Happy New Year to you -- this is my first newsletter for 2024, and there's plenty to cover below.
Hopefully the MLK holiday provided you with a chance to reflect on Dr. King's life and work and even volunteer a bit -- I enjoyed joining neighbors and leaders in Southwest to celebrate and recommit to Dr. King's legacy. And I hope everyone has also enjoyed our first real snow in two years. Don't forget to shovel your sidewalks, and if you're able, help out your neighbors who can't get to their own sidewalks. We're expecting temperatures to drop into the teens tonight with a hard refreeze, so please take care in the morning. Two things to keep handy - (1) DC's 24/7 Hypothermia Shelter Hotline: 202-399-7093, and (2) DC's Live Snow Team Tracker or treated roadways: click here.
This newsletter has a lot of ground to cover (including a Wizards tickets raffle at the bottom), so I'm going to get right into it.
Quick Links: Remembering Chris Laskowski | Public Safety | DFS Accreditation | STEER Act Passage | Cracking Down on Illegal Cannabis Shops | Winter Restaurant Week | H Street Office Hours | Agency Performance Oversight | Solutions Spotlight | Hill Family Biking | E-Bike Program Website | OAG Violence Prevention Grants | DPW Tree Collection | Traffic Calming in Ward 6 | Free Anacostia Boat Tours | Free National Building Museum "Building Stories" Community Day | NE Boundary Tunnel | Wizards Tix Raffle
Remembering Chris Laskowski
I first need to take a moment to share some hard news. Unfortunately, last weekend, our dear friend, long-time colleague, and Ward 6 neighbor, Chris Laskowski, passed away unexpectedly. Our team was among the hundreds who attended his funeral on Sunday afternoon. While we were all still in shock and grief from his sudden loss, the outpouring of love and stories about who Chris was and how he helped so many people was truly comforting for our office and his family. More than anything, we wanted Chris's family to see and feel just how big an impact he had in so many different areas during his career in public service.
Chris joined me in 2017 as Legislative Director and transitioned to Director of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment this Council session. He was brilliant, encyclopedic, kind, witty, and passionate about public service - and especially transit and climate issues. He inspired us with his ideas, his work, and love of his family. Many Ward 6 neighbors and ANC leaders knew Chris personally from his work in the community and his family's active involvement. We're heartbroken, and our thoughts are with his family. I want to thank everyone who has reached out to offer their condolences and support, including to the Maury community who immediately jumped in with meals and other supports for the family. Chris was truly special and one-of-a-kind, and I hope we find many more ways to celebrate his life and impact on the District in the coming months and years ahead.
Public Safety Update
On Wednesday, the Council's Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety will hold a vote on an omnibus bill incorporating many bills before the Council addressing crime (good summary from DCist here). There's a lot in it, and I expect to vote in support. It pulls from 11 different introduced bills and covers a wide range of areas, some of which I'll touch on below. I shared with you earlier this fall as the Council debated these bills that my measure of what should be included would be first and foremost: will it be effective in reducing the crime and trends we've experienced this last year? I also shared with you the other questions I'd ask are whether the proposal closes gaps in our existing law, will it be applied in a way that is equitable and fair, and will it mandate a whole of government approach to solving crime that brings desperately needed urgency and coordination? On balance, the answer for this proposal is yes. I've still heard some concerns with the draft language that was shared, and as is normal, bills change as we move through the process, including after the committee vote. I'll note specifically that I'm concerned about the proposed rollback on transparency and accountability for police misconduct against the public and will continue working on those provisions. I know Councilmember Pinto and her team have put a lot of work into this and are taking a collaborative approach even now. She has already incorporated several asks of mine into the bill she's planning to advance. I want to highlight four elements in particular:
Strengthening and clarifying the carjacking laws following the Court of Appeals' earlier decision to that led to several carjacking prosecutions not moving forward. This change was something I wanted to see so that our laws and prosecution can hold people accountable for this type of violence.
Making my requirement for government "shooting reviews" permanent: This provision mandates that the DC government conduct shooting reviews of every shooting that happens in our city. This is a proven tool that is being used in other cities where gun violence is actually decreasing - bringing all of government together, including trusted community partners, to focus on the details of each shot fired and then having a coordinated response to follow. It's the type of focused deterrence proven to work, and DC desperately needs it. For example, Denver is setting a new standard for lowering gun crimes by focusing on non-lethal shootings with the same resources as fatal or near-fatal ones. Shooting reviews are an important step in that same direction, and it's what many cities that have lowered gun violence have put in place.
Adding many of the increased gun use penalties that had been included in the previous criminal code revision blocked from becoming law by Congress.
Expanding my successful private security camera rebate program to now include interior cameras and other safety tools for our local businesses that suffered a rash of burglaries last year. This can be a great program to help them afford to make these types of security investments and prevent some of the crimes we saw last year.
New legislation is important and has a role to play in improving public safety, but I want to emphasize so much of where reductions in gun violence are going to really come from lies in how our federal prosecutors, our local police, our local violence interruption professionals, our federal and local corrections partners, and our local reentry efforts work together. There's a confusing mix of local and federal control at each stage that's going to require strong coordination to ensure success. We still have lower case closure rates and lower prosecution rates than our peer cities. If you want to talk about how to change behavior fast, we need swift and certain consequences when someone breaks the law. So, to the extent this law can help improve case closures and give the federal USAO the tools to pursue more convictions, I'm going to be supportive. And even within that process, I think we want to be careful that the District doesn't put in place laws that allow for an increase in disparate sentencings that undermine belief in the fairness of our system, which makes us less safe.
Upcoming Ward 6 MPD/ANC Safety Walks
- January 18: 9th and F Street, NE starting at 5:30 pm. This walk is with ANC 6A03 Commissioner Shapiro.
- January 25: 99 H Street, NW starting at 5 pm. This walk is with ANC 6E07 Commissioner Carson.
- January 30: 2nd and Canal Streets, SW starting at 5:30 pm. This walk is with ANC 6D07 Commissioner Kramer.
Ward 6 Public Safety Updates
Laboratory Processing Crime Scene Evidence Regains Partial Accreditation
An important development for public safety quietly happened around the new year as the District's Department of Forensic Sciences regained partial accreditation to begin processing evidence once again. When I served as the Council's Chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, the lab's loss of accreditation was one of the most serious issues we had to deal with. I led the Council to pass a significant overhaul of the agency's governance to ensure we wouldn't find ourselves in the situation again where whistleblowing was covered up and that science - not politics - would be most important (which, in part, led to the lab's lost accreditation). While the lab still isn't clear to process firearm evidence from shell casings and ballistics, this is still a welcome development and should help improve investigations and prosecutions moving forward. DCist has a good write-up on what this means.
Last Tuesday, the Council took its first vote on my STEER Act legislation to crack down on dangerous drivers and strengthen enforcement. There are many elements in the bill that I think will help close gaps in both the law and implementation fast. Here are three points you should know about:
- Holding Dangerous Drivers Accountable: Most people are familiar with the idea of getting points on your license for driving violations. These are points issued by law enforcement during traffic stops. They don't apply to traffic cameras. In the bill, I propose creating a point system for traffic cameras based on the vehicle that centers around points accumulated in a six-month window for repeat, dangerous driving that would include speeding, running red lights, and ignoring stop signs. If a vehicle accumulates too many points in a six-month window, it becomes eligible for booting and towing immediately. This can apply to all vehicles, regardless of state of registration.
- Granting DC's Attorney General Authority to Pursue Civil Actions Against Vehicles: Similarly, the bill creates new authority for DC's Attorney General to pursue civil injunctions against vehicles themselves and drivers who have a demonstrated history of dangerous driving and outstanding fines (in some cases, tens of thousands of dollars). Regardless of state of residence, this would be a way to force drivers to pay their outstanding fines and could include seizure of the vehicle responsible for so much dangerous activity.
- Strengthens Court-DMV Accountability for DWI and DUI Convictions: In my oversight of how our federal courts and our local DMV communicate, we found a number of drivers hadn't faced consequences after a conviction or arrest for DWI or a DUI incident. That's unacceptable, and the STEER Act strengthens the requirements for each agency to ensure drivers take responsibility -- be it a suspended license or the installation of a breathalyzer device in their car.
Learn more about the bill by reading the press release or the longer committee report which lays out the context and reasoning behind it. News coverage from WUSA9 and WTOP here. A second and final vote is expected in early February.
Last week, the Council also unanimously approved an emergency bill I wrote to ramp up enforcement against illegal, so-called "I-71" or "gifting" shops. My bill will ensure the Alcohol, Beverage, and Cannabis Administration, or "ABCA" (formally ABRA), can regulate both legal and illegal shops moving forward the same way they do for businesses selling alcohol. They've got a strong track record of enforcement and have signaled they're able to take this on.
There's a lot of confusion about these shops, which is understandable. In short, in 2014, voters approved ballot Initiative 71, which approved the transfer of small amounts of recreational cannabis for personal use. However, the next year, US Representative Andy Harris (from Maryland) added a budget rider to the federal budget that blocked the District's ability to regulate and tax the sale of recreational cannabis, leaving us in this limbo where most possession was decriminalized and small amounts could be given - unless money changed hands. In the ensuing years, the District established a robust medical cannabis program and took a more hands off approach with so-called recreational gifting shops, which often have a legitimate business license with the city to sell t-shirts or knick-knacks that come with a free "gift" of cannabis.
This "gray area" has a led to a lot of frustrating and serious safety concerns for neighborhoods and consumers because there's literally no regulation of these shops and their product. I had been pushing for years to see improved conditions, and finally last year, the Council created an onramp for gifting shops into our highly-regulated medical program. The application window opened in November 2023 and will end on January 31, after which time I expect to see stronger enforcement against shops who are in violation of the law because of my emergency bill. As we went through this process, it became clear no District agency had clear authority to enforce the law against businesses who won't be licensed to sell medical cannabis. My bill fixes that immediately while a permanent version of the bill will go through a longer legislative process to consider all of the aspects of enforcement we would want to enshrine in law. Thank you to the many Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners who shared insights learned from reviewing these initial applications with my office.
Last Thursday, I was proud to join Shawn Townsend, President & CEO of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, to kick off their Winter Restaurant Week right here on H Street NE for the entire region. This was an effort I worked on with RAMW as a way to highlight H Street's many fantastic restaurants. Restaurant week is an easy and fun way to support our local businesses during a slow period, and it also offers the opportunity to check out a new place or revisit a spot you've been meaning to. I've been thrilled with the response from H Street NE businesses -- 15 are participating along the corridor, and several for the first time. So hopefully the weather and your schedule permit a special dinner out. No matter what part of Ward 6 you live in, there's a good spot offering a deal this week. You can sort through all of the participating restaurants by neighborhood right here on RAMW's website. Big thanks to Stable on H Street for hosting the kick-off. You can read more in the Hill Rag.
Related: As you make your plans for Restaurant Week, carve out time next Friday, January 19, to start your weekend with me for community office hours on H Street NE at The Pug. I'll be there with my team from 4:30 to 6 pm. Perfect timing to chat with me about any issues on your mind before heading out to dinner.
Performance oversight season is coming up soon at the Council. This is when we hold hearings to review each agency's operations over the past year. I want to hear feedback about your experiences with District agencies to help inform questions I ask in these hearings - what's working, and where you think improvements are needed?
Take one minute and complete this form to submit questions or desired topics you'd like addressed. Be sure to specify which agency you’re referencing. Additionally, the public is welcome to testify or submit written testimony at performance oversight hearings. You can find instructions on testifying for each committee here.
I have fantastic constituent services staff in my office, and they handle more than 150 cases every month, ranging from tax to trash, social services benefits to business licenses. I wanted to share just one case that came to us recently and thank Jeanne on my team for her quick work. A long-time Ward 6er reached out on behalf of her elderly father, who wasn’t able to get his health insurance renewed with the Department of Human Services after many forms submitted, phone calls, and in-person appointments. He was having complications from a recent ER visit but couldn’t return to the doctor without insurance. Jeanne immediately reached out to the fantastic Health Care Ombuds at the Department of Health Care Finance and, within a few hours, the resident’s father was insured again. Not all cases are so easy, but if you need help, a reminder to reach out to my constituent services staff by calling our main line at (202) 724-8072 and letting us know which quadrant in Ward 6 you live in: Jeanne for SW/NW, Jen for NE, and Kimberly for SE.
A message from our friends at Hill Family Biking about their first ride of the year coming up this weekend:
On January 20th at 10:30am, Hill Family Biking is teaming up with the DC Public Library for a ride to the stunning, new SW Library for a special story time and a librarian-guided tour of the facility. We'll start at Eastern Market Metro and weave our way down 3.7 miles of some of the most bikeable streets in the District to SW Library. We'll have a scheduled exit from SW Library for anyone who wants to ride back to Eastern Market as a group. We’ll have volunteers marshaling to ensure we stay together as a group. MPD's bike team will also be participating in the ride to connect officers with the community.
Exciting news for those of you who've been eagerly waiting for news of the District’s Electric Bicycle Incentive Program created by my legislation that the Council passed last fall: the District Department of Transportation has set up a website! Visit ddot.dc.gov/ebikes for information about the upcoming program, which is expected to start accepting applications this spring. You can also find helpful e-bike resources and program FAQs. Residents can also email [email protected] to be notified directly when applications are open.
The Office of the Attorney General recently opened applications for a new series of public safety grants. The “Leaders of Tomorrow Youth Violence Prevention Grant Program” is meant to foster positive development among District youth. The grants will provide up to $250,000 to local non-profits dedicated to an evidence-based, preventive approach to crime reduction. Eligible categories include:
- Academic Achievement & Workforce Readiness
- Youth & Family Support
- Trauma-Informed Services
- Conflict & Dispute Resolution
- Meaningful Engagement
- Mental Health & Wellbeing
The deadline for organizations to apply is Friday, February 2, 2024. See the full notice of funding availability here.
For all but the most hardcore holiday fans, it's time to take those ornaments and lights off those trees if you haven't already and properly dispose of your holiday greenery. Here's information from DPW on tree and greenery collection and disposal:
The DC Department of Public Works (DPW) will collect holiday trees and greenery January 3 through March 2 from DPW-serviced households, which includes single-family homes and apartment dwellings with three or fewer units. Here's what you need to know about this year’s holiday tree and greenery collection:
- Trees and greenery collected during this time will be composted in support of Mayor Bowser’s Zero Waste initiative.
- Holiday trees and greenery will be collected within 5 days of set out.
- Holiday trees and greenery will be collected from the front of the residence at the curb. For missed collections, residents can call 311 and make a “Christmas Tree Removal - Seasonal” service request from January 3, 2024 – March 2, 2024.
- All residents can also drop-off holiday trees and greenery at three locations:
Monday through Friday, 8 AM – 4 PM:
- 201 Bryant St. NW (Roll off box)
- Guy Mason Recreation Center (3600 Calvert St NW)
- 2700 South Capital St., SE (Roll off Box)
We've heard from DDOT that there will be progress early this year on Ward 6 locations for the Vision Zero "Hardening Program," where DDOT selects locations where it has previously installed temporary tactical safety infrastructure, such as plastic bollards, that are now being converted or “hardened” into permanent safety infrastructure. Below is a list of locations in the Ward and the estimated timeline for completed "hardening":
- 11th and East Capitol done by March
- 15th and Kentucky SE (including down to 15th and G and Potomac) by June
- 13th and Kentucky (and Independence) SE by September
- 13th and Constitution (and Tennessee) NE by September
I'm looking forward to seeing these projects completed and making these spots in Ward 6 safer for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists.
Are you interested in learning more about the Anacostia River on a free boat tour? Our friends at the Anacostia Riverkeeper are offering Anacostia River Explorers boat tours for the 2024 season. They consider applications on a rolling basis and are prioritizing school and youth-focused groups. Please allow 2-4 weeks for a response. If you want to book a free educational boat tour, please fill out this form to submit your availability.
Come on down to the National Building Museum this Sunday, January 21, from 10-4 for the Grand Opening Celebration for NBM's new Building Stories exhibition. Building Stories brings kids and adults alike on an immersive exploration of the world of architecture, engineering, construction, and design found in the pages of children’s books. There'll be live music, puppet shows, giveaways, and celebrity story times -- including with yours truly! Register here for this free event.
With a major rainstorm early on, we were able to see the benefits of the newly-completed Northeast Boundary Tunnels to divert rain and runoff from our streets safely and keep it out of the Anacostia River. This is an excellent example of what we'll need to do to mitigate the damage of climate change as our storms are going to get wetter and more intense. Read more in DCist.
Lastly, please reply to this email if you'd like to enter into a raffle for two tickets in the DC Council suite at CapitalOne Arena for the Wizards v. Minnesota Timberwolves game on Wednesday, January 24, at 7pm.
Thanks for reading, and stay warm, everyone!