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Ward 4 Dispatch: Council Updates, Library Week, and CARE Days Continue!

Dear Neighbors,

I hope you were able to keep dry these past few days, and that you can enjoy some sunshine this weekend! Here’s a rundown of what’s happening at the Council and in Ward 4 this week!

Legislative Updates

Council Legislative Recap: Gifting Shops, Abandoned Vehicles, and Hotels

At Tuesday’s legislative session, the Council narrowly voted down emergency legislation seeking to make two major changes to the District’s cannabis policies. First: ease barriers to safe, regulated medical marijuana by temporarily allowing anyone over the age of 21 to self-certify a qualifying medical condition, among other positive changes to our medical cannabis program. Second: significantly crack down on marijuana gifting shops with steep fines for businesses and retail shop landlords. In 2014, DC voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 71, which legalized personal use and possession, home cultivation, and gifting of small amounts of marijuana in DC – even as Congress banned the District from legalizing the retail sale of recreational cannabis. Several businesses have sought to take advantage of the gray area gifting provision of Initiative 71, opening shops in DC where customers are ‘gifted’ marijuana while purchasing other products. The number of these shops has increased significantly in recent years with little oversight or regulation – which, to be clear, is a major problem as there is limited ability to regulate product quality and safety under this system. At the same time, DC has several medical marijuana dispensaries, which are tightly regulated and contribute a dedicated sales tax to the city. The dispensaries are struggling to compete with the proliferating cannabis gifting shops.

I’m all for letting people self-certify for medical marijuana and lifting barriers for medical marijuana dispensaries — the Monday night before the vote I asked Chairman Mendelson to move this provision alone at the Legislative Meeting and I hope to continue to work with fellow Councilmembers to pass this commonsense expansion to our medical cannabis into law. However, the proposed bill as a package would have likely forced gifting shops into more questionable black market operations rather than offering a real path to legal medical cannabis sales. And by moving the measure as emergency legislation, the Council would have circumvented the regular legislative process, deprived residents opportunities to weigh in, and passed sweeping legislation without a racial equity impact analysis. Gifting shops in DC employ hundreds of workers and serve thousands of residents, so the stakes are incredibly high and whatever we do will undoubtedly have a profound racial equity impact. Issues like this one are exactly why the Council created the Office of Racial Equity, so shutting them out of weighing in doesn’t make any sense to me. I voted against this bill because it risked harming the Black and Brown communities that have always been left behind in drug policy. Still, I remain deeply committed to finding more ways to support our medical marijuana dispensaries and pursuing an equitable solution to this issue through the right process.

Beyond this bill, the Council tackled several other issues at Tuesday’s legislative session. The Council held its first of two votes needed to pass my legislation streamlining the removal of dangerous and abandoned vehicles from our neighborhoods. The second and final vote to pass the legislation will likely be held on May 3, so stay tuned! We also approved a bill to set new room cleaning standards for hotels. While most hotels have maintained high standards, a small number has cynically and self-admittedly used the pandemic as an excuse to reduce standards in order to pad their profits at the expense of their workers and the millions of people who visit DC each year. On Tuesday, the Council also passed resolutions condemning antisemitismdenouncing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, marking National Library Workers Day, and officially calling on Congress to rename the Chevy Chase Fountain due to Senator Newlands’ virulent racism and legacy of promoting segregation. The resolution asks for the fountain to be renamed in recognition of a person of color with ties to the District, Maryland, or Chevy Chase communities.

Budget Oversight Highlights: Transportation, Libraries, and Victims Services

DC Public Library (DCPL): At our budget hearing with DCPL, I heard strong testimony from several Ward 4 residents and then engaged the director about DCPL’s plans. I remain concerned and opposed to DCPL’s long-term plans to eventually close the Shepherd Park Library and replace it with a new library in either Manor Park or Brightwood Park. While I support a new library in these neighborhoods, which have a clear service gap, I believe it’s essential to maintain a DCPL location in Shepherd Park given the library’s history, the invaluable services it provides to residents, and its role as a community hub. I also confirmed that the new Lamond-Riggs Library is on track to reopen by this summer, and that the improvements to Petworth Library that I secured in last year’s budget (worth $1 million) will start being designed this fall – though additional funds may be needed for construction.

District Department of Transportation (DDOT): I started DDOT’s budget hearing by asking about DDOT’s efforts to make “Safe Routes to School” improvements around our schools. Although I appreciate the added investments in crossing guards and traffic control officers, I was disappointed to learn that DDOT’s budget for next year doesn’t expand its Safe Routes to School team (currently only two full-time employees) and does not plan for an acceleration or prioritization for safety improvements near schools. This underscores the importance of quickly passing and funding the Safe Routes to School Act to make sure all of our schools and surrounding neighborhoods have the traffic safety infrastructure needed to keep our kids safe. I also asked DDOT to actively engage ANCs and other neighbors in the planning process for the Mayor’s proposed additional Automated Traffic Enforcement (ATE) cameras, pushed for accelerating the Eastern Avenue Rehabilitation project, and asked for updates on the Aspen Street multi-use trail, the Kennedy Street Revitalization II project, and the Metropolitan Branch Trail. I followed up the hearing with a visit to DDOT’s sign shop to better understand how DDOT produces new signs and how this process might be streamlined. It was all I could do not to take a few of these signs back with me for Ward 4!

Community Resources

Second Boosters Now Available for Residents 50+ and Immunocompromised Residents 

DC Health announced that second COVID booster shots are available for residents who are 50 and older, as well as certain immunocompromised individuals who are at higher risk for severe COVID. To get your second booster, you must have received your first initial Pfizer or Moderna booster by November 30, 2021. Residents who received a primary vaccine and booster dose of the Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine by November 30 may now receive a second booster dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. Eligible residents can get their second booster (or any previous vaccine dose) by walking up to a vaccine clinic or DC COVID Center, or by making an at-home vaccination appointment by calling 1-855-363-0333, or by making an appointment with your health provider. 

Heads up: Ward 4’s COVID Center will be closed on Saturday, April 9 but resumes its usual schedule on Monday, April 11.

Community Alert: Beware of Scams!

In recent months there has been an uptick in scams, especially targeting our senior citizens. If you receive calls or text messages from someone you don’t know, do not send them any money or share any of your personal information These scams typically involve someone saying they’re in the hospital and need your help (and even sending fake photos), falsely claiming you won the lottery and need to submit a down payment to claim your prize, or claiming to be a relative or a government employee following up about a debt you owe. I’m working with the Department of Aging and Community Living (DACL) to address this issue, but in the meantime please be cautious and warn others you know who may be vulnerable.

Ward 4 CARE Community Outreach Days Continue!

Yesterday my team and community volunteers powered through the rain to reach out to and share resources with neighbors in Crestwood. Together, we knocked on doors, filed 311 requests, tracked down invasive vines for removal, and brought tenant resources to residents at Crestwood Apartments. We also had great Ward 4 CARE community outreach days in Brightwood and Shepherd Park back in March. If you haven’t yet, take a moment to sign up to join us for your neighborhood’s CARE Day. We’ll be in Sixteenth Street HeightsTakomaManor Park, and Chevy Chase later this spring. Thanks to everyone who has already joined us, and to all the neighbors who took time to chat!

Neighborhood Events

Celebrate Paul Robeson’s 124th Birthday in Petworth

On Saturday, April 9 from 1pm-3pm the small park at the intersection of Georgia Ave & Kansas Ave NW will host a community celebration of legendary singer, actor, athlete, and activist Paul Robeson’s 124th birthday. The special guest of honor is Uzikee Nelson, a Black artist and DC resident who sculpted the statue The Spirit of Paul Robeson in the park as well as many other great pieces across DC. Community members will be able to make commemorative buttons, contribute to a graffiti mural, and enjoy time with neighbors.

Ward 4 eCYCLE Recycling Covered Electronics Event

On Saturday, April 9 from 1pm-3pm DOEE will host an electronics recycling event for residents to discard their electronics at 7420 Georgia Ave NW by Shepherd Park (Juanita E. Thornton) Library. Properly recycling electronics conserves natural resources, ensures appropriate handling of toxic materials, provides a more sustainable source of precious metals, and protects human health and the environment. Covered electronic equipment (TVs, computers, printers, and other items listed on the DOEE website) will be accepted for free from DC households, small nonprofits, and small businesses.

Opening Reception for “Something New” Exhibition at Art of Noize

On Saturday, April 9 from 3pm-6pm Art of Noize Gallery in Petworth (821 Upshur St NW, Rear 2) will host an opening reception with live music for their “Something New” exhibition, featuring the work of Eric Hagan. “The work experiments with familiar patterns, easily discernible as human, in an unfamiliar way. These faces, along with the emotion they communicate to us, are distorted and interwoven into amalgamous forms, cascading outwardly from the center.” This exhibition will be on view through Saturday, April 30. Gallery hours are Thursday through Saturday from 12pm-6pm (no appointment needed).

Rock Creek Conservancy Extreme Cleanups in Ward 4 

Throughout April, the Rock Creek Conservancy and the National Park Service are holding a series of clean up events to remove litter and invasive plants from Rock Creek, its tributaries, and surrounding neighborhoods and parklands. Join them on Saturday, April 9 from 11am-1pm at Piney Branch Pavilion, on Saturday, April 9 from 10am-12pm at Carter Barron Picnic Grove #24, on Saturday, April 9 from 1pm-3pm at Fort Slocum, on Sunday, April 10 from 1pm-3pm on the 1400 block of Quincy Street NW, on Saturday, April 23 from 10am-12pm at Carter Barron Picnic Grove #24, on Saturday, April 23 from 10am-12pm at Fort Slocum, and other locations across the region.

Ward 4, Mark Your Calendars:

  • The Parks at Walter Reed will host their grand Spring Celebration on Saturday, April 23 from 10am-12pm with activities for all ages including relay races and an egg hunt.   
  • Petworth PorchFest returns on Saturday, April 30 from 2pm-6pm (sign up to volunteerperform, or host a band on your porch).  
  • Crestwood’s second annual plant swap will be held on Sunday, May 1 to share your extra seedlings, thinned non-invasive perennials, or excess house plants and cuttings.   
  • The annual Shepherd Park Citizens Association Garden Tour will be back and bigger than ever on Sunday, May 22.  
  • The Kennedy Street Festival will return this summer (tentatively on June 25) and is looking for volunteers! Fill out this form to help bring back this amazing festival.
  • NEW: The Celebrate Petworth Festival will also be back this year on Saturday, September 24 from 11am-5pm! You can help make it happen by volunteering.

April is the month where we’re celebrating our public libraries, school libraries, library workers, and school librarians, so I slipped away to visit my former high school librarian Ms. Sharon Vollin and share my love and appreciation. Check out a short video of the visit. Ms. V supported me, inspired me, and always had my back. That’s what librarians in our schools and libraries consistently do so we honor them this week and all year long!

My challenge to you this month is to make some time to visit your local library. We’re so fortunate to have Petworth Neighborhood Library, Juanita E. Thornton Shepherd Park Library, Takoma Park Neighborhood Library, Chevy Chase Neighborhood Library, and Lamond-Riggs Neighborhood Library all in or very close to Ward 4. 

Yours in Community,