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The tiny triangular plot of land just east of the intersection of 18th and Columbia Road NW is officially called Unity Park, but over the years it’s acquired a few other sobriquets in honor of the sots who call the park home. “Birdshit park, rat park, wino park, a public urinal, a vomitorium, you name it,” says Steve Coleman, director of Friends of Meridian Hill. Coleman’s group has led a 10-year crusade to get the city to renovate the blighted park, and its efforts paid off last October when the city earmarked $30,000 for the project. Unfortunately, no one from the city bothered to show up for the groundbreaking ceremony scheduled for last Wednesday. The 30-plus supporters who did show complained loudly, and the city broke ground the next day, reducing the park’s stage and shrubbery to a heap of dust. “Already, with the ugly stuff that was there leveled, it’s an improvement,” Coleman says. The park, which should be completed by Adams Morgan Day in September, will feature a $40,000 sculpture by Washingtonian Jerome Meadows of a child riding on an adult’s back, overlooking a fountain with two cast-bronze doves. To keep neighborhood winos from turning the pricey fountain into a urinal, park boosters hope to enroll them in community-based treatment, says Coleman.
Price Gouging This spring, while American drivers were apoplectic over a 20-cent-a-gallon gas price increase, the D.C. Taxicab Commission seized the opportunity to ensure that city cab customers shared the pain. In an “emergency action,” the commission imposed a surcharge of 70 cents per ride to compensate for the increase in gas prices. In effect from June 1 until Oct. 1, the hike compensates taxi drivers on each ride for the increase on 3.5 gallons of gas—enough to get every D.C. customer to Dulles airport and back. This is the second time in a year that the commission has leveraged gas prices to raise rates, but now gas prices have taken a dip. And they’re projected to fall more in July after a food-for-oil deal that will bring Iraqi crude onto the market. But the commission is about as likely to drop the surcharge as it is to insist cabbies learn English. Former hack and current commission Chairman Novell Sullivan doesn’t expect the commission to respond to a price drop, but says, “If the circumstances changed significantly, we would consider rescinding the measure.”
If at First You Don’t Succeed For the third time, the labor group Justice for Janitors is pushing an initiative for the November ballot that would make the D.C. Board of Real Property Assessments and Appeals more accountable to the public. Secretive and obstreperous, the board is also notorious for giving rich downtown developers huge property-tax breaks while refusing to budge on legitimate errors in the average homeowner’s tax bill. Justice for Janitors must file the signatures of 17,211 registered D.C. voters with the Board of Elections by July 1 to get on the ballot. Janitors spokesman Emmanuel Pastreich said the initiative would have appeared on the 1994 ballot if the board hadn’t miscalculated the signature requirement. Seizing on the board’s blunder, Vincent Mark Policy, the building owners’ hired gun, filed suit in D.C. Superior Court and stopped the initiative in its tracks. Pastreich and his fellow tax reformers are already gearing up for another legal fight with Policy, but Pastreich thinks it’s worth the trouble. “Building owners are responsible for a lot of the problems the city is having,” he says.