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Until a couple of weeks ago, students at Georgetown and George Washington Universities who zoom around town in their Audis and Volkswagen Jettas had a sweetheart deal on parking: Just pay a nominal $125 per year for a residential parking permit (RPP) and pull into any of the vacant spaces around campus. The deal even exempted students from registering their cars in D.C. and paying the whopping automobile excise tax.
But on Oct. 1, the D.C. Council pulled student parking privileges, prohibiting the issuance of RPPs to students around both universitiesa move aimed at freeing up spaces for longtime residents. The students responded by invoking rallying cries from the U.S. Constitution and the Revolutionary War, but judging from their blunder-filled campaign, they should spend more time cracking their civics books and less cruising in their cars.
Student leaders from both schools say the council’s action represents D.C. politics at its worstcouncilmembers trampling poor, underrepresented students just to make life easier for their voting constituents. And according to David Eldred, vice president of GW’s Student Association, the council bill slights a constituency that paints the District’s coffers green. “[GW] pays property taxes, and we’re the second largest entity in the District, so we’re paying more property taxes than anyone else,” he says.
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Uh, nice bit of persuasive speaking there Mr. Eldred, but your research sucks. All universities in the cityincluding GWare exempt from property taxes, a perennial point of contention in D.C. politics. “Every time [GW] buys a house in Foggy Bottom, it comes off the tax rolls,” says John Capozzi, the District’s shadow statehood representative. “The students don’t understand how the government works here in the District of Columbia. They’re still groping around in a dark room,” adds Capozzi, who has spent his political career trying to pry tax payments from local nonprofits.
“We’re more than willing to sit down and find the best solutions to this problem,” says Eldred, who is not registered to vote in the District. Thoughtful words, but like good collegiate activists, Eldred and his posse decided to crash the party instead. The student associations of both GW and Georgetown organized a rally in front of the District Building on Oct. 1, the day the bill took effect. About 50 people showed up for the frat-boy version of the March on Washington. Then, eight of the bravest protesters stormed Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans’ office, where the group waited for about 15 minutes until one of the councilmember’s assistants addressed them, according to Eldred.
Eldred complains that forcing students to register their cars in the District might knock his classmates out of contention for grant money. “Depending what state you’re from, if you register your car in D.C., then you’ll lose your state financial aid,” he says, adding that about 60 percent of GW students receive some amount of funding from their home states.
But John Ralls, an assistant to Evans, who sponsored the parking bill, says the student’s financial-aid defense is an empty box. “Only six states are affected, and the schools have said that if that happened, those students would be taken care of. It’s not a problem,” says Ralls. Further, says Ralls, the change will only effect students who live in the parking-poor confines of Georgetown and Foggy Bottom. “If you’re a student and you live in Glover Park, it doesn’t affect you. If you live in Dupont Circle, it doesn’t affect you. If you have off-street parking, it doesn’t affect you.”
Ralls’ conciliatory words don’t soothe the students, who are now talking of a court challenge based on the 14th Amendment, which requires equal protection under the law for all U.S. citizens. According to a memo from the District’s Office of General Counsel, however, it’s just fine to limit where students can leave their cars because “regulating parking and registering motor vehicles is of legitimate interest to a state.” Eldred and his buddies should know that residential parking stickers are not exactly the stuff of 14th Amendment protections, but they’re probably too busy trying to find a place to park.Tina Plottel