I can’t believe this is the last newsletter of 2023 – what a year it’s been! I’ll be sharing more to recap and reflect on the year later, so stay tuned. But first, it's been a busy couple of weeks in Ward 6 and at the Council, so there’s lots to catch up on.
This week, I had a fantastic meeting with some young constituents, scouts of Dens 4 and 8 of the local Cub Scouts Pack 230 on Capitol Hill. In pursuit of their ranks and badges, the scouts needed to meet with a government or community leader and discuss important issues facing the District. I enjoyed hosting them at the Wilson Building to talk about how our local government works and my role, and answer their very insightful questions, followed by a tour.
Like many of you, these last few days I’ve been very focused on two major developments that could significantly impact the District: the potential relocation of the Wizards and Capitals to Virginia and WMATA’s proposed budget next year that would result in massive service cuts and reflects the “fiscal cliff” we’ve been warned about. More on both of those items and many others below, including efforts I'm going to be leading in the new year to bring focus and energy to revitalizing the H Street NE corridor.
Quick Links: Public Safety | Monumental Sports | Toy Giveaway with Kyle Kuzma | Brickies Recap | Uplifting H Street | Action on Traffic Safety | School Boundaries | My School DC Lottery | WMATA Funding | 24/7 Buses | Cannabis Shop Changes | Snow Season Prep | Ticket Giveaway
Public safety remains issue number one and a top priority across the entire city. Since our last newsletter, I joined neighbors on Wednesday evening for a safety walk with ANC 6B Commissioners Frank Avery and Jerry Sroufe, and we covered traffic safety, our 911 call center, responding when individuals are having mental health crises, and more with MPD, the Department of Behavioral Health, the US Attorney’s Office, the US Capitol Police, and the team that manages court-supervised release. These walks, and the coordination that comes from having multiple agencies in one location, is very helpful to focus on block-level changes needed. Thank you to neighbors who took time to join, as well as our tireless ANC leaders for organizing.
I've written previously about the systemic challenges in our public safety cluster, given it's uniquely split between local and federal agencies. This mix of who controls what leads to serious lapses in coordination, as well as the inability to conduct effective oversight of some parts of the system. But I haven’t seen as thorough an explanation of the big picture as the one posted by the substack DC Crime Facts this week. I don’t know who writes this, but I feel comfortable recommending this week's post, having chaired the Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety for six years. They provide sourcing, much of it from the same publicly-available annual reports our committee always used in oversight. For folks who want to understand the underlying dynamics behind the District’s frustratingly persistent violent crime numbers, this is a really good read. And related to post, the Council met with the federal US Attorney Office (the office that is responsible for prosecuting most crimes in DC and makes the decisions about whether to move an arrest forward or not) to work on ways to ensure they can improve outcomes as part of this complex system.
One other issue I want to touch on: this week, the Council held an important hearing on an issue close to public safety: chronic truancy from schools. You've probably read in the news about the dramatically high rates of chronic truancy and absenteeism from school, especially high school. I've always advocated for a "both/and" approach to public safety. Accountability, namely policing and prosecution, matters a lot. And so does prevention. When kids are missing big chunks of time in the classroom, good things usually don't follow. The big red warning light on so many of the public safety challenges we're facing is the shockingly high level of disconnection between our kids and their schools. Chairman Mendelson held this hearing to dive into the issue, understand where DC and the administration is failing, and what gaps exist that need to be closed. This is an issue deserving of more focus as we work to get our kids reconnected to healthy pathways and prevent them from falling through the cracks (which can seem more like chasms).
Ward 6 Public Safety Update
Two updates on specific Ward 6 issues: First, notably last Friday, I know many neighbors were aware of significant helicopter activity followed by a crash at 11th and G St., NE. There had been a carjacking that occurred in Prince George's County earlier in the day, and the lookout for the vehicle was shared via the regional task force. Working with that information, our eagle-eye 1D officers noticed the vehicle near 3rd and H Street NE, and MPD began a pursuit that took them from H Street, across Capitol Hill, through Navy Yard, back across Capitol Hill, and then the driver of the vehicle crashed into a parked and unoccupied car at 11th and G Street NE. MPD was able to make an arrest of five individuals in the vehicle, and they've been charged by the Office of the Attorney General. Prince George's County will also be prosecuting for the carjacking offense since that's where the crime occurred. Great work by 1D to spot the stolen car and ultimately make the arrest.
Second, arrest made in carjacking of FBI vehicle: An arrest has been made of a 17-year-old in the case.
The Departure of the Caps and Wizards is a Major Failure
By now, almost everyone has heard the news that Ted Leonsis, the owner of the Washington Wizards and Capitals, has come to a tentative agreement with Virginia to move the teams out of the District and to Potomac Yard in Alexandria. As I said in my statement on Wednesday, this is incredibly disappointing news, and it's the wrong decision for fans, for the teams, and for the District. In addition to the obvious emotional hit to fans who've been loyal to the teams for years, built traditions, and have cherished memories at Cap One, this decision undoubtedly hurts the District and our goals for a downtown revitalization. Capital One Arena brings hundreds of thousands of people downtown not just to attend games, but for other events like concerts, as well as to dine and shop at the businesses around the arena (some of which are already really struggling post-pandemic as weekday traffic has changed so much).
In an August Post op-ed, I sounded the alarm on the need for the city to invest in Capital One. The conversation at the time was focused on whether DC should be pursuing the Commanders after the sale of the team. I was concerned that the focus on this shiny new object could have consequences for the existing arenas, proven economic engines that needed our attention first. Quite simply, the Executive took its eye off the ball by focusing on the football team, and Virginia capitalized on the lack of attention paid to the teams already in our backyard, the Wizards and Capitals. Now, it's also not a done deal yet. The Virginia plan has to get legislative approval, and the District's strong $500 million offer for renovations to Capital One is still technically on the table. But in the meantime, we can't expect the Virginia deal to fall through, and either way, our downtown needs a dramatic transformation. Don't get me wrong, it'll hurt if the teams move out of downtown, but I don't believe that it has to spell the end of downtown; as a city, we'll have to be visionary and aggressive in how we move forward, and that means a very specific plan for downtown's future. This is obviously an ongoing process and major happening at the Wilson Building, and I'll share more as it plays out.
Spreading Holiday Cheer with a Toy Giveaway with Wizards Star Kyle Kuzma
On Wednesday, I was thrilled to create a partnership with Wizards player Kyle Kuzma and his family foundation, GOODProjects, DPR, and others for a huge giveaway of toys and household items for Ward 6 families at the King-Greenleaf Rec Center. It was a great holiday cheer-filled afternoon connecting with our neighbors. And in the midst of the news about a potential team move, it just shows the kind of good work that can be done in partnership with athletes and teams when they're anchored in the District and build community ties here. Big thanks to Kyle, his mom Karri, and the whole team for making a great event to help spread some cheer!
17th Annual Brickies Recap
If you can believe it, the Brickies were only a little over a week ago! We had a great evening gathering at the Atlas Performing Arts Center with our Ward 6 community to celebrate this year's awardees and enjoy great food and drinks from stellar local businesses. Every year, the Brickie Awards reminds me how lucky I am to represent a community that cares so much about one another, where people go out of their way to help neighbors, and where everyone pitches in to make their neighborhood a great place to live. You can read a recap of last week’s awards from the HillRag, and congratulations again to our awardees: Tommy Wells, Old City Market & Oven, Capitol Hill Little League, Hill Family Biking, and MPD's First District Community Outreach Team! Every year this evening is a wonderful boost in just how special our community is.
Stay Tuned: An Effort to Uplift the H Street Corridor Coming in 2024
Last week, we were hit with the sad news that a longtime H Street NE restaurant, The Pursuit, will close its doors this month. As a neighbor on H Street, there is no denying a closure of a local business hurts, and even as we've welcomed some fantastic new businesses recently, I believe it's clear we need to see a concentrated and strategic effort to change the narrative on H Street NE and address the very real challenges we face, even as we tell a more complete story about all the corridor has to offer. Over the last two months, I’ve been working closely with a group of neighborhood leaders and multiple H Street business owners on strategies for addressing some of these challenges to help revitalize H Street. We'll be announcing details in January, and it's time to let folks know about our planning and open up the process to get more folks involved. If you live around H Street NE and want to work with me to make our neighborhood stronger, safer, and more vibrant, please respond to this email and let me know - I'll get you connected into these efforts! I’m excited to bring in more neighbors who are dedicated to this beloved part of Ward 6. More to come in early January with the launch of our vision and a plan for 2024!
PLUS: I'm excited to share that I've asked DC's restaurant association (RAMW) and they have enthusiastically agreed to kick off their upcoming Restaurant Week on H Street NE specifically. Go ahead now and make a plan to support your favorite restaurant around Ward 6 during January 15-21, but especially along H Street NE where we want to focus support. More details coming soon!
PLUS, again: New laws will take effect related to cannabis businesses in late January. More on that below. And I've organized a briefing next week for our ANC Commissioners with leaders from ABCA and the Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection (DLCP) to review details of the process and the changes coming. If you're interested in this coming change, please check out the section below and let me know if you have any questions.
Action on Dangerous Driving Coming Early January with a Full Council Vote
Right before the Brickies last week, the Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment - which I chair - held a vote to advance my Strengthening Traffic Enforcement, Education, and Responsibility Act of 2023 (“STEER Act”), legislation to curb traffic violence on DC streets and hold dangerous drivers accountable. Check out my thread from the day of the vote for a refresher on how the STEER Act will crack down on dangerous driving (and see the graphic). The next steps are two votes before the full Council, with the first one coming in early January. I'm excited to see this become law soon and will keep you updated on its progress as the bill moves forward. Thanks to so many residents and community partners who advocated for safer streets - this bill's going to make a big difference because of your support!
School Boundaries Are Getting Redrawn
Thank you to everyone (200+!) who joined me for my virtual Ward 6 School Boundaries Community Forum last week, especially to my co-hosts State Board of Education Members Best and Thompson and Deputy Mayor for Education Kihn! It was very helpful for me to hear the thoughts and concerns of our school communities, and I’m grateful that the DME was there to answer your questions, as well. However, I was left frustrated that many of our school communities and neighbors haven't had meaningful engagement or outreach from the DME on their proposals, that so many of the proposals lack data or evidence to help us all evaluate whether the ideas are good, bad, or otherwise, and that despite some potential major changes being proposed, they lacked details or logistics on how it would work for school communities, with too many answers being "we'll have to figure that out later".
Since the School Boundary Process is entirely an Executive function (there's no proposal put to the State Board of Education or DC Council for a vote), I want to keep finding ways for us to amplify our voices, questions, and concerns together. So I’m following up not just to thank you for joining the call, but also to share a few resources that we talked about as follow-up. As always, please feel free to reach out, particularly if you couldn't join us.
If you weren’t able to make it, you can watch the full forum here.
My School DC Lottery
Speaking of schools, the My School DC lottery applications opened earlier this week on December 11. If you’re new to DC or hoping to transfer to another DCPS or public charter school for next year, make sure to submit your application by February 1 for grades 9-12 and March 1 for PK3-grade 8. Learn more about the My School DC lottery application process.
WMATA Releases Worst Case Scenario Budget
On Tuesday, we learned the details of WMATA’s proposed budget for next year, and as we’ve been warned, it’s not pretty. Drastic service cuts, increased fares, the entire rail system closing at 10pm, and more. It’s the “transit death spiral” Metro and regional officials have been sounding the alarm on since the news of WMATA’s $750 million funding gap came out earlier this year. While this proposal is very concerning, I also want to emphasize that it’s the worst-case scenario, where DC, Maryland, and Virginia do nothing to work towards closing the funding gap. I’ve been involved in many, many conversations among regional leaders, and I’m confident that this budget isn't the reality we’re facing in the spring when WMATA’s board votes on next year's budget. That transit system under that budget isn't one we can run our city on - it would fail workers, seniors, students, businesses, and all riders. In my position as the Chair of the Council’s Transportation Committee, I will ensure that when the Council gets to work on our budget next spring, the District fully funds its share for WMATA - and I remain hopeful that our partners in Maryland and Virginia share the same commitment. You can see my full statement from earlier this week here, and I’ll continue to share updates in each newsletter.
Related: 24/7 Bus Service Starts Sunday
There is some good WMATA news this week! Overnight bus service, which I championed in the budget last year, is starting this weekend! Beginning Sunday, from 9pm to 7am, Metrobus will operate every 20 minutes or better on 14 routes: the A6, A8, B2, H4, S2, V2, W4, X2, 32, 33, 52, 70, 80, 92. This is a HUGE win for all riders, especially our late night workers. I'm working to have more good news about expanded service like this and less about the risks of service cuts to ensure we have a public transit system we can rely on.
Changes Coming Next Month on the Proliferation of Cannabis Shops
Big changes are coming to the District's cannabis businesses, especially along the H Street, Barracks Row, and Pennsylvania Avenue corridors. The so-called "I-71 compliant" (e.g. illegal) cannabis shops are popping up everywhere, and it's caused a host of challenges. But in the coming weeks, we're going to see the beginnings of a new legal pathway to bring the shops into compliance (more on that below) and treat them as fully-regulated medical dispensaries. This has a lot of upsides, but two points specifically: it regulates the quality of the product, which is good for consumer protection and for public safety, and it means that, with enforcement by the Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection and the Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Administration, we'll see an end to the over-proliferation of these shops, as under the new law, there can't be two shops within 400 feet of each other (or within 300 feet of a preschool, primary or secondary school, or recreation center).
That means the city will begin to take action against all other shops that didn't go through the medical program application process to close them down. At least that’s the hope – we'll see how this plays out as some shops start to get licensed. In one example, recently New Leaf (416 H St NE) went before ANC 6C to get approval, the same way any other restaurant or bar would. This gave the commission representing neighbors the same opportunity to reach an agreement on details like operating hours, outdoor vs. indoor, line queueing and more – which helps ensure businesses fit the needs and expectations of the neighborhood. I'm watching this issue closely and will be pressing the Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection to ensure they’re doing their part to enforce the rules for businesses that aren’t licensed. I've been working on this issue for years, as these shops are simply illegal, and as operated now, can present serious public safety concerns and quality of life issues.
For some big picture context, we’re in this mess because after Initiative 71 passed legalizing the possession of small quantities of cannabis in the District, Maryland Congressman Andy Harris put a congressional rider in the budget that blocked the District’s ability to tax and regulate it the way many, many states are doing now (including Maryland). This left us in the so-called "gray area" we find ourselves in now. This untenable situation - and complete lack of enforcement by MPD and DLCP - required the Council to break the impasse with new legislation to create a medical on-ramp, which is what's finally starting to go into effect now. Medical cannabis is highly regulated like alcohol, and that's what we should want to see to balance the interests at play and reflect the community's needs for safety, medical care, and improved quality of life.
While I wouldn’t quite call it “snow season” yet, we did get a light dusting earlier this week, and the Capital Weather Gang is predicting the heaviest snow we’ve seen in five years. Make sure you’re prepared for snow season! Check out this flier from DPW on all things snow-related you need to know this winter.
For the time being, the Wizards are still in DC, so I've still got tickets for constituents! If you're a Ward 6er who'd like a pair of tickets to attend the Wizards game against the Brooklyn Nets on December 29 at 7pm, reply to this email, and I'll randomly choose a winner.
For the last time this year, thank you again for reading and interacting with me through this newsletter. I hope you find it helpful and informative. As mentioned before, I'll be sending out some brief reflections on the year later in the month, and you can always find timely Ward 6 and Council updates on all my social channels. We've accomplished so much together in 2023, and I hope everyone continues to have a fun and safe holiday season!
See you around the neighborhood,