Sunday, May 03, 2009

Hour of Decision

This is a smart neighborhood composed of bright people who have a variety of civic interests.

On Tuesday, May 5 you have the privilege of going to the polls to vote for a new City Council. While the Growler offers no endorsements, the Cranky One hopes everyone will emerge from political hibernation long enough to cast a vote.

Many of you have probably already made up your minds regarding particular candidates. For the undecided, decisionmaking might be easier if this neighborhood had a clear-cut champion on Council. Sadly we don't.

That's not to say there aren't candidates/incumbents portraying themselves as friends of this neighborhood. But readers should never confuse accessibility with action. Recent attempts have been made to reach out and stroke (or perhaps divide and conquer), but in the final analysis, it's only the incumbents' records and the challengers' credibility that counts.

So what is left for a Parker-Gray voter to do? Depending on your definition of undesirable, there are two courses of action: (1) bullet vote for fewer than six candidates including the challengers, or (2) vote for any combination of six candidates. The former is radical, but it sends a message.

For the undecided: Residents who are concerned about social services will want to back the incumbents as well as independent challenger Alicia Hughes. The current Council decided last Monday it was worth the risk of taxpayer backlash to raise taxes rather than to make even deeper cuts in the safety net, which it clearly pained them to do. If you share their pain, vote for them.

Those who feel the neighborhood's safety and prosperity lies in high-density development at Metro have an easy choice. They can vote for the current team, which has indicated by their unanimous support of the Braddock Road plan that they are keen on the tax revenue the development may bring. If this is your priority, then challenger Kerry Donley is also a logical choice.

But before you twirl and press the button for an incumbent, recall the final Braddock Metro plan — its language and the undisguised attack on "gentrification."

If you have lived in this neighborhood for any length of time and have invested sweat, time, and money to make this a better place for all to live, and especially if you have jeopardized your personal safety to do so, understand that the incumbents ratified this document without a single dissenting vote and without softening or changing any text. It's on record what the current Council thinks of us.

For those whose hot-button is fiscal conservatism there are two Republicans — Frank Fannon and Phil Cefaratti — who seem committed to holding the fiscal line. Their message of budgetary restraint may be manna to those who are offended their tax bills are going up during a recession at the same time home values in our neighborhood are declining. Ms. Hughes also talked about fiscal responsibility, although the Growler wonders how she would balance such discipline with her expressed commitment to social services.

If you are a fiscal conservative but a loyal Democrat and are wracked by the prospect of voting red, Councilman Tim Lovain may be a good choice. At last week's final budget hearing he separated himself from the herd by promoting a last-ditch effort to keep taxes flat for residential property owners. His colleagues ignored his plea. Mr. Lovain's proposal relied on borrowing for capital improvements rather than paying cash, indicating that like his fellow incumbents he finds cutting spending hard. But give him some credit for sensing the zeitgeist.

If you live on N. Patrick and N. Henry Streets, transportation issues may be paramount, particularly the prospect of bus rapid transit (BRT). If so, know that the incumbents not once, in any forum, talked about your unique concerns and how you should be protected.

Apart from the token gestures made last year, such as not labeling Route 1 as a transporation corridor, the recent silence of the current Council members in public debate may clinch the deal for those worried about the potential loss of parking and bus stops on the doorstep.

On the BRT issue there are clear choices from among the challengers: Ms. Hughes and Mr. Fannon, the only candidates who declared their opposition. Mr. Fannon was the more specific of the two, because his rejection of BRT was grounded on his office window observation at ground zero (Duke and Henry Streets) and he apparently understands the folly of dedicated lanes on Route 1.

If your issue is public housing, your vote may be conditioned on how happy you are or are not with ARHA management, Council members' recent votes on ARHA board appointments, your satisfaction or lack of satisfaction with the proposed redevelopment of the James Bland project, or abstract promises regarding the future of Andrew Adkins public housing.

The acid test for some neighbors may be the fact that ARHA's leadership remains mostly unchanged. Ponder this: ARHA reform (such as it is) may be the carrot used to distract us from the incumbents' drive to keep all public housing concentrated here.

On Bland, the public record speaks for itself. All incumbents voted for the Bland project as is, without a single tweak as requested by neighbors, whether it was relief from height behind N. Columbus Street, the positioning of the public open space, or a different approach to the stark segregation of the multi-family buildings on N. Patrick Street. If the Bland issues are important, some voters may need to face the fact that in the last analysis ARHA's financial imperatives will always trump neighborhood concerns.

Voters may also want to think carefully about the notion that incumbents should be rewarded for amending the Braddock East plan to call for 50% offsiting and for setting aside half of all developer affordable housing contributions in the area for off-siting. The truth is that a coalition of Inner City and Lofts residents pushed hard for those concessions, which were not included in the first draft. The City concedes nothing on the public housing issue without a fight.

Re the deconcentration of Bland residents: the Growler feels it's important to restate something that is indisputably on the public record. The reduction in public housing units proposed at James Bland involved 60 units, 44 of them being moved to Glebe Park in Arlandria and another 16 to a location yet to be determined. But this was done solely because Bland is a more valuable property than the Arlandria location and space needed to be freed up for the cash cow market rate townhouses. And those leftover 16 units would have gone to Glebe Park, an existing public housing location, except that the City wouldn't grant higher density zoning for the site.

Finding a spot for the 16 units may represent a headache for staff and Council, but it doesn't constitute a shining example of deconcentration. Nevertheless, some candidates may be touting this as an example of their commitment to dispersal. It's bogus, and Arlandria readers may want to take this under advisement as well.

By contrast, in the recent forums Mr. Cefaratti is the only candidate who supported vouchers.

And finally, another way to slice and dice the candidates is to look at their pet issues. Nuisance newspapers on the porch, check cashing stores in Arlandria, public art ... are any of these our issues? Not even close.

The environment has been played up enormously in recent years, and of course it is important to everyone. But espousing the environmental cause is safe, the equivalent of Mom and apple pie. Mirant and Virginia Paving have not been hot topics here, and the ethanol issue properly belongs to the West End. But what have any politicians recently said about the auto exhaust spewed on Route 1? Crickets and more crickets.

One major personal commitment for several candidates is affordable housing, and that's an issue that many residents here may not find to be in their (and our) collective interest. Voters must judge for themselves if they want their tax dollars subsidizing other home owners, particularly city staffers. We now know from the recent Old Town Civic analysis that employee salaries are part of the burden causing taxes to rise.

Even more importantly, Parker-Gray citizens need to be cognizant of where affordable housing likely will be placed (here, especially at Bland) and where it's not going (Del Ray, where housing values are allowed to soar and no-one has criticized the tear-downs of small affordable houses and their replacement with McMansions).

Arlandria voters need to wake up that both their neighborhood and ours are the outliers, where income diversity will be enforced at the expense of our property values while the center is allowed to thrive. And why has Del Ray been permitted to steadily lose ethnic diversity over the last 20 years while we and Arlandria are lectured and hectored that diversity must be maintained at all cost? The hypocrisy alarms are buzzing furiously ...

Development on the Braddock Fields? All candidates hedged on this issue, and parents at George Washington Middle School may ultimately swing this issue. But some here have suspected that Del Ray is using the argument about 360 degrees of development around Metro to push density down out of Landbay L and into the no-man's land between neighboring districts, impacting both Rosemont and Inner City if a traffic outlet is punched through to Braddock Road.

Your choices Tuesday may well pivot on whether you trust Del Ray as a neighborhood, a civic organization and political machine. Or whether Old Town's candidates have more to offer in a quieter, less flashy way, particularly those who share some of our past concerns.

Are West Enders reliable as neutral parties, or will they too take advantage of every opening to shove problems back into this neighborhood? As a reader noted, Del Pepper's Web site may state "Protecting our residential neighborhoods from too much inappropriate or unwanted development has always been a high priority for me," but did she leave out the more truthful qualifying words "only in the West End"?

So there you have it, readers. Pick your issues, pick your technique (to bullet or not to bullet) and pick your candidates. May only the best emerge!

And, as always, don't hesitate to tell us what you think.