Wondering how ANC commissioners get residents' voices heard? Here are some issues and opportunities commissioners are advancing for the communities they represent.
ANCs may choose to focus on citywide issues that affect the community at large. Paid Family Leave is an example. I am personally interested in this issue, and I am aware it is very important to a number of people I’ve spoken to in our area.
Families need financial stability when life happens – from having and adopting children to caring for aging parents. Nearly everyone will face this in their lives. Moreover, there is overwhelming evidence that paid leave makes for stronger families and smarter and healthier children, as well as enhances businesses and makes cities more attractive for investment and residents. It does not have to be a burden to businesses, but right now, the smaller the business, the bigger the burden. Businesses across DC can share the cost for which the benefit goes beyond measure, and they, too, will benefit in the process.
In 2014, California passed a universal paid leave bill, and in a survey of California employers, most respondents reported that paid family leave had either a positive effect or no noticrable effect on productivity (89%), profitability/performance (91%), turnover (96%), employee morale (99%) .(from "Leave that Pays," Eileen Appelbaum and Ruth Milkman.)
DC has an opportunity to lead states and even the nation on this issue. And it will be better off for doing so.
Julie Eisenberg, owner of Lighthouse Yoga Center and SMD 06 resident, hosted a yoga class to fundraise for the Paid Family Leave Coalition on Saturday, September 10. I was happy to address the group and connect with Hannah, the coalition leader. Interested in this issue? Welcome City Council back to session – join the Paid Family Leave rally on September 20, from 8:15-9:30 a.m., at City Council/Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.
I PROPOSE THAT ANC 4D SUBMIT A RESOLUTION TO SUPPORT THE UNIVERSAL PAID FAMILY LEAVE ACT OF 2015, AS 4C AND NINE OTHER ANCS HAVE.
Do you want benches in Sherman Circle? It's a spirited topic with people on both sides of the debate, though in my conversations I have found more in favor of the concept.
On Wednesday, September 7, a bench appeared on Sherman Circle. It happened to be the first Wednesday of the month, and thus the Sherman Circle Social (all are welcome!), so I was able to speak to a few people about this. Rumor has it, Sherman Circle used to have benches, but they attracted more crime and disruptive activity to the area, so they were removed. Longtime residents tend to oppose bringing them back because they think crime will come with it. Others don’t give much weight to that risk and simply want a place to sit when they’re watching their children go around the circle or taking a break from a long walk or run, and it would give some a reason to visit at all. Those in favor point to Grant Circle as evidence that it can work without adverse effects and say the neighborhood has changed so much that benches won’t breed the crimes feared.
Since I live on the circle, I see that elderly residents use it for exercise more than anyone else (though moms with newborns are right behind them!), and those I spoke with have thoroughly enjoyed the bench and want to see more. If you attend the socials, I bet you'd like to see the improvements. I have also heard that beautiful landscaping used to line the circle. I think everyone can agree that would be a nice improvement. That said, I understand from a woman close to the issue that there is significant recent history of a failed experiment with both the landscaping itself and cooperation between the National Park Service (NPS) and local residents to maintain it.
Sherman Circle is a gem in our community, one to be celebrated and nurtured. I say let's give it the attention it deserves.
I am in favor of both benches and landscaping. As commissioner, I would represent half of the circle and would work with ANC 4C09 Commissioner Joe Martin to pursue the improvements.
While we can try to work with NPS, the District and our local officials, we may well need to find creative solutions as budgets are tight as ever. Moreover, we need to consider how we partner with MPD for enhanced protection and monitoring once the changes are made. Let’s discuss it if it’s important to you!
Housing is a multi-faceted issue with concerns ranging from zoning and permits to homelessness and nuisance properties. In ANC 4D06, we have just five vacant properties and no blighted properties, according to DCRA's list (though these properties are likely woefully under-reported). In my discussions, most people aren't concerned unless it's next to their house. All of us should be aware of the issue, if not concerned. The condition of these properties have trickle effects throughout the neighborhood – from crime to sanitation issues.
As covered by WAMU 88.5, ANC 4D04 Commissioner David Sheon works diligently on the vacant housing issue.
"Vacant properties are a sore spot in otherwise thriving communities. They bring down property values and act as a magnet for vandalism and crime. ANC Commissioner David Sheon is working to reduce vacant properties in the District – but what he calls a 'loophole' in the law is making it difficult."
In many ways, antiquated law is the problem. David was instrumental in what At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman eventually introduced as the Vacant and Blighted Buildings Enforcement Amendment Act of 2015, which "aims to deter owners from neglecting their properties and encourage them to bring their properties into compliance with the District’s vacant property law." She introduced a complementary bill in 2016 to include additional measures not covered in the 2015 bill. Both bills are necessary to adequately address the issues and enable change at the Department of Regulatory Affairs (DCRA). They could be considered this fall.
In some cases, DCRA is the problem. In ANC 6C, Mark Eckenwiler takes on the DCRA and developers regarding the "new battle in D.C." - pop-backs.
"The reason why this is so important is that if this second story were to be built on the existing pop-back, it's going to have a substantial adverse effect on the air, light and privacy of the neighbors," Eckenwiler said. "In short, [developers] make a living by exploiting DCRA's unwillingness to follow the law and protect District residents. It's an outrage, and it goes on all over the District, not just in my little corner."
When a resident on Kansas Ave could not get the attention of elected officials, agencies like DCRA and other key players, he made a banner to raise awareness about a vacant house next to his. Within a short period, it drew the attention of media and ANC 4D, and soon after the Mayor’s Office and the Attorney General. As reported on PoPville, this was after 7 years of seeking help to protect his family from the structural risks and the criminal activity that a vacant property attracts. It shouldn’t take this long. Commissioners should be key liaisons in situations like this, and that’s what I would do.
Crime is a critical issue that threatens the vibrancy of our communities. Commissioners like Jonah Goodman (ANC 4C10) map gun violence in Ward 4 in hopes of working with the MPD to reduce gun violence and related crimes.
In ANC 6B, Commissioner Denise Krepp is trying to create major change in the "revolving door" that sees violent offenders quickly back on the streets only to commit horrifying acts like the rape of a young mother in the Capitol Hill area. The Washington Post, NBC4 and The Daily Caller have reported her efforts.
"Krepp is asking the DOJ why this cyclical violence is not addressed and hopes prosecution statistics provide a partial glimpse at where D.C.'s criminal justice system is failing."
Traffic Safety & Streets
ANC Commissioners are often asked by residents to help make the streets safer for bikers, drivers and pedestrians.
In summer 2016, the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) released draft recommendations for the Rock Creek East II Livability Study. As Petworth News reported,
"The goal of the study is to identify ways for residents and visitors in the Petworth area to commute safely, whether by car, bike or on foot. The guidelines include recommendations for road improvements, bike lanes, crosswalks and more."
ANC 4C was in the news for passing a resolution to oppose the recommendations, with specific contention around New Hampshire Ave. I met DDOT representatives at the Petworth Farmers Market and learned that further north on Sherman Circle we could expect them to consider removing a traffic lane and adding a bike lane. I intend to discuss the proposal with residents – I am looking forward to hearing what you think!
In ANC 4D, Commissioner Sheon found traffic and speed on Illinois Avenue were top concerns. He introduced resolutions at the ANC 4D meeting to initiate outreach to the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) to study the issue. As reported on the Petworth News blog and re-posted in the Washington Post, DDOT reviews and safety improvements followed.
"...it did find that safety markings are negligent throughout the study areas and has recommended that they be installed, along with several other small but important changes."
Many ANCs organize programs, events and other activities for the community. Commissioner Krystal Branton of ANC 4D05 makes it a priority in order to "...provide a positive platform for engagement and connections." As Drew Schneider of Petworth News reported, in 2015, she planned the Youth Summer Skate Jam and the Back-to-School Festival and suggested reintroducing 4D Fun Day. Well, it happened! ANC 4D's free Community Fun Day was on Saturday, September 10.
Did you know that the District government offers free wellness visits for your child to gauge and address developmental delays? I learned about the Early Stages program at this summer’s Beat the Streets event in Petworth. It’s offerings like these that I would help promote to ensure you are afforded another way to keep your family healthy at minimal cost.