Happy May! It feels like spring has finally sprung in Ward 6, and I've been lucky to make it to some great outdoor neighborhood events in the last few weeks like rebuilding the beds in the Hopkins Community Garden, biking to school with Ward 6 students, celebrating the winners of a chess tournament in Eastern Market Metro Park, and more.
At the Council, things are getting busy. Last week, the Council passed my emergency bill to strengthen protections from exorbitant delivery fees that are impacting our local restaurants, drivers, and customers, and I also introduced a permanent bill to support the recovery of our local businesses and help address a number of challenges they've shared with me. We also had a thirteen-hour budget work session ahead of next week's first vote, and that was only through Wednesday! Plenty more details and updates below, so let's get to it.
Quick Links: Gas to Electric | Public Safety | Restaurant Help | Thank a Teacher | Ward 6 Budget | Metro For DC | Better Bus Proposal Released | DDOT Parking | School Boundaries | Youth Smoking | Penn Ave SE | Bike to Work Day | Spray Parks | Unity Walk & Music | Anacostia River Festival | Truck Touch | Kingman Fishing
More and more DC residents want to go electric at home. Let's make it easy and affordable to do so.
On Monday evening, I joined residents in River Terrace and Deanwood in Ward 7 to talk about replacing old fossil fuel burning appliances with cleaner and more efficient electric ones. And no, we're not looking to take away anyone's gas stove out of their kitchen. But we do want to help people make the jump to electric to improve their health outcomes, improve indoor air quality, and transition away from fossil fuels. The time is now.
Residents in River Terrace and Deanwood have a long history of fighting environmental injustice, and the Washington Interfaith Network and Sierra Club DC have been supporting them with their organizing. The event was ahead of the public hearing for my bill, the Healthy Homes and Residential Electrification Amendment Act of 2023, which will leverage both federal and local dollars to make it affordable and realistic for households to transition to electric appliances, including home heating, water heaters, and stoves. I’ve also included funding for a pilot program to help River Terrace and Deanwood neighbors make the switch in the upcoming budget, starting in October. Check out coverage from NBC 4 and CBS 9.
The hearing on Tuesday went all day, as we heard from more than 80 public witnesses who testified in support of the bill. Electrification is a matter of racial, economic, environmental, and health justice. The percent of household income spent on energy costs to run homes on fossil fuels is nearly three times higher for low- and moderate-income residents, compared to wealthier households. And most programs to support household electrification come in the form of tax credits that require first fronting the costs, then waiting a year to see the tax benefit. This isn't something many lower-income households can afford to do. The legislation will also reduce health disparities in the District, as homes with gas stoves have been shown to have higher asthma rates. Read my tweet thread for more about why this legislation is so important.
Public Safety Update
On Wednesday morning, I joined nearly every leader from across the city, as well as many of the key agency heads for our public safety agencies for a public safety summit. It was a wide-ranging conversation touching on all aspects of public safety and dealing with the high-level challenges (the future of the District's Department of Forensic Sciences) and more granular peaks into ongoing investigations in specific neighborhoods. While we may all push and pull on each other on what steps to take, the gathering was a good reminder that public safety is a top priority for everyone and we are all focused.
Last week, MPD arrested a suspect they think is responsible for several armed robbery and carjacking offenses throughout the District, including two in Ward 6: one on H Street NE and another on 2nd Street NE. This tracks with the pattern we're seeing of many offenses being driven by just a small number of people. Similarly, on April 24, MPD announced the arrest of two 15-year-olds for their suspected role in a series of incidents across the city, including in Ward 6.
I want to remind anyone who owns a Hyundai or Kia from 2011-2021, there is a flaw in the key system that is leading a national surge in thefts of these models. MPD can give you an old-fashioned wheel-lock, which helps deter thieves. More here.
Connecting with H Street Businesses: On Thursday I walked along part of H Street NE to connect with business owners and managers on public safety challenges along the corridor. There's been a spate of overnight break-ins that have frustrated everyone. A few of our local ANC representatives, MPD officers, and H Street Main Street joined me for some productive conversations. One easy step any business can take is using the District's Private Security Camera System Incentive Program. This is one of the early programs I pushed to create in legislation that offsets a lot of the cost of a camera while facilitating access to it with MPD in the event of a crime. Rebates are available to both residents and businesses in DC and have helped MPD close many cases over the years.
Increased Outreach and Presence at Eastern Market Metro Park: Last week, there was a shooting at 6th and South Carolina SE in the early evening hours. I've spoken with MPD leaders, witnesses (including ensuring they were connected with MPD), and neighbors about this unacceptable incident. I also visited the block that afternoon. MPD has video evidence that their detectives are using, and it’s an active investigation.
We don't fully know what led to the shooting, but given our efforts to ensure Eastern Market Metro Park is a welcoming and safe community hub for everyone, I want to share where I've been leading to get better presence and engagement in the park's maintenance and activation.
Earlier this year, I shared that I had been pushing DC's Department of Behavioral Health to do more outreach in Eastern Market Metro Park to engage with, and deter, any substance abuse challenges. I know we aren't where we want to be yet in terms of creating an environment welcoming to all and free of drug use, so I've asked for yet another update on the outreach. The Director told me DBH teams are engaging every Tuesday and Thursday, now wearing clearly marked vests. This is in addition to my asks (so far denied) to make the park a Safe Passage site during school arrival and dismissal, and successful efforts to program the park with live music and other events. In the budget the Council is considering right now, I've also identified funding for a special grant starting in October for dedicated behavioral health outreach at the park.
Improving the Office of Unified Communications' 911 Operations: I also want to share that I've been pressing the Office of Unified Communications (OUC) to immediately improve its operations, following several instances where Ward 6 residents' calls to 911 went unanswered or were on hold for far too long. Earlier this week, the Council's Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety advanced a new nominee to run the agency. Based on my experience as the former Chair of the Committee, I have serious concerns with OUC's 911 operations. You might recall that I forced a change in leadership for the agency and used our oversight hearings to focus on specific improvements in management and operations they need. Those concerns were detailed and confirmed in two different reports from the Council's Auditor examining the agency's operations -- first from 2022, and then updated in March of this year.
I know the agency is trying to hire more call takers and dispatchers to drive down its high vacancy rate and wait times, and I like what I've heard from the incoming director about rebuilding the agency's culture and quality assurance processes, which also means improving morale and creating career paths for young people interested in emergency response. I've also asked the new director to share real-time data with the Council's Judiciary Committee to keep us apprised of call taking and dispatch times and how they compare to national standards. A foundational part of our emergency response system is that when someone needs help, they can call 911 and get assistance immediately. That's our north star here, and anything less is unacceptable.
Ward 6 Public Safety Updates
Arrest made in Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle at 14th and H St, NE
Arrest made in armed carjacking on 700 7th St., SE and 1110 8th St., SE (among other offenses)
Arrest made in 2021 voyeurism incident at 200 5th St., SE
Supporting Our Small Businesses and Restaurants
While it certainly feels like DC has bounced back (and in many ways we have!), our small businesses are still recovering from the pandemic. In some cases, that's from debt they took on to keep the doors open and their staff employed. In other cases, it's because the post-pandemic restaurant scene is changing, and they're scrambling to keep up.
In the past two weeks, I've introduced the legislation I mentioned in my opening comments above. First, I introduced the Helping Small Businesses Recover and Thrive Amendment Act of 2023 this week to support our small businesses and restaurants. Read more in DCist. The bill includes a number of provisions directly from our Ward 6 restaurants to make it a little easier to do business in DC. When you shop local and support local, you're reinvesting back into the community you call home. We need more of our policies and government to do the same and that's what this legislation is trying to do.
Second, last Tuesday, the Council unanimously passed my emergency legislation to protect restaurants that use delivery service apps like DoorDash or Uber Eats. DCist also covered the emergency bill. In essence, this was about protecting our small restaurants in a monopolistic delivery market dominated by just a few big tech companies. Why now? Because the Council sunsetted a hard 15% cap on delivery service commission fees late last year, and these apps quickly started pushing restaurants to sign on to higher and higher fees. The fees come out of the restaurant's cut, not your bill (although I'm sure you're feeling the trickle-down effects). My emergency bill creates guardrails to ensure restaurants paying for the apps' basic service packages still show up in searches (the apps could hide them before unless they paid more), don't have their delivery radiuses reduced, and get some simple contract transparency on what these higher-fee plans even offer.
Our work isn't done yet, though - because this is an emergency bill, it can go into effect now, but only for 90 days. The Council's Committee on Business and Economic Development will be holding a hearing on restaurant issues later this month and I'll work with my colleagues to advance these and other measures forward.
Say Thank You to a Teacher!
Happy National Teacher Appreciation Week to all our dedicated educators! Last week, I got to visit with some fourth graders at Watkins Elementary and hear firsthand about what's on their minds (and also field some young constituents' concerns about unpainted speed bumps and precariously leaning trees!). The students blew me away; they asked questions about statehood, gun violence, climate change, police accountability, the death penalty, whether you can sue the President, and even gas prices! As a school parent myself, I know that my children's teachers are preparing them to take on the world's challenges, and Ward 6 is so lucky to have such brilliant educators and support staff. For my part, I'll keep fighting for better-funded schools, work-life balance to help more teachers stay in the profession, and modernized classrooms ready to meet the needs of a 21st century education. I believe this is the first National Teacher Appreciation Week in several years where the Washington Teachers Union is working under an active contract -- even though we need to see a new one shortly. Thanks for everything you do, day in and day out, educators!
Ward 6 Budget Update
As I mentioned up top, the Council is in the midst of putting the final touches on the budget -- between this week and next, a lot of the decisions will be made. We've completed the committee work, and now the full Council is debating the various proposals ahead of the first vote next Tuesday. I'll have a more comprehensive breakdown of everything in the budget after first vote. But here's a quick rundown of a few items I'm especially excited to see funded:
- Fully funding the renovation of Rumsey Aquatic Center, including another $10M to add a second floor for dedicated space for seniors and additional space on the ground floor to support Eastern Market vendors, DC makers, and small businesses. All of this is in addition to a full modernization of the pool itself -- which is so badly needed. I pushed for this extra funding because it would be a missed opportunity to not have the facility we need while we're already making a significant investment in the renovation.
- School modernizations advance: Brent, Tyler, Amidon-Bowen, JO Wilson, and Ludlow-Taylor renovations are all funded and advancing.
- A full modernization of Randall Rec Center is coming. The budget includes $17M to completely overhaul the Randall Rec Center campus.
- Live music and more at Eastern Market Metro Park continues.
- Penn and Potomac Avenue Circle Safety Re-Design is funded and moved up. After several years of asking DDOT to put this project in the pipeline, construction will begin next year to make this chaotic intersection a lot safer and more welcoming.
- Plenty more to announce!
Metro for DC, Fare-Free Buses Delayed, and What Comes Next
If you've followed my "Metro for DC" proposal since I first introduced the bill just one week before everything shut down in March 2020, you know it's been, well, a ride -- and one we're still on in the quest to boldly transform the role public transit plays in our daily lives. So let me catch you up.
My Metro for DC proposal has always been about improving service *and* making it either free or very affordable. We need buses and trains that run on time, run frequently, and move faster - and with fares that don't break the bank. I've seen plenty of arguments that this means some sort of trade-off between better service and affordable service. It's doesn't. We have to - and can - do both.
This debate comes, in part, because last month, the Council's Committee on Transportation and the Environment - which I chair - proposed using funding identified by pausing a proposed "K Street Transitway" project downtown to cover the bulk of the costs for fare-free buses for all DC WMATA bus trips, plus 12 overnight bus lines. The Committee paused the K Street project because while it's a major project we need to do - it's crucial that we do it right. K Street downtown doesn't work well today, and it needs to get the design right. Unfortunately, the current DDOT proposal can't be called a transitway any longer. They're proposal is for a freeway with seven lanes dedicated to single use vehicles. Yes, I want to see bus priority lanes in any design that advances, and I want to see them soon. But we also need to see greater emphasis truly on making it multi-model and fostering a strong street life. I want to see a design that makes sense for 2050, not 1950. We have to get this right because we'll live the consequences of this decision for decades to come. I've recommended maintaining the planning and design funding in the budget so that DDOT can keep working with stakeholders to get this project to a well designed plan for our city's future, not our past, and look forward to getting this to the place it needs to be so we can move forward.
In fact, there are at least 41 projects for improved streetscapes or street safety funded in the budget right now that the Council is moving forward because they're the right design. But this just isn't one of them.
Back to fare free buses, WMATA has now asked the Council for a one-year delay of the proposal to make all Metrobuses fare-free within the District, just days after the Committee identified about 80% of the required funding (with the rest to come from the Committee of the Whole). Now, this was especially frustrating because it was WMATA who came to me and Chairman Mendelson just last November and pitched us on the idea of making buses fare-free while also expanding to 12 overnight buses -- an idea we then incorporated into my Metro for DC bill the Council passed in December 2022. Fare-free buses was never in the original proposal because it seemed like a challenge to implement, but we were assured by WMATA it was actually very simple. But it's clear now WMATA didn't have their Maryland and Virginia board members sold on the idea, and for the moment, we can't advance without a willing partner in the WMATA Board -- even after the Council held up its end of the deal. And while WMATA has now expressed that it wants the bus lane components of a K Street project to advance, their interest is only in the bus lanes, while the Council has to care about the whole project and how it needs to be designed for the downtown of tomorrow, not yesterday.
The main reason I proposed a Metro for DC proposal that included a DC-funded, recurring SmarTrip balance for all DC residents - instead of fare-free buses - was because that model ensures a focus on service to earn riders' swipes while also paying for 92% of all riders' monthly expenses -- here's more on why the plan makes sense. That being said, I like fare-free buses, and I was excited when WMATA came to the Council with the alternative. It's a fast way to make a big, equitable investment in residents who need the help the most, and it'll also improve headways. Affordability definitely gets overlooked by transit advocates too often, but the vast majority of riders don't receive any kind of employer benefit.
So what now? In the medium-term, I'll continue to push Metro for DC forward. DC and the entire region need bold vision and a healthy, improved bus and rail network. In the short-term, I’ll focus on what the Council can control as we wrap up the budget. I've recommended to the Chairman (because the budget's now before him) that the Council put the bulk of the funding my Committee identified right back into transit and safety improvements, including improving bus service like the Metro for DC bill proposes, adding new overnight bus lines to connect residents, businesses, and workers with late night service, restoring all the Mayor's cuts to the Circulator program (I was able to restore one year of service to the Eastern Market - L'Enfant line in Committee), and fully funding our Vision Zero street safety legislation (funding for this was removed in the Mayor's proposed budget to balance the overall budget bottom line), and then putting the rest into our most pressing social safety net needs like emergency rental assistance and "Access to Justice" funding, which supports lawyers for those who need them in everything from eviction cases to domestic violence cases. These two programs saw devastating cuts in the Mayor's proposed budget, and they both prevent homelessness and save us from facing more serious issues and costs down the road.
Big ideas take time, and I'm confident we'll see Metro for DC - maybe including fare-free buses - become part of the District's economic and transit future.
Related: Red Line trains are now back to running every 6 minutes for the first time in a long, long time. And the Yellow Line has fully re-opened.
Get to Know WMATA's Better Bus Network Project
Fare-free buses and politics aside, WMATA is in the midst of a massive effort to redesign its bus route network for the first time in 50 years across the region that I fully support. Check out these fascinating tools designed to let residents engage -- whether you ride the bus often, a little, or never. Start here at the project overview, then play around in the trip simulator to see how it would impact your daily life. And if that all seems a little overwhelming, GGW has a thorough and accessible write-up here.
The photo to the right is a screenshot from the high-frequency routes map. You can find all of the "visionary" routes here and the 24/7 routes here. Remember, this is all in the draft stages, so it's helpful to provide feedback. I've already heard from several residents with questions or concerns about some of the proposed changes. I'm working to put together a Ward 6 Town Hall with WMATA to present the changes and get feedback. Stay tuned and we'll announced more on this soon.
DDOT Parking Permit Update
It hasn't been the smoothest transition, but the District's Department of Transportation (DDOT) has moved away from its old visitor parking pass system to a newer system that aims for more flexibility for residents while trying to minimize some of the abuse of the old system. They've just rolled out a change that many residents have been asking for: temporary paper passes that you can print out and stick in the windshield for a visiting car. The entire system, now part of ParkDC, does grant folks a lot more flexibility by registering vehicles within your account and drawing from a sizable bank of visitor parking hours to use throughout the year.
- Sign-up here: https://ddot.myparkinginfo.com/
- Specific details about the new temporary printed passes here: https://dcgov.app.box.com/v/singleprintFAQs
The Process to Redraw School Boundary Lines is Beginning
If you want to engage with the Office of the State Superintendent for Education and be involved in the process to update school boundaries with neighborhoods, join the upcoming virtual town halls to learn about the process to study and determine how school access happens. Info here.
Community Roundtable on Youth Smoking
The Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection is holding a series of roundtable conversations on a new DC law restricting tobacco and e-cigarette use, including among young people. I moved the law forward two years ago as Judiciary Committee Chair to ban flavored tobacco city-wide and limit the sale of e-smoking devices around young people. Learn more about the issue and what resources are available to communities who see violations of the law. The Ward 6 meeting is coming up on May 17 at 6 pm.
Penn Ave Streetscape and Parking
We're nearing the finish line for some significant upgrades to Pennsylvania Avenue, SE (officially the Pennsylvania Avenue SE Multimodal Corridor Project) with the installation of new bus lanes during rush hour, including beautiful new permanent bus loading stations and new bike lanes. The most significant change will be the trip times for our buses, which move thousands of people daily up and down the corridor. But they're not quite finished yet, and I've been hearing a lot of questions (and some frustration) about what DDOT has installed and how it does, or doesn't, impact travel lanes and curbside parking. I want to clear up some confusion around the project. When the bus lanes are officially open, they will be only for buses only during specific rush hour times and directions (westbound in the mornings from 7-9:30 am, eastbound in the evening from 4-6:30 pm). Outside of those hours, metered parking will be permitted once the project is completed. The bike lanes, signage, and finally traffic signal timing are still underway, but I've urged DDOT to move quickly so all road users understand the redesign. DDOT must communicate how this project will work and improve signage so that it's clear to everyone. The overall project is expected to be completed sometime in June and as we get more updates from DDOT, we'll work to share those with you.
Bike to School Day. Bike to Work Day.
Ward 6 has a very strong claim at having the largest and best Bike & Roll to School Day in the nation -- every year the number of kids and parents who meet up at Lincoln Park to ride as a group gets bigger and bigger. And as I've done have since taking office, it was my pleasure to serve as M.C. for the event to kick off the school day. Big, big thanks as always to Sandra Moscoso and Suzanne Wells for organizing and bringing together kids from across the Hill.
And if you've been out of school for a few years, don't fret that you missed your shot: 2023 Bike to Work Day is next Friday. With more infrastructure and more bikes (and e-bikes coming online - I funded a new e-bike rebate program in the budget coming this October!), this might be the year to finally try your commute out on two wheels. I'll be stopping by a few different Ward 6 spots including Eastern Market to say hello that morning -- if you see me, please say hi!
Spray Parks Opening Early!
Exciting news! The Department of Parks and Recreation has announced that select spray parks will open early for the summer starting on Monday, May 15th. You can beat the heat at Ward 6's Watkins Spray Park (420 12th St SE) every day from 12-4pm starting Monday. See here for the full list of spray parks opening early. The remaining parks will open on Saturday May 27th.
Related: Registration for DPR summer programming opens on Tuesday, May 16th for swimming programs, and Wednesday May 17th for everything else (at noon both days). More info and the full list of DPR programs here. Reduced rates for are available for qualifying DC residents - reduced rates application here. Residents must be approved for reduced rates by DPR before registering for programs.
Events Coming to a Neighborhood Near You!
Unity Walk with Guerrilla Gardeners, Saturday, May 13 from 5-7 pm
Guerrilla Gardeners of Washington DC is sponsoring a free live music event to celebrate Mother's Day in Potomac Triangle Park (Potomac Avenue @ 13th Street SE) on Saturday, May 13 from 5:00pm until 7:00pm. Featured performers include SHUG and VELVET COVER BAND with DJ LOVE and VIOLINIST ZEE with special guests NIR, SAL and DANNIE. This concert will be the destination event for the first in a series of Unity Walks funded by a grant from the Capitol Hill Community Foundation. Residents of the blocks surrounding GGDC's "One Beautiful Mile" (Virginia Avenue WB from 3rd Street to 7th SE, along I Street to Potomac Avenue at 13th to Potomac Circle) are invited to walk along this beautified promenade to join their neighbors. Bring blankets and lawn chairs.
Anacostia River Festival Returns May 20!
The Anacostia River Festival is back, sponsored by Building Bridges Across the River and the National Park Service. This is a free event, great for families and residents of all ages who enjoy live music, free fishing, and free canoe rides, and a whole lot more. The 11th Street Bridge Park is one of the country's most exciting projects, and they're doing great work to bring communities together on either side of the Anacostia. All the info you need for the festival is here.
Truck Touch Returns June 3
Every family's favorite returns on Saturday, June 3: DPW's Annual Truck Touch event! This is perfect for children and adults of all ages who want to get close to the big vehicles that handle all our heavy duty work across the District. The event is at RFK, Parking Lot 8 from 8 am to 1 pm. More here.
Kingman Island Family Fishing Day is June 10
Join biologists and river enthusiasts for a family fishing day at Kingman Island on Saturday, June 10, from 1-4 pm. More info here. Wow! So many great community events!
Finally, I mentioned it at the top, but my team spent a morning last week volunteering at the Hopkins Community Garden, managed by Building Bridges Across the River. If you get the opportunity, it's a great place right here in Ward 6 to get your hands dirty. Thanks for having us, Carrie and JJ!