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Well now, the Committee of 100 has gotten a bee in its bonnet: President George Clark blasted off a letter to incoming Mayor Vince Gray this week calling for the replacement of Department of Transportation director Gabe Klein and Office of Planning director Harriet Tregoning.

The letter cites a litany of complaints, most centering around what Clark sees as a disregard for community input (by which he means their input) and the aggressive pursuit of a smart growth vision (which the Committee of 100 doesn’t share). He also accuses Klein’s DDOT of neglecting basic services while pursuing shiny toys, and even of losing the city a federal grant for streetcars with his poor planning abilities. Overall, the letter makes clear that the Committee of 100 has felt very abused over the last several years.

“It is offensive to many neighborhood groups to be characterized as “NIMBYS” or “antis” when they want to protect a neighborhood’s character or challenge whether an initiative will actually achieve the desired result or ensure that District laws are faithfully implemented,” Clark sniffs. “Openness and collaboration should be the touchstones of One City, and it seems to us counterproductive to endorse the

Inexperienced rube!

continuation of leadership that disdains public participation and sends the message that the District needs to be more like other cities and less like the nation’s capital.”

Read the whole damn thing after the jump.

November 15, 2010

The Honorable Vincent Gray

Mayor-elect of the District of Columbia

1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, Suite 504, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20004

Dear Mayor-Elect Gray;

We look forward to working with your administration on realizing your campaign theme of One City. It is a goal that every District resident shares even though it has proven difficult to achieve. We renew our organization’s commitments to serve District neighborhoods and to decrease divisions and increase opportunities. With this in mind, we are writing to urge that you not reappoint Harriet Tregoning as Director of the Office of Planning (“OP”) and Gabe Klein as Director of the District Department of Transportation (“DDOT”).

During the past four years, Ms. Tregoning has pursued an agenda that she characterizes as smart growth, with the implication that the city is a victim of “dumb growth” and needs a radical makeover. We disagree with her definition. Smart urban growth is a targeted and disciplined approach that equates sustainability with preserving neighborhoods; and integrates environmental standards, community preservation, infrastructure improvements, economic opportunity, and public participation. We think the results demonstrate that Ms. Tregoning has a skewed view of smart urban growth and a top down approach to the future of our city. Under Ms. Tregoning’s leadership the Office of Planning has done the following:

  • Initiated a transformation of all land use regulations and processes, which in implementation will result in fewer protections for residents and less engagement in regulatory proceedings;
  • Disregarded many hard-fought-and-settled issues in the excellent Comprehensive Plan in favor of her own ideas of what all neighborhoods should look like;
  • Laid the groundwork for confusion and future lawsuits by proposing fuzzy language that omits guidance on the height measuring point for development behind Union Station;
  • Demonstrated questionable judgment in assuming the role of Mayor’s Agent in historic preservation cases, for which she has no legal training or experience, breaking thirty years of precedent during which an experienced, impartial administrative law judge had always presided over these adjudications;
  • Avoided public scrutiny of OP actions as evidenced by the lack of even one city-wide meeting with the public or ANC commissioners on the proposed zoning changes;
  • Downplayed or ignored critical comments at public hearings and displayed little or no empathy for the affect of her complicated zoning changes on residents, individual neighborhoods, or the pattern of living in the District.

There may be some residents who applaud the “I-know-best” approach exemplified by Harriet Tregoning, but we think that her style conveys the message that the public is not welcome to intrude on the advancement of an agenda. We are hopeful that as Mayor you will find the absolutist approach incompatible with bringing the city together. It is wrongheaded for city leaders to believe that progress cannot be achieved if citizens are involved. And it is offensive to many neighborhood groups to be characterized as “NIMBYS” or “antis” when they want to protect a neighborhood’s character or challenge whether an initiative will actually achieve the desired result or ensure that District laws are faithfully implemented.

Openness and collaboration should be the touchstones of One City, and it seems to us counterproductive to endorse the continuation of leadership that disdains public participation and sends the message that the District needs to be more like other cities and less like the nation’s capital.

We also urge you to appoint a more experienced Director of DDOT. While Mr. Klein has no shortage of ideas, his implementation of them has been uneven and may have cost the city potential federal funding for streetcars. Expanding the public transportation systems requires more than mapping routes. It demands thorough financial and governance planning, environmental and historic preservation review and compliance, planning for maintenance and other ancillary facilities, assessment of streetcar technologies worldwide and much more. Under his directorship, none of this has occurred except in a most superficial way. Mr. Klein has associated DDOT with the symbols of a “livability” agenda but hasn’t done the hard work of ensuring long-term sustainability.

Similarly, the DDOT initiative to create a network of bike lanes lacked depth of planning which has resulted in confusion for all roadway users and questionable safeguards for any of the users. It would have been helpful and prudent if DDOT had accompanied the promotion of bike usage with an aggressive campaign to demonstrate the safe and lawful role for each category of roadway users and an active enforcement of laws governing each of the users. The singular goal was to produce another symbol of the “livability” agenda and to declare victory despite the created tension among pedestrians, bikers, drivers, and public transit operators.

At the same time that Mr. Klein was focused on bikes and streetcars, daily transportation needs went unaddressed. It has been very difficult to persuade DDOT officials to respond to street, sidewalk, or other typical repairs; and it has been nearly impossible to convince DDOT to cooperate in advance on projected road work. We think the DDOT Director should have the capacity to lead a thorough evaluation of new or advanced transportation options, responsible introduction of new transit options, an efficient program to maintain roads and sidewalks, and engage the public in planning and implementing quality service delivery and responsive and safe transportation programs. We conclude that Mr. Klein has not demonstrated the ability to lead a well run and highly professional transportation department.

As the District faces unprecedented demands for public services, expectations that progress will not be stalled, and significantly reduced financial resources there will be a critical need for responsible and responsive leadership at all levels of government. The challenge to create One City when all residents will be asked to sacrifice is daunting. The task of reconciling a progressive agenda with the critical need to provide basic skills, safe environments, and opportunities to thrive for all residents is within reach if we have the will to do it. But it will make the journey easier if we have leaders that inspire engagement and collaboration and who have skills to creatively reconcile competing interests.

Ms. Tregoning and Mr. Klein are associated with a style and an agenda that doesn’t reflect what District residents want. It is difficult to conclude that they are the right people to focus on the parts of the city that rightly feel ignored or that they are capable of adapting their agenda to reflect a wider base of opinion and a profound interest in retaining our community values. We think that new leadership at the Office of Planning and the Department of Transportation has a better chance for achieving your goals, which we support.

Sincerely,

George R. Clark, Chair

About the Committee of 100

The Committee of 100 advocates responsible planning and land use in Washington, D.C. Our work is guided by the values inherited from the L’Enfant Plan and McMillan Commission, which give Washington its historic distinction and natural beauty, while responding to the special challenges of 21st century development. We pursue these goals through public education, research and civic action, and we celebrate the city’s unique role as both the home of the District’s citizens and the capital of our nation.