I’m writing to update you on the latest from the DC Council, NPS’ announcement on Upper Beach Drive, our Election Day on November 8, the start of leaf collection next week, vaccine clinics in Ward 4 congregations, community events, local news, and more. Check it out!
Ward 4 and Legislative News
Council News: DC’s Criminal Code Revision
On Tuesday, the Council unanimously passed the first of two votes on a bill to revise DC’s criminal code. This legislation is the outcome of a 16-year process, multiple public hearings, and the recommendations of an independent commission made up of key stakeholders from the US Attorney’s Office, the DC Attorney General’s Office, the Public Defenders Service, and legal experts. Modernizing DC’s criminal code has been a major undertaking led by Councilmember Charles Allen and the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety. The committee report alone for this legislation stands at 2129 pages. There has been a lot of discussion about this bill – not all of it accurate – so I wanted to dedicate some time to break down the bill and what it would do.
First, why is it important for DC to revise its criminal code? First, DC’s code is very outdated. It was adopted all the way back in 1901 and has not been revised as a whole since. To give you a sense, it includes laws that govern the transportation of livestock in the city and prohibit the playing of ball games in streets and alleys. Second, DC’s code lacks clarity and is inconsistent. For example, simple assault is the most commonly charged offense in DC, but the current code doesn’t include a clear definition for what simple assault is. The code is full of overlapping offenses and contradictory sentences, which give prosecutors vast discretion around which charges to bring — inviting errors, arbitrariness, and bias in our judicial system. Third, DC’s code was written for us by Congress more than a century ago and does not reflect contemporary values or the science we now have regarding human development, criminology, incarceration, deterring crime, and preventing recidivism.
The vast majority of changes to the criminal code involve creating clear definitions of offenses, using modern terms, and codifying common defenses into law for the first time. The bill also creates a uniform, proportionate classification system for penalties. This is important because sentences will now depend more on the severity of the conduct, the facts of the case, and whether vulnerable people, repeat offenders, or weapons were involved. Despite what you may have heard, this bill does not take away punishments for violent crimes or prevent those who have caused harm from being held accountable. Additionally, the Council enhanced penalties for serious crimes such as carjacking, robbery, and burglary beyond what the commission proposed – reflecting the unique harm caused by these offenses and their prevalence in our city. Another important component of the bill is the elimination of most mandatory minimums in our code. Research strongly indicates that mandatory minimums do not deter crime, but they do tie the hands of judges, juries, victims, and defendants — while also driving up DC’s incarceration rate, which is already one of the highest in the nation.
The revised criminal code also expands DC’s successful “Second Look” law to allow all adults who have served at least 20 years of imprisonment to petition for sentence review by Superior Court judges. These petitions would be evaluated based on a defendant’s demonstrated maturity, their rehabilitation, their fitness to reenter society, the perspectives of victims and their families, and other factors. This policy is backed by research showing that most people ‘age out’ of crime gradually. States with similar policies have an extremely low recidivism rates, and the District already has many successful petitioners who have reintegrated into society and are actively contributing to our communities. Finally, the bill restores the right to a jury trial for all misdemeanors that carry a penalty of incarceration. This change aligns the District with most other states and reflects the constitutional right to be judged by a jury of one’s peers. However, expansion of jury trials will be phased in gradually from 2025 to 2030 with a required annual review to ensure that it can be implemented without overstraining judicial resources.
As it currently stands, the revised code incorporates countless compromises between prosecutors, defense attorneys, public safety agencies, courts, experts, community stakeholders, the Council, and the Executive. Each of us is critical of certain aspects of the bill — myself included. But ultimately, I voted for the Revised Criminal Code Act because it makes our criminal code clearer, more consistent, fairer, and more aligned with best practices and our values as a city. Amidst a gun violence crisis and this era of mass incarceration, it is critical that we find the right balance between holding accountable those who commit harm, ensuring our criminal legal system is constitutional and just, and promoting rehabilitation and reintegration.
Other Updates from the DC Council
There is a lot of activity at the Council right now as we rush to complete our legislative work before the end of this session. Beyond the criminal code revision, Tuesday’s legislative session included votes on several other important bills:
- I passed emergency legislation extending protections from foreclosure for DC residents who applied to the Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF) by September 30. This will shield about 1,000 DC homeowners from losing their homes while their HAF applications are being processed.
- We also passed the Bedbug Control Act, which establishes a systemic inspection and notification system for tenants regarding bedbug infestations in multifamily buildings.
- Additional, we held the first of two votes on legislation to require the provision of free period products in District buildings and government-operated spaces.
- We also extended pandemic provisions allowing Advisory Neighborhood Commissions the option to meet partially virtually or fully virtually.
- The Council also approved a bill delaying the implementation of the COVID vaccine mandate for public school students to next school year while it reexamines the policy.
NPS to Keep Upper Beach Drive Closed to Vehicles
This week the National Park Service announced its decision to keep most of Upper Beach Drive closed to vehicles year round (instead of the seasonal closure it had originally proposed) so visitors can safely enjoy the park’s recreation and nature opportunities 365 days a year. Specifically, NPS said Bingham Drive, Sherrill Drive, and most of Beach Drive would remain closed to cars, but that Ross Drive would reopen to cars and small portions of Beach Drive would remain open to drivers so they can access group picnic areas and parking lots (see map below). NPS shared their full environmental impact assessment and public comment analysis on their website. DC Congresswoman Norton is also hosting a Town Hall Meeting on November 16 with the National Park Service, where residents can ask questions or raise concerns about any issue related to NPS parks in the District.
As your Councilmember, I have seen first-hand the effects of the ongoing closure on surrounding streets, including more dangerous driving in our neighborhoods. That’s why I’m taking several steps to mitigate the impact on our community. First, I have worked closely with DDOT, NPS, ANC Commissioners, and neighbors over the past year to secure big traffic safety improvements in all Ward 4 neighborhoods around Rock Creek Park. We have also made additional requests of DDOT to make these neighborhoods safe, and I will be fighting to get those done. Secondly, the recent reopening of Piney Branch Parkway and the completion of the Sixteenth Street Bridge Rehabilitation Project next year will help reduce the congestion that our Ward is currently experiencing. Third, I have emphasized the importance of accessibility to Rock Creek Park, which NPS will promote by keeping small portions of the road open for drivers to access picnic areas, closing Sherrill Drive to help non-motorized visitors access the Park, and publishing materials to inform the public about access points to the Park.
Early Voting and Election Day on November 8
After months of mailers and ads, the election is finally upon us! If you have not voted yet, you have several options. If you received your ballot by mail, you can fill it out and return it by mail, bring it to any vote center, or drop it off at one of the 55 mail ballot drop boxes across DC. Early voting is also underway, including both Saturday and Sunday this weekend from 8:30am-7pm. Our three early voting centers in Ward 4 are Takoma Community Center, Raymond Rec Center, and Emery Heights Community Center. Election Day is Tuesday, November 8 and DC’s election day vote centers will be open from 7am-8pm that day. Keep in mind that DC voters may cast their ballots at any vote center regardless of their residential address. Unlike years past, Lafayette Elementary is not an Election Day vote center this year. The two nearest vote centers to Lafayette are St. John’s College High School and Chevy Chase Community Center. Here is a guide with all the information you need on voting this fall. Happy voting!
DC PSC Winter Ready Supplies
The DC Public Service Commission is giving away free home weatherization items (while supplies last) such as self-stick weatherseal, poly foam pipe installation, and window insulation to help neighbors cut energy costs and protect their home throughout the colder months. They’re also providing information on utility assistance programs that may be helpful. Please visit the Shepherd Park / Juanita E. Thornton Library in Ward 4 on Wednesday, November 9 or one of the other citywide distribution points to pick up your weatherization supplies.
Ward 4 Mutual Aid Grocery Distribution Update
Ward 4 Mutual Aid is updating our community that their grocery distributions are now taking place once per month. You can find them at Brightwood Park United Methodist Church (744 Jefferson Street NW) providing gift cards, diapers, food, and other items to the first 100 families on the following dates: Wednesday, November 16 at 5pm, Saturday, November 19 at noon, Wednesday, December 14 at 5pm, and Saturday, December 17 at noon. They also offer a limited number of home deliveries on Saturdays. If you physically cannot make it to the church, please call or text the Ward 4 Mutual Aid Hotline at 202-681-3098 to sign up for delivery.
Walk-Up Vaccine Clinics at Ward 4 Congregations
I’m proud that our faith communities in Ward 4 are stepping to host several walk-up COVID vaccine clinics in the coming days in partnership with DC Health. These clinics will offer first dose, second dose, and booster shots for community members over the age of 12.
- Zion Baptist Church (4850 Blagden Ave NW) at 10am-4pm on November 5
- 19th Street Baptist Church (4606 16th St NW) at 10am-1pm on November 10
- Church of Christ (4801 16th Street NW) at 10am-2pm on November 16
- First Baptist Church (712 Randolph St NW) at 10am-12pm on November 21
Leaf Collection Begins Next Week in Area A
Leaf collection will start this coming week (November 7-12) in Brightwood, Shepherd Park, Colonial Village, North Portal, Hawthorne, Barnaby Woods, Chevy Chase, and other nearby areas in Ward 4 (Area A in the map). Be sure to rake your leaves onto your curb or tree box (not in bags or on the street) by Sunday, November 6 so it can be collected. Check out the full schedule for leaf collection and additional information. If your leaves aren’t collected as planned, please submit a 311 request for “Leaf Collection Missed.” Also, pumpkins and gourds without paint or glitter can be dropped off for composting at the Uptown Farmers Market on Saturdays from 9am-1pm until November 20.
Online Trainings on Testifying for Green New Deal for Social Housing
Next week from Tuesday, November 8 through Friday, November 11 my team will be hosting a series of virtual trainings (in English and Spanish) to prepare residents to testify at the Council hearing on my legislation to bring social housing to DC on Thursday, November 17. Sign up for the virtual trainings at this link, and sign up to speak at the hearing by emailing your contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Holiday Market at Chevy Chase Farmers Market
On Saturday, November 12 from 3pm-5:30pm the Chevy Chase Farmers Market will host its third annual Holiday Market at Lafayette Elementary. The market will feature new bakers and new makers offering baked goods, kitchen textiles, art, plants, jewelry, home goods, and more.
Congresswoman Norton Town Hall with NPS
On Wednesday, November 16 at 6pm-7:30pm Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton’s office will host a Town Hall Meeting with representatives from the National Park Service to provide updates and respond to constituent questions, comments, and concerns about federal park lands and issues under NPS jurisdiction in the District. RSVP at this link.
Visit your local Farmers Market before the season ends:
- Uptown Farmers Market at 5501 Colorado Ave NW on Saturdays from 9am-1pm
- Chevy Chase Farmers Market at Lafayette Elementary on Saturdays from 9am-1pm
- Takoma Park Farmers Market at 6931 Laurel Ave on Sundays from 10am-2pm
- Petworth Community Market at 9th & Upshur NW on Saturdays from 9am-1pm
DC News Now: DDOT to fix dangerous Northwest intersection (Iowa & Arkansas NW)
DCist: Project to Keep Millions Of Gallons Of Sewage Out Of Rock Creek’s Piney Branch
Washington Post: Silver Line extension to open Nov. 15 in time for Thanksgiving travel
DCIAA: Ida B Wells Middle School Boys Soccer Team Wins DCIAA Championship!
Petworth News: A new home-based bakery is making people happy
WUSA9: DC fire crews help retired firefighter celebrate his 104th birthday
PoPville: San Matteo from folks behind Al Volo, Soleluna et al is coming to Petworth
Chesapeake Bay Trust: $15,000 grants for projects that divert reusable material and reduce needless waste
Petworth News: Spooky local theatre and storytelling at a Petworth neighbor’s house
Last Ward 4 Dispatch: Safety, Early Voting, DPR Winter Programs, and Halloween
I know the tireless work that our Ward 4 faith communities do in service to others. That’s why I was so grateful to gather with faith leaders at Nineteenth Street Baptist Church this week for our Ward 4 Faith Breakfast. It was an opportunity to strengthen our relationships and deepen our collaboration. We also honored the great Rev. Graylan Hagler of Plymouth United Church of Christ with a Council resolution for his profound service to our community. I’m looking forward to the next gathering, where any Ward 4 faith leader is welcome.
I’m also impressed with our community pulling off another incredible, fun-filled Ward 4 Halloween! I had a blast seeing all the amazing costumes, parades, block parties, and treats we shared. Thank you to everyone who made it such a joyful weekend.
I hope you enjoy this warm November weekend, and don’t forget to vote!
Yours in Service,