Below is the full text of Councilmember Charles Allen's letter to Mayor Muriel Bowser, sent on February 3, 2020, sharing budget priorities for both Ward 6 and the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety:
Dear Mayor Bowser:
Thank you for your partnership over the past five years as we’ve worked together on District of Columbia budgets to advance our shared priorities, like affordable housing, public education, transportation and transit, public safety and justice, and key Ward 6 projects. I know that public engagement on the upcoming FY21 budget is ongoing and decisions will be made in the coming weeks about major programmatic investments. As you look toward finalizing the budget you will be proposing to the Council shortly, I wanted to highlight several priorities for Ward 6 and the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety for your consideration and inclusion.
Ward 6-Specific Priorities
1. Expanded Programming for District Seniors; a New Home for DACL
Access to resources and programing for seniors is uneven across the District, and particularly challenging in many neighborhoods in Ward 6. The Hayes School serves as both the headquarters for the Department of Aging and Community Living (DACL) as well as the only Ward 6 Senior Wellness site. The space is inadequate to serve both purposes, and accessing the location is a challenge for residents not in the NoMa/H Street area of the ward, resulting in substantial unmet need for services among Ward 6 seniors. I recommend the investment of $2 million in FY21 to fund a pilot program to expand Senior Wellness programming into existing public assets like recreation centers and public libraries. Bringing resources and ongoing programming for seniors into sites like the Kennedy Recreation Center in Shaw, King-Greenleaf Recreation Center in Southwest, Capper Community Center in Navy Yard, and Rosedale Recreation Center in Hill East would reach a great many more seniors than can access the Hayes Center now and better meet the need for these services. Should this pilot program prove successful over the coming fiscal year, I suggest sustaining that funding and further expanding the number of programming sites across the District. I also recommend that work commence to identify a new headquarters site for DACL. The Hayes School should be converted to serve exclusively as a Senior Wellness Center, allowing for expanded programming there, and DACL should be moved to another District site with adequate space for their offices.
2. Accelerating the Pennsylvania and Potomac Avenues SE Intersection Project
The Pennsylvania and Potomac Avenues SE Intersection Improvement Project was originally proposed in 2005 – 15 years ago – and the need for this critical investment in improved safety and transit access at this location has only grown over time, particularly with nearly 700 new residences coming on line this year within a two-block radius of the intersection. I urge you and your team at DDOT to accelerate funding for this project so work can commence as soon as possible. Safer crossings for pedestrians, bicycle infrastructure, and more direct routes for transit users are urgently needed here. I also encourage further collaboration with WMATA on improvements to the Potomac Avenue Metro plaza. Investments are needed to improve lighting, landscaping, programming, and maintenance there, and without a more formal arrangement between the District and WMATA, it is unlikely WMATA will work to improve the green space around the metro entrance in a way that is usable and welcoming for those who live in the neighborhood and use the metro bus and rail at this location.
3. Key Transit and Transportation Investments; Restoring Service on the 74 Bus Route
I look forward to working with you on ensuring that the extension of the 74 Bus route near Audi Field in Southwest doesn’t come at the expense of the very residents who most rely on its service. I strongly support expanding the route to provide better transit access to Audi Field and the new residential areas of Buzzard Point, but that expansion cannot be on the backs of the most bus-dependent – and low income -- users of the 74 line. I welcome your partnership in funding the expanded service so that there is no increase in wait times for current 74 line riders, which requires an immediate investment in WMATA to prevent an increase in headways starting in June.
I’m hopeful your proposed budget will also support – and accelerate -- many transit priorities we’ve worked together on in the past: the K Street Transitway, adding to and building a protected bike lane network citywide, and creating more dedicated travel lanes for Metrobus and DC Circulator buses that can vastly improve service by getting buses through congestion. I am very concerned by DDOT’s recent announcement suspending an expansion of the DC Streetcar west of Union Station to Georgetown. Visible, invested public transportation gives confidence to local businesses and provides economical, safe, and green transportation options to District residents. However, if we are suspending DC Streetcar expansion, I strongly support applying that funding instead to building a Bus Rapid Transit network to create a much-needed east-west transit connection.
4. Strong Public Schools: Increasing Per Pupil Funding, Investing in Technology Equity
While we have made important strides toward fully funding our public schools, more work remains to ensure all of our students have what they need to succeed. As I talk with parents and teachers across Ward 6, I hear over and over again that our schools are under-resourced and under-staffed, continually being asked to do more with less. Many students in the District experience significant trauma outside the school day and arrive with enormous unmet needs we expect our schools to address. Many teachers dip into their own pockets for basic classroom supplies. I am very concerned that our at-risk and special education students in particular aren’t receiving the supports and resources they need to reach their full potential. In keeping with the 2013 DC Education Adequacy Study recommendations, I strongly support significantly increasing the UPSFF and “at risk” weight funding in the FY21 budget. I also support the funding recommendations of the Digital Equity in DC Education coalition for dedicated IT staffing in our schools to maintain and repair hardware, a device refresh for school staff to ensure teachers have reliable access to technology, digital literacy instruction for students, and ongoing funding for 1:1 student devices.
5. Eastern Market Metro Park, Eastern Market, and Southeast Neighborhood Library
Eastern Market is the true civic heart of Capitol Hill, and right now there are a number of once-in-a-generation projects underway to update and reimagine key public spaces and public buildings there. The Eastern Market Metro Park project is already in progress, and I am pleased to see this long-awaited “town square” for Capitol Hill coming to life. Additional capital funds are needed to complete the final construction phase ($250,000 for a performance pavilion), as well as dedicated operating funds for programming and maintenance of the park once it is complete. The park is adjacent to the soon-to-be-modernized Southeast Neighborhood Library. The design process for the library’s modernization is just getting underway, and pending the outcome of feasibility and design work on the historic building’s site structural constraints, additional funds may be needed to successfully expand and update this heavily-used neighborhood library. After the devastating 2007 fire that nearly destroyed it, the District-owned Eastern Market reopened in 2009 to great excitement and gratitude to the city for stepping in to rebuild. In the decade since, there has been virtually no spending on capital improvements. As the building’s systems and structure continue to age, and the 2009 improvements begin to reach the end of their useful lives, it is now time to create a $1 million annual Eastern Market capital project within DGS to keep this public asset in good repair. It is important to note that while the Eastern Market Enterprise Fund exists to assist in funding non-capital operations and routine maintenance, the building currently has no funding source for capital improvements.
6. Ward 6 DCPS Modernizations: Tyler ES, Brent ES, Seaton ES, Amidon-Bowen ES, a new Mid-City MS; DCPS Small Capital Project Funding
Working together over the past several budgets, a number of crucial school modernization projects in Ward 6 have been funded and are moving forward, including Eliot-Hine MS, Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan, School-Within-School at Goding ES, and JO Wilson ES, as well as a much-needed addition at Van Ness ES. Tyler ES was unable to be added to the DCPS CIP for a full modernization due to a lack of available swing space. I strongly support the creation of long-term reusable swing space in or near Ward 6 to facilitate the projects already planned, as well as the needs of schools still awaiting full modernizations like Seaton ES and Amidon-Bowen ES. The facility needs at Brent ES are a particular challenge due to substantial overcrowding pressures and a very constrained site. Two demountables have already been placed there, with no space to add more. I look forward to partnering with your team on a solution for these challenges. I also strongly support the opening of a new by-right neighborhood middle school at the current Banneker HS building, which will be vacant when students move to the new Banneker building at the former Shaw MS site next year. One million dollars was allocated in the last budget to initiate the planning process for this important investment, and I look forward to working together to fully fund the modernization of this space to reopen as a neighborhood middle school for the mid-city community. Finally, I encourage you to increase funding for DCPS Small Capital projects. This funding is what allows DCPS to repair and maintain our public school buildings, particularly those in poorest condition still awaiting full modernizations. From roof leaks to HVAC outages to ADA accessibility improvements, it is crucial DCPS has the funds needed to proactively address these needs and hopefully prevent disruptive facility failures during the school year.
7. Expanding Access to Childcare and DCPS Early Childhood Programs
I know we share a strong commitment to increasing access to high quality, affordable childcare and public early childhood programming across the city. I was very pleased that the FY20 budget included funds to create additional early childhood programming at the Old Miner Building in Ward 6, a smart and necessary investment for which I am grateful. Many areas of Ward 6 continue to experience rapid growth in the number of young children and families seeking access to childcare as well as PK3 and PK4 seats in their neighborhood public schools. Indeed, Ward 6 schools have some of the longest waitlists in the city for these programs, with many families unable to enroll at the schools nearest their homes. I encourage your team to continue looking for ways to evaluate other underutilized District-owned properties like Old Miner as possible sites to expand early childhood capacity in high-demand areas. Having access to early childhood education is critical to ensure parents are free to return to work and know their young children are in good hands.
8. Investing in Vibrant Parks, Playgrounds, and Public Spaces
Urban parks are critically important spaces that improve livability, community engagement, environmental resilience, and public health; bringing neighbors together and allowing space for recreational equity. There are a number of recreation centers, parks, and fields in Ward 6 in need of refurbishment, repairs, and investment:
- Southwest Duck Pond and Lansburgh Park: Phased improvements are underway at these key green spaces in the rapidly developing Southwest community. Additional funds are needed to fully implement the designs as planned.
- Kennedy Recreation Center/Playground: As I wrote in a September 21, 2017 letter to then-DPR Director Keith Anderson, I have urged DPR and DGS to evaluate the structural feasibility of adding a second level to this extremely heavily used neighborhood recreation center. Short of an addition, I also encourage DPR to reconfigure the interior space to create additional programming areas to better meet community needs. Outside, the fields need to be re-turfed; the playground, track, and tennis courts need resurfacing; the computer lab needs a technology refresh; and the Center overall needs additional staff and security to operate safely.
- King-Greenleaf Recreation Center/Playground: Similar to the Kennedy Rec Center, King-Greenleaf Rec serves a rapidly growing neighborhood and is in need of additional programming space. There is also a very urgent need for afterschool programming for school-age children, with a particular emphasis on Greenleaf becoming a Free Food Service Program site for afternoon snacks and supper. The Southwest Neighborhood Library, which previously served as a provider site, is now under construction and no longer offering meals. Many residents in the Southwest neighborhood adjacent to Greenleaf experience significant food access and food security challenges. Adding a Free Food Service Program site in this neighborhood is urgently needed. The rec center is also in need of a computer lab technology refresh, and outside the building the tennis and basketball courts need resurfacing, the field needs to be re-turfed, and repairs to exterior lighting and gates are needed urgently to improve security at the site
- Watkins Field and Playground: This heavily used community space is shared between Watkins ES during the school day and the rapidly growing Hill East community at other times. DGS has stated the playground surface is damaged beyond repair and now needs to be replaced. Additional repairs and improvements are needed throughout the parcel, including on the infield.
- Garfield Park: Longstanding issues with broken and damaged playground equipment endanger the many users of this vibrant community space. Neighbors strongly support repairs, or where needed, urgent replacement of the broken play structures.
- Cobb Park: The Mount Vernon Triangle community is very excited that the Phase One Reactivation of this park is about to kick off. The existing allotment of $500,000 will fund the design phase of this project. Additional funds are needed for construction.
- Buzzard Point Park: As the first new buildings near completion on Buzzard Point, investments are needed along the waterfront there to create public access and amenities such as completion of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, transportation piers, park space, and public boating/kayak access. I understand that funding for some of these elements could be available through the federal budget process if the District includes them in its request. I strongly support including improvements to the Buzzard Point waterfront in the District’s federal budget request, as well as allocating local capital funds for the remaining items not covered in that request.
- Events DC’s Fields at RFK Campus: The new Fields at RFK have been a tremendous success since opening in June adjacent to Ward 6. The playground and athletic fields are full seven days a week, and demand for the field space is already outstripping available permits many times over. I strongly support the creation of additional fields at the site to meet the strong demand for more youth and adult athletic space.
- Smart Bins for waste management: There are a number of “smart bins” for public trash collection already in use throughout the District, and indeed, around the world. Their sensors make collection more efficient, and their design prevents rodent access. I strongly support increasing this investment so these bins can be placed in more public spaces citywide.
9. Eastern Market Main Street Clean Team and Southwest BID Expansion
Since its launch in 2017, the Eastern Market Main Street (EMMS) has become a tremendous community asset on Capitol Hill, helping to knit together and support the entire Eastern Market commercial area. Because of the continued growth and development of this neighborhood – especially with the addition of new restaurants and retail spaces – EMMS needs additional funding to create a “Clean Team” program to assist with trash and recycling collection, beautification, and maintenance of public space. In Southwest, the SWBID Clean Team and Game Day Ambassadors provide a full range of services, including daily street cleaning; trash removal; power washing of our public sidewalks, bridges and underpasses; tree pruning and planting; as well as hospitality support for major neighborhood events. Their impact is felt deeply in both the commercial and residential areas of this neighborhood. Additional funds are needed to expand their services and programming to include an 8-block area south of M Street, SW that sits between the Capitol Riverfront BID and SWBID boundaries and currently does not receive BID services.
Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety Priorities
1. Improving Public Safety: Deepening Our Violence Prevention and Intervention Efforts, Implementing Our “Red Flag” Law, and Investing in Reentry
In a relatively short period, the District has invested deeply in violence prevention and intervention, hiring dozens of violence interrupters, creating targeted programs to support vulnerable justice-involved individuals, and providing coordinated responses to crime survivors and their families in the aftermath of violence. Most of this work has been conducted through the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE) and the Office of the Attorney General, both of which have violence interruption programs. We cannot slow down our investments in violence interruption in 2020, and I would ask that you continue to sustainably increase both programs. Similarly, our successful Pathways Program and the new Anacostia Leadership Academy at ONSE must be sustained and expanded, respectively. I recommend that you identify an additional high school for a second Leadership Academy in the FY21 budget. It is also vital that this work be connected across government, and I would ask that you fund a position to liaise between the public safety and justice and the health and human services agencies to strengthen their shared efforts around behavioral health, diversion from the juvenile and criminal justice systems, and substance abuse interventions. There must be a marked effort in 2020 to break down silos, given the large number of residents who interact with both systems.
In our shared efforts to reduce firearms violence, I also recommend that you identify dedicated funding through the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice for a widespread public information campaign about the District’s new “red flag” law, which helps families, mental health professionals, and law enforcement remove guns from those who would do harm to themselves or others. The Office of the Attorney General has stepped up to take these cases to court, and their efforts would be greatly enhanced by robust communication around this new public safety tool, as well as coordinated training and implementation among our public safety and health agencies.
In order to significantly improve public safety and prevent recidivism, we must also double down on our grants to support the District’s returning citizens. One out of every ten residents has a criminal record, but our reentry grants at the Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants are not meeting that need. I recommend that you increase the justice grants local funds to at least $10 million. Similarly, you stood up the Department of Corrections’ READY Center, which provides reentry services – including housing and employment assistance, educational opportunities, and assistance in applying for vital documents and benefits – to individuals post-incarceration from local and federal custody. It is an excellent model but must be dramatically expanded, particularly for those returning from the Bureau of Prisons. Disconnected for up to decades, this is an extremely vulnerable population that needs intensive support to reenter.
2. Services for Crime Survivors
There is still a troubling scarcity of housing for domestic violence survivors in the District. To ensure efforts to expand domestic violence housing stock are thoughtful and sustainable, the Committee allocated $200,000 in the FY20 budget through the Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants to develop a domestic violence housing strategic plan. While the development of the strategic plan is still underway, we already know that the needs of an overwhelming majority of domestic violence survivors go unmet and that domestic violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness in the District. I ask that you increase funding for domestic violence housing so every survivor has access to safe, trauma-responsive, culturally-specific, survivor-centered housing.
Additionally, the Council recently passed the Sexual Assault Victims’ Rights Amendment Act of 2019 – also known as “SAVRAA 2.0” -- comprehensive legislation to strengthen the sexual assault services continuum and expand survivors’ rights, particularly for young adults. I recommend that you fully fund the costs of SAVRAA 2.0’s implementation without reducing other local funds for victims’ services grants.
3. Supporting Good Government through Campaign Finance Reform and Fair Elections
Recognizing that ethics and good governance is a practice, in 2018, the Council passed comprehensive campaign finance reform legislation – the Campaign Finance Reform Amendment Act of 2018. The law tackles the perception and reality of pay-to-play politics in the District by limiting campaign contributions by government contractors. It also restructures the Board of Elections to create a standalone, independent Campaign Finance Board, whose purpose is to administer, enforce, and implement the District’s campaign finance laws and regulations, refer alleged violations for prosecution, and advance best practices. You have been a strong partner in standing up and resourcing the District’s new Fair Elections Program for public financing, and I request that you fully fund the costs at the Office of Campaign Finance and the Office of Contracting and Procurement to implement campaign finance reform. Relatedly, I request that you continue to support the Fair Elections Program in the four-year financial plan as we enter the 2022 election cycle.
4. Investments in Fire and EMS, 311/911, and Special Events Planning and Preparedness
In the next fiscal year, the need will be even greater for a new, modern facility for FEMS’ fleet and equipment maintenance. The current facility and site are inadequate for the size and number of apparatus requiring repair, and this inadequacy has a direct impact on the condition of our fleet and the provision of FEMS services to District residents. During the Department’s recent performance hearing, the Department said that the project will not be complete until 2024, at the earliest. I ask that you prioritize this in the CIP and expedite the timeline for the completion.
I would also like to see FEMS continue investing in the wellbeing of its members through full funding of the 02X Human Performance program. The O2X Program is a comprehensive training and education program designed by subject matter experts in nutrition, conditioning, sleep, stress management, and resilience. Other fire departments have recognized cost savings from implementing the program, and I believe it would provide needed supports for our first responders.
In the area of 311 and 911, the Office of Unified Communications must pursue a permanent fix to its rapidly depleting E-911 Fund. In recent years, the Committee has supported expanding the Fund’s purposes to cover our 311/911 system’s needs, but dipping into the Fund balance is a short-term fix – one that must be replaced with stability in the agency’s local dollars. I ask that you identify a consistent source of funding for our 311 and 911 system.
It is critical that our call takers and dispatchers work closely with all their public safety agency partners. The Committee has focused its oversight on improving fluency between our agencies to prevent miscommunications and ensure swift and accurate dispatches to calls for service. Accordingly, I recommend the cross-training of all call takers and dispatchers in fire and emergency medical services operations and in police operations.
The Mayor’s Special Events Task Group is increasingly raising special event fees, which burdens small non-profits that organize events in the District. Public safety and homeland security concerns are primary but cannot be shouldered by event organizers alone. In the FY19 budget, the Committee identified $50,000 specifically for small fundraising events that benefit a District of Columbia agency, such as the District of Columbia Public Schools. From the Barracks Row Parade to the Capitol Hill Classic to the Pride Parade, special events make the District a vibrant city to call home, and we should offset their costs – I fear they won’t continue otherwise.
5. Department of Corrections: Dignified and Humane Conditions of Confinement; Investing in Rehabilitation
The District sorely needs a new, modern correctional facility. No one disagrees that the current facilities are deteriorating, inadequate buildings that do not meet the District’s present and future needs. This past year, the Council for Court Excellence, through funding appropriated by the Committee in the FY19 budget, convened the Jails and Justice Taskforce to create a vision for a new correctional facility. In November 2019, after extensive collaboration with the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice and the Department of Corrections, the Taskforce released its report containing seventeen recommendations for a path forward based on a mission statement and core values, data analysis, community engagement, and research in the District and other jurisdictions. A new correctional facility – and implementation of the report’s related recommendations – will require significant short- and long-term capital and operational investments by the District. I request that you highly prioritize this project and the implementation of the Taskforce’s report.
In addition, I request that you identify funds for the Department of Corrections to expand its Young Men Emerging (YME) program. The YME is an innovative mentorship-based model that pairs young adult and older inmates to support their rehabilitation and prepare for reentry. I have seen firsthand the difference it is making in the lives of young men in DOC custody. I commend DOC for developing the program and encourage the District to expand the model to other housing units in the D.C. Jail.
6. Expanding Access to Civil Legal Justice
Low-income District residents’ civil legal needs are numerous and largely unaddressed. From housing to probate matters, consumer debt to domestic violence, deep inequities exist in access to civil justice. Recent data from the D.C. Superior Court show an extraordinarily high percentage of parties navigating complex legal matters without representation, including 88% of petitioners and 95% of respondents in the Domestic Violence Division, 75% of plaintiffs in housing conditions cases; and 88% of respondents in the Landlord Tenant Branch of the Civil Division (compared to 95% of landlords represented). The Access to Justice Initiative in the Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants provides vital funding for the District’s civil legal services community. The Council has enhanced its budget for the past several years, including by creating the Civil Legal Counsel Projects Program to provide funding for eviction defense. The District Government must ensure its support for civil legal services reflects our shared values by increasing access to justice grants to at least $19 million.
7. MPD Capital Improvements: Renovating the Daly Building and District Stations and Substations
As you know, the conditions under which our MPD personnel work and our arrestees are held in the Daly Building, as well as in our District police stations and substations, are unacceptable, and you have prioritized initial investments in the Daly Building’s modernization. I ask that you continue to support this project and also include capital funding in the CIP to rehabilitate our most needy police stations.
I look forward to the Council receiving your proposed FY21 budget and working together again to identify investments in shared priorities and values for the District of Columbia. Thank you for your consideration of these requests.
Charles Allen, Ward 6 Councilmember
Chairperson, Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety
cc: Rashad Young, City Administrator
Kevin Donahue, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice
Jenny Reed, Director, Office of Budget and Performance Management
Ronan Gulstone, Director, Office of Policy and Legislative Affairs