Tregoning and Klein. Images from DC.

The Committee of 100 sent a letter today to DC Mayor-elect Vince Gray asking him to replace Harriet Tregoning and Gabe Klein as the heads of DC’s Office of Planning and the District Department of Transportation.

They claim that the two don’t listen to to public input. But the truth is that they are hearing far more public input than ever before. That public input simply doesn’t match the Committee’s policy preferences.

You can help show Vince Gray that most residents of DC do support Harriet Tregoning and Gabe Klein, and believe we have had opportunities for public input: Sign on to this brief letter encouraging him to keep both and even consider Tregoning for promotion to Deputy Mayor.

When residents speak up, they are speaking up for Tregoning and Klein’s work. At Monday night’s hearing on parking zoning regulations, for example, 13 residents spoke in favor of the proposal while only 4 spoke against.

Yesterday, at the DC Council hearing on the streetcar program, 14 spoke in favor of the H Street-Benning Road line, only 1 directly opposed it, and 7 talked about issues other than whether to build the streetcar. People who didn’t have time to attend the hearing were even more enthusiastic: 32 of the 34 written statements sent to the Council’s committee were plainly in favor of building the H Street-Benning Road line.

This is happening despite the common adage that people are more likely to take the time to attend meetings or testify in opposition to a project than in favor.

I’ve found out from a source that the letter, signed by Committee of 100 chair George Clark, was originally going to only target Harriet Tregoning, and that Gabe Klein was a later addition. That’s ironic, since the Office of Planning has been a model for the right way to conduct public input.

They have already conducted 166 public sessions on just the zoning rewrite, and already have 32 more scheduled in the next 6 months. That means there have been more public meetings on this one project than there are members of the Committee of 100. (Their site lists 153, though not all are still alive.)

OP even gave the Committee of 100, which Clark now heads, and the Federation of Citizens’ Associations, which he previously headed, two seats on a special task force which gets extra input into the zoning rewrite through special meetings with OP. In other words, throughout this process, Clark has had a greater level of input into the zoning rewrite than any regular citizen.

Fortunately, we already can be confident Vince Gray won’t fall for this argument. At a Council oversight hearing of the Office of Planning in February 2009, George Clark also argued that the zoning rewrite process lacked public input and called it a “runaway freight train.” Gray asked OP how many meetings they had had; upon hearing there had already been almost 50 (to that point), Gray said that it sounded like both sides had had plenty of chances to weigh in, and moved on.

Clark charges that OP has “avoided public scrutiny of OP actions as evidenced by the lack of even one city-wide meeting with the public or ANC commissioners on the proposed zoning changes.” I can’t fathom where this comes from. In the early stages of the project, they had maybe 50 meetings on different topic areas, all attended by people from across the city. OP has sent staff to any ANC which has asked, which is a much better way to reach ANC commissioners than just calling one citywide meeting.

It’s not just the zoning rewrite. Earlier this week, the DC Council held a hearing on the Mount Pleasant Revitalization Plan. Mount Pleasant has been a notoriously fractious neighborhood where people have a tough time agreeing on anything. However, they did agree that OP’s plan was excellent, and a number of residents praised OP’s public process as an exemplary one that led to this uncommon consensus.

Criticisms of DDOT’s public process are more well founded, but Gabe Klein is not the reason for the problems and replacing him will not fix them.

Clark charges, “It has been very difficult to persuade DDOT officials to respond to street, sidewalk, or other typical repairs; and it has been nearly impossible to convince DDOT to cooperate in advance on projected road work.”

This is a fair criticism and one I’ve made as well. DDOT needs to do better with communication around planned road projects. However, all of the project managers with particularly poor communication skills had the job before Klein took over. He’s even replaced some of them, and the engineering arm of DDOT has gotten better at communicating. It’s just gone from terrible to below average, but that’s progress.

Clark shows that he is the one out of sync with all residents of the city when he writes, “At the same time that Mr. Klein was focused on bikes and streetcars, daily transportation needs went unaddressed.” The many people who walk, ride the bus, or bicycle to work on a daily basis would disagree with Clark’s narrow definition of “daily needs.”

Nevertheless, DDOT is still spending the vast majority of its budget on existing infrastructure, and Klein said at a recent forum that he spends about 90% of his time on those “daily needs” like traffic signals, repaving, potholes, and occasionally, snow.

WashCycle defends the bicycle programs, which Clark says “lacked depth of planning.” Actually, the bicycle lanes have been on publicly-vetted plans for years, and through programs they fund at WABA, DDOT did do much of the safety outreach Clark suggests.

DDOT has indeed neglected a number of important initiatives, like properly implementing performance parking or alley repairs, and it’s fair to criticize these cases. Residents are understandably frustrated at times with DDOT. Certainly we have given many DDOT employees whiplash by strongly criticizing and strongly praising them, sometimes in the same day.

Some of this comes from DDOT being understaffed, and facing even further staffing cuts in the coming year. The Council has also repeatedly taken away revenue from DDOT as the agency tries to find new sources to pay for needed repairs. That doesn’t mean DDOT can’t be more efficient, but still, it’s impressive they have done so much more with less.

The Committee of 100 has plenty of opportunity to make constructive suggestions for DDOT, but has chosen to hold off on any criticisms except when they want to replace the top management. This is the general pattern for the Committee; they only oppose projects, or claim to support them while advocating delay.

In his conclusion, Clark writes, “Ms. Tregoning and Mr. Klein are associated with a style and an agenda that doesn’t reflect what District residents want.” What he really is saying is that their style and agenda doesn’t reflect what the Committee of 100’s 153 members want, assuming even that all members agree with this letter. As the ratio of proponents to opponents at recent hearings shows, it’s the Committee of 100 that represents a very small slice of residents.

Just as this article was about to go online, Ward 3 ANC Commissioner Jon Bender just tweeted about a companion letter from Tom Smith, an ANC commissioner whose opponent we endorsed, and the executive board of the Ward 3 Democrats, which Smith chairs. 

The letter makes many of the same points about transparency, which is fairly ironic, as Bender notes: “I’m a Ward 3 Dems delegate, but received no notice Ex Com was considering or sent letter opposing Tregoning and Klein.” To some, public input seems to meaning having government officials listen to them in making decisions, but not an obligation to consult anyone else about their own decisions.

Clark and Smith seem to be nostalgic for the days when the Committee of 100, Federation of Citizens’ Associations, ward Democratic committees, and other traditional groups had the only a real voice to “speak for” the residents of DC, even if they never really asked those residents their opinions. Today, residents can speak for themselves, and they are speaking: in favor of OP’s and DDOT’s work, and in favor of Harriet Tregoning and Gabe Klein.

Help us show what residents believe. Sign the letter asking Gray to keep Tregoning and Klein.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.