Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. (D — Ward 5) introduced a bill to ease Sunday parking tensions by permitting angle parking for religious institutions with ANC and DDOT approval. The councilmember held a forum on the bill and its companion commercial district bill last week.
In DC neighborhoods where street parking is at a premium, few things raise a resident’s ire like church congregants who park illegally on Sunday mornings. Congregants who drive from other parts of the District, from Maryland, and from Virginia have been known to double-park, park in alleys, block crosswalks, and block fire hydrants.
After receiving numerous complaints from residents, Mr. Thomas introduced the bill to primarily allay residents in Bloomindale and Eckington. Since these neighborhoods are among Ward Five’s most densely populated, they, like LeDroit Park, suffer from high street parking occupancy. Last week in Eckington, Mr. Thomas hosted a forum on his bills and took questions from residents.
Mr. Thomas acknowledged what residents have long known: parking enforcement around churches is intentionally lax on Sundays. Though Mr. Thomas admitted the unique challenges to transportation on Sunday mornings, he also decried congregants who park illegally, block residents in, and hinder public safety.
Transit service reaches its nadir on Sunday mornings, and churchgoers often travel to churches in residential neighborhoods with light Sunday service. Since transit service and car traffic are relatively low on Sunday mornings, Mr. Thomas thinks DDOT will be able to find instances of roadways wide enough to accommodate both angle parking and through traffic on Sunday mornings. In each case, though, DDOT will make the final determination of what is safe and permitted, even if an ANC supports the petition.
We asked Mr. Thomas why he singled out angle parking and not other non-traditional parking arrangements and he admitted that the bill was just a first draft and could be expanded to include other measures.
For instance, DDOT permits parking beside the median on Sundays on the 1300 and 1400 blocks of New York Avenue NW downtown. This arrangement works since there is still one lane available for through traffic and since Sunday morning traffic flows are small. A similar arrangement might work along other multi-lane avenues in the District, including Rhode Island Avenue.
In other cases, solutions could be less radical. The congregants of several churches on Florida Avenue park in the right lane on Sunday morning even where parking is never permitted at any time. DDOT may be able to simply change the signs and permit curbside parking in such places on Sunday mornings. The extra parking can act as a traffic-calming measure, though, as we know, easier parking can induce more driving.
No matter what happens, the Department of Public Works, the primary agency in charge of parking enforcement, needs to end its practice of lax Sunday enforcement near churches. Only DDOT, not pastors and not congregants, should make the determination as to what constitutes safe Sunday morning parking. Mr. Thomas acknowledged that the law needs to be enforced uniformly as it is unfair to overlook, as one resident noted, illegal parking in residential neighborhoods, while actively ticketing illegal parking downtown on Sundays.
Though residents expressed frustration with some, though not all, neighborhood churches, Mr. Thomas rightly advised residents that parking tensions need not be adversarial. In fact, he called attention to instances in which neighborhood residents and churches collaborated to resolve parking problems. This can include urging pastors to rent unused lots for their congregants or to provide shuttle service from satellite lots or from congregants’ homes. He even touted bikesharing several times but said it is not practical for everyone.
Whatever the solution, Mr. Thomas admitted the bill was in its infancy and that he wants to provide a template for cooperation; angle parking may be one of many possible solutions.
Mr. Thomas was eager to mention the companion bill to allow permanent angle parking in business districts. Though most meeting attendees were there to complain about church parking in residential neighborhoods, Mr. Thomas said that many Ward 5 businesses depend heavily on customers arriving by private car. However, when he asked a local business owner how much of his business is from outside his neighborhood, the owner said that very little came from elsewhere.
The business corridor bill is significantly different from the Sunday parking bill. The former would permit businesses to seek diagonal parking at all times, regardless of transit service, or if the street space could be reallocated to bike lanes or wider sidewalks.
The Sunday parking bill carries more merit than the business corridor bill because of the unique circumstances of church locations and Sunday transit service. The business corridor bill, in contrast, too hastily and disproportionately prioritizes parking to the detriment of other road uses.
We’re back from our half-month vacation and LeDroit Park and Shaw are about to see some construction action starting today.
Wednesday, September 1 – 10:30 am
Just when we thought construction on the park on the site of the old Gage-Eckington School would begin, along came the parks scandal last October. Then in March, Harry Thomas Jr. (D – Ward 5) tried to prevent the mayor from appropriating money to the park project; he then reversed himself after an avalanche of constituent criticism. The new contract was ready to go until Councilmember Marion Barry (D – Ward 8) put a hold on the contract in late July. Mr. Barry’s delay procedure just expired and the mayor’s office will host a groundbreaking ceremony today at 10:30 am at Third and Elm Streets.
Over in Shaw, the two block site currently occupied by Giant and a crumbling old market façade is about to start its journey to become a vibrant mixed-use development. Join the Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), Mayor Adrian Fenty (D), Council Chairman Vincent Gray (D), Councilmember Jack Evans (D – Ward 2) and Councilmember Kwame Brown (D – at large) for the groundbreaking.
Thursday, September 2 – 10:45 am
After years of planning and promises, construction on the Howard Theatre begins in earnest. Join the developer, ANC Commissioner Myla Moss, and other notables for the official groundbreaking.
We’re relieved to see these long-promised projects finally moving forward to construction.
Back in March, LeDroit Park and Bloomingdale residents mobilized to prevent Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. (D – Ward 5) from blocking the transfer of funding to the park project here in LeDroit Park. Our hard work paid off: Mr. Thomas reversed his resolution in the face of an avalanche of angry calls and emails, a good number coming from his constituents in Bloomingdale.
Now Councilmember Marion Barry (D – Ward 8) has inexplicably placed a hold on the new park contract, possibly delaying construction by at least 45 days. When reached by the City Paper, Mr. Barry responded,
The Gage-Eckington contract was one of those not authorized by the council, not voted on. The mayor in his shenanigans sent it over the council, and I have the responsibility to protect the taxpayers’ money…There’s no money available, and there’s no authority to do this.
Mr. Barry’s statement contains a half-true and a lie. This current contract is being submitted to the Council for passive approval, which is required of city contracts over $1 million. If the Council does not act on it within a certain period of time, the contract is approved. This is common method of review since the Council does not have the time to vote explicitly on every city contract. So, yes, this contract with Keystone Plus Construction Corporation has not been voted on, but few contracts of this size are.
More distressing is that Mr. Barry is absolutely wrong to state that the money isn’t available and that the mayor doesn’t have the authority to build this park. On March 2, Mr. Barry and the rest of the Council voted unanimously to approve the mayor’s request to re-appropriate $1.5 million for this park:
Sec. 2. (a) Pursuant to section 47-363 of the District of Columbia Official Code, the Mayor transmitted to the Council on February 19, 2010, a reprogramming request of $1.5 million from the capital budget authority and allotment from the Department of Parks and Recreation and the District Department of Transportation to the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.
(b) The Council approves the $1.5 million reprogramming request.
Sec. 3. The Secretary to the Council shall transmit a copy of this resolution, upon its adoption, to the Office of the Mayor.
Sec. 4. This resolution shall take effect immediately. (our emphasis)
Facts are stubborn things, Mr. Barry.
Mr. Barry’s new-found scrutiny (obstruction, really) of city projects is especially ironic considering he doled out d0-nothing city contracts to his girlfriend and when questioned on the conflict of interest, responded to the Post,
“You all think it is inappropriate to hire a girlfriend. I don’t think it is. In fact, there is no law against it.” When asked whether he would hire another woman he becomes romantically involved with, Barry said, “Unless the law changes, why not?”
The Council’s fair-weather watchdog is likely angling for a quid pro quo from the rest of the Council before he withdraws his resolution. Perhaps he’s holding out for the Council to cut him a deal he can’t get by any other means than logrolling.
Or he may simply want attention, since his unanimous Council censure and ejection from committee positions has spared the city from much of his legislative influence.
But even if Mr. Barry’s stubbornly refuses to withdraw his disapproval, his huffing and puffing will be for naught since he likely doesn’t have the votes to defeat the contract.
Several civic groups in LeDroit Park and Bloomingdale are turning up the pressure on Mr. Barry and the Council. He may not have realized what he has provoked.
Thanks to a wave of citizen pressure on the council, LeDroit Park narrowly avoided yet another delay in park construction.
Last night we learned that Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. (D – Ward 5), would offer a bill this morning to prevent the mayor’s office from re-appropriating $1.5 million to the park project here in LeDroit Park. His stated reason for throwing a wrench in the process was that his bill was simply a “procedural matter to ensure that the funding source is constant with the Deputy Mayor[‘s] testimony that the funds will not be taken from other projects and that the funds are properly identified.”
As though a phone call within the Wilson Building wouldn’t have answered that question. Threatening to further delay a much-needed construction project that the council and mayor had already promised may not be the most prudent way to stick it to the mayor’s office; Mr. Thomas woke the sleeping dragon.
Deluged with emails between residents, civic association leaders, Jim Graham (D – Ward 1), Kwame Brown (D – at large), and Mr. Thomas, himself, the council passed a revised version of Mr. Thomas’s bill, this time explicitly approving the re-appropriation. Now there’s a u-turn!
Our thanks to all the residents who contacted the council to voice their disapproval. Mr. Thomas admitted receiving an avalanche of 230 emails this morning on the matter.
And who said citizen democracy doesn’t work?
After last year’s contracting controversy simmered down, Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. (D – Ward 5), assured residents that he would not block the park project in LeDroit Park. He wrote in an email:
I would like to confirm that I am in support of moving forward with this project and supportive of the steps and work that the LeDroit Park community and many members from the Bloomingdale neighborhood have taken to support the Ledroit Park Project and will commit to ensuring that I will continue to support a contract process that moves this project forward and ensures its completion. (our emphasis)
It seems a councilmember is entitled to change his mind.
Mr. Thomas will introduce a bill tomorrow in the Committee on Libraries, Parks & Recreation, a committee he chairs, to prevent the mayor’s office from allotting $1.5 million for the park.
We’re not sure why Mr. Thomas has changed his mind, but residents are encouraged to call him or email him to ask why and to express the importance of the park. If the site remains a mud pit in November, voters in Bloomingdale (Ward 5) may remember that on their way to the polls.
|Harry Thomas, Jr. (D – Ward 5)
|David A. Catania (I – at large)||firstname.lastname@example.org||(202) 724-7772|
|Kwame R. Brown (D – at large)||email@example.com||(202) 724-8174|
|Phil Mendelson (D – at large)||firstname.lastname@example.org||(202) 724-8064|
|Yvette Alexander (D – Ward 7)||email@example.com||(202) 724-8068|
The Metropolitan Police Department, Councilmembers Jim Graham (D – Ward 1) and Harry Thomas, Jr. (D – Ward 5), and the local ANC commissioners are hosting a public safety meeting tomorrow (Tuesday) night at 7 pm at the Mt. Pleasant Church at Second Street and Rhode Island Avenue.
The meeting will address some of the recent violence in the two neighborhoods.
The Post reports that Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. (D – Ward 5) will introduce a bill later today to prohibit the CFO from transferring any money to the Housing Authority, which is responsible for the construction of the new park in LeDroit Park, for 90 days.
Mr. Thomas believes the contracting improprieties warrant delaying the projects. The Post writes:
Thomas, chairman of the Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation, said the council’s oversight powers supersede concerns about delaying construction of the recreation facilities.
“This is just government at its worst,” he said. “We can’t get caught up in the fact that neighborhoods have been promised things.”
On Friday the City Council held a joint hearing on the contracting dispute that has now ensnared the forthcoming park in LeDroit Park. The Post reported that Councilmember David Catania (I – at large) insisted the contracts are illegal, but Attorney General Peter Nickles (a Fenty appointee, we should note) insisted the contrary.
Our own ANC Commissioner Myla Moss (ANC1B01) submitted testimony on behalf of the neighborhood and the LeDroit Park Civic Association imploring the Council not to delay park construction. She noted in her testimony that the park design was the product of a transparent and exhaustive community process that developed a plan that is both affordable and popular in the neighborhood. She further noted that the park plan had been discussed with several members of the mayor’s cabinet and with Councilmembers Jim Graham (D – Ward 1) and Harry Thomas, Jr. (D – Ward 5); the park plan was no surprise.
At the previous LeDroit Park Civic Association meeting, Mr. Graham noted that the Council had specifically set aside money for the project.
There’s still no word on what will happen next, but we certainly hope that certain members of the Council do not take the matter to court; litigation could delay the project for at least a year, if not several. Rebidding the contracts, we have heard, could delay construction by several months.
Alternatively, the Council could simply review the contracts as the law demands and approve the current plan (at least for our park and for other parks that have significant popular backing). We see this as unlikely since this would require the mayor to admit that his administration broke the law and it would require Mr. Nickles to backtrack on his current position that the contracts are legal.
It is also possible that the mayor and Council could come to some sort of lawful agreement to let work continue without delay. We hope the last option prevails and we suspect certain member of the Council are working to that solution; Mr. Graham is well aware of his constituents’ justified impatience.
One last thing: we thank Ms. Moss and the Civic Association leaders for their testimony. This sort of advocacy requires a significant personal commitment of time and energy.
We wrote yesterday about Attorney General Peter Nickles’s determination that park construction contracts, including the contract for the new park in LeDroit Park, should have received approval from the City Council. Well, somebody in the mayor’s office must have paid Mr. Nickles a stern phone call; the Post reports that he is now recanting his previous statement.
Mr. Nickles now insists that Council review should be reinstated henceforth, but not retroactively for current construction contracts.
The Council, however, is not too pleased.
Council Chairman Vincent Gray (D) is annoyed and told the Post,
For the attorney general to give a carte blanche green light to these questionable contracts, even before council hearings or any legislative action, is inappropriate and not in compliance with my reading of the law. If they are required to be submitted, we make no distinction between the past and the future. We expect to receive these contracts.
Councilmembers Kwame R. Brown (D – at large) and Harry Thomas Jr. (D – Ward 5) will hold a hearing on the matter on Friday and are threatening to sue to halt the contracts.
However, ANC Commissioner Myla Moss (ANC1B01 – LeDroit Park), in an email to Councilmember Jim Graham (D – Ward 1), wrote that the park project in LeDroit Park
was reviewed and discussed before the Council during the last round of appropriations negotiations at which time the Council voted to allocate funds for the project.
While a bidding process was absent this project was not only transparent, it also involved inter-agency and inter-governmental collaborations.
When we spotted Councilmember Graham at last night’s streetcar open house we didn’t realize the urgency of this issue or we would have strongly expressed our opposition to further delays (while of course chastising the mayor for his illegal maneuverings).
The Council and the mayor’s office are at odds; let’s hope that LeDroit Park doesn’t fall victim to this clash of titans. In fact there’s something better than hope: you can email Mr. Graham your opinion.
Also, you can attend the LeDroit Park Civic Association meeting tonight; Mr. Graham and Ms. Moss will discuss the issue. It’s at 7:00 pm in the basement of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church (623 Florida Avenue).