This quarter's and past monthly editorials for 2007, 2006, and 2005 are filed here, most recent first.


(1Q/08) A DISCOURAGING PROGNOSIS FOR OUR NATIONAL CAPITAL CITY: The Curse of Low Expectations Based on the eight years of effort by the Williams/Cropp administration, and the undistinguished beginnings of the new Fenty/Gray administration, NARPAC reluctantly concludes that local leadership is not capable of transfiguring the District of Columbia into a world-class "inner city"without major regional cooperation stimulated by the Federal Government. Unless next year's new Administration and new Congress agree to provide guidelines, legislation, and funding, there is no hope for a truly exemplary national capital metro area and/or even a first-class core city to evolve solely from local initiatives.

(12/07)NEW DC DILEMMA: TAKING BOLD ACTIONS vs LOSING THE PUBLIC TRUST It points out that many of the early moves by the new mayor and his team run the risk of alienating the city's residents through ignorance, arrogance, or extravagance. Loss of the public trust could result in virtually no meaningful improvements in DC's major socioeconomic problems during this administration.

(There was no editorial in November, 2007)

(10/07) DC LOOKS INCOMPETENT TO THE REST OF THE WORLD: HEY, SO WHAT? NARPAC scans through the Washington Post's 100+ articles on DC for the month of September and finds many issues that raise our eyebrows and our hackles. Do we really want our national capital to look incompetent?

(09/07) WHY IGNORE THE KEY TERMS WHEN TRYING TO EDUCATE POOR KIDS? America Is Missing the Boat Nationally and Locally NARPAC wonders why neither the Federal Government in their No Child Left Behind Program, nor DC in its highly publicized new promises to "fix" its public school system have gotten around to acknowledging the vital role of parents in their kids' educational success. There will always be kids left behind as long as their parent(s) are left behind.

(08/07) ASSESSING A DECADE OF PROGRESS IN THE NATION'S CAPITAL CITY And What Cries Out to Be Done in the Next Ten Years It lists six of the greatest successes of the DC government over the past decade in restoring national respect for our nation's capital city. It then lists six equally important areas where little progress has been made. With the Fenty Administration's bullpen focused on near- term responsiveness, NARPAC suggests actions the DC Council could take in this year's period to start the ball rolling with overdue long-term policy initiatives.

(07/07) NEW DAWN FOR DCPS, OR KICKING SAME OLD CAN DOWN SAME OLD STREET? In a new chapter, NARPAC summarizes its 10 years of analyzing DC's education problems by answering ten of its own key questions about cause and effect. It urges the "new Fenty team" to recognize the importance of looking "outside the (schools) box" to address the cumulative effects of 50 years of unsuccessful public education, which stigmatize the city's human infrastructure.

(06/07) DC's BAD NEWS IS FLYING BELOW YOUR RADAR It takes note of three sets of local headlines with major implications that slid by unnoticed as the pundits awaited the outcome of Mayor Fenty's public school takeover efforts. These included: a) the addition of underground parking at the Washington Nation Cathedral, and the lack thereof at DC's new baseball stadium; b) the concern for the declining number of blacks in the nation's capital (still four times the national average); and c) the struggle to find new downtown floor space under the city's antiquated "crass ceiling" laws.

(05/07) THE ASTOUNDING EXTENT OF NATIONAL CAPITAL ILLITERACY NARPAC explores the details of the recent DC State Education Agency consultants' report on the national capital city's appalling adult illiteracy. It concludes that the methodologies used actually underestimate the problem, but that the trifling solutions proposed bear no relationship to the basic sources of this globally embarrassing issue.

(04/07)March Madness in DC -- Off the Courts NARPAC sorts through the local newspaper articles written in March of 2007 about DC, and comes up with a series of contrasts showing how basic many of DC's problems still remain, and how poorly they still reflect on DC as a supposed world-class capital city. One is reminded of the old saying that "the more things change, the more they stay the same", and of the dangers implicit in mistaking activity for progress.

(03/07)COUNTING AND SPINNING THE BEANS WITHOUT ASSESSING THEIR VALUE: Managing by Quantity Rather than Quality It demonstrates that the work and objectives of DC's CFO do not provide "program-based budgeting", or any of the analyses required to make sensible decisions about DC's ten most important issues. It suggests that the new DC administration needs a separate, very independent, Program Analysis Office to assess the true value of the city's various large, and growing, programs whose resource demands are so meticulously presented in DC's otherwise vapid annual budget documents.

(02/07)YOUNG MINDS AND OLD TOILETS: Beware the "Fix Me" Handwriting on the Schoolhouse Walls It points out that while it may be possible to fix faulty school plumbing by improving accountability within the school system, improving the test scores of DC's many underprivileged students will require changing the depressing culture in which they incubate. Given their current limited "family potential" (developed by NARPAC) , their test scores are not far from the trend line for urban school districts.

(01/07)TAKING THE CITY TO THE NEXT HIGHER LEVEL: A TOUGH, THANKLESS, TASK It suggests that both Mayor Williams and Council Chair Cropp have received far less recognition than they are due for what they did to improve DC. Resentment appears strongest from those in poverty needing the most help: a task that the new Fenty/Gray administration will have to attack head-on to "take the city to the next level". Bold moves will require thick skins, regardless of color!


(12/06) ACCOUNTABILITY: MANAGEMENT TOOL or FUZZY BUZZ WORD: Either way, it begins and ends at the top! It lists the specific elements of accountability required at each level of the DC government, and points to the recent Whitehurst Deconstruction Feasibility Study as a discouraging example of the lack of such rigor at each of these stages.

(11/06) TRANSITION TIME IN THE NATION'S CAPITAL: New Leaders, Same Old Followers in Same Old Boxes NARPAC laments the fact that the leadership transition currently underway in DC seems more focused on "fuzzy buzz-words" and business-as-usual with the same cast of local activists than on the major underlying and unresolved issues that continue to plague the nation's capital.

(10/06) PURSUING 'NATIONHOOD' for "the Nation's Capital of The United States of America" It notes that DC's new mayor- and Council Chair-elect will enter office in January with very few strings attached. They will be free to exercise our representative democracy, and to seek to make DC the world's finest capital city. Their quest is not for 'statehood' but for 'nationhood'. They will need to think big and become partners with other relevant local, regional, national, and federal 'movers and shakers' that keep our country moving forward.

(9/06) FIFTEEN WEEKS TO SHAPE THE FUTURE OF OUR NATION'S CAPITAL CITY: Avoid Suicide Caused by Shooting from the Hip It cautions DC's newly nominated (and virtually elected) officials to avoid "hitting the ground running" rather than "hitting the ground thinking". Ill-considered early actions can prove seriously detrimental to the new administration's long-term plans. Ten major areas are mentioned where such "hip-shooting" could result in accidental suicide.

(8/06) NOW IS THE TIME TO STAND UP FOR DC'S FUTURE - - Local Elections Are Almost Here It points to the imprtance of the forthcoming municipal elections that will chose a new mayor, a new Council chair, and several new council members. The city has made good progress in the past 8 years, but is still faced with a set of broad, long-range problems that were not treated by the incumbents. Unless these issues are resolved, DC cannot become an outstanding American city, or a first-rate national capital.

(7/06) DC's SUMMER CRAZIES and YEAR-ROUND DOLDRUMS Notes the unusual number of peculiar activities underway in DC during the heat of summer, but worries more about the year-round doldrums of land use and transportation planners. It summarizes the current narrowly-focused efforts to redevelop the historic Armed Forces Retirement Home and the old downtown Convention Center site, as well as to add "express buses" to the already clogged Georgia Avenue primary arterial. The city deserves better leadership and better oversight.

(6/06) Mr. Mayor: This Draft Comprehensive Plan Doesn't Cut It This is NARPAC's verbal testimony at the Mayor's Public Hearing on DC's New Comprehensive Plan. It focuses on the plan's failure to recognize DC's national and regional roles, or to present a credible plan for expanding the city's transportation infrastructure to keep pace with expected growth in the city and the region. It recommends forming a commission to create an appropriate forward-looking regional plan.

(5/06) THE FUTURE OF DC ROW HOUSES - A Major Resource for Residential Growth It analyses the potential to increase the density of the many lower-income, row house blocks built on the city's 'outskirts' during DC's pre-WWII population explosion, based on changing urban demographics and lifestyles. Doubling the population and tripling the number of households in these areas appears practical, planners willing.

(4/06)IS DCPS READY TO PLAY 4-D MUSICAL CHAIRS?, Extraordinary Circumstances Will Warrant Extraordinary Measures It addresses the increasing likelihood that DCPS will soon undertake a serious effort to 'downsize' its overly large, overly old, collection of poorly maintained schools. Unfortunately, the effort is starting so late that 'extraordinary measures' may well be needed to manage reducing the inventory by nearly one-half...without destroying the other half, that is.

(3/06) One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Capital City Government as Burlesque . It points to the fractious squabbling over the new baseball stadium; the continued misdemeanors of ex-mayor and current Council member Marion Barry; and the demagogic attempts of DC's leadership to bypass its own rules in order to build a pointless new hospital, as three continuing national embarrassments.

(2/06) HOUSING DC'S FUTURE It discusses the many issues surrounding the new Housing Element for DC's new Comprehensive Plan. It points out the top-level importance of who lives here, votes here, pays taxes here, and governs here. What DC does, and how it does it, is broadcast around the world and introduces a unique burden of being on display as America's urban showcase.

(1/06) No January Editorial in 2006


(12/05) THE FABRICATION OF A NATIONAL CAPITAL MEDICAL CENTER (NCMC) A Triumph of Politics over Rationality It urges the city's administrative and legislative leaders need to get a grip on reality: focus on the basic healthcare and infrastructure issues facing our capital city, and give up dreams of building a world-class medical castle on a bed of "underserved" sand. The NCMC could well make both of those key issues worse, and further aggravate DC's inner city image as a Third World abrration.

(11/05) URBAN WARFARE, DC STYLE It tries to provide rational assessments of the means to settle the growing antagonism between downtown DC's George Washington University and the neighboring historic district of Foggy Bottom, whose permanent residents dislike being invaded by, and fear being totally overrun by, those growing numbers of dirty, uncouth, rowdy undergraduate students.

(10/05) HALF-BAKED or HALF-a-LOAF, Either Way BRAC Could Mean Real Bread for DC It notes that the current Base Realignment and Closing (BRAC) round has been completed and there are major potential benefits to DC, even though all NARPAC's hopes were not realized. More important, the "post-IRAQ BRAC Round" will surely free up additional defense property for municipal development. DC would do well to be more prepared for the last round than they were for this one.

(09/05) EMBARRASSING HORRORS AT HOME TRUMP TERROR FROM AFAR It suggests that the most important impact of Hurricane Katrina is not how poorly higher authorities reacted, but how badly the impacted communities reacted. It reinforces NARPAC's stands that a) large clusters of the very poor and disadvantaged should be "de-concentrated", and b) far more emphasis must be placed on trying again to educate those who dropped out and remain for life unable to fend for themselves, but distrustful of those on whom they depend.

(08/05) WELCOME ASSISTANCE FROM ON HIGH: Good Intentions Snarled in Unwelcome Strings It stresses the importance of Congress's assistance in make DC's the world's finest capital city, and lauds their plan to transfer some 200 acres of surplus federal lands to DC control for economic development. It wishes, however, that they had not specified a particular educational use for some of it: why not oblige DC to make better use of their surplus education facilities instead, and put the new land to best use?

(07/05) An Open Letter to the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee It points out that Congressional oversight should focus less on how DC spends its own budget and more on what the federal government should be doing to assure that our national capital city lives up to American and global expectations.

(06/05) DC Strategic Planning: Professional Blueprints or Community Fantasies?. It ventilates NARPAC's concerns that currently circulating long-range plans for two of DC's crucial problems, education and transportation, bear little relation to reality or the need for serious and focused local leadership

(05/05) BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME Not If They Can't Get Here! It points out that DC's transportation planners are working at cross purposes to the city's land use planners. While the latter are working to attract more residents, business, and visitors, the former have apparently taken it upon themselves to downgrade many of the city's major arterial streets, while doing little to improve first-class public transit, parking, or other traffic-related innovations to accommodate future growth. By ignoring planning in "the 3rd dimension" they threaten to strangle the city in the name of "urban vibrancy".

(04/05) SPRINGTIME IN THE NATION'S CAPITAL CITY -- a New Beginning or a New Cover-up? It points out that everything looks better in DC when the cherry blossoms are out, and the Mayor gives his latest "State of the District Address". But the underlying questions remain: are we gaining or losing on DC's embarrassing urban indicators, generated largely by the "poorest of the poor". NARPAC can't tell, and nobody else is talking!

(03/05) HAND-OVER ALWAYS BEATS HAND-OUT-- Unless the Game is Rigged It endorses OMB's proposal to consider turning over underused federal properties for DC's economic development (which NARPAC has been suggesting for years!), but cautions against the risk of either the federal or DC governments using this as an excuse not to pursue even more important (and costly) long-range capital investment projects in DC's physical and human infrastructures

(02/05) THE DC COUNCIL'S DILEMMA: OVERSIGHT vs FORESIGHT It suggests that the DC Council should spend less of its time on oversight, and more time developing its foresight. As DC continues its development momentum, the Council should focus on DC's six basic long-term problems. And it may need to change its committee structure to do so, and add an independent analytical capability as well.

(01/05) TWO SINGLE-TREE COMMISSIONS -- BUT NONE FOR THE FOREST It summarizes the results of two recent mayoral task forces: one on parking in DC, the other on downtown congestion management. While several of the recommendations are constructive, NARPAC worries that by ignoring DC's larger transportation problems, these reports will delay the development of major transportation initiatives needed to keep from permanently stunting DC's economic growth relative to the rest of its metro area

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The Curse of Low Expectations

Winter, 2008

Public reviews of the Fenty/Gray Administration's first year in office have been oddly upbeat and supportive, which is very disappointing to NARPAC. A new team may deserve some time to find its footing, but its longer range objectives and its modus operandi for achieving them should be evident by now, and reflected in their second-year plans and beyond. We cannot discern any balanced set of long-range goals for our national capital city, any meaningful set of programs to achieve them, or any semblance of a management style or team by which to accomplish them.

NARPAC has spent ten years defining and analyzing the basic problems that statistically brand our nation's capital as somewhere between a below-average American urban mess and a barely competitive Third World urban disaster. Despite some truly exciting areas of mixed economic development, the city's underlying ills persist. Local issues are overshadowed by the distractions of the glittering Federal Presence and its globally-oriented 'camp followers'. Local city officials operate without benefit of the broader perspective (or resources) of a state government. And the core city is outshone by the burgeoning success and self-confidence of its exemplary suburbs.

The District, the 'inner city' of our national capital metro area, still simmers with poor health; high crime rates; rampant poverty and homelessness, failed public education and gross functional illiteracy; incomplete families; low-skilled workers and high unemployment; a largely-missing middle-class and declining public ethics; clogged arteries, streets and mass transit; over-aged water and sewer systems; and obsolete development constraints. Municipal politics are tainted by: racially-based resentment; an electorate overly dependent on public largesse; local priorities focused on sustaining DC as the region's poorhouse, not the nation's showcase; and dismissal of Congress's Constitutional authorities over DC as degrading relics of a bygone plantation era.

Opportunistic city officials perpetuate the myth that the tide of higher-skilled suburbanites who commute to DC's ever-expanding downtown office space are free-loading on city taxpayers, or robbing lower-skilled residents of their "rightful' employment. In fact, property and sales taxes paid by commuters' upscale employers far outweigh the routine city services they consume. City luminaries decry the 'vibrancy' lost by the declining ranks of public-school-aged kids, although older, empty-nest adults bring significantly higher "net revenues" and badly-needed middle-class values as well. Still others seem driven by keeping DC's demographics majority-Black, even though DC's more upwardly mobile Blacks often choose to escape their blighted neighborhoods and spawn in suburbia as soon as they become taxpayers. City leaders "diss" the Congress as alien interlopers, not facilitators, and treat suburbia as an overpowering, unfriendly competitor rather than the essential supporting "setting" in which to display our national capital "jewel".

DC struggles to keep fiscal independence despite a per-taxpayer poverty tax burden ten times that of the overall metro area. Revenue surpluses from three wards barely compensate for the poverty- induced shortfalls of the other five. Neither DC's municipal resources, nor the oversized, overpaid bureaucracy that administers them, can be stretched to focus on DC's growing long- term infrastructure needs, human, physical, or regional. There is very little regional cooperation, no visible regional outreach by DC leaders, and no apparent efforts to elicit constructive Federal incentives to insure that Washington evolves the premiere US metro area. The many influential initiatives of retiring Congressman Tom Davis (R, Va) to help DC stature will be sorely missed..

To wit, there are no coherent plans to expand the region's public transportation networks or to de-congest downtown bottlenecks, as both city and suburban economic development continues. Small-time DC "transportation" officials toy with "streetscapes" and local, low-density, on- street, "trolleys" (useless to commuters), while the suburbs press for high-density, off-street extensions of the area's world-class, but over-stressed, subway system toward lower-density destinations. Next year's incoming Federal Government will be faced with starting to overcome years of stark neglect of our national infrastructure. We see no DC plans (or competence) to spearhead a drive for vastly increased transportation funding for our capital metro area.

The new city administration is trying to resolve its nationally-embarrassing health, crime, and poverty problems without regional cooperation. It hopes to increase its inventory of affordable housing for often-incomplete households that cannot pay their own way. It is preoccupied with re-constituting its oversized public school system for underprivileged kids, but without upgrading their under-achieving, often missing, parents. Instead of creating an undeniably unique urban core of a fully-integrated national capital metro area, DC seems determined to replicate the lifestyle of American suburbs despite its starkly different socio-economic mix. To NARPAC this is pure folly. DC should not aspire to becoming a separate state-level political entity. Should its residents have some vote in Congress and better control of its own budget? Of course. Should its amateurish, confrontational, myopic local leaders seek more state-level autonomy? No way.

NARPAC reluctantly concludes that local leadership is not capable of transfiguring the District of Columbia into a world-class "inner city"without major regional cooperation stimulated by the Federal Government. Unless next year's new Administration and new Congress agree to provide guidelines, legislation, and funding, there is no hope for a truly exemplary national capital metro area and/or even a first-class core city to evolve solely from local initiatives.


December, 2007

In good faith, the citizens of DC elected a bold young mayor to take on the tough socioeconomic problems that his predecessors had failed to alleviate. Fascinated by the success of the recent and current mayors of New York City, Mayor Fenty has adopted a quick-action, brash, front-page style of governing that does not transfer easily to the skeptical, thin-skinned, insecure residents of the nation's capital. In his first year, he has alienated many of his local supporters, and is in serious danger of losing the public trust before any of his snap-decisions have had time to produce noticeable results. Blunders by his new "team" could well defeat many of his stated objectives. He has already raised hackles among parts of local (and Federal) government, as well as DC's hyper-active wannabe decision-makers, creating needless obstacles to overdue progress:

His new public education team suffers from incredibility, evident inexperience, a disregard for budgetary discipline, a tin ear for its oversensitive constituents, and, in facilities upgrade, a peculiar pride in being self-proclaimed a--holes, hardly assets for public officials;

The police half of his new public safety team seem to be struggling with re-re-organization and ad hoc responses to a still-rising crime wave, while his fire and rescue leader seems more interested in mouthing off prematurely than resolving fire hydrant/water supply problems;

His new health team has bought into a shaky new hospital deal that could well come unglued in the short term, or repeat the failing performance of the old DC General in the longer term;

His carry-over finance team has now been caught in a massive fraud scandal in the tax office, on top of other improprieties in the school system, and odd windfalls in revenues. No one appears willing to hold accountable DC's sanctimonious and politically-savvy CFO;

The city bureaucracy is still showing that it lacks the underlying middle class cultural base to engender public trust. Occasional bad apples may be par for the urban course, but institutional indifference to their actions destroys public faith; and

Excessive bonuses for departing agency heads, and exaggerated pay scales for incoming ones (higher than their Federal counterparts) indicate a cavalier disregard for public sector prudence.

DC still has major socioeconomic problems to solve before becoming a first-class national capital city. It will take strong leadership and bold planning to wean entrenched special interests from their long-standing, self-defeating predilections. Needed changes will be difficult to make even with full public trust. Nothing at all will be accomplished if and when it is carelessly lost through ignorance, arrogance, and extravagance.

(There was no November, 2007 editorial)

October, 2007

The Washington Post carried over 100 stories about DC in September, many raising questions for NARPAC. Most important and obvious: why did the Senate deny DC the right to vote, while the courts denied its right to control handguns? But many other issues also embarrassed us:

1. DC's disingenuous "poor bookkeeper" again pulls a surplus 'rabbit' from its budget hat: the Mayor applies 80% of '07's $100M to hasten school repairs, buy out substandard school staff.
o why can't a $279,000 p/a CFO, with 1000+ staffers, better estimate its property tax revenues?
o Is DCPS fixing up schools that should be closed and sold off, and rewarding lousy work?

2. Prostitutes work out of DC fire houses; Superior Court security fails166 Federal standards; jail inmates exceed federal limits; anti-HIV condoms are re-called; poor care of mentally-ill is decried.
o Just how many ways are there for a city government to be caught with its pants down?

3. DC will pump $79M into its Greater Southeast Hospital to keep it open.
o Were no lessons learned from DC General's collapse, or the lack of regional cooperation?

4. Metro Board politicos can't agree on the need, sources of, additional system funding. DC area is #2 in US traffic delays, and carbon-pollution levels are higher than some European countries'. o Why aren't long-term decisions on key regional infrastructure needs made by professionals?

5. Horrors, the top ranks of DC's wildly over-staffed police force are not 57% black, like the city.
o Yeah, and why not 24% under 21, 11% over 65, 53% female, and 36% functionally illiterate?

6. Metro plans to run longer trains during rush hour; Maryland's tiny commuter railroad decides to run more rush hour trains, and expand service as the region grows as well; DC's 8- member Taxi Commission deadlocks on whether taxis should have meters, passes buck to mayor
. o I mean, is this transportation Nirvana, or what?

7. At the funeral for DC's 145th '07 homicide victim, the mayor vows to find more jobs for its idle 14-year olds.
o Whatever happened to the notion of e-d-u-c-a-t-i-o-n?

8. Class warfare erupts in Southeast as aimless black kids trash the "gated" communities of modest income working blacks. A respected DC pundit claims DC's ills relate to urban poverty.
o Oh?

9. Preservationists faint as a few of DC's 300-400 miles of cheap-looking, century-old row houses are modernized with new facades, extended backs, and raised roofs.
o Do we really have a national capital aim to immortalize drab socialistic uniformity?

America Is Missing the Boat Nationally and Locally

September, 2007

Nationally, the Congress is faced with extending, modifying, or shutting down its controversial "No Child Left Behind" program. This latest federal effort to improve public school education for its less fortunate kids is designed to provide standard tests for measuring kids' success, and standard penalties for schools missing their targets. But NCLB ignores the most basic issue of all: the abject lack of standardization in parental education and functionality. There will always be kids left behind if their parent(s) have been left behind. In fact, the kids left behind rapidly morph into the parents left behind, often before high school graduation age. Where are the federal educational programs to avoid perpetuating societal failure?

Locally, "photo ops" by DC's mayor and his school superintendent, as well as commentary by the city's usual pundits and activists, seem oblivious to the key terms in the ever-unfolding DCPS school fiasco. Whether the issue is shaking up a lethargic central office; hiring good principals and teachers; ordering and distributing school books; or reducing the horrendous backlog of maintenance and repair, one major problem is how many schools DC needs. The current 141 are twice the US norm based on kids per school, including major urban school districts. Surely these problems would be more manageable if there were only 70 schools!

Another key local issue is how many kids are attending these run-down schools. The current answer of 55,000 is probably a full 5000 too high this school year, excluding the many kids bussed to special ed schools. Is that a quibble? Not when it amounts to another 13-15 principals, book sets, and central air conditioning systems, and maybe 400-500 teachers!

But the most neglected issue here is just how bad DC's school system output is. Poor 4th and 8th grade reading scores are surely worth fretting about, but what about the impact of the schools' "output" on the community? 1200-1500 more DC kids (latent parents, really) dropped out in 2007, while another 2500 "attended" 12th grade. The DCPS web site shows only 550 young women and 310 young men left high school this year "proficient" in reading, and about 100 fewer "proficient" in math. That leaves another 1700 marginally able to make their way. Even worse, almost 800 of them tested "below basic". DC law enforcement, health, social and unemployment services should all take note: here come 3000 more potential problem residents for our national capital city, to say nothing of many more problem parents for its public school system! What are we doing to break their cycle of poverty?

And What Cries Out to Be Done in the Next Ten Years

August, 2007

The Six Biggest Successes in Restoring National Respect

o "Impeaching" the final Barry Administration by placing DC under a Financial Control Board;

o Electing a new Council Chair and a new kind of mayor, erasing the political "sleaze factor";

o Encouraging major commercial developments to thoroughly revitalize Downtown DC ;

o Undertaking major mixed residential redevelopment East of the Anacostia under HOPE VI;

o Starting an overdue campaign to improve local health, including closing DC General ;

o Gaining Congressional support for transferring under/unused federal properties to DC ;

The Six Biggest Failures in Restoring National Respect

o Refusing to downsize an antiquated, crumbling public school system now twice too large ;

o Adopting a trite, insular, local-entertainment-venue vision of core city transportation needs ;

o Failing to arouse leaders of the black community to address its self-perpetuating disadvantages;

o Failing to vigorously seek selective elimination the city's ridiculous building height limits ;

o Ignoring possible regional solutions to inner city health, crime, poverty, education disgraces;

o Exaggerating the city's "structural imbalance" to con federal subsidies, vilify commuters ;

It Is High Time for the DC Council to Take the Lead in These Policy Issues

While tin ears in the Executive Bullpen appear to be trying to ride roughshod over local veteran activists in their quest for quick responses to constituents' longstanding needs (and the 'photo ops' they generate), NARPAC has yet to see any coherent focus on DC's excessive long-term embarrassments. The Council has not done much better. By summer recess, it had introduced 345 mostly routine "bills": about 25% duplicative (emergency/temporary), resulting so far in 112 "acts", and only 17 "laws". We urge the DC Council to use this 17th period to exert its own prerogative to formulate key long-term policies, neglected by the prior administration.. Why shouldn't the Council legislate initial actions to resolve the city's first-order problems, such as:

o Giving the Mayor three months to come up with a firm new time-phased plan to dispose of 40- 50% of its antiquated public school floor space and acreage, and make sure principals, teachers, and staff are not being hired, and extensive maintenance is not being rushed to completion, for facilities no longer justifiable. The current facilities plan is a farce;

o Establishing and funding a one-year Long-range Core City Transportation Planning

Commission with broad-based (regional) and city membership to address long-term core city needs. It should not be controlled or limited by existing city transportation authorities focused primarily on day-to-day, on-the-cheap, neighborhood-centered public works expedients;

o Establishing and funding a one-year Minorities Self-Help Commission, comprised of local, regional, and national leaders. It should be specifically directed towards identifying steps and programs by which the disadvantaged can work amongst themselves (with outside help as needed) to resolve some of their self-perpetuating difficulties;

o Passing whatever legislation is necessary to embark on a major effort for the selective relaxation of DC's doctrinaire building height restrictions, specifically pressing for the removal of outdated, inappropriate limitations imposed by Congress or other Federal agencies;

o Establishing and funding a one-year commission to explore Opportunities for Regional Cooperation to resolve some of the metro area's most debilitating common problems, from special education, to concentrated blight and inadequate access to basic health care. Require city agencies to report annually on regional initiatives resulting therefrom;

o Making it unmistakably clear that: a) our globally-unique national capital city has the resources and competence to deal with its own financial needs; b) the direct and indirect revenues from DC's growing daily flow of commuters, visitors, and tourists are a vital, but relatively untapped, part of a vibrant and financially sound core city; and c) DC budget documentation should avoid any suggestion of politicking, or unsubstantiated arguing for federal subsidies.

July, 2007

We are deeply concerned that the new Fenty team will waste the advantages inherent in his "school takeover plan" if it doesn't think "outside the (schools) box". We suggest that DC's root problem is not a schools problem, but an urban education problem for much of the city's "human infrastructure"suffering from DCPS's cumulative past failures.

Unlike many Washingtonians with a stake in the future of our national capital's public school system, NARPAC has been enthusiastic about the initial steps being taken by Mayor Fenty, no matter how secretive, undemocratic, and inexperienced they may seem to some. It is high time to develop a tin ear to conventional wisdom and special interests. Salvaging this hopelessly broken system will not be accomplished by any consortium of well-meaning do-gooders. They have, after all, been involved and ineffectual for the past 30 years. The beginning of wisdom is to know what the system's limitations are, and where the major changes must be effectuated.

The Fenty approach to "fixing" DC's schools could well turn out to be just another kick of the same old can down the same old street. There is no indication that the new team or its consultants are being encouraged to look "outside the box", though the new organization could make that much easier. Consultants specializing in accounting and management techniques are unlikely to scratch the surface of the first-order problems infecting American urban schools like DC's.

Except in unusual, anecdotal cases involving exceptional kids and exceptional teachers, proposed solutions that presume counterproductive parental/community/society influences can be routinely overcome by part-time, day-time, school-time enthusiasm, are doomed to fail. Systemic solutions must accept that the root cause of failure amongst today's kids is the failure of their parents in the same school system only a decade or two earlier. Means must be found to keep the urban cycle of poverty from repeating itself. The new team must understand that DCPS has produced as many as 200,000 illiterate adults over the past fifty years or so, many still living here and generating some of the nation's worst statistics re social welfare and/or quality of life.

We urge the new team to adopt a broader perspective, "from the outside in". The main issue for national disdain is not how few urban kids make it to the top of the national class, but how many leak out the bottom of the class to perpetuate a lifetime of urban blight. The national disgrace is not too much mediocrity, it is too much utter failure.

June, 2007

Most Washington observers spent the month of May, 2007 tracking the high-flying efforts of DC's fearless new mayor to change the fundamental flight plan of DC's sputtering public schools. His best efforts, however, were thwarted by headwinds, down drafts, near misses, legal maneuvers, and cheap Congressional stunts. Though Fenty eventually made a high-visibility landing in early June, a variety of other fly-bys in May went essentially unnoticed. Here are three news items that caught NARPAC's eye because of their discouraging long-range implications:

First: The Washington National Cathedral, operating completely without public or commercial funding, opened a major underground parking facility for its employees, visitors, and the many visiting tour buses that have for years cluttered largely residential upper Wisconsin Ave. This major DC institution has exhibited the good urban judgment to apply $34M of its scarce funds to accommodate almost 500 vehicles and 18 tour buses beneath its well-tended grounds. Meanwhile, in the newly emerging downtown Southeast, concrete was being poured for two ugly, multi-story above-ground garages for Washington's new ballpark, usurping extraordinarily valuable high density commercial property. Responsible transportation planning still does not exist in DC.

Second, the Washington Post reported on a local academic analysis of recent Census data raising the (startling?,unsettling?) possibility that 'DC may losing its status as a majority-Black city'. To NARPAC's knowledge there is no objective requirement for, or benefit to, America's capital by being a national demographic anomaly. But more important, there is nothing new in this trend: DC's black ranks have been declining, kids and middle-income adults first, for 40 years. By 2005, in the productive age span from 20 to 65, blacks comprised only 47% of DC's total males, only 53% of its females. Nationwide, those percentages were below 11% and 13%. Is the sky falling on our capital city? DC's peculiar focus on race remains a national/global embarrassment.

Third, a scholar at DC's renowned Brookings Institution has concluded that our American capital city, with limited land area, should turn to taller buildings. Oh wow! And a seasoned Washington Post architectural writer has ventured to assert 'there's nothing sacred about building height limits in DC'. Gosh! Citywide, preservationists, NIMBYs and change-averse activists are on full alert. Meanwhile creative pro-growth businesses are adding 2-3 floors to downtown buildings now below their designated height limit (DC's out-dated "crass ceiling"). By contrast, neighboring counties (with far lower revenue demands for public assistance, and far more land), embrace buildings 10 to 20 stories higher, thereby generating far more interesting skylines, and revenues! DC economic development priorities remain an anachronism of exaggerated special interests.

May, 2007

NARPAC is deeply discouraged by the level of illiteracy in the nation's capital and disappointed by the sophomoric rhetoric of the "State of DC Adult Literacy" from DC's State Education Agency. The report probably underestimates the problem and fails to differentiate either the consequences or the solutions by the cohort to which they apply. Here are our conclusions:

Overall, the functional illiteracy of the residents of the US national capital city is 75%, if not 100% worse than (i.e., twice) the national average. And the US itself is no prize, ranking 38th among the nearly 200 nations in the CIA's "World Fact Book". It would be difficult to find a better definition of a national disgrace.

The report focuses on Adults Over 16, but the major reason why DC's illiteracy rate is so high is that almost all DC adults score "below basic" in reading skills whether or not they finished high school! DCSEA dances around the aggregate issue, but DC's most pressing literacy issue is to teach its kids to read before they reach high school or drop out.

DC's second most important literacy problem (also ignored in the report) is its very high share of Mostly Single Parents who cannot stimulate their kids' desire to read. While the report suggests that "children provide motivation for their parents to learn to read", we think the parents should do much more to motivate their kids. There must be some residual obligation for DCPS to promote reading skills for expectant moms to help break the 'Cycle of Poverty by Illiteracy'.

Oddly enough, DC's laborforce is not significantly diminished by its relatively high illiteracy rate. Whether these less skilled workers work inside or outside DC is not known, but improved literacy will improve both those workers' and their city's income and quality of life.

DC's Senior Citizens are not disproportionately illiterate, and exceed the national norm for college education. But one of the DCSEAR's most understated arguments is that "(literacy is) a stronger predictor of health status than age, income, job status, education level, or race."

Finally, the DCSEAR neglects the potential impact on DC Voters. By probing their consultants' technical report and adding (almost surely inflated) DC voter registration numbers for each Ward, it is clear that over 40% of DC's voters are probably functionally illiterate, and this fraction may exceed 55 % in the city's worst educated Wards.

DC's globally embarrassing adult illiteracy rate cannot be eliminated by using a separate municipal agency to focus on funding adult literacy community service centers. It is a fool's errand to try to undo the damage of inadequate parenting for DC's overwhelmingly disadvantaged public school kids after their dies are cast, their futures truncated.

MARCH MADNESS IN DC -- Off the Courts
April, 2007

DC college teams were still in the running as this year's basketball season climaxed. But the real madness in the nation's capital was unfolding in the media. To the chagrin of NARPAC and many others, the city, and the federal government it hosts, look far too clumsy to make any team. As a rare snow and high winds took the blooms off the cherry trees, Congress again failed to pass a bill giving DC residents a full vote in the House, due in part to a promised presidential veto. Weeks earlier, some retired Floridian got the Federal Courts to strike down DC's strict gun-control laws.

As DC's new mayor promised to "move faster" in his first "State of the District" address, its most notorious old mayor, now Councilman, Barry, flaunted his ability to stay out of jail for tax evasion and erratic driving. Mayor Fenty, though serious about safer streets for pedestrians and bikers, dashes about DC in his siren-powered motorcade, attending every killing, fire, and pot hole repair. He is also serious about health care, education, jobs, environment, parks, and housing, but made no mention of eliminating poverty or blight; encouraging world-class, future-oriented city growth; regional cooperation; or fundamental urban transportation planning.

While arguing who should (mis)manage DC's decrepit double-sized public school system, its new bosses send faulty contract requests to the Council, and kids from Appalachian State U. volunteer their Spring Break to help struggling DC students. As native alewife and blueback herring wriggle upstream in Rock Creek's grungy waters, by-passing dams for the first time in 104 years, risky levels of lead are detected in school water fountains. The Gates Foundation and GWU offer more 4-year college scholarships to DC's paltry few high school graduates, while a new National Adult Literacy Survey implies that 36% of DC adults over "sweet 16", 50% of its voters, and 25% of its workforce are functionally illiterate.

DC's new, up-thru-the-ranks, former teen welfare single-mom, Police Chief adds hundreds more uniforms and civilians to DC's already-bloated ranks, testifying that embracing technology is her biggest staff problem, while the Post finds half of DC's red light cameras are 'on the blink'. DC's new, also-white (gasp!), Fire Chief ran Atlanta's FEMS with half DC's staff and one-third the budget, though Atlanta spans twice the area, with 75% the residents (equally black).

Not to be outplayed, the new $300K/year boss of the region's world-class Metrorail system is laying off one-third of its construction staff to save $7 million, while adding an Inspector General staff of 27 for about $3M to help the agency scrimp. The proposed rail line to Dulles will be built on-the-cheap at/above ground to meet outdated Federal "pre-green" funding criteria. Despite record Spring ridership, DC has no plans to expand its already-clogged, highly vulnerable subway system. It is, however, urging Metro to relocate exterior mirrors that block bus drivers' view of jay-walkers.

Last but not least, while the GAO reports serious irregularities in DC's contracting practices, the city's public relations corporation (!) has awarded two contracts to come up with a catchy motto to attract people to America's capital city. . Hey, why didn't NARPAC think of THAT!

March, 2007

According to a recent local issue of the EXAMINER (2/13/07): "At a public hearing earlier this month, DC CFO Natwar Gandhi was asked why he didn't do more to fight corruption and waste in the city agencies he monitors. As he has done so often, Gandhi said his job is to balance the budget, not run the city agencies. 'I'm just a bean counter', he said." While the self-styled "golden hammer" may have been trying to display humility, some members of the DC Council find his holier-than-thou false modesty both aggravating and disingenuous.

The facts are mixed, however. The city books have been over-balanced for almost a decade now; Wall Street has raised DC's bond ratings to all-time highs; investment is pouring into the city; and income and property taxes have been somewhat reduced. On the other hand, the CFO does not hesitate to use unsubstantiated assertions in the political quest for additional federal and regional subsidies; and the ever-lengthening budget documents provide virtually no clues as to whether our capital city is really addressing, let alone resolving, its real and imaginary fiscal issues. Six years later, "program-based budgeting" is essentially a hoax.

DC's budget documents simply do not assess such basic matters as: desired and achievable population growth, land use, the impact and benefits of the federal presence and commuters, its real and imagined "structural imbalance"; its persistent and exorbitant poverty; the growing size of the DC government and its consultants; and its real-world infrastructure needs to provide first- rate municipal services, to educate its overly disadvantaged kids, or to assure transportation capacity for its continued growth.

NARPAC strongly believes that the new administration needs to create an independent program analysis and evaluation function, probably as an adjunct to the DC Council. It is high time to address and objectively quantify DC's very real and persistent fiscal needs, and assess whether, and how better the CFO's beans might be used to satisfy them.

YOUNG MINDS AND OLD TOILETS: Beware the "Fix Me" Handwriting on the Schoolhouse Walls
February, 2007

DC's new mayor ran on a ticket which placed education reform first. He is already moving to streamline DCPS management, modernize shockingly decrepit schools, and assure a more rigorous academic curriculum. And he is already taking heat from entrenched special interests who prefer not to rock the boat, even when it's sinking. To paint a quantitative picture of just how bad DC's schools are, the mayor draws on a recent NCES study comparing 2005 test scores of eleven "typical" urban school districts. Sure enough, DC ranks at the bottom. But to assume those scores can be raised by tinkering only within the school system are not well founded.

As NARPAC has repeatedly illustrated over the past ten years of analyses, the receptivity of kids to learning is more a function of their living rooms than their school rooms. Coupling the new NCES statistics with those from Census on these urban districts can confirm that kids' test scores are directly related to the presence, education and wealth of their parents. Under-educated, sometimes functionally illiterate, singles and couples often live in poverty and generate progeny that follow in their footsteps. These correlations do not depend on skin color, but life-styles (marriage rates, numbers of kids, and mom's age-at-first-birth) do reflect ethnic customs.

For years, NARPAC has highlighted the strong relationship between students' test scores and the level of poverty in their households. Now we have gone a step further and generated a "Family Potential (FP)" indicator, based on household type, poverty and "kids per parent". It tracks test results very well, and DC's scores are very close to the trend line for its "family potentials".

At his inauguration, the mayor said: "Our pledge to be the next great world-class city is not based just on locking people up....thoughtful solutions, rooted in rebuilding the family and the fabric of the community, will be the cornerstone of DC's future..." And the Council Chair said: "we must address the health and social influences that (impact on) the lives of kids before they get to school, often predisposing them to failure. Only integrated approaches to education, health and social services can effectively address these concerns." Police Chief Ramsey and Superintendent Janey both recognized these factors to be well beyond their control. Clearly, city government has far more tools than a school board to encourage life-style changes and socio-economic progress.

These new urban school data can also illuminate school system factors that provide no useful correlation. Our latest analysis confirms earlier conclusions that there is no recognizable correlation between kids' school performance and school size or the ratio of school staff to kids.

Our new city leaders will do well to check their instincts against readily available relevant data before promising unrealistic potential benefits from their proposed changes. Fixing young minds and old toilets present starkly different challenges.

January, 2007

The baton has been passed in Washington, DC from its long-time Council Chair Linda Cropp, and its now seasoned, but exasperated, Mayor Tony Williams. Both deserve far more thanks than they are getting. Their neophyte replacements, Chairman Gray and Mayor Adrian Fenty will do well to remember that changing the city's "social infrastructure" will be a tough, thankless, task.

Washington Post kudos for Cropp and Williams range from "leaving behind a city that was only the stuff of dreams" by "the most successful mayor of the home rule era", to "a city transformed", and "lifted from the muck and turned into a contender". Pundits agree that DC is no longer a global laughing stock, but note the dissatisfaction from mostly black, mostly poor, constituents who feel their status remains at best unimproved, at worst more threatened by gentrification.

Williams is (unfairly) criticized by the city's disadvantaged for a) trying to move the University of DC across the Anacostia closer to its potential student pool; b) closing the dysfunctional DC General Hospital, long (but wrongly) a symbol of black progress; and c) failing to improve DC's public school system. His supporters praise his efforts to: a) get spending under control; b) install a more responsive municipal bureaucracy; and c) develop a glowing, expanding, modern US city

. Born of mixed parentage (like Fenty and Gray to follow), he was plagued from the outset by the truly ill-considered challenge of whether he was "black enough to run DC". He apparently often appeared ill at ease in purely black surroundings. NARPAC truly hopes his successors will be thick-skinned enough to ignore racial-hyping while working to solve DC's crippling class- divide.

Williams and Cropp were clearly smart enough to run DC, and richly deserve praise from all who see a vastly improved capital city. NARPAC thinks DC has come almost half-way to being a truly world-class city. Its "financial infrastructure" is now accepted as "above average", as is its appeal to new residents and businesses. Its "bureaucratic infrastructure" has risen to at least "average". Two major tasks remain. The more challenging will be to lower the excessive number of self- perpetuating households in poverty, the task Fenty rightly defines as "taking the city to the next level". We hope they will also find the time and energy to face the more do-able issue of long- term planning to fix DC's stagnating physical infrastructure, including its nearly saturated transportation systems.


Either way, it begins and ends at the top!

December, 2006

The incoming Fenty administration is asserting its intent to emphasize "accountability" as a means of improving government performance. Effectively applied, it could accomplish that and more: it could change the DC's bureaucracy's reputation for bloated mediocrity. If trivialized, "accountability" will join the ranks of meaningless feel-good platitudes like "diversity" and "inclusiveness". Either way, enforcement must be facilitated from the top. For instance:

o If the Mayor and the Council have not specified their goals for long-term growth; for regional cooperation, or for a robust physical and/or social urban infrastructure;

o If the Mayor and the Council have not specified the primary system components, objectives, funding sources and expected regional and federal participation to meet those goals;

o If the Mayor and the Council have not made it clear at what specific government level various regional, citywide, and neighborhood decisions are to be made, or the quantitative basis for them;

o If Agency/sub-agency heads make up their own goals, pursue their own hobbies, pander to Council members and local special interests, and fail to guide their program managers;

o If those individual program managers are left to write their own rules, hire second-rate consultants, set their own decision criteria, ignore the "big picture", and hide their own technical shortcomings;

o If neither the Agency/sub-agency heads, nor the committee chairs and staff exercise the skills, interest or obligation to challenge the accuracy, relevance, or scope of the bureaucracy's work;

Then the DC bureaucracy will continue to waste taxpayer money generating worthless, deceptive, and embarrassingly unrealistic studies and program plans...

-- like the Whitehurst Deconstruction Feasibility Study and its intended follow-on --

...and our capital city will reap the ridicule and uncertain future it deserves, but our nation can ill afford.

New Leaders, Same Old Followers in Same Old Boxes

November, 2006

Well before DC's November Election Day, its overwhelmingly Democrat residents had picked their new leaders. Those leaders-in-waiting have begun their ritual transition with new buzz-words to sugarcoat the same old problems. And the same old neighborhood and single-issue activists have lined up to offer the same old snake oil remedies to perpetuate their same old parochialism.

The good news is that over the past eight years, some of the city's important, but tractable, problems have been resolved with remarkable success. The city is financially sound, its economy is growing, it has a new self-confidence, and visible signs of improvement shine all over town.

The bad news is that DC's underlying and intractable problems remain virtually unchanged, albeit somewhat less glaring, and illuminated mainly by the cold statistics of socio- economic failure.

DC's new leaders are fondling a new set of fuzzy, feel-good buzz-words such as:

o "Diversity" and "Inclusiveness" that can't be defined, measured, or enforced;

o "Top Priority Education" that can't, per se, assure successful teaching or welcome learning;

o "Accountability" for employees who cannot remove the obstacles to the real objectives sought;

o "Outside the Box thinking"sought but seldom grasped or accepted by those Inside the Box; But there is as yet no noticeable mention of the tough core issues such as:

> defining and moving towards a world class capital city;

> reducing excess poverty and its inevitable consequences;

> defining and managing essential economic growth in limited urban space;

> defining and providing a world-class infrastructure for buildings, transportation and utilities; or

> developing full-partnership regional and federal relations.

Looks like the new leaders will yet again hit the ground running, but not thinking!

for "the Nation's Capital of The United States of America"

October, 2006

Young, energetic, six-year DC Council member Adrian Fenty won the Democrat nomination to be the next Mayor of Washington, DC. He won a significant majority from the third of DC residents who bothered to vote in each of DC's eight wards. He is a shoo-in for the November election, and so is two-year Council member Vincent Gray, who won an equally significant mandate to chair the DC Council. Together, these two dynamic politicians will be empowered to run "the nation's capital of the United States of America," as Fenty never tired of repeating during his campaign.

It is significant that many of DC's so-called "power-brokers" did not endorse either of these candidates: both will start out with a remarkably clean slate. Neither is beholden to any national, regional or local special interest, nor to any one financial, racial, religious, or idiosyncratic group. They need not paint themselves as black enough, poor enough, local enough, or green enough to run the city. They did not promise to isolate DC from its integral metro area, reject development, ban commuters, remain the area's poor house, or insult the federal government.

Hopefully, the new mayor and council chair will exercise a representative democracy, not a popular democracy. They are expected to do what they think best for the city, not just for the squeakiest neighborhoods. And like it or not, DC is also obliged to 299.5 million other Americans to present a healthy, forward-looking symbol of our American way of life. This means a free market economy, a democratic government which stimulates individual initiative, and a mobile lifestyle that enables residents to re-locate rather than force, or obstruct, change in their current communities. For certain, this is not the Union of American Socialist States with a "passport economy". Our country will continue to evolve and not succumb to socialist stagnation.

DC's new leaders should also accept that the District has none of the attributes of an American "state". It is certainly not a "metropolitan area" although it was briefly, well before the term was coined. Unlike many cities, DC has a rapidly expanding "downtown", and it cannot annex more land as it sprawls. DC is at best the core city, hopefully not just the "inner city", of its burgeoning national capital metro area. But it is also the only US city that shares its domain with the US federal government. DC's well being is a constitutional responsibility for all 535 members of Congress. City residents who consider that an unacceptable burden should relocate elsewhere.

The key question is how our new leaders will express their unique responsibilities. Theirs is not a quest for statehood: it is the quest for 'nationhood'. Will they think big enough? Will they think long-term enough? Will they bring in agency heads capable of holding their own with federal and regional officials? Will they take the initiative to join the company of national movers and shakers? Will they become partners in shaping and representing America's future? Let's hope so.

Avoid Suicide Caused by Shooting from the Hip

September, 2006

Newly elected leaders often make lasting mistakes during the frantic pre-inaugural period. Driven to "hit the ground running", they codify preconceived notions with early promises and actions that prove detrimental to their true objectives. DC's next mayor and council chair are honest, dynamic leaders with DC's best interests at heart. NARPAC believes they can start erecting a prestigious capital city on the solid foundations of the past eight years if they heed our "outsiders'"advice:

o Hit the ground thinking, not running: shed the myths and shibboleths that rationalize settling for less than the best; learn to analyze your real problems, and get out of the blame game;

o Honor and relish DC's inescapable, unique role as our nation's capital city: don't pretend to be just ordinary folks surrounded by ordinary urban problems; DC must be an American symbol;

o Grow into your unfilled regional role: DC is not an island surrounded by alien currents, it is the pivotal core city of the US capital metro area, help unite area leaders, improve area organizations;

o Insist that your core city is much more than the sum of its diverse neighborhoods: resident activists may think local is better, but it looks myopic to outsiders who help pay DC's bills;

o Plan substantial long-term growth in density, mobility, gentrification, and commercialization: don't adopt the bland current draft "comprehensive plan"as is, make it better and your own;

o Don't pretend DC is incapable of financing its real needs: you have the potential backing of all fifty states through federal grants and obligatory assistance, learn how to earn their cooperation;

o Don't coddle your very poor, your very rich, or your hyper-active: make room for DC's share of America's (dwindling) middle class, avoid being an urban abnormality; o Don't treat poor health, poor education, high crime and high joblessness as separate issues: they are all caused by the revocable poverty of undereducated young, child-bearing adults;

o Belly up to DC's growing long-term infrastructure needs: include those for public education and transportation, commission experts to define them, and hire professionals to implement them;

o Use DC's very high pay scales to hire top-notch new agency heads: start with a first-rate city administrator to energize the bureaucracy, keep some of your focus on planning, oversight, outreach.

Local Elections Are Almost Here

August, 2006

The next few months will be crucial for America's future internationally, nationally, regionally, and locally as well. 'Sitting' governments at all levels have become remarkably complacent, if not arrogant, about the directions in which they have steered their electorates. Participation in the forthcoming primaries and elections is vital for all voters who clearly don't want "more of the same", and are willing to look beyond their near-term irritations and personal hobby-horses.

The last eight years probably brought more progress and hope to DC than to its neighboring jurisdictions or to the US as a whole. Most of those very welcome improvements simply involved eliminating self-imposed barriers to reasonably good government, and encouraging private sector investment. But the city may well have done about as much as it can "sitting down". Over the next eight years, DC's core socioeconomic problems can only be faced standing up. The Post's Pearlstein recently noted that MLB negotiators treated DC officials as if they were "in way over their heads" on the stadium deal. Washingtonians should not dismiss this perception.

DC's elected leaders and appointed officials often do seem to be in way over their heads, and simply "sitting out" many of their major long-range problems. DC's voters must find fresh leaders willing to stand up to its core issues. They must adopt a corrective, pro-active stance against: Congressional tinkering; regional indifference; petty local legislation; bureaucratic mediocrity; false myths about economic dependency; burgeoning transportation and other infrastructure problems; endemic poverty and its ghettos; racial demagoguery; lifetime adult illiteracy; chronic health problems; ineffectual parenting; excessive neighborhood NIMBYism; and so forth. Our national capital has only six weeks left to decide if it will grow up, stand up, and belly up to the issues that perpetuate its image as a second-class, introverted city inside a world-class metro area.

July, 2006

The nation's capital gets hot in the summer, and heat, they say, makes people do strange things. For instance, DC Council members are trying to improve public school performance by making a first class education by law a "right". And they want DC's retailers enforce social welfare goals. The police department hopes to solve July's crime wave by hiring even more police personnel two or three years hence. Metro's boss hopes to attract more riders to its already-overcrowded subway trains by adding musical entertainers in the stations, not capacity. DC's mayor seems hell- bent on avoiding a court-takeover of its mental disabilities agency that hasn't been run properly for 20 years. Team owners are balking at providing proper parking at their new baseball stadium.

Meanwhile, other DC agencies appear stuck in the summer doldrums all year round, aimlessly drifting through calms, squalls, and shifting breezes with no particular destination in mind. The driving forces seem to be placating every special interest and minimizing waves. Transportation and land use planners and consultants aren't even paddling against the rising tide of the traffic gridlock. They focus on preserving where they've been, not steering a course towards a bright new future.

This month, NARPAC looks at three ongoing projects impacting DC's future prosperity. We find each one beset by a narrow, short-range focus at the expense of formulating and guiding a well- orchestrated trip into the future. Authorities shaping the redevelopment of the 270-acre Armed Forces Retirement Home, one of DC's largest relic properties, seem more interested in saving Abe Lincoln's summer view of the city than in maximizing productive land use for the city.

Public transit planners are adding "rapid" buses on Georgia Ave which, by leap-frogging slower existing ones, may save nine minutes on a 58 minute trip. But there is little quantitative analysis of the efficacy of the current 54-stop route, and little concern for how these "express" buses will interact with the thousands of other rush-hour vehicles that share the constrained rights of way.

And a master plan is underway to redevelop the "old convention center' site across Mt. Vernon Square from the new convention center. It is based on a litany of the usual, but dubious, design activist-inspired constraints. And it ignores the needs to solve the growing traffic problems around the Square itself, and to generate truly fresh landmarks for the city's next 100 years.

It is high time for more ambitious executive leadership, and more creative legislative oversight in our national capital city.

June, 2006

NARPAC has great respect for the small OP staff who prepared this very attractive Comprehensive Plan draft. But we focus on four broad issues, seldom raised at advisory group meetings, and absent from the plan's 36 "Guiding Principles".We are not satisfied: this plan does not adequately stress:

1. ...DC's unique urban role as the capital city of the world's greatest nation;
2. ...DC's essential role as the core city of the world's premier metro area;
3. ...DC's permanent role symbolizing the vitality of the American Dream; or
4. ...factual data, comparative forecasts, and a proper geographic context.

The plan seems to resist, not shape, the future. We disagree with the excessive, homey, community focus. Our capital city must be a lot more than the sum of its 130-odd neighborhoods. (We'd settle for 30.) Beyond "diversity" and "inclusiveness", the US capital needs prestige, urbanity, international flavor, top-notch businesses and amenities, and a first-class infrastructure.

And DC's financial future is certainly not hobbled by any "structural imbalance" imposed by the Feds or Congress. Strong leadership can assure DC's future prowess based on hard-nosed long- range planning. But that planning must focus on a unified infrastructure and shared roles between the city, its contiguous region, and the Federal Government.

Our strongest, but not only, concerns are with the independently-prepared Transportation Element. It seems oblivious to its role as the key infrastructure factor underpinning future urban growth. Only the back-up material indicates DC is on track for traffic paralysis. By 2025, the superficial fixes proposed will be exhausted. How much more mobility is needed, how it is achieved, who uses it, or why it is mainly available outside of rush hours, are not explained.

Mr. Mayor, some of your major initiatives are progressing without the first-class transportation infrastructure upgrades they deserve. These include: 1) the Anacostia Riverfront Initiative, with its stadium; 2) "Downtown" expansion beyond its current limits; and 3) efforts to improve the economy East of the Anacostia. Failing to add significant Metrorail and arterial infrastructure will also assure the continued inadequacy of our evacuation capabilities, largely ignored in the Plan.

NARPAC recommends you complete this parochial, but surely not comprehensive, plan. Then, together with the DC Council, create a real legacy for our capital city:

Commission a broad-based 50-Year Infrastructure Expansion Study for the Inner National Capital Metro Area, using national and/or international metropolitan experts that can focus beyond the nearest neighborhood and special interest.

THE FUTURE OF DC ROW HOUSES- A Major Resource for Residential Growth
May, 2006

One perennial question in planning DC's future growth is how to house more residents in a city whose land is largely already in use, and whose building heights are limited by preservationists. Much will depend on the evolution of the city's hundreds of row house blocks. Some like those now being refurbished in Columbia Heights will offer new opportunities in one of DC's fastest growing 'transit-oriented' neighborhoods. Other exceptional row house blocks in and around Georgetown and Capitol Hill will always be in demand for wealthier residents.

But the greatest changes will occur in the more mundane areas where large numbers of almost identical row houses were hurriedly built to take care of DC's population explosion in the 1940's. On "the outskirts of town" when they were built, they are now being overtaken by downtown expansion. Major density increases in these blocks can be possible if ongoing natural changes in household demographics and lifestyles are accepted rather than discouraged. These include:

o an inevitable blending of "houses", "apartments", "condos", "flats", "co-housing", and "rooms" with a general trend towards fewer persons and rooms per household;

o less ground-level outdoor living and storage space, be it backyard, front yard, back deck or front porch, and more rooftop decks and basements; and fewer private outdoor spaces but more common space characterizing any given row house block: such as tennis courts, play yards, etc.;

o urban households with more adults and more cars, and greatly increased off-street parking, in both individual garages and common parking areas mostly below surface level;

o single rows of houses around each block's perimeter replaced with double rows; either back-to- back with a narrower gap for an alley between them, or face-to-face with a larger, more decorous gap, possibly devoid of vehicles;

o a third floor for the outer rows in lower density areas, and a fourth floor in denser areas such as those close to public transportation nodes; additional height for the inner rows, mostly invisible from the city streets, that may be used to provide common, decked-over, parking;

At question is the conflict between abstract planners overly protective of the past, and developers with a far keener (if biased) vision of future urban lifestyles and needs. With suitable compromises between the two, NARPAC believes that the typical population of a row house block can be doubled, the number of householder units increased threefold.

IS DCPS READY TO PLAY 4-D MUSICAL CHAIRS? Extraordinary Circumstances Will Warrant Extraordinary Measures
April, 2006

It has been ten years, four public school superintendents, and two school boards, since the DCPS belatedly closed (but hung onto) 23 schools, cutting the number of active school sites from174 to 149. By then, schools were down to less than 80% of the reduced capacity. Enrollment is still falling. Before 23 more schools can be closed, NARPAC projects that 50 will become surplus.

Superintendent Janey has proffered an ambitious Master Education Plan much like his earlier Vision. Both include "lesser-order terms" that veil the few major issues that will determine if DC's public school system survives at all. The DC Council and School Board now indicate that the pace of closures must be quickened. But they have yet to show awareness of the true scale of the undertaking, or the need to adopt a firm plan with fixed end-point objectives.

Several interrelated essentials make it impossible to proceed hesitantly or piecemeal. A realistic target enrollment some ten years hence must be firmly adopted. An outline for each planned set of feeder schools" is essential, probably laid out in reverse progression, from surviving high schools back to surviving middle schools, back to surviving elementary schools. Up to eight criteria must be established by which schools in each set are ranked for closure. Then the transfers needed to standardize the schools' grade structure (eliminating junior high schools) must be planned so kids aren't moved into middle or high schools about to close. Then the consolidation of the "clustered" schools can gradually empty those deemed surplus, but only consistent with the needs to repair and modernized the chosen survivors before their re-launch. And never miss a school day!

In NARPAC's preliminary "best case" (others may disagree), just 8 high schools for 8000 kids, 13 middle schools for 9000 kids, and 64 elementary schools for 33,000 kids would survive. Some 60 school properties could become available for disposition, along with up to 250 acres of property worth well over half a billion dollars: enough to provide urgent care facilities, affordable housing, other unwanted, but essential, city services, and still provide revenues for capital improvements.

And the hitch? Up to 80% of all kids, their teachers and support staffs will have to move at least once, maybe twice over five or six years, just due to re-alignments Turbulence would be inevitable; administrative frustration and hectoring by disgruntled advocates, corrosive; and mid- stream course changes, potentially destructive. City leaders would do well to adopt "extreme measures" to keep this tightly knit set of maneuvers from unraveling. If not a receivership or control board, then a powerful "special master" is almost certainly warranted. Go for it!

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Capital City Government as Burlesque
March, 2006

In one week in early March, 2006, the national capital city leadership has called into question its ability to govern at a level that would bring any sense of pride to the American people.

On March 8th, officials of Major League Baseball, a rare and capricious American monopoly, finally agreed to sell to the highest local bidder, a disowned Canadian baseball team (already called the Nats), for perhaps $400M more than it paid for it. After months of bickering between the mayor's fans and the Council's opponents, a compromise begrudgingly approves the return of the American national pastime to the American national capital. Concern remains for displacing a handful of reluctant land owners now being obliged to sell their decrepit properties at more than three times their current assessed values. Activists, some with clear racial overtones, are angry that DC is funding the stadium rather than spending even more on its deserving poor.

On March 10th, a US magistrate judge sentenced current Council member Marion Barry, DC's former disgraced mayor, to three years of supervised probation for his misdemeanors. She could have imposed additional fines, and/or an 18 month jail sentence. The admitted addict has failed to pay some $246,000 in federal and DC income taxes, and recently failed a drug test as well. While some members looked at their shoes, the Council Chair said she was "glad the matter's resolved" so Barry could get back to his $92,520 Council job and "continue to concentrate on his duties to the citizens of Ward 8". Barry left the courthouse smiling, flanked by his jovial cronies and pastors. All seemed satisfied that his apology for this most recent six- year lapse had sufficed.

On March 13th, a bussed-in group of demonstrators assembled on Freedom Plaza outside the District Building ("city hall"). Orchestrated by city leaders and local pastors, they displayed their unhappiness that approval was being delayed for a $400M new hospital promised to serve (primarily African American) residents east of the Anacostia. Never mind that the NCMC would most likely: a) do very little to improve their substandard life expectancy; b) be unsupportable by a credible Certificate of Need; b) provide a bail-out for the failing Howard U hospital; and d) cause Southeast's only hospital to close. Along with city officials "spearheading" the movement, activists have now imbued this issue with strong racial overtones, apparently as a means of generating a "Certificate of Intimidation".

NARPAC takes serious exception to senior DC government leaders turning basic national capital city business into burlesque, particularly when it diverts attention from solving the disgraceful health problems of its underclass, as well as one of its Council members.

February, 2006

Whether its residents relish the role or not, the District of Columbia is the nation's capital city. As such, it symbolizes what America stands for. What it does, and how it does it, is broadcast around the world. It helps shape global opinion of our down-to-earth success in achieving our lofty goals and ideals. Whoever lives here, votes here, pays taxes here, and governs here has the unique burden of being on display as America's urban showcase.

The city is now struggling to prepare a new 20-year Comprehensive Plan that appropriately recognizes virtually every American special interest. A combination of idealism and pragmatism, it will provide a public guide book on how the city should grow. How it grows will depend on who it attracts to live here and work here. This in turn depends on how the city's limited land is zoned for continued development. Housing, and all that goes with it, will help define the desired evolution of the city's "residential mix", the lifeblood of the capital city's 'body politic'.

The plan's drafters are wrestling to accommodate the conflicting aims of various advocacies, and serious issues are emerging that cannot be prioritized at the working levels:

o lofty, often demagogic, visions of 'diversity", "inclusiveness", "mixed-income" and "vibrance" defy conversion into practical quantitative goals of zoning density, floor area ratios, open spaces, affordable housing quotas, metro expansion, and the like;

o incantations about "being all things to all residents" and "neighborhoods uber allis" encourage NIMBYs to oppose planning long-range changes to their backyards for the good of the city;

o the bias for residential over commercial expansion threatens to weaken the balance between the city's revenues and expenditures, and between its operating costs and capital infrastructure needs;

o efforts to forge a coherent, unified plan from a set of independently authorized city sector and functional component plans could lead to fundamentally inconsistent policies and goals; and

o ignoring the city's special roles both as host to the nation's capitol, and as dependent core of its large prospering metro area as well, panders counterproductively to local, parochial interests.

The city's collective leadership will make a key mistake if they persist in their hands- off approach until some massive bureaucratic compendium of un-weighted platitudes is assembled "from the bottom up", and slickly presented for pro forma blessing. It will be just a litany of banalities unbefitting the national capital, and useless in improving DC's tangible or symbolic character.

(There was no editorial in January, 2006)



December, 2005

For more than a year now, concerned residents, local citizens' organizations, and medical professionals have been raising realistic objections to the city's plans to erect a large new 'world- class' hospital on the site of the long-dysfunctional, and now-defunct, DC General.

DC's health statistics remain pathetically low, and the city's public school infrastructure is becoming an ever-greater national embarrassment. Nevertheless, the city's leaders, both in the mayor's office and the City Council, are pressing ahead on a misguided scheme to escape from one of the few truly tough but completely correct decisions made during this administration.

The reasons for closing DC General, despite its fictitious symbolism of black achievement, were completely valid. The reasons for recreating a "National Capital Medical Center" (NCMC) in an even more extravagant style, largely on city funds, are completely specious.

The NCMC bandwagon is powered by political steam, based on an urge to pander to constituent wishful thinking. The parameters for this unnecessary new hospital were plucked from thin air well before the city's healthcare needs were properly defined. An 'experts' report', commissioned by the city, is interpreted by NCMC proponents as strongly supporting their ambitious goals. In fact, reading both the fine print and between the lines, the opposite conclusions come into view.

Considerably more quantitative data is readily available that can afford better projections of the city's future hospital needs. Blatant attempts to circumvent this fact-finding process creates further suspicion that this plan is a device to curry constituent favor, and perhaps even to bail out another failing hospital run by Howard University.

The new NCMC does not address the city's real health problems, and is likely to exacerbate them rather than relieve them. Furthermore, the extent to which non-DC residents inflate the need for DC hospital beds is completely ignored, and the possibilities of finding regional solutions to regional healthcare problems are not addressed at all. Once more, the city has tried to set itself up as an insular entity, when in fact, it is the integral core of a much larger socio-economic entity.

The city's administrative and legislative leaders need to get a grip on reality: focus on the basic healthcare and infrastructure issues facing our capital city, and give up dreams of building a world-class medical castle on a bed of "underserved" sand. The NCMC could well make both of those key issues worse, and further aggravate DC's inner city image as a Third World aberration.

November, 2005

NARPAC devoted most of October probing the War Against Progress in the nation's capital city. Several skirmishes are currently underway. Some property owners are adamantly refusing to accept three times the value of their decrepit properties standing in the way of DC's new baseball stadium. DC's most respected medical authorities are railing against a politically-driven plan to spend $500M on a gilt-edged hospital that will not improve the city's appalling health problems. And a band of DC's would-be intelligentsia are using terror tactics to defeat a university's plan to expand and improve its long-term financial posture. In all three local conflicts, rationality has given way to hyperbole, and leadership to demagoguery as institutions threaten individuals.

The battle between George Washington University's (GWU) Endowment Seekers and Foggy Bottom's Obdurate Fringe drew NARPAC's focus. GWU's grungy students (your kids) have been spilling over its institutionally-zoned borders and generating Animal Houses in the "Historic District" to its west. New office buildings, federal agencies (incl. the State Dept), and global organizations (World Bank and IMF) crowd the 43-acre campus from the north, south, and east.

Highhanded GWU management hopes to convert its potentially most lucrative (now-empty) block into a $400M (?) high-rise, for-profit center. Facing Washington Circle and Pennsylvania Ave., it abuts the only Metro station in "Downtown West". It could yield valuable tax revenues for DC, and needed income to GWU for redeveloping its antiquated, hodge-podge, preservation-limited campus. The paranoid, mostly childless, solidly middle-class home-owners, now outnumbered perhaps 10:1 by students, staff, and transient apartment renters, see only looming disaster.

NARPAC posed eleven hopefully objective questions of its own, with mixed conclusions. Yes, of course the nation's capital should welcome students. No, the city shouldn't take more of its key downtown properties off the tax rolls. No, there is no requirement to rid downtown of its current tax-free institutions. No, the campus should not be limited by zoning more stringent than on its boundaries. No, there are no significant costs to the city of providing (limited) services to this campus. Could GWU use more endowment? Yes. Should it be allowed to invest in real estate? Why not? Should it be allowed to use some of its real estate holdings to generate income? More non-profits should do the same. Could a large, undisciplined student influx decrease surrounding property values? Yes, but there's no proof they have so far. Does these youths present special risks so close to downtown's Ground Zero? Yes, as do all other nearby residents and workers.

We conclude there is no overriding reason to encourage the further expansion of GWU in the downtown area, nor to place an absolute ceiling on GWU's student or employee population within its current boundaries. But it is not justifiable is to: a) constrain on-campus growth by zoning limits substantially below those applied to its immediate surrounds; b) discourage any non-profit institution from creating developments that could provide valuable income to both the city and itself; or c) permit local neighborhoods to veto continued urban development around its vital metro stations, particularly based on specious argumentation.

HALF-BAKED or HALF-a-LOAF, Either Way BRAC Could Mean Real Bread for DC
October, 2005

Few major federal property transfer opportunities have been as thoroughly ignored by DC's political and institutional leaders as the work of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. A rare joint, and largely de-politicized, creature of the federal legislative and executive branches, this completely open, two-year BRAC process is now complete. DC will eventually gain control of a major under-utilized Defense Dept property available for unencumbered economic development. We believe NARPAC was the only DC area organization to offer constructive recommendations to both the Pentagon and the Commission on such sites within the city.

While the final actions fell short of our ambitious objectives, the Army's 110-acre Walter Reed Hospital complex will close, and the Navy's"Potomac Annex" (west of the State Dept Building) will give up any pretext of military utility. Quite independent of BRAC, the financially-strapped Soldier and Airmen's Home will release a large share of its unique site for economic development. Similarly, the Navy has released its high-value site at Ward Circle, NW, to GSA to serve as the "temporary" headquarters for Homeland Security. But across the Anacostia River the future of the huge (partly federal-, partly DC-controlled) St. Elizabeth's Hospital site remains mired in indecision. And to NARPAC's chagrin, the BRAC Commission ignored the even larger one-time military airfields which occupy priceless land on the banks of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers.

But the outlook is clear. The "post-Iraq BRAC round" some five years hence will surely continue to shed defense properties, particularly if they are near potential urban targets. Will DC grasp the potential of these present and future transfers and exploit their vast potential advantages for our national capital city? There's plenty of time, but progressive new guidelines are warranted:

oThe fate of these properties is up to the city, not the nearest parochial neighborhoods

oTogether these sites could provide revenues to guarantee DC's financial independence

oThese sites are "outside the bowl" and need not be hog-tied by L'Enfant's 200-yr old limits

oThese sites are opportunities to pursue DC's progressive future, not embalm its historic past

oDC's should reinforce its unique urban role and avoid mimicking the suburbs' strengths

oDC leaders should make sure the remaining defense properties do not ignore BRAC criteria

September, 2005

NARPAC was formed nine years ago with the goal of nudging Washington DC towards being the world's best national capital city in the nation's best capital metro area. Over the years it became clear to us that the source of DC's embarrassing near-Third World quality of life statistics was its highly concentrated, self-perpetuating, largely estranged areas of poverty.

In several of our comparative analyses over the years, New Orleans has shown itself to be one of the few middle-sized American cities with even more discouraging socio-economic statistics than DC: higher rates of poverty, more kids in poverty, fewer people with either a high school or college education, far lower mean housing value and mean household income, and nearly the same lack of home ownership. And sure enough, it has produced the greatest national embarrassment to the US since the deadly riots in the blighted neighborhoods of Los Angeles, and Washington DC.

Forecast not just for years but for decades, Hurricane Katrina finally tore the innocent-looking scab off America's longest-festering wound. On the one hand it demonstrated the serious failure of local and state authorities to mitigate a thoroughly and accurately predicted disaster. On the other hand, it also showed the inability of afflicted underprivileged communities to exert their own local civic or religious leadership to avoid anarchy. The instant emergence of counter-civil activity coupled with demands that higher authorities rescue them, is the most troublesome aspect of this debacle.

Never mind that federal authorities have become romantically fixated on a global crusade against terrorism. Overlook that political light-weights were named to crucial jobs in national emergency management. Forget that our reserve and guard military forces are pre-occupied with dubious foreign adventures. Excuse the Congress for not appropriating funds for stronger levees. Ignore the failure of large US businesses to limit the vulnerability of their own investments. Cluck at the folly of local authorities turning natural buffers (wetlands) into commercial developments.

But the real issue is the abject inability of large concentrations of long-standing American poor to cope with their own rudimentary needs. Inured by the negative preaching of their demagogic "leaders", many are utterly dependent on those they have been taught to resent. In a country currently fascinated with diminishing federal responsibilities, it appears we are basically unprepared to implement the alternatives. There is, after all, no local, regional, or federal diktat to concentrate the least among us into 'critical masses' of counter-cultural poverty. And surer than hell, there is no federal requirement to warehouse our underclass below sea level.

Never has it been more clear that the US must accept major goals to a) "de-concentrate" the poor, and b) "try again" to provide a basic life-sustaining education to those who, for whatever reason, passed it up first time around, and live a lifetime reluctantly dependent on those they so deeply distrust.

WELCOME ASSISTANCE FROM ON HIGH: Good Intentions Snarled in Unwelcome Strings
August, 2005

NARPAC firmly believes that our national capital city must get substantial assistance from its lords and masters in the US Congress if DC is to shine as a proud and unmatched symbol of the American way of life. City residents, including almost half of the metro area's poor, lack the financial resources to sustain a world-class infrastructure on their own. And the city government lacks the broader vision often provided by state-level oversight.

Congress has generally treated its oversight role as if DC were just another federal agency to be controlled through its cumbersome annual authorization/appropriation rituals. Not surprisingly, the oversight subcommittees have focused on the city's budget, (even though it is locally funded), and allowed individual members to add idiosyncratic riders ranging from local pork to pet rocks. This year's bill has seen attempts to change street names, weaken gun control laws, and prematurely broaden an experimental (albeit welcome) school voucher program.

But Congress is also beginning to understand its broader roles. There are bills in the hopper to at last grant DC a full-voting seat in the House, and to remove the city's locally-raised budget from the federal appropriation process. With White House encouragement, Congress has also begun to turn over more surplus federal properties for local economic development. This year, it has also begun to probe DC's over-sized, over-aged public school structure, as state governments do when local districts fail in their educational obligations. Congress knows DC's poor quality of life statistics stem mainly from its under-educated, underprivileged, sector. But therein lies the hitch: Congress is about to tie a counterproductive "quid" to an otherwise very productive "quo".

DC leaders welcome the impending transfer of 200 acres of prime land for needed economic redevelopment. DC leaders understand that many of the city's most disadvantaged kids will not be able to break the cycle of poverty without a more rigorous educational environment during their secondary school years. The SEED Foundation's college preparatory boarding schools for disadvantaged kids offer such an effective new approach, but with high initial and operating costs. So Congress intends to legislate that 15 of the 200 transferred acres be set aside for a new 600-kid SEED school, rather than oblige DC to free up some of its large DCPS surplus. Based on the 2003 DCPS Facilities Plan, there are over 400,000 sqft of surplus buildings and perhaps 16 acres of surplus school property within walking distance of the proposed RFK parking lot site!

If the current legislation is the best deal that can be struck, then DC should accept it albeit with some reluctance. But the real issue is whether DC has suggested a better alternative. Wanna bet?

An Open Letter from NARPAC to The Chairman, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on DC: June 25, 2005
July, 2005

Dear Mr. Chairman:

My organization congratulates you on your intervention in the District's affairs concerning its vastly oversized public school infrastructure. We may be unique among local advocacy groups because we believe on the one hand that Congressional oversight is necessary, but on the other, that an annual Congressional hand-out to subsidize the presence of the federal government is not

. NARPAC would prefer the oversight committees not interfere in DC's day-to-day affairs and local laws (viz. gun control). But we would encourage greater focus on DC's unique role as our national capital city: does DC project an appropriate American image? Does it have the plans, means, and motivation to be the preeminent core city of our nation's capital metro area?

To these ends, we urge you to look beyond how well DC spends its own tax revenues, to how well the federal government is facilitating DC's future growth: is DC an integral part of its metro area? Is it economically self-sufficient? Is its essential infrastructure being modernized? In fact, DC has neither the plans, the means, the regional cooperation, nor the federal support to assure its national constitutional role. DC is below par as a US inner city based on norms for health, crime, education, housing, public transportation, and public infrastructure. It lacks the revenue potential, political vision, discipline, and popular support to be America's finest city without help from Congress.

In NARPAC's ideal world, our capital city and its regional connectivity would be overseen by a Joint Committee of Congress. It would include senior members of key urban-related committees such as housing, health, education, transportation, and public works, all focused on helping to make DC uniquely outstanding. In the real world, this function seems to fall primarily on your shoulders.

We suggest you hold high-level hearings on DC's Outlook as Our National Capital City. We would gladly help you scope some of DC's "first order" needs and the proper federal role in meeting them.

DC STRATEGIC PLANNING: Professional Blueprints or Community Fantasies?
June, 2005

If any single management task symbolizes an organization's competence and future promise, it is the professionalism of its long-range strategic planning. Day-traders may bet on the next P&L statement, but serious investors expect sound long range planning.

Two functional areas key to the world image of our national capital city and metro area are our abilities to a) educate our kids (and ex-kids) for a healthy, productive, law-abiding, independent, American lifestyle, and b) provide adequate regional and local mobility for all our local, regional and international residential, transient, commercial and government stakeholders.

DC leaders and opinion-makers appear willing to endorse the covers and summary platitudes of whatever draft plans are put before them. NARPAC's 'investment analysts' slog through the fine print, hoping to judge the professionalism of the full content. We look for telltale signs of pipe dreams, special interests, deceptions, and quantitative anomalies on the one side, and credible trends, relevant baselines, new technologies, resource limitations, and regional unity on the other. We want all "first-order terms" treated and appropriate leadership demands acknowledged.

NARPAC concludes DC does not have a functional blueprint to resolve its real educational deficits: The new DCPS plan fantasizes about adopting dozens of "inside-the-schools" palliatives to compensate for "outside-the-schools" shortcomings that were produced, in turn, by prior educational failures. It ignores enrollment trends, union foot-dragging, coast anomalies, and facility inefficiencies. Its goals are not based on realistic baselines or even regional cooperation.

Concurrently, DC, WMATA, and CoG are putting the final touches on three different 25-year transportation plans that: depend on reversing existing trends in household and business growth and auto use; give up on future heavy rail extensions inside or outside the city; reject the value of regional mobility and a commuter-based economy. Rather, they focus on inside-the-city "connectivity"; lane-preempting trolleys; unrealistic increases in bike riders and pedestrians; simple old-fashioned parking enforcement; and quiet, tree-lined, neighborhood streets.

Neither plan addresses the pro's or the con's of emerging technologies; sets priorities or resource requirements; or specifies valid demands on broader, federal authorities as the nation's unique capital city. These plans are not usable blueprints for constructing the world's finest capital city. They are fanciful murals splashed on a local wall by diverse community activists whose goals do not exceed their individual reach. They do not challenge local leadership to step up to the future


Investors beware!

BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME? Not If They Can't Get Here!
May, 2005

Our capital city skyline is now dominated by construction cranes violating city height limits. Some sites have as many as six flag-flying cranes. Tens of thousands of offices are being built, mostly for car-driving commuters. Thousands of middle-income and "affordable homes" are replacing emptied housing 'projects', some for barely-affordable families, but most with one car per earner. Hundreds of new luxury condos are being sold to high-rolling, SUV-loving taxpayers.

Virtually no new road lanes are being built, but more are being certified for 24/7 heavy-truck use. No new miles of Metrorail track or tunnel are underway or planned, even though downtown station saturation is now approaching. Thousands of empty lot parking spaces are being replaced by new construction, but no new city-owned, revenue-producing parking facilities are planned, even around the existing convention center or planned baseball stadium. No new underpasses or bridges are on the books. No one plans to refurbish the city's disgraceful railroad rights of way.

Some existing traffic lanes are to be reserved for DC's few biking commuters, others for on- street trolleys and circulator buses. Traffic is being slowed by speed cameras, but not helped by better stop-light timing or traffic controls at street maintenance and building construction sites. Double-parking is rampant with no high-tech curb-use or parking controls. The Feds have closed city streets near key federal targets, and DC hopes to limit freight train traffic under city streets.

Starry-eyed federal, city, and NGO planners hope to regress major DC arterial streets back into 19th century boulevards, just for urban vibrancy. South Capitol St. would morph into a limited- traffic 'capitol gateway' from the poorest areas of the city and region. The Southeast Freeway would be replaced by at-grade, stop-and-go streets. Whitehurst Freeway 'deconstruction' would destroy the only realistic Georgetown by-pass. Maine Ave. 'boulevardization' would cut thru- traffic capacity near the Southwest waterfront. Higher density zoning along an unchanged Wisconsin Ave. will further clog traffic from Montgomery County's most successful edge cities.

Overlapping city, area, and federal planning agencies disagree on DC's 20-year future by hundreds of thousands of residents, commuters, and cars! DC separates commercial, economic, and local land use, and leaves transportation planning to an office with no obligation to either, and a mindset to fill DC with bike- and trolley-riding locals on streets converted to parks.

DC's future prosperity and regional competitiveness depend far less on getting a vote in Congress or taxing federal land than on bellying up to the needs to expand its basic transportation arteries to assure realistic regional mobility and core city growth.

Let's avoid strangulation by vibrancy.


April, 2005

Driving around DC during the first week of April cannot help but be inspiring. While dignitaries and tourists are crowded downtown in the Federal Enclave for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, more exciting things are visible in the residential areas where tourists fear to tread. The winter's dead leaves and gritty sidewalks are gone (if not the potholes). There are blooming flowers, budding trees, and a remarkable amount of fresh paint all over town, not just in the prosperous Northwest quadrant, or the booming downtown. DC's many grubby neighborhoods seem far less grubby. Some seem poised for major rebirth (e.g., near the Marine Corps Barracks beyond downtown and the new NY Ave metro station , or Alabama Ave across the Anacostia).

The evident exuberance exudes from the Mayor's 2005 "State of the District Address" which offers some valid accomplishments as well as some poetic license for the past year. As DC's finances continue to improve (primarily through unmentioned revenue improvements), however, the promises grow more credible. The city's transformation seems more likely to be permanent. Lower crime rates; fewer uninsured; more affordable housing, and so forth are all good news.

But the Mayor also focuses more on the needs to: raise the chronically-leaky boats; reduce 30% unemployment in still-troubled neighborhoods; raise the penalties for youth crimes (mainly against youths); rid the city of homeless in ten years; hire 1000 mentors to keep kids out of gangs; add $8M so UDC can prepare more locals for low-paying jobs; shape up 1,800 of DC's 25,000 (?) unemployed for jobs in 2006, borrow $50M to recreate four run-down communities while staving off the "gentrification bulldozer"; pay adults $10K a year to raise their grandkids; reduce taxes on those least likely to pay their way now; and, for the first time in years, devote $3M for adult education for a few of the city's (30%) "functionally illiterate" grown-ups .

A new carpet is being laid over much of the not-for-tourists parts of town. But the fate of the truly tragic lumps under the old rug is by no means clear. Are the poor just being pushed around the unseen parts of the city? Are they just being squeezed out into the poorer neighboring neighborhoods? Are they still recreating themselves as fast or faster but just out of sight? Are the working poor absorbing the "poorest of the poor" or are they being consumed by them? Are the per-capita costs to the city's net taxpayers of the per-capita costs of the city's huge number of net tax consumers increasing or decreasing? Are we gaining or losing on DC's embarrassing urban indicators? Is the nation's capital still a well-below-average American city?

NARPAC cannot see beneath the carpet, and nobody else is talking during Spring, tra-la!

March, 2005

Federal Land Could Be Shifted to DC Control
Survey Aims to Boost District's Tax Base
(Washington Post, February 7th, 2005)

At face value, this recent headline was music to NARPAC's ears. Beset by spending it chooses not to pay for, and increasing demands for state subsidies, the Federal Government wants to provide assistance in kind rather than in dollars. Beset by poverty it chooses not to cure, and local activists it won't ignore, DC cannot meet its own needs for capital investment.

DC and Congressional budget officials acknowledge the Bush administration "seeks alternatives to cash payments such as adjusting the use of federal land." A Bush official agrees that such "a restructuring would help DC capitalize on new uses of federal land now idle or underused". An OMB spokesman asserts that this will be "a very productive dialogue about the most effective ways to ensure the city is a place all Americans can be proud of". Right on!

A Post editorial over-hypes this initiative as "a welcome development in a city whose growth is stunted by a wide-ranging federal presence and a prohibition against taxing nonresident incomes". But it notes correctly that "this initiative, if successfully launched, may not solve DC's 'structural deficit', but it could help make the federal government a partner in finding a solution." Right on!

So far, so good: this had-over could indeed create a major win-win situation. Unless, of course, more important things are thereby left undone, with far worse consequences. Should a modest federal land transfer excuse the US government from its bigger obligations to our national capital city? Should it also excuse the DC government's waste of its own human and physical resources?

Specifically, would the District be better off owning DuPont Circle park and DC General's wasted property, but losing Federal help in rebuilding its antiquated sewer system? Would more locally-owned walking/biking trails along the Anacostia river banks offset losing major Federal funding to expand Metrorail coverage across DC? Would DC be better off with more to spend to comfort the poor, but no more to obviate the sources of their poverty? Should DC subsidize more unskilled jobs and unaffordable households, but ignore its sub-American standard of living?

NARPAC fully supports transferring wasted federal properties to DC, but only if both the Federal and DC governments remain committed to facing the tougher long-term demands of our capital city. DC needs this deal, but with strong strings attached to both parties!

February, 2005

Any number of positively-charged straws are blowing in the winter winds around the nation's capital city. DC's finances are better than ever before. Bond ratings are up again. Major new development projects are morphing from dream plans to action programs. Regional prosperity and wealth (if not DC's) seems to be exploding. The mayor's awkward solo role in guiding the city's future (and its new baseball park!) has been challenged by the DC Council. Two newly- elected Council members promise a more active role in DC's local affairs, the third assures more prime time, if not more substance, on DC's most glaring problem: endemic poverty. A new 20- year DC Comprehensive Plan is underway. Congress is talking (albeit hesitantly) about more DC representation in Congressional affairs and less micro-management of DC's internal affairs.

What then can NARPAC find to fret about? Won't DC now become the ideal American national capital core city inside the ideal American metro area? Not necessarily. It is a matter of bold political leadership, focus, and field of view. Only during good times can the elected officials afford to lengthen their focus and shape the longer-range future. But most DC councilmembers seem pre-occupied with pressing city bureaucrats to "spread the wealth" to their wards. A few others are concentrating on preventing changes that would bring greater wealth to theirs. One of the Mayor's lobes is focused (realistically) on increasing the city's attractiveness to Big Business, the other is fixed (idealistically) on salvaging all of DC's 100-odd challenged neighborhoods. The Council Chair seems bent on making sure the city doesn't overreach by failing to "manage its (temporary?) surplus". Congress is looking for ways to pay for White House entanglements abroad with reduced tax revenues and lower domestic spending. The President is crusading to democratize the world, while ignoring our stalemated wars against poverty, illiteracy, teen pregnancy, drunk-driving, assault weapons, substandard housing and homelessness.

NARPAC thinks the DC Council should spend less time overseeing the mayor's job and more on addressing the city's fundamental long-term problems: 1) relations with the Federal Government; 2) relations with DC's own metro area; 3) burgeoning local and regional transportation shortfalls; 4) too little high revenue-producing land; 5) endemic poverty that threatens to make DC the region's poorhouse; and 6) an educational deficit among its current and past public-schooled residents worthy of a mandatory re-call and a human re-cycling effort to reduce lifelong waste.

NARPAC urges the Council to develop its foresight to map out the best future direction for America's only national capital city, and let the Mayor run the city with constrained oversight.

January, 2005

Two Mayoral Task Forces presented their findings in December, 2004, one dealing with near- term parking problems, the other with near-term downtown congestion management. Within those narrow and shallow confines, they provide a variety of recommendations, some of them quite new and valuable, others just rubber stamps of earlier work.

The Commission findings support increased internal and regional public transit; the creation of a permanent funding source (and more federal support) for regional transit; higher parking fees and fewer parking freebies; better parking enforcement with higher fines; more off-street parking; special parking controls near metro stations; the application of new technologies, and the involvement of the downtown BIDs. They suggest better control of delivery systems, trucks and tour buses, a new focus on "curbside and intersection management", and on pedestrian needs.

NARPAC endorses these near-term steps, and visualizes ways they could be further expanded. However, we do not endorse the peculiar call for some new local "signature transportation system" made up of bikes, trolleys, and water taxis rather than continuing development of the region's world-class Metro system.

One failing of both reports is the absence of any estimates of the current traffic-related costs or revenues generated for the city. NARPAC estimates that DC now collects more than it spends on its current traffic operations by $100M, and that opportunities exist, with new technologies, to double those revenues and underwrite twice over the (unfair) subsidy that Metro levies on DC.

Our basic concern with these two efforts is that they address only the next two to three years, and only some of the more superficial problems. These reports say nothing about the far more serious transportation problems already evident in DDoT's own longer term projections. These physical transportation limitations will curtail the city's future economic growth and strength, obliging the nation's capital city to become an ever-smaller, poorer, and more isolated part of its metro region. Transportation planners seem to have accepted this as not only inevitable but desirable!

DC's long-term problems will require 10 to 20 years to solve. Ignoring them now raises the risks that they will not be defined and addressed in time. Several individual development projects are now getting underway that may well be inconsistent with DC's longer range transportation needs.

DC sorely needs a more comprehensive Long-Range Transportation Task Force.

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painting by Jack
Landscape © Jack Hannula.
To see more work by regional artists, visit Narpac's Art Gallery.

This page was updated on Feb 15, 2008

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