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Ward 4 Dispatch: Budget Season Has Begun! Traffic Safety Updates and Kennedy Street

Dear Neighbors,

I hope you are enjoying the first few days of spring, as declared by the Capital Weather Gang earlier this week. This year the start of spring coincides with the start of budget season at the DC Council, so I’ll be breaking down the Mayor’s proposed budget for you today. I’ll also share updates about traffic safety in Ward 4, actions being taken to address gun violence on Kennedy Street, community events, and more!

Unpacking the Proposed DC Budget

This week the Mayor released her proposed $19.5 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2023, which runs from October 1, 2022 through September 30, 2023. If you skip the rest of this section, here are the two key things to know: (1) This is just the first step in the process; the budget now goes to the Council, which can and will make changes to help ensure the needs of our communities are being met. (2) You can and should play an important role in making those changes by speaking up about the investments that would make a difference in your life. Check out the full schedule and sign-up instructions for budget oversight hearings and register to speak or send in written comments. If you have any questions about the process, my team and I are happy to help. You can also weigh in directly with me and your five At-Large Councilmembers at any point. With that said, here’s some of what is and isn’t included in the Mayor’s proposed budget.

Ward 4.

Our community successfully advocated for several new local investments. Riggs-LaSalle Recreation Center will be getting a new roof next year to address storm damage and long-term leaks and mold, next year, which is something neighbors have been asking for and that I included in my budget request letter. Meanwhile, Coolidge High School will be getting a cafeteria addition next year that will include a dedicated kitchen and dining area that’s separate from the kitchen shared with Ida B Wells Middle School. We also have additional funds coming to improve traffic safety on Georgia Avenue, building on the $1.7 million for this purpose I secured in this year’s budget. The budget also maintains investments that Ward 4 secured in previous budgets. The staffing we funded to open Roosevelt High School pool for our community is included again in this budget as recurring dollars (‘recurring’ means budgeted for future years too – not just next year). The proposed budget also preserves funds to redevelop the pool and gym at Upshur Recreation Center, redevelop Emery Recreation Center and enough funds to keep our Cure the Streets violence interruption team in Brightwood Park and Petworth, which launches next month. Still, several other needs I highlighted in my budget letter remain unmet, including transportation for our seniors at Walter Reed campus, a senior center in Petworth, repairs for our other recreation centers, and more.

Our Schools.

The proposed budget proposes addressing overcrowding at Lafayette Elementary by leasing space for five pre-K classes nearby. One potential option is the nearby Episcopal Center for Children, which is something our community has advocated for, and something that Councilmember Cheh and I proposed during my first week in office. I believe it’s equally important to address overcrowding East of the Park at Roosevelt High School and Roosevelt STAY, which are projected to have a 134% utilization rate in their building next year. There’s also no solution in this budget for swing space for Truesdell Elementary while its building is being modernized in FY24-25. The current plan to move students to Garnet-Patterson on U Street does not serve the best interests of Truesdell families due to the building’s distant location and complete lack of outdoor space. If these issues impact you, please sign up to testify at the Council education budget oversight hearing on Monday, March 28. The budget maintains current plans to modernize Dorothy Height in FY23-24, Truesdell in FY24-25, Whittier in FY26-27, and LaSalle-Backus in FY28-29 – though it’d be great to have these repairs take place even sooner. The proposed budget also has broader investments in education that will boost our schools, including a 5.87% increase in the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula and $58.6 million to replace and conduct preventative maintenance of aging HVACs and boilers in our schools. 

Other Budget Priorities.

There’s too much in this budget proposal to cover in one newsletter, but I want to highlight some other important items. I’m encouraged that the Mayor made some significant investments in areas that I consider urgent priorities. In housing, the budget proposes spending $120 million over two years in rental assistance, $329 million in public housing repairs, $500 million in the affordable housing production (a program that needs better oversight and transparency), and capping annual property tax increases for seniors at 2% (down from the current cap of 5%). I’m also encouraged by an expansion in out-of-school programming for our young people, who will continue to benefit from an expanded Summer Youth Employment Program, $5 million to extend out-of-school time grant opportunities, and $3.9 million to expand recreation programs (including for the summer). These programs serve the dual purpose of serving our youth and promoting community safety. Overall, there are some promising investments in public safety and traffic safety in this budget, but I would like to see an increase in funding for victim services, more support for domestic violence survivors, and a major boost in funds for traffic safety upgrades around schools. I also appreciate that this budget continues to waive public space fees for neighborhood festivals and includes $1.25 million to sponsor large events and festivals. Even with a huge infusion of federal dollars, this budget proposal misses the mark in some areas. There’s a lot to sift through, and I’m excited to take on strengthening our investments during budget oversight alongside my Council colleagues, our dedicated ANC Commissioners, and Ward 4 residents.

Co-Introduced Bills: Domestic Workers and Pay Transparency

This week I also co-introduced two important bills to support workers in the District. First, in a rally outside of the Wilson Building, I joined fellow Councilmembers and domestic workers in introducing legislation to expand the rights of domestic workers in the District. These house cleaners, nannies, and home health aides are particularly vulnerable to exploitation because of the isolated nature of their work and because they are denied the basic rights that other workers have. This bill, led by my At-Large colleague Elissa Silverman, would require employers to provide domestic workers with contracts outlining their terms of employment and would extend protections against discrimination and unsafe work environments to this group of workers. This week I also teamed up with my Ward 8 colleague Trayon White to co-introduce legislation to require wage transparency in job postings. This bill would empower workers by prohibiting employers from posting a job advertisement without including the minimum and maximum salary or hourly pay information.

Ward 4 News

More Traffic Safety Wins for Ward 4!

My team and I continue to work closely with our amazing Ward 4 Commissioners, community leaders, and neighbors to make more traffic safety improvements to our streets and intersections. I wanted to share some of the recent changes approved by DDOT:

  • Four speed bumps coming to the 1100-1500 blocks of Kalmia Road. This comes after our traffic safety walkthrough with DDOT Director Lott in January and decades of persistent community advocacy from Shepherd Park neighbors.
  • Three speed bumps on the 7800-7900 blocks of 13th St NW and four speed bumps on the 7300-7600 blocks of 12th St NW. This was also part of the ground we covered during the walkthrough in Shepherd Park and will help keep neighbors safe from increased traffic from the Parks at Walter Reed. 
  • A new 4-way-stop intersection at Farragut & Illinois NW. This comes after strong community advocacy and many frightening crashes and near-misses.
  • A new 4-way-stop intersection at 2nd & Longfellow NW. This will help keep our neighbors in Manor Park safe, even as more improvements are needed in this area.
  • A new traffic signal coming to the intersection of 5th and Quincy NW. Neighbors and Commissioners have strongly advocated to make this dangerous intersection safer. DDOT expects to break ground on the new stoplight in April and coordinate with PEPCO to complete the installation by the end of the year. 

And that’s not all: check out DDOT’s traffic safety database for other approved traffic safety upgrades in Ward 4 (choose the “Pending Installation” tab and zoom in). I laid out DDOT’s new process for requesting traffic safety improvements in my November 5 newsletter. The first step is to go to DC’s 311 website and request a traffic safety investigation. I will continue to advocate for this process to be improved – and my team and I are happy to follow up in cases when DDOT doesn’t provide an adequate fix – but I’m grateful that more of our neighborhoods are getting the traffic safety improvements they’ve been fighting for for so long.

Actions to Improve Community Safety on Kennedy Street

In recent weeks, the Kennedy Street area has been experiencing an alarming rise in gun violence. While these recent shootings haven’t turned deadly, it is imperative that we act to help prevent lives from being lost and restore peace in the neighborhood. I want to outline the actions that we’re taking in partnership with the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, the Fourth District, and other DC agencies to respond. MPD is immediately allocating additional resources to the corridor to help monitor and provide security to residents. Meanwhile, the Office of the DC Attorney General has issued a nuisance letter to the owner of the strip mall on 5th & Kennedy outlining several security steps that need to be taken for each business and the property as a whole. These steps include hiring a security officer, installing high-definition cameras, additional lighting, issuing barring notices, and regularly cleaning trash and graffiti. If the owner doesn’t act on these recommendations within 30 days, DC OAG will seek enforcement through litigation. We’re also engaging other businesses on the block to help them implement safety measures. And DC Health and ABRA will be doing a sweep of businesses along the corridor to ensure they are operating up to code. Several of the individuals causing these issues drive in from outside of the District, which is why DPW will expedite converting the Kennedy and Jefferson corridors to a residential parking only zone and step up parking enforcement in this area. DCRA has also been asked to ensure that all vacant residential and commercial properties in the area are properly secured to keep them from being used for illicit activity. Addressing the conditions that facilitate gun violence is a key part of how we prevent the next shooting.

At the same time, our violence interruption team through the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement is engaging at-risk individuals to provide programming and opportunities that align with their needs and interests, to provide safe and stable housing, and to identify and deescalate the crew-related conflicts that are fueling these shootings. Their efforts will be backed up by the new Cure the Streets violence interruption team coming to Kennedy Street in April, which will be able to more intensively focus on specific areas along the corridor. Beyond violence interruption, ONSE will also be providing trauma-informed services to neighbors and families who have been impacted by gun violence. The US Attorney’s Office for DC has also committed to notifying us when at-risk individuals are released from custody so we can ensure they receive the support and services they need to keep safe and not reoffend. As we all know, the roots of gun violence are much deeper than what is outlined here. I’m proud to be part of a community that’s committed to building a just, compassionate society where all people’s needs are met and no one ever feels the need to pick up a gun. Read our more comprehensive response to gun violence, and know that my team and I, community members, and our DC agencies are doing this type of work day in and out across Ward 4.

The new Uptown Main Street mural on Kennedy Street (photo by Erkin Ozberk).

Neighborhood Events

Buy Books to Support Our Ward 4 Public Libraries

In the coming weeks, three of our public libraries in Ward 4 will be hosting used book sales to support the libraries and other community activities. It’s a great chance to do good and get some great books for very cheap!

Whittier Family Fun Day: 5K Run and Open House

On Saturday, March 19 at 9am the Whittier Elementary community will host a free 5K run on the Coolidge High School track followed by an open house that will last until 11am. Get your running shoes on and join! The Open House will include a tour of our building, a new mural on the early childhood hallway, and meeting staff and families.

Emory Beacon of Light Homeownership Education Counseling Course

On Saturday, March 19 from 11am-12:30pm Emory Beacon of Light Housing Counseling Services are hosting a virtual homeownership education counseling course to share DC housing trends, resources, and services; go over steps to becoming a homeowner; and help folks develop a housing plan and education journey. RSVP to join!

District Clean Up at Sherman Circle

On Sunday, March 20 at 11am District Cleanups will host a clean up of Sherman Circle, followed by a happy hour at Brightwood Pizza starting around 12:30pm. They’ll have trash grabbers, bags, and gloves, so all you need to do is sign the waiver form and show up.

Ward 4 Redistricting Meeting to Finalize ANC/SMD Boundaries

On Sunday, March 20 at 2pm the Ward 4 Redistricting Task Force will meet again to fully finalize their recommendations and discuss the report they’re drafting that outlines their proposed ANC/SMD boundaries in Ward 4. RSVP to watch the meeting. The Task Force will meet again on Tuesday, March 29  at 7pm fully finalize its recommendations.

Sunday Sessions at Art of Noize

On Sunday, March 20 from 6pm-8:30pm Art of Noize Gallery in Petworth will host another evening of fellowship, fresh collaboration, and music with performers of all stripes welcome! Learn more and get your tickets online.

Mushroom Cultivation Workshop for Ward 4 Residents

On Monday, March 21 at 10am-2pm UDC will be hosting a free hands-on workshop for DC residents to learn how to grow mushrooms or start a low-tech urban mushroom farm! It’ll take place at the Twin Oaks Community Garden at 14th and Taylor Streets NW. Sign up to attend.

Ward 4, Mark Your Calendars:  

  • Petworth Library is hosting two Improv Comedy Workshops on April 14 and May 12
  • 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 help on Sunday, May 1 to share your extra seedlings, thinned non-invasive perennials, or excess house plants and cuttings.  
  • The 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 June  25) and is looking for volunteers! Fill out this form to help bring back this amazing festival.

I also want to reflect on our incredible small businesses. They are community hubs, provide us with great goods and services, and are the first to step up when someone needs help. We got to celebrate and strategize together this week at the Ward 4 Small Business Summit. Thank you Emory Beacon of Light and Beacon Brightwood Business Alliance for bringing us together!

Rain doesn’t stop Ward 4! Shoutout and love to the 30+ Ward 4 residents and DC agency reps who joined yesterday’s Ward 4 CARE Day in Brightwood. It was awesome to be in community and in conversation with so many neighbors. Thanks to everyone who opened their door to chat or read the materials we left behind!

As we head into the weekend, I’m wishing all who celebrate a Happy Nowruz. May its spirit of peace, hope, and solidarity resonate with our community and our world.

Yours in Community,