topic index DC Council Foresight



Any number of positively-charged straws are blowing in the winter winds around the nation's capital city. DC's finances are better than ever before. Bond ratings are up again. Major new development projects are morphing from dream plans to action programs. Regional prosperity and wealth (if not DC's) seems to be exploding. The mayor's awkward solo role in guiding the city's future (and its new baseball park!) has been challenged by the DC Council. Two newly- elected Council members promise a more active role in DC's local affairs, the third assures more prime time, if not more substance, on DC's most glaring problem: endemic poverty. A new 20- year DC Comprehensive Plan is underway. Congress is talking (albeit hesitantly) about more DC representation in Congressional affairs and less micro-management of DC's internal affairs.

What then can NARPAC find to fret about? Won't DC now become the ideal American national capital core city inside the ideal American metro area? Not necessarily. It is a matter of bold political leadership, focus, and field of view. Only during good times can the politicians afford to lengthen their focus and shape the longer-range future. But most DC councilmembers seem pre- occupied with pressing city bureaucrats to "spread the wealth" to their wards. A few others are concentrating on preventing changes that would bring greater wealth to theirs. One of the Mayor's lobes is focused (realistically) on increasing the city's attractiveness to Big Business, the other is fixed (idealistically) on salvaging all of DC's 100-odd challenged neighborhoods. The Council Chair seems bent on making sure the city doesn't overreach by failing to "manage its (temporary?) surplus". Congress is looking for ways to pay for White House entanglements abroad with reduced tax revenues and lower domestic spending. The President is crusading to democratize the world, while ignoring our stalemated wars against poverty, illiteracy, teen pregnancy, drunk-driving, assault weapons, substandard housing and homelessness.

NARPAC thinks the DC Council should spend less time overseeing the mayor's job and more on addressing the city's fundamental long-term problems: 1) relations with the Federal Government; 2) relations with DC's own metro area; 3) burgeoning local and regional transportation shortfalls; 4) too little high revenue-producing land; 5) endemic poverty that threatens to make DC the region's poorhouse; and 6) an educational deficit among its current and past public-schooled residents worthy of a mandatory re-call and a human re-cycling effort to reduce lifelong waste.

NARPAC treats the six major long-term issues for DC Council individually below in shorthand fashion. The Major Choices sections are intended to raise questions which can be answered by "yes/no"; "primary/secondary"; "important/not important"; etc. NARPAC would truly enjoy the opportunity to poll the Council, the Mayor's Office, the Office of Planning, or even the Comprehensive Plan Citizens Task Force on these questions. We doubt there is agreement on many of these basic issues. The Useful Data sections delineate the types of quantitative information available to inform the debate on any of those major choices. NARPAC's Views provide our biases after working with these data for seven years. The availability of such data around our web site is catalogued in a separate section on Quantitative Analysis and Urban Planning. The final (wordy) sections present some Typical NARPAC Data that we believe are particularly pertinent to making the best decisions on the major choices.

Major 20-yr Issue #1:


Major Choices for DC Government/Constituents:

x attitude toward federal presence: cooperative or resistant
x importance of representation in Congress and federal agencies
x annual payment for federal usage/inconvenience
x federal assistance in infrastructure investment
x transfer of "surplus"/"under-utilized" federal properties for DC revenue-generating uses
x acceptance of foreign embassies, non-profit groups, international organizations

Useful Contributing Data/Information:

x dispassionate analysis of so-called "structural imbalance"
x "official" estimates of current financial/in-kind assistance from Federal Government
x "official" estimates of current un-compensated costs of federal presence
x "official" estimates of total revenues generated for DC by federal presence
x potential benefits of re-instating (now defunct) Federal DC Task Force
x opportunities to enhance revenue-producing attractions by FEs, NGOs, IOs

(Included in the approved DC Vision and/or Comprehensive Plan Work-up: O,o = yes; X,x = no)

NARPAC's View of "Most Americans'" Preference:

> DC needs to accept inevitable, but proud, supporting role in nation's capital city
> DC must receive 'realistic' representation in Congress
> the Federal Government should share the costs of our national capital's infrastructure
> the Federal presence benefits DC 's revenue flow far more than it depletes it
> the Federal Government could offer even more 'in-kind' assistance
> the Federal Government should transfer hundreds of under-utilized acres to DC
> the Federal Government should provide strong incentives for obligatory regional cooperation
> the Federal Government should encourage educational/entertainment attractions from outsiders
> the Federal Government should restrict its DC oversight functions to one "Joint Committee"

Typical Pertinent NARPAC Quantitative Data:

In essence, NARPAC feels that if DC will recognize its role as the "setting" for the American crown jewels, then the Federal Government may become more willing to play a constructive supporting role in improving DC's national and global image. The common notion among DC residents that they are not only being belittled by, but taken to the cleaners by, the Feds is simply not supported by the facts.

The seemingly complex chart below is an attempt to compare four different primary parameters concerning the various principal land users within the borders of the District of Columbia. These include three different subgroups within each of five major categories (listed down the left side of each chart pair). Top left shows the relative number of acres (in thousands) allocable to each of the 15 subgroups. Top right provides the DC CFO's assessed value per acre of both the land and the improvements. Bottom left allocates the revenues generated and costs sustained by the DC government on a per acre basis. Lower right converts these values back into a "net productivity" (local revenues over local expenditures) in each subgroup.

The interpretation of these data cannot help but influence how objective people will treat DC relations with its Big Brother, the Federal Government. By far the biggest single class of DC property is the 7400 acres owned, maintained, and policed (without DC help!) by the National Park Service. Some 5400 hundred more acres are populated by DC's 150,000-odd very low income residents. Third in line comes major federal government buildings and their immediate surrounds. NARPAC points out here (in purple) that a very substantial share of that land is used by the US Department of Defense, and a lot of it is seriously underutilized compared to other urban revenue-generating uses. Next in total acreage comes the residential properties of DC's middle income landowners, followed by DC's "other" (i.e., not very productive) commercial acres, and close behind, by DC government properties of which over 30% is occupied by DC's public schools. Perhaps 200 of those DC school acres (in purple) are essentially "surplus" by normal utilization rate standards.

Assessed values per acre tell a very different story. The only three truly valuable land uses are DC's commercial buildings (offices, hotels, etc., mostly downtown), and less than a thousand acres of very upscale residential living in parts of the northwest segment of the city. And this, of course, reflects directly in terms of per acre revenues generated, and inversely in terms of very limited service costs (lower left). By far the largest consumers of city services are the low and middle income residents. In fact, and not surprisingly, their consumption of city services completely overwhelms the modest amounts required to support all three tax-exempt categories. Surely this chart suggests where to look for the threats to the city's "structural balance".

Finally, then, it becomes obvious that the 400-odd acres of high-end commercial and the 900-odd acres of high-end residential properties pay the freight for the rest of DC and whatever trivial amounts are directed elsewhere. And it should also be well noted (and certainly further corroborated) that probably half of all DC's upscale businesses (lobbyists, federal contractors, etc), and probably 40% of the 28,000-odd DC households that clear more than $100,000 per year are here solely because, and only as long as, the Federal Government is here.

A second, and hopefully more self-explanatory, chart describes the composition of the suspect military properties, all of which could be re-located beyond the city limits on other still less utilized military reservations. These are all discussed in a separate NARPAC chapter on the forthcoming Base Re-alignment and Closure (BRAC) "round" that is stimulated by the Congress every five years or so. NARPAC has been trying to drag a reluctant DC city government into pressing for a transfer of some of these potentially high revenue-generating properties to DC , rather than begging for a perpetual hand- out of federal dollars to sustain DC's poor. It is not clear that the DC Council has broached the issue at all.

Major 20-yr Issue #2:


Major Choices for DC Government/Constituents:

x attitude towards suburbs: cooperative or resistant
x exploration of wealth-sharing and poverty-sharing opportunities
x accommodation of commuters, visitors, shoppers, etc.
x expanding/strengthening regional authorities and revenue generating

Useful Contributing Data/Information:

x comparative data on regional demographics/economic facts/projections
x potential opportunities for sharing government functions/costs
x realistic costs and benefits of commuters, visitors, shoppers, etc.
x relative local government costs of residential vs commercial land uses
x comparisons to well-functioning regional authorities elsewhere
x reconciling primary local/regional transportation routes

(Included in the approved DC Vision and/or Comprehensive Plan Work-up: O,o = yes; X,x = no)

NARPAC's View of "Most Americans'" Preference:

> DC must act like, and be accepted as, the core city of the nation's capital metro area
> DC's lifeblood flows from its suburbs and the needs of the Federal Government
> DC should recognize its inevitable role as a global symbol of the American image
> DC should avoid becoming the "region's poor house" or socioeconomic anomaly
> the Washington DC Metro Area should be an exemplar of modern US metro areas
> transportation is a primary candidate for greater regional unification

Typical Pertinent NARPAC Quantitative Data:

Second only to the District's apparent awkwardness with the Federal Government is its tentative relations with its neighboring jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia. There are somewhat clearer bonds with Prince George's County, to which many former DC residents, their relatives and their friends have moved (for a better life). These 'kin folk' frequently return for church, school and, some will say, voting. However, there seem to be very few "official" contacts or "joint" programs even with "Ward 9". The problem, of course, is that the suburbs have been growing rapidly, while DC has actually been shrinking relatively. By the 2000 Census, DC, with two percent of the land area (including the federal enclave) was down to 12% of the population and only 8% of the overall "wealth" of the Washington Metro area. DC residents, egged on by their elected officials, have concluded that they are being somehow disadvantaged by the number of commuters that raise DC's daytime population to nearly one million, but pay no commuter tax (thanks to their own elected officials in the Congress).

Well over 80% of all Americans (and 50% of the world's people) now live in the ubiquitous "metro areas". NARPAC has long opined that the US would be better off with 50 US Senators representing our 50 states, and the other half representing our 50 largest metro areas (including DC). Clearly, metro areas are generally more homogenous collections of residents and workers than are the states. Virginia is, in fact, a classic case of this, frequently pitting the urbane "Northern Virginia" area against its more rural cousins for state resources. NARPAC believes it is critically important for DC to become better united with its suburbs so that all can better fulfill the role of developing the world's best metro area, with the world's best capital city at its core. This web site has regularly urged a regional approach to solving most of the city's ills, since few of them are unique to the "inner city"or our national image.

Among these many common problems, regional transportation issues, and regional poverty issues are at the head of the line. Transportation issues are the more obvious and are treated subsequently. But the more deep rooted and difficult are the poverty issues, and NARPAC has chosen to illustrate the importance of quantitative information in this area. Because the outer suburbs are (still) somewhat more rural, the following charts provide demographic and socioeconomic comparisons for only the "inner metro area". The "IMA" (NARPAC's term) consists of those jurisdictions with common borders with DC, as shown on the graphic below.

The charts can be read as follows: a) the upper left chart shows that over 17% of DC's own households are in poverty (red bars), far more than in the other jurisdictions, but DC's poverty households represent over 42% of all the IMA's households in poverty (green bars); b) the upper right chart shows that DC has only 9% of the IMA's married family households (the biggest taxpayers)(green bars), but accounts for 44% of the area's total "income deficit" (i.e., cost of the poor to government)(red bars); c) at bottom left is a related socioeconomic problem: DC has about 13% of the IMA's total kids (green bars), but only about 8% of the fathers (red bars); and related to that, d) DC accounts for only 11% of the IMA's total family income (green bars) while trying to support 40% of the IMA's total kids in poverty (red bars).

The second set of charts compares DC to the IMA average (including DC) across the spectrum of household types tracked by the Census Bureau. The left hand chart shows, among other possibly interesting factoids, that DC (green bars) exceeds the IMA average in its own non-family households (generally singles), and in female-led households, and lags in family households. It has more of every kind of poverty household amongst its own households, and generally a larger share of all the IMA's poverty households. On the right side, the red bars show DC's share of the full range of IMA household types and the green bars the poverty share of that household type. Some are redundant to the center bars on the previous set of four charts, but more household types are shown. For instance, DC has a large number of married and female-led households over 65 yrs old, and a relatively high share of them in poverty. DC also has relatively few households with full-time workers (f-t wkrs) both in toto and below the poverty line.

By any standard, DC is, compared to the rest of Inner Washington Metro Area, awash in poverty. It runs the very real risk of becoming "the region's poorhouse" if it becomes the home of choice for all the region's disadvantaged. NARPAC believes DC authorities, and particularly its legislators, must not turn a blind eye to this possibility as it tries to deal humanely with its persistent poverty problem as well as its national image problem.

Major 20-yr Issue #3:


Major Choices for DC Government/Constituents:

x acceptance of transportation as precursor to continued growth
x relative importance of local vs regional 'connectivity'
x priority on underground/heavy vs surface/light public transit
x realistic role of private automobiles in future urban/suburban environments
x changing role of "personal transport systems" (pedestrians, cyclists, scooters, et al)
x focus on obtaining federal assistance for major infrastructure investments (see #1)
x acceptance of need to emphasize tight curbside, on-street parking controls

Useful Contributing Data/Information:

x evidence of lack of OP interest in transportation, deferring to DDOT, WMATA separately
x estimates of impending route saturation
x national/regional/local trends in auto ownership
x review of current Metro expansion options and their costs
x review of ongoing analyses of heavy truck needs/routes
x potential new-age vulnerabilities of DC transportation systems and possible solutions thereto
x consideration of improving local 'connectivity', "inner city metro circle"
x analysis of DC's transportation-related costs and revenues
x opportunities for further applications of new technologies for traffic control
x importance of and opportunities for major investments in efficient car parking
x progress of major foreign cities in traffic controls (many ahead of US)

(Included in the approved DC Vision and/or Comprehensive Plan Work-up: O,o = yes; X,x = no)

NARPAC's View of "Most Americans'" Preference:

> the national capital metro area should offer the finest available US public transportation
> transportation growth should be a primary element in DC's long-range planning
> regional heavy rail is by far the preferred public transit system and deserves federal funding
> private cars are a fact of US life, their use must be tightly controlled, net revenue- producers
> DC should lead the nation in applying new technology traffic control/parking systems
> major transportation infrastructure costs are imposed by federal security requirements

Typical Pertinent NARPAC Quantitative Data:

While poverty, like many an illness, is almost too touchy a situation to talk about, transportation and human mobility have generally been accepted as essential parts of the nation's vitality. How then can the DC Council have come to approve a 20-year DC Vision in which regional transportation capacity is ignored or made suspect, while the primary emphasis is placed on greater local internal "connectivity" as if it were a substitute? Many of the individual development plans of the city appear to discourage interchange with the region, and encourage further limits on current transportation capacity. The theory is apparently that private and commercial vehicles are destroying "the neighborhoods", while local public transportation can keep the city a prosperous and fun place to be. NARPAC considers this to be some form of urban denial, but one which is consistent with "dissing" its primary if not sole raison d'etre (the Federal Government) as well as its primary, if not sole, source of financial 'structural balance' (commercial business in support of the Federal Government).

The concept that commuters are evil-doers (in today's parlance) and revenue-drainers is one of the most persistent myths which needs to be exposed for what it is: paranoia. It results from fretting about traffic, traffic cops, and road depreciation while ignoring the very substantial revenues they bring to the city. The CFO and a band of influential lobbyists are trying to oblige the Congress to either let DC impose a $400M commuter tax, or provide DC an equivalent annuity in perpetuity. NARPAC, on the other hand, has repeatedly tried to demonstrate that commuters are one of the major sources of DC revenues. This is explained in the following section on land uses. Recognizing the importance of commuters to DC's well-being may surely be the primordial prerequisite to opening DC's legislative and executive eyes to the impending transportation crisis. If so, lets get on with it, and starting reading the hand-writing on the wall.

The insert to the right shows the current congestion of DC's major bridges and highways, with the darkest red representing "over (beyond) capacity" NOW. It is interesting to note that DC's Office of Planning is hoping to make several of these major (now partially federally- maintained) highways into munificent tree- and cafe-lined surface-level boulevards with more pedestrians, traffic lights, cyclist lanes, and other lanes reserved for very distinctive trolleys and buses. The DC DoT meanwhile is planning to make those same highways the major 24/7 heavy truck (40-ton) truck routes.





For years, the now-almost-extinct long-range planners for WMATA (Metro) have tried to show that the five major "portals" (shown to the left) are already squeezing as many subway trains through as is safe. And these estimates were made before the potential impact of 9/11 was added to the survival equation. There are no plans whatsoever in DC planning circles to give priority to adding capacity to the nation's finest metro system other than adding sufficient subway cars to saturate the system.

The impending saturation of the each line of DC's under-maintained subway system is represented by the charts to the right which proposed a four-step process to cram every conceivable public transit user into the current track-, tunnel-, and station-limited system finished only recently after a 30-year (federally-funded) construction period. Only a tiny fraction of the $5 billion needed over the next 20 years has been earmarked, and there appears to have been little or no pressure from the DC Council or the Mayor's Office to "maximize" (stuff) the current capacity, and not a mention of the need to begin the planning to expand the system.


Proposals for very marginal additions to increase the flexibility and redundancy of the current subway system have been met with total silence (look right). NARPAC supports most of them, but believes they are only a small fraction of a much larger expansion needed to allow DC to increase the acreage within DC that can be made seriously revenue-productive. This is discussed elsewhere on this site, along with NARPAC's distaste for amusement park-like light rail, surface trolley systems.

NARPAC thinks it is essential for the DC Council to "get serious" about the national capital city's real needs for many different kinds of modernizations to DC's growing traffic embarrassments.

Major 20-yr Issue #4:


Major Choices for DC Government/Constituents:

x importance/capability to achieve/maintain strong fiscal 'structural balance' through land use
x DC population/job growth relative to rest of metro area
x relative growth of residential/commercial/public land use
x acceptance of increased density of urban living
o role of metro stations as focus of high density development
x relaxation of building height restrictions near DC's "edge cities"
o emphasis on providing affordable housing, homeless relief, etc.
x best sources of additional revenues from land-use
x pursuit of under-utilized federal properties
x willingness to codify incentives to keep/attract net revenue-consumers to capital city
x inclusion of DCPS properties as candidates for re-use

Useful Contributing Data/Information:

x accurate presentation of DC's current fiscal soundness vs unbalanced myths
x trends/projections in regional socioeconomic growth
x current distribution of socioeconomic classes (i.e., low-, middle-, upper-income households)
x relative 'net productivity' of various DC land use proponents
x identification of under-utilized, vacant/abandoned, mis-zoned DC and federal properties
x extent of Fed/local parklands in DC vs other major cities
x accurate cataloguing of DC Public Schools properties vs likely needs, alternate uses

(Included in the approved DC Vision and/or Comprehensive Plan Work-up: O,o = yes; X,x = no)

NARPAC's View of "Most Americans'" Preference:

> DC can easily/should accept responsibility for financial independence
> DC should not consciously decide to lower its quality of life relative to suburbs
> some additional land must be obtained or converted to high-density commercial use
> there is no rational reason to restrict building height beyond limits of L'Enfant Plan
> DC must avoid becoming the last best hope for the region's disadvantaged
> regional poverty-sharing should be pursued with Federal Government incentives
> DC School properties should be released for more productive public and private uses
> DC should be center-stage in demanding military base realignments and closings (BRAC)

Typical Pertinent NARPAC Quantitative Data:

As indicated in this section of Issue #1, virtually all of DC's truly revenue-productive land is generated from xxx acres of commercially-zoned downtown property, plus about xxx acres of residential land populated by something less than 30,000 wealthy households with incomes exceeding $100,000. And the monies they generate are spent primarily on about 5400 acres of low income low income residential properties, much of which is "East of the Anacostia River" in Wards 7 and 8, 2200 acres of relatively small business, and 3600 acres of the middle-income" households. There are currently only 13,000 acres of taxable land in DC; the rest is occupied by the federal government and its many and varied 'camp followers'. As also noted, however, some 300 acres of local (schools) land and 1800 acres of federal land (military installations) are seriously underutilized and could be up for transfer to DC revenue-generating purposes. Note that this could conceivably double the very high current revenue-producing acres.

One of DC's most widespread myths is that DC can markedly increase its net revenues by adding 100,000 residents. Some even suggest that 25,000 of them should be kids, mainly, apparently because "kids are nice to have around". NARPAC has raised strenuous objections to this poorly defined goal. Furthermore, DC's myth is not generally shared by the other jurisdictions of this metro area who find that both the capital and operating costs of the services required by households with kids is very high indeed. What DC needs most for its financial balance is to have 25,000 less households with kids in poverty. In fact, virtually all of these other counties are trying to devise means to lower the growth of their housing developments and to increase the number of businesses that do not consume their own property taxes in schools, streets, sewers, health, and welfare programs. The three-part chart below illustrates how NARPAC determines the net productivity of its residential land users. Clearly we do not expect any branch of the DC government to buy into this approach without its own analytical expertise, but we would hope that such analysis would not necessarily depend on others with special axes to grind, or hard luck stories to spin.

The upper left chart goes through the four steps NARPAC uses to allocate city expenditures (not including federal grants, which for these purposes are freebies). We start Step One with the major categories of spending in the DC budget which, in themselves, seem to be startling to many activists looking for wasted spending. To ease the problem and lessen the quibbling, we then use a Step 2 to pro-rate proportionately what we consider to be mainly "overhead" items (general direction; economic development planning; and financing/other) across the four basic functional areas (public works (yellow); public safety (blue); public education (green); and human services (rust).

We then take a Step 3 to separate some appropriate portion of each of those four functions between commercial and residential. Quite obviously, the relative small area devoted to commercial business means that only perhaps one-third of public works and one-fifth of public safety costs can be honestly attributed to office buildings and their daytime employees. Various versions of these allocations have been independently generated in different studies around this web site. By any one of them, residents consume the lion's share of all DC locally- and/or federally-supported expenditures. Step 4 then uses an equivalently judgmental process to allocate these expenditures between some 150,000 households with household incomes below $30,000; the 100,000 or so households that consider themselves "middle income" (below $100K); and lastly the roughly 25,000 households with six-digit incomes (see second chart ahead).

The lower left goes through a slightly abbreviated process to allocate the city's major  revenue sources. They are first broadly lumped (equivalent to Steps 1 and 2 above) into three categories of property taxes, income taxes, and "all other", of which the major share is sales taxes. Step 3 then apportions between revenues from residents and revenues from commercial businesses. The darker colored bars indicate the residents' share of total revenue-production, which NARPAC judges to be somewhat less than 50%. The swing number here is the allocation of "other" taxes, since the various property and income taxes are provided quite distinctly by the CFO between residential and commercial. Step 4 again distributes residential costs by income category.

The right hand three bars of the upper and lower left hand charts are then consolidated in the right hand chart to dramatize residential tax consumption. On the left they retain the components of income and costs. On the right they show the "net productivity". In short, the city gains about $900M net revenues from the rich, and endures net expenses on the lower income sector of well over $2500M. The beloved middle income folks are at best a break-even lot, taking up space, adding vitality, and almost paying their own way. Clearly the key determinant in this middle category is the number of kids per household. Budget analysts must, per force, prefer the empty nester couples and discourage the unwed soccer moms.

It is important to return for a moment to the commercial allocation at the top of the second revenue source bar. It includes all the property, income, franchise and other taxes attributable to commercial businesses, including all DC's collected sales taxes. This represents a departure from earlier similar NARPAC exercises which allocated only half of sales taxes to businesses, based on the statement in an earlier DC Budget book, that roughly 50% of sales taxes were paid by businesses for their utilities, and extensive office supplies. NARPAC now realizes that if DC had no retail stores, then the city would reap no sales taxes. It therefore seems more appropriate, in retrospect, to allocate those revenues to the wholesale and retail stores in DC that collected them.

Furthermore, it appears logical to allocate the division of commercial revenues brought into DC's coffers between business employees living in DC, and those commuting from the suburbs. Without those employees, those businesses would be unable to keep their properties or pay their taxes. NARPAC has therefore pro-rated all of DC's non-government workers (i.e., those who work in taxpaying businesses) between those who live in DC and those who don't. The break-out in 2003 was roughly 57% commuters. If this approach is accepted as reasonable, the commuters generate 80% as much revenue for the city as do all its residents, and more, in fact, than all its residents save the very rich. This has to have a bearing on how the city's residents, bureaucrats, and leaders look at the contribution of commuters and the adjoining jurisdictions from which they come.

The second chart in this series harks back to somewhat earlier data to show how each individual residential income bracket contributes to total revenues. It is based on 1999 data, though more recent data show the same general trend. The wealthy few still pay the vast majority of all taxes, and the bottom half pay virtually none. Note that in this case, sale taxes were attributed to the residents who made the purchases.

Major 20-yr Issue #5:

X ALLEVIATING POVERTY IN DC (with related crime, poor health)

Major Choices for DC Government/Constituents:

x long-range objectives to reduce/eliminate poverty by demographic class
x defining causes and remedies for self-perpetuating 'cycle of poverty'
x remediation, disposition of seriously blighted areas
x opportunities for 'poverty-sharing' within metro area
x approach to homelessness

Useful Contributing Data/Information:

x trends in local poverty, and comparative extent of regional poverty
x statistical relationships between poverty, income, parent(s)' education
x counter-cultural implications of concentrated poverty on schools, crime, health, et al
x costs and benefits to DC of servicing the poor
x Federal contributions to DC welfare programs

(Included in the approved DC Vision and/or Comprehensive Plan Work-up: O,o = yes; X,x = no)

NARPAC's View of "Most Americans'" Preference:

> Cities must adopt a 'systemic' approach to eliminating causes/effects of poverty
> The nation's capital should not become a 'sump' for the region's poor
> The nation's capital should lead the way in efforts to curtail persistent poverty
> The Federal Government should participate in local anti-poverty efforts

Typical Pertinent NARPAC Quantitative Data:

The final two major issues are the two sides of one coin: coming to grips with the abnormal concentrations of poverty in the District; and coming to grips with the city's "education deficit" which perpetuates that poverty generation after generation (and a "DC generation" is often a scant 15 years!). There is no "chicken and egg" dilemma here for NARPAC. It is quite clear in our collective minds that the Young Illiterate Chicken produces the Lifelong Poor Egg. Functional illiteracy in our nation's capital city is pegged at some 30% of DC's total population, and almost certainly includes a significant portion of DC's employed and unemployed workforce. As explored in the following section, it is of primary importance to recycle the Young Illiterate Chickens so these inadequately prepared young (mostly single-mom) parents can influence their otherwise Lifelong Poor Eggs.

But as the Council well knows, socioeconomic circumstances in the District vary widely from ward to ward. This is demonstrated below, again using NARPAC's favorite metric: the "net productivity" resulting from the balance of revenues generated by, and consumed by each Ward. Similar calculations have been made for various planning clusters and census tracts, including a specific estimate for Ward 8, the city's most disadvantaged ward. The composite chart below shows the three aspects of the problem. At the left is an aggregate bar chart showing the overall distribution of revenues (above the line) and expenditures (below the line). These are then allocated to the eight separate wards, based on income, family demographics, crime rates, etc. Clearly, Wards 7 and 8, both 'East of the Anacostia' are by far the largest consumers of health services (darker tan), and public education costs (lighter sand color). Wards 2 and 3 generate the lion's share of revenues from residents. Ward 2 (which includes downtown) is the city's "oil field" for commercial revenues, even though it is also host to most of the city's tax- free, burdensome, federal and non-profit facilities (other than military). The bottom chart simply displays the "net productivity" with Wards 2 and 3 solidly in the green, and Wards 5, 7, and 8 firmly in the red. Wards 1, 4, and 6 could be the "swing wards" where it should be easier to tip the balance green with realistic near-term neighborhood developments.

NARPAC thinks it is also worth drawing attention to the fact that there are large federally-owned tracts in all three of the "red wards". These proportions are shown on the chart

directly below. Ward 5 is blessed, or cursed if you are a revenue-collector, with the very large grounds of the National Arboretum. Ward 7 has the very large (NARPAC would say excessively large) Ft. DuPont Park. Would that its Park Service acreage could be redistributed among other wards that feel themselves park-starved. Alternatively, NARPAC have previously suggested that a good portion of Ft. DuPont Park be turned into an International Mall to parallel downtown's National Mall. DC's tax-exempt foreign embassies would be strongly encouraged to open permanent 'pavilions' (a la World's Fairs) on that International Mall. It could well become a major additional tourist attraction for DC's national and international visitors who generate far more revenues than expenses for the city. This is perhaps a fanciful example of encouraging the Federal Government to pressure its foreign 'camp followers' to generate revenue-producing activities on federal property for DC's benefit..

Ward 8 has by far the largest percentage of its acreage devoted to tax-exempt properties including the large St. Elizabeth's Mental Hospital, which is now being considered for at least partial transfer and redevelopment for revenue-producing purposes. Even larger are the two ex-air fields of WWII vintage (one each, Navy and Air Force), which are now marginally utilized for a series of military administrative, maintenance, and research purposes. These functions could as well be consolidated on other much larger military facilities just outside DC's borders. On occasion, NARPAC has also suggested that if the Pentagon and all its employees were moved from Arlington County, Virginia (where they now inhibit the expansion of Arlington National Ceremony) to, say, Bolling Air Force, DC would again reap significantly higher revenue benefits even if it could not take title to some portion of that installation.

So one half of the equation is for the Council to actively pursue more revenue-productive uses of the large currently tax-exempt properties that squeeze DC's poorest wards. But the other half of the equation is to eliminate the "cycle of poverty" that besets many of the neighborhoods in these wards, and generates a level of "urban blight" almost beyond remedy. So far, no branch of the DC government has seen fit to perform heartless "triage" on any of these depressed communities, even though the resident population in many of them is continuing to drop quite noticeably. Those with the moxie to "escape" continue to do so, and many of those without the moxie are succumbing to their own mortality (quite often with a relatively short life span compared to the greener wards). Furthermore, as will be noted again in the final section, declining birth rates are also promising another (very long-term) means of reducing the concentrations of poverty East of the Anacostia. But the majority of DC's households in poverty have yet to find a way out for themselves or their offspring.

Finally, most objective analysts can point to a strong relationship between kids' accomplishments in school and their poverty at home. NARPAC has delved into these statistics in its chapter on education, poverty, and ignorance. There are also connections between poverty and the characteristics and numbers of special ed kids. But there is an equally relevant, totally color-blind, correlation between household poverty and the educational achievement of the householder(s), i.e., the parent(s). NARPAC firmly concludes that the basic causal relation for kids' educational deficit is their parent(s)'s educational deficit. This is treated in the following section.

Major 20-yr Issue #6:


Major Choices for DC Government/Constituents:

x relative importance of schools, home, and neighborhood environment on education potential
x contributing causes to special ed population and remedial costs
x extent of DC's educational responsibilities beyond in-school kids
x relative educational priorities on pre-/in-school, drop-out, incarcerated, and adult populations
x role of vocational training and private sector contributions thereto
x acceptable alternate utilizations for DC public school properties
x opportunities for common regional solutions to specialized education problems

Useful Contributing Data/Information:

x comparative educational scores locally, regionally, nationally
x comparison of similar school system operating and capital budget allocations
x overall status/trends in DCPS employment, student enrollment, graduation and facilities
x impacts of under-utilized schools, surplus properties on school budgets
x potential revenues from under-utilized, surplus properties through alternate uses,
x potential means to effectuate further education of drop-outs, non-graduates, adults

(Included in the approved DC Vision and/or Comprehensive Plan Work-up: O,o = yes; X,x = no)

NARPAC's View of "Most Americans'" Preference:

> DC's public schools systems should be a model for American prowess
> DC's educational deficits are only partially related to in-school/facility problems
> DC should take responsibility for 100% literate/employable of DC-public educated populace
> Breaking the repetitive 'cycle of poverty' for new and old drop-outs deserves major attention

Typical Pertinent NARPAC Quantitative Data:

Much, if not too much, has been written on the poor conditions of DC's schools, and the possible inadequacies of both their in-school staffs, and what appears to be an overly burdensome central staff. The solutions to these conditions is generally assumed to be "throwing more money" at both the operations and facilities sides of the public school system, while also encouraging the formation of alternate (charter) schools and the use of vouchers to get more kids into the region's much less expensive and much more successful parochial schools. While NARPAC supports both of these initiatives for the sake of the kids whose parent(s) have the moxie to make the changes, it is clearly not without cost and consequences to The Kids Who Stay Behind. It seems almost inevitable that this will build in yet another filter system to further segregate those households most likely to repeat the cycle of poverty and dependence. NARPAC believes it is the long-term consequences, both humanitarian and financial, of this "hard core residual" that deserves far more attention from the DC Council.

We also believe that part of the financial solution is to adopt a far more aggressive program to avoid the strung-out operation of under-utilized public school facilities and personnel. NARPAC has raised this issue repeatedly concerning surplus DC schools but the DCPS bureaucracy, as well as many activists, appear unwilling to part with those grand old schools and properties they might one day need. The chart below is taken from the latest available DCPS facilities report, indicating the existence of almost 12,000 unfilled classroom chairs as of FY03. The report does not say in so many words that the school system was operating at least 20 too many schools (in addition to holding some 26 other defunct properties) two years ago, or that the need for these schools is declining at a rate of between two and four schools per year.

Of particular interest to NARPAC, then, is the outlook for public-school-oriented kids in DC's future. This depends, of course, on a good portrayal of past and current demographic trends and the household growth goals set by either DC officials or by "market economic forces". At present, both the past and the future appear to be shrouded in mysticism. There are persistent beliefs that: a) there was a major departure of middle class households in the last 30 years, b) the current racial balance will remain unchanged; and c) that DC should be trying to entice some 100,000 new residents (of undisclosed household composition). None of those points are natural projections of the past 100 years in DC, as summarized by NARPAC below, based on Census Bureau data):

Furthermore, the changes in population are distinctly different than the changes in school-aged kids. The majority of DCPS kids entering public school were born here. And the majority of them do not live in two-parent households. Births and kindergarten attendance are separated by five or six years, and only a modest fraction of those entering the schools by the front door graduate and leave by the front door. Hence, future enrollment can be largely determined by the younger contingent there now, and the birth rates among the more prolific moms. The summary chart below hints at some of these trends. The top chart shows birth rates have dropped by about one-third in ten years; black kids are a smaller fraction of the total; teen births are dropping even faster; and (for whatever its worth), deaths among the older generation have been getting closer and closer to the number of births.

Perhaps the most alarming item to note here (lower left) is that although births among 18-19 year-olds has been dropping substantially (even as abortions have dropped too), the same cannot be said for girls between 15 and 17 years of age. Statisticians might predict that by 2005, the younger, barely high school-aged cohort, will be more prolific than their junior and senior compatriots. Note however, that these statistics do not indicate whether the older kids also gave birth when they were younger!. The lower right hand chart (taken from DC's 2003 Health Report) pretty well described the sexual activity that leads to these statistics, and demonstrates rather clearly that DC is way ahead of the national average in these dubious accomplishments.

But there are two other concerns that are only implied by these data. On the one hand, the number of kids being turned out with education deficits in the next twenty years is going to be far fewer than the number accumulated over the past 40 years (many of whom are probably still dependent on city and federal largesse). On the other hand, the number of future kids born to teen-aged single moms is likely to decrease, but only slowly. Hence DC will continue to produce several hundred new or repeat at-risk moms per year, easily half of whom may be drop-outs, and most of whose kids may well repeat the cycle of poverty. Both groups need to be considered in any decisions on the relative emphasis between undoing past deficiencies and avoiding new deficiencies. The inability to recycle these youthful errors, either immediately or later, is both a national and a national capital city disgrace.

Council Organization and Analytical Support

In conclusion, NARPAC cannot avoid pointing out that the present Council organization is not well suited to carrying out serious long-range planning for DC's most critical issues. It is better suited to overseeing current activities by every last organizational agency of DC's executive branch. It might also be noted that in touting his accomplishments for the past year the mayor's accomplishments for 2004 seem somewhat trivial and not directly to (at least NARPAC's version of) the city's major long-range problems. It is obvious that the mayor must "build his house" brick by brick, but it is also clear that the elected officials of the legislative branch should have a major interest in what that future house will look like.

Finally, NARPAC strongly believes that, in all of these endeavors, the Council would benefit greatly from having its own small, but dedicated, staff to analyze and generate the budgetary and investment implications of various alternative long-range futures. It is particularly important that the Council have the independent capability conduct its own studies and to assess the validity of 'outside studies'(be they prepared by DC, non-profit, regional, or federal agencies). The Council can ill afford to adopt others' work that often does not portray accurately DC's real needs, or its strengths and weaknesses. The recent GAO report on DC's "structural imbalance" is a case in point. In this case, the Councilmembers' blind acceptance of faulty calculations that (apparently) agreed with their preconceived biases, could still return to haunt them.

Did you find this of interest?
Please give us your FEEDBACK

This page was updated on Feb 5, 2005



© copyright 2007 NARPAC, Inc. All rights reserved