It can't possibly be the end of August already, right? I hope you've been able to enjoy summer and had a chance to take a little break.
From Ward 6 Week to some family time at the beach, I'm feeling grateful for a little down time to enjoy our community and recharge before a busy fall begins. I can't believe school started on Monday. As a dad, I wasn’t sure if we had more jitters for the start of a new year than Cora and Everett did! It's been a while since the last newsletter, so there's a lot I want to make sure you're caught up on that's happening in Ward 6 and across the city.
Welcome Back to School! Monday was the first day of school for most DC Public Schools, and some of our charter schools began last week, while a few more open next week. As is my office's tradition, we fanned out across the Ward to visit schools and check in with leadership on any issues they could use our help with. The work of improving and supporting our schools is a year-round effort, but the first day is always an exciting opportunity to lift up all of our teachers, staff, students, and parents who make it all possible. Here are a few notes from opening day:
Cutting the Ribbon on a New Maury Elementary: Since taking office, I've made modernizing Ward 6 public schools a priority. Yesterday, after nearly two years of construction, students had their first day in the brand new Maury Elementary School and I am grateful to everyone who contributed to the project. This beautiful, inspiring new building reflects the dignity each student should feel at school and ensures teachers and staff have the technology and infrastructure to do their best work in the classroom.
Related: For those of you keeping track, Jefferson Middle School is also wrapping up an exciting modernization, but work hasn't quite finished yet. Students and staff returned to the almost finished building on Monday, and construction will be complete soon, well ahead of schedule!
Kids Ride Free Cards: In case you missed it, Kids Ride Free cards for student transportation will be distributed directly from schools this year. Last year's cards will remain active until the end of September to ensure everyone can get to school. More information here.
Vaccinate, Vaccinate, Vaccinate: A reminder all students must submit a Universal Health Certificate and Oral Health Assessment Form, including proof of immunizations, before going back to school. If you need more information on the 2019-20 School Health Forms or where to turn them in, this page has answers. Please take care of your child's vaccinations now -- it's a matter of public health and safety for all of the kids.
PARCC Standardized Test Results Announced: The annual PARCC test results are in and congratulations are due to the faculty, students, and leadership at the many public schools in Ward 6 that posted very strong scores, and especially to Seaton Elementary, Amidon-Bowen Elementary, and Payne Elementary for making some of the biggest gains in the city. PARCC is just one standardized test, and that of course comes with many limitations and built-in biases that may not reflect a school's true impact. But these results are still one way to assess if we're heading in the right direction and I want to be sure you know where that information is available.
Heartwarming Profile of "Ms. Daisy" at Seaton Elementary: As we start the year off, cheer yourself up with this wonderful profile of Gloria Torrento Del Cid, affectionately known as "Ms. Daisy" at Ward 6's Seaton Elementary School. Ms. Torrento Del Cid was named School Staff Member of the Year at DCPS's Standing Ovation Awards and in June was presented an award for Outstanding Public Service by the Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation.
There's (finally) a Playground at Eastern Market Metro Park! Here's some welcome news -- as the re-imagining of Eastern Market Metro Plaza gets underway, there's a new interim playground now open. It is called an interim playground only because in the final designs, it will likely be moved to the northwest corner of the same parcel and incorporate some additional items. But after years of trying to move forward and redesign this space to serve as something more like a town square for Capitol Hill, I'm very excited to see a playground open to the community as a first step.
Florida Avenue is Getting Safer for All Road Users: Over the summer, there’s been significant progress toward making Ward 6 streets safer by slowing down vehicle traffic and building out infrastructure to make it safer and more appealing to travel by bicycle or scooter (even in the heat!). Most noticeable are the temporary safety changes that are nearly complete for Florida Avenue, NE and adjacent intersecting streets. These designs are temporary while a permanent design is completed by DDOT - click here to view project updates. As we debate the use of public space, which includes our streets, it is worth being mindful that safety is the top priority. There's a growing body of research that shows building protected bicycle lanes makes streets safer for everyone -- pedestrians, drivers, and people on bikes -- primarily by encouraging slower speeds for automobiles, which is the number one factor in the severity of most crashes. I am thankful to DDOT, our local ANC Commissioners, and neighbors who have made this issue a priority. If we don’t build safer streets, we can’t expect safer outcomes. It’s as simple as that.
Ward 6 Business Leaders Meeting: Last month, my staff brought together several Ward 6 small business owners for a meeting on how to relieve some of the pressure on our small and local businesses. These are the businesses that enrich and help us fall in love with our neighborhoods. We know our local businesses hire from the community, keep more money in the community, and do more to give back. Yet I’m hearing over and over again from some of Ward 6’s favorite shops that they are finding rising rents and online competition as real barriers to success. That's why I wanted to speak directly with some Ward 6 businesses to find out what more DC government could be doing to help make it easier for small and local businesses to succeed and get some reaction to ideas I've been considering. More to come on this, but if you're a Ward 6 business and want to share any insights, please contact Nichole Opkins on my team.
Constituent Services Makes Government Work a Little Better: In the daily news cycle, the hard work of constituent services is rarely featured. Yet I am so grateful for my team of Jeanne, Kimberly, Naomi, and Jen, who work hard to try to make government work a little bit better for Ward 6 residents. The range of needs hits everything from missed trash collections to potholes and sidewalk repairs to DCRA issues (so much DCRA) and much more long-term and challenging situations. In the past year, this team has helped sort out tax issues, helped a senior couple find new affordable housing, helped replace lost identification, worked with Capper Seniors in the aftermath of the fire, prevented SNAP benefits from being cut-off, connected hungry neighbors with food resources, worked to get street signs replaced, gotten parking enforcement stepped up, advocated for neighbors of bad actors on illegal construction, and coordinated two city-wide job fairs -- just to name a few items. It's hard work and invaluable, and I just wanted to make sure I took a moment to shout out my great team. If you have an issue you need assistance with, start here with a constituent services request.
NoMa Encampments: For residents living in the NoMa neighborhood, the topic I hear most about is concerns about the encampments of those who are homeless living under the underpasses of M, L, K, and First Streets, NE. My staff and I have been working on this issue for years, including participating in regular meetings with the District agencies charged with dealing with homelessness, addiction, public health, public space, and public safety as well as the many community partners working on the same concerns. This is an incredibly challenging situation. Our sidewalks are public space first and foremost -- everyone should have access to them and feel safe in passage. At the same time, the neighbors who are living in tents are those who most need our help -- and for months or sometimes even years, have turned down offers of shelter and other forms of aid meant to begin a longer engagement toward a more stable situation. I agree with many that we are at a point where the current situation is untenable and needs to be addressed in a different way. I want to see a solution that improves the condition of our public space immediately and at the same time treats our neighbors experiencing homelessness with the kind of dignity and care they need that gets them into stable housing with intensive case management. I will continue to work with the Mayor and District government agencies until we have a resolution to this problem.
A Note on Re-Sentencing for Young People After Serving 15+ Years in Prison: The Council is considering a bill I introduced that would expand on the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act of 2016 (IRAA), a law that’s been in effect for the last two and a half years which allows DC residents who were convicted of serious crimes as children or young adults to request a review of their sentence by a judge after serving at least 15 years. Over the last two years, I’ve led the Council to create new penalties for people carrying extended gun clips, created new tools like our Red Flag Law to help get illegal guns off city streets, reformed the Youth Rehabilitation Act to fix serious problems with how the law worked, tripled the city’s investments in violence prevention programs, dramatically expanded protections and rights for survivors of sexual violence, and much more. None of this work is in isolation and it’s all aimed at creating a safer and more just city for everyone. Tackling sentencing reform, an issue that disproportionately impacts black and brown young people, is one more part of that overall work to improve our city.
The existing law creates a lengthy and rigorous review by the Courts of an individual’s prior actions and circumstances, the perspective of victims and prosecutors, a record of rehabilitation since the original crime, and many other factors that a judge must consider. There has been a lot of misinformation spread about the current law, as well as the bill now under consideration, so I co-authored an op-ed with DC’s Attorney General Karl Racine in the Washington Post setting the record straight on how this law works and why the science and data support extending the law to include anyone who committed an offense through the age of 24. I realize issues of criminal justice reform are not easy. But we have to be able to engage in these conversations and debates in honest dialogue with one another, and based on facts and evidence. The individuals who may ask the Court for a sentence review have spent most of their adult lives in prison because they did something very serious. Their victims or the families of their victims still live with the pain they caused. But so far, 18 men have demonstrated decades of successful rehabilitation and had their sentences revised under IRAA. None of them has re-offended. In some cases, the family of their victim has even supported their release. Quite the opposite of re-offending, many have dedicated themselves to repairing the harm they caused many years ago. It should give us all hope because we need to know our incarceration system can rehabilitate in addition to providing accountability. If I can leave just four points about the bill with you to consider, here they are:
- The sentencing actions taken by the District in the 1980’s, 1990’s, and early 2000’s were part of a nationwide move to look “tough on crime.” States around the country, including the District, have recognized these actions didn’t make our communities safer, but they did lead to high rates of incarceration that have had a disproportionate impact on communities of color. Creating a review of a sentence handed down 15 or 20 years ago helps us evaluate today if that sentence was effective and appropriate. In some cases, it certainly was. But in others, it may make sense to revise it. Each case will be unique.
- Rehabilitation, even after a serious crime, is possible after serving a long sentence.
- No release is automatic. There is no bill before the Council that opens the prison gates. Judges will apply a high bar to granting re-sentencing after weighing the words of victims, prosecutors, and evaluating exams and many data points to gauge how a person used their 15+ years in prison to grow and mature from when they committed the original offense.
- Scientific research backs this up. Based on the way the brain develops around risk and impulse control, people under the age of 25 have a much greater capacity to rehabilitate and change than older persons who commit a crime. This is a crucial fact for our laws to embrace since DC has the highest incarceration rate in the country and one of the highest worldwide.
These are some of the reasons why I support criminal justice reforms such as opportunities for sentence reviews. As always, my inbox is open whether you have concerns about the proposal or if you support the bill.
On Sunday, 400 Years of African American History was Commemorated: A number of local parks joined in a nationwide bell ringing to mark 400 years of African American history this past Sunday, August 25. In Ward 6, the occasion was marked at the Mary McLeod Bethune statue in Lincoln Park and the Carter G. Woodson Home in Shaw. The Hill is Home was on the scene at Lincoln Park. If you're interested in learning more, the New York Times has a phenomenal series of essays and reporting called The 1619 Project examining African American history in the United States 400 years after the start of slavery.
Southwest Unity Day: My staff joined long-time, former, and new neighbors at Lansburgh Park for the annual Southwest Unity Day -- a fun celebration featuring food, games, carnival rides, and the chance to come together as a community, as well as come back together for those who moved away.
The Southwest Interim Library is Now Open: DC Public Library has opened an interim library location in Southwest at 425 M Street, SW while the Southwest Library begins its modernization! The modernization is a project I worked to make happen in the past few budgets, so the opening of the interim library is an exciting step in this process toward opening a new, larger library in Southwest. The interim site is much smaller in footprint, so fewer services are offered, but you can still find programming and the holds and check outs system in place.
Library Pop-Up in Union Station: Copying this fun note from the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation's newsletter: In collaboration with the DC Public Library and the Union Station , the Union Station Parking Garage Bus Deck waiting room is now hosting a digital pop-up library. When you wait for your bus, you can turn on your digital device’s Wi-Fi and select Pop Up Library. While on this network, you can see a collection of eBooks (for both adults and children) available for streaming and downloading. We hope you will enjoy using this wonderful resource. If you are interested in finding more digital content from DCPL, including additional eBooks, audiobooks, movies, music, and more, please visit dclibrary.org/godigital.
DC Statehood Hearing on Capitol Hill: A reminder that the Congressional hearing on a bill that would make the District of Columbia the 51st state will be September 19 at 10 am in the Rayburn House Office Building. Put this historic date on your calendar and plan to join me as we pack the halls, the hearing room, and the overflow areas with DC residents to drive home the message that taxation without representation is wrong. For more information or ways to get involved, check out Show Up 4 DC, DC Vote's Campaign for the legislation.
It's Been a Very Hot August, Which Followed a Very Hot July: The Capital Weather Gang reported we've hit our 50th 90-degree day this year, which ranks near the top so far as one of the hottest years since record-keeping began in 1872. This comes on the heels of finding that July 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth. In many conversations I have with residents, there are often questions about what the city is doing and what resources are available to reduce carbon output in the face of a climate crisis. So I thought a quick list of what's available to residents to help lower their carbon output and improve the quality of our air and water might be helpful. This can't take the place of major, systemic reforms such as in last year's DC Clean Energy legislation, but if we all made changes, it would add up to a significant reduction:
1) Direct Pepco and Washington Gas to Power Your Home With Renewable Energy: You can determine from where Pepco and Washington Gas purchase the energy that powers your home by making a switch that only takes a few minutes and will have no disruption to your power service. If trying to go solar isn't right for your situation, this is a great way to lower carbon output and support a growing renewable energy market. If you're curious what your new bill might look like, DC's Public Service Commission offers a helpful Electric Bill Calculator. In fact, the Public Service Commission has a lot of great information as a consumer advocate for electricity, gas, and telecom retail choices.
2) Solar Panels for Your Home: The District Government offers two main ways to install solar panels that generate power for your home and connect to the city's energy grid: 1) you can purchase panels and receive a tax credit and you'll be able to sell any excess energy your panels generate back to the energy grid, or 2) you can allow a solar company to install panels on your home and take credit for the excess energy. Either option will significantly lower your electricity bill. This is a much more substantial investment than other options here and one you should consider carefully, so let me just connect you with resources that can help inform your decision. I'll note that the federal tax credit for solar installations in homes will decrease from 33% to 25% after this year: https://doee.dc.gov/service/solar-initiatives
3) Turn Food Waste Into Compost for Community Gardens: I was proud to help get DC's Food Waste Drop-off started through the Department of Public Works. DPW has collection sites in every Ward during the Spring, Summer, and Fall where you can bring food waste -- and a few that go year-round, including at Eastern Market! In turn, this food waste is used to create compost that is free to residents and distributed across the city to community gardens. Hours, locations, and more information here.
4) DC's Riversmart Program Subsidizes Cost of Landscaping Around Your Home: I highly recommend looking to the Department of Energy and Environment's Riversmart Program. This program pays a significant portion of the cost to install everything from rain barrels to native plants to trees on your private property. The main goal is to lessen the amount of run-off that makes its way into our rivers, but there's a huge benefit in adding additional trees and greenery that literally cools off the surrounding area and absorbs carbon. DC's amount of tree canopy is lower than where it needs to be and we're seeing higher temperatures across the city as a result. Under this program, you can get trees installed for free!
5) Support Dedicated Bus and Bike Lanes (and use them when you can): The city has been slowly testing out creating more dedicated bus lanes to improve headways and travel time for public transit via bus - and I already wrote about bicycle lanes above. Transportation accounts for roughly 25% of carbon emissions in the US. I know we need to tackle infrastructure and make it easier to get around conveniently without driving to every destination and this is one easy way to support that goal. And if you are driving, please stay out of the bus and bike lanes. Let's build transportation infrastructure that works for everyone.
Ward 6 Week Recap and Photos! At the end of July, we had our annual Ward 6 Week events. I was thrilled to be joined by hundreds of Ward 6 neighbors at a Nationals game, on an evening boat ride to check out our rivers, a special morning at the National Building Museum, an amazing community picnic, at the library for story time, at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, and for some trivia at an outdoor beer garden (in the rain!). It was one of the best Ward 6 Weeks yet. Here are some photos from the events.
Know a College Student In DC? Bikeshare Has a Discount Membership for Them: Passing on this tidbit as Capital Bikeshare extends its discount program to universities. Students could benefit with a $25 annual membership!
How to Keep Up With Me: Just a quick reminder I try to update constituents regularly via this newsletter, as well as on Facebook, Twitter (and my staff run a Twitter account as well with regular updates), and Instagram.
Whew, okay, that was a big update. I'm back in Ward 6 after some vacation, and I'm excited to keep making progress and solving problems in our community.
DC Statehood Hearing in the House of Representatives: Thursday, September 19, 10 am (2154 Rayburn Building)
PARK(ing) Day: Friday, September 20