Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Reflections on the Ward Five Leadership Meeting

I held two meetings with constituents earlier this month, on January 16 and 19. These were two opportunities for people to come and shape the agenda for the coming year-- more on that soon.

But first I am passing on my notes from the meeting held by Councilman Harry Thomas, Jr. this past Saturday morning at Woodridge Library, which was directed at "Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners Presidents and Leaders of Ward 5 Community Organizations."

The meeting had the flavor of brainstorm and community meetup. A more structured meeting is scheduled for Saturday, February 23 at Catholic University. The first 45 minutes after the 10:30 a.m. start time were filled with people announcing who they were and where they lived and worked. Thomas demonstrated his knowledge of people's biography by informing the audience when individuals modestly stated "My name is x and I'm a Ward Five resident."

My notes in abridged form:

11:15 a.m. Harry Thomas (HT) believes his side of the D.C. Public school-closing controversy is not being reported properly. There has been possible retaliation
against school employees who spoke out.

HT: his primary concern is youth violence, killing each other, he's open to ideas. Also, he would like to see the proliferation of "friends of" groups with respect to recreation centers and libraries.

Ms. Snead: spoke about her concerns about shoot-outs, the problems of recreation centers, youth, and crime. There is a former program targeted at young women ages 11-18.

HT: Regarding shootings: we have to change the culture.

Robert Brannum: regarding the issue of youth and gangs, "we have adult gangs." "We use listservs and e-mails to do the same thing [as the youth gangs].... Don't go around casting aspirsions. We can't use listservs to put out hate and denigrate people. We need to stop it." (His comments referred to "anonymous" statements on listservs, but I have not seen any anonymous statements.) Many in the audience applauded in response to these comments.

HT: Exactly right, starts with the family structure. HT referred to the anonymous flyer distributed in Ward Five that made accusations against him. Kids are dying for guidance, they don't know who to turn to, they need mentors.

Commissioner Barrie Danecker: mentioned that Bloomingdale Civic Association had received funding for conflict resolution.

Verna: her comments focused on the Brentwood Road liquor store. People are using the alley as a public toilet. She wants to initiate a petition to stop the single sales of cigarettes and beer.

Gent: "Organized labor is here to help." One of the best ways to stabilize a community is to make sure people have jobs. How much with a possible Redskins stadium cost when we need funding for lifeskills training for youth.

Martha: Department of Justice has outreach programs, will even take kids to church.

HT: talking again about funding for projects.

Ms. Fisher (her husband and young daughter suffered random gun violence at Edgewood Terrace last year but all thankfully survived): doesn't want some people to return to the neighborhood after they have been released from prison.

HT: We need a summit where everyone brings 10 kids. The kids who come to events on their own initative aren't the ones who need the most help.

Representative from the Center for Minority Studies: Ward Five has the highest number of people with HIV.

Commissioner Silas Grant: It would be good to establish the top 10 issues and form committees. Regarding youth: the issues are not solved by creating more and more programs.

HT: He is not interested in creating another series of meetings, he has 37 standing meetings to attend every month. HT noted that when he is CC'd on e-mail, the government employee works faster-- but it shouldn't be that way.

At 12:20 p.m., my time budgeted for the meeting ran out (the meeting had been scheduled until noon).

So what stands out from this meeting of the top community leaders from Ward Five?

- Given that the public schools have control over children for the bulk of the day every weekday during the school year, why haven't they changed the youth culture? Why aren't the schools giving lifeskills training?

- There was virtually no mention of the important rule that churches should play in the community, nor did I notice many if any religious leaders present.

- There was virtually no mention of the need, and what steps should be taken, to attract small businesses to Ward Five, nor any recognition that 2008 could be a very difficult year for the nation, economically. We need to figure out how Ward Five businesses can provide the donuts served at the meeting rather than Shoppers Food Warehouse (which has great donuts, but no stores in D.C.).

- I continue to be skeptical of single-beer-sales bans. Emperically, as one who has participated in several community cleanups, beer cans make up a very small percentage of litter. Single-serving potato chip bags and Coca Cola present a greater threat. If public drinking is the problem, then enforce the public-drinking laws.

- Overall, kudos to Harry Thomas for holding the meeting. It was productive with the generation of ideas and very well-attended (at least 40 attended by my count). It's always the next step that is the hardest, but perhaps that will happen on February 23 at Catholic University.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Luciana Cafe to Open on North Capitol Street. No, really.

Residents will recall that, last March, we were expecting a sit-down restaurant called J. Bell's to open within 30 days at the corner of P Street N.W. and North Capitol Street (1500 North Capitol Street N.W.). The would-be owner made a presentation to more than 20 residents at my single-member-district meeting, and then he followed up with a presentation before the ANC 5C seven days later.

That was the last the community heard of the matter, the property remained untouched... until a few days ago. Alert residents informed the community that "coming soon" signs were on the property. With some trepidation, I investigated. Would the community simply be greeted by another takeout restaurant whose employees bide their time behind protective glass (that's better than a vacant building, but the demand is for something else).

I have spoken with the co-operator of Luciana Cafe, Reinaldo Escuder. He and Ramio Claros are planning to open the restaurant... soon. Reinaldo says that the protective glass will be coming down (although probably not by opening day). He wants it to be a sit-down restaurant. A liquor license is not in the immediate gameplan. Here's a key: Reinaldo has 20+ years of experience operating a restaurant.

The distinct feeling I get after talking with Reinaldo is that he is going to feel out the community and see whether we are ready to support a restaurant. If so, Reinaldo will expand into the phase he calls "a big, big thing."

Across the street, on the south side of P Street N.W. (1430 N. Capitol Street N.W.), is another Douglas Jamal property. I spoke with someone over there who has informed me that Jamal intends to renovate that commercial property soon. The fence surrounds the property due to an incident involving a car.

Still further two doors south, another property is under renovation-- a new story is being developed.

Mirrors Nightclub on the Agenda for Tuesday's ANC 5C Meeting

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5C will address the application by Mirrors Night Club (22 New York Ave, NE) at the monthly meeting:

Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Catholic University, Pryzbyla Center
7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Directions: North of METRO stop on Michigan Ave,
make left onto McCormack Rd NE, then left (just pass the Columbia Law School)

Part I: Election of Officers -------------- 7:05 p.m.
1) Call to Order ……………… Commissioner Bonds
2) Roll Call ………………………Commissioner Grant
3) Acknowledgement of Community Leaders and Guests . Commissioners
4) Approval of the December 2007 Meeting Minutes ….… Commissioner Grant
5) Election of 2008 Officers

Part II: Community Concerns and Progress Reports --------- 7:25 p.m.
1) Remarks by Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr.
2) Community Concerns and Comments
3) Public Safety Update by PSA 501 MPD Officers ………. Commissioner Hammond
4) Comments by Alice Thompson, Mayor’s Office of Community Relations and Services
5) Report on Grant Applications ……………Commissioner Day
6) Report on 2008 Meeting Calendar ………Commissioner Salatti

Part III: Featured Presentation
8:00 p.m.
ABC Expansion Application by Mirrors Night Club, 22 New York Ave, NE

Licensee Barcommand, LLC requests expanded operating hours for sales, service and on-site consumption of alcoholic beverages
Objectors are entitled to be heard by petitioning or requesting to appear before ABC Board by February 25, 2008
Questions and Comments by Commissioners and Community Comments

Update on the Old Firehouse Restaurant Development

The following is a message from Konrad Schlater in the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development concerning the firehouse located at 1626 N. Capitol Street N.W. (see also this background article from July 2005).

From: Schlater, Konrad (EOM)
Sent: Wed 1/9/2008 7:29 PM
Subject: RE: Old Fire Station Update


We had hoped to close on the sale of the fire station to NextGen Development by the end of the 2007. Unfortunately, due to lack of performance by the developer under our sale contract we did not proceed to closing on the sale as planned.

The developer has been spending a lot of time, money, and effort to push this project forward. However, the developer has failed to execute an agreement and lease with a restaurant operator - a necessary pre-condition for our sale of the building. As you may know, the original proposed operator, Mike Benson, moved back to North Carolina and abandoned the project a little over a year ago leaving the developer without a restaurant operator. Over the past two months, NextGen has been in serious negotiations with Twyla Garrett of IME Services, an LSDBE firm headquartered on North Capitol Street, to act as the restaurant operator. Ms. Garrett is just now preparing to open a restaurant with a very similar restaurant concept in Cleveland, Ohio. I have spoken with IME Services and they are very serious about this project.

Due to NextGen's failure to meet their commitments to the District under the sales contract, we have notified them that they are in default of our contract. The developer has 30 days to cure its default under the agreement. If the developer is not prepared to close on the sale, the District will have the option to terminate the agreement, restructure the terms, or find an alternative solution. It is our sincere hope that we can proceed to closing on the sale with the developer shortly. Brian Brown of NextGen Development has already completed designs for the project, obtained permits for the exterior work on the building, and lined up the necessary financing - and we are tantalizingly close to starting construction work on the firehouse. A deal between NextGen Development and IME Services represents the best hope for a prompt and successful development of the firehouse.

I can assure you that the Deputy Mayor's office along with Councilmember Thomas and his staff have been giving this project close attention and we will not take our eye off the ultimate goal, which is removing the blight of the abandoned building and replacing it with high quality neighborhood-serving retail.

I'd be happy to provide ANC5C with an update any time. Please give me a call if you have any questions about this email or the project generally.


Konrad Schlater
Special Assistant
Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Welcome to 2008

Apologies for the "radio silence," but I am back with my first post since November. Welcome to 2008.

2007 featured a lot of meetings (I expect that 2008 will feature many more-- I've already logged four hours this week). I attended the two-to-three-hour monthly meetings of the Commission, multiple monthly crime-related meetings, monthly civic association meetings, and my monthly meetings with constituents. Then there are the miscellaneous activities, including meetings led by government agencies, Mayor Fenty or interest groups. I also met with school officials, business owners, and local social service organizations.

2007 was the year of meetings. I will seek to make 2008 the year of action. 2007 was about obtaining a better understanding of the neighborhood. 2008 will be about accomplishing change in the neighborhood. Let's make it happen, working together.