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D.C. Voters Approve Legal Marijuana

Kojo Nnamdi Show, WAMU 88.5, November 6, 2014

D.C. voters this week approved a ballot initiative making it legal to use small amounts of marijuana for fun — not just for medical purposes. If Congress doesn’t interfere, the measure could become law next year. We explore the growing momentum behind legal marijuana nationwide, and ask about second-hand smoke, pot tourism and the lessons D.C. can learn from marijuana pioneers Colorado and Washington.



Legal marijuana could be $130 million a year business in D.C., study finds

By Mike DeBonis October 30, 2014, Washington Post

If D.C. residents vote to legalize marijuana possession next week, it wouldn’t just mean a sea change in drug policy in the nation’s capital. It could also mean big business.

A study by District financial officials shared Thursday with lawmakers estimates a legal D.C. cannabis market worth $130 million a year.

The ballot initiative voters will see Tuesday does not allow for the legal sale of marijuana — only the possession and home cultivation of small amounts — but D.C. Council members gathered Thursday to hear testimony about what a legal sales regime might look like.

The issues pondered included how marijuana might be grown, tracked, sold and taxed, but more than a few witnesses showed up simply to cheer on or warn against the general notion of legalization.

Council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large) repeatedly reminded them that the legalization question lies in the hands of voters — who, according to several polls taken in recent months, are expected to endorse the measure.

View GraphicThe status of marijuana laws across the nation.

The passage of Initiative 71 would “still . . . not give us the justification for sales and commercialization of marijuana,” said Will Jones III, a D.C. resident who leads a group opposing the initiative.

But Orange and his colleagues were determined to start working out the logistics of creating a legitimate cannabis industry in Washington — even as they remain wary of potential congressional intervention, which could stamp out the legalization effort before it takes effect.

Testimony prepared by city financial officials pegged the potential size of the market at $130 million a year, based on an estimate of 122,000 users, including residents, commuters and tourists, each consuming three ounces of marijuana costing an average of $350 per ounce.

An initial version of a marijuana regulation bill before the council sets a sales tax of 15 percent, suggesting potential government revenue of nearly $20 million a year. A system of legal marijuana sales would also come with considerable costs to the District government, the testimony indicated, requiring the hiring of up to a dozen additional employees and the purchase of new systems and equipment.

The financial official who testified, Yesim Sayin Taylor, said it is difficult at this point to estimate the city’s exact revenue or costs, citing the unfinished nature of the regulatory legislation and the difficulty of determining how many current marijuana users will migrate from the black market to legal, taxed purchases.

One expert, Joseph Henchman of the Tax Foundation, warned council members against setting tax rates so high that marijuana users would stick with lower-priced black-market cannabis.

“Colorado and Washington picked tax rates that are still too high,” he said. “The black market still exists . . . and the black market prices are lower.”

Two Brookings Institution fellows who had studied the legalization programs in Colorado and Washington urged D.C. officials to learn from the experiences in those states. One, John Hudak, urged members to have “listening tours” in the community — hearing from, among others, those engaged in the underground marijuana economy.

“They are efficient. They are innovative. They are effective businessmen and women,” he said.

The regulatory bill currently under consideration, drafted by David Grosso (I-At Large), would tax recreational sales at 15 percent and send those proceeds, along with fees paid by cultivators and retailers, to a variety of agencies and programs, including police training, youth programs and efforts to combat substance abuse. The District’s alcohol regulators would oversee marijuana sales.

Fred Moosally, director of the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, called the bill “ a good start” but suggested tightening several measures to conform with guidance issued last year by the Justice Department on local marijuana programs — particularly adding measures to keep drugs out of the hands of those younger than 21 and to prevent the import or export of marijuana across state lines.

Grosso said Thursday he has already rewritten his bill in response to public input, including dropping plans to end the city’s medical marijuana program and focusing the revenue more squarely on youth programs and prevention efforts.

“It is time for the District of Columbia to step up and address this issue in a thoughtful and measured way,” he said.

Given the complexity of writing and implementing regulations, Taylor said, no city revenue is expected before late 2016. Moosally declined to estimate when the first retail sales could take place. “We recognize this is a time-sensitive issue,” he said. “But at the same time, we have to get this right.”



Grosso’s opening remarks from hearing on amendments to the Small Business Enterprise and Certified Business Expenditure Acts

Councilmember David Grosso’s opening remarks from the Committee on Business and Consumer Affairs hearing on three bills that will amend the Small Business Enterprise and Certified Business Expenditure Acts:

Thank you, Chairman Orange for holding this hearing.

Today, we are here to discuss bills that would amend the Small Business Enterprise (SBE) and Certified Business Expenditure Acts.  I do not believe that the current set-up is working well for our city businesses or agencies.  I am not suggesting we disband the SBE program, I am suggesting that we reform how it is being implemented.  I believe we can address helping small businesses in more creative ways that will help them thrive as opposed to forcing agency’s to do business with them.

Last December when the Committee held a roundtable on these issues we analyzed the Auditor’s September 2013 report that provided a substantial amount of basic data regarding each agency’s budget, the required SBE amount to be spent, and how much the agency actually did spend during the first three quarters of fiscal year 2013.  We are able to capture which agencies are in compliance and which ones are not.  And as I stated last year, from what I can tell, there is a pattern of inconsistency from agency to agency, quarter to quarter, year to year.

I believe our system is too inflexible.  Rather than spurring growth, it pushes businesses out of the District because they do not want to deal with the maze of requirements for certification.  I do not believe that we can demand that each agency meet an often intangible goal without looking at a more holistic approach that supports small businesses without over burdening government agencies. 

Creating more SBEs by expanding the scope of RFP requirements, broadening the exceptions in the Code for who qualifies as a CBE or SBE, or making blanket percentage requirements on agencies is not the answer.  

As we know, the SBE program is not unique to D.C.  Across the country, hundreds of cities and counties have small business enterprise programs in place.  Each program is different, but common themes of success include established city-wide participation and individual contracting goals. This year, the Small Business Policy Project studied the concerns of over 200 stakeholders.   In February, the project published their findings in a report that includes over 50 recommendations for improving the environment for small businesses in the District of Columbia.  Many of their recommendations are relatively simple and can be done soon.  For example we can do three things:

First we need to improve the environment for small businesses who want to operate in the city.  We can expand their resources and technical assistance funding that helps to provide support at each stage in a business’s “lifecycle.”  If there is better technical assistance then we can measure outcomes and track a business’s long term success.

Second, we need to give the small business community a voice and listen to that voice. Let small businesses express their needs and have a platform where they are heard.  For example, a small business advocate or ombudsman would help the business community to advocate for their needs and concerns.  

And lastly, we can work to improve the access to information and communication with small businesses.  If DCRA and DSLBD can streamline their processes and share more data than small businesses can thrive here.  Also, if we allow for the delay in licensing fees or other major hurdles like retail space and other economic hardships that emerging small businesses must face than we are truly helping them survive.

I would like to hear today if DSLBD would be able to implement these bills, if they truly address SBE and CBE compliance, and if there aren’t better ways to assist each agency to meet SBE goals and how they engage with stakeholders to raise participation.

I would like to work together with you, Chairman Orange and the Committee to find ways that government can better assist small businesses so that they can thrive in D.C. and so that SBE’s can be involved in all of our contracts. 



Oversight letter to the Department of Employment Services

In addition to posting our summaries of agency performance oversight hearings over the past weeks, we also want to share with you the follow-up oversight that happens in this process. After a hearing, Councilmembers often send letters to agencies with further questions. Here is Councilmember Grosso's letter to the D.C. Department of Employment Services, and the Office's response:



Oversight letter to Department of Small and Local Business Development

In addition to posting our summaries of agency performance oversight hearings over the past weeks, we also want to share with you the follow-up oversight that happens in this process. After a hearing, Councilmembers often send letters to agencies with further questions. Here is Councilmember Grosso's letter to the D.C. Department of Small and Local Business Development, and the Office's response:



Oversight letter to the Office of Motion Picture and Television Development

In addition to posting our summaries of agency performance oversight hearings over the past weeks, we also want to share with you the follow-up oversight that happens in this process. After a hearing, Councilmembers often send letters to agencies with further questions. Here is Councilmember Grosso's letter to the D.C. Office of Motion Picture and Television Development, and the Office's response:



Performance Oversight Hearings Week in Review February 24-28, 2014

The week of February 24-28, 2014 was an epic one for agency performance oversight hearings at the D.C. Council. Councilmember Grosso set out to attend every oversight hearing for the committees where he is a member—there were 12 hearings, addressing 29 government agencies. We covered all those hearings plus monitored a couple others! Like last week, what follows is a presentation of key moments from some of those hearings.

Quote of the week:

"There are two critical attributes for gaining employment with the Washington Aqueduct—have a fundamental understanding of the pH scale and understand why water is wet.” --Washington Aqueduct General Manager Thomas Jacobus. If that’s you, check out their job openings!


Committee on Education

Councilmember Grosso and staff were kept busiest by the Committee on Education, with three days of hearings centered on the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) and D.C. Public Schools (DCPS). Two Washington Post articles helped set the agenda on the management of D.C. TAG (Tuition Assistance Grants, for D.C. students who go to state universities outside the District) and DCPS budget reprogramming of capital funds, published immediately prior to the respective hearings. You have to appreciate when the fourth estate also takes on an oversight role, right? Read on for some additional highlights from the hearings.

Office of the State Superintendent of Education

  • High school students who volunteer with the Young Woman’s Project were back this year to testify on the need for D.C. to update its health and sexual education curriculum. “Sexuality is taught where straightness is the norm and anything else is an aberration,” one student testified. The Committee will include language in the FY15 Budget Support Act to ask OSSE to report on the status of health curriculum revisions by October 1.
  • There was a spirited discussion about a little known change regarding student eligibility for free and reduced meals (FARM) that may have an impact on student achievement data. Last year, many D.C. schools moved to “community eligibility” for FARM meaning that if at least 40% of students at a school met the income eligibility requirements for FARM, then the entire school does. The tension arises when FARM data points are also used for student achievement. At schools like Hardy MS where just over 40% of students are FARM eligible, the other 60% of students are now being counted as such. Committee Chairman Catania suggested that this “community eligibility” distinction could distort our student achievement growth data.
  • Speaking of student achievement growth, OSSE agreed to post online all of the school improvement plans that have been approved under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act waivers. It takes a community to turn around a school, so why not let everyone know what we’re working towards. Be on the lookout for those on the OSSE website soon.
  • There needs to be a complete overhaul of the teacher licensure system. Can you believe everything is still paper-based?! Only four people work in the OSSE licensure division and it takes about 8-10 weeks to get approved, which is entirely too long in our opinion.

D.C. Public Schools

  • If you’re a parent looking at schools, you might want to compare DCPS and public charter schools side by side. Once upon a time, DCPS tried to create a common school rating system with the public charter school sector. Unfortunately, the two could not come to an agreement. So there are two systems, and no plans to try again for a unified metric. Which is a shame.
  • We are just months away from the expiration of our federal Race to the Top (RTTT) grant and DCPS still hasn’t implemented any turnaround plans under RTTT because they have not been able to receive approval from OSSE to spend the funds in time. Yes, let this knowledge marinate for a second. Millions of dollars are going unspent. But since OSSE committed to post the plans online soon, which implies they must be approved, this ball should finally be rolling.
  • Just before the hearing, the Chancellor and the Mayor released the reprogramming of funding for modernization at schools which had some major “winners” and “losers.” The Chancellor sought to clarify some decisions. She first reported that Payne ES modernization dollars had been restored. Garrison ES was removed from Phase I modernization because the Mayor decided to do a full modernization for Garrison in FY15. The Chancellor also noted that there could be more changes to capital improvement plans to address some critical Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) violations at schools like Banneker HS, as pointed out by Councilmember Grosso. Going forward, all Phase I school modernizations will address ADA compliance issues.
  • Councilmember Grosso asked Chancellor Henderson about the continuity of leaders and whether the one-year contracts for school administrators is helping or hindering DCPS keep its effective leaders. The Chancellor reported that she is conversations with the CSO (school leader union) about 3-year contracts for school leaders. A BIG move if they can get it to work.
  • Not everyone likes the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new healthy nutrition standards for school lunch. Participation rates across DCPS are down because the food isn’t as flavorful. Councilmember Grosso noted that they should consider food trucks—turns out that’s what some of the students have been asking for.

We are certainly looking forward to the Mayor’s FY15 budget to see how DCPS better equalizes the rigor and programming across its middle schools and education campuses. The big money question: is it OK for some more advanced courses like Algebra I to have 3 or 4 students in a classroom, or should those courses be cut?


Committee of the Whole

Oversight hearings by the Committee of the Whole covered eight different agencies! However, the Office of Contracts and Procurement had just recently had a hearing, and several other agencies are multi-jurisdictional, so the bulk of energy was put into oversight of the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) and the UDC Community College.  The oversight hearing—covering UDC, the community college, and the law school—was a marathon, clocking in at over six hours.

  • One hurdle that Councilmember Grosso discussed with UDC President Lyons was how the institution can overcome the barriers that it faces for Middle States Accreditation. To that end, UDC recognizes that it must take action to implement its Vision 20/20 Plan, so that it can operate less as a government agency and more like an independent higher education institution. 
  • There was the robust discussion about dual eligibility and how the college plans to engage with DCPS and public charter schools to get our resident students into early college prep courses to earn both high school and college credits. 
  • Another hot topic was retention and graduation rates--UDC currently retains and graduates only about 16% of the students that enroll at the school.  We do not know the percentages of students who transfer out to other institutions or leave higher education altogether.  The University is beginning to track these students better as well as develop plans for retaining more students. 

Although there is a lot of work to be done, the focus and the energy are clearly shifting at UDC from a survival mode mentality to one that is more about thriving and future growth. 


Committee on Health

D.C. Office on Aging

  • As part of their FY13 performance goals, D.C. Office on Aging planned to reach 55% of District employees seeking employment through job training and placement but only reached 26.5%. this was due in part to that the tight current job market, where seniors are competing with recent college graduates and grad school alum for the same positions.  Another Office initiative was a collaboration with Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to educate seniors about financial abuse and fraud. In response to a question from Councilmember Grosso, the Office on Aging said they are actively addressing issues affecting LGBT seniors and have members of their senior advisory board from the LGBT community.

Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services

  • Councilmember Grosso asked the Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services about the little-known fact that the Gray administration changed emergency shelters from being open year-round to only during hypothermia season. This might be part of why D.C. General had such a crunch this winter, among other factors. David also made it clear that he believes D.C. should be helping anyone who is homeless in the city, rather than focusing efforts on additional measures to verify District residency for those seeking shelter.


Committee for Transportation and the Environment

Another wide-ranging set of agencies were up before the Transportation and the Environment Committee for oversight hearings.

Department of Environment

  • Public witnesses testifying about Department of Environment (DDOE) echoed Councilmember Grosso’s desire to swim in the Anacostia, alleging that the swimming ban should be removed in certain parts of the river where kayaking and other water activities already take place. Director Anderson was not convinced, but said they would look into the subject, while erring on the side of safety. Additionally:
  • DDOE has finalized storm water regulations—related in part to the green river infrastructure discussed by DC Water (see below), who they are collaborating with on continued clean-up of the Anacostia.
  • DDOE planted over 8,000 trees in the District in FY13, exceeding original targets by almost 100%.
  • Under a contract with DDOE, DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU) is tasked with promoting energy efficiency, but has been failing to meet its benchmarks. DDOE is reviewing the contract and considering changes to be made.

Director Anderson stated that priorities for the coming year include implementing the Mayor’s Sustainable D.C. plan, the health of the Anacostia River, and working to resolve issues with the DCSEU.

DC Water & Washington Aqueduct

  • With two-thirds of District sewer overflows dumping into the Anacostia and Potomac, DC Water is working to accelerate its green infrastructure initiative. DC Water and Department of Transportation are exploring which is agency is best suited to implement this initiative, known as the Clean Rivers Project. Remaining challenges notwithstanding, public witness Marchant Wentworth remembered when “condoms were gently flowing out of combined sewer tunnels.”  We’ve come a long way.
  • According to General Manager Thomas Jacobus of the oft-forgotten Washington Aqueduct, the District’s water quality is just as good if not better than any other local jurisdiction.  All water analysis testing will be completed by the end of the month.

Department of Motor Vehicles

  • Big news for the Department of Motor Vehicles when April turns to May--the Georgetown Service Center is scheduled to reopen on April 29, while new driver’s licenses under the D.C. Driver’s Safety Amendment Act will launch May 1, 2014. Don’t plan to get your new license on May Day, however, as due to the large number of residents expected to apply, they will be available by appointment only.
  • In other facilities news, DMV Director Lucinda Babers said that Brentwood Road Test Center “sucks,” and she is working with Department of General Services to identify another location for road testing.
  • Tips for the “wrongly” ticketed: If ever you should receive a parking ticket that you wish to contest, DMV wants you to know that you should NOT pay the ticket first.  Paying the ticket is basically an admission of guilt.  To resolve the matter, contest the ticket.  If you lose and seek to appeal, you must then pay the ticket along with the appeal fee.  If you win on appeal, you will be refunded.

Department of Public Works

  • Bet you didn’t see this coming--due to the heavy snowfall this winter, Department of Public Works has busted their snow budget, going $2 million over their $6.2 million budget. DPW is working with the Budget Office to reallocate additional funds. But even $8 million isn’t enough to get every D.C. street clear of snow after heavy storms, which DPW is trying to address by improving communications among plow drivers and zone captains. Will Spring ever come?
  • When residents aren’t complaining about snow, they’re griping about parking, and DPW indicated that parking enforcers are beginning to take more photos to reduce “keying errors.” Yes, photos! DPW stated that if a parking officer has a high ticket challenge rate they are likely writing bad tickets and the Director will address it.


Committee on Business and Consumer Regulatory Affairs

Over 90 people showed up to testify before the Committee on Business and Consumer Regulatory Affairs oversight hearing regarding  four major agencies—Department of Employment Services, Department of Small and Local Business Development, Workforce Investment Council and the Office of Motion Picture and Television Development. Here are some key moments:

  • The majority of attendees spoke about the need for the Chairman and the Council to secure the necessary funding in the budget to fulfill the promise of the new minimum wage and paid sick and safe leave laws. 
  • Councilmember Grosso used his allotted time to question the Department of Employment Services (DOES) Interim Director, Tom Luparello.  His primary focus was to ascertain the metrics used by the Department to measure the performance of their employees and the programs and services that they provide.  Historically, the Office of Program and Performance Monitoring has been understaffed with an underspent budget—we think that is a serious problem for the office that oversees the implementation of policies, procedures, and metrics. Director Luparello stated that they are working on getting this office properly staffed.  He also mentioned that he reviews reports of employees and programs on a daily basis.  It is his goal to review every program and office at DOES to determine and rate performance levels.
  • One positive crossover from the Committee of the Whole oversight hearing for the UDC Community College and DOES is that apparently both groups are working together to find better avenues for improving workforce development needs and funding. 


Committee on Finance and Revenue

The Finance and Revenue Committee heard from the Office of the Chief Financial Officer (OCFO) about its latest efforts to prevent and identify fraud. OCFO established the Office of Integrity Oversight to monitor internal controls along with a new Chief Risk Officer.Additionally, OCFO has tightened hiring standards for the Office and is committed to changing company culture to foster a positive work environment because changing attitudes is the first step to decreasing fraud and company waste.


Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety

Although Councilmember Grosso is not a member of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, we try to keep up with the happenings there due to our commitment to improving the criminal justice system in the District. The oversight hearing on coordination of emergency responses by the Office of Unified Communications (OUC), the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department (FEMS), and the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) brought out a number of interesting points regarding recent high profile agency failures.

Fire and Emergency Medical Services

  • FEMS protocol is that every patient must be assessed. In a tragic case where a man died after an ambulance responding to the call said they were “waved off by MPD,” this policy clearly states that they should have responded regardless of MPD actions. Nonetheless, as noted by one union leader, a protocol shouldn’t replace the basic instinct of compassion that is vital to working in the public safety field.
  • The conversation kept returning to issues of dispatch, and how dispatch decisions are made. There was not clarity on whether FEMS has a policy prohibiting self-dispatching (such as an ambulance stopping to help someone who hails them when not already on a call), although under the previous fire chief one employee was allegedly fired for self-dispatching. A former oversight officer for FEMS testified, seeking whistleblower protection, about a number of failures at the agency, including a faulty dispatch priority decision making system. He described witnessing a police officer hit by a car across the street from his station, but then being dispatched to reset a fire alarm in a nearby building while a team from another neighborhood was sent to help the officer. He also outlined other problems from credentialing to medication supplies to lack of oversight within the agency.

Metropolitan Police Department

We looked forward to the oversight hearing for the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) after the recent release of the Hate Crimes Assessment Task Force report as well as the conversations in the city about racial disparities in arrests and marijuana law reform. A few advocates made important testimony and Chief Lanier answered several rounds of questions from Committee Chairman Wells.

  • An ACLU investigation of police complaint processes found that only four in ten police stations kept complaint forms for the Office of Police Complaints, while their inquiries about how to file a complaint against an officer frequently elicited hostile and factually inaccurate responses from officers. This testimony contrasted starkly with Chief Lanier’s later testimony that the best way to improve police interactions with transgender residents is for people to make complaints. Indeed, she testified that the best way to address officer misconduct across the board is by filing reports.
  • Conflicts between bicyclists and car drivers, and associated safety concerns, continue to be an issue for advocates like Washington Area Bicycle Association. While WABA and others suggested that increased enforcement of bicycle laws might help but also emphasized that bicyclists are not the only ones that flout the laws, and encouraged any increase in enforcement to be applied fairly across transportation modes. Chief Lanier rejected suggestions that MPD officers might treat bicyclists less favorably than motorists.
  • On the topic of the Hate Crimes Assessment Task Force report, Chief Lanier recognized that the transition of the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU) was not done well. While she agreed that it was rushed and therefore not properly executed, she stood by her decision to decentralize the unit. Chief Lanier also acknowledged that MPD needs stronger training for affiliate members of the GLLU. Although the report documented a steady increase in hate crimes, including against LGBT community, from 2008 to 2011, Chief Lanier testified that hate crimes have gone down in the previous two year. There is still no consensus on whether this reflects actual crime patterns, reporting patterns, or an unclear mix of the two.
  • In response to questions from Committee Chairman Wells about racial disparities in marijuana arrests, Chief Lanier said that racial disparities are nothing new in drug arrests. She further stated that the report from the Washington Committee of Lawyers for Civil Rights on race and marijuana arrests used bad data—data that came from MPD. According to Chief Lanier, 911 calls are what lead to drug arrests. In 2013, MPD received 12 calls regarding marijuana use in Ward 3 versus 500+ in Ward 7, partially explaining racial disparities according to the Chief.




Oversight Hearings Week in Review Feb 17-21

February, March and April are an especially busy time at the D.C. Council between performance oversight hearings for city agencies and hearings on the budget for Fiscal Year 2015. Since most residents don’t have time to watch hours upon hours of Council hearings—many happening simultaneously—we thought we’d be your eyes and ears into what’s happening here at the Wilson Building. We present our week in review!

The hearings last week for committees on which Councilemember Grosso sits all took place on Wednesday, February 19.

Perhaps predictably, the Transportation and the Environment Committee oversight hearing with the DC Taxicab Commission (DCTC) got the most attention in the press—including a mention of a recent experience of Councilmember Grosso’s wife with a cab that had no credit card machine. The Councilmember pressed DCTC chair Ron Linton on the topic, who said that perhaps 10-12% of cabs are “resisting” compliance with the credit card payment mandate. Accessibility was another key issue, particularly as the only public witnesses described the findings of the Disability Advisory Committee for DCTC. We look forward to receiving the Committee’s final report and working to ensure that its recommendations are implemented. Additionally, the Commission is set to issue new regulations for hired car services in the coming year and we will be keeping a close eye on that. The Councilmember asked about this and other items in a follow-up letter after the hearing.

Following the spirited dialogue that took place during the DC Taxicab Commission oversight hearing, the Department of Parks & Recreation (DPR) hearing was markedly lighter. You can read the follow-up letter that the Couniclmember sent to the Department after the hearing.

  • DPR touted a 90% customer service satisfaction ranking based on special event and customer satisfaction surveys they received.
  • Community advocates praised DPR for their commitment to building new playgrounds and hosting events like the Summer Hiring Fair set for February 22.  This effort is the result of a partnership between DOES and DPR.
  • DPR is working closely with the community to bring the Friendship Park project to life.  This project will include a splash park, a performance stage and more.
  • Questions arose regarding delayed facility openings, unexpected closures and how DPR communicates these issues to the public.
  • And finally, we learned that DPR Park Rangers are in fact, not a police force.  All in a day’s work.

The State Board of Education, the Deputy Mayor for Education and DC Public Library were up in the Committee on Education oversight hearing. From school discipline and early childhood education to facility modernization and maintenance, a lot of issues were covered. Here are a couple highlights from witness testimony and questioning.

  • The Deputy Mayor for Education and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education have partnered with the Department of Employment Services to launch a Reengagement Center for disconnected youth this fall.
  • There are a great number of schools that have critical modernization needs, such as Powell and Garrison, but Councilmember Grosso pressed the Deputy Mayor to encourage the Mayor, D.C. Public Schools, and Department of General Services to revisit the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) and at a minimum move up the modernization plans for several schools that are not in compliance with the Americans With Disability Act such as Banneker and Bruce Monroe at Parkview.
  • The State Board of Education will be hiring the new Ombudsman by the end of February. Be on the lookout for that announcement!
  • Advocates for public libraries are expanding their focus beyond the existing DC Public Library branches, and are pushing for a general interest library at the DC Jail. Hard to believe they don’t already have one.

Meanwhile, the Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs was conducting its oversight hearing with agencies big and small—the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), the Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking (DISB), the Office of the Tenant Advocate (OTA) and the Alcohol and Beverage Regulatory Administration (ABRA).

Advocates voiced concerns about noise levels from Dupont Circle clubs—exceeding the highest allowable sound level of 50 decibels.   Regulation is a problem because MPD can write a citation with direct evidence, ABRA can enforce noise violations if they come when called, but DCRA is responsible for measuring the sounds waves with one of the TWO meter readers the city owns.  ABRA agreed to work with MPD and DCRA to publish reports about noise violation enforcement and look into getting another meter.

A loophole in the Foreclosure Mediation Program allows mortgage lenders to file lawsuits against homeowners in D.C. Superior Court—and avoid the statutory requirement for a Mediation Certificate.  The Mediation Certificate is intended to protect the lendee from costly litigation and robo-signing fraud.   The certificate is supposed to be required for foreclosures that are non-judicial procedures or lawsuit. 

DCRA spent the last year working to modernize their information technology system.  “Project Dox” was launched in 2013 and 300 business licenses were issued online (about 10% of licenses issued).  DCRA intends to issue at least a quarter of their overall licenses in 2014 online.   They are also implementing a web-portal that will allow cross-agency information sharing. 

Councilmember Grosso adjourned his first hearing—the Chairman had to jet and we just had too many questions to ask. 

Throughout all four oversight hearings, Councilmember Grosso pressed agency heads on transparency and accessibility. He asked each agency about its compliance with federal “508” standards for ensuring that websites are accessible to persons with disabilities including vision impairment. Continuing his effort to ensure information about District boards and commissions is available, the Councilmember also asked each agency about those bodies under its purview. While some agencies are doing better than others in this area, it is clear that our bill to create a centralized list of boards and commissions with all the relevant information is still necessary.

Quote of the Week:

"I won't bore you with the stories of sex on windshields while men enjoy the show from inside their cars, the urination all over our front entrance or the make-shift bar that popped up in the adjoining vacant building’s parking lot for “pre-bar parties” out of a van." –A Dupont Circle resident describing scenes in the neighborhood

Stat of the Week:

In DCPS, less than 50% of African-American boys graduate from high school in four years.



The D.C. Workforce Investment Council's Role in Employment Services

By Anne Robinson

Last fall, Councilmember Grosso was appointed by the Chairman of the Council to serve on the D.C. Workforce Investment Council (WIC). As the staff member assigned to this issue, I began to research and understand the history of the D.C. WIC and I found it to be fascinating.  It has a tangled history, both on the national level and here at home.   The important theme throughout is how integral a role it plays in steering our residents down the employment path.  I hope you will join me on my journey down the path to better understanding how employment services operate in the District. 

The functions of the D.C. WIC are largely defined by requirements in the federal Workforce Investment Act (WIA). The mission of WIC is to oversee the creation and improvement of services and programs that address the workforce development needs of the region's employers and the District's residents.  Members are authorized to advise the Mayor and District government on all functions designated to the WIC.   The Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) has administrative oversight of the WIC on behalf of the Mayor.  So, where did WIA come from? 

In the 1930s, unemployment insurance programs were created to combat the impacts the Great Depression had on employment.  Throughout the proceeding decades, the federal government developed new plans and policies that expanded unemployment insurance benefits to also address displaced workers and job training.  As time went on, responsibility for the unemployment insurance programs slowly shifted from federal control to being administered more on the state and local level.  In 1998, the Workforce Investment Act was implemented with the goal of further authorizing states to provide employment and training services through federally-funded workforce development programs and One-Stop Job Centers (now referred to as American Jobs Centers).   The Job Centers provide career counseling and planning, resume and interview assistance, direct job placement, classroom and on-the-job training, access to a jobs bank, information about labor markets, and unemployment compensation.

WIA mandated that all states create Workforce Investment Boards (WIB) to implement policies at the state and local levels for the workforce programs.  The D.C. Workforce Investment Council (WIC) was created in accordance to WIA that same year. 

By statute, the Board must be comprised of members of the business community, directors from agencies receiving federal workforce dollars, and two members of the D.C. Council.  The legislative intent of WIA is for the WIB/WICs to approve the spending and business plans for One-Stop operators and report compliance metrics to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).   Unfortunately, the intent was not fully realized under both the Williams and Fenty Administrations.  Since their inception, the D.C. One-Stops have been solely operated and managed by the Department of Employment Services (DOES).   DOES was supposed to report to the WIC who is the responsible body reporting to DOL under federal law.  This did not happen. DOES has not been in full compliance with DOL standards for operating the One-Stops since 1998 and the authority granted to the WIC was largely ignored.   

In 2012, Mayor Gray began to implement the WIA required DC Workforce Development Strategic Plan 2012-2016.  To date, the strategic plan has been a necessary cornerstone to move workforce development in the right direction.  The plan includes reinvigorating the WIC, getting DOES in compliance with DOL, and getting more residents back to work.  Over the past 2 years, the WIC Board has worked diligently to bring DOES management of the D.C. American Jobs Center to a higher compliance standard. This is being done through a newly adopted business plan and strong oversight of DOES by the WIC.  

As we continue to learn and track the employment system we intend to continue sharing with you what we discover.    DOES will have their annual oversight hearing before the Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs on Wednesday, February 26 at 10:00 am in Room 500 of the John A. Wilson Building.  We urge you to engage by watching, testifying, or sending us your questions so we can ask them for you. 

*This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso.



Gender Disparities on Board and Commissions

While preparing for a December hearing to consider nominations to various Boards and Commissions, Councilmember Grosso noticed something— there were far more men than women under consideration for appointment. We found ourselves wondering if this was a coincidence specific to that day and those specific Boards, or if there was a broader trend of gender imbalance. We reviewed the memberships of all the Boards before the Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs (BCRA) and then the 150 plus Boards and Commissions citywide. Our question was answered—there are significant and often egregious gender disparities. 

During our research, another problem presented itself.   Much of the information we were searching for, we could not find.   If information is not publicly available then how can residents know who is on Boards and Commissions and what they are doing?

Gender Disparities

Looking at the broader list of the Boards and Commissions with information available online (more on that below), almost a third of the memberships are dominated by men, including several powerful entities:

  •         Alcohol and Beverage Control Board 6 men, 1 woman
  •         Business Regulatory Reform Task Force – 11 men, 6 women
  •         Commission on African American Affairs – 11 men, 4 women
  •         Housing Production Trust Fund, Board of Directors – 6 men, 3 woman
  •         Interfaith Council – 23 men,2 women
  •         Streetcar Financing Task Force – 13 men, 1 woman

Disappointingly, Boards and Commissions covering topics that are historically associated with gender stereotypes are especially prone to such imbalances: 

  •          Advisory Panel on Special Education – 4 men, 15 women
  •          Board of Industrial Trades – 7 men, 1 woman
  •          Board of Nursing – 0 men, 7 women
  •          Board of Social Work – 0 men, 5 women
  •          Constructing Codes Coordinating Board – 11 men, 0 women

There are, of course, male nurses and female construction workers, but according to these numbers, their perspectives are marginalized.  D.C. prides itself on being forward thinking, but the reflection of sexism in these leadership positions contrasts starkly with our vision of a city that stands for equality.  And this discussion does not begin to consider other measures of diversity. 

Public Access and Information Sharing

What was equally disturbing and frustrating was the amount of information that we simply could not find online.  We were looking for details about the membership of these entities.  We hoped to find a list of names.  Maybe some biographical information.   Figure out when the next Board meeting would be and when the last one was held.  Who attended?  Did anyone take notes?  Did anything happen? 

The District’s Office of Boards and Commissions (DOBC) has a list of the Boards and Commissions, but it does not provide enough information about what they do and who sits on them.   Sometimes, the Board or Commission is housed under a local agency and that agency is responsible for listing the information.  However, it did not matter if we were looking for information at DOBC or the agency’s website because the information often was not there. 

While most of the Boards and Commissions could be found online, at least 30 percent are unavailable. Those that are online provide inconsistent levels of information, some of it woefully outdated.   Some examples of entities that have little or no information online include the following:

As Councilmember Grosso noted in comments before the BCRA Committee, this represents a failure of government transparency and accountability.   Additionally, the lack of information can be construed as a violation of D.C.’s Open Meetings Act (OMA).  OMA mandates that these government affiliated bodies publicly advertise their meeting times and locations, as well as provide meeting minutes.   

So…now what?

These public bodies in D.C. have an important role to play—they are making decisions about the granting of licenses to local business, setting policies and procedures, or giving a voice to our city’s diverse community.  This is why it is vital that their information is open to the public.  Unfortunately, some of the city’s current set of Boards and Commissions do not serve any good purpose or have remained dormant for years.  Mayor Gray called in December 2012 to reform the problem by abolishing 30 of the least functioning of them.   A bill is currently before the Council, but has not yet been brought up for a vote.  Passing such legislation would be a step in the right direction, but it will not solve problems of transparency or gender imbalance.

Reviewing other jurisdictions around the country shows that publicizing information about these public bodies is not hard to do.   Baltimore, San Francisco, Nashville, and Denver—cities of similar size to D.C. but diverse in location and reputation—all have easy to find, centralized lists of Boards and Commissions accompanied by basic information such as membership and meeting times.  What’s more, they include information about how to apply to join these public bodies—encouraging residents to engage with local government is critical to a vibrant and functioning city.  Greater community engagement improves government accountability, and vice versa.  So, what should D.C. do?

In December, Councilmember Grosso called on the Mayor’s Office to make the membership and other key information about Boards and Commissions available and published online by the end of January.  This would require that the DOBC collect this information with the help from individual agencies and then have the Office of the Chief Technology Officer aggregate the information in one centralized location on the DOBC website.  If the Executive branch cannot accomplish this task, Councilmember Grosso is prepared to introduce legislation to make the government operate in a more open and accessible manner.  It would be similar to San Francisco’s law that requires the government to make this information easily accessible online.   These bodies make vital decisions and recommendations, and residents of D.C. should know how to voice their support or air their grievances.   The Boards that grant professional licenses or have a direct say in how government works should be balanced, open, and available to the public. 

Making this information public and easily accessible will also, we hope, encourage more District residents to apply for openings on Boards or Commissions that fit their skill sets, areas of expertise, or interests.  Asking residents to participate in government is how we make the city function through heightened participation.   We want all residents to know what any given Board or Commission does, when it meets, and, most critically, what impact it has on the District.    


*This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso.



Certified Business Enterprise Program Needs Revamping Overall

By Councilmember David Grosso and Christina Henderson 

Anyone who has ever experienced the contract and procurement process for the District government knows it is not for the faint-of-heart. Governed by an elaborate maze of rules and sometimes the rather subjective interpretation of the rules, procurement requires organization, advanced planning, interpersonal skills, patience, and a healthy dose of persistence.  After only ten months on the job, Councilmember Grosso has probed a dozen of areas where the District’s procurement practice could be improved, but, chief among those would be the Certified Business Enterprise (CBE) program. He is not alone in this critique.

As many of you know, the District requires that all construction and non-construction contracts over $250,000 have at least 35 percent of the total dollar amount be subcontracted to a small business enterprise. When we first learned of this requirement working on procurement issues, we could not believe this was a blanket rule even for non-construction contracts. Sure, an agency can seek a waiver from the Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD) if it cannot reach the 35 percent threshold, but as general practice, the blanket rule applies without regard to the needs of a particular scope of work. The recent dust-up over District’s instant tickets lottery games contract which lapsed on July 20 is a perfect example of how complicated this can be for businesses. When the vendor, Scientific Games International, reported that it was unable to meet the 35 percent requirement because the majority of its costs—printing and delivery of the tickets—could not be subcontracted, it was suggested at a Council hearing in June that the Office of the Chief Financial Officer (the contract administrator in this case) “expand” the scope of work to make it easier for vendors to meet the 35 percent. In other words, there was suggestion that a D.C. contractor create the need for more work, that’s not needed, thereby costing taxpayers more. With OCFO choosing to rebid the contract, it seems they went that route. This is the very thing that frustrates people about government—waste. (Update: Since publishing this blog, we have learned that OCFO rebid the lottery contract using the original scope of work. Only one vendor has bid; it was not Scientific Games International.)

The instant ticket contract debacle peaked our interest about the District’s CBE program. Perhaps, we thought, the 35 percent requirement is tied to some sort of evidence-based look at the disparity in utilizing local small businesses for District contracts and best-practices around the country. However, the Council’s recent attempt to raise the subcontracting requirement to 50 percent for construction contracts, made it evident that policy making for the CBE program has been far more arbitrary than anyone would admit.

Across the country, hundreds of cities and counties have small business enterprise programs in place. We examined the laws/ordinances, policies and practices that govern 15 localities to see if there are any lessons to be learned and shared. There were differences among each of the cities. For example, some cities business enterprise programs are only for minority or women-owned businesses. Others only establish subcontractor participation requirements for construction contracts, and not professional services or purchasing. However, there are two major practices that would be helpful for the District to adopt.

Citywide Goals. All 15 cities and counties we examined have two different types of participation goals when it comes to their business enterprise programs – citywide goals and contract goals. Citywide goals are generally set annually by the local governing body to determine what percentage of contracting dollars they would like to see awarded to local businesses that fiscal year. In some cities, the participation goals differ based on type of contracts, as well as classification of the business. They are not summarily adopted as goals for individual procurements. More importantly, the goals are informed by the current business climate in the city. Philadelphia’s Code, for example, requires that their annual participation goals be based in part on: (1) the present availability of qualified disadvantaged business enterprises (DBE’s); (2) the utilization of qualified DBEs in past contracts awarded by the City; (3) a forecast of eligible contracts to be awarded within the fiscal year; and (4) an updated Disparity Analysis of businesses in the Philadelphia area. From New York City to Milwaukee, WI to Orlando, FL, they all have similar methods for setting their participation goals. As with any strategic planning effort, this allows for regular evaluation of the progress of the business enterprise program using accumulated data to determine whether specific program provisions require modification, expansion, or curtailment.

Contract Goals. The District’s blanket 35 percent subcontracting requirement for contracts over $250,000 stood out as an anomaly that appears to lack substance. Fourteen of the fifteen cities we studied set their goals contract-by-contract. In Denver, CO, the City enlists the help of 3 committees –Construction Goals Committee, Heavy Highway Goals Committee, and Professional Services Goals Committee – to help determine the various business enterprise participation goals for projects. So far this year, there have been goal determinations set as high as 40 percent.

In Houston, TX, the Office of Business Opportunity reviews scopes of work to determine specific participation goals based on a calculation that includes among other things available qualified businesses and past levels of utilization for similar contracts. In January, the New York City Council amended its business enterprise law to require that each agency set goals for individual procurements based in part by “the citywide goals and the agency’s annual utilization plan, the size and nature of  the procurement, and the availability of MBEs, WBEs and EBEs with the capacity to perform the specific types and scale of work involved in its procurements.” This type of approach seems to have worked well for these cities. Not only do the businesses appreciate that the goals are not arbitrary and therefore achievable, it requires the city to have a strong understanding of what’s happening in its small business community.

Tomorrow, the Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs will hold a public hearing on two bills related to the District’s CBE program, the Certified Business Enterprise Program Enhanced Reform Amendment Act of 2013 (B20-422) and the Small and Certified Business Enterprise Development and Assistance Amendment Act of 2013 (B20-181). Both bills include some necessary enhancements, but without addressing the way in which we establish participation goals for our local businesses the program will continue to have problems. See a quick glimpse of how D.C.’s CBE program stacks up against other cities around the country:





D.C. Zoning Regulations Review: Government Oversight vs. Government Overstepping

The Council is tasked with making our city a better place to live, work, and visit.  The work we do impacts and hopefully improves lives.   We often must spend countless hours meeting and discussing bill drafts and redrafts, and holding roundtables and hearings.  But the legislative process can often slow progress down and good intentions of the Council can get lost somewhere in the tangled process. 

The “process” is currently impeding progress by not allowing the Office of Planning’s update to the Zoning Regulation to go forward to the Zoning Commission.  This process should be straightforward like this: 

  • Step 1. Determine that substantial change has happened since 1958; 
  • Step 2. The Office of Planning (OP) creates the Zoning Regulations Review (ZRR) to recommend revisions to the DC Zoning Regulations.  OP meets to discuss and re-draft the proposal until there is a revised document that they can send to the Zoning Commission (ZC).  The ZC is a wholly independent body that oversees District zoning – according to the Home Rule Act neither the Mayor nor the Council has authority over the ZC. 
  • Step 3.  The ZC holds hearings and then denies or approves the new Zoning Regulations. 

It may not actually be that easy, but it should not be hard either.  And the Council should not be making it any more difficult.  When we make the process more difficult, we move from a position of oversight to a placewhere we are overstepping our role.  In the current situation, the Council should stop holding hearings and instead support sending the proposal to the ZC. 

Historical background:

The Council passed a Comprehensive Plan in 2006 that required (via the Home Rule Act) an overhaul of the regulations for future planning and development of the District.  The authority for making these changes was then vested in OP.   In 2007, OP created the Zoning Regulations Review (ZRR) to revise the DC Zoning Regulations.   ZRR got a new name and is now known as the Zoning Update (ZU).  The ZU focused on twenty subjects, which the new regulations describe by specific subject.  Five years later in 2012, the ZU proposed recommendations were sent to a Task Force made up of mostly Councilmember appointees.  And this is where the trouble begins.

The progression at this point should have been that the Task Force makes their comments, OP makes some edits to the ZU, and then OP sends the final proposed regulations to the Zoning Commission.  When the proposals are sent to the ZC they schedule public hearings on the proposed regulations prior to making any final decision.   This was supposed to happen during the first quarter of 2013.  At the current rate, this implementation process has been stalled for at least another year.

The Task Force and the Council continue today to delay the proposed regulations and delay the process.  Many residents are confused and think that at the least this process should be completed already.  So, what is the hold up?  I cannot speak about motives of other people, but here is what I understand are the major issues delaying this process and where I stand on them:

         Zero Minimum Parking Requirements 

  • OP wants to eliminate on-site parking requirements for all new buildings constructed downtown or in mixed-use, transit-accessible neighborhoods throughout the city.  I support this measure – in terms of required parking spaces, let the market decide.

         Corner Stores:

  • Corner stores are currently not permitted unless they have a current, valid Certificate of Occupancy.  In the proposed draft text, new corner stores such as retail, arts-related, or eating and drinking establishments would be permitted in the R-3 and R-4 zones by special exception, which would include a hearing before the Board of Zoning Adjustment. I support this measure.

        Accessory Dwellings Units

  • The proposed regulations would allow homeowners to make changes within their current home or garage, by right.  If they want to build a new dwelling separate from the main house, they will need to secure a special exception.  I support this measure.

Zoning is an organic process and very difficult to regulate.  How can we possibly anticipate how the city will look in the future?  We cannot. We have to do our best to make it safe and reasonable, but beyond that point it must have the freedom to grow on its own.  I think that OP has done a very good job completing a very difficult task.  Now, we need to step back, let OP finish their work, and send their proposed regulations to ZC.

For more information about modernizing the zoning code, click here  

For updates on the process: and