04 May 2011

Guest Post: Why Hill East Should Remain United in Ward 6

This guest post is by ANC 6B Commissioner Brian Flahaven.  The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the writers of The Hill Is Home.  We welcome constructive discussion about the issue in the comments.

In the next few weeks, the DC Council’s Subcommittee on Redistricting will propose and vote on a new ward boundary map for DC. One of the scenarios being floated would place a portion of Hill East, including the Hill East waterfront, in Ward 7. As I said in my April 27 testimony before the subcommittee, placing a portion of Hill East in Ward 7 or any other ward is a bad idea with potentially negative consequences for our neighborhood.

Why is Hill East in the conversation? The 2010 Census showed that DC’s population increased from around 570,000 in 2000 to 601,000 in 2010. With this new data in hand, members of the redistricting subcommittee are tasked with redrawing ward boundary lines so that the city’s eight wards are within 5 percent of 75,215, the number you get when dividing the city’s total population by 8.

While Ward 6 is within the threshold, three wards need to gain or lose population. Wards 7 and 8 have populations below the 5 percent threshold and must gain population while Ward 2 is above the threshold and must shrink. Since Ward 2 is not contiguous to Wards 7 and 8, the only way for 7 and 8 to gain population is for their boundaries to expand west of the Anacostia River.

One of the scenarios being discussed (see Greater Greater Washington) would place the Hill East waterfront, also known as Reservation 13, in Ward 7, effectively cutting off Hill East residents from the Anacostia River. There has also been some talk of including additional Hill East residential blocks in Ward 7.

While this idea makes the numbers work, dividing Hill East does not make sense from a policy or representation perspective. Hill East is a part of Capitol Hill. When we shop, we go to Eastern Market. When we dine, we go to Barracks Row. For recreation, we visit the Anacostia River waterfront, attend DC United games and walk through historic Congressional Cemetery. Our educational, religious and business organizations are all tied to Capitol Hill.

By redistricting portions of Hill East into another ward, the subcommittee would effectively divide our neighborhood and hurt our collective representation. Why would the interests of Hill East be a priority for a Councilmember where 98 percent of his or her voting residents live on the eastern side of the river? Hill East residents placed in another ward would also lose their ability to weigh in on issues affecting Capitol Hill and their freedom and flexibility to park in the neighborhood.

This has already happened to one neighborhood in northern Hill East – Kingman Park. Ten years ago, the DC Council drew a portion of Kingman Park (north of RFK Stadium) into Ward 7. At last week’s redistricting subcommittee hearing, Kingman Park residents talked about their frustrations of being split from surrounding neighbors in Ward 6 and the negative impact it has had on community groups and coalitions. Kingman Park is now fighting to be reunited in Ward 6.

My Hill East colleagues and I on ANC 6B are particularly concerned about the future of the Hill East Waterfront Development if the waterfront is drawn into another ward. For more than a decade, many residents of Hill East have worked tirelessly to see this development become a reality. We have been promised by the city and by many administrations that development will happen, that it will finally connect our neighborhood to the Anacostia River waterfront.

Unfortunately, despite promises by the city, development on the Hill East waterfront remains stalled. Instead, the site consists of crumbling infrastructure and dilapidated buildings and has become a social services hub for the entire District of Columbia. Our neighborhood has had to deal with the increased crime and consequences that come with concentrating so many services and people in such a small area.

By placing the Hill East waterfront in Ward 7, the DC Council would divide the representation of residents most affected by the proposed development – or lack thereof – from the site. When development begins, the trucks and construction materials will travel through our neighborhood streets to get to the waterfront. And when the project is complete, new residents and businesses at the site are going to have more of a connection to Capitol Hill and Hill East then the eastern side of the Anacostia River. I am very concerned that the project and surrounding residents would receive little attention from a Councilmember focused on issues facing the overwhelming majority of his or her constituents.

Dividing Hill East is not the redistricting subcommittee’s only option. Ward 5 in northeast DC shares a border with both Ward 7, which needs to gain population, and Ward 2, which needs to lose population. Shifting the lines between those three wards would allow the subcommittee to draw ward boundaries that avoid dividing Hill East or any other neighborhoods in Ward 6.

This Thursday, May 5, Councilmembers Michael Brown, Jack Evans and Phil Mendelson, the three members on the Subcommittee on Redistricting, have been invited to participate in a public forum on redistricting sponsored by the Ward 6 Democrats, 7:00 – 8:30 pm at Friendship Charter School (1345 Potomac Avenue SE – across from Harris Teeter). I encourage you to attend and share your comments and concerns. You can also weigh in by signing an e-petition opposing efforts to divide Hill East.

Please join me in urging the subcommittee and the DC Council to keep Hill East united with the rest of Capitol Hill in Ward 6.

Brian Flahaven is the commissioner for ANC 6B09. His single member district includes Barney Circle, the Congressional Cemetery and the Eastern Branch Boys & Girls Club building.

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31 responses to “Guest Post: Why Hill East Should Remain United in Ward 6”

  1. Ryan says:

    Thanks for writing this Brian. Ryan 18th and Burke SE

  2. John says:

    Is there an alternative that keeps the rest of the city’s neighborhoods intact with minimal impact on the rest of the wards? If you award Hill East a special status of “hands off,” then other neighborhoods will have to face greater divisions — the most likely being that Ward 8 takes a chunk of Ward 7, Ward 7 takes a huge chunk of Ward 5, and Ward 5 awkwardly expands into Ward 2 through the narrow corridor in which they border each other. But that just leaves Shaw residents facing the same situation Hill East people are worried about now.

    East of the River’s population can no longer support 2 wards and at least one ward needs to significantly expand across the river. My guess is that the results from the 2020 census will move “Ward 7’s” center of gravity west of the Anacostia anyway.

  3. I’m not sure that parking flexibility and shopping at Eastern Market are legitimate reasons to keep Hill East part of Ward 6.

    I think that community identity and cohesiveness are valid points – but where you like to shop and convenient parking should not be considered in this decision.

    It is also valid to be concerned that if Hill East joins Ward 7, its residents’ concerns may not be given as much weight as those in the rest of Ward 7 because of the geographic divide separating such a small number of people from the majority of the ward. Further, it is valid to say that the complexities of the Reservation 13 development are too great to need to bring a new Councilmember up to speed and that shifting it into another Ward at this time will set the development process back.

    I hope that citizens at tomorrow night’s meeting stick to making strong, legitimate points for why Hill East should remain in Ward 6. (and being able to park near Barracks Row and/or the Ballpark don’t count)

  4. To Hill and Back says:

    Sadly, I think it will come down to horse-trading. And I fear that Wells will not have enough clout to fend off the newly retrenched interests of the Council.

    Prediction: Hill East will be home to Gray, Brown, and Alexander soon enough.

    Hope I am wrong.

  5. Sebastian says:

    Speaking as a person that lived in ward 7 for 25 years, I can assure you will be OK. You may even thrive. The population of ward 7 is mostly middle class working people who share your values.

  6. k says:

    Maybe two council people with a vested interest in “Hill East” and the waterfront would be better than one?

  7. Thanks very much for this post, Brian, and for keeping the residents of Hill East abreast of these developments. I’ve lived in Hill East for 6 years and feel very strongly connected to Ward 6–not just because of shopping and dining options. The history of our part of the neighborhood is closely bound up with the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor from the Capitol to the river. For instance, the houses were I live were built to house Navy Yard workers. I feel very strongly, and I think most of my neighbors agree with me, that we’re an integral part of Ward 6 and should remain so. The council can find a better way to make the numbers balance than by splitting us apart.

  8. MJ says:

    Yes, thanks for the update. I hope Tommy speaks up strongly in defense of our neighborhood in the coming weeks. I’m not very concerned that our dear neighborhood will be broken up. Legitimate reasons exist for why making this change would be a step back for Hill East; however, no assigned ward number can shatter neighborly bonds.

    As community meetings like this usually turn out to be infuriating and/or mind-numbing, I’d like to suggest that if you intend to attend that you take a shot of tequila before both for your own sanity and in observance of cinqo de mayo!

  9. Eric says:

    I disagree that “parking flexibility and shopping at Eastern Market are[n’t] legitimate reasons” They may seem petty to some, but I know I shop/eat mostly at Barracks row. Often I walk or metro there, but I drive quite a bit too. It’s certainly not the most compelling reason to keep Hill East in ward 6, but it’s a legitimate concern none the less.

    As far as why does Hill East deserve “special status of ‘hands off,’ ” … it doesn’t necessarily any more than any other neighborhood, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a right to fight for it. Our case is unique in that we have a river separating us from our neighbors in Ward 7. It’s not simply some arbitrary dividing line, it is a real physical barrier. Further more our name, Hill East, itself is derived from Capitol Hill proper. Perhaps if we’re moved into ward 7 we’ll be known as Anacostia West?

    Moving Hill East makes the least sense of many of the proposals I’ve seen. I certainly hope to stay in ward 6.

  10. jfk says:

    As a Ward 7 resident (and Ward 6 Business Owner), I agree with Sebastian that we do thrive over here East of the River, BUT… I would not wish our current “representation” on anyone. CM Alexander is being investigated for misuse of constituent funds, and members of her staff are now on the payroll of Walmart (as consultants). The only retail development over here, Skyland, has been stalled for years. My advice to Hill Easters is to fight this effort to the bitter end!

  11. @Eric, Ward 7 and/or 8 HAS to gain population across the river, so whether it’s Hill East, the Waterfront, Carver Langston or some other part of Ward 5 – it’s going to be separated geographically from the rest of the ward.

    And, Kingman Park is already part of Ward 7 and on this side of the river. It makes sense that Ward 7’s westward expansion be contiguous with the neighborhood – whether that be Carver Langston or Hill East.

    re parking: LOTS of people drive to Barracks Row. Do they all deserve ease of parking? What if I drive to Georgetown every night to shop and eat? Do I then deserve a Ward 2 parking sticker? Driving and parking are luxuries (which I partake in – probably more than the average person) not necessities and not relevant in this discussion.

  12. Jmt321 says:

    This mess just points to the flaw in the law which dictates redistricting. What I would love to see is smart, long-term city planning that
    encourages population growth in Ward 7 & 8 and stops their geographic expansion, or uses geographic expansion as a last resort.
    Another issue, which I have yet to hear anyone mention, is that if Hill East joins Ward 7, it is creating an even less diverse Ward 6. Am I mistaken, or is it true that Hill East tends to have more racial and socioeconomic diversity then our neighbors who live in Capital Hill? 
    Lastly, can anyone point to specific redistricting lines if Hill East is consumed by Ward 7?

  13. Rake says:

    “Further, it is valid to say that the complexities of the Reservation 13 development are too great to need to bring a new Councilmember up to speed and that shifting it into another Ward at this time will set the development process back.”

    Correct. Especially when we are talking about Yvette Alexander. There isn’t enough time in the world to get her up to speed with Res 13 – and besides, what development has she brought to ward 7 that hasn’t been terribly delayed or stalled outright?

  14. Eric says:

    @Nichole – of course parking permits shouldn’t be given to anyone who frequents Barrack Rows, Georgetown or any other area. However when that area is 6-8 blocks from your house it’s a far more compelling reason to be able to park your car there.

    I never used to drive to dine on 8th street, but with the birth of our daughter I find it far more convenient at times (and necessary other times) to drive when we take her with us. With warmer weather in our midst I find strolling once again back on the menu (pun intended.)

    Regardless, parking is the least of the reasons I want to remain in ward 6. I’d rather remain in ward 6 and lose my Barracks Row parking privileges than have it the other way around.

  15. SD says:

    @Nichole – its not about parking near Barracks Row, its about parking near your own house. If there are only a few blocks this side of the river that are ward 7 and those few blocks have no open spots, what do you do? Park across the river and walk over the bridge to get home, or park in ward 6 and get constant tickets? Ask the Kingman Park people – this has been a problem for them for the last years. That’s certainly a “valid” reason for lots of people. I’m not saying its the most important reason to keep the ward intact, but it definitely affects quality of life, and it shouldn’t be diminished.

  16. Bruce says:

    I agree. I spearheaded the Near Southeast meeting on Wednesday evening with Tommy Wells and David Garber to oppose this move. Is the Anacostia River going to be drained to connect us?
    The residents of Captiol Riverfront oppose this and are fighting it hard.

    Bruce DarConte
    Capitol Quarter

  17. Can one of you tell me what solution you propose then, if Hill East and Capitol Riverfront are off the table? It’s okay for Carver Langston or some other part of Ward 5 have to deal with all the issues that you’re bringing up, but not your neighborhoods?

  18. Meredith says:

    @Nichole, the solution is certainly not to violate ethical redistricting practices (see non-profit citizen advocate group guidelines from Common Cause or Americans for Redistricting Reform), namely that districts should be “geographically compact and contiguous” or that they should use “to the extent practicable, visible geographic features” [like rivers] to determine boundaries.

  19. @Meredith, I worked on redistricting reform with both of those groups at two organizations I used to work for – I’m well aware of what their guidelines state. To that end, Ward 7 already extends west of the river, so further expansion of Ward 7 on this side of the river, so it would be geographically contiguous for it to further expand to Hill East (or Carver Langston, currently in Ward 5). Also, there are bridges that cross the river – it’s not like it’s a true geographic barrier. There may be an argument for respecting communities of interest – but every group who doesn’t want to be redistricted attempts to assert that they are a community of interest.

    That said – you didn’t answer my question. It’s required that all DC wards be roughly equal in population – give or take 5%. Both Ward 7 and 8 need to grow. I would like to know what you (or anyone else) suggests as an actual solution to this problem.

  20. SD says:

    @Nichole – I think you’re being a bit hard on people who would actually be affected in our neighborhood. I might be, I might not – and even if not, I’m very sympathetic to those who will be affected as this is not an ideal situation for them. You clearly live further away and it clear you really don’t care about this issue as it doesn’t affect you. Which is fine, but please remember that this is very distressing for a lot of people (its a lot more than just the parking).

    But I digress – what other options, you ask? Well, since Ward 7 really only needs about 400 people to be in compliance, and Ward 5 has a smaller physically boundary to Ward 7 (the river is extremely narrow up there), I suggest they switch tracts from Ward 5 near the Arboretum. That affects the fewest number of people and would actually put the entire Arboretum into one ward. Honestly, there are multiple options that take into account Ward 6 and/or Ward 5, but you seem sold only on moving Ward 6.

    I don’t think anyone is saying that we matter more than others elsewhere, but clearly people are going to fight for what they want, and usually people put themselves first. I’m not sure why you seem so surprised by that.

  21. @SD, you are correct. My part of the Hill is not affected by any of these conversations. Which is precisely why I am able to look at the situation objectively.

    You previously mentioned the parking situation in Kingman Park. Wouldn’t that improve if more of the surrounding area were part of Ward 7?

    And, you point out that Ward 7 only needs about 400 more people. Ward 8 also needs to grow, so if they don’t come across the river, they need to grab from Ward 7, who will then need more than 400 people.

    re the Arboretum tract. My understanding is that that is the tract that the new WalMart development will be in in Ward 5 and therefore is pretty much off the table b/c it seems unlikely that Harry Thomas is going to give that up without one hell of a fight.

    My point in continuing to ask the “Not HillEast” or “Not the Waterfront” people is why are they more deserving of special consideration than any other neighborhood – ESPECIALLY considering that Ward 7 already reaches across the river. Because all I’m hearing here and from reports of the meeting last week pretty much amounts to “we don’t want to” which I totally understand, but that’s not a very good argument and frankly sounds a bit entitled, as if residents of Ward 5 don’t share the same concerns or that their concerns are less important than those of the residents of Ward 6.

  22. jfk says:

    @Nichole What I believe the SD was very politely trying to say is you are being overly argumentative.
    You have let your opinion be known so give it a rest.

  23. @jfk – I’m not being overly argumentative. I really do want to know why residents of Hill East think that they deserve to stay where they are but that it’s okay for Ward 5 residents (who have all the same concerns) to be pushed into Ward 7.

    Further, I don’t favor Ward 5 over Ward 6 or anything else. I don’t have a dog in this fight. What I know is that some people, somewhere need to join Wards 7 and 8. What distinguishes Ward 6 residents from Ward 5 residents in this debate? (Ward 6 is awesome – I get it. Everyone should want to live here. But that’s completely beside the point in this conversation.)

  24. Jmt321 says:

    @ Nichole, Other than gaining population, what exactly does Ward 7 gain from annexing part of Ward 6? While I understand population gain is the purpose of redistricting, in my opinion, more would be gained from annexing part of Ward 5, which would include
    the Wal-Mart, to assist in the high unemployment rate of Ward 7. Being “One City” and all, I am sure that Harry Thomas would understand. Maybe the DC could offer the $12000 incentive to individuals who move to Wards 7&8 rather than Wards that do not struggle
    with diminishing populations.
    Second, since you have no dog in this fight, I would ask you when Ward 7 reaches your doorstep (I see no reason to think that wouldn’t happen if additional steps aren’t taken to ensure pop. growth in Ward 7& Ward 8) would you have any objections?

  25. cj11 says:

    Absolutely @JMT321. @Nichole’s remarks make me wonder if she isn’t a not-so-silent member of the redistricting subcommittee.

    One of the items that makes the Hill East and Kingman Park communities of Ward 6 different from those in Ward 5 is that Ward 6 is the ONLY Ward that has an almost equal distribution of black to white residents (in addition to more diverse education and income levels than Wards 5, 6 or 7). Every other ward, with the exception of Ward 1, has almost homogenous racial populations of either black or white (see census demographic information here: http://www.neighborhoodinfodc.org/wards/wards.html). The more “inland” portions of Ward 6 are predominantly white and by slicing off the Hill East and additional Kingman Park communities, Ward 6 becomes yet another racially homogenous ward. Opportunities for racial AND economic/class diversity within Ward 6 – including the expression of diverse opinions and experiences and interactions will be stymied and amputated. The opportunity for these residents’ input to be heard–who ward redistricting or not, will STILL physically be a part of and be affected by activities and decisions made within the Capitol Hill, H Street and other surrounding neighborhoods–will be silenced.

    As JMT321 mentioned, opportunities for economic development gains can also be made through the redistricting of Ward 5 – yet this option is not seriously considered. As To Hill and Back mentioned…this IS horse trading and has more to do with Gray and Brown’s interests. All of this was decided a LONG time ago and the public input meetings are simply a farce. It reminds me of certain presidential elections within the 2000’s where you felt like you were voting within some developing 3rd world country where everything is rigged. Boy do I regret my Gray vote now.

    The redistricting subcommittee members have repeatedly said that redistricting is ONLY about redistributing the “numbers” and about ensuring the politics of “one vote” and that other factors like public services (trash pick-up, tree service, etc.), ward council member representation, affects on schools, parking, the dilution and disenfranchisement of residents’ involvement within your local, geographical neighborhood ANC community (and opportunities to collaborate with geographically neighboring ANCs), house resale value, and racial/economic and other demographic statistics have NO BEARING on the redistricting process. Yet, their desire for adding the potential economic gain of the Hill East development to Ward 7 along with other more “marketable” demographics (in comparison to Wards 7 or 8) seem to hypocritically and conveniently come into play in their laser focused decision to annex Hill East and Kingman Park. Ten years ago, they strategically “jumped” the river for the first time into the first portion of Kingman Park. Their next chess move to “extend” into further parts of Kingman Park and Hill East are Phase II of the plan. I hope that those of you that are west of 17th Street are prepared for Phase III in 10 years because you’re next. And Nichole, I hope that includes you.

    Also, the Kingman Park and Hill East communities that are the physical fringe portions of Capitol Hill are very much still in “transition” in terms of cleaning up and eradicating criminal activity, including drug dealing and gang-related activities. These neighborhoods are probably vastly improved from years in the past, but they’re still precarious and need close focus and attention to eradicating the criminal element. As a part of Ward 6, these communities and residents have had more access to the resources and support made available by their current councilmember. But, let’s be real. Ward 7’s resources are already spread thin tending to their EXISTING issues that need to be addressed. However rest assured that if the additional part of Kingman Park as well as Hill East are extended into Ward 7, the folks that currently like to partake in criminal activities (drug dealing, robberies, gunshots, etc.) within those neighborhoods definitely don’t care about whether they’ve crossed the ward line from the new 7 into 6…and hey, maybe sharing THOSE burdens will make us all one Capitol Hill community.

  26. Sorry @cj11, I have nothing to do with the redistricting committee. Further, I don’t actually want to see Hill East annexed into Ward 7. I just wanted to hear some good arguments against it from affected parties. (many have been presented here, following the initial parking argument)

  27. Rake says:

    @cj11, you voted for Gray?!? HA HA HA HA.

    How’s that working out for you?

    I think a larger issue here is one of representation. I don’t blame anyone for fighting against a move from Tommy Wells to Yvette Alexander or Marion Berry. Why reward those two for their utter failures to help their wards become places people WANT to live, thereby increasing their population.

  28. cj11 says:

    Well, @Rake, I already wrote that I admitted that so far, Gray ain’t working out so great! How much more salt do you need? LOL Besides, to be honest, neither of the mayoral candidates were ideal…

    @Nichole – it doesn’t look like good arguments or not, that they mean a bit of different in this process. I’m yet to hear any good arguments as to why redistricting Ward 5 into Ward 7 isn’t a viable option. As I mentioned before, it appears that the “powers that be” have had their eyes set on capturing Hill East and Kingman Park look before any public meetings or announcements. This deal was made behind closed doors a long time ago…the “public input” process has been a farce.

  29. Jmt321 says:

    No redistricting plan or proposed amendment to a redistricting plan shall result in district populations with a deviation range greater than 10% or a relative deviation greater than plus-or-minus 5%, unless the deviation
    results from the limitations of census geography or from the promotion of a rational public policy, including, but not limited to, respect for the political geography of the District, the natural geography of the District, neighborhood cohesiveness,
    or the development of compact and contiguous districts.”
    Included above is the exception in District of Columbia Redistricting Statutes that allows for a deviation range greater than 10% for the reasons underlined. When I read these reasons for the exception I can only come to two
    conclusions for why any proposal would take Ward 6 or 5 and give it to Ward 7. Either the committee doesn’t view our neighborhoods as compact and contiguous districts that are cohesive and have natural geography separating Ward 6 and 5 from Ward 7, or they are cowards. I say cowards because Phil Mendelson espoused at Wednesday’s Community Round Table that the “courts” wouldn’t support the exception.  Where is your tailbone Phil.?.what a shame.

  30. cj11 says:

    @Jmt321 – Or perhaps the truth of the matter is that the redistricting subcommittee and larger council is glazing over this language because they indeed have other motives besides achieving equal Ward populations. Otherwise, they would actually consider the language that you posted above…

  31. m says:

    Nichole asked a valid question re: why Ward 5 and not Ward 6. That is not an easy question to answer, and objectively, it may be a situation of 6 of one half dozen of the other. But it seems to me that if one of the criteria is keeping communities of interest together, then Ward 6 has very loudly and clearly made the case that they see themselves as a community of interest and want to stay together. The potentially impacted portions of Ward 5 do not appear to be arguing their case nearly as loudly and clearly. I don’t think passion is an invalid consideration in such a subjective process, and, all other factors largely equal, not a bad reason to tip the scale in favor of keeping Ward 6 together. That said, council politics may be more likely to tip the scale than community passion, but I guess we’ll see later this week.

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