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Ward 4 Dispatch: Lead-Free DC, Holiday Events, School Lottery, and Bivalent Boosters for Babies

Dear Neighbors,

The end of the year is exciting! We are gearing up for our final legislative session on Tuesday, holding our last hearings for 2023, choosing which office spaces we want, readying to find out our new Council committee assignments, and wrapping up our work for the end of the year. This will also be my last full newsletter until after the holidays, so please take a close look. We have updates on school repairs, public safety, bivalent boosters for children 6 months and older, school lottery applications, leaf collection, and many holiday events right here in Ward 4!

Council Roundtable on School Maintenance

Earlier this week I participated in a Council roundtable focused on the Department of General Services (DGS) and their management of work orders, the subject of a recent audit from the Office of the DC Auditor. My questions focused on school maintenance, which has been a major source of frustration for many Ward 4 teachers and families. DGS handles all maintenance requests in DCPS and DPR facilities, but the audit found they’re slow to do so and they’re not fully utilizing their software system to track and manage equipment. For example, high-priority work orders that present a potential safety risk such as lock and door issues are supposed to be fixed in 10 days or less, but in reality it is taking DGS an average of 51 days to complete these repairs. The full audit report includes seven broad observations and recommendations for DGS to implement and work to improve operations throughout their portfolio.

Many of my questions focused on the ongoing maintenance issues at Whittier Elementary. Recently a radiator burst in the breezeway hallway at Whittier, forcing students and staff to evacuate. In response, DGS removed the broken radiator but has not yet replaced it, leading to a colder environment as well as added strain on the other radiators in the space. I sent a letter to Director Anderson and Chancellor Ferebee following this incident and the broader maintenance issues at Whittier including broken toilets, a leaky roof, and broken HVAC systems. During the roundtable I followed up on those questions and got clarity that DGS intends to replace the broken radiator and has completed preventative maintenance of the school’s boiler systems to ensure they’re safe for the winter. Meanwhile, other maintenance issues persist at the school. DGS’ performance thus far at Whittier has been flatly unacceptable. They’ve failed to communicate with staff and parents, leading to confusion and growing concerns that they’re not planning to maintain the facility as we await their overdue modernization, which is currently scheduled to break ground in fall 2025. And more proactive preventative maintenance could have prevented the issues that have been repeatedly disrupting learning at Whittier. I got a commitment from Director Anderson to share regular updates with Whittier staff and community members, and my team and I will continue pushing for more here. My letter also calls on DCPS and DGS to reassess Whittier’s ranking in the PACE Act school modernization system. The current ranking is based on calculations and data from five years ago, which do not reflect Whittier’s significant enrollment growth and declining facility conditions.

I also pressed DGS about their maintenance of building security systems, in particular issues around improperly locking doors. Starting in the summer with the Back-to-School Safely Emergency Amendment Act the Council brought additional scrutiny to our schools’ security systems and readiness for emergencies. In the event of an emergency, we need every interior and exterior door to lock properly. Unfortunately, many doors haven’t been working lately and DGS has been slow to get them fixed. Parents testified about the situation at Wells Middle School, where their interior doors are operated by an electronic fob system that requires a technician visit to repair when the batteries die. During the roundtable it was revealed that DGS has no standing maintenance contract with this vendor, despite using their services in nearly half of all schools. My team followed up with DGS after the hearing and crews were out repairing all the door locks at Wells and adjoining Coolidge High School later in the week. Still, these issues are alarming and will require additional oversight and resources in the new year.

Hearing Held on a Green New Deal for a Lead-Free DC

On Monday, the Labor Committee held a hearing on the Green New Deal for a Lead-Free DC, which is my legislation to accelerate the removal of hazardous lead service lines in DC, expand our lead remediation workforce, and create good green union jobs. That’s what it will take for DC to have a real chance of achieving its goal to remove all lead service lines by 2030. Labor leaders described how a loophole in DC’s minimum wage law allows certain companies to underpay their workers. My legislation would eliminate that loophole. Environmental justice organizers focused on the devastating impact of lead service lines and their wide-reaching consequences on public health, as well as the potential of this bill to deliver opportunities to DC through good union jobs. 4G-03 Commissioner Randy Speck, who served on DC’s Lead Service Line Planning Task Force, spoke to the importance of including a mandate for lead line replacement as part of the bill. We also discussed the need for better outreach from agencies to improve efficiency and ensure we replace lead lines for all neighbors on a block at once — rather than keep returning to a block for each neighbor individually year after year. Thank you to everyone who came to the hearing or submitted written comments. I’m eager to continue moving this legislation forward in the new Council term.

Community Safety in Our Neighborhoods

Earlier this week, our community suffered a string of gun violence incidents, including on Kennedy Street and a shooting on Missouri Avenue. These shootings resulted in non-life threatening injuries for several individuals and have left many of our neighbors on edge. Some of these incidents are related to conflicts between neighborhood crews that drive a cycle of violence that must be broken. But other incidents we’ve seen recently started with arguments between neighbors that escalated. Because of the vast number of guns that are trafficked into our communities from other states, we see minor disputes that would have otherwise been settled with sharp words turn into shootings with devastating consequences. That’s why it’s critical for our local and federal authorities to crack down on gun trafficking and focus on removing illegal firearms from our neighborhoods.

Any level of gun violence in our community warrants an urgent response. My team and I have been in touch with ANC Commissioners, neighbors, and our public safety agencies in response to these shootings and other public safety issues across Ward 4. MPD has doubled up units on Kennedy Street and increased patrols in other areas where there is increased risk. They are also focused on making arrests, removing guns from the street, and relocating CCTV cameras to deter criminal activity and to help identify suspects when an incident occurs. In at least one of the shootings from this week, an arrest has already been made. We have been coordinating with the DC Attorney General’s Office to file nuisance property cases to compel landlords to make security improvements in buildings where criminal activity has been allowed to take place, such as fixing broken locks, installing cameras, and hiring staff to bolster security. Meanwhile, our ONSE and Cure the Streets violence interruption teams are coordinating closely to mediate and deescalate neighborhood conflicts. We also have hospital-based violence interrupters in place to work with shooting victims and their families to prevent retaliation. And the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety is working to relocate at-risk individuals into safer areas. Thank you to our agencies and community leaders for their hard work and partnership to improve safety in our community.

Nationwide and District-wide, there has been an alarming surge in gun violence among young people this year, which experts generally attribute to pandemic-related trauma and the proliferation of guns in our city. In addition to the strategies described above, we need specific interventions for youth in order to curb this dangerous trend. On Tuesday, the Council is set to pass a resolution calling on District government to fully adopt and implement the gun violence reduction strategic plan developed by the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform. The plan makes a set of concrete recommendations focused on eliminating the underlying causes that lead to violence, preventing the imminent act or reoccurrence of gun violence, and eliminating the societal factors that give rise to violence, such as blight, low-performing schools, and chronic unemployment. An evidence-based whole-of-government approach will require better agency coordination and more consistent support and focus from DC government to succeed. Still, several elements of this strategic plan are already underway. For example, in a previous newsletter I highlighted the ONSE Leadership Academy at Paul PCS in Ward 4, which pairs students struggling with attendance, behavior, and school work with mentors who help them overcome those barriers.

As your Councilmember, I’m responsible for looking at every facet of our government that is contributing to community safety, especially among young people given recent trends. Two areas I’m focused on include staff shortages at our schools and rec centers. Despite significant funding, DC and service providers have been struggling to hire enough counselors and mental health clinicians to meet the vast need for mental health support in our schools. So many of our children carry anxiety and trauma from their lives into the classroom. Having qualified staff who can help students work through these issues is essential for ensuring that that they stay on the right track. I’ve also been critical of the decision to reduce hours and shift staff from some DC recreation centers, including Petworth and Fort Stevens. These changes inconvenience neighbors and limit use of our public facilities, but they also have a public safety nexus. That’s because they deprive our community of employees with strong communities ties who can supervise our fields and courts and peacefully deescalate conflicts when they arise. The changes also take away healthy, safe opportunities for young people to exercise and play. DPR has committed to reassessing staffing at rec centers for this coming spring. I will continue to raise the issue at oversight hearings and advocate alongside our community until staffing is restored. We need to treat these vacancies at our schools and our rec centers with the urgency they deserve.

Last night we had a breakthrough in addressing DC’s judicial vacancy crisis with the US Senate confirming 7 judges to serve in DC Superior Court and the DC Court of Appeals. DC’s lack of Statehood means that we depend on the President and the Senate to fill vacancies in our local courts, which often leaves many of those seats unfilled for long periods of time. The new judges will help clear the long backlog of cases in family law, probate court, civil cases, and criminal prosecutions. Separately, I also wanted to encourage neighbors to be extra careful with your package deliveries. While gun violence and most property crimes are down in Ward 4 compared to last year, package theft always increases during the holiday season. MPD has asked neighbors to consider using alternative pickup sites, work with neighbors to pick up packages when they’re not home, utilize the private security camera rebate program, and avoid leaving packages or valuables in cars even for short periods of time. I also want to share a note of gratitude to DC Fire and EMS and Washington Gas crews who worked quickly and decisively to address a gas leak on the 600 block of Kennedy Street caused by a driver striking a gas meter while trying to park. After stopping the leak and confirming that there was no gas residue, neighbors were cleared to return home safely and the street was reopened.

Neighborhood Events

NPS Visit to Sherman Circle and Grant Circle

On Saturday, December 17 at 10am National Park Service officials and 4D04 Commissioner Zach Israel will lead a visit to Sherman Circle and Grant Circle with neighbors to discuss needed improvements at both parks. The group will meet at Sherman Circle to begin the visit, and all neighbors are welcome to attend.

Ward 4 PTO Holiday Mart at Powell Elementary

On Saturday, December 17 from 10am-2pm the Powell Padres, Truesdell FTO, Barnard Bears PTA, Lewis Elementary PTO, and Dorothy Height PTO are teaming up for a Holiday Mart at the Powell Elementary Parking Lot (14th & Taylor NW). Come support our local schools and local vendors at the same time, while also getting some holiday shopping done!

Sip, Slurp, Sample, and Shop at Soup Up (with Holiday Music)

On Saturday, December 17 from 1pm-4pm Soup Up (709 Kennedy Street NW) will host a special event where neighbors can come to enjoy and sample a great selection of soups and also buy featured coffee, cakes, cookies, and more. HR Records will also be playing holiday music to bring festive vibes to the block. See you on Kennedy Street!

Boxed Groceries and Fresh Produce Giveaway at Riggs LaSalle Rec Center

On Saturday, December 17 starting at 11:30am there will be a Boxed Groceries and Fresh Produce Giveaway at Riggs LaSalle Rec Center (501 Riggs Rd NE) on a first-come, first-served basis (boxes go quickly). Thank you to Bro. André Lee, Lee Little League, Rev. Martin and Lady Barbara Owens, and the Rec Center for giving back to our community.

DC Residential Services Inc Holiday Luncheon

On Saturday, December 17 from 12pm-3pm Culture Coffee Too (300 Riggs Rd NE) will host a holiday luncheon exclusively for families and individuals served by DC Residential Services Inc. There will be Gingerbread Man making from 12pm-1:30pm, followed by lunch at 1:30pm.

Holiday Bazaar at Simple Bar & Grill in Brightwood

On Saturday, December 17 starting at 1pm Simple Bar and Grill (5802 Georgia Ave NW) will host a holiday bazaar with local art, jewelry, clothing, and a visit by Santa Claus at 4pm!

Zenith Gallery Artist Talk and Exhibit: Capital Lights with Bradley Stevens

On Saturday, December 17 from 2pm-6pm Zenith Gallery (1429 Iris Street NW) will host an artist talk with Bradley Stevens on his Capital Light
 exhibit. The exhibit features a new series of luminous DC paintings with breathtaking and magical city scenes bathed in light, and it will run from December 2, 2022 – January 28, 2023. RSVP for the artist talk on Eventbrite.

Watch the World Cup Final in Ward 4

On Sunday, December 18 at 10am Leo Messi’s Argentina will take on Kylian Mbappé’s France in the World Cup Final. Don’t go far to watch the biggest game of the year! Check your favorite Ward 4 restaurant or bar to see if they’ll be showing the final. Several Ward 4 spots have already announced they will show the game: Anxo on Kennedy Street will open at 9:45am; Hellbender Brewing will open at 9:15am and offer burritos, tacos, coffee, and beer specials; and Moreland’s Tavern will open at 9:30am and is accepting reservations.

“Unsilent Night” Soundwalk in Petworth

On Wednesday, December 21 at 7:30pm Unsilent Night, which was dubbed DC’s most unique music nonreligious holiday event, comes to Petworth starting from Sherman Circle. Community members will carry portable speakers and boom boxes simultaneously playing four instrumental tracks by NYC composer Phil Kline in synch to bring communal, festive fun to the neighborhood for 45 minutes. Learn more about the event and how to participate.

Holiday Event and Toy Giveaway at Emery Heights

On Thursday, December 22 from 5:30pm-7:30pm Emery Heights staff and Friends of Emery Heights Community will host a holiday event and toy giveaway for our community at the center (5701 Georgia Ave NW). Join for dinner, gifts, and holiday joy!

Are you planning to celebrate New Year’s Eve in the DMV? WMATA announced that both MetroRail and MetroBus service will be extended until 2am that night, and that all trips after 8pm will be free so residents can get to and from their celebrations safely.

Community Resources

Infants 6 Months and Older Now Eligible for COVID Bivalent Booster

Infants 6 months and older are now eligible to receive the COVID bivalent booster at all DC COVID Centers. The bivalent booster vaccine provides protection against the original COVID virus and the new, more contagious Omicron variants. Both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID- bivalent boosters are available to infants 6 months and older. Read DC Health’s announcement with more information on which of the two bivalent boosters is best for your child.

Flu Shots, Boosters, Masks, and Tests at our COVID Centers

With the holidays upon us, remember that our DC COVID Centers offer free COVID shots, the bivalent booster, flu shots, masks, rapid tests, and walk-up PCR tests. We are fortunate to have a great Ward 4 COVID Center with dedicated staff at 4704 13th Street NW that is open six days a week. Be sure to stop by for anything you need to stay healthy!

WMATA Increases Bus Frequency on S2 and 70

Last week WMATA announced that it has increased service on several key MetroBus routes across DMV, including the S2 and 70 buses that run through the center of Ward 4. The S2 bus will run every 10 minutes (instead of 15) during rush hours and every 20 minutes late nights, while also adding additional southbound trips on weekday mornings between 7:35am-8:05am. Meanwhile, the 70 bus will operate every 12 minutes (instead of 15) on weekdays between 5am and midnight. Learn more from WMATA’s press release. WMATA has also updated its technology to stop ghost buses from showing up on the busETA application. ‘Ghost buses’ are when bus-tracking mobile applications show a bus arriving soon, but in reality that bus has been been taken out of service for a mechanical issue or operator availability. 

Northern Bus Barn Project Moves to Next Phase

Speaking of WMATA, Metro’s Northern Bus Garage project in Sixteenth Street Heights is moving towards the next phase with demolition scheduled to begin in early 2023. As part of the project, WMATA has closed the sidewalk on the east side of 14th Street around the bus barn, closed the sidewalk along the west side of Arkansas Avenue, removed all parking along the adjacent block of Buchanan Street and converted the street to a one-way eastbound traffic only, and closed the sidewalk on the north side of the current facility, which connects 14th Street to Iowa Avenue. Check out the updates from the December 2021 community meeting for additional information, and sign up for the winter community meeting scheduled for Tuesday, January 10 at 6pm. And please stay tuned for more exciting updates on this Ward 4 project. 

DC School Lottery Applications Are Now Open

DC school lottery applications are now open for DC families. The application deadline will be February 1, 2023 for Grades 9-12 and March 1, 2023 for Pre-K through Grade 8. Check out the My School DC website for more info on how to apply. And be sure to check out the calendar of open house events for all of our schools throughout the coming months.

Washington Teachers Union Ratifies New Contract

After three years of bargaining, the Washington Teachers Union agreed on a new contract with DCPS that will boost pay significantly for our DCPS educators. WTU members voted overwhelmingly to ratify the contract this week. Not only will the new contract deliver well-deserved raises to teachers worth 12% over four years, but it will also help the District retain and recruit talented teachers to ensure that our schools are fully staffed. Congratulations WTU members and thank you for all that you do!

Riggs-LaSalle Rec Center Clothing Donations

The Friends of Riggs-LaSalle Recreation Center have organized a clothing donation drive at Riggs-LaSalle Rec Center (501B Riggs Road NE). Clothing donations in all sizes for men, women, teens, children, and babies can be picked up daily between 12:30pm-7:30pm.

Share Your Feedback with DPR

Do you visit DPR facilities or use DPR programs? Take just 3 minutes to fill out DPR’s customer care survey to offer your feedback on what’s working well and what can be improved. You can submit feedback specifically for the park, center, pool, or program you use most!

Leaf Collection Begins in Area D Next Week

If you live in Petworth or Brightwood Park and have been waiting for your leaves to be collected, DPW confirmed that leaf collection will finally reach Area D next week. Remember to rake your leaves onto your curb or tree box (not in bags or on the street) so they can be collected. DPW anticipates completing all of Area D by the end of December. If you live in Area C, which includes Riggs Park and Manor Park, and your leaves have not been collected yet, crews are planning to get the job done this weekend. Due to rainfall and leaves falling earlier than expected this year, the first pass of leaf collection has been behind schedule. Please check DPW’s online tracker to see whether crews have reached your area. If your street was missed, please contact our office so we can follow up with DPW to ensure that your leaves are collected. We are happy to help.

Local Links

Inequality.OrgNotes on a Victory for DC Domestic Workers

DCistDC Council Advances Solar Bill Despite Equity Concerns

DCistDC Council Could Soon Pass Bill That Bans Cat Declawing And Dogfighting Equipment

Petworth News: Support your Petworth schools at a Holiday Mart on December 17

DC Urban Turf: 435 Apartments, Open Space and Climbable Art: A Detailed Look at the Plans For the Takoma Metro

Petworth News: John Lewis Elementary chosen to receive a School Resource Closet

Listen Local First: Holiday Playlist of Holiday Favorites by DMV Based Artists

Next Stop… Riggs ParkThe Parks Main Street Holiday Lights on View Until January 8

Petworth News: Holiday Lights has winners in Petworth for best festive decorations

Ward 4 Dispatch: Safe Routes to School, Laws We Passed, and Holiday Markets!

Are you looking to serve our community and support small businesses in an engaging new role? Apply to be Deputy Director for Petworth Main Street!

With plenty of sunshine and warmer weather on the forecast, don’t forget to get outside this weekend to enjoy our parks, support our schools’ holiday market, and catch the World Cup Final at your favorite Ward 4 hangout!

This Sunday begins the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. May these next eight nights rekindle joy, light, and love in the lives of all those celebrating. And if you are looking for jelly-filled sufganiyot visit Ward 4’s own Donut Run in Takoma! Chag Sameach to all.

It took nearly two years, but this week my colleagues and I were able to all get together and take our portrait for Council Period 24! The official photo will be released later on, but my staff were able to capture an unofficial photo of the group. The occasion made me reflect on how grateful I am to represent our Ward on the Council. Thank you for the great honor of serving our community as your Councilmember.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Yours in Community,