It's almost Thanksgiving! I can't believe how quickly this year is flying by, but maybe that's just me stressing over how much needs to get done by the end of the year. As I've mentioned before, we're nearing the end of the two-year council period, which means all legislation needs to be passed on two votes by the end of December or the process starts over in January. This tends to be a pretty busy time of year, and my team and I have been working hard to move some important pieces of legislation ahead of the end of the council period. Updates on those bills, and plenty of happenings in Ward 6, to discuss - so let's get to it!
The Brickies are almost here! The 2018 Brickie Awards are my annual Ward 6 get-together. Join me on Wednesday, December 5 over food and drinks as we celebrate some of the best neighbors, businesses, and non-profits in Ward 6. Be sure to RSVP -- it's free to all Ward 6 residents, but we need a headcount to plan for enough food! This year's event will be in Mt. Vernon Triangle, in the space of the former Busboys & Poets (which moved right across the street) at 5th and K St., NW.
Short-term rental (Airbnb) legislation passes the Council: The Council passed the Short-term Rental and Affordable Housing Regulation Amendment Act, putting in place a regulatory framework around residents using services such as Airbnb, VRBO, and others to earn extra income. Here's the biggest takeaway: if you qualify for the District's Homestead Tax Deduction and you short-term rent your basement, a bedroom, or a carriage house on the property you live in (your primary residence), you can continue to do so with no limits as long as you reside on-site. I was able to work with colleagues to ensure the law is clear in this regard. However, there is a limit of 90 days that you can rent out your primary residence without being on-site –- such as when a homeowner might be deployed by the military or if your job takes you on travel frequently. In a win for many of our Ward 6 neighbors, I was able to amend the bill to add a hardship exemption if you have to be away from home for work deployment or an extended health issue. This was important because it creates a better balance with the needed regulatory framework for short-term rentals by providing some flexibility for the reality of many people's lives - more in the Washington Post.
The bill does a lot to move things in the right direction, addressing neighborhood concerns around apartment buildings that are functionally hotels, getting access to data on rentals so the city has a clearer picture of what's happening, better addressing parking challenges on blocks with short-term rentals, and preventing too much of our housing stock from becoming short-term rentals - which has a negative impact on affordability in our neighborhoods. These changes go into effect October 1, 2019. I worked to ensure there was plenty of time for homeowners who home-share to plan, being mindful folks might already have bookings into next summer.
Campaign Finance passes first vote: I've been working hard to overhaul the District's elections, and help get back to a place where voters and constituents can trust that their elected leaders are putting their voices above those of businesses and wealthy donors. First, I worked to create the District's program for publicly-financed campaigns, meaning if you want to run for office, you can find a way to fund your campaign without relying on wealthy donors and special interests. Now, campaign finance reform will help separate the influence of money from the decision-making processes in government. The Washington Post weighed in with an editorial and a column in support of my bill, which passed 11-0 (with two abstaining votes) this week.
Why should we choose between playgrounds and parking at schools? Here's a problem I've been thinking through - as we spend tens of millions of dollars modernizing our Ward 6 neighborhood schools (a process I hope we only go through every few decades) how do we maximize space for our students while planning for the necessity of staff and parent parking? With limited space, it doesn't make sense to set aside large swaths of school ground for parking, sacrificing space for our kids in either school building design or green space - yet it's inescapable that some of our teachers need to drive to work. I wrote a bill that gives an alternative - the Daytime Parking Amendment Act. Under this bill, the Mayor, working in partnership with local ANC representatives and neighbors, can balance parking needs around a school during daytime and school hours when demand for parking is lower, and then resume Residential Parking Permits at night. It offers some common sense flexibility as we plan out our schools. And good news -- the Council approved it unanimously in a first vote. Second vote will be on December 4.
The latest on the DCPS chancellor search: During a recent Council hearing on education, I asked about the status of the DCPS Chancellor search process and was surprised to learn that the search committee that was supposed to help select the next Chancellor had been disbanded after offering a series of recommendations, with no clear next steps offered. I hear from Ward 6 parents all the time about the ongoing issues of trust between parents and city education leaders. We all deserve to know what comes next and we need assurance that parents, students, teachers, and other stakeholders will have a chance to weigh in on the next Chancellor - more from the Washington Post.
Shaw needs a middle school: The Shaw neighborhood was very surprised to learn recently that DCPS was initiating a process to move Banneker High School to the site that has long been expected to be a new Shaw Middle School. Banneker is a great program and certainly needs a fully modernized building -- I fully support that. But I also support the Shaw and Center City neighborhoods having a by-right neighborhood middle school. I attended a rally with parents and concerned neighbors, some of whom have been fighting for this middle school for many years. I spent most of the day last Thursday in a hearing with parents, community members, and DCPS leadership trying to understand where the decision-making process is and what the city's plan is to make sure there's a public middle school that Shaw parents can count on. From my perspective, DCPS shouldn't be forcing two school communities to compete with each other -- Banneker High School deserves a new, modern space AND Shaw needs a middle school. Let's find a solution that works for both.
Making fare evasion on metro a civil (rather than criminal) offense: My legislation that would make fare evasion a civil fine with a $50 citation passed its first vote 11-2 before the council. Right now, fare evasion on metro rail or bus carries up to a $300 fine, up to 10 days in jail, and a lifelong criminal or arrest record - a punishment that is far too severe for the crime. I think of it as similar to overstaying a parking meter, where you'd expect to be ticketed and fined but not arrested. When you factor in that a study of Metro Transit Police data shows 91 percent of riders stopped for fare evasion are black, it's time to recognize that the status quo is ineffective at deterring fare evasion and is creating enormous problems as black riders are being targeted (and leading to some brutal Metro Transit Police incidents) and saddled with lifelong criminal records. It needs to be fixed.
Earlier this spring, I was proud to cast a vote in support of the District joining Maryland and Virginia in committing to annual, dedicated funding of $500 million dollars for Metro -- I want to see Metro succeed. Since I ride Metro just about every day, I need it to succeed! But I believe Metro's future success has much more to do with bus and train reliability and a commitment to being more than a commuter transit service than it does overcriminalizing people who don't pay a $2 fare. In fact, I'd encourage you to take a few minutes and provide feedback on how important Metrobus is to the city's public transportation plan: https://bustransformationproject.com/
It should be illegal to commit sextortion or blackmail based on immigration status: The Council also passed a bill I moved through my committee that would make it illegal to extort or blackmail someone based on either sexually-associated media or using their immigration or citizenship status to coerce them. I want to thank Attorney General Karl Racine for introducing legislation that would protect DC residents from being extorted or blackmailed should images or media of a sexual nature fall into the wrong hands. I combined that bill with another that sought to protect our immigrant neighbors from being blackmailed or extorted based on their immigration or citizenship status. The bill passed unanimously on first vote. Here's WTOP's coverage of the bill from Committee.
Modifying the statute of limitations for sexual assault: Whew, I know its been a lot of heavy topic bills so far, but I've got to tell you about another important bill I moved through the Council. By a vote of 12-1, the Council passed on first vote a bill I led through my committee that modifies the statute of limitations on both criminal and civil legal action for sexual assault. Given the national attention the #MeToo movement has brought to the severity and shocking frequency of sexual assault in our society, I believe survivors are too often missing an opportunity for justice based on the unique trauma sexual assault can have on its victims -- sometimes it takes years before a survivor is prepared to confront what happened to them. The Washington City Paper covered the vote.
A temporary setback for lowering the voting age: While we did get all of the bills outlined above passed, I was disappointed when my colleagues, by a narrow 7-6 majority, voted to table my bill proposing to lower the voting age to 16 for all elections in the District. A vote to table is technically different than voting against the bill, but the result is the same. For now, it looks like the many engaged and enthusiastic young people who have advocated, spoken at ANC meetings, and attended Council hearings will not see their hard work rewarded with even a debate on the bill's merits. Still, the discussion and serious consideration of the bill has helped build support for this idea, and I look forward to trying again in the future. ICYMI, I put together a two-minute video making the case for why we need to lower the voting age.
Small Business Saturday is November 24: Small businesses hire locally, support local causes, and most importantly, make our neighborhoods unique. As the holidays gear up, make sure you save your shopping for #SmallBizSaturday! Follow my Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook for updates and fun events organized by our local businesses and neighborhood organizations like Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) and Main Street programs.
Get your leaves collected: It's that time of year -- leaf collection is underway across Ward 6. Each neighborhood has two scheduled leaf pick-ups (check for updates here). Leaves need to be raked into piles in tree boxes or on the curb before the pick-up. DPW has done a nice job of breaking down their plan here -- with the caveat that bad weather can push pick-ups behind schedule since the trucks are used for both snow plowing and leaf collection.
A few ideas to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety: It's no secret I've been pushing the city to be better -- much better -- about taking seriously the daily dangers posed by traffic to pedestrians, cyclists, and other non-drivers. I was thrilled to see Mayor Bowser announce a series of important improvements during her Vision Zero week. Last Tuesday, I introduced a bill that would codify in law many of the excellent ideas suggested by the Mayor to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety around the city as a way to ensure she has complete authority to implement those changes broadly. Let's ban right turns on red near schools, lower the speed limit to 20 mph in residential neighborhoods, and step up enforcement in keeping bike lanes clear of parked cars and delivery trucks. When it comes to balancing the convenience of a driver getting to their destination and the safety of everyone else, it's no contest for me who gets priority. Here's more on my proposal.
Related: On Thursday evening, I joined the Pedestrian Memorial Walk to remember the 10 pedestrians who were killed by a car on DC roads so far this year. I offered some brief remarks and carried a sign with the name of a family friend who was hit by a truck in a crosswalk just over a month ago. At the end of the walk, we placed an empty pair of shoes in the crosswalk and read the name of each victim. I talked with ABC7 about what more we need to be doing.
Next office hours is back in Shaw: My next office hours will be Friday, November 30, at Compass Coffee in Shaw. Save the date and plan to join me if you need to bend my ear on any issues in your neighborhood.
Whew! That was a big update -- if you made it to the end, you're a dedicated Ward 6 neighbor. If you're travelling this week, please do so safely! I'm grateful to the many constituents who work with me and my team on the many problems we are working to solve. Happy Thanksgiving!
Upcoming Events I'll Be Attending:
Small Business Saturday: Saturday, November 24, all-day!
Shaw Office Hours: Friday, November 30, 8-9:30 am
The 2018 Brickie Awards!: Wednesday, December 5, 6-8pm
Eastern Market Office Hours: Friday, December 14, 8-9:30 am