. This is critical, because the best way to reduce unsafe driving is to have greater "certainty of enforcement"—a higher chance of getting caught in more places. More cameras is what justifies lower fines.

It took MPD years to get budget approval to buy the upcoming set of cameras. For the program to really improve safety, that has to change, and this bill would make it easier for MPD to buy more cameras.

Money will also go toward educating drivers, possibly setting up a traffic safety unit at MPD, or projects at DDOT to redesign the roadway. The best way to cut down on speeding is to design a road that gives drivers subtle cues that a slower speed is appropriate, instead of one that encourages faster speeds.

Hearing is November 5

Councilmember Cheh already has scheduled a hearing for November 5, 11:00 am in room 412 of the Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. You can sign up to testify using this form.

What do you think of the bill?


Long-term homeownership does foster civic engagement

Last year, former DC mayor and current Councilmember Marion Barry tried to get the city to forbid construction of any new apartment buildings in his ward. The purpose? To increase homeownership rates, which stood at just under a quarter among Barry's constituency.

Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

The rationale?

"Renters, by their very nature, don't keep up their neighborhoods like homeowners would," Barry told the Washington City Paper. "Renters will allow drug dealers in their neighborhood. It's a fact. It's a doggone fact."

There's a tendency among local policymakers and activists to cast homeowners as the ideal residents of any neighborhood. The thinking goes that people with firm roots in a community will care enough to invest more time and effort into keeping that community livable. They will attend planning meetings, vote in local elections and lobby politicians.

On the other hand, renters—usually younger, transient and prone to skip out after a few months or years—are viewed as more apathetic to the plight of their surroundings, since they will likely move on in due time anyhow. And an under-involved population implies a less-than-vibrant civic culture. Barry may have resorted to hyperbole with the drug dealers line, but the perception is there.

Does homeownership really encourage civic engagement? A study in next month's issue of the Urban Affairs Review tackles the question. Looking at data collected from a group low- and mid-income homeowners and renters over four years, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill find that owning a home can indeed inspire someone to get involved with the community—so long as the ownership is sustained.

The study assumes civic engagement stems from three overarching factors: Financial self-interest, more general self-interests (such as neighborhood amenities and social ties), and rates of mobility. Of these, it appears that mobility—how often one moves or stays put—is the strongest. From the report:

This research also points to the importance of considering mobility when exam­ining causes of civic engage­ment, particularly instrumental civic engage­ment. Our findings indicate that homeowners and renters are affected differently by residential mobility. For homeowners, moving may prompt them to become more involved in neighborhood groups as a way to establish ties with others and integrate in a new community. Renters who move, however, are less likely to turn to civic participation as a way to build new social network ties.

Meanwhile, new homeowners were no more or less inclined to join a neighborhood group than a renter in the time before they bought a house. After purchasing, however, their likelihood to participate increased fourfold. And homeowners who return to renting are "no more or less likely to be involved in neighborhood groups than people who have never been homeowners." This isn't the case if an owner simply moves to a different house, in which case participation rates remained relatively constant.

Policy-wise, the study concludes that measures aimed at increasing homeownership rates in low-income neighborhoods can help precipitate a robust civic life, which in turn may bring about a better overall quality of life. However, beyond simply increasing access to homeownership, these policies would have to ensure it can be sustained.

Cross-posted at Next American City.


Barry holding up streetcar that was his idea 15 years ago

Councilmember Marion Barry is holding up a contract for the H Street streetcar, Mary Cheh's office told the Post's Tim Craig. He doesn't think the line is worthwhile, but that's a change from when he was mayor, when he put out DC's first plan showing a line on H Street.

1997 transportation plan from Mayor Barry. Click for photograph of full version.

Barry has filed a "disapproval resolution" on a design-build contract with a consortium of MC Dean and the Facchina Group to finish the H Street line. Even if Barry doesn't get support from his colleagues, that could delay the contract by 45 days to finish a line whose end date has already slipped several times, thanks to procurement snafus getting more cars and other factors.

Craig writes:

In an interview, Barry said he wants to slow up the project because he's not convinced the streetcar line is needed because the District has an "excellent Metro system" and reliable bus service along the H Street corridor.

"It's about priorities in spending and how much capital money we are spending on streetcars that benefit a small number of people," Barry said. "We are already subsidizing Metro and also subsidizing the Circulator... People already have good bus service."

The bus service wasn't even so good 15 years ago, when the Barry administration proposed a line on H Street in its 1997 transportation plan. That plan also had streetcar lines on Georgia and Maine Avenues and around Buzzard Point.

But today, Barry says, "It doesn't seem like a well-thought-out plan." Unlike 15 years ago?

The last line of Craig's story might suggest another, deeper motivation behind the move: David Catania, who has clashed in recent months with Barry, is a vice president at MC Dean, one of the companies getting the contract.


For Ward 8 Council: Jacque Patterson

It would be challenging to name a more divisive figure in DC politics than Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry. Recently, Barry has said he deserves another term because he's "wiser and more caring." On April 3rd, Ward 8 voters can show Barry they are, in fact, wiser and more caring about their future by voting for Jacque Patterson as their next councilmember.

Patterson's record is impressive. He emphasizes public safety, and he can speak personally: he served as an MPD reserve officer and is the only candidate with experience patrolling the ward. The violence and crime that have long defined the ward have fallen, but this gives little comfort for residents who still fear dangerous streets. To improve relationships between police and citizens, Patterson says he will work to "increase the effectiveness of community policing."

That's just one of the issues pertinent to all Ward 8 residents that his campaign emphasizes, such as education reform, enhanced economic development through the growth of local businesses, and improved public transportation.

A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Patterson is raising a young family in Ward 8, and his eldest daughter is a graduate of Thurgood Marshall Academy. Education hits home for Patterson. He told us that he will "pay particular attention to middle school-aged children, to ensure that they are well prepared for high school and beyond," adding, "This age group, often deemed the crossroad in development, is faced with the decision of whether it will continue or end its educational pursuits, and where grades begin to suffer greatly."

Another focus is jobs, particularly developing the ward's major business corridors of South Capitol Street, Good Hope Road, Alabama Avenue, and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. Patterson plans to bring together ANCs, the Ward 8 Business Council, and various community development corporations to create a comprehensive plan for developing the ward and enhancing its employment options.

With particular focus on development, Patterson said, "One of the biggest issues facing the next councilmember of Ward 8 will be the design and development of Poplar Point. How do we bring it together in ways that incorporates green spaces, affordable housing, recreation, retail/entertainment venues and commercial development?"

Patterson is also focused on improving public transit for the ward. Residents continue to face the challenge of both traveling within Ward 8 and connecting to crosstown neighborhoods on the bus. In response to Metro's proposed reduction of existing routes, Patterson pledges to advocate "for more frequent bus routes and more funding for the mass transit system, [as these are] vital to the growth and stability of the ward."

"I support the trolley coming east of the river and think it will not only help the transportation situation of a transportation dependent ward, but enliven and serve as a catalyst to revitalize downtown Anacostia," Patterson said in an email interview.

Patterson, the immediate past president of the Ward 8 Democrats, arrived in Washington in the mid-1990s while stationed at Andrews Air Force Base. Soon thereafter, his Shipley Terrace neighbors elected him Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, and he served 4 terms.

Positions in the U.S. military and Mayor Williams' administration, as well as with Federal City Council and the DC Housing Finance Agency, have both informed Patterson's policy stances and prepared him for the challenges of political leadership.

The Washington Post, Washington Examiner, and Washington City Paper have endorsed Patterson. This stands in stark contrast to Barry, who walked away from the Ward 8 Democrats endorsement forum without enough votes for an endorsement.

In his 8 years on the council, Barry has done far more to take personal political advantage of the poverty and other serious issues in Ward 8 than to actually try to solve them. The City Paper's Alan Suderman even reported today that Barry was trying to stoke racial divisions in the Council during the committee reshuffle that punished Council­member Tommy Wells (Ward 6).

While Barry plays defender of the downtrodden, residents of the ward can do far more to improve their neighborhoods and economic opportunities by taking a fresh turn and choosing Jacque Patterson. We urge Ward 8 voters to choose Jacque Patterson in early voting or on April 3.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington, written by one or more contributors. Active contributors and editors voted on endorsements, and any endorsement reflects a strong majority or greater in favor of endorsing the candidate.

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