Posted: June 23rd, 2009 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: DC Shaw Neighborhood, District of Columbia, Government | Tags: Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, ANC | 6 Comments »
Summer is always a good time to blog about things that have been bouncing around my head for a couple months, or in this case, years. The topic: reforming Washington, D.C.’s Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, or ANCs.
The ANC system was created in 1976 as part of the D.C. Home Rule Charter. In order to provide a means for local engagement and participation in public policy, the city established 37 commissions across the city, each representing a portion of a ward. (The names are the ward number followed by a letter, such as 1C, 2A, etc.) Each commission is composed of people elected from Single-Member Districts (SMDs) of approximately 2,000 people. Thus, across the city every resident is represented by exactly one ANC and one of the 270 commissioners. This map, showing the ANC and SMDs of the Mid City neighborhoods of U Street, Adams Morgan, and Columbia Heights, illustrates the dense geography of the ANC system.
I was reminded of the topic when a friend sent me this blog post about the latest ANC scandal, about an ANC commissioner and his partner apparently trying to obstruct the renewal of a liquor license for two popular restaurants. Indeed, the area of liquor licenses is often an area of intense conflict. Local residents oppose loud, noisy bars open late, and the attendees of loud, noisy bars open late aren’t a particularly organized constituency. The result is (unknown to most D.C. residents) that some neighborhoods (specifically, Dupont Circle, Georgetown, Glover Park, and Adams Morgan), have moratoriums in effect for new liquor licenses. The effect of the limited supply is the existing bars are even louder and busier, but that’s an issue for another day.
Before describing potential reforms I think it should note that most ANCs function relatively well most of the time. They are groups of citizens, serving unpaid, who have regular meetings to discuss issues of neighborhood concern. It’s important to note the critical role the ANCs create in providing a forum for neighborhood-level discussion, and to allow city government a formal way to communicate with local residents about proposed developments and policies. In fact, the intense emotion surrounding some ANC races speaks to the important role they provide. Although some throw up their hands and call for them to be abolished, I believe they play an important role and should continue to exist in some form.
Since no political system is perfect, this post serves to discuss some potential improvements. Here are too general categories of criticism.
First, too often ANCs are not representative. As a result, ANCs disproportionately represent the views of older, more affluent property owners. The views of the significant renter population in many neighborhoods is limited in many ANCs. Additionally, because of these biases the views of all may not be represented. In Adams Morgan, 1C is all white despite the huge diversity of the neighborhood. (See members today). In other neighborhoods, the patterns are different by no less troubling, with ANC commissioners not representing every facet of the community.
Second, ANCs are highly varied in their operations. The ANCs are independent, receiving only a small amount of support from city government. As a result, the quality of their websites, publications, location and openness of the meetings, and other aspects of operations varies widely, resulting in frustration and making them susceptible to manipulation.
Partly responding to these criticisms, below are four possible avenues of reform:
1. Modify the structure of Single Member Districts. The SMDs ensure every resident exactly one ANC commissioner to report to, however they suffer the same problem of any geography-based electoral system: diffuse interests are often not represented. (renters, immigrant populations, etc.) For this reason many city councils, including D.C., have at-large seats. The ANC boundaries could remain the same and all commissioners could be elected at-large within the ANC. Or, a compromise option, each ANC could have one at-large commissioner in addition to those elected from SMDs. The number of SMDs could be reduced, or the total number of commissioners in each ANC increased by one.
2. City government should enforce greater transparency and consistency in operations. The city could mandate the ANCs report their budgets, agendas, and other documents to a central repository. Access to these documents is often uneven. ANCs could be provided access to a system to allow them to set up a website through city resources. The ANC office in general takes a very hands-off approach, which is understandable given limited resources. However, a more active ANC office could standardize the operations of each without threatening their autonomy.
3. Reduce the number of ANCs or enlarge SMD sizes. Although some neighborhoods enjoy active ANCs, others are less active and successful. Each ward contains 4 to 6 of the groups, perhaps the total number should be reduced and the corresponding SMDs enlarged. Currently many neighborhood civic organizations and ANCs cover similar areas, making the ANCs slightly larger would reduce this apparent redundancy. Having fewer ANCs might also increase the quality of their participation in public policy as it would cut down on the number of meetings necessary to reach every neighborhood in the city. It would, however, dilute the power of individual votes and reduce the number of elected commissioners.
4. Term Limits for ANC Commissioners. In Shaw, and other ANCs throughout the city, ANC commissioners can be very long-served, with mixed effects. Although they can be trusted voices and amass deep historical knowledge, long-serving ANC commissioners may prevent others from getting involved. The same arguments for and against term limits for any representative seat applies. Commissioners could have term limits, something fairly long but enough to ensure some turnover, perhaps 5-10 years.
These are just some tentative proposals based on my limited knowledge and experience with the system. Additional viewpoints are welcome. ANCs should be recognized as a valuable D.C. institution that is become a critical part of the local political life. However, like any political system their structure and operations need not remain static and fixed.
Note on boundary maps: The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics has this gallery of maps of the district boundaries. However, I think they are inferior to an older series that has been removed. For example, the new maps don’t contain labels for all the SMDs. Luckily, these maps are preserved in the Internet Archive here. For the technically inclined, KML and ESRI Shapefile versions are available from the city here.
Posted: February 29th, 2008 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: DC Shaw Neighborhood, District of Columbia, Historic Preservation, Housing, Smart Growth | Comments Off
The weekly newsletter circulated by my representative on the D.C. Council, Jack Evans, contains this personal plea for community members to attend an upcoming zoning hearing regarding a mixed-use redevelopment of the O Street Market:
O Street Market needs support from residents
The DC Zoning Commission will hold a Public Hearing on the O Street Market project on March 6 at 6:30 pm at the Zoning Commission Office, 441 4th Street, NW Suite 210S.
“I am personally asking those concerned to show support for this important project in the heart of Shaw by attending this hearing,” Councilmember Evans said.
If you wish to testify, you can sign up at the meeting. For more information, contact the Office on Zoning at 727-6311 or Evans’ Shaw liaison, Windy Abdul-Rahim.
The site currently contains a Giant Supermarket, surface parking lot, and abandoned market structure. The developer is asking the Zoning Commission to re-zone the parcel from C-2-A to CR or C-3-C, commercial zones supporting higher density. The official notice generated by the zoning commission contains a description of the request and information about how to testify.
For more discussion of the project see my original post, or this interview where Roadside Development founder Armond Spikell discusses it with DCmud.
Posted: January 27th, 2008 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: DC Shaw Neighborhood, Parks | 12 Comments »
Funding technicalities have held up $2,500,000 in funds dedicated for a Shaw park. D.C. government agencies have put the park on “hold” for over one year all because they can’t find a way to approve funds to an artist for a commemorative sculpture.
The triangle park above is located adjacent the home of noted historian Carter G. Woodson, recently purchased by the National Park Service to convert into a museum. City officials planned to convert it into commemorative park with money set aside for neighborhood enhancement during the construction of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and matching federal funds. Planning was moving forward and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which administered the Convention Center neighborhood funds, announced two years ago an artist had been selected to create a sculpture of Dr. Woodson.
Legal technicalities have put the project on permanent hold. In an email to me last fall, D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans described what happened next:
in January 2007, the MOU (memorandum of agreement) between DDOT, Federal Highways and the National Trust was distributed to the parties for execution. The final stop was the [D.C.] Office of Procurement, however after reviewing the document, OCP has determined that DDOT is not authorized to enter into an MOU with an outside entity. This came as a surprise to DDOT since the agency has several contracts, including the Heritage Trail contract with Cultural Tourism DC and to make a long story short, OCP has indicated that DDOT needs to either go through a competitive process or follow the procedures to justify a “sole source contract”. In the meantime, I understand DDOT is trying to find the appropriate documentation in the Federal legislation that authorizes DDOT to enter into MOU’s such as this.
Evans pledged to help move the project forward: “The city agencies need to work together to find a timely solution to this problem. If the project falls through, the City’s investment of thousands of dollars already invested in this work will go for naught. I will do all in my power to see that this does not happen.” Sadly, I have heard nothing since this correspondence.
The local ANC Commissioner Alex Padro told me last fall he was “getting ready to go public with the facts” about how the Fenty administration is allowing the project to “go down the drain,” although if he tried to win press attention I did not see it. Mayor Fenty’s office was unhelpful as well, writing in response to my correspondence, “We agree that this is an important project for the neighborhood and for Dr. Woodson’s legacy. Right now, the project is on hold. We are in communication with the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities to see if they will be willing to take on management of this project. …”
The Case for the Park
Despite its diminutive site, the Carter G. Woodson Park presents a unique opportunity to celebrate neighborhood history and provide an amenity to neighborhood residents. A celebrated scholar, journalist, and publisher Carter G. Woodson is credited with virtually single-handily founding the field of African American history. His efforts to fight racial discrimination, improve public education, and introduce African American history to America and the world deserves to be studied and celebrated.
The park site also presents interesting opportunities for neighborhood improvement. Located at a prominent intersection at Rhode Island Avenue and Q Street NW, it could be an important gateway to the neighborhood. If developed, the park could be used by the women in residence at the YWCA, school children at Shaw Junior High and Seaton Elementary, and thousands of residents of apartments, row homes, and subsidized housing in the neighborhood. People waiting for the G8 bus also have no benches or shelter from the weather, something which a new design could accommodate. (Below, left) Furthermore, three longtime vacant properties border the park. New city investment could help spark redevelopment of these longtime eyesores.
Since my polite inquiries and the assistance of the neighborhood’s elected officials has not resolved the problem, I encourage all District residents to contact the officials below. Tell them to find a solution to the legal technicalities, approve funds for design and construction of the Carter G. Woodson Park. I have no doubt a legal solution can be found to pay for the art for this much-needed park.
Emeka C. Moneme
Director, D.C. Department of Transportation
David P. Gragan, CPPO
Chief Procurement Officer, D.C. Office of Contracting and Procurement
CEO and General Manager, Washington Convention Center Authority
Posted: January 17th, 2008 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: DC Shaw Neighborhood, District of Columbia, Libraries, MLK Memorial Library, Watha T. Daniel Library | 2 Comments »
After years of inaction, the process of re-constructing the D.C. Public Library’s Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Branch seems on-track. A new temporary library hums with activity, demolition of the old building well underway, and a meeting scheduled later this month to reveal a preliminary design for the new building.
Last October, a well-equipped temporary library opened on the grounds of Shaw Junior High roughly two years since the old Watha T. Daniel branch closed. The temporary library is equipped with a children’s section, periodicals, a number of public computers, and variety of books, and a visit this afternoon found a number of people reading, browsing the stacks, and surfing the web.
Library officials have planned a community meeting to unveil the preliminary design for the new library, to be held on Wednesday, January 30th at the interim library from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
For the last several weeks construction crews have begun the painstaking task of the careful demolition of the brutalist 1960s structure, revealed in the photos below to be heavily reinforced concrete.
While I haven’t visited recently, during a visit last August I found the system’s long-beleaguered Martin Luther King Memorial Library to be in the best shape I’ve ever seen it. All four elevators were in operation, which hadn’t happened in so long the Washington Post saw fit to report the news. The lobby was so clean and well-lit it reminded me of the historic photos I’d found from when the building just opened, perhaps fitting as the building was declared a historic landmark by the city last July.
> DCPL Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library Reconstruction Page
> Previous library posts
Posted: November 7th, 2007 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: DC Shaw Neighborhood, District of Columbia, Watha T. Daniel Library | 2 Comments »
As noted by a visitor in a recent comment, at long last a fully equipped temporary Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Library has opened at 945 Rhode Island Avenue next to the Shaw Junior High School.
The grand opening is next Wednesday, November 14th from 4 to 5:30 p.m., to be followed by a “Hopes and Dreams” meeting to “solicit community input about the service priorities desired in the soon to be constructed Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library” that will take the place of the old library shown here. For more information contact Archie Williams at archie.williams at dc.gov.
Posted: October 24th, 2007 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: DC Shaw Neighborhood, District of Columbia, Urban Development | 10 Comments »
Although some Shaw blogs have already posted some of these images, I thought readers would be interested to see the first architectural renderings of the redevelopment planned by Roadside Development for the site currently occupied by the Shaw Giant Supermarket, and the ruins of the 1881 O Street Market (more). The company has dubbed the project “CityMarket.”
The project is planned to contain 601 apartments and condos, a 200-room hotel, and a 56,000 square foot supermarket. It will also, in the developer’s words, “will spark the redevelopment of the historic Shaw community by providing two and one half levels of underground parking … The required parking under District zoning would be approximately 300 spaces while 700 spaces will be provided.”
Posted: July 23rd, 2007 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: DC Shaw Neighborhood, District of Columbia, History, Parks | 6 Comments »
Design work has begun for a new Carter G. Woodson Park, located in my neighborhood one block from the Carter G. Woodson house at the intersection of Rhode Island Avenue, Q Street, and 9th Streets NW. According to the project’s manager at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, who is overseeing the planning, the project has been delayed due to D.C. Department of Transportation “contracting” problems. According to the National Trust, current designs do not include any seating at the park, but will be designed with future bench additions in mind. The park will feature a larger-than-life sculpture of noted historian Woodson by sculptor Raymond Kaskey. At least one community meeting is planned to get input on the design, and the project is planned to be completed in roughly one year. Today the park is nearly entirely paved and a bus stop has been long removed, both measures I assume were made to discourage loitering and criminal activity.
> NPS: Carter G. Woodson National Historic Site
> National Trust: D.C. Artist to Create Public Art Installation at Carter G. Woodson Park
> See my previous post on D.C. triangle parks