We are deep in our legislative session at the Council as we sprint to the end of the year. Near the top of the list of urgent issues is the Census-mandated redistricting of our Ward boundaries, which has to be finished by the end of the calendar year.
I've got an important update below. But we're also still very much focused on getting residents vaccinated (including our kids ages 5-11), addressing our ongoing affordable housing crisis, our crisis with gun violence, and making our streets safer. I've tried to touch on updates for all of those below.
At the same time, we're about to enter the holidays, a wonderful time in Ward 6 and a great excuse to get together. And I hope you can plan to join me on Saturday, November 20 at 5:30 pm (it's early this year) as we light the Capitol Hill Christmas Tree and Monday, November 29 at 5:30 pm for our community Menorah lighting to mark the beginning of Hanukkah.
Quick Links: Redistricting Map | Brickies 2021 | COVID-19 Updates | Public Safety | Seniors Legal Hotline | Better Buses | Open Enrollment | Understanding Medicare | Vote By Mail | Free Groceries | E-Waste Update | Dangerous Drivers | DC Veterans | Leaf Collection | Thank You, Nichole!
Redistricting Update: Sub-Committee Releases Draft Map
Yesterday, the Council's subcommittee on redistricting released their final proposed map to vote on today. For me, as the Ward 6 Councilmember, this was always going to be a tough pill to swallow. I know the math and I understand the reality - Ward 6 has to shrink. And we've had a serious, public discussion on what makes the most sense. I'll be honest, I've hated every minute of it. No matter where the lines are drawn (and they can still be moved between now and the final vote), when this is over, I'm not going to be representing neighbors and leaders that I've worked with my entire time on the Council. People I've walked streets with to assess issues. Folks I've been in hours and hours of meetings with to modernize schools, build parks, fight for more affordable housing, and strategize on safety issues. And yes, it has to happen and I don't control the process. So it certainly is tough.
That being said, I want to publicly recognize the hard work of my three at-large colleagues serving on the subcommittee -- Councilmembers Elissa Silverman (chair), Christina Henderson, and Anita Bonds. I'm not quite sure this map gets it right and makes the most sense, but it is undeniably the result of a lot of hard work and a careful balancing of a lot of different priorities. Assuming the subcommittee passes this map later today, you can plan for the full Council to debate it at our next legislative meeting in early December. Learn more about the map and report here.
Save the Date for Brickies 2021 and Nominate a Neighbor
The 2021 Ward 6 Brickies are coming! Save the date for a virtual evening celebrating our neighbors, businesses, and organizations who have helped make Ward 6 a great place to call home -- we'll get together online Thursday, December 2, at 8 pm. RSVP here to register for the Zoom link.
And more urgently, I need your nominations for the five Brickie awards we should give out this year - get them in by COB today! Take a few minutes right now to nominate your neighbors who deserve consideration for all they've done for the community.
COVID-19 Update: Mask Mandate Set to Roll Back on Monday
Just announced this week, the Mayor will modify the District's mask mandate, limiting it to schools and childcare settings, public transportation, congregate settings, and DC government buildings where there is significant interaction between the staff and the public, such as libraries, DMV, and DHS service centers. Most notably, private businesses still retain the right to require masks for service and entry as they choose. Please respect the staff and businesses in what they decide to do, recognizing we are all facing a different set of risks depending on the health and comfort of ourselves and our family and friends.
You may have seen a sign-on letter sent by most of my colleagues on the Council asking that the Mayor reconsider scaling back the mask mandate. I don’t think we should be scaling back the mask mandate as we head into the holiday season, particularly with rising cases in Europe a preview of what’s likely to come here. So let me say this clearly upfront: everyone should continue to wear masks in indoor situations where the risk of spread is highest. However, I didn’t feel the sign-on letter struck the right tone for what should be a public health decision first and foremost. We must guard carefully against politicizing lifesaving measures, knowing we have limited tools to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 as we head into the winter. I know many small businesses would like to impose their own mask or vaccine mandate for patrons, but they don’t always feel supported. While I don’t believe we should scale back masks before holiday travel and while young children are getting vaccinated, I hope that if the Mayor sticks to her decision to roll back the mask mandate, she takes steps to ensure that the District will help businesses enforce vaccination or mask mandates that they choose to impose.
If you haven't yet received a vaccine or your booster, DC Health pulled together some great data demonstrating the effectiveness of the vaccines in preventing serious illness and death. As I've written many times, the vaccines are safe and effective. You can find available vaccines near Ward 6 using Vaccines.gov.
Ward 6 Child Vaccine Pop-Ups: I requested additional vaccine pop-up sites for Ward 6 residents to help their children get vaccinated. DC Health is setting up first dose locations and second dose locations. Like the Pfizer shot for adults, it is recommended to get the second dose about 3 weeks after the first. Here are the locations:
Public Safety Update
We are close to crossing a shocking and grim milestone - 200 homicides in our city so far this year. That's 200 lives cut short, and countless more for whom this trauma will never fully heal. The pain too many families will always live with is unacceptable. And that doesn't begin to measure the harm done in the communities experiencing this loss and the routine, reckless use of guns. It has to stop. This increase isn't limited to the borders of the District of Columbia, either. Our neighbors in Prince George's County, Montgomery County, Fairfax and nationwide are experiencing increases in homicides not seen in years or decades in some instances.
MPD has seized a more than 1,900 illegal firearms as of last week. I talked with NBC 4 about getting illegal guns off the street. But it can feel unending. In this year's budget, I funded a citywide strategic plan to reduce gun violence, building on last year's budget where I created and funded the Gun Violence Prevention Director, whose role is to organize the whole of government -- not just MPD -- to respond to gun violence following the best practices and data.
The challenge, of course, is that most illegal guns are coming into the District from other states who have weaker gun laws. Want to see the data? Here's the ATF's 2019 firearm tracing report, the most recent available, which has a wealth of information about the firearms seized in 2019. In order to solve our challenge of seemingly unending illegal firearms, despite the efforts of MPD and strong gun laws, we need federal firearm legislation. I'll also take this opportunity to remind folks we have a red flag law that allows loved ones to have a firearm removed if there is a credible fear of that person doing harm to themself or others.
Still, the most recent budget represents an unprecedented investment in violence prevention, violence intervention (in schools, neighborhoods, and hospitals after a shooting), victims' support services, rehabilitation and housing for returning citizens to help prevent repeat offenders, and an expansion of MPD's Police Cadet Program. Working in concert, and with the right coordination (not a given, this is a big focus of mine moving forward), these initiatives will reduce the use of guns in our city.
911 Call Diversion Program Expanding: I also quickly want to note the District's pilot program that looked to redirect behavioral health calls to 911 where a public safety threat wasn't present from a police response to a specialized response team is getting expanded. This is good news for a few reasons. One, it means our neighbors who are experiencing a mental health crisis are getting a more specialized response faster. Second, it reduces the number of interactions between residents and MPD officers. Third, it can reduce the workload of patrol officers and allow them to focus more on both community policing and solving violent crime. Citylab has a good recap on our efforts to overhaul the District's 911 and 311 call systems over the past few years, something I've been proud to help oversee.
Ward 6 Incident Updates: Arrest made in assault with a deadly weapon on H Street from Oct 16; arrest made in assault and robbery on O St, SW from this weekend; arrest made in an assault with a deadly weapon at 4th and L St., NW.
Related: The Council is just beginning a long process to consider a massive clean-up and modernization of our entire criminal code. Legislation has been introduced following a more than decade-long work by an independent commission to make recommendations on simplifying and clarifying all of the laws that related to criminal penalties, approved by a wide-range of advisory board members across our criminal justice system. DCist has a good introduction to the issue following our first public hearing. As Chair of the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, I'll be holding a series of public hearings to consider a wide-range of input as we consider this.
Seniors: Do you know about the Legal Aid Hotline?
Whenever I talk to groups of Ward 6 seniors, I always, always remind them there is a free hotline for legal advice. And it occurred to me, I should share this more broadly. Legal Counsel for the Elderly operates the hotline via funding from the DC Department of Aging and Community Living, to ensure our seasoned residents have access legal advice right over the phone, speaking with a live intake staff member. The intake hours are Monday-Friday, 9:30-3:30 pm. The number is (202) 434-2120.
Lower Bus Fares are Good. But Only if Service Improves.
This Washington Post article has a roundup of the many ways public transit bus services are weighing the delicate balance between lower fares and better service as they try to plan for a different future. They include a mention of my Metro for DC bill, which I re-introduced last month. But the careful trade-offs between lower costs to riders and maintaining service was something we considered carefully in crafting our bill, ultimately deciding on two ways to tackle the problem. First, the $100 goes to the rider, not directly to WMATA, meaning service needs to be good enough to earn most riders.
Second, the bill also creates an annual $10 million dedicated fund to improving bus service, with a priority on neighborhoods underserved and transit-dependent. Because from everything I've seen, while lowering the cost for families is *very important*, it can't happen at the expense of frequent, reliable service, or the lower fares aren't worth the headache. I think buses offer tremendous opportunity and value to move more people safely and affordably, requiring minimal infrastructure investments. But we haven't ever really prioritized the bus. The next step for my Metro For DC legislation would be a hearing, which hasn't yet been scheduled. But I am glad to see the idea getting more and more debate as we all think about what our public transit system means to us and what it can be. For me, WMATA holds the key to building a far more inclusive, and enjoyable, city for everyone. And to realize that potential, we need to invest in it.
DC Health Link Open Enrollment Underway
Just a quick reminder that DC Health Link's exchange to health coverage is in open enrollment now until January 31, and includes lower premiums thanks to the American Rescue Plan. Want some assistance getting the right plan for you and your family? You can check on the prices and coverage of a wide range of health plans through DC's health exchange using the city's virtual, one touch enrollment center.
Navigating Medicare Radio Show - Tues, Nov 23
If you're enrolled in Medicare, you might have some uncertainty about how it all works and what is covered and what isn't. This coming Tuesday, tune into WPFW 89.3 from 3-5 pm for a live show focused on answering your questions. Hosted by the UPO (United Planning Organization), WPFW, and the Washington Informer. Key questions they'll cover:
- It doesn't cover everything;
- It'll cost you, but how much depends on your income;
- Medicare premiums are tax-deductible;
- You'll get some free preventive services;
- Open enrollment is October and ends Dec. 7, 2021.`
New Bill to Make Vote By Mail, Vote Centers Permanent for 2022 Elections
Last week, one year out from our next general election, I introduced with six of my colleagues a bill that would make permanent many of the most popular changes to voting from our 2020 election cycle, including Vote By Mail, Vote Centers open to all voters, making election day a DCPS holiday to ensure neighborhood voting sites are accessible, and more. The Washington Informer and DCist both have write-ups.
Free Groceries at RFK Lot 5 Every Sunday
Just a heads up from a Ward 6 neighbor -- there are free groceries being given to anyone who needs them every Sunday at RFK starting at around 8 am until 1 or 2 pm. This is apparently through USDA's grants to get food to more families.
New: E-Waste Disposal Moves to Benning Road Transfer Station
DPW has moved their e-waste intake from Brookland's Fort Totten Trash Transfer Station to the one on Benning Road Transfer Station (3200 Benning Road, NE, Washington, DC, 20019). View the schedule here.
Recognizing DC Veterans
Last week, I was proud to celebrate DC Veteran's at the American Legion's annual Veteran's Day celebration. This is always a special day to meet and talk with so many DC and Ward 6 residents who have served in the military. And it's always a reminder that DC should be a state. These are the folks who have volunteered to serve in our nation's military, who pay their taxes, and deserve to have a full fledged vote in their national legislature. To all the veterans, thank you for your service and for being part of our community!
What's Going On With So Many Dangerous Drivers?
One of the top issues I've heard in every neighborhood across Ward 6 is traffic safety. Be it (usually a combination of) high-speeds, reckless driving, red light and stop sign running. It's not just you -- our streets are actually much more dangerous this year. And many groups of neighbors have asked me and my team how we can make our streets safer -- after all, if you leave your house, it's very likely you will witness someone breaking the rules of the road. And to be honest, on this issue, I wish I had a better answer to give neighbors. We routinely badger DDOT about safety measures ranging from installing four-way stops, cutting back branches covering signage, or beginning the long process of implementing traffic calming measures. Progress, if at all, comes slowly. That's in part because DDOT is responding to a ton of issues across the city, since our streets were designed primarily to move people in and out, not for safety purposes. If you want to begin the process of making your street safer (or a nearby DC street), begin with a Traffic Safety Assessment and submit it to [email protected]
Still, I can point to a number of improvements we've worked on with neighbors, despite the frustration we all experience. First, as my Vision Zero Enhancement law takes effect over the course of the year, there are significant new requirements on DDOT and development to make our streets and sidewalks safer for all users, including requiring a default starting point of a four-way stop at all intersections (two-way stops are really dangerous and a personal crusade of mine). Second, just this year, DDOT has finally taken over our Automated Traffic Enforcement camera program from MPD. The reason to do this, something I worked with Councilmember Mary Cheh to do, is to have our ATE cameras be more responsive to dangerous streets and corridors as understood by DDOT. Third, I've been pushing the regional Transportation Planning Board to increase the urgency of DC, Maryland, and Virginia coming to an agreement on reciprocity requirements for outstanding ATE tickets.
My Vision Zero law requires the District to engage in negotiations to make this happen, but we haven't seen it yet. What that means is ensuring drivers in DC, MD, and VA all have paid outstanding tickets before being able to renew a license. Right now, there is no accountability for MD and VA drivers in the same way there is for DC residents. And that comes out to more than half a billion (!) dollars in outstanding tickets. That's not right. And to be clear, it's not about the money for me. It's about the lack of accountability. I'll keep working on this issue, but given how many conversations and emails I've had recently, I wanted to ensure I provided an update.
Leaf Collection Underway
Just a reminder, we're in leaf collection season. Collection dates are by week, so make sure you know your zone (click the photo to the right to see a larger view). And please don't bag your leaves -- just rake them to the flower box or curb at the specified time and DPW's collection truck will suck them right up. Also, keep in mind, collection doesn't happen when there is inclement weather. This annually means DPW falls behind the schedule they've shared with residents. Keep me and my team posted on progress on your block, and we can check with DPW on their schedules as we go.
Thank you to Nichole Opkins!
Finally, I'd like to close this newsletter with a special thanks. One of my longtime staff, Nichole Opkins, celebrated her last day with our team last Friday. Nichole is beginning a very exciting new professional chapter as a judge for the Office of Administrative Hearings. As my Senior Counsel and a former Ward 6 ANC Commissioner, Nichole has been a special resource for many of our community organizations, special events, small businesses, Business Improvement Districts, Main Street programs, and countless others. I'm so proud of her accomplishments as part of our Ward 6 team and of her next chapter of public service on the bench. I know I join all of you in wishing the Honorable Judge Opkins all the best!
See you around the neighborhood,