Happy October! Although it’s been unseasonably warm this week, fall festivities are in full swing around the Ward (just take a look at the list below). It was great to start Wednesday morning seeing so many Ward 6 families at Walk & Bike & Roll to School Day. I’ve had a busy few weeks at the Council and across Ward 6 with a couple of important hearings, a full-Council Legislative Meeting, block parties, safety walks, and more - and I’ve been doing it all without driving as a part of National Week Without Driving (more below).
Also, the Washington Post's Fall Dining Guide is out, and you might recognize a few Ward 6 businesses, including one located inside Eastern Market and another just across the street. Congrats to both for the recognition across the entire region!
Quick Links: Street Safety Hearing | Week Without Driving | Public Safety Update | Recruiting and Retaining 911 Call Takers and Dispatchers | More Great Streets in Ward 6 | Improving DC's Probate System | Hearing on Heat and A/C in Apartments | SE Community Walk on 10/19 | WMATA Update | Clear Lanes Enforcement Delay | Garfield Park Update | Solidarity with Our Downtown Building Cleaners | ERAP Applications Open | Changes to the FAFSA | Major Environmental Justice Settlement | 8th St. Priority Bus Project | Fall Fun in Ward 6
On Wednesday I co-chaired an all-day public hearing to consider four bills to strengthen the District's ability to curb dangerous driving - an issue I regularly hear about from neighbors in every part of the Ward and across the city. More than 20 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners testified from every single ward, with great input on how we can better crack down on dangerous drivers.
The four bills include my STEER Act, as well as legislation looking at ways to prevent someone from driving after multiple DUIs, working to eliminate fake license plates and temporary tags, and improving the effectiveness of our ATE camera program. The hearing comes as the District has already passed the number of traffic deaths from all of last year combined. Overwhelmingly, these incidents involve drivers that are going too fast. I want to thank everyone who testified, as well as many of my Council colleagues (especially Councilmember Nadeau who co-chaired the hearing, and Councilmember Henderson who introduced some of the bills we heard about) for joining the conversation. I'll note we did not hear from DDOT or the Deputy Mayor for Operations and Infrastructure - a separate hearing for their testimony will be scheduled, likely in early November. I'll include all of that information in a future newsletter. More from WUSA 9.
Related: As I mentioned above, I'm participating in National Week Without Driving. As the Chair of the Council's Committee on Transportation and the Environment, it's always good to experience different modes of transit. Although I normally bike, take the bus, or Metro to work, this week's challenge reiterated the importance of trying out different modes and routes - and the challenges and privileges some have using those modes and routes. I'm reflecting on my commute every day on Twitter, and Greater Greater Washington will publish a transit diary I've been keeping when the week is over. Follow along for updates and my takes on how we can improve accessibility and service for bus, rail, walking, and biking.
Earlier this week, I joined neighbors in Northwest One for a conversation about how to improve public safety in a neighborhood undergoing massive changes and still with a lot of need. As always, a big thanks to Commissioner Denise Blackson for bringing us all together. Last week, the Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety held a hearing on the nomination of Acting MPD Chief Pamela Smith for the permanent role. I asked her about her plans for MPD to better coordinate with other city agencies, how officers are deployed across neighborhoods, the role of USAO, and more. I was glad to see so many passionate members of the public come to testify and speak not just to the MPD nomination, but with thoughts and ideas for how we address public safety from all angles. You can watch the full hearing here if you missed it.
The hearing came as the District marked 200 homicides, a grim milestone representing significant loss and trauma. And a reminder that the status quo isn't working - we have to think differently. I spent time this summer in St. Louis meeting with their violence reduction and public safety leaders to see how another city approaches this awful challenge - so far this year, they've seen a 22 percent decrease in homicides over last year. I was impressed by the level of coordination and communication between law enforcement and non-law enforcement agencies, including weekly shooting reviews to compare notes and coordinate action. That's a requirement I included in this summer's emergency public safety legislation passed by the Council. We won't see the kind of change we all want in gun violence and violent crime until there's a true whole of government approach that centers after-action reviews and focuses on the relatively small and identifiable number of people who commit most gun violence.
I also had the chance to meet with union representatives from AFSCME last week, which represents many government workers. As we talked about gun violence, one gentleman made the observation that our Child and Family Services Agency has 40 vacancies for case managers -- these are positions tasked with thousands of home visits to vulnerable children and teens that are at risk and experiencing violence. That strikes me as an urgent challenge that's clearly connected to public safety. What does 40 vacant case workers translate into? More than a thousand home visits to at-risk children and teens per month that simply aren't happening. Young people who commit violence often have family instability or trauma and abuse in their past or present, and if we're not reaching them, we're going to be dealing with the consequences for a long time. That's just one example of what a whole of government approach to public safety looks like -- and the very real impact of the staffing shortages that governments across the country are experiencing right now.
Ward 6 Public Safety Updates
Shooting at 7th and G Street SE: On Tuesday, October 3, there was gunfire around 7th and G Streets, SE and I've spoken with a number of neighbors who are understandably looking for information. I'm sharing what I've received from my communications with First District Commander Hall. MPD responded to those sounds of gunshots, and they immediately found the gun, which appeared to have been ditched quickly, as well as shell casings. On their initial search, MPD didn't find anyone injured or any property damage but after a subsequent search, they found that one vehicle had some damage to it from what they said was a single shot. Fortunately no one was injured. MPD also reported to me that they were able to quickly get images and video and are working to ID the suspects. I specifically asked the Commander if it showed whether the suspects might be students with a school uniform or school colors on, but while he shared that the video and images clearly show two individuals, they are not wearing any school-related clothing or colors. However, Commander Hall was very optimistic about the quality of video and their investigation is moving forward to identify the suspects. Nevertheless, gun shots ringing out in any community when you have every right and expectation of being able to walk about safely are deeply traumatic, regardless of whether physical injury or damage occur.
Drug arrest at 1300 H St: In continuing to highlight the need for ongoing enforcement against illegal drug activity, I'm happy to share MPD made an arrest of someone distributing crack cocaine along H Street NE this week. This came following tips from residents that we were able to share with MPD, and then strategic action by the 1D officers. Drug addiction is a serious public health crisis, but selling it - especially larger amounts - to our most vulnerable neighbors must have consequences.
Shooting at The Point in Southwest: There was a scary and serious shooting Monday night outside of The Point at Southwest that appeared to be highly targeted toward the victims based on MPD's initial reports. MPD has arrested one suspect so far. I'll share more as I learn, but this kind of reckless behavior is beyond unacceptable.
First District Officers Honored with Lifesaving Medals: Two members of MPD's First District - Reserve Officer Dominic Strada and Officer Michael Russo - were honored for their response to the 1200 block of I Street, SE, this past August after a report of a shooting. Their quick work to provide first aid at the scene stabilized the shooting victim. Congratulations, Officers, and thank you for your quick thinking!
New Bill: First-Time Homebuyer Incentives to Recruit and Retain More 911 Call Takers and Dispatchers
Related to public safety, this week I introduced a bill to improve recruitment and retention at our Office of Unified Communications, which runs our 911 Call Center and has been dangerously understaffed. Understaffing not only leads to burnout and turnover, it means calls aren't answered as quickly and response times are delayed -- and we know seconds are critical. As of September 1, 2023, OUC had a vacancy rate of 19.2% and reported that approximately 40% of work shifts in August were short-staffed. The agency is central to our public safety efforts, and we need to do everything we can to bring on good candidates and keep them there. So this week, I introduced legislation that will make call-takers and dispatchers eligible for the Employer-Assisted Housing Program (EAHP) program, which is a DC government program that provides down payment and closing cost assistance to our employees. If they sign a five-year service commitment, they'll get an additional $10,000 to put toward their first home in the District just like other first responders (an incentive I created a few years back in the budget). This expansion is a win-win: we retain employees who live in the District, and they invest in the city and build generational wealth. More from WUSA 9.
In my efforts to continue to ensure Ward 6 has great local businesses, I introduced a bill a few weeks ago to designate several Ward 6 corridors as “Retail Priority Areas” eligible to take advantage of the District's Great Streets program. Great Streets provides financial incentives, technical support, and strategic investments to local businesses, helping drive economic growth and improve quality of life in the designated areas. Currently, the H Street Corridor is the only Retail Priority Area in Ward 6. The Mount Vernon
Triangle/Eastern Market/Barracks Row Great Streets Neighborhood Retail Priority Amendment Act of 2023 will extend this designation to Mount Vernon Triangle, Eastern Market, along Pennsylvania Avenue, and Barracks Row to open up opportunities for Ward 6 businesses.
This week, I also introduced a bill to reform the probate process of collecting, distributing, and administering someone's assets after they've passed away. Anyone who has lost a loved one knows how difficult dealing with the immediate aftermath is, and then dealing with the complex probate process on top of that can be nearly impossible. And in the District, our residents navigate probate without an attorney in 35% of large estate cases and 97% of small estate cases! So I'm introducing a bill to make a series of reforms based on recommendations from the Council for Court Excellence and the District's Access to Justice Commission like streamlining the appointment of representatives for estates, creating an electronic will registry, increasing allowable reimbursement rates for funeral expenses, and more.
Do you live in an apartment building where the heat and A/C switch happens automatically? There's a hearing for you!
An issue I hear about every year is apartment buildings switching to and from heat at the wrong time each year, creating uncomfortable living until the weather actually cools off. There's legislation before the Council to change that, given that often the heat kicks on while the temperature is still too warm. I'm holding a hearing on the bill, introduced by my colleague Christina Henderson, on Thursday, October 12. Learn more, and sign up to testify.
Southeast neighbors: Join officers from MPD’s First District, ANC 6B, and my team on Thursday, October 19, at 6 pm for a community safety walk. Whether you have specific neighborhood concerns or want to just come say hello, we’d love for you to join. We’ll meet at the Triangle Park at 13th and I St. SE.
In my last newsletter, I talked a bit about WMATA’s “fiscal cliff,” the upcoming operating funding shortfall of about $750 million per year, beginning next fiscal year. Last week, WMATA announced it had identified a few ways to close some of this gap with measures like reducing money spent on consultants, consolidating call centers, and conducting its own police training. Additionally, it provided the WMATA board with three options for moving money from its capital budget into the operating budget as a way to reduce the amount needed from DC, Virginia, and Maryland to fully address the funding gap.
As I explained in the video I shared after the plans were released, I remain skeptical about these options. It means the capital budget would then start facing an earlier than expected shortfall, and we’d be forced to delay modernizations, repairs, cut back spending on the planned new rail cars and zero-emission buses, and other projects. As I’ve said before, this entire situation is the sign of a deeper structural problem with how we fund WMATA. Instead of putting a band-aid over it to get us to the next year, I’m committed to using this as an opportunity to strengthen WMATA and transit in the region for the future. There haven’t been any decisions made regarding the proposals from WMATA yet, but I will be sure to keep you updated as we learn more. Read the write-up from the Post.
DDOT announced a few weeks ago that it would be delaying enforcement of the "Clear Lanes" initiative, which is supposed to fine drivers for driving or idling in the painted red "bus only" lanes using cameras mounted on the buses. The lanes have been painted and the cameras are mounted, so I am not sure why enforcement is being pushed, especially after an extensive warning period that sent violators notices, but not fines. As reported by DCist, bus service has been slower, and the buses have been more crowded. Enforcing the bus-only lanes is meant to help address this problem. I sent a letter to DDOT and WMATA asking for a detailed explanation, but DDOT has not yet responded. We'll continue to push on this front.
Improving Garfield Park has long been a priority for me and many neighbors. Over the last few budget cycles, I've been able to add funding to rehab the park and playground, and keep progress moving on the vision of a better connection under the freeway. I've been frustrated by the pace of work by the DC government agencies, but I recently got an update that both helps explain why we haven't seen the action we want and what steps they're implementing.
In short, the contractor that the Department of General Services had hired to complete this project is no longer able to fulfill their contract. That is forcing DGS to cancel the contract, find a new contractor, and restart the work. That likely means the work is delayed until this winter. If there's a glimmer of good news, much of the replacement playground equipment had been ordered, and when the new contractor is selected, they'll be able to complete the installation without having to start that process from scratch. So while this is frustrating and disappointing news, I wanted to share the latest with you from DGS now that they've responded to our questions about why things haven't been moving faster. As I get a more specific update and timeline, I'll be sure to share those with you.
On Monday, I joined members of 32BJ SEIU as they rallied and marched downtown to highlight their fight for a fair contract. The union is made up of office cleaners, many of whom are immigrants, who are part of the backbone of downtown and have been critical to our post-pandemic recovery and efforts to bring workers back. Without 32BJ, there is no downtown economic recovery. While the workers are prepared to strike, there are a couple weeks left for both sides to negotiate before the current contract expires on October 15th, and I hope they can reach an agreement on a fair contract that includes the wages and benefits these workers deserve.
After initial funding ran out and applications closed in March, the District's Emergency Rental Assistance Program started accepting applications again on October 1. Residents can apply for ERAP online or call the ERAP Hotline at 202-507-6666 to get support in submitting applications. You can also call the hotline and email [email protected] for inquiries or to follow up on a submitted application.
Please note that DHS plans to close the portal once 3,500 applications are received in each quarter, and then reopen the portal at the beginning of the next quarter on January 1, April 1, and July 1, 2024. That's a big departure, but it's meant to try to be sure funding remains throughout the year. See ERAP's FAQs for more info.
For parents and guardians with high school seniors and others applying to college: heads up that the Department of Education is rolling out changes to the 2024-25 FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Because of this, the application will not be available until December, instead of the regular October 1 opening. Learn more.
On Tuesday, the Attorney General announced a major settlement between the District and PEPCO for $57 million. The District had sued PEPCO and others for knowingly polluting the Anacostia with toxic chemicals that have proven to be harmful to humans and the environment. This is a big, big deal -- in fact, it's the largest environmental settlement ever received by the District. The funds will be used primarily for clean up of the river, and I applaud Attorney General Schwalb for his commitment to fighting for environmental justice for the District. Read more from DCist.
I want to remind you that comments are open until October 10 for DDOT's 8th Street Priority Bus Project that I mentioned in my last newsletter. The project would speed up bus service on 8th Street SE between East Capitol Street, SE and M Street, SE, which serves WMATA's 90 + 92 lines and two Circulator routes, moving 3,000 bus riders daily. The proposal notably includes some significant changes for Barracks Row, so read about the project and submit comments here if you have feedback.
I might be biased, but I think Ward 6 has the best fall activities in the District. Just take a look at the impressive list below! We’ve got something for everyone in every neighborhood:
Southwest Mutt Strutt (10/7): This Saturday, bring your pup to Southwest DC Community Center’s 2nd Annual Mutt Strutt and Pups in the Park Celebration! There will be a two-mile “strut” around the neighborhood, ending in Lansburgh Park for a party with a pet costume contest, pet photographer, pet portraits, and more!
Frager's Fall Festival (10/7): stop by Frager's Garden Center for a free, fun-filled, all-ages event and Children's National Hospital fundraiser with pumpkin carving, a cookout, and apple cider.
Southwest Fall Fest this Sunday (10/8): The Southwest Fall Festival was rescheduled to this Sunday! Get ready to embrace the cozy vibes of autumn on October 8 from 10am-5pm with fun fall activities, delicious treats, and a festive atmosphere! Book Bazaar starts at 10am, and all activities start at 1 pm. Details and RSVP.
JO Wilson Fall Festival (10/18): Join the JO Wilson community for pumpkin decorating, fall activities, a bake sale, and a Halloween-themed movie. And remember to order your pumpkin ahead of time.
- PumpkinPalooza with NoMa BID (10/26): Not technically in Ward 6, but in the neighborhood for our Northeast folks. Pick your own pumpkin (free while supplies last, one per person), face painting, dog portraits, costume parade, a Hocus Pocus screening, and more!
- Hill-O-Ween (10/27): Capitol Hill's premier annual Halloween festival is back at Eastern Market from 5-8pm on Friday, October 27.
MVT Fall Fun Day (10/28): Join the Mount Vernon Triangle CID at Milian Park (499 Massachusetts Avenue, NW) on Saturday, October 28 from 10am-noon for a morning of free family fun including the Little Monsters Parade, dog costume contest, mini pumpkin patch, apple cider, face painting, and more!
- Spooktacular Halloween at Lansburgh Park (10/31) Join the Southwest BID again in a few weeks at Lansburgh Park for a Halloween bash of food, thrilling activities, music, and more.
Are you a neighborhood/community organization hosting a fun fall event in Ward 6 that's free and open to the public? Send the details to Casey on my team at [email protected], and we'll try to spread the word.
Related: Are you decorating your house for Halloween? The Hill is Home is bringing back their Spooky Hill is Home Halloween decoration map! Fill out this form and check THIH later this month for the map of neighborhood decorations.
Alright, that's all from me for this week. Just a reminder that since Monday is Indigenous People's Day, Monday trash collection slides to Tuesday, and most other city offices are closed. If you have the day off in observance of the holiday, I encourage you to go on a tour around the city using this "Guide to Indigenous DC" or take a few minutes to read some of the history of the Native Peoples of Washington DC.
See you around the neighborhood,