As much as I want it to be spring, I won't let March fool me this year -- I know there's still a few more chilly mornings to come. So warm yourself with an update from the Council and news around the Ward. We're close to finalizing a date for my annual Ward 6 Budget Town Hall in late April. Keep an eye here for the details once time and location are locked in.
Council Needs to Act on Violations - You've probably seen the news that one of my colleagues will be facing formal action by the Council for actions taken using his public position and government resources to seek outside employment. Like many of you, I believe the unacceptable actions by Councilmember Evans clearly violate the Council’s Code of Conduct. I appreciate Chairman Mendelson introducing a resolution of reprimand today so that the Council can act quickly. A special investigation committee (which would take about 3 months to act) may not be necessary, because frankly, the violations are right before us in black and white. However, when we vote on this measure in two weeks, I think it must include consequences. I do not believe a reprimand in and of itself is sufficient punishment. This appears to be a pattern of violations of a Councilmember who “knowingly use[d] the prestige of office or public position for private gain.” What Councilmember Evans did betrayed the trust of his constituents, the public, and his Council colleagues. While other investigations continue - both with the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability and a federal grand jury - I believe the Council needs to act to maintain and restore the trust you lend to us as elected officials.
DCPS Chancellor Update - On Tuesday, the Council confirmed Dr. Lewis Ferebee as the next Chancellor of DC Public Schools. I voted yes on his nomination. Here's why: I have told Dr. Ferebee he needs to be a champion for our neighborhood public schools. I have told him he needs to earn back the trust from parents who are frustrated with a lack of transparency, too much focus on Central Office, and not enough on getting the needed resources and supports into our schools and classrooms. He has committed to me - and to the public - that he will be that champion, and he has shown that he understands there's a very real trust gap between DCPS and the community. His willingness early on to meet with students, parents, and teachers has been an encouraging start, but I will be watching and pushing him to make systemic improvements. I want to see meaningful engagement with school communities and real budget transparency - from working to reduce teacher turnover to ensuring school leaders and parents have adequate time to review their proposed budgets. The challenges our schools face are bigger than one person, and I don't pretend that the job of Chancellor is an easy one. I look forward to working together with Dr. Ferebee on the goal of great neighborhood schools every family can count on, but you can be sure I will also continue to conduct close oversight and work with parents to hold Dr. Ferebee and his team accountable on their performance.
Related: During oversight, I had an exchange with the State Superintendent of Education (video here) over why I believe her office's "Yelp"-style star rating system for schools will end up hurting more than helping, and without giving parents the multidimensional, nuanced data they need to truly understand school quality. This is especially true for neighborhood schools who are serving a high percentage of at-risk students and are doing some truly great and innovative teaching, which might not show up (yet) in test scores. I believe OSSE should abandon the optional, reductive star-rating while instead providing a comprehensive dashboard of information about every DC public school that includes factors like school climate, social and emotional supports, teachers' development and growth, and facility information in addition to student assessments.
Checking in on Arthur Capper Seniors - Last week I caught up with many of our residents who were displaced during the fire at the Arthur Capper Senior Center. It has been a little over five months since the fire and every resident has a new home, and thanks to the generosity of so many neighbors, every resident also has received financial assistance in restarting. I'm amazed at how positive and upbeat these senior residents continue to be. It was inspiring to see friends catching up and hearing that many of the seniors have found enjoyment in their new homes. Kudos again to the work of local government and community-based organizations who have rallied together to respond to this crisis. I also want to shout out two of my staff members who continue to pour so much into working with these seniors -- Jeanne Mattison and Naomi Mitchell.
Small Retail Business Tax Credit - Last year, I was proud to work to help our small businesses offset some of the rising cost of rent. I believe deeply that small and local businesses are a critical part of what makes our neighborhoods so special. In last year's budget, the Council included a $5,000 tax credit for eligible small retail businesses. More information here from the Office of Tax and Revenue.
Get a Tax Credit of up to $1,000 for Child Care Costs - Did you spend money on childcare last year? The DC Council passed the Early Learning Tax Credit to help families offset the cost of childcare for children who are not yet eligible for PreK-3 in public school. It is a one-time credit for expenses incurred in 2018 only, so don't miss it! I know many families are in the middle of working through their taxes right now, so I wanted to be sure you were aware of it. Here's a helpful FAQ from the Office of Tax and Revenue.
Homestead Deduction Property Tax Changes: You may not have heard about it, but a bill came before the Council that would increase the homestead deduction across the board. On the face of it, this seems like an easy way to ease the cost of housing for DC homeowners. But the bill was unfunded and would come with a big price tag of $37.5 million per year. But it would also only offer a minimal tax cut for households -- it would shave about $35 off monthly property tax bills for every home in DC, rather than target more help to households really feeling the pinch of rising property assessments. Given the District just lost $47 million due to the federal government shutdown, this year’s budget will already be full of hard decisions. The Chairman decided to send the proposal back to the Council's Finance and Revenue committee for more evaluation and revision before coming back up for a vote. Annually the District government already offers homeowners more than $163 million in tax relief — which is more money than we dedicate to building new, affordable housing via the Housing Production Trust Fund. The District has the lowest residential property tax rate in the greater metropolitan region already and overall a lower tax burden as well (check out pages 69-73 of this study from the Chief Financial Officer). I know there are a lot of Ward 6 families who work hard to afford to own a home, so I don’t take this lightly. If you want to dive deep into the issue, the DC Policy Center has a great breakdown on this issue and District home ownership more broadly.
Related: I'm happy to share that this year the cap on how much property taxes can rise will be lowered from 10% to 5% for low-income senior homeowners, which will be a boost to many DC residents who own a home that has appreciated in value well beyond their income.
DC Badly Needs a New Jail - It's no secret the DC Jail is one of the city's more urgent capital projects -- right now the facility is failing the inmates and staff. The more than 40-year-old facility is not helping to rehabilitate DC residents the way we'd want it to and needs to be replaced. Yet, we can't just build more of the same. Jails reflect a community’s values, and they must afford dignity to inmates and improve public safety outcomes. We need a facility that balances security with rehabilitation and recovery. A big part of that is creating a space that recognizes inmates' humanity as we ask them to grow from their mistakes. In last year's budget, I included $150,000 to begin initial research into what the community, criminal justice advocates, returning citizens, and corrections professionals believe should be included in a new jail. Now, with a newly released DC Auditor's report confirming much of what we know, it's time to make a bold investment in a facility that should be playing a much larger role in turning lives around and reducing recidivism. I spoke with the Washington Post about the issues facing our jail.
What Would a Green New Deal for DC Look Like? Check out this thought-provoking article from Greater Greater Washington on some steps DC could take to prepare our city and economy for a greener future. Included is a plug for my bill creating a Distributed Energy Resources Authority (DERA), which I plan on reintroducing this Council period. The Authority would open up the renewable energy market and allow DC residents to lead in generating energy right here in the District, rather than sending billions of dollars out of state.
Emergency Bill to Make Citywide School Admissions Fairer Falls Short - Last week I introduced an emergency bill (meaning it could only last 90 days and would go into effect immediately) that would have given 226 students the chance to take the admissions exam for School Without Walls HS who believed they were eligible to apply but were excluded from the test at the last minute. SWW is one of the city's top-performing high schools and these families were told incorrect information by DCPS about the requirements to to apply. I thought that was unfair and I wanted to see kids from a more diverse range of middle schools be given a shot at admission. The Washington Post covered the vote.
Ensuring DC's Fair Elections Program is Up and Running - Last year, I was proud to lead an effort to create a public financing program for campaigns for local DC offices, which passed Council unanimously. Now the hard work begins in ensuring that program is a success. We're already in our next election cycle and soon candidates who want to opt-in to the program and opt-out of depending on big dollars from corporations and PACs will need to sign up. I'll be working closely with the Office of Campaign Finance to make sure this program is ready. More from the Washington City Paper on my hours-long oversight hearing on the program.
Pedestrian Deaths at Highest Rate Since 1990 - Regular readers know I've been pushing DDOT, MPD, and every other government agency to prioritize the safety of pedestrians and cyclists over the convenience of motor vehicle traffic. WAMU reported on a study showing nationwide, traffic deaths for pedestrians are at a 39-year high.
Visualizing DC's Data - The Office of Planning just released a new dashboard with ways to explore data about DC's population, income, and growth over the years. Just passing it on because it's pretty interesting to explore - check it out: https://dcdataviz.dc.gov/
Text alerts for traffic tickets from DMV - The DMV is now providing a service where you can be notified of outstanding and paid tickets on up to four vehicles. It can be a helpful way to avoid a ticket doubling in cost because you missed the notice in the mail or on your vehicle. DMV has the info.
Street Sweeping is Back and Now There's an App to Remind You - Street sweeping resumed Monday, March 4. And if you're worried about forgetting when to move your car, now there's an app for that from the Department of Public Works. More information here.
Womp, Womp... the City Paper Gives Me a C+ on My Social Media Game - I enjoy using Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to keep you updated on what's going on at the Council and to hear from constituents. I'm not worried about what grade I get, but the article does give me a good excuse to invite you to follow my social media accounts. My staff have different feelings, though.
Weigh in on the future of DC Public Library - Share your thoughts on current and future library needs in DC at a public meeting Thursday, March 7 at 7 pm at Westminster Presbyterian Church (400 Eye St., SW).
Rock 'N' Roll Marathon Road Closures - On Saturday, March 9, the Rock 'N' Roll Marathon will close several streets throughout Ward 6 starting at 6:30 am and will re-open on a rolling basis mid-afternoon. Info on road closures from MPD. For your planning, keep in mind MPD now requires residents to move parked vehicles off of the route.
Office Hours in Navy Yard/Capital Riverfront - On Friday morning, I'll be at Lot 38 Espresso in the Capitol Riverfront/Navy Yard neighborhood for my regular community office hours from 8-9:30 am. Swing by and let me know what's happening on your block. And I want to emphasize you can attend any office hours event to talk with me without feeling obligated to purchase anything. I'm grateful to our local businesses that host these events, and I'm glad to support them, but you and your neighbors should never feel like cost is a barrier to connecting with me.
Upcoming Events I'll Be Attending:
Speaking at ANC6E March Meeting: Tonight!, March 5, 6:30 pm
Capitol Riverfront Office Hours: Friday, March 8, 8-9:30 am
Speaking at ANC6D March Meeting: Monday, March 11, 7:00 pm
Speaking at ANC6A March Meeting: Thursday, March 14, 7:00 pm
Shaw Office Hours: Friday, March 22, 8-9:30 am
Eastern Market Office Hours: Friday, March 29, 8-9:30 am