Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Observations and Stories from Our Neighborhood

Just wanted to let everyone know that the Obama debate watch at RedRocks was a great time. Obama supporters took over the second floor of the bar and covered every available square foot with chairs. Surprisingly, for such a large group of people, the room was very quiet during the debates -- with the exception of some good and well-deserved heckling. The event served to raise money for bus trips to Ohio in advance of the primary vote. If you could not make it out but would like to contribute, shoot me an email and I will put you in touch with the event organizer. (I don't want to publish her full name or contact information without her permission.)

Ok . . . So here's a few of my recent random observations:
Buying a safety razor in our neighborhood is challenging. (I told you these observations were random.) At the 13th and U Rite Aid, the razors are literally under lock and key. And once a staffer removes the package for you, he or she will escort it to the front counter rather than hand it over to a customer. CVS engages in similar "inventory control" measures. Yet, at both the 1400 and 1600 block locations, it seems that most of the inventory control consists of not having any.

The clementines at Whole Foods this year stink. After a few dry, tasteless, half rotted boxes, I've given up. Trader Joe's has yet to do me wrong though.

There was a man panhandling outside of Whole Foods last night asking passerby for a cup of soup. I was heading into the store and feeling sympathetic, so I asked if he would like for me to buy him a cup of soup. I received an ambivalent response. But he would have greatly appreciated some change. (I won't generally give money, but I will give food, because someone who asks for nutrition is most likely hungry and not looking to swap soup for drugs or alcohol. I will acknowledge, however, that any handout probably encourages begging.)

It seems that every time I walk down the 1400 block of P Street, there is some sort of new and special street destruction going on. This week the sidewalk has been completely removed from the area around the bus shelter on the southwest corner. I hope that no one had a yoga class at Flow after 8 this morning.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Easy Activism: Support Obama

Something to consider for tomorrow night:

Democratic Presidential Debate Watch Party & Obama Fundraiser for Buses to Ohio

When: Tuesday, February 26 from 8 p.m. on
Red Rocks Firebrick Pizzeria

1036 Park Road NW
(Columbia HeightsMetro)

While you're there, enjoy the extended happy hour specials.

And on Wednesday night, you might want to go to Modern Liquors for their weekly wine tasting from 6-8 p.m. Featured wines include the following:

Anura Chenin Blanc (S.Africa)<>

Friday, February 22, 2008

I had my doubts . . .

According to Chris Ziemann's report at the February 6th ANC meeting, the Q Street repaving project had about three weeks to go until completion. Does anyone see it being done on or around next Wednesday? In November we were told that the project would wrap up in about a month. It's not an emergency, just an inconvenience to have my fillings knocked loose when I drive east while cautious drivers ahead of me take all the bumps and ripples at 5 m.p.h. I also have serious doubts about the contractor's project management and DDOT's ability to manage contractors.

I'm sure that the work is a necessary inconvenience. I still cringe to think of all of the upcoming projects in and around Logan Circle. This spring work on P Street will commence, and DDOT will "reconstruct" and resurface 11th Street. We'll watch these projects carefully so that we can prepare ourselves for the upcoming 14th Street and 17th Street streetscape projects. Yikes.

Rights, Priveleges, and Competition

One of the few things that are under the direct control of the ANCs is the ability to monitor and protest liquor licenses. Technically, any citizen group can do so, but the ANCs are particularly well organized about it. Functioning ANCs also have clout; though volunteer bodies with only an advisory governing authority, they are still political entities vital to the functioning of DC government.

The up-side is that whenever a restaurant, bar, or liquor store moves into a Logan Circle residential area (and what isn't residential anymore?), our ANC uses voluntary agreements to protect us from noise, garbage, and safety problems. We don't have to rely on future police action or complaints filed with ABRA to maintain our neighborhood, because our commissioners establish relationships with business owners and they get enforceable written agreements with them. The same process applies to alcohol-serving establishments who seek substantial changes in their operations. Voluntary agreements have helped us to keep rolling papers out of liquor stores, limit sales of single beverages, and act against noisy bars and clubs — all good and important stuff. Recently ANC 2F launched a protest against the renewal of El Sauce's license, which is an important action considering that the restaurant is the alleged center of some gang activity. Renegotiation of a voluntary agreement was also used effectively to respond to noise and safety problems created by Be Bar patrons.

All the same, I think that some ANCs have started over-reaching. The voluntary agreement isn't so voluntary. A business owner will either come to the ANC in advance of their application in order to negotiate an agreement, or they will face a protest until they choose to negotiate. Good luck to the business owner who goes up against a neighborhood group at an ABRA protest hearing.

Here are some neighborhood ABRA issues from the past year that I don't understand:

  • Queen of Sheba had to fight for about two years for their liquor license because a handful of Shiloh Baptist Church congregants protested. At first the protest group did not contain the minimum number of DC residents to meet ABRA's requirements. Rather than dismissing the protest, ABRA granted additional time for the protest group to organize.

  • Stoney's rubbed Commissioner Reed the wrong way during their VA negotiation and waited from May until October for resolution to the dispute. On the other hand Stoney's neighbor, Logan Tavern, who has a good relationship with Reed, had no problems gaining approval for their expanded dining area.

    In speaking informally with an owner of Stoney's, Mr. 14th & You and I heard him complain that the standard VA in the Ward 6 ANC where Tunicliff's is located is much simpler than the standard VA for ANC 2F. If ABRA views protests from all ANCs equally (and I don't know for certain that they do), and the VAs aren't so voluntary, some establishments are effectively held to different liquor "laws" than others.

  • Our ANC and others seek to prevent the sale of single alcoholic beverages, which I support. On the surface, this makes sense; who wants to promote anyone drinking a cold one out of a paper bag on the street? However, ANC 2F granted an exception to Whole Foods so that they could sell their mixed six packs of gourmet beers. Across the city in Ward 6 Harris Teeter faces significant barriers to a similar request for exemption. I could go either way on arguing the fairness of the differing ANC standards especially as single sales are completely legal under District law.

  • There are no time limits for negotiations of voluntary agreements or protest hearings. In ANC 2F I have seen Stoney's and the Playbill Cafe come to ANC meetings for months in a row as provisions of the agreement are hammered out. Within reason, our busy volunteer commissioners could meet with a license applicant as infrequently as once per month to negotiate the agreement. For an existing business, this process is not likely to consume too much time. A new or expanding business could, however, find their opening delayed, a situation that really strains start-up capital. As well, ABRA meets infrequently to review license applications. Any protest that goes to an ABRA hearing can also take months to resolve. Dante of the Black Cat estimates that his potential plans to build a rooftop deck could be tied up in protest hearings for well over a year.
These events lead me to consider myriad questions about alcohol policy. Is the VA and protest process anti-competitive? Given the economic realities of restaurant ownership, should a liquor license be treated as a right or a privilege? How do we balance the concerns of business owners against the concerns of residents? After all, some business owners are also part of the ANC 2F electorate. How do we protect any business from community associations or ANCs that act capriciously against certain businesses? In other words, can we prevent overwrought protests and unfairly restrictive VAs from being used in a prejudicial manner? As I mentioned before, the license application process exist for a reason and does bring about some positive actions. I sometimes worry, perhaps unnecessarily, that the ANC's alcohol policy and ABRA protest process are too subjective to be truly fair.

Commissioner Reed, chairman of ANC 2F, has formed a committee to review and revise our alcohol policies. He may just be representing the views of the commissioners, but I feel like he is particularly vigorous in his protests against Logan Circle bars and restaurants. He also made a comment in the last meeting that concerned me. In the context of the Be Bar VA negotiation, Commissioner Dyer asked if there was a provision in ANC 2F's alcohol policy that prevents the commission from limiting one establishment's hours more than limitations place on another establishment within 1000 feet. The implication being that treating one differently from another in the immediate area could be anti competitive. Reed made a statement, which though I can not remember verbatim, I tool to mean that he intends to reverse such a policy if indeed it is in place. If you have any thoughts on the matter, share them with Reed at creed{at}kgrmlaw{dot}com.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Crime in Logan Circle

Yesterday an email went out on the Logan Circle listserve with a link to Family Watchdog, a site that offers access to information from the national sex offender registry. Curious, I searched Logan Circle and found that we had a few convicted offenders living or working within a few blocks of my apartment. Most of them are pederasts, so as a childless household, I don't feel a threat from these guys (and they are all men). I was, however, surprised to discover that a rapist lives on my block especially since recidivism rates are high for sexual offenders. Then again, as Mr. 14th & You pointed out to me, I won't really alter my behavior knowing that he's on the block. I also don't remember encountering anyone who looks like him in the four plus years I've lived here.

Another interesting tool is the website. It's really amazing when you see all of the flags around Logan for reported crimes in the past week. Then again, the plurality of the crimes appear to be vehicle burglaries or thefts of vehicles. In fact, most of the area crime consists of burglaries and thefts crimes of opportunity; violent crime is comfortably low.

So my question to you is: How much do you care about the crime data? Are you ever concerned for your safety or about your property after reading such statistics?

I follow basic city living precautions like not walking through alleys alone and never leaving anything of value in my car. I've always felt fairly safe in Logan Circle, and the only crimes I have experienced are one break-in each to my car and my husband's car. (One break in was apparently motivated by a CD player from 1996 and the other by a SmartTrip card, both in plain site.) On the other side of the coin, as we look to buy our first home, we are considering the frequency and severity of crime in prospective neighborhoods. After all, a feeling of personal safety is a large part of one's quality of life, and property crimes are expensive.

Friday, February 15, 2008

MPD is Watching

On the 1400 block of R Street MPD recently installed a surveillance camera. The camera, one of six in Ward 2, is part of an effort to monitor higher crime areas throughout the city. I have mixed feelings about its location; I like that the camera may prevent crime and assist in prosecutions of crimes, but I hate that this block so close to our home is considered a high crime area.

I do not, however, have mixed feelings about this recent development on the 1400 block. The 1416 building of Wardman Row has a DC Housing and Community Development posted in the yard. I hope that DHCD's involvement is a sign that we can keep affordable housing in Logan Circle while improving the safety and appearance of blocks along 14th Street.

A quick history of the 1400 block of R Street NW for the unfamiliar: Crimes both large and small have plagued the block for decades. Problems have ranged from periodic unlawful entry to nearly constant drug dealing to a fatal shooting in 2001. At one time the building owners did such a poor job of providing security and monitoring illegal activity in and around the apartments, that the United States Attorney's Office for DC successfully prosecuted them. In 2005 MPD attempted to combat persistent problems with drug dealing through the temporary placement of large flood lights on the block. This past summer, police began nightly foot patrol of the block, and monitoring has continued through the cooler months. The patrols did drastically reduce loitering, and there was a commensurate decrease in crime. However, the USAO's "Court Report" documents from last year show quite number of prosecutions of residents from the 1400 block of R Street.

This past summer, the five buildings that were under the ownership of R Street Associates were purchased by a developer who requested DHCD's and the DC Finance Agency's assistance in funding renovations. Current residents will be given the option to remain in their units or apply Section 8 vouchers toward rent at another location. After renovation, several income-based pricing tiers will be offered, including six units to be offered at market rates.


For some reason election days are often plagued by nasty weather, and this past Tuesday was no exception. On his way home from the U Street Metro Mr. 14th & You wiped out on the icy sidewalk. At first nothing felt hurt except for his pride and his knee, but as he walked the last block home he felt a twinge in his elbow. By the time he walked in our door, his face was contorted in pain, and I had to help him take off his coat and sports jacket. Yet, a half hour after returning home, he still went out to vote though his arm was swelling by the minute. We shuffled the two blocks to our poling place barely lifting our feet from the ground in order to be two of the over 77,000 DC residents to vote for Barack Obama. As Mr. 14th & You stated, if it had been any other candidate vying for the nomination, there is no way he would have gone out on Tuesday night.

We discovered this morning at the orthopedist's office that Mr. 14th & You has fractured his elbow in two different places and will be recovering for the next six weeks. But he still managed to be in the approximately 17 percent of DC residents to vote for Obama. Whomever you are backing in the presidential election, you now have no excuse not to show up at your poling place in November.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Just Wonderin'

Have you ever noticed how many used car lots we have in our neighborhood?

This one is at 14th and S Streets, but I can think of several others off the top of my head: 14th and T Streets, 14th Street and Florida Avenue, 9th Street next to Queen of Sheba. The inventory appears to turn over fairly often, though I can't say that I have witnessed customers on the lots. I know that these businesses are a hold-over from when rents weren't so high and the residents weren't demanding high-end retail, but it just seems odd to have so many car lots. Who's buying from these shady-looking places? Are the cars hot, or are all of these late-model vehicles obtained in a kosher fashion?

Friday, February 8, 2008

Neighborhood Drama and Lack Thereof

Some moments of Wednesday night's ANC meeting were amusing, and others were even gratifying.

Commissioner Reed actually had to use his gavel to restore order. That was almost fun to watch. Apparently, Be Bar has been causing some neighborhood noise issues between 2 and 3 a.m. on Sunday nights/Monday mornings serious issues like yelling, car horns honking, and people dancing on cars. A Shaw couple were present at the meeting to make their complaint publicly. According to a resident, she has called and left a voice mail at the bar as well as sent a letter to owner Michael Watson and she feels that the response has been an overly personal attack from Mr. Watson and and no reduction in noise. There's no way of knowing the exact history of the back-and-forth between the two, but the dispute did lead to both written and verbal accusations of hearsay and gossip mongering against this one couple. Um, isn't a complaint letter not a legal document? The repetition of those statements in the meeting pushed the resident's buttons enough for her to offer a sworn affidavit of her accusations. Commissioner Reed weighed in to snap at Watson that his liquor license is a privilege bestowed by the community. I've never actually seen yelling at an ANC meeting before. It brought a little energy into an otherwise dry occasion.

The ANC is amending the voluntary agreement with Be Bar. Be Bar will now have increased security staff to enforce order both inside and outside, a phone line for complaints with live answering during business hours, and verbal and signage reminders to patrons to respect neighborhood residents. There will not, however, be a reduction in hours.

Watson came off as smug and unprofessional. He showed up in a leather jacket, jeans, and knit hat to represent himself to the commissioners and the public. He then totally stoked the fires by fighting with the residents making the complaints. Once order had been restored to the meeting he offered a saccharin smirking plea for the public to contact him directly with complaints so that he can do everything he can to be a good neighbor. He was like a teenager contesting his first speeding ticket in court.

The church parking discussion was a non event. MPD Lt. Marcos Santiago explained that the decision to enforce parking round the clock every day of the week was made in response to complaints by both residents and churchgoers on a recent Tuesday evening. Residents were upset about being blocked by double parkers and various unsafe parking practices (in alleys, in front of fire hydrants, and in the middle of crosswalks). Churchgoers were bothered by residents' failure to observe parallel parking vs. back-in diagonal parking rules on Vermont Avenue. So now, to be fair, we're all going to be under the watchful eye of MPD.

Rev. Cornelius Wheeler of Vermont Avenue Baptist Church spoke in support of enforcement with regards to safety issues. He said that he was happy to have the burden of reminding parishioners not to block in residents lifted. Metropolitan Baptist had sent a representative/s the the meeting, but no one was available in the meeting room to speak during the public comment period.

Resident comments were limited to Arron Adams, a Logan Station resident, stating that church congregants often block the exit to the parking garage, and that he's taken to writing down license plates and reporting them to the Mayor's Call Center. If I had paid $40k for my parking space the retail rate at Logan Station I'd be really peeved too.

After a brief history of the parking conflict from Commissioner Reed, the meeting moved on without a bit of conflict. Commisioner Bernardo recommended that ANC 2F send a letter of commendation to MPD Chief Lanier and Third District Commander McCoy to thank them for their actions regaring Logan Circle parking.

Less politically charged meeting news included the following:
Crime and Public Safety

  • From January 6th to February 5th of this year, the crime rate in our PSA was 19 percent lower than for the same period last year.
  • Police caught a homeless man who groped a female pedestrian. It seems he has a history of such offenses, and MPD expects that he will be incarcerated.
  • There was an unrelated unspecified sexual offense behind Shaw Junior High School.
  • Deondre Kelly (sp?) of 916 N Street was found guilty on a distribution of cocaine charge. He was sentenced today, and police testified in hopes of getting the longest sentence possible for this neighborhood resident who was known as a repeat weapons offender.
  • There has been a spate of thefts from vehicles parked between 13th and 14th Streets near the Jefferson and Highland Terrace buildings. Police are aware of the problem, but are unable to enforce effectively as fingerprints are rarely found and successful prosecution requires that someone witness the window smashing, catch the perpetrators, and be able to definitively identify them. In response to the problem police and/or residents may stake out the area soon.
  • We were reminded of the third public meeting regarding the 14th Street streetscape project.
  • Residents spoke to the need for a traffic signal at 11th and O Streets in order to protect pedestrian safety. Chris Ziemann, the Ward 2 planner for DDOT acknowledged this need, but let us know that the signal will most likely not be installed until the time of the restructuring and repaving of 11th Street.
  • The Q Street mess on the 1200 and 1300 blocks is about three weeks from completion.
  • Mike Bernardo spoke to the need for repairs to alleys and sidewalks in his SMD now that Washington Gas has completed its utility work to restore service to that area.
Other than the Be Bar issue, ABRA matters are pretty quiet. The ANC is working with Izalco and Vegas Lounge to hammer out voluntary agreements. The only concerns with these establishments relate to "peace, order, and quiet" issues.

Other Stuff
ANC 2F will request by letter to the Department of Parks and Recreation that the wading pool and bathrooms at Garrison Elementary School be removed so as to eliminate potential safety problems. We will also request a meeting with the Director, Clark Grant, to discuss the matter.

We were reminded of the new 311 and 911 systems. If you need an MPD officer to respond to a situation, always dial 911. The Mayor's Call center line can still be reached by dialing 727-1000, but can now also be reached at 311. For more information on what matters the call center handles, see this post. There will also be a voice mail system in place on the 311 line in the event that you don't get through to an operator immediately.

Our ANC is aggressively pursuing the issue of vacant buildings. If you're not familiar with the tax code, vacant buildings are taxed at five times the rate of occupied structures so as to encourage sale or improvement of the properties. The ANC will be writing a letter to DC CFO Natwar Gandhi and DCRA to inform them of the need to enforce the tax penalties. In a recent survey of the Mount Vernon Square neighborhood, two thirds of 100 vacant properties were not being taxed at the higher rate. If you're particularly interested by this problem, Ed Six has started a blog at

As happens every spring, there will be a number of street closures for charity walks and runs. Most will be around Pennsylvania Avenue in close proximity to the Mall. If you're concerned about times and dates, check the ANC 2F website in about a month for the February meeting minutes.

Cary Silverman, candidate for Ward 2 Councilmember seat was at the meeting campaigning for himself. He made some superfluous comments in support of the 311/911 change and taxing vacant buildings at a higher rate. I'm cynical and sometimes too critical, but it really seemed like he was there just to talk if the opportunity arose and to flash his campaign button.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Self Loathing in DC

I was shopping in the CVS on the 1400 block of P Street the other day when I couldn't help but overhear a guy on a mobile phone. (And really, are there many occasions when you can't pay attention to someone else's full-volume phone call?)

This man was standing in the detergent aisle nearly freaking out. His side of the conversation went like this:
Do I want to smell like a mountain breeze? I don't know. I can't decide. Why can't I find a good detergent? I hate CVS. G_d I hate this city. I miss New York.
Are there not understocked CVS stores in New York? And what's with the mountain breeze scent that can send this man into a tirade?

Anyway, DC bashing is lazy and tiresome. Even vaguely insulting comments, such as this, are starting to bother me. Do former New Yorkers also complain about living in other cities like Boston? I don't know; I'm honestly curious.

To counter Mr. CVS's anti-DC drama, I offer the following decidedly pro-Capitol City happy points.

Our city is beautiful: Central DC is modeled after Paris, and I find both cities to be stunning.Though we lack a distinctive skyline, many credit our height restrictions for keeping DC's urban landscape beautiful. Besides, flying up the Potomac River on the approach to National Airport is one of the most lovely views in the US. We also have nearly 90,000 acres of protected green space and the greatest number of urban National Park Service properties. It smells better in our city too.

We're intelligent: In the most recent census statistics, nearly 40 percent of DC residents had a bachelor's degree or higher. NYC was on par with the national average at 27.4 percent.

We're environmentally aware: DC will soon be the largest US city to make LEED environmentally friendly standards mandatory in our building codes.

It's still more affordable here: I'm the first to complain about the costs of living in DC, but real estate, parking, and retail still tend to be more accessibly priced than in NYC.

To anyone who's having phase of DC hate, I recommend this itinerary: Have a drink at Old Ebbit or the Willard and appreciate the history of those bars; take the short walk to Great Falls; drive by the monuments at night; visit a jazz club on U Street; take in a show at the Kennedy Center or Ford's Theater; see the Hope Diamond; and, for goodness sakes, get off of P Street more often.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Parking Miracle!

Effective immediately, parking regulations will be enforced seven days a week. That means church parkers and Saturday night partyers can no longer block our hydrants, alleys, intersections, or other parked cars. If one can be giddy about parking enforcement, I am. My city government has now given me two fantastic gifts this year, the first being cab meters at a decent fare rate.

So the infamous church parking debate will begin anew. In fact Metropolitan Baptist/ Vermont Avenue parking are on the agenda for tomorrow night's ANC meeting. (The rest of the agenda can be viewed here.) I'm keeping my fingers crossed that there's less drama in this chapter of the parking enforcement tale. Whatever side you are on, if you happen to attend the ANC meeting, or even comment on the blog, please do your best to avoid baiting those with opposing views by bringing race or gentrification into the conversation. Let's also avoid holding a vigil in Logan Circle; this is a parking and safety issue, not a civil rights issue.

The one area where I think enforcement stinks is in front of Logan Station. After using orange cones to lay claim to the better part of the south side of the 1200 block of R Street, they now have the building entrance designated as a no parking zone. Mr. 14th & You happened not to be tuned in to the new parking signs and was given two parking tickets when he didn't move his car for a week. I am, however, willing to concede defeat on that issue.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Monumental Protection

Washington's monumental core--the area that includes the Mall, White House, Capitol, Smithsonian and other stately buildings--is one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring urban landscapes in America, if not the world. And rightly so: it was designed that way, after all. When Pierre L'Enfant drew up his initial plan for the City of Washington, he envisioned a "grand avenue" emanating from the Capitol, running between the President's house and the Potomac, and flanked on each side by grand monuments, memorials and grand buildings befitting the capital city of what L'Enfant believed at the time to be a "young empire".

It took over a century for reality to match L'Enfant's original artistic vision, but encouragement from President Theodore Roosevelt, spurred in large part from the plan put forth by Michigan Senator Jamse MacMillan, led to a focus on the beautification of the city of Washington--dubbed the "City Beautiful" project. It is largely due to the work of politicians, District government and urban architects and planners from this time that central Washington is what it is today.

Why the D.C. history lesson, you ask? Well, because anyone who has done any strolling around DC's monumental core recently knows that homeland security concerns have done a fairly decent job in desecrating the grounds, views, and open feel of the iconic structures that so many of us love. Armed guards peer down menacingly from the permanently(?) closed west portico of the Capitol building at unsuspecting visitors. Ugly concrete and metal security bollards line the streets and walkways in front of most governmental structures. Overpowering flourescent floodlights blind the eys of motorists driving down Independence and Constitution avenues. Cracked and crumbling jersey barriers lie recklessly strewn around gorgeous and inspiring monuments to Lincoln and Jefferson (who most certainly would be appalled at the current state of his memorial's grounds--that is, if he wouldn't also most certainly be appalled at the existence of a memorial to himself, but that's another topic). Parking lots for the memorials have been permanently closed, and everywhere armed Capitol and Park Police officers stand guard, carefully scrutinizing the visitors and strollers who meander by. The idea that the monuments and memorials were meant to portray an open and transparent government--however illusory--can no longer be maintained, as the image now portrayed is one of suspicion and fear. And to what end?

This morning, the Post ran an article about a forthcoming report that is highly critical of the U.S. Park Police and their supposed inability to "adequately" protect our city's parks and monuments. Officers are taken to task in the report for perceived deficiencies in security, including--among other transgressions--allowing a briefcase to rest against the base of the Washington Monument for five minutes, before its neglectful owner returned to retrieve it.

No one wants to see our beloved memorials destroyed by an act of terrorism, or defaced by vandals or rogue protesters. Clearly, a certain level of security and vigilance is required. But the current state of security concerns on and around the Mall speak not of reasonable levels of security and vigilance--rather, it speaks of a government that has gone to absurd lengths to protect iconic structures that simply don't need that much protection to begin with.

Let's consider a worst-case scenario: someone with a backpack laden with explosives wanders up to the Lincoln Memorial and detonates the bag. A handful of people are killed, a number of others are wounded, and the Memorial is badly damaged. A tragedy, to be sure. But, aside from the (likely) minimal loss of life that such an attack would cause, what irreperable harm has taken place? There is a (very) questionable presumption that a terrorist cell would even target for destruction something that would cause such minimal devastation and disruption in day-to-day life; and even if they did, the harm that would follow such an attack would be negligible compared with a similar attack perpetrated in a crowded shopping mall, sporting event, concert, or outdoor celebration.

In other words, the lengths to which the goverment has extended itself in order to protect the monuments of DC (and the nation) are completely disproportionate to the amount of actual damage that such an attack could actually incur. One might argue that the psychological damage that could be caused by an attack on one of our nation's most hallowed monuments would be substantial. Perhaps. But, I would argue, the amount of damage done to the psyches of the tourists who visit the city and the citizens who live here to consistently see signs of a city and government living under siege and in fear is far greater.

I say: ditch the bollards, dump the jersey barriers, and have the guards stand down. The free and open access to our nation's memorials, monuments and government buildings was--for a long time--the final remaining vestige of a truly free and open government. It's time for the government to step back, exhale deeply, and restore it.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Addendum to "Sketchy"

I should clarify a some points about my last post. I realized after seeing a couple of comments that quite a few people are going to take the "what happens behind closed doors is none of your business" stance. I'll give some credit to the argument, though I don't entirely agree, but I have plenty of problems with 1618 14th Street.

The condition of the building is what originally drew my attention to the property. We have other empty lots in our neighborhood, buildings that have been under "renovation" for years, and houses in disrepair. Now that I've found the address of the owner (McMansionville) and know that he got some sort of disaster relief payout after the fire, I'm particularly cranky about the condition of the building. In theory he has the financial wherewithal to keep it up. He's not a small time real estate investor who got in over his head or someone without the income to keep up his building.

I'm also upset about the apparent attempt by the owner to evade taxes. Before the fire, the property was classified as residential. The fire led to some inquiry, so the building is now classified for tax purposes as a store. The trouble is that the business is a nonprofit because it is a private club. If there truly is a steady membership and the taxes are filed correctly, I guess that's fine. If, by filing false property taxes and claiming nonprofit status the owner is deliberately evading taxes, that stinks. DC could get a lot of revenue off of that property if it were a for-profit business.

The building was, and may still be, unsafe for its occupants. Firemen reported that garbage blocked the only back exit and that there was exposed wiring. It seems like the garbage is still there
not just a safety issue but a sanitary issue for all of the nearby properties. The lack of building permits or any other evidence of construction makes me doubt whether the fire damage was repaired. Faulty wiring could lead to more issues and closed off sections could lead to vermin infestation. Not to mention, it's a bummer that folks would go into a dark, dank, unsafe place to have group sexual encounters. It's not really an issue that affects me, but DC does have laws about the safety and upkeep of buildings open to the public. It's a public health issue.

Classifying the business as a private club potentially creates crime and public safety issues. Any crime occurring on the property drug transaction, physical assault, sexual assault, etc. is less likely to be reported because a patron may not want to reveal his identity, and the club probably doesn't want MPD poking around. Nor can any other DC codes be enforced regarding alcohol, smoking, or cleanliness.

If the ANC, particularly the crime and public safety committee, have been going after other dilapidated properties and those who are delinquent on their taxes, it's reasonable to pursue Stephen Jaffe as well. If nothing else, he should clean up the back yard. And, yeah, a lot of people aren't pleased about having a sex business in the area. A few blocks east, Shaw residents were successful in getting the Fun Fair video store shut down on the basis of a zoning violation. If nothing else, making an opportunity for a new business increases the likelihood that there will be more neighborhood patronage and the building will look better.

Friday, February 1, 2008


I've been walking by 1618 14th Street almost daily for four years now. At first I just wrote it off as a low rent property that just looked bad. The more I think about it though, the more it gives me the heebie jeebies.

It turns out that this building is a "private adult venue." Every once in a while, I've seen men leaving from the front door at various times of day. The use code in the property tax records is "Store-Misc," and the proposed assessed value for 2008 is $813,560. Yet, the taxable assessment is $0. The owner, Stephen Jaffe, lives in a super swank part of Potomac, MD. (The address is in between Democracy Blvd. and River Rd., if you're familiar with the area.)

Over the summer of 2005 a second floor fire broke out. Since then, the second floor windows have been covered with black plastic, likely garbage bags. It adds a nice ambience, especially considering that the shades on the first floor are always pulled. There have been no signs of renovation since the fire no permits, no delivery of construction materials, no activity around the building. It does appear from a simple Google search that the owner did get a payout from disaster recovery consulting firm. Metro Weekly gave the facility a little press after the 2005 fire. From what little they could dig up on the business, it appears that openly advertised fee-for-admission sex parties are held in the building.

The small back yard was trashed both before and after the fire. For a while you could see right into the garbage heap. Later black plastic was used to block the view, and now a piece of drywall leans against the gate. From what I've seen it looks like the yard could be a rats' nest. A concern after the fire was that there is no apparent means of egress from the back of the building; it seems that there has been no improvement on that safety issue.

Bleh. I'd just as soon not have this business in our neighborhood. The safety and cleanliness of the building are suspect, and the owner may or may not be paying proper taxes. I'd also like to see the building itself cleaned up a little. It's just depressing looking to walk by.