Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Good Old Days according to the CPCA

The following was submitted to this forum from the Cleveland Park Citizens Association listserv, as former President Greg New opines about the "Good Old Days". Perhaps, as one respondent noted, this is why the organization needs new leadership (pardon the pun).

Dear CPCA Members,

I am still in the spirit of recalling the good old days before our executive committee (of which I am a part) brought itself into some predictable difficulties. In the present charged atmosphere it may be hard for some of our new members to realize there was ever a day when competition for office and voting were not overriding issues. Historically we have amiably accepted out-of-boundary members who were obviously interested in our programs and wanted to be on our mailing list, and who seldom thought of voting on issues.

Our most popular meetings were candidate forums, where obviously the voting took place somewhere else. Other popular issues-oriented meetings were largely informative panels, or presentations explaining potential public programs or private developments that were not at the stage where an up or down vote was called for. Presenters sought feedback, not decisions. Usually when the decisions were made, it was in another forum (e.g., in an advisory neighborhood commission meeting, or by a public agency after a public hearing. We should not assume that the association weighed in very often by testimony on either side. Only about once every year or two do matters become ripe for a CPCA vote on public issues, and on these occasions there is wide-spread notice, often a large turnout, and sometimes an extra large contingent of new members. It often happens that we seldom ever again see many of the members who turned out to vote on a hot issue, regardless of how the vote went, or which side the members happened to be on.

While voting is of utmost importance in principle, people who regularly attend citizens meetings very soon become aware of the fact that most members join citizens associations out of a general commitment to civic duty. Far from being eager to vote, the majority of the membership of an active association with good, responsive leadership appears to be quite uninterested even in keeping up with the issues. It is a rare meeting that attracts much over ten percent of the members, if that many.

It is my impression that our out-of-boundary members may be more apt to attend meetings than in-boundary folk, because they are more apt to be interested in issues. We have a reputation for putting on some pretty good programs, and that reputation brings the outsiders in. In short, it is an arguable presumption that most of out-of-boundary members see themselves as paying for information, not for the right to vote in a community where they do not reside. There is every reason to suppose that they do belong to, and vote in, an association representing their own community. If they do not, they should.

It is not customary in democratic societies to encourage people to vote twice on the same issue, once while living on one side of the street, and once again while visiting on the other side. In most cases the out-of-boundary people who speak of losing a legitimate right to vote in Cleveland Park are asserting a right to vote twice on the same issue.

Another matter on which some new members may have an unrealistic assumption of what motivates people centers on competition for leadership. That is, they assume not only that competition exists in citizens associations, but that such competition is the usual state in such associations. It is most emphatically not the usual state. Very few people want leadership positions in neighborhood groups. They have to be asked, and often pressured to run, and there is seldom a challenger.

I can recall my own "call to duty" in 1997 as an example of the problem. While my experience is far from typical, it reflects the spirit that drives leadership of neighborhood groups better that the present supercharged atmosphere does. Back in those good old days the CPCA nominating committee consisted of three past presidents. As the bylaws quaintly put it, "In the event the full body [of the nominating committee] cannot be constituted in this manner, the vacancy shall be filled by the Executive Committee." Heaven forbid that there ever be a competition among more than three past presidents all eager to extend their power. In reality it became increasingly difficult to find people to serve even on the nominating committee. In spite of a three-term limit (of one year each), two presidents had between them filled the office for 19 of the preceding 29 years, and the ranks of past presidents dwindled and aged. With little help coming from an aging executive committee, the incumbent president, then nearly on his deathbed, became the nominating committee by default. He managed to come up with a slate for all offices except the president. I had declined, the honor because I had a demanding (and rewarding) job, and preferred to wait until I retired (which I did five years later at age 76).

So there we were, election night, and no candidate for president. I then reluctantly agreed to accept the office, and served my three terms. If I could have served five years later, I could have devoted much more time to the office. We were fortunate in persuading Isabel Furlong to serve the next two years, and George Idelson to serve the last seven. His long service, of course, involved virtually abandoning the term limit.

A third aspect of reality involves the process of decision making that reluctant leaders chiefly motivated by an ill-defined sense of duty are able to solicit from a membership most of which tends to be unenthusiastic about any specific issue that comes up for decision. The lack of strong feeling creates another reality, often noted in democratic society, that the negative side on any issue is usually much stronger than the positive side. In a stable community like Cleveland Park, generally satisfied with the current level of development, a lot of us are weakly supportive of some additional development, but easily alarmed by the prospect of too much new development. Thus our enthusiasm for any development is apt to be muted. The opponents prove to have more fire in their bellies that the proponents in almost every case.

The leadership of neighborhood associations learns to respond to this reality by defensive policy making. One minor incident illustrates the point. A developer was asked to make a presentation to CPCA regarding plans to rehabilitate and slightly enlarge a small apartment house. The tone of our response was set by half a dozen to a dozen new members from the apartment house in question, who "packed" the meeting in opposition to plans that disrupted their haven. The result was obvious. Not even proponents of affordable housing would consider a few more apartments worth going to bat for. More people would worry about setting a precedent for some bigger development in their back yard than would commit themselves to support such a small development. The matter never had to come to a vote. The developers eventually found a way to rehabilitate their building that sidestepped an appeal to the community. The policy of the association has been set by default by a handful of people who never had to cast a vote, and who were never seen again.

Leaders soon learn that lynching parties almost invariably come from opponents, not proponents. About the only thing that will bring out support for a controversial new development is a good conspiracy theory. It is unrealistic to expect a solid phalanx of public spirited members to come gallivanting to the rescue of an impartial decision making process. But if you have dragons to slay and damsels to rescue, that is another matter. Once proponents of a development see themselves as opposed by dragons, there is no villainy that they might not learn to suspect. And, of course, they must protect the community from such obviously threatening dragons by staging a good lynching party.

Upon hearing rumors of a proposed lynching party the normally laid back CPCA leaders from yesteryear started entertaining their own visions (if we may call them that), vivid images of a hoard of greedy developers laying waste to their cherished community. After decades of deft response to community concerns, they soon lost their feel of the public pulse.

An impartial outsider could see exaggerated fears on both sides. A humorist could see the makings of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. Fortunately we can hope that in the looming battle the community will be more amused than scarred, and the damage will be limited to the dignity and imaginations of the performers on one side or the other.

In any case, the battle on the issue has already been essentially won in the proper public forum. It was won by proponents of a modest development that they hope will facilitate a magnificent new Giant. The opponents of the PUD failed to paint the five-story building with four stories of apartments and the loss of the overlay limiting restaurants as threatening to the larger community. More importantly, most people (especially among the those who still do not like the accessory developments just named) are impatiently waiting for a new and improved Giant. Many are worried that further opposition threatens what they are eager to get. DC public officials have shown their usual willingness to downplay apparently exaggerated threats of development gone wild. Appeals of their decision are unlikely to achieve much. We are likely to get the new Giant and most of the accessory developments (unless it becomes the victim of the current credit crisis). And we would get it whether we have a lynching at the September 29 CPCA meeting or not.

The strength shown by the proponents after they turned negative demonstrates the power of the negative side in a democracy. Ironically, their triumph on behalf of a mildly supportive position on a development issue may prove to be a Pyrrhic victory.

Let us suppose that we have the lynching, what can we expect then? I suspect the new leadership will in turn learn to practice defensive policy making. When the next big development in Wisconsin Avenue offers a new ten-story apartment house where we now have a five story structure, they will likely temper their enthusiasm for development in the face of a much larger firestorm of opposition. Otherwise they might be visited by a few old friendly neighbors politely asking, "Could we borrow your rope for a party we are having?
. . . And by the way, you are invited."

Greg New
One of two living past presidents of CPCA

Friday, August 28, 2009

AWARE Announces CPCA Slate

On the Cleveland Park Listserv today, Jeff Davis, who was among the most prolific leaders of the AWARE group that advocated for the Wisconsin Avenue Giant redevelopment proposal, has announced his candidacy at the top of a slate of community activists who wish to challenge the status quo for the Cleveland Park Citizens Association.

The group has created a website which outlines their platform and goals for the neighborhood.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Stoddert Update

Courtesy of theWeLoveDC blog an update on the construction of a new Stoddert Recreation Center and the rehabilitation of Stoddert Elementary. The construction features the expansion of the school and the addition of recreational facilities which will be open for community use.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Cheh weighs in on Pershing Park case

Councilmember Mary Cheh has spoken to the City Paper about the Pershing Park case involving AG Peter Nickles. Recall that former Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson recruited Cheh to help with the case, utilizing her legal background.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Walking Tour comes to Tenleytown

September 19th, 2009
1:00 P.M.

Sponsored by Cultural Tourism DC

Come and learn about Tenleytown, the second oldest neighborhood in Washington.
John Tennally settled here before 1789 and his tavern served farmers taking
tobacco to the Port of Georgetown. Discover the Grant Road Historic District, a
step back into the 19th Century. Visit Fort Reno Park, site of the largest
Civil War fort defending Washington, and hear why it is called The Summit that
Saved the Union."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Kaid Benfield on Tenleytown

The Natural Resources Defense Council's Director of Smart Growth Programs has posted on his blog the challenges for Smart Growth going forward as needing to be greener and more community oriented. Using his home base of Tenleytown as an example, Benfield writes:

I live in a city neighborhood called Tenleytown. It is slowly picking up in residential density and commercial building activity along our main commercial street, Wisconsin Avenue. But in planning circles the neighborhood is best known for having defeated a modest and very reasonable proposal to build a condo building (reproposed even more modestly as townhouses, but again defeated) a short block from our Metro stop. I am convinced that a big part of the reason is that Tenleytown residents don't want our neighborhood to become another Friendship Heights, the area around the next Metro stop to the north on the Red Line.

Do you blame them? I don't. One of the most infuriating aspects of Friendship Heights, which has experienced a huge building boom in the last decade, is that the public has gotten zero green space out of the deal. None. Friendship Heights has great high-end shopping, and of course great transit access, but little else to recommend it in the way of public amenities.

So there are challenges going forward in better articulating the benefits of Smart Growth, but at the same time, there needs to be a more comprehensive approach to how we evaluate our community and maximize livability and sustainability across all currents of dialogue: ecological and environmental, social, etc.

How do we ask the right questions and define the terms appropriately to achieve the right balance for the community, city and region when future development proposals are announced?

Palisades Archeology

Palisades Museum of Prehistory Director Doug Daupin explains his efforts to understand the current process for preserving artifacts in the neighborhood.

Friday, August 14, 2009

ANC 3G seems confused

The issue of traffic calming seems to have reared its head again in the Ward. Earlier this spring, there was consternation when speed humps were installed on Newark Street in Cleveland Park without ANC or community discussion.

In Palisades the conversation has been ongoing regarding calming efforts in the area to the west of MacArthur Boulevard. However, in Chevy Chase, there is a repeat of erroneous information being passed as fact on the community listserv.

The issue is once again centered around Morrison Street where DDOT installed a pedestrian signal and converted it in August, 2008 to a traditional three-color light. The residents of the block must have believed that speeding was an issue and petitioned DDOT for traffic calming to reduce speeds.

In a recent Chevy Chase Listserv post, ANC 3/4G Chair Gary Thompson wrote:

The ANC voted (unanimously) to defer consideration of any such speed hump pending review of all the inter-connected traffic issues on the first blocks E & W of Conn. Ave. in the main shopping district.

But Thompson didn't mention the ANC's decision to take a vote on July 13th, and he didn't mention the ANC's failure to carry out its own decision.

At the June meeting, the ANC said it would collect petitions from all blocks and vote on them in July; According to the minutes

The Commission voted 6-0-1 (Cook abstaining) to defer consideration of the specific application for the 3700 block of Morrison St. until the meeting of July 13, and that for the next 30 days, other blocks off of the Conn. Shopping area should be informed of and invited to submit applications for speed humps (should they have 75% household support), and then when all such applications are in hand, consider them as a group. At the Commission meeting of July 13, the Commission will consider any applications received by that date and vote on the requests. The Chair made it clear that this is not a deadline and that any block could apply for humps after that date, but that the Commission believed that taking up a broader set of applications for all blocks in the Chevy Chase business area would afford a broader perspective and allow for balance.

Instead, the ANC took no vote. There was no record of opposition at the meetings or on the Chevy Chase listserv, and the agency requirement for 30 days had passed. After that point, the opportunity for ANC input with "great weight" had passed. DDOT had seemed to fulfill its obligation.

The ANC did not follow through with what it had stated it would do in June. Instead, it took a different tack once it realized that only an additional block of Morrison and the same block of McKinley submitted petitions (note: McKinley is the "collector" street for the Chevy Chase DC community and is not eligible for physical calming measures that "residential" streets can obtain).

So who is at fault here - the residents of Morrison Street who used standard city process to address a problem on their street? Or the ANC, which failed to act within the prescribed window from city agencies? Even if the ANC had chosen to oppose the traffic calming measures, DDOT would still have been able to install them if they were warranted as noted in this WTOP article,

DDOT spokesperson John Lisle says the process "has been streamlined."

In the past, the agency would require a traffic study be completed for every request. Now, residents simply have to get the majority of their neighbors to sign a petition.

Lisle says the reason for the change is to promote pedestrian safety.

"Safety for pedestrians, residents, workers and visitors is always a top priority. The District has long supported speed bumps in neighborhoods as a means to provide traffic calming. With the streamlined process we are now able to fill requests more efficiently."

Perhaps the ANC ought to have a better handle on how the city functions rather than inciting the public to clog city officials email boxes with misguided complaints.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Giant PUD Approved

The official order for the Wisconsin Avenue Giant has been released by the Zoning Commission. According to AWARE head Jeff Davis:

Great news - on August 10th the DC Zoning Commission entered a final, written order approving the Giant application to re-develop the store and add new neighborhood retail and residences on Wisconsin between Macomb and Idaho. We are one step closer in our 10-year battle for a new grocery store! Giant's desire to invest millions of dollars in this project is a well-timed vote of confidence in the continuing commercial vitality of our neighborhood. You can read the PDF.

Special credit and thanks go to the ANC for all their hard work. The ANC's unanimous approval of the Giant PUD weighed heavily in the Zoning Commission's rationale for approving the application. I'm proud to have been part of AWARE and that I had the chance to work alongside many of our neighbors to support the Giant application. I want personally to thank all those that signed petitions, wrote letters and testified at the zoning hearings.

Now is the time to heal our community and look ahead. The parties that opposed the Giant application, including the Cleveland Park Citizens Association, have the right to appeal the Zoning Commission's order. I call on them all to forego their appeals and allow this neighborhood and this project to move forward. An nappeal would drag us and the project down for another year or two or three.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Poll: Cheh is Safe

A poll released by the Washington Examiner announced that the Ward 3 Council seat held by Mary Cheh is "safe".

Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh fared the best according to the poll, conducted by Successful Capital Strategies on behalf of the National Capital Committee for Good Government. Of Ward 3 respondents, 53 percent said they would "definitely" vote to re-elect the first-term councilwoman, while 4 percent would not and 29 percent would consider someone else. Undecideds in Ward 3 were 14 percent.

"It's obviously good news, I guess," Cheh said Tuesday. "It's good to hear it."

Monday, August 10, 2009

Aquatic Center is Open

With temperatures approaching the century mark, is is of high relief that the Wilson Pool is now open.


Wednesday, August 05, 2009

CPCA Expels Members

According to the 'Rules of the Day' for the Cleveland Park Citizens Association election to be held on September 29th,

Former residents who moved from Cleveland Park and maintained membership remain eligible (in accordance with Article IV of the Constitution). The Constitution, Bylaws and boundary street map are at

Note: CPCA always has welcomed membership from all who wished to join, appreciating their interest and support. However, with a prospect – for the first time – of a contested election, it was necessary to carefully review our membership roll in light of the boundary provisions cited above. As specified in Article III of the Constitution, residents of buildings on both sides of the named streets are eligible for membership; the citation of “immediately contiguous” in Article IV confirms this provision, but does not extend it.

Regrettably, these boundary requirements disqualify some longtime members and others who joined recently. CPCA will call and write each affected person and offer to refund current dues if desired.

This includes both new and long time members who were invited for membership, who have paid dues and have tried to participate in the organization.

So it begs the question, given the catalyst that sparked the discussion over the direction of the organization and neighborhood, was based on a development proposal that is barely (if at all) within the organizational boundaries, how can it in good conscious expel members who are more affected by these decisions by proximity, than others?

Seems like some latitude is in order, particularly since there is little or no ability to verify the work of the organization.