City Paper is not for tourists
Hearty Presidents Day greetings, all. Yes, there’s more, as WaPo reports: ‘The new snow system, termed an Alberta clipper, is expected to hit the area Monday afternoon and stick around until Tuesday morning. The National Weather Service is predicting a wintry mix to start midday Monday, and the Capital Weather Gang is calling for one to four inches of snow to top the already record-setting totals, especially north and west of the District.’ Snow emergency went back into effect at 9 a.m. this morning, as the debate continues over Washington’s snow-handling skills. Here was the question of week for the McLaughlin Group this weekend: ‘Is the inability of Washington to dig out of a historical snowstorm an international embarrassment?’ That prompted Pat Buchanan to deem D.C. ‘very poorly run,’ not to mention a ‘citadel of liberalism and a failed city,’ and calling home rule ‘not a smashing success.’ Eleanor Clift, God bless her, said she’s ‘satisfied’ with the snow response, telling Buchanan: ‘You use the city like an ATM machine. You don’t pay tax, you don’t help!’
AFTER THE JUMP—-Another Metro accident further erodes confidence; return to work creates epic Friday travel backups; Colby King gives bag tax a chance; Rhee’s operations chief gets things done, loves Sarah Palin; RIP Ray Browne
Amid extended, crushingly slow Friday morning rush, Red Line train is derailed by a safety device west of Farragut North station after the train apparently violated a signal and started to move into the path of oncoming trains. Three were slightly injured; 345 were trapped for the better part of an hour in the tunnels. WaPo notes: ‘The National Transportation Safety Board sent an investigator to the scene to take charge of the probe, which will be the agency’s fourth ongoing investigation into Metro accidents….The incident and emergency response paralyzed the subway system and downtown street traffic on federal workers’ first morning back after a snowbound week.’ Fenty reacts; Eleanor Holmes Norton calls for hearings. Also Examiner, NC8, WUSA-TV, WTTG-TV.
WHAT HAPPENED—-‘Although it is not clear why, controllers in Metro’s downtown control center had set the switch to route the train onto the pocket track, according to a Metro source, who did not want to be identified because the incident is under investigation. That source and another Metro source said the train operator had failed to stop at a red signal on the main track. According to procedure, the operator should have stopped and contacted the control center….Once the train was on the pocket track, it stopped. It then began moving slowly toward a main track, and a pair of safety devices, known as derailers, “popped the wheels off the track” to prevent the train from going further, a Metro official said….The train operator and the downtown controller responsible for that section of the Red Line were placed on administrative leave and will undergo drug and alcohol testing, which is standard Metro procedure, the official said.’
PETER BENJAMIN—-Says the WMATA board chair to WTOP: ‘We certainly have a safety problem, we have a financial problem and we have a management problem….We have a culture that is not sufficiently focused on safety as a way to live and operate.’
ROBERT McCARTNEY—-Saturday WaPo column: ‘The bad news about Metro just doesn’t let up. The transit system was barely functional during the week of blizzards—-when, frankly, we needed it most. And as soon as it was close to returning to normal, this happened, reminding everyone that getting around the capital of the free world is sort of a crapshoot every day. Metro’s deterioration is the result of inadequate funding and ineffective leadership that goes back many years….But for all its troubles, Metro is still much safer than driving on the Capital Beltway. It’s the most efficient, least-polluting means of transportation in our region. We need to save it. The latest missteps should drive home that message for us.’
WAPO EDITORIAL—-From Sunday: ‘Events have so eroded confidence in Metro’s safety and reliability that it’s time the region’s political, business and civic leaders address the crisis….Those who have long observed the WMATA board say it is hard for members—-particularly elected officials—-to take off the parochial hats of their jurisdictions in favor of regional interests. Case in point is the opposition of some Virginia members of the board to acting general manager Dan Tangherlini because he was seen as more predisposed to D.C. interests. Given the complexity of the problems facing the system, we also have to wonder about the efficacy of the revolving door of chairmen who serve one year and members who have divided attentions and limited time….It is time to review, and ultimately to change, how Metro is governed.’
More on the awful Friday commute, from WaPo Ashley Halsey: ‘Traffic backed up for hours on some roads in the morning and perhaps as long on the way home, even though many people chose to stay away from work for one more day. Highways plowed down to the pavement proved to be a lane or two short to handle the flow at both ends of the day, even with a morning rush hour extended by the federal government’s decision to open two hours late. At 7:30 p.m., every intersection for dozens of blocks fanning out from the downtown core was gridlocked, a viral paralysis that eased for no vehicle. A D.C. ambulance sat for more than 10 minutes at Rhode Island Avenue and 15th Street NW, siren blaring and lights flashing. But there was simply nowhere for motorists to go to make way for it to pass…..Although most major highways and arteries in the District had been plowed, the herculean challenge of trucking away tons of accumulated snow from all of them was not complete. Mountains of plowed snow still blocked enough lanes to choke traffic to a standstill.’ Also Examiner, WUSA-TV, WTTG-TV.
SECOND-GUESSING—-‘The mayhem that ensued caused some to question the call for federal workers to return for less than a full day, after four snow days off and on the eve of a three-day weekend….The man who made the decision, John Berry, director of the federal Office of Personnel Management, said it was based on his belief that federal workers could “operate safely.” “Convenience does not factor into this decision,” Berry said. “I knew this would be an ugly commute. But there are many ugly commutes in this region, on rainy days and for other reasons.”‘
AND NOW—-‘Major roads in the District were largely clear Sunday afternoon, although many merge areas and shoulders near expressway ramps leading out of the city were still covered with snow, making for dangerous situations.’
In Saturday’s WaPo, Sandhya Somashekhar covers the latest in regional constituent discontent. ‘In the District, much of the ire has been directed toward [Fenty], who was criticized for promising to open schools Monday—-a decision he later reversed—-and requiring all city employees to work Monday and Tuesday despite slick streets and limited public transportation….Asked what grade she would give the D.C. government for its handling of the storm, Karen Williams, president of the Hillcrest Community Civic Association in Ward 7, said: “What’s the lowest? I’m serious.”…Residents and commuters who had to navigate narrow, ice-clogged streets to get to work Friday sounded off angrily on Twitter. “I thought the snow storm was on tuesday. Please explain Why georgia ave look like katrina?” one person wrote. “Mayor Fenty better watch out for his seat cuz this snow is gonna be his downfall,” wrote another.’ Hizzoner, like pretty much every other public official around, did his best to manage expectations: ‘Our residential plows have been doing a good job, but this is a historic snowfall in many ways….They literally could not have worked any harder.’
InTowner weighs in: ‘Both the transportation and public works departments have thus far proven their worth; the former for its constant attention to changing developments and putting out continuous and timely condition updates and seemingly deeply involved in coordinating city-wide responses with Metro, police, fire and other agencies; and the latter, DPW, also deserves its A+ for the tireless, non-stop work performed by its crews and field managers in their valiant efforts to keep the city from an absolute total shutdown of vital streets and avenues….And, they have succeeded so far to the extent that they have in spite of what appeared to us as the Mayor simply getting in the way at every turn — even to the extent of coming close to creating real chaos with his fumbling over whether the schools were to be open or closed.’
FENTY’S LINE—-‘I’m just focused on the operations of snow removal, not the politics of snow removal.’ Good one.
And more McCartney, this one from Sunday—-when it comes to snow response, ‘We can do better. A rough economic calculation suggests we can afford it. It shows that the benefit of a quicker cleanup and return to work would outweigh the extra cost. To start, we could commit to restore full Metro service and thoroughly clear all bus routes within 24 hours of a storm’s end. We should do a complete job clearing the rest of the roads within another day, or two at most for a monster snowfall like last weekend’s. It isn’t just about the dollars and cents. We ought to take greater pride in our civic performance, given that we’re the nation’s capital and one of the wealthiest and most influential metropolitan areas in the world. A “world class” region doesn’t let weather routinely paralyze it.’ Key question: Just how routinely are we ‘paralyzed’? How routine do these storms need to be to justify greater investment in snow removal?
GREAT IDEA IN ANY CASE—-‘Metro “is the lifeblood not only for professional service workers but other service workers—-security guards, hospital personnel,” said James C. Dinegar, president and chief executive of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. He said it was “inexcusable” that the aboveground stations on Metro, which serve nearly half the total track, were closed for five out of six days Saturday through Thursday. “Whatever investments are needed should be made for Metro to be prepared for severe weather,” Dinegar said. That could mean buying Metro more “prime movers,” the large, diesel-powered vehicles that shove snow off the electrified third rail. They cost $1.2 million apiece and have numerous other uses year-round.’ No-brainer, and the feds should chip in.
Fenty’s handling of snowmageddon, Tim Craig reports in WaPo, is ‘worsening his already tense relationship with city government workers and the unions that represent them, setting up a feud that will probably continue to play out through Election Day.’ The problem, mainly, was the decision on open the District government last Monday and Tuesday because ‘the roads were “normal enough” on Monday and Tuesday and that it was important to have workers “come in and provide services to the people of D.C.”‘ Says Geo T. Johnson of AFSCME District 20, ‘It shows what type of leadership he has….He is not just anti-union, he is anti-employee.’ In other words, nothing new here, but still an opportunity for some forehead-slapping quotes form Marion Barry: ‘His ego gets in the way…I can’t think of a time [when I was mayor] when the federal government was closed and the District government was open….This was an idiotic decision.’ So true—-when Barry couldn’t clear the city, at least he realized it!
Examiner on economic toll: ‘Barbara Lang, president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, said the hospitality industry would be especially hard hit. “The amount of money that businesses are losing is in the millions,” Lang said, adding that hotels, restaurants and bars in the District—-those businesses that rely on consistent consumer traffic—-had suffered irretrievable losses.’
Attendance slips are in for Friday’s DCPS professional development day, and the results are subpar, Leah Fabel reports in Examiner: ‘Only the stalwarts among D.C. Public Schools teachers trickled back to their classrooms on Friday for planned meetings and training sessions that followed four days of weather-caused closures….At Northeast’s Myrtilla Miner Elementary about 40 teachers called in absent by 8:45 a.m., out of a staff of about 120….[A]t Northwest’s Seaton Elementary, a teacher who requested not to be named said that turnout was less than 50 percent, training sessions were canceled, and “the building was freezing.”‘ Also Washington Teacher; judging from the (admittedly self-selected) comments there, not much professional development got done.
Examiner blogger notes that charters are even less prepared to open than DCPS schools: ‘The snow removal plans and priorities of DDOT and DPW outdate the creation of Public Charter Schools. The DC School Reform Act requires that Public Charter Schools be given the right of first refusal on Public School Buildings with the idea that DCPS could recoup some its funding through a rental stream, however, historically, few schools have been able to access and occupy public school buildings….So, the old list that DPW and DDOT has in terms of school locations and priority streets is out of date. Some might add this to the list of items that are part of a grand conspiracy against public charter schools. But that’s not what this is. The streets that Public Charter Schools now occupy – side streets, dead-end streets, residential streets, warehouse districts, have historically not been on the priority list. There is no automatic lever that is sprung over at DPW and DDOT whenever another publicly funded school takes up residence on a street.’
WaPo ed board says that school districts must make up snow days: ‘It’s clear that shortening the school year is the easiest—-and probably the most popular—-solution. Students would love it, and teachers or parents would probably not object. Nonetheless, it should be the last thing local and state education officials consider, given the importance of class time in student achievement.
Among WaPo letters: ‘This is a historic situation and exceeds officials’ capacity to respond. State, county and Pepco employees are all making great efforts. We shouldn’t blame them if the weather is bigger than they are.’…’I know that the mid-Atlantic, and the District in particular, have a long history of being the snow-fearing capital of the country. And I realize the area just got a big snow. Okay, let’s call it a very big snow. But remember, this storm came west to east across much of the country first. Yet only when it reached the media-centered East Coast did we get stories droning on and on about how awful and inconvenient it all is.’…’Even at the risk of sounding utterly naive, Post editors continue to stick out their necks to uphold the actions of [Michelle Rhee]. Jumping out with a premature announcement that D.C. schools would be open Monday was another attempt by Ms. Rhee to spin her image as an independent, forward thinker.’…’Once again, The Post has proved that it will use any occasion to take a swipe at school employees.’
MORE SNOWMAGEDDON COVERAGE—-The snow’s effect on churches; the battle against ice dams; Examiner’s lessons from the blizzard; WBJ on hotels; COG snow postmortem set for March; the region’s return to routine (including a dispatch from Archibald’s); WaPo’s John Kelly on the last epic snow in D.C.; MSNBC anchor got his steeet plowed (and a Fenty photo-op, too); Capitol Hill sledding briefly allowed; how Ron Moten‘s granddad got his street cleared; Hill Is Home calls out ‘walks of shame’; WaPo ombo Andy Alexander on the difficulties of producing and delivering the paper; WaPo’s J. Freedom du Lac on the masochists/’weather geeks’ who just can’t get enough snow, and the environmental impact, as examined by WaPo’s David Fahrenthold: ‘Snowed-in cars don’t pollute, snow-drooped trees could temporarily change the architecture of local forests….But the full impact of this two-act Snowmageddon won’t be clear until the stuff melts. If those 30-plus inches of snow turn to water too fast, the water could pour unfiltered into the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, and eventually into the Chesapeake Bay. This week, environmental groups worried that such fast-moving water might carry road salt and other ice-melting chemicals, which can upset ecosystems and harm fish.’
In his Saturday WaPo column, Colby King evaluates Marion Barry‘s snow-removal advice to Fenty: ‘Barry had the unmitigated gall to send a letter to Mayor Adrian Fenty urging him to ask President Obama to declare a state of emergency for the city, noting “The challenges that you are facing . . . are very similar to those that I faced, as Mayor, during . . . the snowstorm of 1987.” Barry has outdone himself, or he has lost his mind. I remember that snowstorm. Marion Barry was nowhere near the District when the snow started falling in January 1987.’ King also takes on the racial divide over the bag tax—-and favorite councilmember Tommy Wells—-with a surprising result: ‘Wells said a cleaner Anacostia River will show the wisdom of the bill. I agree.’
WaPo’s Bill Turque profiles new DCPS chief operating officer Anthony J. Tata, a retired Army general: ‘After a 28-year career that took him to Kosovo, Macedonia, Panama, the Philippines and the international agency charged with thwarting improvised explosive devices, Tata’s mission is to help bring the District’s notorious school bureaucracy to heal. Tata has made inroads in an organization with a history of wasteful spending, late textbook deliveries and indifferent customer service….Tata is a distinctive, alpha-male presence at a school headquarters filled with 20- and 30-somethings transfixed by their BlackBerry devices—-and where five of Rhee’s top aides, including her chief of staff, are women. No one else is likely to talk about how to take an issue and “shoot it between the eyes.”‘ He is a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy.
OH BOY—-‘Shortly before coming to D.C. schools, Tata popped up on Fox News to promote his books and comment on military affairs. More recently, he has blogged on national politics. In December, he wrote a glowing review of Sarah Palin‘s book, “Going Rogue,” on the “Big Hollywood” site operated by conservative activist Andrew Breitbart. He said that Palin “is far more qualified to be president of the United States than the current occupant of the White House” and that the former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate is “precisely the kind of leader America needs.”‘
ALSO FROM TURQUE—-Via Tata, ‘DCPS is taking a look at replacing its food service contractor, Chartwells-Thompson, which has drawn questions about the nutritional quality and efficiency of its operation….The District’s contract with Chartwells is now in the first of a series of option years, and Tata says he is looking for an upgrade. A decision on whether to pursue an RFP will be made sometime before the end of the school year. “I am trying to get best possible food service program for the kids in DCPS,” Tata said. “That may be with Chartwells, or that may be with some competitor.”‘ On Sunday, Ed Bruske recapped his school-lunch reporting expedition in WaPo.
Jay Mathews, in WaPo column, makes the case that it doesn’t matter if the community ‘buys in’ to school reform efforts: ‘In impoverished neighborhoods where schools are bad, parents, voters, residents and community leaders don’t make them better. Teachers do. I know of very few instances where community leaders in an inner city neighborhood brought non-educators together to fix the schools and succeeded in doing so in significant and sustained ways….If the impression takes hold that community favor, as measured by surveys, reveals how well the schools are doing, then we have a problem. Successful educators often take steps that may decrease, not increase, community support for them in the short term.’ Needless to say, the commenters are going wild.
WaPo’s business team has the latest on the Northrop Grumman sweepstakes, and it doesn’t look good for D.C.—-$25 million incentive package or not. The governors of Maryland and Virginia are putting on the hard sell, and the District seems no longer to be in the conversation: ‘Two sources with knowledge of Northrop Grumman’s site-selection process told The Post last week that company executives are looking at a June 2011 move-in date to an existing facility for about 150 employees. Four sites in Fairfax County and one in Arlington County are being considered, the sources said.’
The business of the District’s newest corporate citizen is examined by Dion Haynes in WaPo: ‘Back in 1986, while a senior economics student at Princeton University, Andrew Florance saw the potential of aggregating Washington-region data for building owners, real estate agents and banks. His software reduced research time from hours to seconds. Over time, his databases expanded to include details on properties in all 50 states, making his company, CoStar Group, the largest commercial real estate information firm in the United States. Even in a down economy, with commercial real estate taking a beating, CoStar is pushing to grow. The company expanded into Europe and plans to open more offices overseas. It is looking to hire more than 3,000 employees around the world over the next decade, up from the roughly 1,500 now on the payroll….Florance, 46, was exposed to the industry at a young age by his father, Colden Florance, an architect who designed more than 100 commercial buildings in the Washington region, including Verizon Center.’
WaPo’s Somashekhar looks at the effects of recession on D.C.: ‘With thousands of new federal and government-related jobs, Washington has benefited from some of the circumstances that have caused Main Streets to go dark elsewhere. The government has taken a greater oversight role on the financial sector, and companies have been drawn to the area because of its economic stability. But in ways less visible to those in the region’s government-dominated cocoon, things are as bad as in the rest of the country. About 42,000 local jobs were lost over the past year, most of them in less-affluent areas and among lower-paying positions in retail and construction. The pattern has created a system of winners and losers, and a widening of the already broad chasm between rich and poor.’
In wake of DCRA horror story published in last week’s WaPo, reader shares another bad rental-property-licensing experience: ‘There were obnoxious Catch-22s. For example, we had to change all our locks to satisfy the DCRA in ways inconsistent with what police told us to do (e.g., thumb bolts within reach of door glass). Then when we got the license, we had to file two new tax returns with the District—-neither of them based on calendar-year income and expenses—-when we never owed a dime of tax. No wonder so many rentals are off the books.’
WBJ’s Jonathan O’Connell looks at the loads of developer money hauled in by Jim Graham‘s campaign. ‘D.C. attempts to limit the effect of corporations on elections by capping contributions from corporations at $500…The good news for Graham and other city politicos, is that LLCs – limited liability corporations – each have their own contribution limits. So what do some developers do? Contribute the max for each one of their companies. Thus condo master PN Hoffman and its related principals and companies gave Graham the max a dozen times, for $6,000, according to Graham’s campaign finance report. Developers Lakritz-Adler did so 10 times ($5,000), Donatelli Development nine times ($4,500) and Horning Brothers seven times ($3,500).’
Stimulus grant will help train health-care workers. ‘The money will go toward Capital Health Careers, a nine-member team of education and health care and universities in partnership with [Providence Hospital] and D.C. to train 500 people in various health care professions.’
VotH covers proposed zoning changes that would cover proposed Akridge development over Union Station yards. ‘The rules accompanying the new zone would allow buildings to stretch as high as 130 feet above the H Street bridge that runs over the tracks. That number has ruffled more than a few feathers of nearby neighbors, who noted last week that the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which guides zoning decisions, specifically bans measuring the long-planned project’s height from the 82-foot-high bridge.’
Man pleads guilty in Adams Morgan anti-gay assault.
New gay marriage day prediction, per Bob Summersgill: March 3.
Mme. Tussaud’s to make cast of Fenty’s hands.
Fire this morning on 1300 block of Trinidad Avenue NE.
Barry transplant inspires organ donor.
Another D.C. reality show.
Yay for Alex Ovechkin!
Yay for Ted Leonsis!
Yay for MPD!
REST IN PEACE—-Former Shadow Rep. Ray Browne died Saturday at age 71. The Trinidad native made a successful career in the insurance business; he pursued an at-large D.C. Council run in the late ’80s before being elected to three terms as shadow congressman.
D.C. COUNCIL TODAY—-No events scheduled.
ADRIAN FENTY TODAY—-11 a.m.: snow removal update, Pennsylvania and Alabama Avenues SE.