Sunday, July 30, 2006

Robert Gordon has reading comprehension issues

This was sent out to Robert Gordon supporters recently. Does Mr. Gordon need to go back to grade school for reading comprehension? Does he think the average Ward 3 voters suffers in such skills?


Washington, DC - July 28, 2006 The Northwest Current endorsed Robert Gordon for the Ward 3 City Council seat stating that, “Other candidates in the race share some of the characteristics that Mr. Gordon -- would bring to the position, but we do not believe any of the others offer the same breadth or depth of experience, interests, and strengths.” Robert was extremely gratified to earn the support of the Northwest Current’s editorial board, “As a City Councilmember, I will work full-time to improve safety, community infrastructure, and the quality of life for Ward 3 and all of DC’s residents,” Gordon said.

The paper cited Robert’s business and political qualifications as the basis for their decision, “(Gordon’s) business background would prove particularly valuable given the absence of anyone with comparable experience on the current D.C. Council,” said the endorsement. Robert’s hands- on experience rebuilding schools in Iraq and community infrastructure around the globe are the type of skills that are needed locally to fix DC’s crumbling schools, libraries, and community centers. The Current said, “(w)e believe that he would doggedly scrutinize such projects. His background in procurement would enable him to examine contracting failures such as those that have contributed to repeated delays in repairs."

The Current also stressed Robert’s experience serving the community as an ANC commissioner and Chair for the past six years. “If you feel that Ward 3’s council member should emphasize ward-specific issues and constituent services, we suggest you vote for Mr. Gordon,” said the endorsement. In his role as an ANC commissioner, Robert had dealt with issues pertaining to community safety, traffic calming, and protecting the character and environment of our neighborhoods. Robert was instrumental in bring the parties together to collaborate on saving the Avalon Theater, now a neighborhood treasure.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Paul Strauss should be ashamed

A group calling itself "Public School Parents for Strauss" has circulated a letter to likely voters thoughout Ward 3 who are concerned with various public school issues. The letter reaches extensively into the breath of the candidates resume and qualifications for office. The group plainly states, "After researching and speaking with the initial group of candidates, we felt that our fellow Ward 3 public school parent and Shadow Senator Paul Strauss stood head and shoulders above the rest".

After contact with many of the candidates for the Ward 3 seat, all of whom were in the race prior to Strauss's entry, I have come to discover that none had been contacted in a formal by the signatories, or by such a group.

This letter has no credibility and certainly undermines any good will that Strauss has developed with the electorate during the course of the last three months. Indeed, at least 5 of the signatories are not Ward 3 Democrats, and at least one lives in Ward 1. Further, the letter was distributed by the Strauss for Council campaign.

Strauss should be ashamed.

Robert Gordon called out on local Listserv

Ward 3 Candidate and ANC 3/4G Commissioner was called out this afternoon by several Chevy Chase residents after fellow ANC Commissioner and Campagin Treasurer, Jerry Levine stated, "Robert has now also been endorsed by the editors of the Northwest Current newspaper in its editorial yesterday,
saying in part that he is the best candidate to represent the interests of Ward Three constituents". As reported yesterday in this forum, the Northwest Current considered Gordon and Cheh to be finalists for their endorsement, but at the end of the day, the NW Current gave the edge to the GWU Law Professor. This was noted by one Listserv member, "A point of clarification. The Current stated that both Gordon and Cheh "rise to the top of a highly competitive and generally well qualified field. At the end of the editorial, the Current stated that, "Given the potential uncertainities...that will have anywhere from four to six new members, we lean slightly towards Ms. Cheh."

Another poster later noted, "With supporters like this, Robert is in trouble.

You (Levine) write "Robert has now also been endorsed by the editors of the Northwest Current newspaper in its editorial yesterday, saying in part that he is the best candidate to represent the interests of Ward Three constituents." While this statement is accurate, it is at best disingenuous. The Current actually gave its endorsement to 2 candidates, Mr. Gordan and Mary Cheh. Further, while stating that Mr. Gordon might do better representing the interests specific to Ward 3, the editorial went on to say that Ms. Cheh might do better tackling issues common to all of the city. Finally, the Current actually stated a slight overall preference for Ms. Cheh.

I hear Mrs. Lincoln gave the play a great review.

Grudge Match over signs in Ward 3 Race

Claims of midnight sign-nabbing by thugs from rival camps are so common in the District that most serious politicos ignore them. And so most people wrote off the disappearance of signs for Ward 3 council candidates Paul Strauss and Eric Goulet from Connecticut and Wisconsin Avenues.

In this case, though, the disappearing sign mystery turned out to be not so difficult to solve. Both Strauss and Goulet were told that the signs were yanked from signal lights by the D.C. Department of Transportation. City officials told them the removal was a mistake and that the signs would be returned.

OK, so just some overzealous enforcement by city employees? Perhaps. But consider that one of the leading candidates in the Ward 3 race—in this case Bill Rice—left a high-profile job at DDOT.

“It does seem a bit peculiar that DDOT admitted to taking down the signs, and we have a candidate in the race that used to work at the agency” says Strauss. Not that I’m making any kind of accusation, of course.

Rice was chagrined over being linked to any action by DDOT. “I know absolutely nothing about this,” he says. “I quit my DDOT job. Rice says he has never spoken to anyone at DDOT about campaign signs.

Turns out some bureaucrats felt the signs created a distraction, according to Department of Public Works spokesperson Mary Myers, who says the placards ended up with DPW.

DDOT spokesperson Karyn LeBlanc says the whole episode began when “someone called” the city's main call center claiming the signs were obstructing traffic signals. That’s when the crack inspectors and field staff at DDOT sprung into action. Those signs were removed,” says LeBlanc.

The Strauss camp says the obstruction must have been much more widespread than they ever noticed. A DPW staffer dropped off 42 signs at Strauss campaign headquarters on Tuesday. Goulet says he hasn'’t been able to hook up with the city to get his back.

I asked them if they were going to put them back up for me, but they said no, says Goulet, who tapped into a meager campaign treasury to have the signs posted. “They suggested I file a claim for the loss.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Northwest Current makes Ward 3 endorsements

The Northwest Current has made its endorsement in the Ward 3 Council race. The local newspaper has decided to Support either Chevy Chase ANC Commissioner Robert Gordon or GWU Law Professor Mary Cheh.

They give the nod to Ms. Cheh based on her experience with the broader legislative duties of the Council. Mr. Gordon was acknowledged for his percieved strengths in constituent services, an endorsement that many in his Chevy Chase ANC would question.

The early endorsement by the newspaper may help separate the wheat from the chaff in the crowded Ward 3 race.

Friday, July 21, 2006

An explanation for Wisconsin Avenue decay


Hired Pen
Don’t like the condos going up around the corner? Call Lex Ulibarri.

By Huan Hsu

It Takes Two: Ulibarri designs “alternative” developments for beleaguered communities. A few years ago, architectural designer Lex Ulibarri set out to make a stretch of Wisconsin Avenue NW as ugly as possible.

First, he calculated the maximum square footage the land could handle. Then he started cramming structures into it, a parking garage here, a 10-story condominium complex there, another seven stories on top of the Mazza Gallerie. North of Western and Wisconsin Avenues, he sketched in dozens of enormous, austere boxes.

At one point, Ulibarri got stumped, so he decided he needed some inspiration for bad, pedestrian-unfriendly architecture. “I went down to Rosslyn a couple times just to feel the ambience,” he says. “I had to put on a really ugly hat in order to come up with these ideas.”

It’s not surprising that uglying up a neighborhood didn’t come easy to Ulibarri. The 44-year-old Takoma, D.C., resident’s principal impulse is to create wonderful places, not hideous ones. His Rosslynification assignment was, strangely enough, intended to preserve the existing architecture: A Friendship Heights neighborhood group hired him to illustrate the worst-case scenario should proposed zoning regulations allowing 110-foot-high buildings go into effect.

Ulibarri’s talents are in high demand among the District’s community activists these days. New construction in Washington usually follows a familiar script: Developer wins a no-bid deal to build, and the plan is rubber-stamped by the city’s Office of Planning; the community complains about the intrusion, is worn down by the developer, and ultimately capitulates. But since 2003, Ulibarri has provided neighborhood groups with alternative designs to the hulking suburbanesque buildings that developers often force city residents to accept. Ulibarri’s work, by conceding that development will take place and instead focusing on influencing its design, neutralizes a developer’s favorite tactic: branding community activists as just a bunch of NIMBYs. “We’re not anti-development,” explains Ulibarri. “We’re just anti–inappropriate development.”

Sometimes Ulibarri’s reputation makes his services attractive to both sides of the debate. During the Friendship Heights project, Ulibarri was introduced to a local advisory neighborhood commissioner who asked him to envision a best-case scenario alongside his Rosslyn redux. He happily agreed; that rendering depicts a Friendship Heights with abundant green spaces and building heights that increase gradually.

Ulibarri got into the community-planning game shortly after he moved to Washington from New Orleans four years ago. He picked up design-build jobs almost immediately, and one of his first projects was a renovation for a Tenleytown couple who happened to live behind Martens Volvo on Wisconsin Avenue, a site that was being eyed for an apartment-complex project. The couple, none too excited about having a giant building towering over them, recruited Ulibarri to conceive a different potential structure.

So Ulibarri put together a proposal calling for varying roof heights, pedestrian corridors, and even a whimsical turret here and there, all without reducing the number of housing units. It stirred up enough support in the community that the developer, Donohoe Companies, was not only denied approval by the city but was also ordered to consult with the community before submitting another proposal.

That got the designer’s talents noticed—the Martens project led to the Friendship Heights assignments. And when Ulibarri presented those at a community meeting, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Nancy Macwood took notice. She had been working to push through a renovation of the Giant supermarket on Newark Street and Wisconsin Avenue NW, but the store’s sister company, Stop & Shop, which makes real estate decisions, had trouble coming up with a plan that would accommodate both the sloping topography and a previous agreement with the neighborhood to preserve certain parts of the facade.

Impressed by Ulibarri’s work and the way he seemed to grasp the community’s desires, Macwood approached him to do some drawings on behalf of the ANC to try and get things moving. “Lex has a very comprehensive way of looking at an issue,” says Macwood. “He looks at how that particular problem is related to the overall context of the area, the street patterns, and the residential patterns.” Ulibarri’s alternative design was so compelling that Stop & Shop’s architectural firm even hired him as a consultant for the project.

Despite his success—Martens Volvo is still there, Friendship Heights hasn’t turned into Rosslyn, and the Cleveland Park Giant will reflect many of his design principals—not everyone is an Ulibarri fan. His work has made him notorious within the Office of Planning. In a September 2005 e-mail exchange about community resistance to development near the Takoma Metro station, one office staffer notified director Ellen McCarthy that the neighborhood group had “enlisted the assistance of an architect named Lex.”

“Lex is, I’m sure, Lex Ullibarri [sic], who isn’t even a real architect,” McCarthy responded. “His card says ‘architectural designer’....Basically, he’s a hack who comes up with plans for citizens who don’t like density.”

“He really is the Lex Luther of Planning,” Jennifer Steingasser, a senior staffer, chimed in.

The Takoma tiff involves a piece of Metro-owned land—currently a park, bus turnaround, and parking lot—that the transit authority wants to sell to Bethesda-based developer EYA. Metro’s goal in selling the land—besides making money for itself and the city—is to promote transit-oriented development, guided by principles such as reducing automobile dependency and increasing pedestrian- and bicycle-originated transit trips.

But the EYA plan calls for an 89-town-house compound serviced by labyrinthine interior streets, with a two-car garage for each unit—not exactly the best way for Metro to gain new riders. Two weeks after he was recruited by Takoma ANC member Faith Wheeler, Ulibarri created an alternative plan that preserves much of the existing site. With a parking structure underneath the town-house complex, the bus turnaround and the park would be left largely intact. Ulibarri’s park also features a sculpture garden, fountains, and an adjacent pedestrian plaza, and it allows for bicycle racks, a kiss-and-ride, and expansion of the bus bays.

“A lot of people think of Takoma as the sort of Birkenstock crowd who’s just fighting anything that’s growth-oriented,” says Ulibarri. “That’s not the case at all. We’re actually in a position where if [Metro] insists on selling this piece of property, we just want them to plan it in an intelligent way.”

Ulibarri credits his hometown of Grand Junction, Colo., for giving him his sense of proportion. Wedged between twin mountain ranges and an expansive blue sky, the small city in western Colorado’s high desert country was surrounded by natural architecture. “In the West, things look like they should be there,” Ulibarri explains. “When I’m in the West, I understand my scale for things. There’s a context there.”

It’s that desire for balanced creations that drives Ulibarri more than, say, eco-friendliness. “It’s not that I’m a particularly green person,” he says. “I don’t drive a hybrid vehicle. I recycle to the best of my abilities, but I turn the heat up when it’s cold outside.”

Ulibarri also admits that, no, he “isn’t even a real architect.” While an architecture student at the University of Colorado at Boulder, he caught on with a few golf-course-clubhouse projects, and they were lucrative enough for him to quit school to pursue more full-time opportunities. He’s worked on myriad projects during his career, including a waterfront casino in New Orleans, spa buildings, and all manner of hotel and resort sites, mostly in Hawaii, all of which were serendipitous training for tackling problematic urban planning. “I see resort work as designing the ideal community where everybody wants to go and live forever,” says Jack Rudd, a Boulder-based architect who has known and worked with Ulibarri for two decades. “My sense is that he began to overlap the patterning of resorts into cities and towns.”

Though Ulibarri says that the alternative plan for Takoma has plenty of support in the community, Metro and the Office of Planning have been less receptive. In fact, Ulibarri has had trouble getting them to take even a look. Metro responded to charges that it was excluding residents from the planning process by putting on a March 4 workshop. Ulibarri put together a presentation for his plan but learned at the door that no alternative designs were allowed.

EYA’s plan still needs to get through a public hearing and approvals from the Metro board of directors and Federal Transportation Administration. Depending on what happens, Ulibarri says, the community will continue the fight. “If we all have to go lie in front of the bulldozer, we’ll do it,” he says.

Ulibarri’s already gearing up for his next project, the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home near Catholic University. To date, none of his alternative designs have actually made it off the page, but that’s not the point. “I don’t care whether something’s built or not,” he says. “I enjoy going through the creative process with groups and being a conduit for their ideas. For me to feel fulfillment, my work certainly doesn’t have to be built.” CP

Copyright © 2006 Washington Free Weekly Inc.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

An open note to Bill Rice

Please advise your campaign staff that this voter does not appreciate coming up to their dwelling to find what is essentially litter on their front door.

Last week it was a door knob poster. Yesterday it was a glitzy flyer. Today it was an invitation to a party/fundraiser in Cleveland Park, to which I had already received an email invitation.

I know you and your campaign are all about the money that you have raised, but the phone calls and litter on my front yard are enough for me to say NO.

Besides, you can TALK about fixing the schools, but what experience to you have to actually FIX the schools?

I think it is horrible that you take credit at forums and 'meet and greets' for the successes at DDOT. Since when does a spokesman involve themselves in policy?


Election Certification Announced

The only place a DC resident can find a complete list of Candidates in the September 12, 2006 Primary- Ballot Order by Party, is the Board of Election and Ethics web site.

An update on the Tenley-Friendship Library

The Tenley Library rebuild is basically at a stand still and has been for about a year since DCPL cancelled the contract with Hess Corporation and decided to go back to the drawing board. (As painful as that decision was, it was supported by many in the community -- myself included -- as the plans were poor both in quality and in scope.)

The Library System is working on opening an interim branch that will be located at 4200 Wisconsin Avenue (in the strip with Ruby Tuesdays). No date yet on when that will open. They had promised September, but I peeked in the window a week or so ago and saw no signs of anything resembling work to set up a library.

As President of the Friends of the Tenley-Friendship Library, I have been very distressed that we have been unable to get any movement from the Library System on resuming the design process. I honestly don't understand the lack of movement. Keep in mind, that Tenley is not alone in this situation. There are three other neighborhoods that are without library services as well (Anacostia, Benning, and Shaw).

In the meantime, the Library does have a mobile unit, known as the Xtreme Mobile. It visits each neighborhood once or twice a week. I saw the "thing" the other day parked on Chesapeake Street by Wilson High School. I cannot imagine a more desserted stretch of road in the summer. I stopped and went in (the door was closed, btw, and there was no sign on the outside indicating that it was open, but I knocked and the very friendly librarian opened the door). It is stocked with
3 public access computers and a smattering of books. Residents canorder books and have them delivered via the Xtreme Mobile. Books checked out there can be returned to any library (and vice a versa).

I have suggested to the library folks that they find a more prominent location for the mobile unit -- perhaps in front of the closed library itself. I don't know if they will respond to this request.

The Library has just hired (finally!) a new permanent Director (they have been without one for almost 3 years now). Her name is Ginnie Cooper. She comes most recently from Brooklyn Public Library System. I believe she starts in a week or so. I hope the 4 closed branches will be at the top of her (very long) list of things she will tackle. Meanwhile, I suggest folks express their displeasure with the lack of library services to the Council and to the Library Board of Trustees.

Martha Saccocio
President, Friends of the Tenley-Friendship Library

Department of Parks and Rec and Ward 3

Noted reporter and writer Jonetta Rose Barras has published an outstanding paper about the dysfunctional DC Department of Parks and Recreation. While evidence of this is seen throughout the city, in Ward 3, there are a few notable examples of the manifestation of this. A recent gathering of Guy Mason supporters was covered in the Northwest Current. Holes in physical plant and programming were noted, as staff retention was impossible without the funds needed to continue classes.

ANC 3/4G Commissioner Robert Gordon noted problems with the Chevy Chase Center in a recent posting to the Chevy Chase Community Listserv, "I recently walked through two inches of flood water while inspecting the basement of the Chevy Chase Community Center; flooding that could have been avoided if DPR took timely action, as requested on many
occasions by the ANC".

Disrepair and improvements have also been sought for the Forrest Hills and Macomb Playgrounds/rec centers, only to take months and years to get appropriate responses and action from the agency.

Where do the tax dollars go, and what does it take to get appropriate management in certain DC Agencies?

Summer Doldrums in the Ward 3 Candidate Race

Once the July 4th Palisades Parade ends, the dog-days of summer kick in for the political season. In Ward 3, there have been a number of small events sponsored by various candidates and friends of Candidates. A couple have caught my eye.

ANC Commissioner Robert Gordon is following his "West Wing" event with a Reduced Shakespeare Company fundraiser on July 24th. Gordon seems to be trying to corner the market in the theater aficionado community in the Ward. Meanwhile, GWU Law Professor Mary Cheh is hosting an education forum on July 25th. Supporters can also pay money to walk the streets with Shadow Senator Paul Strauss. This does not include knocking on doors, but simply walking the streets and shaking hands with whomever happens to be out in this heatwave. I have seen candidates knocking on doors; Sam Brooks for example is close to having covered every single street in the Ward, a feat he started in February.

Meanwhile, the erstwhile Jonathan Rees continues to litter the streets with his flyers, which are now being sealed in envelopes. It is funny, this latest version doesn't even include his first name. DCist ran a commentary noting the first year anniversary of his unique campaign.

Water Malice on Connecticut Avenue

Two water mains burst on Wednesday snarling traffic and causing water outages for residents of the Kennedy-Warren and the Woodley Park Towers. Water service is expected to be returned to both buildings by later today.

From a traffic standpoint, I suspect this is what we can expect once the Klingle Bridge repairs commence later this year.