Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Ward 3


Wilson's principal gets the axe even though test scores are up. Here's a likely explanation

Wilson High School is the largest and most sought-after neighborhood high school in DC. On Friday, its principal announced that DC Public Schools had decided not to renew his contract for next year because standardized test scores at the school were unsatisfactory. How do these two facts fit together?

Photo of Wilson High School from DCPS website.

Wilson's principal, Pete Cahall, recently made headlines when he came out at the school's Pride Day event. Now he's in the news for another reason: he sent a letter to the DC Council announcing he'd been fired. Although he said he wasn't going to fight the decision, he listed what he saw as his accomplishments at the school—including raising test scores.

DCPS evaluates principals based on a number of factors in addition to test scores. And in accordance with its general policy of silence on personnel decisions, the agency hasn't explained why Cahall was fired. But let's assume Cahall's explanation is accurate. Given that Wilson's test scores are the highest of any DCPS high school that doesn't require students to submit applications, many may be wondering where Cahall fell short.

Wilson's achievement gap

Most likely, the answer is that he failed to significantly boost scores for low-income and minority students at the school. For the 2012-13 school year, proficiency rates on DC's standardized tests, the DC CAS, were 90% for white students and only about 47% for black students. There are marked disparities in proficiency rates between whites and Hispanic, special education, and low-income students as well.

As a result, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education has classified Wilson as a Focus school under federal guidelines. Focus schools are schools that have large achievement gaps between specific groups of students and get special monitoring and professional development. There are 20 DCPS schools in that category, but Wilson is the only high school. Deal Middle School, Wilson's main feeder school, is not in the Focus category.

Wilson, located in Ward 3, has more affluent and white students than any other neighborhood high school in DC. But it's still pretty diverse. Its enrollment is 46% black, 17% Hispanic, and 31% low-income. Students who live outside its boundaries make up 46% of its student body.

In his letter to the DC Council, Cahall pointed out that scores for Wilson's African-American students increased last year: the proficiency rates for that group went up from 45% to 58% in math and from 49% to 61% in reading, according to the DCPS website. (Last year's scores for low-income students at Wilson aren't available yet.)

Perhaps DCPS just didn't think that progress was enough. But it's also possible that other factors entered into its decision. While many commenters on the DC Urban Moms and Dads forum expressed disappointment at Cahall's departure, others had complaints. Some didn't like the way he handled a robbery spree at the school last month, and several felt he wasn't moving the school forward academically.

Two Wilsons

While the specifics of Cahall's firing aren't entirely clear, many have observed that for years there have essentially been two Wilsons: one for affluent white students, most of whom live within the school's boundaries, and another for low-income minority students, many of whom come from other parts of the District.

The first group can get a pretty good education at Wilson, but the others often don't get the attention they need. Maybe DCPS hopes that firing Cahall will move the school in the direction of making the Wilson experience the same for students at all income levels. Is that possible?

One way to measure how much a school does for its students is to look at how much its students have improved on test scores. DCPS and other government agencies tend to emphasize proficiency rates, which measure the number of students who score above a certain "cut score." But if students come in at a fairly high level of proficiency, it doesn't make sense to give the school credit for that.

Growth percentiles, on the other hand, compare test scores at the school against those for students with similar levels of prior achievement across the city. If a school has a median growth percentile of 60, that means that on average, its students grew as well or better than 60% of their academic peers. You can find measures of student growth for all DCPS and DC charter schools in the school equity reports available through the LearnDC website maintained by DC's Office of the State Superintendent of Education.

Growth measures at Wilson and elsewhere

The growth percentiles for low-income students at Wilson haven't been all that impressive. The average for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years was 43 for both math and reading, below the city average of 49. (The overall growth percentiles at Wilson were 53 for reading and 48 for math.)

Some other non-selective DCPS high schools had better growth percentiles for their low-income students, even though their overall proficiency rates are far lower than Wilson's. In math, Ballou's low-income growth percentile was 50 and Cardozo's was 52. In reading, Coolidge's figure was 46 and Eastern's was 49.

None of these figures is stellar, but one charter high school does far better than that: the growth percentiles for low-income students at Thurgood Marshall Academy were 86 for math and 73 for reading.

Of course, it isn't always fair to compare charter and DCPS schools. Charter schools have more freedom to experiment and don't have to take in new students mid-year, which can be disruptive. And to some extent, students at charters are a self-selected group since their parents were motivated enough to apply.

But virtually all low-income students at Wilson had to apply as well since they're largely from outside the school's boundaries. So they, too, are a self-selected group.

Socioeconomic integration may not be enough to help poor kids

Some have argued that low-income students do better at schools with a significant proportion of more affluent students. But Wilson's growth percentiles suggest that merely putting them in the same building with wealthier peers isn't enough. And Thurgood Marshall, with its far higher growth figures, is 80% low-income.

One advantage to a school that has a large proportion of low-income kids is that it can focus on the remediation that many of its students need. That may be more challenging at a more diverse school where kids come in at different levels.

Of course, test scores don't measure everything. No doubt there are other advantages to a socioeconomically diverse school like Wilson. Theoretically, kids of all backgrounds learn to interact with students who come from circumstances different from their own, even if the subgroups don't mingle all that much.

But Wilson needs to figure out a way to do better by its low-income and minority students. Whether or not Cahall was on his way to doing that is now a moot point, but it should be a top priority for his successor.


New density will change the face of upper Northwest

Despite some bruising battles in Upper Northwest, big changes are underway. Over the next two years, a large number of residential buildings that are opening may change the area's politics for good.

Photo by StreetsofWashington on Flickr.

Upper Northwest has a reputation for being full of people who hate new buildings, are suspicious of cyclists, and worry that students will die chasing ping-pong balls into the street. After seeing their neighborhood commercial strips reduced to mattress stores while others thrived, many residents started looking for another way.

They saw how progressive urban design made other neighborhoods safer, more lively, and better for people of all ages. Already, we're starting to see the effects: dense mixed-use areas and walkable blocks of single-family homes can be good neighbors. The new residents will probably like the new vitality even more.

New buildings make good neighbors and better neighborhoods

Cathedral Commons symbolizes the area's anti-development reputation. In 1999, Giant Food proposed rebuilding the midcentury shopping center at Wisconsin Avenue and Newark Street in Cleveland Park. Some residents were fiercely opposed, and the fight dragged on through multiple revisions, an attempt to landmark the dreary building, and an expensive lawsuit against the final mixed-use proposal.

Cathedral Commons residential building under construction. Photo by the author.

Still, a strong enough coalition of people who were frustrated with opponents' demands formed to push the project through. Cathedral Commons will finally open by the end of 2014, and even at 15 years after the start of this fight, the development's arrival is better late than never. It's undoubtedly an improvement on what was already there, and new families that move into the neighborhood will likely see the project as an amenity and wonder why anyone ever opposed it.

Up Wisconsin Avenue, the Tenley View apartments are also under construction. First proposed in 2004, the current scheme surfaced after the financial crisis in 2011. After a lengthy "Planned Unit Development" review, DC's Zoning Commission approved the building in 2013.

Tenley View under construction last week. Photo by the author.

One condition of the approval for Tenley View bans not only stores selling pot and porn but also mattresses and picture frames. That may seem odd, but those low-volume destination stores represented a low point in Tenleytown, before the new library and the Cityline building that added new residents atop a historic Sears. As new buildings have attracted foot traffic, restaurants and stores that serve local needs have returned.

Mattress store. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

On Connecticut Avenue, new projects like Woodley Wardman and the 212-unit 2700 Woodley Road delicately add density to established neighborhoods. And despite an expensive legal challenge from well-connected neighbors, a rental building at 5333 Connecticut broke ground last winter and will open next May.

2700 Woodley Rd. Image by DMSAS.

In Van Ness, the Park Van Ness building is replacing a strip mall. The large, well-designed building promises to bring much-needed street presence in an area that suffered from banal midcentury design.

A rendering of Park Van Ness on Connecticut. Image from Torti Gallas.

Academic villages bring activity, if not ideal design

Also in Van Ness, the University of the District of Columbia is constructing a new student center where a large plaza once sat empty most of the week. The new building will make UDC's brutalist campus more extroverted.

The blank UDC Plaza before construction began.

The new UDC student center focuses on the Van Ness Metro station.

American University is making even more dramatic changes. It's about to replace a large surface parking lot with a new residential complex. Bowing to opposition, AU set the buildings back far from the street, which isn't ideal for putting eyes on the street. But it's a step in the right direction for a long-term construction project.

East Campus site plan. Drawing from American University.

Closer to Tenleytown, AU's Washington College of Law is constructing a large campus that will discourage car trips and bring new activity to Tenleytown. The law school is currently on a relatively isolated stretch of Massachussetts Avenue in Spring Valley, and the move will make the campus more accessible to downtown. That's crucial for a law school that relies heavily on practicing teachers.

For development to work, the political process needs to change

There is a common thread between all of these projects: getting them into the neighborhood required a lot of work on the ground. But more and more residents are recognizing that Upper Northwest can grow without losing the characteristics that make it so desirable. The strife has even created networks of people favorable to Smart Growth, like Ward 3 Vision.

The downside of the fight is that it makes the process of planning a community feel piecemeal and time consuming. Facing a lawsuit against something the ANC approved can feel hopeless. Neighborhood meetings during dinner time make it hard for residents to get involved every time. And the negotiations over individual projects often get too bogged down in details for people who haven't been following a project since the beginning.

At the heart of it is that each process lacks guidance. For development in upper Northwest to continue in a way that benefits all parties, decision-makers need to engage the public at a more basic level. I'll address that process in my next post.


Does Ward 3 need a charter middle school, or can Hardy transform itself?

Hardy Middle School, long shunned by families in its Ward 3 neighborhood, is beginning to change, say at least two candidates for the Ward 3 seat on the State Board of Education (SBOE). But another candidate says it's time to start a new charter middle school in the area.

Photo of Hardy Middle School from DCPS website.

Almost 90% of the students at Hardy, in Georgetown, come from outside the school's boundaries. Some of its feeder elementary schools send only 10% of their students to the school, according to Tricia Braun.

Braun has been co-president of the PTA at one of those feeders, Key Elementary, and is currently running for the SBOE from Ward 3. Neighborhood students often leave the DC Public School system after elementary school for charter schools like BASIS and Washington Latin, she said.

But Braun said that, largely thanks to her efforts in convening PTA leaders from Hardy's feeders, the school is beginning to attract more in-boundary students. The key, she said, was to make specific suggestions to bring the school up to the level of Alice Deal, Ward 3's other middle school, which is highly sought after and overcrowded. One suggestion was to offer geometry to 8th graders, as Deal does.

Last year, Braun said, one feeder, Mann Elementary, sent six students to Hardy, a marked increase over previous years when it had only sent one.

Braun's remarks came at a forum for Ward 3 SBOE candidates Tuesday evening moderated by Washington Post education reporter Michael Alison Chandler. All four Ward 3 candidates attended.

One, Ruth Wattenberg, said that based on her experience as a former Deal parent, she thinks Hardy can change. When her older child started at Deal, she said, it wasn't the coveted school it is now. Wattenberg said she helped spark improvements when she chaired Deal's Local School Restructuring Team in 2009-10.

"Deal transformed itself in five years," she said, "and Hardy can too."

She suggested that Hardy adopt the International Baccalaureate Middle Years curriculum, as Deal has done. That school-wide approach, she said, provides a vision for the school. She also recommended dividing the school into teams, which enables teachers to get to know their students better.

But a third candidate, Stephanie Lilley, argued that Ward 3 needs an entirely new middle school. She said she has begun the search for a building where a charter school could open. Ward 3 currently has no charter schools.

After the forum, Lilley revealed that the building she has in mind is the Fillmore Arts Center in Upper Georgetown, which she says is now owned by George Washington University.

Graduation requirements, testing, and qualifications

The candidates, who include Phil Thomas, also debated new graduation requirements that the SBOE is currently considering. And both Wattenberg and Braun called for less emphasis on testing and basic skills in reading and math. "A lot of reading is also about what you know," Wattenberg said. "You can't just drill on skills."

Each candidate argued that he or she would bring a unique perspective to the Board. Braun said she is the only candidate with children currently enrolled in DCPS, and argued that her skills as a parent activist and former prosecutor would serve her well.

Thomas, an elementary school PE teacher, said the Board needs another teacher voice. Only one of its current nine members is a teacher.

Lilley, who has served on the boards of two charter schools, presented herself as someone with expertise in school turnarounds and a focus on the gap in achievement between affluent Ward 3 and other areas of the District.

And Wattenberg argued that she had a combination of grassroots experience through parent activism and expertise in education policy, having worked in that field at the national level for 30 years.

Another forum for SBOE candidates, this time for the two candidates running in Ward 6, will take place from 6:30 to 8 pm on Tuesday, October 14, at Eastern High School. I will be the moderator, and a panel of Eastern students will be asking questions.

Correction: The original version of this article listed Hardy as a Ward 3 school. Hardy is actually in Ward 2, all but one of its feeder elementary schools are in Ward 3.

Public Spaces

DC sports spaces give short shrift to girls

The Department of Parks and Recreation doesn't allocate its resources in a way that matches the gender composition of the District. We are split, more or less, 50/50. Shouldn't DC support its citizens' recreational needs accordingly?

Photo by susieq3c on flickr.

The top five recreational activities that girls participate in are: dancing, swimming, basketball, jogging, volleyball. For boys, the ranking goes: basketball, football, soccer, jogging, swimming.

And yet, at least in Ward 3, that's not how DPR allocates its land or facilities—not even close. Neither baseball nor softball make either gender's list of top activities, but there are at least 14 public baseball fields in Ward 3. And girls are far less likely to play baseball than boys.

Numerous studies have shown that physical activity and recreation are essential to physical, emotional, and intellectual health. The White House, the American Medical Association, and numerous other organizations recognize the importance of the issue, as witnessed by the First Lady's "Let's Move" campaign. A recent study shows that urban children in particular get more exercise when they have the opportunity to play outside. And both boys and girls need exercise.

Allocating half the outdoor recreational space in Northwest DC to an activity that attracts less than one tenth of half the population leaves a lot of those kids to fend for themselves. This is a problem we can fix with compromise and consideration and by asking the right questions.

Perhaps our starting assumptions are biased. A lack of cyclists on dangerous arterial roads doesn't prove cyclists wouldn't ride on them if it were safe to do so. And it's possible there's no clear demand for girl's facilities because they can't even begin to play their sports.

In the 1990s, Vienna, Austria, realized that in formulating its urban policy it hadn't taken into account the problems that women and girls faced. So it started a successful program to redesign the city to meet their needs. DPR needs a similar strategy for identifying interest and providing facilities for all potential participants.

Otherwise, the message the city is sending our girls is either "we're just not that concerned about you," or "we haven't thought that much about you." My eyes have been opened to this situation as an equity issue because I have daughters. But no one should be comfortable with anything resembling those attitudes.

Physical activity, and how our city provides appropriate facilities for it, is not something frivolous. It has far-reaching implications for the individual, the community, the country, and beyond.

We should ask ourselves how we decide what uses are best for our green space and what kinds of facilities will meet the needs of both boys and girls.


ANC commissioner tries to stall New Mexico Ave. bike lanes

Despite having endorsed bike lanes on New Mexico Avenue in July, ANC 3D will consider a draft resolution asking the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) to delay installing the lanes at its meeting tonight.

Rendering of proposed bike lane on New Mexico Avenue from WABA.

New Mexico Avenue forms one of the few street connections between American University and the neighborhoods of Glover Park and Wesley Heights. The resolution, drafted by ANC 3D Commissioner Michael Gold, argues that DDOT shouldn't build bike lanes "until the completion of a formal analysis and impact study" of the surrounding transportation network which the ANC and neighborhood groups can review.

On Monday, DDOT announced that it plans to complete installing the lanes this week and posted photos outlining where they will go. DDOT has worked with the community to change the proposed design so that it would not take away any parking places.

ANC 3D voted 5-4 in favor of the bike lanes, but commissioner Tom Smith, who opposes them, happened to not be in town for the July meeting. He's marshaled those constituents who previously expressed opposition to the lane's installation to once again re-litigate the decision via email messages to the ANC supporting the resolution, which was introduced without proper notice to the community in an effort to reduce supporter outcry. Cycling advocates only found out about it yesterday.

Markings showing where the bike lanes will go. Photo from DDOT.

This bike lane is an important connection in Ward 3, and if you support it, there are a few things you can do:

  1. Let Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh know that you support the New Mexico Avenue bike lane. Cheh is head of the council's Transportation Committee and has previously indicated her strong support for Ward 3 bike infrastructure. Ask her to have your back on getting this lane installed and to reach out to DDOT to make sure it keeps with its installation schedule. You can call her office at (202) 724-8062 or send an email to
  2. You can also remind the five ANC members who voted in favor of the prior resolution, Stu Ross, W. Philip Thomas, Rory Slatko, Penny Pagano, and Joe Wisniewski, that you and the community still supports the bike lanes. You can find their email addresses at the ANC 3D website.


Explore Tenleytown's successes, failures, and futures

Ward 3 has seen a lot of changes in the last few years and faces exciting opportunities for urbanization, particularly DC's highest neighborhood. Next Saturday, learn about Tenleytown's future with Ward3Vision and the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

Photo by stevesunusual on Flickr.

At the beginning of 2003, Tenleytown's retail strip was in its twentieth year of decline, with stores closing and vitality crippled by decades of persistent opposition to development. Despite sitting directly atop of a Metro station, the former Sears at the center of Tenleytown could not attract a tenant.

That year, several major retailers had moved into a subdivided Sears building, now sporting an arcing gray crown of 208 condominiums. Today, the area around the Tenleytown metro station has seen revived buildings, new restaurants, and bustling sidewalks. However, the neighborhood still has more potential than results. Public involvement is needed to carefully integrate new density into the existing neighborhoods without sacrificing either.

Next Saturday, join Ward3Vision and the Coalition for Smarter Growth for a stroll around Tenleytown. Open to all, the walking tour will visit key sites in the area, looking at current projects like the AU Law School as well as recent ones. Which projects are successful, and why? How have other projects failed at creating livable, walkable spaces?

The event will meet at the eastern entrance to the Tenleytown-AU metro station at 10am. It will run two hours and involve lots of walking. Help Ward 3 Vision by registering now and wearing comfortable footwear on the 28th. We hope to see you there!


Ward 3 Democrats forget mission, fixate on parking

A Republican, Patrick Mara, just got the most votes in DC's Ward 3 in a special election. Leaders of the Ward 3 Democratic Committee, an organization formed "to support and elect Democratic candidates for local and national office," meanwhile, were more concerned with ramming through a resolution against the DC zoning rewrite's parking proposals.

Photo by Mr Thinktank on Flickr.

This resolution claims that the DC Office of Planning has no data to back up its recommendations to eliminate minimum parking requirements near transit or for new single-family homes and small residential buildings, and reduce them for schools. It implies without any basis that the zoning rewrite will actually take away parking.

The Ward 3 Dem leaders behind this resolution are now going around claiming that this reflects the views of Democrats in Ward 3. In reality, it represents only the views of 23 out of 94 delegates in the group. Its supporters used procedural maneuvers to ensure it would pass without delegates even getting to debate the merits of the issue.

The task force

Last fall, resident John Chelen, an avowed opponent of the zoning rewrite, approached Ward 3 Democrats chairperson Shelly Tomkin. He had already formed a "task force" made up of about 7 people who opposed the zoning rewrite and some who had publicly testified against it. Chelen suggested to Tomkin that the task force put together a white paper on the subject, supposedly to inform the delegates of the pros and cons of the proposals.

Chelen testified against the rewrite process on October 5, 2012, asking the DC Council to step in and essentially require the Office of Planning to restart the 5-year project. This came before his task force had issued any paper on the merits of the zoning rewrite and before the organization's broader membership had debated the issues or adopted any resolution.

Tomkin approved this task force without including any members with differing points of view. When word got out about the task force from Chelen's testimony, Ward 3 Democratic Committee delegate Ellen Bass and another resident insisted that Chelen include them to give some balance (although even after a 3rd resident joined later, they were a minority of the members). Chelen, after substantial initial delay, permitted them to join.

The group's "white paper" purported to be a fact-based analysis of the Office of Planning's policy recommendations on parking. But not surprisingly, the report contained only "facts" that supported the anti-rewrite position and unsupported assertions about the horribles that will result if DC adopts the proposals. Yet Tomkin distributed it to the Committee delegates as an objective statement of the "pros and cons" of the proposals without any caveat about dissenters on the task force.

For example, there is no mention of the environmental concerns about car use and vehicle congestion. The report cites no data to back up assertions like these:

  • In most instances, current parking requirements are substantially less than likely parking need that would be generated by use, so current requirements only partially mitigate the impact of spillover parking.
  • Elimination of minimum parking requirements on transit zones will result in spillover parking in residential neighborhoods near Metro stations
  • Elimination of minimum parking requirements ... will result in people who live near transit zones or downtown to walk blocks from their car to their home ...
  • The rewrite will reduce parking requirements for schools, hotels, and churches. [In fact, all the rewrite proposes to do is base the requirement on square footage rather than factors that change over time like number of seats, rooms and employees.]
The paper also reflected a clear anti-zoning rewrite bias. It contained arguments attacking the OP proposals which it called "Stated Justifications." According to Bass, she had prepared a more balanced draft, but then 2 avowed opponents of the parking proposals reworked it. She and two other members who did not agree with the paper prepared their own "Alternative Analysis," which Bass said she had to distribute to Committee delegates herself.

The resolution

Chelen then presented a resolution condemning OP's parking proposals at the Ward 3 Dems' April 11 meeting. It states, among other things, that the "parking proposals adversely will affect residents, businesses and the vibrancy of the city," that they "do not reflect community preferences," and that they are "not consistent with the Comprehensive Plan."

These are at best opinion statements not supported by data in the "white paper." For one thing, the zoning task force did not assess the community preference beyond its own membership of 10 or so people, and 3 of those people did not agree that the parking proposals would be detrimental. As for the Comprehensive Plan, this too would prove without basis, as soon became clear.

The first order of business on April 11 was a lengthy debate on whether attending members could vote in place of absent delegates, as the Committee Bylaws clearly permit. After much discussion, Tomkin thought better of denying these members their vote, but because of the time it took to resolve this issue, and Tomkin's decision to let an unrelated speaker give his presentation first, delegates grew impatient and some left before the late vote.

Furthermore, procedural shenanigans by the resolution's supporters ensured there would be no floor debate on its substance. Yes, on a very contentious issue that has divided many in Ward 3, and on a resolution that says policies "are not supported by data," there was no actual discussion about those facts. While the resolution purported to reflect "community preferences," community members never had a chance to talk about their preferences.

Tom Smith, an ANC commissioner and Committee delegate, did insist on asking Chelen how many parking places in Ward 3 would be eliminated if the rewrite went through. Chelen responded that he did not know and did not have any examples he could cite, but he was sure it would happen.

Afterwards, Chairperson Tomkin issued a statement in "themail," claiming that the resolution "was approved in a vote by a broad majority taken April 11." This careful wording obscures the reality that just 23 people voted in favor, a small proportion of the 94 Committee delegates and hardly a majority of the Ward 3 Democratic Committee. In fact, fewer than half the delegates (only about 44 people) even bothered to attend the April 11 meeting. By the time the resolution came up for a vote after 9:30 pm, there was barely a quorum present, and only about 30 delegates even voted.

The resolution does not speak for Democrats in Ward 3

The vote total is important because Chelen is pushing other organizations, such as the Cleveland Park Citizen's Association to adopt a similar resolution. He intends to bring this resolution to the DC Council as reflecting the views of Ward 3.

But his hyperbole is overblown and inaccurate. On the Chevy Chase listserv, he stated, "The resolution passed by a supermajority vote [of the Ward 3 Dems], a telling sign of community resistance to the ill-considered and over-reaching proposals made by the Office of Planning."

Ironically, despite the claim that the minimum parking proposals are inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan, the very next day after the Ward 3 Dems vote, the Zoning Commission approved the Babes Billiards PUD, a mixed-use building in what would be a transit zone near a Metro station that would not have on-site parking. The PUD order cited 23 policies within the Comprehensive Plan that support a development with no on-site parking, beginning on page 11.

Being a neophyte at these political meetings, but not in life itself, I expected that a few motivated individuals could move the needle on getting things done through sheer guile and force of will. I was surprised, however, how an organization named the Ward 3 Democratic Committee could permit such a clearly non-democratic process, push through a white paper without even hearing dissenting viewpoints.

Today, the "white paper" is still not available on the Ward 3 Democrats' website, although it is available online, along with the "Alternative Analysis" from the 3 task force members who did not agree with the paper Chelen and Tomkin distributed. Instead of alienating Democrats by letting the group be a tool of those who want to advance a specific agenda on a non-partisan issue, the Ward 3 Democratic Committee ought to focus on its actual electoral mission.


Candidates want affordable housing, balk at more housing

One of the most significant ways to ensure some affordable housing is to provide more housing. It's not the only way and not sufficient on its own, but the clear connection between housing supply and price appears lost on multiple candidates for the April 23 DC Council at-large special election.

Photo by james.thompson on Flickr.

At a Chevy Chase Community Association meeting last week, many candidates affirmed support for affordable housing, according to a report on the Chevy Chase listserv, but then wavered or even outright opposed allowing people to rent out basements, garages, or parts of their homes to create new housing opportunities.

Lorrie Scally wrote:

Patrick Mara said "No" to the rentals because he feared they would result in an overflow of students into already crowded schools.

Meanwhile, according to Scally, "Matthew Frumin expressed his support for ADU rentals in all residential neighborhoods," while Elissa Silverman said she wants to ensure they don't impact neighbors much (similar to what she said on Let's Choose DC).

Yet, Scally said, "The candidates' presentations gave support to DC education issues and affordable housing for residents." Mara has endorsed affordable housing spending in the past; on one of the Let's Choose questions he actually answered, he said, "I'm certain we can find the millions need to fund libraries and affordable housing initiatives." He told the DC realtors, "The cultural diversity of DC is at risk if we do not protect and build affordable housing."

Anita Bonds did not attend the forum.

Adding housing must be a part of the housing strategy

About 1,000 more people move into the District each month than the number who leave. Moreover, the demand to come into DC is even greater than this.

Absent enough new housing, many people who want to come here will rent or buy units in gentrifying neighborhoods where prices are still lower than elsewhere. That raises housing prices in those neighborhoods, hastening the problem of some longtime residents being or feeling priced out, and others deciding to take a windfall and sell their houses at a big profit.

If we want longtime residents to stay, an important element of the equation is to find somewhere else for the people to live who want to come into DC. Basement and garage apartments are one important potential source. We already have large single-family houses with one or two retirees who aren't actually using the whole house. Letting them rent the space is a win-win for everyone except for those who want to keep the neighborhood exclusive and underpopulated relative to its 1950 size.

A lot of people in Ward 3 would rather the population growth go somewhere else. A lot of people vote in Ward 3, and several candidates are clearly seeking their votes. But letting a whole section of the city opt out of growth is not the right policy. It harms poorer neighborhoods by diverting more housing pressure to other areas, hastening gentrification.

How do the candidates stack up?

Four years ago, when I endorsed Patrick Mara, I perhaps assumed too readily that because he lives in a denser neighborhood and bicycles, he also supports a growing city. He might, but he came out strongly against a new matter-of-right building in Chevy Chase, opposes accessory dwellings, and refused to answer either of the two Let's Choose questions on growth. That's disappointing and a little surprising for someone who claims to want less government regulation.

I'm also disappointed Elissa Silverman has not been stronger on smart growth. She has less reason to try to pander for votes in Ward 3, when Ward 6 has become the highest-voting ward. Many of Ward 3's supposedly-liberal residents and newspapers nonetheless seem to go for whomever will lower their own taxes. As a supporter of affordable housing and equity for all neighborhoods, she also shouldn't tolerate some residents west of Rock Creek trying to redline growth and change solely to the east.

Unfortunately, while Matthew Frumin has been willing to stand up for (reasonable) growth more vocally than others, this morning's poll seems to confirm that he is most likely to play a "spoiler" role. Our readers, contributors, and I myself have often wrestled with how to think through the game theory of a race, and decide how much to weigh various policy positions or trade off candidate strengths versus electability.

This post is not an endorsement; our policy is to decide endorsements by a poll of recent, active contributors, which came out clearly for Silverman. On balance, I'm still going to vote for her, too. Besides, zoning isn't the only issue that matters, and she has some definite strengths on workforce development, oversight of city agencies, and more.

But just because we've endorsed should not prevent us from helping inform readers about candidates' positions, whether or not they comport with our endorsement (in this case, it's mostly a neutral effect), or holding candidates responsible for staking out good positions.


DDOT sidewalk gap policy has gaps of its own

Sidewalks are a network to get us from one place to another, just like roads. But the procedures DDOT uses to identify and fill sidewalk gaps take a piecemeal approach that sets up barriers to completing the network.

Photo by the author.

Currently, DDOT requires that 51% of households on a single block approve the addition of a sidewalk, and that the neighborhood ANC file a corresponding resolution. If we consider sidewalks to be roadways for pedestrians, then we need to treat them as such. The default position should be that neighbors have to put forth the effort to oppose a sidewalk, instead requiring supporters to petition for one.

In other words: If folks wanted a sidewalk, they would contact DDOT, and those who opposed it would have to organize against it. The community would have to jump through fewer hoops to get a sidewalk built.

The DC Council's Priority Sidewalk Assurance Act of 2010 moves us in this direction, but DDOT needs to update its procedures.

Iona's Pedestrian Advocacy Project has studied the issue and has come up with a set of proposed procedures. In addition, we will request that DDOT develop a 5-year plan to fill sidewalk gaps in priority areas throughout the District of Columbia, as part of the agency budget to be presented to the Council during its budget approval process this spring.

  1. Sidewalk gaps shall be filled on both sides of all "main streets," defined as those that have on-going traffic throughout the day and require pedestrians to walk in the street or cross at unsafe locations to a sidewalk.
  2. Sidewalk gaps shall be filled on at least one side of the street on roadways under construction, as specified in Section 2 (a) of the Priority Sidewalk Assurance Act of 2010, and on roadway segments for which residents have petitioned for sidewalks.
  3. Sidewalk gaps shall be filled on at least one side of the street within one-quarter mile of priority areas: schools, recreation and park facilities, and transit stops.
  4. For streets within priority areas not undergoing construction, 75% of residents on a block may petition NOT to have a sidewalk. The ANC for the area shall consider the petition and forward its recommendation to DDOT. DDOT shall determine whether the absence of a sidewalk presents a pedestrian safety issue or conflicts with an ADA requirement that cannot be resolved without a sidewalk.
  5. For those streets that do not have a sidewalk on either side due to engineering issues: If the residents have petitioned for no sidewalks and their request is approved by DDOT, the speed limit on that street will be lowered to 15 MPH.
  6. Residents may submit petitions to the ANC at any time to register their opposition to a sidewalk on their block.
  7. DDOT will notify all residents of these new procedures.
  8. DDOT will keep a record, including the dates, of these petitions on their website for five years, after which they will no longer be in force.
  9. DDOT will update the sidewalk gap map as gaps are filled.
What do you think? You can rate and comment on these procedures on a survey we have set up. Please do so by March 1st, so we can consider your input and include it when the pedestrian advocacy group presents the proposals to DDOT at the end of March.

Cross-posted at Forest Hills Connection.


Where in Ward 3 needs sidewalks most?

Sidewalks are more than a way to get from one place to another on foot. They connect us to our neighbors and neighborhoods. And they become even more crucial as we age.

Children from the Franklin Montessori School enjoy the new sidewalk on Brandywine Street. Photo by George Branyan.

Iona Senior Services has spearheaded a pedestrian advocacy effort to focus on filling priority sidewalk gaps in Ward 3. This effort and has focused on updating the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT)'s 2008 map of sidewalk gaps for Ward 3 and proposing new procedures for closing gaps.

The Priority Sidewalk Assurance Act of 2010, initiated by Councilmember Mary Cheh, establishes routes to schools, recreation and park areas, and transit stops as priority areas for filling in missing sidewalks. And when streets with no sidewalks are due for reconstruction or new curbs and gutters, the law requires building a sidewalk on at least one side.

Sharon Bauer, a former traffic analyst from Austin, Texas, with the assistance of DC Office of Planning, has put in many hours of work to update the DDOT map. She based her changes on the latest Google Street View data. The map includes quarter-mile radius zones (light blue circles) around schools, recreation areas and Metro stops. This is an approximately 5 to 10-minute walk, which we propose as the highest priority areas for filling missing sidewalks.

We have three categories of streets denoted by different colors:

We need your input

If you live, work, or spend time in Ward 3, please download the PDF file of the map and zoom into the areas you are familiar with—your ANC, schools, etc.

Focus particular attention on priority areas—the quarter-mile circles around significant pedestrian features such as schools, Metro stops, rec centers and playgrounds.

Check for inaccuracies on the map, especially the streets marked in RED (no sidewalk on either side) and GREEN (partial sidewalk on one or both sides or difficult to tell).

Then, go to this survey form to provide feedback or recommendations for areas that should receive high priority for sidewalk installation, or in some cases, point out areas where no sidewalk is needed or reasonable. You may also email your feedback to use at

Cross-posted at Forest Hills Connection.

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