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A Look at the Anacostia River

By:  Mariama Conteh*

The Anacostia River has been unsafe as far as many can remember, but according to documents, this river has been paying the price of human actions since the Europeans were here. Industrial toxic chemicals also had a great impact in making the river unhealthy for residents to even be near the water due to its harmful attributes. Unfortunately, many people throw their waste products in the river, adding to the contamination resulting in its current state. Further, factories took advantage of the watershed and started to pollute the Anacostia River by leaving their toxic chemicals behind. These companies are the main cause of why the river is causing health related problems, for example when left unabated, these chemicals release carcinogens into the air, opening doors for cancer.

It could be argued that the pollution of the Anacostia River has worsened the sickness and unemployment rates in Wards 7 and 8, as these rates are significantly higher than across the rest of the city. The health of the Anacostia River is a direct reflection of the health of the communities it surrounds. Research has revealed that, “one of the most notable chemical pollutants in the river is polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which have immune, reproductive, endocrine, and neurological effects, and may cause cancer and affect children's cognitive development. This and other chemicals build up in the river bottom, where they make their way up the food chain and become stored in the tissues of fish, posing a health threat if people consume them.[1]” This cannot continue because it puts D.C. residents in danger, especially if they ingest a fish caught in the river.

Recognizing the environmental and health harms associated with the river, several nonprofit organizations as well as the D.C. government have stepped up to proactively address the health of the river. Councilmember David Grosso has, each year, participated in volunteer clean-up efforts of the Anacostia River.  Additionally, Councilmember Grosso has collaborated with the Seafarers Yacht Club and visited several sites along the river. Meanwhile, schools have the opportunity to do some community service work and to also make a change in their Wards. Schools such as the one that I currently attend, Cesar Chavez PCS Capitol Hill, have frequented the river in an effort to raise awareness of the dangers associated with a river containing harmful toxins and enable students to participate in clean-up efforts. The unfortunate truth of the river is that people and their actions have caused this situation; however, people also have the power to change the river’s course and agencies like the D.C. Department of Energy & Environment are doing the best they can, to undo the damage that has been caused.  I hope that in my lifetime I will be able to enjoy an Anacostia River where I can swim freely, fish and generally be able to have a stable and healthy river and community at large.

*Mariama is a rising senior at Cesar Chavez PCS Capitol Hill and is participating in the school’s Public Policy Fellowship, with Councilmember Grosso. 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.




Grosso Opposes PSC Conditions to PEPCO/Exelon Merger Proposal

For Immediate Release
March 2, 2016
Contact: Keenan Austin
(202) 724-8105

Grosso Opposes PSC Conditions to PEPCO/Exelon Merger Proposal

Washington, D.C.--Today, D.C. Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) released the following statement regarding the proposed merger between PEPCO and Exelon: 
 "After careful review and consideration of the Public Service Commission's revisions to the proposed PEPCO-Exelon merger agreement, I cannot support the Commission's order. 
The conditions proposed by the PSC are problematic because, among other things, they remove the rate freeze through 2019, a protection so critical that its removal fundamentally alters the purpose of the revised agreement.  Now, with our ratepayers potentially facing imminent rate increases, it is clear that the PSC's revisions are no better than the initial proposal nor the settlement agreement as amended and leave our residents far more vulnerable. 
While I applaud the Mayor, the Attorney General and the Office of the People's Counsel for opposing the PSC's new conditions, I am deeply disappointed that the PSC has wavered.  
There is no deal that could be put forward to address the primary reasons the PSC rejected this proposed merger last August.  Exelon has failed to demonstrate a commitment to renewable energy and there is an inherent conflict of interest in their existing business model.  These realities will not change.
The PSC's initial determination that this acquisition is not in the public interest was correct at the time when made and remains the only correct and appropriate outcome today. 
Supporting these new conditions, and any other attempt to massage this deal through, is a slap in the face to our residents and ratepayers, who deserve consistently affordable rates, access to renewable energy sources and a commitment to reliable service. 
This case has been a divisive and expensive distraction and it is time that we move on and commit to making real investments in the future of our energy services and study the feasibility of establishing our own municipal power utility."  



Could DC’s ‘Nay’ on Pepco-Exelon Merger Kill It’s Future in Mid-Atlantic?

By Nicole Raz, WMAL, August 28, 2015

WASHINGTON — The Pepco-Exelon merger holds a murky future in the Mid-Atlantic after a DC regulator denied the power companies’ application Tuesday.

State regulators in Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Virginia had already approved the $6.8 billion merger; now that the DC Public Service Commission unanimously denied it “the whole deal goes down,” says Montgomery County Councilman Roger Berliner.

Pepco and Exelon have 30 days to file an appeal. “We will review our options with respect to this decision and respond once that process is complete.,” they said in a statement.

DC Councilmember David Grosso said an appeal would mean lots of activity around the Wilson Building.

“There will be a bunch of lobbyists from Pepco and Exelon coming in trying to get us to support changing the decision,” Grosso said.

If the power companies don’t file an appeal, or if an appeal doesn’t work out, then DC pulled the plug on what would have been the Mid-Atlantic’s largest electric and gas utility.

“If they try to put a new deal on the table for everybody to look at, if they want to continue to pursue this option then that’s certainly an option–but [then] they play the tape all over again,” Berliner told WMAL.

If Pepco is still interested in finding a partner for a merger, then Grosso suggests finding a company that is committed to renewable energy.

“The only way I would support any kind of merger like this is if the merger clearly supports and demonstrates that they’re doing what’s in the best interest of the public. In this case Exelon didn’t come close to meeting their burden,” Grosso said.

The Pepco-Exelon merger had been in the works since April 2014.



Grosso Invests in Urban Farming in FY16 Budget

For Immediate Release
June 9, 2015
Contact: Dionne Johnson Calhoun  
(202) 724-8105


Grosso Invests in Urban Farming in FY16 Budget 

Washington, D.C.--During the FY16 budget process, Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) worked closely with his colleagues to ensure inclusion of his top priorities in the budget.  Among his budget priorities is the D.C. Urban Farming and Food Security Act of 2014, a bill which became law on April 30, 2015.

The bill enables residents using their property for urban agriculture purposes to take advantage of a 90% tax abatement program.  Additionally, the legislation enables those tax exempt entities that allow farmers to grow and sell produce on their property to maintain their tax exempt status.  Although not funded to the fullest extent, the allocation in the FY16 budget is $460,000, which includes $60,000 for an FTE at the Department of Parks & Recreation and $400,000 for the tax abatement program.

"I believe a sustainable food system encourages local production and distribution that makes nutritious food accessible to all of our residents," said Grosso.  "Getting this bill funded in the FY16 budget signals the District's commitment to environmental sustainability and food security."

The final votes of the Council on the Budget Request Act and the Budget Support Act are scheduled for June 10 and June 16 respectively.




City leaders rally to oppose Pepco-Exelon merger

By Kristi King, WTOP, May 12, 2015

WASHINGTON — New voices are joining the debate over a proposed power company merger and whether it would mean better or worse conditions for people now served by Pepco.

Twenty-two of the District’s 40 Advisory Neighborhood Commissions have declared their opposition to a deal for a Chicago-based company to buy Pepco, and they’re calling on Mayor Muriel Bowser to do the same.

“She needs to come out and say something,” said Judi Jones, a commissioner from Ward 4, said Tuesday at a rally on the steps of the Wilson Building.

“I don’t want to take a step backward,” At-Large D.C. Councilman David Grosso said at the rally in announcing his opposition to the merger.

“I don’t see Exelon as a full partner in the District of Columbia to continue the high standards we have for improving the environment and protecting the environment.”

Grosso and other opponents also fear that having Exelon, a company that generates power, as a parent company to Pepco, which is a distributor, will lead to higher rates.

D.C. Council members Mary Cheh, Charles Allen and Elissa Silverman are already on record saying they believe the merger would best serve the interests of power-company shareholders, but would eventually lead to higher utility rates, a degraded environment and lost local jobs.

The county executives from Prince George’s and Montgomery counties both want the Pepco-Exelon merger to go through. Rushern L. Baker III and Isiah Leggett say in a joint letter published in The Washington Post that the merger would increase power company accountability and the reliability of power supplied to the region.

A decision on the merger from Maryland’s Public Service Commission is expected Friday. A decision from the District’s Public Service Commission is expected this summer.

“The Pepco-Exelon is still under review by the mayor’s legal team. As the last jurisdiction to review the merger, the Bowser administration is committed to negotiating a resolution that best serves the interests of District residents and rate payers,” Bowser’s office said in a statement.

Pepco released the following statement about the proposed merger:

“Since announcing our proposed merger over a year ago, we’ve listened carefully to feedback in the District of Columbia. A diverse set of individuals and organizations — including District residents, business owners, organized labor, faith groups and local nonprofits — have voiced their support for the merger because they understand that it will provide substantial benefits to Pepco customers and communities, and to the District. A number of parties made constructive proposals, and in response, we substantially enhanced our proposed package to deliver even more value to the District and its citizens. Unfortunately, a few parties have taken a “just say no” position on the merger which, in our view, ignores the immediate and long-term benefits to customers and to the District that will not be available if the merger does not go forward.

“We believe that the merger is in the public interest and that the evidence supports this. The Public Service Commission will review the full record and rule in the interests of Pepco customers in the District. Pepco Holdings and Exelon have proposed a $34 million fund to be used for direct customer benefits in the District, and another $51 million in projected merger savings over 10 years will flow back to District customers through rates lower than they would be without the merger. We’ve enhanced our reliability performance commitments to reduce the frequency of outages by 36 percent and the length of outages by 40 percent in the District and have proposed stiffer financial penalties if we fall short of these goals. We’ve committed to keeping Pepco leadership, jobs and control local and to providing $16 million in charitable giving in the District over 10 years. We are committed to working to bring all of these benefits to the District when the merger closes.”

D.C. residents can comment to the Public Service Commission through May 25.


Grosso sends letter in opposition to Pepco-Exelon merger


Grosso sends letter in opposition to Pepco-Exelon merger

On May 12, 2015, Councilmember Grosso sent the below letter to the D.C. Public Service Commission expressing his concerns about, and opposition to, the proposed merger of the Exelon and Pepco utility companies. Grosso joined residents and other elected leaders to announce his opposition to the merger on the steps of the Wilson Building. The public can submit comments to the Public Service Commission until May 25--the Commission will decide whether the merger can go forward after that.



DC considers bill to encourage urban farming on vacant lots


On a field in Brookland just off Fourth Street NE where priests used to play soccer, Gail Taylor harvests an ear of Bear Island Flint corn and peels back a husk to find a worm nibbling at the pomegranate-red kernels. Without hesitating, she executes the pest with the quick slice of a knife and reaches for the next ear.

“We have a bit of a corn worm problem,” she says casually. “Usually I just kill them with my hands.”

The two-acre plot, with its urban soundtrack of cicadas, cars and church bells, is Taylor’s farm, courtesy of the Catholic order housed there, which lets her work the land for free.

Since 2012, the 36-year-old ex-policy activist has been using the skills she learned from five years on an organic farm in Maryland to grow crops such as eggplants and tomatoes. She would like to be able to sell her fresh, locally grown produce to neighborhood residents, but doing so would trigger a dramatic hike in the tax assessment for the property. Likely, the nonprofit Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate would be forced to end the noncommercial contract that allows Taylor to use the land.

Taylor has turned her frustration into action, and with the help of American University’s law clinic and council member David Grosso (I-At Large) has drafted a bill to change the city tax regulations that make it difficult for urban farmers to create economically viable businesses.

“The goal is not to get rich,” says Taylor, who gives away the food she grows and pays her farming expenses with her own money and donations. “I’m pushing so the work that we do will be recognized more officially, so that we won’t have to struggle so much to do something so good.”

The city has a number of vacant lots that urban agriculture proponents say could be put to use growing food. But the District encourages development by taxing vacant and blighted land at higher rates, providing little incentive for private land-owners and aspiring farmers to strike leasing deals. Nonprofit groups, such as religious groups, risk losing tax exemptions if they lease their land for commercial purposes.

Echoing similar initiatives in cities such as San Francisco and Baltimore, the D.C. Urban Farming and Food Security Act would change that. The bill outlines a plan to connect publicly and privately owned vacant land with urban farming ventures in an effort to provide more sustainable and healthy food options for surrounding communities and to transform unused and sometimes unsafe areas into productive green spaces.

Introduced in February, the bill offers private owners a substantial property tax deduction — 50 percent — if they lease the land for farming. Supporters said they hope to see the bill extend tax-exempt status for commercial urban farms on land owned by nonprofit groups and religious entities.

The bill also encourages the farms to donate to District food banks or shelters by creating a “farm to food donations” tax credit.

“We have a ton of room,” said Grosso, who introduced the bill with Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6). The bill has gained substantial support in the council with Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) and mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) joining as co-sponsors.

“If we could create more food in the city, we could decrease the cost and increase the quality,” Grosso said. “If you pick a tomato in Ecuador and ship it to the States . . . if you pick that tomato in Ward 8, it’s better for you and better for the environment and better for the people eating it.”

At a public hearing in June, the city’s Department of General Services, which is responsible for city land, identified 16 public lots that could be used for urban agriculture. Many vacant lots are located in the same communities that could benefit the most from access to fresh food.

Taylor conceived the idea for the bill after running into obstacles trying to find land for her farm a few years ago. She consulted with the free law clinic at American University to research and help draft the legislation, eventually seeking out Grosso because she knew he had worked on his parents’ organic farm in Loudoun County, Va.

For the Brookland plot, Taylor cannot make any commercial transaction without triggering an estimated $50,000 property tax hike for the owners. She donates nearly all of the harvest to local charities and to volunteers who work on the farm. She funds the seeds, compost, tools and equipment with a combination of donations and her savings.She also works part-time at a yoga studio.

The Urban Farming Act stipulates that the leases must be for a minimum of three years so farmers have enough time to make their investment profitable. The bill doesn’t address what would happen if a developer purchased the lot after a farm becomes established in a community.

A provision also requires applicants for vacant city land to have at least one year of farming experience and to be a District resident for at least one year. The fiscal impact of the bill on the city has not been estimated, Grosso said, but the council has budgeted money to create a new food policy director.

Baltimore piloted a program in 2011 that leased vacant public lots to two farms and has almost completed the process for a third. It is also considering a tax incentive to entice private landholders to follow suit. The new farms have rapidly established themselves, Beth Strommen, the director of Baltimore’s office of sustainability, said in an e-mail.

“The urban agriculture movement is still very new, and best practices are changing and developing,” Strommen said. “Some things, like zoning and tax issues, do need to be matters of law, and so we’ve crafted legislation where necessary.”

The District bill is one of the first municipal acts in the country to be released on an online platform for the public to comment on and annotate legislation. The OpenGov Foundation, a District-based nonprofit group trying to bring public engagement online, worked with Grosso to release the act on its ­MadisonDC site. Grosso added comments from the site, some suggesting vacant land be made available as community gardens, to the official record at the public hearing.

Lawmakers could also consider making a new tax rate specifically for urban agriculture and support zoning that would allow industrial spaces to be used for hydroponics and vertical farming, said Lillie Rosen, food access director of nonprofit group DC Greens.

“Urban agriculture is already starting to be part of the urban development in D.C. This helps us be able to actualize it,” Rosen said.

As she uproots weeds, wearing old jeans and her less expensive, dark-framed “farming glasses,” Taylor says she remains as driven to produce fresh food for the city she loves as the day she started.

“The first thing we planted were little tomato seedlings, and we didn’t have anything,” Taylor recalls. “There was nothing. We didn’t have a hose, hadn’t hooked up water. So I checked the forecast for a day when it might rain, and we planted and crossed our fingers. As soon as we were done and packed, the clouds opened up and it poured. I’ve never been happier to be absolutely drenched riding my bike home.”



Grosso’s Farm Tour: Increasing Awareness throughout the District

From weeding borage patches to transplanting “dinosaur” kale to tasting the freshest local produce, Councilmember Grosso’s Farm Tour this month was a success.

Councilmember Grosso and Team Grosso transplanting "dinosaur" kale at the Farm at Walker Jones in NW Washington, D.C.

Councilmember Grosso and Team Grosso transplanting "dinosaur" kale at the Farm at Walker Jones in NW Washington, D.C.

The Farm Tour was initiated after Grosso introduced the D.C. Urban Farming and Food Security Act of 2014. This legislation would establish an urban farming land leasing initiative, a nonrefundable tax credit for food commodity donations made to a District food bank or shelter, and real property tax abatement for unimproved real property.

As part of putting his sweat where his legislation is, David toured the UDC CAUSES Muirkirk Research Farm, the Millennial Farms at J.O. Wilson Elementary School site, and the Washington Youth Garden at the U.S. Arboretum. He and staff also volunteered at the Farm at Walker Jones.

At the Muirkirk Research Farm, run by the UDC College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability, and Environmental Science, Councilmember Grosso met with Dean Sabine O’Hara to tour the farming facility located in Beltsville, MD. Vegetables grown hydroponically in mobile greenhouses and intricate aquaponics systems that contribute to raising both tilapia and produce are just two examples of how the site is promoting urban farming, sustainable living and environmental education in the District. It was also exciting to learn about their ethnic and specialty crops that cater to our city’s many immigrant communities.

Touring the Muirkirk Research Farm in Beltsville, Maryland.

Touring the Muirkirk Research Farm in Beltsville, Maryland.

Millennial Farms uses simple, cost effective, vertical farming methods to promote new jobs based around local farming economies. Claire Newbegin and Niraj Ray met with David to show him their work to de-industrialize the food system and contribute to local urban farming initiatives.

At the Washington Youth Garden, Grosso discussed not only the garden, but food education for D.C. youth as well. The garden teaches students and community members about soil, pollination, food systems and more through hands-on garden visits and installing gardens at local schools.

All smiles with Councilmember Grosso at the Washington Youth Garden

All smiles with Councilmember Grosso at the Washington Youth Garden

Mid-week Team Grosso spent all morning volunteering at the Farm at Walker Jones, located at the corner of New Jersey and K NW. The farm, run by local non-profit D.C. Greens, not only serves as a school garden for the Walker Jones Education Campus, but cultivates and sells fresh produce at a reduced price for neighborhood residents, and is as a base of operations for D.C. Greens’ work with school gardens and educational programs throughout the city. Team Grosso helped transplant seedlings, stake tomatoes, weed plant beds, and harvest produce.

As the summer winds down and we enjoy the bounty of locally grown foods, it is a perfect time to consider how we can promote urban farming and sustainable living. To that end, Grosso will keep pushing his legislative agenda, including the Urban Agriculture and Food Security Act of 2014, once the Council reconvenes in September. 

To learn about some urban farming efforts taking place across the District, visit the websites below:

D.C. Greens

Three Part Harmony Farm

Farm at Walker Jones

Millennial Farmers

Washington Youth Garden

Freedom Farms D.C.

UDC College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences



Grosso Applauds Implementation of the Sustainable D.C. Act

Grosso Applauds Implementation of the Sustainable D.C. Act

 Washington, D.C. - Today, Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) issued the following statement regarding the signing of the Sustainable D.C. Omnibus Amendment Act of 2014 and the launch of the District Department of the Environment's (DDOE) Anacostia River Sediment Project:

"The Sustainable D.C. Omnibus Amendment Act of 2014 is a comprehensive legislative package that creates a pathway to a sustainable future for the District of Columbia. The legislation supports the District building a benchmarking program by making data on energy and water use more accessible; it creates an environmental literacy program, prohibits the sale or use of polystyrene containers for food service and increases the District's tree canopy by requiring payment to offset the destruction or removal of a tree. I worked closely with advocates and the Committee on Transportation and the Environment to craft an amendment to this legislation, which accelerates the implementation deadline requiring food service ware to be compostable or recyclable by 2017 instead of 2018. The amendment was accepted and will help to put the District one step closer to becoming the most sustainable city in the country. With this legislation we will greatly improve the health and wellness of our residents and protect our natural environment.

Today also marks the launch of DDOE's Anacostia River Sediment Project, which will enable us to identify the hazardous toxins in the river and work toward a plan for removal. Recognizing the urgent need to remediate the river, I worked closely with the Committee to establish a statutory deadline of June 30, 2018 for DDOE to adopt and publish a Record of Decision selecting the remedy for remediation. It is my goal to one day swim and fish in the Anacostia, and through their efforts, DDOE is continuing to work to ensure that this goal is achieved."



Vacant Lots Could Become Urban Farms Under Bill

Vacant Lots Could Become Urban Farms Under Bill

Matt Cohen, Jun 16, 2014,

While parts of D.C.—like the H Street corridor, parts of Petworth, the NoMa area, and others—have rapidly developed in the past few years, there are still District-owned lots throughout the city with no current plans for development.

Under a bill introduced by Councilmembers David Grosso (I-At Large) and Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), vacant lots and plots of land owned by the District could be turned into urban farms. The amendment to the Food Production and Urban Gardens Program Act of 1986 would "establish an urban farming land leasing initiative," as well as a tax credit for food donations and tax abatement for properties leased for the purpose of becoming small-scale urban farms.

"There's parcels of land in D.C. that, maybe aren't in the right neighborhoods or areas for development yet," Grosso tells DCist. "One of the secrets about development is that it happens when it wants to. It's very hard to create development in a place or location where it's not ready." While Grosso's bill aims to turn these properties into small urban farms, poised to produce locally-grown vegetables and fruits, he says that the vacant lots don't need to remain urban farms forever.

"There's a whole field open near 14th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NE," Grosso says. "Someday, development will happen and it will be good and will hopefully require some affordable housing. But in the meantime, we have a lot of land like that that's owned by the District that's just sitting there."

At last week's hearing on the bill, Mark Chambers, sustainability manager for the D.C. Department of General Services, said it doesn't address or take into consideration certain environmental issues like testing, cleanup, and—D.C.'s favorite problem—rats.

Grosso says that Chambers' concerns are "ill-informed" and that measures to control the rodent population, as well as testing and cleanup, will be addressed once the bill moves forward.

There's also the question of what happens when the city decides to develop the land. Removing an urban farm years in the making in a neighborhood community could create a contentious debate like the one at the farm at Walker-Jones. The proposed redevelopment of the McMillan Park Sand Filtration site, which one group wants to see become a farm, is another example.

"We just have to be conscious and not be afraid of the public debate," Grosso says. "At some point, it may be a good use permanently, or it may just be a good use temporarily, but it's doing something other than what's happening there now, which is nothing. Put a farm there for a while and see what happens."



Grosso statement at Urban Farming and Food Security Act hearing

Thank you Chairman Mendelson and Councilmember Evans for holding this joint hearing on B20-677 the D.C. Urban Farming and Food Security Act of 2014 and thank you to the witnesses here to testify today.

 In the District of Columbia 1 out of 3 residents are at risk of hunger, while 1 in 3 District children are at risk of becoming overweight or obese. As obesity and diet-related chronic disease rates continue to rise, the need to create a sustainable food system that provides healthy food which meets all of the city’s current needs and maintains a healthy ecosystem is imperative.

The District, through the Healthy Schools Act and the Healthy Corner Store program is working diligently to reduce food insecurity and improve the health and wellness of District residents, particularly those in neighborhoods without adequate supermarkets and other sources of affordable healthy food; however, more can and should be done.

I introduced this legislation because all District residents, at all times, should have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life. Food security is built on three pillars: food availability; food access; and food use.

This legislation instructs the Mayor to first identify and then lease certain District-owned vacant lots to independent farmers and farm cooperatives to be used for successful urban farming ventures.  This bill also creates tax incentives to encourage more individuals and businesses to farm locally and donate locally farmed vegetables, fruits, and grains to D.C. food banks or shelters.

By the District leasing its unused vacant property throughout the city to independent farmers and community farm cooperatives, it allows our residents to claim direct access to healthy food by growing, harvesting and processing it themselves.

By incentivizing more individuals and businesses to proactively donate to local food banks or homeless shelters we can support organizations like Miriam’s Kitchen and the Capital Area Food Bank that manage to make wonderful meals for our most vulnerable residents, day-in and day-out.

My goal is to foster a robust conversation around food security and sustainability, which is why I have partnered with the Open Government Foundation to promote transparency.  Using the Madison platform, this bill, as well as others has been uploaded to spur community engagement and allow District residents to comment and offer input.

We have received feedback already, which I will be incorporating today and I encourage anyone watching from home to log in and join the conversation.  We will be accepting questions throughout today’s hearing and while I will not be able to ask them all, I do encourage everyone to utilize this platform and continue to stay engaged on the issues.

A truly sustainable food system encourages local food production and distribution opportunities that make nutritious food accessible and affordable to all District residents.  With this legislation we will continue to improve food availability, food access and food use and I am eager to hear from and engage with all of the witnesses in the discussion to follow.



Grosso Reports FY2015 Budget Victories

For Immediate Release:

May 28, 2014

Contact: Dionne Johnson Calhoun

(202) 724-8105

Grosso Reports FY2015 Budget Victories   

Success with priorities in education, workforce development, transportation, homelessness, environment, and more

Washington, D.C. – Today, the D.C. Council held a legislative meeting on the first reading of the FY 2015 Budget Request Act of 2014 and the FY2015 Budget Support Act of 2014. Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) worked in committee to ensure inclusion of his top priorities in the budget. 

“The Committee of the Whole put forward a thoughtful and comprehensive budget that will benefit all District residents in the areas of education, workforce development, human services and transportation.  This budget is the result of a lot of hard work and careful considerations and I am pleased to support and vote in favor of it,” said Grosso. 

Grosso’s FY2015 Budget Victories

Tax Revision Commission

From the very beginning, Grosso supported the diligent work of the Tax Revision Commission. He advocated for the inclusion of the Commission’s recommendations in the FY15 budget, and was happy to join his colleagues in passing one of the largest tax relief packages for low & middle class individuals and families in the District’s history. In particular, Grosso advocated for the following:

  • Adding a new individual middle income bracket of $40,000 to 60,000 at 7% in FY15 and later 6.5% in FY16
  • Expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to childless workers
  • Raising the standard deduction for single and married filers
  • Reducing the unincorporated and incorporated business franchise tax to 8.25%


Public Education

Improving public education has been a priority for Grosso since he first joined the Council. He supported the work of the Committee on Education in the FY15 budget and is especially pleased to support the following enhancements:

  • $1 million for the continuation of the Community Schools grant program, which works to integrate academics, health and social services, youth and community development, and community engagement in our public schools. Grosso strongly supports school being seen as community centers and this funding is vital to the success of the program.
  • A provision requiring D.C. Public Schools to report on its implementation of a restorative justice pilot program next school year. Grosso is committed to pushing our education sector to reexamine school discipline policies in an effort to end the school-to-prison pipeline. Restorative justice programs implemented with fidelity in schools is one way to advance those efforts.
  • Grosso also supports the Committee on Education’s decision to amend the Capital Improvement Plan to align capital funding with those schools that need it most. The additional funding for School Within A School, Logan Elementary, Marie Reed Elementary, Murch Elementary, Orr Elementary, and Watkins Elementary for modernization in FY2015 is important to the continued improvement of these education campuses.
  • Expansion of the school-based mental health program administered by the Department of Behavioral Health. Social-emotional support personnel are especially important for students. Our kids do not leave the stress of their home lives at the school house door. Even the best, highly qualified teacher struggles to teach a child who is only physically present but shut down mentally from stress and trauma.
  • $100,000 to support teen health educators who provide sexual and reproductive health education to their peers.


Workforce Development

It is important for the District of Columbia to not only establish a positive climate for businesses, but also for residents who work here or are seeking meaningful work. Grosso was proud to champion and support initiatives to improve workforce development and support District government employees.

  • Grosso worked diligently with the Chairman of the Committee on Government Operations, Kenyan McDuffie, to pass a proposal for 8 weeks of paid family leave for  District government employees in connection with the birth, adoption, or fostering of a child, or the care of a family member who has a serious medical condition.  This is the most expansive family leave provision in the country.
  • $5.5 million investment in District Workforce Development at the University of the District of Columbia Community College Workforce Development and Lifelong Learning program to ensure that we are supporting workforce development programs that are successful and supporting our residents so that they can secure life-long, meaningful employment that allows them to take care of themselves and their families. 
  • $175,000 for a new employee at the Workforce Investment Council and a technical assistance consultant to conduct a cross-agency study that will track how each District agency allocates their adult literacy and workforce development funding.


Food Security & Recreation

Grosso believes we need to bolster our recreation options and efforts toward food security in the District of Columbia and complement the strong, robust health care infrastructure we are establishing. Grosso was pleased that the following initiatives he advocated for and supported were approved:

  • $8,000,000 for the renovation and modernization of the District’s only Therapeutic Recreation Center, which services people with disabilities and is located in Ward 7.  The funding will create additional changing spaces and showers in the women’s locker room, help to replace a badly patched roof and expand the physical size of the facility, which has not been renovated since it was built in 1971.
  • $1.3 million to create a locally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) enhancement. With this funding, no resident receiving SNAP benefits will receive less than $30 per month in assistance, greatly increasing food security in the District.
  • $75,000 to support the Summer Food Services program administered by the Department of Parks and Recreation for low-income children participating in summer programming; $63,000 to support school food pantries at low-income schools in the District; $500,000 in capital dollars to support the development of urban farming, new community gardens and edible landscapes at sites across the District.


Homelessness Services

Grosso is committed to improving how the District assists our most vulnerable residents, as well as health outcomes in the city. He advocated for and supported the following:

  • $600,000 to hire 10 family case managers for families at D.C. General to assess families, connect them with the appropriate social services, and ultimately assist them in finding permanent housing.
  • $1.3 million to fund key provisions of the End Youth Homelessness Act of 2014, including funding for 10 transitional beds and 5 emergency shelter beds for youth aged 24 and younger, and street outreach to identify and assist vulnerable youth.
  • $2 million to fund the Homeless Prevention Program Establishment Act to implement prevention efforts that have proven to be successful in other jurisdictions.
  • $2.3 million to expand the Permanent Supportive Housing Program at the Department of Human Services.
  • $3 million to the tenant-based Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP) for homeless families, and those at risk of becoming homeless.
  • New funding for coordinated entry system to connect the homeless population to housing and other wrap around services.
  • $200,000 to conduct a feasibility study for the CCNV individual homeless shelter to determine the housing and service needs of the population and facility.


Transportation & the Environment

Having a multi-modal transit friendly city that is the “greenest” in the country is something we should all desire and is a top priority for Grosso. Over the course of this year, he has established quarterly meetings with the District Department of the Environment to discuss his priorities, participated on panel discussions with the DC Environmental Network to address waste management in the District, and just last month joined the Anacostia Watershed Society in a river clean-up targeting 25 sites around the Anacostia watershed.  Grosso was pleased that the following initiatives he supported were including in the FY2015 budget:

  • Budget Support Act language establishing a statutory deadline of June 30, 2018 for the District Department of the Environment to adopt and publish a Record of Decision selecting the remedy for remediation of the contaminated sediment in the Anacostia River.  This commitment ensures that DDOE will work quickly and efficiently so that District residents can swim and fish in the river sooner rather than later.
  • $500,000 to conduct a Comprehensive Rail Study to examine the impact of increased population on current commuter rail, the feasibility of expanded commuter and industrial rail, and the impact of privately-owned rail crossing on current and future rail use.
  • Grosso is pleased to report that the Council will maintain the planned 6-year, $400 million investment in the streetcar project and dedicate $45-$65 million of operating funds to the project annually. The Council adjusted the proposed streetcar PayGo transfer from a fixed to a floating base year. 25% of the District’s revenues generated over the previous year, rather than a locked-in baseline of FY15, will be dedicated to support the construction of the new streetcar.  The provision will be implemented in FY2017.  These changes ensure that District residents will reap the benefits of a comprehensive streetcar system.
  •  $187 million towards the H Street bridge, a critical infrastructure project needed for the completion of the streetcar line.  Full replacement of the H Street bridge will be completed before Fiscal Year 2018.
  • $5 million for the Washington Humane Society, which provides the District’s animal control services, to secure a new location and building.


Transparency & Open Government

Grosso is fiercely committed to transparency and open government. To advance these ideals, he was successful in getting the following reporting requirements included in the FY2015 Budget Support Act:

  • By October 1, 2014, the Office of the Chief Financial Officer shall submit a report on recommendations for improving transparency of the agency’s budget, including a plan for implementing improvements by the submission of the Fiscal Year 2016 budget to the Council.
  • With the support of the Chair of the Committee on Health, language was also included in the BSA requiring the Department of Health to begin submitting quarterly reports on all grants administered by the agency. During the performance oversight and budget hearings, we heard testimony from many public witnesses regarding the continuous delays with DOH expending grant money. The quarterly reporting will help improve oversight and hopefully grant funding operations at the agency.
  • Grosso also worked with the Chair of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, to include language requiring the Department of Parks and Recreation to submit reports to the Committee on workforce strategic hiring plan to fill 106 vacancies, the development and implementation of a comprehensive complaint in-take database system to quantify and analyze the number and type of complaints the agency receives and report on the status of a system to produce performance metrics.




Frequently Asked Questions: D.C. Urban Farming and Food Security Act of 2014, B20-677

Introduced by: Councilmembers David Grosso, Mary Cheh, and Tommy Wells

Co-sponsored by: Councilmembers Muriel Bowser, Kenyan McDuffie, and Phil Mendelson

Referred to: Committee of the Whole and Committee on Finance and Revenue


What are the major components of the D.C. Urban Farming and Food Security Act of 2014?

This legislation establishes an initiative that first identifies and then leases certain District-owned vacant lots to independent farmers and farm cooperatives to be used for successful urban farming ventures. It also creates tax incentives to encourage more individuals and businesses to farm locally and donate locally farmed vegetables, fruits, and grains to D.C. food banks or shelters.

Why should the District lease its vacant property to local farmers?

Activating vacant unimproved properties owned by the District and owned privately is important. Not only would this effort help to ensure that these properties are environmentally safe, but also that they are a welcomed, safe attraction in communities. 

What would be the process for individuals or organizations looking to lease land?

If approved and signed into law, by February 2015, the Mayor would need to identify 25 District-owned vacant lots that can potentially be used for successful urban farming ventures. The Mayor would then develop a Request for Proposal process for applications.

How long would leases last for under this initiative?

All lease agreements entered into under this initiative would be for a term of at least 3 years.

Will farmers be able to sell produce on the property?

Yes. Any lease entered into pursuant to this initiative with an independent farm or farm cooperative may permit the sale of fresh fruits and vegetables on the leased land, off the leased land, or both.

Is it true that your bill would provide property tax abatement for leasing vacant land to farmers?

Yes.  Under this legislation, if an owner of unimproved real property enters into a lease with an unrelated party for the use of its real property for the purpose of producing food commodity through small-scale urban farming, there shall be allowed a 50% deduction from the real property tax imposed on the portion of leased real property actually used for small-scale farming.

What are the eligibility requirements for the property tax abatement?

In order to be eligible for the tax abatement under this section, any lease agreement shall include, but is not limited to, all the following provisions, and the parties thereto shall be in compliance therewith:

  1. An initial term of not less than three years;
  2. Active use and cultivation of at least 5,000 square feet of the real property;
  3. A requirement that the entire property subject to the lease shall be dedicated toward agriculture use; and
  4. A prohibition against any dwelling units (as defined in § 47-813(d)(3)) on the real property.

What kind of tax incentive does the bill provide to individuals who donate to D.C. food banks or shelters?

A taxpayer may claim a nonrefundable credit against income taxes for food commodity donations made during the tax year to a District of Columbia food bank or shelter. The credit claimed shall equal 50% of the value of the contribution and shall not to exceed $2,500 per taxpayer per tax year.

What kind of tax incentive does the bill provide to businesses who donate to D.C. food banks or shelters?

A business may claim a nonrefundable credit against business taxes for food commodity donations made during the tax year to a District of Columbia food bank or shelter. The credit claimed shall equal 50% of the value of the contribution and shall not to exceed $5,000 per taxpayer per tax year.

How will these tax incentives be monitored?

Individuals and businesses claiming the tax credit or property tax abatement will need to provide documentation supporting the claim in a form and manner prescribed by the Chief Financial Officer.

Why is this legislation important?

D.C. residents at all times have access to sufficient safe nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life. Food security is built on three pillars: food availability; food access; and food use.  By the District leasing its unused vacant property throughout the city to independent farmers and community farm cooperatives it allows our residents to claim direct access to healthy food by growing, harvesting and processing it themselves. By incentivizing more individuals and businesses to proactively donate to local food banks or homeless shelters we can support organizations like Miriam’s Kitchen that manages to make wonderful meals for our most vulnerable residents out of very little, day-in and day-out.





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.