The following letter was sent by Councilmember Charles Allen to Mayor Muriel Bowser as she formulates her FY24 budget recommendations that will be released in late March, kickstarting the District's annual budget process.
February 23, 2023
The Honorable Muriel Bowser
John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20004
Dear Mayor Bowser:
Thank you for your partnership as we have worked together to support the District at large and Ward 6 through an unprecedented and challenging few years. I know you share my commitment to recovering from the pandemic and putting the District on the path to a recovery that is more fair, equitable, just, and prosperous. I am writing as you finalize your proposed budget to the Council with my priorities for city-wide investments, Ward 6, as well as those in my capacity as the Chair of the Committee on Transportation & the Environment. Thank you in advance for your consideration, and I am happy to discuss any proposal in further detail.
Investing in Our Youth
There’s no question that we as a government must do more to invest in our young people, particularly our vulnerable children. We know the last three years have asked our young people to carry enormous trauma and loss out of the pandemic. We know that for children and families who were already struggling, the pandemic only exacerbated issues already present. This budget has to recognize the urgency and respond accordingly.
Already, there is some good news we can count on in this effort. This tax year will see the start of the District’s Monthly Basic Income, providing crucial monthly support to working and lower-wage families. This is a significant and worthwhile investment targeted directly at the families struggling the most – and likely ones where young people aren’t getting their physical, social, and emotional needs met.
Here are some areas where I think we can work together to maximize the benefit to District families and make significant investments in our youth people.
Ensuring Students Have the Support They Need In School
Fill Critical Vacant Social Work, Mental Health, and Counselor Positions in Schools
A critical part of supporting our entire school system, especially our teachers, is to ensure we have the right staff in place in each school so that we can meet students’ needs, particularly those who need specialized assistance with behavioral health or social work. To that end, I urge you to invest $10 million in the Department of Behavioral Health to stabilize and expand school-based mental health services and cover a gap in needed funding for all DCPS and DCPCS locations.
Having Strong School Budgets & At-Risk Funding Within USPFF
While we have made important strides toward fully funding our public schools and have seen that investment result in growth, 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 consistently that our schools are under-resourced and under-staffed, continually being asked to do more with less. I know this is a concern for parents who are making decisions about where to send their child. With the recent release of initial school budgets for next year, I am deeply concerned that the proposed budgets result in many schools experiencing a drop in funding, even when enrollment has increased, in violation of the recent law passed by the District. I want to ensure that schools have the funding they need to support students and educators, and I ask you to reconsider your proposed budget cuts to local schools so that we can achieve that goal.
Many students in the District experience significant trauma outside the school day and arrive with enormous unmet needs that we expect our schools to address. Many teachers dip into their own pockets for basic classroom supplies. I am also very concerned that our at-risk and special education students in particular aren’t receiving the support and resources they need to reach their full potential. In keeping with the 2013 DC Education Adequacy Study recommendations, I strongly support significantly further increasing both the UPSFF and “at risk” weight funding in the FY24 budget.
Invest in Flexible Scheduling, Wellness, and our Grow Your Own Pipeline to Improve Teacher Retention
We have a crisis in our schools as many teachers are completely burnt out following the pandemic and the ongoing demands of being an educator. One way to help improve their daily work is to fund flexible scheduling and view teacher wellness as part of their job. Finally, we have a nascent “grow your own” pipeline that deserves serious investment before our students and schools will see the payoff. In total, I would love to work with you to fund these needs at $14 million annually.
Implementing Digital Equity in Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic illuminated the vast disparities that exist amongst our students when it comes to supporting remote learning. DCPS implemented a 1:1 student-device ratio for grades 3-12 and a 3:1 student-device ratio for grades K-2; however, we know that digital equity is more than just having access to a device. I request that $4 million be allocated to have one OCTO technician for each school and that DCPS central office has the capacity to effectively oversee asset management and tech planning.
Last year, the Council approved my bill to create equitable internet access across the city, the Internet Equity Amendment Act of 2022, which will go a long way toward closing the gap in digital access for families taking classes, searching for jobs, or working from home. This bill will be funded through federal formula grants, and I urge you to ensure that OCTO has the support it needs to receive and begin spending this money immediately.
Ensuring Students Can Safely Get To and From School
Every young person in the District deserves access to a high-quality education. That starts with ensuring that students can get to schools safely and reliably. Unfortunately, students with disabilities have suffered significant delays and service disruptions with OSSE-DOT bus service due to labor shortages. But with swift investments, I know we can guarantee our most vulnerable students have consistent transportation to learning centers.
Similarly, students who walk, bike, or take transit to or from school should feel safe while doing so. We must, therefore, expand our Safe Passages efforts through safety improvements to the District’s physical infrastructure and increasing the numbers of school crossing guards and other safe passages workers.
Two weeks ago, I wrote to Deputy Mayor Kihn requesting both Potomac Avenue Metro Station and Eastern Market Metro Station be added as Safe Passage Priority Areas in the current and ongoing fiscal years.
Expanding Programs for Students Outside of School
To continue investing in our youth, it is important to consider the activities and programming available to them outside of the classroom. As we continue to expand and strengthen the District’s Out of School Time (OST) programming, I recommend adding $10 million to OST grants to support approximately 5,000 additional OST seats. In addition, the District should cover funding for OST providers that have to pay security costs at DC public schools, which draws significantly from their grant funding and reduces their overall ability to provide programming.
I also ask that you devote $250,000 in additional grant funding for students with intellectual disabilities. Organizations such as the Special Olympics of the District of Columbia, provide essential support for students with intellectual disabilities by providing them with athletic, classroom, and community experiences that reduce bullying and stigma and promote healthy social interactions. Additional grant funding would allow providers to expand to more public schools and reach more students in need.
Transforming our Recreation Centers Citywide
It’s also time to rethink when, and more critically how, recreation centers in the District operate. The Department of Parks and Recreation provides outstanding programming and supports to those able to access their offerings, which in turn provides young people in the District a place to exercise and play outside of school. Yet many recreation centers are closed on weekends and the ones that are open have limited hours, leaving young people without a safe place to congregate outside of school hours. This is why I introduced the Department of Parks and Recreation Hours Expansion Amendment Act of 2023, and recommend full funding of this legislation to ensure the staff and programming are in place to keep every recreation center in the District open on the weekends so that we can have positive, safe spaces for young people in the District.
Additionally, many programs run by the Department of Parks and Recreation are fee-based or fill up quickly. Beyond expanding the hours of operation, I ask that we also begin to transform our recreation centers into broader resource hubs for young people outside of school hours and reduce any barriers to access to these programs. We have done the same with our libraries and can do it here, too.
Investing in a Fully Funded Public Safety Response
Finally, you and I have largely collaborated successfully in recent years on making significant investments to grow a full response to violent crime. I urge you to continue fully funding the District’s public safety investments to strike the balance in investments to both accountability and prevention and intervention. Collaboration and support between the Metropolitan Police Department, Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants, Office of Gun Violence Prevention, Department of Correction, and our other key agencies working on prevention, intervention, and rehabilitation are critical to reducing gun violence and improving public safety for all residents.
Ward 6 Priorities
A New Recreation Center for Hill East
For the thousands of young people who live around Hill East and south of East Capitol Street, there is no easily accessible recreation center – meaning many of the students and young people, as well as seniors, who call those neighborhoods home, likely aren’t able to take advantage of the programs and activities a recreation center offers. This includes the many young people living in Potomac Gardens and Hopkins community who don’t have many safe places to go that don't cost money. I’d urge you to put in funding to explore a location for a new recreation center south of Pennsylvania Avenue, SE in Ward 6.
Pennsylvania & Potomac Avenues Intersection Project
I ask that you fully fund the construction of the Pennsylvania and Potomac Avenue Safety Project for this coming year. This is a long-stalled project at a dangerous and poorly-designed intersection that urgently needs investment. The design is complete and holds a lot of promise, and now that the Pennsylvania Avenue, SE bus lane construction is complete, the timing is perfect to continue to make a design that prioritizes buses, pedestrians, and bicycle and scooter riders equally with residents in a car or truck.
Maximizing the Renovation of Rumsey Pool
After many decades of faithful service to the community, Rumsey Pool has been slated for a major $15 million reconstruction this year, which is long overdue. Thank you for working with me to fund this renovation. You and I have had some very productive conversations in the past about ways we can maximize this opportunity to best serve the community’s needs. It presents an opportunity to not just build a world-class pool but also to use the space to create a true community center serving seniors through a new Senior Wellness Center and partner with DSLBD for local small business incubator hubs. The location is central to Ward 6, has access to great transit and parking options, and would naturally pair the pool’s amenities to needed senior programming. Multiple neighborhood organizations are working together to reimagine this space to activate the Rumsey Pool Plaza, the unused D Street, SE portion of the building, and the inefficient alley adjacent to Eastern Market in a way that enhances access to the pool and improves the operation of the market itself. We invite you to join us in working toward a shared vision that transforms this space and opportunity to bring vitality in new small business space, desperately needed senior services, and a modernized world-class pool to serve the community.
Randall Recreation Center
Randall Recreation Center’s outdoor facilities are widely used, but the interior has been closed and dark for years. In a similar theme to other recreation centers above, I ask that funds be identified to support full-time staffing and programming at Randall Recreation Center. Ensuring that there is adequate staff and programming will go a long way towards increasing enjoyment and entertainment across the neighborhood. In addition, with the growing demand and popularity in pickleball, I recommend DPR add four dedicated pickleball courts to the mix of offerings at Randall Recreation Center.
Additional Funds for Southeast Library Construction
DC Public Library has developed an exciting design for the coming modernization of the Southeast Branch Library. However, given the steep increase in construction costs, the project is going to be short of what it needs to complete the project. I recommend that your proposed budget support the DCPL request for additional capital funds to ensure we can advance the project with the confidence that it will be completed on time.
Community Amenities for a Growing Northwest One Community
Recently, you and I joined residents to cut the ribbon on Temple Courts Rise and have helped create major transformations to the Surmsa Corda community as people come home. However, we have underutilized library and recreation spaces in the center of the community at Walker-Jones Education Campus that need to be reconsidered for the coming generation. To that end, I urge you to fund a community-involved process to assess what neighbors would prefer with these high-potential locations.
Funding Amidon-Bowen, Brent, J.O. Wilson, Ludlow-Taylor, Miner, and Tyler Elementary School Modernizations
With respect to elementary school modernizations across the ward, I request that their placement in the Capital Improvement Plan be preserved, if not expedited. The current schedule has $9.5 million for Ludlow-Taylor and $7.3 million for Miner in FY24, $90.8 million for J.O. Wilson through FY26, $94 million for Brent through FY27, $62 million for Amidon-Bowen through FY28, and $89 million for Tyler through FY28. Modernizations of these facilities will help us meet the District’s goal of providing high quality educational facilities.
Garfield Park Connector
The Garfield Park Extension is a joint project between DPR and DDOT to take the space south of Garfield Park and beneath the I-395 overpass and transform it into a welcoming connection between Garfield Park and Canal Park. I commend the team at DDOT on a great design, but it has not yet been funded in the budget. Neighbors in the surrounding community have been part of this years-long process and are excited to see this investment in one of Ward 6’s most active parks. Please fund the park and Connector’s full construction so that we can bring this to a close and create yet another world-class outdoor space.
Relatedly, I’d like to explore with you the possibilities of closing an unused portion of the 100 block of Virginia Avenue, SE and transferring it to the park to be incorporated and transformed into dedicated pickleball courts. The road currently dead ends short of the power plant, and there is little chance it will ever be reopened due to clear security needs. We can further secure the area and turn it into usable space by closing the road permanently and transforming it.
King Greenleaf Recreation Center
We have a fantastic team at King-Greenleaf Recreation Center who is doing wonders for the community, but the facility needs to be modernized and improved. I’d like to partner with you on several small capital projects that would greatly improve the center’s functionality. First, the roof continues to leak. I’ve been in contact with DGS leadership for yet another inspection, but the ongoing leaks are beginning to damage the brand-new basketball court and before more damage takes place, these repairs need to be made urgently. Second, we need to invest in a new field for the many sports teams that use it. Third, we need to install a partition in the classroom space to help double the usable space at any given time. Fourth, I’d like to request the installation of automatic ID swiping at King Greenleaf similar to other recreation centers. Right now, check-in is done by security and the process is onerous and slow. These four small investments can have a big impact on the day-to-day operations of this important site.
- Mt. Vernon Triangle Curb Space Management
I want to briefly highlight a challenge we are experiencing in Mt. Vernon Triangle that I am sure you are familiar with across our more dense neighborhoods: curbside management. As Chair of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, ensuring our curbs are being used to maximum benefit for our businesses, residents, and transportation needs is a priority. I’d welcome additional investment and pilot program efforts to see what works best in Mt. Vernon Triangle, which has significant challenges with pick-up / drop-off that I believe can be solved with minimal investments in automatic ticketing, signage, and enforcement, all of which will improve pedestrian and roadway safety in this corridor.
Committee on Transportation & the Environment
- Transportation Equity
As I take leadership of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, I look forward to working with you on our shared goal of increasing transportation equity. Accordingly, I expect that you will formalize the CFO’s determination in the December revenue estimate that there are sufficient funds in each year of the financial plan to fund all recurring programs in the FY23-26 approved budget and also cover the cost of providing fare-free Metrobus service in the District, bringing 24-hour service to 12 of the most popular bus lines in the District, and setting aside $10 million per year to improve bus service in the District.
The CFO has already identified this funding for the Fare-Free Bus Funding Emergency and Temporary Amendment Acts of 2022 at a cost of $13.5 million in the FY23 supplemental budget, $53 million in FY24, $55 million in FY25, and $57 million in FY26, so I ask that you preserve this funding when you release your proposed budget. Further, as you know, federal regulations require that the MetroAccess fare be no more than twice the equivalent Metrobus fare, so I also ask that you ensure if there are any additional costs for MetroAccess that the District meets our obligation to residents who rely on paratransit.
Finally, I also ask that you include the cost of providing up to $100 per month for all District residents to use for public transit trips, the final piece of the Metro for DC Amendment Act of 2022: $18.6 million in FY24, $5.4 million in FY25, and then approximately $117 million per year in the rest of the financial plan.
In March 2018, you announced the beginning of the District’s Vision Zero initiative, and, as you know, the Council, in particular though the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, has enacted a number of laws aligned with your Vision Zero goal. Unfortunately, road deaths have continued to increase, and residents of Wards 5, 7, and 8 bear the biggest impact of unsafe roads in the District. We can’t have true transportation equity until all District residents can travel safely through our city.
To that end, I would ask that you fund the remaining unfunded portions of the Vision Zero Enhancement Omnibus Amendment Act of 2020, which are chiefly the reporting and capital costs for DDOT, which range from $10-11 million per year. Last year, the Committee approved two pieces of legislation that supplement the 2020 omnibus legislation: the Safe Streets for Students Amendment Act of 2022, at $2.5 million in FY24 and $22-27 million per year in the rest of the financial plan, and the Safer Streets Amendment Act of 2022, at just $3.4 million total over the course of the financial plan. I also request that you continue the investment you began last year, when you set aside $122,000 per year to convert temporary street calming infrastructure by increasing that investment to $1 million annually, focusing on the most dangerous intersections and corridors. These small investments have big effects on safety and the enjoyment of the spaces themselves.
Finally, as you know, I introduced legislation that would provide subsidies for District residents, prioritizing residents with lower incomes, to purchase e-bikes and e-cargo bikes. These are an affordable, climate-friendly means of transportation, especially for transit-dependent residents to take short trips without using a car. I plan to move the Electric Bicycle Rebate Program Amendment Act of 2023 through the Committee in time to include funding in this year’s budget. I would ask that you set aside $2.5 million over the next two years to provide 1,000 District residents with an e-bike.
- Climate Equity
The District has been a leader in responding to our climate crisis, while the federal government has for many years shirked its responsibility. However, in last year’s Inflation Reduction Act, Congress made historic climate investments, including providing the District with as much as $60 million to ensure that District residents with low-incomes are able to upgrade and electrify their homes. I plan to move the Healthy Homes and Residential Electrification Amendment Act of 2023, which would over the long-term allow 30,000 low- and moderate-income households to remove harmful methane burning appliances from their homes. I ask that you provide DOEE the support it needs to include as much of the $60 million in the FY23 supplemental and FY24 proposed budget as possible, and provide funding for administrative costs for the Healthy Homes legislation. To ensure that the District remains on the leading edge of climate change policy, I also ask that you provide $9 million over the course of the financial plan to fund the costs of the Greener Government Buildings Amendment Act of 2022, which would ensure that our own buildings move toward net-zero energy consumption.
As you know, large commercial and residential buildings account for approximately two-thirds of the District’s carbon emissions. The Building Energy Performance Standards (“BEPS”) will push our older buildings to massively reduce their energy use. There are many “naturally affordable” rental or condo and co-op buildings with residents living on fixed incomes that have deferred maintenance for many years and may face very large costs to comply with BEPS. I have seen in Ward 6 that this has led to proposed condo or homeowner association fees that could push many long-time District residents – often older, Black residents – out of their homes. For rental buildings, this could mean similarly large increases in rent, to offset necessary capital improvements. There is no reason in a city that will bring in nearly $10 billion in revenue next year that we should have to choose between housing affordability and meeting our climate change obligations. I ask you to set aside at least $10 million for technical and financial assistance for naturally affordable rental and condo/co-op buildings to make upgrades that will allow them to comply with BEPS and remain affordable.
Last year, the Council passed the Office of District Waterways Management Establishment Act of 2022, to create an office within DOEE that will coordinate development, environmental restoration, transportation, and all other activities on and around our waterways. I ask that you include the required $600,000 in FY24, and approximately $400,000 per year after, to stand up this office.
As the District continues to grapple with high levels of violence, the District must do everything in its power to help survivors of crime recover and thrive. It is crucial, therefore, that the District fully fund the Expanding Supports for Crime Victims Amendment Act of 2022, which dramatically improves the rights and services available to victims in the District. The bill expands access to, and the financial assistance available through, the Crime Victim Compensation Program, and enhances a number of laws aimed at maintaining a victim’s confidentiality.
I also encourage you to make the investments in training and data systems needed to implement modernizations to District law under the Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022.
Additionally, I ask that you fully fund the Second Chance Amendment Act of 2022. The bill represents a significant improvement over current law with respect to criminal record sealing and expungement. Doing so will bring down barriers to opportunities and ultimately advance our shared goal of public safety.
Furthermore, I ask that you fully fund the Corrections Oversight Improvement Omnibus Amendment Act of 2022. The bill makes urgent reforms to our correctional system by strengthening oversight and increasing transparency. With these reforms, the District will be better able to monitor and improve conditions of confinement in facilities where District residents and individuals convicted of D.C. Code violations reside. In order to implement the legislation, both the Corrections Information Council and the Department of Corrections require two new FTEs, as well as non-personal services funding, totaling $2.3 million over the four-year financial plan.
Lastly, I also ask that you continue to make meaningful investments in the District’s elections. Specifically, I recommend that you fully fund the Elections Modernization Amendment Act of 2022, in the amount of $4.29 million over the financial plan. The omnibus bill builds upon and expands the successful innovations made by the Board of Elections in the 2020 election cycle, including by sending all registered voters mail-in ballots and operating ballot drop boxes. These changes have made voting more convenient and increased voter turnout rates over the last two election cycles. The bill also includes provisions that facilitate the election and tenure of Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners elected while incarcerated, as well as other significant reforms increasing the accessibility and inclusivity of our elections. Additionally, I ask that you fund the Automatic Voter Registration Expansion Amendment Act of 2022, which expands the District’s current automatic voter registration system and requires $624,00 over the financial plan. This bill implements national best practices in automatic voter registration reform, and further reduces barriers to voter registration for District voters.
Thank you for your time and consideration of each of these recommendations. I look forward to working with you to craft a budget for the District that meets the important moment we find ourselves in.
Councilmember, Ward 6
Chairperson, Committee on Transportation & the Environment
Vice Chair, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments