Hope you’ve been enjoying the fantastic almost-fall weather we’ve been having this week. My team and I have been taking advantage of every minute to get out into Ward 6 for PARKing Day, the H Street Festival, the annual Waterfront Village BBQ in SW (right), AARP's SW Chapter 10th Annual Community Health Fair, Capitol Hill Book Fest, kicking off Oktoberfest with Wundergarten, and unveiling beautiful new art at Union Station – oh, and the Council also kicked off its fall legislative session Monday to top it off! It’s been busy, to say the least, but it's been great to see so many of you across the Ward out at events this past week. Speaking of weather though, it looks like Saturday has heavy rain and winds headed our way, so stay safe and maybe check to make sure those drains are clear. Let's jump into a packed newsletter with all the news you can use.
But, I'll note I'm going to be on WAMU's The Politics Hours with Kojo Nnamdi around 12 pm today. Tune in for what's always a lively discussion!
Quick Links: Public Safety | E-Bike Incentive Program | Council Legislative Updates | Dangerous Driving Hearing | Input for DDOT on 11th and East Capitol | WMATA's Fiscal Crisis | 8th St SE Bus Project | Help Rename Bus Lines | Open Captions in Movie Theaters | Jessie Taylor Seafood | RFK Updates | Art All Night | New COVID Boosters | SW Rideshare Option | NoMa in Color | SW Fall Festival | Art at Union Station | School Boundary and Facilities Town Halls | Hill Family Bike Ride | NE Boundary Tunnel Completed
Last week, I joined more than 60 neighbors on a public safety walk around Watkins ES and the nearby blocks to talk through specific issues in the neighborhood for the District and community partners to work on together. Thanks to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson for joining us, as well as ANC Commissioners Vince Mareino and Edward Ryder, MPD's 1D Commander Colin Hall and his team, Peterbug Matthews, CSOSA, Potomac Gardens resident leadership, and friends from local businesses like Jade Fitness. We left with next steps on everything from more officers walking the beat to tree trimming and lighting improvements. Thanks so much to neighbors for organizing!
Last newsletter, I ran through several arrests made by MPD in Ward 6 incidents. This time, I want to reup a few Council hearings coming up where I'll be looking to improve our public safety responses through oversight.
Public Hearing on New Police Chief: On September 27 at 11am, the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety is holding a hearing on the nomination of Acting MPD Chief Pamela Smith to take the permanent job. The Chief of Police is obviously a very critical part of the District's overall response to crime. If you want to see or hear the Chief's views or priorities or proposed changes, this is the opportunity for residents. I'll be there and welcome your input as well. The deadline to register to testify is 11am on Tuesday, September 26.
Public Hearing on the 911 Call Center: The Council's Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety will hold a hearing on the District's 911 call center on October 5 at 9:30 am. You've heard me talk before about the clear need for the call center to urgently improve its performance and stabilize staffing. I've worked with the DC Auditor previously as they conducted comprehensive reviews of management and operations, with specific recommendations issued to improve the agency. Still, I'm regularly assisting constituents who find a call dropped, a call taker unprepared to assist, or just no answer in a time of crisis. Bottom line: I'm very concerned. It undermines the effectiveness of our entire public safety response and trust in government when we can't get a dispatch out timely and accurately. We need to see urgent improvements at our call center, and I urge any residents who have had a bad or troubling experience calling 911 to join me at the hearing and share your perspective as part of the hearing record.
MPD Launches H Street Bike Patrol: Just a quick note that MPD First District officers have begun patrolling H Street NE on bike recently in the afternoons and evenings. Commander Hall has described this as a focused unit for the corridor, and I've asked that they pay special attention to not just H Street, but also to the alleys nearby. Say hello when you see them out!
On Tuesday, the Council unanimously approved my bill creating a program to help make e-bikes more affordable and accessible. The program will offer a rebate or voucher toward the purchase of an e-bike from a local bike shop, plus a lock, maintenance, and other expenses. The Electric Bicycle Incentive Program Amendment Act offers two tiers of incentives depending on your income level (see the graphic to the right). Recaps in the Post, Axios DC, WUSA, and DCist.
So why create an incentives program? Because e-bikes allow residents to skip the traffic and parking without ever breaking a sweat, and in a dense city like ours, they solve a lot of problems with moving people around efficiently. Plus, they're a heck of a lot of fun.
What I'm especially proud of with this bill is that there's a lot in place to ensure e-bike access is equitable to people who might not otherwise be able to afford the cost upfront. Ideally, the program will allow the incentive to kick in at the time of purchase, rather than as a rebate after the fact. This addresses the reality that e-bikes are still expensive for a lot of people, even if you’re going to get reimbursed later, and many can't afford the upfront cost. Half of the initial $500,000 budget for the program will have to go to residents who qualify for public benefit programs like SNAP, TANF, and the DC Healthcare Alliance. My hope, of course, is that the popularity of this program allows us to grow it in future budgets.
As for timing, while the funding for the program will be available starting October 1, we have to wait for DDOT to set up the program and work out some of the details like how folks will apply, how to get our local bike shops enrolled, and specific amounts residents can qualify for. This should all happen in the next few months – and I'll be sure to keep you updated when we get news about the rollout.
This week, the Council kicked off the fall session with our September legislative meeting and a number of committee hearings throughout the week. We started off with a Judiciary and Public Safety Committee hearing Monday covering four bills, two of which I introduced and am very glad to see move forward. The Private Security Camera System Incentive Program Small Business Expansion Amendment Act expands our very successful private security camera rebate program so small businesses can purchase glass break sensors and interior cameras instead of only exterior cameras. The Ensuring Safe Forensic Evidence Handling for Sexual Assault Survivors Amendment Act would close a gap in how forensic evidence from sexual assaults is handled, ensuring that evidence is preserved regardless of whether a victim chooses to report to law enforcement. You can read more in this write up in the Washington City Paper from when I introduced it earlier this year. Next steps: hopefully Committee votes this fall. You can watch Monday’s full hearing here.
In the legislative meeting, we extended the public safety emergency legislation the Council passed earlier this summer, moved legislation with some important protections for renters, and for our Southwest neighbors, took an exciting step toward fully developing a trail network around Buzzard Point – you can view my recap video over on Instagram.
Related: New Hearing Management System: As I shared last week, the Council rolled out a new Hearing Management System (HMS) just in time for our first week back. The new streamlined system puts all relevant information in one place - including a full hearing schedule in either list or calendar view, links to the bills receiving hearings, and easy forms to sign up to testify or submit testimony. See the new HMS here.
We’ve got a big one coming up in a few weeks at the Committee on Transportation and the Environment focused on ways we can strengthen the law to hold dangerous drivers accountable. Unfortunately, this comes as the District has just surpassed the total number of traffic fatalities from last year -- with three months still to go. That's unacceptable.
I’ll be holding a joint hearing with my colleague Councilmember Nadeau on four bills focused on making our streets safer, including the Strengthening Traffic Enforcement, Education, and Responsibility (STEER) Act that I introduced back in July. The STEER Act includes several measures aimed at both holding dangerous drivers accountable and preventing dangerous driving in the first place. The bill creates a targeted system of enforcement based on tickets accumulated over any consecutive six-month period regardless of whether fines are paid or not, cracks down on fake tags, strengthens enforcement against DUI offenses, closes gaps in information sharing between the DMV and DC Superior Court, empowers the DC Attorney General to bring civil suits against both in and out of state dangerous drivers, strengthens the definitions of reckless and aggravated reckless driving, and more. Many of the provisions are meant to address gaps that were brought to our attention in the tragic DUI incident in which a woman with a history of DUIs killed three people in a high-speed crash on Rock Creek Parkway. The District is seeing too many incidences of traffic violence - even one of which is too many. We’ve got to be bold and utilize all the tools at our disposal to make our streets safer for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians.
The hearing will also cover three other pieces of legislation from my colleagues to suspend the license and registration for vehicles owned by drivers who are arrested for certain dangerous driving violations, add points to driving records for automated camera tickets, and crack down on fake temporary tags.
We need you - yes, you - to either sign up to testify at the hearing or submit testimony. What's entailed in submitting testimony? Literally writing a short email - based on the number of messages I get from residents concerned about street safety, I know you can do that! The deadline to sign up to testify is Monday, October 2 at 5pm.
Related: Before the hearing, join me and the Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization and many of your neighbors at Lincoln Park for the annual Walk, Bike, Roll to School Day at 7:45 am. When we have these serious conversations about safer streets, it's important to remember what we're fighting for.
Speaking of street safety, here's a small way you can make a big difference. Have you ever stood at that little concrete island on 11th Street NE & East Capitol, headed into Lincoln Park, and as the drivers whizzed by, thought to yourself: “This thing should be bigger” or “I can’t even get my kid’s bike to fit while we wait for the signal to turn”? Well, change is coming. DDOT's looking to increase the size of the pedestrian "refuge" island to make it a safer space for everyone to cross and drive around. And they’re asking for your feedback. Want to see brick vs. concrete? Let them know. Want to see some plantings and green space added rather than just hard surface? Let them know. Get the details and please share your suggestions and feedback here.
If you haven't already, you should start hearing news in the coming months about Metro's looming fiscal crisis. This is going to be a big lift take many months to solve and I'm going to start sharing periodic updates with you. WMATA is governed by a compact between the District, Maryland, Virginia, and the federal government (no, it’s not a DC agency), and it’s funded by contributions from each of those partners, with additional revenue from fares, advertising, and other sources. During COVID, the federal government provided a lot of financial relief to transit agencies all over the country as people stayed home and transit patterns changed dramatically. But as our economy and our transit agency come out of the pandemic, those federal relief dollars are winding down, and serious financial pain is on the horizon. WMATA has identified an operating funding shortfall of about $750 million per year, beginning next fiscal year. On top of that, there's a significant capital funding shortfall that begins in about three years. To keep service running and ensure a safe and reliable system, that gap must be filled by the entire region. While the returning ridership to rail and bus certainly helps, WMATA has been clear this isn’t just about ridership. It’s a deeper structural funding problem.
Even if every person who was on WMATA in 2019 started riding again, they’d still be facing a massive shortfall. WMATA is hitting new ridership highs almost every week, and riders are coming back in big ways, but the challenge remains. I’m both the Chair of the Council's Transportation Committee and Vice Chair of the region’s group of elected leaders, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments - so addressing this crisis is going to be major priority of mine for the next several years. I’m already meeting with leaders in Maryland and Virginia to work towards solutions. And a solution will have to involve both challenging WMATA to find ways it can improve operations and efficiencies to close some of that gap itself, and making tough decisions as individual jurisdictions about where and how we meet this crisis. But failure is not an option, and this is a challenge we must meet. My priorities are to protect service for our riders, jobs for our transit workers, and to think innovatively about how to strengthen WMATA and transit in the District for the years and decades to come. We must get this right – for our transit needs, for our climate goals, and for the jobs and people that count on WMATA every single day. And to be clear, this isn’t just important for Ward 6 and the District - a solution is crucial for the entire DMV and the growth needed move our region forward. So stay tuned, and I’ll share much more soon.
DDOT is undertaking an important effort to speed up bus service along 8th Street SE between East Capitol Street, SE and M Street, SE. The corridor - between WMATA's 90 + 92 lines and two Circulator routes - moves 3,000 bus riders daily and, according to DDOT, is one of the more important bus lines for connectivity and ridership. The proposal notably includes some significant changes for Barracks Row. I have not been briefed on the project myself, although my team has attended preliminary community meetings with businesses and before ANC 6B. For any priority project like this, I want to see bus service improve, but I also want to be sure we get the design right - namely to improve safety and the success of businesses along the corridor. The project has a website here with all of the information you'd need, including early concepts (we aren't at the design stage yet). Included on that landing page is a survey open to residents you should go ahead and take if you care about this corridor -- the survey will close on October 10.
Have you ever been confused about the seemingly random mix of numbers and letters that make up our bus line names? Well, as part of its Better Bus initiative (remember that? here's a reminder!), WMATA plans to rename the bus lines for the first time in 50 years and is asking for rider input. Fill out the survey here by September 28.
One more hearing I want to flag for you is on my bill dealing with open captions at movie theaters, happening in the Public Works and Operations Committee on October 12 at 9:30am. The bill would require that at movie theaters with more than one screen, at least 12 percent of each movie’s weekly showings must be screened with open captions. Additionally, at least half of the open caption screenings would have to be during “peak movie attendance hours”, and theaters must advertise the date and time of showings with open captions. I will share more information soon, including how to sign up to testify.
I was thrilled to see the news that a beloved Southwest institution, Jessie Taylor Seafood, will remain at the Wharf for at least another 20 years, after signing a new lease. Jessie Taylor Seafood is the longest continuously operated open-air fish market in the country. While I’m proud of the growth of the Wharf and Southwest in the last several years, it’s also critical that we protect long term businesses that are integral to the culture of Southwest. It should be a priority to see long-term agreements like this to give those small businesses the certainty and stability they need in the midst of rapid change like we’ve seen at the Wharf.
There was a big step taken this week in Congress in the process to give the District control over the land at the RFK site. The bipartisan bill from Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer advanced out of the Oversight Committee on Wednesday. As I’ve said before, while I remain against building an NFL stadium on the land, I was in support of this bill, as it gives the District government control over District land. The legislation amends our lease with the federal government to extend it for 99 years, as well as significantly expand the development options to include housing and commercial activity. The current lease allows for only recreation and a sports stadium. We’ve still got a long way to go until we can make any decisions about what to do, and the bill is not law yet and still needs to make its way through the rest of the federal legislative process. I will be sure to keep you updated as we learn more. The Post has a good recap on the latest, and the Washington Informer dives into neighborhood concerns.
Related: In case you missed it, I wrote an op-ed in the Post in August about the stadium deal District leaders need to focus on (hint, it's not RFK).
Eastern Market and Barracks Row Main Streets invite you to Art All Night next Friday, September 29 from 5pm-midnight. Art All Night celebrates the visual and performing arts, with public and private spaces along the EMMS corridor and around Capitol Hill transforming into pop-up galleries and performance venues for an evening of art in its many forms. It looks like an absolute blast!
As you may have heard, last week the CDC recommended a new COVID booster for everyone ages 6 months and older. For many of us, it’s likely been right around a year since we got our last shots. We know that immunity wanes as time goes on and that COVID is very good at mutating, requiring new versions of the vaccine. With cases ticking up and our kids back in school, it’s important that we do what we can to protect ourselves and our communities and get boosted again. All private health insurers are still required to cover vaccines for those with private insurance, as well as those with Medicare or Medicaid. Individuals without insurance can and should still get boosted through the CDC’s Bridge Access Program and the Vaccines for Children Program for children without insurance. You can find more vaccination resources from DC Health here.
Related: President Biden announced another round of free COVID tests are available to all households beginning September 25 (next Monday). Learn more here, and request yours for the fall season.
I wrote about the Circuit, a new electric shuttle rideshare option that was launching in Southwest when it was announced back in July. I've since been hearing great things about it from folks in the community, as it's been a helpful and accessible way to get around the Southwest neighborhood. See the map of where you can go, and learn more.
Join the NoMa Business Improvement District for “NoMa in Color,” a vibrant celebration of art, culture, and community through October 19. Enjoy new murals through a self-guided tour on the NoMa in Color Art Walk, and take in live music at the NoMa in Color Nights Out.
Join the Southwest Business Improvement District this Sunday at its annual fall festival from 10am-5pm to celebrate the season with fun activities, delicious treats, and a festive atmosphere! The Book Bazaar starts at 10am, and all other activities start at 1pm. RSVP here.
I was thrilled to join partners from Amtrak and Union Station earlier this week to unveil “A Great Public Walk,” a piece created by DC artist and American University professor Tim Doud. Union Station is the second station to get an art installation through the “Art at Amtrak” program, after Penn Station in New York City. The piece is located above Union Station’s A through L gates and will be on display until winter 2024. The addition of a beautiful new art mural is just one of the many ways we’re enhancing and re-envisioning the transit experience for riders at Union Station. Check it out next time you’re catching a train!
The Deputy Mayor for Education is hosting a series of virtual town halls on the Boundary & Student Assignment Study and the Master Facilities Plan. Participants at the boundary study town halls will be able to learn about the landscape of DCPS boundaries and student assignment analysis, provide feedback on potential policy tools, and receive an introduction to the online web tool. The Master Facilities Plan town halls will cover the updated programmatic capacities and draft recommendations supporting the three goals of the MFP to ensure school facilities are efficiently utilized, every student is enrolled in a modern, state-of-the-art facility, and every student's daily experience is in a well-maintained building.
The Boundary & Student Assignment Study Town Hall are Tuesday, September 26 from 12-1:30pm and Wednesday, September 27 from 6-7:30pm.
Master Facilities Plan town halls are Wednesday, October 4 from 12-1:30pm and Thursday, October 5 from 6-7:30pm.
Join Hill Family Biking for its next ride next Saturday, September 30 from 4-5:30pm. The bike ride will start at Garfield Park and explore Navy Yard, SW, the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, and the new M St SE bike lane! RSVP here and see the route's map.
Many of you are aware of the tragic flooding that occurred last month in Northeast, resulting in the death of ten dogs at a dog daycare facility on Rhode Island Avenue, NE. This area has been prone to flooding issues for years that DC Water was working to address with the building of the Northeast Boundary Tunnel. After five years, the 5.1-mile tunnel has been completed and will not only increase the capacity of our sewer system during heavy rains, but will also mitigate water pollution in the Anacostia River. You may recall a similar tunnel was completed and opened that serves many Ward 6 households back in 2018. This is the second leg of that same project, the Clean Rivers Project.
Finally, I had a blast talking with so many neighbors at the H Street Festival, one of the District's best events of the year. Thanks to all of you who stopped by to say hello! That's all for now - I'm excited for the busy fall legislative season ahead and, of course, the fall fun we always have in Ward 6.
See you around the neighborhood,