Sunday, February 27, 2011

Street sweeping begins next week: new signage, and change of schedule

With the temps rising, it also means that DC's street sweepers will soon be back in action.

DC has been busy replacing street sweeping signs throughout the neighborhood with ones that not only indicate the day and the week that parking restrictions will be enforced, but also the months during the year. This is a huge improvement as far as we're concerned, because the previous signs were misleading by not indicating that for 4-5 months out of the year, street sweeping restrictions will not be enforced.

However, one thing we noted is that the days that street sweeping will occur on particular blocks seem to have changed. Make certain you take a quick look outside to see if your days have changed. The city typically provides a one week amnesty of parking tickets for street sweeping parking violations, after which time the $25 ticket for violators will be enforced.

More information about DC's street sweeping program can be found on DPW's website.

Monday, February 21, 2011

"Navigating" DC's budget: What does $90,000 get you?

EDIT - 02/22: ...and Kwame keeps on digging. WCP's Loose Lips has more on Kwame's apparent confusion as to how two Lincoln Navigators ended up making their way to DC. Best quote? "It's a possibility that someone said hey, 'he wants it fully loaded,' and that's why I take full responsibility."

You just can't make this stuff up.

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EDIT: DCist's Martin Austermuhle has a similar piece today which delves into more specifics.

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DC is facing a $175 million budget shortfall for its FY 2011 budget. That the city is facing a shortfall isn't unusual in light of the ongoing economic turmoil: many jurisdictions around the country are facing similar budget crunches, and responding in myriad ways. But it's during these times of fiscal crisis that people start paying a bit more attention to the things our tax dollars are paying for. This is particularly true in local politics, where the use of tax dollars is more visible than at the national level.

One of the hallmarks of mayor Vince Gray's 2010 campaign victory over then-mayor Adrian M. Fenty was Gray's repeated calls for transparency, openness and an end to the cronyism he claimed was rampant in the Fenty administration.

In fact, I'll let Gray tell you himself. From his mayoral campaign website, which has been taken offline but which resides for all eternity in Google's cache (emphasis mine):

"If we’re going to accomplish any of our goals – real school reform, jobs for every District resident, and safer communities – we need to restore a public trust in the mayor’s office that has been shattered.

And with good reason.

It seems like every day there’s another story in the newspaper about mismanaged public dollars and shady deals.


We were promised transparency and openness, but instead see sweetheart deals and cronyism, and millions of dollars of contracts secretly funneled through back channels to prevent public scrutiny and Council oversight."

Kwame brown adopts a similar tone on his campaign website:

"As Council Chairman, Kwame will ensure that the D.C. City Council remains a strong, independent voice for District residents through open, transparent, and accountable governance. He will lead a unified Council to promote policies that improve the everyday lives of District residents across all eight Wards. By adopting a good, common sense approach to government, he is confident that the Council will remain accountable to those it serves."

Sounds great. After all, who wouldn't want to take a swipe at the mismanagement of public funds and cronyism? Gray and DC Council Chairman Kwame Brown seem ready to lead the charge.

Only, as they say, the devil is in the details. Or, in Gray and Brown's case, the devil is in the SUVs.

News broke this weekend, via the local politico tag-team of the Post's Mike DeBonis and the City Paper's Alan Suderman, that DC taxpayers are footing a bill for over $90,000 a year in lease payments for cars for both Brown and Gray. This includes a fully loaded Lincoln Navigator for Gray, along with a Lincoln Town Car for staff use, and two fully loaded Lincoln Navigators for Brown--including one rejected by Brown because it had the wrong interior color (gray, rather than the black he had specifically requested), but which DC is still on the hook for throughout the majority of 2011. Keep in mind, the $90,000 bill is simply for lease payments; it doesn't include things like insurance, maintenance, fuel and other costs associated with owning the vehicles.

Gray's fully loaded Navigator alone is costing taxpayers nearly $1,900/month in lease payments. (It's worth noting that Adrian Fenty's SmartCar, while paid for by the city, cost only $18,000--a practical pittance compared with the cost of the Navigators requested by Gray and Brown.) And this from the man who decried the "mismanaged public dollars" that led to a supposed shattering in the trust DC residents had with the mayor's office.

Aside from the general sleeziness of the Navigator requests (which includes Brown's refusal to own up to requesting the Navigator(s) in the first place. And really, Kwame? A full entertainment system? Aluminum wheels?), there's a deeper question here: why are DC taxpayers footing the bill for such perks for Council Members at a time when the District is facing such a mounting deficit? After all, Gray is making approximately $200,000 per year as mayor of DC, and Brown is bringing in $190,000--both well in excess of both the city and area's median incomes.

A recent Pew Research report examined the perks and costs of running the city councils of 15 major cities across the country. The annual operating costs for the DC Council, at over $19 million, make it the second-highest in the country, behind only Los Angeles, and its per-resident cost of over $32 squashes the competition. And while the report notes that DC does not provide a car for use by its councilmembers, it does provide a stipend and reimbursement--which works out to being essentially the same thing. There is an argument to be made that the DC Council must assume responsibilities that, in other cities, are handled by the state. But that doesn't absolve the Council from a close scrutiny of their expenses, including the provision of a stipend for the purchase and upkeep of cars for councilmembers.

The FY2011 DC budget includes a line item of $2.56 million for "Council Benefits," which includes items like car stipends. This represents a 2.5% decrease from the FY2010 budget. Meanwhile, the District's Department of Mental Health saw a 9.2% cut in its budget (and a cut of nearly 20% from FY2009 levels). In fact, buried within the FY2011 Human Services budget are all kinds of goodies: an elimination of an over $1 million fund for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program; a $3.4 million cut to the Interim Disability Assistance fund; a $292,000 cut to the General Children's Assistance fund; a transfer of over $1.7 million from reserves into the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, and so on.

In fact, in the Council's proposed FY2011 budget gap-closing plan, not one cent is devoted to cuts in DC Council Benefits.

All the while, the mayor who advocates sound fiscal management has been on a hiring spree of late, and according to a recent Washington Post story has been routinely exceeding the District's salary cap on senior staffers. This includes a $180,000 salary for Gray's interim Human Resources Director Judy Banks--who happens to be a personal friend of Gray advisor Lorraine Greene, and whose salary exceeds the District's cap for the position.

Gray argues that such salaries, and an increase in senior level positions, are necessary in order to recruit and retain competent people for the District government. But, one must wonder where "fiscal responsibility" and "recruitment of competent people" end, and profligacy and cronyism begins? With Gray and Brown, the lines seem to blur.

No one is arguing that Brown and Gray's auto stipends are driving the city into an economic crisis. But in politics, especially local politics, the so-called "optics" matter. What are we to make of a mayor who ran on a campaign of transparency and fiscal responsibility requesting that the city procure luxury vehicles for his and his staff's use, and who routinely hires friends and "confidants" for senior positions while exceeding the District's pay caps? What are we to make of the head of our Council--a Council which already boasts one of the highest operating costs in the nation--claiming ignorance as to how District taxpayers ended up footing the bill for two fully loaded luxury SUVs for his use, while presiding over a $175 million budget shortfall?

For the residents of the city who put Gray and Brown into office because they thought they would be better stewards of the city's resources, and believed they would be more receptive to their needs and concerns, $90,000 can provide an awful lot by way of city services. For the likes of Gray and Brown, it simply provides them a way to get around town.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Trouble brewing for 14th Street office project?

Back in October, DC Mud reported that the Historic Preservation Review Board gave a thumbs-up to developer Giorgio Furioso's plans to contruct a six story, 55,000 sf office building along 14th Street, in the vacant lot between Posto and the Great Wall restaurant. According to the poposal the building, which will extend across part of the building which houses Posto and the art galleries Curator's Office and Hemphill Fine Arts.

However, at the February ANC2F meeting, Furioso encountered some pushback from residents of Kingman Place, whose homes run behind the proposed site.

As noted in the Dupont Current, Furioso was at the ANC meeting to seek support for several zoning variances that he is requesting. Among them is a request to have cars who wish to park in a 12 unit garage underneath the building enter through an alley entrance. Kingman Place residents appeared to have two complaints about this proposal:

The first issue is that the volume is spaces is too low, and that office tenants ill instead park on nearby residential streets, taking up valuable parking spaces. Due to the daytime residential parking restrictions in place, this does not appear to be a matter of significant concern. After all, one cannot park for more than two hours without an appropriate residential parking permit.

The second issue is that the volume of spaces, and the cars it would attract, is too great, leading to additional congestion in the alley behind the building. I might be inclined to be more sympathetic to this argument if the projected volume of the parking garage was higher--say, 30 or 40 spaces, rather than 12. After all, it can't be ignored that people who purchased homes on Kingman did so knowing that the rear of their property abutted a commercial corridor.

These complaints may be viewed as being in opposition to each other (too many spaces vs. not enough), but I don't necessarily think that they are. Ultimately, I think the resdient's parking concerns can be summed up as being opposed to anything that would bring additional cars to the alley or to their street.

However, what is apparent is that certain residents of Kingman Place aren't particularly amenable to seeing this project built, particularly if it involves adding more of the dreaded "t" word to the neighborhood. (t = traffic) And thus, we find ourselves basically where every proposed project ends up at some point: opposed by a small group of residents who simply don't want to see the project go up, for varying reasons.

The ANC decided to take no action at the February meeting, meaning that action will be postponed until at least the March meeting. There is no requirement in place that the Board of Zoning Adjustment follow the advice of the ANC, but by District law ANC opinions must be given "great weight"--meaning that a vote by the ANC to not support the proposed parking plan could be a potential setback for Furioso's plans.

There's no anticipated groundbreaking date yet for the project, which requires BZA approval before it can go forward.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Police, Feds Raid Townhouse Tavern

OK, here's an interesting piece, courtesy of Borderstan:

Seems that MPD and the Feds paid a visit to longtime Dupont bar the Townhouse Tavern on Thursday, arresting one individual and retrieving a weapon. According to Borderstan, MPD PSA 208 head Lt. Scott Dignan stated that the operation involved both MPD officers and federal authorities, but provided no further information.

Nothing this exciting ever happens when *I'm* in a bar...perhaps I'm hanging out in the wrong places.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Progress at District Condos

The demolition at the soon-to-be District Condos site is nearing completion, which means that the actual construction phase should be commencing shortly.

In other words, enjoy the views of Swann and S streets while you can...

Behind $345,000 in Rent, Reeves Center Deli Facing Eviction

It seems a local business owner has stumbled across a way to overcome DC's high commercial lease rates: just don't pay your rent.

That, at least, is what the District's Department of Real Estate Services says Reeves Center Deli owner Fitwi "John" Tekeste has been doing (or not doing) since 2000. According to the City Paper's Lydia DePillis, Tekeste is $345,044.88 in arrears on rent payments dating back to 2000. And this on rent that, at about 412 per square foot, is about a third of market rate in the area. Tekeste is being evicted from the space on February 21, after which time the city will put the space back up for lease.

For his part, Tekeste says he has an explanation. He cites a verbal agreement he supposedly struck with the Williams Administration to not pay rent while he was removating the space, and a 2009 agreement he supposedly had with the Fenty administration to not pay rent while he was redoing the electrical system in the space.

Tekeste is claiming something a bit more sinister too: that DRES, in the dying days of the Fenty administration, issued the eviction notice as payback for Tekeste's support of Vince Gray in the 2010 mayoral race.

But these protests seem spurious, to say the least. Absent any documentation or evidence of Tekeste's supposed agreements with city officials, and considering the unlikelihood that the city would make any agreements that amounted to charging no rent to a business owner for an entire decade due to renovation work, DRES is moving forward with the February 21 eviction.

So, memo to other area small businesses who are leasing from the government: if your lease deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

And while we're at it, a second memo to District officials: why the **** is the rent so cheap at the Reeves Center to begin with? I can understand cutting business owners a bit of a break for leasing in a government building (a pretty crummy one at that) and all of the red tape involved, but a 66% cut seems unnecessarily steep. Particularly when the city is staring at a mountainous budget deficit.

Peregrine Espresso Aiming for Spring Opening

Peregrine Espresso, which is set to become the latest caffeine purveyor to set up shop in Logan, is planning for an opening "sometime in the spring," according to a tweet sent today.

Yes, I know that's a vague timeframe, but in the convoluted and unpredictable world of business opening in DC, vague is frequently the only answer you can get.

Those pining for other evening coffee shop hours in the neighborhood should take heart: according to Peregrine, they're planning to maintain the same hours as their Capitol Hill location (until 9PM M-Sat, and 8PM on Sunday).

Friday, February 4, 2011

How do you manufacture a PR disaster?

By doing crazy stuff like this.

I don't even care about the Redskins, but this self-created implosion is just too much fun to pass up. Snyder is providing a case study that will be examined in communication school classrooms for years to come on how NOT to exact revenge on a media outlet that annoyed you.

Oh, and yesterday's Gene Weingarten piece in the Post's op-ed section? Classic.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Closing: Pasha Bistro and...the Post Office?

We frequently write about the opening of new businesses and restaurants, so it's only fitting that we occasionally write about some closings as well.

Borderstan reports--and a subsequent walk-by confirms--that Pasha Bistro, the 17th Street Turkish cafe, has closed its doors. In its place will be "Pizza No. 17," opening on March 1. According to owner Payam Yadzani, Pizza No. 17 will offer "organic, wood-fired pizzas." For the 14thandyous, this is dreadful news. Pasha's gyros, grape leaves and cigar borek served us well on many a weekday evening when we were either unwilling or unable to cook. As recently as two weeks ago, we were sitting in their dining room making use of our recently purchased Groupon.

I wish I could say that I was excited about the prospect of wood-fired pizzas, but anymore it seems that half of the restaurants in DC are offering some variation of "wood-fired pizzas." For those nights when you can't get a seat at Coppi's, perhaps Pizza No. 17 will fit the bill.

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On a slightly different note, those of you who have shaken your fists (or considered acts of violence) at the patron-disdaining clerks of the 14th and T Post Office may not have to shake your fists much longer. Seems that location is on the USPS's short list of post offices to close as part of a cost-saving measure.

While I will be the first to admit that it's very beneficial to have a post office conveniently located in the neighborhood, going there often felt like entering a dilapidated convenience store where the clerks all yell at you from behind bulletproof glass, and your feet stick to the floor in a way that reminds you of your worst college dive bar experiences.

According to DCist, the USPS plans to shutter 2,000 post offices across the country, and the 14th and T location--having been on a planned 2010 closure list, but somehow having survived it--seems destined to go. The office does seem to be heavily used, and so I can only wonder what criteria was used by the USPS when selecting offices for closure. But I don't think too many people will miss being greeted at the door by a shrieking clerk at 12:55 on a Saturday because they want to close five minutes early.