Posts about Muriel Bowser
Virginia and Maryland changed their gas taxes this year. Both proposals included weeks or months of debate, including public hearings before the legislature. DC made a similar change yesterday. The total time from the first news story about it to final vote? Less than a day.
In DC's budget process, the mayor releases a proposed budget. Various council committees hold hearings over a period of weeks on their portions of the budget. Committee chairs then schedule markups, and just before the markups, release a draft of what they plan to change.
If the committee approves the changes, they all go to the council chairman, who then tries to assemble them into a budget. Habitually, the chairman releases his own budget late the night before the council is set to vote on the budget. If unexpected changes come up, that gives little time for residents to contact their councilmembers.
When then-Chairman Gray decided to cut streetcar funding in 2010, for instance, most councilmembers found out that morning. In a very short time, we, other blogs, residents using social media, and others were able to spread the word, which drove 1,000 calls to the chairman's office in just 3 hours. Even so, it wasn't in time to stop the Council from cutting the streetcar program. Instead, after lunch, they had to take a separate vote to restore the funding.
At each phase of the process, new ideas come up, and there is less time to react. There's plenty of opportunity to weigh in on the mayor's budget. But committee chairs don't publicly circulate a draft of the changes they're thinking about before any hearing. Most residents found out, for instance, about Mary Cheh's plan to extend the Circulator to the Cathedral, Howard University, and Waterfront Metro, and pay for it with a fare increase, the night before or day of her committee's vote.
Residents still had time to lobby council to reverse changes, as happened when Muriel Bowser suddenly and unexpectedly sliced funding for a Capitol Riverfront development project in favor of Ward 4 projects. After considerable pushback, Mendelson reversed part of that change yesterday.
But any ideas that come from the chairman have virtually no opportunity for public input. For some changes, those which are changes to the law to support the budget rather than the budget itself, the council has to pass its Budget Support Act twice, so the council could change things on its second reading. Still, that's more difficult; members have already voted for something by that time.
This year, Chairman Phil Mendelson's surprise budget changes went beyond just adding or removing funding for programs. He made some significant policy changes, like the gas tax. Other amendments put new requirements on government agencies' ability to execute programs that already exist. We'll talk about some of those next week.
If the Council restructured the gas tax or made other changes in a standalone bill, there would have to be a hearing, a markup, and two votes. But if the chairman slips a change into the budget the night before the budget vote, it means no hearing, no markup, and virtually no time for residents to weigh in.
Chairman Mendelson is very smart, but he can't think of every implication of a policy. The gas tax switch might be a good idea, but that's not the point. Maybe people have arguments against it that I haven't heard, or Mendelson's staff hasn't heard. Even if it's the right choice, it's dangerous to make even a good move so hastily.
There's a reason the legislative process is supposed to take some time. Residents need an opportunity to see the chairman's final proposal, plus any amendments members plan to introduce, more than a few hours before the vote.
And even a day or two still isn't the right amount for changes that go beyond simply deciding how much money to spend on what programs. Changes like the gas tax shift deserve to at least be part of a committee markup; most likely, changes of such significance ought to happen in standalone bills that get their own hearings and real deliberative thought.
Muriel Bowser kicked off her campaign this weekend, and as usual for a campaign kickoff, had a lot of inspirational-sounding phrases but few specifics of what she would do as mayor. As residents start to evaluate her, they need to ask for clarity about her views.
These are especially important questions for Bowser, because she has not taken clear stances on many issues while on the Council. That's an approach that can pay off strategically, since you avoid angering any constituency, but voters and reporters need to insist on specifics.
Here are a few questions reporters could ask:
Will Bowser affirm Mayor Gray's sustainability plan? If not, what would she change?
Bowser said in her speech, "We settled into managing the status quo, riding the success of our past instead of shaping the landscape of our future."
I'd like to see DC move faster on many things, but Mayor Gray just put out a very strong plan that shapes the landscape of our future in some extremely critical ways. Will she maintain the same goals and targets from the sustainability plan, change, or abandon them?
We could ask the same about other good plans, like the economic development strategy. A lot of planning has happened, and while Bowser derided "task forces" (many of which, indeed, often lead to little), there has been some really good planning in the last few years. Would she implement or scrap these plans?
What isn't the District doing today that it should be?
Bowser said that, because of scandals, DC has lost "our focus, our momentum, our need to think big and act swiftly." She said, "We need a change." That's what every candidate says. The logical follow-up needs to be, what change?
Being ethical is an absolute necessity, but it's only a foundation. What big thinking should DC swiftly act upon? How would a DC after a 4-year or 8-year Bowser mayoralty look different than it does today or would under a Gray or Wells mayoralty?
How should we manage growth?
Bowser told the Washington Post that how to "manage growth" would be a centerpiece of her campaign:
You'll find that a lot of people who have lived here for a long timeThat's all true. I look forward to seeing Bowser's ideas for helping the District grow without displacing existing residents. A lot of people believe that the most important thing to do to avoid displacing residents is to add more housing, but Bowser is only okay with accessory dwellings in basements and not in carriage houses, for instance.
— white and black — feel like that the growth is pushing them out or causing prices to go up, the senior citizens to get hurt. How do we manage it to the point that D.C. is welcoming to people who have lived here for five decades or people who have lived here for five months?
Thus far, in most of her statements on the council, she's shown a bias toward managing the growth by not wanting to have a whole lot change from the way things are today. Most of the time when I've interacted with her on a piece of legislation, she's "concerned" about a particular type of change because some of her constituents are "concerned."
Bowser doesn't want to make people shovel their sidewalks, didn't want bus parking in her ward but doesn't want any buses cut, and so on. Is everything fine the way it is? If so, what is the "urgency" she mentioned? Urgency to do what?
A big test of a leader is not what they will do when all residents are clamoring for action Mike DeBonis and Nikita Stewart wrote that "Bowser is open to attacks that her résumé and legislative record are thin compared with those of her potential council challengers." Personally, I'm not as concerned about her résumé or record per se. I'm interested to hear, however, what she really believes and would do as mayor. So far, she hasn't made that clear, and we need to know in order to form opinions.
What other questions would you like asked to better understand Bowser's positions?
Mike DeBonis and Nikita Stewart wrote that "Bowser is open to attacks that her résumé and legislative record are thin compared with those of her potential council challengers." Personally, I'm not as concerned about her résumé or record per se. I'm interested to hear, however, what she really believes and would do as mayor. So far, she hasn't made that clear, and we need to know in order to form opinions.
What other questions would you like asked to better understand Bowser's positions?
After being postponed a day because of the threat of snow, the marathon 7-hour oversight of the Office of Planning almost entirely revolved around the same controversial subject as the last 4-5 years: the zoning update.
DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson at the hearing.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson asked tough questions of people on both sides of the issue. At first, he wondered how some people could say the Office of Planning did plenty of public outreach while others complained it was lacking, but later in the hearing, he began to realize that no amount of communication would satisfy opponents.
Councilmember Muriel Bowser (ward 4), meanwhile, breezed in at the end to voice opposition to a number of elements of the zoning update, but misunderstood some key provisions around accessory dwellings.
"What am I missing here?"
Many people testified, including representatives from Ward 3 Vision and other supporters of the zoning update, but there were many opponents as well.
After hearing many complaints about proposals to allow Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and how threatening they would be to the character of neighborhoods, Chairman Mendelson tried to figure out what is so bad about having one in your neighborhood.
He calculated how many could fit in a block, then noted that not every property owner would want one. He asked Justine Kingham, "What am I missing here?"
When Kingham said that the issue is letting neighbors have a say in whether someone rents out a room in their house, Mendelson wondered aloud why it is anyone's business but the resident's own. "But should my neighbors decide whether I want somebody, one person coming in and out of the basement of my house or should I? Because that can be subjective."
Kingham then suggested that the Office of Planning limit the number of people who can live in an ADU, raising the specter of 5 "students" sharing a garage. In fact, there are limits: a main house plus an ADU can have only a maximum of 6 people combined.
Bowser: Enlarging ADUs is the problem
After all of the members of the public testified, Councilmember Bowser spoke about the good work that OP did in her ward but also raised concerns about some aspects of the zoning update, including effects of removing parking minimums and allowing corner stores by right.
Bowser opposes allowing accessory dwellings in existing detached garages. She said the reason is because people who live in them will want to enlarge them. Planning Director Harriet Tregoning pointed out, however, that under the proposed rules enlarging an exterior ADU will indeed require a special exception.
Bowser responded that she still thinks the Board of Zoning Adjustment will bias its decisions toward allowing people to expand ADUs once created, and therefore she still wants to have a longer process with hearings to create an external ADU in the first place.
Of course, no discussion of the zoning update would be complete without Linda Schmitt. In her vehement testimony, she said that the Office of Planning is trying to "remake every ward and every neighborhood," that her organization is not racist, and that a public input process that involves 700 people plus using Twitter isn't enough.
You can watch the entire hearing here.
Over 300 people rallied for affordable housing this weekend with the Housing for All Campaign. The packed house drew Mayor Gray and Councilmembers Muriel Bowser and Jack Evans, all of whom were unified in their commitment to stem the tide of displacement in the District.
Evans said, "We need to make sure the people who were here in the difficult times get to stay for the good times." But the three differed on how to respond to this need.
Mayor Gray promised a big housing announcement at his State of the District address next week, so he didn't make any commitments at this time. The Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force, which the Mayor commissioned nearly a year ago, has recently finished its work. Their report is expected soon, so he's likely waiting for its publication before making a statement.
He did take the opportunity to praise key housing programs that have struggled in the recession, including the Housing Production Trust Fund and Local Rent Supplement Program.
Bowser, however, challenged the Mayor on his housing record. "You can't say you're for affordable housing and take $40 million out of the Housing Production Trust Fund," she said referring to the DC budget in 2012 and 2013 when the administration proposed $18 and $20 million in cuts to the program, respectively.
The Housing Production Trust Fund has created 7,500 affordable housing units in its 10-year history and is respected as a model across the country. It remains to be seen if the Mayor's strategy will include a continued commitment to this highly-successful program.
The next few months will be critical for housing funding. The task force is scheduled to release its report in the next few weeks, and Mayor Gray will announce his housing plan. The Mayor will then submit his budget to the DC Council, which many hope will offer increased investments to make housing affordable to District residents.
"It is time to act," said Bob Pohlman, Executive Director of the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development. "More than a thousand newcomers are flooding into the District every month, putting more and more pressure on the cost of housing. If we don't face this reality and act now, affordable housing will be out of reach for tens of thousands of DC residents."
What does seem clear is that after years of accelerating housing need and limited political interest in the topic, affordable housing is becoming a key political issue again.
Wednesday is the final ward-based community information session for the zoning update, in Ward 4. This is a particularly important one as Councilmember Muriel Bowser seems undecided on, or leaning against, proposals to reduce parking minimums near transit or to permit corner stores in Petworth, and confused about the specifics of the proposal to let homeowners rent out a basement or garage.
The meeting starts at 6:30 (doors open at 6) at Takoma Education Campus, 7010 Piney Branch Rd NW. As with the others, the Office of Planning will present, then there will be time for people to ask OP staff questions individually, followed by a "town hall" where people can speak at a microphone.
Bowser has already asked the Office of Planning to delay forward motion on the zoning update last year. In a December email to the Chevy Chase listserv, she expressed "concern" over many of the very important, fairly timid, yet fiercely opposed provisions of the zoning update:
Neighbors-Explanations of accessory dwellings are confusing
I'm happy to answer any specific questions you have. My office has convened at least two meetings on the Zoning Update. I'll post to my website the major issues for which we've advocated. Briefly, the chief concerns raised in our meetings: parking requirements near transit zones, by right corner stores and accessory dwelling units, height requirements, non-residential uses in neighborhoods, and community input.
I remain concerned about parking requirements near transit zones and by right, non-residential uses in residential neighborhoods. I believe the issue with by right Accessory Dwelling Units (detached) has been removed from the recommendations.
Again, I'll alert you when a full summary of the issues is posted on my website. I've been invited to present to Citizens Association in January and will plan to spend some time discussing there as well.
Ward 4 Councilmember
Bowser appears to be, or to have been, confused about the accessory dwelling proposal. It's not surprising, since OP has been explaining it in a very opaque way.
At the Ward 3 meeting last week, OP's Jennifer Steingasser explained that the current, old regulations require a variance for an accessory dwelling inside a main house, but allow a unit by-right for a "domestic employee" above a garage. Steingasser said that OP's goal was to "flip" the two, allowing accessory units as of right inside main buildings but requiring a special exception for a new carriage house.
However, this wording confused many people, including some of our commenters who were at the meeting, as well as a vocal opponent who spent about 10 minutes arguing with Steingasser. I didn't agree with that opponent's views on the issue, but sympathized with her confusion as she received one complex answer after another that didn't elucidate the issue very well.
Accessory dwellings are an important policy. They are the easiest way to add housing choices without changing the built form of neighborhoods, help house people at stages of life where they want an English basement or small garage, and give homeowners a way to earn more income and help pay the mortgage or supplement a fixed retirement income.
The Office of Planning need not "spin" the issue as not really much of a change. Instead, they should proudly explain why this is the right policy and stand up for it.
Map shows more about corner store proposal
They are standing up for, and more clearly explaining, the corner store proposals. OP made this map of corner stores in Ward 4, and says they are working on comparable maps for other wards. (At the Ward 3 meeting, a few residents asked for Ward 3 specific maps; it wasn't clear to me why they couldn't just focus on the upper-left portion of a citywide map, but whatever.)
In the map above, the dark purple is the mixed-use or commercially zoned areas, and the light purple the "buffer zone" in which it will be illegal to create a corner store. The red dots are examples of the type of store that the new zoning will allow (though most of them are in the buffers).
Yellow is the area where corner stores will be legal under the zoning update; in Ward 4, it's pretty much just Petworth and a few other very small areas. With corner stores limited to actual corners or buildings originally built as commercial, there will be very few eligible sites, since most of the buildings already have residents in them.
Can you attend?
Thanks in part to Greater Greater Washington readers, people supporting the zoning code or asking for it to go further equaled the number of people opposing the changes at last week's Ward 3 meeting. One person asked OP to restore their proposal for parking maximums (which require just a transportation analysis to exceed), and another spoke up for lighter restrictions on corner stores.
DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, Councilmember Mary Cheh, Zoning Commissioner Rob Miller, reporters Tom Sherwood and Mike DeBonis, and many others heard a wide range of views from residents, ranging from wanting more change to none at all. It's important to have a similar diversity of views at tomorrow's Ward 4 meeting, the last one of this series.
Please stop by Takoma Education Campus, 7010 Piney Branch Rd NW, at 6:30 (doors open at 6) and try to stay until about 8, when they'll let people speak in the town hall. The balance of views during that open mic session will likely have a lot of sway over whether Councilmember Bowser stands in the way of the zoning update or not.
Update: The original version of this post suggested that Bowser was leaning against or "unsure" on the accessory dwelling proposal. However, the email shows she is leaning against the other proposals. She does not appear to be undecided on, but apparently is confused about, the accessory dwelling proposal. The post has been corrected.
Will the Spingarn streetcar barn harm the Benning Road corridor? Would a bus garage on North Capitol damage surrounding neighborhoods? Will mixed use development destroy Brookland? Discussions in DC's Ward 5 often center around what residents oppose, but what's really needed is a plan for what they do want.
Ward 5, mostly in Northeast DC, has the most industrial land, surface railroads and suburban big box stores of any part of the District. In short, it's the farthest away from the kind of walkable mixed-use patterns in highest demand today.
Its new councilmember, Kenyan McDuffie, is trying to figure out the future of Ward 5. He's got a tough uphill climb to bring fractious neighborhood activists together in a vision that could fundamentally reshape the ward, while dealing with old infrastructure and new infrastructure proposals that might or might not fit into a vision.
Ward 5 has a famously-bitter political culture, with ward-wide and neighborhood listservs that draw more nasty, personal backbiting than perhaps any others in the city. In that toxic environment is a very loud chorus of voices shouting down almost any ideAFRHa.
The critics point to a lot of transportation storage facilities being planned or proposed for Ward 5:
- Ivy City is getting a parking lot for 65 charter buses displaced from Union Station. Ivy City already has very poor residents with many health problems, and don't need the added pollution. But Mayor Gray says it's also one of the most logical places to locate the buses, because it's along New York Avenue and there's ample city-owned vacant land there today.
- After long insisting the streetcar facility could be under the H Street overpass, DDOT suddenly moved it to the Spingarn campus. They said they had no alternative to Spingarn, because it was too late to try to work something out for the RFK parking lots or some other spot, any of which would be more complex and time-consuming.
- WMATA is now looking at relocating the Northern Bus Garage on 14th Street to a part of the Armed Forces Retirement Home property on North Capitol Street. WMATA sorely needs a more up-to-date facility, residents of 14th Street want to get rid of the bus garage, and AFRH wants to sell some of its land.
However, WMATA initially wanted to build its garage at Walter Reed, where there was plenty of room to keep it away from surrounding houses. Councilmember Muriel Bowser staunchly opposed the plan, as did Mayor Gray. Was Ward 4 able to wield a lot of clout because it's a wealthier part of the city?
According to sources familiar with the discussions, WMATA officials now think AFRH might work even better, as it's closer to the center of the city and North Capitol and Irving are now configured as high-speed near-freeways. It's not right next to any residential neighborhood, let alone inside one. Still, it will bring more deadheading bus traffic to some streets which don't have the buses now.
But if all or some of them will go there anyway, are there opportunities to design them to be assets to the area?
The buses in Ivy City are pretty hard to make into a plus, but a streetcar barn is really not such a bad thing. If designed well, it could even contribute to the neighborhood.
AFRH might be the best spot for a bus garage that nobody really wants to live near (except people in Friendship Heights, like some who want to landmark the Western Bus Garage on the belief that a mid-rise building would be far worse).
It's hard to be very surprised that the District ends up suggesting locating transportation facilities in a ward that already has many transportation facilities, relatively low densities of residents, and many places without immediate opportunities for other types of development. In places far from Metro or high-frequency bus lines, large-scale residential or office development would be hard to attract and would bring lots of its own new traffic, likely stirring up vociferous opposition on the listservs as well.
That's why it's great that McDuffie is also moving beyond simply saying "hell, no" and trying to jump-start some planning for his ward. He is proposing an industrial land use task force to look at how to plan for the ward's many acres of industrial spaces.
At Wednesday's hearing on the bill, McDuffie suggested a MARC station at New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road. As Dan Malouff discussed, it's not a bad idea. McDuffie also wants to look into the potential for residential development, urban agriculture, and hubs for small businesses and nonprofits in Ward 5, he said.
If McDuffie can shepherd a vision for the future of Ward 5, and more importantly get something his loud neighborhood activists can say yes to, it will do a lot more to improve the quality of life than just blocking a few locally-undesirable transportation facilities. It will also create more reasons to spread those facilities out to other parts of the city as well.
Still, as long as Ward 5 is the most industrial of the wards, it'll attract things that tend to go in industrial places. A vision would also give residents something to ask for in exchange for these proposals.
Maybe, rather than stopping a bus garage on North Capitol, they can insist on money for other priorities for spots that are closer to more residents. Likewise, If a training facility at Spingarn doesn't mitigate the cost of having the car barn, what would residents like instead?
Ward 5 can ask for the city to really invest in what they want, when it also invests in what the rest of the city needs.
Councilmember Muriel Bowser (ward 4) briefly joined Monday's hearing on the Tommy Wells-Mary Cheh speed camera bill. DDOT is studying whether to modify some speed limits, but in her opening statement, Bowser said she doesn't support raising speed limits:
Here are a few key quotes:
I often ask [constituents] this question, I say, "What do you think is one issue that goes across every ward, every neighborhood, every street, every part of Ward 4?" And nobody can ever guess that it's speeding. It's literally speeding. We get requests for stop signs, for speed bumps, for traffic and parking enforcement. [It's] among one of the biggest type of requests that we get.
I hear a lot of people talking about DDOT reviewing the speed limits in the District, and all I hear is that DDOT may raise the speed limits in the District. And I'm not for raising the speed limits in the District. ... If this notion is that if we can raise the speed limit high enough, then we won't give anybody tickets. Or that if it's a big street with wide lanes, then it's not really a residential street so we shouldn't have to worry about people speeding down it.
But the fact is, even on my major arterials, people live there. ... 16th Street, as one of my constituents says, is not I-16th Street. It's a street a lot of commuters use, but people live there.
DDOT has promised to review speed limits in DC, and in some cases, possibly including some freeway segments and some non-residential arterials, I agree the speed limit is likely too low. Elsewhere, perhaps it is too high.
Many councilmembers and public witnesses called for a systematic, consistent process for setting speed limits. This makes a lot of sense, as long as the process is not the old traffic engineer practice to set speed limits at or above the speed of 80% of the cars.
The 80% rule doesn't give pedestrians or bicyclists a vote, and they're the more vulnerable road users. It doesn't give parents a vote about what lets them feel safe walking around with their children, or seniors a vote about what makes them safe navigating their neighborhood. Drivers' opinions matter, but so do everyone else's, and making streets safe must trump speed.
In Ward 4, Councilmember Muriel Bowser is facing five challengers in the April 3 Democratic primary. For his strong leadership on ethics and positive vision for the ward, we support Max Skolnik.
The DC Council is currently at a standstill, mired by scandal. Earlier this month, we learned of federal investigations into the prolific campaign money man Jeff Thompson. 12 out of 13 members of the Council took contributions from Thompson, including Bowser. In order to restore trust and effectiveness to the council, strong reforms are vitally important.
Skolnik, a former ANC commissioner, has shaped his campaign around ethics and campaign finance reform. He has a strong background in education and brings concrete and proven proposals for education in Ward 4. Skolnik would also bring a positive voice on development and smart growth to the council.
Skolnik is a strong advocate for real, meaningful campaign finance reform. He fully supports Initiative 70, the ballot measure that would ban direct corporate contributions to candidates. Skolnik has signed on to Independent at-large candidate David Grosso's transparency challenge, agreeing to fully disclose the sources of any and all campaign contributions. Additionally, Skolnik supports ending all outside employment for councilmembers and abolishing constituent services funds.
Skolnik also brings to the table a long record of experience in education and working with youth. Since 2002, Skolnik has run the non-profit Kid Power, which provides a full array of service-learning opportunities District youth. Skolnik understands that education involves far more than simply what happens in the classroom. This experience gives him a broad view on education that is presently lacking on the Council.
Specifically, Skolnik outlines detailed action items on education, including expanding the Promise Neighborhood initiative to Ward 4 and beyond. This program, which has seen huge success in Ward 7, understands that education is a "cradle to career" issue. Skolnik understands that the best way to lower unemployment, decrease crime, and increase achievement is to reform all areas of youth services.
Skolnik also importance of building communities that work for all residents, that foster small and local business, rather than relying on big-box retailers. Skolnik would be a strong and effective advocate for smart transportation and growth policies.
Bowser has not set herself apart as a strong leader with a vision for DC While she has talked about ethics and reform, her piecemeal approach to reform has been uninspiring. She is more reactive than proactive, with her ethics reform package being a prime example of this. Bowser missed a huge opportunity to distinguish herself as a champion for good government and transparency. She has also failed to provide effective oversight or strong leadership on the WMATA board.
We believe that Max Skolnik is the best choice in this race and encourage Ward 4 voters to give him their vote 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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