The timeline and cost for completing the Purple Line is up in the air after a judge ruled that contractors may quit in the middle of the project. Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich weighs in on that, the latest coronavirus news and more.
It’s all impeachment all the time — especially if you live in the Washington region. But believe it or not, other things are going on in this area.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and HBCU’s are tussling over funding for historically black colleges. Some Metro riders are demanding tighter oversight of the system’s police department. And we just lost our favorite panda!
We turn to newsmakers and reporters desperate to tell you about the interesting and critical issues they’ve been focused on while the rest of the world can’t seem to tear themselves away from the big show on Capitol Hill.
Produced by Lauren Markoe and Laura Spitalniak
This show will be streamed at noon and broadcast at 9 p.m.
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Believe it or not impeachment is not the only story in town even though the Washington region is the very epicenter of this national obsession. For those who can't seem to wake up from their impeachment comas today is what you've missed day. We've assembled a group of newsmakers and news chasers to fill you in on stories that haven't received as much attention as they would during non-impeachment times.
KOJO NNAMDILater in the broadcast efforts to boost accountability of the Metro Transit Police and a trio of WAMU journalists fill you in on more news edged out by impeachment mania. But first the long running dispute between Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and champions of HBCU's, or Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Joining me to discuss this is Danielle Gaines who covers government and politics for Maryland matters. Danielle, thank you for joining us.
DANIELLE GAINESHi. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIIt's been 13 years since HBCU's first sued the State of Maryland for a billion dollars they say is rightfully theirs. Why is this federal lawsuit news right now?
GAINESLast week there was a big rally in Annapolis. It was on Bladen Street right kind of in the shadow of the State House. And it was a number of advocates and students from HBCU's throughout the state advocating for the state to finally settle this case. So as you mentioned there's a lawsuit that's been going on for more than a decade. When these, you know, current students were in elementary school. And they were looking to pressure the General Assembly and the governor for what they view as an equitable settlement in the case. That number has gone down from a billion dollars over time. Though there were folks at the rally asking for that figure still. But the coalition that brought the lawsuit has most recently sought a $577 million settlement, which is what most people were pushing for.
NNAMDIYeah. Maryland is appealing a 2017 court order to establish a set of unique programs at each school and provide additional funding for marketing and scholarships. The State of Maryland wrongly had established duplicate programs at predominantly white schools that prevented those HBCU's from having being able to offer those programs without competition from white schools. And it's difficult to believe that that happened accidentally, but that's a whole other story. There have been some rulings in the case. Whose side did the courts take?
GAINESYeah. So as you stated this case was originally filed by a coalition of HBCU's, Morgan State, Copen State, Bowie State and University of Maryland Eastern Shore in 2006. And there was a lot of back and forth. And then in 2013 a U.S. District Court Judge ruled in favor of the coalition that course duplication was issue, and that when courses were duplicated or a degree of programs were duplicated it drew students away from HBCU's where they might have been able to attract them. And then that perpetuated the vestiges of segregation. That ruling in favor of the HBCU's was on 1 of 10 claims that they sought. And ever since that ruling it's all been a court battle over what sort of remediation is appropriate for the state to offer.
NNAMDIHow much is each side willing to settle for?
GAINESSo the attorneys for both sides won't say the numbers that they have put forward in court ordered mediation and several rounds of that have failed. But most recently in September an attorney for the HBCU's sent a letter to lawmakers, so not to the governor's office, but to lawmakers asking them to personally intervene in the case. And they did some math based on the landmark (word?) settlement out of Mississippi and determined that they thought $577 million was a fair settlement for the State of Maryland. Governor Hogan has in the past proposed settlements as well to the legislative Black Caucus. He proposed $100 million a year ago. His office, after the letter from the coalition this fall increased that figure to $200 million, and now we're at an impasse.
NNAMDICoalition says they want at least $577 million, because they say the HBCU's are really owed one billion, because it is that similar to the lawsuit in Mississippi, but they'll settle for $577 million. You were at a rally last week, Danielle, in Annapolis where supporters of HBCU's called for Maryland to pay up. Let's listen for a minute to political science professor, Alvin Thornton, who has taught at two historically black colleges, Morgan State and Howard.
PROF. ALVIN THORNTON"Equal justice under law" that's Thurgood, right? There would be no Thurgood Marshall without Nathan University. Everybody is crying and moaning as we should about Elijah. There is no Elijah without historically black colleges. You understand that, right? There is no Alvin Thornton without Morehouse and Howard.
NNAMDIProfessor Thornton was referring, of course, to Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings, who died just last month. Our thanks to Roland Martin Unfiltered Daily Digital Show for that clip. Danielle, what was the purpose of this rally and is it likely to accomplish its goals?
GAINESYeah. I think the rally had, you know, multiple purposes. It was to bring lawmakers to hear the message of HBCU graduates and current students. There were a lot of people who spoke very passionately about why HBCU's are important to the Maryland education ecosystem, why fair funding for them is important. And it was to bring those lawmakers together to discuss that, to put pressure on all of them. There was equal pressure especially by Roland Martin put on the Republican governor and Democratic legislators, who also have failed to address this issue in the past. And it was really a rallying cry to bring more HBCU alumni and students to Annapolis to advocate for this not just during that rally, but for the entire legislative session to try to find a solution.
NNAMDIMaryland House Speaker, Adrienne Jones, also spoke at that rally. What's her position and what can she do to get the state to pony up more?
GAINESSo Speaker Jones is in favor of a settlement. And what she told the crowd was, you know, she has extensive history on the House Appropriations Committee. And so she told them, you know, I know what can be done. I know how things can be moved around and we need to get this done this year. There's also new leadership in the Maryland Senate this year, and that's Senator Bill Ferguson. He's the nominee to become the next Senate President, and he comes from the Budget and Taxation Committee. So you have two kind of heads of the General Assembly, who are well versed in how the state budget works and they'll likely try to get something passed this year.
NNAMDIThey and Jones and other HBCU supporters will settle for that $577 million. The state actually owes as I said earlier one billion dollars based on the Mississippi settlement. So why does the governor counter that his $200 million is somehow fair?
GAINESSo the governor notes that over the last several years and particularly during his term overall funding for HBCU's has gone up and it's gone up at a faster rate than funding for some of the traditionally white institutions in the state. And that the $200 million is a fair settlement. So his office will note that, you know, 9 of 10 claims were not decided in favor of the coalition. And that he has a lot to balance as far as the state budget goes. This is going to be a hard year for something to be legislated as far as this settlement goes. It hasn't been successful in years when the state was more flush, and this year lawmakers are going to be trying to balance a multibillion dollar education reform plan for the state's K12 schools as well.
NNAMDIAnd the governor claims that Maryland faces a $5 billion cash shortfall between fiscal 2021 and 2024, but who actually gets to decide how much money the State of Maryland gives to traditionally black colleges and universities?
GAINESSo Maryland's governor has the strongest authority over state purse strings of any governor in America. So the state budget as he draws it is only able to be changed so much by lawmakers through the legislative process. One thing that they can do is fence off money from parts of the budget and say that that money could only be used for a dedicated purpose that they choose. But then it's still up to the governor whether or not he releases that funding. So this past legislative session lawmakers fenced off about $238 million for things that they wanted to pursue and that money was not released.
NNAMDIU.S. Court of Appeals for the fourth circuit wants the two sides to settle, but what if they don't?
GAINESIt's a little unclear right now. So there have not been further hearings set by the fourth circuit. The attorney for the coalition is obviously looking for a legislative solution. And I guess we just see what gets filed next.
NNAMDIOf course, Maryland is far from the only state with historically black colleges and universities. There are more than 100 nationwide, but they're having a particularly hard time right now. Why is that?
GAINESThere are a few issues. So I think top of the list for HBCU's, their top concern is that Title 3 funding, which is meant to level the playing field for institutions with high numbers of minority students was not authorized. It passed the House of Representatives federally. So it passed the House of Representatives, but has stalled in the Senate where Democrats and Republicans have different views on whether or not that should go forward attached to other things. That is about $250 million in funding for HBCU's across the country, about four million dollars in funding for HBCU's in Maryland. The education department has said that they can keep funding HBCU's through the end of this fiscal year, which would be September. And that would give Congress theoretically enough time to act before the next fiscal year.
NNAMDIBecause in the last few years those HBCU's have been witnessing declining enrollment, Danielle Gaines covers government and politics at Maryland Matters. Thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, efforts to boost accountability of the Metro Transit Police. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Discussions about the way police in this area treat the people they are sworn to protect and serve often do not mention the Metro Transit Police. But more than 500 MTPD officers have jurisdiction throughout the Metrorail and Metro bus system in the District, Maryland and Virginia, and after several high profile incidents in which the MTPD was accused of excessive force the D.C. Council convened a round table last week to talk about accountability and transparency in the department. Joining us to talk about this is Robert White. He's a Member At-Large of the Washington D.C. Council. Councilmember White, thank you for joining us.
ROBERT WHITEThanks for having me.
NNAMDISasha-Ann Simons reports on Race and Identity at WAMU. Sasha, always a pleasure.
SASHA-ANN SIMONSThanks, Kojo.
NNAMDIWe should note that Metro Transit Police Chief Ronald Pavlic was invited to join us today, but his staff told us he had a prior commitment that he had to keep. So we'll start with you Sasha-Ann. Can you tell me about these cases that prompted both riders and politicians to take a closer look at the Metro Transit Police?
SIMONSYeah, Kojo, there have been many cases unfortunately and many very questionable interactions between riders and Metro Transit Police. But two recent cases specifically have really prompted Council especially to take a look or to want to take a closer look. One back in June involved a 13 year old boy and it went viral on social media. You might remember a video that went around on Tweeter that was quite disturbing. And you'll see that while everything was unfolding on the platform the boy was sort of off to the side with officers questioning him. But at the same time what's captured on video is Metro Transit Police Officer Jonathan Costanzo tasing Tapiwa Musonza. He was an unarmed black man that was just trying to intervene and trying to -- as many people in the platform were trying to do is figure out, what is going on? Why is this boy being questioned by police?
SIMONSAnother separate case that was involving a woman named Diamond Rust that was another one. She was injured by MTPD, when they tackled her for evading bus fare. I think those are two cases that really sort of highlighted how terrible conditions have become between the two sides.
NNAMDIMany people have noted that complaints against Metro Transit Police almost invariably involve their treatment of people of color. Is this the crux of the issue here that Metro is not trusted by people of color?
SIMONSYeah, very much so. It's very much the crux of the issue. You know, the folks I mentioned in these past two examples, people of color. People of color in general just don't trust MTPD and feel that they're being targeted. There's also growing evidence that they are actually being targeted. It's not just a feeling. It's a reality. You know, Metro policing practices have led to questions of racial profiling and also transparency. And really what last week's hearing showed was the appetite for a movement to restore the trust between the two sides. It's growing. It's pretty evident at this point.
NNAMDICouncilmember White, do you see these incidents with people of color as part of a pattern with the Metro Transit Police? And tell us why you presided over a round table on the topic last week?
WHITEWell, unfortunately it is a pattern of the Metro Transit Police, but also a pattern of police departments across the country. And we have to address this. Now when I saw over the summer the video of this young 13 year old boy being arrested and what was incredibly aggressive policing against a young man, a graduate student at MIT, who intervened for reasons that I very well understand I knew that we had to do something. I didn't at the time have any oversight over Metro. So I wrote to Metro's board and said, you need to hold a hearing on this issue. These are not isolated incidents, but they are very serious.
WHITEI didn't even get a response from the Metro Board. Instead I got a response from the General Manager, Paul Wiedefeld, that I think completely showed that he didn't understand or appreciate the seriousness of this issue. So when I got oversight over Metro this summer the first hearing I called was on this issue.
NNAMDISasha-Ann, Transit Police apparently are not subject to some of the same checks that govern other police departments. What are some of the differences?
SIMONSYeah, well, difference number one is Metro Transit Police and this is most shocking to me. Metro Transit Police, they actually don't have oversight from anyone except Metro. That's it. And, though, they also, you know, they operate in Maryland, Virginia, D.C. the department doesn't answer to any of those jurisdictions. So that is a problem, right, in itself.
SIMONSAnd one of the roadblocks to transparency is a legal document called the WMATA Compact. It does several things. It gives Metro Police several protections. But what it also says, when police violence is involved a person can sue an individual officer, but they can't go after MTPD or WMATA. They're just untouchable. And WMATA also operates without a civil complaint board, which is something that folks are speaking out against. WMATA also provides very limited public records too. So just several layers of reasons why these checks and balances are just not the same.
NNAMDICouncilmember Robert White, how do you want to beef up accountability within the Metro Transit Police? Should it have a civilian complaint board? And what reason were you given why it does not?
WHITEWell, it absolutely has to have a civilian complaint board just like MPD does. You know, when you hear from the mother of a 13 year old who was arrested still doesn't know what he was arrested for. This kid now has behavioral problems. He has difficulty sleeping. He doesn't want people to touch him. This young graduate student was enrolled at MIT working on Wall Street. He now has the functioning capacity of a third grade child. So he's had to drop out of MIT. He can no longer work on Wall Street and there's nowhere for them to complain. In fact, I tried to pull up the complaint process on my phone this morning and it said, "This link does not work." That's not acceptable and so there has to be accountability.
WHITEIt starts with a civilian oversight board so that at least people feel there is somebody that is not law enforcement that has oversight that they can take their concerns to because right now there is nobody that has oversight over WMATA Transit Police.
NNAMDIMust admit I didn't know about the medical consequences to the young man, who had tried to intervene. Should Metro Police start wearing body cameras?
WHITEWell, I think so. Absolutely, but I will say this as a cautionary or at least to settle expectations. MPD wears body cameras now. It think it's the right thing to do, but I don't know that we have yet seen a substantial change in interactions or seen the ability for residents or even sometimes the Council to get the data and the footage we need to actually make the video -- the body cameras useful.
NNAMDISasha-Ann, the District as has been pointed out has been -- its police has been wearing body cameras for five years.
NNAMDIIs that helping to build trust between officers and the public especially with people of color?
NNAMDIIn a word.
SIMONSIn a word no. And just piggybacking off of Councilmember White, you know -- and what you said Kojo. It's been five years, but, you know, overwhelmingly those testifying last week just say that it's not working. The body cameras aren't helping to build trust between officers and people of color. You know, sometimes they're not turned on. Sometimes they are. Officers are allegedly deleting footage or you'll get the footage, but it starts just after the interaction. And also it's taking a while sometimes for victim's families to be able to access footage. So all those things are sort of adding up to reasons why folks just don't think the system overall is working especially for people of color.
NNAMDIWhen the blue line becomes a blue wall. Robert White, at last week's hearings you asked Chief Pavlic about the data his department collects and its willingness to share it. What data are you interested in seeing?
WHITEWell, a lot of data. We would like to know what the policies and practices are. So, you know, the public doesn't know if a policy was violated if we don't know the underlying policies. And right now we don't. We would like to know the results of complaints that they receive. We would like information on use of force. These are things that are common data points for most agencies particularly increasingly law enforcement agencies. But they're sort of a gap in transparency, because WMATA is sort of an agency, but it's multijurisdictional and not fully accountable. So it is just been slower to the transparency and accountability game than most traditional agencies.
NNAMDIWere you satisfied with Chief Pavlic's responses to you and others at last week's hearing?
WHITEI was happy that Chief Pavlic showed up to the table. The hearing would have gone very differently had he not. And what I think we have to do is separate the law enforcement leaders who will show up for these conversations from the ones who won't. I've had multiple meetings with Chief Pavlic and I've always been surprised, pleasantly so, at his openness to the concerns that I've raised that he has never defended something that I believe was indefensible. And so I can't say that Chief Pavlic had all the answers, but I think he is open to increase oversight and really wants to build trust with the community and so part of my job is to help him do that.
NNAMDIYour Council colleague at the round table, Charles Allen, indicated that you and he were going to talk about some legislation on this issue. What might that legislation do?
WHITEWell, the first thing that we're looking at is creating a civilian complaint board. We also are looking at legislation to increase transparency, but this will require some discussions about exactly what the public wants and what kind of legal mechanisms we have to go through to get that done because as Sasha-Ann mentioned we have the WMATA Compact and this is between several jurisdictions. And so anything that affects the Compact will require the legislatures of all the of Maryland, D.C. and Virginia to take action.
NNAMDISince Metro operates in all three of these jurisdictions if for instance you wanted to affect the Compact by saying that people should not only be allowed to sue individual officers, they should in the final analysis be able to sue WMATA. It would require legislation in all of the jurisdictions in which Metro operates in order to accomplish that?
WHITEThat would require all of us to pass legislation.
NNAMDISasha-Ann, it seems hard to discuss the way Transit Police are perceived in communities of color without discussing fare evasion. Tell us about that.
SIMONSYeah. You know, fare evasion is folks of color are the ones being stopped and charged, you know, for fare evasion. Overwhelmingly so the case I mentioned with the woman named Diamond Rust that was tackled for fare evasion of a bus that was one of very many that have played out in very similar fashion.
NNAMDII have to ask this. Was she injured?
SIMONSShe was injured. She was injured in that altercation. A representative with the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights last week told reporters that that group compiled a fare evasion report. And basically they found that MTPD officers stopped 17,000 riders last year, almost all were black. So yeah, it's hard to have the discussion without bringing up communities of color because they're just overwhelmingly the ones that are being targeted. That being said, you know, WMATA says it is losing -- or it will lose $40 million to fare evasion this year and that in itself is a problem that needs to be addressed. Decriminalizing fare evasion earlier this year that was one sort of way to sort soften the blow of targeting the minority community. Now it's a civil crime punishable by a $50 fine.
WHITEI think that's right.
SIMONSYeah, but it's still an issue overwhelmingly.
NNAMDIDo we know of any public transit system around the country that does fare evasion more effectively that have been brought up in these hearings at all?
WHITEI was at the hearing. I can't recall. That's not to say that it didn't come up.
SIMONSNo. I don't think they brought up any other examples. I know I have been doing some research for some other work I've been doing here for WAMU. And like I'm looking at New York and it's not better.
NNAMDIRobert White, is part of the solution to this problem some sort of fare reduction program such as they have in New York and other cities for lower income residents? Could that lead to less faire evasion and by extension fewer confrontations between riders and Transit Police?
WHITEWell, I think we absolutely have to look there in the shorter term. In the longer term we have to study the idea of making public transit free. There are cost savings to the jurisdiction if we do that. Less money that we have to spend on infrastructure less money that we have to spend on parking and so that's I think where we would want to get to eventually. But at least for now we know that low income people are having an incredibly difficult time with transportation even the basic things like school and to work. So we have to look there.
NNAMDIIf you're going to have no fares at all, if you're going to have being able to ride public transit free, again, you're going to have to persuade Maryland and Virginia to do the same.
WHITELikely, yes. Likely, yes.
NNAMDIWe'll have to see what happens with that. Robert White is a Member At-Large of the Washington D.C. Council. Thank you so much for joining us.
WHITEThanks for having me back.
NNAMDISasha-Ann Simons reports on Race and Identity at WAMU. But she'll be staying along for our next segment. We'll be talking to you about all kinds of news that were edged out by impeachment mania with a number of WAMU reporters. Stick around for that. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to what we've been calling our non-impeachment show. It's all the news that's been crowded out by hours and hours of Capitol Hill hearings. But much more is going on in this region. To catch you up, we've got a panel of journalists who are just itching to tell you about a slew of interesting, important and downright baffling local news that got smothered by the giant impeachment pillow.
NNAMDIJoining me in studio is, well, Sasha-Ann is still with us. Sasha-Ann Simons reports on race and identity at WAMU. Rachel Kurzius is the senior editor of DCist. Rachel, thank you for joining us.
RACHEL KURZIUSThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAnd Zuri Berry is the senior managing editor in the WAMU newsroom. Zuri, welcome to our airwave for the first time.
ZURI BERRYThank you, Kojo. Thanks for being here.
NNAMDIWe're about to give you the baptism of fire, here. (laugh)
NNAMDIZuri, school boundary changes are roiling Montgomery and Howard Counties. What's changing, and why are so many people upset?
BERRYSo, there were hearings on Monday and Tuesday in Montgomery County on the district school boundary analysis. This has been going on for some time, and it's directly related to overcrowding at MCPS schools. However, what's new is the superintendent from Montgomery County Public Schools, Jack Smith, is defending the plan following accusations that it would lower property values. The contention from critics of the plan is that homeowners who paid handsomely to live in affluent neighborhoods with top-tier schools would be harmed financially if their kids can't go to those schools.
BERRYThis, of course, also speaks to an issue of equity, which brings me to Howard County, where overcrowding is also a problem. But that district has explicitly said it's primarily focused on equity in changing its school boundaries. That's upset a lot of people and led to some overtly racist letters to the District, as covered here on the show. On Thursday, Howard County's board of education is voting on what it calls its attendance area adjustment plan. So that's what's new, coming up tomorrow.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, Columbia's in Howard County, and Columbia has long had a reputation of trying to bring a certain amount of equity to all of its residents there. So, that's what this latest brouhaha is all about. Rachel K., a majority of D.C. councilmembers have said that their colleague Jack Evans should step down. How have Washingtonians reacted?
KURZIUSSo, Jack Evans is under fire for this alleged pay-to-play situation, that he's voted with conflicts of interest that he hasn't fully disclosed. Like you mentioned, his colleagues want him to step down. The Washington Post yesterday released a poll that showed that once Washingtonians learned about the allegations against Evans, and indeed the truth of what Evans had done, that more than six in 10 Washingtonians want him to resign.
KURZIUSBut what really struck me about the poll was that before the Washington Post actually said, this is what Evans allegedly did...
KURZIUS...67 percent of people were, like, who? (laugh) And this is the longest serving council member in D.C. He's been in office since 1991. Other big Jack Evans news this week is that earlier, on Monday, activists called -- or put forth all of the signatures they think they need to trigger...
NNAMDILed by one Adam Eidinger.
KURZIUS...yep, a fan of the show -- a recall election, which would be the first in modern D.C. history. So, a lot to look at there. If you're one of those 67 percent, I'd like to put in a little plug for you to be following DCist and WAMU coverage. We've got a great primer on all of the investigations into Jack Evans, if you're curious to become one of the 33 percent who know what's going on.
NNAMDIThey were just distracted by the impeachment inquiry, that's all. (laugh)
KURZIUSAnd no longer, thanks to you and your programming.
NNAMDISasha-Ann, the Prince George's County School District has received grant money to provide mental health support services for young people. Tell us more. How's that going to work?
SIMONSYeah, so, the county received a grant of a little over $1.3 million from the Federal Education Department. Essentially what they're going to do with it is enable 50 grad students from the University of Maryland and Bowie State University to receive training as to what they're calling counseling interns. And they'll work across the school district and basically be placed in ten schools in the county. They're going to deem schools as high-need. So, they're looking at things like how many students are signed up for the free-and-reduced-lunch programs, what are the attendance records like, what is the counselor-to-student ratio, because that's a very specific number, as well.
SIMONSAnd then, as counseling interns, they'll be trained to facilitate conversations on issues like suicide which is a big deal over in the county. But they'll do it through classroom activities, as well as through school campaigns. And everyone's optimistic about this, that this will be really helpful. Research has really shown that once students go through and participate with these types of programs, they're four times more likely to, A, refer someone who they think is suicidal to an adult, and B, notice the symptoms within themselves and get help or seek help.
NNAMDISo, that means there's some shortage of licensed and clinically approved counselors in Prince George's County in general, and in the school system in particular?
SIMONSBig time, yeah.
NNAMDIAnd so this is going to try to make it up.
NNAMDIRachel, the historic preservation review board may make it easier for historic homeowners to install solar panels. Tell us more.
KURZIUSSo, if you live in a historic district in D.C., and there are 37, you have...
NNAMDIWhich is not?
KURZIUSExactly. A whole low more than a lot of other comparable cities. Those people have these beautiful historic homes but they're all hamstrung a lot in terms of what they can do to modify those homes. And for many years, they have not been allowed to have visible solar panels. And, over time, the historic preservation review board and the historic office have made it more liberal in terms of getting other kinds of solar panels, but never the ones that are visible from the street.
KURZIUSIn October, there was a big hullabaloo, basically, over one instance in which somebody's application was rejected. What he was saying is, yes, these solar panels would be on my front-facing roof, but that's where all the good sun is. And I'm really scared about climate change. What's the point in preserving history if we're all going to be underwater in a hundred years? And so what he basically said is, well, I'm glad I have a historic roof, but I'd like to see it exist for more and more generations.
KURZIUSAnd, for a long time, the Historic Preservation Review Board has been undergoing basically a process by which they're coming up with new guidelines where they're going to say, this is what you can do to modify...
NNAMDIOut with the 19th century, and in with the 21st. (laugh)
KURZIUSYeah, or let's keep the 19th century, but, you know, we still have cars. We still have gas meters. What if instead of viewing solar panels as permanent changes to a roof, instead, we view them the way we view other necessary elements of homes in the 21st century? So, they're going to undertake these new guidelines that will allow potentially, in some cases, for people to have these solar panels so long as they, say, have sleeves to fit with the way the roof looks. There is going to be a meeting that the board is going to vote on these guidelines on December 19th. I expect it's going to be very interesting, and plan on being there.
NNAMDII know you plan on being there. Take copious notes. (laugh)
KURZIUSOh, I will be, yeah.
NNAMDIZuri, where's Bei Bei?
BERRYSadly, (laugh) Bei Bei is no longer with us. She is in China. That's right, the panda with the famous fertility issues who warmed our hearts at the National Zoo has left. On Tuesday, she boarded a FedEx flight engrossed with the giant image of a giant panda and made her way back to China. Thus ends Bei Bei's 14-year reign.
SIMONSBye-bye Bei Bei.
KURZIUSNo, Bei Bei's four. Bei Bei's a four-year-old panda cub.
BERRYCub, excuse me. (laugh)
KURZIUSYeah, I know way too much about Bei Bei. Bei Bei is a panda cub who, at the end of four years, all cubs that were born in the United States must return to China.
NNAMDIWhy does Bei Bei get to ride free, is what I'm trying to figure out. (laugh)
SIMONSDid you see Bei Bei's ride, though?
NNAMDIFedEx won't deliver anything (all talking at once) .
KURZIUSYes. For all of the joy that he gave us over these past four years.
SIMONSThat was a sweet ride though, that plane.
NNAMDIOnly two staffers were allowed to go on the journey with Bei Bei, so the other staffers had their party before Bei Bei actually left. And, presumably, Bei Bei is now enjoying a new home in China. Rachel, this story is literally disgusting. (laugh) A vandal is targeting Capital Bikeshares in such a way that risks the public health. Explain why bike riders need to be on the lookout.
KURZIUSYes. And it turns out, as I found out through more reporting, it's not just Capital Bikeshare riders, but also scooter riders. So, what we uncovered is that some Capital Bikeshares, the shared bikes that are available throughout the city and throughout the region, riders found that when they tried to hold onto the handles, there was feces smeared underneath, which caused, you know, a lot of disgust and fear. And...
NNAMDII just closed my ears, but go ahead. (laugh)
SIMONSIt's so gross.
KURZIUSAnd it turns out Capital Bikeshare actually has workers trained in hazmat and hygiene in order to fix these sorts of issues. When we first published our story, as you might expect, the first reaction that we got was, ah, disgusting. And, also, why? But the third reaction that we got was a lot of people saying, you know what? I experienced something just like this. Say, in the scooters in Alexandria, it turns out there's been someone or multiple people doing a similar thing to the shared e-scooters in Navy Yard at least a dozen times over the past two months. This is a story that we will be staying on. And I would just warn people that before you actually put your hands on any of these handles, just make sure to check underneath.
NNAMDIIf you find out that this is actually a thing and you find that people associated with doing it, make sure you publish their names and photographs, (laugh) please.
SIMONSI'm just mad about the scooters.
NNAMDIZuri, Montgomery County just passed a racial equity or equality bill. I think it's equity. What does that mean for people who live there?
BERRYYes. The bill is called the Racial Equity and Social Justice Act. Once it's signed, it would require racial equity training for the more than 8,000 fulltime government employees in the county. It would also require that every bill considered by the County Council detail the impact on equity for different demographic groups.
BERRYThe county's going to set up an Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice. They'll have an operating budget of about $375,000. And it's going to require every government agency and department to develop an action plan for next year to address racial disparities, which include obviously a poverty rate for black and Latino residents that has nearly tripled that of white residents.
NNAMDISo, they're going to have to be gathering a whole lot of data. One wonders if that budget of $375,860 is enough, but I guess we'll find out at some point.
BERRYWe shall, and we will stay on top of that.
NNAMDISasha-Ann, some private companies are proposing ideas to fight gentrification in the DMV. Who knew? What do they want to do and why?
SIMONSYeah, who knew people would want to fight gentrification in the DMV?
NNAMDIEspecially private companies.
SIMONSEspecially private companies, yeah. I've recently started focusing my reporting -- along with a couple colleagues in the newsroom -- on issues of affordability. And one of the early stories that I reported on was that Chase Bank, a few weeks ago, announced that they are investing $5 million in the Washington region specifically to combat gentrification along the Purple Line in Maryland. And we're seeing more and more of these public-private partnerships unfold.
SIMONSBut this one, in particular, the bank is basically trying to help small businesses and residents along the Purple Line. It's no secret that a lot of businesses, especially in certain parts, Latino businesses have tanked, you know, because of gentrification. So, the money is going to be divided among three local organizations who focus on small businesses, as well as affordable housing in the region. That includes LEDC, which is the Latino Economic Development Center. And they primarily, of course, serve the local Latino population, as well as other underserved communities here in the region. And they say, you know, Latinos are opening businesses at a very high rate. This money kind of comes at a very timely fashion.
SIMONSAnd so Chase claims that the $5 million should create and maintain about a thousand affordable homes and support more than 200 local small businesses. But, Kojo, while many local officials are like, yes, this is great, we welcome Chase's interest in preventing gentrification here in the DMV, some wonder whether $5 million is enough. And they hope that other really wealthy corporations pitch in.
NNAMDIAnd others wonder what's in it for Chase, but...
SIMONSWhat's in it for Chase?
NNAMDI...that's a whole other story.
SIMONSI wasn't going to go there, Kojo, but you know. (laugh)
NNAMDIWhat happens when these private programs go away? Lyft's pilot program, for example.
SIMONSYeah, another story I reported on recently for our affordability project is following up my coverage from last year on the Lyft grocery pilot program. So, basically, Lyft -- another private company trying to help a community in need -- they sort of swarmed in last year to help residents in Ward 7 and Ward 8. And they provided grocery rides at discounted rates for low-income residents to get to the very few grocery stores that exist east of the river. They're giving discounted rides of $2.50, or $1.50 for seniors.
SIMONSSo far, the program, and since my reporting, the program has actually benefitted about 500 local families to date, including 100 seniors. But it's slated to end in December. So...
NNAMDIWhat happens if it ends?
SIMONS...the question is, what happens when it ends. That's a good question, what happens when it ends. You know, these pilot periods really show how much people really do need these programs. Folks that I spoke to were really taking advantage of the Lyft program, like using the heck -- if I can say heck -- out of it for this period. But it's just showing that participants are going to continue facing one of the biggest challenges here in the region, which is transportation, if this doesn't get renewed in the New Year.
NNAMDIZuri, Skins safety Montae Nicholson is in the spotlight, and not because of anything related to football. What happened?
BERRYAll right. This goes back to last Thursday. In the middle of the night, Montae Nicholson, who is a safety on the team, along with another man, dropped off an unconscious and unresponsive 21-year-old woman at an emergency care center. Then they quickly exited the area. That woman is Julia Crabbe, and she died of an overdose. On Sunday, Nicholson played in his usual spot on the team when they lost to the New York Jets.
BERRYFast-forward to yesterday. It turns out police had searched his home that Thursday and found pills, marijuana and foil with residue after this apparent overdose, thanks to a search warrant as police were investigating Julia Crabbe's death.
NNAMDIIt's not mine. It's not mine.
BERRYWe don't know whose drugs they were. Nicholson's attorney told the Washington Post, his client doesn't know anything about the drugs. And, of course, Washington's Coach Bill Callahan, the interim coach there, was pressed on this decision to let him play on Sunday. And he said, quote, "it was ultimately his decision." So, this is obviously raising questions about Nicholson and the team and sort of their priorities.
NNAMDISasha-Ann, there's an affordable housing crunch in this area. Some people think that repurposing churches may be part of the solution. What's the story here?
SIMONSYeah, so this concept of repurposing religious spaces isn't new. And my colleague, Eliza Berkon, who reported the story this week wanted to make sure that that was clear. It isn't new, but it's not something that we've seen a ton of examples of here in the region.
SIMONSAnd so, in this particular case, what just recently opened is Gilliam Place. It opened just off Columbia Pike in Arlington. It's on the site of the Arlington Presbyterian Church. And it's a new affordable housing facility, which includes 173 affordable units, 15 of which are accessible. So, it's essentially taking an underused religious space that was perhaps struggling financially, or had a decrease in membership, and using it to create some affordable housing units and generate revenue that way.
NNAMDISo, some of these churches are losing congregations, and as a result they have more space. And, as a result, they're not as financially viable as they used to be, so...
NNAMDI...all of these things come together. And I noticed Christian Dorsey is very prominent in this story. He is happy.
SIMONSYeah, he's very happy.
NNAMDIHe's the chair of the Arlington County board. Zuri, Prince George's County has banned its agencies from working with ICE. Why did they do that, and did they get any pushback?
BERRYYeah, so this goes back to, I think, this summer in which the Prince George's County police had -- a couple of residents of the county, I should say, had gone into deportation proceedings. And there was a huge pushback on that, because that was not a part of their original policy. So, the County Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to bar all county agencies from engaging in any kind of immigration enforcement. That's necessary, the Council says, to reduce fear among the immigrant population.
BERRYSo, 10 of the 11 council members were fore this, but this was opposed by the Prince George's County Police Department, which says it was unnecessary, because of that existing policy that barred officers from working with ICE. However, obviously, they point back to the situation from the summer in which a few residents were caught up in deportation proceedings when they weren't supposed to. That was something that the chief there, Hank Stawinski, had apologized for and said there were mistakes. But, obviously, it spurred along this legislation.
NNAMDIAnd the police are the ones who say that if they cooperate with ICE in that way, then they lose the support and the cooperation of residents who fear being deported simply for reporting crimes that exist. So...
NNAMDI...we'll have to see how this one works out. Rachel, the Whitman-Walker Health Center is opening a new facility on the St. Elizabeth's campus in Southeast Washington. What does that mean for the surrounding area?
KURZIUSYeah. So, the St. Elizabeth's east campus is owned by the city, and Whitman-Walker announced last week that they are going to be the first tenant. It's not their first facility east of the river. They already, and since 1993, have had a place in Anacostia. But this is going to increase the amount of patients they can see east of the river from 5,000 people annually to 15,000 people annually when it opens in a couple of years from now.
KURZIUSAnd just so that we get a sense of kind of what's going on on St. Elizabeth's campus, in addition to this forthcoming clinic, which is also going to have primary care, dental care, substance misuse treatment, a pharmacy, homes for a couple of nonprofits, as well as being able to put all of the youth programs that are currently in Eastern Market, they're all going to be under the same roof.
KURZIUSAnd Whitman-Walker's hoping that this means that they can have more of a cohesion between, for instance, getting the youth in the youth program to then transition into fulltime primary care once they age out of the youth program. But even in addition to what's going on on Whitman-Walker, we saw last week, at St. Elizabeth's campus, the first residence has opened up.
KURZIUSAnd we also saw the Mystics win their first championship at the ESA, the Entertainment Sports Arena, so delightfully named. There's also E sports happening there in that same arena. And we're just seeing a lot of change there in Congress Heights, right by the Metro station.
NNAMDINot the least of which they have running water again...
NNAMDI...so really happy about that.
KURZIUS...at the psychiatric hospital. And I did ask about kind of what the ties were between the hospital and then this forthcoming clinic. What the Intern Deputy Mayor John Falcicchio told me was that basically these things are happening separately. And the way that Whitman-Walker's able to pay for it -- which is fascinating, and goes back to what you were talking about earlier in terms of companies and gentrification -- is that Whitman-Walker has long had an outpost on 14th Street Northwest, a brimming nightlife area.
KURZIUSAnd what they opted to do was redevelop, basically, an entire block of property. So, if you see that new Sephora, if you see that swanky, new place called the Liz, named after Elizabeth Taylor, what they're able to do is take the money that they're making there, in addition to their headquarters, and they're able to take that money and turn it into money going into their new southeast facility.
NNAMDIZuri, we only have a couple of minutes left, but there have been developments in the case of Bijan Ghaisar, the unarmed Virginia accountant shot to death by U.S. Park Police two years ago. What's new, given that last week, we learned prosecutors were not going to file charges?
BERRYYeah, that happened right after the family appeared on your show. And what we learned since then, again, is that there are a number of representatives that are still pressing for more information here. That includes D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Congressman Don Beyer and Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton of Virginia. They're all asking for the release of the 911 tapes related to that 2017 shooting.
BERRYThey sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray asking for these tapes to be released. He has the authority to do so because they led the investigation into this. And, as we all know, the U.S. Park Police and FBI have not been very open or transparent about what's occurred here. And so they're still asking and looking for more information in terms of what happened here, hopefully to shed some light on this incident.
NNAMDIAnd we'll have to see if members of Congress use the leverage they have over the U.S. Park Police's budget to try to get some answers. Before we go, Sasha, and in about the 40 seconds we have left, a new proposal from WMATA would impose a surcharge on bus riders who use cash.
SIMONSYeah, I'll keep it quick, in the interest of time. It's a very interesting proposal. The bottom line here is if WMATA makes buses more expensive for cash users, low-income riders are the ones that are going to lose out. Essentially, they're proposing to charge an extra 25 cents to folks who are using cash to directly pay for their fares on the bus, or if you're using cash to reload your Smart Trip card. The idea, they said, is speed. They want people to move faster and use Smart Trip cards.
NNAMDIEven if they get poor as a result. (laugh) We'll have to see how it happens with that. Sasha-Ann Simons reports on race and identity at WAMU. Sasha-Ann, thank you for joining us.
SIMONSAlways a pleasure.
NNAMDIZuri Berry is the senior managing editor in the WAMU newsroom. Zuri, thank you.
NNAMDIAnd Rachel Kurzius is the senior editor of DCist. Rachel, thank you.
KURZIUSThanks so much.
NNAMDIToday's show was produced by Lauren Markoe and Laura Spitalniak. Coming up tomorrow, WAMU will be carrying special coverage of the impeachment hearings on Capitol Hill at noon, but tune in at 9:00 p.m. for a special edition of our show. We're visiting a retirement community in Northern Virginia to hear from locals who lived through past impeachment inquiries. And local journalists and historians will share their takes on our country's increasingly partisan politics and what it means in this town, in particular. That all starts tomorrow, at 9:00 p.m. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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