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Ward 4 Dispatch: DC Budget Delays, Safety Interventions, and a Step Forward for Conservation!

Dear Neighbors,

Happy first week of spring, Ward 4! I hope you have all been able to enjoy time outside and take in the beauty of the District’s cherry blossom trees. Here are my updates on what has been happening over the past week and what you can expect in the weeks to come.

DC Budget Release Delayed to April 3

In an alternative universe, today I would be writing to you with a breakdown of the Mayor’s proposed DC budget for Fiscal Year 2025 and its impact on Ward 4. But instead, the release of the proposed DC budget has been delayed to April 3. The Mayor was late to submit her proposed budget largely due to a dispute with the CFO over whether the District needs to immediately replenish $250 million in one of its four reserve funds that was depleted during the pandemic years. Everyone agrees that the District needs to fully restore this reserve, but the disagreement comes down to whether that needs to happen all at-once and whether it needs to happen this year — when DC is already facing major budget pressures — as opposed to being restored gradually through a multiyear repayment plan. I have noted before that the District’s budget this year is particularly strained due to several factors: the lapse in federal funding, slowing revenue growth, well-deserved raises for our teachers and other District workers, and increased funding for Metro. Still, the CFO is reportedly insisting that all of the funds need to be fully restored this year. That means that the Mayor and her team needed to make $250 million in further cuts or tax increases to a budget that was already expected to be incredibly tight. In the past, we have seen DC budgets balanced on the backs of working families through painful cuts to our schools, child care, housing, health, violence prevention, victim services, and social programs that our most vulnerable neighbors depend on. Aside from DCPS school budgets that were released early, we do not yet know what this proposed budget will look like. But there is little doubt that hard decisions will need to be made that will impact DC deeply. So I am encouraging residents to keep a close eye on the upcoming budget and make your voice heard on the programs and services that matter to you. Without a budget available yet, many budget oversight hearings are being rescheduled, and there should be an updated schedule shared soon. This year, it will be even more important for residents to speak up in support of a DC budget that does right by our communities.

A Step Forward for Conservation Legislation

On Monday, the Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment held a hearing on my bill, the Office of Natural Areas Conservation Establishment Act, which would establish a new office to overhaul how the District manages and conserves its approximately 500 acres of forest land. I was proud to introduce this legislation last year with the support of a super-majority of my Council colleagues and the support of many leading conservation organizations, including Casey Trees, Rock Creek Conservancy, and the Shepherd Park Weed Warriors — all of whom testified at the hearing. The bill makes three primary changes: first, it establishes a new office focused on conservation within the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) given their expertise as the District’s land managers; second, it requires the creation of a long-term strategic plan to better conserve our forests; and third, it strengthens DC’s volunteer engagement processes to empower DC residents to get directly involved in the conservation of our local green spaces. I asked questions of DOEE Director Jackson and DDOT Urban Forestry Director Eutsler to better understand the cost of these initiatives and to identify how the office would fit in with our existing agencies. The idea for this bill stems from my summer readiness tours last year, which exposed how DC lacked the infrastructure and focus to properly care for its natural forest areas to the detriment of both our local ecosystem and surrounding communities. For example, when we visited Marvin Gaye Rec Center in Ward 7, we observed many overgrown forest patches that had been locked up from the public due to being neglected for so long. It was hard to determine which agency was even responsible for caring for these areas between DGS, DDOT and DOEE. This bill eliminates that uncertainty, ensures that there is a strategic and coordinated conservation effort in DC, and provides additional resources to ensure we properly care for our green spaces. The record for this hearing will remain open until Tuesday, April 2 for residents to submit testimony.

More Ward 4 Traffic Safety Upgrades

In addition to all of the traffic safety improvements that I shared last month, we have some new traffic calming measures coming to our community: 

  • Upgrades are coming to the intersection of Georgia Avenue & Alaska Avenue NW between Shepherd Park and Takoma. DDOT plans to add dedicated left-turn lanes, install new crosswalk markings, improve signage, and enhance visibility at the intersection. These were safety improvements I funded in the DC budget.
  • DDOT is also proposing changes to the intersection of Piney Branch & Aspen Street NW in Takoma. Under the new design, right-turns-on-red would be banned, parking would be reduced to improve visibility at the intersection, and hatched markings would narrow the lanes to encourage drivers to slow down as they approach the intersection.
  • I am also grateful that DDOT has listened to our community, ANCs, and neighbors and approved traffic signal studies for the intersections of New Hampshire & Taylor NW in Petworth and 16th & Myrtle & Leegate NW in Shepherd Park. These studies are a prerequisite to installing the full traffic lights that we desperately need at these two intersections to prevent further crashes and to safeguard pedestrians.
  • I have also been working with DDOT to address safety at the intersection of Alaska & Geranium NW in Shepherd Park, which many families cross daily. DDOT is planning to reduce the speed limit on Alaska Avenue and install concrete curb extensions. Curb extensions will narrow the travel lane and turn radius in order to slow cars that cross this intersection, and they will also reduce the distance pedestrians need to walk to cross the intersection safely. Additionally, DDOT is considering a stop-sign camera at this intersection to discourage drivers from blowing through the stop signs.
  • And DDOT has installed or is proposing to install speed bumps or speed tables on the 200 block of Emerson Street NW, the 500 block of Fern Place NW, the 700 block of Shepherd Street NW, the 700 block of Rittenhouse Street NW, the 700 block of Peabody Street NW, the 800 block of Quackenbos Street NW, the 1300 block of Rittenhouse Street NW, the 5100 block of 4th Street NW, and the unit block of Tuckerman Street NW.

And in early April, DDOT will announce a new group of Ward 4 streets and intersections that it is prioritizing for safety improvements next quarter on its online Traffic Safety Input database. Come April, just click the “Quarterly Prioritization” tab to see which areas are selected.

Drug-Free Zones in Petworth in Effect

Earlier this week, MPD announced the implementation of a drug-free zone in Petworth from Wednesday, March 20 until 8am on Monday, March 25. The designated area includes the:

  • 900 block of Upshur St NW
  • 4000-4100 blocks of Georgia Ave NW
  • 900 block of Shepherd St NW
  • 4000-4100 blocks of Kansas Ave NW

MPD’s ability to temporarily designate public spaces as “drug-free zones” was approved by the Council as part of the Secure DC omnibus bill that was approved earlier this month. Under this law, MPD can declare any 1000-square-foot area as a drug-free zone for up to five days as long as it provides public notice and maintains certain safeguards (like exemptions for people seeking medical or social services in these zones). This authorization makes it unlawful for individuals to congregate within the zone in groups of two or more for the purpose of committing a drug-related crime. It also allows MPD to order individuals to disperse from the zone if an officer “reasonably believes” the person is there to commit a drug offense. And if individuals fail to disperse after being ordered, they are subject to arrest and penalties. The purpose of the policy is to reclaim public spaces and disrupt illegal drug activity in our community, particularly the open-air drug markets that contribute to violence in our neighborhoods and reduce safety for all residents.  

This is only the second week that drug-free zones are in effect in DC, so there are outstanding questions about this policy and the impact it will have. Some residents wonder if the drug-free zones only serve to displace drug activity elsewhere in the neighborhood. Others wonder whether the problems the zones seek to address will return soon after the five days lapse — especially given that the zones do little to resolve the factors that drive illegal drug activity. There are also concerns about the constitutionality of these zones, which are likely to be challenged in court. But the most common question I hear from neighbors is why drug-free zones are necessary in the first place when officers already have the ability to enforce laws against illegal drug activity? In other words, why is the District as a whole already not a “drug-free zone?” The drug-free zone provision does provide law enforcement an additional legal tool to address drug markets at a time when it is becoming harder to enforce these offenses due to digital transactions, a failure to prosecute cases, and the decline of DC’s crime lab. But the most significant change drug-free zones bring are the resources MPD is dedicating to enforcing drug offenses that it ordinarily cannot prioritize due to limited capacity.

The designation of drug-free zones by MPD is required to be based on crime and arrest data and other objective evidence that illegal drugs are being sold in a specific area. MPD has been clear it only has the resources to enforce a small number of drug-free zones at any given time, but we can expect other parts of Ward 4 to be designated as drug-free zones in the future. For example, during our February strategic safety meeting, the Mayor indicated that the neighborhood around Raymond Rec Center would also receive this intervention — and that is not the only area that fits the bill. But residents also want to see MPD more consistently enforce illegal drug offenses even when an area is not designated as “drug-free.” And we also need interventions that go beyond enforcement and address underlying causes. That includes everything from substance abuse treatment, behavioral health intervention teams, and reactivating our public spaces to discourage this activity from taking place.

Community Resources

Air Tag/Tile Giveaway for Fourth District Residents

On Friday, March 22 (today) from 4:30pm-7:30pm MPD will be at Fort Circle Park (800-1100 blocks of Galloway Street NE) providing free AirTag and Tile tracking devices to residents who live in Fourth District as an added safety mechanism for their vehicles. Participants are required to bring an ID and matching registration verifying that their address is in the Fourth District. Supply is very limited, so please plan to arrive early before they run out. I have asked MPD to hold another distribution event in the near future with more notice to residents, a central location for Ward 4, and a greater supply of devices. These tracking devices, which can help locate and recover stolen cars, are also available to buy online.

Non-Fatal Shooting, Carjacking Arrest, and Checkpoint

Our community suffered a shooting on the 7500 block of 12th Street NW shortly before midnight on Wednesday, March 20 in Shepherd Park. The victim was shot while sitting in their car and sustained non-life-threatening injuries. The suspect was seen fleeing north bound on 12th Street. MPD is asking neighbors to come forward with any footage or information about the incident by calling 202-727-9099 so the perpetrator can be identified and held accountable. Additionally, Fourth District officers successfully located and arrested a teenager in Petworth after they carjacked a vehicle in Truxton Circle and were involved in a hit-and-run at Rock Creek Church Road & Taylor St NW. The individual was then charged for an armed carjacking, possession of an unregistered firearm, and possession of a large capacity ammunition feeding device. Lastly, on Tuesday MPD conducted another traffic safety compliant checkpoint on the 7100 block of Georgia Avenue NW. This checkpoint yielded a total of 98 traffic infractions, three arrests, and four free child car seats installed.

All DPR Pools Closed on Wednesday, March 27

DPR announced that all of its DPR-operated pools (including Takoma pool and Roosevelt pool in Ward 4) will be closed all day on Wednesday, March 27 so aquatics staff can attend a mandatory professional development training. Normal operations will resume on Thursday.

Prepare to Apply for Rental Assistance

The Department of Human Services will reopen applications for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) on Monday, April 1 at noon. Now is a good time to start gathering your application materials to ensure you have everything you need to apply on April 1. DHS will close the portal once it receives 8,500 applications. That is double the number of slots compared to the previous application period, but we still expect the portal to reach its limit and close within just a few hours — so please gather your materials now and plan to apply as soon as the portal opens. The next application cycle will not be until July 1 with about 4,000 application slots available. Learn more about what you will need to apply on the ERAP website.

Proposed PEPCO Electric Rate Hike Public Hearings

The Public Service Commission will be holding three public hearings on PEPCO’s application to increase rates for electricity. One of the public hearings will be held at the Lillian J. Huff Lamond-Riggs Library at 5:30pm on Wednesday, April 2. Information on how to sign-up to speak at the hearing or request ADA or Language Access accommodations can be found here.

DDOT E-Bike Subsidies for Eligible Residents

From April 1 through April 15, DDOT will be accepting applications for the District E-Bike Incentive Program, which provides up to $2,000 for DC residents to buy electric bicycles (e-bikes) and supports bicycle businesses in the District. The first phase of the program is limited to DC residents on SNAP, TANF, Medicaid, or DC Healthcare Alliance. In the unlikely event funds are still available after this initial phase prioritizing lower-income residents, a second application window will open that any DC resident can apply for. Learn more about the program, application process, and pop-up events on DDOT’s website.

Active Ward 4 Traffic Advisories

We have some important projects taking place around Ward 4:

  • Takoma: DDOT issued this traffic advisory and road closure detour map for their DC PLUG work on March 18-30 on the 6600-6900 Blocks of Piney Branch Road NW, 600 Block of Aspen Street NW, and the 700-800 Blocks of Venable Place NW.
  • Kennedy Street: DDOT is finally breaking ground on the Kennedy Street Revitalization Project II. As part of the first phase, DDOT is implementing long-term lane closures eastbound on the 1400 and 1200 blocks of Kennedy Street NW starting March 22.
  • Chevy Chase: There are temporary lane closures at the intersection of Oregon Avenue & Military Road NW until approximately April 12 as DDOT activates the new traffic signals as part of the now completed Oregon Avenue Rehabilitation Project.

Traffic Camera Locations in Ward 4

DDOT has a new website for its Automated Traffic Enforcement program that places traffic cameras across DC to curb traffic infractions and improve safety on our roadways. Among other features, the website includes an interactive map of all the speeding, stop light, stop sign, and bus lane traffic cameras in Ward 4 and around DC that neighbors can check out.

Apply for Tuition Support from DC

Applications opened last week for DC Futures, DC Tuition Assistance Grant (DC TAG), and the Mayor’s Scholars Undergraduate Program. These are three popular tuition support programs for DC residents pursuing higher education. Applications for all three programs were delayed because the federal government delayed releasing this year’s FAFSA to mid-March (instead of January). In response, DC shifted the timeline for applications to DC Futures, DC TAG, and Mayor’s Scholars to accommodate the change. Learn more and apply!

Large Brush Fire by Carter Barron Contained

On Wednesday evening amidst very heavy winds, multiple DC Fire and EMS engine units responded to a large brush fire in Rock Creek Park that affected about three acres near Carter Barron Amphitheatre. Thankfully, firefighters were able to set up a perimeter around the fire, contain it, address fire hotspots, and fully extinguish the flames. And fortunately, no injuries were sustained, and no structures were damaged by the fire either. We owe a debt of gratitude to DC’s Bravest for safeguarding Rock Creek Park, Carter Barron Amphitheatre, and our surrounding community from the fire. And thank you to neighbors who called in the fire as soon as they saw the smoke. When we have heavy winds and dry brush, every second counts.

Neighborhood Events

Imagination Stage’s Residency at Lamond-Riggs

On Thursday, March 28 from 4pm-5:30pm DC Public Library kicks off Imagination Stage’s residency at Lillian J. Huff Lamond-Riggs Library with a production of 10 Seconds by Miriam Gonzales, produced by Imagination Stage’s Theater for Change program. The play shows how two DC high school students navigate their young adult worlds and what it means to be young Black men in the city. Be sure to register if you plan to attend!

First Responders Basketball Game!

On Friday, March 29 at 6pm MPD officers and DC firefighters will square off in a First Responders Basketball Game at Riggs-LaSalle Rec Center (501 Riggs Rd NE). The event will feature free food and drinks, games, a live DJ, job recruitment, and a kids game tipping off at 5pm. Special thank you to ANC 4B Chair Alison Brooks for helping coordinate this event alongside ANC 4B. Come cheer on your favorite side and show support for our community!

Set a Reminder: Healthy Homes Fair

On Saturday, April 6 from 1pm-5pm, there will a major Healthy Homes Fair at Stadium Armory for DC residents interested in electrifying their homes! Come learn about exciting state-of-the-art technologies like heat pumps, induction, battery storage, EV chargers, and more.

For more local events, check out DPR, DC Public Library, and NPS.

Ward 4 in the News

Next Stop… Riggs Park: Councilmember Lewis George FY25 Budget Request Letter

DC News Now: Five Metro Stations Closing in June for Upgrades (including Takoma)

Washington City Paper: Out of Ink: Who Are Those Two Gadflies Who’ve Been Buzzing Around in DC Politics For Decades?

Petworth News: Meet Megan McCune, the Mom Bringing Petworth Families Together

Washington Informer: DC Community Fair Aims to Empower Residents With Zero-Waste Resources

Channel 9: DC Sanitation Worker Defying Odds — and Smells — As One of Few Women on Team

WMATA: Step into Metro’s Fleet of the Future Now on the National Mall

The Parks Main Street: Riggs Park Traffic Control Box Art Call for Artists

DDOT: Metropolitan Branch Trail Fort Totten to Takoma March Newsletter

The Atlantic: DC’s Crime Problem Is a Democracy Problem

WTOP: DDOT to Offer Low-Income DC Residents Up to $2,000 to Buy an E-Bike

Washington Informer: TOPA Under Siege, Tenant Advocates Say

Washington Post: While Bused Migrants Overwhelm Other Cities, DC Reduces Services

National Park Service: NPS and Rock Creek Conservancy Secure $1 Million from the Inflation Reduction Act to Promote Regeneration of Rock Creek Park’s Forests

DGS: Updates and Photos from the Dorothy Height Elementary Modernization

Ward 4 Dispatch: Petworth Library Redesign, Lafayette Field, and DC Budget Season

Looking back on this week, I am thankful for all the ways my team and I got to show up for our community. On Saturday morning, we held another legal clinic with the Attorney General’s Office and 4A05 Commissioner Kim Patterson to support Brightwood tenants with securing their housing settlement checks. I also joined the weekly Fourth Commander Walk to discuss how to improve safety in Takoma and convened agencies alongside 4D03 Commissioner Carson Lucarelli and 4D04 Commissioner Chrysanthe Courniotes to discuss solutions for illegal dumping and safety challenges at Georgia & Hamilton NW in Brightwood Park. And shoutout to DPR for hosting two amazing events for our seniors this week: hand dancing at Lamond Rec Center and Senior Spa Day at Riggs LaSalle Rec Center!

The start of spring is a time of renewal and celebration for many here in the District and around the world. I wish all those who celebrate a happy Nowruz and a peaceful Palm Sunday.

I always tell people that Ward 4 residents don’t need to venture to the Tidal Basin to see the cherry blossoms — we have them blooming all over our neighborhoods! Selma Sokolower, a Ward 4 resident who lived at 9th & Longfellow NW during World War II, used to admire the flowering trees on the 1300 block of Kennedy Street NW as she walked to catch her bus to work from 16th Street. Many years later, her granddaughter Heather moved into a home on that same block, so Selma bought a cherry blossom tree to adorn her granddaughter’s front yard. Now, every spring as the tree comes into full bloom, it beckons Selma’s memory and adds to the beauty that generations of Ward 4 residents have admired on Kennedy Street. May we all find ways to leave our community better than we found it — just like Selma.

Have a nice weekend, Ward 4!

Yours in Community,