Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld talks about the future of WMATA and what reopening will look like. And D.C. Councilmember Vincent Gray walks us through city budget and gives us an update on building a hospital east of the Anacostia River.
D.C. Councilmember Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1) joined The Politics Hour to discuss proposed legislation and the latest headlines.
Nadeau Pushes For Diaper Changing Tables In Bathrooms For All Genders
- Nadeau introduced legislation in June that would require government buildings and businesses to have diaper changing tables available to child caregivers of all genders.
- Nadeau has made the case that the bill could help same-sex male partners.
- At a hearing in January, two witnesses testified to amend the bill, according to The Washington Blade’s Lou Chibbaro, Jr. They argued that bars or clubs that don’t allow anyone under 18 or 21 in should be exempt from the requirement.
- A caller asked Nadeau why she was focused on passing legislation on diaper changing tables when crime is a serious issue in Ward 1. “Well, as a parent, I know how to do more than one thing at a time,” Nadeau said.
Changing The Way Sugary Drinks Are Taxed
- If you go to buy a soda or another sugary drink in D.C. you’ll be hit with an 8% sales tax — that’s two percent higher than D.C.’s standard sales tax.
- Nadeau wants to change that to a 1.5 cent-per-ounce excise tax on distributors. She introduced the bill in October 2019.
- In November 2019, the soda industry started pushing back with a door-hanger campaign, as WAMU’s Martin Austermuhle reported. The soda lobby derailed a proposed soda tax in D.C. in 2010.
- “People have said to me that it seems to them like a regressive tax, because it’s a tax on a good. But the goal is for people to make a different choice,” Nadeau said.
Nadeau’s New Bill Aims To Protect Public Housing Residents From Displacement
- At the end of January, Nadeau introduced legislation that would require the D.C. Housing Authority to give the D.C. Council 45 days notice before submitting demolition plans for public housing properties.
- Columnist Jonetta Rose Barras called the proposal “too little, too late — displacement has been happening for the last decade.”
- On The Politics Hour earlier this month, Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) raised concerns about the D.C. Housing Authority.
Alexandria is considering a new budget and is embarking on a local government exchange. The city also faced a small-but-mighty gun protest aimed at a delegate from Alexandria. Mayor Justin Wilson joined the show.
- Alexandria City Manager Mark Jinks released his fiscal year 2021 budget proposal this week to the tune of $799.9 million. Jinks also released a 10-year Capital Improvement Plan with a $2.1 billion budget.
- The budget includes a two-cent real estate tax increase for fiscal year 2021, with the tax increasing an additional six cents over the following six years.
- Over $240 million from the budget would go to Alexandria City Public Schools. And city employees would receive a 1.5% pay increase.
What Can Alexandria And Norton Learn From Each Other?
- Virginia Governor Ralph Northam launched a local government exchange program this month, based on the Sister Cities International Program. Alexandria has been paired with Norton, Virginia; Loudoun County will partner with Danville.
- Reporter Michael Pope compared the cities and their challenges in an article for Connection Newspapers: Norton is a rural city with 4,000 residents, while the population of urban Alexandria stands around 160,000.
- But both cities are tackling road diets as a way to manage transportation, Pope wrote. (What is a road diet, you ask? This video explains it.)
- Some Alexandrians have vocally opposed the road diets approach to Seminary Road. They cite concerns about emergency vehicles being able to move quickly through traffic. “The fire chief and the fire staff were involved in the development of this design of the street,” Wilson said. “He has assured us repeatedly that it has no impact on emergency response.”
Is It Time To Say Goodbye To Alexandria’s Last Confederate Statue?
- Virginia legislators could soon grant localities the authority to remove Confederate statues.
- In Alexandria, one confederate statue remains: The Appomattox, at the intersection of Prince and Washington streets.
- Wilson said that the city will remove the statue if the law passes, according to Vernon Miles at ALXNow. The City Council voted to remove the statue in 2016.
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst. He's a Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon, everyone.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with Justin Wilson the Mayor of Alexandria, Virginia. Joining us now in studio is Brianne Nadeau. She's a Member of the D.C. Council representing Ward 1. Brianne Nadeau is a Democrat. Welcome, thank you for joining us.
BRIANNE NADEAUThank you.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, the state legislature in Virginia was not able to repeal a law that bends expectorating in the states as in spitting. You're not allowed to spit in public in the Commonwealth of Virginia. It was able to get rid of laws banning cursing and other similar violations, but for some reason or the other it couldn't repeal the law banning spitting. And Senator Joe Morrison, a man who knows just a little bit about behavior that frowned upon said that he is opposed to it because he considers it yucky.
SHERWOODWell, I think we can all agree -- I think most people would agree that spitting is yucky. But it also, though, is a health hazard. You know, it can be a funny topic and it can be a serious topic. But, you know, the idea of -- getting rid of old laws like no fornicating ...
NNAMDISwearing in public.
SHERWOODSwearing in public. I mean, fortunately police don't arrest us for swearing in public. The jails could not be big enough.
NNAMDIWe'd be arresting all of the politicians.
SHERWOODThis is kind of the funny ...
NNAMDIExcept Brianne Nadeau.
SHERWOODThis is kind of the funny side of what Virginia is doing, though, because you remember Governor Northam, put together a commission to go through the state laws on racial inequities. And they came up with 100 or so laws that needed to be changed even if they're not enforced. And that's still before the legislature in various pieces. So there are lots of old laws that could be done away with.
NNAMDIWhat are the -- what's the law in the District of Columbia regarding expectorating? Brianne Nadeau, can you spit in public here?
NADEAUI really don't know, but I don't even know how you enforce a law like that.
NNAMDICan you curse in public in the District of Columbia?
NADEAUI mean, I hope so because if not I break the law a lot.
NNAMDICan you fornicate in the District of Columbia?
NADEAUThat I believe falls under indecent exposure.
NADEAUBut, you know, my concern with all these laws is they're not evenly enforced. And then you get back to that issue of what's, you know, racist law enforcement.
SHERWOODRight. Targeted enforcement.
SHERWOODBut we agree not to spit on this program.
NADEAUIt is icky yucky.
NNAMDIMaryland Governor Larry Hogan, he who refuses to appear on this broadcast, has condemned or is severely critical of Democrats in the state legislature in Virginia, because they have decided that -- well, not have decided. House Majority Leader Eric Luedkte sponsored a bill to expand sales taxes and the purpose of that would be to fund the Kirwan Commission recommendations, which is going to cost the state some $4 billion. He says that's the best way to do it. And by expanding it means that they won't only be taxing goods. They'll be taxing services.
SHERWOODWell, you might say that the governor is spitting mad.
SHERWOODI know. It's terrible. But, you know, the legislature had said -- the leaders of the legislature said that they would not just go out and raise taxes to fund the Kirwan reports about $2.6 billion and more revenue needed. And so they've looked for ways to tax things that have not been taxed, and a year ago the state was pointing out like many jurisdictions that many services are not taxed.
SHERWOODAnd so the plan for Mr. Luedkte and other leaders is to tax things that haven't been taxed because a great many things as he told me, why would you tax books, but not bookkeeping? And so services are -- can be taxed and it can raise money to pay for education across the board. Some things, non-profits and other things would not be taxed, but this is a new way to raise funds, because -- so you just don't tax things. You tax services.
NNAMDIBrianne Nadeau, what do you think about that? I for one was somewhat surprised that services are not taxed.
SHERWOODBut this was the big yoga tax.
NNAMDIDon't let my barber hear about this.
SHERWOODBack in 2014, the yoga tax.
NADEAUGyms and carpet cleaning and certain services -- and we had the tax revision commission they recommended that we just create some parity among all the different things that we're taxing. So we did.
SHERWOODYes. So internet sales and other kinds of things ...
NADEAUThat was a huge windfall for us.
SHERWOODAnd that is -- well, windfall?
NADEAUThe internet sales tax we were able to put towards, I believe human services.
SHERWOODSo as much as the governor is mad and we -- I did. I even contacted his staff. Said, this would be a great subject for him or someone from his staff to come on this show and talk about it. And as you know, Governor Hogan has not yet come on the show as you've always welcomed him. But this is change in the way business works. And this is what the legislature is doing. And the governor says it's going to be the biggest tax increase in the Maryland history. We'll see.
NNAMDIWell, the Lieutenant Governor has been on the show. Boyd Rutherford has been on the show.
SHERWOODI'm just wondering if that's why the governor won't come on. Maybe we got a bad review.
NNAMDII'll call Boyd and have him ask the governor to come on this show. At the same time, however, the Watchdog Group Public Citizen has filed an ethics complaint against Governor Hogan. It says that Governor Hogan was involved in a measure that would also profit the business that he's running. Please explain.
SHERWOODWell, the short answer is Public Citizen, which is a consumer organization, filed a complaint saying the governor has allowed road projects and other developmental issues to occur in and around areas where he owns property and where he personally benefits. I think again I could say to wear this subject out the governor was spitting mad at this suggestion. He says he's followed -- I won't say it again. I promise. That he's followed all the laws all the disclosure. His brother runs the company and he has not violated any ethics and he's not sure why this is even being filed.
SHERWOODPublic Citizens says there's a lot of development going on and the governor's wealth has increased while he's been in office. And now it's before the State Ethics Commission and they'll have to do some fact finding and review and see where this complaint goes.
NNAMDIOkay. On to what's happening in the District of Columbia. Our guest is Brianne Nadeau. She is a Member of the D.C. Council representing Ward 1. If you have questions or comments for her give us a call 800-433-8850. I'd intended to start on another subject, but calls are already pouring in on this one. So people seem to be spitting mad.
NNAMDILet's start with that. Let's talk sweet drinks. Right now if you buy a soda.
SHERWOODVery upset about that.
NNAMDIIf you buy a soda or sugary drink in D.C. you'll be charged and eight percent tax and just for reference the usual sales tax in D.C. is six percent. You'd like to replace that with an excise tax on the distributors of these drinks to the tune of 1.5 cents per ounce. Why are you pushing for this change?
NADEAUSo this legislation came out from a grassroots movement of organizers who care about public health. And they're seeing the way that sugary drinks are being marketed to specifically youth of color east of the river. If you look at marketing and advertising budgets from these companies it is really offensive the way they are targeting populations there. And we see increased rates of illness related to consumption of sugar there. And so folks came to me and said, we need to do something. And the taxes that we have in place, the sales taxes they don't change the way people think about their purchases. So we'd be repealing those and we'd be replacing them with an excise tax. And the revenue from that would go to all kinds of health programs to help people.
SHERWOODGo ahead. We have a caller on this side.
NNAMDIHere's Andrew in Washington D.C. on that issue. Andrew, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANDREWThank you. And thank you, Council Member Nadeau. So I am the owner of the only local soda company in D.C. Quite frankly this tax would be the end of my company. I definitely support robust public health programs and definitely support, you know, improved education around what people are putting into their bodies. But as we have seen these types of taxes just don't actually do and change behavior. And they seem to be targeted at specific populations. I know personally from my product, which is an all-natural ingredient beverage, I go out of my way to use better products and, you know, this tax would basically put me out of business.
SHERWOODWhy would it put you out of business?
ANDREWBecause the margins of running a business are so slim that a 20 cents increase on the distributor on a product that sells for around two dollars is pretty detrimental. That could be the money that I would use to hire someone.
NADEAUAnd is your product only sweetened or do you have the unsweetened and diet versions too?
ANDREWI don't have an unsweetened and diet version. I don't actually have a plan to have unsweetened and diet versions. It's just not what my products are about. And I think that my products are very conscious in terms of what they're using and like where we're sourcing. But I think the larger point is that it's just like another tax on specific populations in the city that can least afford it.
NNAMDIWhile you say it's a tax on specific populations in the city, you seem to be addressing the same populations that Councilmember Brianne Nadeau feels are in need of less sugar. So what are you saying here?
ANDREWSo why is taxing them going to be the answer to that and not ...
NNAMDII'll have Councilmember Nadeau answer. Respond.
NADEAUSure. Well, I think, you know, the idea behind an excise tax is frankly what you're concerned about, which is that people will consume less of something. People have said to me that it seems to them like a regressive tax, because it's, you know, the tax on a good. But the goal is for people to make a different choice, right? Nobody has to buy a sugary beverage. They could very well buy a low sugar juice or a diet beverage, you know. That doesn't help this caller, I realize.
SHERWOODWhy do you single out sugary beverages? When I go to my grocery store and any store around the city and there are sugar latent cookies and in the front of most stores there are cakes and all kinds of heavily sugared products that lower income people do buy, in fact, because they're often cheap. And to get people into the store it's the first thing you might see when you come into a store. It seems to be fairly narrowly targeted just to soda pop not just soda.
NADEAUThere's a couple of reason. One -- it's not just soda. It's any sugary beverage.
SHERWOODWhy just beverages?
NADEAUYeah, why just beverages?
SHERWOODAnd I know that's a huge part of purchase.
NADEAUYeah. It's because of the way people consume them, right? I mean, people consume more liquid than they do cookies etcetera. And especially when people have it with every meal or they have it without really thinking about it. The idea behind an excise tax is to get people thinking about what they're consuming before they buy it as opposed to a sales tax.
SHERWOODWhat about a bottle tax, bottle and can tax?
NADEAUI feel like that's a sort of different conversation. I mean, I'm always open, but that's not what we're trying to do with this.
NNAMDID.C. Department of Transportation just announced new protected bus and bike lanes coming to 14th Street and Columbia Heights ...
NNAMDI... along with a few other -- well, we can move on to another question. I know your opinion about that already. I was going to ask you what do you think this will mean for residents and commuters in your ward?
NADEAUSo we were thrilled to get the express bus there a couple of years ago. We all worked really hard.
NADEAUThis is down 14th Street, which is really in my mind one of the life bloods of the city and Ward 1 in particular. And I was living on 14th for a long time and taking those 50 buses that are always overcrowded. You have to wait for one or two or three, and they're never on time, and it's because of the bottleneck in Columbia Heights, so even when we added the express bus that did not eliminate the bottle neck. So these dedicated lanes for bikes and buses, it's going to have a huge impact on the reliability of the system.
SHERWOODThere's a difference between a dedicated lane and a protected lane. Is the bike lane going to be protected?
NADEAUActually so it's all one lane and parts of it are going to be protected for both so that you don't have cars moving in and out of them.
SHERWOODBecause on 7th Street and other places where we have these painted lanes for buses, I've sat -- not in those lanes, but I've sat nearby and I have watched them routinely get filled up with cars. Everyone wants to stop just for a moment to deliver something or stop just for a moment to pick someone or to let someone off, and so those moments add up to hours of a time when these lanes are not free.
NADEAUYeah. DPW is doing more enforcement on all of that, which folks really need to watch out for because those tickets are hefty.
NNAMDIBefore we go to break, speaking of safe cycling, last November you wrote an emergency bill that would impel DDOT to start the protected bikeway project on 9th Street northwest. You postponed that bill after receiving wavering support from colleagues. What's next for their concerns and what was -- what's next for this project and what were some of their concerns? It's my understanding that their concerns had to do with objections coming from quote, unquote "the community."
NADEAUYeah, so this is -- the eastern downtown cycle track protected bike lanes, Tom, this has been in the works. This has been planned for five years. DDOT had identified 9th Street as the priority corridor. It would have the least impact on neighboring churches and parking, etcetera, and would also have the most impact for cyclists. In the five years that we've been waiting for this project to be implemented there have been 5,000 crashes. So I felt, because DDOT had just stalled this project for so long, emergency legislation really moved it forward. We are going to present it to the Council March 3rd as emergency legislation, which means we need eight votes. So now we're working to get those eight votes.
SHERWOODWhat's the objection you're hearing?
NADEAUTo be honest, there's a couple churches in the corridor that are concerned. And one of the things that we've done -- because a lot -- there's a lot of dynamics between long time institutions and new infrastructure.
SHERWOODPart of this as I was looking at Ward 1 -- for people who don't know, I think you may be the geographically smallest ward in the city.
SHERWOODIn the heart of the District.
SHERWOODAnd it's had a significant change due to gentrification, racial makeup of that ward. I just looked at it this morning. It's now 58 percent white. Just 10 years ago it was 46 percent African American. African Americans now make up about like 22 percent. Is this fight over mostly African American churches, who don't want bike lanes to take up spaces where their parishioners park and other issues? Is this part of the changing nature of the District of Columbia in gentrification?
NADEAUI think that's at the heart of it. And despite the fact that my legislation promises guarantees that no Sunday parking would be removed as part of this there are other dynamics there. One of the things that's a really dangerous trap to fall into, however, is to equate bike lanes and cycle tracks with gentrification. I mean, the truth is we've always needed this infrastructure. Changing neighborhoods have given us the revenue that allow us to do it. But it's not just white people who bike.
SHERWOODThat's true, but ...
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation with D.C. Councilmember Brianne Nadeau. If you'd like to call her, well, the lines are all filled up. So you might want to send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Kelly tweeted, "Didn't taxes on cigarettes in New York City reduce smoking and purchase of cigarettes? Why wouldn't this work on taxes and soda?" I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Later in the broadcast we'll be talking with Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson. Joining us in studio now is Brianne Nadeau. She's a Member of the D.C. Council representing Ward 1. Of course, Tom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst. Tom.
SHERWOODA political question, Mayor Bowser has been traveling the country. She's been to Michigan, Texas and even South Virginia campaigning for Michael Bloomberg. She's one of his national co-chairs. He may have 100 of them. I'm not sure how many, but I'm just wondering, have you -- are you getting involved in the Democratic presidential race?
SHERWOODDidn't you see the debate the other night that was quite the food fight? And where are you very quickly on who you're supporting if anyone?
NADEAUWell, before it was cool a couple of weeks ago I endorsed Elizabeth Warren. And I need to go back and watch the tape from this debate.
NNAMDIOh, it's cool now?
NADEAUWell, after this debate this week.
SHERWOODWell, she actually, you know, she came out fighting.
SHERWOODShe was fading from view. And she said, I'm going to go back to the way I was at the start.
NADEAUI've been a huge fan of hers since she was at CFPB.
SHERWOODOkay. You and Elissa Silverman, I think, said the same thing on the show.
NADEAUI think she walks the walk.
SHERWOODOkay. Now what about are you active in the Maryland -- I mean, in the District Democratic State Committee?
NADEAUI am not.
SHERWOODSo you're not trying to be a delegate to the Democratic Convention or ...
NADEAUI had the privilege of doing it at Philly. And it was a great opportunity, but I want someone else to be able to have that opportunity.
SHERWOODAnd one more political question. You signed along with everyone else on the Council the letter discouraging Jack Evans from running for the Ward 2 seat again. He is in fact running again. I'm moderating the debate in early March where I think he will attend along with all the other candidates. Are you getting involved in that race? Are you supporting anyone in that race?
NADEAUI haven't supported anyone thus far. I'm keeping a close watch on it. I'm hoping somebody releases some poll data, because I think what we need to do is get a candidate to surge out and get some consolidation in that field, because what we can't have is Jack Evans back in the Wilson Building.
SHERWOODAnd if he were to be reelected if he got either the special election and got back on the Council ...
NADEAUI would move so fast to unseat him again that you would have whiplash.
SHERWOODWhat would that be?
NADEAUWe would have to do a resolution. We would have to finish the removal effort because -- I mean ...
SHERWOODWould you want to schedule another to expel him?
SHERWOODOr just deny him committees or what?
NADEAUNo. We'd have to expel him. I mean, it is egregious. And it would be a waste ...
NNAMDIAnd what would you say to the voters of Ward 2 who elected him?
NADEAUWell, I hope they won't, but we're prepared.
SHERWOODBut what would you say to the ones who do? I mean, Elissa Silverman won her seat I think with 11 percent of the vote.
NADEAUElissa Silverman doesn't have an ethics problem.
SHERWOODWhat I'm suggesting is -- and then Phil Mendelson won his seat I think with 17 or 19 percent of the vote when he first got elected. If the people elect you doesn't that have something to say about whether you should be on there unless you find new violations of -- that Jack Evans has done?
NADEAUIt doesn't say enough to me.
NNAMDIYou introduced a bill that would require D.C. government buildings and businesses to have diaper changing tables available for all genders so that means in men's rooms as well.
NNAMDIThis will largely affect restaurants and bars. What led you to introduce this bill?
NADEAUParents, being a parent and knowing parents who like to take their kids out for dinner for, you know, evening events. And the men don't have anywhere to change the babies. Sometimes the women don't either and that means that the burden is on the woman. And if you're a same sex couple with no woman then you got to change the baby wherever you can find a space.
NNAMDII suspect that's going to get a lot of support on the Council. But at a hearing last month, two advocates of the night life and restaurant industry asked that age restricted bars or clubs be exempted from this requirement. So if a club already bans people under 18 or 21 from entering they wouldn't have to include changing tables. What's your take on that?
NADEAUWell, I'm open to the discussion, but I just have to point out as I did in the hearing that a lot of these establishments now have family events. If you look at say the Black Cat in Ward 1, which is a night club, they have a monthly children's event called the Rumpus Room where they've got kids running all over the club. So I do think that there's sort of a -- you got to pick a side there, right? We want them to be family friendly and it's not actually an incredibly large burden. I mean, it's a couple hundred dollars to buy a piece of equipment like this.
NNAMDIWell, Scott in Ward 1 wants to know why -- well, Scott, you speak for yourself. Go ahead, please.
SCOTTYeah, I appreciate the interest in diaper changing tables for folks, but I guess I just -- I remised if I didn't say what about the crime uptick in Ward 1, the shootings. I know that you held some safety meetings.
NNAMDIWhy are you running around passing legislation -- introducing legislation on diapers when crime is such a serious issue in Ward 1?
NADEAUWell, as a parent I know how to do more than one thing at a time. We work on critical issues simultaneously all the time on the Council, so introducing legislation while also working to address public safety is part of my job. And this is a much longer conversation that I'm always happy to engage with my constituents on, but we've doubled the amount of resources in the ward to address public safety since the summer.
SHERWOODResources meaning more officers?
NADEAUThere was a surge in officers. And then we also have doubled the resources for all of the auxiliary services that are helping us prevent and reduce crime.
NADEAUViolence interruption, moving people out of their life of violence into different programs and the police have always been there. The police have always been well resourced, but the police, they need help, and so we're trying to give them all the support they can.
NNAMDIHere now is Daniel in Shepard Park. Daniel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANIELYeah, hi. Thank you. Hi, councilwoman. My question -- I'm a little confused about the proposed soda tax. It's my understanding although your intention is to use the proceeds from the tax to fund health programs for low-income and minority areas, the tax is only being leveed, or will only be leveed if passed, against the people in those neighborhoods, not in higher-income, you know, Starbucks high-end stores or outlets that sell equally, if not more sugary beverages. So, the intent is to help people in low-income, minority areas. Why are they the only ones being taxed?
NADEAUThat is incorrect. It's a universal tax everywhere in the city for all sugary beverages.
DANIELI've been looking -- ever since I saw that this was an issue that was coming up, I've researched it and looked at the proposed legislation, and that does not seem to be the case.
NNAMDIWhen you say that does not seem to be the case, Daniel, she just said that the legislation applies to every single ward in the city. What evidence do you have that it doesn't?
DANIELNo, no, no, no. Kojo, I'm not saying that it's restricted...
NNAMDIHow would you tax Starbucks if...
DANIEL...against products. So, for example, if you or I were to go to Starbucks, the tax that the councilwoman is proposing to pass would not be levied against people who go to high-end coffee places like Starbucks where sugary drinks are sold. It's not a question of...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Well, let's ask the -- is that true? If I go to Starbucks, and I buy one of their sugary drinks, is it taxed?
NADEAUYeah, it's taxed at the distributor level. So, when Starbucks is purchasing their orange juice or, you know, all the other canned beverages they have, those are taxed, too. And that's passed onto the consumer, most of the time.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call, Daniel. You introduced legislation that would require DCHA, the D.C. Housing Authority, to give the council 45 days’ notice before submitting a demolition application to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Why? What problem is DCHA facing that this bill would have to solve?
NADEAUOh, well, the Housing Authority, right now, is moving forward with its repositioning plan, which means it's going to be dispersing, essentially, 4,000 residents without real plans for their placement. And so my legislation would require them, before they apply for a demolition disposition of any property, a 45-day review period for the council.
NADEAUAnd they'd have to provide us information about the right to return. So, folks would have to have the right to return. They'd have to have a relocation plan. They'd have to demonstrate the feasibility of building first, rather than dispersing people while they build, and a one-for-one replacement plan to ensure that the units are built back -- folks can come back to the same-size unit that they were in. These are commonsense things that you should do.
SHERWOODIsn't that part of the law now, that they would have to do these things?
SHERWOODDo they just have full authority just to throw people out and tear down buildings?
NADEAUYes. Yes, and they do.
SHERWOODIs it an independent authority?
NADEAUYes. I also have legislation that would bring them into the rest of the government, so they wouldn't be independent anymore.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's about all the time we have. Brianne Nadeau is a member of the D.C. Council, representing Ward 1. She is a Democrat. Thank you so much for joining us.
NADEAUThank you very much, both of you.
NNAMDIUp next Justin Wilson, the mayor of Alexandria. If you have questions or comments for him, start calling now: 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Joining us in studio now is Justin Wilson. He's the mayor of Alexandria, Virginia. He's a Democrat. Mayor Wilson, thank you so much for joining us.
JUSTIN WILSONIt's great to be back.
NNAMDIBefore we get specifically to Alexandria, Tom Sherwood, the General Assembly in Virginia -- now dominated by Democrats -- and Governor Ralph Northam had, as one of his priorities, the banning of assault weapons in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Four Democrats voted along with Republicans opposing that ban, and so it has not come into effect. What happened here?
SHERWOODWell, it was a committee vote but -- and I think four Democrats did join with the minority Republicans. There was some confusion and political unease about the assault weapons ban about exactly defining the assault weapons ban and how it would work. Mark Levine from Alexandria, I believe, was the sponsor of this bill. He said, there's just no reason to have assault weapons, almost how you define them in any way, on the streets of Virginia. But the Assembly has passed several gun control measures that have been long stopped in the legislature with the Republicans. So, it is a setback for the governor, but it's only part of his plan, and most of it's passing.
NNAMDIWell, you mentioned Mark Levine, who sponsored this bill. He happens to live in the city of Alexandria. And I'd like to start...
SHERWOODI think we all know (all talking at once)...
WILSONHe's my delegate.
NNAMDI...a gun protest that happened. The chair of the Hopewell Virginia Republican Party, a Brandon Howard, protested outside of Delegate Mark Levine's house in Old Town on Saturday with a large gun, a Virginia flag and a sign that said: “withdraw HB961.” That's the bill that Levine sponsored that would ban assault weapons. The bill, of course, wasn't passed. Levine called the police for his protection. What did you make of this incident?
WILSONWell, it was beyond just a protest. Obviously, we support freedom of speech and peaceful protests. In this case, you had an armed gentleman who published a video which made threats against Delegate Levine and his family. That has no place in our community, no place in the Commonwealth and no place in our country, and so, reprehensible behavior.
SHERWOODI was looking at the Facebook posting by Mr. Howard from Hopewell, Virginia, who said, you, sir, are a traitor to this nation. You, sir, are a tyrant. And it went on from there. It sounded threatening. Delegate Levine has asked the, I guess, state police or Alexandria police?
WILSONHe's asked the Alexandria police and the Commonwealth's attorney, and they're certainly looking into it. So...
SHERWOODThey're looking into...
SHERWOOD...possibly -- because it is a threatening -- whatever -- the Facebook is threatening -- he stood there, fairly quietly, outside the home, didn't do anything, but he did have two assault weapons with him, not just one.
WILSONYeah, I'll obviously leave it to the law enforcement to determine whether it was a violation of law. In my view, it's reprehensible behavior. It shouldn't have a place in the public discourse.
NNAMDIVirginia Governor Ralph Northam recently launched a local government exchange program. Alexandria's a part of it. You're pared with Norton, Virginia. Tell us about that program. What do you hope to learn from Norton? What do you hope Norton learns from you?
WILSONYeah, we're very excited to be...
SHERWOODWhere is Norton?
WILSON(laugh) It's in southwest Virginia. We are very excited to be the pilot of this new program. I think this is an initiative of the governor, very akin to Sister Cities, that we currently have a number of Sister Cities in Alexandria and around the world. And this is promoting Sister City relationships within the Commonwealth. And, you know, we had a kickoff a couple weeks ago down at the governor's mansion, and were able to meet the counterparts from Norton and Wise County.
WILSONAnd, you know, I think we found that there are a lot of things we had in common. They are certainly things that were very, very different. We look forward to going down there, and we look forward to hosting them up here and learning what we can about the common issues that we work through.
SHERWOODAnd you were in Wise County?
WILSONNot yet. Not yet. I have been in the past...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) I'm not sure they have good internet reception down there, broadband reception, so be careful.
NNAMDIWell, let's talk about the roads there in Alexandria because both Alexandria and Norton are looking into road diets as traffic solutions in the city. Can you explain what road diets are and how Alexandria is using them to reduce traffic accidents?
WILSONSo, it was actually one of the surprises in my conversation with the mayor from Norton. It is a technique used all around the world to slow traffic and improve pedestrian safety. We have a couple situations in the past several years where we've deployed road diets, where you're basically narrowing lanes and narrowing ...
WILSONSeminary is the one that's most recent and certainly controversial. And, apparently, the folks in Norton are looking at such a thing in their downtown. So, I had a conversation with Mayor Fawbush, who's the mayor of Norton, about that when we were down at the governor's mansion. So, not an issue I expected that we would have in common.
SHERWOODWhat's the basic political fight? Is it you want to -- these roadways -- people will tell you if you go in, Seminary or Duke, or any of these major roadways, Washington, that they are trying to get home, they're trying to get to work, they're trying to go shop. And the traffic is already, they say, bad enough. And now if you narrow it for bus lanes and bike lanes and slower speed limits and timed lights to make you stop, as opposed to go, that it changes the whole culture of driving. Is that what you're doing?
NNAMDIThe Seminary Road opponents have even started a Facebook page, which I went to this morning, to oppose the road diet on Seminary Road. They're saying that four lanes of traffic have been reduced to two. They're worried about emergency vehicles being able to travel quickly and safely along the road.
WILSONSure. Yeah, obviously, change is always a challenge. And, in local government, we're constantly doing balance, balancing interests. In the case of Seminary, you got a .9 mile section of road that was four lanes and was fed in either direction by a single lane, so two lanes being fed by one lane in either direction. Whenever we repave a road, in order to be more efficient with the taxpayer dollars, we look at that road section, we solicit the community, we try to understand what safety issues there are. What other modes we want to accommodate.
WILSONIn the case of Seminary, we were missing a sidewalk on one side of the road. And so I think we reduced the lanes down from four to three. We actually have a center lane, added a number of pedestrian crossings and added a shared sidewalk bike space on the other side that ultimately will be converted into a full-out sidewalk. And, again, just trying to balance and making sure that we accommodate pedestrians and bikes.
NNAMDIThere are a couple of people who'd like to comment on that. We got a Tweet from Doug, who says, why does Mayor Wilson insist on spending $1.5 million on an unnecessary project on a 0.9-mile stretch of an arterial roadway when the city of Alexandria schools are crumbling. Gas leaks, lead in the water and more are rampant in the public schools. We'll talk about public schools in a minute.
NNAMDIAlso on the road diet here's Amy, in Alexandria, Virginia. Amy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
AMYThank you, Kojo. I really appreciate you taking my call. And connected with the issue of the road diet, I think there's a larger issue. I want to discuss the road diet, but in Alexandria, we have the at-large city council. So our neighborhoods don't actually have a direct voice from my neighborhood to the city council. We're subject to some at-large councilmen and the mayor who unfortunately are not listening to the voices of the people that live on and around Seminary Road.
AMYNow, I've been a 15-year resident of Alexandria. It's a .9 mile stretch that goes from nowhere to nowhere. And unless you're in a car and you want to get from 395 to downtown or to your house, we rarely see bicyclists on this stretch, and it's actually not a continuous center lane. It stops by Ballards and (word?), so emergency vehicles, if traffic's backed up east or west, cannot necessarily use that center lane safely to go around traffic. That is also the street that leads to our only city hospital and major fire stations.
AMYSo, this was a waste of money, and I'm afraid that the city's going in the same direction when they're talking about co-locating city services and affordable housing on our school...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Allow me to have the mayor respond.
WILSONSo, first of all, as far as public safety is concerned, because obviously, the core responsibility of government is protecting public safety, the fire chief and the fire staff were involved in the development of this design on the street. He has assured us repeatedly that it has no impact on emergency response, and they are able to use the road safely to traverse and provide emergency response. If the fire chief ever said to me that that was not the case and they could no longer use the road for emergency response, I would be the first one standing in the line saying we have to undo what we've done there.
WILSONBut, in the end, we said from the beginning we will evaluate how this goes. Once it's had a chance to settle, we'll look at the traffic pattern, we'll look at what it does to congestion. Right now, for about 160 of 163 hours a week, traffic congestion is better or the same as it was before during the peak period in the morning and the peak period in the afternoon. Usually, between Tuesday and Thursday, there are some slightly longer congestion, about up to a minute. And if that -- you know, we'll certainly evaluate that at the conclusion of this pilot, and we'll see where we're at.
SHERWOODThe caller just now mentioned something in passing about building affordable homes on school properties. I was talking to Julie Carey from NBC4 about the gun protest and the roads. And she also mentioned that there are some either misinformation or some concerns being expressed that McArthur and George Mason Elementaries, that some of the property, developers were secretly planning -- I don't know how you can secretly plan anything these days -- but secretly planning to build some kind of affordable housing on these properties. Can you succinctly clarify all that?
WILSONYeah, so about 1 billion of the $2 billion proposed capital improvement program is municipal facilities in schools and city facilities. A couple years ago, we put together a taskforce. And one of the recommendations was that we explore municipal facility co-location wherever possible. So, whenever we're doing a municipal building on a city property or school property, we look to accommodate as many municipal needs as possible. And we try to accommodate complimentary needs.
WILSONWe put affordable housing with a fire station a number of years ago. We put rec centers with schools. We look at different health services with schools. And so that's been our approach in the past and I think that'll be our approach in the future trying to find complimentary uses. (all talking at once)
SHERWOOD...is there or is there not a plan to put affordable housing on those properties?
WILSONSo, at McArthur, there was exploration that was later aborted to see if they could include some workforce housing for teachers as part of that design. That ultimately as abandoned, because of the time schedule. And, at George Mason, there's no proposal right now.
SHERWOODA quick issue about transportation, the Potomac Yard South Station, there was a hope that the Metro would build a south station that has been secretly killed. And then there's a plan for a pedestrian bridge way to get there. But I'm told now that the pedestrian bridge walkway is in jeopardy and may not be built? What is the status...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Indeed we got an email from George, who said, what's the latest on the south entrance to the Potomac Yard Metro stop? Virginia has offered a boatload of money but not enough?
WILSONYeah, so, the original design for the station was a mezzanine on the north and a mezzanine on the south that had entrances, so, basically four entrances, one in each corner. As part of the bidding process, in order -- dealing with higher construction costs, we abandoned the southern mezzanine. And they're still planning the northern mezzanine, so there'll be a northeast entrance, a northwest entrance.
WILSONThe Commonwealth provided $50 million as part of the Amazon incentive effort to the city in order to improve access to the southwest. And we're still working with WMATA right now and a contractor that WMATA chose to build the station in order to see what that can accommodate. The design that came out of the community for that southwest access exceeded the 50 million. And so we're trying to figure out what we can build with that 50 million, or whether we need to go into a separate phase and do it later.
SHERWOODBut it will be done?
WILSONWe will use that money to enhance access to the station from the southwest. That's the goal. We'll have to see what we can afford.
NNAMDII want to get to budget for a second.
SHERWOODCan I have one hot question?
SHERWOODThe Appomattox, Appy, it's sometimes called, the statue in the middle of Alexandria. Another change among the Democrats in the legislature is they are moving to allow local governments to decide to move statuary of all types. Appomattox, I think, has been there, the statue of the lone Confederate soldier looking south has been there 130 years...
NNAMDIThe statue of all those Alexandrians who died while fighting for the Confederacy.
SHERWOODRight. That's where they staged the walk south after the defeat. The idea is to move it over to the Lyceum, which is your museum across the street, there. Is that going to happen or what do you think?
WILSONWell, so about three-and-a-half years ago, the council had voted unanimously to pursue moving the statue out of the middle of Washington Street. There is a state statute today that specifically protects that statue. And, at the moment, there is legislation, as you said, that looks to be going to the governor that would give us the authority to move it. It's actually owned by the Daughters of the Confederacy, but it's protected by that state statute. So, if the governor signs legislation that provides the city with that authority, I imagine we will carry out city policy, which is to move it out of the middle of the...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Would you still -- I think the initial plan was to move it to the Lyceum, or would that be up to...
WILSONThe Daughters own the statue, and so, ultimately, they would decide where the statue goes. So, we would have to work with them to determine where it would go, but I think we would pursue the policy...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) What do you think, personally, it should do? What do you think should happen to the statue, you personally?
WILSONIf I had my druthers...
SHERWOODIf you could just do it.
WILSONYeah, if I could just do it, I think moving the statue into the Lyceum, into the museum, I think that's where it belongs, I think, so we can appreciate the context in our history.
NNAMDIThis week, Alexandria City Manager Mark Jinks proposed an $800 million budget for fiscal year 2021. It includes a real estate tax increase. So, tell us how you think that real estate tax increase will be received, and what does the 2021 budget carve out for Alexandria City Public Schools?
WILSONWell, this is the -- that's going to be the discussion we're going to be having over the next two-and-a-half months. This is the first proposed real estate tax increase we've had. We've basically kept the rate level in three years. The manager has proposed that all of that two cents would go to capital projects, both city and schools, mostly schools. He's proposed a $530 million 10-year capital improvement program for our schools which basically funds essentially five new school buildings over the next decade.
NNAMDIYou're going to expand T. C. Williams, right?
WILSONThe biggest part of that budget is a rebuild of Minnie Howard which is our 9th grade center which is part of the T. C. Williams High School, and that's the biggest chunk of that money. So, it's certainly a -- we have appreciations of over 4 percent this year plus a two cent increase. That is an extensive ask of our taxpayers, and I think that'll be one of the things we're talking about over the next two months.
NNAMDIHere is Jim, in Alexandria. Jim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JIMYeah, thank you, Kojo, Tom. Appreciate you having me, here. Mr. Mayor, I opened up my assessment on my -- you know, tax assessment on my house Monday. You guys have hiked my assessment $128,000. You hiked it 80,000 the year before. I showed the assessment to three different real estate people that I know, because I'm thinking of putting the house on the market. They said I could not even get, today, price for the house that it was assessed at a year-and-a-half ago.
JIMWhat is going on with your assessment people? This will be the fifth time I have to fight the assessment. I'm retired from the Navy. If your goal is to force old people out of their homes, you're sure as hell going to succeed.
NNAMDIA 4.15 jump in average property assessments, and Jim seems to think his was assessed more than that.
WILSON(overlapping) Yeah, so Jim, specifically, if you drop me an email, I'm happy to look into your specific situation. By state law, we're required to assess at fair market value, so that's the value that you should be assessed at. Obviously, we're not going to get all of them 100 percent right. They're not visiting each house and looking at each individual house. They're doing a mass appraisal effort, but they look at comparable sales. You can actually go to our website and look at the comparable sales that were used to determine your specific assessment. But please drop me a line. I'm happy to look into your situation.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) And if you're still on the line, what part of Alexandria? What neighborhood are you in?
JIMYeah, Tom, I'm actually not (unintelligible)...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) What community?
JIMYou know, it's just west of G.W. Parkway, so it's not real Old Town, but we like to think we're Old Town.
SHERWOODReal estate agents like to think you're Old Town.
JIM(laugh) Yeah, but it's really bad. It's out of control. And, again, this is the fifth time I've had to challenge it.
SHERWOODHow many times have you won?
JIMBasically, the other four times I won (unintelligible). You know, let me just add just really quick, I think of everything in cars, because I'm a car guy. My house is like a Toyota parked in the parking lot of Rolls Royces. And that's what they've got to think about. They can't just take this canvassing, like the mayor said. They can't.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call.
WILSONYeah, please drop me a line. I'm happy to look into it.
NNAMDIHere's Valerie, in Alexandria. Valerie, your turn.
VALERIEHello, Mr. Mayor. I actually have a wonderful in-law unit in my house now that I was exploring turning into a full-time rental unit in order to, you know, both improve my own property, but also create another housing unit in Old Town. And just came up against a pretty categorical ineligibility in the zoning law due to a slightly smaller lot size than would have allowed that as of right -- you know, this change wouldn't make any impact at all to my neighbors. It's completely invisible, in the basement. And so I was just wondering if that kind of accessory (unintelligible) conversation is something that we should be having around housing supply.
WILSONSo, yes, absolutely, and we are having it. In fact, on Tuesday evening, we'll be talking about our work plan for the upcoming year. And one major component of that is what we call, kind of, zoning for housing. We have been having our staff look at all of our zoning rules and looking at the impact that they have on housing creation and housing affordability. And we will be looking at what changes make sense. The first thing that we will be talking about, actually, this year is an accessory dwelling unit ordinance to allow the kind of things you are describing. And so stay tuned.
NNAMDIAnd we're almost out of time, but John in Alexandria, Virginia wants to say something that I don't know if you've been hearing a lot. John, your turn.
JOHNYes, thanks, Kojo. I just want to say that the mayor's doing a great job. We are very happy with the Seminary road diet. I live on Seminary Road, and my kids walk to school and walk home from school every day. And this is the first time in years that we see cars going close to the speed limit, because they're forced to. There's no real additional traffic delay, but the kids have now a little buffer, a bike lane between them and the cars. And the cars are going slower. They're much safer. They can cross the street at the crosswalks much more safely. We use the road every day, both walking and driving, and we're very happy with it. And there are a lot of...
NNAMDI(overlapping) The mayor wants to know when are your kids going to be old enough to vote. (laugh)
SHERWOODThat's obviously a crank call, you know, somebody's happy. Very quickly, Buttigieg is going to be in Arlington on Sunday for a fundraiser. Do you have a candidate yet for president?
WILSONI did. I supported Senator Harris, and unfortunately, she's not (unintelligible)...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) So, you're not now, at this point?
WILSONSo, I'm still trying to make up my mind. We got a primary on the 3rd. I'm working on it.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Now, the governor's race is next year. You and State Senator Alan Ebbin...
SHERWOOD...did some for Jennifer McClellan last year. Are you supporting her for governor yet?
WILSONYeah, absolutely. Jennifer and I go way back. She's a great leader.
NNAMDIThat's all the time we have. Justin Wilson is the mayor of Alexandria.
WILSONThank you very much.
NNAMDIHe's a Democrat. Thank you for joining us. Today's show was produced by Cydney Grannan. The next Kojo in Your Community conversation is just a few days away. We'll talk about changing immigration rules and their impact on local students and families. It's on February 25th at the Columbia Heights educational campus. Learn how to get tickets and more at kojoshow.org.
NNAMDIComing up Monday, black people in D.C. are seven times more likely to be unemployed than white people, according to a new report. What's being done to get blacks in the District into jobs? Plus, James Baldwin's "The Amen Corner" had its world premiere in D.C. nearly 60 years ago. Now, it's back at the Shakespeare Theater Company. How will it play with 21st century audiences? That all starts at noon, on Monday. Until then, you have a wonderful weekend. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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