Happy Pride Month! I'm grateful the awful air quality cleared in time to safely celebrate Pride Weekend. I had a blast seeing everyone at the parade on Saturday and marching with my team and Council colleagues. While the festivities are always a fun and vibrant celebration of the District's diverse LGBTQIA+ community, they're also a humbling reminder of what we're working for every day at the Council: a safe and inclusive DC where everyone's rights are protected. At the parade, I hopped on Instagram with two of my colleagues, Janeese Lewis George and Zachary Parker, to talk about the Council's work advancing legal rights and protections for the LGBTQIA+ community. This Monday, and all througout the weekend, we celebrate Juneteenth. I've got more below on what's happening and why it's so important.
In addition to Pride festivities, we've had a busy few weeks. I joined Amidon-Bowen Elementary to honor long-time Coach Briscoe, the beautiful new Capital Jewish Museum for their grand opening, neighbors on Capitol Hill for a public safety meeting (more on that below), and lots of folks Wednesday night at Watkins for a Ward 6 Town Hall on WMATA's proposed "Better Bus" plan. At the Council, we wrapped up the final vote on the FY24 budget, passed emergency legislation protecting renters from prohibitive rent hikes, introduced legislation to expand the District's private security camera program to include interior cameras and sensors for small businesses, and dug into the Better Bus plan at a Committee hearing.
Quick Links: Public Safety | Budget Done | Mikva Visit | Rent Control Cap | Better Bus Project | WMATA News | Metro Lift | Fix-It Event | Union Station Comments | E-Bike Bill | Kingsman Park Meeting | Peterbug Day | Juneteenth Events
Public Safety Update
On Monday night, I joined more than 40 neighbors at Mott's Market to talk about public safety in the surrounding blocks. We were also joined by our ANCs, MPD, the Office of Gun Violence Prevention, the Office of the Attorney General, and Peterbug Matthews. We had a productive and solutions-oriented conversation, ranging from MPD’s updates on investigations into two recent robberies (and arrest in one), to how to activate our communities, to challenges in the criminal and juvenile justice systems. A big thank you to the neighbors for inviting me and being so willing to work toward safer communities together.
Arrest Made in H Street NE Business Break-Ins: In good news, early on Monday morning, MPD made an arrest of an individual and has charged them in many of the break-ins of H Street businesses. It's remarkable how much harm one individual was able to commit along an important business corridor – I suspect this same person may be tied to even more break-ins as MPD continues its investigation.
New Bill to Support Security Measures: Also on Monday, I introduced a new bill to expand the popular Private Security Camera System Rebate Program to include additional security tools for small businesses, like interior cameras and glassbreak sensors, that can help MPD investigate and close cases. More from WTOP and DC News Now.
Data Behind Nationwide Police Hiring Challenges: To follow up on a topic we've covered in past newsletters, hiring for police departments is a challenge across the country and also here in the District. And an analysis by Jeff Asher of AH Datalytics puts the FBI’s annual staffing data into context here. As we continue to work toward a long-term and sustained reduction in violent crime, understanding what can make policing a more attractive career is critical. And the next Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department will certainly need to address urgent workplace culture issues in order to strengthen MPD's ability to recruit and retain officers. MPD recently commissioned a very thorough and self-reflective report that should be used to inform that change.
Related: If you or someone you know is considering a career in law enforcement, MPD has a recruiting webinar coming up on June 28. New hires can be eligible for Council-approved $25,000 signing bonuses, housing relocation and homebuying assistance, loan repayment assistance, and more. Starting salary for an officer is $66,419 with room to grow. Information on the recruitment webinar here.
Also Related: In recent weeks, House Republicans tried to block DC's reasonable and commonsense Comprehensive Police and Justice Reform Act, which, among its many provisions, makes it easier for MPD to hold officers who commit misconduct accountable and bans chokeholds and other deadly restraints. President Biden vetoed the resolution after it passed the House and Senate, and this week, the House failed to override the veto. This ends what has been a long and ridiculous overreach by House Republicans - at least on this reform. More from DCist.
The Budget is Done. Here are a Few Final Notes.
On Tuesday, the Council completed its work on the FY24 budget by passing the Budget Support Act. Commonly called the BSA, this is the bill required to implement the budget. In case you missed it or want a refresher, here's a summary of what's in the budget more broadly and for Ward 6 neighbors, specifically.
Here are a few key Committee on Transportation and the Environment wins I want to highlight from the BSA's final vote:
Automated Traffic Camera Fees Required (Again) to Fund Safe Streets: Last year, the Council took an important step to tie revenue from Automated Traffic Enforcement (ATE) cameras to creating safer streets, using it to implement Vision Zero policies. Ideally, the District would collect less in traffic fines over time as policies to curb dangerous driving funded by that revenue make an impact. That funding mechanism was repealed by the Mayor in her proposed budget, then I reversed her decision in our Committee's budget recommendations, then it was removed from the BSA at the first vote on the budget, and then this week, I successfully moved an amendment (passing 11-1) to put it back in ahead of final vote. Whew! All that to say, I believe our ATE cameras shouldn’t simply be a source of revenue for the city's bottom line, but rather part of our strategy to slow down dangerous driving and make our neighborhood streets safer. Long story short: we're back on track!
Dedicated Funding for Sustainable Infrastructure Projects: One of the items I’m most proud of in this entire budget is how we're speeding up the District’s transition into a green economy and away from one where we buy most of our electricity out of state. We dedicated funding to the District’s Sustainable Energy Trust Fund (SETF) in the budget, which is a reserve of cash meant to help get projects across the finish line in every part of the city. There’s a lot more to expand on than I could in one newsletter, but just to give an example, this fund will now support a pilot project I also created in the budget for neighbors in the two Ward 7 neighborhoods of River Terrace and Deanwood to make the switch from fossil fuel appliances like gas heat and gas stoves to cleaner, efficient electric ones.
Building Energy Performance Standards Remain in Place: We also ensured the District is on track to meet our nationwide leading standards for reducing the amount of energy consumed by our buildings – by far the District’s largest source of carbon emissions. The Mayor had proposed a delay, but I believe we’re out of time to kick the can on climate change. At the same time, we also expanded the use of the SETF I mentioned above to help buildings downtown come into compliance so the standards aren't burdensome. We can walk and chew gum -- support the revitalization of downtown and also remain a leader in mitigating climate change.
Department of Forensic Sciences Update: Finally, in non-transportation or environment news, the Council mostly rejected a change in the budget proposed by the Mayor that would have moved significant parts of the Department of Forensic Sciences back under MPD. This would have been a full reversal of why the Department of Forensic Sciences was created in the first place: to maintain stronger independence, and thus trust in, forensic science that the Courts can use. DFS' loss of accreditation is a significant factor in prosecutors' current challenges to hold bad actors accountable - so we need to strengthen, not reduce, their independence and trust. While DFS is offline in terms of performing much of its forensic analysis, prosecutors and law enforcement are being forced to use other labs, an expensive process that ultimately means some cases aren't pursued. And they also can't call the now-unaccredited forensic science staff to the stand in their cases. You may recall that last year, the Council passed my legislation overhauling DFS, which would make the agency independent from the Mayor and put in place much stronger oversight controls. Most of the legislation is still moving forward, but I do disagree with one change the Council made to it yesterday in the budget—keeping DFS under the control of the Mayor, rather than making it an independent agency similar to the Board of Elections or Office of the Attorney General. DCist has a good recap of this somewhat in-the-weeds public safety story.
Meeting with Mikva Students: Democracy is a Verb.
This week, I had a great and very encouraging conversation with DC high school students who are part of the Mikva Challenge program. They sat down with me to share bill ideas they've been working on, ranging from affordable housing and homelessness, to support for sexual assault survivors, to bringing more job training and resources into our rec centers. I love working with Mikva students, and I'm always energized talking with young people who are so focused on how they can solve problems for not only themselves, but also their neighbors.
Council Passes Legislation Capping Rent Control Rates to Protect Renters
Last week, the Council passed emergency legislation to protect renters from unprecedented rent hikes. We approved a cap on rent increases in rent-controlled apartments at 6 percent this year, and 12 percent over the next two years. The increases are capped at 4 percent this year and 8 percent over two years specifically for seniors and people with disabilities. This was crucial because typically, our rent stabilization laws allow for max increases of the rate of inflation plus 2 percent (with a max increase of 10 percent). Because inflation has been so high, this year's allowable increase was set to be 8.9 percent, the highest in more than 40 years.
It’s easy for the real-world impact to get lost in a debate over fractions of a percent, but the difference between the 6% and 8.9% increases will definitely help keep folks in their homes. As I said during the discussion before the vote, this decision will translate to money in the pockets of low-income residents, seniors, and families who now can spend it on bills, groceries, and other necessities. I’m glad my colleagues and I were able to work through our policy differences from the previous week’s debate to ultimately provide relief for DC renters.
Better Bus Plan Roundtable and Ward 6 Town Hall
Thank you to everyone who joined me Wednesday night for a Ward 6-focused town hall on WMATA's proposed changes to bus service in the Ward. For those not familiar, the Better Bus Project is WMATA's first proposed overhaul of our entire Metrobus system in 50 years! The plan is a massive redesign meant to improve service, accessibility, and frequency through new and modified routes, priority bus lanes, better bus stops and shelters, and more.
I didn't feel like WMATA had engaged DC residents enough on this very consequential proposal, so I held three events to dig into the details. First, my Committee on Transportation and the Environment held a public hearing last week with representatives from WMATA to hear more about how the proposed route changes will ultimately improve accessibility for those who rely most on public transit, the impact on wait times, implementation timing and costs, and how WMATA's been engaging with the community. If you missed it, you can watch the recorded roundtable here and read some highlights from our live tweets.
I also asked our Ward 6 ANCs to provide their feedback as part of a smaller task force I convened, and their comments were very insightful. Then Wednesday night, I held a Ward 6-focused town hall at Watkins Elementary to run through how the routes in the Ward will be changing and get questions and feedback directly from you. More than 70 neighbors came out, and we talked about everything from prioritizing routes for our students to the impact of buses on residential streets to preserving accessibility for riders with disabilities.
This is an exciting, once-in-a-generation opportunity to not just redesign bus routes, but really to rethink the role our bus network plays in our rapidly changing city - and do it in a way that prioritizes equity and accessibility, accounts for the climate challenges we face, and still gets riders around our city effectively and efficiently. Your input is critical, so thank you to everyone who tuned into the roundtable, attended the town hall, and submitted feedback through my website! And it’s not too late to tell me what you think—you can still fill out this feedback form until June 18. You can also submit comments directly to WMATA using this form. In terms of my next steps, I'm going to now take all that feedback and share it - and my own - with WMATA directly.
WMATA News: More Frequent Service, Simplified Fares, and Reduced Fare Program
Speaking of WMATA, there’s been lots of great service-related news this week. On Monday, WMATA began running Red Line trains more frequently during the busiest travel times. On weekdays until 9:30pm, Red Line trains are now running every 6 minutes, while frequency on weekends remains every 8 minutes until 9:30pm, and then every 10 minutes. The following changes are coming on June 26:
- Blue and Silver Line trains will operate every 12 minutes until 9:30pm every day, and every 15 minutes after 9:30pm.
- Orange Line will operate every 10 minutes until 9:30pm, and 15 minutes after that.
- Metrorail fares will be simplified to eliminate on/off-peak fares on weekdays during rush hour, so that your fare is based only on the distance you travel until 9:30pm. After 9:30pm and on weekends, all trips will remain a flat $2 per trip.
Related: On June 20, WMATA is launching a program called “Metro Lift” to offer reduced half-priced fares for qualifying riders. Individuals who qualify for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) are eligible to enroll in Metro Lift. Online enrollment will begin on June 20.
DOEE Fix-it Event at the Southwest Library this Saturday
Do you have something that needs to be repaired? Bring it to the Southwest Library this Saturday, June 17, for the Department of Energy and the Environment’s free “Fix-It” event! Volunteer coaches will be onsite to help provide guidance on how to repair broken items, with the goal of fostering a culture of recovery and reuse. Think about bringing in any broken items like small appliances, electronics, bikes, and toys to repair before throwing away and replacing. And if you’re handy, you can also sign up to volunteer as a fixer. Register for Saturday’s event here, and learn more about the Fix-It DC program.
Submit Your Comments on the Union Station Redevelopment Plan
This week, I joined fellow elected leaders and colleagues from across the DMV region at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) June board meeting, followed by a tour of Union Station with the folks leading the redevelopment efforts (photo from COG.) The discussions focused mainly on bringing greater regional vigor to the Union Station Redevelopment plans and expansion of rail service. This revitalization of Union Station isn’t just a project for Ward 6 or the District but a region-wide effort to grow the transit hub for the next century. As I prepare to take over COG as board chair in the coming months, I'm focused on ensuring that the regional planning necessary to move this project forward is completed, and as chair of the Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment, also guarantee that the District remains fully engaged in seeing this project through.
This meeting and tour was timely, as the Federal Railroad Administration is planning to hold two public hearings (in person on June 27 and virtual on June 28) and is seeking public comments on the recently-released draft supplemental environmental impact statement (SDEIS) for the Union Station Expansion Project. What's that? An initial environmental impact statement draft for the project was released in back in 2020. After a public comment period, some of the plans for the project have changed, and this new SDEIS is basically an environmental impact report specifically on the new changes. One of the biggest changes that I pushed hard for was getting rid of a planned six-story garage and replacing it with one level of below-ground parking with significantly fewer spots, as well as other measures to generally improve pedestrian and bike accessibility (a helpful chart comparing the changes can be found on page 2 of this document).
Public comments on the plan can also be submitted via email, in writing, or over the phone until July 6 (details here).
E-Bike Rebate Bill Moves Forward
Today, the Committee on Transportation and the Environment will be voting to advance my bill to expand e-bike accessibility in the District. E-bikes are a great way to get around our city, but the cost keeps them inaccessible to many residents. But don't take it from me: here's one DC resident's experience going from not regularly riding a bike to e-biking for most of his trips. The Electric Bicycle Rebate Program Act would subsidize the costs of e-bikes, locks, batteries, and components that assist riders with a disability. There would be two tiers of applicants: (1) one with higher subsidy amounts and an additional rebate for maintenance costs for residents with low incomes who qualify for public benefits like SNAP or TANF, as well as those without a car (regardless of income), then (2) a lower subsidy amount for those who don't meet the preferred applicant income eligibility requirements.
Rebates typically require that the consumer first make the purchase up front, then apply to get the refund. However, many of the people we're trying to help make e-bikes accessible for can't afford to do that. To address this, and further support DC bike shops, we've included a provision to help buyers get the rebate in the form of a discount when buying the bike from bike shops that register with DDOT for the point-of-sale rebate and subsidized maintenance, as well as a $50,000 grant available to any business seeking to open a bike shop in Wards 7 and 8, where there currently is a shortage of retailers.
I'm excited to move this legislation forward at the Committee vote tomorrow, and it'll be considered by the full Council over the next few months. We also pre-funded the start up costs in the FY24 budget, so stay tuned for a launch hopefully this fall!
Kingsman "Bark" Meeting Tonight with DPR
Just a quick heads up for anyone interested: DPR is holding a community meeting on renovations to Kingsman Park's dog park, field, and basketball courts tonight (Friday, June 16) at 5:30 pm (the time was requested by the many folks who regularly gather at the park on Friday evenings). You may recall I added funding for the renovations in last year’s budget. I’m glad to see DPR getting the ball rolling, and thanks to neighbors for their continued advocacy!
Peterbug Day is This Saturday!
Don't miss Peterbug Day this Saturday, starting around noon at 13th and E Streets, SE. It's one of my favorite events of the year. Come for the Juneteenth celebrations, music, food, games, and more, hosted by, and in honor of, our one-of-a-kind Ward 6 institution, John "Peterbug" Matthews. We'll also be celebrating Peterbug Shoe Academy's designation as a DC landmark last year. More in the Hill Rag on the history and the schedule for the day—I'll see you there!
Juneteenth Celebrations and Holiday Limited Government Services
Monday is Juneteenth, now both a District and federal holiday - having been officially named a federal holiday by President Biden in 2021. Of course, the story and struggle of slavery and it's lasting impacts, did not end on June 19, 1865 when US troops arrived in Galveston, TX. And while the District has long marked DC's Emancipation Day as a local holiday, Juneteenth is another reminder of how far this country has come and have far it still has to go. It is a weekend of celebration because it is a reminder of the fights that have been won - hard fought battles for equal rights. For me, Juneteenth is a reminder we can never lose focus on our work. All around us, there is too much evidence that it would be easy to backslide and what feels like sometimes daily reminders splashed across headlines. I hope you have time this weekend to reflect, to celebrate, and to re-commit yourself to the hard work of fighting for racial equity and justice.
Given Juneteenth is now a national holiday, that means many city services will be closed (libraries, schools) or delayed (trash and recycling collection will slide one day). That being said, pools and splash parks will be open Saturday, Sunday, and Monday from 10 am to 6 pm.
Finally, a Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there! I hope your mug, tie, or hat is the very best gift. And yes... we can all be #1 Dads... See you around the neighborhood!