Your View: Council should engage citizens

Your View: Council should engage citizens

By Dino Drudi, Alexandria (File photo)

To the editor:
I was among several speakers opposing the Ramsey Homes rezoning at Saturday’s city council public hearing because the Braddock East plan did not allow for the proposed density.

I emphasized the violation of trust inherent in city council making an ad hoc amendment to the Braddock East plan, which was arrived at through a community engagement process. This is but the latest example of city council reneging upon the compromises it has enacted.

City Councilor John Chapman responded by giving examples of “crises,” affordable housing being one, necessitating city council acting. I countered by warning that reneging on compromises worked out through community engagement processes so undermines trust in City Hall that citizens will hesitate to engage in future civic engagements.

Chapman’s response, that some citizens “choose to view it that way,” however, demeans public input and the community engagement process itself. Citizens might counter that Chapman has chosen to view housing affordability, but not loss of open space, as a “crisis.”

If Chapman’s concern about “crisis” is to be a bona fide basis for City Hall reneging on the compromises it has wrought, the congressionally authored District of Columbia home rule act illustrates two flaws in city council’s modus operandi:

1. The “emergency” to which Chapman refers has never been legally or officially declared. Any such declaration would catalog appropriate measures city council could take to address the emergency and would include a requirement for a super-majority vote. Ramsey Homes only required a supermajority because the neighboring property owners petitioned. The D.C. home rule act requires emergency acts to justify the emergency via a declaration subject to a two-thirds vote.

2. Compromises worked out via community engagement processes should only be amended via a new community engagement process that tries to find something else to “give” to those harmed by what is to be taken via the ad hoc amendment. The D.C. home rule act prevents the comprehensive land use plan from ad hoc amendments by not allowing it to be amended more frequently than every five years.

As a result of Ramsey Homes, the question of installing lights at T.C. Williams and others, citizens foreseeably will balk at involvement in future community engagement processes without assurances the resulting enactment will be “locked down” from amendment for a specified time period.

Recent city council actions have made these procedural safeguards necessary, lest trust be sacrificed to whatever ad hoc cause du jour city council fancies.